Stephen closes the door behind him, feeling instantly relieved. He sucks in the air carefully. It smells like... wood, burnt metal, a bit sweaty but not uncomfortably so. He lets out another sigh of relief.
Tony turns to look at him. "Stephen? Why are you here?" he asks, voice sounding surprised.
Stephen can't blame him for his confusion, after all he is visiting Tony in his workshop daily. And this is not the usual place for a sorcerer... or for a guy like Stephen Strange. "It's the best place to relax," he answers honestly.
Tony blinks, eyes shifting from Stephen to the machines to his computer screens. "Here!?"
"Why are you not with the others instead?" Tony asks in interest while grabbing one of his drills. Stephen only remotely wonders what Tony is building right now. It looks like a new prototype for a suit. "The living room is really comfortable. I even consulted with a feng shui expert concerning it. And all the others hang out there."
"I can't stand the others," Stephen says dryly. "Seriously, it's beyond my understanding how you were able to work with them for years."
Tony grins. "Are you serious? Come on! They are alright."
"First of all there is Thor with his brother complex. And then there is this awkward couple..."
"You mean Nat and Bruce?" Tony grins.
"The plastic guy and his crazy girlfriend."
"Vision?" Tony blinks. "And Wanda?"
"And on top of everything there is this annoying dude with his too tight shirts." Stephen shivers slightly. "Why are they even so tight?"
"Steve. His name is Steve." Tony laughs, so much that his eyes turn into tiny slits, like half-moons, little laugh lines appearing around his eyes and the edge of his lips.
"You have a beautiful laugh," Stephen hears himself say, not able to hide the fond tone in his voice.
Tony looks at him, surprised, curious... interested? A blush suddenly graces his cheeks. "What?"
"Nothing," Stephen mumbles. "Just proceed with your work, I won't disturb you, I promise. So... do you mind if I stay?"
"Not at all," Tony chuckles. "But Peter will come later, and I don't want to hear-" He points an accusing finger at Stephen. "-one single mean word about him."
Stephen smiles. "Don't worry. We love Peter."
The change comes subtle, gradually, and it takes a while for Stephen to notice it. A few days after his conversation with Tony he comes to the workshop and finds a couch a there, a few days later a tiny table next to it and some books, then a kettle and a selection of teas, and after a while medical brochures, historical journals and the latest newspaper make a sudden appearance.
Stephen doesn't comment on it, scared to embarrass Tony and himself by doing so, and ruining their little...personal moments with it.
A few days later he suddenly finds Peter lying on the couch, and a sofa chair next to it.
"What are you doing?" Stephen asks while sitting down on the chair. "Don't you have homework?"
"I'm bored," Peter groans.
"Then do your homework," Tony comments before he puts on his face protection and reaches for one of the bigger drills.
"It's a history test, and it's so tiring to study for it." Peter looks at Stephen, eyes wide open. He always looks so innocent that way. Smart kid, knows his tricks well.
"History is very important. General knowledge is too," Stephen answers, voice serious. "If you don't broaden your horizon and knowledge and only focus on the things you are interested in like maths and physics, you will slowly turn into... a one-trick pony." He points at Tony. "Look at him, he is knowledged in all kinds of things and fields, even politics and economics or he wouldn't be as successful as he is and lead and own such a huge enterprise."
Peter blinks, before he sighs dramatically and reaches for his history book. "Fine," he grumbles. "You won. I'll study, but please stop lecturing me."
He indeed does so, two hours later even leaving to look at more information in Tony's library. Tony stops his work and approaches Stephen once Peter left. "Good job," he comments.
Stephen blinks. "Hm?"
"With Peter," Tony grins. "You made him listen."
"Did I?" Stephen shrugs. "Is that something special?"
Tony looks amused. "He doesn't listen to just anyone, you know? Last time Steve told him something and he downright ignored him, same with Thor. Pretended he didn't understand what they meant."
"And they bought it?" Stephen says in disbelief. "The kid is a genius."
"Yeah, but kids always get underestimated. That's why-" Tony tilts his head. "I like the way you handle him."
Stephen nods. "Tea?" he says after a while, mainly to diffuse his own surprise and slight embarrassment by Tony's compliment.
Tony nods and takes the cup Stephen offers him. To his own surprise Stephen doesn't feel grossed out when he sees how Tony adds four spoons full of sugar to it. Weird, he thinks, Tony just doesn’t annoy him.
"This is how we attack," the tight-shirt jerk aka Captain Perfect Body Steve Rogers says. He puts a hand on Tony's shoulder and Stephen suddenly has to fight the urge to stab him in the eye and put his eyeball as a trophy on his wall. "Will you manage to fly in there in time to start the explosion?" tight-shirt continues.
Tony rolls his eyes. "I can't even believe you are asking."
