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Kairos (n.)

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Stephen has the molecular knowledge to rewire your hands into snakes (and probably the surgical ability to make it happen), but he’s still not one for cooking.

He doesn’t even think twice about it, really. Last week they went to a sandwich joint that slathers cranberry sauce on a turkey BLT, and it was the best thing since sliced bread, so Stephen opens a portal to Tony’s workshop and says, “Hey, do you have any more local-delicacy knowledge that I’m unaware of?”

It’s quiet – a starched quiet, reminiscent of a hospital hallway. Tony’s workshop is the most homey part of his tower, only because it’s so reminiscent of Stephen’s own sanctum. Bits and pieces moving and humming, a lively workspace that breathes creativity. A different kind of endless knowledge, but it’s something Stephen can relate to. Today the shop is silent.

“Tony?”

Stephen is capable of sensing energy, which is quite an elementary practice, so Stephen knows he must be here somewhere.

He steps foot through the portal. Tony is curled up against the foot of his workbench, palms disturbingly pressed to his eyes. Something has shattered along the floor, and Tony is shaking like a man freezing to death.

Stephen is immediately caught in a crossroad – an urge to sprint to his side, and the horrific realization that he’s stepped into something he shouldn’t be seeing.

Tony doesn’t even acknowledge his presence, and the doctor in Stephen clicks into the driver’s seat.

“Tony,” he swipes his hand and evaporates the glass. “Are you okay?”

There’s a laceration down the side of his arm – an inch deep, quarter wide. The blood is fresh, so it’s no older than an hour. Bruising on his jaw, but old, most likely from a previous fight. He’s sweating profusely and his shirt collar is soaked.

Stephen’s heart sinks beyond his own control.

“Tony, I need a verbal response.”

“There’s a Mexican joint called Fucking Tacos down on seventh,” Tony croaks. “Great peach margaritas.”

His breathing is heavy, and Stephen can’t see his eyes yet, so he kneels next to him.

“You’re having a panic attack.”

“Really? Didn’t notice.”

“I’m going to touch you,” Stephen says. “Breathe in.”

He wraps a row of symbols around his wrist, and touches his hand to Tony’s shoulder. Tony gives a haggard attempt at an inhale, and Stephen closes his eyes to concentrate. Spells warm at his fingertips, and they glow up into Tony’s veins.

Tony slumps in an instant. He heaves in air like he’s starving for it, and collapses back against the bench.

“Oh my god.

“Slowly,” Stephen says. He releases Tony’s shoulder when he’s sure he can breathe again.

“Wow,” Tony scrubs at his wet eyes. His voice is croaky, but he smiles, “You’d make a great doctor.”

“Ha-ha.”

Tony still looks shaken. Stephen hesitates only a moment, before he slowly crawls next to him, and sits his back up against the desk as well. Tony is tense, like he’s waiting for Stephen to ask questions. He doesn’t.

There’s an intensity to the room that Stephen doesn’t pay any mind to. Mentally, he tracks the cooling of Tony’s body temperature and the slow of his shivering. Stephen quiets the deep, festering part of him that wants to reach back out for his shoulder. Tony slowly relaxes.

“Thanks,” Tony breathes. He’s avoiding eye contact, but he doesn’t ask Stephen to leave.

“When you’re ready, I need to stitch that arm.”

“Hm?” Tony clears his throat, and looks to the wound, “It’s not that bad. Few bandaids’ll do.”

“You risk infection. It crosses the median vein, so you’re damn lucky it isn’t any deeper.”

Tony looks to Stephen’s hands.

“You up for the job?”

“Of stitching you?” Stephen spins a marble of energy, and shapes it into a needle, “I could do a suture in my sleep.”

Tony doesn’t second guess him. “Where do you want me?”

“You’re going to be lightheaded for a while, so it’d be best to just do it here.”

“Fine,” Tony says, and throws out his arm. Stephen shifts to cross his legs on the floor. He brings Tony’s arm into his lap, and ignores the blood that stains his jeans. Tony’s skin is warm. A few scars already cover his arm, little nicks and scratches – the arms of a mechanic.

“I’ll numb you,” Stephen says. He rubs his hands together, warms them to a purple glow, and mutters an old Norwegian spell.

“I can do without it.”

“Best not.”

Stephen digs his thumb into the cubital vein, and Tony snaps, “I’ve been without it.”

“Don’t be cryptic with me,” Stephen says, slow but resolute. “I’m very aware of your open-heart surgery in an Afghani cave.”

Tony flinches as if burned. Stephen runs his thumb over Tony’s arm in a silent apology.

“I’ll only take a minute.”

It takes a bit longer. He cleans the wound with conjured water, and his hands shake on the uptick of the stitches. Slowly he threads trough the skin, and ties it clean together. Tony doesn’t complain. Something beeps far off in the room.

It’s one of Tony’s robots, dutifully still in the corner. It beeps once more, as if asking to come back online. Stephen slowly realizes that the windows are dark, and the room has been vocally turned to a total lockdown. Not even Friday speaks. 

Tony must see the look on his face, because he gives a short laugh, “No countermeasures against wizard portals, I guess.”

“That’s dangerous, Tony.” He pulls tight on the stitch, and increases the pressure of magic with his left hand, knowing it’ll burn.

“If Friday senses a hazard, she’ll lift the blackout.”

Stephen goes quiet. Friday doesn’t even answer.

“You’ve turned her off.”

“I just – I thought I could handle it.”

Stephen doesn’t say anything else. He ties off the stitch, and washes away the remaining blood. His medical training is horrified at the lack of sanitation, but Stephen knows better than to push his luck with Tony’s type.

“I’m sorry you had to see that,” Tony says in one breath.

Stephen looks up, “Hm?”

“Since we’re –“ he waves around his free arm, “- we’ve been going to lunch and hanging out and – you know, doing the new friend thing, and you’re not really supposed to know about the crippling anxiety until at least third base.”

Stephen lets out a laugh, and shifts Tony’s arm back into his own lap, “I’ve seen far worse.”

“You know that doesn’t comfort me at all, right?”

“You’re okay,” Stephen says, a statement and a question.

“Yeah,” Tony nods. He studies the stitches, and winces a little when he moves the arm. There’s a small comfort in the scars that cover Tony’s fingertips. They’re matching in a few places, some parallel down the middle and third fingers. 

Tony is looking at him. Stephen physically feels his heart thud in his ears.

“Stephen-“

“I don’t know about you, but I’m still starving,” He stands, dusting off his jeans. “Are you up for takeout? I’ll buy.” 

“Why the fuck would I let you buy?” Tony stands, using his good arm to push himself up to his feet. Stephen wants to steady him by the waist, but doesn’t. “You have fifteen bucks to your name and you just saved me from a self-destructive spiral. I owe you.”

“I have more than fifteen dollars.”

“Just make your little portal, we’re going to Pinches Tacos.”

