1963-10-18 - Bright Morning of the Psyche
Summary: Recovering from the Bride's bite, Doctor Strange settles his account the old-fashioned way with a sacrifice.
Related: The Sorcerer and the Bride
Theme Song: Liszt - Transcendental Etudes
strange wanda 

He's managed to shuck off his battle-leathers. The bloodstains will have to come out another time, when he's not shivering so hard that Strange can barely see straight. A hot shower made things slightly better, but reopened the scabs on his neck. He found it out the hard way, after he had ruined another towel drying off.

The good doctor managed to get a cup of tea down (emphasis on iron and electrolytes along with fever-breaking herbs), but not any food. He hurts too much.

He's laid-out, dead to the world, on the settee upstairs in the Loft of the Sanctum. The crimson Cloak wraps tightly to his skin, trying to give aid where it can and offering not much more than the trapping of heat as he shakes in a fever.

The vampire venom is wicked indeed. His immune system, bolstered by the Arts and blessing of the Vishanti, is still human. The infection rages in him, leaving his pale and beleaguered with a cough that just won't go away. He sleeps so fitfully too.

Little murmurs escape him; his hands twitch sporadically, as if he's deep in a dream. The edging of the Cloak slips as he rolls onto his back, frowning and mouthing some random words in his resting state. It reveals his bandaging, a thick multi-inch square of gauze taped to the wound as skillfully as he could manage. His quivering fingers brush at it in some unconscious gesture of discomfort before he rolls over once more, facing the back of the settee. The bandaging now hides away on the left-hand side of his neck.


The rhythm of the past few days establishes some truisms about the younger Maximoff twin. She follows utterly no predictable schedule to speak of. Sometimes she sleeps for hours at a jag, then vanishes throughout the night. Her activities inside the sanctum follow no obvious pattern except lacking one, restricted by a very healthy respect for boundaries. Her training hasn't stinted on wariness and personal property or space laws, and thus no ward breaks, no upsetting incidents involve a bowl, the crawling horror from the second floor, and a book of spells banned in 1495 by the Spanish papal courts, at the inciting request of Queen Isabella.

She comes and goes at odd hours, eating little and requiring little except the benefit of a hot shower every time she encounters something unpleasant. That might be a common point between witch and sorcerer as he tracks through a grim provenance of suffering.

Her dagger and long knives end up bundled in their sheathes, and she tracks up the stairs holding it in her arms. Quilted pants show an open cut that should have sunk into the meat of her thigh, and another burn gives her plain black shirt the worst of it. Still, her colour is high and her expression smug, if a bit wild.

"Doctor?" acts as the device of warning, a knock following. That tends to be the routine too. She doesn't barge in. She thinks of nothing here as her own, even her person in some ways. Glinting eyes gain a ruby light rolling over her irises when she finds Strange laid out like an Egyptian mummy, entombed in the cloak, and the daggers go falling to the floor. Unnatural reflexes stop their descent at the last moment.

Crimson mist weaves around the bundle, settling them quietly, but she's already moving, frowning, headed to the beside like the darkest imagining of a nurse. The doors to the Sight, usually sealed shut, are thrown open as she stares over his body, the air above him, letting her natural musically inclined aura drown away and the deeper whorl of the spectrum reveal itself to sensory impressions that humanity has no names for.

"This is not good. What have you done to yourself now?" Far be it from her to sound alarmed, it's the practical side emerging as she pulls off her gloves. One hand lowers to almost rest against his brow, assuming the cloak doesn't slap her.


The wards fuss at him once Wanda enters the Sanctum from whatever errand she last left upon. It's hard to for them to reach their master through his fevered state, but finally, their sentience prickles against his mind.

Wanda. Home. Cut. Burnt.

It's like trying to pull himself from a pit of quicksand. Every time Strange tries to rise from his fever-dream, it drags him back down. His nose fills with the sulfurous stench of the black tar of his shadow as again, with sickly clarity, he faces down the Bride. Again, he's ambushed and again, her fangs impart the pain and injection of the venom. This time, however, he's paralyzed — not just a fever-dream, but a nightmare. His magic drains away like the blood flowing from his veins and there's a disturbing sense of a call. It's like the distant sight of a fire in a snowstorm. His psyche lingers suspiciously in its sleep-state, though it is getting hard to ignore.

