1963-12-24 - The Twelve Days: Eleventh
Summary: In which the Sorcerer Supreme flees socializing with his beloved to a jazz club, and finds out she can sing. After a few drinks, that is.
Related: Twelve Days: First through Twelfth
Theme Song: Santa Baby - Eartha Kitt
strange wanda 

The Empyrean is not a place they regularly attend, though the Art Deco inspired holiday party at least gathers popping in on the fandango, especially when it’s merely a cursory appearance between other chores on the soft twilight hours of Christmas Eve. Children are watching the news reports of Santa’s progress courtesy of NORAD, while others are trained on watching any proof of aliens, attacks or invasions.

Holly and evergreen swags brighten the abundance of glowing stained glass, and mystics, mages, and otherworldly creatures in mostly human forms dance together on the wide gallery floor. Tables are removed to allow for the gathering, while the long bar is heavily populated by those who prefer quieter environments or libations to go with the people-watching. Pretty gowns and tailored suits give a handsome view as the New York elite and their hangers-on make a show of normalcy when the world is very much going to winter in a handbasket.

Wanda might not really be in a dress, having thrown an illusory frock over her habitual garments. She’s dressed in coppers and bronzes, a long torch gown that doesn’t count as satin so much as buttery light. For her amber skin, this might be too close but the heavy addition of ruddy undertones to her garment keeps it from clashing too much. One of the hairsticks gifted from few nights earlier pierces her piled up hair, a ruby in its glistening gilded cage cocked at an angle, and the pentacle visible on her decollete above the scoop of her dropped neckline. The leather jacket is probably still under there, its only proof of existence a shrug around her arms, unless Strange takes it to mind to transform her into that fluttering display of silver screen grace.

Sure, the design is twenty five years out of date by some tokens, but she makes the style work for her: wasp-waisted, hourglass, awash in the sea’s dying glory that tinges between brazen silk and the luminescent sky. It beats all those trapeze gowns and weird beaded frocks that have macrame and shag to contend with. Ugh!

It’s not her they are here for; appearances count with Presbyterian colleagues as much as arcane ones. Magic answers to her Beloved, and they can show up for a drink and discussion to last an hour, no more, a promise sworn on the way in to Strange in case he wants to disappear. At least if Mordo or other powerful practitioners show, he will be in a fine position to know how many knives she can secret away.

The bar isn’t so busy they won’t make way for him, and she makes a single request: give her a golden drink to match her dress. Now she’s staring at a glass full of liquid sunlight, a thick concoction full of mulling spices — nutmeg, cinnamon, a dash of clove — that could well be halfway to amber. She dips her finger suspiciously in the liquid and pulls it free, watching the viscosity of the honey wine roll down.

“It looks like nectar.” A statement of warning to anyone who knows her predilections; here, that’s only him. Her eyes widen in appraisal. “It smells so.” And then her finger dips between her lips and tests for certain. It tastes like it, too, for she shivers in delight.

  • *

The arrival of the Sorcerer Supreme was understated in attempt and somewhat successful. He was expected to show, an obligation in respect to the mantle bestowed upon him, and enough heads turned at the pair stepping into the Art Deco-themed bar. The place is warm from bodies, redolent of pine and various perfumes and colognes, and as they pass by, various people offer quiet greetings.

He must pause many times on the way to the lesser-populated bar top to address lingering concerns about the wintry state of New York City proper, explain the precautions set up, remind them that everything will be fine. By the time they reach the bar, he’s contemplating an actual drink rather than the soda water. However, he knows better on an empty stomach.

The picture of nonchalant presence, projecting cool composure, that’s what Strange is as he leans against the bartop, sipping at the sparkling drink and testing the air around the Empyrean with subtle probing senses bolstered by the Sight. Nothing out of place, just the usual menagerie of abilities and emotions all clashing and clouding auras alike. This grants him a bit more true relaxation and he glances over at his Consort.

Glorious, as always, in her illusory dress of molten-copper. They make a fine matching pair in their ways. Him in a classic tuxedo, crisp white shirt, inky bowtie expertly tied about his neck. Draped in crimson presence, a scarf (THE scarf, you know the one, more relic than simple accoutrement) hangs slackly from beneath the collar of his coat. The chain of a certain key-charm is hidden beneath the ensemble, present if anyone should scan him with the Sight as a length of braided starlight, the weighty chit with its own aura. The Eye isn’t present, though all in company know that the only thing keeping the Vishanti from gracing this gathering is the clarion call of their conduit. Completing the picture, a pocket-square in emerald-green.

An hour should be enough to have made a showing in multiple facets. He is here, looking hale. She is there, stalwart presence at his side. Across the dance floor, a fellow minor practitioner waves to them and he nods, lifting his glass of soda water. Steel-blue eyes flick to Wanda and crinkle at their corners as he realizes she’s never tasted the drink in her hands before.

“I believe it’s called mead. Honey-wine. The bartender is particularly astute tonight.” Glancing back, he winks at the presence, invisible or not. “Be careful though, it can be potent. As light as it tastes, it packs a punch.” Setting the glass down, there’s the feeling of skin-warmed glass cooling and then, a full high-ball of soda water once again for the Sorcerer Supreme. “Appreciate,” he adds before sipping at it.

An hour to make a proper showing ought to be enough to satisfy the most miserly folks insistent they never get their hour with the Sorcerer Supreme, and he spends all his time holed up in the Bar with No Doors or that Sanctum or somewhere in London. Bets will be settled tonight for a pool of gamblers eager to track where their replacement for the Ancient One goes. Pity the losers, who have to fetch up a bathtub of ectoplasm to create a fake champagne waterfall and convince some unfortunate to drink the contents without aid of a ghost or astral form.

Wanda watches all these events unfold in her usual guarded way, the hooded lantern to his open torch. No matter; some will respond to the bright flame of her beloved and others may shrink back, and each and every last one needs to be noted behind the polite neutral mask donning her features. Unlike the Presbyterian Hospital Christmas dinner and dance, this is marginally more her element, with a twist.

