Twin Poles One: Journeyman of Magnetism Part 9
Rotating Disclaimer: I'm baaaack! This one actually came back from the betas over a year ago, and, well, I've sat on my butt. Thanks to my betas Carrie Wright, Sigil, and Dannell Lites, none of whom I've paid nearly enough attention to, but if I gutted this and rewrote from scratch it would never have gotten out, so I fixed as best as I could.
I hope to have these out on a more regular schedule (read: not a year between chapters) from now until the story's done. Believe it or not we're halfway through this one!
In fact, Magnus didn't drop him anywhere near home. He dropped Joseph off at an airport in Nebraska, with a bag of books and cash for a plane ticket-- apparently, unlike Joseph, Magnus remembered most of Magneto's bank account numbers. Joseph debated actually purchasing said plane ticket-- he didn't like the idea of being beholden to the X-Men for a ride home. He also thought of getting a hotel room and holing up here with his books until his powers returned. In the end, however, he did have a responsibility to the X-Men. Rogue was probably worried about him-- and he was rather worried about her, given that last time he'd seen her she'd just been electrocuted with his power. Cyclops would probably give him hell if he waited the day or so for his powers to return before contacting the X-Men. And he was entirely too large a man to be at all comfortable flying in a commercial airplane, even first class. Not to mention, he probably wasn't safe to do so-- with his body generating an EM field that he couldn't control, he was likely to cause all kinds of radio interference.
Instead, he phoned the mansion. Jean picked up the phone. "Xavier Institute of Higher Learning."
"It's Joseph, Jean. I'm glad to hear you're all right; how's Rogue?"
There was a moment of silence. Then, "How's Rogue? How are you? What happened? Where are you?"
"I'm fine. I was captured, and then released. I'm in Omaha, at the airport. How is Rogue?"
"She's fine. What do you mean, you were released? Who captured you? What did they want?"
"Apparently, to have a conversation and give me some books. As for who captured me... I still haven't any definitive answer to that one." He sighed. "I'm sure I'll have to endure a complete debriefing. At the moment, however, my powers aren't operational, so I'm actually calling to see if anyone can come pick me up. Otherwise I'll just stay here until they return; I'm told they should be coming back tomorrow, and I really don't dare take a commercial flight until they do."
Another moment of hesitation. "All right. We'll send someone out to get you. See if you can find somewhere convenient for the Blackbird to put down; there's got to be an area at the airport for private flights to come in and out. It'll take us about two hours."
"I'll be waiting."
It was sunset, the sky growing dark out, but there was still enough light to read by, barely. Joseph was sitting outside the small terminal for the private flights, reading one of the biographies of Magneto, when the Blackbird screamed in and came to a landing. He walked out to meet it before the dust it had kicked up had entirely cleared, the duffelbag of books in his hand.
Jean, Scott, Iceman, Wolverine, Bishop, Cannonball and Rogue disembarked from the plane. Joseph wasn't quite able to keep a happy smile from spreading goofily across his face at the sight of Rogue, alive and unhurt. "Rogue! How are you?"
She flew over to him, grabbed him and buried her face against his chest, holding his arms painfully tightly. "Don't you dare ever do that to me again, you hear?" she yelled at his chest, shaking him. "We couldn't find you with Cerebro, we didn't know if you were dead, if the Magneto duplicate was going to kill you, try to take your place--"
"Which, in fact, we haven't verified that he hasn't done," Scott said sharply. "Rogue?"
Rogue let him go-- which was actually a relief; he was going to have nasty bruises on his arms tomorrow-- and flew backward away from him as Bishop stepped forward. "For security purposes, you must submit to another psi-scan now."
Joseph stared at him in dismay. He'd thought in the beginning that Magnus wanted to impersonate him, and knowing that the X-Men were going to check would have reassured him, then. Now that he knew better, however, the thought of facing another psi-scan seemed unbearable. "You can't simply tell from my signature?" he asked Jean.
Jean shook her head. "The other one has exactly the same signature to Cerebro that you do. I know you're not going to like this, but it has to be done."
"Did none of you see him, when we fought? He looks his proper age, or at the least the age Magneto is supposed to look. Can't you simply look at me and tell the difference?"
"Two of you look the same to Cerebro. You smell the same. You got the same powers," Wolverine said. "Looks don't necessarily mean anything-- we don't know he can't look younger if he wants. So. You gonna settle down and let Jeannie do what she's gotta, or...?"
