Chapter 19: Chapter 19
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.
“I’m sorry, what!?” Stephen glared at Wong while Tony gawked at him. This was not at all how he had wanted to broach this subject with the genius, especially not when he first visited the New York Sanctum Sanctorum after his second visit with Doctor Victor Von Doom. God, did Stephen hate that man. He had some frankly mutant like abilities that he used to develop his own form of magic and dared call himself a sorcerer, giving the rest of them at Kamar-Taj a bad name. But that is beyond the point right now - definitely as he didn’t hate him because Doom had seen how brilliant Tony is and tried to convince him to stay in Latveria. As his consort. Definitely not that. Stephen will insist on it to his dying breath - as Tony looked near to having an anxiety attack right there. Stephen swore he will get back at Wong for this.
“I said you must begin training in the Mystic Arts, Stark.” Wong repeated as though it is the most casual of things to talk about with one of the most scientifically oriented minds of today and not an utter blasphemy where Tony was concerned. And Tony definitely wasn’t taking it as well as Wong had thought he would. “It is apparent both you and Stephen have forgotten how and why the two of you even met.”
“To plan defense against Thanos.” Tony replied immediately but Stephen stiffened. Wong is right. He had forgotten all about Mordo and his quest to rid the world of all sorcerers who weren’t using their powers for the sake of protecting reality and the multiverse. And Tony was a target, an important one, at that, due to the abnormally large energy signature he was giving off for a baseline human. “You know, the big bad that’s headed our way? Loki said he resembled a wrinkly, purple grape and, quite frankly, I’d rather not find out if his description has some merit or if he’s just pulling my leg.”
“And while that is true, we only found out about that when we looked into you.” The older sorcerer replied, throwing a stink eye Stephen’s way. The Sorcerer Supreme couldn’t help but feel that he deserved it, even if he didn’t agree with the reasoning behind it or the way Wong was bringing it up. Wong still didn’t exactly approve of Stephen looking into the future with the use of the Time Stone like he had but the Asian had cut him some slack after the threat to the Earth was revealed. But what disapproved of even more was the fact that Stephen was ... stalling in telling Tony that he needs to learn at the least the very basics of the Mystic Arts. And Stephen had been stalling, for fear of chasing the engineer away.
“Yeah, I remember that, now that you mention it.” Tony said with a frown. “That ... Mado dude? The one that’s been stealing your magic and leaving you like normal boys and girls all over the world and that has some unreasonable grudge against me?”
“Yes, him. Karl Mordo.” Wong says with a nod. “He is a Master of the Mystic arts and a very good one. He can use two relics at the same time, which requires quite some skill. What’s more, he was trained by the Ancient One herself and used to go where she goes. He is a strong sorcerer and it is very easy for him to overpower all those whose powers he wishes to strip away. Unfortunately, that involves you, too. It is Kamar-Taj’s best kept secret that you have a natural supply of usable energy within you, Tony Stark. Only a small handful of people was aware of this and, unfortunately for us, Mordo must have found out from one of them because he was not originally in that handful. You may be protected by us at Kamar-Taj and his wish to keep up the sorcerers’ presence on Earth a secret from the rest of the world, but that will not protect you forever. It may come to the point where we cannot reach you and your armor, no matter how good you make it, might not be enough. Knowing how to defend yourself from a magical assault will only help you.”
“You could teach me to defend against any magical attack?” Stephen was surprised to hear the tentative interest in Tony’s voice and started rummaging through his memories to try and figure out what could possibly interest Tony about magic before their meeting with Thanos.
“Any and all. It will require study and practice, but only the multiverse is the limit where the Mystic Arts are concerned.”
“How about mind control? Can you stop that?” That question made both sorcerers freeze, turning horrified and intrigued eyes both on the fidgeting genius. His eyes flashed that Arc Reactor blue a few times and Stephen wondered what JARVIS or FRIDAY were telling him now. Probably something along the lines of calming down. He hoped it was. He had dealt with Stark’s panic attacks in those fourteen million visions of the future but that did not mean he was eager for a life performance.
“Do you fear someone is controlling you, Stark?”
