1964-01-15 - Strange Reckonings
Summary: What is love? Baby, don’t hurt me…
Related: Strange Observations
Theme Song: None
strange wanda 

Time passes and there he sits on the end of the master bed, alone with his thoughts. Outside, Bleecker Street bustles in a rare moment of business and traveling alike. The square of sunlight moves across the wall and eventually darkens slowly, indicating the passage of the day. If he's moved, it's only to shift limbs and avoid pins-and-needles. Haunted. Utterly consumed by possibilities that leave him trembling inside.

Loss. The ghosts of things that could be hang heavily on his psyche. From a simple life by himself, aided by nothing but the Cloak and his own tenacity, he's built up a vibrant world around him that sparkles with life. It's not that he may never fall for the Witch again — the impossibilities are endless. Erasing his memory of her and the others would not cancel out their existences. It would simply…

Begin and begin again. Rinse and repeat. But nothing would be precise, it wouldn't be the same, and he likes…no, he loves waking up beside her, looking into those amber eyes with their scarlet motes, holding her, arguing with her, laughing with her… — he would be so unbearably alone without her.

Rakshasi…? The breath of a thought carries not but an ounce of its normal bon-vivant flavoring. No, abnormally fragile in a way, like the spread of frost on a windowpane in early morn. Bright and delicate and sharp with discomfort.


The luna moth wards know her presence from her absence, and their report musters the same usual acknowledgment they always do. Calm and composed, she bears no injuries or disruptive turbulence they might recognize. Balancing a white cardboard box upon her steepled fingers attests to the fairly light weight of those croissants and scones, butterhorns and two fern cakes bound to go wonderfully with tea. A visit on the way home to a bakery leaves the scent of honey and fresh-baked bread lifting off their sources to permeate the air, giving even the Sanctum a somewhat homely atmosphere where the austere building otherwise stands apart.

However forbidding its granite and marble facade intends to be, it cannot quail a girl used to her semi-nomadic, rootless existence. She's slept in ruins far more than the average mystic, by necessity rather than choice.

The cadence of her steps form a familiar backbeat to the endless whispers, the heating system to the scuttle of things best not described. Stairs give no hindrance to her steps, though she halts long enough to look up for the summons betokened by the perched falcon of spellcraft. "Where?"

Nothing more to be said than that. Her fingers curl and loosen the ribbon holding back her hair, and she gives the cloudy mass a good shake to alleviate the strain upon her scalp. Best be prepared for whatever lion's den she's about to walk into, whether populated by slumbering cubs or the old hoary master himself, snarling over a grimoire that bit his nose.


The silvery wards report nothing beyond the generalized discomfort of the Sorcerer and his presence within the master bedroom, that cavernous place wherein said Master reclines in his gloomy state. With that, they whisk away into the darkwood of the Sanctum's make-up.

Bakery goods will likely not tempt him in the least, especially in his moment of dark introspection. She will likely need to eat them all and she'll have Strange's blessings for it. His stomach is too acidic, even after Merlin's soothing cup of tea. The natural soporific effect of the herbs wars madly against the elevated adrenaline levels within his blood. He's left feeling discomforted even beneath his own skin; too weary to sleep, too nervy to stay awake. It's difficult being at this ephemeral state of being, that odd middling between a high and a low. Running on fumes and crackling with stymied frustration at an answer that will not come until the very moment required of it.


With the limited sentience and no authority over the wards, the best Wanda can hope for is a standing building. She holds no real certainty of anything amiss other than the snarling patterns of fate around her, the tiny skewed knots and sense of perturbations starting to interrupt the orbit she has fallen into around a larger, intensely bright star.

As astronomers would note, their sufficient gravity together can cast out all but the largest of interruptions. Even sudden solar bursts or seething flares of activity cannot truly knock them off course, and they have a tendency to settle into a similar orbit when those matters happen. Gravity and the well of love between witch and sorcerer has proven remarkably resilient to even shocks as large as Chthonic origins, vampiric Pietros, and twins.