"Great, Nat will go with Thor to-"
"I will come with you," Stephen interrupts him, not even the least interested in what Steve has to say. He skilfully ignores the others blinking at him in confusion. Only Rhodey seems to understand, because he nods his approval.
"Sorry?" Steve blinks.
"I will go with Tony, obviously!"
"But we would need you to build a magical fence," Steve intervenes carefully.
"Then find another idiot to do that," Stephen argues. "The hell I'm going to let Tony wander into an exploding building alone, especially when he is the one to set off the explosion. What if he can't fly away fast enough?" This has trauma written all over it, again, and he will spare Tony from another one. Especially when it's so easy to avoid.
How can they all forget that Tony is human? Yeah, a genius, gifted human, but he can get hurt... and it seems no one freaking cares.
Steve nods after a while. "I see what you mean. You are right, someone should accompany him." Unbelievable, finally, Stephen has to fight the urge to roll his eyes. "I can go with him too."
"No way, I don't trust anyone else to protect him," Stephen answers coldly.
Steve narrows his eyes. "Do you mean to say, you don't trust me to be able to protect him!?"
"Oh, no." Stephen shakes his head and looks at him with what he hopes is a cold expression. "I know you would be able to protect him. But I don't trust you to do it!"
He knows he hit home when something flashes in Steve's eyes. "Are you implying I would let Tony die, willingly, walk away from him?"
Stephen doesn't back off, he is not even the tiniest bit afraid of Steve. "This is precisely what I'm saying, not implying."
The look in Steve's eyes is one of anger now. "Just say that again!"
Stephen smiles. "Oh, I will. I said-"
"Hey!" Tony intervenes. Unfortunately. Stephen is sure he could have provoked Steve enough to attack him.
"No, let him finish," Steve comments, voice thick with emotions.
Stephen looks back at Steve, eyebrows furrowed. "I said-"
"Hey," Tony huffs again. "Hello!?"
"Hello~ It's me. I was wondering if after all these years, you'd like to meet~" Peter sing-songs with a grin.
Tony stares at him for a moment.
"That's a very famous song," Peter complains. "Never heard of Adele?"
Tony rolls his eyes before he turns his attention back to them. "Do I get a say in this too!?"
"No!" Both Stephen and Steve huff in unison.
"How about," Bruce intervenes carefully. "I will join Tony and-" When Stephen looks at him insistently, he sighs. "Forget it."
Vision steps in this time. "Wanda and I can build the barrier too," he says softly. "There is no need to rip our heads off over it. And I agree, Tony definitely needs someone to accompany him, it's saver that way."
Steve looks at Vision for a moment, before his eyes shift back to Stephen. They look at each other for what seems like minutes. Steve looks... more confused now, still angry but not as furious as before, slightly embarrassed even. "Fine," he says quietly. "I'll go with Thor instead."
A few minutes later when they all are about to leave to gather the equipment they need for their mission, Thor shakes his head. "What was that about?" he mumbles.
"I don't know," Sam comments. "But it was certainly interesting."
"Sop the gossip," Natasha intervenes. "And prepare for the mission."
When Stephen is about to grab his bag, he realizes someone already picked it up for him, handing it to him. It's Rhodey. "Thank you," Stephen says.
"Interesting," Rhodey mumbles.
Stephen blinks. "What do you mean?"
"Steve never gets upset so openly, you know. He hardly shows it, and I never saw him actually snap," Rhodey explains.
"Well," Stephen shrugs. "No one is perfect."
"Certainly that's true," Rhodey grins. And after a while he repeats "Thank you."
"What for?" Stephen asks again.
"Tony is not the type of person who lets a lot of people close to him, he is also not letting himself be protected easily. But you somehow managed to do both. Also..." he pauses.
"Is this the awkward moment you tell me not to hurt your best friend?" Stephen wants to know. He kind of likes Rhodey, he is loyal and smarter than people give him credit for.
"Maybe," Rhodey tilts his head. "Tony got hurt a lot, you know?"
"I know," Stephen says, suddenly feeling his anger bubbling to the surface again. "He comes off as self-confident and snarky. Everyone thinks he can miraculously do everything without any negative effects on his health and mind. Even his friends forget that he has a body and feelings that can get hurt. I hate that they think that way."
Rhodey's eyes widen. "Exactly." He takes a deep breath. "Stephen..."
"He genuinely cares for Tony," Rhodey explains. "He does, I can vow that he cares, but-"
Stephen doesn't need to ask who he is talking about, he knows. "But?" he asks curiously.
"But you are right when you implied that he already left Tony behind once. He cares for Tony, but he obviously doesn't mean enough to him or he wouldn't have backed off during your argument down there," Rhodey looks at Stephen thoughtfully. "You on the other hand didn't."
