Chapter 28: Chapter 28
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.
“FRIDAY, how is our green friend doing? He okay?” Asked Tony with a sight the next morning, stuck in his office for the day, doing SI work in Pepper’s absence due to a last minute business trip in Japan. One of the companies that had been hesitating to employ one of their products had finally caved and the discussions of a partnership started almost immediately. Pepper had flown out at four in the morning and all but ordered Tony to take over for a few days. Which is how he found himself stuck behind his desk, signing paperwork and pestering his AIs for some form of distraction, including an update on Bruce’s condition. Or rather, the Hulk’s.
“The Hulk shows no sign of slowing down, Boss. He’s still raging at the dummies we’ve provided him and seemingly complaining to Dr Ross. She seems to have it under control.” Or as under control as the Hulk can ever be.
Stark sighed again, wondering how this had become his life in the first place. He and Bruce had a long, long talk after he and Betty had their unexpected reunion when Bruce got to the Tower. Whatever he and Romanoff had, it was all forgotten when Bruce saw Betty and accepted the resounding slap he received before being drawn into a tight embrace. Tony let them have their moment, situating himself in front of the Hulk’s special ‘panic’ room with a cup of coffee, waiting for Bruce to come down and face the music. Unsurprisingly, Betty refused to be left out of this and so Tony found himself recounting every single event, from the Hulk’s disappearance after Ultron to the moment Doctor Stephen Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme of Earth, entered his life in order to protect him from a rouge sorcerer gone mad. Bruce had managed to keep his shaking to a minimum but his skin and eyes were tinted green long before Germany was brought up and Siberia nearly had him roaring in rage, both he and the Hulk. Only Betty’s hand in his stopped him.
However, as soon as Tony stopped talking, he all but sprinted in after taking off Tony’s jacket and Hulked out right then and there. The jolly green giant raged and pounded on the glass and Tony and Betty had to watch. Hulk had roared at Tony to ‘get Cap so Hulk can smash!’ over and over again, snarling, growling, begging, but in the end settled for the dummies he usually got to let off some steam with a holographic projection of Rogers’ and the others’ faces over the practice dummies. He’d been at it since, occasionally asking Betty to get ‘Tin Man’ to see for himself that Tony was okay. Perhaps showing Bruce the reimplanted Arc Reactor hadn’t been the best of his ideas, but Bruce had already been so close to snapping that Tony had shown him just to appease him, knowing both personalities of Bruce Manner would balk at the sight of it back in his chest.
Betty had stayed with him all night, working from Bruce’s lab and waving off Jane’s and Darcy’s worried expressions every time the Hulk got extremely loud or violent in his rage. Tony visited her with coffee and breakfast that morning and they both estimated the Hulk will finally run out of steam some time after lunch before Tony had to start his CEO-for-the-day day. Now he was in his office, dealing with things he had gladly left to Pepper to deal with daily and occasionally asking his AIs on Banner’s condition. He was a little surprised Loki had come in an hour ago to do an official checkup on him before the Trickster returned to New Asgard, apparently having some important business there to attend to.
Other than that, it was business as usual. He had a meeting early in the afternoon that he had to attend in Pepper’s place and as the head of R&D and he had a stack of paperwork to go through until then. After that, he had to make a public appearance regarding the Avengers, something like a meet and greet for good publicity. An interview with Christine Everhart was bound to make this day either a little more bearable or a nightmare. Then he had a teleconference with the UN and the Accords and then a teleconference with Shuri regarding the shields. They have yet to make those adjustments that would stop vessels traveling at the speed of light from breaking through the barrier or the sensors that were supposed to monitor it. Everything else, thankfully, can wait until Pepper comes back.
So he works diligently, occasionally chatting with FRIDAY and checking on J’s progress with the device-thumb-drive-thing that Gamora had given him that was being throughly scanned and the contents drawn out onto Tony’s own computers so JARVIS and FRIDAY may start deciphering what it was that they were looking at. He had never been so glad to have JARVIS back. FRIDAY was awesome and he had quickly became attached to her, like with all of his other AIs, bots or otherwise, but she was still too young to deal with the complexity of the alien device Gamora had left for him. Not alone, at the very least, and KAREN, SARAH and JOCASTA were even less experienced than her. VERONICA might have been able to help but her job was to assist him with the Hulkbuster armor and monitor any threats to specifically his person from the orbit. JARVIS could handle it on his own and his other AIs did their jobs, watching over the people he had assigned them to. He was still thinking whether he should give Harley an AI but the kid would probably use it to hack into the Pentagon or something. That kid is too much like him. Between him an Peter, the world had another Tony Stark to worry about.
