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This part is actually kind of familiar.

 Bits and wires sticking out of you, metal in places it shouldn’t be. Beep beep fucking beep goes the heart monitor, thanks for the headache, asshole.

Wait.

It takes too much effort to open an eye, groggy and heavy and ohhh morphine –

Tony slowly comes to realize that the heart monitor is his own. Hmm, well would you look at that. Guess he lived after all.

It’s not the smell of hospital cleaner, or the stoneage wires, or the (hello, annoying) heart monitor. That’s familiar territory, been there done that kinda’ shit.

“What the fuck,” Tony starts, “is this.”

“Prosthetic,” Rhodey answers, flipping a page in his book. “I told them not to bother.”

Tony feels up and over his jaw with the hand he can actually move. It’s scarred, already healed anew but feeling wrong all together. The tissue texture is foreign, and it should probably hurt more than it does.

“Someone cradled me,” Tony accuses, blinking, still adjusting to the hospital lights. “Can anyone turn the spotlights down? I swear I’m clean officer and – who cradled me?!?”

“You’ve got Cho to thank for that.”

“There’s a name I haven’t heard in a while.” Tony plucks at the hunk of plastic slapped to his shoulder like a kindergarten macaroni project. “Seriously, what the fuck is this?”

Rhodey rolls his eyes. “Just take it off. They thought it’d help the dysphoria.”

“Dysphoria,” Tony croaks a laugh. God his throat is dry.  “Thought I’d lose a lot more than an arm.”

Rhodey finally looks up at him. He seems alright, sans armor, a bandage on his shoulder but no worse for wear. The hospital room is surprisingly empty (really? no welcome back party? Okay fine, Rhodey is his only friend now).

Moving around isn’t the greatest feeling in the world, but Tony reaches just far enough to yank off that stupid Barbiedoll arm. He chucks it to the foot of the bed, and it bounces to the floor. He looks to his shoulder and um, yep. There’s certainly uh, a stub there. His stomach plummets a little.

Tony feels over the scar tissue, just as Cho chooses to walk in the room.

 “You’re awake again.”

“So you can build me a new jaw, but not an arm, huh?” 

“We had to prioritize,” Cho says, lifting a holographic chart. “Your vitals, or the arm.”

Tony rubs the bridge of his nose.

“Well, that’s peachy.” Tony blinks, his brain still playing catchup. “Wait, awake again?”

Rhodey and Cho share a look, before turning back to their respective devices.

“Yeah, you’ve been fading in and out for a couple hours.” Rhodey digs out his phone, “Guess I better tell the team you pulled through.”

Tony snorts, and slides back in the bed.

“Well don’t bother yourself on my account, honebyear. Just little ol’ Iron Man. Kinda’ sacrificed myself for half the universe, no big deal—“ Tony bites off, and stares. “Wait, we won, right?”

“Yeah,” Rhodey grins, and pockets his phone away. His eyes soften, all the war – the wear – coming through a little older, a little wiser. “We did.”

Cho doesn’t quite smile, but the corners of her eyes squeeze in a way that makes Tony’s hackles raise, like he’s missed something.

The hospital door opens back up again.

“Mister Stark!”

A room previously so quiet, so stiff silent and familiar, is flooded with – well, people.

 “Oh Mister Stark-“ Peter throws his arms around his neck, “I thought you died! That’s so not cool – dying is like, not something we should take turns at –“ 

“Easy kid,” Steve smiles.

Peter jerks back, “Oh, sorry!”

“Shut the hell up, get back in here,” Tony snaps. Peter dives back for another hug, and Tony gets an arm around him this time.

Tony breathes in, taking a moment just to make sure he’s real. That his brain isn’t playing some sick joke and he’s gonna’ wake up on a moon somewhere. Peter is warm under his hand, the suit sinewy and damaged but still in one piece.

He goes to grip the bed rail and scoot over, but Tony flops halfway when his fingers phase right through the bar.

Or uh, no fingers.

Right, right.

“Tony!”

Hands set him upright, big and axe-calloused. “Careful there, Stark. We didn’t wait all day just to lose you again so soon!”

“I’m good, I’m cool.” Tony pats Thor with his good hand, but freezes mid pat, “Wait…”  

“Please take them,” Cho begs. “They’ve been playing poker in the lobby all evening.”

“Strip Poker,” Clint corrects, and hold on, how many avengers are in this room right now? Tony’s lost Rhodey completely, hidden behind Wanda perched on the bedrail, half the guardians squished by the window, and Peter crawled up on his left side.

Barnes picks up the plastic arm and squints at it, “Whose idea was this?”

“I give up,” Cho raises her hands. “Tony, you’re released by Friday with a month of physical therapy. I will hunt you down.”

“Thanks,” he croaks.

Something bangs on the window. Tony turns his head, and Banner is crouched out in the hallway. He absolutely beams, tapping the glass and waving hello. Tony notices Pepper at his side, still in the blue Iron suit, and Tony gives them a forced smile. Pepper smiles back. Hey, at least she liked the birthday present.

The room is loud; people talking over each other – some of it directed at him – but Tony’s brain feels a bit like the old VHS tapes you had to sit and rewind on manual, and his heart is squeezing in a way he hasn’t felt since…

“Aw shucks,” Tony pats Peter’s leg. “I’m touched guys, really. All this just for me? Where’s my Best Dad mug.”

“We had recon work to do while we waited,” Sam says, arms folded, shoulder up against the door. “It was convenient.” His tone is All Business, but he’s smiling in that Glad You’re Not Dead kind of way.

“And we participated in the Free Coffee,” Drax says.

“Yes yes yes yes yes!” Mantis bounces, and Jesus, okay, this is a lot.

“Alright, get them outta’ here,” Tony flops back. “Meet at HQ, debriefings, whatever don’t care. God I need an arm.” His lab is kind of um, buried ten feet under, isn’t it?

“I can get you an arm,” Rocket says.

No,” says everyone.

“Okay, but, that’s the thing,” Scott starts, through a mouthful of burrito. “Uhh, no HQ.” Damn, that looks amazing.

“Hey. Gimmie that.”

“My burrito?”

“No your watch – yes your burrito, Christ, is someone shorting my IV? I feel like I’m starving to death – and I’ve starved to death so don’t even –“

“I can go get you one,” Peter starts, but this kid is definitely not leaving his sight for the next six years, so Tony digs his hand in Peter’s knee, and he gets the idea to stay put.

“Just give it to him,” Rhodey sighs. Scott hands the burrito over a little reluctantly. Tony takes a fat bite and ohh sweet food. One swallow and he’s feelin’ like Popeye. How’s the themesong go again? Dodo do dododo—

“We waited for you,” Steve says, quieting the room. Everyone turns to look at him, attention at his command. Steve leans up off the wall. “It’s your call.”

“Our call,” Tony rubs his forehead. Headache, backache, pain down his spine.

People. Lots of people.

Their people.

“Our team,” Tony continues. “Our team, our call.”

Steve grins. “So?”

“I know I kinda’ dropped off the grid – long story, sold alotta’ shit – you know the property value of a lakeside cabin is way more expensive than you’d think –“

“Stark…”

“The New York tower still runs on its own power supply, apocalypse or not.” Tony swallows, and looks up to a room full of faces that stood at his side and took down an army. “It’s still open game.”

“That’s all I needed to know,” Steve says. “Alright team, lets give Tony some space.”

“Dibs on driving!” Rocket calls.

“Uh, you can drive?”

“Best in the galaxy, baby.”

“Yeah right, maybe after me.

“Hey, Nat and I drove your little ship thing, and it wasn’t exactly rocket science.”

“It was on autopilot, dipshit—”

“Guys…”

It’s like herding cats out the door. Peter slides off the bed.

“I’ll see you at the tower, Mister Stark!”

Tony frowns, “Hey, you’re like, the one person allowed to stay.”

Peter grins, “Thanks! But you look a little tired. And I think Aunt May might be looking for me.”

Ah, shit. Yeah.

Tony fwaps his hand against his shoulder, “Fine, have someone give you a lift. I don’t need you talking to strangers.”   

Peter gives him one last hug, and scurries out after Steve.

Barnes has been quiet, but he picks up the discarded arm off the floor, and sets it on the foot of the bed. He gives Tony a look, silent and knowing, before he walks out the door. Tony doesn’t know why it steals all the air out of his chest, but it does.

Tony takes a mental headcount as they filter out the door. There’s one missing, but he doesn’t allow himself the disappointment.

All the energy seems to suck out of the room, noise and color and everything flowing out with them. Thor’s laughter rings down the hall, the sounds of lightning and broken overheads. Tony closes his eyes, and tries to breathe.

Once more, it’s just Rhodey.

“Where are we?” asks Tony.

“Seoul.”

“Mm. And how’d we get here?”

“How do you think?” Rhodey snorts, and picks up his book again. It looks like it’s been stepped on. He frowns, and dusts it off on his lap. Tony hums, and chooses to ignore the ghost pain in his arm.

It feels too quiet now. Tony thumbs where his arm should be. Where scars litter up the side of his neck.

“I don’t think I was supposed to survive that,” Tony says, under his breath.

Rhodey gazes at him, tired and sad. He offers a smile, and dogears his page in the way that used to drive Tony batshit crazy in college.

“Maybe. But it’s a good thing we had a doctor on hand.”

 


 

 

It’s the witching hour. Even Rhodey has gone home, promised to return tomorrow showered and with Pepper in tow. It sounds like they’ve got a mess on their hands, and Tony is almost glad to be forcefully removed from it.

The hospital hallways are quiet. Tony figured out how to turn down the volume on that fucking monitor, but it still sounds too echoey and loud. The IV drips, and the bed creaks whenever he shifts, and it’s hard to roll on your side when half your side is… well, gone.

He’s not in the deepest sleep of the century, so it’s no surprise when Tony wakes to a soft whooshing noise.

