Title: Masquerade
Author: Jordanna Morgan (librarie@jordanna.net)
Archive Rights: Please request the author’s consent.
Rating/Warnings: G.
Characters: Christine Palmer and Stephen Strange.
Setting: Sometime after the movie.
Summary: When Stephen has sorcerer business at a Halloween party, Christine’s night is not at all what she planned. 
Disclaimer: They belong to Marvel. I’m just playing with them.
Notes: Written for the prompt word “Disguise” at Fan Flashworks.

 

Masquerade

 

“I need a favor,” the voice of Stephen Strange announced abruptly behind Christine Palmer.

Of course, Christine responded to Stephen’s unexpected appearance as she usually did: she jumped a clear foot and let out a shriek. In this particular case, she also spilled the bag of candy she had been preparing to dump into a bowl. When she turned around, her sorcerer ex-boyfriend was standing at the threshold of her kitchen, the telltale sparks of a dimensional gateway sputtering out behind him.

“Stephen, what are you doing here? I was just starting to get ready for the trick-or-treaters tonight, and—”

“Does Doctor Laundsen still invite you to his Halloween party every year?”

It took her a second to process that question—and another to realize the only possible reason why he would ask.

“…Oh, no no no. You can’t be thinking what I think you are. That guy is a sexual-harassment lawsuit waiting to happen, and I am not going to—”

Stephen interrupted her again. “Listen. He doesn’t know it, but one of the objects in Laundsen’s art collection is a very powerful relic. …It’s full of magic,” he simplified in faint exasperation, seeing the blank look that crossed her face. “It could be incredibly dangerous in the wrong hands—and I just found out there’s a rogue sorcerer plotting to steal it during the commotion of the party tonight.”

Christine stared at him for a moment before spreading her hands wide in bafflement. “Stephen, you can literally go anywhere at any time. What do you need me for? Why don’t you just—portal over to Laundsen’s house right now?”

“Because it’s not only about protecting the relic. I have to catch this sorcerer when he shows up, and at a costume party, just figuring out which one of the guests he is may take some doing. I need an excuse to mingle.”

“Ha. You didn’t like parties even when you weren’t a mystical guardian of the Earth. The real masquerade will be pretending you’re a normal person.”

“Yeah, well. It’s all part of the mystical-guardian job.” Stephen offered a wan smile, shrugging his shoulders underneath that sentient cloak of his. “Honestly, Christine. I could really use your help in this.”

A long beat of frustrated silence passed before Christine threw back her head and groaned.

“Let me find something to wear,” she sighed, and trudged off toward her bedroom.

 

Half an hour later, Christine stood beside Stephen at the front door of Doctor Laundsen’s house, feeling a little foolish in the costume she had dug up. Dana Scully from “The X-Files” had worked fine for her on past Halloweens at the hospital’s staff parties, but it was really dated now, and she was already sure it would look cheap at one of Laundsen’s extravagant bashes. Also, it probably didn’t work as well now that her hair was longer.

It surprised her not at all that Stephen still wore his customary sorcerer’s clothes—albeit with the addition of gloves she hadn’t seen before. Of course, his outfit was so exotic and intricate that he was probably going to fit in better than her, even if no one would have any idea of what he was supposed to be.

“Just tell me this isn’t going to end with a multi-million-dollar house getting smashed up in some kind of magic battle,” she murmured anxiously after ringing the doorbell.

“Not likely. Good or bad, it’s not in any sorcerer’s interests to use magic in public. If things get rough, I think I can at least count on this guy to follow the rules and take it to the Mirror Dimension. …Don’t ask,” Stephen advised, in response to yet another look of puzzlement.

Christine was not especially reassured, but she kept silent as a servant let them into the house.

The party was every bit as lavish as she expected it to be, and the opulent house was packed. She quickly lost Stephen in the crowd of costumed socialites; he must have ventured off alone on his mission of magical defense. Left to fend for herself, she soon ended up making small talk with a group of colleagues from the hospital—and not unexpectedly trying to ward off Doctor Laundsen’s beady-eyed advances.

Stephen was going to owe her a great deal for enduring the old letch. And possibly even more for exposing her to the unfortunate spectacle of Nicodemus West in a toga. …Yeah, she would definitely have to ask whether the sorcerer had any spell to let her unsee that.

So she drifted and chatted and sipped at a drink, and the next hour was excruciatingly dull—until lights throughout the house started flickering, and objects began to shake and move, seemingly on their own.

It might have been funny if Christine hadn’t witnessed the things she had. The other guests were enthralled by what they thought was a planned display of spooky special effects arranged by their host—but she alone knew enough to start worrying. She had seen the byproducts of an astral throwdown before, and this time she didn’t have a defibrillator around to give Stephen any help. And just where had he left his body, anyway?

At any rate, the show didn’t last long. Within a few minutes, the supernatural disturbances ceased; and shortly after that, Stephen reappeared. Christine caught a glimpse of him walking away from the staircase, his cloak gathered a little more closely around him than usual.