Any — like all — of the covens present know she is anathema to their number, forsworn by a higher power than their typical sort, and now buried beneath the pitiless Eye of Agamotto. Cue that to be a matter of conversation later. And then comparing his green pocket square to the varied discussions of what the next pantone mystic shade will be, or what all this horror in the city portends for their community and the sudden uptick of masters returning to their hideaways for “prolonged study” (read: hiding in ivory towers).

“Mm. I did eat a little.” True fact, three satsumas were destroyed in the preparations for this scene, and a few happy ground ayurvedic roots, a dusting of honeycomb, and precisely fourteen pomegranate seeds. ‘Tis the season and she loves those blood-red arils for all the fruit gives her a visual loathing. Persimmon is high on the list, too. Assortments of fruit in the typical gift basket reduced to a wine would be a wonder, but fruit wines in this day are far more rare than they ought to be, at least in New York where cider is the beverage of choice with apples and such. All the same, she shivers under the weight of the mulled honey wine and Strange stealing it from her.

Now just imagine all the old magician biddies, clucking that they share drinks. Not to test for poison either. Rumour is out, it’s T-6 hours before three continents know the inklings of a truth. “I appreciate the drink. And the company.” Thanks to the bartender, as she tips back the wine glass and dreams of summer cooling on her tongue, lapsed into silence til she swallows.

“I’ve been inspired.” Is that a non-sequitur among these peacocks? Yes. “A song tonight. Sometimes I would sing after a meal.” Yes, Strange, she’s sung for her supper, the old way, literally. “After this, tonight, I will.”

If she’s not three sheets to the wind.

The rim of the glass pauses before his lips at the statement he never thought he’d hear from the Witch and he commits to swallowing the larger-than-usual mouthful of fizzling water. It tickles the inside of his nose; don’t sneeze, don’t sneeze…whew, safe.

“I had no idea you sung,” Strange comments, considering her as he learns yet another new facet to his socially-recalcitrant Consort. It’s bravery of another sort, offering up one’s talent to the general public or trusted family alike, for some folk don’t understand the need to keep forked criticisms behind their teeth. “You mean here, during the party?”

His steely-blues scan the far edges of the visible rooms, where small groupings laugh and pairings murmur and singles either retreat into their own world or glare around with either desire or discomfort, depending on the individual. No stage is present; after all, who wants to entice drunkards with the chance to fulfill some booze-addled attempt at glory? No microphone either.


Her gaze leaves the sundrop glaze of her glass, succulent loveliness gathered in a slightly narrow glass suitable for displaying the simmering heart of a summer afternoon. They are nearly the same, the tarnished gold of a feline, the distillation of fermented honey.

Strange is trapped in amber doubly over, his reflection staring back at him with the same bemused expression concealed under stoicism in steel and midnight shades. His likeness floats above the black eternity of the void, pricked by a mote of sunshine. Unblinking frames of thick black lashes curl around those great mirrors of her eyes.

Steeled in turn, Wanda drains the rest of the drink and sets the glass down on the bar. The thick viscosity runs more towards honey than nectar, a sappy stickiness there and attesting to why the wine glass is smaller than the norm. Soon enough the bartender smoothly produces a small bottle, no more than 500 mL, and pours more to top off the vanished contents. A pinch of her fingers captures the stem of the glass and pulls it to her.

“After.” Her blotted lips glisten under the alcohol, its residue short-lived. The brush of her thumb on the glass evokes a spiral, meandering idly towards the rim, where her heady, spiced breath fogs against a glistening wall. The very short answer manufactures images in its own right, gentlemen in tails in proximity to a glossy piano, that torch-singer gown and the smoke liberally painted through the hazy air while she dangles feet inches above the ground.

The entire endeavour is somewhat civilized, even how she taps the glass with her nail. “Not so good for a big space like this. We need somewhere quieter, smaller. Can you think of one?”

Her tongue flicks briefly over her lips.

Ohhhhh-ho-ho, another glass.

Strange sips at his soda water, hiding away the smile behind the ridged crystal of its decorative make. He hasn’t encountered his Consort under the influence of alcohol just yet. He himself gets blatantly louder, far more aggressive at accepting both insult and dare alike, and boy, does he have stories from med school. What about her? He ponders as he nods to her decision as to timing.

Yes, after would be best. This isn’t the best venue. Too many gossips and ulterior motives, even during such a felicitous time of the year.

“Quieter and smaller, hmm.” The Sorcerer vibrates the sigh in his chest as he considers the options. Clearly, a night club, but one that caters to smaller crowds and the possibility of a karaoke for its guests in a good-humored nature. His eyes narrow towards the stained glass wall separating entry room from bar room proper, lingering on the mythical creatures etched by color and black framing. Think, think think…

Maybe…just maybe there.

“There’s a little club not far from here, surprisingly close to the Sanctum, actually,” he adds, his tone indicating this is be a fairly new realization. “Johnny O’s. They cater to the folk who appreciate a table to themselves and a glass of wine. Blues, the primary music on-stage, a single singer, normally. There was this woman a few years back, went by the stage name of Bonnie Bluesbird. What a voice. She moved on after a while, haven’t seen her since I left for Kamar-Taj.”

Strange raises his glass in a toast to the memory of the woman.

“I hope she signed on to that record label she was after. Her lady-lover would have been pleased.”

The name of Bonny Bluesbird does not mean anything to her, alas, but Wanda listens intently for the possibility of a name, a location or a fact worth separating her focus on the argument between two mystics with impressive feathered crests and twisty carved wood accessories. Their language is incomprehensible, their body language aggressive and that, more than anything, is an eternal indicator for her to be wary.

“Good.” An agreement settled just like that might have Strange’s jaw on the floor. What, no talking back, no arguing, no squinting look and doubts aplenty? This is the Maximoff girl, after all, and not his apprentice or any of the other willful creatures he surrounds himself with. Sometimes an apple falls very far from the tree, even if that tree apparently now also includes Merlin of Ruta.