"Let's not forget, you brought this on yourself when you ran off, mister," Scott said. "We can't take you back with us until we've verified you."
"Why not? I know that the mansion is located on Greymalkin Lane in Salem Center, New York. I know that you are Scott Summers, also known as Cyclops. I could fly back to the mansion once my powers return-- I do understand your need to verify me, but there's no reason to do it here and not return to the mansion first."
"And there's also no reason not to do it here, unless you really do have something to hide," Scott said.
"He's real eager to get back to the mansion before anyone psi-probes him," Bobby said.
Joseph took a deep breath. A temper tantrum would not help his cause right now. "Considering how very unpleasant I found the last psi-probe, why should this surprise you?"
"Unpleasantness is a fact of life in our line of work," Bishop said. "I cannot help thinking that Magneto would have understood this."
"A pity he's not here, then," Joseph snapped. "I don't object to a psi-probe, but I do object to having it done in public, with more than half the team looking on."
"I'm sorry," Jean said firmly. "I know how bad it was for you last time, but even if you are Joseph, we have to be sure that you haven't been brainwashed or conditioned before we get into close quarters with you. After what happened to Alex, we can't trust anyone who's been out of the sight of the rest of his team." She left unspoken the "and we never trusted you in the first place," but Joseph was sure he could hear it anyway, especially when he considered how absurd her statement was. The X-Men were not checking each other every time they went shopping, for god's sake.
He had absolutely no desire to let Jean into his head. Not after last time, and not after the revelations he'd just had. He certainly didn't want her, of all people, knowing he was beginning to question just how much of a monster Magneto had truly been. On the other hand, he had no powers right now, and even if he had had them, it hadn't escaped his notice that there was no way they needed over half the team to come pick him up at the airport. They'd come geared up to fight him, and if he resisted the mindprobe, they'd only be sure he had something to hide, take him down, and force him. Mind racing, he cast around for an alternative-- ah. Perhaps. He turned to Rogue. "Rogue, would you do it, then?"
She blinked at him. "What?"
"According to the studies I've done on your power, if you touched me only for a moment, it would give you access to my mind and powers, but with no risk of it becoming permanent. If you did that, you could see if I were brainwashed or conditioned."
"Yeah, and if you were, maybe you could infect Rogue with it too," Iceman said. "We're not falling for it, 'Joseph.'"
I will control my temper. "Shall we avoid the completely absurd, Iceman? If I could 'infect' Rogue, I could also 'infect' Jean. Or Psylocke, or whoever else invaded my mind. I would prefer that Rogue do it because my shields are not proof against her, and because, quite frankly, if someone is to go rummaging through my mind I would rather it be one I consider a dear friend." He left the implications of that statement and his feelings toward the rest of the X-Men hanging.
"I-- I haven't used the power, except to kiss Remy that once, in... hell, not since I tried to use it on you," Rogue said. "And the last time I tried to use it on you, it didn't work."
"Please, Rogue." He glanced at the others. "May I speak to her privately a moment?"
"Jean, is there any reason it shouldn't be Rogue?" Scott asked.
"It would definitely be easier on Joseph. I don't know if it would be easier on Rogue, though."
"I can make that call for myself," Rogue said. "Come on, sugar, let's talk." She lifted him and flew him to the top of the Blackbird, not nearly carefully enough of the bruises she'd already put on his arms. "Okay, what's up?"
"Nothing's 'up'," he said. "It's just-- I don't want Jean in my head. Again. If someone must know my innermost thoughts, I'd rather it be you-- though in some regards we might both be embarrassed," he couldn't quite help a lopsided grin, "at least you I trust."
"It's just-- what if something goes wrong? Or what if it doesn't work?"
"Nothing will go wrong. As long as you only touch me a brief moment, you can't possibly permanently absorb me. The records say you used to use this power all the time, Rogue-- what happened?"
She shrugged. "I got tired of having people in my head."
Joseph shook his head. "Then if this would truly be painful for you, don't do it. I'll take my chances with Jean. It's only--"
"It's only that it's gonna hurt like hell if Jean does it, and put you in a rotten mood, and make Scott and Bobby smug because they got their way. Right?"
