You know that feeling when you wake up with a really bad hangover? How your body feels like a burlap sack filled with rocks and your arms won’t respond - especially when you’ve slept on one of them awkwardly, resulting in it falling asleep. Your head is pounding like the field commander of a marching band is beating it like a drum. Furthermore, you can hear your heartbeat in your ears and feel it in every sore spot of your body, pulsing with that uncomfortable throb in every inch of your being.
These were a few just a few symptoms Tony would admit to experiencing as he woke up. Nothing too bad. Aside from the ripping pain in his chest, the sting of direct light on his hazy, glossy eyes - no, unfortunately, he wasn’t dead and that wasn’t the light at the end of the tunnel he was seeing.
His body was in complete opposition to the idea of him being anything other than horizontal, and lying on whatever surface he was recumbent on. His back was screaming in discomfort at how uneven and rough the unsupportive surface was. Tony let out a shaky breath and tried to focus - to think .
He couldn't recall anything, all he knew was that he was in a world of pain, and something about him didn’t feel quite right - especially his chest. In his fatigue, he managed to lift an arm to his abdomen to probe at the unfamiliar combination of pain and prickling. It felt like the muscles in his chest were asleep - if that were even possible.
He felt around, fingers examining what felt like several lesions in a divot within a crater on his chest. It didn’t feel right at all and his veins ran cold as he flinched in panic. Every muscle in his body tensed as he endured the harsh light above him to open his eyes. His head craned to look down, the muscles in his neck protesting and rigid like someone was trying to keep him down. When he finally lifted his head enough to look down there was a mixture of horror and confusion that overtook him.
What was he even looking at?
“Mister Stark, please lay still.” The voice that spoke was calm and soothing, and after a moment the man the voice presumably belonged to stepped into his line of sight, resting a hand on his forehead gently.
“You’ve been injured and you’re not ready to be mobile yet. I’ve done what I can for the moment but I need you to stay calm.” A large pattern of some sort radiated under a white and red-stained bandage across his chest. The hand that had settled on his forehead moved to join another on his abdomen as the stranger gave a soft sigh and carefully removed the bandage across his chest.
“I’m sorry for the pain. I don’t have any anesthetic available to me… just try and rest, okay?”
The weight of his company's hand was enough to ease his head back down onto the cot. He could see his breath in the chilled air of whatever dark, dank recess they were in as the figure standing over him eclipsed the light of the hanging lamp making it impossible to discern his features from his position.
"... What? Where am I? What happened to my chest?" Panic gnawed at him as his arms struggled to feel at his aching chest. Instead, he simply found this stranger's hands, and he stopped trying to pry and probe with the resistance. He felt something different. Scars, marks, extending along the precipice of his fingers to his knuckles from what he could feel and his touch immediately lightened.
There was a soothing cadence to his company's voice, one which he'd delegated couldn't belong to a captor.
The last thing he remembered was being in convoy, and then suddenly being under heavy fire.
By his own weaponry.
He groaned softly, expelling a shuddered breath.
"’ Where’ is an interesting question. Not an OR or the trauma ward I'm afraid," The stranger answered after a moment, checking over his injuries and looking vaguely concerned before he sighed and started doing something to his chest.
This caused Tony’s heart rate to kick start once again until he understood what the other was doing.
"You were struck by shrapnel from one of your missile tests if I understand correctly. I've removed as much of it as I can but I'm not exactly as competent a surgeon as I was a few years ago - removing anything else with as close as the shrapnel is to your heart could prove fatal. For the time being, your heart is safe. But these conditions aren't helping you heal from the wounds, nor are they particularly conducive for preventing infection."
Tony didn’t have the strength to nod his head, so he simply listened on.
The man - the doctor? - finished dressing the wound again, rinsing his hands before gently stroking Tony's hair. He felt the subtle quake in the strangers' hands as they smoothed over his forehead.
"I'll keep you alive, Mister Stark. I've never lost a patient - I don't intend to start now. I am very sorry for your pain and how limited I am in remedying that. For now, it's best that you rest."
"A surgeon," his voice was weak and strangled. "I guess I owe you some gratitude," Tony stated and his hand once again dared to explore the exterior of the wound now that’s the other man’s were absent.
