A/N: There really are way too many non-canon romances and OC's with this fandom.
Beckoning from Beyond the Mirror
Part 1: The Beckoning
It happened on Halloween night.
Maggie Lang was making the final touches of her costume makeup downstairs while her daughter was finishing getting ready in her room upstairs. The house was a bit louder than usual since her fiancé, Paxton, was celebrating the holiday in his own special way. She couldn't blame him having a small party; after all, he rarely had a holiday off. She was in the middle of applying her eyeliner when sudden boisterous laughter from the next room caused her to jump. Her typically steady hand wavered, causing a thick, bold line to stretch from her eye down to her cheek. She cursed and walked to the stairs. She didn't bother climbing them, instead projecting her voice loud enough to be heard. "Cassie," she said, "I'll be a few more minutes then we can go." She didn't wait for a reply before moving away to make a quick fix. She didn't want her daughter to have to wait much longer.
Cassie Lang could barely hear her mom's voice past the music. She responded with a simple, "Okay," before returning her attention to her costume. She was decorated in purple and black, with plenty of satin and lace, that ranged from the long skirt of her dress up to the signature pointed hat on her head. She had been informing her mom for weeks about what she wanted to be for Halloween, knowing from the very start that she wanted to be a witch. She was so happy when her mom brought home the costume a few days before that she had worn the garment almost every day since. Now it was finally the day and she had all the necessary accessories, including small traces of gothic makeup and the traditional extended nails. Everything was complete and she couldn't help admiring herself in the mirror.
The mirror itself seemed to complete the ensemble. Her dad had bought it for her months ago, shortly after her room had been destroyed when her dad fought the jerk in the yellow costume. She had been staying with her dad for the weekend and he spoiled her with a day of shopping to help buy back some of the several items that had been lost in the aforementioned fight. One such item was the mirror to her vanity. Cassie wasn't much bothered by it and wasn't in any rush to get a new one, but when she saw the mirror being sold by a street vendor, she couldn't resist the impulse. She had done her practiced trick at grasping her dad's hand and looking up at him with pleading eyes. When she had caught his attention, she merely pointed to the mirror and said, "Daddy, isn't that mirror pretty?" She had then coyly added, "I want one just like that."
The purchase of the mirror was almost instantaneous. Cassie hadn't caught the price, but she could tell it was enough to give her dad hesitation. When she saw his reluctant look, she tried not to take advantage of the situation and merely dismissed it. "It's okay, Daddy," she had said. "I don't need a mirror." She had been earnest when she said it, yet that seemed to be the driving force that convinced her dad that the amount was worth the reward. Cassie was thrilled and couldn't stop thanking him for it.
The mirror was beautiful. Its mahogany frame was accented with gorgeous crests that were embedded into the engraved patterns at each corner. There were small notches along the frame between the engraved patterns, something to which her dad showed dislike. "Are you sure that's what you want, peanut?" he had asked. "It looks pretty beaten up."
"I love it, Daddy," Cassie was quick to say with a huge smile. "Thank you so much!"
Her dad had smiled back proudly. "Anything for you, sweetie. You're my world."
She really loved her mirror, and loved it even more now when she saw how great she looked in its reflection. She spun a couple times before stopping with a flourish, admiring how the skirt danced around her ankles. Her gaze moved all over her outfit, relishing in her new role. "I put a spell on you," she said to the mirror, extending her arm in a grand gesture and pointing her small index finger to her reflection. "And now," she paused for dramatic effect, "you're mine."
To Cassie's great surprise, the mirror spoke back to her. "On the contrary, my dear," said a woman's voice. "It is you who is mine."
Cassie took several steps back as a face appeared in her mirror. It was a haggard, aged face with wrinkled skin and decaying teeth. Curly, gray hair sprouted from a withered head, followed suit by a body forming from the neck. The old woman was dressed in an outfit not dissimilar to Cassie's, though it lacked the flair and was made with emerald fabrics instead of violet. The old woman offered a smile and gingerly extended her arm to Cassie, palm up and welcoming.
Cassie shook her head. "Mommy," she called, but her voice was hardly a shout. She was so scared by the sudden appearance that she was finding it hard to find her voice. She knew it would be impossible for him to hear her, but she couldn't help the desire to have her dad with her now. "Daddy!"
"Hush now, Cassie," said the woman, bringing her other hand up to press her boney index to her red lips. "We don't wish to be interrupted."
As soon as her name was spoken, Cassie was filled with a sudden coldness. Her body grew stiff and unresponsive while her eyes were now fixated on the woman in the mirror. She could no longer speak.
The woman began to hum a tune before gently singing, "Hush now, my child, it must be this way; too weary of life and deception. Rest now, my child, for soon we'll away into the calm and quiet." The woman beckoned for Cassie to come closer, her smile never wavering. "Come now, my child, I'll take thee away into a land of enchantment."
Cassie found she could not resist. Her body shivered and the song made her eyes droop, yet somehow she was able to step forward, despite her previously being unable to move. She felt lifeless, and weightless as she slowly took one step after another. The woman continued her humming and Cassie's legs continued to move ever forward. As she got closer to the mirror, she reached forward and caught glimpse of her reflection. Her reflection did not match her movements, showing that her body was still several feet back and was now lying on the floor with a dead expression on her face. Cassie barely had time to pay her reflection any mind, too distracted by the calming lullaby the woman continued to hum.
