Rating: R [mature themes] Archive: If you like it, just ask me. Characters: Alex Summers, Nate Grey
Author’s Notes: More troublesome topics; death, loss, regret. And I wanted an Alex!Muse, but I didn’t really want him to take over my WHOLE sense of creativity... *sigh* … I guess I’m just a sucker for the Summers boys in * any * incarnation. 10/5/01
Oh, a bit late, but text in //slashes// is telepathic conversation. But you probably figured that out already. . . *shrugs*
Disclaimer: Marvel owns it all. I’m just pretending. They make the money and I certainly don’t even pretend to do that.
Alex Summers was tired. Very very tired. Two days of sleep interrupted to banish some malign, twisted thing – a powerful ghost that didn’t have the decency to stay dead. Another draw on the Nexus that left him drained and exhausted once again. The association was painfully clear; use the Nexus, fall unconscious. He only hoped that eventually he’d build up a resistance to the damn thing. His historical problems with his plasma powers seemed rather tame in comparison.
Through it all, Nate Grey had watched over him. Feeding him, talking to him, snuggling up against his back at night in the bed; giving him a welcome human connection when the shades of the dead were their most demanding.
Who was protecting who from the monsters in the dark?
The boy was definitely alive again. Whatever he’d been before – an exceptionally strong ghost, an echo of his own power, a kind of energy life-form – somehow during the Death of Genosha, the Nexus had restored him. Drawn him out of the mass life-force of humanity and back into his own existence.
After waking up once more from his Nexus-induced exhaustion, Alex was dismayed to find the main floor of the house empty. Outside, the blizzard had finally abated. It was a gray and overcast day. The storm had left behind sizeable drifts of snow. All of which were still pristine. No tracks leading away. No tracks at all. But then Nate was telekinetic and could fly. A lowering of mental shields and an urgently broadcast inquiry elicited an instant response from the young telepath.
//Relax. I’m just in the attic, uncle,// Nate replied, amused. Alex remembered the state-of-the-art communications center Scott had hidden there and relaxed slightly. Nate had stayed in this house before, with Scott and Jean. He was familiar with the setup.
//Leave a note next time,// Alex chided. Nate gave him a mental raspberry. Shaking his head in amusement, Alex ran his hand over his chin. Shaving was definitely necessary. He lifted his arm and sniffed cautiously. And a shower. He set about making himself less fragrant and more presentable again.
After dressing in some more of Scott’s stored clothes, he set about making food. The only thing Nate could be counted on for in the kitchen was coffee; the pot was reasonably fresh and still half-full. Alex smiled as he poured himself a cup and pondered the pantry.
He found powered eggs and dried milk; unpalatable, but better than opening up a can of soup again. He set about making scrambled eggs. And some milk for his coffee. Black worked in a pinch, but he preferred it lightened. The eggs were easy to make. Then some juice. He even felt daring enough to try a boxed blueberry muffin mix. Just add water! So domestic. A pang of longing shot through him. Blueberry muffins were Scotty’s favorite. Right after chocolate chip cookies.
He let memories of the road trip they’d taken across the alternate American West flow through him. So many little things to learn about raising a child – many that had annoyed and frustrated him at the time – especially a highly intelligent child with an early-onset mutant power. What to feed him, how to keep him clean and dressed, how to entertain him. How to explain the danger of their lives to him without frightening him too much. How to comfort him when he failed. Even how to get him to brush his teeth properly at night. Most of the memories made him smile. It was impossible to put a finger on the exact moment when it had transformed from being a chore into a joy. When Electra’s presence as nanny had been more of a fall-back than a necessity.
He missed his son. More than he’d ever imagined he would.
He had finished the eggs and was working on a bowl of instant oatmeal when Nate Grey wandered into the kitchen, sniffing deeply. Dressed in low-slung pants and a well-worn sweatshirt, feet stuffed into a pair of Jean’s fluffy sheepskin slippers. Alex stifled a chuckle with a rueful shake of his head; they’d never fit Jean again. And he didn’t want to be within three miles of her when she found out.
“What’s that smell?” the boy asked curiously.
“I’m making blueberry muffins.”
Nate’s brows rose in surprise. “They smell good.” He wandered to the oven, crouched down and peered curiously through the glass window. Alex was struck again by the knowledge that Nate hadn’t grown up in a normal way. The gene-tanks of Apocalypse weren’t exactly anyone’s ideal nurturing environment. And the boy had been hunted and tricked and misunderstood from the instant he’d arrived in this reality. With barely time to separate friend from foe, much less learn everyday details about the far kinder world he’d landed in.
“Well, it’s not hard. Read the box; measure water, stir, pour in pan, bake. Easy.”
Nate took a deep, appreciative breath. “How long ‘til they’re done?”
