Please excuse any mistakes you may see in this chapter. I just wanted to get this chapter out because I think I've waited long enough. I may come back and fix any errors but for now, here is a chapter update!
"Out of all the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most."
Wong could tell that the nightmares were getting worse.
Every day he watched Strange as he struggled to do the most mundane errands around the sanctum and every time he asked, Strange would reply that he was fine. He was lying straight into Wong's face and he didn't like that. Not because he cared for Strange. He was a grown man who didn't need to be coddled but he was mostly worried that a sorcerer with infinite mystical knowledge at his fingertips was sleep deprived and not in his right mind. To Wong that was a recipe for disaster. He had already seen men in their right minds misuse and abuse the mystical knowledge that Kamar-Taj had to offer. He can only imagine how someone like Strange might do when he hasn't been sleeping for days.
Wong watched as Strange, bleary-eyed, and sluggish walked into the sanctum, still in his pajamas. Another night without sleep. Strange headed for the kitchen, no doubt to get his first cup of coffee of the day.
"You missed our training session."
"Shit!" Strange nearly yelped and jumped at the sound of Wong's voice. He didn't even notice Wong sitting at the kitchen table. He was completely unaware of his surroundings. Wong frowned.
"I'm sorry." Strange said once he calmed a little. "I must have forgotten."
"You've been doing that a lot lately. Forgetting."
"I know. I said I'm sorry."
"I don't care about your apologies. My concern is for you."
"Oh, I'm touched," Strange replied sarcastically.
"Don't flatter yourself. It's not out of sympathy. What I am concern about is the state of your mind. You have not been sleeping."
Strange went silent.
"Is it the nightmares?"
"Have you spoken to Melissa?"
Strange hesitated and then shook his head.
Strange shuffled to the kitchen table and collapsed into a chair, sitting across from Wong. He had a better look at Strange now he was closer. Wong noticed his red eyes. This time, he could tell that Strange had been crying. This has got to be worse than he thought.
"Strange. What is going on with you?"
"I don't know." He mumbled. Strange held his head in hands. He looked and sounded weary Wong observed.
"Why haven't you spoken to Melissa?"
Strange went quiet again.
Wong stood up, feeling suddenly agitated. "Fine. I tried to help but you won't listen to me." He was about to reach the doorway of the kitchen to leave when Strange's voice spoke out.
Wong stopped and slowly turned back to Strange. He waited patiently for Strange to get his bearings. When he finally looked up, Wong tried to hold back his grimace at Strange's sudden vulnerability reflected on his face.
"I am scared that this is something that can't be fixed. Just like my hands." He choked out. "I already went through that pain. I thought I could fix that and every day, every surgery, every physical therapy appointment reminded me that I was broken. That I will never be fixed. Until I came here. Here, I found some hope." Strange was now looked at Wong straight into his eyes, almost pleading with him to understand.
"Now, this," he pointed at his own head. "This is a whole different territory. This is something I can't fixed with surgery or physical therapy." Strange paused for a moment and swallowed back a sob. "So, I am scared that this is something that can't be fixed because so far if magic can't do it then it's… hopeless."
Strange let his head hang down as if his confession left him feeling exhausted. Like he had been holding in that truth inside of him for so long and now that it was out, it left him feeling deflated. Wong stood quietly by the doorway, watching Strange's hunched figured. To Wong, Strange looked like a man who had been carrying this weight and is begging for someone to remove it. He walked quietly over to Strange and stood next to him.
"You're going to go see Melissa." He said, firmly. He was careful not to sound too rough. Strange didn't need rough at the moment but he needed Strange to see that he meant it and that it was important.
Strange nodded, his head still hanging down.
"Do one thing at a time." Wong continued. "First, go see Melissa. Then worry about the next step and then the next and the next."
Strange nodded again and said, "Okay."
"In the meantime, take a break from practicing and doing spells. The last thing we need is you saying an incantation wrong, and you end up on the other side of the universe because you were sleep deprived."
"Alright. I get it. I won't do anymore spells and I'll… go see Melissa." Strange said wearily.
Wong nodded sharply, "Good." He was glad that he made his point, and the matter will be taken care of. He then walked away leaving Strange alone at the kitchen table.
"Master Strange?" A soft voice called out to him from the depths of the darkness. He didn't want to leave this place. It was quiet and peaceful. It's what he had been looking for. "Master Strange?" He soon felt a gentle hand on his shoulder that quickly jerked out of that peaceful darkness. He sat up with a sharp gasp and groaned when he felt a tight crick in his neck. He realized that he must have fallen asleep, lying flat over on the table.
A figure standing next to him jumped back at his abrupt wakefulness. "Oh, God, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."
Stephen looked up to see a pretty, blonde woman looking down on him with concerned, green eyes.
