“You’ll call at anything, Elliott,” Stephen said with a hint of a smile as he played with a stack of poker chips.
“My stack is bigger than your stack,” replied the dean almost teasingly. “You in or out?”
“Do I sense annoyance,” there was an evident sarcasm playing in his tone now. “Having crappy hole cards would do that to you. Little things annoy us whole lot more if we are unhappy. Then again, may just be your old age-”
There were laughs and eyes shifting amongst the table, few flipped a look at their cards once more. Though it was a friendly game amongst colleges, no one liked losing. After all, the ego of surgeons. Well, four surgeons plus the dean of the hospital. None-the-less, none of them got to where they are without getting a bit competitive down the road.
It was an annual poker night, an event that was organized for hospital staff to mingle and collect donation for charity. Stephen had entertained the thought of skipping the whole affair but he had apparently reached his quota for skipping work events for the year and he needed to “show face once in a while”, or said so the dean.
The doctor couldn’t really blame the man. James Elliott had gone through a lot of trouble to hire Stephen. The “ridiculously generous compensation package”, as Christine had kept calling it, that Elliott had acquired for him must have gotten couple eyebrows from rest of the administrators and the board. But to Stephen’s defense, he was relocating across the country and is one of the best surgeons of the western hemisphere.
“I’m gamed. I think Strange is onto something,” said Nate, the only other neurosurgeon at the table. “Raise.”
Frankly, he wasn’t sure why Elliott was worried. Everyone in the hospital liked him enough… Example being, Nathaniel Rowland. The two neurosurgeons got along fairly well, soon becoming a sort of “work buddies” as people called it.
“By the way, where did you two say you went to?” Nate turned towards the twin brothers at the other far end. Both had been fairly new hires, both general surgeons.
“Harvard,” one of them said.
The other smiled. “Graduated first and second. But we will never tell you which one of us finished where.”
The first one smirked, “Never.”
There was a round of warm laughter amongst the group.
“You?” asked the elder of the twin towards Nate.
“Hopkins,” the blonde replied, throwing couple more chips into the bet. “Top of my class.”
“And you, Doctor Strange?”
Stephen didn’t answer for a moment, still tapping lightly at the chips in front of him. “I didn’t have a perfect SAT score. And frankly, I didn’t go to my own graduation. Too busy spreading my population paste all over the Columbia University… cheerleading squad.”
He turned his icy gaze on each of them, a light smirk playing on his lips. One of the twins side-eyed Elliott, almost scandalized by Stephen’s comment in front of the dean but the administrator just let out a snort, too used to Stephen’s antics, and Nate was already laughing with a palm over his face. The twins instantly relaxed, letting themselves join in.
They simply played cards for another couple minutes. The soft music and chatter of a lively crowd filling their ears. It has been an excellent turnout. The attendance completely filling the large main lobby that had been turned into an all-out professional casino floor. But he supposed that was to be expected since most seemed to have brought plus ones or friends.
“What got you so distracted,” Nate eventually asked the elder twin, who kept staring somewhere off behind them.
“Very attractive brunette by the door. She’s looking at me I think.”
Both Nate and Stephen had enough sense to not turn around just then. They can’t all be staring at once.
The other twin nudged his brother with a smirk. “She’s staring at me, bro.”
Stephen let out a low chuckle before turning slightly to see this woman that got both the twins excited. Though he looked away fairly quickly, leaning back once more his seat, cross-legged.
“No,” he said flatly.
Nate turned his attention to his friend, puzzled. “No…?”
“No, she’s not looking at him. She’s looking at me.”
The twins gave him a faux-shocked expression. “Woah- cocky much?”
“200 bucks you can’t get her number,” blurted out Nate without hesitation.
“300,” Stephen said as he put his cards down on the table.
The blonde surgeon snorted. “500. She’s well above a ten, Strange.”
Stephen just held out a hand, and Nate shook it instantly. Then, Stephen reached into his pocket for his phone, pulling up a number, swiftly throwing it in front of the other doctor.
“The fuck?” Nate said staring.
“I slept with her two days ago,” Stephen said holding out a hand. Nate slowly pulled out his wallet though giving him a look still. “I’ve been meaning to delete it,” he added carelessly as the other surgeon bitterly shoved couple hundred bills into his hand.
