|. (hourglasss) wrote in avengers_logs,|
@ 2019-01-12 15:02:00
|Entry tags:||-backdated, -complete, natasha romanoff, stephen strange|
The bile that had risen in Natasha's stomach hadn't faded. It had crawled up the back of her throat as ugly realization settled in, thick and sour and churning inside her. People she knew - people she loved - crumbling to ash and blown away all around her. As though they'd never been there in the first place. As though they were nothing. Nothing. Nothing. And she had gone running, then, boots pounding over packed dirt. Not trying to outrun it herself, no - if it would happen, it would happen, she'd crumble and blow away the same as countless Wakandans had done beside her, but she had to reach the rest of them, had to see what she could do, who she could reach for, something to push back against the nameless terror that she hadn't truly felt since she was a child.
She wasn't breathing properly. Her stomach was still roiling, painful things in her chest shuddering too hard. It was too much. Too big. Too great a horror for a human mind to absorb. Wanda - Sam - and Steve, who was curled on the ground as though the effort of standing again was too great to bear. They had lost. They had lost immeasurably and a wet, ugly gasping noise escaped her throat - no noise she had ever heard herself make before, not in the course of her life, and then -
And then she was on her knees. She had been standing a minute before, she was sure of it, soaked with sweat from the heat and the raging war, the world around her going silent as no one could comprehend what was happening, quite, but now? Now she was on her knees, and the temperature was a shock of cold, startling as the wind whipped her hair against her cheeks. She was on her knees, the ground hard beneath them, and when she could finally grasp what she was seeing, it took a minute for the name to trip back into her brain: that was Bethesda Fountain. This was the middle of Central Park, and she was staring up at the familiar bronze Angel of the Waters.
"...huh," was the only thing she could manage.
Strange was in the middle of consulting with Wong in the libraries, already trying to sort out how to get Clint his family back from the Soul Dimension. There were some disappointing dead ends in the books, since there was no prior information on an experience such as this one, nor how to access it unhindered. That was when his spell net registered a new arrival....who wasn't new, either.
"Hold that thought, Wong," Stephen said while opening a portal. "I'll be right back."
"Bring back more cranberry pie," Wong stated, pouring over the pages of a book with such an intense stare, that his eyes looked ready to burn holes into it.
"You can ask Wanda about that. I'm not contributing to your pie addiction."
While Wong was grumbling, Stephen stepped through the spinning circle of fiery sparks. The library of Kamar-taj was briefly visible behind him before the portal closed in on itself. He was dressed in his usual mystic garb, the cape shifted around him unnaturally, moving in a way that wasn't at all consistent with the cold breeze in New York. His cool and calculating gaze was able to locate the spy in an instant. Not only from a visual perspective, either. He was familiar with her energy from encountering her before.
He walked toward her, ignoring a bevy of odd stares and muttering 'comic con' to anyone who dared open their mouth to ask him a question. Once he was close enough to be heard, he spoke clearly, "Natasha Romanoff, I presume. I'm Doctor Stephen Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts. Welcome to New York."
Even if the pain of the metal rods and pins would be worsened, he stopped by her side and held out one scarred hand to help her up onto her feet.
Natasha wasn't new to the strange and unusual, not since the day the Avengers had first come together on the ground in Manhattan. A hole ripped open in the sky with a flood of alien warriors on flying bikes pouring out of it that she'd battled back alongside a giant green monster, a flying god who controlled the lightning, and a remarkably well-preserved ninety year old man? That had been the start of the myriad weird, wild, and wacky rollercoaster that had become her daily existence, so yes: for lack of poetry, Natasha had told herself get used to it, and she had. Weird was the new normal.
Still. New York in the winter. Greeted by name. By the world's most dedicated Harry Potter cosplayer.
This was a lot.
She looked at his hand, one eyebrow up with her heart still thundering in her chest, panicked adrenaline from the battle not quite finished spiking through her. Her head was a few steps ahead of her internal workings, which - she had gone from broiling hot to Central Park in the freezing winter, and if her head was trying to process the man standing in front of her, her body had its own reactions to the very abrupt extremes of change it had just been put through. "Right," she said, after a beat, and then: "Sorry. One second."
She turned away from his hand to bend back over the fountain, sweeping her own hair out of the way to throw up into it, with as much dignity and politeness as she could manage.
