Rating: R [mature themes] Characters: Alex Summers, Nate Grey Archive: If you like it, just ask me.
Author's Note: This deals with a hard topic - death. 16 million isn't just a number, Mr. Grant Morrison. It's real people, within the boundaries of your story, and there are harsh consequences to killing that many people. And you better not forget that. 9/30/01
Spoiler notes: Mirrors events of recent New X-Men "E is for Extinction" arc.
Disclaimer: Marvel owns it all. I'm just pretending. They make the money and I don't even pretend to do that.
It was the smell of fresh brewed coffee that finally woke him. Alex Summers stirred under the crumpled blankets, a leg hanging outside the covers awkwardly. The air was cold, but not as frigid as he might have expected it to be. The room was gray and dim, not full light at all, and he could hear the storm still raging outside. Shadows moved in the corners. He ignored them, lifting his head to sniff deeply. That was definitely coffee he smelled.
He scrambled out of bed, suddenly alarmed. Who could be making coffee? He was here in Scott and Jean's Anchorage house alone. A pulse of heat ran through him as he tested his cosmic charge. Thankful, for once, that his mutant power wasn't dependent solely on the sun, as Scott's seemed to be, but built up from all the various forms of cosmic radiation that reached the earth's surface.
Cautiously, he padded to the door, pausing only briefly to stare at the carefully banked fire in the bedroom fireplace. It was radiating just enough heat to keep the room from being dangerously cold. Had he done that? The last clear thing he remembered was falling onto the bed and pulling the blankets over his head. That and a poignant memory of sad green eyes.
The door was already open a crack, so he pushed it carefully open, peering cautiously into the main room. Then he let his breath out in a disgusted sigh.
Nate Grey, still wearing a pair of tattered black slacks but this time with the addition of a long black jacket over his bare shoulders, stood in front of the main fireplace. He was still barefoot. A cheerful, and recently stoked, fire burned there. There was a cup of coffee cradled between his pale hands. The boy had the grace to look guilty as Alex pushed the door wide, then the gall to shoot him a bold smile as he lifted the cup to his lips and took an appreciative sip. His mismatched eyes rolled closed in bliss.
Alex growled. "There better be more where that came from, Grey."
Nate lifted his head, a contented smile on his face, then laughed outright at the murderous look his uncle shot him. The boy jerked his head toward the kitchen.
"Didn't you check the freezer? That's where all good coffee snobs keep their beans."
"Damn," Alex muttered as he stumbled toward the kitchen tripping over his sagging socks. "Should have known. Cable's been here. He's the worst damn coffee freak I've ever met."
"Must be genetic," Nate said flippantly.
"Yeah, you should know, Cable Light," Alex threw back over his shoulder. Nate just gave a short bark of laughter.
"God, Nathan would go ballistic if he heard you say that."
Alex ignored the boy as he lunged for the coffeepot. He'd gone more than a day now without coffee, and life, frankly, just wasn't worth living without it. He quickly poured himself a cup and let his mutant power drain just enough heat from the scalding liquid to make it drinkable. He normally took it with a splash of cream, but the deprived couldn't afford to be choosy. He downed half of it, sighing in relief when he came up for air.
"You're just as bad, uncle," Nate said from behind him, tone teasing. Alex turned around, leaning against the counter to stare at the boy where he lounged in the doorway. Since he had half a cup in him, Alex no longer thought it necessary to fry the ungrateful brat where he stood. He had brewed an entire pot, after all.
Then he blinked at Nate in mild surprise.
"I didn't think the dead drank coffee," Alex said, gaze narrow. Nate laughed again.
"Not dead," he said, lifting the cup and saluting with it before taking another sip. "Spread around kind of thin, but definitely not dead."
"Okay, what the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"You want the four issue mini-series version or the shaman-psychic version?"
Alex snorted and glared over the rim of his cup. "The English version."
"Right," Nate laughed. Then he took a deep breath, his golden eye flashing with either mirth or anger and began, "Aliens wanted to suck the life-force out of all the people on Earth. But only a pure life-force. Me, being the reality-displaced little shaman killjoy that I am, decided to interfere with their plan, seeing as I am actually rather fond of some of those same people they were planning to suck dry."
He rolled his eyes as if to imply he shouldn't have bothered. Alex shook his head in amused disgust, not letting it interrupt his coffee drinking.