Tony couldn’t help but smirk at that thought.
“Mr Stark, sir?” Came the voice of Pepper’s secretary - and his secretary for the day - over the intercom from the desk, drawing him back to reality from whatever head-space he had just drifted off to. He tended to do that when he was ‘in the zone’ as Rhodey would put it, when he could work and a nuke could go off next to him and he wouldn’t even notice. Ever since he had injected Extremis into himself, it had become a lot more easier to get into that ‘zone’, since he could constantly feel JARVIS and FRIDAY and - on a lesser note - his other AIs so he knew he was never alone and that he was as safe as he can be as Iron Man, Tony Stark and the guy who was plotting the failure of an intergalactic warlord’s plans for the universe can be. The meditating sessions he could not bring himself to stop were also helping for his mental state, since they even allowed him to properly process all the information he sometimes gets when he connects with the Internet.
“Talk to me, Valerye,” he answered, focusing on her and shutting off his connection to the Internet. It would be a distraction and he can always easily return to it after he sees to whatever business the poor woman has to inform him about. She was used to Pepper and not at all used to Tony Stark. He swears she squeaks every time he tells her he had something for her to do. Normally, he’d ask FRIDAY to forward whatever he needed to a department, but since it was paper that had needed a signature, he needed someone with an actual body to do it. He’d send an Iron Man suit, but despite the weird things his employees have gotten used to over the years due to his quirks, he was pretty sure that the suit would be too much for some. He did not need panic, fangirling/boying, fainting or overly interested scientific intrigue to break loose, thank you. Pepper would kill him.
“Um, you have a visitor that says he’s from Kamar-Taj and an acquaintance of a Dr Strange here to speak with you.” The nervous woman continued and Tony stopped everything he was doing, frowning and opening his connection to the web to take a look at his schedule since he was pretty sure he had no appointments with Masters of the Mystic Arts. Though they tended to call and then open a portal to wherever he was when they wanted to talk to him. Maybe Strange or Loki, even, had put in place something that prevented them from doing that? As for the call thing, now that he thought about it, only Stephen and Wong had his number. The other Masters knew they can come talk to him if they are in need of financing, repairs to the Sanctums, medical care or if they have trouble on their hands that they think someone else should know about. With Stephen off world and Wong stuck with the New York Sanctum and Loki not possessing any clear, official status among Earth’s sorcerers, Tony was probably the best one to go to. “He says it’s urgent.”
That could also explain the lack of a call beforehand. “You sure he’s from Kamar-Taj?”
“Well, he’s definitely dressed like it and he kind of ... appeared from a circle of sparks. So I guess?” Valerye stuttered in an unsure voice and Tony sighed.
“Let him in.” He went back to the paper he had to finish so he can focus on his guest without feeling guilty about neglecting the work Pepper would have done. Not that he was falling behind or anything. He had run the company for two years on his own before he had transfered it to Pepper. She was a great CEO but she had learned the ropes from him. Not to mention that he had always been a fast reader and Extremis and some good sleep definitely made it easier. Honestly, despite the looming threat of Thanos on the horizon, Tony hadn’t been healthier in years. Maybe even before Afghanistan.
“Anthony Edward Stark.” A vaguely familiar voice said and Tony frowned at the paper in hand. Where had he heard it before? “It has finally come. The time for you to pay the bill that is your due.”
That didn’t sound ominous at all. “I’m sorry, did I forget to pay electricity or something? Because this Tower is run 100% by my own reactor. And it’s clean energy, too, so I really don’t know what bill I didn’t pay. The water bill? This Tower and every other Stark property is 100% green.”
