“I’m here to see my friend.”
The word friend fell flat on Tony’s tongue. Was Stephen Strange really a friend? Possibly not, but it was far more complicated to tell the hospital staff that he was there to see his... er, fuckbuddy? Lover? Friend-with-a-lot-of-benefits?
Yeah, friend was the least complicated answer he could offer.
“Oh, Mr. Stark…”
The nurse shifted, looking uneasy.
“Did I miss visiting hours?” Tony asked, wondering what had gotten into her.
“No, no, you can see him,” she affirmed, “but I just need you to know that Doctor Strange is... unwell.”
“I heard that the accident was bad.”
“I mean mentally.” She looked from side-to-side, probably concerned about violating Stephen’s privacy. “Just be warned that he’s not in a great place, mentally, and lashed out pretty heavily at his last visitors.”
Tony nodded. Of course. He had heard the rumors. Stephen’s hands were wrecked in the accident. That would leave anyone in the darkness. “I’ll still go see him,” he said.
She handed him a pass.
Tony pushed open the door.
He inhaled sharply at the sight. Although his understanding had informed him the accident was dire and that Stephen’s hands were where the focus of the damage was, he had not expected, nor had he prepared himself for the sight. The doctor was prone in the hospital bed, hands immobilized with titanium pins.
The doctor was looking past him for a moment, but eventually those hazy eyes focused.
“Stark.” The word came sharp, angry. “You should leave.”
“Hey, it’s okay,” Tony said, holding up his hands. He felt defensive, driven back towards the wall. He had a card in his coat pocket, but that seemed so shallow, given the gravity of the situation. “I just wanted to see you... check in, you know?”
“Leave,” Stephen whispered, the words bitter, rasped out. “Please, Stark, I don’t want any visitors right now…”
“I just wanted to…”
“I especially don’t want any visitors that will bring the press down on me,” Stephen pointed out, a little more coherent. “The last thing I need right now is people speculating why Iron Man is at my bedside.”
That, Tony understood. He had always struggled with the burden of being a famous name. He knew that his fame could bring harm to others, especially someone in as fragile of a state as Stephen. “If there’s anything I can do, call me, okay?” he says. He knows there are no emotions between them, but he cares about the doctor. Deeply.
“How bad is it?”
Sitting in his lab, Tony didn’t even notice Pepper enter. Pepper Potts was the only person with access to override his lab codes. He had given them years ago, when she argued that she would never abuse them and that the risk of him not being okay was too grand.
“Pep, hey, what are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about Stephen Strange,” Pepper replied shortly. Stepping over, she brushed his shoulder. Pepper was also one of the few people that Tony trusted to be physically affectionate. “I know his accident was really devastating… I mean, I’ve heard the rumors…”
“His hands are...” The words echo and sound empty. For anyone it would be a tragic loss, but for Stephen Strange it was a crime. “I don’t even understand how, medically. It feels like the whole accident was... karma driven…”
“Karma?” Pepper asked, eyebrow raised. “You don’t believe in that.”
“I don’t,” Tony admitted, “but what other term can I use to explain it? The man has made his life on his hands and they’re just useless. It almost seems like he deserved it… It’s horrible.”
“I doubt he did anything to deserve it.” She sighed and sat down. “So, how’s the inventing going?”
“What?” Tony asked.
Pepper gestured towards the workbench in front of him. Delicately, she walked over and picked up a glove he had left there.
“You’re trying to figure out a way to help him, aren’t you?” she asked. “That’s what I predicted you’d do the moment you heard that he was hurt.”
Tony took the glove from her, turning it around in his hands. “I’m not there yet,” he said, “but I figure that there’s something I can do.”
“I believe in you.”
“I don’t know if it’s my place though. He’s just... he’s my friend, but…”
Pepper almost rolled her eyes. God bless her, though, she resisted.
“He’s the guy you’re sleeping with, Tony. But, here’s a lovely thought… How many other guys are you sleeping with?”
“How about women?”
“How long have you been sleeping with Strange?”
“Um, probably about six months or so,” Tony said, sputtering the words as she blew his mind a little.
“The days of playboy Anthony Stark are over,” she told him, taking his hand and making him set the glove down. “You care about him, Tony, and you need to deal with that.”