"Well... yes. But if it would hurt you--"
"It won't hurt me. I wouldn't do this if you still had your memories, you know-- I absorbed Magneto once, and that was enough. But Jean says you don't remember any of that. Just one thing, I don't know if this will work. The last time I tried, with Magneto--"
"I probably resisted," Joseph said, and wondered if it had even been him. "I won't, this time." He took a deep breath. "Only, I must ask. You will see-- questions, in my mind. Doubts. Until I've resolved the answers for myself, please don't tell them. I won't-- I am no less committed to the dream, whatever the answers I find may be, and I will not be any sort of threat to the X-Men regardless."
"I can't promise that. If they need to know--"
"Then I will tell them. But I want to tell them myself."
She sighed. "I'll do what I think's right, you know that, but if I can do what you're asking, in good conscience, I will."
"That is all I could ask."
"All right." She rested her hands on his shoulders, leaned forward, and kissed him gently on the lips. He had time to notice that she tasted as sweet as he had believed she would, and then everything went black.
Rogue leaned back from the unconscious burden in her arms, the usual wild rush of power flooding into her, making her slightly dizzy. It was more than usual-- she hadn't absorbed anyone in months, and Joseph's power was a headier one than the usual ones she absorbed. Nothing she couldn't handle, though. Curious; it felt like there was more here than the time she'd absorbed Magneto's powers, and all the X-Men's, to fight the Entity in Africa, and less than when she'd tried to absorb Magneto and simply had run out of room for his power before she ever even got to his mind, the day of Illyana's funeral.
It took several seconds for the memories to come in, a pattern she was used to. What amazed her was how little there was. Recent memories were there as clear as anyone's, bright and vivid, but the sense of pressure she was used to, of a whole life rushing in on her at once... not there. There was no pressure. There was no whole life. Joseph's memories went back about a year, and before that, nothing.
She resisted the temptation to prowl around in his memories of her. There had been a time when she'd have done that without a second thought, like a hungry thing starved for other people's lives, even if only for a little while. That aspect of her power, of her personality, terrified her now. It was wrong and it was bad and it was just wrong. With an effort of will, she concentrated on recent memories, the episode with Magnus (Magnus? Joseph called him Magnus?) unreeling in her mind.
Oh, no. Oh, no. Rogue could see, all too easily, why Joseph hadn't wanted Jean inside his head. She could see his fear and confusion around the clone possibility-- and Jean was hardly one to be objective there-- and his hunger to believe in Magnus, to believe the man was telling the truth-- that Joseph wasn't truly Magneto, that Magneto wasn't truly evil. Something she'd believed once herself, several betrayals ago. There'd been a time when she'd trusted him, when she'd felt he was, at least, brutally honest about what he believed in. But that had been a long time ago, and since then she'd come to see him as a manipulator so good, he actually looked forthright and direct. It was some talent-- her momma was the best manipulator Rogue'd known, and she couldn't make herself appear to not be manipulative.
Even now, knowing what she did, Rogue could look back over Joseph's memories of the encounter with "Magnus" and remember her own encounters with the man, remember the romance that had never quite happened, the things she'd thought they had in common, and she wanted everything Magnus had said to Joseph to be true. She wanted to believe, just as she'd wanted to believe in the Savage Land, and again in the battle over the nukes, and again on Asteroid M, and finally at Illyana's funeral, when the last of her desire to believe had died, she'd thought. She honestly wanted to trust him, as much as Joseph wanted to. Unlike Joseph, however, she knew better. Whether he was the real Magneto or not, whether Magnus was a mere double or not, she could compare Magnus' behavior in the memories she'd absorbed to the real Magneto's behavior, and he was a hell of a lot closer than Joseph was now, whoever and whatever Joseph had once been. And Joseph didn't have the experience of being betrayed by the man. He had only his knowledge of himself as an essentially good person with too violent a temper, nothing that even compared to Magneto's cruelty and madness-- of course he'd fall for it, hook, line and sinker.
No, she couldn't keep this from the X-Men. She had to warn them that Joseph was being deceived, that he might be lured back into Magneto's madness by a duplicate who offered him what he most wanted to believe...
...except, what if it was true?
What if she had been right about Magneto the first time, and wrong now-- what if he were, indeed, a basically decent man driven over the edge by memories of horror? She'd only experienced those memories once, and it had sworn her off ever trying to take Magneto again-- it had taken a lot of nerve to try to take him when he'd attacked at Illyana's funeral, and in amidst the horror that her attack hadn't disabled him, there had been relief that she wasn't getting his memories again. She'd seen Magneto's nightmares, those nights in the Savage Land...