She sets the glass to her lips and swivels slightly upon the raised wooden stool, knees to the bar. Why? Passing wispy cloaks and snapping capes, people wrapped in their warm finery that intends to impress their peers. No need whatsoever to be seen smirking at the showmanship that means very little to her. At least on the surface.

Below, she’s as proud as any of them, hence the effort with the illusory dress, though anyone hoping for a spectacle beneath — skyclad witches, ancient stories, they go hand in hand — will be sorely disappointed. She toys with the pentacle, the pendant spinning around its chain, slowly oscillating to the pivot of the glittering links. A look ventures towards the man of the hour. “Do not set your expectation too high. I am a harpist, less a singer.”

He follows her line of sight, intensely interested, towards the pair of practitioners and narrows his eyes only slightly. This might be neutral ground, but the crowd contains the cream of the Mystical crop, and only fools tempting a bruising tumble down the social echelon would continue to argue beyond friendly disagreement here. Having been in the upper reaches for both titlings of his life, he suspects social graces and pressures will win out. No need to intervene.

The sound of the base of his glass rolling on the bar top is akin to a rock traveling along hollowed floor as he glances over — and the motion stops. Both eyebrows rise fairly high, shy of disappearing into his hairline, but absolutely an indicator of quiet astonishment. Well, her mind is clearly made up. The highball glass is set down entirely and he shifts in his lean towards a more active position, easy to break into his signature long-legged stride of purpose. The slow dancing of the charm connecting the Witch indelibly to him is watched with somnolent gaze before it shifts to her face.

“You know that I appreciate all of you. My only expectation is that you enjoy yourself.”

True statement, that. If she’s not happy, he’s not happy, and will go to obnoxious lengths to fix this.

Fear what might happen if she ever catches Strange sulking moodily in the corner. Those lengths might include the assistance of her twin brother and the twins themselves. The younger ones. There might be hamburgers and classic rock trouble involved, and things none of this era can even comprehend.

Wanda sips the mead, rather than gulps, but as with most drinks, she partakes faster than the norm. It’s a hazard of living hand to mouth, the expectation that sufficient nourishment or beverages will soon be parted and trouble might walk through the door. Certain violators care little about sorcerous edicts established by his forebears all the way back to New York’s murky status as a little Native American trading and gathering place, and it’s just their luck that one might show up tonight. The way things have gone lately, it seems terribly likely.

Another sip and she points the fluted glass at him, in lieu of doing so with a finger. “That you enjoy yourself is entirely the point. I gain in this only by what you give.” Complex statement, philosophically tinged, follows on her endorsement of pleasure as a gift, and experience as a shared benefit. Retreating to take another quick taste, she rests her elbow to the bar.

Is it wiser to down it all or take her time, allowing Strange the company of strangers and companions alike?

Please, not the teenagers!!! Between Dimples 2.0 and the Pullet, it would likely end in some catastrophic tangle of limbs and wards and the Cloak laughing its fool hem off in the corner of the Loft.

“If you’re familiar with the term ‘positive feedback loop’, the concept applies here,” he replies, leaning back a bit more heavily against the counter. It causes a general curvature all the way to his head, which tilts to one side, flashing her that irrepressible dimpling that always seems to get beneath her skin and he waits for the subtle responses in her body language as he expands on his thought. “You’re happy, I’m happy. I’m happy, you’re happy. Everyone’s happy and it all feeds on itself.” Raising his hands up a bit above his waist, fingertips act as chalk on an invisible board to draw a circle, mirroring the points in mid-air to spin about an invisible axis.

“We can leave once you’re finished with your drink. I should stay a bit longer.” The sigh puffs out his cheeks and lips a bit before he scans the crowd again with a distantly-concerned expression. “Appearances matter.”

The necessity of appearances is something not entirely lost upon Wanda, for all she recedes into the background upon many a social occasion. Better that Pietro or Strange capture the lion’s share while she pursues her fated course, assessing the location or its guests for direct and implicit threats.

As another murmur pulses through the conversation, she tracks the disturbance back upon its course, once again a knot somewhere to the side of the open dance floor. Few people mingle beyond the bar, isolated to the fringes where they make half-hearted attempts at dance or conversation. Whispered promises and arrangements pass on the murmur, people in their finery already considering exit strategies or the busy plans for the morrow after St. Nick unleashes relentless activity.

Good reason to sip mead, narrowing cool eyes, and venture into another state of mind. She brushes the back of her hand against Strange’s arm in mute understanding. “Diplomacy time?” A simple question while she is left to listen to the timbre of conversation.

A pensive hum, almost too quiet to hear, as his eyebrows begin to knit further. “I’m not certain yet,” he replies, body language stiffening up despite the languid lean on the bar.

It seems the weight of the Sorcerer Supreme’s gaze has some merit. Whether by sheer willpower or by word-of-mouth whispered like wildfire from one guest noting his narrowed focus towards that little knot, he gains their attention. A slow shake of his head returned by one more confident soul’s nod and the tension in that one area seems to decrease.

“That might do it,” he mutters, turning back to face her more and grabbing his glass of soda water once more. Gulp, half of it gone with no regard to carbonation and he wrinkles his nose. “You know, I used to attend these thing in order to party, not act as sheriff to inebriated practitioners," Strange grumbles.


"Your unhappiness is my unhappiness," says the witch who regularly wears a pair of knives and a pointed look. "A cycle of negative feedback." She makes her point in soft refrain, sipping the cool honeyed liquid until the nutmeg bite slides over her tongue and coats her throat in its subtle refreshment. Let Strange suffice with bubbly water, she can allow herself this much on a snowy night with few overt dangers to restrict herself from a maximum two glasses.

Subdued amusement at the looks of scolded schoolchildren shot back across the dance floor will sustain her only so long. Wanda rotates on her stool beside the sorcerer, knees pointed outwards. The illusion of the long gown inhibiting her restriction also betrays its eldritch qualities: the abundance of fabric shifts to accommodate her however necessary, with no regard for seams.