 

-

 

Parties at the Stark penthouse are a weird concoction of the events Stephen used to speak at, and some of the parties he’d crash in college. The ceilings are tall and the hors d'oeuvres are unique enough to be a conversation starter – but everyone has this familiarity with each other that Stephen just can’t relate to.

Thor is here, and that’s nice. They talk about Asgard, until the Captain and his friends arrive like a windstorm of energy, and the room is swept along with it.

Stephen finds himself up against the open bar, nursing something that he doesn’t quite have the taste for anymore.

“There you are,” Tony says, speaking of windstorms. “You really are good at the disappearing act.”

He’s done up handsome tonight. Bowtie, black suit, red bottom shoes. Stephen knows the watch on his wrist is worth more than all the collective jewelry in the room, especially because he used to own one.

“Thank you for having me,” Stephen says.

“Come on,” Tony jerks. “I have some stuff in my lab you’re gonna’ want to see.”

Stephen lifts an eyebrow, “Tony, this is your party.”

“They don’t need me,” Tony waves his hand around in his typical fashion. “Watch, they won’t even know I’m gone.”

 

-

 

The worst part of passing out, is definitely waking up.

Annoyingly, Stephen’s brain processes the damage first. A fracture to the back of his skull, abrasions on the knees, his shin might need stitches, and there’s the throb of an almost-concussion – shut up, fuck.

“Jesus,” Stephen croaks. It’s daylight out, and it hurts to open his eyes. He’s outside and – oh. Right.

“Wakey wakey,” Tony sings from behind the armor. The faceplate lifts, “You alive?”

“Wh- What...” Stephen starts. His head is being cradled, and he’s half held in the Iron Man’s lap – which isn’t really all that comfortable, but he’s definitely not moving.

“You got swatted out of the air like a mosquito,” Tony says. “You’d be roadkill if it wasn’t for that cape of yours.”

“It’s a cloak,” Stephen rasps.

Tony rolls his eyes, and tips his head slightly to speak into the coms, “He’s fine.”

Steve answers first, “Good – we’ve got a hold on that mutant for now – but I don’t know where the fire lady went.”

A blast comes out of nowhere, and Tony draws up a shield with his nanobots, yelling, “Hey! Fuck off!”

“Found her,” Stephen answers, and summons the energy to fire a repulser spell in her general direction. Vision is on it in seconds, sweeping the teenager off by her armpits. Stephen tries to sit up, and winces when a splitting pain digs down his spine.

“Hey, watch it.” Tony helps him up, “You need to sit the rest of this one out, Doc.”

“I think you might be right,” Stephen says.

“Hey! Did everyone hear that?!”

“Just go,” Stephen snaps, and narrowly avoids smiling.

“Nah, I think they’ve got it.” Tony gets Stephen back on his feet and gives him a grin. It hits Stephen hard, right in his sternum. Tony is looking at him, and Stephen gazes right back.

Smoke billows off in the distance. Chattering is static in the coms, but Stephen’s head is throbbing so hard he can hardly hear a word. There’s dried blood on the corner of Tony’s temple and the armor is a unwavering mass against his side, and Stephen can’t speak, because he knows it’ll be something he shouldn’t say. Something about Tony’s eyes, probably.

Tony clears his throat and starts, “Do you – “

“I’ll portal us back to HQ,” Stephen interrupts, drawing up his fingers. “Anyone else need a ride?”

“I think we’re good on our end,” Natasha says, muffled fighting in the background.

“Right,” Tony nods. “I think I’ll stay back and help clean up.”

 Stephen feels an inkling of relief when Tony lets go of him; at last he’s able to breathe.

“How uncharacteristically noble of you,” Stephen jokes.

“What can I say? Sometimes I like to dirty myself with a bit of peasant work,” Tony winks, and kicks off on his boosters.

“Captain Rodgers, his majesty is headed your way,” Stephen tells. He doesn’t have to see the playful middle finger Tony is giving him, he knows it’s there.

 

-

 

Tony’s lab smells like a new car with a hoarder in the driver’s seat. It’s squeaky clean, yet riddled with half-finished projects and forgotten tools. DUM-E whirs in the corner, and Stephen thinks of how jealous the cloak will be when it learns that Stephen saw it’s best friend today.

The party thumps upstairs, which is impressive given they’re five floors down. Stephen would make a note about noise complaints, but Tony hardly has a neighbor up this high, besides the birds.

“I’ve been super excited about this,” Tony says. He fumbles around with a holographic screen, and shoves a few worknotes aside, before punching in a code. “You know, ever since the incident at the bridge. I know your mental and physical energy goes towards your cognitive magic-y stuff, but I’m a personal advocate for a little technological help.”

He finishes punching in the numbers, and a locked cabinet on the far side of the workshop pops open. It reveals a display case, with a set of prototype gloves behind the glass. Tony takes them out and slips one on, “I haven’t really come up with a name for them yet. The file is PartyGlovesforWizards.pdf.”

“What are they?” Stephen asks.

“A type of brace, sorta.” Tony pats the top of the glove, and it suctions to his hand. It’s completely fingerless, metal sculpting only from his knuckles down to his wrist. He wiggles his fingers, and makes a grabbing motion, “They wouldn’t do much for me, except maybe stall off the carpel tunnel.”

Oh. Oh god. They’re made to stop the trembling. Tony took time away from being whatever bigheaded prodigy that he is — just to help steady Stephen’s hands.

Tony takes one look at his face, and backpedals, “If I’m overstepping my boundary here – just, just let me know.”

“No,” Stephen says quickly. “Let me see it.”

 

-

 

“Thanks for picking me up from school Mr. Strange," Peter smiles. 

“It takes me less than a minute, don’t worry about it,” Stephen says, closing the portal behind them. “Set your stuff wherever you want. Tony said to send you over around three-thirty. Something about a meeting.”

“He’s talking with the head of Envirocore!” Peter gestures. “Stark Industries is a beacon of clean energy, and they want to take his technology overseas!”

“I’m surprised he didn’t just send Mrs. Potts,” Stephen mumbles. He opens his fridge, and frowns at the lack of teenager-appropriate food.

“Oh, Mr. Stark is really passionate about this kinda’ stuff,” Peter says. He sheds off his hoodie and bounces onto the couch amidst the sanctum. “He likes to be more hands-on with clean energy companies because OPEC has it out for ‘em.”

“That’s…generous of him.” He finds enough ingredients for a sandwich, and carries them over to the counter, “What’s your take on a PB&J?”

“Could eat ‘em in my sleep,” Peter says. He folds his feet under him, and smiles as the sandwich magically makes itself. “Thank you Mr. Strange!”

When it’s done, Stephen portals it to him, and takes a seat at the barstool, “So what’re you in for today?”

Peter takes a big bite, and speaks as he chews, “Nanotech! I wanted to make a few changes to the shock-absorption in the suit, and Mr. Stark said I might be onto something.”

“Tell me more,” Stephen says, so Peter does.

