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2019 Advent Ficlet Challenge

Chapter Text

“What’s going on, Strange?” Christine asked as she looked down at him, sitting on a park bench, on a night when most sane people would be in bed wrapped around - “hell. What did he do this time?”

“Nothing, not anything - no - I don't know.”

She narrowed her eyes at him, then shoved her hands into her pockets, and dropped down next to him. “Then -?”

“After Thanksgiving dinner, after you guys all left?”

“Yeah?”

“I thought he was going to break up with me. He had been working on something he wouldn’t show me for the last few days, and acting, well, just odd -”

“Odder than the usual?” She asked, trying not to smile at him.

“Yeah, odder than the usual. He got all quiet and he took the plate I was washing out of my hand and led me to the table, sat me down and he got down on one knee and proposed to me.”

“Wait a minute. You’re telling me that Tony Stark proposed to you, let’s see, 28, 29, 30 -, today is the first of December and you are finally just telling me, your best friend, today?

“I thought he was joking at first.”

“Shit. Oh, Stephen.”

“I mean, we’ve only been together since September, and he made me a ring, Chrissy.” He reached into his shirt and pulled out a chain with a ring on it. She had never seen anything like it before, it seemed to be two, no, it was three different metals intricately woven together, and all she could do was sigh and shake her head.

“You obviously said yes after you realized he was serious.”

He rolled his eyes at her and nodded. “Yeah, course.”

“So, what’s the problem?”

“I just, I’m afraid. He’s nearly ready to fabricate the armor, and I know, no matter what he says, it’s not that I don’t trust him, I do, I just knows what it means to him to - I already - I don’t know -”

“Tell me what he said when he asked you.”

“What?”

She rolled her eyes at him as she took one of his bare hands between her gloved ones and rubbed it to get some warmth back into it. “You’re an idiot. You’ll get frostbite one of these days. Tell me what he said when he asked you to marry him.”

He closed his eyes and cleared his throat then looked over at her and couldn’t help but grin. “Stephen. I know we haven’t known each other for very long, and I completely understand if you say no, I mean, I hope you will say yes, but, will you marry me?”

“And that’s when you laughed.”

“Yep. And then I saw the chain in his hand, and the ring, and I understood it was real, and I got down on my knees in front of him, and asked him to start over.”

“You asked him to start over.

“Yeah.”

“And?”

“He nodded and opened the clasp on the chain, and slipped it around my neck and closed it again. ‘I made this for you, whether or not you want - I mean, Stephen. I know. I know a lot of stuff, a lot of meaningless facts and equations and stuff, but from the moment I saw you look over at me from self-help, I knew. I know more now, that you are my family, Pete’s and mine, and I want to, I want to make it official, I want you to be my husband, will you marry me?’”

“Damn.”

“Yeah.”

“So, why are you out here, a good ten minute walk from home, when you should be at home in bed with your man?”

“I guess I needed you to remind me that I’m an idiot.”

“You’re an idiot. There. All better?”

“Tell me it’s worth it?”

Christine sighed, then held his face in her hands and asked quietly, “do you love him?”

“Yeah, more than anything.”

“I get that it scares you, the possibility that you could lose him. You do know how lucky the two of you are that you guys survived as long as you did to even meet each other? You escaped your childhood by the skin of your teeth, and you know no one else would have made it out of that cave in Afghanistan but him. All I can tell you is that, as crazy as it sounds to my own ears, you two were meant to be. As ridiculous as it sounds coming from me, of all people, you two were meant to love each other. End of story. Now. Do you want to contemplate your navel any longer and freeze your ass off or can I give you a ride home?”

“Home, please?”

“Good choice.” They both looked up at that moment and saw the first snowflakes of the season glitter against the night sky.

“Love you, Palmer.”

“Yeah, love you too, Strange. C’mon, let’s get you home, hmm?”

Chapter Text

"I'm off to work," Stephen whispered into Tony's hair, "love you."

"Hmmmphh. Love you, too."

"Left you something on the table."

"Table... kay." He sighed as Stephen kissed him lightly, then rolled over and went back to sleep. An hour later, his sleep was interrupted once more, by Peter's muttering over the monitor; he walked into the kitchen, put Peter in his high chair, then sat down at the table to find an envelope with his name on it. "What the - oh, right." He rubbed his eyes then opened it carefully and pulled out the single piece of paper, unfolded it and began to read.

 

December 2 -

Tony,

(Please excuse the penmanship, the first thing one learns in med school is to forget how to write legibly)

Ever since you asked me to marry you, I've been trying to think of what I could give you as an engagement gift. And I came to the conclusion that there was nothing that I could buy that would tell you what it means to me that I wear your ring over my heart every day. It still boggles my mind, the very idea of you, of the three of us. That I have you to come home to every day, you and Peter, that I get to call you my family? Maybe one day I won't have to remind myself that it's real, but I'm not sure if I ever will.

Thing is, when I was a kid, and it was my birthday, or if I saw a shooting star, I wished for you. I always wished there was someone who understood me, and liked me for who I was. Love wasn't even something that ever really crossed my mind, it felt so out of the realm of possibility that anyone could see me as anything but broken and unlovable. But that day, the day when our eyes met for the first time? In that instant, I knew my wish had finally been granted, that I had finally been seen for the first time in my life, even before you spoke to me.

There is nothing logical about love, I don't even know that I really know what it means, what I do know for certain is that my heart, such as it is, and my soul, if I am the owner of one, belong completely to you. I don't know if any of this makes sense to you, it's half past four in the morning, and I've been trying to write this for the last three days.

What I am sure of, is that knowing you, loving you has made me a better human being, and the love you honor me with daily astonishes me. Every single time you walk into a room and catch my eye, I have to remind myself to breathe. I don't even know if poets have the words - I don't think the language exists for what it means when you rest your head on my shoulder, and lay your hand over my heart as you fall asleep after we make love each night. I have rarely been at a loss for words in my life, except when I try to explain what it feels like to love you and be loved by you.

All I know is that I no longer have anything to wish for, you and Peter are my bucket list in its entirety, doll-face.

I love you, so very much, Tony.

- S.

 

"Daaa."

Tony folded the piece of paper and eased it back into the envelope, then placed it on the table and looked at it for a long moment before he glanced over at Peter. "Eggs?"

"Da." Peter bounced happily in his chair, and Tony leaned over to kiss his hair.

"Eggs it is. We are the luckiest guys on the planet, probably the entire universe, you know that, Pete?"

Peter gave him a look then babbled away at him and all Tony could do was laugh and shake his head, as he realized Peter probably understood completely, and he knew that words weren't necessary.

Chapter Text

"Can I help you?" Pepper opened the door to find an attractive, well-dressed woman in her mid forties, but knew from years of experience, a lawyer when she saw one, and immediately her guard went up.

"Excuse me, I'm looking for Stephen Strange? I believe he lives here?"

"May I ask what this is in reference to?"

"Ah, you are his -?"

"I am his representative."

"Should have known, of course."