The corner of the room lights up – not by much, but it’s blunt against the dark of the looney room. The beating on the monitor increases. Tony summons a deep breath, and keeps his eyes closed.

The portal closes, and the light goes with it. Footsteps approach the side of his bed. Tony can’t take the suspense anymore; he opens his eyes.

Stephen is looking down at him, startled, but not surprised. He blinks once, and immediately looks to his side.

“Sorry,” Stephen whispers. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“Nobody sleeps in a hospital,” Tony says. He uses his good arm to sit up a little.“Except the dead. What’s up?”

“I had business to attend to after the battle, but I wanted to check on you.”

“How generous of you. Unfortunately I’m still here. But I think you had a little something to do with that.”

Stephen doesn’t show any infliction on his face. He’s a hard son of a bitch to read, especially when Tony’s half doped out on lord knows what.

Stephen clears his throat, and turns to the charts, mumbling, “What have they got you on here…”

Tony makes a noncommittal noise, and Strange fiddles with some of the IV’s. He’s without the cloak, but still in his robes from earlier, dusty and bloodstained. It’s been a long twenty-four hours. Maybe they need an Avengers vacation. Three whole days, fun-in-the-sun bottomless margaritas, coast-side relaxation; it’s summer somewhere, right?

Stephen is reading his chart, but Tony is looking at just him. Stephen flips a page on the clipboard. Tony fumbles with the gown collar around his neck. He clears his throat.

“One, huh?”

Stephen’s eyes snap to him. They’re bright green and a burning light in the dark.

To Tony’s surprise, he doesn’t answer right away. His hands are unsteady, but a closer look reveals long scars and pinpoint dots, a telltale sign of metal pins and surgery.

Stephen reaches forward instead, to drag his knuckles down the scarring on Tony’s neck. His heart jackhammers into his goddamn throat – and the monitor doesn’t help any – but Stephen keeps his gaze lowered, almost guilty.

“Of fourteen million possibilities, you were sentenced to die in nearly each one.”

 Tony swallows. It’s not like he didn’t know already, but there’s something about the softness of his voice that makes his chest twist.

Stephen’s fingers drag up his cheek, cool and surprisingly soft. It feels tingly and intimate, and Tony has no idea what’s happening, but he better not be too fucked up to forget about it tomorrow.

Tony meets his eye, steady.

“So which reality is this?”

“A diamond in the rough.”

Tony crosses his arm across his chest, to grip Stephen’s fingers where they rest at his jaw. Stephen tenses, but Tony squeezes, mind set and eyes narrowed.

He doesn’t know what Strange saw. At this point, Tony is almost afraid to ask. But there’s a select few that know just how heavy that weight is, and it’s a solidarity between them. Only here, where it’s quiet and dark, and nobody can hear a thing.

They won, huh?

Stephen glances once at Tony’s monitor, before he turns his hand in Tony’s grip, and squeezes his fingers back. It means something. Tony just can’t figure out what it is.

Careful, Stephen braces his free hand on the bedrail and leans up and over the side. Tony holds his breath – and Stephen keeps leaning, closer and closer, until his mouth brushes his ear. Tony’s wit runs dry, tongue trapped between his teeth.

Stephen’s breath is hot, his stubble brushing against Tony’s. The words nearly scald him.

 

“If you remember this, come find me.”

 

Tony wakes up.

 

 


 

 

Well as it turns out, you need the Barbie arm for stupid shit like uh, walking. Apparently (or as it has been explained to him), dropping fifteen pounds off one side makes you a little off balance, which is annoying as all fuck because Tony has places to be.

Tony tries signing the paperwork, leaning on his elbow, but he’s leaning more and more and hello floor, we are about to become very well acquainted. Hi, I’m Tony, and you? –

“Careful!” Pepper catches him, an arm around his waist. “You’re going to a be a little off balance for a while. Where’s your arm?”

“Up Thanos’s ass, where do you think?” Tony snaps, and he doesn’t mean to, but it’s really annoying that his best friend and sort-of-boss has to set him upright every two minutes.

Pepper rolls her eyes, “Your fake one. It’s supposed to help you get your balance back.”

“Pepper it’s ugly.

“Well sorry Tony, but—”

“Hey, engines running!” Rhodey calls. “Let’s wrap this up before Cap pops an artery. He’s already blowing up my coms.”

“It’d serve him right,” Tony says, hacking up his signature again. The lady behind the counter is explaining the transfer physical therapy program and blah-de-blah, Tony half nods along and shoves off Pepper when she tries to catch him again.

“Yes yes okay Miss, I’ll be a good boy – Pepper, I’ve been in this shithole for a week and you didn’t even bring me flowers, get that thing away from me.”

Pepper huffs, stomping behind him with the arm slung over her shoulder like an axe.

“Oh my apologies 'Mister Stark’ – I was a little busy picking up the pieces of your company. Half your execs are back wondering if they still have a job on the board, and –“

“Give me that,” Tony snaps, yanking the arm out of her grip. He slams his good shoulder into the doorway, forces off Rhodey and makes his way out of the automatic doors. He takes the Barbie arm and chucks it across the parking lot. Bounce, bounce, klunk.

Rhodey and Pepper are looking at him like a kid throwing a tantrum, but Tony feels incredibly satisfied.

“Was that really necessary?”

“Yes,” Tony grins. “Okay, Stark Tower. Can we stop for burgers? I’m pretty sure we can take the quinjet through the drive through if we ask nicely.”

They’re unimpressed, until Tony buys enough burgers to feed a football team. He wobbles through the tower elevator with an armful of bags, calling,

“Daddy’s home!”

He can feel the eyeroll from Steve, but the grateful avengers help him unload the bags. Pepper and Rhodey follow behind, setting down the rest of the food on the kitchen table.

Scott appears out of nowhere.

“Yoo, what’s this?”

“Sonic. I’m pretty sure we bought one of everything,” Pepper says. “Help yourself.”

Tony leans his hip up against the back of the couch and skims the room. Guardians, avengers, new avengers – it’s actually been a while since Tony’s stepped foot in the tower. They’ve changed some of the décor, but there’s more room than the hospital lobby, that’s for sure.

“Thanks Tony,” Steve says. He passes tater tots to Barnes and then T’Challa, who seems hesitant. “How you feeling?”

“Ten pounds lighter.”

“Ha!” Rocket laughs. “Good one.”

“Thanks Pooh Bear – don’t eat all the fries, is Peter here?”

“Huh?” Quill perks up.

“Not you, the cute one.”

“Hey, fuck you-“

“Spider boy went home,” Thor scratches his beard. “He spoke something of five years of homework.

Tony rubs his forehead and rolls his eyes. He’ll call the kid later then.

“Alright Cap, you wanna’ kick this pow-wow off?”

“Gladly.”

“What, are we going to do the Pledge?” Shuri jokes, and places a hand over her heart. T’Challa elbows her, and Steve looks exhausted already, casually popped up on the coffee table, elbow deep in a fry bag.

“Well, to start, we need to work on plans for a new HQ. Who’s staying, who’s leaving, et cetera. Guardians, I assume you’re out on the next one-way.”

“Soon as the engines’ all fixed, baby.”

Tony makes his way towards the kitchen table, and silently digs out a burger. He’s starting to get the hang of this walking thing, but he’s still anxious to get down to his old lab and whip up a new arm. Hey, you don’t get to say that every day.

Sam is nodding along to everything Steve says, and Tony catches Bruce’s eye, mocking the nod behind his back. Bruce snorts, and scratches at his bad arm. Hey, maybe they should start an arm club.

Tony opens his mouth to take a bite out of his burger; he instantly freezes, the back of his neck tingling. His eyes snap across the room.

Doctor Strange is here. He’s in casual clothes, hair washed, looking eerily normal in a sweater and jeans, and Tony’s heart nearly pops out of his chest. Tony crosses his arm across his sternum, just to be sure the reactor isn’t there, failing in his ribcage.

Truth be told, Tony has been scratching his head the past two days trying to figure out what was real and what his druggy fruit looped brain dreamed up.

People have come to visit him. A unicorn also phased through the door, and a giant wiener ate his television (ninety-nine percent sure that was a dream). But that thing with Strange – still pretty up in the air about that one.

Stephen meets his eye, and offers a short two finger wave. Tony gestures with his burger in question, and Stephen politely shakes his head no. He turns back to the meeting, and Tony takes another bite.

Strange isn’t acting any weirder than usual, so it was probably a dream, but a pretty big part of Tony still hopes it wasn’t.

 

It was a lonely five years. He can’t help but wonder the what if of it allAt this point, it’s in his DNA.

 

Stephen keeps his gaze on Cap, arms crossed and half-attentive, and Tony thinks of the breath on his ear, and instantly shivers.

 

It’s dumb.

 


 

 

He takes his first real... non-spongy shower since the battle.

 

The shower runs and runs, steam flooding up and under the door; but Tony stares in the mirror, and studies what’s left of himself.

 

He looks like a patchwork doll. Maybe a bit like Frankenstein, if he had a goatee and designer sunglasses.

 

It’s actually not that bad, but you can see the discoloration, the synthetic tissue stitched up his jaw, down the right side of his neck and into his shoulder. It’s not beautiful by any means.

The big empty gap on Tony’s right side – the place where his arm should be – it flips his stomach whenever he looks at it. Not out of shame or fear or disgust. But out of a sickening realization that he really did come that close to death this time. That this really is permanent.

The weight of the world is heavy, and it crashes down on him all at once. The last five years of grief and pain, the last fifteen knowing they’re not alone in the universe. The last thirty knowing no matter what he builds, no matter how hard he tries, no matter how many arms he loses, he can never protect those he cares about. Not forever.

It feels like his arm should still be there.

Tony grips into the porcelain rim of the sink, and cries just this once.

 

 


 

 

Okay, hindsight? He really didn’t think it was going to be this hard.