“No, I know no one is controlling me because I have full access to J and FRI. Since no one but Vision and you two knows about my ... Yeah. So if anyone were controlling me, they’d know and we’d try something right away. They know how to deal with that. I’d still feel better knowing that I can stop it from happening from the start.”
Of course. Mind control. The Scarlet Witch and her telepathic abilities, along with telekinesis and whatever her Mind Stone begotten powers entail. Stephen narrowed his eyes. Tony had once mentioned that he knew the feeling of being unmade rather intimately. Stephen had never asked for details time line, which he regretted now, but he remembers clearly from another how Tony had said being around Maximoff made him feel, each and every time, like he was being mind-raped again and again and again. No wonder Tony would ask first if he can defend himself from such an attack. He probably felt vulnerable. And perhaps that was why he wanted Extremis not to make him an enhanced individual but to give him unlimited and unrestricted access to the two entities in this world who knew him and whom he trusted more than anyone.
Giving him back JARVIS was definitely the best thing Stephen could have done to earn himself Tony’s trust.
“So, can you teach me to block that?” Tony looked so damn hopeful and was actually considering magic as a solution that Stephen couldn’t stop a warm and reassuring smile from spreading across his lips.
“Yes, we can teach you how to protect your mind.” The Sorcerer Supreme answered and was rewarded with a grateful look from his friend while Wong just rolled his eyes at them. Wong and Tony got along like a house on fire as soon as they were introduced to each other. Stephen, on some days, regretted ever letting the two meet but mostly was just glad to have his close friends so at ease with each other. “We will need to start with meditation, anyways, for you to find some form of center and peace in yourself and in your mind before we can start manipulating dimensional energy. And by that I do mean actual peace of mind. Not chatting with FRIDAY and JARVIS or inventing or anything like that, Tony.”
“For your information, I can’t stay connected to the Internet forever.” Stephen almost relaxes when Tony finishes his thought. “Not yet, I need to build up stamina for that. But, anyway, it’s not like I’d slack off or something.” That does put Stephen at ease. He’s glad Tony will take these lessons seriously, at least. “So, when do we start?”
“Right now.” Both geniuses turn to look at the stern Wong, whose voice broke no arguments. Stephen glares at him again because he will not force Tony into this, no matter how necessary it might be for the hoped for outcome. He can’t just-
“Okay, sure. I have, uh” he pauses, obviously consulting his AIs before nodding. “I have the next two hours free before I have that debrief with Logan. And what’s this I bear about an unapproved magical near hunting spree?” When both Stephen and Wong scowl recalled what happened just a couple of days ago, Tony frowns in confused concern. “Um, okay. What did I miss? Did Slytherin win the last competition? Did the Evil Witch of the West come and take the red slippers? Don’t tell me Morgana came and defeated Merlin here?”
Stephen glared at him at that. The most accurate of all the teasing descriptions was the Merlin bit, since he was actually, from what Stephen understands, the Ancient One’s teacher, one of the former Sorcerer Supremes, not that he will ever tell Tony that. And he glared harder just at the thought of talking to Tony about Steven - why did they have to share variations of the same name?! Life is so not fair and he doesn’t care how teenage girl that sounds - Grant Rodgers just when they are supposedly to start meditation and Tony needs to be as relaxed as he can be. He knows if he mentions Rodgers now, especially what and when and where it happened, Tony won’t be able to calm down again for several days. That only promises more wasted days and a pissier Wong. And while Stephen honestly wants to stall this for as long as he can, he knows Wong is right and that time was slowly but surely running out.
Not that they’ve been doing nothing in the two months they’ve been working together to protect the Earth. Tony and his little science group have made the satellite web and Stephen had not only covered that small opening that the design can’t cover if they want the satellites and the shields working at maximum capacity, but he and the other Masters have managed to create another, different magical shield that wrapped around the Earth at all times. Unfortunately, both shields are still penetrable but they’ll more than slow down their enemies, especially as New Asgard has agreed to lend a handful of their warrior to live in a small, discrete space station designed by Tony, Reed and Shuri. Meanwhile, a second, smaller group of scientists has managed to figure out a way to make it easier for Heimdall to open the Bifrost. Jane and Dr Selvig insist that Heimdall with their new device could transport entire fleets without breaking a sweat as opposed to his previous efforts where he had nearly collapsed into a coma after transporting the one ship relocating what is left of Asgard’s people to Earth. The device is attached to the man’s sword and he is standing guard, like always, in front of (New) Asgard. He had immediately agreed to keep an eye out on any who would dare approach Earth with hostile intentions.
