1964-02-28 - Of Princes and Paupers
Summary: Sparring leads to discussions of sanity and safety alike.
Related: None
Theme Song: "1963", Rachael Yamagata
wanda strange 

Somewhere, the dulcet tones of jazz play a regular, moody rhythm lashing the practice chamber in grey, rain-soaked piano and brassy trumpets. Bad weather assaults them through the crooning arpeggios sliding over the octave, misty misery to add to the tumult outside. With no prospect of finer weather any time forecasted for the next few days, there is no harm done to sparring or practicing in the deeper rooms of the sanctum.

Wanda needs it, anyways, lacking Pietro. Such aching days reveal the yawning void in her life without the perpetual presence of her twin, something so fresh and new, it still causes her to feel the phantom discomforts he does. Or might.

Her silvery speedster other self is not to be disregarded. Her fingertips skim through the various strikes being practiced for the last hour, leaving her parched and dewy, cheeks too bright, her body turning again and again.

Granted, her arms ache and the muscles overheat, her long shirt clinging in all the wrong places. These are minor cares, especially given the man opposite her possesses infinitely more stamina, especially if he hasn’t been sparring the entire time. Even if he has, she does not benefit quite so well as he does.

No point in complaining, as she stumbles back on her bare feet, anticipating another strike, another duck, what from the floating mystic constructs that tend to spark and prickle when touched. Her arms are lifted defensively, but that guard begs to explode with violent magics, the kind she’s not supposed to use.

“I do not see why Erik has such an easy time. Pull metal, throw metal. Lorna does the same. Pull metal, throw metal. Ugly but has good effect.”

“I hate to sound like a know-it-all, «Beloved», but my mentor liked to remind me that all thing are difficult before they get easy. If I’m remembering correctly from what I know of your family’s past, nothing has ever come easily to any of you.”

The man before her hasn’t broken a sweat, given that he’s the one projecting said floating Mystical constructs in a bizarre combination of kickboxing target pads and offensive repercussion for mis-timed attacks or openings. In fact, he leans back against the wall in a pose of Supreme nonchalance, legs crossed at the ankle, one hand upraised and blithely conducting the flitting, spitting eldritch dust-bunnies, all static and spark.

The four constructs dart forwards, punching individually like snake-strikes, before retreating back. They have their required number of hits in order to break them, but the trick is one used to teach a certain wayward apprentice the art of intensity: hit them too hard, they bite back and leave a tingling numbness in their wake — hit them too lightly, one’s impact simply sails through as if swatting at a cloud. One has already succumbed to a well-timed and well-controlled attack on her part. The others remain at various counts.

“Though you make both ‘beautiful’ and ‘dangerous’ an effortless state,” Strange adds with a rather boyish smile, all twinkle and charm. He truly is trying to keep things interesting for her without it being too difficult.


She does not care much for fighting constructs, but they prove useful learning tools. Wanda drops back onto her heel, swiveling rapidly to use momentum for a staggering kick with her foot. Propelling her force through a narrow line might get another helping of pins and needles, but she needs to learn the better way of approaching a problem instead of stabbing. What with things largely immune to stabbing common in their line of work, she turns her attention to a newer technique than some.

Assuming lightning doesn’t jar her from her feet altogether, she follows up with an open-palmed strike, her spell concentrated in the orb placed dead center over the lifeline grooved into her hand. Rather squishy, the spell compresses rather than hardening, unleashing its force laterally to bruise skin or tissue.

“Your master was smart. Nothing is easy, ever.” She resists swinging at the construct with an under the jaw blow. Did that once, her elbow still sings funny because of it. Suspicious of easy things, this one.

Strange’s smile will not be something she sees, otherwise he distracts her rhythm. Must evade the other converging magic creations, after all. Backing up, she assesses her battlefield before daring a glance sideways. He’s still floating. Good.

Her mouth tightens a little. “I do think we have someone who adopted us. That inhuman prince, he will stick like a… “ She waves her palm around and gets zapped for the trouble. Oops. “«Burr».”

An Aaron Burr, at that.

Bzzzt-pufft — there goes another construct, succumbing to the strike due to a rating in the middle of impact force. It might leave a redness in its wake, but it is defeated, and thus brings the count down to three. They seem to get wary more of her still, but that’s all the puppet-master, slyly injecting a sense of sentience into the fizzling spheres. They punch again at her, aiming for areas both expected and unexpected alike: ribs followed by a knee, perhaps a blunt impact against a flatter surface such as a shoulder blade or the outer line of a thigh muscle.

