Stephen hummed quietly to himself, trying to ignore the other passengers on the subway train. A couple, twittering lovingly at each other. A young man—NYU Law School, his backpack declared, focused intensely on his phone—and a young child— three years old? Four? —that was trying his absolute hardest to shatter the reinforced glass of the walls of their mobile confinement, standing obstinate in the middle of the pathway, screeching and sobbing uncontrollably, tiny, sticky fists clenched furiously. The mother seemed panicked, desperately shushing the small human.
Why do people have children? The doctor wondered exasperatedly to himself. They always seemed to him too unruly and irrational to actually desire to be around, let alone produce. In his neurosurgeon days, he’d often have assistants deal with his younger patients, only interacting as little as possible (while the kid was still conscious, anyways.) Even after his rediscovery of common decency, Stephen still found them distasteful—but then, he rarely spoke to anyone who wasn’t Wong these days.
Checking to see if anyone was watching—and they weren’t—he conjured a small illusion underneath his palm, lifting the lightly shaking appendage to let loose a miniature mint-green butterfly, which settled on a plastic chair, slightly bioluminescent wings a stark contrast to the griminess of the orange seats. The child’s eyes followed the butterfly, and quieted for a moment, before screaming at the insect, swiping a grubby hand at it.
“Oh, shit, how’d that get in here?” The mother muttered, reaching down to pick it up, at which the toddler batted at his mother’s hand.
“Don’t touch, don’t touch! Bugs are scary!” He advised, eyes wide, ducking behind his progenitor’s spandex-clad legs when the butterfly flapped its wings. Nonetheless, he quickly resumed wailing. Stephen groaned, tilting his head back to stare at the poster-ridden wall behind his chair.
Of course the kid is scared of butterflies. Just my luck. I go to get doughnuts, leave the Cloak of Levitation at the Sanctum, end up fighting laser-shooting stone behemoths from a different dimension, lose my sling ring, and discover that the nice doughnut shop with the murals is closed after six, have to suck it up and ride the subway because Wong won’t answer my calls (he probably killed his phone listening to Beyoncé) and this kid doesn’t like butterflies.
“It’s mine,” Stephen announced harshly, walking over, balancing himself on the bars against a sudden turn, reaching down and scooping up the illusion, dismissing it once it was safely secured in his fist. He returned to his seat, and decided to just cast a self-focused silencing spell.
Much better, he thought, closing his eyes peacefully. He got off at his next stop, surprised at how tired he felt—less surprising, remembering his prior, vigorous activities related to reality-saving—and decided to rest for a second against a conveniently-located bench. He deserved it, after all...
...although he probably deserved this too, given how stupid he was.
“Hey, grandpa, wake up,” a raspy voice snarled, as though the air from its lungs caught on a few gnarls after reaching its voicebox. Stephen paused for a second, startled into consciousness, before realizing— wait, me?
The Master of the New York Sanctum blinked his eyes open, eyelids catching on rheum that had accumulated while he napped. The sky was dark, but the looming streetlamps hadn’t turned on yet—how long had he been asleep? Stephen wasn’t sure. Time was relative. He found himself surrounded by a group of disheveled, muscular young men, one of which was uncomfortably close to his face.
“Where the fuck you keepin’ your wallet?” The greasy, red-haired hoodlum growled, identifying him as the gravelly voice. The Doctor tried not to flinch at the odor on his breath. The kid—wait, kid? Actually, he did appear much younger than the other members of his neanderthalic tribe—was wearing an alarming amount of oil-colored leather, tattoos, and a pair of black gauges. Wow, Stephen mused, not really circumventing stereotypes here, are we?
“Can’t fucking figure it out with your stupid-ass LARP costume, grandpa, so you better speak up or you’re gonna see some real magic.”
“Some ‘real magic’, huh?” the sorcerer smirked, smiling toothlessly. “Well, I’d hate to disoblige.” Raising quivering fingers, he swiftly executed a minor rune, summoning a surge of mystical energy that exploded outwards in a burst of fiery golden sparkles, shoving the goons against the pavement. One of them fell into an ageing bush. Standing up, he advanced towards his overzealous would-be attackers ominously, a serious frown etched inside his goatee. This really wasn’t making his day any better.
“How the fuck’d you do that? What the fuck are you?!” Another of the muggers shouted, his voice humorously high-pitched with alarm. He scrambled to his feet, stumbled as he backed up; movements erratic and panicked.
