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The Doctor is In

Chapter Text

Peter was super worried. The northern entrance of the mall was going to collapse but he wouldn’t have the time to web the debris like he did for the southern entrance. He had asked the commuters to go through the exit when he webbed the ceilings a few minutes ago. The commuters at the northern tunnel wouldn’t be so lucky unless there was a miracle…

Speaking of a miracle, that entrance should have collapsed three seconds ago but it hadn’t. Peter then noticed there was a golden shield made of shimmering lights holding the ceilings. He traced the lights source and found out that they came from the hands of a man wearing a billowing red cape and a blue robe levitating a few feet above ground near the tunnel. It was quite an impressive costume. He was bored with all the spandex costumes most heroes or villains wear nowadays so something like a monk’s robe looked pretty cool.

He was surprised that he didn’t see the man enter this place. It was either he materialized out of thin air or his spider sense was failing. He wasn’t sure which explanation made him more uncomfortable.

He tried to rack his brain to find out which superhero or supervillain (you never knew, that man could just create a disaster then helped to save the day to appear as a hero) that could levitate and emit that kind of energy but he came out empty. Well, the heroes or villains who could levitate usually use some kinds of machines but the man didn’t have any machine on him. The way the man dressed looked like he hadn’t seen the 21st century or even the 20th century. Besides, only Thor or Vision are the only male superheroes that could levitate without using any machine. They also have some sorts of capes but Peter has met them.

The man was holding the tunnel until all the pedestrians had gone. He then made some intricate hand movements and the falling debris moved back to the original place as if the explosion never happened.

The man nodded at Peter’s direction before he did the same to the debris at the southern tunnel so Peter didn’t need to worry whether the debris would cause further damage.

After he finished the task, the man then landed on the pavement and immediately found the nearest wall to lean in. The man looked exhausted. The red cape unclasped itself from the man’s shoulders, the top corners started to massage the man’s temple while the bottom corners did some movement to soothe the man’s back. Peter thought he must have inhaled some hallucinogen from the explosion. Perhaps that man’s cape had some sort of AI. He could ask Mr. Stark to install a suit that could give massages. It beat the Instant Kill function anytime.

Suddenly Peter’s spider sense was tingling. There was a danger behind him. He moved to the side but then realized the danger was directed at the man who was still resting and didn’t realize about the danger. Peter jumped and tackled the man to the side before he was impaled by a spear with flaring flames which was embedded a few inches into the wall. He rolled his eyes. Some villains really have such a flair for the dramatic.

He then realized that his face was only a few inches from the man he just saved. It was the first time he saw the man up close. The man’s hair was mostly dark but there was some gray at his temples. He also had a goatee. The most noticeable features of the man were the steely gray eyes and very prominent cheekbones. There was no way a guy with this look was a supervillain.

“Thank you for not thinking of me as a supervillain,” said the man in a rich baritone voice. Peter’s cheeks turned to beetroot as he didn’t realize he blurted out his last thought out loud. He was thankful he was in costume so the man couldn’t see how embarrassed he was. The man continued, “Also thank you for saving my life. Could we get up now? The floor is rather uncomfortable for a first meeting.”

“Sure. Sorry about that.” Peter jumped up and pulled the man’s right hand to help him getting up. He couldn’t help to notice that the man’s hands were shaking and full of scars. He looked away so he wouldn’t be caught staring. One faux pas was enough within the first five minutes of a first meeting even for the Parker’s standard.

The man’s cloak tried to wipe the dust from the man’s face as they rose up. He could hear the man asking the cloak to stop.

 “Isn’t that a lovely reunion for people who are about to die horribly for ruining my plans?”

Peter turned to see a man dressed in a tight gold costume from head to toe holding ten flaming spears. The new man even had his own golden not-billowing cape. Peter was relieved it was not billowing.  If it were, it would look even worse with the golden tights.

“I won’t take a threat from someone who gets his clothes from Villains R Us?” He webbed the man’s mouth because there was only so much cliché a person could take in one day.

Meanwhile, Peter’s new friend did another set of hand movements and red ribbons made of energy coming out from his hands and wrapped the body of the tacky villain. He made another gesture and a big bow of red ribbons appeared on the man’s chest to make him look like a Christmas present. Peter liked his new friend more and more. He also didn’t miss the man’s wince after he completed the task.

“The Crimson Bands of Cyttorak should hold.”

“The what of what?”

The man smiled. Peter noticed his whole face lit up when he smiled. “Never mind. I’ve told Mordo these names just rolled off the tongue. I’ve never made a citizen arrest before. What’s the procedure?”

“You never made an arrest?! What kind of superhero are you?”

“I’m not a superhero.”

“I think your cape disagrees.”

“It’s the Cloak of Levitation! Not a cape.”  Peter could actually feel which words were capitalized when the man spoke.

“That doesn’t exactly help your denial.”

The man put his right thumb and index finger under his chin. Wow, this man even had a pose to think. Apparently, it was not only the tacky villain that had a flair for dramatic. He guessed all successful superheroes have their own quirks. “You do have a point although I still disagree with you. My question remains. How do you usually hand him to the police?”

“I just leave a note next to the villains I arrest.”

The man smiled again. “That’s actually a great idea. Do you mind replacing my Crimson Bands with your webbing? I really don’t want the police to find a new mystery to solve about what bound this guy. Before that, I need to do something.” He made another set of gesture and the villain fell on the floor, sound asleep.

“What did you just do?”

“I put him to sleep and remove the memory of me ever being here.”

Peter felt a bit comfortable with that. Other superheroes usually made their presence clear but this guy seemed to like to work in the shadow. But he was the good guy so that was OK. Right? Right?

“Don’t you dare to remove my memory! I’m sure my spider sense or something would realize if a chunk of my memory is missing.”

“I didn’t exactly erase the man’s memory, just replaced it so he would only remember you.”

“Lucky me.”

“You’re well known as the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-man. Whereas hardly anybody knows about me and I prefer it to be that way as I don’t usually deal with the threat from this realm. I just happened to be in the neighborhood when I sensed you needing my help. Don’t worry. I won’t remove your memory. I respect you too much for that.”

It was Peter’s turn to grin. “You have heard of me and you respected me. Whoever you are.  Can I call you Mr. Cheekbones? That’s all I need to hear. Did you get that Mr. Jonah Jameson? You can remove the Crimson Bands of Cyber-arch.” Peter saw the man wincing at his mispronunciation.  “I’ll just web him then.”

The man looked amused as he watched Peter do his webbing. “Amazing. Is it organic?”

“Yes, it’s. Mr Stark helped me to make it last.”

“Ah, you know Tony Stark. Why am I not surprised?”

“Everybody knows Tony Stark. Did he ever recruit you to join the Avengers?”

The man didn’t answer his question. Instead he made a circular motion using his right hand and a golden circle appeared out of thin air. He stepped one foot into it and turned back at Peter. “Coming?”

“Where are we going?”

“To my place of residence. I believe you have many questions you want to ask.”

“Wow, you have a lair.” Peter quickly covered his mouth even though he was still wearing a mask. Force of habit. “OK, not a lair since you’re not a villain. Or you could be one but you pretend to be nice.”

The man raised his left eyebrow. “Coming? I can’t hold his portal forever. Well, I can, but I’ve better things to do.”

Peter shrugged. He thought, "We only live once!" He followed the man stepping into the portal.  When he walked out of the circle, he was in a library. Peter knew that from the books in the self and the posh furniture.

“Where are we?”

“In my Sanctum, in Greenwich Village in case you were wondering whether you’ve stepped out of the country or the realm.”

Peter nearly choked when he heard the word realm. It wasn’t the first time the man mentioned it. He quickly covered it up. “Cool.  It’s much more efficient way of traveling than my swinging from one building to the next.”

The man smiled again. “Please take a seat in any chair you like but please don’t touch anything else without my permission. Some of the items could be dangerous.”

Peter scooted closer to the man and found the chair nearest to the man. He raised his hand and asked the first question that came to his mind. “Does you cloak have an AI?”

Chapter Text

Peter suddenly remembered that the man dressed in a robe so he quickly added, “Err, do you know what an AI is?”

The man looked amused. “What’s an AI? Do you care to explain?”

Oh boy, how did you explain something like AI? He then realized the man’s amused expression. “That’s totally not cool. You might indeed be a villain.”

“I’m not sure whether I should feel insulted or amused by your insinuation that I might be a villain for a few times in such a short time period. What…“ Suddenly the man stopped and gripped the edge of the table nearest to him.

“You look pale. Do you need to rest?”

The man went to sit on the floor in lotus position. Peter wished his legs could be that flexible. He needed to practice at home.

 “I need to meditate for a few minutes to recover from using that much mental energy. Do you have your phone with you to entertain yourself? There is WiFi here. The password is Agamotto171. Or you can use my StarkPad.”

He conjured his StarkPad and gave it to Peter.

“You have WiFi here?!” Peter squeaked. “And you have StarkPad?!”

“We’re not savages.” The man smiled at his own private joke. “Tony Stark gave it to me.  He said something about beta testing whether sorcery could mix with technology or it was a care package to lure people to join the Avengers. It could be both and I got them mixed up. Now please don’t talk to me until I finish my meditation, it’ll only be a few minutes.”  He closed his eyes. The cloak which might or might not have an AI flew to front of the man and covered his chest as if blanketing him.

Peter looked at the first page of the StarkPad. Surprisingly it contained apps for news and medical applications. So the man had certainly seen the 21st century and knew AI.

Peter actually expected some apps related to magic although he doubted any self-respecting app developers would make such apps. Perhaps there was something on the second page. But he didn’t want to intrude the man’s privacy given the man’s penchant for anonymity. Besides, watching the man meditating was more fascinating than any apps could be. It was the first time he ever saw any person meditating up close.

The man’s breaths at first were labored but after a few minutes, they seemed to calm down. Colors started returning to his face.

Eleven minutes later, Peter totally didn’t count that, the man opened his eyes and went to sit on the chair opposite Peter. The cloak flew back to sit on its rightful place on his shoulders. “My answer for your first question was no.”

“What?!”

“My cloak doesn’t have an AI. Although you could say it has its own intelligence but it’s not artificial. It’s a sentient cloak.”

Ah that! Peter totally forgot about his own question as he was still fascinated by the fact that magic was real. “That’s so cool. I never knew magic is real.”

“So did I until a year ago.” The man didn’t elaborate further. So Peter guessed he only answered questions that Peter explicitly asked,

“Harry Potter made magic looked easy. However, given what you just did, it’s not easy, is it?”

“That’s very perceptive of you. Performing magic is not hard if you have enough patience to study. The hard part is paying the price. I know it’s cliché but it’s true. All magic comes with a price. Putting back all those debris back took more energy than just hitting or destroying something so it took all my mental energy. I need to meditate to recharge it. It’s still a good day since I didn’t throw up.”

“If you’re trying to sell magic, you’re not doing a great job. If you know the price, why did you do it anyway?”

“Saving human lives and buildings is always worth the price.”

“I’m sorry that I wondered whether you’re a villain earlier, Mr…  I actually don’t know your name yet. I should’ve asked your name first. What’s your name?”

“I’m not offended. I’m unknown to you.  A little precaution is always good. My name is strange.”

“Come on, it can’t be that bad. I know so many people with alliterative names it’s not even funny anymore.” Peter lifted his fingers one by one as he mentioned the names he remembered. “Jonah Jameson Jr., Bruce Banner, Matthew Murdock, Jessica Jones, Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Otto Octavius, Pepper Potts, Happy Hoggan, Curt Connors, Doctor Doom, DareDevil, Green Groblin, Scott Summer, Wade Wilson, and Loki Laufeyson.” He ran out of fingers really soon and returned to his first finger. He nearly mentioned Peter Parker but managed to stop himself at the last second. “That list is not even complete.”

“I’m not sure whether I should be more disturbed by the fact that there are so many people with alliterative names or that you actually know them. Some of them are very dangerous.”

“I just know their names. It doesn’t mean I’ve interacted with all of them. You still haven’t answered my question.”

“I’m afraid I’m going to add one more in your collection as my name is Stephen Strange. Doctor Stephen Strange. Well, my middle name is Vincent so perhaps it’s not too bad for you.”

“Seriously? Your last name is Strange?!”

“Well, it could be worse. My last name could be Weird or Doom.”

“That’s true. Are you a real doctor? An MD or PhD? Or is that only a title like Doctor Doom?”

“Doom actually has a PhD. I have both, an MD and a PhD.” The doctor seemed to unconsciously puff up his chest a bit.

 “So hypothetically if I caught a cold, I could go to consult you.”

“You could but I don’t practice medicine anymore. I could still help people in medical needs in case of emergency.”

“Was that because you decided to learn sorcery or was it wizardry that you stopped practicing medicine? What’s the difference between those two anyway?” Peter felt like he was asking questions in school but this new topic interested him.