Stephen likes the kid. He’s seen too much too young, but he still has an endearing outlook on life that keeps Stephen on his feet. He’s supposed to be at Kamar-Taj teaching the new students about mystic history, but he figures they can handle one day off.

He gets a text at three-fifteen telling him to send Peter on over, so Stephen spins a portal, and Peter jumps on through.

“Hello Mr. Stark.”

“Hey man,” Tony fist bumps him. “Get down to the lab, I’m right on your tail.”

“Yes sir!” Peter fake salutes, and waves a goodbye to Stephen.

“Thanks for that,” Tony says. “I tried to push the meeting to one thirty, but you know how old white guys get when you cut into their lunchtime.”

Stephen snorts, “It was of no consequence.”

“Good – to – hear,” Tony mimics, moving his arms like a robot, and Stephen rolls his eyes.

“Hilarious.”

“Tell Wong I’m stopping by tonight,” Tony leans back on his desk, and pats a stack of books. “I’m turning these in.”

Stephen blinks, “Finished already?”

“I skimmed Rumite Major because I already get the concept of matter, but The Way of Verde had some interesting outlooks on energy.”

“Power through peace, I liked that one too,” Stephen smiles. “When you said you were interested in the ancient texts, I thought you were kidding.”

“Listen, I have zero desire in buying a wand and riding around on a broomstick,” Tony grins. “I just like to know stuff. I have less of a freakout when I know how you’re turning a black hole into butterflies.”

 “Ask Wong for Nishati Moja. It’s in Swahili, but you can have Friday translate. It has a unique concept of sharing a planet’s mystical lifeforce.”

“Hmm, I’ll remember it,” Tony says. He reaches over and squeezes Stephen at the arm, and his body lights up hot with it. “I told you about the gala I’m speaking at tomorrow, right? You got an answer for me?”

It sounds so much like a date – which it isn’t, but it’s too close for comfort, and it makes his heart hurt.

Stephen takes in the soft, honest look on Tony’s face and tucks it away for later.

“Sorry,” Stephen steps away. “I really – I don’t do that anymore.”

“Right,” Tony nods.

“Is your fiancé going?”

“Pep? Mmm, afraid not,” Tony says. “Real busy running my entire life. I gave her the day off, and she gave me permission to go to hell.”

Stephen laughs, “I like her.”

“Let me know if you change your mind,” Tony says, preparing to step out of his office door and follow Peter down the elevator. “It’d be nice to have someone judge the crab-cakes with me.”

“I’m not going to be a part of your food-poisoning suicide pact.”

“Worth a shot,” Tony shrugs.

Stephen steps backwards into the portal, back on the sanctum floor. He nods a short goodbye, and closes the portal before he’s convinced to change his mind.

 

-

 

“Here,” Tony says. “Gimmie your hand.”

Stephen lifts his palm upwards, and Tony slips the glove onto his hand. It feels like metal – cold, but soft, the movement like unto fabric. The rings adjust to the curves of his fingers, and when Tony pats the top of the glove, it suctions tight.

“Oh,” Stephen breathes. He flexes the joints, and is surprised at the responsiveness. His fingers curl without pain – a little stiffly, but Stephen finds himself unable to stop wiggling his fingers.

“No more worries about grip-strength,” Tony smiles. “If you’re hanging off a bridge, these puppies won’t let you fall.”

“Wow,” Stephen turns his hand over, and grabs onto the worktable. It groans under his fingers. “They’re so lightweight.”

“It’s just the Mark 1. I’ve already come up with the schematics of folding them into a bracelet using nanobots. But – “

“No, this is,” Stephen pauses. “I don’t even know what to say.”

Tony shrugs, “Nothing really. It’s kinda’ what I like to do. Fix things.”

“People,” Stephen corrects. Tony’s eyes snap to his. He says, “Everyone but yourself.”

 

-

 

“Hey Tony?” Stephen peers into the portal. He’s hasn’t bothered to change into his civilian clothes, and as soon as the cloak recognizes the lab, it flaps off towards the robots. “Hey-“

“Down here!” Tony rolls out from under a car.

“Oh, hello. Are you busy?”

“No –“ Tony looks at his clothes, “Are you?”

“Training,” Stephen corrects. He digs into his pocket, “Um, I was wondering if you could fix something for me.”

Tony’s eyes light up, and he wheels completely out on the creeper. “Oh? Something magic can’t fix?”

“My phone,” Stephen sighs. “It keeps crashing whenever I try to run any apps.”

Tony stands, and wipes his hands on his jeans. He’s in a dirty-white tank top and there’s grease down the side of his neck, and by god, Stephen wants to grab him by the waist and bend him over that car – shit, no.

“Why can’t you just turn back time?” Tony wiggles his fingers and does a voice that is supposed to be ‘spooky’.

Stephen rolls his eyes, “Altering time on a specific object is more likely to crack the reality continuum. Instead of reversing all time, it’s creating a parallel time-bubble around the object in question – “

“Alright, okay, I actually don’t care.” He sticks out his hand, “Lemme’ see it.”

Stephen hands it over. Tony blanches.

“Oh my god, what is this?! An iphone four?!”

“It works fine.” Usually.

“For the pioneers, maybe,” Tony turns it over in his hand. “Fucking Christ, it still has the old USB port.”

“Okay?”

“You know I can get you a Starkphone, like, right now?”

“I don’t need anything fancy,” Stephen says. “I just need it to work.”

“Whatever.” Tony begins hunting through the drawers of his workshop. He pulls out tools, staplers, random objects that Stephen can’t comprehend. Tony mumbles, “Fuck, I’ve gotta’ still have a cord around here somewhere. HDMI, android – no, no –“

“Third drawer on the left, boss.”

“Oh,” Tony pulls it open. “Thanks Fry.”

He plugs Stephen’s phone into a port on his desk, and pulls up a hologram.

“Jesus,” Tony curses. “Are you sure you don’t--“

“Yes.”

He mumbles something under his breath, and begins to swipe through data on Stephen’s phone. Uninterested, Stephen turns to the car Tony was working on.

It’s a 1963 Rolls Royce, if the tires are anything to go by. White rimmed, shiny black paintjob. Sorcerers are supposed to separate the material from the spiritual, but damn that’s a nice car.

“You into cars?” Tony asks, not looking away from where he’s sorting data. “You were a bigshot, weren’t you? Have anything nice once upon a time?”

“Nothing like this,” Stephen says. He runs a hand over the hood, “I was into sportscars.”

“Ohh, shiny,” Tony grins. “Have a favorite?”

Stephen pauses. A moment passes before he says, “It was the Lamborghini that ran off the road and crushed all the bones in my hands.”

Tony pauses. He looks through the hologram. Lights flicker across his face, almost glossy. He’s beautiful.

“And now?”

“I don’t drive.”

“Funny,” Tony says, and goes back to sorting.

Stephen bristles, “Funny?”

“Yeah. I refuse to let anyone else drive me – since, well. Since the ‘rents died in a car accident, or, so I thought.”

