Chapter 1: Chapter 1
‘Can you finish here?’ Stephen asked Christine, glancing up in annoyance at the intern that wouldn’t take the hint he wasn’t to be disturbed. He handed the scalpel over to her, breath escaping his clenched teeth in rage. He’d waited until the patient was out of danger, knowing that Christine would be able to finish without any complications.
‘Go on, it seems whatever it is she’s trying to tell you is pretty important,’ Christine waved him off.
Gesturing at the intern behind the glass, Stephen left the operating theatre, ready to verbally destroy her.
‘I don’t care how new or inexperienced you are, you do not interrupt me when I’m-’
‘There was an accident at the Stark Expo. Your son was injured, Doctor Strange.’
The change from rage into terror made his body lurch to the side, his throat feeling like it was clogged and unable to take down any air. The intern clasped his forearm, speaking in low soothing tones.
‘He’s down in an observation room-’
Stephen didn’t wait for the rest of the explanation, flinging his gloves and mask from him, ripping off his scrubs as he ran down the hallway to the stairwell.
Please, let him be okay.
‘May!’ He called as he skidded around the corridor, stomach seizing as May’s tear-streaked face looked up.
‘He’s sleeping, he’s alright,’ May reassured.
Wrenching the door back, Stephen burst into the room, fighting back his own tears at the sight of his son lying prone on the bed.
‘He’s okay, Stephen he just needed to rest,’ May came to stand beside him.
‘I knew he shouldn’t have gone, that he was too young. I should’ve been there.’
‘No, Stephen. It was a terrible accident, Hammer industries…their robots they…’ May trailed off, wrapping her arms around herself as she cried.
‘Come here, tell me what happened,’ Stephen coaxed, pulling her into a hug.
‘He banged his head pretty hard, they thought it might have been a concussion, but the CT scan showed nothing was wrong. They disinfected his cuts, but they said it was all superficial.’
Stephen felt relief flood his body, the quick swinging from emotion to emotion leaving him feeling wrung out and nauseous.
‘They recommended sleep. Helps heal the concussion,’ Stephen muttered.
‘A representative from Stark Industries brought us here, I should go find him and say thank you,’ May pulled away, rubbing her face. ‘They promised he’d be alright.’
‘If they’ve left him sleeping then he’s fine. They’ve kept him in here because he’s a child and they’re not going to risk any complications. I’ll stay with him, I’d like to say thank you to the guy who brought you here too.’
May lingered with her hand on the doorframe, watching Peter sleep before taking a deep breath and walking away. Stephen could hear her heels clicking down the hallway and after giving it a moment, he sat on the edge of Peter’s bed, brushing his son’s hair back and kissing his forehead.
‘Don’t scare me like that.’
Running footsteps made him turn, frowning at the dishevelled man in the doorway.
‘Is the kid alright?’
Stephen stood, his gaze catching the prominent Stark logo on his shirt. This must have been who May was looking for.
‘Are you his doctor?’ The man bent at the waist, taking a few wheezing breaths. ‘Is he gonna be okay?’
Despite the situation, Stephen felt himself smile a little, the man was genuinely concerned, peering around him to look at Peter on the bed.
‘I’m Peter’s father, and coincidentally a surgeon at this hospital. Doctor Strange.’
‘Is there anything I can do?’
‘You’re a representative of Stark Industries? The one who brought him here?’
The man regarded him for a long moment, before nodding slowly. ‘Yeah. I really am sorry this happened.’
‘I knew I shouldn’t have let Peter go tonight, he’s too young.’
‘It’s never too young to be inspired. You should nurture it. I spoke to Peter briefly about one of the products Stark Industries is hosting. I’ve never met a child with such intelligent questions, you’ve got a talented young man there, Doctor Strange.’
Stephen caught sight of red blooming against the whiteness of his shirt, the way the man was holding his arm close to his body, the pallor of his skin.
‘Jesus, you’re hurt, why didn’t you say anything?’
‘I needed to make sure Peter was alright first, I was worried about him.’ Brown eyes looked up at him, a little unfocused with the pain.
Stephen felt a tingle of emotion in his chest as the man looked down at his son, fondness for another person showing concern over his child, the fact the man had ignored his own injuries to make sure Peter was alright.
‘Come on, let me take a look at you, you might need stitches.’
‘No, it’s fine, stay here with the kid, I’ll go find someone else.’
‘Peter’s asleep, he’s in no danger, and I’d like to do something to repay your kindness for bringing him here.’
To his surprise the man frowned, taking a step back. ‘No, your son is injured, stay here with him, he needs to wake up to his father.’
‘I meant I’ll look at you in here, I’m not leaving Peter.’
The man relaxed, looking over at Peter sleeping on the bed before nodding. Stephen led him over to the corner of the room, sitting him down on the huge armchair they kept in these rooms for relatives, before leaving him there to shout for a nurse and the supplies he needed.
Stephen observed the man as they waited, watching as his eyes darted around the sterile room. Another person who wasn’t comfortable with hospitals, Stephen couldn’t blame him, they weren’t welcoming, the stench of iodoform, the stark white of the walls that could burn retinas.
The man was attractive, annoyingly so, with thick, wavy hair you wanted to rake your hands through, a gorgeous honey hue to his skin, and deep doe brown eyes.
A nurse brought a tray in, smiling a little at Stephen before standing stock still and staring down at the man in the chair.
Stephen busied himself with the equipment, watching the interaction out of the corner of his eye. The man hadn’t noticed the nurse’s appraisal, loosening his tie and staring at his knees with a bone-weary sigh, his eyelids drooping.
‘That’ll be all thank you,’ Stephen spoke, with an added push to the end to his words, encouraging her out the door.
Stephen sort of wished he had that power to stop women dead in their tracks.
It was something his past self would have been irritated over.
After looking over to check Peter was still asleep, Stephen wheeled the examination light over, tilting it so it didn’t light the room up too much over where Peter was sleeping, angling it so he could see the man’s forearm.
‘Roll up your sleeve,’ Stephen commanded, voice brisk as he sat opposite.
With trembling fingers, the man did as asked, hiding his hiss of pain as the remains of his shirt sleeve caught on the wound and tugged.
‘That’s a nasty gash, I’m going to clean it first, alright?’
‘Go ahead, Doc,’ the man said with an easy smile.
He flinched as Stephen rubbed the antiseptic over the gash, but tried to remain still, teeth biting at his lower lip.
‘So, Stark Industries. Are all the rumours about him true? He really a big of a douchebag as they make him out to be?’
‘He’s an enormous asshole.’
They shared a chuckle over that.
‘Sorry, must suck working for an asshole. Honestly…sending a representative rather than coming himself…what if I decide to sue?’
‘Don’t answer that, I know how famous Stark is, probably got a team of lawyers that would destroy me before I even got anywhere. I’m going to stitch this together now.’
The man nodded, his gaze returning to Peter on the bed. He said nothing more until Stephen had finished, covering the stitches with a bandage and patting him on the leg for a job well done.
‘Before I go,’ the man fished around in his pant pocket, pulling out a business card and a pen. ‘Here’s the number for Stark Industries, if you need anything at all, covered costs for Peter’s hospital bills, or if you do decide to sue,’ he scribbled something on the back of it.
‘This is Pepper Pott’s number, Stark’s personal assistant. If there’s something else you can think of that we can do to help, ring her. HR can get overwhelmed trying to deal with all of Stark’s…messes.’
‘Thank you, for all of this.’
‘Least I could do. Peter’s a good kid, he’ll go far. Sorry again about what happened.’
May came back into the room as the man was leaving, ducking his head at her open-mouthed gasp.
‘What was he doing here?’
‘Hmm? The guy was guilty about what happened to Peter, had a nasty laceration on his forearm. I already thanked him for bringing Peter to the hospital.’
‘Stephen…that was Tony Stark.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous. Look at the state of him! Like Tony Stark’s going to care about one individual child at his event.’
May dug into her pocket, pulling out her phone and tapping away at it.
‘This was him, right?’ She shoved her phone in his face, nail tapping at the screen.
‘Yes…’ Stephen drew the word out, unsure what she was getting at.
‘Scroll down, Stephen.’
Tony Stark, CEO Stark Industries.
It was the same man.
‘One individual child that he stepped in front of to save. Stephen… if Tony Stark hadn’t leapt in front of Peter…he’d be injured far worse.’
‘You didn’t say…you’re telling me, Tony Stark came all the way here to make sure Peter was alright? After he’d been injured saving him? Not only that…’ Stephen felt shame curdle in his stomach. ‘Not only that, I ranted about what an egotistical douchebag he was, and he said nothing!’
Any thoughts he had about Tony Stark vanished as he rushed to Peter’s bedside.
Stephen flipped the card over and over in his fingers, slumping back in his armchair. Peter was back sleeping safely in his own bed, no lasting ill effects. News about what had happened at the Stark Expo had been quick to circulate, amateur pictures and film caught by phones, and then official statements.
The news channels had repeatedly stated that Stark Industries weren’t to blame with what happened at the Expo, even Hammer industries had admitted fault with their drones, quoting a technical malfunction and offers of compensation to any who were injured.
Stephen hadn’t been able to let go of the idea that Stark was somehow responsible for Peter’s injury. Like a dog gnawing at a bone, he worried the thought over and over, sitting in his living room, staring at the business card for hours.
He could remember how earnest Stark had been, his genuine concern over Peter, the way he’d ignored his own injury to find him in the hospital. The owner of a multi-million-dollar company, who had enough staff to worry about potential injured children, had personally made time to make sure one child was alright.
The two thoughts were at war with each other, conflicting points of view that wouldn’t merge. He’s heard of the dramas, the scandals that followed the Stark name. In times like these, Stephen liked to base his opinion on fact, his own observations rather than assumptions made through hearsay.
There was also the fact that Stark had stepped in front of Peter, endangering his own life to save a kid he barely knew.
That was what led him to punch the number into his phone, listening to the dial tone as he tapped the pointed edge of the card on his knee.
‘Virginia Potts speaking.’
‘Good evening, this is Doctor Stephen Strange, I’m trying to get hold of Tony Stark and was told you were the best person to contact?’
‘I’m afraid that Mr Stark is a very busy person, Doctor Strange, let me pass you on to one of his secretaries who can schedule a telephone appointment, or at least direct you to someone else in our company who might be able to answer your question.’
She was polite, courteous, but firm, giving him the runabout.
‘Mr Stark gave me your number personally and told me to ring you directly if I needed to get a hold of him regarding my son Peter’s injuries he received at your Expo.’
The line went silent, the personal assistant no doubt trying to think of a way to recover.
‘Is something wrong with Peter?’
Stephen wasn’t expecting the tone to change to a breathless, masculine timbre.
‘No, he’s all recovered.’
‘Oh.’ Stephen could hear murmured voices in the background as Stark moved and then it shut off.
‘Did you change your mind about suing after all?’
‘No, besides, Hammer Industries have already accepted they were at fault, I’m not going to get anything out of you, so it’s pointless trying.’
There was silence on Stark’s end. Stephen could almost hear the puzzlement running through the man’s thoughts.
‘So…why are you-’
‘I wanted to see how your arm was doing,’ Stephen interrupted, standing from his couch and walking to his penthouse window, pacing the ground in front of it.
‘Oh, it’s fine, thank you for asking.’ Stark sounded cautious.
‘No…sorry, this is harder than I thought it was would be.’ Stephen stopped, pinching the bridge of his nose. ‘Listen, I know you’re probably very busy and I’m no doubt taking up your time-’
‘It’s fine, Doc, don’t worry about it, I’ve got a few minutes.’
‘I wanted to…apologise for my actions the other night.’
There was more silence and Stephen pulled the phone away from his ear to check the call was still active.
‘Did I miss something? I don’t recall you doing anything wrong,’ Stark asked after a while, genuine confusion in his tone.
‘You came to see if Peter was alright, you ignored your injury to personally see if my son was alright. You stepped in front of him, shielded him. I didn’t recognise who you were otherwise I wouldn’t have-’
‘Ah, I see. Well, I stand by what I said, Tony Stark is an enormous asshole.’
‘I think I called you a douchebag. I think the title of asshole needs to go to me.’
‘I meant it when I said you had a good kid, he’s pretty sharp…for such a little guy.’
‘High praise indeed from a genius,’ Stephen found himself teasing, surprised at how easily he fell into it.
‘Flattery will get you everywhere, Doctor Strange,’ Stark practically oozed flirtation.
‘I am sorry I said those things to you, grateful too, that you came to check on Peter.’
‘Hey! I’ve got an idea. I know you’ve forgiven me and all, and you don’t hold me responsible, but I know Peter’s time at the Expo was cut short thanks to Hammer pulling that stunt. If you’re not too busy, then why don’t you bring Peter to Stark Tower? I could show him around our RD department here. Nothing dangerous,’ he quickly added, his tone turning serious.
Stephen only needed ten seconds to think it over. It would be Peter’s dream come true. Tony Stark was a huge hero for him. It might have been guilt on his part that made Stark give the offer, but Stephen would be an idiot to turn down such an opportunity for his son.
‘If we’re not an inconvenience for you, then yes, that would be amazing.’
‘I’ll leave it to Pepper to organise a time that works well with our schedules and Peter’s school. I’ve got to go, I’ve literally got about ten board members glaring at me, one of them is going to explode if I don’t go in like… ten minutes ago.’
Stephen said his goodbye and held his phone loose in his hand, looking out his window. It wasn’t only Stark that hoped to appease his guilt by offering Peter a tour. Stephen hoped it could placate his own feelings of guilt.
‘Can you tell me the surprise now?’ Peter asked as soon as the car door was open, throwing his backpack down and launching himself into the back of Stephen’s seat.
‘Put your seatbelt on first.’
‘Done. What’s the surprise?’
‘I spoke to Tony Stark a few nights ago.’
‘Mr Stark?’ Peter shrieked, kicking the back of the chair now.
‘And he thought it might be nice you came to see his lab because you got hurt at the Expo. What do you think? Is that something you would like to do?’ Stephen found himself smiling at the ear-splitting shriek.
Peter spent the rest of the car ride as a nervous ball of energy, talking a mile a minute, speaking about things Stephen didn’t quite understand, but happy he’d been able to indulge Peter in something the boy loved, that he was passionate about.
As soon as they’d parked and Stephen had undone Peter’s seat belt, his fingers were almost pulled from his socket as Peter tugged him forward, running towards the lobby of Stark Tower.
It was impressive, sleek, professional and screamed of money. It only reinforced Stephen’s previous ideas of Tony Stark being an egotistical, rich asshole.
Peter allowed Stephen to speak to the receptionist, before tugging him towards a display, frantically babbling as he went.
‘Kid’s got good taste.’
They turned as one, Stephen smiling at Peter’s abrupt silence.
‘Well would you look at that, you’ve managed to make him do something I can’t.’
Tony Stark raised an eyebrow in question.
‘Stop talking,’ Stephen stage whispered.
‘Daddy!’ Peter whined, an embarrassed flush covering his cheeks.
‘Don’t listen to him, Peter, everyone knows that geniuses don’t stop talking. I certainly don’t.’ He winked and Peter giggled, honest to god giggled.
Stephen hadn’t heard that in ages.
‘It’s good to see you again, kid, you doing okay?’
‘Uh huh, can I come see the development department now?’ Peter rocked on the balls of his feet, shaking with excitement.
Stark clapped his hands together, an overeager child himself.
Stephen trailed along behind them, giving up on trying to understand what they were talking about, both speaking a mile a minute. When they got into the elevator, Stark’s eyes caught his in the reflective surface, the man giving him a smile.
He looked down to break the contact, a small smile on his lips.
‘And this is where the magic begins,’ Stark laughed, bowing as the elevator doors opened.
Even Stephen felt his mouth drop open in wonder. Stark’s lab was like something out of the future, gleaming metallic surfaces, robotic arm like devices perched on tables, holographic projections. Stephen felt as though he was stepping into NASA or something similar.
‘It’s pretty impressive, if you’ve not seen it before,’ a voice laughed at them. Stephen looked for the voice as Stark took Peter’s hand and began leading him towards one of the tables.
The irony wasn’t lost on Stephen.
‘I’m Doctor Robert Banner, people call me Bruce though.’
‘Doctor Stephen Strange.’
‘Oh? What are you a doctor of?’
‘He’s a doctor doctor,’ Stark offered unhelpfully, attention still on Peter as they fiddled with a piece of machinery.
‘I’m a neurosurgeon, although that has taken a bit of a back seat at the moment due to…commitments.’ Stephen answered, gaze on Peter as the boy watched Stark with open adoration.
‘He’s like a child himself,’ Stephen muttered under his breath.
Banner laughed, turning it into a cough and folding his arms over his chest.
‘Tony? That about sums him up. One of the most intelligent men in the world, with the ego and maturity of a five-year-old.’
‘Most intelligent? Come now Doctor Banner, you’re only inflating said ego.’
‘Hey! I graduated from MIT at seventeen! What was it they called me in WIRED magazine, Brucie?’ Stark called, showing Peter how to unscrew a panel.
Banner sighed and shuffled his feet together, a small smile tugging at his lips.
‘The Da Vinci of our time,’ they spoke together.
‘Ah, but did you achieve an MD and a PhD at the same time at medical school?’ Stephen boasted, surprised at how at ease he felt with these two men.
‘I was seventeen, Strange, I graduated summa cum laude!’
‘What does summa cum laude mean?’ Peter asked.
‘With highest honour,’ Stark smiled, reaching down to ruffle Peter’s hair.
‘I have seven PhD’s,’ Banner offered.
‘Alright, we’re all ridiculously overqualified! You want to see my arc reactor project kid?’ Stark threw down the panelling he was holding, plucking the screwdriver from Peter’s grasp and leading him towards a distressingly ominous pulsating device.
‘As flaky as Tony can seem, Peter’s safe with him, I promise.’ Banner smiled as Stephen went to step forward in objection.
‘What are you working on?’ Stephen asked attempting to distract himself.
‘Me? I’m attempting to create a serum to combat radiation poisoning. I don’t have access to the kind of…’ he gestured around the lab, ‘technology at the university I work at, so Tony kindly offered to let me do it here.’
‘Doctor Banner?’ They turned at the small voice. ‘Can I see what it is you’re doing too? Mr Stark said it’s kinda gross.’
Banner frowned, glaring over at Stark in response to his work being dubbed “gross” but did as requested. Stephen felt a distinct sort of pride that Peter took an interest in the biological side of science rather than just engineering.
‘Do I detect a bit of fatherly pride?’ Stark teased.
‘Peter hasn’t shown much of an interest in biology, or what I do for a living. It’s nice to see,’ Stephen smiled, leaning back against the table he stood next too.
‘Would it matter? If he didn’t follow in your footsteps I mean?’ Stark questioned, hoisting himself up to sit at said table, staring down at his swinging feet.
Stephen gazed at him surreptitiously through the corner of his eye. The man looked a damn sight better than the last time he saw him. He was dressed quite casually in a button-down short-sleeved shirt, the dressing on his forearm stark against the tan of his skin. Stephen could see why he’d been on the cover of magazines, with his tousled hair and muscled forearms…
‘It doesn’t bother me if he doesn’t follow my footsteps. It’s a bit of an ego boost I’ll admit, but I want Peter to follow whatever path makes him happiest.’
Stark caught his eye at that, a small smile on his face.
‘That’s pretty awesome of you, Doc.’
‘Oh please, what parent doesn’t want their child to be happy?’ Stephen’s tone bordered on sarcastic, as if the question really needed asking.
‘The type who doesn’t give a shit about said child, the type who only cares about their son achieving great things.’ Stark answered and Stephen heard fingers flex on the table, Stark tightening his grip.
‘Anyway, I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced, Tony Stark, douchebag.’
Rolling his eyes, Stephen took the offered hand and shook it. He could feel callouses on the smaller man’s palm and his grip was strong, determined.
‘Doctor Stephen Strange, asshole. ‘How’s your arm? Any swelling? Pain?’
Stark brought his arm in front of his face, probing at the bandage with curious fingers as though he’d forgotten it was there.
‘Not that I’ve noticed, it hasn’t been hurting.’
‘Keep an eye on it, call me if you get any pain, or go back to the hospital. The stitches should start dissolving within a few weeks.’
‘Gotcha,’ Stark’s attention turned back to Peter and Banner, smiling at Peter’s excited squeal of ‘gross!’
There was a little niggling voice at the back of Stephen’s head. Why was the billionaire genius, Tony Stark interested in his son? A sense of guilt because of what happened at the Expo? The man had to be busy, he was running a company after all.
‘Is this because of guilt?’ Stephen nodded towards Banner and Peter.
‘Wow, straight for the hard questions, hey? No…well I’ll admit I feel awful for what happened at the Expo, but I meant what I said, you’ve got an intelligent kid there. That spark of brilliance, of creation… how can I not encourage it?’
‘Maybe you should think about becoming a teacher?’ Stephen teased.
‘I have been looking into Stark apprenticeships, scholarships that sort of thing. Just need to get the directors behind me. Why didn’t your wife come today?’ Stark looked around the lab as if he was expecting someone to miraculously appear.
‘I’m not married,’ Stephen hesitated.
‘Oh, apologies, ex-wife then, the hottie who was with Peter at the Expo.’
‘May? Peter’s Aunt?’
‘No, my…’ Stephen found it difficult to speak.
‘My mommy’s in heaven,’ Peter was suddenly right next to them. Stephen couldn’t look at Peter, or at Stark, frozen in place.
‘I see,’ Stark hopped off the table, bending down on one knee to look Peter in the eye. ‘My mom is too.’
‘Really?’ Peter asked, voice small
‘Yeah. I miss her, every day.’
‘I miss Mommy too, Daddy doesn’t make potatoes like she used to, and he doesn’t do the funny voices when he reads bedtime stories. He’s busy a lot too, with work.’
‘Just because she’s in heaven doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you and miss you, Peter, she’s thinking of you as much as you’re thinking of her. Come on, let me show you something.’ Clasping Peter on the shoulder he led the boy away.
‘Sorry, I didn’t realise you were a single parent, my condolences on your loss,’ Banner offered, taking off his glasses and putting them in the pocket of his lab coat.
‘Thank you, it was a few months ago and me and Peter’s mother…we weren’t close.’ Taking a deep breath, Stephen held it in his chest before exhaling slowly.
He’s busy a lot too, with work.
Stephen thought he’d been doing better with that, managing more of a work home balance now that he’d become a regular surgeon. He couldn’t reduce the hours of work as much as he wished and still support them both finically.
The weight of failure was heavy on his shoulders. Not for the first time Stephen wished it had been him to die instead of Peter’s mother.
‘Is this DUM-E?’ Peter shrieked, tugging Stephen from his melancholy thoughts, standing next to what looked like a robotic grappling arm.
‘Yup, he helps me in here, well, I say helps, he’s more of a hindrance than a help.’
‘Hi DUM-E!’ Peter gushed, holding out his hand and laughing when the robot shook it.
Peter’s laugh dispelled Stephen’s gloomy thoughts, a small burst of happiness glowing inside him that he could give Peter this small thing.
‘When things make me sad…’ Stark trailed off and Stephen recognised it as an expression adult wore when they were trying to explain something grown up, yet simplifying it so a child could understand. ‘When things make me sad, I build, and I invent.’
‘Did you build DUM- E because your mommy died?’
‘No, I was much older than you when my mom died, and I made a different invention then. I reckon you could make a robot though, wait here a second.’ Stark crouched under a desk, pulling a cardboard box toward him and emptying the contents on the floor, before shuffling around his lab adding things he found.
‘Here you are, whenever you get sad, try building something.’ Stark pressed the box into Peter’s hands.
‘Is that?’ Stephen began.
Banner took a quick look over Peter’s shoulder, shaking his head.
‘No, nothing in there is dangerous.’
‘Thank you, Mr Stark.’ Peter clutched the box to him, a beaming smile on his face.
Stephen felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude towards the man, a link bonding them. Here was someone who understood, not someone who tried to understand what Peter was going through but got it.
‘Thank you,’ he echoed Peter’s sentiment, horrified that his voice broke part way.
Stark looked up at him from where they were rifling through the box, brown eyes soft and kind.
‘Don’t mention it.’
‘Thank you for today, Peter really enjoyed it.’
‘No problem I had a blast.’ Stark crouched down, holding his hand up so Peter could fist bump it. ‘You’re gonna go far kid, keep asking those questions and keep dreaming, you promise me?’
Stephen found himself reluctant to leave, having enjoyed himself more than he thought he would. He knew this was Stark doing a nice gesture to appease his guilt, that they’d never see each other again, but…Stephen couldn’t put it into words.
‘Tony? Can I come again? To watch you work and to play with DUM-E?’
‘Peter, Mr Stark is a very busy man and I doubt he’ll be able to-’
‘Sure, you can!’ Stark answered, fishing out two business cards and handing one out to both of them.
‘Now, as your dad says I kinda get busy with the whole adult side of things, I can’t invent all the time, just like you can’t play all the time, but I’ll try and make some time for you to come down if your dad says it’s okay?’ Stark’s eyes flashed up at him.
‘Are you certain?’
‘This isn’t some BS public stunt I’m pulling, or an insincere see you later goodbye. Honestly, hit up my phone with a message and I’ll see you both again.’
‘Alright, I might do that, Mr Stark,’ Stephen drawled, glancing down at Peter as he said that.
‘Tony, Doctor Strange.’
It had taken ages to get Peter into bed. He seemed infused with the hyperactivity one usually associated with sugar happy children, but it was Stark he couldn’t stop talking about. Showing Stephen articles he’d kept from magazines his mom had brought him, pictures of his inventions.
It was as though another aspect of Peter had been unlocked to Stephen. He’d known Peter was a budding engineer, he’d spent enough time with his son before his mom’s accident to know that much, but he’d never seen Peter this…alive before.
He felt awful that he didn’t understand how important the Stark Expo was to him, just glad to have Peter out of his hair for a few hours he’d agreed to May’s request that she take him without paying too much attention to what it was they’d be doing.
His failures kept stacking up.
Pulling the bedcovers up over Peter, he carefully placed whatever it was he was building with the parts Stark had given him on his bookshelves, before flicking the nightlight on.
‘Thank you for taking me to see Mr Stark. It was really fun. Can we go again?’
‘I don’t see why not. Sweet dreams, Peter.’
‘Night night, Daddy.’
Closing the door carefully behind him, Stephen padded down the hall to the living room, stretching his neck from shoulder to shoulder as he looked at the mess strewn about.
It was never-ending.
He lamented his old lifestyle, the glitz, the glam…
‘Stop being an arrogant asshole,’ Stephen snarled at himself.
Despite the exhaustion, he picked up the remote for the CD player, pressing play and listening to the open bars of a Pink Floyd song before he began cleaning up. As he worked his mind went over the afternoon visit at Stark Tower, Stephen making a mental note to himself to encourage Peter more in his engineering passion, to try and pay more attention to his son rather than going through the motions.
In other words, stop being a failure as a father.
It took him over an hour to clean his penthouse apartment and despite the still early hour he found himself sprawled out on the couch, herbal tea set on the floor beside him, contemplating going to bed.
His phone vibrated in his pocket, shattering the fatigued haze he found himself drifting in. Pulling it out he squinted at it. It was May, confirming plans for the weekend, asking after them both. Picking up his mug he took a sip, typing back a reply, grateful beyond words once again that he had May and Christine in his life.
They were his support network, his cornerstones and yet…
He tilted his head, listening for Peter, gaze drawn to the darkness of his window.
Stephen was lonely. It was isolating, being a single parent.
Placing his drink down, he curled his legs up onto the couch, passing his phone back and forth between his hands.
Thank you for today, Peter really enjoyed it. Stephen.
Placing his phone down beside him, Stephen sank back down into the cushions behind him, not expecting an answer, but desperate to talk to another adult. His phone buzzed and he glanced over at it, refusing to hope.
No problem, your kid is fun. Do it again sometime?
Tapping his index finger against his phone casing, Stephen thought of an answer.
I appreciate the sentiment, but we both know you’re a very busy man.
Stephen stared the words he’d written and then deleted them. Stark had seemed genuine when he’d said goodbye to them both. While it’d taken him ages to tidy up, the image of Peter rummaging through his box of junk with excitement made him smile. It was the most animated Stephen had seen him in a while and he didn’t want to take that away from him.
You’re probably sat there thinking this is all bullshit despite me telling you otherwise. I meant it when I said I’d like to see you and Peter again. If I’m reading this right, you’re probably sat there thinking, what does Tony Stark want with my kid? Aren’t there other children he could be bothering?
Stephen felt himself smirk and composed a message back.
I guess they don’t call you a genius for nothing.
I want to encourage him. Alright, I’ll admit I feel awful that he got hurt at my Expo, but I do want to encourage him.
You’ve already encouraged him to build a robot. Hopefully it won’t murder me in my sleep.
Really? Send me a picture!
Huffing, Stephen got to his feet, shuffling down the hall to Peter’s bedroom, silently pushing back the door and creeping in. Gingerly he picked the…whatever it was up and carried it back with him into the living room, taking a photo of it.
Wow, I won’t bore you with all the specific details but that’s a good start.
He can’t get it to work. I don’t suppose you could tell me what’s wrong?
I could but then he won’t learn, trust me, he’s on the right path.
Stephen left his phone in the living room as he carried the robotic thing back down into Peter’s bedroom. He stared at his own bedroom door for a few minutes, before turning back towards the living room. A contemplating sound left his lips as he returned to his phone, settling down on the couch once again.
Stark messaged him before he could even think of what to write.
When I was Peter’s age the first thing I built was a V8 motorbike engine, I didn’t build DUM-E until I was sixteen. I might have to relinquish my title of genius to your son.
I’ll inform the papers, I’ll make millions out of that.
Finishing his now lukewarm tea, Stephen stretched out on the couch, bringing google up on his phone.
He only had to type in the name Tony before his phone brought up Tony Stark, and he thumbed through the articles, the reports on the man, both good and bad the scandals, the generosity and the mistakes.
So, which article are you reading about me?
Arrogant to assume I’m thinking of you at all, let alone reading about you on the web. I’m reading about your twenty-fifth birthday party, the one people called the big orgy.
Ah yes, I remember it fondly. Don’t believe everything you read.
You’re telling me there weren’t five girls in bed with you at once?
What total and utter bullshit, you see the lies they print about me, Doctor Strange? It was seven and they know it!
Tony Stark’s youth didn’t paint the most…flattering of pictures about the man. Wild parties, bad work ethic, weapons manufacturing. With a needling thought at the back of his mind, Stephen typed in Tony Stark’s parent death.
‘Ah, I see. You were only young when they died and inherited a multi-million-dollar company. Dealing with grief and having all that money, makes sense you fell off the rails a little.’
The two Stark’s didn’t mesh in his head, the young rash playboy who had a bad reputation, and the man who had come himself to check on Peter, who had taken the time to explain things in his lab today, who had given his son a job to help him with his grief.
‘Tony Stark, you might be worth getting to know.’
Come chat to me over on Twitter
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
‘Peter come on! We need to get ready to go! I asked you ten minutes ago to put your socks…what are you doing?’ Stephen exploded, fighting the urge to scream as Peter stood in the middle of his bedroom, staring at the ceiling.
‘I can’t find them,’ Peter mumbled, folding his arms.
‘They’re not going to be on the ceiling!’ Stephen strode over to the chest of drawers, pulling it open and grabbing whatever socks he could find. ‘Now come on, get dressed, we need to get going.’
‘I don’t want to wear those ones! I want my green dinosaur ones,’ Peter nudged the offending socks away from him with his toes.
‘We haven’t got time for this! You’re going to be late for school. Put them on and find your shoes. Now!’ Stephen shouted, fighting the literal urge to rip his hair out as the six-year-old sighed with a long-suffering sigh.
‘Mommy would know where they are,’ he muttered under his breath.
‘Well she isn’t here, I am, so put your socks on or you’re walking to school!’ Stephen raged, storming out of Peter’s bedroom and into the kitchen. He braced his hands on the counter, trying to quell the rage bubbling in him.
Seriously. How hard was it to put on socks every morning? They did this… every morning. It was a daily struggle! What did Stephen need to do! Write it down and post it on Peter’s wall?
He heard Peter begin to cry.
Stephen couldn’t do this. He could never take the place of Peter’s mother. His son was stuck with a pathetic, arrogant excuse for a human being, who shouted at a still-grieving child. He pushed himself off the counter, returning to Peter’s room and sitting on the edge of his bed.
Resting his elbows on his knees, he looked down into his palms, the sound of Peter sobbing filling the room.
‘I’m sorry I shouted at you, Peter.’
There was a pause in the crying, Peter shuffling closer to Stephen’s knees. ‘Sorry, Daddy.’
Picking up Peter, Stephen sat him in his lap. ‘I’m just grumpy today, sometimes it feels like you’re not listening to me on purpose.’
Peter hung his head, guilt etched into his features.
‘Were you wasting time on purpose?’
‘I don’t want you to get mad at me,’ Peter’s lower lip stuck out.
‘Remember, we tell the truth. If we tell the truth the first time, I won’t get mad. I will get mad if you lie to me.’
‘I was wasting time,’ Peter let out a fresh batch of wails.
‘Why?’ Stephen rubbed a hand down Peter’s back.
‘I don’t know why.’
Tempering down the frustration, Stephen kept rubbing. ‘I know you miss Mommy, and I’m sorry for shouting. Is that why you’re sad?’ he asked, voice gentle.
‘No, I miss Mommy, but…’ Peter trailed off. ‘I don’t want to go to school.’
‘The boys are mean to me,’ he sniffled.
‘Do you want me to talk to the teacher?’
Peter nodded, hands fisting into Stephen’s shirt.
Stephen fought against the irritation rising as he comforted his son. They were going to be late for school, and he was going to be late for work.
He could feel another disciplinary meeting around the corner.
‘What’s wrong?’ Christine sat opposite him in the canteen, sitting in the chair cross-legged, coffee cradled in her hands.
‘You look exhausted,’ Stephen counteracted, poking his pasta salad with his plastic fork.