His heartbeat is loud in his ears as he fights it. Pulsating pain at his throat. A chilled touch on his forehead — the fingers of the Bride?!

His sleeping self rolls once more, towards the gentle press of her hand on his brow, even as he mutters something low and nonsensical. The crimson Cloak remains silent, loyal to its master, but doesn't hide the white bandaging.


"No," murmurs the brunette, crooning in her native Trasnian rather than English or Russian. "You can share the story of your mighty exploits, like Perun hurling a stone at the sky and knocking the sun out of orbit when you are awake." Voices can be a lifeline and hers is steady and even, a bit tilted towards the mezzo range, black velvet on silk.

The brunette shrugs off her merlot coat, the leather slithering off her shoulders and catching at the elbows. Extricating herself, she lays it on the bed next to Strange, and the scent of sandalwood and sacred herbs hidden underneath might somehow be familiar to that ancient sense of smell endowing humanity with impressions the conscious mind forgets.

The streamers of colour pouring through him speak to the weaknesses, the blights exposed like black spider webs upon his skin and deeper still. Rivulets of darkness appear in tangled lines to her eyes, vibrating with atonal notes that detract from the harmonic symphony that is his soulsong. Complexities of the psyche alone are harrowing to touch, so elaborate they require her to pause, back of her hand to her head. Limited damage was done on this hunt to her, and it's mostly her clothing that bears the brunt. "Whatever has been done to you is an insult to all of us. You know this?" Her fingers reach down gently to touch the spot directly below where she remembers the pendant to be, pushing the finest tendril of raw magic towards him in case his reserves are depleted so low, there is nothing left with to build.

It's a pure thread of crimson tending fuchsia, radiating with the tiniest of lilting notes. "Take it if you need it," she says softly, English. One sometimes has to encourage the weakened and the sick to take a little nourishment. The flow is tiny, faint by any standards, but a solid line through which more can presumably be drawn.

By turns, she gently tilts his head aside to see the state of the wounds, looking for proof of infection, demonic corruption, the worst. Infernal knowledge is her stock in trade among other things; this isn't beyond the scope of duties.


Another lung-wrenching cough and the Sorcerer shivers beneath his wrappings.

Within his mental delirium, he hasn't begun trudging towards that distant fire, but he's cold. So cold. Numb and deaf and weak. The snow whips by him on soundless whorls of wind. Everything is monochromed, white chill on black dead trees surrounding him but for that distant glow.

On the wind, making him look around within the dream: a graceful pianissimo of high notes, tremulous but present. Another cutting blast rips at him and knocks him against one of the tree trunks. It is like cold marble to his touch, burning cold, and so slick that he can't get purchase. He ends up landing in the snow up to his elbows and kneels there, tucked into himself. The dream has decided that he wears his semi-formal day clothes and the Eye of Agamotto is absent from his neck.

Alone. Utterly abandoned to this wintry wilderness and his only saving grace: the soul-sickening glitter of firelight far through the dead forest.

There is a brush against his cheek, velvety static, and he looks up to see a wisping gathering of vermilion light. It flirts with the wind, dancing on it independently with a sense of delightful challenge and familiarity to his Mystic senses, numbed as they are.

A rill of notes, quivering and hanging in the air, and then a chime.

The streamers rush at his face again, insistently, and he lifts up his hand to touch at them. They wrap around his fingers and there's the ghostly impression of a squeeze before they slip beneath his skin. He sees the darkness of his bones through the muscles in a moment of surprise before the world begins to shift around him. It begins to crackle with static, like a failing radio channel, and then, he's wreathed in a flash of his own storm-blue magic. Rivulets of red bleed through to create accents of violet within.

It blows the snow up and away from him in a backlash against whatever calls at him and there's the distant sense of a snapping connection.

His eyelids flutter and he coughs once weakly. Strange tries to focus on the body kneeling before his face. He's lying down…somewhere…Loft? Sandalwood…splash of crimson coat on the ground. Dark eyes in a familiar face.

"Wanda…?" he whispers raggedly.


Beginnings start in such a phase, and Wanda examines the bandages, peeling them back for evidence of what afflicts the surgeon rendered patient. Her touch is light and sure. What she finds is fit to cause her to frown, the discoloration and evidence of violence forcing her breath between her teeth in the surest sign of discovery causing outrage, anger, something deeper to stir inside her.

