Chapter 5: Chapter 5
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.
Strange had not expected to walk in on Stark being assaulted when he had finally decided to drop in on a visit and discuss things with the famous billionaire, and by his own teammate. He had honestly expected to find To- Stark in one of his labs, tinkering with some thing or the other or in a board meeting for his company like Stephen had seen him do countless times in over fourteen million lives that could have been. Maybe even out for a ride in one of his fancy cars or just getting some not so healthy food at some joint no one would have suspected to be Tony Stark’s favored dinner. But walking in on an Avengers meeting just in time to see the Scarlet Witch try to toss him across the room like a rag doll was not something he had been expecting. Not at all.
It was a good thing his self defense training at Kamar-Taj had sharpened his reflexes, or else the universe would have been royally screwed without the second contender for the Infinity Stones.
It was laughably easy to restrain the Avengers, a simple binding spell had them all wrapped up like nice little packages ready for delivery. He was even tempted to make a bow, although he refrained from doing so as it would be childish and he was above that, no matter how fun it could have been. He hesitated in agitating the Hulk, more so because he had seen what he now recognized as Bruce Banner fighting - or trying to fight - by Tony’s side in his visions and he knew he could deal with Thor more than sufficiently enough, god or no god. There was the teenager that he had seen mostly by Stark’s side and the man whom he knew was his best friend. Then there was Vision and the Mind Stone and Stephen was reminded why he was here.
That did not mean he let go of the shorter man one bit. He was still mostly leaning on Stephen and until he stands on his own two feet steadily, Stephen has no intention of letting him go. Strangely enough, the Cloak was allowing it. It usually hated anyone being too close to its chosen master, even Christine or Wong, whom it was more than used to. Maybe it had something to do with Stephen asking it once already to keep an eye on Tony?
Damn it, there he goes again. He wasn’t supposed to call Stark by his first name, even in his own head. But it was hard. The memories from the futures he had seen were still fresh in his mind and with his perfect memory, chances of it fading were slim to none. After seeing this man fight for the fate of the universe, die for it, for its people, for him, it was hard not to be at least a little friendly and fond of the brunet. But it would be unfair to To- Stark for Stephen to know his story and for Tony - damn it -not to know his at all. So no first name basis until that at least is cleared up.
That could wait, though, as it was obvious this was not a conversation they could have here. Not if this was how his teammates treated him. Besides, this was well beyond what the Avengers can really handle, especially as they are now. Stark will need help to prepare for what was to come and these people, these so called rouge Avengers, will not be of any help. Even if they wanted to help, they won’t know how. And this is far more important than they are. Stark needed to be ready, whether he liked it or not.
“Tony Stark,” he said in a steady, sure voice. “My name is Doctor Stephen Strange. I need you to come with me.” Stark looked haggard. Like he hadn’t slept in days. Stephen wouldn’t be surprised. In the fourteen thousand futures that he’d seen, there was quite a number of them in which Tony told him things. Many, many things, usually his fears and nightmares and the mistakes he’s made. He’d tell him everything and Stephen told him about his accident, how arrogant he was, how hard it was in those first weeks of his training in Kamar-Taj, the loss of the Ancient One and Mordo leaving. But that only happened for Stephen. Those futures may never be now that he’s interfering. He didn’t know if anything was ever going to be the same as before he had tempered with the time line but he was ready to fight for it. He was ready to fight for a chance to have that happen again, that camaraderie and that trust.
But first ... First he had to make sure Tony survives to the point where they might get that chance.
“Um ... Thanks for the save and all, but I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Tony said with a flick of his eyes in the direction of the other Avengers. “And ... Thanks for the other day, too. But I really, really don’t think it’s a smart idea that I go with you. For one, I don’t know you. No offense, but I can’t be sure whether you’re just trying to get my trust and then just offing me yourself or something equally dastardly.” Stephen had to repress a smile as the shorter man started rambling. “Two, you kind of just appeared out of nowhere and tied up my team, all wizard-y like and I don’t appreciate magic. Not after, well, everything.”
“Then it’s a good thing that I’m a sorcerer and not a wizard and there’s a little bit more energy and power to what I do than just magic.” Strange cut in before Tony could continue rambling. He finally stepped back a little when he was sure Tony could stand on his own but the Cloak remained touching Stark, holding his wrist. Weird. It was only touchy feely with Stephen. He’ll have to look into that. “And I can promise you I mean you no harm. I’m an actual doctor and I don’t go against my Hippocratic oath by harming people.”
Tony’s eyes flashed with recognition. ” Wait, you’re the world renowned, high on demand, overqualified neurosurgeon that disappeared off of the face of the earth? What are you doing here playing witches and warlocks?”
“We have much to discuss, but I would prefer it if we could do so in private.” The sorcerer replied seriously, casting his glance back at the Avengers and rouges. Tony looked at them over his shoulder, too, and frowned. No one had ever so easily disabled them all like Strange had. Tony didn’t feel as comfortable with leaving with him alone as one might expect seeing as Strange had just saved him from Wanda. Not even T’Challa’s Vibranium suit had saved him from the effects of the energy chains holding everyone down.