‘Stop deflecting,’ she scowled, taking a deep drink and exhaling heavily.
‘I was thinking about what a shit parent I am,’ Stephen stabbed his fork into his lunch and pushed the plate away with disgust.
‘I know I shouldn’t but…god, Peter can be so frustrating! It feels like he doesn’t listen to anything I say. Even the simplest of tasks are strenuous! You know I asked him to find his socks this morning? Ten minutes later I went into his room to find him staring at the ceiling saying he couldn’t find them!’
Christine snorted into her coffee.
‘Oh, you think that’s funny. You remember how he loved green beans a few days ago?’
‘Yes,’ she smiled. ‘You were ecstatic you found a vegetable he likes. You wouldn’t stop going on about it, it’s like you thought you should have a medal or something.’
‘Well now he hates them, they’re literally the most disgusting thing ever.’
Christine spat coffee out at that, laugh not contained now.
‘Don’t even get me started on being asked the same question over and over and over. Daddy, why do I have to wear a jumper? Why can’t I have more Ice cream? Can I have the same fucking bedtime story I’ve had for the last five days!’
‘Stephen, come on, what’s wrong?’
‘I shouted at him this morning. The kid has lost his mom and I keep shouting at him. I can’t even keep a lid on my own temper to my motherless son.’ Stephen’s words were dripping with self-loathing.
A hand covered his own.
‘You’re being too hard on yourself.’
‘I feel like I’m the worst parent.’
‘That says a lot, Stephen. Children are stressful, they push the boundaries. You said yourself a few months ago that Peter was testing you. You’re going to shout, you’re going to make mistakes. The fact that you’re feeling guilt means you’re trying.’
Stephen flipped his hand over so they could link fingers, squeezing Christine’s slender ones.
‘Sometimes I wish for his sake that it had been me to die instead of her. A kid needs their mom.’
‘Don’t say that,’ she squeezed back. ‘Give it time, don’t be so hard on yourself. You’ll figure it out together, and you’ve got me, May we’re here to help you.’
Stephen’s phone vibrated in his pocket and he pulled it out, smiling as he read the message.
Christine put her empty Styrofoam cup down, propping her chin up on her hand, a sly grin on her face. ‘Who is she?’
‘Who is who?’ he muttered, looking up at her.
‘The girl you’re texting?’
‘Oh? No that’s a new friend, Tony Stark? You might have heard of him?’ Stephen answered with a smug grin, waiting for the reaction.
‘Shut up! You are not! Stephen…seriously? Tony Stark, as in Stark Industries Tony Stark?’
‘I don’t know of any others.’ Stephen laughed at her punch to his elbow.
‘When Peter came in a few nights ago, Tony Stark came to make sure he was alright, I stitched up his arm and he gave me his card. I rang him to say thank you for making sure Peter was well and he invited us to see his lab.’
‘He invited you to see his lab.’
‘And you’re still talking to him?’
Christine crossed her arms, looking contemplative.
‘Go on, what’s the matter?’ Stephen asked.
‘Nothing, I’m happy you’re meeting people, making friends. Since…since the accident with Mary, you’ve become really withdrawn.’
‘That’s because I have a six-year-old to deal with.’
‘Stephen, I’m not attacking you. I know how hard it’s been, how hard it was for you to become just a regular surgeon. Point of the matter is I’m happy you’re talking to people again.’
The texts had begun slowly, sporadic due to their differing timetables, idle chitchat out of politeness which progressed into banter and then downright aggressive bullying.
Stephen had changed Tony’s name in the messaging app to douchebag and Tony had responded in kind, renaming Stephen as asshole. It never failed to make Stephen chuckled as he saw a message waiting for him.
He loved it.
He’d missed having an adult to talk with, let alone an intellectual that could keep up with his own mind. He knew Stark was a genius, the man had told him enough times when they’d visited but talking to someone who could keep up with him was refreshing. Stark had asked him questions regarding his education and as soon as Stephen had admitted his expertise was neurosurgery, revealing he’d been more interested in his research than the operating side, Stark had been insatiable with his questions.
He picked Stephen’s brain for everything he knew about the spinal column, the nervous system adding to his own research. It made Stephen feel giddy, not realising how much he missed it until Stark brought it up.
His thoughts took a backseat as he tried to focus on what May was speaking to him about, rather than focusing on his phone vibrating on the counter beside them.
‘I keep telling you I can help you more with Peter. I know you’re stubborn and you want to do this all by yourself, but even single parents need help and support, Stephen. You’re going to burn out trying to work and raise Peter, you’re allowed a night off, you’re allowed to be an adult occasionally.’
Stephen swallowed his shame, the bitter taste gagging him.
‘I failed Peter and Mary for the first few years of his life, May. I forgot to send presents on his birthday, missed the important milestones, I only saw him for the occasional holiday and that was only if it didn’t affect my work. Hell, I didn’t even care that Mary gave Peter her surname instead of mine!I was a self-absorbed, egotistical asshole who didn’t give my son the time of day. Now, he’s stuck with me. I don’t think I can ever make it up to him.’
‘Destroying yourself over it won’t help. Be the best parent you can be for him now, Stephen, and part of that means you must look after yourself too. Let me take him for one night, I’ll drop him right off in the morning, and you’ll still be in contact. Give yourself a night off to relax.’
‘It seems selfish of me.’
‘It’s more selfish to be snapping and resentful towards Peter than to take a few hours to breathe. The offer’s there, think about it.’
Stephen was torn from sleep by a weird feeling. Sitting up he squinted at the shadowy figure beside his bed.
‘Can I sleep with you, Daddy?’
‘What’s the matter?’ Stephen yawned, rubbing his eyes.
‘Bad dreams, can’t sleep,’ Peter murmured.
Peeling back the bed covers, Stephen shifted over, allowing Peter to curl into his chest. He rubbed Peter’s back for a few minutes, trying to stay awake until Peter went back to sleep. Peter kept shifting, sighing deeply and trying to turn over.
‘You not tired now?’
‘No Daddy,’ Peter yawned. ‘Ok, little bit, but I’m too scared to go back to sleep.’
Stephen shifted so he was sitting up against the headboard, pulling Peter up into his lap, and holding him close with both arms.
‘Nothing’s scary, I’m here.’
‘What if you leave?’
‘I’m not going anywhere, Peter, I promise.’ He knew it was wrong to promise something he couldn’t control, but Stephen didn’t know what else he could say.
He stayed awake for the rest of the night.
Exhaustion was a funny thing. Stephen understood why sleep deprivation was used as a form of torture. He’d had a rare day off and had given Peter the choice in what to do. Relief had flooded him when Peter picked the park, thinking that he could have time to read the novel he’d been meaning to read for the last month.
He’d got through the first few pages, and that was a huge achievement, far better than the last time he’d tried to read.
The park had been stressful, Peter insisting Stephen watch him do every jump down from the climbing frame, every attempt at the monkey bars, every go down the slide. Any time Stephen grew frustrated the niggling little voice in his head reminded him to do better, that it wasn’t fair on Peter for him to get annoyed.
Then they’d had a playdate with one of Peter’s friends from school, Ned. Stephen had the best intentions, he really had. It was important for Peter to foster relations with his friends, especially since he’d mentioned he was being bullied at school.
What Stephen hadn’t expected, however, was the amount of noise two six-year-olds could make, or the mess. He’d gritted his teeth and ignored the screeches, helping them make a pillow fort and clenching his fists as another glass of his was broken.
He needed plastic beakers.
After the playdate, it’d been dinner, more arguments about eating a balanced diet and then Peter had finally gone to bed.
Stephen looked around his apartment, horrified at the stinging in his eyes. Was he really going to cry? Over what exactly? The fact his son had a great playdate with his friend? A lovely morning at the park?
Gingerly, he picked his way around the mess, standing on a Lego brick. In a flash of rage, he kicked it clean across the living room, the anger flaring in his stomach, the urge to punch his couch, to upend it, consuming him.
Taking a few deep breaths, he sunk to the floor, bringing his knees up and resting his forehead on them.
‘I can’t do this,’ he croaked out, despite knowing no one could hear him.
Let me take him for one night, I’ll drop him right off in the morning, and you’ll still be in contact. Give yourself a night off to relax. May’s words haunted him.
Didn’t that make him an awful parent? Peter had lost his mom and it felt like Stephen was trying to get rid of him for selfish reasons.
Nothing, I’m happy you’re meeting people, making friends. Since…since the accident with Peter’s mom, you’ve become really withdrawn.
Christine now. He knew it was important he look after his own mental health, that he take care of himself, but the guilt gnawed at him, paralysing him.
He heard his phone vibrate, and after looking under the cushions strewn on the floor, he found it.
How have you gone so long without messaging me?
Stephen felt himself smile, shaking his head in mock despair.
I thought we’d established this, douchebag. I have a life, responsibilities.
Hey! I have responsibilities too you know. Stark Industries? Big international company… Tony Stark…CEO? Do I need to dumb it down further for the poor little surgeon?
Stephen stretched his legs out in front of him, feeling some of the tension, the anger from earlier dissipate.
All you do for work is sit in meetings. Afraid to get your hands dirty and actually do some work? Follow my example, the doctor who saves lives with his hands.
I have minions to do my work for me.
He laughed at that. Tapping his phone against his thigh as he thought.
Do you have a free evening sometime this week? Want to grab a beer? Or is that too low brow for you? Champagne on a boat instead?
The reply was almost instant.
Hey, I can slum it with the best of them. But only premium beer.
‘Hey, asshole.’ Tony slid onto the bar stool next to him, looking around the bar appreciably. ‘Wow, I’ll be honest, I was expecting some run-down bar with peanut shells all over the floor and the game playing behind you on a dinky screen, but if this is your version of slumming it, I’d be interested to see what living it up is for you.’
Benatar was a hidden gem of Stephen’s, a place he’d frequented back in the day. A sleek glossy bar the hue of ink, with secretive alcoves if you wanted a private conversation. It had a mysterious feel, the walls the colour of umber and suspended from the ceiling were lights in globes, making it look like they were floating mystically above them.
‘If you’re impressed by this you should come to a rooftop bar with me, the views are astounding and it’s perfect for a warm summer night.’
‘Too bad it’s fall otherwise I’d say what are we still doing here. I’m pleasantly surprised.’
‘Please, I’m not a savage, besides, we can’t let Tony Stark be seen in a rundown bar.’
‘Hey, I look good anywhere thank you. I’m a man of many talents, many guises, I’m just as comfortable sitting here drinking a cosmopolitan as I am drinking a coffee in a diner.’
‘I guess I thought you’d enjoy the finer things in life. What are you drinking?’ Stephen flagged down the man behind the man with a raised finger.
‘Scotch, Laphroaig if they have it.’
Stephen lifted his hand, waving down the bartender and giving the order. They sat in silence as they waited, both of them watching the other customers in the bar. When his scotch came, Tony lifted it, offering it in salute.
‘How’s Peter doing? He get any further with his robot?’ Tony placed his glass down, shifting sideways on his barstool so his attention was firmly on Stephen.
‘He seems to be doing ok, he’s been having difficulty with some of the children at school,’ Stephen took a drink from his beer bottle, looking down at his reflection in the surface of the bar.
‘Why’s that? Kids being jerks?’
‘I think it’s this age, they’re all finding their feet, making friendship groups. I’m lucky Peter seems to have some good friends, but he can be a little distant. He feels different from the others, alone.’
‘Ah,’ Tony made an understanding noise in the back of this throat and took a deep sip of his drink. ‘It must be hard losing a parent as a child, I mean I was technically an adult and I still don’t think I’m over my mom.’
Stephen had remembered what Tony had told Peter that day in the lab, how he built things when he was sad, but he hadn’t spared a moment to think about the man’s personal loss or how it still might affect him. He gazed at the smaller man, his gaze lost to the middle distance, those brown eyes of his huge.
He couldn’t describe them, they were deep, rich teak, the colour of fresh soil, but they had glimmers of vibrant gold, not unlike the scotch he was drinking.
Great. His first night out as an adult and he was becoming poetic about eye colour.
Fuck, it really was unfair that Tony Stark was so damn attractive. Stephen felt a flash of jealousy, of inferiority next to such a man.
‘How are you holding it up with it all? I mean I’m not a parent and I can’t imagine what you must be going through losing a partner and supporting your son and his grief at the same time. Are you talking to someone? I’ve got a number for an outstanding therapist if you need it, totally confidential, really knows his stuff.’
Stephen hesitated with his answer, partly because he knew how he came across when he told people about how he came into custody of Peter, and partly because despite their texts back and forth they weren’t considered close friends.
‘Sorry, was that too personal too fast? I really should use the filter in my mouth, but I’ve never learnt how. We can talk about other things. Did you know it’s meant to rain in the next few days? Or work, how’s work? Had your hands in anyone’s chest this week?’ Tony rambled, a wide smile on his face.
Stephen suddenly had the sense that Tony hid behind a façade, the arrogant CEO a front. The man who he’d met that night at the hospital, the one who’d been more concerned by a kid’s safety then saving face for his company was the real Tony.
‘Peter’s mom and I weren’t together when she died. I don’t know if Banner told you, but we weren’t close.’
‘What happened?’ Tony cautiously asked, peeking at Stephen out of the corner of his eye, flagging down the bartender for another round.
‘Peter’s mom, Mary, was someone I saw on and off again for a while. It was fun, casual, I had zero interest in anything serious, trying to establish my career. Peter was…her pregnancy was…’ Stephen trailed off.
‘Oh, I see.’ Tony pushed the new beer closer to Stephen’s hand, nodding his thanks to the bartender.
‘I was so mad at her. I was such an arrogant dick, I thought she might be trying to trap me into something serious, trying to force my hand as it were.’ The feeling of loathing he’d felt from the past, combined with the guilt of recent months congealed in his stomach and he felt revolted.
‘Now that I do understand.’
Their gazes met for a moment, Stephen confused by the statement.
‘Do you have any idea how many Stark bastards are out there? How many women have claimed to be knocked up by me, the number of paternity tests I’ve had? dozens. And no before you ask, I do not have loads of mini Stark’s running around out there, continue.’
‘Mary didn’t want any of that, didn’t ask me for a dime. She said she was going to raise the child on her own. I didn’t have much to do with Peter at first, wasn’t even there at his birth. When I finally pulled my head from my ass long enough to make an appearance in his life I was smitten, but I wouldn’t make any sacrifices to see him. The kid was lucky if he saw me four times a year, I forgot his birthday, missed his first steps.’
Peter didn’t even look like him, he’s was Mary’s child right down to the core.
‘Sounds like you took a leaf out of my old man’s book,’ Tony gave a low chuckle.
‘When I got the call she’d died, all I could think about was how it was going to affect my life, my career, everything that I’d built up. I cared about what happened to him, but I cared about me more. I even considered asking May to take him instead of me.’
May. The wife of Mary’s deceased brother, not even a blood relation.
Tony said nothing, watching, waiting.
‘When I went to pick him up, he was just…staring at me with those huge eyes and he looked so lost. He’d lost his entire world and all I, his father, could think about was what it was going to cost me.’
Stephen could remember it too well, with a stabbing pain in his gut as he thought about a lost and alone Peter, thumb in his mouth, clutching onto his bear as he waited for a man he hardly knew to look after him. A man he must have known didn’t want him.
‘I took him home, became a regular surgeon and I’ve tried to balance the two ever since. You can now proceed to judge.’ Stephen waited for the inevitable, for the man to leave.
Tony said nothing for a long moment, taking a drink from his tumbler.
‘I had a father like you, distant, absent from my life, I was his biggest regret. I was a bit younger than Peter when I made my first circuit board, or so I’m told. My mom said I was desperate for his attention, his approval. The first bot I made, DUM-E, was another desperate attempt for his approval. It didn’t work.’ Tony set his glass down. ‘Nothing ever did. Heck, the man hated me, the happiest day of his life was me going off to boarding school.’
Stephen didn’t know what to say, it was like he was looking at an older Peter, a man Peter might have become if Stephen hadn’t stepped up. Stephen felt the urge to apologise, to beg for forgiveness or something.
That was when Stephen realised, the reason he was so drawn to Tony’s eyes. It wasn’t because of how annoyingly attractive the man was, it was similarities to Peter. The image Stephen had in his head of Peter standing there, orphaned and lost, became replaced by Tony, enormous brown eyes swimming with tears as he waited for someone, DUM-E standing beside him, which was ridiculous because the damn thing hadn’t even been built yet!
‘Now, this is where you differ, Doc. You give a shit about your son. Sure, you started off as an asshole, and you didn’t deserve him. But you’re here for him now, you realised you made a mistake and you corrected it and moved on. You gave up something that was important to you, and you addressed your behaviour. I know how important Peter is to you, I saw it. My dad didn’t make that sacrifice, he carried on being a selfish prick, right up until he died.’
Stephen remained speechless, stunned by everything Tony had said.
A weight came on Stephen’s shoulder, shaking it slightly. ‘You turned it around, Stephen.’
Stephen hung his head, feeling his eyes burn, Tony’s hand squeezing his shoulder.
‘Sorry, things got kind of heavy there. It’s not often I get a chance to speak to an adult.’ Stephen felt the need to apologise. This wasn’t how fledgeling friendships started.
‘You’re speaking to Tony Stark, daddy issues galore. Honestly, you wait till we’re better friends and you’ll start charging me for my sessions.’
Stephen smiled at the strange reassurance, the way Tony thought amused him.
Tony looked over his shoulder as he was drinking, eyebrows flashing into his hairline.
‘Can I take a picture with you?’
The woman was beautiful, and Stephen’s gaze zeroed in on the manicured nails holding her phone, before trailing up all that creamy skin to where her lips were painted in a deep, blood red, tilting into a sultry smile.
Stephen quickly finished his drink, moving back to give them space, reaching for his jacket off the back of his chair.
‘There you go, enjoy the rest of your night,’ Tony said with a pleasant tone, turning back to Stephen. ‘Hey! Where you going?’
‘I think you might be occupied for the night,’ Stephen answered, slipping his jacket on before gesturing to the woman still waiting.
‘Oh? Hey, sorry honey I’m not interested, I’m here with my friend tonight and it’d be rude for me to bail on him, you understand?’
Christ, even Stephen would feel weak at the knees if Tony Stark directed a blazing smile like that at him.
‘I don’t mind if you want to call it a night,’ Stephen offered as he watched the woman saunter away.
Damn, she was hot.
‘I came here to see you, Stephen, I ain’t going to bail on you to chase tail.’
‘I thought you were quite the ladies’ man?’ Stephen took his jacket back off, refusing to let Tony see how much that meant to him.
Honestly, was he that deprived of adult attention that he was happy someone had acted like a decent human being?
‘My partying days were over long ago, so… not so much anymore.’
‘Hey, come on, I bared my soul to you, I think the least you can do is let me peek into yours. Is there a Mrs Stark the media doesn’t know about?’ Stephen teased.
‘Is Peter’s aunt available? God damn, she was smoking,’ Tony whistled under his breath. ‘No, I don’t have a wife in mind yet, I don’t think I could pay anyone enough to put up with me.’
He whispered the last part under his breath, not intending Stephen to hear it so he responded in kind and ignored the words, squirrelling them away for later.
‘Yet? That sounds promising.’
Stephen meant it as a light-hearted quip, a way to return to the banter they had over text messaging, but Tony went quiet, finger tracing the rim of his glass. As he opened his mouth to tell Tony he didn’t need to share, the genius spoke.
‘There was…someone I cared about…’ Tony halted, looking unsure for the first time, now drumming his fingers across the bar. ‘He…we couldn’t make it work.’
Stephen stayed silent.
‘Is that a problem?’ Tony challenged Stephen.
‘The papers will be most unhappy you’re gay,’ Stephen said, nonchalant.
‘Bi thank you, and they’ve already covered that story a million times.’
‘So, what happened?’ Stephen pried, curious to know.
‘It’s the classic textbook story, Doc. I was young, rich and in pain. I spent too much money on liquor and parties, trying to escape it all, grief, responsibility. Then, I met him. I fell in love, cleaned up, tried to better myself for him…and got my heart broken. End of story really.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
‘Don’t be, plenty more fish and all that.’ Tony gave him a smile and Stephen felt sad that it was the closed off one again. ‘Now let’s drink and talk about neuroscience, asshole.’
Morning, do you and Peter have some free time soon? Want to come by the lab? I’ve got an idea I want to run past you.
Stephen glanced at the message and placed it back in his pocket.
The shrill school bell sounded as he got to his feet, dredging forth memories of his own schooling, the tediousness of it all, his own share of bullies.
‘Thank you for meeting with me, Mr Wilson.’
‘No trouble at all, Doctor Strange, how can I help you this afternoon? How’s Peter doing?’
‘He’s settling thank you, he has his ups and down, but I wanted to talk to you about the other students. Peter brought it to my attention he’s being bullied and while I am of the thought that he should fight his own battles and I don’t want to swoop in here to save him, it’s gotten to the point where it’s affecting him at home.’
The principal nodded in understanding, dark eyes closing in a long blink. Sam Wilson had been astounding in the support he’d given Peter and Stephen, understanding about Peter’s absences and tardiness while they’d been finding their feet. He’d found Peter a grief counsellor and then offered to stay late so there was an adult present at the sessions if Stephen was caught up at the hospital.
He was, in short, amazing.
‘I have noticed that Peter has had a little difficulty in adjusting back to class life. His teacher has brought up concerns that he doesn’t seem to be playing well with the others, that they don’t know how to handle him. Now, this might be a maturity thing, he is one of our younger students in the year, it could be Peter’s grief and the process of becoming secure in life again, or it could be a case of the other students avoiding him because his mother died.’
‘He’s not carrying some sort of disease!’ Stephen found himself snapping, crossing his arms over his chest.
‘And I’m not suggesting he is, but these are children, Doctor Strange, they don’t understand what Peter is going through and there is a fear that what happened to him might happen to them, so, in their mind, it is better to avoid Peter altogether.’
‘Children are cruel.’
‘Not intentionally. We have a zero tolerance of bullying here at the school, I will ask Peter’s teacher to monitor the class and please ask Peter to report any concerns he has or any incidents of bullying to her.’
‘Thank you, that’s reassuring.’
‘How’s Peter outside of class?’
‘Annoying, like a regular six-year-old,’ they shared a smile over that, ‘but he’s doing much better. He seems happier, able to be more selfish in his demands rather than being on his best behaviour all the time.’
‘That is an improvement!’ Wilson beamed.
Stephen remembered the quiet child who first came to live with him, always behaving, never speaking, just in case Stephen went away like Mary had done. It had taken reassurance, and commitment to prove to Peter he was here to stay.
‘I heard that you met Tony Stark, it was all Peter could talk about.’
‘Yes, after the Expo he gave Peter a tour of his lab, they talked science for a bit. I actually got another request to go there later.’ Stephen wasn’t asking permission, but there was something in his tone, and Wilson picked up on it.
‘I think it does children good to have positive role models in their life, especially those who encourage a passion of theirs. I certainly don’t know of another person who could talk to Peter about engineering and robotics.’
Stephen felt a sense of relief at his words, validation that he was, in fact, doing something right by Peter.
‘I’ll keep an eye on him, and in the meantime, if you have any more concerns feel free to leave me a message,’ Wilson stood, stretching out his hand for Stephen to shake.
‘Hey kid, how was school?’ Tony beamed as he saw Peter, ruffling his hair and kneeling so he could hear the answer.
‘Good, Mr Stark-’
‘Tony, sorry. I had two milks today instead of one because my teacher had some spare and then after recess me and Ned built a fort in the sandpit then Flash came over and broke it Mrs Harris said it was mean and not very kind but Flash isn’t very kind but then that’s not very nice either-’
‘Breathe, Peter,’ Stephen interrupted.
Tony listened to all the rambling, nodding sagely and only catching Stephen’s gaze over Peter’s head once and sending a quick smile.
The billionaire was in a suit today, the tie loosened, and sleeves rolled up his muscled forearms to the elbow. He chanced a glance at the wound on Tony’s forearm, noticing it was healing nicely and hopefully wouldn’t scar.
‘You know what they say, chicks dig scars,’ Tony smiled up at him, ushering Peter off to play with DUM-E as he was so desperate to do.
It almost frightened Stephen how Tony knew exactly what he was thinking, but he was learning to roll with it.
‘They show resilience and strength in a person, that or plain stupidity. Busy day?’ He gestured to the outfit.
‘Yes, thank you, dear, yours?’ Tony teased, standing up and placing his hands on his hips.
‘Take that tone with me again and you’re sleeping on the couch. I had a meeting with Peter’s principal.’
‘Everything okay?’ All pretence was dropped, Tony turning back to look over at where Peter was playing with DUM-E.
‘An issue with bullying, they’re keeping an eye on it.’
Tony’s hand fingers flexed once before he reined it in. ‘Poor guy, kids are assholes,’ he snapped under his breath.
‘Yes, but he also needs to stand up for himself. I can’t fight all his battles for him.’
‘But look at him, he’s gorgeous, who could be mean to him. Hey, Peter c’mere a minute.’
Peter obediently trotted over, the robot arm trailing after him.
‘How’s the robot coming?’
‘Good, I’ve built a mechanism to make its arm move,’ Peter gushed, frowning over Stephen’s blank expression.
‘Want to see something cool? JARVIS?’
Peter shrieked, stumbling towards Stephen who picked him up with one arm and sat him on his hip, looking up at the ceiling.
‘Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you, Peter,’ Tony rubbed his hand over Peter’s back, checking to see if Stephen was alright. ‘This is JARVIS, he’s…’ Tony took a moment to think, rubbing his palm over his chin. ‘He’s my AI, a robot brain.’
‘I’d like to think I’m more than a “robot brain,”’ the voice from the ceiling remarked, with a touch of sarcasm.
‘Only you’d create a robot to be sarcastic,’ Stephen shot at him.
‘JARVIS started as a natural-language user interface computer system, do you know what that is Peter?’
‘It means you can talk to him and he does what you ask, like typing into Google, but talking instead.’
Stephen looked down at the kid on his hip still impressed to this day by what his son came out with.
‘I have to say, sir, I can understand why you’re so impressed with the young Mr Parker, it appears his intelligence may exceed yours.’
‘Alright, alright, let’s not get rid of your creator just yet, sheesh.’
‘When JARVIS was first built, that’s all he was an interface program, and now, as years have gone by, he’s now the most sophisticated AI in the world.’
‘Better than Alexa?’ Stephen asked the ceiling.
‘Alexa!’ Tony scoffed. ‘JARVIS can think for himself rather than being limited by voice commands!’
‘I don’t know sir, your most frequently asked question of me is to ask for music, which coincidently is one of Alexa’s most commonly asked questions.’
Stephen stifled a laugh at Tony looking all ruffled.
‘The point is, Peter,’ he continued, pointedly ignoring Stephen now, making Peter giggle in Stephen’s arms, ‘is that JARVIS not only is super duper smart, he also runs most of my business and he’s in charge of my security, my safety. When you’re with me, there’s nothing that can hurt you. Not even bullies. Here in the tower is a safe space, where you can be and do whatever you want to.’
‘What if…’ Peter suddenly went quiet, gnawing on the skin on the side of his thumb. Stephen reached up and pulled it from his mouth, waiting for whatever it was Peter wanted to say. ‘What if I don’t want to invent all the time? Can I still come here? Can I bring my Lego?’ Peter whispered.
Stephen felt a rush of affection for the boy in his arms, his heart aching and he was sure it reflected on his face. He chanced a glance at Tony Stark, his face a mirror image of the emotion inside Stephen’s chest.
‘Course you can, a safe space…remember?’
Stephen felt vibrating in his pocket, shattering the moment they found themselves in.
‘Sorry,’ he muttered, shifting Peter in his arm and reaching into his pocket. ‘It’s the hospital.’
Tony made a shooing motion with his hand, reaching out for Peter under his arms and placing him on the floor gently. ‘Want to see what else JARVIS can do?’
Stephen swore under his breath as he listened to the message, dialling May. He noticed Tony glance up at him from the corner of his eye, before distracting Peter further from Stephen’s mini crisis.
‘Hey, it’s Stephen, could you watch Peter for a few hours? An emergency surgery has come up.’
He pinched the bridge of his nose as he listened to her answer, feeling a headache spread. He waved aside her offers to leave work early for him. As much as he always appreciated her help, she was struggling to make ends meet being a widower herself.
‘What’s up? You look stressed.’ Tony was beside him, gripping his elbow.
‘Emergency at the hospital, come on Peter, you’ll have to play with one of the receptionists, let’s go.’
‘Aww!’ Peter whined, flopping dramatically to the floor and stretching his legs out. ‘Daddy no! That’s so boring! Can’t I stay here with, Mr Stark?’
Although he was keeping an iron grip on his temper, some of his annoyance bled into his words if the widening of both Peter’s and Tony’s eyes were any indication.
‘No. He’s got far too-’
‘I can watch him for you.’ Tony jammed his hands in his pockets, rocking back and forth on his feet.
‘You can help me here, right Petey?’
‘Yes! Oh, please, Daddy! I don’t want to play with Emma, she’s so boring!
‘Tony…I don’t think this is-’
‘You carry on right here, kiddo, let me just talk to your daddy for a sec, kay?’
‘Kay, Mr Stark. DUM-E you want to help me take this panel off?’
Stephen spluttered some more protests as Tony dragged him further into the lab.
‘Look I can watch him for a while, you go off and save people. It’s no problem.’
‘Tony, he’s a lot of work and I know you’ve got things to do.’ Stephen wanted to fight harder, but the idea had…merit. No, that was ridiculous, Tony Stark was the head of a multinational company, he had demands on his time that Stephen couldn’t even begin to fathom.
‘The best thing about being CEO of a company, Doc is that I’m my own boss, no one above me but me. All I was going to do the rest of the evening was invent, you’ve got my number and I’ll remember to feed him, promise.’
‘You can’t even feed and look after yourself.’
Stephen had the messages to prove it. Four am invention binge successes, moaning messages about how starving he was only to realise he hadn’t eaten in nearly a day.
‘If I might interject, sir? Mr Stark does have me to remind him of such requirements, and I am equipped to halt all lab functions if he does not have adequate sleep and substance.’
‘Nursemaid protocol.’ Tony nodded wisely.
‘That’s not reassuring.’
Tony laughed, ‘don’t you trust me?’
The crux of the matter.
He looked over Tony’s shoulder at where Peter was talking to the robotic arm, animated, happy, safe, before looking Tony square in the eye.
‘If you need anything-’
‘Yeah, yeah I’ll call you.’ Tony shooed him away.
‘Tony, I’m serious.’
‘Me too, Doc, don’t worry, I’ve got him. You can trust me.’
‘I do,’ Stephen smiled, turning into a grin as Tony’s mouth parted a little in shock.
Come chat to me over on Twitter
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Stephen slumped against the reflective wall of the elevator, exhaustion sinking deep into the marrow of his bones. The surgery had taken hours and a great deal of concentration and attention to detail. Mentally, he was shot, and he still had to get Peter home and into bed and feed himself.
How long could he keep doing this? Looking after a child and trying to maintain surgical hours was affecting both sides now, his body frayed between them. Perhaps it was time to consider some sort of live in-house care for Peter, or to reduce his hours, but then they would have to give up the penthouse and live elsewhere.
Would it be better for Peter to be living in the countryside somewhere? Fresher air, more space, safer environment. Stephen wasn’t sure about the commute, but maybe he could make it work.
Stephen loved his penthouse, but he’d give it up if needed, but that wasn’t the issue. This was where their support network was, May and Christine, Peter’s school and principal were supportive and both he and Peter loved living in New York.
The elevator doors pinged open. Stephen tugged down his shirt, rubbing his palms over his face to at least appear presentable. He paid little mind to the ornaments adorning the hallway, the furnishings more lavish than his own apartment building.
He bet Tony’s apartment was at least five times the size of his, with a robotic army…like something out of the Jetsons.
The door swung open for him as he raised his hand to knock.
No robotic butler then.
‘Sir is currently in his office, carry on down the corridor and take a right.’
Still not used to JARVIS, Stephen glanced warily at the ceiling, taking his shoes off in the entryway and padding down the shiny floors, his socked feet slipping a little.
It was carnage.
Felt Tip pens and paper littered the coffee table in the middle of three huge couches, some incessant cartoon played on a huge plasma tv. Cushions covered the floor in the remains of a blanket fort.
Despite the destruction left behind by his son, Stephen whistled, revolving on the spot, taking everything in. The décor was tasteful, elegant, close to his own personal tastes. A plush, thick rug was the only thing that broke up the gleaming hardwood floors, Stephen ignored the candies he could see littered in the thick strands.
‘I don’t see Tony.’
‘My apologies, sir has moved to the dining room.’
Tony had huge floor to ceiling windows like in his own place. Walking over, he took a quick detour to run his fingers over the piano in the corner of the room, before making his way to the view, gazing out into New York, the twinkling lights, the diamonds and rubies among the asphalt grey.
‘You should come see my place in Malibu,’ a low voice said behind him.
Stephen met Tony’s eyes in the reflection of the glass. They held each other’s gaze for a long moment, and it might have been Stephen’s sleep muddled state, but he felt a moment between them, almost heated, tense.
It was late, he was tired, and he was grateful to the man. Nothing more.
Tony was dressed in jeans and t-shirt, hair ruffled out of its usual perfect style, documents in his hand. It was a softer, human, more approachable look on Tony Stark, one Stephen found he liked quite a lot.
Despite their closeness on text it was hard to get a glimpse into the real Tony Stark. Stephen had brief flashes, admittance of working longer than he should, not looking after himself, and when they’d had drinks the other night, cracks had appeared in the arrogant, confident businessman persona for Stephen to peer into.
Stephen knew enough about people to know when they were hiding something, when they were protecting themselves, and despite Tony’s best to convince otherwise, he’d let himself slip too many times. His father had hurt him, left him feeling worthless. He’d been broken-hearted, a feeling Stephen hadn’t experienced but could only guess was excruciating.
