-Unbetaed and not a native speaker so please kindly point out any mistakes
-Warning: mention of canon violence, bad attempt at humor and comforting.
He needed to put back the Time Stone to its right place. He couldn't believe that he had just learned to harness its power a few hours ago. Well, at least a few hours ago for everyone on Earth. For him, it was close to centuries ago. It was hard to keep track after his first 327 deaths and his interval between deaths getting longer, the longest time was five months and eleven days. He should be proud of that—managing to dodge Dormammu's attacks and learning some offensive skills on his own in the Dark Dimension. The Ancient One and Mordo would be proud of him. The last thought chased away any new-earned hubris. Both of them were gone! Somehow his winning-by-losing-more-than-a-thousand-times didn't feel like a victory.
He put back the Time Stone slowly with reference as he truly understood its power now.
"Wise choice. You'll wear the Eye of Agamotto once you've mastered its powers. Until then, best not to walk the streets wearing an Infinity Stone."
He forgot that Wong was there with him. "A what?"
"You might have a gift for the Mystic Arts, but you still have much to learn. Word of the Ancient One's death will spread through the Multiverse. Earth has no Sorcerer Supreme to defend it. We must be ready."
"We'll be ready." After he needed to find out what an Infinity Stone was. The not knowing was killing him (metaphorically, he could do without any literal deaths for the next five centuries if he could help it).
They left the Kamar-Taj secret room which he only knew its existence a few Earth hours ago (he should categorize it as such so he wouldn't mix it up with his own centennial years).
"I didn't know this room existed." He knew he sounded like whining but couldn't help himself.
Wong kept his straight face as he answered, "Which part of the word secret you don't understand. You've only been here for seven months. Some people don't even realize this place exist when they leave Kamar-Taj."
" He uses magic to walk." He couldn't help the slightly accusing tone.
She just looked at him without any judgement which made him feel more guilty. "Constantly. He had a choice: to return to his own life, or to serve something greater than himself."
"So, I could have my hands back again? My old life?""You could. And the world would be all the lesser for it. I've hated drawing power from the Dark Dimension, but as you well know, sometimes one must break the rules in order to serve the greater good.
The greater good. He swallowed a big lump in his throat. So long normal life, operating theatres, being the center of attention and praises. He knew he couldn't go back to his so-called normal life. Not after what he had seen, learned, and done.
"I've been here to annoy you for six months and ten days. But who is counting, right?" He forced himself to grin. "Is the library open now? Is there any information about Infinity Stones?"
Wong looked at him as if he had grown two heads. There was actually a spell for that but it was painful and uncomfortable. "Don't you need to rest after what you've done and experienced today? I know I need to rest and I was only facing Kaecilius and his zealots. You've faced Dormammu and won. And you've been here only for six months and ten days."
Stephen was glad he left out the question how he won. Technically he lost so many times but he didn't need to tell Wong that. Not this time. Perhaps not ever. "Are you slacking off and not opening the library? In that case, could I return to the New York Sanctum? She appointed me the Master of the Sanctum so I guess I need to be responsible for cleaning it up." He closed his eyes as he remembered the body of Master Drumm at the foyer and the body of the zealot that he killed. He swallowed another lump.
The Cloak of Levitation sensed his discomfort and squeezed his shoulders lightly. He tapped its left collar to show his appreciation. The Cloak only knew him a few Earth hours but had accompanied him in his battles against Dormammu. At this moment, he felt very comfortable with the Cloak, she was like a super old and loyal friend.
"You're not the only capable people in Kamar-Taj. A few acolytes and Masters have agreed to do some clean up so you could rest. Go to rest, Stephen."
"Did you just compliment me?"
Wong turned his back and walked away. "You know where your room is."
He patted the Cloak. "I guess it's you and me now." She brushed his cheeks for affirmation.
As soon as he arrived in his room and closed the door, he just realized how exhausted he actually was. He brushed his teeth and washed his face before lying down in his bed. His mind replayed what happened today. People often talked about an eventful day but of course he had very eventful centuries. Go big or go home. He never did things halfway, apparently not even dying.