"So I, um, spread myself into the life-force of Earth, contaminating it for their purposes and toasting the lead alien in the process. However, there was a little flaw with my solution that didn't occur to me at the time. I went into every person that was alive then. But living things die. They die naturally, not just when their life-force is sucked out by aliens. So now whenever anyone dies, my own little bit of life-force is released. And it floats off looking for the other little bits of me. There's still a really huge chunk of me missing, of course, but enough is already out there in the in-between spaces so that the Nexus could bring me back together. As long as I stay close to it, that is."
Alex just stared at him during this final discourse, eyebrows raised. Occasionally he'd lift the cup to his mouth and sip more coffee. Then when Nate finally fell silent, he stared at him for a moment or two longer, quietly drinking his coffee. He drained the cup, frowned down into it, turned and refilled it. Then he turned back, shrugged his shoulders as he gave a short laugh.
"Ooo-kay, that's not any crazier than some of the shit I've done lately," Alex said, fighting back a smile. He failed finally on the smile. Then he began to chuckle, then to laugh out loud. He eventually had to set his cup down on the counter to keep from spilling it as he roared for a long while. He laughed long enough that Nate was soon shaking his head and laughing along too, eyes rolling.
Then, abruptly, Alex sobered, looked up and his damp eyes flared with pain.
"Did I kill Maddie last night?" he asked, voice thick. Nate's own laughter disappeared, his expression grave as his slim body shuddered.
"No, Alex, she's been dead a long time. You just gave her peace."
He stared at Nate, expression bleak, eyes haunted. "I wanted to bring her back. I wanted to. . . shit, I don't know. It was never good between us here. Desperate, dangerous, wrong - but not good. It couldn't be. Too much baggage."
Nate stayed silent. Alex took a deep breath, then picked up his coffee again and took a gulp. Trembling slightly from leftover emotion and the dump of caffeine onto a painfully empty stomach. He felt delicate, fragile. As if he'd shake apart if pushed. His cosmic charge was building as well. He'd have to do something about that later, though his control had improved dramatically during his time with the Six. Or maybe it had finally come from feeling he didn't dare fail Scotty.
"Do you cook?" Alex asked.
Nate frowned and shook his head. "No. And actually, I don't think I eat now anyway."
"Really?" Alex raised his brow at the cup in the boy's hand. "You're drinking coffee."
"Habit," Nate said with a sheepish smile. "And I brewed it mostly to get you out of bed. You slept for fourteen hours you know."
"Did I?" Alex said, raising both brows now. "No wonder I'm starved."
At that he turned his attention to the pantry, grateful that Scott was as anal as he was. It was fully stocked with both canned and dried goods of all descriptions. Never leave a bolt-hole without adequate supplies was one of Scott's rules. Something he'd learned in the future, probably, when he and Jean had been time-slipped to take care of Nathan Christopher as a boy growing up in the hellish future era he'd been exiled to. Now, Alex understood the pain Scott had endured to make the choice to send his son into the future. Alex was feeling that pain too. Scotty was as lost to him as Nathan had been to Scott. And there were no friendly Askani to suck him over to the other dimension to let him raise his son. There was only the Nexus, which he had no idea how to really control.
Shaking his head to clear those dark thoughts he dug out cans and set about preparing himself something to eat. Nate Grey remained in the doorway, watching silently, staying out of his way. Understanding somehow, that he needed the silence right then. Well, the boy was a telepath. He'd probably picked it out of his head. He ignored that as well, heating food, dishing it up, then taking it out into the main room to eat it in front of the fire there.
He felt better after eating.
Nate joined him after he took his dishes back into the kitchen, coming out to sit on the rug in front of the fire and watch him intently with that mismatched gaze as he finished the last of the coffee. Blue and gold. He examined the boy curiously in return. He looked solid. Real. But he didn't need to eat, didn't seem to feel the cold, didn't sleep. It was time to start questioning again.
"The Nexus brought you here, and Joseph. . . hey," he looked around curiously, flinching only slightly as shadows and shapes moved on their own again around the edges of the room. Some took on vaguely human shapes, others remained flashes, impressions only. But none of them resolved into a tall man with long white hair. "Where is Joseph?"
Nate shrugged, a faintly uneasy look on his face. It surprised Alex. "He comes and goes."
"Yeah, but goes where?"
"I don't know," Nate said soberly. "I can't sense him unless he's here."
"Can you sense other shades?" Nate's gaze sharpened and he glanced around warily.
"Not very well. Why do you see some?"