Whatever had happened in Tony Stark’s past had made him who he was today, a man that felt as though he had to hide behind a public image, that couldn’t show weakness. Despite all of that, he had still tried to save Peter, came to see him at the hospital, had kept an interest in both of their lives.
Stephen couldn’t help but feel like that was an important achievement.
They weren’t just casual friends who text, they were close friends, on par with him and Christine.
‘How’d the surgery go?’
‘Successful, she’ll recover. Where’s Peter?’
‘Asleep, he’s in one of the guest rooms, come on.’
Stephen hadn’t noticed Tony was holding a ballpoint, and he stuck it behind his ear to beckon with his fingers. He led Stephen down one of the branching hallways, down to a door that had left ajar. A bedside lamp was still on, a dim glow illuminating Peter in the monstrously oversized bed, out cold and stretched across the middle of it.
‘JARVIS is monitoring him, but I left the door open so I could hear him better, you know, in case he needed anything.’ Another rare moment where Stephen could hear the uncertainty in Tony’s voice, a far cry from the cocksure, suave billionaire he usually was.
He didn’t answer verbally, reaching up to squeeze Tony’s shoulder and then tiptoeing across the room to smooth Peter’s bangs back, pressing a kiss to his forehead.
Closing the door behind him on the way out, Stephen swayed a little on his feet, holding onto the doorframe as it passed. If Tony noticed anything, he didn’t mention it, waiting until they were back in the living room.
‘He hit it off with my assistant, Pepper, they were besotted by each other. Never knew Pepper had such a strong maternal instinct, anyway when I thought you might be late, I sent her to buy some things for Peter to sleep in, things to do here. You wouldn’t believe what she picked out, you remember Underoos? The PJ’s she picked out was a blatant rip-off.’
Tony rambled as incessantly as Peter did.
‘You want coffee? Or something stronger? I ordered burgers to come when you got home, so they should be here soon.’
It was a throwaway remark, not meaning anything, but Stephen felt his throat hitch.
He couldn’t remember coming home…to anyone. His penthouse had always been empty, and since he’d been taking care of Peter, he didn’t have the time nor the consideration for anything like that.
Stephen might have been over emotional because of sleep deprivation, but this feeling…it was…
Well, it was amazing.
‘Thank you, but I should probably get going. You’ve done me a huge favour and you’re probably behind on your work.’
‘Stephen, stop. I enjoyed having him, and he’s asleep, stop panicking or overthinking and just eat and take ten alright? Christ, you’re worse than me. Go sit down. You can eat and then you can take Peter home, or you can crash in the bed next to him, it’s not like I haven’t got the space.’
‘Sir, the food has arrived.’
‘Ah see! Even JARVIS thinks you should eat.’
‘Overbearing robots and their creators,’ Stephen grumbled, but sat at the dining table at the far corner of the living area, taking a moment to count eight dining chairs and wondering why on earth Tony needed that many.
‘Here we go,’ Tony proudly announced pushing a bag of takeout across towards him and punching a straw through his soda cup.
‘I don’t like-’
‘Anything with too much sugar in, hence this water is for you,’ he told Stephen with a wink, rolling the bottle over.
‘Well played.’ Stephen dug into his bag, unwrapping the burger and taking a bite with a deep moan of appreciation. ‘I always forget how hungry I get after surgery.’
Tony cleared his throat, kicking his legs up onto one of the chairs, reaching into his own bag.
‘Sorry I can’t cook for a damn. My mom, now there was a lady who could cook,’ Tony closed his eyes wistfully, chewing on his burger.
‘Yeah? What was your favourite thing she used to make you?’ Stephen asked, unscrewing his water and taking a deep mouthful.
‘Lasagna, mamma she-’ Tony suddenly clammed up, his cheeks dusking pink. ‘I mean Mom, she made the best pasta.’
‘Ah, that explains your striking complexion, I had wondered about your heritage, Italian suits you.’ Stephen laughed as the blush got darker, ducking as Tony threw fries at his head. ‘Don’t be embarrassed about what you call her, she’s your mother after all.’
Tony said nothing, sucking on his straw and gazing up at the ceiling.
‘Does it get easier? Is there anything I can do to help Peter?’ Stephen asked, slowing down in his chewing now the colossal hole in his stomach had been filled a little.
‘I can go days without thinking about her, weeks even… and then every now and again I’ll smell her perfume, or imagine I see her out of the corner of my eye, those days…they’re hard. I know she loved me, and I’ll always miss her.’ Tony rustled in the takeout bag, pulling out another burger and pushing it towards Stephen.
‘I’ll miss her always, but I’ve come to terms with it you know. I mean I wish she could have seen me now, could see me on my wedding day, any future grandchildren she’ll have, but I know she would have been proud of me, she understood me, she loved me…loves me, that’s all I need to remember.’
There wasn’t much Stephen could say and they fell into a companionable silence as they ate.
‘Peter might not understand it now, children are inherently selfish, but one day he will look back on these times, the pain he suffered, and he’ll see that his dad was there with him through it all. Not only that, but what you’ve sacrificed in order to raise him.’
Stephen grabbed a napkin to rub the grease off his fingers, distracting himself from the sudden burn in his eyes.
‘And that leads us neatly into what I wanted to talk to you about. Are you finished? Let’s move onto the couches.’
Tony left the mess on the table, brushing some of the pens off the couch and picking the cushions off the floor so they could actually sit on something.
‘Here, I kept all of these, this one is mine, Peter drew it for me, but he said these ones were for Daddy.’
‘You kept them all?’ Stephen chuckled, sitting down and leafing through them.
‘Well…yeah? What else was I meant to do with them. I like this one, it’s cool.’
Stephen looked over. It was done in typical Peter stick man fashion, the heads far bigger than what the bodies could sustain, but there was the three of them and DUM-E and another robot.
‘Oh, that’s you.’
‘If I’m a robot, then who is this with the arrow saying Daddy over it?’
‘Not you, U as in the letter, it’s my other robot. Peter met it earlier.’ Tony folded the picture up and stuck it in his back pocket. ‘Right, now I’m not going into huge detail cause, quite frankly, Doc, you look like shit, but I’ve got a proposition for you.’
Stephen continued looking through the multicoloured drawings, giving a non-committal hum to show he was listening.
‘You’re struggling, Stephen.’
His hands fell into his lap, some of the pictures fluttering to the floor. Fury raised its ugly head inside him, but before Stephen could even defend himself, Tony had put a hand on his knee.
He wasn’t struggling. He was doing the best he could. How dare Tony assume…
‘Listen to me, and then if you’re still mad you can bite my head off and storm out of here.’
Stephen remained quiet.
‘I’ll make it real quick and simple cause you look like you’re about to drop off, but I remembered what you said, about your research into neuroscience, how it was something you were passionate about before you became a full-time dad?’
‘Point being?’ Stephen snapped, feeling attacked. It was still a raw subject even after all these months, the life he’d given up, his passion.
‘Stark Industries have been looking to branch out in prosthetics for a while now-’
‘Want to help save the amputees your weapons helped create?’
Tony froze, his eyes going wide and his hand falling into his lap.
Shit, he knew he was tired, but he was being oversensitive, Tony wasn’t trying to attack him.
‘Sorry, that was pretty fucking awful of me.’ When Tony said nothing, Stephen knew he was going to have to give him more, that this couldn’t be brushed aside with a small apology. ‘Tony…I know you don’t understand but my research was important to me, yes I know I had to give it up to look after Peter, yes I know that clinging onto the idea I can return to it is selfish, but still…it’s like an open wound.’
‘No come on, I didn’t mean to lash out, come on, you know how much you mean to me.’
‘I’m just a guy you text and who watches your kid occasionally, nothing more to it than that,’ Tony sighed out, not fishing for sympathy, a resigned sort of sigh.
‘You’re a guy who I text every hour of the day, who I look forward to hearing from, who I consider a great friend. Don’t let me…push you away like that.’
Stephen felt genuine fear that he’d messed up, that Tony wasn’t going to brush off his bursts of temper as Christine and May did.
‘I’ve been thinking about prosthetics, limbs and the such, and I’ve been thinking there might be a cybernetic route, an interface that attaches directly to the-’
‘Nervous system,’ Stephen sat up, a little more alert. ‘A prosthetic limb that could trick the neural pathways into believing it was real.’
‘Exactly,’ Tony smiled. ‘Now, I think I can create the robotic side, but I need someone with the knowledge on neuroscience, a doctor, one might say.’
‘You want me to help?’
‘I want you to reduce your hours at the hospital and get back to your research. It might not be in the field you wanted, but it’s a start, right? I’ll have you know Stark Industries has a very good insurance package, the CEO is handsome, and we take care of those with families.’
‘Tony…why are you doing this?’
Tony stood, pacing on the rug for a moment before going to look out of the huge windows.
‘When I inherited the company, I only had a vague idea of what we did. I was young, I enjoyed the money coming in, the chance to invent, I didn’t care where it came from. Stane, my father’s business partner, he kept the company running for me.’
Stephen watched as Tony placed his hand on the glass, closing his eyes. He held his breath, scared that if he spoke Tony would stop speaking.
‘When I finally grew up and took control of the company, I noticed that someone had been selling the weapons my company made to protect America under the table to terrorists. After an investigation, all evidence pointed at Stane.’
‘I looked through all of Dad’s old files that night, the company records, pictures of him and I’m still not sure if he knew what Stane was doing, what Stark Industries was doing. All I could think of was is that really what I want to leave behind? Do I really want to follow my father’s footsteps?’
Stephen felt the weight of what Tony was saying settle on him, the trust he was placing in him.
‘I shut down the weapon side of Stark Industries, and yes you’re right, this is part of me wanting to help the victims of Stark weapons. However, it is also because I want to help you and Peter. You don’t have to take it, but I’m giving you the chance to work on your research again, to spend time with Peter.’
He opened his mouth, but nothing came out.
‘Think on it, Doc. You’ll be helping me do something I want to do, and I’ll be helping you, that’s what friends do, right?’ Tony turned, hands on his hips and smiling.
‘I’ll think about it.’
Stephen was drifting, mind sluggishly shifting through half-formed thoughts. He heard a murmured sound and he tried to pull himself towards it.
‘Now try unscrewing the mechanism a little, can you see it’s too tight?’
That was Tony’s voice.
He screwed his eyes shut, wanting to return to the black of dreamless sleep. Pulling the blanket closer to his neck, he pushed his nose into the softness, willing his breaths to slow. Calm. Relaxing.
His mind snapped back from the precipice. Why was Peter awake? Oh shit, was it a school day?
Stephen peeled back his eyelids, wincing a little as they felt like they were welded shut with superglue. He really needed a decent sleep routine, he was still so tired. Lifting his head up, he gazed blearily around the room.
Where was he?
‘It’s working now, Mr Stark!’
‘Shhh Underoos, Daddy needs some sleep, but yes, well done.’
He was still at Tony’s. There was a pillow under his head and a thick blanket wrapped over his body. Tony was sat on the floor, Peter in-between his legs as they worked on Peter’s robot. Stephen gazed at them for a long moment, feeling a sense of contentment settle into his skin, infusing deep into his soul.
Pulling the blanket closer to himself and taking a deep lungful of Tony’s lingering scent on the blanket, Stephen closed his eyes and went back to sleep.
Stephen didn’t regret his decision to work with Tony. The hospital agreed to reduce his hours to a part-time schedule, with Stephen’s assurances he would remain on call for any surgeries requiring his expertise. He’d also promised Christine that she could ring him for advice, or a second opinion if she ever needed to.
The pay cut was…excruciating, but his pay from Stark Industries was more than enough, and then some. He could have left the hospital entirely, but there was a lingering sense of keeping one foot in the door, just in case things didn’t work out for him. Tony agreed wholeheartedly, supporting Stephen in his decisions, offering advice if asked but otherwise trusting him to juggle his time.
Stephen felt…whole again. Working with nerve cells, mapping the nervous system, exploring the riddle that was the electrical and chemical nervous systems…he was content. That happiness bled into other areas of his life. He was stable around Peter, less stressed and panicky, able to enjoy their time together rather than having one eye on his son and the other on the time.
Peter thrived under it as well. Loving his time with his daddy playing Lego, smiling every time Stephen picked him from school, the bedtime stories he actually got to read rather than coming in late at night.
Tony was to thank for it all.
And Stephen didn’t know how he could even begin to thank him for it.
‘Don’t be stupid, Doc,’ Tony told him once when he tried to bring it up. ‘We want to help people, you want to help people, this is beneficial to us both.’
Stephen found a friend in Banner who quite often worked at the lab when Stephen was there. When he saw the conditions Tony was making him work in, Banner had gasped quite dramatically and dragged Stephen a few floors down to his own personal lab, with better medical facilities. There they bonded over their fascination of human cells and their fondness for a certain billionaire a few floors above them.
His favourite moments were when Peter joined him. Stephen didn’t get much work done, but then again, neither did Tony. He was endlessly patient with Peter even after the initial glamour of their relationship had worn off. Tony had witnessed the full power of a six-year-old tantrum, had seen Peter at his most sullen and uncooperative and he still wanted the boy around.
Tony could encourage him in a passion Stephen couldn’t, accepting the child’s limitations, taking the screwdriver from his hand when he caught the boy yawning, ignoring his protests. While Stephen had learnt while working with Tony that the man was next to useless at his own self-care, Tony never ever forgot Peter’s.
‘Inventors don’t work when we’re tired. We need to be focused!’ Tony would instruct, looking up at Stephen. ‘Besides, I think its food time, right?’
It wasn’t only Tony that became involved with Peter’s life. Banner was a patient teacher and listener, explaining what he was working on, helping expand Peter’s knowledge of the biological side of science. Pepper, the fiery, scary redhead who didn’t allow Tony to get away with any bullshit, a firm guiding hand, became another maternal influence for Peter, reading him stories when she had the time, doing jigsaw puzzles and playing Lego with him.
Happy, Tony’s bodyguard/ chauffeur shared Tony’s obsession with spoiling Peter with cheeseburgers, was always free to take Peter out into the rooftop garden and play catch, or tag, or whatever inane game Peter could come up with.
Then there was Rhodey, Tony’s best friend from school, another firm influence in Tony’s life, and Stephen was beginning to understand the man needed them, his excitement often needing reigning in. He and Stephen had gone out for a beer a few times, sharing their dismay over Tony’s life habits, his work ethic, but finding a kindred soul in the other.
This was Stephen’s life now.
They all continued in this way for a few weeks, until finally, Tony and Stephen’s project was ready.
Down in what looked like a hospital room, but more high tech than the hospital Stephen worked at, Stephen stood beside the sterilised table, trying to peer over Tony’s shoulder as he flicked through the medical file.
‘So, who is our unlucky guinea pig?’
‘Sergeant James Busomething Barnes,’ Tony read, handing the file to Stephen.
He should be here any-’
‘Sir, a Mr Barnes has arrived,’ Jarvis announced.
Tony rolled his chair back, pulling his shirt down as he stood, smoothing imaginary creases.
Stephen perked up when he heard the lab door opening, the clacking of Pepper’s heels as she led their subject in. She gave him a brief smile and a head nod before leaving the lab.
‘Make sure Peter has some fruit or something please, Pepper,’ he called after her.
‘I’ll try Stephen,’ he heard her giggling.
‘Mr Barnes, please come take a seat. I’m Tony Stark and this here is Doctor Stephen Strange.’
‘Bucky please, no one calls me Mr Barnes.’
Tony offered his hand and Barnes took it with a smile, taking the offered seat his gaze never leaving Tony as he sat back down.
Stephen watched as the man smiled, his gaze taking in his appearance, the stubbled jaw, the bright blue eyes that widened when he saw Tony. Inconspicuously, his eyes fell on Barnes prosthetic arm. If this worked, if he and Tony were right then this could revolutionise prosthetics, could change lives.
There was a tiny, minuscule part of Stephen that was terrified. If this was a success did that mean he was going to return to his arrogant ways? Back to the man he once was?
As if sensing his distress, Stephen felt pressure against his calf. Tony was still in discussion with Barnes, but he’d leaned under the table to squeeze his leg.
That man always knew too much for his own good.
‘Now, Bucky, I’m sure you know why you’re here. It is our hope with this new prosthetic, you’ll have a higher range of movement, your nervous system should believe this is your actual limb.’
‘I’d heard you were something of a genius,’ Barnes attention was fixed on Tony.
It aggravated Stephen.
‘Tony Stark, genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist,’ Tony answered after a heartbeat, giving Barnes a lazy smile.
‘To end all playboys,’ Tony teased.
Stephen felt uncomfortable watching them interact. He couldn’t put his finger on it. He was…protective of Tony. He kept stealing glances over the top of the medical file, watching Bucky, (honestly what kind of a stupid name was that) talking to Tony, an easy grin on his face. He oozed confidence, charm, which Stephen could understand, he was a soldier and they had to deal with all sorts of people.
He felt unnerved.
‘Will my insurance cover it?’ Barnes nodded towards the arm on the sterile table.
‘This will be done on a trial basis, a sort of we scratch your back and we’ll scratch yours. You’ll trial the arm for us, come in for check-ups, data analysis and we’ll cover the cost of any medical costs on our side. Off the record, Mr Barnes-’
‘Bucky,’ the man smiled, wetting his bottom lip.
Stephen felt something seize his stomach as he watched Tony’s gaze become drawn to the movement, pupils dilating.
‘Bucky then.’ Tony was quick to cover his slip, but Stephen had caught it.
‘There won’t be any problems with the arm, I wouldn’t trial anything on a person if I thought it would harm you. We at Stark Industries…I valve what you guys do for us out there, how you keep us all safe at night. It’s my…our,’ Tony nodded at Stephen, ‘hope that this small thing paves the way for a chance at a life you once had.’
‘What sort of things will I be able to do with it? Is it a shiny version of this one?’ Barnes raised the useless lump of plastic serving as a limb, moving his fingers in one movement rather than individually.
‘Ah Bucky, prepare to be amazed. Could you remove your arm for me please?’
Tony came closer to Stephen and under the guise of checking over the prosthetic, he leant close to Stephen, mouthing a question.
Stephen gave a short sharp nod, turning his attention back to Barnes.
‘Right, as they probably explained to you, the arm we’re going to fit today is a form of myoelectric prosthesis, and while they use the existing muscles in the remaining limb to create the electrical signals needed to make the arm work, ours is a little more sophisticated. I’m going to connect the sensors onto your shoulder first, and then fit the arm. It’s not a permanent solution, we need to see how this works first, and then we can look at long term solutions.’
‘Such as?’ Barnes asked.
‘We can embed the sensors into your arm via surgery, making the changes permanent,’ Stephen answered for Tony.
‘Alright,’ Tony clapped his hands and left Stephen with his files. ‘Bucky if you could lay back on the table for me, I’ll get to work fitting this arm for you.’
‘Do you want an anaesthetic or anything, it might be a little uncomfortable?’ Stephen asked.
‘No thank you.’ Barnes didn’t even look at him, ensnared by Tony.
‘I need to get to your arm, Buckaroo.’
Barnes gave Tony a once over, before smiling and opening his legs wide.
Stephen’s fingers tightened on the file, crumpling it.
Please. The man couldn’t be serious.
He could feel his eyes bug out of his head, cartoon style as Tony crowded close to Barnes, their chests nearly touching. Tony had the screwdriver handle clamped between his teeth; his eyebrows furrowed in concentration as he attached the sensors to Barnes’s original prosthetic interface socket on his shoulder.
‘So, you said ex-playboy, you settle down, sugar?’
Stephen’s teeth gritted as he heard the flirtatious drawl, the Brooklyn accent coming in. Tony had to have noticed the way Barnes was staring up at him, the sneaking glances he kept giving Tony’s ass. He wanted to shake Tony for being oblivious, for the stupid way colour spread across his cheekbones at Barnes’s ludicrous attempts of flirting.
Please, as if Tony would be flattered by something so blatant.
‘Not yet, but I outgrew the meaningless sex, the partying.’
‘That’s a real shame, a pretty thing like ya all lonely at night.’
‘Mr Barnes, if we could stop the inappropriateness for just a minute and concentrate at the matter at hand,’ Stephen snapped.
Tony and Barnes sniggered at him.
‘There, that should do it, JARVIS can you bring Bucky’s scans up so Stephen can see them? Doc you ready?’
‘What scans?’ Barnes asked, finally looking at him.
‘We need to make sure the robotics are syncing with your neurological pathways. We’re trying to fool your nervous system into thinking this is your real arm and give it impulses which respond to the robotics in the arm.’
‘Right, so what do I need to do?’
‘A few basic movements, Mr Barnes,’ Stephen stressed his name. Stephen moved to a different part of the lab, looking up at the scans with a thoughtful frown. ‘This all looks good so far, what do you think?’ He asked, turning to get Tony’s opinion. Except, Tony wasn’t beside him, he was still with Barnes, laughing over something the soldier was saying.
‘Seriously? Tony get over here. I’m trying to see if this has worked.’
‘Sorry, kinda hard to concentrate with Tony being so easy on the eye. It’s distracting,’ Barnes teased, giving Tony a lazy wink.
‘I wouldn’t know, I’m not interested,’ Stephen snapped, slapping his folder down on the desk. ‘Now will you come look at this?’
Tony looked at him dumbly, eyes wide and mouth slack.
If Stephen didn’t know any better, he’d say the man looked almost…hurt.
‘Huh? Oh yeah, what’s that?’ Tony shook it off like a dog shedding water, standing beside Stephen and looking at the scans JARVIS had projected. ‘Hmm, appears that one of the sensors isn’t sending the right signal. Bucky? Could you rotate your wrist clockwise?’
Barnes swore in wonderment as his hand did what he wanted it to do.
‘Now anticlockwise. Yup, there it is, I can fix it.’
Tony approached Barnes again, taking the screwdriver to his shoulder, tongue between his lip as he concentrated.
‘There, I think we’ve got it, how does it feel?’ He slapped a hand on Barnes other shoulder, shaking him slightly with a huge grin on his face.
Despite his annoyance at how Barnes was acting, he couldn’t suppress his own elation as Barnes flexed his forearm at the elbow, wiggling his fingers with shock in his expression.
‘I…how…I can feel…’
Tony turned to Stephen, the grin stretching even wider, eyes sparkling with success. Stephen smiled back, overwhelmed with the urge to leap over and sweep Tony up in his arms. He’d done it, he’d help create something that could help people. Tony had helped him to blaze new medical pathways once again.
‘Try it for a week or so and then come back in for scans, and then we can see about making it a permanent addition,’ Tony smiled.
Stephen needed to do something with Tony to celebrate. A drink, dinner, something. The germ of an idea grew in his mind. Dinner. He could cook Tony dinner. He’d said his mom had made amazing lasagna and he missed it, and Stephen was pretty good at making lasagna.
‘How can I…how can I thank you for this?’ Barnes sounded close to tears and Stephen found himself re-evaluating his opinion on the man.
‘How about dinner sometime?’ Tony asked.
Stephen had to take a physical step backwards, ice flashing in his veins.
‘You’re not obligated to, of course, this limb,’ Tony reached out and tapped it with his finger. ‘This is all about us helping people, giving people a new lease of life, especially soldiers who are out there keeping us all safe at night, but the dinner, well, it’s on the table.’
He felt winded, his ribcage straining under imaginary pressure. He lurched away, pretending to be interested in something else at the back of the lab.
Was he ill? Lightheaded because of the jubilation of success?
No. Stephen knew what success felt like, this was worse, this was pain.
‘Stephen? You alright?’
He tensed at pressure on his back, shrugging it off and putting space between them.
‘I’m fine. Did he take you up on your offer then?’
‘We exchanged numbers, nothing solid yet, but let’s see where it goes. Is that alright?’
‘What do you mean?’ Stephen’s nails bit into his palm.
‘Well, there’s a difference between knowing someone is bi and seeing them in all their glorious flirting action. Didn’t want you to feel neglected.’
‘I don’t care what you are,’ Stephen found himself snapping.
‘Jesus, what’s the matter with you? This should be a cause for celebration, we did it! We took a huge step forward! Come on Stephen, let’s go out!
‘Nothing is wrong. Look, I’m going to go.’
‘Hey! Asshole! Stephen?’
Come chat to me over on Twitter
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
How have you gone so long without messaging me? Come on asshole, it’s getting boring reading these to myself.
Another message from Tony. Stephen held his phone in his hand, leaning forward so his forehead touched the cool wood of his dining table. He couldn’t work out what had happened the other day in the lab, something about Barnes set him off. He knew what overprotectiveness felt like, he felt it when guys had treated Christine wrong.
This didn’t feel like that.
It felt like…
Was he going to be one of those friends? One that didn’t let Tony have any significant other in his life because he was worried it took time away from their friendship. That was toxic and unfair, Tony could date, could find happiness.
It had been years since Stephen had a friend such as Tony and there weren’t many people he trusted with Peter, but this…putting distance between them wasn’t fair.
Sorry, been busy at work. I’ll admit it has been quieter without you.
He was desperate to ask if Tony had been talking to Barnes, if they’d gone out on a date yet.
Are you free? You ever had shawarma? I dunno what it is but I want to try it, and no one will go with me. Tony responded in seconds.
Well, I feel honoured you asked me as your last resort.
Alright, I might have exaggerated about the no one will go with me part. Let me try again. Come get shawarma with me, asshole.
Stephen rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to see Tony, but…
I’m busy with Peter.
No you’re not, you told me he was seeing May today, I remember.
Stephen found himself smiling at that, touched Tony had remembered
Then I’m busy at the hospital.
No, today is your day off and if you were at work you wouldn’t be responding. Come on, treat me.
You’re the douchebag billionaire.
So, that’s a yes???
Come by this evening, bring take out.
‘This is why you don’t have any friends,’ Tony told him in the way of greeting as he juggled the bags in his hand as well as his soda and bottle of water for Stephen.
‘I have plenty thank you, you can leave the food and go.’
Tony grumbled under his breath, elbowing Stephen in the gut as he walked past.
‘You lonely without Peter?’ Tony called over his shoulder as he walked to the kitchen, dropping the bags off on the kitchen counter.
‘It’s weird when he isn’t here, but it gives my brain time to not think. I’m not worried about him hurting himself or having to listen to incessant questions.’
‘Hey! That’s a mark of genius that is! That’s how we learn!’
‘Explains the IQ,’ Stephen snarked, going into the living room to sit in front of his couch and wait for Tony. It’d become an odd habit of theirs to eat cross-legged on the floor, probably from all the time they spent eating in the lab while working. It felt a little weird without Peter being with them, sitting on Stephen’s lap as they ate.
‘What exactly are we eating?’ Stephen called, hearing sounds of rustling in the kitchen.
‘No idea,’ Tony called back, bringing it out on plates.
Stephen bit into his food with trepidation, a surprised groan leaving his mouth.
‘Oh, it’s kebab meat, it’s good,’ Tony moaned happily, settling down beside him.
The question was buzzing in Stephen’s mind as they sat there, knees touching, the desperation to know gnawing at him. He needed to think of a way for the question to come up organically in conversation. He didn’t think Tony would mind if he asked, but he didn’t want the man to think Stephen wasn’t comfortable in his orientation.
‘Have you heard from Barnes, any problem with the prosthetic, the implant?’
‘Barnes? Oh, you mean Bucky?’ Tony spoke through a mouthful of food, laughing at Stephen’s outrage at the lack of manners.
‘Yeah we’ve been texting back and forth, but he hasn’t said anything about his arm playing up, if anything he’s insanely grateful for the new lease on life.’ Tony pulled his drink over and sucked at the straw.
Stephen’s gaze snagged on the purse of Tony’s lips.
‘So, how’s that going?’
‘Look, I get it alright, I know you’re trying, but honestly, Doc, this is awkward as fuck.’
‘I like guys, I like girls, just treat it like that, you don’t need to be awkward with asking. We don’t have to talk about love lives.’
‘Hang on, hang on, Tony wait. I don’t care if you’re bi, gay, pansexual whatever, that’s not what this is.’
That couldn’t be what it was.
‘So, what is it then?’ Tony put his food down and crossed his arms, leaning back against the couch and giving Stephen his full attention.
Stephen tried to think of a way to salvage to the situation, to admit in part to his jealousies without seeming to be a toxic friend.
‘I’m a little…worried about you,’ Stephen hesitantly started.
‘Barnes…his flirtation was a little-’
‘He’s a man that knows what he wants, I respect that,’ Tony chuckled, uncrossing his arms and drumming his fingers across his knee.
‘I guess I don’t want him to use you as a one-night stand or to hurt you.’
‘And what about if that’s something I want?’ Tony rose an eyebrow, a small smirk twisting his lips.
‘Then that’s fine but be safe Tony.’
‘Playboy to end all playboys remember, I can handle myself.’
‘That’s not who you are anymore,’ Stephen argued.
‘Yes, well,’ Tony floundered, picking up his wrap and taking another bite.
Uncomfortable silence stifled any further attempts of conversation.
‘Stephen? Thank you. I don’t have many real friends I can count on. Apart from Pepper and Rhodey, you’re probably all I have. I don’t want to lose you either,’ Tony muttered.
‘Great, we’re both as insane as each other,’ Stephen scoffed.
‘You could have told me.’
‘How’s exactly? “Tony, I’m insecure that you’re going to stop being friends with me when you get a partner?”’
‘Oh my God, you should hear about the ton of insecure things I’ve done to Pepper and Rhodey over the years. Honestly, that was right up there with normal, Doc. You don’t think I worry you’re gonna wake up in the morning and ditch me? That my amount of issues isn’t going to push you away? That you won’t find a new mom for Peter and live happily ever after?’
‘I don’t want a relationship at the moment, but I take your point. I promise I won’t ditch you, and you promise you won’t ditch me. You can continue to build killer robots with my son, strong arm me into crazy projects, and I can continue nagging you about your horrendous health habits and leech free food off you.’
Tony lifted his soda and tilted it in Stephen’s direction.
‘Deal, stuck with each other till the end of the line, asshole.’
‘Now and forever, douchebag.’
They smiled at each other and Stephen felt the weight he’d been carrying around since Barnes dissipate.
‘You could just date me yourself you know, I have it on good authority I’m good in bed and who wouldn’t want to get with this?’ Tony stretched his hands over his head, making his t-shirt ride up and expose a muscular stomach.
Horror struck him, carving a path through his soul in its clarity.
That was it.
That was what had been bothering him.
‘Hey, I was joking? God, don’t look so horrified. Many people find me sexy thank you,’ Tony grumbled returning to his food.
‘Come on, spill,’ Christine demanded as they were scrubbing up, nudging his elbow with hers. Rubbing his skin with the soap a little harder than necessary, Stephen threw it down into the sink in frustration, resting his hands on the edge and hanging his head.
‘Stephen? Are you alright? Are you sick?’ Christine’s hand rubbed across his lower back.
‘I think I like him, Christine,’ he croaked out, squeezing his eyes shut.
‘Tony. Stark. Tony Stark.’
‘I thought you were friends, you certainly talk to him enough,’ she grumbled, resuming cleaning now that she’d determined nothing was wrong.
‘We are. But I think I like him, Christine.’
‘Hurry up, you need to clean your nails,’ her tone was bored as she kicked his shoe.
‘What part of this are you not getting woman?’
‘Please, Stephen, I’ve known you’ve had feelings for Tony for a while now,’ she peeked up at him, a small smile on her lips. ‘So, why the freak out now you’ve noticed?’
‘Perhaps because, oh I dunno, I’ve never been in a homosexual relationship before?’ He snapped, scrubbing his nails with vigour.
‘Stephen, listen to me. Your feelings for him, they’re not different from what you’d feel for a woman right?’
‘I’ve never felt romantic feelings for a woman, beyond our night together. What if I’m projecting my feelings of loneliness onto him? I’ve not been with anyone for nearly a year now, what if I’m mistaking our friendship for something more?’
‘Maybe.’ Christine shrugged. ‘I for one, don’t believe sexuality is fixed.’
Stephen stopped what he was doing, listening.
‘Society tells us we must be one thing and once we’ve decided that’s where we stay. Gay, bi, straight they’re all only labels, our need to understand. What you identify with now is still you, regardless of who you have feelings for, even if you change that identity later on.’
‘That’s what I believe anyway. Maybe you’re right, maybe it’s a projection,’ Christine winked, picking up her sterile towel to begin drying her hands.
Stephen prodded Peter’s sleeping chest to make sure, ruffling his hand through the curly hair and waiting a few moments before tiptoeing out of the room. All his responsibilities were done for the night, all his distractions put to rest. Peter was safe and sound in his own bed, he had the night off with Christine promising him a thousand times over she’d only let the hospital contact him if it was an absolute emergency, as in all the doctors in the hospital suddenly went sick at the same time.
He’d turned his phone off which physically pained him to do as he knew Tony would inevitably text him, and then again if Stephen didn’t respond in what Tony deemed a quick manner, but it had to be done.
Even though he was all alone in his apartment, and no one knew what he was up to, Stephen still felt like he was being watched, being judged, that he was doing something shameful. It was idiotic, he fully advocated gay rights, had dealt with patients on the receiving end of hate crimes, he knew full well that everyone had kinks and preferences and it wasn’t for him, nor anyone else to judge.
But still, he could feel humiliation burning a hole in his stomach.
‘Stop being stupid, Stephen. Do this and then you can go back to treating Tony like normal, without fixating on him because he’s the only person to give you the time of day.’
He closed his bedroom door, setting his laptop on the thick comforter and switching it on, waiting for it to load as he contemplated what he was about to do.
Typing gay porn into the secure search engine overwhelmed him, so he tried the keywords soft gay porn instead.
He watched with clinical interest for a few minutes, noting that asides from one of the actors not being female, it really wasn’t too different from hetero porn. Blow jobs, hand jobs, the usual bad acting. Anal sex had never really interested him, and if he really thought about it, he supposed he wasn’t opposed to it, it simply wasn’t something he’d thought about during his quick one-night stands.
God, he was such an asshole. He scratched the back of his neck, regretting once again his life decisions. No wonder he was so hung up over this, he was incapable of having feelings for someone so he couldn’t recognise them even if he did have them.