Making the arm was easy. Friday scanned the measurements, Tony drew up some prototypes on the holotable, and the nanobots pretty much built the rest. Tony can tweak shit with a hand tied behind his back anyways,  so it wasn’t that big of a deal. The arm turned out good. Still a little firm, but squishy enough to not look totally robotic.

Once upon a time he would’ve painted that shit rocket-red and slapped the Iron Man logo on it, but he doesn’t want Barnes to think he’s stealing his shtick, so Tony went for realism.

Come to find out, it’s putting it on that’s the rough part.

“Alright, alright alright-“ Tony bickers. “Gentle with me, Jesus H Christmas, you’re worse than Dum-E.”

“Sorry boss,” Friday says. M-DAY is a generic claw robot that Tony built back during the Ultron project, which isn’t great for the minuscule tweaks Tony needs, but he can only do so much with one hand. Friday keeps M-DAY still, and Tony tries to hook his shoulder joint in the arm.

“Fuck,” Tony curses, flinching at the twinge. He can hear the latch catching, he just needs the goddamn nerves to connect – but they rub instead, and Tony jerks again.

“I can ask Sam Wilson to come down and help.”

“Yeah right, like I’ll ever live that one down.”

Rocket already helped him install the cybernetic enhancements in his shoulder, of which Tony was very unenthusiastic about. But in all truth, his grimy little rodent hands are good with metal, and perfect for reaching those pesky nerves. Tony rolls his shoulder, still feeling a little sore. Fuck, he just wants this stupid arm on already.

“Boss?”

“Mm.”

“Doctor Strange is in the lobby.”

Tony jolts, slipping the latch against his nerves again. Oh, that one hurt. Tony screws his eyes shut and waits out the pain. He hisses through his teeth.

“Huh???”

“He’s requesting entry to the lab.”

Tony pulls off the claw, and slams down the arm with a sigh. He scrubs through his hair and sighs again.

“Well don’t be rude.”

He’s still shirtless, rubbing out his shoulder when the keypad goes green. Stephen steps through in uniform, the cape clutched on his back like a loyal little dog.

“Hey magic man. What’s with the manners?”

“Hello to you too?” Strange lifts an eyebrow.

“Polite of you to knock. I’m surprised you didn’t just pop through the chimney like ol’ Saint Nick.”  

Stephen looks like he really wants to roll his eyes. He sighs instead, crossing his arms, “I can only create portals to places I can picture in my mind.”

“Ooh, so I need to keep an eye out from now on, huh?” Tony flops back in his rolly chair and spins. Stephen doesn’t deny it.  “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“I just wanted to see if you were successful in returning the stones,” Stephen says. “I was unable to find Rogers, or I would have asked him myself.”

Tony flops his arm around, still spinning the chair with his ankle.

“Steve ran off with his little Bucky-Boo. I don’t think I really want to know where. All the Avengers shit has been delegated, and now we’re just on hiatus until the new compound is built.”

“The Government is a bit of a mess anyways,” Strange says. He blinks, “The stones?”

“Oh, right. Returned safe and sound. Tucked in, read a bedtime story, the whole nine yards.”

“Mmm.” Stephen eyes him. Tony suddenly feels very self-conscious without a shirt. He’s never said that in his life probably ever, but the scars hooked under his new metal shoulder aren’t exactly swim-suit ready. Tony uses his heel to jerk his spinning to a stop as Stephen approaches his workbench.

“Anything else?”

“I’m glad to see you’ve recovered,” Stephen says. He turns over the synthetic arm, “I wasn’t sure if you were going to pull through after I cauterized the wound.”

Guess it’s not worth being insecure around a fuckin’ doctor. Tony draws a leg up on the chair, and watches him study the inside of the arm.

“Yeah, thanks for that. Have a bit of a stuffy nose though, think you can write me a Z-Pack?”

Stephen gives him a very unamused look, but returns to studying the arm. Tony sniffs.

“Like it?”

“It’s unnervingly realistic. I shouldn’t be surprised that you made it so quickly.”

“And yet,” Tony waves. “Unfortunately the hard part is putting it on.”

Stephen looks up at him, intrigued.

“Really.”

“Yup. Can’t get the damn joint to catch.” He makes a single jazz hand, “I’m shorthanded. Bdm-tsss.”

“At least you’re in good spirits,” Stephen mumbles. He then speaks up, “Would you like my help?”

Tony bites his lip. He thinks about those hands at his neck. The mouth against his ear.

He mentally shakes it out of his head.

“If you don’t mind.”

“Sure,” Strange shrugs. “Where do you need me?”

Bent over my desk –

Nope, stop that. Tony grabs the arm and holds it to the socket.

“Just push when I tell you to.”

Stephen nods. His hands aren’t the steadiest, but Tony can do the rest so long as he holds the arm up. Stephen grips the wrist and the bicep, and Tony holds a screwdriver in his mouth to turn the joint.

He’s glad he can’t feel Stephen’s grip. His fingers are long – red and shaky, but they look kind of beautiful. Stephen’s face is masked in concentration, long eyelashes and all, so Tony tries to work quick so he doesn’t do something stupid like, I dunno’, kiss him fucking mental.

“Uh’h’lil,” Tony muffles. Stephen gets the idea, and holds the arm higher. Tony grabs the flathead out of his mouth and slides it between the flesh-toned plating. “Thanks, push please. That’s perfect. Up, up-“ the nerves start to grind, and Tony winces. “Shit.”

“Are you alright?”

“Yup, that’s great. Pull?”

Stephen gently tugs, and Tony yanks against him, and there’s an audible click of the arm.

“Oh!” Tony gasps, jerking as the arm comes to life. It spasms, the wrist twisting in Strange’s grip, a tingling sensation sizzling up his arm. It’s weird, really weird. Like his arm is there again, but he can’t quite feel like he used to. “There it is,” Tony mutters, turning his palm over. Responsive, no lag. Tony clenches his palm, and the grip strength is good.

“Incredible,” Stephen says. His face is surprisingly earnest.

Tony looks up, “What was that?”

“Nothing. Do you need anything else?”

“Nope!” Tony bangs his fist on the table and rolls his shoulder. “Fits like a charm. Sometimes I impress myself. Do you need anything?”

“Not if the stones have been returned safely,” Stephen says. “I’ll return to the sanctum. Tell Rogers I said hello.”

Tony’s heart sputters a little, and his mouth spits out without his consent.

“Hey now, don’t scurry off so fast. Let me buy you lunch.”

Stephen blinks twice, and it’s endearing.

“Lunch?”

“You know,” Tony snaps his teeth, and mimes a hamburger in his hand. “Human eat food.” Stephen rolls his eyes and there it is. He knew the sass was in there somewhere.

“I need to return to the Sanctum by sundown.”

“I’ll have you back in an hour, pinky swear.”

“And hope to die?” 

“I like you,” Tony says.

 

 


 

 

Since the Avengers temporarily moved into the Tower, they’ve been eating the local deli out of house and home. Hey, if you make good sandwiches, the Avengers will come. Like the bat signal, but with a beautiful chicken parm projected on the New York skyline.

Stephen glows as soon as they step out of the tower, and his clothes shift into something less Comic Con and more Forty Year Old Man Who Shops at Express. Faded jeans, black T-Shirt, sneakers.

“Cute.”

“What was that?”

“Shoot,” Tony covers, flipping a hand out of his pocket. “Almost dropped my wallet.” He grins.

Stephen gives him a weird look, but holds the deli door open for him.

“Oh not you again!” The little Chinese lady screeches behind the counter.

Tony lifts his hands in surrender (hey, plural).

“Just two today!”

She grumbles, but slides on her gloves and snaps them at the wrist.

“What you want?”

Stephen makes a cough – something that might’ve been a laugh. They sit down at one of the back tables after they order. Tony isn’t really looking to be recognized, but he supposes there’s not much media going around quite yet. Give it a few weeks.

Tony taps his right hand against the lip of the table, testing how much he can really feel. Stephen’s gaze is steady on his fingers, so Tony starts up a conversation.  

“Is it weird doing your little magic shows without the time stone?”

“It wasn’t a relic I used often,” Stephen says, meeting his eye. “But protecting our reality is going to be much more difficult in the coming future.”

“That’s…bad.”

“Inconvenient.” Stephen leans back in the chair and crosses his arms, and for a moment there, he almost looks human. “I can’t cheat anymore. No more looking into the future. No more do-overs.”

“Almost like a video game.”

“It was.” Stephen makes a face, and scratches at the short hairs on his neck. “I’ll have to be vigilant. But it’s not impossible. Earth has other powerful relics.”

“Anything I should be worried about?”

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s not in your job description.”

Tony snorts, and sips out of his straw.

“I’m not even sure what that is anymore.”

The hardened look on Stephen’s face starts to melt a little. His eyes are green green green.

Tony wants to bring up the hospital. The dream. The whatever that was. But Stephen pops a chip in his mouth and asks,  

“They said you dropped off the grid after the snap. Are you going to go back?”

Tony sighs. He worries at his bottom lip, and shrugs.

“Don’t know. I kinda’ – after floating through space and holding hands with death – I needed –“ he makes a hand gesture, and Stephen nods like he gets it. “You know. To get away. As far as I was concerned, we’d failed. failed. And I just –“ he circles a finger by his head, “-coo coo, coo coo.”

“Reasonable, all things considered.”  

“I couldn’t handle the lack of noise in a place that used to be so full of life. The city felt dead. At least you can feel a little normal out in the woods, where nobody’s supposed to be anyways.” Tony thumbs at the sticker on his sandwich wrapper. “I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. I think I’m…I think I’m done.”

Stephen keeps his gaze, his 100% attention. “But people like you aren’t ever done, are they?”

“No,” Tony says. “I’m probably going to work BTS on the Avengers. Home husband, the man behind the computer, et cetera et cetera. I can’t let it go completely, especially now that everyone is back and totally homeless. But I’m-“ Tony studies the seams on his new right hand. “I’m done with field work for now.”