Seeing his indecision, Strange put both hands on Tony’s shoulders and looked him dead in the eyes, trying to portray just how serious he was being. Tony froze under those too blue eyes, not understanding the intensity there, the desperation and, most of all, the trust. Why would a complete stranger trust him with anything?
Strange’s next words knocked the air right out of his lungs and he wasn’t even sure how the man did that.
“You were right, Tony. You were always right but no one listened. You were right. They are coming and we are not ready. I need you and you will need me to prepare. The fate of everything we hold dear may just rest on this alliance. Please.”
The engineer stared up at the taller man, trying to find any traces of deceit in his face, in his eyes, but he could see none. The other man was completely sincere and desperate enough to practically be pleading with Tony to listen to him. What he had said, though ... That’s what had Tony’s pulse spiking. None one had believed him before, not Pepper, not his team, not his friends. And yet, this utter stranger ... “Okay, I accept, but I chose where.”
“Done.” Strange easily agreed, gesturing behind them for Tony to lead the way.
“Stark, you can’t do this.” Fury called as Stephen turned to let lead Tony them out of the room. “You can’t trust this man. You’ve never met him. He might be trying to use you.”
“And you aren’t?” Sneered the doctor, much to everyone’s surprise. “I at least plan on making this an equal partnership and listening to what he has to say, which is already leagues above what you would do.”
“He just admitted that he’s planning on using you and you’re still going with him?” The Black Widow challenged but Tony ignored her. This was far more important than any of them and their shit. Anyone can deal with them. If this guy somehow knows something about the visions Tony had ever since New York and especially after Sokovia, then whatever he’s got to say is important. “I’m disappointed in you, Tony.”
“Yeah, you wouldn’t be the first one to say that, but whatever. I can do my own thing.” He fires back as he exits the room. To his surprise, Strange doesn’t immediately follow him, still standing by the doorway and glaring at the tied up Avengers with some very intense disgust on his face. He couldn’t help it. These people were supposed to be Tony’s team and yet they were attacking him just seconds before Stephen had arrived. Had he been a second late, all the possible futures he had seen would have been lost forever. Stark was obviously not safe with these people but Stephen knew he couldn’t just demand the billionaire come with him and leave them all behind for good. They were nothing more than a distraction, in both the planning and what they were planning for. They could be an asset out on the field, one day, if they could actually listen to Tony every once in a while, but Stephen didn’t see that happening any time soon or all that often. “You coming?”
He looked up at the call, meeting cautious brown eyes and he sighed but nodded, going after the genius. He decided against immediately releasing the rouges. They’ll just come barging in and make things more difficult then they’re already going to be. For one, Stephen has to be careful about what he says. There were a few futures where he’d told Tony what was going to happen and Tony had gone and completely changed everything. Sometimes, it worked, for a while at least, before those unchangeable, fixed moments occurred anyway and it all went to shit. Other times, it all ended even worse than it could of and everyone, including Iron Man, dies and the universe is left to fend for itself. So Stephen will have to be careful about what he says in order to keep them on this track while, at the same time, not actually deceiving Tony in any way lest he lose his trust, a precious and rare thing these days and all those that follow. And he will need it if he wants them to effectively work together, especially as he had some less than science-related plans for Tony in the hopefully near future.
Tony led them to a nearby, empty business meeting room, smaller than the one he had been sitting in with the Avengers, rouges and ex SHIELD agents. It had a small, family sized table, looking more appropriate for a divorce signing than a big business meeting. Tony sat in one of the chairs while gesturing for Stephen to do the same across from him. Before he could, the Cloak of Levitation beat him to it, startling Stark with its almost enthusiastic compliance to his silent request. The sorcerer chuckled and took the other seat, watching the by now way way Stark was studying the Cloak. It had proven to be a point of fascination for Tony in all versions of himself and the two were more often than not seen together. Stephen still didn’t know if it was for Stark’s protection - he had kept mostly to his promise to Wong to only look at snippets so he didn’t know the whole background between the two - or if they became friends of sorts over time. With Stark and the Cloak, both was possible. He knew, however, that there was no version of Stark that wasn’t intrigued by the cloak.
“So, I’ve got a few questions.” Tony, as he was wont to, was the first to break the silence, finally tearing his eyes away from the sentient article of clothing. Stephen couldn’t stop the smallest of twitches of his lips.
“I can only imagine.”
Tony rolled his eyes and leaned forward, going from relaxed and friendly straight into business mode that was so rarely on display. “I think the first one I’m gonna ask is how you know that I know anything? No offense, doc, but we’ve never met and the only people I ever even remotely brought this up with didn’t take me seriously or downright ignored me and called me paranoid. And you’re not one of those people I’ve opened up to regarding this.”
Stephen frowned, confused. “I was under the impression that at least one of the people you’ve talked to about this took you seriously. Someone named Jarvis?” He watched in interest how Stark seemed to freeze up in an instant, as though blasted into space without his armor or any other form of protection. “Tony?” He asked worriedly, wondering what could have triggered such a response. Whoever this Jarvis was, it had always been clear to Stephen, no matter which version that learned of this person, that they were special to Stark. But Tony never once elaborated, too pained to even explain or say the name without a half formed anxiety attack. “Did I say something wrong?”
