Chapter 24: Chapter 24


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.

“That’s a load of bullshit!” Stephen couldn’t help but exclaim and it wasn’t like Tony could blame him. Or did. He thought much the same. Even his initial reaction had been exactly the same when a hesitant Everett Ross had called him to tell him the result of the rouges’ actions. “Defending themselves my ass! They were perfectly safe in the most secure facility beside Stark Tower in the world!”

“Maybe, but Romanoff managed to write off their attack as them reacting to your sudden entrance.” Tony shrugged, only a little bit impressed with how well Natashalie can lie. He was well used to it.

“Bullshit.” The Sorcerer Supreme said yet again, shaking his head. “Did they somehow forget to mention that Maximoff tried to assault you with her magic? Again? Or that they fairly kidnapped a civilian to coerce you into talking with them? How about holding both you and Christine against your will, also by Maximoff’s magic?”

“They used technicalities, which the president was all too happy to cling to and New SHIELD exploited to the fullest.”

“What technicalities?” His host asked with an incredulous expression on his face and Tony settled more comfortable into the hand gestures that he had been practicing for a simple shield. This was his fifth day training with actual magic but no shield would come to him, no matter how much he tried. Strange assured him that it was tougher than simple meditation but Tony was slowly getting impatient. Stephen tried to keep that at bay, saying that’s what forced his teacher to strand him on everest in order to get him to cool down and Tony shuddered just thinking what that would do to his damn PTSD. He’d just started accepting magic and would rather not be reminded of the cold of that Siberian bunker in which he’d almost died, thank you very much. He wouldn’t be able to escape from there on his own even if he had started using those sling rings because he’d be too busy panicking and would go into shock before he even registered he could get away from there.

Besides, he was sure JARVIS would kill Strange and destroy Kamar-Taj in seconds if Strange even thought about it. FRIDAY would gleefully assist, no matter the consequences to Earth’s protection. To them, a world without their creator was not a world worth functioning in, which was as touching as it was scary. But it was their choice and he couldn’t make them change their stance. Even if he wanted to.

“Well, for one, they hadn’t even laid a hand on her. Dr Palmer walked through those doors of her own free will, even if she were tricked. And the defense against the threat Romanoff made over the call was brushed off lighthearted, friendly banter, the fucks.” Stephen grumbled something in agreement from where he was reading on some other simple spells to maybe start with before moving on to shields. The library in this place was enormous and enchanted to hold a seemingly infinite number of books. And it was also enchanted to be fire and water resistant, so it was the best place in the Sanctum to practice and tutor a new sorcerer in the making, AKA Tony. “They only conditioned them to some government approved grunt work for the rouges - so much about not wanting to end up being controlled by the government, huh, Rogers? - and they extended their probation period by a few weeks because of how Wanda acted and threatened her with taking away her temporary visa. That at least got her to behave for a while. Temporary as her visa, but I’ll take something over nothing.”

“They’re being too lenient on them.” Strange looked up from some dusty old tome to scowl in Tony direction. Not that he was angry at the engineer, he simply showed him his displeasure. All Tony could do was shrug, watching in intrigue as the first sparks of magic start appearing around his hands and wrists. “At Kamar-Taj, for how Maximoff acted, her powers would be sealed away for two weeks at the least while making her go through some behavior changing training or making her work in the library or some other menial task as punishment.”

“Eh, Houdini?” Tony called, seeing the sparks expanding with each repeated attempt, slowly forming light that became visible and tangible lines if dimensional energy. But Strange seemed to be too deep into his rant to notice, half grumbling and half huffing out his displeasure.

“And if any of our practitioners tried to use a civilian like those fools did with Christine, luring her in with promise of medical study the likes of which any doctor would orgasm at the mere thought of, the Ancient One would have left them on Everest or maybe some other dimension until they learned their lesson-”

“Harry Potter?” Stark tried again, eyes widening with wonder as the mandalas got almost half formed, creating unfinished beautiful glowing marks in the air. Tony was a little confused, since he had seen most magic was the orangish color sorcerers used, like the sparks of the portals. Strange’s was a little brighter, a little bit different, probably because he had mastered his powers better or something, so the color of his magic resembled gold. Still, the sparks and lines forming the half finished mandalas that Tony was creating were blue. That was a far cry off of orange and he didn’t know whether he should start freaking out. Was he drawing energy from a wrong dimension or something?