“Ten more minutes.”
Nate looked longingly back into the oven. Alex smiled. He looked a lot like Scotty in that instant; eager and impatient. Young. Had he ever been that young? He knew he had, but it seemed like such a very long time ago.
“Strange news out there,” Nate said after a minute or so of watching the muffins bake, his expression suddenly adult and grim as he looked over his shoulder. Alex sighed deeply. “A big piece of Amazon jungle blew up just after the attack on Genosha ended. Spy satellites picked up some images. I think Cyclops was there.”
“Yeah, but big. Really big. He must have just opened his eyes without a visor on. For a long time too.” Nate’s voice was subdued, almost awed. Cyclops’ full power was staggering. Too often that was forgotten because he wielded it with such precision. Preferring finesse to brute strength. Apparently Scott had felt it necessary to cut loose on something down there. The thought was chilling.
“Destroying something completely, it sounds like. Maybe they found the Sentinel control center,” Alex said as he continued to eat. He’d burned a lot of energy lately and hadn’t been conscious enough to eat much. He needed to restore himself.
“I don’t know,” Nate said, seating himself at the table. “There’s the usual strange stories from all over the world. A huge underground fire in London reputed to be caused by mutants. A pop singer who’s having some mutant’s baby. A high-level scandal in the U.S. government that exposed some secret society plotting to take it over. An altercation on a beach in Spain that sounds suspiciously like X-Men activity. Then there’s these new guys calling themselves X-Force, but I don’t know any of them. They do commercials and stuff.”
“Yeah, it’s like they’re for rent or something.”
Alex frowned at that, but was still musing over Scott’s actions in South America. The more he thought about it, the more certain he was Cyclops had found something deadly hidden in the jungle there.
The buzzer for the stove went off, startling them both. Nate levitated out of his seat, left eye flaring wildly, ready for battle. Alex chuckled, grabbed a potholder and fished the muffin tin out of the oven. Then had to buffet Nate back with his shoulder as the kid crowded him eagerly, craning his head for a glimpse of the hot pastries.
“Hey, they smell even better now,” he said, grinning widely. “Gimme one.”
Alex mock frowned at him. “Didn’t you eat earlier?”
Nate shrugged and snatched a muffin out of the pan with his TK. “Yeah, but I’m always hungry.”
“They’re hot,” Alex warned even as he lifted one out of the pan for himself, letting his mutant power absorb the bulk of the heat until it was the perfect temperature. He bit into it with a deep, satisfied groan. Nate grimaced.
“Is it cheating to use your mutant power on food?” He broke his own muffin open, whimpering as he sniffed the fragrant steam, waving the hot bread around frantically to cool it, an eager look on his face. Alex just laughed. And together they polished off the entire dozen muffins.
They did little things for the rest of the day. Ordinary things. Laundry. Dishes. Hauled wood. Nate did most of that; his telekinesis coming in very handy for keeping warmth inside the house and feet and hands from getting cold. Then for dinner, Alex teased Nate into helping him prepare it. Taking a kind of strange satisfaction in the boy’s delight over producing edible food.
Then they’d sat in front of the fire in the living room, talking about whatever came to mind. Nate told him of his strange relationship with the death-absorbing Threnody, and only hesitantly relating his last disturbing encounter with her. Alex kept silent, suspecting that there was far more to Threnody’s fluctuating weight than mere chance. Nate went on obliviously to relate his misadventures with the sprawling Shi’ar Empire, including his brief encounter with the Empress Lilandra herself. Alex talked about his life with Scotty and the Six, intriguing Nate with his tales of the vampires Bloodstorm and Gambit, a fatally powered Iceman and a tragically stupid Brute, avoiding any mention of the treacherous Fallen.
Finally, they each fell into a comfortable silence, Alex staring into the fire, Nate curled up beside him sleepily on the couch. Peace and contentment reigned.
So it was with a sense of real annoyance that Alex felt a brief tug on the Nexus, glaring as a grim Joseph strode toward him from the darkness. The big man glanced at a now-dozing Nate, frowning with something like envy, or even simple longing. Missing life, perhaps.
“I was wondering if you’d show up again,” Alex said quietly, not wanting to disturb the boy beside him. Joseph didn’t respond immediately. He seemed uncomfortable, something he hadn’t demonstrated before. Alex watched him with growing curiosity, and the start of concern.
“Something is not . . . right. . . with Genosha,” Joseph said, face working. Pain or puzzlement, it was difficult to tell.
“You mean other than every person living on it being killed?” Alex snapped quietly, glaring.
