Chapter 15: Chapter 15
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.
“Harley! Get away from that suit! I have a dangerous circuitry problem that I need to fix! Peter! Don’t make me come over there, young man. No trashy pop songs in my workshop! Shuri, what the hell did I tell you about trying to upgrade Dum-E? I like him the way he is!” Stephen arched an eyebrow at Colonel Rhodes and a blond woman that were sitting calmly on the couch in the common room when he heard the genius’ voice echoing from the lab a level or two bellow. The sound of giggling and delightfully shrieking of children had the other eyebrow joining the first, especially at the beeping of the three helper bots that followed and a few crashes. Rhodey and the stranger just grinned at the sorcerer that had just stepped out of a portal and at the noise coming from Tony and whoever he was entertaining. “No! Nathaniel, don’t! U, put him down right now! Reed, don’t encourage them! Lila, Cassie, if I ever get my hands on you, you’re gonna be sorry! Get back here!”
A choked gasp from the kitchen area alerted Stephen to three more women and a man gasping for breathe, seated at the counter and laughing their asses off at Tony’s expense. There was anther woman, a blond, cooking with Vision in the kitchen while constantly slapping a blond, lithely muscular man’s hand away from the food. They, too, chuckled every now and then at the noise coming from below and none of them bothered to go check on the genius and his new little army of minions.
“Don’t-! Sue! Get your crazy husband out of here before I send him back into space and leave him there! You! You sit right there and better not move, mister, or so help me god, Ben, I will weld your ass to that chair!” There was a distinct sound of several snapshots from a phone camera that was followed by curses and chuckling of teenagers. “Kamala Khan, I will take your phone away if you don’t stop making Mark 42 do stupid heroic poses! And don’t think I don’t see you, Dante! Get the hell back here! You two shouldn’t even be here! This is a science binge! You guys hate science!” There was a loud crash before a long bout of silence washed over the atmosphere. “Cooper, did you just topple over that piece of armor?! I told you not to touch that! If the fresh paint job has suffered, I will break your scrawny little neck GET BACK HERE!”
Two sets of pounding footsteps approached them, the adults in the common room gasping with laughter as a young teen came crashing through the door that led to the stairs to the labs. Tony, ruffled and dirty and caffeine crazed after a science binge, followed after the half laughing, half panicked boy, running from the grinning engineer. Stephen watched as Tony let the boy run up to the couch before he lunged and fell on Rhodey and the blond woman as he tackled the boy. Rhodey and his companion yelped under their weight, only grunting more when Tony started tickling the boy before laughter filled the room. Stephen would have winced on their behalf when the others, who had probably been in the lab with these two, joined in the fray on top of them had he not been so distracted by how happy and relaxed Tony seemed.
Had it really only been a month since he had returned to this man the child he thought he had lost? How can this be that same man? Stephen had only once or twice seen this side of Tony in all the futures he had glimpsed. Tony acting like this was almost as rare as their ways to defeat Thanos. But the month since JARVIS’ return has done the genius wonders. Yes, he was obviously still tired and not sleeping right but the cloud of resigned defeat he wasn’t even aware of was gone, instead replaced with new hope and determination. What’s more, he was happy again. He didn’t have JARVIS to mourn every time FRIDAY answered him in the morning or every time Vision spoke and his voice haunted the engineer because it was JARVIS’ but not. He had his closest companion back and he had more kids now than ever. And, apparently, not all were mechanic.
There were four older teens, two girls and two boys, one of whom was Peter. One girl had a darker skin tan and chocolate brown hair and eyes and was dressed in some purple tunic and ordinary jeans. The other was dressed a lot more elaborately, in a white tunic and tights with some jewelry here and there, the one that stood out the most being a beaded bracelet, all of the beads black except one light blue one. Her skin was even darker and she had a distinct African look to her. Her hair was in two complicated looking buns. The other boy was a little taller than Peter, was paler but had darker hair, a black so black that in certain angles of light, it had a blue sheen to it. He was dressed in a dark blue shirt with black flames and black jeans.
