1963-12-19 - The 12 Days: Seventh
Summary: On the seventh day of Christmas, my Beloved gave to me…
Related: The 12 Days: First to Twelfth
Theme Song: The Wassailing Song
strange wanda 

Winter does not care about so-called gods. It finds no consolation or fear in talk of aliens or political obituaries. The great leveler, weather drifts over the city and unseals the tin containing howling winds, bone-dry air, and numbing temperatures. Precipitation carpets the city, transforming it into a Snow Queen faerie land of icicles fringing buildings and grey slushy streets, long white boulevards and fogged up windows. Bleecker Street gets no special pass, not with visibility reduced to how far your hand stretches from your face.

Such days tended for Wanda, in the past, to mean holing up and huddling in a root cellar or an abandoned garret, depending upon the place. Having free run of wherever she is remains such a novelty that Strange probably still finds her on such occasions squashed up in a window frame, peering down at the street, far too much like a cat to bear talking about.

Mind, she’d prefer to think of herself as a snow leopard in such a comparison, but every domestic cat believes itself a lion.

For a girl who owns not a single sweater, or any other practical form of winter wear outside a good leather coat, the option for the day’s finale into a snow-crusted night is simple: she’s stolen from the good Doctor. Doubtful he would even notice. Whatever shirt pilfered from a drawer hangs off her shoulder, she has bothered wrapping up a fleecy robe around her legs and installed herself in a window.

A library window, as it would happen, and a mug of something heavily stricken by honey barely earning the name ‘tisane’ or ‘herbal tea.’ Its particular concoction goes heavy upon hibiscus and rose, lemongrass, orange, and cinnamon. Steam leaves a painted web of fog on the window, which she has cunningly painted a symbol or two with her fingertip. There’s the Eye, and right there… the trishul; silly girl.

Three of the items — nay, four — are easy enough to wrap. The fifth is impossible, but that’s where a wrapping of illusory magic comes in most handily. Think the Witch has a good grasp on the magic of hiding things in plain sight?

Wait until she learns how many times she’s walked past that fifth present in the last few days.

While she draws on foggy windowpanes, upstairs in the Loft, Strange slaps on the last bow on the fourth present and actually slumps in his chair as he sighs. The table is a mess, strewn with snippets of wrapping paper in metallic cherry-red, ribbons in silver and gold, the scissors most definitely not closed at all where they lay with edges bared (Stephen, what did your mother tell you about this?!), and presents alike. Stacked a bit haphazardly, the quartet of boxes are of varying sizes.

The first, no larger that his outstretched hand in total width and length, is thin in height as well, not much thicker than a half-inch.

The second, a perfect littlest cuboid of all sides in two-inch heights.

The third, the quintessential quadrilateral in right angles, perched vertically on its smallest face, no higher than four inches tall.

The fourth, akin in surface area to a phone book and around the same dimensions, is assuredly not a phone book — no worries, he has more imagination than that.

He overlooks his messy little domain and finally decides to smile to himself rather than frown at the clutter. It’s one of those rare sillier smiles, affectionate and indicative that he’s about to enjoy whatever he’s up to and, of course, it involves Wanda.

It takes but a few minutes to clean up the mess (and despite his mother’s warning, no blood is spilt in pagan ritual to those damn scissors) and then the presents are reorganized in their stacking on the small dark-wood table. And reorganized again. Maybe one more time. He tweaks a ribbon to a different angle and frowns at how it won’t curl how he wants it to, DAMMIT.

Eventually, the silvery wards are the one to hear his aggrieved muttering curses at the parcel’s accents. One final nudge to the right and there — perfect. Stepping back, he folds his arms and tilts his head slightly. A nod and sudden twinkling grin. Yep, that’ll do.

It is most definitely a day for bathrobes, sweatpants, and other bits of clothing focused on lazy warmth. His unhurried travels about the Sanctum bring him from Loft to tea room, practice room, out to lean on the railing of the open-sided second floor hallway that overlooks the expansive foyer. Beyond the stained glass window at the grand staircase, he can barely make out his neighbor’s house for the swirling white. The Sorcerer considers the blanking beyond the glass and scratches at one line of his goatee before shrugging and moving on. It’s no storm of supernatural origin, just a humdinger of a blizzard.

He finds her in the library and sidles over to Witch and window alike, hands in the pockets of his bathrobe that just happens to share a complimentary hue with a certain silky relic. Certainly happy happenstance, though the relic absolutely holds it own in intensity of hue. The tea smells delightful, if not a bit sweet to his liking, but he can pick out the sugary scent of honey and it makes him smile.

“Quite the storm, hmm?” His voice is pitched quietly as not to disturb or startle her.

The condensation gathering on the windowpane is refreshed by the billows of steam rising off her cup, fed by some great furnace of convection for a girl who ought not to drink her tea boiling hot. She is a heathen, Yaga would have said, for only the British and fools in a rush bother putting water at a full boil anywhere near a tea bag or a ball perforated by several holes. Of course, the elder twin cannot be trusted to wait for three seconds for something to cool down, but the witch sister ought to know better.

Clearly she does, but uses steam as her medium for annoying her elders, and the condensation of beaded water upon the cool glass for her art. She presses the tips of her fingers to the wet tracks already painted in a previous encounter. Blurry lines converge together in the Eye, dripping tears onto the foggier lower reaches. An occasional squeak betrays the refreshed tracks, and she might even go so far as to lick the water away whilst peering at the flakes falling in great clumps of white rather than discrete individuals.

It merely speaks to the moisture in the air and the onrushing cold from the Arctic crashing into the black Atlantic a few miles to the east. All that ambient moisture has to go somewhere, and tumbling down upon the house and its neighbouring flats would be where. Soon enough Greenwich will resemble a proper village and the mansion in the middle of it candied in a thick frosting, possibly with icicles fringing the Anomaly Rue window like clownish lashes, and a run of solid ice out there to keep anyone from bothering at the front door.

Don’t try to understand the perverse snowmen, either, for a fair few of them will appear at the crossroads and corners. One or two might even talk to those sufficiently high to hear.

Pavement veiled in white forms no barrier for the eye to trace the natural contours of the landscape. She only gives way from her habitual regard of the world’s living pulse to admit the existence of another, head turned towards the squeaky floorboard, the telltale pressure of her aura surrendering to his and absorbing the margins in a partial eclipse saying so much if anyone were to witness them.