The younger of the twin choked on his drink, coughing and trying to laugh at the same time.
The elder leaned forward a bit towards him. “How was she?”
“Nothing worth noting,” he replied in a bored tone.
Nate gave an exasperated laugh, shaking his head a bit.
Elliott rolled his eyes. “And this is why I have a separate fund set aside since I hired you. In case I need to get a lawyer for you or some sexual harrassm-“
It was Stephen’s turn to roll his eyes. “No, you didn’t.”
The dean fixed him a look. “Well, I should.”
Stephen snorted out a laughter before lifting his own drink to his lips.
He stilled for a moment, the half undone tie left forgotten around his neck. The doctor nearly dropped the phone he was holding to his ears. Wondered briefly why he didn’t think to check the caller ID before answering. “Christine?”
Stephen wasn’t sure what to say. He hadn’t spoken to his ex since he had come to the West Coast nearly a year ago… since they had that ugly fight that ended in a breakup. “I… how are you?”
“I’m good… It’s good-”
There was a short pause. The surgeon sunk his free hand into the pockets of his slack, pacing in front of the large window that stared out into the LA skyscrapers.
“I miss you, Stephen.”
“…I uh-“ He swallowed thickly.
“Sorry I don’t mean it like that! I mean… I miss my friend. We were good as friends. I want to go back to that. I don’t want to lose that.”
There was a feeling of relief that slowly crept inside him. A soft smile starting to form on his lips. “I’d like that.”
“So how is LA?”
Stephen leaned against the bar, lazily peering about the enormous hall. There wasn’t much to see, however. The crowds of people almost indistinguishable shadows under the dim lights of the chandeliers.
Laughter and chatter filled every inch of the space. Warm friendly exchanges from men and women who dressed to the nines for the occasions. Many seem to glow under the spotlights. The beads and jewels of the elaborate gowns and expensive tux reflecting light. If he squints, the scene almost looked parallel to the night stars and city lights that can be viewed from the floor-to-ceiling wall behind the bar.
He took another sip of the champagne trying to make out the smooth melody of the live piano at the center stage. Entertaining the thought that he could definitely play better than the professional hired for the occasion.
“Not enjoying yourself?”
The surgeon didn’t even bother to look. “I feel like the dancing monkey.”
“A what?” questioned Elliott, as he polished his glasses. Stephen thought to how that glasses seemed to be getting thicker but he supposed the elder man was getting quite old, pushing well into his late 50s.
“Dancing monkey,” he repeated, gesturing at the thin air. “From Captain America comics. I’m only here because you keep wanting me to show my face at all these events. That’s what I feel like. A dancing monkey.”
Elliott let out a soft chuckle, shaking his head a bit. “Don’t you think considering the amount you demanded for taking the job you could show up to some of these once in a while? It’s good for the hospital for people to know we have the top surgeons in the country working for us.”
The doctor gave the other a sour look but it seemed not to bother the elder.
“You read comic books?” he said easily.
Stephen tilted back the glass, finishing its content in one gulp. “Got into them one summer my mother was too busy to have me come home from boarding school”
Elliott smiled in a way a father might engage his favorite son. “Did you like them?”
“Nope,” the young surgeon said with emphasis. “Thought it was boring. Captain America anyway.”
“What?” exclaimed the other with a faux offense. “My grandkids love Captain America. Everyone likes Captain America.”
He shrugged, pushing the empty glass to the bartender. “His face pisses me off for some reason.”
Elliott let out a short laugh before letting out a sigh, patting the surgeon on the shoulder. “You’re young, Stephen. You’re rich, on the fast track of a great career. People fall to your feet everywhere you go. Doesn’t get any better than this. Enjoy it.”
The surgeon let out a dismissive huff. “I am enjoying it.”
“Then why do you always look so bored?”
He was about to reply when a familiar blonde came up to them in quick strides. “Doctor Elliott, the President wanted me to tell you Tony Stark just arrived.”
“Thank you, Nathaniel,” the dean said politely.
“Tony Stark?” Stephen looked questioningly at the fellow surgeon.
