1963-10-18 - The Bride's Idea of a Honeymoon
Summary: It's a bad day in paradise when the Doctor decides to traipse outside to do some ill-advised rescuing in Dracula's name… and he's completely witless.
Related: Bright Morning of the Psyche
Theme Song: Calling (Lose My Mind) - Sebastian Ingrosso
strange wanda 

Let it never be said that the scions of hell are without their tricks. Multilayered results are their purview. Hide away, oh wounded prey — they patiently await with traps sprung on level incomprehensible to any but the canniest.

With a ragged gasp that turns into a momentary body-wracking cough to clear his airway, Strange sits upright within the crimson Cloak's silky folds and stares at the far wall of the Loft. Something…something woke him. Some clarion call he recognizes and he immediately swings his legs down. The semi-sentient garment lies on the couch, oddly silently in the wake of his departure.

As he walks to the master bedroom, he stumbles and grimaces. The wound at his neck, healing vampire bite, feels so much better. He can't understand why he's so tired.

"Anemic…must be anemic still," the good Doctor mutters as he opens his closet. Black on black on black — this task, hovering at the edges of his mind and prickling him with the sense of urgency, requires him at his sharpest. Everything is fever-edged and he blinks a few times; the ambient refraction of the light doesn't change, neither does the sense of subtle double-vision. Must be the remains of the venom.

Deft hands that don't entertain trembling, not for even a second, button up the final portion of the dress shirt and he adjusts his cuffs. Dashing. He looks…dashing. A grim smile before he freezes up; there it is again! The faintest of cries, far off from another reality entirely, feminine and cracking with fear. He's needed!

Both of the master doors slam open as he exits them. Even with needing to catch himself on the lintel of one side of the doorway, Strange presents a formidable figure. His mantle is called and responds with a roll of thunder felt in the foundations of the Sanctum. The Sorcerer is suddenly checked not a few steps into the Loft by his own wards. They needle and poke, hard, like fingers between his ribs, and he grimaces, swatting at them rather than simply dismissing them.

The venom will have him delivered to its Lord and Master intact, brimming to the edges with seething froth of Mystic power, and the veil of the living dream — the compulsion to sleepwalk — wipes his pupils from his eyes. Entirely hazed, contained within the edges of his irises, the mind fog reigns. The Sorcerer Supreme follows the insidious call.


Her long rest to recover the depleted energy spent in pursuit of supercharging Doctor Strange's reserves throw Wanda into dreamless sleep. That's nothing new to her. Better a sleep under a stygian cloak than dreams lit by the Earth's endless whispering or the dark, guiding principles of a lodestone she never wants to meet.

Her black shirt, still burn at the shoulder, and black pants are far and away different from the usual frilly nightgowns women of a certain age and economic status prefer. The pants won't crease, the shirt very much do. Her loosened corset lets her sleep in vague comfort. Comfortable hardly matters to her though, even as her vigil is interrupted by those snatches of slumber.

A harder life than might be known to a man born in the lap of luxury, raised to the salary of a surgeon, ensures she awakens to the slightest creak or word. Ruffling motions for someone getting up and going to consult the oracle in the closet cause her to crack her eyes open, rubbing the sleep from her lashes. She discreetly palms her eye sockets, using the screen of her dark hair to conceal the effort. Not until Strange is up and ambulatory does Wanda tentatively stir. What excitement, she rolls over onto her stomach.

All the better to slither off and hit the ground, grabbing her bundled coat and belts, gloves in pockets, when he ambles out the door. Dressing in a hurry comes a bit naturally, and she barely bothers with the niceties. Who cares about tangled hair or buttoning everything up?

Her manner is wordless, focused on fading out of existence to the senses. If it were magic alone, she might be detected, but she uses honed skills to roll her feet, muffle all those additional sounds people make in motion without thinking - the zip of their pants, the thud of their jacket on their thighs, and so forth.


