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The last thing I needed

Chapter Text

As he watched Peter nervously skate circles on the rink Tony Stark found himself wondering exactly how they’d ended up here. As far as he could tell, it all started with Bruce on Peter’s ninth birthday. Peter had always been a hyperactive kid and literally everything made him nervous. Losing both parents at such a young age could do that, Tony knew. His aunt had taken him in and May was a good women and a pretty incredible parent most of the time, but she hadn’t been ready to just inherit a kid. No one was ready for that.

“A pair of ice skates Banner? What’s he going to do with an ice skate?” Tony had asked as he watched the kid rip open his presents.

“Well ice skate I’d hope,” Bruce replied from the sofa. “Apparently it’s good for nervous kids to have a proper hobby, a physical outlet. I uh…” Banner paused and scratched his head. “I read it online.”

Bruce had always been Tony’s first port of call for advice on what to do with Peter. Sure, Bruce wasn’t a parent himself, but he was just about the most sensible person Tony knew.

At the time Tony had had two overbearing thoughts in response to Bruce’s present:
1. His parenting skills must be pretty damn messy if Bruce felt he could do a better job by just googling things.
2. It was a stupid idea anyway. Sure Peter was hyper but ice skating was hard, really hard. He’d give it up within the week.

Except he didn’t give it up. The figure skating came naturally after that. Peter got good, really good. World championships good. And apparently, as Tony had learned a couple of months ago, Olympics good.

The voice of Peter’s mildly terrifying coach broke Tony out of his haze. She was shouting something about focus to Peter who appeared to be warming up in the middle of the rink. He looked nervous, terrified and they hadn’t even got on the plane to Wakanda yet. Tony involuntarily thought back to the world championships two years ago and how Peter had practically run his face into a wall in the warm up from his nerves.

“Focus up Peter. This is your last chance to practice.” Natasha barked from the side of the rink, as if that was going to calm the kid down. Peter didn’t seem any less nervous but as Tony watched he turned back and gave Nat a quick nod. 

After Peter finished training they would go home, pick up their stuff and then start to make their way to the airport. Tony was less than excited for the 10 hour flight with a hyperactive teenager and terrifying Russian ice skating coach but he was going to get through it because he was incredibly proud of Peter. At least he would have Bruce to keep him grounded which was a small mercy. Tony’s parenting books never mentioned what you were supposed to do when your adolescent not-quite-son qualified for the Olympics.

“He’ll be fine.” Natasha said quietly to Tony just at the second Peter fluffed his first jump, “he just needs more confidence.”

Nat had once been an incredible figure skater herself, apparently. They used to call her the Russian Swan, but she liked to joke that she was more like a spider. Even so, she was borderline the worst person in the entire world at pep talks. Tony tried to hold the inevitable eye roll building up in his mind, Pep talks weren’t technically in Nat’s job description, after all.

“Yeah and how do you propose we do that?”

“I have a couple of ideas.” Natasha smiled to herself in a cryptic way that Tony didn’t understand (and was slightly worried by) and then she was off shouting insults and instructions at Peter again.

“Africa?” Tony was looking at the flight map in front of them on the plane. To the left of him, Peter sat anxiously bouncing his knee. To the right Natasha and Bruce were were calmly awaiting take off. He’d known that wakanda was about a ten hour flight but he hadn’t thought to ask in which direction. “Why would they hold a Winter Olympics in Africa?”

Peter shrugged beside him, Natasha said something about it being big money but Tony didn’t care enough to listen to the rest. The first couple of hours on the plane journey were agony but by about hour five Peter was sleeping soundly on Tony’s shoulder. Maybe some of Peter’s nerves had transferred onto him while he slept but at least the last half of the flight wasn’t spent at the mercy of Peter’s anxious questioning.

Peter wasn’t the favorite to win. He’d only placed sixth at the worlds but there were still plenty of American flags waving in the airport when they arrived. Tony’s confusion about the winter Olympics being held in Africa did not subside when they got outside. The heat was sweltering as soon as they got off of the plane. Tony had to give it to Natasha.The Russian of the group seemed to cope with the heat with the most grace. But then again she coped with everything with the most grace.

They lost Bruce within a record breaking ten minutes of landing in wakanda. He said something about meeting an “old friend” which was completely out of character for him. Tony figured it wouldn’t be a Stark family trip until they’d lost at least one member of their troupe. Tony left Natasha in charge for the most part; sure he was a genius, billionaire, c.e.o, etc but this was exactly the opposite of his forte and he was happy to let the Russian take the lead.

“Do you think we’ll see anyone famous? Do you think our rooms will be nice? Who do you think uncle Bruce is going to see?” Peter was babbling by his side as they waited in the airport for Natasha to find the guy that was going to be showing them around “what do you think the rink will be like.”

“I honestly have no idea kid. Just hang back here until Natasha gets back.” Tony wasn’t surprised when he looked over at Peter to see that he was biting his nails. Tony shifted in the little bench they’d been occupying in the airport. Beside him Peter’s face went slack as he stared up in awe at someone who had suddenly approached them. Someone who was not Natasha.

“I suppose you must be Peter Parker?” the stranger asked and Tony turned in his seat to look at him. He was tall, with the sharp features. Definitely not Natasha, Tony noted. He was looking down at them with the serenest pair of eyes Tony had ever seen. “And you must be his father?”

He offered Tony his hand and Tony took it without correcting him. The stranger cut a pretty fine figure in his suit but Tony couldn’t see what was so great about him that he caused Peter to literally vibrate with nervous energy beside him.

“Not technically. But yeah.” Tony clarified. He’d never officially adopted Peter, technically his aunt was still his legal guardian but that was more information than he was willing to give to a stranger. The man either wasn’t listening or he didn’t care because he turned straight back to Peter.

“I look forward to seeing you on the rink. Natasha says you’re a real contender.”

Peter looked like he was about to faint, “does she?” he squeaked.

“Well she would,” the stranger grinned. “Since she trained you. But I’m sure you’ll skate well, anyway.” And with that he gave Peter a cool half-smile and made his way back to the crowd.

“Well that was strange,” Tony said as he watched the guy walk away.

He could see Nat battling her way back towards them through the airport crowd. As she past the guy she stopped and gave him a quick tight nod. It might have been the warmest greeting she’d ever given anyone. Watching her talk to the cool and collected stranger was like watching two robots have a conversation, neither one of their faces registered a single emotion the whole time. They talked for a moment before he gave her the same half-smile he’d given Peter and started to walk off.

“Stephen Strange.” Peter agreed, to which Tony just looked at him in bewilderment.  The kid was still visibly freaking out. “Don’t you know who he is?” before Tony could tell him he didn’t, Peter went on. “He was the greatest figure skater America’s ever saw before his injury”

“That he was” Nat said as she finally made her way to a spot in front of them. “And he’s got his eye on you kid. So you better not let him down.”

After that Peter was pretty much impossible to talk to. Nat had arranged for a car to take them to the Olympics village. Peter didn’t stop talking about Stephen Strange through the whole damn journey. Most of Tony’s time was spent staring out of the window watching the different trees as they sped past and trying to tune out whatever frantic story Peter was telling. Wakanda was incredible, but Tony still didn’t understand how they were going to manage to keep everything cold in such sweltering weather. He was glad it wasn’t his job to come up with a solution to that.

“So that was your plan?” Tony turned to Natasha just as they were pulling up to the hotel. Peter was still babbling to the driver about how excited he was. “introducing him to that weird guy?”