As Cassie's hand touched the mirror, she felt no resistance. Instead, it rippled at her touch as if she was reaching into water. Her hand pushed through easily, followed by her arm and then her leg. Cassie could feel tears falling down her cheeks as she fully stepped into the mirror.
Scott Lang was at his apartment when he got the call. It was a lot sooner than he had expected.
That night he had opted out of an evening with his new girlfriend, Hope, instead leaving his night open for his daughter. He had made an arrangement with Maggie that, if she got to go trick-or-treating with her, then Scott would have her for the rest of the night. He would rather have been the one to take her trick-or-treating, but he didn't want to cause a fuss. So he counted his blessing and prepared his apartment for her visit. He made sure to clean up and kicked out his roommate for the whole night. Luis wasn't happy with the arrangement, but was sympathetic enough to leave. Scott appreciated him all the more for it.
He was on the phone with Hope when the call came through. He hadn't expected it for another couple of hours, at least, so he was surprised to see Maggie's name on his Caller ID. He perked with a sense of hope that something may have come up and he'd get the chance to take Cassie trick-or-treating after all. With a quick apology to Hope, he put her on an idle line and answered the call from Maggie.
He cleared his throat and attempted to speak as nonchalantly as possible. "Hey, Maggie, what's going on?" There was a sudden discomfort in his stomach. Before Maggie even had a chance to say anything, he could tell that something was wrong.
"Scott, it's Cassie," Maggie was saying in a calmed panic. "We're at the hospital—I have no idea what's going on—there's something wrong—!" She stumbled over her words several times as she tried to say too much all at once.
Scott stood and took a few uncertain steps, not sure where exactly he was going when he said, "What's wrong with Cassie? What's going on?"
"I just said I don't know!" She sounded on the brink of hysteria. She took several breaths before saying, "Look, we're at UCSF right now. We're waiting to be admitted. I just thought—" she choked as she struggled to keep in control of herself. After a few more breaths, she tried again. "I just thought you should know."
Scott felt restless and paced the room. "I'll be right there," he said after impatiently waiting for Maggie to finish. He reached for the keys, realizing too late that Luis had the van.
"It's okay, Scott," she started to say but Scott could barely hear her. He was focused too much on how he was going to get out to the hospital. "I'll keep you posted."
"No, no," Scott was saying as he desperately searched the apartment. It was just a means to keep his body busy as he thought. He was hoping that there was some magical chance that he would stumble across a set of car keys to a car he forgot he purchased yesterday. "I'll be there as soon as I can."
"Scott, I—" the was a pause on the line and Scott stopped to listen. There was a voice in the background but he couldn't make heads or tails of it. "We're getting a room. I gotta go."
"Wait, Maggie," Scott try to interject but she hung up before he even finished the sentence. He cursed as he continued to blindly search his pockets for his magical key. His phone rang in his hand and he immediately picked it up. "Maggie!"
"No," said a female on the other line. Her voice was cool and almost teasing. "But good try."
Scott knocked himself in the head a couple times with his phone as he attempted to regain his wits. He forgot he had Hope waiting on the other line. The phone must have done a call-back to remind him after he and Maggie's call was cut. "Hope!"
"Hope, I need a favor! Can you give me a ride to UCSF?"
"UCSF?" she parroted, alarmed. "Scott, what's wrong?"
"I don't know," said Scott with obvious irritation. "Maggie's there. She says there's something wrong with Cassie. Luis has the van and I can't—"
"I'm on my way," she said in a calming voice. There was the sound of movement in the background as she got up and began to move. By the rate of her breathing, Scott could tell she was hurrying. "Just stay calm and don't do anything stupid."
After their call ended, Scott found it was very difficult to stay calm and not do something stupid. He had called Maggie several times during his wait for a ride but she wasn't answering his calls. More than once he was tempted to shrink and fly an ant out to the hospital. It would be a slow traveling time in too long of a distance but at least he would feel busy. Sitting around and waiting for a ride was unbearable. Minutes felt like hours and Scott paced, sat sound for a minute, called Maggie, then paced again. His process was rinsed and repeated countless times over before his phone finally rang.
It was Hope. She was downstairs and waiting for him. It took all his effort to not just spare time by jumping out the window. In a show of self-restraint, he took the stairs and even spared the time to lock the door behind him.
As he got in the car, Hope greeted him with a calmness that he desperately needed. He loved her more than ever before as she drove with a stoic tenacity. She weaved through traffic as she raced to the UCSF Medical Center while maneuvering in a controlled fashion as to not draw attention from police. She asked a few inquisitive questions, but when Scott didn't have an answer other than "I don't know," she stopped at her attempts to gain more knowledge of the situation. Both of them would hopefully figure things out once they reached their destination.
