Title: Upstart
Author: Jordanna Morgan (librarie@jordanna.net)
Archive Rights: Please request the author’s consent.
Rating/Warnings: G.
Characters: Wong, Stephen Strange.
Setting: Not long after the events of Doctor Strange.
Summary: Stephen has new ideas about sorcery… but Wong isn’t sure how well they will be received.
Disclaimer: They belong to Marvel. I’m just playing with them.
Notes: Written for the prompt of “Rude” at Fan Flashworks.

 

Upstart

 

After the battle against the Zealots, Wong took to keeping a close eye on Doctor Strange.

It wasn’t that Wong doubted Stephen’s intentions, or even whatever choices he might have made in striking his mysterious “bargain” with Dormammu. The world was still merrily turning in its own proper universe, after all. Wong felt certain any price for that was better than seeing all of humanity become acquainted firsthand with… well, whatever it was Stephen had seen in the Dark Dimension.

In truth, it was that mystery which compelled Wong to watch him—out of kind concern.

Surely a single day had never effected a greater transformation in a man. Only moments before the Zealots first attacked the London Sanctum, Stephen was still protesting that self-interest was his sole motive for learning magic; yet by the end of it all, the entire focus of his being had changed completely. He accepted the stewardship of the New York Sanctum, and threw himself wholeheartedly into a study of the interdimensional dangers he had once wanted no part of. His sudden readiness to embrace the burdens of a sorcerer was splendid to see… but if it became the obsession his former drive to restore his hands had been, Wong couldn’t help wondering just how healthy it would be. At least for Stephen himself, if not for those around him.

So Wong called on the New York Sanctum daily, ostensibly to ensure that Stephen was settling in well. …And privately, also to see that he was doing reassuringly normal things like sleeping and eating.

It was on one such visit, a week after Hong Kong, when the librarian found the doctor looking thoughtful at his desk in the study.

“Good evening, Stephen,” Wong said warmly, at the same time giving a passing nod of acknowledgement to the Cloak of Levitation that hovered in waiting near the doorway. “How are things here today?”

“As quiet as yesterday—though I’m guessing that’s a good thing.” Stephen cracked a smile that did not fully reach to his blue eyes. “And for the record, you really don’t need to keep checking up on me like a mother hen.”

Wong managed to combine a look of injured innocence with his genuine surprise. “Do I look like a ‘mother hen’, Strange?”

That was enough to coax a short laugh out of Stephen. He shook his elegant head. “No. But you’re still not nearly as subtle about it as you think.” His smile thinned a little as he added earnestly, “I’m fine, Wong. Really.”

“I could rest easier in that assurance if I knew what really happened to you that day.”

The smile vanished at once. Stephen’s head shake this time was a short jerk, his gaze falling away from Wong’s.

“It’s not important. I lived… eventually.” The significance he placed on that final word—perhaps unconsciously—was more than a little troubling. However, he spread his scarred hands before Wong could question him, at once both sweeping away the topic and taking in the clutter of books and research on his desk. “Anyway, in the last few days, I think I’ve been getting some good groundwork done.”

Letting his observant eyes range over the desktop, Wong noticed that a new object had taken up residence there: an enchanted fountain pen from the Sanctum’s collection of relics, which would write by itself whatever was dictated to it. He understood Stephen’s use for this, as the doctor’s damaged hands left him barely able to write his own name. Still, it seemed odd because Stephen showed little inclination to write on paper at all. Incongruous though it may have looked in the antiquated surroundings of the Sanctum, he kept a very modern and conventional notebook computer to type his letters and memoranda. Fetching the pen from its glass case was a rather curious alternative, and not within his usual character.

There was a sheet of parchment resting underneath the pen. Wong couldn’t read the ornate script that was upside-down from where he stood, but the long, narrow column of words was obviously some sort of list.

“Perhaps you’ve found that dictating to the pen helps your thoughts flow better?” he probed casually, gesturing to the magic-imbued writing implement and the work it had produced.