His fingers grazed over the bandages and he felt a soft pulsing vibration emanating through. It was warm, like his skin - but unexplainably different.
He remembered what had happened to him now, but the ‘where’ of all this was the most prominent inquiry on his mind.
"How do you know my name… Doctor …?" Tony's mind was hazy, but that didn't stop him from putting two-and-two together.
Everything was slowly coming back to him as he laid there, gaze fixed on the point just above him. The looming shadow of the doctor was less of a threat and spurred more questions. It didn't matter that he couldn't make out the doctor's features in the light either, these were things he'd see and figure out later.
"I used to be based out of New York - what New Yorker worth their salt doesn't know who Tony Stark is?" The doctor chuckled lowly, his tone warm at that. The light was moved from its place and the man took up a seat beside him. "Besides, our captors have made it very clear that they know who you are, even if I didn't know who you were already. I'm sorry to say this, mister Stark, but currently you're being held prisoner. I've made it very clear to them that you're not in a good state to be doing anything they want at the moment, your health isn't great but eventually, they're going to come knocking and expecting things..."
The doctor gave a quiet sigh at that. "I'm not sure how much help I'll be when that happens. I'm sorry I can't bring you somewhere safer, mister Stark. For now... You need to rest. Recover. Or at the very least keep your eyes closed so they think you're still unconscious. It'll buy us both time to figure out a way out of this mess."
There was a particular swell of pride when the doctor mentioned knowing his reputation. Sure, everyone knew of Tony Stark, he was world renown, but now was no time for him to bask in his ego being fluffed through recognition.
As much as Tony wanted to ask so many more questions he had to admit he really was in no condition to be up and about and to be quite candid, his chest was still killing him.
He was panicked, scared, only remembering glimpses and flashes of what previously transpired from the trauma being so fresh. But he took a certain solace in the comfort of the Doctor's words.
"I never got a name, what do I call you?" He closed his eyes, his voice less strained as he mumbled a little quieter, only so his caretaker could hear.
"Strange," He chuckled softly, "Doctor Stephen Strange. I suppose I shouldn't have expected you to recall, you were pretty out of it the first time you asked. As to where we are... I wish I had a more precise answer for you than Afghanistan." His tone continued to remain calm and his fingers brushed through short hair in a soothing manner.
"You'll have to excuse me, I tend to be out of it regularly… from what people tell me." Tony let out a rasping chuckle in response to try and lighten the mood a bit.
Ow, it hurt a bit.
Those fingers felt nice on his forehead in the brisk air of the cave. He let out another soft breath through his nose - it was good that his vocals were lost to him right now, so he didn't have to worry about controlling his voice level.
"Thank you, Doctor Strange… Dare I ask, how long you've been holed up in here?"
“Based on meals? Approximately two weeks.” Strange hummed softly, leaning against the side of the cot. “As for you? You’ve been in and out of it for about four days. I’m sure there are people looking for you as we speak. The desert out there is a lot to comb, but while I’m not particularly savvy in Urdu, it appears they may have sent back a video for your ransom. I’m sure they’ll get you home soon enough.”
The doctor slowly sunk in his spot, resting his head on his arms beside where Tony lay. “As for me, there’s something I need before I can get out of here.” What followed was something too quiet to hear, but sounded as though it might have been a quiet lamentation.
Tony's gaze flitted over Stephen's face. For the first time, there was enough light to make out the man's features.
Darker coloured hair, black or brown, Tony wasn't sure in the low light. But despite being captive here, he had a decently manicured beard and his eyes caught just enough light for Tony to make out the crystal grey-blue hue.
"I don't think they are going to find us," Tony mumbled quietly, his head had fallen to the side with slitted eyes so he could partially see his saviour’s features.
"Why did they take you...? I mean ransom makes sense for me." Tony didn't go into detail.
“It might be a misunderstanding to say they ‘took’ me…” Strange chuckled softly. “I found them. I came looking for something. They… didn’t take kindly to that. I’m a little more threatening than I might appear at first.”
Sitting up again the doctor leaned back in his seat. “As I said, they have something I want. I can’t leave without it. Quite a bit more literally than I expected, unfortunately. Now they want answers from me that I won’t give them, and other things from me that… they’re slowly gaining - and then you fell into their laps and my more mundane skills were deemed useful.”