Pepper narrowed her eyes at the tall, slender brunette in front of her and studied her face closely, all sharp angles, save for the mouth, and the eyes, which at first glance had seemed to be grey had gone a familiar sea-green color, which she had seen -"You're related to Stephen. Sister?"

"Very good, Ms. Potts? Isn't it?"

"Ah, Ms. Jones. I was wondering when you were going to make an appearance." Pepper turned to see Tony walk into the room, with Peter in his arms. "Ms. Potts, could you give Peter his lunch? I'll be fine." Pepper took Peter from his arms and raised an eyebrow at him, telling him in no uncertain terms that he would be sharing whatever the hell was going on with her later. He nodded and watched them make their way to the elevator, and out of earshot, though Jarvis would be recording everything that was said.

"You know who I am," Tony murmured, "and I know who you are, is there something I can help you with? It is a Wednesday, which is an odd day for a lawyer of your obviously busy schedule to go in search of someone -"

Laura Jones shrugged and Tony couldn't help but blink at the transformation as she grinned at him. "Got me. I really wanted to speak to you. I saw the headlines screaming about you and Stev - my brother being married, and I - well. You haven't told him."

"Not my business."

"But you did your research. Of course you would have looked into his background -"

Tony felt himself stand up straighter and he crossed his arms at her, before replying tightly, "I didn't have to, he told me that he had a sister, and that she had left home after high school. Jones was your mother's maiden name, which I'm sure was a better choice for a lawyer than Strange, and common enough that if he ever searched for you, it would be nearly impossible to find you."

"Hell, I'm sorry. Can I start over again?"

Tony relaxed his shoulders and let his arms drop, as he saw a bit of Stephen shine through her eyes. "With me, yes -"

"I came here just to, honestly, I don't know why I -"

"Please come in and sit down, Ms. Jones."

"Laura, please."

Tony nodded and walked her over to the couch and sat in a chair across from her. "You protected him as much as you could as his older sister, but when you finished school, you needed to get out. If you could have, you would have taken him with you, but you were seventeen, and had a scholarship, for a school as far from home as you could possibly get."

She blinked at him and nodded. "Ever since I finished law school, and could afford to - I've known where he was -"

"You're, five years older?"

"Six. I left on his eleventh birthday. It wasn't calculated, really, it just, happened that way. I just had to - I would buy him presents, and forget to send them, and after a while, it was just easier to pretend he didn't exist. God, this was a mistake. I have a meeting I need to get to, I never take a lunch break. You didn't get married yet, did you?"

"No."

"But, you are engaged."

Tony sighed and cleared his throat, "we are."

"What is he like?"

"What is Stephen like?" Laura managed to keep from smiling as she watched Tony's face transform from guarded to soft in seconds. Like most people, she knew of him from the tabloids and had done some background research on him before she had made the decision to postpone a lunch meeting and take the chance to - "He's brilliant, driven, but you already know that much. You should come to -"

"La-La?"

Both Tony and Laura spun towards the voice as Stephen walked into the room. Somehow Jarvis had missed - damn, he had been in the middle of running a diagnostic on him, which was why she had managed to even get to the front door without a warning. Tony froze, for once unsure of what to do next, when Laura got to her feet, and slowly approached him, then stopped short as he strode over to her, and nodded at her. "Long time no see."

Shit. Tony knew that tone, he had gone from the eleven year old boy into full Dr. Strange mode in the blink of an eye, and Tony understood why he had only one friend outside of these walls, and Palmer had known him for years, otherwise - "Saw the headlines, obnoxious aren't they, and not the most flattering photo of me. I forgot my lunch, thought I'd come home and have lunch with you and Peter, I'd ask you to stay, Laura, but," he ran his eyes over her and muttered, "guessing mac and cheese isn't quite what you're used to? I'll be upstairs, I'm starving." He moved purposefully over to Tony and leaned down to kiss him lightly, then headed for the elevator.

"That was milder than I expected," Laura mumbled under her breath. She turned to face Tony as he stood up finally and was about to apologize when she shrugged and shook her head. "He was a sweet kid, always had his nose in a book... sorry. I really do need to go, can you tell him -"

"Come to dinner tomorrow night."

"Mr. Stark."

"Tony. I'm inviting you, he may or may not be here, that's up to him, but I'd like to get to know you, and maybe if you show up tomorrow, he might give you a chance. I can't speak for him, but I know him."

"You've known him -"

"Since September."

Laura blinked at him. "I can't tomorr -" then paused as she studied his face and shrugged again, as she knew terms of some sort were being offered to her. "What time?"

"Eight?"

"I'll be here, thank you -"

"Tony."

"Right, Tony. I'm not sure you really want to do this."

"Do what?"

"Rattle his skeletons, so to speak. I know, you probably know, or think you know, but it's probably better -"

"Easier for you, you mean."

She huffed at him, then rolled her eyes. "Yeah, it would be easier on me too, but there are reasons he is the way he is. Let me guess; he probably has one really good friend at work, who has known him, since med school? More like family than a friend - he only trusts a few people, loves even fewer, you and that little boy, I'm guessing. A lot of that is my fault. We haven't spoken in over twenty-five years, and that was my choice, I didn't give him one -"

"Let him choose this time, Laura, give him and yourself a chance?"

"I'll be here at eight. Thanks, I think." She nodded briskly at him and let herself out the door without a backward glance.

 

"Sunshine?" Tony walked into their darkened bedroom and sat on the bed next to Stephen, who hadn't moved when he walked into the room, though Tony knew he was awake.

"Sorry. I haven't seen her in twenty-eight years, Tony."

"I forgot I was running a diagnostic on Jarvis, otherwise I would have had some warning."

"I just got caught off-guard. I never wanted you to see that side of me. I don't want to be that person here, not with you, or Pepper, or especially Pete. What did she want?"

"I think she wanted to make sure I was good enough for her little brother."

Stephen snorted derisively and rolled towards him. "She made it clear a long time ago that she wanted to forget she ever had a brother."

"Doc."

"No. I can't, Tony."

"If my parents were still alive, I'd want them to know you, at least give them a chance to know Peter."

"It's not the same thing."

"It is. Look. This wasn't the way I wanted to ask you, but, if something were to ever happen to me, I want you to -"

"Tony."

"Stephen. I love and trust Pepper and if I hadn't met you, she'd be the person I'd ask. I should have done it months ago, when I got back from Afghanistan, but I let a lot of things slide back then. I'm asking if you will be his father, legally, if something ever happens to me, I need to know Peter will have a family. I want you - I'm asking you to be his family, Stephen."

"Damn it, Stark. Yes, yes of course, I'd be - yes. Now, will you just get in bed with me, please, before I shatter apart completely?"

Tony slipped off his shoes and climbed in next to him, and carefully pulled Stephen into his arms. He closed his eyes as he felt him tremble against him, then pressed his lips into his hair as he felt the tears begin to dampen his shirt. "I'm here, Sunshine, I'm here."

Chapter Text

“I didn’t expect you to show up tonight, to tell you the truth.”

“To tell you the truth I almost didn’t.”

“Why did you?”

