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Burdened

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Newly revised and updated fan fiction! I hope you guys like it. The whole explanation is in the next chapter

Chapter Text

”D-Doctor? Doctor?! Where’s the fucking doctor?!” 

The lights were blinding and only worsened his headache. Tony Stark couldn’t see anything but blurred, disheveled figures rushing him down hallway after hallway.

“He’s coming down right now, Ma’am!” 

It reeked of blood and oil with the only other scent being disinfectant odors.

“West, get 1.5 milligrams of Versed, stat!” 

Tony tilted his head and looked down at his person. Bruises and cuts lingered all around his ripped clothing.  

“Is he going to be okay?!” 

He tried to make out the faces of the passing faces in an attempt to ease the pain that surged down in his head and down his spine, rippling through his body. He noticed two blue doors open as the stretcher rushed in. A few figures stood in the back of the room. Hands pulled him from the medical stretcher to an elevated bed and immediately began to work the second he was set down.

Someone he couldn’t quite make out rushed the closest to him possible without getting in the way- Oh, it was Pepper! She immediately began arguing with one of the figures in the corner. Tony couldn’t get himself to listen. His hearing kept canceling out. He watched the figure from the corner rush to the side of the bed and ordered everyone around before looking down at Tony. The doctor gave him a smile of assurance.

“Hello, Tony- My name is Dr. Stephen Strange and I’m here to help you,” Tony heard the doctor speak. He couldn’t quite make out the rest of the other words spoken. From the few words he did hear Tony had the understanding to focus on Dr. Strange. So he did.

While IVs and needles stuck into his body, Tony focused on the pure determination in the doctor’s eyes. He tried to focus on the way the doctor bit his lip watching a nurse measured liquids in bottles, but in the end, he couldn’t help his urge to close his eyes. It felt so good and his pain was subsiding, letting Tony have the calmness and rest that had been taken from him for the past few months.

 

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Tony Stark woke up to the sound of the beeping monitor that stood next to his bed. He heard the hushed talk of a few hospital employees standing near the door. Tony let out a soft groan and within seconds the people began to shuffle to their respective places. Tony remembered the Doctor and nurse from earlier as they and Pepper began to rush near his bed.

“Oh m...God, Tony...you…alive,” Pepper’s voice kept fading in and out as if she was on the phone in an area with bad reception.

“What?” Tony asked and gazed up at Dr. Strange, who was biting his tongue, eyes narrow as he stared down at the floor as if he was thinking hard about something. Pepper stared at Tony, asking another question, but he couldn’t hear her. The only reasons he knew she was even saying anything was because he saw her in front of him. Tony looked at Pepper in confusion before both of them stared up at Strange.

Upon noticing the staring, Strange looked up from the floor and gave the two of them a smile. He cleared his throat and ran a hand through his hair.

“Mr. Stark, I-” Stephen began but Tony cut him off.

“Tony, please. My father was Mr. Stark, I’m Tony,” Tony coughed out.

Stephen apologized and nodded, “My apologies. Tony, there are four different types of skull fractures that have varying degrees of severity: Linear, Depressed, Diastatic, and Basilar. You have the most severe case of the fractures, Basilar. In more severe cases, some of the cranial nerves can become damaged. We need to take some more tests to see what kind of internal damage was done. We can’t tell yet but we think there might be some extreme damage to your cranial nerves. I’m sorry, Tony.”

Stephen noticed that Tony had troubles hearing what he explained, so he went to the bed stand and grabbed a hospital iPad. He pulled out an article about Basilar fractures and handed it to Tony, shaky hands taking the iPad.

“We’re going to need to do more tests to determine which nerves were damaged and soon.”

Tony brought a shaky hand to his mouth in shock and let the iPad drop in his lap. He looked up at Strange who had his lips in a thin line.

“Why?” Tony manages to choke out with raspy vocal cords.

Dr. Strange but his lip and looked over to the wall. He put his hands on his hips, “When you were in Siberia, do you remember ever hitting your head during your fight with Mr. Rogers or Mr. Barnes?”

Tony furrowed his eyebrows. He couldn’t remember much from the fight beside the more prominent parts. Most of it was a blurred haze of anger. He remembered hitting his head a few times. The worst was right before Steve lodged the shield into his arc reactor. Steve had begun punching his helmet before it was ripped off. He remembered the fierce look in Steve’s eyes with each hit. He remembered each hit brought a glint of something Tony couldn’t recognize in Steve’s eyes. He can still see the disappointed expression that Steve gave him when he closes his eyes.

Tony pulled on his hair and let out a hiss in an attempt to rid the thoughts from his head.

Pepper gently took hold of his hands and untangled them from his hair. She pulled herself close to Tony and wrapped her arms around him, carefully trying not to hurt him. Soothing words flowed from her lips to calm Tony down who’s breathing became intense and mind had started to panic.

Stephen quietly approached the bed. He sat down on the opposite side of the bed’s edge and adjusted his dark blue scrubs. He waited a few minutes for Tony to calm down.

“....W-Well... I...I remember some of t-the fight...most...most of it’s a blur...I remember Steve punching in m...my helmet before…before the shield went through my arc reactor,” Tony explained with forced words and sudden pauses.

Stephen nodded every few words in a display of acknowledgment. He scribbled down a few words during Tony’s explanation but continued to keep his eyes on him the entire time. He wanted to make sure Tony felt like he was being listened to.

“Well, that’ll definitely bring some damage,” Stephen gave Tony a light smiled. He began a debate in his head- he wasn’t sure if Tony was comfortable with any sort of jokes quite yet.

Pepper gave the doctor a shocked expression and looked him up and down as if she was questioning if Stephen had really joked about it. Tony looked up at Stephen and smiled at him.

“Y-You wouldn’t believe…w...what the entire day was like,” Tony huffed in a joking matter. Despite the situation, Tony still had his trademark snark gleaming through even with his injuries.

Pepper looked away from Stephen and looked back at Tony before her expression became unreadable. Stephen noticed but said nothing and continued to keep his eyes fixed on his patient.

“Tony, I have a list of the injuries you obtained. Would you like me to read them to you?” Stephen asked as he jumped up from the bed and dusted off his pants.

“Yeah-” Tony started but was quickly cut off.

The door flung open and a disheveled doctor rushed into the room. Tony recognized her from when he had been rushed into the ER. Her scrubs had a pattern of splattered blood and she was clearly sweating. Strands of her hair were sticking to her forehead and her make-up was running slightly.

“Stange, they just brought in a level 5. Kid, 17, highway accident. Severe spinal cord damage and metal debris are lodged right above his heart.”

“Jesus,” Strange exasperated and hurried out of the room, dropping the clipboard on the floor. Pepper and Tony looked at each other with worry. Seconds later, Stephen ran back in the room.

“We’re going to have to have a raincheck on your MRI scan,” Stephen huffed, slightly out of breath from his run down the hall and back. Stephen ran back out of the room as Dr. Palmer’s voice was heard yelling at him from somewhere outside the room.

Chapter Text

Basilar skull fracture. Collapsed lung. First-degree frostbite on hands and ears. Internal bleeding leading to Hemothorax. Severe bruising.

Tony glared at the list of injuries on the papers. Almost every injury was caused by Steve. Skull fracture? That was from when something that was laying under his head impacted with Tony’s head after his helmet was ripped off. The object was suspected of being a rock or a fragment of the Iron Man helmet but the doctors weren’t able to figure out which one it was.

Collapsed Lung? When Steve smashed the shield into Tony’s arc reactor, metal from the suit pushed through the safe border from the inside he had created for the exact reason. Unfortunately, Vibranium was stronger than Tony’s metal alloy build. The metal pierced through his chest and stabbed into his lung, letting blood enter into his lungs. The stabbing was a result of the Hemothorax- which is when blood and other fluids filled into the space between his chest cavity and lungs.

The light frostbite was from sitting outside of his suit waiting for help. Tony had installed a protocol so that if FRIDAY felt there was too much damage to the suit while he was in an unfamiliar location or that she felt she was being infiltrated by an outside power, she would shut down and send a signal of their location to Rhodey, Pepper, and Happy.

He kept the pieces of metal in his chest while he waited, but he could feel his breathing shorten and his body starts to become unresponsive. It took half an hour for Rhodey to come rushing in the facility, sending worried shouts in Tony’s direction. They rushed him to one of the most trusted hospitals in the world, which was located right around the corner of Stark Tower. Thankfully for Tony, they decided to take one of Tony’s jets, which only took a mere few minutes to get back to New York.

