Disclaimer: This fanfiction is not written for profit and no infringement of copyright is intended. Not beta read, so all mistakes are mine. A little present for MizJoely, who tells me she loves Clea and Stephen…


HEARTSBANE


"I see you've returned to us."

Wincing, sore all over, Stephen Strange opens his eyes. Raises his head.

There's a woman in front of him, all in white. White hair, white skin. Her eyes are ultra-violet in their brightness. They flash with a lavender hue, burning with a magic so potent it makes the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

Everything in his being tells him that this woman is dangerous.

And yet, and yet… There's something about her that makes his skin prickle in the most inexplicable way.

"Who are you?" He asks, his voice so hoarse he's surprised it still works.

The woman says nothing though, merely looks at him assessingly.

"You're not nearly so fearsome as my father claims," she says eventually. "Frankly, I expected someone more…"

"Manly?" Stephen can't help the sarcasm in his voice, though he knows it won't help him. God only knows how long he's been here, how long Dormammu has had him or what has been done to him. He of all people knows how fragile the human body can be. Still, his old arrogance wraps around him, a tattered cloak which will do him no good, and he smiles.

He is the Sorceror Supreme, defender of the Earth, dammit.

The woman smiles too. Steps closer to him. She walks calmly around the chair to which he is bound, inspecting him from every angle. Every now and then she stops, her fingers grazing his throat, his hair. The shell of an ear. "Fascinating," she murmurs, and then- "I have little information on Midgardians.

I never thought I'd have the chance to examine one in the flesh."

"And is that what this is?" Stephen demands. "An examination?"

The woman shakes her head. Smiles. It's… sad, but somehow chilling too. "My curiosity is more than merely medical," she tells him, and it sounds like there's real regret in her voice. "The more I know about you, the better I can make you last. The better I can wring the information my Emperor demands from you." She shrugs. Walks back towards the door of his cell. "Judging on what I've seen, I think we shall start with "cold."

And then she taps on the door, opens it.

The guards standing outside look absolutely petrified of her.

"Cold what?" Stephen snaps. She's speaking in riddles and he finds it maddening. Surely the only person who should be speaking in riddles is him? The woman turns on her heel though, looks at him keenly. "There are six schools of torture," she says crisply. "Loud, sharp, blunt, hot, cold and wet."

Another shrug.

"I normally start with loud, but I don't want to risk damaging your hearing, not when we can't get a telepath to communicate with you should it go." Stephen files away that small piece of information, hides a tiny sense of triumph. So, the last ditch protections for his mind still hold, do they?

He'll have to buy Wanda a beer.

"Don't look so pleased with yourself," the woman says wryly. "You have but slowed a process, not defeated it. My father will have the knowledge he seeks, I will see to that."

Stephen rallies. "And do you have a name, oh cocky one?" He asks.

Again, the tatters of his arrogance feather about him.

The woman smiles, and the terror of the thing is its gentleness. "You may call me Clea," she tells him. "The soldiers call me Clea Heartsbane."

She sketches him a mocking little bow.

"I'm His Majesty's torturer."

And with that she leaves him. Still bleeding. Still tied to that chair. Still helpless, the one thing he has sworn he will never be again.

Stephen tells himself that he shouldn't let her title worry him. He tells himself that Wong, Thor and, even, God help him, Loki, are on their way to save him, but still…

He is not a stupid man and never has been.

He knows a predator when he sees one, no matter how lovely her eyes.

The prickle of her magic hangs in the air, intoxicating and utterly alien, as Stephen tries to calm his heart.