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Stephen groaned as he held a hand up to block the sunlight from his eyes, blearily blinking his eyes open. Sighing, he turned around, facing away from the windows and reaching out a hand across the bed. When he didn’t find what he was looking for and could feel the sheets being cold, he groaned again.

He fully opened his eyes this time and pushed himself up, sighing at his protesting muscles. The bed next to him was empty as he had feared.

 

His need to find Tony exceeded his want to stay underneath the warm covers, so he threw his legs over the edge of the bed and got up, stretching as he walked into the bathroom to brush his teeth.

 

As he left the bedroom ten minutes later, the smell of breakfast wafted through the air. Stephen followed it into the kitchen where he found the man he had been looking for.


The engineer was humming, pushing eggs around in a pan as he swayed his hips along to soundless music. Peter and Harley were nowhere to be found, probably already having left for school.

 

“’Morning,” Stephen smiled, suppressing a yawn as he walked over towards Tony, wrapping an arm around his waist and pressing a kiss to his cheek. Turning his head to meet Stephen in a real kiss, Tony playfully bit his lip, licking the pain away with his tongue.

 

“Not that I don’t love breakfast,” Stephen hummed against Tony’s ear, “but I missed waking up to you.”

 

“And as much as I love free-day morning sex,” Tony purred back, soft regret in his voice, “I don’t actually have a free day today.”

 

Stephen groaned, pressing kisses to Tony’s neck before moving to grab a few plates. Tony gave him an apologetic smile. “Something came up with the company. Pepper begged. I can’t say no to that.”

 

“I understand, darling.” Stephen did understand, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t allowed to be petty about it. He watched with great satisfaction as Tony looked away, flustered grimace on his face and cheeks tinting red.

 

“You’re evil.” Tony placed the pan on the table in front of them. Since they had started their relationship, they had stopped taking breakfast with the team whenever they had a day off, wanting to enjoy the intimacy of a shared morning and a lazy lay-in. Tony loved those days, basking in spending a whole day with the person he loved.

 

“You look casual. Finally going to visit Christine?” Tony asked as he took note of the blue jeans and simple white dress-shirt Stephen was wearing. The cloak was sulking somewhere, angry that Stephen didn’t allow him to come with him today.

 

Stephen shrugged, scooping a bite of eggs into his mouth. “I might as well. If I don’t go soon, she’ll find a way to break into the compound, I’m sure.”

 

“God,” Tony groaned, “we should never introduce her to Pepper.”

 

After they had finished breakfast, Tony kissed Stephen farewell as he walked out of the penthouse to meet with Pepper, leaving Stephen alone to enjoy his day off.

 

He didn’t technically have off days, seeing as he was Sorcerer Supreme and therefore always on call, but there were days – like today – where he’d just finished an inter-dimensional mission and was allowed to rest for a bit. This particular mission had taken him from this dimension – and thus from Tony – for four days, and he’d felt his absence like a missing limb. He was already looking forward to being reunited with the man again tonight. 

 

He asked Friday for the time, satisfied that it was almost noon. Checking his appearance in the mirror one last time to make sure he was presentable; he made a portal into the Metro General Hospital storage closet.

 

Sneaking out of the little room didn’t become more dignified with time, but he tried to not let the awkwardness get to him. Recently he was well known as ally of the Avengers and, more importantly, Tony Stark’s boyfriend. It was hard not to feel smug when thinking of his partner. How easily he reacted to his voice and touch, want for Stephen clear in his face.

 

In all his life he never could have imagined how nice being wanted was. Being appreciated for just being around, having someone who lights up when you walk into the room. Ever since he had met the mechanic, there had been a spark. Stephen had wanted him from day one. There was no denying that Tony Stark was the hottest man he had ever seen.

 

Falling in love with him hadn’t been difficult, especially after having seen in how many ways the man was ready to lay down his life for Peter, for the world and for one, simple, random stranger.

 

Stephen dismissed his thoughts as he stepped into the ER.

 

The room was a mess of noise. Most beds were still empty, but the beds that were occupied, were surrounded by people, both interns and family members alike. Laughter was mixed together with the occasional yelp of pain. Somewhere a phone was ringing obsessively, and loud crying could be heard.

