Chapter 8: Chapter 8
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.
It was interesting to come down the large staircase of the Sanctum and find a bound and gagged Thor trashing in Wong’s magical hold while said sorcerer scowled impassively at the Asgardian as though holding him took no effort at all. Stephen had not been expecting so bizarre a sight but he was well beyond caring or reacting to things like this. He had only come down to discuss some of the protection runes he had been studying for the procedure of aging Vision’s processor that would prevent what Stephen did with the Time Stone from tearing apart the fragile balance of this reality, but it would seem he would have to deal with the son of Odin first. He did a quick scan to see if the other Odinson was around, only to find that Loki was nowhere near the Sanctum, nor had he been, which meant Wong had not let him fall endlessly in a portal like Stephen had done the last time they met. He observed the scene before him for a few more minutes before magically marking his place in the book and closing it, wondering if he will have to call Stark and tell him tonight might not be a good time after all. He needed to prepare all the shields and runes before he lets the Time Stone start doing its thing. Mirror Dimension or not, time is not a relative thing but an absolute one. It’s everywhere - except in maybe the Dark Dimension with Dormmamu, but that’s not the point. Stephen has to make sure he won’t affect anything else other than Vision.
Thor’s eyes lit up upon seeing him but Strange paid him no mind, instead arching an eyebrow at his fellow sorcerer. The librarian hadn’t been the most pleased about the idea he and Stark had agreed upon, but even he could see how a trained and Mind-Stone-independent Vision would be to the benefit of all, especially as he can continue fighting even if the Stone is somehow taken from him, increasing the possibility of getting it back. He was stressed and he wasn’t happy about it, but Wong had agreed to look after the Sanctum until Stephen can return. They had both been surprised by Stark’s quick response, but Vision was partially an AI himself and could probably see the logic in it all. But that’s not what was currently a pressing matter. One king of Asgard was.
Wong returned the arched eyebrow with one of his own and a huff. “He wouldn’t stop pounding on the door and when I finally opened it to him to yell at him, he wouldn’t leave or shut up.”
“So tying him up was your go to solution?”
The Asian man only gave him an unimpressed look. “And gagging. Too much noise.”
The Sorcerer Supreme just shook his head and waved Wong away to do whatever it was he did when Stephen had to deal with crazy shit like this. He untied Thor and let the gag disappear before turning his full attention to the god. He tried not to stare at the eye he was missing or his short hair, but Thor didn’t even seem to notice.
“Magician, it is good to see you again.” The blond greeted once he was in his feet again and Stephen sighed long sufferingly.
“If you must call me any one word names that means a magic user, please at least refer to me as a sorcerer.” Before the muscle bound puppy of a man could say something in response, he interrupted again. “Now, what is it that brings you here?”
Thor eyes him like he expected Strange to start popping them from room to room like the last time he was here, and while Stephen was tempted if it will make Thor leave sooner, he was also curious and weary as to what the man could possibly want now of all times. He was kind of on a tight schedule.
“You came to the Avengers Compound but left without saying hello. I thought a visit was in order.” Thor replied with an easy going grin that was somehow supposed to reassure Stephen, only the Sorcerer Supreme could tell that it was forced.
“Cut the bullcrap, I have a meeting later today.”
The Asgardian immediately sobered at Stephen’s rather hostile tone, even though it was only just less pleasant and impassive than how he usually addressed people. “I was speaking the truth. Especially since you spoke of what sounded like a worrying discovery but discussed it only with Stark.”
Ah, yes. The Avengers as a whole not trusting Tony Stark thing. He had almost forgotten about that. Not. Fourteen million six hundred and five futures and he’d had a chance to learn a great deal about his partner in protecting the Earth in them. Including how his former team had treated him. Which, despite him not being there for the ‘Civil War’, did not exclude Thor.