Tony cracked an eye open further before his eyes fell shut entirely. It was therapeutic listening to the Doctor talk, and he found himself inquiring further, partially out of a desire to hear the man speak.
"You're a long way from home Strange." He rasped a silent chuckle. "What in god’s name could you possibly be looking for all the way out in the middle of the desert?" That soft chuckle had sent a prickle of pain through his chest, and he had to groan softly as his body was wracked with an obscure type of aching.
“I somehow doubt you’d believe me if I told you,” Strange responded with a wry smile, though he adjusted in his spot to check the engineer’s chest briefly and sat back down shaking his head. “So, for now, I’d rather not give you any reason to think I’m insane. I’m sure you’re panicked enough without thinking you’re trapped with a crazy person. Especially a crazy person who performed surgery on you.”
The man made an odd face at that before shaking his head. “I’ll have to tell you eventually of course. I suppose I didn’t think that through too well at the time. Keeping you alive was kind of a priority.”
Tony shook a little bit more with amusement when the pain had subsided.
"Try me, I already know that something in my chest is weird, and if this thing you are looking for was so important you needed to risk your life to obtain it… then you may not be as crazy as you think." He paused for a moment. "I'll take the crazy person over the armed terrorists any day. Plus, it takes crazy to know crazy..."
“Magic.” Strange responded simply.
“And yes, I recognize that as a doctor it sounds absurd for me to talk about magic, but… as you may have already noticed, the mandala on your chest is holding the pieces of shrapnel I was unable to remove, in place. It’s being maintained by my own energy. Something in this cave is limiting my ability to access further energy, so we need to get you out of here and to a proper hospital sooner rather than later.”
The man shifted uncomfortably in his seat crossing his arms as though anticipating some blowback from the statement. “I came in search of a relic that these men shouldn’t have. It allows the user to slowly drain magic from objects and entities around it… myself included. I’m near it enough that it’s creating issues, distortions, but not quite close enough to take it and bring it back to where it should be. Luckily for you, it would seem.”
There was a moment of silence that followed that information as Tony tried to articulate his thoughts around Strange's statement.
"Well..." He started, searching for the right words and not quite sure what to make of all of it. But then his eyes glanced down to the unnatural radiance coming out of his chest and he simply took that moment to let out a ragged exhale. "I can believe that whatever you did to me… It's keeping me alive, and I don't understand it." He stated quietly.
"I can't say I'm 100% on this, to each their own doc." He concluded softly.
There was another drawn-out hiatus before Tony spoke again. "Maybe we can work together to get ourselves out of here, and probably procure your relic in the process."
“That is the hope.” Stephen shrugged slightly. “I don’t have a lot of information to give you. I don’t even know where to start at the moment. I can’t seem to get out of this room, they took my means of transportation. So I suppose I’m rather counting on you. But you need to be in the best shape in order to figure any of that out. Right now you’re not in any state to be moving, much less trying to figure your way out of a cave in the middle of a desert - in the middle of Afghanistan. Especially given I have no idea what their plan is for you when you’re well again.”
"Money… power..." Tony started to weakly list some things off the top of his head. Neither of these things sat well with him, even with the prospect of working towards an escape.
He was anxious. Putting a plan into motion was far different than actually talking about it. His heart was still hammering in his ears, and his entire body still ached while the only emotions he could feel right now were anger and indifference at his situation as a captive, but most of all dread.
Tony's teeth chattered, and he made weak movements to pull the blanket over his arms. He watched as the fog from his hot breath dispersed in the chilly air in front of him. He was afraid and the only natural tether he had left was sitting right beside him. The doctor's words sounded confident - so sure of Tony.
At least someone here had some faith in him, though a lot of merit that was from a stranger.
"I'm glad we can agree on at least one game plan." He murmured quietly. "We'll figure something out… You watch my back doc, and I'll watch yours."
The doctor regarded him carefully before tucking his hands away into an unseen area. Shortly after the blanket warmed some and Strange got to his feet to pull the blanket over Tony’s shoulders himself, making certain the man was bundled up appropriately.