 

Stephen was hit with the familiarity of it all. How he used to wait around the ER for incoming trauma, hoping to get the most interesting cases, dismissing simple flesh wounds so he would be free for the head trauma and the long surgeries.

 

Ignoring the group that was apparently still trying to celebrate a birthday despite the man’s fingers lying on a table – very much detached from the man’s body, he walked across the room, keeping an eye out for his friend. He found her behind the information desk, frantically talking into a phone and filling in a chart. The loud crying came from behind her, where a little girl sat on a chair, bawling her little eyes out.  She seemed about three years old. He didn’t think too much about it. Nurses often had to watch kids from parents coming into the ER, sometimes even bringing their own.

 

He leaned against the desk, catching Christine’s eye. She gave him a pained smile as she continued speaking into the phone, holding up a finger to ask for a minute. She looked haggard; stress lines clearly visible in her features. Being head of trauma at a major New York City hospital would do that to you.

 

Behind her, the child was still crying, and it was clearly upsetting his friend even more, talking a bit more frantically with every cry. 

 

He moved around the desk, sitting down in front of the girl. Her crying continued as she noticed him, shoulders shaking with watery hiccups.

 

“What’s your name,” he asked her, shaking hand moving up to stroke her little arm in soothing motions. The girl continued hiccupping but stared at Stephen in defiance.

 

“I want my mommy!”

 

“Do you know where your mommy is,” he asked, glad the girl was at least starting to get distracted from her own tears. Though he had never thought about having children himself, he did grow up an oldest brother and knew the best way to calm down a child was to distract them. How many times had he given Victor ice cream so he wouldn’t tell on Stephen to their parents?

 

The little child shook her head no, a new wave of tears streaming down her face as she started sobbing again. Stephen glanced curiously back at Christine.

 

“Well, I don’t know where your mommy is either, sweetheart. Do you mind if I pick you up instead?”

 

The girl continued crying, but held out her little arms nonetheless, her need for comfort clearly taking over. He picked the girl up, placing her on his hip as he started swaying her around, rubbing comforting circles into her back.

 

She calmed down a bit, sobbing subsiding but still clearly upset. Tears were streaming down her face quietly now as she moved into Stephen’s touch, gripping tightly at Stephen’s shirt.

 

Glancing around to see if anyone was watching, he moved his free hand up in front of the girl, twisting his fingers until tiny little blue butterflies were floating around his hands. The girl watched on in intrigue, tears subsided as she reached out to touch. He smiled, the curious eyes reminding him of Tony.

 

Stephen turned towards Christine again as she ended her call, shoulders tense and still clearly wound up.

 

“I’m so sorry, Stephen. There is a situation.” She nodded towards Sophia, who blissfully continued playing with the butterflies.

 

“How long have I been gone that you have a daughter now,” he smirked, only half joking. 


Christine gave him an unimpressed look, but Stephen could see her biting back a smile. “She’s not mine, you idiot. That’s the situation.”

 

She leaned closer as Stephen frowned, voice falling to a whisper, fury in her eyes. “Someone dropped her off early this morning and just left. We’re trying to track down her parent or guardian or any relatives at all, but with no success.”

 

Stephen’s face twisted in disgust, looking at the young girl with anger in his heart. “They just left her here? Purposefully?”

 

“We can only assume, but probably, yeah.” Christine looked tense, clearly just as upset as Stephen at someone abandoning the child. “She was standing outside with a small backpack and a winter coat on. I’ve contacted the police, but they don’t know what to do either. We don’t have a last name and there was no footage of the person dropping her off.”

 

“Found my mommy?” the girl’s voice piped up, making both adults’ head snap in her direction. She had abandoned the butterflies. Christine looked absolutely panicked, sadness crawling over her face as she turned towards the little girl.

 

“No, baby, we haven’t,” she replied regretfully. The girl’s face started to twist again, about to start crying once more, but Stephen moved the butterflies back into her line of sight. He changed the colors a few times, regaining the little girl’s attention as Christine touched his arm.

 

“I really appreciate you coming by – finally,” she gave him a pointed look, “but I’m so sorry there are two separate traumas coming in in five minutes and social services is still on its way and I’m at the end of my rope, Stephen. I don’t know what to do.” She looked around, shoulders riggid as she touched a hand to her forehead.

 

Stephen shrugged, smiling comfortingly at his oldest friend as he continued to move the butterflies throughout the air. “I can watch over her if you want.”