The two younger teens were both boys, one having sandy blond, curly hair and looking to be around fifteen as to the others’ sixteen to seventeen. That kid was currently hanging off of Tony like a koala bear, dressed in a hoodie and some trousers. And the final teen was the one Tony was tickling, short dark blond hair and appearing to be only fourteen. He was trashing on top of Rhodey but beneath the genius as breathless laugh after breathless laugh was tickled out of him.
There were two younger girls in the great big pile as well. They looked close to each other in age, both somewhere between nine and twelve, Stephen couldn’t really tell. One resembled the boy getting tickled while the other tugged at Stephen’s photographic memory. She had some features he had seen before but he wasn’t sure where. One of the women sitting and giggling in the kitchen was obviously her mother, so there was some of that, but he was sure he must have met her father somewhere as well. He was distracted from that train of thought when he spotted the final child, a boy of four, cuddling up right next to the curly haired blond on Tony’s back.
The entire group was tickling each other before it somehow turned into a tickle war, kids vs adults. That only had the would-be-food-stealing blond man cackling in delight while the others laughed and Vision just smiled. He wasn’t one for overly emotional displays, Stephen had gathered. It was an interesting battle, one which Stephen would have gladly watched had two more men not come up from the lab. Stephen recognized them instantly. Mr Fantastic, Dr Reed Richards himself, and his old friend Ben, or The Thing, as they call him. That would explain the blonds in the kitchen. Susan and Johnny Storm. Or was Susan now Richards? Well, it would seem that Tony’s been busy. Had the Fantastic Four signed the Accords? As Sorcerer Supreme, Stephen didn’t exactly have all that much time to follow the media all the time. He didn’t know whether the Accords had been presented to others.
Richards spotted him about the same time as the tickle war was getting a little out of hand, his eyes widening. “Dr Strange, is that you?” Tony’s head shot up, alert, as soon as he heard Reed pronounce his name, but it also earned him the attention of everyone else as well, which he would have rather gone without. Like Johnny’s, for instance.
“Dude, what the hell are you wearing?”
“Hi, Dr Strange!” Peter greeted, finally getting off of Rhodey and pulling some of the other kids as well. Strange watched as, as if to spite him, the purple dressed teen girl let her arm stretch the more he pulled, getting a laugh out of the other teens but the blond woman pushed her off the couch and got the last laugh when she pouted and returned her arm back to normal. Ignoring everyone else, Strange arched an eyebrow at Tony, who still had a kid or two hanging off of him.
“Are they new recruits or is this a say care?”
Tony shrugged, careful not to dislodge the four year old off of his shoulders. “I never could tell with the former Avengers so I can’t tell now.”
“What about us?” An indignant Johnny asked and Susan, Tony, Ben and the black haired woman in the kitchen all rolled their eyes.
"What about you?” The genius engineer sniffed. “You’re more of a child than Nathaniel here is.” He patted the little boy hanging down his back on the head, earning a giggle out of him. Well, one name down, eight to go. Actually, he can guess already who Cooper is. Tony had given chase to him, after all.
“I second that.” The black haired woman, dressed similarly to what Pepper usually wears but in a black version of the business suit he’d last seen her in, stated. She was familiar, too, only he couldn’t place his finger on it. He’d never been one for celebrity gossip and he’d watched or read the news only to learn about anything medical related. It was a habit he still couldn’t shake, even though it’s not consequential to his duties as the Sorcerer Supreme.
“And I totally agree with Tony and Hope.” Susan stated, earning a pout from Johnny. “I wouldn’t trust you with a rock I found on the beach because you’d break it.”
“He’d set it on fire.” Ben corrected, earning a chuckle all around as Johnny pouted like the man-child that he was.
Well, the name Hope helped. Hope Van Dyne, if memory served - which it did. The daughter of the esteemed, eccentric and extremely paranoid and cynic Dr Hank Pym. Her he remembered. She had signed the Accords publicly with Tony and her father a month or so after the Civil War, when Pym Industries made a public apology to Germany for what Scott had done to their airport in Leipzig with the Ant Man suit and made a statement that they had not authorized or approved of any of his actions. They had given the Germans a hefty bill to cover for some of the damage repairs, although most of it was still paid by Stark Industries, even though Tony and his team had done the least damage. The Germans accepted her apology and the money but refused to take all of it from either company, instead demanding justice be served by placing the rouges behind bars. And Stephen only knew that because Christine had ranted about it for half an hour when they had a friendly dinner at his apartment a few days after the broadcast of it.