Which means, on the face of it, the surprise is his and not hers. Only fair when she generated the first shock, the second is mutually theirs at some level, and the third…

‘Third time is the charm,” she quotes Yaga, brushing her fingertips on the wall in the ancient sign to fend off evil. That averting of the evil eye is the oldest in the canon of human spellcasting and cultural norms, spread across Eurasia and Africa, imported to the New World. It holds a constancy even waving doesn’t, a beckons about the only thing older. No wonder so many protective spells invoke it regardless of their tradition.

She sets down the box upon crossing through the Loft, leaving it with one of the guardians wrought in stone, and surrenders herself to the currents. It may be easier than fighting them, for all another maxim says the only fish that follows the current is a dead fish. Fear has no place or right here, none at all. The door opens, stirring to permit her passage, and the dreaming dusk settles with her as her aura billows out to interact with his celestial mantle. The lightest mental nudge casts it further than it otherwise tends to reach, thinned and attenuated, a cloak of stars laid over the nebulous shroud pulled so tight to the troubled man.

Formality could be called for, and normally Wanda would surrender to it, but not this time. Not in this place carved out as theirs in the heart of his power, and Strange is given little leave to hide away as she walks directly up to him, kneels, and covers his hands with her own.

“«I see no skeleton or impatient threefold power waiting. It cannot be so bad.»”

The opening of the master bedroom door breaks a spell of pensive stillness within the room. With a creaky reaction, the Sorcerer emerges from the slouched shroud of his sitting and drops hands to his thighs in time for the Witch to appear before him with all of her usual immutable presence and stoic support. The resting weight of her touch upon his tendons is considered before he looks up at her.

That face. It might shake her, the amount of time he spends in silence, where the duration lengthens beyond proper formation of a normal social response. All the while, those steel-blue eyes shift from point to point as if committing to memory a song he’s known by heart since they crossed paths upon a midnight clear in glorious battle against a foe of old.

They’ve come so very far since then, since a discussion over tea necessitated an agreement for the sake of both. Had he known how she would bewitch him heart and soul, the Stephen Strange of a few months past might have claimed dubious disagreement with the future portents and folded his arms and glowered mightily. Better and safer when alone and left to his own devices; the mantle needs no such distraction. While he might jest with himself now and then about the fact that she is also a project of sorts, it is so much more than that. Only in the loosest of terms can he define their relationship with such indifference.

To read what flashes behind those amber eyes, sometimes shuttered with shadows he can’t fend off and sometimes glittering with tears he can do naught but will away with unwavering solace and promises of solutions and soothing alike — she is one tome he will never finish delving into and the potentiality for such a never-ending process of discovery is something he treasures so very near and dear to his heart. Ah, but to see those same cool and stable eyes, sometimes clouded with jaded history — to see them twinkle when her laughter shows above rather than at her lips. A thing of beauty. To watch them flush scarlet and then to amaranth around depthless pupils — he would lay himself low a thousand times and a thousand times again. That the boys exist…? Perhaps a prophecy that comes round-robin through their existence in the now, but those dimples and the presence of abilities he thought only to see within her delicate hands…

“I suppose it depends on the definition of bad.” His voice sounds rusty, even to him, and he clears it again, the action causing him to straighten his spine further. The next sentences come out as if heavily practiced. “Let me talk, please, don’t interrupt. I will be frank with you. Merlin came to me today and said that he noticed inconsistencies within my aura. Not yours, not his, that of the Enchantress. Lady Amora. This is a safety risk for us all and I will not stand for it. Merlin also told me of a lake in Albion with waters that can wash these inconsistencies away, but there is another risk. One must combine mind magic, the same type that influences memories, and should the incantation fall to instability, the risk is total aural scouring as well as amnesia. Permanent amnesia of all who influenced the aura initially.” The expression he wears now is one she has seen before, the commitment to grit his teeth and bull ahead, no matter the consequences. The difference is the shaking of his hands beneath hers, more pronounced than normal. Nerves, yes — physiological and psychological alike.