 

“You sure?” she frowned, not wanting to saddle this on Stephen, but she smiled as she saw the girl grab at the creatures, earlier sorrow seemingly forgotten.

 

“Of course.” He turned back to the child. “Do you mind hanging out with me for today?”

 

She shook her head no. Stephen lowered the butterflies as he stopped the girl from trying to climb up his shoulder to reach them better.

 

“See,” Stephen smirked, “perfectly fine.”

 

Christine rolled her eyes but turned to leave with a glance at her watch. She stopped before stepping away from the desk, glancing back over her shoulder. “You’ve really changed, you know.”

 

Stephen snorted. He guessed he really had.

 


 

He eventually had to stop the butterflies as the delicate hand movements were fucking over his hands, but he placed the girl at a table and gave her some paper and a pen. He found a few different colored markers in the nurse’s station and handed them to the girl as well.

 

He took the empty chair next to the child, smiling as he saw her drawing. It seemed to be some humanoid figure made out of a triangle and a circle with a second triangle on top of it. She was adding details, drawing little squiggles of hair and drawing stars onto its clothes that looked like crosses.

 

“I like your drawing,” he told the girl. She ignored him, instead continued drawing. He smirked as she reminded him of Tony once more.

 

“What’s your name?”

 

“Sophia.” She added a tree in the background, using a blue highlighter to draw dots around it.

 

“Hello, Sophia, I’m Stephen,” he held out a hand for her to shake. She giggled at the formality but returned the handshake. As expected, she did it with a lot of force, but luckily, he had steadied his hands, prepared for the impact.

 

“Are you magic,” she asked, returning to her drawing.

 

“Yes, I am,” he smiled at her. She moved to grab another piece of paper from the stack, handing it to Stephen and shoving over some pens as well. He grimaced, but couldn’t say no to Sophia, so instead he moved over the paper with his fingers, ink seemingly flowing out of them as he made a drawing. Sophia watched him in awe, dropping her pens to try it as well, frowning when it didn’t work.

 

“Here,” he snorted, placing a shaking hand over her own as she made the movements, letting his magic flow through hers. She squealed in excitement.

 

They sat like that for a while, drawing picture after picture. Sometimes nurses would come behind the desk, grabbing charts and forms, and they would smile at the sight. Some nurses Stephen recognized, but they didn’t stop to chat, not wanting to disturb the precious scene. He guessed they would discuss it under their break, talking about how Dr. Stephen Strange had been replaced with a clone.

 

It was nearing four pm though, and Sophia was starting to look sleepy. He could lay her in one of the hospital beds, but they were still filling up with trauma. Apparently, some accident in Soho. He also didn’t want to risk her seeing something she shouldn’t. The ER wasn’t exactly a child friendly space.

 

Before he could ponder too much about it though, she stood up from her chair and crawled into Stephen’s lap, surprising Stephen as she curled up into his chest, little fist once again grabbing onto his shirt. He put a steadying arm around her, placing his shin on the top of her head as her breathing evened out.

 

That’s how Christine found them half an hour later. She smiled at the image of the little girl in her friend’s lap, giving Stephen a soft look. She moved to lean against the table as she stared down at them, dropping her voice to a whisper.

 

“Social services should be here soon. Police is still trying to find the mother.”

 

“And what if they find her,” Stephen whispered back, anger seeping into his voice, “they’re going to force her to take the child back? She’ll be back here in a week or worse stuck in some shit situation with a mother that doesn’t want her.”

 

“It’s just protocol, Stephen. Abandoning a child is still illegal.”

 

“I know,” he sighed, absentmindedly rubbing circles into Sophia’s back as his other hand moved to pinch the bridge of his nose.

 

They sat in silence for a little while longer, until finally a social worker showed up. Sophia woke up as the woman started talking to her, but clung on tighter to Stephen, pulling her feet into his lap and curling into a ball. Stephen’s heart broke, putting two protective arms around her.

 

“Sweetie, you have to come with me now. We’ll get someone to take care of you while we look for your mommy.”

 

Sophia made an upset noise as she shook her head, fear edging into her features. This won’t do.

