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Redemption

Chapter Text

His dreams still speak to the pain, the terror, the anguish. The flash of red, the tearing apart of atoms and neutrons, the rebuilding of quarks and quirks, cell by cell by cell. Three seconds, he'd heard on the news some time later. But for him, it felt like years. Centuries wading inside the red agony of the wave, listening to the desperate cries for mercy and forgiveness, for an end to the punishment, for an end to self. In his head, the cries he heard were part of the mist, but in his heart, he knew that voice like the back of his hand.

Logan tugs on the bottle of cheap whiskey and lights a cigar, pulls himself out of foot-fall snow and stares at the forest around him. The Himalayas. Some miles outside Kangding. He's been here before, on some mission to save some mutant child that he can no longer remember the name or face of. How many had there been in his time with the X-men? A hundred? A thousand? Probably. Probably more. He rarely cared. Rarely had a reason to care.

There are of course those that stood out. Kitty, Jubilee, Idie, Quire. These kids. They sparked something inside of him. Fierce and protective. Instinctive, the runts of the litter, thrown out by society and left to fend for themselves. He chose to fend for them himself, to show them how to snarl, how to bite, how to protect themselves, how to grow and be right human beings. They looked to him as a father figure, a mentor, a guardian, respected and loved. They'd cried when he died, left flowers at his grave, and welcomed him back with open arms when he eventually got better.

Logan doesn't remember being dead. Doesn't remember heaven or hell, though he's pretty sure he was burning eternally for all of the crimes he'd committed through his life. Idie thought that this was his second chance to live life properly for a change, to wipe the blood from his claws and to finally become the person that he was always meant to be. Quire thought it was ridiculous. “If it had been Summers brought back, I'd have been waiting with held breath. At least he was interesting.”

Another swallow of fermented rye, and he massages blood back into his blued bare feet. His healing factor's been on overdrive for months now. He misses the momentary buzz that he could get when he drank too fast and too much all at once. Bobby had called him a liver killer on more than one occasion, and Proudstar had commented more than once that he doubted Logan was dead to begin with. “Maybe you were just finally too drunk to move,” he said one morning over coffee. “And your death was really just a hangover.”

He blames the Avengers for making a mess of things. Tony Stark for building his own damn mutant hunting machine he called Cerberus, Steve Rogers for cowtowing to the powers that be and gathering up mutants by the dozen and putting them in the Undertow. Had they just relaxed, worked with Storm and Kitty, let them help or hinder as they would, the whole damn Red Hunt could have been avoided. But, no, not a week after Sao Paulo, Tony comes out with his Cerberus technology and insists that he will hunt the responsible mutant down, and the whole world bows to his presence.

Storm was against his leaving. Kitty didn't even bother to argue. She knew better. But, Storm, she was sad. With tears in her eyes, she said goodbye to her old friend and sometimes lover, held his hand and told him that she wished he would stay, but Logan had other plans. Plans she wouldn't abide by, and he knew she wouldn't, so he didn't even bother to explain them. There were enough of them – Ororo, Kitty, Sam, Piotr, Kurt, Jean, Ali, Hank, Forge, Rogue – that they could protect the kids from Stark's Red Hunt and be okay. They didn't need him. At least that's what he tells himself as he takes a final draw from his cigar and looks up into the sky.

He prays now. Or meditates. Or wishes. Kurt would tell him that the only true prayer is that spoken to the only True God, words of graciousness and thankfulness, of need for forgiveness for transgressions and evils that constantly plague the human soul. But, Jean would tell him differently, that a prayer is simply a desire, a force of will sent out into the cosmos with hopes that that universe will react. And, that's what he's doing, hoping the universe reacts.

Hands folded, bent at the knees, he closes his eyes and prays for the Red Wave to strike him once again, calls out for the ruby red light to peel down upon this barren landscape, to seer across him with pain and portent, to cry and wail and beg for mercy upon mercy. He has a message to deliver, one that he thinks will be of some import.

He prays until his feet are iced and black with frostbite, until knees shake with spikes of bloodlessness. He prays until his mind wanders off into the depths of the world, surmising the movements of the Red Hunt, of the mutants, of the stakes in this game that he's chosen to play. He prays until he's done, until he realizes that the Red Wave cannot hear him from here, that he's nowhere near loud enough, and for that, tears begin to fall. “Please,” he begs into the stillness of air. “Please, talk to me.”

But, nothing comes. No red. No light. No rush of pain or anguish or need. Just a push of winter wind high upon the Himalayas, some miles from Kangding. Logan pulls himself together reluctantly. He's here for a reason. A good reason. Even if the Red Wave won't speak to him directly, it's spoken here before.

SHIELD and Stark abandoned this site over a month ago, citing operational difficulties to keep it up and running. In other words, they were just afraid of the cold and the snow and the ice and the height. But Logan, such things don't bother him, so long as he can look at it. Unlike other sites – Sao Paulo, Brussels, San Francisco, Lima, Santiago, Victoria, Sheffield, and the others – there was no second flash of red, no restoration. According to rumor, it remained as it was when the Red Wave struck down – a two mile chunk of missing mountain devoid of snow, of cold, of anything that could make it distinctly Himalayan.

Though Stark had proved his nemesis, he was most disappointed in Captain America, the shining symbol of democracy and freedom. The liberty bell. The Constitution. Cap had hopped on board with the whole Red Hunt as soon as Stark cried mutant, cited all the dangerous mutants he could think of: Magneto, Emma Frost, the Summers brothers, Mystique, Quentin Quire. He swore to the public that the Avengers would put this mutant menace on ice no matter what, and within days had gotten their hands on Hope, Gambit, Bishop, Sunfire and his sister Sunpyre, Feverpitch, Avalanche, and any other energy wielding or powerful mutant that they could find.

The Undertow had been built specifically for Scott Summers – the one time mutant leader turned Phoenix host, turned terrorist upon his escape from a conventional private institution. Built in Atlantic waters, at the bottom of the ocean, it was top secret, top shelf tech provided by Stark himself, meant to house the most terrifying mutant of them all when they finally captured him again. Summers died before it's completion, but construction continued, and once Storm and Kitty figured out what they were up against, they took the mutants underground.

Hand over claw he forces his way up the mountain, ignoring the chill bite of his nose and fingers. He can deal with this, he'll heal from this, but he just needs to know, once and for all if he's right or not. Storm called him crazy, Kitty insane. Quire told him that he was old and deficient, Idie told him that he was just hopeful. Beast, though, he was oddly quiet. Suspiciously so.

In the back of his head, he'd always seen himself a martyr. The best there was at what he did, but also the one to make the tough calls, the tough decisions. The one to bring blood, and with that blood to end the ever escalating wars that tended to surround mutants on a daily basis. He figured since he was already damned, he might as well save a few by proxy, keep them from going down the rabbit hole of darkness that he'd gone down so many years ago. Keep their hands clean, their shoulders light. It was never about the pain. Good beer, he could take pain like no other, it was more about the soul. That they didn't lose it. That they didn't wander off the sacred path of Xavier and find themselves knee deep in a swamp of blood.

He'd lost only one during his tenure as reigning hair shirt midst the X-men. And that loss he regretted more than anything else in his entire life.

Claw over claw, he paws his way up the side of the mountain, wishing that his healing factor would allow for the spurned warmth of drink as he plunges himself further. He can feel the tears in his lung, the way they knit back together as he forces them to breathe the arctic air. His arms are tired, his legs restless, but he pushes forward, ready to see, ready hear whatever song has been left behind by the Red Wave.

In many ways he blames himself. That he'd left. Summers, had after all, offered elections, offered a democratic response to leadership that in any other circumstance would have seemed extraordinary. He was willing to chalk it up to mistakes, to forcefulness, to whatever else was needed in order to ensure the survival of the species. But, Logan. He just couldn't take it anymore. Couldn't take watching the man he'd follow into hell and back coast far too fast on his downward spiral that culminated in Phoenix possession, the death of Charles Xavier, prison break, and becoming a wanted terrorist. He respected Scott too much to watch, no matter if he agreed with the decisions or not.

It was Logan's job to take the heat, to take the blood, but there was Scott taking all of the weight, and not batting an eyelash at the burden of it. No complaints, just silent resolve and ever-moving forward in his quest to keep the mutants from going extinct. In the three years that he led the mutant race, Cyclops proved more the Atlas than Logan ever was, and it was with broken pride and protective instincts that he tore the man in two and abandoned him to the will of the world.

In the pit of his stomach, the bile rises, boils over with hatred and spite as he recalls how resolute the man was, then how defeated. How death had become an option for him, a wanted option, and how he wanted Wolverine to deliver the final blow. “You're the best there is at what you do, Logan,” he'd said from behind drastic red lenses and orange prison uniform. “At least you'll make it quick.”

Claws dug deep into the side of icy mountain, the hatred spews over, boiling up throat and tongue releasing itself into the air. For long minutes after, the dry heaves of guilt and anger come, until finally he refocuses his mind and begins the climb again.

The plateau of the mountain is unnatural, carved smooth rock instead of jagged with ice and age. The snow fall here is a light dust, blown off too easily by high-altitude winds, and the goats have taken this place as a refuge from their perilous trek to forage for food. In the months since the strike, small roots have taken hold. Tender shoots of green protected by the carved rock overhead, bloom where the top mountain meets the flat, a nice juicy treat for the animals that have ventured this far. In a few years, if the goats leave well enough alone, this three mile long expanse will be a garden of delight, a haven for seeds and sherpas, a respite for animals too tired from the cold. But, for now it is still too young for that, and the song of its maker still too loud midst the rocks.

He can smell it here, the natural scent of just beginning autumn when the sap starts to rise in the trees. The sweetness of it, the earth. The will of the world to sleep and be at peace. A strange scent for something so barren.

Whiskey in hand, he lights another cigar and looks to the sky once again. He can hear it here, the pain. He can still hear the words vibrating in the stone, that death would be welcomed. Logan pours a touch of brew out onto the stone, watches as it slushes across the light dusting of snow. “I'm coming,” he says quietly to the sky. “I promise. This time, I'm gonna save your ass.”

Chapter Text

His detractors call him a despot. But, as he tells Steve after dinner, his detractors have called him worse. A war monger, a profiteer of misery, a death bringer, a playboy. “All in all, despot isn't so bad. At least it implies that I have control over the situation, which I do.”

Out of uniform, Steve Rogers is a blue eyed, golden haired American dream, as humble as deep dish apple pie and as polite as a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The uniform changes him, makes him louder, demanding, turns him into a leader that the whole world respects. Sometimes, he wishes that he could stay in uniform, particularly when dealing with Tony Stark, who takes his clothes as armor regardless of the suit. “Polaris doesn't have energy wielding powers --”

“True,” Stark interrupts, “but she was in Ireland when the Red Wave hit Sheffield, and we know what her father is capable of --”

“Speaking of which,” a lick of lips and blue eyes cast to the window, to the cityscape of Manhattan below. “Magneto's been awfully silent, don't you think?”

A sip of ginger ale from crystal flute, and Tony laughs. A deep stomach growl of a laugh that sets Rogers' nerves on edge. “Well, this is his is dream come true, isn't it? If he finds this mutant before us, if he--”

“How do we know he hasn't already?”

“Come on, Steve. Don't be an idiot.” The words are meant to puncture. In uniform, Steve Rogers is untouchable, but outside of it, he is as vulnerable as anyone. Stark likes to remind him of that at times, just to prove himself an equal. “If Magneto had this mutant, he'd be parading him across the world like his very own nuclear arsenal. He'd be making demands by now, not still cowering in whatever bunker he's set himself up in.”

The air becomes impossible then. A bit too stuffy, a bit too cloistered. Steve knows where this conversation is going to lead, the same place where it has lead every night since Sao Paulo. “You still think the X-men are hiding the mutant.”

“I'd be an idiot, too, if I thought otherwise. It is their MO after all.” Find a mutant out of control, teach them to hone their powers over time. Cradle them with candy gloves and teach them that the world is a much better place because they're in it. “Besides, they didn't run until we asked to look at McCoy's files. They're definitely hiding something.”

They'd held the mutant thief Gambit for 45 days before Storm finally asked where he was. They'd kept Bishop for thirteen. “She didn't care that we were holding them, Steve, regardless of what she told us. She knows we're not going to hurt them. No, she cared that we asked for the files on all the mutants at that damn outreach center. Beast knows exactly who we're dealing with.”

Steve bites back a ton of words about inalienable rights and holding without charging. Abuse of power and staining the name of the Avengers. These are words he's said before, and they garner little more than snark and spite from the man sitting across from him. In uniform, he'd say it all and Tony would be left quivering from the shock of his might. He knows this is why Tony asks for casual dress when they meet like this, so that he has a chance to win, so that he assures the win.

“Look, Steve, I know you hate the Red Hunt,” Stark softens, running his hand through thick brown hair. “And, I do, too. I've considered the X-men allies for a long time, in almost all of their iterations. But, they ran Steve. We asked, they ran, and for no reason. And, this isn't the first time they've risked the world to protect their own.”

The way things had ended with Scott Summers continued to leave a bad taste in Rogers' mouth. In uniform, he was confident that he had made the right decisions. The Phoenix was and had proven to be a danger – too chaotic, too powerful to be controlled – and had Captain America not intervened, the entire world would have been ash. Yes, it came at the cost of an ally, a dear friend - the man named Charles Xavier - and for that he grieved, but had he to do it all over again, Cap wouldn't change one decision that he made.

Steve, on the other hand, saw the shortsightedness of his actions. The mutants were endangered, yet he'd done little to help them. He'd told himself – and eventually Summers – that he was giving them space to work out their own problems, but in truth, he just simply didn't want to get involved. He didn't want to mire himself in the political turmoil that was sapien vs. superior, didn't want to speak to Congress or be thrust into crowds of population that turned their hate on him because of his opinions.

He could have shown more trust when approaching Summers. He could have come alone, out of uniform, as a friend. The long list of could haves and should haves rang through his mind, from the giant space gun to constantly provoking the Phoenix into action. Steve understood what it was to be possessed by something. In fact, he knew few heroes that had not had that experience. So why was it that the whole world excused the actions of others, but called Summers a murderer and branded him public enemy number one?

They'd intended to keep him jailed permanently in the Undertow, to never let him see the light of day again. To protect the human populace from the threat that he possessed, but he died of Mpox, his voice once again unheard over the threat to mutants and the threat to their survival as a species. And with that death came periods of self reflection that turned Steve's stomach to waves of nausea and doubt.

“The X-men have saved the world as many times as the Avengers, Tony,” Steve answers after a long silence.

“True, but they've also endangered it,” he quips all too quickly.

“We count Hulk among our members.” The jab goes deep, causing Stark to wince at last. A rare barb that connects from the quiet man who now simmers in smile across from him. “The Red Hunt only fuels the hatred against mutants, Tony. Even you have to see that.”

And Tony does see it. Though his bravado and confidence are just as devout, he does see the widening divide and how the SHIELD sponsored Red Hunt makes that divide even greater. “Yes, but it's also drawing them out. Alex Summers came out of hiding today. That's why I called you here.”

A flick of switch, and a flat panel TV drops from the ceiling. On it, a protest, and at its helm, Alex Summers, otherwise known as Havok. He calls for the rising up of the people, warns them that if the Red Hunt is allowed to continue on it's destructive path towards mutants, that sapiens will be next. “If we don't stop them now, my fellow humans, what's to stop them from coming after you next? If you speak out, if you voice an opinion? If you dare say that they are infringing upon your rights to live? Will they come to hunt you down next, just as they do me?”

The crowd is a solid mix of yays and neighs. Some calling for his head, others for his sainthood. There are those who remember him as the villain that sought to bring down a plague of mutant genes upon humanity, and those that see him as the righteous leader following in the footsteps of his brother. “Regardless of how you feel about me, imagine that these mutants locked in the Undertow – for no other reason than their birth – are your children, your husbands, your wives. Imagine that this is your life they are destroying?” He calls for an end to the Red Hunt, to the prejudice, the hatred. He draws a clear line in the sand, one in which he stands visibly in the center of. “If they seek to harm me and mine, then there's no choice but to return fire. But, should they leave us alone, then they shall live in peace.”

Tony flips off the recording with a wave of hand. “Turns into a riot after that. Two dozen police officers and two hundred civilians hospitalized. D.C. jails booked to capacity. And no sign of Alex and his crew. They think he's using some sort of inhibitor to make him read human.” Steve can see the idea of it roiling around in Tony's head. Fitting them all with inhibitors to block their powers. “Remind you of someone?” The question goes unanswered. “Come on, when's the last time we heard that slop of garbage he's spewing? Don't attack us and we won't attack you?”

Steve shrugs, unwilling to play along. Of course he knows who it sounds like. It was why they branded him a terrorist. Why they spent nearly a year hunting him down across the globe on some never ending goose chase where they were always three steps behind. “He has a point, Tony.”

“Of course, he does, but so do we!” The words come out loud and strong, and with the spilling of ginger ale across the plush white carpet. Abandoning his glass to the floor, Tony pokes a long, calloused finger into Rogers' chest. “Look at that hatred! They would have strung him from a tree if we hadn't let the Red Hunt step in! They would have burned him alive if they could have got their hands on him! Steve, we're not hurting the mutants in the Undertow! We're keeping them safe! No one should have to safeguard themselves against that!”

It's a change in tactics, and one that he's not even sure Cap would know how to respond to. From jailor for the sake of the world to savior from the world in one fell step, Steve can do little but blink and take in a sharp breath that stings across his teeth.

Though his voice speaks to confidence and grandeur, Tony's eyes break with doubt. Blue with the tinge of gray, thick dark brows crease with concern at the center, and then slowly settle back into his normal arrogance. Yet, the tremor in his voice betrays him. “We can't fight it, Steve. I don't care how much tech I can pull out my ass, or how many times Hulk smashes, we can't fight the Red Wave. This isn't Thanos, or some other creepy alien with a cause. This destruction is random, with no purpose, no held desire that we can rally against.” He takes a breath and settles himself back across from his teammate. “It gets bigger each time. The blast radius. Sao Paulo was three miles and took less than five minutes to restore. Brussels was ten and took over a day. Pretty soon, if my calculations are correct – and they always are – we'll be looking at half the earth and nearly a year to see it come back to life. I don't care that it's a mutant, that just makes it trackable. If this were human, I'd do the same damn thing. I'm sorry that you have your regrets, that you feel guilty over the Summers brothers and how everything bad on earth seems to happen to one or the other, but Summers be damned. I still think the world's worth saving.”

And this is how their arguments have come to end since Omaha. A diatribe over the preciousness of the earth or the monstrosity of this power. Of how small they were, how ant-like and minuscule. That if they didn't stop this now, the omens of Tony's mathematics would come to pass and the earth would be nothing more than a pile of ash in the hands of a child who would sit obstinately by until finally lonely enough to bring the people back. Again and again and again. A circus of death and life, until the child would finally grow tired of the game, give up and go find a new world to toy with. “I don't want that, Steve. I want to die of old age with a bad memory and too many beautiful women vulterizing my fortune. Unless you've changed your mind?”

“No, Tony,” Rogers says quietly, “I haven't changed my mind.”

“Too bad, so sad,” he says with a hint of solemn smile, “This could all be yours, Steve-a-roo. Every single last unstable molecule.”

Steve shakes golden head. “It was a mistake, Tony. One I don't intend to repeat.”

“For you, it might have been a mistake,” he smiles. “But for me, it was a revelation.”

The cool night air sobers him from the swift good bye inside Avengers Tower. Hands in pocket, Rogers looks up to the starless sky of Manhattan, once again homesick for the darkened cities of his youth. The simple times, as Tony often calls them. When things – including the TV – were black and white and easy to decide upon. He was a patriot, and with that came the belief in freedom and democracy and the American way. Children learned the Constitution, the Preamble, the Bill of Rights, and those children wanted to protect those sacred thoughts as much as they wanted to protect their families, their friends, their neighbors, their country. There were no nuances in his previous life. His enemies were crystal, his mission was clear, and all he had to do was go out, shield-a-blazin', and prove that America – and her ideals - was worth fighting for.

In times like these – when the truth was as hard to discern as a grain of sand from atop a mountain – he felt like a relic. In the old days, he'd have something to punch, to kick, to bite, to lunge himself against and make the world a better place by doing so. But, the time of the super soldier had past, apparently, and more wily tempers prevailed.

It was Fury who interrupted his reveries, a call on his phone, which was not unusual. “We think we've found Strange. Be on the bridge in ten.”

Chapter Text

Ororo Munroe hates enclosed spaces. By birth and birthright they do not agree with her. In here, in these metallic tunnels carved inside a mountain, she can feel no wind, see no sun, and that aches upon her heart. But, this is a sacrifice that she must make if the mutants are to survive.

A flat top coal mine, then turned deep into the mountain, coated with metal and machinery – all by Magneto, who was all too happy to offer them an oasis from their entrapment in the mansion. He'd come to them in secret, built tunnels under the earth to move them in secret from New York to New Jersey, and then finally a jet to the middle of nowhere West Virginia. Upon first look, Storm had been enamored with the green beneath her feet, in love with the plethora of oaks and maples and sassafras, at one with the deer and squirrels that darted away at their scent. But before she could run like a child midst the wilderness, she was plundered up the mountain and down into the metallic crevices, hidden away like a thousand diamonds from cravens and thieves.

But, there was no other choice. At least not one that she saw.

Logan saw one. Took off one morning for goddess knows where, left before breakfast with scant goodbyes. He had things to do, and he refused to explain. Omaha had changed him, and Sao Paulo before that. Everyone could see it. He hadn't been clear on what had happened, only that he'd survived the Red Wave, and inside the Red Wave he'd heard a voice. And that voice haunted him. Storm had teased him, hoping to bring him out of his stupor, but the teasing had not worked. Instead, it did the opposite, driving him further away and out of the X-men's arms and into the wide open world where Storm wishes she could go.

Havok was next, and with him Cannonball, Boom Boom, Domino, Surge, Rockslide, and Anole. She tried to stop them, all but demanded that Havok relinquish the children unto her and not drag them into some political war that he could in no way protect them from, but the children were in ways more adamant than Havok himself. “If you're not going to fight for us, Storm,” Anole had reasoned in his own quiet way, “then, I will fight for you.”

The words had stung, buried themselves inside her near-panicked heart. Grabbing Alex's arm, she demanded that he leave the younger ones, that they shouldn't be drug through yet another war, another time of violence. “This goes against everything Xavier taught us, Alex.”

“My brother was fifteen when that man made him the general of his mutant army. They're 18 'Ro, old enough to choose for themselves whether to lay down like dogs and wait to be shot, or stand up and fight like lions and protect what's rightfully theirs.”

Ororo's words of non-violence and pacifism, of waiting until the whirlwind of hatred calmed and receded, of cooler heads and warmer hearts went unheard as they made their way to the top of mine shaft. She couldn't help but wonder if Alex was serious about fighting back against the Red Hunt, or if he was merely still grieving for his brother.

Storm is glad that Cyclops is not here for this. Not because she fears his ridicule, but rather what he would do. She could see him thrusting them into yet another fruitless war, arming the children with guns and bombs and their genetic birthright, forgoing their hearts and souls in favor of the mere essence of survival. She knows that others feel the same, including Beast who sits quietly in the med lab scouring over documents and beakers trying to wake the telepaths. “Any change?” she asks quietly.

“They'll wake eventually,” he replies. “They have so far.”

Storm looks at the still and silent bodies – Jean, Rachel, Psylocke, the Cuckoos, Chamber, Xi'an, Quire – all of them. All of the telepaths hidden in the depths of the earth down now for over a week. “You still think it's psychic backlash?”

McCoy sighs. He'd rather be undisturbed right now, to finish his work, but he also understands that Ororo has reason to check in on him here. “It's the only explanation I can think of. But, that does pose a problem for us, I'd say.”

“That the Red Wave is a telepath.”

“Exactly. The power to destroy a whole city in three seconds is fearsome enough, but add to that this psionic conundrum, it means we have no defense against it.” He pushes papers into a folder and turns to face her fully. “Logan might have survived, but he can survive nearly everything. The rest of us aren't so lucky.”

“Let the Red Hunt handle it. Once they have their mutant, then all should return to peace again so long as Alex and Cable don't interfere too much.”

“Which we need to talk about.” Opening another folder, he pulls out another set of papers and hands them to Ororo. “Tatsuya Oshiro and Arlo Taylor. We can't provide what they need, Storm. Not medically, not psychologically, not educationally.”

Storm skims the medical workup, her pale blue eyes striking on key words such as unclear medical history, autistic, severe developmental delays, psychological trauma, abuse, PTSD, among other frightening terms.

The four year old in the bunny suit was perhaps one of the youngest mutants she'd ever encountered. Non-verbal autistic, Storm knew that housing him would be a challenge, especially since neither he nor his father spoke English, but she could not turn them away. “Hisako and Kitty are working with Tatsuya and his father, and when the telepaths wake, they can hopefully download English --”

“I can't even get near Arlo to test him, 'Ro. I'm pretty sure he's got broken bones, but the kid won't let me get close enough.” A six foot bulldog was the best way to describe the seventeen year old child, a full body mutation that left him hunched and chained by his alcoholic father for years before Cable finally rescued him. As of yet, they had no idea if he could speak, if he could comprehend what was being told to him. Lesions covered his lightly furred skin, some infested with fleas and warbles, some infected and growing black with necrosis. He limped when he walked on all fours, though Beast was pretty sure that he could walk on two legs. “From what I can see from afar, he has the skeletal structure for walking on two legs, and the four legs was beaten into him over time.”

“Perhaps when Jean wakes --”

“It's been a week, Storm. Everyday he goes untreated is another day that his condition gets worse. Someone has to deal with him, and quite frankly, he's scared to death of me.”

Cecilia Reyes is then the obvious choice to run the battery of tests, if she can get near him, that is. Her bedside manner is often considered impeccable, if blunt at times, but she knows how to deal with trauma. If she fails, then perhaps Megan Gwynn. “I can't imagine anyone being scared of Pixie,” Storm sighs, and is ultimately glad that the young girl did not go the way of her classmates and join Alex above ground.

“You might also consider Indira Lopez.” Another new child brought in by Cable. Half Hindi, half Mexican, her parents were well-to-do professors at Cambridge before the Red Hunt came for their daughter. They sought out Cable themselves, shuffled her onto his jet, and sent a year's worth of peanut butter and other supplies with him in order to pay for her upkeep. Open-minded almost to a fault, they taught their daughter that she was special, and because of that, she was worth saving. “Cable said that she actually touched him.”

Storm admits that she does not know the girl well enough, that girl has spent more time with Kurt discussing religion than she has with the other children. While her mother practices Hindu, her father is a devoted Catholic, she, herself, is undecided. “She's very mature for sixteen years.” It was all Ororo could think of to say, as it was the only observation she had made thus far about the young Miss Lopez. “I will keep her in mind, but only as a last resort. We don't know if Arlo is dangerous yet.”

She chokes down a tightness in her throat at her own words. Never before had she thought of a child as dangerous, but Arlo was too large, too mysterious, too abused to not be wary of. “Henry, am I making the right decision? Keeping us down here?”

Silence and a deep, focusing breath. A sip of cold, bitter coffee, and Beast adjusts his glasses. “It's a harsh time to lack confidence, Ororo.”

“Perhaps, but a good leader always doubts, yes?” Pale blue eyes study the depths of amber for long moments before turning back to the unconscious telepaths. “There's always more than one path. I just need to know if you think I'm on the right one.”

“We're safe here, Storm. Isn't that what matters?”

The embrace is brief, but heartfelt. A tender hug among friends and respected teammates. There is no right or wrong in the grand scheme of things, no black or white, just a shade of gray that must fit ones priorities.

Chapter Text

There was a time in his life when he thought her the perfect woman. Intelligent and witty, beautiful and rich, their conversations about art and music, theater and food were endlessly fascinating. She danced like a dream, floating on high-heeled tip toes to the waltz in her head and wine in her blood, laughing graciously at his jokes and remarking – without irony – on his nice head of hair. If only she hadn't been evil. And then, if only she hadn't corrupted Summers.

It's been a week now, and she hasn't moved. Found slumped over in a Parisian cafe after a blood-curdling scream, the owners had cleared the shop and called the Red Hunt unsure if there had been a mutant attack or not. In fact, there had been, only some countries away in Ireland, where the Red Wave had taken out Sheffield, and had yet to bring it back.

Stark hums to himself as he checks the battery of machines – the heart monitor, the blood pressure unit, the brain wave analyzer. All are in perfect working order, yet, she does not wake up. “Come on, Ems,” he says quietly at last, “Give me the good stuff.”

He's not in love with her, not like he is Steve, but at least she gives him the time of day. In the darkest part of his mind, he can't help but think that she'd be overjoyed at what he's doing with the Red Hunt, basking in the glory of his inventions and his single mindedness. After all, isn't that why she adored Summers? His approach to the survival of his species was but one way, and he wavered not an inch in his devoutness to his cause. Tony had met such a dedicated force only one other time in his life – his father – and in his own way he'd rebelled against that very thing for most of his existence as well.

His father was a scientist, his mind so curious that he'd forgo light for days in order to see an experiment through. He was responsible for some of the most brilliant discoveries of modern times thanks to that dedication. And Summers, well, he was responsible for the rebirth of an entire species thanks to his. And what was Tony's gift to society? A suit of iron? The arc reactor? Nothing that he didn't hem and haw over and think of the three zillion ways that his technology could be misused if it fell into the wrong hands.

While he had focus, he'd always lacked the dedication, doing most of what he did for show or self-pleasure, rather than the betterment of human kind. So, this, his cause – the Red Wave, finding it and subduing it once and for all – this was his testament to a species, like his father, like Summers. This was his force to be reckoned with, and while Rogers recoiled at the thought of his devotion, he had a feeling that Emma Frost would be just the zealot he needed to prod him further into his quest.

After all, he wasn't just trying to save humanity or mutants. He was trying to save the world.

He takes the vial of blood with care, tapping his fingers against her vein to get it to rise and show itself beneath her ivory skin. It's the third vial today, but also a necessary one if the files he scavenged on Utopia are to be believed.

He'd gone in expecting to find the ravings of madmen, the type of writings that declare people gods and goddesses, rulers of world, and bringers of hellfire. For days, he scavenged the files of both Scott Summers and the X-club, bringing what remained back to his tower to peruse at will.

The X-club's were remarkably scientific, covering everything from mutant pathogens to nannites to the effects of magic upon the X-gene. Beast's in particular were fascinating as it took Tony weeks to decrypt them, their secrets spilled out in nanobytes, half-destroyed by Utopia's destruction.

But it was Scott files at first – near intact under the water – that had caught his fancy. That neat and tiny print, how his letters were squared and sharp, how he recalled details in precise, emotionless clarity. The man had been running on fumes for so long he'd forgotten what true energy was like. He was tired, unsure, and overwhelmed, but in that, there was a strength. He understood that his decisions were unpopular, that they drove wedges between himself and the world at large. And that distance proved painful, but also necessary. He knew they would hate him, that they would leave him, that they would curse his name and call him a traitor. But, he was a willing sacrifice if it meant that mutants would once again populate the earth.

Tony understands these burned bridges. He's burned several himself in the past few months. From Daredevil to Dr. Strange, Natasha who abandoned him on a bridge with his suit at half-power. He called for her, begged her help, and in return, she called him a lunatic and said the world would be better off without his machinations. But, like Cyclops, he pushed forward into the endless pit of self-sacrifice, destroying all that he cared about in order save the world. They may hate him now, but in the end, they'll see that he was right all along.

But today, yesterday, and everyday since Omaha, it's McCoy's files that have taken his time. The data destroyed by salt and erosion, Tony has taken extra care to recreate whatever he can, running Hank's experiments until he can get the proper procedures, solutions, details down to a fault. The man is a genius, but within that genius lies something malevolent, or so Tony fears. The knowledge of the Red Wave, who it is, and what its plans are for the earth.

The files he looks at today are newly decrypted. Partial bits from a folder years in the making. It's a personal file, passworded and protected. It's taken him months to break through what is left of the security around it, and though he is less than underwhelmed by what he finds, he still intends to absorb it all, and with this information, perhaps figure out what Beast is hiding.

Jean Grey is the first among the names listed in the folder, the data being largely intact. Tony clicks on it, spreading it's pages across the room, file upon file of upgraded details. Personal things like favorite color and musician, holiday and vacation spot. McCoy describes her temperament, her mood at the time of testing, the small changes in her personality from test to test. He also writes in great detail of her power progression, from the talented telekinetic to the most powerful telepath in the world. He spares no words in talking about her Phoenix possession, the insane amount of power that she controlled with just a whisper, and in between those words of might, he describes the fearful heart of the woman in the center of it all. The days she would come to his lab in tears over her concern for the breadth of her powers, the illusions of time that came from the mind of Wyngarde. How much she wanted to protect her love, Scott Summers, how she worried about him, agonized over him. In Beast's telling, she was the perfect woman, fierce and feminine, intelligent and friendly. If Stark didn't know better, he'd think that Beast was in love with the beauty.

The files contain numerous details that Tony laps up like a dehydrated dog, spanning the woman's life through the years. He discovers how much she wanted children, how little she cared for the music of Madonna. How she liked to dance the tango, how the complexity of spices in a chicken korma called to her twice a week, and sometimes more, after Beast took her to Kashmir Palace, not ten blocks from the mansion. She wanted to be a blonde, then a brunette, but Scott was so enamored with her head of red that she worried about dying it. She loved to read the classics, had little fondness for spy novels, and enjoyed the works of Monet more than any of them. The Impressionists lifted her spirits, how up close they seemed nothing but dots on a page, but far back, at a distance, the whole suddenly made sense. That's how her life felt at times, that each moment was a simple brush upon the canvas, but if she stood back and observed the entirety of the work, she could see the beauty in her life.

Many others are just as detailed. Bobby, Warren, Ororo, Piotr, Kurt. Their lives play across the data screens like books and biographies. Moments so intense that words do not do them justice. The loss of Illyana to the Legacy Virus. Meeting Yukio and the freedom it brought. Walking in town without an image inducer. Being taken over by Emma Frost; being transformed by Apocalypse. Hank had the ears and shoulders to carry his teammates burdens. Even the smallest of them and the ones that disappeared too soon. Blink, Pixie, Namor, John and James Proudstar. Even Xavier had a file filled with tidbits of conversations and personal reflection.

It's midnight before he takes a break, ordering up a pot of coffee and delivery through Jarvis. A double cheese pizza with a side of breadsticks and marinara, paid for by debit card along with a hefty tip for super fast service. He finds it almost amusing that these insights into the mutant populace come from the scientist rather than the leader. As a scientist himself, Stark finds emotions hard to deal with, to say the least, but here was Beast in all his poetry, expounding upon the attributes of even a child like Longneck, who never even made an X-team, and faded into obscurity long before his graduation. Summers never even mentioned Longneck in his notes. Never stopped to see the small guy. It's a mistake that Tony himself intends to remedy.

But, its Summers' file that draws the most intrigue. Between sips of coffee and bites of gooey extra cheese, he quickly notices the sparseness of it. Here, in this file, there is no favorite food or TV show, no music or movie, or word-for-word conversations. His file is mostly just a picture, a birth date, height, weight, and an odd sentence or two about his outlook on life. 'He's morose after the loss of his child.' 'He grieves for Jean Grey as if his whole life was staked on her existence.' 'He leads mutants to a precipice that they may well never recover from.' And in the left hand corner of every picture a small percentage that Tony finally notices. AL eighteen percent. AL twenty seven percent. AL thirty two percent. Scattered numbers that make no sense as they bounce back and forth between the years and times of updates.

A second look – at three a.m. - and he notices that the other pictures have the same numbers, only theirs are steady. Jean has a constant fifty-four percent. Iceman fifty-one. Sunfire is noted with an AL of thirty-three percent, and Wolverine a twenty eight. In all but Cyclops, the numbers are steady.

He asks Jarvis first. Asks him for the meaning of AL, but Jarvis comes up with only nonsensical answers. “All light? Any legume? Alternate linguistics? Applied laziness?”

“You're an ass, Jarvis,” Tony responds with a sigh as he continues to scan the files for the numbers.

“No, sir, my programming has nothing in common with a donkey.”

He finds it unlikely that McCoy was so childish that he assigned power levels to his teammates, and especially ones so radically understated. After all, not many mutants could survive a nuclear bomb like Logan, or teleport like Nightcrawler - who stood at a mere nineteen percent. He wonders at first if it's protein coding, that different powers code for different proteins. Or perhaps, RNA replication, genetic markers, or even something more mundane such as nucleic size or electron numbers.

“Jarvis, put in a call to Reed Richards. I need his help.”

“Sir, it is five a.m. I'm sure that Mr. Richards is --”

“He'll wake up for this.”

Chapter Text

Eight hours ago, a spell of electric green and glimmering gold lit up over the ruins of Sheffield, Ireland causing scanners world wide to go haywire and out of control. Maria Hill expected that he would act soon – the strange doctor – yet not there, and not with such overwhelming power.

With Illyana Rasputin and Wong at his side, he holds off the coming invasion of Red Hunt One, using force shields the size of great cities to block their progression forward, and rays of pure enchantment to beat them back. The air sizzles with magenta magic, and each hit pushes the helicarrier back further. All the while, Strange continues his archaic, melancholy words, lighting up tendrils of green gold that mix with chalk lines drawn expertly upon the ground.

From her perch so high above the fray, Maria Hill marvels at the work below her. The intricate vines and weaves of blue and red chalk, drawn out over a three mile radius, then lit with incantation in a blazing inferno of magic. At her side, Captain America calls for the stand down of the Red Hunt squads, to cease their fire if only so Dr. Strange ceases his.

“Illyana Rasputin could easily be the Red Wave, Steve,” Hill barks back, but before she can signal com, Rogers stays her hand.

“We can't fight Strange's magic,” he tells her, then reminds her of the fragility of their equipment, how much it costs, and how sore Fury would be if they broke the Red Hunt squads over a futile battle. “Strange will destroy this ship,” he says frankly, “and not blink twice at taking out our troops.”

“He's not a killer,” she argues.

“Who says he needs to kill them to waylay them for a month? The man can stop time if he wants, and we all know how that turns out.”

Hill's dark brown eyes return to the screen in frustration. Suspicion ekes into her words. “What are you suggesting then? Let him cast this spell?”

He hasn't been the same since Omaha. Since they found him at the edge of the destruction, shaking like a leaf and wrapped in a thick brown cloak. It was hours after when War Machine had spotted him, assessed him for physical damage from his fight with Logan, but other than a few cracked ribs and a fractured radius, there was nothing wrong. Still, for three whole days he wouldn't speak a word. Just lay in his bed, hands over ears, muttering delirious words under his breath.

The psychs had called it PTSD – insisted that he'd seen the destruction of Omaha and it had effected him. Still, Fury was fast to throw him back into the fight. Too fast in Hill's opinion, though these days, with the Avengers running about on her ship and Fury in her ear every ten seconds for updates, her opinion didn't count for much. “Cap, we have to stop the spell.”

“Fine. Let me try to talk to him before you send the cavalry. Maybe I can stop a needless fight.” With a parachute on his back, Steve Rogers orders the lift doors open, and within seconds, he is gone, leaving Hill alone with her screen and her thoughts.

It was a shock to her – and the Avengers as well – when Stephen Strange walked away from them. A few blamed Tony and his smart mouth, but others said there was something else – something deeper – going on, and to give the man time, that he would come back. But, she, herself doubted it.

Rumor held that he'd been in meditation for almost a month, since Sao Paulo if not before. No food, no drink, no sleep, and he definitely looked the part of exhausted and overwrought. His neatly trimmed beard was ragged and three inches too long, the dark circles under his eyes, and the grayish tint to his skin. His hands shook when he talked and his eyes never left the floor. He said that he couldn't abide by the Red Hunt, that the being – whether mutant or not – needed help, not anger. That there was a way to save him from his torment if they just gave him time.

Stark laughed the loudest, then grew dark. “This mutant can wipe out a whole city in three seconds flat. I'm sorry, Stephen, but there are some things too powerful for this world. Some people that shouldn't survive.”

Tony's words had stung them all that day, and there were those that left the Red Hunt initiative all together over them. Black Widow, Daredevil, Spiderman. “Or maybe, you just fear being left behind, Tony,” Natasha had said three days later when once again the issue of too powerful to live had breached the otherwise tepid peace. “Your ego must be killing you.”

“It's not my ego, Nat,” he argued, “It's my life and the life of everyone on this planet. Three million people died last week. How families are in mourning for their loved ones? How many children do not get to grow up unless this mutant decides to restore the city to health? How long until this mutant tires of bringing us back to life and simply wipes out the whole planet and moves on? I don't care what kind of sympathetic goulash Strange wants to add to this, too powerful is too powerful. This mutant can't be allowed to live. Not with powers like that. I won't be blackmailed into giving a damn about a mass murder.”

Hill had honestly expected half of them to leave. Carol Danvers, Luke Cage, Hawkeye, Reed Richards. But they stayed, adamant, siding with Tony in their quest for freedom. In the end, it was only a handful that left, and for that she was thankful.

Cap hits ground four minutes after jumping. His chute open and easily ejected, he hears Hill's voice over com to watch carefully and warn him of any danger. In so many ways, he wants to destroy that com, to tell Strange of his plight, to tell him about Omaha, how he survived, how he came free of the Red Wave's destruction. But, he doesn't. He's bound by duty, by what he feels for Tony Stark. Be it love or lust, he's not sure, but he can feel the tethers upon his wrist as he considers leaving the Red Hunt once and for all.

“Stephen!” he calls over the roar of green and gold, the pulse so loud that he's sure they can hear it on the moon. “Stephen!”

He's greeted by Illyana, the child sorcerer, her blonde hair waving in the wind, batting against her eyes and chin as if a hurricane was about to begin. “Go, back, mortal,” she issues bearing her great sword and slamming it into the ground.

“I just want to talk,” Cap pleads, looking beyond her slender frame to the man at the center of the eruption. It's a magnificent sight, a conductor of light. With each movement of his hand, with each baritone word, the chalks light with the energy of earth and heaven. “He needs to stand down,” he says in the rush of air and pulse.

Illyana smiles, a dark, shadowy smile that eclipses her youthful face. It reminds him of the demon within her, that her soul is still half devoured by Limbo. “Not a chance, little man.”

He grasps for her midst the wind, plunges hands into shoulders, pulls himself against her. He doesn't understand how she's stable, how she doesn't move midst the cyclone of air. She smiles at his imbalance, smiles at his vulnerability. “Please,” he begs, “stop this. You're only making it worse.”

It would be easy for her to dismount him, to rip his fingers from her arms, to sweep his feet out from under him, but she doesn't. Instead, she holds him steady, stares into his bright blue eyes and grins like the shadows of hell. “No, little man,” she speaks against the tremendous wind, “You are making it worse by coming here. Leave us alone, and we shall not bother you. But come at us with your weapons, and we'll make you pay.”

The warning is severe, and as Steve's eyes widen with the threat, she pulls forth her sword and drives the wedge between her and him. He flies, if only for a minute. Flies outward, far away from the din uplifted by the wind. It's only when he hits a tree that he realizes what has happened, that he was brushed off like an insect, turned away and foregone. Strange is stronger than his physical might.

Upon his knees he crawls back to the edge of violence, begging and pleading for Magik to give him reprieve. “Please,” he tells her. “I heard it. I heard him. Please, don't turn me away.”

The young blonde grab his shoulder, pulls him close into embrace. “You survived?” she asks, her voice a mix of confusion and joviality. “You really survived?”

“Please, I just want to talk with him!” His voice cracks with desperation, his alto so gone with the force of wind that he's not even sure he's heard until Magik's large blue eyes widen with interest. She laughs at him, out loud and above the force of wind. Laughs and pulls him close to her chest. He doesn't know what it means as the pale blue light appears underneath him. And it's an experience that he'll never forget.

Limbo sounds like the Red Wave.

The Sanctum Sanctorum. She stuffs him in a closet, locks the door, and leaves him in the dark. He wonders if he made the right choice.

Chapter Text

“I stand before you as a mutant, a wanted terrorist, hunted for nothing more than my genetic difference. Even now, my time with you will be short because already the Red Hunt is on their way here to capture me and my friends, to cuff us and chain us, to lock us away in the deep dark cells of the Undertow. So, forgive me if I appear rushed or nervous. Being hunted isn't fun.

“For most of my life, I've believed that one day humans and mutants will have a peaceful coexistence. That one day, hatred will no longer plague us, that we will walk down the streets and smile and nod at each other regardless of our genetics. That our children and our children's children will learn from each other, teach other, and will work together to fight the true evils of this world, not just the ones that we make up to explain our fear of the unknown.

“And though the road has been difficult at times, and every step forward is met with rabid resistance, I still believe that those peaceful times can happen, if we stand together now and demand it from those that would see all of our work, all of our progress through the years undone.

“Last night, a thirteen year old child was taken from her home, put through a battery of tests, and then locked away in the Undertow for no other reason than being a mutant. Bereft of her very rights by the Red Hunt, she was not innocent until proven guilty. There was no trial for her. No judge, no jury. Now – for no other reason than her X-gene - she sits alone in a cell wondering if she will ever see her father again.

“Yesterday afternoon, a young man who just graduated college, was stopped on his way to work, taken out of his car, and flown here, to Washington D.C. He was hooked up to lab equipment, his blood taken, his DNA sampled. For hours he was tortured by scientists as they tested his mutant power, and when they were finally done, when he was finally broken and sobbing, they loaded him on a plane once again, then buried him beneath the sea in the Undertow for no other reason than being a mutant.

“They are not the Red Wave. Indeed, none of the mutants locked away in the ocean's depths are the Red Wave. We are accused of hiding this mutant, though there is no proof. We are accused of helping this mutant, though until the Red Hunt, the X-men and other mutant groups worked with the Avengers, with SHIELD, in hopes of finding and subduing this solitary mutant who is destroying our cities.

“They say that are trying to save us. That humanity's hatred of its genetic brethren is so poisonous, so vast, that they are locking us away to protect us from you. They lock us away to keep our innocence, to prove it to you and to the world. That without their protection, without their Red Hunt squads and the soldiers they send into our homes, our schools, our businesses, that we will die by your hands.

“My friends, they don't cage us to protect us. They cage us because they fear us. They are not trying to prove our innocence. They have decided our guilt based on our DNA. They do not hunt us and torture us to calm the fears of the populace. They hunt and torture us because they are afraid. They are afraid of what we will do if we rise up against them, take back our rights, and prove to them that mutants are no more dangerous than the so-called heroes who have decided to imprison us.

“That's right. I said rise up against them. It's time to fight back. But, before you run and hide under your beds, before you roll your eyes and declare this a mutant problem, I tell you now that this fight is not ours alone. This is a war that we all must declare because soon, if we are not careful, if we do not stand together and demand an end to the Red Hunt and all of its machinations, what's to stop them from coming for you next?

“Nothing.

“They will come for your children in the middle of the night because their best friend got caught with drugs. They take your husbands or wives when a coworker gets caught robbing a bank. They will come for your daughters, your sons, your friends, your neighbors, for any offense, for the slightest offense. They will strip them of their rights and lock them away for no other reason than there is nothing to stop them.

“They will remind you that it's for your own good. That without their protection, without their law, that you would be in danger as the world around you is in revolt for sins that are not your own. They will hunt you; they will hunt your friends, your neighbors, your children. They will take you from your cars, your businesses, your homes. They will lock you away until the anger of someone else's crime is wiped clean from memory. They will turn your world into a living nightmare, if you do not stand with us now.

“Demand with us an end to the Red Hunt. Demand the release of innocent mutants from the Undertow. Demand the cease and desist of taking young children from their homes, family from the cars, friends and neighbors from their work. Demand a right to trial before being judged guilty. Demand that we work together – both human and mutants – to curb the destruction of the Red Wave, to heal our planet and our hearts. Above all, demand peace. Yes, demand peace.”

The crowd does not disperse when Red Hunt Six appears at the edge of the mall. Though the soldiers shout, though Thor brings down his mighty hammer, the crowds do not move. In the confusion, Alex Summers makes his escape, running through the mingling of people until he finds Sam Guthrie waiting at the far edge of the lawn. “I think it went well,” he smiles as Sam picks him up and disappears into the sky.

Chapter Text

Reed Richards has run every test he can think of. From protein structures to invariant coding, cytosine to amino acids, a full spectrum labeling of the genetic structure and coded proteins, but nothing he's done in the past three days has matched the findings of Dr. McCoy's AL percentages, and for that he is frustrated beyond belief. “We're missing something,” he says quietly as his latest round of testing comes back negative.

“Obviously,” Tony replies, still somewhat baffled by tech that is not his own. Richards' machines are foreign to him, unresponsive to his whims. They don't make coffee or answer the door. They don't input voice commands and scan information as he needs it. They are sterile, inhuman, metal. “You know, Reed, I can update this lab for you at no charge.”

“I like my lab as it is,” he snips, not even pausing to consider what he's being offered.

“You never were good with change.”

“Neither were you.” Arms stretched out to the corner of the room, he pours himself a cup of coffee and contemplates the man hovering over him. “I've run every test I can think of, Tony. Whatever Beast figured out is beyond my knowledge of genetics.”

There's been a desperation to Stark lately. Something urgent, and not just a saving the world type of emergency, but something deeper. A change in him, a fear. Perhaps it's the fear of growing old, losing his mind. Or maybe it's something less pertinent, maybe just losing his touch. As long as Reed has known him, Tony Stark has never doubted himself, his intelligence, or the truths that makes a man himself, but lately, it seems, those doubts are all he can see. “Then, like you said, we're missing something, Reed. Something important. These files, this damn AL percentage means something, and we need to know what it is.”

“Wouldn't it be more practical to focus our attention on finding the Red Wave?”

“Fury's got ten squads equipped with Cerberus out there looking for it. There's nothing more to do on that level, unless we find the X-men and they give up this monster to us.”

Reed does not reply immediately to his sudden burst, merely crooks a brow and shakes his head. After an uncomfortable silence that rocks Tony's resolve, he finally speaks. “You're on the verge of crossing a line that you will never recover from.”

Exhausted, his hands shaking with too much coffee and too little sleep, Tony slumps in the chair. “Steve thinks I already crossed it.”

Richards takes a deep breath, folds his arms against his chest. “Saving the world and saving yourself are two different things, Tony. One is admirable, the other is the fear.”

“I'm not afraid, Reed.” To Tony, this is a fact. He's no afraid, he's angry. He's angry that some creature has decided to hurt his planet. He's angry at the senseless violence, the panic and trauma that the destruction causes. “The first time I felt mortal, I was twelve years old, staying with my father's sister so that I'd be out of the way when he launched his latest jet that provided the world with all the bluster of an eight hour flight to Japan. He needed to be kid free for the week, so my mom packed my bags and they shipped me off to Florida, the land of oranges and theme parks, and all the wonders of the ocean, only it wasn't like that. My dad's sister hated me. In retrospect, I don't blame her. I was a smart ass, even as a kid. And a genius. Adults don't like genius kids, you know. Well, maybe you do, but my aunt sure didn't. That, and she couldn't cook, and I didn't mind telling her that.”

He tells Reed of the boredom, the doldrums of his aunt's house. How she had a light bulb out in the bathroom, and how he wanted so much to climb up into the ceiling and pluck it down from its globe and discover what made it work. But his aunt was against it. She didn't need broken glass on the floor, or the child misplacing her screwdrivers. She wanted him to sit still, to keep quiet. To keep his focus on the television or the radio, and let her clean her house in peace. Everyday she vacuumed, running the slow machine across her plush beige carpets, pulling up errant flakes of skin and hair and the kitty litter that her cat trailed across the house. She vacuumed the curtains, the edges of the ceilings where cobwebs could grow. His aunt was more than tidy, she was immaculate.

It was on the third day of his stay that boredom turned to fear. A hurricane hit the beach side neighborhood. She forced him to the attic where a single light dangled from the ceiling. Cold and stark, without the comforts that he had become accustomed to, he stared up at the door and listened to the rumblings of nature. “It was the first time I realized that I could die. As that hurricane whipped across my aunt's meager home, I realized that at any moment it could pick me up and toss me to the sky, killing me in an instant. I haven't been afraid since.”

The suit does not give him confidence. Does not make him feel more of a man, as most suspect. It is stronger than he is, to be certain, but it is not invulnerable. It is not everything that he wants it to be. “I want to save people, Reed. I want to rescue them, to make them feel safe, but Ironman can only do so much. I'm not a mutant, merely a genius.”

And when it comes to the Red Wave, when he can see himself facing down a being of immeasurable power, he can only hope that his brain comes up with something. “It's bigger than us. Stronger than us. More powerful. On a whim, it can destroy us, once and for all. We have to know who we're facing if we plan to defeat it, Reed. We have to know what we're up against.”

Reed understands the fear that comes with unquestionable power all too well. It's a common topic of conversation between Sue and himself, what they would do if Franklin – their son – ever lost control of his mutant powers. Like the Red Wave, he could unmake the world, and that thought puts sick knots in his stomach. A silence falls between them – one of both contemplation and frustration. Though remarkable men, they once again feel their futility when faced with a world that insists upon evolving.

“Evolution,” Richards says quietly, the light of epiphany upon his lips. “They used to think that the mutants were the result of radiation – that they weren't born with an X-gene, but that radiation changed the genes after birth. Much of that theory was spurred by the experiences of my family and Dr. Banner.”

“Sure,” Tony replies, not quite following what motivated Richards rubber limbs into a frenzy of movement and testing. Blue eyes follow the hands as they trail across the various machines, resetting buttons and twisting dials. Lights glow red then green upon the panels, and Richards takes the vial of Emma Frost's blood and puts a tiny drop onto a lens before inserting it into the machine. “What did you just figure out, Reed?”

They'd been approaching their query with advanced genetics, using all of the known information to run their tests. “But, when Henry started these experiments, the field was still new. He wouldn't have tested for cytosine or protein markers.”

“What would he have tested for then?”

“Junk DNA. It was a brand new discovery, that only two percent of a human's DNA is coded for use, and knowing Hank, he'd have wanted to test that hypothesis for himself.” Impatience turns Richards' pale cheeks a bright shade of red. “What was Emma Frosts' AL percentage?”

“Fifty one percent.”

“Imagine if a mutant's power was effected by how much of their coded DNA that they assimilated? That the Omega mutants, such as Jean or Xavier had over fifty percent of their DNA coded, rather than just two.”

“So, it is about power levels? But, Wolverine, his AL is so low --”

“What makes Wolverine so formidable is that his healing factor allows him to fight indefinitely, but his healing factor itself is not nearly as powerful as Emma Frost's telepathy.” The analyzer begins to print it's results and Richards is quick to pull the page from the printer. As Reed had theorized, the AL percentage noted the amount of coded DNA in the cells. “It's so simple,” he chuckled to himself. “No wonder no one noticed it before.”

It still left the question of Cyke's varying assimilation percentage. Tony has only two samples from the once X-men leader, one from his short stint in prison, and the other from his corpse. Richards, himself, has plenty available from his Legacy virus research. The samples record a varyiance in the junk matter of the cell, confounding both men. “How does someone change their DNA?” Tony marvels.

Power-wise, in these early samples, Cyclops went from weak to average, with AL's varying between eight percent and twenty four, but never above. But the sample that Tony had gathered in prison was by far a different story. “Eighty three percent? That's quite a jump, isn't it Reed?”

“Perhaps the Phoenix --”

“No,” Tony interrupts. “The Phoenix didn't effect the other hosts. Something else happened. What's his AL at the time of death?”

Reed stares at the page for long moment, then reruns the sample, and runs it again. Three times, and he's still displeased with the results. “Are you sure this is the right one?”

“Positive. I barely got a look at his corpse before the X-men booted me out.”

“This sample belongs to Jamie Maddrox, Tony. Not Scott Summers.”

Chapter Text

In the back of his head, it's Idie's voice he hears. Her quiet words about forgiveness and redemption. That he has a chance to be a better man, to stay his claws, to earn his spot in Heaven. As he stares up at the sky, his blue-gray eyes glassed over in the cold, as he looks across the magnificence of stars, and feels himself but a tiny thing. Logan asks for a miracle. Anything. Anything that would get him closer, that would show him a path, that would allow him to stop the torment from the sky.

“Talk to me, Scott. Tell me where you are,” he speaks into the rush of wind. He's cold. If not for his healing factor constantly piecing himself back together, he would be dead. “I'll do whatever you want me to, just tell me where you are.”

Twice, he's survived the Red Wave. Twice, he's heard the words trapped within the light, listened to the anguish, the suffering, the pain. “Please,” it called. “Please.” Please, kill me. Please, end this. Please, stop me. Please, please, please.

It was a feeling of dread that took him to Sao Paulo that week. Sitting on the beach, he listened to the crash of waves and decided that it was the vacation that he needed. Coming back to life was never easy, and coming back to a world so changed was even less so.

Jean was not the woman she once was. Her own resurrection had left something cold inside of her. Hard, like carbon, like his claws. While her smile was warm, she no longer smelled like the traces of autumn, like Scott. She was gentle, of course, and she touched his shoulder with a healthy amount of nervousness, but as he looked at her, he realized that the flames between them had died. She was just a friend now. Nothing more than a friend.

Even Ororo had changed. No longer was she the goddess of rain and storm. No longer did her presence cause men to tremble and fall to their knees. She was just a woman, a tired, exhausted woman with far too much to deal with. Their conversations were brief, almost rote. How are you and fine, good weather, fine meal. The spark of her had diminished, her fierceness, her grandeur. She lamented her role in the war with Inhumans. Spoke poorly of her decision to seek violence against another species. “I fought against them for the survival of my species,” she'd said one night when the sweet drinks had finally run too deep. “I stopped caring that they were living beings, Logan. I fought simply for survival. I should not have done that.”

She recoiled, then. Set herself to the corner of the room and dropped to the floor, hands over face. She abhorred violence, raised tempers, and she'd thought that after all those years that Yukio's influence would have faded. “Had I just talked to them,” she cried. “So much blood could have been avoided.”

He stood useless in the center of the room, watching as her sobs shook against her shoulders. A part of him lamented for the beautiful, broken soul before him. But another part felt rage. That she cried for her own dirty hands when he'd spent years punishing others on the X-men's behalf. He feared what she was asking for, what she wanted from him. She had her enemies, and those enemies surrounded her with knives and guns, threatening the children that she swore to keep safe. “I'm not a killer, anymore, 'Ro. I can't be,” he said.

Her tears interrupted, pale blue eyes looked up to him with horror, her soul cracking at the thought. “Logan, no. That's not-- No. I would never ask you to do that. Please, Logan.”

But it was too late. The wall had been built in the blink of an eye, and for weeks after, they were less than warm. It was nearly two months before they spoke in earnest, with Storm confessing her fears and Logan his distance. While time had changed her, it had simply stopped for him. For years, he'd been disappeared from the world, trapped in whatever darkness he could no longer remember. He came back to a place so foreign that he felt lost within the folds.

She held him. His head pressed to her shoulder, she held him as soft cries tremored across his spine. Held him until the tears that bled down her shoulders dried upon her ebony skin. He was a man out of time, displaced, and thrust into a world that he did not recognize.

Ororo did not judge him for his pain. She did not speak down to him, nor did she look at him with anything but care. “You need a vacation,” she'd told him. “Perhaps more than I do.”

Her humor tasted like sweet, sweet drops upon his tongue. A tang to it, like lime. Vibrant and beautiful. He felt warm, close, cared for, and loved. And in that moment, he kissed her, pressed his lips to hers and suckled out the last of laughs and love. “I'm sorry,” he breathed, when his head finally stopped spinning with endorphins. “I didn't mean to --”

“It's fine,” she said. “I wanted the same thing. Since you came back, actually. I miss you, Logan.”

As he looked into her crystalline eyes, peered into those sky-blue depths, he became all too aware of himself. One hand upon her shoulder, the other embracing the small of her back. In the pale blue reflection, he saw himself for what he was. An animal. An animal with a human brain who needed forgiveness for a thousand sins before he could dare tread upon the beauty that enraptured him. Storm was a gentle soul, one that he cherished. And in that, he could not go further, not unless he wanted to take her down with him. “I think you're right. I do need a vacation.”

Her disappointment was immediate. Lips open, brow creased, she knew at once that he was rejecting her. And that moment brought a chill to the room so deep and so hard that she lost her breath. “I hear Brazil's nice,” she tried. He was different now, less open, less trusting. A backwards step, but a necessary one, she supposed, in this world that was so different from the one he knew. “Sao Paulo has nice beaches.”

A midnight conversation and he revealed what he had heard inside the Red Wave, the words, the scent. “It's not Scott,” Jean said.

“I know what I heard, Jean.”

“Maybe you just heard what you wanted to hear?” Her bright green eyes became cold then, harsh. “The important thing, Logan, is stopping the Red Wave before it gets so far out of control that we can't reel it back in.”

“What do you mean, reel it back it in?” Jean didn't answer him. “You know who it is, Jean?”

“Scott's dead, Logan. Leave it at that.”

After Omaha, he was sure of who he heard in the light. And with that, his trust in the X-men waned. He could feel the paranoia creep into skull, that they were watching him, waiting. He feared that they would enter his mind, erase what he'd discovered. It was that thought, and the flagging hope of finding Scott Summers before it was too late, that he left them in the flat top coal mine deep in the wilderness of West Virginia.

The wind rush upwards, howling into the carved rock of the mountain. With it comes the flurry of snow and the upward drift of autumn scent. It's fading, as is the voice whispering from the stone. Logan pulls his blanket up to his shoulders, finally wishing for warmth instead of the torturous cold. A good fire, a good beer, and a miracle.

The pale blue light beside him is blinding at first. Jerked from his guilt, he rushes into battle stance, claws popped and ready to slice. But, a familiar voice stays his hand. “Captain America told me that you are a survivor of the Red Wave.” Dr. Stephen Strange – with Illyana Rasputin at his side – holds his hand up in a show of harmlessness. “So am I.”

“I'm not answering any questions, bub.”

“I'm not here for questions. I'm here to save Scott Summers. Would you like to join me?”

Chapter Text

He knows that it's a dream. He knows this because he runs. In a field of flowers, he takes off at top speed, bounding and flying over rocks and holes, burying himself in a swathe of daisies and queen anne's lace. He marvels at the butterflies, the bunnies, the deer that come so close. They sniff him and smell him, and beat their feet against the ground, but he does not harm them. He does not chase, does not growl. He watches them, in their splendor, as they pick the good seeds from ground.

In his dreams he is free of humanity. No mother to die on him, no father to beat him. No chains or tins of dog food. No fists to the head, or feet to the groin. He is free to live, to scavenge, to be. But, as always, dreams fade, and he opens his eyes.

He watches her, her quiet movements and hand outheld. He knows that she is coming. She smells of sandalwood and musk. Of the cheese she had for dinner, and the soap on her hands. She's changed her clothes since the last time she came to him. Not a dress now, but a skirt. Long, silky, shiny.

She's not afraid of him, but for him. For some reason, that makes a difference.

“Arlo?” she whispers into midnight darkness.

Indira Gomez is a beautiful girl. Sixteen and fresh-faced, her mocha skin as smooth as glass, she walks on tiptoes, quiet in the dark halls of the West Virginia mine. “It's okay,” she soothes.

She's not here because anyone asked, because anyone noticed that she could get near him without the howls and screams of a boy scared out of his mind. She's here solely because she wants to be. “It's okay. It's just me. I was a little lonely. Thought I'd come to visit you.”

In his dreams, he can run on two legs. Unchained by metal links, he can venture out into the meadows and forests that existed solely in his imagination. He can talk to the birds that light upon his skin, snuggle with the rabbits and squirrels who teach him how to bury his hard-earned food. He can climb up into trees, feel safe within the world. In his dreams, he does not have a father who breaks him in two.

He can feel her breath upon his face, feel her lips press down upon his forehead. So gentle, so soft. She rubs her hands against his ears, and smooths the bristly fur of his back. “You're lonely too, aren't you?” she asks, easing him into sleep with her tiny fingers and tender touch.