...but then he'd killed Zaladane, and refused to listen to her, and brainwashed her, and tortured the Professor, and attacked at Illyana's funeral...
...and what if it were true that he didn't remember any of that? Joseph should be proof enough that a Magneto who didn't remember the horrors he'd committed wasn't necessarily doomed to repeat them...
Except that Joseph might not be Magneto.
Her head hurt, and she couldn't untangle it. If she told the others, they'd protect Joseph, sheltering him from his double's temptations, at the cost of his freedom. It already hurt her that they'd had to lock away half the database from him, that they couldn't let him go anywhere without her or some other trusted X-Man tagging along, that they had to smash down his natural pride and strength and assertiveness because those traits would lead him back to being Magneto. They had already taken away too much from him, far too much, and he didn't even realize it. She couldn't bear to take more... but it wouldn't be up to her. If she told Scott, that would be it-- Joseph would end up practically under house arrest to prevent his doppelganger from getting at him. And if he chafed at it, he'd come under suspicion. And eventually he'd blow up and flee, or get the crap kicked out of him for trying.
She couldn't do that to him. But she couldn't let him just fall under the duplicate's spell, either.
Deep breath. Okay. She'd kept secrets from the team before. She hadn't sold out her momma when she'd had occasion to, she'd never told any of them what she half-suspected about Remy, and for that matter she probably knew vulnerabilities in Magneto that she'd never used nor told a soul. She could do this. Keep an eye on Joseph herself, don't let him out of her sight, and when he inevitably went back to Magnus for more information, she would glue herself to his side this time.
And maybe a miracle would occur, and Magnus would turn out to be telling the truth.
By the time Rogue set Joseph back down on the ground, he was waking up. "He's clean," he heard her announce to the gathered X-Men. A tension he hadn't been entirely aware of feeling melted away. Rogue hadn't betrayed him. He would have time, time to think about what Magnus had said and what he believed of it before dealing with the X-Men's knee-jerk distrust and fear of anything to do with Magneto.
"All right." Scott took a deep breath, and then looked at Joseph with what Joseph was quite sure would be a glare if his eyes were visible. "You're in deep trouble, mister. Do you know how lucky you are you weren't killed?... No, of course you don't."
"Actually, yes I do. I was there, after all." He picked up his bag, a little shakily. "And while I don't doubt I won't get out of this lecture so easily, it would be nice if we could at least get underway first. I don't want to have this discussion out here in public."
Scott drew in another breath, slowly, as if controlling himself. "Get in the Blackbird."
He was angry. Well, Joseph supposed he had right to be. He had been right-- it had been a damnably foolish thing to pursue Magnus, and it could very well have ended very badly. Joseph obeyed, taking a seat near the back. Bishop sat next to him, an unmistakable signal-- Bishop was one of the best qualified to take him down even if he had his powers. Bobby Drake was assigned to pilot this time, as he generally didn't pilot on a mission when there were better qualified X-Men, and therefore on milk runs like this he was asked to get in the practice. It was something Joseph himself had been asked to do a few times, as he was supposed to maintain a level of piloting skill despite the fact that under most circumstances he could lift the Blackbird and fly it if he wanted to.
"All right." Scott's expression was grim. "Explain what happened."
Joseph nodded, turning in his seat so none of the X-Men would be at his back. Wolverine was sitting in the seat behind him, and not being able to see him was making Joseph uncomfortable. "Very well. This morning-- or whenever it was; I spent some time unconscious--"
"It was this morning, if you're talking about breakfast," Rogue said.
"Very well, this morning then. I received a persistent electromagnetic signal, which I eventually realized was Morse code, spelling my name."
"So that's what it was," Rogue murmured.
"I decided to investigate--"
"Why did you tell Rogue and Gambit that it was likely a broken transformer?" Bishop asked, glaring at him.
"I didn't want them involved. It seemed most likely to me that a former friend of Magneto's was trying to contact me, and I felt, and continue to feel, that I will be most effective to the X-Men if I don't go about antagonizing Magneto's former friends unless they prove themselves active enemies to the X-Men."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Jean asked.
Joseph took a deep breath, controlling his temper at the interruption. "There are many circumstances under which it might be valuable to have connections to those who aren't normally on our side. It presents an alternate source of information, and a means of accomplishing things through diplomacy rather than brute force."
"Am I dreaming?" Bobby asked. "Did Magneto just say that it's better to use diplomacy rather than beating people up? Someone pinch me."