"You know a place to party. Name the time we leave," she murmurs back to the disconsolate sheriff in town. No wonder the Ancient One kept to his own spot.

“Once you’re finished with your drink,” he reminds her gently before tossing back the rest of his. No doubt a little rumor will burn bright and ash out within the night that the Sorcerer Supreme is a lush. Hopefully it dies out without need for him to eviscerate anyone with razor-keen wit clearly not dulled in the least by the touch of alcohol.

Someone out there, someone is taking bets under the table about whether or not he’ll need to leave his lofty placement at the bar, with its strategic view of all present. No one’s reached the point of drunken bravery to test this yet.

“You’re enjoying it way too much to leave it sitting there with even a drop left,” he murmurs with a contented smile towards her. A faint mental query as to the status of his empty highball glass is returned with a raised palm from the wrist and a quiet, “Thank you, but we’ll be leaving soon.” It’s on the house. Actually, it’s all on him, one large bar-tab to be charged to him at the end of the night. He’ll pay for it, one way or another, with currency of paper or protective responsibilities to this Realm. Probably both.

“Finish your drink, I’ll go get our coats. Well, my coat.” He takes one of her hands and kisses her knuckles lightly, holding her eyes, before departing towards the front and coat collection.

Let the biddies twitter about that!

Pity the gossips that wag their tongues behind closed doors, expecting trouble from the Sorcerer Supreme about a party at the Empyrean. Please. If he was going to make a scene, it would be at the Bar with No Doors and threatening to make the jarred head of a bartender participate in the conga line. Everyone else can wear bell jars on their heads to make it fair.

Wanda salutes someone who starts a toast down the bar, her glass automatically lifted in wordless salute. It will set another ripple through the mix of men and women, all ages and races represented, the finest and the worst of their cloistered little community. Her eyes never leave the mingled masses, hunting for anyone too foolish to know their own limits.

Pity she doesn’t quite recognize hers, sipping the concoction but making short work of it given the underlying honey appeals to her elevated metabolism. Strange chose well gifting her with honeys from around the world; she has a peculiar and especial love of that high-powered energy source quite like no other.

A ghost of a kiss to her hand and the gentleman is off, leaving her to her own devices for a moment. Does one necessarily tip her drink back in a single gulp? Not with all eyes potentially turned on her, so she nurses it as quickly as one might without all the sunshine charm going straight to her dark head. On that front, she waits on her pedestal until Strange returns, dipping into the tumbling effervescence of headiness slowly but surely. He takes too long and she might even taste the first hum of a buzz.

“Naughty, naughty, naughty, and nice,” she counts off four fates, and it happens Strange fetching his coat is the last. Too much to wait? No, she can hop off her perch when he’s back, and go arm in arm. Johnny O’s it is.

It’s a breath of fresh air, literally, to leave the Empyrean after becoming momentarily entangled at the doorway with well-wishers and worriers alike. His sigh gusts pale in the night as they crunch out to the edge of the property.

"Thank the gods…finally," he whispers even as he lifts up a gloved hand and gestures open a crackle-framed Gate to the alleyway beside Johnny Os. A few more steps, no more than a dozen, and they descend down some carefully-salted steps to the door to the club. He opens it, allowing her to enter first in her illusory dress of coppers and golds, and follows. The bouncer approaches them, first suspicious, but in a manner so akin to the ballroom dinner they attended, recognition comes quickly enough. No jovial pat on the back, just greetings and well-wishes between the men, and the pair is quickly shown to a booth centrally in the back of the small dining room. It’s definitely set up to be part restaurant, part theatre, with a small stage frontally accompanied by piano. The decor is Art Deco like the Empyrean, but leans less towards the Mystic and more to the attraction to high-class clientele. A doctor would be able to easily afford a date night here.

After making sure Wanda is seated comfortably in the semi-circular booth, he divests of his Belstaff as well as tuxedo jacket. The crimson scarf remains on, likely of its own volition. A little tug by the Sorcerer was met with a toddler’s spunky silent locking of metaphorical knees. He sighs and folds his hands across his forearms to lean lightly on the table.

"Johnny Os," he comments, glancing over at her with a small smirk. "The stage is all yours, you need but ask. They wouldn’t deny me a favor here. The owner’s daughter is friends with Dr. Palmer, who apparently put in a good word for me a few years back. Not sure why…" and he chuckles a bit ruefully. “I can’t imagine what she found in me back then. I was…a bit of a jerk."

It’s an apt enough description.

"More mead?" Strange asks, deliberately changing the topic.

Johnny Os, the sort of place where a girl dolled up with a chignon and a string of pearls at her neck can devastate the clientele if need be. In short, it’s a hunting ground as Wanda Maximoff knows it, and not the high society venue she ever expected to be welcome in on her own right. Though all that’s changed by the declaration of holding a certain man’s affections.

The challenge of blending in to such a fine place puts her on her best manners, calculating every action and requirement while Strange assumes the familiar stance of a fellow well acquainted by his surroundings, and blessed by the privilege of knowing what to say, where to sit, how to act. Traffic splits up the main aisle and meanders through the lush interior, swanky as they get, all polished woods and dark fabrics conceding to the mystery and glamour of the place.

She turns her attention to social matters, a gentle exchange.
Doctor Palmer’s assessment of the man brings a hitch to her eyebrows, though Wanda does not prod that apparently sore spot. Not fully, bandaging a scar by the quiet statement, “You have shown your worth, yes?”

He deliberately changes the topic and she will grant him that, even if it means considering the lay of the performer’s land. A stage doesn’t frighten her, though other things certainly do. Time to act. Slipping out from the table, she runs her fingers around the rim of the beveled top. “Do you want me singing on your table or on the piano where I probably belong?”

Let him decide that; she walks off to find a server to arrange being on display for the whole damn place. There’s only one way to do this right, and cabaret or jazz tradition demands she do it.