“I should have just gone all Ancient One on them and pushed their souls out of their bodies and into the astral plane and left them there for a few hours to freak out. Or maybe even given them a tour of the other dimensions. I remember I was scared but I had the Ancient One talking to me. I’d let them just fall and fall and fall.”

“Merlin?” The mandala-like shield were almost completely formed but Strange was still grumbling, leafing through book. As amusing as this would have been any other time, Tony still didn’t know if what he was doing was safe. “Strange?”

“No, not really. It’s actually pretty beautiful. Well, most of them, anyway.” Stephen said, not at all understanding what Tony was talking about. How ironic is it that the one man with the name Strange doesn’t look up when that word is uttered. The universe must hate Tony to choose this exact moment to turn off Strange’s brain. “Maybe I should just show them the Dark Dimension. Dormammu doesn’t exactly get any visitors, you know. I bet that would get them to start acting like normal, decent human being.”

“Stephen!” Finally, the Master of the New York Sanctum looked up just in time for Tony to form a perfect mandala shield around both of his hands, is eyes wide with wonder at his first feat of magic. They both just stood there, gawking at the shields that Tony had been able to do after five days, just five days of training. Tony was sure they would have just stood there, staring, had Wong not walked in on them a few moments later and stopped dead in his tracks when he saw Tony fucking Stark, scientist through and through, doing magic like a pro. Well, a beginner pro, if something like that even existed.

The Asian man definitely got his composure back together faster than the two geniuses. “Huh. That took less time than I thought it would. Less effort, too. Congratulations, Stark. You’re a natural.” Wong shook his head in amazement. “Seriously, you two are breaking all standards. A month of Mystic Arts training. By Agamotto.” He swore fervently, left the books he had brought in and walked out of the room, leaving the two geniuses to themselves.

Tony looked towards his teacher and broke out into a grin, striking heroic poses with the glowing blue shields in front of his clenched fists. “What do you think, Doc? Am I sorcerer material? Seems like I am some sort of wonder kid!”

That got Strange to give a bark of laugher that broke him out of his stupor. He levitated closer and took Tony’s wrists gently into his scarred hands, inspecting the mandalas. Tony tried not to stare. He had noticed early on how Stephen’s eyes tended to change color. It was a medical condition, he knew that much. They went from green to blue to gray to a different mix of those three colors in different lighting. It was almost like magic, but actually chemistry and genetics. It was still very pretty, beautiful even. And it kind of fit Strange. He was strange enough, already, so he had to have eyes that matched.

“I had no doubt that you’d be anything but. Don’t think I didn’t see how you were scanning me while doing spells all this time. At every stage. You probably even have a fitting scientific explanation for this,” he gestures at the magic playing over Tony’s fingers and is it weird that he no longer fears it? No, that’s not right. He’s never really feared magic. He didn’t hate it, either. He just had bad experiences with it and his mind and body were reacting to it the same way they would to a hot stove after the first time you get burned. He was conditioned not to trust magic, but Stephen had unknowingly been breaking that conditioning since the day they met, at the airport when he protected him from that Mordo dude. And with his new interactions with Loki, the odd friendship he struck up with Wong and just how adorable the Cloak at times acted, Tony had nothing but wonder left for magic.

“Well, I would have told you, eventually. Sorry if it bothers you. Is it supposed to be this color?” He hopes he didn’t insult his new friend by trying to explain away magic in terms that Stephen had repeatedly told him are not suitable and flexible or widespread enough to cover the entirety that is magic. That not all has an answer or an explanation. Tony planned on trying anyway, one small thing at a time.

“I don’t mind. I’d actually love to hear your theories. As much as I am immersed in magic, I am still a man of science at my core. It’s what made me a frighteningly good student.” Stephen answered with a small smile, pressing his magic against the blue shields. “It is an interesting color.”