Natasha shrugged and smiled in a way that said ‘you wouldn’t understand’

“Stephen has a way of motivating people,” she said simply as she opened the car door. Tony couldn’t imagine him screaming at Peter from the side of a rink the way Natasha did, everything about him seemed so dispassionate and calm. And since Natasha had pretty much always been Peter’s coach, he didn’t know what other kind of motivating there was.

“He spoke to us for five minutes and wandered off. You think that’s going to motivate the kid?”

“The greatest American skater of all time just told him he’s watching him skate. So yeah I think that might motivate him.”

Tony wished he could argue. Maybe he’d only met Strange for half a second but there was something he already couldn’t quite handle about the guy. Still, he couldn’t deny that Peter did seem pretty ready to take on the world right now. All he really knew was that he would be more than glad to get into the hotel and throw himself down into a bed.


The olympics village had only been about ten minutes drive from the airport, it was a huge and elegant place but even so Tony wasn’t thrilled at the idea of leaving Peter on his own with Nat later that night. Tony had arranged a room for himself and Bruce in a hotel nearby (or should he say Nat had arranged it and he’d paid for it.) since only Athletes and trainers were invited to house in the village. He kept telling himself that since Peter wasn’t a kid anymore it was going to be alright to leave him alone for a week or so, but he’d still made Nat swear on every relative she had to keep him safe. As they went through the security checks and were ushered into a large and bright room that seemed to be a cross between a kind of lobby and common room Tony was suddenly realizing that what Natasha had said about wakanda having big money wasn’t an understatement.

Before they could even step into the room Nat was ushered off by some official who went with her to get keys to their rooms and lanyards for entering the village. Tony insisted she’d requested an extra set of keys so that she had a key to Peter's room. Just in case.

“Mr stark,” Tony heard Peter say from beside him. He didn’t respond, he loved the kid but it had been a long day and he couldn’t hear anymore about how excited he was at this point “Mr Stark. Is that my uncle Bruce?” Tony looked over to where Peter was pointing and was surprised to see Bruce sitting at one of the tables in the lobby, intently listening to a broad blond man.

“Yeah kid. I think it is,” Tony breathed, “and I’m just as surprised as you are.” He watched as the blond threw his head back in a hearty laugh at whatever Bruce was saying “Obviously that is the“old friend” we’ve been hearing about.”

Tony had known Bruce for a very long time. At this point Bruce could almost never surprise him, but flirting with a hot blond probable Olympian? That was so far out of character for that it rendered even Tony Stark silent for a moment. And then the kid was shouting… And waving

“Uncle Bruce,” Peter was shouting from over the foyer. At least eight people turned to look at them. After a painfully awkward few seconds Bruce looked up and waved the two of them over.

“Hey kid. Tony. You’ve met Loki, right Peter?” He indicated a man that Tony hadn’t noticed with them before but recognized from a few of Peter’s previous competitions. Loki was sitting on the furthest chair from Bruce and the blond and facing the other way. He gave Peter a mock salute by way of greeting and went back to facing away from them.

“And this is Thor,” Bruce paused, he looked about as flushed as Tony had ever seen him. “Loki’s brother and my old friend.” Thor was beaming at Bruce, haninging off his every word. He warmly greeted both Peter and Tony.

“I have seen you skate a few times. You’ve given my brother a run for his money,” Thor said, pulling Peter into a hug when the kid offered his hand. Loki still didn’t turn around to look at them which Tony would learn by the end of trip was to be expected from him.

Tony spent the entire exchange giving Bruce looks and trying to work out whether he knew that his tall handsome friend was in love with him or if he was just as oblivious as usual. From the quizzical looks he was getting in return he supposed it was probably the latter.

“We were going to head down to the rink in a little bit, so that Loki can get a feel of the place. You’re welcome to come,” Thor offered.

Really Tony wanted nothing more than to go to bed but he knew Peter and Nat would want to take a look at the rink.To be totally honest he was curious about the exact nature of Bruce’s relationship with his “old friend”. When he looked over at Peter he already had the question on his lips. Can we go? He was asking with his eyes.

“Alright kid. Get your key off Nat and go get changed.” Tony held up his hand before Peter even started to speak. He really wanted to take a shower and go to bed but that could wait another couple of hours if it would make Peter happy. “Tony Stark, by the way.” He offered his own hand to Loki, who looked at it and then turned back away. “Good to meet you both.” When he tried to shake Thor’s hand, he too was pulled into a hug. 

“We’ll call a car to take us over to the rink.,” Thor announced, but he didn’t make a move to get up. After a moment Loki looked at him, pointedly rolled his eyes and wandered off in the opposite direction to the one Peter had gone in.
“Can I get you a drink while you wait?” Thor asked. Tony saw then that the kindness in his eyes went to everyone but the adoration in them was reserved only for Bruce.
“I don’t drink but thanks,” Tony admitted. He was going to stay sober on this trip no matter how stressful it got.
“Me either,” Thor grumbled holding up a glass of water and looking at it as though it were poison, “I never drink when I’ve got a competition.”

It made sense with his godlike build that Thor was here to compete too, but Tony couldn’t help but wonder what kind of killer genes they must have to breed to Olympians in the same family.
“Yeah. What’s your sport?”
“Snowboarding,” Bruce answered for him. “He’s the only one mad enough to do it.”

That was the moment Peter and Nat chose to reappear, they’d both freshened up a bit and put on a clean set of clothes which Tony was extremely jealous of. Peter looked ready to explode which seemed about right for him.

“You ready Pete?” Tony asked as if he didn’t know Peter was raring to get on the ice.
When Peter emerged he was smiley and looked ready to run a marathon. Peter looked over to Thor and Bruce who were still deep in a quiet and obviously intimate moment. Bruce was practically gazing at Thor over whatever he was drinking. The kid looked back at Tony.


Chapter Text

Loki was first on the ice when they got to the rink. Like everything in Wakanda, the ice skating rink was of the art and heavily air conditioned. Tony knew he was really in a desperate way romantically when he caught himself checking the Norwegian out as he skated through his short program. I mean he was attractive, no doubt but obviously far more trouble than he was worth.

Loki was a good good skater that was clear to anyone watching.Tony thought he remembered that Loki had placed higher than Peter in the worlds, maybe second or third. He was sleek and polished and basically on perfect form, but even so every now and then his brother would shout encouragement from the side of the rink.

“So what’s with you and colonel muscles?” Tony turned to Bruce as soon as they got settled. The two of them and Nat had taken up a couple of seats in the front row of the stands. 

“Thor? And me?” Bruce asked, he was already stumbling over his words “we’re just friends.”

“Yeah old friends. That’s what you said. But that’s not what his eyes were saying.”

Bruce looked at him like he was trying to decide if he was telling the truth and then just shrugged it off and turned back to watch Loki. Bruce had always been oblivious to that kind of thing.

The stands were mostly empty saved for a few people dotted here and there. Tony spotted an ice dancer friend of Peters that he recognised. The guy the had met yesterday, the great Stephen Stange, was walking towards them. 

“Is your kid up next Natalia?” Stephen Strange, who seemed to enjoy catching them off guard, approached. He hovered for a moment, then took a seat beside Tony.

“After the Norwegian,” Nat replied, standing up as Loki finished his routine and began just skating a few laps, presumably to test the ice. “He’s good.” Tony didn’t often hear Nat boast about Peter, he couldn’t tell if she really meant it or if it was just for Strange’s benefit. “He could teach you a few things”

There was something unusual about the relationship between Natasha and Stephen that Tony couldn’t put his finger on. Obviously it was intimate, but they didn’t seem to really like each other. There was a story behind that and Tony vowed to get it out of them before the journey was through. In spite of the venom in Nat’s voice Stephen managed to give a clam and level reply which was not all that surprising given his obviously cold and unfeeling demeanor.