“My name is Doctor Strange, and I’m a Sorcerer and Master of the Mystic Arts, and the Master of the New York Sanctum. So far, I’ve had a pretty shitty day, protecting your reality , and this is the ‘thanks’ I get? You know—by the Vishanti,” he swore under his breath, sighing. These idiots really weren’t worth it: his time, his temper, his magic.
Scowling audibly, Stephen invoked a dozen eldritch whips, ensnaring his now well-trussed-up foes. Pulling out a cracked phone, on lend from Kamar-Taj, he informed the relevant authorities and stalked off. All the standard technology belonging to his order—as limited as they might be—already had enchantments to keep muggles from tracing them, so the Master of the Mystic Arts wasn’t too worried. After all, it wasn’t like his day could get any worse.
It could. It very much so could get worse. It was indubitably his fault for assuming it couldn’t—tempting fate, as it were. Tempting the inevitable.
“Stephen. Where have you been?” The stout librarian crossed his arms, stoic expression only betraying a deep sense of annoyance. But that’s how Wong generally looked, so he couldn’t be quite sure if it was actual frustration, or just... him. Probably both.
“Trying to secure breakfast. Unfortunately I was side-tracked by these... giant, laser rock people, and now I would very much like to sleep for the next week,” Stephen replied, trying to make his exhaustion evident. Maybe Wong would take pity on him. He wouldn’t. But Stephen could still hope.
“This is Clea,” Wong said, gesturing to a woman he had never seen before. She was petite and slender, dressed in maroon apprentice robes that sharply contrasted the fairness of her skin and hair (both a snowy white, although her flesh was tinged with a hint of pink). But she held herself proudly, strong, dark, angular eyes flashing. A warrior.
The warrior mimicked the librarian, crossing her arms emphatically.
“You’re... Doctor Strange? Where’s the Cloak of Levitation?”
“At the dry-cleaners. What do you—why are you here?” Stephen waved his hand in the air directionlessly, trying to summon a modicum of politeness, and failing.
“She’s here to assist in the task you’ve been assigned by the Council—to search for recruits to the Masters of the Mystic Arts.” Wong answered, stalwart tone unfaltering.
The Council consisted of a group of elderly, experienced sorcerers who had been with Kamar-Taj for some time. It was designed as a fail-safe measure to make decisions for their order for when the Sorcerer Supreme was ever out of commission... or... if the position was... vacant. Stephen knew that they disapproved of him, although he rarely interacted with them—the two statements were probably related. He assumed it had to do with how unseasoned he was as a sorcerer and his ‘flagrant’ use of the Time Stone (both his frequent usage and eventual surrender of it.)
It was necessary, what he did. There was no other way. Stephen knew that. But he had sworn an oath to do no harm, and sometimes (more often than he’d like to admit,) when he’d remember the faces of the fallen, the price of winning the war with Thanos, he found himself inclined to agree with the Council.
“Look,” Clea said, her voice sharp in tone and intent, “I’m not... I’d really rather any other assignment too, honestly, for my assessment, but we need more people. The sooner we get it over with, the sooner you can get back to house-sitting.”
“So we’re starting a recruitment drive?”
“If that’s what you feel is appropriate, Stephen.” Wong raised his eyebrows, exasperated. “Kamar-Taj is empty, and all our remaining sorcerers are stretched thin. We are in need of new blood.”
“But why me?” He could think of dozens of Masters who were just as qualified—if not more—as him, that didn’t have the added duty of guarding a Sanctum all on their own. The doctor suspected it was because the Council seemed to abhor his very existence.
The Head Librarian of Kamar-Taj exhaled harshly, lips pressed in an even tighter line. “I don’t know. I am not the Council.”
It felt like Wong disagreed with the decision too, which was nice; having someone agree with him.
“Oh, and Clea will be staying with you until such time as the Council has decided that you have adequately performed your duties pertaining to your given task,” Wong added hastily, stepping through a sling ring portal.
“Well, shit. Fuck.” Stephen groaned, plastering his corrugated hands over his face. This was just about the least pleasant non-catastrophic way his day could’ve gone. He either wanted a drink or several hours of meditation. Or both.
