Recipient: Sabine (sabinelagrande)
Request: Dr. Strange/Clea, precanon
Author's Notes: I am so sorry about how late this is. There is no excuse.
Huge thanks to Aaron, for betaing and brainstorming.
In her world, Clea had been a being of considerable power. She could bend reality and wield objects with the ability to destroy worlds. She was not, however, that adept at making soup.
Soup, in all its infinite varieties, was something with which she now had vast experience. Her husband might be a daring sorcerer capable of sweeping a powerful young girl off her feet and freeing her from her despotic overlord uncle, but his one great weakness was his stomach. The great Dr. Strange’s most nefarious enemy was neither the dread Dormammu nor the fearful Baron Mordo, but his own careless disregard for his health.
Her husband had not slept for four days, and in that time all of his eating had been at her behest. She found a beef stew with a carefully selected blend of restorative herbs worked best in these situations. It was fragrant enough to break through the doctor’s stalwart oblivion to his appetite, and he was just practical enough to recognize that one should never let a fresh soup go cold.
“My love,” she began, “lifting that spoon seems to be using all of your strength. You must rest.”
“No, dearest, what I must do is find the crew of the Fantastick, for the world is a frightening place without them. All of the needs of the body pale in comparison to that.
“Besides,” he continued in the face of her sigh, “this stew is renewing my strength as we speak. Did you use extra sage?”
“That, and a dash of ground flax seed. There is a crone who sets shop up in the market, and she swears by it.”
"Other women's husbands kill themselves slowly with drink and a lack of attention to the humors, or so I hear. I'm not sure, but I think I might prefer that to you killing yourself in the flash of an amulet."
Clea spooned more chicken broth into her husband's paled lips and watched him struggle to swallow it down.
"I disagree, love," Stephen answered. "Magical amulets and demonic sorcerers are things you understand, things you can fight. Ale and the Plague are mortal matters, a bit beneath your concern."
"Stephen, you perhaps forget that you are mortal, making all such matters of concern to me. Precisely how many mystical brushes with death will it take for you to remember your mortality, darling?"
"I am fully aware of the limits of the flesh. However, I believe that few humans stretch themselves to their full potential, and that is my aim."
He swallowed the final sip of broth and settled back against his pillows.
"For the moment," he said, "this body is spent." Stephen reached up to stroke her cheek with chilled fingertips. "Thank you for the care you give me, Clea."
"I only wish there were more I could do," she whispered.
Clea had never met the Queen before. Truly, she was a formidable woman, although not as imposing as the potentates who knelt before her uncle. This Queen was mortal in a way none of them were. If there was any life within her, it was hidden under the lead and carmine of her face powders.
"—Therefore I name you Sir Stephen Strange, knight of the realm," the Queen said. Her hand trembled as she swung the shiny tin sword over Stephen's shoulders. The Archbishop of Canterbury scowled at him. If anyone had any illusions, he felt the need to make it clear that he did not feel the Queen's pet sorcerer should be knighted, even if he had saved the Queen from a bowl of poisoned soup.
"May I present my wife to your Majesty?" Stephen asked. Clea came forward on cue. It was hard to meet the Queen's eyes, if only because she was concentrating on making her own eyes appear as human as possible. "Her name is Clea, of the royal House Dormammu."
"Dormammu? We have not heard of such a royal family," the Queen said. "It is not Russian, is it? You are so fair haired, you must be from the north, and Russian names are fond of their consonants." Clea saw the Archbishop eye her as if she were a toad.
"It is a far distant land, Your Majesty," Clea said. "Although not Russian, for my uncle rules as King, and we worship none of their idolatrous images." It was difficult not to be amused at the Archbishop's disappointment.
"All of Russia rules itself as King, as I understand it," the Queen laughed. "Dormammu. I recall now, the ruling family of Finland. We have not had an embassy from them in many years."
"Yes, your Majesty," Clea said. "It is a very difficult voyage from here to there." The Queen nodded, and the audience ended with the nobility of the realm giving Stephen half-hearted cheers. Indeed, Stephen himself seemed hardly interested in the proceedings.
"Tell me, my dear," he said as their carriage transported them home. "Why is it the Queen believes you to be a princess of Finland?" The look he gave her was not truly suspicious. He knew that she would never use magic on his sovereign without his consent.
"She is the Queen," Clea said. "If she believes I am Finnish, then who is to say her nay? After all, husband, she chooses to believe that you are merely an adept medical doctor and not the witch or charlatan or Jew many say you are." Stephen laughed then, and she realized it had been days since he had been anything but focused and aloof.
"Too bad Sir Nicholas was not of the same opinion," he mused. "The man was unaccountably upset that I was the one to intercept the assassin and not himself."