“Yes.” The gray eyes flared with brief anger. Surprising Alex. Each time he saw the man, he seemed subtly more alive, more human in his reactions. As if he were slowly re-learning what it was to react to himself, to others again. The tall man continued quietly, “Something is very wrong with the island itself – with it’s magnetic field. I suspect that my . . . template’s demise has affected it somehow.”
Alex stared at Joseph. Reading underneath what he was saying. Realizing with a sinking in his gut just how badly the Nexus was upsetting this world, this reality just as it had disrupted the world of the Six. Opening them all up to trouble unending. Unless he was prepared to do something about it. Something final. He sighed. One problem at a time.
“And you can’t go there to find out?” Alex asked.
Joseph shook his head tightly, gray eyes cool, wary. His long white hair rippled with the motion. Alex was caught briefly by a remembered fact – something the Dark Beast had told him once; that the noble Magneto, the one who had fought on in Charles Xavier’s name to the bitter end in the Age of Apocalypse, had worn his hair long, as Joseph did.
“I do not believe that would be wise,” Joseph said. “I have little cohesion away from the Nexus. I am little more than a directed amplification of the magnetic field. And that may just feed this . . . anomaly.”
Gray eyes met blue and perfect understanding passed between them. Alex sighed deeply.
“Okay, we leave tomorrow.”
There weren't any planes going to Genosha. At least not passenger planes. Not any more. With the Shi’ar-enhanced computer system in the attic, Alex accessed one of X-Factor’s hidden operating accounts to get the funds they needed. It was the least Val Cooper could do for him, he figured, since he’d ‘died’ on her watch.
With that money he chartered a plane. Having a powerful telepath around who hadn’t been raised on Xavier’s ‘don’t touch’ philosophy made life easier and gave him only a few pangs of guilt. They were in a hurry, and it was just so much simpler when there weren’t awkward questions to field. He’d done far too much government paperwork for X-Factor. Being with the independent Six had spoiled him. It was better that the ordinary people he worked with saw exactly what he needed them to see, and even more importantly, only what they needed to see.
He flew the plane himself. Hours and hours of flying time in a dual turbo-prop. Boring. Slow. He missed having a near-supersonic jet at his disposal. Along the way, he diverted himself by trying to teach Nate how to fly a plane. But the boy was hopeless at it, as he teased him after several near-disastrous tries, a shame to the Summers genes. All Summers were pilots. Nate just rolled his eyes, folded his arms over his chest and said with a smirk, “Grey. The name is Grey. Jeez, old guy, get it right.” Constant taking-off and landing to refuel as they hopped their way down the Aleutian Chain, then over to the Kamchatka Peninsula and down through Japan. Avoiding China, who was still bristling defensively, primed to beat off attack if the renegade Sentinels dared approach their shores.
Then landing again, in Singapore, to hear the stunning news.
Charles Xavier had disclosed to the world that he was a mutant. Xavier’s Institute for Higher Learning was revealed to actually be a school for mutants. There were video clips splashed worldwide of the familiar barred gates with groups of protestors camped outside – from both pro and anti mutant groups. Hateful graffiti splashed all over the once stately walls around the grounds. Apparently he’d stopped short of exposing the X-Men themselves, but it was only a matter of time before connections were made.
Scott must be livid, Alex thought.
Some of the news reports puzzled him, however. Reporters had determined that only five other people – reputed mutants all – lived in the mansion. There should be far more X-Men than that, as he remembered. Unless most of them had decided they didn’t want to be ‘outed’, and had left. He’d caught sight of someone who could only be Wolverine dressed all in black leather once in a blurred distance shot of the grounds. The rest of the news was filled with tidbits on the much respected geneticist and physicist Dr. Henry McCoy, the Beast, an admitted mutant and ex-Avenger who was rumored to live in the mansion as well. There were plenty of stock shots of Hank’s grinning blue-furred mug on the screen, but no live pictures. That worried Alex a bit. Hank wasn’t normally shy.
Reports then went on about the impact of Xavier’s revelation on the new high-profile mutant mercenary team, X-Force. There were sound-bites of that bizarrely commercial team’s young leader, The Orphan, waving off questions about Xavier. Apparently Xavier had figured prominently in The Orphan’s past, giving him the means and the training to survive with his mutation. Other team members contributed less flattering commentary on Xavier, particularly The Anarchist, who seemed to despise him. Stock footage of a brawl between most of the X-Force that Alex remembered and this new group filled the screen, along with speculation on Xavier’s involvement with the demonstrably hostile young mutants who had voiced prior claim to the X-Force name.
Alex watched it all in grim silence.
“So, what does this mean?” Nate asked, somber. They were in a bar that catered to a mostly English-speaking clientele near the main airport, grabbing dinner and waiting while their plane was fueled again and checked over. He’d just finished filing his flight plan to the Maldives, the closest he could come to Genosha without military clearance. Once there, they’d have to figure out an alternate way to get to the island.