Raising her mug in salute, she takes a sip of the tea. All that honey is needed; she burns energy like a speedster. Worse, in fact. Watch what happens if he ever gives her peanut butter…

“Reminds me of real winter. And Bmola,” she adds, glancing at Strange to measure his reaction to the weather demi-spirit. “Suppose he is happy about having someone name him, and sent this as a present?”

The reaction she gets to the mentioning of the blizzard made incarnate in icy feathers and marbled eyes is a mixed one. Strange rolls his eyes at first, clearly unamused by the entire visitation, but then comes the slow curl of a small smile. They had good reason to stay indoors after the demi-god had flown off to torment other hapless humans.

“Hopefully they gave it a name worth of its magnitude, physical and vanity alike.” Pot, kettle, black? “Though I doubt B’mola is amused by it, given how hard it’s blowing out there. Eh…maybe you’re right.” He leans up to the window to squint through it and sighs. The condensation of his breath lingers on the glass. “Weather elementals tend to strengthen the weather systems they affect when happy. I suppose we’ll never know.” Drawing back, he shrugs.

The designs at the window, drawn in their streaks of moisture on steam, make him smile again before he runs fingertips down either line of his goatee.

“You don’t look like you’re terribly busy. However, I’ve been wrong before,” and he flips a palm up briefly, clearly belittling himself because he can, “so — are you busy?”

Note how he’s got a certain twinkle in his steel-blue eyes, even as he shoves his hands away into the pockets of his robe and actually rocks on his heels.

“I like to think he will have many tempests and snow storms demanding that he feed them,” answers the witch, running her thumb around the rim of the cup. Pottery sings a mellow note, glazed by hibiscus-infused tea that warrants a bare squeak. Comforting music to add to the softened cotton atmosphere of a snowy winter’s night where fire crackles away in the hearth, gilding the world within, as all without is generally sapped of colour and texture except those hundred shades of white described colloquially in Inuktitut.

The sleeve of his shirt brought to her cheek allows her to indulge in brushing away sepia inkstreaks of her hair, leaving an unusually unkempt look about her. The robe wrapped around her legs brings a definite cocoon of warmth she might be loathe to sacrifice, hence the momentary pause as she regards him through her dark lashes. Mind, with the backlighting of the fire striking him at low, oblique angles, Strange might well be the most fascinating thing in the room.

A slow spill of liquid touches her lips when she sips the tea, prolonging the moment a little longer. She wants to capture him deeper in her mind’s eye this way, tall and imposing with an unusual air of casualness about him, shirt not totally tucked or belted, stance easy and a smidge self-deprecating. Dark hair might even be tousled, fletched by the false gilding as the flames leap and fall excitedly upon the chopped logs of beech that sometimes find their way into the woodpile.

Wanda muses. “I think you know I am not busy when you come to me.” She finally breaks down and sinks deeper into the precious comforts of her lovely cozy corner. He’s going to have to feel a tiny bit of remorse for extracting her.

When in sweatpants and his bathrobe, there’s not a single moment’s thought of tucking in the shirt he wears. Absolutely, that dark hair is a bit mussed, an indicator that he encountered a challenge in whatever he was possessed with completing while she drank tea in the window.

Her slouching farther down, the sense of a winter-bird fluffing feathers and sinking deeper into its collar of warmth, makes him visibly roll his lips inwards to stifle a laugh. Gods below, she’s precious. That shirt, he knows it well enough, and it suits her in a rumpled way, much like the current lay of her own hair. For all he could assume, he woke her up from a nap; that same drowsiness seems to cling to her.

“Yes, I do, but it seems polite to ask,” he replies with a dimpling of one line of his goatee. “I happen to have something for you. Some things, rather,” he corrects himself with a little shrug. “You can open them now or later, it’s entirely up to you.”

How charming he is when he lets his guard down, and she is left considering what other advantages might be had in Strange being in such a fey, unusual mood. Possibly it might involve running about in the snow, throwing clods of it at one another. Mind, the last time they played that game, illusions showed up and then a very angry bird spirit, so best not to discover a primordial kraken dwelling off Long Island might be inspired to appear.

Slim as the smile is, she rolls off the ledge of the window and straightens her legs, getting to her feet carefully. Wanda’s smile is not without its purpose. Deterred not a little by the robe falling away, her bare legs with their fuzzy cotton socks to the knees are reason not to prance around in the snowy madness outside. She instead walks his way, offering her arm, a replacement for the usual march about on his. “No time so good as this. I could keep you waiting. But you might become sad or impatient, and we cannot have that.”

Not in the least. So holding her tea in one hand and happy to follow his lead, she awaits Strange showing her where he has hidden away these things of his.

“Absolutely not,” he agrees, hooking an arm around hers in a manner too familiar to be simple friendship. Friends don’t draw one another against the side of their body and then consider the ill-fit of the borrowed dress shirt with a somnolent gaze bereft of exhaustion, more canted towards a proper undressing with the eyes. “Imagine what would have happened. Tsk.”

Surely she can. He’ll leave it up to her.

He leads her from the library and into the hallway, turning in the direction of the Loft. “Besides, I can’t stand watching you walk past one of them. You’ve almost broken your toe on it enough times.” He’s been doing his best to hide the flinches in flickering grimaces and once, an entire tensing of his body with clenched fists at his sides.

Up the stairs leading to the third floor of the Sanctum and he gestures at the small table with its boxes in glinting ruby wrapping and gilded ribbons. It’s set up near to the circular dais near the Anomaly Rue window, off to the side of one of the guardian lion statues flanking the three steps up.

“All yours,” he murmurs, glancing down at her with quiet affection.


“You would let me be hurt in your own house?” Their own, but Wanda isn’t exactly arguing with that point. Ownership and possession are funny things among the Roma, and doubly so among twins who lived on the run most of their time on this green and blue planet. They do not exactly see things in those terms, save one another. Or rather, Strange has an undisputed claim on non-communal property, her person.

The footsteps carrying them upstairs and into the Loft are muffled a little, for it’s rare to find her without boots and him without some kind of footwear suitable to the occasion. The fuzzy robe slung over her shoulder, can’t forget that, will be unceremoniously dropped onto a chair. She is content enough being in her current attire, loose as it is. Given differences depart from the last time she gazed at the Loft, her eye immediately falls to the table, up to the gracious window, and beside the snarling glory of a lion.