Another name. Which still left him with seven kids he didn’t know the names of and three adults. Better than when he came in. Tony seemed to catch on because he suddenly put down the kids and gathered them all around, finally fully freeing the Colonel and his companion. “Gather around, kiddies, it’s introduction time!” The genius sing singed as he threw an arm around Peter. “Doc, you already know Peter and these are my other brain children, nephews and nieces. First we have Harley Keener,” the sandy blond waved at him from where he was now hugged by Tony’s other arm. “Then these are Cooper, Lila and Nathaniel Barton,” each of the siblings waved, Cooper boredly, Lila excitedly and Nathanial shyly from where he was clutching at Tony’s pants leg. “This little princess is Cassie Lang.” Ah, the daughter of Ant Man. And he thought nothing could surprise him after hearing that Tony had taken in Hawkeye’s kids despite the man’s betrayal. Taking in a former friend’s family is one thing, taking in a complete stranger’s is quite another. “This is Princess Shuri of Wakanda.” And yet another surprise when one of the teen girls waves at him casually, inspecting his robes from head to toe. She wasn’t as bad as the other teen girl. “The stretchy one is Kamala Khan and her partner in crime is Dante Pertuz. Most of them want to be Avengers when they grow up.” He chirped at last, earning some petulant glares from the kids.
“We are the Avengers.” The one introduced as Dante said, producing a flame much like the Human Torch could out of nowhere.
“No, you’re backup unless shit gets desperate. You help, you don’t avenge. Like Spidey here, right Peter?” But even Peter was pouting, not that Tony seemed to care. He just rolled his eyes before turning back to Stephen, who was getting more confused and amused by the second. And he thought Tony’s and Peter’s relationship was whack, some sort of mentor-protégé kind of thing. He can’t begin to wonder what’s going on with the rest of them. “They can’t sign the Accords as active support members until they turn eighteen, so they’re backup. The Young Avengers, I believe the media has dubbed them?”
Maybe he really should start following the news.
“Anyway, our new members currently present are Colonel Carol Danvers, Captain Marvel, and Hope Van Dyne, the Wasp. I believe you already know the Fantastic Four?” Said quartet nodded to him, Reed still staring at him in that odd, awkward way a man who is socially inept enough not to ask the love of his life to marry him before they both mutated would do. “They, along with the Defenders, the X-men and some former SHIELD agents with awesome skills, all signed the Accords and are working with the New Avengers in keeping the Earth safe.” Stephen got the hint, though. It’s been a busy month and each and every one of these people knew a greater threat was coming. “Now, these lovely ladies are Laura Barton and Maggie Lang, mothers of these wonderful little devils.” The brunet and the blond waved at him. “And that fine fellow is Jim Paxton. Everyone,” he then pointed to the sorcerer. “This is Doctor Stephen Strange, Sorcerer Supreme of Earth and hopefully one day soon, an active member of the New Avengers.”
“That’s actually what I came here to talk to you about.” The former neurosurgeon cut in before any more shenanigans could distract them. “I finally got the other Masters to understand just how dire the situation actually is. They have reviewed the Accords contract and have a few changes they’d like to negotiate, but they are finally ready to let me ‘come into the public eye’. New Avengers, here I come.” His breath caught in his throat, though, when a huge smile spread across Tony’s lips. Maybe Wong was right. No, Wong was right. He was compromised because he wanted Tony Stark not only safe but happy. That had little to do with the universe and everything to do with Stephen’s own personal feelings. He still wasn’t exactly sure what they were, exactly, but he knew he wanted Stark to live a better life after the shit he’d been through.