"Shaddap and pilot before you crash us into something, Bobby," Rogue said, in a joking tone.
Joseph pretended the interruption hadn't happened. "Besides, just because a person opposes the X-Men on ideological grounds does not necessarily mean they will be our foes in every regard. I've met Magneto's followers, and some of them are not evil people."
"When did you meet Magneto's followers?" Bishop's usual tone of suspicion had intensified to the point where, if Joseph hadn't been powerless, he was sure Bishop would be attacking him to try to drain off his energies and make him harmless. He tried to pretend he didn't notice. He'd saved the world, after all; he had no reason to be ashamed.
"A few weeks ago. I impersonated Magneto to stop Exodus from killing several million people. And I returned to the X-Men afterward, which should answer any questions you might have about my loyalties."
"Or, it could say you've been hiding out with us while getting ready to make your big comeback and trash the mansion while we're vulnerable, or something," Drake said.
Wolverine shook his head. "Ain't really Maggie's style. Man's generally honest when he's trying to kill you."
"Begging your pardon, sir, but he did lie to us New Mutants pretty bad," Cannonball said, shooting a glance at Joseph.
"I ain't gonna apologize for Magneto or try to defend him... but I always wondered about that, myself. If the man wanted you to be his new Baby Brotherhood, he sure as hell didn't go about it right. Can't help but think Maggie would've been smarter, if that was what he wanted."
"We aren't really in a position to speculate on Magneto's motives in the past," Scott broke in. "I'm more interested in the present. You didn't want to antagonize a former friend of Magneto's on the chance you could use that person as an ally now, yes, I've got that, but that still doesn't answer why you didn't bring Rogue or Gambit with you."
"I didn't want a fight. If I ran into the Acolytes, I suspected very strongly that if any X-Men were with me, a fight would ensue."
"That wasn't your judgement to make," Scott said levelly.
That infuriated Joseph. In his coldest voice, he said, "And pray tell, whose was it? Yours? I do not recall making you, or any other X-Man, final arbiter of my life and what I do with it, Cyclops. Should I choose to take a risk, based on my judgement of the situation, I will do so. I am amnesiac, not a moron."
"But there's a lot of things you don't know," Rogue said. "It'd just be smarter to talk to another X-Man. We've got experience, and with your amnesia, you're missing a lot of that."
"Agreed, but when it comes to my past life, I can't trust you not to be trigger-happy. Even you, Rogue, tried to kill me the first time you met me, when I had just saved you from the Friends of Humanity."
"That was different! I didn't know you had amnesia!"
"But it illustrates my point, as does the recent incident. I was having a relatively civil conversation with the doppelganger, who did not seem to me to be a pressing threat--"
"Not a pressing threat?" Cyclops interrupted. "Mister, if you're trying to convince us to let you run around making judgement calls on your own, that just shot you down. I don't know about the planet you come from, but here on Earth, when an amnesiac reformed supervillain is confronted by his duplicate, it generally means there is a threat-- especially when said duplicate nearly kills two of the X-Men."
"He didn't try to kill anyone until we attacked him!" Joseph snapped. "I had the situation under control until you arrived--"
"Maybe you did," Scott snapped. "And maybe he was lulling you into a false sense of security. And maybe, just maybe, if things had gone differently and you hadn't been so lucky, he'd have killed you and replaced you before we had a chance to show up."
"What use is it to speak of maybes, Cyclops? That's not what happened."
Scott let out an exasperated sigh. "Joseph. I know you're a bright man, so try to avoid sounding like an idiot. You are currently the least experienced of all the X-Men, with your amnesia. Moreover, you've made more enemies than any one other of us and possibly more than the entire team, and given the length of your career and the number of people who've observed you when you were Magneto, most of those enemies know your capabilities better than you do. It doesn't even come down to a question of trust, in this case. You are not to go running off on your own, however good your reasons might be, for the simple reason that you are easier to trick or lie to than any of us, easier to take by surprise, and you've got a lot more people out for your head than we do. You need us, mister."
"Do I?" asked Joseph softly, coldly. "I thought I was in the X-Men to make up for my past crimes, not to win protection."
"All the X-Men run a risk, whenever we separate from the group, of being attacked. You're the most likely to get hit and the least prepared to deal with it. I'd say that means you need us, yes. Now if you're going to let your pride insist that you can take care of yourself, by all means, walk out the door as soon as we touch down, because we don't need that big of an idiot on the team. You can be taken down when you're by yourself. You have been. You were today. Am I getting through?"