“I don’t know Tony, hell, I don’t even know you, really, but when I, when I saw the headlines, even if they weren’t true, I realized how much I missed you. I hadn’t let myself do that in a long time. I had to - damn. Believe it or not, I am good with words, using them to convince people of whatever I’m trying to convince them of... when Tony invited me to dinner, I could read between the lines, I understood what the invitation was, tonight was the one chance I had, it was a test, and I knew if I failed this one test, that was it -”

“Know what I missed most about you?”

“What?”

“The times when you would sing me to sleep, the really bad nights. You would sit by my bed, wouldn’t even touch me, you understood that was the last thing I wanted, you didn’t turn on the lights, just sat in the dark and sang to me, I could just close my eyes and focus on your voice, and I knew I wasn’t alone.”

“You do know, if I could have taken you with me -”

“Yeah, I know.”

“He loves you.”

“How can you tell?”

“Apart from our conversation yesterday? It’s the light in his eyes when he looks at you. It’s like he glows, how he listens to you when you are speaking, as if no one else exists. You’re -”

Stephen turned and looked at her. “I’m what?”

“I was going to say you’re lucky to have found him, but -”

“Do you have anyone?”

She shook her head. “Not like that. I have one friend, my two in the morning friend, but, I can’t, I’m not as strong as you are, Stevie, you were always -”

“‘it's not a cry that you hear at night
It's not somebody who's seen the light
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah…’”*

He tentatively wrapped his arm around her shoulder, and they both let out the breath they had been holding all night as she leaned against him, and she closed her eyes as he buried his face into her hair and breathed her in for a moment, then whispered, “I just need a little time, La-La, can you give me a little more time? I do know one thing, I want you to be here when we get married on Christmas Eve. I want you to stand up with me, will you do that for me?"

She nodded against his shoulder then pulled away, and cleared her throat, "yeah, I'll be here." She searched in her pocket for a minute and rolled her eyes as he looked over at her. "I left my phone at home. I never do that, I always have it with me, I never turn it off, but I left it at home tonight. I tend to be easily distracted. What time is it anyway?" He pulled out his phone and showed it to her, and a slight grin softened his sharply angled features.

"One in the morning."

"Oh, damn. I'm sorry."

"Don't be."

"I really should go."

"I know."

"Can I, I don't know, call you?"

"Yeah, I'd like that."

She tried to turn away from his gaze, but couldn't. "I am sorry. So very sorry."

"I know, Laura." He brushed the single curl that never stayed put, even when they were kids, back behind her ear, and he wondered how some things never changed. "Thank you for being brave enough to come here yesterday, and tonight, you are stronger than you think. You always were. I always - I always thought you were the strongest person I ever knew."

"Even now?"

"Yeah, even now."

She grinned shyly at him, then got to her feet, and offered him her hand, and bit her lip as he took it and allowed her to help him to stand.

"Night, Laura."

"Night, Stephen." She nodded and walked over to the elevator without a backward glance, and after a few minutes had passed, he made his way over to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a rare drink, then shuddered as he breathed in the scent, put the glass back down, and headed to the bedroom, where he found Tony still awake, waiting for him.

As Tony looked up from his laptop, Stephen could see all the questions plainly in his eyes, but as always, he seemed to know exactly what he needed. He breathed out a sigh of relief as Tony put his laptop aside, climbed out of bed, and without a word undressed him, then taking him by the hand, tucked him into bed, kissing him once as he reached over and turned off the light. As he settled his head on his shoulder, and laid his hand over his chest, as he did every night, he whispered against the darkness, "I'm here, Sunshine, I'm here."

Chapter Text

“I’m sorry.”

Stephen glanced over at him and raised a curious eyebrow at him. “What for?”

“I pushed too hard.”

“Laura.” He closed his eyes and shivered as the wind swirled around them, then reached for Tony’s hand and threaded their fingers together. “I was angry for such a long time, but even then I understood why she had to leave. In the beginning, there were days when I would look for her; not on special occasions, or even the harder days, just days when I hoped she would be there waiting to help with my homework when I got home from school. Eventually I gave up hoping, and spent years actively working to forget about her, until I no longer thought about her, and then there she was sitting on the couch, and for a split second I was eleven again.”

Tony tightened his grip on his hand and waited for him to go on.

“It’s not a question of forgiving her, it’s that I’d learned to survive and then live without her, and now I have to figure out how to trust her again, decide if I want to invite her into my, into our life. She doesn’t know me, but she’s like, I don’t know, she knows a version of me that no one else does, not even Christine, and I’m not sure if she - I’m afraid if I let her in again, and she realizes she doesn’t like me, like who I’ve become -” he shrugged, and his words were lost to the howling winds for a moment.

“Did she call you today?”

“She prefers to text,” Stephen managed to grin, and shook his head. “Ten messages before I left for work this morning, she wants to know what to get Peter for Christmas. I invited her to the wedding last night and she said yes, though Christine will be in charge of those ‘best man duties’, whatever she has planned for us, I’m a bit - what?”

Tony had stopped short and was standing in front of him, and the light in his eyes as he gazed up at him took his breath away, and though he knew better than anyone that it wasn’t possible for his heart to actually flip in his chest, at that moment, he wondered briefly if his might be the first.

“I - it’s you, you and Peter. I watched how she was with you and saw how he took to her, and I realized I had to let go of the bitterness that I didn’t even know I had been holding onto, before I could truly love the two of you in the way I want to, the way you both deserve.” He placed his hands into Tony’s hair and leaned his forehead against his as they took a deep breath together, and he understood that he was finally learning how to truly breathe for the first time in his life.

“Are you really that hungry for Thai?” Tony whispered against his lips.

“No, let’s go -”

“Home.”

Chapter Text

“What do you believe in?” Tony asked quietly.

“Hmm?”

“Do you believe in anything?”

“Like faith, or something?”

“Yeah, like faith, or something.”

Stephen rolled onto his side and looked down at the man next to him, and ran his fingers lightly through his hair. “You'll probably laugh, but when I was a kid, I used to believe in angels.”

“Angels?”

“I don’t know why exactly, but whenever there was snow on a day when I didn’t want to go to school, or those times when you think you’re about to trip, but you catch yourself just in time?”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.”

“I used to think that I had a guardian angel.”

“And now?”

“Now?” He leaned down and kissed Tony lightly, then pulled back just in time to watch his eyes glitter back at him. “Now, I’m convinced I have one, because I found you.”

Chapter Text

Stephen laughed as Tony slowly backed away from the old fireplace, covered head to toe in ashes and soot, and he kissed the tip of his nose as he pulled the remains of what seemed to be a bird’s nest from his hair.

“How long has it been since you’ve been here?”

“Hmm, I can’t actually recall,” Tony answered after a moment. “No. I was twelve. Fishing trip.”

Stephen saw the shadow slip over his eyes, and he laid his hand on his face, “hey.”

“Yeah, I’m okay.”

“Tony.”

“It’s nothing, Sunshine. We can just go find a hotel room, it’s not that long a trip back to the city.”

“No, this place is important to you, you brought me here for a reason.”

Tony nodded. “Thought if you were here -” he paused and looked up into Stephen’s eyes, “the ghosts wouldn’t find me.”