“It was the other way around. You must‘ve noticed the tremor and scars on my hands. I was a neurosurgeon. I was arrogant and selfish back then. Due to my own fault, I was involved in a car accident. Please don’t text and drive which is the lesson I learned from my accident. I couldn’t operate anymore and spent my fortune to find a cure. I went to Kamar-Taj as I saw someone who shouldn’t be able to walk anymore as he ruined his vertebrae could play basketball.  I later discovered that they actually teach sorcery and manipulate energies from other realms or dimensions. I was skeptical at first but the teacher made a believer out of me so I stayed on to learn.”

“But you didn’t heal your hands.” Peter stopped himself and covered his mouth again.

“Indeed I didn’t.” He shook his head.  “I was given a choice by my teacher in her dying breaths.” Strange’s eyes cast downward as he said it so there must be a tragic story behind it. “I could choose to either heal myself using magic but I need to do it constantly so I wouldn’t have the energy to do other things using magic. Or I could choose to protect this realm and forget about healing my hands. I made it like sound like it was an altruistic choice but I was sorely tempted to just heal my hands.”

 “The fact that you even realize that you have your doubts prove that you have conscience in the first place so don’t sweat it, Doc. Can I call you Doc?”

“Doc is fine. You can call me Stephen in private. In public, I’d rather be called Doc or Doctor Strange as I’ve a reputation to keep especially with the Avengers.”

“And you can call me Spidey if Spider-Man is too long. Sorry for doubting your intention at the beginning given the sacrifices you’ve made.”

“As I said, that’s really fine. I need to make up for my own past transgressions. Besides, there’s a lack of sorcerers protecting this realm so I need to do what I can.  As for your question about the difference between sorcery and wizardry. I think wizardry is more about common folk magic such as healing people using talisman and herbs. Sorcery is about intricate and scholarly practice about ceremonial magic. I actually don’t mind using either method as long as it’s effective.”

“Perhaps I should be more worried than amused by these other realm parts. So there are indeed other realms besides ours.”

“Indeed there are. Thor from Asgard is the proof of that. There are also other universes besides ours. I try not to scare people off by mentioning other realms or universes. It’s a need to know basis.”

“Yes, perhaps I don’t really need to know it for now. I’m sorry for thinking that you didn’t know about AI before. I know I shouldn’t assume but looking at your robe…”

“You know what they said about assuming.”

“Yes, thank you for not spelling it out. Are you not a little bit curious about my identity since I ask about you so much and I just asked you to call me Spidey?”

“Even if I see your face, I wouldn’t be able to recognize you. If I want to know a person’s ID, I could just delve into someone’s mind or using some other means. I can find out about someone’s secret desires, their social security number, and their shoe sizes. But I don’t do that unless the safety of the world is involved and there is no other means to do it. What’s important is your intention, not your name. I can sense that you’re of pure heart.”

“Thank you, I guess. It must be a high praise coming from you.”

“Well, it’s a praise and it’s high but not because it’s coming from me but because you have such a pure heart. Your aura is very bright.”

Peter blushed. “Geez, Doc. You really know how to praise people.”

“I only speak the truth. Now, do you want me to order a pizza? A growing teenager like you especially with superpowers must need to eat a lot of calories.”

Peter sputtered. “I’m an adult, not a teenager. I’ve a driving license. I work at Daily Bugle. Next you will say I’m female. I think you need to meditate again to fine tune your aura or something.”

The doctor laughed. “I might not know your name or ID but I know a teenager when I see one. I’ve been a teenager myself. Unless you’re a man with a high pitched voice, less than average height, and excitable nature, I presume you’re a teenager. I know what I said about assumption earlier but I’ve been a medical doctor long enough to recognize a teenager. Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me. After all, I’m a doctor.” He winked at Peter.

Peter was flummoxed. Every superhero he met seemed to know he was a teenager. His secret identity was a sham. He said the first thing that came into his mind. “Did you just call me short?”

“Well, no, if you’re still a growing teenager. Yes, if you’re an adult. What toppings do you want?”

“Are you going to open a portal to buy the pizza? How do you do it anyway?”

The doctor lifted his left eyebrow. “How do I buy the pizza? UberEATS, of course.”

“You know how to use UberEATS?!”

“I learned sorcery in Kamar-Taj, not Hogwart. And yes, we also have WiFi there. I also just learned sorcery a year ago so I’d like to believe I’m not that out of touch with technology just yet.”

Peter was still thankful that his mask was still on so the doctor wouldn’t see how red his face was again. “In that case, I want extra anchovies and cheese in whatever your order.”

A few minutes later, the doctor said, “It’s done. It’ll be arriving in ten minutes.”

“About my question earlier before the UberEATS, how did you do teleportation? It was one of the coolest things I’ve seen and I’ve seen the Avengers in action.”

The doctor smiled. “I just used this sling ring.” He took out a ring that extended for two fingers for Peter to examine. “With the right hand movements and incantation, you could use this ring to open a portal to anywhere.”

He then demonstrated the movement and Peter thought he saw the Silicon Valley’s Google sign at the other end of the portal.

“That is indeed very cool. So theoretically I could also open a portal if I knew the right hand movements and incantations.”

“Yes. It took me a long time to learn but perhaps you’re a fast learner.”

“Could you teach me opening a portal?”

“I don’t see any harm in that.”

 “Cool. There is one more thing I need to ask before our lunch arrives. What’s your view about killing your enemies?”

The doctor seemed to be surprised by the question. “I don’t believe in taking anyone’s life. I’m still a doctor and my oath is do no harm.”

“I also think similarly without the Hippocratic Oath thing. I think we’d get along just fine.”

“I hope so. It’d be super pathetic even for my own standard if I couldn’t even make friends with the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.  After lunch, I’ll give you a tour to the Sanctum.”

Peter beamed. He believed it was a start to a beautiful friendship.

Chapter Text

Peter was excited because there were only two homework assignments rather than the usual five or more. He would have time to build the Avenger Tower Lego with Ned. Ned was equally excited to add to the Tower to his collection of Avengers Lego characters.

As he exited the main school gate, he suddenly got a mental message the Doctor needed his help urgently. It was like having a thought planted to his head airborne which was most likely to be the case if the Doctor was involved.

“Sorry, Ned, someone needs my help. You can build them by yourself first.”

“Are you sure? By the time you are done, I’ve most likely finished the whole Tower. Dibs on the Avengers’ common room and Thor’s room.”

“You can dib on anything you want but Iron Man’s room is mine. You can even have Cap’s room.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I‘ve seen enough of him in the PSA videos. Building his room may cause some flashbacks.”

“You’re the man, Pete.  By the way, who needs your help? Is he or she an Avenger? If it’s Thor, can I come along? I don’t mean joining you superheroing but just admiring from afar, in totally non stalkerish way.”

“No, it’s none of the Avengers. It’s Doctor Strange.”

“The magician? Cool. I’ve never met a magician before. Can I come along?”

“He only summoned specifically me so I’m not sure whether others are allowed. The dangers he faces are different from the Avengers. It’s often beyond my pay grade or even the Avengers’, not that I’m getting paid of course. Besides, he is very private in regard with his newly chosen occupation. I’ll gently mention you when I have the chance and see what he thinks about meeting you.”

“Sure, sure. Don’t want to interrupt something magical. Since when do you use the word summon and occupation?”

“Since I met Doctor Strange.”  He slapped his own forehead.  “I start to speak like him. He could be so formal sometime.  By the way, could you come with me to this alley? The usual.”

“Aww, man, I should just move next to your apartment so I don’t have to carry your clothes and backpack a few blocks nearly every day.”

He patted Ned’s shoulder. “I’ll let you build the swimming pool and the Quinjet.”

Ned grinned. “You know me so well, Pete. Don’t skimp on the details of your upcoming adventure.”

 


 

The location the Doc sent was a warehouse just five blocks away from school. He presumed that was the reason why Doc called for his help instead of the Avengers or some other superheroes.

Peter perched on the opposite rooftop. He saw two guards with guns standing at the door and chatting. Two men were loading stuffs from the warehouse to a van. He didn’t see any sign of Doc.

“Karen, can you detect how many people are in the warehouse?”

“Yes, I can detect heat patterns.  There are four people inside. One is lying down and the other three are standing around him. I used the pattern of heart rhythms to confirm the person lying down is Doctor Strange, most likely unconscious.”

Peter’s heart froze. So Doc was already in trouble. At least he was still alive. “Karen, I’d like to listen in on the conversation of the guards outside.”

“Certainly.”

The guard on the left said, “Too bad the big boss only wanted to capture him without inflicting any unnecessary damage. I’d like to hear him scream and beg when I beat him up. I wonder whether a magician especially a pretty one like that would scream louder than others.”

“Perish that thought, Gary.  Don’t let the big boss hear you. You know how upset he is when people don’t follow his instructions to the letter. Look at the bright side, when he is under our control, you might be able to command him to lick your boots and do more demeaning tasks for us.”

“That’s what I like about you, Stuart. You always manage to look at the bright side. Too bad we can’t use his cape.”

“We’re lucky that we could contain the cape at all. It protected its master at all cost even after he was down. Only when we threatened that we would harm its master if it didn’t go to the containment unit that we could manage to capture the cape.”

“Yes, and now boss wants to see the cape and his other belongings to see if there are more powers or secrets to be revealed and also not to aid him in escaping.  We need to make sure that Boris and Ivan deliver these items safely.”

Peter had heard enough.  He waited until Boris and Ivan went inside again. “Doesn’t your mom tell you it’s not polite to steal?” He used his web to yank the guns from the guards.

They advanced toward him. He then webbed their mouths before they could call for help. As they tried to remove the web, he webbed their hands together and swung down to kick both of them to the ground.  He then knocked Gary out in one punch. He might have used a bit too much force than necessary but then again Gary was not a very nice person.

Ivan tried to crawl away which was comical given both of his hands were still bound.

“Am I that boring? Let me help you sleep faster then.” He then punched Stuart lights out.

He climbed into the van to wait for Boris and Ivan. He hid behind a big crate. He saw a transparent box containing the Cloak of Levitation. He also saw another box containing Doc’s tunic and other belongings. He really hoped Doc was OK inside.

As soon as Boris and Ivan climbed into the van, he yelled, “Surprise!”

Both guys jumped out of the van, one ran toward the warehouse while the other ran the opposite direction.

Peter shrugged. “I guess my reputation precedes me. You are definitely smarter than your colleagues.” He first webbed the feet of the guy running toward the warehouse and dragged him back. He then webbed the feet of the other guy and let him fall.

He quickly knocked them out. He bundled four of them together so it would be harder for any of them to escape.

He tried to open the boxes containing Doc’s items but they seemed to be enchanted as mere brute strength couldn’t open them. Perhaps Doc could open them.

He wasn’t sure whether he should call for reinforcement as Mr Stark would insist. Perhaps he should see the situation inside first before deciding.

Karen told him there was an open window at the warehouse near the ceiling so he came in from there and perched on a support beam. There was a flurry of activities near the center of the warehouse so he crawled closer.

Doc was certainly in the centre of those activities.  He was lying unconscious in a cot with his hands and feet were cuffed to the four corners of the bed. He was wearing only his brief. He was gagged with both hands were enclosed in iron gloves so even if he were conscious, he couldn’t even twitch his fingers.

They certainly took every precaution to anticipate Doc fighting back. Doc needed to use his hands to make certain gestures and his mouth for incantation. They also cuffed his feet in case he kicked his way out. They certainly were afraid that any of the Doc’s possessions could let him escape then they stripped them away.

He saw a pentagram complete with chains which could be used to chain a human being next to Doc’s bed. Well, at least Doc was not in the middle of the pentagram which could only mean more bad news.

Doc was hooked into machineries that looked like EKG, EEG, and IV hook. One guy was monitoring the EKG and IV drop while the other the EEG, they both wrote down something on their tablets when something occurred. One guy looked very smug as he stood at the bottom of the bed facing Doc. None of them had any weapons on them.

Time to act.

“Have your mom ever told you that it’s creepy to stare at someone sleeping?”

The eyes of smug guy widened comically but before he could do anything, Peter webbed his hands and mouth then he swung down kicking the guy on the chest. He dropped on top of the guy and knocked him out.

Predictably, the other two guys ran toward the door. So Peter webbed their feet and let them fall.

“It’s also impolite to leave without saying goodbye but again if your mom ever taught you, you would’t end up here.”

He knocked those two out and webbed them together with the smug guy.

He returned his attention to Doc. He just noticed that Doc wore headphones which didn’t bode well. Looking up close, he noticed that Doc was quite muscular for a guy who didn’t rely much on physical activities. He recalled that Doc learned some martial arts in Kamar-Taj so perhaps that helped.

He then noticed the scars across the doctor’s chest, torso, and the rest of his body. Most of them were usually covered by his robe. Some of the scars were over vital organs like his heart and lungs which should be deadly. Most of them were a few months old but some were quite recent.

Suddenly Peter felt a surge of protectiveness over the Doctor.

Peter always considered Doc very powerful. Not because he could he could tie up the bad guys with merely some hand gestures although that was very cool. He considered him powerful because he could put back the debris at the tunnels back to the original places with merely his thought and will power. He couldn’t recall any other superheroes who could do that. He also admired that Doc always tried to find the least lethal and the most compassionate way even when he faced deadly enemies from this realm or others. That certainly took strong resolve.

