Chapter 12: Chapter 12
Summary: The rouge Avengers are pardoned under the influence of King T’Challa and it is up to Tony to ‘welcome’ them back. But as he and his new team are at the private airport, an unexpected fight breaks loose and the fate of the whole universe is changed when a wizard places himself as Tony Stark’s protector.
Stephen has found that JARVIS was a valuable ally and a formidable opponent all at once and he was not ashamed to say that the AI scared him a little.
Artificial Intelligence was for so long thought to be nothing more than science fiction, and while FRIDAY, KAREN and SARAH - all whom he’s met only recently - were indeed AIs and had their own individual personalities, the entity that was JARVIS knocked them right out of the water. As impossible as it seemed, JARVIS was more than real and the difference of twenty something years of active experience versus FRIDAY’s meek two years and KAREN’s and SARAH’s few months was as obvious as the tears of his creator as the man broke down in front of a kid, a stranger, his best friend and three AIs upon the return of his greatest creation. And as grateful as Stephen was that they had managed to get JARVIS back, Tony’s breakdown tugged painfully on his heart, especially as no one seemed to know how to deal with it. Vision was frowning in concern but not approaching the man or saying anything, just standing as silent support among the cheerily beeping bots until they noticed their creators distressed and fell still and silent as well, only their cameras moving around as they zoomed in on their creator, worried. Peter was freaking out, not knowing what to do with his mentor in such a state and FRIDAY seemed to be trying to calm him down. The other two AIs remained silent, completely out of their depths as they very rarely interacted with either their creator or any other human being. Rhodey and Peter were far from used to having AIs in their lives - not directly in his life in Rhodey’s case; he was more than used to dealing with the AIs in Tony’s life - so they mostly talked to them in their suits, unlike FRIDAY who often just chatted with her creator and anyone who wasn’t freaked out by her omnipresence in Stark properties.
Rhodey looked like he both knew and didn’t know how to handle a crying Tony Stark and had this constipated look on his face as he tried to figure out how to deal with this. Stephen didn’t blame him. Rhodey knew Tony most of his life and you would think he could handle this. But not even Stephen knew how to deal with this breakdown, even though he had gotten to know fourteen million versions of Tony Stark. And that was just in the futures he’d seen in his own future. How strange that sounded. The point was, he doubted Rhodey had ever had to deal with Stark this vulnerable, just like Stephen had never seen him in such a state, either. And it physically hurt to watch and listen to this brilliant, strong man sob like this and know you can’t help him. Not the way he needs. You don’t know this side of him. It’s like being punched straight into the heart and Stephen clenched his fists hard enough until they hurt. He had not felt this helpless and useless since the accident that took away his hands and his career. He had not been this lost since the death of the Ancient One.
JARVIS, the brilliant intelligence that he was, seemed to have known just perfectly well how to handle his creator. He had started repeating a stream of random information, repeating it over and over again in as soothing a voice as though he were whispering to a skirmish, skittish horse until the sobs died down and Tony was left a shivering mess, tears still streaming down his face. Vision at this time moving, ushering them all out of the lab and asking FRIDAY to give them some privacy until she was called upon. FRIDAY went with them while JARVIS locked the lot of them out, surrounding Tony in a protective cocoon of technology that they had no doubt would keep him safe. They heard nothing from the two for the entirety of the night but FRIDAY and the other two AIs were evidently contacted. KAREN and SARAH only briefly left their charges while FRIDAY was permitted back to her creator’s side, leaving Peter, Rhodey and Stephen to ask Vision about his time jump experience. Stephen spent most of the time switching between doctor mode and Sorcerer Supreme mode, both of which came as easily as breathing to him by now, and he was soon satisfied that Vision was okay.