"I didn't," Stephen admits quietly.
Rhodey nods. "And that's what's interesting."
Stephen is about to open a portal for him and Tony when he sees a well-known figure approaching them. He rolls his eyes. "No," he says.
Tony turns his head, eyes catching Peter as well. "No," he agrees.
"But I'm an Avenger too," Peter argues.
"You are fifteen," Tony tries to reason. "You can't join us on every mission."
"You are not coming along Peter," Stephen agrees. "I can't protect you and Tony at the same time!"
"I don't need protection," Peter sulks.
"Yes, you do!" Tony argues, before turning to look at Stephen, frowning. "However, I don't need protection."
"I won't have any of that," Stephen says. "I'm coming along to protect you, like it or not. I don't feel calm knowing you are on a mission on your own. I need to know you safe."
Tony looks at him in surprise, like he isn't sure how to read his words.
"Okay," Peter says all of a sudden, his eyes shifting from Tony to Stephen. "I'll stay at home."
Tony stares at him. "What? You are giving up so easily? Who are you kidding?"
Peter blushes slightly. "Just this time, don't get used to it. You know, I might have a WhatsApp date..." He throws Stephen an insistent glance, making him blink slightly. Like what does this kid even expect him to do now?"
"What was all of that about?" Tony asks while fixing some wires of the device he prepared.
"What do you mean?" Stephen asks calmly.
"You know what I mean." Tony rolls his eyes. "You and Steve."
Stephen pauses in his tracks. "Concentrate on your work."
Tony snorts. "I'm multi-tasking, you know. So tell me, or I won't do anything here. What's your problem with Steve?"
"He just rubs me the wrong way," Stephen admits.
"I understood that much. But why?" Tony inquires further
"Because he could have had you, and didn't even realize how lucky he was," Stephen huffs. "Here, I said it. Are you happy now!?"
Tony stands up, turning to look at Stephen.
"You said you would concentrate on your work, if I told you." Stephen scolds.
"Stephen," Tony says, voice quivering slightly.
"Fine," Stephen huffs. "You are the only one who doesn't annoy me into oblivion. You keep me sane." He blushes slightly. "Now go back there and finish your work, so we can leave this depressing place."
They disappear through the portal right after Tony activates the switch. "Did something happen?" Bruce asks in worry when they meet everyone in the tower again. "The explosion took longer than expected."
"Was... or rather is everything alright?" Steve asks in worry.
"I needed to do some technical preparations right there," Tony lies.
"Ah, I understand," Bruce smiles. "Everything else went according to plan too." He turns to look at Steve and Natasha.
"It was less complicated than we anticipated," Natasha comments.
Steve nods. "Hey, Tony...and Stephen, we are grabbing a beer and something to eat nearby, are you coming too?"
Stephen has to hold back a sigh. Unfortunately Steve really seems to be a decent guy. But it doesn't mean he likes him. "I'm sorry, I can't come along."
Tony stays quiet for a while, then he shakes his head. "I'm sorry too, you guys just go and party. I..." He pauses. "Stephen and I still have work left."
Stephen tries not to show his surprise at Tony choosing to stay behind with him.
"Work?" Thor chuckles. "Now?"
"I built something... splints... for his fingers, and I would like to see how they work."
"You did what!?" Stephen asks in disbelief.
"Sorry, was that something I should have told you about before?" Tony asks. To Stephen's shock he sounds worried all of a sudden. "It's just a prototype, works like a muscle starting from the middle of your palm. But I need to check if it's working." He pauses. "You hate the thought, don't you?"
"No, no, not at all," Stephen says immediately. "I'm just... surprised."
"Okay," Natasha intervenes all of a sudden. "You guys stay behind. We'll catch up later. The rest of us will leave now."
"I actually had work left too," Bruce dares to intervene.
Sam nods. "And I wanted to-"
"We all go," Natasha commands. She looks at Steve for a moment. "Come...Steve..."
"Yeah," Rhodey agrees. "Group outing." He pauses before he continues with insistence. "Everyone else is obliged to come along."
Steve nods, throwing Stephen a glance he can't quite read, but he leaves them alone nevertheless, even tugging some of the others along.
"I," Tony pauses. "You don't annoy me either, you know?"
Stephen stays quiet, not sure what to say or how to react. He swears, his heart skips a few beats. Did Tony just really... is this what he think it is? It seems like breathing suddenly is incredibly difficult.
Tony frowns before his eyes widen in shock. "Fuck, Stephen, tell me I just didn't make myself an idiot right now!"
"No, no, you didn't," Stephen hurries to reassure him. "I'm just surprised."
"Yeah, me too," Tony sneers. "Apparently I speak Strange-ish. Because boy, did your confession suck."
"You think so?" Stephen smirks, slowly finding his confidence again. "I think it was good."