“You’ve earned your rest,” Stephen says. “I don’t think anyone will argue with that.”

Tony hums, “What was it Loki once said? I am burdened with glorious purpose.”

Stephen snorts a laugh, and it’s the first crack in his mask Tony has seen since the not-hospital, and it’s been a longass time since Tony felt butterflies, but he sure as hell knows the feeling when it happens.

 

If you remember this, come find me.

 

Tony opens his mouth. Stephen smiles at him, and Tony chickens out like a wuss. 

“Pickle?” Tony offers.

“No thank you.”

 


 

 

“More more more!” Tony begs. “I can take it!”

“Are you sure?” 

“What, you think I’m all talk? Really give it to me, Barnes.”

Bucky gives Tony one last alright, if you say so look, and squeezes his fingers even harder. Tony can’t feel the pain, but the metal does give a very worrying creak. Tony pushes back, testing how far he can push the arm before the joints really start to bend.

“Someone’s going to get hurt,” Steve says.

“Go go go!” Peter cheers. “Come on Mister Stark!”

It’s the arm wrestle of the century. Metal versus metal, both of their limbs are beginning to screech. Barnes shifts in his chair and Tony leans up further, just shy of taking the lead. But Barnes pushes harder, and Tony feels his shoulder twist.

“You give?”

Tony hisses, squinting through the pain; Steve barks a worried, “Tony, really—”

“Alright alright, I give!" 

He lets go, and his arm slams into the table, rattling against the floor.

“I was worried there for a second,” Barnes says.

“Really?”

“No.”

“Not bad, if you think about it,” Tony huffs, studying the damage. “Mine was made to look squishy and yours is pure vibranium. Thanks for the data though, I’m definitely going to make a few tweaks.”

Peter gapes, “Wait, your arm is vibranium?” 

“Yeah, and I used to have a dent right here-“ Barnes points to his wrist, “-from you.” 

“Now you know why I didn’t ask the kid to go a round,” Tony mumbles to Steve, jabbing his thumb back. Steve sighs, and crosses his arms.

“My turn!” Peter says.

“No,” says everyone else.

 


 

 

This time, he’s sure it’s a dream. It’s fuzzy and half-broken in that way dreams are.  He used to dream about falling out of space, about tyrants and a suit of armor around the world. About dust and grit under his nails, and a heavy failure on his shoulders and under his rib cage.

Nowadays, he dreams about magic. About this physical pull, a tug, like the universe wants him to turn down the street and keep walking.

In the back of his mind, he knows where it’s taking him.

 

 


 

 

Tony spends most of his days signing his life away. They have to bring in excavation teams to move out the rubble, concrete contractors to pave out the foundation, it’s square one all over again. HQ is a good years worth of construction, even with Tony’s pockets, so the Avengers are settled in at the tower for now.

Thor left with the guardians about a week ago. He’s looking a little better, but the poor guy needs to get away, and Tony knows a thing or two about that. He tried to give Thor a few pointers on staying off the sauce, so here’s to hoping he listened.

The tower is still full of life. It won’t stay this way forever, which is both good and bad, so Tony will appreciate it for now.

He helps Wanda and Steve with dinner, and they gather up on the couches and around the kitchen table like it’s the last supper.

Tony’s gaze turns to the window, where Stephen had stood all those weeks ago, arms crossed and seemingly unimpressed, and he’s hit with the sudden urge to invite him over. He’s like, ninety-nine percent sure he could find Strange’s phone number if he really sent Friday on a hunt, but it’s a little late now.

Still, there’s an empty chair.

 

It’s that vacant chair that has Tony in his car, speeding downtown the next day. What was the street name again? Beaker? Baker? Whatever, it’s a big ugly building, it can’t be that hard to find.

There’s no on-street parking, but he doesn’t really give a shit about the ticket, so he parks out front anyways. He cuts the engine, covers his eyes from the sun and looks up at the circular window.

Yup, this is the place.

It’s probably too late to turn back now, so Tony climbs up the stairs and raises his hand to knock.

The door swings open, and Tony nearly sways forwards.

Stephen blinks at him.

“Hello.”

“You didn’t see me coming,” Tony accuses, stepping in. “There's no way.”

“Nope,” Stephen agrees.  “I heard you. Could you possibly drive a louder car?”

“Oh boo hoo.” Tony looks up and around, “Haven’t done much with the place, have ya’? Ever heard of an interior decorator? I know a guy.”

Stephen closes the door behind him.

“Can I help you?”

“Suuure,” Tony sings. “Wanda has a cough and she’s gonna’ get everyone else sick because she can’t figure out how to cover her mouth.”

Stephen gives an impressive eyeroll, and starts back up the stairs, “I don’t have time for this.”

Tony breathes in, panics, and says something else.

“Sorry. I….I don’t know why I’m here. Or – I do – but, you’re busy so uh, I’llseeyoulater.”

Tony goes to turn on his heel, but Stephen freezes on the stair, and Tony freezes too. Stephen turns, and looks at him in a surprisingly non-judgmental way. His tone shifts.

 “Do you like tea? I’m sorting ancient texts upstairs if you don’t mind some magic.”

“Magic saved the universe,” Tony says, starting back up the sanctum stairs. “At this point, we’re cool.”

Stephen breathes a laugh through his nose, shaking his head almost to himself. Tony follows him up into the library, and past the big window. Hey, there’s his car.

Stephen summons a mug out of nowhere, and flicks his wrist to pour tea in it. He already has a book in one hand, snapping it shut and sending it across the sanctum.

Tony only hesitates a little before taking the flying cup.

“Will it start singing to me?”

“You owe me a dollar for each Disney reference.”

“Okay okay,” Tony huffs. It feels like his heart is beating out of his chest. Each time Stephen looks at him – it's heavy, pointed, like a laser peeling back his skin. But Stephen turns that gaze to his next book, and sits on the arm of the adjacent chair.

“How’s the non-retired life?”

“Just HQ nonsense,” Tony says. He takes a sip of the tea, and it’s green. Normally not his favorite, but it’s not bad. He shrugs his bad shoulder, “There’s a scuffle here and there, but nothing to cry wolf over.”

Stephen hums, and glances up at him, as if he’s waiting for something. Tony licks over his bottom lip, and stares back. It feels tense. Despite the tea, despite the warm sun from the window, despite the casual jeans and the smell of old books – the air winds tighter, the complete opposite of that relaxed day in the deli. Tony breathes in through his mouth, trying to calm down.

Stephen glances back down at his book, and the moment passes.

“Good. I want nothing to do with the initiative, but I’m happy to offer my services, all things considered.”

Yeah, all things considered. Tony looks to his new arm.

Stephen glows with the sunlight behind him. It catches his eyelashes, the white streaks in his hair, the smooth dip of his neck. Tony didn’t think he could feel stuff like this anymore. The air keeps squeezing, his heart keeps beating, and Tony finally, finally says it.

 

“One, huh?”

 

Stephen’s book snaps shut.

 

He looks up at him, over him, in him, a piercing stare into his soul. Tony stares back.

“I remember,” Tony’s voice wavers.

Stephen doesn’t speak. It’s so pin quiet, you can almost hear the street traffic outside.

“Then here you are,” Stephen whispers.

“I-I thought it was a dream,” Tony stammers. “But I’ve had dreams, Strange. Dreams aren’t like that. Dreams aren’t –“ he drags his hand up to his cheek, where fingers traced his scars. Stephen’s eyes follow the movement, almost knowingly. “Stephen. What was that?”

He moves from his perch on the armchair. Stephen sets the book aside, and it floats to it’s rightful home. Tony places his mug on the side-table in surprise, and Stephen moves further, closer into his personal bubble, popping it entirely when he chooses to sit on the arm of Tony’s chair.

“Tell me your choice,” Stephen says. “The fact that you’re here tells me you’ve already made one. But I want to hear it from you.”

“I don’t even know what’s happening!” Tony barks. “Why did – why did you touch me like that? Why…”

“I put these here,” Stephen states, reaching for him, finally touching him with a graze of his fingers. “I condemned you to this future. And you rose up to the challenge, all the better for it.” His thumb grazes along his jaw, and Tony shudders from it. Stephen leans closer, hovering over him, around him, everywhere all at once. “You are brilliant and lethal and your tongue is sharp enough to slice with. My demise was inevitable. There is a reality where we are, and a reality where we are not. Make that choice. I made mine five years ago.”

Tony’s brain is starting to catch on. Stephen sees that, and smiles through his eyes. Knuckles brush beneath his jaw. Down the scar on his throat. The tension winds so tight he can’t breathe; it’s a weight on his chest, addicting in a way he didn’t know was possible.

Stephen, in all his tall glory. He’s dangerous, but so is Tony. Maybe they can be dangerous together.

“Can I choose you?” Tony rasps.

Stephen smiles with teeth, finally. He thumbs across Tony’s ear, beneath his eye and across the corner of his lip. Tony wants his touch forever. Wants it branded like the reactor scar between his ribs, and the web-nest crawling up his shoulder.

“You can,” says Stephen, and dips his head down just enough, just so close that their lips brush. Tony shudders an inhale because it’s soft, it’s so almost there, it’s such a fucking tease, and his heart has never squeezed so tight from a stupid almost-kiss.

He takes that back. It’s not stupid.

(They hardly know each other. Or do they? Is there such a thing as destiny? As soulmates?)

 

Stephen’s skin brushes against his own. His lips are soft and round, and by god, the smell of his aftershave is enough to send him spiraling. They’re breathing in the same air, staring, not a kiss, not anything.

 

(Maybe, maybe not. But who gives a damn?)

 

Tony shoots a hand up and around his neck, and Stephen allows more of his weight to bare down and they kiss, finally, a real kiss. A crushing press, mouths half opened and moving like they’ll die without it. Fireworks, so many fucking fireworks. Red and blue and green and green and green!  Stephen makes a satisfied little sigh against his mouth and Tony cannot believe it, absolutely cannot fathom the curl in his stomach. They move together, all at once, no one person more than the other.