Here, in the bedroom, he may attempt to fog the glass, but this is a place of comfort and vulnerability alike. Likely, that he has apprehensions remains clear and his composure is strung tighter than normal, near to the point of breaking. He keeps talking beyond the mechanical report on things, the words coming more rapidly in an attempt to keep up with the whirling of his mind.

“It doesn’t matter that we both did not see these inconsistencies. They must be dealt with. I would rather…” His cheekbones show starkly as he inhales and exhales sharply. “I will never be her plaything, never stoop to her, and gods be damned if I will risk it by continuing on with the potential. That it exists is — is — it shouldn’t exist.” He grips at his dress pants, drawing the fabric tightly about his thighs. “I could not — ” His aura roils about him, rapidly churning up eddies of violet hues. “You had to know. You had to know before I left. I wanted you to know in case I forget you. I won’t, Wanda, dammit, I won’t let that happen — I swear on the mantle and mantra I hold dearest, I will bend every rule of reality to avoid it.”

And on that very heavy statement, he finds himself without words — merely the rapid tattoo of his heart against his ribs and the hope that she will understand.


Measured consideration may be the hallmark of the mature practitioner, one of those essential qualities separating journeyman from master, dabbler from scholar. Reckless impulses do not benefit any arcanist, but more often lead down a path of regrets and unrelenting reaction. Better to apply an ounce of caution and a dash of prevention than be left caroming unshod down a very slippery slope.

Stilled into silent reflection, Wanda does not move once settled upon her knees. Her hands still remain over the scarred network blighting the neurosurgeon’s, proof of a reckless lifetime abandoned to seek the clarifying empyrean heights of the Himalayas. A place they both crossed paths on entirely different tangents not so many years ago, while Tibet convulsed in revolution against Chinese oppression and Kamar-Taj existed, sealed off from the world, thanks to the power of the Eye and the Ancient One’s whims.

Lhasa still seethes at the Chinese oppression, and the Tibetan Buddhist leadership sits over the border in India, exiled from its rightful place. The Ancient One is gone, mantle transferred to the comparatively young man put through another trial by fire. An acid green trial, to be sure, repeated twice over.

While every syllable flings a nail into an ark of a fragile life, the only thing visible winging across her shuttered expression is mild thought. Huge eyes focus upon him, the midnight void in wide-spanning pupils shrinking down, contracting on itself. A faint line creases her brow, and her upturned face does not stray much from the doctor, the Sorcerer Supreme.

Her beloved.

So did Parvati gather at the feet of Shiva to temper his destructive urges, to learn the secrets to soothe the great Demiurge behind creation. The lady of the mountains next to her mighty husband might seem nothing, save she has shriven herself of Maya, the illusion of creation, and sometimes speaks with the great knowledge imparted by the Shakti, the devi principle of the feminine divine. Or fools gather their wits and speak of things they know nothing, and can only hope they are holy fools, given a spark of some insight so far beyond their grasp that its meaning will be lost.

Fear has its place, stalking in the shadows, anxiety stooping from on high, dreadful wings folded tight. Hope wavers in the heart, attended by faith and loyalty. Myriad emotions tumble together, held together in the most tenuous of quiescent webs possibly distorted out of shape by the final hammer blow from Strange, or if she dares to move out of keeping.

The silence stretches. It too might break under its own weight, the proverbial straw fit to collapse the structure of their lives into nothing. It falls to her to choose her moment well, and the words plucked from the wildly oscillating gears and wheels in her silvery mind. Were Pietro there, she might stand a chance to deduce the proper course in time, gifted by the blinding mental calculations of his accelerated thoughts, but no.

For once in her life she relies on no one but herself, the skin of her teeth. It is patently uncomfortable, for someone who defines her existence in symmetry with others, the Canada of mystics.

“Karl.” One idea, one fatal hope, packaged up in the bittersweet wrappings that sour on the tongue, she flings into the midst. Nothing more must be said here, for they both know the capability and capacity embroiled in that troubled Master of the Mystic Arts who wields his judgment with rather sharp acuity. He practically stands by invocation between them, though their hands mingled and little more than breaths hold them apart.