Stephen had also had the pleasure of meeting Betty and Helen, as well as exchanging a few words with Dr Wu, who was Tony’s personal doctor regarding anything sternum and Arc Reactor related. It had been nice to have his medical opinion asked for after the last couple of years and the four of them had managed to put together a proper medical checkup system for the New Avengers. Captain Marvel had even contacted her Kree allies to see if they had seen anything unusual as of late heading for Earth or heard any rumors about Thanos, which they learned, to their horror, that there are some news.
Thanos had invaded and raided Xandar and was currently in the possession of the Power Stone and the Infinity Gauntlet. The Kree-Skrull war had even stopped in fear of drawing his attention and having half of their peoples face genocide for ‘universal balance’, or so Carol said and she sounded as incredulous about that as probably the rest of the universe since those two species have never seen eye to eye but, apparently facing extinction has finally made them consider a ceasefire. That, at least, will help them fight off Thanos if he comes, their forces not divided between their war and the war for the survival of the universe.
But all of this did, now that Stephen was facing one of the musts for the survival of the universe he can influence, was bring into the light just how much this is necessary. There will come a time when Tony will desperately need knowledge of the Mystic Arts and Stephen knew that it’s not only because Thanos comes. Mordo was a very real, very immediate threat. He had been keeping a low profile for a while now, so it was only logical that he was preparing for something big and no doubt very bad for their resident Iron Man. Perhaps he should become less emotionally and personally invested in Tony. It would do him well to separate himself from him professionally, or else Stephen will become truly compromised.
“Let’s begin.” He, as well as his two- three, if you count the Cloak of Levitation, which he did - companions, was surprised by how cold and bland that came out, no inflation at all in his voice, flat. Emotionless. Wong was already frowning at him in confusion while Tony was looking at him with concern, suddenly seeming cowed for some reason. Stephen brushed it aside and started levitating in a meditating position with his legs crossed, arms resting on his thighs and knees. Tony watched him for a long moment before smoothing his expression into a blank one and copying his position on the floor, getting comfortable. Wong shot a disapproving look at Stephen for whatever reason before he exited the library at the Sanctum to pick up Stephen’s slack as the Master of the Sanctum.
It took him an hour to get Tony relaxed enough for it to even be considered the beginning of meditation, but after that, it was surprisingly smooth sailing for a beginner who didn’t even want to believe in magic despite everything he had seen. Stephen was both surprised and not at all with how quickly the mystic energies took to Stark. It was interesting to feel the magic flowing freely in the Sanctum wrap around him muck like the Cloak wrapped around Stephen. Magic, no matter how gifted he was for the Mystic Arts, never came so easily to him. He, like everyone else, had to put in the effort to call upon it and yet here was Tony Star, simply meditating, not even reaching for the other dimensions to draw power and yet it still came.
Then again, he supposed it was to be expected. After all, it was the best kept secret of Kamar-Taj that Tony Stark possessed his own reserves of energy with which he could do magic. That same energy for which Mordo was targeting him could be his defense if he ever learned to control it. It could be his greatest defense and weapon if he masters even the most basic of spells. A simple shield will do. A burst of raw magic. Anything to protect him long enough for his armor to become available or for someone else to come to help him.
It was interesting to watch the look of concentration on Stark’s face as he focused on his breathing and cleared his mind. FRIDAY and JARVIS both knew not to disturb them unless it was an emergency. In the hour that they simply meditated, Stephen realized this was the most still he had seen the engineer. Tony was always in motion. Even when he was standing still, his eyes or his hands were always doing something. It was kind of weird, even, but in some odd, good way. It was a new side to the man that not even fourteen thousand plus glimpsed futures could show him.