Equals.

“Jesus,” Tony breathes, squeezing his good hand into Stephen’s hair. “You are…really beautiful, you know that?”

Stephen smiles, and holds his jaw steady so he can kiss him straight on. Tony meets him, struggles and tries to get a rise out of him, and Stephen only presses harder, kissing him punch for punch.

“I never looked past this,” Stephen breathes. “For once, I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want a perfect future I couldn’t guarantee.”

“Nothing involving me will ever be perfect,” Tony says, mechanical fingers tightening on his waist just for show.

“Neither with I,” Stephen says, and braces a hand on the back of the chair so he can hover over Tony and kiss him again. Tony sighs, turning up into it, and then away.

“You – you need to know what you’re getting into, Strange.” He’s a hot fuckin’ mess on a good Tuesday. A war proprietor, an alcoholic, a catastrophic failure — you overcome one thing, and life trips you right into another.  

“Everyone is damaged somehow,” Stephen says, lifting his hands for show. They tremble, shaking with effort just to curl his fingers and pet against the scar on Tony’s ear. “Perfection is a pipe dream. I learned that lesson the hard way. You and I – we are more than this.” Stephen grips his metal arm, and squeezes with what little hand-strength he has.

“I’m probably in love with you,” Tony says, and Stephen laughs, trying for another kiss and this time, Tony lets him.  

The kiss tingles. Like, the first time holding hands under the school bleacher kind of tingle. There was a time where Tony could’ve clapped his hands and had sex with ten different people six times sideways – but this time he snapped his fingers, destroyed an alien army, and learned that a single kiss could be this perfect.

Stephen smells like books and tea. They tip their heads one way, and then another, and then back, as if trying to decide which is the best way to get even closer. Tony licks over his bottom lip and across his tongue, expecting some kind of reaction, but Stephen bites down and sucks on it, and it’s Tony who moans.

Mr. Wizard is still way too far away to be remotely acceptable, so he yanks on Stephen’s beltloop, and forces his knee between Tony's legs.

Stephen’s hand flies to his neck, pressing flat and squeezing – and Tony’s chest sucks in, and Stephen (why, why?!) pulls away from the kiss.

“Wait,” Stephen breathes. He tips his nose just out of place, just so Tony can’t kiss him face on. “Hold on.”

Tony’s brain catches up. 

“Shit! Sorry-“

“No,” Stephen smiles, and he’s doing a lot of that, isn’t he? It’s nice, it’s really – “Let me take you on a date first.”

“Ohh,” Tony blinks. He relaxes a little, and rests his hands on Stephen’s waist, a respectable distance from his hips. “He’s a gentleman.”

“I’m a doctor, ” Stephen says. Tony pulls back just enough to finally see his eyes, and he looks hungry. Tony notes the mess of his hair. The flush down his neck. The gravel in his voice. “I want to tear you apart.” He grips Tony’s shirt collar, and yanks it down one side. “But you are still recovering.”

Tony groans, and slams his head back.

“It’s just inflamed, Doc. I’m a good boy, I promise.”

“Mm. How’s the physical therapy.”

“Never went,” Tony answers, and watches him finger along the metal plating. Stephen doesn’t reply. He feels along the inflamed skin, and Tony blinks in disbelief as his fingers glow blue, and the agitation starts to subside. Tony sniffs to hide the emotion in his throat. “Aren’t you gonna’ nag at me? Slap my wrists?”

“Why?” Stephen pets along his neck, into his hair, over his ears. Like he can’t stop touching him. “I never fucking went.”

Tony laughs. Stops, and laughs again, headbutting Stephen, closing his eyes and staying there.

What is this? What is this?  

Stephen mouths over his temple. Tony’s heart flutters like a kid at prom.

 

 

It’s happiness, maybe.

 

 


 

 

“Ding dong.”

“Que?” Tony calls, from under the car.

He can hear the concern in Steve’s voice. “Are you supposed to be doing that?”

“No,” Tony wheels out on the creeper. “What do you want?”

“I have some terms the senator faxed over.”

“Ugh, great.”

“Yeah, tell me about it.”

“Set it on my bench, I’ll look at it never.”

Steve sighs, and clears off a little spot for the paper. “Any news on Headquarters?”

“Just started pourin’ concrete,” Tony says, reaching for a spanner. “Why, got ants in your star-spangled pants?”

“Nah. There’s just too much to do for us not to have a real base of operations.”

“Yeah? Banner seems right at home. He’s taken over the fifteenth floor and everything.” Steve snorts, and Tony continues, “How was your mini-vacation?”

“We only went down to Jersey for a weekend,” Steve rubs his head. “It was…nice.”

Tony laughs, “As nice as Jersey can be.”

“Yeah, Buck had some words.”

It’s quiet as Tony flips out for a socket wrench, and shifts his weight onto his good shoulder. Steve sits on the corner of his desk, and Tony doesn’t mind the company, so he doesn’t tell him to fuck off like he might’ve years ago.

Steve hums. Oh great, he wants to say something.

“Sooo….”

“Spit it out.”

“You and Strange?”

“Nevermind, suck it back in.”

“Interesting choice. I didn’t think he was your type.”

“We’re not having this conversation, Rogers.”

“Parker said you have a date tonight.”

“Oh that big-mouthed, two timing little pain in my butt. I love him so much but we are going to have words.

“I just want you to know that we’ve got everything handled back here,” Steve says. “So go enjoy yourself.”

“Did you just give me your blessing?”

“No…”

“Alright, out of my garage. Go, scram, I’m dead serious Rogers, I’ll count down from five.”

Steve laughs, and Tony picks up a spare wrench and tosses it, knowing he couldn’t hurt Rogers if he tried, but Steve still jogs out the door like a kid outrunning a slap from their mom.

 

 


 

 

Stephen is very not good at hinting where they fuck they’re going, so Tony spends an hour sitting cross-legged in front of his closet, trying to figure out what the hell to wear.

“Why are you calling me?” Rhodey answers. “I’m literally upstairs.

“I have a hot date with a wizard and I don’t know what I'm wearing.”

There’s a very, very, very long pause.

“First of all-“

“Oh here we go-“

“You wore a t-shirt to meet the president that said ‘My Pen Is Bigger Than Yours. I cannot possibly fathom the idea that you CARE about what you're wearing." 

“Okay but-“

“Second of all, Doctor Strange?? Really Tony?”

“Alright you’re no help, bye.” Tony hangs up, and calls Pepper. She advises him not to wear the penis shirt, so okay, progress.

 

Jacket, no jacket. Jacket? Yes. Wait, no. Sweatshirt.

 

One of the metal plates catch while he’s slipping on the hoodie, and it rips a dime-sized hole in the armpit.

 

 

Jacket.

 

 


 

 

“What flavor did you get again?”

“Mint chocolate.”

“Garbage, you have to try mine,” Tony says. “I might’ve accidentally created the most amazing gelato flavor known to mankind.”

Stephen raises a sharp eyebrow, and he kinda’ reminds him of Spock. He’s a very Spock-y person. He always thought Spock was sexy.

“And what is that?”

“It’s coffee and strawberry.”

“Uh, no thanks.”

“Come on, trust me.” Tony shoves his spoon up in his face, and Stephen rears back like a dog taking medicine. “Stephen! Would I lie to you?”

“Yes.”

“Fair, but I’m serious this time.”

Stephen sighs as if he’s agreeing to something far more reckless. He bends down, and lets Tony stick a plastic spoon in his mouth. Tony pulls back, and Stephen blinks down at him.

“I expected worse.”

“It was good, right?”

“No.”

“Give it a minute,” Tony says, and leans back on the table.

It’s one of those gelato stands with the outdoor picnic tables. It’s dark out, but there’s little lanterns strung around the telephone poles, and you can see the Brooklyn bridge all lit up from here. It’s not a fancy schmancy restaurant or a candlelit evening in Paris, and Tony totally loves it.

 “Are you done with that?” Stephen points.

“Hm? Yeah.”

Stephen takes the cup from him, and crosses over to the park trashcan. He subtly claps his hands together on the walk back over, and Tony sees little sparks fly off his fingertips. Tony sits up.

“What was that?!”

“Hm?”

“Did you just clean your hands?”

Stephen smirks, and climbs back on the picnic table. Tony grips his fingers, and they’re not sticky at all.

 “Dude, not fair. Do me.”

Stephen gives him a look, but it’s kind of fond. Tony really likes it. He seems to give in, because he grips Tony’s wrists, and makes him clap his hands. Sparks fly only from his left hand, but they do feel significantly less sticky. He rubs his fingers, still prickly from the magic.

“Wow, that is so convenient.”

“Very,” Stephen agrees. “I used to laugh at the concept of magic. Now I can’t imagine life without it.”

“I could say that about a lot of things.”

Tony takes the chance to thread his left hand with Stephen’s; fingers shakily squeeze back, mimicking the compress on his heart. Feeling brave, Tony drops his head on Stephen’s shoulder. Stephen doesn’t push him off, so that’s definitely a win.

The sun’s down, but there’s people around. It’s nice. Stephen pets over his thumb.

“What are you thinking about?”

“Can’t you read my mind?”

“I wouldn’t do that,” Stephen snaps, maybe too serious.

Tony hums. He feels along Stephen’s scars.

“I know. If I showed you a picture of a place, could you take us there?”

Stephen perks up.

“Maybe. What did you have in mind?”

“My cabin,” Tony says. “Uh, sort-of-cabin. It has a nice view like this.”

“I can try,” Stephen nods.

They walk down the park path where it’s a little less crowded, and Tony draws up a photo on his phone. Stephen hums to himself, selecting a ring out of his pocket. He slips it on his fingers, stares at the photo for a moment, and closes his eyes.