Back to him, eventually. “You did not give me one.” Suspicion isn’t the note in her voice so much as speculation, for the whole notion of unwrapping things and bestowing them on others just because is a newfangled cultural attribute. “Do I start somewhere?”

Because all things considered…the witch has a taste for the thinnest of them, the one about the size of his hand, although she bestows a particularly concerned look at the phonebook possibility. Whatever could that be? Strange’s reactions might guide her, but on principle, might as well go with the first of the gifts he wrapped.

She won’t rattle it. Neither will she touch it before she gets the go ahead. Neither will she tear into it, but remove the tape and bows to leave them almost exactly as she found them. It’s evidence of being a fairly reasonable thief, all things said and done. Or a spy, which she is.

“«Beloved, the world is your oyster. Pick any one to open, they’re all yours,” he adds with a pleased smile and another roll of his wrist towards the pile.

The first present, thinnest and most delicate in seeming, is unwrapped with precision nearing his own previously-lauded scalpel skills. It’s another moment in which she scores a tick in the column of endearing; he never thinks for a moment of thievery, only a predilection much like himself to avoid the debauchery of hard work.

The box, of a creamy cardboard printed with a close lacing in metallic gold as to make it seem more like it’s been brushed with aural dust, is easy to open by simply lifting the lid.

Inside, nestled in merlot-hued velvet, are two hair sticks. Their composition is a rare dark wood, lustrous enough to mimic being oiled, from tapered tip to decorative hilt as long as his wrist to tip of middling finger. Beginning at the top third of each stick are inlaid vines of gold, true metal gold; they begin to sprout gilded leaves and then shy buds and then purling flowers. At the center of each, a single perfect droplet of silver. The last half-inch is reserved for the crowning display: a ruby, deepest and purest of the possible red hues, ovaloid in three dimensions, caged by curling tendrils to keep them from escape, cut in deliberate facets to let in as much light as possible. The stones are the size of her thumbnail, easily carats, and glow in the ambient warmth of the Loft. Literally glow, especially when in her presence, seemingly kindled by her touch. Somehow, whomever crafted these object managed to twine the metal farther beyond the caging of the gemstones. A small loop at each end allows for a short length of fine chain to hang another inch of so in a lean mismatch of golden strands. These might flare against her chestnut waves or fall along them like a secret waterfall of Midas.

The Sorcerer waits with bated breath for her reaction. Nervous? A little. He hopes this first present isn’t too audacious.

Why is the world an oyster? This is not at all what a foreigner would understand. She lets the message pass, and focuses heavily upon opening up the parcel by ways of its fine, neat seams or total jumble of tape. In the end it won’t matter, her nails being sharp and her teeth keen and… turned to disemboweling a present. Fear the Wandapard.

Strange probably worries without reason given how precise she is about slitting seams with her nails and peeling back the tape in a way it might be reused. Truly they are both in a league of their own, at times, when it comes to the ‘right’ way of doing things.

The box is similarly treated with care, slid open that no saint of Christmas or demon of the Fall might be the wiser she ever showed up. She cautiously lifts the lid, the box poised on her palm, and she peers inside in anticipation of she knows not what. Maybe a right angle snake that will spring up and bite her on the nose. A bill for the drycleaning she dropped off (his) and forgot to pick up on time (oops). Strange’s anticipation brings a curious and spellbound look that registers as a hum, even when she has two hairsticks waiting for her attention.

He’s too much of interest to keep her from noticing for about three seconds or so. What is his reaction to all this? Apparently enough to bring her to look down, and categorically suck her breath in. Some part of her is calculating how expensive rubies are, whether he has an inside source, or if they are — definitely not glass. Her tongue skims over her lips, darting out to smooth the dryness, and she murmurs upon nudging one of the polished sticks as the chain shimmers and jingles.

Pietro is going to be so jealous. Her own hairsticks and he just gets curly wurly Mercury symbol bangs.

“They are beautiful. I imagine them with the dress we danced in.” Well, she wore dancing, but English has to suffer a little on distraction. Another fond pet runs flower whorl to tip, sparing no speed, feeling the grain of the wood and the warmth of the metal. “Does… it shines?”

“Great minds do think alike.” It takes him a similar three seconds to respond after the mental imagery of her wearing said hair sticks plus said incredible evening dress brings his brain to a momentary halt. The statement is followed by a laugh and his wandering over to stand by her at the table.

His fingertip taps once with minute pressure on one of the rubies. It takes on a marked luminescence to his contact and holds there. “It glows, yes. You can do the same thing with your touch. Tap once to bring the internal fires to full brightness, tap again to dull them, tap a third time to make them look normal — no glow at all.” He demonstrates cycling through the degrees of trapped candlelight once before leaving them at middling intensity.

“I would very much enjoy seeing you wear them in any capacity, Rakshasi,” Strange murmurs, passing a look over her that implies he means in any capacity.


He’s given her a means to sneak through dark places without tapping her own magic: priceless. It also brings new meaning to headlights on, but no matter. Alternately he might start treating her like some kind of bug and teasing her about fireflies, but all in due course. The demonstration holds her silent, and Strange is pressed into by her arm, leaning lightly against him while leaning forward and getting a better sense of the aura inside.

Spark, beam, fire. Good to know. Though his sentence does cause her to pause for a moment.

Let it never be said she is resourceless. Taking both hairsticks in hand, she turns away from him and considers their weight, testing their balance. Light ambient to the Loft sparks and shifts as she cycles through the rubies’ setting, and then finds what she seeks: off. He can wonder a little longer as she tucks them here or there, and apparently does next to nothing with her hair.

Headlights? Give him another fifteen seconds for curiosity to reach full boil, and the sorceress rotates neatly back to face him again. “Aghnee?

Lustrous rosewood hair frames the pretty golden face he’s come to know so well, almost coming close to entrapment upon the point of two dark, gleaming tusks that drop below her chin, mostly straight but growing slightly crooked as taut lips flatten to hold them in place against the arch of her teeth. Her tongue batters against the rubies tucked away in the pockets of her cheeks, and then they flare to blinding pulsations of light visible easily through her flesh.