“Most people could these days.” But Nat wasn’t listening. She was already giving Peter a pep talk. “I’m sorry” Stephen continued turning to Tony and Bruce, “I didn’t really introduce myself in the airport. It’s been a long flight. I’m Stephen Strange.”

“Tony Stark.” Tony kept his reply curt and short, he’d had enough introductions for one day, “and this is Bruce Banner.”

“Stark?” Strange repeated and Tony knew exactly what the question in his voice meant.

“Yeah. That Tony Stark, but don’t worry about it. Still a billionaire. Not such a celebrity anymore.” His reputation followed him just about everywhere still but it had been a long time since he’d been at the center of any charity galas.

Stephen gave a cold nod. No emotion registered on his face. And what a face it was. In the proper light of the stadium Tony could see that he’d sorely underestimated his beauty in the airport. The man looked like a painting, like someone had taken years of their life to carve out his perfectly placed features. If he hadn’t been so tired from the flight, Tony would have liked to test exactly what emotions he could make those pretty blue-grey eyes register.

“Yeah well. I left my reputation behind a while ago too. So I know how that one goes.” Stephens face was still as blank as ever but Tony knew there was a whole lot of hurt behind his words. He found himself wondering if he’d always been cold and stony faced or if this whole facade was the product of some tragedy.

Just as he thought that, Peter took his place on the ice. He skated through his short program relatively cleanly, with only a little bit of encouragement from Nat and in spite of all of the people watching. He landed one of the cleanest triple flip Tony had ever seen him do in practice. Tony couldn’t help but search the face of the man sitting next to him. It was strictly business, he told himself, he was watching to see what the man thought of Peter’s routine. No one could say Strange was easy to read, but as they watched Peter Tony thought he saw a glimmer of something like admiration in his usual half smile. When Peter was done Nat called Stephen over to discuss strategy or something with her and Peter. As he got up he turned back to Tony for the last time, his eyes seemed to wander a little as he spoke.

 “Well I’ll see you around,” he said, and this time when he smiled there was something a little more mischievous to it.

 He would see him around, Tony would make sure of that.


“So what’s with you and Mr freeze?” Bruce asked much later when they were on the way to the hotel. He was doing his best Tony Stark impression. 

“Honestly nothing,” Tony admitted. He could hear the disappointment in his own voice. “We just met.”

“Yeah. That’s what you’re saying, but that's not what his eyes were saying.”

Tony turned to bruce and shook his head. He couldn’t deny he was wondering about that look himself. He’d be very interested to know exactly what Stephen Strange meant by looking at him like that, but he’d have to file that for later. This trip was really about Peter after all, he shouldn’t get ahead of himself.

Before he went to sleep he texted Nat to check that Peter was alright. The hotel room she’d booked was large but simple. Once he got confirmation that Peter had got home safely and gone to bed, he allowed himself to take a quick shower and sink into the surprisingly inviting hotel mattress. It had been an unusual day filled with “old friends” and attractive strangers. He didn’t know what the next day would bring but he wanted nothing more than to sink into a deep sleep, and surprisingly, given his bad track record with getting to sleep, he did so relatively easily.

At breakfast, Tony learned that Peter had made a friend. Shuri was supposedly the sister of the king of Wakanda (but decidedly not a princess, which Tony couldn’t quite get his head around). Apparently she’d been in charge of figuring out all the tech to pull this thing off, which given her young age and tiny frame Tony was incredibly impressed by. She was also just as hyperactive and borderline insane as Peter which made them a very interesting pair. Tony didn’t know exactly when or where they’d forged this bond, but by the time he arrived to breakfast Peter had pretty much adopted Shuri into their group.

They’d invited the two Norwegians to join them too, and Thor and Bruce fell right back into their intimate staring as soon as they saw each other. Between that and Nat inviting her best friend (America’s sweetheart, skiing legend, Steve Rogers) Tony was left to make conversation with Loki. Or he would have been, if Nat hadn’t spotted Stephen Strange wandering around on his own and called him over out of pity.

She introduced him to everyone at the table and Tony didn’t fail to notice the more than usually cold reaction Steve Rogers received. After some shuffling around and hunting for an extra chair, Stephen was seated beside Tony. He seemed a little more alive this morning, and even more beautiful if that was possible, but Tony supposed that could be said for all of them. The plane journey hadn’t agreed with anybody.

“Not a fan of Steve?” Tony asked, quietly enough that only Stephen could hear him.

“Decidedly not,” Stephen glanced over at Steve, the distaste written on his face was the strongest reaction he’d seen Stephen have to a person. “I’m sure he’s as sweet as everyone says and all that but I’d honestly rather have a conversation with a raccoon.” 

“Well you could try, but in my experience Raccoons don’t talk.”

“Good.” Stephen almost laughed. Tony involuntarily wondered what it would be like to hear a proper, full unguarded laugh from him “Better than anything he has to say.” He shook his head and gave Tony a look that seemed almost apologetic. “I used to do press tours with him. He drove us all mad. He has everyone out there believing his bullshit.”

Tony understood that well enough. He had a long and complicated history with Steve. In a way, he’d loved the guy but sometimes Tony thought he was so caught up in the way he pictured himself that at some point he’d started believing his own lies.

 “And then you got injured?” Tony asked, taking a bite of his scrambled eggs. He didn’t want to pry but he was genuinely curious what could happen to take america’s champion of the ice.

Stephen nodded, he held up his left hand for demonstration, it shook violently even as he tried to hold it still.

“Car crash.” Stephen almost whispered. The words hurt, Tony could hear that in the way he struggled to hold his voice steady. “I was quitting anyway. Getting too old, but I wanted one last season to end my streak.” He forced himself to shrug but the act was unconvincing, “It’s a shame really.”

Tony didn’t know what he was supposed to say, how to agree that it was a shame without sounding like an idiot or like he was pitying the man. An uncomfortable silence fell around them, Tony wanted nothing more than to bridge the gap and say something, anything to make him feel better.

Before he got a chance though, Steven stood up. He thanked Nat for asking him over but said he had a couple more things to do before the day started. At least he gave Tony a genuine smile when he left, but Tony still found himself wishing that Stephen hadn’t taken off as soon as things were getting interesting.

He glanced around the table. Thor had pulled himself about as close to Bruce as he could get while still sitting on his own chair. Tony had to hand it to the man, he was completely without shame. Loki was zoning out and staring at a point somewhere in the middle of the floor. Peter and Shuri were talking about some kind of teenager stuff and Nat and Steve were talking about something Tony was sure he didn’t want to hear. Maybe this morning hadn’t exactly gone his way, but at least the journey had already accomplished one thing. At least Peter had made a friend.

Chapter Text

Their first actual day at the Olympics was long and boring. Shuri had agreed to take Peter on a grand tour of Wakanda that Tony was sure they’d all hear about later. When they finished breakfast, Bruce and Thor asked him if he wanted to accompany them to watch the women’s snowboarding, which Tony declined since there was no sign of Thor’s moody brother and he didn’t want to third wheel. So instead he spent his time mostly in the hotel room basking in the calm of the first day. Tomorrow would mark the start of the team competition and Peter would probably be skating at least one of his routines so from here on out all of his time would be taken up by keeping Peter on track. He relished in the one short moment of calm before the storm began.