The bruising was predominantly around where he had been stabbed. Though, the bruise surrounding his right eye was, unfortunately, more noticeable.

Tony shakily handed Pepper the clipboard. Pepper walked with Tony’s wheelchair, which Dr. Palmer was pushing to a room for MRI scans. She looked a lot better than she did a few days ago. Her hair was pulled in a tight hairband with not a single strand out of place. Her makeup was flawless and her blue scrubs smelt of lavender fabric softener that Tony could smell from his seat.

He hadn’t seen Dr. Strange since the incident. He had to admit, he was worried. Sure, he only met the doctor a few days ago- he could swear he’s seen his face somewhere before, though- he already had a fondness for him. He was worried about the kid too. That kind of injury had to have killed the kid if even the smallest thing went wrong. He trusted Strange. If he could save Tony, he could save anyone.

Tony looked up and saw a sign on the wall indicating the location of the MRI machine as soon as they turned right on a corner.

Occupying the hallway with them was another doctor that was wheeling a teenager in their direction. Dr. Palmer began walking slower and looked to the boy but continued to wheel Tony near a set of doors. He recognized the face of the boy but he couldn’t remember where he had seen him from.

“Are you feeling better, Keen?” Dr. Palmer asked the boy as they crossed paths.

“Could be better, Ms. Palmer,” The teen replied with shrug. He was covered with a soft blanket from his shoulders to his feet, a corner of the blanket dragged on the floor. He had a plethora of small cuts on his face and he looked sickly. The kid locked eyes with Tony and gasped.

“Tony?” He asked as Tony was pushed into the MRI room. Tony opened his mouth to say something to the kid but was cut off by the doors shutting between them.

The kid knew him. His tone was vocalized as if Tony was a friend he hadn’t seen in a few years, full of familiarity and confusion.

Tony lifted his hand and abruptly grabbed Pepper’s pencil skirt and began shaking his hand. Pepper looked at Tony and bend down as Dr. Palmer began readying the MRI machine.

“What is it, Tony?” Pepper asked softly, tilting her head to the side in question.

Tony pointed towards the door, “W-Who was th-that kid?”

Pepper furrowed her eyebrows and stood up straight, “I’ll go find out.” With that, Pepper excused herself from the room and strode out the door with the same grace and professionalism she had years ago when they met.

Dr. Palmer stopped clicking on a keyboard and turned to Tony. She grabbed the needle full of liquid from the table connected to the dashboard. She began to prepare the needle carefully. Tony tilted his head in question like a curious dog. He didn’t want to use his voice since it's barely healed.

“This is a Gadolinium Contrast Medium. It’s a dye that helps us see everything. It’s not toxic and it’s eliminated by the kidneys,” Dr. Palmer explained as she gently took Tony’s arm, prepping his forearm for the injecting to his veins. Tony only nodded and quietly watched. Soon enough, the medium was in and Dr. Palmer was cleaning up. When finished cleaning, she turned to Tony.

“Do you want to listen to music while you’re in there? It gets pretty loud,” Dr. Palmer suggested and held out the pair of headphones. Tony nodded and put the headphones so that they were hanging off his neck. She smiled and grabbed the handles of the wheelchair, strolling into the room where the machine was located. You could see the machine from the control room from a large glass window that spanned across the wall.

The door to the control room swung open and Pepper walked in, looking a bit out of breath, but professional as always. She scanned the control room before turning, noticing they were in the other room, striding in with heels clicking with each step.

Tony looked at her with hope, he wished to himself that she found out who the boy was. Pepper gave him a sad smile and shook her head. He’s gone, she mouthed to him with a compassionate smile. Tony frowned but only let out a sigh. He’d have to get

“You ready?” Pepper asked as Dr. Palmer bent down and placed on hand under TOny’s knees and another under his arms.

“Yeah wh- Ah!” Tony cuts himself off and lets out a yelp as he was hoisted from the seat by Dr. Palmer alone. He grabbed her shoulder and waved his other hand out, trying to grab hold of something for balance. Dr. Palmer only lets out a small laugh as she sets him down carefully on the MRI patient table. Tony looked at her with a startled expression.

He was not expecting her to be that strong. He was just a few pounds over 150. Dr. Palmer had a small frame as well. Where was she hiding her muscles?!

Dr. Palmer swung her head back and let out a chuckle, “You look surprised.”

Tony nodded, “Wh-Where are you h...hiding all th-that strength?!” Tony manages to ask with his still-recovering voice, pointing accusingly at her.

Pepper looks Dr. Palmer up and down and bites her lip. She tilts her head to the side and stroked her chin thoughtfully and smiled.

“What’s your workout routine, Dr. Palmer?” Pepper asked as Tony adjusted the hospital clothes he was given.

“Oh, I tend to carry most of the responsibility of my division, pretty exhausting weight,” Dr. Palmer said with a cheerful tone and a matching smile. Pepper couldn’t help the smile that crossed her face as Dr. Palmer turned back to Tony.

“I’m going to have you lay down and put the headphones on. You can’t move between photos or else we’ll have to retake the picture,” Dr. Palmer explained. Tony looked over at Pepper, who had her eyebrows raised accusingly.

“D...Don’t you dare say it-” Tony started, pointing a shaky finger at Pepper.

“Are you sure you’re going to get Tony Stark to sit still for half an hour?”

“And you said it.” Tony sighed and squinted at her.

Dr. Palmer laughed, “ADHD or not, Mr. Stark will stay put until it’s all over- if not, we’ll just have to take it all over again.

“D...Damn,” Tony huffed and laid down with the help of Dr. Palmer’s assistance. Pepper went into the control room.

“Oh! What would you like to listen to while you’re in there?” Dr. Palmer asked as she moved the wheelchair out of the way from the scene.

“Taylor Swift?” Pepper suggested from the other room. Tony rolled his eyes at her suggested and gave her a humored smirk, arching an eyebrow.

“You know, I definitely want to listen to Swift when I can listen AC/DC,” Tony exaggerated in a snarky tone.

 

“I knew you were trouble when you walked in”

 

Tony stared up at the top of the MRI machine. He was joking with the music, he didn’t actually expect them to actually put it on. He didn’t particularly hate the music, it just wasn't his type. He preferred rock music most days- though there were some songs from other genres that snuck into his playlists.

He could hear the buzzing coming from the machine, but he didn’t notice unless he really tried to focus on it.

He’d been in the machine for a little over half an hour when suddenly the music stopped entirely along with the mechanical buzzing. Dr. Palmer walked in as the MRI table retreated from the enclosed space. He didn’t mind the enclosed area since he didn’t have claustrophobia, but he just felt uncomfortable on the table.

“Good news, Mr. Stark, all tests went perfectly,” Dr. Palmer complimented, “Now, all we have to do is write out the report. We’ll come to you when we have your results back.”

Pepper helped Tony sit up, holding one of his hands and had her other on the small of his back. Tony held on to Pepper’s shoulder with his free hand.

“Do you need assistance getting back into the wheelchair?” Dr. Palmer asked with a cheerful smile. Tony let out a huff.

“Y...Yes, b-but don’t drop me,” Tony said as he opened his arm out like a child wanting to be carried by a parent. Dr. Palmer let out a laugh and complied, grabbing Tony from under his legs with one hand and his back with the other. Tony smiled at Pepper in amazement, who had a hand over her mouth. Pepper looked at the two of them with an unreadable look on her face. With a cough into her hand, her face turned into a neutral expression.

Dr. Palmer plopped Tony in his seat. She turned to Pepper.

“Do you know your way back to the room? I need to write out the results. If not, I can come with you,” Dr. Palmer suggested.

“No, it’s-” Tony started.

“We would love for you to join us!” Pepper interrupted Tony. Dr. Palmer didn’t seem to notice, but Tony sure did.

“Of course, Ms. Potts,” Dr. Palmer beamed as she led the way out of the room. Tony eyed Pepper suspiciously who only gave an innocent smile.

“It’s going to take from only a few to 24 hours to finish the report. We’ll notify you as soon as we finish,” Dr. Palmer explained as they made it to Tony’s hospital room.

The room was big- at least 25 by 25 feet from each wall. The room had a table, flatscreen connected to the wall, a large hospital bed- large to Tony, and a bedstand. There were a few chairs scattered around the room. A bathroom connected to the room that was a third the size of the room. A large window span across the wall, showing the city. He could see Stark Towers from there.

“W-What was that?” Tony asks as they both entered Tony’s room. Pepper closed the room and wheeled Tony to the table. Pepper let out a tired sigh.