The portal appears out of thin air. Tony isn’t sure if he’ll ever get used to the light show, but it’s incredibly convenient, so he bites his tongue.

The cabin appears through the portal. Stephen opens his eyes.

“Is that it?”

“Not bad, not bad at all,” Tony steps through first. “You might actually be on the road to impressing me.”

The sarcasm is heavy in Stephen’s voice.

“Oh, I’m ecstatic.”

Tony grins, and the porch light clicks on just as Stephen closes the portal behind him. He immediately looks at his surroundings; trees, a lake, his car still parked in the dirt driveway.

The moon is brighter out here. It reflects off the lake, almost fantasy-like.

“Nice huh.” Tony steps up on the porch, and presses his thumbprint to the scanner on the door. “You fancy a drink?’

“Well I won’t say no,” Stephen smiles, and Tony winks at him, nudging open the door with the toe of his boot.

 


 

 

 He elbows on the kitchen light, but chooses to keep the rest of the lamps off. It’s easier to see the moon this way, distorted and wavy on the lake.

Stephen takes his scotch the same way Tony does. Stephen goes for another round, but Tony sticks to one. It’s easier to avoid temptation.

The mood is quiet. Stephen is in this red little button-down, maybe a bit too small, tight on the shoulders and rolled up to his forearms. Who knew he was hiding such a broad back under all those layers? It should be a crime.

“I’ll be honest,” Stephen begins, thumb swiping along the carving in his glass. “This isn’t what I’d come to expect from you.” He gestures a little, to Tony’s wooden home. There’s a holopad on the table, but the windows show a line of trees, and his furniture is soft and cushy, and there’s an old fireplace in the livingroom. Nothing like his Miami home, nothing like Stark tower, nothing like – anything Tony has come to be known by.

“I used to live for the spotlight, you know,” Tony shrugs. “Now I’m just happy to live at all.”

Stephen looks at him. Tony’s sinuses are already burning from the scotch, so he sets it back down on the kitchen bar. But Stephen continues to stare, and Tony thinks the burning might be something else.

Stephen is still standing by the window, but he opens up his arm in a wordless gesture. The look on his face is earnest, maybe a little hesitant, and it’s what has Tony crossing the room in an instant.

His glass sets against the coffee table with a gentle clink. Tony slides right up and into him.

He presses his hands to Stephen’s arms, dragging up and around his shoulders until they hook behind his neck. Stephen is taller, and Tony has to tip up his chin to look him in the eye.

“Thanks for the gelato,” Tony whispers.

Stephen breathes a laugh out of his nose. Easy and fluid, he drops his hands to Tony’s waist. His hands are longer, larger, hot through the fabric of his shirt.

“You’re welcome.”

 Stephen smooths his hold to Tony’s hips, and Tony’s arms raise with goosebumps.

He has little shaved hairs at the base of his neck. They fade into black, and they’re soft and fuzzy, and Tony rubs them with his fingers.

“What else do you do on wizard dates? Is there broom foreplay I should be concerned about?”

Stephen sighs, “And there it is.”

“Are wands real? Do you have a Patronus? Can you talk to snakes?”

“Your source material is Harry Potter, isn’t it?”

“You can talk to snakes, can’t you.”

“Yes.”

Tony laughs, and presses his hands to either side of Stephen’s face. His cheekbones are absolutely to die for, hair all up in his eyes, he’s ten wet dreams all rolled into one. Tony opens his mouth to tell him so, but Stephen speaks first.

“You are beautiful.”

It’s so sudden, so outright and serious, that it catches Tony entirely off guard. He inhales, gaping, and nothing comes out but a rush of air. Stephen smiles at him, one hand softly rubbing up his waist.

“Wow, mark the calendar. Are you blushing?”

“No!”

Yes. Fuck, stop it.

No one’s ever said it so genuinely. Tony feels his face heat further.

“Now don’t tell me you’re bashful.”

“I’m not,” Tony scoffs. He tries to pull away, but Stephen doesn’t let him. “It’s just – the – “ he turns his head a little, near subconscious to hide the scars. Stephen frowns.

“Don’t play that game with me. You’ll lose.”

“I’m just saying!” Tony barks. “I wasn’t um – expecting that. From you.  You’re like, fuckin’ gorgeous.”  

Stephen snorts. He drops his mouth to Tony’s forehead, and Tony inhales, fingers dipping into his collar. Suddenly Tony really really wants his tongue in his mouth like – right now, so Tony tips his nose up, and Stephen gets the idea.

The moon sends wiry shadows along the floor, over the furniture and across their clothes. It’s years, years and years until Stephen gets within range. Tony stands on his toes and Stephen leans down and they meet somewhere in the middle. He’s not expecting the same fireworks, the same tingling down his spine, the same curl in his gut that has him going oh god, oh god – but it’s there all the same.

Stephen breathes out of his nose, and Tony gets him to part his lips, and they kiss long. Bottom lips sliding together, Stephen curls his tongue, and Tony curls his toes.

His lungs are burning. It’s hard to breathe through your nose when you feel like you can’t breathe at all. Tony can’t get enough of it; uneven hands over his shirt, the strain in his neck, the sound of their kissing against the dead silence of his little lakeside home.

Just when he starts to feel as if he might actually pass out, they pull apart. Stephen dives for his jaw almost immediately, scruff on scruff, he mouths down his neck and into his collar, and Tony fuckin’ moans.  

His lips burn like a brand. Tony’s grip digs into his hair, and Stephen rumbles a sound against him.

“Okay, okay,” Tony blurts. “Uhh, good first date, right? We did the whole – nnn – slow, hand holding – fuck! Can we –“

Stephen’s hand presses flat against his stomach, as if he’s feeling him breathe. He moves down to his belt buckle and tugs, shoving their hips together.

“Yes,” Stephen hisses, and Tony smashes their lips together. Stephen makes a sound this time, unhooking Tony's belt with one hand and yanking it out of the belt loops (which is sooo sexy, thanks). He tosses it to the floor, and Tony tears Stephen away from the kiss with a grip on the back of his hair.

They’re still in the living room.

“Hey,” Tony starts. “Let’s go on a house tour.”

Stephen looks startled, until Tony pops the first button on Stephen’s shirt, and takes a step back.

“Coffee table,” Tony gestures. Stephen follows his gaze, and takes a hesitant step forwards. Tony hooks his finger in the next button and moves back further. Stephen follows this time, eyes looking down when Tony flicks the second button open. “Kitchen,” he grins.

A step back, another button. Tony leads and Stephen follows, eyes dead center and pitch black, narrowed on Tony in absolute hunger.

Laundry room. Hallway. Bathroom. Pop, pop, pop.

Tony’s back slams up against the bedroom door. Stephen’s mouth dives for his neck once again, this time biting down and (for the love of god) sucking down. Tony curls against the door, hips rolling up just to see if Stephen is as hard as he is.

Yeah.

Holy shit.

Tony’s finger is hooked in the last button. He’s breathing like he’s run a marathon, the air so fucking tight he can hardly see.

Stephen pets up his side, shirt gathering along his wrist as he feels up his ribs.

“And?” He rumbles. “Where are we now?”

“My favorite room, actually.” Tony twists that last button around his finger. Stephen’s shirt has fallen off his shoulders, caught in the crooks of his arms. “Best in the house. Solid view of the lake, flat-screen T.V.-“ he pops that last button. The shirt falls off Stephen like a bedsheet, and suddenly there’s so much skin. “Great bed too,” he rasps.

Stephen has had enough, because he grips the handle and pushes them through. It happens fast; the door slams shut, Tony scrambles onto the bed, and he gets maybe half a millisecond to roll onto his back before Stephen has his shirt pushed to his armpits, and his legs kicked open.

“Fuck fuck fuck,” Tony chants, wriggling in the shirt. “Fuck I’m hard.”

“God dammit Tony,” Stephen exhales. Tony’s eyes immediately snap between Stephen’s legs, and he can see the shape of him through his jeans, and Tony’s mouth damn near waters. Arms still pinned above his head, he plants his heels and rolls his hips up against Stephen, and the shiver he gets in return is so, so worth the tweak in his shoulder.

But the shirt pulls a little harder, and Tony winces this time. Stephen looks up, and Tony feels his face go red.

“Um, can you-“ Tony wiggles his fingers. “I can’t rotate my shoulder much.”

“Shit. Sorry.”

 Stephen manages to help him peel off the rest of his shirt without catching it on the plating. Tony tosses it to the floor and sits up, and Stephen’s mouth immediately drops to his shoulder, where skin meets metal.

“Oh Christ,” Tony arches. “Roll over, we need about a hundred percent less clothes here.”

“Want to see a magic trick?” Stephen asks, and in a flicker of light, their pants are gone.

Tony blinks like an idiot. Stephen stares back. Tony shoves him by the shoulder, Stephen flops to the bed, and Tony straddles his waist.

“You asshole,” Tony says with no bite. “You could’ve done that this whole time.”

“A bit less fun.”

“I disagree.”

Tony sits back on his heels and just – looks. Damn. Damn.

He’s lanky and strong, firm stomach muscles and narrow hips, pale with a gorgeous dick, holy shit. Tony drops his mouth to Stephen’s stomach immediately, pressing his cheek to hot skin and just soaking him in.

“Wow,” Tony says. “Wow wow wow.”

“No joke,” Stephen mumbles, and Tony looks up to see him staring at him in the exact same way. Stephen’s hands are resting on the outside of his thighs, and he’s staring like – like Tony is some kind of unspeakable beauty.

There’s too much new skin here – too much Tony needs his mouth on. He can see Stephen arching, trying for a kiss, so Tony humors him for a moment, just to suck on his tongue and dip down, biting one pec and then the other.

“Tony-“ Stephen starts, but cuts off, hips rolling when Tony’s tongue dips further. He scrapes his teeth into his hipbone; memorizes the way Stephen tenses, and can’t look away from his cock heavy against his navel, twitching up and sideways.