“Get some rest, Stark. Take your time. Recover. I’ll be here to keep an eye on you while you get well, and to talk to in the interim. We’ll figure things out and get you home safely. Back to your comfortable pillows, plush mattresses, and cozy blankets. All the things I can imagine someone like you would love right about now.” A small smirk crossed Strange’s face as he spoke before he settled back into the chair again, resting his arms on the side of the cot and his head atop those.
“If you need anything let me know. I’ll see what I can do. We both need you to get out of this alive.”
"And to think you got such a good start on that sweet little bed-time preamble." Tony shook again softly with amusement as he nestled into the blankets. He could have spoken up about that with a quip, but Tony would save the words and questions for when he didn't feel like there was a bed of nails weighing down on him.
Laughter was a remedy for many a thing, unfortunately not when you just had your abdomen operated on by a doctor claiming to also be potentially 'crazy' by his own words, on the quest for the holy grail in a terrorist hideout.
Tony let out a heavy sigh.
Strange's words passed over him like a heavy blanket, wrapping around him thickly and easing a particular strain from his cognizance. It was as much as it could do given his predicament, but a welcome metaphorical salve to ease the pain.
The engineer's breathing evened out, and he drifted in and out of lucid sleep for the next few hours as his body was on the mend.
The next time he woke it wasn’t to the soothing sound of the doctor’s voice - but rather to the man’s frantic words.
“He’s not ready. He’s barely been conscious for a half an hour at a time, you can’t expect him to get up and start working…!”
He'd heard what sounded like a bomb go off, reliving in detail the affairs that had previously lead up to his captivity and inevitable injuries within his short dreams. His eyes cracked open to see Strange flustered from quarrelling with some unknown individual - probably a guard by the sounds of the accent.
“Then make him better, Doctor.” Another man’s harsh, heavily accented voice rang clearly through the cave. “Tik Tok. Time is running out.”
A door slammed shut and the doctor gave a frustrated noise, kicking at the door the men had left through and cursing a bit under his breath at that - it sounded like a pretty solid metal door, so kicking it was likely inadvisable. Soon enough, Strange reached his bedside, setting something on the table beside the cot before running a hand into his hair and slumping into the chair beside the cot that he’d seemed to be consistently occupying.
"Tough crowd out there, huh," Tony mumbled quietly to him, he'd turned over on his side and watched as Strange had crumpled in his spot. He slowly began to shift around, attempting to move - with much less stress this time than before. His wounds seemed to ache significantly less than last time he’d woken.
"Figured out what they want with you... They didn't like what I had to say about it," Strange sighed heavily. "But enough about that for now. How are you? How are you feeling? They've brought what amounts to food in this place if you feel like you'd like to eat. I can give you a hand sitting up and we can get something into your system... you could probably use some water as well."
Tony laughed, and thankfully, it didn't hurt as much as it did before.
"You keep this up, and I may just want to keep you." He teased as he propped his torso up on his elbows, flashing a wry smile.
"Water would definitely be nice." Tony croaked, arms shaking as he tried to support his weight, only now that the engineer was mostly sitting up did he actually look down at his chest to get a look at the bright glow that radiated under the bandages.
Ok, that was not right.
"This-" He started, not knowing what to say as he gazed down at it. The only prominent question right now was ‘ What on Earth was in his chest?’
"Oh, don't tease me like that," Strange responded in kind with a small smirk. "You keep me and you'll find me hard to get rid of, I assure you."
The man reached to the side to gather a rather awkward-looking cup of a sort, lifting it to offer to the engineer. "Here... drink as much as you need." The doctor instructed, giving a small smile as he shook his head and looked at the other's chest. "I should change those bandages any way and you can get a good look at it, hm? I think I did a good job of the mandala given the circumstances..."
Tony steadied a hand on the other man's as he offered up the drinking cup.
While it was nice that Strange had accommodated him, shaking in his hands made it difficult to drink, and so he steadied it with his own. His fingers lightly braced over the other doctor's palm as he sipped his share and then pulled away, just as soon relinquishing the hold he had on him.