“I’m not talking about the material payment, Stark.” That had Tony looking up, the venom in this man’s voice and he stiffened when he spotted green robes. Sorcerer’s of Kamar-Taj didn’t wear green robes. Crap. “The price for what you have been doing and for how long is high. And the bill comes due. Always.”
Tony stood up slowly, not daring to activate Extremis because it would show in his eyes and that just might set the unstable man off. He hadn’t sounded exactly sane the first, last and only time he had seen this man and there was no Stephen to protect him this time around. He had never been more glad that Wong had insisted on being blunt enough that Tony was almost forced into learning some magic. “I don’t know what you think I am doing-”
“You are drawing on magical energy that is not yours to use.” The man he presumed to be Mordo - he had, really, seen him only once and it was during battle. Dark skin and green robes wasn’t enough to distinguish a person for sure - stated, a sickly green sort of magic gathered around his fingers. It looked nothing like the mandala-like rings that formed around Stephen’s forearms when he’s using the Time Stone like he had once shown Tony. It sent dread through the engineer and he hoped like nothing in the world that FRIDAY had contacted Loki or, well, anyone. “You have been doing this for many years. The Ancient One has foolishly allowed you to continue doing this. I am here to rectify that mistake.”
“Okay, slow down, buddy,” Tony tried to placate, rising his hands in a surrendering and placating motion in front of his chest. “Whatever energy I have is my own. I did some tests so I would know. It’s woven deep into every one of my cells so if you were to try and extract it from me, you’d kill me.”
“A shame, surely. But this travesty must be punished.” Mordo said in a grave tony of voice and Tony didn’t know if he should start panicking. He felt rather than saw the weapons in the office slide out of the walls and he wished that all of them had a silencer instead of just most. Because then they could fire and Mordo wouldn’t know until it was too late. “That energy is not meant to be a human’s. It should belong to the universe to be called upon by the people who will harness it for selfless reasons. To protect this reality! You cannot selfishly siphon that energy for yourself.”
“I don’t,” Tony grunted, getting annoyed. “I didn’t even know about it until you tried to kill me a few months ago! I’m not doing this consciously or on purpose. The energy is mine and has always been mine. If you take it, then I’m dead.”
“And I am sure that it also works the other way around.” Mordo smiled what he thought was a reassuring or apologetic or some shit like that smile but it only came out deranged as he shot the green spell at Tony with lightning speed. “Goodbye, Tony Stark. Your death will contribute to the return of the balance of the energies in the multiverse.”
It was like in slow motion, the way the green, misty electricity like spell traveled towards him at a speed no human brain could comprehend. Two meters away and he could already feel it trying to leech that strange power that rested dormant within him unless he was practicing or meditating. But his brain wasn’t normal anymore, had never really been to begin with. Extremis allowed him to analyze things ten times faster than an ordinary human being and he had FRIDAY, a supercomputer, also watching so he had her perception as well. Probably JARVIS’ by now, too. It’s thanks to their immediate calculations of how fast the attack was coming and how long it will take to reach him that allowed Tony to instantly form the shields he had perfected under Stephen’s scrutinizing, perfectionist gaze, the blue mandala’s matching the light of his Arc Reactor and illuminating his face. The perceived force the attack was also what had the armor forming around him even before the spell hit his shields. It was too strong for a human to hold up against and so, even though his shields protected him perfectly, he was sent flying backwards, towards his bulletproof windows, from the sheer force and momentum of the attack.
FRIDAY activated the weapons in the room, blasting the hell out at Mordo, who also formed a big shield, a sphere, to protect himself before lashing out with that strange ever morphing staff of his, destroying the weapons in the walls and ceilings and even in the floor.
JARVIS engulfed his back and head first in the armor a second before he hit the glass with enough force that would have smashed his skull to pieces or permanently broken his spine had he hit it without the armor there to protect said areas. As he flew out of the window, shields still holding off the attack that was pushing him further back and out of the window, the bracelet Stephen had given him started to glow and canceled out the attack, leaving him to fly through the broken glass as the rest of the suit rushed to cover him so he doesn’t get cut or, you know, fall to his death. A few pieces still nicked him and drew some blood on his face and hands or ripped into his expensive suit before the fabric was covered by the nanobots. Still, even that was mostly prevented by the glowing shields he still had out to protect himself. His chest and the vital organs within it were not even grazed, so he guessed everything was alright.