But looking at him at this state made him realize how vulnerable and human Doc was. He only relied on his knowledge about cosmic powers to protect this world but his body was still frail without any super soldier serum or radioactive enhancement.

“Karen, is it safe to release the EKG, EEG, IV drip, and headphones?”

“Yes, I’ve checked and they are not booby trapped.”

 Peter’s first concern was the headphone so he quickly took it out. He noticed that the headphone was connected to a phone and it was playing “Doctor Faustus. Part 1 of 3.” Whatever it was, it didn’t’ sound good for Doc. He also noticed syringes on a table next to bed with the labels “Strange, Stephen. Scopolamine“ and “Strange, Stephen. Mescaline.“  If he ever doubted that they targeted Doc specifically, here were the proofs.

“Karen, please find out whatever you can about Doctor Faustus, scopolamine, and mescaline!“

 He then released the piece of clothes gagging Doc and put it on the table. He needed to collect evidence to whoever would investigate this kidnapping. He then unhooked the IV drip, the EKG, and the EEG.

He went through the pocket of the smug guy who he assumed was the leader and found a set of keys. The cuff key shaped differently so he could easily find it to uncuff Doc. The key to the gloves was a bit trickier but after the third try, Peter found the right key.

He then noticed Doc’s hands were trembling more violently than usual. They must be cramping after being confined for a long period. He sat on a chair next to Doc and started massaging both hands to ease the cramps. “Oh, Doc, what have they done to you?”

Karen replied, “I can answer that question but you’re not going to like it. Mescaline and Scopolamine are mind-altering drugs used for brainwashing. Doctor Faustus is a HYDRA agent famous for hypnotizing and brainwashing. I believe the Doctor was being brainwashed.”

Chapter Text

“Brainwashing?! I hope you’re joking, Karen.” He suspected something like this happened when he heard the guards but he didn’t want to believe it.

 “Peter, I don’t usually joke especially in such matter.”

“I know. I just thought that brainwashing usually only happens in cults.”

“HYDRA is actually not unlike a cult with their loyal-even-to-death followers. That’s beside the point. HYDRA is indeed famous for brainwashing.”

“Are you saying that Doc was captured by HYDRA? Those people I beat up are HYDRA?!”

“Very likely. Doctor Faustus only works for HYDRA. Or could be a HYDRA cell. It has a lot of underground cells.”

“In that case, we need to get out of here fast in case their cavalries arrive. I’ll try to wake Doc up then borrow some clothes for him.”

“That might not be a good idea...”

Peter ignored her as he tried to shake Doc, he even found a glass of water and poured it a bit on his face, but Doc didn’t stir at all.  Doc’s body was unusually warm and when he took his pulse at the neck, his heartbeats were extremely fast. He sat down again. “What were you saying?”

“We don’t know what state of brainwashing he was in. He could be dangerous to himself and others. Let me check the recording to make sure.”

Peter unplugged the USB cable from the headphone and plugged it at the USB port hidden at the right belt of his suit. His suit was really that cool.

“That’s a moot point as currently it’s not possible to wake him up anyway. Why is that?”

“Did you check the drug used for his IV?”

Peter walked closer to the IV bag so Karen could scan it.

 “It’s Propofol. It’s normally used to sedate patients before surgery or medical procedures. I think given the bag was already one third empty. Doctor Strange had been drugged for at least three hours, could be longer. I guess he needs at least five hours or longer to regain consciousness.”

Peter thought of his time off and his Lego project with Ned. He asked his mind to shut up. Doc needed his help so he shouldn’t think about his hobby at the moment.

He looked at his phone. He again was thankful that Tony designed a pocket for his phone in his suit. His phone wouldn’t fall even when he did a lot of swinging and back flips. “I don’t understand.  If Doc has been drugged for at least three hours, why did I only get his mental message around 20 minutes ago? For that matter, how did he end up here in the first place?”

“I’m afraid I can’t answer those questions. You need to ask him when he wakes up.”

Peter was glad that at least Karen said “when” not “if”.

“Why is his body so warm? Why are his heartbeats so fast? Is there anything I can do to help?”

“I think that’s the combined side effects of mescaline and scopolamine. There is nothing much you can do until the effects wear off. But then after the drugs wear off, there will be side effects from the drugs themselves and also from withdrawal from the drugs.”

“I think this is way over my head. I’d better call Mr. Hogan first to pick us up.” Peter thought about carrying Doc by swinging from building to building and decided against it. It wouldn’t be comfortable for either of them especially with Doc in this condition. Besides, someone needed to collect Doc’s belongings, contain these criminals, and collect evidence.

Happy answered at the second ring. “Hello Peter, it’d better be good.”

“Mr. Hogan, it’s nice to talk to you, too. I need your help.” He briefly described what happened in the warehouse. He assumed Mr. Hogan should know Doc since Doc knew Tony. “Could you please pick us up and also bring some clothes for Doctor Strange?”

 “Sure. I’ll also let Mr. Stark know since the Doctor and HYDRA are involved. It could potentially be an Avengers business.” Peter wondered whether there was a newsletter or all superheroes knew each other and he was out of the loop.   Happy continued, “Given the traffic condition, I’ll be there in around one hour or longer. Do you think you can handle it? I could always ask Tony to send a Quinjet.”

Peter thought about his last adventure in flying with the Vulture. Would it be more fun instead to fight more HYDRA goons? He liked the odds of fighting HYDRA a bit better. “That’s fine. I’ll wait. One more request, on your way here, could you please pick my backpack from my apartment? Ned will be there to give you.”

“Sure. Do you want me to pick up your laundry or order some take out while you are at it?”

Peter noticed the sarcasm in Happy’s tone. “Um, that’s all. I’m really sorry about this but you know how the superhero business goes. Actually I don’t, but I presume it occurs regularly with the Avengers. Thanks.”

Happy hung up.

He called Ned next.

“Ned, I’m really sorry that I need to take a rain check on the Lego. Something came up.”

Ned sighed. “I knew it. Something always comes up when you are doing superhero business. What do you want me to do?”

“You’re indeed the best friend ever, Ned. Could you wait until Mr. Hogan arrives before you go home? I need you to give him my backpack. I’m sure he can give you a lift on the way here. You just need to smile and be yourself. Everybody loves you.”

“I sure hope so. He looks a bit scary.”

“Mr. Hogan is a sweetheart. I’ll really make it up to you somehow. You’re welcome to raid my fridge in the meantime. As long as it’s not labelled with Aunt May’s name, you can eat it.”

“You really owe me two this time, Pete.”

“I know.”

“Are you going to tell me what’s going on tomorrow after school?”

“I’ll tell you what I can. It’s pretty confusing with what can be shared given the people involved.”

“Sounds complicated.”

“Welcome to my life. I’d better hang up now. Thanks, Ned.”

He really wished Ned was here. Ned would know what to do. He’d better concentrate on the matter at hand. “Karen, what are the side effects of those drugs?”

“For mescaline: anxiety, racing heartbeat, dizziness, vomiting, and headache.  The withdrawal side effects include seizures, tremors, difficulty breathing, incoherent speech patterns, and muscle stiffness. The psychological side effects are ongoing paranoia, short attention span, inability to focus, inability to distinguish between past and present events, psychotic-like episodes, increased heart rate, profound sweating, flushing, uncoordinated movements, and increased body temperature. Some people can be suicidal or prone self-harm due to the withdrawal. Valium may be able to help to alleviate these symptoms. For scopolamine: fast or pounding heartbeats; confusion, paranoia; trouble swallowing; blurred vision; chest pain or discomfort; dizziness, faintness, or light-headedness when getting up from a lying or sitting position suddenly; eye pain; flushing or redness of the skin; mood or mental changes; muscle weakness; nausea or vomiting; rash; restlessness; seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not there; shortness of breath; sweating; unusual tiredness; unusually warm skin.”

“Gee, it’s as if you are reading it from drugs.com.”

“As a matter of fact, I did get the information from there. I’ve tried to summarize the symptoms otherwise those will be longer.”

“I couldn’t remember every single thing you said but I got the gist of it. Doc is going to have a very bad day, as if it’s not bad enough for him right now. Most of the side effects are physical which will pass but I remember you mention paranoia, confusion, and possibility of suicidal. The next few hours when he wakes up will be fun. And you mentioned that Valium could help.”

“You can drop Doctor Strange at the Avenger Tower. Doctor Cho could take care of him from there.”

Peter felt bad if he abandoned Doc. He felt like doing a half-ass job in rescuing.  “I’ll see how it goes. As long as it doesn’t disturb my homework, I’ll help.”

“You’re a good man, Peter.”

“Thanks, Karen. I’m sure Doc will do the same for me. Did you say Valium can help?”

“Yes, it can help with mescaline but not scopolamine.”

“It’s good enough. I need to call Mr. Hogan again.”

Happy picked up at the first call. “What else do you need?”

“Um, could you please bring Valium as well? I think Doc may need it immediately.”

“Sure, I’ll ask one dose for injection from Dr. Cho. You’re lucky that I haven’t left the tower. Mr. Stark and Captain Rogers are very interested in this case.  It has become an official Avengers business. They ask you to keep Mr. Stark updated.” 

Peter didn’t expect things to escalate but again such was his luck. Or was it Doc’s luck? “Sure. Do the Avengers need my help?”

“Mr. Stark just asked you to keep Doctor Strange safe as he is HYDRA’s primary target.”

“OK. See you soon.”

Happy hung up again.

“He likes me. He really likes me.”

Karen answered, “As a matter of fact, Mr. Hogan is very fond of you. Don’t let his cool façade fools you. You don’t hear it from me.”

“Thanks, Karen.”

“Peter, the side effects I said are just what were listed on drugs.com. That doesn’t mean Doctor Strange will get all the side effects. I just mentioned it for you to be prepared. Besides, he will be asleep for a few hours so most of the effects might have worn off. The Valium might also help.”

“Thanks again, Karen.”

“Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain.”

Peter jumped when he heard that and realized that it was coming from Doc. Doc was still asleep, but he started to toss and turn, and apparently talked in his sleep.

“Donna, I’m so sorry.”

“Victor, I didn’t mean what I said. I’m so sorry.”

“I’m so sorry I didn’t try to cure you the first time, Sir. Please come back.”

“Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain.”

There were more of the variations of the same thing but Doc often mentioned Dormammu, Donna, and Victor.

“Karen, what’s going on?”

“I’ve listened to all Doctor Faustus’ recording. He breaks the brainwashing technique into three:  breaking down the self, the possibility of salvation, and rebuilding the self. Since Doctor Strange only listened to the first part, I’ll just explain the first part. The first part consists of breaking down identity which is a systematic attack on a target's sense of self, which is his identity and ego, and his core belief system. It also increases the sense of guilt, Doctor Faustus creates an overwhelming sense of guilt on Doctor Strange.  Then there is the self-betrayal which asked the Doctor to betray his own beliefs and of people he feels a sense of loyalty to increases the shame and loss of identity the he is already experiencing. The last part of breaking down identity is the feeling of losing his grip on reality and has the feeling of being completely lost and alone, with no clear understanding of who he is or what is happening to him. Usually this process can take weeks or months but Doctor Faustus has the hypnosis super power and Doctor Strange was under the influence of mind altering drugs and they kept his brain wave at the theta level which is primed for hypnosis so the process of brainwashing is much faster.  The good news is I believe Doctor Strange is only at his guilt stage hence the accumulation of all his guilt and fears.”

“It doesn’t sound like good news to me.”

“It’ll be worse when he reaches the self-betrayal or breaking down identity part.”

“Why didn’t he have the nightmare before?”

“He was listening to Doctor Faustus’s voice which sort of guided him. Now, he only had the remnant of the guilt and fears from his brainwashing process plus the drugs so he channelled it through his nightmare.”

“What can I do to help?”

“You can try to talk to him to replace Doctor Faustus’ programming.”

“Can I deprogram him?”

“I’m not sure. Doctor Faustus has hypnotic powers.  You don’t. There is no harm in trying.”

Peter was sure his spider sense would get them out of trouble if HYDRA arrived so he went to sit on the chair he vacated before. Doc didn’t talk in his sleep anymore but he still twisted and turned. He retook Doc’s hands and continued to massage them.

“Get well soon, Doc. I don’t know how this mantle of Master of the Mystic Arts is passed on. If it’s passed on to me, I don’t think I can rock the robe and cloak like you do even though blue and red are my colors. I definitely can’t grow the goatee even if I want to. Besides, Doctor Parker doesn’t sound mysterious enough.”

“You told me in our first meeting that my aura is very pure so in that case what I say should really count. I think you’re a good guy and you don’t need to feel guilty about your past. You can only do what you can right now.”

Peter felt pretty silly pretending to be wise when he just said whatever came into his mind. However, his efforts actually calmed Doc down and he had stopped tossing around. He was not sure whether that was because of his massaging or his words. He continued to do both.

He noticed Doc actually looked a lot younger when he slept and when he was not being super serious.  “Doc, you should smile more. I rarely see you smile. Is that against the law of magic to smile or something? That’s why I don’t think I’m not a good magician candidate or what you called it? An apprentice?”