“I’m afraid that is because at this point in time, Tony Stark is the only one who can comprehend the magnitude of what is currently going on and what is to come. The rest of you,” he said with a sweep of his arm as if to indicate the Avengers that were not there. “Have more pressing matters to concern yourself with. You, your highness, have a people to lead, if I’m not mistaken. Why don’t you focus on that and leave my conversations with Stark between him and myself.” He turned to leave but remembered something very important and called over his shoulder to the blond. “Oh, and do remember to mind your brother. One step out of line and I will be trapping him in a different dimension.”
He heard heavy footsteps pound after him as he levitated back to the upper levels of the Sanctum where Wong had disappeared with the book Stephen had wanted to consult with him on. “Wait, wizard!” At Stephen’s continued silence, Thor made to grab him on the shoulder, only to find himself face-planting when the overprotective Cloak grabbed his hand and wrestled him to the ground. “What sort of sorcery is this?!”
“That’s the Cloak of Levitation, a very ancient, sentient artifact that’s taken quite a liking to me.” Stephen finally paused and arched an eyebrow at the big man being held down by a red piece of cloth like a professional wrestler. He crossed his arms as he lightly landed on his feet, not bothering to exert any energy on floating when he has no reason to. The Cloak usually does it because that’s what it does and it just takes Stephen along for the ride.
“I don’t know what you plan with Stark,” the Asgardian stopped his fruitless struggling against the ancient artifact in order to be heard. “But I will not let you use him.”
That threw the sorcerer straight into confusion. “Use him?”
“That’s rich, coming from an Avenger who has enjoyed the luxury of Mr Stark’s fortune but has repaid him with, what, exactly? Abandonment? More trust issues? A bruised neck?” With each word that came out of his mouth, Stephen’s voice grew colder. It wasn’t easy, remembering all the futures that could have been, could still be, remembering the futures his own future self had seen. It wasn’t easy because he knew Tony Stark, more intimately than maybe even his best friend knew him. It was hard to keep that hidden, his fondness for that man hidden. Stark was by no means perfect but he had always done his best for Earth. For the universe. It’s hard not to like him when you know all that Stephen does. He might have compromised himself but he didn’t care. Tony needed someone to be there for him. Needed someone who would understand his burden.
Thor flinched at the recollection of how he had nearly strangled the genius during the whole Ultron mess and shame and regret colored his features. Good. Stephen can work with that. If he didn’t feel regret for that, he might have just sent him to Everest to let him find his own way back to the States. After cloaking him from the all-seeing eyes of Heimdall. “My actions towards friend Stark are one of my many regrets. But the Mind Stone was not a thing for him to play with-”
“And yet you had given it to him to study it, ergo you had no right to be angry when the Scepter acted up and created something that was not planned for. But you were more concerned with blaming Tony than you were with trying to fix things.”
“How do you even know of this? Friend Stark is not a man to discuss such private matters with strangers.” The Cloak had finally let go and Thor was slowly getting to his feet, eying the levitating cape with a new sort of wariness. He had not thought it to be a threat but now he knew it was not to be trifled with. “And why go to him? What could you possible want of a man so narrow-minded that he refuses to believe in magic?”
“If this is a different way of asking whether I’m using him, the answer would be a firm no.” Strange began as he fazed them into the same room where he had served Thor with beer the last time. The blond enthusiastically drank two thirds of the provided beverage, not complaining about the shift. For now. Stephen calmly took a sip of his tea before continuing. “And I can assure you, Tony’s mind is in no way narrow. I’ve not encountered a more open-minded individual in my life and I’ve met plenty of people.” Both as a world renowned neurosurgeon and as a sorcerer, especially as the Sorcerer Supreme. “He doesn’t not believe in magic. He simply tries to understand it within the perimeters that he’s used to, limited as they are. Although, it’s true that he doesn’t like it. And as to how I know about the squabbles within the Avengers, that’s something for me to know and you to stop asking about.”
“But why go to him?” Thor repeated even as he watched in fascination how his glass was refilled on its own. You’d think a man whose brother - adopted or not - and mother were the best known sorcerers on Asgard would not be impressed by such simple spells. Then again, maybe he just liked beer.