Debating with himself, his fingers hovered over the keyboard, unsure if he was willing to go where his mind was trying to take him. After a few choice words, and a bit of refined searching he found something.
The porn star…wasn’t dissimilar in looks to Tony, the same soft teak eyes, wicked smile and thick hair you wanted to tangle hands into. Pressing play, he watched for a few moments. He knew about the prostate, why anal sex was pleasurable for men, and while he was pretty certain he wasn’t comfortable with someone being in him…the idea of being intimate with a man wasn’t as off-putting as he thought it might be.
Not a man.
His cock grew hard as his mind easily interchanged the porn star with Tony and with that, his fate was sealed. He slammed the lid down on his laptop, shoving it away and pushing off his soft lounge pants. A low moan sounded in the back of his throat as he wrapped his hand around his cock, closing his eyes to think about Tony.
Tony underneath him, mouth open on a moan, begging for Stephen. That smart mouth of his silenced by Stephen’s cock, those pink lips stretched around him.
‘Oh God, Tony,’ Stephen choked out, thumb twisting over his head, a slick glide aided by precome.
Nails digging into his back as Tony wrapped those toned legs around Stephen’s waist, sucking marks into Tony’s neck, licking the salt of his sweat from his skin.
His hand moved faster, imagining Tony above him, pushing him down in that cocksure way of his, a smirk on his lips as he pinned Stephen’s hands above his head, shoulders flexing as he coaxed Stephen into a kiss, teeth biting at his lip, strong fingers wrapping over his cock, stroking, teasing.
Gonna come for me, Stephen?
It took a mere few touches for Stephen to come over his hand, Tony’s name on his lips, images still scorched into his retinas. Opening his eyes, he turned his head to the side on his pillow, picturing an exhausted and satisfied Tony beside him, those gorgeous eyes of his sparkling with affection, with adoration towards him.
‘I think I love you,’ Stephen whispered.
‘Hey! I need your help with something!’ Tony shouted as soon as Stephen accepted the phone call.
‘What’s the matter?’ Stephen placed the plate of sandwiches down in front of Peter, heart quickening at the thought of something being wrong.
‘I’m at your front door, quick!’
Placing down a banana beside the plate, Stephen wiped his hands over his jeans and strode to the front door.
‘You have got to be kidding me.’
‘Come on! This is important!’ Tony whined, shoving past Stephen trying to shut the door.
‘Helping you pick out an outfit for your date tonight isn’t important! I told you that already,’ Stephen laughed as Tony stumbled past, clothes under his arm.
‘Stephen, I know I look fabulous,’ Tony spun around in a circle before cocking his hips to the side. ‘But I need to look amazing tonight!’ He made a beeline for the dining room. ‘Hey, Underoos! How you doing?’
‘Mr Stark!’ Peter grinned, getting down off his chair to slam into Tony.
‘Ooof, easy kid, go finish your sandwich. He’s never gonna call me Tony is he?’ Tony watched fondly as Peter bit into his sandwich.
‘Afraid not, Mr Stark.’
Tony tutted under his breath. ‘Say, can I get one of those?’ He pointed at the sandwich, shaking his head with a smile as Peter offered his.
‘Sit down, you want milk with yours too?’
Tony dumped his clothes over one of the dining table chairs, sitting next to Peter and asking him how his day was, how school was going. Stephen smiled as he listened to them chatter from his place in the kitchen.
Stephen craved small moments like this, the three of them.
‘Do you like Daddy’s sandwich?’ Peter asked, poking at it after Stephen had placed it on the table.
‘It’s got meat between two pieces of bread, all the components a sandwich needs really.’
‘Daddy makes really good lasagna. He was saying yesterday that he wants to cook you lasagna,’ Peter rambled, oblivious to the heat staining Stephen’s cheeks or the sly smile Tony now fixed on him.
‘You told me a while ago that you missed your mother’s. Not that I’m in the same league, but lasagna is the one thing I’m good at, and-’
‘When?’ Tony had propped his head on his hand, elbow resting on the table as he watched Stephen ramble.
‘I…don’t know. When we’ve both got a free evening maybe?’ Stephen purposely made it non-committal, not wanting to pressure him.
‘I’ll text you later. Don’t think I’ll forget.’ Tony pointed at him, eyebrow raised.
‘Why do you need help with your clothes, Mr Stark?’ Peter asked after he’d finished his lunch, pawing through the shirts.
As Stephen went to tell him to stop, Tony waved his objection aside indicating it was fine.
‘I’ve got a very important dinner tonight and I want the person going with me to like me,’ Tony smiled, indicating Stephen to take a seat opposite him.
‘Why wouldn’t they like you? You’re the best!’ Peter asked with all the innocence of youth, holding one of Tony’s shirts up to his chest.
‘Well, it’s a little bit harder when you’re an adult I’m afraid, got to try and charm them with the outside before they see the mess that’s the inside. Not many people like me,’ Tony stage whispered to Peter, winking and taking a huge bite of his sandwich before nudging his glass of milk aside in horror.
‘My daddy does,’ Peter defended.
Stephen tried not to laugh as Tony backpedalled, trying to think of a way to explain.
‘Go play in your room for a little bit, Peter. You can come play with Tony before he goes, promise.’
They both chuckled at the whining and the dragging of Peter’s feet as he went down the hall.
‘Why the stress about tonight?’
The first date with Barnes.
Stephen wanted to smash something.
‘This is my first date since…well.’ Tony pushed his plate away. ‘Thanks for the food, Doc.’
‘I never thought I’d see the day,’ Stephen said sadly, picking up Tony’s plate and still full glass of milk and walking back to the kitchen with them. ‘Tony Stark, playboy, scared by the idea of going out for dinner with a man who was basically eye fucking you.’
‘Hey!’ Stephen startled at Tony sounding so close, not realising the man had followed him in. ‘I would actually like a meaningful relationship. If I just wanted him to fuck me, I wouldn’t be doing all this.’ Tony leaned against the counter as Stephen cleaned up.
‘I always assumed you’d be the one on top.’
‘Well, you know what they say about assumptions, Doc. Never judge a book by its cover and all that.’ Tony snatched up an apple and tossed it into the air, catching it and taking a bite. ‘Brave of you to admit you’d thought about it.’
‘About what?’ Stephen was only paying half a mind, putting the bread and ham away.
‘About me in bed,’ Tony teased, crunching his apple.
Stephen froze halfway to the fridge, mind scrabbling for a way to claw any dignity back.
‘Don’t worry about it, Doc. I’ve thought about you too.’ Tony sauntered towards him, eyes filled with mischief, a teasing smile lighting up his face. ‘And, for the record, every time I have, you were always on top.’
‘Get the hell out of my kitchen,’ Stephen shoved Tony away, ignoring the delighted laugh, the wink Tony sent over his shoulder as he went to collect his clothes.
‘You should come over to the dark side with us, Strange! No fun staying on the straight-laced side!’
Stephen leant back against the fridge, hitting the back of his head.
Damn it this was hard.
‘Have you thought about online dating?’ Banner looked over his glasses at him.
‘I haven’t thought about dating in any capacity since I became a full-time parent.’ Stephen shoved his own research to one side, not in the mood to look over anything to do with Barnes even if the early results were promising.
‘You want tea?’ Banner pushed away from the desk, rolling back on his chair before getting up.
‘If you have it, thank you.’ Stephen heard Banner shifting through various teabags and he pulled his phone from his pocket, swiping his thumb over the screen to see if anyone had called. He thought Tony might have text, and he even flicked through his old messages but there was nothing.
‘He’s in meetings this morning, probably won’t see him around today,’ Banner smiled as he set the mug of tea down.
Rather than pretend otherwise, Stephen sipped his tea and looked over at him. ‘That obvious, huh?’
‘Not really, I recognise what longing looks like.’ Banner sat back in his chair, cradling his own mug, smiling gently.
‘Do you think…Tony?’
‘Knows you have feelings for him? No. Even if he did, I don’t think he’d believe it. Guy’s got enough issues to make a psychiatrist rich.’
Stephen picked up his pen and tapped it on the end on the table.
‘I don’t want to ruin our friendship, his relationship with Peter. I know he’s started seeing Barnes-’
‘Wow, that wasn’t said with venom,’ Banner playfully interrupted.
‘I’ve never been with a man before.’
The smile fell from Banner’s face as he sat upright in his chair, sensing Stephen was being serious.
‘Is that what the issue is?’ he prompted gently.
‘Is this a therapy session?’
‘No, I’m not that kind of doctor. I’m trying to help a friend.’
Stephen stopped tapping his pen at that, returning Banner’s smile.
‘The idea of being with a man is… terrifying. What if I kiss him, or we get intimate and I find myself repulsed? I would have destroyed everything I have because I was what…curious?’
‘Dig a little deeper, come on Strange, what’s scaring you?’
‘I’ve never been in love before,’ Stephen blurted, feeling his body flush hot with shame, his shirt sticking to him with sweat.
‘There we go.’
‘I’m talking about this like Tony and I are already in a relationship, like he’d even be interested in that with me.’
‘And here I thought Tony was the emotionally obtuse one,’ Banner harassed, scooting closer with his chair. ‘First of all, love is terrifying, no matter how old or what gender it is. It’s also wonderful and worth the risks.’
‘Stephen, I haven’t known you very long but what I’ve heard from yourself and Tony about your past self… you were a bit of an ass.’
‘That’s putting it mildly.’
‘Then Peter came into your life. Now while I’m not suggesting the way it happened should have happened, I can see he’s been a positive influence in your life. It made you less selfish, curbed your arrogance, channelled those things that made you back then into a better person now.’
Stephen took a minute to think about it, lowering his gaze and drinking his tea.
‘And if you’re worried about Barnes, trust me, you’ve got nothing to worry about.’ Banner winked and rolled back to his work.
‘Ban…Bruce? Thank you.’
Stephen did sign up to a dating website, still concerned that he might have been projecting his feelings of loneliness onto Tony.
Tony meant too much to Stephen to jeopardise their friendship like that. He wanted Tony to be happy, wanted him to find a partner.
He had lingered over the sexuality part of the questionnaire about himself, not sure what to put down and unsure of what he was seeking. He toyed with the idea of using the site for a quick hook up with a man, to explore the new side of himself but he was a coward.
When he had told Tony what he was doing, the man had been shocked for a few seconds before giving him some dating tips, offering to take his online photo for him and then mocking him for the next few days.
Stephen had never given a spare thought to single mothers. Back in his days of sleeping around, he was ashamed to admit that if he knew a potential partner had children, he probably wouldn’t have bothered, not wanting the drama or entanglement he assumed would come with seeing them.
This had to be karma.
He was astounded by how some of the women responded. He was still young, a doctor and reasonably attractive. He kept himself physically fit, he had varied interests, yet as soon as the subject of him having a child came up conversations went quiet.
If he found someone worth speaking to via messages, they assumed he only saw Peter at the weekends and when they realised his parental responsibilities were full time… well, let’s say they mysteriously disappeared into the ether of the phone network.
Stephen was close to giving up on the whole endeavour, dating really wasn’t worth this much hassle.
If they can’t see what a catch you are then they’re not worth the time of day. Don’t stress about it, Doc, you’ll find someone.
Tony had been encouraging, supportive as a good friend should but it only drove Stephen further into despair. A part of Stephen wanted Tony to be jealous, to give some sort of indication that he might see Stephen as a potential partner. It made no sense, of course, Tony couldn’t read minds, didn’t know how Stephen was feeling, didn’t even know he was questioning his sexuality.
Yet, he couldn’t help himself.
I think this is pointless. Think about it, would you want to date someone with kids?
When the response came back, Stephen’s mouth had gone dry.
If it was someone like you, in a heartbeat.
The message didn’t say that Tony wanted to date him, and he was probably only reassuring a friend, but Stephen found himself reading the message over and over.
Then, Stephen found someone. Younger than him, a teacher who understood his position. She was funny over messages, they seemed to have a lot in common so Stephen asked her out.
They were going out for dinner tonight and Tony had been taunting him all day about it, teasing him now that the shoe was on the other foot and it was Stephen asking about outfit advice.
So, of course, fate would have it that this was the time Peter got sick.
She hadn’t taken it well. His messages to reschedule going unanswered.
Why was he doing this?
Sitting on the couch he had Peter’s head in his lap, his hand on his son’s sweaty forehead as he kept himself still not wanting to jostle the kid from his sleep. He’d only just stopped throwing up.
Did it really matter if he had feelings for Tony? That he found the man attractive? He’d always thought Toy was good-looking but now he could admit to himself he was attracted by him. It didn’t mean he had to throw himself into the dating scene, he could wait till Peter was older.
Watch Tony fall in love with Barnes.
His phone vibrated on the table and Stephen very carefully nudged it closer with his foot, stretching to reach it, taking a moment to check Peter’s breathing.
He felt winded as he saw who the message was from.
Hey, you probably won’t see this till later, but I hope your date goes well tonight. Let me know how it goes!
Shifting Peter carefully on his lap, Stephen leant back against the couch and wrote back.
Thanks for the message. I’m at home with Peter, he’s sick.
The phone began vibrating.
‘He’s fine, it’s only a stomach bug,’ Stephen spoke before Tony could get a word in.
‘Do you guys need anything? Medicine? Food?’ Tony rapidly fired off and Stephen could hear him shuffling in the background, shoes hitting the floor.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Coming to see you,’ Tony spoke as though it was the most obvious thing in the world.
‘Tony he’s fine, he’s asleep now. Long as he keeps his fluids up, he’ll be alright in a few days. I’ll put him to bed in a moment.’
‘So…I can’t come see you?’
Stephen thought about it for a moment, he had a free evening and he knew Tony wouldn’t mind if Peter interrupted them.
Tony let himself in with Stephen’s hidden key and Stephen snickered through his nose as he heard shoes hitting the lobby floor, jogging footsteps up the hallway.
‘Hey, is he okay?’ Tony knelt on the floor by the couch, raising his hand up to touch Peter’s head and then thinking better of it and leaving it hovering by his face.
‘Yeah, he’s sleeping.’
Stephen had stretched out along the couch, Peter sleeping on top of him, a drool patch forming on his shoulder.
‘I can take him,’ Tony offered, gently scooping Peter off Stephen’s chest. ‘Come on, Underoos, let’s get you to bed huh,’ the man whispered brushing his nose over Peter’s forehead.
‘Mr Stark?’ Peter mumbled, turning to burrow his head into Tony’s shoulder.
‘Hey coccolona, how you feeling?’ Tony whispered, shifting the boy in his arms to hold him closer, resting their heads together.
The whispered Italian from Tony made a spark of warmth flare in Stephen’s chest, adoration seeping through his body.
God, he liked Tony.
‘Hot,’ Peter whined, hands fisting in Tony’s shirt.
‘C’mon, let’s get you into bed. Stephen go get something to eat, you look exhausted.’
Stephen got up and stretched his arms high above his head, groaning as his spine cracked. He shuffled towards the kitchen, rubbing his hand over his eyes as he flicked on the coffee machine.
The sounds of retching had him rushing out of the kitchen and down the hallway.
Tony at least had got Peter to the bathroom, one hand rubbing over his back as he directed Peter’s head into the toilet, speaking gentle, comforting words to his son.
‘Hey, you’re alright, Daddy’s here,’ Stephen got to his knees, placing his hand below Tony’s and rubbing as well. Their hands met in the middle of Peter’s back. Neither pulled away, Stephen shifting his, so it overlapped with Tony’s.
When Peter stopped, Tony lifted Peter back up off the floor, transferring him to Stephen’s grip after Stephen had cleaned up.
‘I’ll go get him some water.’
‘Wait, Tony your clothes.’
Tony looked down, not even flinching at the sick splattered down his shirt. Grabbing the back of his collar, he tugged it up and over his head, scrunching it into a ball as he went.
‘You’re ok, I’ve got you. Think you need to be sick anymore?’ Stephen checked Peter’s temperature.
Peter shook his head, limply resting against his chest.
‘Come on then, let’s get you to bed.’
Stephen carried him down the hall, elbowing his way past the door and placing Peter gently on his bed, before pulling the covers up. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he brushed back Peter’s sweaty bangs, feeling awful and not knowing how to help. As a doctor, he knew Peter was fine and the sickness would run its course, but as a father, he couldn’t help the panic, the rechecking of Peter’s temperature.
A soft rap of knuckles on the doorframe made him turn his head, and his mouth dropped open a little at the sight of Tony standing there, shirtless, the amber glow of Peter’s bedside lamp sending shadows over his body.
How did Tony have a body like that? He’d known the man was muscular, as proven by the biceps Stephen had seen but his pecs were toned and his stomach…Stephen wanted to run his fingernails across that defined muscle, to see it quiver beneath his touch.
‘Where should I put his water?’ Tony murmured looking over at Peter with soft eyes.
This wasn’t the time.
‘Here on his bedside table should be fine,’ Stephen whispered, head snapping around as Peter coughed in his sleep.
Tony silently did as he was told, standing next to Stephen for a moment, both looking down at Peter.
When Stephen looked up again, Tony was gone. Gathering his bearings, Stephen stood, placing a hand on Peter’s forehead to check his temperature one last time, before padding away. Leaving Peter’s door ajar to listen out, he went in search of Tony.
The smaller man was in the kitchen, making coffee for them as he spoke to JARVIS through his phone.
‘Isn’t there anything else I can do to help?’ Tony asked, stirring the coffee in thought.
‘I’m afraid not, sir. Peter needs to keep hydrated and have plenty of rest. I also recommend you keep a close eye on Doctor Strange, my research suggests looking after a small child whilst ill is also exhausting on the parent figure.’
‘That goes without saying JARVIS, honestly,’ Tony tutted, looking in the cabinets for the cookies he liked.
Stephen took a moment to admire the way Tony’s muscles stretched and flexed as he moved his arms. He hadn’t really noticed before how much compact muscle the man had, the strength on his body.
‘I must say, sir, I really am quite pleased with how serious you’re taking your role as an important figure in Peter’s life.’
Stephen was too.
‘Don’t start JARVIS, you know they’re special to me.’
‘You only want Peter, we both know it. You make a habit of walking around half-naked?’ Stephen teased.
‘I do when a child vomits on my Gucci shirt,’ Tony rebuffed back, not even turning as he pulled the cookies out from where Stephen hid them from Peter.
‘What does coccolona mean?’ Stephen asked, wincing as he minced the word.
Tony went still, turning slowly, and Stephen fell in love with the blush staining Tony’s cheeks, the way he scratched at his goatee.
‘Erm…like cuddly one? Yeah, cuddly. My mom used to say it to me in the mornings, when she woke me up and I’d burrow into my covers. Sorry, he reminded me of it.’
‘Don’t be sorry, you’re amazing with him. Go get in the shower, leave your shirt in the bathroom and I’ll get you one of mine to borrow.’
‘Trying to get me naked, Doc?’ Tony clutched a hand to his chest in mock outrage.
‘You got me. The rancid smell of vomit made you irresistible to me.’
Stephen made a fresh coffee for Tony while he waited, drinking his own and listening out for Peter. Grabbing his phone from the living room, he brought it back to the kitchen, checking for messages and then deleting his date’s number from his phone.
‘No loss there,’ he muttered.
‘You’re right there, asshole, her loss.’
Stephen spat the coffee back into his mug as he turned to Tony.
Stephen had always found it sexy when women borrowed his shirts when they stayed the night, it was a gorgeous look, especially without underwear, the edge of the shirt rising over slender thighs.
This was not dissimilar.
It was too tight on his chest, Tony being broader than him, and too long in length in the sleeves. Tony had pushed them up to his elbow, highlighting his forearms, and the buttons were undone to his sternum offering tantalising peeks of honey-hued flesh.
The man was fucking sexy.
He hadn’t put his pants back on, allowing Stephen’s brain to unhelpfully supply images of what Tony would look like naked under the shirt.
‘You doing okay?’ Tony leant back against the kitchen counter, the shirt riding up his thighs, blowing on his coffee and fixing his gaze on Stephen.
Tony’s boxers were black.
It took Stephen a few attempts to make his mouth work, but speech functions eventually caught up with him.
‘Yeah, just worried about Peter.’
‘He’ll be fine, kids bounce back from these things, or so I’ve heard. But I meant are you alright about tonight?’
‘Oh, the date?’
Stephen had completely forgotten about it. His fingers twitched with the urge to lift Tony onto the counter, to step between his legs and kiss him, rip the shirt from his body so he could see the man bare before him.
‘Let’s go into the living room, I can hear Peter better in there.’
Under the pretence of grabbing the cookies, Stephen came close to Tony, reaching around him for the treats, close enough that he could feel the warmth of Tony fresh from the shower, the scent of Stephen’s shower wash lingering on his skin.
Tony shifted his stance, inching closer, bare foot now touching Stephen’s.
He needed to get out of here.
Dumping the cookies on the dining room table, Stephen pulled out a chair and sat, willing his imagination down. Tony had only showered because Peter had been sick on him, he hadn’t left his pants off to tease him, they’d probably been splattered with vomit.
‘I thought I was alright about tonight,’ Stephen began, answering Tony’s earlier question. ‘But actually, this dating thing is harder than I thought.’
‘Really, you’re attractive, got a good job. I thought the ladies would be fighting for a chance with you.’ Tony tore into the cookies, offering one to Stephen.
‘You mention you’ve got a child and all those things don’t matter.’
Hang on a second.
‘Come on, Doc, don’t play the shy guy now, you know damn well you’re smoking hot.’ Tony smiled taking a sip from his coffee and groaning loudly. ‘God, I needed that.’
‘I’ve been on this dating website for a while now, I’ve been upfront and honest I’m not going to hide that I’m a single father. For some reason, this seems to have put me in the damaged goods category. I must not be capable of sustaining a relationship or I wouldn’t have ended up divorced.’
‘But you weren’t-’
‘They haven’t even given me a chance to explain Peter’s mother died,’ Stephen growled.
‘Sounds like you’ve hit a bad bunch, not everyone’s like this.’
‘Oh no? I typed in dating single dads in google and researched it.’
‘Stephen…’ Tony chuckled and propped his chin on his hand, listening.
‘You know the biggest thing that kept popping up? The idea that you shouldn’t date a person with kids because you’d not be the priority.’
‘Your child should be the priority. Why would you want to date someone who doesn’t put their own child first?’ Tony frowned, baffled, stuffing another cookie in his mouth.
‘Because then you’re not putting the romantic relationship first.’ Stephen pretend scoffed at how idiotic Tony sounded.
‘Ah, my mistake,’ Tony laughed.
‘And of course, I’ll be exhausted and too overwhelmed to put effort into a real date because of the demands my parasitic child places upon me.’
‘You do like sitting in front of the TV, Stephen.’
‘Says the man who works himself into exhaustion and then sleeps for like three days straight.’
‘At least I don’t have a parasitic child.’
Stephen held his mug out at that, smirking as Tony brought his up and clinked it in salute. They both listened for a moment as Peter coughed in his sleep.
‘I’m just going to-’
‘Stephen,’ Tony fixed him with a glare. ‘You don’t need to explain.’ He made a shooing motion with his hand.
Peter was fine, lost in slumber, not reacting to Stephen kissing his head, or tucking the covers in closer.
As he walked back to Tony, he loitered in the doorway of the hall, spying on Tony. One of his sleeves had escaped it’s rolling, and Tony was examining it, shaking it back and forth as it trailed from the edge of his hand. Sweater paws they called it.
Stephen burnt the image into his mind, glad of his photographic memory.
Tony sat at his table, coffee in one hand, shaking his sweater paw in the other and he knew with blinding clarity.
This was far more than simple like and beginnings of feelings.
This was what it felt like.
Bruce was right. It was terrifying, wonderful and perhaps…
He felt sucker punched as he watched Tony place his coffee down and reach up to snag the collar of the borrowed shirt, bringing it down to his nose and inhaling, closing his eyes as he took in Stephen’s scent. Stephen could see his cheeks move up.
Tony was smiling.
There was a tightening in his gut, a burst of desire, of carnal want at seeing that.
Perhaps worth taking a risk.
He took a few silent steps backwards, before approaching again with a few noisy footfalls and a clearing of his throat.
Tony was impeccable, waiting for him with a glance over his shoulder, no indication of doing anything but simply waiting.
‘How’s he doing?’
‘Thanks for the coffee, I should get going though, you might have a rough night ahead of you and you need your sleep.’ Tony stretched his arms above his head.
Stephen panicked, not wanting Tony to go and not knowing how he could keep him here and make it look natural.
‘Hey, what’s the matter? You worried about him? Sit down, come on sit.’ Tony got out of his chair, bringing Stephen around to sit down. ‘Listen, I know things look rough, that there are some crazy chicks out there, but you’ll find someone, alright?’
He felt the urge to choke out a sob, suddenly feeling achingly tender for Tony. Stephen could be reading it completely wrong, but he had the inkling Tony felt more for him than just friends and he was still encouraging Stephen to be happy.
‘I don’t even know how to be with someone, Tony. I’ve only ever had one-night stands, the occasional friend with benefits. How am I supposed to make it work if I love someone?’
Tony went quiet.
‘I asked myself the same thing,’ he began slowly. ‘My ex… when I met Steve it was like someone held a huge fucking magnifying glass up to all the mistakes in my life. I wanted to be better for him, to be worth his affection. I knew I was a fuck up, that I’d made huge mistakes, but none of that mattered when I was with him. He was…too good for me.’
Clearing his throat, Tony crossed his arms over his chest.
‘What happened, Tony?’
‘I wasn’t enough for him.’
It was said simply enough, but Stephen could hear the anguish lingering in them.
‘He was still in the closest and I respected that. But it was hard for him, my image, the expectations people have of me. I could go out for a charity event, spend the whole night in the corner on my phone to him and there would still be a dozen stories the next day about the women I’d taken home.’
Stephen crossed one leg over the other, waiting for Tony to carry on.
‘My entire life I wasn’t good enough for my father and then when he died, I made sure no one could ever hurt me again, you know.’
Stephen could easily imagine it, Tony surrounding himself with impenetrable armour, not allowing anyone close, perfecting his media smile, full of charisma but keeping everyone at arms distance.
‘I never saw anyone as my equal, it was easier to see them as beneath me, stepping stones to where I wanted to be.’
‘Then they couldn’t hurt you,’ Stephen whispered.
‘Steve saw straight through that, he stood right beside me, he wasn’t intimidated by me, wasn’t willing to put up with any of my bullshit. He was like Pepper or Rhodey, quick to tell me when I was being an ass.’ Tony smiled up at Stephen at that, and Stephen got the unmentioned.
Like you do.
‘Our relationship helped me to become the person I am today, a man not standing in his father’s shadow, a man that wants to help people. Our relationship wasn’t easy though, we argued… God I can’t remember a time where we didn’t argue. We both had a way of cutting the other to pieces, going straight for the vulnerable parts, stamping all over insecurities.’
‘That…doesn’t sound healthy,’ Stephen tentatively added.
He and Tony both teased and they had both confided in the other. However, there was an unspoken truce they never attacked the vulnerable parts of each other, even in jest. Tony never mentioned Stephen’s past failings as a father, and Stephen never went near Tony’s father issues.
Anger had a way of twisting intentions, destroying friendships and relationships alike with cruel words and if a couple were constantly arguing then even love could turn toxic.
‘It was easier to be with…well, someone not me,’ Tony sighed. ‘He broke it off and shacked up with an old flame. Would have been nice if it hadn’t been the person I was already jealous of,’ the man mumbled, pulling Stephen’s shirt closer to himself.
Stephen found it endearing, the idea that Tony was comforting himself with his clothes.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I was paranoid that Steve would one day get back with Peggy, his old girlfriend. She ended it with him and even when he was with me, I always wondered if he had the chance he’d go back, would he? It’s easier not to admit you like guys as well, to keep that part of yourself hidden. I wasn’t worth taking the chance for.’
‘You’re telling me when you guys broke up, they got back together?’
Tony said nothing.
‘Alright I rescind your status as douchebag, that’s now given to this dickhead.’ Stephen rumbled, folding his arms over his chest and scowling down at them.
‘Tony…I wasn’t in your relationship, and I didn’t know you back then, but if he wasn’t willing to stand with you, then he’s a coward. He’s also an idiot. I know who you are, Tony Stark, bullshit and all and I can tell you with assurance you’d be an amazing partner, be that to a man or a woman.’
‘We can all chase the wrong happiness at times. There’s someone out there for you, Stephen, someone who loves the fact you put Peter first, that loves the package you offer. This isn’t the universe punishing you because of your mistakes.’
That was part of the reason Stephen liked Tony, he was genuine in his compliments. If he valued you he made sure you knew it.
‘I better get going, it’s really late.’
‘Don’t you want some pants first?’
‘Nah, I’ll have Happy bring me some in the car. Trust me, this isn’t the worst walk of shame I’ve done,’ Tony gestured down to Stephen’s shirt.
‘Keep the shirt,’ Stephen found himself saying.
They shared a long gaze across the table.
‘Call me if you need anything, doesn’t matter what time.’ Tony pushed back from the table, picking up his phone and cookies from the table as he went. ‘I’ll let myself out, sleep well, asshole.’
Tony stopped, turning to look, eyebrows raised.
‘You look fucking sexy in my shirt.’
Stephen smirked at the disbelief that flittered over his face, regretting it as soon as a cocky smile was returned.
‘You look fucking sexy all the time, Doctor Strange.’
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Chapter 5: Chapter 5
‘Hey, Aunt May!’ Peter bounded forward for a hug, flinging his rucksack to the floor.
‘Peter,’ Stephen reprimanded, pointing to the offending item.
‘Sorry, Daddy,’ he answered, making no move to pick it up.
‘I’ve got it,’ May laughed. ‘Go put it in your room Peter, okay?’
They both watched as Peter bounded away, singing a song he’d learnt at school.
‘You’re looking well, Stephen, coffee?’ May offered, holding out her hand for his jacket.
‘Please, you’re looking good yourself. Work going well?’
‘Its…well it’s work, pays the bills,’ May laughed heading towards the kitchen and flicking the switch on the coffee machine. ‘How’s the job at Stark Industries? I swear, it’s all Peter talks about, Mr Stark this, Mr Stark that.’
Stephen sat on the couch, looking around the apartment. It was clean and tidy as it always was, and he could feel himself relaxing as he sat there. It was small, filled with more furniture then strictly needed, but what May’s place had was a feeling of family, of warmth.
He really needed to sort his penthouse out. No wonder Peter enjoyed coming here so much. This was the type of place a kid should grow up in, somewhere they could call their own, rather than feeling like a guest in a hotel room.
‘It’s going well, I’ve been thinking about giving up surgery altogether, they more than pay me enough and I’m much happier there. Plus, it’s got the bonus that Peter is allowed in the research department all he wants, and he’s got Bruce and Pepper to entertain him.’
May came into the living room with two mugs in hand, a huge smile on her face.
‘You know, I think this is the first time I’ve seen you happy, truly happy since we lost Mary.’ She sat beside him, handing him his coffee.
‘I feel like I’ve finally got a handle on things, that I can be a decent parent to Peter and still keep some of the things that were important to me.’ He looked over towards the bookshelf where he knew a picture of Mary and Peter was, the same one Peter had in his room.
‘I wish I could have been like this while she was still alive,’ Stephen blew the steam from his coffee.
‘Yeah, me too,’ May added.
‘There was something I wanted to talk to you about.’ Stephen hesitated. He knew he had to tell her, but he found the words hard, not wanting her to judge, to face rejection from such an important person in both his and Peter’s lives.
‘You’ve met someone?’ May answered for him.
‘Not quite. I like…no I think I’ve fallen in love with someone.’
Things had changed with Tony since that night.
A few days after Peter had been sick, Stephen had inevitably been ill himself but had struggled into Stark Industries.
Bruce had taken one look at him and pointed at the door.
‘Nope, go home and rest, Stephen.’
Stephen couldn’t do that, his work ethic wouldn’t allow him, and he hadn’t forgotten how much he owed Tony for this job in the first place.
‘Stephen, seriously go home, you’re allowed to take a sick day. Do you need me to sic Tony on you?’ Bruce had threatened.
‘No need, JARVIS ratted him out. What are you doing here, asshole? You’re not doing anyone any favours.’ Tony had placed his hand on Stephen’s forehead, whistling at the temperature there.
‘Go on, go home and sleep, that’s me telling you as your boss, Stephen.’
Stephen knew Tony had been speaking sense, but he remembered the feeling of being ganged up on, the sense that he was unwanted.
‘Careful, you’re making it sound like you don’t want me here,’ Stephen had muttered like a petulant child, getting up and heading for the elevator.
‘Course I want you here,’ Tony had walked with him pressing the button. ‘No matter how horrible my meetings are, or how boring my day is, knowing you’re downstairs, that I can see you for a few minutes always makes everything alright.’
Remembering it now made something low in Stephen’s stomach clench.
So, he’d tested the waters, unsure how to tread forward into this new territory with Tony.
‘You’re lucky you’re cute otherwise I wouldn’t let you boss me around like this.’
‘I thought I was fucking sexy?’ Tony winked.
‘Yup, enough to keep me up at night,’ Stephen winked back as the elevator doors shut.
That had been over a week ago.
‘Hey, relax,’ May reached over and squeezed his knee, bringing him back into the present with her. ‘I’m not going to chew you out for having feelings for someone.’
‘May. It’s not a woman. It’s Tony.’
May spat her coffee back into her mug, coughing and going red in the face.
‘Mr Stark? Holy shit!’
He waited for her to stop spluttering.
‘But…what? Are you gay?’
‘I don’t think so, bisexual probably, but whatever I am I know I have feelings for Tony.’ Stephen continued drinking his coffee, refusing to look at May.
‘Shit, you’re serious about this.’
‘Yes. Have you changed your mind about being happy for me?’
‘What? No. Stephen!’ She put her coffee down and grabbed his hand in both of hers. ‘I can’t say I’m not shocked, you were a womanizer, or so Mary said.’
