“Start by calling me Clint,” Hawkeye tells the sorcerer.
The archer takes in Dr Strange, in his doorway, longer hair than usual, messy, falling all over his face, moustache bushier, running the length of his jaw-line, loose blue shirt, looking more like some sex god than the nerd he knows.
Behind him, green-tinted, transparent women smirk and melt into things and out of things, curling around each other and shadows and their own smoky flesh.
Hawkeye is distracted by them.
“How do you keep it up?” he asks, with a slight smirk.
“What do you mean, Clint?”
“Find the time?”
“I still don’t follow.”
“You’re the Sorcerer Supreme, right?”
“Yeah, right. As if your saying so, makes it so.”
Hawkeye walks down the corridor. It is filled with doors.
“Which room?” he asks.
“When I figure out what you want, the house will pick one,” says the mage. “You were saying…”
“The Sorcerer Supreme. You must be able to get as much sex as you want, with whatever you want.”
“Yes, sex is a large part of my power. Often, in other dimensions, it is a bargaining tool. Barter, status, trade.”
“Wouldn’t it all get stale?”
“You do not have my imagination. How may I help you, Clint?”
They have entered a large room. Every inch of wall, floor and ceiling is covered in doors. Hawkeye is startled. Dr Strange beside him, suspended slightly off the ground.
“Are we friends?”
“A strange question. I hope so, yes. Of a sort.”
“Remember when I first came to the Defenders? You, Valkyrie, me, the Silver Surfer before he went mad, Namor. We were a pretty sexy bunch.”
Dr Strange lowers his head, giving a small smile of remembrance.
“Well, you’ve changed.”
“Nah, you were right. Standing here next to you, I know you were right. It’s not Clint. It’s Hawkeye.”
“What do you want, Hawkeye?”
“A favour from a once friend.”
“And what is this-”
“Can I ask you something first? Tell me about the sex.”
Dr Strange stops, regarding Hawkeye as if really noticing him for the first time.
“It turns me on.”
“Respectfully, Doc, mutual respect. Just tell me.”
The green-tinted female smoke creatures make their way out from the doors beneath Dr Strange, rising around him as he talks.
“The Winds of Wakkum. You have seen me use them before. Wakkum is a planet, in another dimension, made of gasses and air. Once a year, the wind creatures need solids to push against, to create their chimes, by which they attract each other and mate. I give them myself. Something of flesh, that they can curve over, invade, slither through, push against, gently caress, embrace within. In return, they, on occasion, give me one of theirs to throw like a weapon, against whomever I choose. In other dimensions I have bedded queens that look like slugs, but if you close your eyes, or see through the illusion of flesh, the spiritual visualisations such sex provides the mind’s eye both sooth and help in various quests. I have bedded beautiful daughters of dragons, within their cannibalistic dens, just because.”
“Geez! Talk about cultural minefields! Bet you couldn’t do all that in a day.”
“What has magic taught you, Doc? All that wisdom? Above all else?”
“Hm…? That we are primal. That sex and magic are physical. These are personal things you ask. Enough talk. Again, Hawkeye, what is your favour? Why should I help?”
“Because I know you’ve mastered time.”
“Those little pauses you make in conversation, after almost every sentence? I bet each one you’re off somewhere, in your astral whatsit thingy, on who knows what? Quests, journeys. Sex romps. Dying, finding a way to be rebirthed, collecting knowledge, power, fighting battles, burying yourself in stuff we can only dream of. In stuff we can’t even dream of…! For years, decades, maybe. Centuries? And ‘Pop!’ back to where you started.”
“Sex romps? Whatsit thingies?” Dr Strange smirks.
“Hey, I know I’m dumb. But I ain’t people dumb,” Hawkeye looks him hard in the eye.
Dr Strange holds his hand out to an open door. Inside is a dark room, with edges that are only just there, time and space continuing on behind them. At the head of the room is the Orb of Agamotto, tentacles slithering out, each one with its own mouth, and eye in the centre. Above it is a 10ft pumping, human heart, which Dr Strange is floating in front of, face in shadows.
Small mockeries of Strange’s old foes start creeping up on and pulling at Hawkeye. Eon, Eternity, the Silver Dagger, the Inbetweener, the Living Tribunal, Doctor Doom, Clea, even.
“Hey!” Hawkeye shouts, fending them off.
More and more cover him.
“You have not come to me with open arms, Hawkeye,” Dr Strange’s voice says. “You think you know me?”
The tentacles grow, filling the room. Between them and the mockeries, Hawkeye is swamped.
“You have one shot,” Strange’s voice says.
Hawkeye fires his arrow, fierce conviction in his face.
It cuts through smoke creatures, just misses tentacles, passes through all the barriers that appear between him and Dr Strange, who is still in front of the heart, and lodges in his chest, forcing the mage’s arms and head to throw back.
“I reckon I know you’re more powerful now than ever,” Hawkeye says.
Dr Strange, arrow in chest, looks down.
Suddenly, Hawkeye and Strange are standing in an empty room, with the one door. The arrow is still in the mage’s chest.
“Respect is a two way thing, Doc.”
“You have it. And my full attention, now, Clint. If your aim was not perfect, absolutely, of place and conviction, you might never have left my… house. What is it you want?”
“On an arrow.”
“A doomsday arrow?”
“A last resort arrow. Just one.”
The two men are walking, now.
“Last resorts. I have a diamond tipped arrow, and one sharpened to a point of infinity by the Olympians. Something for every occasion. Hell, to be honest, I have a chemical one, designed by Stark.”
“Well, one of the flunkies he fobbed me off to. Cost me a packet in blackmails and bribes to get them to admit there are branches of Stark Industries that do such research.”
“Are you blackmailing me?”
“No, Doc, I’m being honest. Letting you know I know things, because this is important. I need a failsafe. Something that will pierce anything. What Stark and Gods can’t.”
The two men enter a door that leads to the door corridor they first came down.
“Even me? Are you my failsafe, Clint?”
“No. Say, the Juggernaut.”
Dr Strange looks hard at Hawkeye, who stares straight ahead as they walk.
“…or the Hulk?” Strange asks.
“Have care, Hawkeye, he was a Defender, too. Longer than you.”
“More a friend than you. My best friend.”
“I know. But you know the day might come.”
Dr Strange holds the shaft of the arrow in his chest, so that both glow. He pulls it out as they stand in the doorway that leads to the outside world. The arrow has the faintest bristle of something magic about it now. The green women begin to snake up around the back of the mage again.
“You are not as small as many think,” he says.
“I’m not big.”
“But neither are you small.”
“Doc, 9/10ths of any battle is preparation. None of the others seem to know that. I have no idea how the fucking hell they don’t, but all that power and they don’t!”
“This day has left you with a bitter taste, hasn’t it?”
“I hate magic.”
“Yet you do what you must,” Dr Strange says, handing the arrow to Hawkeye. “It was good to finally, actually, meet you Clint Barton.”
“You, too, Stephen.”
Dr Strange gives a small, warm smile.
“Truth to tell, I have not been Stephen Strange for… the longest while.”
“I know. I was being polite,” says Hawkeye.