Everett Ross had been in firefights before. But he’d never been in a sorcery fight before. And once a powerful spell, or weapon or whatever, put a hole through the only friendly sorcerer he knew, he wasn’t sure what his next move should be.
“Dr. Strange? Stephen!” Everett grabbed the cloak draped around the sorcerer and bunched it over the wound, applying compression. “Can you hear me? We’ve got to get out of here! Can you open a portal? We need to get somewhere safe!” Their antagonists had already put some kind of dome-spell above their heads, preventing them from just flying away.
Dr. Strange moaned and his fingers twitched, sparks popping from the tips. But it didn’t seem to be doing much good.
“Come on, try again!” Everett urged, taking a few shots over the crates shielding them. Bullets might not be effective against sorcerers. But on the other hand, if they weren’t expecting bullets, they might be caught off-guard momentarily, and Everett needed any advantage he could get. “If we can just find somewhere safe, we’ll be okay!”
The spell-fire from their opponents had stopped, and Everett knew that in moments they would creep closer to investigate, and then he and Strange would be caught. He wasn’t normally given to panic—he’d be lousy at his job if he was—but ever since he’d met Stephen, he’d felt some sort of… connection, almost, and seeing him injured, maybe dying, when Everett had no useful weapons and no means of escape—his thoughts were scattered, random, nonsensical flashes of power and emotion that he feared meant he was losing control.
The cloak wriggled of its own accord. It was magic, too, or whatever, sort of semi-sentient. “Can you do anything to help?” he demanded of it. “Can you get us somewhere safe?” Now he was depending on a piece of clothing for help, one that had already bounced them uselessly (and rather painfully) off the spell above their heads, which was lowering to constrict them even further. He briefly considered just surrendering, then recalled what he had overheard the evil sorcerers planning to do to him and Stephen.
The cape pulled itself around Stephen more tightly, as if trying to wrap him up in a cocoon. Everett didn’t know how to interpret that. Or what it meant when the cloak began to glow. But he knew what it meant when he heard the voices of their enemies approaching, and he threw himself over Stephen in desperation, the tingle from the entrapping spell around them singeing the back of his neck. There was a flash of bright light, and then everything became quiet.
And clean. And warm. There was no foul smell of the city back alley or chill of the wind off the harbor, no yelling evil sorcerers or sirens or traffic. Everett opened his eyes, expecting they had materialized in Stephen’s Sanctum. It was a library, anyway. Wood floors, wood walls, wood shelves covered in old books of all shapes and sizes, with a fireplace burning cheerfully at one end. It could be the Sanctum, Everett supposed, and scrambled to his feet. “Is anyone here?” he shouted. “Wong? We need help—“
The door opened as he spoke, admitting a young woman, dark-skinned, whose expression was one of a mystery solved. “Oh, it’s you,” she commented, reasonably pleased.
Everett didn’t recognize her. But he would deal with that in a moment. “We need help, he’s been hurt,” he informed her brusquely, indicating Stephen. Blood was pooling on the floor beneath him.
She frowned. “Well, that’s a mess,” she sighed, but knelt down and peeled the cape away from the wound. The fabric twined around her arm with an anxious shudder. “Yes, it’s alright that you came here,” she said, as if speaking to the cloak. “Looks like it was a good idea. You boys do get up to trouble,” she added with a slight smile, glancing at Everett.
Everett was not in the mood to joke. “Can you help him?” he prompted impatiently. “Do you know about—“ He waggled his fingers in a poor approximation of Stephen’s elegant gestures. “—magic, or whatever?”
“Yes, I wouldn’t worry about that,” she tried to reassure Everett, which just made him angry.
“Well I do!”
She gave him a long look, when he felt she should be attending to Stephen. “There, he’ll be fine,” she said abruptly, and Everett looked down to see that the bloody hole in Stephen seemed to have healed. He knelt, heedless of the blood soaking into his trousers, and pushed at the fabric of Stephen’s shirt, trying to verify that the skin was undamaged.
“Have you known him long?” the woman asked, and Everett was suddenly embarrassed to be seen pawing the other man.
“How did you do that?” he asked instead, even though no one ever answered that question in a satisfactory way.