Stephen said nothing, still not looking at her.
‘What’s wrong?’ Her tone gentled, a thumb rubbing over the top of his hand.
May wasn’t someone he usually confided in, that honour went to Christine, or even Tony, now that he thought about it. But he and May shared a link through Mary and through their almost shared parentship of Peter.
‘I’m terrified. I don’t even know for certain that he likes me in return, and I don’t want to jeopardise our friendship. He’s important to me, to Peter.’
There was another thing holding him back.
‘I can’t help but feel guilty. What if Mary disapproves of my choices? Bringing Tony into Peter’s life?’
‘Stephen, I can see how much happier Peter is, how content you both are, if Tony Stark is the reason for that then I can’t see Mary being anything other than happy for you. I think she would be devastated if you felt guilty because of her.’
May was silent for a while, both tilting their heads to listen as Peter shuffled about his room, playing with his Lego if Stephen had to guess.
‘Mary cared about you Stephen, you’re the father of her child. Despite how you used to be, I think she’d be proud of you now.’
‘I don’t know if I want to act on it,’ Stephen admitted, his feelings still scaring him half to death.
‘And you don’t have to. But don’t let guilt hold you back, Stephen. You deserve to be happy too.’
‘You sure I can’t do anything to help?’ Tony asked, standing beside Stephen’s kitchen counter, lazily sipping his wine and giving no indication he had any intention of helping.
Stephen hid his smile as Tony tensed, trying to play it cool but failing.
‘How good are you at cutting things?’
‘Probably not as good as you Mr Neurosurgeon, but if they don’t have to be equal sizes or thickness then I’m your man.’
‘Come chop these vegetables up for the salad then, while I get to work on the sauce.’
‘I still don’t know why we couldn’t go out for food, aren’t single parents meant to take full advantage of having a babysitter for the night?’ Tony grumbled but did as he was asked. Stephen watched him as he began to cut, tongue rubbing over his lower lip in concentration.
Stephen chuckled as he watched, wondering once again how this had become his new normal. It was cosy, intimate, soft music playing in the background, a blustery wind bringing the pattering of winter rain to the windows.
He craved these moments with just the two of them. He loved it when Peter was with them, but these moments were precious now that he was aware of his feelings. He jealously hoarded them close to his chest, wanting more and more under the guise of friendship.
Pulling his phone from his pocket, he felt a sense of relief when he read May’s message telling him Peter was sleeping soundly.
‘Yeah, May’s telling me Peter has gone to sleep.’ Stephen warmed the tomato sauce on the stove, turning to look over his shoulder.
‘Stop watching me, you wanted me to help, I’m helping. They’re not mutilated or anything,’ Tony snarked, bringing his shoulders up with tension.
‘No, but let me show you how to do it better.’
Tony went to step out of the way, but Stephen stood behind him, looping his arms over Tony’s waist and resting his hands on top of Tony’s.
‘For someone with such fine motor skills, and intricate handling of delicate wires, you sure are heavy-handed when it comes to dicing, watch… like this.’
‘Probably because I don’t have much patience for food, Doc,’ Tony laughed, allowing Stephen to manipulate his hands. Tony’s hands were warm under his, he could feel the bones under the skin, the rough patches where Tony had burnt himself or scratched himself whilst working.
His back was pressed to Stephen’s chest and he could smell the spiciness of Tony’s cologne, mixed with the natural musk of the man. He knew Tony was smaller than him, but this close he saw that it was by quite a few inches, if Tony turned he could tuck his head under Stephen’s neck.
He needed to stop, the urge to spin Tony in his arms and hug him threatening to overpower him.
‘See how much better that is?’
‘I’m sure these thinly sliced tomatoes are going to taste exquisite next to my heavy-handed lumps,’ Tony sassed, elbowing Stephen in the ribs.
Tony looked over his shoulder at Stephen, glancing up.
As he’d often thought, it was unfair of Tony to be this attractive. The come-hither doe eyes, the plump bottom lip, even his ass was exquisitely pert. It was a test, a cross for Stephen to bare, not giving into temptation.
‘I better…get back to the sauce.’
It was barely bubbling, but he reduced the heat, stirring the wooden spoon and bringing it out again. He’d never had a complaint about this recipe, but the expectations of being as good as Tony’s mother made him worry.
‘Now, it might not be like hers, but what do you think?’
Holding a hand under the spoon, he walked it over to Tony, lifting it to his mouth.
‘Careful, don’t want you to burn your tongue.’
‘Will you take care of it if I do?’ Tony laughed opening his mouth and sticking it out.
‘Mr Stark, I only give the best care to my patients. If there is an injury, I’ll be sure to give it a thorough investigation.’
He was toeing the line of flirtation and teasing, Stephen knew full well he was, but his longing, his need for Tony was uncontrollable, sweeping aside his rational thought, the safeguards Stephen had tried to put in place.
He wanted Tony.
He dared to hope that Tony might want him too.
‘I’ll bear that in mind, doctor,’ Tony purred.
Stephen didn’t have time to question what exactly he was doing, fixating on Tony wrapping his lips around the spoon and moaning in surprise.
‘Fuck that’s good,’ Tony groaned, eyes closed in amazement.
Would Tony make those same sounds in bed?
‘You’ve got some on your lip,’ Stephen whispered, watching as Tony’s tongue darted out to swipe at it, lips tilting in a flirty smile.
He moved a fraction closer, feeling the air turn thick with anticipation.
‘Did I get it?’
‘No.’ Stephen flung the spoon away, grabbing the back of Tony’s neck and dragging him into a bruising kiss.
Fantasy rarely lived up to expectation, you could obsess over how a moment was going to go, play the idea of it over and over in your head and be disappointed by the reality of it.
This was better than fantasy.
Tony made a frantic, needy sort of sound, opening his mouth under Stephen’s, his tongue invading Stephen’s mouth with as much fervour. Abruptly, Tony broke the kiss, taking a step backwards, eyes darkening to nearly black as Stephen chased after him, crowding him against the fridge.
He rested his forearm on the fridge, one hand on Tony’s hip, their noses nearly brushing.
‘Tell me to stop,’ he demanded, mouth drying at the way Tony’s pupils dilated.
‘You know I won’t do that,’ Tony murmured, bringing his hands up to Stephen’s chest.
Stephen moved forward, his movements achingly slow, allowing Tony to voice his objections at any time, to pull away, to slap Stephen. He was running on adrenaline, his heart knocking hard and fast enough against his ribs to hurt. He brushed his lips tenderly over Tony’s, the barest touch before pulling away.
‘Tony,’ he breathed, close enough that he could feel Tony’s moan shudder across his lips.
A hand fisted in the collar of his shirt, yanking him down and Stephen fell willingly.
Past kisses, kisses with women had usually been Stephen leading, achingly gentle and soft until they got into the bedroom and Stephen could press a little harder, act a little more dominant.
Kissing Tony was nothing like that.
He was all passion, challenge and demand. His arms snaked around Stephen’s neck, drawing him closer to his body, ensuring no space was between them. Stephen caged him in, surprised and aroused when Tony forcibly parted his lips with an eager tongue.
Their tongues brushed slickly together, and Stephen finally let his hand run through that beautiful hair as he’d been dying too, twirling the thick strands between his fingers and tugging lightly. Tony moaned into his mouth, hands coming down from around Stephen’s neck to tug at the bottom of his shirt, ripping it free from his pants.
Stephen groaned into Tony’s mouth, breaking the kiss to pant against reddened lips, grabbing the back of his shirt collar he tugged the shirt up and over his head, the muscles of his back quivering as Tony dug his fingers into his shoulder blades.
‘Fucking hell, you’re gorgeous,’ Tony growled, catching Stephen’s bottom lip in his teeth and biting down with a sharp, sweet bite.
Seizing Tony by his hips, he picked the smaller man up, dropping him on the kitchen counter, as he’d ached to do the other night, nudging his legs apart to stand between them. Tony twisted his fingers in Stephen’s belt loops, tugging him further still, one leg hugging over his hip with a vice-tight grip.
Kissing Tony was incredible. With a woman, it was always a slow, soft build up. With Tony, it was all power, aggression, pent up lust exploding with such ferocity Stephen had to wonder how he’d kept it all contained. Tony matched him, encouraged him to be harder.
Stephen let his hands roam over firm pectorals, relishing the way Tony’s flesh was firm, unyielding, unlike a female body. Touching Tony’s flesh scalded his fingertips, and he was desperate to go further, to let the fire consume him.
‘Stephen,’ Tony gasped, tilting his head away.
Delirious, he tried to pull back but instead mouthed kisses over the stubbled jawline, loving the blend of textures, smooth skin and the rough rasp of stubble. His nose ran over the column of Tony’s throat, moaning over how fast Tony’s heart was pounding, his desire evident in the leaping pulse point of his neck.
Why hadn’t he done this before?
‘Stephen,’ Tony spoke again, pushing Stephen’s head away.
‘What’s wrong?’ Stephen tore himself away, scared he’d misread the situation.
‘Sauce,’ Tony gasped out, eyes half-lidded and breathless.
Bewildered, Stephen only stared at Tony, bending to press their mouths together again. Tony yielded, tongue darting out to sweep across his lips.
‘Stephen, it’s going to burn.’
With a wrench, Stephen slammed back into reality. Leaping away from Tony, he moved the saucepan from the stove. Turning everything off, he braced his hands on the kitchen counter, hanging his head and taking a few deep breaths in through his nose and out through his mouth.
After he’d calmed, he became aware of eyes on his back. His cock was agonising in the confines of his pants, lips tingling and swollen from their kisses. He was too scared to look over at Tony, fearful of what it meant, terrified he’d ruined everything.
Glancing over his shoulder, Tony still sat exactly where Stephen had left him, legs splayed on the kitchen counter, pants tented, a blush in the hollow of his throat, chest heaving in soft pants. It was his eyes that beckoned Stephen, huge and dark brown, glimmering with passion, with want.
‘Jesus Christ, I want you.’
Stephen’s voice was low, almost a drawl. Tony’s lips lifted in a slow smirk. Confidence personified.
‘Come get me…asshole,’ he challenged.
Stephen didn’t allow himself to feel any hesitation as he pushed away from the counter. There was no time for second guesses, no time to overthink what was happening. Sauntering over to Tony, he held his hand out.
Tony accepted it, breath hitching as Stephen brought it to his lips and pressed a kiss to his palm, running the flat of his tongue up to the underside of his wrist.
Food forgotten, they stumbled down the hallway to his room, pausing every few seconds to push each other against walls, mouths pressed together, hands roaming across flesh in a frenzy. Stumbling into the bedroom, Stephen planted a hand on Tony’s chest and pushed him down onto the bed.
Tony bounced once before propping himself up on his elbows and spreading his legs, an invitation for Stephen to lay between them. Stephen took a minute just to look at Tony spread out against his dark bedcovers, the dim lights of outside streetlights bathing him in shadow and half-light.
Tony reared up onto his knees, craning his neck up as Stephen reached down, their tongues curling filthily as they began fumbling with Stephen’s belt buckle, Stephen more of a hindrance as Tony’s fingers brushed his erection.
Concerns began festering. What if he felt revulsion? There was a vast difference between imagining the act and being intimate with a man.
How did he do this? Obviously, he knew the mechanics of what went where, but how did he get Tony to enjoy this?
Stephen gasped at the ticklish, feather-light sensation of fingers skimming up his ribs, his head involuntary falling back as Tony’s nimble touch skirted over his nipples before pinching once, softly. Tony sat up on the bed, pulling Stephen down and encouraging him to straddle his lap so his tongue could lap over the raised nub.
Fuck that felt good. It was also embarrassing. A woman had never touched his nipples before, that was an act Stephen usually assumed was for the female partner. Did it make him feminine in some way? Was he supposed to be the aggressor? What role was he meant to take?
‘Stephen.’ Tony caught his wrist.
‘What’s the matter?’ Not wanting to be unresponsive, Stephen ran his nails over Tony’s stomach, teasing at the dark trail of hair leading down.
‘Are you sure about this?’
He was overthinking, destroying the moment. He wanted Tony, loved the man.
That was all he needed to know.
Tangling his fingers in thick hair, he tugged Tony closer, kissing him as he flipped them over, Tony above Stephen on the bed.
‘Can’t you feel how much I want you?’ Stephen bucked his hips up, moaning low in his throat as Tony gasped, his body taut with pleasure, ass rubbing across Stephen’s cock.
Tony glanced down at him, before he nodded to himself, pulling his shirt off, and then guiding Stephen’s hand down to his fly, lifting up onto his knees so they could shimmy his pants down.
After a bit of manoeuvring on both ends, they were left in just underwear. Stephen ran his thumbs over the top of Tony’s tight boxer briefs, hot rod red, striking against the tan of his skin. Tony tilted Stephen’s head back for another kiss, fingers digging into the skin behind his ears as he began to slowly grind down.
‘Fucking hell, Tony,’ Stephen gasped, hands clutching Tony’s hips to drag him down harder, increasing the friction.
‘You like that?’ Tony teased, moaning into his ear, teeth digging into his ear lobe.
The weight lifted from his lap as Tony reached over to dig around in his bedside drawer. Stephen let his hand run over Tony’s back, sweeping up and down the silky skin, over the swell of his ass and grabbing tight.
Lifting himself up on his elbows, he began asking what it was Tony was searching for, frowning as Tony let out a triumphant cry. Grunting as Tony shoved him back down, he changed position, settling between Stephen’s legs, peeling his boxers from him, hot tongue trailing over his thigh as they went. He swore under his breath, hands scrabbling in the bed covers as Tony ran his tongue over his cock, helpless to do anything but lie there as Tony had his way, twisting his tongue over the head, pressing open mouth kisses up and down the shaft.
He could feel that Tony was doing something with his other hand, but he didn’t pay much attention to it, trying not to come in the next ten seconds like a teenager as Tony began moaning with his cock still in his mouth, the vibrations and the obvious enjoyment of the man sending jolts of pleasure through Stephen’s already oversensitive body.
Tony settled over his thighs, and he felt a hand behind his neck, coaxing him into a sitting position. There was a mouth over his, a tongue pressing insistently past his lips. He could taste himself on Tony’s tongue, the salty tang a little unpleasant but ignored in favour of having Tony’s mouth on his. He felt the tell-tale sign of a condom being unrolled down his cock, sure steady fingers rubbing extra lubrication over the top.
Opening his mouth to voice his protests, his shame in not helping prepare Tony (hell he hadn’t even glanced down at the man naked yet!) Tony beat him to it, shutting him up with another kiss and pressing Stephen deep inside his body.
Gasping, Stephen wrapped one arm over Tony’s waist, arm reaching up to run parallel with his spine, the other wrapping around the back of Tony’s neck, swearing into the soft skin there as Tony bore down on him, slowly, inch by fucking painstaking inch until his ass was flush with Stephen’s hips.
Tony was trembling, his hot breath panting over Stephen’s forehead.
Stephen wanted to reassure him, to reach up and kiss him, to participate in some way rather than just going along for the ride. Being inside Tony…was nothing short of amazing. As he was mustering the courage to take Tony’s cock in hand, Tony lifted up, both of them gripping the other tightly as Stephen’s cock dragged across Tony’s inner walls, the agony sweet torture, before he sank down again.
‘I’m not going to last long if you keep this up,’ Stephen whispered, tightening his hold on the back of Tony’s neck, leaning back enough so he could see what Tony’s face looked like in pleasure.
He was breathtaking.
Falling back onto his elbows, Stephen was powerless to Tony’s control, surrendering his body for Tony’s pleasure. Panting, his hands splayed Stephen’s stomach, Tony began to move in earnest, his head thrown back, bliss evident in the lines of his face.
Stephen could only watch as Tony moved, the toned thighs, muscled torso and without hesitation his gaze fixed on Tony’s cock, uncut and flushed an angry red, curving up towards his stomach. Shifting his weight on one elbow, Stephen reached out, swiping his thumb over the head, smearing precome around.
Tony’s head snapped forward, meeting Stephen’s gaze.
Stephen swore as Tony clenched around him, his rhythm on Tony’s cock faltering for a moment. Tony shifted, leaning down, bringing their faces close.
‘Kiss me?’ Tony asked, the question timid despite the harsh snaps of his hips.
Completely helpless, Stephen did as asked, feeling his orgasm approaching and trying desperately to stop it.
‘Sono pazzo di te,’ Tony murmured against his mouth, slamming his hips down harder and Stephen cried out, the pressure around his cock unbearable, his orgasm wrenched from him by Tony’s sensual voice, his erotic movements.
He didn’t realise Tony was close behind him until he felt the come splatter on his chest, the bone-crushing hug Tony held him in. When he’d recovered his senses, blinking away the bliss, he realised Tony was shaking. Stephen brushed his lips over Tony’s temple, the corner of his eye, any part of his face that he could reach. When the man began to squirm in discomfort, Stephen pulled himself free, collapsing onto his back and struggling to draw oxygen into his lungs.
He couldn’t believe what had just happened.
He could hear the rain pattering on the windows, the sounds of the city, Tony’s laboured breath. Recovering first, Stephen got up from the bed, heading to his ensuite to clean off, disposing of the condom before wetting a towel and bringing to back to the bedroom.
Sitting on the edge of the bed closest Tony, he placed the towel near the man’s hand, tentatively resting a hand on Tony’s hip.
‘You okay? Do you need anything?’
Shaking his head, Tony cracked open his eyes, shifting to the edge of the bed and pulling himself from it, towel in hand and making his way on wobbly legs to the bathroom. Trying not to feel panic on what he should do now, Stephen got under the covers and propped himself up against the headboard, waiting.
Tony shuffled back into the room, eyelids heavy, exhaustion evident in the way he was holding himself. He came to a standstill at the edge of the bed, looking almost bashful with his eyes averted.
Stephen flicked over the bed covers, tilting his head down the spare space beside him, heat aching in tender affection as he saw relief flitter over Tony’s face. The man got in beside him, turning on his side, back to Stephen, body melting into the mattress.
Hesitant, Stephen moved closer to Tony, body aligning behind his, lightly resting a hand on Tony’s waist. Tony reached over and tugged it over himself, resting their joined hands over his sternum. Letting go of a breath he wasn’t aware of holding, Stephen moulded his body behind Tony’s, playing the big spoon. His nose nuzzled behind Tony’s ear, the edge of his hairline, smiling to himself as he felt Tony’s breathing begin to even out into sleep.
‘Tony?’ He whispered.
The man made an unintelligible noise in response, squeezing Stephen’s hand tighter and pressing back into Stephen’s embrace.
‘Never mind,’ Stephen spoke, voice softer than the whisper before.
Stephen felt groggy as he woke, his back aching and without thinking too much about it, he reached across the mattress to find Tony, wanting to hug and go back to sleep. The mattress was cold. Sitting up, he mashed the heel of his hand into his eye to wipe away sleep.
‘Tony?’ he croaked, struggling to stay awake.
He looked at the bedside clock, frowning as he saw it was after two. He’d only been asleep for a few hours.
Stretching his arms out, he swung his legs from the bed, pulling on his discarded boxers from the floor and going to search for his…partner? Friend?
Plagued by insecurities, he called for Tony again, looking around the penthouse. Had he read the situation wrong? What if Tony only slept with him because he thought that was what Stephen wanted? Did the man know he loved him? Was he mad at Stephen’s hesitation?
Stephen wanted to strangle himself for that. He was usually an attentive and willing lover, but he’d frozen, letting Tony take control.
Tony was in the kitchen, looking down at his phone, his face illuminated by the screen, a half-eaten sandwich loose in his hand.
‘Shouldn’t you be sleeping?’
Startling, Tony dropped his food, eyes wide.
‘Sorry, I don’t sleep well, and well we hadn’t eaten so…’ Tony trailed off.
Looking past Tony, Stephen could see the kitchen was immaculate, no evidence of their earlier cooking, the kitchen looking cleaner than Stephen could remember.
Tony had been up for a while.
Taking a risk, Stephen stretched his hand across the kitchen counter, palm up, hiding his sigh of relief when Tony met him halfway, interlinking their fingers.
‘So… when did you figure me out?’ Tony asked.
He hadn’t misjudged Tony’s feelings.
‘A while ago, when did it actually start?’ Stephen asked thumb rubbing the side of Tony’s hand.
‘Oh, I’ve been crushing on you the whole time, Doc. Full on high school doodling our initials on my notebook.’ Tony wouldn’t meet his eyes, and Stephen could feel the trembles in Tony’s fingers.
‘Sorry it took me so long,’ Stephen tried to reassure.
‘Well, I guess Tony Stark isn’t a bad person to start your experimental phase with. Been around the block, know a few good techniques, right?’
‘Tony,’ Stephen increased the strength of his grip, horror setting in. Tony couldn’t think this was all it was.
‘Although I have to say I haven’t done the friends with benefits thing in a long time.’
‘Tony.’ Stephen’s voice became louder, hoping that would break him from his rambling self-deprecating speech.
‘I hope I made the experience good for you, God knows I’ve had enough practice, about the only thing I’m good for.’
Stephen snatched his hand away, ignoring the flinch from Tony. Moving so he stood beside Tony, he twisted the man around, so they were chest to chest, lifting him up on the counter as he had earlier and nudging his legs apart with a tap to the knee. Standing in-between them, Stephen cradled Tony’s skull, bringing his forehead to rest on Stephen’s chest.
‘Would you even believe me if I said I care about you?’ Stephen whispered, scratching his nails lightly over Tony’s scalp.
Stephen had seen the glimpses of a vulnerable man throughout their friendship, and the urge to care for him, to look after and love him consumed Stephen.
‘Why would you?’ Tony mumbled, hands coming up to loosely rest on Stephen’s hips. ‘People don’t…they don’t care about me, they like what I can do for them. They see what they want to see on the news, in social media and they expect it.’
‘Now you’re being dramatic,’ Stephen huffed, even though he felt fury climb inside him, wanting to get his hands on anyone who ever made Tony feel this way, to believe that he could possibly be unlovable.
‘I can name a bunch of people who care about you, Tony Stark. Pepper, Rhodey, Bruce for a start. Then you’ve got Peter, and if that boy doesn’t think the world of you, then I don’t know who does.’
He put his fingers under Tony’s chin, encouraging his head up.
‘And I’ll have you know I don’t care about anyone,’ he smiled, rubbing his thumb over Tony’s cheekbone.
‘But you’re not…you’re straight,’ Tony fumbled for words and Stephen found it hilarious, the genius smooth talker, suave businessman, groping for words.
‘I think I might have proved otherwise, but I can show you again, if you’d like.’
Tony didn’t seem convinced, his gaze sliding to the side.
‘My sexuality isn’t something I’ve ever fully explored… being with a man… it isn’t something I’d considered. I was too busy going through medical school, trying to build my career and then being a father to Peter. Gay, bisexual, straight, they’re all labels and despite all that, I’m me, Stephen Strange.’
The man in his grasp tilted his head, listening to his words.
‘I’m not considering you as a plaything to experiment with, nor a friend with benefits, Tony. I’ve cared about you for a long time and I stupidly thought that it was some sort of bromance I had going on. I don’t have many friends, less that are good with Peter.’
‘I don’t want to wreck our friendship, Strange. You and Peter, you mean the world to me. I tried to date Bucky and all I could think about was you. That one date I went on, I kept checking my phone for messages from you. You plague my thoughts, you and that damn kid of yours. Sono pazzo di te. I’m crazy about you.’
Stephen was lying if he said he’d even thought of Barnes when they moved into the bedroom, but he was glad he hadn’t been an accessory to cheating.
‘I can’t be your friend anymore, Tony.’
Stephen was quick to bring the man close in for another hug when he saw those brown eyes widen in alarm, distressingly going glassy with tears.
‘Want to try dating me instead?’ Stephen breathed the words into messy hair, stifling his laugh as arms flung around his middle, squeezing hard.
‘Don’t scare me like that, you asshole!’ Tony yelled into his chest. Stephen didn’t feel the need to mention how he could feel his shirt growing wet, he simply stroked his hand across the shaking shoulders, holding Tony close.
‘What about Peter?’
Whatever feelings Stephen had for Tony expanded to almost painful proportions at the simple question. While others had shunned him for having a son, Tony was just as worried for Peter’s welfare as Stephen was. He knew, with stone cold clarity that if he told Tony now that he couldn’t be in a relationship at the moment for Peter’s sake, Tony would back off immediately, never bringing it up again.
‘I think it’s lucky he’s so close to the man I want as my boyfriend, that he’s got another father figure in his life who loves him nearly as much as I do.’
Stephen felt his own eyes go misty at that as Tony burrowed his head even closer, a choking sob wrenching out of his mouth.
It was terrifying.
Come chat to me over on Twitter
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
I can’t sleep. I blame you.
Stephen smiled as he read the message, getting into bed.
Messaging me isn’t going to help. Something on your mind?
A little thrill of delight went through Stephen at that.
I’ve been thinking of you too. How you feeling?
If you’re asking me if my ass is sore, then the answer is yes.
Stephen rolled his eyes.
You got time for a phone call? Or are you about to sleep?
‘I am, but I’ve got a quick five minutes.’
‘Aww and you made time for me, aren’t you precious?’ Stephen could hear a chair squeaking as Tony sat down.
‘You’re not working all night are you, douchebag?’
‘Not all night no. There was something I wanted to run past you.’
Stephen waited, listening to the other man breathe, his fingers drumming on his desk. Tony only did that when nervous, and it had Stephen sitting straighter in bed, unease sinking in.
‘I’ve got a conference a few days from now.’
‘Right… you’ve had conferences before.’ Stephen felt himself frowning, was he supposed to go with him? Was this to do with the prosthetic research?
‘Ugh, you’re such an asshole. I’m going to be gone for like, two weeks and while normally that wouldn’t bother you, I thought considering this new thing we’ve got going on I should probably tell you before I just disappear on you.’
Stephen could hear him huffing in annoyance and he bit down on his laughter. Tony was trying to be considerate.
‘And what, you think I’m going to miss you or something?’
‘I hate you.’
‘I have it on good authority you believe otherwise, wasn’t your ass hurting?’
‘I’m going to hang up now, see if you like being ignored for the next couple of weeks.’
Stephen waited, wondering what Tony would do, eyes widening when Tony did, in fact, hang up the call.
‘Alright, I’m sorry, of course I’m going to miss you,’ Stephen reassured when Tony eventually picked up again.
‘I suppose I might notice you’re gone,’ Tony grumbled. ‘I better get going, I need to have the schematics for the latest stage of the arc reactor done before I present them.’
‘Don’t stay up too late.’
‘Stephen? I’ve got an event on while I’m away, dinner and dancing, there’ll be journalists there.’
Ah, there was the crux.
Stephen felt an intense wave of hatred for Tony’s ex. He was partly to blame for Tony’s feelings of self-worth. Granted Stephen only saw Tony’s point of view, but he was more than happy to be biased.
‘I’ll…I’ll only be thinking of you, alright? No matter what they print.’
Hatred. Vile, disgusting hatred.
‘Tony, I promise you I’ll always ask before jumping to conclusions.’ Stephen heard Tony’s exhale of relief, could almost hear the smile in his voice when he spoke again.
‘I’ll miss you.’
In all honesty, Stephen hadn’t anticipated missing Tony quite as much as he did. It wasn’t as though they were out of contact, Tony still responded to messages when he could, but being in a different time zone there were huge gaps between messages.
Stephen had kept himself busy, both with Peter and his own hobbies, but after a few days he found he had a hole in his life. It was almost pathetic really, he’d gone from being self-sufficient to pining after Tony, rereading old messages, staring off into the distance as he wondered what the man was doing.
Now he was sat here, opposite Bruce as the man taught Peter the basics of computer coding, staring up at the ceiling in thought.
One thought that kept coming back to haunt him was his reluctance the night he’d been intimate with Tony. The sex had been good, there was no denying that, but Stephen knew he hadn’t been as involved as he could have been, and he didn’t want Tony to think that somehow equated to Stephen not being interested.
He wasn’t a prude by any stretch of the imagination, and he wanted Tony to find pleasure by his hands, the problem was it simply came down to a lack of experience and that concerned Stephen. He felt nervous, troubled by the unknown.
Running over the conversation they’d had in the middle of the night made Stephen angry and then sad in equal measure. Tony genuinely thought it’d been a one-time deal and had been so desperate to have any part of Stephen that he’d been willing to be his experimental phase.
He could get over his misgivings about the physical intimacies of their relationship, he would take it slow and communicate with Tony. He needed to man up and take charge. The other night had been a fantastic sexual experience, he could only imagine how much better it would be if he had participated more.
Shifting through his documents, he ignored the images of Tony riding him, his whimpers of pleasure. Binarily Augmented Retro-Framing, the new project Tony had asked him to consider.
Really Tony? B.A.R.F?
A way of a patient working through and overcoming a traumatic experience. They needed a way to access the patient’s hippocampus, but Tony wanted to take it one step further, projecting the memory they could find onto an external source.
The elevator door opened behind Stephen, but he paid it no mind, knowing it was more than likely Rhodey coming to talk with Peter.
He shifted through the other documents on his desk, the data received from Barnes initial test period. It appeared everything was going well, and the man had given the go-ahead for them to operate on him and make the prosthetic permanent.
Stephen felt a smug satisfaction go through him, a primal pride that he had snagged Tony and Barnes hadn’t.
Honestly, what was he turning into?
‘Mr Stark!’ Peter shrieked.
Stephen dropped his pen, turning in his seat in bewilderment, staring at a grinning Tony, arms outstretched to catch Peter running headlong into them.
‘Hey Underoos, did ya miss me?’ Tony laughed swinging the boy up and holding him on his hip.
‘I did, lots! Daddy missed you too, he’s been sulking,’ Peter shouted wrapping his arms around Tony’s neck and squeezing.
Tony’s eyes sparkled as he looked over at Stephen.
‘Didn’t even notice you were gone,’ Stephen quipped, turning back to his work.
Bruce snorted and Stephen glared at him.
‘Whatcha doing with Bruce then?’ Tony pretended to drop Peter to the floor, catching him at the last minute and making him squeal with laughter.
‘Bruce was teaching me computer coding so I could have your job.’
‘Oh, I see, mutiny is it? Let’s see what you’ve got.’
Peter clambered back into Bruce’s lap, and Tony stood behind them, hand on the back of Bruce’s chair as he watched.
Stephen waited for a few minutes before he looked up, sucking in a breath as he saw Tony wasn’t looking at the screen, his gaze instead fixed on Stephen. He smiled, corners of his eyes crinkling before looking back at what Peter was showing him.
He found himself glad that Tony hadn’t grabbed him into a hug, or a kiss or anything. Stephen was grateful for his thoughtfulness, not sure how to bring up the changes of their relationship to Peter, not even sure he wanted to until things were stable.
Giving up on his work for the day, Stephen propped his chin up on his hand, watching them.
‘You’re doing well, Peter,’ Tony praised.
Peter wriggled under the approval, a beaming smile on his face.
‘You guys got plans later?’ Tony met his eye again.
‘We’re going to see Ned at central park!’ Peter interrupted Stephen, jostling Bruce in excitement.
‘We’re going to see Ned at central park, but we’re free tomorrow.’ He was desperate to see Tony, to talk with him in person…even just hug him, but despite his feelings he didn’t want to forget about Peter’s priorities, the playdates he’d planned.
‘And after I finished all my work early to see you,’ Tony tutted playfully. ‘I should probably get some sleep, I rushed here from the airport and I’m running on fumes. Catch you later, Underoos, Bruce can you come up to my office when you’ve finished?’
‘Talk to you later, Stephen,’ Tony waved, walking away.
‘Wait!’ he blurted.
‘Doc?’ Tony smirked. He knew exactly what he was doing the douchebag.
‘Can we talk about this,’ Stephen tapped his work, ‘before we go?’
‘Hmm…can’t it wait?’
‘You okay to watch Peter for a few minutes, Bruce?’
‘I think I’d better if the tension is anything to go by, come on kid, let’s go get something to eat.’
Stephen waited before they had gone before he got to his feet and went to Tony.
‘Didn’t miss me then?’ Tony put his thumbs in his belt loops, rocking back and forth on his feet.
‘Nope,’ Stephen whispered, putting his hands on Tony’s hips and drawing him close so their bodies were flush together.
‘Just as well. I had many hot dates with some foxy ladies, a few one-night stands, one epic orgy,’ Tony ran his fingers over Stephen’s chest, gripping his shirt.
‘I read in the news.’ Lifting one hand, Stephen cradled Tony’s jaw in his palm, sweeping the pad of his thumb over Tony’s bottom lip.
Tony waited, looking up into Stephen’s eyes but making no move to get any closer, his posture uncertain now.
He was going to murder Tony’s ex, he really was.
‘Please say your next conference isn’t for a while,’ Stephen whispered, beginning to lean down.
‘I might be able to swing that with the right incentive.’ Tony stretched up on his tiptoes, meeting Stephen in a kiss.
Tony had come to theirs the day after as Stephen had suggested, looking more awake and eager to spend time with Peter. They’d gone to the park, helped Peter with his homework and played video games, both cheering as they destroyed Stephen on every single game.
Stephen hated video games.
It probably wasn’t as exciting as some of the usual things Tony did, but every time Stephen had asked him if he was alright or enjoying himself Tony had been genuine in his response. He was happy spending time with them. Stephen couldn’t stop smiling, the feeling in his stomach akin to that moment where you misstep, your body falling in freefall until your foot regains your balance.
This is what it could be like.
The three of them as a family. Someone to help shoulder the burden of parenting, who could listen to Stephen, so he didn’t feel so alone anymore. A partner who cared for Peter in his own right rather than just because he was an extension of Stephen.
After putting Peter to bed, they’d finally eaten the lasagna Stephen had wanted to cook that night, tension between them mounting as their thoughts strayed, and coincidently, Tony’s foot under the table.
Now, they were a respectful distance from each other on the couch, with no accidental shoulder knocks or leg brushes.
God, what was he? A teenager? They’d already had sex, and while yes, Stephen had been out of the dating game for…well years and he’d no experience when it came to the art of seducing a man. It shouldn’t be this hard.
