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You Are Meant to Be the Best of Us

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Stephen was meditating when he felt someone standing at the Sanctum’s front door. People often mistook him for being in tune with the surrounding so he could sense any presence. While it was true most of the time, he simply put a spell at his front door because there had been too many uninvited guests coming to this Sanctum lately.

He had been tempted to put a spell so people wouldn’t notice the building but Wong said after Decimation, people needed all the help they could get, even mystic helps, to this door needed to be opened to whoever needed it. That was the job of the Master of the Sanctum, not to mention the future Sorcerer Supreme. That title seemed to be more and more daunting lately. He was not sure he was up for the task.

He used his third eye to check who was at the door. It was the last person he expected to ever visited him. He doubted Steve Rogers needed his help of any kind.

He quickly teleported himself to the front door. His Cloak who had been examining his tomes quickly attached herself on his shoulders. Nobody should let Captain America, well ex Captain America (he didn’t see that coming but again he only looked up to the point they won, not where everybody would end up afterward), to wait in the cold. That’d be a crime or something like that. He shook his head. Old habit died hard. He blamed it on the PSAs in the public schools he attended.

He opened the door slowly to keep up with his mystical persona. He nodded. “Welcome the New York Sanctum, Cap.” He nearly bit his tongue. To be fair, Rogers was still Captain America around three days ago his time. Time travel sucked when he was at the receiving end.

Rogers smiled. “Doctor Strange, I’m sure you’re well aware that I’m not Captain America anymore. Sam Wilson is Captain America. And you can call me Steve.”

“Steve, please come in. And you can call me Stephen.” It’d be awkward if he used his title when Steve didn’t. Not that Steve had any title at the moment.

Steve smiled. “That's a good name.”

Stephen smirked. “Yes, it’s a great name.” He stepped back and let Steve came in. He noticed that Steve still had a straight back despite his age and his strides were still strong.

He led the way to one of the studies at the first floor. There was no weird objects to spook muggles (Peter Parker’s term) in that room. He didn’t think Steve was the person who spook easily but why took the risk. He doubted Steve could have a heart attack with his supersoldier serum.

He let Steve sat on one of the armchairs that was not stacked with books. Luckily Wong was not present, otherwise he would scream something about mistreatment of books and reported him to book’s equivalent of Geneva Convention. He sat on the opposite chair. This scene felt like déjà vu. Not that he could mistake Steve for Thor at the moment with his head full of white hair.

“Do you drink tea? Or do you need beer or other beverage?”

“Tea is fine. No milk, no sugar. I don’t want to test the limit of my dwindling serum at this age.”

That was a new information for him. He used magic to put a cup on Steve’s hand and to fill it up with Chamomile tea. He himself could use Chamomile so he summoned a cup for himself.

Steve looked suitably impressed with his wide eyes expression. He guessed his desire to show off had never worn off.

“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to magic even after everything I’ve seen since I woke up from the ice, eleven, no eleven plus fifty years ago so that'd be sixty four years ago. It’s hard to keep track about time with time travelling.”

“Tell me about it.”

Steve took a long look at him.“You’ll be the expert in that, won’t you? Tony told me about you looking through 14,000,605 futures so it must be at least thousand of years. I guess I shouldn’t complain. How did it feel?”

“Exhausting and it’s hard to keep all the facts straight after so many possibilities despite my photographic memory.”

“You too?” Steve smiled. “I guess we don’t only share the same first name. I also possess eidetic memory because of the serum.”

Stephen should’ve known that. He read about it at school. But a lot of things slipped his mind because there were too many facts swirling in his head. He needed to sort them out otherwise he'd be a like walking encyclopedia and as useful as one in battles.

“Steve, not to be rude or anything but why do you come here? I don’t think it’s to find common ground between us. If it’s a preamble to recruit me to join the Avengers, I need to politely decline. I’ve taken my vows as a Master of the Mystic Arts to protect our reality so I’ve no time to join the Avengers.”

“That’s a pity but I understand. I’m not an Avenger anymore so I think Sam will be the one recruiting. I presume he will come knocking on your door in a few days time once he got used to the idea of being Captain America. I just want to have a chat with you because I heard so much about you from Tony and I’ve also travelled to 2012 to return to the Time Stone to your teacher, the Ancient One, a very serene and prominent lady, and she also talked about you. She asked me to check on you when I get back to this time. I can’t just break a promise to a lady.” Steve seemed to smile to himself at the last sentence as it was a secret joke.

