*A/N Another Marvel story - this one I've been playing with for a while because I actually really did like Strange's relationship with Christine Palmer. But random note sketches and plot lines became a story so here we go! I do not own Marvel or any of its characters. I only own my OC. Story contains spoilers for the movie from Doctor Strange through Avengers Infinity War.
Maya Garthe sat, cross-legged, in the corner of the study.
Her light brown eyes were closed and her entire being radiated calm as she sat in a deep, meditative state, her thoughts drifting and yet intensely focused at the same time. It was a soothing practice that helped clear the mind and one that was highly encouraged at Kamar-Taj - especially as of late. A brow twitched but otherwise the dark-haired woman remained still as she breathed softly, tending to her mental health as she would her physical.
A soft cough from beside her brought her out of her meditation and she lifted her head to see two men standing just outside the doorway to the study. One she recognized immediately: Karl Mordo, another Master of the Mystic Arts and a good friend. The other, she did not and Maya examined the stranger as he stood uncertainly beside Mordo.
Matted hair, a scraggly beard and wounded blue-green eyes suggested that this man was unemployed and desperate; his clothes conversely were expensive despite the ragged and torn state they were in. Clearly the man had chosen them to attempt to blend in and not stand out, but Maya was taught to read through deceptions and she knew the brands this man wore would be treasured by a truly poor man. The utter lack of regard for his clothes would be quite puzzling given his overall appearance… if Maya hadn't been able to see his hands. His scarred, damaged and shaking hands.
Maya sighed internally as she realized what this man must be after; it seemed another lost soul had wandered into the Ancient One's hallowed halls. It was not an ideal time but they offered aid to those who needed and deserved their help - this man would be no exception.
After a murmured conversation with Mordo, the stranger stepped into the room and Maya watched as his eyes fell on Master Hamir where the master was seated quite regally at one of the study desks as he perused a book. Or pretended to anyway. Maya knew the old master well enough to know he'd also been eyeing the stranger furtively, waiting; watching.
The stranger cleared his throat and Maya raised a brow as he began to address Master Hamir awkwardly.
"Thank you for… woah!"
The man jumped a little as two students, Paleo and Martin, stepped forward and silently removed their visitor's jacket. Maya knew her role and she stood up silently in the shadows while the man stared after the students, blinking.
"Okay, that's, uh... a thing…" He muttered mostly to himself before turning back toward Master Hamir although this time he kept an eye on his surroundings too.
"Thank you for- oh."
The stranger blinked again in surprise as he saw Maya approaching him silently.
"Hello." He said awkwardly. Maya just silently handed him a cup before gliding away to the edge of the room.
"Uh, thank you." The stranger called after her; she almost smiled.
It was funny, really, how everyone who first came to their temple (or almost everyone) was so lost and awkwardly polite, not sure how to really react. And then they all learnt in the end, she thought as she glanced at Mordo where he still stood in the doorway, watching the newcomer's struggle with an entertained gleam in his eyes.
Stephen Strange meanwhile was distracted as a bald woman dressed in white robes came up after the pretty, dark-haired woman with light amber eyes left him with his cup.
"Thank you." He said a little distractedly to the bald woman as she poured him warm tea in the empty cup he now held. Between all the people approaching him and his own rather bewilderment as to how to react to his current situation, it was proving to be quite difficult to get down to the reason for his visit.
Clearing his voice, he looked over the woman pouring him tea and back at the wizened Asian man seated in the study chair.
"Uh, thank you, Ancient One," Stephen began as the man rose out of the way… and walked away. "For... seeing me…"
Stephen trailed off, confused as he watched the Asian man exit, before his gaze snapped back to the woman before him as she said warmly in a soft British voice, "You're very welcome."
Stephen couldn't help but stare at the woman who looked not much older than himself despite the shaven head, and then back at Mordo for help. Mordo simply smiled, clearly enjoying Stephen's shock - that smug jerk, Stephen thought - before he bowed slightly.
"The Ancient One." He whispered, barely containing his mirth.
Stephen slowly looked back at the Ancient One as she called, "Thank you, Master Mordo. Thank you, Master Hamir!"