The wards continue to tug at him, even as he steps out into the Sanctum proper, and he brushes away their clinging touch with an audible growl. It can be seen in the lifting and drawing of various pinches of his black dress shirt, even in one large bunching of the cuff of his dress pants, right near the ankle, that nearly trips him up.

Strange stumbles at this and has to catch himself on the nearest surface, a small museum-style table, some esoteric object contained within its glass belldome atop it. The thing shifts and nearly falls over.

This is not normal, at all. Many short discussions have passed between the master of the mansion and his guests about never touching any of the artifacts under the domes, not even touching the pedestals, much less moving them. His first instinct is always to take a knee rather than risk releasing some errant spirit.

"Just stop!!!" he spits out, pulling his leg free and then striding past Wanda as if she were entirely invisible. His gaze, reflecting the compulsion of the venom, slides over and through her.

No need to bother with the little witch. She is not needed. He is. Ergo, she is nonexistent in his hallucinated world.


The little witch might not argue with the outcome of the venom, for it suits her purposes plenty well. Stalking after the foremost mystic in the world, albeit a few contenders might argue otherwise, puts her on a very uneasy footing indeed.

Pietro might be right, life is so much easier when you take no sides and hide in the shadows. But that's barely a life lived, and she put in her lot with the one person who could help the rest of the people deal with a battle. So here she is, shadowing him one step at a time, leaving a very healthy berth indeed and possibly wishing for one of those other denizens to make their appearance. Has anyone told her Merlin, as in Myrddin, the real English one, dwells here?

It makes no difference. In the end, it comes down to the yin and yang in their ancestral spiral to forge balance, man leading and woman guided, the lovers on the card separated by a beam of purpose and a lure of a fiendish monster.

Her hand clasped to her breast, she gives each of the domes a glance and halts when he halts, then recoils from the harsh tone. She ought to; it's necessary to be careful under uncertain circumstances. Strange leads her down a rabbit hole, and even Alice needs a few precautions. Her calculations whirl in her brain on every step, awaiting the moment he steps outside or lashes out in some fashion.

Calculations not meant for sorcery, but the ability to force atoms and molecules to leap to her call even if every law says they shouldn't. Go hard or go home, and she's pulling in bits of energy and thought, trying to keep her fine-tuned concentration balanced tightly.



It's not the normal demi-speech of the wards. It's a twisted echo of the instinctive sentience that catches on his attention just enough that he comes to a slowed, eventual halt just before the doors that exit from the Loft.

Deliberately, shoulders prickling with apprehension, Strange turns to see a nebulous shadow hovering distantly from him.

Flash! Mystical power wreathes him, blows loose hair and clothing, gloves his upraised hands in golden-white…webbed in inky-black.

"What the hell are you…?" he whispers, watching the amorphous shape begin to mold itself into something more familiar to him. Tall, skeletal, broad-shouldered and curved despite the lack of being — hooded within her mist-spun cloak with impenetrable hood — Death. "GODS BELOW!!!" It's a strangled sort of curse, but he strikes first, fast and hard, with a spell meant to disintegrate the creature floating malevolently in his Loft.


Her art, the one she was born with, transcends magic. It changes the world in the bat of an eyelash and echo of will. More than winking at Lady Luck, the brunette can shatter the Wheel of Fortune and reassemble the splinters to her own liking. When all goes well…

She gives Strange room to walk in front of her, staying well out of arm's reach. She descends the stairs when he reaches the landing, she emerges through the door when he is across the floor. Space does not shrink to an outthrust arm or a billowing cloak. Disadvantages of distance are less perilous than staying close, or the region of enemies closer. When all goes fair…

He turns so fast, and reflex saves her, the fathomless blessings of fate brought to bear. A sideways step and the probability warps backwards, bending around her in an invisible wall. The blessing settles into her hands and legs, descending on her lips as fine as dandelion fluff. She lets herself relax only a fraction, enough to follow the outcomes of her own good fortune. When all goes awry…

Put trust in something higher. Bend fate and let fate set you free.

