Who: Christine Palmer, Stephen Strange What: friendly discussion about strange things. When: sometime last week Rating: Green
Another double. Christine didn’t mind so much working all the time and not sleeping. Of course not. That was silly -- who WOULDN’T want to spend over 16 hours drenched in blood, bodily fluids and other things? Her hands were chapped from the harsh cleaners in the ER, and she just wanted to go to sleep.
Unfortunately for her, her body and mind were not friends right now. Stepping into her apartment, her mind suddenly wakened at the sight of dirty dishes, the blankets on her couch, and the one hamper full of (now) wrinkled clean clothes. Bleh. At least she had the next few days off, and even after that, she was only on-call which was hit or miss. A few moments later, she had hung up her coat, put away her keys and had Desperate Housewives playing on the TV. Why yes, she did have the boxset. What about it?
As usual, her mind slipped into mindless thoughts as she filled the sink up. And by mindless thoughts, she meant Stephen. He hadn’t shown up the other night, but in all honesty, she hadn’t expected him to. For a man as meticulous as he was, he was still shit at following through with plans. Still. It didn’t hurt like it used to, all those years ago. Instead, she just accepted it. It was Stephen, and he’d show up at some point. Maybe. Or not. Either or. She had made some friends out of his little group, and she was pretty sure that in the divorce, she’d get to keep them so that made her happy.
It took thirty six hours in the Peruvian Amazonia to track down an inter-dimensional beast that liked to suck the blood out of goats and was resistant to Eldrich spells. The locals were whispering about Chupacabra, but Stephen Strange knew better. He took a few hours to himself to clean up and read about where such a creature might have originated from, after he brought the corpse back to the Sanctum.
After a few hours, he remembered he was supposed to get a pizza and visit Christine.
A few portals later, he was knocking on Christine's door wearing comfortable attire of khakis, t-shirt and hoodie, and sneakers that had seen better days. There was an extra large pepperoni pizza floating by his left shoulder, held up by the universe's most loyal outerwear: a red magical cape.
The noise surprised her and she ended up splashing her scrubs with dishwater. “Shit,” she muttered to herself, grabbing a dishcloth. It was a vain effort, considering how wet she had gotten but she still rubbed at it as she went to the door. Opening it, she almost said something until she saw the pizza.
Her smile brightened her face and she forgot her clothes were gross. “Oh yah, that’s what I’m talking about.” Once upon a time, a floating pizza would have freaked her out. Now? It was free pizza with a side of Stephen. Plucking it out of the air, she pulled it close, almost cuddling it. “This is way better than boring oatmeal. Thanks, you!”
Within seconds, she was back to her tiny kitchen, the box on the table while she happily munched away, still in soaked clothes. “So did you take the long way here or what? Oh, I know -- you forgot where I live. That’s okay, understandable. You’re getting old and forgetful.”
"Good to see you again so soon, Christine," he intoned, walking in and locking the door behind him once the cape flew inside. "I forgot how much I missed your attempts at repartee, since the last time we sparred at the hospital."
Once inside, he made his way to the kitchen and grabbed a piece of pizza for himself, folding it before taking a bite. The way that pizza is meant to be eaten.
"I'm also surprised you remember where you live," he said, between bites. "You tend to take your work home with you. And, tell me if I'm wrong, it was a double shift. I'd trade that for the Chupacabra I tracked down in Peru."
Christine's eyes widened and she pumped a fist in the air. "The chupacabra?! I knew it!" All thoughts of sleep evaporated. This was exciting!
"What about Bigfoot? Does he exist? Is Men in Black really true? Ooh! What about La LLorona?" She grinned and took a very satisfying bite of her pizza. "Okay, I kind of like this cult you're leading, even if I'm still wary of the kool-aid."
Stephen actually cracked a lopsided smile. It was accompanied by a deep chuckle as he shook his head at what he considered to be his new normal.
"I hate bursting your bubble," he replied, almost done with the first slice. "It wasn't actually el chupacabra. Those are actually a man-made experimental hybrid and aren't as harmful was the blood sucking inter-dimensional being being mistaken as a Chupacabra. Sasquatches are a cryptid creature. Men in Black is a government conspiracy. La Llorona is a ghost. And if any cult offers you the choice of kool-aid, always say no and take your chances with the alternative choice. If you're offered one. Cyanide is a terrible way to go."