To think, it was only recently that he mentioned his effervescent personality to Wanda. Stephen waited nearby with a great deal of patience, having witnessed a fair amount of patients vomiting when they came out of anesthesia. This wasn't his first rodeo, so to speak.
One corner of the cape reached out as though it was going to reassuringly pat Natasha on the back. It was abruptly brushed away with the wave of Strange's hand and a shake of the head. Touching a spy on the back was probably grounds for an unexpected and very flippy ass kicking. She already looked like she went through Hell, and he could guess what sort of hell that might be. Better to give her time to get it out of her system, uninterrupted.
When someone said "What the hell?" loudly as they neared, Stephen offered, "Bad day at the comic con. Open bar."
"You people need to getta life," was all they said, glaring as they walked away.
"Yeah, still remembering when I had one of those," Stephen said under his breath, and in a tone so dry it might rival the Sahara. "The good old days."
As a general rule, Natasha liked putting herself forth as someone quietly competent. Especially in a situation like this, where it had been firmly established that she was not the person who had the upper hand. She didn't have the upper hand. She didn't have the upper finger, she had no sense of her bearings and standing on shaky metaphysical ground was one of her very least favorite places to be.
She wiped her mouth with the back of her wrist and pulled herself up onto the edge of the fountain to sit. She'd have preferred to stand, but better to give herself a minute to settle in case she needed to fight her way out of...whatever this was, because this was a city undisturbed - at least, undisturbed by anything but the presence of both herself and Dumbledore, the apparent Comic Con refugees.
There were questions. Where am I, and don't say New York, it's clearly more complicated than that. Am I dead. How do you know my name. What's with the flaming circle. What happened, what's going on, but really, when she had just stared down the end of the world, there was only one question that ultimately mattered. More than herself, more than the rest of it:
"Steve Rogers," she said. "Did he survive?"
It wouldn't surprise to hear him called that, considering he'd been called Elrond and Gandalf so far. At one point, it was Dumblesnore. Often times, it was simply The Wizard. Tony Snark was the usual culprit. Of course.
Stephen sat down on the fountain at a respectable distance from her, close enough to be heard without alerting everyone around them to the conversation. If she wasn't bothered by all of the people keeping a wide berth around them, he wasn't showing signs of that either. It didn't seem like Natasha was going to be going off on any killing sprees any time soon.
"Yes, and he's here," Stephen replied to what he considered an easy question, which was likely one of the most reassuring ones as well. "We probably have time for a couple more questions before we need to relocate. Not because of the Accords. Those are gone now. And you puked in the Bethesda Fountain. There's got to be a fine for that."
Natasha laughed. An abrupt sound that felt a little as though it had come out of her like a gunshot, sharp enough to cut glass. "Wouldn't want to shirk my civic responsibilities to public health codes, I suppose," she said, and sucked in another breath of cold, clean - well, 'clean' was relative, this was New York, but still, there were no alien corpses or acrid smoke lingering, and that was an improvement. The Accords were the absolute least of her concerns right now; given that they'd dictated the ebb and flow of her life for the last two years, that felt like it was saying something, but the world had shifted so monumentally in the last two days that the years felt as though they'd been burned off.
Dumbledore - Stephen, she reminded herself, he'd introduced himself as Doctor Stephen Strange - had sat beside her. There was information in that. That was a casual familiarity, and there was an ease in him that she found....she wasn't sure, quite. Maybe an edge of unsettling.
But Steve was okay, and Steve was here, so that was one point of reassurance, and he'd offered it freely. "A few minutes ago, the world was ending," she said, and made herself stare at Dr. Strange without flinching, straight on and her face the mask of neutrality that she'd perfected in childhood. Nothing given away that she didn't want to give, not anymore, not past the vomit and her first question and the fact that there was still a lot of blue alien blood splattered across her uniform and clumping in her hair. "And now I'm on another continent, and everything seems to be fine. So what the shit? seems like a natural followup."
She wasn't wrong in her assessment of him. There was some familiarity already there, but it was highly calculated and still kept at a very respectable distance. If he stretched out his arm fully, his fingertips might reach her. From the way he seemed to look not at her but through her for a few seconds, it was likely an easy tell that the doctor had seen far too much for his own good as well.
"...pretty sure it's been spit in a few times, drank out of and bathed in at least once this morning," he offered, with a sudden lopsided smirk of amusement.