“The sorcerers are going to help? That’s awesome! I can finally include some of the other plans I got that involved them.” He was already rambling, grabbing Stephen’s hand from inside the flock of children surrounding him, holographic screens popping up without even a word or a gesture from him. Stephen remembered the implant he’d mentioned but was that enough? It hadn’t seemed to be enough last month. The kids seemed used to it, though, so he wondered if it was normal. Or if it wasn’t, why hadn’t anyone mentioned it so far. “You said something about a magical shield or something around Earth, right? Three Sanctums that keep it up?”
“Yes. Although they serve to keep Dormammu in the Dark Dimension, not as a shield. More like a ... barrier. It’s designed to keep one thing out and in: out of this or any other dimension and in inside of the Dark Dimension.” He explained, watching with curiosity as an image of Earth was displayed along with a network of satellites that all seemed to connect. “Why do you ask?”
“Reed, Sue, Shuri and I decided that our first line of defense should be creating a forcefield around the Earth to prevent any invaders from coming in. Wakanda has pretty impressive shields in place and Reed, Sue and I have been consulting with Shuri how to make it on.a larger scale. She’ll provide the baseline forcefield generators and it’s up to us to put our heads together and figure out how to expand those shields. My satellites are our best option but, as good as the shielding could be, we came upon a snag.”
“Basically,” Reed took over, coming to stand next to them. He was still giving Stephen odd looks but he didn’t say anything and Stephen wasn’t in the mood for such commentary. “We can’t protect the satellites themselves. If we want to put a shield around them, then they disrupt the planetary shield and leave some pocket space that is void of any form of barrier, since they cancel each other out.”
“Not to mention that putting any weapon’s on it to protect that pocket space would have every government in the world after us, stating that we are trying for world domination or something.” Susan added, still cooking something.
“We thought about a space station, but we’d rather not risk another cosmic storm like what happened to us. We were lucky.” Reed indicated to his team. “Others might not end up so well. I mean, Ben and Doom can’t cancel out their powers and exposer to such a storm could actually kill people. It’s simply not safe.”
“So we thought maybe you and your sorcerer friends might be able to put in another shield that could strengthen our own, fix up the holes and maybe even prevent other magic users from landing on Earth without authorization.” Tony explained as the holographic Earth was suddenly surrounded by a purple forcefield. “Can you show us your barrier? We need to know what we’re working here. From what you’ve said about Dormammu, we need to know which places are vital and make more shields around them. In case of invasion, if those are attacked, we’re gonna have a lot more problems than we would already have had.”
Stephen didn’t think twice about letting his magic encircle the hologram with an illusion of the barrier held up by the three Sanctums. “New York, London and Hong Kong. Those are the places we need to worry about. If two out of three Sanctums are destroyed, you can say goodbye to the multiverse, because Dormammu will consume everything. And we can’t kill him. As for another shield, I can do you one better. We’ll make a shield that will detect the approach of anyone possessing magic or any magical artifact. And we always know when someone comes to Earth, so there’s no need to worry about that. We can stop any kind of teleportation that might be attempted on Earth’s soil.”
“What about the Space Stone?” Rhodey asked with a frown. “The Tesseract? Aren’t those things supposed to be, like, above everything else?”
“You don’t have to worry about the Space Stone.” Strange said with absolute certainty and was surprised to see Tony nodding along. He sent him a questioning glance but Tony just smirked. “What?”
“Sorted it all out with Reindeer Games?”
“I was going to speak with you about that, but it would seem you already know.” He half accused, getting an amused look from Tony. “What?”
“I may no longer live at the Compound, but I still keep an eye on it and especially now that there are countless UN and Accords meetings going on, not to mention the press conferences, the Asgardian thing and, of course, all the new recruits who automatically go straight to the AvengersCompound as opposed to the Stark Tower.” The billionaire answered with a huff. “And for all that you and Loki are magic, you can’t hide from my AIs, so you can’t hide from me.” He waved it off and returned the topic to what it should be. “So, Loki’s gonna help?”