Before taking that last bite, he couldn't resist teasing by adding, "Hope that wasn't too much mansplaining all at once."
Christine was slightly disappointed at how quickly Stephen debunked everything. "There's no mystery with you," she grumbled, finishing her own slice of pizza.
Looking down, she finally noticed how dirty her clothes were: wet, icky and had a blob of what she hoped was pizza sauce. These were clean when she left the hospital... right?
Wiping a hand on her bottoms, she pulled her top off, leaving her in a tank top. She balled the offending garment in a ball and tossed it to the hallway. "Okay, well is there anything that really does exist? Like the tooth fairy?" She wriggled out of her bottoms, also tossing those to the side. "Because she still owes me money, and I wanna collect."
Now in her boyshorts and tank top, she reached for another slice before stopping suddenly. "Do you want a drink? I might have some pop...or beer."
"That's simple. Things aren't a mystery, if your mind is open enough to accept it."
Stephen didn't think a thing about it, since they'd seen each other in various stages of undress before. He wasn't shy and he wasn't dead either, so he did look down at her legs before grabbing another slice of pizza. His first instinct was to ask for tea, but that didn't really go with pizza very well. And he was doing the whole sobriety thing in case he needed to rush off for a new arrival or emergency, so beer was out of the question.
"Sure. I'd like a slow death by corn syrup," he said, taking a bite and chewing slowly.
“It’s a pop, Stephen,” Christine said, rolling her eyes. “Once in a while isn’t going to kill you.” She went to the fridge, grabbed two Cokes, and closed the door with her hip, stopping suddenly in her tracks.
“Wait. Are you immortal now? I mean, I know you’re all ...magical or mystical or sparkly, whatever, but I just realized I don’t actually know what any of that means. You’re still my best friend right? I haven’t been traded in for some alternate Christine who lets you get away with your crap all the time?”
The whole parallel universes thing had been on her mind since she did her intro on the network. After meeting with ‘the girls’ and seeing how everyone had come from a different place. ..it made her wonder. Who was here before? Was there a Christine before? Or did she, THIS Christine, just seamlessly take over?
“Oh god, do I have parents here I need to say hi to? I probably do, don’t I? I mean, I had them back ..there...wherever there was …I’m going to have to google their number. What if they’re not in Seattle anymore? These parents could have finally taken the plunge and moved to Florida...ugh.” She bit hard on her pizza as she handed Stephen his drink. “I don’t know how you do it.”
"I'm still your best friend and a completely normal human being," he reassured her. "If stabbed, I'll bleed. I will get old and die. Like any other human will."
Stephen took a soda out of her hand, using magic to crack it open rather than using his hands. He'd seen first hand the cost of 'borrowing' immortality, and it wasn't a risk he wanted to take. It wasn't worth it, when there too many dimensional entities that might become parasitic or desire more.
As for the question about parents, he gave her a wry smile before replying.
"If you had parents there, then you have them here. If you talk to them about being in an alternate dimension, they're probably going to have you committed. And if they've moved to Florida, at least the rain is warmer?"
Every point covered, Stephen toasted Christine with the can of soda and took a drink.
Christine just shook her head. “You don’t get it. This is normal for you. These conversations are normal for you. They’re not for me. Until you came in that night…” She trailed off and looked at her half-eaten slice, suddenly not hungry. It was easier for her to not look at him right now, so she set her food down and went back into her little kitchen. The dishes were where she had left them, so she resumed scrubbing.
Except for the tinny voice from her radio, there was silence in the kitchen until just as abruptly, she splashed her hands in the water.
“I don’t know how I’m supposed to be,” she finally said, her voice quiet and less confident than it had been in years. “I’m surrounded by greatness and I’m just me. I have no powers. I have no...abilities. I can’t even figure out if I’m actually me, or if my parents are my parents, and sometimes, I sit and think about other Christine. All day.” Christine blinked, surprised to feel tears on her face. With a sniff, she cleared her throat. “Maybe I’m not cut out for this.”
Strange was the world's worst at comforting others. Even his hugs with grateful relatives of a patient he saved were of the awkward and stiff variety. But Christine was a friend he had for a very long time, one that cared too much for others. She wanted to help and she wanted to fix what she could, as much as she could. A fact that he knew all too well, particularly with how vigilent he was being with this reality they were thrown into.
He sat the pizza and soda back down. He wiped his hands off with a napkin, and walked over behind her, resting his hand on her shoulders to help calm any frayed nerves and offer some stability.