Both of them had dressed in ordinary clothing rather than costumes in order to avoid drawing official attention. Nate, apparently, had discovered an all-encompassing love for the color black. He wore black slacks, a black tee shirt that hugged his slender chest, knee-skimming black leather jacket and black boots. He looked young and dangerous and sexy with his shock of newly unruly brown hair stained with white. Women everywhere followed him with their eyes – and a few men too. He looked like a slumming rock star, especially when he slipped on Ray-Bans to hide his flaring left eye.
Black frames, of course.
Alex rolled his eyes. He’d had enough of that color in his containment suit to last him a lifetime. So he’d chosen to wear blue jeans, loafers and a lightweight jacket over a green polo shirt. Bland, boring. Discreet. Exactly what he’d wanted. There weren’t any women casting him second looks, at least none that he saw. Nate, however, had a few things to learn about discreet. But somehow the boy seemed oblivious to the adoring, lusting looks cast his way, despite the fact that he was a telepath.
“I don’t know,” Alex said, uneasy, pushing around the last of his pasta on his place. There was no mention of X-Factor. And a US government sponsored mutant team would be prominently profiled at a time like this. He didn’t have the time to hang around and see if CNN would bring it up later. He wanted to get moving. Needed to get moving again.
He gathered up Nate – disappointing nearly a dozen women in the bar – paid their tab and left.
In the air, the shades of the dead hadn’t bothered him as much. It might just have been the level of concentration necessary when flying, but he had been grateful for the respite. On the ground, however, particularly in a city as large as Singapore, they were plentiful and persistent. And the closer they came to Genosha, the more of them appeared. Manifestation was apparently a favorite habit of the recently deceased. He was reluctant to disperse them, simply because of the exhausting effect the Nexus had on him. He would have to endure.
He sighed in exasperation when he saw another fully-manifested shade waiting for him in the service hanger by the rental plane.
“Havok,” the slender, chalk-pale young man called to him.
Alex came to a halt, his focus alerting Nate that he was seeing things again. Nate scanned around warily, but seemed unable to locate the shade. Which made Alex feel marginally better. Nate could generally sense the ones that were physically dangerous. So this was a more normal shade. The trauma would be all in his own mind. Wonderful.
“Do I know you?” he asked cautiously. The shade grinned wide, shaking his head slowly.
“Not lookin’ like this ya don’t,” the shade said. Then with startling speed he morphed into a hulking, muscular gray-white form, bio-generated weapons bristling from his arms.
“Random,” Alex said, feeling a strange mixture of regret and annoyance as he recognized the former mutant mercenary. “You were on the island.” The big shoulders shrugged.
“Magneto paid top dollar,” Random said, with a self-deprecating smile. The smile vanished. “Why’d ya come back, Alex?”
Alex stared at his former teammate, his former rival for Lorna’s affections. Now dead. Like so many others. Facing one who’d died there, he wasn’t certain exactly why he was so drawn to Genosha, Joseph’s warning fading. Leaving him with only the overwhelming need to see it for himself, to feel it, to realize that the people, the places he’d known and worked for so hard were all gone.
He hadn’t liked or trusted Random in life, but in death he felt the strange need to be honest with him, “I have to make sure. . .”
“No,” Random cut him off, glaring at him and folding those dangerous arms across that impossible chest. “Why’d ya come back at all?”
“What?” Alex asked, confused. Nate jerked to attention beside him, left eye spitting golden fire as his head swiveled around toward the hanger door.
“Alex! Somebody’s coming.” The boy began to levitate off the floor, preparing for battle.
Their defensive position was bad - inside an essentially open hanger. Alex looked hastily around. Grabbing Nate’s jacket, he hauled him away from the plane, towing the boy through the air. He dared not use plasma bursts here. Too much fuel around. Nate’s TK would have to suffice.
“Who are they?” he ground out as he raced toward the side door of the hanger. Maybe they wouldn’t have covered it yet.
“Don’t know. They’re psi-shielded.”
That was not good. That implied someone knew what they were facing. He skidded to a stop as the door he was making for burst open. A man in power armor stood there, bulbous arms leveled at the two of them.
A weapon muzzle flashed menacingly at him. Energy or projectile? He couldn’t tell and didn’t care to find out. He shot Nate a warning glance, then put his hands up.
“Okay! Take it easy!” Nate hovered beside him, simmering with annoyance.
//Alex, we can take these guys. . . //
//No, just shield if necessary. They were prepared for a psi. I want more information.//
Five more armored suits boiled through the door, surrounding them, weapons pointed and ready, mostly at Nate where he still hovered in the air a few feet behind Alex. He had confidence in the strength of Nate’s telekinetic shield. Then he heard the distinctive clack of high heels on concrete. He looked over and lowered his arms, crossing them over his chest as a tall blonde woman in a sleek navy blue suit pushed between the armored suits.