“Alright baby, what are we up for?” Tony licks over his bottom lip. “Cause like, I’d have you fuck me six ways to Tuesday, but no pressure.” Unable to resist any longer, Tony grips around the base of Stephen’s cock and tugs. Stephen makes a punched noise, and tips his head back, clenching his jaw in a bitten moan. “I’m also cool blowing your brains out. I’m tellin’ you, you’ve never had a blowjob unless you’ve had one from me.

“No-“ Stephen grits, and Tony gives a surprised yelp when he’s yanked forwards, so their cocks bump at the base. Tony jolts to meet his eye, and Stephen’s face is full of a deathly, incredibly sexy determination. “No. I’m going to have you here.”

Tony shivers a little, and rolls his head against his good shoulder, rocking them together again. “Ah, shit. Lube, bedside drawer.”

Stephen flicks his wrist, and the lube bottle plops out of the drawer like a Mary Poppins bag. It startles a laugh out of him, and Stephen grips the bottle and holds out his hand expectantly. Tony stares at his outstretched fingers, and when he doesn’t get the memo, Stephen’s face reddens a little.

“Ah, I. My fingers aren’t – I can’t…”

Amid the steam and the skin on skin and the too-many stimulants rushing through his blood, Tony’s brain finally catches up.

“Oh! Oh oh, no biggie.” Tony takes the lube bottle and sits up on his knees. “It’s not like I haven’t done it to myself a million times.”

Stephen’s gaze darkens. He draws up one leg, pressing his knee against Tony’s back. Tony slicks his fingers, and Stephen stops him by the wrist.

“Hm?”

“Have you used this hand?” Stephen asks, taking Tony’s prosthesis and pressing the fingers to his mouth. Tony’s stomach falls out his ass and rolls down the street.

“N…no.”

Stephen kisses the palm. Tony can’t really feel it, but his brain thinks he can.

For once, Tony is struck dumb-fucking stupid. That’s okay, because Stephen helps him slick up the synthetic hand and guide it between his legs. He nudges Tony with his knee, and he falls forwards, one arm bracing next to Stephen on the bed. His heart is thudding in his ears, eyes wide and staring, almost at a loss.

Stephen kisses the corner of his mouth.

“Do as I say.”

He swallows thickly, “Okay.”

He helps Tony guide in one finger. It’s an easy slide – and it’s weird, it’s weird, because it’s him, but it’s not. Stephen prods him to add another, and it feels foreign, like the stretch of a toy.

“You’re used to this,” Stephen says. “Go on, fuck yourself.”

Tony groans. He faceplants into Stephen’s shoulder and draws out his fingers, shakily shoving them back in. Stephen is right there, feeling alongside him, petting up his stomach with his free hand. He’s sweating, and Tony goes near cross-eyed when Stephen says, “Add a third.”

Everything smells like Stephen. Books and tea and old robes, musky cologne and aftershave. Tony gulps it in, arm shaking with effort as he reaches back and scissors his fingers. His cock gives a pathetic jolt against Stephen’s stomach, heat sparking in his gut. 

Stephen rubs gentle; up his ribs, down his hip, two fingers right along the head of his cock, but pulling away before it really gets good.

It’s a tease. The synthetic fingers are just too short, just wide enough to be maddening, but not enough to hit what he needs.

“That’s it,” Stephen coos. “Just like that. Just like you would if I wasn’t here.”

“If you weren’t here-“ Tony starts, gritting his teeth, “-I’d be up to my stomach on a vibrator right now.”

A pause. Hm, maybe he shouldn't have said that. 

Stephen hooks an ankle around his leg, pushes off his hip and flips them like they’re on a training mat. Holy shit, he was not aware that Stephen was trained in hand-to-hand combat. Gonna’ have to add that to the spank bank.

Tony is left a little winded, but Stephen slams his wrists above his head, dips his mouth down and bites – and oh, he’s going to have marks tomorrow, isn’t he? Tony moans into his arm.

“You,” Stephen hisses, “are killing me.”

Tony’s voice cracks, “Stephen, we really gotta’ get this show on the road or someone’s gonna die. Spoiler alert, it’s me. I’m going to die.”

Stephen rises off him with effort, only after kissing his chest, his stomach, the base of his cock.

“Don’t!” Tony squirms. He’s already close, he can feel it in his stomach and he really, really won’t forgive himself if he doesn’t see this through.

Stephen smiles, “Sorry.” He pulls a condom out of nowhere, and holds it up to Tony’s lips. “A little help?”

Tony rips it with his teeth, and helps Stephen roll it on. His hands are shaking just as bad as Stephen’s, but he doesn’t have the same excuse. Everything’s so much, Stephen kneeling against his thighs, his own fingers still sticky with lube, his heart beating so fast he might – he might actually –

“Tony,” Stephen whispers. He takes his hands, and gently brings them to his lips. “I have you. Relax.”

All the air rushes out of him. Tony smiles, and the panic fades to an almost-pleasant buzz.

“I know. Get in me before I hang you.”

Stephen smiles, and holds him by the thighs. Tony grips Stephen’s cock at the base, and guides him without hesitation. It stings at first, but it’s sooo worth it for the slack jawed, near euphoric look on Stephen’s face.

“Oh yeah, ohhh yeah-“ Tony starts, lifting his hips. “Come on – I can take it.”

“I know,” Stephen says, rocking forward. Oh he’s big. Oh, oh. Tony grips the sheets and swallows, and when Stephen thrusts again it feels good. Like, really good, like –

Tony drops his jaw and curses. Stephen pushes up his right knee, braces his free hand in the bed and finally slams against his nerves in a way Tony’s been craving for lord knows how long.

All the breath sucks out of him. He wants to close his eyes, wants to gape at the ceiling and scream, but Stephen is absolutely beautiful, solid heat and a perfect rhythm, Tony can only stare at him alone. In and out, Tony digs his nails in Stephen’s back and shouts this time.

“Fuck!” He squirms, “Oh my gosh, that’s it, that’s – there.

“Jesus,” Stephen exhales. He mouths over the inside of his knee, falters in his rhythm and builds back up again. Up and back, the headboard smacks the wall on a good thrust, and Tony is definitely gonna’ feel that tomorrow. Stephen says his name in a broken exhale, deep and raspy in a way that’ll haunt him forever.

Tony is afraid to touch himself. His dick is lifting off his stomach, red and swollen and close, but Tony doesn’t want it to end. He wants to open himself up and let Stephen crawl inside. He wants to melt together, to just be one person and never go back.

Stephen drops to an elbow, mouth falling to his ear and Tony can not handle that, nope, nuh huh. The angle changes, and Tony isn’t a religious man, but he could be. Thighs slap against his ass, Stephen’s stomach brushes against his cock and Tony’s gonna lose his voice tomorrow, isn’t he? Too bad so sad.

“Oh Stephen, your hips are a fucking godsend,” Tony babbles. He can feel the build in his gut already, teetering back and forth over the edge. The adrenaline has his toes curling, of never knowing which thrust might be his undoing. "Look at me, please." 

Stephen’s face buries in his shoulder, and Tony grips his neck like he’ll fall through the sheets and into the earth.  

“Tony,” he starts. “Shit – you feel so good I-I can’t look at you or I’ll come.”

His entire body flushes hot. It sizzles through him, the sudden and absolute need to watch the great Stephen Strange come apart at Tony’s own expense.

“Dammit, don’t make me beg. I’ll do it – please, come on,” Tony pets into his hair with his real hand, pushing back strands that are sticking to his face with sweat. “Come on baby, you’re splittin me apart. I’ve been close for ages Stephen.”

Stephen’s chest rumbles with a growl. He pushes up and looks at him once; and it’s a beat that sends the world to a screeching halt. Tony parts his lips and Stephen kisses him, and to his own downright surprise, it’s the stutter in Stephen’s rhythm that makes him come. The knowledge alone that he’s the one making him groan. That Tony is the one that has him turning to mush.

It rolls down Tony’s back like a hot knife. A noise rips out of him, something primal he can’t control. He slaps his robotic arm to the bed in fear of accidentally gripping Stephen and hurting him for good. Tony totally fucks up their rhythm, hips jerking, back arching off the bed – and Stephen catches him, hand sliding between his skin and the sheets, holding him up so Tony can work himself back on his cock, right where he wants it.

He shoots all the way up to his chest, right over the reactor scars and into the sheets and wow, impressive, haven’t done that since I was in college –

It feels like a veil has been lifted. Without the filter of sheer desperation, he can see the pinch on Stephen’s face, the clench in his jaw and the sweat down his neck, and for a moment, Tony’s worried he might come again.

“Come on, come on,” he croons. Tony pets along his ears, down his neck. “Damn you’re gorgeous – take it baby. I’m right here.”

Stephen tenses; he looks Tony in the eye once and he’s coming, head sagging forward, body jolting as he rides it out. It might actually be the sexiest thing he’s ever seen in his life, and Tony’s seen a lot of sexy things. His groan is soft and genuine, and it startles them both.

“Sweet mother Theresa,” Tony breathes. “Are you real?”

Stephen presses his forehead to Tony’s. He’s still panting, chest expanding in short bursts, and Tony can’t handle the amount of affection building in his stomach. It’s overflowing, tingling down his spine and into his fingertips. He presses Stephen’s cheeks in his hands and kisses his nose.

His whole body throbs. The bite marks on his neck, the twinge in his back and the soreness in his hips. It's kind of poetic. Grey hairs, scars and all, it's a refreshing kind of love. He still feels full, and Tony’s heart suddenly aches with the thought of moving. Stephen shifts a little. Tony blabbers.

“Stay stay stay,” Tony begs. “Pretty please. I’ll buy the gelato next time. I’ll buy you the whole gelato stand. Don’t leave.”

Stephen sighs, a little blissfully, and closes his eyes. “And where else would I go?”

“Diagon Alley?”