Fate will carry her where it must. It's an edge she needs when the gold-washed darkness comes flying at her, governing whether she should step aside or twist just so, armouring her by plucking futures from the many spread before the gods. This one she doesn't get hit in, that one the spell strikes the teapot, and this one now requires her to jump. She acts on a volition all her own, dancing over the edge.

"Gods above," she whispers back, emphasis on the latter as though to invoke their favour too. She flits to the side, seeking the protection of the house by its façade, the pillars or the corners, all of it safeguarded as much by varied wards and simple cover.

A game of cat and mouse is never a good thing, but this mouse has a few tiny tricks up her paws.


The initial impact splash of spell-light blinds him and he's left standing there in his martial stance, hands extended in the finished signs, as his vision returns. Blurry at first, but then the near-clarity returns; the rainbow halos still linger from every reflection.

No sign of Death. Strange reaches out with his senses and tendrils of seeking resonate in the atmosphere of the Sanctum. The mansion magnifies his powers in folds of unknown amounts. The wards take on the aspect of a predator, actively swishing around the Loft and then out into the hallways of the second level.

As luck would have it (perhaps fate?), they brush past the hidden Wanda, so skillfully blending into the absence of empty space, and then return to their master. A negative report is enough to make him roll his shoulders and draw back the Mystic might flooding through his veins. The sigh is ragged, rough, and his skin has gained a thin sheen of sweat along with its paleness and empty eyes.

This does not amuse the venom's freakish control — he is supposed to be returned to the Lord of Vampires unsullied!

It steers the good doctor down the hallway and towards the foyer with the siren call of the faint pained voice. He clunks down the grand staircase with rapid steps that echo in the tense silence of the Sanctum.

Back in the Loft, shards of the teapot lie scattered across the floor, still smoking with the aftereffects of the spell's devastation.


Forth to the door will be a waltz or a sprint, presuming the sanctum permits her leave it at all. Wouldn't that be a pretty pickle: the Doctor and his captive bride, Death.

She grits her teeth, eyes briefly flashing as rich as raspberries in the summer sun when she shifts more of her focus into the arcane spectrum. Warped beginnings assure her ability to see and sense magic without much trying, and the ripples in the wards provide telltale patterns. Patterns can be exploited, the way they reflect and refract around a barrier hint of how to escape notice.

Pietro's words haunt her, her retort bitter as ash at the back of her throat. Let someone else deal with it. Let's help that person help others.

Fat lot of good that advice does facing down an arcane juggernaut.

Strange goes marching two by two, hurrah, hurrah, right down the steps and for the door. She clings to the brittle shadows affording some cover, pouring as little thought crafting as possible into rendering herself unseen. Better to shrink down and trust in her habitually dark clothes to blend into the background, swallowing her in one gulp.

Revenge for the teapot comes later. Her fingers tease along her knives, avoiding them. This is not the choice to make, even as her wounded, paranoid scars open up to fresh cuts. There's biting off more than you can chew, and trying to consciously hook effing Moby Goddamn Dick.

Patience holds her. For now.


The true wards, the guardians set in task to protect the Sanctum and all within it, will not relent. Even the venom's needle-clawed grip on his actions cannot prevent them from following a variation of his own soul-sworn mantra that he tries hardest to hold as compass true:

First, do no harm.

With a teeth-rattling sense of impact, they buffet into Strange as he reaches the short raised landing that stretches a mere five steps worth of distance before the handles of the front doors. His breath leaves him in an "OOOF!!!" of startled sound and he's nearly taken to his knees as they whirl around him with a skin-shrinking chill. Shove-shove-shove, back, ensorcelled master, back!

Waving around his head as if harried by hornets, he retreats a number of steps before the silvery haze around him is violently dispelled by a reality-bending wave of sheer force. The air ripples in reaction to the slap-down of the guardian spells.