Master Hamir bowed on his way out, the two students who had taken Stephen's outerwear following; but Stephen's gaze landed on the quiet woman with amber eyes as she remained silently in the corner. She was the only one besides the Ancient One and Mordo left, but as she was neither the Ancient One nor the person who'd brought him in, he wondered at her reason to stay. 'Is she the surgeon? The Ancient One's disciple maybe, or the head researcher?'
His puzzled thoughts were broken as the Ancient One addressed him once more, a pleasant smile on her face as she greeted, "Mr. Strange!"
Stephen shook his head, clearing it as he corrected almost automatically, "Doctor, actually."
He absently drank the tea he had been offered while in her corner, Maya raised a curious brow as she watched. The Ancient One however continued rather smoothly, "Well, no. Not anymore, surely. Isn't that why you're here?"
Stephen paused mid-drink and he lowered his tea to stare at the Ancient One as she commented lightly, "You've undergone many procedures. Seven, right?"
"Yeah…" Stephen said slowly while the Ancient One walked away to put down her teapot.
"Good tea." He added lamely.
The Ancient One just smiled as she began to take up her tea things and Stephen glanced at Mordo. The man gave him an encouraging smile and Stephen turned back to the Ancient One.
"Did you heal a man named Pangborn? A paralyzed man." Stephen asked tentatively.
"In a way." The Ancient One replied brusquely as she bent down over her work, not looking at Stephen. It didn't discourage him.
"You helped him to walk again." He insisted and the Ancient One paused enough to look at him.
"Yes." She answered evenly and Stephen asked incredulously, "How did you correct a complete C7-C8 spinal cord injury?"
"Oh, I didn't correct it." The Ancient corrected him quickly and Stephen frowned.
As though sensing his confusion she finally straightened up, her piercing blue eyes meeting his. Now carrying her own cup of tea, she explained in a cool voice, "He couldn't walk; I convinced him that he could."
"You're not suggesting it was psychosomatic?" Stephen asked skeptically.
The Ancient One matched his tone with a clipped tone of her own as she questioned, "When you reattach a severed nerve, is it you who heals it back together or the body?"
"It's the cells." Stephen answered the obvious, confused, and the Ancient One continued, "And the cells are only programmed to put themselves together in very specific ways."
"Right." Stephen nodded in agreement before he was surprised when the Ancient One asked quite briskly, "What if I told you that your own body could be convinced to put itself back together in all sorts of ways?"
Stephen straightened, his interest piqued.
"You're talking about cellular regeneration." He breathed, glancing between the Ancient One, Mordo and the amber-eyed woman at the back of the woman. Mordo had said at the door, before they entered, for Stephen to forget all he'd known before - was this what he had been talking about? Stephen had already been publicly outed for not having stripped his mind of preconceived notions and prejudice when he'd mistaken Master Hamir for the Ancient One. Was this now the next test, to throw away his ideas of restricted medical practice?
"That's... leading-edge medical tech." Stephen trailed after the Ancient One as she again busied herself with handing out tea to Mordo and then to Maya.
"Is that why you're working here, without a governing medical board? I mean... just how experimental is your treatment?"
The Ancient One had by this point reached Maya; the two women's eyes met over the cup of tea the Ancient One offered her. She could read the growing impatience and slight distaste in Maya's eyes but she checked the younger woman with a look. Maya let go of her initial disinterest at the admonishing look - after all, most everyone who arrived at Kamar-Taj were unwittingly disrespectful at first. Strange wasn't even really disrespecting them, he was just living in his preconceived notions of what he thought they did. With that thought in mind, Maya steadied herself and found peace once more.
The Ancient One, satisfied, turned and clasped her hands behind her back as she addressed Strange once more.
"Quite." She finally responded to his question.
Strange hadn't noticed the silent exchange, too excited by the possibilities he was seeing and he asked eagerly, "So, you figured out a way to reprogram nerve cells to self-heal?"
"No, Mr. Strange." The Ancient One finally interrupted Stephen's fantasy as she stepped up to him once more. "I know how to reorient the spirit to better heal the body."
There was a beat of silence before Stephen spoke again.
"The Spirit... to heal the body." He did his best to keep his skepticism from his voice as the Ancient One turned away again, sipping her tea.
It took several tries for Stephen to clear his head and force back his irritation; he'd sacrificed too much already and he was determined that here, in the place where Pangborn had mysteriously been healed, he would find his own cure.