“I’m not even sure if I’m really suitable to be a superhero. Do you know that The Daily Bugle has the picture of Spider-Man coming out of a portal loo with toilet paper stuck under my shoe?  What kind of superhero has such luck? I also wonder who took the picture because that was definitely not me.”

“What’s wrong with my luck? I need you to check it for me when you get better. I actually liked a girl who was my enemy’s daughter. What are the odds?”

He told more and more embarrassing stories about the life of Peter Parker and Spider-Man because he ran out of reassuring words but he had a lot of embarrassing stories. As long as they could calm Doc down and he didn’t remember any of it when he woke up. At least he hoped so.

“There was that one time I got invited to stay over in the Avengers Tower with Mr. Stark to meet and greet with the rest of the Avengers. You should’ve attended it, Doc, since they seem to know you well. Anyway, my Spidey suit hadn’t been washed and I just fell into a sewer. So I asked Friday where the laundry room was because I definitely wouldn’t want any of the Avengers to do the laundry for me. Could you believe it if I asked Cap to wash my suit? I would’ve never heard the end of it from the Avengers and from Ned. So I put my suit inside the machine, turned it on, and went back to the party. One hour later, I sneaked out to get my laundry and guess what. The washing machine was not empty, it also had Mr. Stark’s white shirt, except of course, it was not white anymore but pink. I quickly returned to the party and pretended that nothing happened. So whatever you felt guilty about, Doc, at least you didn’t turn Mr. Stark’s shirt pink. Although you could also do it with your magic.”

“I knew it. It was you but Mr. Stark didn’t believe me.”

Peter jumped again for the second time that day and turned around. His spider sense must have thought there was no danger with Happy sneaking in. “Mr. Hogan! I didn’t know you were there. How long have you been there?”

“From the part about your Spidey suit hadn’t been washed and you just fell into a sewer.”

Peter groaned. Such was the old Parker luck.

Chapter Text

“That was not true at all. I was just telling some jokes to make Doc happy.”

Happy rolled his eyes. “I can see that the doctor was very entertained by your story.” He stepped forward and looked closer. “He looks terrible. I didn’t know the situation was this bad.”

Peter looked at Doc again and he indeed looked much worse than before with sweats dripping off his forehead and he seemed to have some difficulty breathing. He touched his forehead and it was burning. He remembered the side effects Karen mentioned.

“I think poor Doc will actually feel worse than he looks when he wakes up.” He explained what Karen told him with Karen correcting him when he got the terms wrong. “Do you have the valium?”

“I certainly do.” Happy tied a tourniquet on Doc’s left arm, found a vein to inject the valium, and released the tourniquet.

“I didn’t know you were an expert in injection.”

“When you work for Mr. Stark, you’ve become an expert in a lot of things especially in babysitting him because he didn’t eat and sleep properly.”

“Actually, Doc is the same when he is researching on any interdimensional threat. Why do I hang out with such people? What does it say about me?”

Happy shrugged. “I may be an expert in a lot of things but not psychology. Let’s carry him back to the Avengers Tower.”

“Do you mind if we bring him back to his Sanctum instead? He called me for help instead of the Avengers so perhaps he didn’t want the Avengers to get involved.”

The real reason Peter changed his mind was the psychological effects the drugs would have when Doc woke up. He knew Doc was a very proud person. He assumed Doc certainly wouldn’t want the Avengers to see him at his weakest. Peter knew he was being sentimental because the Avengers had great facility to take care of Doc but somehow Doc’s emotional well-being seemed to be more important for now. He had learned from his encounter with Liz’s father that being a hero was not only about physical confrontation. Sometime the sacrifice a hero made was more personal and subtle. He shook his head. This was going too deep. For God’s sake, he was only 15!

“You know that you’re being an idiot. Dr. Cho and the Avengers would take care of him really well. It was not the first time he ended up in the Avengers Tower Medical Bay.”

Peter didn’t know that. However, he still believed going back to the Sanctum was the right call. “I know. However, Doc trusted me so I don’t want to betray his trust. Besides, I could always call you when something goes wrong.” He gave Happy his most winsome smile.

Happy sighed. “That trick only works for Mr. Stark. Fine, you can bring him back to the Sanctum. However, if anything goes wrong, you contact Mr. Stark directly. As I said, this has become an official Avengers business.”

“Thanks, Mr. Hogan. Shall we dress Doc first before carrying him?”

Happy took out a black sweatshirt with the letters “I heart Black Widow” in red and a pair of blue sweatpants.

“So you’re also a fan of Black Widow.”

“Zip it or I’ll just carry the doctor to the Avengers Tower.”

Peter bit his lower lip to prevent himself from smiling. “Fine, fine. I just think Doc is a bit scared of Black Widow but it beats being shirtless.”

Happy lifted Doc’s upper body and let Peter dressed him. Once they were done, the process was repeated with his lower body. Peter didn’t realize how hard it was to dress an unconscious person. Mr. Hogan seemed to have a lot of practice and he didn’t really want to know the reason.

“I need to call Mr. Stark first to let him know the change of plan.”

Happy stepped outside to make the call. He returned three minutes later.

“Mr. Stark said it’s fine. It’s safe to go to the Sanctum now. Apparently Thor has confronted and arrested a group of HYDRA agents hiding near the Sanctum. I guess they planned to ambush Doctor Strange if their initial plan failed.”

Peter was a bit nervous when he heard it. Why didn’t he think of that? Doc was their primary target so of course HYDRA would have backup plans. He was still quite new in this superhero business compared to the Avengers.

Happy saw his apprehension. “Mr. Stark said the Avengers will arrest the rest of the gang so you don’t need to worry about it.”

“Doesn’t he know that I’m a professional worrier? I worry about a lot of imaginary things and this one is real enough.”

“So do you want to go back to the Avengers Tower?”

Peter thought about Doc and strengthened his resolve. “No, well, at least not yet. Let’s go.”

“That’s what I thought. I get his head, you get his legs.”

Peter thought it was cute that Happy thought he was stronger than Peter. But he didn’t want to dash his hope so he just let Happy took the lead.

They carried Doc to the limo. Happy went to the driver’s door. Peter quickly ran to the van to retrieve Doc’s belongings. He was sure Doc would want the cloak and his other belongings nearby when he woke up.

As soon as Happy drove away, Peter saw a few black vans arrived. He saw men and women in black suits with SHIELD logo surrounded the warehouse.


 

When they arrived at the Sanctum, Happy asked, “Do you have the key to this place?”

Peter smiled. “I don’t need to. Doc said he has programmed the house to recognize me and let me in anytime I want. Of course, I usually call him first in case he is busy or away.”

True to Doc’s word, as soon as they approached, the gate automatically swung inward to let them in.  Happy shuddered.

Peter shrugged. This was nothing compared to what he had witnessed inside the house. Some of the items in the house still gave him the creeps but he really liked Doc’s company so he simply ignored them. Doc said he was safe as long as he didn’t touch those items without his permission.

Peter then opened the car door and both Happy and he carried Doc through the gate. The front door also automatically swung in to let them in.

“Where is his room?”

“It’s on the third floor but I think we can use the library. He put a cot there.”

Peter pointed to the third door on the right from the front door. They put Doc to bed.

 “It’s really none of my business but it seems you spend awful lot of time here and also at the Avengers Tower. Don’t you have homework to do? “

“Why is everyone always worried about my homework?! I always get good grades. Besides, I sometime, bring my homework here when Aunt May is out working which is most of the time and Ned has something else to do.”

“Well, as long as you still maintain good grades because you know how Mr. Stark is about your education. I nearly forgot. He gave this to you and also Doctor Strange if he wants to eat.”

Peter opened the bag. “Dumpling soup, Kung Pao chicken, Lo Mein, and Mango Pudding. All of these are my favorites. Thanks.”

“Thank Mr. Stark. I need to go back to the Tower, if you need anything else, as I said, please contact Mr. Stark directly.”

“I will. I’ll get my backpack and Doc’s stuff from the car.”


 

As soon as Happy left, Peter knew he needed to call someone else before doing his homework and waiting Doc to wake up. He hoped Doc would wake up soon. At least the valium was already working as Doc seemed to have calmed down compared to earlier.

 He was tempted to use Doc’s phone which was on the coffee table (Doc must have left in a hurry this morning that he forgot to bring his phone) to call the person but decided against it because he didn’t want to intrude too much on Doc’s privacy. Although he often talked to Peter and answered all the questions related to medicine, magic, or his adventures, Doc didn’t talk much about his personal life or his past. He only knew Doc’s past from the story he told Peter in their first meeting.

“Karen, could you ask Friday to contact Mr. Wong? Please tell him about Doc’s condition and we need his help.”

“I will, Peter.”

Ten minutes later, a glowing portal appeared in the library. Although Doc had taught him how to make one, he was still mesmerized whenever he saw a portal. An Asian man dressed in robes stepped in.

Peter thought, “That must be their uniforms. How cool is that?”

 “You must be Wong. I’m Spider-man, Doc’s friend.”

The man nodded.  He went to check on Doc. “What has the idiot gotten himself into this time?”

Wong closed his eyes, chanted some incantation, and used his hands to scan Doc’s body from top to bottom.  He opened his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. “Besides some slight physical injuries most likely occurred this morning, he doesn’t have any magical injuries.”

Peter squeaked. “There is magical injury!? How is that different from physical injuries?” Wong raised both eyebrows.  “OK, perhaps I don’t want to know.”

“Didn’t the idiot tell you? I guess he didn’t want to scare you away. That’s the only smart thing he did out of this whole mess.”

“Doc might not have any magical injury but he might suffer from psychological trauma when he wakes up.” He repeated what he told Happy before—this time with less correction from Karen. “Could you do something about it? Perhaps cure him?”

“I’ll try to take away most of the side effects but contrary to what people thought about magicians, we don’t think magic solves everything.  There is also the cost of using magic to consider.”

Wong did more intricate hand movements and incantations. There was a blue light coming out of his fingertips and went to cover Doc’s whole body before it dissipated. “That should take most of the side effects away but he’ll still be emotionally vulnerable to a lesser degree.  I’ve also taken the precaution to put the spell to keep him away from Nightmare.”

Peter heard the emphasis on “nightmare”.

“Don’t you mean nightmares? He has some earlier.” Peter told him what happened earlier in the warehouse.

Wong sighed. “He told me he was dealing with them but most likely he didn’t or couldn’t. I’ll talk to him when he recovers. My spells should protect him from any nightmares and also Nightmare this time.”

“So there is indeed a demon called Nightmare!?!” Peter felt like screaming. “So not only I need to worry about my regular nightmares, but also a demon called Nightmare! ”

Wong sighed again. “You’ll be fine. Stephen has dealt with him a few times and come out on top in ...” He did some mental calculation. “… well, most of the time.  I need to go. Please tell the idiot that I’ll have a long talk with him about his disregard for his own safety and charging in headfirst into danger without any backup.”

Peter yelped. “Are you not going to wait for him to wake up?”

“Unfortunately no, I really need to investigate who caused this and prevent further damage.”

“It’s HYDRA. I don’t think there is any magical danger.”

“The Avengers are certainly not experts in this field. I still need to investigate and prevent further incidents with Stephen or other sorcerers.”

“I… I’m not sure I can’t deal with emotionally vulnerable Doc. What if he cries? I would most likely join him.”

Wong gave him a look that seemed to convey “Are you sure you’re a superhero called Spider-man?” Well, at least Peter thought so. He wasn’t an expert in silent stare.

“He asked you for help so he trusted you enough. No matter how strong the drugs were and how powerful Doctor Faustus is, I know Stephen. He is one the most stubborn person I‘ve ever met and I’ve met plenty. He will recover from it soon and become a pain in the ass again.  You just need to be patient with him for a short while.”

Peter felt he was fighting a losing battle asking Wong to stay. But his name was not Peter Parker if he didn’t try every other trick he knew. “You certainly can’t expect me to tell him that he is an idiot?!”

“You’ll be fine. Everyone he knows tells him he is an idiot. Thank you for rescuing and helping the idiot. You’re a good friend.” Wong patted his right shoulder.

He then turned around, created a portal, and stepped through it. Peter saw people dressed in robes on the other side so most likely that was Kamar-Taj.

Peter went to check on Doc. At least he was not as warm as before and didn’t sweat anymore. “Please wake up soon and don’t cry.”

He didn’t realize how hungry he was. He ate half of all the food Happy brought.

He then started to do his favorite homework – science, before moving on to math, and finally his least favorite subject, social study. He looked at Doc every ten or fifteen minutes but he didn’t stir at all.

He finished all his homework in eighty seven minutes. He didn’t time it, he just happened to know the time when he started and when he finished. He decided to look up on magical injuries and Nightmare on the internet using his StarkPad. Unsurprisingly, the information on those was very scarce and mostly written by nutjobs. He really needed to ask Doc about them.