The bed takes her weight as she ceases to lean over, her knee driven into the mattress and the other positioned a few inches up. While he struggles through his own blizzard of sickly dreams, Strange is but inches from another kind of embrace and the sure support of that bowed mystic. Her eyes narrow fractionally, the building glow in their cores brighter than the cherry of a cigarette, sweeping away the warm honey brown irises in a wild sheen.

An incantation begins at a whisper, pulling together the simple blessing of the earth. Life energy follows nature, and she reaches out to the deep wellspring, pulling it up through herself as a purifying filter, and pushing out more of it through the ragged bite cut into his skin.

The process is slow. Too much, she'll simply shock the system. Not enough, nothing will mend. Her hair floats around her in a nebulous dark cloud shot by fiery highlights, hints of sunrise coming to a endless dusk. Her aura winks in and out, visible as the swirling bands of incarnadine power wreath her wrists and fingers, feeding him all the wounded man can take. All she knows how to give, anyways, the melodies of a slow Bach score hummed on her lips until he speaks.

"Sadly me. This never has been my strongest suit," she admits, the curve of a smirk lined in mulberry. "How bad are the symptoms? It looks ugly. Take what you need to fix it."


A scratchy groan issues through his clenched teeth as he feels her magics weaving into the newly-clotted bite wound at his neck. It's not quite like a cauterizing touch, but it does burn like a just-too-hot-washcloth against it.

"Sadly you?" He laughs once, a weary smile touching his lips, even as he closes his eyes against another evaporation of venom from the immediate injury site. "At least you're trying to help rather than k-k-kill me," and he coughs. "I've never been bitten by a vampire before…so I couldn't tell you."

His body relaxes momentarily from the fever-shivers and from the influx of his own burgeoning magics responding to the clarion call of her claret powers. It still hurts, but it's beginning to hurt less. The crimson Cloak shifts on him, making sure that he's completely covered; the collar pat-pats him on the cheek once before becoming still once more.

Strange blinks blearily at the garment's behavior before looking back to Wanda. "You tell me, I guess," he rasps. All the while, there's the background cadence of a light waltz in his mind, an intermingling of colors in amaranthine that works with dogged fervor to burn the contagion from his veins.


He mentions vampire and that child of Mount Wundagore, Slavic inheritor to all the stories thereof, utters a low growl inflected by promises of violence and revenge, the instinctive shuffling away from fear. Her eyes narrow, brows drawn in chocolate lines against her honeyed skin.

Stakes will no doubt be added to the list of paraphernalia she carries around with her. However, wrath makes a terrible bedfellow with healing and it takes her a few moments of effort to recover her composure, pulling back in the emotional vibrancy that starts to rattle her orchestral inflected aura with darker, surging notes that belong on Bald Mountain rather than in a sanctuary. She leans down, and Strange might mistake her for kissing him.

No. She sniffs instead, seeking any proof of putrefaction or the malodorous proof of flesh mending badly, riddled by infection. The drain on her is going to confine her to a very long nap to recharge, but this much she can provide.

"Vampires vary in their abilities and potency. This is not a small thing. It burns the skin like a fever. It riddles you in patches of darkness, like flotsam." Her eyebrows knotted still, she sits back onto her heels, bringing her palms together to control the flood of energy to a more solid flow. "Some will cause wounds that never close or heal. Others will undermine your mind by their bite, cause you to hear whispers, grow increasingly fraught and paranoid. You do not have the kind that stops you from sleep, at least." There is no compromise on her tone; all are categorically annoying to bad.

"How did this happen?"


The Mystical waltz briefly goes dark, minor in key, and Strange recognizes, from a far and half-cognizant distance, that she's shaken by his words.

His attempt to push his torso up to rest on his elbows is stymied mid-thought by how she leans over him. Yes, he wonders briefly of her intentions until he hears her inhalations; ah, a test for lingering contamination.

Resting his cheek against the flat surface of the settee, he closes his eyes once more, content to listen and catalogue as best he can given his current reserves of mental fortitude. Her voice fades out in a brief give to the relieving exhaustion brought on by the slow-but-continual removal of the acid in his blood, but then, with a little gasp, he comes back to consciousness in time to hear her question.

