Chapter 6: Chapter 6
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.
The name settled heavily between them like a fog over a mountain range. It filled the room with a sort of tension that had not been there before. Stark was tenser than Stephen had ever seen him in any of the futures and that kind of worried him. The doctor part of his brain had been insisting he do a throughout check on Tony ever since he stopped his almost injury but he had been able to push it into the background so far. The way Tony was holding himself, though, was not allowing for that. It could mean distress or an oncoming anxiety attack, neither of which will help their planning and to-be-developed relationship.
Stephen looked down towards the table, where Tony’s gauntleted hand was hidden by it, when he heard the telltale sign of the armor retreating back to wherever it had come from. Tony now had both hands on the surface of the table, clenched hard until his knuckles were white, but he seemed to be doing breathing exercises to calm himself down. When he met Stephen’s eyes a moment later, the business was replaced by the Avenger, by Iron Man and Stephen knew that everything will depend on the upcoming questions.
“Thanos. Right.” He nodded, as though to himself. “We know what he wants. Do we know how he plans to do it?”
In response, Stephen summoned his magic and without prompting replicated an illusionary Big Bang. Tony started at the suddenness of it but didn’t seem shocked by the light show. To be expected, if Stephen had seen his holograms right. “At the dawn of the universe, there was nothing. And then BOOM.” The flash of light left behind five glowing point on which Tony immediately, unerringly focused, as though he already knew what they were, as though they were calling despite being nothing more than an illusion. Stephen noted that in the back of his head, figuring it might not be so off the mark when he thought about all that he currently knew and Mordo’s words. “The Big Bang sent six elemental crystals hurtling across the virgin universe.” The lights receded until said crystals were clear to see and each of them lit up in turn as Stephen introduced them. “The Infinity Stones each control an essential aspect of existence. Space,” the blue stone glowed. “Reality. Power.” The red and purple stones followed, lighting up before returning to normal while the orange stone lit up next. “Soul. Mind.” There went the yellow one. Stephen took q deep breath and put his hands in the required positions in order to open the Eye of Agamotto. “And Time.”
The soft green light filled the room, its glow joining the other five, making it the six Infinity Stones for the first time seen in the same space in who knows how long, if ever before, even if only in illusion. Tony was watching with an intense sort of attention, absorbing all information that was freely given and Strange could easily recognize the expression on his face. He could just imagine the acrobatics his brilliant mind was currently doing, churning over all that he knew, making plans and contingencies as he went, all the while still listening to anything and everything Stephen said. He’d been on the receiving end of such attention many times in the futures he had seen but it was quite different to feel it on his skin in person. Brown was the most common eye color and yet Tony Stark’s eyes were anything but. Stephen felt as though an X ray was studying him. He felt exposed, in a way. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that.
“Thanos. He’s the one who sent Loki back in New York?”
“You know Loki’s been controlled?” Now that came as a surprise. Tony had never disclosed any such information to him before. Then again, Loki was very rarely a topic they talked about. Still, this was new.
The engineer shrugged, looking away. “It became obvious after seeing the eyes of a few others who were under the control of the Tesseract and the Scepter. They were a crazed blue. Loki resisted better than the others - probably something to do with his affinity towards magic that Thor mentioned once or twice - but he was still not all there. Not by his own choice, anyway.”
“The Tesseract contains the Space Stone. It doesn’t have the power of mind control.” Stephen pointed out and his companion only rolled his eyes.
“Maybe not, but the container that the Tesseract actually is wasn’t in the best condition and it was leaking enormous amounts of residual power and energy all over the place. That residual energy was used to power the much better contained Mind Stone in Loki’s Scepter, until that, too, was broken. HYDRA has the tendency to weaken the the containers of infinite power, it would seem.” Tony shrugged. “Point is, two Infinity Stones were at work and as the one leaking more power, the Tesseract kind of took over. But because it was leaking so much power, it was also a lot easier to find and to the neutralize its power, which Selvig figured out, thankfully, or else we’d have had problems with this Thanos fellow five years ago.”
“Just how well acquainted with the Infinity Stones are you, actually?” The sorcerer couldn’t help but wonder. He had his theories, but none were ever confirmed nor denied in any of the futures he’d ever seen. He knew Tony knew something about them, but this was his chance to find out just how much. It will be helpful in the long run, that was for sure.
“I’ve tracked and analyzed the Tesseract during the New York incident and I’ve ran diagnostics, tracked and studied the Mind Stone before, during and many times after the Ultron and Sokovia incidents.” Stark shrugged half heartedly. “I’ve also studied the residual energy after that Aether thing, since its signature resembled the Tesseracts, but I couldn’t get close enough to it in London, since I hadn’t had the suit at hand. JARVIS and I ran some scans, but that was it.”