By the time Tony got bored and started to wonder where Peter was it was already pretty late. He went downstairs and asked at the desk for them to order a car, supposing that he would find either Peter or Loki and his brother down at the rink. The hotel concierge was a smiley, well-mannered man that Tony would hear speaking at least eight different languages over the course of the whole trip. Apparently, Tony’s influence stretched all the way to Wakanda because the concierge gave him a bright but panicked “Right away sir” and the car arrived within seconds.

If things had gone differently at breakfast, maybe he’d have spent the day getting to know Stephen Strange. The guy was aloof and frosty but Tony had made something of a hobby out of tearing down the walls of distant and cold strangers and it looked like since everyone else was buddying up Strange was going to be his only chance of decent conversation.

By the time Tony got to the rink it was already dark outside, the Olympic village seemed deserted but whether that was because everyone had already gone to bed or because they were all out watching some event or other Tony couldn’t say. In fact, there was no one at all sitting in the stands of the rink like there had been earlier but there was someone skating through a routine in the rink’s centre. Even to Tony the programme looked complicated, loaded with combinations that Peter wouldn’t even think of attempting.

The silhouette was far enough away that Tony couldn’t see his face but his movements were smooth and fluid. Watching the skater felt strangely intimate. The man- he was pretty sure it was a man, moved through each move with such feeling that Tony couldn’t help but catch his breath. He felt himself being involuntarily drawn closer. The way the man skated was electric, every move was beautifully finished and precise. Tony couldn’t take his eyes off the guy as he made landing his jumps look as easy as breathing. Everything about him was beautiful and breathtaking. Then he turned a corner that brought him fully into the light and it suddenly made everything he was doing just that bit more impressive. It turned out, Tony learned, that the incredible Stephen strange was just as incredible as everyone was saying.

Tony was close enough now to see the inward smile Stephen gave himself as he finished the routine. He looked so relaxed that Tony could have watched him skate for hours. Then he noticed Tony watching and suddenly every ounce of relaxation he had adopted flooded straight out of his body. If this was a romance film maybe Stephen would have locked eyes with Tony from the far end of the room and continued to blissfully skate while making long intense eye contact. In reality, Stephen stopped dead. He looked uncomfortable, maybe even embarrassed. He didn’t look Tony in the eye as he skated to the edge of the rink.

“Could you pass me my guards?” h asked quietly, still refusing to look at Tony. Strange was out of breath, his hair was sticking out at odd angles. It felt good to see him look so undone. If he hadn’t suddenly reverted to his usual cold and distant look he might have looked almost casual.

“Sorry. I was looking for Peter.” Tony wasn’t sorry, not really. He was glad he’d gotten to see a new side of Stephen strange but he recognised he’d walked in on something intimate.

“Don’t be,” Strange shook his head. He was silent for what felt like forever before he finally admitted. “I hate watching them. I mean, I always want to support the sport that was my whole life for such a long time but seeing those kids reminds me I’ll never feel the way I used to on the ice ever again.”

With Stephen so close, Tony could see the way the man’s hands shook as he unlaced his shoes but even as he was reminded of Stephens pain, he could see the adrenaline still surging through him.

“Anyway. I’d appreciate if you didn’t-“

“Tell anyone about it? You’ve got my word pal. Your illegal ice escapades are safe with me.”

“Much appreciated,” Stephen muttered as he pulled himself back up to full height. He’d regained some of his frosty ness but still hadn’t entirely recovered from the shock of Tony walking in on him. He looked like he meant to continue speaking but the sound of laughter and loud shouting cut him off. A lot of the shouting was in Norwegian but even in a different language, Tony could hear the unmistakable sound of Thor yrlling at his brother.

Sure enough a moment later, Bruce emerged around the corner, with Thor and his brother in tow.
“Oh. What do we have here?” Bruce called when he saw Tony, he made his way over to where they were standing and gave Stephen a brisk “hey” before turning back to Tony and asking “what are you guys doing here?”

“Making a friend,” Tony shot back, he looked to Stephen for a reaction but got none. “I was looking for the kid.”

Bruce nodded and as he did, the Norwegian brothers made their way over to Tony and Bruce. For some reason Tony couldn’t quite fathom, Thor had his arm over Loki’s shoulder and Loki looked for all the world as though he was trying to convince the ground to swallow him up.
“We left him with Steve, so he’s probably getting a lecture on honour and justice or something.” Tony saw Stephen smile at that as Bruce went on. “he’s safe... but probably bored. We were going for drinks back at the hotel if you want to come. Steve said he would drop the kid off.”

“It’s going to be quite the show,” Thor chimed in, he was shouting but Tony couldn’t tell if he was excited or angry. “Loki bet the entire British curling team he could beat all of them in an arm wrestle”

Tony raised a brow at Loki who gave an elaborate shrug. “You think you’ll win?” he asked and in response, Loki gave him the widest grin he was probably capable of.

“Don’t know. But if I do you’ll never see me again. They don’t like to lose.”

“And yet,” Bruce countered “they never win.”

Tony shook his head. At first he couldn’t figure out what Bruce had done to capture the interest of someone so decidedly different to him as Thor but he was beginning to see how perfectly Bruce fit into their odd little family.

“Go on ahead.” Tony clapped his old friend on the back. Bruce was gentle, and clever and good but he didn’t ofter catch a break. Tony wasn’t going to make him wait around just because he wanted to try his luck flirting with another cold and unfeeling stranger. “I’ll catch up with you.”

As Tony watched, Thor, who was still attached by the arm to his brother swung his free arm over Bruce’s shoulder and began walking back towards the exit. Tony couldn’t help but smile as he watched his friend so happy.

“Your Norwegian friends have got style.” Tony had almost forgotten Stephen was there until he spoke. He’d completely recovered himself now, and his greyish eyes had returned to their natural state of being a blank abyss.

“Yeah. But nowhere near as much style as me,” Tony tried, leaning against the fence of the ice rink. It was a long shot. Strange was a man who either played his cards close to his chest or had no cards at all to play. Tony didn’t know which, but he was willing to take a chance and find out.

“Well that remains to be seen.” Strange’s face didn’t waver under Tony’s unblinking gaze, he held his eye-contact with an impressively unreadable expression.

“Alright. Come. See.” Tony watched the man even more carefully as he made his offer. “Come get drinks with us. Watch Loki get beaten by the British curling team and see where the night goes.” It may not be the most bold romantic gesture he’d ever made but Tony could already tell that Strange was going to require small steps and a lot of meeting half way.

Stephen paused for a moment, but Tony couldn’t decide if he was actually considering it or just trying to figure out how to phrase his refusal. “Some other time. I’m not really an after-hours kind of a guy.”

“Yeah no offence but that’s bullshit.” Finally Tony got a reaction from that, it wasn’t much but the quirk of Strange’s lips into a slight grin was a small victory. “I saw you on the ice. I think you’re a wildcard Strange. I think that a night with you could get real interesting ”

At first Stephen just shrugged. The little grin Tony had earned from him didn’t fall from his lips as he let the silence draw out. Tony noticed the way Stephen rubbed the back of his neck slightly with his left hand and then proceeded to realise he was probably staring.

“I guess you’ll have to wait see.” He said with a quick wink before his half smile extended into a fully fledged grin and he turned to walk in the opposite direction, “See you around Tony.”

Was that a promise? Or a threat? Either way Tony was more than game for whatever Stephen had in mind.