“H-how do you,” Stark tried, taking a deep breath when his voice broke on the word. “How do you know about JARVIS?” His face was set in a fierce glare now and Stephen could just barely make out the vaguely familiar sound of swarming metal forming a gauntlet out of his line of sight. “I don’t talk about JARVIS. Not with Pepper, not with Rhodey, not with Vision or anyone. Not even with FRIDAY and she’s my newer AI.”
“Jarvis was an AI?” The Sorcerer Supreme couldn’t help but ask, intrigued. At Tony’s confused but still furious face, he decided to explain himself some. “Right. How do I even go about this.” He sighed and looked Tony dead in the eyes. “Do you know anything about sorcery, Tony?”
Said man blinked. “I’ve faced a few magical and magic wielding beings and can detect its energy signature, if that’s what you mean.”
Stephen nodded. “I’ve been expecting as much. Well, I guess I should start by stating the obvious. I’m a sorcerer.” He said, indicating at himself with one shaking, scared hand. “A Master of the Mystic Arts. The Sorcerer Supreme, to be exact. I preside over the magic, magical items and magic users on Earth and anything that poses a threat to our reality. Kind of like you, only I protect the Earth from the metaphysical. The Masters of Mystical Arts have been protecting Earth for thousands of years and we’ve amassed quite a collection of spells and artifacts that allows us to do our job a lot more easily. One of those spells include something like a monitoring system. Like a radar for users and practitioners of the Mystic Arts and threats that might endanger our reality. And this radar picked up you. A long time ago.”
“Me?” The incredulous engineer repeated, repulsor glove still in place should he need to use it. Stephen nodded. “Why me? And why are you approaching me only now if this thing picked me out as a threat?”
“Not a threat, not in that way, at least.” Stephen assured. “The Ancient One must have known something she hadn’t shared. She was the Sorcerer Supreme before me and my teacher.” He explained at Stark’s blank look. “She deemed it not the right time to approach you and you were, as such, left to your own devices until such a time as is right comes that we should contact you.”
“And that time came when your wizard buddy tried to off me the other day?”
“It certainly made me look into things more closely.” Strange fired back with a sardonic smirk. They were only just getting started and things were already far more complicated than he’d like.
“And what you found made you seek me out?” The ex neurosurgeon nodded. “Why?”
“Because we, as in the Masters of the Mystic Arts, have detected something that might pose a bigger threat to Earth than we can handle alone and it was obvious the Ancient One thought you might be of much help.” He replied semi sincerely. He didn’t really know why the Ancient One had never approached someone of Stark’s potential and Wong and the other Masters were none the wiser than he was. But he did know what was coming and he did know Stark would be a major source of help in defending the Earth and the universe at large. “I am not at liberty to discuss the secrets of the Order that has been around for thousands of years when I am barely a year long Sorcerer Supreme, but I do know that you’ve been preparing for this event for a few years now. Whatever you could do to help will be most appreciated. However, I think it is best if we actively work together to solve this incoming problem.”
“You still have a lot more to explain before we can move on,” Stark said dangerously and Stephen sighed. He knew it had to be this way, it was part of Tony’s character after all the things he’d been through, but he had foolishly hoped they could skip this part and go straight into their future relationship as allies and friends. He had not expected that knowing the future would cloud his brain this much.
“You’re being watched, Tony. For many years now. Not just by the press, not just by SHIELD agents, not just by your competitors or the army or even the entire world. There are entities that have become interested in you and have been watching - or trying to watch - as you developed from who you have been to the man you are now. Searching for strengths, weaknesses, soft or sore spots to exploit.”
“Your sorcerer friends one of those who are watching me?”
“Some,” Stephen agreed, not saying anything about one of them actually being himself. “Only we are seeking to protect and ally with you. The other entity ... I don’t know whether he’s aware or not that he’s best off to just kill you while he still can or if he just wants to play with you.”
There was a moment of silence. “I’m taking you’re talking about this big bad coming.” It wasn’t even a question. It would never be. Stark had been cursed with this knowledge since New York, which was, what, almost six years ago? Five and a few months? Stark had known, he had always known, but people had ignored him. Had called him crazy and paranoid and had them all explain it away with his PTSD. But Stark had known and he had tried his best to prepare on his own. However, the Avengers were always demanding his attention and distracting him from what was truly important. Stephen was here to change that and to lighten the load by bearing some of it for this man. “What are we actually facing?”
“The one who had sent the army to New York.” Stephen replied, watching Tony stiffen. “A Mad Titan, feared throughout the universe for he seeks infinite power in order to bring balance to the universe. By erasing half of its entire population.” He watched as Tony paled and heard the repulser whine in response to his distress but he knew the man won’t fire at him.
“What’s his name?” The genius asked tersely, tense and dead serious. Stephen saw that determination flicker in Tony’s eyes that he was so familiar with in every version of this man that he had ever glimpsed in those fourteen million six hundred and five futures.
Stephen momentarily wondered if this was the last sight seen by their enemy.