Arlo Taylor doesn't remember how to talk. As many times as his father has kicked at his windpipe, punished him for uttering sounds that were not vaguely beastly, he's not sure that he can anymore. He's been silent for so long, years upon years, that it's easy to forget that he's human. He can forget that there was a time when his back didn't ache, or his knees didn't hurt. When he could stand upright and eat with two hands. When it wasn't kibble in his bowl, when it wasn't kicks to the groin that met him when he cried.

In his remembrance of that time when he was a human child he cries. Great tears flow down from his gentle eyes as Indira's embrace collapses around his neck. His cries sound like whimpers, soft little noises like sighs that escape his nose and curdle against the back of his throat. “It's okay,” Indira coos. Over and over again into his felt tip ear. “No one's going to hurt you here.”

She's an intelligent girl. Smarter than most, with a mind that races with epiphany. But she also has a heart, a heart bigger than the world, and it's that heart she shows to him, and she presses her head against his. “I won't let them hurt you.”

In the darkness, woken by the howls, Hank McCoy watches as Indira tames the wild boy. There was a time when that would have been him, dripping down upon the injured, the worried, the meek. Where he would have tried to his utmost to make the boy feel comfortable, at home, safe. But, he's not that person anymore. Gone is his innocence, his joviality. Gone his lust for life and his mission to care for it.

He's merely a scientist now. Exploring the depths of knowledge on the genetic spectrum. Watching as the world falls apart from his greatest mistake.

He's a sinner, unrepentant. For if he had the chance, he'd do the same all over again.

“They're quite a pair,” Storm says from behind him. “I suppose Cable was right.”

Beast turns to look at the dark skinned beauty at his back. She rests her chin upon his shoulder and watches as Indira soothes Arlo back to dreams. “He's not scared of her.”

“No. Perhaps because she's so small.”

“Or maybe because she truly cares.”

Storm takes chagrin at the statement. Her lean, white brow narrowing, creasing against pale blue eyes. “I care,” she says, waiting for his comment.

“I guess I don't.”

It's a sledgehammer to her thoughts. “Henry?”

“Sorry,” he says and adjusts the spectacles upon his face. Head down and a sigh, he shakes his head. “I think I'm just exhausted. Perhaps Dr. Reyes wouldn't mind watching after our telepaths for a while.”

“You're thinking of leaving, aren't you?” Storm asks, her aquamarine eyes rounding out with concern and the crash of hope. He's been her ear, her shoulder. Throughout all of this turmoil, he's been her rock. “I don't want you to go.”

Beast nods. “I know, but I have something to take care of. Something I should have taken care of a long time ago.”

“Henry--”

“I'm not proud of what I have to do, Ororo, so I'd rather not talk about it. Please, let me go. This will all be over soon.”

“Does this have to do with the Red Wave?” she asks. He nods. “So, you lied to me. You do know who it is?”

Breath falters as he struggles with the words in too-moist mouth. Eyes averted to the walls, to the floor, to anywhere but her angered glare, he rubs presses thumb and forefinger against the bridge of his nose trying to relieve the pressure. “I need to talk to Tony Stark.”

She demands an answer. Grabs his shoulder and whips the winds of the mine into a frenzy with her rage. “You told me this wasn't the worth the fight,” she says, her tone quiet and dark. “You told me that my decision to run was our best option.”

“And I stand by that. Storm, I know you have little reason now, but trust me. There's nothing you can do against this. I should have taken appropriate action years ago, but I thought it under control. This is my mess. I will fix it.”

It's a world defeated, and with hung head and bent shoulders, he leaves the side of Ororo Munroe to contemplate his duty. Scott Summers has to die.

Chapter Text

“Murderer.”

He can't tell what's real anymore.

Hand shaking, he holds her heart in his hand. He stares – eyes wide – as the blood begins to pool against her teeth, as it flows from the hole in her chest and drips to the snow beneath her feet. “Jean. I'm – I'm sorry.”

He would howl if he could. Drop to his knees along with her, curl around her body and weep salt tears against her chest. But, he has no time to grieve, not for her. Not when she's still trying to kill him.

“Murderer.”

Unless it's the pain.

Her voice is a cacophony, a million sounded as one. He turns to them, the million of her, and begins his fight again. She claws her nails across his face, and with her mind she pummels him into the ground. He can feel his sternum crack, his lung puncture. He can feel three ribs give way and swim about his body.

“You killed me, Scott.”

The pain is always real.

Fingers gripping psychic energy, he pushes with all his strength. It shatters like glass, a bust of pink and gentle blue, swirling together in the falling snow. She screams in pain. On his feet, he grabs her head, twists her neck like a screw, and and another one falls lifeless to the ground.

“How many times will you kill me before it's enough for you?”

The pain is endless.

He runs then, hoping to give distance between himself from the rest of her. Give him time for the shattered bones to replenish before her million bodies attack again.

In the Red Dimension, he dies over and over again, every day, every hour.

She stands over top him, beside him, behind him, beneath him. She surrounds him, collapses upon him. Her teeth gnash against his shoulder, his thigh, his lips. She rips the skin from bones, tears muscles away from joints. She plucks his eyes, eats his heart, and crushes his throat so that he cannot scream.

He deserves the pain.

“You were never strong enough, my love,” she soothes quietly, her hand stroking empty bone and caverns. “Not for me.”

The anguish as his body knits itself back together is more than he can stand. The suffering as they surround him, whispering his name is more than he can take. “Murderer.”

Because he killed them.

He can feel the burning of his synapses as they light with red flame, as they spin out from under his control. Breathless, on his knees, skinless fingers wedged into the cave of his skull, he fights back the flourish of power, fights the infinite source. “You deserve this,” she says. “For what you did to me.”

As his body repairs, as she continues to whisper in his ear, as the other battles in other places continue on, as he fights on a million fields against a million foes - as he tears out the hearts of the others that he loved, that he protected – he feels the pulse of his power so frighteningly close to erupting again.

“I never loved you,” she says to his agony.

Because he killed them again.

His mind twists and turns, his memories exposed. Things that were once solid become like facets of a blood red jewel. A single memory stretches out for eons, with thousands of them, all different. Jean loves him. She hates him. She uses him. She wants him to die. She needs him. She foresakes him. She devours him. She saves him. She defends him. She leaves him. She calls him a murderer. A single moment stretched into infinite possibilities, and in that moment, that single moment, he loses himself once again.

In all his battles, in all the fragments that he's been split, his power explodes upon them, and in an instant his millions and millions foes, his friends, they die.

He falls to the ground, his broken body useless. “You killed them, Scott,” the Phoenix says, her voice polite, gentle. Chained by spell into his mind, trapped in the Red Dimension by the Scarlet Witch, she aches to be free. “Your friends, the world. You've killed them all. Again.”

The energy flows like an open faucet, filling him up to overflowing. He clutches against his chest, head to ground, trying to physically contain the wellspring. “You know that they're dead, right?” the Phoenix chides. “Five hundred and sixty seven thousand of them, yet you use your gifts to save yourself. You're not the man I thought you were.”

But, he doesn't know. He doesn't know that he killed the city of Sheffield, Ireland. Doesn't know that an errant blast struck down and disappeared them all. Shaken, afraid, he opens red eyes to the Phoenix and her spanned flame wings. She shakes the chains around her and laughs. “Oh yes,” she says. “You killed them over a week ago.”

The panic only hastens the energy that floods his body, makes it harder to subdue. It hurts. To contain it – that infinite power – hurts. It presses into his bones and muscles, his blood, his ions. Near to bursting, he cries out at last. His mind reels, under pain of sin and too much. He feels himself split again, through the core, his essence drowning in the suffering that he's caused. He wants it to end. The battles. The destruction. Himself. He wants it all to stop, to be stripped of power and defeated once and for all.

In his mind, he can hear them. Those thousands of voices as they name him murderer and tyrant. They show him his crimes, the multitudes that died because he lost himself to the war that rages on in his mind. They shun him, disparage him. They hate him and mock him. They want him suffer just as those whose lives he has destroyed. They want him to be punished. They want him to die.

“I-I didn't mean to,” he stutters through the shake of power within his bones.

“Doesn't matter what you meant, Scott.”

In his mind he faces the hammer of Thor, the shield of Captain America, the webs of Spiderman. He fights the claws of Wolverine, the magic of the Scarlet Witch, the plasma bursts of Dazzler. He feels their weapons crush his skull, break his bones, shred him into pieces. “How many must die so that you can live?”

“You're lying,” he cries. “You're lying again.”

“Am I?”

His thoughts race in a million directions – the control, the battles, the memories. Jessica Jones caves in his chest and beats him to a bloody pulp. Iceman grabs hold his ribs and freezes his heart to stillness. Emma Frost breaks him with her mind. A million times he dies, his suffering blinding, his control weakening.

He knows she's right. He knows he killed them. Just like the others. And what he does is dangerous. His control is too tenuous, the power too strong, but he wields it in order to fix his crimes. It hurts as he dies, those millions of deaths, as his focus shifts to the earth where he murdered five hundred and sixty seven thousand people. And, again, the energy – like a geyser – explodes within his cells, and shaking, crying, he tries to keep himself together.

He doesn't know what's real anymore. Except the pain. The pain is always real.

At 12:40 am on a Tuesday, Sheffield, Ireland is brought back to life by the Red Wave. The world does not rejoice.

Chapter Text

Snow fell. Knee high in some places. To his five year old self it was a wonderland. Snowballs and igloos, men and angels. Nearby there were tents and sleeping bags, a campfire with cocoa and roasting fish. They were survivors, here. Two against the cold, against the world. They could do anything, be anything, so long as they were together.

Their mother called them inseparable, their father joined at the hip. They built an igloo behind the stream and huddled there dreaming about the world. They wanted to be astronauts, like their dad. To go into space and explore it depths. To be the first on Mars, to find the aliens there. Or maybe to Pluto, so far away from home. They wanted to be inventors, firefighters, mountain climbers, and pirates. They wanted to be the whole world because in their igloo, their world was exactly them.

The polar swimmers in Vancouver had caught their fascination. A story their father had told the previous night over hot dogs and warm cups of tea. How they broke the ice on the English Bay, stripped to their birth, and plunged into the frigid waters. Scott swore he could last a minute, and always the challenger, Alex bet two. On the line were baseball cards, mint condition rookie cards that their grandparents had given them for Christmas. “Who ever stays the longest, wins,” Alex chimed, spit on his hand and waited for his brother to agree. With a nod and a smile, Scott accepted the deal.

Inside the igloo, they took off their clothes, knowing that if their parents knew what they were doing, there would be a stop to their fun. They laughed and giggled as they bumped their heads against the snow-bound roof, and knocked into the sides of their hovel. They hunched at the entrance, just three feet from the stream, already shivering in their nudity.

“Last one in's a rotten egg!” Alex dared, and in a flash he was off. First out the door, he ran to the creek with Scott just inches from his heels. The two barreled into the glacial stream in cannonballs and cheers.

The shock of cold got them both and with wide eyes they stared at each other. “One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi,” Scott to began to count, steeling himself against the freeze. Alex followed suit, his face scrunched with determination as he sought to beat his brother at the game.

In the distance, the boys could hear their mother's worry, and their father's quick acknowledgment that they were fine, that they were just being kids and to leave them be. Knowing that his dad was watching made Alex want to win even more. He wanted his dad to be proud of him, as proud as he was of his older brother.

Scott cast a long shadow – even then. Smart and tough. He was shorter than the other kids his age, but he made up for it with his stubbornness. He protected Alex – not just from the third grade bullies who tried to steal his lunch, but also from the sixth grade girls who wanted to cuddle him on their laps. He helped him with his homework, and always let him have the rest of his ice cream. He loved his brother, often more than he loved himself, but he feared his father loved Scott more, as well.

At the minute mark, Alex's feet began to feel as if he walked on glass. Deep cracks of pain shot up into the soles of his feet and upwards into ankles. Tears rimmed his wide blue eyes as he stared up at his brother, who counted their time away without any inkling of pain.

“I'm cold,” Scott said quietly, more for his brother's sake than his own. “I'm getting out.”

“No, not yet,” Alex pleaded through chattering teeth, “Two minutes.”

“You're lips are turning blue, Alex. I'll give you the cards. Don't worry about it.”

“Please. I can't do it by myself.”

Worried, his slender brow high above brown eyes, he nodded and restarted the count. If he skipped numbers, Alex couldn't tell. He was simply happy to have his brother at his side. At the two minute mark, Scott helped Alex from the water, pushing him up on to the bank and into his mother's waiting arms. She wrapped him in a big, fluffy towel and hurried him to the fire. Scott followed shortly behind, grabbing their clothes from the igloo as their mother hurried with the cocoa to warm them up.

“I made it two minutes, Dad,” Alex chortled.

“I'm proud of you, son,” his father winked and helped get the boys dressed in warmer clothes.

In the back of his mind, as he speaks to the protesters, he wonders if his father would still be proud.

The next day their plane would crash in the mountains, and their family would be split for the rest of their lives. His mother would die somewhere in space, and his father would stay in memory of her. His brother would eventually die a hated man, leaving Alex to find his own way in the world.

“My brother once told me that there is no strength in numbers,” Alex calls above the roaring crowd. “There is only strength in unity!” The chant begins from a million mouths. Yelled at the top of lungs, fists held high in the air. Yes, he's sure his father would be proud, and so would his brother.

The first arrow takes him across the cheek. A nick right under cheekbone. Eyes narrowed and wary, he looks through the cheering crowd for assaulter. “Hawkeye, four o'clock,” Sam says into com, but a second too late. The arrow zips through the air striking Alex in the stomach. “Dammit! Rockslide! Get him out of there!”

There was no Red Hunt today. No tanks or helicarriers to give warning. Just the Avengers. The crowd disperses at the sight of Thor's hammer and his rain of lightning. They run and scream as Ms. Marvel dives through the crowd and picks Domino from the ground, dragging her into the high depths of a building. Cuffed and trussed, her guns broken with marvelous strength, she's left to the devices of Hawkeye who levels another arrow at Havok below.

Rockslide is met by the force of She-Hulk before he can reach the stage. The brawl is a frightening one, toppling the near by trees with its force. A hit to his chest earns her a sprawl of knee slapping laughter. A ram by her shoulder is stopped by his own rocky fist, and his reward is the great, green beauty going airborne and landing on the ground with a breath-stealing thud.

Cannonball races to the stage, flying as fast as he can to beat the arrow there. But Ms. Marvel and Johnny Storm have other plans. Danvers' fist hits him like a brick, flinging him half unconscious into the quickly clearing crowd below. Boom Boom and Anole are at his side in a heartbeat.

With the tic-tic of her time bomb, Tabitha tosses it high into the air where it explodes. Captain Marvel remains unaffected, but the Human Torch is flung backwards into the trees. “Get to Alex,” Anole says, his tongue flicking out to wrap around the ankles of Ms. Marvel, pulling her off balance. He knows it's a trick, that it won't keep her down, but Alex is the priority.

Boom Boom runs full force to the stage, getting there just in time for the third arrow to strike his heart. Into the com she screams. He drops, hand to chest.

The fighting stops.

“Shit,” Danvers curses. She releases Anole's collar and flies off onto the stage. “Put pressure on the wound,” she tells Tabitha, and in her own com demands a stand down. “We need an ambulance, or a hospital. Whichever's faster.”

“Stark's got equipment,” Johnny answers. “He's closer.”

“Good, get Havok there. The rest of us will finish this.”

Chapter Text

He dreams of Tony. How his skin felt pressed against his chest that morning. The weight of him.

It had all been an accident. Caught up in the mood.

Tony had started it. The cab ride back, a hand on his knee, his thumb massaging inner thigh. Steve had had one too many bourbon on the rocks. Just enough to make him tipsy and warm, and he smiled at Tony, and laughed, as if this was all he wanted.

By the time they got back to the tower, by the time Jarvis opened the door, they were all over each other. Steve's hands treading up Tony's spine, pulling him as close to his chest as humanly possible, his tongue down his throat. And he was hard. So hard it ached.

Tony's shirt easily ripped to shred in his hands, and his pants came open at the seems. Three quick tugs and he was out of his own, and the two men spent breathless moments marveling in their nakedness. There was no tenderness in their actions. Just flesh on flesh, bone on bone.

The feeling of Tony's mouth around him made his toes curl, and his voice rise up with enraptured moans. He felt himself begin to give way, to lose himself to the ecstasy that splayed over his nerves. But he wasn't ready for it to be over yet.

His fist full of dark brown hair, he pulled the man to standing, and took him in a bruising kiss. Tongues collided in that open heat, tasting and twining.

On the bed, Steve quickly got to work. Fingers covered in lube, he pulled Tony's legs around his waist, and smiled as he teased his entrance. Tony's back lurched as the finger intruded into the tight passage, quickly finding that oh-so-pleasurous gland, gliding in and out, in and out.

Steve grinned as Tony writhed in pleasure and pain. A second finger, and Tony's words became an unintelligible mash of baritone syllables and gasps. A third, just to make sure. To make sure it was comfortable.

Steve was a large lover, thick and long, and hard as a rock. He pressed himself into his partner, slowly, inch by inch, stopping for Tony to breathe, to relish the feeling of him inside. A deep-throated moan, and hands curled within the sheets, Steve smiled at his lover's pleasure, pressing further in until the hilt.

“Fuck me,” Tony breathed, aching for the friction, for the closeness and rhythm. “Fuck me hard.”

Steve obliged, setting a softer pace, and working up to something frantic. They did not kiss, did not touch. It was merely about the sex, the lust, the need between the two of them. Tony pushed himself against him, squeezing him upon exit, demanded a faster pace, a harder push. The rolls of curses off his tongue, breathless pants of lost to pleasure. He called Steve's name over and over again, cursed his mother, his father, his first grade teacher. The pace pounded, reddening Tony's ass, beating him into hip-born bruises. Fingers crushed against him, held him still and steady so that the pace could ramp even further.

Tony moaned as his prostrate overloaded, sending shivers across his body. In an upward thrust and upheaval, he came, his seed lighting across his stomach in ecstatic convulsions. Steve came within minutes of Tony's own release, emptying himself inside the man who proclaimed that he loved him.

But, the next morning, for Steve, the feeling was of remorse. Looking down upon his lover's spent body, looking at how his eyes drowsed and breath shallowed. He did not love Tony Stark. He knew this. And for that, there was guilt.

In the twilight of their moment, once the lull of dreams had subsided, Steve washed away the stickiness in the bathroom sink and put on his clothes, exiting Stark tower, leaving Tony to wake up alone.

In his dreams, he remains. Lies down by his lover's side, tangles his long and calloused fingers through dark brown hair. Places a gentle kiss upon broad cheekbone, trails his hand down neck and chest and rests it upon beating heart.

He wakes to the ache of a hard-on. Closing his eyes and cursing himself, he tries to will the thing away, but it won't budge.

He's been here for days now, waiting, wondering. Three nights ago, they brought in Logan at his suggestion, but the feral mutant wanted nothing to do with him. “I saved your ass once, bub. Don't expect it again.”

Steve understands the anger. He understands that the Red Hunt is wrong, but he didn't have a choice. Not at the time. The Red Wave had to be subdued, and Tony's way was the only way he could foresee.

At the thought of Logan, his erection dims. The regret and guilt slowly making him soft. Still he rises, tucks himself into the shower stall and turns on the cold water. He can feel his dream of Tony ebb away, fall backwards in his mind, and disappear. There are more important things for him to consider anyway, the least of which is an all powerful mutant slowly losing his mind somewhere in outer space.

“His power is untold,” Strange explained after he felt he could trust Rogers. “He could remake the entire universe if he so decided.”

“No one should have that much power.” It was an honest statement, and at first he regretted it.

“No, but plenty do. I think that Scott Summers is Earth's answer to the Infinity Stones or the Celestials. Her last best defense spurred by evolution.”

“Or our greatest enemy.”

“If he doesn't gain control of himself, then yes. He will be the Earth's greatest enemy.”

Rogers dresses as he thinks about Strange's warnings, that Summers' world is a dark one, his mind shattered by years of psionic manipulation and warfare, and that he's losing grip more and more each day. “He won't last much longer. And that you survived, it means that you have a decision to make.”

“What decision?”

“Whether to kill him or let him live.”

“We're not killin' him,” Logan said quietly. “Not this time.”

“When you see the damage done, Logan,” Strange issued, “you may change your mind. He's not the man you knew. The telepathic corruption of his mind goes deep. He no longer has the solid foundation of the hero that you followed into battle. Indeed, his mind is nothing but battles anymore. Tragic ones.”

Drying his hair, he looks around the small chamber set up as a guest room. Books for days and artifacts that he's not supposed to touch. Glowing gems and hovering statues, a necklace that reflects the cosmos, a crown that gives off light. The oddities here are both numerous and dangerous. But, then, so is he.

He thinks back to Tony's words, how some things are too powerful for this world. There are things that man cannot conquer, that he cannot defeat to save this precious world. Things he is not prepared for; things he cannot comprehend. For the Earth, Cyclops is both miracle and madman, a being so powerful that he could will the universe to emptiness.

And, indeed, that power frightens him, sends a shiver down his spine and grits his teeth. Already, the world is fearful of this power. To let Scott live would be an injustice to the destruction that he's wrought against them. But to kill him, could be even worse.

He knew Summers as a hard, near emotionless man who faced tragedy with a heart of stone. A strategist that even he admired, and a leader who did everything in his power to keep his people alive. He was humorless, forthright, honest to a fault. And what he believed in, he would do anything in his power to see it come to fruition, even if it meant going to war with the world.

But, he was never that powerful.

His threat was his mind, his way that he conducted himself and his team in battle. How he could pick apart his enemies, expose their weaknesses, and train his team to take advantage of them. He knew how to motivate, how to speak so that he would be listened to. Logan had said that Apocalypse had changed him, broke him in ways that he couldn't count. That he saw the world as a darker place, and he became more fierce in order to protect it.

He tried to kill that very man once, when the Phoenix was approaching the earth. But, Cyclops was too smart for the battle, strategized his way into a win. And, then, on the moon, when Phoenix possessed and out of control, Steve tried to kill him again. They all did. The whole world. It drove him mad, drove him to anger and rage, and in that maelstrom, he destroyed the utopia that he had created. Wiped it away from sight and mind, burned it into ash.

He's seen Summers out of control before, and with only a small fraction of his abilities. Now that he can disrupt reality, form it to his will; now that he can destroy whole cities or even the Earth, itself, with the blink of an eye; Steve wonders if letting him live is the right thing to do.

Chapter Text

The first time she tasted that power, she was in love. It filled her up, satiated her need, made her feel safe, perhaps for the first time in her life. She was whole, and in that wholeness, she could gain whatever she desired.

Jean Grey and Charles Xavier had fought over that mind for years, twisting memories into nightmarish shades, planting seeds of doubt and haunted loyalty. They filled him to the brim with hatred for each other, with distrust, with melancholy. They isolated him, forced his silence, and kept him separate from those he cared about. So, Emma Frost wreaked her own kind of havoc.

She warred with Jean over the man's extreme devotion. She turned his love to fear, and Jean in turn, twisted it into fear of abandonment. From abandonment rose a stoic man, afraid to give his heart. And from that, Xavier gave him a cause.

Simple memories became the turning points for traps and psychic mines. A flower given to his one true love became a flower destroyed under her foot, a flower devoured by her endless need for control; a flower tucked away in the pages of a book, dried and remembered forever. Others, when they could, they would erase – the first time Jean smiled at him; the first time Xavier said he was proud, Emma tormenting him as a member of the Hellfire Club. More were added – Jean wiping tears of anguish from his eyes; Emma begging for forgiveness for her wrongs; Xavier tucking his child self into bed and reading him a story.

There were others that joined, installing their own whispers into his mind, flickering across other memories, changing them, so that they, too, could grab that power. Scott Summers' mind became a battlefield of the highest order as the telepaths fought for control of a strength so vast that it could change the world. And Jean, as she held his heart in her hands, continued to wield that power against them all, forcing them back into the dark corners of his mind, and taking the power for herself.

At times, there were alliances – especially when possessed. The Shadow King, Onslaught, Apocalypse. They held his mind in check, kept the villains from stealing the power that they'd fought so hard to win. But, despite the tenuous threads that pulled them together, they'd soon split apart and return to the fight that would win them their glorious prize.

It was after Genosha that Emma had changed her strategy.

She'd witnessed the destruction of all she held dear, the deaths of her student, and the decimation of an entire population that sought no harm against the world. For the first time in many years, even with the small amount of power that she had gained from Cyclops' mind, she felt the futility of herself. She needed more – the power to protect, to defend, to assure herself and those like her that this would never happen again.

She decided to take Scott Summers for herself.

At first, the battle was sneaky. A therapist, there to help him work through the remnants of Apocalypse that still threaded through his mind. He talked of his distrust, how he felt betrayed, how something had happened that he couldn't remember. That Jean didn't love him, that Xavier felt no kindness for him. He talked of a curtain in his mind, one that held back the truth of himself, that Apocalypse had revealed it to him, and pulled it back and made him aware that things were not what they seemed. But, now, he couldn't remember. The memories were gone, and no matter how much he searched for them, he couldn't find them, nor could he ease his mind.

It wasn't hard to gain his trust. To speak casually in his ear, his mind, that she was there for him. That there were no judgments, no harshness. Jean was too busy too notice, too assured of her own holdings that she ignored the battles being waged within. He could speak at will, and that Emma would listen. And what she found within his words – the thing she never expected – was a broken man, but not by Apocalypse, but by the fear that he would never be good enough, never be strong enough, that for all of his training, his strategy, that he would let them all down when they most needed him. He revealed the whispers they'd implanted in his mind and the damage that they had done. “Sometimes, I can't tell what's real, Emma” he said, his visor to the floor. “I don't know what really happened and what I've made up.”

It was the first time she saw him as a human being, as something worth more than the mess inside of his head. “It's not your fault,” she said. “Apocalypse hurt you a lot.”

He hated himself, doubted himself. He was unloved and unwanted, a solitary human being clinging to the dream of being cared for. There was something inside of him that didn't trust Jean, not with himself. He'd pulled away from her, and it hurt, as his entire self proclaimed that he was devoted. “I can't tell if she loves me.”

Elegant hands cupped his chin. “That's the thing, isn't it,” Emma lied. “The affliction of the universe. Trying to figure out if you are loved or simply a waste of space.”

When she kissed him, there were sparks. They lit against her spine, her fingers, her toes. She surrounded him with graceful arms, pulled him into her mouth and sucked at his lips. He broke the kiss quickly, unnerved and afraid. “I don't want this,” he said, proclaiming, again, his love for Jean. “I thought—I thought--”

“Of course you want this,” she smiled, a tender hand down his cheek. “I'm all you ever dreamed of.”

It was so easy to plant the seeds. So easy to make him blush with heat and shallow his breath. Lust was ever an easy thing to make him feel. From Madelyne to Lee, Jean to Betsy, he'd felt it plenty enough. But for Emma, it was more than the simple feeling of desire, it was her way in. Her way to make sure that she could protect the world, the mutants, from harm called upon them.

She didn't mean to fall in love.

“I tried to fix him,” she admits to her listeners. Staring down into the fiberglass capsule that holds the mortally injured Alex Summers, her eyes rim with tears. “I tried to help him, to put things right. But the damage was too severe. I couldn't contain him anymore. Even using his own power, the damage was simply too much.”

Beast looks away, ashamed and trodden. He doesn't want to hear the ills of Scott Summers, doesn't want to hear how he overlooked decades of transgressions against his one-time-friend's mind. He's a scientist. He's merely after a solution, a fix, a solvent theory to finally rid the world of the problem.

Tony Stark, on the other hand, is a bit more mystified. “You held his powers in check?” he asks. “For all those years?”

“I wasn't the only one, but at the end of his life, I was the primary holder. I took Jean's place, covered her paths, made him seem as sane as possible.”

“Sane?” Tony nearly doubles over in laughter at the word, slapping his knee and tearing up with a face-hurting smile. “He was a monster!”

Emma quickly counters, “He was saving his species!”

“What do you want, Emma?” Reed Richards brooks no laughter or inanity.

“I want to wipe his mind. A do-over. His power is still needed, and I can control it.”

“No, no, your boyfriend's going down, White Queen,” Stark tuts. “If his mind is as bad as you say it is, then we, as the world, can't risk this. He needs to be put out of his misery.”

“Tony's right, Emma.” Beast's words are mumbled, barely heard midst the chorus of machines keeping Alex alive. “I should have done this years ago, but I thought he could overcome. I was wrong. He's not strong enough for this. No one is.”

Emma's perfect lips part in shock. Brows low against her light eyes, her heart beats fast within her chest. “You knew?” McCoy nods. “And you did nothing?”

A thousand excuses in his head – from not being powerful enough to thinking that Xavier knew what he was doing – Beast nods and looks away once again. With a sigh, he looks at Tony, then at Alex. “We have healers in our compound. We can heal him.”

“Not a chance, fuzzy one. I don't need him under thumb.” Tony makes a quick check of blood bags and various tests. “Once we have his brother, I'll think about it. But, until then, broham stays under.”

She's not sure if it's a matter of love or power. She's not sure, now, which her heart desires most. Both are sacred, both are needed. “If I tell you where he is, you'll take me with you? I would like to see him one last time.”

“Aw, how sweet,” Tony smirks. “You really did love him, didn't you?”

“I need your word, Tony. Your unbreakable word.”

“Fine. Get me in range, and I'll take you with me. You can fondle him all you want, but he's still going to die.”

Chapter Text

Logan knows why he survived the Red Wave, why he's immune to Scott's powers. And it's a reason that drives guilt deep down into his soul.

Cyclops had tried once, baited the feral mutant into such a rage that Logan attacked. Knocked him out of his prison chair, banged his upon the tile floor and drove claws to the sides of his neck, the third one threatening. He stared into that ridiculous prison visor, a growl low in his throat, and watched as the man gave up. “You want to die,” he realized in the moment. “You want me to kill you.”

They were going to kill him anyway, he explained. There was no way the world they would let him live after killing Xavier, after going Dark Phoenix. And Logan was the best at what did, so why not? It was a flippant exchange that left Wolverine feeling both filled with rage and remorse.

Summers was not his best friend. Half the time, he didn't even like the guy. But Scott always had his back, no matter how deep in the shit pens of their relationship they got. He would be there at a moments notice, ready to do battle beside his teammate. He was like that with all of them. Never friendly, but always steadfast. Quiet, solitary, but the one they could all turn to when things needed saving.

He watched them all from a distance, avoiding the daily hellos and goodbyes, the laughter and the tears. He would meet them for breakfast – oatmeal and apples, tasteless and boring – and return to work afterwards. He kept them organized and trained, spared no words when it came to their mistakes in the Danger Room, expounding upon the purpose of listening to instructions. He was saving their lives and the lives of everyone around them, and they needed to pay attention. “Put away your personal grudges when on the field. We work as one, or we are defeated.”

Scott was a presence that he'd come to rely on in his years with the X-men. He was the man with the plan and a mission, and he trusted his teammates to feel the same. And though Apocalypse had changed him, Jean's death and Scarlet Witch's spell had decimated him. Endless nights of worrying and planning, scheming and plotting saw him withdraw even further from his teammates and fellow mutants. His strategies became more dangerous, less forgiving. Injuries could be healed, but extinction was irreversible. They could all see his obsession, the madness slowly taking him.

But in all that time, no one stopped to talk to him.

He was their figurehead, the one who spoke for them, fought for them, planned for them. He took care of their very existence, managing Utopia by himself. He knew that they talked about him, that there were those who took issue with his actions, but they never spoke to him directly. He asked them endlessly for their ideas and input, held meetings where they were all free to speak their mind and voice their opinions. But no one ever did. Not once. Not even Logan.

They abandoned him, slowly, one by one, they left his side and called him enemy.

Logan stares at adamantium claws, the gleam of light that streaks across razor's edge. He was close. So close to killing him. A breath away, maybe less. “I'm not killing you, Scotty,” he whispers.

No one killed Thanos or Onslaught, Galactus or the Celestials. All of those world ending threats and the heroes of Earth met those challenges without ever calling for blood. Yet one mutant gets his head strung out by a bunch of lazy telepaths, and the world goes ballistic. To Logan, it didn't make sense.

The knock at his door is quiet and unwelcome. “Steve,” he says.

“Logan.” Hand on the door frame, his foot keeping the door ajar, he asks to come in, to talk, to be reasonable with one another. Logan pops a claw and leads him into the room. A bed, a chair, a small writing desk, shelves filled with Strange's magical menagerie, Steve nervously finds a seat and scratches his head. “About Scott--”

“You kill him and I'll destroy everything you ever loved.”

In uniform, Steve would have been able to bite back against those words. Call Logan a selfish creature, self righteous and infuriating. But his uniform is in his room along with his shield. “Logan...” A long pause and he drops his defenses, his shoulders rounding out, his eyes staring at the floor. “Why?”

The anger in Wolverine softens. In the back of his head, he hears Idie telling him that he can be a better man, now. “It's easy to kill things, Steve. Whole lot harder to save 'em.”

“But if we can't --”

“Then I'll do the deed myself. No need for anyone else to step in. I know why I survived.”

It's something that Steve had never thought about, why Scott had allowed him to live. In all, he'd never been truly close to the man. He respected him, even went so far as to get the president to honor his efforts, but they'd never been friends. “You think he chose us?”

Logan nods. “There's only two people I've known to be immune to his powers, and those were his brothers. But, now, we're immune too.”

“You think Alex is a survivor?”

“Maybe the first of us.” In Wolverine's mind, there was no way that Scott's powers had not erupted before. Maybe not on this scale, but surely, they'd have exploded at some point. “Sinister had them both for a while. There's no telling what that asshole did to them.”

“Then maybe we need to rescue Alex.”

Logan smiles. “Maybe you're right.”

Chapter Text

The image was a striking one. Small for his years, covered in bruises and burns, large gashes across his forehead and visible ribs. “Jack Winters,” Xavier had told him. “He beat the boy for nearly a year before I found him.”

“That doesn't explain why you are inside his mind--”

The child refused to sleep. Hunched to corners, his tiny hands balled into fists, he stared at the strange bald man in a wheel chair willing to fight if he had to. “You understand, I couldn't read his mind. It was the first time since my mutation came to light that a mind was closed to me. Horrible things had happened to that boy, and I couldn't help him unless I knew what they were.”

Trust was paramount, and it took all of Xavier's might to force the boy to look at him with something less than suspicion and fear. Days to get him to accept proffered food, days more to get him to sleep. The nightmares were horrendous with the child screaming out at the top of his lungs, but no matter what the professor did, he couldn't see the dreams himself, only the power that exploded from him. “I rebuilt that wing three times in a month because of his display. He had no recollection of it, and for his own personal well-being, I chose to keep that from him.”

“You broke into his mind, Professor. You crushed his defenses and changed his thoughts --”

“I had no choice, Henry. Either I controlled that power, or he was going to destroy the world.”

Amber eyes stare down to the bottom floor of the warehouse, watching as SHIELD scientists build the base for a large apparatus that will take them to the Red Dimension. Reed Richards understands enough about dimensional rifts that he concocted the plans for a portal generator in the space of three days. “Can you imagine creating your own dimension?” Reed awes as he watches the workers below him. “That much power. It's impressive.”

“Are you positive the ship will last until a landing site is found?” Henry McCoy does not feel that scientific pull of the unknown.

“That's why I'm sending in a telescope first,” he replies, and pulls out the blueprints. “It's a long range telescope hooked up to a radio wave transmitter, so not only will I get pictures, but sound as well. It should not only tell us if we're safe going in, but also find his exact coordinates or at least a place to land. According to my calculations, the Red Dimension is mostly energy, but there should be several small islands in its midst that are comprised of solid ground.”

Yellow eyes widen with surprise. “You've been able to discern a lot about this dimension.”

“With Emma's help,” he adds quickly. “It's not all pure calculation. She actually shared the images of his thoughts. There's definitely land mass there, and if the telescope survives, I'll find it.” Patience is key, however. Even with Frost's images, there is no way to calculate how large the Red Dimension actually is. “It could be immeasurable.”

Dark brown eyes finally flicker to his right to look at the beastly man at his side. Holding his spectacles in his hand, casually wiping the lens, he stares down at the construction of the wormhole, his eyes narrowed and his blue lips pressed together in thought. “You're having doubts, aren't you?”

“There is always doubt when it comes to death, Reed.”

“Were this my son, I'd fight tooth and nail for him.”

“But not for Scott?”

“Not if what Emma says is true, no. A mind that fractured will never be fully healed.”

“If Emma had done this to your son--”

“I would have noticed, and I would have put a stop to it.” The admonition does not go unheeded. “To let that go on for so many years is a travesty.”

Beast takes a deep, calming breath, puts the glasses back to the tip of his nose. “I was young, Reed. I believed in the words of a man who I thought would rescue us all from hatred and spite. We all did. How was I supposed to know--”

“Because he was your friend!” The words come out far louder, far harsher than Reed intends. Casting a glance to the floor, he waves the workers on in their duties. With a sigh and slumped shoulders, he pats the blue furry back beside him. “Sorry. That was uncalled for.”

Reed Richards is a practical man, believing in science over faith and the power of the mind over that of heart. He is logical, to a fault. And, for all intents and purposes, Tony Stark's plan to kill Scott Summers is the most practical, efficient way to go about their problem. It's an instant solution. No more fear, no more worry. There can be no further breakdowns, no more destroyed cities. Just peace. “I can't help but feel that this is wrong, Hank.”

“Be glad it does.” Beast stares absently at the blueprints, tracing the lines with a single claw. “Heroes don't kill, Reed. No matter how desperate they are.”

Chapter Text

Like a map, Jean follows them, these tendrils – bright red and heavy. Upward into thought and memory. Up until she forgets to breathe, to think, to be herself. She can feel it, that bright red burn against the back of her mind. So sad, so beautiful, so alive.

He tasted like chapstick and apples, his lips. Soft and trembling, they pressed against hers, nervous. As if he'd been fighting a wall his entire life. Hands collapsed around her waist, pulled her close, into the warmth and the beating heart within his chest. He held her there for too many moments, until she was breathless and flushed, and her knees quaked. He caught her, by the arm, then the shoulder, held her up and smiled. It was the first time she'd ever seen him smile, and oh, how warm it was.

She could no longer imagine breathing without him.

His silence spoke tomes. The way his ruby lenses angled towards her hands , the way he held his head low. Just beyond the glimpse of red and nose, she could see the shy flash of his teeth, so slight, a gleam of light. He licked his lips and looked at her, asked if she was okay. All she could do was nod.

She knew even then that she loved him. Her entire heart pouring out into nerve-damp hands and breathless gaze. He was strong, courageous, everything that she wasn't. He wanted to save the world, to change it, to make it better for them all. He wanted more than she ever dreamed.

He said her name, a ghost upon his lips. Too unreal, too close, too warm to be anything but a figment of her imagination. He cupped her chin with one hand, the other on the small of her back. Long moments he stared into bright green, wondrous eyes. “I love you,” he said. She swallowed and nodded, eked out her own admission, and then reached up to take his lips again.

She calls to him. His name, then hers. She tells him that she's here, waiting for him to come back, to hold her once again. She'll protect him this time, from everything.

She kept it. Even after she'd promised to let him go, to let the others try to heal his mind, she kept herself inside of him. Though weakened by the Phoenix, left to die by Magneto, she retained just enough strength to piece herself back together.

She swore she wouldn't do this again. Wouldn't reach out and grab that power, that she'd let him go, let everything ago. But in the evening, as she listens to the hushed breaths of the other telepaths, as her head swoons with too much sleep, and his screams still echo in her ears, she reaches out for him. “I'm here, Scott,” she says into the ether. “Come back to me.”

But he cannot hear her.

She stretches further into the astral plane. Her love like pink petals on the wind, her sadness pale blue drops of sweet, sweet sugar. In the astral plane, her need tastes like deep, golden honey, and her strength like rich, dark coffee, black and bitter with hints of cocoa at the edge. She floods herself with his armor as she travels upwards still, into the blackness, the space between.

Jean can see him. So far out, his body wrenched in pain, hands splayed upon the red, his breath heaving. He's injured, broken. Turned into a million pieces that float upon the air. He grasps at them, grabs them, tries to pull himself together, to feel reality, to feel anything other than pain of being ripped apart again and again.

He doesn't cry for her. Doesn't say her name. He cries for no one, for the whispers in his head tell him that no one is coming. “Scott!” she cries out, reaching a hand against the barrier that separates them. So close, yet so far, divided by a distance that she just cannot breach. If he hears her, if he links to their one time connection, he doesn't show it, doesn't acknowledge that she's here. “Scott!”

The pain that ripples through him is palpable, a blast of red that rips him in two. He clutches at his head, his heart, screams at the top of broken lungs. His voice harsh, grated by years of endless torment. He's died so many times, each death a pall upon him, another weakness, a doubt.

Tears on the astral plane float like pearls upon candy-coated water.

“I'm going to wipe his mind,” Emma says, her lithe form dressed in pure white armor, the lines speckled with diamonds. “Start from scratch.”

“I take it that you mean to control the shell?” It's a challenge, or so Jean thinks. Her own armor is fast, red and green, shiny like fresh polish and oil. “I won't let you do that.”

“This isn't the time for fighting, Jean. We both know what happens if he dies.” In his head, there is a prison. A collection of adversaries that he's fought. Onslaught, the Shadow King, D'Spayr and Apocalypse. All of his battles, those he needs to defeat. “Already the prisons are breaking down. If he loses any more control, we'll have to face them all at once. A clean slate will keep his power intact without the emotional damage we've done to him.”

Jean looks back at the broken visage once again, squints her eyes to focus. Indeed, he's fighting, a million battles all at once. “That's only a theory, Emma. Xavier was the only one --”

“I found the switch, Jean. After you died. It's mine, now, and with it I can shut him down.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“I don't want another war. I just want the man I love.”

Suspicion raises her lean auburn brow. “If you wipe his mind, he's no longer the man you loved.”

“I plan to piece him back together.”

“Minus the part where he loved me?”

“Of course.” It's a wicked smile that clips her lips, but it slowly fades into ache. “The further he is away from you, the better.” Blue eyes turn both cold and sad. “There was not a day that went by when he didn't think of you. When our love wasn't interrupted by the devotion you instilled in him. I deserve my time, Jean. Without you.”

The sentiment makes Jean uncomfortable, defensive. The White Queen was no better than herself. Power corrupts, regardless of the intention behind it. For years, Jean watched as the White Queen pasted herself into thought, overwrote the twisted paths and narratives they'd all given to Scott. “You hurt him worse than I did, Emma.”

“I gave him freedom.”

“You left him with no choice.” She'd revoked his own decisions, accepted only those that she approved of. Used his tactics to solidify her place at his side, driving away those would have corrupted her work. “You made him a soldier, not a leader.”

“He saved the mutants from extinction.”

“He never deserved their hatred, Emma, but that's all you let him have!” It's an outburst that sends black birds and midnight shadows into the surround. A dangerous thing, as it could call the Shadow King. Jean calms herself, puts her weapon on the ground and crosses arms over chest. “It's time we let him go, Emma.” She points to the hazy red figure in the distance. “Look at what we've done. Let him be free of pain. Let the Red Hunt handle this --”

A diamond tipped sneer, Emma snaps, “You're just afraid that they'll find out. Saint Jean will lose her ever precious halo.” It was ever the contest between them, who was better, who was worse. For years, Jean retained the crown of empathy, forging a path of trust and belief, gaining the loyalty of those that walked in her footsteps. While Emma, poor Emma, she always knew of the red-head's treachery, but kept her mouth shut out of respect. “If they knew what you did to him--”

“Emma, we both made mistakes --”

“Of course we did, but at least I don't run from them like a fox from hounds.” A deep breath and the relaxing of armor. She is herself again, lean and perfect with slender hips and elegant hands. Platinum hair feathers across her high cheekbones. “I don't want him to die, Jean. Not when there's hope. Please, give this to me. Don't fight me on it.”

In truth, Jean doesn't want his death either. Though easier, thought permanent, she still loves him, more than her heart is willing to admit. With him – even without his mutant abilities – she was stronger, braver, a complete human being. “I never want to see his face again,” she says, her mouth a grim visage of loss. “If you do this, if you clear his mind, I can never see him again. He'll be on your shoulders, Emma.”

Her nod is slight, hesitant. “I love him, Jean.”

“So do I. That's why I have to let him go.”

Chapter Text

A lullaby. Soft, sweet, soothing. Sung gently with words he doesn't understand. It glimmers green and gold, a light midst the swarm of red. It's difficult to focus on it. He just died again, a thousand times, a million times left. His lungs are ripped through the small of his back, drug down and out, pulled cord by cord from the cage of his ribs.

He would scream. Let loose his bloody mouth, his absent voice. But the lights, the rarity, a peace in the mist. As he dies another thousand times, he feels it swell across him.

“I'm coming,” it says, an alto he does not recognize. As it lights upon his skin, there is relief, or something akin to it. Calm, like a winter stream, slow and glittering, shined with ice and bright red cardinals. Fascinated, he reaches for it, dips his fingers into earth and heavens, cradles it in the palm of his hand. It reminds him of spring, of renewal. The rebirth of the world after being frozen for days on end.

He feels a calm for the first time in years. A doldrum to the battles that wage within his mind, to the whispers that plague his self. As he holds the magic to his chest, he aches.

He'd spent days picking it out, that little pocket knife. Wood carved with razor sharp blades, a can opener and wire cutter. It was a blade for the outdoorsman, a small thing that could fit in the back pocket, be ignored until needed. Xavier had suggested candy and gum, an action figure, a model. But, Scott knew his brother. Knew what he wanted, what he needed to survive.

He wrapped it up in bright orange paper dotted with floating balloons. A wheel of fishing line, some excellent bait, a ball cap. So carefully, he attended them, stuck on bright gold bows. The packages looked perfect. His brother would love them.

It had been years since they'd seen each other. His brother was so small the last time he'd seen him, barely beginning to read and recite the alphabet. The Blandings had loved him at first sight, remarked how he looked like their dead son. They imagined he'd be a football player like Todd, a valedictorian, a winner. Scott had always thought him a dogsled racer or an astronaut, something adventurous. Maybe he'd sail to Antarctica, or Reunion Island. Explore the places not known to man, those places still being written about in the great books of history.

It was a gift, the money he'd been given, for good work and good behavior. The professor patted his autumn hair and smiled at the carefully wrapped packages. “You're excited to see him.”

Scott nodded. It had been seven years. He was fifteen, now, far older than the last time they'd met. “I wonder how tall he is.”

“Not as tall as you, I'm sure.” Scott had grown like weed under Xavier's care. Well-fed and nourished, he was by far above the average height, though still skinny. Training had made him muscular – akido and judo and other martial arts. He was lithe and ready for whatever came for him.

Scott couldn't remember what his brother looked like, only that he had blonde hair and a toothless smile. Fred Duncan had found Alex, traced trail after trail until he located the lost Summers brother. “He's safe, Scott,” the man had told him. “He's cared for, but don't expect a lot, okay?”

Nerves got the best of him. His stomach fluttered with butterflies that caused them to pull over again and again. It was seven o'clock by the time they'd made it to the Blandings. Too late for supper or tea. Far off the schedule that Xavier had promised, but they knocked anyway.

Alex stood in the center of the doorway, arms over chest, his face a frown. “You missed dinner,” he said before looking at the bag of gifts that Scott had in tow. Unlike Scott, he didn't earn an allowance. The Blandings considered him still too young for such comforts. “You brought presents! A CD player?”

Scott bit his lip and followed his brother into the living room where he tore open the carefully wrapped presents. “I hope you like them,” he said, watching as Alex inspected the reel of fishing line.

“I don't fish anymore,” he said bluntly. Scott's heart fell to his knees. Each present was worse than the last, the grimace on Alex's face become more severe as the minutes ticked on. Finally, he got to the knife, the gift that Scott was most excited for.

A hand to the box, Scott looked into his brother's blue eyes. “It's not what you want,” he said calmly. “Not now. But, when we were together, you would have smiled.”

Alex realized the harsh expression he was wearing. At fourteen, harsh was common. “Sorry, Scott,” he said. “I'll like this one, I promise.” Though he lied, he smiled anyway at the small pocket knife. “Thank you,” he said. “This will come in handy.”

Scott was never easily fooled. Intuitive and instinct driven, he stared at his brother for long silent moments. “You don't have to like it, Alex. You're different now. I have to know you again.”

“No, it's great. The wire cutters will work super well.”

Scott feigned a smile knowing that he'd disappointed his brother, but grinned all the same. “I'm glad you came,” Alex said, grabbing his brother's hand. “And I like the gifts. Maybe now, the Blandings will take me fishing.”

He knows that there is more. He knows that for years Alex refused to speak with him. He remembers the names that his brother called him, the hatred that he spewed. He hated his life with the Blandings, blamed Scott for his predicament. But for those few minutes, all he could see was the humongous smile that eclipsed his brother's face.

He dies again. The pain rending upward from the bottom of spine through the tip of skull. His eyes bulging, his breath fleeting. He holds to the gold, green ornament with hands that still move. Clutches it to his chest as if his very breath depended on it.

It was Logan who held him. Kept him stable and still, stopped him from attacking the Shi'ar. Under his breath he cursed, swore great oaths to avenge her. But in Logan's arms he couldn't move. “She's gone, Cyke,” Logan breathed. “Don't kill yourself over the dead.”

Vodka was his drink of choice. Vast bottles of it, lightened by tears. He sat by her grave, too drunk to move, as the world span circles around him. “C'mon, kid,” Logan had prodded. “Let's get you cleaned up.”

The arm under his shoulder was strong. Short, but able to heft his weight. “No,” Scott cried. “No!”

“She ain't comin' back, Cyke. You need to get over this. We need a leader.”

Three days he spent in slumber or in heaves. The alcohol left him shaking, wanting more, but Logan's guard made it impossible. “Please,” he begged. “I need to talk to her. I need to hear her voice.”

“You ain't hearin' nothing out there but your own thoughts, kiddo. You need to let her go.”

The embrace was near painful. A crush of lungs and heart pulled up against metal chest. Logan was warmer than he thought. Softer. He awoke in tears, the grief dripping out onto pant leg and floor. In shame, he jerked himself awake. “Careful, punkin'” Logan whispered. “You're not ready yet.”

Inside the man's arms, Scott found solace. Something warm, bright in the absence of Jean. Something that allowed him rest. Gatorade and hashbrowns, anything to soak up the vodka followed. “Storm wants to know that you're okay.”

He breathes it in, the spell. His breath held to absorb the last of the glimmer. It flows throughout him. Cradling him, making him tired. Though he dies a million times in the space of that second, the pain is less than the ease that he feels.

It was the way she touched him. So soft, so careful. Her hand slid down from temple to jaw, her long nails barely a scratch on the surface. “Jean's gone my dear.”

In her arms, he sobbed. A rare occurrence. His tears were heavy and fat, wet upon her shoulder and then her lap. His voice was but a phantom, vacant sighs and existential growls, withheld grief and the grunt of frustration. He buried himself within her chest, his head against her shoulder. There was no solace for his grief, no soothing for his guilt. His love was gone. Again. She'd left him, alone. But he'd hurt her this time. Cut out her heart with a thousand daggers. “Jean,” he sobbed, over and over again.

“Shhhh,” Emma hushed. “She loves you, Scott. She always will.”

Her embrace was tender, cold, diamond. She held him next to breast and heart, her facets steeling herself from the outcome of emotion. “Don't cry, my love. Don't cry.”

At best, she was jealous, seeing herself as beneath the dead. At worst, she was anxious that she'd lose him to another beating heart. She turned flesh on purpose, cradled him in her elegant arms. She held him for hours as he grieved, swearing that he'd come to no harm.

He awoke at sunrise, the pale pastels glittering off of her jeweled self. With the back of his hand, he smoothed her cheek, the tip of her chin, the length of her neck. She wanted to feel it, to know his touch, and in an instant, she was flesh again. “Scott?” she questioned, not sure if her paths had taken hold.

“Emma?” he asked, not sure of her surprise. She embraced him, around his neck, her hands dipping down to shoulder blades. “Don't leave me,” she said, her cheeks wet with worry. “Don't leave me.”

As Hawkeye delivers an arrow to his left eye, he rises in pain. A death grip on the gold and green, he concentrates on the battles again. They'll come for him. They'll save him.

They'll kill him.

Chapter Text

He knows what he's doing is wrong. Knows that he's taking advantage of someone he once considered friend. That this is irreparable. It will hurt. It will scar.

Steve kisses him with a bruising might, tugging hands under his shirt to access the skin underneath. He can feel Tony warm at the touch, hear him lose his breath. He wants this. More than anything he wants this. But, he will come to regret it.

“That's a pretty cold thing to do, Rogers,” Logan had said. “A little too wily for you, ain't it.”

And it is. Already he is sick with nerves and regret. But there are some things more important, or so he tells himself as he pushes Tony against the wall. “I can't do this again,” he breathes into Tony's ear, “not with Jarvis watching.”

“Jarvis is a computer,” Tony laughs, pulling Steve close and taking his mouth once again. A break for air, “He takes no joy in this.”

“We don't need Fury trying to hack the mainframe to see if you've been lying to him.” To further the point, he unbuttons charcoal slacks, slipping his hand under waistband to slide long fingers around the hardening length. “Twenty minutes,” he says. “Surely, the great Ironman can survive twenty minutes without his personal assistant.”

But Jarvis is more than just a personal assistant. He's the automation of this building, the security, the lights, the air conditioning. He keeps things in perfect order. But, Tony isn't thinking about perfect right now. No, he's thinking about the gentle friction that rubs against him, the tongue invading his mouth, the hand tangled in his dark brown hair. “Twenty minutes,” he laughs, “Is that all I get?”

“I can give you more, if that's what you want.”

“Oh, I want that, yes. I want that.”

With a press of button, Tony puts Jarvis – and his security system – off line. Though the back up security will kick in, it's slower, less organized. Drones that cycle five minutes over the floor, cameras that will record. Without Jarvis, Stark Tower is just another building waiting to be invaded.

Taking a deep breath to settle his nerves, Steve turns off the light and leads a panting Tony to the bedroom.

A hundred stories below, on the street looking up, Logan can see the flickering of lights at the top of the spire. Steve's done it. To Magik he looks, “Your ready, kiddo?”

She's not impressed with the nickname, tells him so in her most demonic voice. But, she is on mission, and draws her great sword from her back, plunging it into the ground. Around her forms the teleportation disc – light blue and wispy. With Logan at her side, they disappear into the depths of Limbo, coming out at the other end inside the lobby of the building. Steve's target time is twenty minutes. They have to search fast.

“Can you smell him?” Magik asks as they stand in the first floor stairwell. Logan shakes his head, and they move to the second floor. Easy as pie, so long as Jarvis doesn't kick back in and alert Tony to his visitors.

Up the stairs, in the magnificent suite at the top of the tower, Steve finishes peeling the clothes from his mark. Naked and hard, his face flushed red with heightened desire, Tony writhes as Steve's tongue flicks out to the tip of his length. Like a lollipop, he swirls around the aching desire, clockwise than reverse, driving the dark headed man into thrusts and moans of pure need. “I want you inside of me,” he finally breathes, a panted hush of syllables that take far too long to speak.

Like a soldier, he carries on with his singular mission, crossing to bedside table to retrieve the lube. Tony watches him, his dark blue eyes half-lidded and wanting. “You're beautiful. Do you know that?” he says, reaching out a hand to skim the length of hip bone. “Absolutely beautiful.”

The compliment cuts into Steve's resolve. Knowing that Tony will suss him out, he turns his head away, pretends that concentrating on the bottle. Stark strokes him again, a feather light touch down his spine. The touch sparkles inside of him, makes him harder, more needy.

Steve looks down at his naked lover, his eyes spanning the length of abdomen then down below. He's greedy. So greedy, and Tony moans for the look. Without a word between them, Tony flips onto his stomach, his knees on the bed, and his hands braced on the headboard. “I'm all yours,” he smiles, looking back at the grinning blonde.

He takes his time, kneading the taut muscles and teasing the entrance. Tony is impatient, his obscenities begging for a grander approach, to take him whole and raw. He can take the pain, he just wants the closure, the closeness. As Steve presses soft lips to buttock, Tony begs for more, and Steve teases the passage again with lubed finger. It's easy to make him cry out.

Easier still to make him moan. A finger slipped into barrier, hooked and plunging, he finds the prostate quickly and Tony juts forward in both shock and love. A second finger in, and Tony's back arches with the stretch. “Fuck. Fuck me. Please, fuck me.”

Steve says not a word. Slow as he can, ticking away the minutes that they're together, he eases Tony open before taking his place behind him. On his knees, positioned just right, he presses to tip to entrance and slowly pushes his way in. He loves the part, the way he fills Tony up, the way the man groans with relief. Hands gripping hips, he starts a slow pace, though Tony tries to hasten him with words and movement of his own. “Patience, grasshopper,” Steve soothes. “Patience.”

Tony Stark is not a patient man, but the honey-sweet words calm him, and for the first time in his life, he gives up his control, allows Steve to set the pace. The build inside of him is incredible, the slow tingling of nerves up spine, through brain. His whole body feels electric and wonderful, as if at any moment he could burst at the seams, and flow through the wind like the Valentine wish. He's in love.

On the twenty eighth floor, Logan picks up the scent. Something bloody, something that reminds him of late spring. To the right, they stalk, the smell becoming stronger as they walk. It's easy enough to avoid the drones. Duck into an empty room, watch as they float by. Also easy to avoid the cameras after a hushed spell from Illyana. It's in the last room on the left, at the end of a long, clinical hallway. A capsule, the size of a body, hooked up to a dozen machines. Alex Summers is being kept alive.

Wolverine inspects the wires and electrodes before opening the fiberglass case. “Shit,” he curses, gray eyes looking to Magik. “Can you heal things?” She can't, but Strange can. If they get him back, Strange can cast a spell, the walk through Hell won't take long. “Yeah, but we don't know if he'll stay alive that long.”

Illyana shrugs. “This was your idea,” she reminds him. “We either grab him and run, or we let him die here. Either way, if he's a survivor, he can't be left in Stark's care.” She can levitate him, take him to the Sanctum Sanctorum in an instant, and then teleport back for Logan and Rogers. “It will be faster that way,” she explains. “The demons of Limbo will leave me alone, regardless of the scent of blood.”

After disconnecting the tubes stuck inside his chest, Logan wraps Alex tightly, hoping the loss of blood won't cause immediate death. He works quickly, just like Cyke taught him too. The machines go haywire, their sound calling a dozen drones to the medlab door. “Don't worry about me,” he says. “Get Alex to Strange.” And, in an instant, Alex Summers is gone.

The jarring of nerves as Steve leans across his back - holds him at the chest, drawing one hand down to excite his erection - drives Tony over the edge. The fullness, the friction, he calls out Steve's name again and again, along with a few select curses. He cums in an instant, his seed spraying out across sweat-damp bedding, his entire self giving into the undulation of his pleasure. The euphoria only spans further as Steve releases inside of him, filling him up with warmth. After moments on shaky arms and knees, he collapses to the bed in a heap of wonder. “I love you,” he says quietly, half-asleep from the exertion.

The alarms that sound are not from Jarvis. They're the old alarms, the ones installed before the AI was perfected. Dark blue eyes suddenly bolt in terror, and then, watching as Steve gets dressed, the truth slowly dawns on him. He jumps from the bed, his nakedness suddenly making him feel vulnerable. Astounded, in grief, his brow knits low and his mouth becomes dry and speechless. “You- This – A distraction?”

Buttoning up his shirt, cold as ice for his own heart's protection, Steve turns away from his would-be lover and continues getting dressed.

“Since when does Captain America lie?” Tony questions, his eyes burning with deep down tears. He covers himself as the man turns around.

“Since I realized how cruel this was, Tony.” Tucking his arms into jacket sleeves, he feels armored against the dark headed man struggling to find his clothes. “The Red Hunt is wrong, Tony. You know this, and it's only your pride that keeps it going. You want a legacy? You've got one that persecutes innocent people, unless you call this off.”

“You used me.” His face flushes with pain.

It's hurts to hear those words, to see that face. Steve Rogers bites against his lower lip, sucking in the sudden sadness that he feels. If he could, he'd take it all back. Leave Jarvis and Tony alone, find another way to rescue the Summers brother from captivity. But his decision was made days ago. Too much talking, too much need. He thought he'd be okay, but he's not. “I hope you have a good life, Tony,” he whispers, pale blue eyes looking at the floor. “I think maybe that I loved you too.”

Silence as he exits, travels down the hall to the elevator. Though safer to take the stairs, he wants out of there and fast. Wants to be done with his dirty endeavor. He finds Logan on the twenty eighth floor, battling it out against drones and robots. He's having an easy time of it, until Stark turns Jarvis back on. “Where's Illyana?” he asks.

“She'll be back,” he says. “Just fight them off until she gets here.”

As if on cue, she appears, her mutant gift providing two extra teleportation discs. “Gentlemen,” she says with mischievous smile, “if you'll board.”

In the blink of an eye, they are back at the Sanctum Sanctorum, their hearts racing, and looking down at Alex Summers. Defib, quickly corrected by a lightning bolt from Dr. Strange. “Oxygen,” he says. “He needs oxygen.”

There is no medical equipment in the tiny room, just magic and spells. Illyana is quick to summon a storm inside of her hand, tiny and compact, but with enough wind to heighten the oxygen in blood red cells. To Steve he hands the needle and fiber, pushes him down low with a magnifying spell over his eyes. “I'm sure you've done field medic work in your long career.”

Steve nods and sets to work, sewing up the hole in heart while Strange feeds him a constant supply of blood. Standing in the corner is Logan, more butcher than healer. He watches as they fret over the man's body, calling out instructions and quick spells to lessen the load upon Steve as he stitches. One hand, two hands, Strange calls them out in perfect pitch, the spells that keep Alex alive.

The pumping of heart, the flowing of blood, the recovery of damaged tissue. Spell by spell, well into the wee hours of the night, Strange casts while Magik keeps him breathing. By two a.m., Steve is beyond exhausted – not just for his earlier excursion, but also for the focus and constant instruction by Strange. The stitches he makes are tiny, three hundred to cover the hole, then more to reconnect bone and flesh to make him hole again.

Magic can only do so much. Rebuild, regurgitate, but it takes a master to make a whole from disparate parts. As Steve stitches, Strange heals, erasing the fibrous twine and making tissue as good as new. By five a.m., Alex is healed, a good eight hours after the surgery began. Weary and ready to drop, Steve stumbles backwards, only to be caught by Logan. A chair pulled forward and a cup of tea, he's still shaky and worried. He looks to Strange for confirmation. “I can take it from here,” he says, waving Rogers on to sleep and dream.

Logan leads him to the bedroom, opens the door and makes sure he's crawled down into covers. “Thank you,” he whispers. “For everything.”

“I didn't do it for you,” Steve answers, his tiredness making him cranky.

“I know. You did it for Scott. You won't regret it.”

But, he will. He knows he will. Everything that happened tonight just separated him from the man he could come to love.

Chapter Text

Alarms blaring, he stands center room, half naked and stunned. An hour ago, Steve Rogers left this room, escaping with Alex Summers. Yet, Tony still hasn't managed to move. Already, SHIELD agents swarm the place, looking for viable threats and possible hacks. They move soundlessly through the corridors and hallways, the rooms and chambers, seeking out bombs and weapons, or anything else that could be used to waylay their progress with the Red Hunt.

An hour ago, Maria Hill asked to see him. He's yet to answer her summons. She wants to know why Steve Rogers wasn't arrested on the spot, why there are no security feeds for her to examine to determine how Rogers made his daring rescue. She thinks that Wolverine was involved, based on the damage to the drones. “If Wolverine has decided to side with Strange, we're in terrible danger.”