Stephen started to feel invisible cold sweats dripping from his back. He didn’t expect Tony would have anything good to say about him given his cryptic behaviors on Titan. He barely got over his guilt over Tony’s death and Steve’s mentioning it bringing him back the memory he'd tried to get rid of.

As what The Ancient One said about him, his guess was as good as others. He drew a deep breath. Might as well rip off the bandaid as soon as possible. “OK, tell me all about it.”

Chapter Text

He tried to hide his alarmed expression but nobody ever told him that Steve Rogers was very observant.

Steve smiled. “Don’t worry, Doc. I heard good things about you, well, mostly good things since you know Tony liked to pretend he didn’t like someone so he would say derogatory things but didn’t really mean to. Perhaps I should start with the Ancient One first to calm your nerves.”

Stephen didn’t want to say that hearing what his mentor’s opinion about him before she even met him would be better for his nerves but at least she wouldn’t blame him like he imagined some of the Avengers might do because he indirectly let some of them sacrificed themselves to save the universe. That reminded him that the Ancient One also sacrificed herself to save him out of all people. Why were there so many self-sacrifices in this world? The Cloak sensed his distress so she squeezed his shoulders to show her support.

“When Bruce went to ask for the Time Stone, he thought he would meet you but he was five years too early. She said you were operating during the Chitauri Attack. When Bruce told me this, I think that was very brave of you to operate during an invasion. That reminded me of the fact you don’t need superpower to be heroes.”

Stephen remembered the day of the attack. The hospital was bursting with victims. The medical staff didn’t even think about their own safety. They just tried to save as many as they could. They think the Avengers would save the city so they just needed to save the civilians. It was amazing what a few years and an accident could do. Now he was on the other side of saving. He shrugged. “I was sure the Avengers would do great in protecting us.”

“That’s a lot of faith you put in us. I just realized that you have seen all those possible futures so you might already know what people talk about. Don’t you already know what others say about you when you look at those futures?”

He shook his head.“It’s tricky. When I looked, I got the gist of the direction of what people were going to do and I just needed to fast forward a little bit or a lot more to see whether the directions would lead us win. It was like watching a movie and press the fast forward button. When I knew for sure we were going to lose, I moved to a different scenario. I didn’t linger on conversations. So yeah, I didn’t know what people talked about.”

The ex Captain America sipped on his tea slowly and put back the saucer at the table next to him. “You just described using the Time Stone like it were a DVD player. I mean the world has gotten weirder since I woke up from being frozen but even this is super weird for the Avengers’ standard.”

Stephen smirked. “Yeah, some might say it got stranger.”

Steve chuckled at that. “You’re as snarky as him. No wonder Tony liked you.” Stephen’s heart twisted at the word liked. Even Steve’s expression grew a bit more serious as the meaning of the tense sunk in. “Back to your teacher, she said you were meant to be the best of us. So if you think giving away the Time Stone was the right move, she would do the same as she trusted you. That was a very high compliment bestowed on someone. Bruce was surprised, not that he ever thought badly of you as you lend him clothes after he crashed through your house, but he was impressed that she seemed to be impressed by you when she was a very impressive person herself. Stephen, are you OK? You look a bit pale.”

It was very hard to shut Stephen up. He almost always had a comeback ready. However, he was at a loss for words at the moment. She thought very highly of him even before she met him. So pushing his astral body and rejections at Kamar-Taj were tests to see whether he was worthy. What if he didn’t measure up to her standard?  Would she be disappointed? Was he even worthy now? The Cloak squeezed his shoulders again which reminded him that the Cloak chose him so at least she thought he was worthy.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to surprise you like that. I thought that was not a new information for you as she seemed to be so fond of you.”

"I never saw your future, only its possibilities. You have such a capacity for goodness. You've always excelled, but not because you crave success but because of your fear of failure."
"It's what made me a great doctor."
"It's precisely what's kept you from greatness. Arrogance and fear still keep you from learning the simplest and most significant lesson of all."
"Which is?"
"It's not about you."

Stephen needed to remind himself that it was not about him. That phrase rebooted his brain. “She often gave me hard time so it was hard to think that. She told me she couldn’t see my future, only possibilities. How could she be sure that I’ll measure up to her standard?”

