Professor Charles Xavier has dedicated his life to fostering peace between humans and mutants. Together with his X-men, they have saved the world from destruction many times. But all too often, their triumphs have been obscured by harsh public backlash. People such as Senator Kelly and organizations like the Friends of Humanity paint them as monsters instead of heroes. Now the X-men seek to turn the tide.
In the midst of Senator Kelly's presidential run, a woman named Lilandra Neramani an outspoken critic of the anti-mutant agenda. She has also shown a keen interest in Charles Xavier, both professionally and personally. Her organization, Aerie Global, has become a vital ally for the X-men. By combining their resources, they seek to turn the tide against Senator Kelly and his supporters. Their first test came in a little known neighborhood of New York called District X.
Using Angel’s connections with Worthington Industries, Xavier and Lilandra got wind of a plan to enrage the residents of the all-mutant community and cause a riot. The Friends of Humanity used this incident to demonstrate their new anti-mutant prototype, which the wielder called Bastion. But the incident failed. The X-men and the forces of District X thwarted him and details about the incident were leaked. Now Charles Xavier and Lilandra watch as their ambitious efforts bear fruit.
Washington DC – Aerie Global Office
Professor Charles Xavier and Lilandra Neramani couldn’t believe what they were seeing. It was so incredible they hadn’t gotten any sleep all night. It was morning now and news of the incident in District X was breaking. Usually when news of a mutant incident emerged, it wasn’t a good thing. But this was a rare and welcome exception.
“If you’re just joining us, we have a major story unfolding in New York City. Earlier tonight, riots broke out in the notorious all-mutant community, District X. These uprisings were in response to the brutal beating of a teenage mutant. But the incident has taken a strange twist. Reports are coming out that this attack was staged by the Friends of Humanity, who were supposedly developing an advanced sentinel-like weapon to counter the mutant riot. This elaborate stunt has left dozens of mutants and humans injured, some mortally. State police and federal authorities are looking into the matter and Friends of Humanity founder, Graydon Creed, has been taken into custody. Presidential candidate, Robert Kelly, is rumored to have ties to the organization. The Kelly camp has not commented, but they are expected to make a statement later today.”
On the TV screen images of Graydon Creed came up, depicting him being hounded by reporters as he was escorted into custody. Warren Worthington III was in the crowd helping them along, answering questions as well. But Creed was clearly defiant.
“Get that camera out of my face! This is all a ruse! A mutant conspiracy! I’m not a criminal! I’m trying to save the human race!”
He sounded mad, which didn’t bode well for the Friends of Humanity or Senator Kelly. It was a major embarrassment for the anti-mutant crowd and one that sent a very different message to the public. The human/mutant issue was no longer so simple. It forced people to think of this issue differently and Professor Charles Xavier felt that was just what this conflict needed.
“Amazing isn’t it?” said Lilandra as she watched the report with him, “Not only did we succeed at exposing the Friends of Humanity, but Creed was kind enough to add a personal touch.”
“He’s more generous than he thinks,” said Xavier with a humored grin, “His radical rhetoric is disturbing, but his behavior is not putting a friendly face on his cause.”
“That’s a positive for our side. Now we won’t have to try as hard to convince people how twisted his views on mutation are.”
“I suspect the man is more twisted than his rhetoric. Graydon Creed is an angry, misguided soul with issues that may go beyond mutants. For those less twisted, we must separate the rhetoric from the person. The key to winning over public support is to reminded everyone of that humility is the most important value to maintain when dealing with mutants.”
On the broadcast, the video cameras caught one last shot of Creed as he drove away. With the window still down and they managed to get one last message from him.
“We have to kill them all! It’s the only way we’ll survive! Kill every last one of them before they kill us!”
Lilandra cast Charles a humored look. His faith in the human spirit was admirable even in the face of its worst opponents.
“Then again, some may need more reminding than others,” he conceded.
“That’s why it’s important to fight the battles you can’t afford to lose,” she told him, “And I would consider this a worthwhile victory.”
“I most certainly agree. And a much needed victory at that. I hope it is the first of many in this new partnership of ours.”
“I consider it an honor to share such hopes, Charles.”
Charles and Lilandra exchanged warm smiles. Watching the report and seeing the fruits of their labor were rewarding enough, but it was made all the more profound by having achieved this together. They were a good team, using each others’ resources and working alongside one another for a common goal. Charles Xavier had the resources to put people in the midst of the conflict. Lilandra had the resources to put a positive, public persona on the X-men’s deeds. This way the world could see them as heroes and champions of human rights. It resonated not just on a professional level, but a personal level as well.
Reaching across the table, Charles placed his hand on Lilandra’s. Such a gesture made her blush, but she never stopped smiling.
“This is an ambitious endeavor, Lilandra. We’re opposing forces beyond anything I ever trained the X-men to handle,” he told her, “To succeed in such a manner is truly remarkable. And I know beyond any doubt that I could not have succeeded without you.”
“You’re too kind,” she said warmly, “And too modest for that matter. You and your students are the ones putting yourselves in the line of fire. My humble organization merely handles the administrative portions.”
“Yet without them, this could just as easily have turned into another debacle. Without your media contacts and the insight they uncovered from Graydon Creed, there is little doubt that mutants would have been blamed.”
“Don’t forget the role Warren played. He kept us a step ahead of Creed through the whole affair,” she reminded.
“Indeed he did,” conceded the Professor, “But what we achieved was only possible through our collective efforts. To me, it shows that we make a good team. You and me, using the resources at our disposal, are making more a difference than I ever could have imagined. I suppose what I’m trying to articulate is…thank you, Lilandra.”
The deep sincerity in his tone made Lilandra blush even more. There was certainly more than just gratitude in his tone. She found herself shifting awkwardly as he gripped her hand. Here she was, a rich and powerful woman with telepathic powers, behaving like a school girl in front of this man. What made even more profound was that she didn’t mind in the slightest.
“Oh Charles…you really know how to render a woman speechless,” she said.
“It’s the honest truth, Lilandra,” he replied, ‘But if words are too difficult, there are always other means of getting your message across.’
Lilandra’s smile widened as she heard his telepathic voice in her mind.
‘Charles Xavier, are you flirting with me?’
‘On a psychic level? That would be highly inappropriate.’
‘Would you think less of me if I said I didn’t mind?’
‘Of course not. Although we would be getting into more uncharted territory in this partnership of ours.’
‘I’m psychic too, Charles. I think we’ve long since crossed that line.’
Now it was Xavier’s turn to blush. Being psychic, he could sense the flirtatious sentiment in her thoughts. There was no need to be coy. The emotions were there for both of them to feel. They had been there since their first date. Now they were readily apparent. Given his history with women, it was a welcome change for Professor Charles Xavier.
They shared more tender gestures both physically and psychically. They almost forgot that the news report was still going on and the situation in District X still had a number of loose ends.
“More news from District X just came in. Police and medical units have finally been allowed in by the normally reclusive community. The situation between the mutant residents and the city remain tenuous. Keeping an eye on the situation are the famous X-men. They have been acting as liaisons between city officials and District X. It is uncertain what role they will continue to play. But for now, they are keeping the peace while the cleanup begins.”
The mention of the X-men brought Charles out of his moment with Lilandra. He hadn’t forgotten about his students, who were still on the scene. Looking back at the TV, he saw images of them helping the authorities clean up the area. They looked so tired. Yet true to their form, they stayed until the job was done.