"A... Al... Al... alright." Stephen stammered before he pulled himself together and he followed the Ancient One as she returned to her desk. "How do we do that? Where do we... start?"
He trailed off as she answered by showing him a picture in a book of the map showing the various chakras of the human body. Stephen stared blankly at the picture before he glanced at the Ancient One, wondering if this was some kind of joke. Her smile was wide but shrewd in a way he disliked as she watched his reaction quite carefully behind a mask of innocence.
"Don't like that map?" She asked casually and Stephen answered with forced politeness, "Oh, no. It's-it's really good. It's just… you know, I've seen it before... In gift shops."
He couldn't quite contain his sarcasm at the end. The Ancient One just smiled like a little girl as she flipped the pages to show a new picture and she asked, "And what about this one?"
Stephen glanced down at the picture of a human body that was segmented into various tiny pieces and he groaned internally.
"Acupuncture, great." His voice sounded dead even to himself but the Ancient One just continued to smile as she asked, "Yeah? What about... that one?"
She flipped the pages to open to an image that Stephen was extremely familiar with, having worked with countless of them in his field.
"You're showing me an MRI scan?" He asked in disbelief, one step away from exploding. "I can not believe this."
He turned away, muttering, unaware of the way Maya's gaze had become cool and condescending as she watched him. The Ancient One had but she allowed it this time as she placed down her book before saying loudly and clearly, "Each of those maps was drawn up by someone who could see in part, but not the whole."
Stephen was ignoring her completely by this point, his hands pinching his eyes as he looked to the heavens for patience while he muttered, "I spent my last dollar getting here on a one-way ticket, and you're talking to me about healing through belief?"
He turned back to face her, completely disgusted and more importantly irritated with not just her but himself. For thinking miracles could exist, for coming here and wasting his time, for falling for what could only have been a loony story from a man who had been bitter against Stephen for not taking what had been an impossible case.
The Ancient One examined him quite calmly as she replied, "You're a man who's been looking at the world through a keyhole, and you spent your whole life trying to widen that keyhole: to see more, to know more. And now, on hearing that it can be widened in ways you can't imagine, you reject the possibility?"
"No," Stephen growled angrily as he stalked up to her. "I reject it because I do not believe in fairy tales about chakras, or energy, or the power of belief. There is no such thing as spirit!"
Maya's face went cold though Mordo seemed faintly entertained - he was waiting and willing to put aside Stephen's gross faux-de-pas, to give him a chance, once he saw the truth. Maya was feeling far less generous - but then, she had good reason to be. Especially now.
Stephen didn't notice their reactions, his eyes fixed solely on the Ancient One who was still smiling rather serenely at him. Wanting nothing more than to wipe that smug smile off her face, he said harshly, "We are made of matter, and nothing more. We're just another tiny, momentary speck within an indifferent universe."
"You think too little of yourself." The Ancient One commented and Stephen exploded, "Oh, you think you see through me, do you? Well, you don't. But I see! Through! You!"
He jabbed a finger at her and Maya was quite satisfied when the Ancient One grabbed his hand, twisted it and slammed her hand against Stephen's chest. The man's body sagged strangely, before he fell back. Mordo stepped forward to kindly hold up the man's suddenly deadened body - Maya would have been quite content to let him fall.
A moment later, Stephen jerked upright and he asked wildly, "What did you just do to me?"
"I pushed your astral form out of your physical form." The Ancient One answered calmly but Stephen was still breathing extremely heavily, completely freaked out.
"What's in that tea?" He demanded. "Psilocybin? LSD?"
Maya snorted from behind him, making him whirl on her before he whirled back to the Ancient One as she answered quite calmly and with a light shrug, "It's just tea. With a little honey."
Stephen took a deep, shaky breath and he asked mostly to himself, "What just happened?"
"For a moment," the Ancient One answered his rhetorical question. "You entered the astral dimension."
"What?" Stephen asked, still freaking out, and the Ancient One explained, "A place where the soul exists apart from the body."
"Why are you doing this to me?" Stephen growled, staring her down with wild eyes, still trying to wrap his head around what he had just witnessed, had just experienced. It was impossible, it couldn't be, it-
"To show you just how much you don't know." The Ancient One replied as she stared back into Stephen's eyes. "Open your eye!"