“Any other terribly insightful expletives?” Clea mused dryly, hands on her hips. Now that he noticed, She had a trio of bedraggled suitcases, all varying shades of an unpleasant brown. Possibly purple? Whatever the color was, it was ugly. Anyways—
“Do you have a guest room? Or will I have to take up residence on your couch?” The Master of the New York Sanctum was pretty sure she was referring to the (rather spacious) sofa belonging to a Mr. Matsumo, who was the owner of the local grocery and had brought it to him when his piece of furniture had started sprouting tongues and teeth in between its ample cushions. He still hadn’t picked it up, since... wow, Stephen thought, before the Blip. Was Mr. Matsumo dead? The sorcerer found it rather disquieting that he didn’t actually know.
“Yeah. Yeah, of course,” Stephen huffed, waving his hand as the sanctum’s sense of space crumpled and expanded, depositing the pair in the room that it had chosen. He was perfectly used to the unique methods of transportation offered to a Master of a Sanctum Sanctorum, but it appeared Clea wasn’t accustomed to that sort of mystical displacement, stumbling into her unseemly suitcases, knocking a shorter one over.
The guest room— Clea’s room, he corrected himself—was of the ‘special’ variety; one of the various rooms in the sanctum that had been decorated by some previous master with a diabolical sense of humor, and an even more diabolical sense of fashion. This particular quarter was draped in magenta velvet and silk, with small, perpetually lit candles in every corner. A large, gothic-style window overlooked a dusky landscape ablaze with flames hungrily licking at the greasy sky, as though yearning for more to consume.
“Huh,” Stephen’s guest whispered, apparently talking to herself, “well, it’s not entirely unsalvageable.” He blanched. Why had the sanctum taken them to the Room of the Regent? What was it trying to tell him? That the apprentice would be enchanted by a malicious lover into aiding them in attempting to rule the world like the last person who had slept here millenia ago, the Incan Master Nina? Unlikely.
“Oh, ah, I can get you another room...”
“No, it’s fine,” the warrior said mysteriously, running a bit of the fabric-laden draperies through slender digits.
“Well, I’ll leave you to it. Unpacking, I mean. We can start work tomorrow—I’m sure Wong’ll let us borrow the Orb of Agamotto to search for new magical students,” the Master of the New York Sanctum smiled reassuringly, trying to make Clea feel more at ease. This transition was most assuredly not terrifically stimulating for her, and if Stephen could ease the transition, he would. Turning around, he found himself faced with a wall of checkered red, that quickly moved forward to embrace him bodily.
“Oh,” he muttered, voice muffled in the folds of the Cloak of Levitation. “Good to see you too, bud.” The Cloak bundled him further, petting his hair with its collar.
“Did you need something?” He asked politely, assured that his relic could properly inform him using the methods at its disposal. Un-suctioning itself from its master’s body, the Cloak stood (floated?) in front of him for a few seconds before wrapping its corner around his forearm, carefully applying no pressure on anywhere… sensitive , and tugged.
“Woah!” Stephen shouted, being dragged along by the Cloak’s sense of urgency. Clea looked up from where she had been depositing her suitcases, as though unsure whether to appear concerned or amused.
“I’m fine!” He yelped, straining against the Cloak’s grip.
“Sure,” Clea replied doubtfully, starting after him. But the Cloak of Levitation released its master regardless, scrutinizing him.
“You want me to follow,” the doctor deduced, just as the red fabric began to tear away once again.
“ Shit , slow down…!” Stephen cautioned, almost slipping as he dashed around a corner in pursuit of his ornery apparel, of which was quickly revealed to be the corner leading to the Rotunda of Gateways. With impressive rapidity, the Cloak spun a dial before hurtling through the newly-appeared ingress, two reluctant sorcerers in tow.
It was when he hit the tepid, clinging filth, whacked by looming bits of very tall grasses that came out of the water, that the sorcerer realized he had no idea where he was, or why.
“What the hell is your cloak doing?!” Clea yelped, perturbed as she sloshed through the turbid water. “Why are we in a swamp?”
Abruptly, they both felt it—a powerful, throbbing hum that filled the air like adrenaline in their veins. The swamp was saturated with magic, absolutely inundated with it. It made Stephen feel utterly brimming with euphoria and simultaneously utterly terrified, as though a large, malevolent eye had him pinned down like a butterfly, equally impartial to either discarding or freeing him.
The sorcerer tried to resume pursuing his Cloak, but the heavy weight of this place—how had he not known about it before? Where was it’s magic coming from?—continued to hound his senses, compelling him to stare in wide-eyed wonder at the wet trees and grasses.