"Yeah," Alex said, trying to keep from looking directly at any of them. "They're always there now." He focused on the boy instead. Nate closed his eyes and appeared to be concentrating. After a moment, he opened his eyes again and shook his head, his expression puzzled and a little concerned.
"I can't feel them. Either they aren't very strong or I guess there just isn't enough of me here yet, even with the Nexus."
"Guess so," Alex said, feeling vaguely disappointed. He'd been hoping, he supposed, that Nate would have more answers for him. He'd seemed to have some last night. "You don't know what's really going on with the Nexus any more than I do, do you?"
Nate stared up at him, his face looking very young, very pale in the gray light of day. He sighed deeply.
"No," the boy admitted. Alex lowered his head into his hands, letting out a long, tired breath.
"Great. And I've been out of this reality for so long I don't even know where to begin."
"You could call Dad."
The quiet statement made Alex lift his head and stare at the boy in astonishment. "You call Scott Dad?"
"Mostly to annoy Nathan, but why the hell not?" Nate said with a defiant gleam in his eye, looking every inch his presumed eighteen years in that instant. Then he shrugged, suddenly sad. "He's the closest thing I've got."
Alex laughed shortly, giving Nate a bitter smile, "And I'm sure you're close too, aren't you?"
"Well, in a way," the boy said quietly. "He let himself be possessed by Apocalypse - to save me."
"What?" Alex yelped, surging to his feet. He stared down at the boy on the rug, eyes wide with outraged horror. Nate sighed heavily and climbed to his feet, anguish clear on his face.
"I don't have many details, since I got snagged by aliens soon after when my powers were nullified, but Scott took my place as sacrifice. Apocalypse had managed to survive for so long by possessing other mutants - and he wanted to use me as his next host."
Alex blinked in horrified shock, staring at the shade of a boy he'd been told was one of the most powerful telepathic/telekinetic combinations to ever exist, then he sagged back down on the couch. More powerful than anything the world had ever seen before. And just imagining that power wielded by the Apocalypse of this reality was enough to make Alex's heart stutter. Scott had seen that too. Seen the potential for ultimate destruction and acted in the only way he would have been able to. By sacrificing himself.
"So Scott. . . let Apocalypse in," Alex stated, his voice faint. Overwhelmed by the magnitude of his brother's actions. Fear, grief, admiration raced through him with sickening intensity, followed closely by sheer horror.
"God. . ." Alex let his head fall back against the couch, eyes screwed shut as he tried to imagine the horrors his brother must have endured. He'd been possessed before himself. He understood the utter violation of self, the rape of one's very soul. And for this to happen to Scott. . . the poster boy for self-control. . . he could imagine his brother's devastation. He ached for Scott.
". . .had very little to do with it." He opened his eyes at Nate's soft words and stared blankly at him for a moment, stomach churning. Guilt and pain and regret were plain on the boy's face, eyes haunted. Alex knew the same emotions were mirrored in his own eyes.
"But you wanted me to call him . . ."
"Jean and Nathan found him after a year or so. Scott was fighting En-Sabah-Nur. Resisting, but amnesiac because of it. They discovered Scott before he could be completely overcome and the three of them psychically dragged Nur out and destroyed him." Nate's face became still, intent, pained, his body rigid, fists clenched at his sides. As if, like Cable, it had been ingrained in him to resist Apocalypse and his failure to be involved in the monster's downfall was actually physically painful to him. Maybe it was.
"And Scott? How is he?"
"I don't really know," Nate admitted softly. "I was distracted by. . . other things. . . and then I became this."
Alex leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees, staring into the fire. The silence lengthened.
Memories, of this world and another, churned together in his mind. X-Factor, a government sanctioned team that had become the pawn of humans that hated and feared them, using them shamelessly against their own kind. The Six, twisted outlaw heroes who still somehow tried to fight the good fight, even sometimes if it was against their own base natures. The joyful, reckless, Starjammer Scott of the other universe. The stoic, focused brother he'd barely come to know late in life here. The other world's twisted Xavier, a man intent on using psionics to dominate mankind, feeling it was only his due to rule the world. And the Xavier who had become Onslaught here when he violated his own ethics and stripped Magneto of his mind. Maddie; both his wife and Scott's, a danger put to rest. Electra; potential unrealized. Lorna; a tortured past, a love battered and strained perhaps beyond recovery. Jean; a powerful psi, his brother's wife, a desperate pawn. His beloved own son; Scotty. Scott's own strange pan-dimensional children; Nathan Christopher, Rachel Summers, Nate Grey. Then the Nexus.