Hedging, herding, they seem to work like wild dogs harrying large prey. Back it into a corner, bleed it out. There’s space to move still, but if she’s not careful, a rapidly-shrinking section of the practice room has her name on it.

“Yes, the Ancient One wasn’t Ancient by hereditary title,” Strange replies off-handedly, the smile growing softer for reminiscing over what now are memories to laugh over and draw sharable experience from in order to pass on lessons.

The musings of his Consort surprise him enough to wipe the curve from his lips and pull his eyebrows up a noticeable amount. Oh-ho, so she too had noticed the increase in interest by the Inhuman royal. The constructs don’t waver in their semi-predictable jabbing as he sighs quietly.

“Yes, he has been lingering about. I’m not certain what drew him to us, but he is…interesting.” Wanda might take concern at her Beloved’s word choice. After all, one of the major weaknesses of the man is his curiosity and insatiable need to know how or why something is how it is. “I think he’s truly mad, though I haven’t been subject to any harm. Dicey to talk to,” and he chuckles, though it’s uncertain and hedging on concerned.

Wait. That hand, lazily inscribing random patterns on open air, stiffens and draws back at the wrist. It’s a gesture akin to one drawn thousands of times over in saintly depictions from Renaissance and a span of centuries in either direction. The constructs freeze and then retreat to form an orderly line about five feet away. One-two-three, they hover, bobbling in place.

His expression draws towards closed, a formality settling upon it as surely as a swordsman might rest a hand lightly upon the hilt of his blade. He can’t remember direct mentioning of the man in any of their recent past discussions in regards to acquaintances.

“«Beloved», you know the man?”

Bad news for the constructs. Do not herd a creature of chaos. They do not like it and they respond in unpredictable fashions, like sauntering off to eat an ice cream on a sunny day or spontaneously conjuring every fork, spoon, and blunt instrument they can get their hands on.

“Kagachta!” scores the underbelly of a perfectly nice conversation, and a handful of cutlery comes through the narrow aperture folded within space. Something of a child’s spell, that one, if children had spells. They do.
Pray he never learns how she was taught this one, throwing open drawers and flinging knives in an imprecise hailstorm on marauding, slavering hounds or the occasional cultists. How her stream of objects spun into the air would ignite and collapse back on her, forcing new tactics and patterns.

They follow the lines of magnetism only superficially, and they orbit around her at weird angles, racing in a changing crisscrossed bubble of space. Tines and handles strike at the constructs while she springs away a bit too much like a gazelle inspired by a frog, looking for openings to avoid getting kneed in the chest. Pietro is ever better at finding an opening where one never exists, the benefit of being silvery fast, but the golden daughter has her own sources.
She kicks into something of a baseball slide to get through, and knifes the construct from below with a crotch-shot using a spindled knife of blazing hot energy that refuses to be fire or plasma, but something volatile and in between.

That would hurt, if it were living.

He was saying? Oh. “Yes.” Ragged breaths follow such exertions and the poor constructs, battered by half a hundred forks and many spoons, rattle about wherever they go. “A bit of his story. He is the jealous young prince who sees the elder brother and envies what will be that portion, not his own. He does much to prove he is a bigger man, a better one. Brothers, they have this way, this race, where they are always best?”

Sibling rivalry is a bit different for a twin, after all, and she struggles with the notion in English, but clearly not the purpose. “Like the old stories, the first brother learns about his crown and the second brother goes to the people. But the elder does not know he wants to be the leader of his kingdom, as he keeps many dark thoughts about the times to come in a kingdom of the clouds where no one walks free. This is a bad time for kingdoms. Crowns fall easy.”

She gets up, dusting her hands off, still in a guarded stance in case the cutlery strewn opponents return, or Strange hurls all the silverware back at her. “But the young brother is smart. Full of charm and sunshine, him, but his brother is a dark forest. One you get lost in, the other you know lasts only a little. So the young one gets angry and says ‘I would be best,’ and takes the crown to prove this. Except, you know, this ends badly. The first brother is the one to take the family name. He has many allies.”