He moved on to read news about Justice League. He thought that was cute that Justice League was sort of like The Avengers but it was fictional. He was engrossed in reading whether Selina Kyle accepted the proposal of Bruce Wayne (who was so like Tony Stark) so he jumped the third time that day when he heard a voice behind him.

He turned round to see Doc trying to get up and failing.  “Spider-man, why are you here? Why am I in bed? Whe-… where is my cloak?”

Peter’s heart sank as he looked at Doc’s expression. He looked so lost.

Chapter Text

“Er, Doc, what was the last thing you remember?”

Doc had given up trying to get up. He closed his eyes and tried to remember. “I remember a warehouse, somebody was going to be sacrificed in a satanic ritual, then some very intense pain.” He winced as he said that as if he experienced the pain again. His breathing started to get heavy. “Then darkness. I can’t remember much yet.  I need Sophie, she can help me.” The last part sounded like a plea as he started to shiver.

Peter retrieved the box containing the Cloak and put it on the bed next to Doc. “Doc, sorry, I can’t retrieve your cloak. She is inside this box which is enchanted. I was hoping you can open it.”

Doc opened his eyes, turned sideways, and looked at the box. He waved his hands on top of the box.

Peter noticed that his hands were trembling more than usual. He tried not to stare because he knew Doc could be super self-conscious about them,   especially around this time.  However, Peter constantly needed to talk to overcome his own nervousness. “What are you doing, Doc?”

“I’m scanning what energy is used to seal this box.” He then drew some patterns in the air, and the patterns become purple and fell on top of the box. The lid of the box sprung open.

The cloak flew quickly out of the box and covered Doc’s whole body from neck to toes. Doc’s hands came out from under the cloak to caress it. His face seemed to be much calmer and his breathing was more even once the cloak touched him. He even closed his eyes to relish the cloak.

Peter’s heart ached. That scene was sweet but also heartbreaking. Doc hardly showed any emotion in front of him but this was the most human thing he ever did. It seemed the cloak acted as a security blanket quite literally. He was not sure whether to stay.

He decided to leave the room to give them some privacy.

“Spidey, where are you going?”

Peter yelped and stuck to the wall. “Nowhere, Doc. I  just thought you needed to have some privacy with Sophie.” As soon as the said the word, he closed his mouth as he realized how it sounded. “Not that I accuse you of having an unusual relationship with your cloak.”

Doc shrugged. “I’ve been called worse but it didn’t faze me. Sorry to make you so worried.” He tried to get up. This time Sophie acted like a crutch as it flew to his back and supported him. As he tried to put his legs on the floor, she quickly pulled him back and let his back rest on the headboard. Doc tried to get up but at his condition, Sophie was much stronger so he gave up.

Peter jumped back to the floor. He was thankful that Sophie dragged him back because Doc getting up at his condition would be terrible. “Doc, you need to rest. You’ve been drugged and brainwashed.” He quickly covered his mouth with both hands.

“What? Is that the reason you’re here and I’m in bed? Please tell me from the beginning.”

Peter jumped and stuck to the ceiling. He was upside down as he talked. “I hope you don’t mind me being upside down. Telling stories makes me nervous and this position calms me down.”

“I don’t mind. You just saw me petting my cloak so your upside down is nothing. So please tell me from the beginning.”

“Well, it started from when I walked out from school and got your mental message. That’s a very cool power by the way.” Doc didn’t comment on that so Peter continued to tell him what he had seen in the warehouse. Doc looked horrified at the condition he was in as Peter found him in the warehouse but he didn’t interrupt. Peter then told about Mr Hogan’s arrival and how they decided to bring him to his Sanctum rather than the Avengers Tower. He also told him that he had finished his homework. He believed it was not relevant but he just talked a lot when he got nervous.

“Thanks a lot for rescuing me and also not bringing me back to the Avengers Tower. You were right that I prefer to wake up in my own Sanctum. I’m sorry that I interrupt your free time with your friend and also your homework time.”

“My friend understands. He is used to me being Spider-Man. I’ve finished my homework so you don’t need to feel bad about it.” He sighed. “I wish more people will stop worrying about my homework.”

“Sorry.”

“No, Doc, don’t need to be sorry. I just speak in general.”

“OK. So is Karen sure that I have not gone to further stages of brainwashing? Won’t I endanger you or someone else?”

“Do you feel like attacking me now?”

“No.”

“There is your answer. I thought you could do meditation to check.”

“That’s right. Sorry.”

“Doc, you need to stop apologizing. I think the drug has been messing with your brain and emotions.”

“Sor… OK, I’ll meditate for a short while, at most fifteen minutes. You know where I put the juices and salad. I know it’s not what teenagers eat but healthy food is better in the long run.”

Peter jumped down and went to sit on his chair. “Don’t worry about it. I’ve eaten. I could just browse using my laptop.”

Despite what he said, Peter was worried about Doc. So he only half-heartedly browsed the internet while he still kept an eye at Doc while he meditated. Sophie seemed to have the same idea with her rigid pose.

Around ten minutes later, Doc opened his eyes. “I have looked at my inner self. Luckily I don’t seem to get affected by the brainwashing yet. Unless the brainwashing makes me think so. I need to ask other sorcerers to check for me. I’ll ask Wong. “

“Doc, Wong has come before and checked. He said you would be OK.”

Doc breathed a sigh of relief. “That’s good. But I still feel unstable. I may have more emotional outbursts. Sorry.”

“Wong said you will still suffer some side effects but he has taken most of the worst ones.”

“I really need to thank him properly and annoy him less. I’ve remembered what happened to me during my meditation. Are you still interested? It shows I still made mistakes that I shouldn’t make. It’s sort of a cautionary tale.”

Peter brought his chair next to Doc’s bed. “I’m all ears.  Don’t judge yourself too harshly.”


 

Stephen had been feeling a weird evil force in Queens for the last few hours. He thought it merited his investigation. He sent his astral form to check.

He arrived in a warehouse and discovered that a guy was tied up inside a Pentagram. There were ten people surrounding the Pentagram chanting. If his calculation was correct, they planned to sacrifice the victim exactly at noon. It had something to do with the Summer Solstice.  He still had around two hours.

His astral form returned to the Sanctum. He tried to find a spell to knock those worshippers out without harming them permanently. He still held the “do no harm” oath. It didn’t take too long to find the spells as he had organized the books in his library.

Fifteen minutes later, he opened a portal to the warehouse. The spell worked like a charm. He released the bindings of the victim.

“Don’t be afraid. You’re safe now.”

“But you are not.” As he said that, the guy produced a Taser from his sleeve and attacked him.

It was so sudden so he didn’t have the time to dodge. He fell to the floor and started to convulse. Suddenly people came out of all sides of the warehouse. They held his arms and legs and bound them. Somebody even held his head to keep it still. Somebody injected something to his neck.

Somebody was still holding his head when the fake victim that he rescued came to straddle him and started to caress his face and his lips “At first I didn’t see why the boss was so obsessed with you but I can see it now. You look majestic and you have a lot of powers. If he owns you, it will increase his standing in the organization.”

He never felt this helpless before. Not even after his accident. He would feel much more afraid if he was not in so much pain.

After more excruciating seconds, his pain finally receded but he started to feel the effect of the drug. He couldn’t even keep his eyes open. He didn’t have the energy to astral project. There was only one thing to do. He incanted a short simple spell to send a message to Spider-Man and hoped for the best. The reason he chose Spider-Man was because he felt his presence when he arrived in Queens.

The guy straddling him must have seen what he did. He sighed and choked him. “You really shouldn’t have done whatever you did.”  As he gasped for air, the guy released his choke and put a piece of cloth into his mouth to gag him. “Now you don’t need to worry about anything. Sleep tight. You’ll wake up a new man.”

He was saved from further horror as everything went dark.


 

Peter was horrified to hear Doc’s story. He sensed Doc edited his story because there was some gap between getting tasered and sending a message to him. Something else must have happened that Doc didn’t want to share. It was not his place to probe. He also had a question about the time. He would ask later when the time was more appropriate.

 He went to hug Doc despite knowing Doc didn’t do feeling. “I’m sorry that you have to go through that. That guy is such a dick. You were trying to rescue him.”

Doc covered his face with hands that shook more violently. “No, it’s my fault to fall for such a basic trap. I’m sure the Avengers or other superheroes would have smelt the trap as soon as they step into the warehouse. I didn’t even check the perimeter of the warehouse properly. I just barged in like I know what I was doing. I’m such a fraud.”

Peter was even more horrified with what Doc said. Physical rescuing was his forte but psychological trauma was definitely not. He quickly texted Mr Stark asking for reinforcement. Doc was too preoccupied with his “mistakes” to notice it. At least Sophie was wrapping Doc tightly to comfort him. As soon as the message was sent, Mr. Stark quickly replied with “on my way”. He breathed a sigh of relief.

 “We don’t know that. I’m sure even Mr Stark or Captain America make some mistakes too. Hey, I make at least five mistakes on a good day. And I’ve been Spider-Man much longer than you being a Sorcerer.”

“Well, you are a teenager so it’s OK to make mistakes. I’m an adult. I should have known better.”

“No, I’m sorry to disagree with you but I know for sure that adults make mistakes too. Your intention was good. You really shouldn’t beat yourself up about this.”

“I’m sure other superheroes don’t make this silly mistake. I even need you to rescue me. I don’t think Cap did that.”

“As I have said before, it’s a trap so it’s not your fault. You also think too highly of other superheroes. I can assure you, they make mistakes too. Stop comparing yourself to Cap. You’re a cool guy. You treat me like your equal without babysitting me. Well, you often treat me like a younger brother which is kinda nice. Mr Stark treats me like the precious genius kid and plans for my future. Cap treats me like a precious kid superhero. You treat me like a brother which is what I need. I mean I love Ned and all but sometime I need a friend who understands the life of superheroing.”

“Perhaps I should care more about your future, your education, and your superhero career.”

“No, one Tony Stark or one Steve Rogers is enough. Like I said, I need you to be you. You will make a great brother.”

“I can assure you that you might be better off not having me as a brother but thanks for considering it.”

“Are you not cool with us being brothers? Then we can just totally be friends which is totally cool for me. If you think of yourself as my father figure, I already have enough father figures in Mr Stark and The Avengers.”

Doc laughed despite himself. “Me as a father figure? Christine and Wong will never hear the end of it. I’m the last thing everyone wants to be a father.  I’m not a good man like Cap or a billionaire philanthropist who can give a lot of things to you.”

“That’s not true. I’m sure you will be a great father. But not to me. It’s not you, it’s me.” Peter realized how silly it sounded as soon as it came out of his mouth.

“Are you breaking up with me?” Peter was glad that at least Doc could still joke. “Now that you mention it, I am not sure Stark is a father material either but since he takes care of you so far perhaps he is.” Doc shrugged. “Who am I to judge? I indeed always treat you like a younger brother so I was cool with that. It’s just that I am a horrible brother. I was a horrible brother.”

Peter felt helpless. He wanted to make Doc better by telling how he felt about him but apparently it was another emotional landmine for Doc. He didn’t know what to say.

 “I had a brother and a sister. But I failed them miserably.” Now Doc put his head on his lap, his hands covered the back of his head.

Peter was apprehensive with the use of past tense. “Knowing you, I’m sure it’s not your fault.”

Doc raised his head and barked out a bitter laugh. “But they were indeed my faults.”

Doc then told him that he had a younger sister called Donna who was two years younger than him. Donna had him wrapped in her little fingers. Doc wanted to become a doctor to save people when Donna got sick and he wanted to make her feel better. Then his younger brother, Victor,  was born. Victor was eight years younger than him so they were not close.

When he was 19, he returned for a holiday from his pre-med school. Donna and her friends asked him to come along for a swim. He couldn’t say no so he came along. He was too preoccupied with enjoying himself so he didn’t realize that Donna was missing. They went to search inside the water everywhere but they couldn’t find her. They found her body the next day.

His parents said it was not his fault but Stephen still blamed himself anyway. His desire to become a doctor to help people had died along with Donna. Now he wanted to become a doctor just for the fame and glory.

His mother died a few years later after Donna as she was too broken hearted.

A few years later, Victor asked him to return to his father’s deathbed. At this time, he was already a famous neuro-surgeon— the youngest in history. Stephen had been too broken hearted with Donna and his mother’s deaths so he couldn’t witness the death of another family member so he ignored Victor’s call.

One day after his father’s funeral, Viktor stormed into Stephen’s apartment in the middle of the night asking why he didn’t go to visit their father. Stephen said there was no use as he was dying anyway. Viktor was angry and stormed off. Stephen tried to stop him because it was midnight and the road was too slippery. Viktor ignored him and as he walked out, a car hit him and he died a few hours later.

Doc was crying as he finished his story. “You see, it’s all my fault.”

Peter felt like crying now too. In fact, he had shed some tears as soon as he heard about Donna’s death and how Doc blamed himself. That explained parts of Doc’s nightmares earlier. He knew a thing or two about blaming himself about someone’s death. He didn’t know Doc’s story and now he wished he never knew.  He must be strong for Doc. “I’m sorry about your losses. I’ve lost someone very close to me before and it felt like the end of my world. You have to go through even much more. I don’t see any of it your fault though. Well, you should have gone to your father’s deathbed but you didn’t cause his death.”