"And so what am I to do when a crisis occurs relating to Magneto's past, ask for an X-Man to please escort me across the street to the conflict?"
"You might want to consider asking your teammates for backup, yes. That's what teammates are for, in case you hadn't noticed. You might have been a solo act for years, Joseph, but with your amnesia you can't do it anymore unless you want to end up dead, brainwashed or worse. Next time, if there's a situation and you're that sure the X-Men will handle it badly, at least talk to us first. Maybe we could have set up something with radio monitoring or Cerebro or something else to keep an eye on you in case you needed backup, without interfering with your strategy. You don't know, because you didn't ask."
Intellectually Joseph knew Scott was right, at least as far as the danger to himself went. He had encountered enough of Magneto's enemies to know that he was not nearly the match for them he wanted to be. But he was far too angry to back down in front of Scott or the rest of the X-Men, now, and he didn't appreciate being lectured as if he were a child. "And perhaps you would simply have forbidden it and lost an opportunity."
"Let me make myself clear, then, if you won't listen to reason. You're not to go off on your own, again. Period. I don't care what your reasons are. Take Rogue, take Cannonball, take whoever you want but you will take someone for backup the next time you go on any mission, or you're out of the X-Men and we'll consider you a potential threat, given the likelihood of you getting brainwashed or reverting on your own. Understand?"
"Perfectly," Joseph bit off. Let Scott have his power trip. Joseph would do as he wished and as he felt he needed to, in his judgment, and if it meant leaving the X-Men so be it. He was beginning to chafe at their attitude anyway.
"What's in the bag?" Bishop asked.
It took a moment to shift mental gears-- Joseph had almost forgotten about that bag. He glared at Bishop, unable to move away from his anger completely, but in truth he supposed the security-obsessed mutant had a right to know. Resisting the temptation to say something sarcastic and unrevealing, he forced down the anger enough to give a straight answer. "Books about my past."
The satchel was yanked out of his grasp by Jean's TK. She pulled it to herself and dumped the books in her lap.
Rage spiked again. Joseph clenched his fists, distantly aware that his powerfield was building, but erratically, uncontrolled. His emotions affected his powers right now; he had to get them under control. "I don't recall granting you permission to do that," he said icily. "Had you asked, I would have shown them to you."
"I thought we agreed you weren't going to try to research your past!" Rogue said. "All's it takes is some guy who says Magneto ain't evil to talk you into going back on your word?"
"That was what I thought, too," Scott said. He looked up from the books at Joseph. "Well?"
He really wanted to stand up and pace. It wasn't safe to do that on a moving plane when he had no powers, but he really, really wanted to. It was an effort to keep his voice level, to keep the growing rage out of it. "I agreed to such a stricture because I feared, as you did, that learning of my past might awaken that past in me, and I would be Magneto. I wanted that no more than you did. But your wife confirmed that Magneto's mind is no longer any part of mine. I have no reason to remain ignorant of my past, now that we know I cannot recover it."
Jean looked up. "He has a point, Scott. There's no way reading about his past can re-awaken it, when the memories simply aren't there at all."
"No? You're not thinking things out, Jean. Yes, he doesn't have the memories. But he subscribed to Magneto's beliefs once, obviously. Who's to say that if he read about them, and the reasons he had them, he might not come to the conclusion that they were the right ideas after all?"
"Oh, if you're going to go that far, why not put a bag over my head?" Joseph exploded, getting to his feet. "Am I to be denied the freedom to acquire knowledge and make decisions for myself for the rest of my life? You might as well simply kill me and be done with it!"
Without warning, his hair was yanked back, pulling him down into his chair. Frantically he tried to raise his forcefield, uselessly-- he still didn't have control. A fist was pressed against his neck. Stupid, stupid, hadn't been tracking them, hadn't been paying enough attention, he'd thought he was safe here, even though he'd been wary he'd still thought he was safe... "Good idea," Wolverine said.
"Wolverine!" Rogue lunged toward him, but Wolverine yanked his head back harder, baring Joseph's throat for the kill.
"Back off, Rogue. Don't wanna do this unless Cyke says, but I will if you push me," Wolverine growled.
The plane lurched. Iceman swore violently. "Scott, get over here! The instruments are shorting-- we're going down!"
"Joseph! What the hell are you doing? Wolverine, let go of him!" Cyclops shouted, while taking the controls from Bobby and trying to wrestle with the plane.