Not unexpectedly, the woman declined to answer, but rather stood up. Stephen, still unconscious, rose from the floor to hover in mid-air. “He should rest for a while,” she decided. “Why don’t you take him to one of the bedrooms?” She seemed to be talking to the cloak, who might have been responsible for the hovering. “I’ll clean you off later. You can find your way? Right down the hall.”
Everett followed Stephen, feeling less useful than a piece of clothing but somewhat safer. Stephen was floated into another doorway off the cozy hall, which led to a bedroom, and was set gently on the bed. The cape twisted to drape over him. Stephen was breathing normally, at least, and his color seemed good. “Where did you bring us?” Everett asked aloud. He supposed he was talking to the cloak. “I mean, good job, seems safe. You think she’s okay?”
The cape rippled gently, which Everett somehow took as an affirmative. He had gone beyond talking to a piece of clothing to asking its opinion. And this would still not be the weirdest thing he’d ever had to write up in a report. “Okay,” he agreed. “He’s okay? You let me know if anything changes.” The cape wiggled a little, then tucked itself in around Stephen. Everett stared several moments longer than was necessary at Stephen’s fine cheekbones, dark hair, pink lips… Alive, he was just glad he was alive, looking healthy, because he was a powerful ally and seemed like a nice guy and all. That was it. Everett turned and left the room.
The woman was not in the library anymore. Neither was the bloodstain on the floor. Everett didn’t want to call out again, already feeling slightly foolish, like he ought to know more of what was going on. Instead he tuned his senses and detected the scent of fresh tea, heard a faint clinking, and he followed it down the hall to a well-lit kitchen. The young woman was pouring hot water into a flowered teapot, and she glanced up at him patiently.
“My name is Daisy,” she told him, as though reading his confused thoughts. “Does that help at all?”
“Help what?” Everett asked. He worried he sounded too abrupt and tried again. “Sorry. Thank you for your help. Are you a friend of Stephen? Er, Doctor Strange?”
“Yes,” Daisy replied, indicating he should sit down at the table. As he did so he noticed his trousers were free of blood. Handy, that.
“I’m Everett Ross,” he told her in turn. “I need to contact my colleagues—“
“CIA, right?” Daisy commented, preparing him a cup of tea. “I warned Nick Fury that the government could not fail to notice his activities.”
Everett tried not to goggle. “Fury? So you—“ He didn’t fully understand all the alliances himself. “Are you part of the Avengers?”
“No, I’m not really a joiner,” Daisy told him dryly, sipping her tea. He followed suit, though he feared he would shatter the delicate cup. “More a freelance consultant.” There seemed to be a lot of those around, all fighting their own smaller battles. “Mostly I just look after my friends,” she added significantly.
“Like Dr. Strange?” Everett guessed.
“And you,” Daisy claimed unexpectedly. “You’re quite special, Agent Ross.”
That was something Everett had literally never heard before, at least not in the way she seemed to mean it. “Why?” he blurted out.
“You don’t remember,” she stated, as if this was the reason he had never felt special, always felt like he had to work twice as hard to prove himself. “Sometimes that happens. Otherwise, it would be too easy, I suppose. I prefer easy myself, but then again I don’t cause the sort of trouble you do.”
She spoke as if she knew him well, had for a long time. Everett would definitely have remembered meeting someone like her, though. At this point he was used to meeting super-powerful beings whose powers did not include logical exposition, so he just took a calming breath and started with the basics. “Where are we?”
“My apartment, in New York City,” Daisy replied forthrightly. This was a much less exotic location than Everett was expecting. “You can see Central Park.” She indicated the window, so Everett stood and walked to it. It did not look directly onto Central Park, but rather some kind of greenhouse or glassed-in terrace covered in greenery, statues, little fountains and ponds, flowering trees. Beyond that he could see the skyscrapers and a swath of grass. “I like plants,” Daisy added when he turned back.
“And how did we get here?” he continued.
At this Daisy looked thoughtful, and Everett realized the answer was going to be complicated. “Well, obviously you were in some kind of difficulty, and I assume Stephen wasn’t capable of helping.” Everett sat back down at the table, the chair scraping awkwardly against the floor. “So it was either you or the cloak who managed to get everyone here. I’m leaning towards you.”
