The Long Way Home (MCU / Worm) (2024)

Stephen Strange was the Sorcerer Supreme. Or at least he had been before his little vanishing act.

It was his plan that brought the Avengers together beyond the bounds of space, time, and reality, defied death and destruction on a universal scale, and tipped the balance of power in this universe forever. It was his actions that prevented a multiversal incursion that would have eradicated this timeline after he'd fought so hard to save it.

He was once the Sorcerer Supreme and yet here he was, fearfully and furtively searching for a lost boy as if his life depended on it.

He'd promised the kid that he'd find him.

He intended to keep his word.

It had taken some convincing to get the multiversal hitchhikers to go back home after Peter was sent away. Doctor Octavius had insisted that he could help find Peter, but Stephen had shut him down and made sure that he'd found a timeline with his Peter where he wasn't haunted by the voices in his head. Or worse, dying a tragic death that three Peters had fought so hard to prevent.

He was the one who put up the most resistance. The others, even the Goblin, put up a token resistance, but went on. As for Osborn, well…

Osborn didn't think he deserved to live. He blamed himself for what his evil nature had done. The man wanted punishment, not mercy. Letting him live, on the other hand, was worse than any punishment Strange could think of; it would give him a chance to enjoy the fruits of Peter's sacrifices. He'd live many years knowing that not only had he failed to break Spider-Man, he owed his new, better life to him.

It felt fitting. Like what the kid would have wanted. Then again, Stephen had only known the kid for a little while and now it seemed more and more like he wouldn't get the chance to know him again.

The traditional methods hadn't worked. MJ, who he now found himself on a 'first initials' basis with, had brought him an old Spider-Man costume from his residence when he told her of the location spell, but it gave him nothing. He'd never tried trans-universal spellcasting, but he wasn't surprised it was a bit more involved.

Over the past few days, he'd been ceaselessly trying everything in the book, and some of the things outside the book, to locate Peter. No dice.

'There are an infinite amount of universes across the Multiverse. He could be in any one of them, at any time, doing anything. I may never find him.'

That didn't mean he was going to stop trying.

Unfortunately, even the Sorcerer Supreme needed rest, and as he sat in his study, a cup of tea balanced on the palm of his hand, he looked out the massive skylight of the Sanctum Sanctorum. As the evening sun its reddish-orange rays through the room, he tried to reassure himself that Peter could handle it. That he'd manage until he was found, and hopefully sooner, rather than later. He'd been through the Snap, seen how the world, how people he knew, reacted to him being gone for five entire years. Peter might be gone longer than that.

Alas, Peter wasn't the only problem he had to deal with. The Ebony Blade had resurfaced, or at least, its ancestral wielders had. A new Black Knight had claimed the blade, unsealing its magicks and almost immediately sending the sorcerer keeping an eye on it running for the Sanctum. Normally, Stephen would intervene personally, but it seemed there were more forces in play than the general populace was aware of—apparently, there was a giant hand just… sitting in the middle of the ocean that no one was talking about yet. No relation, he was sure, weird sh*t just seemed to be the norm now that the doors of the Multiverse had been thrown open and the keys had been cast into the void. There was also the situation with the Hex, which he'd very quickly stuck his nose into, but Wanda was still clearly traumatized. 'Last thing I need to do is stick my nose in it and escalate the situation. Better to keep observing, for now.'

There was a knock on his study door to jar him out of his thoughts.

"Come in."

One of the newer initiates, Kai, stepped in as timid as she always was. She'd been there when Peter came looking for his help, and despite the… disturbance his failed spell had caused, she'd stuck around. He'd probably send her to Kamar-Taj soon. She had aptitude, and she had the desire, but her confidence needed work. Wong would be far better at that whole 'motivational' thing than he was, though.

"Something you need?" he asked.

"There's someone here to see you, Doctor Strange."

With a sigh of exertion, Stephen rose from his chair, turning around and seeing Kai standing next to Sam Wilson, the new Captain America, as it were. He wasn't in uniform, and appeared… mostly relaxed. There was a hint of concern on his features, which was unsurprising. No one ever came to Stephen for a casual chat, there was always some request or concern or something to bother the Sorcerer Supreme with. Not like that bothered him. He was a busy man, and preferred to stay busy, especially in times like these.