Stephen reached for his hand and threaded their fingers together, “it’s still hours before the sun goes down, I saw a big claw tub in the bathroom, let’s get you cleaned up, and then we’ll see if the fireplace in the bedroom is usable, and if it isn’t, I’m sure we can do something to keep each other warm.”

“Oh, yeah? Have a few ideas about how to do that?”

“Hmmm, just a few…”

Chapter Text

“It’s ready.”

Tony jumped as he felt Stephen’s hand on his shoulder, and he wondered just how long his mind had been elsewhere when he turned to face him.

“The bath?” He reminded him with an easy smile.

“Right.”

Stephen offered him his hand and Tony grabbed onto it tightly, as if it were his only connection to the world outside the memories he had been trapped in. Without a word, Stephen walked him into the bathroom, rustic compared to what they were accustomed to, but he had found candles, and the combination of the soft light and silence felt like the greatest gift anyone had ever given him. He watched as Stephen undressed, then slipped into the tub. After a moment, he followed his example, sighing as he eased into the water, just hot enough to ease his aching muscles, but not scalding, and he closed his eyes as he settled against Stephen’s chest. He let a sigh as Stephen’s arms slowly curved around him, and a trail of kisses began on his shoulder and traveled up his neck, reassuring him, and yet -

“Sorry.”

“Nothing to apologize for.”

“I -”

“You don’t have to. When, if, you are ready to tell me, I’ll be here to listen.”

Tony nodded as he felt himself held up by the water and Stephen, and wondered at the love that surrounded him. As the water began to cool, he sat up and turned to look at him, then placed his hand over the ring on the chain that Stephen hadn’t removed since Tony had put it on for him over a week earlier, and he was once again reminded that he was no longer on his own.

Chapter Text

It was shortly after midnight, when Tony rolled over to face him; neither had been able to fall asleep, the air was too full of the questions that weren’t asked, and the answers that seemed too dark to be shared by a love so young and so far untested.

“When it’s too quiet, I find myself back in the cave, just waking up for the first time, after, after this happened to me,” he tapped at the arc reactor in his chest, and blew out a shaky breath. “I was too afraid to feel the pain yet, and then when it hit, and I figured out what they had done to me - the loss of control was nearly worse than the pain, I was so used to being in control of everything, I just wanted to give up. I believed there was nothing I could do to take back control of my situation, until Yinsen reminded me that I had a family back home -” He closed his eyes and leaned into Stephen’s warmth as he whispered brokenly, “I’m afraid to - if I lose you -”

“Yeah. I know,” the deep voice rumbled into his hair and went silent for a moment before he went on. “I am, too. I’m afraid to get used to this, being with you. I keep thinking one morning I’m going to open my eyes and someone is going to tell me it was all a dream, that it’s ridiculous to believe that I’m actually safe and loved after -” He drew back, then whispered, “look at me, doll-face?” Tony opened his eyes and his jaw dropped as he looked into Stephen’s face, and saw nothing but the gentle, yet fierce compassion and open heart he had been offering him since the first time he had looked into his eyes.

“I am yours. I have never believed I had a place, a home until you - and I know, one day, I will have to - you are meant to do great things, Tony Stark. I know that, more than I know anything, and I have to hope that my love is big enough, strong enough to let you be who you are meant to be.”

Tony blinked into his eyes, then bit his lip, as he knew there was no promise he could make him that would convince him he was wrong. Stephen knew how close he was to getting the armor completed, he knew from the restless days and nights, the aches and pains. It was no longer just something to keep his mind occupied, it had become the only thing besides the love he had for him and Peter that kept him going some days. “If I could stop -”

“I know.”

“There’s just something I need to -” he began then closed his eyes again as Stephen pressed kisses along his jawline and words became meaningless, as he slowly took him apart and soon all he was aware of was Stephen’s fingers and his breath at his ear, and his world dissolved into sensation as Stephen gently removed any last doubts, and when he opened his eyes again, he was there, smiling down at him.

“Sleep. I’ll be here when you wake up.”

“I know.”

Chapter Text

He groaned as he opened his eyes to find Stephen grinning at him. He knew, of course, he knew.

“You aren’t going to do anything festive, are you?”

“Nope.”

“You and Pepper haven’t planned a ridiculous surprise party?”

“Nuh-uh.”

“So, we are just going to -”

“Do whatever you want.”

“Even if I just want to stay in bed all day?”

“Especially that.”

“When was the last time I told you I loved you?”

“About three hours ago, I think?”

Tony grinned up at him and whispered, “I can already tell this is going to be my best birthday ever.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Uhmhmm. Because it’s my first since I met you.”

Stephen rolled his eyes at him, then leaned down closer and laid a hand on his face as he murmured, “I, for one, am so very glad you were born, Tony Stark. Happy Birthday, doll-face.”

Chapter Text

He wasn’t a religious man, not even especially spiritual, but once a year, he would light a candle. The candle itself didn’t matter, but the candle holder did. He didn’t know anything about it, where it had come from, who had made it. The faded angel with the bird in her hands. It was the one thing that had belonged to his mother that he felt had been part of her, and through the years since her death, he had managed to light a candle for her. Until tonight, there had been no one there to ask about it, about his one act of, what was it exactly, forgiveness? Absolution? Even contrition, perhaps? He still wasn’t sure all these years later.

He had no answer to give him, and as he watched the flame flicker to life, and felt Tony’s strong arms wrap around him, he realized there didn’t have to be one. Sometimes silence was enough of an answer.

Chapter Text

“It’s beginning to snow,” Tony whispered as he pressed his cold nose between Stephen’s shoulder blades, and draped his arm over his hip. He wondered for a moment that he didn’t ask where he had been, then rolled his eyes at himself as it was obvious, they were still at the cabin, there weren’t many places he could have been.

“I just needed to go for a walk. I had forgotten how pretty it is here, especially when the sun rises. I was sitting on the porch, and then I saw smoke from a chimney coming from a house across the lake and I realized I was cold, and I missed you.”

Stephen rolled in his arms and Tony blinked at the amusement in his eyes. “Missed me.”

“Hmm. I turned and expected you to be sitting behind me.”

“Getting predictable am I?” Stephen grinned at him and slipped his fingers under his shirt then growled at him as he could feel how truly cold he was. “Tony.”

“I just - I needed time to process.”

“Process.”

“I’m saying too much.”

“No, tell me what’s going on. I hope you know you can say anything to me, anything within reason, of course.”

Tony searched his face for a long moment, then sat up and pulled his shirt over his head and let it fall from his fingers, then settled back against Stephen’s shoulder and closed his eyes as Stephen’s hand found his and pressed it to his lips.

“This is easy, us, I mean. And I’ve never found people, or relationships to be easy for me, they’ve always been work, but I don’t have to put on act for you, you let me be who I am, even on those days when I’m not sure I know who that is. You seem to know how to find me, that part of me no one else knows. The better part, and I’m not sure -.”