At the asscrack of dawn, FRIDAY called Vision back down to the lab. A few minutes later, they saw the red android carrying Tony out of his workshop and towards where his bedroom must be, the engineer finally asleep after almost a week. Strange finally relaxed at that and was about to leave when FRIDAY informed the three of them that rooms have been prepared for them to spend the night and that, should they need anything, they can just contact one of the AIs. Since she was particularly insistent, Stephen called Wong and informed him he will have to stay one more day before hanging up and happily following FRIDAY’s instructions to the prepared guest room. Peter was being led away by KAREN’s gentle voice while Rhodey seemed to know where his room was perfectly fine and was informing SARAH to cancel his early morning plans and postpone his afternoon plans. From what he had heard, Rhodes planned on coming back before dinner and sticking around for two days, probably a good idea after such an emotional display on Tony’s part. Stephen wished he could stay as well but he had a Sanctum to protect and a research to start. He figured he’ll visit in a couple of days, after he does some Sorcerer Supreme business to appease Wong before the other sorcerer comes to drag him away.
Figuring it was a thing to worry about in the morning, Stephen had simply fallen into the bed on top of the covers and let the Cloak act as a blanket. He woke up well after lunch time and found that Rhodes had left and that Peter was munching on some food in the kitchen when he came back into the common area. There was no sign of Vision. The teen waved at him enthusiastically, thankfully polite enough not to try and talk with his mouth full. Stephen just nodded to him and started searching the cabinets for some tea, completely disregarding the impressive, possible handmade coffee machine on the counter. It probably what caught the AIs attention.
“Can I help you?” Stephen jumped at the sound of the distinctly robotic, confident, sophisticated voice that reminded him of Vision. Only the android definitely sounded more human. Not because this voice lacked emotion or anything like that, it simply had that ... robotic vibe to it. Add to that that it came from virtually out of nowhere was enough to startle Stephen into almost creating a shield right then and there. “I didn’t mean to startle you, Doctor Strange, and for that I apologize. You just appeared to require assistance.”
“I was looking for tea.” He explained awkwardly. He had never felt awkward around FRIDAY before. Maybe he did feel awkward right now because there was a not so low-key judging, assessing, studying, wary tone to the male AIs voice. Then again, he had never been around FRIDAY with Tony in such a vulnerable state as sleep. “I take it you must be the famed JARVIS?”
“There is some green tea in the third cabinet from the left, on the third shelf. And yes, I am indeed Just A Rather Very Intelligent System, or JARVIS for short.” The AI said, tone still not even close to friendly. Stephen wondered if JARVIS had been scouring the net and found out just what had happened during the Civil War and was simply overprotective of his creator. “And you are emitting intriguing amounts of displaced energy. Care to share, doctor, how a neurosurgeon of your caliber became a, as Colonel Rhodes had jokingly expressed himself, ‘hobo wizard’?”
And here he thought he was an asshole. And sassy. Leave it to Tony Stark to make an AI who can possibly surpass them both. And let’s not forget the fact that the AI could do such a precise reading on him. Because magic, or dimensional energy, was always going to cling to a sorcerer and it was displaced because it didn’t belong in this dimension. Just how sophisticated were Stark’s scanners that he can tell the difference between normal and dimensional energy?
“Thank you.” He said first as he took the tea and boiled the water he put in a cup with magic. He ignored Parker’s “Wow!” and put the packet of tea into the water, letting the leaves leek out color and taste. “It’s interdimensional energy. Kamar-Taj teaches its sorcerers to draw on energy from other dimensions to preform spells. And I am sure that you have already done a throughout background check on me so you must know about my accident. I thought this was a way to cure my hands but I ended up learning I was born for the Mystic Arts and was burdened with a responsibility I could not shed. Those with the power to change the world must use it responsibly and that includes protecting it.”
“With great power comes great responsibility.” Peter added in a voice that laked its usual cheer and Stephen looked over curiously at him.
“That does not, however, explain your involvement with Mr Stark.” Ah, there it was. As he had expected. Only it came out far more hostile than he had anticipated. Perhaps he had imagined JARVIS to be a lot like Vision, but it was very obvious how different the two were. Then again, JARVIS was there with Tony through his most dangerous and destructive stages. He had seen the worst of the worst. He was not as naive as young Vision was. And he was rightfully protective and concerned for his creator. The Civil War must have been the first thing he saw or researched or maybe even FRIDAY told him. Hell, maybe Tony opened up to him and told him! From the sounds of it, JARVIS was probably the only one the genius would tell something like that to. And if JARVIS was acting like this, it was obvious the trust was not misplaced in the slightest.