“It’s been months, Tony,” Pepper sighed, taking a seat in one of the chairs.

“Three m…months,” Tony pointed out. He raised an eyebrow at her but they both knew he didn’t care they both were actively searching for a partner.

The two broke up three months ago. Both of them were exhausted from each other. Tony constantly put himself in dangerous situations- Iron Man or not- and Pepper couldn’t deal with the emotional baggage that comes with dating a superhero. That wasn’t the only reason, but it was the main one. Both of them were constantly under pressure and just couldn’t be there for each other. So they broke it off. They still were very close companions. They didn’t release to the public that they weren’t together anymore- it wasn’t the public’s relationship.

“Sorry, Tony,” Pepper laughed.

“I just feel sorry f-for y...you, you w-went from b-billionaire philan...th-therapist to just a surgeon,” Tony sighed jokingly.

"Just a surgeon,” Pepper copied, “How am I to ever to find a billionaire philanthropist with extreme intelligence and a tendency to be a dumbass.”

Tony let out a gasp the best he could, “My pride, Peps.”

The two continued to chatter to each other until Tony’s phone began beeping a short tune. Tony grinned as he heard it.

“He’s back,” Tony and Pepper said in unison, Pepper’s voice more of a confirmation and Tony’s voice was full of surprise and excitement.

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“Mr. Stark!” Peter slammed the hospital door open, pushing the doorknob into the wall. Peter didn’t seem to notice as he continued to run towards Tony, the man letting out a scream at the sudden shout of his name. Peter ran full speed at the bed and wrapped his arms around Tony.

Tony expected the hug to restrict his breath but it was surprisingly gentle. Happy must have told him of the injuries- either that, or Peter was actively aware of Tony’s state.

“Happy told me all about it, how- how you got hurt and stuff from Captain America and Bucky! Well- he didn’t really tell me about it, he just told me that it happened,” Peter began rambling. His head was stationed in the crook of Tony’s neck. Tony let out an incoherent noise from the back of his throat.

 Peter instantly stopped rambling and let go of Tony, “Oh God- Did I hurt you?”

Tony smiled and shook his head, “N-no, just g...got a bit spooked, k-kid.”

Peter furrowed his eyebrows at Tony response. He looked over at Pepper who was sitting in a chair on the opposite side of the bed.

“Tony got really hurt in Siberia, Peter,” Pepper began to explain, “He can’t really talk the way he used to. Tony isn’t nervous or anything. We’re still trying to figure out what all happened.”

Pepper paused and looked over at the papers that sat on the table. She looked at Tony who had an expression of approval for whatever she was thinking.

Peter looked between the two exchanging faces at each other but said nothing. It was probably some Adult Thing. Pepper got up from her chair and strode over to the table.

“What’s that?” Peter asked, pointing at the papers Pepper began shuffling together. She picked them up and turned towards Peter.

“This,” Pepper held the papers to Peter who gingerly took them, “Is Tony’s medical report.”

Peter raised his eyebrows and looked over at Tony, who gave Peter a nervous smile, “Go...Go on, Kid.”

Peter skimmed through the papers quietly, body still and mouth shut. It was a bit disturbing for the two adults. Peter was an energetic ball of delight for most hours of the day. It took a while for Peter to read all of the papers, skipping personal information on Tony.

After minutes of silent reading, Peter let the papers fall on his lap. Peter’s breathing began to pick up speed but stood still. Pepper noticed and strode to Peter’s side. She grabbed his hands, gingerly holding them. Peter ignored the words Pepper spoke to him and stood up from the bed.

“P-Pete..?” Tony asked softly, wondering what Peter was doing. An upset Peter was never a good thing. Peter pulling out his wallet and pulled out a small printed photo.

Peter looked down at the photograph. It was a picture of a young Peter. He was holding a Captain America action figure- way more muscular than Steve really was- and holding it up in the air. He had an Iron Man mask on but was moved to his forehead, not in use at that moment. He must have been at least eight at the time.

Peter grabbed a side of the photograph and ripped off the area where the Captain America action figure was. He stuffed the rest of the photograph in his pocket. He looked down at the ripped part and crumbled it up before throwing at the trash bin. The force of the balled photo and Peter’s heightened strength made the bin fall over.

“Steve’s a dick!” Peter said finally after a few minutes of silent between all parties. He turned away from the two and swiftly rubbed his eyes before turning back to them.

“Peter!” Pepper scolded lightly, taken aback by the sudden cursing. Pepper couldn’t recall Peter swearing besides when experiments with Tony went dangerously wrong.

Peter gave an exaggerated shrug, “It’s true!”

Both Peter and Pepper looked over at Tony who had an amused grin on his face.

“Kid’s got a p-point, Pep,” Tony said and shrugged, not disagreeing with Peter. He’s heard the kid say worse when he didn’t think anyone was of hearing distance. Peter smiled at Tony and looked down at the ground in an attempt to avoid Pepper’s disapproving stares directed at both of them.

“It’s not fair he got away with all of it,” Peter huffed. He pulled a chair out from the table and plopped down, “Why does he get to get away with everything?!”

“B-Because...h...he’s America’s Poster Child, Pete,” Tony sighed, “But not anymore. Y-You, m-me...Pepsi..R-Rhodey...H-Happy..May...We’re gonna take h-him out- all o-of them.”

Pepper ignored the nickname and turned towards Peter, “We’re going to take all of them down, alright, Peter?”

Peter looked up at Pepper and nodded. All three turned to the door as loud footsteps approached the door. The door opened and a young woman walked in with the familiar doctor scrubs.

Her black hair was styled into a short bob that complemented her chocolate eyes. Her hands fiddled with the papers on the clipboard.

“Mr. Stark, we have your MRI results ready.”

Soon enough, Tony was in his wheelchair out the door. Peter really wanted to come- he had just came back from a field trip out of the state and both had missed each other. He let Peter join their way to the room the MRI results were held. Pepper was pushing the wheelchair with Peter right behind her. The doctor was a few feet in front of them. Tony just realized he had no idea who she was.

“Sooo,” Tony started, “Wh...Who’re you? Like- Where’s Dr. Strange...o-or Dr. P...P-Palmer?”

The doctor turned her head and gave him a surprised expression, her hooded eyes widened and glanced between the three of them.

“Well, I’m Dr. Angela Chao,” Dr. Chao began, forming her lips into a line. She furrowed her eyebrows, “Have you not heard about what happened to Dr. Strange?”

Tony looked up and gave her a confused expression, “N-No, what happened?”

“He got in an accident late last night on the way to the Maria Stark Foundation event last night,” Dr. Chao explained.

“Wait, what?” Tony interrupted. He completely forgot about the event. He was supposed to be there last night- he had a speech written weeks in advance and everything! Tony looked up at Pepper. ‘That was yesterday?’ Tony mouthed to Pepper. Pepper nodded and mouthed back, ‘I took care of it.’

“I was wondering where you were last night, Mr. Stark. I’m a huge fan of your work, by the way,” Dr. Chao rambled. Tony nodded as they turned a corner.

“That’s great b-but...Where’s Dr. Strange..o-or Dr. Palmer..?” Tony cut in.

“Oh- Yeah, he was just transferred out of the recovery room. Dr. Palmer and Dr. Strange are close companions, so she’s taking close care of him. Would you like to request a visit for him after we review your MRI scan results?” Dr. Chao explained and asked as she pulled open a door. Tony’s shoulder sagged but nodded nevertheless. He wasn’t sure why Palmer and Strange being close upset him.

“Y-Yeah..” Tony muttered.

The four of them entered the room where a screen showed full images of Tony’s MRI scan. Dr. Chao set down her clipboard down on the table that sat just under the screens.

Peter let out a gasp and gave the doctor an excited smile, “Woah! So, this is Mr. Stark’s brain?!”

Tony let out a laugh the best he could as he watched Peter’s excitement only grow. The teenager started asking questions on the scan itself and ‘How did they manage to get Mr. Stark’s brain- would Stark Industries get upset?! How long did it take?’ Dr. Chao answered some of Peter questions before she handed a clipboard to Tony.

“A small portion of your optic nerves- eyesight, parts of the accessory nerves- the nerves that help with controlling upper-spine muscles, severe damage to your glossopharyngeal nerve- the nerves that help with mouth muscles and movement,” Dr. Chao explained.

Tony listened to the report quietly, soaking up the information. He put his hands on his face and felt his body collapse in on itself. He let out a choked noise, trying to refrain from breaking down.

It was over, wasn’t it? Nerve damage was almost always irreversible. Bruce used to talk about wanting to find a way for nerves to repair themselves collectively, but he disappeared before he could even gather a team for the project.