"I can't control it!" Joseph tried to pull free of Wolverine's grasp, with no success. His heart pounded with terror, and he could see his powerfield responding in kind, his EM output dramatically increasing in response to the fear, but he couldn't channel it, couldn't push Wolverine away with it. Bishop grabbed him, and the power drained away.
"I have him contained! Wolverine, release him!"
"You can't attack me without blowing a hole in the plane and probably killing half of us, bub. Keep Joey damped down, but don't crowd me. Cyke's gonna be the one to make the call."
"What call? I'm trying to keep us all from crashing, here!"
"I've got the plane, Scott." Jean's brow furrowed in concentration. "Let me take over as pilot, and I'll stabilize us. You deal with Logan."
"Let go of him, Wolverine. I mean it," Scott said, leaving the flight console to his wife and walking back to face them.
"Nope. I want you to think about this first. Sooner or later Joseph's gonna run into an idea that don't match up to the X-Men's ideals. Fact, if you try to keep those kind of ideas away from him, he'll probably get pissed off and split the team. Now, we got a choice, like he said. We can figure that if he ain't got Maggie's memories, he's got just as much chance of believing in Chuck's dream, with all the facts we got, as any of us. Or, we can figure that we ain't never gonna be able to trust him, that we'd always have to watch what he learns, what he hears, what he thinks. And me, I never signed on to be the thought police. We can't trust Joey to think for himself, the only thing to do is kill him. So, your call, Cyke. Do we trust him as an X-Man, same as the rest of us, or do I put him down now?"
"I ain't never gonna forgive you if you do this, Logan," Rogue said tightly.
"I'm afraid that if you kill him, you're going to have to kill me too," Sam said. He came into Joseph's line of vision, standing straight, arms at his sides, ready and wary. "Magneto's done a lot of wrong by me and my friends, but he's done right too, and one thing he did do is teach us to think for ourselves. When we wouldn't go his way, he didn't try to kill us-- he let us go. I owe him the same. Now I may not be fast enough to save him from you, but I swear to you, Mr. Logan, I will avenge him if I have to."
Joseph shook his head, with difficulty, as Wolverine had a firm grip on his hair and was pushing his head up painfully with fist against his chin. "You're not... to do that. Not... for me."
"No one is killing anyone," Scott said. "I don't appreciate this little game, Logan."
"Ain't a game."
"No, I suppose not. I never thought I'd say this, but you're too damn idealistic sometimes. It's like having the Professor here still, only you pull stunts like this to prove your point when he'd just explain."
"Idealistic? Me? You know I ain't gonna cry if I have to kill Magneto for you."
"Yeah, but you know damn well I won't give that order. The X-Men don't kill, especially not because someone might develop inconvenient opinions. Now knock off the theatrics."
"That's all I needed to hear." Wolverine released Joseph, who breathed deeply, trying to control his racing heart. He could see now what Wolverine had been trying to do, or what he hoped Wolverine had been trying to do, but it infuriated him nonetheless-- he could fight his own battles, and he didn't need Wolverine to "help" him by terrorizing him. There had been more than one moment there when he'd actually believed he would be killed.
"May I have my bag back?" he asked icily, drawing what was left of his dignity around himself.
"Who gave you these?" Scott asked, putting them back in the bag.
Joseph waited until the bag was back in his hand before saying, "The doppelganger. Who claims that I have been misled about Magneto, or at the least, how extreme Magneto's evil was. He also claims that he is Magneto, that I am not, and that he has no interest in opposing us."
Scott looked at Rogue. "You didn't say anything about this."
"I knew about it, though. Joseph promised me he'd tell you all himself. If he didn't, I would."
"And I would have mentioned it sooner had we not gotten sidetracked onto a discussion of whether to kill me or not."
"What does he claim you are, if he is Magneto?" Bishop asked.
"He says I'm a clone. I intend to check with Dr. McCoy when we get back. He claims to have lost the past 20 years of his own memories, and to be horrified to see what he as Magneto has done to his life and to mutantkind. He says he has no intents for me save that I should know I'm not Magneto. Naturally I don't intend to simply take his word for it. I don't like the thought of being a clone, and he said he wouldn't tell me who supposedly made me, except that it wasn't him and that I've already served the purpose I was born for, whatever that means."
"You ain't a clone," Wolverine said. "Clones smell different than the original. You don't."