"He could not have hoped to," she said. "She was of the line of Melusine, was she not?"
"And not of the good sons," Stephen confirmed. He began talking of his work again then, and Clea sighed. Still, she felt a small measure of relief. She had finally met the woman with whom she shared Stephen, and she had seen the steel beneath the sagging folds of decaying flesh. Let Sir Nicholas have his professional jealousy, and let her Majesty propel Stephen into combat time and again. As long as he returned to her in the end.
As many times as she experienced it, Clea never failed to be surprised by the sheer wonder of sexual climax. The immortal existence was one of endless blurry grays, whereas the mortal condition was one of bright blotches of color. Stephen had once described her home dimension as being set inside a kaleidoscope. That was how she felt about her human body.
Beside her, Stephen snored gently. Poor man, she had been hard on him, though she felt no remorse. Nor did she feel remorse about slipping the potion to quicken his blood into his soup. He would not have had the endurance otherwise.
One day it was the Queen, the next it was his endless search for the Fantastick, the next it was Baron Mordo or some other threat to the world. He was using himself up. In her mind, Stephen was like a bowl filled with a rare and costly essence. Slowly, slowly he poured it all out into the world, and still the world demanded more from him.
She had thought about forcing him to sojourn with her in her uncle's realm, to get away from his work and his troubles. Or they could have set sail for the Austral continent Sir Reed had claimed to have discovered, whose natives lived in never-ending dreams and whose mass gave balance to the Earth. Anywhere, anywhere but this cottage that reeked of his sulfur and quicksilver and white arsenic, and her herbs and pastries and stews.
But he would not be happy anywhere else, and neither would she. This was their home, trapped within the bounds of a life more mortal than she had ever experienced.
"Clea," Stephen said, stirring.
"Yes, dear?" she asked.
"Next time, perhaps use a dram less of the sea bull's seed," he whispered. "I am suddenly insatiable, and I believe that it is to blame." He took her small breast in his hand and sensation thrilled across her body. Then he proceeded to show her that he had yet more of himself to pour into the world.
The Virginia Maid rocked gently in the night. At first Clea had found the motion disconcerting but after a week on the sea it had become soothing. It was one of the many things she would miss about this world.
Three days had passed since she had spoken to Stephen. She should not bother him – he became more disconnected from this world each time he was disturbed, and he still had important business to deal with. Clea found herself removing the lid from the brandy cask anyway.
"Clea, love," he said, as she lifted him out. "Where am...what have..."
"Shh. You are in the brig of a ship, heading to a newly discovered part of the world. We are going to complete your last mission there."
"Ah, yes, I'm remembering. I have missed you," Stephen said. "I had passed on to another story where we... we are not what we were..."
"Oh Stephen, dear, I miss you as well," she said. A trembling and then it passed. "Are you well? Is there anything I can do for you?" She longed to tell him of necromancers and potions, means to prolong their lives together.
She kept silent in the face of his duty.
"You were ever my helpmeet, Clea," his mouth said. "But I am well provided for – the story does not allow its hero to suffer too much." They paused as Stephen sorted one reality from another. It was a look with which Clea was familiar.
"There is just one thing I would have," he said.
"Anything, my love," she told him. "Anything that is in my power to give you, I will. I abandoned my world for you once. I would do so again."
"So dramatic," he said. Weariness spasmed painfully across his face. He was fading. "I just wanted some soup." His face settled into that particular form of unconsciousness reserved for the not quite living.
Clea was smiling for the first time since Stephen's passing.
Perhaps he was right. If what the fair-haired man on the upper deck said was true, there could be countless other stories, other places where she and Stephen could thrive together.
"You will have a day to ready yourself, and then the trial begins!" cried the dread Dormammu. Magical power ringed his head like a burning halo. He held up his magical kantele and the air shimmered. Strange found himself in another room of the castle, one with neither door nor window nor portal of any kind.
Strange felt despair descend upon him, but he shrugged it off.
"Dormammu is stronger than anything I have ever faced, and yet I must defeat him," he told himself, pacing back and forth. The cloak he had won from the Hindustan fakir writhed about his shoulders. "The fate of the world depends upon it."
Suddenly a small door, no larger than a cupboard, opened and a girl emerged. Surprised, he stopped his pacing. She was small, like a child, and as fair as all of these Finns were. Her hair, mixed with lye, had been twisted into bizarre, curling shapes.
"Who are you?" he demanded. "What do you want from me?"
"My name is Clea," she said. "I am the niece of Dormammu. Unlike my uncle, I was taught to offer hospitality to strangers.
"I brought you some soup."