He’s silent in regards to the press of gently-rhetorical gauze against his self-recrimination. Now as to the other matter at hand, he regards the Witch across the table with palms pressed flat to the surface in mute surprise and then perhaps a soft, incredulous laugh can be heard by the departing vision in metallic hues.

She’s sure to locate a server within the minute while another stops by his table. Soda water redux, not alcohol for him, but mead for the lady, the finest the establishment can offer. No doubt it might fall shy of their expectations, being of mortal make and not from the supernatural get of this Realm’s honey-gatherers, but he wonders if he did note a bit of a wobble in her hips beyond their general swing and a smidge of slackening about her eyes.

Could it be…? Is his Consort feeling the effects of the sweet wine about now? Is that where this spurt of extroverted display is coming from?

Well, hey, it’s not his loss. It’s amusing in the best of ways and you know, positive feedback loop and all that jazz. He’ll play along. If she wants to sing and execute it in the truest style, her answer as she returns to him will be, with a dimpling smirk and salute of his glass containing the bubbly tonic as he slouches back in the booth with all the confident presence possible, included in the lay of his unoccupied hand and arm aligned across the back lip of the booth,

“The table, «Beloved».”

The conversation taken to the server is simple enough, and one that raises the consummate professional’s eyebrows only a little. The lady wishes to sing? On Christmas Eve, plenty of smoky-voiced musicians take to the Steinway piano for a little Sinatra ditty or their take on a traditional carol. It’s half the reason they come to venues like this in the wee hours before eight little reindeer land on the rooftops and a Christian saint pops down the chimney pipe or out the radiator to deliver festive cheer on all the good gentlemen and ladies around the city.

Yet a name invoked serves a promise, that promise allowing for certain allowances as long as the general manager approves. That suits well enough. Wanda sashays off to a spot indicated after another inquiry, and she vanishes into the powder room, aptly named. Her dress turns to powder with an invocation of a word, the illusion vanished. Following efforts take nothing short of elbow grease, hardwork, and a very irritable tug on a hemline here, a plucked strand there.

Strange may have to wait. It’s only reasonable for them to find what she needs, someone to play on the piano and assuring the speakers embedded in the place are turned on or off properly. After all, it’s a personal affair here.

Lights go down from their low setting, and the tabletop candles form most of the hazy gilded ambiance aside from the perpetual smoke lingering in a place like this, even if no one has ever put flame to a cigarette. A gentleman in a tuxedo settles at the piano bench, untucking his tails, and settling his fingers across the keys to give the old ivories a tickle.

The immediate threat of the melody ought to pull mental strings. It’s certainly not the first time this has been played all week, and a few of the patrons cease their discourse, perked. Lips quirk to a smile. Libations loosen more than inhibitions.

Trishul. A whisper out of nowhere. The illusion is mine. Do not fight it?

A request, that, seconds before the door from the powder room opens and she appears, slinking towards the table. Slinking is necessary, considering that dress glitters and the cape around it practically sparkle in a constellation.

She sashays and Strange awaits, sipping all the while at his tonic. At the Empyrean, she drank her mead with an increase in average speed because good things went away without warning in her previous life; here, he might take larger-than-usual mouthfuls because of how his stomach is reacting to the suspense. Butterflies? Just maybe, ones that are only satisfied by the bitter tonic and its carbonation.

Hopefully the years have passed and enough of the regulars are involved in other affairs to not be present tonight. It’s more that he hates explaining and the inevitable teasing followed by one too many reminders about his past visits. With a sigh, he swirls the sparkling drink in his glass as he does his tea. Where is she?

The appearance of the pianist makes the motion stop; the swirling of the drink continues even as he sets the vessel down on the table, fingers never releasing their grip. Strange watches with keen interest, attempting at this distance to read the keys even as the first notes emerge from the instrument, enticed by experienced fingers.

The disembodied voice makes him still, as it always does, and his steel-blue eyes take on the faintest pale-violet hues about their centers as he carefully searches the room for her.

I trust you. The response flickers on the wings of thought to her, laced in mild amusement.

The emergence of the young woman into the room proper has a magnetic draw of its own. Any side conversations, even whispered, drop away as she approaches and he finds his heart up in his throat. That is…quite the dress. Daring. Very daring. And curves. There are curves and wowzers and you know that old cartoon about the wolf with the unrolling tongue? As a matter of fact, he does need to shut his mouth against a slight gape and allows himself a smoky smirk.

He did ask for it.

Someone hands her a microphone on a very long cable; she takes it. A vision of midnight with a devastatingly fitted form addresses why Wanda walks so carefully, circling around the tables liberally scattered to prevent someone taking a straight line anywhere. Sinuous path coursing path other diners sipping their liquor, she concentrates heavily upon getting one foot in front of her and then the other without tripping. Of course, the ground-dusting hemline conceals that artifice and they know no better about her raised chin and heavy-lidded eyes nailed upon one target.

Stephen Strange, M.D. of Neuroscience and Neurology, Master of the Mystic Arts.

Glitter dances on her shoulders, enveloping her in a casual gift that might earn a jealous choke from the ruby scarf in case he starts getting ideas. Drifting in a cloud around her, the cape splits up the front to show the lightless gown beneath only when she leans against the table to sit. A tug on the brooch holding it together sends the curtain spilling off her back, the coat laid down for a gentlewoman to cross a puddle.

It may be the first time he's seen her in proper stiletto heels, revealed in glossy black lacquer when she crosses her legs at the knee. Picking up the microphone, she curls her fingers around the wire and tilts her head back, wavy hair dusting her backbone.

Those first twinkling notes from the piano arrange the familiar old strains to an Eartha Kitt song popularized about a decade ago. To the audience, she sings the lyrics to more or less exact replication, slanted to the chocolate hint of a foreign accent. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFMyF9fDKzE) Her mezzosoprano favours silk to smoke, but the mead aids in that descent to the eventide register meant to curl around him like a cat and never let go once Strange's attention is seized by the first query.