“Well, well, well,” a cold voice said. “Look who isn’t so dead after all.”
“Val, you’re slipping,” he said, shaking his head slowly. “I hit that account three days ago. I expected you to catch up to us in Osaka.”
“Well, the Japanese are funny about letting us operate on their turf, you know,” she said, glaring at him. “It’s good to see you again, Alex. Where the hell do you think you’re going?”
“Genosha, Val,” he said, meeting her piercing gaze steadily. “But I’m sure you figured that out for yourself.”
Valerie Cooper, official US Government metahuman liaison, just stared at him. Then, her face pinched with a curiously blank horror, she gestured to the armored suits to stand down. They did so, slowly. Nate glared at the blank face-plates surrounding them, fire glowing in his left eye. Alex put a warning hand on his arm. Power suits appeared to annoy Nate Grey.
“Everyone’s dead, Alex,” she with a harsh tone in her voice. ”It won’t do you any good to go there. SHIELD and Xavier’s people found two hundred and twenty-seven survivors. Most of whom are either still critical or gibbering wrecks from being buried under rubble for hours.”
He met her hollow gaze with his own, echoes of horror seen and endured in both their eyes. Two hundred and twenty-seven. Out of a population of over 16 million.
“Any radiation?” he asked quietly. She shook her head and shifted uneasily on her feet, folding her arms over her chest.
“Minimal,” she said. “Focused energy beams, mostly.”
“Where was Magneto?” he asked quietly. Val loosed a deep sigh.
“Well, rumor has it he was hooked up to life support, nearly comatose. Apparently, a week or so earlier, our pal Wolverine managed to get close enough to punch those claws of his through Magneto’s chest while he was distracted with torturing Xavier.”
“Hmm,” Alex said, raising a single eyebrow. “The old team’s been busy while I’ve been away.”
“Speaking of,” she said, glancing cautiously at Nate then back to him, “where the heck have you been, Alex?”
“Dead,” he said. Nate laughed, the sound bitter and sharp. Val glared at him, obviously not taking him seriously.
“I don’t appreciate stunts like that, Havok. The rather fiery and public ‘demise’ of the team leader and a junior member convinced the Senate to cut back our funding. X-Factor was mothballed. The team dispersed. . .” she trailed off, her face paling. She narrowed her gaze at him, suddenly reticent.
“I know about Lorna,” he said calmly. She shifted uneasily, uncomfortable with his composure. Admittedly, it wasn’t much like the Havok she’d once known. After Genosha, there wasn’t all that much left of the Havok she’d once known, he thought wearily, or of his life here. He continued before she could speak again. “Why do you have psi dampers, Val?”
She jerked her thumb at Nate. “For Grey, of course. I recognized him from surveillance photos.”
Alex glanced at Nate. Nate shrugged sheepishly. “From the Richards, maybe. Or the Avengers.”
“Try Onslaught, kid,” Val said dryly. “Not to mention Central friggin’ Park.”
Alex sighed deeply. “Are you going to make this a fight, Val?”
“Why do you need to go there, Alex?” she asked after a moment spent searching his eyes.
“They were my people, Val,” he said, face still and controlled. “I spent a lot of time there, tried to do some good for the mutates. It wasn’t enough. Then the UN gave it to Magneto. And I guess he went a little wacko there at the end. . . but the rest of them didn’t deserve to die.”
There was a long silence before she shook her head at him again.
“You don’t need to do this to yourself,” she said, concerned. And he knew just how bad it must be on the island if Valerie Cooper was showing concern. How could he explain to her that he’d already endured far worse; the dead themselves?
“Yes, Val, I do,” he said, gaze hardening. Nate shifted beside him, sensing his determination. “Now are you going to help me, or not?”
They traveled the last few miles by jet helicopter. There was something to be said for getting the military to help you. Val had pulled strings, got fast transport for Nate and him to a U.S. aircraft carrier stationed just off Genosha’s coast. Then came the helicopter ride.
Despite what he knew, despite the passage of the dead, he wasn’t really prepared for his first sight of Hammer Bay.
It was gone.
A once thriving, modern city. Skyscrapers, shopping malls, homes, industry. All gone. Leveled. Destroyed. There was nothing but blasted, broken rubble left; concrete and steel, glass and ashes. Complete and utter devastation. Smoke still rose from dozens of locations around the former capital city of Genosha, as well as from locations further inland, beyond the sloping valley that had cradled the city. Other towns. Power plants. Factories. Water systems. Farms. All gone.
