Every night he had the same dream and every night, he would pace in his bedroom. He avoided his bed. He would instead practice on spells that he needed to work on or go downstairs into the library and read about more new spells. Some nights he would speed read books that could help him sleep to avail and other nights he would study about other dimensions and demons with a cup of coffee by his side until he couldn't see straight. Other nights he would go up to the roof of the sanctorum where the Ancient One kept a small garden and watch the city lights. Almost every night he would do everything except go to his bed. And every day, he would feel exhausted. It was plain to see. Wong had noticed but he wasn't going to ask any questions. Yet. Even the cloak had noticed the weariness and exhaustion that emitted from him. And there was one simple reason for that.
He was scared.
Dr. Stephen Strange, former world-renowned neurosurgeon, sorcerer of the mystic arts who faced down a demon from another dimension, scared of going to sleep. Like some terrified little boy who was afraid of the dark or more specifically, his dreams. He knew, rationally, that they were only dreams and that dreams cannot hurt him, but he couldn't help to dread his own bed when the night came on. He remembered the helplessness, unable to escape the danger he felt while he slept. His avoidance of sleep affected his time during the day. He recognized the symptoms of sleep deprivation right away since he experienced it while he was in college and medical school. Not to mention the shifts at the hospital as a resident. The mood swings, the forgetfulness, being clumsy, and the constant feeling like his head was full of cotton were all familiar symptoms of being sleep deprived. He also quickly concluded of possible PTSD. It was the most plausible explanation given all the crap that he had gone through last month. It would explain the nightmares which would cause the insomnia. He also had experienced mild flashbacks. He's caught himself once or twice, zoning out while in the middle of performing a spell, lost in memories that were so clear and vivid he thought for a moment he was still back there. Either Wong calling his name or the cloak touching him would have been enough to snap him out of it but lately, it had become more difficult to escape from.
The nightmares started off simple and sporadic enough. Memories of the car accident, which was no surprise, but other memories would filter in from his past including him confronting Dormamu. Soon, over the weeks, they became much more frequent. And much more vivid.
And the nightmares always started the same way.
He was back in that car. Trapped, tangled within the mangled metal but this time, the car was sinking into the river. The car had veered off the road and spun until it landed in the water. His hands were bloody and torn but he knew he had to get out. Through the pain, he pried his seat belt off and began to try to break the driver side window. Streaks of blood trailed down the glass from his bloody fingers when suddenly he felt himself pinned to his seat. Long purple limbs wrapped around him from behind. They slithered and crawled around his body, moving up towards his face until they gaged him effectively. He watched with wide eyes as smaller purple tentacles began to bound his bloody wrists and hands together liked a coiled snake. His groans were muffled as he tried to release his hands, but the limbs held on strong. The blood covering his hands squelched as he moved them, sending little bolts of pain up his arms.
"You've come to die." He heard deep voice sang quietly. He jerked in the seat from the sudden whisper. It was a familiar voice. The voice of Dormammu was so close that it almost as if his lips were pressed against Stephen's ear.
He continued to struggle against his bonds. His eyes widen when the face of Dormammu slowly appeared in front of him through the dark water, like some demonic shark.
"You will suffer." He chuckled darkly. "I will make sure that you will suffer."
Suddenly he felt his wrists twist around unnaturally and pain shot up through his arms up to his shoulders. His screams were muffled through the gag. He looked down at his bound hands and groaned in misery. They were crushed beyond repair. Tears began to gather in the corner of his eyes.
He watched helplessly as the face of Dormammu suddenly rushed forward towards him and crashed through the window. The icy, cold water quickly filled the car, giving Stephen no time to escape. The water rose fast, it reached his neck then his mouth until he was submerged, and he couldn't breathe. He couldn't breathe, he couldn't-
Stephen shot up in bed, gasping loudly.
It took him a few moments for the nightmare to clear from his mind and for him to realize that he wasn't in the car anymore but in his room, in his bed.
He let out a long and heavy sigh. His heart was still beating fast in his chest. He was drenched in sweat and his clothes clung onto him. He took another steady breath when he suddenly felt something soft touch his shoulder. He let out a smothered yelp of shock when he quickly realized that it was his cloak.