“Yes. You were right. He’s been trying to prepare Asgard for Thanos when Hela happened and the released Surtur to settle it once and for all. He grabbed the Tesseract before escaping with Thor and the rest of their people and came here. By the way, why does he insist you owe him a drink?” Strange sent him a look that Tony ignored and gestured for him to continue. “Anyway, he said he’ll let the sorcerers of Kamar-Taj look over the Accords, make the right changes for all magic users and then look it over and sign it himself. Until then, he’ll be helping us in secret or as an Asgardian ambassador of sorts. His only condition was that the Tesseract remain with him at all times because he can slip in between realms and escape Thanos if worse comes to worst.”
“Agreeable and understandable. I’ll contact Thor and send him a phone for our stab-happy friend.” Stark nodded, focusing back on the forcefields. The purple, gold and red of the Vibranium barrier, Stephen’s magic and Tony’s satellite network that can scan deep space and do have someform of defense system - no way Tony didn’t out something up there - wasn’t the prettiest combination but appearances aren’t what they were focusing on. “How fast can you put up a shield?”
“We’ll need to find enough places around the world to act as anchors and put runes on them for protection. I’d say a month, depending on how many Masters we can spare. Until then, I can arrange for individual protection of each of your satellites, probably by the end of the week. How fast can you arrange for Vibranium barriers around the Sanctums?” As the Sorcerer Supreme, he had to bring this information to the Masters and the more he knew, the better.
“We need to manufacture them, but I’d say about two weeks. By the end of the third, they’re bound to be operational.” Shuri explained, using her beaded bracelet to activate a holographic projection of a model of one of the generators.
“We should try to make it smaller but to retain the range.” Tony, ever practical, reasoned.
“Also, we should add more ground teams to stay around the Sanctums to better protect them.” Reed reasoned. “And if the Asgardians aren’t against it, we could have someone up in space to watch over the satellites.”
“Someone less prone to breaking things than Thor, though.” Tony and Stephen said at the same time, turning to give each other an interesting once over before shrugging it off. “Not a bad idea, all things considered. But I think we’re honestly better off making friends with Heimdall. He’s kind of all-seeing. We’d get a warning from him sooner than from any of our own methods.”
“Can’t Mr Thor get in contact with the other realms that were once part of Asgard?” Peter questioned but balked under the attention of the adults. “Uh, never mind.”
“It’s not a bad idea.” Susan tried to sooth him.
Stephen, though he disagreed, didn’t say as much. “Asgard conquered the Nine Realms. They have rare few friends amongst them. Perhaps the Frost Giants, if Loki is so inclined to forsake Asgard’s throne and take up his father’s.”
“I’ll see what I can do on that front, when we eventually have that drink.” At the deadpan look her gets from him, Tony only shrugs. “It’s worth a shot and he didn’t look like he was overly fond of you.”
“You’re not going anywhere near Loki without something to keep you safe from his magic.” For some reason, Rhodey stiffened and turned a worried look on Tony who, for some even more unforeseeable reason, wasn’t reacting so badly at the prospect of magic. Because only magic can cancel out magic. Stephen actually paused, wondering what was going on.
“Okay?” Both Colonel and sorcerer repeated a bit incredulously, watching Tony as he shrugged yet again. He seemed confused by their reactions, maybe even more so than they were of his, which was not fair in the least.
“Yeah, okay.” Maybe he didn’t realize he can’t just build something to keep him safe from magic and doesn’t realize Stephen was implying a spell. “I know you won’t use any mind control spells, Doc. I trust you with that much. And even if you try something nasty, JARVIS and FRIDAY have a scary vindictive streak.” Nope. He knew what Stephen had meant. The Sorcerer Supreme tried not to shiver as he thought back to the low-key (or maybe not so subtle) threat JARVIS had delivered by revealing he knew where Kamar-Taj was and that he could destroy it with a single stream of coding. Stephen was still, however, more surprised by the fact that Tony said he trusted him not to mess with his mind like Maximoff had. “You wanna do this now or later?”
“I’ll need to find a strong enough spell to prevent the stronger magical attacks but tomorrow should be fine.”
“Awesome! I have a free hour after me noon meeting with Pepper and the SI board of directors. It should finish at about 15:30. Come by whenever you like in that time period, but I’m warning you now, if you miss it, I won’t be free for the next week. I’m going to Latveria.”