“I caused Victor’s death. No matter how people sugar coated it, if he didn’t storm off angrily, he wouldn’t get hit by that car. I only have myself to blame for that.”

“You didn’t know that he was going to have an accident.” Doc just kept on sobbing. Peter could relate as he still felt horrible about Uncle Ben’s death so he just held Doc cry on his shoulders.  The cloak sensed Peters’ distress so she hugged them both.

A few minutes later, Doc managed to compose himself and release the hug. “I’m so sorry, I don’t know what had gotten into me.” Peter wanted to say the drugs but held his tongue.  “I’m sorry for my outbursts.” He wiped his tears with his sleeves. “I treat you like how I should have treated Victor.  I’ve made so many mistakes and tried to learn from them. But don’t worry, I don’t think of you as Victor’s replacement. You’re cool in your own right. I’m proud of being your older brother although I will make a horrible brother.”

“Let me be the judge for that. I’ve always wanted an older brother and you’re the best brother I could ask for.  A magician one.  Now trying to act like a good brother, I need to ask you something. You went to the warehouse around 10.15 am. They must have ambushed you around 10 or 15 minutes later. Why did I only get your message at 3.15 after I finish my school?”

“I didn’t want to disturb your school time.”

“I beg your pardon.”

“School is important. I know because I went to a lot of them. I don’t want to cause any trouble for your education just because I was incompetent enough to get captured. I also didn’t send any magical presence after I knocked those worshippers out so I think you would be perfectly safe to come to the warehouse as long as you took some precaution.”

Peter stared at Doc. “So you timed your message after my school finished and you worry about my safety?!”

“Yes. I’d rather faced all those people rather than the wrath of your parents for you abandoning your school or causing you harm.”

Peter felt a pang of guilt because he never shared his ID or even private life to Doc. Doc thought he lived with his parents. But that still didn’t justify Doc’s stupidity. It was his turn to laugh bitterly. “You really had no idea about my Spider-Man schedule. I often do it during my school hours. I’m in fact famous for being late so often. They don’t know the reason but yes, I might be the smartest student but my attendance record is not great.”

“You really shouldn’t skip school. It might affect your scholarship.”

Peter pointed at Doc. “This is not about me skipping schools but about your idiocy. Wong told me to tell you that you’re an idiot for not taking care of yourself. I imagined it would be hard to tell that in your face. But I can safely tell you now that you’re an idiot. There was more than six-hours between your capture and my rescue. You could’ve died during that time.”

“If they wanted me dead, they could have done so as soon as they ambushed me.”

“That was not my point.” Doc looked suitable chastised. Peter actually felt horrible after everything he went through today and also what he just told him about his family. But sometime tough love was needed. “They could have tortured you, maimed you, or did a lot of horrible things that are worse than death. In fact, they tried to brainwash you. Are you saying it’s not bad?”

Doc wisely remained quiet.

“If they managed to brainwash you, you would lose your identity and you might start doing horrible things for them. Not to mention, I’ll lose my brother. Tony and the Avengers, and I’m sure, Wong, will lose a good friend. Is that what you want?”

Doc started to pull at his hair. “I don’t think I’m a good friend. But I’m sorry that I caused you some distress. I didn’t mean to.”

“You still didn’t get it. That was not my point. My point is you don’t value your own life. It’s as if you don’t think your life matters to others. Well, you do. At least to me, and also Wong. I’m sure Mr Stark and the Avengers too as they were so worried.”

“Well, you don’t have to. I have done a lot of horrible things.”

“It was in the past. I don’t think you do any horrible things after you become a magician. Besides, you don’t get to control other people’s feelings toward you. You might be a horrible person, which I assure you are not, but I could still care about you anyway.”

“You shouldn’t. I’m not like Captain America. I’ve read his history. A bit of fan of him myself. He has fought bullies even before he got his powers. What did I do? I ignored patients who couldn’t afford me. What kind of people does that?”

Peter felt like pulling his own hair but he wouldn’t. Making Doc seeing sense was like talking to a brick wall. For a genius, he could be really stupid. “It was in the past. Cap is a great guy but he is not innocent as you think he is. Those silly PSAs also made me review my hero worship of him. But that was beside the point, the point is you are a good person and people care about you.”

He really didn’t know what else to say. Luckily the doorbell rang and Peter got a text from Tony that he was at the door.

“I don’t expect any company. My companies usually just open a portal to my Sanctum.” Doc said it with a straight face too as if that’s the most common thing to do.

“That’s my guest. I’ll be right back.” Peter somersaulted so he could reach the door faster. As he opened the door, he yelped as it was not only Mr Stark at the door but also Captain America and Thor.

Tony stepped in as he pushed through the door. “How are we going to do this? Am I going first then I become the Ghost of Christmas Past, Cap coming in second and he is the Ghost of Christmas Present although I should actually swap with Cap. He is so ancient. Then Shakespeare here comes in as the Ghost of Christmas Future. Or perhaps we could with the Bad Avenger, Good Avengers routine? Or because there are three of us, perhaps we could go with the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. I’m definitely not the Ugly one so I could go with Bad. Doesn’t matter, I think it’s best that I go in first. Somehow the sight of me tends to annoy him so either one of you then can be the Good or the Ugly one to placate him.”

Cap said, “I guess it’s not a bad idea. We all have our methods but let’s see how it goes with Tony first.”

Tony asked Peter how the Doc was doing. Peter said that physically Doc was OK but psychologically he was not. He blamed himself for a lot of things and some of them were outside his control.

The inventor nodded. “That’s an adult complex.”

“I also blame myself for a lot of things.”

Tony shrugged. “Perhaps that’s the hero complex then.”

They didn’t expect the bizarre situation as they walked in. There was a portal open in the middle of the room. Peter saw it was to the warehouse he went in earlier. Doc was trying to step into the portal and the Cloak tried to drag him back.

“Let me go. I need to face my fears so I can move forward. I can’t live my life watching my back and worrying that someone will come to brainwash me and revert me back to the horrible person I was.”

Peter did the only thing he could without thinking. He webbed Doc’s arms and legs and helped Sophie in dragging him back to his bed.

As soon as he fell on the bed, Doc started to scream.

Chapter Text

As soon as his body fell, he was back in the warehouse. His arms and legs were being held down. He could hear the laughter of the fake victim before he straddled him. The more he tried to move, the harder they held him. Then the caressing began.

He couldn’t move. All his cells were burning and the pain was unbearable. He heard Dormmamu’s voice telling him all the pain would go away if he would just give up Earth.

He heard someone screaming and realized it was him.

A voice told him, “Stephen, Stephen. You’re safe. You’re in your Sanctum. Take a deep breath.”

He took a deep breath.

“That’s right. Keep breathing. You’re safe. You’re with friends.”

After a few deep breaths, he opened his eyes and saw the familiar ceiling of his library. He realized he was lying on his bed. Sophie flew to cover him and acted as his security blanket again. He hoped this would not become a regular occurrence.

He tried to get up but his hands and feet were stuck to the bed. “Sorry about that. Peter webbed you so that you wouldn’t go through the portal to that warehouse.”

He didn’t know any Peter. Not recently anyway. He blinked. “Peter?”  He turned to the source of the voice and it was Tony Stark. There was no one else in the room.

“Yes, that little-pain-in the ass. The teenager who puts us all to shame by always doing the right thing.”

“Spider-Man?”

There was a yelp from the kitchen.

“Oops, you didn’t know.  How could you not? Never mind. How're you feeling?”

“I’d like to get up.”

“Yeah, about that… The web would only dissolve in two hours. Do you want to hear some funny stories while we wait? After all I’m the Ghost of the Christmas Past or is it the Future?”

“What?”

Tony waved his right hand impatiently. “Friday, could you show a movie projected on the wall while we wait for the web to dissolve?”

Stephen incanted a spell to dissolve any binding and his hands and feet were free.

Tony grumbled. “I often forget that you can do that.”

Stephen tried to stand up but Tony touched his hand softly and shook his head. He remained seated on the bed.  “I don’t think it’s a good idea right now. You would just walk into a middle of SHIELD operation. And some of them don’t trust us and they would like to experiment on you to know your powers. Oh no, you’re burning up. Could I touch your forehead?” He nodded so the inventor went on to touch. “You’re indeed burning up. I hope the drug-induced delirium was the reason you wanted to step into that portal. Not because of your ego. I thought you knew better than that.”

“I don’t like being a victim. I want to get into the bottom of this.”

 “The good news is I can give you all the information as we, the Avengers, have arrested the party involved. But before doing that, do you want to talk about what just happened? Your scream was so full of agony, Pe-.., Spider-Man, was so worried and I asked him to go to the kitchen to be with Thor and Cap.”

“Is Thor here?”

“Yes, Shakespeare and Capcicle are here. They want to talk to you but I nominate myself first.”

Stephen winced. He put both feet down on the floor and stood up. He wobbled, Sophie steadied him. He held on to the table next to the bed to support himself. “We must go to the kitchen quickly before Thor wrecks my Sanctum again. Perhaps I can use a portal.”

He tried to draw a circle but Tony held his hands and guided him to sit on the bed. “You’re not going anywhere at this state. Again? So it has happened  before? Why am I not surprised? I tried to claim insurance for the wreckages caused by Thor at the Tower but apparently the insurance doesn’t cover the acts of God. They must have made the new rule after Thor arrived on Earth. Stephen, calm down. Take a deep breath.  Cap and Spider-Man are there so he couldn’t wreak any havoc.”

“I was there when his umbrella wrecked my Sanctum. Cap and Spidey could do nothing to stop him. I don’t have any insurance. There're so many gods so insurance can’t cover them all.”

”You know when you said things like multiple gods, you don’t sound normal. Nobody but you say such things. But again the Avengers themselves are not the epitomes of normal. I’m sure you can wave your hands to repair whatever he wrecked. But I can assure you he doesn’t bring Mjölnir this time so I think your Sanctum is safe.”

They heard a loud clattering from the kitchen. A high-pitched voice yelled. “It’s just me, your friendly Sanctum-hood Spider-Man, dropping some cans of Coke on your floor. Sorry. I’ll clean it up.”

Stephen yelled back. “Don’t worry about it Spidey.  I’ll use magic to clean it up later.”

“How about the price of magic? Hey, Doc, It’s nice to hear your voice again. I mean not the screaming voice. OK, Cap, I agree, I’ll shut up now.”

Stephen’s face turned beet red. “I’m sorry about the screaming.”

“Just relax.” Tony pushed Stephen’s back to the headboard and propped the doctor’s legs on the bed. He dragged the chair used by Peter earlier next to the bed and sat. “You really don’t need to keep apologizing.  We all know what you went through. Believe it or not. Nearly all of us in this Sanctum have one sort of traumas or another. No wonder my therapist makes a fortune even when she only treats superheroes. Where was I? Oh yes, there’s really nothing to be ashamed of. Do you want to see my therapist? You can use the Avengers’ bulk discount.”

He replied automatically. “I’m not an Avenger.”

“Are you kidding me? At the rate you’re helping us, you are an honorary Avenger. It’s just you don’t want to join us officially.”

“Tony, we’ve been through this before.”

“I know. I know. I just want to ask whether you want to talk about what just happened. Only if you’re ready. We could talk about something else. Any plan for the Thanksgiving?”

Stephen drew a deep breath and covered his face in his hands. “When Pe-, I mean Spidey dragged me back to bed, I remembered the guy in the warehouse. Some people were holding me down and the guy I thought I rescued was caressing my face and saying what he wanted to do to me—controlling me, owning me. I’ve never felt so helpless before.”

“So he was being a dick.  I think you missed the memo that he was a villain and he was monologuing. Didn’t you get that in your Superhero 101 class?”

“I’m a sorcerer, not a superhero so that might be the reason I never got that lesson.” He shook his head. “Why would they touch my face? Nightmare, Memphisto, and some other monsters also like to do that while they're monologuing.”

“I think you miss the whole memo that they're all villains. That’s what villains do. They like monologuing. As for touching, I’m not an expert, but I think it’s to show they have power over you. For a human, you’re very powerful, they feel much better if they could humiliate you and rub it in your face. Er, I mean metaphorically but yes, I can see that’s a bad choice of word. Their purpose is to showcase they have power over you and make you feel bad like what you're feeling right now. You’re helping them achieving their goals by feeling bad about yourself.”

He looked up from behind his hands. “Well, I’m sorry that I can’t control what I feel.” He tried to say it sarcastically but it sounded more like a whine. He covered his face again.

“Exactly! I know you were joking to cover up how you feel. I do the same. It’s normal to feel this way. You're still a human. It’s OK. The problem is with them, not with you. At least Domino just wanted to kill you right away, not touching you.”

“Yes, just plain torturing before killing.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, I’m fine. I’d prefer Dormammu’s method  than being touched.”

“I know the feeling. I was a prisoner in Afghanistan. I know how it feels to being helpless. I don’t like being handed things. I truly meant what I said. I’m sorry that you felt Domino’s method was better. Nobody should feel that way. They're all villains in case you forget but not likely given you always boast your eidetic memory.”