"Wouldn't that be a shame… thanks." He grinned weakly, just as soon lost as he felt a sharp pain wreak havoc in his chest from moving around. "Yeah I think... a change of bandages would be good..." An arm curled around his torso out of instinct following the pain, but it did nothing to alleviate the throbbing.
"Yeah, sorry about that..." Strange sighed softly. "As I mentioned before, we don't have any kind of anesthetic or painkillers on hand. There's only so much to be done about the pain I'm afraid." His hands rested on Tony's arm gently. "But I do need access to your chest in order to remove the bandages and see where you're at in healing. Unfortunately, our dear captors seem to think magic means I can just fix everything - and wouldn't that be a trick? I can do a lot of things, but I can't magically heal you I'm afraid."
Carefully easing Tony's hand away, he helped the other adjust so he could lean back against the wall while remaining upright before his hands worked on removing the bandages again. "It could use a little time to breathe, to be honest, but I'm concerned about the possibility of infection in these conditions..."
"I'm sure I'll live." He croaked softly, eyes shut as the warmth from the skin-on-skin contact was a welcome comfort in the brisk air.
The engineer shivered as the cold stone bit into his back. He kept his eyes closed tightly as he felt the doctor unwind the bandages from his chest. When the other man was finally done, he opened his eyes, and he was a little taken aback by what he saw.
As the bandage was pulled away, the light seemed to become brighter, radiating a soft blue on the doctor's features as the man inspected his chest. In the center of his chest, where the supposed shrapnel had struck him was a spherical pattern, bright as the light of the sun.
Around it, elaborate and intricate middle-eastern runes and textiles tattooed? Burned? Or etched into his skin somehow. He had no idea how this intricate pattern was imbued into him, or why his chest was glowing but from the looks of it, magic seemed to be the only explanation as his fingers went to his torso to prod around the elaborate patterns.
"This… doesn't make any sense..." His food was temporarily forgotten.
“Don’t think about it too hard for now. It’ll take some getting used to. You can touch it if you want. It’s safe enough, you won’t do anything to the mandala, just so long as you keep your fingers away from where the incisions are from the surgery. Unless you want to wash them first and poke at it, but honestly that’s ill-advised overall.” Strange shrugged slightly and started to part the middle section of his robes until a small green light could be seen emanating from beneath his robes.
“This is the point that the energy is coming from. You’re a mechanic, correct? Or an engineer? I’m essentially acting as a magical battery for that mark, and the purpose of the mark itself is to keep the shrapnel in place. Eventually, perhaps, a qualified cardiothoracic surgeon will be able to remove those. Unfortunately, my specialty was the brain and even at that…” He lifted his hands to show off the scars that ran along his fingers, and likewise the tremors.
Ah, Tony had wondered when he would mention that.
Tony fixated on the green light on the doctor's chest before he looked back down to his own. His fingers gently tracing along the circumference of the textile patterns.
"This is... a lot to take in..." He started, giving the mark an emotionless stare. There wasn't room here for joking, not when he had so many questions.
He was simply humouring Strange before, and now he had reason to believe there actually was magic involved in all of this. Even with the glowing mandala in his chest, it was a hard pill to swallow.
"I'm finding a lot of this very hard to digest, sorry. Even with the evidence in front of me - in fact, a part of me," He laughed out of insecurity, shaking his head.
“I understand.” The doctor hummed softly at that. “I assure you, I accused the woman who would become my mentor of drugging my tea when I was first learning of all of this. It’s a lot to grasp and I don’t know how much energy I can waste to show you right now but…”
With a thoughtful look, Strange raised his hands and with a few short gestures produced a small kaleidoscope of butterflies from his fingers, letting them flit around in the air a little before dispersing. A single blue butterfly remained, perching on the doctor’s finger and flitting its wings briefly. “Unless your brain, brilliant as it is, can come up with a conclusion as to where the butterflies came from… I hope this is effective enough proof.”
“And you said there weren’t any pain meds? Opioids? Hallucinogens?”
Tony's gaze settled on the butterfly perched atop Stephen's finger, he reached out to poke it with his index finger and it dispersed into what looked like a cloud of glowing blue particles.
"You'll make a believer of me yet, Strange." He let his hands settle in his lap, turning back to his chest.
"Right… So, food then?" He wanted to change the subject, still unable to completely process this.