Kiss Tony. Fall into bed.
That wasn’t difficult.
‘Hey, you alright?’ Tony’s voice made him startle, his breath hitching at the hand on his thigh, Tony’s face in close proximity.
‘No, I’m fine, sorry. I’m…distracted.’
‘You wanna call it a night?’
That was Tony all over, always so understanding, patient despite him having huge demands on his time.
‘No, I wanted to spend time with you, douchebag.’
The hand on his thigh squeezed once before Tony moved back over to his side of the couch.
It shouldn’t be this challenging.
Stephen stretched his arm out along the back of the couch, muscles tense with how relaxed he was trying to appear. He kept his gaze firmly on the TV even though he could feel Tony’s gaze on him, the scrutiny.
Stephen’s swallow was thick as he felt the crown of Tony’s head rest back against his forearm, silky hair brushing his skin.
He crooked his elbow, so his hand rested on Tony’s shoulder. A fizzle of anticipation ran through him as Tony shifted forward, allowing Stephen’s arm to slide down the couch and settle around his shoulders instead, his hips shuffling sideways so he was closer to Stephen.
Stephen’s fingers shook on Tony’s chest, feeling the smaller man’s body heat radiating through his shirt. His thumb swept over the shirt in an easy glide, feeling his heart quicken when Tony shivered under the touch.
Their heads turned to the side at the same time, movie forgotten about as they held each other’s gaze.
‘This is where you’re supposed to kiss-’
Stephen leant forward.
Tony’s lips were soft beneath his, hesitant, almost as scared as Stephen was.
‘Stop, wait a second,’ Tony pulled away, glassy-eyed and an endearing blush to his cheeks.
‘What’s the matter?’
‘I don’t…’ Tony moved away, sitting on the edge of the couch, running his hand through his hair, messing it out of its usual style. ‘We probably should have had this talk before we had sex but look… you don’t have to do this. Any pace, your pace, I’m fine with it.’
‘This is different from your normal, I’m the first guy you’ve been with,’
Tony paused and looked at him at that, getting a nod from Stephen.
‘I don’t want to pressure you. Don’t get me wrong I want you, now in fact-’
‘Fuck…this is terrifying,’ Stephen muttered. ‘I don’t…I don’t know what I’m doing.’
‘Any of it. I’ve never been in a relationship, not a proper one anyway. The feelings I have for you, they’re scary enough themselves, but being intimate with you…’ Stephen trailed off, staring at his hands.
‘Are you attracted to me?’ Tony asked bluntly.
‘Very much so.’
‘Did you enjoy sex with me?’
‘Immensely,’ Stephen looked up at that, reaching over to place a hand on Tony’s back.
‘We’ll take it slow, no pressure,’ Tony reassured, leaning back into the touch.
‘It’s not that. I’m aware that I wasn’t really…involved the other night. That isn’t me, I’m not a selfish lover-’
‘I wanted you, make no mistake about that, but I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. How to make it enjoyable for you.’
‘So, you let me do all the work,’ Tony chuckled, arching his back as Stephen trailed his nails up and down his spine.
‘You looked like you were enjoying it,’ Stephen’s voice went low, husky.
‘No complaints from me, Doc. Maybe I should give you a crash course on everything, ease you in slowly,’ Tony purred.
‘By all means, teach me, Mr Stark,’ Stephen growled, wrapping his arm around Tony’s waist and tugging him so he was sitting in Stephen’s lap, straddling it. Tony pushed him back into the cushions of the couch, Stephen tugging him closer to his body with hands on his ass.
In the dim light from the TV, Stephen could see the flush over olive skin, lips parted in arousal as Stephen ground his hips gently up into the man sitting on him.
‘I’ve always thought it was unfair how attractive you were,’ Stephen whispered, leaving one hand splayed over Tony’s ass as the other began unbuttoning the man’s shirt.
‘Oh yeah? I work out, you should try it sometime,’ Tony’s eyes slid shut as Stephen’s nimble fingers traced over his stomach through the open shirt, gasping as Stephen began to pepper kisses over his sternum.
The joking between them had done wonders to calm his nerves. Tony’s reassurances had also helped and despite the teasing, Stephen knew he could stop at any time, ask any questions for help and Tony would be there.
That’s what partners did, be it a man or a woman or a man and a man. They respected each other and their boundaries and they loved and supported each other.
Stephen’s hand swept over the smooth skin, moving around to rest in the dip of Tony’s lower back, encouraging him to bend backwards. Shuffling forward, Stephen kneaded Tony’s ass with one hand, the other holding him still as he swiped the flat of his tongue over a dusky nipple, groaning as Tony jolted beneath his touch.
That was no different from a woman, apart from Tony had no breast tissue surrounding it. What he did have were firm pectorals which Stephen pressed kisses over, liking the fact that the muscles didn’t yield, a testament to Tony’s strength and fitness. They quivered under Stephen’s touch and that he did enjoy, how responsive the man was, how it was him eliciting these reactions from Tony.
It was a huge ego boost for Stephen, a heady mix of power and arrogance that he was making Tony Stark writhe on his lap, his fingers now buried in Stephen’s hair as he clung onto something.
It was more than that. Stephen trusted Tony, more than he had anyone. He could be vulnerable with Tony, could ask him what he did and didn’t like without being expected to know it all. That was the problem with one-night stands, they weren’t always very satisfying, a quick way to come and that was far as it went.
This was what had been missing from all those one nights, the intimacy, the closeness.
‘What do you like?’ Stephen breathed into Tony’s skin, trailing the tip of his nose over Tony’s collarbone, hands moving around to rub over Tony’s crotch.
‘I could get you to tell me, or I could start with my own preferences and see what you think, or…’ his fingers gripped Tony through his pants, ‘I could lay you out on my bed and find them all. Which do you want?’
Tony shivered, arms wrapping around Stephen’s neck as he brought their mouths into a messy kiss, pushing back against Stephen’s grip in a plea.
The wailing cry made them freeze, Tony scrambling off as Stephen shot up, both panting. Stephen tried to will away his frustration, attempting to ignore the aching in his cock.
The cry came again.
Sparing a look for Tony, he saw that the man’s hair was a sexy tousled mess, his pupils blown wide, the epitome of arousal.
God fucking damn it.
Stephen took a deep breath, all his lust leaving him in an instant as he heard his son sobbing, reality crashing over him.
‘I’ll be back in a minute.’
Tony’s gaze flickered down the hall and he nodded once, making his way back to the couch and flopping down on it.
Tony looked over the top of the couch when Stephen finally returned, a clinging Peter in his arms.
‘Sorry, he’s had a nightmare and normally I can calm him down, but he’s terrified. I thought…is it alright if he sits with us for a little bit until he drops off?’
Stephen fully expected irritation at that, hell, he was furious at the situation, but Tony said nothing, budging up to one end of the sofa and smiling.
‘You wanna watch a film with us, coccolona?’
Peter nodded into Stephen’s neck.
‘Get him settled, I’ll be back in a minute,’ Tony buttoned his shirt up as he passed. Stephen watched him leave before setting Peter down in the middle of the couch, stretching his arm out and encouraging Peter to snuggle into his side.
They both looked as they heard footsteps approaching. Tony was carrying Peter’s bed covers and pillows, dumping it on Peter’s head with a chuckle.
‘There you go, all comfy now?’ Tony sat on the other side of Peter, bringing his legs up onto the couch and bending them to the side, placing his feet on the couch so Peter was bracketed between them both.
Watching the film, Stephen kept stealing glances at Tony, worried the man was hiding his annoyance. There was nothing he could see, no signs of irritation. Tony looked down once at Peter who had shuffled closer, so he was leaning against Tony, but he said nothing, wrapping his arm around the kid.
Stephen jumped a little as he felt something wrap around his ankle, a thumb rubbing around it, and looking over he saw Tony smiling, engrossed in the kids movie.
He didn’t mind.
Warmth diffused through his chest, poignant and lingering.
Stephen didn’t deserve him.
Stephen woke with a hand in his hair, and he sluggishly tried to get up.
‘Shh, it’s only me, I need to get going,’ Tony whispered.
‘M’sorry,’ Stephen slurred, still caught in the grip of sleep.
‘Don’t be, I’ve stretched you both out so you can go back to sleep.’
‘Kay,’ Stephen yawned, burrowing closer to the weight on his chest he knew instinctively was his son.
Tony whispered something, ‘Ti amo,’ the words lost in the fog clouding his mind. There was a low chuckle and then a kiss touched his cheekbone.
‘I’ll tell you when you’re more awake.’
They held off on the intimate side of their relationship for a while. Tony was engrossed in his arc reactor project, now working on a new prototype, hoping to power the Stark Industry tower with clean energy.
Stephen finished their work on the prosthetic project, making the changes to Barnes a permanent fixture and the apologising to the man for stealing Tony from him.
‘It was obvious you were pretty gone on him. Treat him right, ya hear me?’
Things weren’t too different from when they were friends, they still ate take out together, still worked together, but there was a feeling in the air, something Stephen couldn’t begin to describe. They’d hold hands during their late night workings, lean against each other whilst eating.
Stephen had looked up what Tony had whispered to him that night.
I love you.
Stephen knew, without a shadow of a doubt that he felt the same, and that was what made his decision about telling Peter.
He’d just finished giving Peter a bath, rubbing his son down with the towel, making Peter laugh as his hair stuck up crazily and now, they were nestled in Stephen’s bed as he read him a story.
‘Peter, there was something I wanted to talk to you about.’
Peter nodded to show he was listening, playing with the hem of Stephen’s sleeping shirt.
‘Peter you know how your mommy and I weren’t together like other parents,’ Stephen began, holding Peter closer in his hug.
‘But you both loved me just as much as if you were together,’ Peter recited, something Stephen and Mary had told him over and over.
‘Yes. Well, Daddy…’ Stephen faltered, unsure where to go. ‘Daddy now loves someone, and I would like them to be part of our family.’
Peter stopped what he was doing, his body going rigid beside Stephen’s. Looking down, he saw brown eyes fill with tears. He didn’t see himself in Peter, he was the spitting image of his mother, and it that moment it felt like he was telling them both.
‘Does that make you sad?’
‘Don’t you love Mommy anymore?’
Sighing, Stephen tucked Peter’s head under his chin and wrapped his arms around the tiny boy. ‘Peter, I’ll always love your mommy and care about her because she gave me you, what did we tell you?’
‘That there are different types of love and you and Mommy loved each other as friends,’ Peter sniffed.
‘I thought you liked Tony?’
‘Mr Stark? Your girlfriend is Mr Stark?’
‘Boyfriend.’ Stephen cringed at the word, it sounded so juvenile.
‘Is he…a daddy to me as well?’ Peter asked, shifting in Stephen’s lap.
‘Not if you don’t want him to be. He can’t take your mommy’s place because she was very special, and I’ll always be your daddy, but Tony can be part of your family too, like Aunt May is.’
Peter said nothing, and Stephen waited for him to process it.
‘Do you still love me?’ Peter’s voice wobbled.
‘Hey,’ Stephen picked Peter up under his arms, shifting him on his lap so they were eye level. ‘Sweetheart, no matter what happens, if me and Tony stay together, or if we stay friends, I’ll always love you.’
‘Promise?’ Peter coughed and Stephen winced at the spit now covering his face.
Wrapping his arms around Stephen’s neck, Peter began sobbing, and Stephen rubbed his hands up and down his back.
‘Are you sad Daddy is with Tony?’ Stephen was afraid of the answer, he loved Tony and the thought of not being with him now physically pained him, but if Peter wasn’t alright with this, then their relationship would have to wait.
Peter shook his head, hands kneading Stephen’s shoulders.
‘No. I like Mr Stark. I want him to be part of the family. But you’ll never be with Mommy.’ Peter’s cries got louder, and bewildered Stephen could only hold him tighter.
Stephen trailed off thinking. It was every child’s dream, that their parents would end up together in one big happy family. Peter was only six, still clinging to that childish hope despite knowing Mary was gone. He felt his own eyes sting with tears as Peter cried, another affirmation that his mom was gone.
‘No matter what, you’ve always got me, I promise. I’ll always look after you.’
I won’t fail you again.
‘You want to sleep in here with me tonight?’
Peter nodded, clinging closer.
Stephen pulled his phone from the bedside table, texting Tony.
Peter’s having a rough time. Can we leave tonight?
It took minutes for him to respond.
Course, no problem. Hope everything is okay.
Everything is fine. Text you tomorrow about meeting up? I’m at the hospital so I won’t see you at the tower.
That’s a bummer. But yeah, let me know. Sweet dreams, asshole.
Miss you, douchebag.
The front door opened before Stephen could knock and he ignored how disconcerting that was, considering Tony wasn’t expecting him for a while.
‘JARVIS?’ he asked, stepping into the hallway.
‘I saw you approach, Doctor Strange, sir is in his gym. Would you like to wait for him in the living room?’
‘Will it bother him if I go see him now?’ Stephen asked, toeing off his shoes and taking off his jacket.
‘No, he has been looking forward to your visit for the last few hours, the gym was my suggestion to work off some of the nervous energy he was experiencing. Go down the hall and turn right and it’s the second door to your left.’
Of course Tony would have a gym in his penthouse, who didn’t?
He peered into the crack of the door, spying on Tony hitting a punching bag, the hair at the back of his neck curling from sweat. He was only wearing a vest and shorts, allowing Stephen to feast on bulging biceps and broad shoulders.
Sensing he was being watched, Tony stopped the swinging punching bag, glancing around the room.
‘Hey, sorry, am I late? JARVIS you didn’t tell me the time,’ Tony snatched up his towel from the floor and wiped the back of his neck.
‘Doctor Strange arrived early and wished to see you, sir.’
‘It’s not his fault, I can wait somewhere else if you’d rather,’ Stephen pointed back down the hall.
‘No, it’s fine, I mean, I’m not looking my best but nothing a quick shower won’t fix. Gimme ten minutes? Have you eaten? Want me to ask JARVIS to order something?’
‘I ate with May and Peter, that’s actually why I came a bit early, there was something I wanted to tell you.’
‘Everything okay?’ Tony sat on the weight bench in the corner of the room, his easy-going demeanour turning nervous.
‘I told them about us, May and Peter, well I told Peter the other night, May officially today, but I’d already asked her for advice. I hope that’s alright with you.’
The towel slipped from Tony’s hands, pooling on the floor.
‘Was Peter…was he okay about it? Do you need some time just the two of you?’
Stephen felt his chest clench in sympathy. Quick to assume the worst as usual, Tony wasn’t thinking of himself.
‘Apart from being a bit concerned my love for him might diminish he took it well. He was happy that it was you.’
‘Still, it’s not his mom though.’ Rooting around under the bench he found his bottle of water and took a drink.
‘No, and I think a part of him always held onto the idea that we’d one day be together, even Mary dying hadn’t erased that. I think…it was another hit for him that his mom isn’t coming back.’
Tony said nothing, rolling the bottle back and forth between his hands.
‘So, he’s really okay with us dating?’
‘I’m not sure if you can call it that considering we haven’t been on an actual date yet,’ Stephen moved closer to Tony, standing right in front of the man.
‘Everything is fine. We can keep doing this?’
‘Tony…do you want to keep doing this?’ Stephen suddenly felt nervous. Was Tony having second thoughts?
‘Course I do, asshole, more than anything. I can’t believe you told people…I love you, Stephen Strange,’ Tony looked up at him.
Stephen said nothing, staring at Tony in disbelief. He knew Tony had told him the other night while he’d been half asleep, but to hear it brazenly like that.
‘You don’t need to say it back, only when you’re ready.’
‘I think you’re underestimating how important me telling Peter about us was, douchebag. I’d only introduce a partner into my son’s life if I thought the relationship was long term, if I saw a future for us. I’m not going to break Peter’s heart as well as my own.’
‘I love you too, so don’t destroy this family we’ve got going,’ he teased, wincing at the slap on his shoulder. ‘You still need to shower.’
‘Yeah, yeah I’m going.’ Tony lifted his hand, cupping Stephen’s face and pressing a light kiss to his lips.
‘Thank you, Stephen. It means the world to me that you told him, that he’s okay with it.’
‘I know I share the same name as your dickhead ex, but I’m not him, Tony. I’m not ashamed of you. Now, can I join you in the shower?’
‘Oh yeah? Kinky, Doc.’
‘If you don’t want to show me how to give you a blowjob, I could always go find someone else to practise-’ Stephen was cut off by Tony’s tongue in his mouth.
Rubbing the shower gel over Tony’s back, Stephen dug his thumbs into firm trapezius muscles, kneading any knots out before washing the suds away. Tony groaned and shifted from foot to foot, palms pressed against the tiles to keep himself steady.
‘You always this stressed?’ Stephen asked, rubbing his thumbs up the back of Tony’s neck, feeling the vertebrae under the skin and then rubbing at his hairline.
‘Long few days at work and I’ve just had a workout,’ Tony turned, brushing back wet hair and tilting his face towards the spray. ‘Using palladium as the arc reactor core is working, but I want to find a cleaner and more powerful energy source.’
‘Yeah, I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about,’ Stephen shrugged.
‘My intelligence is wasted on you. Your turn?’ he asked, plucking the shower gel bottle out of Stephen’s hands and looking up at him.
Stephen took a step back in Tony’s absurdly enormous shower and gave the man a thorough appraisal. He knew what Tony looked like shirtless, what he looked like naked even, but that was in the gloom of his bedroom, where he’d been too scared to appreciate Tony fully.
Now, in the bright light of the bathroom, Stephen could see the exact tone of bronzed skin, and it wasn’t through sun worshipping as Stephen had thought, there were no tan lines, anywhere. There was a faint scar just above Tony’s sharp hipbone, which led to a dusting of hair over his stomach, and then…
Stephen felt his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed.
He’d seen naked men before, he was a doctor, had gone through medical school had seen every part of the human anatomy both on living people and the dead and he’d always kept his professional, medical objectivity.
His skin felt ablaze at the sight of Tony hard for him, for such a visible reaction of someone’s arousal towards him. There was nothing special, or unusual about Tony’s cock, it was uncut which wasn’t surprising considering Tony’s heritage, about average size for a male, yet it was still striking to Stephen, possibly due to the face Tony wanted him.
This gorgeous, impulsive, genius man wanted him.
Working a thick lather in his hands, Tony rubbed over Stephen’s shoulders, down towards his chest, over his stomach and over his hips.
‘I’ve always thought you had such pale skin,’ Tony muttered, ‘creamy, I didn’t know you had these.’ Tony traced the few moles he had down his arm, over his stomach. ‘And for a single parent, you take care of yourself,’ fingers dug into Stephen’s stomach.
‘Not…not as much as you do.’
‘Don’t talk down on yourself,’ Tony argued, eyes flashing with anger as he looked up. ‘You, Stephen Strange, are one sexy doctor,’ Tony got down on his knees, rubbing his hands over Stephen’s thighs, now directly eye level with his cock.
‘I thought you were going to show me how?’ Stephen whispered, threading his fingers through dark hair, feeling heat pool low in his stomach at the closeness of Tony’s mouth to the head of his cock, feeling lightheaded.
It had to be the heat of the water.
‘I believe in leading by example,’ Tony growled.
Stephen could do nothing but submit, hands buried in Tony’s hair as he leant against the tiled wall, watching as Tony licked across the head with the flat of his tongue, before swirling it once. He watched the beads of water trickled down Tony’s back, moaning as Tony swallowed him down, his mouth sweltering, using just the right amount of pressure.
Tony openly enjoyed blowing him, his own cock hard and an angry red, moans genuine. Stephen expected him to get back on his feet after a few seconds, it had to be hell on his knees, but the man didn’t complain, savouring the feel of Stephen in his mouth.
It was the biggest turn on.
Stephen felt the tip of Tony’s tongue teasing over his slit, could see Tony’s throat swallowing down any precome he found. His hips bucked involuntarily, and he swore as Tony’s hands came up to grab his ass, encouraging him to do it again.
‘Tony,’ Stephen gasped out, not sure if he was warning the man or begging him.
Tony whined deep in the back of his throat, his nails biting in Stephen’s skin. He pulled away from Stephen, looking up at him with those damn gorgeous Bambi eyes of his.
‘Come on, fuck my mouth, Stephen,’ Tony tried to coax him again.
He did what Tony asked, clinging on to his self-restraint to make his thrusts slow, feeling much closer to climax when he felt the head of his cock bump the back of Tony’s throat.
‘I’m gonna…Tony, I can’t…’
Tony broke away, and Stephen expected that to be the end of it, he wasn’t prepared for calloused fingers to grip his shaft, moving up and down, tongue still tormenting the head of his cock, his mouth wide open, wanting to give Stephen the visual.
‘Holy fuck,’ he breathed out.
Forcing his eyes to remain open, his legs to remain standing despite them threatening to buckle Stephen came, watching as his cum painted the inside of Tony’s mouth, his tongue, and his lips.
Closing his eyes, he took a few minutes to catch his breath, slumping on the shower floor. He felt boneless, exhausted and thoroughly stated. He wanted to take Tony to bed and burrow under the covers with him and sleep for a few years, to hibernate with him.
‘Stephen? You okay?’ He felt a cautious touch on his thigh, another sweeping stroke across his forehead.
‘Help me up?’ he croaked, lifting his hand.
‘Talk to me, too intense?’
Stephen could feel Tony shifting beside him, pressing against his body, trying to see his face. Grabbing the smaller man’s wrists, Stephen pressed them back against the cold tiles, pinning Tony’s body with his own.
‘That was incredible, you’re incredible.’ Stephen opened his eyes and kissed Tony, recoiling a little from the bitter taste lingering on Tony’s tongue, but he wasn’t going to let that stop him.
Getting down on his own knees, he grasped Tony’s cock in his hand, rubbing his thumb over the glans, marvelling at how the shaft was rigid, the head soft as velvet and springy. He could see the shivers in Tony’s thighs, the way his fingers were clawing at the tiles behind him.
Cautious, he swiped his tongue over the head, waiting for the bitter taste only to discover it wasn’t as bad as he was expecting. He sucked lightly on the end, knowing he probably looked moronic and acting more like he was sucking on a lollipop than a man’s cock, but when Tony moaned, Stephen found himself shuddering.
Emboldened, he increased the suction of his mouth, remembering what he himself liked having done to him, fingers stroking over his balls, long languorous sucks, if his partner showed enjoyment at what she was doing.
‘Stephen,’ Tony hissed out, hands clamping on his shoulders.
Now Stephen could see the appeal. Being in control, deciding on how close he could bring Tony to orgasm and then hold off just to hear the man beg and whimper.
That was exhilarating.
‘You like that?’ Stephen pulled out, mouthing kisses down the shaft as his hands snuck around to knead Tony’s ass. God, it was a beautiful ass.
‘You get…ah…vocal when you’re turned on,’ Tony panted, legs threatening to buckle.
‘You don’t like it?’
‘No, I love it. I love what you’re doing,’ Tony trailed off on a moan as Stephen swallowed him down again.
He recognised the signs of orgasm from his own body, the twitching cock, the way the balls drew up closer, Tony’s lilting cries. Stephen had a brief, momentary panic about what he was going to do, before deciding to let it happen, hand helping to tip Tony over the edge.
He didn’t swallow, precome he could get used to but full on cum, not a chance, and as he wiped his mouth clean, he wondered if spitting would have offended Tony. Was this something they should have spoken about beforehand?
Holding Tony against the wall as he came down from his high, Stephen took the time to press kisses into wet hair, to stroke Tony’s damp skin, cherishing the feel of them being close after being intimate.
This was probably his favourite part.
He was a sentimental sap.
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Chapter 7: Chapter 7
‘Must you wear those absurd sunglasses,’ Stephen asked, fiddling with the car’s steering wheel as they waited for Peter.
‘Course I must, they’re an interface for JARVIS, so he can keep me apprised of anything happening at Stark Industries, any incoming phone calls to ignore. Plus, they look awesome.’ Tony tipped them down his nose, wiggling his eyebrows.
‘Do you ignore my phone calls?’ Stephen rolled his eyes, watching as kids began to file out of the school.
‘If I might, Doctor Strange, sir has asked me to display all means of communication from you, regardless of time and what he’s doing prior to communication unless it compromises his safety.’
‘Yes, thank you JARVIS,’ Tony snapped, turning away from Stephen to stare moodily out the window.
‘Your AI likes me more than you.’
‘Your son likes me more than you,’ Tony retaliated.
Stephen made a non-committal hum, waving at Peter, his hand lingering in mid-air as he saw his son’s red-rimmed eyes.
‘Something’s wrong,’ Tony sat up straighter in his seat.
‘Hey kid, good day at school?’ Stephen asked when Peter sat down and buckled himself in.
‘Yeah, s’ok,’ Peter mumbled, looking down at his feet.
Tony looked over at him, frowning.
‘Why you upset, Underoos?’
‘‘M not. Daddy, can we go?’ Peter sniffed.
It’d been a while since Peter had acted like this, and Stephen wondered if he’d been thinking about his mom again.
‘Mr Stark, can we go to the lab?’ Peter mumbled after being uncharacteristically quiet for most of the car ride.
‘Yeah, sure we can, but why?’
‘You said it was a safe space, no bullies.’
Tony patted his hand where it was gripping the steering wheel, his knuckles white.
‘Sure, Peter. JARVIS, make sure it’s free space for us?’
‘I thought it was your personal lab,’ Stephen muttered.
‘It is, but I let Bruce work in there sometimes.’
Peter held Stephen’s hand the whole way across the carpark, not letting go until the doors had shut behind them in Tony’s lab, not even going to DUM-E who came over to see him.
Tony stopped talking when Stephen held his hand up.
Not yet, he mouthed.
‘You want to play with Lego? Or sit with me while I do some work? Stephen asked, voice calm.
‘Sit with you while I do some work,’ Peter’s voice was small.
‘Come on then,’ Stephen led them over to Tony’s desk, pulling the chair out and sitting down, pretending to look through some papers. He noticed Tony had framed the drawing Peter had drawn all those months ago, and he melted a little at the sight of it.
Tony left them alone, Stephen could hear him tinkering with something at the far end of the lab.
‘Daddy?’ Peter’s voice was hesitant, his hands twisting in his lap.
‘Flash said a mean word today, and I don’t know what it meant.’
‘How do you know it was a mean word if you don’t know what it means,’ Stephen chuckled, shuffling through more of the paper. God, he hoped there was nothing of importance here he wasn’t supposed to see.
‘If I tell you what he said… will you get mad?’
‘No, I promise I won’t get mad. What was it?’
‘Flash said his mommy said he wasn’t allowed to play with me anymore because you’re a faggot.’
There was a crash as Tony’s spanner fell to the floor.
‘Say that again?’
‘It wasn’t just Flash, other kids, Brad and Zach, said it too. They’re not allowed to play with me or come to my house anymore.’
‘Stephen?’ Tony began, suddenly beside him, hand reaching out to touch his shoulder, face ashen.
Stephen was incandescent with rage.
‘We need to go,’ he got out through gritted teeth. Snatching up Peter as he went.
‘Stephen, calm down, they’re only children they don’t know what they’re saying.’
‘But their parents do!’ Stephen shouted, whirling around to face Tony. His lucid mind dissolved under his rage.
No. This was not happening.
‘I need to go, I need to ring the school, sort this out. I’ll talk to you later.’
This was all Stephen’s fault. How could he have been so careless?
‘Stephen, wait! I can help you.’
He was restrained by Tony’s hand holding onto the back of his shirt, and he ripped himself away from the hold, absolute fury pulsing in his head.
‘Get off! I don’t need your help! God, I knew this was a bad idea,’ Stephen spat.
Peter flinched in his hold, whimpering in response to their shouting. Tony looked at Stephen, and then down at Peter before taking a step back.
Stephen said nothing as he stormed out, already planning what he was going to say to the principal.
Hey, haven’t heard from you in a while. I went down to see you and Bruce said you rang in sick and needed a few days off. How’d it go with Peter’s school?
Sorry, me again. Just wanted to know how Peter was doing, if things had eased up, if he was okay. Let me know, please?
Hey, it’s been over a week now, talk to me Stephen, please.
Stephen read over his messages, quickly typing a response.
I’ll talk to you later Tony.
He knew he was being cold, distant and it wasn’t fair to Tony but all he could see was Peter’s sad face, his destroyed books.
This was Stephen’s fault. This was happening to Peter because of him.
He was beginning to hate this office, spending more time here in the last fortnight than he ever had previously. Stephen waited, holding his cheap, crappy coffee in its plastic cup as he waited for Principal Wilson to finish his latest meeting.
‘Sorry to keep you waiting, Doctor Strange.’ The principal looked weary, his tie loose around his neck.
‘It’s getting worse, he’s too scared to come to school. I’m having to force him here.’
He knew the school was trying, that Mr Wilson was enraged on their behalf.
The bullying hadn’t stopped, despite the principal’s promises, the kids now targeting Peter outside of school, kids refusing to play with him, not inviting him to birthday parties. Stephen could feel his heart twist, watching his son finally playing and being happy again after his mother’s death, now withdrawing back into himself.
He’d regressed, going back to the way he was, fighting Stephen over everything, punishing Stephen for making him go to school
Stephen felt like an ogre.
‘Rest assured, Doctor Strange, these acts of homophobia will not be taken lightly ad I have been in further contact with the parents involved. I promise you, if these cases of bullying do not stop, we will be looking at more serious repercussions. I do not want Peter to suffer any more emotional or physical distress.’
Wilson was saying all the right things, doing all the right things, but Stephen couldn’t stop the guilt from churning, the idea that this was his fault.
His lifestyle choices affecting his son once again.
Come on Stephen, I’m worried about you. If you don’t want to return my calls, then at least send me a message letting me know you’re okay.
His anger these days was a seething, livid entity which was starting to govern his actions. Stephen knew they were only children, that they were acting as a pack mentality, but his anger was visceral, and it was baying for blood.
Stephen sat Peter on the edge of his bed, pressing a cold compress to his swollen eye, wiping away the blood from his split lip with a cloth. Why hadn’t Wilson expelled those kids already, how many bureaucratic hoops did they have to jump through before this was over?
‘Daddy? Why are you sad?’ Peter mumbled, trying to pull away from the first aid care Stephen was giving him.
‘I don’t like seeing you hurt, sweetheart, stop squirming. I need to keep this on your eye.’ His despair at seeing Peter injured coagulated the pain he constantly felt into a hard lump at the back of his throat, impossible to swallow around.
‘Daddy…when are they going to stop?’
‘Soon, don’t worry I promise I’ll fix this okay.’ Stephen threw everything to the floor, wrapping Peter in his arms and cradling him close, rocking his son back and forth. ‘I’ll fix it.’
Guilt festered in Stephen. What if Peter’s bullying didn’t stop here? Was Peter going to have trouble as he moved up in schools, in college, in life? because of something Stephen had done?
How did he fix it?
Did he need to give up his relationship with Tony?
‘Don’t you dare, Stephen Strange!’ May stood behind him, hands on her hips.
‘It might be the only way,’ Stephen shut the browser window down on the laptop.
‘You are not pulling Peter out of school. We aren’t running away from this!’ May spat, sitting opposite him on the dining table.
‘We aren’t doing anything thing. This is my decision to make.’
‘If you pull him out of school then they’ve won and you’ve taught Peter that what you’re feeling is wrong, that being gay is something to be ashamed of!’
Stephen was beginning to wonder. Life would be easier for Peter if he wasn’t with Tony, if Stephen wasn’t this way.
As though his thoughts summoned him, Stephen’s phone began to vibrate across the table, the name asshole flashing across the screen.
‘Talk to him, Stephen.’
‘I haven’t got time, May. I’ve got to work out what I’m going to do about Peter. How I’m going to stop him from being attacked at school.’
The buzzing stopped, and Stephen nudged it back across the table, flipping it over so he couldn’t see all the missed calls, the messages from Tony.
‘Stephen…don’t push him away, you’ll lose him.’
‘Tony knows what’s happening, he understands that I’m busy,’ Stephen snapped, pushing his phone away further when it began vibrating again.
‘Stop it. Stephen, listen to me.’ May walked around the table, grabbing his shoulders and shaking him gently. ‘Don’t take him for granted, Tony’s probably worrying about this as much as you are. Talk to him, you need support with this.’
Stephen shook her off and got to his feet.
He could do this. He didn’t need to drag Tony into it.
Pathetic fallacy. That’s what it was when the weather or nature reflected human emotion. Right now, hail was lashing the windows, the sky a dark and stormy gray.
He hadn’t spoken to Tony in nearly a month, ignoring all his messages and phone calls. He was being a dick, he knew he was, but he didn’t want to upset Tony with what was happening, didn’t want to burden the man any further with things.
He was inadvertently hurting his…boyfriend by withdrawing, but Stephen didn’t know what to do, how to handle everything.
‘I wish you were here,’ he spoke down to his phone, wishing he had Tony’s support, advice, even a hug would help.
‘Once things are settled,’ he promised himself, shutting the messenger app down, slumping back against the couch.
The buzzer for the penthouse made him startle and he checked his phone quickly to make sure no one had called him, or that he was expecting someone. He shuffled over bracing himself for the furious lecture he was going to get from May waiting on the other side of the door.
‘Yeah, didn’t think you’d answer your phone if I called. Can I come in?’ Tony waited, hands in pockets offering Stephen a small smile.
Stephen didn’t answer, nodding once and stepping out of the way.
‘Really? Not going to slam the door in my face, or say you’re too busy?’
Okay, Stephen deserved that.
Tony didn’t go to him, didn’t touch him in any way, brushing past him as he walked to the living room, sitting down on the couch and watching for Stephen.
‘You look like shit,’ he commented after a moment.
‘Feel like it too,’ Stephen agreed, sitting on the opposite couch.
Seeing Tony after so long made affection and agony surge in Stephen’s chest, phantom barbed wire wrapping around his neck and choking the words he was desperate to say. Tony’s eyes were hard, his posture closed off and defensive.