"You can help. You have abilities. You're one of the greatest emergency room surgeons I've ever seen. You've saved a lot of lives. My own included. Even the lives of those who could be Darwin Award recipients."
He rubbed her shoulders a little, as much as his ruined hands and all the metalwork within them would allow.
"You've found yourself dropped into something you never expected," Stephen told her. "It's normal and healthy to question it. Everything you knew over there was copied over here. Call your parents in Seattle. Trust that your other self is just as capable and qualified for whatever is thrown at her, as you are here."
Christine stiffened slightly at his touch, only to let herself fall apart and turn. Throwing her arms around his waist, she buried her face in his chest and cried unabashedly. Part of her realized her hands were still wet, and they were drying on his jeans, but that didn’t matter. She needed to get this out, get it all out before she could keep moving forward.
“You never liked my parents much,” she managed to mumble after a while. With the hem of her tanktop, she wiped her eyes and her nose before giving him a lame smile. “So how about you call them for me, and tell me if they’re the same? Give them some kind of weird excuse, like I’m a Maxim model now, and need to know if they’re still religious.”
Stephen let her have her moment to grieve. Everyone, he imagined, needed to do that in their own way after finding themselves in a place that was familiar, and yet very much not. He lightly rubbed a hand over her back, between her shoulders, not even paying attention to her wet hands or where they were. He was there as reassuringly immovable as ever.
That included that time he had dinner with her parents, and he spent the entire meal dropping bone dry pearls of sarcasm left and right.
"Lets upgrade that. I hate your parents," he finally said, looking down at her. "I'll call if you want. Talking with them is more unpleasant than a root canal, and I will never regret telling your mom that. Or that your dad had a bright career preaching under a tent, to people pretending to be crippled. Were they still living over in Laurelhurst the last time you talked to them?"
Christine nodded. “Yeah, although they have been talking about downsizing and giving the proceeds to the Church.” She rolled her eyes and sighed, stepping back. It’d been a while since she’d been this close to him, and she was suddenly aware that she wasn’t wearing any pants.
“It’s okay. Maybe I’ll just go and visit them. I missed Easter, and they were pretty annoyed. I don’t know, think they’d be happy if I saw them for Ramadan?”
If Stephen was aware of the lack of clothing, he didn't show it. It was just one more thing that seemed perfectly natural, or not worth noting. It was hard to tell with him.
"That sounds like them," he replied in regards to their downsizing." If you show up on their doorstep and wish them a good Ramadan, I want to be there. You won't be able to handle two heart attacks happening simultaneously."
In a much more serious tone, he waited before telling her, "You're going to be all right, Christine. You wouldn't be here if you weren't needed in some capacity or other. That tends to be the trend. I believe there's some purpose to it."
The blonde simply nodded and cleared her throat. She wasn’t one to dwell or feel sorry for herself. In fact, it was better not to. “I know,” she said finally, a ghost of a smile on her face. “I got through medical school and dating you. I mean, if that’s not a sign of my resilience, I don't know what is.” She gave him a light swat on the arm and moved around him, heading to her room to get dressed. It was getting cold now.
“And just so you know,” she called out from her room, a light tease in her voice. “You’re not getting lucky just for pizza. I mean, like I said, you can see my tits, but third base means you should have bought wings too.”
Stephen didn't think of that as more than their usual sarcastic banter.
He grabbed another slice of pizza and replied, "I wonder if bringing chocolate lava cakes would score a home run."
Christine exited her room wearing a pair of sweats covered in pink monkeys and her feet firmly in plaid slippers. “That’s a given,” she said, tousling her hair with her hands. The elastic band was back around her wrist and she felt a bit better after wiping her face. “Chocolate is always the way into my pants, I thought you’d know that by now.”
"I'll offer that as a helpful hint for any of your future boyfriends." Before taking another bite, he paused to add, "I imagine you're continuing with the Strange Policy of not dating coworkers. Of course."
“Yeah, except now I’m calling it ‘life choices’. It works better and I don’t have to say your name all the time. Or explain that it’s actually a name ‘strange’ instead of a personality quirk ..which in your case, is both.” She smiled widely. “Now shut up. Jeopardy is on and I wanna beat that James loser for once.” She wouldn’t, but it was still a good excuse to sit on the couch with one of her favourite people.
Even if said person was Strange. In all senses of the word.