"Doctor Strange…"

He's been put on notice when she croons out his name in a purr Strange might not think her capable of. Certainly she doesn't.

//"Slip a spellbook under the tree for me
Been an awful good girl;
Doctor Strange, and hurry to the Sanctum tonight.

Doctor Strange, an enchanted artifact would also do, ooh,
I'll wait up for you, sir.
Doctor Strange, and hurry to the Sanctum tonight."//

She perches away from him, stretching across the table, swiveling so her knee supports her in that endeavour. Dark curls spill away from her shoulder, a look thrown back.

The audience hears:
Think of all the fun I've missed,
Think of all the fellows that I haven't kissed,
Next year I could be also good,
If you'll check off my Christmas list…

He hears:
"Think of all the bad that passed,
Think of all the times I haven't sassed,
Next year I could be oh so good
If you'll have just a few spells cast."

Rolling away, she circles around the table, fingers trailing behind, the microphone still reflecting her voice into the smoky confines of the jazz club while the pianist weaves lofting, dark notes to support the playful tease of the song.

"Doctor Strange, and show me eldritch heights and, ooh, wondrous sights
All dimensions are fine,
Doctor Strange, and hurry to the Sanctum tonight

Another pivot and she finds a space anew upon the glittering cape, leaning forward until they are almost eye to eye. Sorcerer to Witch, the conversation is one-sided. He might gate away, if the cloak doesn't slap her.

That smile curves darker still, his own eyes glittering like the reflection from her celestially-inclined dress, and at the announcement of his name, he lifts the glass to her in an insouciant manner. Strange recognized the song after the first few bars and the lighting is just dimmed enough that a faint blush about cheeks and ears is lost.

And now she’s gone and rewritten the lyrics, apparently. Absolutely, his heart skips a beat in a temple-pounding moment of shock and he does draw away a little, but the realization that the venue isn’t reacting to words such as spellbook and artifact keeps the consternation at bay.

Therein lies the illusion. He can sense it about her voice, husky with the effects of the mead, and chooses to not split his concentration in figuring out what the audience is hearing. In his peripheral vision, barely noted beyond basic processing in the face of the songstress, no one does anything beyond watch in minor enrapture or whisper in their significant other’s ear about something or other.

The personally-addressed rephrasing of the song is also not lost to him. One dark eyebrow is slowly drawn high on his brow as he tucks his chin slightly, watching her with shadowed eyes. Really now? That canny mind sifts rapidly through the webbing of connections and clicks — and stalls out a little bit with a mental sputter reflected in a flash across his face. No doubt she reads it on him clear as day when they’re nearly nose to nose.

The good Doctor inhales silently, the biting at the inside of his bottom lip only visible to her, so close within his personal space. The microphone is the only thing separating their lips, truthfully, and he’ll be damned if anyone hears him make a single sound, so: he holds his breath.

Only three stanzas left, he can do it. The grip around his glass of soda water is fidgety, but he tries hard to keep the rotation in place from making sounds as she croons so sweetly with dusk in her tone and aura alike. Considering the nearest table is more than ten feet away, he no doubt looks the casanova serenaded by be-starred lover. Up close, only she can see the fine fracturing of his composure in cheekbones and dark pupils alike.

Finally, he can breathe, literally. The song’s over, the pianist finishes out the rill of final notes, and he exhales as silently as he can. Strange will wait until the microphone is well and far away before he speaks what’s on his mind.

They never hear his name. They do not know the underlying messages buried in a song, spun from candy floss and peppermint sticks, the cheeky smile and the request for capitalism’s finest graces. If any of them catch the vague geographic origins of her accent, they might only smile to know one of those foreigners capitulated to the might of American industry, a commercial juggernaut transforming even the sacred season of Christ’s birth to the supremacy of the Macy’s catalogue.

A long list of thrills might accompany a halfway decent performance, much less given the intimate acoustics and bone-shivering atmosphere built up in a joint like this. Glamour oozes out of the walls, and a mystique shared in the essential DNA of jazz bars worldwide supports even the plainest crooner with a little flourish otherwise missing. Wanda nurses that sultry atmosphere for her purposes, and when she is fully done, arrested by the fading twinkle of piano notes, the choice hangs in the balance.

Sit. Walk away?

The answer of course is universal. Every woman knows when to be chased, and she slithers from the table, the bevelled edge biting into her skirt until both heels click on the floor and measure the pace of her departure. Adjacent the pianist on stage, an attendant waits to man the lights and a board tucked behind a curtain. He’s been in part responsible for feeding enough cord that the brunette doesn’t fall on her face or end up singing to a blank wall because she couldn’t reach far enough. That’s not a song which does well interrogating a lone man seated in a chair with a spotlighted candle, like some deranged interrogation by torch singer.

Johnny Os isn’t that kind of lounge, anyways.

Off she saunters, dropping off the microphone, and left for a few seconds to catch her breath. Her hand pressed to her chest keeps that rather daring incision sliced down the front of the dress from approaching indecent, and now she truly and utterly needs that leather coat stashed away in a dimensional pocket that leads to the apartment where her twin and the younger twins cohabitate. At least most of the time; Billy might still occasionally bother with his family. Tommy, though, doesn’t.

She’s unescorted on her retreat back, slipping into the welcome shadows of the table, and pondering snatching up the starry and moon-struck cape to wrap around herself like a glorious paint smock. Failing that, she hunts the abandoned mead that arrived whilst she was gone, and hopefully isn’t in fourteen pieces of glass on the floor. Sip, then meet the eyes of her beloved.

“Happy Christmas.”

“Happy Christmas, Wanda,” he murmurs back, toasting her with his glass before sipping. No, wait, not sipping, downing the rest of it in one fell swoop. He sniffles and sighs. The next waiter walking by is hailed with a quick raise of his hand and he murmurs something to the jacketed man who replies,

“Very good, sir,” and disappears back towards the bar. Left with an empty glass in-hand, he spins it in the ring of condensation left behind on the table-top with a quiet rumbling shuff.