“What!?” The Fantastic Four all exclaimed in shock and Tony made soothing motions at them, clicking his tongue when that didn’t seem to calm them down. “You can’t!” Johnny insisted, coming up to Tony to shake him. “That’s where that crazy psycho Doom lives! He’s got weapons and his creepy powers we can’t quite discern what they are and he’s super strong now! You can’t just go to his turf and expect him not to try and kill you!”
“One, yes, I can.” The genius says as he peels Johnny’s hands off of his person. “Two, it’s a political meeting quid pro quo style, me helping Latveria get in the UN in exchange for him possibly contributing to our fight. Or at least not bothering you lot for a while.” He arches an eyebrow at the younger man and steps back, bringing himself closer to Stephen. The Cloak of Levitation doesn’t waist a second to flare up so it can wrap around the billionaire’s waste. Tony shoots him a look but Stephen can only shrug. The Cloak does what it wants. “And three, he wouldn’t stand a chance against me. My suit took on a tank, a F-22, an army of aliens, an army of murder bots, two supersoldiers, a god, the Hulk, a city falling on my head and a space whale. Whatever he can dish out, I can take it. As for his weapons, I saw Doom’s designs. Used to be a competitor in the weapons race and all. Better than Hammer, not that that’s hard to manage, but not nearly the best I’ve seen.”
“The best being Stark Industries?” Hope questioned with an amused snort.
“Naturally.” Surprisingly enough, it was Rhodey who answered. Not that anyone can disagree and they haven’t seen a Jericho missal level a mountain into a pile of rubble and dust.
“Anyway, my point is, most of his weapons were automated. Heat seeking missals, coordinates recognition, preprogrammed destination, that sort of shit. I can hack his crappy programs in the blink of an eye.”
“Yes, I am sure you could.” Vision, for yet another unknown reason, glared at Tony, who shot him a challenging arched eyebrow. It was honestly getting a little ridiculous.
“Well, now that that’s settled,” Tony clapped his hands, ignoring hos some of the kids he’d been entertaining earlier were exchanging worried looks at the prospect of Tony meeting this ... Doom character alone. Stephen swore to himself he will find the right spell for tomorrow. “I’m hungry. Who’s up for some grub?” That, at least, seems to be dismissal of serious conversations, especially when the younger kids perk up. Tony grins and shoos them all into the kitchen before turning to Stephen. “You wanna join in, Doc?”
Strange looks at the gathering and how homey it all feels. There’s an ease in this group that he’s never really felt before and he’d rather not stick out. But he didn’t. The Fantastic Four were dressed in their uniforms with an article or two of normal clothes over it and Carol was in as casual as a military uniform can get. Rhodey’s braces, Vision’s red color, Ben in all his rocky glory, the kids in various clothing, Hope in her business suit, the AIs without corporal bodies but being as much a part of the group ... Stephen in his robes and Cloak and Tony in his casual clothes. They were mismatched and yet they fit in perfectly. This was perhaps a place where he could belong. As a neurosurgeon, back in Metro-Central, he was isolated because he was a world class surgeon and did special operations. In Kamar-Taj, he was isolated as the Sorcerer Supreme. It was lonely. In the Sanctum, a house too big for only two people and a sentient Cloak, he felt alone and miles apart from the nearest human contact. Even his old apartment was too big. And yet here, in this room as big as his apartment, the size felt just right. Because there were people here who wouldn’t isolate him for his power. Who wouldn’t question why he refused to kill an enemy in order to save the day due to his Hippocratic Oath. These people understood the burden of the power they possessed.
Tony, perhaps, better than anyone, as he had given himself the power he wields. He is Iron Man, with or without the suit. Lives changed with every decision he made. He understood. He was cursed with knowledge and he had to live with it every day of his life. He bore a burden alone that Stephen had promised himself to share.
“I’d love to.” And watching the way he lit up, all but dragging him and the Cloak to the not so little gathering, Stephen guessed it was worth it, if just to place that smile on his face again. It was loud and chaotic and messy and Stephen loved it.
Perhaps staying for dinner wasn’t so bad.