“I hate you.”

 


 

 

 They crack the window open, but it still kinda’ smells like sex. It’s definitely way too late for any normal human to be awake, but Tony never played by normal human rules anyways (and if he’s to take a wild guess, never does Stephen).

He feels so small when they lay like this. Tony face first in his chest, Stephen’s hand moving absently from his neck, to his back. Round and round in circles, almost unpredictable in diameter; Tony zones in and out as he feels Stephen breathe.

Tony can’t remember the last time he stuck around after sex long enough to cuddle. Maybe since Pep, but that feels like an entirely differently lifetime ago.

His mind drifts to places it shouldn’t. Tony presses his hand flat against Stephen’s sternum, squished between their bodies, and smooths it around to his lower back. They’re a spaghetti bowl of limbs, and you can hear an owl outside the window, and Tony’s filter burned up a long time ago, so.

“What was it like?”

Stephen’s finger falls to the metal joint in his shoulder. Skin-toned, but alien all the same.

“Hm?”

“Being...gone. Dying.”

Stephen hesitates in answering. Tony tips his head up to try and meet his eye. It’s dark, but Tony can still see Stephen curl his tongue against his teeth as he thinks.

“Nothing,” Stephen says. “It was like nothing.”

“Everything’s still so fucked,” Tony sighs. “Half the world had to pick up and move on. The other half is just waking up from a nap, wondering what the big deal is.”  

He jerks when fingers brush against his cheek. It’s gentle, loving in a way that makes his face warm.

“You,” Stephen says, “are the sole reason that there is a universe left to live in.”

Tony shrugs one shoulder.

“I have a feeling I was just a small piece in your very complicated chess game.”

Stephen smiles, and tips Tony’s chin up just a little further, so he can press a short, closed-mouth kiss to his lips.

“Maybe. But you were my queen.”

 

 


 

 

Cross legged and with a lapful of crumbs, Tony points with a pretzel and says, “Yup, yup, square-root it and you’re done.”

Peter blinks, “Just like that?”

“Sure thing kid. Look at you, don’t even need me.” Tony bites off the end of the pretzel. “What am I here for? Snacks?”

“Everyone needs a sidekick,” Clint says, from the kitchen table.

“Barton, if you don’t have any physics knowledge to share with the class, then fuck off.”

“Hey, no bad language words,” Clint points. “There’s a senior in the room.”

Steve nearly slams the fridge door shut.

“It’s been eight years. Can we just let it go?”

“No,” Tony and Clint say together.

Peter points to the end of his chicken scratch, “Is this right?”

“Yeah – I mean,” Tony leans over. “Not the way I would’ve solved it, but that’s actually kinda’ genius. Keep that up and it might be Parker Industries one day.”

He can hear Clint’s scoff. 

“Oh yeah, like he isn’t all up in your Will anyways.”

“Barton, I’m one quip away from telling Scott where you live.”

The kitchen chair screeches against the ground as it’s pushed out. The elevator door dings, and Steve cackles from the kitchen. Tony rolls his eyes and laughs, and when he looks back, Peter is smiling at him.

“What?” Tony pats his own jaw, “Something on my face?”

“No,” chirps Peter, gaze diving back to his textbook. “You just look…happier. It’s nice.”

Tony has no idea how to respond to that. Steve goes silent in the kitchen as well. Peter flips the page in his textbook, hesitates a moment, and then smiles.

“You’ll tell Doctor Strange hi for me, right?”

Steve wheezes.

“Oh ha-fucking ha, alright, get out. I was gonna’ drive you home but now you have to take the bus like every other peasant.”

“No! I’m sorry Mister Stark!” Peter laughs, grip digging into his real arm as he tugs. “Please let me stay! I’m almost done with my homework I swear-“

“Oh that’s all I’m good for now, huh? A ride from school and a walking cheat sheet?”

“Of course not! The suit-“

Steve is hitting his chest with a fist, coughing and laughing with tears in his eyes, and Tony points, “Choke, asshole. Alright, one more question and then you’re getting the boot.”

Peter salutes, “Sir yes sir,” just as Bruce steps out of the elevator.

“Hey, what’s going on here?”

“Don’t. Just don’t.”

 

 


 

 

Just like with anything else, Tony makes adjustments to the prosthetic.

He’s sore from the enhancements, so he tucks his feet up under a blanket and space-skypes with Rocket about alien metals and new alloys he can make to keep the agitation at bay. Rocket isn’t bad for a teddy-bear engineer, so Tony ends the call with a swipe of his hand, and deconstructs the digital scans.

They’re split apart on the holopad while Friday runs a few tests. Tomorrow they’re having a taco night at the tower, which is all fun and games, but Tony doesn’t like to run around without his arm on, so he locks himself in his room for the night.

At least, until.

“Hey Tony,” Stephen starts, stepping out of a portal. “You weren’t in your lab – we discovered a mystic book in Malaysia on ancient technology and I thought you might –“ Stephen stops. “What’s wrong?”

Tony’s hand flies to his shoulder. Stephen approaches, climbing on the bed, robes shifting into sweatpants and a hoodie.

“Are you okay?”

“Er, yeah. Just – making adjustments.” Tony gestures. Stephen’s gaze flickers to the scans, and then back to his shoulder. His stomach dips a little, but Stephen seems unbothered.

“Is it infected again?”

“No. Just sore.” Tony sniffs. Stephen waits, knowing that’s not the end of it, and Tony sighs. “I just don’t like you seeing me without the arm.”

Stephen lifts an eyebrow, and settles next to him in the pillows.

“Why? I’m a –“

“Doctor I know. It’s still weird, right?”

“It’s you,” Stephen says. “And I love you. And you don’t need me to tell you that.”

He thought he was done with the heart attacks. Stephen says it so easily, for a moment, Tony worries he might cry. 

Tony goes silent, and the subject is dropped. The simulation runs green, and the individual pieces draw back together into the digital blueprint. Tony fiddles with it a little bit, and runs a second test.

“That’s remarkable,” Stephen says.

“The arm?”

“The mechanics. I can’t even fathom it.”

Tony turns to look at him – and the childish awe on Stephen’s face makes his whole body squeeze. Stephen's cheeks glow blue from the hologram, and Tony takes his hand just ‘cause. He loves these hands, unsteady and so fucking powerful, Stephen could wield the cosmos if he wanted to.

“You were saying something about a book?”

“Oh, right.” Stephen turns a little in the bed, one leg hooking under him. “Well, I thought it was just another mystic text, but this book had magic imbued in the pages, almost like a relic, so we – “

Tony nods along, even in the parts he doesn’t remotely fathom. He’s cute to watch anyways, and Tony wonders if this is how Stephen feels when they eat Chinese food on the coffee table, as Tony rambles on about John Bardeen and the beauty of electrical engineering.

They come from two totally different worlds, but it feels like they’ve found a home somewhere in the middle.

He feels so special to be the one here. To have this man of so many feats sitting cross legged in his bed, rambling on about magic of all things.

Tony stops him by bracing a hand on Stephen’s cheek, and dipping his mouth to kiss his chin.

“Hey,” he says.

“Yes?”

“You a fan of 70’s disco?”

Stephen looks at him like he’s utterly smitten. Tony laughs, and tugs him back into the sheets.

“Hey Friday, put a pause on the arm. Play Rick James.”

 


 

 

Somewhere, miles away, a new Avengers headquarters is being built from the ground up. You could make some stupid analogy, like a phoenix from the ashes or some shit. It isn’t that far off. Not really.

Even with their numbers a little smaller than before, T’Challa and his sister come by for tacos. Scott brings his daughter, Clint drops in with the kids, Strange portals in and it feels full anyways. The good kind, like Thanksgiving dinner. Yeah, you’re rubbin’ elbows with Auntie and your mom drives you a little crazy but, it’s good anyways.

Bucky is at the kids table instead of the main dining room. They’re all plucking at his arm, asking questions like can you punch through concrete and how many of us can you carry at the same time – and Barnes opens his mouth to say “Want to find out?—“ but Bruce puts an end to that real fast.

Dinner turns into juice-pong, and Clint isn’t allowed to play anything that involves aim, so he takes his role of ref very seriously.

Tony gets halfway through a game and subs out for Sam. Stephen is sitting on the couch all by himself, and Tony would much rather be tucked under his arm than downing another solo-cup of apple juice, thanks.

Stephen welcomes him onto his lap like they’re not in a room full of people. Peter has started a community game of Uno on the floor, and there’s taco-wrappers literally everywhere, and the non-retired life is kind of fun, if you think about it.

It’s been a long, painful road getting here. But maybe they’re better for it.

 

His chest aches knowing he can’t have this forever. Knowing that someone worse than Thanos will come along, and they might not get so unlucky again. Don’t tell anyone, but Steve might’ve been onto something about that ‘together’ thing.

When the commotion gets loud enough, Tony turns his head subtly to brush his mouth against the side of Stephen’s temple. He looks up in question, pretty emerald eyes and wrinkles all the same.

“You okay?”

“Yeah,” Tony says, and plants his cheek on the top of Stephen’s head. “Yeah.”

 

 


 

 

 

There’s something inherently sweet about a sleeping genius in your arms.

 

For a man whose brain never seems to stop, it’s nice to see Tony rest for once. He takes up so much space, sucks up all the air in a room and demands your attention even when he doesn’t mean to – and yet when he sleeps, he curls up as small as he possibly can. As if he’s trying to hide away from the world.

Tony will argue, but Stephen thinks he’s a unique kind of beauty. It’s why, when the time stone showed him a possibility of a life like this – Stephen let it go. Each day is a surprise, and he likes it better that way.

Tony snuffs a little and digs his nose into Stephen’s shirt. Stephen feels the grip around his heart squeeze even tighter. It's near painful, so tight that it takes his breath away. 

But that’s okay. The fingers in his chest, the deadly grip on his heart; that hand belongs to Tony anyways.