Stephen doesn’t meddle. He leans up against the car door saying, “Aren’t we a pair.”

Tony swipes aside the data and smiles, “Friday will redownload the software to your phone. It’ll be a hot minute, you wanna’ go out for some fries?”

Stephen knows he should say no. But hell, the relaxed smile on Tony’s face, the light tease in his tone. Fuck, the grease stain down his neck. It’s all conspiring against him.

Against his better judgement, “Alright.”

They sit in a fast-food joint; Del Taco of all places, and talk about old music and seventies bands. Tony double dips his fries and sits crisscross in the booth, and Stephen has never quite had a best friend, but... he thinks this might be the start of it.

He’s okay with that. If only for forever, he’s okay with that.

 

-

 

Tony doesn’t move. His hip is against the workbench, hand braced against the counter, but he doesn’t move.

“It’s all the same to me,” Tony says.

“I hate how they treat you,” Stephen admits, out of nowhere. “Everyone.”

“They see what they’re supposed to see,” Tony says with a shrug. Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.”

“You’ve changed the world, Tony.”

“Some say not for the better.”

“They’re idiots,” Stephen says. He flexes his fingers once more, watching as they no longer shake. He repeats, “They are, idiots.”

Tony is looking at him, chin up, eyes forward, uncaring of the height difference. Stephen’s body sings with want, with a desire to reach out for him. To grab his waist, to hold him by the neck and feel skin and bone. To press one forehead to another, and pick apart Tony’s brain until he knows him inside out. To own and brand and be the impossible.

“Has anyone told you how fucking gorgeous you are?” Tony asks low. 

“Not…recently,” Stephen breathes.

“Okay,” Tony says, and reaches up to kiss him.   

 

-

 

“There’s no way that’s real.”

“Actually,” Stephen starts, “human mouths carry far more bacteria than a dog’s. You might need stitches with a dog bite, but you never want to see what human teeth can do.”

“That’s disgusting,” Tony says with delight. He fiddles with his holographic pad, and doesn’t stray from it.

House is on the big screen. This is the turn where Stephen should invite Tony back over to his place, but the sanctum doesn’t really have the couch-space, or the TV for it.

Stark tower is nicer anyways. Stephen has a pile of books in his lap, two spread over the ottoman to help cross-reference Celtic spells.

They’re barely into the second season, but they’ve only started a few weeks ago. They made it through most of Grey’s Anatomy before Stephen just couldn’t handle the medical inaccuracies anymore. At least Tony found it entertaining.

“So is that true?” Tony gestures without looking. “They just listen to this guy ‘cause he says no?”

“Well, if we’re talking power of attorney…if they thought amputating the leg was the best way to save his life, then they should’ve just taken the leg, client-will be damned.”

“That kinda’ sucks,” Tony says. “So if I said nah, I’d rather die than lose my leg, you’d still take the leg?”

“Legally, yes,” Stephen says. “House is just being an asshole. Like usual.”

“Interesting.”

Rhodey sits up from the kitchen, a bare ten feet away from the livingroom, and snaps, “Seriously! You two aren’t even watching!”

“Multitasking,” Stephen and Tony say together.

“Unbelievable,” Rhodey sighs.

“Patriot should be good to go,” Tony says, still not looking up. “Friday has her on the roofdeck.”

“Fine,” he sighs. “You didn’t- “

“Yes I left the rocket launcher, god, you’re a pushy honeybear.”

“I’ll see you at HQ?”

“Yeah, Cap said something about a meeting on Thursday.”

“Saturday.”

“Yeah, Friday.”

“No, Satur-“

“Yes boss?”

“Get this man a shot of scotch on his way out,” Tony grins, finally looking up to see the angry look on Rhodey’s face. “He needs it.”

“Don’t do anything stupid,” Rhodey says, but he has a fondness about it. Stephen understands that intimately. He waves, “Goodbye Doctor.”

“Colonel.”

The doors whoosh behind him.

“You really like to push him around,” Stephen says.

“Someone’s got to,” Tony laughs. He turns sideways, and pushes his toes into the side of Stephen’s leg, “Having any luck?”

The casualness of it all grinds Stephen to a halt. His chest twists, an old pang of guilt and pain wringing into his chest. He swallows it down.

“More or less. The gist is spiritual energy conversion, but it’s more complicated than that.”

“Teach me,” Tony says.

Stephen lifts a brow, “You care?”

“You listen to me ramble on about engineering all day.”

“Yes but – that’s different.”

“Not really,” Tony gestures towards the T.V., and it pauses, as if it knows better. Tony conducts his own magic in this tower, and Stephen is eternally fascinated with it.

Tony rearranges himself to face Stephen, and the proximity is not lost to either of them. “Go on.”

Stephen shouldn’t. He does.

 

-

 

Tony kisses soft, unlike what you’d ever imagine. Tentative, but not unsure.

Stephen kisses back because it’s the only thing he knows how to do. A first kiss so soft but so needy – Tony Stark a real, breathing person under armor. Beautiful and genius and battleworn thin.

Stephen holds him close, holds him tight. Coherent thought grinds down the garbage disposal and dies there. Why, how – it doesn’t really matter. Not when you pine for something and finally have it in your hands.

Tony makes a noise and Stephen’s entire world falls apart. He grinds his fingertips into Tony’s hips, a newfound strength in them that he uses to haul him closer. Tony kisses harder, licks into his mouth and sucks out the rest of Stephen’s brain. His lips are warm, unchapped, tongue flicking along his lower lip, and Stephen can’t process it all. Not enough. Not with how badly he wants to remember it.

“Stephen-“ He starts, a hand combing up into his hair, “God, you- you have to-“

He spins Tony around and pins him against the desk. Tony moans like that’s what he wanted all along. They kiss again, again, more and more – for so long they lose track of time.

 

-

 

It’s been months since Stephen has been up here.

He’s willing to bet good money that this penthouse has the best view of New York. The empire state building might have the claim, but it’s really got nothing on Stark Tower.

It looks different at night. New York. Lit up and full of life, as if their existence isn’t under threat by the daily. The windows reach the ceiling and the floor is hardly opaque, and it’s brilliant.

“I come up here to think a lot,” Tony says, hands behind his back. “Sometimes too much.”

Last week Tony sent a simple, juvenile text.

Can I come over?

He wasn’t looking great when Stephen found him. A bit haggard, unshaved. Frazzled, and Stephen knew why. Alien invasions aren’t good for the psyche.

So Stephen let him run about the sanctum for a day. Tony thumbed through books, slept in his armchair, mussed through the kitchen – he listened in on the class about chakras, and followed Stephen to Kamar-Taj to watch him train. Tony was oddly silent that day, but he was smiling more by the evening, and by nightfall he’d climbed up onto Stephen’s countertop and chattered about global energy until the late hours.

Stephen hadn’t done much but listen – yet when Tony went home, he’d looked Stephen in the eye and said thank you, like he’d saved his life.