A sigh then, and a stuttering huffing that could be cough or a guilty laugh, who knows?

"I took a walk." That is the simplest answer of all and utterly truthful. Still…from what he's learned of his new roommate, Strange knows better than to leave her hanging without further information. "I have a young man who visits from time to time, Marcus." Maybe she knows him, maybe not. "He has elemental powers and is learning to c-c-" He clears his throat roughly. " — control them. He lives in Hell's Kitchen and he first told me of the vampire infestation there. I wasn't concerned until another, Liv, an Asgardian and courier of the youngest Prince, shared with me her concerns." A deep rattling breath and exhale. Still, loose is better than dry when it comes to lung status. "Curiosity…nearly killed the cat." A faint smile even as he closes his eyes again and goes back to breathing steadily.

Almost there. Almost enough shared magic in his system that his own resources can rally and take over.


"Water. You might need it." So much of her energy is grounded to earth that she can barely muster the distraction to pull out the liquid from some other source, but Wanda isn't going to pause just yet. Her skin pales slightly and the elemental glitter around her grows stronger, globules of power visibly forming and churning to the pulsating forces that disfigure the magical energy.

"I do not know what this 'Asgardian' is," she adds, "but you are sure they did not try to trap you there?"

Paranoia, it never lets youth down. She can be grateful for her hair floating around her face, mostly staying out of her way, since she cannot spare the effort to shake it from her brow or brush any pieces aside. Once confident of her grasp on it, she leans forward again. "This may be uncomfortable. You have a patch of darkness right here." Here happens to be under his arm, between ribs and shoulder, tracking inward. Her hands rubbed together rapidly produce a welling of friction and equally many mystical bubbles, answering the agitation that shakes up the poured out strength of her art, and then she presses one palm atop, the other to the side so the equivalent surge of power follows an oxbow.

It might rather feel like being shot through with fizzy pop and a violin solo, all riding atop the solid presence of earth magic being used in a channel to chip away at the blight, to neutralize the venom by encasing it and grinding it to dust.

Wanda might be getting her revenge for that laugh.

It might be thought that way as she leans down and kisses his forehead, brushing her lips roughly over the skin and ending at a silvered temple. "At least this is not your excuse to reclaim your room for yourself?"


"Owwwwwwwwww…" Strange grinds out after feeling the evaporation of a particularly-thick patch of vampire toxin within the musculature of his chest. His huffing sigh puffs against her dark hair, all floating within the aura of her magic.

There seems to be an apology of sorts in her more tender touch of lips to brow and he laughs once again, perhaps in instinctive retort. "Not in the least," he murmurs with a small smirk, even as he's shifting uncomfortably within the confines of the Cloak. He still shivers spasmodically, but he can feel his latent powers beginning to stir.

"Changa," comes the whisper as he closes his eyes and draws from the wellspring within his center. The sky-blue magic, to his Sight-heightened senses, comes to light and begins flushing through his veins. At every collection point of the tarry vampiric influence, it rears back and strikes, burning it out with extreme prejudice.

When he opens his eyes again, they are lightened in the echo of his spell. "If the vampire meant to trap me there, she failed." The smirk she saw earlier deepens, takes on an edge of dark pleasure. "Sunlight shoved into a vampire's face is an effective deterrent." A hand appears, the first since the Cloak enshrouded him, and he touches carefully at the heavily-scarred wound site on his neck tenderly. "Though perhaps I was a bit overzealous," and he coughs with a wince. "Her teeth tore loose."


His own offerings follow on the dwindling reserves of her power for the moment, and when he can seize upon the source of his own energies, Wanda keeps the transfer open but largely undirected. The spillover is rather like the tide lapping at Strange's mind proverbially—there if he wants it, free to put a toe into.

She sinks onto her knees, folded forward neatly over her knees and resting her forehead on the pillow beside his ear, breathing out a weary, long breath. The aura still glows a bright shade trending towards the colour of begonias rather than violets, but the weakening influence pours more purple where his spells take over. The deeper, shorter breaths appear.

Her teeth set. "Not overzealous enough if she still has a face. They cannot be redeemed or undone. The only good choice is killing them, without fail." Her voice falls away into a grumble of dismay.