“I suppose you should catch up with your students, Charles,” said Lilandra in an awkward tone, “It looks like they need you.”
“Yes, I need to get back to the institute at some point. The events of this night will make for quite an interesting class tomorrow,” he said more seriously.
“But you’re still going to try and stay, aren’t you?” she said coyly.
“I apologize. My psychic shields tend to falter around beautiful women,” said Xavier in an equally flirtatious tone, “But I’m sure my X-men can handle themselves. I can afford to stay a bit longer to make sure everything on our end goes smoothly.”
“Any chance you’ll be able to stay long enough to have some breakfast with me?” she offered.
“We’ll see,” he smiled, “For now, the least we can do for my X-men is help them along. I’m sure they still have their hands full in District X.”
The morning sun had risen over New York City and the full extent of the damage in District X could be seen by all. The streets were a mess with craters, rubble, and various forms of destruction. The already dilapidated buildings suffered major damage. Windows had been blown out, entire walls had been shattered, and stray fires left many areas charred. It was like a small war zone, but it had the potential to be much larger.
Many of the District X residents fled back to the confines of their reclusive community. Others were tended to by emergency workers and police. There were a number of injured strewn throughout the streets. Many were mutants, but there were a few humans. Some were already dead by the time medics arrived. With help from the X-men, the authorities were able to address the situation despite the suspicion of District X residents. Bishop, Jubilee, and Multiple from the Neighborhood Watch helped out as well, but it remained a fragile situation.
In addition to the wounded and the destruction, a number of media convoys converged on District X. Word about this incident spread fast thanks to Lilandra’s media contacts. Curious civilians gathered around as well, trying to get a glimpse of the scene. There was still some tension, but for once it wasn’t the kind that evoked open hostility. Bobby, Kitty, and Remy watched the line of media trucks with a cautious yet curious fascination. They were still helping a number of mutants and humans get treatment. They made sure to smile for the cameras though. Part of this mission was to make a good impression.
“Dang, Remy don’t think he’ll ever get over watchin’ cops just walk by like this,” said the Cajun thief as a few officers passed by.
“I’m sure that’s normal for any lifelong thief that’s still probably wanted for any number of crimes,” joked Bobby.
“You wanna keep your voice down, Drake?”
“Look who you’re talking to, Remy,” snickered Kitty, earning her a look from Bobby, “I think it’s really cool! I thought after Genosha we would never catch a break like this! Have you listened to what they’re reporting?”
“Yeah, they’re not blaming mutants for once,” grinned Bobby, “We’re actually the victims here. The Friends of Humanity are the bad guys.”
“Remy ain’t complaining, but Remy don’t think bad PR is gonna slow these hommes down,” said the Cajun thief, “Just look at the kind of voodoo they threw at us.”
Remy, Kitty, and Bobby looked across the street where a large ambulance had parked right next to the crater. For the past few hours, the EMT workers had been trying to get the unconscious Bastion out of the area. He left quite a mark both literally and figuratively. They finally strapped him to a special gurney, but he still looked menacing.
As they loaded him into the ambulance, his eyes were still wide open and bloodshot. His body was unmoving and his face was blank. The wounds in his torso weren’t healed, but weren’t bleeding as profusely. It was hard to tell whether he was dead or alive. If the words of the paramedics were any indication, it was a little of both.
“Looks like this guy sure had a rough night,” one of them said, “Any luck getting a pulse?”
“Hard to tell,” said another, “We can’t get this weird suit off him. It’s as if it’s been burned into his body. It might be the only thing keeping his flesh intact.”
“That’ll definitely put him in the weird cases file. I’m sure the folks at Worthington Industries will have a hell of a time getting him back to normal.”
“After a stunt like this, I think normal is pretty much out of the question for this guy.”
It was an ominous assessment for this unfortunate soul. Bastion turned out to be a formidable foe. That prototype he wielded had a profound effect on him. If what Jean said about his mental state was accurate, those paramedics may be right. This man was never going to be the same.
“Poor guy,” said Kitty, “I feel kind of sorry for him.”
“The guy tried to kill us all and destroy an entire community of mutants. I wouldn’t say he deserves much sympathy, Kitty,” said Bobby.
”Maybe so, but for all we know he was a victim too. That suit really messed him up.”
“Don’t be blamin’ the suit over the man, petite,” said Remy suspiciously, “It don’t matter how crazy a fella gets. They are who they are. A homme that was willin’ to strap himself into a mutant killin’ machine has to have something wrong upstairs.”
“I guess we’ll never know,” said Bobby as he watched them strap Bastion in, “It doesn’t look like he’ll be saying anything coherent for the foreseeable future.”
“Remy sure hopes so,” said the Cajun, “The last thing this here world needs is some crazy mutant-hating machine with a crazy homme trapped inside.”
“Tell me about it,” laughed Bobby, “There’s only so much crazy the X-men can handle.”
Bobby, Kitty, and Remy watched the ambulance with Bastion drive off. News cameras swarmed around it, hoping to get a picture of the figure that caused so much destruction. He had been a formidable opponent, taking the worst of human hatred and putting it in the destructive shell of a sentinel. It was not a good combination and hopefully one they wouldn’t have to face again.
As the ambulance drove off, Rogue flew in overhead carrying some heavy crates of medical supplies and equipment. On the ground below, Kurt guided her in and had her drop it at the other end of the street away from the news cameras. As soon as it was on the ground, Kurt opened it. The emergency crews took it from there, using the supplies to clean up the area and treat the wounded. A few mutants from District X came in as well. The remarkable part of it all was how each side was being very friendly. Some were even nice enough to say thank you. It was not a gesture the X-men were used to getting.
“That’s the last one. Thanks for bringing this on such short notice,” said one of the workers.
”No problem, sugah,” said Rogue, “Just remember this pretty face and these strong arms the next time you hear Senator Kelly give another speech.”
The man only nodded humorously as he went back to work. Kurt teleported next to his sister as she took a breather from all the flying and lifting. Jean joined them, who had been helping on a limited basis because of more migraines. They were all tired from this cleanup effort, but very relieved at how well it had been going.
“Ah must be going crazy. The media is actually callin’ us heroes? And folks are actually thanking us for saving their miserable asses?” commented Rogue.
“It’s a crazy world, Rogue. Try not to be too surprised,” said Jean.
“Ah can’t help it. Part of meh is still waitin’ for the backlash. It ain’t like we get the fair and balanced in the midea.”
“Zhat vas before ve had an ally in Lilandra,” said Kurt, “She did tell us she had zhe resources to put a positive spin on our efforts. It seems she is making good on her vord.”
“Not that Ah’m complaining, but it still feels strange. We don’t usually call ourselves heroes and such. We ain’t the Avengers or the Fantastic Four.”
“Nobody’s saying ve are, but you don’t have to be official heroes to be heroic,” said Kurt.
Rogue grinned at her brother’s assessment. While she understood how others took the hero title seriously, it never resonated with her. It was probably a lingering part of Mystique’s upbringing. Even if it felt strange, she was more than happy to accept it. However, that didn’t mean she would allow herself to get used to it.
While Rogue stretched her tired limbs, Jean continued to rub her temples. A lack of sleep along with the blow she took from Bastion couldn’t be good for her migraines. She had been silent for much of the cleanup and was in dire need of rest.