A shrug, then. “They fight, oh for years, they fight. Some of his people come after the first brother to kill him or restore him. Some find a sorceress on a mountain and say ‘You are impure, you will die.’ And she speaks the holy words, and they burn. They try to come for the Prince who would be a monk, and she closes the walls on them. And they shout the second brother’s name. He hears he is betrayed. There is war. After he makes the mountain fall, the sorceress opens the way and sets him free. But he will not follow the sun and the moon to the west, back to a city torn in two. He has his own, you see, the one the second brother took. He made an offer to the sun and moon to stay, but their courses are set in the stars.”

Her gaze lifts to Strange, nailing him to the proverbial wall in a wash of lilac and amber. She raises the pentacle from under her shirt, glancing at the disk of gems. “I am — was — the speaker of House Boltagon. Yes, Maximus knows me and I know him. He hates my father a little more for breaking his city, but I gave a man with no voice words so he could tell them all the needed thing to hear. Stop your fighting, and change, and now we go into the world after thirty centuries away from it. Very fancy. One day the boys will make a play and you will look like you ate a lemon and they will laugh. And I will show you I chose you even then.”

The story is told and the arbiter Listens.

The tale of two brothers woven through his own life never involved collapsing kingdoms or failed attempts at fratricide, but it did end in death. It settles Strange no less to hear of the truth behind her involvement with the saga of the Inhumans. That it is her own father in the midst of the turmoil, assuredly an outsider in the eyes of the realm of Attilan, causes him to slowly begin to grind his teeth.

The man is already approaching the lemon point on the discomfited scale, to hear of these adventures where a certain Sorceress was under threat of her life. He’s used to Wandaisms now; this clearly implies her.

“You are here, before me now, telling me this because I asked you. I don’t question your choice in the matter of us. I question your safety.” The constructs being harried by chaotic silverware (yes, he secretly wants to know how the hell this particular spell came into being, but another time) are dismissed by a gesture and dissolve into thin air, their energy returned whence it came. “We both know Maximus is a few nuts shy of a full toolbox. Mad,” he adds in the growing habit of clarifying the Midwestern sayings he uses. “As you said, he plays the charmer one moment and strikes the next. I’m content to keep him at arm’s length at the very least.” Pushing off of the wall, he gets to pacing, hands still hidden away. His path brings him alongside the Witch and then beyond her within the practice room unless he’s stopped for some reason.

Ms. Harkness does not care greatly for silverware. Imagine being punished by polishing it, then summoning it from drawers to forest floors and not messing up what she spent an hour polishing. Wanda knows tedium better than most would.

The Witch inclines her head. “It was some years ago that the elder prince met me on the mountain. We keep in touch, less now that he went into the world. I wanted to bring him out safely but he worries too much for his people and how their place in the world will be found. It was later, much later, that I learned Erik courted his… cousin? I do not see how clearly those things mix.”

It’s a bit of a problem, their tangled family tree. Strange can be trusted to understand, having seen his own somehow offspring running around as teenagers. At least Cloak didn’t learn how to change soiled nappies.

Her shoulder lifts as she eyes up the constructs, not trusting them for a moment. They’ve got into lime territory, and she runs her hand down the back of Strange’s arm. “Maximus tried to claim the kingdom, and he failed. My father and my sister helped to say no. No one expected me there, and Erik was… shocked is a good word, yes? That feeling of surprise and not always good. But I was careful to use my words and not my spells. It was not something Maximus would complain so much as Erik or Lorna. They ripped apart his kingdom. I only brought the king.”

Smug? No. Not entirely. But they are children of revolutions, her and her twin, and their place is so often a wildcard in the middle of it all. “Maybe he forgets me but I doubt it. Everyone spoke true if they say he is charming. He is. You see for yourself, he is not right if the Fantastic people locked him up. I took him out, after all, I have some responsibility. I see that he knows to use people, not always well. But he speaks so beautifully. So did Stalin.“ How she knows this, she doesn’t explain. “I say this to you. If he charms you with his fine words and plans, I will put both of you in closets until you see sense.“

The pressure of her hand gracing the hinge of his elbow gives him reason to pause, so he does…and sighs. His chin tilts, face turning partially towards her, even if his eyes linger somewhere beyond her knee.

The threat of closets draws a dry laugh from him.

“You don’t need to worry about me, «Beloved». I’m no pawn to be moved around his chessboard.” Finally, those steely eyes meet hers. “Have you ever heard the saying ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer’? I feel this applies in regards to Maximus.”