The cloak tilted its collar to side as if to ask, "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine. Just a bad dream." Stephen replied, still out of breath. The cloak still lingered around Stephen as he got up and headed towards the bathroom. It was 5 in the morning, so it was good time as any to start the day and take a shower to wash off the sweat. The cloak had followed him, still concerned for his master.
Stephen looked at the cloak behind him and huffed. "I told you I'm fine." He repeated and shut the door to block the cloak from going any further. He placed his head against the wood, taking in deep breaths through his nose and slowly out. He still felt shaky. The adrenaline still coursed through him although it was slowly tapering away. He brought one of his hand to brush the hair that stuck to his sweaty forehead and saw the hard tremble in it. He was used to his hands shaking, the occasionally tremor that comes and goes but this time they were shaking so fiercely for another reason. He pushed himself away from the door and headed straight for the shower to wash the linger nightmare on him.
He refused to sleep that much Wong can tell. The dark circles under Strange's eyes were a dead give- away. But he also seemed... jumpy. Like a spooked horse waiting for something to jump out at any moment. It's only been a week since he first noticed something was wrong with Strange.
Wong remembered walking into the kitchen of the New York sanctum one morning for a cup of the French roast Strange had bought only to find him standing there in his pajamas at the kitchen counter. Staring at the toaster.
At first, Wong thought he was waiting for a piece of toast to be done until he realized that it wasn't even plugged in.
He called out Strange's name, repeating it over and over until he got close. Strange didn't even acknowledge Wong until he placed his hand on his shoulder tearing him out from whatever daydream he was lost in. He jumped and let out a small cry of surprised that turned into a relieved sigh when he looked over and realized who touched him.
Wong noticed the redness in his blue eyes that looked as if he had been crying. He was about to ask if Strange was alright when he quickly beat Wong to the punch.
"Hey, sorry. Was lost in the thought." His smile didn't quite reach his eyes.
"You're making toast?"
Strange nodded stiffly. "Yeah, you want some?"
"I would. If you could plug it in and you know, have bread."
Confusion flashed in Strange's eyes for moment until he turned his eyes back to the toaster. He let out a soft chuckle. "Right." He plugged in the toaster and went through the kitchen cupboards one by one looking for a loaf of bread.
Wong eyed him suspiciously as he moved around the kitchen. "Are you… alright, Strange?"
Strange glanced over his shoulder, "Yeah, I'm fine. Why wouldn't I be?" he tried to sound nonchalant but came out as forced cheerfulness. He couldn't find the bread.
"You seem a little nervous."
"I'm not. I just… had too much coffee this morning." He smiled tightly.
Wong looked over to where the coffee maker was. It was turned off and empty.
"You haven't been sleeping." It was a statement, not a question.
Strange hesitated before answering, "Um, yeah. Just haven't been sleeping right for a few nights but it's nothing that I can handle, you know being a doctor." He went back to looking for the bread. He still hadn't found it.
Wong was quiet for a moment as he continued to watch Strange in his useless search. Strange could feel Wong's eyes on him. The silence was heavy between them. Strange still had his back to Wong and he knew that Wong kept… staring. This was getting awkward.
Finally, Strange broke the silence as he turned and faced him. "Was there something else?"
Wong ignored the question "There is something wrong with you."
Strange scoffed. "Wow, tell me what you really think."
"You look exhausted."
"Yeah, I told you I haven't been sleeping well."
Strange shrugged. "I don't know. Sometimes I have nights where I can't sleep. I'm a doctor. I'm used to sleeping at odd hours." Which was partially true, but he wasn't going to tell Wong about the nightmares.
"No, it's more than that."
Okay, maybe he wouldn't have to tell him.
"Look, I'll be fine. After everything that's happened, I just need to go back on a regular sleep schedule, and I'll finally get my beauty sleep."
Wong stood silent as he stared at Strange with his eyes still narrowed. He looked as if he were trying to see the source of Strange's… strangeness. There was something going on, but he didn't know what exactly. After a few moments neither man said anything. Strange began to look uncomfortable at Wong's observation. shift his feet and avoided Wong's eyes. Okay, this was getting more awkward.
"Okay. I'm gonna go to the grocery store. I've, um, ran out of bread."
Strange left the kitchen in a slight rush. He could still feel Wong's eyes follow him out.