“How are you holding up, Jean?” asked Kurt, “Your head feeling any better?”
“On a scale of one to ten, it’s still about a thirteen. But considering it was a few hours ago, I guess it’s an improvement,” she groaned.
“It’s still zhat bad? Maybe you should…”
“I’ll be fine, Kurt,” said Jean, cutting him off, “There are a lot of confused thoughts streaming around here and my shields are still mush. I just need a little time, that’s all.”
“So why don’t you just wait on the jet, or something?” said Rogue who was still stretching, “Why are you still hangin’ around this mess?”
“I have my reasons. There are still a few loose ends I want to help tie up, even if it means enduring more migraines.”
Jean’s gaze shifted to an area across the street. Kurt and Rogue looked over as well to see what she was referring to. Llingering in the ally they took shelter in during the battle, Scott was helping Alex with his various injuries. Standing in front of them were Bishop, Jamie, and Jubilee. They all looked pretty disappointed in Alex, but Scott was especially dismayed.
“I see…” said Kurt, “I take it zhere is still vork to be done in zhat area.”
“Oh yes…plenty,” sighed Jean as she got up, “Guess it has to start somewhere.”
The tension between Scott and Alex had reached a fevered level. Bishop, Jubilee, and Jamie were still discussing an appropriate course of action, but Alex wasn’t even listening. He was just sitting with his back against the wall, holding onto his wounded shoulder that was now in a sling. He knew he messed up. He walked right into the trap laid out by the Friends of Humanity. Because of him, Bastion caused a great deal of destruction. It was a difficult burden that Alex had to bear.
Scott had once been inclined to stand by his brother, but that was another life. He understood Alex was younger than him and wasn’t the most mature teenager to say the least. He naively hoped that he developed some semblance of maturity in the years they had been separated. This act of rebellion showed how wrong he had been. As his older brother, Scott couldn’t help but feel like he failed his family yet again.
“Alex…” said Scott, breaking the silence.
“Don’t Scott,” said Alex in a bitter tone, “I already know what you’re going to say.”
“I still think it’s worth saying,” retorted the X-leader, “You did it again. You picked a fight on a whim and got a lot of people hurt.”
“You trying to guilt me into admitting I’m wrong?”
“I’m trying to give you some perspective, Alex. This happens every time! Since the orphanage! Since the streets! You can’t keep trying to fight your way out of every situation! Even Wolverine has more discipline than that!”
“Don’t start holding me up to X-men standards, Scott. I’m not one of them!” he spat, “Even if you wanted me to be.”
“This has nothing to do with the X-men,” said Scott in a calmer tone, “I don’t like having this conversation anymore than you do, but you keep making the same mistakes! When are you going to learn already?”
“When are you going to stop trying to be dad and be a decent brother already?!”
It was getting intense. Alex’s frustration and guilt over the damage he had done hadn’t made him more resaonsble. Scott had to swallow his frustrations for the sake of not causing another scene. He didn’t need another brotherly clash in front of friends and news cameras.
“Alex, you have to stop this!” the X-leader urged, “And I want to help.”
“That’s the problem, Scott. You can’t help,” retorted Alex, “Helping to you means molding me into the same well-adjusted student with a superhero gig on the side. But do you ever stop and wonder that maybe that gig isn’t for me?”
“I’m not trying to mold you, Alex.”
“Bullshit! You’ve been trying to get me to go along with the X-men deal since the beginning. And maybe it’s the right thing for you. I’ll even concede you’re good at it. But it’s not for me!”
“Then what is the right thing for you? What is it in this world will get you to stop being so damn immature?!”
Alex looked over at his brother with a bitter gaze. Years of hardship and frustration had built up between them. Time had only made the rift bigger. It seemed there was no going back for them.
“I don’t know,” said the younger Summers brother, “I’m still working on that.”
“Well at the rate you’re going, you’ll get yourself killed before you find out,” said Scott.
“If you’re allowed to put your life on the line with the X-men, I should be allowed to do the same.”
“Alex, that’s just plain stupid!”
“Maybe to you, but you’ve got your life and I’ve got mine,” said Alex strongly, “We’re not kids anymore. We fight our own battles. You have your place and I don’t know what mine is yet. But I know for sure it’s not with the X-men. So get over it!”
Scott tensed under Alex’s harsh words. But before he could respond, Bishop stepped in with Jubilee and Jamie.
“And it ain’t gonna be with District X either,” he said.
Alex stood up and so did Scott.
“What do you mean, Bishop?” asked Alex anxiously.
“I mean what I said,” said the African man strongly, “We took a chance on you. We got you out of Juvie, we got you a place, and we let you roll with our crew. But you screwed us over. You didn’t listen and you got a lot of people hurt.”
“You don’t need to remind me,” he said bitterly.
“I’m going to have side with your brother here, Alex,” said Jamie, “You dragged a lot of our people into harm’s way.”
“It’s not like I forced all these mutants to follow me. I spread the word about what happened to Pixie and they followed me. For all we know the riot would have happened without me!”
“But they still rallied around you, fool,” said Bishop, “Even if you didn’t cause it, you sure as hell didn’t help it. You were like a pyro in a room full of matches and we got no place for guys like you on the Neighborhood Watch.”
Alex’s expression hardened. He quickly surmised what he was implying.
“So that’s it? You’re kicking me out?” he said bitterly.
“We’re sorry, Alex. But think about mutants like Pixie,” coaxed Jubilee, “They come here to be safe. Not to pick fights.”
“I know that! Those are the people I was trying to defend!”
“You’re heart may be in the right place, but you’re methods sure aren’t,” said Jamie, “You’re behavior wasn’t just immature. It was criminal. Which leads us to our next tough decision.”
“What? You going to throw me back in juvie?” said Alex dryly.
Bishop and Jamie exchanged glances. Jubilee hugged her shoulders and looked away. As mad as they were at Alex for what he did, this was still hard for them to carry out.
“Not quite, but close,” said Jamie.
“Tell me you’re joking,” said Alex with a wide-eyed look.
“I wish I were. Bishop and I have been talking to the authorities. All this destruction can’t just be swept under the rug. Someone has to be arrested.”
“So arrest Bastion and the Friends of Humanity! They’re the ones that started it!”
“They ain’t the only ones. Like Madrox said, you put a lot of people in harm’s way,” said Bishop, “And the cops ain’t gonna look good if they arrest only humans.”
“So that’s it? You’re going to throw me under the bus and egging the driver to run me over?!” spat Alex.
“Sorry kid, but one of us has to go down. If we don’t, then we’ll be inviting all sorts of shit on District X. They already know you led the riot. You go down with them, they call off the dogs and leave us alone.”
Alex couldn’t believe what he was hearing. These were supposed to be his friends. Now they weren’t just kicking him out of District X. They were throwing him to the police as a bargaining chip. It wasn’t fair. The Friends of Humanity put this whole thing together. He shouldn’t have to go to jail because of it. With his record, they wouldn’t show any leniency either.
“We’re sorry, Alex. But…” began Jubilee.
“Don’t even try to apologize!” spat Alex, “You told me the day I joined that we’re supposed to look out for each other!”
“And we meant it,” said Jamie strongly, “But we have to look out for District X first.”
“So you’re not even going to fight for me?! You’re just going to throw me to the cops and hope for the best?”