"Ah, Wilson. Good to see you," he greeted him. "Congratulations on… the whole Captain thing."

Sam nodded as Kai stepped back behind him and shut the door. "Yeah, I guess I'm the Captain now."

"Can't think of a worthier man to bear the shield."

Sam smiled. "Of all the people to say that, I think you were at the bottom of my list."

Stephen shrugged, his cape rippling with the motion. "Look, you came into my house and wiped your feet off at the door, the least I can do is stroke your ego a bit before we get into Avenger talk. I assume that's what this is. Avenger talk."

Sam paused, mulling over his words. His eyes wandered between some of the artifacts littering the study, and his hands dove into his pockets. The worry on his face was clearer now.

"Tea?" Stephen asked, snapping his fingers. On command, a second glass of tea appeared on the table next to him, along with a chair for Sam to sit in. The Captain nodded his agreement, and took his seat, though he didn't go for the tea. He didn't even touch the cup. He just stared forward at the skylight, still thinking.

Finally, after what felt like half a lifetime, he broke the silence and looked Stephen in the eye.

"You found him yet?"

"No," Stephen replied somberly. "Not even close. That's why you're here?"

"New York's got other guys on the street, but that kid did a lot for this city," Sam said, folding his arms. "Did it without hurting anybody, too, unlike Castle."

"He's back on the street?"

"Yeah. At this point, they're not sure the P.D. can touch him. Might become an 'us' problem if it escalates too far."

"I don't think it will. Once I find the kid, things will stabilize," Stephen said, with a quirk of his brow. "Besides, he's not the only one, is he? There's the, uh… the devil guy."

"Yeah, there's a couple of other street-level players, but it's a lot less concentrated, and they don't know us. They don't work with us. I'm not sure some of them would."

"Perhaps you could approach them about it?"

"That's part of why I'm in town," Sam said, finally grabbing a hold of the cup, though he still didn't drink anything. "That, and to talk with you about this whole thing. Banner's working with his… cousin, I think, and Scott and Rhodey are doing their own thing, but… is there anything we can do? That I can do?"

The sentiment was noble, Stephen had to admit. In a way it was one he shared, though that same mentality of 'once an Avenger, always an Avenger' that had started to form amongst the members of their fellowship was the thing that put himself and Peter in this situation in the first place.

"Captain, unless you've been practicing witchcraft in your attic when you're not out thwarting terrorist plots and saving the world, I don't think your expertise is going to be much help here," Strange replied, realizing too late he'd come off a bit too cutting. Indeed, Sam seemed stung, his eyes averted back to the stained glass.

"I appreciate the offer," he hastily added.

"When you find him, you let me know. We'll bring him home."

"It may not be an Avengers-level threat, Captain, I'm sure you have other things to worry about."

Sam gave him a pointed look. "I don't plan on leaving a man behind, Doctor."

Stephen gave a thin-lipped smile and a nod. Steve had chosen well.

"Just Stephen is fine," he said.

"Alright, Just Stephen," Sam replied with a smile of his own. "Glad we understand each other. I know most of us have gone our separate ways here, recently, but I've still got contact with Bruce, Scott, Bucky and Rhodey. You got anybody?"

"Wanda," Stephen said, shaking his head. "But she's in no shape for anything resembling an Avengers scenario. She's still grieving. Needs more time."

Sam sighed, placing his untouched tea back on the table. "I can imagine. Still, let me know."

He dug into the pockets of his coat and pulled out a piece of paper. A little bit more digging, and a frustrated grunt followed before Stephen took pity on him and snapped his fingers again, a pen manifesting in said pocket and causing Sam to give him a bewildered look.

"I could've found it," he protested lamely.

"You left it on the counter at the coffee shop."

"... magic bullsh*t…" Sam muttered under his breath as he wrote his contact information down on the paper, before placing it on the table. "Take care of yourself, Stephen. Things have calmed down a little, but our line of work never stays quiet long."

"Oh, believe me, things are anything but calm here," Stephen agreed. "Still, compared to Thanos, it's practically a holiday vacation."

There was another knock on the door, drawing Sam's attention back to it.