“Always searching for answers, huh?” Tony could get that. It was why he had several doctorates more than was publicly known. For each new field he entered, he needed to know what to expect, how to counter anything that might go wrong, how to eventually improve it. Medicine, psychology, genetics, prosthetics, nuclear physics, thermonuclear astrophysics, astronomy, chemistry ... They weren’t all doctorates with post docs papers or any kind of papers - he preferred robotics, still - and despite now having an MD, he had never applied for a license to practice. He just needs the theory. It’s what made him such a great inventor. It wasn’t just machines. It wasn’t just numbers. He always did his homework before diving headfirst into a project. He knew it was what a doctor’s life was like, always new treatments, new medicine, new procedures. The need to keep up in the race to the top ... Tony was definitely familiar with it. Knowledge was power, no matter in what for or on which subject in came in. “Any reason it’s not like yours or Wong’s or that other guy’s?”

“Yes and it used to make people rather uneasy around me. A former gifted pupil, Kaecillius, acted much the same, questioning the Ancient One, her lessons and her teachings, and he ended up as a zealot who almost served Earth on a platter to an extradimensional demon who resides out of time and wants to devour Earth-”

“Wait, what!?”

“I already told you about Dormammu.” Stephen sounded amused and fondly exasperated at Tony’s interruption. “But don’t worry. Dormammu won’t be coming back again. Not while I’m here.” He applies more of his magic to test the shields’ strength and seems satisfied for now. “I’m guessing that their color is based on the energy I already told you resides in you.”

“The reason your old buddy is after me?”

“Yes. Your own energy seems to siphon the dimensional energy you call upon and alter it so it is easier to utilize. That should help you a great deal in mastering the more complicated spells.” Strange even sounded impressed and Tony sighed in relief at hearing it wasn’t anything bad. He’s had enough of that this morning when he received the news on Rodgers and the others. “The shields are sound and correctly structured.” He finally decides and takes away his magic and his hand, retreating a step back out of Tony’s personal space, which is a shame. “I’d suggest a few sessions of merely practicing them. I remember how my shields failed me in my first fight for my life, when I was a little frantic because I was facing a far more experienced opponent. I was just lucky they were toying around with me. With Mordo, you won’t have as much luck. He’s a man on a mission. I don’t know his past but I think he might have been some sort of assassin. Better not risk it with him.”

Tony shrugged. He had no objections to that. He took a few moments to figure out how to release the shields before he tried again. The shields were still slow in forming, which meant more training with them will definitely be needed. “Any idea how I ended up having this energy at all? Or how long?”

Stephen pursed his lips and frowned in thought, bringing back over the book he had been looking through. It was still pretty awesome to watch things float around the room without seeing a red cloud of magic supporting it and making Tony weary of when it might fly at his head accidentally. Not if, but when. One of the reasons he refused to stay within the Avengers Compound after the whole Ultron debacle. He did not need more initiative to be paranoid and unable to sleep or relax. As if having a superspy, merciless assassin in the house was not bad enough, a psychopathic former HYDRA agent who had an agenda against him? Yep, no sleep for him, no sir, no way. He guessed that was when whatever trust that existed between them started fraying. He should have seen it coming.

Wanda’s magic might give him nightmares but Stephen’s magic made him imagine things that he could only dream of. What a pity that his first encounter with magic was such a bad experience. He was learning to love it now. It sure was an interesting subject to study, something JARVIS and FRIDAY agreed on with him as they scanned the energy flows in the air, around Tony’s wrists and hands and in his entire body. He’ll find an explanation, mark his words!

“The Ancient One has records from when you were very young, but the age of ‘very young’ was never specified. As for the color and you possessing this energy, I honestly don’t know.” Strange answered as he flipped through the book again, making little markings on some pages from time to time.

“But you suspect.” Tony interpreted as he formed the shields again. Still slow but his AIs informed him it was quicker by two point fifty three seconds than last time. Definitely needed more work. Tony was a perfectionist. He’ll be damned if he can’t for instant shields as soon as possible.