“We’re not throwing you to anybody, Summers. This ain’t an ultimatum. This is your decision,” said Bishop, folding his arms critically, “You can either fight this or go along quietly. We ain’t gonna force you. But if you truly understand how bad you messed up, we trust you to do the right thing.”
Alex stared Bishop down with burning resentment. He was putting him in a difficult position. He had to either turn himself in or fight back. Under most circumstances, he would choose to fight. But if he did, he would become the bad guy. He would be no better than the Friends of Humanity. Alex Summers may have been immature, but he wasn’t without conscious.
While he wrestled with his decision, Scott placed a hand on his brother’s shoulder. He was trying to be supportive, but there was only so far his support went at this point.
“I know what you’re thinking, Alex,” he told his younger brother, “Don’t do it. I know you don’t want to go to jail, but if you cooperate I can get the Professor to…”
But Alex didn’t let him finish.
“Save it, Scott. I’m not going to fight and I don’t want your help. You guys want me out of your hair? Fine! I’m through with this!”
“Alex…” said Jubilee, trying to reach out to him.
“Back off!” he spat as he turned back towards themy, “I thought you were my friends! My family! But you’re all just hypocrites! At least I don’t hide what I am! I’m a fighter! And one of these days you’re going to need a fighter! With people like the Friends of Humanity, mutants need to fight back! And if you’re not going to fight with me, then do me at least one decent favor and stay out of my way!”
That was it for Alex Summers. With those venomous words, he turned his back on District X and his older brother. He couldn’t get away from them fast enough, finding the nearest officer and following him into a police car. He no longer cared about his friends, his family, or even his own freedom. He just needed to get away.
Bishop, Jamie, and Jubilee watched with a touch of sorrow as their former comrade was hauled off. Even though he was hot-headed and immature, he knew when to do the right thing. District X wasn’t going to be the same without him.
For Scott, it was even more difficult. Once again, he and his brother were drifting further apart. It hurt on so many levels. He still remembered how he promised his father all those years ago that he would look after his little brother. It was a promise he couldn’t keep and yet another burden he would have to bear.
“Damn you, Alex,” said Scott under his breath.
Bishop, Jamie, and Jubilee offered looks of condolences, but it did little for the X-leader. As he watched bitterly as Alex rode off in a police cruiser, Jean caught up with him. She could sense how upset he was, but didn’t say a word. She only offered him her hand, which he reluctantly accepted. Even though she knew Scott so well, she couldn’t begin to understand what he was going through.
“When does it end?” he mused, “First Gabriel. Now Alex. It seems like every chance I get with my family ends in disaster.”
“I know the feeling,” said Jean.
“What am I doing wrong? Is this how it’s always going to be?”
“I don’t know, Scott. It’s just one of those things we’ll have to deal with even as it repeatedly beats us upside the head.”
“So I guess it means it won’t end,” he sighed.
“I never said that. I know what you’re about to do, Scott. This is the part where you shut yourself off, bury your thoughts in the deepest parts of your mind you can find, and carry on like it’s not bothering you.”
“It’s worked before,” he muttered, “Besides, I thought you said you had enough problems between Madelyne and your migraines.”
“I’m willing to endure more for you. That’s how much I care about you. And if you care about me just as much, you’ll allow yourself to be uncomfortable and vulnerable. I know it’s not your style, but if you do what you’ve always done you’ll only get what you’ve always gotten. And I’m not just referring to your brother.”
Scott turned towards his lover briefly, still very bitter about what was happening with him and his brother. Yet he hadn’t forgotten that he had other relationships that weren’t ruined. He was so used to pushing these issues aside that the idea of sharing the burden didn’t sit well. Jean’s firm grip on his hand reminded him that his approach hadn’t worked to this point and it didn’t have to be this way. Even as she was dealing with her own issues, she was willing to endure with him. Letting out an exasperated sigh, he swallowed his personal resentment and allowed his girlfriend to console him. This was supposed to be a victory for the X-men. He shouldn’t let his own personal issues get in the way of it.
As Scott, Jean, and the Neighborhood Watch soaked in everything that was going on, Storm came flying in on a stream of wind.
“I just checked with the police captain. They say the city can handle it from here,” she reported.
“Never thought I’d hear that. This mean there won’t be any more shit between them and District X?” said Bishop, still sounding bitter after watching Alex get hauled off.
“Well they didn’t use those exact words, but they seem content to return to the status quo,” said Storm, “But it doesn’t have to go back completely. The X-men have resources that can help improve the situation in District X.”
“That’s okay, Storm. The status quo is fine with us…for now anyways,” said Jamie.
“But if you guys ever want to lend a hand, feel free to drop by!” said Jubilee with her youthful enthusiasm, “I’m sure the people around here wouldn’t mind seeing you again.”
“We’ll keep that in mind, Jubilee,” said Jean, smiling back, “But it goes both ways. If you guys ever need help, you know who to call.”
“Far as I’m concerned, you X-men part of our crew,” said Bishop.
“I’m just sorry it has to happen under these circumstances,” added Jamie.
“Don’t be. We’re used to it,” said Jean.
They shook hands in a symbolic gesture. The X-men and District X didn’t expect to become allies. Now that their paths had crossed, it seemed likely that their paths would cross again. As the human/mutant conflict continued to unfold it would help to have allies.
Their job was finished. The authorities and the news crews could take it from here. With Scott still reeling from his clash with Alex, he followed Jean and Ororo to meet up with the others. It had been a long night and they were all in need of sleep. But as eager as they were to leave this conflict behind, there were a few details that hadn’t been resolved.
“By the way, Storm. How’s Logan holding up?” asked Jean.
“He’s…coming around,” replied Storm, “And I don’t mean in the way that involves him going on an alcohol bender. He’s still got some issues to work through, but I’m helping him.”
“I’m sure you are,” said Jean coyly.
“Don’t get any ideas, Jean. Just because he’s your ex doesn’t mean you get a free pass,” said the African woman as she picked up on her tone.
“You’re lucky I have my own relationship issues to work on. Otherwise I may apply for one.”
“You know, I’m standing right here, Jean,” groaned Scott.
“With that in mind, I’m content to address this at another time. It’s been a long night and we all need time to digest this.”
“If you say so, but take it from someone who knows Logan just as well. The only right time with him is the present.”
Ororo cast the younger woman a bemused look. She was older than Jean, yet somehow she was the one giving advice on these personal matters. It was ironic in many ways, but that didn’t make her advice any less valid. Thinking back to how all this began, perhaps it was a good idea to get some of these issues out in the open. It would be good for both of them.
Worthington Industries – CEO Office
Warren Worthington Jr. hadn’t had many reasons to be proud lately. He had such a long string of missteps that it was hard to remember a time when he actually felt a sense of accomplishment on a personal level as well as a business level. But for once, an bold gamble paid off. It didn’t just help his company. It helped his relationship with his son.
Together, they sat in his office drinking champagne and watching the news. Nearly every major network was covering the incident in District X. Everything between the X-men, Aerie Global, and Worthington Industries really came together. For the first time in a long while, there was a ray of hope in the mutant movement.
“Breaking news in the District X story. Sources now confirm that Graydon Creed was behind the brutal assault on an unarmed mutant. He was also responsible for the mysterious weapon that caused much of the damage here in New York. Worthington Industries reported hours ago that they were helping Creed develop the technology. But internal documents indicate that Creed was testing the technology behind closed doors. All evidence indicates that Worthington had no knowledge of the weapon’s deployment. Worthington officials confirm they will be pressing charges against the Friends of Humanity for fraud, negligence, and reckless endangerment. The company stands to gain handsomely at the expense of Graydon Creed’s deceit. Friends of Humanity officials were not available for comment.”