"Doctor Strange? There's someone in the parlor to see you," Kai said through the door. Her not waiting for an answer was a clear sign that it wasn't someone he knew, or it was someone he didn't particularly want to see. Kai had been acquainted with MJ and Ned Leeds already, and she knew the Avengers by faces, so it wasn't any of them.

"Oh, wonderful," Stephen muttered, looking at Sam. "Well, since you're here."

"I'll see myself out, Doc, thanks."

"I'm not rushing you out or anything, Captain-"

"Sam. Just Sam."

"Just Sam, you're welcome to stay a minute for tea after this is dealt with."

Sam chuckled, shaking his head. "Alright, alright, fine, I guess I can kick back for a minute once we see what's going on."

Stephen motioned for Sam to follow him, and the two made their way out of the study and down the halls to the stairwell. The nice thing about said stairwell was it had a full, unobstructed view of the parlor, meaning Stephen didn't have to walk all the way down to deal with guests unless he actually felt like doing so.

Considering who the guests were, as he got a good look at three men, their tailored suits, their badges, and the gun holster on one of their hips, these were not people he wanted to go down and talk to.

"Ah, sh*t," Sam said, his expression falling.

"You know these people?"

"Damage Control."

The three gentlemen were currently looking around the Sanctum as if they were expecting someone to pick a fight with them. Frankly, depending on what priceless artifacts these inelegant buffoons knocked over, shot, or otherwise tampered with, it was very possible something would. The man with the gun, for his part, seemed mostly focused on him, which was far more acceptable. It wasn't as if a gun was going to do anything to the Sorcerer Supreme. Strange had seen him somewhere before… somewhere he couldn't quite place.

"Gentlemen. Can we help you?" Stephen asked, folding his arms as he watched the gazes of the other two men return to him. The one in the front of their trio quickly straightened his coat, and replied, an uncomfortably smug look on his face. Stephen didn't like this guy already.

"You must be Dr. Stephen Strange, correct?"

"That would be correct," he replied. "Who might you be?"

The man motioned to himself, first. "Department of Damage Control, Doctor. I'm Agent Cleary, this man—" he motioned to the man with the gun, who looked at Cleary out of the corner of his eyes, "—is Agent Wallis, and the gentleman to my left is Agent Foster. You've been quite busy lately, Doctor."

Stephen narrowed his eyes, leaning over the banister somewhat as he replied, Sam following suit. "As a matter of fact, I have, gentlemen, and I'm afraid I still am quite busy."

"Oh, I'm sure. What, with that Spider-Man business at Lady Liberty the other day, you must be worn out."

That got his attention. Stephen had no illusions that something as loud and insane as that incident would make the news. Some cameras had showed up near the end of the proceedings, and no doubt there was security footage from around the statue that would have captured both his and Peter's exploits that night. He was surprised there wasn't any questions about the three Spider-Men. Then again, the gentlemen had only just arrived. He was sure there would be more questions.

"Why don't you and Mr. Wilson come down here so we can talk, Doctor?" Wallis asked. He was looking at Stephen a bit too intensely. Perhaps he wasn't the only one who felt some sense of familiarity… perhaps they had, indeed, run into each other before. He couldn't recall the name or face from anywhere specific, but…

He had bigger fish to fry right now.

"I think myself and the Captain are fine right where we are, thank you," Stephen said, hearing Sam let out a firm exhale next to him. "What is it you want to know?"

This situation was far from ideal. There were currently two men with loaded weapons standing in the middle of the parlor of the Sanctum Sanctorum, another man with an attitude that was starting to piss Stephen right off, and he also, of all the people, had Captain goddamn America with him. Not that he was unhappy to see Sam, by no means, but his presence would only give this dithering idiot downstairs more ammunition for his incessant, smug questioning.

Well, he'd consented, in the end. Better to avoid government scrutiny by not throwing them back from whence they came by force… although he very well could still do that if he were annoyed enough.

"So, your little friend… I assume you two are friends, after all, it seems like you were giving him a helping hand fixing whatever the hell was going on with that freak storm over the Bay, right?" the (visibly) unarmed agent, Cleary, began. "I'm sure you heard about the case surrounding the Mysterio incident, as well. It's been all over the news."