He leaned his forehead against the window of the helicopter, pale and shaking. Nate’s hand on his shoulder, the boy’s mind brushing reassuringly against his. Nate had seen similar scenes in his own world; they brought back unpleasant memories for him, but still he reached out and offered comfort. Alex felt a surge of pride in the boy, a brief high spot in the otherwise overwhelming grief and dismay. But there was worse to come.
The shades of the dead waited for him on the shore below.
The pilot circled around the columns of smoke, coming in to a part of the city that Alex vaguely recognized as being near the base of the Citadel, Magneto’s former palace. An extensive search and rescue station had been set up there, with military and civilian workers of all nations swarming through the rubble. Searching tirelessly for signs of life. It lightened his heart just a little to see these humans striving so hard on behalf of mutants. To see that when disaster of this magnitude struck, that underneath they were all human, all connected.
They landed in a swirl of dust and ash, obscuring the view, sending observers, workers scrambling for cover. Then the dust suddenly settled to the ground, clearing the air. Alex shot Nate a startled glance. The boy’s eye flared brightly as he telekinetically suppressed the dust. Approaching ground crew froze in surprised shock. Alex swiftly unbuckled himself, pulled off his sound-dampening headphones and climbed out of the helicopter, Nate close on his heels, before anyone changed their mind about allowing two metahumans back on the island.
An older black man with stark white hair and a SHIELD uniform on pushed through the gaping ground crew, a glare on his face. He yelled at them over the whine of the rotors.
“Cute display. Commander G.W. Bridge, SHIELD SitCom. Follow me.” Alex complied, Nate close behind. He vaguely recognized Bridge, certain that he’d met him before, but a while ago. He knew at least that he was a high-ranked SHIELD operative. Around the ruins, he could feel the pressure of the unsettled dead. They hadn’t approached him, which concerned him. There was direction, of a sort, implied in that. As if something was keeping them away from him, from the Nexus, for now.
They walked through the rubble away from the landing zone to a busy command station set up near the rubble of the Citadel. Bridge led them into a tent, away from the curious stares of the workers. He ordered the SHIELD agents in the tent out. They went warily, with much glancing at Alex and Nate.
“Cooper filled me in on you, Havok. And this one,” Bridge said without preamble, giving Nate a hard stare, then blinking and looking closer, shaking his head as if he’d thought he recognized him, but dared not admit it. The boy just crossed his arms nonchalantly over his chest, looking vaguely dangerous and sullen in his all-black attire – and very young. The SHIELD agent sneered at him then, dismissing him. Bridge had no idea, Alex thought grimly. “I don’t like it, but I’ll guide you around on your little tour of the devastation.”
“I don’t need a tour, Commander Bridge,” Alex said bleakly. “I just need space and privacy.” Bridge shot him a suspicious look.
“It’s a mutant thing, Commander,” he replied with grim resolution, then relented slightly. “I need to settle things here.” Bridge rolled his eyes as if he’d heard similar sentiments before. And working for SHIELD he just might have.
“And how are you going to do that? You’re an energy converter, Havok. Last thing we need is more plasma spewing around here. The snotty little telepath here might be useful, but we’ve already had our telepaths comb the ruins and there just isn’t anyone left to find,” Bridge said, face equally grim. The toll of the last few days was engraved on his weary face. Grieving in his own way, as a human for fellow humans. There were just too many dead. Too little hope. And also concerned as a solider because there was still the danger of another attack, somewhere else in the world unless they could find the responsible party and stop them. Alex, however, had more immediate concerns. He could feel the pressure of the dead rising.
“Oh, they’re here all right,” Alex said. “Waiting for me.” Nate shifted uneasily beside him, then lifted his head and turned, as if listening to something. The Nexus surged.
“Alex,” he said, eyes wide. “I’ve got something. . . uh!” He grunted in pain. Shook his head, eyes glazing, distracted. Alex put a hand on his shoulder. Squeezed hard.
“Block him, Nate,” he said urgently. Afraid that he’d miscalculated badly, exposing the boy to something he couldn’t handle. Afraid that he, himself, wouldn’t be strong enough for what he had to do now. Nate turned mismatched eyes on him, wide with uncertainty. Bridge was glancing back and forth between the two of them, confused and alarmed.
“How can he. . .he’s not even alive. . .” Nate groaned, staggered, horrified. Alex caught his shoulders, propping him up, staring into his eyes, trying to lend the boy his strength.
“Find a way! This was why I had to come here,” Alex said tightly, face grim. “He’s too strong. He won’t go quietly.”
“What do you mean? Who?” Bridge demanded, interrupting anxiously. Then the tent blew away, ripped from the ground and into pieces with a terrible, endless rending sound. The pieces flew up like chaff. Around them, men and women ran in confusion, equipment flying, rock and metal and ash stirring. Bridge turned to call to his people, to try to restore order but staggered back instead, falling against Alex with a cry of fear. Alex looked over his shoulder.