“Because he’s Earth’s best defender.” At Thor’s startled look, Stephen chuckled bitterly. “All of you Avengers are the same, at least the older group. You believe what you see on the surface and don’t go digging deeper, because why should you? You’re obviously in the right. The whole planet is saying the same thing, so it must be true. Never mind what you’ve seen with you own eyes. Because anyone would go flying a nuke through a portal that leads into outer space without knowing whether they can get back. Anyone would be under a falling flying city in order to disperse it into debris to stop global annihilation. It’s something anyone would do. Just for kicks and giggles, even. And that’s not even touching the subject of terrorists and the such.” He floated away his tea and leaned his elbows on his knees, bringing him ominously closer to Thor. “I know you come from a people of hotheaded, hotblooded disposition towards battle. I know you are used to people jumping at the chance to join the fray and go into war. But that is not how we on Earth deal with things. 75% of the people on Earth haven’t even seen a real gun in person before. They don’t fight. They let others do the fighting for them. And billionaires like Tony Stark? Who can buy all the armies in the world with the amount of money and influence he had, has and will always have? They don’t do that. Why should they endanger their lives if there are others who can do it for them? Tony kind of breaks all the norms by going out of his way so much to protect us all, but does anyone in the government give him credit? Rarely. In the Avengers? Never. You all just took all that he would give and more and he would still give you more, but you turn on him as soon as he makes the smallest of mistakes. And when he owns up to them, you sneer and ridicule him, whether you realize it or not. But when you screw up ... It’s still him facing the consequences because he knows you won’t. So don’t kid yourself anymore. You all may be threats but you better stop pretending to be heroes if you’re not going to own up to your actions and face the consequences. Because I will not allow you to use him anymore.”
Thor was silent for a moment, the longest silence Strange had heard from him that was not enforced by an outside force, looking contaminative. Stephen left him to it, wondering if he had maybe gone too far and knowing he had not gone far enough. Perhaps with Thor, it was enough, but it won’t be if he ever has to have this conversation with any of the rouges. Dr Banner might not even need such a talk, all things considered. He won’t use Tony or leave him again. From what he had seen when he had interrupted their meeting, Banner had looked exceedingly uncomfortable to stand in a room full of Avengers but not be shoulder to shoulder with Stark. From what Stephen understood of the various stories he’s heard in the futures he’d seen, Banner took comfort in Stark because Tony wasn’t afraid of the Hulk and the Hulk liked him. Thor could handle the Hulk if he ever went into a rampage, so it was easy to see why Banner wasn’t afraid to be around him but Tony was just a man of flesh and blood and bones and yet he didn’t hold an ounce of fear for the ‘giant green rage monster’. It must have been weird not to have that usual reassurance. Thank whatever deity had finally got it through Tony’s thick scull that he shouldn’t take any of their shit anymore, even Banner’s disappearing spells that have been leaving Stark in a panicked and anxious state whenever they happened.
“So you have appointed yourself Stark’s protector?” The observatory question pulls him out of his own mussing and Stephen looks back at Thor. He mostly looks just curious, but there was something else in his deep blue eyes. Something challenging and something ... Something the sorcerer couldn’t understand. Nonetheless, Stephen nodded and watched in confusion as Thor seemed to finally relax a little in his seat. “That is good. That is more than good. Stark has needed a friend in a long while, if what Dr Banner and I read is true.”
“Oh, it is.” He assures, trying to see what Thor’s angle was. Well, at least he was told about the Civil War. At least he won’t find Stephen’s behavior towards the Avengers so odd. “I’d say it’s even worse than the media is stating it, but it’s not my place. If you wish to know the full details, I’d recommend asking those who were involved. A warning, though, if I may?” The blond man nodded, curious and confused. “Not all of them have even read the Accords. They don’t know what they were fighting against. I suggest you read the Accords and then ask both sides about what happened. And please be around when Dr Banner hears the full version, if Tony decides to tell him. We don’t need the Hulk raving mad because of the stupidity of the rouges.”