"The case in which he was acquitted of all wrong-doing, correct," Stephen replied acerbically, checking his non-existent watch. Perhaps that would be a clear enough message that Cleary was wasting both of their time. "I fail to see why you feel the need to disturb me and my guest. More importantly, this is private property, and you three fine gentlemen have failed to present a warrant."

"Damage Control plays a bit fast and loose with the rules, Stephen," Sam stated, his voice kept low.

"You're telling me this is legal?"

"Doubt it."

"This is a library, Doctor," Cleary replied.

"A private library," Stephen retorted. "Ask your questions and go. Do not waste my time further."

Wallis gave Cleary a knowing look, one eyebrow raised. Cleary's smug grin remained firmly plastered to his features as he returned his full attention to the two Avengers. "Do you two fine gentlemen mind enlightening me on what Captain America is doing here?"

"Personal call," Sam spoke up. "The man fought side by side with me to kick Thanos off our planet and turn back the clock, or did you forget about that?"

"Oh, no, we're very grateful to the Avengers for all that they've done for humanity," Cleary said, folding his arms. Clearly, he wasn't impressed by that answer. "Mr. Parker wouldn't happen to be joining you on this personal call, would he?"

"No," Stephen said, "I haven't seen him since the incident at the Statue of Liberty." That was the truth. It was also the most detail he was willing to give a man who clearly did not have Peter's best interests in mind. He almost wished he had gone through with the memory spell, now. Maybe, without the constraints of Peter whispering in his ear or the collapse of the Multiverse down on his head, he might be able to properly prepare the spell without any further complications.

"Neither have I, before you go asking me," Sam added. "I've been a bit busy with the whole 'Captain America' thing."

"I'm keenly aware, Wilson."

"That's Captain to you, Agent Cleary."

A smile tugged at the corner of Wallis' lips, which he quickly disguised by turning to look at a vase on the wall. Cleary's smile, meanwhile, completely disappeared. "Noted, Mr. Wilson. Do either of you have any idea where Mr. Parker would have gone? We've yet to look into his associates… what were their names, Foster?"

"Michelle Jones-Watson and Ned Leeds, sir," Foster replied.

"Ah, yeah, those two kids. We would go ask his aunt, but, you know, that whole 'accident' at the apartment complex…"

Sam looked at Stephen, evidently seeking an answer. He probably wasn't fully abreast of the situation. At most, Stephen imagined he would have heard the news bulletins. They had more to talk about, when these three idiots had vacated the premises.

"Do you have any other questions, Mr. Cleary?" Stephen asked. "My colleague and I haven't spoken since we, you know, saved the world, and we're both extremely busy men, so I'm afraid our time is limited."

"Of course, Doctor. We'd like to search—"

"I'm afraid you're trespassing on private property. If there's no more questions, I'll have to ask you to leave."

Cleary paused, looking at Stephen for a moment before opening his coat and looking into one of his pockets. He wouldn't find a written warrant in there, that was for sure. Stephen had made sure of that personally. Also, he'd taken his fountain pen. Quite a nice pen, actually. Stephen idly twirled it in his off-hand, hidden as it was behind the banister.

"What exactly were you doing at the Statue of Liberty, Doctor Strange?" Wallis asked, finally returning his attention to him. It was odd to Stephen that he spoke up out of his own volition, but maybe he figured Cleary was too focused on the 'Spider-Man' issue.

"Saving the world. Again," Stephen replied. "Avenger business. Now, if there are no more questions…"

There was a pause as the two parties stared each other down. Truth be told, this conversation had been less than fruitless. If anything, these men had done nothing more than waste ten minutes to ask a few questions and receive no answers. Ten minutes could have been spent getting a coffee, or going to try and interrogate Peter's friends. Instead, they spent them wasting Stephen's time, as well as their own.

It seemed that Cleary, at least, understood that, his sh*t-eating smirk returning to his face as he offered Stephen a wave.

"We'll be in touch, Doctor."

"Oh, I'm sure we will."

With that, the three agents turned to leave, Foster taking the lead to open the doors for the other two. As soon as they'd all stepped through, Stephen began recalling the spell. He'd need to work fast to prevent any unnecessary problems. Evidently, his thought process was evident in his features.

"Stephen?" Sam asked. "You good?"

"Stick around for a bit, I need to make sure those gentlemen aren't a problem anymore."