They don’t talk about it, but they don’t need to. There’s a silence now, but Stephen doesn’t feel the need to break that either.

“Do you want a drink?” Tony asks, after a moment. He wanders over to the bar. “I’ve pretty much gone dry myself, but the bar is still stocked.”

“I’ll take an iced tea,” Stephen says sultry, and Tony laughs.

“Comin’ right up.”

Stephen watches him pour the ice, then reach for the fridge and pull out a pitcher of tea. He swirls it around, and then slides the glass across the bar.

“On the house, for the pretty lady.”

“They always treat me so good,” Stephen teases, and takes a short sip. Tony pours himself a glass of water, and comes around to the same side of the bar.   

“Fella’ done you wrong?”

“I’d like to meditate here, I think,” Stephen says. “It’s beautiful.”

“Different,” Tony states. He pauses. “I think your sanctum has it’s own beauty to it.”

Stephen gives him a look.

“Really?”

“It has an old, go back in time to grandmother’s house kinda’ feel,” Tony hums. “Like you can check your problems at the door and leave them there.”

“I guess so.” He takes a drink, and sets the glass back down against the bar. There’s an intimacy to the click against marble – to the low lights and the way Tony just watches him without expectation.

Dread creeps at Stephen’s neck. A prickling that he’s going too far. That he’s been here before.

But hell, Tony is there, radiating that seductive ease that comes with the full package of Tony Stark. He’s beautiful, but he’s also messy – grease stains and scars, bad sleeping habits and OCD that keeps him running in circles.  But he’s beautiful because of it, not in spite of, and Stephen is whipped; god, despite everything, despite the grit and nail and all the effort not to – Stephen very, very much adores him.

“Hey,” Tony says. “Don’t get mad at me, but I’m gonna' –“

 

-

 

Stephen slips a hand along Tony’s neck, and feels his pulse beneath his fingertips. They kiss long, deep, going nowhere at all, a tense wire finally chewed through –

There’s a ringing. A phone, ringing.

“Boss….” Friday says. “It’s Mrs. Potts.”

“Fuck,” Tony pulls back, hands over his mouth. “Pepper.”

Oh. Fuck.

Stephen’s stomach pits. Flips so hard, he almost goes sick. He lifts his fingers against his lips, and feels his body go numb. The mood shatters completely.

“Um,” Tony scrubs his hands into his hair, messing with the gel. “Tell her I’ll call her back, five minutes.”

“Sure thing, boss.”

It’s quiet. The music still thumps, but the workshop is dark, barely glowing with lowlights. He’s not on a boat – not on a boat, surely, but it feels like one. Tipping sideways more and more– Stephen presses a hand to the workbench just to stay upright.

“I’m sorry,” Tony blurts. “I’m – I’ll work this out. I don’t – “

“It’s fine,” Stephen mumbles. He wipes at his lips, but he feels them swollen already. He can still taste the drink Tony had. “We won’t talk about it.”

“No, no that’s – “ Tony makes a pained noise. “Give me a few days. Just a few days to get this all sorted, I- I really – “

“Don’t worry about it,” Stephen says. “We can talk later. Go call your... “

Fiancé. Fiancé. Fiancé. Fuck.

“Okay,” Tony breathes. He looks frantic.

Stephen makes it down the hallway and into the bathroom, before he collapses against the door and slides down to his knees.

 

-

 

Tony reaches up. Slow, right into Stephen’s hair. He braces his fingers against Stephen’s ears, and no, no –

Tony leans up on his toes. His eyes slide shut, and Stephen only glimpses the top of his lashes, before he’s leaning up and pressing a gentle kiss against Stephen’s lips.

Stephen is utterly powerless to stop it. His hands are shaking uncontrollably, and they fall to Tony’s hips like they belong there.

Stephen is just as swept away as the first time. His eyes close and he kisses back on a reflex.

He’s vibrating at his core. Guilt, guilt, guilt. Ugly and black and festering, bleeding into his chest and his stomach all the way to his feet. Tony is a blinding light, the warmest, the softest, and Stephen cracks and brittles inside. Desire and hesitation battle at his core.

The kiss stops.

Tony pulls back, sluggish. The look on his face is muddled. He looks to Stephen, and forms his words slowly.

“We’ve kissed before,” Tony says.

Stephen keeps his breath calm, and tries for a teasing tone.

“Maybe in your dreams.”

“No,” Tony feels his lips. “No – Stephen. We’ve kissed before.” His eyes turn dark, sharp, crackling at the snap of a whip. “Stephen, why have we kissed before?”

“I don’t know what you’re –“

“Yes you do!” Tony pulls back. “I – I just, I can feel it. I just know, okay. I never have Deja-Vu, never. The only time was when you…when you…” Tony trails off. Stephen goes cold and numb and can’t even bring himself to react when Tony grips him by the shirt collar and sneers in his face, “Strange, what did you do?!”

 

-

 

It was a mistake.

An accident.

Stephen reaches into the neck of his shirt, and draws out the eye.

The look on Tony’s face. Guilt-ridden, confused, horrified.

It’s a mercy. It’ll be a mercy.

He curls his fingers into the sign, and pulls open the eye. Green symbols glow around his wrists, and Stephen turns them hesitantly.

It’s better this way. Tony will be fine. He’ll get married. He’ll have babies. He’ll grow old and never turn back. Stephen’s heart will mend itself, as with anything else, in time.

 

-

 

“I’m sorry,” Stephen says, and his voice sounds far away to his own ears. “It was for the best.”

“You reset time,” Tony breathes, shell-shocked and hurt. “How could you?”

“You were – you were with Pepper! You cheated!”

“We broke up months ago!”

“Not then!” Stephen shouts. “You were going to live your life knowing you made out with me in your lab while your fiancé stepped off the plane two hours late to your birthday party-“

”The party.” Tony’s eyes go wide, “My party. My party a year ago-“

“It only would’ve caused you more pain.”

“Then that was my weight to carry!” Tony yells back. “That was my choice. Whatever I did – “ Tony grips Stephen’s hand, and pulls it to his forehead. “Show me.”

Stephen growls.

“No.”

“Show me!” Tony grips his wrist tighter. Hysteric. “You stole the memory of our first kiss – now give it back!”

“Fine!” Stephen shouts, and bleeds the magic into Tony’s skull. He draws the memory from his heart, from the place he’s protected it all this time, and feels it rip apart his soul piece by piece.

 

-

 

Stephen finds himself up against the open bar, nursing something that he doesn’t quite have the taste for anymore.

“There you are,” Tony says, speaking of windstorms. “You really are good at the disappearing act.”

He’s done up handsome tonight. Bowtie, black suit, red bottom shoes. Stephen knows the watch on his wrist is worth more than all the collective jewelry in the room, especially because he used to own one.

“Thank you for having me,” Stephen says.

“Come on,” Tony jerks. “I have some stuff in my lab you’re gonna’ want to see.”

“Sorry,” Stephen frowns, checking his watch. “I uh, have to get going. But you have my number, right?”