"I'll have to keep working on it, then." Strange chuckled softly as he reached to the side to grab the bowl of gruel to offer to the engineer with a small smile. "I'm sorry there's nothing fancier here, just gruel. But I have a bowl of my own so this is all yours. We're lucky they're keeping us fed and as well off as they are. But they need you."
The doctor gave a soft sigh as he sat back. "Right, I should clarify... by the sounds of it they're keeping you in good shape for the sake of building weapons for them. So we're going to have to deal with that issue in short order." Tony accepted the bowl and spooned around in it.
"Thick and sludgy, just how I like it," Came the sarcastic tone from the engineer as he weakly lifted a spoonful to his mouth. It was cold and tasteless, like muck. The only flavour from whatever the oats of the slosh could spare.
"I'm guessing they'll want to have an actual word with me about that, won't they?" He took in another spoonful, making a disgruntled face as he swallowed.
"How's your Urdu?" The doctor inquired. "I speak a few languages fluently, but Urdu isn't one of them. And the man who always comes to speak with me is... Not fluent in English. He gets testy quickly." Strange gave a small shrug, helplessly. "And my translation spell doesn't want to stick."
"It’s rusty at best, without my personal computer system here for aid, I normally have my own translator, but obviously I think we're both more than a little out of our element." There was an amused snort. Tony took another spoonful and then set the half-finished gruel off to the side in a disgusted manner.
"Right then doc… Did you have any plans to actually get out of here? Or are we running in blind?"
"Lovely. I know the basic surroundings, I might have an idea of what direction gets each of us home. If we can get ahold of my sling ring that'll be even more helpful - I'll be able to get us home pretty instantaneously. The problem is that our exit is either through a lot of stone or through that door." Strange gestured to the thick metal door. "And honestly, that door is probably more likely to lead me to my ring and the relic I need to retrieve than cutting through stone aimlessly. Additionally? They have weaponry. A lot of it. A lot of your weaponry, in fact, so I'm rather hoping you have ideas of how to deal with it.
"So... not blind, but not nearly so informed as I'd like." Tony leaned forward onto his arms, putting weight onto his legs as he thought for a moment. He looked at his surroundings, including the walls, doors and all around the area they were being kept in.
"My weapons… I was injured by one of my own weapons..." He took on a more melancholic tone. The idea that his own weapons had caused all of this made his blood absolutely boil. "Is there… any magic, or abilities you can use while here?" Tony addressed, his mind was working through their options as he inquired. All skepticism discarded in favour of putting together a game plan.
"The more magic I cast the weaker I'll be," the doctor advised quietly. "I don't know how much you recall of our last long conversation, but I have no means of replenishing magic in here. If I run out of magic, that mark will dissipate and you'll be on a ticking clock before that shrapnel reaches your heart. Once we're out of here that may be less of a problem, but so long as we're stuck in here it's not the best idea to use anything too... grand. A couple of butterflies or warming a blanket is one thing, but even setting up that mandala was draining." Strange sighed a little, running a hand into his hair.
"I do wish I had more to offer you than that. If we have a plan I can work around it, but unless we have a plan to work from, neither of us can afford for me to use anything large. I could have split the stone if someone had asked a week ago, but I was waiting for an opportunity... and with my magic being slowly drained and creating such a precise mandala I don't know if I can still."
Tony's eyes scanned around in thought as he listened. Strange sounded drained, like his hope was quickly waning, his case was a plea and he seemed desperate.
The only options he could formulate now were building something, something big. Their captives needed them alive, so there was time to burn, time to think.
Right now, the ideas of fixating on how long the distance they needed to travel would be were less critical than how they would make that distance at all. Focusing so hard on getting something done and overthinking it would simply lead to panicking and that was something they both couldn't afford at the moment if they wanted to make it out of here alive.
"You said this thing was like a battery… you're powering the thing that's in my chest, but does that mean that I have my own degree of power too or would it drain you? What can you tell me about this?" He tapped the mandala softly as he looked at Strange.