With that, he began to march purposefully towards one of the antechambers of the Sanctum, one that would give him the space and privacy he needed to perform his arcane rituals. Sam, of course, being a normal person with a healthy curiosity, chose to follow him.

"Please tell me what you're about to do, and tell me it doesn't end up with any transmogrification bullsh*t," Sam said.

"I'm impressed that you know what that word means, Sam, but no, it's not transmogrification—"

"Did you just call me dumb?"

"Apologies, I'm under a little bit of stress at the moment. As I was saying, no, not transmogrification. I'm going to wipe their memories of this incident and replace them with a new set of memories. As far as they're concerned once this spell is cast, they've concluded their investigation and Spider-Man, whose identity is unknown, is still at large."

"You can just erase people's memories?"


"And you've done this before?"

"The last time I did it, it caused a tear in the multiverse that nearly destroyed our reality, but that was also a fluke."

Sam audibly stopped walking behind him. "The hell?"

"Why do you think Peter is in this situation right now?"

"Oh, son of a bitch… so what happened to him, then?"

"Follow me, and I'll explain."

With that, he heard footsteps rapidly approaching behind him, so Stephen explained. "A week or so ago, now, Peter came to me requesting my help. The Mysterio case cost his friends an MIT scholarship, so he wanted me to come up with a spell that would erase everyone's knowledge of the connection between himself and his masked identity. Of course, he did this before even asking MIT to reconsider their dismissal, but, you know, kids will be kids, and I was kind of harsh on him. He wanted exceptions, of course. His aunt, his friends, me, you know the drill. Anyhow, the spell got out of control, and had an unintended effect. It brought in other individuals from the multiverse, individuals from universes that had a conflict with their Peter Parker-slash-Spider-Man."

"So what happened at that apartment block? And Lady Liberty?"

"Peter and I were going to work together to send them back to their home universes, until we found out that in those universes, at least three of them were killed. Peter wanted to save their lives, I… well… there was a disagreement. I was wrong, I can admit that now, but we had a dispute. Peter took the prism I'd trapped the malfunctioning spell in and was going to attempt to cure these individuals' ailments in order to send them back to their home universes with a better chance at survival. One of them, however, betrayed him, and in the process… his aunt was killed. Somehow, one of my Sling Rings, the devices I used to make portals, was stolen by one of his friends, and that friend used it to bring the other Spider-Men to our universe. Still with me?"

"Still with you, Stephen."

By now, they were headed down a set of secondary stairs towards the Undercroft, where he'd first attempted the more ambitious version of this spell. He'd been able to defer the previous, failed attempt with some help from Wong and a few other adepts from Kamar-Taj, but it was hardly an easy sell, and Wong would almost certainly chew him out if he found out he was doing it again. The pitfalls of losing your position…

"They succeeded in their efforts, but in the process, the box containing the spell was destroyed. By that time, I'd found my way around to helping him resolve the situation, but there was no way to solve the problem, at least not an obvious one. Peter, of course, came up with a solution. The multiversal threats were looking for Spider-Man, so… what if there was no Spider-Man? What if we sent him out of this universe?"

"And you did that without any idea of where you were sending him?" Sam asked, incensed.

"The multiverse is something about which we know frighteningly little, Sam, I can't just open it up like a bag of jelly beans and cherry-pick what I want, at least not without time and study. I have a few theories on what I can do to find him, but those take time and effort to acquire, and I was planning on heading to Kamar-Taj to pursue a lead after I enlisted the aid of a few other Avengers. Of course, that's when you came knocking on my door, conveniently enough."

"Did you get anyone else involved?"

"King T'Challa offered aid, but he… I don't know, Sam, something seemed a bit off. He didn't seem like himself. Never even met face to face. I was planning on reaching out to Wanda, if it weren't for… recent events."

"You probably should, anyway, she's got magic crap going on too."

"Maybe so, but she's still grieving. I'm not sure that's the wisest decision."

"Wiser than you think. Being alone with your grief is necessary, sometimes, but other times a distraction or a purpose can be an important part of that healing process. Let her feel like a hero again. Like she's putting good into the world."

Sam was a counselor, Stephen recalled. Maybe he had a point.

"I'll think about it. For now, though, I have another solution."