Images from earlier of Graydon Creed getting hauled off in a police car played over once more. As he spat out his anti-mutant madness, Warren Worthington III found himself laughing hysterically.
“Ah, I’ll never get tired of seeing that!” he laughed, “Please tell me you’re recording every minute of this, Dad!”
“I promise you, son. This report will never leave my TIVO,” the older Worthington grinned.
“Great, because I’m going to start watching this every day! There is nothing on this planet more satisfying than seeing Graydon Creed humiliated!”
Warren continued laughing as he kept watching. Warren Jr. couldn’t help but laugh as well. Graydon Creed was always such a stoic, collected man whenever he talked to him. Seeing him so maddened was nothing short of remarkable. He finished his champagne and turned towards his son, who looked more content than he had seen in years.
“You did good, son. I knew I could count on you to make the right decision,” he told his son.
“Wasn’t too hard,” shrugged Warren, “Creed dug his own grave. I just made sure he fell into it face first.”
“You did more than that. You were smart, cunning, and focused. Yet you never lost sight of your laurels, something I know I lose track of one time too many. You did everything a good business man should do. On top of that, you helped your kind and your family company all at once.”
“Thanks, Dad. But I’m not sure how much this is going to help the company. We did sink quite a bit of resources into Creed’s prototype. I doubt we’ll recover it all in a single lawsuit.”
“Look at it another way,” his father argued, “He developed that technology under the Worthington name. As such, we own the rights. So we can not only sue and cripple the Friends of Humanity. We can make money off the fruits of their labor.”
“In other words we’ll be screwing them over in more ways than one?” laughed Warren, “I doubt the hippies will approve and I’m sure the lawyers will be all for it. But if it hurts the pro-Graydon Creed camp I’m all for it!”
The younger Worthington raised his glass in a toast and finished his champagne. He couldn’t stop smiling as he continued watching the news. But as they savored their victory, the older Worthington’s expression became serious again. He kept watching his son as he laughed and drank. As much as he wanted to celebrate with him, there were other important matters to discuss.
“As glad as I am to see you so upbeat, there are a few serious matters I was hoping to discuss with you, father to son.”
“Can it wait, dad?” groaned Warren, “They’re about to show the clip of Creed getting cuffed again!”
“I’m afraid it can’t,” said the older Worthington as he hit the pause button on his TV much to his son’s dismay.
“Oh come on! They were just getting to the part where his eyes looked like they were about to explode!” Warren complained.
“You can watch it later. We really should talk about what you’ve done here. This is a big deal for us and I’m not just talking about the company or Graydon Creed.”
“Oh…I see,” said the winged mutant, picking up on his father’s undertone, “Were you hoping to make a father/son moment out of this or something? As happy as I am, you can’t expect this to overshadow all the times you’ve messed up.”
“I’m not saying it should. I understand I still have a long ways to go in that respect. But I was hoping this could be the beginning of something new. Not just for us, but for our family as a whole.”
“What are you getting at, dad?”
Warren Jr. rose up and sighed. It was never easy talking to his son about these issues, even when they were both in a good mood. But he may not get another chance like this.
“Son, this whole endeavor to bring you into the company so you could watch over the Friends of Humanity wasn’t just about making amends. There’s another more pragmatic side to it,” the older man said.
“Why am I not surprised?” said Warren dryly, “Is it possible for you to not have ulterior motives for once in your life?”
“I’m sorry, but it goes back to that naïve notion I’ve been holding onto all these years. Even when we were at our most distant, I still have a sincere hope that you will one day take over this company and lead it as my father did before me.”
“You think after just one success like this I want to throw everything away with the X-men and follow in the family business?”
“I’m not asking you to throw anything away, Warren. I don’t want a repeat of what happened with Candy. I’m just leaving it on the table for you. Is it so much to ask that I be able to entertain such hopes?”
Warren looked at his father cynically. He set aside his wine glass and got up as well. He found himself looking away, having seen that desperate gaze in him before. It was usually easy to brush off. After he drove Candy away from him, he swore he would never follow the path laid out for him by his father. But with these recent events, he wasn’t so sure.
“I’m willing to take small steps here,” said the older Worthington, “For now, you can go back to the Xavier Institute and rejoin the X-men. But whenever you’re ready to take the next step, however small it may be, Worthington Industries will be ready for you. I have a number of positions you can take on at a moment’s notice.”
“Not that I’m considering it, but what kind of positions?” asked Warren curiously.
“Important kinds,” his father answered, “All have ties to our mutant research division. I know we have a shaky history in that arena, but we can’t afford to ignore it.”
“That’s going against karma in a big way,” said Warren.
“I know. But consider these recent events. If Graydon Creed didn’t use us to develop his prototype, he would have found someone else. And you never would have been in a position to stop them.”
The winged mutant was silent for a moment. He looked back at the paused image on the TV, which depicted Graydon Creed getting forced into a police car. It was humbling in a ways. Without his family company, this satisfying outcome wouldn’t have been possible.
“The same logic applies to every organization doing mutant research,” his father went on, “If we don’t do it, someone else will. For that very reason, it’s important we stay involved. You’re in a unique position, Warren. You’re the heir to the Worthington fortune. You have the resources to effect great change, almost as much as Charles Xavier. You can be part of this process. One way or another, science and business will find their way into the mutant issue. If you’re part of it, you can see to it that future advancements are for the good of everybody. If not...I suppose that’s a risk you must be willing to take.”
Warren Worthington III remained silent. His father was putting him on the spot. There was no other mutant in the world with this kind of opportunity. Few were born into positions of such wealth. For years it did him more harm than good, but so much had changed in recent years. It was no longer a simple matter of going along with his father or walking away. This incident had only proved that such opportunities were not to be taken lightly.
His eyes fixated on Graydon Creed, he couldn’t help but wonder how many others there were like him. With men like Senator Kelly running for president, it was easy to imagine others following in Creed’s footsteps. There were probably others out there trying to develop the same technology Creed was developing. Some may be out to wipe mutants out. Some may be looking to make a quick buck on the human/mutant conflict. And he could be the one mutant in the world with his eye on these affairs. It was a daunting notion, but one he would be selfish to not consider.
“Dad…” he began.
“I’m not asking you to make a decision right now,” his father assured, “Think about it. Don’t decide until you’re certain.”
“It’s not that,” the winged mutant said, “It’s just…there’s still a lot of past bitterness to get around.”
“I understand that, but…”
“No dad. You don’t understand. You can’t,” said Warren strongly, “But regardless of the past, I am starting to accept that maybe you’re coming to your senses.”
“Does that mean you’ll take it seriously?”
The winged mutant looked at his father intently to show just how serious he was taking this.
“I don’t know,” he told him, “I…need to meditate on it I guess. But don’t hope for too much too soon. We both know how that usually turns out.”
It wasn’t the answer Warren Jr. was hoping for, but it wasn’t a flat our rejection either. So there was still hope. He was content to let his son pull away with the understanding that greater progress was going to take time.
“I should get back to the institute,” said Warren as he walked towards the balcony, “But I’ll be in touch, dad.”