"But he was the one who struck me down at the soccer game, and you said yourself the only scent you detected was mine. I do not see how that could be, unless he has no scent at all-- which you claim is impossible-- or his scent is indistinguishable from mine."
Wolverine frowned. "Good point."
"Perhaps he is the Magneto from the alternate universe," Bishop said, "or, conversely, Joseph is. Would an alternate universe duplicate have the same scent as the original?"
"I guess. Never thought about it much."
"Hank would know," Bobby said. "You couldn't tell the difference between him and his duplicate from the other universe, could you?"
"Nope. Which I guess answers the question."
"I detected nothing in Joseph's mind to answer it one way or another as to whether he's from another universe or not," Jean said. "But why would the real Magneto claim you're a clone, if you're actually a duplicate from another universe?"
"Because it gives him more legitimacy that way," Scott said. "If Joseph is a clone, he's going to think of himself as less than Magneto, a mere copy. He doesn't have the legitimacy that being a cross-universe duplicate would give him."
Is that how you made your wife and your cloned son feel? Is that why they turned on you? Joseph felt a sudden fierce anger. "Whoever I am, whatever I am, I am myself," he said. "Perhaps I am Magneto. Perhaps I am a Magneto from another world. Perhaps I'm a clone of Magneto. But in no way am I a 'mere copy' of anyone. If I am a clone of Magneto, I'll deal with that once I have confirmation. But I refuse to believe that I, who have struggled to better myself, am less than Magneto, who gave in to his madness. If I am a clone, I might be an improvement on the original, or the same, but no less."
"He's certainly full of himself enough to be the real Magneto," Iceman said, quietly, but not quietly enough.
Keep pushing. Just keep pushing. Joseph took a deep breath. He'd be a fool to confront Iceman now, when he had no powers. Later, if the man kept it up.
"Well, of course," Scott said. "I'm glad you feel that way." It took Joseph a second to realize Scott was talking to him, not Bobby. "It can be very destructive for a clone to get the idea that he or she is less than the original; it's just that that's what they all have done, in my experience."
"Well, there were circumstances too, Scott," Jean said.
"Let's not get into that. The point is that if Joseph is able to maintain a positive attitude about the whole thing, it would be best. If you're not Magneto, obviously there'd be no reason to consider you a threat-- except, of course, that we wouldn't know who made you or why. That's something we'd definitely want to investigate, and clearly the real Magneto, if he is the real Magneto, knows something. If you are Magneto, then we'll have to deal with the man who thinks he is. If he's willing not to fight us, fine, as long as he doesn't go back to his old ways, which would force our hand. But one way or another, let's have Hank examine you and try to figure out who you really are, with this new information in mind."
"That was my plan," Joseph said. "And I want the restrictions taken off me. I want to be able to view anything in the database that anyone else can, and be only as answerable to authority as any other X-Man."
"After you're checked out, we'll discuss it," Scott said. "This clone thing raises a whole new host of possible problems-- if you're a clone, we have to consider why you were created, and if you might unknowingly present a threat to the X-Men."
"I'm pretty sure he has no buried programming," Jean said. "I think I'd have noticed it, having seen what it looks like before."
"We can't factor out Sinister, though. Or some other parties unknown. Let's see what Hank says before making any decisions."
"I will not live under the restrictions you've placed on me any longer," Joseph said evenly. "If you believe there is reason not to trust me because I may unwittingly serve someone else's agenda, I will leave the X-Men. I have no desire to be used by others to harm you all, nor do I have much taste anymore for being treated like a pariah. Either I am made a full X-Men and given as much freedom as the rest of you, or I will remove myself."
"And go where? We've just been through this. Even if you're not Magneto, the world will still think you are. You'd be in a lot of danger from Magneto's enemies, and leaving yourself open to whoever it is who might want to use you."
"I will deal with that if and when I must. But this is not negotiable."
"It's the right thing to do," Bishop said. "If there's some chance he might be used as a tool against the X-Men, he doesn't belong here."
"I think we're all jumping the gun here," Rogue said. "Let's not say anything about Joseph leaving or not till we hear from Hank, okay?"
Scott nodded. "All right. We'll table this until later."
Next: Joseph hacks Scott's account, and Mystery cleans up a smoking man's lungs while plotting Bad Things.
I love feedback, including tough critique, so let me know what you think! This series is a lot more flexible than some of my work, so feedback will have a bigger influence on its direction than on my other stories. Thanks, Alara.
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