It set Stephen on edge.
‘Talk to me, what’s happening.’
Stephen had always liked that about Tony. He didn’t beat around the bush, or make small talk, but tonight it made him feel attacked.
Tony was on the warpath with him.
‘The school are trying to handle the bullying, but it’s gotten worse. Peter doesn’t want to go to school, he’s acting up at home. I’m at my wits end with him, with everything.’
‘Fucking kids,’ Tony swore, seething.
‘They don’t know any different.’
‘Don’t do that, don’t defend them and take the blame yourself.’
Stephen bristled in agitation.
‘This is my fault it’s happening.’
‘Don’t you dare, Strange,’ Tony snapped.
‘It is! I decide to fuck around with a man, without even thinking of the consequences, about how my actions would affect Peter. I’m like how I was with Mary, all over again.’
‘Right, is that what we’re doing Stephen? Just fucking around? We didn’t tell each other we loved one another. You didn’t tell your son you wanted to be part of a family? What…it got too hard and some people didn’t approve so now you’re bailing on me, on us?’
Stephen felt backed into a corner, Tony’s anger whipping his own into a frenzy.
‘You think it’s easy to sit back and watch you do all this on your own?’
‘Oh, what, too difficult for you is it?’ Stephen got up from the couch, pacing the floor, his gaze clouded by red. He could feel his bitter spite churning, the bloodlust he’d felt at the bullies finally finding something tangible to bite into.
‘I’m not here to fight with you, Stephen. I’m trying to help you!’
Pity, that’s what Tony was feeling. Stephen abhorred pity.
‘I don’t need your help. Peter is my son, I know what’s best for him.’
‘So, what’s best for Peter is acting like you’re ashamed of me, ashamed of your relationship because of some homophobic pricks and their uneducated brats,’ Tony snapped.
‘He’s not yours!’ Stephen shouted. ‘You don’t know what’s best for him! How could you? You’re not a father, your own was shitty enough for you not to have a clue about parenting. You have no idea what’s best for Peter. You’re only thinking of yourself and how it affects you!’
He expected Tony to back down, knowing his words were cutting, trying to tear at Tony’s self-esteem to hurt him enough so he’d stop.
So he’d leave Stephen alone.
He’d forgotten that it was Tony Stark he was talking too.
Tony got to his feet, facing Stephen’s anger head on, eyes dangerously dark, blotches of red staining his neck.
The air in penthouse was toxic with their noxious thoughts swirling between them, festering in their anger, dense and hard to breathe in.
‘That’s bullshit and you know it! If I thought Peter wasn’t ready for this, that my relationship with you was harming him in any way then I’d bow out. I love that kid as if he were mine! Stop twisting things because you’re scared!’
The need to make Tony leave, to give Stephen space engulfed him, swelling alongside his frustrations, his want to lash out at the world, the brutality of Peter’s bullies. He wanted to hurt Tony, to make him feel everything he’d been feeling.
‘I’m not willing to jeopardise Peter’s happiness over us, Stark. We’re barely even lovers it’s not hard to walk away from you. I haven’t been pandering to your messages because I’ve been trying to let you down easy.’
‘Liar and you suck at it, Stephen.’
‘This is the part where you leave,’ Stephen growled, pointing at the door.
‘You think you’re protecting Peter with this? By cutting me out of your lives? teaching him to be ashamed of your sexuality?’
‘I don’t think you understand your position. You’re not his father, or his friend. If I decide to stop him seeing you then that’s it, period.’
That pierced Tony’s anger and Stephen leapt on the weakness, finally able to find a revenue for his rage. Stalking towards Tony, he prodded the man in the chest.
‘I will handle this my way. Until you understand that, you will not be seeing Peter again.’
The sound of the hail pattered harder on the windows accompanied by a distant rumble of thunder.
Stephen could see the exact moment true terror caught Tony, torment twisting his facial features. He wrapped his arms around his stomach, hunching over as though shielding himself from blows. Stephen swallowed, his ire dissipating as he watched Tony crush his moment of vulnerability, hiding it away from Stephen with an iron will.
Without speaking, Tony turned on his heel and left, quietly closing the door behind him.
Stephen walked to the table, looking down at it before sending everything crashing down to the floor.
‘Daddy? When I can see Mr Stark again?’ They were playing in the sandpit at the park, Peter building sandcastles, Stephen trailing his finger through the sand making idle patterns. The question surprised him.
‘I’m not sure, sweetheart, me and Mr Stark had a fight and we’re not friends at the moment.’
Stephen had felt an ache under his breastbone for days, the loss of Tony making him want to claw out the pain with his bare hands.
‘I thought Mr Stark was your boyfriend.’
‘He is…was…but I made him upset.’
‘Well, you need to say sorry then Daddy. Buy him a present, that’ll make him happy.’
‘It’s not that simple, Peter.’
‘Do you want me to help you buy a present? I’ve got good ideas. I asked him ages ago what he wanted for a birthday present-’
‘No thank you.’ Stephen interrupted before Peter could ramble. ‘I wasn’t sure you would want to go see Tony again,’ Stephen pushed a little.
‘Why? I love spending time with Mr Stark, he’s part of my family.’
Stephen tried to ignore the tiny pinpricks of horror worming their way under his skin.
What had he done?
‘Aren’t you mad at him and Daddy?’ Stephen asked.
‘No why?’ Peter looked bewildered, grumbling as his latest sandcastle crumbled.
‘Because of what the children are saying at school, not being invited to parties.’
‘Yeah…that makes me sad. That’s why I want to see Mr Stark, he said I could because his lab was a safe space.’
Stephen felt himself smile at that, bittersweet at the thought of what Tony had promised.
‘Peter…do you wish Mr Stark wasn’t my boyfriend and then the children would stop being mean to you?’
Stephen held his breath as Peter thought.
‘No. you said Mr Stark was like another daddy. I want to have him as a daddy, I want us all to be together. That’s more important than parties,’ Peter said with a firm nod. ‘They’re just jealous cause I can build robots with him,’ Peter frowned.
Stephen clapped his hands together to dust the sand off. He watched the other couples with their children at the park, moms and dads.
‘Guess what he wanted as a birthday present?’ Peter continued, picking up their earlier conversation.
‘No idea,’ Stephen mumbled, only half paying attention.
‘He said he didn’t want anything. That me and you were enough and that was the best present in the world!’ Peter giggled, heaping sand into his bucket again.
‘Tony said…he said what?’
‘That we were enough, you not listening Daddy?’ Peter reached over and tugged his earlobe.
Jesus fucking Christ what had he done?
Pepper walked into the coffee shop, a brittle, forced smile on her face as she saw Stephen waiting for her.
‘Hello Stephen, how’s Peter doing? Have the school sorted the issues?’ she sat across from him, leaning forward on her hands, her concern for Peter clear.
‘They’re threatening with expulsion. How’s…how’s he doing?’
Pepper leant back in her chair, folding her arms across her chest.
‘Well, how did you expect, Stephen? You were cruel, downright disgusting if I’m being honest.’
The words were blows to his chest, driving the breath from his lungs. Never in his life had he felt this amount of contempt for himself. The only thing that came remotely close was his guilt on how he’d treated Peter for the first few years of his life.
‘There’s nothing I can say that’ll take my words back. I was trying to do what was right for Peter, and I lost sight of what was important. All I could see was that it was my fault, my actions that led to this.’
‘You were worried you’d failed Peter again? You were a shitty father for few years of his life and now you’ve hit a bit of trouble you’re going to shoulder all the burdens by yourself and destroy the relationship with the man you love?’
Stephen recoiled a little at the venom in Pepper’s voice, her use of swear words.
‘Bullying is a part of childhood, yes these kids are taking it too far, but Peter’s going to get bullied for having the wrong colour shoes or the wrong outfit. I ‘m not saying what’s happening is the same as that, but Tony’s right, you’re setting the example that being gay is something to be ashamed of.’
Stephen opened his mouth, but a gasped, wounded sound was the only thing that came out.
‘I haven’t seen Tony this smitten with anyone, not even Steve, it’s literally been killing him not to see you, or Peter. He doesn’t have the best of coping mechanisms anyway, but losing you, it’s destroying him, Stephen. He’s not focused, not sleeping, hardly eating.’
‘This is my fault,’ Stephen placed his face in his palm, rubbing over the skin, wanting to hurt himself. ‘All of this is my fault.’
What had he done? With his own torment twisting him blind he hadn’t noticed how he was hurting Tony. Not only had he been vile enough to suggest Tony could never see Peter ever again, he’d treated Tony the same as his dickhead ex.
Like Tony was someone to be ashamed of.
‘No, it isn’t, this is some small-minded people and their kids who don’t know any different. The school will sort the bullies Stephen, and if they don’t the police will.’
It was his own inner demons that made him lash out, his own insecurities and they’d cost him something dear.
‘I said some awful things to him. I don’t even know if I can fix the problem,’ Stephen croaked.
If he were Tony, he wouldn’t respond to any forms of communication.
‘Pepper? Do you think Tony would want to pick Peter up from school sometime this week?’
‘What about the bullies?’
‘No. That’s not what I asked,’ Stephen’s voice went firm. He’d let those people destroy his life too much already.
Pepper smiled. ‘I’m sure he’d love to. Do you want me or Happy to drop him back home to you after?’
‘Do you think Tony would be alright with me picking him up after? I’ve got a shift at the hospital tomorrow, so I could come get him around seven?’
Pepper pulled her phone from her expensive looking handbag, tapping it.
‘Tomorrow is fine, I’ve put it in his calendar, oh he’s ringing me. Hello?
Stephen could hear Tony on the line, his tone demanding.
‘He says it’s fine, Tony. Yes, I’m sitting with him now. He says not to worry about the bullies.’
Stephen shards of sorrow pierce him, knowing that Tony was asking after Peter’s wellbeing, not wanting to aggravate the situation at school any further.
Do you want to talk to him? Pepper mouthed.
He nodded once, holding his hand out for the phone.
The line went dead.
Peeling the gloves from his hands, Stephen washed his hands, taking a few moments to centre himself. The surgery had been a success and with the right aftercare, his patient would pull through with no lingering implications. This was the best part of the job, knowing he’d been able to do everything possible to save someone’s life.
Pulling his gown off, he began the walk down to the changing room, checking the clock in the corridor as he walked down.
Six thirty, he might even be early to pick Peter up.
All he wanted to do was fix the mess between them, return to the way it was before.
That’s if Tony would even talk to him.
‘Hey, starting shift?’ Stephen called as he saw Christine.
‘About to, you got a few minutes for coffee?’ She smiled, crossing her arms and cocking her hip. ‘You look like you could do with a chat.’
That was probably a good idea, he was still running on adrenaline from the surgery and anxious about seeing Tony. Talking to Christine would help soothe his nerves and maybe she could give him advice about how to ask for forgiveness.
Not ask, beg.
‘Let me grab my phone and I’ll meet you in the cafeteria.’
‘Alright, I’ll grab you some food too, you look exhausted.’
‘Long surgery, see you in a sec.’
He grabbed his phone from his coat without looking at it, rolling his neck back and forth as he walked back to the cafeteria.
‘It’s quiet, where is everyone?’ Stephen asked, taking a bite of his sandwich with a moan, flicking open his phone case.
‘I heard a big emergency came in a few hours ago, surprised they didn’t call you in for it actually. Multiple lacerations and puncture wounds on the chest, a punctured lung and brain trauma.’
‘Brain trauma? Who have they got covering it?’ Stephen frowned down at his phone.
‘Nicodemus, is something wrong?’
‘Hang on, I’ve got a missed call from Peter’s school and May…and Pepper. Oh, voice mails.’
Hello, Doctor Strange, this is Principal Wilson. I’m calling to inform you that Peter is still waiting for an adult to collect him from school. I understand that you might be in surgery, so I have called the next contact on the list, May Parker.’
Stephen deleted the message. It wasn’t unusual for the school to tell him if May had picked Peter up if a surgery had overrun, they were understanding like that and May always covered for him, but he had always prewarned both the school and May if there was any chance it might happen.
‘Yeah, Tony was supposed to be picking Peter up from school, but he never showed.’
Ignoring the anger beginning to bubble, he began listening to the next message.
Hi Stephen, it’s May. Just letting you know I’ve got Peter and he’s at home with me. Call me when you get out of surgery, take care.
He slumped in relief, picking up his coffee and drinking half of it in one go.
‘Not fucking cool, Tony,’ he growled, having half a mind to ignore the next voice mail which would undoubtedly be Tony apologising.
The nerve of him to pull something like this.
‘Stephen…’ Christine whispered, looking at something behind him as she stood.
‘What?’ He looked over his shoulder as he began listening to the last voice mail.
He was going to rip Tony a new one.
Stephen, it’s Bruce, Bruce Banner…
The phone clattered to the table, Stephen’s arm flailing as he struggled to find something to grab hold onto.
There’s been an accident at the lab…the…oh god…the arc reactor exploded…
Bruce stood on the opposite side of the cafeteria, face blotchy from tears, eyes desperate as they locked on Stephen’s. His shirt was covered in blood.
‘The emergency…’ Christine’s voice wobbled.
He knew in an instant.
Come chat to me over on Twitter
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
‘Let me go! I can help him! I can do something!’ Stephen raged, thrashing against Bruce and Christine restraining him. He was captive in the room the hospital had designated for family visitors.
He should be operating on Tony, not West. The man didn’t have the same steady hands as Stephen, the eyes for detail Stephen did. Without knowing the extent of the injuries, Stephen couldn’t work out what it was West would do. What if he butchered Tony? Cutting through the wrong part of his brain and paralysing him forever.
Stephen couldn’t breathe and he felt himself being lowered to the floor, hands forcing his head between his knees.
He was going to be sick.
Punctured lung, multiple lacerations and puncture wounds.
Why was it so cold in here?
‘Stephen, listen to me, Nic is with him, he’s a good surgeon, he can do this.’
‘He’s not me!’ Stephen shouted, fighting to get back to his feet, the room tilting on its side.
‘Strange listen to me, if you don’t calm down and stop shouting, I’m gonna have to remove you.’
He recognised that voice.
‘Yeah man, it’s me. Listen, I know how you feel okay, I want to charge in there and save Tony too, but it isn’t going to help anyone. Take a few deep breaths and calm down.’
‘He’s in shock.’ Stephen heard someone mutter.
Is that what this is? Am I in shock?
He heard manic laughter and wanted to punch whoever thought this was funny.
‘They’ve put him in a medically induced coma because of the trauma to his brain, thankfully he doesn’t have any excess cerebrospinal fluid so they didn’t need to put a shunt in to drain the it, but there’s still pressure and with a medical coma it means there’s less oxygen going to his brain, giving it a chance to heal without any lasting implications.’
Stephen felt detached from his body as he gave May the news, falling naturally into doctor mode.
‘No, it’s because the blood vessels in his brain are being crushed by the increase of pressure and they can’t feed the brain with nutrients or oxygen he needs, so the coma reduces the strain on them. No, I don’t know how long it’ll take for the pressure to go away, they’ll monitor him.’
Scuffing the toe of his shoe on the floor, Stephen listened to May.
‘Yes, they managed to get all shards of metal from his chest, and they’ve stitched the wounds up. Any other wounds? Well apart from the pneumothorax, oh, a punctured lung, apart from that he’s remarkably lucky.’
Stephen felt a fog permeate his brain, still not understanding he was talking about Tony and not another patient. No, he couldn’t think about that, not yet.
‘No, we can fix a puncture, the surgeon places a tube into the pleural cavity and pulls the excess air out and when the pressure is decreased the lung tissue can expand itself.’
May’s next words had him sliding down the wall, hand over his face as he sat on the cold floor.
‘Stephen…is Tony going to be okay?’
I don’t know.
‘May…can you watch Peter for a while? I need…I need to stay here with him. Thank you. I’ll call back later and talk to him, I just… I need a bit of time. Thank you, May.’ Stephen hung up the call, staring down at the lino floor, wishing he could lay down and have a dreamless sleep.
I can’t do this.
I can’t lose him.
Please be okay, Tony.
Dear God, please wake up.
The cereal had the consistency of cardboard, tasted like it too, but Stephen forced himself to keep chewing, knowing that if he didn’t Pepper would threaten to throw him out again. Chewing was good, it kept him busy, stopped him from watching Tony breathing, obsessively going over Tony’s hospital notes, his own failures as a partner.
Stephen was a mess, he knew he was, physically and mentally. He lived at the hospital full time, only doing the bare minimum to stay alive, often falling asleep in the chair beside Tony’s bed. He could feel his clothes becoming a little looser, a scruffy beard growing on his face, hair becoming matted and lank, but he didn’t care about such trivial things such as that.
He just wanted Tony to wake up.
The medically induced coma was needed, and they wouldn’t allow Tony to try and wake up on his own until they knew the swelling subsided. Yet, the longer Tony stayed in the coma the greater the risk of complications.
Stephen knew in the back of his mind that this was his fault, that Tony was distracted because of him. He knew he was failing Peter again, leaving the parenting responsibilities to May, but he couldn’t deal with a child and the potential of losing someone he loved.
He was failing in all aspects of his life.
He looked up as the door to Tony’s room opened, Rhodey slipping through and shutting it behind him quietly.
‘Hey, any change?’
Stephen shook his head, going back to his tasteless cereal.
Rhodey sat in the chair opposite, reaching out to grab Tony’s hand. ‘Hey Tones, me again, when you gonna wake up and stop worrying us all, you drama queen?’ He reached into his pocket and placed Tony’s sunglasses on the cabinet beside the bed. ‘I brought your shades for you, case you wake up and feel the need to look cool. Thought maybe JARVIS could play some of your awful music for you.’
Rhodey cleared his throat and sat back in his chair.
‘Stephen, you going to call Peter today? I think it’s been a few days.’
Yes, he needed to do that. He’d been talking to Peter every other day on the phone, mainly listening to Peter’s ramblings, trying to not get angry that a six-year-old couldn’t understand the gravitas of the situation, the fact that Stephen felt like he was torn to ribbons inside.
‘Go on, Stephen. Go ring that kid of yours, maybe have a shower and stretch your legs a bit. I’ll sit with Tony till you get back. Any changes at all and I’ll be hollering for you, I promise.’
Stephen shook his head, glaring at Rhodey.
‘We talked about this, if you don’t get out of this room occasionally me and Pep will throw you out. I swear, anything changes, and you’ll be the first person I come to.’
He said nothing as he got to his feet, swaying a little and waving off Rhodey getting to his feet in concern.
‘Can I borrow those?’ He pointed to the sunglasses.
‘Yeah sure.’ The glasses were pushed eagerly into Stephen’s hands, Rhodey trying desperately to make him leave. ‘Good idea man, JARVIS will be able to contact you faster then I will if something changes. Don’t forget that shower now.’
Stephen nodded, putting the glasses in his pocket and taking one last at Tony lying prone on the bed as he had done for the past several weeks.
‘JARVIS?’ he asked, putting the glasses on and beginning a slow walk down the hospital corridors.
‘How can I help you, Doctor Strange?’
‘I thought…well, I wondered if anyone had told you Tony was injured, I thought you might have wanted to know.’
‘I was the one who alerted the medical services to his injured state, I also locked down the lab to prevent the explosion from harming further personnel.’
‘Oh, I see, sorry… it was silly of me.’
Stephen trailed his fingers over the hospital walls, glancing at the posters advocating good hand hygiene, basic symptoms to call nine one one for. He’d walked these halls a million times already, every time Pepper or Rhodey threw him from the room. They meant well he knew, but he couldn’t help the feelings of resentment.
‘The sentiment is appreciated, doctor. No one had come to directly inform me of sir’s status, I can monitor his vitals from here and I know of his injuries. I am also aware that you have not left his side.’
‘Hmm,’ Stephen made an agreeing noise.
Stephen stood in the middle of the corridor for a while, a gaunt shadow of the man he used to be.
‘JARVIS? Is DUM-E alright? Does he need oiling or anything?’
The robots were important to Tony, he needed to make sure they were looked after, so they could welcome Tony back.
‘DUM-E is operating normally. If I might ask, are you alright, sir?’
‘No. No, I’m not alright JARVIS. I can’t help Tony. I couldn’t save Peter’s mother and I don’t even know how my son is doing.’
‘Peter is currently sleeping, his brain activity shows he is deep in REM sleep. His temperature is normal, and he has no injuries.’
‘How do you even-’
‘Sir asked me to keep an eye on you both.’
‘Oh, when we started a relationship?’
‘No doctor, much longer than that, when you first attended Stark Industries that day.’
People might have found that creepy, maybe even stalkerish, but Stephen knew Tony enough that the man would have done it out of concern.
A fresh wave of hurt submerged him and he stopped walking for a moment, hand on the wall for balance.
‘Sir? I’m reading elevated cortisol levels, do you require assistance?’
‘No, I just need to sit down.’
I need it to stop hurting.
God damn it, Tony wake up.
He stumbled towards a door, hoping it led to a waiting room, or somewhere he could sit. There were chairs arranged in a pew type format, flowers in vases either side of an altar.
The prayer room.
He’d stumbled into the hospital prayer room. He wasn’t a religious, or a spiritual man, he was a man of science, and he turned to leave but the draw of a chair was too strong, and he couldn’t pass out, not now.
‘Can I talk to you again later, JARVIS?’
‘Of course, doctor, I’m always at your assistance.’
Slumping in a chair, he folded the glasses and placed them carefully in his pocket.
The room was painted in a comforting pale green, wide windows showing bare branches still waiting for spring’s blossom. This would have been a beautiful space in the summer, with light streaming in, the foliage of trees as a backdrop.
‘I haven’t seen you here before.’ A soft-spoken woman told him, sitting on the chair next to him. He barely spared her a glance, wondering if she was a patient as she was bald. ‘I’m not ill, my husband has cancer, I did this in a show of comradery.’ She touched her index finger to her head.
‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to stare.’ She was wearing an unusual shade of yellow, mustard in colour. It was a tunic of some sort, or robes like a monk would wear.
He averted his gaze, not wanting to make small talk.
‘Who do you pray to?’ She asked, looking up at the ceiling.
‘I’m not religious, I needed somewhere to sit, and this was where I ended up.’
‘Ah, I see.’
They sat in an easy silence for a while, listening to the sound of the wind outside.
‘Do you want anything to drink? I was about to make myself tea.’
Stephen shook his head, trying to stay awake. He’d been gone too long, he really should be getting back to Tony, and Peter. He needed to ring Peter. What else did he need to do? God, his thoughts were slipping through his fingers, tangled and snarled. Was he supposed to shower? Eat? Had he already eaten?
‘Here,’ something hot was pushed into his hands. ‘Sometimes we can find solace in talking to a stranger, I won’t judge you and you probably won’t see me again.’
‘I lost his mother, and now I’m losing him,’ Stephen whispered, taking a sip of the tea.
‘I thought I had time to ask his forgiveness, I honestly thought we’d be able to work things out. I said some dreadful things to him. I’m no better than that dickhead of an ex of his, going for the jugular. I told him he wasn’t allowed to see Peter. What sort of person stops a child from seeing a parent figure because they were mad!’
Stephen felt something in his chest deteriorate and the horror, the sadness he felt rushed out of him in huge, ugly sobs.
He couldn’t remember the last time he’d cried.
It was cathartic but exhausting.
I can’t do this, I can’t do this! Repeated over and over in his head.
‘What's in that tea?’ he wheezed, looking down at his mug.
‘Nothing, it’s just tea… with a little honey.’ The stranger smiled.
‘I’m a mess, and I don’t know how to fix anything.’
‘Have you ever considered faith? The belief in something bigger in yourself can be comforting.’
Stephen rolled his eyes at that. ‘I don’t believe in fairy tales about the power of belief. There is no such thing as spirit! We are made of matter and nothing more.’
‘As I expected a doctor to say. It took me a while, but I recognise you as one of the doctors here.’ She explained at Stephen’s confusion.
Stephen drank his tea as they fell back into silence.
‘No advice for a stranger?’ he asked.
‘Maybe if I had the full story than just your internal ramblings.’
He told her everything, from beginning to end, not caring if she was homophobic, if she judged him. As he had from his crying earlier, he felt cleansed as he got it all out, the burden passed to another if only for a few moments.
‘You are plagued by self-doubt and arrogance, those are your demons and they have guided your actions for too long. I do hope your partner recovers and you are able to put wrong the right, but I also think you would benefit on a little self-reflection.’
She got up, taking his mug from him.
‘Try meditation, even science has proved the health benefits, lower blood pressure, better sleep. Maybe it’ll help you learn the lesson life is trying to teach you.’
Stephen fought against the urge to scoff, the new age bullshit rankling him. Life didn’t teach you things, there was no karma, no divine intervention.
‘It’s not all about you. All you’ve said is how you’re feeling, how you’ve burdened the guilt, how you tried to fix things. Did you ever once listen to Peter or Tony? Your son told you he wanted Tony as a father figure, that he didn’t care about the bullying. Tony has done nothing but support you and you shut him out of your life. Even in the physical acts you shared, you worried about how it would affect you, if you would feel repulsed.’
Stephen watched her leave, her honesty startling him.
‘You don’t listen to the people you claim to love.’
‘The pressure in Tony’s brain has reduced enough for us to start bringing him out of the coma,’ West told them.
Stephen felt Christine’s fingers tighten around his.
‘It’ll take him a while to come around with all the drugs in his system.’
‘You mean…he’ll be alright?’ Rhodey asked, voice tentative.
‘We’ll continue to monitor him as he comes around,’ West answered, glancing at Christine and Stephen, knowing they’d see through his speech, the way he wouldn’t commit one way or another to an answer.
‘We won’t know the extent of the damage until Tony wakes up. There might be some long-term effects, memory loss, difficulties in cognitive skills. At the very least Tony will suffer from muscle atrophy and he’ll need to strengthen those again,’ Stephen answered.
You can do this Tony. Stephen thought. You’re a fighter.
Stephen had only experienced a patient coming out of medically induced coma once while he’d been training, and he knew that the next few hours weren’t going to be easy as Tony’s brain regained consciousness trying to grasp at what was real and what wasn’t.
It had to be a miracle.
Come on, sweetheart, you can do this.
Stephen flinched out of sleep, tumbling to the floor from his armchair and swearing at the knock to his bones.
So much for meditation.
Rubbing his hands over his face, he winced at his beard, the grit he could feel under his nails.
Movement on the bed robbed the breath from his chest.
Creeping towards the bed, Stephen cautiously sat on the edge of it, heart shattering as Tony’s head turned limply from side to side, muttering incomprehensibly.
‘Hey, sweetheart, hey, I’m here,’ Stephen brushed back Tony’s bangs, moving closer so Tony could see him if he opened his eyes.
His breath hitched on a sob as doe eyes opened a fraction, unfocused but open.
There was no recognition, nothing but Tony staring blankly into the middle distance.
‘Don’t get discouraged, Stephen, you said yourself it’ll take Tony a while to come around with all the drugs in his system, and he’s been asleep for a long time. Who knows what he could hear, or what he experienced while he was in a coma?’
Stephen couldn’t argue with Pepper, doctors still didn’t fully understand what happened to the human brain while in a comatose state, who’s to say Tony didn’t hear everything they’d said to him.
‘Dad…’ Tony muttered.
Pepper and Stephen’s head snapped up, both beside the bed in an instant.
‘Don’t…’ he whimpered, eyes snapping open and darting around the room.
‘Tony? It’s Pepper, you’re safe, I promise, he isn’t here.’
Stephen’s gaze flittered between the two of them, the question on his tongue.
‘He’s never really spoken about it but piecing together the things he has told me over the years, the thing I’ve learnt from Rhodey, Howard Stark was a cruel, vindictive man.’ Pepper stroked her hand through Tony’s hair, smiling when Tony shut his eyes, exhaling in relief.
‘I knew they weren’t close, that Tony has no love for the man, that he wasn’t a father figure for him.’
‘Do you know why JARVIS is called that?’ Pepper asked.
‘It was after their butler, Jarvis, the man who basically raised Tony alongside his mother. He was the father figure Tony so desperately craved.’
It was sweet, in a depressing kind of way, Tony paying homage to the man.
‘I compared him to his father…’ Stephen whispered, picking up Tony’s hand in his.
‘I know, it was something Steve used to say too, when they used to argue,’ Pepper wasn’t judging, her voice matter of fact.
‘Steve?’ Tony muttered, opening his eyes again, trying to shift his head. ‘Sorry, trying to…be better.’ He mumbled, eyes rolling back.
‘No Tony, we’re not telling you to try harder, Steve’s not here, just me and Stephen.’ Pepper’s voice cracked, a tear slipping down her cheek.
‘Tony? We’ve got you alright? We’re here, come back to us, sweetheart.’ Stephen kissed the back of Tony’s fingers.
‘Don’t wanna be with Steve…want…’ Tony succumbed to sleep.
Stephen wanted to beg for Tony’s forgiveness, to lament about all the ways of how he was as bad as Steve, as Howard, but that wouldn’t help the situation.
It’s not all about you.
He’d prove himself to Tony. He’d be here.
Come chat to me over on Twitter
‘Loving the hobo look, Doc.’
Stephen dropped the notes on rehabilitation he was holding, looking up in disbelief at Tony’s bed.
‘Tony?’ He must have imagined Tony’s voice, lack of sleep now making him delusional. The man’s eyes were still closed, and despite his random outbursts and half lucid waking phases, they’d yet to see anything resembling the old Tony Stark yet.
Brown eyes blinked open, looking dazed but they focused on Stephen and smiled.
‘Hey,’ he whispered.
‘Tony?’ Stephen asked again, not daring to believe, placing his hands on the bed gingerly next to Tony and peering down at him.
Stephen did cry then, screaming for Pepper as he collapsed on the man, ignoring his pained grunt as scooped the man up by his back, pressing Tony close to his chest.
‘Oh, thank God,’ Stephen sobbed, breathing in his scent, feeling the warmth of his body close to his.
‘Tony?’ Stephen heard the muffled shout in the doorway, and he moved aside to give Pepper some space on the bed, not relinquishing his hold but making room.
He was back.
He was back.
Stephen let Pepper and Rhodey explain to Tony what had happened, the explosion, the weeks in a medicated coma. He didn’t even intervene when West explained the extent of his injuries, the punctured lung, the lacerations, the brain swelling.
He stood aside from it all, comforted by the fact Tony was awake and alert and not showing any signs of complications.
While he wanted nothing more than to scoop the man up and apologise over and over, he didn’t know how Tony felt about him, if the damage he had caused was irreversible, and right now, Tony’s recovery was more important.
Stephen stayed in the hospital as Tony began his physical therapy, regaining the strength in his muscles, cognitive exercises and tests. He made sure that Tony knew he was around if needed, but he didn’t infringe on Tony’s personal space, not thinking his presence would be beneficial.
Tony didn’t ask for him.
He visited the spiritual women in the prayer room, asking her to teach him meditation and often speaking to her about philosophical ideas. Stephen examined her husband seeing if there was anything he could do about his condition and becoming frustrated when he couldn’t.
‘Don’t worry, Stephen. Death is what gives life meaning.’
Stephen took her words to heart, his brush of nearly losing Tony altogether making him realise he needed to get his life in order.
And there was one place where he could start.
‘Daddy!’ shrieked down the corridor. Stephen realised with a kick to his stomach how much he’d missed his son. Kneeling, he stretched out his arms to catch Peter in a hug, crushing the boy to him just as he’d done with Tony when he’d first been coherent.
‘Hey sweetheart, ugh, I’ve missed you so much.’ He held his hand out for May to grasp, not getting up from the floor, Peter still in his tight hold.
‘Why have you got a beard, Daddy?’ Peter asked, tugging at it experimentally.
‘I just need to shave. Would you like to visit Tony?’
‘Remember what I said, Peter. Mr Stark is very poorly still, so you need to be careful and not too loud okay?’ May told him sternly.
‘Yes, Aunt May,’ Peter’s face became solemn.
Knocking on Tony’s door, he didn’t make eye contact with the man, nodding instead at Rhodey with a smile.
‘I think there’s a special someone here to see you, Tones,’ Rhodey teased.
‘Underoos!’ Tony called out, adoration clear in his voice. He tried to pull himself up in the bed and failed, looking frustrated as Rhodey helped him. Despite May’s warning, Peter launched himself across the room, scrambling up onto the bed, and burrowing into Tony.
‘Oh kid, I’m so sorry I didn’t pick you up from school,’ he breathed into Peter’s hair, rubbing his cheek over the top of it fiercely.
‘Are you okay?’ Peter’s voice was muffled by Tony’s chest, and he pulled himself up to sit in Tony’s lap, arms wrapping around his neck.
‘Yeah, I’m alright. Sorry I scared you,’ Tony squeezed his eyes shut and Stephen could see his hands shaking from where he was holding onto Peter’s back.
Tony was making excellent progress from a medical point of view, his grip was a little weak, but he could move his arms and legs, and his memory recall hadn’t been affected.
Stephen allowed himself to hope.
‘I didn’t want you to go to heaven with Mommy,’ Peter whispered. ‘I like having two daddies, I miss you both.’
Stephen felt someone nudge his back, pushing him towards the bed.
‘Hey, it’s only been me here at the hospital,’ Tony pulled Peter back, glaring over the top of his head at Stephen, taking in his appearance with narrowed eyes.
‘Underoos, could you do something for me? Could you go with Rhodey and get me some candy I like? No one can remember what I like apart from you, reckon you could do that? For me?’
Peter puffed out his chest with self-importance.
‘Come on Peter and…Rhodey was it?’ May stepped forward, holding out her hand for Peter to take. ‘I’m glad to see you’re feeling better, Tony. We’ll be a while,’ she nodded meaningfully at Stephen.
Stephen tried to leave with them, but Tony’s voice held him back.
‘Wait… please Stephen.’
Feeling trapped, Stephen did as asked, waiting for everyone to leave the room.
‘Shut the door.’
He did so, hand still on the handle.
‘How long have you been at the hospital?’
‘Since you were admitted.’
‘Stephen… it’s been weeks.’