Dr. Chao began talking about therapy and how to combat nerve damage but Tony wasn’t listening. The only thing he could focus on was how this was going to ruin his life. How was he to work? He could barely hold a stack of papers so how was he supposed to hold power tools? How was he supposed to hold his ground during a fight?

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It’d been a few hours since the reveal of Tony Stark’s permanent condition. Now, three emotional breakdowns and two panic attacks later, Tony was on his way to Stephen Strange’s hospital room. They said Tony was one of the few people that requests were approved to visit Strange. Tony wasn’t quite able to wheel himself around yet, so he had Dr. Palmer roll him in the room.

Tony tilted his head up a little to see Dr. Palmer chew on her bottom lip as if she was worried.

“Tony,” Dr. Palmer began, “I think it’s best for you to know that Dr. Strange takes his work very seriously- so please be careful.”

Tony furrowed his eyebrow at the warning. What did she mean?

Dr. Palmer opened the door and rolled Tony in, setting him right next to the bed. Tony’s head was at the height of the pillows. The room looked identical to Tony’s despite the fact there wasn’t a thing gifted to him.

In Tony’s room, he had a corner of the room dedicated to the presents he received. There was a mountain of cards from Peter, a box from the employees of Stark Industries and one from the Avengers Initiative employees (along with many SHIELD agents). There was a present that was wrapped in newspapers and painted red and gold, big black letters H.K scribbled on the top of it. There were a few more presents from family members, business partners, and other friends. A lot of balloons, too.

No one had gifted him a thing except a card. ‘GET BETTER, STEPHEN.’ At the bottom of the card was signed by someone named Christine. Tony guessed that was from Dr. Christine Palmer. It made him sad, really. No one other than a close coworker and friend gave him while he was in the hospital.

Tony looked up at Stephen. He looked absolutely wrecked- dead, even. Stephen let out a small moan, wincing as he opened his good eye- his other eye was swollen and purple. His arms were held up in the air, some sort of steel pins in his hands. The sight was painful.

“Why did you want to see me?” Stephen asked hoarsely and turned his head towards Tony. Tony furrowed his eyebrows and thought of his response, careful not to say anything Strange would become upset about. He realized now why Dr. Palmer told him to be careful. Strange’s life was ruined in the career sense.

“I w-wanted to v...visit my second favorite doctor, o-of course,” Tony stammered as if it was an obvious fact. Strange looked Tony up and down.

Stephen wanted to ask so many questions: Who was the first? Why was he here? Why did he care? How was his recovery? What was the state of his condition pertaining to his nerves?

“Is that why?” Stephen muttered, “Or are you here to pity me? Look at me! I’m nothing without my work, Stark. I’m ruined!” Stephen turned his head and looked out the window. The sky was a deep blue that complemented the city beautifully. It was almost as if the world was mocking their grief.

“P-Pity you? Why pity you when I could pi..pity myself? Lo...Look, man, y...you aren’t just your hands- fuck! Look at me! I can barely hold a st-st-stack of p..papers- or walk!” Tony retorted, choking on his words at the end.

Stephen looked back at Tony, self-loathing tears welled in his eyes. The loathing look turned to confusion, which turned into sadness. Stephen let out a sudden gasp as he repressed a sob. Hot tears poured down his bruised face, flowing down his neck and pooling into the indent of his collarbone.

Tony watched the man break down in front of him and narrowed his eyes as he reviewed the situation. Tony decided to take a risk and raised a shaky arm towards the other man. Stephen didn’t seem to notice the approaching hand. Tony hoped Stephen was willing to accept some sort of consolation. Tony placed his hand on Stephen’s upper arm.

Strange let out another sob in response to the touch, tilting his head the left more, looking at Tony through teary, emotional eyes. Tony closed his eyes and tilted his head to the side. Tony massaged Stephen’s arms lightly as he continued to cry.

Stephen wasn’t looking for sympathy- both men knew that. Stephen- and Tony- was looking for empathy.

Empathy. That’s what’s this is called , Tony thought as he listened to Stephen’s cries of grief.

 

Chapter Text

Seven separate surgeries and over thirty different therapy sessions later and Tony Stark could sit up by himself. His voice was getting better but his vision just seemed to be getting worse. So, he was forced into wearing glasses. The doctors told him about the design and what made them special, but he didn’t care. They made him look like a dork like when he was at MIT.     

He also designed braces for Rhodey and himself. For the past month, they had started going to the same physical therapist.

“Do you remember when you tried to design braces back in MIT,” Rhodey began, “And you set yourself on fire?”

Tony let out a soft chuckle as Rhodey pulled a Stark Industries sweatshirt over his head and straightening it out. He fixed the sweatshirt strings and looked into Tony’s amber eyes. They still had the youthful wonder just as they did when he was 15.

“Don’t remind me, Rho...Rhodey-bear,” Tony groaned, “I was doing God’s work.”

The two of them had just finished their latest therapy session. The sessions were hosted in the Avengers Compound, which was completely fine for both of them.

“I think I have a picture of you and your eyebrows. ” Rhodey said with a smile, setting Tony’s braces in. The leg braces started from Tony’s hip and went down to his ankle. Two flexible metal plates were placed to each side of Tony’s legs. There were a few plates that connected the larger plates. A sort of hook mechanism went under Tony’s shoe. Tony’s and Rhodey’s braces looked similar. Tony’s braces were a silver platinum color with red streaks while Rhodey’s were a sleek grey with black streaks riding down the sides.

“Please burn it. The life of having only half an eyebrow and a half for two weeks was hard enough, Rhodey!”

“Nah,” Rhoday shrugged Tony off as he finished latching Tony’s braces. Rhodes stood up and lent a hand to Tony and help him up.

“Stephen showed me a picture of him after a 28-hour surgery from a few years ago,” Tony murmured quietly. He looked out the window and stuffed his hands in his pocket.

“Awh, geez, Tony,” Rhodey said as he walked towards Tony, “I said we’ll find him. He’s out there somewhere.”

Tony pushed his glasses up with one hand and rubbed his eyes with the other, tears had started forming in his eyes.

Stephen had disappeared a little over a month ago. He was going mad for a way to fix his hands. It hurt Tony to watch him lose himself in finding a cure. Stephen went missed when he went looking for a place called Kamar-Taj. He could remember the day Stephen explained it to Tony.

 

They both were eating out at Tony’s favorite Italian restaurant, Carminello’s. Stephen said he had some important news he had to share over dinner, so Tony booked a reservation at Carminello’s. The restaurant was big for lower Manhattan and each table was filled. Tony had booked them a table in the back. They weren’t looking for attention tonight.

“So..you’re moving?” Tony asked as he stuffed another fork full of past in his mouth. Stephen decided against ordering a main course meal and ordered a few side dishes.

Tony remembered the argument that he and Stephen had a few weeks ago. Stephen kept ordering side dishes when he and Tony went out to eat together. Tony thought it was something to do with the fact Tony was paying for the meals and Stephen was self-conscience about it. That wasn’t the case. Turns out, Stephen’s hands weren’t strong enough to use kitchen utensils yet and Tony simply had no idea.

Stephen looked around the restaurant before pulling some folded papers from the inside of his suit. Stephen let out an annoyed huff as he struggled to unfold the papers, his hands hadn’t healed much from therapy.

Tony reached for the papers, “Here, let me help.”

“I don’t need your help!” Stephen snapped, jerking the papers close to his chest. Stephen’s body tensed and his hands trembled harder than normal. Tony scanned Stephen. Sure, his body showed resentment, but his eyes were filled with emotion Tony could only describe as loss. Stephen still wasn’t used to receiving help- neither of them were.

Tony said nothing and quietly watched Stephen struggled with the papers. Stephen finally spread them across the table and gave Tony a proud smile. Tony clapped his hands together softly at Stephen’s progress. They both looked down at the papers.

The papers consisted of addresses, plane ticket receipts, and written instructions.

“Kamar-Taj. It’s supposed to be somewhere in Kathmandu,” Stephen explained and pointed to one of the papers.

“Nepal?”

“It’s the only place in the world I know that can fix my hands, Tony.”

Tony examined the papers and took in the information before nodding. He took the last bite from his food before pushing the empty plate away to the side.

“H...How long is it going to take?”

“To get there? Maybe a few days to find Kamar-Taj. I’m not sure how long it’ll take for my hands to heal- I’m not even sure how they’re going to fix them. I shouldn’t be gone more than maybe..two weeks?”