“Owv-wee.” She is more than satisfied with herself. Vampire Wanda is a thing no one can take seriously, even batting her eyelashes in what is undoubtedly an overly seductive look.

If Wanda is the Walrus, this makes Strange the Egg Man. Coo-coo-cah-choo.

Utterly ridiculous. Outlandishly unexpected. Strange’s face contorts in a moment of concerned confusion before the lunacy of it tilts him into belling laughter. The Loft rings with the sound as he very nearly folds in on himself. The breaking point was that grossly-overexaggerated flutter of her eyelashes.

“Rakshasi!” Of course the admonishment is softened by amusement. “I know you might have been raised by wolves, but they go in your hair,” he teases before chuckling and wiping at one eye. “Though they are yours. Do what you will.”

Like he could stop her anyways, honestly.

“I didn’t think about the effects of saliva on the polish. I hope it can withstand your affections.” The Sorcerer shakes his head, laughing once more.

Three more presents remain. Visibly, that is.


“I am ov-hlee,” repeats the vampish creature, and she has a difficult time rolling the ruby off her gumline and down upon her tongue without sending the other diagonally askew. The chain hardly helps, either, should she opt to choke on it. Links slide over her teeth and the one caged hair stick bounces down her chin, launched straight into her shirt.

Thank goodness for spacing between a girl’s — nevermind.

Fingers pinch the other dark stick and tuck it too beside the other, in the front pocket of the stolen men’s shirt. They look lovely, and it suits her long enough to pull her dark locks up into a messy bun atop her head. “Would you like to see? Yes?”

One stick pierces the side of the bun diagonally, and stabs into the loosely constricted coil. The other, she has to manhandle and thrust in with a more limited, careful span.

“They are lovely. Straight enough?” Then a smile skims long over her mouth, and fades to its usual line, rich if not overly generous in expressiveness. The other presents earn a look, ticking back to Strange. “Should I wait for each night of the holiday?”

“Lovely,” echoes the Sorcerer. He has now decided that messy buns, with hair sticks in dark-wood and rubies, are his favorite way of seeing her gathered locks and never shall she wear it in any other manner ever. Well, at least, he thinks this. Again, no need to force his wishes upon her. Besides, it mustn’t lose its novelty with overuse!

And she smiles! Bonus points. He’s quite pleased with himself.
“You may do as you wish, «Beloved».” It’s not meant to be an annoying answer, it’s the honest truth. Were she to open them all now, he’d be just as thrilled with each of her reactions as with individual revelations in future times. “However, they’re all useful to some extent and you should consider this when deciding.”

While she may smile in her vague way, he grins. Maybe lure enough to get her to continue?


“I do not know what is done. Wait or not wait? These are options. What do you prefer?” One must be polite rather than rude, at least when it comes to the odd choice in shapes out there. Provided nothing seems to be amiss, Wanda heads for the other side of the table, giving them a once over.

Waiting is sometimes her talent. She can be cajoled into it, or challenged to withhold what she wants, and then the moments when he’s running after her impulsive spirit can also be counted in spades. Carefully, though, seeing Strange’s encouragement, she reaches for the phonebook that isn’t, lifting that ruby enfolded gift from the tabletop. Its weight is unclear to her and judicious use of restraint is not a bad idea here.

Once again, her removal of paper and tape is about as careful as possible. Nonetheless it tears in places, and the wrapping gets stuck by the tape flap that also ends up sticking twice to the back of her hand. Nimble fingers still end up with tape bound to her nail, and she shakes off that addition like a cat.

Next, though, the business of opening up the seam. She does so slowly, prolonging the moment, savouring the surprise as much as he probably wants to observe her reaction. Whatever might be under there, it begs to be seen.

“I prefer that you do as you wish.”

And that’s that in this instance. She’ll get some re-wording of it if she asks again. He’s not changing his mind!

The second present, with its sizing akin to that collection of names and business alike all bundled up in myriad pages, is opened with care but ultimately less grace. He half-hides a smile behind the same fingers that draw idly at the neatly-trimmed line of his goatee as he watches. Oh, she’ll like this one.

Another box, this one of standardized cardboard at a thicker grade, gives the insinuation of the contents being possibly fragile. All one piece of formed and pressed material, its lid opens by untucking flaps and lifting up the top on its hinged attachment points.

Inside, nestled in shredded paper, are five hexagonal jars all weighing precisely 5 ounces and one square container with its innards weighing around 10 ounces. Each jar is color-coded, labeled with a brief titling in printing of black on hue, while the smaller clear box has a label in corresponding square shape.

Every single jar holds a viscous colloid suspension in varying hues of tawny-gold, at least one of them a near-certain match for the natural color of her irises. The glass box would ooze forth its bounty if not for its well-made state.

The first jar, beginning on the left, has a label reading “Maison de Miel - Lavender and Rosemary Honey”. Little bees adorn each corner of the label with its dusty-purple coloration. Opening the jar would release the light scent of the flower, bringing forth visions of field upon field in clouds of petal and busy bees alike. Beneath it, the notable scent of the herb to complicate the sweet floral taste. This honey is mildly opaque due to its processing.

The second jar apparently comes from “Vero Miele” with a typing of “Fiore Foresta”. This honey, deepest in amber hue, will be of medium sweetness and evoke that hidden stillness of the flowers sequestered away in alpine woods, growing where sunlight is rare and blooming is withheld until the arrival of the pollinators who carry away the bounty to their combs. Earthy, less floral than the previous jar, it came from a brief jaunt to Italy.

The third jar came from farther still, in New Zealand. Its label is mint-green, with the handwriting of the original beekeeper that says “Raw Manuka Honey”. This is a particularly rare collection as the tree itself, related to the Tea Tree family, only blooms for three weeks a year and only if the weather is warm enough. This is minimally processed and the gradient of its suspension slowly remixes if sat properly on a table.

The fourth jar contains a heavily-whipped honey whose color leans away from warm cream in the strong blush of its additive: raspberries. “Whipped Raspberry Honey” from an estate farther south of New York, somewhere in Virginia, will spread like peanut butter rather than drizzle. It spins together the tart bounty of summer sunlight with the sweet gathering of the bees.

