Who: Bucky, Dr. Strange What: Bucky arrives (again!). When: after the monsters attacked.
He was caught in a dream again. A nightmare, more like.
Nothing to do with Thanos, or standing in the back of Tony Stark's funeral, hoping to not really be noticed because Bucky knew he had no right to be there but wanted to pay respects anyway, or losing Steve. Just one of those nightmares again. Assignment after assignment of wetwork, killing all in the name of working for HYDRA - barely a flicker of a conscience caught in the depths of his dilapidated soul which he had believed to have been the first thing to decay within him even though his physical body remained trapped in stasis. Frozen. This was why he had nightmares of concealment in the shadows and sniper rifles and grenades. Why, despite expert intervention from Shuri, his memories sometimes struggled against pounds and pounds of unforgiving sand, something held back by chains.
However, when he bolted awake? What followed was actually surprising. He wasn't bolting awake after one of the routine nightmares. It was him, waking up in a whole new place - like he'd been shoved through a portal, grabbed by otherworldly hands and dumped off into another world.
It looked familiar though - Central Park? The heart of Central Park. On the terrace overlooking a fancy fountain - and he was still in his pajamas, just a t-shirt and sweatpants.
Okay. Could be that he was continuing to dream. In which case, he severely questioned if he ate anything weird before bed.
Inside the Sanctum, Stephen Strange was hovering while sitting in a lotus position, listening to a cover of 'Running up that Hill' and making a half-hearted attempt at dusting. Half-hearted in that he was reading and sipping from a hovering cup of tea, while a couple of magically animated feather dusters whisked over bookshelves and table tops in the library. The rift in this universe was quiet as of late, and there had been no new arrivals for a while, only departures. His attention was turned to more worldly affairs as of late, with tablets to track down for study and paging through a few hundred years of historical accounts.
That changed, when he sensed a change in things, a shift in the air that any unaware person would have passed off as a fleeting chill, but to him it heralded a new arrival and their location. One who wasn't considering how many times he had been here before. Time was of the essence in this case, and Stephen uncrossed his legs, standing up and leaving the book and tea floating in midair. Sensing that it's owner was in a hurry, the cape flew over to rest on his shoulders immediately, and Stephen put on his sling ring, opening a sparkling portal directly to the park and stepping through it.
As though doing that was entirely normal, Stephen looked Bucky up and down to take in the state of attire, before saying wryly, "Hello again, Mister Barnes. I'm guessing this is a rude awakening."
“Uh, yeah. Something like that,” was Bucky’s clever response, but honestly, what the hell else could he say? A wizard (Stephen Strange, the one and only - he recognized the guy, of course) just appeared out of nowhere in front of him, and he had been asleep one minute and in another spot the next - don’t worry, he’d already pinched himself to make sure he wasn’t continuing to indulge this fever dream.
Glancing around, he wondered if anyone had taken note of these occurrences - but then again, New Yorkers were pretty resilient to all things bizarre. This was a city where a place called Dead Horse Bay, a literal trash beach, was a tourist attraction.
“So - did Steve do something else weird with the infinity stones?” Time travel, carving out a new life for himself, and giving a patriotic finger to the space-time continuum apparently wasn’t weird enough.
Stephen was glancing around too, knowing that their time was limited if one of the NYPD came by on one of the patrol rounds of the park, and recognized Bucky. A face that many people knew from old war footage, and from a huge display in the Smithsonian.
"No, this is...an entirely different situation compared to that. I need to get you to a safe place to explain it all. Please, step right this way," Stephen said, stepping aside to gesture with one hand toward the portal. "This is the Sanctum I keep watch over. It's a safe place."
The cape helped too, sweeping over in that direction and flapping a little, as if pretending to be a magical outerwear turned GPS arrow. You have arrived at your next destination, Bucky Barnes. There is no return route.
Sanctum was a safe place, alright then. Having little to no other options, Bucky stepped through the portal - not the first time he’d traveled this way, but it was a little too woo for him. Give him, you know, a car. Or just good old-fashioned walking.
Still, even he had to admit it was convenient - especially now, considering he wasn’t wearing any shoes. Or socks (who wore socks to bed?).
Fingers flexed on his vibranium arm, his other hand coming up to idly rub the smooth shoulder. “Never been here before,” he tried to drink in everything - mostly it just looked dark and gothic. Probably was teeming with literal, actual magic. “It’s nice.”
It wasn't as nice as his former apartment, Stephen mused, but he managed some semblance of a smile before he shooed a small child away and closed the portal behind them.