By now, the two had entered the Undercroft, and Stephen began preparing the memory spell. He opened portals to the various chambers in the storage area that contained the supplies he needed with one hand while raising the cistern he'd use for the incantation with the other. Out of the corner of his eye, he noted Sam's eyes widening at the display. He forgot the man hadn't really seen much of his magic in person.

"The Book of Vishanti," Stephen explained, recalling a few hard nights of studying. "It's a magical tome said to contain every piece of arcane wisdom ever devised. It can provide any spell a sorcerer needs."

"So you think it has a way for you to bring Peter back?" Sam asked.

"Exactly." Stephen poured the spirits and salts required for the spell into the cistern, watching as ancient runes rose into the air and rotated in place, waiting for his direction. He was on a timer, yes, but he wasn't under as much pressure as Peter had inadvertently put him under the first time around, nor was the scope of the spell as ambitious this time. It was as simple as calling forth the energies of the three men who had just been present in the lobby, and properly devising the parameters. All in all, it would take five minutes, at most. "And now that you bring it up, two heads on this are better than one. Wanda has experience with magical tomes. Between the two of us, it'll be childs' play to find the Book of Vishanti and get Peter back here."

"I get good ideas every once in a while."

Less than five minutes, actually. At about the two and a half minute mark, the spell exploded in a shower of orange-gold glow, and Sam instinctively flinched. Stephen, for his part, just smiled. With time and proper preparation, of course it would work. Wong would be pissed, if Strange were dumb enough to let him know about it.

"Did it work?" Sam asked, lowering his hands.

"Most likely," Strange replied, turning to the good Captain and offering him his hand. "It's been a pleasure, Sam. I think I'll be taking your advice."
Sam didn't hesitate to step over and take the proffered hand in a firm shake, smiling as he did so.

"Sure thing, Doc. I'll keep putting feelers out, see if I can get anyone else on board for a rescue mission."

Stephen doubted that would be necessary. If Peter was in any universe where he was in danger, he was more than intelligent enough to either defeat it or avoid it. Besides that, there was nothing that the Sorcerer Supreme and Wanda Maximoff together could handle, outside of another magical threat, or something on the level of Thanos. Then again… they were a team, even after all of this, weren't they? This wasn't necessarily an Avengers level threat, but…

"I'll let you know if we find anything, then," Stephen replied.

With that, he went to leave the Undercroft, but found himself stopped by a hand on his chest. Sam was looking at him, eyes narrowed. Was he suspecting something?

"Yes, Sam?"

"You didn't erase my memories at some point, did you?" he asked.

Stephen scoffed, rolling his eyes. "Sam, why would I erase your memories?"

"Look, man, I don't know, I just don't know how to feel about knowing that you could have erased my memories at any point and I'd never know!"

"But why would I do that?"

"I'm not saying you would, man, it's just in my head, now—"

Wanda Maximoff, perhaps wisely, had isolated herself from the world following the Westview incident. Stephen certainly couldn't blame her. Her powers had always seemed magical in nature, he was told once by Sam in the aftermath of Thanos' defeat that she'd developed the powers in connection with one of Stark's bombs landing on her home in Sokovia… which didn't seem to make a lot of sense, at the time. Tony Stark wasn't a sorcerer, but from where he stood it was obvious that Wanda's powers were magical in nature.

Wanda had relocated to a lovely estate out in the country. A place where she could be alone with her grief, as Sam had told him. He had also said that perhaps a new sense of purpose could help her overcome that grief.

The only thing that bothered him was that none of this was real. The apple trees. The small flock of sheep roaming the grounds. The well-manicured grass, too well-kept to be the work of a single woman living alone. All an illusion. A Hex. Wanda hid within her pain well, but not well enough to deceive the Sorcerer Supreme.

Stephen was glad that Sam had suggested he seek her out. Clearly, being alone wasn't the best thing for her mental state.

It seemed she was more than capable of detecting the presence of foreign magics on her domain. Wanda was standing on the front porch, waiting, as he arrived at the front gate of the estate. It was already open. He'd been expected.

"Wanda!" he greeted her, raising his voice to carry over the distance. It wasn't a particularly long walk up the drive, and she met him halfway. He wasn't sure exactly what the protocol for this was. A handshake seemed a bit awkward at this stage, but he wasn't going to go around hugging people.