Stephen was glad that Tony attempted to change the topic but he actually still wanted to talk about it. “I might have mentioned my eidetic memory once or twice. At least you rescued yourself. I needed Peter, I mean Spidey to rescue me.”

They heard a loud yelp again from the kitchen. They forgot that both Spidey and Cap have super hearings.

It was Tony turned to yell. “That’s all right, Peter. I think the cat is out of the bag. Sorry. I’m sure Doc doesn’t know the rest of your identity.”

Cap replied by yelling. “Tony, there is a hyperventilating teenager stuck to the ceiling of the kitchen right now. We need to talk about your level of discretion when we're back at the Tower. Let me handle it now.”

Thor surprisingly remained quiet.

Tony sighed. “That’s all I get living with Steve, not you, Stephen. Now I can’t call you Steve. Gosh, why do you have similar names? Where was I? Oh yes, you’re really being too hard on yourself. They set an elaborate trap for you.  HYDRA targeted you. They know your character, strengths and weaknesses so you really shouldn’t feel so bad. I think you keep forgetting that you're only human. You were also unconscious the whole time so how could you plan your own own escape? You managed to contact Peter to rescue you. It’s actually self-help so you indirectly rescued yourself.”

“I don’t feel like it. It feels like I’m just a victim the whole time and Spider-Man and the Avengers need to rescue and help me.”

“So what? There is nothing wrong with being a victim. It sucks but it happens. You don’t need to be the hero all the time.”

“It’s not that. I just feel I should've been more active. I should've done something more.”

“Stephen, you were unconscious. That’s the whole point. You couldn’t do anything so just let it go. Even if you were conscious, you could end up stuck and being helpless anyway and that was worse. There is nothing wrong of being scared or worried. You don’t need to prove anything to yourself or us.”

“That’s the point. Before I got selfish, I thought I could help people by being a doctor. Then I didn’t help as many people as my idealistic self wanted to. After I learned magic, I thought I could help people another way. Then this thing happened.”

“Boo hoo. You were caught because you were trying to help people. You actually still do your duty. I know this detour sucks but you didn’t veer off from your self-appointed duty. When you were having flashbacks, you were worried that you would revert to a horrible person you were. Did you hurt people on purpose in the past?”

Stephen shook his head. “But I wasn’t a nice person either.”

“Join the club. But you didn’t hurt people, not on purpose anyway. So why were you worried?”

 “The brainwashing might make me become a HYDRA killer or something. I don’t want that.”

“The fact that you’re worried proved that you’re a good person.  I’m not sure whether you're responsible for the things you do while you’re being brainwashed.” Tony winced as he remembered something.

“Tony, I’m sorry. This brainwashing talk must be hard on you. I really shouldn’t bring it up.”

“Stop apologizing. None of the things that happen to you today is your fault. Well, except the part that you were being stubborn and wanted to blindly step into that portal. You traumatized Peter by your yelling. He thought he hurt you.”

“I need to apologize to him.”

“Stop it, Stephen. Just relax. Don’t go around apologizing. Don’t feel bad about yourself. I think Cap is really more suited for this kind of talk but you will get to talk to him later. Not sure before or after Thor. Do you want to hear about the boss villain that wanted to brainwash you?”

“Is it not Dr Faustus?”

“Nah, Faustus is just a tool. How familiar are you with the movie Single While Female?”

Chapter Text

“The movie by Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh?”

“I know you would know that movie. How awesome were they?” Tony wriggled his eyebrows. On other people, it would look obscene. On Tony, it looked, well, seductive which Stephen found disturbing.

Stephen shuddered and shook his head which was a mistake as he added dizziness to the list of illnesses he was currently suffering from. “What have that movie got to do with me?”

“Well, you’re Allison Jones and your villain is Hedra Carlson.”

“What?! I’ll close my eyes until you start making sense.”

“Come on Stephanie, don’t pretend that you don’t know the plot of Single White Female. Your villain is super-obsessed with you. He has your pictures across his walls. I bring them here.”

He opened his eyes and took the pictures from Tony.  He was apprehensive but also morbidly curious as he looked at the pictures. A lot of those pictures were taken when he was out in the public either dressed in his robes or civilian clothes doing mundane tasks such as getting his coffee or going to the dry cleaners. Some of the pictures were taken when he was interacting with the other Avengers like Tony Stark or Steve Rogers. The earliest pictures were dated three months ago.

Stephen grew more and more uneasy with each picture as he was not even aware that someone had spied on him for three months.

Tony patted his shoulder sympathetically. “I would’ve been jealous for all the attention you were getting if I didn’t have my own shares of stalkers and admirers. Adrich Killian came on top of my mind.”

“Who’s Adrich Killian?” As the doctor asked, he saw the last few pictures which were the pictures of him unconscious, shirtless, without pants, and tied up in the warehouse. He dropped the pictures on the floor and started to shake uncontrollably. He already felt bad enough as it was but looking at the helpless and vulnerable state he was in drove the point home. He curled himself into a fetal position.

“Stephen, calm down. You’re safe. You’re with me, Tony Stark, the most awesome and handsome Avengers. Hey, it rhymes. Thor, Cap, and Spider-Man are also around. You’re in a safe place. Keep breathing.”

The doctor just needed something solid to do to take his mind off so he kept breathing as instructed by Tony. After a lot of deep breaths, his mind was back to the present moment and he was fully aware that he was not in the warehouse anymore. He uncurled himself and rubbed his face repeatedly. “I’m sorry. I thought I was in control of my own mind but I was wrong.”

“What did I say about apologizing?”

“Don’t?”

“Exactly! So you were listening. I shouldn’t bring all these pictures especially the last ones. I was just in hurry after arresting those damn HYDRA goons and came here so haven’t got the time to sort these pictures.”

“No, it’s not your fault. It’s good to know the whole truth. My mind is just not strong enough.”

“Are you kidding me? You’ve been drugged and brainwashed. If I were you, I might’ve drowned my sorrows for a few days. The fact that you can still form proper sentences after all of these amazes me.”

“Can we not talk about the state of my mind for now? Who’s Adrich Killian?”

“Oh no, Stephanie. Adrich Killian was in the past. I’ll tell you next time when I’m ready. It’s about your villain, not mine. Where should I start?”

Stephen was curious with Tony’s answer but if the man didn’t want to talk about it, he respected his decision. “From the beginning will be nice.”

“Back to your sarcastic side. I like it. Do you want to start from how I found out about their base or from when he started to get obsessed with you?”

“Whichever is fine.”

“The Avengers got involved once Peter called me.” There was another yelp from the kitchen which Tony promptly ignored. “SHIELD got the fingerprints of all those people in the warehouse. I hacked into SHIELD and then the police database to find out the details of those villains. Using the K-means clustering algorithm which I suited to my need and I whipped out like in five minutes and installed on Friday, I managed to find the same cluster of villains. In layman’s terms, I found out the associates of the villains that have been arrested. With a little bit more digging though the CCTVs and credit card transactions, I managed to find their lair. I told the Avengers the location and the rest was history. I know it sounded so simple but it wouldn’t have been if it was not because of my brilliance.”

Stephen’s thoughts alternated between impressed and perturbed as Tony finished his tale. Tony could easily hack into any system so easily so no data was private. He definitely would not think about how any sorcerer worth his or her salt could easily read people’s mind. Surprisingly, he could actually follow what Tony talked about because the billionaire used the terms that he understood. He was glad that Tony didn’t dumb down his explanation too much.

He smiled. “As humble as usual. That’s what I like about you. It’s impressive that you can achieve all of those in short amount of time. Thank you for helping me out.”

Tony blinked in surprise. “Really? No reproach for showing off or further question about my method? Are you sure you didn’t bump your head in the warehouse? You’re welcome. Awesome Facial Hair Bros should stick together.”

Stephen winced. “Please don’t use that phrase again. So who was behind all of these?”

“Lucius Dilby.” Tony passed him a picture.

It was a picture of a small nondescript man wearing glasses. “I’ve never seen this man in my life. I haven’t heard of him either.”

“I know. But he has heard of you.”

“When? I’ve never heard or met anyone with such a name before. I’d have remembered with such a unique name.”

“Well, this is the interesting part. Do you remember performing a mass exorcism near a club called CBGB around three months ago? There were apparently a lot of light works and special effects ending with all those 49 demons sucked into a portal which closed up immediately.”

CBGB did ring a bell because it was a unique name. Besides, it was not every day he managed to do mass exorcism without any glitch aka he came out unscathed. “It rang a bell. But I removed the memories of all involved so they thought it was only a bad dream.”

“Apparently not everyone! A little girl saw the whole thing from an apartment across the street. She told her parents and her brothers but nobody believed her. She was so upset until her uncle, Lucius, came to visit her. Lucius is the black sheep in the family and he is really into occult things. He was super interested in the whole thing. He asked her if she knew your name. She said she heard you called yourself Doctor Strange. I know your insistence on people calling by your title will be your undoing.”

Stephen massaged his temples. “I’ve been sloppy. I didn’t even know about the little girl and she had seen and heard the whole thing.”

Tony looked at him incredulously. “Really? That was what you took out of the whole thing. Not about you not bringing any backup or the fact that you wiped others’ memories easily like writing in sand?”

“I was in hurry and I had done my share of exorcisms.  I knew what I was doing. For their peace of mind, it’s best that they didn’t know the horrors that await them in other dimensions.  Being possessed is also quite a traumatic experience.” He shuddered. He chose not to share that he had occasionally been possessed when he was vulnerable. “At least I didn’t hack into the SHIELD and police database.”

“That’s a low blow, Strange. I guess both of us are not squeaky clean, huh? Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Lucius started to get obsessed with you, he dug out more information about the mysterious Doctor Strange. He also found out your name in the HYDRA’s database because of course you were one of the lucky people targeted by Project Insight. He started to convince some of his HYDRA buddies about ‘Make HYDRA great again’ if they managed to use you as their weapon. So they’ve put you under surveillance for a while.”

Both of them shuddered for different reasons.

“How do you know about this? Did you get all this info from the computers as well?”

“Nah, he confessed. He said he would tell us more what he knows about HYDRA if he let us meet you and if possible touch you to know that you’re real.”

Stephen suddenly felt much colder. He drew Sophie and a blanket closer to him. “Stark, don’t!”

Tony opened both arms wide. “Hey, I was just the messenger. I was a little bit curious about what other HYDRA’s secrets he could tell us if we allowed him to meet you but Cap put the end to the idea on the spot. He said we need to protect the innocents and the vulnerable in this case it was you. Hey, those were Cap’s words and he didn’t mean to insult you. He just meant that you’ve been through enough.”

“I understand what Cap meant and I’m thankful for that.”

The inventor pouted. “So Cap saying something like that and got a free pass but I don’t?”

“Tony. I also don’t give you any hard time.” Looking at Tony’s expression, he added, “That you don’t deserve. Besides, I thought you like to seek me out because you enjoy our regular banters.”

“That I do. Lucius didn’t tell us about other HYDRA’s secrets but he couldn’t stop boasting about his own plan. Did you know he planned to capture you again by providing an ambush team outside your Sanctum?”

“I heard that Thor has apprehended them. I should thank him as well.”

Tony pouted. “You would thank everyone but me.”

“I have thanked you several times today.”

The engineer rolled his eyes. “Of course you kept count. Anyway, Lucius’ plan was to lure you out by using hostages.” Stephen gasped at that but didn’t comment. “They’ve tried to infiltrate your Sanctum but apparently it has its own defend mechanism. Those HYDRA goons seem to be quite afraid of your shrubbery.”

“They should be afraid of my shrubbery,” Stephen muttered darkly.

Tony shrugged. “Right, and people said that I overreacted for installing an intrusion detection mechanism on Friday to protect the Tower. Back to Lucius’ plan, he regretted that you managed to escape but he predicted you’d be able to do so. He seemed to think so highly of you. He would use hostages to lure you out and he would overpower you by using an anti-magic device that he asked HYDRA to invent. I’ve confiscated the device in case you were wondering.”

“Are you not curious in the mechanism of the device? Are you not going to improve upon it?”

“Yes and yes. Strange, you know me so well. But don’t worry, I won’t use it against you unless you turn evil or worse I turn evil.” Tony shuddered.

“That’s reassuring.”

“Don’t you worry your pretty little head about that for now. Just rest and get well.”

“Thank you for all your help despite the legality.”

“You’re welcome, Stephanie, my awesome Fa-.”

“Stop it! I wonder what would happen if I fell into his hands the second time with his magic cancelling device.”

“Stephen, you won’t. He has to go through us, the Avengers, first. Besides, knowing you, even in your weakened state, you wouldn’t go unprepared the second time. You’ll have something up your overlong sleeve. Don’t put yourself down too much! I think that’s enough pep talk from me for now. I’ll see who’s up next.”

“Thanks again, Tony. When you go to the kitchen, can you send Spider-Man back home? It is way past his bed time and his parents would kill me.”

Tony wanted to say something but stopped himself.