"It's home sweet home," Stephen intoned as he looked around, like they dimly lit house simply...was what it was. He looked at Bucky again, considering how best to do this. Everyone complained that his bedside manner was shit, and it was, but he knew he should make an effort. Barnes had been through enough already, and he could easily see that the man's aura was still trying to stabilize. "Would you like to sit down? Or you can stand, if you'd prefer to stand for further mind boggling news."
“I wouldn’t mind sitting,” Bucky admitted. “I’m kinda ancient. These old bones are creaky.” What year was this? He was probably over one-hundred by now, technically, even if he didn’t look it.
He was wary about ‘mind boggling news’ since he felt like his mind had been boggled enough - or scrambled, shaken and stirred, smashed into a million little pieces and then rebuilt, take your pick - but there was obviously no going back to where he’d come from. Which was his bed, after the Snapture and when the dust of yet another war had settled and he was supposed to do something with his life, and yet he had no idea what that would be. Help people, he guessed. Atone for his sins. That might take another five years or so. Probably longer.
"You look good for your age," Stephen said with a smirk, and in an instant, they were both sitting in a chair. It was a little jarring for the mind, but he was careful about setting Bucky down with the spell, not like he was with Thor, back when certain visiting Asgardians like Loki were nothing but trouble.
Time was of the essence now, and he didn't like wasting it. Every second was precious, and they had things to talk about.
A cup of appeared within Bucky's reach, and the soothing but crisp scent of a green tea with a little honey filled the air.
"Right," Stephen said, taking a sip as though centering himself for a discussion. "There's no easy way to say this, so I'll be blunt. You're now in an alternate universe, a relatively new addition to the multiverse. This is a slightly different Earth, but one that is still strongly similar to the one you knew. The histories are the same, to a point."
Stephen paused here, giving Bucky time to begin to process that and to ask any questions.
Glacial eyes crinkled at the corners a bit, Bucky’s expression perhaps resembling a small smile. “Flatterer,” he chuckled, and oh, alright - the rug got pulled out from under him. Or his feet did, anyway, and his behind was now in a chair. Neat trick.
He shifted a little to get comfortable, deciding he may as well drink some tea. The doctor wasn’t going to bring him all the way here just to poison him. But it was good tea - fruity, kind of floral, and it brought him back to his days of rehabilitation in Wakanda. He’d drink tea with Shuri too, and T’Challa, mostly rooibos. Quieter times. Simpler times.
“So how did this happen, exactly?” he asked. “People don’t usually get...pulled into mirroring universes.” Of course he knew the multiverse existed, it wasn’t difficult to fathom. But shouldn’t they all be contained, was the question.
"Yeah. That would be me." Stephen coughed a little, squinting as he looked sideways, still mulling over that eternal question: which part of turning back reality might have caused this to happen. Was it when he unskewered Wong so he wasn't dead? When he put the surrounding area and the Hong Kong Sanctum back together? Or during that point where the Dark Dimension was already bleeding over into their own? Back when he flew up into that ominous realm to face Dormammu, looping time so many times that he should have lost count how many times he died trying to force a stalemate.
Only he didn't forget. Someone doesn't endure that without remembering what it felt like. Lucky for him, he had the ability to force several do overs. But how to explain that....
"I was warned about messing with the time continuum once," he mused aloud. "I used the Time Stone. I thought the risk outweighed the danger. That it had to be done to preserve life on this planet from another encroaching dimension. Now there's a rift between this universe and the other, connecting the two. From time to time, it pulls in and carries us over, somehow. Our original counterparts still seem to be there. We're almost like divergent copies, only we're aware of what's happening in another place and time. And we're all people who were somehow important to that original timeline."
Well, now, Bucky didn’t know about important. But sure, he’d go with that. “So there’s now two of me? Damn. I thought one was bad enough,” he chuckled in a self-depreciating sort of way. “I don’t know much about rifts, but - other me just kinda wanted to lay low. I guess that’s what I’ll be doing here too.”
Though as soon as he said it, he knew it wouldn’t happen. Did it ever?
“Is there a place I can stay? Who else is here?” Not here-here, but who else had gotten pulled into a whole other copycat dimension? It felt like New York the way he’d left it, so he supposed that was something.
Doctor Strange found that a lot of people underestimated their importance, even if it was tied into the fate of others or led down dark paths into the unknown.
"I think a lot of us are feeling the same way," Stephen replied to both the notion of there being two of each of them, or that one was bad enough. He smirked, a glimpse of his own personal dry sarcasm at the general state of things shining through. There was a lot to take into account with Bucky, so it was better to give him options. The man had gone through being pulled on strings by others, and the last thing he wanted to do was take away Bucky's independence.