Before the car was even put in park, Scott was out the door and rushing to the emergency room doors. Hope kept up yet stayed at a safe distance behind to give Scott plenty of space to manage the situation. To Scott's surprise, he wasn't the only frantic parent in the waiting room. Several parents were standing around, crying for attention as they held their children. Scott took a glimpse at the closest child being held in his mother's arms.
The boy's face was pale and his gaze expressionless. His eyelids were only half opened with the occasional blink, the only evident proof that he was alive. Scott felt a sense of dread as he went to the front counter. The nurse behind the counter looked troubled and trying to balance the world with her own two hands. Scott tried to wait for her to regard him instead of interrupting whatever she was doing with the computer, but he couldn't wait any more.
"I'm sorry," he said, a bit clipped, "Cassie Lang. She was just admitted here about an hour ago—I need to see her. She's my daughter."
"A lot of children were just admitted," said the nurse. It was hard to tell if her tone was annoyance or sympathy. "Give me a second; it's just me here."
Scott anxiously tapped his fingers against the counter top as the woman typed away at her computer. Hope stepped up next to him and offered an encouraging squeeze on his bicep. "You need to stay calm," she said, soothing. "Being worried won't help the situation."
"How can I not be worried?" Scott countered as he ran his hand down his face. "I have no idea what's going on." He looked over his shoulder at another child in the waiting room. She was a young teen, slumped in one of the chairs with an elderly woman holding her hand. Just like the young boy, the teen had the same passive look on her face as she gazed out at seemingly nothing.
"All the more reason to stay calm," reasoned Hope. "You need to be prepared for anything."
After several seconds painfully bled into minutes, Scott grew more and more impatient. It was a blessing when the nurse finally returned her attention to him. "I'm sorry for the wait," she said sympathetically before giving the room number.
Scott slapped his hand on the counter in triumph. "Thanks." He was through the door in seconds. When they got in the elevator and had a moment of privacy, Scott crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. "What do you think is going on?"
Hope took a similar pose, though choosing to stand straight. "I don't know," she mused. She had never seen anything like this before. The state of the children was beyond her comprehension. She dreaded the thought that it was some form of secret experimentation and only children were being influenced. She shook the thought out of her head. It seemed Darren Cross influenced her in more ways than one. "Perhaps some form of allergic reaction? Some contaminated candy, perhaps?"
Scott shook his head. "I've never seen an allergic reaction like that before."
"I had never seen aliens before, yet they walked the streets a few years ago. Anything's possible now, Scott."
Scott didn't want to think of the possibility of some space alien pathogen or ingredient afflicting his daughter. He ran both hands down his face. "Please, don't tell me about aliens poisoning kids' candy."
"That's not what I was saying," said Hope with a twinge of regret. "I just meant that it could be something we're not familiar with. It could be something small that we're just not considering."
Mulling over the words, Scott slowly nodded. After all, Cassie might not be experiencing the same symptoms as the children he saw in the waiting room. Lord, he hoped his Cassie wasn't going through that. The elevator dinged as they arrived on their floor. Scott let out a heavy breath and pushed off the wall. He was going to find out soon.
When Scott entered the room in the pediatrics wing, he was greeted with the expectant glances from both Maggie and Paxton. Realizing it was him, though, they seemed to deflate.
"Scott," said Maggie in surprise as she stood from her seat next to the bed.
Scott's eyes fell onto the bed, finding Cassie prone and pale, staring up at the ceiling. The dark colors of her costume made the pallor of her face stand out all the more and Scott's gut twisted. He stepped past Maggie and crouched down next to Cassie, grabbing her hand. She did not respond to his touch. Scott took several breaths before trying to speak. "What happened?"
Maggie shook her head. "I don't know." Her mascara had smeared across her cheeks after her attempts at wiping away her tears. There was a dirty tissue in her hand, ready to be used when necessary. Her voice was shaky as she said, "When I went upstairs to get her, she was lying down on the floor. I thought maybe she tripped on her dress but the doctor says she didn't hurt her head." She spoke very quickly, like she was trying to say as much as she could before crying again. There were tears already welling in her bloodshot eyes.
Paxton stood up and put a comforting arm around Maggie's shoulders. "The doctor doesn't know what's going on either," he explained for Maggie. "He says other children are coming in with the same thing."
Hope walked forward, trying to come off as unimposing as possible. "We saw some similar kids on our way up. We hoped," she paused as she glanced at the unresponsive Cassie, "that Cassie wouldn't be in the same way."
"Oh, Cassie," said Scott as he ran a hand through her hair before caressing her cheek. He brought her hand up to his lips and kissed lovingly. He didn't move from his place as he looked up at Maggie. "Where's the doctor now?"
"He's checking on the other children."
Paxton continued by saying, "He was checking to see if there's any correlation between her and the others. We're waiting for him to come back."
"We were hoping you were him when you walked in," admitted Maggie.
With a sour look, Scott returned his attention to his daughter. "Sorry to disappoint."
"What has the doctor said so far?" asked Hope.
Paxton took the honor of filling them in. He explained how, medically speaking, she was fine. There was nothing evidently wrong with her outside of her exterior appearance. It was as if she was in a very deep sleep. Her heart rate was low and her breathing shallow, but not at a dangerous rate. The doctor conjectured that it might be a state of temporal mental lapse. However, with the influx of children, that hypothesis seemed less and less likely.