Strange knows the Baron’s mental gifts better than she ever will, but the dulcet affinity bled between them, embodied in a rose and a quetzal, give a cold assurance to naming him.
“You can take other ways and Ways.” A subtle stress makes a difference, and every word is selected with care, translated back for a minimum of language and utmost clarity. “As with demons, you confront the embodied blight in your dream realm. You grapple your daimon, your inner self. Psychic surgery, but you could not guide my hands, could you?” A terrible truth, and she shakes her head slightly. What a scalpel to wield. “Extract her influence into a prepared vessel, usually a gem. The object of power is only dangerous til destroyed.”

Licking her lips, she steers into another subject. “Purify yourself. Cut down your aura to the roots so it grows true again. It starts within a day. However, her poison cannot stay. Do what you must to remain sovereign, incorruptible, to your self. You are too important.“

There never was any choice.

The silence plays the dulcimer along his nerves as he watches her mind go about its calculations behind those canted savannah-golden eyes. Pressure and hot presence of her touch atop his hands slows their trembling to an extent, but he still searches her face for rejection.

Bless her, it’s not rejection he receives, but the pensive sharing of proposals, all in routes he would have never entertained. Prone to setting on iron-clad courses of action, bolstered by his confidence in his abilities to see clearly enough to make the correct decisions, her views are like a breath of cool air in a stifling room. He’s not so afraid to entertain these other ideas, even with the logical dismissal of a scholar simply flipping to the next page. It has no bearing on their validity, his quick mental appraisals, it’s simply his manner of dealing with the problem in the moment.

Not Karl. Never Karl. One doesn’t perform a surgery with a knife used by unknown surgeons with unknown subjects. Even if an unsteady truce remains, trust is a hard thing to regain with the Sorcerer Supreme. Dipping one’s fingers into Blood and Dark Arts leaves stains impossible to remove without all but the hardest of abrading and it tends to hurt — a lot. The ying and yang balance of the Mystic and Dark Arts, anathema to one another, encourages acidically-destructive reactions at best.

He shakes his head near in time with the Witch when she dismisses her own idea of psychic surgery. It’s true; within the trance needed to offer up his aura to such a process, there would be little he could do to have a watchful eye on proceedings or to instruct along the way. He’d trust her hands but for this inability to aid her accuracy.

“Merlin suggested that this is purifying process, submerging myself in the Lake waters and utilizing the spell while within them. It’s only if the spell loses stability that the risk occurs, but…as I said,” he takes her hands within his and gives her a weak smile, attempt to cajole himself into better mood, “you had to know. He warned too of visions, as if they would be as real as could be. He would try and avert the worst of them, but…that’s where the spell’s foundations would fracture.” After all, he dislikes the taste of mint due to a collapsed evocation; summoning up a blizzard is a task left to the masters and not apprentices of Kamar-Taj for reasons a younger Strange did not appreciate until the sensation of freshly-brushed teeth lingered for literal weeks — and he was lucky. “I expect them to be of Lady Amora, in all her glory…”

Bitter dislike drips from his lips.

“I don’t know that I’ll be able to wear the key, «Beloved», but if I can, I fully expect to utilize its effects.” A decisive nod regarding that along with the steeling of mind and spirit alike.


She leaves him the mental space to grapple with his own decisions and demons, turning over the tumbled stones produced from a gritty slurry to identify their nature and essential suitability for an exceptionally demanding task. No mere chunk of rose quartz can be set into the crown of the kingdom, any more than any old glass purchased for a hundred dollars will suit for a microscope or telescope. Rigorous dimensions and proportions are essential for a reason, as much in science as magic.

A breath pulled in clears her thoughts of opinionated wreckage, notions pounding into the formerly calm and fertile valleys of her life before she walked through those doors this morning and discovered her house is built on an active faultline with a pesky habit of randomly blowing the tops off those pretty, forest-clad mountains. “Not the only options. Have you found nothing else with your Vishanti and your library that might satisfy for this? There are other ways to walk. I would not be the happiest person to turn a knife to you, even to cut away the blight of her. This is so.”