Chapter Text

The evening at the hotel bar was interesting to say the least. For a while it looked almost as though Loki was going to thrash the entire English curling team in an arm wrestle, until he took on Sharon Carter who was not satisfied with beating him in one medium, so she challenged him to a thumb wrestle as well. Which naturally he lost.
While everyone was congratulating Sharon and commiserating Loki, Tony decided it was a good time to ask Bruce about something that had been on his mind pretty much since he’d first met the two brothers.

“So… you remember Peter’s ninth birthday?” Tony asked, watching Thor as he laughed so hard at his brother that he fell of his chair.
“Vaguely. Why?”

“When you said “skating is good for hyper kids. I googled it.” What you really meant was that you’d seen it work on your long-distance Norwegian friends? Right?” Ever since Bruce had introduced Tony to Loki, he couldn’t help thinking what a strange coincidence it was that they’d all ended up here together.

Bruce pulled the face he always pulled when he’d been caught in a lie “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to lie to you, I just...” he stumbled “I figured if it successfully mellowed someone like Loki it would probably work for Peter.”

Tony couldn’t help but laugh. “Ok first of all Loki is anything but mellow,” the guy was currently glaring at Sharon like he could rip a hole through her with his eyes, “and secondly you could have just said that.”

Bruce shook his head and took another sip of his wine. “I don’t know. I guess I thought if I told you I had an Olympian close friend off in Norway you would never leave me alone about it.”

“That’s fair. I probably wouldn’t have. Especially if I knew the way he looked at you whenever he thought you weren’t looking.”
Bruce gave him a glare, but just as he did Thor shot him the widest and brightest grin and Tony figured that proved his point. Romance had never been his strongest suit, but even Bruce had to see that… Right?

“It’s not like that.” Bruce said quietly, “even if it was, he lives in a different country. I wouldn’t want to risk our friendship.”

Tony raised his brow. He knew he was in no place to give romantic advice, but he couldn’t understand how Bruce could be so dense. “He looks at you like he’d do literally anything at all if it would make you smile. I don’t know about friendship but I think that is worth risking everything for.”
Bruce didn’t say anything, but he looked like he was considering it. And when Thor approached and threw his arm over his shoulder, the same way he always did, Tony thought he saw Bruce lean in ever so slightly. A small step, but at least that one thing looked like it was going in the right direction.

Tony went to bed pretty much straight away after that. He felt pretty guilty for leaving Peter with Steve the night before a skate but for all Rodgers was a pain, he probably was the best pep talker in the business and the last thing Peter needed right now was to see the nervous energy Tony was radiating. Sleep didn’t come easily that night, Tony was kept up pretty much all night with his anxiety for Peter. By the time the morning finally filed in behind the curtains, Tony was pretty sure he’d read every page on Wikipedia at least three times.

They had agreed to skip breakfast that morning and meet straight to the rink, to give Nat and Peter some breathing room. By the time Tony saw Peter he was already dressed for his short programme and pacing in front of the ring.
“So you’re skating your short?” Tony asked as a greeting. Peter briefly looked up, stopped pacing and nodded. Then he started pacing again.

“Yep.” Was all he said. Nat gestured at Peter’s pacing and gave Tony a look that he supposed meant that he should say something encouraging.

“You’ll be fine Pete.” Tony put a hand on the kids shoulder in a way that he hoped would be reassuring and turned him around so that he was facing him, “you’ve done it a million times before.” Peter looked at him. There was a whole world full of panic in his eyes. As Nat began muttering something about time, Tony pulled Peter into a warm hug. “You’ve got this.”

At that point Nat took Peter by the arm and led him off to get ready for his warm up. People were starting to file into the stands.
“I guess we should get a seat?” Bruce pulled Tony out of the trance he’d been stuck in. And led them over to where Thor was already sitting and chatting amicably to Shuri. He didn’t seem half as worried about Loki as Tony was about Peter.

By the time Stephen strange arrived half of the seats were already full. Flags of all different countries were waving from all the different sides of the stands. He didn’t say anything when he sat down beside Tony but he greeted him with the same gentle smile he’d given him the night before and Tony welcomed the small progress with open arms.

There were only eleven countries that had managed to cobble a team together for the competition, but Peter had still been placed in the second warm up group. Tony noticed himself zoning out as kid, after kid skate their routines, his mind completely absent and absorbed in how Peter was doing. He didn’t recognise many of the faces on the ice in the first group, they skated generally well but none of them scored anything higher than 75 which were just under Peter’s average score.
Both Peter and Loki began warming up in the second skate, along with a few other faces Tony had never seen before. Beside him, Stephen sat forward in his seat to get a better look as they filed onto the ice. That made sense, Tony found himself thinking, given that he was one of the few people in the stands who knew exactly how this worked.

“He looks nervous.” Stephen said quietly. Peter was currently skating through his step sequences but avoiding all of his jumps. That was probably Nats idea, no jumps in the warm up was one of the few rules she stuck by. Tony wanted desperately to disagree with Stephen, but it was true- the kid looked terrified.

Since Peter was up first, eventually the other skaters began filtering off the ice, (not without loki giving Peter an oddly familiar clap on the shoulder). Tony felt a hand come to rest gently on his arm, a reassuring gesture, he knew. He looked at the hand, the way it shook against the fabric of his shirt sleeve, and then up to Stephen Strange who was giving him a different kind of simple smile that Tony had never seen on him before. It was strange, but it was a smile that simply said ‘I don’t want you to be afraid’ and almost, he thought, ‘I want you to be happy’. It was enough to make his stomach twist with a different kind of nerves.

That was when Peter began his routine, in an instant Tony’s head snapped back to the ice. The kid held himself well, Tony tried not to look at Natasha who was biting her nails by the side of the rink. The first part of his routine was pristine, he landed three jumps in a row perfectly. Tony could tell they were perfect because each time he did them Stephen did a quick little nod that told Tony they would score well. Peter even managed to land his combination with some grace, granted he’d looked a little tight but he’d landed it. It was his fifth jump that was the problem. It was coming to the end of the routine and even from this far away Tony could tell that the kid just wanted to get it over with, that he was beating himself up about the messy combination. Maybe that’s why he didn’t notice how close to the border he was. He went into a triple flip, usually one of his cleanest jumps and when he landed, his left foot was just inches away from the border of the rink. For a moment he panicked, he had to throw himself away so far in the opposite direction to stop his shoulder slamming off the wall that he stumbled and put one of his hands on the ice. Tony could almost hear Nat flinch from here. He recovered with his routine with lightning speed but Tony didn’t know how badly that jump would cost him.
“How bad was that” he asked Stephen, who’s hand had gripped his arm a little tighter when it all went down.

“Not great,” he admitted “But I’m pretty sure he made the rotations. He’ll just have deductions.”

Everything from that point on was just as pristine as the beginning had been and in spite of his stumble, Peter looked proud when he came of the ice. There were masses of cheers from the stands as they waited for his score. On the screen above the rink he could see Peter and Nat smile together as they answered questions and waited for the board to change.

“For the short programme” a voice boomed out over the stands, Stephen squeezed his arm slightly in encouragement. Tony didn’t fail to catch the look Bruce gave him at that. “Peter Parker has earned a score of 82.45”

On the screen Peter jumped up and hugged Nat, which seemed to bother her as much as it amused the spectators. It wasn’t quite his seasons best, but with all of the pressure and his botched jump Tony wasn’t surprised Peter was thrilled with the score.

“No easy task under all that pressure, believe me,” Stephen whispered as the next person began to skate “Your kid did good.”