“So...two weeks?” Tony asked, swirling his drink straw between his fingers.

“Two weeks, I promise.”

It’s been more than a month now.

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“You should never have done that,” Bucky Barnes finally said as he tossed the American newspaper at Steve Rogers with his only arm. T’Challa had graced them with some newspapers from America a few days ago. Steve caught it with a grunt and looked down at the top headline.

“TONY STARK CRIPPLED BY ‘ROGUE’ AVENGERS” , read the headline.

Steve, Bucky, Wanda, Sam, Clint, and Natasha were stationed in Wakanda. Scott went back to America and was currently on trial. Steve wanted to help Scott, but they couldn’t jeopardize their location. Besides, Scott would probably be let off easy since he wasn’t really an Avenger, right? He wasn’t sure and hadn’t cared to look into Scott’s trial.

The Rogues convinced the King T’Challa to let them in. They were promised a little under a year of safety because of their relations with Bucky. If they didn’t leave before then- excluding Bucky- T’Challa would turn them in.

“Buck- it’s the newspaper, they’re always dramatic-” Steve said and read the article.

“Tony Stark, Iron Man,  was rushed to Metro-General Hospital late last night from Siberia after a fight with Steve Rogers, Captain America, and another party that has not yet been disclosed…,” Steve continued to read the rest of the article, consuming himself in the words.

All of the Rogues were giving a visitation building that hadn’t been fully built. The building overlooked Birnin Zana, the capital of Wakanda. It had at least thirty stories- the top five stories weren’t renovated quite yet. Natasha was out somewhere in the city while Clint had called out an hour ago he was going on the roof. Same was lounging in the common area with Bucky and Steve. Wanda was in her room.

“At least they didn’t leak your name,” Steve shrugged and slapped the paper on the counter. Bucky gave Steve a perplexed look as if he was waiting for Steve to show that he was joking.

“That’s the least of our worries!” Bucky shouted at Steve who only titled his head and raised an eyebrow.

“Why? You could have been seen as a criminal!” Steve argued, standing up from his seat.

The two had been arguing ever since they arrived at Wakanda. Bucky just seemed so snappy at Steve lately. Steve was just trying to help! Why was Bucky so angry?

You don’t want me to be seen as a criminal,” Bucky snapped, “I’ve accepted my whole ‘villain’ thing goin’ on. Let it go.” Bucky jumped off the counter he was sitting on and walked out of the kitchen.  

“Where are you going?” Steve asked Bucky, eyebrows creasing and lips thinning to a straight line.

“I’m going to therapy,” Bucky called out without another word, ignoring Steve’s suggestion to have him aid Bucky. His session with Shuri wasn’t for a few hours, but he couldn’t stand being there for another minute.

Bucky walked out of the center and went into the city, walking down the street and greeting Wakandans he was familiar with. Bucky was well-known through Wakanda. He didn’t fit in at all. What other mentally unstable, century-old, white man was walking around Wakanda?

Bucky stopped by his favorite shop with the sweetest old lady, C’Chima Wate. She had grandchildren that span throughout all Wakandan nations. C’Chima constantly gave Bucky advice, which he gratefully took. She held her ground like a boulder and yet was the softest person he’d possibly ever met.

The shop was small but attracted many customers for her clothes and jewelry. If not for the inventory, people still came to visit with C’Chima.

“Oh, now what did he do now, White Wolf?” C’Chima asked as she arranged a few boxes in her shop. He remembered when he insisted on helping her with her biggest tasks, but she refused. C’Chima insisted that she was fully capable to do things herself, despite being almost as old as Bucky.

“More of the same,” Bucky muttered as he grabbed a stool from behind the counter, “Steve’s been at it again. Y’know, talking ‘bout wanting to go back and joining the Avengers and about the whole Siberia thing.” Bucky grabbed a piece of candy from the counter and popped it in his mouth.

“Ah,” C’Chima nodded and placed the last box on the shelf, “Well, are you going to join him? They only have a few months left.” She grabbed the other stool and sat down next to Bucky. She pushed a button on the cash register, opening the money slot. C’Chima took out the money and began counting.

Bucky shook his head. “No, I’m still granted therapy from Princess Shuri. I’m not giving that up. I think it’s been working pretty well.” Bucky popped another candy in his mouth.

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It had been a few months after they had heard of the aftermath of Civil War- that’s what the media was calling the splitting of the Avengers. The Rogues watched Tony Stark power through his health obstacles like magic.

Steve and the other Rogues created a plan for becoming Avengers again: Go to America, team up with SHIELD and the current Avengers, negotiate the Sokovia Accords, and become an Avenger again. Steve thought it was a brilliant idea, so did Clint, Wanda, and Sam- Natasha didn’t give her opinion on the plan. Bucky tried talking to Steve about it.

“Stevie, you know you’re an idiot, right?” Bucky asked as he sat down on the opposite side of the couch in the common area. Wanda sat near the window that span as a wall, overseeing Birnin Zana, balancing a red ball of energy between her hands. Steve looked away from the news and gave Bucky a confused frown.

“What do you mean?” Steve asked and turned his body towards Bucky. He turned the volume down and dropped the remote on a pillow.

“Your plan sucks. You’re a war criminal , Steve. You’re not going to be seen as a hero anymore,” Bucky tried to explain, rubbing his hand on his face and let out a tired groan.

“We’re going to fix that!” Steve’s voice was determined and energetic just like it used to be all those years ago before the War. Fragments of what he believed was a scrawny Steve Rogers popped in his head.

Bucky pulled out the phone Shuri had gifted him. He was the only one of the others that were given a phone. Bucky was the only one that had a purpose that needed immediate attention- besides, Wakanda was a temporary long-term home for him. Some of the Rogues, needless to say, were less than thrilled to learn that Bucky was the only one given perks from T’Challa.

Bucky began texting Shuri the memory fragment. Shuri had told him to text him any memories that surfaced.

Bucky, 7:18 pm: i had one again

 

Shuri, 7: 21 pm: Do you remember what it was about?

 

“If you’re going to do this- then I don’t want any part of it, Stevie,” Bucky said as he sat up, shutting his phone off and stuffing it in his pocket.

“But Buck,” Steve argued, “We can help you. We’ll get Tony to-”

“No!” Bucky cut Steve off and jumped up from the couch. Wanda jumped and spun around, looking at the super soldiers in surprise. “You are not going to get Stark to help everyone out. Don’t you think we’ve put him through enough...I’ve put him through enough?”

“As if. This is all his fault. He deserves everything he got,” Wanda mumbled as she went back to swirling mists of magic around her fingers.

Bucky narrowed his eyes at Wanda and grabbed the remote, throwing it in her direction. Wanda let out a scream as the remote smashed into pieces in front of her. Even without his metal arm or much exercise as of late, Bucky was still as strong as ever. Bucky felt the comment even if it was directed at Stark. If someone told him that about him and HYDRA, they’d never be seen again.

Bucky walked away with that, ignoring the shouting directed towards him from both Wanda and Steve.

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“Are you sure, Tony?” Pepper asked as she fixed his glasses. They looked like an ordinary pair of sunglasses as to not worry the public or to lower Tony’s self-esteem. He hadn't worn glasses since the first few years at MIT.

“Yeah, now tell me what happened,” Tony said and took a sip of coffee between Pepper’s hands. Pepper abruptly took the mug.

“Tony! You know they said no coffee or any other caffeine until 24 hours after surgery,” Pepper scolded.

Tony had gotten out of another surgery yesterday. The surgery was for reconstruction for the back of his head. His skull had started to heal inwardly towards his brain. Not good.

“‘Tis but a sip!” Tony argued and made a grab at the mug. Pepper held it up above his head and began walking away. Tony squinted at Pepper and jumped up to grab the coffee.

Pepper walked to the sink and poured the drink down the drain, a devastated Tony let out a cry for his drink, but it was too late. Pepper rolled her eyes and smiled, setting the mug down on the counter. Tony let out a loud sigh and grabbed the water bottle from the counter, popping the lid open and taking a drink.

“Tell m-me about the meeting,” Tony said, taking another sip, letting out a content sigh at the refreshing taste of the water.

Pepper stood in for Tony while he was going from one surgery to another for the past few weeks. The problem was that Tony was supposed to help revise the Sokovia Accords and debate if the Rogue Avengers should be allowed back. He couldn’t do that if he was in the operating room. So he got Pepper and Rhodey to represent him. Rhodey had power: He was a former decorated Colonel Air Force officer, MIT graduate, a close friend of Tony’s, and the new leader of the new Avengers. Pepper was a close friend to Tony- the public was still in the dark about their breakup, an expert businesswoman, and CEO of Stark Industries. They were important people. But the government didn’t care. They wanted Stark.