 

“I’ll take her.” He said with finality, reaching into his pocket for his phone. He didn’t know what he was thinking, but he was thinking it. There wasn’t time for doubts or selfishness. Something had taken over his mind, his stubbornness taking the wheel.

 

“Sir, that’s very kind but I’m assuming you’re not a registered foster parent. We need to follow procedure –“

 

“I’ll have everything sorted out in an hour,” he interrupted, scrolling through his phone until he found the contact he needed. Sophia relaxed in his arms as he held it up to his ear.

 

“Hey Stephen, everything alright?”

 

“Pepper, can you please come down to Metro General? I need your help with something. Also don’t tell Tony yet, I rather ask for forgiveness than permission at this point.” He sighed, giving Sophia a comforting squeeze. Pepper just gave a confused okay, which Stephen appreciated. He wasn’t even surprised at her easy agreement; she was used to dealing with Tony’s shit after all.

 

The social worker looked up at him in confusion but stayed quiet, probably wanting this to work out as well. Or maybe the names Pepper and Tony in relation to each other was sparkling recognition. Christine just looked up in amusement, planting a kiss to Stephen’s stubborn forehead as she went back to work.

 

Pepper arrived half an hour later, worry edged into her features as she made her way into the emergency room. She stopped in her tracks when she noticed them.

 

“Stephen,” she asked wearily, “not that this isn’t absolutely adorable but what is going on?”

 

“I need you to fill in some documents in Tony’s name. I’m technically unemployed so they won’t accept me as foster.”

 

Pepper’s face twisted from confusion to acceptance to exasperation in one fluid motion, but she smiled fondly at Stephen. “You want to foster a child? Without talking to Tony about it?”

 

He glared up at her, arms still protectively circling Sophia. “He won’t mind.” He insisted, hoping his words were true. “You know how great he is with kids.”

 

Pepper sighed fondly but turned her business persona in the direction of the social worker. “Right. I’m sure there is a whole process for this, Miss …”

 

“Stanley.”

 

“Miss Stanley,” she smiled, “but since it’s Tony Stark I’m sure a few exceptions could be made. As you know income or housing isn’t a problem and the penthouse could be babyproofed before dinner.”

 

Miss Stanley nodded along, smiling as she reached into a binder to pull out a couple forms. “I’ll just need you to sign these then.”

 

Pepper worked quickly and efficiently; Tony’s personal information still ingrained into her long-term memory. She didn’t have the authority to sign personal documents in his name, but she quickly got a digital signature from the billionaire who signed everything Pepper sent through without second thought.

 

In the end, the social worker left, thanking both Pepper and Stephen, and Stephen was left in charge of the little girl.

 

“I’ll call someone to send over some supplies,” she said, resting a hand on his shoulder as he gave her a grateful smile.

 

“Did the social worker just leave,” Christine asked, coming back up to their little corner behind the desk. She frowned as she noticed Sophia still safely in Stephen’s arms. The girl looked perfectly happy there, softly leaning against his shoulder. Her eyes went wide as she noticed Pepper standing next to them. “You’re Miss Potts, right? I’m Christine Palmer, it’s an absolute honor to meet you.”

 

Pepper send her an amused smile as she accepted the hand offered to her. Stephen squinted as he noticed the blush creeping up the ginger’s neck. “Yes, you patched Tony up that one time, didn’t you?”

 

“Yes, I did.” she replied, sending a look at Stephen, “I know you probably have your own doctors, but Stephen can be a bit overprotective as you can see.”

 

Pepper laughed, throwing her head back in genuine glee. Stephen rolled his eyes.

 

“It was nice to meet you, doctor Palmer, but I have to go order a toddler bed now,” Pepper said, giving Stephen a fond look that said ‘I’m the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company this is so below my paygrade’. Her eyes immediately softened when she looked at Sophia though, combing a soft hand through the girl’s hair.

 

Christine focused on Stephen after Pepper left. “You’re fostering her?”

 

“Yes,” he replied stubbornly, once again tightening his arms around the toddler. Christine just shook her head fondly.

 

“I’m so proud of you, I can’t even believe it,” she smiled at him, placing another kiss to his head.

 

“Hey,” he called out in indignation, but stood up, shifting Sophia so she was resting against his hip, the little girl’s arms immediately circling around his neck. He grabbed the little backpack and coat from where it had been stashed in the corner.