His mind whirled with half-formed fears, suspicions and the agonizing loss of something he'd not realized he'd still counted so heavily on; his brother's fortitude.
Because Scott couldn't be the Scott he'd known anymore. Not if Apocalypse had possessed him. Even if he'd managed to eject him somehow. The battle would have scarred and changed him. And for Scott, that alone would be failure. He felt tears slide down his cheek. He reached up and angrily wiped them away.
"Shit," he said, his voice shaky, heart heavy. "I can't go back. Anywhere."
Nate shifted slightly beside him, crossing his arms over his lean chest, but stayed silent. Alex stared blankly into the fire, barely seeing the shapes that formed briefly in flame and shadow, teased his mind, then vanished. Ephemeral. Transitory. Like life.
He had no idea how long he'd sat there, staring, brooding, but eventually a sharp shower of sparks from a breaking log broke his reverie. He became aware of several things then; his cosmic charge was dangerously high, he had to take a piss, and Nate Grey was gone.
He stood, looking around the room vaguely, not overly concerned. He took care of business in the bathroom, glancing briefly into the mirror and running his hand over the rough growth on his face. His beard was just long enough to itch, and still sharp. Shaving was too much effort right then. He shuffled out into the main room, feeling the energy high inside him. Now to do something about his cosmic charge.
Even with the fire, the house was cold. He hadn't bothered to turn the heat up or many of the lights, not wanting to draw attention to his occupation of the house. Even though it was outside town, set in the forest a few miles away, a nosy neighbor could notice and come around. He still wasn't quite ready to acknowledge the outside world, or have it bothering him.
There was another option. Alex stood in the center of the living room and concentrated. He could project energy from any part of his body, not just down his arms. When it was out of control, his power radiated out in waves from his whole body. He'd gotten better about that in recent months, but he'd never tried exactly what he was going to do now. Rather than a focused plasma burst, he allowed his power to flow out in a soft wave of purely thermal radiation. Slowly warming the air in the room, then the whole house.
It was a painstaking process, to allow only so much energy out when it wanted to pour from him in a wild rush, blasting and destroying. He fought his power, wrestled it into submission; elated when for one of the first times in his life he tamed it, forced it to do exactly as he wished.
When he was done he opened his eyes and looked around. No damage. The floor under him wasn't even singed. And the air was nearly hot around him. Sweat started on his body. He tugged his sweatshirt off over his head and grinned foolishly. Proud, for once, of his mutant power. Pretty useful in Alaska, this.
"Well done." Alex whirled to stare at the source of those soft words. Joseph stood by the fire, face somber.
"Where the hell have you been? And where's Nate?" Alex demanded, gaze narrowed.
"I have been where I always am," Joseph said enigmatically. "And Nate Grey is not mine to control."
Alex blinked at him, then shook his head as he laughed bitterly. "Well, that helps. Thanks."
"I am not here just to help you, Havok," Joseph said, gray eyes steady. "I have other concerns now." Alex crossed his arms over his chest and met that gaze.
"Then why are you here?"
"The Nexus draws me," he said. Then he shifted uneasily. "And there is something moving in the world, Havok. Something dangerous. It threatens everything and everyone we know."
"And it doesn't help me to tell me that?" Alex asked, sighing and rolling his eyes. Then tensing at Joseph's grave expression. "Well, what is it? Alien invasion? The Brood again? The Phalanx? Crap, please not Galactus."
Joseph blinked once, slowly, and his eyes narrowed as if puzzled. "It is difficult for me to recall life," the big man said hesitantly. "It has been long since I breathed and the place where I exist now is vastly different. But I do remember loyalty and friendship. . . and love. There are ones I do not wish to see harmed. I fear for them."
"Why? From what?" Alex demanded. Joseph frowned, white brows meeting. He shook his head tightly.
"I do not know. I only know there is a disturbance in the magnetosphere. Large. Deadly. More than one."
"Shit," he said in disgust. "You're not being much help, Joseph."
"No, but I feel something too." Alex looked over at the stairwell that led upstairs. Nate Grey, dressed now in jeans and a black tee shirt, a pair of scuffed work boots on his feet, approached, his expression anxious, golden eye flaring with power.