He has nothing to say to her, or Fury, or Henry McCoy. They look at him with confusion, asking themselves how he could let this happen. They ask what possessed him to let Rogers in, to turn off Jarvis and the security feeds. The knot in his throat grows tighter as they interrogate him, his mouth watering up where his eyes refuse to. He wants to yell, scream, throw them out of his living quarters, but he can't. He can't even put on his shirt to hide the evidence of what he's done.

“Let me speak with him.” Emma Frost stands in the doorway of the room, her icy eyes glaring at those who beg him with questions. “He's obviously traumatized, and you are by no means helping the situation.” They look at her with disgust. “If you don't leave, I'll make you leave. And if I make you leave, then you will also be forced to share your innermost secrets every time you hear the word doorknob. And, as a spy, Ms. Hill, I'm sure that's the last thing you want.”

The threat is taken seriously. Unlike the other X-men psions, the White Queen has no qualms about carrying through with her threats. With arms across her chest, she waits for them to file out of the room, telling them to carry on with their security sweep but to leave Stark alone, that he'll deal with them when he's ready.

She hands him a crumpled shirt from the floor and tells him to get dressed. “It's quite rude to receive company in your underwear,” she says, meaning it to be funny, but it only drives the embarrassment he feels even deeper. “Darling, some part of you had have known,” she says.

“I thought I could trust him,” he quiets. For the first time in an hour, he feels the breath in his lungs. He looks to the White Queen who admits that she's calming him down telepathically. He wants to cry, and for that, she wraps her perfect arms around him.

“Love hurts, doesn't it?” she coos in his ear, smoothing elegant hand up and down his spine. She understands the pain of it, the difference between desire and outcome. No matter what she did, she could never make Scott love her like he did Jean, her memory a chasm between them. “I used to hate him sometimes, the fact that he still cared for her, and that he would always admit to it. Just once, I wanted him to lie, to tell me that he loved me more, but he was too honest for his own good. An aggravating trait that I both loved and hated him for.”

“Steve lied--” he starts, only to be eased back to calmness. He dips his head to her shoulder, allowing her to smooth chestnut hair.

“I know he did,” she soothes. “But what makes it even harder is that you left him no other choice. And you know this.” Though the words sound brutal in meaning, she says them in the softest possible way. “You're a very headstrong man, Tony. And headstrong men must get used to people hurting them.” It's what she used to tell Scott, especially after Wolverine abandoned him on Utopia. “It's a sign that you're making a difference.”

He doesn't sense the calculation in her words, the way she's gaining his trust so that she can swipe Scott Summers out from underneath him. She will betray him in the end, so she's preparing him for the heartache. “I can't believe he lied to me,” Tony weeps.

She tells him of Sebastian Shaw, how Shaw knew the second one of the Inner Circle told a lie, but never said a word to let them know. “It was how he caught them,” she explained. “He kept his heart buttoned so closely to his chest, allowing them to think that they were getting away with something, when in truth, he was planning to stab them in the back.” She recalls the day she left him, the first time Shaw's dark eyes ever widened with surprise. “I'd kept my secret for months as I planned. And when I was finally ready, I made my move.”

“You think Steve planned this?”

Of course she thinks he planned it. From beginning to end, she thinks it was his idea. “Logan doesn't have the wits for such a devious scheme. Smash and bash are his specialties, not complicated maneuvers like this.”

“I loved him,” he cries. “I loved him so much.” Steve had called him a mistake, that they'd only hurt each other in the long run, and because of that, they shouldn't be together.

“When a man tells you that he's going to hurt you, darling, then it's best to believe him.” The tears run hot then as his heart breaks all over again. Emma hushes him with soft words of support and gentle hands. “I know, darling. I know.”

It's an hour later before he moves again. Wiping the tears from his puffy eyes, he takes a deep breath and puts himself back together. From Jarvis he orders both a pot of coffee and a diagnostic scan. “Even without the security, I can tell if they hacked the database.”

“You think they're after the portal?” Emma asks, taking a sip of the rich, brown liquid.

“If not, then they don't know about it. Which could give us an advantage.” They can speed up the construction of the wormhole, and send in the telescope early to ensure their survival. “They want to bring Scott Summers home, but we can't allow that to happen.” He looks at her briefly, tries to judge her reaction. “At least you'll get to say goodbye to him, Ems,” he whispers. “That's more than most of us get.”

She nods, covering herself in cold hard diamond. He knows that it's an instinct now, that she doesn't want her resolve to break. He continues to look through their plans, ordering both additional security and personnel to the Baxter Building, and then makes a rather terse call to Fury. “We need to focus on finding the missing mutants,” he says. “Wolverine isn't going to stop unless we make him. He was minutes away from discovering our plan, so jack up the juice and find the X-men. Give him something else to protect.”

Fury agrees with the assessment, and for his part, orders another nine Cerberus units to hunt for the X-men. He's still disappointed in Tony, finding the whole debacle unfathomable. He wants to yell, but as soon as he opens his mouth, Tony interrupts with more orders. He wants the formation of another airborne unit, and for Red Hunt Two to station on Bleaker Street. “If we find just one of them – Strange, Cap, Wolverine, Magik – this will end that much more smoothly.”

He's going to find them. Each and every one of them. He will find them and make sure that each of them feels the heartache that he feels tonight.

Closer to himself now, but not satisfied, he turns to Emma one last time. “Once this is over, what would you say to a week in Bali? Sun, surf, exquisiteness?”

“My dear, I would only hurt you,” she confesses with a smile. And indeed, she plans on it.

Chapter Text

He was two months shy of seven years old when the Blandings adopted him. He remembers screaming for his brother, crying and trying to hold on to the eight year old's arms, but Dr. Milbury and his new parents were stronger than he was. “Scott! No! Not without you!”

Before that, there's a web, a haze over thoughts and mind. He remembers the lady that taught him how to read. She was brunette, with dark brown eyes, her long hair piled atop her head. She wore cat-eye glasses and had short stubby fingers with wide knuckles. Her voice was deep and demanding for a woman, but her smile was like a rainbow. All Alex wanted was to see her smile.

There were other children there at times as Alex waited for his brother to wake from his year-long coma. They were nice children. Some would stay for months, others for just days. He was told that they were loved by new parents and that soon he would be, too. But, first, he had to wait for his brother.

He remembers the talks that Dr. Milbury would have with the parents. They didn't want to separate the brothers, but Scott's medical situation was dire. “He'll have to have MRI's every six months due to brain damage from the accident,” he'd explain in his normal, dreary tone. “He's still having headaches and possible hallucinations. A neurologist will have to keep a close eye on him as the damage may not fully present itself for years.” He lists the possible effects – from physical disabilities to cognitive, educational, retaining memories. “He may need special classes at school, extra help in order to learn, and it's really hard to tell yet if the accident affected his growth cycle.”

Most memories are hazy after that. The accident, the days at the orphanage. They come at times in sparkling clarity, like a light suddenly shining down on him. Scott giving him his dessert, or his father teaching him to cast his fishing line. He can remember the smell of his grandfather's pipe – cherry and tobacco, earthy and fruity. How he'd sit by the fire and tell them stories of the time when he was a child. His grandmother's cheery laugh. His mother's face.

Strange asks him to think of Scott, the times when his brother seemed powerful. The memories splay across the wall like film on water, smooth images of smiling faces and happy thoughts. They played with toy soldiers in the backyard, creating elaborate scenes with sand dunes and high mountains, lakes and ponds, and leaf-bound traps. Scott sharing the last of his Halloween candy with his little brother after Alex ate all his. Teaching his brother how to tie his shoe, over and over again, until Alex finally made the loops and smiled. So many things paraded across the walls that Alex had to hold back tears.

But, it is the accident that Strange is the most interested in, the day his mother threw them from the plane. “Perhaps the orphanage, as well.” Mutant powers could appear in times of great stress, and though he knows little of the boys' history, he has long heard the rumors of what had happened to them.

He is cognizant, also, that Mr. Sinister is a telepath, and that he had long manipulated the brothers' fortunes in the world. He assures Alex that his own intentions are pure. “I have no reason to taint your memories.”

Hesitant, unsure of what Strange will find, he tries to remember the accident, but there are no memories of that time. Just glimpses of his teacher, of the children that he'd met. He's not sure why has them, when they took place. They don't fit with his knowledge of his own timeline. “The Blandings told me I'd been in the orphanage for two weeks when they adopted me. But, Scott was in a coma for over a year, and I know he was there.”

He knows because it was the reason why he hated his brother for so many years.

He has no memories of the accident. No memories after being thrown from the plane, or at least none that he recognizes. It's further on in his memories – the shadowy scapes of nightmares and trauma – that Strange finds the memories that he's looking for. Alex had always thought them dreams, powerful, sinister dreams that flooded him at night. He'd wake up in a sweat, his face flushed and heart pounding in his chest. So frightening, so real, but in those disparate images, there was little sense or circumstance.

The rush of wind against him, his brother's arms wrapped around his waist. A pool of blood. The terrorized checking of pulse and breath. Running from an unknown assailant. A flash of red. It's only the completion of the cycle that Alex can piece together the sequence of events. That he can watch as his brother – clumsy and sick from concussion – fell to the ground behind him. The hands that grabbed at them, attempted to pull them from the leaves where they hid. The voices, the darkness, the hunger and cold.

Alex watches the memories play out on the walls, asking Strange to play them again, each time, his mind adding more details to the horror. The hands belonged to emergency workers who'd combed the mountains for bodies. The coyotes had scented Scott's blood and hunted them. Broken ribs and a fractured ankle, Scott was in pain as he scoured the forest for food to feed them, failing three nights in a row. How Alex would lay awake at night afraid that his brother was going to quit breathing.

As many memories as blank spots in the sudden flood that tremors through Alex. By the end, he is undone, his breath faltering and eyes red. He bites his lower lip, nostrils flaring, angry at what he's witnessed. Not just at Sinister, or even and Xavier or Jean, but at himself. “I should have been there for him.”

“You didn't know, Alex,” Steve soothes, “None of us did.”

“But we should've.” Logan's voice is low, nearly a snarl. With even breath and downcast eyes, he takes a swig of beer. “There were clues, from both of you.” The brothers are known for their repression, though Scott is by far the worst of the two. “We all joked that it was genetic between the two of you, but really, your minds got screwed over by a bunch of assholes.”

“Logan--” Steve tries to interrupt.

“I'm not talking sideways, Cap. We should have noticed.” They knew that the boys had been in Sinister's clutches for some indeterminate amount of time. But instead of sitting down and talking to them, trying to figure out what he'd exactly done to them, the burden of leadership was cast upon them. “Granted, they're both good leaders, but that doesn't excuse what we done to them.”

Alex swallows the knot in his throat. “Our concentration should be on rescuing Scott, not should haves that no longer matter. So, Doctor Strange, what's the plan? How are we going to save my brother.”

Strange's answer is simple, direct, allowing for no arguments from the others. “Magik will open a portal for us in two weeks time. From there, we must somehow figure out away to snap him to reality and calm him down. If we can't do this, then all is lost, and others measures will have to be taken.”

Strange, himself, knows little about the Red Dimension, other than what he's found in Scott's errant thoughts. He knows about the Phoenix caged inside his mind, how it's locked there due to Wanda's spell. “Which means he's not to immune to magic, and that could be an advantage.” He's readied several spells, and in the coming weeks, will have more. “Calming spells, mainly, but also a spell of control that will be useful in case his powers explode.”

“And what do we do?” Steve asks.

“That all depends on you,” the doctor replies abruptly. “I know why I survived. Why did you?”

Chapter Text

She stares at the dog-boy in the corner, not knowing his name or where he's from. She wants to get close to him, to tell him that she understands because Sarah Goodwind doesn't look like anyone else either.

Small for her thirteen years, with wings and iridescent skin that looks like ink submerged in oil, the blues and greens and purples floating around as if she's made of nothing more than liquid – she understands what it's like to be afraid. She wants him to know that it will be okay, that here, he can fit in. Just like she does. For the first time in her life.

Sarah never knew her mother. Her father barely did. It was a one night stand, pregnancy, and Sarah being left on the doorstep with a note. He didn't need a paternity test to know if Sarah was his or not because Sarah had wings, just like her mother. She was a beautiful woman, he would tell her when she asked- with golden brown hair and deep brown eyes. She told him in the wee hours of the morning that she wasn't from Earth, that she was from somewhere else far away. He didn't believe her until she spread her wings. He asked if she was a mutant, like his brother; she said that was an alien.

But it was through her father's DNA that she gained the X-gene that kept her sick for nearly a month and changed the color of her skin. She wasn't allowed in school anymore, not after that. Sarah could hide her wings, but not her entire body.

“It's okay,” Indira eases from behind her, “He's just really shy.”

Sarah's eyes also change colors. They turn purple when she's happy, blue when she's sad, green when she's angry. She thinks she looks like a lava lamp, and is surprised that the people here don't care. “They're very nice here,” she says, looking quickly to the floor.

Ever cheerful, Indira smiles. “Yes, they are. Now, come on. I could use some help.” Under her arm, she carries a first aid kid and two peanut butter sandwiches.

Alcohol swabs and bandaids, clean water and salve, Indira sets about cleaning the infested, infected wounds on Arlo's skin. He whimpers at the touch, hides his face under broken hands as she trims away necrotic skin. Sarah soothes behind his large, felt-like ears hoping to ease the pain and loneliness. “Where did you learn how to do this?” she asks quietly, still nervous about speaking to the girl.

“My parents sent me to first aid classes every year. Three weeks of being a first responder. They thought it would come in handy in my future profession.”

“What are you going to be?”

“A super hero.”

She stares at Indira for long moments, not sure how to respond. “That's scary.”

“Maybe,” the girl shrugs. “But, it's worth it if it means I get to help people.”

A long silence as Indira continues to clean and bandage Arlo's wounds. Sarah helps by unrolling the gauze and holding it still as long, dark fingers tape it down. And, when finished, Arlo nuzzles her hand in thanks. “It's okay, big guy. You did well.” She pets the boy's head and grins. “Maybe you'll trust Dr. Reyes to take a look at you now?” He shrinks to the corner. “Okay, okay!” Hands up to show no harm, dark eyes again pierce with smile. “I thought you might be hungry, so I brought you food.”

As Indira holds the sandwich for Arlo to eat, Sarah watches her with admiration. She's never met someone so confident and willing before, someone so kind. For the first time since her body changed, she wants to be friends with someone, and maybe two people, as she thinks that Arlo doesn't care what she looks like either. “My name's Sarah,” she says.

A hand held out for a shake, “I'm Indira, and this is Arlo. Glad to meet you.”

Kitty Pryde has watched the exchange for long, hopeful moments. It's the first time she's seen either Arlo or Sarah interact with another child, and she feels obliged to Indira for bringing them together. “Maybe in a couple of days,” she tells Cecilia Reyes, “he'll let you take a look at him.”

“I'm surprised she got that close to either one of them,” Reyes remarks. She no longer goes by a code name, no longer feels the need to be in the field. She's a doctor, and a good one, and the X-men give her plenty of work. And lately, far too much. “We can't keep this up, Kitty. There are too many kids with too many needs. We can't supply them all.”

Kitty knows that what she's saying is true. Already they are strained to keep the kids fed and calm, much less educated and occupied. The arts supplies that Cable had brought are wearing out quick, and the older kids need something more than crayons and coloring books. “Even a radio would be good,” she answers. “It would give them something to do.”

“And news of the outside world. For all we know, the Red Wave's been captured by now.”

“No, he hasn't.” They turn towards the voice of Rachel Gray, her hair mussed from her days long sleep. She's angry, her face red with held back fumes. “We have a problem. A big one.” Just awake from her eleven days under, she stumbles with lack of food and nourishment. “I'm going to kill my mother.”

The silence is stunning as Kitty tries to process what she just heard. She looks to Dr. Reyes who is just as mystified. “Okay,” she stalls. “Maybe we should talk to Storm first before we take any drastic actions.”

“You can talk to Storm. I'm talking to you.”

She ushers the angry red head down the hall, away from the children and Dr. Reyes. “Okay. Now you can tell me what's going on.”

Rage becomes something like pain on Rachel's face, her green eyes becoming wide like moons and her breath stuttered and heavy. “I followed her Kitty, on the astral plane. I followed my mom.”

“The astral plane? Are you sure this wasn't a dream?” Rachel shakes her head no. Kitty sighs. “Okay, so what did you see?”

“My dad.” She lets the words drop Kitty's jaw and crease her dark brow in shock. “He's alive, Kitty. He's the Red Wave.” She'd seen the whole thing, from her father's agony to the argument between her mother and the White Queen. She recounts their speech word by word, her disgust so prominent that Kitty takes a step back. “They did this to him,” she hisses. “They drove him mad.”

Kitty knows better than to call Rachel a liar. No matter how astounding the words, she knows that Rachel is honest. “You really believe you saw this?”

Rachel nods. “They twisted him into nightmares, Kitty. They filled his head with traps and psychic mines. And when he finally broke, they threw him away like garbage.”

“This is a heavy accusation, Rachel. Storm will want to investigate it before we take action. So, right now, I need you to just remain calm, okay? Keep this to yourself, let us figure things out.”

Disheartened, but understanding, Rachel nods. “I will kill her, Kitty. If he dies, I will kill her.”

Chapter Text

Nick Fury walks like a man. His shoulders broad, his chin strong, there is no one that can look at him and say that he does not deserve to be commander of SHIELD. There are those that call him harsh, others say that he is fair, and still others that believe he's secretly in control of the government. He doesn't deny any of these things, nor does he call them truth. In fact, Nick Fury says very little unless he absolutely has to.

Maria Hill on the hand is a much more open person. Just as hard, as those under her command will say, but she smiles sometimes and shows her frustration, especially when it comes to things that go well over her head. Like the portal.

She doesn't know why she's here, why she's been asked to watch this so-called event. She'd much rather be out on the field, looking for Logan or the X-men, or anyone that could threaten their mission to bring down the Red Wave once and for all. But Fury called her here, and she does not refuse orders, no matter how much she may hate them.

Girls with bunny ears pass around trays of champagne and sparkling cider, crusty bread topped with shrimp and other expensive things. Reporters ran amok midst the Red Hunt agents, asking severely personal questions for various expose's and articles that would determine them all heroes. They were the little guys in all of those, risking their lives for the good of the nation.

Trundled in corners, trying to avoid the flash of cameras and waving of microphones, the Avengers talked quietly among themselves, still unsure about Tony's plan to bridge the great beyond. They were the back-up plan, the just-in-case now that Tony is about to launch his telescope.

He brings the crowd to attention, reminds them why they're here, that a mutant threatens the earth, and it's up to the Red Hunt to save the world once again. To this end, he mentions Reed Richards, and the work he put into designing the dimensional portal that will allow them to finally capture the Red Wave.

“This mutant can disintegrate an entire city, what's to stop it from killing you?” a reporter asks, looking beyond the pomp and bravado. It's a question that all were thinking, but only she dared to ask. The audience hums their appreciation for her courage.

Tony understands her worry. In fact, his nights have been sleepless because of this question. But he asks the world to have faith in those that are journeying beyond worlds, and those who will wait patiently at home. “There have been far greater odds against us, and against far greater opponents.”

“Does this mean that you've identified the Red Wave?” another reporter asks from the crowd.

A nod and a smile, “Yes, with the help of both Dr. Henry McCoy and Emma Frost, we've been able to identify the Red Wave.” A hush falls over the crowd. “And this is why I'm confident that we'll win this war because we've defeated him before.” He makes sure that all eyes are on him before continuing. “The mutant known as Cyclops – Scott Summers – is the Red Wave, and because of that, we will win. After all, we've defeated him before.”

Cameras flash like fireworks and a hundred voices rise up with a thousand questions, but Tony refuses to answer them. Instead, he gestures towards the wormhole. “It's time, ladies and gentlemen, to witness our progress. This telescope will find Scott Summers for us, and we will finally be free of his threat to us.”

Dressed in lab coats, the portal technicians swarm the dashboard above the fray, and the crowd takes the stairs to viewing balconies, each with cameras ready. Below, the Red Hunt takes their positions around the stage, weapons at ready as the countdown begins. Their orders are shoot to kill if anyone or anything should try to escape the wormhole.

Maria Hill holds her breath without realizing it. She knows Scott Summers. She hunted him for years, fought with him, warred with him. And though she cringes at the thought of it, there was always something about him that she found attractive. If Fury notices her reddening face as she recalls her last words with Summers, then he doesn't say so, but he does look at her before returning his attention to the portal.

It was just after Logan's death. There were reports of a mutant with red lenses causing trouble in a Candian bar. She knew it was him. After several weeks of laying low, with no glimpses of him in the wider world, he'd come out of his hiding place with a bang. This time, she was going to arrest him.

The place was a wreck by the time she got there, broken bottles and busted chairs, banged up tables and a battered jukebox – not to mention the piles of bodies aching and groaning from the beat down that they took. “You from the police?” the barkeep asked. She nodded. It wasn't exactly a lie, but it wasn't wholly truth either. At the time, she was head of SHIELD, and Cyclops had made her tenure almost unbearable. “He's on foot, should be able to follow the tracks in the snow.”

And so she did, trailing after the long-paced footprints that carried over the yard and up into the hills. Cold, with the sun beginning to dip in the afternoon, she regretted not bringing her coat. She walked for an hour, also regretting that she didn't ask for back up. Scott Summers was a dangerous man, if for no other reason than how unhinged he was after he'd killed Charles Xavier. He was wanted for murder in the first degree, and he needed to be tried for the destruction left in the wake of the Phoenix. He deserved to be in jail.

It was nearly six o'clock by the time she found him. Quiet and serene, he stood on the edge of an open hill overlooking the town below him, the twinkling lights and church bells. He noticed her right away, and went back to his visage.

She was guarded in her approach, keeping her hand on her gun and her steps slow. “Scott Summers,” she called out, “You're under arrest for the murder of Charles Xavier.” He didn't turn towards her, didn't run, didn't even flinch at her words. He just stood there, silent as stone, staring out at the silhouette of a quaint little town. She continued towards him, extra heedful of small movements. “Knees on the ground and hands behind your head.”

She finally came to his side, leveled the gun at his heart. She was tempted to grab his hand, put him in cuffs, but something about him made her stall. A long silence cast between them before he spoke. “I can't sleep,” was all he said, his voice barely audible.

She didn't expect the sudden knot in her throat, not over Summers, not over the mutant who tried to destroy the world. It was then, she noticed the tears. Behind the ruby red visor, Cyclops was crying. “I'm sorry for your loss,” she soothed, putting her gun away. He was in mourning for a friend that he'd lost twice now – once on Utopia, and once for good.

Shaking hands wiped away the tears. “I can't go with you today, Ms. Hill. I have goals to accomplish.”

“And just what are those goals, Mr. Summers?”

“There's just one, really. To make sure my people are safe. To make sure my friends are safe.”

Had the mood been even slightly less morose, she would have asked him what friends. All of the people that he once considered friends hated him now, and that made her realize how lonely he was. “You're going to have to pay for the damage,” she told him. He nodded. “You really should think about turning yourself in, Cyclops. It would make things a lot easier on you.”

“Things have never been easy on me, Commander. That's the life of an X-man.”

She left him there, on the hilltop. Left him to grieve in his own silent way. She felt sorry for him as she walked away. The most hated man on earth, and for no other reason than trying to save his people.

A bright flash of blue-white light, and the engines of the portal begin to whirl. Around they go in concentric circles, weaving in and out of each other, as a thin, pinkish film begins to fade into existence. The crowd in the surround ooh and ah at the creation of the wormhole. The scientists chatter among themselves, with Reed at the helm calling out the action sequences in a quiet, firm voice.

As the portal widens, the audience can see into its the depths – the clouds of red and the swirling of energy. “It looks like dust,” someone comments midst the quiet. The Red Hunt below steadies themselves around the corners of the oval portal, daring to take steps forward in case of an attack, but after several minutes of watching the doorway grow, they begin to relax. “Nothing but dust.”

A push of a button, and the giant telescope is wheeled onto the gateway path. Its lights blinking with communication, the techs perform a final systems check before a great crane lifts it to the light. A small engine at the rear fires up, and the crane lets go. Slowly, the monster lens floats into the wormhole to the applause of all.

It doesn't take long for the machine to begin sending back long range pictures which are displayed on an overhead screen. The crowd marvels at the vastness of this dimension, with some comparing it to an earth gone supernova. Pieces of material float aimlessly through air, both large and small, but easy enough for the techs to avoid. They call out coordinates in the surround, directing the telescope to gain a three hundred and sixty degree view.

The panorama is more than impressive. Structures – obelisks and orbs, crushed and broken – are scattered about in the distance, their decay spreading out to the edges of sight. The telescope begins to move then, straight from the door, capturing even more of the stellar view. Drifting glass and shards of crystals, a shattered door and a crumbled stairwell. All of these things can be seen, and then finally, far into the distance, perhaps days away from the telescope's current position, a landmass.

And with a flick of switch, Tony turns it all off. “And, that concludes our presentation today, folks,” he says with a clap of hands. “We don't want Summers' allies finding out what we know, right?” He leaps from the stage and motions for the girls to begin showing people out.

“Quite a production,” Fury sneers.

“We have to take every advantage we can, Nick,” Stark replies. “We need public sentiment on our side, especially if you still intend to arrest Captain America.”

“Next time, don't expect my men to protect your gaggle of reporters.”

“Hopefully, there won't be a next time.”

Fury calls out instructions to the Red Hunt – one hour shift changes, a one day rotation cycle before the next crew is called in. “I want all eyes on that portal day and night. Something comes through, kill it where it stands.” And with barely a nod, he excuses himself, with Hill following close behind.

Chapter Text

It's midnight when she finishes chalking her spell, a great circle across Ayers rock. Already, her sorcerer eyes can see the flush of magic light across the horizon. She's connected them all, the great ley lines, filled them to brim with ancient tongues and ritual spells. The influx is sheer, pale orange power. Like a sunset or sunrise drawn in darkness. Months she's taken to carve out her enchantment, and already the results are astounding. By morning, she'll have collected enough energy to open a door to the Red Dimension.

Stepping onto a teleportation disc, Magik disappears into the depths of Limbo, coming out the other end at the Sanctum Sanctorum. Exhausted, but still able, she taps at the door and waits for Dr. Strange to answer. “It's done,” she tells him. He nods.

“Tomorrow then,” he tells her. There is an urgency to him then, small movements that betray his anxiousness. Though he's sure that he can survive the journey, he's not sure about the rest of the world. “I need the Book of Mer Serval.”

Blue eyes widen. “That is a dangerous book,” she says cautiously. She was told at the beginning of her tutelage to do as he said, not to question, but still, hearing that book's name made her wonder.

“And these are dangerous times.” The Mer Serval is an unnatural tome, dealing with the spirit realm, and all those places in between. It is a book that speaks to the dead, or creates them. But it is not the death that he's after, nor the conversation. He looks for a different spell altogether.

Magik returns post haste, the large volume carried with both hands. Being a child of Limbo and the student of Belasco, she knows intimately the feel of dark magic. “There are demon spells in here,” she warns him, holding tight to the book. More than anyone, she knows what happens when one casts a demon spell.

He nods and takes the book. “We'll leave in the morning. Please let the others know.”

This is not a book he's studied before, simply one that he knows is powerful. It was Wong who let him in on the secrets of it, captured it from their teacher's library and stored it here in the Sanctum. In the wrong hands, these spells could do terrible, terrible things. The book, perhaps more than any other in his library needs guarding, specifically for the spell that he needs to learn.

Magik seeks out Logan first, knocking politely on his door before bursting in. “The rift will be ready in the morning.”

She wants to leave, fulfill her duty and go to bed, but even her half-tarnished soul quiets at the sight of the Wolverine. In a daze, he stares at adamantium claws, rubbing his fingertips against them, watching them bleed then heal. A puddle of blood pools at his feet signifying that he's been doing this for some hours. “Logan?”

He jolts from his haze, stabbing claws towards the source of sound, and pulls back just in time to avoid gutting the young blonde who called to him. “Why are you here?” he asks, his tone gruff and angry.

“I'm opening the portal tomorrow. I came to let you know.” She swears that she can see his heart sink to his toes. She watches him for some moments, then takes a seat on the small stool in the corner. “Not interrupting, am I?” He doesn't answer.

She talks about the mission ahead of them, about the ley lines and their significance. The Malvern Hills and the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Nazca Lines, and the great energies that run between them all. Three dozen circles across the globe, each as intricate as the next, calling out for the Earth's great energies. She tells him how long she studied the circles, how long she had to practice. Strange corrected her formations for days, scouring the details with an eagle eye and intention. “If he really is Earth's defense against a cosmic assault, then it will answer the call to rescue him.”

He knows that she's trying to distract him, keep him occupied until he's comfortable enough with her to speak. She's a wily one, more intuitive than she lets on. “I'll be okay--”

“Of course you will. You aren't the problem. Cyclops is.”

The statement hits him hard, stops his heart and stutters his breath. “I don't want to kill him,” he says quietly.

“Then don't.”

While it seems simple, he hearkens back to Strange's words about survival. “He asked me once to kill him. I said no.”

“Then say no again.”

“It ain't that simple. If he brought me back to--”

“You know, he never spoke poorly of you,” she says. “Not after you left Utopia, not when you threatened to kill him. He respected you and your decisions, swore to keep you safe even though you hated him. So, if you say no, then he'll respect that, too.”

Guilt stings his eyes, makes him wince. “If not a killer, then I don't know what he wants me to be.”

“I'm sure you'll figure it out.” She leaves him then, exits his small chamber and goes down the hall to inform the others of their mission time.

It's a solemn thing to watch her leave, as he's alone again with his too many thoughts. He thinks back to simpler times, when the rivalry between them had brought them to blows. Over Jean, over orders. There was a time when it didn't matter. Whatever Cyclops told him to do, he wanted to do the opposite. He told himself it was because Cyclops was a prick, that he made the wrong decisions, that he was too stoic, too distant. He remembered looking into red visor, staring at the man's emotionless face, and spitting back at him with all of the rage that he could muster.

But he also remembers the same man rushing into danger to save him.

Time and again – though he had no healing factor or super strength – Scott stood front and center, pulling his teammates out of harm's way, keeping them as safe as he could. His plans were devised according to the strengths and weaknesses of his team, keeping them alive was always a priority. “I'm restarting X-force,” he said quietly one evening at the Eyrie. He'd been awake for weeks mulling over this decision, a last resort in desperate times. Already, Logan could see the decision eating away at him. For the first time, he was ordering death. “There's too many forces trying to kill us. We can't keep them all at bay.”

It was the first step off the path of Xavier, but not one that Wolverine disagreed with. He'd long thought the boy scout was too easy on their enemies, too upright and uptight. And that first step was a doozy.

He took the deaths personally, with each one a burden upon him, and they piled up quickly. If he was stoic before, he became steel after, with nothing – not even Emma Frost – coming close to touching him. He became a solitary man, fighting a never-ending battle to protect them all, sacrificing himself, his ideals, the very core of his nature to keep them from going extinct.

This is not a man he wants to kill.

“I've never been good at obeying orders,” he speaks into the air. “But, you should be used to that by now.”

Chapter Text

A hundred pictures over a twenty mile radius every minute, and the scientists devour them. Hunkered down with magnifying glasses and refractive lenses, they scour the pictures for signs of the Red Wave.

They are mesmerized by the fragments, the floating pieces that seem to come to life at times, hosting moving images like a thought played over glass. They try to match the sequences together, to figure out what is being shown, but they are just as quickly put back to work by the calm words of Hank McCoy.

Hank McCoy knows what this is. He's seen the images before. He's lived through them. He knows that what he's seeing are memories – millions of them, played out over shattered surface. He knows that he's witnessing the broken mind of Cyclops.

With each new picture, there is hope of finding the X-men leader. As the telescope journeys closer to the coordinates calculated by Reed Richards – a complicated mix of red shift and cosmic geometry that Beast is still mesmerized by – the scientists become more excited. The structures begin to grow bigger, have more substance, their breaking points more easily sussed out and obvious. And endless heave of stairwells and mighty obelisks piecing apart at the seams; half chewed hallways and chambers, the remnants of hallways and writing desks. “It's like a palace,” one of the scientists remarks, quickly drawing up a rendition of what the place should look like. “One that's imploded.”

On the fragments, Beast sees himself in an earlier stage of mutantcy. Dark hair and wide feet, hands that could surround a football. He was young then, barely seventeen, the oldest of the original team, and possibly the smartest. He was not an arrogant boy, and his curiosity had not yet been dimmed by the constant battles and plights that life constantly threw at them.

He was happy then, jovial. He enjoyed the conversations at Harry's Hide Away, the open lab for him to explore, the mansion, his teammates – even Scott. While Bobby thought him a stick in the mud, and Warren felt that he should be in charge, Beast found Scott to be an intriguing subject. Quiet – except in their frequent training sessions – and calm, stoic even as a fifteen year old child, he was perhaps the only one that he could speak to on an adult level. The only one who didn't shrug him off when he had his epiphanies.

Scott stayed busy most of the day, between maintenance on the Danger Room, ordering supplies, filling out assessments and reports, he had the job of three people, but he did it without question. It was Scott who took care of their daily living, assuring that they had enough food and drink to last them between orders, toothpaste, clean sheets. He did this between classes, and in his free time, he would work on the Blackbird.

The Blackbird was his own design, refurbished from and built from spare parts from stealth planes. He had a vast knowledge of planes and space engines, and all of their accouterments. From detection shields to vertical thrusters, he'd built it all from scratch, but was still not happy. It took too much fuel, wasn't fast enough, was too slow on the take off, too wobbly in its landing. It was his pet project, his hobby, but the mechanics of what he wanted had gone far beyond his knowledge. He read voraciously, found technical manuals, blue prints, whatever he could get his hands on, and constantly updated his systems.

Though Hank wasn't necessarily interested in jet propulsion systems, he was interested in understanding their fearless leader. The kid was quiet, unnervingly so at times. He shared nothing of his childhood, his personal thoughts. He was closed off and distant, preferring to work instead of celebrate. But Henry knew that it took more than just a head for missions to keep the team together, it also took friendship, and so that was why he took helping Scott in the evenings.

At first, the time was quiet, with mostly Beast chattering about this or that, but weeks later, the boy began to speak, ask questions, prove that he had listened all that time. Though details of his personal life, his thoughts, and dreams were scant, he showed interest in his comrade, and that in turn lent trust to the others.

Henry McCoy misses those days, when they were young. Like a thorn, it aches inside of him.

“Sir,” one of the technicians calls him over. “Look at this.”

He shows him a picture of the landmass that Richards had foretold. A bright red white light some hundreds of miles away, exactly where Reed said he should be. “That's it,” Beast says. “That's what we're looking for.” In a matter of moments, he calls into coms, stations everyone at the coordinates for the light. “Let's get close enough to that thing to make sure that the Red Hunt can survive it.” And, after, he contacts Tony Stark, who will lead the team into the Red Dimension, and put his friend out of his misery.

It doesn't take long for Tony and Reed to arrive. Both harried and fresh out of bed, they are not yet dressed to their normal standards. They spy the picture, and then watch as the telescope gets closer to their target. It's a phenomenal thing to see the chaos of the Red Dimension. As they near, they have to navigate, making sure to avoid the failing structures and debris. The light grows brighter as they close in on their mark, less a twinkling star in the night sky and more a torrent of out of control energy. “Shit,” Stark awes as the telescope begins to pick up on clearer pictures.

What they see then are bombs, thousands upon thousands of them. Some piled as high as they can see, leaving little room for maneuvering. “That's not fun,” Tony says.

“We're in his mindscape.” All eyes turn to Emma Frost. “This is what we did to him.” Her walk is far more casual than what should be appropriate, the glimmer of her sadness hung at the corner of her mouth. “I can fix him, Tony.”

“I can't trust you with that, Emma. If this is indeed what his mind looks like, you shouldn't be trusted with anything ever again.” In the corners of the masses, there are nightmares, living and whole. They run amok midst the debris, dancing over thoughts and memories. Tony sees himself on one of the fragments, a great battle that he is losing. In it, he is a million of himself, all propelling down upon a singular Cyclops. He opens up his optic beams, taking them out by the hundreds, destroying them, disintegrating them. Stark feels the loss. “Is he threatening us?”

Reed shakes his head, more concerned with the wealth of bombs and his telescope than he is Ironman's imaginary deaths. “We can't get closer,” he says. “Not without risking the telescope.” He assumes that entering the Red Dimension will be safe, as the telescope has been here for days without even a hint of threat, but he can't guarantee their lives once they finally find their query.

Stark knows that there's no guarantee of the Red Hunt team coming back alive. Be it himself or Emma, Reed or the mighty Thor, he knows that they could all die here as soon as Summers unleashes another blast. “I don't think he wants to kill us,” he admits. “We can use that. Get to him first.”

Emma agrees with the assessment. “He doesn't want to hurt anyone,” she says quietly. “That's why we need to stop him.” Only Beast notices the sideways glance she casts at Stark, though he's not sure what it means.

“Well, I suppose we're going to have to take our chances for the good of the Earth,” Stark calls. “We leave in the morning.”

Chapter Text

It's not a trial, but it feels like one. The news of Jean's treachery spreads through the mine like wildfire, from the mouths of babes who overheard to the adults who catch the whispers. The trouble only escalates when Cable shows up with a newspaper in his hand declaring that Cyclops is still alive.

Storm leads the damage control, declares that this is all a trick of the Shadow King, that Tony Stark is trying to defame the mutants further so that he can gather control, but even she accedes once Jean confesses. She says that she was young, that she's sorry, that she didn't understand at first, not until she was too immersed to pull herself free.

Cable hears no excuse. Gun at level, he's ready to kill her on site, regardless of how much he loves her, but Rachel intervenes, her last second compassion overcoming her own threat to do the same.

In the hallways, the children cry, scared of the sudden tumult that surrounds them. Kitty tries to shield them, to tear them away from the arguments and hide them in the tiny chambers, but she is unsuccessful with Tatsuya. Pocket sits in the corner of the common room, hands over his ears, feet kicking. He refuses to move, even at his father's behest. He shrugs them off, gnashes his teeth, fights them with everything he has, never once vocalizing his desire to remain put.

Warren, perhaps, is the most disturbed by the commotion, his skin turning evening blue and his blonde brow low against his eyes. It's Psylocke that he is most hurt by, that she would lie to him for all of these years. That she - of all people - who believed in independence, would dare to take another's power for herself. He calls out Jean's flimsy excuses of wanting to protect them all, her desire for strength, and calls her selfish. He wants them gone, all of them – the telepaths – anyone who had a hand in destroying the mind of his friend, but Storm is against it.

She needs Jean, the Cuckoos, Psylocke, Xi'an, Dani Moonstar, and all of the others. She needs their abilities to keep their small enclave calm, for there is too much fear, too much trauma locked up in one place. They are a small community here – just 200 – she can't handle it all on her own.

Cable shakes his head. “How the mighty of fallen.” The disdain in his eyes is obvious. With a clenched jaw and white-knuckled fist, he admonishes her for her weakness. “This isn't leadership, this isn't safety. This hiding. This is fucking fear.”

Storm cracks lightning in response, threatens the man with it, threatens them all. But, it's Rogue who throws the first punch when Cable says that those in the Undertow can rot for all he cares. She reacts with a fist to steel jaw. She is countered by Rachel, who has no qualms in using her telekinesis to throw the southern belle into a far wall.

Bobby slides in with an ice wall, hoping to cool down the situation before it gets worse, but Warren calls him out quickly, yelling that he's betraying their friend by siding with the telepaths. Also hoping to subdue the fight, Kitty thrusts a phased hand through Angel's chest, threatening to pull out his heart, but Nightcrawler senses her hesitation and ports the blue-skinned mutant out of the way.

The Cuckoos are unapologetic, feeling that they had a right to the power that Cyclops wasn't using. Joining with Jean, they use their hive mind to scramble Cable's senses, thus temporarily ending his onslaught against a near-raging Storm.

Colossus protects Kitty from a sudden lunge by Hellion who is disturbed that the X-men are letting one of their own die. Dust interferes with a sand blast, blinding the young man with a swirling storm so that Piotr can get his love clear.

Armor attempts to disrupt the hive mind of the Cuckoos with a desperate kick at Phoebe. It gives enough of a break for Cable to jolt back into action. Grabbing one of the young blondes by the arm, he wrestles her into a sleeper hold, choking her just long enough to make her fall unconscious. Storm reviles him for the maneuver, calling the Frost clones innocent children that should be protected, and she unleashes her own tactics against the older psion.

Storm doesn't consider the metallic chamber that they're in. All she thinks about is the rage as she watches this battle progress. Drawing long ebony arms above her head, she calls down a mass of lightning into the center of the room. It snaps and cracks, electrifying floors and walls, so brilliant in its light that even the airborne mutants are struck.

En masse they fall unconscious, their blood heated and their bodies quivering.

Hovering just outside the room, her little wings fluttering, Sarah Goodwind – with tears in her eyes - holds Pocket out of harm's way. She looks to Pixie, who floats at her side, scared of what has just happened. “It's okay,” Megan Gwynn soothes. She's only seen this much anger once – at the reading of Charles Xavier's will. She ushers Sarah on, tells her to make the kids some sandwiches, that she'll handle things from here.

Pixie is not a brave girl. While she has her moments, she doesn't feel herself a hero. Including now. As the electric storm draws to a close, she checks pulses and life signs, teleporting Mindee Cuckoo and Hellion to the med lab for Dr. Reyes, and then waits for the others to wake up.

It's Storm who wakes first, her body most unaffected by the travesty. She sits at first, with Megan's help, and finally gains her bearings enough to stand. Cable wakes next, still displeased with Ororo's defense of her friend. “My father sacrificed himself so that you could live. I find it ironic, now, that you use that life to hide yourself away and do nothing.”

She watches him walk away, her old doubts now coming back to haunt her. She feels the weariness in her soul. Many years ago, she would have stood her ground against the Red Hunt, but time has culled her fury. She's no longer the fighter that she once was. “What would you have me do? Kill Jean Grey?”

“At the very least, I didn't expect you to protect her.” It was so easy to disavow Cyclops, yet she's willing to stand for Jean. “Good luck, Ororo. I hope you find your peace.”

Chapter Text

“You are weak.”

Emma Frost knows how to get there, to reach him. Through the psionic mines and horrible shades, she knows the paths and where they lead. A dozen paths, and she knows them by all heart. For she used to live here, used to hold her strength here, used to keep him from falling apart.

“You don't deserve love.”

The whispers are louder than they ever were. Their echoes vibrating over the caverns left to ruin. They're creepy, or so Stark says as he tilts his head to the phantom voices. He can finally understand why the man went crazy, if this is what they did to him.

“No one wants you.”

It's the nightmares that they have to watch for. They'll attack anything that enters here. Twisted versions of friends and family, armed to the teeth with psionic weaponry. They'll sever the synapses, cut through thoughts. They are not here to protect, they are here to destroy.

“You are a fool.”

Emma's favorite shadow, however, is that of Jean Grey, and she can be seen hovering over the bombs. She watches them, her green eyes grown black, her fingers long and spindled, covered in decay. Dressed in Phoenix wear, she's everything that Scott ever wanted, now twisted to show the true reality. He dreams of this nightmare almost daily. She attacks him in his sleep, digs her claws down his spine, cuts him into shreds. Still, he never got over her. Her whispers were too many.

“Control. You need to stay in control.”

Tony asks again about the mines, what they're for, what they do. Emma rolls crystal blue eyes, her mind already occupied with trying to keep the shade of Grey at bay. The spirit was made too strong. Psylocke had buffed it some years ago, as did Xavier in an effort to toss Frost from her throne. But Emma was the one who created it. She knew the inner workings, how easy is it was to subdue her. Though it takes great effort, she manages to oust the thing from their path, send her further on into the mind, make her look for other prey. She knows this prey will be Scott, it always is, but she has hope that Scott will soon be free of it.

“How many times will you let her die in order to save yourself?”

Stark tires of being ignored. He has no care of her psychic battles as she fends off the nightmares, so he keeps his attention on the giant orbs of destruction before them. Glowing and ominous, they are smooth or jagged, lining walls and ceiling. To count them would take years. Three times he attempts to touch them, only to be batted away by Reed. He reminds the man of Emma's warnings, that these are not to be trifled with.

“She doesn't love you.”

Emma calls them to yet another stop as she stares down the nightmare of Xavier. This was his creation, his own self turned to shadow. He used it many times to beat them back – Emma, Jean, the other telepaths. It's powerful and frightening, imbued with psychic energy, with teeth that gnash and gnarled legs. It floats above them, blasting them with psionic waves, taking them each to their knees.

“They will all abandon you.”

In diamond form, Emma can save herself the pain, but she's unable to fight and free them of the telepathic hold. She stands, her diamond fist drawn back, but the apparition floats upward out of her reach. With a thunderous yell, Thor breaks free of the psychic pain and lobs his hammer towards the ghost. It passes freely through the nightmare, bashing into several mines behind it.

“Everyone hates you.”

A whorl of energy escapes the bombs, a host of shadows and a flood of new whispers. Memories fly like shards of glass, piercing already stained walls with traps and snares. A pained scream in the distance and the shaking of ground, Emma's eyes widen, realizing that her love could easily veer out of control.

“You're worthless.”

A diamond glare from Emma and Thor shrinks back suddenly wondering why he's here. This is not a fight of brute force, this is a battle of the mind, and he doesn't have the ability to wage it. The nightmares surround them, images of Alex and Kurt, Piotr and Rogue. They are monstrous things, tall and ragged. As the White Queen holds them off, she makes sure to admonish the Norseman at her rear.

“You're better off dead.”

Sage and Elias Bogan held their own little war within Scott's mind, trumping each other with phantasms and bombs, digging into precious memories in order to turn the wealth of power against each other. Their bombs are often the most devastating, and though Emma doesn't know which one created Alex, she knows she is to be wary.

“They'll always mock you.”

Alex's blast curves through them all, knocking them backwards and to the ground. Emma grows to diamond, blocks the pain of searing synapses and quickly becomes flesh again to connect her team to the astral plane. She arms them each with shields and weapons, and warns them that if she is unconscious, their ability to fight here is damned.

“You deserve to die.”

Their effort is mighty, with Thor flushing his hammer to Rogue's skull, slamming her back into a far wall. He can feel the energy of the Red Dimension, feel it burn within his blood, but Emma cautions him. Drawing up on it will have dire consequences.

“Control, Scott. Or, you'll kill them all.”

Stark lunges for an airborne Xavier, dragging the phantom to the ground, his astral suit largely like his own. A repulsor to the head, he attempts to boil the brains of the ghost, but close is exactly where the spirit wants him to be. For it's up close that his power is amplified by touch. Two hands to the head, a blood grip on temples, Xavier pounds Stark with psychic waves, rummaging through his life, tearing apart those things he holds most dear. It's Reed Richards that pulls him away from a distance. Drawing Tony back until he's clear of the monstrosity. He can feel the adrenaline surge inside of him. Mr. Fantastic is ready for a fight.

“They're afraid of you.”

A multi-front battle, Emma must not only concentrate on the nightmares in her wake, but also keeping the others connected to the astral plane. Her movements are sluggish, distracted as keen blue eyes constantly swarm the area to assure that the others are still alive. Another blitz of power by Alex, and Emma is shot backwards into another mine, releasing yet more memories and whispers, and another nightmare. A distant scream and the shaking of ground threaten her balance even further.

“She didn't choose you, Scott. She pitied you.”

Immediately to her side, Thor stops her from falling further back. They both barely avoid the rush of Proudstar, moving just in time to avoid the long, curved blades in his hands. Though she can't turn diamond, she is still a remarkable warrior in the astral plane, and she finally draws her sword, angling it to Warpath's chest, she heaves the thing through the air, piercing heart. The image of Warpath fades, goes on to haunt elsewhere, but Emma is left defenseless against the next assault.

“Relax and they all die.”

Nightcrawler ports to the sword, picking it up as easy as thread, wielding the thing like a wild knife in the jungle. He hacks at the air, driving both Emma and Thor back. Getting cut by the sword will not only render they synapses momentarily dead, but it will also cut their ties to the astral realm – something they can't afford.

“They don't trust you.”

Blocking each thrust and parry with a long white shield, Frost protects them both from the range of the sword, until Nightcrawler ports again, this time to their rear. He swipes at Thor, missing with the sword, but delivering a terrible blow to the stomach with his tail. Thor cannot bleed in astral form, but he feels the pain all the same.

“Logan's going to kill you.”

Thor falls purposefully forward, attempting to collapse upon the teleporting mutant, but Nightcrawler is too fast. He ports to the walls, bouncing across telepathic mines, laughing and dancing. He is then struck by a newly conscious Ironman who knocks him off of his pedestal and beats him into oblivion. The shade fades, and Stark smiles. He glances back at Emma to see if his heroism made it's mark.

“You're not a mutant. You're an abomination.”

She's too concentrated on Alex to pay attention, however. Another blast which she narrowly avoids by dropping to the ground, she rolls under the bevvy of mines and comes to standing just behind Reed. She can take Xavier, she's the only that can, but she needs full concentration. She needs to drop their connection.

“You're not needed here.”

She implores them to make haste with Alex to find a way to defeat him and fast. Xavier is biding his time, his psychic assaults are far more powerful than he's let on. Reed blocks Alex's energy with the blade of Emma's sword. It reels him backwards, then to the side, but he stays on his feet and in astral form.

“You're a puppet, not a leader.”

Stark comes at him from behind, propelling himself forwards, while Reed battles from the front. He attempts to wrap his arms around the nightmare's legs, pull him down, and keep him still, but Tony bashes in far too fast.

“They don't respect you.”

Alex tumbles forward, knocked to his knees, and with a bellowing voice, he screams out his intent. He will kill them all. The power unleashed is remarkable in its scope, pushing outward to cover the area. Thrown to the ground and in incredible pain, they can do nothing but wait for the barrage to stop.

“You doubt yourself because you're a fool.”

Xavier takes the torment to add his own powers to the table. His psychic wave curls across their minds, a bloody grip into thought and memory. He intends to make them pay for the disturbance, for being here, for trying to conquer the mind that he so rightfully deserves.

“There's a reason you're all alone.”

Emma fights her way through the psionic pain, stabbing her fingers into her scalp to force herself to concentrate. She's better than this, tougher than this, and she can be stronger. She finds the nearest memory – a Christmas star hung in an icy window, sweet, humble, smelling of nutmeg and cinnamon, displaced in time and space – and in her hands it becomes the harbinger of Armageddon. She threads the fear through light and sound, darkens it, hampers it. It smells of death, the dead, rot.

“Keep your distance or you'll hurt them, too.”

She can feel it. For the first time in years, she can feel him inside her mind, his power pushing against the boundaries of her strength, filling her up and making her feel whole once again. It's in this push, this simple twist of memory, that she splays her hands in the air and lashes out with a telepathic bolt of her own. Xavier is banished in an instant, but Alex is another story.

“You deserve the punishment.”

Another memory – the moment he saw Jean standing outside on the sidewalk, the nerve-struck boy and his beating heart, at once enamored and in love. She hates him, she devours him, she wakes him in the night and stabs him with her cold, hard claws. She wants to destroy him. She's a monster.

“All you'll ever know is pain.”

Another boost of power, enough to project a shield to protect them all from the next wave of concentric energies. She strengthens her armor, the white of it shining like a star, blinding the younger Summers. His head turned, she forms a lance – diamond tipped and deadly. She rushes him, propels herself forward and stabs the nightmare through the neck. He disappears to some other part of the mind, waiting for his chance to fight them again.

“You're nothing special.”

Blazing with power, she quickly begins to work on the others, slowly reconnecting thoughts to mind, mind to body, reforming their memories from the traces. If only this could have worked with Scott, but too many traps and snares, too many bombs and psychic mines, each connected to a pathway in his mind. Fixing even one of his memories meant destroying a dozen more.

“You're only worth is in your sacrifice.”

She's tempted now to take from him further. To regain the hold she once had. She could do it. She could take it all now that the others have abandoned him. Turn him to ash and take everything she could ever want, a whole dimension of power.

“Even your own father couldn't stand you.”

But, just as she reaches out into the ether, searches for memories and former paths, she gets a glimpse of the pain that he's in and withdraws. She loves him more than the power that he holds and because of that she keeps only the power that she's gained. With it, she'll wipe him clean, start from scratch, rebuild her love from the nothingness that she will make of him. And with his power, she'll bring peace to the world and happiness to him.

“No one will ever love you.”

Chapter Text

It's not supposed to be like this. This mind. This space. It's supposed to be a better mind, strict, controlled, organized, not bleeding and embattled. This is the mind of Scott Summers, and he walked into it knowing that things would be bad, but he never imagined this. Not in a million years.

Logan wonders how much strength it took to ignore the whispers that are never silent; how often he had to push past the discrepancies of a thousand memories to make the decisions that he did; when he started fighting them in the back his mind; how many times they'd killed him.

He watches as he stabs Scott Summers in the gut, rips his claws upward through chin and hair, killing the man on sight, and then stood over top as his body pieces itself back together again. In the distance, he can hear the pain of death, how haunting and sad. The breath of barely-in-control, heaved and rasped, his voice broken by yet another stab to body, one that takes out his lungs.

He fights a never ending battle against millions of foes, all of them splayed out on screens that looks like glass. They make the walls, the ceiling, the floor of this place. And again, Logan kills him. The Red Dimension shakes in his death.

Steve Rogers is as equally disturbed as Logan and Alex by the visuals surrounding them. He's sickened by the blood, near nauseous with the violence. “He's destroying us,” he says quietly, choking back bile and tension.

“No. He's destroying himself.” Alex recognizes this because it's in his own mind as well. A place of tactics, of strategy, the place where Scott goes in order to train them for missions. It was Scott who taught him how to lead a team, how to best find the weaknesses of his enemies, to stay a step ahead. But, this – this is out of control.

They can feel the tension in this mind, the pain, the fear. They can hear the whispers and see the psionic mines. They can sense the traps and the dangers of the lurking nightmares. “We really should have known,” Logan mumbles as he looks around at the broken thoughts and debris of memory.

In hindsight, he can see them, all those little clues and hints that something wasn't right. He can remember those hushed conversations, the psychic tension in the air. “We never asked if he was okay.”

He'd cradled a child in his arms, knelt down to soothe a woman's tears, gave his rations to a man half-starved. He talked to them all, became their confidante, their rock. He wasn't the same.

Logan kept asking him if he was okay, and Scott kept replying that he was fine. He plugged him about Apocalypse, that last fight with Jean, his weekend with his father. But Scott kept his mouth shut, saying nothing, revealing nothing. But he'd changed, became a different man, broken somehow, though he acted as if he were whole. “You should get some sleep, Cyke.”

Ruby red visor turned. “If I sleep, I'll disappear completely.”

At the time, he reckoned it to Apocalypse. The man had been given a single weekend before being pushed back onto the field leading the massive rescue operation in Genosha. Wolverine had been against it, told them all that it was madness, but Jean said that he was fine, that Apocalypse was gone, all remnants of him. Xavier agreed. He'd filtered through Scott's mind himself, there were no more traces of Apocalypse.

But there was. “He showed me things, Logan,” Scott said some days later. “Things I never thought possible.” He was cold, distant. Logan didn't press him then, figuring the man had a right to his privacy.

He regrets that now, and times before and after. Dozens of cryptic conversations between himself and Scott, times where Summers had revealed just a touch too much. The telepaths counted on the ignorance of the rest of them, how easy it was to turn a blind eye to him. “We really should have known.”

“Don't blame yourself,” Steve says. “Blame those that did this to him.”

They continue on, past the miles of battles flashed in screens, through the tunnels that are near to collapsing. They make their way past bombs and nightmares, blinded to the shades by Strange's spells. He walks them to a crossroads, a path to the right and to the left. “It's not safe,” he says, his hand upon the walls. “Something's wrong here.”

“This whole place is something wrong,” Logan barks.

“No, there's something dark down here. Something evil.”

“Apocalypse.” They all turn to look at Alex. “Can't you feel him?”

Logan shivers at the mention, his heart racing. “Can't be,” he says. “Jean and Nathan, they separated him --”

“You were the Horseman of Death, Logan. I know you can feel him, just as I can having been the Living Monolith.” Alex wants to see it, to see the madman who had ruined his brother's life, destroyed everything he'd held dear. He wants to kill him.

The tunnel is small, barely tall enough for Logan to stand with his head hunched down. The others crawl on their knees, straining at points when the ceiling gets lower. Down they go, into the den of shadows. They come to a large cavern, deep within the recesses of the subconscious, a place uncontrolled by thought or deed, but even here, the whispers follow and the trails of the telepaths.

The walls here are jagged with missing pieces and added entries. Sharp and dangerous. And all around them, hundreds of doors with iron bars, three stories up and sometimes higher. They've come to the prison. And their presence here does not go unnoticed.

They call out to them – the prisoners – bashing against the wrought iron doors, banging their heads against psionic walls. They scream and yell, threaten to tear them to pieces, to rip out their lungs and spines and bones. “What the hell?” Gray eyes can't hide their shock. “Did they – Did they do this to him, too?” Logan asks as he looks into the prison cells. He recognizes these creatures, these villains, these things that Scott spent his whole life fighting against. He can pick out the horrendous tone of Onslaught, the words of Apocalypse, the threat of the Void.

“No,” Strange surmises running a smooth hand over the cage doors. “No, I don't think they did. I think he did this himself.” The psychic energy is far different from the telepaths. It's unformed, not made from conscious thought. They are strong cells, impervious, though the creatures inside of them howl. Except for one – except for Apocalypse. Broken, barely locked, En Sabah Nur drags his sharpened nails across the red-light planks. He screeches and yells, calls Scott his own, a piece of his flesh.

“If he escapes --” Alex cuts himself short and looks to Strange for answers.

But, Strange has none. He reminds them again that he is not a master of this mind, and that understanding will take much time. The blush of spell falls over him, and he places a hand upon the iron bars and is suddenly bolted back through the air. He lands on the ground with a thud, and stares wide eyed at the flickering light of iron bars. “And, that's why the telepaths haven't messed with it,” he says. “Quite a defense he has, even if he doesn't know this exists.”

Strange assumes that Cyclops – and his infinite energy – once had telepathic powers, powers that were broken sometime in his childhood. It's the only way he could make such a prison and not reason out it's existence. “He has no thought here. Nothing that makes me think he's aware of it.”

As for the prisoners escaping, there's only one thing he knows for sure – if they escape, they will attack. And that could be detrimental to them all, especially if one of the more nefarious creatures that he's locked away manages to possess him. “Can you imagine this much power in the hands of the Phoenix?”

All eyes float upward to the screeching bird so far above them. She's magnificent and dark, angry with her captivity. But, she's not the only one here, or so Steven realizes when he touches the jagged walls. “These weren't done by a telepath,” he says of the cut marks and breaks. “These were done by the Phoenix. Another one. Trying to free herself.”

“What do you mean another Phoenix?” The news makes Steve's heart jump inside of his chest.

“The one he created and the one Wanda trapped here with her spell.”

Chapter Text

Like a wound inside of his mind, he can feel them. Treading closer, step by step. They're tired, weary, outside of themselves within the maddening spin of his thoughts. Sometimes they disappear into parts of his mind hidden to him, parts he's never seen, parts the telepaths blocked from him.

The spell he cradled for so long has shattered, its green and gold slowly dusting upwards. It will start again, his lack of control. He can feel it already. He can feel the build of energy behind his eyes, in his hands, in his feet. His mind burns as he tries to contain it, as it fights against his will.

His own mind betrays him.

The Phoenix bows her fiery beak to his ear, whispering her words of logic and despair. She speaks inside of his mind, her cool voice echoing out over snowy landscape. She can take this, all of it, his power. She can punish those that did this to him, crush their minds, their souls. She can avenge him, she can take revenge against those who tried to punish her. All he has to do is let go, give her back control, finish what he started all those years ago. “No one will hurt you ever again, Scott. No one. All you have to do is let go.”

Deep inside his mind, he can feel her, the warmth of her. She's enticing.

He stares at the crevice, sees the flames as they boil up, and in his moment of distraction, he's killed by Gambit. The explosion rockets through his spine, spurring pain down arms and legs, wrecks against his synapses and neural waves. He can feel it – his power – just behind it, filling up the spaces between his harried thoughts.

“Let me help you, Scott,” she whispers in his ear. “Stop fighting, let me take this burden from you.” She loves him. She always has. He just needs to trust her, that she'll take it all away. And for a moment, she does. The pain, the suffering, the endless of maze of a mind, the burgeoning energy inside of him. Stroking his face with flaming talon, she takes it all away, leaving him in peace. “Let go, Scott.”

It floods him. When she removes her talon from his cheek, it builds inside of him so quickly that he struggles to hang on. He yells in his effort. Pulls at hair with pale, sunless fingers, claws at the pain behind his eyes, stabs his arms. On the ground, knees to chest, he fights himself to not let it swallow him, just in time for the battles to once again equal his loss. As the pain of death shreds across him, his body contorts, his arms and legs flail.

She smiles. She knows that he is close. Close to giving up; close to giving her the freedom that she so desires.

She loves him and she hates him. She hates him for forgetting her. For not remembering the promise she made, the one that she's kept all these years. That he blames her, that he thinks her an enemy.

She remembers him as that tiny thing, that small creature that begged her company. His hands as they curled around her feathers, the way she cradled him through the pain. He's forgotten it all, thinks her a consort of Jean Grey, not his protector, his defender, his pulse.

She watches as he writhes against the mind fall of energy and battles. To watch his anguish is beautiful, as magnificent as swallowing a star whole, inhaling its brilliance and its life. She pushes him further, lights even more of his war within. More battles, more foes. If he breaks against them, then she is free, and with his power, she can remake the universe as many times as she likes.

She'd pushed him to the edge then, when she possessed him. Absorbed it all, cracked apart the shell of his mind to expose the wounds within. She drank from his power, let it fill her up. So much, so much. But he was still too strong, his will indomitable. He begged them for death, pushed back against her, against himself, nearly overwhelmed by the dual force of their strength. And in the end, it was Jean who grasped the overload of power. From the ashes of her death, the weakness that came from her humanly demise, she wrested it away from him, pulled the Phoenix towards herself, and left him scattered in a million pieces.

In the ashes of his mind, he tells her that they are coming, that they'll end him. She tells him that they'll betray him. “Have you learned nothing?” The flames roar across his winter memory. They flash against him, tempting him with warmth and ease. “But if you let me, I can make them pay.”

There's a comfort in her, something that soothes, that reminds him of love. He can feel its lull, its calm. Indeed, he could end it all, as he wants. Take no more care, no more responsibility, be nothing more than a beating heart and absent mind. It could all go away. Sewing himself back together, he peers down into the crevice of flames. “You'll kill them?”

“If you wish.”

“And if I don't?”

“Well, that won't matter once you give me control.”

They're closing in on him. He can feel Emma slip her fingers into his mind, test the waters, try to hold him back. She grabs onto the pieces of him, those old pieces that she used to own. It hurts. He's going to lose control.

Also getting closer is his brother, Logan, the sorcerer and the one who can't decide if he should live or die. He can feel it, the back and forth, how he awes at the damage, the strength, and inside he quakes.
“Logan will kill me.”

“Logan will try to save you.” She presses down on him with talon and wing. “But, he shouldn't. You're too broken, Scott. Only I can fix you.” As she pierces him, he cries out, the life slowly bleeding out of him.

The nightmares come to his pained call, surrounding him, feeding from him. They bite at his neck, his arms, this legs. They plunge themselves into his memories, devouring what little is left. He begs them for mercy, tries to pull himself away, to fight out from underneath their grasps. But he's lost. He can't tell which battle's which. A part of him severs, undone by dual images and too many fronts.

The energy rises up from within him, spilling forth in sharpened spines and frenetic blasts. He tries to pull it back in, but there are too many deaths, too much pain, too much doubt. He begs the Phoenix for mercy, calls to her, cries for her. But, she refuses. “You're going to kill them, Scott.”