Then he started plummeting towards the concrete bellow, just for a few seconds before JARVIS caught him while his brain tried to battle the shock of the last few seconds for a few heartbeats and then Tony was back in control, piloting the suit back up to his busted office window, ignoring the spectators bellow and Vision coming out, through the glass, from bellow the terrace of Tony’s floor. He had his repulsors ready even as he leveled out with the broken window and came face to face with one unimpressed sorcerer which was, okay, rude. That would have been all kinds of awesome if it were on a movie screen and was even more awesome because it was real life. Because Tony was sure no one else would have been able to do that, thank you very much.
“So Strange has once again ignored my warnings and has even gone as far as to teach you magic.” Mordo half observed, half sneered when Tony came up to his level, not at all intimidated by the high tech suit of armor that could, all on its own, probably conquer a continent. Tony was even more offended than before. “No matter. I am already correcting one Sorcerer Supreme’s mistakes.” He spun and twirled the staff before pointing it at Tony. “I guess I will just have to correct the mistakes of another as well.”
“Good luck with that, Voldemort.” Because, besides appearances, this guy definitely fit the bill far more than Stephen, despite Tony’s or Johnny’s relentless teasing. Stark decided not to give the rouge sorcerer another opportunity to attack first and maybe catch him off guard with the many spells he knew and Tony didn’t, so he powered up Iron Man’s repulsors and fired two powerful shots at the green robed man. But Mordo easily created another protective sphere around himself, which easily stopped the attacks.
‘J, fire up the voltage. We’ll need more power.’
-Already on it, Sir.- The rays coming out of the repulsors became thicker, the sound stronger, but the shields held. -If we use any more power, we’ll decimate the entire floor, Sir.- Which would be all kinds of bad. Namely, there were too many people in the Tower. -The Avengers are on their way.- JARVIS added, showing him Carol and Spider-man jumping out of windows on various floors, Spider-man using his web shooters to catch himself and slide down, Captain Marvel already glowing with power as she joined Vision in his descent down.
But Tony couldn’t let them get involved in this. He didn’t know how Mordo will react to them and he didn’t want to see them get hurt or transported to some random dimension or something that would require Stephen to get them back. He was the new leader of the New Avengers. He couldn’t let them get hurt because of him. Mordo was here for him.
‘Thank good I bugged Strange until he taught me that spell.’ He had JARVIS activate the proton cannons even as he stopped firing with his repulsors, which left his hands free. He took a deep breath to get himself to focus and put his fingers into the right positions before he started weaving his arms in the air. He didn’t have the easy precision and grace that years of practice allowed Stephen or Wong or any other sorcerer he had met during his study sessions at the Sanctum, but he was sure and his memory was sure as he made the gestures needed to form two circles of runes in the air, wedged in between two rings that resembled hollow mandalas. One ring was smaller, just around the size of Tony’s chest, the rung of runes was maybe a centimeter bigger and the second mandala ring was bigger than it by a couple more centimeters. The spell glowed blue, just like every other spell Tony did, already thrumming with power as the three rings hovered parallel to him, maybe a foot or two away from his armored chest.
When he was sure that the spell held, Tony relaxed his hands out of the necessary position and instead took aim through the three circles and fired at Mordo. Only the smallest ring glowed brighter, which was a little disappointing but it amplified the strength behind the repulsor blast none the less and easily broke through the shield that had been resisting his proton cannons. Even though it didn’t reach the sorcerer himself, Mordo grunted in pain at the excretion he had had to put in to hold the spell before the shield broke. He was gasping for breath, a murderous look in his eyes as he regarded Tony. But Carol and Vision were already hovering at his side, Spider-man hanging just a little to the left and Logan, Dante and Daredevil were now at his back, blocking the entrance/exit to the office. Tony had to give it to Matt, the man could dress into his costume faster than in those silly five minutes cartoons of Superman.
“You’re surrounded.” Carol stated matter of factly, her eyes even starting to glow for intimidation effect. “Surrender and we will not use force.”