Chilly or not, it didn't matter. There was always a nearby restroom to warm up in. As for that rather succinct second question, Stephen appeared to be mulling over the best way to put it.
"Before I offer you a new arrival apartment, I'll just say...it's an unstable universe," he explained with infuriating calm, his voice was deep in tone but also lacking much intonation. He looked at the people now walking past them, having already become bored once there wasn't any vomiting or fireworks going on. "An almost exact copy of the universe you're from, before Thanos snapped his fingers. Some of us were turned to dust in a transference, in what was some a delayed bleed-over event. Some of us found a way to come back, through the Quantum Realm. We lured Thanos to Wakanda, and we fought him when he had only two stones. We won.
"We have the gauntlet and most of the stones. Wanda destroyed the Mind Stone. Although a lot of the dusted are still gone, we're working on getting them back. It's a complex situation. To summarize? People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it's more like a big ball of wibbily wobbly timey wimey...stuff. I realize it's a lot to absorb. But we're stuck in the really wibbily wobbly part."
Dr. Strange shrugged. The cape shrugged with him, exaggerating the motion even further.
It reverberated through Natasha's ears but didn't really take root; it broke itself out into syllables that sounded like some language she didn't speak. (There were not a ton of languages that Natasha was unfamiliar with.) We won, he said, but only moments ago, they had lost, and they had lost immeasurably. They had their asses kicked. Minutes ago, there was the corpse of one friend in front of her while the rest of them were dissolving, catching in her hair, on her skin. Minutes ago Steve was on the ground, unable to pull himself back to his feet and looking at her with desperation.
We won, he said, so easily, like it was the conclusion of a book series that he'd read awhile ago, like it had been the verdict everyone had assumed was coming, like it was a given, like it was almost boring to relay at this point, but Natasha had just been standing in the very literal ashes of we lost, and it didn't seem possible that if the world turned on a dime, this was the dime it had turned on. This neat flip from the end to a very clean beginning.
It was an unstable universe, it was "wibbly wobbly", but it was a place where everyone she had just watched die or crumble under their grief was...fine. According to the Doctor, anyway.
She wanted to scream. She also wanted to slug him, just a little bit, for his measured calm and cool so soon after she had just faced down obliteration.
But Natasha almost never did what she wanted to do, not if it would give too much away, and instead, she kept her voice neutral. "Well. As long as David Tennant is still considered the best Who in this universe, I suppose it's fine," she said, and stood up. Her knees wanted to buckle beneath her almost immediately; she didn't allow that to happen. "There an HQ?"
He knew that he was too cold, too clinical, too cynical. When he was a neurosurgeon, he was used to uttering the same two phrases. One was reassuring because it was what people wanted to hear. The other wasn't, because no one wanted to hear those words. It always boiled down to the same harsh and unavoidable reality of life and death:
You made it...or you didn't.
Death took the young, the old, the strong or the infirm like a bullet shot in the dark. It hit who it hit. In this reality, they dodged a bullet. In the other reality, they didn't. He knew that Natasha saw the aftermath of a direct hit. It didn't change things there. It didn't change things in other universes or timelines throughout the multiverse, either. It was a horrible inevitability. It was the only way.
Despite doing everything he could, Stephen was used to people not taking the news well whenever he talked. He couldn't make everything better, because it wouldn't get better. He was there to give an explanation of what happened, and to help transport them to where they might want to go.
And yet he looked much more solemn when he looked at her.
"I know this is a lot to process," he said, studying the blue blood splattered on her as he stood up. "There's not many things I can assure you of. One thing I can...is that David Tennant is still the best Doctor in every universe that has Doctor Who. Another is I can get you to a safe place to clean up, and access to the network. You can contact Steve, Stark, or Fury from there."
He stood up and began to open a portal as he answered the question about the HQ.
"The upstate headquarters is research and high-security storage now. Avenger's Tower is gone. Stark's working from the Stark Industries building in Tribeca. New arrival apartments are four blocks east of Stark Industries. You're not obligated to stay if you don't want to. I can give you the starter pack and you can cut loose. Cellphone, laptop, money, network login info."
He was used to some people choosing to stay clandestine. Now open, the portal revealed a furnished apartment. It was an offer that was entirely up to her to take. Stephen didn't look like he was going to nudge her one way or the other with that decision.
He quietly stood by and waited, letting her process and come to a decision, in her own time.