Clinging to the edge of his sanity, to the razor of that massive power, he begins the fight for their lives – those that are coming, that will finally see his end. He kicks and punches, grabs and breaks. He snaps their necks, severs their spines, bludgeons them to the ground. He's not sure which are real and which are fake, if anything is real in this bright red world, but he fights them anyway, refusing to give in. He can't kill them now, not again. Not when they're so close.

Chapter Text

Breath heavy, body broken, Cyclops lands a kick to Jean Grey's chin, balancing himself on the palm of hand. She's beaten back by the sudden surge of energy as he loses his fine grasp on his control, hitting the wall behind her. Just in time, he dodges Rogue's fists, hitting the ground. Rolling back, he kicks both legs against her hips and knocks her flat and breathless.

An orb around him, the energy swirls, jabbing out at enemies. He's stronger now, faster, floating on empty air. He lunges at the shade of Alex, grabbing his brother's neck and chokes the life from his nightmare form. But, always, it's the concentration, the millions of fronts that hurts him. Somewhere, deep in his mind, the shadow of Ironman propels towards him, and he reacts. A fist to air, he let's go his brother and yells at the empty space, and in the snow-covered depths of his thought, he does the same.

A blast of red from uncovered eyes, battling forth through nightmare and simulation, he strikes against his own wall of memory, breaking it into pieces.

Reed Richards pushes them all to the ground, narrowly avoiding the optic beam that flies through the air. They are close now, close enough to hear the battle that rages on in the center of the mind. “Is that Cyc--” his voice trails off as another wild blast filters through the air.

Their pace is careful, slow, inching forward through tunnels, wary of red beams and the sounds of battle. They can feel the strain as Scott tries to hold himself together, the rips and tears as he pulls himself apart. “He's losing control,” Emma whispers. She fears that he will strike again, gush with energy and destroy them all in the process. “We have to hurry.”

They come, finally, to the center of his mind. Once grand and elegant, it is tarnished now, and black. The structures here had once expanded into the entire area – a massive geodesic dome of thought and logic in the center, marble halls and oaken doors. The paths were ordered, organized, a perfect mind in an imperfect shell.

Scott's power blazes as he continues his fight both here and in the depths. He growls as the ghost of Wolverine digs claws into his back, and pulls the shade over his shoulder and bashes him into the ground below. As he pounds away into the spirit flesh, he's tackled by Black Panther, who claws at his eyes and braces him on the floor. Thing takes over then, a bloody punch to the jaw that breaks teeth and nose, and crushes sharp cheekbones into matter.

Cyke fights back, a knee to the Panther's chest, and a quick twist of arm that spurns the shade onto it's stomach. Breaking the arm, he pulls the body up again to block the incoming punch from Grimm, and uses the shocked distraction to escape them both and find his breath.

Maddened by the too many fights, he yells into the foray, his energy splicing out in waves, slicing through several of the nightmares. He sees them in the archway, his eyes narrowing in disgust. He dares them to come at him, to fight him. He'll take them all on. He'll destroy them.

A lightning strike by Thor clears their entrance. Emma hoists herself to a shadowed corner, seeking those tendrils of thoughts that will allow her to take control. The others, they move forward, battle-ready and aiming to kill.

The nightmares reel at the prospect of fresh minds to ruin. Hundreds of them converging all at once, angry and starved. They swarm the living, these denizens of ruin, clawing and biting whatever flesh and memory that they can find.

Still posed in astral form, Tony strikes forward, bashing himself into the spirit of Rogue. She's a dangerous one, her touch ominous, and he means to use that to his advantage. Zipping in and out between the phantoms, he leads her on a desperate chase, clinging himself to corners and edges, chortling her on with his own special brand of sarcasm. He waits until she's near before chasing off again, her hand held out waiting for touch. He zooms towards Cyclops, his speed much slower and her anger more riled, and at the last second, he avoids her, and she collapses into Summers at top speed.

She rips him apart from chest to hips, the whole of him falling back in pain and wounds. But, he doesn't die. Not even close. Tony watches in amazement as the man begins to heal, the slow rebuild of muscle and bone, the repair of vessels and organs. He knits himself back together inch by inch, and his entire focus is now upon the Ironman. Stark tells them all, “New plan, guys. New plan! Fucker's got a healing factor! Emma, we can use some help here!”

Grabbing onto the nearest nightmare, Reed pops a neck and throws it to the wall. He avoids an errant optic blast, and scrambles himself to the outer edge of the battle. He needs time to strategize, to plan, to watch the surroundings.

At the center of the display, he watches as Scott fights both himself and the shades. He watches as Cyke veers off and fights the air, punishing walls and floor. He jumps too high for his normal self, hits too hard for his human strength. The energy spirals off in moments of lost concentration, pillages his surroundings of both ghost and self. And after those moments, he stops, physically holds on to what few threads keep him together. “We need to stop this,” Reed says. “We need to stop fighting him.”
Thor casts a questioning look in Richards' direction. “He's not trying to hurt us, but we're pushing him to the edge.”

Above the fray - putting his astral repulsors to the head of Ms. Marvel – Ironman flashes his anger. “We can't let him live, Reed. He'll destroy us all.”

“He's not trying to destroying us, Tony! He's trying to stop it!”

“Too late,” he replies as the ghost of Carol Danvers becomes a nothingness in his hands. “He's toast.”

Reed looks to his right, towards Emma Frost. Quiet, focused, she keeps the gnawing nightmares away with telepathic shield. He can see the small movements of her hands and fingers, the pinkish glow of psionic power. In an instant, he realizes what she's doing. She didn't come here to say goodbye to the love of her life, she came here to take him over.

She searches for the switch, the one Xavier built, the one she stole from him and hid from prying minds. It will turn him off, give her time to erase his essence and insert herself in command. Many of the paths are blocked to her, obstructed and demolished by the rampant ghosts of friends and enemies, destroyed by the Phoenix who hovers in the distance.

Reed calls out to warn them all of the betrayal, but is targeted by Hulk before he can. The Great Green Rage rumbles towards him, his fists bared and his teeth clenched. He means to do harm, and in astral form, Richards worries what that harm can be. He manages to thin himself out enough to miss the first few hits that come his way, but Hulk changes direction and focuses on the floor beneath his feet.

Mr. Fantastic takes the first punch, and he can feel it inside his head. Like a migraine, it makes him nauseous and sick, his movements sluggish and ill defined. And even though he can see the danger as Hulk levels his hands on both sides of his head, though he knows that at any minute he will be crushed by that strength, he's too swirled to move.

In the distance, he can hear the belly laugh of Thor, and then the blur of hammer as it swings past and wallops Hulk in the chest. The Angry Green Giant flies through the nest of nightmares, breaking the far wall on impact. “He's mine,” Thor growls and runs in the same direction.

Taking moments to recover himself, Reed looks to Scott again. On the floor, knees to chest, his rage is palpable and his energy furious. His face bleeds as he strives to keep the energy inside himself, but still it spills out destroying the phantoms that bombard him. He remembers Sue's words, the look on her face, the disappointment. If this were his son, he'd fight tooth and nail to protect him.

His heart bogged down, but his actions swift, Reed stretches arms out over the canvas of battle and twists them around Ironman's flying form. He plucks the Avenger out of the air, pulling him to ground beside him. “We're not killing him,” he says, releasing one tangled arm from the astral form and stretching it wide and thin. He creates a shield so that he can talk.

“Bullshit. Don't do this to me now, Reed. I need you --”

“The more we battle here, the worse we make it. Defeat the nightmares, but don't touch him. We need to help him.”

Nostrils flaring, immobile within the knot of Mr. Fantastic's arm, Tony's eyes darken with fury. “Don't do this, Reed,” he says again, his voice a whisper. “We're trying to save the Earth, remember.”

“By killing a friend? That's not like you, Tony.” He tells Stark to watch the man, how he struggles to contain it. Bright red energy whorls around the battlefield, sparking against his hundreds of opponents. It would be so easy to let go, to kill them all, but here he is, trying to protect them.

“He can't control it, Reed. He'll never be able to control this. There's too much power here.” He reminds Richards that they should have had this discussion long ago, before the portal rift, before they even found him. “You have really bad timing to announce that you're a coward.”

Reed doesn't expect the repulsor. As the plasma burst boils his skin, he retracts his arms, skids back away from the danger. Wild-eyed he looks at Stark. “Tony?”

“Keep out of this,” he said. “I'll handle it myself.”

Thor defeats Hulk with a well-timed lightning strike to heart. Grinning with pride, he tackles the phantom of Alex Summers, hoping to finish their previous battle. He shields himself against the energy wave, pushing forward on the strength of his mind alone. Out of the corner of his eye, however, he sees the glimmer of red, and jumps out of the way.

Alex head bursts, and at the sight of killing his brother once again, Scott loses even more ground. The energy pulses outward, growing in size, pushing them all to the far walls of the chamber. In its midst, the dregs of structures begin to crumble further, dissipate and dust. In a desperate moment of clarity, he begs them for death. “Please, kill me.”

In the distance, the Phoenix laughs. One way or another, she's nearly free.

Chapter Text

The words turn Logan's eyes to glass. “Please, kill me.” He watches, slack limbed and suddenly cold from the inside out, as the man pleads to his attackers. Logan moves in, ready to fight, ready to push them all away, but he is stalled be the sudden burst of power.

The world becomes a bright red blur and at the center Scott's moment of clarity comes to an abrupt end as the nightmares pull him down into their shackles and claws and biting teeth. The fury is tremendous, a biting wind filled with heat and voice and pain. The battles, so many, they all lead to death, and before their very eyes, he dies a thousand times only to come back to life.

There is no call of warning, no shout of heeding, nothing but the sparks of red that tip into the air become more solid, spike out through the hundreds of nightmares, catching them all on the tip of glass and thought and frantic confusion. He fights the air, the battles that still rage on inside his head. And he fights them.

“Get them out of here!” Alex yells, indicating the non-survivors. And to Scott – whose inferno lashes out at random – he begs him to calm down. “I don't want to hurt you,” he says, moving through the bright red wash around him. He reaches out for his brother, only to be rebuffed in return.

Scott's moves are swift and deadly, an arm locked behind his brother's back, he tosses the blonde to the ground pressing knee on neck. There is no sanity in his eyes, nothing but the madness of finally being broken. The shades surround him, and he abandons his brotherly prey to the visage of Jean Grey, whom he thrashes with a flurry of hits to stomach and neck, breaking her ghostly bones and pinning her to the wall. It's in this rage that he unleashes his optic blast, more powerful than they've ever seen. It erases her, banishes her, depletes her into nothingness.

He slams himself against his wall of thought, crushing the words and memories that play between. He fights against an unknown foe, dragging it to the ground, snapping its neck. His yells of victory and loss are drowned out by the incoming nightmares. They pile on top of him, drinking of the uncontrolled energy that surrounds him, seeking memories to fill their empty stomachs.

Logan pounds the distance between himself and the central battle, once again ripping claws into shades. He meets himself within the swarm and shows no mercy. Claws swing wild, striking against distracted participants as the two Wolverines roll across the floor in a tooth on claw fight. The nightmare is a darkened, snarling thing, a being absent the humanity that Logan has learned over the years. He fights an animal, a beast, a predator without a heart. It makes it easy to kill him, to banish him to other parts of the mind and refocus himself on the battle in front of him.

While the others battle in their separate corners of the mind, the flush of magic befalls them. Light blues and greens, the crest of white that rolls over top of them. It soothes the battle-hungry apparitions for just a moment, just enough time for Dr. Strange to turn his attention to Emma Frost.

Like Richards, he knows what she's doing. His telepathy enacted, he can feel her sift through the broken paths inside Scott's mind, twisting and turning to gain control. She's getting closer to the switch, to the mind wipe that she so desires, and he intends to stop her.

The spell collapses upon her psionic shield with a hush of barest blush of pink. It swarms like a winter breeze filled with snowdrops and ice, cordoning around the circumference. He pulls the threads of his spell tight, cracking it against her concentration. She suffers with the pressure, her elegant fingers dawning to platinum hair in an effort to keep her focus intact. He pulls even tighter, latching on another spell to pull her out of meditation.

Her blue eyes snap open, angered at the intrusion. “You fool! You're going to kill us all!” she says, and forms herself to diamond. Immediately, the astral wear of the others fades away, and Emma Frost goes in for the kill. Strange takes a diamond boot to the groin, unable to move in time. She pounces on top of him, ready to break him once and for all, but the hands that surround her pull her away.

Kicking and screaming, she is lobbed in the air by Reed Richards who keeps her busy while the sorcerer casts yet another spell. Black, this one is, and cold. It freezes her form, prevents her from changing back to flesh for the near future. He knows it's dangerous to trap her like this, that she's now vulnerable to the nightmares, but he feels it a necessary sacrifice. “Leave this place, now,” he bellows as he returns his attention to the shades.

He calls for Alex to use his powers, to topple down the nightmare forms. The doctor turns them into astral spells that parade across the ghosts. They cry in agony as the power pulses through them. The apparitions come at him, with Scott just seconds behind. A funnel of red, and he obliterates those in his path, and puts his hand to his brother's neck.

Alex holds up his hands in forefeit. “Scott, I'm real,” he says as he feels the wind stolen from his lungs. “Please, Scott, don't do this.”

His words only make the elder Summers more crazed. He shakes his head, unable to tell the difference. The Phoenix has tricked him before. Made the nightmares real. They hurt him; they speak to him; they proclaim their innocence before him, swearing that they are real. They beg him for mercy, on hands and knees they cry for his forgiveness, and seconds later, they break his spine, eat the flesh from his face, destroy what little he has left.

Great pieces of the ceiling come crashing down as the doubt wrenches in Scott's mind. More breaks, more shatters, more insanity. The quakes knocks them off balance, and he yells again as Alex begs him to stop. “I'm not going to hurt you, Scott.”

From the side, Logan lunges, his claws popped. He rams them into ribs and flesh, tears at Scott, knows him down. “Kill you're brother, and you'll regret it.”

Scott reels back, staring at the blood. The pain is tremendous, so much so that he loses himself, and the outpour of power is shocking. It billows up like a cloud, bright and white-red, glistening and hushed. It pours into the cosmos, knocking back everything in it's path.

Logan sees the threat, heads to Stark lying prone on the floor. He covers him, instructs the others to do the same. Strange guards Richards and Frost, Steve throws himself on top of Thor. All around them, the mind dismantles, coming apart at the seams.

The Phoenix sees her chance. Flapping her flaming wings, she lights the furnace inside his mind. “You destroyed the earth, my child. Let me fix it for you.”

Grabbing his sides, trembling as the power fills him back to the brim, as the battles restart in the back of his mind, he calls the Phoenix a liar. But the doubt is there, at the edge of his voice. It tugs him back down into the madness, a place less painful.

“Let me talk to him,” Logan pleads to Strange. “Put me in his head.”

“It's too dangerous. The slightest misstep --”

“We have to get to him before the Phoenix does.”

Chapter Text

“He dreams in layers,” Jean had once told him, “in order to hide things from me. Hundreds of puzzles for me to work through in order to find out what he's actually thinking about. Sometimes, it makes me feel lonely.”

She curled against him, holding her hands to the small fire that he'd lit. She always enjoyed the physical touch of him, how he strong he was, how loyal. But, it was Scott who had her heart. “I'd never let you feel lonely,” he said, tipping her chin up towards him. She shivered at the touch, her head against his chest, listening to his fast paced heartbeat.

She pulled away in an instant. “Logan.” There was nothing more to be said. He'd gone too far, and he blamed One-eye for her unhappiness.

He dogged the man for days after, asking why he wasn't with his woman, why he would leave her so alone. “She's never alone, Logan,” he said, tapping the side of his head. “I'm always here for her.”

He knows this place. Not intimately, but he's seen it. In a picture. This small holiday cabin with a stream passing through its yard. He'd asked Alex about it after finding it among his things. It was always easy to forget that either of the brothers were actually children at some point, and to see a small glimpse of their childhood had fascinated him.

Alex had few memories of the place, but the ones he'd managed keep through time and manipulation were pure and innocent. He described the igloos that the boys had built, the smell of hot chocolate cooking over the campfire, their snowball fights, and playing hide and seek. In the spring, they would search the woods for mushrooms and edible roots, bringing them back to their father to prove that they had studied like they'd promised. The fall brought the joyous wonder of a spit roasted turkey and the entire family gathered round with mugs of nog and thick sweet drinks. He remembered his mother's laugh, how she would take the hungry boys into the small living area, snug them by the fireplace, and promise them a special treat if they would behave. “Scott never wants to talk about our childhood,” he revealed with a sigh. “I think he's afraid that he was once happy.”

There are no memories here, just the shell of the cabin and the nightmares in the distance. There are no kids playing in the yard, no swimming in the stream, or the crackling of fires. No laughter, no sadness. He opens the door to find an empty place. There is neither furniture nor walls, nothing that would speak of love or joy, nothing that would show the fondness the boys had carried for this cabin. “Where are you, Scott?”

He wanders the grounds, then down into the snow filled plains beyond the stream. Vast fields of nothingness and debris. Pieces of memory that he picks up to inspect. The day Jean asked him to marry her – once sunny and hopeful – is now tragedy, marred by too many tears. He sees the first time he met his brother after the accident, his wonder and relief dashed by a door slammed in his face, the angry words of a twelve year old child echoing in his ears.

In the Red Dimension, Cyke and Logan come to blows, a fierce battle that sees them both bloodied and failing in control. While Scott's energy bursts at the seams once again, Wolverine can feel the growl of the animal inside of him. Claws come out, heaving at jagged limbs, slicing through vessels to bring the man to a standstill, but the elder Summers doesn't cave. Matching the beast that comes for him, he lets loose with a growl of his own, cracking fist against adamantium skull, throwing the shorter mutant against the wall. Logan curses, pricks his skin on broken glass, and lunges into the air. He hits Cyclops with all his fury, breaking his neck over and over again, screaming out his name at the top of his lungs.

In the snow-filled depths of the mind, he wanders still, towards the nightmares that roam the flats. The red light catches his eye. He takes off at a run.

The energy flows free now, with Stark and his team huddled behind a magic spell. But, Strange is weakening. He can't keep this up forever. “He doesn't know you're real, Logan!” The predator doesn't hear him.

Lost to blood and pain, Wolverine fights on, grabbing hold of Summers' heart and pulling it free from his chest. Scott falls back, crushes hand over the gaping wound in his chest. Life pours from his mouth and wound, and his growl is gurgled and fierce. Havok burns Logan to the ground, while Steve pulls Scott back in hopes that the sudden space will cool their heads.

An eyebeam to the shades and sky, bright and long. Logan watches as it hits the clouds, the sky, cracking it into pieces. A thousand of them, these nightmares, hovering on the edges of broken thoughts. They attack at will, without hesitation, pulling Scott apart. He struggles to maintain himself, to heal, to keep him under control, and he loses the desperate battle in the snow becoming nothing less than a shadow himself.

“He doesn't know you're real!” the sorcerer calls again, holding back as much power as he can.

Pulled out of the fray by Alex, Logan finally begins to breathe, and he realizes what he's done.

He can see the crevice from here, the flames as they shoot up into the sky, and the voice of the Phoenix at its center. She can take away his suffering. The pain. The loneliness. The confusion. In her there is nothing but the beginning and end, the knowledge of birth and death, and she can share that ancient wisdom with him. “Scott!” he yells. “Scott!”

Heart in his hand, he drops it on the ground, ashamed by his temper, by the animal that has not yet been tempered. Gray eyes look up at Scott, now facing off against his brother. It's an unequal fight, and one far too dangerous for Steve or Alex to take on, no matter how much they're willing to sacrifice themselves.

Over the rage of nightmares, Cyclops cannot hear his name, but he can feel the heat of flames, the promise of the Phoenix. He could end it, all of it. It would be so easy to give in. The hand that grasps at him, pulls him from the snow is warm.

Glowing red eyes open with fear. He struggles, fights to get away, but Logan holds him down, his breath steady and even. “I'm not here to hurt you.” Summers lashes out with desperate red – optic beams and wild energy that pushes off hands and feet. He thrashes against the hold. “Scott, I'm not going to hurt you.”

The small movements of the doctor's hands indicate another spell in the works. Eyes closed, humming words never spoken by human mouths, he is no longer a part of the battle, trusting the others to take care of things.

Alex knocks his brother to his feet, away from Logan and the hole he's burrowing into adamantium chest. He places hands on either side of jaw. “Scott, please stop this.” But the words do little but rile him further. A deft shove that flies him across the room, he's up on feet in a second ready to run after him, but Logan grabs his ankles, and he falls face first to the ground. A snarl, a growl, the taint of madness pushing red in deep red bars across the chamber, he twists himself to front, knocking a knee to Logan's head.

Wolverine's ears ring from the hit, and though nauseous from the rattle to his brain, he stabs his claws into Cyke's shoulders, pinning him to the ground. “Calm down,” he orders, only to be ignored. Over and under, they wrestle for control, with Scott's long limbs wrapping around his waist, flipping him over into harmlessness. He presses down on legs, putting pressure on hips. Logan can hear the joints begin to pop, to hear them separate from the bones. Wrenching at his own ribs, he turns, plunging more claws into soft flesh. Scott barely lets go enough for Logan to climb to his knees.

Logan can hear the Phoenix as she brandishes her flames in the deep of mind. She calls to Scott, tells him to give in, that they're going to kill him. “I can make it stop. I can make it all go away.”

Hypnotized by her gentle lull, to finally be free, he turns red eyes to the crevice where the Phoenix waits. “I'm tired,” he whispers as he turns his focus to Logan above him. He wants the claws. “Please, kill me.”

Logan traces psionic fingers over cheek and jaw, staring into hazed red eyes. It's the first time he's ever noticed how beautiful the man is. “Scott,” he says, cupping chin and cheek. “I'm not going to hurt you.” The touch is soft, the first time in years that something hasn't hurt. Red eyes widen with sudden confusion and disreality.

He crawls to him, strokes high cheekbone with bloody hand. He tilts chin up, tenders fingers over jaw, scraping lip with thumb. “I'm sorry,” Logan says. “I won't kill you.” Scott coughs up blood and matter, tensing up for another battle. He makes a grab for Logan's shoulders, but his hands fall uselessly to the ground. “I'm real, Scott.”

It's the only way he can think of to prove it. Both inside and outside the mind, he grips chin and jaw, tilts the head up so that eyes finally look into his own. It feels like forever, the distance between them, cold and lonely. He presses his lips to Scott's, pulling him into the warmth of his chest, holding him still and firm. He tastes of tears, desperation, pain, and sadness. Years of solitude, of anguish, threaded through lips and heartless pulse.

Sunless hands claw at spine, afraid to lose this moment, afraid to lose this contact, this something real that he's finally found. And in his wonder, his powers smooth out across the chamber, expanding throughout the world, the universe, healing those things that he's destroyed, setting things to right, returning them to what they should be.

In the depths of winter, Scott finally breathes, the first time years that air has expanded within his chest. “Logan?” he asks quietly, his eyes round and crystalline, his body shaking with too much. Logan sweeps in again, harder this time, to prove without a doubt that he's real. He treads hand through hair, holding Scott by the back of his head, leaning forward to take the man's weight.

But there is no second breath, no delight or joy. There's the push of power, refilling him, recharging him. Head to knees, he crumbles with the onslaught of his mutantcy, cries out against the sudden rush that he can't control. Logan holds him tighter, begs him to relax, to breathe. “Come on, Scotty, you got this,” he whispers in his ear. “Just hold on. You're okay.” But his moment unguarded was a moment too much. The energy begins to orb around him, spiral and stab the air. “Scott, you can control this! Come on!”

“Er dogren.”

Two words of a mystic language, and Scott falls unconscious against Logan's shoulders. Wild eyed, he turns to look at Strange who is now exhausted with his efforts. “Sorry,” he says. “It takes a while to cast the first time around. From now on it will be easier.”

Chapter Text

He didn't mourn the children. Not like the others, anyway. No tears, no cries of grief. Just silence.

Victor called him cold; Noriko called him an asshole. He dug the graves anyway, all 42 of them, just in case the families didn't come to claim what was left of the bodies, and some of them did not. Even though the children had lost their mutant powers, the hatred so tainted their families' views that they couldn't even bother to be sad for their loss.

The funerals took place in the southern graveyard, a mass service that Santo and Megan felt inappropriate. They thought it should be one by one, but Cyclops said that they didn't have time. He'd been an X-man since the age of fifteen, he knew that time was something precious.

At night, he'd wander through the graves, plucking the small bits of dandelions and sneezeweed from the fresh dug dirt. In their place, he'd put begonias, hearty plants that would shield the corpses from the sun. Sometimes he'd stand there for hours, looking over the plots. Sometimes, he'd spend just minutes, rush back in and lock himself in the Danger Room.

Logan watched him from the trees, the doorways, spying on the man and his too tense shoulders. He waited for the cracks in his facade, for something to give, for the man to finally feel, but it never came. He'd once told Emma that Cyke was a bomb waiting to go off. There would come a day when all of those tragedies fell upon his burdened shoulders and exploded him from the inside out. They would all burn for his downfall. If only he'd known how true that was.

The Aurora Borealis paints the midnight sky with ribbons of green and blue and the blush of white. The lights shimmer across the Canadian snow, lighting up their exhaustion. They'd come here in a rush, trying to hit the portal before Magik was too exhausted to keep it open. Strange had warned them that it would be in a different place according to the tilt of the earth, and after three days, the portal had moved from Australia to the frozen wilds of Canada. “She greets us warmly,” the doctor had smiled before collapsing upon the snow. Captain America did his best to make the sorcerer more comfortable, dragging him to the flames of the small fire, propping him up off the ground with logs. They couldn't have him freezing to death, not before he keyed the spell to their voices.

The spell itself had once been used to torture those who spoke against Ellacianus, the dark wizard who'd written the Mer Serval. “It rips the spirit from his body, shreds it into hundreds of pieces, and locks those pieces away inside puzzles. The spell is nothing but pain.” But, as Strange explained, it would enable them to keep Scott from losing what tenuous control he had over his powers.

Something that both Alex and Steve agree is necessary.

He looks so peaceful resting in the snow, even with the hole in his chest and battered body. Logan can still feel the fingers dig into his back, the way they pulled at shoulder blades, the desperation that came from something less than suffering. “We were close to losing him,” he tells Alex. He can't imagine the years of anguish that Scott has undergone, how much time he spent inside his broken mind wishing for an escape. “She offered him one. He nearly took it.”

“He'll need his visor,” Havok says, an abrupt end to the quiet conversation. Like his brother, he fares better with problems that he can solve rather than emotional weavings. He pauses, turns to look at Logan one last time. “Be careful with him.”

Logan can still taste Scott on his lips.

In the distance, Alex and Steve discuss what needs to happen. Where Scott will go, who will watch over him. Steve wants to turn him over to SHIELD – those not involved in the Red Hunt. They have scientists there. They can possibly find a way to help. “They're going to keep hunting him. Might be best to announce where he is to lessen the burden on the rest of you.”

But, for Alex, his brother is not a burden, nor will he hand him over to mutant haters. While Steve still has faith that the system works, that they'll protect him, Alex has never held that trust. “These are the same people that built machines to hunt us down, Steve. Imagine what they'd do to Scott.”

The argument is quiet, aware of those that are not quite well. Strange and Magik, Cyclops off in the distance. “You are not a mutant. You can't possibly understand the danger you will put him in.”

“And putting him in with the mutants worked out well, I see?” The comment is beyond sarcastic, a moment of strength out of uniform, but instantly regretted. Softening his tone, Rogers stares into the flames of their fire pit. “It's not just Scott that we have to look after, Alex. It's also the world. Twenty four hour monitoring isn't easy, regardless of what spell the doctor gives us.”

“You say us as if you mean to follow --”

And, he does mean to follow them. Cyclops is too much to handle, and considering the kiss that he witnessed, he's not sure if Logan is up to the task. “If it comes down to Scott or the Earth, I'm going to choose the Earth. I don't think either one of you are capable of that.” Alex wants to argue, but he can't. In the end, he knows that Steve is right.

So does Logan, who takes the pause in their argument to wash the scrape the blood from his hands. He worries about infection, illness, how the cold will effect Cyclops. He's healing, but slowly. “We need bandages,” he says just loud enough for the others to hear him. “And antiseptic.” Packing the wounds with snow has helped, but he needs better treatment than this. “I don't want him to wake up here.”

He never explained the emptiness that he saw in Cyke's mind. The endless fields where memories should have been. There was a loneliness to it all, a sadness. In the end, Alex was wrong. Scott wasn't afraid that he'd once been happy, he was afraid that hadn't. He had no childhood, no loving parents, no brother to tag his footsteps and keep him up at night. His childhood was a blank, and the rest of him was destroyed. To wake up here would only further the confusion, the land of nightmares would continue on. “I'll talk to Storm.”

It's not ideal. The telepaths will have to be evacuated and inhibitors set up to prevent further intrusion into his mind. But, and Logan accentuates the point, they don't have any other options. “The whole world knows who he is. We have to keep him out of sight until he has some semblance of control.”

Logan knows that she'll be displeased with the askance. The mere mention of Scott's name has been enough to grit her jaw and rub her temples. His legacy is a frustrating one, both savior and condemner, hero and foe. If not for him, they'd all be dead, but because of him the man they treated like a father died. “She'll listen to me. They all will.”

Chapter Text

There is no comfort in defeat. But they are soldiers, they need no comfort, or at least that's what Stark tells them as he stands upon the stage overlooking the Red Hunt. He reminds them that one of their own had betrayed them, and that Reed Richards is now in the Undertow. “Finding Scott Summers is our top priority. There is nothing more important than this singular mission. We must refocus our efforts and turn this world upside down in order to finally bring peace to the earth.”

Fury says nothing when he steps off the stage, can't even stand to look at him. He addresses the Red Hunt himself while Tony wanders off to the greenroom some halls away. Emma waits, her precious form spread out on the small sofa. She wants wine and foie gras and offers him dinner in Italy. “On me, of course.”

Stark slumps into the chair, lets her coy hands put pressure on tense shoulders. “What were you doing when Strange attacked you?”

“I told you, darling, I had to keep you in astral form so that you could fight--”

“Reed seems to think that you were going to wipe his mind.”

She smiles, releases a knot in Tony's back. “Reed would say anything to avoid --”

“You still love him, don't you?”

She stops, settles herself to sofa, stares off into the distance. For long moments, she is quiet, thoughtful. “Of course, I do,” she replies. “He's the only man that ever believed I was worth more than my body or fortune. He believed I could be my better self, that I could--”

“But, you weren't your better self.” She avoids the blue-eyed gaze, lights up to the small screen on the wall and watches Fury berate the soldiers into passion. “You destroyed him.”

“What happened when Thor lost his hammer?”

“He worked to make himself worthy again and got it back. What you did --”

“Without that hammer, he was lost.” She takes a sip of wine and corners her gaze on him. “He felt a lesser man, one that could not protect his people, the things that he loved. Without that hammer, Thor is just another man with good intentions. Much like you and your suit.”

For her, it was much the same. Without that power, she felt defenseless, weak, unable to right the world and save her people. “Genosha. I could feel it, you know. All those thoughts running incomplete. One second there were thousand of voices in the air, planning, hoping, wishing. And then in an instant, there was nothing. The world had gone quiet, all those voices, all those lives, just gone.”

“That's no excuse, Emma.” Her selfishness has caused a crisis, one that could potentially destroy the universe. “If I'd known what you were doing to him—”

“Don't act like your sins are less than mine, Tony. I know you. I know the things you've done.” Another sip of wine, and she smiles through the tension. “Right now, we need to focus on finding Scott. We need to make sure--”

Stark shakes his head. “I don't trust you, Ems.”

She's used to this. This rejection. From her father to Shaw, to the X-men, she knows what this feels like. It doesn't make it hurt any less. “So, you want me to go.”

“I think that would be both our best interests.” He has a hunt to lead, she has a soul to repair.

The click of her heels signals her exit, and Tony is left alone, once again.

“You disgust me,” Pepper had said all those years ago. She'd discovered those secret meetings of the Illuminati, their purpose, their methods. Bloodless and without mercy, they punished their enemies and those things deemed dangerous. From destroying universes to shooting Hulk into space to rid the world of his threat, they had become a defiant judge, jury, and executioner, bending the acts of heroism to their will and saving the earth at any cost.

Pepper could no longer stand to look at him. She called him murderer and villain, vile and selfish. Her tears ran hot, and her cheeks were red. “I can't do this anymore,” she cried. “I can't be with you.”

It confounds him now that Steve had become so dead set against the Red Hunt when he had been more enthusiastic then. He understood the needs of their world and took those steps to protect it.

Stark cringes at the thought of him, that sly look on his face when his plot was discovered, how quickly he'd dressed himself, how cold his voice became. If there was anything in the world that had ever shattered him, it was that moment. He'd never imagined that kind of betrayal from the great patriot. Never imagined that he'd hurt him like that.

“Someone's not playing hero today.” Maria Hill stands over him, her smile more amused than pleasant. It's not often that she catches one of the great Avengers unaware. “Get your head in the game, Stark. We're rolling out in ten.”

It's just the push of a button on his watch, and within moments he is Ironman, hidden from the world behind brilliance and technology. He misses the weight of his first suit sometimes, how protected he felt. His newer suits are lighter, more agile, easier to control, and though they are far advanced, harder to destroy, they don't feel the same.

Hill is not surprised by the sudden shielding, nor is she impressed. She's seen this display a thousand times, and it no longer marks her interest. “You'll command Red Hunt Three,” she says of the airborne squadron. “From what we gather, Dr. Strange used ley lines to cast his spell, so we're hitting all major markers from Nazca to Ayers Rock.”

The map she displays is detailed. Pale pink lines traverse the distance between the major formations and bright green lines mark the travel paths of the various squadrons. “It's possible that he's still--”

“We're not invading the Sanctum?” It had been the plan this morning, over coffee and cronuts. He had honestly looked forward to showing up on Strange's doorstep.

“Change of plans,” she says. “We sent Wanda there this morning. The place is empty.”

“Then, we're not looking for Strange. We're still looking for the X-men.” With a press of button, the armor disengages, and Tony's pale eyes scatter across the floor in thought. “Where's McCoy?”

“Still in the--”

“Doesn't matter. Get him, bring him here. We're going to war with the X-men.”

Chapter Text

She avoids gray gaze. Staring down at the ground just beyond the mine. She'd come to stop him, to turn him around, make him leave, even if by force, but as she clawed her way into his mind, saw the visage of her husband – the hole in his chest, the madness abated by spell – her will depleted.

Logan's heart still paces at the sight of her. Her long red hair, her bright green eyes. Those old feelings of warmth and adoration, his marvel at her strength, his safety in the tenderness of her smile. There was a time when he would have given her the moon, the stars, and all else to follow in her shadow, but those days have dimmed. “Did you mess with my mind, too?”

He takes note of her refusal to answer. For long moments, her eyes flinch across the ground from right to left, before a quiver of jaw lifts her head. “I loved him. Please make sure he knows that.”

He doesn't want this conversation, not with her. He can feel the build of animal in his veins, the pull to slice her in two. “I'm here to talk to Storm.”

“She won't allow him here. Not around the kids. He's too dangerous, Logan. A bomb that's seconds away from going off.” She knows the damage to his mind more intimately than he does. “He's too far gone. You can't help him.”

Nerves wrench at his stomach – both with worry and with rage. A part of him feels that same hopelessness, that the breaks in his mind have decimated a once great man. There is an ache to this thought, one that clenches his jaw trap tight and makes him wince. Strange had said as much this morning, that the damage was excessive, that the battle had taken its toll. He doesn't want to believe it, doesn't want to fall prey to these sentiments. But, he can see it in her eyes. “Why'd you do it, Jeannie?”

She shrugs, ashamed of herself. Her defiance towards her daughter, towards her son, faded against the gray eyed gaze. “I wanted to protect him.” It's a simple answer, and one that speaks barely a partial truth. But Logan can see it, can sense the lie. She relents. “Once I tasted it, I couldn't help myself.”

“You need to leave,” he tells her. “All of you. Scott needs this place more than you.”

“Storm--”

“'Ro will listen to you, Red. You tell her what's right, and she'll do it. But, so long as you claim that you deserve to be here, she'll listen to you and believe every word.”

“I do deserve to be --”

He is adamant now, frustration blushing against his cheeks and the back of his neck. “You walked on clouds, Jeannie. You were everything I wanted the world to be. But, you lied. To me, to him, to everyone. I blamed him for it all. Everything. Your life, your death. I blamed him for it all.”

The funeral was quiet, a small affair. They'd asked him to speak, but he refused. He'd let her down, hurt her, broken her. He stood at the edge of the grave, staring down into unfilled pit, the sheen of coffin striking prisms upon the hollow ground. He wanted it to rain, to pour down so hard that it would gray out the surroundings. Maybe then he could cry.

Logan watched him from the trees. He could smell the heartbreak, even from there. The guilt, the shame, the should have dones and should have beens. He deserved it. Every last second of it. Jean had died protecting them all, preventing Magneto from destroying what fragile peace they had built. She was a hero, and Cyclops was the man who had taken advantage of her love and consorted with the enemy behind her back.

Like salt to wounds, Logan let his distaste for his affair be known. “You're a worthless piece of shit, Summers,” he'd said. Cyclops didn't flinch. “She loved you. You betrayed her.”

“I went back to kill him,” he reveals to Jean, his eyes averted to the sky. “He asked me to come. So, I went, but not to join the team, but to murder him cold.” But, he couldn't bring himself to do it. No matter how many times he tried, he lost the will just before the act. “I suppose that was Emma's doing.”

He is no longer sure what choices were his, and what were those of the telepaths. There was a time when he once believed them to be pure in their power, but now – after witnessing the madness first hand – he wonders how many of his decisions were made for him. “I can only imagine how Scott's gonna feel.” And it is a truth that he isn't going to gloss over. “He's gonna wonder if he even loved you or if it was something that you made him feel.”

“He loved me, Logan. He really --”

“And I'm supposed to trust that?” He can see the guilt at the edges of her mouth, the way they turn down just slightly. She ruffles fingers through her long red hair. “He needs to be here, Jean. You know this. You know what's right.”

“I have no place to go, Logan. This is my home. This is my family.”

“This is my family,” he said, red visor clicking off to the side to finally look at Logan. He was a puzzle. Neither sad nor happy, resplendent or despondent. There was simply a firmness, a deep-held belief, and he would bow to nothing else. “I will do anything to protect it.”

His tactics had been below the belt, low blows and subterfuge. They'd worked – they'd absolutely worked – but, to Logan, there was no pride in their victory over the Skrulls. “You got a brilliant mind up there, One eye, but when you do shit like this, people start looking at you funny.”

“They've always looked at me funny, Logan. That's part of being a mutant.”

No one had spoken up about the use of the Legacy virus, how Cyke had demanded it engineered to Skrull physiology. At least not his face. But, Logan was sure that he had heard the whispers. How devious the whole plan was, how dangerous. “What if the cure hadn't worked? Or if they'd stalled --”

“Then they'd all be dead.” He was not apologetic. There was doubt in him, no recall of action that made him tremor. “But, we'd still be alive.”

“You're a heartless bastard sometimes, Slim. You know that, right?”

The barest of flinches scraped across the corner of mouth. So fast another person would have missed it. He hated these decisions, these calls he was constantly being forced to make. They wore on him, grated against his essence, but they were necessary if they were to retain hope of staying alive. “There is no place where we belong, Logan, not since our birth. But here, we've carved out the closest thing to assurance that we'll ever feel. For my family, I'll do anything to make sure it stays that way.”

“We have a lot of redeeming to do, Red. You and I both. If there was ever even an ounce of love for him, you'll help me talk to Storm. Set it to right. He needs his family right now, more than you.”

She wants to argue further, stand her ground, prove that she is still worthy of those dreams that he once had of her. But she can't. There are no words for what she did, no excuses that she can make. And to make things worse, she knows that she would do it all over again if given the chance. “I still dream of him sometimes. His power. His love. But there is no hope.”

“There ain't hope if you've already given up.” Scott never gave up on her, that she'd remake herself, that she'd come back. Whether it was his decision or not, he'd never let her go, no matter how much it broke Emma's heart. “And, he deserves better than that. We can be better than that.”

Chapter Text

It was his greatest temptation, his greatest sin, and still he can feel the lure of that power hovering on the horizon. How easy it would be to reach out and take it – those old familiar paths, burrowing through frantic thought and hideous whispers. He could be powerful again, strong, a leader among men. He could remove their doubts, their lack of faith, and bring them again to his feet, bowing in reverence at his sage words and peaceful thoughts.

The child was barely thirteen, covered head to toe in bruises and burns, switch marks crisscrossed his back, deep gashes on his hands. It took all his mental might to get the child to trust him, to take a step forward and reveal his name. His defenses were so strong then, a mind so used to psychic battle that even he could not break through. “My name is Charles Xavier. I'm a mutant, like you. I'm here to help.”

The child was wary, like a soldier caught in crossfire. Small hands shook as he was again forced to take another step forward, to come out of the shadows and show himself. “I don't want to hurt anyone,” he said, his voice almost overcome by the noises within the building.

“You saved their lives. All of them.” Their crime spree had gone from the wilds of Nebraska all the way to New York, as Jack Winters robbed bank after bank in order to fund his trip eastward. “Do you know what he wants?”

A long silence, and another mental push to get the child to speak. “Power,” Scott said, his instincts fighting back against the intrusion. Every step had to be mentally commanded, every bit of trust had to be threaded into current thought.

The boy came to his side, his head turning to the right to view the miasma of nuclear energy starting to leak from the reactor. “We have to stop him, Scott. We have to stop him from hurting other people.”

Three times, the child spoke up, told Charles that he didn't want to hurt anyone, but someone had to helm the vibration gun. Someone had to put an end to the man's treachery. It was hard to control the boy, difficult to keep his hands steady and mind focused upon the task. “You're not going to hurt him,” Xavier promised. “But there's no other way.” But Charles knew better. He knew what the vibration gun would do to the near fully-diamond Winters. He knew that it would shake his ions apart, explode him into glittering bits of jewels, and when it did, the child cried out in terror.

Sitting among the remains, tears streaming down dirt-caked cheeks, he looked to the man who had forced his trust, and deemed himself a murderer. “Self defense isn't murder, Scott.”

Charles Xavier stands at the ocean's edge. The Greek Isles suit his new body – the one taken from Phantom X – the sun, the salt air. His body basks in the luxuriousness. He has a house here, a large estate filled with treasures stolen from various entities. He lives well here, on Samos, away from the pressure and stress of the X-men. Away from his corruption.

There had been love there for the boy, though hidden away at times behind commands and his driving need for power. He imagined himself the boy's father, and so when he finally crushed the shield inside his mind, he positioned himself as such. He never imagined having a child of his own, and in that respect, he came to care for Scott like no other in his life.

Those first few months – before he'd broken in – there was the constant push to make him trust, to make him speak, to make him react. Xavier hoped that the boy would feel normalcy in this, but he was wary, and, as Moira said, for good reason.

The nosebleeds and the headaches were constant as Xavier tried to pry at his massive defenses, plucking away at the small threads of psionic shield, trying to break in and find out the boy's secrets. If Scott understood what was going on, he never said, but in many ways, he treated Charles as the enemy.

He told himself – and Moira – that he was doing it for Jean. That their meeting – though Xavier had sought him out after reports of their crime spree – was too coincidental, that his defenses were too strong, and that someone could have planted the child in his life in order to get closer to Jean.

Jean was thirteen, and brilliant. A talented telekinetic, and would-be-telepath had Xavier not blocked her powers in order to drag her from her year long stupor some time ago. She was vibrant and sweet, innocent in all respects, and he couldn't risk harm to her. She was his student, his protege, someone whom he could see himself depending on, that she would be a part of his dream.

Moira often scoffed at his reasoning, claiming that the boy needed him and his protection far more than Jean, but Xavier couldn't shake that tremor of fear for her. Nor could he escape that sense of looming power beneath the surface of his mind. He discovered that he craved it, even before he could take it, he wanted that power for himself.

He wants for nothing here on Samos, a lazy life filled with sun and salt, food and drink. There are ladies who talk to him now – ladies not flung into the far reaches of space. Oh, how he misses Lilandra. The touch of her hand upon his skin – it was always cool to the touch, and he wanted nothing more than to warm her. She was beautiful, exotic, everything he'd ever wanted from a lover. She was his heart, and with her death, with her madness, his heart was broken.

It would be easy to bring her back, especially now that Scott was in the full wellspring of his power. Easy to twist that power and bring breath to her corpse. He could do so many things with it, things he should have done before. He could cure the world of all its ills, make life peaceful for the mutants. He could be a hero again, one of the greatest minds of the centuries.

The child fought them, hands and feet and teeth, as they propped him up on the med lab table. They needed to check his vitals, to gain some knowledge of his health. He was beaten and bruised, underweight and small. They could see the infection, smell it even, and though they tried to keep him calm, kept telling him that they weren't going to hurt him, the fear in the boy was just too much.

They fought with him over clothes, the removal of them. Angry, he growled at them as they tugged off the filthy blue cotton shirt, cut it away from his tiny body. It was worse with the pants. And once they got him free of it all, he froze, stone silent, his little hands balled up to protect himself, to keep them from looking at him.

Blood caked over old wounds, turned black with age and neglect. Deep gashes across his spine, down his ribs, the remnants of sticks and belts and fists. Burns lit infected holes up and down his arms and hands, their blisters busted, and oozing now. But, the boy didn't cry, didn't say a word, just flinched as Moira MacTaggert got close enough to clean him.

A cloth soaked in alcohol, she carefully dabbed at dirty skin and pain, cleaning out the gashes and burns, bandaging them tightly. He had broken ribs, a fracture in his upper arm, another at his ankle. Bruises were swollen, huge knots all over his body. She whispered her ease to him, kept her tone soft and light as Xavier watched from the corner. He'd never met such a frightened child, and it turned his stomach to witness such a thing. If it weren't the mind that was so closed to him – the one that gave him chills – he would have been too angry to speak.

Dressed in Charles' old clothes, the clothes kept from when he was a child – clothes too big for the boy's small frame – the boy wandered the hallways, double checking escape routes and windows. Moira noted his tendency before Charles, and that gave her great pause. “He needs you, Charles. You have to be here for him.” And, then, she showed him to his bedroom, explained all of the exits and entrances, and where they would be sleeping if he needed anything.

Charles doesn't know if the child slept that night or not. Or the next night. Or the next. For months, it was Moira who cared for him, with Charles working on education plans and physical fitness, training the boy to be his better self. Moira fought with him on every decision, claiming the child needed a chance to be a kid, and that Charles' methods were raising him a soldier.

Eric was also against his method of raising the boy.

He smiles at the young lady who brings him another martini. Feet in the sand, he raises up off chair to greet her. Green eyed and brunette, her olive skin darkened by the sun, he finds her a refreshing companion when she serves him. He can tell – even without using his powers – that she's infatuated with him, his new body. She tries to ask him out on a date, but she stumbles over her words, too nervous to ask him clearly. He smiles and talks about the weather – their normal conversation. How bright it is, how warm, and disappointed in herself, she walks away.

Eric came to his memories, a byproduct of near-death and awakening. It was why he'd come to Utopia, why he knelt at the feet of Scott Summers. He remembered that small, silent child, and also what Xavier had done to him.

They played chess – the only game Charles would allow in his stuffy old mansion. A game tactics and strategy, something to keep the boy's head roiling with thought.

Neglect had produced a boy behind in education. A third grade reading level, second grade writing. He didn't know science or history, health or literature. Mathematics was the only thing the boy excelled at, that and mechanics.

Like Moira, Eric had come to help with the child, as Xavier was often too busy with Jean and other projects to be there for him, spending weeks away at times. He needed a male presence, and his old friend was a willing participant. Also like Moira, Eric felt that Charles' schedule was too strict, that it didn't give the boy time to explore and discover himself outside of his abusive past. And, he, too, called out the professor for trying to shove himself into the boy's mind.

The first time Scott smiled was for Eric.

He brought with him a chess board – marble and metal – beautifully detailed and designed. The boy tendered the finally carved pieces between delicate fingers. “It's yours,” he said. “Do you know how to play?”

Xavier forced the answer. “I don't remember.”

There were many things that Scott didn't remember. His mother's face, his childhood home. The taste of cake, the sound of the ocean. What he did remember he did not talk about it – those years of abuse by Winters and another. Kept locked within his trap of a mind, he never mentioned his life before the mansion.

Scott caught on quickly to the game, learning the names of the pieces and how they moved. In the study, they sat, with Moira bringing them hot tea and little sandwiches. In the end, Eric won the game, but the boy was enthused by the battle, and smiled for the first time. “Can we play again?” he asked, even without a push from Xavier. Moira was overjoyed; Charles was suspect.

He laments now the distance he'd given the child. Lilandra had once accused him of the same, that his distance made him cold, unreachable. But it was his worries, his thoughts, his hopes, his fears that caused such a thing. He'd explained as much to Lilandra, that there were times he simply needed his private thoughts, and she accepted it as such. Yet, the child was too young to understand such complicated measures. He took the distance and the constant pushing at his mind as something devious, as a lack of esteem.

He really could raise her from the dead. All it would take is a thought, to pull her corpse from the depth of space, to return her to the living. Surely, Cyclops has enough memories left to twist her back into being.

It's evening by the time he leaves the ocean side, winds himself through the narrow roads and up the hill. His home sits at the top of it all, a view of where the ocean meets the sky. In his heart, he feels the ache of loneliness, his separation from all that he's ever cared about. It would be so easy to take it all back. Just a thought, just a nightmare. It would be so easy.

Chapter Text

“He has no place to go, Ororo.” Jean's word echo in her head as she stares down at the frozen body. His fingers are turning black from the cold, the hole in chest, the jagged ribs. He looks dead already, but somehow he's still alive.

If she turns her head to the side, she can just make out the flicker of bright red energy that keeps a pulse inside his broken veins. It's a dangerous energy, one that has them hunted and degraded, kept trapped within a closed off mine, away from sun and trees and wind.

She wants to fly. To propel herself into the sky, catch the polar winds and soar into the sun and clouds. She wants to be free of it all, to escape those chains that have held her down for so long. But, she's the leader of the X-men. She has duties, responsibilities, people who need her to take care of them. People she must protect. “He's too dangerous,” she breathes, her warm breath a fog around her. Her eyes are sympathetic, but her voice is firm.

She's not like Scott. She is not single-minded in her intent. She sees the many paths that she can take, the outcomes, the consequences. She questions herself constantly – her ability, her rule. And she's compassionate, a quality that Summers lost long ago, when Jean died at the hands of Magneto. That death had changed him, made him more solid, more focused, filled him with seething rage that leaked out between his otherwise banal words.

For years, she watched his spiral, and she regretted every second of it. The burden on him – as he ran Utopia – had been great, but she had her own duties as Queen of Wakanda. She could not be there as much as she liked, but he never admonished her for finding loyalty to her kingdom and her husband.

“Focus, people,” he said, his voice rising above the fray. They were low on food, on storage for their potable water. He asked for ideas, solutions, and all that he got in return was an argument about boxed macaroni and cheese. He pounded on the desk, and then blasted the center of the table with his optic beams. Quiet ensued as the table broke apart beneath them.

“That's going to cost a lot to replace,” Bobby quipped, staring at the wreckage with round blue eyes. “Good thing your girlfriend's made of diamond.”

Storm could see his frustration, the lack of ideas from his chosen head table. He'd implemented all that he could, mostly without direction from the rest of them. It was because of him that Drake made ice every morning, collected in jugs throughout the day, but there were complaints about the wait for it to melt, and how there were times when there was no water available. He'd started up greenhouses, filled to the brim with vegetables and citrus, but they were at least a month from harvest. He worried that the children would get sick from the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, and also the lack of variety in their current menu. “Donations will only get us so far,” he reminded them all. “We need more ideas, better ideas.”

He returned to his seat, drumming fingers upon the table. It was the first time she noticed the dark circles under red lenses, his lack of sleep, his constant fretting. Like her, he was leading a nation, but unlike her, he had little support. “I can bring fruit from Wakanda,” she said. “And what vegetables are left from the daily harvest.”

A flicker of smile and he nodded. “Thank you. That would be much appreciated.”

It was the only time – in all the years that she had known him – that he asked for help, and she is suddenly disappointed that so little was given. In hindsight, she could have done more for the mutant nation. Wakanda was filled with technology, and she could have convinced T'challa to share it with the burgeoning island, to help it in its settlement, it's future growth. In fact, she could have used her pull as queen of that most respected country to garner more favor from the UN and other allied nations. In many ways, she feels like she let him down.

But things were not always so easy. His penchant for darkness, for the grim, quickly caught up with him. From X-force to the modified Legacy virus, his desperation at seeing the mutants restored made his decisions rash and his fanaticism overboard. She wasn't the only one to inch away from his leadership, to call him out behind his back, to question his morals and vision. But, perhaps, she was the only one to see how his steely facade wasn't as strong as he pretended it to be.

His face was brave at Nightcrawler's funeral. He said not a word when chastised by Beast and Logan. Like everything, he took it and buried their words deep in soul, refusing to steer himself away from the mission at hand. But, that night, in the War Room, as the lights of Utopia clicked off for slumber, she saw a very different man. One that was haunted, overwhelmed, fraught. “Don't shut us away,” she told him quietly from the doorway.

She'd told him this before, when Jean died on the moon. She'd been clear about how he needed to reach out, to talk to them. He hadn't listened then. She wasn't sure he would listen now. Pale blue eyes studied him for long tense moments. “You didn't kill Kurt,” she said, taking a seat across from him. He swallowed in response, bit against the inside of lower lip. “Scott, talk to me.”

“His sacrifice won't be in vain,” he said after minutes of silence. Fists clenched, he rose from the table and left her, abandoned her to the shoreline of the asteroid. His pain was always private, a deep-held secret that he never revealed. She wonders now if it was his choice to be so distant.

She hates him, for his distance, the things he did, how easy it was to acclimate them to war. But, she cares for him as well, for the sheer fact that he's a fellow human being, and someone she once respected. “I don't want him near the children,” she concedes with a sigh.

Logan's slight nod edges her on. “He makes no decisions as far the X-men or our fellow mutants are concerned. And, neither do any of you. You will move him as soon as you find a suitable place, as I will not have our friends cast to the cold in favor of keeping him safe.”

Alex rises up to argue, his face harsh and his teeth clenched, but Steve is quick to move in. “Agreed,” he says, though the others are not as willing. “She's given us a place,” he reminds them. “That's all we asked for.”

In all, Steve agrees with her rules. Cyclops shouldn't be communicating with the children or making decisions for the team. He's too damaged, too broken, and he makes his point clear with the others. “We'll institute a 24 hour watch,” he assures Ororo. “He will never be left alone.”

Chapter Text

The tiniest flicker of movement under jaw. It catches Alex's eye, makes him look closer. Hoping, waiting, he takes the visor from the small stand, places it over his brother's eyes.

The touch of skin to skin awakens him, frightens him. In a jolt, he sits atop the small bed, ripping and tearing at tubes and bandages. He kicks at covers, at his brother, at the world. An angry snarl, Scott fights back at the man who hovers over top of him, trying to subdue him, to stop the flailing limbs and the nightmare that ensues. “Scott,” he says, as calm as he can. “Scott.” He grabs at shoulders, at hands, at legs. He presses down near broken bones, trying to get his brother to stay still. “Calm down, Scott.” He warns Cecilia away, keeps her on the other side of the room as he continues to struggle with his brother. “It's just me. I'm not going to hurt you.”

But his words fall on too-frantic ears. Kicking himself off the bed, he drops to the floor on broken bones, his power beginning to spur out of control. Alex quickly jumps the bed, hands in the air to show his harmlessness, grabbing up scalpels and keeping them out of his brother's hands. “Scott. Calm down! You're safe now! Calm down!”

Across the room, Cecilia Reyes prepares a tranquilizer, but Alex is adamant that she keep away. The energy roiling off of him is dangerous, destructive, and she could very well lose her life to it.

Scott backs himself against the wall and then into the corner, a single scalpel have escaped his brother's grasp. Hands over head to protect himself, he wields the knife in the air, pointing it at the blonde before him. He growls in protest of furthers steps, yells obscenities at the further approach. There are no words, no looks of doubt, just anger and fear and a reality he doesn't realize that he's in.

Alex kneels to the ground, again, showing Scott the palms of his hands. “I'm not going to hurt you, brother,” he says quietly. “But, you need to put the scalpel down.”

It's a desperate action, to press the blade against his own neck. The tiny pearls of blood trickle down the line. Scott swears he'll do it if Alex comes closer, touches him, reaches for him. He's tired of pain, of battles. He wants it to stop. He'll do anything for it to stop.

Alex relaxes his posture, dropping hands to floor. “See, Scott, I'm not going to hurt you.”

“It's a trick,” he whimpers, the doubt suddenly crashing down upon rock tense shoulders. “It's a trick.” He pounds against the plaster on his leg, tries to break it, to crack it, to free himself from its confines. He can't fight like this, can't protect himself. “It's a trick.”

As his desperation boils over into a flood of tears, Alex takes the chance to grab his brother's wrists. “Calm down, Scott,” he says, struggling to keep his hold. “You're safe now. You don't have to fight anymore.”

There's a pause – a small one – which gives Alex just enough time to place his hands on the sides of his brother's face. “You're safe now,” he repeats himself, calm, soothing. “You're safe, Scott.”

Hands to visor, Scott presses fingers into skin, unsure, not yet ready for more pain if it is a lie. Alex smooths sweat damp hair from his forehead, a soft, tender touch that makes his brother doubt himself even further. “A-alex?” he stutters, his hope so fragile, already near to shattering. He flinches as the younger Summers reaches out for shaking hand, twines his fingers between visor and flesh, and holds himself there for long moments.

There is no pain in this touch, no attempt to hurt him. Still suspicious, still concerned, he allows his brother to pull his hand to his chest. “I'm real, Scott. I'm not going to hurt you.” The gasp of relief is audible, wrenching. Scott shakes his head repeating his brother's name again and again, still questioning what part of his reality this is.

Wrapping his arms around his brother's shaking body, he pulls him into a hug, a soothing circle over spine, and gentle whispers that it's all okay. Soon, the energy around him begins to calm, his frenzy settled into stoic silence. He pushes back from his brother and looks up to Storm in the doorway.

Lean brows creased with wariness, her pale blue eyes do not dismiss the scene as something to merely be forgotten. Beside her is Steve Rogers, who is also concerned about the display. “You should have knocked him out,” he says to Alex.

Alex looks around at the destruction in his surround, the broken bed and side table, the half chewed monitors and machines. The wall has been melted, the floor pounded to dust. He hadn't realized it had gotten so far. “He's fine now,” he assures them, lifting himself from the rubble. He reaches out a strong hand for his brother, but still nervous, still confused, he refuses it.

He mumbles under his breath, a series of numbers in his discomfort. One million, six hundred thousand, four hundred and thirty four. Six million, two hundred thousand, nine hundred and three. Four million, eight hundred and sixty thousand, five hundred and forty three. He buries head in hands as the world overwhelms him.

“Er dogren.” Steve's words knock him out instantly, and Scott slumps to the floor. The spell was tuned to their voices, the three of them. It's a safety net, their chance to save themselves.

The immediacy of his anger shocks all of them. He lunges for the Avenger, his fists a fury against jaw and cheek. Steve stumbles backwards into the far wall, and Alex pummels him some more. “He was fine,” he charges, his words echoing down the halls. In the distance, there is the sound of children crying. “He wasn't going to hurt anyone!”

It's Dr. Reyes who breaks up the fight, shoving herself past Storm, and admonishing the two men in the hallway. “This is the medical lab,” she tells them both. “I will not have this fighting here.”

Crossing the room, she pushes away the broken bed and bends down to check Scott's pulse. He did deserve more time, she says while pulling his arm over her shoulder, but she's not disappointed that he's once again unconscious. She's strong enough to lift him and soon beckons for Alex's help.

“I want him out of the med lab,” Storm directs, much to Cecilia's dismay. “I can't bring the children here until he's gone.” She suggests to make room in Logan's quarters, as it was his idea to bring the man here in the first place. Alex's room was long given away to a child in need of a bed. “I'll give you the hour to clear him out of here.”

The echo of her footsteps can be heard in the distance. It's then that Alex finally decides to speak. He thanks Reyes for her care, for watching out for brother. “He doesn't mean to be so frightening,” he explains. “He doesn't mean to hurt things.”

She was there when Jean made her confession. She understands that he's not in a good frame of mind, but she's like Ororo. She can't condone the violence that he's committed. “I care for him because it's my job. But, having him here makes it hard on everyone else.” She reminds him of the Red Hunt, how the soldiers came for her at her family's home. “They pointed a gun at my father's head. He's eighty years old, a veteran, and a good man. But, they threatened to kill him in order to find me.” She'd come to X-men in tears. “Kurt checked on my family for me, made sure that they were okay.”

“The Red Hunt isn't his fault--”

“They were searching for him, therefore it is.” She retells his brother's crimes – from the Phoenix to the prison break, the countless people hurt in the Sentinel attacks when he chose to be a renegade mutant and threaten society. “He needs to stand trial for his actions. It's my job to make sure that he's healthy enough to do so.”

“We don't even know which of those decisions were his and which --”

“Which is why he needs to stand trial.”

Steve nods with approval, having said as much himself three days ago. “If he's found innocent, then he's a free man, Alex. No one should be allowed to escape justice, regardless of who they are.”

“Escape justice?” his tone is dark, rabid. “You saw his mind, Steve. You saw what they did to him. Hasn't he suffered enough?”

Steve understands Alex's sentiment. He agrees that Cyclops has endured more than humanly possible. “But the world, Alex. The world needs a resolution, a conclusion. They'll never feel safe so long as he is hidden.”

“My brother's saved the world more times than the world knows. He deserves better than being treated like an enemy.”

“But, to the world – to all of those people out there not blessed with gifts like we are – he is the enemy.” Steve hold Alex's gaze for some moments before going to wake Logan and getting the room prepared. He's sorry that he has to be the voice of reason in this, the one that cares about the world more than a solitary man. He hopes that Alex forgives him for his advice, his hope that soon, they'll turn Scott in so that he can face a final justice. “I'm sorry for what they did to him, but that doesn't mean he's innocent.”

“You feel the same?” Alex growls to Cecilia.

She nods. “I'll continue to treat him like any other patient. But, please, consider getting his name cleared and get us all out of hiding.”

Chapter Text

He runs. Through hallways and corridors, propelling himself over furniture and through the laser guided aim of soldiers.

“It's one thing to hunt Cyclops,” he'd told them. “But Storm is a different matter.”

The reaction was almost immediate. A flood of soldiers into the room. With Ironman on one side, Nick Fury on the other, he threw himself out of the upper story window, landing on a balcony below. Glass shattered as he broke through the large glass door, scurrying himself across the floor and through the rooms. The elevators were already in motion, so he hit the stairs, bouncing down landing by landing, using his mutant gift to keep himself moving forward.

An arrow nicks his shoulder, a trickle of red blood over blue fur. Wide amber eyes look to the left where Hawkeye aims his bow. A shiver in his spine, Henry barely avoids the next volley, crawling under a high table to shield himself from the hit. At his rear he can hear the plasma burst of Ironman and the gunmen in his wake. “Why are you doing this?” he calls out. He considers the Avengers his friends, his allies. To be attacked by them boggles his mind.

“Cyclops needs to die,” Hawkeye replies, a harshness to his tone that drives worry into Beast's veins. “And you know where he is.”

Another volley of arrows blocked by the rear of a sofa. Beast can smell the gunpowder from here, and the small flame that sparks it to light. The subsequent explosion throws him backwards, singes the tips of blue fur, and crushes the air from lungs. “Thought you wanted him dead, too, McCoy. Isn't that why you came to us?”