Stephen rolled his head, stretching the neck muscles. ‘I’m aware, I’ve felt everyday stretch as if it were years, douchebag.’
‘But why? Are you here out of guilt?’
‘I don’t even know how to look at you, Tony.’ He heard shifting on the bed, and he turned when he heard a pained whimper.
‘No, stop. I don’t want to hear it,’ Stephen snapped, holding his hand up.
Tony stopped speaking, eyes going wide. He looked so frail in his hospital gown, a mere shadow of the confident, charismatic man Stephen knew.
‘Tony…can you…can you ever forgive me?’ He shuffled forward a few centimetres, eyes downcast, guilt, agony and fear lacing his words. ‘I said…some heinous things.’
‘Stephen,’ he heard the slap of feet hitting the bare floor and he lunged forward, just in time to save Tony from crumpling to the floor, the man gasping in agony.
‘What the hell are you doing? Are you insane? Get back into bed!’
‘I can’t. I can’t just sit there and watch you destroy yourself out of guilt.’ Tony groaned, leaning most of his weight onto Stephen. Carefully, Stephen managed to get Tony back into the bed, sitting beside him instead of on the other side of the room.
‘I thought I’d lost you,’ Stephen whimpered, curling into Tony, threading his hands in his hair and bringing the man’s head close to his chest. ‘I understand if you don’t want anything to do with me, but please, just give me this.’
He could feel himself breaking, his soul splintering into shards as cracks would through a glass. He wanted time to freeze, to stretch this moment out and hold it close, unsure of what the next few minutes would bring.
‘I can never… I can’t explain my actions-’
‘You were worried because of Peter,’ Tony interrupted.
‘What I said to you. It was despicable,’ Stephen peeled himself away from Tony, turning himself around so he was sat on the edge of the bed, head in his hands.
‘I thought I could do it all by myself. Everything that was happening to him, I blamed myself for. I needed to fix it, it’s hard to explain.’
‘You were a complete asshole you know. You know I love Peter like he’s mine. You don’t think it hurt to watch you struggling like that, to know something was happening because of my actions? Then to be shut out like that… fuck, I wish I’d just died in that explosion,’ Tony rested back against the bed.
‘Don’t say that,’ Stephen snarled, whirling around fast enough to make Tony recoil. ‘Don’t you ever fucking say that. I have been to hell and back a thousand times over thinking you wouldn’t wake up, that you would die and leave me here. That I’d never have the chance to say sorry, or that I love you, douchebag!’ Stephen shouted, furious tears streaming down his face.
He fought against the need to throw up, hot sweat prickling his back.
‘I never thought I’d see you again,’ he forced out, clutching Tony’s blanket.
‘Hey, it’s okay, tesoro, I’m here.’
‘It’s not okay. Don’t say you wanted to die, not when I’ve fallen in love for the first time, when Peter considers you his dad, when you’ve got so much to live for.’ Hesitant, afraid he might be slapped away, Stephen reached for Tony’s hand, clasping it between both of his. ‘I’m sorry, Tony.’
Tony patted the bed beside him floppily, waiting for Stephen to lay back beside him before breathing deep and slumping against him.
‘You really stayed here the whole time?’
‘Yeah,’ Stephen wrapped an arm tentatively over Tony’s stomach, tears still threatening.
‘That isn’t fair on Peter. I’m on the road to recovery now, go home with him tonight. Maybe shave that beard off hmm?’
‘I can’t leave you here.’
‘Stephen, I’m going to be here a while. This recovery…it’s hard for me to let you watch. Do you think you could give me some space to recover?’
Stephen went to protest, Tony needed him here, he couldn’t abandon him to his recovery, he wanted to support Tony!
It’s not about you.
Stephen couldn’t remember Tony ever asking him for anything the entire time they’d been friends. He’d always been the considerate one, patient, selfless despite the rumours.
‘Is that what you honestly want, Tony?’
‘I need a bit of space to process all of this, the accident, us, everything.’
Stephen tried to ignore the ominous feeling to Tony’s words. The panic made him want to cling to Tony harder, to know where he stood, if they even had a relationship left.
It’s not about you.
‘I understand, what happened, it’s a lot to process. But, let me promise you something, Tony. No matter what happens, if you decide to call off our relationship after you’ve had some time to think things over, or if you want to try again, no matter what you decide, I will never stop you seeing Peter.’
‘Thank you, asshole.’
‘You’re welcome, douchebag.’ Stephen tightened his hold, trying not to think about how it might be the last time he was able to hold Tony.
When Tony was discharged from the hospital, he went back to his place in Malibu to recover. Stephen tried not to let it hurt, tried not to focus on what Tony was doing and instead work on his own self-reflection.
He couldn’t be a stable influence in Peter’s or Tony’s lives if he himself wasn’t stable. Stephen needed to fix himself before he could be in a relationship with Tony again, and so, he got his life in order.
Peter came back to live with him at the penthouse and Stephen got rid of most of his expensive, non-child friendly furniture, redecorating it so it was a home for them both, not just Stephen. Pictures of them were put up, as well as some of Mary and Peter, and there were still some touches of Stephen present, expensive artistic sculptures that were placed above child level.
Stephen missed Tony, constantly, the man rarely straying far from his thoughts. He got updates from Pepper and Rhodey about how he was doing, reassuring him when he voiced his concerns about Tony wanting to return to work. He was working via JARVIS and signing things at home, rather than returning to New York, but Stephen still worried.
To his supreme annoyance, meditation did help. He had learnt that the aim of meditation, aside from all the health benefits, was to come to terms with thoughts and feelings, both negative and positive ones.
Slowly, with the help of the prayer room woman he began working through his feelings of guilt, his frustration regarding his status as a parent, and accepting his new identity. He was bisexual and hiding from it or being ashamed of it wasn’t healthy.
The school bullying finally became solved through discipline and expulsions. Stephen still got dirty looks when he took Peter to and from school, but it wasn’t something he could control. All he could do was educate Peter not to disrespect people in the same way, that unfortunately in life some people disliked you for who you were and that ultimately, those people weren’t worth knowing.
He still wanted to beat them to a pulp but that was beside the point.
Peter took it on board, making new friends with children in a LGBT parent support group Stephen joined.
I’m not sure if I should approve of that, Doc.
Why not? It’s good for Peter to make some new friends, and they’ve offered some good advice. I’ve become quite good friends with another single dad, we’re going to take the kids to the park later.
Are you trying to make me jealous?
Immensely, is it working yet?
A little bit…I’m proud of you, asshole.
They still kept in touch via text, Stephen hadn’t pushed it, hadn’t initiated any contact wanting to give Tony space, but he was glad of the contact. Tony would ring to talk specifically to Peter, and Stephen stayed separate from that, honouring his word.
Staring at himself in the mirror he patted down his face with a towel, twisting his face to the left and the right to examine his work. His phone vibrating made him stop his preening, walking into the bedroom to locate the device.
It was Tony.
‘Hey, it’s late, Peter’s already asleep,’ Stephen explained, wrapping an extra towel around the back of his neck to catch the excess water from his shower.
‘Stephen?’ The voice sounded wobbly, and Stephen sat down on the edge of the bed, bracing himself for what was coming.
‘What’s the matter?’ he tried not to demand, but it came out anyway, his concern getting the better of him.
‘Nothing I just…fuck…I needed to talk to you.’
He sounded winded.
‘Has something happened? Talk to me, Tony.’
‘I was asleep and then…God… it felt so real. I was back at the tower, the explosion, my chest.’
Stephen closed his eyes, physically pained by the man’s admission.
‘Hey, you’re alright, it was just a nightmare,’ he tried to soothe, wishing he could see the man, could reassure him.
‘It felt real and now my chest hurts,’ Stephen could hear Tony shifting in his bed, the click of a bedside lamp being turned on.
‘That’s just residual phantom pain from the nightmare, you’re safe, your body has healed.’
‘Sorry, I didn’t want to bother you, I just-’
‘Tony, you’re not bothering me. You can call me if you need me, I’m here.’
There was silence on both ends for a while, and Stephen stared at his reflection in the bedroom mirror, ignoring the goose bumps on his skin.
‘I miss you,’ Tony whispered, his voice so quiet Stephen almost thought he’d imagined it.
‘I miss you too, every day,’ Stephen’s voice was just as gentle.
‘I’m coming back to New York next week, returning to work and don’t worry we’re going to ease me back in.’
‘Your version of easing in and mine are much different. Please don’t overdo it, Tony. You’ve been doing so well, let your body heal.’
‘It has, I promise.’
Stephen didn’t want to end the call, desperate to hold onto whatever part of Tony he could have.
‘I think it’s time we had a talk. Can you come over when I’m back?’
‘I’ll make time,’ Stephen swore.
‘I think Peter said he had a sleepover at Ned’s next week. Something about you having a hair appointment?’
Stephen smiled at the laugh in Tony’s voice.
‘The sleepover was arranged first. I booked the hair thing afterwards. I’m not quite that vain.’
He stopped looking at himself in the mirror.
‘Come over after?’
‘Will do, call me again if you have any more bad dreams, or if you’re in pain, or anything Tony.’ Stephen didn’t want to plead, but he knew he was, not willing to relinquish the foot in the door he had, the slim chance of Tony letting him back into his life.
‘Thanks for the offer, Stephen. I’ll see you next week.’
He started down at the phone, not sure if he should be hopeful or dreading the encounter.
‘JARVIS? Is Tony completely healed or should I return another time?’ Stephen asked as soon as he stepped foot into Tony’s penthouse, taking a moment to linger in the hallway as he took his shoes off.
It’d been weeks since he’d been here, nearly bordering on months.
‘I am as surprised as you, doctor. It appears he has remained true to his word and not returned to the penthouse until he was back to his old self.’
Stephen fiddled with his new haircut as he walked down the hall, his fear that this was the last time he was going to see Tony growing with every step forward.
‘Alright, I know all about your secret conversations while I was in a coma, you can knock it off now,’ Tony grumbled, and Stephen could hear him place down his tablet on couch cushions. ‘Why are you loitering in the hallway, ass-’ Tony’s mouth fell open as his gaze met Stephen’s.
‘I thought instead of getting rid of it entirely, I’d try something different,’ Stephen stroked his index finger and thumb over the new goatee.
Tony tripped over his feet coming towards him and Stephen instantly went to him, still concerned he wasn’t well despite the AI’s reassurance.
‘You changed your hair,’ Tony marvelled, stretching his hands up to run fingers through it.
‘I didn’t like it quite as long as I’d let it get, but I dunno, I think I like it a little longer…shows off the gray more though.’ Stephen bent his head to let Tony inspect it better, closing his eyes as he felt fingertips trail over his new facial hair.
His anxiety subsided a little as he opened his eyes, smiling to see Tony staring straight back at him.
Tony looked the same as before, the weight he’d lost regained, his hair a shiny brown and styled once again, and his eyes... glittering and vibrant.
Please don’t let this be the end.
‘You look well,’ Stephen told him, hand reaching up to cup Tony’s jaw, and then realising his action and pulling it away. Tony stopped him, hand pressing over his and bringing it back up to his face.
‘Kiss me. Dear God, kiss me,’ Tony demanded, wrenching him down. They tumbled over the back of one of the couches, Stephen twisting so he caught the brunt of the fall, moaning into each other’s mouths as they went.
‘I missed you,’ Tony breathed out, over and over, kissing Stephen again and again, holding him as close as physically possible. Tugging at shirts, Stephen groaned at the first touch of Tony’s hands on his back, kneading at the flesh. Breaking the kiss to mouth over Tony’s jawline, he untucked Tony’s T-shirt, pressing his palm against Tony’s flat stomach and inching his hand up.
‘Wait, wait, stop a second,’ Tony gasped out, scrambling away, leaving Stephen on the couch.
‘What’s the matter, does something hurt?’ Stephen sat up, watching Tony in concern.
‘What? No, I’m fine, we should probably talk first.’
Tony sat on the opposite end of the couch, watching Stephen, tongue running over his lower lip as he thought.
What do I do? How do I ask him to stay?
‘I’m sorry I made you wait,’ Tony offered, stretching out his hand for Stephen to take.
‘Tony, you don’t need to apologise,’ Stephen entwined their fingers.
‘I don’t…I don’t even know where to start,’ Tony squeezed his hand in Stephen’s hold.
‘Have I lost you, Tony?’
There. He said it. The thing that’d been plaguing him, growing like cancer in his chest.
‘No, Stephen, I can see how much you’ve been hurting, how guilty you are. I know how hard you’ve worked to get everything in order, Peter showed me pictures of your redone place. We had a simple argument, granted a huge one, but I don’t want to break up over it.’
Stephen could feel his shoulders shaking, and he went willingly when Tony pulled him down, laying on the couch, their legs tangling.
‘The thing about nearly dying is that it puts things in perspective, and I don’t want to waste my life. I was furious with you, and I’d written us off, but knowing what you did for me in the hospital, seeing how far you’ve come, a gay parent support group honestly…’
‘I thought I’d lost you,’ Stephen pressed closer, eyes burning as Tony cradled his head into his neck.
‘I thought I’d lost you too that night.’ Tony’s thumb caressed the side of his throat, and Stephen could feel lips press against his forehead. ‘It was like being with Steve, all over again. I wasn’t enough for him…and then, I wasn’t enough for you either.’
‘I was trying to make amends by asking you to pick up Peter. I’d rehearsed how I was going to apologise over and over,’ Stephen’s voice shook.
‘Someone pointed out to me how easy it is to be me. I have money, an army of lawyers, if someone says shit to me about being gay then it doesn’t matter. For the everyday man, however, I can imagine it’s a huge deal.’
‘It wasn’t that I wasn’t willing to stand with you. I’m not ashamed of you.’
Not like Steve was.
‘I know, Doc.’
‘Peter was coming home with bruises, and all I could see was that it was my fault, my arrogance, my failings.’
‘I love you, Tony, so fucking much and the idea-’
‘I know, tesoro, I know. You’re my family, you both are.’
They clung to each other, tears mingling, relishing the feel of having the other close once again. Stephen had no idea how long they stayed there, the world around them dissolving and becoming meaningless.
He’d missed this, but he missed their teasing more.
‘JARVIS? What does tesoro mean?’ Stephen laughed as Tony kicked him.
‘It means treasure, but in the context sir is using it, it means treasured one, or sweetheart.’
‘I take it back, I hate you,’ Tony huffed, snuggling closer into Stephen’s hair and yawning.
‘I think my stamina will take a while to return to normal. You eaten? Want a drink or anything?’
‘Can we go to bed?’ Stephen asked gently.
Tony stiffened beneath him, the hand that had been lazily stroking up and down Stephen’s back going still. Leaning up, Stephen reached out, sweeping the hair back from Tony’s temple and pressing a kiss there. ‘Just to sleep. It’s been months since I’ve been close to you. If that’s too much though, I understand.’
‘Come on,’ Tony wriggled out from under Stephen, standing and offering his hand.
‘You sure? It’s still early, you want to watch a film or something first? Or a shower?’
‘No, I had a shower before you came.’ Tony’s voice had lost its confident pitch.
‘Tony? What’s wrong? I’ll go home, it’s okay.’
‘Just… come on.’
Stephen hadn’t been in Tony’s bedroom before. After their blowjobs in the shower weeks ago, they’d ended back up in the living room before Stephen had gone home.
‘JARVIS? Lights at thirty percent.’
Tony’s room was minimalistic, his bed huge, but low to the floor, the covers cream and looking plush and inviting. Apart from two bedside tables either side with chrome lamps, and another huge floor to ceiling window which dominated an entire wall, there was nothing else.
‘What no plasma screen?’ Stephen asked, walking around.
‘JARVIS can project on the wall there,’ Tony pointed to the wall opposite the bed. ‘JARVIS turn off the lights and projection underwater please.’
The room took on a blue hue as shimmering water appeared on the wall, reminding Stephen of an aquarium, or if you were able to stand on the ocean floor and look up at the water above you.
‘Careful sir, or Doctor Strange really will think me no better than Alexa.’
Stephen laughed and damn it felt good. He couldn’t remember the last time he laughed.
Turning to Tony, his laugh trailed off as he watched Tony undo his pants, kicking them off to land in a pile at the foot of the bed. Stephen let his gaze flick over, but not linger, unsure what it was Tony was doing. Hands toyed with the hem of his t-shirt for a moment before Tony exhaled loudly, ripping it off and flinging it on the bed.
Tony didn’t cross his arms over his chest or hide himself, but Stephen could see him chewing the inside of his cheek, his hands clenching into fists. There was a spiderweb of scars stretching out from his breastbone, all in different stages of healing.
‘I’m not quite the same anymore. We were…finding our feet with the physical side of things and I’m not sure if this changes how you feel.’
Moving around the bed in seconds, Stephen gazed down at Tony, grasping his elbows and watching the reflection of rippling water streak across his skin.
‘If anything, Tony, it just shows me how amazing you are.’ He ran his hands up Tony’s arms, fingers trailing over the skin, trying to sooth Tony’s nerves. ‘You’re a fighter, a survivor and the idea that I could have lost you will haunt me, forever.’ Leaning down he pressed their foreheads together, encouraging Tony’s arms to wrap around him.
‘Mmm,’ Tony hummed in agreement, averting his gaze but otherwise not moving.
‘Come on, baby, sit on the bed.’ Stephen coaxed him into a chaste kiss, moving them so Tony was sat on the edge of the bed, and Stephen was kneeling between his legs. ‘Can I?’ he asked, hands on Tony’s stomach. At Tony’s nod, he used his lips to explore the thick rope of scaring on Tony’s chest, carefully brushing them over each indention. The man shivered under the attention, fingers burying themselves in Stephen’s hair.
‘I never thought it possible, Tony Stark, that you could be sexier to me than what you already were.’
‘You’re a pretty liar, Doc,’ Tony laughed, legs beginning to tremble.
‘No. I won’t lie to you, never again. Beauty isn’t in the flawless, the perfection of someone’s body. The marks, the scars life leaves on us, that is were true beauty lies.’ Stephen’s hands trailed up Tony’s side, sweeping over the scars so his thumbs could rub over Tony’s nipples.
There was a part of Stephen that felt the need to prove himself to Tony, to show his partner that he was invested in them, that he was no longer afraid. Another part just wanted to be with Tony, proof that the man was still here, still alive.
‘Hey, what’s wrong?’ Tony asked, a hand coming up to cup the side of Stephen’s face, thumb rubbing over his new goatee. ‘Nothing’s changed, Stephen. I’m still not going to push you into anything you’re not comfortable with, your pace, remember?’
‘No, Tony, not anymore.’ Stephen reached up to kiss Tony, long fingers stroking around Tony’s nipple, until he broke away with a gasp.
‘Christ, Stephen,’ Tony stared straight at him, ‘you sure?’
Stephen silenced his objections with a kiss, knowing that his words said in anger were playing through Tony’s mind.
‘It’s not just fucking with us, Tony. No matter how rough we are, or the things I say in the heat of sex, it’s always been more than that with you. I want you to feel loved,’ Stephen kissed him, slow and lingering. ‘I want you to feel cherished,’ another kiss behind the ear, ‘and adored.’
‘Fucking yes,’ Tony hissed, leaning back against the bed and dragging Stephen down with him for a kiss. ‘Wait, hang on, let me get myself…’ Tony trailed off, trying to reach for the bedside table with Stephen still pressing down on him.
‘Nuh-uh, not tonight,’ Stephen purred, pushing Tony back down. ‘What kind of doctor would I be if I let you strain yourself in any way?’ He nudged Tony’s head to the side with his nose, kissing gently down the side of it, before sucking a bruise into the hollow of neck and shoulder.
Tony caught him off guard with an abrupt, wanton moan, his hips almost dislodging Stephen with a ferocious buck.
‘Your neck sensitive?’ Stephen ran his tongue over the cartilage, grinning as he felt Tony swallow. ‘I’m going to look after you, is that alright?’
Tony made a garbled noise, shifting restlessly on the mattress below Stephen.
‘Please baby, please say yes, let me taste your body and make you come while you just lie back and enjoy it,’ Stephen begged, grinding his erection carefully down into Tony’s making them both swear.
He undressed with Tony’s eager help. ‘I want you screaming my name, Tony, think you’ll be okay with that?’ Stephen whispered against his lips, biting gently at the full bottom one and drawing away, looking at Tony contemplatively.
‘Hush,’ Stephen kissed him again. ‘I know you’re healed, and you feel better, I’m just worried about hurting you. Humour me okay, let me look after you?’
Tony said nothing, nodding once and waiting with his eyes closed.
Deciding, Stephen stretched for the bedside table, pulling the bottle of lube out and dropping it on the bed beside them.
‘I really wanted you to take me tonight,’ Stephen murmured, kneeling with Tony’s legs wrapped around his hips as his fingers stroked over the muscled torso, not avoiding the scars as he worshipped Tony’s chest with his hands.
He smiled as Tony’s eyes snapped open, erection straining against tight boxers.
Holding Tony’s hip with one hand, the other sliding round to press up against his lower back, Stephen stretched down, stroking his tongue across Tony’s navel, dipping it into his bellybutton and then blowing softly over the wetness left, the hairs on Tony’s stomach standing on edge.
Peeling the boxers from him and drizzling lube over his hand, he mouthed at Tony’s erection as a finger stroked between the cleft of Tony’s ass, his aim to drive Tony mad with want. Despite his intentions, Stephen’s teasing touches didn’t last long, the thighs trembling around his waist and Tony writhing on the bed before him fanning the flames of desire.
Placing just the tip of his index finger inside Tony, Stephen canted his hips up further, running the flat of his tongue over Tony’s perineum, moaning himself as Tony thrust his hips down, pleas tumbling from his lips.
‘Is that what you want, baby?’ Stephen whispered against the crease of thigh and groin. ‘You want to feel my tongue opening you up?’
‘Merda,’ Tony hissed.
Stephen thought he understood that one, if Tony’s heels digging into his ass were anything to go by.
Having Tony squirm and buck under the ministrations made all the blood rush to Stephen’s cock, the fog of lust making him feel faint. Tony had surrendered to Stephen, relinquished all control and wasn’t that doing wonders for Stephen’s ego?
Pulling away despite Tony’s cry of outrage, Stephen encouraged the man to turn over, pulling him up onto his hands and knees, grabbing handfuls of that delectable rump and pulling cheeks apart, giving him greater leverage to thrust his tongue inside.
‘Fucking fuck Stephen,’ Tony shouted, back bowing, arms collapsing into the mattress. Stephen’s hands kept his ass in the air. Obscene, filthy sounds came from Stephen’s tongue, his cock excruciating, desperate for some friction.
How had he ever thought this might be degrading? Why had he put it off for so long? He pushed his tongue further and further into the heat of Tony’s hole, his hand that was drenched with lube rubbing over Tony’s balls and cock, the wet sounds only adding to Stephen’s frenzied state. He pulled away to watch two of his fingers slip inside of Tony, wrapping a hand around his own cock and giving it one short stroke, trying to relive some of the pressure.
Tony’s body was like a furnace, gripping his fingers with greedy intention.
‘Fuck Tony you feel so good, tight, hot, it’s incredible.’
Tony was vocal in his pleasure, sweat a sheen on his body, a red flush appearing on his thighs. Over and over, Stephen watched his fingers, stretching Tony, tormenting him.
‘Stephen…not gonna last,’ Tony panted out, words muffled by the covers.
‘I want to be inside you…but I want to watch you come like this, being fucked by my fingers alone. You think you could do that, baby? Come by this alone?’
‘Stephen please,’ Tony whined, knees shifting on the bed. ‘It’s been so long,’ he pleaded, crumbling before Stephen’s eyes.
Settling Tony down on his side, Stephen spooned up behind him, placing a hand under Tony’s knee and moving his leg up and away from his body. His other hand slid beneath Tony’s side and the mattress, crooking at the elbow to hold Tony close, fingers splayed over Tony’s chest, covering the largest scar there.
Tony twisted his upper body, eyes beseeching.
‘You don’t need to ask for a kiss,’ Stephen mumbled against Tony’s lips, swiping his tongue inside and swallowing Tony’s moan as he pushed inside Tony’s body carefully, paying attention to any signs of discomfort. He stilled at Tony’s whimper, starting to pull back out, but Tony’s hand shot out and clutched his hip.
‘I’m fine, it’s just been a while, gimme a sec.’
Stephen remained motionless, only moving to kiss Tony, over and over, tongue persuading Tony’s to stroke alongside his until the man was gasping in his arms, rotating his hips and pushing back impatiently.
‘You feel good,’ Tony moaned, head falling back onto Stephen’s shoulder as Stephen moved in slow, measured thrusts.
‘I love you,’ Stephen whispered, increasing the pressure in his hand on Tony’s chest so the man could feel it there, holding them close, protecting him. He kept his thrusts lazy but deep, keeping his mouth close to Tony’s kissing him, murmuring sweet words.
‘Fuck,’ Tony suddenly choked out, eyes going filmy wet.
‘There? Talk to me, baby,’ Stephen clutched Tony’s knee harder, making sure to hit that spot with every thrust.
‘Stephen…there…please,’ Tony babbled, slamming his hips back, the grip on Stephen’s hip painful enough to draw blood.
‘Like that Tony, fuck yourself on my cock,’ Stephen growled, resting Tony’s leg on his forearm so he could wrap his fingers around Tony’s cock.
This. This was nothing short of magnificent. Tony’s hair was sticking to his head, his eyes were dark and looking up at Stephen with adoration, closing whenever Stephen managed to hit his prostate. Moans and pleas filled the room and Stephen kept trying to catch them with his mouth, slowing his thrusts to prologue Tony’s torment, wanting to hear him beg.
‘Please…tesoro, I’m so close.’
‘God, call me that again,’ Stephen demanded, increasing the strength of his thrusts and the motion of his hand over Tony, determined to see Tony fall apart before him, to see him in the throes of ecstasy.
Tony’s body arched back, body clenching around Stephen as he came, a hoarse shout filling the room, dragging Stephen over the precipice with him, his own cry muffled in Tony’s neck, eyes damp from the sheer intensity.
Stephen felt raw, emotionally vulnerable as he held onto Tony, both shaking as they came down from their high. He could feel Tony’s heart hammering under his palm, their skin sticking together.
‘Are you alright?’ Stephen nuzzled the tender skin behind Tony’s ear and then the shell of it. ‘I didn’t hurt you? Is this uncomfortable?’
‘No…you were…it was…’ Tony lost his words, pressing back into Stephen’s hold.
Pulling out with a groan, Stephen placed Tony carefully back onto the pillow, getting to his feet, ignoring Tony’s laugh as his legs wobbled.
‘The door on your left,’ Tony muttered, as Stephen glanced around the room.
Bringing back a dry towel and a damp one, Stephen cleaned Tony, dropping them on the floor beside the bed when he was done. Tony was sprawled across the covers in a starfish shape, his breathing deep and even. Stephen ran the pads of his fingers over Tony’s stomach and then up over his ribcage on the side he knew the punctured lung once was, before dancing over the scars once more.
‘It really doesn’t bother you?’ Tony’s voice was slurred, on the precipice of sleep.
‘Not in the slightest,’ Stephen promised.
‘Yeah, sweetheart?’ Stephen murmured, settling down beside him, pillowing Tony’s head on his shoulder and bringing the covers around him.
Stephen’s heart seized at the sleepy plea, and he turned on his side, wrapping Tony in his arms tightly.
‘I promise I’m not going anywhere. You, me, Peter, we’re family. Go to sleep, I’m here.’ Stephen carried on whispering assurances until he knew Tony was asleep.
Although he was tired, sleep eluded Stephen, his mind still processing everything that happened, hardly daring to believe Tony was beside him. Tony remained close, limbs twitching intermittently as he slept. Stephen clutched hold of him, an irrational fear growing that if he let Tony go, even if for a second, he’d be gone forever.
I’m not losing you again.
Murmuring in his sleep, Tony burrowed closer, the skin between his eyebrows pinching in pain. Carefully, Stephen reached out and smoothed the skin, wincing as Tony’s hand on his stomach suddenly tightened, hard enough to leave an imprint.
‘Shh, baby, it’s alright,’ Stephen propped himself up in bed so he could stroke his hand over Tony’s arm, trying to lull him back into sleep. ‘JARVIS?’
‘Sir has been struggling with nightmares for the past few weeks.’
It was normal for patients to suffer some form of PTSD after having a traumatic event, and Tony’s accident was right up there. Stephen had studied it at medical school and despite his first instincts to wake Tony up and rescue him from whatever he was reliving in his dreams, it wasn’t for the best. Waking someone from a nightmare could lead to more stress as you tried to calm the sleeper down, and long as Tony wasn’t thrashing about, Stephen would leave him.
He kept his touches light, his voice soft and full of soothing affection, trying to reassure Tony even if the man couldn’t hear him.
After a few minutes, Tony did settle, his grip going lax and his breathing returning to normal.
‘Is he okay?’ JARVIS quietly asked.
Stephen sent a smile up to the ceiling, in awe once again how Tony could have created something that seemed to have a soul of its own.
‘Remaining asleep is the best way to assure he won’t remember it in the morning.’ Stephen watched the shadows across the ceiling with a yawn.
Tony might have regained his physical strength, but Stephen was willing to bet it’d be a while before his emotional strength returned. Tightening his grip, he kissed the skin next to Tony’s eye.
‘I’ll look after you, I promise. We’ll work through it… together.’
‘You can sleep, doctor, I will be monitoring the both of you,’ JARVIS reassured.
‘Thanks.’ Stephen pressed closer, burying his nose in Tony’s hair and breathing deep. ‘Love you, douchebag.’
‘Have you seen Peter’s homework?’ Stephen called to Tony, tripping over Karen or whatever blasted name they’d given that robot they’d made together. He resisted the urge to stamp on it, as he bent down to look underneath one of the couches, cursing under his breath when he couldn’t see any homework. ‘Where did you have it last?’ he asked Peter, who was standing near the door looking sheepish.
‘Stephen, didn’t you leave it at yours?’ Tony asked as he came into the living room, halfway through buttoning up his shirt. ‘JARVIS? any clue?’
‘Going through my recordings I can confirm that it is still at your penthouse, Doctor Strange.’
‘Gang up on me why don’t you?’ Stephen growled, getting up and glaring at Tony.
This was all Tony’s fault.
‘Daddy’s having a bit of a rough morning,’ Tony told Peter, holding out his hand for the kid to take. ‘Come on, Underoos, I’ll take you to school, let Daddy calm down hmm?’
‘Okay, Daddy,’ Peter smiled, waving goodbye at Stephen as they left.
‘Don’t forget Peter’s homework!’ Stephen called at the shut door. ‘Traitors, all of you.’
‘Might I suggest a bath? Sir has already cleared your schedule at Stark Industries for the day and there are no surgeries scheduled.’
‘Sneaky bastard planned this,’ Stephen grumbled. ‘Yes, that sounds wonderful thank you, JARVIS. Could you ring May for me while it runs?’
‘Stephen?’ May’s voice filled the penthouse.
‘Morning May, I wanted to ask if we could move Wednesday to Thursday? Peter’s got a last-minute playdate.’
‘Yeah, that’s no problem. You guys are still coming for dinner at the weekend, right? I’m making Tony’s favourite,’ she tempted, and Stephen could hear the smile in her voice.
‘We’ll be there, have a good day at work.’
‘You too, send my love to Tony and Peter.’
JARVIS hung up the call and Stephen walked gingerly to the bathroom, cursing Tony at every step.
He was going to kill Tony.
Sinking into the hot water, he leant against the side, boneless, content to let the hot water soothe the aches and pains.
‘You know, I might have found a way around these Monday morning panics,’ Tony told him from the doorway.
‘Fuck off I’m not in the mood,’ Stephen scowled.
‘Hey, you alright?’ Tony moved into the room, sitting on the edge of the tub and peering down at Stephen in concern.
‘I hurt,’ Stephen snapped.
‘From…oh. Do you want some painkillers? Tesoro you should have said, we could have stopped,’ Tony looked away, guilt plaguing him.
Stephen reached up and pulled him into the bath, laughing at his outraged shriek.
‘Stephen! What the hell! This is an Armani shirt!’
‘You’ve got like a hundred others,’ Stephen turned him in the obscenely huge bathtub, encouraging him to straddle his lap and bend down to meet in a kiss. ‘I’m fine, apart from a few expected aches I’m fine, I promise.’
Stephen took a second to look at the man above him, wet shirt clinging to his muscles, hair damp and curling, eyes wide in concern. It astounded Stephen, truly astounded him how the love he felt for this man increased each day. They’d been officially together for nearly six months now, and Stephen was constantly reminded just how amazing his boyfriend was.
‘I’m sure, maybe more lube next time, hmm? Come on, what were you going to say?’
‘Oh,’ Tony bit his lip in thought. ‘I was thinking…well I’ve wondered for a while now, but I wanted to make sure everything was settled first, and Peter had adjusted and-’
‘You’re rambling,’ Stephen poked him in the stomach.
‘How would you feel if you guys moved in with me?’ Tony blurted.
‘With you. Here?’ Stephen said.
‘It doesn’t have to be here, I can move into your place if that would be better for Peter, stability and all. Or we can live in Malibu, change of scenery for us all.’
‘I mean Malibu is gorgeous, and there’s more space for a kid to grow up in, but then May and his friends are here, so maybe we could buy a new place together?’
‘Fuck you’re right, what was I thinking? Sorry, like I said, it was just a thought.’
‘I want to.’
A grin stretched across Tony’s face, his eyes wide with excitement.
‘Yeah? And you think Peter?’
‘The kid’s already calling you Daddy, I think it’ll make him happy rather than us bouncing from ours to yours. He’s already got his own room and most of his stuff is here.’
‘But…what about you?’ Tony asked, voice soft.
‘I thought I had just made clear wherever Peter goes, I go. I mean I’ve been stuck on you for quite a while now, and I took your cock last night which must mean I’m pretty-’
He smiled as Tony’s palm covered his mouth.
‘Love you, asshole.’
‘Love you more, douchebag.’
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