She touched his temple and Maya watched as Stephen's body went a little limp, as though unconscious. Mordo helpfully pulled up a chair for Stephen's body to sit in and they watched as his body jerked strangely in his apparent unconsciousness while his spirit wandered through plane after plane of different dimensions. His heart was beating wildly as his spirit completely freaked out, something Mordo commented on.
"His heart rate's getting dangerously high."
At Mordo's words, Stephen jerked up as the Ancient One released him from her influence for a brief moment. The former physician's eyes were wild as he looked around, panting, and the Ancient One examined him.
"He looks alright to me." She answered, and then Stephen was slumped over again as his spirit was sent careening away once more.
His body continued to twitch and jerk as his spirit flew about, his heart pounding at seemingly one hundred miles an hour. Stephen remained in that state for a brief moment before he came too so quickly he fell out of his chair and landed in a heap at the Ancient One's feet.
"Have you seen that before in a gift shop?" The Ancient One asked quite calmly.
It was funny really to see her in comparison to Strange, who's entire body was trembling where he lay on the ground, fighting to breathe even as his mind went wild with the new knowledge that he had only gotten a glimpse of. Raising himself to his knees, Stephen slowly sat up and his gaze landed on his shaking hands.
Looking fully up, he stared at the Ancient One as she stood before him, and he gasped out two words.
Maya's eyes flew to the Ancient One. The Ancient One's eyes remained fixed on Stephen, her expression unreadable, before she said one word.
Maya heartily enjoyed throwing Stephen - and his coat - out onto the street. Even his cries and his pleas did nothing to diminish her satisfaction although they did start to annoy her after five hours.
"For the love of Agamotto, does he not know when to give up?" Maya groaned as she stepped into the Seeing Room, her black robes flowing behind her.
The Ancient One had just wrapped up a meeting with the Sanctum Masters but Maya was surprised to see Mordo there with their leader.
"Mordo doesn't seem to think he will." The Ancient One commented casually, but Maya wasn't fooled.
Her eyes narrowed and the younger woman protested, "You're not considering training him?"
"Why should I not?" The Ancient One questioned, suddenly interested as she examined the younger woman.
"For the reasons you cast him out in the first place." Maya replied, sounding incredulous to even be having this conversation. "He is headstrong, arrogant, self-absorbed; even his plea to be taught was the same as him!"
"Master Mordo - your counterargument?" The Ancient One asked calmly, ignoring the last outburst from Maya.
Mordo was equally unruffled as he said, "You both fear he is like Kaecilius, that he will be led astray like Kaecilius was; but where one fell you have one who did not."
"You did not lose me to the darkness. I wanted the power to defeat my enemies and you gave me the power to defeat... my demons. To live within the natural law."
"We never lose our demons, Mordo." The Ancient One corrected, sounding troubled and Maya was certain she hadn't been convinced yet to teach Strange even if she hadn't fully ruled it out. "We only learn to live above them."
Mordo stepped forward as he insisted, "Kaecilius still has the stolen pages. If he deciphers them, he could bring ruin upon us all. There may be dark days ahead."
Mordo looked from the Ancient One to Maya and back again.
"Perhaps Kamar-Taj could use a man like Strange." He wheedled.
Maya shook her head in disagreement. This was ridiculous, Mordo was grasping at desperate straws if he thought-
Maya looked at the Ancient One, and she shook her head as soon as she saw the gleam in the older woman's eyes.
"No. Oh, no." Maya protested, but the Ancient One just smiled.
Stephen pawed at the door like the lost puppy that he was. The sun had set hours ago, but he barely noticed as he banged weakly against the door repeatedly.
"Don't shut me out." He whimpered pitifully.
This had been his last desperate attempt and - really - it seemed like his best. Here was an actual chance not just a possibility, and he'd been blown off like a speck of dust. Like he was nothing. Stephen sat back against the door, exhausted and miserable.
"I've nowhere else to go." He whispered, saying the admission out loud for the first time.
Suddenly the door jerked open and Stephen toppled inside, surprised at the sudden loss of support for his back. The meaning behind the open door hit him just seconds after the floor did.