Dazed with concussion, amber eyes half-lidded with dizziness and nausea, he can barely focus as the man with the arrows comes towards him. Grabbing him by the scruff of fur upon his neck, Hawkeye pulls him up along the wall, shaking him just enough to grab his attention. “Don't betray us now, Hank. We need to put an end to this.”

The sudden drop to the floor gives Beast just enough time to recover his wits, but the attack he expects does not come. Stiff as stone, Clint Barton stands unmoving, a shadow hovering over top of him. Hands splayed at his side, bow now on the ground, it's only his eyes that dart back and forth across the room.

In the distance, just down the hall, McCoy makes out the silhouettes of Ironman and the infantry, also paused in movement, like statues in the dark. Quick to his feet, Beast turns on heel to stare out the window. “Magneto?”

He strains to hold them all, but manages a coy smile in return. “Have you reconsidered your allegiance, Beast?”

“I won't join you,” he replies, but like the others, the iron in his blood is now magnetized, freezing him in place.

“You may not have a choice.” A snap of fingers, and Beast can feel the sting of taser against his neck, and the world goes black before him.

He awakens some hours later to a world of shadows and thick metal chains around his wrists and ankles. The air is chilly here and moist, a draft from above weaving the scents of earth and ozone into the large underground facility used by Magneto.

Unlike the mine, this place is comprised of cut stone – a natural cave filled with the sounds of trickling water and the wings of bats. There are no comforts here, just the flashing lights of giant computers and small open-air beds in the corner of the cavern.

“You're finally awake,” Magneto says, with Sabretooth and Toad at his side. “Good. Now we can talk.” He's disappointed in the furry blue X-man. It's one thing for Emma Frost to play the game, but for Beast – a student of Xavier himself – to find that he had allied himself with the Red Hunt was near enough to start a war. “They imprisoned us, Henry. Made us into enemies. And yet, you curried their favor, put the needs of self above that of your brethren.”

Beast glares, struggles against the chains that keep him immobile. “They are trying to save the world --”

“From mutants?”

“From the Red Wave.”

“Scott Summers is a gift to us all,” he says quietly, sending his henchman to busy themselves with other projects. “If we play our cards right, Henry, he will make sure that mutants are never hunted again.”

It takes only moments for him to realize Eric's angle. “He's not a weapon,” Beast pleads. “He's a sick man that needs--”

“Help, not death? What a grand sentiment for a man of his power. He's a weapon, McCoy. Nothing more, nothing less. Xavier wielded him for years, and now it's my turn.”

“Even were his mind whole, he'd never bow to you.” Regardless of his resentment towards the man, no matter how many times he accused Scott of becoming their greatest enemy, he never once mentioned a world where humans were less than mutants. “He still believes in Xavier's dream.”

“A dream that perished long before the man.” Eric cannot see peace between the species. Not now, not ever. “They will always hunt us. They will always blame us.”

Magneto's plans are simple, really. To rescue those in the Undertow, to tear down that prison beneath the water and demand mutant autonomy once again. “If Cyclops will lead us, the world will listen. They'll have no choice but to listen.”

Beast reiterates the broken mind, how Scott is incapable of rationale and logic. How even strategy will be beyond him right now. “There is no hope in him. He's too far gone to make a difference.”

“Then why was he rescued? Someone must believe in him.”

Stark had been more than sparse about the details concerning Summers' escape from the Red Dimension, just that they had been betrayed by Dr. Strange and Steve Rogers. There had been the briefest mention of Havok and Wolverine, and that Mr. Fantastic had switched sides. He spoke Emma and her intentions, and of the horrors he had seen. But he never explained what actually happened. “He tried to kill us,” was the bigger part of the explanation. “He was out of control.”

“If you let him loose upon the world, Eric, the world will perish. Tell me that you want to rule a kingdom ashes?”

Magneto smiles at the poetry. He knew the boy once, long before the X-men were brought together. “Charles never told you, did he? Another of his dirty little secrets.” He was a bright thing, that young child, clever, and observant. “He was more a man then, at thirteen, then I ever was.” His memories – recovered when his own death seemed imminent – are happy ones, not quite comfortable, but then who could be comfortable in the presence of such a power. “He told you it was for Scott's own good, did he not?” Beast nods. “And, you know that to be a lie. It was his own ego that broke that mind. He feared being overshadowed by a child, and so instead, turned him into a weapon that he threw against me for years. Now, it's my turn. And you, dear Henry, are going to help me.”

“And why would I do that?”

“Because I know exactly where Storm and her little mutants are. If you want them to live, you'll do exactly as I say.”

Chapter Text

A fine webwork of pale white lines crisscross themselves creating a map upon the skin. Gray eyes trace the roads of his many battles, from gunshots to knife wounds, energy burns and too-gashed skin. The bandages are fresh, bloodied already from reopened wounds and broken scabs. “I can't do much for him anyway,” Reyes had explained, “and we need the med lab to be open to everyone.

Outside in the hall, he could hear the shuffling of children trying to peek through the cracks in the metallic door. They whispered of their fear, their awe, wondering if they should knock or disturb their former teacher. They shoved at each other to peer inside the door lock, counting down the seconds for each one's turns. Sometimes, they would chortle of their victory, that they had seen the Red Wave, and that he was hideous. A man burnt by energy, so ugly that it was no wonder the world turned their back on him. Others saw an angel, bathed in light and glory, hovering over Logan with words of kindness and destruction. The sparse few – the ones that told the truth – complained that they couldn't see him. “I can see Professor Logan,” one whispered too near the door knob, “and he doesn't look happy.”

To the children, Scott is an enigma. A puzzle, a boogeyman, a danger. He is a thing of nightmares and threat, something that thrills their little hearts into racing beats and fear-dried mouths. “Pocket gets a chance, too,” he could hear one of them say.

“Then he has to ask for it,” said another.

“He can't talk.”

“Can't or won't?”

“Does it matter?”

There is movement outside the door, another shoving match, on that leads to feet and fists and the blast of mutant power. He can hear the rattling of metallic walls, and then the solid footsteps of Kitty Pryde. She yells at them, reminds them that they are not to be in the hallway, orders them back to the common room. “If I catch you here again,” she warns them, “I'll take away the board games.”

The kids had created them in his absence, with marker on paper. They drew out their remembrances of Monopoly and Sorry, made decks of cards, and other games to keep themselves occupied. Never did they imagine that their creativity would be used against them in punishment. “You, too, Tatsuya. You can't be here. He needs his privacy.” The doorknob jiggles, and the door ekes in it's hinges. “No, that doesn't mean look through the lock. Pocket! Go to your room, now!” Padded footsteps in the hallway signal the child's retreat, and then a gentle knock.

Kitty Pryde – so much older than the young girl he'd first met all those years ago – greets him with a sympathetic smile. She carries with her a plate of sandwiches and cold noodle salad. “It's not much, but I'm guessing that you're hungry?”

Logan nods and moves just enough to let her in. A peak out in the hallway and he sees young Pocket – still in his bunny suit – stare back at him. “Kid's a curious one,” he mumbles, watching as Kitty takes a seat on the other side of the bed.

“A little trouble maker,” Kitty smiles. “That one will make a fine X-man one day.” She divvies out the sparse meal, apologizing for its meagerness. “Since Cable quit coming, we have to be super strict rations so that they'll last.”

“How much longer can you last?”

“End of the month, maybe. We're hoping that when Jean returns --” She cuts herself off, her dark brown eyes jetting down to Scott then back up to Logan. “Sorry,” she whispers. “Probably not the time to talk about that, eh?”

Logan shakes his head, turns his gaze back to Scott, still unconscious on the bed. He wants to be alone right now, to watch over him, to be fully aware of the moment when he wakes up. “He was lost,” Alex had told him. “He didn't know where he was, who I was. We have to keep watch on him.”

Gray eyes glance over at the young woman across from him. With a smile, she offers him a peanut butter sandwich, and explains that she brought enough for the three of them. “He'll probably be hungry, too,” she says, and places the plate on the table. She is sure that the bread will go stale, so if he's not up in a few hours, Logan should go ahead and eat it so that it doesn't go to waste. “If anyone complains about rations, come talk to me.”

“You're not afraid of him like the others?”

“I trust you, Logan,” she says. “If you say that you can help him, then I believe that.” Fear is a choice. That's one of the many things that she learned from him. That one can choose to allow fear to dictate their actions, or they can find the courage to face it, see ways to change it. “I learned that from Scott, too. He never let fear control him.”

That doesn't mean that he doesn't intimidate her. He always has, though. Made her feel smaller than herself. It wasn't intentional, she's sure of that, but there was always something about him – the way he held himself, how sure he was of his decisions, that it made her feel like a lesser leader. “I'm good at what I do,” she explains. “But, Scott made me realize that I could be better.”

She makes no excuses for their behavior, but she also makes no excuses for Scott's either. He is dangerous, contentious. If even half of what Jean said is true, then there is a great reason to want him far away from them, isolated, alone. “He needs time to recollect himself, and here may not be the place to do that.” The quarters are cramped, the kids are loud. There are fights among them everyday. The mutants here are angry, sweltering at times, with no outlet for their rage. She wonders if this is the best place for him. “He's going to be the focal point for a lot of that hatred because there are many who feel that he's the cause of their current predicament. Again. If anything, Logan, he deserves peace.”

Kitty does not believe Scott a bad man. His intentions were sound – wanting to protect those who could not protect themselves. And, he did a lot of good for his students, as much as he did the rest of them. “In a lot of ways, he was misunderstood. Even by myself.”

Logan doesn't bring up the telepaths, how easily they have been forgiven for their wrongs; how justified they seem to Storm and the others. Though he thinks it, though he seethes at what they did to him, he can't take that out on Kitty. Instead, he stares down at the unconscious man, wishing again that he could be alone and fully focused. He's worried about his awakening, that he'll lash out again with powers he can't control, be afraid, be lost.

Kitty – for all of her awkwardness – is a perceptive one. In silence, she finishes her sandwich and gives Logan a final smile. “He's a stubborn one, Logan. He'll make it through this.”

In the quiet of her exit, Logan brushes chestnut hair back from forehead. He's surprised at himself, that he wants to be this close to the man, that he wants to help him, cure him, touch him. In the back of his mind, he remembers that kiss, how terrified Scott was, how he melted into his embrace. In his gut, he feels the feathering of nerves at the memory. His breath halts, his mouth runs dry.

It's an odd feeling, one that he's not quite sure what to do with.

As if on cue, autumn brow creases in a jolt of wakefulness, a full forty eight hours after being spelled under a second time. Head jolts to the side, fingers roll to fists. Logan is fast to steady him, his fingers intertwined in hand, his thumb under chin. He calls Cyke's name, pulls his focus to himself. “Scott?”

There is a spur of movement, fast and strong. A kick at sheets, a sudden fear jolting down spine. In seconds Cyclops is ready to fight. Logan quickly grabs shoulders, climbing up onto his lap. Deft hands push him back to mattress. “It's okay, Scott. It's just me. You're safe, okay?” In this closeness, he feels the whir of his stomach once again. That crisp winter scent, the pump of sweet adrenaline, the earthiness of fear.

Scott is warm to the touch, his muscles tense. “Relax, Scott,” Logan eases. “I'm not going to hurt you.” His hands move back to face, cupping chin and forcing the man's focus. “I'm not going to hurt you.” He listens as the thrump of heartbeat begins to slow, as breath begins to smooth. Stroking thumb against high cheekbone, he smiles at red lenses, slowly backs himself off of the bed, allowing Cyclops to gain his bearings.

“Logan?” Scott asks at last, his voice harsh with lack of drink. The crease of brow shows his worry – a rare thing to witness. Hand to head, he pulls at light brown hair, wrestling with power and confusion, with a world that he doesn't recognize. The sound he makes – that small grunt of a sound – is weak, desperate.

“You're safe, Scott. No one's going to hurt you here.” Hand to bare shoulder, he soothes at tensed up muscles. He wants to hold him, to drag him into embrace, let the man quake inside of his arms, but he doesn't. There's still too much fear, too much pain, too much need for control. “Just breathe. It'll be okay. Just breathe.”

He mimics the sound of Logan's breath, deep inhales and slow exhales, in and out as gnarled hands light over his bare chest. “Logan?”

“I'm here.”

“Please kill me.”

Chapter Text

“I don't trust you.”

“I know.”

It was so easy to sneak past their defenses. With Rogue and Drake busy lamenting their love lives, and Pixie too bored to pay attention, he was able to crawl right up the ladder and out into the open. He doesn't worry about Cerberus. It only track mutants, and he has no X-gene.

He's useless among them. His leadership skills ignored, his ability to plan for contingencies. Like Cyclops, Storm doesn't want him here. He was part of the Red Hunt, and though he's changed his mind on the benefits of it, she still sees him as an enemy. Most of them do, except for Alex and Logan. They are merely distant, worried about what he might do to Scott.

“He needs rest,” Alex reminded him sometime after they moved Cyclops to Scott's room, shooing him away in case he decided to use the spell again. He was exasperated, his ego still bruised from their fight.

Yet, Steve saw the fear in Storm's eyes. “She's trying to keep people safe,” he replied. “And, Cyclops is just another burden that she doesn't need.” It was not only safer, but there was also assurance in that spell. Keeping him under meant that he couldn't accidentally harm someone.

The voice on the other end of the phone is ragged, exhausted, pained. With each word, Steve can hear the consequences of his deception. He's dreamed about this voice, the soft moans and pants that coursed through midnight air. The touch of skin upon skin, the ripples of muscles, the sweet curses of a man coming undone. He can taste him, in his memories, smell him. Right now, he wants nothing more than to close the distance between them, to gain back trust, to repair what should never have been broken. “Tony--”

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice isn't going to happen.”

“Be reasonable.”

“I am being reasonable.”

Perhaps if he were treated with more kindness by the mutants, he wouldn't feel so out of place among them. He wouldn't crave what he'd already broken, wouldn't be trying to make amends. “I'm sorry, Tony.”

“I can't do this right now, Steve.”

The knot in his throat feels like an entire world shoved into his esophagus. Hard and tight, it makes his hands tremble and his voice go quiet. “I just want to help. Please, Tony. Let me help.”

“Seems to me you've helped enough.”

“I'm trying to negotiate his surrender, Tony. Isn't that what you want?”

A sudden flare of anger in otherwise thorn-pricked voice, “What makes you think the mutants will give him up after all of this?”

“They're running out of time, Tony. They have few supplies left. Maybe two weeks, if they're careful, and no antibiotics. Someone gets sick in here and the whole place is going down. The children are in chaos, and the burden on them has just increased a thousand fold. All they want is to go home, to be safe again. Can you give them that?”

He knows that though Stark pretends to be a callous, arrogant man, he's actually more compassionate than given credit for. It's simply a matter of appealing to the compassion, something Steve fears he'll never be able to do again. Even in costume, he's at a loss. “Dealing with Scott Summers once and for all is the final goal of everyone. Let's talk about this.

“I don't believe you.”

The words cause Steve's words to shake. It's not what he wanted to hear, but there's little he can do now. It was his choice, after all, to take advantage of that miraculous moment. “I'm sorry, Tony,” he repeats himself. He can feel the heat of tears sting against his eyes.

“Don't start whining now. You made your bed, Steve. What else do they want?”

“All charges dropped and the prisoners released from the Undertow.”

“They're not prisoners.”

“Semantics, Tony. They go home without charges against them, in exchange, they give you Scott Summers.”

“And, they're not going to revolt when I put the axe to Cyclops' neck?”

“You can't kill him, Tony.”

“Why not?”

“Killing him could end the world.” He tells Stark of the prison in Scott's mind, how it's likely that if he dies, the prisoners he keeps will escape. “There are hundreds of them, bits and pieces of these things. And there's the Phoenix. Two of them. You can't risk it.”

“So, what am I supposed to do with him?”

“Put him on trial, let the courts decide.”

“And should they find him innocent?”

A long pause as Steve tries to balance the needs of the mutants and his sudden sympathy for Summers. But, he's already in foot deep of his own accord. Backing out now would be detrimental to everything. “Do you really think that would happen?”

In Tony's voice, he hears the man of iron, the strength of a hero, but he also hears the sad, lonely edge to that was once overjoyed to hear him. “From what I saw, he could plead insanity.”

Steve knows that it's possible. That he could get off on an insanity plea. But, he also knows the resourcefulness of Nick Fury and SHIELD, how even being bat shit crazy won't stop them from assessing and dealing with the threat. “There's a difference between insanity and world ending madness.”

“I'll agree to it on a probationary return. They hand over Summers, and until he is dealt with, they will be monitored day and night by the Hunt. No one sets foot off that campus without permission.” It was the same set up the government used after Wanda's spell, a plan to keep them safe and to keep them from going bat shit crazy on the world around them. “If Cyclops agreed to it, then I'm sure Storm will as well.”

“I'll give her your terms,” Steve says quietly. His stomach shirks at his own words, his agreement, his role. “And you're not going to kill him, right?”

“Does it matter?”

“It does.”

“Fine, Steve,” Tony drones. “I won't kill him.”

A part of him knows that Tony is not above lying, never has been, never will be. But, he also knows that through the years, the man has changed. He chooses, in the end, to have faith in him. “Thank you.”

“One last thing,” Stark calls out. “Why are you doing this?”

A long, insufferable pause. Reason upon reason floats throughout his mind. The mutants, the fear, the world. But none are as important as the real reason why he's doing this. “Because I love you.”

Chapter Text

The red flash and blare of sirens rock the soldiers and scientific personnel to life. Fast and harried, positions are taken within seconds of the alarm, guns pointed and glasses on.

The rip in the dimensional fabric glows hot orange and green, like flames on stone, it burns into a wide, open circle.

“What the hell is happening?” Nick Fury stands above the fray, looking down from warehouse balcony. He calls to operation commanders and scientists, his voice an echo over them all.

“We don't know sir. The portal generator just kicked on.”

Below him, the scientists scurry to find the reason for the sudden flare, checking screens and machines. On lightboards behind them, they draw out the complicated mathematics that determine where the opening points while others begin diagnostic checks. “Sorry, sir,” a lead scientist approaches. “This machine is still a mystery to us. We only know what Richards showed us.” Dimensional space is not something they arbitrarily dabble in at SHIELD. They lack the funding for it. “The machine jumped to life on its own. We're still trying to figure out why.”

Maria Hill arrives with little fanfare save for a flurry of salutes from gun-toting guards. She hurries to the platform where Nick Fury keeps his one good eye on both the portal and the fray. “I've a bad feeling about this,” he tells her, instructing her to pull two SHIELD patrols and bring them here.

“Not the Red Hunt, sir?”

“Just SHIELD for now.” He doesn't want to waste what morale is left in his soldiers. Too many failed missions and a flagging leader, he worries about their long-term success if things get worse.

“But, Stark negotiated a deal last night.” Dark eyes narrow when she realizes that Fury hasn't been told this news. “Cap is with the mutants. They're ready to hand Cyclops over.”

Another gut feeling. “Keep Red Hunt where they're at,” he commands again. “Just SHIELD here for now.”

Fury is not a stupid man, and it is rare that people treat him like one. But, Stark is an arrogant bastard, and often feels himself above the rest of them. When Hill questions him again, he is quick to reprimand her. He knows full well what went on the night of Havok's escape from Stark Tower. And, though he demands that this intel be kept just between the two of them – in case this information is needed to keep Stark under thumb at a later date – he doesn't trust Roger's motives in suddenly coming to them, especially after his actions in the Red Dimension.

“The Undertow.” It's Maria Hill's only thought, only idea. “What else could they be after?” A distraction that would draw the attention of both SHIELD and Red Hunt forces would give the mutants an opening to finally bust their friends out of prison. “Illyana Rasputin worked with them in the Red Dimension. Why wouldn't she work with them again?” Plus, the disappearance of Hank McCoy, the sudden appearance of Magneto, and Cable's attack on the military base some days ago. “They're planning an attack.”

A string of quiet curses, Fury sneers and pounds his fist against the railing. “Damn it.” A pause for epiphany. “Do you think he planned it?”

Fury knows little of Scott Summers, just a few interactions throughout the years, but one thing he did know about the man was his sense of strategy. He prided himself on always being ten steps ahead of the enemy, of planning for every contingency. Manipulative when he had to be, powerful when there was no other choice, the X-men leader could dig his way out of Hell and no one would know how he did it.

“Unknown, sir,” Hill answered. “But, from the way Ironman talked, it doesn't seem likely. Cyclops lost his mind. I doubt he'd be capable of --”

“Unless it was a feint.” His one blue eye glances again at the portal and it's slowly widening rift. Since this morning, it's grown an arm's length, and its diameter keeps increasing. Fury has long been accused of being paranoid, a term he takes as a compliment, and one that more often than not, keeps the world safe from those who would do it harm. “Think about it, Hill. Mutants are no better off than when he 'died' all those years ago. What if he's after revenge?”

It's a chilling thought, and one that could be true, if she didn't know the man in question. Quietly, she shakes her head. “It's not his style,” she says. “He's bold, sure, and he's said a lot of bold things, but I highly doubt that the Red Wave was intentional.”

It's a difference of opinion, considering neither one of them have hard proof to make their point. Fury has instinct; Hill has her basic knowledge of the enemy. “Time will tell, Hill. Time will tell.”

She nods her understanding of commands, and works her way back towards the exit. Fury watches as she leaves, before hollering out a list of instructions for the men below. He wants data, hard data. He wants to know why the machine is still on, where it's pointed, and why the hell Reed Richards hasn't been brought here yet. “I've waited all fucking day!” he yells. “I want answers, people. Answers!”

Fear is a driving force for many under Fury's command. In an instant, the scientists below pick up their pace, scribbling even more equations on lightboards and stringing out raw data feeds. Within minutes, Fury is approached with an update.

“It's a neighboring dimension,” he's told. “As big as the Red Dimension from initial analysis, but this one seems to be populated.”

“Populated by who?”

“We don't know, sir. We've barely just begun to calculate red shift and land mass.”

“Why's the machine still on?”

“We don't know that either, sir. Everything seems to be functioning normally, except we're not able to input all commands.”

Fury balks. “What do you mean you can't input all commands?”

“The machine isn't exactly easy to operate, sir. We need a specialist--”

“Screw the specialist and give me a list of commands you can't input.” The engineers gathered below are supposed to be the brightest of them all, and so he shakes his head at their sudden incompetence. “Give me a theory, something to work with instead of an 'I don't know'.

“We can't input operational commands, sir. We can't be sure yet, but we think the dimensional portal has been hijacked by another user. We think they are using it to open a rift to another dimension.”

Finally, something that he can work with. “Inside job or outside?”

“I don't-- It's unlikely that someone on Earth has hijacked operational status, sir, considering the signals that it's sending are foreign to us, which is why we're having such a rough time—”

A cold look from Fury cuts him off. “Get your coders down here. See if they can decipher the inputs. Pull everyone you can from other sites. This gets top priority.” He pauses, looks around the room and points to a group of guards keeping watch on the widening doorway. "And someone get me Stark!"

Chapter Text

He doesn't remember a world that isn't red. Though he knows that once he saw a blue sky and green grass, he doesn't remember what they look like. As he stares at the bedspread, he tries to guess what color it could be. A darker shade of red, so therefore not pink or white, not gray – unless it was a dark gray. It's not yellow or orange. Green maybe. Brown or blue. Violet, maybe black. There's a chance that it's red in tone, a deep dark red like the color of his mother's lipstick. He wishes he could remember his mother's face, her voice, the way she hugged him.

Alex wants him to sleep. Thinks it would be good for him. But, he's afraid. The last time he went to sleep, he woke up in Hell. It's a place he doesn't want to return to.

On the small table to his right is a bowl of canned tomato soup and half a sandwich. Alex urges him to eat something. That, too, would be good. It's been years. Surely he's hungry. But the idea of sustaining himself, of carrying on, of losing himself once again begs him off.

The blanket smells of Logan.

“You know why you're still alive, right?” Jean is always harsh with him. She loathes him, berates him. She feels betrayed by his relationship with Emma, swears that she died because of him.

Emma is no better. Saint Jean casts too big a shadow, and no matter what she does, she can never climb out from underneath it. “They're going to use you as a weapon.”

From behind visor, he peers up at them. There's moments where they shimmer in their redness, like a fog. But, otherwise, they are as substantial as Alex who talks to him from the corner.

Alex speaks of spring, their time at some park near their home in Anchorage. He remembers a green slide and rubber swings, how the boys used to play on the monkey bars and dare each other to leap from the top. Alex broke his arm once on one of these dares. Scott does not remember this.

“You're no use to them,” Xavier tells him from the opposite corner. “They don't want you here.”

They surround him, the shades of his nightmares. Each with their own condescension, their own tales of loathing. He's not good enough; he's too weak; he should be alone; he should die. He looks at them one by one, taking in their deep-seeded hatred. He understands them; he believes them. More than he does Alex.

He hasn't spoken since he woke up. He watched the changing of the guards with some chagrin. They're going to babysit him, watch him twenty four seven. Alex in the mornings. Steve in the evenings. Logan at night. “Go away, Jean.”

Alex's blue eyes narrow with concern. “Jean isn't here, Scott.”

He's going to kill his brother, she warns. He's too weak to control himself. He's going to explode and kill his only brother, just like he did her, Xavier, so many more. “Murderer.”

“I'm going to kill you,” Scott whispers, his tone as dazed as stone still face.

Alex leans back quickly, holding his hands in the air, until he realizes that Scott isn't paying attention to him. “Who are you talking to, Scotty?”

There's an innocence about him, something worried and pure. His words come out in a slow drone, hesitating between each word as he tries to keep up with her continued cautions. “I'm going to kill you.”

“You're not going to kill me, Scott.”

A crack in the haze, he flinches, looks at his brother from behind red visor. He knows that Alex's hair is blonde, that his eyes are blue, that his skin is tanned from the sun. The look on his face is one of worry – raised golden brows, slightly parted lips. His tone is soft, and the hand that reaches for him shakes ever so slightly. “Alex?”

“I'm here, Scott,” he replies, taking the hand upon the bed. Intertwining his fingers with Scott's, he gives him a gentle squeeze. “I'm here.”

The room is red. A red that glints under electric light. There are no bodies. No Jean. No Emma. No Pixie or Dazzler. Confusion grits jaw and sprawls a worried scowl over his right cheek. “Alex?”

“It's okay, bro.” Another squeeze, and the center of his brow creases further. “It's just me in here. Only me.” A long pause as he watches Scott come to grips with this reality. “Are you hungry yet?”
Alex fusses with the half stale sandwich, pulls it apart and tries to give his brother a portion of it.

“Twenty six million, two hundred eighty one thousand, four hundred fifty three.” He mumbles them, these numbers, starting low and going higher. He stares at the proffered sandwich, the numbers escaping his lips in whispers. They're reminders – of himself, of what he's capable of.

Alex puts the sandwich down, watches as his brother dips head to raised knees. He cradles himself, long, muscular arms wrapped around legs. He doesn't know what to do, doesn't know how to help. He places his hand on t-shirted shoulder and gives it a gentle nudge before leaning back in his chair with a sigh.

“I'm not a murderer,” he said quietly, staring into blue eyes. Such sadness, even across his steely features. “It wasn't me that killed him. I didn't--”

“I believe you, bud.”

It was the first time since the death of Xavier that someone had said that to him. In it, there was relief, that at least one person believed him. “So, about that pizza parlor...”

“What do you want, Scott?” It wasn't an easy question, no matter how lightly he intoned it. With a patient smile, he watched the thoughts flow across his brother's face like a great river suddenly undammed. “For your revolution I mean. What do you want from it?”

A shrug and shake of head, red visor looked up to cloudy gray sky. It was going to snow soon. “I don't know,” he answered after a long silence. “I just want to go to sleep.” He hadn't slept in months, not since Logan died. “I don't know why, but I close my eyes, and I think of him. I could have helped him, Alex. I could have saved him, if he would've let me.”

“I didn't realize you were friends.”

“We weren't. I mean, not since he left.” Scott didn't know why he left. He knew that Logan told him why, but he couldn't remember the reason. “It's like a hole in my memory.”

“Another one?”

Scott nodded, as close to a smile that Alex had seen him come to in years and years. It was also the most open. “Where's Emma?”

“Left her at the Jean Grey school. She's better off there. They all are.”

“How come?”

“I'll just end up getting them killed. I seem to kill everything.”

“You're not a killer, Scott.” But, he could tell that his brother didn't believe him. “You know you can talk to me, right?” A pause. “But you're not going to, are you?”

A shake of laughter rippled across broad shoulders then a seriousness that stalled breath and hunched Cyclops forward. “I've never hated you, Alex.”

“I know. I've never hated you, either. Been disappointed, but I think you understand why.”

“I made the decisions no one else would make.”

The words came out too harshly. “Because they were bad decisions to make.”

The openness suddenly closed off. Stoic, now, distant, Scott stared off in the distance, his hands folded in his lap. He shivered in the cold, that they were sitting in the snow, staring off the edge of the plateau into snowbound sky and the tiny town on the horizon. “I'm sorry you feel that way.”

“I'm sorry I said that.” Poison was by far easier to accept than the bittersweet that came with thought. He'd protected them, saw them through their darkest years, and they survived because of him. “I should have been there to help.”

“You had your own duties, brother. No one can fault you for that.”

He'd always been the forgiving sort. Quick to overlook wrongs and betrayals. From the Shi'ar to Magneto, Emma Frost to Rogue. He was always willing to move forward, start anew, look past troubled times. Alex wasn't nearly so flexible, holding onto grudges for years if he had to. “You should, though, Scott. That was an awful lot of weight you carried all by yourself.”

It's what he was raised to do. His whole life, he'd wanted nothing else except to lead the team. “When Bobby, Warren, and Jean went off to college, there was a part of me that wanted to go to for a while. I felt like I was missing out on life, but I had too many responsibilities as team leader. I realized, it was the only place in the world that I belonged.”

“Not the only place, Scott.” Though, it must not have seemed like it, there was more to him than the X-men. “You're a father. A brother. A son. Those are all roles you've played--”

“I want peace, Alex. At the end of all of this, I want peace.”

“Then show them all how peaceful you are.”

As Scott struggles with the coiled up energy that glows around him, he continues to murmur his jumble of numbers quietly into his knees. “Breathe, Scotty. Just breathe through it. You can do this.” It was hard to watch him, hard to watch him shake and sputter, to be less than his reserved self. “It's going to be okay, brother. I got you.”

Chapter Text

His wings ache from lack of use. Deep, scratched up pain that ratchets down his spine and splays out over shoulders. Gripping shoulder blade with pale blue fingers, he massages sore muscles and attempts to stretch his wings in the cramped chamber. “You gave your word, Ororo.”

Pale blue eyes cast down to floor. “It could be our best chance, Warren.” They're running out of food, out of supplies, and from what she's seen, Cyclops is more dangerous than they originally thought. “The children can't sleep for his nightmares.”

“One nightmare.”

“One nightmare with disastrous consequences.” She speaks of the uncontrolled energy in his sleep, how it disintegrated the door to the room, the bed, the tiny footlocker. “Imagine had the children been nearby.”

“But they weren't nearby. You've warned them all away.” The whole wing was cleared out this morning, leaving nothing but Logan's room and the medlab up the hall. “Logan knows to be more watchful now, as does Alex.”

“And Steve.”

Angel shakes his head. “I doubt they'll ask for Steve's help anymore. Not after this.” He doesn't blame them for being upset. It's a betrayal and one that neither Alex or Logan will easily forgive. “They have hope for him, Ororo. Perhaps you should, too.”

It feels like years since she had hope. “It's a way out, Warren. A way to get our lives back. Our freedom.”

But, trust in the Red Hunt, in SHIELD, in Tony Stark is a foolish thing. “We trusted him before. And instead of returning our friends, he put them in prison. Do you really want to put your trust in him again?”

“Ironman does not hate mutants. He's worked with us in the past to--”

“Like the rest of the world, Ororo, he's frightened of us, our capabilities. He's merely a man. He fears that we're superior.”

She's said as much herself in the past. Many of them had. The Avengers, the Fantastic Four – they always kept their distance, touting their support for the beleaguered species, yet keeping a far distance between them. There were many times when they could have used their 'allies' help, only to be ignored. Scott was perhaps most incensed over their actions, though the professor would always calm him down. “He wanted nothing more than to be a super hero,” she remembers. “And instead, he became a villain.”

There was a time when she looked fondly upon the red-spectacled mutant. His values, his leadership, his ability to think through any situation and determine the safest course. “Do you feel guilt, Warren?”

“Of course, I do. He's one of my oldest friends, and yet, I never bothered to look close enough to see his pain.” A small, sad smile lights across his face. “It wouldn't have taken much, you know. To see what was going on. A bit of patience, a bit of prying. A few questions, and all their plots would have unraveled. I could have saved him.”

“Is it guilt that makes you protect him now?”

He laughs, a quiet little chuckle that makes Storm's eyebrows quirk. “Perhaps to a point. But, mostly, it's because I know Scott and how strong he is. I know he can overcome this.”

“If I turn him over to the Red Hunt, what will you do?”

“If you abandon him, I'll leave.” And he's sure that others will come with him. They trust her word, her promise to them that they will have a safe haven, a place to recover. If she denies him that, if she is truly lacking hope and no longer has the heart to fight for them, then he'll leave and make the world a better place on his own.

Rubbing elfin chin, she mulls over his words with much chagrin. She's tired of losing people. Tired of the threats. “If I allow him to stay here, then Bobby will leave. As will Rogue, and plenty of others. They feel that he's too much a wild card to keep here.”

He has no sympathy for her, as much as he would like to. She could have done much to help herself by being open to Scott to begin with. “But, you kept hold of your spite towards him, which gives the others plenty of excuse to revel in their own bile.”

“And you kept your faith in him, even though it's undue.”

Another slight smile. More than Storm, Angel understands the torture that comes with having your mind messed with. Even now, as he sits here talking to her, he can feel the call of Apocalypse in the back of his head, a drone of a whisper that wants to lash out and bloody her. “It's taken me a long time to gain control of myself, and never once did Scott threaten to abandon me.” It took the support of Cyclops and the entire team to give him the courage and strength to find himself again. “If he'd cast me out for my darker instincts, I would have killed the world by now. It would be the Age of Apocalypse, and I would be his finest harbinger.”

“You also have Jean and Psylocke to thank for your current level of control. Without them--”

“Of course. But, that doesn't mean that I can forgive them for what they did to Cyclops. They tore apart his mind, Ororo. For power. They laid waste to him so that they could be stronger. Tell me your defense of that.” There is no bile in his tone, just a firm smoothness, but his dark blue eyes speak volumes as the rage behind them builds. She can see the flicker of anger in his flesh, the blushing of cheeks and neck, how it rises up into the golden waves of his hair. He breathes deep, now, trying to contain the rush of himself, the darkness. “No one abandoned me,” he says again when he finally calms down. “And I'm far more of a monster than he ever was.”

She shakes her head. She's never viewed Angel as a monster, even when the call of Apocalypse took him to the darkest reaches of his self. He's a friend, a trusted adviser. Calm, logical. She needs his input, his ability to solve problems. “I need everyone. We can't afford to be divided.”

“Then don't divide us. You're a queen, Ororo, a goddess, a leader. If anyone is strong enough to make the right decision and keep us all together, then that's you. Have faith in yourself. The rest of us do.”

She watches him exit the tiny chamber with a sudden sense of loneliness. And, for a moment, she wonders if this is how Scott felt during his time on Utopia. An entire world upon his shoulders, but no one to help carry the burden. “Warren?” she calls right before he closes the door. “I can trust you to speak with Bobby? Keep him calmed down?” He nods. “Very well. Scott can stay, but on a trial basis. If he continues to endanger us, I'll have no choice but to hand him over. The children come first.” He nods again and with a soft grin, he thanks her for keeping her word.

Chapter Text

For three days they've kept him in the room, tied up and collared. Like a lab rat, they draw his blood and inject him with chemicals. He's a powerful one, indestructible times, they want to find out what makes him tick. Humiliated and naked, all Sam Guthrie can do is mumble his protests as they fill his lungs with liquid oxygen and deluge him with water.

It's a special ionized water, one that could transform his mutation, or possibly turn it off. They've been working on this for years – in the private reaches of SHIELD – a deterrent to mutants who choose to go evil. As the water rushes over Sam's body, a host of screens at the rear and sides spew out a wealth of information. From vital signs to oxygen levels, cellular degradation to the small changes in DNA, prints run crazy with the constant readouts.

“No change, sir. The ionization process is not going as theorized.” The woman is small, with dark olive skin and hazel eyes. On her elegant face is a smile, something coy and alarming.

“It worked in the mice,” Dr. Alan Helmut says.

“Perhaps a higher dose of radiation is required.”

It was a thought. At times past, it was theorized that radiation was responsible for the genetic mutations. Though this was later proven false, it didn't mean that those initial findings didn't entirely jump the shark. “If we increase the radiation further, we could chance disintegrating his cellular structure all together.”

“Is that a problem, sir?” Gillian Pryce was new to the lab, and already there were those who refused to work with her. Behind her back, she was called brutal and bloodthirsty. But she came with the highest recommendations from MIT and Johns Hopkins, a geneticist of the highest order.

It wasn't necessarily a problem, but it did mean one less test subject in which to work with. They had many more tests and methods to go on their way to finding a cure for Scott Summers.

Nick Fury had theorized that Summers was invulnerable, otherwise he would have starved to death at some point during the past few years. “It's not like he grew a garden in that damn dimension of his,” he'd said. “And considering his new found healing factor, we may be looking at yet another mutant who is too hard to kill. I want options. Lots of them.”

“Up the dosage by one hundred parts per liter. Go to five hundred max. This one's not scheduled to die.”

In other rooms, there were other experiments to watch after, including those dealing with ruby quartz, stem cell therapies, and DNA rewriting. They repeated tests that had worked in the past, from the electric pulse collars that kept the mutants from utilizing their powers, to Dr. Kavita Rao's work some years ago. She'd actually found a partial cure, but with the research they'd managed to find, it only worked five percent of the time, and only on those few mutants who had not yet reached puberty when their powers manifested. Scott Summers was long past puberty, as were most of the other X-men, which rendered Rao's cure useless.

In another room, there is Gambit, an energy manipulator, strapped by chest and arms to dozens of machines. Using an electric current that targets the bonds between cells, they attempt to measure the increase and decrease of his power usage – the size of explosions that he's able to create. He looks pained and pale, but if it means stopping the Red Wave from destroying more cities, then it is worth it.

Another lab find Rockslide – his break apart self currently in a dozen pieces across the floor. A cloud of synthetic viruses – much like the nanosentinels – are released in an attempt to delay his reforming. They've had success with this, but what they really need is a mutant with a healing factor – one of the ferals or even Angel. It's possible that they could delay Summer's own healing long enough that they could keep him in stasis for years and years until another solution is found.

On the last door to the right, at the very end of the hall, Dr. Rao is less than pleased with her accommodations. The Red Hunt had scooped her up the minute they found out that Scott Summers could heal, but thus far, even with her system full of sodium pentathol, she refused to give voice to her past research.

There were inexplicable details in her years of files, things that didn't make sense. Granted, he knew that part of her research was based on Breakworld technology and science, but even in an earthly sense, there should have been some commonality, some way for him to decipher it. All he can think of is that she went back and doctored her reports so that her research would be unproducable.

“You will release me --”

“As soon as you can explain what you did.” They've reversed engineered what was left of her products, samples that were labeled with year and month. None were the formula that she later claimed to have. “Kavita, we're friends here, comrades. Surely, you can see the benefit --”

“There is no benefit in the cure. Especially not in your hands.” The Red Hunt is a disgrace to everything the mutants fought for. She will not see them on the brink of extinction again.

“I only need one vial, Kavita. Just one. You don't even have to tell me how you made it. One vial and we'll release you and everyone else in the Undertow. We'll never bother you again.”

Kavita Rao is not a fool. A single vial could equal a million 'cures' after Dr. Helmut is finished with his tests. She says as much and garners a frustrated glare from her peer. He's on a deadline, and if he misses it, he could be in very deep trouble with his Nick Fury. “We're trying to save the world, Dr. Rao. Surely you want to be a part of that.”

She doesn't and she never will. She lived with the X-men long enough to understand that they have no disease that needed be cured, but rather need a world that doesn't shun them. “I lost my daughter to the Red Wave,” he tells her. She was in Paris, on her honeymoon. With all of the horrific events going on, she moved up her wedding, thinking that we all needed something beautiful. She died for that.”

“She's been brought back--”

“I still grieved her, and my heart still knows that loss. Half the world knows that loss, and right now, there's not one thing that prevents us from having to know that loss again.”

Kavita Rao understands grief. She lost most of her family when a bomb struck outside their small house in the suburbs. And she's sorry that he had to experience that. She's never had a child of her own, but she had nieces and nephews that she cared for, so in a way, she does understand his pain. But, that doesn't account for what he's doing here. These mutants are people, and they are being subjected to torturous experiments in hopes of changing who they fundamentally are. “There are many mutants who would give anything for a cure, but there are also many who see that cure as a way of degrading them, of controlling them. How easy it would be for you to stick a needle in their arms and wish away the powers that you fear.”

“You don't fear Scott Summers?”

“Of course, I do. But, that doesn't mean I have the change what nature made of him.”

“Not even for the sake of the world?”

“Not even for the sake of the world.”

He calls her a fool and questions her audacity. “You're a scientist, Kavita. You're supposed to make the world a better place.”

“And I will, but not like that.” There are plenty of real diseases that they should be working on; diseases that harm the populace and rip the futures from innocent children. That's how I will change the world, Alan. Not by taking away the genetic birthright of someone who is proud to be himself.”

Once again, their argument ends in a stalemate. Another vial of sodium pentathol in hopes of gaining the truth of her research, and Helmut leaves her in the care of the agent sent here to gain their much needed information.

Maria Hill greets him at the end of the hall, her face bland and her tone demanding. She's here only for an update on the dozens of experiments under his lead. He gives her what he can. “The ruby quartz bullets produce enough shrapnel that even a veteran surgeon would have a hard time removing it all, but it's still not aerodynamic enough to be used at a safe distance. We are attempting to make it lighter, but then we'll have to run experiments on the mutant directly to see if an altered structure would still prevent his powers.”

“SHIELD is more worried about curing him, Doctor, rather than just delaying--”

“I realize that, and I'm after the same thing. But, without Rao's aid, we're having to retrace many years of research and fill in the blanks. Perhaps if Stark were more willing to share the information he retrieved from Utopia, we could re-engineer the sentinels that were used by Sublime, make them more useful, more permanent.

“He's capable of destroying whole cities. Nothing short of turning off his X-gene is going to --”

“I agree, but the sentinels could possibly aid with that.” According to Rao's notes, the sentinels cause a mass sickness among the mutants, preventing them from using their abilities. Even those with healing factors were unable to replenish their cells. “That, combined with Rao's cure could possibly be enough to turn off his X-gene for good.” Of course, he can't promise anything yet. With a mutant that powerful, enough that he can shape reality to his will, it's very hard to tell what will actually work.

“I'll talk to Stark,” she assures him. One way or another, they will get those files.

Chapter Text

“Scott, you need to sleep.” But, Scott doesn't move. Head in hands, a red glow about him, he sits in the metallic chair – as he's done all day – struggling with things that Logan can't see. From his mouth, the mumbled numbers, a constant stream of murmured syllables that don't make sense. It's a fearful thing to watch, a man on the verge. “Scotty, you need to sleep.”

It's been two days since he tried to rest, since the nightmare that blew a hole in the wall and had him screaming at the top of his lungs. Logan had to turn him off to get it all to stop, and then watch as the children hurried up the hallway to see what was happening. Many of them were in tears, afraid for their lives. Others – like Indira – were fascinated by the man who was thus far hidden from them. She wandered close to him, too close, and was chased off by an angry Bobby Drake. He froze down molten metal, cooled it to the touch and shook his head. “He's too dangerous to be here.”

Logan crosses the small chamber, places a hand on trembling shoulder. “Did you hear me?” he asks softly. If he could see the eyes that suddenly peer up at him, they would be wild and crazed. Dazed with lack of sleep and nourishment, hazed with whispers and too much power. He's pale, his lips dry, his hair a mess. He's so far from himself that it steals Logan's breath.

Behind red lenses, battles flash. A hundred, a million. Old replays of past deaths that haunt him still, the claws to his stomach, hands gripping his heart. The arrows, the swords, the blasts of energy that burned off his face and broke his bones. Energy begins to spiral, lashing out at his would-be attackers, he calls their names as he jumps from the chair. He threatens from between clenched teeth, that he'll win this time, just as he's done before.

Logan is quick to stifle his angry words. Tackling him to the floor so that he cannot run on still broken bones, he grabs at shoulders and head, resting himself across torso. “Scott! It's just me,” he says, hoping to break the sudden fright. “Scott! Come on, pull out of it!”

He grabs the man behind the ears, holding thumb against high cheekbones. “Scotty,” he softens, his dark brow bent with worry and fear, “It's just me.” Holding his head steady, he strokes thumb against cheek, keeping him still, hoping to calm him.

There is a breath then, and confusion. It ripples across face like tear drops in the rain, autumn brow raising with realization and mouth stammering out its words. “L-Logan?” Another lash of energy. Like a whip, it coils across adamantium body, doing no harm to its indestructible host. “No, no, no, no --”

“It's okay. Calm down, Scotty. You didn't hurt anything. Just calm down.”

He presses himself into the palm of Logan's hand, hand to head as the fog of his disreality parses with what's real. He curls himself, again, into a ball, the numbers falling from trembling lips. “No, no, Scott. Come on. Don't fall apart on me now. Come back.” He pulls the crazed man from the floor and sits him against the bed. Still gripping his face, Logan tries to peer behind red lenses. “Slim?” But, there's nothing there but mumbled numbers and fear.

Drawing back to haunches, Logan watches as the power bubbles in an out like haggard breath. A fog around him, it swirls, thick at times, thin at others. Like this, with so much intent behind iron jaw and red lenses, it's harmless, just a cloud that follows him and makes him miserable. Right now, it's stable, under as much control as the broken mind can lend to it. But any disruption is deadly.

He's careful with the covers that he tucks behind Cyclops' shoulders, pooling it around him to keep him warm, to give him something reminiscent of comfort. He realizes that for the horrors Scott faces, this comfort is very little, but he's not sure what else to do. Hand to head, he brushes the stray wisps of autumn hair away from Scott's face, traces the line of jaw down to stubbled chin. In his head, he remembers their kiss, how warm and needy it was, how those hands collapsed upon his spine and pulled him closer, as if trying to drink the tenderness from his mouth.

An inward curse, he pulls himself away, grabs onto bed for pillow that he pushes behind Scott's head. It's wrong to think such things, especially when the man is in such dire straits. Sudden lust has no place here, not when Slim is barely clinging to the edges of his own sanity.

His heart had stopped. Hit by a beam of massive energy, it flung him backwards into the cliffs where his body thudded off the side, causing enough damage to bring rubble down atop his head. The Reavers had followed them for days, haunted their footsteps after the plane crash, and Cyke kept them moving until that blast. The blood flowed from open wounds, and Wolverine pounded against his chest willing his heart back to life.

Knowing the Reavers would be back, he pulled Cyclops around his shoulders, wading through knee deep snow in order to get some distance between them and the maniacal cyborgs. It was a cave, a cold one, but the only thing he could see through the blizzard for miles.

Fires were easy to start – at least now, with age. High up twigs where the snow had yet to settle, a few sparks from adamantium against rock, and he was in business, even if Cyke wasn't. He undressed the man, got him out of icy clothes and placed the articles by the fire to dry. The scars were horrendous. There wasn't an inch of his body not covered in the fine white lines of old scars. Burns and breaks, gashes and slashes, he could see the decades of wear and tear the man had gone through, and with that came even more respect for the ailing leader.

Warm fingers traced against this map burned into his skin, the path of his dedication and loyalty since childhood. Beneath him, Scott trembled in cold and dream, and the name Logan escaped his lips. For long moments, the feral mutant stared at visor, wondering if he was awake, watching him, but the soft patter of breath that clouded into the air revealed that he wasn't.

It took hours for the clothes to dry, several more trips out into the pines to bring back the high branches. The fire was large and toasty, and though Logan's stomach growled for food, he didn't dare venture outside for a hunt. He didn't fear getting lost, he feared being to enticed to make this place too comfortable.

By nighttime, Scott was awake and delirious with cold. He rambled on about the Reavers and Magneto, Sabretooth, and Sinister. How they were coming, how he wasn't strong enough to stop them. Logan laid him back down on the stone floor of the cave, bringing him as close to the fire as he dared. “Calm down, Slim,” he soothed, afraid that the voiced shock would alert the Reavers to their whereabouts, and Logan worried that he couldn't take them all on his own.

He pulled the frantic mutant's head to his chest in hopes of stifling the sounds, and wrapped himself around the freezing body. As he absently carded fingers through autumn hair, he could sense Scott begin to relax from his frenzy. “It's okay,” Logan whispered. “I got you.”

“Logan,” the words came softly, “Don't leave me.”

There was no fear in the words, no derision, no command. They were warm, placated, serene. Logan blinked twice as Scott pressed hard against his chest, inching himself into comfort. “I ain't gonna leave, Scott,” he stuttered before deciding it was the delirium of cold that brought it on. “I promise.”

But, he did leave. Maybe not then, but later. After Jean died, after Scott moved them to San Francisco. He broke a promise that he'd meant to keep. “Scotty?” he says softly, once again stroking thumb down jaw. There is no response save for the jumble of numbers that don't make sense. They blend together, one into the other, hundreds becoming thousands becoming millions upon millions. He doesn't move, doesn't cringe or flinch, just speaks those numbers to himself.

He's going to make it up to him, breaking that promise. “Don't leave me, okay? Not now. Not when I just got you back.”

Chapter Text

“Did you know, Tony?” Gun to his back, his children looking down from the viewing platforms above, Reed Richards does not make a sudden move. Brown eyes glare to the side where Ironman averts his gaze first to upper reaches of the warehouse where Sue and her children watch and then to the continually expanding portal. “Did you know?” he repeats, louder this time, with such rancor in his voice that the guards shove the tips of guns against his shoulders and push him forward. He pauses, waits for the familiar press of metal to spine before he walks again, his eyes still on Stark to his right.

The silence then is deafening. “There are children in those cells, Tony.” Reed wishes that he could see Stark's face. Behind that iron mask, he hopes that there is revulsion, the knowledge that his quest to subdue Cyclops has taken an evil turn.

From above, he hears the word Daddy, and the soft whimpers of his children. A peek above, and both Franklin and Valeria cower in their mother's arms. The flicker of gold around their necks calls attention to the collars that prevent their powers. They, too, are under threat by armed guards. “They're kids, Nick,” a dual meaning that Fury fully understands.

“We cut the power to your machine two days ago and the thing's still running,” Fury commands, his voice hard and black like pavement. “There's an alien language in the controls, prevents operating commands from being inputted. We need this thing fixed.”

“Have you sent in the telescope?” Reed asks, his curiosity peaked.

“We just want the damn thing shut down before some squid comes crawling out the other side trying to threaten us with tech we don't understand.”

It takes the push of gun under shoulder blade to get him to move. Three faltered steps forwards, then up the stairs, he stands midst the machinery staring at the portal. Big enough for two tanks, it blazes orange and red, as if set on fire from the inside. Beyond is blackness, the twinkling of a thousand stars, the glistening red and blue hues of exotic planets yet to be explored.

He wonders at the discoveries beyond. The life forms, the precious metals, the elements, the air. His mind swirls with scientific endeavor – a whole dimension of uncharted knowledge. He craves it.

“Snap out of it and get to work.” Fury's words are hot and angry.

Jumped to attention, he settles down at the machine and filters through the various tests and statistics the SHIELD scientists have been working on. Indeed, it is an alien language, thus far indecipherable. He glances to the code breakers, still working their magic on the exotic symbols printed out on plain paper. Like a swarm, their conversation buzzes over the constant tics and beeps of the portal generator, but Richards has a feeling that they won't find their answers soon.

He pulls up the input center, reads across the various commands that have been thus far rejected. They even tried creating a back door into the OS, but the alien language had beaten them to the punch. By the time they intervened, ninety percent of the system was overwritten. “The question is,” he says more to himself than Stark who stands beside him, “if you cut the power, then where's the power coming from?”

Fingers fly furious across the floating teledisplays. He traces paths through circuitry and telemetry, leading him down into the core of the processing station. He looks for the strings of code that he desires, his eyes flickering through a thousand processes at once. He jots down what's useful, ignores what isn't. His equations are slower than usual, completed three times before he's sure himself. And, then, his eyes concerned, he turns to Tony. “You need to end the mutant experiments in the Undertow.”

“Not my jurisdiction, Reed. Where's the fuel coming from?”

“End the experiments.”

From above the click of guns and the soft cry of Sue. She pleads with them to let her children go. That if they must kill, to choose her, not her son and daughter. She's a strong woman, rarely brought to tears, but without the ability to protect her children, she fears her uselessness. “Where's the fuel coming from, Reed?” Though intoned through metal and technology, Richards can hear the soft wavering in Stark's voice. “Please.”

His stomach turns with nausea. A trembling sneer upon his lips, his eyes glass-stung and red, he is absolutely mollified and disgusted with the man he once considered a hero. Above, Sue's pleas grow louder, more intense as the men ready their weapons down upon the childrens' heads. Having no choice, the words come out soft and spiteful. “The Red Dimension. Someone is siphoning energy from the Red Dimension and rerouting it through the portal.”

“Summers--”

“No,” Reed is quick to interrupt. “Someone else.” He points to the portal, and shows Stark his findings. “Someone from a neighboring dimension.”

“So, how do stop it? How do we close the portal?”

Matter-of-factly, “You don't.” A glimpse of smile creaks across angular jaw. A sideways glance to Fury and he can see the temper that turns him red and frustrated. “You prepare.”

A string of orders from black-top lungs and Reed Richards is grabbed away from the console, forced to his knees with a gun leveled atop his head. He can hear the screams of his family, their cries and sobs. He pushed too far, too fast. He knows too much, he cares too much.

He doesn't feel the bullet. Doesn't feel it enter his skull, divide his brain into pieces. He doesn't feel the shrapnel as it burst forth through ears and tongue. The blood. No, he definitely doesn't feel the blood. But, he can hear. He hears their screams before his eyes close and he hits the floor in a lifeless slump.

“Stark!”

Tony forgets how to breathe.

“Stark!”

He forgets how to speak.

“Stark! Damn it!”

Encased in metallic suit, protected by gears and circuits and things that pulse into his neurons, he forgets the world around him except for the man lying dead on the floor. He kneels, puts his hand over lifeless brown eyes and closes the lids.

“I'm five seconds away from blowing your brains out, too.”

“You killed him.”

“He's a traitor, Stark. He set us up.”

“He was my friend.” He's pulled to his feet by several soldiers, steadied, when Fury pushes a button near his com and the metal parts begin to dismantle. Tony's not surprised that Fury did this, built a way to get him out of his suit. Contingencies are the man's passion, a result of his need for control. Blue eyes blank with grief and fear, he meets Nick's angry gaze as the cuffs are placed around his wrists.

Sue curses, a rare thing for the mild woman. A string of rants that get buckled to the floor, and her children in a hurry to protect their mother. Their small bodies draped over her lithe form, they huddle together through the hits and kicks and attempts to pull them away.

In his head, he prays for them. Something – since he is a man of science – he rarely does. He is not ashamed of this prayer, as it's not for himself. It's for a family that will grieve the loss of one of the greatest men he's ever known.

Chapter Text

It took eighteen days and over a hundred search and rescue workers to find them. By that time, they were searching for bodies, and were surprised that the boys were actually alive. The youngest – Alex – was near hypothermic and covered in lacerations, frightened and screaming when the men finally came to him. It took a tranquilizer and a warm blanket to calm him down.

The oldest – Scott – was unconscious, his cracked skull wrapped in tattered parachute and still bleeding. Near to death, he was easier to secure, and the one they worried about the most.

The search continued, however, even after the boys were found. The search for the parents, as there were no bodies in the plane, and the search for Carl Williamson and his six member crew. Williamson knew these mountains backwards and forwards, had been the first to make contact with the children, but soon after, he disappeared, as did all of his friends.

Mr. Sinister remembers how small they were then, how afraid. They struggled with the doctors and nurses, gnashed their teeth against arms and fingers, kicked their chests and torsos as the nurses tried to subdue them. They were fighters, even if they didn't know what they were fighting for. It had been so easy to control them all.

He knows this mind. Backwards and forwards. He knows the tricks and traps, the false memories and the real ones. He knows the debris – those memories too crushed and too broken to use anymore. He knows the hallways and the staircases, the grand rooms of this once mighty mind.

It was too easy to incite them all to war. A few twisted memories to show them the way, and they destroyed this imperfect mind – one too prone to excess dopamine, bringing on hallucinations when under intense stress.

He'd followed the boy from birth, had tracked the mind and the thoughts that made it. It was a mind he was both afraid of and jealous of, for even with its imperfections, it was glorious and beautiful. Twelve perfect geodesic domes set inside one another like little Russian dolls, and he was never able to see inside them, to get the core, the thing that made the man. But they did their job well, the telepaths. Tearing away at the fabric of self, ripping it to shreds and breaking him down. Out of twelve, there is but one left that covers the core, the only thing keeping him together.

Sinister marvels at this piece of mind, the wonders it must contain. Even without the telepathic interference, the boy was a driven one, prone to the need for lofty goals and heroic pursuits. He believed – like his father before him – that the world was something to protect, to make better. The telepaths easily took advantage of his very nature, his trust, his hope, his loyalty.

Just like he'd planned.

Scott was small for his age, his growth spurt to the 6'3” man he would later come to face still many years off. And delirious with concussion and brain swelling. The few words he spoke were slurred, his body bruised, and his grip on his brother's hand was weak and fragile. It was so easy to tear them apart. Though Alex fought mightily for the six year old that he was, his seven year old brother was often too weak to put up resistance. “Alex,” he said quietly, and mumbled something about the Summers brothers being together forever.

The first cut was the easiest. The kid was too drowsy, too sick to react. He lay in the underground lab some miles away from the orphanage, unreactive to the slice down his arm. Peeling back the skin, Sinister could see the glints of the child's power. It was a power he suspected, that he'd been warned about over a hundred years ago – this was the body never meant for Apocalypse. This was a body meant to end him.

And when his brain did finally heal, when his sluggish healing factor did finally kick in, he would warn the child not to make a sound, preferring to work in blissful silence. No matter how heartless and cruel Victor Creed accused him of being, he still shunned the screams of his experiments. They broke his concentration, made his perfect lines just a touch jagged. “Remember, Scott, if you make a sound, you will never see your brother again.”

Nathaniel Essex is not a mutant. Transformed by Apocalypse into an immortal creature with amazing powers, he is human by birth. Like Stephen Strange, he has no desire to absorb the powers of Scott Summers. But, unlike the good doctor, he wants to recreate those powers for himself, and since his apocalyptic transformation, he's done just that. Well, until the child left him for those that eventually destroyed him.

“Who are you?”

Sinister smiles. A pale, malicious grin. With the wave of hand, he pulls up the astral illusions of Scott Summers, bends them until they resemble a table and two chairs. A decanter of fruity red wine, and he invites the Sorcerer Supreme to take a seat and talk for a while.

“Not until you tell me who you are.”

“I'm someone who can help you.”

There's a reason that Strange can't fix this mind. It's so broken and bent, so filled with false memories that there's no way to discern the truth behind it all. As an example he pulls up a single moment in time – a simple vision of a vase with flowers. In some of these memories, the vase is filled with red roses, all tilted at different angles, the vase moved to and from the wall. Some have sunlight beaming down, others the moon, and some have rain just outside the window. Sometimes, the telepaths got creative, changed the flowers completely – to asters and daisies – and other times, the flowers were wilted or all together dead. Hundreds of images blur across the space. “Tell me which one is real, Mr. Strange.”

“Dr. Strange,” he corrects. “And what should I call you?”

“You can call me Dr. Essex if you prefer to keep things professional. Mr. Sinister if you don't.”

The name rings alarm in the back of Strange's mind. Though he's never met the maniacal scientist himself, he's heard tales of his capabilities. Spells glimmer against his hands. “I suggest you vacate this mind before I force you out.”

Sinister laughs. “I'm merely here to help, Dr. Strange. After all, what good is an earth if there is nothing left to inhabit it?”

Unnerved, wary, Strange takes a seat if only to find the motive behind this visit. That Essex is here to begin with is something he takes great caution in, but to do battle here, so soon, could make things worse. “Very well. Speak.”

“You can't tell which one is real, can you?” Strange shakes his head, his blue eyes still narrowed with suspicion. “Well, it's this one,” he says, pulling out a memory of a vase of sneezeweed and black-eyed susans sitting on a kitchen table behind a sunny window. “The boys had picked that for their mother the autumn before the accident. The others are fakes, implanted memories used to gain access to the thoughts behind it. Of course, destroying the others destroys a thousand traps--”

“I'm well aware of the cruelty attached to the memories. I know to be careful--”

“Ah, that might be so, but you don't know this mind well enough to fix it.” Essex taps the side of his head and smiles. “I do. I know this mind as well as I do my own.” He sips at the wine and snaps his fingers again, pulling up millions of memories now twisted beyond repair. “You need me, Dr. Strange. If only to determine what's real and what's not.”

“And what do you want for this help, Sinister?”

“A blood sample.” He smiles once again. “For now.” He stands, waving his hand to disappear the furniture. “I'll give you time to think about it,” he says over his shoulder. “Until then, good luck.”

Strange watches him disappear from the mind completely, and then at the memories floating in abundance. A part of him realizes that Sinister is right, that he doesn't know Scott Summers well enough to heal this shattered mind. But another part – the part he relies on – knows that there is something else behind this, and he hasn't figured out what.

Chapter Text

She likes the way he looks at her – whether in this body or another. The lust in his eyes, his desire so prominent. Gillian Pryce beckons him closer, her olive hand twisting into blonde hair, pulling the beast into a snarled kiss that doesn't last nearly long enough. “Change back,” he tells her, preferring her own thin lips to these plump ones, her golden eyes, her blue skin.

If Victor Creed was ever anything as a lover, he was real. So many men and women had been fooled by her shapeshifting, but Sabretooth was never one of them. “I want to see you,” he says again, his hand gently caressing sharp cheekbone. “The real you.”

They were lovers once, so long ago, and from that love was birthed a hideous child hellbent on mutant destruction. And now, they're lovers again. “How have your dreams been?” Mystique asks, slowly shifting back to her true form. Like a taunt, she does so slowly, watching how his eyes ripple with satisfaction as she becomes herself again.

The question gets the reaction she expects, a single shrugged shoulder and a sneered lip before he turns his ravenous attention back to her reveal. He strokes her cheek again, following down across neck and shoulder before caressing the side of her breast. “I've missed you,” he growls and dips forward to collapse upon her in a kiss, but she staves him off with a hand to his chest.

“You told Eric, right?” Another shrug, this one aggravated, less bound by attraction. “I told you that you need to talk to him.”

“What's the old man going to do about a nightmare or two. I'd be better off talking to the Beasty boy tied to the chair. He probably studied that shit.”

Her mouth poised in one serious long line, she tuts her tongue against her teeth. “That's no way to speak about our bargaining chip.” She smiles gently, touching long, blue finger upon his lip. “Was it the same dream?”

He sighs. It was always the same dream. A scalpel and blood. A child's hand, and a pale vicious smile. Raven swears that they're memories. He doesn't deny it. He just fears what they mean.

Victor Creed is a murderous man. Man, woman, child, he doesn't care, so long as it gets the job done and he can work out some of his natural aggression. But his dreams, what Mystique thinks are memories come back to the surface, speak to a time when he did care. “What if this is a memory that I don't want?”

For long moments, amber eyes grace across him, staring at suddenly solemn features. His eyes are large and round, brows crooked above in a sad lilt. He bites at bottom lip to stop it from trembling. He's vulnerable, a rare thing for the animal before her. “Then we'll deal with it when the time comes. But, first, you have to get the memories back.”