Alex glanced between the two of them, confused, alarmed and unable to find a focus for it. He shook his head angrily and clenched his fists. Sweat ran down his bare chest, tickling him annoyingly. Now the house was too damn warm. How could he get better information? Vague warnings and bad feelings aside, he needed facts, something he could act on. He scanned the room, desperate, then froze.
A woman stood in the far corner. One of the many shades that plagued him now, but this one manifesting strongly. She was older, thin and frail, her hair gray and drawn back in an old-fashioned bun at her neck. Her eyes were strangely blank. To his shock, he recognized her.
"Destiny," he gasped. Her chin lifted and she gave him a brief nod. Then her blind gaze locked onto him, empty, sad. He shivered.
"Alex Summers, death comes soon. It will be hard. But you must not fall before it in despair or the Nexus will consume you."
"What do you mean?" he began, taking a step toward her. She lifted a hand toward him, palm out, a tormented look on her face. In the other hand she held a book, clutched close to her chest. Strange tears of blue and silver gleamed on her wrinkled cheeks. He stopped.
"Please, come no closer!" Her voice was sharp, frightened. "The Nexus calls, but I dare not answer. I seek only to warn you, to try to prevent ultimate chaos. You must be strong, Alex Summers. Stronger than you ever thought to be. Much depends on you."
"I don't understand. . ." he said desperately, voice rising. Destiny shook her head, crying openly now. She lifted her arms, opening her hands wide as if warding him away. The book she held fell heavily to the floor, the binding split and pages spilled out, blowing away in some unseen wind to disappear like ashes.
"I cannot stay, and I cannot say more. Be strong, Alex Summers," she said, still shaking her head. Then she backed away, fading as she moved until she was gone. He spun around, looking wildly between Joseph and Nate. Both of them seemed disturbed. Nate more than Joseph; the boy paced back and forth, breathing hard. Shaking his head. His lean body trembling, face white.
"Something's not . . . right. I'm coming together somehow. Alex. . . dying. . . people are dying somewhere. . . lots of them. . . no. . . " Nate threw his head back and screamed in agony, the sound primal and raw.
Alex moved toward him, not knowing exactly what he could do but wanting to try something, anything when the Nexus surged inside him, staggering him - flooding him with pain-fear-glee-despair-terror-anger.
Fear helpless crushing.
Agony fire burning consuming devouring.
Satisfaction pleasure need consuming.
Death rising surrounding dragging.
The agony of thousands, hundreds of thousands of dead and dying. He screamed loud and long, falling to his knees, beating the floor with his fists. Trying to sense the pain it caused, as he was buried in the death agony of others, not feeling his own hands, his own body, lost, lost in the wash of burning roiling relentless death.
Death coming to hundreds of thousands, now millions, the numbers overpowering him, drowning him, as he felt them rush toward him, toward the Nexus. And Destiny's hurried words made a horrible sense. . . the shades, the shades of the disbelieving agonized dead. Coming for him. Coming to the Nexus. Helpless, on his knees. Arms around him, holding him close. Flesh and a terrified heartbeat.
Someone calling his name.
"No! Who. . ."
Faces rushed him, and horror of horrors, he recognized some. Genoshan. From Genosha. Mutants. Mutates. People he'd known, worked with, fought. Dying, dead, betrayed. Lost. Destroyed. Clawing at him, demanding. He screamed again, helpless, engulfed.
Who was that? He didn't know. He was dead. All of them dead. A girl who breathed water. A boy with four arms. A man who could speak with animals. A woman with green hair. A man who could mold plasma. A magistrate. A boy with corpse-pale skin. A street-cleaner. A telepath. A shipping clerk. A girl with enhanced senses. A geneticist. Too many. Dead. Coming to him as the Nexus. All lost, all broken, all dead.
He was shivering and shaking in aching agony. Then afraid, briefly, that his plasma energy had burst from him, destroying the house around him, letting the storm inside, but no, his power had been diverted, was being sucked down into the Nexus, fueling it.
//Alex!// A surge in his mind. A flare of power. A powerful mental link. The Nexus arcing to this new source, hungry. Hands on him. Burning hands. Living or dead? //Think of your son, Alex! Think of Scotty. Fight!//
Scotty. He clung to the image of the boy desperately. His son. His hope. His joy. He would not fail his son. Could not. Never again. He fought his way through the maelstrom of death, only now feeling the pain in his hands, the sweat pouring from his body, the raw scrape of his throat as he voiced a pointless denial over and over again.