It was the two most silent hours they’ve ever spent in each other’s presence and the silence was somewhere between professional and awkward. The atmosphere was definitely heavier than ever before between them and for once Stephen didn’t try to think of a way to resolve it. He and Tony were both already too invested in this for either of them to back out but was it fair on Tony for Stephen to take away a friend from him just because he realized he had become too fond of the man? Because he feared becoming even closer to him?
Not that it mattered, anyway. Tony was probably already thinking he had just been using him or something and won’t let Stephen get close again. He can just imagine what sort of thoughts were running through the billionaire’s mind-
“Okay, no.” The suddenness of that statement startled Stephen enough for him to fall out of his meditative state and straight to the floor beneath him since he had apparently pissed off the Cloak. He looked up after a wince to see a scowling Tony. “This right here?” He pointed between them with an accusing finger. “Not happening. You did not become my third favorite person and my facial hair bro just to ditch be because of- Why are you acting like such a whiny bitch all of a sudden?”
“Only third?” Strange challenged, not even going into the bag of cats that was the whole ‘facial hair bro’ thing. He had seen universes in which he had even reciprocated the notion but he’d rather not.
“JARVIS is awesome and you kinda need to spend three years as my roommate to get first place. Actually, you’re fourth place. Pepper is third, but only because she tried to get me to go to meetings when she was my personal assistant. Now she just tells me where to be or threatens me that she’ll take away my toys.” The genius frowned again, in contemplation this time, before shaking his head. “Nope.” He popped the P. “There’s FRIDAY now, too, right under J, so that puts you a few pegs further down because there’s also Happy and now Spiderling. And Yinsen. Like, Yinsen is somewhere Rhodey level and Rhodey’s right under my kids.”
“I’m flattered.” Stephen rolled his eyes, stealing a glance at his broken watch. It was still working, somehow, but the glass was so cracked it was near impossible to tell the time. Still, it looked like they had ten more minutes and he doubted Tony will be up to regaining the Zen he had had before he jumped into this conversation. “You can go now, the lesson is over for today.”
“Nope.” Tony denied again, uncrossing his legs so he can drag himself closer to the sorcerer. “Not gonna happen until you tell me what the hell crawled up your ass and died that you’re suddenly acting like you didn’t take over one of my work stations so you can study BARF, Rhodey’s prosthetics and anything else medical related that SI has me making as well as reading all those new papers on medical advancements and achievements. Peter’s still sharing mine, I’ll never give Richards one because he’d blow my lab up like he does his twice a month and it took Bruce two months to get a workbench in my lab. I had made him his own but he used to always come into mine because it was livelier and so much cooler but had the same equipment.” Tony listed on his fingers, only a few inches away from Stephen, their knees almost touching. “Dr Selvig doesn’t like me enough to be comfortable in my workshop, Betty likes to do her own thing and I’m not letting Darcy within ten feet of my teasers for fear of what she’d do with them and she’s kind of a package deal with Jane, so just no. And while Hank and I are finally not separated by his hate for my old man, he’s not one for sciencing all night long so he doesn’t work with me or in my lab. But you do.”
He said is as thought it meant something.
And Stephen knew it. He stayed silent, not meeting Tony’s eyes. The engineer sighed and ran a hand through his hair.
“Listen. Please don’t do this? I don’t know why you’re suddenly pushing me away but believe me, speaking here from personal experience, that’s the last thing you want to do.” That had green-blue eyes meeting with hazel brown ones, interest peaked. “I was dying when I did that and wasn’t thinking straight but I still knew it was wrong. So please don’t push me away. I ... I really consider you a good friend. So can we not? Fight or distance ourselves or whatever this is? I have had so few friends in my life that I can’t bear to lose another.”
Stephen, as much as he wanted to stay true to his resolution not to get closer or any fonder of Tony, gave in, feeling his face soften as he took in how truly nervous and desperate the genius sounded. He let out a sigh and put a trembling hand on Tony’s knee, whose eyes widened when he saw a small smile playing around Stephen’s lips. Stephen couldn’t deny it anymore when his heart fluttered at the genuine smile Tony rewarded him with. It was small but so, so warm that Strange feared he’d melt right there. There was no denying it.
And he was surprisingly okay with that.