In a few Earth hours, he had learned how to use the Time Stone, retrieved the missing pages of the Book of Cagliostro, learned about the dark ritual to summon Dormammu, was being told that the job for a Master of Mystic Arts was to protect this dimension from interdimensional threats, got thrown into the New York Sanctum (he realized now he didn't actually need to fly to Kamar-Taj to learn magic, they could just open a branch at New York. Of course the Masters were being difficult), fought the zealots, had a weird conversation with Kaecillius, got adopted by a fickle relic called the Cloak of Levitation (sensing his thought, the Cloak squeezed his body lightly), got rescued by the Cloak so many times (the Cloak assured him by massaging his aching hands), got stabbed in his heart, traumatized Christine, killed a guy (he couldn't help the anger directed at himself again), fought the zealots again, tried to prevent the Ancient One's death (he couldn't help the tears that poured out again), talked to her about his future, mourned her, said goodbye to Christine (his heart had a different kind of ache now, he thought he already lost her when he was being an asshole but there was still a sliver of hope. Her forehead kiss was the final nail in the coffin. At least she forgave him so they could remain friends), fought again in Hong Kong (this fighting had annoyingly become a trend), annoyed Dormammu to submission by dying countless painful deaths, left behind by his mentor Mordo (another metaphorical stab to his heart, they were so close. Their relationship had evolved from master student to become siblings), and learned the existence of Infinity Stones. He huffed. No wonder he was so tired.
But it was impossible to sleep. So many things had happened. He hadn't processed them all out. He needed to meditate.
There was a soft knock on his door. He looked at his broken watch. It was 3.24 am Kamar Taj time. He opened the door to discover Wong holding a tray.
He raised his eyebrows. He didn't know that Wong knew his room. He only saw the guy in the library.
"Are you going to receive this or keep staring at me? I don't have all day."
He sobered up and picked up the tray with his shaking-more-than-usual hands. It had a pot and a plate of naan breads. He just realized that he hadn't had anything since his insightful apple snack a few Earth hours ago (give and take a few centuries) at the library. He even forgot that he was hungry. "Thank you. What kind of tea is this?"
"Chamomile with a bit of honey. You might need it for the day you're having. I know I need it. I'll go now. You know where to find me." He turned his back and walked away.
"Is that the library or your bedroom? I don't know where your bedroom is." Wong just quickened his pace. "Wong! Wong!"
He sighed and closed the door. At least Wong knew he needed some sustenance. The naan breads were really tasty, fresh, and fragrant. He needed to ask Wong who made it. Perhaps he could ask for the recipe and made it in the New York Sanctum. He could hear Christine's snort in his mind. Well, he was not that bad in cooking, was he? The Cloak squeezed his shoulders.
As expected, the tea was very calming. He could feel himself relaxed more.
He could try meditation to calm his mind before going to sleep. Whenever he tried to quiet his mind, violent images kept flashing through his mind. Images of the Ancient One's death, Master Drumm's death, that one zealot's death, and his own deaths of being burned, blown apart, torn to pieces, maimed, drowned, beheaded, and all those brutal variations kept coming to his mind. At a time like this, he cursed his eidetic memory.
Forty-five minutes after he tried to meditate, he gave up. His body was so tired, that he could barely opened his eyes but his mind was in overdrive. The adage "mind over matter" came to his mind. Apparently, he couldn't control his mind. He huffed again.
There was only one thing to do when he could not sleep. He needed to study more. Now was the best time to learn about those Infinity Stones.
He went to the library half expecting it to be closed. He was relieved when it was wide open. He could even see Wong working at the book indexes at his desk and listening to his i-Pod.
He walked into the library and stood in front of Wong to get his attention. The librarian nearly jumped out of his skin. Yellow mandalas grew in his hands. "Give a guy a warning. You could cause a heart attack. I could've attacked you." The mandalas disappeared.
"You! A heart attack? Never! You're so fit and healthy. You exercise so much and you watch your diet. You'll live up to 200 years old. How old are you now? You don't look a day over thirty." He didn't know if any of what he said were true as he hardly saw Wong anywhere else except the library. But he defended the Hong Kong Sanctum so he must be as capable as the other Masters.
Wong sighed and rubbed his eyes with both hands. "Flattery will get you nowhere. Don't you need to go to sleep?"
"I can't sleep. My mind is too active. I think now is the best time to study."
"Stephen, you nearly walked into doors a few times after Hong Kong. Not to mention you keep yawning and complimenting me. How are you still awake?"
"Good question. I'll let you know once I know the answer myself. Why don't you go to sleep?" He looked at his watch. "It's 5.27 am here. You can go to sleep and let me use the library."
"And let you roam free in the library unsupervised? Never! Look at what've you done after reading the Book of Cagliostro yesterday?"
"In my defense, Kaecillius would've attacked the Sanctums even if I didn't read the book and we might all be roomies in the Dark Dimension now. I mean I don't mind being roomies with you but I'm not a fan of living in the Dark Dimension. The name itself already left a bad taste in my mouth."
"You went to the Dark Dimension. What happened there?"
Pains. Countless deaths. Rinse and repeat. "I don't feel like talking about it now. I'd like to read in peace if you don't mind."
"Really? Are you going to let me read in peace?"
"Yes, only this time. Because as you said we're not roomies in the Dark Dimension thanks to you. Don't let this become another bad habit of yours."
"Wong, you're the best. Can I ask you a question?"