“Huh?” Tony blinks. “Oh uh, yeah. Should I call you?”

“I’ll answer a text,” Stephen says. “Thanks for the meal.”

“Yeah, uh. I’ll see you around.”

 

-

 

When the memory fades, Tony’s eyes are cold and distant and like nothing Stephen has ever seen. He folds up walls, builds them quick, so it doesn’t sting nearly as bad when Tony steps back and says, voice quiet.

“Leave.”

Stephen nods. He pulls out his ring, and begins to sign a circle. The portal glows, and Tony looks away, jaw so set in anger Stephen hardly recognizes him.

“I was only trying to protect you,” Stephen says.

“Go." 

So he does.

 

 -2-


 

 

Stephen doesn't realize how much time he spends with Tony — until he stops all together. 

He's done his fair-share of relationship fuckups (if you can even call it that), but this one is beyond a pain he's felt before. The regret is near unbearable, self-wallowing and despair clinging to his chest like an ugly vice. So he meditates for three days just to shed himself of it all. 

The only thing he really succeeds in is dehydration and prolonged sadness. 

Stephen has done this before. Made mistakes so foul, he's pushed even the un-pushable away. And yet the betrayed look on Tony's face has carved out a hole in his chest that he just can't forget. 

He presses his hands to his eyes. Closes them, and wishes he had the strength to dig his nails into his own skin. 

Stephen really thought it for the best. What was better? A life lived with your wife, or a messy relationship born of a spur of the moment. If even he were to be so lucky. The probability was near ninety percent; Tony would choose Pepper, Tony would regret the kiss, Tony would ask to never see him again.

 

They ended up here anyways. Oh how Stephen tried. He reset time. He put them at a place where they could be friends. He kept his distance, he held his tongue, he tried so, so hard to keep them from this. And that memory ruined them anyways. 

 

"Are you quite done?" Wong asks. 

Stephen's head snaps up. "Excuse me?" 

"You're bringing down the mood of the entire sanctuary," he says, lifting a book and chaining it back on the wall. 

"I haven't even said anything!" 

"Exactly," Wong says. "Go sort yourself out, because you won't like it if I have to get involved." 

Stephen sighs, and drops his head into his hands. "I fucked up." The cloak gives a sad pet to his cheek. 

"You seem to do that a lot." 

"Good pep talk." 

"What do you want me to say? You abused the power of an infinity stone," he says. 

Stephen physically flinches.

Wong stares a beat longer, "I've seen you reset time for far more trivial things, Strange."

"I hurt him." 

"You hurt yourself," Wong says. "Figure it out." 

 

-

 

There's a war of outer and inner desire - but Stephen has made his peace. He'd give up a million chances to have Tony under his hands, if it meant still having him by his side.  Their friendship is worth more than a kiss. Tony may never forgive him, but Stephen must at least tell him this. 

So when he first hears that Tony is back in town, he portals outside the workshop, and knocks on the glass door. The blackouts are drawn, and Stephen is torn between respecting Tony's personal space, and the fear that he might find him on the floor again. 

"Tony?" He taps once, riding on a high of bravery. "Friday? Is Tony-" 

The glass door slides open, and Stephen nearly falls through it. He peers into the lab and sees Tony at his desk, a circle of holograms floating around him. It's been three long, pitiful weeks, and every cell in Stephen's body urges to touch him. 

Tony crosses his arms and lifts an eyebrow, "Are you actually knocking on my door? I must've really scared the shit out of you." 

"I've come to apologize." 

"And you didn't reset time? Someone's wearing their big boy pants," Tony sneers, and waves aside the holograms. He's still in a suit - dressed up nice from wherever the hell he flew from (who is he kidding, Stephen knows he just got back from business in Germany). 

"I realize I've made a mistake," he says. 

"No shit."

Stephen takes a deep breath, and says it all in one go. 

"You are, above all, one of the closest friends I've ever come to have, and I kissed you back because I am undoubtedly in love with you," Stephen says. 

Tony's mouth parts slightly in surprise. Stephen stands his ground. 

"I thought I reset time to protect you," Stephen swallows. "The possibility of you choosing me over...the fact that you'd even have to choose - I didn't want that for you." He pauses. "Or so I was convinced. In reality, I was only trying to protect myself. I thought I'd rather be your friend, than some mistake." 

"Stephen — " 

"I'm sorry," he finishes. "In an attempt to spare us grief, I only made it worse." 

The horrible, walled off look in Tony's eyes starts to defrost into the man Stephen knows. The one that eats ice-cream with a fork and does calculus in his sleep. 

"Fuck," Tony slumps, hand rubbing at his forehead. "You — you had a right to be upset. If I — if that me put you in that position, thats. That's shitty. I'm sorry too."

A small weight lifts from Stephen's shoulders. 

"I obviously reciprocated. You don't need to apologize." 

Tony sighs, "Do you know why I’m so mad?" 

Stephen's heart thumps, "Presumably." 

"No, you don't," Tony frowns. "I'm — fuck, I wanted that, Stephen. Back at the party. I wished I could’ve kissed you a year ago. I wanted it. And now we live in a world where it never happened." 

Stephen refuses to get his hopes up. He walls off his heart with a wounded desperation to protect it. 

"What are you saying?"

"Goddamnit," Tony stands, stalking forward, "I kissed you twice! You're a ten up and down the board with the sexiest brain in this century. God, it's like Santa read my Christmas list. I’ve been head over heels since, fuck, who knows.”

Stephen asks low, as if it'll burst the new mood around them. But he has to know, for his sanity, he must.

"Would you have chosen me?" 

"I don't know," Tony says, "God knows I keep fuckin' trying." 

This time Stephen kisses him. Grabs him by the neck, and hauls him up in his air. All the fight leaves Tony in an instant, arms wrapping up and around his shoulders so he can hang from Stephen and part his lips in a silent acceptance. 

This. This is what they've been waiting for. 

They can't erase the kiss at the party, or the mess at the top of the penthouse, but they start over something sweeter. To choose each other against all odds; it's beyond cloud nine. Stephen leans back just to kiss him again. To cover his mouth with his own and selfishly take. 

"I've wanted," Tony whines against his lips. "God, I've wanted." 

Stephen parts their kiss and hauls him into a hug. Tony hugs him back. They stand there, and Stephen breathes him in to settle his nerves. Tony is trembling. 

"I thought you didn't like me," Tony says, voice almost cracking. "All this fucking time." 

"Molecularly impossible," Stephen answers. 

"I'm still mad at you." 

"Take all the time you need," Stephen teases, and signs his fingers behind Tony's back, the spot beneath his shirt collar glowing green. Tony leans back and punches him in the shoulder, but cracks into a laugh anyways. 

"You're an asshole." 

"Don't tell me you're just now figuring that out." 

Friday's voice comes over the speakers, "Boss, something's popped up on a beach in New Jersey. Captain Rodgers is calling you." 