“No,” agreement follows in that statement, a gentleness to her tone softening the struggle to remain alert and fairly cold. Wanda rests her head briefly against the back of Strange’s shoulder, incidentally pinning any red fabric that might be in range of affirmation. “You are not a pawn. You are the chess player, most of the time. You look far forward, past anyone else. Right now you may have an agenda and no one thinks of it. Maybe aliens or the gods or fixing something.”

It isn’t prying so much as stating the obvious, at least, about one Stephen Strange. Her weight leaves him and she stands again on her own two feet, staring off into the distance.

“He is not a safe man. I do not think he can be fixed. A useful tool? Yes. Flawed but this use may be worth it. We keep our alliances, for the day we need them, yes?” A shrug of her shoulders accedes to that.

Don’t take his silence as dismissal of her words. Not in the least. Instead, note the wordless and subtle lift at the corners of his lips, the ghosting keen amusement behind his eyes. Oh yes. Chess player, if only subconsciously. A dangerous task, even when aided by threefold gods.

“Yes, alliances come in handy when the tides turn…as they inevitably do.” Strange sounds a hint weary saying this, but his tucked chin disengages from his sternum as he straightens his spine. Must be strong, as always. “Though he is a being, not a tool,” he adds gently, glancing over at her again. “And proposed royalty of another Realm. I choose to treat him as I would his brother or even a citizen of Asgard. With intelligent respect.” Intelligent respect means realizing the inherent dangers present. All Mystics that survive to a respectable age carry a goodly measure of self-preservation in their back pocket. Perhaps it seems that Strange does not at times; that’s the pride flaring up.

“Still…I respect your input, «Beloved». You are in the…lucky position of having an outsider's perspective on the matter…if you will. I will not be offended if you find a reason to warn me in the future. I'll be grateful.”

The scarred palm extends out to her.

Wanda possesses a dark view upon the world, more pragmatic than her age would give reason. The experiences shaping them define so much of their world view, and while he might have possessed rose-coloured lenses once as the silver spoon of neurosurgical luxury graced his tongue, the Transian witch has forever been cast in silver and ash.

“We are all pieces on a board. It does not matter how small or great.” Her shoulders tip as he draws her in. “I see him as a man, yes. A dangerous man but given the rights of men, not a demon or devil or bad spirit. That means when he acts out against us, I respond with our laws and ways.”

So probably not a knife to the throat in the dark. There may be some comfort in that, but there also comes the unspoken promise to him that Strange will never quite need to watch his back given she does it for him, stalking the outer periphery.

Danger with a scarlet smile.

His scarred fingers are laced around by slimmer bands of gold, strong as any ring.

Drawing her in close, he enfolds her within the circle of his arm and tucks her beneath his chin. The weight of his head is negligible, simply present. After a few moments of silence in which he savors the sound of her breathing, the delicate knuckles are brought to his lips and kissed one by one. The speed is indolent, mindful of lingering soreness from sparring with the spells.

“He would be a fool to test you, «Beloved». You are my Queen, the favored chess piece with such power.” His smile is lopsided with contented affection to take away any sting from the tease. “I was hard pressed to keep the constructs at a sufficiently challenging level for you. I might have to make things more difficult in the future.” The smile deepens a bit. Mmm, a challenge.

“He might to see, but the risk comes from his ideas taking fire and flight with you.” Wanda shakes her head slightly, the disarray of the chestnut welter of her shaken hair occupying more of the space betwixt them. Strange’s certainty and teasing doesn’t quite raise her hackles in any sense. She takes well to being called a queen even though her nation straddles the Iron Curtain, and it probably could be seen as a vague sort of American insult under weird circumstances.

Enough to stand in the shadow of a great man of integrity and virtue, and amount to something greater than a witch on her own. “I have trained for many years. It is all well.”

“I don’t intend to make our times in the sparring room difficult enough to risk your safety,” he murmurs. “You had enough of that in your past to suit us both, I think. Life can throw you curve balls. I’ll simply…throw the fast balls instead.” She’ll need to remind him if baseball euphemisms are unfamiliar to her.

“A risk is something to address, however, if you feel one is present. When you say ideas, what do you mean?” He searches out her eyes and holds them if he can, intent on her answer.

Baseball euphemisms mean nothing to her. Wanda would be hardpressed to understand the game, and likely none of the divisiveness caused by the Yankees or the Mets. What’s it supposed to mean, having a cross-town rivalry, between sports teams no less?