The fifth and final jar is rarest of all. The Sorcerer had to do some hunting for it and it took him back to old stomping grounds in the process. The label is a bit plain, the handwriting his own: “Kashmir Honey”. Suspended within the lightest gold of all the honeys is a spray of pine from the high slopes of the Himalayas. The honey itself came from a small valley where the bees diligently go about their business in the thin air. The result: a taste on the palate of rare, high-altitude flowers with the memories of most ancient trees, gnarled and steadfast, that weather the terrible storms, all beneath a sweetness least cloying of all while still noticeably present.

In the clear box on the farthest end of the parcel, right side, lay plates of raw honeycomb from a keeper not too far outside of New York. In the keeper’s delicately-looping handwriting (clearly a woman), “Blackberry, Summer 1963”. As aforementioned, its charmingly-delicious contents would have oozed everywhere but for how tightly it’s sealed.

He’s gone and given her meals for a week, provided that Wanda eats nothing but honey and nectars. The hummingbird patter of her heart zings to a much higher cadence than prior when she dismisses the nest of wrapping paper to determine the contents. Fingers dance along the lids, tapping them at the centre as though to determine whether the seals have been broken and Strange sampled them himself. A glimmer of curiosity becomes outright recognition when she picks up the third jar in the row, tilting the glass back and forth to watch the contents swirling around.

“New Zealand?” Geography may not be her strongest of suits, at least where the Southern Hemisphere is involved, but a sniff gives away a little better understanding, that something so out of her experience, she can guess its general location. Not the desert dryness of the savannahs or the fynbos of the Cape kingdom dismisses Africa, and her experience in Southern American terrains is actually a little higher than meets the eye — witness the quetzal in Mordo’s company, after all.

Licking her lips, Wanda taps at the side of the jar and determines whether the viscosity runs high or low, if it wants to solidify in front of her, or continue to stir to a dreaming pull of lunar gravity, a tiny golden sea. Nose wrinkled slightly, she is unconscious of intentional error, and sensible of her defects to assume peering into a container interminably might bore the poor man to death.

“I expect these will be delicious. Perhaps I can find a way you can enjoy them too.” You are what you eat, right? A little sweetness could end up highly amusing should they encounter particular enemies. All Wanda can do to keep herself from running off to find a spoon, especially when she puts back the Oceanic honey to stare at the whipped raspberry alternative like there’s a new direction to nirvana and she just stumbled on the gates.

The feline intensity of her amber eyes narrows speculatively. Expect her to nibble on that in the middle of the night when he thinks she’s asleep. Midnight snack for the hardest of days, oh yes.

“Thank you, Stephen.” The low purr, heavy with meaning, speaks of her satisfaction and that low, simmering glow to her narrowed eyes smiles without her mouth carrying the same expression. “I see I won’t starve for some months.” Months? Naturally, considering how fast she burns energy, these are practically rocket fuel to be spared when she needs it most. An assault by Satannish, Mordo and Amora coming by to preen, this will be valued.

She lays them out in a pretty little pentacle, and leaves a bow in the middle for visual satisfaction. In for a penny, in for a pound. Might as well withholding herself, and she goes for the quadrilateral package, and makes a study of opening it like she has the other two: Strange might want to reuse his wrapping paper all over again.

“You’re welcome, Wanda,” comes the deeply-resonant reply. No matter that she doesn’t react ebulliently; his contented, knowing curl of a grin is enough to satisfy both, surely. “If you feel like sharing, let me know next time you find yourself in the kitchen and I’ll try some on a piece of bread. Crackers, whatever you have at hand.”

No guarantee that it’ll remain on the piece of bread, as is nearly assured with inevitably messy spreads.. Imagine what would happen if a glistening smudge remained at the inner line of his goatee. Madness.

“New Zealand is found east of the continent of Australia,” the good Doctor adds, wandering over with his hands behind his back. He might give the impression of a red-robed philosopher as he stops beside her, eyeing the opened boxes thus far with a blatant interest. Her reactions are his diversion and one growing by the day. “What to give one of the rarest blooms in existence other than sweetest nectar of a rarest bloom?”

Okay, he looks pretty smug about that smooth line, no lie. Strange goes quiet to watch her open that perfectly cubed box, rolling in his mouth to tease the island of neatly-trimmed hair above his chin with upper lip. Little does she know that he has a lingering hold-over from his childhood in his mother’s habit of saving wrapping paper that could be reused.

A smaller present means less time unwrapping and the box inside of it is a box in a rich wood, perhaps cedar by its mildly-aromatic properties. It has a tiny latch that opens with an easy flick of one’s fingernail and oiled hinges allow it to open as well.

Inside, an apothecary jar, no larger than 3 ounces, of what appears to be a finely-ground powder — not as small particle as one might see in flour, but far smaller than the couscous granule. No label. The glass is clear, allowing the viewer to discern its coloration in pale yellow, nearing beige. Opening the jar by twisting off its lid will reveal the scent to be herbal, tea-like, and sweet in the back of one’s throat. It’s meant to be spooned into tea, sprinkled over food, dissolved in a bath — let the imagination reign.

His hands remain behind his back simply to hide the fidgeting of running his thumbpad along the back of his wrist repeatedly. A canny look shifts from the jar to her and it’s very clear that he’s trying not to smile.

“Any guesses?”


“I do not play guessing games with dragons. You are the dragon of the western mountains. I know better.” Wanda shakes her head to that inquiry while she neatly sets aside the flattened carapace of paper, its rubicund lines distorted into a two dimensional geometric shape instead of three. Smoothing the contoured edges and corners with her thumb, she takes an inordinate amount of time to hum over the simple task rather than giving that jar a proper and thorough inspection.

Certainly she is contemplating taking a pinch of the granules and dropping them on her tongue to see what might transpire, but given this particular age of hallucinogens and transcendent gate-opening drugs, that might not be purely wise. She doesn’t opt to dash it on her nose, either, in the possibility he might have opinions about using iridescent powder on her complexion to refine it.

“What a busy dragon bee you have been, enjoying all the flowers, have you?” Her question thrown to Strange leaves a trace of irony laced behind a smile, even as his fidgeting draws her to stillness, gaze narrowed in on the motion of his thumb and the tone of his expression, such as it is, telling her a great many things.

In so many venues, it is wisest to wait. Patience wins. She stirs the granules with her fingertip, wetted by her tongue, and awaits him.

She’d make a delectable little French fry with her ketchup-hued leather jacket, wouldn’t she?