"Everyone you knew of, with a few notable exceptions of people not dying. I know you were at Stark's funeral, and Romanoff is alive. Steve is missing."
Stephen turned the cup slowly between his cupped hands, letting the tea cool down a little more.
"Stark's putting all new arrivals up in the Tower," he continued saying, each word weighed with consideration before being doled out. "There are studio apartments there. If you don't want to stay there, we can ask T'Challa about you staying at Wakanda's diplomatic residence. 30 Warren. Either way, you'll be safe. Oh, and you're not the first Bucky that's been here. Stark's been through it before."
That really wasn’t too comforting, regarding Stark being forced to deal with multiple versions of the brainwashed assassin who killed his parents but it was what it was, Bucky supposed? He couldn’t fix it. He doubted the Master of the Mystic Arts could either. That was the point, they were stuck here until they were blipped out again. Great.
“I’ll stay out of his way,” Bucky promised, since he had no intention of shoe-horning himself into Tony Stark’s second chance at life. He didn’t belong there. ‘Talking it out’ didn’t seem to be an option - there was nothing to say. Bucky was sorry every damn day of his life, he regretted each and every kill and those two especially, but Tony didn’t want to hear it and Bucky didn’t blame him for that. “I’m not - well, I’m not an Avenger, so. The diplomatic residence sounds good to me.”
"I think the term Avenger is nebulous enough that we're all one, from time to time. Especially against the likes of Thanos." Stephen didn't think of himself as an Avenger either, even though he often helped out. That was usually followed by trying to distance himself afterward, in order to refocus on his duties with the Sanctum or assisting other Mystics.
He took a careful sip of tea and thought things over, knowing that they were all burdened with self-blame or self-doubt to varying degrees. Even he suffered from that, despite his excess of self-confidence.
"I'm not sure if I have a lot of those room keys left," Stephen mused. "I'll look in a moment. Are there any other questions you have? Oh. I need to give you this."
He opened a small portal and reached through, to take out one of the welcome packs. Stark had put one in each of the studio apartments so it was there for new arrivals, saving Stephen time having to hand them over. Bucky was going to need one, though, and the pamphlet within.
"You'll want to read everything in there," he said, as the package floated over to Bucky. "There's a digital version on the phone. It's not going to answer every aspect. A lot remains unknown."
There was even a welcome package, how convenient. “You must do this a lot,” Bucky guessed, with a glance at Strange (oh, he was sympathetic, because the welcome gig seemed monotonous). But yeah, the appearance of a finely-crafted treasure box of information suggested that people blipped in and out pretty frequently.
“I’ll give it a look over and...see if I can settle in. No other questions for now. I’m pretty good at rolling with the punches though.” Sometimes literal punches too.
"I have. A lot," Stephen confirmed with a nod in the affirmative. He was the one to blame for it happening, even vicariously, so he would do what he could to make entering this existence easier. "If you have any questions, there's a business card with my information on it. You can contact me at any time, or you're welcome to visit. The Sanctum is open to any new arrivals that are in need."
Stephen set the tea down on a rickety table that seemed to appear out of nowhere. He took out his phone, sending a carefully tapped out text to T'Challa: Bucky has returned. He wants to stay at 30 Warren. I'll be taking him there now.
It would be wrong not to inform the host, before dropping off an unexpected house guest, even if it was someone who stayed in Wakanda before. Then he put the phone back into one of the pouches on the belts around his waist and stood up. "I'll take you to where you can rest and read through everything. When you're ready."
He turned and opened a portal into the hallway of 30 Warren, before he stopped and held out one hand, focusing his attention on his palm as a keycard appeared.
"Can't forget this," he said, offering the card to Bucky.
Bucky took the keycard with his vibranium hand, studying this newest acquisition briefly. “Well, this was all real nice of you,” he said, glancing through the ring of orange sparks - he supposed that was going to be his new home? Guess it could be worse. And it would be nice to see T’Challa again - he wondered if Shuri was around too.
“Thanks again for the help. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around.” He’d just assume as much - and put himself at the mercy of this broken-off universe.
There was one thing for sure, and that was that Stephen found Bucky - any of them - pleasant and unobtrusive company. The smile he gave the other man was an easy one.
"You're welcome. The room number is on the card. Remember, all you have to do is knock on the Sanctum's door, and you'll be inside." Stephen looked off in the direction of the front door. "Spell. It beats a doorbell."
He stood aside, ready to close the portal behind Bucky. The Wakandan residence seemed to be where the man would find a place to rest and recoup, which is what so many of them needed after recent events.