“He has ideas. These ideas may give you thought and pause. Listen to him with care, for he is…” What does one call it? Tibetan, then. “«Men such as he are persuasive to idealists like you. He is as much an inventor and breaks the mould simply to discover what lies beneath. I think he causes upheaval to watch what happens. I know what it entails.»” Chaos knows chaos. “«Listen wisely. Measure twice.»”

Tibetan it is, shared tongue of moderate privacy between them.

“«I believe I understand what you are telling me. I take your advice with all the seriousness of my soul, Beloved. I think you are closer to the truth than is considered comfortable when you compare him to the inventor that takes apart simply to put back together — but with his own additions, pieces, rewriting of its abilities. I have not seen him attempt this yet, but I am forewarned by you as well as my own instincts. It is…»”

And he pauses, having a moment of idealism, of course. It brings his brows closer together, though they have the angling of disappointed melancholy somehow.

“«It is a shame. He is intelligent. That he could be treated as ally rather than concern… He knows of science that we, in our world, do not. Imagine…imagine how many people could be helped or healed.»”

Still, even he can check himself. I know, a shock. A sharp sigh follows his musings.

“«I can see him offering up such a treat. I must be mindful.»”

Wanda inclines her head. Always the healer, always the fixer. He is the architect to her wordless advocate, the balancer to the bright side of the scales by temperament where the witch sinks unless remembering how to swim.

Better angels, and all that.

“«Setting him to rights to do some good in the world is a noble cause. I champion for him finding a place where he feels confident in using his skills.»” Given how terse she usually is in English, her ability to navigate Tibetan and fully express herself sometimes registers as a surprise. She flicks her finger along Strange’s sleeve, fixing an errant bit of dust.

Characteristically blunt, she raises her eyebrows in mute query. “«Do we have the means and time to fix this? Is fix the right word?»”

A dust-free sleeve is something he can count upon having and it is a source of quiet, warm amusement within his heart. That must show in the look he levels on her, even as introspective as he is with the divot between his brows and serious line of mouth.

“«Were I to attempt to fix him, it would be by aiming him towards a positive cause within this world. However, remember, Beloved: I am Guardian, not General. I keep a watch on Fate, I do not steer its course beyond continued existence and am strictly advised not to meddle in the affairs of others.»” For the Sorcerer Supreme is human and tastes good with ketchup. Wait, no, not ketchup, it’s the deal about blenderizing the brain in his skull — or the mantle being ripped from him as cleanly as a handful of half-healed sutures. Ouch.

“«Should Maximus come to me with such a question, however, I would not be interfering in his Fate simply because it was destined that he speak with me. I await the day…»” And Strange laughs with a wry note, as if it’s impossible to even consider this happening.

Crunchy humans and their ketchup. It simply stands to reason, this distance between fate as ruler and fate as protector. “«Shepherd. You keep us from collectively going over the edge.»” The delicious irony of Wanda’s words cannot be known. They will look back in time, perhaps, when Strange comes to choke on his tea realizing what a nexus being is, and what import that has.

Since none other in any reality possesses her penchant for constantly restitching reality as she does. It’s something to look forward to, setting his eyebrows on fire with the revelation. Surprises are rare in his line of work.

“«I would like to think he could be happy. Even keeled. I do not know. We will seek that when it comes.»” Her shoulders drift into a light shrug.

“«I certainly try.»” He says this with a dry sense of poking fun at himself. The rise and fall of her shoulders are noted within the ring of his arms and the Sorcerer presses a kiss to those dark curls. “«When it comes, yes. In the meanwhile, we can be completely sane ourselves and continue to tempt dark things to chase us down while we thwart their terrible plans.»”

He grins down at her with irrepressible humor, the look giving him a youthfulness he might otherwise lose entirely to maturity and silvered temples.


“«Better than tempting dark things within ourselves. Though you seem to be limited to a dishwater shade of grey.»” Wanda daren’t ruffle the silver shaded bands at his temples, though thumbing them might generate quite a smile in the deepest bits of her soul.

She shakes her head at Strange, his height and maturity nothing on her. Incorrigible man. With her head on his shoulder, she might relax just enough to let the world flow away from an iron grip hold. Forget princes; there is only Sorcerer and Sorceress, ensconced in the sanctum, a world fallen quiet for once.

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