Disclaimer: This fanfiction is not written for profit and no infringement of copyright is intended. Not beta read so all mistakes are mine. This is the final foray into his universe for me and I would like to thank everyone who has joined me, everyone who has read, given kudos and left the odd review. I hope you like this.
A NEW THING IN THE HEAVENS
In the end they catalogue ninety seven new stars in the night sky above New York, and a few dozen more, visible only in the Southern Hemisphere.
Jane Foster is so excited about this development that she finally agrees to go out with Thor again. (In fairness, he woos her by offering access to the Sanctum Santorum's astronomical equipment.
What astrophysicist could resist?)
Other planets report similar experiences to Earth's: Stephen hears from Loki (who heard it from Nebula, who heard it from Carol Danvers) that across the galaxy thousands of stars which had been missing for centuries have flared back into existence. Their planets too. Some exist for only a moment before disintegrating. Others sputter on, bereft of life. Many, however, have small populations, populations which had spent the last millennia feeding Dormammu and the Dark Dimension.
On those planets there are rumours of a woman, a woman with electric lavender eyes and sickly starlight skin.
Stephen hears that they call her The Walker Between Worlds.
She appears throughout these new planets, speaking to the populations. Helping resettle territorial disputes and fears of both invasion and unrest. Settling rules of law and easing the populations' reentry into galactic society.
Because of this, she is sometimes known as The Peacemaker. She is also, sometimes, disparagingly, called The Plague Maiden (though Stephen doubts that's ever said to her face).
When he hears these stories Strange closes his eyes and secretly smiles, because he knows who they refer to, and he knows now why she did what she did, even if it meant killing him.
It turns out that Clea Heartsbane is capable of a great deal more than just being Dormammu's torturer.
When he explains this to Wong, Wanda and the other Avengers the only one who really believes him is Bucky Barnes. Stephen supposes he can understand why, too: more than any of them The Winter Soldier knows about trying to make a new life for yourself in the wake of an unspeakable past. He understands the need for redemption. The others remain wary, sceptical, wondering whether Clea is trying to put together a new empire, one made in Dormammu's image and using gratitude for ending the Dark Dimension's villainy as a way to build loyalty…
Stephen leaves them to their theories.
He knows the truth, deep in his bones, and that's enough for him.
Sometimes, late at night, he stares at the night sky above New York and remembers The Walker Between Worlds. Stares at his wrists, roped about with the remains of Dormammu's last, star-sick, tattooed flesh. It is probably this which allowed Clea to bring him back to life, he muses. These reminders, they ache in a very different way to his hands, now- And yet, Stephen hopes Clea's happy, wherever she is. Whatever she's doing. If she were here, he would tell her he has faith in her.
The Beatles sing about places they remember, people too, the city a lullaby in Stephen's ear as he sleeps.
A year passes, then two. Three. Four. Five. (How the Hell has it been five?)
There are battles and worries and he lives through two more apocalypses, both of which he manages to reverse.
This is, Wong assures him, pretty much business as usual for The Sorcerer Supreme.
Stephen continues to train, continues to learn. He even, occasionally, takes advice from someone other than Wong. After the breakup Wanda moves into Kamer Taj, taking over the day to day training of the recruits. Needless to say, Wong does not go with her. Loki reverts back to his female form and reconnects with his wife, Sigyn; Thor and Jane marry a few months after their reunion and pretty soon there are a bunch of little Asgard/Midgard/Jotunn hybrids running around the Sanctum Santorum and getting under Stephen's feet. (They are all, of course, both adorable and terrifyingly powerful, which is why they live there).
Christine Palmer becomes Christine Murdoch, having married the lawyer she was dating and through her Stephen meets his next three girlfriends: Clare Temple (she dumps him), Mercedes "Misty," Knight (she also dumps him) and Jessica Jones (she never dumps him, she just keeps disappearing until he gets the hint. Also, she wrecks his car with a baseball bat after a night of heavy drinking and after that, Stephen decides that maybe celibacy is a good idea for a while.
It will be easier on his conscience and his belongings.