It's a nearly-audible screech of pain from the sentinel spells, a vibration from the ley lines beneath the house that rattles the floorboards, and then he stands there, shoulders visibly rising and falling with the deep breaths he needs take now to avoid passing out. Various objects rattle briefly on their placements, but nothing falls to shatter or warp out of form.

A wobble in place — the venom's being hampered by its own success in slowly sapping his life-force — but then, he continues on. He just needs to make it out of the front door. Then, he can open a Gate and find his way to this distant voice, with its cajoling lilt gnawing at his psyche.


Direct force is so often pointless. Watching the cacophonous patterns engaging the good Doctor through her mystic sight, the lesson is driven home firm of enough.

Her game never has been greatswords and maces, but knives and guns, guile and wit rather than overwhelming force. Time to start acting upon.

Wanda brushes her fingers over her crown, pushing her hair back from the garnet-studded band. Words of her mentor almost pierce her thoughts. Focus. Remember what you are, a witch, and one trained in the subtle arts rather than gross forces of a Cheapside sorcerer.

She calls up the element of air, breathing out a stream of her own breath and capturing that tight to her skin, banding and twisting it around, letting the faintest stream play through her hair and toy over her throat. Air, rather than illusion. She embraces the element like an old friend, depleting her lungs three times over.

Then she sets her spell free.

There are telltales to the incisive Holmesian mind, something even a man beset by dementia can identify when not fully in control of his wits.

Her scent hangs in the air like the magnificent crescent moon, capturing the intoxicating fragrance remembered from dreams and the dark-eyed girl shining up from the dark water of unconsciousness.

The opening strike is clear and fresh, rum-like davana and woody cypress an attack upon the mind. The deeper poison unfolds through the heart notes of the famed black roses of Turkey, dark and mysterious crimson, the opulent heart shot by glowing saffron and lavish spices. Buoyed up on the luxurious impressions, the finishing note breathes of decadence and whispers conveyed by touch and shared sonnets in the most ancient of tongues through a melange of oud, amber, sandalwood, and precious woods.

He just needs to make it out of his own repressed memories and need, penned on the curve of honeyed skin and ink-dark hair, luminous eyes and ripe lips shaping a word, two syllables two thousand years old.


It must have been gut-watering to see him slow in that final step, still shy once more of the landing before the front door. Moonlight shining through the stained-glass window featuring the All-Seeing Eye shines from the back of his coal-black hair as he turns first by his sight and then completely around to face the foyer.

There you are, little mouse.

The venom, riding high in his mind and utilizing his Sight, locates her aura as easily as shining a flashlight into the corner of the larder. His compulsion-blinded eyes narrow at her and then, with every line of his body radiating intent, Strange begins forming counter-signs with those scarred and unwavering fingers.

All this as the spell is traveling across the air towards him. The ephemeral glow of refracted moonbows catches his eye a mere heartbeat before it collides with him and wreathes him in its influence.

Willpower — the one thing the venom never considered. Deep, deep within, the Sorcerer Supreme knows this is wrong. Far below the static of his twisted state of wakefulness, the essence of Stephen Strange has been battering itself bloody against the stormdoors of its basement banishment as it stands up to its neck in oozing shadows.

A blink and a confused frown cross his face. Strange appears frozen, indecisive, and her essence winds itself irrevocably into his person with the first hesitant breath after the pause.

The Grecian lance of smoky pine and notes of richness drives true first. His exhale shudders and he seems to crumple even as the rest of the scents begin ripping the venom's hooks from his control.

Roses…so thick he can taste them, as his hands drop and he blinks harder still. Claret-hues begin to pound at the edges of his vision; the halos take on the ruby tint in time with his thudding heart. Glitters of golden light sparkle in his burring sight.

Even as he drops to his knees, chin tucked in an instinctive flinch away from the battle occurring violently within his mind, hands clenched white-knuckled in the space before his sternum, there comes the whisper, sweet and soft and blooming like the gentlest strums of the deepest humming harp-strings:


There he kneels, resplendent in funeral blacks, silvered in moonlight and hard-earned coloration, withdrawn into himself for the space of several heavy beats. His palms now splay across the cold floor of the foyer and locking his elbows keeps him from simply collapsing.