"Doctor," she replied as they met, offering him a wan smile. She looked tired. Westview still weighed heavily on her, even Stephen could see that. "I hope you've been well. How are things?"

She hadn't kept up with the news, as he'd suspected. "A bit complicated, I'm afraid," he said. "That's why I'm here."

Her expression fell, her eyes cast down onto the path beneath their feet. It was as if she expected to be chastised, to be crucified again for Westview. Personally, Stephen had no interest in such castigation. She was grieving. She had lost the love of her life, and then had the illusion of the life they so greatly desired violently shattered by the very same dark magics that had spawned it. How could he not feel sympathy?

"This is about Westview… isn't it?" she asked.

"No, of course not," he replied, continuing past the surprised, sharp intake of breath from Wanda. "You made things right. That's in the past."

"I hurt people. I've done horrible things, all in the name of an illusion-" she began, no doubt preparing to cascade into self-destruction. She was right. What she'd created, what she'd believed, was an illusion. That didn't mean it wasn't painful.

"You made it right. You let them go. You stopped it," Stephen corrected her. "You've done infinitely more good than you have harm, Wanda, I mean, you've saved the universe, you helped defeat Thanos. We all make mistakes."

With that, he looked towards the grove of 'apple trees', his heart sinking into his stomach at the rows upon rows of snow-white blooms. Was this what she'd envisioned, in Westview? Was this the life she had wanted with Vision?

"Then why are you here?" she asked, drawing his attention back to her. He offered her a light smile, and motioned his head towards the grove.
"Walk with me."

The two sorcerers began to walk, and Strange mulled over his pitch. Not all of the Avengers were part of the 'core group', he'd observed that dynamic for the most part in his short time knowing them. There were those that had defended New York, those who had fought for Sokovia, and those who joined afterwards. Stephen fell into the latter category, damn near the end of that latter category, with Wanda having joined the fellowship just after Sokovia, from his understanding. After she'd lost her brother.

"What do you know about the Multiverse, Wanda?" he asked, as they passed nearby a particularly lush tree. It almost smelled like the real thing. Strange reached up, and plucked one of the blossoms, feeling the magical energy coursing through it. It was faint, almost undetectable. Given time, Wanda could probably have made it more convincing. So much so that even he would not have been able to perceive the difference.

"Vis spoke of it a few times. He believed it was real. Dangerous."

"He was right on both accounts."

Strange adjusted his scarf before continuing, turning to look Wanda in the eye. "Do you remember Peter Parker?"

She met his gaze with a mild look of confusion. "...the boy in the bug suit, wasn't he?"

"Yeah, Spider-Man. He came to me a little over a week ago. He wanted my help. See, there was an incident in Europe. Someone with a vendetta against Tony exposed his identity after a fight, and happened to die as a result of injuries sustained. It was a hard time for him. A public trial, harassment, lost opportunities, and on top of all of that, he's a teenager. Not a particularly good time for an adult, let alone a kid. He came to me and asked me to conjure a spell that would make everyone forget that he was Spider-Man, save for his loved ones. He informed me of that latter part a bit too late, and the spell malfunctioned… but not before opening a rift in the Multiverse."

Wanda's eyes widened. "So… it is real."

"Indeed. I was able to close that rift, but… not without a cost. Peter believed that his presence in our universe was what was causing the rift, and the threats within it, to encroach on our reality, so he requested that I fling him into the multiverse. No destination, just in case someone tried to follow him. I did so, and was able to dispel the magic that we'd created. However, because of that blind fire, I have no idea where in the multiverse he is."

Wanda looked aghast, her eyes drifting back towards the grass they walked on. Clearly, she was shocked that Vision's theories had been correct. He hoped that he hadn't awakened too much ill feeling.

"I need your help finding him, Wanda."

"How would I help you?" she asked, dejected.

"Wanda, I think you're the only person who can."

That got her attention, alright. Her head snapped to look at him, a question already on her lips. He beat her to it.

"I know this is all relatively new to you, so I'll explain it simply. You are the only other person I know who understands the Multiverse, if at all, and you are clearly a powerful sorcerer in your own right. Come with me to Kamar-Taj. Help me find what I'm looking for. Help me find Peter, wherever he is. You're not the monster you think you are, Wanda. You are willing, and capable, of doing the right thing."