“So will I, son,” he replied, “And for what it’s worth, thank you for taking a chance.”
The winged mutant usually took his father’s sentiments with a grain of salt, but this time he felt a genuine sincerity. Because of this, he managed a slight smile. It wasn’t much and it didn’t make up for all the issues that lingered between them, but it was a start.
The older Worthington smiled back, watching as his son took to the air from the balcony. Sighing to himself, he felt good about where he and his son were heading. They were finally becoming a family again. If only his wife was still alive to be part of this. So long as he continued making the right moves, there was hope for the Worthington legacy yet.
As he was watching his son fly off, his cell phone started ringing. Broken from his daze, he took out his phone and answered it.
“I was expecting your call,” he answered, “What’s your status?”
“I’ve compiled all of Graydon Creed’s private records. All the specs and software he used for the prototype are in our database now.”
“What about the hardware?”
“We’ve confiscated that as well. I’ve scheduled the equipment to be moved to our facility in West Virginia. Our top tech teams have already taken a keen interest in the technology. Should I give the go-ahead so they can begin tinkering?”
Warren Jr. paused for a moment. This was another one of those fragile decisions and one his son may not approve of, but it was a decision he couldn’t avoid. He was still CEO of this company. So long as his son was medicating on his offer, he had to keep moving forward.
“You have my authorization,” he said, “Tell the NIMROD Division to get to work.”
Xavier Institute – Logan’s Room
It was mid-morning by the time the team got back from District X. Having not slept the previous night, all classes and training were cancelled so everyone could catch up on their rest. Some like Kitty and Bobby fell asleep on the X-jet during the short flight back. As exciting as it was to finally turn the tide against the anti-mutant fervor, nobody had the energy to celebrate. But some were still hopelessly restless.
Lying back on his bed, Logan muttered a string of incoherent ramblings to himself. He was tired like everyone else, but not tired enough to settle his mind It wasn’t just the fight against Bastion that drained him. Everything from the moment he decided to leave had been a test of endurance and commitment. He decided on a whim that he was going to leave the X-men. Then Ororo caught up with him and only after a prolonged motorcycle chase did she get him to think twice about it. While thinking was not his strong suit, he made a promise to Ororo and he was obligated to keep it.
‘So much for my dramatic exit from the X-men. I’ve walked away from way worse shit before, but I can’t seem to get away from this dump. First Jeannie convinced me to stay. Now Ro has me sticking around. What is it with the freakin’ women in this place? Why do they have to be so damn persuasive?’
Groaning to himself, the former living weapon sat up and rubbed his sore head. Keeping his promise to Ororo was harder than he thought. The more he thought about his decision, the more problems he saw with it. Being in the X-men did more than just give him a place to crash and bust a few heads. This crazy mansion with all the drama and headaches it offered was the first place that really felt like home for him. As a man who couldn’t even remember where he came from, that meant a lot.
The institute was also a place where the monster inside him could be tamed. He was still under no illusions. He was still a living weapon and no amount of spandex wearing heroics would ever make up for that. But guys like Charles Xavier and friends like Jeannie and Ororo helped him manage that beast. To leave it all behind would mean letting the monster inside him win.
Part of his reason for wanting to leave was because his past kept coming back to haunt him and the X-men were getting caught in the crossfire. It was ironic in many ways because he originally wanted to leave because he thought they would just get in his way. In fact, he uncovered more secrets about his past with the X-men than he ever did on his own. Not all of it was pleasant. It seemed the more he uncovered the worse it got, but it wasn’t enough to make him want to stop. If he was going to keep digging, this dump seemed like his best bet.
‘Ah hell, who am I kidding? Ro was right. I’m being a selfish, pig-headed prick. I walk out on this and I might as well make out with Sabretooth. These punks care too damn much about me and I care too damn much about them. How fucked up is that? Me, a killer and a monster, actually cares about something. Fate sure has a sick sense of humor.’
Logan let out another groan. Maybe Ororo had another reason for making him promise to think about this. She knew he would wear himself out too much. That way he wouldn’t have the energy to leave even if he wanted to. He wouldn’t put it past her. He didn’t have a lot of weaknesses, but beautiful women was definitely one of them.
As he wrestled with these thoughts, he heard a knock on his bedroom door.
“What is it?” he barked.
The door opened and Ororo stepped in. Logan’s demeanor quickly shifted.
“I’m sorry, Logan. Is this a bad time?” she asked.
“For you darlin’? Never,” he said, “Sorry about the attitude. I’m just a little tense.”
“I understand...as much as one can hope to with a man as stubborn as you,” said the African woman as she approached, closing the door behind her.
“Touche, darlin,” he said, rolling his eyes, “What are you doing up anyways? Thought you would have passed out like everyone else.”
“I tried, but I never was good at sleeping during daylight,” she sighed, “So thought I would check up on you.”
“Why? You afraid I’ll run off again?”
“After all the trouble I went through to convince you to stay? Of course not. You’re a better man that that.”
“Says you,” he scoffed.
“It’s true. And no amount of sarcasm will change that.”
She smiled warmly as she sat down next to him. Logan still had that disgruntled, distant look on his face. She could tell he had been thinking, just as he promised. But it didn’t seem to be going very well. Even though he was staying, that didn’t mean he was any closer to working out his many issues.
There was an awkward silence at first. Logan remained stoic even under Ororo’s compassionate gaze. She reached over and placed a hand on his. It was a tender gesture and it helped him relax.
“So…” the African woman began.
“Ooh boy, here it comes,” groaned Logan, “This the part where you start getting mushy on me?”
“Would you take it any less seriously if I did?” she retorted.
“What more can I do, Ro? I’ve kept my promise. I’ve thought a little harder about leaving just like you asked.”
“And…” she pushed him.
“I’m still here, aren’t I? That part I worked out. Guess I’ve gotten pretty comfortable in this dump. Even if I am royally screwed up, there’s no use jumping ship at this point. Besides, someone’s gotta watch over these runts.”
Ororo laughed slightly and gave his hand a firm squeeze.
“I’m glad to hear that believe it or not. The X-men just wouldn’t be the same without you.”
“It would be a lot less exciting, that’s for damn sure,” chuckled Logan, “But X-men or no X-men, I still got a lot of shit to work though.”
“Are you referring to that name Sinister mentioned? James something?”
“James Howlett,” said Logan, still tensing as he said it, “That’s part of it, but it ain’t the full story. Hell, it ain’t even the cliff notes.”
The former living weapon’s gaze hardened, even as Ororo gently gripped his hand. His jumbled memories mixed with his racing thoughts, leaving him dazed and angry about the position in which he now found himself.
“It’s been the same story since those Weapon X scumbags turned my brain inside out. With every memory I find, the picture gets a little clearer. But the clearer it gets, the uglier it gets. It’s got me wondering whether or not I even want to know the rest of my past. I don’t know what James Howlett means, but it makes me want to break something every time I hear it.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s you should torment yourself over it,” said Ororo.
“I know! But I can’t help it, damn it! Every time it gets worse! Sometimes I get the feeling it ain’t just Weapon X that’s keeping me from remembering. Maybe part of me doesn’t want to remember and just trying to is just gonna drive me crazy!”
“You’re not crazy, Logan,” said the African woman strongly.
“How hell can you say that with a straight face after the shit we’ve been through?!”