 

“See you later, Strange.” She smiled, waving at Sophia before leaving.

 

Stephen rolled his eyes in exasperation but focused on the little girl in his arms. “You hungry?”

 

When she nodded her head, he opened a portal, not caring about anyone seeing this time.

 


 

 

He stepped out into the Penthouse living room. It was almost six pm, meaning Tony would be heading up soon to start dinner.Peter looked up from where he was sitting at the table with his homework, eyes going wide as he noticed the toddler in Stephen’s arms. The cloak on his shoulders perked up when it noticed its master having returned, immediately floating over to inspect the small person he had with him.

 

Sophia clung on tighter as she noticed the older boy, but her eyes widened at the floating fabric. Stephen watched as the Cloak’s collar stroked the little girl’s cheek, before rippling in excitement at her surprised squeal.

 

“Dr. Strange,” Peter asked, glancing at Sophia in awe, “why do you have a baby?”

 

Stephen stepped up to the table, Cloak following closely, glancing at the papers spread out in front of the teen. “This is Sophia. She’s going to be staying with us for a little while.”

 

“Cool. I’ll play with you once my homework is done,” the teen replied, going back to cramming historical dates into his head. Sophia smiled happily.

 

Stephen moved into the kitchen, looking through the fridge for a meal fit for a toddler. The cloak kept hovering, but as soon as Sophia started reaching out to it, he sent the cloak away.

 

“You can play with her later,” he told the fabric, who dipped its collar in disappointment, but obediently floated back over to settle back onto Peter’s shoulders. Stephen could still see it moping.

 

“Do you like carrots,” he asked Sophia, who nodded her head. “How about some chicken?”

 

She nodded her head again and Stephen took the ingredients out of the fridge right as the door slid open. Stephen tensed, recognizing the footsteps as his boyfriend’s.

 

He heard him greet Peter with the usual hug and kiss, before he walked over to the kitchen. The cloak had hitched a ride on Tony’s shoulder, clearly trying to sneak closer to the girl once more. Stephen sent it back with a pointed look.

 

“Hey, babe, how was Christ-,” he stopped in his track as he noticed the toddler on his partner’s hip. Stephen refused to look anything other than bored but was surprised to find Tony not looking confused at all.

 

“You must be Sophia,” he smiled at the little girl, who shyly looked up at Stephen, before turning back towards Tony. “Nice to meet you! I’m Tony.”

 

“Hi, Tony,” she replied, smiling sweetly.

 

“Did Pepper tell on me,” Stephen asked, narrowing his eyes at Tony as he watched his boyfriend interact with Sophia.

 

“Stephen, babe, did you really think I wouldn’t recognize adoption papers? You do realize I have adopted twice before.”

 

“And you just signed?” Stephen enquired, barely able to keep the incredulity out of his voice.

 

“Dearest, I trust your judgement.” He leaned forward to kiss Stephen softly, Sophia giggled as she held a hand in front of her own eyes. “If you want to care for this adorable little girl, I’m not going to stop you. Plus, we have like an army of babysitters downstairs.” Tony moved to grab more ingredients out of the fridge, needing to start dinner before Peter started complaining. 

 

Stephen was still reeling, looking at his boyfriend in awe as he started cooking, love and affection coursing through him. Tony had always been way too caring for his own good, but the trust he’d put in Stephen still always surprised him. With how often Tony had been betrayed and hurt, he’d expected the man to be at least angry with him for going behind his back. He’d have every right to be.


 

They sat down for dinner. Tony smushing some carrots and chicken together for Sophia to eat. They didn’t have a highchair yet, so they placed some pillows on a chair so that she was safe and comfortable and able to reach her plate. Stephen allowed the Cloak to wrap around her, stabilizing her in her seat. The girl patted the Cloak contently, making it shudder in joy.

 

Pepper stopped by once the table was cleared, smiling fondly at Peter and the Cloak playing with Sophia on the carpet.

 

“Harley still at MIT,” Pepper asked as she kissed both Stephen and Tony on the cheek.

 

“Yup,” Tony replied, going back to putting the plates in the dishwasher. Stephen handed Pepper a cup of coffee. “Big test tomorrow.”

 

“So, Stephen, what was Sophia’s story,” she asked curiously, taking a sip from her mug, “you didn’t explain before.”