Everett chuckled a little, mirthlessly, then saw that Daisy was serious. “You’re joking,” he insisted. She merely lifted an eyebrow. “I’m not magical,” he was forced to point out. Maybe this wasn’t assumed in her world. “Stephen, the cape I guess, but not me. I’m just—a CIA agent.” At one point in his life that had been impressive.
Daisy gazed at him steadily, as if pondering how to tell him something that he ought to already know, somehow. “If it was the cloak,” she began carefully, and she clearly didn’t believe this but was just walking him through, “it would have gone back to Stephen’s Sanctum. Which is actually not far from here. Same if Stephen somehow did it. Also, I don’t think the cloak could have gotten through my security measures,” she added. “My library is the safest place on planet Earth. Emergency access is reserved only for my friends.”
There was that look of hers again, that penetrating stare like she was waiting for Everett to realize something important. What, he didn’t know. But her words reminded him of what he’d desperately wished for, a safe place for him and Stephen—and other thoughts he’d had around the same time, which he hadn’t had a chance to unpack before. Thoughts of frying their attackers with rays from his hands or even his mind, of warping reality to remove Stephen and himself from danger—well, he’d seen people do that kind of thing before, in the movies and even in real life; it wasn’t a stretch to imagine himself being able to do the same, as a daydream. But it felt less like a daydream and more like… a memory.
And that aside, when had he ever seen Stephen with curly, floppy hair (good look, though), or as a—strawberry blond? What had been seen could not be unseen, and yet there was something fully natural about it once he let the image settle. Except he barely knew Stephen, there had been a couple photos in his dossier but nothing like that, and certainly not with his eyes blazing and his face flushing and his mouth forming a gasp of ecstasy—
Everett blinked and realized he was still sitting in Daisy’s kitchen, clutching a cup of tea. He half-expected it to be boiling again, in response to the thoughts in his mind, and he cleared his throat, knowing the tips of his ears had gone pink.
“Did you do that?” he asked Daisy curiously.
“No,” she answered simply.
Everett nodded. He had known of people who could put images in others’ heads, make them think they were somewhere else, but… there was nothing unreal about these thoughts. Nothing unsettling, except their sudden existence. It felt more like discovering a box of beloved childhood trinkets he had simply forgotten about until he held them in his hands again.
A movement caught his eye and he jumped, then rolled his eyes at the deep red cape hovering in mid-air. It turned a blood-stained portion towards them and managed to drape itself so it looked sad. Everett wondered if Stephen always wore this thing so he should just get used to it. Because he had a feeling he was going to be seeing a lot of Stephen in the future.
“You ready for a cleaning?” Daisy asked the cape, and it seemed to nod. “Why don’t you go check on Stephen?” she suggested to Everett, rising, and he agreed gratefully. “Come over to the sink,” he heard her telling the cape. “Cold water gets out blood better than warm water. No, I’m not going to use magic when water will do fine. Well, do it yourself then.”
Everett paused at the bedroom where he had left Stephen, then eased the door open. The other man was still in bed, sloppily covered in blankets—like they had been applied by something with no hands, perhaps—and Everett set about straightening them, trying and failing to be business-like. He just kept picturing Stephen in different times and places, different hair and clothes, laughing, raging, fighting, playing, even—was that a dragon?
A hand grabbed his wrist and Everett gasped, feeling slightly disoriented. But he remembered his training, his discipline, and focused on the situation before him. Which was Stephen with his blazing blue eyes open, staring at him.
“Um… hi,” Everett said dully. “How are you feeling?” The hand on his wrist burned him, not unpleasantly.
“Where are we?” Stephen asked, glancing around the room. Daisy apparently favored an eclectic floral motif crammed with exotic knickknacks, which could indeed be startling.
“Do you know someone called Daisy?” Everett asked in turn, and Stephen relaxed.
“Oh. Her place?”
Stephen nodded. “Well, that was thoughtful of her, to rescue us,” he judged, as if that sort of thing happened all the time. “Are you alright?” he asked suddenly, squeezing Everett’s wrist and pulling him closer.