A frown flickered across Stephen’s lips. After a moment’s consideration, he picked up the paper and handed it across the desk.

“I didn’t really feel comfortable saving this digitally. …I’m not sure why.”

Wong accepted the document, his dark eyes narrowing as they devoured the text. The list was, in fact, comprised entirely of names—the very first of which was Dormammu. This ominous entry was followed by the names of several other powerful and malevolent other-dimensional beings, each recognized by the Masters of the Mystic Arts as existing or potential threats to the safety of Earth.

Know thy enemy,” Wong intoned quietly after a moment. He paused halfway down the list, raising his eyes to Stephen. “I see you have been studying.”

Stephen nodded gravely. “I told you we’d be ready—and this is my first step toward making sure of it. A watchlist.”

Both approving and intrigued, Wong returned a vague nod of his own as he continued to read the roster of enemies to humanity; but only a few entries later, he stopped again.

Loki,” he said aloud, and frowned at the doctor. “Stephen, you must know that we do not classify the Asgardians as other-dimensional. At least not in the sense that concerns us. The other Masters consider their ‘god of mischief’ to be a creature best left to more… conventional heroes.”

“Yeah. I kinda got that from the fact that there were no sorcerers in sight when Loki was trying to conquer the planet with an alien army.” Something hard flickered in Stephen’s icy eyes. “Do you know what it was like to be a doctor here in New York the day that fell out of the sky? I treated my share of the casualties, Wong. If I have anything to say about it now, that’s never going to happen again.”

Suddenly unsettled for reasons he couldn’t define, Wong returned his gaze to the list. Beneath the name of Loki, he recognized others that the Masters saw as someone else’s problem: dangerous and otherworldly threats, certainly, but not mystical ones. Although it was a very fine distinction, it was one the Masters of the Mystic Arts had held to since the days of Agamotto. After operating with a singular mindset for so many centuries, they would not take kindly to suggestions that they should change their standards with the times.

And of course Stephen would decide to take that particular bull by the horns right now, hardly a week after being named a Master himself. It was the very worst-case scenario of exactly the fixation Wong had feared—because in spite of Stephen’s grim recollection, this really had nothing to do with the Chitauri assault. It all still came down to Hong Kong… and where he had gone from there.

“…What did you see in the Dark Dimension, Strange?”

Stephen looked away sharply, with a pronounced flinch. One crooked and quivering hand passed restlessly over the other, moving upwards to grip his left sleeve. Wong noted that it was the same place where the Eye of Agamotto’s energy had twined around his wrist, when he used it to enact his incredible time-twisting spell.

“It wasn’t what I saw. It was what I felt. And I’ll fight to my last breath against anything… if it keeps even one other person from feeling it a moment sooner than they have to.”

The words were a haunting enigma, spoken in a quiet and faintly rough voice. For one moment, Wong almost made the mistake of thinking Stephen looked and sounded broken; but then the doctor raised his eyes again, and in those depths of blue steel, he saw that nothing could be further from the truth.

At last Wong heaved a sigh and scratched his head in vexation, scowling down at the list in his hand.

“I believe your heart is in the right place, Stephen. But if you try to convince the other Masters that our responsibility should be stretched this far, I’m afraid you may face a rude awakening.”

“Or they might,” Stephen countered quickly, his eyes flashing with an intent, impatient purpose.

Briefly Wong considered Stephen Strange’s giftedness. The ease with which he deciphered the Book of Cagliostro, too advanced for any other reader but the Sorcerer Supreme. His ability to master the vast power of an Infinity Stone. The fact that, whatever it may have cost him, he alone had faced and overcome the all-powerful Dormammu.

“Well… you did open the Eye of Agamotto,” the librarian muttered, his lips curling slightly in spite of himself. “If anyone can open the eyes of the Masters as well… perhaps it will be you.”


© 2017 Jordanna Morgan