“That was…very impressive, «Beloved». I was not expecting it in the least.” No lie, not a single one in any line of his expression or posture. “I never thought I’d hear you sing.” In this short amount of time, the waiter returns with a shot-glass of deeply-amber liquid, a shade darker than the honey-wine in her fluted glass. “Thank you,” Strange says to the man.

His Consort is again saluted in silence before the Sorcerer tosses back the whiskey without a second thought. It goes down smooth, burning like delicious fire, and it was definitely meant to be a sipper, not a shot. Smacking his lips, he looks at her again before chuckling.

“Liquid courage. I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire room is absolutely certain that I’m some tag-along to your blues-singing starlette at this point. I’m the rogue. Some old dame is no doubt going to walk over and scold me for terrible things.”

Liquid courage. Too late to need it, too late to have it. The mead is by contrast low alcoholic content compared to that whiskey, but she polishes off half the flute in the time it takes for the sound system to flip back to general music or whatever the management chooses to put on. Her work is done, that one serenade complete, and might as well be lights off, joint cleared, everyone tossed into the cool streets where flakes fall and New York breathes under a cloak of snow. Wanda won’t sing another to spoil the effect.

“No, you know they do not think that way,” murmurs the songstress between pulls on the alcohol, her thoughts whirling and bloodstream full of nutmeg and cinnamon notes of gold. “They wonder what you get at Tiffany.” Overpronounced, the name of the fabled jewelers’ sounds rather distinct, entirely foreign. “Do you put an X on the line for me? Why would someone want a ‘duplex?’ I am not sure even what it is.”

A shrug of her shoulders and Wanda leans back, a little too far into the danger zone, for she straightens upon seeing what threat lies yonder for her daring floor-length number. No, sit up straight. “Maybe they see only a silly song for a girl. I don’t really care. You heard, you are happy, so I am happy.”

Positive feedback loop at its finest. The rest of the mead is gone with a gulp. Whatever illusions she held onto, they aren’t going to be tapped again this evening except in the event Thanos comes to town and visits.

A pause, and she adds, “Old woman is simply jealous. She doesn’t know we like terrible things. Good things, too.”

She won’t be certain when she flips to Tibetan, but it’s about the third sentence.

It is never too late for liquid courage, not in the face of a brazen serenade that still rings in his ears and has his heart up at least ten beats per minute.

He can’t help but smile. She’s adorable. Absolutely charmingly adorable when the liquor finally gets to her. Even the language slip is enough to make him huff a laugh and tilt his head to watch her in the glow of the candlelight. Beautiful and as cute as a kitten.

“«Allow me to explain then,»” Strange replies in Tibetan, furthering the metaphorical curtain around them. “«Tiffany sells fine jewelry, expensive and an indicator of wealth and status through it, whether you’re the buyer or the one wearing the jewelry. A duplex and checks is about wealth yet again, status through luxury living arrangements and sparing no expense. It’s a silly song, but written because it appeals to some people, I suppose. Little debutants looking to gain a patron.»” The waiter stops by once more and he switches back to English to order another soda water, thank you, no more whiskey, he needs to make sure they get home safely. “«But you’re right, you kept everyone in the room but me from knowing what you sung. Very cleverly done, that illusion, Beloved.»”

He snags a warm hand to kiss at her knuckles, just as he did at the Empyrean, but there’s no reason to release the delicate fingers caught in his gentle grasp, not here and not now. He rests his arm on the table instead, running his thumbpad across the ridges of bent tendons.

A look passes over her face upon the explanation that simultaneously strikes notes of revulsion, distaste, and muted horror. “«So I am trying to wring money and gifts out of you by singing that? Like a… a… »” Wanda has no words for gold-digger or sugar daddy, but she can draw the parallels in the dripping condemnation. Poor wit retreats into the wine glass, and she downs the last of the mead while he kisses her knuckles.

Appearances matter. And one of the most celebrated neurosurgeons of his age received a purring serenade from a girl in a daring black and glittering dress. Let the gossip columns bleed ink in the right quarters. “«I am sorry for what they think but not for singing my version to you. I quite liked it.»”

Shameless tigress after all. Her fingers curl to his palm, knuckles still a bare range for him to grace with wintery kisses or summer benediction. The quiver in the digits isn’t from his hands, but her own. Longing for some kind of touch is only fair.

No one else can produce the bell tone ringing pure and clear on a silver trill through the air in the same fashion. Yet there her aura settles in a happy vibration accompanied by the endless alignments of stars and moons, humming along in contentment.

“«I could care less what they think, Beloved. Gossiping is a reflection of those doing said gossiping, not of the person or people in question.»” The tonic water settles his stomach, already complaining a bit about the whiskey, delicious as it was. “«Jealous air-heads, gossip columns,»” he mutters.

The shivering sound of celestial delight, one he’d recognize on a level of soul, pulls him up from frowning at some distant point (whoops, slipped into consternation mode regarding columns) to glance over at her with good-natured affection.

“«I liked it too. Very…saucy, in the best of ways.»” His own aura shifts to interweave with the vibrations, finding points of harmony to shine in warm spring sunlight and meeting bell chime with a series of languid chords on a mellow piano. “«Do you intend on having more mead or is this your last glass?»”


Wanda glances down at the glass, suspiciously empty from when she last had it, and she sets it aside. “I should not.” Recognition that maybe she downed a bit too much even for her potent metabolism to process is a sign she is not six sheets to the wind, though not about to risk gating or touching any of her given abilities. “Peace. All is safe and well. I think.”

No random translations back into Transian or the host of other odd languages she knows signal a good thing, though she does need to concentrate more than usual to make herself understood in Strange’s mother tongue. Tibetan might be the easier, but the effort counts. Resting the point of her chin upon her bridged hands, she rests her elbows on the spangled cloak and looks levelly upon the master of the mystic arts, caught up in a jazz club.