"Convenient. You're spared from me kicking your ass tonight." 

"For now," Stephen says. "Friday, which beach?"

 

-

 

The fatigue is is a weighted one. The kind where your eyes feel crusty and you can't wait to burn the clothes you're wearing. 

Stephen sits on the sand, head against his knees, trying to wave off the vertigo. The beach is littered with the aftermath of their battle, giant squid carcasses and crab legs washed up in the water. 

The sun is already rising. Once they figured out that it was a kid controlling the monsters, the battle ended rather quickly; but it was a long few hours of diverting civilians and keeping the creatures from taking out a quarter mile of residential homes. 

King T'Challa is speaking with the child now, crouched on his knees, hands on their shoulders. Someone really needs to make a home for these kids. 

A body collapses in the sand next to him, and Stephen knows it's Tony. The armor folds up into his chest, mechanical silver running up his arms, and down his neck. Tony slumps against his side, head on Stephen's shoulders. 

"I'm not eating sashimi for a long, long time." 

"You can count me out too," Stephen says. "No amount of magic will get the sand out of these robes." 

Tony gives a small shake of a laugh. A quick glance, and Stephen sees that he's come out okay. Some scratches here and there. He might've overextended his arm, but it'll heal with some ice. 

"Are you okay?" Tony asks.

"Yes. A bit dizzy from when that thing whipped me around like a frisbee." 

Tony hums. He reaches up to comb some of the sand out of Stephen's hair with his fingers. Stephen still can't believe everything that's happened in the last twenty-four hours. Still can't comprehend that Tony is willing to forgive him. 

"I think we're even now," Tony grins, as if reading his mind. He shifts off Stephen's shoulder, and draws his attention when he adjusts nervously. "I've uh. I've been carrying this around for a while." Tony digs into his pockets, and pulls out two silver bands. They're no more than a quarter wide, nothing flashy or attention-grabbing about them, but Stephen immediately knows what they are. "I realize that I probably should've given them to you before the fight. Or uh, maybe months ago." He laughs, "But I guess you already knew about the gloves." 

"When I altered the timeline, I wasn't sure if you'd ever give them to me," Stephen says softly. 

"I kept trying to find the right time... and then months went by and I didn't like the design anymore so I kept reworking them until I felt like they were perfect." 

"Show me," Stephen says, turning his hands palms up. Tony looks him in the eye, reading his intentions. Stephen could kiss him, but there's other Avengers still here, so he doesn't. 

Tony reaches for his hands. He turns them over, studying the long running scars. His thumbs drag down the tops of his fingers, feeling for scar tissue and disfigurement, and for a moment Stephen feels self conscious. 

"Is the pain chronic?" Tony whispers. 

"Yes." 

Tony gently slides the rings down each wrist. He turns his hands over, and taps the bands simultaneously. They activate too quick for the eye to see, nanotechnology slinking to Stephen's skin, two braces running along his palms knuckle to wrist.

Stephen marvels, "They're even more responsive than the last one." 

"I wish I could remember the look on your face," Tony smiles. "I wonder if it was any different from this one." 

Stephen flexes his fingers, and revels in the lack of pain. He looks up to Tony, too elated to try and hide his emotions, "You really carried these with you?" 

"Even when I wanted to strangle you," Tony says. "I knew I'd give it to you one day." 

They're a blue color, very close to the shade of Stephen's robes. To the naked eye, you can hardly see a difference. 

"I have something for you too," Stephen says. 

"Really?" 

"Yes." 

He shatters reality, the lines of T'Challa and Steve speaking in the distance going wonky, like a broken mirror. Suddenly they're out of space and time, away from the public eye — so he can grab Tony by the back of his neck and kiss him. 

 

-

 

"I'm glad you're back together with Mr.Stark," Peter says, tossing his backpack on the couch. 

Stephen chokes on spit and hacks into his elbow. 

"Excuse me?" 

"He was super bummed out. He even came to my house. He was like - " Peter squares his shoulders and does a voice, "Uh, hey  kid — you uh, doin' math? That's cool." 

Stephen tries not to laugh, but it's a damn hard thing. 

"This guy was no better," Wong says from the library, jabbing his thumb and not bothering to look up from what he's sorting. "Moped like a teenager. No offense." 

"None taken," Peter says. "Mr. Stark is definitely a happier person with you, Mr. Strange." 

"Didn't anyone tell you that snitches get stitches?" Tony sings, climbing the stairs of the sanctum. Stephen nearly does a double take. 

"Where'd you come from?" 

"Drove. In a car. Technology!" Tony does jazz hands. 

They're still so new to this; Stephen isn't quite sure what to do - but Tony takes everything in stride and leans up to kiss the corner of Stephen's mouth. Tony handles PDA like breathing, but Stephen is still adjusting to the idea that he's allowed to touch him back. It's not a switch you can flip back on so easily. 

Except Tony smells like good cologne and fresh cotton, so Stephen buries his nose in Tony's hair and snakes an arm around his waist. That part is easy, yes.

"You ready to blow some stuff up?" 

"Hell yeah!" Peter sits up. 

Stephen squints, "Should I be concerned?" 

"Not unless you wanna' tag along. We're breaking down the sciencey secrets of the arc-reactor today." 

"What was that stupid name you called it? Badassium? You've never told anyone how you did it." 

"Eh, I trust Peter not to steal all my work and run me out of the market with his technological empire," Tony winks. Stephen gives Peter a quizzical look. Peter answers in deadpan. 

"I have sixteen dollars in my checking account." 

"Fair enough." 

Tony plays with the belts around Stephen’s waist, absently twisting them around his finger. “Ready to go?”

Peter hesitates, “Are you driving?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Can I –

“Absolutely not.”

“But I have my license now!”

“The day I let you drive my car with me in said car, is the day I’m dead in the trunk,” Tony says. He leans up and kisses Stephen head on. “You staying?”

“The shields are still weak from the last attack,” Stephen rights his tie for him. “These sanctums are the only things-“

“-protecting our reality from an onslaught of outer-dimensional forces I know,” Tony finishes. “Keep being lame, it makes me love you more.” Wong laughs from the other room.

The cape gives a playful fwap to Tony’s butt as he walks away, and Stephen receives a glare that clearly means you are going to pay for that later, which is fair. Peter hops on the stairway railing and slides down to the base stair, jingling keys that he masterfully pickpocketed off Tony on the way down – and Stephen easily waves his fingers, plopping them back into Tony’s pocket.

“Ha!” Tony points.  

“Damnit.”

 

 

-

 

“I hope you know that whenever you smack my ass, I narrowly avoid slamming you against the nearest surface and blowing your brains out,” Tony says, matter of fact, happy and snuggled into Stephen’s lap. “So don’t do that in front of the kid anymore.”

“I’m amenable,” Stephen says. They’re in his room – not as flashy as Tony’s tower, but it’s homey to him. There’s a small T.V. on a dresser, and a big window that gleams the New York skyline far, far off. They’re on an old comforter, the kind that’s been washed too much but is all the softer for it.