More than half an hour passed before the doctor eventually came back with grim news. With the ranged age, gender, and social standing of the various admitted children, he was finding it harder and harder to diagnose their condition. He decided it best to keep the children overnight. They would all be moved to a shared room to help the staff observe all the afflicted carefully for any variation of their condition as well as constant monitoring for any changes.
Scott and Maggie stood next to Cassie's new bed. He could feel Hope's hand squeezing his in support and he silently thanked her with a squeeze in return. Paxton was next to Maggie, his arm rubbing her back in his own sense of comfort. Cassie was no longer in her costume and was instead donned in the garish hospital garb. The entire time they were changing her and moving her, Cassie didn't react at all. She just continued her blank stare, even as the evening dragged past midnight. Scott hated seeing her in those clothes, in that bed, in this room. No parent wants to see his child in such a state.
A specialist in neurology was called in on emergency to help mend the epidemic and lead the recovery effort. Dr. Vitani was an experienced doctor in her field who also practiced in oneirology, the study of dreams. Once she was briefed on the situation at hand, she went from bed to bed to check on each individual child as well as greet each parent that was still present. Within the late hours of Halloween, the victims multiplied from a couple handfuls to a couple dozen. By the time the doctor finally made her way to Scott and his company, it was well past three in the morning.
Dr. Vitani's exhaustion was evident on her face as she extended her hand and sympathies to Scott. Having been called in so suddenly, she didn't have much of a chance to rest between her last shift at her hospital to the emergency situation in San Francisco. Since her arrival, she was constantly moving in a professional determination. When Scott shook her hand, it was a somber exchange, both of them too tired to put much enthusiasm into it.
"I'm sorry it took me so long to get to you," she said as she touched her fingers to her temple. Her accent was strained around the vowels and her voice was weary. "If I had known earlier, I would have been over to meet you much sooner. I'm Dr. Vitani." As she continued to speak, she turned her attention to Cassie. She leaned over her, using her thumb to fully open Cassie's eye as she shined a light into it. She moved her penlight left and right, up and down but Cassie's eyes did not follow it, completely unaware of its presence. The pupil did not even dilate at the bright light and Dr. Vitani frowned. "I heard young Cassie here was the first one admitted."
"That's right," said Maggie with a yawn. "Or so, that's what the doctor said."
Dr. Vitani checked the several monitors hanging aloft Cassie's bed. "Would you mind if I asked you a few questions?"
"Not at all," said Maggie, stifling another yawn. Maggie answered the typical medical questions with a sense of boredom, like she had answered them several times before. No, Cassie showed no signs of fatigue are illness. No, Cassie does not take any prescribed or recreational drugs. No, Cassie didn't have any candy. No, Maggie didn't recognize any of the other victimized children or their parents. Several more questions and answers were exchanged, none of them helpful if Dr. Vitani's expression was anything to go by.
"Thank you so much," said the good doctor as she concluded her questions. She wrote down a few statements on the clipboard she carried with her. "I'll be back with you as soon as I can. For now, how about you all rest for a while? You will be no good to Cassie if you are dead on your feet." She winced. "Please excuse my expression."
Though reluctant, they moved out of the massive room to a nearby waiting room. Scott pulled Hope aside and gave her a long hug. It was comforting to feel her arms around him and he didn't want to let go. Hope eventually pulled away and rubbed her hands along his arms. "You okay?" she asked with a tender voice.
Scott wanted to nod, but he slowly shook his head. "I don't know. I don't think I'll be okay until Cassie is."
"I thought you'd say something like that. How about I get us something to eat?"
Scott smiled at her offer and took her hands in his own. "Thanks, but that's okay. You've been great, really. But I know you work in the morning. You should go home and get some rest."
"And you?" asked Hope with an analytical glance. "You think you can keep running on adrenaline?"
Scott rolled his eyes at her tone. "I'll be fine, Hope. I promise. Thank you so much for today." He leaned in close and she closed the gap with a tender kiss.
"Keep me updated," she said with a light warning. She idly ran her fingers through his hair before leaving.
Scott watched her go and almost collapsed once she was out of sight. Lord, he was tired. It took a great amount of effort to walk himself back into the waiting room to join Maggie and Paxton. However, as he entered the room, he found it was just Maggie. The poor dear looked like she was about to fall out of her chair. With a quick glance to the other parents in the room, Scott moved to sit next to her. "Where's your fiancé?"
Maggie jumped at his question. She looked at him with exhausted eyes. "He has to work tomorrow. I told him to go home." She looked around. "Where's your girlfriend?"
"She has to work tomorrow," said Scott. "I told her to go home."
"Is that so?" Maggie put her elbow on her knee and rested her chin in her palm. She offered a wan smile but couldn't find anything else to say. Her eyelids drooped and she sagged in her chair.
Scott smiled back at her with his own weary smile and stood. "I'll get us something to eat."