The allusion is enough to draw out the smile and he laughs once as he drops his gaze. It slides back to her again, one eyebrow lightly arced.

“Given my predilections for not eating, I can only stand to gather from one source. It sits nicely instead of causing me nausea. Only one flower.” Surely she won’t misconstrue that. “Since there are no guesses, I’ll enlighten you, though I’ll bet that you’re familiar with it or will recognize it once I name it. Many of the female acolytes in Kamar-Taj certainly were.”

Truth, that, and the statement will make sense once further explained.

“This is a ground herb, in which the plant itself looks a bit like…asparagus and fern, maybe?” Another one-shouldered shrug; it’ll do. “Shatavari, categorized by ‘ayuverdic’ and ‘anabolic’ both, depending on whom you speak with. ‘The cure for one hundred diseases’. Adaptogenic, immunomodulation, antibacterial, antioxidant…tonic,” subtle influence on this descriptor, “It’s something you could stir into your tea after a long day of disemboweling demons or if you’ve used your powers to the point of discomfort, etcetera, etcetera. It would probably mix well with the honey.” This last thought is spoken as if it just occurred to him, along with a little nod.

"The woman with a hundred husbands," replies the witch, pausing to examine the granules stuck to her fingertip and caught between a glittering chunk of diamond and a titanium wall. Choices are somewhat limited on this. Milk might be the right concoction to take, but that's not precisely a carrier she can stomach easily.

Might as well go all in: she pops the digit between her lips and sucks it clean, her tongue curling around her fingertip and capturing all the granules. Daydreaming about lush fruit on a summer's day and the finest spring water helps give enough moisture to swallow the soft powder in a dissolved rush. On principle, Wanda isn't going to waste any.

Two hard swallows gets the residue off her palate, a sweep of her tongue exploring any that might be missed. "I know more its natural uses for men and women. Need to be careful about its quantity." Let him chew that.

She blots her lips on her sleeve, and then flashes a tease of a smirk threatening to melt into something softer or harden up into a mask of blind amusement once more.

The other moniker for the herb is granted a flash of a grin and he eyes the little jar. Well, not for long, since cleaning her finger snags his attention rather abruptly and holds it for long enough.

“I’ve seen the results of an overdose, yes. At Kamar-Taj. I think you know better than to do so; one of the female acolytes did not.” Let her imagine the scene. A meditation class in silent repose, closed off from the world around them as they attempt to break the barrier between self and Astral — the incipient distant slamming of doors — the Master at hand looking up in delayed time after many of the startled acolytes, himself included — the stumbling, robe-clutching acolyte coming in breathless and sheened in sweat, blushing and stammering and eventually falling to her side as the seizure overtakes her. A hand on his shoulder prevents him from rising — the Master explains that this is nothing to be concerned about and time will heal far better than anything he, as Doctor, can offer her.

Never mind that Strange might be occasionally short-sighted, but he wasn’t an idiot. Not a seizure, because the slump to the floor wasn’t in a rictus of pain and agonized relief — though relief was at hand, but from another demon entirely.

“She was fine, of course, but unable to look anyone in the eye for weeks.” He shakes his head slowly, returning that tease of a smirk. “Rejuvenated, I noted. Whatever ills plagued her were apparently cured. I was impressed at the potency of the herb.”

She can imagine Strange’s scenario well enough if not her own experience; the grains are already melting away onto her bloodstream, and striking the bloodstream, it will eventually have its own effect in a few minutes. Walk a mile in that girl’s shoes, Wanda would have a little sympathy for the potency unleashed against her. Instead she removes a piece of tape from her fingernail while saying, “Yes. Finding it brought a good price on the market.”

A total difference in their status; his masters gave a damn about him in the cloistered bubble of Kamar-Taj, out of time and space. Hers opted to remain out of sight and throw every last kind of struggle at the twins to see how they might adjust. Still, never does the brunette sorceress ever express resentment for the state of life that fell upon the Sorcerer Supreme and herself. There, underlined and footnoted, is the difference between Wanda Maximoff and Karl von Mordo. He will never be satisfied; she stops looking over her shoulder every ten minutes.

Clearing her throat, that tickle at the base begs rubbing her fingers lightly along her collarbone. One last present here: a cuboid, and one she has put off addressing directly for some time. The jar of the root is put alongside the nectars, and she tings one of the honeys with her fingernail just for the pleasure of doing so. Hair sticks receive a loving realignment in their box in front the nectar. “You have set me up for an evening’s turmoil. I will remember the common thread here.” Trying to channel her thoughts away from the horizon of a dark event, laughter absent from her nonetheless shows up as a pang of flickering mirth at the back of her dark eyes.

One last gift for this event: she plops the ribbon off the square and fixes it in her hair instead, allowing a few spirals to imitate her everlasting veil of darkness. Then the paper receives no hope of survival.

Interesting. There’s a story there, in her implications of earning money in the stands of the street markets. He’ll have to ferret it out eventually.

“Turmoil? You wound me.” A scarred hand spreads over his heart in an imitation of the Shakespearean actors of old to accent the hangdog expression executed. “They’re presents, not portents of doom.” He snorts quietly. Strange will catch that distant flicker of merriment like the callsign of a thunderstorm and return it with a softened pleasure. There we are, come along now, lighten up, loosen up.

The previous hair-picks-turned-tusks primed him for further shenanigans and the bow on her hair doesn’t bring him to hiccups, just a chuckle instead.

“I admit to liking the hair sticks bett — ” Shreds of wrapping paper suddenly explode everywhere, like a pile of metallic red leaves scattered to the four winds by a passing deviant, and the longer, more rectangular box revealed. Cedarwood again, indicating an accompanying purpose to the shatavari root, perhaps. Or maybe the Sorcerer liked the aromatic wood. Similar clasp holding it shut and the innards still glass, but shaped differently.

It’s a tube now, not a little jar, filled with a clear liquid that shifts too slowly to be water but far more quickly than the honey nestled within the straw. However, like one of the honey jars, there’s a strata to it. At the bottom, heaviest, a swirl of faint brown resin;higher above this, a thinner cloud of ivory; swirling throughout, wheat-gold; shavings of cream flakes and Sumatran orange dance through these layers, disturbed by the movement of the tube itself.

He reaches out and indicates each strata within the oil with a fingernail’s click against the glass as he explains.