Eventually, the cloak seemed to reach its destination, circling around a particularly reddish tree, with thin, spidery leaves.
What do you—” Stephen heaved himself onto the mossy ground surrounding the tree, “—want…!”
He flinched in surprise and panic as the spongy floor beneath him gave way, rapidly plunging his drenched body into its green mass. The muck clung to his arms, preventing any spell-casting. Fearfully, he rotated his torso, catching—and sharing—a last apprehensive glance with Clea, before the sponge gave a cacophonous squelch and all he could see was darkness.
A tingling began to cautiously, methodically encompass his body, starting from his toes, to his ankles, to his knees… as they slowly lost sensation except for perhaps a frigid breeze. When the odd experience passed along his nose to his eyes Stephen squeezed his eyes shut in dreadful anticipation. But instead of—he didn’t know, death?—whatever he was expecting, warm sunlight flashed through his eyelids.
Befuddled, he opened them.
The Master of the Mystic Arts was standing in the middle of a meadow encrusted with tiny white and yellow flowers that seemed to stretch on forever. Massive, awe-inspiring trunks twisted towards the heavens, with nearly transparent leaves the sizes of large cars casting a slight shade. He spotted a pair of peaceful-enough giant spiders start to clamber up one, clearly having just come from another trunk.
“Fascinating…” Stephen murmured. Was this another dimension? It certainly appeared so. The swamp they had been at… he swiftly spun around, gaze alighting on a visual copy of the tree whose moss had so unceremoniously dumped him… somewhere else. While he was perfectly comfortable with the idea of alternate universes—parallel realities distant by chance, similar but not identical—through his use of the time stone, he was less knowledgeable about the dimensions within their own multiverse. This one must be the Giant Trees and Spiders Dimension, he concluded sarcastically. Peter would have a blast.
Of course, the young Spider-‘man’ didn’t know him nearly as well as he did Peter (again, courtesy of the time stone,) so he most likely wouldn’t willingly go on any interdimensional escapades with the strange doctor (ha ha) that he had briefly met on an alien planet who killed Tony Stark.
“Stephen!” A voice shouted, shaking him out of his ruminations.
“Clea?” He responded, excitement clear, because now he was in contact with someone with a sling ring and could now leave the Giant Trees and Spiders Dimension if she wanted to; all sorcerers, while not required, tended to keep theirs with them whenever they left the sanctums or Kamar-Taj, for both safety purposes and ease of transport. Stephen usually did, but he was having a rough day. He could give himself a break. (He couldn’t. The universe would never let him.)
“Yeah,” the warrior assented, obviously relieved at the luck of their status in their current situation. “Where’d your…” She trailed off at the abrupt deep, chortling laughter that rang across the sloping landscape from behind a nearby hill. Stephen quickly cast a translation spell, and sharing another glance, they cautiously made their way over, hackles and magic raised.
On the other side of a rather robust, prickly tree was a towering, furry green minotaur, completely buck naked. It was playfully poking at the Cloak of Levitation, snorting bemusedly when it flared up in almost an offended, haughty manner, before eagerly retaliating.
Stephen blinked in befuddlement. Well, this wasn’t the worst thing he’d caught the Cloak of Levitation doing. He did feel a small (okay, admittedly not entirely small) burst of jealousy at it’s obvious ease with the man-bull, but he quickly discarded it. His days of self-entitled possessiveness were over. Now he’d just have to settle for protecting his universe.
“It’s a very particular, relic, the Cloak of Levitation,” he offered casually, striding towards the verdant minotaur without reservation. After all, it was rather finicky, and if it decided it liked their new companion, who was he to disagree?
Upon noticing him, it immediately swooped over his shoulders and nestled into the crease of his neck, vibrating with obvious pleasure. It pushed him forward a tad, as though egging him on.
“ You are the partner to the Cloak of Levitation? Long has my master spoken of it’s fickleness, how it only chooses the most worthy of bearers. He tells me it is his greatest creation—oh, how humbled I am to be in your presence, most venerable of sorcerers!” The man-bull cried, gaping in awe at the Master of the New York Sanctum, before lowering himself to one knee as he prostrated himself before Stephen.
“Ah,” he responded cleverly, blushing heavily. A few years ago, he would’ve soaked up the praise like a sponge—preening like a peacock and demanding more to feed his insatiable ego, to further elevate the altar he’d placed himself on. But now… he’d grown so accustomed to learning to see his accomplishments for what they really were—a tower he had built himself to hide from his fear—that hearing such avid commendations from a complete stranger made the doctor feel surprisingly uncomfortable.