His gaze rises and he is haunted by the rapid realization of what has occurred. Torn-knuckled essence kept a close record of the past several minutes. His steel-blue eyes, clear and lit with the fading light of his mantle, find her once again amongst the shadows.

He slowly settles back onto his heels, falters, and falls onto one hip. There's the sense of him taking in his hands as foreign, the choice of stygian clothing as disturbing, and then he whispers, so loud in the tranquility,

"It tried to take me, didn't it?"


ROLL: Wanda +rolls 1d100 for a result of: 50


She cares naught for a spell orienting upon her, operating on the fate-blessed edge of impulse. The first lesson of magic is sacrifice.

Magic always has its price. Magic always demands its due. High or low, young or old, master or apprentice, they pay.

Bend the mind of the man, suffer the chance of deflecting off his will. Strike the back of the sorcerer, fear the possibility of crossing his sword. Catch the eye of the doctor, suffer the possibility of raising his mystic ire. There is always a cost to be made now and later. The witch straightens, resolving herself to the inevitable.

For all the windows themselves might provide artistic touches to the heavily masculine interior of the sanctum, they also likely break when a human body hurls itself against the panes forcefully. One method of hasty escape if circumstances require.

Run away and live to fight again another day.

Sadly Wanda seems little inclined to abandon the envenomed sorcerer to his own addled devices. Strategic flight is another matter or a calculated retreat back to a defensible location. What site within the Sanctum Sanctorum possibly matches that description, she could not name, and all of it represents the man as much as the man personifies the building. She dares to flick her eyes back down the hall, finding none of the other occupants — living or not — riding in, a dark cavalry enmeshed in mystic armour and flashing spellcraft. All or nothing, Wanda has to face her fears alone.


A word brought to her lips unbidden raggedly breathes itself. Is that how she prays, in bits of language? It seems to be so. The convulsions of a man dropping to the ground suffice to halt her in place, the ragged splay of her fingers outwards in a defensive formation about to paint the next of the spells should senses deceive and her defenses fail.

He is so crowned in ragged splendour, shafts of moonlight distorted by the painted glass burning with the pitiless eye of Agamotto, Oshtur's tear. Air rustles through the foyer, carrying all the varied and piquant scents the Sanctum accumulates, black tea and dust, rot and leather, sweat and amber resin. Dustings of rose petals so intense a crimson they dissolve into black silk add to the velvety finish of her faded perfume, literally stripped off her skin by rapid evaporation.

It takes minutes to find her voice. He might be on his feet and up the stairs, out to collect a vile brew made from distilled herbs and primal sludge at the bottom of the leaf litter, by the time she speaks.

"Not without me."


Whatever more might be said balances on the crux of her parted lips, fifty-fifty, awaiting the rebuke to fly away or the encouragement for a confession.


The headache is so incredibly specific in its pangs of agony as Strange remains in the spot of his collapse. Breathe. He has to keep breathing. He's not sure if his heart will keep beating if he gives in to this heavy shadow of guilt that crowds in close like an unwelcome acquaintance.

The venom is left to its barest means of influence and it is simple pain. Remove the hooks if you will, it seems to say with gloating, but suffer the shredding of your dignity.

First, do no harm. He has blasphemed. The Sorcerer Supreme slowly raises his gaze to the night-lit window of the All-Seeing Eye and reaches out with the thought of a question towards the guardian spells. They remain within the confines of their kingdom, leery and pocketed with holes, but…they did not desert him. Not even after being nearly blown from existence.

Neither did she.

It is with the weight of all of his perceived sins that he turns his glittering eyes towards Wanda. He is without speech to convey the depths of his sorrows.

Three words resound in the foyer like the benediction of a saving goddess.

It is enough to break him of any remaining pride.