“No,” Mordo said, straightening himself up. “But I will.” And he started doing some complicated hand and arm movements, everyone tensing for whatever he was about to bring out, only for nothing more but sizzling sparks to appear in the air in front of him, much to the confusion of everyone present, especially Mordo himself. He tried again and again, with a spell Tony recognized vaguely, probably something Stephen had once done, but still no results.
“I think you’ll find that you won’t.” An all too familiar voice drawled and they all turned to look at none other than the Sorcerer Supreme himself, leaning casually against the wall of the office. When he had appeared, no one knew, but the Avengers definitely found his presence comforting. Mordo, on the other hand ...
"Strange!” The rouge sorcerer spat. “What have you done!?” The former neurosurgeon watched his once friend and mentor with sad but determined eyes as he pushed off from the wall. The Cloak of Levitation, ever the drama queen, flared out behind him and rustled more than the breeze getting in through the broken windows could cause. Case and point, Vision’s cape wasn’t nearly as wiggly.
“My job.” Stephen replied sternly, magic glowing around his fingers. Tony’s scans indicated that, despite the magic being the same usual color Stephen’s magic always was, the spell he was preparing to do was the same one Mordo had fired at him. Only this time, the spell seemed natural and not at all foreboding or malicious. Tony’s hair on his arms and neck stood on end from tension and the power that radiated off of the spell, but he felt no fear or as if this was wrong. He watched warily as Mordo seemed to realize the same thing, that it was the same spell. That his bill had come due. “Karl Mordo, former practitioner of Kamar-Taj and Master of the Mystic Arts, as the Sorcerer Supreme of Earth, I hereby seal your power-”
“You can’t do that!” Stark wanted to pity the man for the panic that he clearly heard in Mordo’s voice, but he clearly remembered all the people this man had crippled, took away their miracle and their powers just because they found their will lacking to fight for the multiverse.
"Silence!” The usually calm doctor thundered and the magic in the air crackled with his raised voice. The atmosphere was throughly intimidating, even with the sunny day and the lack of ominously flashing gray skies. Mordo seemed to sense the power in the air and closed his mouth against anything that he could or would have said in his defense. No one dared make a single squeak in the face of Strange’s scowl. “For the crimes you have committed against former apprentices of Kamar-Taj and my own student, magic will never flow through your body again.”
As if that in itself was a command to the magic, the spell zapped from Stephen’s fingers and struck Mordo in the chest. The dark skinned man grunted from the impact and took on steadying step backwards, but he did not look in pain and the spell did its job quickly, the misty electricity leaving Mordo’s body through his back in the form of a caging orb that held hostage what Tony figured was Mordo’s magic or whatever it was within a human body/mind/soul that permitted them to draw on dimensional energy and make magic. It skipped around Mordo and made a beeline for Strange, who took the ball and ignored the agonized expression Mordo sent his way. Scans of Mordo’s person showed it wasn’t from pain.
It was from, for the first time in many years, perceiving the world without the additional awareness that using magic brought. It was finally downing on him just what had been done.
Stephen turned to Tony - wasn’t he supposed to be on some alien planet, one of the Nine Realms that used to fall under Asgard’s sovereignty and protection, until nightfall? Not that Tony was complaining, not at all. He actually felt himself relaxing a little - and offered him a nod. “The Masters at Kamar-Taj can hold him until you and Pym make that quantum mirror prison you’ve been talking about. This is, unfortunately, not the first time Kamar-Taj has had to imprison one of our own.”
“Yeah, sure. I’ll contact the Accords and I’ll deal with the press.” And the UN. And the rouges, once they hear about it. He’ll have to find a way to take the heat off of Kamar-Taj and its sorcerers. And he’ll have to prevent anyone from dreaming up another RAFT.
Stephen seemed to get that a smiled a thankful smile at him before wrapping a magical, sizzling whip around Mordo and dragging him through the portal. Which left Tony to deal with the mess and the cleanup and their curious, confused teammates.
“Um, Mr Stark?” An unsure Peter called hesitantly, even rising his hand as though he was in school. “Since when can you do magic?” Logan, Dante and Matt at least seemed surprised by this but Vision and Carol were only curious, which meant they had seen.
He sighed and motioned for them to gather in his penthouse. “Let’s talk.”