They had the conference and Pepper stood in for Tony. They didn’t listen to her statement against the Rogues and waved off the report on all the destructive tendencies. The court ruled that once they find a way to contact the rogue avengers, they would approve of them becoming avengers again if they so chose to.

“What?!” Tony shouted in disbelief as Pepper explained what had happened, “That's... th-that's...This has to be Ross! Was he at the conference?!”

Tony hated the Rogues. He wanted nothing to do with them. Steve was a toxic leader obsessed with control. Clint had extreme anger problems. Sam would stick with Steve no matter what. Natasha was an expert manipulator and chose the side that benefitted her. All of them were toxic. Tony wasn’t including Bucky or Scott Lang for the title ‘Rogue Avenger’. Bucky had nothing to do with the Avengers besides his connection to Steve and Scott was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

But...Tony’s been getting these surreal dream-visions lately. They’re always the same.

Tony was hiding behind a crate of explosives and let out a string of curses. Stephen was right next to him, letting out retching noises next to him and gagging out disgusting liquids. Stephen was wearing strange clothes- robes and a cape, with an odd necklace around his neck.

“Doc, I told you not to eat right before a fight,” Tony mumbled the joke and crawled in the sand. The dessert reminded him of the time he escaped the cave he was held hostage in by the Ten Rings.

Stephen coughed out a quiet “fuck off” in between gags. Tony couldn’t help but feel bad.

“You eat that weird dimensional stuff- I’m gonna go help out Rogers if he hasn’t killed himself yet,” Tony said and patted Stephen on the back quick.

Tony pulled himself off the ground, scanning the battlefield. There were large black alien creatures fighting with humans with high-tech vibranium weapons. He looked around for the rogue Avengers and gave a long sigh.

“Now where are they? They were literally here a second ago!” Tony cried with exhaustion, looked down at Stephen who pointed to the left of Tony.



It always stopped there or before that. He had no idea what it meant, but he felt like the rogues would be needed for a possible alien invasion if he was interpreting his dream correctly.

“We can fight this. We’re going to make sure they don’t lay a hand on you ever again,” Pepper said softly, placing a caring hand on Tony’s shoulder.

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“Are you sure you don’t want to come?” Steve asked as he carried the last of his stuff to the aircraft. All of the Rogues were leaving Wakanda. The United Nations had sent out a statement that stated the Rogue Avengers were allowed to come back, no reparations needed as Tony Stark had paid for all damaged property.

“Stevie, I don’t want to tell you again,” Bucky muttered as they walked into the aircraft. T’Challa and Okoye- leader of the Dora Milaje- talked in hushed whispers as they sat behind the dashboard. They noticed Bucky and Steve enter and stopped talking.

“I-I know, but I was just..” Steve gave awkward hand gestures as he tried to phrase his sentence right, “...wondering.”

“I’m not joining your ragtag team of criminals, Steve,” Bucky felt like a broken record, “I like it here.” ‘

Steve let out a disappointed sigh, “Is this because of Tony? I told you we could take care of him. He’s not in charge of the Avengers or the government like he used to be!”

Clint walked in with a  bag slung over his shoulder. He sat down on a built-in bench on the wall.

Bucky furrowed his eyebrows. When had Stark been in charge of the government? And when had he been in charge of the Avengers? Steve had always done that.

“I’m leaving,” Bucky stated finally. He was already tired of Steve. He began to take his leave until Clint called out to him.

“Going to therapy?” Clint sneered, “We know you’re not actually going to therapy. Why does your ‘sessions’ start right after a fight, huh?”

Bucky turned around and stared at Clint, his face unreadable. After a minute of staring, Clint turned away and looked at Steve for some sort of help. Bucky huffed and turned to Steve, an unamused expression on his face.

“You asked why I’m not coming, right?” Bucky asked Steve, who attentively nodded, “Well, this is why” Bucky directed his thumb towards Clint. He gave T’Challa a nod as a goodbye and left the aircraft, leaving the others to listen to Clint’s offended noises. Bucky couldn’t help the smirk forming on his face as he walked back to the center.

Chapter Text

“Please...” Stephen pleaded at the door.

Stephen Strange banged on the door one last time with his foot before sinking down the door, letting out an exhausted sigh. Stephen looked down at his hands that he had carefully wrapped in protective bandages.

He felt terrible. Once again, Stephen Strange’s pride got in the way of yet another person wanting to help him. He had completely disrespected the Ancient One along with the others at Kamar-Taj.

“Don’t shut me out,” Stephen pleaded and let his head drop. This was it. He was never getting his hands back. He was never getting his career back. He was never going back to America- he’d bought a one-way ticket for God’s sake! He was never going back to New York. He was never going back to Tony.

Tony just had to go from an exciting case to a close friend. Stephen could remember when he saw Tony Stark as just another patient he saved. Now- Stephen couldn’t imagine a world without the man, even if they had met a month ago.

No- that’s not true. They met years ago during a Gala a few years before Iron Man came to be. It wasn’t even a formal meeting, they just bumped into each other.

Stephen Strange took another swig of his drink, give an artificial smile at one of the journalists he was chatting with. He looked down at the glass in his hand that was a small sip from empty.

Stephen excused himself from the conversation and turned on his heel, making his way to the bar. At that moment, a short figure ran into him backward and let out a confused shout. Wine splashed on his suit and his white shirt. Stephen let out a yelp of surprise as his body froze in surprise.

The short man turned around with wide amber eyes full of fear. Before Stephen could yell at the other man, he cut Stephen off.

“Oh God, sorry- you’ve gotta help me-” The man- Stephen now identified as Tony Stark- grabbed the sleeve of his suit and pulled him out of the large ballroom-like area before Stephen could protest. Despite Stephen’s longer legs, he had a hard time keeping up with the short man.

“Stark- What’s the meaning of this?!” Stephen protested as they made it to a balcony. Tony shut the doors to the balcony, his body slumping as he tried to catch his breath.

“So, I may or may not have a had a bunch of reports on my ass and you seemed like a pretty chill guy. Here-” Tony explained and picked up a small package that sat on the ground, giving it to Stephen.

“...You’re not going to kill me now, are you Mr. Stark?” Stephen asked with a sly smile, carefully opening the sudden present.

“Come on, now- I wouldn’t make it so obvious as to do it out on a balcony,” Tony replied with an equal amount of flirtation in his voice to match Stephen’s.

Stephen opened it and was a bit surprised by the gift. A white button-up shirt. The same exact kind of Stephen’s current one. The only difference was that this one didn’t have red wine stains. Stephen examined the object for a minute before narrowing his eyes at Tony.

“Did you plan the entire thing, Mr. Stark?” Stephen questioned with disbelief in his voice.

Tony waved Stephen off and shrugged, “Not the entire thing. I didn’t expect the wine stain. The gift was if I screwed things up but still had an excuse for you to follow me.”

Stephen gave an impressed shrug and took his suit jacket off as Tony pulled a cigarette out of his inner suit pocket. Tony placed the cigarette between his lips and cuffed his hands together, grabbed a lighter from another pocket and lighting it, his hands blocking the small amount of wind coming their way.

“You know those can kill you, right?” Stephen rhetorically asked, replacing his old button-up with its replacement.

“Thank God,” Tony mumbled, taking in a shaky inhale, pulling the cigarette out of his mouth and letting out a soft blow, letting the wind carry away the smoke. Stephen shifted his weight on his feet uncomfortably at the response. He didn't expect that kind of response from one of the youngest rich individuals of the world to say.

Stephen leaned against the railing next to Tony, opposite to where Tony’s cigarette smoke was drifting off to.

Stephen looked at Tony. He was quite an attractive man. From his cut jawline and trimmed goatee to his fit figure- he’d seen the photoshoots- and his compelling personality, he was an amazing man.

“So, what brings you here to bring me here? I’ve never met you,” Stephen asked and tilted his head for the question. Tony shrugged and ran a hand through his curls he had at the time.

“You seemed like a real person and seemed pretty chill, y’ know?” Tony puffed out a cloud of smoke from his mouth and held out his hand, “If you didn’t know, my name is Tony Stark.”

Stephen looked down at Tony hand before giving it a firm shake, “Dr. Stephen Strange.”

Tony’s eyes glinted with curiosity, “A doctor?”

