Chapter 16: Chapter 16
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.
“So, how did you end up with the Bartons and the Langs in your Tower?” Tony looked up from where he, FRIDAY and JARVIS were examining his new piece of jewelry, scanning its energy signature and other proprieties to meet Strange’s curious gaze. The man had been explicitly punctual, arriving as soon as Tony had finished his meeting and then waiting a few minutes until Tony could come to the Stark Tower penthouse apartment patiently. He greeted Tony with freshly brewed coffee and mint tea, meditating while floating in his empty living room. Without much of a greeting, Tony had thrust out his left hand and Stephen had taken that as his permission, creating the bracelet like spell they had discussed the previous night when a curious Harley has asked what sort of protection spell the sorcerer thought he would use. When the deed was done, they relocated to Tony’s lab, Strange reading some magical book written in cuneiform and Tony altering between three ongoing projects and studying the glowing bracelet. It stopped glowing when he stopped touching it, but would flare up in a comforting gold color when he’d run his fingers over it. There were some runes engraved in it that Tony couldn’t quite get a read on or a scan since they blinded his sensors, but he figured he’ll see what it says some other time.
“You know, Hawkeye’s and Ant Man’s wives and kids?” The sorcerer prompted, unaware of just how hard it was for Tony to focus on him at the moment. There was too much data running through his head right now, he can’t sort it all out while listening to Strange. “I figured you’d not want to have anything to do with them and yet their families are staying just a few floors down.”
Deciding to shut down the scanners and ongoing research regarding the bracelet for a moment, Tony turned to look at the former neurosurgeon. “Laura and Maggie didn’t deserve to be dragged into their husbands’ messes, especially not with what Ross probably had in mind should he have gotten a chance to get his hands on them. Ransoms and blackmailing aren’t things I support. Especially when it’s kids. So I bagged them and brought them to the Tower, as well as some other individuals you don’t see around often.”
“Yeah. Dr Betty Ross and Dr Selvig and Dr Jane Foster. The latter two are playing in the Malibu branch, trying to figure out how the Bifrost works through scientific means - god, I love that woman. ‘Magic is just science we don’t yet understand’. Brilliant - and Betty’s working for SI in Japan with Dr Cho. They’re working towards creating some better material to cover my new skin-tight body armor to hide it from enemy eye. You know, so that if someone is captured, the enemy can’t find the soldier’s last wall of defense? That sort of thing. That and they’re trying to help Reed figure out how to control Ben’s mutation, for the lack of a better word, on a cellular level. Charles and his X-men are trying to figure it out, too, so they’re all working together. There are quite a few people who could use a way to control their mutations appearance wise.”
“You sure seem to have quite a team already organized. You sure you need us sorcerers?” Tony knew Strange was teasing him, could hear the joking note in his voice, but that did not put Tony himself in a playful mood.
“Yes. I need everyone.” At Stephen’s worriedly furrowed brows, Tony just smiled bitterly. “Most of our forces are concentrated in the US. Yes, there are mutants and some former SHIELD agents all over the world, perhaps a few other heroes, too, but that does not change the fact that most of our allies are around New York. The Wakandans have agreed to try and keep Africa safe and I know easter Asia is safe with Kamar-Taj in Nepal, but the rest of the world is pretty much out of our reach. You sorcerers have your portals and who knows what else. You can go anywhere and we need that quick response. There’s a batch of an Iron Legion in every major city in the world but technology alone won’t be enough, no matter how advanced.”
“Isn’t that why we formed this partnership?” Strange asked rhetorically, gesturing between them. “To ensure the protection and continued safety of Earth? We’re not going to fail in this, Tony. We’re all ready to give it our all to protect our planet.” He smirked, leaning back against one of Tony’s work tables. “Besides, Europe has Asgardians now to keep them safe, so that’s one less thing to worry about. What we need to worry about is how we will fit the rouges into all of this, if at all. We can always use them as cannon fodder.”
That startled a laugh out of Tony and the heave atmosphere vanished from the room. For some reason, Strange seemed all too smug about the reaction he got. Weirdo. “I knew there was a reason I kept you around.”
Strange just shook his head with a chuckle and floated over to the couch, making himself comfortable while the Cloak went over to examine Dum-E, U and Butterfingers. Those four seemed to be getting alone better and better every time they spend any amount of time together. Which was, quite frankly, cute. Tony was already dubbing the Cloak an MI: Magical Intelligence. “Do you have any plans for them? The rouges, I mean?”
“Nope. The government, the UN and the president can do whatever they want with them. I’ve got more important things to focus on. Like what other defenses we can install before shit hits the fan. Any feedback from the sorcerers?”
“Yes, actually. They’re almost done with the Accords and they agreed to the idea of encasing the Earth in both magical and technological shields. And most of our disciples and apprentices agreed to fight with the other Masters. Earth officially has a squadron of sorcerers to fight in this war, should it come to that. But protecting the Sanctums and Kamar-Taj still comes as a priority, I hope you understand.”