Wanda paused for a moment, and Stephen followed suit, their walk slowing to a halt as she mulled over her decision. In truth, Stephen had somewhat exaggerated. Wong could absolutely help him with this matter, but… well, bringing up the results of this whole failed debacle to Wong without a solution in hands would be grounds for the sternest 'I told you so' the man could ever give him, so Stephen wanted to present the man with a solution before he actually explained the full breadth of the situation. That, and Wanda's current state would probably lend to Wong being a bit more sympathetic. For all his abrasiveness, he was a good man. He'd understand what Stephen was trying to do for her.

"What would you need me to do?"

"Mostly just help me do a bit of looking around. I believe there's a magical tome that can help me find Peter. The Book of Vishanti. It's said that it contains all the magical wisdom ever known, and that it can give a sorcerer whatever spell they need at the moment. I believe our answers lie in the Book."

"Do you have it?"

"No. That's where you come in. Help me find the book of Vishanti, we find Peter. Between the two strongest wielders of magic in our universe, I don't think anything giving him trouble out there stands a chance against us."

Wanda couldn't help but smile a bit at the compliment, it seems, though it faded quickly in favor of a look of deep thought. Conflict. There was the slightest change in the winds of magic. The illusion shuddered. He debated speaking on it, but at the same time, he couldn't help but think that she knew he knew. That this was all just a facade for her own sake, not anyone else's.

"Wanda, are you alright?" he asked.

"Stephen… what if I told you I had something that could help you, too?" she replied, uneasily. "With me."

"What is it?"

And just like that, the illusion peeled back.

Fields of trees gave way to dead earth, gnarled roots, and twisted timbers. There was nothing alive as far as the eye could see, a fell star mocking the sun hovering over the horizon. This wasn't some country estate, he'd already known that, but… this wasn't what he was expecting at all. Perhaps he'd have asked for an explanation, if the horrible truth didn't make itself evident as quickly as the illusion dissipated.

Merely a few feet away from them floated a tome. Bound in black leather, gnarled and twisted by time and dark magic, a veritable forbidden fruit tempting Wanda in her darkest hour. Now, more than ever, Stephen was grateful that Sam had told him to seek out Wanda.
"You have the Darkhold," he said.

"I-I've not read too far into the text, but—" Wanda began, only for Stephen to raise a hand and cut her off. This was far too important to wait.

"Wanda, you do not understand what you're dealing with here. This book corrupts everything and everyone that it touches." The dawning horror of this situation was starting to creep up on him, instincts as the Sorcerer Supreme superseding those of Stephen, the caring friend. "Wanda, how long have you had it?"

"There was a woman in Westview. She had it. She tried to destroy my family, and I took it from her—"

"Wanda, this book is dangerous. It is more dangerous than I can stress to you in words alone," Stephen explained. "We cannot use this. The power it holds is real, but its price is steep. Nothing is worth the risk. The Book of Vishanti is out there, and is far less dangerous for our purposes. Do you understand what I'm telling you?"

The two locked eyes, Wanda seemingly still confused about the matter. It appeared she didn't know all of the dangers this book contained. The fact that a witch had brought the book to Westview was all the more concerning to Stephen, though it eased his mind that it was in Wanda's possession now. She was an Avenger, though a troubled one. She'd make the right call.

And she did.

"I… think I understand," she said.

"Good. We'll take it with us to Kamar-Taj, and it can be kept safe, properly, away from those who would use it for evil."

Stephen reached over and placed a hand on Wanda's shoulder, an awkward but genuine attempt at reassurance on his part. He was never particularly good at this, but if his time with Peter had taught him anything, it was that he needed to make himself more approachable.

"Thank you for trusting me with this, Wanda. I know Westview was… difficult, for you. I can't fix that. But as I said before, you did the right thing then, and you're doing the right thing now. And we're going to do the right thing, together, at Kamar-Taj. Alright?"

Wanda nodded slowly, eyes shimmering for a brief moment before she blinked it away. "Alright."

He gave her shoulder a gentle shake. "Let's get you back on the lunchbox, then."

The Long Way Home (MCU / Worm) (2024)
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