Scott roamed through the halls aimlessly until he was able to find himself a vending machine. As he grabbed a couple bags of snacks, his eyes caught sight of Dr. Vitani down the hall. She was leaning over a counter in a position very similar to Maggie's. The doctor's dark skin contrasted against the uncomfortably white walls and floor, giving her the impression of a warm beacon of hope amidst the cold interior of the hospital. Scott couldn't resist the draw towards her as he opened his small bag of chips. He leaned forward on the counter next to her, resting on one elbow as he offered the bag to the doctor.
She was taken by surprise by his sudden appearance but was quick to collect herself. She offered a grateful smile and grabbed a couple chips from his bag. "Thank you," she said.
Scott waited for her to eat her chips before asking the million-dollar question. "Any idea what's going on, Doc?"
She let out a heavy breath and leaned further onto the counter. "Mr. Lang, right? To be honest, I do not know. I have never seen a phenomenon like this before—and that is saying a lot. It is almost on the verge of supernatural."
"Supernatural would fit the holiday spirit," joked Scott dryly.
"Keep in mind that it is still too soon to tell. It is important to stay positive. Positive thoughts bring positive results." She used her elegant fingers to massage her temple. "I wish I could say more, Mr. Lang, but I do not want to mislead you. I have to cross-reference some data before I can make a proper diagnosis. I may have to call a few colleagues for a second opinion as well."
Scott frowned, almost losing his appetite. "It's really that strange, huh?"
"Strange, indeed," said Dr. Vitani as she stretched. "If only Stephen was still in practice," she said to more herself than to Scott. "If anyone could come up with a diagnosis, it would be him."
With a hint of hope, Scott straightened. "Stephen? Who's that?"
"Doctor Stephen Strange," she said with an admiring smile.
Scott quirked his brow, completely focused on the conversation now. "Doctor Strange? The sorcerer?"
Dr. Vitani gave him an incredulous look. "No. He was a neurosurgeon. A proper artist with a knife, you could say. But he was also brilliant with diagnostics. He could merely look at a patient and immediately know what was wrong. I have not seen him since our internship, but I heard he was in an awful car accident. Badly damaged his hands." She looked down at her hands and flexed them a couple of times. "No one knows where he is now."
Scott deflated as she rambled on. "That's a shame," he mumbled. He wanted to kick himself for getting his hopes up.
"I'm sorry," she said, "I'm rambling."
"No, it's fine. We're all tired here."
She regarded Scott for a moment and smiled. "I promise, Mr. Lang, I will do everything I can to help your daughter and the others."
"Thank you," said Scott sincerely. "We really appreciate it."
"I need to get back to work. Thanks for the crisps," she said before walking away.
When Scott made his way back to the waiting room, Maggie was completely slumped forward in her chair. Had it been any other moment, Scott would have taken a picture at the ridiculous pose. He struggled between the options of either letting her sleep or waking her up to eat something. He opted for letting her get some rest while she had the chance. Without either of them having a car, they were both stuck at the hospital and would remain stuck for some time. Scott wasn't bothered by it. He wouldn't have wanted to leave anyway.
The room was mostly quiet. Most of the other parents weren't around and the ones that were quietly kept to themselves. The only overbearing sound was the small T.V. hanging off the wall. It was covering some boring news about politics that Scott really didn't care about. He never cared about politics before, but after the Sokovia Accords, any likeness he had for them was completely gone.
As Scott sat back in his chair and ate at his chips, a thought kept spinning around in his head. The whole phenomenon with the children really was teetering towards the supernatural. Being more of a man of science, it was difficult for Scott to accept, but he couldn't deny the facts staring at him right in the face. And there was one particular man that came to mind that might be able to help with such an unusual circumstance: Doctor Strange. The sorcerer, not the neurosurgeon. But, if he recalled correctly, Strange was all the way in New York. How could he possibly ask for help?
Scott pulled out his smartphone and opened up the web browser. If there was any place online to find someone, it was facebook. He spent countless minutes searching the various results, but none of them were the Stephen Strange he needed. He groaned and sagged further in his chair.
Several months back, Doctor Strange had called on Scott to help him with some monster infestation problem in New York. It was such a rattling experience that Scott barely remembered any details other than the aliens and the monstrous creatures. He tried desperately to remember what street they had been fighting on, but for the life of him he couldn't remember. The only solid place he remembered from his venture into Manhattan was their pit stop at Well Haven, NYC's Hospital. There was a doctor there who tended Doctor Strange exclusively. Perhaps, if he got a hold of her, she could get a hold of him.
The problem was, Scott couldn't remember her name.
He cursed his lack of memory and changed his search method. He directed his attention to the Well Haven website and scrolled through the long staff listing. He didn't know how much time he wasted scrolling mindlessly through the names before one popped out. "Palmer!" He was so excited at recognizing the name that he couldn't help but shout it.
Maggie almost fell out of her chair at the sudden exclamation. She looked around as she tried to remember where they were and why. "I fell asleep?" she asked, unbelieving.
"Here," said Scott as he paused in his search to offer her the second bag of chips.
"Thanks," she said, surprised to see it was her favorite brand and flavor. She opened the bag eagerly and dug in as she watched Scott twiddle on his phone. "What's a palmer?"