With a sound suspiciously like a muffled wavering inhale, on the edge of the precipice towards a complete mental breakdown, he begins to rise to his feet. It's hard and he needs to pause several times to gather his composure. Finally, Strange stands within a beam of moonlight.

A silent hand is extended towards her. Not a flicker of Mystic magic is lit within his aura. It makes his entire palm shiver visibly.


What he fails to say Wanda cannot address or solve, locking her knees to keep from going down to the floor in an unjustifiably certain slump or running down the stairs. She is not one to talk. Even now a tiny voice at the back of her mind whispers seductive ideas to take flight, scourging pride from the Doctor's flayed essence. Take safety by inflicting the harshest wounds. A voice thoroughly squashed under the black heel of her boot.

That too is a sacrifice. Instinct bound and chained for simple human decency to have its chance, a much less familiar experience.

Wards sagging from their anchors and the pitiless, staring Eye have not rescinded their protection, the trinity seeking another to wear their mantle. Collective mystical weight lies heavy on the brunette witch, tipping her shoulders forward, running in a frisson of wildfire up and down her spine. Kicked up from an adagio pesante to a vivacissimo con molto espressione, the marching notes ignite a shuddering play upon senses, mystic and mundane, ratcheted as high as they can go.

Carmine films her eyes, solidly imprinted upon her irises and dispelled in misted wisps at every lashbeat. Muscles tremble and tighten at irregular intervals, her coltish legs tensed as she awaits the jockeying lash from her poised mind to act. Seconds are days in such a fugue.

Pauses crush beneath their stellar gravity, compacting any semblance of certainty down to black hole specks. Her lips tighten to the tension, indented against her lower teeth until dragged away in a blush tide. Nostrils flare slightly to shallow, quickened breaths. Contrasts of light and dark mesmerize the straying gaze, dragged away from the magnetic lure.

She paid the price for candor and landed herself here.

For him she sacrifices again, as she will continue to do again and again, choosing at the crossroads life presents her. The sacrifice must be made to continue forward on the path.

Her elbow near creaks as she stretches out her hand, brought down the stairs one riser at a time, moving without her habitual light-footed grace but something heavier and earthbound. Oathbound. Seeds planted here might become something vigorous in time, stirring to a brief break in the soul-dark clouds. She holds her head up, proud right to the end, inching lower until their fingers brush in echoes and her palm lands in his.

Warm, certainly, not just from the spells flung. Perspiring too, proof of nerves.


Never has such a simple thing meant so much in the hurricane that is the life of a Sorcerer Supreme.

He inhales sharply through his teeth and then once again in a cut-off inhale of shutting lips. Teetering.

And then he draws her close, apologizing in an endless stream of breathy half-formed words that disappear into the lustrous depths of her hair. One arm wraps tightly around her back to press her close to his dark-clothed self; the other continues holding her hand, yet another blessing in light of the scuttling clouds that still shadow his soul.

Their fingers interlace and he can feel the slickness against his skin and shame drives him to push his cheek harder against her pillowing tresses. His lips offer touches of contrition to each delicate knuckle within reach as he raises her hand within their reach.

"I am…so sorry," he finally says, voice broken. "Forgive me."

The creaky advice of the eldest Sorcerer within the Sanctum slips forth to his mind: "It is not a weakness to ask for help."

"Help me," he adds so faintly that it could be construed as the slip of a prayer.


In such moments can the true character be discovered, assuming someone pays attention. It's that attentiveness bit which trips up most people. They're only human.

Pulled in, Wanda awkwardly lowers her head and raises her eyes, torn by the indecision of which way to go. This land does not see her as a frequent visitor, and she still has to feel her way around for a possibly familiar footing. Strange's sorrow very nearly puts her into woodenly staring at him, a carved icon wrought with eyes wide in perpetual surprise.