“That’s still probably more knowledge about the Space, Mind and Reality stones than any normal mortal man has on hand.” The books in Kamar-Taj aren’t exactly available for everyone, after all. Not even the Masters of the Mystic Arts. The Infinity Stones were only discussed in the Sorcerer Supreme’s personal collection and rare few dare even look at those books, let alone open them for study. Stephen had been the first in a long while who had opened them, and as only an apprentice level mage. People were intimidated by the powers and knowledge hidden in there. Besides, most of them had come to cure their bodies, not learn how to defend the multiverse.
“Speaking of which, how do you know about JARVIS?” Challenged the genius, taking hold of a discarded thread of conversation that had been put aside during the Infinity Stone discussion.
“I already said there are ways to watch you.”
“Then you would have known JARVIS was my AI. You wouldn’t be surprised. You would know what happened to him.” Tony’s voice started off near angry but it broke on the last sentence and the Cloak surprised them both when it floated over to settle around the shorter man’s shoulders in an almost comforting manner. Tony startled at the weight of it but didn’t brush it off. He somehow seemed to realize it was a friendly relic, which Stephen secretly found endearing. Christine, for all that she was trying, just could not accept the cloak.
“Just because you’re being watched doesn’t mean we do it all the time. Just ... when we feel something is happening or it might happen that could need assistance from us. We could not have known JARVIS was an artificial person if we didn’t observe everything.” It was as close to the truth as Stephen could get without outright telling Stark that he had looked into the future with the Time Stone. Tony would no doubt soon catch up on that and he’ll probably get grilled for keeping that information from the genius, but it was for the best right now. “I’m guessing from your reaction that he was ... important to you?”
“All my bots are important to be. They’re like my children.” The comment was so far off uncaring that Stephen nearly flinched. Touchy subject but one that he might be able to help with.
“What happened to him?”
“He was the first person killed by Ultron - you know about Ultron?” Stephen nodded and Tony continued. “Anyway, he managed to save a part of his code and I put it in a Vibranium body, using the Mind Stone. Only JARVIS didn’t make it. Vision did. JARVIS is gone.” The words obviously pained him but Strange had to admire the way he didn’t let it show on his face. Damn, he must be good at poker.
“Did you ever think of trying to get him back?”
“I thought about it and I ran some simulations - with Viz’s approval, of course - but I concluded it was just not possible. Not in my life time, anyway.”
“And why is that?”
Tony eyed him suspiciously before shrugging. “JARVIS was an autonomous, sentient being for two or so decades. Vision’s mind is young and entirely dependent of the code and the Mind Stone. Take one or the other away and he might just fall apart. Not immediately, but in, like ... a year or so. He’d have to develop himself for the same amount of time the component that is to be removed has been developing and the likeliness of me living to see that gets thiner and thiner by the day. I don’t want to risk Vision by rushing into some half assed procedure nor do I want to subject JARVIS to a world where I’m not there. He’d just shut himself down. So I’ve ... learned to live with it, I guess.” He shrugged again but could not meet Stephen’s eyes, gaze averted elsewhere.
The sorcerer frowned in thought, analyzing what Tony had just said and trying to decide whether exposing Stark to the power of a fourth Infinity Stone was wise at all. But he needed Stark to trust him, otherwise, the other man won’t do half the things that are needed to ensure his safety. And from the snippets he’d seen, Stark usually listening to JARVIS and the AI fretted over its creator like a mother hen. He would be an excellent asset in keeping the man safe as well as someone who can calm Tony down and make him feel comfortable.
“So ... All you need in order to get JARVIS back is time?” He asked to clarify and confirm.
“Basically, yes. Sounds like so little but is actually so much.” Stark said with a sardonic smirk. “If I needed a better computer, a better power source, a better machine, I’d have made it and done it all a long time ago. But I need time. Vision needs time to form his own protocols. For all that he acts more and more human by the day, he’s still a being of code and metal. He’s struggling to understand the world he was thrown into, being treated like an adult when he’s only really still a child. He reminds me a little of JARVIS when he first came online. JARVIS was just as innocent and naive as Vision is now. I guess I kind of corrupted him. Story of my life.”
“If JARVIS was truly sentient, which I have no doubt about, I highly doubt you could influence him as much as you think you did.” The taller man said dryly, which earned him a chuckle from his companion. He sighed and dove right back into business. “Tony ... I know you don’t trust me and I’d be a fool to ask you to after just one conversation.”