“Unlike you and your master, I’m not an expert in looking through possible futures. I’m going to take a wild guess and say that in the all those possibilities she saw, you were doing great. You just needed a push in the right direction. Once a very wise man asked me to promise him that I’ll stay who I am.Not a perfect soldier, but a good man. I think she meant that you’re a good person, not about your powers, although personally I think you are super powerful. Thanks for assembling all the heroes to fight against Thanos’ army. I thought I’d be a goner as Thanos had destroyed my shield. But I never like bullies so I would fight him all day even with my chance of winning was almost nil.”

"End this! You will never win."
"No. But I can lose. Again. And again. And again. And again, forever. That makes you my prisoner."

Perhaps there were indeed more similarities between him and Steve than meet the eyes.

Steve continued, “Luckily we didn’t come to that. Bruce told me that I should thank you for all those portals at the last minute.”

Stephen felt his face was heating up as he just got complimented by (ex) Captain America for saving his life. He shrugged. “It’s all in a days’ work. Sorry I couldn’t come in earlier as I needed to organize all the help I could get and before that I was non existent so thanks for traveling back in time to get the Stones to bring us back.”

“Well, I guess I need to thank you for looking at the futures to ensure we win. Without you looking through those futures, we’ll all be dust. We need to thank Scott, Bruce, Natasha, and Tony as well. Well everyone has played a part to ensure we win. But you’re the mastermind behind it. I can see it now. Your mentor believed in you before she even met you. She believed in your judgement as she handed the Stone to Bruce. When I returned the Stone just after Bruce took it, she asked me how you were doing. She knew we won because I could go back to return the Stone. She said even though she hadn’t met you yet, you lived up to her expectation and more. She was looking forward to meet you. I also just realized now that she knew you were going to have your accident. I’m sorry. That might be tough for you to know she knew but I guess destiny and not altering timeline plus ensuring you saving the universe stopped her from interfering your own future.”

Stephen swallowed a lump in his throat. “Yes, I’ve come to term to that.  It was a regretful event but I’m a better person afterward so I guess it’s better to lose my hands than my soul.”

“That’s what makes you a great person. Bruce told me what she said to him and after seeing the Ancient One’s compliment, I’ve go to check this person out for myself. Color myself curious. I want to know what it takes to be the next Sorcerer Supreme. Besides, she asked me to make sure you take care of yourself as well, not only the universe. She said you could take one thing to the extreme. I imply she meant selflessness.”

“She could also mean selfishness. I was a real asshole back then.”

“Language. Sorry, never mind. It was just a force of habit. But from what the way she talked about you and from what Bruce, Tony, and even Thor, not sure when you met Thor, you’re not selfish. Arrogant perhaps but never selfish. Selfish person wouldn’t let himself die to let the universe live. I don’t only mean Thanos’ Decimation but also something else before Thanos. Apparently Tony was super curious about you after his return from Titan so he kept pestering Wong. Wong said something about Tony needed to trust you inherently as you had saved the world before by dying repeatedly and you didn’t even boast about it. Wong needed to pry that fact out of you after your countless nightmares and Tony actually pried that fact out of Wong and he threw it at my face saying that I’m not the only selfless person in the Avengers or the world.” Steve cast his eyes downward.  “I regretted I ever said to Tony that he was not the guy to make the sacrifice play, to lay down on a wire and let the other guy crawl over you. I didn’t know back then that he was a stubborn son of a gun and he would prove me wrong by sacrificing himself repeatedly until the final time when he would never return. I used to see things in black and white but after looking at Tony and the SHIELD incident, not anymore. You could be a real ass- jerk back then but you’re not now. Everyone has a past. I’m also well aware of Natasha’s past but she has made amends ever since.  Who we choose to be now is more important than what we used to be. That’s my motto to live by and are you going to argue with Captain America?”

“Ex Captain America.” Steve merely shrugged. Despite his automatic reply, the doctor saw the point that Steve was trying to make. “Thank you for following your promise and go to check on me. Thank you for letting me know what she thought of me. That meant the world to me.” He drew a deep breath. He didn’t realize that he really cared for the Ancient One’s opinion. He didn’t care for others’ opinion back then but perhaps he had changed a lot without realizing it.

“Before moving on to what Tony said, can I ask you a very important question?”

Stephen was surprised by the request. Would Steve ask him to promise something? “Sure.”

“How did you manage to open Sam’s portal on my left?”

Stephen quietly chuckled. There was a cheeky side of Steve Rogers that he never knew.