"She's a doctor," said Scott. He scrolled through the website until he found the hospital's phone number. He stood. "Maybe she can give us some help." Before Maggie could ask any more questions, he excused himself and made the call.
After several rings and an automated message menu that took way too long to travel through, Scott was finally able to speak to a member of the staff. "Hi, sorry, but I'm looking for Doctor Palmer," he said in greeting. "Christine Palmer, is she there?"
"I'm sorry," said the woman on the other line, "but Doctor Palmer usually works durking the day. Try calling again closer to noon. Is it an emergency? I can take a message."
Scott almost left a message, but he didn't know exactly what he would say that could possibly make sense. "No, that's fine. I'll try again later. Thanks." With a curse, Scott buried his phone in his pocket and banged his head on the wall.
Scott didn't know how long he had been sleeping in the waiting room chair. All he knew, upon waking up, was that his back was screaming at him for his poor choice of sleeping arrangement. He audibly groaned as he stretched his aching muscles. A few pats on his knee reminded him of his company and he looked to his left to see Maggie sitting next to him. There was a Styrofoam cup in her offered hand and he accepted it. By the smell alone he could tell it was coffee. He took a drink and grimaced at the bitter flavor.
"Paxton didn't know what you liked," said Maggie as she drank from her own cup. "So he just got you black."
Scott did a quick sweep of the room. The two of them were the only two parents left. "Where is he?"
"He just came in before work to check on Cassie and drop off the coffee."
Scott straightened in his seat. "How is Cassie?"
Maggie shook her head with a sense of despair. "No change. She hasn't even closed her eyes. The doctor says she's asleep but..." She waved her arms in uncertainty. "One doctor mentioned something about it possibly being a seizure. That makes no sense, though, right?"
Scott sighed as he stood. "I don't know at this point." He pulled out his phone to look at the time. It was a little past eight in the morning. He waved his phone to get Maggie's attention. "I'm going to try and get another specialist."
Maggie looked at Scott with disbelief. "Since when do you know doctors?"
"I just know one doctor," said Scott. "And he might not even be able to help. But at least it's a try." Maggie didn't look very convinced but she dismissed him. After finding a place of privacy, Scott made another call to Well Haven Hospital.
"I'm sorry," said the woman on the other line, "but Dr. Palmer doesn't work today. Are you a friend of hers?"
Scott grasped a handful of his hair as he thought over the question. He didn't want to wait another day; he wanted to speak to Doctor Strange now. He considered ways he could manipulate the situation to try and get Dr. Palmer's personal number. "You could say that," he finally said. "It's an emergency and I'm trying to contact her. This is the only number she gave me, though."
The woman hummed in thought. "If it's an emergency I can try and give her a call for you."
"That would be great," said Scott. It wasn't the direct approach he wanted to take but it was something, at least.
"What message would you like me to relay, sir?"
Scott paused. The short time he met Dr. Palmer he was dressed as Ant-Man. Sure, he could say that's who he was—that might even get the process moved a little faster—but then the woman on the other end of the phone would know Ant-Man's number. That could cause complications down the road.
"Tell her that Ant-Man needs her help and have her call me back as soon as she can, please."
"Yeah, he's an Avenger," said Scott a little defensively.
"I've never heard of him."
Scott wavered at hearing the sudden distrust in her voice. "A lot of people haven't. Please, she'll know who he is. He really needs her help—it's an emergency."
There was silence on the other line for several seconds. Scott hoped it was because she was writing what he was saying instead of silently judging his absurd request. "What number do you want me to give her?"
"Thank you, thank you, thank you," Scott said before providing his number. "Thank you so much."
"Sure thing," said the woman dryly. "I'll let the doctor know."
After their call ended, Scott met back up with Maggie before checking up on Cassie. Her and the other children were now bundled under several layers of blankets and had breathing apparatuses. Scott was instantly on alert. "What happened?" he asked as he looked around.
"I don't know," said Maggie, looking just as confused.
They flagged down a nurse who left to fetch Dr. Vitani. When the doctor joined them, she looked tired and her thick hair was a mess, but she still looked at them with sympathy and carried an aura of professionalism. She explained to them that an extended amount of REM sleep could be damaging. The body is unable to adjust its own temperature and breathing can be erratic. "It is more out of precaution than anything else," she had assured, though there was an uncertainty to her words. "They are not exactly dreaming, but the body is acting like it is and that can be very dangerous. If they do not recover from this soon, it is hard for me to say what could happen."
"Did you call your colleagues?" asked Scott, struggling to grasp onto some optimistic lifeline.
"Yes, and even people I have not met. Several minds are working on this, even from far away. I know it is hard, but we need to be patient "
With those parting words, Scott and Maggie did their best to kill time while waiting for any changes. They eventually spotted a local news crew finally coming to cover the story. Scott wondered if Doctor Strange watched the news. What would be the chance of him seeing it if the national news decided to do a news coverage?
Hours passed on slowly and Scott used that time to update Hope on everything so far. She offered words of support in return, saying she'd come by after work to bring them some food. He was in the middle of replying to a text from Luis when Maggie sat down next to him.