Her hands are still upon his, preventing him from wringing his fingers or her from tucking her palms against her sleeves, wiping them off, or twisting her leather coat into abominable ruin. A mindful blink traces his gaze and has the peculiar effect of seeming to stare through the portals of his pupils into the deep that lies beyond, forgetting the man in the flesh and reading the spaces he occupies or their limned outline.

“Your weakness is the woman. Desire in flesh. Only so much a shield are love and faith for someone who bends them.” Facts ticked off, no sense of guilt or betrayal are ascribed to them. “You know what a scapegoat is? The azazel named in Leviticus. The Greek calls him apopompaios, similar to the psychopompos, the guide of souls. Apo is the one who separates, so apopompaios is the one who guides away. The tradition has it that someone takes on the vices, sins, and failures of another. All their weaknesses. Then the goat, the symbol for the chosen, carries off these failings into the wilderness or, as we say, a barren place.”

Stay with her, she holds up her finger to ward off questions. “The Babylonians used a silver bracelet and sent out the apopompaios to the wilderness. The Hindus, and my own people, used a horse. As do the necromancers of the Caribbean Sea, the horse is the ridden one. I draw this parallel. Our paths allow for these select weaknesses to be transferred by a ritual upon a willing party, and taken away. It is an act of trust and imposing, for it will leave you naked of a given vice and me not. But I can eat your aura and its weaknesses. Amora’s influence falls over me. I have no desire for her. The form of woman is beautiful, yes, but I do not have any desire to fall into bed with her.”

Blunt, cold fact there. Her mouth is caught in a cool crook; she knows what it means.

“Throw me into your lake if you must, or perform the surgery yourself. I can endure the cost. Are not your gods jealous? You think mine are any less? But you will not be weakened. You will not have a threat to your mantle. I can be bound and limited more easily, and mischief won’t be done. I have done this, and walked the Witch Road. I have been on the astral to be purified. I trust you.”

“And I trust you, Wanda, I do, but no.”

The refusal is quiet and firm, like the fall of thick snow from a branch to land with a muffled thud.

“«Beloved», you are at as much risk as myself should you take on Lady Amora’s magics. What keeps the Enchantress from bending your love and faith in me? She is fully empowered now, not the shell we have dealt with time and time again. She knows of illusory magic to challenge myself with ease. Nothing stops her from assuming my guise and seducing you with spells enhanced by your own aura.” He returns that thin smile with rueful understanding in his darkened eyes. “You claim to have no desire for her. She uses the very essence of the wanting, understands it on a level that we cannot. Thousands of years to hone her skills.”

Strange shakes his head in soul-deep exasperation. “I will not go day to day wondering if she’s challenged you, even if she fails as she does with me. Chthon would love nothing more than to urge you to accept whatever bargain she offers, with how he deals in Chaos and you…it’s a risk I won’t let you take on. You have such power and should Lady Amora truly understand the immensity of it…” Before his mental view flashes the hyper-reactive cyclone of her scarlet powers in the street, melting and distorting reality even as it ensured the defeat of the giant grub. It cements his feelings more on the matter.

This will likely drive her nutty. He fully expects a flat glare. “I am Sorcerer Supreme. It was my own damn fault that I ended up in this situation in the first place. This is my burden to bear and problem to solve. I know you don’t pity me, but understand — I will do what I feel is necessary. The Vishanti have given no sign of disagreement with my decision thus far and they know Merlin well enough to disagree.”

Taking her hands in within his own, he massages with thumbs at soothing pressure. “I wanted you to know of the small risk, seeing as it is present. Merlin will aid as best he can,” he reminds her — and himself.


“How can you…” No. She cannot ask the question traipsing off her lips. It is not a fair question, and not a path she is willing to walk. Pietro does not walk it with her when he nonetheless holds grave doubts about her purpose, the arts at her command unleashed to whatever esoteric conclusions she draws.