Clea chuckled mildly, crossing her arms with mirth.
“Master Strange doesn’t need you to further inflate his pride. My name is Clea, and I’m an Apprentice of the Masters of the Mystic Arts—of Earth-199999. And you are?”
“Rintrah,” the man-bull introduced himself giddily, “apprentice to my master, Enitharmon the Weaver.”
“And—you said that the Cloak of Levitation was your master’s ‘greatest creation’? He made it?” Stephen questioned, brow furrowing in puzzlement. While he knew that Relics were usually constructed and imbued with magic, it had been a very long time since there’d been anyone with those capabilities in any of the side dimensions near Earth. Either the Giant Trees and Spiders Dimension was very far away from his home planet—mystically speaking—or it was rather obscure. What was that swamp, anyways?
“I did,” announced a low, droning voice. Turning, he spotted a short, reptilian being dressed in fine, although modest green robes round the base of the hill where the group was located.
At the newcomer’s presence, the fabric around the Master of the New York Sanctum’s shoulders shifted, the Cloak rising almost anxiously towards Enitharmon.
“Well, hello there,” the Weaver volunteered a small smile, waving four stubby digits at the jittery mantle, who subtly lifted a checkered corner to reach for him. Carefully, cautiously, their proffered parts met.
Leaping in exaltation—at which Enitharmon chuckled—the Cloak of Levitation swirled around his shoulders and cheerfully nudged at the other-dimensional being’s scaly cheek before quickly soaring over to Stephen and repeating the gesture. And then he couldn’t help but smirk too.
Reptilian eyes met his own, and they both sobered up.
“Doctor Strange,” Enitharmon said finally, and Stephen noticed that the other’s stone-gray scales had a hint of indigo to them too. “I’ve heard of you. Tales in the ether, of the man who defeated Dormammu.”
“Enitharmon the Weaver,” he replied, raising his eyebrow indifferently. “Haven’t heard of you.”
The Weaver shrugged, and Stephen was struck by how remarkably human of a gesture it was—although, given the fact that he’d met actual magical aliens that were visually indistinguishable from his own species… it wasn’t that unbelievable. Must be some sort of interplanar ideological habit bleed, or something. Wong probably had a book on it.
“That was how I wanted it. After a group of rogue sorcerers from your Earth decided to try and raid my workshop for relics, I petitioned your late mentor; The Ancient One, to seal the barrier between your dimension and mine. She did so, and in thanks, I gifted her Order with the Cloak of Levitation. I see know that that choice was wisely made.” Throughout his speech, Enitharmon’s facial expression remained monotonously serene. “Although, I have to ask—what are you doing here?”
“We came through a—a swamp,” Clea spoke up, “It was steeped in powerful, ancient magic.” She had travelled nearer to Stephen and their peculiar companions, rolling a tiny white flower in her slender fingers.
“Ah,” Enitharmon responded knowingly, “the Nexus of All Realities. Did you meet its caretaker?” At their blank stares, the robed reptile shook his head.
“It is of little import. Then tell me, why are you here?”
“We… followed the Cloak of Levitation,” Clea answered, realization coloring her expression in a process not unlike how the sun lit the sky at dawn.
“After we had been talking about searching for new magical students,” Stephen murmured, comprehension similarly blossoming across his features. “Did you bring us here—” he pointed accusingly at the Cloak (although it was still draped across him, so it made it a bit awkward)— “because you thought we could find new recruits? Because, I have to say, I don’t really think we can teach relics the mystic arts.”
“No, I believe the Cloak of Levitation had someone else entirely in mind,” Enitharmon announced slyly, eyeing his green apprentice. “Rintrah?”
The minotaur blinked in shock, before hastily stammering out a vibrant response.
“M-me? You think—? I’d—I’d be delighted, truthfully, there’s only so many times I can weave a carpet before it gets dull—uh, apologies, Master!—but I’m—my people aren’t really known for being particularly wise, or, er, apt , at the mystic arts…”
“Rintrah.” The Weaver chided, but the corners of his mouth upturning in apparent amusement. He then faced the two sorcerers.