Nate hit him lightly on the shoulder. “Are you living under a rock, Strange? THE Tony Stark. Donates millions to our hospital Tony Stark. Tony Stark the CEO of Stark Industry-”
But all fell deaf in Stephen’s ear as soon as his glacial eyes landed on the entrance way.
There, it was met with a gaze of whiskey brown.
Definite heat was in the stare as it was returned, reflecting the drive, passion, curiosity that never meant to be extinguished… juxtaposed in such contrast to the doe-eyed shape it was encapsulated in. The man lowers his gaze for a mere second; the long lashes kissing the tanned cheeks briefly.
He doesn’t know how from this distance or under such soft light but Stephen was sure he can make out each of the long honey brown lashes… the fine lines that created faint shadows under the glow of the chandelier… the meticulous stitches of the lavish tux.
Stephen doesn’t believe in such things as destiny or fate. Doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of the words “love at first sight”. He shook his head at those who talked of soul mates, ones you are destined to meet, the instant attraction that supposedly made the world stop. The poor deluded individuals grasping at some supernatural ideals concocted by hope and loneliness in the modern world.
But surely, time seemed to slow as he continued to watch this man. The cluttering of fine glass, merriment of voices, beats of the easy tune all turning low in time with his own echoing heartbeat.
He thought of moving his feet. Taking steps closer. But as soon as the doctor registered the intent, there was a tall redhead approached the other man, leaving a kiss on his cheek.
The man turned automatically, an easy smirk appearing on his lips as he wrapped an arm around the woman’s narrow waist.
Stephen’s gaze fell to the floor in haste. The ghost of a smile he didn’t even know he was wearing quickly fading. Disappointment? Was this disappointment? He couldn't recall when was the last time he felt such a thing.
The surgeon turned to his colleague.
“Seriously? I get it, you think half the shit I say is boring but you can at least listen when I’m answering your question-“
“Who’s that?” He asked, ignoring the other doctor’s comment.
Nate rolled his eyes comically. “I JUST told you. Tony Stark.”
Elliott shook his head a bit with a chuckle.
“That’s Tony Stark?” There was a hint of annoyance in Stephen’s tone now. “The arrogant, narcissistic douchebag, we all have to go out of our way to be unreasonably to the books for every time he comes by, Tony Stark?”
Nate was taken aback by the sudden outburst, turning hastily to the dean with a quizzical expression.
Elliott still wore the amused smile as he leaned a little towards Nate. “He’s just throwing a tantrum because he doesn’t get his parking spot every time Stark comes by. You know… all of lot A being closed for security reasons.”
“I’m not throwing a tantrum,” snapped Stephen.
Eventually, the three simply watched as Tony Stark shook hands with various board members. A small group had formed around him, which anyone with half a brain can identify as some of the most affluent people even in this mix. There was soon addition of a beautiful brunette woman on Stark’s other arm, similar to the redhead in height but curvier, with legs that looked miles long in those elegant high heels.
Nate whistled. “He’s starting to seem a lot like you, Strange,” he said with a smirk.
Stephen gave him a glare.
“And here I thought you’ll always be the biggest playboy in the room.” Nate went on to order another drink, taking a large swing at it as soon as the bartender pushed it towards him.
“I can have anyone here if I wanted to, Nathaniel.”
“Want to bet?”
“I always win. It’s boring.”
The blonde seemed to be thinking, the glass still to his lips. After a gulp, there was a smirk. “You’re bi, right?”
“You’re not my type.”
“I’m straight, you asshole.” Nate looked peeved, though there was no real bite to those words. “What I was going to say is… Tony Stark.”
Stephen frowned staring at the blonde surgeon.
“500 bucks. You can’t get him.”
“1,000. I mean- come on, Strange. You’re good but it’s THE Tony Stark. He literally can have anyone here if he wanted to. Wait… does he even swing that way?”
That struck his nerve in a way he couldn't quite explain.
“Honestly…” The two younger turned towards Elliott who surveyed at them with half amusement and half exasperation. “If you pull this off and somehow charm Mr. Stark to being more generous with his donation this year, I’ll personally see to another raise.”
Stephen regarded him with genuine surprise. “Are you serious?”
Elliott just nodded absentmindedly as he went back to his drink. He long since gave up trying to stop his employee’s shenanigans.
Nate gaped at him, exchanging a glance with Stephen.