The twins in their lonely vigils and searches have never traversed this steep, forbidding precipice. Go it alone, then. She safely tucks her head underneath his chin, careful not to dislodge the habitual mantle of office embodied in a metal pendant suspended by grim determination. Tangled locks disturbed in sleep waver in a vining tumble of curling tendrils, ready to snarl and tease with feathered ends. His mouth brushing her skin sets off a surge in Wanda, stealing up her spine, lodged through her belly in a pitchfork sensation a little prone to tingling. Something to study later.

How they fit is not entirely unstudied, her chest pressed to his and shoulders aligned within the broader bow of his, leaving very little space to speak of. Her boots scrape the floor between his, marking where a journey ends before the dimming of the day. The better quality of his shirt mingles midnight to her black, singed garb that desperately needs to be transformed into heroic rags.

His voice is broken, hers not much better, still thin and reedy from lack of sleep. "Forgive you for what?"

Before he even has a chance to question a red funnel-web's devious designs, her spinning thoughts give further context to that blunt inquiry. "We talked about vamp—"

The moment mind catches up with tongue is marked exactly there, a caesura slashed right through the conversation. Her mouth shuts, cleverness clamped down on before she says something unnecessary. Help. What help can she possibly give? The puzzled look lasts a moment even as she tips her head up, staring into those steely eyes tinged cobalt.

"What do you need?"


It's hard to meet her dark eyes, with their fading crimson lights of power within their depths, and Strange swallows thickly as he searches for the words to explain.

How about, 'You know, it really sucks to run this gig alone. Stop me before I get ahead of myself and do something stupid.'

Or maybe, 'I'm really tired and probably too loopy to refuse the lure of another chance to hand someone's keister to them, slow me down before I hurt myself more.'

Perhaps, 'Just exist.'

His mouth moves in silent, unformed thoughts for a bit longer before he finally replies, "I'm not sure. This…this is an excellent start." There's a force behind the words, as if he could say so much more, but he's mentally hamstrung by the consequences of the last 24 hours.


She reaches up to rub her knotted hair away from her nape, catching the dark chestnut strands around her fingers and simply rubbing over the skin. Wanda's jaw shifts as she struggles to sift through fragments of statements, discarding them. No need for platitudes or solutions right now, much as she might lean to the latter normally.

Still inside the circle of Strange's arms, she slides her own slender limb around the span of his waist. Some part of her reads the obvious fatigue and the high cliff he mentally scales without easy handholds, and that at least gives an easier sense of direction to act on. "We can figure it out," she says, the heavier Transian accent coursing through the words.

Keep saying it until you believe it, and it becomes fact. The first steps are always the hardest, but she pushes forward by holding his gaze. "Nobody was hurt. See, I am fine. No one outside even knows. You didn't surrender to her or damage anything worse than a teapot. How much is it a blessing you had so much control."

Her thumb brushes over his dark goatee up to the silvering at his temples, a rather intimate movement that skims the skin and groomed hair light as a dragonfly's wing. "Stephen, come back to bed."

He might read the many layers of intentions in so simple a suggestion. Nothing at all indicates a demand or veiled insistence. "We have more time to talk after you rest and gain a clearer mind. I will stay up and keep watch for any distress."


They say that the eyes are the window to the soul.

Note the current look given to her by the Sorcerer Supreme to be nothing short of thankfulness on a bone-deep level. There's a loosening of tension that he never knew he carried within his center and it's sore at first, like the uncurling of a fist tightly held against the terrors of life for long enough that joints seemed immobile. Yes — they'll figure it out, one way or another, even if the world comes down around them.

He offers nod after weary nod as she grants him a pep talk in a tone he's beginning to know quite well. It's a gentle sort of frank honesty and it doesn't grate on him as much as he would have initially suspected.

The final nod, accompanied by a glancing lean against her passing palm along his cheek, signals the white flag of surrender for Strange.

"Yes…sleep. Actual sleep," he mutters as he follows wearily alongside her as they ascend the grand staircase once more, headed for the Loft and for the enfolding rest of dreamless exhaustion.

From the hallway above the foyer, his voice still echoes faintly: "Did I really break a teapot?" A beat. "Dammit."

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