“Like I said yesterday, I don’t want that Dormammu thing coming to Earth just after we beat Thanos to destroy us all. One apocalyptic event at a time, please.” He gets a rather fond eye roll at that that makes him chuckle before opening up the connection again and scanning the bracelet. JARVIS and FRIDAY are arguing over the readings, bickering like true siblings and true Starks, none the less, all snark and sharp, witty comments. It’s as cute as it is annoying because their chatter is only making it harder for him to filter through the information he wants to deal with from the information he really doesn’t need now.
“Speaking of yesterday.” Ah, he was waiting for this. He knew Stephen won’t be able not to ask. It’s not exactly the image one gets of Tony Stark from the news and the tabloids and the gossip magazines. “How did you come in contact with the Fantastic Four and Ms Danvers? Or a Wakandan princess, for that matter. And those other kids ... ”
“Reed, Sue and I went to MIT together, for about a year before I graduated and left them in the dust. Not that Reed’s dumb, he’s just really stupid.” At the arched eyebrow he gets at that, Tony snorts. “Really. More like socially incompetent and a little more on the recklessly oblivious side than a lack of intelligence kind of stupid. Seriously, who experiment on himself when he knows it’s more likely to backfire than to succeed?!”
“I thought a scientist’s and inventor’s logo was ‘everything for science’?”
“Oh, ha ha. You’re a comedian. That wasn’t science, that was plain stupidity!” The genius insisted, shaking his head at Reed’s recklessness. Perhaps this was how people felt when Tony was messing around with his suits and tech but there was a distinct difference between tech and molecular level of radiated mutation in a human body and Reed hadn’t even tested the machine on something else before just stepping right in. He pitied Sue. Maybe she and Pepper could compare stories? He was sure they’d both find that therapeutic. “Anyway, as I was saying, we were MIT buddies. Sort of. We were both young and brilliant and had an older, bigger best friend to save our scrawny asses if someone thought about bullying us. Only I decided to develop a teaser gun and soon got the reputation for seeking humiliating revenge so they stopped picking on me while Reed started dating Susan and no one dares say anything to that woman, bless her. She’s the only one capable of stopping Reed from ripping a hole in the space-time continuum-”
"Accidentally,” Tony reassures at the almost screech from the sorcerer who is the protector of said space-time continuum. “Like I said, recklessly oblivious.”
“Dear Vinshati,” Stephen swore under his breath and Tony wondered what that meant. Stark could only shrug. It wasn’t his job to worry about how Reed plays around or uses the replicated cosmic storm that had changed his team. What was his job was to protect the Earth. And occasionally check in with Sue to make sure Reed hadn’t actually done something extremely stupid that needed immediate fixing.
“So, anyway, I heard about what happened to them and have been in contact with them for a while now. But they only recently signed the Accords to protect themselves should the government want to use them as experiments or something and Reed and I’ve been studying Ben’s case together to see if a manipulation of energy or hormones can get him to go back to his old self. Ben says he doesn’t care anymore but I know he wants to be able to walk down a street without everyone gawking at him. Unfortunately, the kids kind of got in the way.” Stephen perked up and Tony chuckled again. “I’m gonna guess you wanna learn more about them?”
“I’ll admit to a mild curiosity.”
The engineer snorted at that, turning to fully face the seated Master of the Mystic arts. He tried not to get distracted by how at home Strange seemed in his lab. He looked comfortable, as though he needn’t be anywhere else to be content and relaxed. Tony wasn’t sure what they were - friends, colleges, partners, teammates, fellow protectors of the Earth? Did it matter? - but he knew there was a strange sort of familiarity between them that really shouldn’t have existed so early on in a relationship, no matter its nature. But Strange acted like he knew Tony, like he was used to all of his eccentricities. Like they shared history or something. Which was rather odd, since they’ve only really met, like, a handful of times. He’ll have to get back on that one, mostly because he somehow likes the thought of Strange knowing him. Weird.
“Well, you’ve already met Peter. I guess in some stretch of the word, he’s my protégé but please don’t tell him I said that. He gets into enough trouble as it is.” And it always leaves him on the verge of a panic attack but that’s not something he is willing to share with anyone besides his bots and his two AIs. “Harley, too, I guess. I mean, I am teaching him about tech and I did give him a flash grenade-”
"You need to take a chill pill, Doc, or we won’t get anywhere with this narrative.” They glare at each other for a moment before shrugging it off. “Anyway, since Harley’s not enhanced, a mutant or anything like that, until he’s at least eighteen, he’ll be tech support if there ever comes a time that I can’t check our equipment. Or he’ll be the regular Young Avengers mechanic.” He pauses with a quirk to his lips. Harley was the first kid in his life and he adored the boy as much as he did Peter, no matter how rarely he saw him. He also knew that both boys consider him a father figure and that used to scare the shit out of him. He was okay with being the creator/father to his AIs and the bots, but it was a bit intimidating to take on the same role for living, breathing humans. But Harley and Peter made it easy, no matter how many heart attacks they nearly caused him in the meantime. “We’ll see.”
“Speaking of which, I really need to start keeping up with the news. A month in Kamar-Taj and I don’t know anything about these Young Avengers and the Defenders, was it?” Tony nodded. “Just what were you up to while I was gone?”