What a sight they must present, him on his back inside the cloak's wrappings, her in a semi-fetal position facedown beside him. At least for a few minutes, but she'll turn and fit into the space beside him better, leg curled over his. "Did it speak of its purpose?"


With the most respectful brush of his willpower, he turns aside her powers; she'll feel it like a warm spring breeze against her Sight and psyche.

"Enough for now, thank you," Strange whispers towards her and resumes his deep breathing. There's a period of silence while he waits for her to withdraw the tendrils of claret from his aura and then he replies to her question.

"No, no spoken words of her purpose. I expect that she was a guardian of the vampire's stake in the Kitchen. Maybe a test as well… She did not stand alone." He's hard pressed to explain the duality of her persona and has to think for another moment. "I know that I dealt with one of the more powerful of the vampires there. She was Sorceress as well as undead. This Asgardian, Liv, said that their leader is called Dracul. Dracula," he adds with a slow sigh of weariness. Another thing beyond his control. "If reality holds true to written myth, I fought one of his Brides. She was powerful." His voice, as rough as it is, conveys his sour feelings perfectly in tone. "I was outnumbered even after her retreat. The Elementalist showed up and used fire to destroy the remaining fledglings." It's unspoken: he realizes now, regretfully, that going alone after vampires is a very bad idea.

If she's curled up against his side now, he allows her to pillow herself on his shoulder and wraps his arm about her delicate frame. Her presence is infinitely soothing and aids in the healing burning through his blood.


The fire in the room gives way to water, and her energy flows back into her hands, drawn back through the burned line of her shoulder to the very depth of her self. A shiver runs through her, and that power ebbing back to calm again is like giving a farewell to an old friend.

An old friend who slowly distorts her body and changes her fundamental existence, eventually. She processes meat badly; Strange not at all, and they can understand the consequences of wielding what they do. There is always a cost.


"Dracul. Vlad Tepes, the butcher of Wallachia, its royal master; or Dracula as imagined by Bram Stoker? I have read him of course, I know the old stories. The paperback copy is easy to find for a quarter, and a used copy. You think you met one of the brides." Her gaze narrows upon him, and it's only reasonable a woman raised in sight of Romania, where the national hero is Vlad the Impaler—well, she proves no fool about this.

"Too soon to guess if you are wasting away or suffering from dementia or signs of sleepwalking. Wasting away? If you start throwing garlic or flowers out of your window in a stupor, that would give some terrible credence to the story. Are they repelled by crucifixes? In the stories, it is a decided weakness, especially of thee sisters. I wonder if the concept of the wafer as a protective barrier is true."

She shrugs her shoulders slightly, and curls up tighter, pressing another kiss to the line of his jaw because she simply can.

Or maybe it's a comfort, a wordless thanksgiving as he pulls her in. She remains where she is for a time.

"I'm going to watch over you while you sleep. Just in case. And if this truly is Dracula. Dracul… it means the dragon, you know."


She'll feel the rumble of his faint laugh, nearly a clear sound at this point. The lingering aftereffects of the venom still blunt the resonance of himself in entirety, like how cold air distorts the precision of a tuning peg that, in turn, rattles when the string is plucked.

"What other vampire could she have been but a Bride?" Another sigh that he releases into the waves of her dark hair as he turns his face towards her, eyes shut. She smells of incense, charcoal, and roses. "The unfortunate thing about human belief is its ability to lend credence to that which shouldn't exist. Whether this is Tepes, son of the dragon, or Stoker's creation brought to life, I don't know. Clearly, I didn't linger to ask questions. I was bleeding rather badly." A bitter sense of self-recrimination once more.

His healing spell is beginning to putter out and while he's not certain that all of the infection has been eradicated, the worst of it is kept at bay. It feels like his fever is broken but remains a low burn within him. He'll cast upon himself another time, after some sleep and more tea.

He returns her kiss with another to her hair. "Normally…I'd say to leave me be and let me heal, but I was warned that there could be the potential for sleepwalking, just as you mentioned. Please…" Strange bites at his lip as he frowns; he prays she doesn't need to. "Please wake me using whatever means necessary if you find me awake but not myself. I have this feeling that you'll know if I'm not walking of my own volition."

After all, her knowledge of the demonic forces rivals his own. It's another delightful novelty in his life.