“Because in the midst of all that shit, I’ve come to know you, Logan. And I understand better than you think I do. You think you’re the only one with regrets? You’re sitting next to a former thief who used to use her powers to hurt people and not help them.”
“That’s different. You’re not a monster.”
“And neither are you,” she said strongly.
Before Logan could go on, Ororo clutched his hand and turned his face so he was looking her in the eye. Her alluring gaze quickly silenced him. That stern, but caring demeanor kept him from losing himself in anger and frustration.
“I know we’ve only started getting closer recently, but I’ve learned enough about you to appreciate who and what you are. You fight so hard to overcome the past. But no matter where you came from and what you were, it doesn’t take away from who you are now. The man you are today is someone you should be proud of.”
To emphasize her point, she gently trailed her hand down his burly face.
“I don’t claim to know the pain you’re going through. I’m not psychic like Jean. But I’m willing to be there for you and support you, no matter what the past reveals. We all are.”
“And what if one day we find out I really was a monster? Someone so savage that nobody in the right mind would look at me without being sickened?”
“That’s a chance I’m willing to take. Question is, are you?”
It was a bold statement, but one Logan expected from someone like Ororo. She was brave enough to go after him when he tried to leave. She was brave enough to stare down Weapon X, Magneto, and Sinister. There wasn’t a doubt in his mind. This woman was serious.
Another silence fell over them. Logan finally relaxed somewhat. Ororo’s strong words and calming presence was very soothing. There were still a lot of issues he had to work out, but they didn’t seem as frustrating anymore. Not when he looked at it in terms of the present. No matter what this name, James Howlett, meant to him, it didn’t change who he was now. He was an X-man. He had friends who actually gave a damn about him. He also had a beautiful woman sitting next to him on his bed and all points considered it was a pretty sweet deal.
“So…” said Ororo, “Is that mushy enough for you?”
Logan snickered at her choice of words.
“Could be worse,” he sighed, “You’re really that willing to go that far for a dirtbag like me?”
“If you doubt me, I’m up for another motorcycle race,” she joked.
“For the sake of my Harley, I’ll take your word for it,” he said, “But is that the only reason? I seem to remember Jeannie giving me that exact same look when I was going through some rough shit like this. Only she was a black thong and see-through top.”
Ororo blushed at the subtext of his tone. It was hard to deny. Nobody went to these lengths for someone unless they truly cared about them. And this latest endeavor showed just how deep her feelings for him ran.
“If that’s something you’re not ready to discuss, I completely understand,” she said.
“Ain’t much to discuss, darlin’. You been giving me that look since Germany. You don’t need to tell me you got the hots for me.”
“I take it back. Maybe that’s something I’m not ready to discuss,” she said, now blushing profusely.
“Fair enough,” shrugged Logan.
Ororo smiled as she continued to blush. Logan was not one to beat around the bush. In that respect he was different than Hank. Logan wasn’t as articulate, but he got his message across in a very clear manner. But after everything that had transpired over the past 24 hours, she didn’t have the energy to work on such personal matters.
With another affectionate gesture, she let go of his hand and got up off the bed. She started making her way towards the door. But before she got halfway, she felt Logan’s hand on her shoulder again. Then in an act that caught her completely off guard, he turned her around and captured her lips with his in a deep, passionate kiss. At first Ororo was too shocked to respond. Apparently, this was Logan’s idea of taking it one step at a time. As overwhelming as it was, she soon found herself kissing back.
The feelings that had been growing between them all came together. It had turned into something powerful and raw. There was no need for words or discussion. It was just something they could feel, signaling the beginning of a new connection between them.
“Ready now, darlin’?” grinned Logan.
“Does it matter at this point?” said Ororo, grinning back.
“Just checking,” he said with a lustful growl, “But if you’re still restless, I can help with that too.”
“Oh? And what did you have in mind?” she said, showing a sultry side as well.
“Stick around for a few hours and you’ll see!”
Grinning seductively, Logan and Ororo came together in another kiss. This time it was even more heated. Within minutes, they were back on Logan’s bed. Their clothes were quickly shed and passionate gasps and grunts quickly filled the room. It seemed fitting after everything they went through. Everything between them happened on a whim. There was no elaborate process or complicated uncertainties. It just happened. So they embraced it. And for Logan, it gave him one more reason for him to stick around.
Café A-Go-Go – That Evening
Hank McCoy rarely went out for a night on the town. Ever since he broke up with Ororo, much of his time was spent in his lab or in the classroom teaching. Having buried himself in his work, he found little reason to go out in a world that had become so hostile to mutants. Given his appearance, it was especially risky. But this evening, he was making an exception.
Having dawned his best disguise, he stood anxiously at the corner near Café A-Go-Go. As people walked by he got his share of looks. Even in a heavy coat, a hat, and a bulky suit it was hard to hide his furry complexion. Luckily, nobody did anything drastic. The news from District X seemed to have everybody hesitating with respect to the human/mutant issue. It was a good sign, but this outing wasn’t about testing the current state of human/mutant relations. It was about catching up with someone very special.
“Hank McCoy?” came an enchanting voice.
Hank turned around to see a beautiful figure approaching. It was a woman appearing to be in her early thirties. She had dark hair that she styled in a ponytail, she wore a casual yet professional-looking black pants-suit, and she bore an elegant feminine frame worthy of the finest works of art. Her presence rendered Hank speechless. He had seen this woman before, but only in pictures and on video links. Seeing her face-to-face was truly astonishing.
“Tessa?” he said in amazement, “Can...can I presume you’re the same Tessa with which I’ve been conversing?”
“Good manners and good grammar...you must be Henry McCoy. At last we meet,” she smiled.
“And this time without the aid of a computer screen. I must say your pictures didn’t do your true form justice.”
“You’re as charming in real life as you are online. That’s a relief. I was hoping your persona would do justice to your intellect.”
It was an amazing moment. For months now, they had been communicating via computer. They made a strong connection, not just personally but in their own field of work. This was the woman who helped Hank hack Cameron Hodge’s systems during the Genosha uprising. This was the woman who helped him uncover who was behind the stolen sentinel parts in New Orleans. And most recently, this was the woman who helped the X-men save District X from a plot by the Friends of Humanity. They had done so much to affect one another’s lives, yet here they were meeting face-to-face for the first time.
“Before we get too carried away, let me start by saying thank you,” said Tessa, “You and your X-men really came through. The access to Worthington Industries was instrumental in stopping the Friends of Humanity and their prototype. I couldn’t have cracked the fail-safe without your assistance.”
“Think nothing of it,” smiled Hank, “After all, you did assist me in a similar quandary on Genosha. I’d say we’re about even.”
“Are we now?” she questioned, “Does that mean I no longer owe you a cup of coffee? I believe that was the premise of this little outing.”
“This is true, but it doesn’t have to be. I was hoping we could forge an entirely new premise,” Hank retorted as he moved in closer to the beautiful woman before him, “So long as we’re being this forthcoming, let me just say I didn’t intend to dwell on the situation in District X.”
“Yes, I figured as such. I suppose it shouldn’t take a noble laureate to understand my ulterior motive for inviting you out as well. Even if you do have the aptitude of one.”
That earned another smile from Hank, who was trying with all his intellectual might not to come off as being foolish.