"It's strange," she said idly. Scott looked around the room for half a second before realizing what she meant. "There haven't been any other children coming in this morning."
"Maybe the parents haven't noticed yet?"
"It's a school day. I mean, if there were more sick kids then they would have been in by now. And why only kids?"
That had bothered Scott too. There hadn't been a single adult with the same symptoms. "A prepubescent thing, maybe?"
Maggie scoffed. "I doubt it."
Scott's phone suddenly rang and he looked down to see that it was a number he didn't know calling from New York. He leapt to his feet as he answered. "Hello, this is Scott."
"Hi, um, I'm trying to reach...Ant-Man. Are you the guy I'm supposed to call?"
"Yes, yes. This is me. Me, I'm, uh, me. Ant-Man." Scott smacked the phone against his temple before continuing. "Is this Dr. Christine Palmer?"
"Yes it is," she responded with a pause. "I heard there was an emergency. How can I help?"
Scott gave Maggie a thumbs-up and she responded with one of her own, an excited smile on her face. "Hi, I'm sorry to bother you like this but I'm trying to get a hold of Doctor Strange."
"Well, it's kind of hard to explain." Scott scratched idly at his head as he explained in his best detail what had happened to Cassie and the other children in the hospital. Christine remained quiet on the other end of the line as she patiently listened, giving appropriate responses when necessary. "So, I thought, maybe," Scott was concluding, "Doctor Strange might know what was going on or what to do. Or, if you know anything that'd be great too."
"This is definitely over my head," she admitted. "But, you're right, Stephen might be able to help you. I can give you his address, if you want."
"He's not exactly in driving distance," said Scott. "I'm in San Francisco."
"Oh! Okay, let me think." There was the sound of tapping on the other line. "I don't think he uses a phone anymore. I know he does e-mails but I don't know how frequently he uses his computer, especially now."
"Is there any way to contact him immediately?" asked Scott, trying and failing to be patient.
"It's hard to say. He has a tendency to just show up and leave without warning. Sometimes he brings friends. Wait, you were with him before, right? With the other Avengers or whatever?"
"You remember me!"
"I do now. How did you contact him then?"
"He kind of contacted me. He used a portal or something."
She sighed. "That sounds about right." There was another pause followed by a sound of discomfort. "I suppose I could go to his place."
"You can? That'd be great!" Scott's excitement momentarily overruled his ability of observation. Then his brain caught up with him and he realized her reluctance. "Is there something wrong?"
"No, it's just—complicated. We're kind of..." she trailed off for a moment before catching herself. "No, it's fine. It will take me a while to get to him, though. And he might not even be home. Or even in his body."
"I think I recall Cap' saying something like that before," he said with a moan.
"I'll do what I can for those kids," assured Christine. "I'll contact you if there are any complications. Please, inform me if anything changes for your daughter."
As the day dragged on, things only seemed to get gradually worse. The children's breathing apparatuses were no longer a thing of precaution, but of necessity. The children's breathing had become too erratic and their heartbeats had decreased to a dangerous low. The doctors had tried some forced physical activity to get the hearts pumping, but the bodies had grown stiff with severe hyperpolarization and barely moved. Medication was applied to increase the blood pressure, but nothing was working. The children were dying.
"I am so sorry," Dr. Vitani had told them in a forced tough demeanor, "but the children are fading away. If we do not do something soon, they may not make it past tomorrow."
The news was too much for Maggie. She collapsed next to Cassie's bed and cried into her daughter's sheets. Scott would have joined her on the floor, but he was numb to the point of paralysis. He stared down at Cassie's pale face and blank eyes. His brain was having a hard time keeping up with the dreaded information. He couldn't lose Cassie. She was the only light in his dreary world, something he realized far too late while he was in prison. She couldn't die. She just couldn't.
His world teetered and Scott stumbled out of the room, breath heavy. He didn't know how far he walked before he slumped against a wall and slid down to the floor. He pulled his legs up to his chest and cried into his knees.
A tap on his shoulder bolted Scott out of his state of shock. He thrashed like one would when being awoken halfway through a nightmare. He sniffled and wiped his face before looking up to see Hope looking down at him with a frown. When he didn't get up, she crouched down and sat next to him. She leaned into him and reached her hand over to grab his.
"Are you okay?" she asked, just above a whisper.
"No," said Scott in a gruff voice. "Cassie...is going to die. If I can't save her, she's going to die." He rung his hands through his hair.
Hope struggled with what she could possibly say to help soothe him. "How can I help?"
"You can't." Scott cleared his throat several times as he pulled his phone out of his pocket. There was no notification of a missed call or text. "I need to get Doctor Strange." He began to text out a message for Christine, updating her on the news. "But he might not even be able to help now."
Hope tried to read the text over his shoulder without being imposing. "Is he another specialist?"
"Kind of," said Scott after sending the message. He decided not to elaborate. He wasn't in the mood to explain to Hope about the existence of magic, let alone the fact that he was willing to give it a try.
"I'll drive up to his door," offered Hope, "and drag him here. Where is he?"
Scott dug the heel of his palm into his eye. He was getting a massive headache. "New York."