 

Stephen gave her a pained smile as he glanced over at the kids in the living room. “She was abandoned at the hospital this morning. Someone just left her there around five am.”

 

“What,” Tony turned to him, frowning in horror. Stephen couldn’t help but kiss the crease between his eyebrows as the man fit into his side. “I assumed her parents had just died in an accident or something.”

 

Pepper looked just as horrified, glancing at Sophia as she fought away tears. “Are you sure she wasn’t kidnapped?”

 

“Pep, no one showed up for her. There were no missing kids reported matching her description and she had a packed backpack with her.”

 

Pepper bit her lip, staring at the floor as she rearranged her face into her business mask. Stubbornly not thinking about the sadness.

 

“I managed to get most supplies here. Bed needs to be assembled still, but I told them not to worry about it.” She winked at Tony, whose own horror was fading away. “We have an on-call mechanic after all.”

 

Stephen snorted, slapping Tony’s ass as he moved towards the living room. “You heard the woman. Go make that bed.”

 

Pepper tried to hide a laugh at Tony’s blush, clearly visible despite his betrayed muttering.

 

“You’re so not getting any tonight.”

 

“Your loss,” Stephen yelled back over his shoulder as he joined Sophia and Peter on the carpet. Sophia’s smile brightened as she noticed the sorcerer, immediately crawling into his lap.

 

When Tony joined them later, his heart soared at the sight of Stephen’s content little smile.

 


 

“Thank you,” Stephen muttered against Tony’s crown. Sophia had gone to bed without a fuss, clearly exhausted after such a long day. They had changed the guest bedroom – which was never used anyway – into Sophia’s new room, FRIDAY and the Cloak watching over her as she slept.

 

Tony moved his head out of the crook of Stephen’s neck so he could look up at him, eyes soft as he pecked his jaw. “I wouldn’t have wanted to see her go into foster care either. At this point I’m ready to adopt her.”

 

Stephen raised a surprised eyebrow but kissed his boyfriend soundly. “Really?  We’ve never spoken about having kids.”

 

Tony rolled over, so he was laying fully on top of Stephen, arm resting on his chest for support as he gazed down at his boyfriend. He looked absolutely beautiful like this; hair fluffy from his shower earlier and eyes sleepy, little stubble from the day throwing a shadow over his jaw. “Honestly, I’m getting old, but I miss having babies in the house. You know Peter will leave soon too.”

 

Stephen snorted, happiness fluttering at his chest, but Tony continued, “I’m more surprised about you wanting kids to be honest.”

 

“I never really thought about it.” He shrugged. “My life never had space for another person let alone a child. I can’t deny that I don’t love having this little family with you, though. Spending time with you, Harley and Peter … it has made me really happy.”

 

Tony’s smile was absolutely blinding, leaning down to kiss Stephen deeply. “I love you.”

 

“I love you too.”

 

It has always been the easiest thing to say.

 

Stephen had always had a problem with speech. He wasn’t non-vocal by any stretch of imagination. He could talk and talk for hours, but he often struggled trying to talk to people. He wasn’t made for small talk. Didn’t care about the weather or people’s personal lives.

 

He wanted conversation. To talk about things that interested him.

 

His annoyance at people not knowing the same things as him often kept him from being able to explain things properly. He always falsely assumed everyone else must know the same things he did.

 

In the hospital that often led to five minutes of frustration before deciding to just shut up and do it himself. Same thing eventually happened at Kamar Taj, once he had started to surpass the other masters. One of the things that made him happier there, though, was that he could easily reference the book and the other person would gladly look it up. They at least knew that one couldn’t know everything and wouldn’t take offence in being upstaged, as many doctors would.

 

He would learn from Wong to be a better teacher, to use the source material yes, but to also be able to paraphrase the essence. In the sorcerer world one never knew everything about magic, everyone instead focusing on one little aspect to then combine their knowledge.

 

Same happened in hospitals between the different specialties of course, but in Kamar Taj he wouldn’t have to be confined to his ‘specialty’. People wouldn’t assume that, because it wasn’t his major field of study, he knew less about it than the ‘expert’. They just had knowledge that some people might lack, and they could complement each other.

 

Since he started training Avenger recruits and students at Kamar Taj, he had mastered the skill of letting the students read up to a basic level of understanding, before trying to explain his meaning. He had gotten better, but he still often struggled.