Wong did a micro eye roll which would not be noticeable unless someone really paid attention and catalogued his micro expressions. Fortunately for Wong, Stephen was one of the people. "Saying no won't stop you anyway. What's the question?"
"Why don't you go to sleep? I asked the question but you purposefully avoided it."
"I can't sleep either. I also don't want to talk about it."
Stephen was hit by a sudden realization that he was not the only one who died today. Wong died too. Granted, he only died once. But death was death. It must be pretty traumatizing since he thought it would be final. "Got it. We'll be temporary roomies in this library. You do your librarian thing and I'll do my frequent visitor of the library thing. You know where to find me in case of anything."
Wong did a micro eye roll. "Of course. Here you can find all the books about Infinity Stones." Wong gave him a list with titles and locations.
He grinned. "You know me so well. Thank you."
"It's better to preemptively give you the books before you steal them."
"Hey, I don't steal them. I return them after reading so that's not stealing."
There was a micro twitch in Wong's lips. "Go away and read your books."
"Thank you. You're the best." It would be his mission to make Wong laugh.
He collected the books. The Cloak helped him carry them. He was grateful for that because his hands ached more with his sleeplessness.
As he sat at his favorite corner and started to organize the books in term of ease of read, Wong came and gave him another pot of Chamomile tea.
"Thank you again. I didn't know you care so much."
"Shut up and don't spill the tea on the books. You wouldn't like the consequences."
"Is that maiming this time?" Oops, bad joke. He just remembered that he had actually experienced being maimed countless times. He promptly shut his mouth and opened the first book in front of him with his shaking hands. "The Mind Stone and its History in Nine Realms" in Sanskrit. He sighed. It would be a long night or technically morning.
"Stephen, you could always rest and come back tomorrow. Just sleep for fifteen hours or something."
He raised his head and looked at Wong. "I'll sleep when I'm dead." Another bad joke. He should just shut up.
There was a quick flash of sadness in Wong's eyes. "If you need anything, you know where to find me."
The book was as boring as it sounded. He had yawned and rubbed his eyes so many times. He read it halfway and decided he knew what the Mind Stone could do, he didn't need to know its history. He just needed to know where it was now. Looking at the back of the book, the last recorded location in the book for three centuries ago. At least he had some ideas what an Infinity Stone was.
He picked up a book titled "The Time Stone and the history of Agamotto". Luckily this was in English. His eyes felt so heavy but he ploughed on. So Agamotto was the first Sorcerer Supreme. He suppressed another yawn as he learned that Agamotto had teamed up with Odin and a few of ancient superheroes like Odin, Dark Phoenix, Iron Fist, Black Panther to form Ancient Avengers. He could barely keep his eyes open as he learned that Agamotto was the first protector of the Time Stone.
In his next moment of consciousness, he realized that he had closed his eyes. He didn't know when it happened. He opened his eyes and discovered that he was lying on a bench in the library. There was a small pillow under his head. The Cloak acted as a blanket although there was an actual blanket covering him as well. The Cloak just lying on top of his actual blanket. He looked at his watch. He had slept for eleven hours without realizing it. He rubbed his eyes before sitting up. He stretched his arms above his head. He felt refreshed and much better than a few hours ago. The adage "a few hours' sleep does wonder" came to his mind.
There was a plate of baozis and a small cup of coffee on his table. There was a note on it.
"I've enchanted these foods so they'll keep warm until consumed. I hope you like red bean buns and peanut buns. I've also put a spell so the aroma of the coffee won't wake you up. I'm glad at least one of us managed to sleep. I've also made sure no visitors would disturb you. PS:You need to gain more weight. Lifting you up was so easy although the Cloak did most of the work."
He had a mental image of the Cloak and Wong lifting him from his slumped position. He chuckled. The Cloak ruffled his hair. At least he gained a friend out of all his recent losses. He made another mission in his mental note – helping Wong sleep.
-I've always want to write the immediate post-battle Stephen but hadn't gone to do it until I saw this tweet by one of the writers.
twitter dot com/Massawyrm/status/1259957906444816387
"Hey, Massawyrm, watching "Doctor Strange" again and I'm curious. How long did Strange and Dormamu "Groundhog Day?" Roughly?"
"While we never officially say, Scott and I intended it to be years, allowing for any amount of fast forwarding needed in the story to explain the jump in talent between our film and his other appearances in the MCU."
So the poor Doctor was indeed stuck in the time loop for years.
-I actually have the problem of insomnia since the pandemic started, not directly because of the pandemic but the current housing situation plus a lot of work deadlines. I sometime went without sleep or only a few hours. That's why I don't update as often as I used to. So I got the part where we could be extremely tired but couldn't sleep. Perhaps I should read more books before sleep.
-Stay safe and healthy. I think we all know the drill now: Only go out when necessary, wear a mask, keep your distance, and wash your hands.