He sighed as Stephen kissed his palm, the inside of his wrist, then slowly worked his way down his arm, brushing his lips over the ancient scars and those recently acquired. As he paused and threaded their fingers together, he cleared his throat and began.“Loving you is the easiest and best thing I’ve ever done in my life, it’s not something I question any more, it just is, it’s a fact. And yeah, at first, it scared me, even more than the first time I walked into an OR and knew someone’s life was in my hands. It scared me because it meant that I was beginning to trust you, and trust my own feelings, and I had to decide if it was worth it, if you were worth it, and you are. I can’t explain it any other way than that. And I realize now, it seems a bit, well, less romantic than I intended -”

“I don’t mind,” Tony muttered into his shoulder, then brought their joined hands to his lips, and whispered, “I don’t mind at all.”

Chapter Text

"Hey, how was your vacat -" Christine sighed as she saw the look in Stephen's eyes, then pushed him into the nearest on-call room and locked the door, then turned around and crossed her arms at him. "What's going on?"

"Nothing. It was good. He's great, everything's perfect."

"Good, great, perfect... soooo?"

"It's December."

"Yeah, I know, and?"

"He knows, enough. He's been, I don't have to tell him, he just gets it, all of it, and I don't want to spoil it, us."

"Bah-humbug?"

"Yeah. And I don't want to be that anymore, not to him, not to them. I want it to be different for Peter than it was for me."

She smiled up at him and thought for a moment, "okay, here's a plan. After work, you and I will brave the elements and all the people and go Christmas shopping, and you can tell me all about your vacation while we buy lots of stuff that no one has ever needed."

Stephen grinned down at her and kissed her cheek. "I have missed you, Palmer."

"Yeah, I've missed you, too, Strange."

 

Going shopping after work with Palmer. Love you. xox

Tony stared at the message and sighed as he sent a reply, then turned off his phone.

"What is it?" Pepper asked as she looked away from her laptop.

"He's going out with Palmer after work. Shopping."

"You aren't jealous of her."

"No, of course not."

"Tony."

"I'm not."

"They're friends."

"I know."

"Then what?"

"I just don't want him thinking he has to -"

"It's Christmas, and you of all people, know how hard this time of year can be, I would guess he's dealing with a lot, his life has been turned upside down the last few months, and maybe he just needs to talk things out with her, get a bit of perspective."

"I guess."

"And I'm also thinking he might need a bit of help picking out a present for you, I mean what do you get for a billionaire for Christmas?"

"See, I don't want -" He growled as he paced around the room for a moment, then finally dropped into the chair in front of her desk.

"Tony. It's only reasonable that he would want to get you something, for your first Christmas together."

"But -"

Pepper rolled her eyes at him, then got to her feet and walked over to him, blocking him from striding around the room again. "You have no idea what to get him."

"Not a clue."

"Bah-humbug, hmm?"

"Yeah, maybe just a bit."

"Come on, let's take Pete to the Mall -"

"The Mall?"

"Get a picture with Santa...?"

"Pep."

"Come on, it will be fun."

"Fun."

"Come on, Ebeneezer."

He sighed as she raised an eyebrow at him, and he knew he had already lost.

"Ten minutes, Mr. Stark."

"Yes, Ms. Potts."

Chapter Text

“Tony?” Christine looked up in surprise, then up at the clock on the wall in her office. “Stephen just started a procedure, it will take…” Her voice trailed off as she saw the look in his eyes. “It’s time for my lunch break - but you knew that, come on, let me buy you some terrible coffee.”

“Actually, can I buy you some lunch?”

She studied his face for a moment, then nodded, as she shrugged out of her lab coat and grabbed her winter coat from the hook on the back of her office door, then turned off the light and followed him out the door.

“What’s going on, Tony?” She asked as they walked out of the hospital.

“It’s nothing serious, I mean, nothing’s wrong… Chinese okay?”

“Sure. There’s a good one down the block. You say there’s nothing wrong, but I’ve never seen you show up here except to pick up Stephen, and you knew he’d be doing a procedure, and you knew it was the usual time when I took off for lunch. Spill it, Stark.”

Tony stopped short and leaned against the wall. “Got me. Yeah. I wanted to talk to you. I know he’s told you that we’re engaged, and it occurred to me this morning, I don’t know, it might seem too fast, and I mean, I know he has a sister -”

“You know about Laura?”

“Oh, yeah, she saw some headline about us being married, and showed up at our house -”

“Ah. That explains… never mind.”

“I know that you are really the closest thing, he considers you family, and it might seem a bit, I don’t know, old-fashioned, but -”

Christine’s breath caught, then she shook her head at him in disbelief. “You’re not seriously asking me for my blessing, are you, Stark?”

He bit his lip and nodded, then whispered, “it would mean a lot, it’s not like I would not marry him if you didn’t approve, because nothing is going to stop me from marrying him, but I know how much you mean to him, and -”

“Yeah, Tony. You have my blessing for what it’s worth. I know how he feels about you, and I know, it’s obvious how much you - he’s become, well, I’ve always known if he found the right person - you are the right person, Tony. But, I swear - if you hurt him…” The warning died on her lips as he smiled at her and kissed her forehead.

“I promise, Christine. Now, can I buy you that lunch?”

“Yeah, I’m starving.” She laughed as he grabbed her hand lightly and squeezed it, then let it go, and linked their arms together as they started walking towards the restaurant, and she gave a brief thought to how mismatched and yet how perfectly matched he and Stephen were, and wondered if the world was ready for the two of them.

“Probably not,” Tony admitted and she realized she had mumbled her thought aloud, and covered her mouth with her hand. “Don’t worry, I ask myself that same question every day, and I’ve come to the realization that the would could use a little more of whatever it is that we are.”

“Completely…”

“Insane?”

“Perfect.”

“Thank you, Palmer.”

“No, Stark.” She stopped and turned to face him and looked into his dark, smiling eyes, and mumbled, “thank you, for seeing him and loving him like he deserves to be.”

“It’s my privilege, Christine.”

Chapter Text

Pepper stopped short as she turned on the light to find Stephen standing at the window, then quickly turned it off again. “Sorry, didn’t know anyone else was up. Couldn’t sleep.”

“No, it’s fine.”

“Tony?”

“Working. He waits until I fall asleep, and then he goes downstairs. He thinks I don’t know.”

“He’s getting close.”

Stephen nodded as he continued to look out over the city below. “I think he’ll wait until after Christmas to try it out, but not much longer than that.”

“You know -” Pepper touched his shoulder lightly and he turned to face her.

“Yeah, Pepper, I know. It’s something he needs to do, and I, well, you’ve known him longer than I have, and I imagine once he has his mind set on something -”

“It’s nearly impossible to change it.” Stephen smiled carefully at her as he could tell she wasn’t finished. “He’s also got his heart set on you, and he won’t do anything that would jeopardize what he has, what the two of you have.”

“I know.” He looked out the window once again and whispered, “It’s beautiful, isn’t it? From here, it all looks so peaceful and quiet.”

She nodded at him, and after a few minutes, he reached out and draped his arm around her shoulder as she closed her eyes and leaned against him. “The calm before the storm?”

“Maybe so, hopefully it will last just a little longer.”