Wanda kicks at the black silk sheet, her boots unfortunately still on. The notion gives her a reason to pause and extricate herself reluctantly, if only because landing on a bed this nice while still wearing her shoes is unforgivable. Sitting up creakily, she starts undoing the knotted laces to free up the tongue, and then allowing her to pull her legs free.

"A sister, a daughter, one of his offspring. They make one another somehow, the exchange of blood and death, I think," Wanda says. "I have heard of it being spread like a virus, which is why you cannot be left alone. There must be ways to suppress or reverse the effects. I may not be enough to stop anything, but I can get help for you. From whomever would help you." She chews on her lower lip and hauls off the second boot, then peels off her socks with a wrinkle of her nose. Her movements are hindered somewhat by that burn, but her cut to her thigh isn't likely to inhibit her very much, being needle thin and razor fine.

She slowly turns back onto her hip and lowers herself back down rather than flop and knock about a patient, knowing that much isn't acceptable or tolerable. "So you fail. It means nothing. You lived and she fears. You do not need to wear this darkness about you. You are not able to see and know all things, are you? Then allow yourself to be mortal, learn, and carry on."

Advice dispensed, she puts her cheek to Strange's. It's hard for her to even explain why, the reasons to give comfort when she is so terrible at offering comfort to anything and anyone. "I will tie you down with everything I have if you sleepwalk. It will be fine. You can yell at me later."


Everyone keeps telling him these things. Strange can't help the frown as he quietly watches her take off her boots. He lived, sure, but he didn't solve the problem. He hasn't even seen the news yet that some of the ensorcelled officers died, partially as a result of his attempt to knock them back and away from him. Think he's moping now? Just you wait.

The press of her warm cheek against his, along with the careful aligning of her body against him, is enough to bulwark against the gnawing sense of unfinished business in his mind. He leans his head back with equal care. He knows, from personal experience, that she must be nearly as tired as him.

Another slight cough and he murmurs, amusement lacing his tone, "Tie down the Sorcerer Supreme in his own Sanctum? There had best be some well-drawn knots and spells then." The fact that he can tease must mean that he's at least comfortable enough to focus beyond his own fears that linger like the dregs of the venom in his veins.

"But you — you aren't entirely well yourself." His free hand emerges from beneath the crimson Cloak and settles on his chest, a halted gesture in mind. "I remember the wards mentioning something about a burn. What on earth were you up to then? Would you like me to heal it?"

Always the gentleman, never intending to force anything upon her.


Let the grief and the woe spill out of him into that fractured little vessel used to the world's harsh treatment, and how little it cares for anything not immediately in front of its nose. She can respect the silent way he grimaces or lurks in his own dark thoughts, not about to interfere with them, but not up to letting him wallow either. Doctor Strange has many liberties; grumpiness has an expiration date and a shelf life shortened by apparent moping.

The mopiness never does do well assaulted by wellbeing and care, even if it comes with disused gestures and rough edges. The brunette breathes out a scored huff, shallow and slain against her teeth clicking shut. She is ginger for all those wounds and plain inexperience, trying not to cause him pain or discomfort. Thus their dance is a bit charmingly old-fashioned for two people curled up like puppies together.

"Are you still the supreme when wandering about dreaming yourself a boy of seven, chasing grasshoppers into a river of melted rock and fire?" Please, someone tell her what lava is in English. "I will take the risk that odds are with me." Cheating those probabilities is part and parcel of the whole witchy gig.

He might be prepared to laugh, but imagine that. Wanda pokes the cloak with her bare toe, and closes her eyes for a moment. "I cut up a possessed vessel. Banishment was too late, they were in…" She pauses, the lack of the right word bothersome, and it falls to try Russian. Or German, either give her what she wants. "Symbiosis. When the host is lost and the body controlled by the demon."


Yep, he does laugh, though it's an awkward one, lilted with discomfort at such an innocent concept turned with the deadliest of intentions. Strange is very used to danger masquerading as many-tentacled or googly-eyed or beauty laced with darkness — the idea of a childhood fancy shadowed by demonic touch? That's…quite frankly terrifying.

"I'd be supremely good at catching those grasshoppers up until I stepped into the lava." There, the word she was searching for — molten earth that glows with Gaia's power. Light words offered in defiance of the slithering nightmares that wait beneath his conscious state. He lets out a little grunt of mock distress followed by a cough at the poke of her foot, but otherwise remains silent as he smiles against her hair. Please don't let her figure out that the Sorcerer Supreme is ticklish.