There was a long moment of tension between them as Scott burdened the weight of the situation and Hope tried to think of some way to alleviate it. The moment stretched on for minutes until Hope patted Scott gently on the arm. "Let me take you home," she offered.
"I don't want to go home," said Scott with the shake of his head.
"All right," she said with submission, "I can bring you straight back." She ran her fingers gingerly through his hair. "But you could use a shower. And change of clothes. Have you eaten today?" On cue, she showcased a doggy bag from a fast food restaurant she had brought with her.
It felt good to feel her nails trickle through his hair and he found he couldn't put up much of an argument. "I'm not hungry," was all he could muster.
"Too bad. Because you need to eat something." She stood and offered a hand which Scott reluctantly accepted. "When Cassie gets better, you don't want her to see you like that, do you?"
The two of them stopped by Cassie's bed to check up on both her and Maggie. Paxton had since arrived and was doing his best to console her. Scott felt guilty for leaving her like he did, but he wouldn't have been much good to her anyway. He announced that they would be back and then they left for the half-hour drive back to the apartment.
True to his word, Scott wasn't hungry and was only able to eat one of the burgers Hope had bought for him. In a careless fashion, he shoved the other burger in his jacket pocket to get cold. Luis had called a couple of times on the ride back but Scott ignored them. He'd be seeing Luis at the apartment and wasn't in the mood to talk on the phone. Besides, he wanted to keep his phone idle in case Christine called.
When Hope pulled up next to the apartment, Scott gave her a long hug. "I'm going to take the van back to the hospital. You can head on home."
"I can meet you back at the hospital," she insisted.
"No, that's fine," said Scott. As much as he enjoyed her company, if things did get worse he didn't want Hope to see him completely break down. They were close, but not that close yet. "Thanks, Hope. I'll let you know what happens, promise."
Hope was skeptical but eventually conceded. She gave Scott a departing kiss before sending him off. "Let me know when she gets better," was the last thing she said before leaving.
Scott made his way up to his apartment slowly, each step becoming more of a struggle as his lack of sleep caught up with him. He was struggling keeping his eyes open when he finally reached his door. He struggled with his key and lock for several seconds until the door was unlocked and opened for him from the inside. Scott looked up to see a very excited Luis in the doorway.
"Yo, Scotty, you're not gonna believe this, bro!"
Scott rubbed at his eyes as he made his way past Luis and inside. Luis' volume was way too loud after the quiet drive Scott just had. His headache intensified with every word his friend said. "Not now, man," Scott said as he made his way to the kitchen. He went straight to the fridge. Never before had he needed a beer so badly.
"No, seriously, man. I figured you'd still have Cassie so I went to the movies after work, right? And it was the bomb, man. You should have seen it. There was so much action in it yet it was interspersed by short, impactful periods of exposition and character development that kept the plot flowing. There was so much going on between the guns and the cars and all the stuff being blown up that I was just blown away by it. It was so invigorating—"
"Luis!" Scott was usually more patient when Luis went on his ecstatic rants, but right now Scott just didn't have the patience for it. He grabbed his beer and turned to look his friend in the face but Luis was talking again.
"Sorry, Scotty, but listen," he said, his words quickening in his excitement. "I get back from the movies but when I get inside there was this weird guy, right? And you know me, bro, I was about to knock him out. But then he's all, 'Where's Ant-Man' and I'm all, 'I don't know who that is, man.' 'Cause, you know, I got your back, bro."
Scott's dwindling attention span heightened as he focused more on Luis and what his roommate was saying. "Wait, what?"
"I know, right? But he didn't believe me. He said, 'I don't have time for this. I need to see Scott.' Then I was like, 'Whoa! You know Scott is Ant-Man?' Sorry, bro, it just kind of slipped out. So then I tried to call you—"
Scott pulled out his phone to check when Luis had called him. The first call had been over fifteen minutes ago, the second a minute after. "Why didn't you leave a message? Where's the guy?"
"I was going to leave a message but, you know, I've been playing this new game that came out and it's really good and my phone died. So I tried charging it but your charger doesn't—"
"The guy, Luis, what about the guy?!"
"The guy? Oh yeah, he's in my room."
"Well, you didn't answer your phone and we didn't know where you were so he said he'd wait for you."
Scott was already moving across the apartment to Luis' bedroom. "So you shoved him in your bedroom?"
"He said he needed some privacy then he did some Jedi mind trick thing on me and took my room."
Scott opened the door and turned on the light in one quick flourish. Hovering just above the bed, in a lotus position, was none other than Doctor Strange.
A/N: I really hate bringing in OC's for a fanfiction, especially since this particular fandom has SO MANY. So, if canon characters won't cut the necessities for the story, I typically like to drag characters from other fandoms into my fics for some extra entertainment. This can probably be seen as a triple-crossover but the main focus is Doctor Strange and Ant-Man. Try to think as this villain (Dr. Vitani, too) as a cameo. I'd like to see who all will recognize her by the end, though her identity is probably obvious at this point. Here's a hint, it's a classic movie for the Halloween season—thus her cameo in this Halloween fiction. I hope you enjoy her presence.
Also, don't drink away your sorrows, kids.