By the time it was Loki’s turn, Peter was already standing at the side of the rink shouting “Skate well!!” at the top of his voice. And Loki did, really well. He looked completely undisturbed as he flowed effortlessly through his routine. In the end he got a score of 89.5 which let him finish in first at the end of the short programme, with Peter just a few steps behind him in fourth. The interviewers were all delighted to find out that the two skaters were friends (although when exactly they had become that Tony wasn’t sure). Thor naturally spent just as long singing his brother’s praises as he had shouting about his failures at the bar last night but he didn’t stick around for very long as the next event on their Olympic schedule was his, later in the day. He gave Peter a friendly “well done my friend” and Bruce an almost intimate goodbye and then left to prepare himself.

Tony didn’t stop hugging Peter until Nat pulled him away to talk to some reporters and Tony was left alone with Stephen strange again.
“Since you turned me down last night, I think you at least owe me the courtesy of coming to watch the big guy win with us.” It was a long shot he knew, but he was on a high, he thought he might as well try his luck.

Stephen strange just shrugged and looked over at Tony with a blank expression. “What do you need me for?”
There were lot’s of good and dignified and clever answers that Tony could give but today was a day for taking risks. “I might get cold.” He said simply, unashamedly staring at Strange’s sharp features.

“In Africa? Well what kind of man would I be if I allowed that.”

Today had been a win for Loki, and a success for Peter and it was looking like it was quickly becoming a win for Tony Stark.

Chapter Text

When Tony Stark had asked Stephen to keep him warm, it had very much been a joke. This was africa after all, so it was about as warm as any person could get without walking directly into the sun. Somehow though Wakanda continued to surpass Tony’s every expectation. For the snowboarding arena they had build some kind of huge domed building which housed three sets of slopes covered in what looked like very real snow. Stranger than that though, the entire dome was freezing cold. Tony remembered a business trip with Pepper to Canada before they’d parted ways, it had been so cold in their little chalet in Alberta that the taps froze. He’d never thought that one day he’d be feeling that exact same intense cold in the middle of Africa. From where they had seated themselves at the bottom of the slopes Tony could vaguely hear Peter’s friend explaining the way the technology worked and in any other situation he might have been interested to listen but his mind was fully occupied with far more pressing issues.

“Well I’ll be damned. It’s snowing in Africa,” Stephen said, he was rubbing his hands together against the cold, “Did you convince them to do this or are you just a witch?” He turned to Tony and gave him a easy smile. For some reason he looked a little more comfortable away from the rink, and Tony found himself wondering if maybe the constant reminder of the life he couldn’t have was unsettling for him.

“Nothing to do with me I swear,” He laughed, it was good to see Stephen more at ease. Confidence looked good on him, “I could move a little closer if you like- to preserve our body heat.”

Stephen rolled his eyes, but Tony scooted over on the bench even so. Without having to worry about Peter, who was gleefully chatting with Shuri (and oddly also Loki), he could give strange his full attention.

“You know someday that arrogance of yours is going to get you into trouble,” Stephen was pretending to be very interested in reading the rankings of the snowboarders that had just flashed up on the screen, but Tony didn’t fail to notice the grin that was currently gracing his lips.

“Yeah,” Tony agreed, “But not Today?”

When Stephen shrugged Tony felt the movement more than saw it, they were both pretending to be disinterested and casual, but Tony had a feeling it wasn’t working for either of them. Still, Tony was surprised when the first snowboarder made his way down the slopes and he felt Stephens arm wind itself around his waist. It was to preserve their body heat. That’s what he told himself, but he couldn’t help but smile to himself as they waited to watch Thor.

Snowboarding was every bit as terrifying as Tony imagined, and he quickly came to understand that to win you pretty much just had to outlast everyone else. The focus wasn’t so much on skill as it was on not falling and breaking your neck. Tony took the opportunity of every fall and every tense moment to pull himself closer to Stephen. By the time Thor did his second run he was practically sitting on the guys lap.
In terms of survival Thor was pretty much unbeatable, Tony was sure by the end that not even an earthquake could have knocked him over. Just like Thor had in the ice skating, Loki looked as calm as he ever did. Sometimes he would glance up at his brother and quickly check the score but he would just as quickly return to his conversion. Apparently his third run was pretty stylish because his score was almost double anyone else's (although to Tony it all looked like unbridled madness.)

When Thor greeted them as a confirmed olympic gold medalist, he seemed to be at exactly the same level of excitement that he always was. Everyone congratulated him in different ways, Loki with a hug (albeit an awkward one), Tony and Stephen with firm handshakes, Peter with a flurry of excited babbling and Bruce with an intimate embrace that seemed to suggest that he’d taken Tony’s advice.

They celebrated back at the hotel, but no matter how hard Tony tried he couldn’t convince Stephen to come with them. At one point he even took both of the man’s shaking hands in his own and gave him his best irrefusable look and practically begged him, but Stephen wouldn’t budge. When everyone else had loaded into the car Tony decided to try one final time before he gave up.
“You sure we can’t convince you to come? Drinks are on me,” but Stephen shook his head.
“Not this time.” he said but he added, in a low voice that only Tony could hear “but maybe when all this is over you can buy me a drink.”
“Just one?”
Tony was delighted to hear the full and genuine laugh that came from Stephen as he simply said “We’ll see.” and gave Peter, who was gesturing to hurry up from the car a quick wave. Although Tony was dejected a part of him was begging to understand the man. He was used to all of this being about him, it wasn’t easy for a winner to sit on the sidelines and watch. Seeing him today away from the rink had taught Tony something vitally important about Stephen Strange; that he was broken, lost and trying desperately to pull himself together again. God knew that was a feeling Tony was more than familiar with.

Thor’s win seemed to start a culture of winning over the next few days. The conclusion of the team challenge brought a silver medal for his brother who had practically single-handedly carried his team out of the dirt and a bronze medal for Peter who was thrilled and wouldn’t stop saying “I can’t believe it” to everyone he saw for the next three days. Tony had been pretty much letting Peter do his own thing on the trip but he was sure he’d never left Peter unchecked long enough to form the absolute and irreplaceable friendships he seemed to have made with Shuri and Loki. The front page of all of the Wakanda newspapers the next day were printed with a huge picture of Peter hugging Loki (who admittedly was sort of just standing there, rather than hugging the kid back) with both of their medals on full display. When Tony commented on it at breakfast that moment Thor just shrugged and went back to his breakfast.
“Loki doesn’t make many friends,” he admitted, “So I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth.”
Bruce had a little more to say on the subject as he firmly laced his fingers with Thor’s.
“I guess mischief calls to mischief.” and to be honest, that was the first thing that anybody had said about Loki that actually made sense.

The American press were just as thrilled about Peter's bronze medal as he seemed to be, and Tony was glad to see the floods of support that were posted across all of Peter's social media. The newspapers back home, however, were using a different photograph from the ones here. Tony was almost shocked when he saw a tweet containing the photograph that America had been using to champion their up and coming star. There was little Peter beaming, as ever, with a bronze medal around his neck and caught in what could only be described as a bear hug by Stephen Strange.

Tony remembered the moment well, though he hadn't seen any of the photographers. it was the moment Peter had stepped off the ice after collecting his medal. The headline read "America's golden boy Stephen Strange shows his support for Bronze medal winner." It was strange to think of him like that, they'd all grown so close in Wakanda and Stephen had been so reserved and so cold at first. It was difficult to think of him as some far away star that was untouchable and beyond reproach. When he'd hugged Peter as he stepped off the rink Tony had seen it for what it was, a friend showing his support but the American media had spun it into some great tale about how Stephen was just so in love with the sport. 