“Yes- why the interest? Do you wish for a house call, Mr. Stark?” Stephen bit his lip and smirked at Tony. He hoped the moon wasn’t bright enough to see his unsure expressions. For a man in a position like Stephen’s, he wasn’t used to the charm most had.

Stephen caught the tint of red blush on Tony’s cheeks before he turned his head down at the ground. Tony dropped his cigarette on the ground and stepped on it, silencing the flaming ashes.

“I prefer my doctors clean shaven,” Tony mumbled as he looked back up at Stephen, his face just as red as before.

Stephen doubted Tony remembered. The interaction was well over a decade ago. They were both still full of youth and arrogance.

“I’ve nowhere else to go,” Stephen murmured to the door and himself. It was true. He had no way of getting back home if this was the end of his journey.

Suddenly, the door to Kamar-Taj opened, making Stephen fall to the ground.

“...Thank you…” Stephen groaned quietly to the opener of the door.

Soon enough, Stephen was escorted to a hallway full of doors. Mordo- who was his tour guide at the moment- opened a door. The room was a bit like a rectangle. It had a large window and window sill- he could use the sill as a shelf. The bed took at least a third of the room. There was a bookshelf and a dresser along with a desk next to the window.

Stephen looked around as Mordo arranged a few things on the shelf. He turned back around and smiled at Stephen.

“Bed,” Mordo nodded towards the bed, “Rest. Meditate, if you can. The Ancient One will send for you.” Mordo handed Stephen a piece of paper. In calligraphic letters spelled out the word ‘Shamballa’.

“Uh, what’s this? My mantra?” Stephen asked dryly. Mordo looked down at the slip and back at Stephen as he walked out.

“The Wifi password,” Mordo replied, a smirk crossing his face, “We’re not savages.” The man shut the door without another word.

Stephen gave the door a shrug and looked out the window. Sparring students shouted as they trained. Stephen fiddled with the ends of his jacket pockets and felt his finger dip into a hole. Stephen furrowed his eyebrows as he took off the jacket.

He plopped down on the edge of the bed and looked into the pocket. It wasn’t a rip- it was cut into, the hole leading into the insides of the jacket. Stephen began to pat his jacket, trying to see if something was hidden in the inner workings. Stephen stopped when he felt something sharp poke his finger. After letting out a hiss of pain- his hands were still very sensitive- Stephen quickly began ripping the pocket hole.

Stephen ripped the pocket and dug- Ah! A folded paper! Stephen took the paper and threw the now-useless jacket on the floor.

The paper was from a notebook- the edges were ripped off in a clean way. Thankfully, the papers was only folded twice.

Stephen unfolded the paper without much difficulty. The handwriting was sloppy but easy to read. All the letters were small but capitalized. He immediately recognized the handwriting.

Tony.

God, he already missed the sarcastic asshole. Granted, you’re attracted to people similar to yourself, right? Tony was an amazing individual. He was so kind. That, he kind of hated. He was too kind. That could easily be taken advantage of and that wasn’t safe for someone with such a powerful position like Tony Stark.

Stephen wiped the thoughts from his brain and began reading.

Hey Doc.

Heard you were leaving for Nepal real soon. Sorry I couldn’t help with your hands. Maybe I should start a medical department at Stark Industries or something. Maybe when you get back we could work on that. You could be the lead doctor with your hands fixed and everything if you wanted to.

I hope you get help. I know it’s important to you. Just don’t stay away too long, okay? Email me when you get to Kamar-Taj. Don’t take too long, asshole. You know I’m going to miss you.

Don’t forget you always have a place to go to the compound. There’s always a room near mine open.

-Tony

Stephen read the note a few times with a sad smile. He got up from the bed and set the note down on the window ledge.

Stephen pulled out his phone. He had bought a flip phone for his trip. Unfortunately, he didn’t buy any sort of data for his journey. Maybe there was a shop nearby that had a better phone or some other technology.

“Where can you get some electronics around here,” Stephen asked Wong one day while surfing around the library.

“There’s a shop a few blocks away. The technology is expensive around here,” Wong said as he passed Stephen to put a few books on their respective rack. “Why do you need one, anyway, Stephen?”

Stephen walked over to the book check-out counter and plopped the books down. “I promised someone something and I’m hoping they’re as forgiving as they seem,” Tony sighed.

“You could find a job around Kamar-Taj. Just ask The Ancient One if she’s willing to give you one.”

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Stephen was a fast learner and was quickly improving his sorcering skills. He helped Wong out with work around the library for a bit of money. The job was tedious at times when nobody visited the library for hours, but it was nice to bathe in the silence. Classes and training exercises went by like a breeze to Stephen after the Ancient One dropped him off on Everest.

Stephen goes by the electronic store a few times a week if he’s not busy training. It’s strange. When he’s sure he has enough money to buy a phone or laptop, the prices change without notice. He’d ask the owners of the shop about it, but they swore that the prices hadn’t changed in months. Either the prices would change or he couldn’t find the store.

He always walked the same directions, but some days it was as if the store disappeared. Asking pedestrians was useless- they would point to the direction of the store or call him crazy for asking. Stephen would give up and go back to Kamar-Taj. It was as if the universe didn’t want him to contact Tony.

Stephen knew how to astral project and make his own mirror dimensions, and even used the Eye of Agamotto a few times- before getting shouted at my Mordo and Wong. They really should put the warnings before the spell. He learned about Kaecilius and how he betrayed the Ancient One. He also learned there were dimensional threats. Like Dormammu.

There was a huge probability that Stephen would die from Kaecilius and his gang of Zealots. But he couldn’t be sure.

That’s how he got here- sitting down at the desk in his room, ready to teleport to Tony. It was late in New York- 2 am at least while in Nepal it was only noon. His best guess was that Tony was in his lab or somewhere in the Avengers Compound. Stephen had retreated to his room for a lunch break. He knew he shouldn’t be doing this and if he was caught he’d be in trouble- but he was desperate to see the genius.

Stephen stood up from the chair and cracked his door, seeing if anyone was around. He quietly closed the door and slipped his Sling Ring on.

He let out a shaky breath and close his eyes, picturing the Avengers compound in great detail from the floor tiling to people who resided inside. He shifted his thoughts to Tony’s lab. The lab was huge. The concrete floor was cold and contrasted with how warm Tony kept the lab. Tables were filled with unfinished projects and all sorts of paperwork and blueprints.

Tony was more than likely awake and Stephen was counting on it. Portalling to the compound could get him into trouble- the Ancient One had told him to not let anyone know from his past know what he was doing- but Tony was worth it.

Without another thought, Stephen raised his hands and began conjuring a portal.

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“Ms. Potts said no coffee after midnight, Boss,” FRIDAY reminded Tony again for the third time in the last hour.

“Peps not here, Fri...and thank God she’s not,” Tony said as he took a sip of his coffee, typing on his Starkpad for a moment. He fixed the left leg’s brace and prepared himself to stand up from the couch. He jumped up and internally praised himself for his new brace upgrades.

“And why’s that, Boss?” FRIDAY asked in a curious tone. Hearing it made Tony feel a sense of proudness. FRIDAY has really evolved her own personality and has grown so much since she was first programmed.

“Because,” Tony started as holographic files of what looked like camera street recordings began to play around him, “If sh-she knew I hacked into N...Nepal’s government street cameras, I’d never hear the end of it.”

He was still searching for Stephen. He knows he should be worrying about the Rogues, but he didn’t care. The Rogues were coming to the compound in a week and there was still some paperwork that needed to be filled out and revised.

Tony swirled around and watched the clips around him. He made a swishing motion and some of the clips dissolved. He was trying to find Stephen in street cameras across Kathmandu.

“Boss, you should get some rest. You have a meeting with a few councilmembers tomorrow morning about the Rogue’s moving into the compound. If you go to bed now, you’ll be able to have four hours of sleep tonight, what do you say?” FRIDAY encouraged with a peppy tone.

Tony made a noise of disagreement and gulped down the rest of his coffee. Swooshing noises came from across the room and bright lights came from that direction. Tony set his empty mug down and turned around.

“How am I not surprised you’re drinking coffee at two in the morning?” Tony heard someone say from behind him. Tony pressed down on his wristwatch and quickly turned around, hand repulsor charged and ready to shoot at the intruder. Immediately seeing who the ‘intruder’ was, Tony dropped his hand, repulsor retreating, and ran towards the man.

“STEPHEN!” Tony shouted and ran towards the sorcerer, metal-alloy braces clanking on the concrete floor. Stephen had his arms outstretched for Tony. He was wearing his dark blue robes- his clothes contrasted greatly with light blue and white design of Tony’s lab.