"No, it's okay. I was just um, …" he winced as he tried to move his head. A sharp pain flowed up his neck. "Resting."
"It didn't seem that comfortable."
"Well, sleeping at a right angle does that to you. Forgive my bluntness but who are you?"
"Oh, I'm Melissa Concord." She offered her hand towards Stephen who took it gingerly. "Master Wong sent me to talk to you."
"Right, yes. You didn't have to come all way here yourself. I was on my way to find you."
"After your nap?" Melissa tried not to smile.
Stephen faltered slightly. He didn't even remember falling asleep.
"That's okay. From what Master Wong told me sleep has been an issue for you for a while now."
"Yes. It has been." Stephen suddenly felt uncomfortable. And so, the touchy-feely therapy begins.
Melissa smiled at Stephen as though she could read his mind.
"Why don't we take a walk?" She offered. "It's autumn in Kamar-Taj and the leaves are lovely this time of the year. You can tell me what's been going on with your sleep." Stephen was surprised. He had expected to go to a quiet room with a couch where he can lay down and express all his feelings while Melissa writes in a notebook of his insecurities. Isn't that how therapy normally goes? He began to follow her back to the portal into Kamar-Taj.
"What? Were you expecting a couch and me with a notebook?"
Melissa grinned. "Some do and others don't. But something tells me that you're not the sitting still type when you are agitated."
She was right. Damn, she was good.
"I figured that walking and talking would make you feel more comfortable and be more like a conversation rather than an appointment."
Stephen nodded, "Makes sense."
They strolled into the courtyard of Kamar-Taj for a while, comfortably chatting just about anything. Stephen was surprised of how easy it was to talk to Melissa. It was as if they were old friends. Stephen had never really had such an easy conversation with… anyone. Not even with Christine. He felt at ease in her presence and felt like he could tell her anything. He realized that minutes had passed since he had said anything. He got lost in his thoughts and it was when Stephen realized that Melissa was waiting for him to speak again.
"Oh, sorry. I was just thinking."
"This." He waved a hand between him and Melissa. "I didn't know how easy it was to talk to you."
She smiled. "You never spoken to a therapist?"
Melissa furrowed her brow at Stephen. "Not even after your car accident?"
Stephen shook his head, "I refused it. I thought I didn't need it. My hands were my main concern and I thought that if I could fix that then the rest would follow."
"But as a doctor, I'm sure you would have noticed the symptoms of PTSD?"
"Is it that obvious?"
"From what Master Wong told me and knowing a little about your history, I made an assumption."
Stephen sighed. "Yeah."
"So why did you wait this long to seek help?"
Stephen hesitated, "I don't know. I guess I was afraid."
"Let me guess. That you might be crazy?" she teased.
Stephen huffed out a small chuckle. He would be lying if that thought had crossed his mind.
"Don't worry. That's not my job. My job is to offer a subjective viewpoint of your issues and help navigate towards a solution."
"That sounds simple enough."
"Good. I hope. Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to call myself a therapist." She smiled. "So, tell me what's been going on."
Stephen took a deep breath and looked down at his hands. "Lately, I've had trouble sleeping. Nightmares."
"And sleep deprivation."
Stephen looked up.
"Yes, it's obvious. Your nightmares are so bad that you are terrified to sleep."
"What are your nightmares about?"
They reached a stone bench that overlooked the courtyard of Kamar-Taj and sat. Stephen looked at the large tree that stood in the middle of the courtyard and watched as the bright orange, blood red, and coffee brown leaves fall gently to the stone ground. He never once paid that much attention to that tree but today he noticed it's colors and found it oddly peaceful.
"My death." Stephen looked over at Melissa and saw the mild shock on her face that she tried to conceal.
"I seem to die every time I dream. In the most horrible and painful ways."
"Such as?" Melissa prod gently.
"Usually my car accident. Sometimes other ways but mostly the car accident and… Dormamu."
This time Melissa didn't hide her shock. "The ruler of the Dark Dimension?"
"Yeah. He usually shows up and it's like I didn't escape him. He kills me over and over again. Like before. He finds me wherever I go and kills me. Last time I had control of the time loop. I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew what was happening, but I knew I could get myself of out. But now while I'm sleeping… I can't get out. I'm scared. I have no control over that. Rationally, I know they're just nightmares and they can't hurt me but irrationally, I am actually afraid to go to sleep. Like I'm some child afraid of the boogeyman."
"So what you are telling me is that… you're afraid of dying?"
"Wow. Welcome to the human race. I would think as a doctor you would have been more aware of the concept of death."
Stephen scoffed. "Good point." Strange couldn't argue with that. "But I'm usually the one keeping people from dying."