It was a shade. But a shade like none he’d yet seen. A glowing maelstrom of dark bio-magnetic energy bound in a vaguely human shape by will alone, but with eyes like windows onto the pit of hell.
“Havok, bring me back,” the shade demanded. Voice hollow, ringing. Equipment, people, rubble were forced away from the center, away from Alex, by a blast of energy. Metal shards came screeching from the ruins to rise, whirling, into a deadly wall of debris, isolating them. Still the master of magnetism, even in death. His will formidable, indomitable. Bridge, apparently quite able to see this manifestation, crouched beside Alex, staring in horror. Nate on his other side. Alex could feel tremors race through the boy and shot him a concerned look.
“He’s not all there. . .” Nate gasped, sweating, eyes wild. “And he’s drawing on me . . . somehow. . . ah! Make it stop!” Nate clutched at his head, face screwed up in agony, as he sank to his knees. Alex lifted a narrowed, angry stare to the shade of one of the most powerful mutants to ever walk the earth.
“Leave him alone!” he yelled. The Nexus surged again. He touched it, trying to sense it’s response. His power snapped to it, but he wrenched it stubbornly back. It wouldn’t get away from him again. He was ready this time. The shade fluttered, seemed to grow more solid, more human looking as it approached, but still tendrils of dark-bright bio-magnetic energy splattered and fell from it. The eyes glowing like fire. Energy waves scorching and searing the blasted ground around it. More destruction. Nate screamed. Alex didn’t dare turn away to check on him.
“I must avenge what has been done to us, to our people, Havok! Bring me back!”
“No! You’re dead, Magnus! You must pass on or you will destroy the world!”
The shade laughed, a terrible sound. “What care I for a world that kills an entire nation, an entire people out of fear? Let them all die! Bring me back now or I will destroy you!”
Shadows of arms lifted, energy spat from the shade, fountaining up, spilling out in a glittering wave. Searing, punishing. Nate screamed again, falling to the ground, writhing behind him. Bridge shouted in pain. Alex felt the wave touch him, felt the Nexus absorb it, then reflect it back, feeding the shade’s anger, it’s will. Spreading the destruction.
“No!” Alex yelled, reaching frantically for the Nexus, feeling control slip from his grasp. The shade roared with satisfaction. Lines of darkness, like tears in reality, arced between them. Alex staggered, fell. The Nexus somehow connecting to Magneto’s power; fueled by his rage, his insanity, his grief. Energy flared higher. The earth groaned beneath them. Alex shouted in frustrated anger, unable to stop the flow of a power that wasn’t his own. They were doomed.
Then, beyond the terrible shade, he saw someone dive swiftly and without harm through the deadly wall of debris, parting it easily. Long white hair blowing with the flow of energy, gray eyes blazing. All serenity and detachment gone. Joseph.
“Magnus,” Joseph called, eyes flashing.
The shade turned. Snarled in fury. “Filthy copy! Abomination!”
Energy leaped from one to the other, split and flowed. Joseph shielded himself, hands rising, pressing against the force of the shade’s attack. Falling back, faltering under the onslaught, but still deflecting it. For now. The shade new no limits. The ground began to shudder and tremble. But Joseph had distracted it.
Alex saw his chance, struggled to his feet, grabbing the Nexus tightly. Feeling it inside him, wrenching it desperately away from the shade’s grasp. Hearing the wail of dismay as the link was broken. Then feeding it his own power instead, filling that hungry gap. Lines of nothingness arced up from him – glowing splits in reality that sucked in part of the whirling wall of debris, dissolving it, shredding it with an unearthly howl. He fought the lines back, drawing them in, banishing them. Forcing the Nexus to obey him. Gasping hard, he looked up again.
The shade grappled with Joseph. Energy twining around them both. Screams of pain and outrage coming from the battle. The younger man was slowly being beaten back, overwhelmed by the sheer driving hatred, the utter despair, the manic need of the shade as it locked hands around his throat. Bending him over, forcing him to the ground. Choking him. Joseph clawed desperately at the dark-energy hands around his throat, eyes rolling.
Alex reached out with the Nexus. Touched the shade. The dark head lifted, turned. The glowing eyes locked on him, wide with disbelief.
“No! You cannot!”
Joseph took the opportunity to drive his clenched fists up into the shade, calling out in shock as his hands slid into the dissipating form. The shade screamed in outraged pain. Alex cried out as well, struggling to keep them separate, the Nexus flaring. Feeding strength to one, yet driving the other away.
Then, with a sharp wrench and a final howl, the shade of Magneto was gone.