“Let’s save our vast vocabularies for discussions on the latest findings in base particle string theory, shall we?” said Hank in a more serious tone, “You should know that you’ve had a significant impact on my life thus far, Tessa. And I’m not just talking about how you’ve assisted the X-men. You already know certain details of my life that I’ve shared with a select few. I’ve told you things I never told Ororo even when we were together.”
“Yes, I hope you’re not too bitter about that,” she said, “I never meant to come between you two.”
“Try not to dwell on that at the moment. Lord knows I’ve pontificated that issue from one too many angles” said Hank with a reassuring gesture, “What I’m really trying to articulate is…we already know each other so well. And yet we don’t know each other at all. It’s a paradox if ever there was one. But so long as we keep helping one another, I’m hoping it can be more than a logical paradox.”
The two figures exchanged distant gazes as their vast intellects took in this moment. They knew they were taking a chance by meeting like this. They were bringing to surface a number of issues and feelings that had emerged over the course of their long-distance exchange. It had since grown into something that could no longer be contained by a computer screen. It had to be confronted and it had to be direct.
“You do understand the chance we’re taking by doing this, right?” said Tessa, “While we may know each other on a superficial basis, there are still a number of…secrets we haven’t addressed. And some of those secrets may be too much to handle.”
“Well we can never know unless we test that hypothesis,” said Hank, “And I’m willing to carry out all the necessary tests if you are.”
“Are you sure?” she replied seriously, “Because I must warn you...getting involved with me could be very dangerous.”
“I’m an X-man. Danger is something I’m more than equipped to handle.”
He sounded very confident. Tessa could tell he was not going to be scared off. That was rare in a man, mutant or otherwise. She found herself smiling, a gesture that was quite rare given her analytical nature. But there was something about this man that broke through that mechanical demeanor of hers. It didn’t guarantee he would be able to handle what she was involved in, but it certainly helped his chances. Taking this and various factors into account, she made a fateful decision.
“Sage…” she said to him.
“I beg your pardon?” said Hank in confusion.
“That’s my real name…Sage,” she told him, “Tessa is an alias. Only a select few know me by my real name.”
Hank smiled at such a revelation. By his astute calculations, this was a good sign. She was already trusting him with a big secret. Maybe they could trust each other with even more. To do so, he was ready to conduct those vital tests he mentioned.
“Well then, Miss Sage,” he said as he politely took her hand, “May I treat you to that cup of coffee?”
“I’d be honored, Mr. McCoy,” she replied kindly, “Better get yourself a double though. We have much to discuss.”
Precinct 18 Lockup
There were few places more disheartening than a prison cell. The bland walls, small windows, and metal bars made for a very confined feeling. Even for the most hardened criminals, it was not a pleasant place to be.
Alex Summers should have been used to it. For much of his life, he had been living in confined areas. The orphanage he and his brother grew up in was no resort. Their life on the streets together hadn’t been much better. Juvenal hall was basically prison-lite. But it still burned him to no end that he was here. After fighting so hard, he was locked in a prison cell awaiting bogus charges for the riot.
“Check it out, fellas! We got us a mutie in the joint!”
“Hey what’s your power, little boy? You psychic or something?”
“I hope you are! That way I don’t gotta tell you all the ways I’m gonna fuck you up!”
These were the kinds of outbursts Alex had been listening to for hours now. Being a mutant in a jail was like jumping into a furnace doused in gasoline. There was already a major uproar in wake of the riots. Being the mutant who actually led the charge caused an even greater stir. But Alex wasn’t intimidated. He was hardened to rough environments. It also helped he was very pissed. Not just at being in jail, but at the circumstances that led him here.
‘This is a fucking joke. I could easily blow my way out of here with just a few blasts and have enough to blow these assholes a new one. They’re lucky I’m a man of principle. Scott and Bishop want me to pay for my so-called crimes? Fine. I may have screwed up. But at least I was willing to fight back. And if they think these prison cells will stop me from fighting they’re in for a huge disappointment.’
The raucous from the other prisoners continued. Alex remained stoic, tuning everything out and letting his mind adjust to his new confines. Even if it didn’t bother him, it did bother the guards watching him.
“All of you shut up!” spat one of the guards, “You’re no better than this punk so knock it off! At least he can say he fought a killer robot and lived!”
“You’re all going the same way so you might as well get used to each other!” said another.
The commotion died down a bit, but Alex didn’t care. He slumped back in his cell and sighed in exasperation. Because he was a mutant, the police put him in a special single cell. It was reserved for more unstable prisoners, but it was also nice and open so that the guards could keep an eye on him. That didn’t mean they couldn’t scrutinize his every move. Since they didn’t have a power-inhibiting collar or anything, there were at least four armed officers with their guns at the ready in case he tried something. Even if he made it past them, this area of the jail could be locked down in a way that would be difficult to blast through. There really was no way out.
One way or another, he was going to be here for a while. The officers and police chief told him that because of his involvement in the riots, he was facing charges of reckless endangerment, vandalism, and disturbing the peace. He wouldn’t get the maximum sentence since the incident was largely orchestrated by the Friends of Humanity, but he would have to spend some time in jail. After that, who knew where he would end up? He had nowhere else to go, little education, and few prospects for a semi-normal life. Jail seemed as much a home as any.
As he contemplated his future, the secure door to the cell area opened and an officer in a white uniform entered.
“Hey Summers!” he called out, “You got a phone call! Says it’s your lawyer!”
“I don’t have a lawyer. Take a message, will you?” said Alex dryly.
“Do I look like your secretary? You only get one call so do yourself a favor and take it.”
The officer reached through the bars and literally shoved the cordless phone in his hand. Alex gave the officer a disgruntled look, but took the phone none-the-less. He didn’t remember getting a phone call from a lawyer the last time he had trouble with the law. Shrugging it off, he turned away and took the call. He might as well get this legal crap out of the way.
“Yeah what is it?” he groaned.
“I’m not a lawyer. Don’t look surprised and don’t turn around. This isn’t a joke. I’m here to help you.”
Alex tensed briefly. He didn’t recognize the voice on the other line. It was a deep, menacing tone that sounded very serious...too serious to just ignore. Gathering himself, Alex did as he was told and walked over to the far corner of his cell.
“Okay,” he said in the most inconspicuous tone he could muster.
“You’re a passionate fighter, Alex Summers. You’re an inspiration to your kind. You rallied your people into a force that left quite a mark. Granted, it was all a ploy. But you still succeeded. As such, you deserve an opportunity to do more.”
Alex was liking the sound of this. He was officially intrigued.
“I get what you’re saying. What are my legal options?” he said, cautiously glancing over his shoulders at the police.
“I can get you out of jail as early as tomorrow morning, but I need to know that I can count on you to do what is necessary. What I do is not to be taken lightly. I am involved in a fight much larger than anything you’ve ever been a part of. If you wish for my assistance, you need to give me your unconditional trust right now. I’ll give you one minute to decide ”
It was a mysterious turn of events and one Alex couldn’t help but be suspicious about. This sounded wrong on so many levels. In his experience, when something sounded too good to be true it usually was. But looking at his current situation, he couldn’t afford to not take a chance. He didn’t even need the full minute to make his decision.
“You can count on me, sir. You have my trust through this difficult process,” he said cryptically, “Sorry, but um…I didn’t get your name.”
“Call me…Magnus. I’m looking forward to meeting you, Alex. Just do exactly as I say and this will work out nicely for both of us.”
Next Issue: Media Matters
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