He looked up and saw Nate Grey crouched in front of him hands on his shoulders, fingers digging in painfully. The boy was wild eyed and desperate, trembling with torment, golden eye flaring with energy that was going nowhere, useless. No. That was being sucked away from him, into the Nexus.
//Alex! Help me. . .//
Beyond him were images, shades, shadows pressing close. Filling the room. Burned, savaged forms. Horrifying shades of the dead. Known and unknown. Too many. And he could feel, could sense that the fabric of reality itself was now on the line. The boundary between life and death threatened, narrowing, worn away. Too many dead, too much power.
The Nexus was calling them but it was his power, and somehow Nate's, that was giving them substance, form, being. He could feel it. The energy streamed out of him, sucking him dry, emptying him, emptying them both. Leaving him hollow, bare; but stripping away Nate's very existence, pulling his essence out of the living as well, destroying him.
"No!" Alex screamed, fighting it, slowing the drain. Wrestling his power back under his control, frantic to master it as never before. Digging deep to find the strength to ignore the horror around him, the strength to deny the Nexus it's blind, wild feeding on him, on them both. To disregard the anger of the dead, denied. Nate moaned weakly, meeting his angry glare.
Blue to blue alone, the gold drained away. Not even a mental voice any longer.
He reached up, ignoring the bloody mess of his hands to grasp the boy's fading shoulders in return, holding on to him alone as the half-solid shades of the dead piled up against them both, clawing at them, trying to draw his attention, begging him for revenge, for a chance, for life. Their voices deafening him, overwhelming him. Heard his own name screamed over and over again.
"Stop! Stop it! Go away, go on! I can't save you. . ." Sobbing with the horror of it.
Before him, Nate groaned, mute, helpless. He could feel the boy's personality, his will, his strength passing through him and fought it, struggling to draw Nate Grey's essence back out of the Nexus yet shut out the dead around them. The boy becoming entwined in his despairing mind with Scotty, his son. He refused to fail him, to let him go.
"All of you! Leave, pass on!" Alex screamed, teeth clenching painfully. "You're dead - I can't help you!" Holding desperately to Nate, to the image of Scotty, to the need to live, to survive, to endure. To not be overcome, even by death.
He was a Summers. He would never surrender.
He drew it back, the power flaring painfully inside of him. His and Nate's. He shunted the power ruthlessly away from the Nexus, focusing instead on the boy. Putting him back, making him whole. Using him as outlet rather than the dead that still surrounded them. And slowly, painfully, the dead began to fade, to wail, to turn away.
Then, abruptly, nothing. Silence. As if a switch had been thrown, the shadows of the dead were gone. He felt a snapping recoil inside, then the Nexus was still.
A hollow roaring filled his ears; the throb of blood, the faint, uneven rasp of Nate's breathing, his own sobbing breaths. He held the boy's limp body tightly in his arms, his head rolling. Unconscious. Alex fell back against the couch, sliding down on his butt, staring blindly at the room, cradling Nate against him.
They were both still alive.
"Nate?" he whispered finally, stroking a shaking hand across the short hair. The boy didn't stir, but he could feel his heart beating steadily against his own chest. Beating. Had it beat before? He didn't know for sure.
"Nate, kid, c'mon, wake up," Alex muttered, feeling his own strength draining away. Tired, he was so tired. Worn away by the struggle. A struggle he'd won, somehow. It was almost unbelievable.
"A-alex?" Slurred, slow, but a reply. Uncoordinated movement against him, then the head lifted. Eyes, blue and gold again flashed at him. "What h-happened?"
"I stopped it, I guess, whatever it was," Alex said, his voice hoarse and raw. From screaming, for who knew how long. "Something happened to Genosha."
"What? How do you know?"
"I saw people I knew," he said, closing his eyes wearily. The horror and pain buried behind a wall of exhaustion. But it was there. Waiting to rend him with grief.
Nate moved against him slowly, sliding out of his unresisting arms, and falling down onto the floor beside him. Head thumping on the hardwood floor. The boy groaned.
"That hurt," he said, faintly astonished, then paused. "Oh, hell, I think I'm alive again."
"Yes," Alex said, voice fading. "It was you or them." The blood roared in his ears. He couldn't lift his hand, his body like lead. So tired. Drained. He couldn't feel even the faintest trace of his cosmic charge.
"Alex, are you okay?" Sharp concern. A hand under his head, on his shoulder, easing him down flat to the floor. He went without a struggle.