"Is that why you became a doctor? To stop death?"
Stephen hasn't given much thought as to why he became a doctor. But yes, he supposed it was to stop people from dying. He could agree to that. After all it was the greatest challenge. There was a certain pride in rubbing in the face of death by saving someone.
"The arrogance you must have had."
Stephen was startled by Melissa's statement and quickly snapped his head up. "Excuse me?"
"You thought you could beat death. You believed that with your intellect and hands you could stop the one thing that everyone on Earth cannot escape from. Death. Since your car accident and meeting the Ruler of the Dark dimension, you became aware of your own mortality, and it scared the shit out of you."
Stephen supposed she is right. In a way. Who was he to disagree with a therapist's observations? He started to feel uneasy with this realization. How cliché. Was this the problem all along? He was suffering from an existential crisis?
"You have to realize, Master Strange." Melissa said softly. "You are going to die. No medicine and no magic will ever stop that from happening. It's inevitable."
Stephen could feel his breathing was getting heavier. There was a knot forming in the pit of his stomach and his chest felt heavy.
"You do not have control of who lives and who dies anymore. You are fighting against the current with no hope of reaching the surface."
You cannot beat a river to submission. You have to surrender to it's current. The Ancient One's own words came back to him. Stephen tried to speak, his mouth opened and closed a few times. He was unable to say anything. His hands began to tremble, and he was starting to pant as if he was out of breath.
"And that fear? Listen to it. Don't fight it. It's the only thing that will ever tell you the truth. Because fear doesn't lie. It reveals who you really are. "
Stephen snapped his eyes shut. He realizes that he was on the verge of a panic attack. He tried to breath deep through his nose and slowly out his mouth. The last thing he wanted to do was to pass out in front of Melissa.
"Master Strange. You're having a panic attack." Melissa said calmly. "Don't fight it. Remember to breath and step aside to let this moment happened.
He squeezed his eyes shut. He couldn't help it. He was fighting it. Every fiber of his being was telling to resist this attack but the more he did, the more he couldn't breathe.
"Strange!" Stephen heard Wong call out to him. He quickly opened his eyes to see Wong standing next to him, looking confused. "I've been calling you."
"Sorry. I was talking to-" Stephen's voice panted as if he ran. His voice trailed off when he realized that Melissa was not there.
"Who were you talking to?"
"Melissa Concord. Where did she go? "
"She's right here." Wong moved to the side to reveal an plain looking, older woman with dark brown hair and eyes walking up to them.
"Hello, Master Strange. I'm Melissa Concord." She introduced herself with a smile and took out her hand to shake. Stephen stood there, looking at Melissa confused.
"That's not her."
Melissa looked bemused, "I'm pretty sure I am."
"I was already speaking to Melissa Concord. You sent her to me so we could talk."
"No, I didn't."
"I was just talking to her!"
"I'm afraid you weren't. I just got here."
"But I was…"
"Strange. There was no one with you when I walked up to you. You were alone."
Stephen's eyes went wide. He could feel the panic flooding back. Oh, God. He's losing his mind. His throat felt dry and the tears welling up.
"Oh, my God. I'm going crazy." he whispered. He's lost it. He's finally lost it. There is no hope, no saving from this.
This time, Melissa stepped in. "No. You are not going crazy."
"I was just talking to someone who wasn't there!" Stephen yelled. He reached up and grabbed both sides of his head and pulled his hair.
"Strange, you need to calm down." Wong said.
"Why don't we go inside and just talk-" Melissa began to suggest until Stephen interrupted her.
"No!" He shouted. A few of the other students in the courtyard turned to look at the sudden outburst. He stared at Wong and Melissa with mad eyes. "I am beyond talking!"
A sudden blast of energy bolted out of his hands, shaking the stone ground until it snapped and cracked deeply into the earth. Wong and Melissa jumped back, surprise etched onto their faces at this display of untamed power. Stephen didn't stick around to hear anymore lectures from Wong and he quickly rushed off back to the door of the Sanctum.
Wong's eyes followed Stephen's retreated form and narrowed suspiciously. This has become more than just nightmares and trauma. This was something else.
I'm sorry for this very late update. I have been dealing with some very personal shit and self-doubt. Especially having doubts about my own writing ability. I know my writing isn't perfect. I make mistakes and I try to correct them as best I can but a part of me doesn't care because all I want to do is tell stories and hope that other people enjoys them. And when I get a review or the story is being followed, etc, it proves that doubt wrong and helps inspires my writing more. So with that being said, I just want to say thank you everyone who was left me a review, kudos, or bookmarked this story. I have not abandoned it! I will finish this story until the end and in the meantime, I hope you enjoy the ride! 3
Don't be shy! Please, leave a review. It helps feeds the writing beast!