“Whiskey over rocks. Two.”
“Your date likes it strong?”
Stephen didn’t bother to look towards the voice. A light smirk appearing on his lips. “Colleague.” He said lowering an octave. “I promised the next round. Doctor Stephen Strange.”
“I know who you are.”
“Clearly. You went through the trouble of coming across the room when you were already at that bar.”
“You noticed.” His smirk widened.
"So why are you here?"
The doctor turned towards the other fully now, half still leaning on the bar. "Maybe I wanted to be noticed," he replied in the same smooth tone.
They stood still for minutes, gaze locked, uncertain of what exactly this all was. Well, Stephen certainly knew but he was unsure if Stark did yet. He seemed confused, the evident curiosity dancing in those doe eyes.
The redhead in his arm was starting to get antsy, trying to catch the billionaire’s attention once more, but Tony gave no heed. And Stephen shamelessly still had his eyes fixed on the man, looking him up and down, feeling a bit pleased.
“You’re staring,” the engineer said finally. There was something in the voice that seemed to hint at uneasiness. As if unused to this sort of scrutiny from another man.
Stephen let out a low chuckle, tilting his face slightly to the side in a way he knew the high cheekbones would catch the light. In the corner of his eyes, he saw Tony unconsciously lick his lips.
“I’m thinking about how much better you’d look without the tie,” he said in a soothing baritone.
Tony let out a snort, taking a large gulp of the amber liquid in his glass while shifting his gaze to some distance. “Have a thing against black ties, doc? It’s classic.”
Stephen took a half step closer, noticing how the other’s attention snapped back to him immediately. “A bit dull, don’t you think? Not at all fitting to someone like you. The tux is such modern cut…” His fingers snuck under the knot of the fabric, sharply undoing it in swift pull. Stark, perhaps too taken aback, allows him. “Could have done with something more… fun.”
The surgeon tied a loose bow with the long fabric, making sure his nails grazed the crook of the billionaire’s neck as he did so.
He stepped back, admiring his work. Giving a soft hum of satisfaction before proceeding to hold the other’s gaze just a while longer. Watching as those expressive amber eyes turn darker by the second. There was intensity in that look. Stephen notices flashes of so many emotions in those large brown orbs that seem to seep into his own skin, scratching at something inside the doctor, which he stubbornly ignores.
Stephen eventually reached for the two large rimmed glasses that were set before him.
“Have a good evening, Tony.”
“Struck out, Strange?” Nate said teasingly as he accepted one of the glass Stephen held out to him. “Don’t feel too bad, if I had a woman like that on my arms I wouldn’t be in the mood to be exploring my sexuality-“
Stephen ignores his comments. “Is he still looking in this direction?”
Nate took a glance. “Yes…?”
“Did he leave his tie alone?”
Stephen turned towards the blonde with a smirk. “Oh, he’s interested.”
The blonde looked a bit confused. “Then what? Why are you here...?”
“I just have to sink him in by end of the night, not right this moment.” He set the still full glass down at the bar table. He wants to be completely sharp for the rest of this. Without really meaning to, he found his next fix. A very exciting, intoxicating, utterly delightful fix.
“Rushing things only makes things incredibly mundane. A man like that wants a chase. Wants to feel like he had a choice.”
Nate shook his head with a laugh.
True to his prediction, it was quarter till midnight when Tony seeks him out. Stephen had been sitting at a corner table with Nate and a handful of other doctors. They had been chatting and bantering freely as they usually did when there were no wives and girlfriends over their shoulders.
The billionaire brazenly sat on the free chair right next to Stephen. Didn’t so much as gave anyone else a second glance before fixing his eyes on the surgeon. The two women he came with were nowhere in sight. And the doctor noted the silk black tie still remained in the same bow he left the other with.
Stephen cleared his throat loudly. And with Nate also giving a nudge at the rest of them, they all stood to their feet, hurrying away from the table.
“Leader of the pack, huh?” Tony smirked. “People always do what you want, doc?”
“Always.” He crossed his legs, leaning further back on his seat. Smirking as Tony's gaze seemed to fall to his long frame.
Somewhere in a distance, Nate and a few others were still watching. Elliott also taking few glances towards their direction as he chatted with some board members.