That she was demon-hunting doesn't surprise him, not really. After all, their odd sort of pact revolves around her aiding to guard his territory from the dwindling number of creatures released during the initial opening of the Hellmouth. That she wordlessly rejects his offer of healing is also noted and respected. They make a rather stubborn pair, these proud dancers in the Mystic Arts. He won't pursue it further unless she brings it up.

"I'm sorry that it came to that," he finally murmurs in the stillness after her explanation. "Taking a life is difficult, especially if the possessed has no idea that they are taken."


"So thought most of Egypt when the locusts came, did they not?" She knows locust but not magma or lava. Wanda breathes in again, learning what separates even a weary, bloody Stephen from everyone else in the world. She is learning slowly, discovering his identity by ways other than mere sight. Call it a habit for survival, a carryover to be able to tell it is him rather than an illusion or someone's psychic creation, but it's much simpler.

She simply wishes to know, finding a reason to loiter against the hollow of his shoulder when he might otherwise nod off. Or squirm in delight discovering her hair has a will of its own to sneak under his chin and against his nape, coiling up to his ear, brushing along his mouth in so many strands of fair silk dipped in shadow. It teases as it swirls about, breath moving it, the merest shift of his chest to breathe enough to reinforce that movement further.

"I can bless myself if I have to," she says softly, nibbling at her lower lip. "Later. It's not that bad. The shirt will become rags though." True fact, burnt to a crisp, it won't be much use the next day or any day after. "It reminds me what I did. The person was gone, I think, and it was a sad thing."

Life isn't carelessly stripped for all that she pretends to be, and her teeth score his jawline tentatively. This is new. Might as well see what it does.


"Yes, it is a sad thing," Strange agrees softly after carefully plucking a strand of hair from his mouth. What on earth is going on with her hair? he muses sleepily. His body is telling him that it is time to rest now, while the fires of infection burn low and his bolstered immune system can continue keeping them at bay.

He shifts a little, angling his head away from the caress of her locks, as it sends frissons across his skin. "Ah, now what are you — what is this?" A simultaneous wince and hiss as his movement wrinkles the newly-scarred wound. "Augh! Wanda, now is not the time for that," he mutters even as her teeth scrape along his jaw. "Sleep. We need to sleep." Another repressed cough even as he cants his head to look into her face. It's a slight frown she's granted, but somewhere, there lurks a twinkle of masculine amusement.


Her hair, shimmering nightfall, merely shifts about as she does, the last embers of her power playfully stirred up by a semi-conscious impulse.

"It's a test," she replies, and sounds not at all put out to his protests. "In my culture's stories the bitten welcome bites again. You did not, though I am sorry to test. I could not tell you or it would defeat the test." She sounds not one bit apologetic except for the bother of pain caused incidentally. "You tell me if you feel burning. A sting. Heat. Not only from infection, it could be a sign. Maybe a mark or a stinging of something else. Without knowing if the stories are true, they are problematic guesses. But every legend has its purpose."

Then she lowers her head and curls back up. "Sleep. After I rest, I can make you tea."

The shifting wiggle, however, is nothing short of wiggly. Test indeed.


"I see," he mutters, narrowing his eyes at her subterfuge even as Strange grudgingly accepts that he would have done nothing less in her shoes. Boots, rather. Or lack thereof.

The slow sigh of relief that the young woman agrees that rest is best is rushed at the end. Wiggly indeed. Minx!

He clears his throat and coughs once more as he draws her close. Her warm breaths stir her hair across his bared chest and neck, but there's no essence of a tease now, just the sense of impending dreams for both. He can feel her heartbeat against his shoulder. His half-lidded eyes, already disappearing in the weight of exhausted submission to the sweet relief of slumber, flicker around the Loft. One last drowsy word to the wards: Keep watch.

The silvery spells briefly riffle over and around them before returning to the essence of the Sanctum's sentience. The crimson Cloak draws close once more, hiding away the healing wound on his neck beneath its high collar, and he's left to do nothing more than relax into the give of the settee's cushions - shift his free hand to lie atop hers, spread as it is across his sternum - breathe in the scent of roses as sleep claims him.

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