He doesn't want someone messing around in his mind. Not again. He's had enough of that. Between the X-men trying to quell his murderous impulses to the fools at Weapon X, he's had enough of all that. He doesn't trust the telepaths to restore him. “Eric restored his own memories,” Mystique tells him. “Maybe he can help you restore yours.” After all, it's why they're here, why they came to work with Magneto. They couldn't care less about the Red Wave and this whole Summers fiasco. They're here to put Sabretooth back together so that they can move on with their lives, to evacuate the world and find their a peace that's eluded them thus far in their long years.

She makes him promise to talk to the man, to which he reluctantly agrees. Before pouncing off to finish whatever task Magneto had set for him. It takes her a while after to find Eric in the very back of the caverns conversing with Henry McCoy. Slipping into shadow, hiding herself between the folds of rock, she listens as they discuss the mutant experimentation in the Undertow.

“Ignorance does not suit you, Mr. McCoy. Nor does undying loyalty in an antiquated system that proposes to protect the earth by any means necessary.” There is after all only way to protect the earth, and that's to let mutants finally be free and assume their place at the center of it all. “They fear us because we are born superior to them. They will attempt to take us down by any means necessary.”

It's not hard to imagine that the experiments that they are running in the Undertow will make their way to the general populace. One toe over their constantly moving line, and their innate powers will be stripped away, their birthright, their only means of defense against a world that hates them. “If we let them continue these atrocities, the mutants will have more to fear than just the Red Hunt, Henry. They'll fear losing themselves all together.”

“Scott's not a weapon,” Beast submits.

Eric laughs at the attempt, slapping his knee and shaking his head. “He's always been a weapon, Henry. That's all he was ever used for.”

There was a power inside of him. An immense power. “He's going to use it against us,” Charles surmised, staring through doorways to the parlor where the boy suffered through a book he did not understand. “He's been placed in my life in order to destroy it.”

“And you call me paranoid.” He'd admonished Xavier some moments earlier for once again trying to break through the child's defenses, causing his nose to bleed and a massive headache. Moira had been quick to wipe up the blood from the boy's books, to glare at Charles and motion for Eric to wheel him from the room.

This particular parlor had once been a music room, though now, the piano was long out of tune, and the paper beginning to peel from the walls. There had once been happiness here, when Charles was a child, before he'd secluded himself from the world to guard the secret of his powers. He meant to have it redone, one day, the music room. New wall paper, new carpet. Perhaps even the purchase of an oboe and violin in case his future students decide to take up music as a hobby.

“This obsession you have is unlike you.” And, indeed, it had become an obsession. Night and day, the man focused his powers trying to chip away at the boy's defenses. “You will lose any trust that he's afforded you if continue, Charles. He will run.”

He stayed because of Moira. Because she smiled at him, treated him with kindness. “She means to protect him, even if it that's from you.” He had already seen the designs, the machines that she was building in order to stop the constant intrusion into the boy's mind. If she could get them to work, these inhibitors would block Xavier's power all together.

“She wouldn't do such a thing,” Charles sneered, his anger cool and cold, like a winter fog on a high mountain.

“If it means protecting Scott, yes, she would.” He took a pause then, his blue gray eyes mirroring the grim crease of brow in his friend. “What you're doing is wrong, Charles. You need to leave that child alone.”

“You're trying to take him from me,” the man accused. Puffed up in his wheelchair, leaning forward, he pushed himself into Eric's mind, searching for thoughts to back up his claim.

But, Scott was not the only one with good defenses. Eric had been around Charles for many years, and had learned how to guard himself. A tick of finger in the air and tongue to upper teeth, he cautions the man to leave his mind, to not be so foolish as to think him weak. “You mean to use this child in your little army, don't you?” By changing the subject, he avoided a rather loud confrontation that would probably disturb the boy even further.

“It's not an army,” Xavier defended himself. “I will train these children to use their powers for the good of the world, teach them the difference between self-serving and --”

“How will you teach them the difference when you don't recognize it yourself?” After all, what he was doing to Scott wasn't out of fear, but out of his very need for control. “You're afraid that he will make you obsolete.” The child was a natural strategist, something evident in their evening chess games over hot chocolate and sandwiches. “He thinks ten steps ahead, and thinks of every possible outcome. You've seen it yourself, I'm sure. He's meant to lead us, Charles. He's meant to bring us to our right place atop humanity.”

Another ideological difference. “We're no better than the humans, Eric. I will never teach him that.”

“Instead, you'll teach him to fear his own kind, both in words and practice.”

It's rare that Magneto talks about his memories of that time, of the young Scott Summers and what came to pass. She is surprised that Eric doesn't speak of the time he did try to take the child, and was nearly killed for the effort. His memories, along with MacTaggert's, were erased, as both were forced to forget about the boy.

She wonders, then, what he's up to, what he's planning. If he's just trying to make Beast feel guilty for once again being a traitor to mutantkind, or if he has something else up his sleeve. “Magneto,” she says, stepping out of the shadows. McCoy is not surprised to see her. “I have an update for you, on the experiments in the Undertow. They've taken a drastic turn.”

He nods his understanding, checks the binds on Beast's chair. “He never wanted peace, Henry. He wanted power, and he destroyed a young man in order to get it.”

Chapter Text

She stands at the heart of the world, surrounded by molten core and the crests of lava. She laughs, a hideous, charred laugh that echoes out into blackened sky and billowing mountains. She reaches for him, her talon-like fingers crooked and bent and large. He tells her no. Begs her to stop the madness, pleads with her to let them live. But, Jean Grey cannot hear the pleas of mortals any longer. Drunk on power and flame, she wraps her talons around him, lifting him into the air. “I never loved you.”

It burns. Her hold on him and her words. It burns him from the inside out, but there is no death for him. His body energized by a cloud of red energy that bursts forth from uncovered eyes and hands and feet, he heals just enough to keep breath in his lungs and a pulse in his chest before being burned again. Over and over, a funeral pyre within her hand, she singes against his flesh, melting it away, dripping it down into the oceans of lava below, only to smile as the flesh reforms. “Who could ever love you?”

“Scott, wake up.”

It hurts. His body, his mind. There is not a place in him that doesn't suffer as the burn over takes him, as her words crash down into his mind, breaking and tearing and ripping his thoughts to shreds. “You're a fool, Scott Summers. To think you were anything but a tool.”

He doesn't want to believe her. Doesn't want think that all of their years together were lies. He loved her, with all his heart and soul. She was the thing he curled up against when the world went to dark, the thing he protected, the thing he feared most to lose. He loved her like no one else. “You gave me this power,” she speaks into his bellowing screams of pain. “You cursed me with the Phoenix.”

Great wings form behind her, wings of flame and burning. She beats them upon the blackened win, fanning up the great fires at her feet. She holds him over the heat of them, letting him turn to ash in her claw-like hands, let him melt and singe, only to rebuild himself again. “How many times will you fall apart before you let me go?”

“Come on, Slim, you're burning up. Shit.”

She tugs at roasted joint, plucking arm from rebuilt body. The muscles that grow back are dark and black, the color of death and pain. It's painful, this regrowth, and she laughs as he yells in his suffering, waits those longs moments for the arm to be new again, and then pulls it away again. “You're too broken to love.”

He's powerless to stop her. Helpless. Unwanted. Arms and legs, like a spider in the hands of a curious child, she plucks away his useless limbs and laughs as they regrow. Such torment, such hatred. He loved her once. A part of him still does. He tells her that she isn't Jean, that she isn't herself, that something's happened, that she has more control than this. He begs her to stop, pleads his love for her, his undying affection. “You're incapable of love, little one, as one without a heart.”

“Shit, shit, shit. Scott you're on fire. Wake up, damn it.”

The tread of talons across his chest, they seep into skin little by little, inch by inch. He knows this feeling. So familiar, so painful. She cuts across his chest, through muscle and bone, the flames near-killing him as she punctures through his shoulder, and in seconds, she grabs his still beating heart. The blood that drips from her hand is black and burnt, and with a gasp and a sob, he watches his heart die within her hands.

He screams her name at the top of his lungs, and then for the bird that controls her. He begs the Phoenix to let her go, to take flight and leave them all. But she can't, not while he holds her prisoner to his mind; not while the Scarlet Witch's spell keeps her bound. “Give yourself over to me,” she breathes her blames into him once again, “And I'll leave this world forever.”

It's a temptation. To give himself to her, to lose himself to flame and ash. No more pain, no more anguish. No more thoughts or feelings or need to control. Within her, there is no need for love, just the primitive want of beginning and end, destruction and rebirth. It would be so easy to let go, to give her the last shreds of his mind and allow her the freedom she so desperately craves.

“Damn it, Scott!”

But it's the pounding in the back of his mind that stops him in the moment. Something fearful and dreaded, an ancient language that he doesn't understand, the creaking of iron bars and the pounding of wood. He can hear it, another temptation, another lulling the calls to him from the deep. There's a strength in that cry, one that calls to his heartless self, one that reminds him that another wants this power just as badly.

The need to protect the world wells up inside of him, rails against the darkness in the depth of his mind. He is punished for this, flaming talon poking down into head, splitting spine in half. In his ear, she whispers once again of her demand, that in letting go, there will be no more pain. No more suffering. He can drown inside the flames once again, revel in the spirit of her self, and never again feel the lack that his humanity has caused.

The heat overwhelms him, drags his lungs into fits of coughing and sobbing. He feels the burn inside of him, the melting point of lungs and spine, he feels himself drip away into the fiery ether that surrounds him.

But, then, there is a sudden coldness against his flesh, something that hardens him, makes him whole again. The Phoenix rails in this interference, pokes talons into flesh that no longer falls to flame, no longer ashes at her touch. With bleary eyes, he watches as the flames of her wings becomes smoldering ash, and the ground below harden into volcanic glass. Obsidian greets her talons, turning the tips that dig into flesh black as moonless night, and she screams in her retreat. Drops him to ground, in a shuddering heap, too pained to move from broken bones and heartless chest.

“Damn it, Scott, wake up.”

The shaking of his body, the convulsions rock against his consciousness. He can feel the fingers that grip his shoulders, the cold spray of water that drips down shielded eyes and clothless chest. He hears it again, that voice that calls to him, pleads with him to wake up. It's with exhaustion that he finally wakes from the flaming nightmare inside his mind, crawls back into the world that may or may not exist.

Logan watches him carefully, looks for the signs of wakening behind visor. The small movements of jaw and brow, imperceptible, almost, to those who do not know this face and where to look. The twitch of lips and the sudden gasping of breath pulls Scott forward from blackened shower wall. He bows his head to the water, letting the coolness slip over burning spine.

“You're okay,” Logan soothes and draws the shaking man into an embrace. “I got you. You're okay. It was just a nightmare.”

“L-Logan?”

“I'm here,” he says quietly. In the quiet, he massages too tense muscles, splays hands over shirtless spine, pressing soothing circles into back. There's a warmth in his stomach, a completion, something that sates him, some part of him. “I'm real.”

“Kill me. Please.”

It's the first time he's spoken in three days, save for the litany of numbers that rolls off his tongue. The first time he's had any sense of clarity. Logan's heart hurts for the askance. “I ain't gonna kill you, Slim.”

“I'm tired.”

“I know.”

“I'm really tired,” he says, the tremble in his voice garnering tighter arms around him.

“I know.”

He can't sleep for the nightmares, those things that heighten his emotions and spurn his powers out of control. “She wants out,” he says, pulling himself back into the spray, letting the cold water rush across his broken body. A long silence. “I can't stop her.”

He's a beautiful man. The muscular planes that cut across his athletic build, so well kept and trained. He'd honed this body from scratch, from a slender, awkward teen into a machine built just for the fight. It's an absentminded touch that brings Logan's hand to cheek and strokes it to the center of neck. He would have gone further had he not recalled himself, reminded himself that Cyclops was in no shape for the hunger that pooled within his stomach. “You're stronger than you think, Scott.”

There's a glow about him, a light red fog. It's small now, in control. There are times when it's gone completely, a sign of his mastery over the influx of energy from the Red Dimension, and other times when it's wild and careless and lashes out against a world that has harmed him in more ways than Logan can count. “You've always been strong enough for this,” he eases into the silence.

Scott doesn't answer, his head against the shower stall, his breath evened out into a soft in and out. Logan realizes that he's fallen back asleep, and for that a fear settles in the pit of his stomach. The Phoenix dreams have been getting worse. They burn him, his clothes, the bed. He gets so hot that he can melt these metallic walls and crack the tile at his back. In those dreams, he can burn the world, turn it to ash and melt the moon.

But there's also something else behind it all. Something even more frightening. Apocalypse. He heard, just moments ago before Scott finally dug himself from dream. A call that shivers against spine, recalls the evil that still rests within his soul.

He was Death once. Some time ago. A hideous incarnation that he's never truly evacuated from his soul. As Scott's mouth begins to move, as it speaks that ancient language half-forgotten by the world, as his skin turns dark, and his face shifts into nightmares, Logan can feel the stirring of Apocalypse inside of him. The shadows, the craving, the blood, the need. It roils inside of him, spilling out, and forcing his claws. He jams the adamantium into the floor to prevent himself from striking out at the changing flesh of Cyclops before him. “Scott!”

The call of Apocalypse is a maddening thing, and his will, his stubbornness, his need to be himself and only himself, is cracked down by the continued punctuations of primal song into the air. Red energy fans out, pushing Logan back onto his side, and the flames of the Phoenix spill forth to burn the world.

Barely gripping to his sanity, Logan stares at the renewed dream state that stands before him. Half Apocalypse, half Phoenix, power spews forth like a broken fountain gushing streams of water. Behind the visor, behind the dream, Scott smiles. “It's time to end this.”

“Fuck!”

The lunge comes from the side, as frenzied claws pierce against mending ribs and heartless chest. He swings his heft into the man before him, the roar of blood-thirst pounding in his ears. Scott fights back, grabbing wrist and arms, throwing the feral mutant into the wall of urinals to the left. Ceramic cracks, a flood of water, and Logan pushes forth again, claws extended, aiming for the soft of neck and the breath of lungs.

But he's fast, too fast, always has been. He sees it coming, and with hand to visor, he shoots forth an optic beam that plunges him through shower stalls and cracks the walls behind him. The world turns red and frightening, the use of power filling him up even more, the flames of the Phoenix a melting point for dripping metal and the blackening of walls. In his dream-filled madness he laughs and taunts. He is stronger than all of them, only he should survive.

Dragging himself from the floor, the crack of head pulling him back to some semblance of sanity, Logan flies through the air, tumbling into flaming red chest, banging Scott's head into metallic floor. Blood spews forth, and brain matter. It runs in rivulets down his nose and from his mouth, but he is not stopped, is not knocked unconscious. His strength is befuddling to the Wolverine, as deft hands pierce the flesh under shoulders and swings them both around until Scott is finally on top, bleeding and laughing with the exertion.

Logan can feel the warmth of blood as Scott – still lost to dream – pounds against his face, banging against adamantium skull, breaking nose and bursting eyes. Temporarily blinded, he manages to kick the sprawling mutant to the side of him, slipping over flooding water to gain distance and a chance to heal. The ancient call spews forth from mouth, the red power a hurricane of destruction, winding and spinning and piecing to nothingness everything it touches.

Back to himself, thanks to fear and time, steeled against apocalyptic words, he tries again to call to Scott, to reason, to wake him up from the shadows of nightmares. But Scott is long gone, too tired to answer, to exhausted to once again pull himself free of the shadows that have destroyed his mind. Apocalypse and the Phoenix fight for their control, wrestle against each other to heave themselves free of the mind that they are trapped within.

Bloodied and frightened at the power that rages forth, and the damage done in less than a minute, Logan remembers that he can control this, that he can put a stop to it. “Er dogren,” he says quietly, and immediately, the dreaming mutant falls to the floor.

Scrambling across water and debris, he comes to Scott's sides, looks at fresh wounds and the skin that slowly fades back to flesh. His heart still beating a marathon in his chest, his hands still trembling, he pulls the naked man from the floor, cradling him and smoothing blood soaked hair from forehead.

But, he's no longer alone.

Storm, Kitty, Steve Rogers, they stand in the doorway to the bathroom, their eyes wide with fear. He doesn't know how much of this fight they witnessed, but he knows they've seen enough to turn their hearts even colder. Possessive, worried, Logan pulls Scott's head to his chest, his brow crooked as he returns Storm's emotionless gaze. He knows what she's going to say before she says it, know the words before they become a fully formed thought in the back of her mind. “He can't stay here,” she says quietly, shaking her head. There is disappointment and sadness to her tone, one that Logan recognizes as defeat. Long ebon fingers grip Steve's arm. “Come with me,” she whispers, and Logan watches silently as they turn their backs to him.

Kitty doesn't say a word as she cross the room and shuts off the water. Barefoot, her pajamas hiked to knees, she kneels down on the floor, her eyes glancing over the cracked and bleeding skull of Cyclops. “We need to get him to the medlab.”

“It's not his fault, Kitty.”

“I know.”

“Please, please, please, don't throw him away again.”

Large brown eyes look around the destruction of the bathroom. Cracked toilets and stalls, broken urinals and pipes. “I don't think it's up to me anymore.” She will fight for him, that much she can promise, but she doubts it will do much good. “You should've have turned him off earlier,” she says with a shake of her head. That he let it get this far, that he let so much be destroyed, it's a painful thing to admit, but maybe Storm is right, and that he's too dangerous to be around them.

Chapter Text

“And why should I help you?”

“Because I can give you what you want.”

She's an unexpected guest in his domain beneath the earth. The old sewers and cities that run beneath the heart of London. And, for that, he is surprised. Usually, he's so much better at predicting what they'll do, so to see her here, in her finest dress that exposes her shapely hips and ample bosom, he is cordial in his welcome. “And what is that you think I want, Ms. Frost?”

Pale pink lips spread wide with daring. “What you've always wanted,” she says. “The end of the X-men.”

He calls them Madelyne, the lot of them. The dozen red-haired women that usher in a plush seat and a glass of red wine. Emma prefers white, but she'll let it go for now, considering it has been a while since she's had such a rich Bordeaux. The Madelynes wait beside the chairs, decanters resting on large silver platters. Sinister begs them off to prepare a meal, as he thinks his guest will be staying for sometime. There is no challenge in them, no fire or spirit that would cause them to disobey. They are perfect in their own way, at least for what he needs.

He turns his attention back to his platinum haired guest, a cruel smile upon his face. “It's not the X-men that I am so fond of, my dear.” If he wanted, he could end them at any time, but he considers their entertainment value a notch above watching grass grow. “When you have lived as long as I have, you must find something to look forward to.”

“The airs are unlike you,” she says, calling them prideful and arrogant. “You're a scientist, bound by theories and facts not emotions and a false attitude.”

“They're telepathic, you realize,” he says, speaking of the Madelynes that hone in and out of room, constantly checking on their well-being. “Very powerful telepaths, with a hive mind very much like your three little clones. You can feel them, can't you? Gnawing at the edge of your thoughts.” It's a threat, and he means it to be one. Nathaniel Essex will not be dictated by mere mortals. “What do you want from me, Ms. Frost?”

“To be loved again. To feel whole.”

“I doubt that you and I --”

“Not by you, you arrogant ass. By Scott Summers, or at least some piece of him.”

The laugh starts slow, leaks out into air like thick liquid. “My dear, you will never get your grimy little hands on him ever again.”

“I told you, I wanted to be loved again. To feel whole. To that end, we both have the same goal.”

She lays out her plans to the rapt attention of Essex. “So, my role is to protect you?”

“At the least the Madelynes,” she answers matter-of-factly. “You have plenty of them, and once the X-men figure out my plans, they will be out for blood.”

“And what do I get in exchange for my services.”

“Genetic samples, of course. Your prime passion.”

“You would trade yourself for this?”

“At this point, darling, I'd trade the world for this.”

It's with a sweeping bow that he bids her into the hands of his Madelynes – those perfect, beautiful Madelynes. “Plans have changed,” he tells the single clone that remains. She fills his goblet with amber liquid and takes a seat across from him.

“Do you trust her word?” she asks, mirroring his thoughts.

“No, but that's what makes this little venture so exciting. Just how will she betray me?”

His realm is less than what it was. Once a massive engine to produce endless clones, it's now merely a mirage of that once great city that he'd built. There are clones left – a sporadic few. The Marauders are by far his most prevalent, with their copies taking up most of the heavy labor. It's not easy to construct an entire realm from ashes, but he has the time and the patience to do so.

There are also his chosen X-men that he has made somewhat subpar copies of. For some reason - and he thinks it has to do with the telepaths running rampant through his experiments - they were never as adept as he wished them to be.

Wandering through the tubes and tunnels of his underground kingdom, he comes upon the cloning mill. Once bright and fully active, the Phoenix five destroyed it in their attempt to control the world. He'd fully expected it, counted on it actually. The kingdom itself had been a test, a prototype. Not only was there the need to seek out flaws in his process, but also the flaws within himself. After all, what good was measuring the flaws of Cyclops if he could not provide the perfect control himself.

It also had the added bonus of providing him with a new sample of Summers' DNA, one with the Phoenix embedded within. Unfortunately, he had yet to have success with the fiery version of Cyclops. He could not attain the perfection that he so sought after – which had always been the case. Regardless of how many skeletons of the man he kept hidden away in secret labs all across England, no matter how many tests he had performed, he could not produce a single worthy clone of Scott Summers.

“It's a testament to his power,” he tells the Madelyne who follows dutifully behind him. “It is a power that I cannot comprehend, not as is it. And, though I was able to diminish it for some time, gain some knowledge about those miracle bits of protein, I cannot bend it to my will. He's not like you, my dear,” he says stroking her elfin chin, “so lovely and malleable. He resists, and because he resists, I must push my experiments even further in order to attain what I desire.”

“And what is it you do desire?” she asks,

“Perfection.” It's as a simple of that. He will construct the perfect clone, a clone of perfect power with his perfect intellect, a perfect mind, a perfect body. “And, I want him to know that I am perfect. I want him to understand the affront to existence that he actually is.”

“So you mean to hurt him?”

“Of course, I do. There is nothing more splendid than crushing that man over and over again. Tear him to pieces and watch him rebuild. He is my antithesis, my mortal enemy. The only being in the world – other than En Sabah Nur – that attests to be perfection.”

Madelyne smiles out of habit, plucking at the hem of her long black dress for some moments before responding. She has no care for Scott Summers, nor Essex for that matter. She is merely a tool, a means to an end. If he wills her death, then she will die. If he needs her life, then she has it. She is slave and assistant, a mirror of his own thoughts that plug through their hive mind, directing them all at various tasks. “So you will combine his DNA again?”

“I won't need to, this time. Ms. Frost will do that for us.”

There is a long silence as he tracks his Sabretooth clones, each one tunneling away at the disaster at the edge of the city. Green eyes peer up at him, suddenly curious. “You should have them build another lab,” she says softly. “A grander area for your grander work.”

It's an idea that of course he thought of first, but he likes the act of conversation, and so he makes her say it. “Wonderful idea, my dear Maddie. Perhaps it's time to consolidate?”

“That would be a wise idea, master.” Putting all of the samples within easy reach would enable him to work much faster.

He agrees with his own assessment, ordering out the Madelyne's to the far reaches of his world to gather the blood and bones, the hair and skin that he has collected over the years. Never before has Scott Summers expressed one hundred percent of his power. Even as a child, the most he accepted was eighty five percent, and for long years he's wondered if that has been the problem. He also orders the gathering of the other DNA samples as well – from Inhumans to X-men, there's no telling where this research will take him. “Do you miss him?” he asks, knowing full well that she will shake her head and cringe. She's learned a heavy distaste for him over the years, not just for her memories as a human, but also for the conditioning that she's undergone. “I do,” he muses in her silence. “In many ways, I feel like he's my son.”

It's a surprising admission, one that widens greens eyes and stutters perfect lips. He's obviously surprised that he said it too. He recovers with a smile, one that Maddie shares with him.

Chapter Text

The world doesn't mourn Mr. Fantastic. In fact, due to SHIELD's involvement, his death is kept secret. No obituary, no half-mast flags. The world remembers him as a traitor, now locked in the Undertow with others who threatened the sanctity of life with no chance for redemption.

Franklin Richards is not as powerful as he once was. His ability to warp and mold the universe into his own liking has diminished greatly – an effect, or so he discovered, of the return of Scott Summers and the command of all of his powers. Emma had spoken of it to his father and McCoy and Ironman, and though for a while he was relieved by this, he now grieves for it. He cannot bring his father back.

Behind him stands Ben Grimm, the preeminent tough guy, dressed in an oversized black suit, his rocky blue eyes melting with tears. He's the pall bearer, an honor he told Sue, and with that comes the weight of death. As the preacher continues his litany, his quiet-voiced diatribe about the celebration of life and the accomplishments of this great man, Ben looks to Sue and her hardened jaw. She is not weeping, but he didn't expect as much, not since he discovered her secret.

Sue knows things, knows the world, has contacts and hope. She's a smart woman, and with that comes a cunning and ferocity to protect the things she loves – her family, her place in this world. Her harsh glare settles upon Maria Hill, the SHIELD attendee for the funeral. Hill is there to assure her commander that things stay quiet, that these super powered beings don't throw themselves into riot or start a war over the death of a single man. Hill can feel this glare, but like many things that she encounters, she shrugs it off.

Beside her stands Johnny Storm, flame off and repentant. Hill already eyes him for the Undertow, especially since he quit the Red Hunt the moment that he learned of Reed's death. Johnny is Sue's brother, and like her, he is hardened to the tears. He stares down at the casket in the ground with something less than grief and sorrow – a look that Hill does not expect, as Johnny's temper tends to be as fiery as his powers.

She looks then to Valeria, hands over face, bent to knees with tears. She's the only one that cries, unless Hill counts Grimm, which she doesn't. And it's with that knowledge, that nerves begin to creep within her stomach. Something's not right.

She catches Sue's harsh gaze once again, let's the anger of the blonde swim over her. Yes, they've done something, pulled some trick. It was a closed casket affair, due to the injuries sustained by bullet wound to the head. Hill was respectful and didn't request the casket opened, deciding that the family had been through enough – with both the collars around their necks and the death of their patriarch. She'd been sympathetic, dropped her guards down to a simple three instead of the dozens that Fury had tried to send along with her. She's been tricked, and with that knowledge, she sends a burning gaze back to Sue. Sue's face doesn't change, but she shifts in her stance.

It's a long wait until the end of the funeral, when Sue crumbles the first handful of dirt over the oaken sheathe. The children follow, their tear soaked clumps of mud hitting the top of the casket with thuds and sudden sobs. Ben and Johnny, and then the few others that Fury has allowed to attend this affair.

The exit from the graveyard is slow, with Sue grasping both her children's hands and consoling their tears with motherly hugs and a glimpse of smile. “It's okay,” she says softly, holding them both in her arms. “Just let it all out.”

She sees Maria Hill's approach, and with it, she calls for Ben to take Franklin and Valeria to the car. “I'll be there shortly,” she explains softly before straightening herself to hard and angry to face off against her enemy.

“I'll just dig him up,” Hill says sourly.

“Go right ahead,” Sue replies, her tone as malicious as the look she casts upon the brunette.

There's a pause, a moment of softening, intended manipulation. Hill looks to the ground, then back up to blue eyes. “He shouldn't have died.”

“Been murdered, you mean.”

Another pause, and switch of tactics. Sympathy will not work on the woman, but perhaps reasoning will. “Your children shouldn't have witnessed that.”

A lump in throat swallowed down, and the small cracks within the granite demeanor. “No, they shouldn't have.”

“What Fury did wasn't right.”

“No, it wasn't.”

Agreement. The first step to rapport. She needs to know if Sue is dangerous, if the rest of the Fantastic Four will pose problems to the Red Hunt and Fury's plans. “Do you or your family need anything?”

“My husband alive again would be nice.”

Shut out, but not yet desperate. She understands the anger, it's the same anger that she also feels. She searches blue eyes for long, intense moments. There's a sadness beneath them – which is also expected, but something more as well. Beneath it all, beneath the stone and rain, there is a hope behind blue eyes. A hope that shouldn't be there. “You're taking him to the mutants, aren't you?”

She remembers the young Christopher Muse, his ability to heal, to bring people back from the dead. She encountered him under Cyclops' care, when the man was considered as much a terrorist as he is now. “You're looking for Triage.”

The wavering of blonde brow clues her in to the accuracy of her prediction. “Sue, it would behoove you not to do such a thing.” She reminds the Invisible Woman of her children, her responsibilities to her brother, to Ben, to those under employ at the Baxter building. “I don't want you to face the same fate as your husband.”

Red faced and suddenly raging, Sue bites her tongue against the curses that she wishes to express. “What gives you the right?” she finally ekes into the silence. “What gives you the right to do any of this?”

“We're trying to save the world.”

“By killing my husband?”

There is no answer to her question. Not a good one anyway. Fury felt that the show of strength was needed, that betrayal would be met with death. The stakes were that high. “We need to find and subdue Scott Summers, to make the world safe again. The world cannot afford traitors. Not this time.”

A snap of her fingers, and the guards come closer. They know now that Sue Richards cannot be trusted. Out of sight by her children, large shackles are placed upon Sue's arms. Like the collar around her neck that prevents her powers, the arm length cuffs blink with electronic impulse. “I'm sorry, Sue,” Hill says. “We can't let you contact the mutants. Not until Scott Summers is dead.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Ben Grimm sees the arrest and smiles. Her plan had worked, and now all eyes would be on the remaining members of the Fantastic Four. It was so easy to slip under their defenses, just like Magneto had said it would be.

He ushers the children into the waiting limousine, hiding their faces as their mother is carried away to the Undertow. They, too, understand what they need to do. Eric Lehnsherr had been clear about their involvement. Collars or not, they could very well still play a role in the freedom of all of those mutants locked away inside the ocean prison, and revive their father as well.

Chapter Text

He won't talk to anyone but Tony. He's made that clear. More than clear. A dozen different phones, he hangs up every thirty seconds. Steve knows the limitations of SHIELD's tracking, and he can tell that Fury is getting frustrated with him.

It's with that in mind that he hands the phone to Gillian Pryce, the SHIELD scientist and second in command of the scientific wing of the Undertow. Unlike Dr. Alan Helmut, she's trained – an avid martial artist and an expert in firearms, Fury has a great amount of faith in her capabilities, even if he does find her suspicious.

She rose too fast in the ranks for his liking; was too adept at too many things. No one's perfect, but Gillian Pryce is as damn near close as one gets, and for that, he keeps an extra watchful eye on her. Two guards accompany her to the holding cells, each armed with top notch rifles and their own sense of paranoia when it comes to the woman. Their coms are active, picking up every trace of conversation within a 30 foot perimeter. If they grunt, if they swoon, if they swallow too fast or too hard, Fury will hear it, and it will be all hands on deck.

If Pryce is aware of the growing agitation towards her presence, she doesn't show it. Long and lean and olive skinned, she saunters through the halls, phone in hand, a pleasant smile upon her face. She doesn't bother to make conversations with the guards. They're not important, and in all likelihood they'll be dead soon – either through combat or drowning. She doesn't really care, nor does Magneto. Humans are always expendable.

Well, save a few.

Tony Stark. She heard that he was brought in the other day, and though she couldn't care less about his well-being, Sue was adamant that he be saved, along with everyone else. Magneto refused to make that promise, but she still thought he would make the right decision. “He's a brilliant inventor,” she reminded him over cold tea and com static. On the other end, with a portable teledisplay in her hand, Mystique – in the guise of an old, harmless friend swiped from the pages of a yearbook – shook her head. Magneto was brilliant as well, only no one knew this because he was mutant rather than a human.

“If you're meaning to save Cyclops, Mr. Stark will be of great help. Imagine what he can do to tame that power. Make it safer, make it more controllable.”

Like others before her, she understood that the Summers' expendable power was horrifying in it's current state. But, after talking to her husband for long hours, she also understood that his current level of nightmare was not his fault. “Tony's created inhibitor collars before, and he's developed plans for more. He can even fit me with one, if he so chooses. Don't you think that would be a boon?” Magneto could not fix this torn apart mind, nor could he control the very essence of that world ending power. He needed boosts, mechanical, technological marvels in order to help him on his quest.

“You do realize that his primary purpose is to threaten humanity?” He wanted everything up front, clear, understandable to prevent backstabbing down the road. He wanted to trust to her, but he had misgivings about her true intent.

“I do,” she answered. “I don't agree with you. I think it would be better to leave him alone and let him heal, but I will help you rescue those in the Undertow and put an end to that threat. What happens after all depends on how much of a threat you become.”

She didn't agree with it the first time – much like her husband – when the world rallied against Scott Summers and called him a terrorist. He did nothing that others hadn't done before, and because of that, she considered him a fine leader, and one that would protect her children with his life. “But, if he decides – on his own – to keep mutants safe, I will agree to that.” The man's mind should be left alone.

Magneto smiled. Yes, he understood her. And, like Summers before him, he planned to become a beacon for those mutants who struggled in the wide, open world that hated them. While he knew that his tolerance for violence was well above hers, he could assuage some of her doubt and keep the violence to a minimum. “I can't guarantee the lives of the guards, but I will try to rescue all of the prisoners – both human and mutant.”

“Including Tony?”

“Perhaps. If he shows the inclination.”

Gillian Pryce eyes the billionaire playboy with a coy smile. She beckons him to the edge of the energized cell where the small window used for food trays and other sundries is located. With a press of button, she pops open the small window, placing the phone inside the tray and then closes it once again. “A bit cramped for you, isn't it?” she asks wryly, her eyes gracing the cell edge to edge. The cell houses a bed, a toilet, and a sink, but there is room for little else. “They gave you the biggest one.”

Tony is unnerved by the woman, though he isn't sure why. She looks like the type of woman that he would bring to a lavish party celebrating some philanthropic donation or the opening of a new library. He would toast her with excellent champagne, wink at her during speeches, but all the while, he would be thinking of Steve, as was often the case. Especially now since Steve confessed himself.

It's Steve now that he waits on. And though Pryce's almond shaped eyes curve in smile, he is more anxious for the phone to finally ring. He shuffles through leg chains to the small bed, glancing at her suddenly dismissive demeanor. He can't quite place what is off about her, but that all goes to the wayside when it rings. “Steve?”

The voice on the other end of the phone is both elated and haggard, a mixture of relief and worry. “What's going on?”

Tony pauses just long enough for Steve to realize that they're being listened to, that there is a sense of danger here. “A few complications,” he says casually trusting that Steve is clued into his predicament. “Have you spoken to Reed Richards lately?” He watches Pryce's face for recognition of what he's just done, but rather than the anger that he hopes to see, her face is placid and perfect.

“No. Should I?”

“Yes.”

Steve winces at the darkness in that tone, his stomach pulling up to heaves. He knows what has happened, that Richards is dead and that Tony is now in danger. “I have a plan. I can get you out.”

“Oh really?” Tony pipes up, his whole face lilting to smile as if he'd just heard the funniest joke. “That would be some amazing news.”

“The mutants are ready to hand Scott Summers over. We can use that as a bargaining chip to secure your freedom.”

“Sound nice, Steve-o. So what kind time table are you thinking?” Casual again, so as not to cause alarm.

“It has to be the same deal as before, Tony. If the prisoners are not released, if the X-men are threatened in the slightest, they will go to war.”

“That makes sense,” he hums. “So, a week, you think?”

“You want to wait that long?”

“Well, if you want to start something of this magnitude, some preparation is needed. A week should be enough.”

“At the mansion then. I can trust you to work everything out?”

“Sounds like a plan.” Without a goodbye, or any hint of emotion, he hangs up the phone and places it back in the tray. “I need to speak with Fury,” he tells Pryce. “Sooner rather than later.”

“You're still gung-ho for the Red Hunt, I take it?” she says, a question that makes Stark highly uncomfortable.

“The world still has to be saved,” he replies after his nerves simmer back down.

“Indeed.”

He watches her take the phone and saunter back up the hallway, all of his instincts telling him that he has revealed too much to her. That whatever she gleaned from his conversation will somehow come to haunt him.

He lays back on the bed, Steve's voice fresh in his head. He can hear that timbre wash over him, pulling up tingles across his skin. His breath becomes a bit heavier, and he can feel a sudden warmth and jolt below his belt. With it, comes an ache deep in the pit of his chest, one that tells him that no matter what Steve feels now, it will not end well between them.

Rogers – the ultimate boy scout – wants him to change, thinks that just with love and hope and faith, that the world can be put to right, and some utopic vision in the back of his head will come to fruition. He thinks that Tony is a good man, that he will learn and grow and become something beyond himself. But Stark, himself, realizes the foolishness of that.

Watching the murder of Reed Richards has haunted his nightmares for nights now. His inability to change it, or do something to stop it. He feels the guilt of it, that he was the one to drag Richards inside of this nest of vipers, and it gnaws at him like a dog to fresh bone.

However, he still sees the rightness of his actions. Even locked up in this most expensive place, torn away from the initiative that he led, he still sees himself as savior, and wants to see Cyclops dead.

He tells himself that it's not stubbornness, that all of this – all of it – is not just some show of arrogance and deep-felt fear. It's not a man stung by pride, it's a man exhausted of the world constantly being put in turmoil over beings who cannot – or will not – control themselves. The mutants are not dominant, regardless of how superior they pretend to be, so he's not upset, does not feel he's wrong, but Steve Rogers will.

Tony is a man who believes in the strength of will, that if one pushes himself hard enough, tries hard enough, then good things will come. Though his father – that illustrious man – often thought it a foolhardy outlook, in recent years, he has come to believe that his father was much the same way. There was no dominance, only blood and sweat, the willingness to achieve.

It doesn't matter if someone is born with 'extra' or not.

“He's out of control,” he'd said those years ago. Reed looked at him patiently, his lips tucked in towards teeth. More than anyone, Reed knew what power was. His son was one of the most powerful beings alive. He knew what to fear, how to teach, how to cull the child into mild actions.

“Is he?” The question came after a long pause. “He seems pretty centered to me.” He referred then to running through a hornet's nest, that all was peaceful until you stomped on it. “He wants to fix the world, but in this new world, you're a relic, as am I. Maybe that's your problem.”

Relic. It caused a shiver down his spine, made him cringe. His old man had been a relic, a scientist hellbent on all things science fiction and 2070. He dreamed about flying cars and holographic communication, and though he was able to bring some of those things into the world, a good majority of it stayed sidelined, driven down by the significant weight of change. By the time he died, his father's dreams were bigger than his accomplishments.

Tony doesn't want to die like that, his head so stuck in the clouds that he can't see the changing of the world around him. The ability to adapt; to become something greater than the world had always been was what he considered his greatest gift, but this... This... that someone so powerful could change the world in a blink of an eye, without the blood, sweat, and tears that came with constant experimentation and the calloused hands of hard work... This shouldn't be.

Things should never be so easy. Not if they're worth it.

In the back of his mind, he can hear Steve – oh, lovely Steve, with those muscular legs and short golden hair – and his arguments. That Tony, for all of his adaptive nature, feared change. Perhaps, in the end, he did, but that didn't mean that Cyclops wasn't too powerful to live. There had to be a boundary, somewhere in all of this. A line that shouldn't be crossed. And, no matter how looked at it – from Brazil to Belgium, Spain to Nebraska, that line had been crossed a thousand times over.

And because of that – because of that boundary that can't be adhered to – he must do what it takes to restore the proper balance.

Chapter Text

He didn't want to be touched. The bruises, the gashes, the burns. He pushed them all away, never explaining why.

For days, he wandered the empty corridors of the mansion, keeping his eyes on the exits and entrances, keeping himself quiet and undisturbing. Xavier was sure that he could hear their conversations, that he was just outside the door listening as the he spoke with Moira. But, Moira would check, and Scott would not be there.

He didn't sleep well. His dreams were filled with frantic images of fists and knives and cigarettes. There were scalpels in his dreams, men that laughed, and an ache that he couldn't quite understand. It was the only time that he projected, that Charles could read his thoughts. And, each and every one of those thoughts proved to be dangerous.

Moira took him shopping. It was her way of getting him out of the house and away from Xavier's prying mind. He needed new clothes – clothes that actually fit, rather than the too-big hand me downs that Charles had swamped him with. Together they went – all three of them – into town. She cautioned him to behave and to leave the child alone.

Scott was quiet during that drive, his eyes focused on the roving scenery outside of the window. He looked at trees and houses, curtains, and benches, until they finally came to a red light near a park. “Do ye want to play with them?” Moira asked quietly, ready to open the door and let the child be free for an afternoon, but he shook his head no. Scott Summers didn't know how to play, didn't remember what that was like, and though he didn't tell her such, she could feel it in her bones.

They talked telepathically, something that she was averse to. It meant that Charles was using his powers, but assured her several times that he was simply observing the boy, as she did. He was still surprised that she didn't see him as dangerous.

He couldn't see colors, those ruby quartz lenses of his prevented such a thing. To him, all of the clothes looked the same, so he wasn't sure how to pick out what she'd asked him to. “Look for the fit and the style,” she told him, pulling out a nice little sweater vest. “Isn't this a smart little piece?” He tugged it on over his overgrown button-down, allowing her just near enough to tug down one corner and marvel at him with a whistle. “We're a right, proper man, now, aren't we?”

Somewhere in the background, a young boy called him a loser.

Scott peered at the older boy, his face silent and breath even. With a swallow, he pulled the vest off and hung it over his arm. “You don't have to get it if you don't like it, Scott,” she soothed, knowing full well that her vision of style was far from the norm. But, the child simply shrugged. To him, it didn't matter. He was humoring them, playing dress-up for those that sought to care for him.

He was a lonely child, purposefully, intentionally. He worked to please to them, so long as pleasing them meant that he wasn't touched, wasn't asked, wasn't delved into like a novel. It was the same with Xavier – even through the migraines and nosebleeds – a child's hope that the man would eventually leave him alone.

Seven pairs of pants and seven shirts, along with the sweater vest that he refused to let go of, enough for each of the day of the week. Enough for now, enough for him. They would come back out another weekend, do this again, but for now, Moira was hungry, and if she didn't eat something soon, she was going to get sick.

It was a burger joint, a place that Xavier had rallied against. Scott was taking akido and judo, he was in training for something special. High fat, high calorie food went against the very dream he was trying to create. He ordered the boy a garden salad with a boiled egg for protein; Moira ordered him a double cheeseburger and dared him to eat the whole thing. Looking back and forth between them, he ate none of it, waiting for them to decide whom he should obey.

Obedience was intrinsic to the boy, which unnerved Moira and made Charles pleased as punch. In the mornings, he would leave a list of things to accomplish for the day, and the child would do them without question or failure. Even if he did have troubles in his studies – thanks to a lack of education in his formative years – Xavier could see the attempt. Though he chided the boy for his mistakes, he was sure that those criticisms would become goals within Scott's mind.

“And then you broke him,” Jean says. She doesn't know all of the details, Xavier's never told the whole story, but she knows enough to understand that the small child did not become so pliant of his own free will.

“I had to,” Charles says quietly through gritted teeth. “For your sake.”

He didn't expect to be found. In his new body, his brainwaves are by far different than before. He's a younger man, with more stamina and hair. He's energized with life, belaying old regrets. So, when she showed, he was surprised. “You shouldn't have come here,” he says, draining his small glass of scotch dry, the burn of it making him wince and sigh.

“Where else was I to go?” She blames him. For her loss, her life, the destruction of a man she dearly loved.

“You still believe that you're innocent?”

She doesn't. No matter how much she argues the fact, no matter how much she accuses him of wrongdoing, it was still her choice, a choice that she made willingly. “I can still feel him,” Jean says quietly, staring up into sun and sky.

“So can I.” That's why he's here, to avoid the temptation of once again crawling inside of Summers' mind, of taking that uncontrollable power and using it to thwart those he sees as enemies. “He's not doing well.”

“No, he isn't.” The shreds of him ply across the ether, screaming and in turmoil. She knows that pain; she knows how to dull it, how to force his eyes blind to it. But, she doesn't know how to heal it. If she concentrates too hard, or lets her focus slip, she can feel the energy rise up within her, the taste of it, the want of it. With that power she can change the world, and she often did. Sometimes, not for the better. “He's more powerful than we ever imagined.”

It's Onslaught that Charles feels when he closes his eyes and lets his mind drift towards the shattered energy upon the horizon. That overwhelming power that could have molded the universe into something dark and dreary, his mind melded with Magneto's and the constant war that they waged to see the mutants atop the food change. “Indeed.”

There are few words between them now, unlike before when they shared their thoughts readily. Be it the bickering over power or the reconnaissance of missions, they once flooded each others minds with both empathy and hatred. They were once allies and bitter foes. Now, however, they are little more than strangers attempting to overcome their guilt.

Jean recalls Rachel, and her shock at what they had done. Rachel was another that benefited from the grand display of power-sharing, her energy mingled with that of Scott's so that she could control the Phoenix. “She cried when we left.”

“Is that abnormal?”

Jean shrugs. It is and it isn't. She cried for her father, that she could not be near him upon his return, that she wasn't allowed to delve into that broken mind and piece the thing back together. “I fear that she hates me.”

“Do you blame her?” His smirk is coy. In many ways, he hates her, too. If it hadn't been for her need of the Phoenix, her addiction to that fiery bird and her constant pulling it from the cosmos to fill her aching desire for power, it's quite possible that Scott's mind would still be stable enough to use.

Jean rolls her eyes, their rivalry a wall between them. To her, this is a time to mend fences, to once again come together to end a world threat. “I don't,” she sighs. She watches him pour another glass of scotch, clinks finger against glass to call attention to the emptiness. “She doesn't understand what I did for her, but one day she will. The Phoenix would have eaten her alive. She's not nearly strong enough of mind to wield it.”

“Neither were you.” It's a cold reminder of her youth, when he had blocked those powers from her. Against all of his warnings, all of his insights, she wielded it anyway. He knows that she called upon it to save the lives of her friends, and while that's admirable enough, that she kept it, that she refused to let it go was her own undoing. “Scott wasn't either.”

“Well, he might have been, had we not destroyed him.”

“The Phoenix was not meant to be wielded as a tool. It's a primal force, and for whatever reason it chose to protect his wishes, but that will was not meant to be bent by mere mortals.”

“Are you still positive that he's mortal?” It's a question that had been raised between them time and again.

Charles shrugs. “If Wolverine is, then certainly Scott is.”

Jean is not so sure. While she knows that the majority of his power was blocked from him, that for years, he existed with just the sole use of what they considered 'leakage' from his eyes, the idea that he could die, that they could lose him was still a thought she couldn't comprehend. No one was sure what the entirety of his power was like, not in truth, not in full. They assumed. They theorized. But, now, feeling it on the horizon, knowing that the blocks that had been in place since before Xavier found him were gone, she was sure that the man would be considered immortal. “In Logan's thoughts, he was missing his heart,” she says. “But, he still had a pulse.”

It doesn't shock Xavier to hear that Scott has a healing factor. In fact, there's little that would shock him as far as those powers went. But, still, to consider him immortal is a bit far fetched. “Cut off his head, and he dies. That's not immortality.” Immortality was Onslaught, a culmination of drastic powers and warring minds. There was nothing that could harm the creature. If Charles hadn't realized his error and withdrew himself from Summers' mind, hadn't poured that energy into Franklin Richards, then the world would have been destroyed.

It's a matter of semantics, then, Jean muses. “Did I truly love him or did you make me?”

Xavier takes his glass of scotch in full, pouring another before his blue eyes come to rest on her. She shouldn't have to ask this question, not if she truly believed in his want for the world. “You loved him. But, the question is, did he love you?” He was never sure about it. He knows that the boy was anxious to be around her, that for years his nerves had stayed his tongue. But a crush is a crush is a crush, and a crush – no matter how profound – doesn't mean love. “Would he have chosen you? Would either of them have chosen you?”

“You mean over each other?”

“Yes. That's exactly what I mean.”

She runs slender finger across the rim of her glass before swallowing down the amber liquid herself. She's not a drinker, so already she can feel the buzz of alcohol in her veins. She nods towards her glass, receiving a refill in return. “It was easy to turn Logan away, wasn't it?”

It had been their own devising, keeping Scott's heart in the hands of the telepaths. It made for easier loyalty, devotion, threads into the slowly decaying mind. Logan was a hitch, a hiccup, and too easily solved. “It was his scent on you,” Xavier explains. “That you always smelled like Scott. It confused his senses.”

“But, still. His love for me was fierce.”

“Because we made him that way.”

There's a part of her that still doubts his esteem was so easily manipulated. From Scott to her in the blink of an eye. But, it was safer, they decided. Safer for the Wolverine – that animal and predator, that being who lacked control over his most basic instincts – to stay far removed from Cyclops. At first, it was an easy thing, with the two butting heads over the smallest of things, but in later years, it became much harder. There was a trust between them, respect, and all that remained unspoken, or rather unable to be spoken.

It was Emma's choice to push them apart for good, their inexplicable bond becoming more magnetic as time went on. Even from her grave, pushed down underneath the heavy weight of the Phoenix, Jean could feel them becoming harder to separate. “There were moments where I was sure they were going to break through it all, that even Emma wasn't strong enough to keep them apart.”

Charles nods. He, too, had felt the same way. Those stolen glances and private moments, their secrets, their longings. They took each other at face value, thankfully, never questioning the shimmer in their hearts when the other entered a room. “Logan was happy to follow wherever Scott went,” he remarks upon that trepidatious time for them all. It wouldn't have taken much at all to unravel their doings. A simple word from the feral mutant, and it would have all come undone. “Thankfully, Emma was smart enough to push them apart for good.”

“Or perhaps foolish enough. Had we just let them be --”

“Then we'd both be dead, trapped by the Phoenix and the Shadow King, watching the world implode, instead of standing on the precipice of saving it.”

“Saving it?” she scoffs. “Just how much have you had to drink?” They are no longer prophets and saviors, the harbingers of peace and melody. They are the shadows at the edges of humanity, disgusting things that turned the world to black for their own selfish purposes.

Charles smiles. “They're going to need us soon, Jean. We just need be patient. And, then, we'll have everything that our hearts desire.”

“Come to me, Scott.” But the boy – in his first display of disobedience – shook his head. Standing at the other end of the hall, still gripping his books, he stared at the professor, refusing to step forward.
“Come to me.”

Perhaps it was the way he said it, his polite command. Or, as Moira would explain moments later, it was possible that the boy had finally discerned what Charles was doing to him. That all of the nosebleeds and headaches were because of him, and that he no longer doubted that he was being attacked.

There was a rage in him – a deep felt thorn that pierced against his heart. He called out for Moira, for Eric, and by the time they arrived, he was a red-faced madman yelling at the top of his lungs. The child cowered at the other end of the hall, bent to knees and shaking. He couldn't move. He couldn't remove himself from the line of direct fire. “You're turning him against me!” he accused them both, but they both denied it, offering up their agreed upon explanation. “Liars!” he continued, and flashed his power against the boy's brain.

It come as a surprise, that first little crack. A tiny fracture in the boy's defenses, and oh, how glorious it felt. Wide blue eyes stared at the boy and all the things locked up in his brain. “You won't take him from me,” Charles seethed, using his gift to send the boy's caretakers into head-held screams. “He's mine! Do you hear me! He's mine!”

Keeping his focus upon the child, upon the sudden crack in his composure, Xavier wheeled himself forward, putting psychic pressure upon the break. “You're mine, Scott,” he said, his psionic fingers trying to rip into the skull, pull out the mysteries and treasures – and oh, that power – from underneath the shield.

He could sense the blocks already, how much of the child's power had already been walled off from him. They were large, immense, unbreakable. He could see the blacked out memories – both those taken from him and those that were lost to injury. So many memories, so many horrible memories – the abuse, the pain, the fear. But, even then, it was the power that called to him, how to take it, how to use it, how to control it.

Eric fought back, toppling the wheelchair with a last-minute burst of magnetic wave. Latching onto the iron in the man's system, he choked it, coagulated it right next to heart, and threatened the man with death if he continued his assault.

The boy would be free from this, that much Eric assured him, but Charles already knew his real plans. “You mean to take him from me, and use him against the humans.” Their age old argument had finally come to head, and with a massive spike of energy, Xavier drilled into his friend's brain, ripping and shredding at sanity. He did the same to Moira, fearing that she would come next to take the boy from him, this unlimited source of untapped power. He erased the child from both their minds, sent them on their way into the wilds of the world where they would question for years to come what had happened that day, and why so many months of their time was unaccounted for.

It was the flagging of that spike that he put his hands on the side of Scott's head, continued his ambush of energy, of finally crumbling the walls that separated him from the boy's thoughts. The rush of power was unbelievable, and with it, he could protect Jean forever.

Chapter Text

In his dreams, he sees his father, rageful and carrying a crowbar. It's a frightening thing, and in his sleep, he mewls in pain as the crowbar comes crashing down over spine and ribs and nose. He scratches at the ground, trying to gain the strength and the courage to get away, to run, to find some semblance of freedom that he never had outside of the mines.

Logan watches Arlo Taylor with worry. He knows that the boy is scared and injured, that the dreams he has are as real to him as the memories that they're based on. He knows because he's been there. He, too, had dreams, but Xavier took them away.

As he nears the dog-faced boy whimpering in the corner, he holds his hand out and softly calls his name, afraid for him to wake suddenly if touched. On haunches, he waits as the dreams shiver across the trembling body, as feet scurry in the air, and when Arlo finally does wake, he does so with a howl of pain that echoes through the mine.

“It's okay,” Logan says calmly, inching forward to the scared teenager. “It's okay.”

Wide eyes blink in terror at the shifting movement. Arlo knows to be afraid of the Wolverine. Indira has said so, that he's strong and fast, and that he has claws that come out of his wrists. She's read all about him in the newspaper, followed his career. He has a temper, and Arlo hides his face under large, broken hands hoping that the man goes away. When he doesn't, when Wolverine creeps closer once again, his bladder releases in the fear of being hurt once again – a yellow puddle that drenches his thread-bare pants and metallic floor and fills the air with a strong, acidic odor.

Logan calls his name again, tells him that it's okay, that no ones mad at him, that he'll clean it up. To prove his point, he goes to the nearby supply closet and grabs some towels, once again hunkering down in the same position as earlier. Arlo eyes him warily and whimpers. Another inch, another helpless whimper. Again and again.

Arlo has claws, too. They are short things – like a dog's – but he can't wield them, not with his fingers broken and forced under his palms. They don't come out like they once did. But, he does have a growl, and his instincts tell him to make himself appear mighty and big. And so he does, pulls himself onto busted hands and feet, riles up his chest and shoulders until he appears much bigger than he feels. On two legs, he's just over seven feet tall. On all fours, heaved up like he is, he can make himself appear to be five, which is nearly as tall as the man who approaches him. He bares his teeth – long, shiny fangs meant to pierce and shred – and from his throat comes a deep voiced growl that vibrates in his chest.

“Big man, now, are we?” Logan asks with a smile. He's not scared of the boy, and his scent proves it. He inches forward again, sops up the yellow puddle, and shows Arlo both his palms so as to prove he's harmless. “Good. I like to see that fight in you.” The boy's cowered long enough, shown no real life in him, so to see this sudden energy, to hear it, shows that he's not completely destroyed by the abuse.

Arlo sniffs the palms of hands, and watches – terrified – as Logan brings one hand to his jaw. He flinches as the hand settles upon the bristly, short fur, waiting for the pain. But, there is no pain, and for that, Arlo is shocked. Logan smiles, brings hand softly behind ear. “You okay, now?” he asks, but Arlo still doesn't remember how to speak.

His body still in fight or flight, Arlo releases another quiet growl, still unsure about the man who has approached him. Wolverine answers that show of force with another soft pet that goes from stubbed nose to the top of head. “I ain't gonna hurt you,” he promises. “Just came to check on you. See if you were okay?”

The news of leaving the mine had spread like wildfire throughout the small underground population. And while most were elated, there were some – like Arlo – who found it hard to take. “He's not going to come after you,” Logan said quietly. “Not here, not at the mansion. You're safe with us. No one's going to hurt you like that again.”

Wide brown eyes shuttered with the sting of tears. Paw-like hand to the tip of nose, Arlo wipes away the water, at once undone by those words. Logan wraps his arms around the child, a soothing circle on his spine.

There was a time when an embrace like this was beyond him; when talking to a boy so abused and tormented would have equaled nothing less than a challenge and heated rage. He's changed. The X-men changed him, but now, looking at this boy, thinking of Scott, he wonders if it was for the better.

In the past, he would have hunted down Arlo's father, tracked Jean Grey and the other telepaths to the ends of the earth. He would have made them bleed for their treachery. But, now, he finds himself held back, waiting, trying to decide the right thing to do. In his head, he hears Scott's voice tell him to forgive, reminding him that people grow and change, and that it was their responsibility to allow that. He wants to be that man, and in many ways he is, but it doesn't stop the rage completely. Just tames it.

Arlo cries into Logan's shoulder, releases years worth of tears and trembling. He bawls and sobs, his entire self reaching out, hoping that the man's words are true. Logan continues to soothe him and shush him, telling him that everything will be alright. He tells the boy to let it all out. To cry.

He remembers what it's like – that first rush of release when the floodgates finally break. When all of the fear and self-hatred, all of the rage and doubt suddenly break past defenses, destroying what meager amount of broiling calm that had been created.

Jean.

She smelled like Summers, winter crisp and hard iron edges. But the way she walked, the way she smiled, she seemed more like a petal, so soft and tender, pink and pale blue. He remembers the first time he heard her voice, how she said hello to him, and how in that moment he realized that he was in love.

It's a blur now, that moment. Once crystal clear, the edges of it have faded and burned, become something fairy tale, something regrettable.

“This is Jean. She's my girlfriend.”

“So, I finally get to meet you, Logan. Scott's told me everything about you.”

Her hand was warm to the touch, as if an inner fire threaded through her veins.

Then it's months before he remembers again, another visit from college. Scott was busy with paperwork, she was bored. She knocked on his door. “Thought I'd come say hi,” she said, her smile like a midafternoon sun, bright and orange and blaring. He let her into his meager quarters. Though large – as all the mansion rooms were – it was unfurnished, its space unfilled by lock boxes and memories. He had a few books that he'd collected, old western novels and a history of exploration – books he couldn't find in the expansive library.

She looked around, her bright green eyes dismayed at the emptiness. “No family photos?” she asked, stating that she was hoping to see them. He shook his head, his tongue still fumbling with her presence in his room. “That's a shame,” she sighed.

She sat on the edge of his bed and beckoned him closer. He sat beside her, the two of them staring out to pine green walls, and in the silence, she smiled again. “You don't remember them, do you?”

“Probably for the best,” he replied a touch too sharply.

She winced at the comment and took his hand into her own. “Scott doesn't remember his either. Head trauma when he was a child. But yours isn't natural is it?”

“What do you want, Red?”

“I want to help you. I want to help you find your past.”

It was a shock to him that she knew about his missing past. He picked himself up off the bed and she followed in his steps around the room. Scott was worried about him, worried that he'd leave, or that his constant rage was founded by his lack of stable roots. He'd said that the professor had tried, but was too busy to follow through. “So, he asked me to help you in Xavier's stead.”

“One-Eye was worried about me?”

“He wants you to be a functioning part of the team instead of an outsider looking in.”

“He's one to talk.”

“He has to keep his distance in order to make clear decisions.”

Already, before he even agreed, he could feel her fingers inside his head, rummaging through his briar patch of a memory. He watched her beautiful face as it flickered between agony and pity. Memory after memory she brought to the forefront of his mind. The deaths, the betrayals, his fear that he would never be anything more than animal. That the predator inside of him would remain always dangerous and never allow him to be close to another living soul. She found in his memories Silver Fox and Itsu, long dead and buried, and the loneliness in him, his inability to protect them, to keep them safe, simmered just underneath his skin.

She concentrated on these women, how they smelled – Silver Fox like a deep earthy sandalwood, and Itsu like cherry blossoms in the spring wind. How they looked at him, how they smiled. She showed him memory after memory of how happy they were, and their eyes when he failed them. “They loved you very much,” she said quietly, reaching out to touch his shoulder.

He fell to his knees in that moment, the skimming of her fingers too much, causing him to burst from within. She fell with him, wrapping her long, slender arms around his neck, pulling him in tight and telling that was okay to let it go. That it was safe here, that nothing would happen to him.

He wonders now if the memories are true, or if they were implanted. It's a sick feeling that washes over him then, quickly dispelled by focus upon the young boy growing tired in his arms. He runs thick fingers through the tags of hair upon his head and soothes him back to sitting. “Let's get you cleaned up,” he says, straightening himself on the floor. He thinks that McCoy should have some wearable clothes, they should be about the right size. “And then we'll go see the doc.”

Arlo shakes his head. He wants to see no one. “You need to, kiddo. It'll keep being scary if you hole yourself up here in the corner.”

As the boy gathers his courage, Logan makes a promise that he intends to keep. “I'll come with you. I'll keep you safe.”

Chapter Text

“So, have you considered my offer?” Sinister stands at the edge of disturbing thoughts, watching as the shades of Jean Grey and Emma Frost attempt to devour each other. It's a masterwork of horror, the things he sees in the surround. He pulls up the Scott-shaped furniture and pours a glass of wine.

Stephen Strange can't chase him out of here. Quite honestly he doesn't know how. He doesn't know if the man has some sort of hold in here – a trap, a bomb – if something more will crash if he wreaks his own style of havoc upon the telepath.

“If I detonate the bombs one by one--”

“Then the nightmares that are stuffed within will ravage his mind even further. Do you truly think that there's enough of him left to warrant more damage?” He offers the good doctor his own goblet of red, and he takes it, if only to calm his nerves. They both know that this is not real wine; it's an astral projection, but when in the mind, when as practiced in the art of psionics as they are, all it takes is belief for the liquid to have the desired effect. “If you take me up on my proposal, however, there would be enough to remove some of the bombs or fumble at disarming the traps.”

Essex knows that Cyclops is out of control. He's listened and watched and gathered his information with care. “Why do you think I put blocks on him to begin with? The child was a maelstrom. The world would not have survived without me.”

He applauds himself as a hero in those early days, his tireless efforts to save the world. But, what he doesn't speak of – what he does not tell Strange – are the gruesome experiments that he conducted upon the boy. Live vivisections in order to collect and measure the boy's growth – in both self and power – to an accurate degree, not to mention his attempts to decode Scott's enormous strength and replicate it in order to produce a more perfect body for his own usage.

But, there is no need to tell him of such things. This deal that he has offered has a purpose, and one purpose only. He could easily collect the sample by himself. One trip to the arctic, and he could collect the snow upon which the man lay for those days as they waited for Storm to make up her mind. So, it's not the sample he needs, but rather the bargain with Strange himself. It's a game, one that Sinister is sure he will win.

“Can you block his powers again?” Dark blue eyes are not hesitant in their questioning. Strange can see the advantage of the blocks, at least partially, until Summers' mind can be repaired.

Sinister shrugs. “Perhaps. But, I refuse to do so.” There's too much entertainment to be had, too many ways to crush that desperate soul.

Aggravated, Strange sits back against the image of Cyclops, folds his arms against his chest. “Then what exactly are you proposing if this is not to block his powers?”

“Simply returning his mind to some state of functioning. We can't have him destroying the world like this. Not when he's unaware of what he's doing.”

It's not hard to pick up on the maliciousness in the man's tone. So blatant and blunt, Essex sneers in his contempt for the mind he proposing to fix. And Strange realizes all too quickly that this bargaining between them will go on and on for as long as Sinister feels like dragging it out. “You don't know this mind,” Essex reminds him. “You can't fix it. And it will only worsen with time. I recommend acting now.”

“Can you stop the hallucinations.”

Sinister smiles and shakes his head. “Alas, that is why he is not fit for the power that he wields. Those hallucinations are part of his genetic make-up. They are what makes him imperfect.”