There was a loud yelling in the kitchen. “It’s not my bed time yet. Besides, I want to hear what Thor and Cap get to say.”

Tony chuckled. “You really didn’t know the bedtime for teenagers nowadays, did you? You do have a good point though, it’s time for Underoos to go home. Bye, Stephen. See you soon and hopefully in a happier circumstance.”

“Bye, Tony.”

Chapter Text

There was no mistake that Thor had arrived. There was a loud knock at his door followed by the God of Thunder’s booming voice asking “Sorcerer Doctor Strange, could I enter your chamber?”

“Yes, please come in.”

There was a loud bang as Thor pushed the door following by a crash. “Sorcerer Doctor Strange, there is something wrong with this door. It’s not sturdy.”

Stephen winced, closed his eyes, prayed for patience. Sophie flew and left him. She must be cooped up and decided to do whatever she did to relax. He hoped not online shopping again given the bills he received the last few months. He was a pacifist in general but he hoped whoever taught Sophie online shopping would stub his or her toes.

“Sorcerer Doctor Strange, there’re problems with all your doors. Your front door, your kitchen door, your fridge door, they all became unhinged when I opened them. The table in your kitchen was not sturdy either. Friend Rogers asked me to stop opening doors or touching anything important. I still think that Midgardian construction is very weak.”

No wonder Thor was uncharacteristically quiet. Stephen started to massage his temples as his headache had increased threefold.

“Sorcerer Doctor Strange, you seem distressed. Fear not, I’m sure Man of Iron knows some good craftsmen to fix your weak doors and furniture. I also know some good Asgardian craftsmen if you need one.”

“Isn’t it a bit far to pick up somebody from Asgard to fix my doors?”

“Not to worry, Sorcerer Doctor Strange, they don’t need to travel all the way from Asgard. Didn’t you know that the Asgardians have relocated to Midgard? We blew out Asgard so Hela wouldn’t win and we didn’t have any place to go so we moved to Midgard.”

Stephen quickly opened his eyes. He tried to get up but still felt weak and could only manage half way before falling back down.

Thor sat on his bed and pushed him so he stayed down. “Sorcerer Doctor Strange, you’re not in any state to go anywhere. In fact, you’re burning up. Do you need any medicine?”

“No, I’m good. Drugs are the causes of my current condition. I need to make sure that the Earth is safe. How come I didn’t know about this?” He tried to get up again but Thor still pushed him down. In his peak condition, he was no match of the God physically and now definitely was not his peak.

“Sorcerer Doctor Strange, you need to calm down. Loki is with them so they won’t cause any trouble.”

This time, Stephen tried to push Thor away using telekinesis but ended up with a more terrible headache for his effort.  Stephen picked a pillow next to him, put it on top of his face, and screamed.

Thor took the pillow away. “Sorcerer Doctor Strange, you will hurt your throat doing that.”

Thor was not wrong as Stephen started to cough. Thor picked a glass of water next to the bed and gave it to him. After a few gulps, his throat didn’t feel so bad anymore so he gave the glass back to Thor. Thor still looked at him warily in case he planned his escape.

Stephen didn’t plan to get up for the next century as his head was pounding and his dizziness had increased tenfold. He closed his eyes and meditated. He didn’t care what Thor thought of him. In this condition, he couldn’t function and that was more frustrating. After a few minutes, he felt like a normal hammer, instead of Mjölnir, was pounding his head. His dizziness was also back to the level before Thor came in.

Thor scrunched his eyebrows. “It’s a big coincidence that Man of Iron and Captain of America also reacted the same when they heard Loki is on Midgard. They didn’t make the noises you made but they asked me a lot of questions. I’ve assured them that Loki is harmless. He has changed a lot. At least he didn’t try to kill me in the last three days and he only tried to betray me only once in the last two days. That’s quite an improvement for Loki.”

Stephen stared at Thor. “What?!” He then noticed that Thor wore an eye patch and had a very short hair. “You look very different from the last time you came here.” That was an understatement of the century. “What happened to your eye? Your umbrella?”

“Sorcerer Doctor Strange, you got the order of importance of what I lost wrong. What happened to my hair, Mjölnir, my eye, and Asgard was a very long story. Let me tell you a tale of…”

Stephen quickly interrupted him as Earth’s safety was his top priority. “Where do the Asgardians stay? Will they be a threat to Earth? Please tell me an answer that doesn’t involve Loki.”

“They’re staying in Norway. These Asgardians are good and peaceful people which were the reasons they couldn’t fight. Not every Asgardian wants to take over the world. If you can’t trust Loki, at least you have my word for it. I’m the King of Asgard now.”

“Not Odin?”

Thor lowered his head. “My father has passed.”

“My condolence. In my short time of knowing him, he seemed to love you very much. I’ll take your word for it for now about the Asgardians. I heard you’ve saved my life today. I’m grateful for that.”

“You don’t need to thank me, Sorcerer Doctor Strange. You’re a brave warrior and it was my honor to assist you.”

“I’m not a warrior and I’m not that brave.”

“You defend Midgard so you’re a warrior. You dare to defy Loki which makes you brave. Not many Midgardians dare to do that. I heard you’ve fought against Dormammu and died countless times. You deserve a place in Valhalla if you die. Not that I wish for you to perish. You fight monsters and creatures from other realms daily to protect Midgard even when your body is frail. If that is not the definition of brave, there must be something wrong with my Allspeak.”

“What a bang up job I’ve done. I couldn’t even protect myself.”

“Even a seasoned warrior can walk into a trap. I have been tricked by Loki more times than I can remember. You just started your duty a year ago. Sorcerer Doctor Strange, you’ve given yourself too much pressure. You should see the weapons those HYDRA have prepared to capture you, stun guns, nets, bats, guns with anti-magic bullets, ropes, blinding powder, and so much drugs. They prepared around fifty people to capture you so they think you’re very powerful. You should be proud of yourself.”

Stephen felt anything but proud. He felt more like a target but he would give Thor points for trying to cheer him up. It was time to discuss the Asgardians.

“Nothing to be proud of. It is my duty to protect Earth and I didn’t even notice the arrival of the Asgardians.”

“They just arrived a few hours ago and I heard from the Man of Spider…” Thor scrunched his forehead. “… Kid of Spider? Nay, Teen of Spider said that you were in captivity during that time. There was no way for you to know that we arrived. You really put too much pressure on yourself, Sorcerer Doctor Strange.”

“I shouldn’t get captured in the first place.”

“Sorcerer Doctor Strange, you’re truly a man of honor. You take your duty very seriously.”

Stephen snorted. “Me? Man of honor? You should have met me two years ago. I was an asshole and I would have continued to be one if it were not for my accident.”

“At least you haven’t killed 80 people in two days like Loki. I can see past that and accept Loki. Why can’t you do that to yourself?”

Stephen thought arguing about this with Thor was pointless. He seemed to determine to deem Stephen as honorable which made him felt more like a fraud. He would tackle what he could first.

“What happened to Spider-Man? Did he go home?”

“Yes. Friend Tony asked him gently to go home. The Teen of Spider wouldn’t listen so Friend Tony acted like a father and asked sternly. He said if Peter, I meant Teen of Spider, didn’t go home, he wouldn’t let him use his lab next time. I didn’t know that Man of Iron could be a father but he seemed to be doing fine with Peter. He assured Pe-… Teen of Spider that he can visit you tomorrow after school and let him do his homework here so Teen of Spider finally agreed. Friend Tony asked Driver Happy to send him home. Teen of Spider seems to like you very much.”

Stephen felt inexplicably proud. “He’s a good kid.”

“He indeed is. And he has attached himself to you which means you’re also good.”

“Goodness doesn’t work by transference.”

“No, by the kid has good instinct. What did he call it? Sense of Spider?”

“Spidey sense. That only works for detecting danger, not sensing goodness in others.”

“Sorcerer Doctor Strange, why are you insisting that you’re not a good man after all you’ve done?”

“Because I’d have still been a terrible person if it was not because of my accident. I need to constantly remind myself of that so that I won’t go back there.”

“I really doubt you would since you seem to have what the Midgardian say—modification of heart?”

“Change of heart?”

“Yes, sometime Allspeak translation can’t find the right words. I’ve talked to your cloak earlier when I came in and she told me that I needed to cheer you up. She said Man of Iron had good advices but I seemed to have the talent for comedy.”

“Sophie talked to you?! She just stopped in front of you and flew out. How could she say so many words in one second?”

“Sentient items use feelings to communicate so it’s super fast.”

“I didn’t know Allspeak can be used to talk to cloak.”

“Not only cloak but all sentient objects. Do you think I don’t talk to Mjölnir? Well, I used to. She was broken.” Thor cast his eye downward again and seemed to be as sad as losing his father.

“I’m sorry to hear that. Perhaps I can do something to fix it. But wait until I can access my magic without killing my head.”

“Don’t worry too much about it Sorcerer Doctor Strange. I loved Mjölnir but now I can access my thunder power without using it. You should rest first. In fact you should sleep as you’re having a fever.”

“I can’t sleep anymore after sleeping for so long this morning.”

“I don’t think being drugged is similar to sleep.”

“I don’t want to sleep.”

“Is that because of nightmares?”

Stephen remained quiet but Thor seemed to understand. The doctor knew that he was prone to nightmares when he was not strong mentally. He needed to remember to cast a spell to ward Nightmare off before he went to sleep.

“You could try some Asgardian ale that could put you into a dreamless sleep. I don’t have it with me right now. Do you want me to ask my Asgardian subject to send it for you from Norway?”

“I’m fine. Thanks.”

“Are you sure Sorcerer Doctor Strange?”

“Yes, I used to be an alcoholic after my accident so I try to avoid any alcohol. And please stop calling me Sorcerer Doctor Strange.”

“Are you a sorcerer and a doctor?”

“Yes.”

“So what’s wrong with the title? I remember when I asked whether you were a wizard, you said you were a Master of the Mystic Arts.” Thor clicked his right fingers. “Ah, you wanted me to call you Master of the Mystic Arts Doctor Strange.”

Stephen was horrified. What kind of pompous asshole had such a title? “No!”

“What do you want me to call you then?”

“Just Stephen. After all, you’ve saved my life.”

“Friend Stephen, I’m truly honored to be able to befriend a brave, honorable, and dedicated warrior like yourself.” Thor bowed as he said that.

Stephen tried to get up to return the gesture but Thor was quick in detecting that and pressed him gently back. “The honor is all mine. I’ve never dreamed to be a friend with an Asgardian. You also praise me too much. You haven’t hung out with the Avengers. They only tolerate me.”

“On the contrary, I often spend time with the Avengers and they like you. You really think too low of yourself.”

Stephen gave up arguing. “Could you please tell me your long tale that I interrupted earlier? I apologize for that. I also apologize for taking a strand of your hair without permission.”

“Apologies accepted. You only took one hair. There was this horrible man with a weird apparatus that took out my whole hair!”

“I’m sorry to hear that. You should start from the beginning.”

“It's a long story, but basically, I'm a bit of a hero. See, I spent some time on Earth... Fought some robots, saved the planet a couple of times. Then I went searching through the cosmos …”

“Not that beginning! I was there so I know some of the parts. Please start after you left my Sanctum and went to Norway.”

Sophie flew back to blanket him again. She loved listening to stories.

“Well, you sent us immediately to the place where my father resided. He had been waiting for us and called us his sons…” Thor told the story of how he lost his father, about how Hela literally created Hel for Asgard, how Thor ended up in Sakaar, met a cool girl called Valkyrie and fought Hulk. The Grandmaster seemed to be a colorful character that Stephen needed to look out for.  Thor escaped Sakaar, flew back to Asgard, and saved the day— well, more like blew up the place and moved to Earth.

Stephen didn’t interrupt him until the end. “That was quite an interesting story.” Another understatement of the the century. “Now I feel terrible to feel sorry for myself when you have had worse few weeks.”

“Sorcerer Doctor…Friend Stephen, all our feelings are valid. Our experiences are personal to us so we feel more hurt by it but that doesn’t make them any less valid. It’s true that I’ve lost my father, my hair, my hammer, my eye, and Asgard. But I don’t lose the people. Well, most of the people. I gain back Loki and I have my friendship with Valkyrie and Hulk. So I lose something but I gain something. The same can be said about your experience today. What happened to you was horrible. You might not lose what I lost but I can see that you’ve lost your confidence and your purpose. A true warrior will rise again after they fall. I think it’s best to let Captain of America to talk to you. He’s been waiting patiently in the kitchen. Please remember that you also gain something today. You gained some experience and I’m sure you’ll be more careful next time. Besides, you know that you have true friends in the Avengers and Teen of Spider. I shall take my leave now and check on those Asgardians before they start something that worries you. Farewell, friend Stephen!”

“Thank you, Thor. You’re wise. I’m sure you will lead the Asgardians well.”

Thor bowed. He went to the doorway, picked up the door from the floor, and tried to put them back without success. Thor put the door back on the floor.

Stephen sighed. Well, as Thor said, you won some and you lost some. He was nervous now because Captain America certainly would give him a stern lecture for not being careful.