A few weeks ago when Tony had agreed to take this trip, he'd done so with nothing but dread for how difficult and nervewracking it would be for both him and Peter, but as he sat down to breakfast on their eigth day of being in Wakanda with a beaming Peter and a lovestruck Bruce, things were starting to shape up nicely. 

Chapter Text

The trip to wakwanda had been crazy from the start. Snow in Africa, Tony’s 16 year old kid winning an Olympic medal, Bruce falling in love. But nothing that had happened so far could compare to the utter confusion of Peter being totally calm in the face of his next skate. In the days leading up to Peter’s single skates, he had stopped vibrating entirely. he looked as relaxed as Tony had ever seen him; which was puzzling to say the least. When he was in the car on the way to Peter’s short programme, Tony found himself wondering if it didn’t have anything to do with Peter’s friendship with shuri and Loki.

They had formed a sort of band of merry mischief. Shuri seemed to be trying to distract Peter from his worries by causing utter chaos together. Somewhere along the way, possibly involuntarily, Loki had been roped in. It started innocent enough, putting salt in Thor’s coffee and vinegar in all the wine bottles. On about day 10 in Wakanda they started a competition to see who could fit more things in Steve Rodgers beard without him noticing. They learned very quickly that Loki was the master of that particular game.

The whole thing came to an end the morning of the short programme. Peter had put two sachets of hot sauce in to Natasha’s juice. Once she’d taken a sip,
And Tony could see Peter waiting expectantly for her reaction, she turned to look directly at him and drank the rest without blinking. Nothing seemed quite as fun after that.

“You good kid?” Tony asked once he’d arrived at the rink. Peter looked uncharacteristically calm. He turned to Tony and said something he’d never said before. Something Tony had never expected him to say. 
“You know what? I think I am. I think I’m going to be ok.”
As Tony watched him stride out to the side of the rink with a confidence he’d never seen in him before, he found himself agreeing.

When the warmup began, he took a seat beside Stephen. Peter would be the third last to skate, so he had to contain his nervous energy for at least an hour. The singles were a different game and Tony knew that they meant so much more to Peter than the team skates. Even Thor looked nervous for his brother, although he was consoled by Bruce’s quiet calming whispers in his ear.

“He seems like he’s ready,” Stephen said by way of a greeting.

Tony had made very little progress with Stephen over the last three days, all of his thoughts had been on Peter. He was more than glad of the automatic smile Stephen gave him when he sat down. Nat was talking to Peter by the so side of the rink as the first kid started to skate.

“Yeah. I think Nat will keep him right.”

Something flickered in Stephens eyes. He stared down at Natasha with a glassy look. “I bet she will.”

Tony couldn’t take it anymore. He didn’t want to push Stephen but he hated not knowing things. “What happened between you and her?”

Stephen took a breath. “Nothing. Nothing really.” When Tony raised his eyebrows, he went on. “We used to be close. The Russian media are really unfair to their skaters, they tear them apart for one mistake. So, Nat didn’t really have any friends in her own team and we always turned up at the same competitions. We made a kind of found family.”

“And what?” Tony asked “you had a thing with her and it went bad?”

“With Nat?” Stephen laughed. “No. We had two other friends. Clint Barton and Wanda maximoff. We were all so competitive but Wanda was a junior at the time and Clint was miles behind me in the rankings so we never fought. We held eachother up through whatever.”

Tony had met Wanda maximoff once or twice, he’d had no idea that she’d been a figure skater. “So what happened?” He asked.

“The year of my injury it all went up in smoke. Nat had a bad year, she was getting it from the media. She pretended it didn’t get to her but it did.” Stephen shifted in his chair slightly as he spoke. “At that time Wanda decided to quit. She was coming out of her final year as a junior and she decided she didn’t want to do it anymore. Clint had already retired, he was old and he had kids to think of.”

“So it was just you and Nat?”

“Just me and Nat.” The was a rowdy clap as a kid Tony didn’t recognise landed a jump. Stephen continued, “she was in a real slump. I mean she was used to being Russia’s greatest hero and then suddenly she wasn’t anymore. She didn’t have Clint or Wanda to be there for her. Then I got injured and she had no one to turn to.”

“So she’s mad at you because you got injured.”

Stephen shrugged “Not really. When they’d fixed me up she asked me to come and watch her competing at the worlds. Just to be there for her, as support.” He looked as though he was angry at himself. “I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. I wasn’t ready to go near the ice again and watch her win when I wasn’t allowed to compete. I couldn’t be there for my friend.”

Tony laced his fingers together with Stephens on his knee. “I’m sorry. That’s a dick move for Nat, holding you responsible for that.”

“I don’t know,” surprisingly Stephen didn’t let go of Tony’s hand. “I don’t think she does just... when she looks at me I remind her of her pain.”

Tony found himself involuntarily drawn to look at Steve Rodgers, who was sitting two rows below them in the arms of his boyfriend (John maybe? James? Tony didn’t remember.) He realised that Nat blaming someone else for her pain wasn’t really that odd, wasn’t he doing exactly the same thing?

“Here’s your kid,” Stephen said as Peter’s warm up began. “He looks ok. I guess he’s not so nervous after all.”

Peter didn’t look ok, he looked like he was having the time of his life. He skated effortlessly through his warmup routine with a smile on his face, he occasionally stopped to shout encouragements or maybe jokes to Loki.

“Yeah,” Tony said. He couldn’t keep the pride off his face.

As the first two skaters in Peter’s group took to the ice, Tony felt Stephen lift their entertwined hands to his lips. His eyes snapped up to Stephens face. He was grinning as he lowered their hands to his lap again.

“For luck,” he said simply and Tony raised his eyebrows.

“Alright Mr Darcy. Do you want a lock of my hair next?”

When he heard Stephen’s full and warm laugh, he had to fight the urge to kiss him.

Peter was dazzling when he took the ice. His step sequence was perfectly skated and his jumps were pretty damn clean. Stephen actually whistled when Pete landed his triple axel. When Tony shot him a look he said “what? That was a nice axel.”

When he finished the routine, Tony could see the huge grin all over his face. He pulled nat into a hug before he’d even gotten his scores.

“That’s an 87. At least. He’d be robbed if he got less than that.” Stephen was saying next to him. He looked excited.

In the end Peter finished with an 88.9. Which put him just half a point behind Loki, in second place. They both seemed thrilled with the results, Shuri took a picture with them both for her Instagram and even Loki was smiling as she congratulated them on a job well done.

“You were perfect Peter. You really were. I couldn’t be prouder of you,” he told Peter as soon as he made his way over to them. He still had the long programme left to go but he’d already done way better than he’d been pegged to do.

“Well skated,” Stephen said. Peter looked at him like a startled deer. “You’re a credit to the sport.”

It was at that point that Tony realised that their fingers were still laced together. He promptly removed his hand from Stephen’s and ignored the look Peter was giving him.

“You did good kid.”

Peter was silent for the car journey home. They’d left Nat with Steve and his boyfriend and lost Stephen, Loki, Thor and Bruce after the skate. Peter had been impressively quiet so far.

“So are you dating mr Strange?” Peter was looking out of the window of the car, pretending to be causal.

“No. Of course not. What makes you say that?” Tony asked.

“You were holding hands.”

“We were not holding hands, we were just...” he trailed off.

“I’m just saying,” Peter said, “if you were dating him- which you’re not. It’d be ok with me.”

Tony forced himself to hold in a smile and ruffled Peter’s hair.