“One rather cryptic conversation, at that,” the other replied, looking at Stephen like he was something new and not understanding what to do with him. To be expected. This was probably the first time someone other than his own creation that was actually paying attention to the coming threat. Stephen vowed to always listen to Tony when he needed him. Even when he didn’t. He deserved at least that much.
He nodded to Tony’s point but didn’t make promises about explaining everything. He didn’t want to give Tony ideas and it was best to leave the timeline as unchanged as they could keep it. Let it flow as it should. “But we need to be able to work together. There is too much at stake for either of us to doubt each other, question every decision we might make or hold out on each other. There will come a time when I can explain everything, I think, but right now, at this moment,” he gestured between them. “We need to come to an agreement.”
“You mean work together,” Stark part asked, part concluded and Strange nodded to him. “That’s going to be a bit difficult, as I am currently working on the Accords.”
“I’ll take a look and make some suggestions, but I promise to sign them. Accountability is something I can stand behind.” Stark seemed surprised by that and a little grateful. Stephen smiled at him, trying not to look fond of a man he should have met personally only now. But seeing so many futures featuring this man, going out on life and limb to protect everyone ... It was hard not to feel fond of him. “I used to be a doctor, Tony. I knew the consequences of my actions and acted accordingly. As Sorcerer Supreme of Earth, I am responsible for the protection of not just our planet and the universe, but every dimension of existence, of reality. The multiverse is my responsibility. If I didn’t support accountability ... There are many sorcerers who seek to do harm with the mystic arts they mastered. I myself must face the consequences of my actions like everyone else, but when you are expected to search out those who use magic for their own selfish gain and are endangering others, you must be aware of everything the implies. Otherwise, you might as well be no better than the ones you are accosting.”
“I’ll get you a copy.” Tony said in a distant voice and Stephen wondered what the genius was thinking about. “We should probably brief Vision on this. Maybe Thor. Is that all you wanted to talk about?”
“Actually, I wanted to discuss this JARVIS-Vision thing a bit more.” He replied as casually as he could and pretended that he didn’t see how Stark clenched his hands into fists or how the cloak shimmied on the tense man’s shoulders. “You said Vision would need time to develop his own protocols. How much time, exactly?”
“Like I said, about two decades.” At the look the sorcerer was giving him, Iron Man folded. “With the two years he’s already spent as his own entity? Twenty five years, six months, two days and fourteen hours, approximately.” At Stephen’s arched eyebrow, the engineer bristled. “What?”
“How come I’ve never heard about you having photographic memory?” It was rare to meet someone with that particular trait. Stephen had yet to meet someone like him, until this very moment. A genius was one thing, even rarer than photographic memory in some ways, but even an idiot could have photographic memory. Memory and intelligence aren’t connected. It was almost a scary thought to have a genius of Tony’s caliber gifted with photographic memory as well. Stephen was a genius in his own way, but there were rumors Stark’s IQ tests weren’t normal since there was rarely a test that can measure his full intelligence right. Like they can’t measure it at all. “I’m sure it would have been all over the news.”
“Like the world needs any more reason to hate me.” Tony snorted, crossing his arms. “Besides, it would take away my ‘ignorant billionaire who doesn’t remember faces well’ alibi when I want to piss people off by not calling them their names. It would ruin my fun.” That startled a chuckle out of Strange and he shook his head.
“Only you, Tony.” Said man looked surprised by the comment and Stephen wondered why. Was he expecting Stephen to be angry with his response? What right does he have to do that, anyway. It was Tony’s life. “Anyway, I can work with that. Actually, I can more than work with that. The more precise the better.”
“What are you talking about?” The genius asked wearily and Stephen sighed. This was either going to make or break the deal. This will either lose him whatever little respect and trust he had garnered from Stark or make it solid. This was obviously a very delicate topic and Tony might shut him out completely. Then again, he hadn’t so far so there might be s chance this could go over well.
“I can ... I can control the Time Stone within the Eye of Agamotto. It is very dangerous, but as long as an event or intervention from its power is localized, then it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.” By the way stark was staring at him, he didn’t need elaboration although he did show a great amount of disbelief and ... cautious hope? Yes, there was definitely a different spark in Stark’s eye. He took a deep sigh and continued. It was now or never. “The removal of JARVIS’ code will let Vision become completely his own individual, yes?”