"It is." Strange agreed with a nod, tilting his head some. "It would be draining on me, but I'm sure we could find a way to teach you to tap in to some of your own innate magic. We all have it... some are simply more competent with it than others. Given the mandala took to you well enough, perhaps that may have helped jumpstart things. Let's see... give me your hands. Rest the back of them in each of my hands..." As he gave Tony instructions, Strange held out his own hands palms up.
"We're going to see how easily you can tap into your own innate magic. I don't expect you to be able to do what I can do - I've practiced and studied for years - but perhaps it'll be enough..."
"Well, so far I've witnessed some pretty entertaining magic tricks but anything we can work with is better than nothing." Tony nodded and placed the backs of his hands in Strange's palms.
In all honesty, this would have felt stupid in any other situation, it felt like they were preparing for a ritual. The heat from Stephen's hands felt nice on the backs of his own, he hadn't really realized how cold he was until he felt the heat radiating through his skin, comforting him.
"Alright, now what, Potter? " It kind of slipped out, Tony couldn't help it.
"At least do me the favour of recognizing that you are Harry Potter in the situation. I'm clearly the teacher here. McGonagall at the very least, but Dumbledore if you're feeling respectful." Strange rolled his eyes a little.
"For now, imagine a ball of energy in the palms of your hands. Just... energy. As pure as you can imagine. I want you to envision little tendrils of that energy building out of your hands, like little strings that are working together to form that ball. Don't be too put off if you can't, it might take time... though I'm not altogether sure how much of that we have to teach you. More than anything I just need you to feel the energy and know what it is."
"You know I usually save roleplay for the bedroom but if this might possibly just be my last day alive given we are in a terrorist hide-out planning an escape then I'll make a few exceptions for you ." Tony zested softly before closing his eyes.
He focused on the feeling of the other man's palms, the light thrumming in his chest. It was hard to be calm, in fact, he was anything but that at this moment. But he had to maintain a level head.
He did as Strange instructed, visualizing the imagery described to him, seeing the energy in his mind's eye in the palms of his hands and then the threads that wove and spun like a centrifuge of energy, twisting and pulling the light in like a vortex.
Maybe Tony's mind worked differently than most but in his mind everything worked in pieces and parts, mechanically like cogs in a machine.
The engineer couldn't actually see what he was doing and he was afraid to look, but what he felt was the same magnetizing force from his chest, now expanding from his palms. The surface of his skin pulsed and prickled and it felt like grains of sand falling against his skin and sifting through his fingers.
"You just be careful, Stark," the doctor's voice was low as he responded, "if you weren't injured..." He offered a soft, exaggerated sigh at that.
Falling quiet, it was a few moments after that he gave a soft hum. "Get used to that feeling. Whatever you're feeling. Because that's precisely how it should feel for you, apparently."
Tony continued to channel into that feeling he distinctly targeted.
He was about to respond to Strange's return when something sparked in his palm and it felt hot, so much so that it seemed it should have burned his skin though it did no such thing. He continued to focus on his hands until there was a distinct discharge of heat and energy from his palms - then soon enough, a flash and a flicker of light.
The engineer opened his eyes and he found it hard to comprehend what he was actually looking at.
A waning spark, a flicker of light that strobed in his palm like a sparkler come to life.
"Ummm, doc? This wouldn't happen to be you, is it?"
At Tony's inquiry, Strange moved his hands away and shook his head. "I told you, I'm not using my own energy. This is you, all you. This is simply energy however, not actual use of magic. Simply an acknowledgement of the magic in your system and your ability to harness it. Congratulations." He offered a slight smirk. "So yes. I think it's safe to say you can harness your own energy through the mandala..."
"I guess. Wouldn't this be considered a form of cheating then? It kind of discredits all that time you put into learning and research when someone could have just given you some magical shortcut." Tony didn't mean for that to sound at least any bit insensitive, but it was his crude understanding of the energy he'd been wielding.
Tony let the light die out in his hands before he closed his palms and flexed them, looking up at the doctor who still held his own hands aloft in front of him.
"Doubtful." Strange's hands settled into his lap and he shook his head. "You can't do the things I can do. You'd need ways to channel it to use it. All that you have there is energy... raw energy. Raw energy alone can only use so much. If you can find a way to use it, to manage it and put it to use... only then does it become useful. But that's on you to figure out."