“«It’s the evening before Christmas. Are you supposed to fly roof to roof looking for the wicked?»” A question not without its dry wit, she tips her head slightly and chestnut waves glance off her shoulder, curling away from the one shining point of light: her headband. “«Or maybe you have different plans?»”

Sunshine has an effect as much as the liquid gold settled in her stomach and filtered through her veins, shot across the complicated transportation networks that tremble under the greater weight of his aura. Maybe a round of playing a piano somewhere after all. So much promise already sung, so much already laid out.

Strange returns her level look, now leaning comfortably back into the cushy back of the booth. A snort escapes him and he sips at his soda water again before licking excess from his lips.

“«My plans for this evening do not include chasing ne'er-do-wells and stuffing them in sacks,»” the Sorcerer replies with a ripple of laughter in his words. “«I intended to go home and enjoy a peaceful evening in front of the fire with a good book. I need to finish reading a trieste by the Gallisenae on the interdimensional properties of certain teas. You’d be surprised what you can do with the proper mixture.»”

It’s a comment offered up as easy bait for her to latch on as need be, judging by the understated curl to one side of his mouth.


They do not? Pity for all those bad mystics, not receiving a personal visit from the Sorcerer Supreme, out to punch and kick and gnash his way through opposition. Serves them right, to cower in the dark for another year.

Someone on the staff loiters nearby, looking for a discreet opportunity to come and steal away the glasses of alcohol. She cannot deny them that, halting in conversation long enough for her mead flute to be stolen away and nothing to replace it as yet.

Not rising to Strange’s bait, she plucks the glittery raiment from the table and secures it back around her shoulders, less self-conscious than mindful she better fasten the cape before she forgets about the sparkling black and silver drift. “«A book. How daring and exciting of you. I shall find something to do. It is a night like any other.»” Just a night in paradise with a roof over her head and all the troves of mystic wisdom at her fingertips.

“«That song left something to be desired, cerhan?»” An idle muse, as her tawny eyes flow away from his countenance to alight upon the remainder of the fellow revelers enjoying drinks and light, moody music.

“«Something to be desired?»” The good Doctor out-and-out laughs this time, a warm sound that draws some side-looks followed by whispers. Clearly, he is having a good time, at least. “«It planted a seed in a most fertile garden. Ideas are dangerous things.»” Wisely — and smoothly — said.

No more soda water for him, they may choose to leave by the time he finishes his. Besides, she keeps on acting a little more differently with each passing moment. Scientist at heart, he’s taking notes mentally of each shift, from breathing to fidgeting to choice of conversational topic.

“«Is there something you wish to do?»”

Ideas can be dangerous only in the wrong hands. Are scarred hands the worst to place her faith in? Wanda still sits far too upright for anyone’s good, in part by memory and reinforced lessons smacked into her by a wrinkled, liver-spotted hand. Or a paw with great, curved claws that could rip open a child’s tender taut belly with a mere swipe.

Dark tidings to contemplate on the night of Christianity’s second holiest celebration, ones she sets free to vanish in a flash of caged fire and ashen wings. Let that burn. “«Usually one does not follow a performance with a book, unless professionally inspecting a play?»” She has a point there; playwrights dread their patrons going line by line, probably. A world beyond her, alas!

Feet tuck together and she scrunches her toes up in the pointed box of the stilettos, feeling their unusual tilt to her feet and no doubt pondering whether they can be safely vanished in the snow. Freedoms to seek them elsewhere shall be troubling. At least Strange is in his element, or one of them, though an element he cannot thrive in may not really exist.

No more soda water, no crackers, and certainly no wine. It’s unusual for Wanda to fidget and aside from toying with her shoes, she really does not. Her chin tips back and she cups her hand beneath it, registering a youthful arc of an eyebrow to the man who holds the dimension in his safekeeping. The slight huff of breath when her gaze weaves back through dark heads and bright clothes to settle upon him again, an albatross ever wandering to the same breeding ground, he could easily construe as mildly impatient.

She waits, but what for? Don’t ask. She probably couldn’t name it. Anticipation is quickening all the same.

Let the youth sit there and wonder at him. He’s a devilishly patient sort, the good Doctor, and he looks at her overtop his glass as he sips at the soda water. Sips.

A glance to the far wall and a bit of a squint allows him to see the time on the analogue clock half-shadowed once and again; this proves far more effective in urging him than the impending air of anticipation. Or does it? Is he playing cards at proper times instead? He sighs, looking back to the celestially-clad Witch sitting so ramrod straight. It’s impressive, that posture.

“«We should be going soon, else we turn into pumpkins.»” Maybe she’ll get that saying, maybe not. Shifting closer still, he wedges himself into her personal space rather smoothly, aligning them side to slide with very little break between bodies. “«What if…»”

And he breathes the query into the shell of her ear. It near buries his nose in her neckline, very much close enough that the heat of his baritone words will flower down tendons and along hinge of jaw.

“«Before the witching hour, or the time that Father Christmas comes?»” Words can hold so many meanings, and there is a certain precision lacking in the songbird misled by the golden weight of mead thrumming away through her veins. Her bubbly thoughts simmer away, refusing to be corralled to one corner or another, and she leans across the table to find… no, where, exactly, is that soda water glass, and is it empty?

The feeling tumbling along her arm when she reaches out for it is peculiarly disjointed, and she murmurs, “Oh.” A universal sound when he leans in, and Strange whispers his evocative suggestion against the humming fabric whispering to the tune of a silver-throated crooner and his accompaniment, pianist and a violinist in tails. One of the servers by the look of it.

Eyes widen a little, their glassy brazen reflection nothing so dangerous as promising. Two firm blinks focus beyond the tinted sparkle to the world that ought not to be there.

“«Maybe.»” A goad as much as anything as she puts her hand to the table, but pulling her up is a necessity rather than relying on her rising in those teetering heels. The piper calls her to join him and she hums dreamily, repeating the melody the chanteuse serenaded him with. Arm looped around his waist, she ignores the crinkling fabric.

Doctor Strange…
And hurry to the Sanctum tonight…

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