She pushed through the surrounding partygoers to catch up to him, hissing an urgent inquiry as she drew near. “What happened?”

Stephen turned to her with a slow blink, as if it took his eyes a moment to focus on her. He stepped back into the shadow of the stairs and lowered his voice.

“Long story short? I fought the bad guy and lost. Couldn’t keep him from getting his hands on the relic—but he accidentallied himself when he tried to unlock its power. The end. …And now I really need to get out of here.”

Something in his face that Christine couldn’t quite define still concerned her.

“Not without me!” she said sharply. “Now that you’ve done whatever you had to do, I don’t want to be here another minute either. Besides, you brought me, so you need to portal me home.”

Without argument Stephen headed for the front door, but they were intercepted there by Doctor Laundsen himself.

“Strange!” The older man called out, arresting Stephen just as his right hand—now missing its glove—was hovering over the doorknob. “It’s been months since I last saw you! How are you doing? I’m glad to see you getting out and about again.”

The breath Stephen drew came with a wince that Christine took to be negative anticipation. Nevertheless, he faced Laundsen with carefully schooled politeness.

“Yes. Well. I’ve been… keeping busy. In fact, I just got a call about something urgent I need to take care of.” He gestured vaguely at the door. “You know how it is.”

Laundsen frowned, but he nodded. “Yes, of course. Well, I’m delighted you both came.” The last was directed at Christine, with an unwelcome gleam in his eyes; but then his gaze shifted back to Stephen in curiosity. “By the way though, I did mean to ask you earlier. What exactly are you dressed as? Is that some kind of medieval version of Superman?”

His expression quirking, Stephen glanced down at his fanciful, archaic-looking blue garments, and the scarlet cloak that flowed around him.

Christine stifled a snort and rested her hand on Stephen’s forearm, giving Laundsen an eye roll. “Actually, he’s a sorcerer. But yeah, he does kind of fly.”

“…Ahh.” Laundsen squinted and cleared his throat, giving Stephen one more bemused look. “Well… good night.”

The older physician strolled back into the midst of his remaining guests, and Stephen seized Christine’s arm, hustling her out the door. When they were alone at the entryway, under the sickly yellow illumination of the porchlight, he fixed a somewhat incredulous and questioning stare on her.

She smiled at him. “Stephen, of all people, I thought a sorcerer would know that sometimes the truth is the best disguise.”

Stephen’s eyebrows went up. After a second, he let out a short bark of laughter—only to flinch and stumble, his right hand reaching beneath his cloak.

“Oh, please don’t make me laugh right now…”

It was only then that Christine put it all together. His slow and deliberate stride, his absent glove, the way his cloak was wrapped protectively around him. The troubling clues in his face that she hadn’t quite been able to put her finger on: paleness and perspiration. She couldn’t fathom how she had missed so many signs.

Pushing him back against the wall, she reached out to brush aside the edge of the Cloak of Levitation. However, it apparently understood her intent, because it whipped out of the way on its own with an eagerness that only confirmed her fears. What it revealed was a ragged, dark-stained hole in the left side of Stephen’s tunic, between the seventh and eighth ribs—with the unmistakable glow of magic spilling out of it.

“What is that?” Christine gasped.

“…Yeah. That.” His pretense uncovered, Stephen sagged a bit more against the wall, letting out a shaking breath. “It’s a barrier I tried creating to stop myself from bleeding out.—Did I mention that the relic was an ancient ceremonial dagger? Turns out it was still very sharp.—Anyway, the seal is mostly working, but I’m not sure how much longer I can hold it.”

Christine really didn’t know why she tried with him.

Well, no. That wasn’t true. She knew exactly why she tried. She just hated sometimes that she couldn’t stop herself from trying.

Ignoring Stephen’s faint grunt of protest—and her own instinctive fear of contact with that otherworldly energy radiating through the hole—she put her hands on his side and felt the wound. It wasn’t large, and miraculously it was barely bleeding at the moment, but it was jagged and ugly. If the supposed seal he had magicked onto himself was to fail…

She glared a furious command at him, and he sighed.

“Hospital. Right.”

 

In short order, the evening ended with another round of stitching up Stephen in an operating room. When Christine was finished with that task, the aching and weary sorcerer opened a gateway leading back to her apartment. He said that he would take himself to Kamar-Taj instead of the Sanctum he minded, and let his own colleagues watch him for a day or two; but she didn’t believe him. At least for the night, she insisted he come home with her instead.

To her surprise, he acquiesced. He followed her through the gateway, and within a very few minutes he was sprawled on her living room carpet, deep in an exhausted sleep.

Looking down at him there, breathtakingly powerful and yet so surprisingly vulnerable, Christine knew she would always keep trying. She would nag him and scold him just as often as he came to her, and patch him up anyway when he refused to heed her admonishments. That amazing idiot wanted to protect the world—but he wouldn’t be much good for that if someone didn’t make him look after himself.

She laid down beside him, pillowing her head on his chest, and his cloak gently drew itself around them both.


© 2017 Jordanna Morgan