Johnny Storm burned.
It was an odd thing, being omnipotent. Sooner or later the power made you forget you'd ever been anything else and if not the power, then the boredom and if not the boredom, the responsibility, the daily grind of making and remaking the world. Creation was bliss and it was oblivion and it was also hard work.
There is a specific kind of anger people working on long-term projects feel when an outside element intentionally throws a spanner in their work.
Doom was intensely familiar with said anger and the burning pain that accompanied it. It had set him on this path and he had felt so many times since, often for the same reason.
The anger of a god was not the anger of a mortal sorcerer, no matter how powerful the sorcerer. Doom had reached out and had cut off Johnny Storm mid-sentence and mid-rebellion. And so Johnny Storm burned.
"Victor," Strange said.
"Strange," Doom said.
"After everything we've been through and everything I've done for you, you really should call me Stephen," Strange said.
Doom opened his hand. A miniature Johnny Storm, burned over his palm.
Strange leaned over and blew it out, like a candle in the dark. "You know that's not what I meant. You may be omnipotent and not omniscient, but you've never been a fool."
"I thank you for the compliment," Doom said. His voice was perhaps brittle, but he had always had his pride and it had always and foremost been in his will and intellect.
Strange spoke again. "Your mother --"
"My mother," Doom said, "is none of your concern. She never has been." There was a crackle of frost in his voice and hoarfrost on the ground at his feet and on the knuckles of his clenched, armoured fists.
Strange's answering look was level and calm. They were both silent for a long time. Strange broke the silence with a sigh.
"Victor. You and Storm have a history and you can't just pretend you don't simply because it happened in another country, years ago and an universe away. That's not how human beings work. That's not how you work." Strange waved a hand towards Storm, fingers passing through flame and smoke.
"I am no longer a human being. I am a god," Doom said. There was no arrogance in his voice; this was simply a fact. In this Creation, he was the God-Emperor.
"I might have stood in your place," Strange said, as he often did when Doom brought up his godhood.
"You might have," Doom confirmed. He swept his arms, encompassing in the gesture far more than just the garden, far more than the castle, far more than Doomgard. "But you and I chose otherwise and here you are and here I am."
"Here we are." Strange's voice was oddly sad. "There Johnny Storm is."
"Yes," Doom said and turned away. The matter was closed.
Strange sighed. Any other man would not have noticed, but Doom was not any other man. Strange said, "Do you think Susan wants this fate for her brother?"
"Susan is not her brother's keeper. He chose his fate as she chose hers." Doom remained turned away, watching Battleworld stretch out beneath his gaze.
This universe had many names. The faithful called God-Emperor Doom's Creation. The scientifically minded called it Latverion. For his part and in his heart of hearts, Doom called it Battleworld. That was what it was. The very world was a battle, every part of it warring against its neighbours, basic natures at odds. To create something new would have been easier, but would have defeated the purpose. To remake the world was not to save it.
And because Doom called it Battleworld, in echo of its nature and of the time, so many years ago he had held the Beyonder's power, the name echoed down into the hearts and minds of its inhabitants. And so it came to pass that the faithful and the scientifically minded, when they thought, called it Battleworld as well.
"If you will not spare him for his sake or mine, spare him for hers," Strange said.
Doom turned back to face Strange. "Are you asking me to spare him, Strange?"
"That's not what I said," Strange said. It was not, precisely, a lie.
"No," Doom said. "That's not what you said." For the sake of friendship -- especially friendship older than the universe -- one at time had to let certain slights pass unremarked. Still. Doom had not thought Strange this much of a fool.
"Have mercy," Strange said. "For Susan."
"That I let Storm live this long was mercy in and of itself," Doom said. That was true. Doom had never thought highly of Storm, but Susan, even in the world before this one, had always earned his respect and consideration.
"Only you would see it that way," Strange said. What he meant was a step to the side. It mattered not. If Strange could not be made to voice his objections, Doom could not be made to reply to them, no matter how justified they were.
"Yes." Doom dropped the word like judgement from on high.
"Storm is your brother-in-law, Susan's brother and my friend," Strange said. "But he is also Valeria's uncle."
Doom's heart beat hard against his ribs, once, twice. He knew the pain of losing an uncle as much as he knew the pain of losing a mother or a father. None of these he would which on smart Valeria. Not in this world. Not in the last. Not in the next. He had sworn to protect her from all ills in the world and even had he not, he owed it to her, because she was a child and because she was Valeria.
Damn Strange. Damn him for being so perceptive and damn him for burying the lead.
If Doom was to raise Valeria he was to show her mercy, both in how he acted towards her and in how he acted towards other. The latter so she would know what it looked like when it was used and when it was withheld, the former so she could learn when to use it and when to withhold it.
The mercy of a god was not the mercy of a mortal man and a god had to be merciful if he was to deserve the name. Doom reached out and raised Johnny Storm on high, a new sun for a new sky. Johnny Storm had refused to serve on Earth and took on the throne to reign in heaven. He would serve in heaven.
Johnny Storm burned.