Bio-magnetic energy snapped free, shaking the ground like an earthquake with the force of its return. The whirling debris exploded away, out of control. Alex fell forward to his knees, reaching desperately, but unable to make the Nexus respond in time. The workers, the soldiers around them! Nate cried out behind him and abruptly the deadly metal cloud froze, then rained down on the ground harmlessly. Stopped by Nate’s TK.
Alex staggered over to Joseph, crouched beside him. Reached out and touched him. Hissing with surprise when he found pulse and breath.
“Shit, you’re alive!”
“So it seems,” Joseph said, voice hoarse, the skin of his throat red and raw where the shade had grabbed him. He propped himself slowly on his elbows, gray eyes shadowed with pain, haunted with dread. Alex felt Nate drop to the ground beside him and glanced over. A line of blood ran down from the boy’s nose, his eyes blurred and confused. Bridge stood unsteadily behind him, covered with dirt, bleeding as well but only from little cuts left by flying debris.
“You guys okay?” Alex asked both of them, glancing from Nate to Bridge. Nate seemed dazed, distracted, while Bridge nodded, eyes wild.
“Yeah, guess so. What the hell happened, Havok? And who’s this?”
“Joseph. Magneto’s clone. He saved us.”
“Christ on a crutch,” Bridge said heavily. “I thought he was dead. I thought both of them were dead.”
“Well, not exactly,” Alex said, trading weary looks with Joseph before meeting Bridge’s troubled look. “But Magneto is, now. We sent him on.” Bridge eyed him with sharp calculation, trying to figure out how much he could believe and then, more importantly, what he could say in his report to be believed. But Alex didn’t care about explanations. The exhaustion was eating at him, threatening to suck him under. He had to keep going a little while longer. Alex looked over at Nate, concerned when he hadn’t answered. The blood was worrisome.
“Nate, you okay?”
Nate just nodded loosely, sitting slumped, his head lolling. Alex cupped the boy’s chin in a hand, looking intently into the half-lidded blue eyes. Seeing that the gold had drained away from the left one. One pupil larger than the other, as well – some kind of concussion, maybe. Or shock.
“I think he needs medical attention,” Alex said shortly, glancing urgently at Commander Bridge. Then he lifted his head, as if listening. “But I’m not done just yet.” Bridge rolled his eyes and shook his head, but didn’t argue.
SHIELD troops began to approach them, warily, eyes on the white-haired mutant who looked so much like Magneto, their known enemy. Commander Bridge staggered over to them, waving them away, asking for injury reports, damages, starting his people on their work again. Distracting them from the three mutants.
Alex rose slowly to his feet, looking around with grim purpose. Now that Magneto was gone, the rest of the shades that had lingered on Genosha pushed forward. He watched silently as they passed through the human workers and the SHIELD troops without detection, save by a rare sensitive few who shuddered and looked around with nebulous disquiet.
He shook his head as the dead approached, only vaguely aware of Joseph and Nate crumpled at his feet, the startled human bystanders beyond.
“You felt Magneto pass,” he called to them. They stopped, close, but not clawing at him as they had done in Alaska, during their destruction. Resigned. “I can help you pass too, but that is all.”
The shade of a young woman with a mournful face and dressed in tattered black rags nodded to him solemnly.
“We will pass,” she said, as others beyond nodded agreement. “Magneto held us here. We wish peace.”
He smiled gently at her. She did not respond, her large eyes wide.
“Tell Miz Frost that I miss her and that I saw what she tried to do for me,” the girl said, meeting his gaze in a flicking, sidelong way. Shy, even in death. “Tell her it wasn’t her fault I died.” Alex nodded gravely in reply, promising. The girl lifted her lips in a brief, forced smile, then bowed her head, ready. Alex scanned them quickly, seeing the ranks of the dead spread out through the rubble; mutants he’d never met, some he had, briefly, faces vaguely familiar, faces strange. All dead. All waiting to pass on into the unknown. Waiting for the Nexus to free them.
Through the shades he could see the SHIELD people, the human volunteers staring toward him, confused, alarmed as he raised his hands into the air, plasma glowing around them. Then he reached for the Nexus, feeding it his power.
In a rippling, spreading wave that only he could see, taking seconds, frozen moments of time, the endless ranks of the shades of the dead winked out. He held the Nexus, stretching his control, his power, reaching through the island itself, finding the trapped pockets of the dead, releasing them. All across the island, even to the far side. After several long, painful moments, but only when he was certain all had been set free of Magneto’s bindings, he clenched his hands shut, closing off the Nexus at the same time.
Then he was falling forward, falling into darkness and exhaustion, hearing someone call his name anxiously as he fell and knew no more.
- - to be continued - -