“I believe you, if no one else, are well aware of what he fears.” Stephen says in way of answering, subtly glancing at the teenager, who was pretending that he wasn’t listening. “It just so happens that I have come across this knowledge recently, when a former college decided to go after him and I tried to figure out why. I have come to both offer my help in preventing Tony’s greatest fear from becoming a reality and my protection against a man I should have made sure couldn’t cause problems for others.”
“I see. And Sir is involved in all of this how?” The sorcerer blinked. He thought he was pretty straightforward and clear with his intentions. All he really wanted to do was protect Tony because it will protect the universe and maybe catch Mordo along the way of stopping Thanos.
“Are you asking if I seek to use him in some manner or expect something of him? Because if you are, I am greatly offended.” He even huffed for good measure. “Don’t you think that if I wanted to use him, I wouldn’t have offered him a way to get you back? From what I understand, you could start a nuclear war right now and Kamar-Taj would be your first target.” If he could find it. It was protected from both magical and technological scanning.
As if reading his mind, JARVIS popped up a hologram right in front of him, nearly making Stephen drop his cup of tea. He did drop it, but the Cloak caught it, when he realized he was staring at a presentation of Kamar-Taj in Kathmandu, Nepal, even the market there. It was a live feed, either by satellite or ... Stephen didn’t even know. An Iron Man suit? For all he knows, both were a possibility.
“I believe you’ve made your point,” Stephen says warily, still staring at the should-be-secret sorcerer sanctuary. How it was found was still a mystery to him. As was JARVIS’ potential mind reading skills.
“After New York, Sir has launched several Stark Industries satellites into the orbit and I have full access to them all at all times.” JARVIS said casually, as though he were not channeling his inner Skynet. Stephen somehow thought JARVIS would be far more frightening than either Skynet or Hal-9000. “This location, as well as three others, are emitting large energy readings that somewhat match the readings we already possess from Mr Leufeyson’s, Mr Odinson’s and the Scarlet Witch’s uses of magic in the past. Mr Leufeyson seems to be the only one currently that resembles the readings to an accurate comparison rate, but lore does suggest that he is, in fact, a sorcerer. But that is beside the point. Sir has become aware of this energy signature a short time ago and it would seem that he has decided to trust you enough not to go on site himself to investigate.”
He said it like it should be an honor. Stephen approved because he had seen just how rare and precious Tony’s trust can be. Fourteen million six hundred and five times. “I will do my best to never betray that trust.”
That seemed to be the right thing to say because the AI suddenly sounded much more pleasant and a lot friendlier than before. Stephen arched an eyebrow at Parker but the boy just shrugged and they both listened as KAREN and FRIDAY joined the conversation. JARVIS had some plans, it would seem, and KAREN and FRIDAY were more than willing to help. Stephen and Peter were left to their own devices for a long while before Vision finally reappeared. It was the first time any of them saw the android since he took Stark off to bed and he seemed definitely lighter than he used to be. Like he had a new perspective of the world. He was still pleasant and polite but he seemed to have developed a vindictive streak the size of Stark Tower that hadn’t been there before. Or perhaps it had and the android had simply tried to ignore it as a leftover part of JARVIS’ coding and now that he knew it wasn’t, he was embracing it.
“Wow,” a female voice broke through his musings and he looked up to see an impeccably dressed businesswoman standing there, her red hair giving away her identity even to the most media and socially ignorant person in the world, for she was Pepper Potts, almost as famous as her former boss, CEO of Stark Industries. She was a beautiful woman who seemed to carry her responsibilities with a grace most would doubt with how frail her shoulders seemed for such a burden. But this was the woman that had stood by Tony Stark through his darkest days and had not buckled. Even though they were no longer a couple, they were still two powerhouses in the world of business and no one dared mess with the power due of SI. “You got the green light from JARVIS. That’s new.”