"So, in layman's terms I've got a big old battery now in my body just like you and we could use it to power something if I can figure out how to harness it." The gears in Tony's head continued to turn after their temporary stall, and he started to connect the fibres of his ideas to the current situation.
"I might just have a plan, it's a little crazy, but give me a little bit of time - as much as you can buy for me to be as rested as I can.”
" You could use it yes. I can only help you figure out how to do it. So what can I do to help?" Strange smiled a little, expectantly. He seemed very much as though this was what he'd expected. "They want you to build weapons. I thought you might have an idea to do precisely that."
"I thought that maybe if I could work with you and believe in the fact that you are a wizard and magic is apparently real, then maybe you wouldn't find the idea of building a giant mechanized suit to get out of this dump and bust out of here so far of a stretch," Tony mumbled, a little more energized, his cadence a little playful and taunting to the doctor sitting in front of him.
"And this," he gestured to the mandala on his chest, "will power it. I'll need you to teach me as much as you can about this so I can interface with it.”
" Sorcerer, not wizard, but I'll see what I can do. I'm not much for killing - also a doctor, you know, that whole thing. But a suit of armour for defence isn't the worst idea given that there are people with guns and other weaponry out there. Remember that even if they don't know what that relic does, it will affect you to a point. So we'll need to manage that some." Stephen offered a slight smirk to the other. "Want to see if we can get you onto your feet? Give you an idea of what's available to you?"
"Yeah, sure. We'll work on it." Tony braced his hands down against the cot, his stomach was still sore but surprisingly less so now.
He pushed up on his hands and swung his legs over the side of the cot, planting his feet on the ground. He grimaced with the strain, but he was able to sit up and maintain his position. With both feet planted on the ground, he attempted to stand, grunting aloud as the strain took its toll on his injured body.
The doctor's arm wrapped around his waist as soon as he was on his feet, supporting the other carefully. "Hold tight. Take it slow. I'm going to keep you upright, I'll give you a tour of the area and then we'll sit you down again. I'm sure they'll come to talk to you soon after they notice you're on your feet. There are a couple of blind spots from what I can figure, so I'll do what I can to point those out when we're near them... but I'm right here with you. Lean on me if you need."
Tony's arm was instinctively around the doctor's waist, holding onto him as he put his weight on Strange. He felt his heart rate speed upon contact for a moment, probably something to do with the magic or the idle reclining he'd been doing for the majority of his incarceration, either way there was a calming aura that spread from the other man's soft and encouraging tone as he was lead around the room by a steady body.
"Right, I'm assuming this is sort of a work station here." He looked around, taking careful steps with Strange.
"The most well-lit area in the room? A good bet that that's the work station, yes." Strange gave a nod, keeping an arm around him fairly firmly and a smile settled on his face. "I imagine it won't take a lot to get them to bring you materials as needed to make what they're looking for. There are a few other things around here that I can only assume you'd have a better idea how to identify than I would. A furnace of some sort over there in the far corner, some tools around. I've been pretty insistent that you're not ready but they care less about what I have to say on the matter than I'd like."
The engineer adjusted his weight on his heels, leaning against Strange further as another throb of pain wracked his body. He looked around the room, analyzing his environment as Stephen showed him the workspace.
There was a cold bead of sweat that started at the side of his temple and dribbled onto his shoulder from the strain he was putting on his body, breathing elevated and he had to force himself to take deep breaths in and out to keep his huffing at bay.
"Right..." He gasped softly, and his other arm came around his chest. "Is there any possibility you can buy me until tomorrow? Or do you expect they won't give me that much time?"
"I can't stop them from coming in, but if you need the time to rest I’ll do what I can. You'll need to express to them what you need from them in order to get to work, so... give me some notion of how to handle it. Once they see you're up and about it's not likely going to be long before they show up with demands again." Strange gave a gentle squeeze before gesturing to a chair for him to be seated. "Here... sit. Talk me through what you need from me."
Tony nodded, he was just about to let go of Strange and slide down into the chair when the iron doors near the front of the room were thrown open without warning and a small skirmish of heavily armed men filed into the room.
Two stood by the doors while four more and their leader approached them both.
Tony's head snapped to the men.
This wasn't going to be good.