He knew that one of the brothers would fall to the scourge of dopamine – either Alex or Scott. It came from Katherine's side of the family – her dearly departed sister had been a schizophrenic, and killed herself by the time she was sixteen. Her uncle before that, a grandmother, a great grandmother. “There was a time when I thought he would be free of it, but then Xavier broke his mind, and after that there was no hope.”

“You put him in the path of Xavier. You planned it.”

A slick laughter oozes out into the nightmarish darkness. As if to amplify the fright that is Sinister, the shades howl in their delight at the find of a new memory to devour. Strange watches with trepidation as Cannonball and Sunspot war over the tiny thing – the memory of a small kitten caught out in the rain, unloved and unwanted, something a young Scott had taken solace in; for if he cared for that kitten, then someone would care for him. With their teeth and gnarled hands they rip and shred the memory apart, turn it to fine silt powder. “I warned you,” Essex says. “You don't have much time.”

“You'll restore his memories with it?”

“For a blood sample that I could easily procure myself? No. But, he will wake with clarity.”

With reluctance, Strange agrees to the demand. He cautions the man before him that he is watching and that he is powerful.

“As am I, good doctor. As am I.” It's with a flourish of hands that the shades disappear into the depth of mind, their howls a far distant echo. Placing his cup on the Cyclops-shaped table, he stands and presses finger to head, searching the mind for the particles that he desires. A wind whips up, flowing through the dust-like debris, slowly forming into large pieces of glass-like structure.

He places them at the core – that glowing core that has yet to move. Though Sinister is curious about it, wants to know what's inside, what drives it, what makes the man protect it so, he has other plans. He positions the hand-wide piece at the base of the light, and then slowly begins to form another.

Time passes as more of Scott's self forms inside the hands of Sinister, and with each placement, Strange can feel the mind getting stronger. “He needs control,” he says quietly, watching in earnest as the monster does his work.

“Be careful what you wish for good doctor,” Sinister chuckles, but complies anyway. He gathers up the dust of dreams and lengthens a piece along the core. It becomes wider than the others, taller, and it sticks out with sharp edges. “That's enough for today,” he yawns, stretching arms long above him. “Have little Illyana deliver my sample to me. If she doesn't arrive by day's end, I'll destroy this mind all over again.”

The numbers – that constant murmur from quiet lips – ceases, and all around the small room, eyes grow wide. At bedside, on knees and fumbling his hand up onto the covers, Logan threads fingers in between Scott's, a breathless hope upon his lips. He watches as Scott – for the first time in days – tries to sit of his own volition.

But recognition is still far off. “Where am I?”

“Try to keep still, Slim,” Logan says quietly. “You've been through -”

With a worrying build to his voice, Scott asks again, “Where am I?”

“Scott, it's okay. You're fine. You just need time to--”

“I shouldn't be here,” he gasps as red visor finds both Storm and Steve and his brother. He looks then to Strange, his jaw trembling. “I shouldn't be here.”

“Scott,” Logan soothes. “You're not in danger --”

“But you are.”

The struggle for control, for keeping it, for dimming emotions and keeping calm is lost in an instant. Red energy spills forth from frightened mind, lashing out into the air to push all those around him away. He yells in torment, grips fingers into hair and bends forward to knees. “I'm supposed to be dead,” he cries out and screams again. “I'm supposed to be dead.”

“Er dogren.” All eyes to Steve Rogers as he's once again shut the man down. And another fight as Alex pushes him up against metallic wall.

“He would've been fine.”

“How many people have to get hurt before you realize how dangerous he is?”

“Just you, bub.” The scratch of metal in the air, and Storm throws herself in front of Steve. Pale blue eyes glisten with a sudden hatred. “Move 'Ro.”

But, she doesn't move. She's tired of this, the bickering and fighting. The fear that Scott will kill them all, and also of Logan. She's waited for him. For months she's waited for him to come back to her, waited for him to fall asleep beside her, to be the man that she knew before his death. But, he's not anymore. He's not even close.

Sheathing his claws, he stares back at her, the same hard edge to his glare as she gives him. He's not going to do this now, not with all of these people in the room. And if she wants to be a drama queen, then she's better off finding Jean. “At least you'll protect her .”

She winces at the jab, raises electric arms in the air and holds lightning in her hands. She dares him to strike her, for if does, he will feel the pain that he's put her through since his return. “You died once, Wolverine,” she ekes into the flush of silence, “Let's see if you can do it again.”

The door creaks open, just a touch, and just inside the tiny crack, they can see the wide, black eyes of Pocket. Hands in bunny suit, he pushes the door again and walks through them all to stand at the side of Cyclops. One finger raised into the air, he takes a deep breath, jabs the man in the arm, and takes off at speed into the hallway.

It's an odd thing, but it eases the tension in the room, for a moment anyway. “I want him kept unconscious the duration of his stay,” Storm commands. With a glance at Steve, she nods and exits.

Chapter Text

The lab is just as Mystique told her – stainless steel and stark white. In the center, a large tank of water and diodes that connect to the human experiment. Machines print out a stream of steady stats, as Gillian Pryce begins pasting the medpads to Sue's temples.

It has to look clean, for the cameras at least. It has to look clinical and precise. Gillian fluffs the long blonde hair over the back of the collar and turns Sue to the wall. “We'll be done in a moment,” she says, and with a click of some inner mechanism – brought on by a star shaped claw where the bolts connect – Richards can feel the release of the collar and the return of her power.

She knows what to do now.

The shield she wears is as thin as skin, barely glistening in the light, and so long as she keeps her back turned to camera, they'll never see that the collar is now turned off. Pryce forces open her mouth and drops in the liquid oxygen pill, which Sue immediately begins to struggle in order to spit the pill into her hand. A bit of a push, and the pill is hidden between her fingers and invisible shield. “This is going to hurt,” Gillian warns her. “But if you scream, you'll throw off the stats. So, please, keep quiet.”

The machines hook up underneath Sue's arms, pulling her up from the seat. She puts on the show of a fight, kicking her legs and flailing her arms, but in reality, she's not trying to escape. There's an hour's worth of oxygen in that little pill, and she means to save it for the destruction of the Undertow. Wide blue eyes peer over at Pryce when the machines finally dip her down in the frigid water. She has to act cold now, as if the water is so cold it burns. Otherwise, they'll know that her powers are awakened, that she has shielded herself to all things that could harm her.

Mystique sits by the controls, checking the continual feed of paper and screens. She waits for Sue to settle into a feigned hypothermic state – sluggish limbs and drowsy eyes, the water is just warm enough to keep from freezing the victims all together – before crunching her fingers down onto a series of buttons and starting the ionized water spray.

It hurts like hell. Even through her invisible shield, Sue can feel the charge and snap of water, the spray coursing over skin and leaving it red and raw. But, not only that, she can feel it inside of her, the decay of cells as protons and neutrons are ripped asunder by the invading free-floating electrons. They piece apart her cellular makeup, knocking loose her stable cells, and changing them into something else. The cells die, unable to link the form to function, and she can feel it inside of her.

Four hours she'll remain here, a symptom of Helmut's wonder about the woman. Her DNA was already changed once, he knows it can happen, but SHIELD is too wary of gamma rays. She knows – if only for the sake of her children and her dead husband locked away in a cryo-freeze, that she has to do this. It's the only way to free them all from this Underwater prison.

But, four hours is slower than she'd hoped, and for a meager four pills, it's not enough to give her hope to freeing the hundreds of mutants within these walls. She'll do this tomorrow as well, and the day after, and the day after that. By the end of the week, she'll have twenty eight pills, all of which will be dispersed to those mutants who can help save the others. It's still not enough to ensure the safety of everyone here, and with that in mind, she taps forefinger against her leg, hoping that Pryce notices her message.

It's not an easy message to decode, but Mystique knows Morse code well enough to get the gist. Two times a day she wants to be dunked into this hellpit of pain. That would give her fifty six pills, but the only drawback to that is Sam Guthrie would also have to live through it. “If you're sure,” Pryce says, pretending that she's talking into com. She positive that Sam can take it, though her vision of being able to withstand is probably far different than his own imaginings.

There are certain expendable pieces among them, and though Magneto would disagree and swear that all mutant lives should be saved, Mystique holds no worry over a few missing X-men. Though she bears no grudge particularly against Guthrie, or Blaire, the only mutant she's truly worried about saving is Remy LeBeaux, her daughter's husband. That's why she agreed to this, to break her covert actions within the SHIELD research department in order to do this. Someone had to save him for the sake of her daughter, and the X-men certainly weren't lifting a finger.

Mystique pockets the pill once the experiment's over and Sue Richards is dug from the tank by mechanical arms. This will be given to Gambit during one of her long sojourns through the cells to seek out suitable test subjects. He will be confused, but utterly grateful.

She will do this twice a day now for the next week, until Magneto is ready to storm the castle, so to speak. And then, she'll have to devise a new cover – perhaps a male this time, older, with a beard.

“And?” Dr. Alan Helmut asks, peeking through the door way.

“Cellular degradation is higher on her than the mutants,” she says quietly, her tone smokey and delicious. “It could be from her previous experience with the gamma rays. I certainly wish you'd let me use Stark as a control. His data could clear up many of our questions.”

“Stark is to be left alone. I told you that this morning.”

“How did he so easily become teacher's pet?” she asks, though she already knows the answer. Stark is their way to finally capture the mutant of the hour – Scott Summers. Helmut shrugs. He cares little for the daily operations and back door deals that come with this organization. He's a scientist, and as a scientist, he cares for little else other than results. “I would like to double my efforts, though,” she says. “Perhaps they need more of a push from the ionization than we are currently giving them.” She holds up a clip board that plots the results of the experiments thus far, including Sue's. “We could have an answer to the entire mutant genome, if we play our cards right.”

With a nod and his signature in black ink at the bottom, Helmut gives permission for the doubling of the experiments. He learned a long time ago not to question Pryce. As forceful as she is beautiful, she knows both her goals and her intent. “Very well,” he says, “but, remember, there is no overtime pay.”

“Who needs overtime pay when there's science in the air?”

Helmut chuckles at the barely-there joke and steps out of the room, leaving Mystique to reignite the collar and wish Sue good luck. She watches callously as the guards come to drag her back to her tiny cell in another hallway.

Mystique is no hero. She doesn't pretend to be, nor does she desire to be one. There are too many limitations to heroics. Nor does she consider herself a villain. While the X-men would argue at the way she conducts herself, she sees her efforts on behalf of not only herself – but also of mutant kind – as a way forward, progress, something different than Xavier's long-stagnant path that achieved nothing in its hay day. She's her own person - and though that own person can sometimes mean a dozen people, complete with their own personalities and demeanors – she's not ashamed of being such.

A text message from an unknown number reveals that Creed is on the surface waiting to take her to lunch. He's a lot sweeter than he used to be, humbler now that nightmares and jagged memories are floating about his head. He needs her, her stability, her sharp mind that keeps him from playing henchman to the more notorious villains that they know of. And in return for that solidity, he treats her well, at least as well as any man has ever treated her.

She trots down the hall, catching up with Helmut on his daily rounds and asks if she can be excused for a few hours so that she can meet up with her brother. Alan, of course, agrees, as it will be some time before Sue is ready for another round in the chamber. “As long as you're caught up with your work, I'm fine with it.” And she is, so she goes.

The Undertow is far larger than most people realize. With seven floors of cells and the labs at the bottom in their own wing, it's comprised of hallways and corridors that stretch out for miles in the ocean. She is always surprised at the lack of safety protocols. Not once has there been an evacuation test, and there is nothing here to account for the crushing weight of ocean depths. No dive suits or oxygen masks, no tanks or flotation devices. It's simply a large box in the water, a mile above the ocean floor, and several from the surface.

Stark and SHIELD were undoubtedly confident that this metallic structure would hold.

There are multiple checkpoints on every floor, complete with armed guards and patrols. They are surly men and women, obviously upset over their constant attention to duty. There are no screens for them to follow as the cameras feed directly into SHIELD headquarters itself, so they must constantly walk the mile long hallways every ten minutes in pairs of two.

They know her by now, so they don't stop her, don't look twice as she presses the elevator button. Up one floor, down a hallway, up another. It's a maze of a system, meant to keep the mutants occupied should there ever be a breakout. But, she's memorized it by now, and soon – like the pills – she'll render this information to the rescue team that she is so carefully organizing.

Victor Creed waits at the car, his large, furry self bundled up in trench coat and gloves. He waits outside of the parking lot, not wishing to go further than he absolutely needs too. Just at the side of his hairline, there is a small microchip – much like the ones that make Magneto's helmet – that make him oblivious to Cerberus scans. With it comes a small buzzing sound that drives him crazy when things are too quiet.

He looks at her with relief and fondness, a smile revealing sharp fangs and love. Like usual, they drive to the beach a few miles down, and partake of whatever he's brought for lunch in the safety of the car. A baguette sandwich picked up from the Italian deli on the pier, some greasy croquettes, and two bottles of beer. “You need to learn to cook,” she smirks, planting a kiss on the side of his head.

She studies him then, his delayed reaction to her happiness. “You had another dream, didn't you?”

He nods, stuffing his mouth full of sandwich to avoid speaking for the moment. But Mystique is patient – a trait she's learned from years of long cons and organized mayhem. She waits him out as he chews the enormous lump of bread in his mouth, and stops him from taking another. Blue eyes look into her current hazel, begging for just the silence and togetherness of their union here in the car. But, she is adamant, and so he spills. “Little boy,” he begins, a sad growl to the words. “Cut all to pieces. His whole body like someone just scooped out the organs and left him for dead.”

“And you think you did this?”

“I don't know. Just got a real creepy feelin' about it. Like I was watching this against my will.”

“So, someone was controlling you?”

“Maybe.”

Considering how many times Sabretooth had been controlled in his life, it wasn't impossible that someone was. But to control him and then erase the memories, there were only two people that could do that to him: Department H and Nathaniel Essex. “Did you get a look at the boy?”

“Sort of. Brown hair, little tyke. Maybe five, maybe seven years old. Couldn't see his face though, it was all bandaged up.”

“Sinister,” she says quietly, and the name makes him perk. “Alright, so he had you kill a little kid. What do you want to about it?”

“I want my memories back.”

“So, when this is done, let's go get them.”

A wide toothy grin, and he takes another bite sandwich, pleased now that they have a plan.

Chapter Text

He wishes to be nothing.

He would stay here in this nothingness if it didn't hurt so much. If the threads of his soul weren't torn to tatters, placing him in a never-ending scream of pain. He would stay here with the locks and puzzles and let his soul remain torn asunder for an eternity if he thought for a second that his body wouldn't find some way to cope, and once again he'd destroy the earth.

He doesn't want to hurt anyone.

It's in this pain – that ratchets through his ghost of a mind, that shell of torture and powdered thoughts – that he stares at the puzzles. A thousand of them, and behind them, the nightmares all waiting to devour him. If he makes a mistake – just one tiny error – he's locked away again, trapped within the glass cages, his soul shattered once more. He has to be careful, have patience, have focus. All of which are difficult in the face of the shades that haunt him.

They tell him that he's evil. He believes them.

The things inside of him, the thoughts, the blurred apart memories, the powers. These things are not meant for good. They are too big for him, too much. They don't understand how hard it is to keep these things buried. If they did they would have killed him like he wanted. Or maybe they do understand.

Maybe this is their way of punishing him. This constant push into this strange place between reality and the astral plane. This place of suffering that they cast him into so constantly. Perhaps they do see the darkness that courses throughout his mind, and that's why they do this to him. Better he be in pain than them. Better they banish him before he banishes them. He doesn't blame them.

No, he doesn't blame them at all. Not for things he's done. Of course, he can't remember all of his crimes, but he remembers enough to know that they are not at fault for the way they are treating him.

He killed Charles Xavier.

A man that was more of a father to him than his own; who brought him up from a blank and listless past that is too far gone for him to remember. Xavier made him something, made him heroic – the one thing he always wanted to be. He didn't want to kill him.

For what seemed like centuries – in that single moment – he fought against the Phoenix, with everything. But, the Phoenix was too powerful for him. Just like he's too powerful for himself. There is no controlling the Phoenix. Especially now that it's inside of him.

Even in this place, this limbo between reality and the astral plane, he can feel the Phoenix's flaming claws dig throughout his brain. He's afraid to sleep, though he's so tired. He's afraid to lose that focus for a single second because she is there burning against his brain. She wants to devour him, take his power and reshape the world into a blazing cacophony of rebirth. She cares nothing for the tiny lives, those specks of dust, that crawl across the universe, for it is only in rebirth that she feels truly free. With his power, that monstrosity inside of him, unchecked and unbalanced, she could have her every desire.

Though the temptation to let her have it is immense.

To banish himself to the ashen thought, to be nothing, it's what he wants. She could make it happen. No longer would there be pain, just the exultation of constant resurrection.

In the silence of this strange and ghastly world, he works his puzzles, hoping and praying that the thousand pieces come to right. The pain is too much for him to bear. It saps at his control, his desire to keep his power out of the wrong hands. The shades, they watch with hunger, ready to pounce and devour as he unlocks the box before him, taking out his heart. It's a fast thing, to save his heart, to stop it from being eaten by the darkness in his mind. But, he does it, and looks at all the rest of him, and how it hurts that he's pieced apart.

He doesn't know how long he spends here in this place. It could be hours or minutes or years. But, when the last of the puzzles is finally complete, when he sees his handiwork come to fruition, and he himself is as whole as he can be with the swarm inside his mind, he is jolted back to what passes as some sort of reality. That haze of a thing where he can't tell what's real and what's not.

He knows now not to move. If he moves, they'll banish him again to that place of pain, and he still recovering from the weight of it. It will take hours before his soul stops aching and finally stitches itself together.

A maddening thing these voices. So many of them. He opens his eyes behind red visor and looks at the shape of people that stand before him. A dozen, two dozen, all there against the wall to this tiny chamber. Crowded in to touching shoulders, some on the floor, Jubilee on the chair. One by one, they call him dangerous, a monster, a creature that should not exist. It hurts him to hear these words, and hurts him worse to believe it.

In his head there is Apocalypse and the Shadow King, the remnants of Phoenix flame, and the creature De'spayr. So many inside, and it takes a lot to keep them quelled, to keep them from taking over and doing harm with his powers. It's enough to make him scream, this pressure to keep everything in, but he doesn't. He doesn't want to be ripped apart again.

“Scott.”

The voice is familiar. Quiet, with a roughened edge, it speaks in his ear, a whisper. His eyes flutter open once again to see Logan standing over him. He reaches out into the air, hoping that he finds a truth here. That it's something real and not another trick of mind.

There is immense relief when Logan threads fingers through his own. “Steve's asleep,” he quiets, sliding in beside him on the bed.

“It hurts, Logan.”

“I know, hon. I'm sorry.”

A red fog clouds around him as Logan pulls him against his chest. “I'm tired.”

“I know.”

There are no more words between them, just the gentle press of hand to back of head, a soothing circle between his shoulder blades. He's afraid to sleep, afraid that if he closes his eyes, this reality will disappear. This calm.

He fears the next storm.

Chapter Text

The place has been ransacked. There's not an inch of the mansion that hasn't been scoured for copper wires or irreplaceable antiques. Graffiti on the walls, busted windows. It's like a place out of some post-apocalyptic nightmare, a place they've seen before in dreams and visions and alternate futures where the mutants are dead and Sentinels roam the earth. With it, comes a heightened sense of danger, goosebumps on their arms, and furrows in their brows.

They walk through the parlors in silence for long moments, staring at what's left of the life they once knew. A life where they were hidden, but with far more freedom than they have now. There are memories in this place, living and heavy. Memories of first meetings and friends, celebrations and losses. It is a place they both grieve for now that they are inside wandering the empty classrooms and hallways in order to survey the damage more closely.

Angel picks a frame from the floor. A time when he was younger, when it was just the five of them. In the picture, they are smiling, but he wonders, now, how real those smiles were. Scott, Jean, Hank, Bobby. And, of course, himself. He wonders how many more skeletons are going to come out of the closet and destroy what little idealism he hasleft about his youth. “I'll call my personal electrician,” he tells Kurt, who stands silently next to him. "And my decorator."

“But if you pay for it, they'll know we were here.”

“It won't matter,” he sighs. “Ororo's turning him in anyway. Why not go with him?”

“You mean be arrested?”

Angel shrugs and begins walking the house to view the rest of the damage. Kurt follows in his footsteps. He knows that Warren doesn't mean to stay with them. That after they are resettled in the mansion, he will leave. He doesn't believe in this exchange, and because of that, he refuses to take more orders from Storm. “She doesn't see another way,” Nightcrawler offers, his voice slight. He, too, wonders about remaining with the X-men after this, but he still feels some responsibility for the children.

“Doesn't matter,” Angel replies. “Scott needs us, and she's abandoning him. I won't be a part of it.”

“But, you're helping with the mansion?”

“That's my duty to the children. Not Ororo.” There's a hint of anger in his voice, one that he chokes down quickly in case the beast inside him tries to appear. The Archangel, ever hard to control, to keep it under wraps.

He felt it those few nights ago when Scott came undone in the bathroom. He could feel it calling to him. He could feel the terror and the rage, the need for blood and death broil inside of him. It was the first time in many years that he'd faced the monster without Betsy, and surprisingly, he won. But, not without consequence.

It was the young Sarah Goodwind – that little fairy of a creature – that first met his wrath. She screamed as he burst down his door and trapped her in the hallway, his hand to her neck, and tears flooding the floor beneath her. The child couldn't fight, and everything inside of him called her weak. And with that weakness, he wanted cull her, to kill her, to stab her in the throat and let her bleed out all over the floor. He wondered what color blood she would have, if it would smell differently, dry differently. The desire to see it was nearly insatiable.

“Mr. Worthington?” Opal Johnson. A seventeen year old from Chicago who had one of the nastier attitudes among the children, but no one blamed her, not after what she'd been through. She'd watched her father die from a bullet to his head, and then her brother not two days later. It was a gang war, over a corner stop two blocks away, and her brother had been caught selling on the sidewalk.

Her mother cried for days then shut down for years after, leaving an eight year old Opal to care for them both. From school to meals, to finding some way to pay the rent and the utilities. She'd spent many a Chicagoan winter without electric to make things warm, and spent many days without enough money to put food in her stomach. She learned early on to ingratiate herself to those more powerful than she was, to hope that her pitiful persona would be rewarded with some measure of charity.

But more often than not, it didn't happen. And then, on the day of her fourteenth birthday, she discovered that she was a mutant. She'd been sick for days, unable to go to school, to work, to beg. Her arms and legs hurt like hell, and all the while she called for her mother who sat vacantly staring at the front door. When she woke on the fifth day of this illness, she discovered that she had changed.

From wrist to elbow and ankle to knee, her skin had become hard as a rock, shiny and ebon, like an exoskeleton. And along with that exoskeleton were long sharp blades with serrated edges that protruded from her bones. She could jump to the ceiling, along the shelves, and discovered that if she rubbed these blades together, she could produce an ear piercing sound that knock her mother from her chair.

It was frightening enough that her mother woke from her years-long stupor, and staring at her mutant daughter she cried – not only because her daughter had missed out on her childhood, but now she would miss out on adulthood as well.

When the Red Hunt came for her, she thought she saw relief in her mother's eyes.

She asked him what he was doing, bared her blades and readied herself for a fight. He laughed at her, dropped the inky little fairy to the ground and rushed at her with razor wings. She jumped to avoid him, screaming out for help when she realized that she wasn't nearly as skilled as she thought she was.

Thankfully, Bobby had come to the rescue, flashing ice across him, freezing his feet to the ground. He'd broken it of course, but in the process he'd also come back to himself. The cold had a way of doing that, slowing down the rampant mind, preventing it from being lost. It's something that Betsy had discovered some years ago- that method of keeping Death from taking over.

Storm had said little about his loss of control. For Warren, it was an expected thing that he would have problems keeping himself under those tight bonds. She made sure the children were okay, but that was as far as she went.

“I'm going to fight for him, Kurt.” His words are small, distant, but his eyes gleam with a hard edge and spite.

Nightcrawler is not surprised to hear this. There'd been rumblings anyway, an underground current that started with Alex and weaved its way through the mine. It makes sense that Warren is a part of it. What doesn't make sense was that he isn't.

While he understands that Ororo is doing all that she can to keep them safe, he does feel that she is betraying Scott, Logan, and Alex. He remembers the look on Logan's face when he found out that she had changed her mind. He hadn't seen the man so wounded since the death of Jean Grey. There is a silence between them as Nightcrawler stares at the mutant-hating graffiti. “It's never gotten better has it?”

Warren shrugs. He is one of the originals, one of the dreamers, one of those whose whole life has been dedicated to making things right between humans and mutants. But, no, for all of his blood, sweat, and tears, it's never gotten better. The last time he felt that mutants had any hope was before the split between Cyclops and Wolverine; before the Phoenix; before the whole world came crashing down on top of them. “One day,” he says as matter of rote rather than belief.

It will take time to rebuild the mansion to completion, but they can have it ready enough for the children in a couple of days if Warren says makes it so. “You know that we're being monitored, right?” Nightcrawler nods. “They'll be checking to see when the rest of the mutants return.”

“You really don't mean to come back here, do you?”

“Not without Scott.” Had he had his mind the first time they abandoned him, it would have been the same. While he and Summers had grown up as rivals for Jean's affections, he'd learned to respect Cyke's leadership far more than he realized.

“Where will you take him?”

“I'm a billionaire. I have plenty of places where I can hide him.”

“Why didn't you take him there before?”

“I wanted to see what kind of leader Storm was.” The weather witch had changed drastically over the years. He wanted to see if she still had courage, and he found her lacking. “I understood her hiding us,” he explains. “But the rest... I'm surprised that you stand beside her, Kurt. For all of your talk about forgiveness and moving forward --”

“Don't bring my beliefs into this,” he warns Angel, “or I shall have to speak about yours.”

A bright smile and hands in the air, he forfeits the point with a laugh. “There's a lot of things to fix, I suppose.” He intends the double meaning, and Kurt quickly picks up on it.

After an uncomfortable silence, Nightcrawler finally speaks again. “I'll fight with you.”

“Kurt, you don't have--”

“I want to.” It's not a matter of forgiveness, it's a matter of faith. That Scott will get better, that the world will get better. If he gives up on the man who trained him, who taught him how to use his powers to better the world; if he gives up on the man who's faith restored the mutant species, then what good is faith, he asks. “Besides, he needs a fuzzy elf more now than ever.”

Warren smiles for a second time. “He'll appreciate that when the time comes.”

“I'm sure he will.”

Chapter Text

There is no trace of evidence that Reed Richards died here. No blood or matter. The whole platform bleached to solid chrome and whatever else it's made of. There are no flowers or RIP's, no memorial or candles. There's nothing at all to signify that one of Earth's greatest minds met his end on this very spot.

And that another one is close to it.

The plan is a ramshackle one, and Tony Stark worries for his safety. He could very well end his life here, just like Reed. In the same spot as Reed. Without the fanfare and glory deserved by a life spent in the service of the world. Just like Reed. With that in mind, he takes a deep breath, his dark blue eyes looking across the men and women of SHIELD, and exhales hoping to calm his nerves.

It's not the first time he's faced a firing squad, but usually he's in his armor when he does so. And he laughs, or mocks, or charms his way into a dialogue without fear for his physical safety. But he's cowed now. His wrists and ankles linked by metal chains, sore and chaffed from the ride over here. He made sure to look in the cameras, to show them how wounded he was, how undone the world's favorite billionaire was by Nick Fury. They know he's here; they know where he's been, and in that, he takes some comfort. It makes him harder to kill. Well, at least harder to sweep his death under the rug like they did with Reed.

He counts at least three dozen guns, all of which are now pointed at him instead of the ever expanding portal which now takes up at least half the room. It's an odd thing, the portal, open on one end, closed on the other, as if space itself had ripped apart, which it literally had when the plot to keep tabs on Scott Summers had backfired on them all. It buzzes, unlike before. Perhaps the stretch of it making it louder. It's an eerie sound, one that he doesn't appreciate, especially in this unnerving silence.

The portal itself is dangerous – more dangerous now that it's been hijacked for some nefarious purpose, or at least that's the thought behind having all of these soldiers here. Nice aliens don't scramble computer interfaces. They bring cookies. Whoever is behind this is not bringing cookies. He imagines armadas flying towards the hole in space and time. Giant ships with cannons and lasers and all things destructive. Pods, perhaps, pods that hit the earth and expand. That grow with the touch of soil. He thinks of aliens, and how gruesome they probably are - as ugly as they are malicious. No wonder Fury was reluctant to meet him here. He's standing in the scope of SHIELD's biggest failure.

But, that all pales in comparison to their issue with Cyclops – a problem that Tony has a solution for, if Fury hears him out and doesn't shoot him in the head first. Something he hopes for from the bottom of his heart.

Tony Stark does not want to die. Someday, he will be ready to give up the ghost, but not now. Not when he's so close to happiness, or what could be happiness. With Steve. If being with the mutants has finally taught the love of his life how much danger they're all in, and he's sure it has, what with that recent phone call. He has too many things left unfinished. Too many things he has yet to do. He could name them all, if Fury asked him, but Nick won't. The commander of SHIELD doesn't care about last wishes, only results.

“They want to hand him over,” he tells Nick Fury. Fury is not surprised, or at least if he is, he doesn't show it. All concrete and hard steel beams, the preeminent spy shows little at any given time. He can only imagine the man's birthdays and how droll the parties must be. Oh, look socks, with no hint of disappointment or surprise either way. “But, they'll only hand him over to me.”

“You couldn't tell me this at the prison?” Nick asks calmly.

“I wanted to make sure that enough people heard me.” He can't be killed now, not without ruining Fury's reputation. If he dies, someone will leak the fact that the Red Wave could have been captured, and Nick ignored it. Not to mention, the hundreds of paparazzi outside snapping pictures as they transported him over. “They'll listen to me,” he says quietly. “They'll let me have him.”

The commander, however, is suspicious. Nick Fury doesn't like easy solutions. More often than not, those things that are too easy come back to bite him in the ass. “What's to say that they're not going to kill you because of your involvement in the Red Hunt?”

“Then two birds, one stone, right?” He takes another deep breath, the thought of dying wrangling his nerves into a frenzy. “I want him to pay for what he's done. We both do. I don't see why we can't work together on this. Let bygones be bygones. Become allies again.”

Fury glances up at the portal – the situation that's demanded most of his attention up until now. Tony's follow his gaze, and in the fright of the thing, he winces. It's truly out of hand. Something's coming for them. He can feel it in his gut.

“What are the terms?” Nick's voice is gruff and impatient, but Stark doesn't take it to heart.

“Simple ones really. I go free. Steve Rogers goes free. And the X-men go free, including those in the Undertow. Just call it a reset on the whole damnable sitch. We get Cyclops, and everything goes back to normal.”

It's not an acceptable deal, especially considering those in the Undertow, but there's little choice in the matter. They've sought the X-men for months, using vast amounts of resources with no results to show for it. Fury has so many people breathing down his neck that if he doesn't provide some measure of resolution soon, he'll be the one waiting for execution.

Silent thus far, Maria Hill glances up at Fury, and then towards the dozens of guns pointed at Tony Stark. With a wave of her hand, the guns are lowered, but the soldiers are still on ready, nervous over each twitch of Tony's hands. “You don't seem to think that this is a trap.”

“It's not,” Tony breathes, thankful for the sudden easing of the situation. “They're frightened of him. He's too out of control for them to handle, especially being in hiding. They barely have the resources to keep themselves safe as it is. Adding Summers into the mix makes things far too volatile.”

In many ways, Maria Hill is disappointed to hear such a thing. That they're abandoning him once again. Though she had sworn long ago to bring Cyclops to justice, inside, she felt for the man. Once a hero, once respected, the whole world had turned their backs on him, and he was left flailing in the outcome. This, of course, remains unsaid. For Fury to hear that she has empathy for the man would be her undoing.

Instead, she talks of semantics. How releasing those in the Undertow could have dire consequences. That they've been experimenting on mutants in an attempt to find someway to rid Summers of his power – to let those mutants go could start one of the harshest wars ever known to man.

“Storm doesn't want to fight,” Stark assures her. “She wants safety and peace. She wants this whole thing behind her.”

But, Storm isn't who Hill is worried about. There are others among them – including in the Undertow – that would see the arrest of Summers and the experiments as an affront to the mutant species. “Wolverine and Havok,” she reminds him. Havok had already led a revolt against them, and garnered much support within the population. “And Logan is a killing machine. We'd be hard pressed to take him down if he was truly adamant.”

“That's why you send me,” he says softly. “If he's going to go berserk, there will be no losses on your side. Just me.”

Hill isn't nearly as convinced as Fury, if only because she sees his self-sacrifice as more of a hitch in the system rather than something noble. Of course, he knows that if they do this, he won't be going alone. That there will be teams upon teams behind him, wherever this exchange takes place. That the operation will be bigger than the Red Hunt all together. She can already see the logistics of the mission floating across Fury's face, those little twitches of jaw and crease of brow. She wonders what he'll do.

She's not surprised when he nods. When he agrees to both terms and application. He has caveats, however, those things that he demands in return – including that Steve Rogers – though not a prisoner – will be held for questioning and debriefing. Tony agrees without express permission from his would-be lover. “Steve wants an end to this as much as the rest of us do.”

The soldiers return to their stations around the portal, and Stark is released from his binds. He is escorted back to Stark Tower, away from the rift, away from the goings-on of SHIELD, and he is not disappointed.

His home is a lavish one, full of comforts and ginger ale. He spends too little time here, as noted by the machine full of messages. He makes sure to call Pepper first, to let her know that he's okay, that sending the paparazzi after him was indeed a helpful maneuver.

She isn't so happy to hear from him. She's got a lot of issues with what he's been up to, and that he's been avoiding her once again. But, he doesn't want to fight with her, not now. He's tired, sore, his nerves still shaken from his parlay earlier. “It's going to come back to bite you in the ass, Tony,” she clarifies. “All this Red Hunt chaos? It's going to hurt you.”

“It already has, Pep. More than you know.”

It's then he sneaks into the bedroom, hides himself inside of the large walk-in closet, a place he knows that there are no cameras or listening devices. He speaks to Jarvis, asks him to run a sweep for bugs. While there are plenty in the home itself, there are none in this walk-in, and Stark is relieved. He pulls out a burner phone, dials in the number that Steve had him commit to memory. He's patient then, more than patient, and then elated when Steve finally answers. "It worked," he tells him. "I'm free. And, so are you."

"All terms are met?" he asks quietly, obviously hiding himself to enjoy the call.

"Yes. They're going to debrief you, though. And after, we're going to Venice."

"Venice?"

"I want to make love to you on a gondola in the moonlight, Steve. It's all I can think about."

"It may have to wait. For a while." The news does not bode well for them. Steve can control Summers, can keep him unconscious. And, until they figure out what to do with him, find some way to block his power, he'll have to stay by Cyclops' side to keep him harmless. "The world's at stake, Tony. Our own plans will have to be put on hold."

"That's exactly why Pepper left me," he says sadly. "I was too busy to maintain--"

"We're heroes, Tony. We have duties and responsibilities. You won't leave me over this."

The phone call is all too short, and when it's over, it leaves Stark with a sick feeling in his stomach. He wonders if he's been used again.

XXXX

Chapter Text

It's not like she imagined, the mansion. This is a place that she's dreamed about since she was but a child, but it's cold and empty. The children are assured that things will get better, that there will be furniture and full electric, food in the kitchen, a functioning banquet hall. They're ushered up to the sleeping quarters on the second floor – it all goes too quickly for Indira Gomez. There's no time to look, no time to figure out why her dreams don't match reality.

She'd seen the brochures. The pool out back, the baseball field. She knows that somewhere on the lawn that there are tennis and basketball courts, and the forest has a lake. But, from her window perch on the second floor, she can see none of it. It's an overgrown mess. No lawn care, no opulence. In many ways, it breaks her heart to see it like this.

Behind her, her nervous little fingers twitching, Sarah Goodwind notices her friend's disillusionment, and is saddened by the heavy heart. For her, Indira has been a shoulder to lean on, has been the one thing that keeps her from panic. She relies on her friend, as do several others. Indira is a force of hope, of positive thinking, of all the things that Sarah wishes she could be. She doesn't want to see her friend so downhearted. “I'm thinking Flicker,” she says quietly, and waits as Indira's large brown eyes turn to her.

“Flicker?”

“My superhero name. What's yours?”

“Maybe Opal's right? Maybe I'm not cut out to be an X-man.”

“I think you'd make a great X-man.”

Indira smiles softly and returns her gaze to the window. None of this is as she expected, from the Red Hunt to hiding in the mine for so many weeks, to sneaking back into this mess of a mansion. She was supposed to be saving the world, impressing her peers, and making a difference in the lives of mutants. But, in reality, she's just a little girl with hope that is slowly dimming.

Sarah rests sits upon her blankets, knees tucked to chin. She concentrates on her fingers – the ones on the floor. Sometimes, if she thinks hard enough, she can make them flat, spread them out like liquid. She idly wonders if her whole body can do that, but to find out would mean that she is more different than she already is. Sarah doesn't want to be different. She doesn't want to look this way or feel so outside of everyone else. She simply wants to be a normal kid, go to a normal school, have normal friends. Her tears are a pale, shimmering blue.

“What about Sliver?” Indira asks, hoping to pull Sarah out of her own thoughts. Questioning, Sarah looks up. “For my super hero name. What about Sliver?”

“That's a nice name,” she replies. “It's better than Flicker.”

“No, Flicker's a great name. It makes it sound like you're fast.”

“I can be fast. I think.”

“You'll have plenty of time to figure that out, now that we're here.” Indira pauses, looks at her friend with a bright smile. “I wonder what Arlo's name would be?”

“Maybe we should go ask him?” With a giggle between them, the girls gather themselves and wander out into the hallway, only to freeze right outside the door.

He's not supposed to be alone. He's not supposed to be anywhere near them. Indira looks to the left and to the right, but Captain America is nowhere in sight. Beside her, she can hear the muffled whimpers of Sarah Goodwind.

He stumbles. Falls to the floor on broken bones. She can tell that they're broken, by the way they're all bruised and swollen. She wonders what happened to his cast. “Cy-Cyclops?”

Red visor turns towards the sound of her voice. His chest heaving, tiny drops of blood at the edge of his mouth, he tries to shake his head, but ends up collapsing instead.

His ribs on the right side are completely gone, as if someone took a bite out of him. A gigantic bite. She can see the swirl of his energy, how wild it is, how solid in the places where his organs are gone. She looks at Sarah, and Sarah looks at her. They are both afraid, both frozen stone and still in shock.

It takes only seconds for Indira to recover and rush into action, gathering up their blankets from the floor and rushing to Cyclops' side. She directs Sarah to action, having her put pressure on the wounds, and then looks around from someone to help her. She knocks frantically on Opal's door, and calls out for the adults. Logan is the one to find her. “Fuck,” he says upon seeing the man fallen on the floor. He scoops him up over his shoulder and takes him to the basement's second floor. Sarah and Indira follow.

Cecilia Reyes is far too busy and focused upon the return of her patient to shoo the girls away, and wide eyed they watch as the doctor goes to work. Stitches first to seal up the blood, she orders Logan in every direction. “His lung's gone, his kidney, his heart, half his bones....” her voice trails off as the damage piles up. She asks Logan what happened, but he doesn't know.

“Steve said he just disappeared. One minute he was there, the next he was gone. That's all I know.”

“Well, someone beat the hell out of him. How on Earth is he still alive?” She fears his silence, that he's asleep. She can't afford a Phoenix dream in the middle of all of this, not with this much damage, not in their barely functioning medlab. “We have to keep him awake.”

“What's your name, kid?” Logan asks.

“Indira.”

“Good. Indira, I want you to come over here, right beside me, and shake him a little. Talk to him. Keep him awake.”

“O-okay.” It's not hard to wake him up. She hears him moan in pain. She looks up at Logan who nods her on as he continues to help Reyes with suctioning the blood from the wound.

It's not an easy conversation, not with all the nerves. For years, she'd wanted to meet the great Cyclops. Like Wolverine, she'd read all about him, both the good and the bad. She considered him a hero, and in many ways, thinks that handing him over to the Red Hunt is unfair, especially after everything he'd done for the X-men.

She speaks to him in pleasant tones, shakes him again when necessary. She tells him of the things that she's read, asks his opinion on her super hero name. “Sliver...good...name,” he ekes out through pained breaths. His large hand grips against hers, and he tenses when the needles are driven into him. Through clenched teeth, he tries to talk, tries to stay awake for her, but it's hard. The loss of blood, the incredible pain.

“Indira?” Reyes calls her name. “In the drawer behind me, there's a small bottle and some needles. I need you to grab them.”

She recognizes the pain killer for what it is, and it makes her nervous. “Won't it make him sleep?”

“I can't have him moving around right now. He's only making things worse.”

Indira knows how to give a shot. She's read medical books for years, learning everything she could about field medicine and its applications. Cecilia barely notices her as she injects Cyclops with the liquid. “I still need you to stay awake,” she says quietly, smoothing autumn hair back from brow. “So you have to keep talking to me.”

She tells him about her parents, her life before this, how she wanted to be a superhero, and now that she's a mutant she can be. Sarah joins in, asking questions, giggling when they speak of something funny. Flicker's not sure about being a superhero. The whole thing sounds pretty scary to her. She's just glad that people don't make fun of her here, except for Opal. But, Opal makes fun of everyone.

They tell him about Arlo, the strides he's taken to finally fit. About Pocket and Phinneus Washington – the boy that Sarah has a crush on. They can't tell if he's listening to them, if he's actually hearing what they're saying, but he moans softly at the appropriate moments, and takes deep breaths when the needles pinch into him once again.

As the pain medicine seeps into his system, he becomes more and more delirious. He refers to them as Jubilee and Kitty, Megan and Illyana. All the names that he can think of, including Jean and Emma. He mentions how dark space is, how cold. How he couldn't breathe. They look to Logan then, wondering if that was where he'd been. Logan shrugs, not sure of anything at this point.

It's not long before Storm joins them. Like Logan, she works at keeping the blood from overflowing from the giant cavity in his chest. The girls continue to keep him awake, sometimes losing him for minutes on end to his drug induced haze. He tells Ororo that he's sorry. For everything. That she should let him die. That they all should let him die. And not for the first time, Storm feels the weight of her decision. “The girls shouldn't have to see this,” she tells Logan. “You should shut him down.”

“He's not hurting anyone.”

“We don't need to traumatize the students--”

“He's not as scary as you made him out to be.” Large brown eyes peer up to pale blue, their earnestness striking. She looks at Cyclops' hand, its weak hold on her own. He's pale, sunless, calloused. His nails are embedded with blood and matter, and the look on his face struck and sad. “He doesn't want to hurt us, Ms. Munroe. I don't think he wants to hurt anyone.”

The red energy around him does no harm, not as it is - low and soft. There are no coils, no lashes, now whips. He is as calm as he can be under this much pain, though Logan swears his mind isn't there. “Pain meds got him,” he says quietly. “Calmed him down.” And then, he, too, looks at Ororo. “We can't abandon him.”

“I can't have him here, Logan.”

“Then give us time. Angel's got a place in mind.”

“I don't want to lose Warren.” Her words are sincere. “I need him here.”

“Ain't your choice on where he goes, darlin', but it is your choice on whether we protect Scott.”

A solemness overcomes her. She looks at the children, those young things with their wide eyes and hopeful hearts. She wonders if she was ever like that, so innocent and caring. A thief in Cairo and later worshiped as a goddess. She always knew that she was special, and that she deserved special treatment. She earned her place, she earned this place, her role as leader. “I'm begging you not to fight them, Logan.”

“I'm begging the opposite.” He wants her to believe in something again, to feel the duty to mutankind, to keeping them safe regardless of their danger. “He needs hope, too, 'Ro. He needs to know that we will do whatever we can to help him.”

In their room, much later in the evening, the blood is cleansed from their hands and clothes. The girls are quiet and thoughtful, recalling the events of today. Neither one is ready to sleep regardless of how exhausted they feel. “I'd be a good hero,” Indira muses into the silence.

“You would be,” Sarah smiles. “So would Arlo. And even Opal.”

“Opal's going to make a team for sure. She's tough.”

“I think Phin will, too. And maybe even Pocket.”

“Pocket's too cute not to be on a team. No villain could hurt him.”

“He'd be our secret weapon.”

“We still have to find out Arlo's hero name,” Indira smiles.

“Maybe he should just be Arlo. It's a good name, especially for a hero.”

Chapter Text

When at war, expect casualties. Expect the dead and the blood and the scattered remains of life. For when at war, there is only violence.

For as long as he's warned them, the humans have not listened. Time and again, he's proven his superiority over the flatscans, shown them how gnat-like they are in the scope of his great power. But, alas, they do not hear him. Humans, they never learn. Falsely believing in their own ability to come together and defend, that they are the most righteous protectors of Earth. When it simply isn't so.

He warned them of the attack today, watched idly as their helicarriers and military vessels crowded the ocean floor, each one armed to the brim with deluxe weapons meant to bring him down. But, as always, the humans forgot that he is better than they are. Their foolishness abound, they sent to him the one thing in this world that he hoped for.

They brought metal, the one thing which he can control. Metal hulls and sterns, flight blades and guns. Those lucky few that were blessed with ceramic bullets and that plastic nightmare they called armor were quickly dispatched by the predator in the forefront of the bloodshed. Alas, how he's missed the dance of Sabretooth and all that he can accomplish.

He means to show them once and for all that their meager contraptions are at best their grave sites, if not the means of their own destruction. Ship after ship goes down in the bay, their bellies cracked my magnetic might. And jet after jet falls from the sky, crashes into the boats below, and barely a human escapes.

He does not see this massacre as punishment or revenge. No, indeed, the punishment will come later when the mutants have finally escaped that prison in the ocean. And, then it will spread. His words, his army. They will fight for him at last, and he will show the world why his brethren should never be harmed. He shall place Cyclops once again at the head of them and watch the world bury their heads and hope that he does not remember how they treated him. Overflowing with power, few will disobey him. The world will be entirely his hands, and with that, the mutants will flourish.

The water swirls around capsized ships, and he can feel himself weakened by the force. In his younger years this would not have been a problem. The ships, the prison, he would have lifted them out of the water and brought them all to safety. But, he is an old man now, and effort presses breath from his chest. His bones hurt, his blood, the power of magnetism drawing out the warm, red liquid from open pores. He reminds himself that this is necessary - the first step in finally taking what is rightfully theirs by birthright and fortitude. No matter the pain, he will see this through.

He can feel it breaking in his grasp, the metallic prison. He can feel the small holes become wider with the rush of water pouring in. The walls creak. The floors bend. Even from here, he can hear the alarms going haywire inside. He wonders how long he'll last now, how long it will take for Victor Creed to find him passed out in a pool of his own blood. If indeed they will care for him like they've promised. In his younger days, he wouldn't have needed them.

He does not weep for his loss of time, for the aging of his body. For, with it, has come wisdom, strategy, thought. Though his physical self is weaker, his mind is by far stronger, no longer prone to the madness that Xavier wrought when he cracked his mind in half.

Guards scramble to their death, meeting door and then the claws of Victor Creed. A predator, he is, licking the blood from his claws, and then venturing inside to find more. Magneto would warn him against entering, but it would be futile to do so. He's looking for Mystique, and no one – or their guns – will stop him.

It's an odd relationship the two of them have. Long ago lovers returned to each others' arms. They have yet to tell him why they've come, but he thinks he already knows. The nightmares that Creed has been having reeks of lost memories, and they think that Magneto can help him recover them.

He magnetizes the air around the latest Red Hunt vessel to arrive – a smaller plane launched from the carrier in the clouds. Though mostly made of hardened silicone, there are some mechanisms that cannot be replaced by non-metallic substances. The bearings, for instance, trundled just inside the blade barrel. One little jolt of magnetism, one little twitch, and the smooth round balls crack under the weight of force. Eric takes out all four of the blades before guiding the chopper and it's few pieces of metal over to the destroyers approaching in the ocean.

He doesn't care that the pilot escapes. In the water, he is useless, a nothing. And even though he is now prone to ceramic, thanks to the disappearance of Creed, he doubts the flyboy will make it to shore anytime soon.

Flames and black smoke roll upwards into graying sky when the aircraft hits the most recent bevvy of ships. Lit fuel burns quickly across the metallic deck, and the calls through coms from the nearby dead demand a swift retreat of all metal-bearing craft – but not because him. Not because of his threat – which stings his pride – but, for some other emergency at the Baxter Building. Once again, they ignore their rightful leaders, think the mutants all to easily controlled.

Magneto knows nothing of the dimensional rift and the hijacked computers. If he did, he would laugh aloud for the audacity of the humans in attempting to destroy one of the greatest powers on Earth.

“While you've been obsessing over Ms. Grey, I've been caring for the boy, Charles. Do you understand how powerful he is? What he can become?”

“Until I can read his thoughts, Eric, we should keep that child at a distance. Who knows who he's working for.” In the boy's dreams, there is a man with a pale face and red eyes. He's a monster, and he could very well be behind the boy's sudden appearance in the national media. “They knew I would help him. They knew I would do everything in my power to save the boy from the clutches of Jack Winters --”

“Including have the child kill him?”

Long dark brows settled heavy upon blue eyes. It is a shock to him that the boy actually spoke about the trauma, and worse, that he trusted Eric enough to tell him. “He did what was necessary--”

“You could have pulled the trigger yourself, Charles.”

“I've never known you to be sympathetic to the humans.”

“I've never known you to want to kill them.”

“It was an accident, Eric. The frequency of the vibration gun shook him apart.”

“And you turned a thirteen year old boy into a murderer.”

Another com call, and another emergency – this one at the Xavier Institute for Gifted Youngsters. The name shocks him into attention. An uprising, it would seem, and something that would finally swell his heart with pride. For too long, the X-men had cowered in their self-imposed imprisonment, stop fighting against the world that sought to draw them under. Finally, they had had enough. They were going to take back the world that was rightfully theirs, and it was about damn time.

Chapter Text

He's not worried about Magneto or the prison break. He's got protocol for that. More than just ceramic bullets and silicone hulls. He's got a whole fucking squadron of soldiers equipped and trained to deal with the magnetic threat.

He can even manage the portal and the armada flying towards that rift at light speed. They've dealt with other-earthly threats like this before, and he knows his men are trained well enough to handle it.

He can even deal with the fucking mutant riot at Xavier's.

But, all three? At the same damn time? He's wracked up some bad karma somewhere and it's coming back to bite him in the ass.

Like a chess board, he watches the movements of his various pieces. The Avengers to Xavier's, equipped with power dampening collars and cuffs; the rubber bullet brigade to the Undertow to finally put Magneto down and quell the uprising within the prison walls, and finally SHIELD to the Baxter Building, complete with SWORD tech and a quick call to Abigail Brand to warn her of an impending attack. She won't be able to make it in time, she's said as much, but she's dispatching her troops anyway. If he can hold off the attack, her troops will eventually get there.

Nick Fury is an impatient man, and watching as the blips on his screen move closer to their targets, he can feel the urge to yell and curse and pound at things because they are moving too slow. “Hill, report in,” he says into com.

Stationed at the mansion, she already has her troops on the move. “They've got Stark,” she says, “and Rogers. And, Storm is fighting us. We need Thor.”

The Avengers – what is left of them – are already on their way. As much as Fury needs them at the Baxter Building to deal with armada swifting to the portal, he knows that only supers can deal with supers. That's just the way it is. “As soon as they get there, pull your men, send them here. We'll need all the firepower that we can get.”

It's easier said then done for Hill. Already the casualties are piling up with Carol Danvers transferring the injured into the bay and attempting to bring an end to the fight below. On her monitors, she can see the battle for herself, how unprepared her soldiers are for an all out fight against Ororo Munroe. They get zapped by the dozen, fall to the ground, their bodies shaken and overheated with electric exhaustion. Thor arrives on scene only moments after she demanded him, matching lightning with lightning, he's a good deterrent for Storm's continued attacks upon the human soldiers. Goddess versus god, and the snap flash of powers is mesmerizing.

But, it's not even Storm that Maria's worried about. As powerful as she is, there are others that garner more concern. The omega mutant Iceman and the indestructible Wolverine, for instance, have her on the edge of her seat. Logan will kill them all if it means protecting what he holds dear, and Iceman, though he's often been considered the slacker of the group, when he's focused, he's nearly impossible to defeat.

But that's why the Avengers are here. She-Hulk guards herself against the icy plummet that encapsulates her. Though Iceman is careful not to freeze her solid – as he very well could – his ice still burns against her jade skin, making her angry, making her lose control. Overhead, his position just above the fray in a circling helicopter, Hawkeye takes aim at Drake, hoping that once again, he'll succeed just as he did against Havok some weeks ago.

Closer to the ground, Wasp flies after Rogue. Too small to do much damage against the heavy hitter, she is just the right size to keep tabs on her, and to make sure that both Iron Fist and Luke Cage are at the other end of her flight. Rogue goes flying backwards after a dual hit to chest and jaw, ramming into the parked cars in the drive. She's angry, but, then, so is Rand. Danny Rand wants this senselessness to end, this fighting. They've done this before, and the Avengers came out on top, so why press their luck again.

Hill scouts the ground for Wolverine and Havok, two of the ones they are most watchful for. Logan for his claws and Havok for a mind nearly as strategic as his brother's. “They must be inside,” she tells Captain Marvel. “They must be protecting him.”

“Why does he need protected?” she asks, suddenly unsure of this whole situation.

“You'll see once you're in there. You need to free Rogers first. He can keep Summers under control.”

She exits the carrier in a swarm of lightning attacks that ionize the air and sends bumps down her arms. It's a spectacular fight, with neither Storm nor Thor getting the upper hand. Thor throws his hammer, but a whirlwind captures it, stops it from hitting its mark, only to be called back to its owner.

Further down, she is stopped by Janet VanDyne, the tiny creature who buzzes in her ear. Hank Pym has been hurt, she needs her help to get him to the safety of the hellicarrier. “Archangel paralyzed him. He can't move.”

Through the battle, she watches Black Panther move in towards an adamant Armor. Like Pixie, who is shaking at her side, she doesn't want this fight, but she's willing to stand to it since the Avengers have once again decided to invade their home. In the distance, Surge sends her own brand of lightning into the mix, burning the ground between T'challa and Hisako. She angry, and she's not afraid that they know it. She takes off the special cuffs that keep her powers in check and runs full force into the battle. But T'challa is not phased. He knows well enough how to handle himself. Dodging the first lunge is easy, so is the second, but Noriko is not adept enough at either strategy or maneuvers to miss the punch to the gut. Air robbed, she hacks against the onslaught, doubled over to her knees watching as Armor tries to protect her.

Hank Pym is an easy save, his larger than usual body easily lifted by Danver's strength. As soon as she assures Janet that he'll be fine, the Wasp zooms off in search of more prey.

Kitty Pryde phases Colossus through a left hook thrown by Jessica Jones, only to get hijacked from behind by an incoming War Machine. Piotr lands face down in the overgrown lawn, but before he can react, Vision lands with a phase of his own. Sinking into the ground, he pushes hand through dirt to solidify around Colossus' ankle, keeping him pinned so that War Machine can pound away while Kitty recovers. It's a risky maneuver, especially if Vision loses control of his atoms. He will be lost to the ground forever, but he apparently thinks it's worth the risk.

Danvers flies into the thunderous clouds, gets soaked by large drops of rain and pelts of ice. She leaves Pym inside the ship before returning to the mansion at top speed. She has to do this, break into the place.

According to Hill, Rogers is kept trapped in the second basement near the Danger Room, and Danvers knows exactly where that is. Breaking through Drake's ice shield, throwing Rogue way off course, she hits the front door at top speed and stops on a dime just inside the entrance. They're waiting for her. They're waiting for all of them. Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Havok. She knows they're here and she knows they haven't yet come for the attack.

It's a careful thing as she goes down the steps. Unlike her cohorts in the Avengers, she actually stayed here for some time, gained access to the basement rooms, where the majority of the technological marvels are. Sh'iar tech glistens from all corners of the place – from security that she can pass through due to being considered friend, to the lab instruments and medical bays. She opens the door to the second basement, surprised at first to hear the crying of children.

It's a startling thing to hear them, to know that they are somehow witness to the battles. That by breaking in here, she's endangering them. Behind her, she hears Thor. “Where's the Danger Room?” he asks, and she points to the end of the hallway. “Then, they're in here somewhere.”

There are multiple doors to check behind. Darkened labs and science bays, ready rooms and shower stalls. There's a gym and classrooms, a few rooms for the scientists to do their pondering, and a small kitchen for midnight snacks. They find the children huddled in one of the rooms, act like they're not seen and close the door behind them.

It's the locker room where they find their members – both Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. “It's a trap,” Steve says as soon as the cloth around his mouth is loosened, but before Danvers can react, Nightcrawler ports in and out of the room with her in tow. He locks her inside the Danger Room, where a war scenario against the Avengers is already taking place.

“You shouldn't be here.” It's an alarming thing to watch Kitty Pryde descend from the ceiling, meaning even the attack in the yard had been planned out. “You shouldn't be attacking us.”

Danvers is not afraid of Kitty Pryde. She knows the woman as a friend, an ally. She knows that Kitty is reasonable, perhaps even more so than most of the mutants she follows. But, this is not normal, logical Kitty Pryde. This is a young woman feeling the weight of betrayal. “You were our friend once, Carol. I see where our friendship has gotten us.”

“You can't hurt me, Kitty. Your powers won't allow --”

“Maybe I can't,” she laughs. “But she can.” The woman is tall and metallic, with gears as organs and bones. “Meet Danger.”

“At last,” Danger speaks. They'd been scenarios against the Avengers for days now, and the robotic lifeform has learned everything she can from the memories of others. It's time to put her knowledge to the test.

Kitty walks through air to the other side of the wall, wishes Danvers good luck. She's off to stop that foolish man who thinks himself a god. She will show him, without a doubt, what power truly is.

Chapter Text

He's not breathing. Even with the pill plunged into his lungs, Sam Guthrie cannot breathe. “It's the water,” Mystique says, pounding on his chest to force pulse back into his heart. “He couldn't take it anymore.”

“We have to evacuate him.”

“He was a major part of the plan.”

“We'll just have to form another one without him.” Sue Richards isn't about to let him die, especially knowing that she was in part responsible for this.

Mystique works on him until breath returns, and Sue wraps an invisible shield around his body, eyeing the necrosis with displeasure. “This can be reversed, right?” she asks, thinking of her children, her husband.

“Triage should be able to heal him.” That they know where Christopher Muse is, that they know he's not with the X-men, still boggles Sue. Likewise, she takes issue that they have been using him as a bargaining chip, but now is not the time to argue the point, not with the water suddenly leaking through the walls. “We've got about ten minutes,” Mystique explains quietly. “Grab as many as you can, I'll see you up top.”

Her invisible shield does nothing to lighten the weight of Sam Guthrie, but Sue Richards is not a weak woman, despite her outward appearance. Lugging him into the hallway, she finds James Proudstar waiting just outside. “You can give us air?” he asks, tugging Cannonball's body across his shoulders. She nods. “Good, then I'll make us a path.”

Behind him are a dozen children – those he rescued from the cells. They are frightened, nervous. They want nothing more than to finally go home and see their parents. “They can run?” she asks, glancing over each of them. Warpath nods. “Good,” she says, expanding her shield around them. “Let's do this?”

They come across Dazzler and Gambit and their rescues a short ways up the hall, then Domino and Boom Boom with theirs. It's hard for her to focus like this – to move and keep up such a large shield – especially with the water flooding in. It took only minutes for the water to reach their knees, and with the guards begging them for help, she must expand her shield again.

It's been ages since the Fantastic Four fought as a team. They'd become content in their most recent queries – scientific extrapolations and discoveries. Reed had imagined himself an explorer in space, and Sue a mother of two darling children. Johnny, of course, had joined with other teams, as did Ben at times, but Sue was happy out of the field, and with it, her ability to precisely fluctuate her powers.

The shield flickers around them all, the water flooding in across hips. Her lapse of focus a dangerous one, as part of their oxygen is now depleted, and they can all feel the crush of ocean depths. Though just a momentary struggle, the children break out in tears, scared for their lives and what will become of them. Warpath unloads Sam Guthrie to Rockslide, who is sure that they're going to die. “Just hold on,” he says, picking her up from the floor. He's a strong man, stronger than she imagined. “You concentrate, let us do the rest.”

They were a team once – X-force – and with that came a silent understanding between them all. They knew exactly what to do to plow their way out. Tabitha, with her bombs, blows through doors and walls, creating a path for them midst the churning water, and Nina – always the lucky one – always finds the path of least resistance. Their progress through the corridors is slow due to all of the children and civilians locked inside the giant shield. They're frightened of the water, which is now shoulder height, and they don't tread as well as the X-men.

Anole is the first to leave the shield behind. He carries the time bombs up the walls, makes holes in the ceiling under Domino's direction. Higher floors mean less water, and one by one he carries the young ones up the wall and puts them onto the floor above. A quick meander through the nearby guard station, provides them with ropes in which to pull the heavier ones up – and the Invisible woman somehow manages to split her shield into pieces and maintain it. She regrets her lack of training now. For her, this should have been easy enough. They had counted on it. But, as Warpath clutches his fingers against her spine, and begins to tread the water upward in order to reach the ropes.

Metal creaks under the weight of magnetism. All of them feel the charge in the air, and metal pulls from the floor and into the air above. And then suddenly, it stops. Just like that, it all stops.

They can hear it, even so far under the ocean. The hum of motor, and the sudden click of guns. Nick Fury's contingency plan has arrived.

“Get the kids out of here,” Mystique tells them all. She's a whole floor above them with her dozens of children. “We'll have to fight.”

Without Cannonball, they must rely on Anole to pass the kids from one floor to the other. Meanwhile, the others make a perimeter, each wrapped in invisible shields. They will make their stand – not just to save the children, but to see freedom themselves.

Raven wants to leave the human guards, figuring they can deal with things themselves, but the others are adamant. All will be saved from this broken prison, and so she grits her teeth and follows suit.

The first of Tabitha's bombs explode – a small sound considering the rush of heavy water all around them. She sees them first.

Dressed in silicone, weighted down with plastic air tanks built to withstand the crushing depths of the ocean, the men are trained in underwater combat. Sue shields her from the bullets, but to do so, she leaves the others without protection.

It's a scramble then, to get Rockslide and Cannonball to the next floor while keeping the troops busy enough to allow for escape. Dazzler blasts plasma in streaks across the water, turning sound to light, and burning the plastic holds on their oxygen. But, she discovers the futility in doing so. Like themselves, they've been armed with liquid oxygen pills, and so the disappearance of their tanks means little but make them more maneuverable.

As Ali is next to climb the rope, Nina wrestles under neck deep water to grab the gun from one of the soldiers. She turns it on him, shooting out both of his knee caps, before diving under to bring to surface. She floats him in the direction of Tabitha, who readies another bomb in her capable hands.

Sue does what she can to throw her shields and swim at the same time. She marvels at what the team is capable of – and how cutthroat they are. They have no qualms in bashing them unconscious and handing them up to Santo, or cutting them free of their suits so that they are no longer able to fight. Ten soldiers go down all too easily, and it makes Sue cringe. “They're waiting for us,” she tells them all as she gulps for air.

Gambit grabs her by the collar of her shirt, drags her from the water and onto dry land. Already, Mystique is running the children through the maze of hallways to get to the next checkpoint. It would have been far easier had Sam been well. He could have just made the path go straight up, but it's too wet, too late to worry about that now.

The team catches up to her as fast they can. Raven worries for Magneto, that he's no longer pulling the prison apart at the seams. She believes they sent more than just one squadron, and like Sue she requests that they remain vigilant for what's ahead.