They’ve moved onto Private Practice, and god it’s bad; Stephen never thought he’d miss House.

“You don’t talk much about your doctory days,” Tony says. He’s messing with the braces Stephen is wearing, popping them on and off. Quite frankly, Stephen had just forgotten to take them off, but Tony must always be fiddling with something in his hands, so he doesn’t mind the pop – shhh, pop – shhhh of the brace clicking on and off.

“I wasn’t a good person back then,” Stephen says. 

Pop - shhh, pop –

Tony halts. He’s looking at nothing at particular, and Stephen knows he’s thinking.

“I was the same,” Tony flops back on Stephen’s shoulder. “But I think I still would’ve liked you. I had a real thing for guys who could out-bullshit me.”

“Had?”

“Have, had, whatever.”

Still unable to sit still, Tony rolls, climbing up to straddle Stephen’s lap and hook his fingers behind his ears. 

Stephen smiles, “This is boring, isn’t it?”

“I miss House.”

“I was thinking the exact same thing.”

He kisses Tony along the temple. Then once, over his cheekbone, and at the corner of his eye. This is a much better use of his time, yes, Stephen folds his hands behind Tony's back and kisses at his jaw. Their facial hair scratches together and it might just be the next best thing over cranberry sauce on a BLT. 

Tony sighs, "We need a vacation." 

"Give me three weeks to finish storing relic energy. I'll take you wherever you want, airplane free." 

"Your birthday is July tenth, isn't it?" 

"I never told you that."

"Your birth certificate could be in the Pentagon and that would still mean nothing to me," he says. "How do you feel about Malibu?" 

"You used to live in Malibu." 

"Yeah and? Best beaches around, bay-beee." 

"Don't you want to go somewhere you haven't been?" 

"I've been everywhere," Tony says, dipping away from another kiss to latch his teeth at the base of Stephen's throat. "I like familiarity." 

Tony decides to kiss once and suck down, and the moan just kind of...bubbles out of Stephen. Tony makes the most elated noise and wiggles in his lap to kiss beneath his right ear. 

"You make out like a teenager," Stephen belittles. 

"Oh no, I remember my twenties very well. We can scratch about half of those positions off the list." Tony stops and thinks about it, "Well...how high can you lift your leg?" 

Stephen laughs, and flips him into the mattress. The T.V. keeps playing, but it's fine. They weren't watching anyways. 

 

-

 

"Tony, I just finished speaking with Scott Lang about the quantum realm, a manticore has most definitely escaped and it's getting big-" Stephen stops mid sentence when he sees that Tony isn't alone. Pepper Potts is in his chair, arms mid gesture, Tony up against the window with a pen behind his ear. They turn his way, and Stephen finishes, "...ger..." 

"Oh, hey." 

"I'm sorry," Stephen backs up. 

"No, no, we were just finishing up," Pepper smiles. She gets to her feet and extends her hand, "I don't think we've met in person, I'm Pepper." 

"Doctor Stephen Strange." He shakes her hand, and shit this is awkward. This is awkward, isn't it? It definitely should be, but Tony leans up off the window and grins,

"This is the wizard boyfriend I was telling you about." 

"Oh," Pepper looks him up and down, very subtly, "He's handsome Tony, you've done good for yourself." 

Stephen feels his face go a little hot, but Tony barrels on, "Our first kiss was in an alternate reality." 

"Oh, I'm sure it was.”  She picks up a file off the desk and slaps it towards Tony's chest, "There's also an alternate reality where you sign all this paperwork on time.

"But it's on paperrr," Tony whines. "Why can't I just mass-esign some shit and have it done with?" 

Pepper glares, "Because this is classified information detrimental to a private project that I have zero control over." 

"Hrm." 

"Tuesday," Pepper points. Her face changes on a dime, and she gives Stephen's elbow a short squeeze on her way out, "It was nice meeting you Doctor. Keep an eye on that one, he'll steal your socks." 

"It was one time!" 

"Tuesday!" Pepper calls, and shuts the door. 

The hinges rattle, and then it's silent. 

"She's a fiery one," Stephen says. 

"It's the red hair," Tony sighs, setting the file back on his desk. "It's where she stores all her glorious fury." 

"I can go if you need to get to that," Stephen nods towards the file. 

"Nah, you seemed like you had some pretty important news," Tony pops up on his desk, "What's up?" 

"Nothing that important. Just me proving Hank Pym wrong again..." Stephen trails. "It'll probably be a problem by Thursday." 

"Good, then I'll have this to Pep before the fight." 

Stephen pauses. He glances back to the door. Tony looks at him strangely. 

"We're strictly friends." 

"No- it's not that." Stephen frowns. He's not sure how to word it, but Tony won't stop making that face, so. "How did you know it wouldn't work with - with Pepper?" 

He hopes Tony won’t take offense. Of course, he doesn’t.

"Uhh...shit. We were on and off the rocks for a year before we finally called it off," Tony sighs. "Hell, maybe since Thanos. We kept pushing the wedding further and further and I knew we were going nowhere."

"I'm sorry." 

"Don't be. She’s my friend and also my employee and also my boss. It’s hard to wife that.” He grins, "Plus I've found my peace." 

Stephen stares head on, “Are you sure?" 

Tony rolls his eyes, “I think you’ve got me locked down.”

“I do?”

“I think it was Titan,” Tony decides, throws out his arms, beckoning Stephen forwards. “Yeah, I definitely fell for you then.”

“You’re kidding.”

“You gave up the time stone for me. I don’t think anyone else in this universe would deem my life more important than theirs.”

“I did,” Stephen says. He steps between Tony's legs, and arms immediately wrap around his neck, securing him closer. "And I'd do it again." 

"You're saying that now. I don't think you were so keen when you were beach sand." 

"Even then," Stephen shrugs. He turns his head, and presses a soft kiss to the long, clean scar on the inside of Tony’s right arm. Tony looks at him and smiles, crow feet appearing at the corners of his eyes, and hell, he’s just perfect. Maybe not to everyone else, but to Stephen, he’s it. 

“Sap,” Tony smiles.

They kiss once, quickly, before Stephen asks, "You hungry?" 

"Oh, starving." 

"Paris or Busan?"

"Hmm, maybe Tokyo. I'm thinking I can finally stomach some seafood again."  Tony reaches into Stephen's pocket, where he knows the sling ring is kept. "Dating you is like punching in a shitton of cheat codes and then playing the game on hard mode." 

"Up up down down, left right left," Stephen says, and sends them to Tokyo. 

 

 

He still hears shit about the stone thing, from time to time. Stephen will drop a glass of wine or trip in a fight or flub his words, and Tony will tease "Don't set back time or I'll know it!" To which Stephen only rolls his eyes and moves on.

Tony says it makes a good story anyways, and that's fine. Stephen has years of embarrassing Tony-stories to entertain guests with.

He hopes to collect many more.