Stephen wasn’t any more receptive to seeing Tony after his release from the hospital. From what he’d been able to find out, Stephen had been desperate, searching for surgeons, experimental gene therapies, whatever would save his hands. Tony was not sure that medical science was ready, not yet, for the advances that could return his hands to him.
Tony Stark, however, was getting there. If Stephen would let him in, allow him a moment of conversation.
It took nearly breaking in to the doctor’s apartment.
“Tony,” Stephen gasped, as he walked up the hallway, only to find a tired billionaire leaning on the wall by his door. “Tony, what are you doing here?”
“Well, you ignored my calls, emails, carrier pigeons.”
Stephen sighed and took out his keys, struggling with them. Tony only got a brief glimpse of the surgeon’s hands, but he could see the scars, the deep scars that twisted around his fingers. He wasn’t a medical expert by far, but the nerve damage had to be extensive.
“I appreciate the concern,” Stephen said, struggling to get a grasp on a marked key. He finally did and stuck it in the lock. “I really do, but as you might imagine, this is difficult for me and I do not want to spend time with anyone. I would appreciate a little respect…”
Tony glanced over Stephen and saw the inside of his apartment. The mess was clear, nothing like the meticulous place it had once been. Not that he’d done much paying attention the last time he was in Stephen’s apartment.
“Hey,” he murmured. “I don’t think you should be alone, for what it’s worth.”
He had been there, isolating himself. He had tried before to cast out those who mattered. Didn’t Stephen have anyone in his corner?
Rage boiled up behind Stephen’s eyes and the surgeon turned to him with a dark expression. “I need to be alone!” he yelled. “I will solve this. I will get my hands back. Then, I will be free to speak to you, Stark! Until then, I want you to stay away from me!”
With that, Stephen went into the apartment and slammed the door, using his body to close it. The anger in him was devastating. Tony stood there, with nothing that he could do.
Tony devoted time to his own work. Being Iron Man was unfortunately a full-time job, but he still had time to work on the gloves in between devastating events. He had a hard time perfecting the technology, but he knew right away he was on something big - something that wouldn’t just help the doctor he was sleeping with and kind-of-sort-of had feelings for. This tech would help millions - people who had been in accidents, people with degenerative nerve damage, millions!
When he tried to bring Stephen a prototype a month after their last conversation, he found that the man had gone missing.
It was a year before he saw Stephen Strange again. The man before him was entirely different. Gone was the arrogant, put-together surgeon and in his place was… “A wizard?” Tony asked, looking up and down and examining him. “Are you telling me - I lose you for a year and when you come back you’re a goddamn wizard?”
Stephen smiled at the words, a soft, understanding smile. “Sorcerer, actually,” he said, tilting his head to the side. “It’s nice to see you again, Tony. I have to admit that I missed you.”
“I looked for you, after you left,” Tony pointed out. “I looked for you using the resources I have and I couldn’t find you. That made me think you were…”
“Dead?” Stephen asked delicately.
“No,” Tony replied. “Worse than dead. I can find a dead man. I can’t find wherever the hell you were…”
“I wasn’t far,” Stephen said, the words heavy with emotion. “I promise you, I wasn’t, physically at least. My path has just changed so much from the last time we spoke to one another. I can’t even express to you how things have changed…”
“I made something for you, you know?” Tony murmured. “While you were away, I perfected it. It won’t undo the damage to your hands, but it will definitely help with fine motor control and ease the pain…”
Stephen looked at Tony for a long moment. “Really?” he asked.
“I know you probably fixed your problem already, being an actual wizard, but…”
“I didn’t,” Stephen replied. “There was no way, and it’s part of my repentance, my journey into accepting myself. I’m not there yet, but…”
Tony took a ball out of his pocket, no bigger than the palm of his hand. He wove the ball outward into a shiny silver glove. He handed it over to Stephen, who looked at it for a moment before he slipped it onto his right hand. The device, the nanotech, curled around his mangled hand, stretching gently.
“Make a fist.”
Stephen experimentally curled his fist. His eyes widened in shock. “Tony,” he whispered. “This is brilliant…”
Tony unraveled the other glove.
“Do you like?” he asked.
Stephen did something then that surprised him. Carefully, he took a step toward Tony, reached out with a gloved hand and cupped the corner of his mouth. He tugged Tony towards him and kissed him eagerly.
“So, we’re a little more than friends, right?" Tony chuckled, breathless.