“This is labdanum extract — patchouli oil, jasmine oil — ginger and citrus rind throughout. A perfume, if you wish. A bath oil, maybe that too. Mix in the shatavari powder?” The hand withdraws to mirror its partner within the pockets of his robe. “It’s up to you. It smells…very, very good.”

A shift in his weight is the only indicator as to the memory of apparently sampling the mixture before deciding to add it to the list. Then…he glances over his shoulder, towards a corner of the Loft they rarely visit, simply because it’s empty space.

Or is it? A display once stood there, but now, only a darker rectangle of wood flooring hidden from sun remains.

Steel-blue eyes shift back to the Witch. “Would you like your last present then? I can’t watch you nearly trip on it anymore.”


Tilt, turn, tilt, turn. A few oscillations spend the layers almost mingling, briefly caught by the distended swirl of the mobile contents. The heavier are slower to move, the upper layers faster, brimming with energy that follows a flick of Wanda’s wrist. Left to right, she encourages a gyre to form that bores straight into the underbelly of the pretty concoction. Orange and honey-glow on the backbone of flaxen loveliness captivate her for a time; it’s hard not to be, when such fascinating changes in the ambient layering mingle together as though Van Gogh himself picked up a brush and smeared the oils boldly into one valiant stroke on the countryside depicted in his canvas.

“Is that why you look so plucky?” Plucky. Yes, she just called him that, though he has odd nicknames for their children, so it’s only fair. Strange the Plucky. Cracking open the lid gives her an ideal sampling of the scent and labdanum is a powerful undertone, a vicious slap to all things bland and heightener for anything with an iota of intensity to it. Ginger enlivens the senses while jasmine, rich and evocative, begs her to bed down damp from a bath and find a book.

A very, very good book.

Lapping her fingers, the oily residue is exquisite beyond words and she gives herself a few moments to bask in that forgotten impression, her gaze forbidden from this particular tactile exploration. “Yes, I think so, dragon. You want a sleepy maiden to feast on.” East and west clash and the ink blot smile takes flight, a crane headed north on powerful strokes of its wings rapid as can be.

Not right to fall into a stupor surrounded by luxuries, an opulence meant to engage scent, taste, touch. Sound and sight aren’t absent, either, the latter fully arrested, the former to be earned by a meditative lull. The ante has been upped.

Trip? That brings her out of her thoughts. “Whatever are you… yes.” She holds out her hand to Strange, fingers curled down, knuckles presented. “Which way?”

With a motion saved from definition of ‘grandiose’ by the natural grace that comes from the Sorcerer’s training at Kamar-Taj (after all, one does not just chop out mudras else the intentions of the Mystical Arts get muddled with emotional impact) towards the particular corner that just received his reflective glance, Strange then takes her hand in his other and leads the way.

He’s taken notes on her past escapades in hiding this particular present. The illusory spell wasn’t to fall when she walked by, however, only at his summary command of dissolution. It’s a masterful one, not allowing an iota of the item’s presence to be broadcast in any wavelength or manner accessible by human senses. This does include Sight, of course, else she would have spotted it days ago. He would dubiously accept the compliment that Morgan le Fay might be mildly impressed by the casting. Then again, they won’t be engaged in tete-a-tete over tea anytime soon.

He knows where it is with the innate ability in that the magic belongs to him. This would have given it away but for how he engaged the Sanctum in active complicity and wove in the aura of the mansion proper. Cloak will be so pleased at his duplicity, collar-wiggle, hem-flit.

Stopping short of the circular veil that surrounds the object, he glances over at the Witch.

“Now, I got to thinking. Your hexes take some forethought and use up enough energy that you seem uncomfortable. You’ve drawn up something like this before, but I remember you napping hard afterwards.” He can’t help the misting of amaranthine through his irises. “This should give you a holiday from needing to draw on your mana, at least when you’ve the mind to engage in it.”

It, what?

Like a held breath sighed, the spell around the last present drops with such effect as to riffle the bases of their bathrobes with its passing.

There, in a beam of wane light from the blizzarding atmosphere outside a nearby window, stands a floor harp. 54” precisely, 36 strings. Rosewood and birch compose its being while mahogany and mother-of-pearl inlay decorates in swirling Celtic infinity knots. Beside it, a small stool, awaiting a musician’s seating to either side based on preference.

The Sorcerer steps forwards to pluck at a single string and listens to the sound ring clear in the space of the Loft. A soft sigh and he glances back at her.

“I hope you’ll play it.” What’s this? While subtle, it’s the most obvious uncertain expression yet.

He’s gone and conjured up a harp tall enough to put the peak at her shoulder, to say nothing of the tripod it probably sits upon to give it some balance in play. No wonder he could not wrap this. How would he preserve all the tape and thin sleeve of paper for each of those modest filaments strung in nylon and wire from top to bottom?

For a long moment, the brunette stares at the instrument without the least comprehension of a response beyond turning a critic’s eye upon the stepped strands and the words flowing over her head in his smug as a cat baritone, deflected off the inner conch of her ear and vanishing into the aether.

Words, words, words, sigh, B note humming

Her aura answers in a honeysuckle flash, bubbling from the middle range and escalating on a lyrical scale where a single sound floats higher to the surface. Bubble bright, it pops on the range of hearing, trilling with a vibration that rolls through the body and settles through the floor, chiming upon the Loft’s foundation, and singing straight up to the foot of the instrument.

It won’t chime in response to her, not without her fingers upon the strings, but the lonely spaces between the silence fill by a rolling sheen of colour that resembles new pansies, freshly sprouted, opening velvet soft petals to a low spring sun. The sheen of her hair falls upon her shoulder and she tips her head sidelong, leaving a molten wave of shadow framing her face and shoulder.

“Play it for you now? Have you a performance you would like to hear?” A look alights upon him then, Strange the center of the universe and all things within, her hands clasped before her.

Oh. By the shift in his expression, along with eyebrows that nearly disappear into his hairline, he never considered this particular outcome. Sorcerer considers the harp standing before him and the string he just plucked before side-glancing back at her once more.

He noted how her aura responded, no fear. What if…

Steel-blue eyes meet and hold fast on the Witch’s face. Isn’t she prim, with her posture and placement of hands?

Pluck, one of the deeper strings, with deliberate intent.

Prim now?