"No. Never be okay again. . ." he breathed as consciousness faded into merciful blackness.
He woke briefly once to fire-lit darkness, the softness of a bed, and the warmth of an unknown body snuggled close against his back. His mind wandering still, hung up in strange, disturbing dreams. Memories of pain, of loss. A shadow loomed beside the bed.
"Lorna, I'm so sorry," he breathed to it. The shadow nodded once, then turned away and was gone.
He closed his eyes, feeling tears slip slowly down his cheeks. He slept again.
He woke again to find himself alone in the bed. Weak, slanted sunshine flooded around the window blinds. Only ordinary shadows lurked in the corners of the room. His bladder was screaming at him. He stumbled out of bed and into the bathroom, not bothering with a light. Finished, he groped with inexplicably sore hands back to bed just as a dim form appeared in the doorway.
"No," he mumbled as he climbed back in. "Not yet." Then he drew the covers over his head and fell into oblivion once more.
The last time he woke was when someone climbed into the bed beside him. Someone cold. He gasped, eyes flying open in shock. The room was dark, save for the light of the banked fire. Astonished, he turned his head and stared into worried mismatched blue and gold eyes.
"Nate! What the hell are you doing?" he demanded groggily, flinching away from the boy's frozen feet, his icy limbs.
"Getting warm," the boy chattered, following him across the bed. He wrapped his arms around Alex's shoulders, pressing close, seeking warmth. Since he'd retreated to the edge, he could either roll himself out onto the cold floor, or shove the boy away. Alex opted to give him a shove, a reaction which didn't seem to bother him. Nate settled for the warm spot in the middle of the bed and a big chunk of the covers, watching him with pleased relief.
"Finally awake enough to give me crap about my cold feet," the boy said with a grin. "It's about time."
Cool air wafted across his back and shoulders, making him shiver. Alex tugged on the covers hard, managing to rescue some of them as he glared at the boy. What the hell was he doing in the same bed?
"What do you mean?"
"You've been out cold for two days. I was starting to get worried."
"So you climbed into bed with me?" he snapped. The boy looked wounded for an instant, then Alex felt a quick brush on his mind. Reading his vaguely alarmed surface thoughts.
"Geez, Alex, it's just for body heat," Nate laughed, his eyes dancing with wicked amusement. "We slept in a big pile all the time on the road back in my world."
"Yeah, well, it's not something I'm used to," he grumbled, feeling foolish. Then he flashed onto a memory of Scotty climbing into his bed in the middle of the night when a nightmare woke him, cold little body curling trustingly up against his father's back, only then feeling secure enough to sleep. A sharp pang of loss shot through him. Scotty was worlds away. If he had a bad dream, he'd be on his own. The boy had never felt comfortable going to Maddie for that, choosing Alex over her even when he'd been uncertain about him after his arrival in the world.
"What is it?" Nate asked, suddenly concerned, then Alex felt the gentle mind-touch again. This time he put up his shields. Nate flinched as he was shut out, looking vaguely wounded. "What?"
"Don't pry," he snapped, but without any real heat.
"Sorry. I was just worried." Wide, wounded look. A defensive burrowing down deeper into the blankets.
He sighed and relented. Nate had been looking after him for the past few days. He certainly didn't deserve bad temper for his efforts.
"I was just remembering the way my son would climb in bed with me after a bad dream," he explained quietly. Nate sighed deeply.
"I don't remember my childhood, not really," the boy said wistfully. "And what I do remember probably isn't the truth. Sinister planted most of it, since I was force-grown in the vats."
"Christ," Alex said wearily, laying an arm over his eyes. Just like Maddie. Poor kid.
"You okay?" Nate asked softly. Alex moved his arm and glanced over at the boy. Knowledge beyond his years shown in those mismatched eyes. He wasn't really a boy, yet he was hardly a man either. There just wasn't an easy category for Nate Grey.
"No. But I will be better. Eventually."
Thoughtful silence fell. Blue and gold eyes examined him closely, but there was no further attempt at a mind-touch.
"Do you want to know what happened?"
Pain flared inside. He knew what had happened already. The dead had already passed him by. But there were details missing. The how. And the who.
"Was it nuclear weapons?" he asked, feeling old and tired and disheartened. Would the hate never stop?
"No," Nate said, eyes bright with anger. "It was two heavily altered Sentinels. Of unknown origin. And all human governments are on high alert, swearing vengeance." Alex blinked at him in shock.