"Really? You basically yelled at me," Tony grins.
"I was still annoyed from my encounter with Rogers," Stephen explains, lamely, he has to admit so much.
"And then you told me that I don't annoy you, and that's...that." Tony lets out a dramatic sigh.
"Because honestly I thought it was hopeless, and you would never return my feelings," Stephen tries to explain.
"So, me literally setting up a living room in my workshop wasn't obvious enough?" Tony asks, eyebrows raised.
"You do lots of kind things," Stephen shrugs. "For all of your friends. I saw what you did for Bruce and-" and tight-shirt Captain Body. "-and the others."
Tony looks at him for a moment, and Stephen almost thinks he said something too weird. "You are the first to say something like that. No one ever," Tony pauses, voice hoarse. "Stephen, I don't just let anyone in my workshop when I'm working there. Bruce is only there when we are working on something together. Peter is allowed to come whenever he wants. And you. Don't you get it?"
Stephen smiles warmly. "I do now."
Tony keeps looking at him for a while, his lips tugging into a smile. He waves at Stephen, signalling him to come closer, and Stephen can just chuckles slightly at this. Tony loves his games, he thinks. He grins when he wraps an arm around Tony's waist, pulling him closer. "Just, please," he teases. "Don't flirt with Steve too much."
"What!?" Tony exclaims, trying to pull away. He sighs in obvious frustration when Stephen's arm keeps him in place.
"You are surprisingly easy to tease," Stephen grins. "You are adorable when you are angry."
"Are you for real? Is that some sort of fetish?" Tony furrows his eyebrows.
He assumes, Tony is probably his fetish, but that's a bit too embarrassing to say out loud. "Do you want to find out?"
"Hell, yes," Tony grins, grabbing Stephen by his collar and pulling him into a - very unexpected - kiss.
When he lets go, Stephen needs a moment to gather his senses. Tony chuckles while he leads him towards his workshop. "You know," Tony smirks. "You are surprisingly easy to tease too." He turns to look at Stephen. "Stephen," he continues, voice soft now. "I like how you understand me without me explaining myself. No one normally...gets me. But you do."
Okay, that's it.
That's obviously the end of him. Tony is the end of him.
"May I?" Stephen asks.
"May you what?"
Tony raises his eyebrows. "What...here?"
Stephen reaches out his hand, his fingers brushing Tony's bangs aside before he moves his fingers down to his cheek, his neck, and back up again. Tony tilts his head slightly to rest it in Stephen's palm once he cups his cheek. Stephen brushes his thumb over Tony's lips, halting and pushing past his lips and teeth.
Tony opens up for him, lips opened slightly for Stephen to kiss him. That's all the invitation Stephen needs. He wraps an arm around Tony's waist, pulling him closer, before he bends forward and kisses him hungrily, his tongue pushing past Tony's lips. He feels Tony kissing him back passionately, Tony's fingers suddenly brushing through his hair and a hand holding on to his back. Something in his stomach and chest tugs at him, like he is sitting in a rollercoaster.
It's been forever that he felt this way.
"Oh," he hears Peter's voice from behind all of a sudden. He sounds annoyingly joyful. "Am I disrupting something?"
Stephen isn't sure if he is supposed to laugh now or be mad at Peter. He goes for something in between by both grunting and chuckling. When Peter gives him the thumbs up, he wonders when the heck Peter actually turned into a partner in crime.
"I've been thinking about something," Tony interrupts his trail of thoughts all of a sudden. "You know, it's really crowded here in the tower, and I know you don't like it."
"And?" Stephen asks curiously.
"How about we move to my other residence? After my parents' death I also inherited a villa, here, but in a quieter neighbourhood." He pauses. "I'm talking about the three of us."
Stephen and Peter exchange a surprised look. "I thought you sold all the houses you inherited from your father?"
"It's been my mother's," Tony admits quietly. "Her favourite. I couldn't give it away. It even has a workshop there. It's my...backup you know. No one knows it even exists."
"And the Avengers?" Peter asks curiously. "I mean work and missions?"
"Well, for work and missions we'd need to go to the tower, but it's only half an hour ride. It's true I have work there almost daily, but I don't need to sleep there. I wouldn't mind spending my free time somewhere else."
"Would you show me some stuff there?" Peter asks, obviously trying not to sound too eager. "You know, how you work on the suits and all the gadgets and... can you train with me there?"
"That's part of the plan," Tony chuckles.
Stephen smiles. "Well, you know what I think about crowded places. I'm in!"
Peter nods vigorously. "More privacy, more room for training and spending time with you guys." He punches the air with his fist. "I'm in."
Stephen stares at him for a moment. "You and your antics," he mumbles, trying to sound annoyed while actually he is rather amused.
Moving in with Tony and Peter sounds just about right.