“I hope you’re right.”

“Yeah, I hope so too.”

“Night, Stephen.”

“Pepper.”

“I am happy for him, you know, I wasn’t sure he’d ever - but I’m so glad I was wrong.”

“Thank you.”

“What for?”

“For being here for him, I know, without you, we wouldn’t have been possible. So, thank you.”

Pepper smiled at him, then kissed his cheek and left him to study the cityscape below on his own once more, until the sky began to brighten, and he felt Tony’s hand slip into his. After a moment, he lifted their joined hands to his lips, then without a word, Stephen led him back to bed.

Chapter Text

“Tony.”

“Christine?”

“I have to make this short, we’re in lock down, there was a bomb threat sent to the hospital, Stephen’s in the middle of a procedure, otherwise he’d be the one calling you, I’m not sure when he’ll be home, I just didn’t want you to worry if he gets home late, our phones aren’t going to work - I know he’d tell you - well, he’ll tell you when he gets home.”

“Tell him -”

“I will. Please try not to -”

Tony sighed as the call ended in a “the customer you have reached is no longer available,” message, and dropped his phone into his pocket.

“Tony?”

“Bomb threat at the hospital. Christine just called…”

“Stephen?”

“Doing a procedure.”

“I’m sure he’ll be fine, Tony.”

“Yeah.”

“Tony.” As Pepper got up from her desk and moved towards him, she was reminded of the moment he knew Annie had died, before she even said the actual words, he had known from the look in her eyes. No. “Tony. He’s fine. He’s working. He’ll be home.”

“Right. I’m sure you’re right, Pep. I - I’m going to go check on Pete.”

“He’s having a nap. Tony. Look at me.”

“Pepper. I need to do something.”

“When Peter wakes up, let’s go get a tree.”

“Not what I meant.”

“I know what you meant. You can’t -”

“I knew -”

“It’s not because of you.”

He turned away and began to walk out of the room.“You don’t know that. I need to work.”

“Tony.”

He stopped and turned to look at her and offered her a smirk. “I won’t do anything crazy, Pep. I promised him. I just need to do something, I’m not good at waiting for bad news. When Pete wakes up, we’ll go get that tree. I’m turning off my phone, if you hear anything -”

“I’ll let you know.” Pepper shook her head as she watched him leave her office, then she turned on her television, and groaned as she saw an image of the hospital where Stephen worked on the screen, and she quickly turned it off again. Stephen would be fine. He had to be fine. She yawned as she turned on her computer again, and tried to focus on the numbers, but they began to blur together, and before she fell asleep at her desk, she got up and flopped onto her couch, and for once, took a nap.

She woke up to Tony talking to Peter, over the monitor. “Heya, little man. Let’s get you changed, and then we’ll go get a Christmas tree, a nice big one, a surprise for Doc when he gets home. We’ll need to buy some ornaments, last year we didn’t have a tree, remember? It’s gonna be different this year, I promise, Pete.”

Pepper yawned as she ran her fingers through her hair, then heard her phone vibrate on her desk. She got up and caught it before it went to voice mail. “Stephen?”

“Pepper. I’m fine. I tried Tony first, guessing he turned his phone off. I’ll be home in a couple of hours. Will you tell him -”

“You can tell him yourself, just a second.” She walked to the nursery and handed Tony her phone, then picked Pete up from the changing table and carried him out of the room.

“Sunshine?”

“Hey. I love you.”

“Love you, too.”

“I’ll be home at the regular time. Sorry for worrying you.”

“Wasn’t worried. I knew you’d be fine.”

“See you soon.”

“Love you.”

“Yeah, love you too.”

Tony breathed out a sigh of relief and turned to see Pepper watching him. “He’s fine.”

“I know.”

“Come on, let’s go get that tree, hmm?”

Chapter Text

Stephen walked out of the elevator and breathed in deeply. The scent of pine nearly overwhelmed him as he walked into the room to find Tony asleep in a chair next to the tallest Christmas tree he had ever seen in his life. Not that he’d seen that many, but he stared at it in wonder then looked down at Tony, and was struck again by the intensity of the love he had for him. He moved to stand in front of the chair, then dropped to his knees and waited for him to wake up.

“Doc.”

“Hey.”

“Like our tree?”

“It’s beautiful.”

“Not too much?” Tony asked quietly.

Stephen shook his head and whispered, “no, it’s perfect, just like you.”

Tony snorted, “I’m not.”

“You are, you’re perfect for me.”

“I was, worried, today.”

“I know.”

“I was afraid, and I couldn’t do anything, I know those things are usually false alarms, but -”

“It was. I didn’t even know about it until I finished the procedure, it was all over by then, but I couldn’t get through to you -”

“I -”

“It’s okay. We’re okay.”

“Yeah,” Tony reached down to touch Stephen’s cheek, then nodded at him, “we’re okay. I wanted to decorate it before you got home, have it finished, but it took so long to find it -”

“Tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Bed?”

“Please.”

Chapter Text

Tony waited nervously as Stephen plugged in the lights; he couldn’t remember the last time he had been so excited about something so childish. But he sighed as the tree sprang to life, then grinned over at Stephen, who had been watching him watch the tree. “It’s silly that it matters.”

Stephen shook his head at him as he walked to stand in front of him and said quietly, “no, it’s not silly.”

“Are you sure the rainbow lights aren’t too much?”

“No, they’re just right. White lights are more elegant, but this tree wasn’t meant to be elegant, it was meant to be happy, I think.”

Tony studied the face he was beginning to know so well, and for the first time saw the deep dark circles under Stephen’s eyes, and realized he was completely exhausted. The last few days had been long ones, and the nightmares had returned with a vengeance early this morning. He had offered to sleep in one of the guest rooms, but Stephen had given him the look. Already, they had a way of communicating without words. He didn’t understand, but he didn’t try to, it wasn’t a mystery he wanted or needed to solve. It was only five in the afternoon, but he took Stephen’s hand and brought it to his lips, then looked up at him again.

“I’m fine.”

Tony raised an eyebrow at him and Stephen could only roll his eyes, then nod at him, and follow him to their bedroom.

“Tony.”

“Close your eyes.”

“You’ll stay.”

“Yeah, of course I’ll stay.”

“But your work -”

“It can wait.”

“You know -”

“I love you, too, Sunshine.” He placed his hand over Stephen’s chest and breathed out a sigh of relief as his fingers settled over his. He had wanted to stay awake, to make sure Stephen slept, but as always, Stephen pulled him against his shoulder and humming one of the songs he played on those days when he had a chance to play, his fingers threaded through his hair and he found himself drifting off to sleep.

Chapter Text

“Tony.”

“No. Not again.”

“It’s okay.”

“It’s not. I should be over it by now. It’s been almost a year and a half since I've been home. I can’t keep -”

“Breathe, Stark.”

“I’m sorry.” Tony rolled away and moved to the edge of the bed.

"There isn’t a time limit on trauma, even for as someone as strong as you are, it isn’t weakness, doll-face. You are here because you survived. You found a way to escape, to make it back home. You did that.”

