“Avengers, thank you for this audience,” he tells the table. “You have always ventured to the stars to battle Thanos, because he’s a cosmic threat, but now he is coming to you. Tainted by death, twisted of logic, he has been gathering strength, building armies over eons, within a dimensional ripple.”
“This can’t be good…” Ms Marvel mumbles.
“I am… busy,” says Strange. “So I am going to speed things up.”
He moves his fingers, while releasing a small, convulsing “Glk!” as if regurgitating. Iron Man flinches. He hates seeing Dr Strange be so physical with his magics.
Another "Glk!" and suddenly Thanos is at the other end of the room, startled, armed with three generals. One is a floating heart in a dome on top of an armoured body, a line of bronzed eyes running down its chest. The other a gross, inside-out thing made of skinless hands. The third seems to be made of some sort of stone, its head is its chest, standing on four pincher-like legs.
“What the…?!” calls Iron Man, leaping to attack.
"Thanos!" shouts Ms Marvel, doing the same.
Hawkeye looks both puzzled at Strange, but the Hulk and Valkyrie stand in his way.
“Betrayal!” Thor booms, cutting through the Thanos’s generals. “Let us end this before it has begun!”
He throws his hammer at Thanos, who, dealing with Iron Man, ignoring Captain America’s shield and Ms Marvels blasts, uses his spare hand to swat it away.
Thor follows up, leaping into Thanos, wind rising, three or four lightening bolts around them. Spider Woman engages the generals.
“HALT!” Thanos calls, holding Thor to the wall, Iron Man, chest plate crushed, to the ceiling. “Avengers, I have grown,” he smiles. “Evolved. I am no longer the immature creature you have battled in the past.”
“Yeah, right,” says Ms Marvel.
“Rather, I am here to help,” he insists.
“Do you still love Death, then?” Hawkeye asks.
Thor and Ms Marvel resume the fight, which spills out into the streets, despite Thanos’ protests. The three of them fall through the now easing drizzle, landing on a plumber’s van, within the Avengers two block insurance exclusion zone. The generals cause more havoc, teleporting to their ruler’s side, surrounding him, letting off their weapons in all directions.
Dr Strange loses his temper.
His hands glow, lines of jagged white light arch from his back and chest, splintering as they spread, sucking all colour from the air. Startled, the heroes pause. They are in a weightless bubble of some kind of power. Another world within their world.
Ms Marvel shifts through the stark black-and-white to it’s edge, feeling it pulse and breath, its mass shift and roll like muscle under skin. There are butterflies out on the street for some reason, not a huge amount, just more, as if a bi-product of Strange’s magic. The butterfly effect, focused and directed twenty-fold.
“Speak Thanos,” Strange insists.
Thanos is all smiles, arms wide.
“I have grown, am no longer the narcissist. That was all my nihilism was - wanting to destroy what I could not create, jealousy of my father, the planet builder. Rebellion. My love for Death is real, now, true. All things must live, if they are to one day die. The more life there is the more Death shall reap, in her own time. I am here to offer for you to help me.”
“Help thee what?” says Thor.
“Save your planet.”
“From?” asks Captain America.
“Pollution, starvation, war...”
“Then what are your goons for?” Hawkeye insists, getting in the generals’ faces, looking at their scars, the dried blood filling the cracks in their armour.
“We have saved hundreds of planets before yours. Found ways to replenish the air, restore polar caps, wildlife. These generals are noble warriors like yourselves, champions of Life. On some worlds not all creatures want change.”
”What do you me-“ starts Captain America.
“Enough,” Dr Strange says, and him and Thanos vanish, the protective bubble vanishing with them.
The generals, confused, attack, but Valkyrie and the Hulk are ready, all over and defeating them in seconds.
Without a word, they walk off with their foes.
Captain America watches, almost glaring as they go.
“Nobody’s noticing them,” Spider Woman says. “Or us.”
“The mage’s magics,” agrees Thor.
“What the hell is going on?” Ms Marvel says.
Later, the Avengers are back in their mansion when Dr Strange reappears, without Thanos.
“It's over,” he says.
“Hey dude, what just…?” says Luke Cage.
“Now listen…!” Captain America starts.
“I am sorry, my friends,” Strange apologises. “I assumed you could see where this was heading. Thanos truly loved life, with all his heart and soul. This was his revelation, his epiphany. His ode to Death.”
“Well, that’s a good thing, isn’t it?” Ms Marvel says. “Maybe he was worth listening to.”
“Avengers. There are more Earth species becoming extinct faster than whatever wiped out the dinosaurs, our polar ice caps are melting beyond the point of no return, yet we blame ‘big business’ and the Third World for consuming the planet, even while they are doing so to feed us. We deny the science of it to feed our selfishness and spite. The oceans are over-fished, reefs dying, forests harvested, yet still we increase our population by a billion every decade. Do you not understand? He truly loved not just people, but life. All life.”
“I still don’t-“ says Ms Marvel.
“He was going to save the planet by asking you to help him destroy humanity.”
The room falls silent.
Strange turns to leave.
“You’re talking about Thanos in the past tense,” Captain America says.
“Without the cube or gems he was just an interplanetary thug,” the mage tells him, as he goes. “I brought the battle here because I thought you should know of it. I’ll leave it to you to decide who the heroes and villains are...”
Then, Strange is gone, leaving a hushed gathering of costumed Gods, women and men.