Tony jumped on Stephen when he was close enough. He wrapped his arms around Stephen’s neck and burying his head in the crook of Stephen’s neck. Stephen let out a small yelp and caught Tony, holding the small man up from under his thighs. The sudden weight of the other man made Stephen lose his balance. He swirled himself and Tony around to catch his balance.

They spun around a few times, Tony laugh of pure happiness filling the lab and echoing off the walls. As quickly as the laughs started, the crying began. Tony didn’t bother hiding his feelings as he rubbed his tears against the shoulder of Stephen’s robes.

Stephen rubbed Tony’s back as he dragged him and Tony towards the couch. He gently grabbed Tony’s wrists that were clinging to the back of Stephen’s robes as if his life was on the line. Stephen whispered soft apologies to the other man as he removed Tony from his body, setting him down on the couch.

Stephen held Tony close as they sat down on the couch. Tony’s sobs filled the air as Stephen continued to apologize for his absence. A few minutes pass and Tony lets go of Stephen. Stephen gave Tony a confused look before his eyes widened upon realizing Tony’s intentions.

Tony gave Stephen an expression of some sort of extreme, upset emotion- Stephen couldn’t directly pinpoint the expression. It was a mix of anger and remorse with sadness mixed in. Before Stephen could fully analyze Tony’s expression, Tony pulled his arm back and slapped Stephen across the face.

Stephen looked at Tony like a deer caught in the headlights, letting Tony show his emotions- even if it meant a bit of pain for Stephen. The sound of palm hitting against skin echoed through the lab.

Stephen let the impact of the slap simmer as he pursed his lips. It didn’t hurt by any means, but the shock of the sudden hit is what caused the majority of the pain.

“No- yeah, I deserve that,” Stephen mumbled under his breath a she looked back up at Tony, who was hyperventilating and slowly backing away from Stephen.

“O-Oh G-God...S-Stephen...I...I’m s-sorry!” Tony choked, voice cracking as he apologized.

“What? No, Tony- I kind of deserved that, don’t worry about that, please,” Stephen begged as he slowly scooted towards Tony.

It took a few minutes, but Tony calmed down a bit and was able to properly talk to his best ability.

“Y-You absolute asshole . M-Me and Rhodey and P-Pep...Pepper and Chr-Christine...and e-everyone else...w...we’ve been loo...looking for you for months!” Tony cried and crossed his arms, fresh tears beginning to spill down his face. Tony raised his arm and quickly rubbed the tears away with his sweatshirt sleeve.

“I know, I know,” Stephen started, “You have every right be pissed at me, but let me explain, Tony.”

And so he did. Stephen told Tony of the disappearing store and raised prices and Kamar-Taj training. He told Tony of the Kamar-Taj Library and his part-time job. Stephen talked about Kaecilius and the Zealots. It must have been almost three in the morning by the time Stephen finished explaining. After, Stephen stayed quiet and awaited Tony’s response anxiously.

“So...you’re a wizard now?” Tony finally asked after what seemed like hours. Stephen glared lightly at Tony.

“Is that all you got from that?” Stephen exasperated and let his shoulders sag. Tony smiled and shook his head.

“I get it I th-think,” Tony said and got up. He grabbed his mug from one of the tables and made his way to the coffee pot.

“Your voice has healed amazingly, Tony,” Stephen complimented. Tony froze and let go of his mug in surprise, fumbling with the mug in the air until he caught it. Stephen mentally slapped himself. You idiot. That’s probably a sensitive topic to him.

“Th-Tha...Thanks,” Tony stuttered as he poured his coffee. He turned around, face red and eyes darting around the room. Tony took a large sip of his drink as he made his way back to the couch.

They stayed silent until Tony finished his drink. “Y-Y’know...I’ve been looking for you right a-after those two weeks e-ended. It’s been half a year, Stephen.”

“I know it doesn’t excuse it, but I’m willing to do anything to make it up to you,” Stephen promised, cupping Tony’s face in his trembling hands. Tony hadn’t mentioned Stephen’s hands once since their reunion- which he was grateful for.

Stephen leaned close to Tony and shifted his position in a way so that he was fully facing Tony. He was about to lean in when he heard swirling from behind him.

The two men turned around and watched as a man stepped out of a crimson-orange portal. A man in dark green robes stared intensely at Stephen.

“Strange. I didn’t know you took a nice trip to New York during the lunch period,” Mordo muttered and pursed his lips. Stephen quickly let go of Tony and straightened his robes, cursing under his breath. Tony glanced between the two before jumping up from the couch.

“I’m sorry- but I don’t think I let you in?” Tony said as he anxiously tapped the top of his brace, obviously nervous. Stephen gave him a concerned look, desperately wanting to hold the man’s hand and tell him everything was going to be alright, but he stopped himself.

“My apologies, Mr. Stark, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to take Strange off your hands,” Mordo explained as he motioned Stephen to follow him back into the portal.

Tony desperately wanted to refuse. He had just gotten Stephen back and now this man wanted to take him away again?! Tony pushed down the rising emotions and gave a quick nod.

“I-I get it, saving the world and wh-whatnot. It’s kinda a p-part ti..time job for m-me too,” Tony coughed into his hand and began hastily shuffling paperwork on a table nearby the couch.

“Tony-” Stephen started but was quickly cut off.

“No! It’s fine. J-Just go on a-and t...take him just as quick as he came, why don’t you?” Tony muttered as Stephen got up from the couch. Tony heard some sort of shuffling and assumed Stephen was leaving without another word to him, but that changed when he felt arms wrap around him from behind.

“I promise I’ll come back after we defeat Dormammu,” Stephen whispered and squeezed Tony’s body in their hug, “And I promise we’ll tackle the Rogues together, even if I have to take them down one by one myself. It’ll be worth it as long as you’re safe.”

Tony shifted his weight on his feet. He wasn’t sure why, but the way Stephen said that made him feel...weird. His stomach was swirling in excitement and his neck and ears began heating up.

Stephen raised a shaky hand the right side of Tony’s head, placing a small kiss to Tony’s left temple. Before Tony could give Stephen a proper response, Stephen let go of him and walked through the portal, a sad smile on his face.

Tony waved Stephen goodbye as the portal closed. He waited until he was positive the portal was closed until he threw himself on the couch. He covered his face with his hands and kicked the couch arm violently. This isn’t fair!

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.

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.

“What the Hell were you doing in New York, Strange,” Mordo snapped as he closed the portal. The two were in the bedroom hallway outside Strange’s room.

“What do you think I was doing in New York, Mordo? If I have even a small chance of dying, I’m making sure that the people that I care for know. I’m not going to just disappear from the face of the earth without them knowing what happened,” Stephen hissed, crossing his arms. He refused to apologize for going back to Tony.

“There are things that happen here that do not go beyond the doors of Kamar-Taj- especially not the Avengers!”

“I didn’t tell the Avengers, I just told Tony Stark-” Stephen mumbled defensively. Mordo gave Stephen and incredulous look and stumbled over his words for a second before looking back at Stephen.

“Tony Stark is worse! He’s one of the biggest faces of the Avengers- not to mention his position of power across the world! What would happen if our secrets were released to our enemies, Stephen? What would we do then?!” Mordo questioned. Stephen bit his lip and stared at the wall.

“Don’t you have a class to teach?” Stephen asked and looked back up at Mordo.

“This is serious, Strange. Kaecilius is already out there gathering an army of soldiers. If any more secrets get out- if Dormammu-” Mordo explained, gesticulating dramatically.

“Okay- I get it!” Stephen cut him off. It’d only been a few minutes and he was already tired of Mordo’s lecturing.

“You cannot let your love life dictate your life here at Kamar-Taj,” Mordo said as he walked away from Stephen and down the hallway.

Stephen let out a surprised choke and began sputtering- words coming to a loss in his mouth, “I’m not gay!”

He didn’t want anyone at Kamar-Taj to know about his sexual orientation. Almost everyone he knew was well aware of his bisexuality. He was worried about it being a problem in Kamar-Taj. Nepal was the most progressive country in East Asia for LGBT+ rights, but he was still worried. Kamar-Taj seemed very traditional and he didn’t want to ruin his chance of healing his hands in case they weren’t accepting of it.

“Maybe,” Mordo started with a shrug as he turned around, “But you’re definitely not straight. Even I can tell.”

“Fuck,” Stephen swore as Mordo turned on the corner. Was he really that obvious? “You’re not going to tell anyone, right?!” Stephen asked as he chased after the other man.

“Not unless you want me to.”