“Yes, fine,” Everett breathed, so enjoying the contact he almost forgot the first comment. “Only, she says she didn’t find us, we found her,” he corrected. “Just appeared in her library. Apparently it’s the safest place on Earth.”
Stephen frowned and tried to sit up, forced to let go of Everett to do so. He winced and reached down to check his side where he’d been injured. “Are you alright?” Everett asked again, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “You took a pretty bad hit from… whatever it was, but Daisy said she fixed you.”
“Fine, just a little soreness,” Stephen confirmed. He looked then reached around him. “My cloak—“
“Getting a bath,” Everett informed him lightly.
“It’s not a fan of baths.” Everett nodded, waiting for Stephen to continue his questions. “We just appeared here?” he repeated finally. “She didn’t rescue us?”
“No,” Everett confirmed. “She seemed to think it was either me or the cape who… did magic to bring us here, since you were out of it.” He met Stephen’s eyes, half-hoping the other man would reveal this was indeed something the cape could do, so he could go back to the world he knew, which was already pretty weird.
But Stephen was just staring at him, his gaze intense and piercing. “I don’t think the cloak is capable of doing that,” he finally admitted. “Which just leaves you. Are you capable of doing that, Everett?” This was asked curiously, almost hopefully, and Everett realized that was the first time Stephen had used his first name. Somehow that ought not to be so noticeable, when they were discussing a ridiculous subject like Everett having magical powers.
“I wouldn’t have thought so,” he stated. “I’ve been around people who can do some pretty odd things, and I never felt like I was like them.”
His tone was unfinished, however. “But now?” Stephen prompted.
“Now I’m feeling pretty odd myself,” Everett continued. He glanced at Stephen. “I suppose you know what that’s like. Thinking you understood yourself, and then suddenly realizing you didn’t.”
“That there was so much more, to the universe, to myself—“ Stephen stopped, seemingly embarrassed at his excitement.
Everett didn’t want him to feel embarrassed. “Yes, exactly,” he enthused, and then he reached out and took Stephen’s hand like it was the most natural thing in the world, which was what it felt like at the moment.
Stephen didn’t pull away. “I thought I understood things better after studying in Kamar-Taj,” he began, “but I’ve also been studying with Daisy, who has access to knowledge on a whole different dimensional plane—“ He looked at Everett’s expression and decided to skip the technical details, instead turning to face him more fully. “That’s why I wanted to work with you,” he went on, more animatedly, and Everett felt his heart rate begin to speed up. “I started to realize—I don’t fully understand it all yet—and I took you into that situation thinking I could handle it but instead I got hurt, and you could’ve been—“
“Hey, I wasn’t,” Everett reassured him. He was not sure what Stephen was talking about, but he could listen to it all day. “You said you wanted to work with me, specifically?” he added in a lighter tone, feeling slightly flirtatious. It wasn’t a feeling he was used to.
“Yes. Because you’re special,” Stephen asserted seriously. There was that word again. “To me. You always are. Do you remember?”
Objectively, Everett had only met Stephen recently, and their relationship had been cordial but professional. But there was a larger truth here that Everett felt himself grasping for, impossible as it seemed. “What should I remember?” he asked, throat going dry.
“Other names,” Stephen told him intensely. “Other places and times, but always the two of us—“
“Not always,” Everett countered, a profound memory of loneliness washing over him.
Stephen cupped his cheek, his hand warm against Everett’s skin. “Usually,” he said firmly.
“Usually you’re an arrogant a-s, aren’t you?” Everett tried, more lightly, but Stephen just shrugged as though this judgment didn’t bother him. “Do you know anything about dragons?” he asked speculatively, and then Stephen broke into a dazzling, cheeky grin.
“Do you remember my name?” Stephen asked, leaning closer. His eyes darted between Everett’s own and his lips, and the other man was afraid to move, even to breathe.
“Magnus,” Everett whispered, unsure where the word had come from, but it felt right, like everything else about the two of them together.
“Bay,” Stephen replied in turn, and sealed it with a kiss.
And then the cape burst in, twisting and spluttering indignantly and spraying cold water over both of them. But Bay thought he could live with that.