“Yeah. Right now, he’s dependent on many things. He’s constructed of different layers. Ultron, JARVIS, Bruce, me, the Mind Stone and Doctor Cho’s cradle, as well as whatever effects Mjolnir’s lightning had on awakening him. Basically, he’s a layered cake but JARVIS and the Mind Stone are his beginning and end, the bottom and top layers respectively. At this point,” Tony said with a shaky sigh. “The removal of either of those will cause the other layers to implode. It makes very little sense, but think of it as two sides of a force field or something. Those two components are keeping all the other ones stacked together. And taking JARVIS out would be like destroying the foundation of a skyscraper. A catastrophe.”
“But with time, Vision would create his own ‘force field’ and keep those components together on his own,” Stephen concluded. “So we will give him time. I can lock him in the Mirror dimension and use the Time Stone on his processor or brain or whatever he has.”
“You’d be surprised. It’s a mixture of both, in a way, since Doctor Cho made the processor to resemble the human brain as much as can be done.”
The sorcerer huffed at the smug, proud tone Tony said all of this with. He wasn’t kidding when he said his AIs were his children. “It will let him develop enough to stand on his own and that will keep him from dying if worse comes to worst and the Mind Stone is taken from him. He’d probably just need a new power source.”
“I’ll start working in an Arc Reactor for him as soon as we get his consent to do this.” Stephen had to smile at the excitement bleeding into Tony’s voice as it became more and more probable that he’ll be getting JARVIS back. “I’m sure he’ll be happy to have free space to form his own memories and stop being semi dependent on me. I can see it sometimes, how he looks at me as though it were the first time he was seeing me. And he can make his own decisions without being biased by JARVIS’ code or past experiences and preferences.”
“And he’ll be safe from dying.” Which is what he knew Tony didn’t want to think about. But he didn’t know what Stephen did. The Mind Stone can’t stay where it is. The Stones will all be united and stay together. Where they will stay is a whole different matter right now. “I am ready whenever you two are.”
“How long will this take?”
He thought about it for a moment. “I’d recommend we not make it instantaneous, for the sake of his circuits. A day at most should be enough of a stretch to keep it all from going critical.”
“A year an hour?”
“Yes, almost. A little more, but it won’t stress his systems.” Tony nodded at that, obviously cautious. Stephen waited for it, the question he knew would come and already preparing an answer for it. Today was just setting the ground work but the foundations has to be strong.
“But why would you be doing this? As far as I know about all things time-concerned, it’s all dangerous business that could rip a hole in the universe-”
“Multiverse, actually,” he automatically corrected and Tony just rolled his eyes at him. The genius continued as though he had not been interrupted at all.
“So why are you willing to do this for me and JARVIS? And Vision, I guess. Independence of the Stone will be good to him.”
“Because I want to earn your trust,” Stephen answered immediately and sincerely, startling Stark with his honest answer. “I’m not really into the whole gossip and tabloids about Avengers drama, but I have seen what had happened. I saw what you were doing to fix it all. I guess you earned my respect. But more importantly, I knew I could trust you with the Earth because you’ve been doing everything in your power to protect it for years. But in order for us to get along and work together towards our common goal, I need to have at least a fragment of your trust. I can tell JARVIS was important to you; how couldn’t he be, if you view him as your child? So I want to help you get him back as a sign of good will and faith. If we can work together on personal matters, global and universal ones will come along as we go.”
“Multiversal,” Stark snarked and Stephen chuckled. “But I see your point and I understand where you’re coming from, I do. It was personal problems that had ended the Avengers, after all. We can’t afford our partnership to end for the same, insignificant reason.”
The robed man swallowed and nodded, hearing the undercurrent of ‘Don’t lie or hide things from me’ that Tony was unintentionally pouring into the words. Tony didn’t know that Stephen was partially aware as to what had happened between him and Rogers. Fourteen million six hundred and five versions was quite the chance to learn something about a person. “We’ll share information but I think we shouldn’t force some things. I know I probably have a lot more explaining to do to you, but that will have to wait, even if for a little while, Tony.”
The genius ran his hand through his hair with a groan but nodded in acceptance. He recognized that Tony knew Stephen was the one with more information about the powers of the Infinity Stones, even if he was the one with their energy signatures and power readings. They’d have to make a joint effort to defeat Thanos when he comes. When, not if. They both knew it was not if. Especially not with two Infinity Stones on Earth. “Fine. We’ll take it one step at a time. For now, I trust you to not try anything on Vision while you do your voodoo magic and you’ll just have to trust me not to drive you mad with questions.”
Stephen grinned. He couldn’t help it. Tony was not only entrusting him with an Infinity Stone but also with what was essentially his child. Two of them, since JARVIS will soon enough be in the picture. That was probably more trust than he had ever had in his ‘team’. This was probably going to turn out just fine.
“I can live with that.”