“Thanks kid. Glad to know I have your approval.”

Chapter Text

Tony had ordered a weekend of calm and quiet before the long programme on Monday. So naturally Peter and Shuri had gone off on some mischievous adventure with the king of Wakanda. Tony decided not to ask anymore, it was better to just go with it. Tony somehow found himself sitting at breakfast with just Loki and Thor.

Bruce was on call for some important meeting back home and everyone else was out watching events. Generally Thor had only three conversation points: 1) how great Bruce was, 2) how great, but not in the same way, apparently, women were and 3) how annoying Loki was. As far as Tony could tell, Loki had absolutely no taking points whatsoever. So the conversation was naturally a far way from anything Tony would call interesting.

When Thor got up, saying he was going to “check on Banner” Tony and Loki found themselves sitting in total silence, both trying to decide when they were free to leave. After what seemed like an age of trying to decide what was socially acceptable, Loki uncharacteristically broke the silence.

“He’s going to win, you know?” He said and Tony found that he had no idea what to say to that. Loki shrugged and went on. “Peter. He’ll win.”

“Well uh... you’re in the lead, I’m sure you’ll skate well too.”

“Oh I will.” Loki finished the last of his tea and stood up after staring determinedly at the bottom of the cup for a moment. “But he’ll win.”

Tony was surprised to hear no real disappointment in Loki’s voice, it was almost like he wanted Pete to win. Weird.

In any other situation, he probably would have sat and tried to decode exactly what it meant that Loki was displaying human emotions but he didn’t get the chance.

“Rogers,” he called from the table. Steve was walking across the hall, chatting cordially with one of his many flunkeys. He stopped when he heard Tony calling him and looked around for a moment, like he wasn’t sure he’d heard right. “Steve,” Tony repeated, “come over here for a second.”

Over the years Tony has prided himself on the range of intense emotions he’d been able to make Steve’s face register. He’d seen flickers of fury, bitter hatred and jealousy all flicker across those blue eyes. The utter confusion Steve regarded him with as he cautiously made his way over to Tony was one for the history books.

“Hey... hey Stark. What can I do for you?”

He hesitated a long while before sitting. Tony could tell that he felt out of place. Steve kept bringing his fingers to rest just against his lips. Like he wanted to bite his nails but had too much self control. The bad blood between them did nothing to lighten the mood. Steve’s friend, at least, seemed totally at ease. He rolled his eyes and relaxed into the chair beside Steve’s.

“You must be Steve’s boyfriend,” Tony ignored Steve’s question. He needed to do this, get it off his chest, but he wanted to do it right. “What was it? Uh... Jamie?”

The guy miserably failed to stifle a laugh. “Boyfriend?” He turned to Steve. “And who the hell is Jamie?”

“He means Bucky,” Steve muttered quietly to his friend. “Tony this is my friend sam... Who you’ve never met before...several times. So it doesn’t surprise me that you don’t...”

“Hold on a second. Why would that mean Bucky?” The friend, Sam cut in.

Steve ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “Because his name is James.”

“His name is...” Sam looked horrified. “Why the hell do we call him Bucky then?”

Steve promptly ignored that question. “Look, Tony is there something I can do for you or?”

“Yeah.” Tony took a deep breath. He stared at Steve’s stupid face. This wasn’t going to be easy. “I’m going to apologize at you,” he said but he quickly added “and I don’t want you to reply. I don’t want you to say anything stupid, or anything at all... I just need to do it.”

Something registered on Steve’s face. Guilt was the most probable culprit, Tony thought.

Tony had been through enough dark days to make any person weary but the days after Pepper had left him had been the worst of them. Tony had been lonely, lost and when he’d turned to Steve for support he hadn’t found any. He guessed they were dark days for Steve Rodgers too, What with everything that was going on with his so called “best friend” James Barnes. Still he had known how much pain Tony was in and he left him there to deal with it alone. The only person Tony really trusted in the world hadn’t had the time of day for him. It was agonising.

Some of that was Steve Rogers fault, sure, and Tony had tortured him for it. But really it had never been about him. It was like Strange said. He blamed Steve for a bad time, associated him with it. That had to end now.

“Tony you don’t have to. I should have-“ Steve stared but Tony cut him off. This was his time and he meant to do it while he still had the courage.

“Look. There was a time when I relied on you to be at my side whenever I needed you. And one time you weren’t there, because you were dealing with your own stuff.” He shrugged trying his best to look nonchalant. “The truth is that I held you up on a pedestal and expected you to be better than everyone else. And you’re not. No one is. I’ve been blaming you for my bad time and that’s on me. It was a dick move.”

Steve spent a moment staring at Tony in silence. Beside him, Sam was typing out long and frantic texts- probably to Bucky. Tony realised that he’d probably been the subject of many of their conversations and that he probably hadn’t been painted in the most positive light.

“No Tony,” Steve said finally, “it’s me that needs to apologise. I’m sorry that I couldn’t be your best guy and always be around but it isn’t true that no one will...” he went to continue but Tony just laughed.

“Yeah. Alright captain optimist. Thanks for the pep talk. I’m glad I don’t have to waste time talking about you anymore.”

Steve’s smile was almost the same as it used to be back when they were friends. Not the wide, unfeeling, grin of America’s golden boy but the genuine sheepish smile of a friend.

“Me too,” he said. “I’ll see you around.”

With that he was gone and something within him was repaired. Not totally like it was before, but it was good enough for him.

Tony uncharacteristically decides to give Peter some space before the long programme. Something that Stephen had said about Nat and Clint and the others was reverberating in his brain. He was right, Tony knew, that Peter needed to be surrounded by people with his own interests, he needed that support. Loki and Shuri seemed to have become his found family in all of this. As frightening as it was for Tony to let him run wild before a skate, Tony knew that he’d be braver if he spent the day with them.

So he had breakfast that morning with Stephen, Thor and Bruce. It was quiet and amicable. For once nobody talked of their sport or the upcoming competitions.

“So, I never asked. What do you do with your time now that you don’t skate anymore?” Tony asked as Stephen took a bite of a chocolate muffin.

“Oh uh... I teach most of the time.”

“Yeah? What do you teach?”

Strange shrugged. “History. Or a branch of it.” He sighed, figuring that that wouldn’t be enough for Tony. “spiritualism in ancient civilisations,” he admitted “it’s weird I know, but it’s interesting.”

“Sounds... thrilling.” Tony took a bite of toast. He had no idea what that would even consist of. “Where do you teach?”


“Oh professor Strange is it?” Tony laughed. The idea of listening to Stephen rambling for hours about weird facts of ancient history was a surprisingly enticing one.

“Doctor Strange actually,” Stephen said proudly. Tony didn’t fail to notice the look Bruce gave them from across the table. “I have a PhD.”

Tony rolled his eyes elaborately at Bruce who was giving him and Stephen eyes from across the table. He was one to talk, Thor’s arms were currently draped around his shoulders from where he was sitting on his lap.
“I should probably get going.” Stephen stood and nudged the chair in as he stood. “I told Nat I’d give the kid a pep talk before his skate.” He squeezed Tony’s shoulder and disappeared into the crowd of people in the hotel lobby.

“So,” Bruce said as they got into the taxi to head to the rink. “What’s really going on between you and Mr Freeze?”

Tony laughed. The first time Bruce had said that he was pretty sure that nothing would ever go on between them. Then again, before coming here he’d have said that another romance was the last thing he needed. But the way things were now...

“I honestly have no idea.” He was comforted at least by Bruce’s sympathetic smile.