“Dr Banner has a better grip on his transformations now. That will not be a problem.” Thor stated confidently and the Sorcerer Supreme arched an eyebrow, very much doubting that. From what he had seen, Dr Banner and the Hulk both were very fond of Tony. If anything, Hulk will react to the rouges worse than he had to Maximoff.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t place any wagers on that. Not with what happened to Tony.” He got an inquisitive eyebrow rise at that, but Stephen didn’t elaborate. That was up to Tony to share. “Just be around if worse comes to worst. I can’t have the Hulk hogging all of Tony’s attention and not letting anyone else near him. It will interfere with our plans.”
“And will you ever share those plans or will this be another Ultron?”
Stephen’s expression darkened and he felt the Cloak puff up in irritation as well. If it had a face, it would be set in a fierce glare directed at the blond god and Stephen was glad for its support. Then again, it seemed to like Tony so it wasn’t all that strange. But Thor’s words set a fire of rage in him that Stephen had never felt before, had never had a reason to feel before. It wasn’t like he had ever had a reason to feel such rage. After the accident that ended his neurosurgeon career, he had been desperately searching for a way to heal his hands and there was only place in his heart for frustration. Same during those weeks at Kamar-Taj when he couldn’t do the simplest of spells. He had felt helpless when the Ancient One was dying. And he had been determined and desperate both in every future he saw as he fought at Tony’s side against Thanos.
But he had never felt this burning rage course through him. He had never been so close to someone in his life in order to feel it before. Because while he had felt some sort of love for Christine, she could never garner this amount of emotion in him. It could be because she didn’t get in danger nearly as often as Tony always was and always will be. It could be that he had simply never paid her the right amount of attention. Not nearly enough to compete with Tony and the way he knew him. After all, no matter how much he had changed since the accident and how much they tried to spend some time together in the past couple of years, Stephen knew Tony Stark in fourteen million lifetimes and the thought of how that incident still haunts the man was enough to make magic spark at the tip of his fingers, crackling as ominously as thunder and lightning before a storm.
“Get out.” He grits out through a clenched jaw and grinding teeth. At Thor’s startled expression, he continues before the big man can say anything else that might actually make him lash out. “Get out before I lock you up in the Dark Dimension with Dormammu. And if I hear even the slightest hint that you’ve broached that subject near Tony Stark,” the way golden sparks and lightning played over his hands and Thor actually recoiled a little at so subtle a show of the immense dimensional energy Strange had so easily gathered. “You will find that you have the Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme to deal with. And I won’t be as lenient as I’ve been before.”
“I meant no offense-”
Stephen just pointed towards the entrance in a sharp motion and Thor nodded, getting up and leaving without another word. Stephen just stayed there, breathing and trying to calm down. The Cloak stayed ruffled until Stephen felt Thor leave the Sanctum - thankfully not breaking anything on his way down; he must have been really shocked by Stephen’s behavior. Stephen himself was a little surprised but not nearly enough for him to wonder at his actions. It was a wake up call for Thor, one which he dearly needed. He wasn’t exactly the strongest on Earth as he had once thought. And he wasn’t nearly as important as he had come to belied himself to be. Humility will do him good, especially as he was now to lead his people. It was time he got used to being told no. And it was about damn time he learned about the consequences of his actions.
If only it would be so easy with the rouges.
He sighed and finally slumped in his chair, not even blinking when Wong returned with the text he had wanted to ask him about before. The older sorcerer just nodded at the book he placed in front of Stephen and that was all the Sorcerer Supreme needed as confirmation before he started practicing the spell. He hopefully will have a sufficient amount of time to perfect it or else any small amount of would-be-could-be trust that he had managed to garner from Stark will be shot. And then the whole universe will be damned.
This had to work perfectly.