“Recruiting. The Defenders are an awesome group of talented individuals but they prefer to stick to themselves and their neighborhood down in Hell’s Kitchen. Got myself the best lawyer slash lie detector in town, a drinking buddy, a young rich friend and so on and so fort. Peter also met a guy that goes as Deadpool, a mutant of some kind. Guy can’t be killed. Cut off his head and it will grow right back. It’s creepy as shit.” He shuddered, remembering when Peter had brought in Wade Wilson and the idiotic man thought it would be fun to scare a man with the most famous heart condition. It wasn’t Tony’s fault that he’d been working on a repulsor glove and had blasted him on sheer instinct. Anyone else would have died from a repulsor blast at full power. “I don’t know what’s creepier, watching that or a bullet fall out of Logan’s forehead. Shit.”
“But watching Dr Richards and that girl, Kamala?” Tony nodded. “Stretch out their limbs isn’t?”
“Oh, Kamala doesn’t count. She’s an Inhuman.”
Stephen crossed his arms and glared at Tony, much to his surprise. What did he do!? “I know she messed with your armor, but isn’t that a bit cruel?” Tony blinked at him a few times, stared blankly before he burst out into laughter, nearly doubling over. Strange’s confused expression wasn’t helping matters.
“Sorry. I forgot to tell you about that, didn’t I? I forget sometimes that not everyone keeps an eye out for every individual with special abilities out there. She’s not inhuman, she’s an Inhuman.” He explains, stressing the insulting sounding word. “They are a species a lot like us and the mutants, or something in between, only naturally born into their abilities. They live in a super secret floating city and don’t interact much with the rest of the world, until an Inhuman awakens their powers and they swoop in to collect them for training and a bit of cultural education. Their king?” He still wasn’t sure if that was the right definition but he’ll roll with it. “Signed the Accords for all of Inhuman kind, taking responsibility for every Inhuman on Earth. They have some wicked powers. Problem in the UN arose, though, when we realized just how similar Inhuman’s and mutants are. The UN has to rely on Charles and the king knowing how to separate their people, which is relatively easy since Charles can feel a mutant’s mind differently from an Inhuman’s. It comes down to trust and responsibility but it’s been working.”
“So, what? Kamala decided to leave this floating city to join the Avengers?” The Sorcerer Supreme asked with a curious tilt of his head.
“Not quite. Dante and Kamala got their powers not that long ago but decided to take somewhat mentors in Reed and Johnny, since they have so similar abilities. They signed the Accords and joined the team.”
“And this ... Deadpool character?”
“Former assassin turned anti-hero, whatever that is. He’s friends with Pete and keeps him out of any major trouble. The X-men usually deal with him, since he’s technically a mutant. He’s rude and crass and annoying and crazy and an utter dick. But he can be a good guy and can work with other’s occasionally. From what I know, SHIELD tried to recruit him but he gave them a big fat bird and then proceeded to escape them over and over again. He can make Fury pop a vein faster than I can and that is his most redeeming feature.”
Stephen stayed silent for a while, absorbing all Tony had said. Seeing that he was taking too long, Tony opened the interface with JARVIS and FRIDAY and silently bickered with them over the readings they got off of the bracelet, only to be startled out of it when Strange snorted with a shake of his head. Tony raised an inquisitive eyebrow at him, waiting for a response. He didn’t have to wait for long.
“This is a mad house, isn’t it?”
Tony couldn’t help but chuckle. “You’ve got no idea.” He shook his head and went back to his research, only to be distracted again by the startled gasp that came from the sorcerer. Tony snapped back to attention, only to find the good doctor already in front of him, scarred, shaky hands taking hold of his face and tilting his head up, blue-green eyes focusing on his Arc Reactor blue ones with an intensity that sent a shiver running down Stark’s spine.
“What? ... How?” Well, this was the first time Tony saw Stephen completely lost for words. Tony wasn’t sure he’d wanted to see it like this. Stephen Strange was actually the last person he wanted to learn about this. ”Tony.”
“It’s nothing.” He lets the blue fade out of his eyes just as Strange frowns, leaning in even closer for a better look.
“That right there tells me that it’s not simply a contact lenses version of your glasses. Which means something is either wrong with your eyes or you did something.” Tony grit his teeth. Strange had hit it right in the bullseye. “Care to tell me what is going on?” He looked away, not wanting to meet the doctor’s eyes. “Tony.” He didn’t look back. “Please tell me? I ... ” The genius glanced back in surprise, seeing his conflicted expression on his face. What the hell? “I just want you to trust me. I know I am asking for too much but ... ”
Tony bit the inside if his cheek as he looked back to the sorcerer, who was frowning at himself. He could tell Strange that he was asking for far too much. But secret keeping had destroyed the Avengers the first time around. And this was way bigger than his trust issues. Besides, Strange had proved at least three times already that he cared enough about Tony not to lie to him and to try and protect him. So he reached up with one of his hands to grab Strange’s wrist to get his attention and let his eyes blur with the familiar blue before flicking his eyes to the side.
Strange followed his gaze and gasped as the machines and holograms and his armors came to life.