Stephen slipped behind him and wrapped his arms and legs around him as Tony continued to tremble. “You are so incredibly strong, Tony. And you are the man I love. Will always love.”

“How?”

“What do you mean how?

“How can you love someone who can’t sleep through the night? Peter sleeps better than I do.”

“I love you, well, because, honestly? I don’t make sense with anyone else. Separately, we’re a mess. Together, though, together, we can do anything.”

“You really believe that.”

“Yeah, doll-face, I really, truly believe that. Now, do you want some cocoa, or -”

“Or?”

Stephen’s kisses began between his shoulder blades and worked upwards into his hairline, and he felt Tony shiver in his arms again, though this time, he knew he shivered not because of the nightmare, but from want. “Doc.”

“No cocoa?”

“No…”

Chapter Text

Stephen walked into the workshop and waited for Tony to settle back to the floor again, and shut off the controls of what Stephen had dubbed the rocket boots. Still tweaking - but he knew it wouldn’t be long before - he bit his lip as he watched him step out of the boots and slowly made his way over to him.

“Hey. It’s early, are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Do you have time to sit for a minute?”

“Sure.” Tony sat in his chair and studied Stephen’s face for a long moment. “Doc?”

“You know I went out with Christine to do Christmas shopping after we got back from the lake.”

“Yeah.”

“I just couldn’t find anything that seemed right for you, but as I was walking home just now -” he put his hand in his pocket and pulled out his key ring, and took off a key that had seen better days, then dropped his key ring back into his pocket and cleared his throat before he began. “This key. I don’t know what it goes to, never have. I found it when I was a kid. It had been a bad day, but when I went out walking that night, as I was kicking the ground, I heard a clink, and it was this key. I picked it up and shoved it in my pocket, and as I held onto it, instead of being angry and miserable, on my way home, I started writing stories about what it could open. Like a pirate’s treasure chest, the gate to some magical place - on the other side - you know… I was eight. I’ve been carrying this with me for over thirty years now. I had been trying to find something that could tell you, something that meant something to me, that I could give to you.” Stephen reached for Tony’s hand and placed the key in his palm and wrapped Tony’s fingers around it, then brought his hand to his mouth and brushed a kiss over his knuckles, then whispered, “for as long as I can remember, I’ve written stories in my head of places to escape to, and this key was always my way of escaping. I don’t have to escape any more.”

He didn’t have to ask Tony if he understood, he knew he did from the way he reached out with his other hand to wipe the tears away from his face, then nodded as he got up from his chair and pulled out the key ring from his own pocket, and added the key to the ring before dropping his keys back in his pocket. After a moment, he offered him a shy smile as he shoved his hand into his left hand pocket and pulled out an ancient Allen wrench. “This is the first tool I was ever given. Jarvis. The real Jarvis, gave this to me, on my fourth birthday. Since then, I’ve lost nearly everything except for this.” He took Stephen’s hand in his and placed the tool in his hand and whispered, “I know it’s safe with you, like I know my heart is.”

“Merry Christmas, Tony.”

“Merry Christmas, Stephen.”

“I’ll let you go back to work, I was thinking about ordering some -” Stephen began and turned towards the door.

“Stephen?”

He turned at the softness in his voice and whispered, “yeah?”

“Wait. I mean. It’s early, and I - let’s get Pete and go see the big Christmas tree? Maybe get some pizza?” He let out a sigh of relief as a smile brightened Stephen’s face, then he reached for Tony’s hand, and began to walk them out of the workshop.

“Night, sirs.”

“Night. Jarvis. See you in the morning.”

Chapter Text

Stephen had lifted Peter out of the carrier and was pointing up at the star on the top of the tree, when the lights flickered on, then brightened against the darkness. Tony couldn’t help but laugh at the look of complete astonishment in his son’s eyes, but then something in him cracked wide open as Peter turned just enough in Stephen’s arms to place his small hands on his face as if to thank him for the magic, before he tucked himself against his shoulder and closed his eyes.

Once he could breathe again, he looked down to see Stephen’s fingers had entwined with his, then glanced up as he felt the first snowflakes fall.

“Ready to go home?” Stephen whispered.

“Yeah, in a minute. Just one more minute.”

Chapter Text

“Hmmmphhh?” Tony yawned and blinked to find Stephen holding him tightly in his arms. “Wha-?”

“Nothing.”

Something in the tone of his voice made Tony sit up, then cradle Stephen’s face in his hands and study him until Stephen had to look away. “It’s just -”

“Just?”

Stephen glanced back at him and shook his head. “There are mornings when I wake up and I'm amazed to find you sleeping next to me.” He shrugged then grinned shyly at him. “And I know it’s - it is a bit of a miracle, really, even though I don’t believe in that kind of thing, but you are a miracle, my miracle, and there are times when I don’t know if you understand how important you are to me.”

Tony sighed as he straddled Stephen’s legs, and heard his breath catch. “I do. I know -” He closed his eyes as Stephen’s fingers were in his hair and he shivered as gentle kisses trailed along his collarbone. “Stephen… until that day in the bookshop. I didn’t think I’d ever - I -”

Stephen leaned back and Tony opened his eyes to find him smiling at him, and he lost track of what he was trying to say. “You - I - damn. You are my miracle, too, Stephen, I thought I had used them all up - and yet, here we are.”

“Here we are.” He reached out and wiped away the single tear that slipped down Tony’s cheek, then whispered, “sorry for waking you up.”

“You can wake me up anytime you want.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Chapter Text

“Hey. You okay?”

Stephen nodded, then turned to face Christine. “Can’t seem to tie this right -”

She smiled gently at him, and untied it, then re-tied the bowtie for him, then took him by the hands and squeezed them gently. “You’re trembling, it’s just us and Tony. What is it? Cold feet?”

He started and replied with a sharp, “no,” then bit his lip as he shook his head at her. “Sorry. No, I’ve never been more certain of anything, than I am about him, about doing this. Sorry. It’s just -”

“Sentiment?”

He nodded at her and whispered, “it’s why I thought I was so good at my job, that I never - before I met him, I just did the job, I didn’t want to care - I didn’t want to know the patients before I worked on them, even if I did my job perfectly, there was no guarantee they’d make it. He’s made me think about what I do, how I do it - and I’m better - he’s made me a better person, Chrissy, just by loving me, and I - I’m not sure…”

“You deserve to be happy, Stephen. Everyone deserves to be happy, but especially you…”

 

“Pepper!”

“You bellowed?”

“I can’t -”

“Tony. Look at me.”

“Pep…”

“Turn around and look at me, Stark.”

He turned and stared at her, and tried to catch his breath.

“Tony, you have to breathe.”

“Pepper…”

“Hey, look at me, shh, it’s okay.”

He shook his head and she took him gently by the arm and sat him on the chair then knelt in front of him. “Breathe for me, Tony. What’s going on? Cold feet?”

He shook his head again, and tried to take a breath. “Uh-uh.”

She watched him for a moment, then laid her hands on his knees. “He loves you. I’ve never seen anyone love anyone more than he loves you. Breathe, sweet. There, there you are. What are you afraid of?”