“Yes, I do have a hypothesis.” The Sorcerer Supreme finally put the book away and just sat there, cross legged, in the air, watching Tony practice with a critical eye, ready to correct something if Tony does it wrong. “But it’s vague at best and I don’t have anything to back it up with. It might just serve to annoy you, which will probably result in you annoying me. Do it again.”

Tony does and is pleased to hear from his AIs that he had been a whole six seconds quicker than his previous attempt. “That’s why it’s only a theory, Dumbledore. So just tell me. I promise not to annoy you. Much.” He broke his look of concentration to grin at one of his, by now, closest friends and wasn’t that a miracle? It had taken Pepper seventeen months working for him in order for Tony to accept her in his close circle. It had taken Happy a year. It had taken Rhodey a semester for Tony to trust him enough. Yinsen had the best time, three months, but that was under different circumstances. Harley and Peter or the other kids don’t count. He sees most of them as his own, if not his kids then his nephews and nieces. Strange had broken Yinsen’s record. Two months, five days, three hours and fifteen minutes. Or maybe just the first three days, when he helped bring JARVIS back safely without harming Vision. And Vision didn’t count, either, since he was Tony’s creation. Family didn’t count.

It was interesting when he realized that, not even after four years, before the whole Civil War fiasco, the original Avengers never managed to get that close. Bruce had been pretty close to getting into that circle before he decided to fall asleep when Tony was baring his heart out to him. The excuse of ‘I’m not that kind of doctor’ still stings. He hadn’t needed a doctor, he’d needed a friend. Someone who hadn’t been involved in the mess to talk to and trust with his vulnerabilities. Banner had just smashed their close friendship before it can truly develop into something beautiful. It had never occurred to Tony to talk to him again. He knew he will not receive from him what he was looking for. The man he went out of his way to protect long before they met could not care less about him so Tony had accepted Bruce into the same category as he had many others. ‘Friends’ but not friends. He’d die for Bruce but he’d never trust him to catch him in a trust fall.

The Hulk? Definitely. The other guy was sincerity personified. He genuinely liked Tony and Tony was not afraid of him. They had an ... understanding, he guessed. Maybe there was hope for Bruce, too. Maybe. He’ll never be part of Tony’s odd little family that maybe wasn’t so little anymore, but he can definitely be a friend. Time will tell.

Strange snorting had him breaking out of his thoughts and looking at his hands again. The shields seemed brighter than the first few times and the stats that J and FRI were sending him showed that he had formed them in ten seconds faster a time than the previous attempts. “If you’re not going to concentrate, we can end this early and just talk for a while. It’s not wise to practice the Mystic Arts when your mind isn’t on it. We’ve already done enough for today.” When he went to protest, Stephen just phased them into another room, one with artifacts in glass cases, the two of them now seated in two not the most comfortable chairs in the world. “Tea?” At the glare he received, the sorcerer only smiled and indeed served them tea. Stephen had taken it upon himself to lessen Tony’s coffee intake by always turning his coffee into tea or refusing to serve him anything else besides maybe water or some lemonade.

“Asshole,” the genius grumbled under his breath but accepted the magically arrived tea, letting the shields go and relaxing into the armchair. He knew his eyes were glowing like the Arc Reactor as he started studying the data JARVIS and FRIDAY had taken, the two telling him their own opinions and theories. God, he loved them.

“It’s for your own good, douchebag.” Strange returned, sipping his own hot drink. “So, do you want to hear my theory or-”

“Don’t you dare think you can get out of it.”

Stephen just grinned for a moment before his face turned serious again. “Nothing happens without a reason, so I am guessing there will come a time when that energy will be needed. The multiverse wasn’t specific for what but I have a suspicion that, maybe, it might have something to do with the threat looming over us all. Which is precisely the reason why we must make sure you can harness this energy of yours to the best of your capabilities.”

That made sense and Tony just nodded to the doctor, a little bit lost in the readings he was studying. There was indeed two different energy signatures intertwined in the mandalas he had created. JARVIS was able to isolate the energy signature coming from the Arc Reactor easily so he and FRIDAY can focus on the energy coming from Tony’s body and the energy he was drawing from other dimensions. His darling AIs even made diagrams to show him how these two energies interacted and he found that Strange’s guess about this personal energy of his siphoning and altering the dimensional energy he takes into the shields was pretty much spot on. But FRIDAY hypothesized that Tony could do it with a lot less of his own energy put in the mix, which would cause less strain on his body. His baby girl was growing up so fast. JARVIS had been an excellent influence on all of his AIs since he’d been brought back. Tony was so proud.