“I have no preference. If you have a favorite, by all means, please.” And he steps back, tilting his head towards the stool, clearly retreating to indicate the floor being hers. “It’s yours. I’d enjoy anything you play, «Beloved».”

Isn’t she an artist awaiting instruction, an actress hinged on the director’s cue, the singer listening to the intro before the moment to pull in a breath and unleash the vibrant weapon of her voice? All those things could be true: the performance needs the mark to go off, and for that mark, she looks to the sun rather than idly awaits her part. Strange has assured this is something improvised, after all.

The instructions are levelled, and the rolling, deep note spills through her, Jupiter shifting through the heavens behind her heavy-lidded eyes. It melts into cobalt blue from a higher shade of sage green, one shot by the healthy first growth of oak leaves in the late spring on English hills and Northeastern slopes down to the sea.

A quiver, for good measure. Wanda pushes the stool back a little further and takes a seat, scooting up again. She splays her feet apart, and she takes the harp by its forward arch, guiding it back til the soundboard rests upon her shoulder. Weight distributed requires a little nudging to properly settle the instrument where she wants on the crook of her shoulder, and her hands lie flat to the strings once they start murmuring and moaning with the slightest encouragement.

First, there’s tuning. Not exactly difficult or delightful, but it must be done. She strikes mid-range C, and walks up the first scale, a series of notes played in both hands. Listening for the imperfections, she flips two of the levers to expose the keys that tighten or loosen: in this case, given the low humidity and the chilliness outside on a blizzard’s reign, she has to carefully adjust an increment forward for two, and loosening the highest note on the range just so. Three triplets later, she turns and flattens the levers, satisfied by their performance. Repeat as she escalates towards her highest pitch, and proceeds down the midpoint to the lowest notes.

A song, a song. Old memory stirs, and she runs her fingers up the shimmering voice of the harp, learning its paces even as she picks out the utterly familiar chime of Greensleeves. She can switch to the Manx legend of Jezebel’s Carol afterwards, but the courtly approach almost warrants the moment in its depths.

Sliding her thumbs over the strings, she picks out the chord in the ballad, the gleam of notes coupled together with a few descending flourishes for good measure. Bright couplets double on the beat, flickering pathways when she starts to diverge upon the harmony and the melody; it’s one of the few instruments where one can easily do it, after all, and she builds into that range to humour his interest, the lower, deeper voice of the harp singing whilst the higher cavorts through a faerie land rife with sorrows and joys.

Yes, he’s a tease, tugging that string to blurred vibration. But he got what he wanted, that little shiver, so he doesn’t continue. Box, checked.

No matter that the process of tuning is a task in correcting atonality. It’s the process itself. Strange takes a step closer, hands in the pockets of his bathrobe, to consider it. He’s not exactly the musical sort, more the type that needs to be taught musicality rather than having an innate nature of true-pitch or playing by ear, but the path to perfect harmonies with the strings holds his attention regardless. Still, don’t let him touch those levers or keys. He might play the piano, but those strings are much harder to snap than these.

Oh, he knows this one! Beautiful, the lilting tune about a lover scorned and he can’t deny her skill. As she picks at chords, so she picks at his heart-strings. Maybe she can see in the washing of his aura towards a deeper oceanic rather than sky-high summer’s pallet.

It almost seems sacrilegious to speak overtop the harp’s bluesy notes, but he murmurs, “Do you know ‘The Wassail Song?’ About caroling?”

The limits of her knowledge in English actually stretch further around music than other places, believe it or not. One can say language is a business of maths, and Wanda excels in statistics and rapid calculations, so how not to find a common rhythm to music as she does in equations? Certain things stick better to memory without understanding all the finite uses of slang and sentence arrangement, lyrics among them.

“Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come wandering,
So fair to be seen?”

Strange might need to improve a little of the diction, but she has the beat down, plucking her chords alongside the words and repeating the stanza again only on the harp to be sure she has pulled the right melody from memory’s strange corridors. Thank goodness no one asks her to sing the remainder, but she knows the relative steps through the easy melody.

It’s a moody and warmed one, a remembrance in sound of the leap of the flames in the hearth of a good English tavern, the ministering of neighbours upon those carolers come to their doorstep in hopes of warm wine, spice cookies, and a broad smile from the lord or lady of the house. She move through the slow, restrained first movement, plucking her way through the murmuring chant of plainsong. Occasionally the accelerating pace demands she add a flourish, a lively little bounce orchestrated by plucking doubletime on the higher notes while the low remain stately, solid, a good horse on a cold winter’s night certain to get one safely home.

“That’s the one,” he replies, smiling down at her with twinkling delight.The Sorcerer can only listen for so long before he finds himself humming along with the tune.

The chorus is easy enough for him to remember and he mouths it silently as the music fills the Loft with a presence he can see if he closes his eyes and thinks hard enough. Benevolence, comfort, security at the end of a road drifted in snow and subject to cold obstacles.

It’s equal parts solemn entreaty and sparkling well-wishes and beautifully drawn from the instrument at her fingertips.

Oops, too late, he’s singing along to the chorus very softly, his voice a raspy uncertain-sounding thing. Clearly, he’s used to barking Words rather than attempting a baritone croon.

“Love and joy come to you,
And to you, your Wassail too,
And gods bless you and send you
A Happy New Year…
And gods send you a Happy New Year.”

While the original composer penned a single deity, Strange offers up acknowledgement to the Vishanti and the myriad others who grace the realities not known to the lyricist.

How he fervently wishes they send a happier year. They’ve dealt with enough.

Hopefully the gentle weight of his hand on her shoulder doesn’t distract her too much. In a sudden mercurial shift, he can’t bear to be away from her, sitting there and strumming as she is.

“Merry Christmas, Wanda.” A kiss against her deep-chestnut waves presses with affection.


He sings. Oh three gods and Mother Nature, he actually sings. Wanda only flubs a few notes, and her rhythm is well enough established she might be mistaken for trying to summon a rusty memory from the abyss of the mind. The little imperfections are there all the same, until she can countenance a better response from her dancing fingers eager to find their own path rather than the one set for them.

There shall be only limited toe-tapping, thank you, though it’s natural on her part to want to reach for pedals along with levers. He will be deprived of that experience for now, especially given that he places a kiss upon her dark hair, and distracts her from whatever she was playing entirely.

“Merry Christmas, love.”

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