“I’m not -”

“Tony. It’s me. I know you. You get that little worried crinkly thing -”

“It’s just, what if…”

“What if?”

“I’m too, hell.” He was about to run his fingers through his hair when he remembered he’d actually bothered to do something with it for once five minutes earlier. “What if - what if he changes his mind, decides one day that I’m too much, too broken, too -”

“He’s never said anything, has he?”

“Nooo… it’s just-”

“That first night, when I sat in the kitchen with him? You remember. I know you do. I sat there with him, and looked into his eyes - you know me, I tend to, I don’t know, have like a sixth or seventh sense about people, and I just knew, I knew, Tony, that he loved you, and he’d only known you a few hours really? He wasn’t scared, he was certain, already, certain of you. And I know it’s only been a few months, but, this is good, this just feels right, and I know it feels right for you. I’ve never seen you this happy in your life. I know. God, I know you must be -”

“I’m terrified, Pep. If something happens to him -”

“Tony.”

“You can’t tell me -”

“I know, there are no guarantees, but would you have given up the time you had with Annie if you had known what would happen?”

“Of course not.”

“Then -”

“I’m being an idiot.”

Pepper grinned, then got to her feet and kissed his forehead, smirking as she wiped the lipstick away. “I’m going to get him for you.”

“Thank you, Ms. Potts.”

“Anytime, Mr. Stark.”

 

“Hey.”

Tony blinked up at Stephen and let out a low whistle. “Whoa.”

“Lookin’ pretty sharp yourself, doll-face.”

“Last chance to run.”

Stephen rolled his eyes at him, then took him by the hands and squeezed them lightly. “You know.”

“Yeah, Sunshine. I know.”

“Good. Let’s do this, hmm?”

“Doc.”

“Yeah.”

“Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

Chapter Text

Stephen leaned against the doorway, and watched as Christine was holding Peter in her arms; his sister, his sister, he still couldn’t believe she was here, was arguing with Pepper about something though she would call it ‘discussing an issue’, and Tony was grinning at him from across the room. As much as he wanted to pull him into his arms and take him to bed, he was content to wait for him to make his way over to him. He honestly couldn’t remember ever feeling so at peace with everything.

Christmas had always been sheer torture for him as a child, and once he had left home, he made sure he was working or studying, it had never meant anything to him, until today.

A few hours earlier, he had stood up in front of a room full of their friends and their family, chosen and otherwise, and had claimed the man who couldn’t keep his eyes off of him, and had been fully claimed in return. Not in a way that he could truly explain, all he knew was that for the first time in his life, he knew -

“Thank you for inviting me, Stevie,” his sister whispered, then wrapped her arms around him. “He’s really great, and Peter. I’m so proud of you. Sorry, that sounds -”

“No, it’s okay, thanks, Laura, I know what you meant.”

“I gotta go, looks like snow, again, and I have a case in a couple of days I have to prep for, I - will you call me?”

“Yeah, La-la, I’ll call you.”

Christine glanced up at him, then stood up and handed Peter over to Pepper who carried him to bed, then made a sign for him to call her and he nodded at her, and watched as Tony helped her into her coat, then whispered something to her and couldn’t help but smile as she laughed then kissed Tony’s cheek and shot him a wink, before she walked over to the elevator.

 

“Hey.”

“Hey, yourself.”

“You’ve been quiet tonight.”

“I’ve never felt like I truly belonged anywhere before, I’m kind of waiting to wake up, these last few months, today. You, you have given me, everything; everything I never thought, I never even dreamed of having, because I didn’t think I’d ever - what?”

“You.”

“Me?”

Tony nodded, then pulled his head closer and brushed a whisper of a kiss against his lips, then stilled before he asked, “hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“We’re alone, finally.”

“Hmmmm… seems like it.” Stephen rumbled against his forehead and sighed as his strong mechanic’s fingers pulled his shirt from his pants and slipped under and upwards until they rested over his chest and neither of them could breathe for a moment, then he was pushing Tony backwards until they tumbled onto the couch. “God, I want - Tony -”

“You have me, Stephen, every single bit of me, I swear -”

There were no more words spoken, no more vows made, as clothes were easily dispatched and Tony was straddling his thighs, and even in the dim light of the room, he could see his brown eyes sparkle at him, and all he wanted - all he needed - was - his eyes rolled up into his head as Tony took his sweet time kissing his neck, then slowly worked down to one nipple, then the other, and as he arched his back, one hand grasped him gently, and he swore under his breath, as Tony touched him in the way that made everything slow down, as if he had control of time and - his lips were on his and he let out a gasp then whispered out Tony’s name, not in prayer - he didn’t believe in anything except the man who whispered into his ear, “let go, Sunshine, I have you. I have you, I won’t let you go -”

He pulled Tony tightly against him and shivered as he kissed him through the aftershocks, then settled against him. As he pressed a kiss into his hair, he mumbled, “I love you, husband.”

“Husband,” Tony repeated in a hushed voice. “We did it, didn’t we? You actually married me.”

“Uhmhmmm… seems I did. And you married me.”

“Guess we’re stuck with each other then.”

“Seems so.”

“Good thing I love you.”

“Yeah,” Stephen said as Tony sat up just enough so he could look into Stephen’s sea-green eyes. “It’s a very good thing.”

“God - you’re gorgeous.”

“Tony.”

“Didn’t anyone -”

Stephen shook his head and closed his eyes tightly. “I’m the first to - damn it. Look at me, Sunshine. Look at me, Stephen.” Tony cradled his face in his hands and glared down fiercely, but not unkindly into his eyes. “You are the most remarkable, most beautiful, kindest human being I’ve ever met in my life, and every day, since the day I met you, I - I don’t honestly know how, or why -”

“Shhhh.” Stephen ran his fingers through Tony’s once carefully styled curls and shook his head at him. “I’m here, we’re here, because we were just meant to be. I never believed in true love, I thought it was just a fairy tale - but I know, now I know I was wrong, I was wrong because I’m here with you now.”

“Always?”

“Ever and ever.” He pulled Tony close again and sighed into his hair, “forever, Tony, I swear.” He trembled as he felt Tony move against him, and he could barely breathe from wanting him.

“Please?” Tony whispered over his heart.

“Yeah, yes -”

Tony arranged his legs over his shoulders and muttered, “Keep your eyes on me, Sunshine, I want to see, I need to see you.” he groaned as he pressed in, then refocused on Stephen’s face and caught his breath. “So damn beautiful, you hear me, Stephen, so beautiful,” and then he moved just enough and Stephen’s long fingers were in his hair and it took everything for him not to come right then and there.

“Tony.”

“I know -” He pressed back in once more and they both froze. “Stephen. I -”

“Come for me, doll-face, come for me.” The words tipped his lover over the precipice and he crashed down into his arms, as he trembled against him. “So gorgeous, Tony, so very beautiful.”

“Merry Christmas, Stephen.”

“Merry Christmas, Tony.” He let his hands settle against his hips, as he felt Tony tuck himself tighter against him, and drift off to sleep. “Merry Christmas, love.”