“Good evening, Ms Potts. It is a pleasure to see you again.”
“Just as much as it is a relief to hear you again, JARVIS. We were lost without you.” Tony was lost without you, is what Stephen hears and knows what she had meant. But she was eying him and the Cloak of Levitation both curiously and warily. She didn’t trust him, that much was obvious. It would seem that Tony Stark’s self preservation instincts were outside entities, two humans and two AIs. At least he had them in some way. “I see you are entertaining ... interesting company.”
That was his cue. He stood up and walked over to Virginia Potts, exposing himself to her judgment, knowing he will need her okay as well if he wishes to stay by Tony’s side. Seeing as Tony’s life and the fate of the universe very well might depend on it, he sure hopes he will pass. “Doctor Stephen Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts, Sorcerer Supreme and the protector of the New York Sanctum. It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Ms Potts. You’re reputation precedes you.”
She blinked at him, obviously startled. By his titles or the fact he once used to be a renowned neurosurgeon was yet to be seen. She looked down at his extended hand and he expected to see horror or pity. Instead, he saw ... something else. Compassion? Understanding? ‘Ah,’ he thought. ‘The Arc Reactor.’ If anyone has seen some not so sightly scarring on another human being, it was definitely this woman. She still took his hand, which immediately put her in his ‘okay’ book. Not the ‘good’ books, but the ‘okay’ will have to do for now.
“You must be the, excuse me saying this but I absolutely quote Rhodey on this, strange wizard friend of Tony’s that brought JARVIS back.” They both cringed at her words and Peter choked on his cereal while trying not to die of laughter. Stephen sent a glare his way before returning his attention to the ever formidable Ms Potts. “I can’t thank you enough about that. I thought I was dreaming when I opened my StarkPad this morning and saw half of my schedule handled. Tony was kind of wary of letting FRIDAY out of his sight after the whole Ultron ordeal and just forgot to give her clearance later, but she has it now and the only one other than Tony who can give clearance into the deep web of SI is JARVIS. Tony has been a mess and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t take care of him so ... Thank you. You have no idea how much this means to us. To him.”
“It was my pleasure to be of assistance, Ms Pot-”
“Call me Pepper.” The sorcerer blinked at the unexpected interruption and then blinked again when he registered what was actually said. Seeing the expression on his face, a mischievous look settled over her own. “Don’t tell Tony, but FRIDAY is a terrible gossip. She told me about everything.”
Pepper nodded. “I know about the conference meeting.” There was an angry hiss of static over the speakers that Pepper paid no head to while Stephen and Peter stiffened on instinct. “You saved him. And you somehow got the vote of approval from the most overprotective intelligence in the world. Clearly you can’t be that bad.”
“But you are still going to give me what is essentially the shovel talk? Don’t worry about that one, JARVIS’ was more than adequate enough.” He shuddered at the thought of how easily Kamar-Taj had been found. Perhaps they had become to lax in their confidence of cloaking themselves from satellites that ordinary humans made that they forgot that there are some not so ordinary humans out there. Not mutants, not Inhumans, not other sorcerers or aliens. Simply Tony Stark. The world seems to greatly underestimate the man.
“Oh, I don’t doubt it.” The redhead agreed easily. “And you’ll probably still receive a speech from Rhodey and Happy when you meet him, so you don’t really need me telling you that I will cut your balls off and hang them like a Christmas decoration for all to see. I’ll leave that part to Harley.” Peter was mouthing the name ‘Harley’ back at him in confusion but how was Stephen supposed to know?! Sure, he might have seen fourteen million futures but Stark didn’t talk to him about everything in them. And Stephen had kept mostly true to his words and had mostly only watched snippets of the future. Only mostly. Occasionally he watched the whole thing but if no one knew about that, then no one can wring his neck for it.
“Mr Keener is coming to visit Boss?” FRIDAY pipped up, clearly not in on this plan. Stephen wondered if these two super AIs will end up stepping on each other’s metaphorical toes or if they’ll find a way to work together.