 

He never had had any such problems with Tony Stark.   

Even on that terrible day not more than two years ago, when he had first met the infamous billionaire, he had admired the man. 

He knew he hadn’t done a good job of explaining the plan. There hadn’t been the time and he couldn’t have taken the risk of messing it up. One wrong word could disrupt the course of events leading to their victory. One wrong breath and the entire universe would be lost. 

 

Tony Stark took it in stride though. Didn’t make a fuss about the lack of communication, lack of certainty. Instead, had put his full faith in the sorcerer, trusting that he would have the world’s best interest at heart. The man understood, understood without thought, the way the world worked. The risk of knowing.

 

He didn’t press Stephen for answers, for an explanation, knew there wasn’t time. It had lit the first spark of affection in Stephen. Even after watching the man die to save the world 14 million times, it was that simple act that justified his crush on the man. At least to himself.

 

There were certain things Stephen found hard to say. 

 

“You know, doc, now’s not the time-“

 

“Oh, it sure is the perfect time to discuss this,” Stephen yelled back over the comms, using his whips to take down two hostiles.

 

“Babe-“

 

“Don’t, babe me right now!”

 

“It’s so not my fault that  -“

 

“When were you going to tell me,” Stephen asked, voice hard. He was glad they were in the middle of a mission; he wasn’t lying when he said this was the perfect time. He could focus his anger on the hostiles, helping his mind clear out the mess of emotions running around his head. Anger. Disappointment. Fear.

 

Especially that last one needed to be wiped away.

 

“Stephen, it will be fine! It’s a minor procedure, barely any recovery time.”

 

“I’m a doctor, Tony! You should have discussed this with me.” Their private line was interrupted by Nat’s voice running through the communal one, telling them the mission was a success and that they could fall back now. Rhodey’s voice ran through next, congratulating them on a job well done and thanking Stephen for helping out.

 

Stephen barely heard any of it. Instead, he let the cloak take him back to the ground, landing in front of Tony.

 

“Stephen,” he started, lifting up his faceplate. Stephen could see the pain behind his eyes, the worry as he looked at Stephen’s impassive face. He had a mask on, he knew, always keeping his face neutral when in pain. “I’m sorry. I should have talked this through with you first. I’m not used to relying on other people. I just wanted to get everything taken care of because it scares me. But it needs to be done.”

 

“I know,” Stephen sighed in defeat. He didn’t have the energy to stay angry at Tony. Especially not when looking into his beautiful eyes. He stepped forward to place a trembling hand on Tony’s jaw. He did know, but even though he knew that as a doctor, it didn’t mean he wasn’t terrified. A new sternum isn’t nothing. Isn’t a minor procedure. But Tony needed it, the previous one being too restrictive, too damaged still after Siberia, after Thanos,….

 

“I love you.”

 

Stephen had never said it before, never heard it said to him before, the closest thing being Christine’s watch, but he knew what he felt. Not saying it was becoming too much effort and with all the stress he was feeling, it needed to be released. There was no greater truth anyway.

 

He had been falling for months. Falling into the feelings he experienced whenever he was around Tony. The swirl of his stomach whenever Tony’s eyes changed colour from light caramel to deep chocolate and back. The youthfulness he felt when teasing the engineer, the excitement when they would one-up each other.

 

He would be grateful for the rest of his lives for having the chance to get to know the man behind the mask. The man who loved his family, would give his life for his kids, for the entire world, who would die to give someone a second chance. The man who made ridiculous jokes to ease the tension, who would never give up an argument – taking it to silly lengths just to be right as long as it was about something stupid. A man who was so frustratingly kind and forgiving.

 

He had never imagined saying those three words, though, but Tony Stark made everything seem easy.

 

Tony’s smile lit up his features as he leaned into Stephen’s touch. He could see Tony’s eyes moistening as he stared up at the sorcerer.

 

Stephen leaned forward because he couldn’t not anymore. Needed to feel the engineer’s lips against his own. To feel the man he loved melt into him. Tony stopped them before their lips met, noses resting together as he gripped onto the sorcerer’s shoulders.

 

“I love you too, you asshole,” he muttered, making Stephen sag with happiness as Tony pressed their mouths together. Stephen immediately deepened the kiss, basking in their proximity.