Her cards are played, thrown down, hands discarded after careful contemplation or instinctive response. These are legitimate processes, as any mystic practitioner learns to balance between reason and irrational. She faces the dividing line, fraught by tension and moreover the total lack of control in a situation where the decision never really was hers. Strange has chosen. There comes the point of living with it, alter.

Accept it. She chides herself despite the fiery wingbeats of her rising pulse, and the turmoil in her veins spinning out a threnody of testing control, change, and the purest seduction that Amora Incantara could never hope to touch. Next to this, hers is a pale slip of vanity.

“Mm.” A sound reaches him, not one that speaks of liking the alternative, but acknowledging the points. Debate is not forthcoming. “Do what you must to be rid of this weakness.”

Affirmation in a nod and she rises to her feet, weight felt in their conjoined hands, and the flex of her spine leaves her upright again. Thumb and forefinger rubbed together, she stares into the future, action on the move. “We will be here when you get back, if you do not mean anyone to come.”

An aborted argument and Strange is glad for it. He suspects that it would have sparked an honest debate that wouldn’t necessarily have devolved into loud words, but absolutely entailed more friction than he originally intended to encounter in this discussion.

He didn’t expect the Witch to be happy with his decision and as this falls true, in her curt response and demeanor, he accepts it. The general is not allowed to remain out of sight or lead from a safe place. That she honors his mantle settles an uncertainty within his heart.

“At the moment, it will be myself and Merlin. With the potential for the spell’s collapse, I cannot afford distractions.” While he watches her retreat, he silently councils himself against a quiet voice that warns him against pushing her away more. This is a necessary evil, taking this head-on, and something he needs to do in order to prove faith in himself. “Don’t take that as insult, «Beloved». I love you. I couldn’t ignore you any more than I could the sun in the sky.” Left without the presence of her touch, his hands return to kneading his pants into wrinkled disarray; any other allowance to fidget would lead him to pacing at this point.

“I need you here, in the Sanctum, in my absence. There’s no one I trust more to guard it. You are most powerful, «Beloved». Very, very powerful.” The Sorcerer Supreme looks upon her with gravity and a blossoming of Sight within his irises. “I pity anyone who attempts trouble.”

There are times to draw a line in the battlefield and risk the peace of home and family, to become unequivocal in purpose and posture upon a matter. They will hold such uneasy conversations in the future, and Wanda will no doubt be at loggerheads with the man she charts her future with. His wellbeing, rather than hers, will probably be foremost in her mind, a source for friction as their varied beliefs between survival, thriving, and risk clash.

On the other hand, he didn’t win the argument that she was not responsible for his health and well-being, not by a long shot. Agamotto, Hoggoth, and Oshtur very likely provide an expansive selection of choice protections in the Book of the Vishanti, which is fine and good. Neither are they human, nor have they ever been, and they cannot know what the mortal heart and spirit suffer in an immortal’s duty better than a mortal who, though not immortal, still possesses the same suite of fears and empathy. To say nothing of love.

How can the immortal and timeless love as fiercely into the golden-white flames, as purely or as imperfectly, as any human being? Wanda at least knows that is her pyre to stand and die upon, throwing herself upon the sword of intense devotion if called for. It’s not her hill, here.

“You might require someone to bring you home.” Planning admits conceding this point, to be certain. Her thoughts spin instinctively, another anchored notion cast up from the depths of her turbulent mind. “You might make a memory stone before you go. Extract echoes of your thoughts into it. A picture of yourself at this moment. Or a record, voice or shape and sight, to put in. You would risk maybe her influence, but I do not think so.”

Amora may be almighty in her own domain, but one day she will sleep and karma will catch her. Karma wears a Witch’s face more often than not; their long-term perspective is cold comfort. And besides, there is another name unspoken upon Wanda’s lips.

A house with flexed legs. Necessity is a mother, and its child influences her thoughts even now. A strategic option, something to play if… If. If.

“I will guard our home until you come back. Or Illyana returns,” she says. “We will have scones ready and tea.”


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