After her second turn in rehab Jessica agrees)
Through all this, he never quite stops thinking about Clea. He knows it's unfair of him, and he knows it's ridiculous, but he can't ever quite banish her from his thoughts. They are, after all, bound by more than flesh now. When she killed him and brought him back she remade him anew. And even if they weren't still connected, well… Stephen knows what he feels. He suspects he will never change how he feels, and deep down he doesn't want to. But Clea's not there and Stephen, despite his profession, is a realist, so he just ploughs onwards and gets on with the Avenging, Defending and even, occasionally, The X-Menning (it's a long story.)
His life is full.
His life is interesting. (Wonderfully, horrifically interesting.)
And if, in the deepest, darkest hours of the night he can't help but acknowledge that he is not happy, well, what's happiness? He's not sure he's ever felt it, not for long. Not with anyone.
He's not even sure he's built for it.
Happiness is the one luxury which he never was able to buy, even on his surgeon's wage.
And then one night he comes home to the sound of Rubber Soul in his rooms, and the scent of perfume on his sheets, and he realises that even if he's not built for happiness there still might be a share of it that's his to be had.
He just has to be willing to reach out and take it.
She looks older than he thought she would, and more human. That's his first thought, when he sees her. His second is that she seems so much easier in herself, in her own skin, than the person he lived with five years ago. Her hair has grown even longer, pearlescent white now and streaked with purple. It hangs down to her knees. Her eyes are softer too, less electric, and around her wrists she sports an identical set of once-were-starlight bands of flesh to his own.
Her hands go to them when she sees him, her eyes flashing down to his.
Very slowly, very carefully, Stephen pulls up his sleeves and lets her see the scars she left him with.
"They held," she breathes out, her voice soft. Relieved. She smiles and it's bright. Pleased. Now she looks at him and if he didn't know her better he'd swear she was blushing. "I wasn't sure," she says. "I had to leave before…"
"Before I came to," he supplies.
To his surprise, there's no annoyance in his voice.
She frowns, blinks at him. She must notice it too. "Do they not pain you?" She asks. "They do me-"
"Pain is an old friend, Clea." He steps over the threshold. Closes the distance between them. "As are you."
With that perfect timing it has always possessed the Cloak of Levitation floats off his shoulders and flits off to its own place.
Stephen can't help but feel it's trying to give him a hint and, judging by the small smile tugging at her lip, Clea agrees with him.
"An old friend, am I?" She asks. He nods, stepping closer to her. "I've ever had an old friend before." The Beatles croon in the background, the same song she'd first listened to in this room, and at his nearness Clea gulps. Meets his gaze.
She steps suddenly, deliciously close to him. Her eyes are pools of starlight.
"Is an old friend all I am?" She asks quietly. "Or might we-"
He doesn't let her finish, won't take a chance on her misunderstanding. Taking her face in his hands Stephen kisses her, long and sweet and deep. As long and deep and sweet as the last five years' longings have been. It should be ridiculous; it should be unbelievable. It should be the last thing on his mind. By rights, they should be having a long damn talk about disappearing acts, and high handedness, and making decisions for other people (not that he can really afford to complain about others doing that). They should be discussing everything else the last five years have wrought.
But instead, instead he just kisses her. Just presses his lips to hers.
He just breathes her in and holds her close and, when they have to part he stares down at her. Waiting for her. Aching for her.
He had thought he lost the ability to want anything as much as he wants her right now when he lost the power in his hands, but he was wrong.
"Again," she murmurs. Her eyes flutter open. "Again, Stephen Strange," she tells him, "Or I shall start to think that old friends are all we are…"
This time, despite her order, she kisses him.
That one kiss leads to another, which leads to another, which leads to a loss of clothes and inhibitions and, eventually, a loss of control. They fall into bed together, a press of passion and pleasure and newness. A joy five years in the making. It feels glorious.
In the morning they will talk.
In the morning, they will lay ground rules and ask questions and figure out how to make this- all of this- work.
But it's not the morning, not even the dawn, and Stephen knows that he's just fine with that. He knows he's not going anywhere and somehow, somehow, neither is she.
The city sings, and the Beatles sing, and their bodies sing together in the darkness….
Until finally they're both home. Home in one another, home with one another. The rightness of it burns in the darkness.
"No more killing me to save the universe," he murmurs in the darkness.
"No promises," Clea smiles and though she's joking, Stephen understands that she's not as well. He's ok with that.
After all, that's what happiness looks like when you're the Sorcerer Supreme.
There now, thank you for reading and if you enjoyed leave a wee comment. Hobbits away, hey!