But for once, Stephen doesn’t make note of them. Doesn’t take meticulous notation of his surroundings. This… for some reason… was euphoria. He finds his focus fully here. For once, his mind not racing in million tracks of different thoughts but singling into one. He didn’t need anything else at the moment. Quite intrigued simply counting the sparks in Stark’s intense eyes.
Tony leaned onto the table, a hand twirling the phone absentmindedly. “So… what do you want?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“The word is you have quite a reputation. Half the woman here wants to leave with you tonight.”
“Other half with you.”
“But you are here making a play at me… why?”
“Well, technically you came to me just now.”
Stephen doesn’t answer, just holds the other’s gaze with ease.
“Does that make me special?” There was a hint of sarcasm in Tony’s tone now.
The corners of his lips twitch slightly upward. “Perhaps.”
The engineer looks away for a brief moment as if looking around to see if they were catching an audience. “So what’s next? Your place or mine? I admit I haven’t done this with a guy since college but you’re damn pretty-”
Stephen leaned forward as well, which once again snaps Tony’s attention back to him. “Oh, I’m not that easy, Tony.”
The billionaire stared at him questioningly, seemingly puzzled.
“Seduce me,” he said in a smooth tone. There was a weighted authority in those words, a demand rather than a suggestion. “I know very well of your reputation as well. Give me your best play.”
A silence stretched between them, the air almost thickening as they shared the same breath.
The doctor briefly amused the idea of kissing the man right then and there. Wonders if the playboy would flinch back, undoubtedly not used to a man’s touch becoming intimate. Would those brown eyes overcome with shock? Stephen definitely wanted to see how many emotions he can drag out of the other’s incredibly open gaze. There must be more. One equally satisfying to see as the next.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about you since you came over.”
Stephen smiled, tilting his head slightly. “Oh, I’m sure. Why state the obvious?”
Tony was leaning in even further, the phone carelessly thrown aside. “Because I think you are the type who likes hearing those things for your ego. Sincerity is the best type of drug, isn’t it doc? So scarce and so overpriced there is not an amount in the world that can buy it or fake it.”
“I couldn’t stop looking for you.” He went on with ease. “Kept thinking about that damn blue-green eyes of yours. The ones that either look like its reflection of the glacial Arctic or the horrifying nebula. Your blue eyes had more darkness than any brown eyes I’ve ever seen.”
“Then there is that faint accent. Very enticing… unforgettable paired with that bottomless tone you got. English? My bet is parents emigrated from Britain at a young age. You first tried to get rid of your accent to fit in. You certainly seem like a perfectionist. Then at a point, you realized fitting in is overrated… probably realized the effect it has on people too so you kept it as an arsenal.”
The billionaire made a point to pause for a second. “You walk straight through a crowd. As if everyone should move around you. You speak with certainty and confidence most people never even manage to fake in their lifetime. You command a room when you step into it. People gravitate to you… I bet that’s what you get off on it. The control. Even better when you control something that seems worth ruining. Is that why you approached me? Because you want to see if you can put down someone like me? Someone as high up as me? Did you think you can? Or were you curious if I’ll let you?
They were inches apart now. The arrogant disinterest Tony carried himself with most of the night completely thrown out the window as he stared directly into the doctor’s eyes. “Because the answer is yes.” His voice was just above a whisper, smooth, reverberating. “I. Will. Let. You.”
Stephen didn’t have a chance to retort an answer. The server came around to the table collecting the empty glass, asking if they would like a refill. The doctor takes the chance to let out the deep breath he didn’t know he had been holding.
“None for me,” Stephen heard Tony telling the young waiter. “Heading out.”
“Perhaps the same,” the surgeon replied shortly.
They both waited until they were alone once more.
Tony grabbed his phone, seeming to send a quick text. “So do you want to get out of here?”
Stephen hummed. “I don’t like questions. Lacks conviction. I may enjoy having you under me but I don’t like someone so easy and tame.”
The billionaire seemed to be thinking for a moment. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Too demanding,” the doctor retorted with a faux sigh.
“Confident,” Tony appealed.
There was a pause. The gears turning in the genius’s head.
“I’m turning in for a nightcap,” Tony said finally. “If you care to join me.”
And Stephen smiled.