"Nobody knows who sent them. The Chinese are livid. They're about ready to start World War III. If those things surface near their borders, they just might."
"Hell. Where are the X-Men?"
"No sign," Nate said softly, then tapped the side of his head. "Do you want me to try to find them? Xavier? Or Jean?"
Alex lay in silence for a moment, mind whirling. Then he slowly shook his head.
"I need to go to Genosha first."
The attack came suddenly. He had finally hauled himself out of bed, much to Nate's dismay, and had showered, shaved and dressed, despite the fact that it was nearly four in the morning. The boy had hunkered back down in bed, refusing to leave his warm nest. Alex didn't try to force him. He needed some time alone.
He was poking up the fire when a short, bald shade-creature leaped at him from the shadows, snarling and changing as it came. He spun, feeling the flare of the Nexus even as elongated hands tried to close around his neck.
"Give it to me, you worthless mutant!" the shape hissed. He brought his hands up between the arms sharply, breaking the hold on his throat just enough so he could twist partly away. The limbs were soft, not completely real, but still astonishingly strong. Then, his cosmic charge ready, he blasted the creature across the room. To his shock, it bounced back, laughing thickly, shaking off a focused plasma burst like it was nothing. He coughed around his bruised throat, eyeing it warily as his mind raced.
The normal dead weren't usually this tangible. They were actual shades, unless somehow the Nexus had been changed by recent events. He didn't want to consider that - that dead spirits might become solid around him forever. Whatever it was, it was still dead. He didn't have to hold back.
"Pitiful fool," it crooned, bent over and stalking toward him from the shadows of the far side of the room. Clearly hunting him. "Obsolete and you don't even realize it. You can't stop me, not even in death. Give me the Nexus!"
"You want it, ugly?" he gasped, then felt inside. The Nexus responded. "Eat it, then."
He fed power to the Nexus and it roared in reply. A whirling rift appeared in the very fabric of reality in the middle of the room. The shade-creature fell back, hissing in surprise. Power surged. He pointed his hand at it and the rift moved. The creature dived away, faster than he could believe. Light spilled from the edges of the rift, illuminating the creature clearly. It was a short, twisted woman. Marked with large, ugly holes, almost like bullet holes, all down her naked form. The face and bald head strangely familiar. The eyes wide and almost luminous. She snarled at him, dodging away again. The rift moved too slowly and he was afraid to let it contact anything, not exactly certain what it would do. But whatever it was wouldn't be good.
Then the creature froze and lifted completely into the air.
He glanced over and saw a bare-chested Nate in the doorway to the bedroom, left eye spitting golden fire. Concentration fierce. "What the hell is it? I can't hold it long!"
"No need," Alex said through gritted teeth as he brought the rift over the struggling form. It caught the shade in what looked like a disintegration field, slowly ripping it apart. He could feel the thing dissolving out of reality. Destroyed utterly. It screamed in mortal agony as it vanished. He gave the Nexus a final twist to make certain, sensing nothing but pure hatred from it even at the end.
Then it was gone.
He choked down on the Nexus-rift sharply, feeling it snatch at the tendrils of his power like a spoiled child as it reluctantly closed. Wanting more, wanting to expand, to devour reality if he'd let it. He slowly forced it closed, falling to his knees, gasping as he struggled with it. But his will was stronger. The rift shrank.
Nate was calling his name, alarmed.
"No psi-touch!" he managed to shout, remembering the Nexus' reaction to Nate's power before. "I've got it." Then with a final squeeze, he shut the Nexus down completely. He found himself on hands and knees on the floor, panting hard. After a moment, he lifted his head and shot Nate a reassuring, if weary, look.
"What the hell was that?" the boy asked, eyes wide as he came over to Alex's side. "It was dead, wasn't it? Because I couldn't get a mental lock on it. I think we're damn lucky my telekinesis still could."
"I don't know what that thing was when it was alive, but it sure was nasty dead," Alex agreed, rolling over to sit on the floor, feeling once again the extreme exhaustion brought on by any work with the Nexus. "I wonder who killed it first?"
Nate shook his head slowly, eyes wide and kind of wild, then he spoke in a low, intent tone, "As shaman I could feel the Nexus, knew it existed. I skimmed the realities, keeping watch over it. But hell, Alex, you're using it."
"Runs in the family, I guess," Alex said wearily.
Nate just smiled and shook his head.
- - to be continued - -