Christine lifted her head and gave him a look over. Who'd think that Stephen 'Brioni and Armani' Strange would look so good in this New Age type of outfit one would expect from a self-proclaimed yoga master from New Jersey? The collar framed his strong neck, the dark colours complimented the hair, and even the appalling facial hair somehow worked.
"Stephen, what am I doing here?" she asked, and he gave her that head tilt of his. She'd forgotten the head tilt: slightly amused, a tad arrogant - and so damn sexy.
"You're eating pizza, mind we still haven't chosen the toppings."
"No, Stephen, I mean what am I doing here? What am I here? Can I have any explanations? At least what this place is, and…" She drowned in her own confused squawking, and vaguely gestured around her.
"Do you mind if I order food first, please?" He dropped his eyes to the screen, and was now swiping the screen. She avoided looking at his hands. Too many painful memories would resurface, and she was overwhelmed as it was. The scars were still visible, and the tremors were very much prominent. The combination of pain and worry she still felt towards his accident, topped with vaguer but no less uneasy memories of those very hands on her skin before the car crash - no going there, Christine! - would just be a bit too much. He was alive, he was here, he seemed grounded and calm. He was busy ordering pizza. She took a measured breath in. Maybe, that was enough for now.
"This place..." Stephen started his explanation, apparently. He was still clicking on the list of toppings, by the way. Always busy, always multitasking, his mind never at peace. "This place is a former base of a certain organisation, which I have mentioned before."
"The cult you've mentioned before," Christine chimed in, her tone innocent.
"It's not..." he started; and then lifted his eyes and caught her expression. He gave her a sardonic look from under a lifted eyebrow. Out of the two of them he was always the funnier, the wittier one; it was nice to catch him off guard once in a while. "I have inherited this building, and I'm calling it the Sanctum Sanctorum. I will live here, and will… operate from here."
"Operate?" She was 99% sure he didn't mean surgery.
"I have been appointed the Master of the Sanctum, the New York base of the same organisation."
"You know, Stephen, I've always admired your eloquence," Christine muttered sarcastically. "You can talk for up to half an hour sharing virtually nothing. What organization would it be? Can I have any direct answers? And what 'operating' are you even talking about?"
"Magic," Stephen answered offhandedly, and finally finished his order.
He threw the phone on the nearest book shelf, and focused on her. He had been exceptionally focused on her all evening, to think of it. He would forget about her five minutes into any event they'd gone to when they were together - together-ish, to be precise - and he would only remember that she was his plus one when they were back to his place. And then only because he had quite a specific activity they were to start in his mind. Then he would be focused on her, but that's quite a different matter altogether, wasn't it?
And now, he was looking at her, actually looking - and listening, and hearing; and it was disconcerting. And a tad exciting.
"Magic? As in horoscopes and Taro?"
"No," he drew out, and she gave him a pointed look, signalling that he was expected to elaborate. "Magic as in manipulating space and reality; travelling between dimensions; tapping into the supernatural."
The Christine from before would probably leave thinking that he was just messing with her; she might have suggested he took a break as he was clearly overtired; if he insisted on his delusions, she might have tried to have him institutionalized - but the Christine of today had seen a levitating cloak in the OR.
"Alright… And what exactly is the agenda of this organisation? Its mission?" she asked.
And then some noise came from the depth of the house, and Christine twitched. Her eyes flew to Stephen, but he didn't seem scared, or prepared to fight off some unknown enemies. He looked… exasperated.
The second set of doors into the living room, which they currently occupied, opened; and a man came in. Christine froze above her overcooked, slimy looking dinner.
The man was Asian, wide, and menacing looking. There was a slight scowl on his round face. He also held a scary looking staff in his hand.
"There's a rift in Naples," the man announced, and then his eyes fell onto her. For some reason, she apparently decided that a small childish wave of her hand was the way to greet him.
"Hi," she squeaked, and Stephen made that annoyed 'ugh' noise of his she was so familiar with. Slow nurses and incompetent colleagues used to get it all the time. It rumbled in his throat in some very masculine way.
"I've closed the rift, Wong. Two hours ago. It cost me the integrity of my dinner, and a large dry cleaners bill. And this is Christine." He made a small wave towards her, and Christine wished he'd continue this introduction.
'This is Christine, my...' what? She couldn't vouch for Mr. Wong - his face expressed nothing - but she was very curious what it was she was to Stephen Strange.
"This is Wong, my... colleague," Stephen added.
See, was this too hard? Clear and to the point. Now, Christine knew that Mr. Wong was in the same undetermined organisation doing god knows what, somehow related to different dimensions and supernatural. While Christine was still left without a title.
Mr. Wong gave Christine a short, but respectful bow, turned around, and marched out of the room, tightly closing the door behind him.
"Where were we?" Stephen asked, and Christine dropped her head on the table again.
"You were telling me about your organisation," she mumbled into the table cloth, and then a door bell rang through the house.
"That would be pizza." Did she hear his voice shake with laughter? "Excuse me for a moment."
"Sure," she was still addressing the tablecloth. She heard a low chuckle, and then steps, and an opening and closing door.
Christine groaned and sat back in her chair.
Long time ago - or at least it seemed like ages - when that excruciating, dissatisfying thing between her and Stephen started, there was one element to their relationship that drove her up the wall most of all. There were other infuriating behaviours and quirks, and then new and new would be added, but for the longest time what Christine hated most of all was - waiting for Dr. Stephen Strange.
He'd call, tell her to get ready, she'd get dressed - and then she'd sit for an hour in her apartment waiting for him. Then, it would turn out that he was called in for some tricky and exciting surgery. He would just forget about her!
Or, they would be at some event, he'd finish his speech, answer questions, and they would mingle and chat with people. And then the evening would be over, and the host would take him in their study, and Christine would be left alone. Couple times she stayed and chatted with the waiters, or a kind spouse of the host. Most of the time, she'd take a cab and go home.
And then, couple hours later, he'd call or waltz into her place, expecting this evening to continue most pleasantly. She asked once if he realized what he was doing but he seemed completely confused by her reaction. If she was angry, he'd just leave. And call in a few days as if nothing happened. Sometimes she just ignored it, if she was in the mood for that very continuation of the evening he expected.
It was clear that there was no point in trying to change him. She just had to decide whether she wanted to wait for him - or not. At the beginning she thought it was worth it; and then she didn't think it was. And it all ended.
And now she had this funny image in her head that he'd never come back with that pizza. Actually, the image wasn't funny at all. And not that unrealistic.
"I'm almost done," Stephen's voice rang from behind the door. "Sorry, can't find any plates."
Christine stared at the door.
Maybe, he was telling the truth. Because only magic could turn the man who once forgot her in the opera during an intermission, into a man apologizing from a different room that he had no clean plates.