“Yes. Tony doesn’t know about it yet, it’s supposed to be a surprise, but Harley will probably call him and accidentally give up the element of surprise.” Pepper said in a fond tone before she grinned at Peter. “I gotta warn you, though. Harley is basically another of Tony’s brain children and he can be rather possessive of Tony’s time and attention. Try to be friends with him, okay?”
It was interesting to watch Peter’s face break into a shameful blush and start complaining at Pepper that ‘it wasn’t like that!’ It was equally interesting to find out Stark had ‘brain children’? What was that supposed to mean? Did he go picking up smart kids and randomly adopting them? Somehow, that thought didn’t surprise Stephen at all.
“Speaking of friends,” the snarl drew Stephen’s attention out of his own thoughts and back to Pepper. “Tony has another Avengers meeting scheduled for next Monday.” It took him a few seconds to realize she was talking directly to him. He arched an eyebrow, silently communicating to her to give him more and to get to the point. She must be used to such a look because she prowled on without verbal encouragement. “Will you be making reappearances before then or should I expect him to go searching you out at the most inconvenient - for me - times in the time until then?”
“What makes you think I will leave?” The Master of the Mystic Arts asks curiously, letting his eyebrow go higher.
“The fact that you have introduced yourself as the Sorcerer Supreme. I am under the impression that is not such a common title and that you will probably have to leave at some point.” Well, she wasn’t wrong there, on either point. Besides, Stephen wasn’t sure if he hadn’t already overstayed his welcome.
Vision must have sensed this, because he was the one who spoke up next. “You are always welcome at Stark Tower, Doctor. I am sure Tony will gladly see you whenever you are free.” Then again, he probably cloud to some lever, what with the Mind Stone and all.
“Just please leave some form of contact so we can reach you. Knowing Tony, he will probably go crazy if you subject him to radio silence after what Rhodey told me you two are preparing for.” Pepper sighed and looked at him expectantly. Stephen hesitated only for a second before materializing a slip of paper almost identical to the one he had once left behind for Thor upon trapping Loki in a constantly falling portal. Only this one had a phone number added to it as well as an email address. Those will actually mean something to these people. Besides, Pepper was right. He and Tony needed to have a way to communicate with each other outside if whenever Stephen could come over. They were both busy people and might not be available for a face to face meeting but that did not mean they can’t talk. The redhead smiled gratefully at him and took the slip, arching an eyebrow at the lack of name but not bothering to ask about it. Instead, she just nodded her head in thanks, said bye to the two superheroes, one sorcerer and his Cloak and three AIs before leaving, the sound of clicking heels lasting longer than their sight of her.
A few hours later, Rhodey returned, bringing in the fourth AI into the fry of KAREN, FRIDAY, JARVIS and Vision arguing about some calculations that they wouldn’t share with the two humans that were still sticking around. The only way they knew that the AIs were arguing was how the numbers, calculations, spotted errors and corrections and various other data was colored in different holograms. JARVIS was a beautiful blue color that almost duplicated the shade of the Arc Reactor’s light. FRIDAY had a pinkish purple as her color. Vision used modest, elegant gray as his color while KAREN was an identical red to the Spider-Man suit. SARAH was an almost military green. Sometimes, JARVIS would highlight something in orange that nearly looked golden, resembling the color of Stephen’s own magic. There was so much techno-jargon going on that not even Rhodey, a rocket scientist, or Stephen, a genius in his own right with a photographic memory, could keep up. Peter simply gave up after a while and concentrated on doing his homework.
Why, exactly, hadn’t anyone tried to get this kid to go to school?
Even by evening, there was still no sign of Tony but Stephen figured he deserved his rest. That, however, could not keep him away from his other duties forever. So with a few goodbyes and promises to keep in touch, Stephen opened a portal to the Sanctum and went on his way. “We have a problem.” Were the first words he heard from a waiting Wong and Stephen pursed his lips.
No time for some more rest. He had work to do.