“Despite my apprentice’s incredibly articulate protestations, he has much potential for magic. In fact, I noticed him in my travels while I was visiting the planet R’Vaal. They were a largely simple folk, with no esoteric inclinations whatsoever, but they were being savaged by a minor upper-dimensional pact demon. As it turns out, Rintrah’s affinity for magic had caught the creature’s interest, and was attempting to sway R’Vaalians to its side for soul sacrifices. I saved the village, and have kept him under my care and tutelage since. However, I believe it is time for him to seek another master. He is perhaps, at moments, overeager, but I believe his enthusiasm is more a boon than a detriment.”
“Hmm,” Stephen hummed considering. Then— “does Kamar-Taj even accept non-human novices?”
“Yes,” said Clea with an absolute certainty that left no room for dissent, “they do. But Strange, we should consider this carefully—we don’t know his qualifications, and all we have is the word of a stranger…” she turned to him carefully, deliberately intending for this to be a private conversation.
“Well!” Stephen exclaimed, beaming. Purposefully—even perhaps defiantly—he rotated on his heels away from the warrior towards the two magical aliens. “Your application has been reviewed and accepted. Welcome to the Masters of the Mystic Arts, Mr. Rintrah. Clea? If you would be so kind as to portal us back to the New York Sanctum?”
She stared at him, blinking in bewilderment, before her face scrunched up in frustrated recalcitrance and her arms folded. “You can’t—you can’t just do that, this is a serious decision—”
“Actually, I can. Master,” he pointed at himself, “apprentice.” He pointed at her. “Chain of command.”
“Like you ever obeyed that when you were an apprentice,” Clea muttered hot-headedly to herself, but nonetheless took out her sling ring and began tracing the customary circle.
“The Vishanti have great plans for you, Stephen Strange,” Enitharmon remarked nonchalantly, as though what he said wasn’t terribly alarming. His features seemed to age considerably as he spoke, and the Weaver’s eyes took on an experienced look.
“Rintrah will be ready to leave tomorrow. I imagine he has much to prepare.” Enitharmon added, speech lightening in tone, as though oblivious to his prior statement. Maybe he was.
“Right. Yes,” Stephen stumbled verbally, before starting towards Clea’s portal. “We’ll return in half an Earth rotation,” he said, since he wasn’t sure how exactly the Giant Trees and Spiders Dimension counted time, but they (Enitharmon, at least) seemed knowledgeable enough about Earth. Like shrugging.
When they got back, Clea was immediately on him.
“Why would you do that? We don’t know anything about Rintrah— his talents, qualifications, accreditations… we don’t even know who he is, or if we can even trust—or even believe —Enitharmon!”
Stephen held up a hand, and the fuming warrior grumbled, but stopped. “The Cloak trusts him. And really, does it matter who we bring on? I intend to get this task over with as soon as possible. Rintrah seems eager and capable, and the only one who has anything against recruiting him is you.” Clea scowled.
“Well, that seems pretty important, given that I’m half of the team meant to recruit him. I’m—I’m fine with Rintrah. I’m fine. What I’m not fine with is you making decisions about our mission without even consulting or listening to me,” she complained, and okay, that was pretty reasonable. It was rather bad form for him to entirely disregard a teammate—because, he supposed, that’s what Clea was now—something that wouldn’t have been out of character in his days as a neurosurgeon, but as a Master of the Mystic Arts? It was rudely reprehensible. But then, he was largely alone these days. Maybe working together with someone (even a student) would help him build up sorely needed intrapersonal skills. And stave off suffocating solitude.
He sighed, rubbing his face with his trembling palm. I’m… sorry, Clea. It’s been a long day.”
“Okay, now can you say it like you mean it?” She rebuked, voice harsh and unyielding. Opening his eyes, Stephen glared at her through his fingers (because he had meant it! Unlike other times…) before noticing the playful smirk the warrior wore.
“Oh, you’re joking,” he said (mostly to himself), casting a quick cleaning spell on his drenched and dirtied clothes (no need to acquire illness—he was a doctor, after all, he had appearances to maintain,) and collapsed on Mr. Matsumo’s couch. It was soft and he sunk into the cushions deliciously, the Cloak of Levitation happily nestling into him, acting like a blanket.
“Doctor Strange,” Clea said, as though reprimanding him. What for…?
“‘Stephen’,” he corrected, mumbling into the furniture. “If you’re so insistent that we’re equals and buddies and whatever then you can call me Stephen.”
“...Good night, Stephen,” Clea murmured after a reluctant pause, and he couldn’t help but feel that maybe this day hadn’t entirely been horrible. It certainly could’ve gone worse.