“You were right. That is one hell of a cryptic and vague hypothesis, but I asked for it so I guess I don’t have any right to complain.” Tony informed the other and conceded the point the Master of the Mystic Arts had made before revealing his oh so insightful theory. He asked J for the time before disconnecting from the web. His co-pilot told him the time - and the weather report, even though Tony had not asked but he wasn’t complaining - through the implant he had in his ear and the genius engineer was surprised with how much free time they had left. They usually tried to cram everything from the lesson into every last second before Tony had to go to his next meeting or whatever was on his schedule. The time hadn’t been as felt as when they were just meditating, but it was almost tangible these last five days. He guessed he really was making someprogress. He looked at his teacher with a cocked head, debating his next question.

Strange just quirked an eyebrow in question at him, waiting patiently for Tony to make up his mind on whether or not he wants to ask the question. He was one of the rare few people who didn’t rush him and for that, Tony was grateful.

Finally, he decided it was worth a shot. “So, I’m a bit hungry and am feeling Italian. Mind dropping us off in Rome so I can have a quick lunch before my teleconference with T’Challa and you actually getting some normal food or will I have to content myself with greasy pizza that can’t be good for my cholesterol levels?”

“I’m not your personal portalling service, Stark,” he might have tried for condescending if not for the amused snort that escaped him and Tony felt his mouth stretch from ear to ear.

“That’s not a no. Come on~!” He wheedled. “I’m paying! We’ll even get some for Wong! I know this awesome place that has the best lasagna that you’ll ever try and you won’t be able to not wolf it down like a starved man. It’s addicting, or so Rhodey once said. I have the recipe for it but I still think that chef’s a genius in the kitchen.” He actually felt his stomach growling now that he recalled just how delicious the food was. Did he eat anything for breakfast this morning? He thinks Laura and Maggie stuffed something down his throat before letting him reach his very expensive coffee machine. Might be why he doesn’t remember. He always functioned his best after coffee. If he goes to sleep at all, that is. “Please?” He tries again when the doctor still hadn’t decided. Tony decides to play dirty and takes a trick out of the kids’ book on how to con others into granting their silly wishes. He’s always been told he had killer puppy dog eyes. He wished the little brats were here to watch and learn from the master.

He sees Stephen’s eyes widen in surprise and he was pretty sure that was a blush on those high cheekbones before the ex neurosurgeon pushed him away with a huff. “Fine, fine! Just ... Stop doing that! You look ridiculous.” Tony grins as the sorcerer takes out that sling ring of his and prepares to open a portal. Tony already has JARVIS sending an image to him so he could visualize where they need to go.

"Excuse you. I look adorable.” He crosses his arms over his chest and mock pouts. He has a killer pout, too. Rhodey used to tease him that he could take over the world with it. He gladly utilizes it against Stephen, who’s staring at him with shock. The pink dusting his cheekbones is more prominent now. It’s, dare he say it, cute. Endearing.

“Do you want your lasagna or not?” Strange groused like the Grinch at Christmas and Tony only grinned. Strange’s portals didn’t make him freak out, which was great. He was a little of weary of them at first, but he’s gotten used to them by now. He knew he could trust Strange not to harm or betray him and wasn’t that just the most refreshing feeling after what another Steven did to him. It was amazing to look into this ring of sparks and see his favorite restaurant in Italy, literally just a few steps and seconds away as to opposed to thousands of miles and several hours of flight as it should be. He can’t wait to learn to do this himself. “Your portal?” And Strange was now just being silly, an overexaggerated bow and indicating at the portal with a flourish sweep of an arm.

Tony rolled his eyes good naturedly and just took hold of Stephen’s wrist, careful not to jostle his hand, and tugged him through the portal.

If his own cheeks felt warm, then no one had to know about that.

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