Up above them, Mystique's worries prove correct, and Magneto is in the fight for his life. Already bleeding from bullet wounds, the men and women are trained for the sole purpose of bringing Magneto down should the heroes of the world fail in their endeavor. They shoot glass hollow point bullets that shatter inside the body. They nick against arteries and veins, damage organs and break bones. They know where to hit, how to keep the man down and powerless, and after only a few minutes of battle, they are able to collar him and make him completely defenseless.

Still, he laughs. He's an eighty year old man, and it's taken this many soldiers to bring him to heel. He calls them weaklings, taunts them with reminders that he is superior regardless of how pained he is right now. And as they punch and kick against him to release their anger upon him, Sabretooth approaches.

He's a silent killer when he wants to be. The ultimate predator and the top of the food chain. He strikes first before they realize that he's there, ripping the head off one of the silicone soldiers, and smiling as the blood sprays into the air and moistens his thick, golden hair. Licking his lips, he laughs and drools over the taste of blood. “Human. My favorite.”

The soldiers erupt into a solid sheet of bullets, trying to fill the beast full of holes, but glass cannot penetrate adamantium, and the glass bullets that were so effective on Eric Lehnsherr become useless against Victor Creed. A call to com and they're begging for back up, of which there isn't any. Not now, not with so much going on.

The fight is bloody and over all too quickly, with bits and pieces of soldiers strewn about the narrow walkway. Creed helps a badly injured Magneto from the ground, winces slightly at the man's unsteady breath. He's not a doctor, or a field medic. His job has always been to kill, not to heal.

Magneto had prepared a grand speech for this event. He wanted to teach these mutant children who burst through the doors some minutes later that they were indeed better than their jailors, but he's too weak now, and so merely watches as they finally find daylight, and then worry and the rivers of blood left in the wake of Sabretooth. He's in no position to defend himself when Sue reaches him and reminds him of their deal. “They weren't supposed to die.”

Mystique clicks tongue to teeth and shakes her head. “It was either them or the rest of us. The deal was a rescue, if I remember correctly. Now you can get your precious husband back.”

“Reed's dead?” Gambit asks. “How?”

“SHIELD killed him,” Mystique reveals. “If Magneto hadn't played decoy for your lives, all of you would've been dead. You should be thanking him instead of reviling him.”

Her words have weight, and she can see the settling of shoulders in the surround. It's not the magnificence that Eric had wanted, but perhaps this was by far better. The X-men were always prone to parading their guilt, and this was no exception.

A quick call, and Toad arrives with a jet. Mystique promises to see the children to safety and to contact them all later – especially Sue. “But, until then, stay hidden. You're on their watch list now. You'll be lucky to survive.”

Chapter Text

They're supposed to be better than this. They're supposed to be fierce and deadly. Sharpshooters and assassins. High-tech weapons that obliterate on sight. But, they're overwhelmed, undone by a thousand single-man ships zooming light speed through the portal. They can't lock onto them, they can't shoot, they can do nothing but stare as the ships fly overhead, their communications filled with strange alien language that is too sharp, too guttural for the decoders to understand.

Tall and gray and bulky, with large eyes like fish and small pinched mouths that barely move when they speak. They are something otherworldly, unlike the alien presence here on Earth. They don't fire back, not against the Earthlings, they simply leave the Baxter Building in one long row of ships. They feel no threat towards these weapons, these soldiers, Fury's marvelous planning, and once again, he finds himself inwardly lamenting the portal and what it's wrought. “Find them,” is all he says, and the soldiers are at once on their feet and running for the door.

He, of course, knows where they are going. Call it an instinct honed from years of fighting, but he knows that they are heading for the mansion. Like him, their prey is Scott Summers, though he thinks for entirely different reasons.

Quickly, he calls off the tracking squad on Magneto, save for the blessed few that are needed to fly the small ship on Magneto's tail. He needs to know where the old man is stationed so he can better deal with the threat he poses. He calls them to the mansion, back up, post haste, and then calls Hill to warn her what's coming her way.

She doesn't argue, doesn't whine. She's a good woman like that. She takes the information and readies her troops, making her own flurry of calls to squad and Avengers. “I don't care what happens to the others,” she says, “but, Summers is ours. They will not have him.”

By chance – still dazed from her fight with Thor – Storm hears the call through enemy com. Wrought with worry, she quickly abandons her station on the lawn, and enters the mansion. It's the children that she's after – stuck in the second and third floor basements, hovering in corners and crying for the sounds of battle outside their door. She needs to save them because no one else will.

What she doesn't know is that Pixie is already on the move. She's transporting the kids away from the second floor basement, down to the fourth where Scott lies unconscious in the hangar. Logan will protect them far better than she can, that much she's sure of. One by one, starting with little Pocket, she blips down the floors and into emergency lab to the side. She grimaces at the chewed up Cyclops, and tells Logan that they're being invaded.

He follows her up the floors to help her lead the kids to the safety of the lab. Steel doors and fireproof, the lab was created for emergency medical situations, and every ounce of safety protocol was used in its construction. The whole mansion could blow sky high and that lab would still be stable. “What about Danvers?” he asks, but Pixie shrugs. She reveals that they were spotted by Thor and Captain Marvel, but they did nothing to intervene.

Pixie is not a fighter. She doesn't like battle; she doesn't like blood. But, she's strong in the face of it, especially when her friends are in danger. It's Arlo that she takes next, the poor, whimpering thing. The noises that he hears above – the gunshots and crashes, the pounds upon the ceiling – they remind him all too much of his drunken father, and in flashbacks of his childhood trauma, he quakes at the sound. She tells the others that she'll return for them, that she'll keep them safe, that Logan is coming and he'll watch over them as well, and then she disappears into Limbo, that horrific place that haunts her dreams.

Though heavy with adamantium, Logan is fast and silent. He makes not a noise as he slips just inside the door and ushers the children behind them. Pixie continues to teleport them to safety while Logan suddenly makes a stand against Carol Danvers fresh from the Danger Room.

She's bloodied, bruised, her hand gnarled with a nasty break. She's by far stronger than him, but she doesn't have cruelty when it comes to battle. They square off against each other, with Captain Marvel demanding that Scott Summers be released to her for trial, and Logan declares that a trial isn't what they want. “They're going to fucking kill him, Carol. I can't let that happen.”

They'd been lovers once, Danvers and Wolverine. Just briefly. An infatuation, she had called it, with a bad boy to match her state of unrest and need for excitement. He fulfilled that temporary need in her, the one that wanted to live without the boundaries that she had placed upon herself, and Wolverine. Well, he was always up for a tumble.

More importantly, they had been friends, allies, and to see him now, the disgust snarled on his face, made her heart sink. “Lady, you best leave before I gut you.” The snkt of adamantium, and he behind him the children cried. It was too much for them to take. “And these kids been through enough. They don't need to see disemboweled.”

“Logan --” her quiet voice was punctuated sharply at the end as she barely missed the swing of calls. She hovers near the ceiling, out of the shorter man's reach. Proud of herself for her cunning, she stays there, watches him frustrate himself as he tries again to claw through her. “They don't think he can be killed,” she says. “They just want to help him get under control.”

“Then leave him alone. I'll watch out for him.”

“Logan, you can't protect him. Not from the world. Not like we can.”

“I've seen what your protection does to people. So have they.” She glances to the children, their large, round eyes filled with tears. “Pretty villainous, aren't they?”

“Logan, that's not --” Her voice trails off in sudden doubt. It's so easy to believe in this when surrounded by Hill and Fury and the others, but staring into the eyes of those affected, those hunted, she no longer feels the steadfastness of this mission. “They want to keep the world safe.”

“By killing Scott. Since when has that been a choice that you get to make?”

“Seems like a choice you get to make all the time.”

He turns red with repressed rage, growls at the woman above him. He loathes himself for being a killer, for that being all that people see. She knows this, which only makes the cut deeper. She thinks to go on at first, remind him of his cruelty, his mercilessness, but seeing the addled look on his face, she decides not to chance it. He really would kill her right now, and if she pressed him further, she wouldn't be able to stop him.

Berserker rage heated through well-worn flesh and across adamantium bones. The children, they could smell it, and for it they only howled louder, begging when Pixie appeared to take them next. Arms outstretched, she grabbed Sarah Goodwind and Indira, realizing that things were getting dangerous. “Don't come back,” Logan warns her and hits the wall with all his might. Metal crushes upon impact, and he digs his claws deep into the cracks, forcing himself to ceiling, and smiling at his wit. “I'm giving you one last chance, darlin',” he says, watching as Phinneus Washington pushes the kids to the far corner of the room, far away from the battle.

He's a speedster, Phin is. Fast on his feet. And he was nearly caught by the Red Hunt because of it. He was on the basketball court, sick as a dog, when his powers first manifested, and he went so fast that he barreled through the walls of the gymnasium and out the other side. Broken and battered, he was arrested on sight, checked for performance enhancing drugs. The Red Hunt was only minutes away when Cable stormed the place and rescued him. His parents have no idea that he's still alive.

He looks to Opal, who for the life of her, cannot look away from the battle at hand. She's always considered herself tough, but she's nowhere near this. However, she wants to be. “Cricket,” Phin calls, gesturing for her to move. He doesn't want to touch her. Opal Johnson does not like to be touched.

Danvers lunges herself into the frozen girl, knocking her to the left so that Phin can pull her into the corner. And just in time, too, considering the blood-bound spell that Wolverine is under. He'd sooner behead the girl in his massive adrenaline rush than let her go free. “You owe me one, Logan,” she says.

Pixie reappears just as a claw swipes right. She cries out and avoids it with a quick flutter of wings, and takes Opal down below to the medlab. The strain of her ports is getting to her, and Alex begs her to slow down, but she refuses. The fight upstairs is a bloodless one, and she fears for the children's safety. “I'll get them,” he assures her, and takes off at speed through the door. Half-sick from her constant ports, she doesn't think about the noise from above, or the shaking of the walls. But Indira does.

She's quick to run the children through an earthquake drill, ordering them to the sides of the room before trying to drag Cyclops off the bed for his own protection. He hits the floor with a thud, and stirs just slightly from the spell. Indira drops her hands to the floor, her heart beating a mile a minute. “I-I'm sorry,” she stutters, and backs away from him on hands and knees.

Instantly, the energy forms around him. In part from pain, in part from the cacophony above. He grabs his chest – or rather, what's of it – and listens closely to the battle above. His visor turns slowly around the room, grabbing the attention of each of the children, then finally to Pixie. The words sound harsh in his arid throat, his tongue thick from days without water. “Where am I?”

Chapter Text

She hears the ships before she sees them, on the wind like a chainsaw slicing through air. Pale blue eyes look up to the clouds to see their specks, thousands of them. In that instant, she calls for Rachel in a psionic plea – an instinct and a habit. Reach the telepaths and warn the others of danger are her only thoughts, that and running. Through the mansion halls she glides, heading down towards basement doors.

The first level is flooded by the Red Hunt and their anti-mutant weaponry. The collars hang from their belts, small things to be expanded and placed around the mutants' necks. Their sight seethes against her insides. Her nostrils flare, her eyes go white like a winter sky. The electric confounds them, the sudden jolts that sizzle up their spines and lurches them forward than down to knees. The human body can only take 20 amps of voltage before passing out from lack of breath, a meager offering from the goddess of weather. She calls it down from the heavens and lights them to unconsciousness.

She can smell their cooked flesh, the burns that they will now suffer for having the audacity to invade her home, to come at her with guns and collars, and things that will put end to her freedom. They won't die from their shock, but they will certainly remember it for the rest of their days.

It's in the hallway that she sees Kitty, collared and shot, a bullet hole in her shoulder. She's in shock, shivering and muttering from the pain. Why she didn't phase, Ororo doesn't know, but somehow she was caught off guard. One arm around her back, the other under her legs, she picks the young woman up and carries her through the hall, avoiding the Red Hunt where she can, and into one of Henry's labs.

It's dark in here, and cold and sterile. The shelves are lined with tiny jars of genetic material – blood samples and flakes of skin, swabs and other matters. The place has been raided, its computers removed, its microscopes and Bunson burners. It was rare for anyone to come in here during their days at the mansion, and she understands why. Even broken, it's a clinical place, one of pure science, but also one that reminds a great many of the mansion's inhabitants of a time when they nearly went extinct.

“You've been down here for days, Henry.” After Decimation, the mutants were gathered at the mansion, put under 'guard' by Sentinels that were supposed to protect them. But all knew it was to protect the world from a violent outburst should the mutants wish to fight back. Cyclops had said it was temporary, until he could put another plan in place, something that would see their freedom from this forsaken place.

Beast barely nodded at her words. Looking through a microscope, he adjusted the lenses and squinted large yellow eyes. She tells him that he needs a break, that perhaps he actually needs to go outside to get some fresh air, maybe walk with her to the coffee shop for a latte or take a jog in the park. “This will all resolve itself in time. Things like this always do.”

“You don't know Wanda and her magic like I do, Ororo. What we're facing --”

“Is cataclysmic. Scott's said the same thing, but even he knows when its time to take a break.”

That he was more worried than Summers bothered him. No one gnatted over possibilities like Cyclops, certainly not him, no matter how devastating he thought things were. “He's with Emma, isn't he?”

“Probably. But, he's not in his office or the War Room.”

“He's at Jean's grave, then.”

It was a startling conclusion, and one that felt right. Of course, Scott wouldn't take a break, which meant that he couldn't either. He was one of the founding members of the X-men, and one of their prime principles was protecting mutants from harm. He had to work just as hard, if not harder. “He's counting on me, Storm. They all are.”

She peered around the room, at all of the strange little bottles lined up on glass shelves. She went to touch one, to lift it up and inspect it, but he stopped her. “Those are organized to my liking. Please don't disturb them.”

“Do you have these for all of us?” She knew the answer to that, even before his harumphed yes. It was known by all of them that he had access to their genetic samples. For science's sake, or so he told them. There were days when she imagined him like his dark counterpart, a mad scientist bent on dominating the world. Days like today, when his logical mind couldn't see the need for rest. She wondered what he found in them. Perhaps the keys to the secondary mutations, or perhaps the history of the world. Either way, he took no joy in his results. Anymore, they seemed more a burden than a fascination – a cold, clinical thing, much like the room, much like him.

“Perhaps a light lunch then?”

“Storm, I really can't --”

“There's a large difference between can't and won't, Henry.” It was always easy to make him feel guilty, to make him feel obliged. With a huff, he finally turns amber eyes upon her and sighs. She smiles. “If you stay in this hole too long, I fear it will eat you alive.”

“I think it already has.”

Wounds dressed, and Kitty stashed safely under the table, out of sight, but not out of mind, Storm returns to the hallways, stalking her prey like a cat – silent and steady, her fingers twitching with the sudden need for combat. She reviles this part of herself, but she also takes glee in it. It's a rush of freedom, of adrenaline, of some primal urge so deep inside of her. The ability to control, to be in control, to defeat and mar. She thinks this is why she fell in love with Wolverine. He fed this itch inside of her soul, and she never had to lift a finger.

It's on the stairwell to the second floor that she see Thor, the god of thunder, and a man she faked defeat to not ten minutes ago. Outstretched fingers twist the ions in the air, sparking up static and thick, heavy fog. The weather is her domain, and she intends to prove it.

Thor feels the shiver of electricity even before she casts it through the air. His hammer up, he guards himself against the sudden flux of voltage, calling upon his own birthright as a shield against hers. His eyes mad with ire, he perks his lip in disgust. “How darest thou play tricks upon me,” he seethes and readies his hammer for battle.

The noise then is striking. The breaking of eves and rafters, of floorboards and metal plating. Both of them – the deities – look up to the ceiling and hear the crash that pelts upon the floor. “They are breaking your home,” he tells her and smiles. She has a choice now, continue on her futile quest to prove herself above him, or save the mansion before it's once again obliterated. “How can you protect those children if you have no roof to keep them from your rain?”

“Storm,” her name comes from around the corner. “I'll handle this.” Angel stands at the bottom of the stairwell, calm, confident. His metallic wings – partially spread – scrape the metal walls with a screech that makes Thor cringe. “He thinks himself a god among men. I will show him what that truly means.”

Thor watches as Storm departs, going back up the stairs to head off the alien incursion. He turns his attention back to Warren. “You're out of your league, winged one. You cannot fly here.”

“Whoever said that I need to fly?” He pummels the air with paralytic darts. They strike so fast against the gods ankles and legs, and in an instant he falls to his knees. “You will leave my friend alone. You will not take him.”

There is no fear in Thor's rough hewn features. No regret, no worry. Instead, there is a glimmer of smile and a sudden ferocity. The hammer is thrown low, at Angel's waist – low enough that he can't simply dodge, but high enough that he can't jump over it either. Warren quickly realizes his folly, and with a deft move, tries to sidestep the flung Asgardian steel, but he isn't fast enough. It pounds into his stomach, cracking against hips and ribs and bashes him into the wall behind.

But, Angel knows pain. His very life is pain, and has been since Apocalypse's touch. The pain of never knowing satiation, of always drowning in the shadows that the monster had put into his mind. His hollow bones are too easy to shatter, but the thunder god underestimates him. He calls the hammer back, lets the winged mutant fall to the floor in a heap. His laughter is high-throated and chortled out into the wreckage in the air. “Never think yourself above me, mutant. You may be superior to these mortals, but I am something far better.”

The swift of dagger blade comes from behind, plunges down against the god's spine, and then the smell of sulfur and brimstone, a stench that makes him cough and spew his guts due to its suddenness and proximity. Kurt Wagner pulls Angel from the floor, checks that he's all right before lifting up his blade again and challenging the thunderous man to a dual. “If I win, you leave this place and never return.”

“And if I win?”

“You won't.” It's rare for Nightcrawler to be so unabashedly confident. But, he's been trained for this. They all have.

“You don't realize how disorienting your ports are, Kurt.” Cyclops stood at the center of the Danger Room, the scenario failed, and the lot of them beaten to a pulp. “Hit from behind, then the front--”

“Hitting from behind is not very chivalrous--”

“In war, chivalry means little.”

The strategy was an easy one, to say the least, and something Cyclops employed time and again after Wanda's spell. It was simply a matter of keeping the field open enough that Kurt could maneuver. “You'll never take the hammer,” he explained. “So ignore it. It's too slow to catch you.”

“Why are we training to take down the Avengers?” Storm asked, unhappy with this regime.

“Why do we train to take down ourselves?” Scott snapped back. He was tired of the constant bickering between himself and Ororo. “Because we never know what shape our enemy will take, and friend or foe, we must be prepared to fight.”

He'd meant it for himself as well. Each of them had gotten one on one training on disabling Cyclops and his magnificent mind, and each of them had been cowed by the strength of his optic blasts. He refused to use full power; refused to unleash it all upon them, but he used more than stunning blast he usually portrayed, and with it, came his gift for strategy. They learned over time, that he could take them all out if he wished – even without employing tricks and little treats. He knew them too well, and because of that, thought it necessary that they learn how to defeat him, too. “It's simply a matter of being prepared,” he continued. “We don't want to get caught in a situation where this knowledge is needed.”

It's not the first time that the X-men have been thankful for his thoroughness, but today, Kurt is extra grateful. There is no ready, set, go; no blaring trumpets, or fanfare to speak of. There is simply the smoky purple cloud and the swift of air as Nightcrawler disappears and reappears to the thunder god's right. A kick to the face and the Asgardian is knocked off balance, keeling over to the left, his hand gripping tightly to the banister. There is silence then, an eerie silence punctuated by nothing but the scrape of metal wings against the walls. Thor's blue eyes widen as he sees the raising of Angel's wings, their paralytic razors glinting in the overhead florescent light.

Another bamf and a kick from behind, just where the wound was just delivered. It's followed by a knife to the neck, just edged into the soft of chin. Between the two of them – Nightcrawler and Angel – the Asgardian is trapped. He slowly drops his hammer to the ground and raises his hands in forfeit. “Scott Summers is a threat to all of us, including you,” he tells them. “We're just trying to tame that threat.”

“You've said that before,” Angel rasps, the internal bleeding staining his teeth bright red, “But you weren't needed then, either.”

“I shall keep my promise to you and leave this place,” he tells them. “Upon the honor of my father, I shall not return to this place, but be aware, if he steps out of line and threatens the world once more, I will fight in earnest and defeat you.”

He leaves then, hammer in hand. Swinging it at high speed, he barrels up through ceiling, only to be brought crashing back down, his body covered in a thin, silken web that has paralyzed him. Both Nightcrawler and Angel look up then to see six alien guns pointing down at them.

Chapter Text

His world is red. It has been for years. Though he has vague memories of blue and green and other kaleidoscopic colors, red is what he remembers the most. Sometimes, he can differentiate his single spectrum of color, decide that something's yellow or brown, but more often than he not, he doesn't bother, simply letting the world float by in a stream of Valentine's and blood, no longer puzzling it through.

He thinks Arlo might be gray. Or some form of light colored fur. Sarah is an amalgam, her colors floating like suspended oil beneath her skin. She's every color, he decides. Emma wears white. Crisp and pink to the eyes behind the visor. And Hank, he knows is blue. He's been told that a dozen times. He remembers when Hank was made of flesh, and his skin shown a deep ruddy brown. But now, he looks purple. Blue, he reminds himself. Hank is blue.

It's Pixie that speaks to him. She's pink, he thinks, or white. He could never tell, and he never bothered to ask. She tells him that they're under attack by the Avengers and someone else. She heard it over their coms. That they've come for him, and they'll do anything to capture him. Hank simply tells him that he's a worthless asshole who should have died years ago.

Hank's words hurt. Pixie's makes him angry.

He can feel it grow inside of him. The anger, the power. He can feel it begin to seep from his pores, from his skin. He has to control it. More than anything, he has to keep control. Proudstar says as much from the corner. “Keep it under control, leader-man.” As do Surge and Hellion. He wonders what color Noriko's hair is.

“Those children will die because of you.” Ororo is stern, cold, her face as full of hatred as he's ever seen.

He counts the children. At first there is four, and then seven, and then forty two. And then they're dead. Burning inside a bus. “I can't save them.”

“You could never save anyone.” She kneels, better to look him in the eye. He tells her that they're already dead, but she insists that they returned from that solemn state. Just like he did. “They'll die again, all because you're too weak to protect them.”

He looks at the small fairy creature and her mentor. He knows Pixie. Knows how timid she is, how afraid. He remembers her, he thinks. The day she stabbed him with her soul knife. The day some bully broke her wings. He remembers wanting to save her. He remembers ripping off her head and eating both her eyes. “Two million, eight hundred seventy eight thousand, two hundred and fifty three,” he mumbles quietly, drawing odd looks from all of those in the surround. “Two million, three hundred and two thousand, nine hundred and seventy eight.” The numbers fall from his mouth in decreasing order. “You were easy to kill,” he tells her rubbing his eyes at the memory of blowing her apart with his eye beams. Her body had exploded, and from the remains, a rainbow formed.

Dark eyes light with fright, and Megan pulls Sarah Goodwind to her rear, trying to protect her from the madman in the corner. “I didn't kill you though,” he says to Indira. “Thank goodness. I've never killed you.”

Indira sees the fright on his face then the relief in his reaction. Though Pixie tries to warn her back, she crawls to him on hands and knees, wrapping her hand with his own. She's seen them do this – Alex and Logan – and she tells him that she's real. A long silence – interrupted only by the crash on the floors overhead. “It's okay. You didn't hurt anyone.”

He strokes long fingers down her cheek, and then looks up at the ceiling. “We have to get you out of here,” he tells her, squeezing her hand for reassurance. “Before I do.”

“Because you will,” Rogue reminds him. “You kill everyone.” Control. He needs control. Hand etched through hair and gritted jaw, he swallows back the fear that tries to overwhelm him. He tries to focus, maintain the thrum of his power behind a steel hard wall. It's so close, at the brim. He has to control it.

“You're not well,” Indira says, noticing that his attention has to turned to the left, the empty wall near the door. “You need to stay here for medical attention.”

He hadn't noticed that he was missing half his body. He wondered why it hurt. He slips his hands across the bloody carriage of his ribs, the parts of his body that are still missing. Then checks his chest to feel the thump of his heart. He has his heart. That means Jean didn't consume it and Logan didn't rip it from his chest. Or maybe they did, and they somehow gave it back to him. He gave Jean's back some time ago, laid it upon her corpse and buried her in the snow. He sang a hymn that day, and then she killed him again. “Yeah,” Indira says slowly, tightening her grip on his hand. “It was worse before, but you've healed a lot.”

But, the pain. The pain is good. Physical pain – not that soul rending pain of that other world, or the emotional pain of every world. It's a wound, a big one. It helps him focus. Lets him look at her and hear her words above the din of those who call him a murderer. It gives him something to control, something to work past and keep the power from raging from beneath his skin. “Is the exit clear?” he asks with a lackluster gesture towards the door. He doesn't think he can walk, not with part of his spine missing.

Indira understands his meaning, a small thrill jolting through her when she realizes that Cyclops actually remembered her power. Just like she said she could, she plucks off one of her fingers, journeys towards the door, and places it just outside. In it's place, another one grows almost instantaneously. It takes her some time to concentrate, to move past the room and out into the hangar. There, she can see the Blackbird and the other air crafts, the long empty halls, the rubble from the fight upstairs. “It's clear,” she speaks.

There's a shimmer of red light about him, makes her keep her distance, but Pocket does not know this fear. The little boy in the bunny suit crawls across the room and snugs himself against Cyclops' undamaged side. “I think he feels protected,” Sarah surmises, as Tatsuya cannot speak for himself. She looks at Pixie who is still horrified by her former teacher, and then joins Indira at Summers' feet.

The booming above them finally shows against the ceiling. A long, black crack appears, and with it the dust of insulation and shards of metal. Indira's eyes grow wide and glassy. She looks to Sarah behind her, then back to Cyclops, her voice shaken. “They're here.”

Only she can see them, the alien monsters who have invaded this world and her new home. They are the breakers of her dreams with their ashen skin and complex weaponry. They speak in tones she does not understand; they look and point and split themselves into small groups.

She describes their movements as best she can – a group of three to the back of the hangar, a group of two standing watch to the right, another to the left, and then the single alien standing in front of the door. There is chatter, then, squalid syllables from mouths that don't move. More like screeching, or creaking, like a dog's maw stuck inside a peanut butter jar. They listen closely, their ear holes pressed against the door, and then take out a tiny rod about the size of Indira's fist. “It's a laser,” she says aloud. “They're going to burn through the door.”

“I told you that they're going to die, Scott,” Xavier says. “You can't stop it.”

“I can.” He doesn't see the looks of the children; doesn't see those wild eyes and sudden speechlessness wrangle across their mouths like fish – open and close, open and close. “I'll save them.”

“How? You can't even move.”

“I'll find a way.”

It's Sarah this time who grabs his hand, calling his attention back to those things that are real. She is shocked that she has done this, but they need him. According to Indira, he's saved the X-men more times than anyone can count. “Stay with us, okay?” she asks.

Scott's flashes pale in a moment of horror. “You're not real,” he tells the wall. “I killed you. I remember.” And with recognition comes the overflow of power. Pocket quickly scrambles over Cyclops' outstretched legs, pushing Indira and Sarah back from Summers' bare feet. Dark eyes as blank as his words, he stares at the flux of red energy that suddenly swarms over the bed. Long fingers grip autumn hair, and chin to chest, Scott tries to bring himself back under control.

The litany of numbers is an unsettling thing as he counts the times that he's killed his friends in the Red Dimension. Millions upon millions of times, divided off into singular battles and team-ups, the flashes of the blood and matter causing him to hiss wildly into the air. He wants it to stop, all of it, everything. He can't do this. He can't control this.

There's nothing to do, save for pray that the red energy does not expand further into the room. They have no choice but to wait for Alex or Logan. Pixie laments her earlier ports, still too sick and too weak to perform them. Had she just taken more time then she could get them all clear. “We have to get Mr. Logan,” she says, standing on shaky feet. She's afraid to take them with her, afraid that she'll get lost in Limbo or take too long, so she leaves them and begs them to stay out of the way.

“Don't worry,” Opal says, flexing the blades upon her arms, “I can fight.”

Chapter Text

He can't find Steve. Somewhere, in the midst of battle, he has lost the man he loves, and his mind swarms with thoughts of death and pestilence and other things that make his stomach twist into knots. He can't lose the man, not now. Not when he's so close to having the life he's dreamed of.

Their wedding would be in Spain – the endless bars and tapas, the flamenco and the pianos on the street. They would drink coffee in the mornings, out on the hillside, watching over the orchards and olives, the lazy sheep and the sleepy traffic. Then they'd return to bed, a little mid-morning pick me up that would see Captain America begging for release. Tony would be on top. Yeah, he would wear the pants, at least in the mornings.

They'd spend the days wandering the picturesque streets and alleys, their feet clacking upon the laid stones, searching for a pearl midst the swine. A little cafe, a far off antique shop with incredible treasures. They'd furnish the penthouse with their finds – these rustic things that Steve liked so much. They'd find a place for coffee, for lunch, and then back to the hotel for something more than a nap.

In the evenings, when the air cooled down, and the condensation settled in over their naked skin, they'd rise and hit the bars – Tony's scene. The raucous laughter and constant chatter, the bodies bumping into each other. The music, the liquor, the endless parade of olive oil and delicious food. They'd drink until their heads swam, until the moon shone like two perfect diamonds in the sky, and they'd talk to each other about their dreams, their wants, their fantasies.

He'd finally tell Steve that he'd always fancied himself a father, a good father, unlike his own. That he'd take the kid fishing, or flying, or to the Eiffel Tower so that he could paint the sunset. He'd have no expectations of his son, no pressure, just nudges in whatever direction the child wanted to go. And Steve, Steve could take him to the baseball games, or camping, or self defense. Steve was always the better fighter. Tony had the brains.

He fears the loss. Even as the aliens come at him, their guns blaring nets and lasers and other things to heat through his metal suit, it's the loss of Steve that drives him forward. To the stairs, then down, fighting the whole way. His suit is damaged, has been now for some moments. He can feel the catch in his left arm where the bearings have slipped. It causes issues with the propulsion system – flying and the energy blast. He could fix it, easily fix it, but he doesn't have time, not with Steve missing.

Down the stairs to the third floor, barely glancing at Thor's body, frozen in that thin web-like net. He should do something for him, help him, tear the net away, but Steve is without his shield – his most formidable weapon – and the god of thunder can take care of himself.

The third floor is nearly crushed from floor to ceiling in at a least a dozen places. The crashing of the airships, burnt blast radius' from explosions. They're trying to find Summers. Like Fury, he's sure of it. The rest of them are just ants crawling about the place. Nothing too hard for them to deal with; nothing to bat an eyelash over. Not even the Thor, one of the strongest men he knows.

As he bashes in the needled jaw of the next alien he finds, he wonders where the Hulk is, why Fury hasn't sent him yet. Banner would have a field day here – aliens and mutants, a hint of Wolverine somewhere midst the rubble. There was nothing more that the great green behemoth could ask for. A year's worth of pent up anger, and a whole day of smashing. It would make things go a lot easier for the rest of them. Especially knowing that Summers has not yet been found.

Through the halls, his suit flashing with recognition of mutants and mayhem. He sees Hawkeye in the shadows, pounding away at aliens with his arrows. They're mostly useless, bouncing off the hardened skin. Like stone they are, hardened and impenetrable. And their fingers wrap like talons around Barton's neck, lifting him up into the air, depriving him of oxygen. Stark could stop them, could fly full force into the alien's side, but those precious seconds could mean Steve's death. He couldn't live with himself if he lets Steve die.

Down the stairs to the fourth floor basement, down into the hangar, where he already sees the aliens at work. He can hear voices from inside the room – muffled, but frightened.

Heat instruments, long rods that melt into the metal wall, and he fears that Steve has barricaded himself inside the room, Stark lets loose. He barrels into the aliens, his repulsion ray blasting at their tiny mouths and overly large eyes. They careen back, smashed into walls, their deep-throated sounds seemingly vicious and angry. He can here them, those small pilot groups that went to scout the hangars. And in an instant, he is swarmed by electrifying nets and the heat of guns against his suit.

Thanks to ratcheted arm, he fumbles a dodge, the heat guns burning against his right eye, blacking out the sights around him, limiting his vision. He ducks to the ground, missing a swipe to his left eye, and deals out a shocking blow to one of the creature's knees, which does little more than anger them even more.

A blow to the head, and he feels the world begin to fade away, and then suddenly, the battle moves elsewhere.

Opal Johnston is not a trained fighter, but she's tough and brash, and she knows the streets. She knows how to walk like she owns the place, how to stand her ground, and how to use the blades upon her hands and knees. To her rear, still cowering in the doorway, Indira Gomez tells her to swing right, and then kick left. Unlike Opal and her limited vision, Sliver can tell her when to duck, when to roll, when to push up and take the alien by the neck and pull him to the ground.

She cuts them. Unlike Tony with his repulsor ray, the exoskeleton wrapped around her wrists and ankles are harder than their skin, and though it takes great effort – evidenced by the beads of sweat trailing down the edge of her thick, black hair – she can defeat them if she lasts long enough. She knows this, and with the thought in the back of her head, she grits her teeth and swings again, slicing one of the creatures across its chest.

It bleeds blue, and it screams in its insanity, hauling back on haunches and holding the open wound. She swings again, tearing it across the hole wear an ear should be, piercing it's giant left eye. The creatures twitter their sudden fear, and redouble their efforts against the seventeen year old, hoping to take her down for good.

At her side is Arlo Taylor – poor, timid Arlo in the shape of a bulldog. The aliens avoid him, mostly for his size. He's never fought a day in his life, never bit or gnashed, clawed or pawed. But he can take pain like no other. He doesn't flinch with the alien rod pierces his side, burning a long thin line from navel to sternum. He takes it in stride, listening to Sliver's instructions to ignite a right hook into his jaw.

Sarah Goodwind also does her part, flying across the spectrum of aliens, taking away their guns, kicking loose their grip.

And in the background, in the medlab, he can see the turmoiled visage of Cyclops struggling to contain the power that is quickly enveloping him, and little Pocket just outside the room. “Where's Logan?” Tony yells, hoping that one of these children will answer him, but they do not. They're here for the fight, and their whole concentration is upon Indira's words.

Flicker grabs one of the heat guns and drops it in Tony's hands, her own decision, and one that she dearly pays for when she's snatched from the air by one three clawed hand and tied up in a net. She whimpers as she struggles, cries as the pain circulates through her body. She's not made for this, for battle, for hurt. Her whole life she's fearedit, and now there's no avoiding it.

Cricket doesn't fare much better. For all of her ferocity, for all of her attention to Sliver's instructions, she can't avoid being overwhelmed by the aliens. They shoot her down first, gather her up in a net, and then follow suit with Stark and the other children. And, finally, they have what they are looking for.

The red energy floats around him like a thread-bare cowl. His breath is stuttered and soft, like feathers floating upon the red. He doesn't move at their approach, doesn't dare to move. He needs to control it, to control the power that roils up inside of him, keep it distant, keep it under.

In the background he can hear Ironman call his name, tell him to move, tell him to fight back. But Stark doesn't understand, if he fights those who have come for him, then there will be no one to fight himself, to keep him from killing them all. To keep him from destroying the world. “Kill me,” he rasps as the aliens grab his arms and lift his spineless body from the ground. “Please.”

Chapter Text

They had to put him under. They didn't have a choice. He'd gone berserk, attacked Steve Rogers, bashed his head into the wall, threatened him with claws to his eyes. It took nine of them to separate the two, to pull him off of the unconscious Captain America, to pull him away and tranq him into oblivion, at least for a few hours.

He healed slower now. They all noticed it. They noticed it in themselves, too – that without Cyke's powers bolstering their own, they were no longer capable of past feats. Storm, perhaps, felt the lack most of all. Her winds and weather no longer a song to the Earth, but rather a distant melody that played upon the Earth's own winds. She wonders how far she has fallen.

She looks at Wolverine, draws her dark hand through his and whispers a gentle prayer that he wakes without his previous turmoil. The violence they witnessed – from SHIELD, from the Avengers, from the aliens - was quite enough to sate that fury inside of her. She can't handle anymore, not without giving over to that primal part of herself completely.

He'd held her tight, her shaking body, her trembling jaw. She could feel it begin to take over, the mention of Summers' name still in the back of her mind. Her logic was lost behind that overwhelming need to banish him from the world, to turn him to ash and see him dead. Pale blue eyes looked to Logan. He was quiet, his own feral animosity barely hidden behind gritted jaw and clenched fists. “You let me deal with Cyke,” he told her. “You have enough on your plate.”

In those moments – unlike with Forge or T'Challa – she felt protected, safe, as if she was a treasure to be kept and shined. She pushed herself further into his embrace, snuggled white hair under the soft of his chin. She couldn't recall ever feeling so warm, not even in the scope of the skies and their boundless freedom. “I love you,” she said quietly, knowing full well that he wouldn't answer her.

His silence no longer broke her heart. She had become accustomed to his show not tells. His love was in the way he held her, the way he looked at her, the way he woke her up from dream to kiss along her lovely neck, enjoying the way she cooed at his touch. Even more than the whip of wind and the scurry of rain, he made her feel wild and undone.

She looks at him now with sadness in her eyes. To lose him like this – to that man – it boggled her, made her angry. She was better than Scott, or so she'd always told herself. She had heart where he had distance; force where he had control. And even now, with this power now threatening the world, she could call herself cool to his craze. She wonders how it happened, when his thoughts turned from hatred to love, when Summers had become so important.

“No one made him angrier than Scott Summers,” Kurt says, his amber eyes so observant, so quick to understand. He's an empathetic one, and though it breaks his own heart, he understands how much Logan meant to her. “It was only a matter of time before he realized how much he loved him, too.”

The words cut her deep, and worse, she can see his own ache glistening in golden eyes. It was a brief fling that they had had. A night of dancing of love-making, followed by breakfast the next morning, and every morning for the next week. But, Logan had entranced her, and fulfilled her, and it was with a heavy heart that she made her choice.

The infirmary is full, most bodies in critical condition. Warren, Hawkeye, Thor, Piotr, Kitty, Pixie. “Fury is on his way.”

“Is he here to assess the damage that he's caused, or to pick up his men?”

“Both, I think. Alex said he'll handle it.”

“I don't want Alex handling--”

“Do you really think you can handle Fury right now?”

And, she doesn't. She is exhausted, both physically and emotionally. She wants nothing more than to crawl into Logan's arms and weep the night away. “We need to save the children.”

“And Scott.”

The mention of his name turns her cheeks a deep shade of angry red. Slowly, as calmly as she can, she reluctantly answers, “And Scott.”

He avoids the subject then, lending himself to Dr. Reyes and her too many patients. Bandages and alcohol swabs, drawing blood, and replacing it. Angel wakes in the corner, his pale blue skin flushed with pain and dabbed with sweat. He can heal himself, eventually. At least they think he still can.

No one knows what Scott's powers were responsible for, how far the mutants were pushed to the extremes of their abilities. They would have to retrain themselves, get used to the lack, become accustomed to the way they were meant to be.

Reyes keeps Kurt busy for long hours in the med lab, sending him often out into the hall to deal with the patients out there. It takes Fury that long to arrive, and that long to survey the damage he has wrought. “We've treated your soldiers,” Alex says, noting the amount of supplies they've had to go through in order to save the lives that they could. “I expect that you'll remember this.”

“I'll also remembered that you betrayed us,” he snips. Alex sees the collar on his belt, knows exactly what it's for. He knows that he's still labeled a terrorist, that there's a call for his arrest under the laws of the Red Hunt, especially now after saving his brother from the depths of the Red Dimension. The guns are fast, pointed in every direction but at him, their way of forcing the deal. They will shoot the wounded, if necessary. Kill them.

“You try to take me in, and you'll have a riot on your hands,” he assures the man beside him. He keeps his voice quiet, low, on the side. “I'll destroy you and everything you've ever hoped to achieve.”
The soft words sit in striking contrast to the severely creased blonde brow and snarl of disgust.

Though his heart pounds a marathon inside of his chest, Fury doesn't bat an eyelash at the threat. He's too trained for that, too cold. The tips of his fingers brush across the cool metal of the collar, his own little threat to stack on top of Havok's. “When I decide to bring you in, no one will will even know what happened to you, son.”

“I'm not your son.”

“You're not anything to me except an obstacle in keeping the world safe.”

He picks up one of the heating rods – arm length and sharp at the end, its power source is a small red crystal tucked inside the thick metal shell. Neither man is science minded, but Forge is, and he's already collecting the technology at hand. “What do you make of it?” Fury asks.

“I don't report to you,” Forge replies, his eyes never turning away from the guns and lasers and ships that he's now gotten his hands on.

“No, but you did once, and you owe me the respect --”

“You imprisoned my kind, Nick.” His words calm, betraying not an ounce of the fervor that turns his neck red with rage. “You hunted the rest of us down like dogs. No, I don't owe you respect. I owe you nothing.”

Alex smirks and shrugs, more than happy with Forge's answer. Fury attempts to claim the wreckage for himself, for SHIELD, and the purposes beset them, but Alex is quick to remind him that he's trespassing on private property. “As much as you might want this tech, Commander, it belongs to the X-men. Though, I think we can reach a deal.”

“What kind of deal?”

“The kind that lets my team through the portal so we can save our people.”

“Son, you have no idea what's --”

“I'm not your son.”

He isn't like his brother – all trap jaw and steel edge. No, Alex is more flagrant with his emotions, tiny pops of anger, bursts of green and gray within the blue of his eyes. The vein on his neck stands out; his mouth a deadpan line of sheer held-back rage that threatens to overload if Fury isn't careful.

Most consider Nick Fury a smart man, observant, wise. Some think him a mind-reader with the way he can dig up a person's secrets in as few a words as don't, hurt, me, and please. And he knows right now that he's in deep shit. A house full of angry mutants, and half his soldiers are down for the count, not that guns would do them any good anyway. Not against supers; not against mutants.

“What kind of deal are you offering, so-Summers?”

“We split the tech evenly, SHIELD and the X-men. We run our separate tests, and the kicker is that you let us through that portal of yours.”

“You seem fairly certain that I'm not going to set a trap.”

“You won't. Because once again, I will destroy you and everything you've ever hoped to achieve.” He speaks in earnest, his brow low, and mouth shaped into one long frown. The pulse of his power glows, tentative circles on arms and chest. It's his show of force, that at any second, he can follow up on his threat. “Don't mistake me for my brother,” he says after a long silence. “My threats aren't hollow.”

Cyclops had made a mockery of them all. That debacle in Australia. And, Fury – holed up in some tree-shorn shack in the middle of the Ecuadorian jungle – couldn't help but laugh at their misery. Summers was making fools of all of them – both Hill and the Avengers, all those people who set him up, threatened his life, the lives of those he cared for. They'd installed Maria as the figure head, but he knew who was really pulling the strings. And right now, those puppeteers were in hot water considering how many missions to capture the terrorist mutant had been botched.

He'd always warned them that Summers was a threat, but they didn't listen. He wasn't the man who raised him; he was no Xavier. His cool head lasted only so long as there were facts and logic to keep him fueled. But for the most part, and the reason Fury had always resented him, was that his secrets remained secrets. He knew the basics – that Summers grew up in an orphanage run by Nathaniel Essex, then fell in with Jack Winters before being saved by Xavier. But there were no details otherwise, nothing for him to use, nothing for him to hold against that level head of his. And he'd warned them. For years he'd warned them that they would one day have to deal with the man on a more permanent level, but no one listened. They saw him as harmless, under the thumb of Xavier. But, then he killed Xavier and was left to fly free of his own accord.

But Alex... He'd never considered the man a threat. He was the lesser of the Summers brothers. Not nearly as smart, as calculated, and he realizes now that it is a great misstep on his part. Alex's strength isn't in his stoicism, but in the fact that he isn't stoic at all. “How do I know you won't betray me this time?”

“You don't.”

In truth, he has little choice in the matter. “The portal's still active. We can't shut it down,” he reveals.

“I'll get Forge to take a look at it,” he says quietly. Like Fury, he has little choice but to make a deal. He's quite sure that Storm will rage over it, but it's the only way he's going to save his brother and the kids. “In the meantime, I want your men to stand down. Let the X-men take it from here.”

Chapter Text

“Are you a dragon?”

He was a small little creature, half real, half dream. A million life times had she lived, and she had never once seen this look of wonder. It amused her, made her curious. “I'm am Phoenix, fire and life incarnate. I can eat you whole.”

He smiled at her, that little boy. He was an Earthling, a place she'd been to once in the beginning, at it's birth, but had never again gone back. And he was bleeding. “What's happening to you?” she asked, her flaming wing tipped towards the blood down his arm.

He shrugged at her, refusing to say, mumbling something about his brother, and how he had to save him. “You're a real Phoenix then? Like in my stories?”

“I am the only Phoenix.”

“That's really cool. Do you want to play a game?”

“A game?”

He nodded and held his hand out flat. “Paper.”

“Paper?”

Another smile and another nod. He closed his hand into a fist. “Rock.” Then held two fingers out. “Scissors.”

“Scissors? What is a scissors?”

Eyes bright, he looked upwards into the belt of stars, his eyes twinkling with their light. “Mmmmm... You cut things with them. Like a knife.” And he made the motion of cutting something with scissors.

“A curious thing, to be sure.”

“If you ever come to Earth, I'll show you a pair.” He repeated the motions of the game, making sure that she understood, and explained the rules. “Paper beats rock. Rock beats scissors. Scissors beats paper.”

On the count of three, Scott threw paper and she threw rock. “Good game,” he cheered. “You'll win next time for sure.”

“Maybe I do not like to play games,” she sighed, betraying cosmic boredom.

“What do you like to do then?”

“Eat little boys.”

He laughed, then cringed as the cut upon his arm become longer, wider. She stared at the sudden wound, at the matter being removed – muscles and bundles of nerves, the skin flayed open, removed bit by bit. “Someone's hurting you,” she spoke.

“It's okay,” he replied. “They're going to let me see my brother, I think. This time for sure.” A pause and then a question. “Do you like to fly?”

She batted her wings in the still black air. “Of course,” she said.

“Would you like to fly to Mars?”

“Mars?” Like Earth, it had been millennia since she had been there. It was a dust ball of planet, lacking life, lacking vibrancy.

“My dad was going to go there one day. He was going to be an astronaut.”

“Was?”

A slight pause, and the beautiful smile fell away. A moment to collect himself, “I think he's dead.”

“Oh.” She studied him for several moments, the muscles that were being lifted from his arm, the slash of nerves, and then the quiet face, her own fiery reflection in light brown eyes. “I can take you to Mars,” she said, “so long as you can hang on.”

The smile lit his face like red hot embers. She enjoyed this look upon him, much better than the quiet one. He climbed upon her neck, his one good hand desperately hanging onto fiery feathers, and she spread her wings out full, so that he could ooh and ahh and marvel at her grace. She could be there with but a thought, go so fast that the universe would be a blur about him, but she could tell already that he would rather see this universe for what it is. The stars and planets, the comets and black holes. She took her time – or at least for her what taking her time meant – letting him gape at the sights around him.

“Phoenix look!” he chortled at the slow birth of a new star, the interstellar gasses mingling and hardening. She stopped then, floated just outside the gaseous center and lifted her wing. “I am birth and rebirth, the beginning and the end,” she explained, lifting her wing, and at her touch, the baby star winked into existence. He is exulted at the sight, his glee such a palpable thing. “You're amazing, Phoenix,” but then suddenly he falls silent.

Slumped against her head, his breath coming out in short shocks of air. She turned just enough so that she could watch as the pain spread across his face, wrinkling at brow. She watches as his arm is disconnected from the elbow down, how the thing begins to shimmer and disappear. “Don't cry,” she warned him softly. “They won't let you see your brother.”

He tried to be strong against it, even as the bone was pulled from flesh, he tried to be brave and courageous and all things he believed that he should be now that his parents were dead. His tiny hand gripped against her feathers, and she could see him flicker in the light of the new star. His form, so tenuous and tired. “Perhaps I will take you to Mars another time. I think you need rest.”

Large brown eyes looked at her with hope. “We can play again?” he said, his voice a mirror of exhaustion.

“Yes,” she said. “If you call my name, I'll come for you.”

His smile was timid, afraid of what he was returning to, but he went anyway. Disappeared from her shoulders and returned to his solid form somewhere on Earth, and for the first time in her existence, Phoenix understood loneliness.

The time she waited for the young boy to return felt like lifetimes to her. She stayed there, near the hatchling star, somewhere out in the vastness of space. She listened to the emptiness, the sounds of it. The births and deaths, the whorls of cosmic winds and the subtle movements of the planets. But nothing – not anything – compared to the sound of the child's laughter.

When he finally appeared again, his the remains of his arm were wrapped and there was cut down his face, exposing the bones from forehead to jaw. “Can we play today?” he asked quietly, his face drawn into the shape of pain. “But, if I don't do this --”

“Then you won't see your brother.” Today, they were taking his eye. For what purpose, he didn't know. But, soon, he would be allowed to see Alex, and that's all that mattered. “Alex? That is what you call your brother?” He nodded. “What should I call you?”

“My name's Scott,” he said, his tiny hand gripping against her giant talon. “Scott Summers. Pleased to meet you.”

“Do you still want to go to Mars, Scott?”

“More than anything.”

Phoenix never knew that she was capable of smiling.

There were days that he was in too much pain for their adventures, and he would lay atop her wings, talking about his dreams. He was a wistful little boy, ever focused, ever hoping. He never talked of the pain, never mentioned the missing eye or the missing arm. He didn't complain when they took his lungs, or his spine, he merely hoped that this would be the last time, and that he would finally be reunited with his brother.

“I love you, Phoenix,” he came to say on one of those days when he was in too much pain to enjoy the scope of the beautiful universe. Snuggled into her flaming feathers as they drilled through his skull to remove his ear, his words were quiet, but meaningful.

“Love?” she asked. “What is love?”

He thought for long moments, his child mind not knowing how to explain it. He pressed his hand against his chest, over his heart, and jolted in the pain of his movement. He smiled, though, weakly, warmly. “It's what you feel in your heart,” he said, “when you care about someone.”

“I want to feel love,” she replied, stroking her beak across his forehead as they set the saw down upon his skull.

“Maybe you do,” he said, his body too exhausted and already flickering from his lack of concentration. The pain was too much for the child, and already, she could see the glimmer of tears along his dark eyelashes.

“Don't cry, Scott,” she reminded him. “They won't let you see your brother if you cry.”

He's conscious, barely hanging onto the threads he's so exhausted. He strains himself to keep control, to keep his eyes shut, to keep the world safe from his threat.

She pities him. Even in her hatred of him – the man that he's become, so lost, so cold – she pities him. She offers once again to take it all away. To relieve him of the burden his powers. She would keep him warm, safe. No one would ever hurt him again. She would kill them if they even thought it. “We could be beautiful together, Scott.”

But, he doesn't answer her, his every thought so bent on control that he blocks out all else – the whispers and nightmares, the fragments of memories, the pain. “We were beautiful together.”

It saddens her that he thinks her an enemy now, that he no longer loves her. She would give anything for the return of the warmth, a reprieve from her loneliness. She would give anything for him to remember her once again.

Somewhere on an alien ship, his breath is like cool puffs of wind against the frigid cosmic air. He's close, so close to losing himself to the dearth of power that boils underneath his skin. So close to killing them. The pain is immense, but he doesn't cry, doesn't call out. He knows better.

Screaming will only make it worse, hasten his loss of control.

“Scott?”

He can hear her in his head, and he can feel the pain of burns on his chest and torso.

“I'll stop them from hurting you.”

But, it's not the pain he worries about, it's the shift in his energy, the way it swirls around him. He worries for whoever is doing this to him. He worries for his captors.

They're embedding something in his skin, in the wound left by his mysterious disappearance. They're burning him, melting the skin around something cold, perhaps it's metal. And in his soundless pain, all Phoenix can think about is that small child shimmering in her arms. “Please, Scott,” she responds to his silence. “Let me save you once again.”

His words are eked into the dullness of his thoughts, a risk considering the dearth of power that threatens to overflow. “I won't let you hurt anyone. Ever again.”

This is why she hates him now. His punishment for protecting him. For constantly giving him the world, only for him to revoke his warmth, to chide her, to make her into a foe. Silently – like a surly child - she returns to her corner of his mind, watches as the broken pieces of his life crumble even more. In her hatred, she pities him, but wishes him pain as well. “Damn you, Scott Summers. Damn you to hell.”

Chapter Text

He speaks first to his son, apologizes for killing him, for sending him into such danger that he died for the sake of them. If he could take it back, he would die in Nathan's place, shut down the sentinels from the future on his own, stop treating his own child like a simple soldier. He apologizes again to the man who isn't there, understands if his son hates him, but hopes that somehow, he'll find the space to forgive him. “I killed you millions of times,” he speaks, “and I each time was a nail through my heart. I should have been there for you Nathan. I should have been better.”

They try to reach him. Try to poke their small hands through the bars of their cage to grab him, to settle him, to let him know that they're here and that they're real. But they fail, miserably. It takes a lot of concentration for Flicker to flatten herself, and even with the encouragement of both Sliver and Cricket, and Arlo's gentle nuzzle against her shoulder, she fails. “We have to bring him back before he falls asleep,” Opal says, reminding them all of the Phoenix dreams and the destruction that they cause. If they don't, if they can't reach him, keep him conscious and keep him hemmed into reality, then they're in trouble. “It took him seconds to kill whole cities. Imagine what he'll do to us if he loses control.”

It's a worrying thought, and again Sarah Goodwind tries to reach out through the bars, willing herself flatter and longer, trying desperately to reach him. She fails again, and with sad peacock eyes, she finally looks to Tony Stark hovering by himself in the corner. “Your arms are longer,” she says, “You should try.”

“Try what?”

“Letting him know that you're real,” Indira speaks, her voice intending to be harsh and degrading, but coming out sad and scared. “It helps keep him focused.” They don't want to be locked in here with their mortal enemy, the man who hunted them down for months on end, separated them from their families, but they need is help, especially if they're going to survive this. “Bring him back, and he'll help us make a plan.”

She's read about Scott Summers enough to know that he's a master strategist, and even when half crazy like he is now, she has no doubt that his plans will be thorough. He'll find a way to get them off this ship, to get them home, and she won't let Ironman tell her any different. “Do it,” she demands, and watches as he slips his arm out of the armor and reaches through the bars.

He makes contact easily, grabbing hold of those cold fingers welded into some mainframe of the ship. He hypothesizes that they've somehow figured out how to harness his power, much like the telepaths, only instead of powering up mutants, they're using him to power the ship instead. “I'm real,” he tells the man before him and looks across the wires and circuits, the blood and carnage of their too-quick surgery. Hung like an ornament, a wide metal circle of microchips melted into his chest, Tony can't imagine the pain that he's in, or even why he's still alive. “Scott, I'm real, man. Come on.”

“Be nice to him,” Indira chides.

“Scott, I'm real,” he repeats, his tone like honey, and with a squeeze of fingers, he gets the man's attention. “There you are. Glad you're back.”

“Stark?” A long pause as Tony nods, watching the man carefully. “You found me?”

“No. No, not really. No hunt today, pal.”

The recognition of where he is dawns on him, lifting his brows and stuttering his words. And, then he notices the children locked up in the cage in front of him. “Shit.”

“Yeah, you got that right,” Tony laughs. “But, maybe not in front of the kiddos, okay? You need to teach them right and proper things.”

“The ship's real?”

Indira nods. “It's real, Mr. Summers.”

“The engines,” he says, his mind spinning a thousand directions at once. “The escape pods. You have to get there.”

“Relax, Scott,” Tony urges, once again squeezing the man's fingers to get his attention. He's bleeding bad, the red liquid dripping down over the host of circuitry in his chest. He's melted into this machine, tied in with thousands of wires and cables. Even if they could escape the cage to the pods, it would take hours to undo the mechanisms holding him into the mainframe. “I'm sure someone's on their way. Someone will save us.”

“Not from me,” he says, and quickly expounds. “I killed you three million, six hundred and forty eight times already. How many more times will you die before you finally end it all?”

“Scott!” He shakes against the hand he holds, calming down the sudden burst of frenetic energy. Looking deep into ruby red lenses, he hopes that he's holding the mutant's gaze, hopes that he is being listened to. “I need your help,” he says calmly, steadfastly, “We need to get out of here.”

Summers' mind swirls like a hurricane with escape plans and war. The fight in his mind is strenuous, so much so that the red fog bursts from the wires holding him in check, clouding about them all with a thus far harmless bit of red energy. It's a worrisome thing, and Opal Johnston – otherwise known as Cricket – is fast to pull Tony's hands away and square off against him in their tiny cage. “You do that again and we all die.”

She's serious. More than serious. At 17 years old, Cricket is more adult than child, already experienced with the world and all of its pitfalls. Unlike the others – who still retain that youthful hope, she knows better. “I will fucking kill you if you agitate him,” she says, having witnessed the aftermath of his explosions first hand.

Tony's not used to such talk from kids. He's much more accustomed to adulation and fanfare, the signing of autographs and the selling of t-shirts. He has his own line of Ironman cards, from his first suit to his twenty-eighth, and has hand-signed one set in ten thousand for the lucky kid who draws the right pack. But Opal Johnston doesn't care who he is, none of the mutants do, in fact. They see him as the enemy, and he very well knows why. “I'm sorry,” he says, though not going into details. No sense in letting the kids keep him at arm's length – not when their lives are at stake.

“You need to get out of here,” Cyclops repeats, his blood stained teeth only adding horror to his words. “I can't control this. I can't save you.”

In Ironman's memories, Cyclops was always cool and controlled, vicious at times, when his friends or his world were at stake. But never vulnerable. No, Scott Summers was never vulnerable. Not like now. “He's right,” he says, turning his dark blue eyes to the children. “We have to get out of here.”

“We're not leaving him behind,” Indira argues. “The X-men take care of their own--”

“But, I'm not an X-man, and neither are you.” His tone is sharp and it sets the girl's teeth on edge. “And besides, pretty sure that the only thing keeping him from taking this scrap heap out is the fact that we're hanging here. He doesn't want to hurt us, and so we need to go.” Then, his attention goes back to Cyclops, who is relieved at the conversation. “You know where the escape pods are?”

“The engine room, then right.”

“And how are we supposed to get there?”

But the brunt of pain as the electronics welded into his chest sizzles removes his concentration once again. A squeeze of hand, and Tony tries to bring him back, to keep him awake, but the red fog only thickens as the mutant scrambles to keep himself under control. “Is he ever okay?” Tony asks. The children shrug.

Indira Gomez is a smart little girl, and with that intelligence, she formulates a plan for them all to survive. “The heat guns,” she says. “If we can find one, we can use it to melt the bars and all of the wires. We can all be free.”

“But then we'll be lost in space,” Opal is quick to counter. She reminds them all that none of them know how to fly this alien mechanism.

“Maybe I can find out.” Indira dares a grin, one that is both confident and defiant. They watch as she pulls her index finger free from her hand and asks Pocket for a paper and crayon, which the boy pulls out of his pocket dimension and hands it to her. “We just need to decipher the interface, right? Figure out what it's saying?” Large brown eyes look to Stark for confirmation.

“Yeah,” he answers. “If I can see it, I should be able to figure it out.”

Carefully, she drops her finger onto the floor by the wall of monitors. Now offered a 360 degree view of the room, she begins detailed drawings that map out the keys as well as the commands on the screens.

She's a powerful thing, this little mutant. With just the drop of a finger, she can gather so much information, store it, utilize it. This is the kind of power that can take down whole governments and top secret operations. It can cause so much damage if the girl is not taught properly, but can also help so many more if she stays in the hands of the X-men.

He looks at them all – Indira, Sarah, Arlo, Opal and Pocket – and wonders what they're capable of, what they could become, and he fears that they will turn evil. It is, however, the same with most mutants, if he really thinks about it – including Summers. That their goodwill towards man will eventually run out and they will run roughshod over the world and remake it in their own image. They'd seen a glimmer of that with Cyclops, but even Tony knows that he was pulling his punches, even before he had the full wealth of his power.

He looks at the drawings, the way she's plotted them out, and his mind begins to swirl with his innate curiosity. In the back of his mind, he can hear his father's voice as he begins to decipher the strange symbols and what they do. He can time the power ups and power downs to the cycle of circuits melted into Cyclops' chest and abdomen, and he eventually figures out what it all does. “They're taking us to war,” he says, noting the schematics that she has drawn.

“It's a weapons interface. They're going to use the Red Dimension to blow their enemy sky high.” And, he knows well enough that Cyke can't take it. Using his powers pushes him to the brink of his control. “They're going to destroy the dimension.”

“The heat rods.” Cricket runs her fingers over Arlo's bristly fur, burnt now from the strange instruments that they used in their battles. “Would they melt through the wires?”

“Possibly,” Tony says, then looks to Scott who is mumbling numbers to himself – his mantra of calm; his way of keeping himself reasonable. “But how would we even --”

Before he can finish his sentence, he feels suddenly so strange and small, and then world is white around him. A moldy peanut butter sandwich and broken crayons. Stuffed bunnies with their ears bent and chewed, crumpled pieces of paper and odd bits of shiny things. Glitter and bows, nuts and bolts, a wedding ring and a fake diamond earring. He is surrounded by the world of a child – a child that does not fit so neatly into the world at large, and he realizes quickly that this must be Tatsuya's power.

Before he can delve into the world of this young mutant, he is again pulled by the ankle and suddenly, the world hums with sound. Outside of the cage, he stares wide-eyed at the young boy who leans back against the bars, his black eyes still staring at a wounded Cyclops. “Okay then,” Stark says, again taken aback by these children's powers. “I'll go find one of those heat guns.”

The children wish him luck, and to hurry back in case Scott falls asleep again. “Don't get caught,” timid Sarah says, her hand wound into Arlo's fur. She smiles at him so softly that he can't help but nod in return.

Chapter Text

Nathan Christopher Summers stands at the window looking out over the city. It's quiet here, disturbingly so. If he could – if he felt like he stood a chance – he'd raid them now, spill himself out over their weaponry and armor, take their lives for what they've done. Then, he'd go after the others – the telepaths and those who protected them. He'd destroy them all, and finally, finally he would greet his father again with the thoughts of vengeance long outside of his mind.

“Dad?”

Her voice is quiet, a little over a whisper. She brings with her green tea and small snacks in the shapes of autumn leaves. This is why she likes Japan. This is why he hasn't left. “Thanks, dear,” he says and takes his seat.

Hope's life here is forcibly normal, far away from mutants and their battles. It's what she wanted, what she's always wanted, and she's content. He knows this, and he hates to disrupt the niche that she's carved out for herself here. She goes shopping with friends, karaoke, lunch and dinner on the weekends. She plays volleyball at school, and makes good grades. “You're leaving aren't you?” she says, almost sadly.

“I don't know yet,” he says, his eyes glancing towards the door of Rachel's impromptu bedroom – the room that used to be his until she showed up hysterical and delirious at their front door some weeks ago. They'd both listened to her explain what had happened to their father, how he was saved, and how he was doomed.

In truth, Cable wants blood. He wants to hunt down Jean and Emma and the other telepaths, make them pay for what they've done. But, it is realizing his own ignorance that staves him off, realizing that his avoidance of his father's mind had caused part of the problem. “I should have known,” he says quietly over a sip of tea. Even then, as a child, he'd been more fascinated with his mother and adoptive mother to see the turmoil inside his father's head. He'd held the red heads on a pedestal, and his father a step below.

“You couldn't have known,” Hope replies, nibbling on the red bean cake. She wears barrettes in her long red hair – shiny silver things that glitter in the light. “I soaked up his power and I didn't know.” She's not attached to her adoptive grandfather, though he sought to train her and keep her safe from harm. She simply remembers the craze, the loudness, the pulling-hair moments, his obsession with saving the mutants from extinction. She was not a tool or an object to be used, but somewhere in his mania, he forgot as such.

Though now she wonders how much of that was him, and how much was the telepathic disturbance, she's still not ready to forgive him for all that he'd done to her. “You can't punish yourself.”

Cable stares down at the tiny treats. They're not his style. They're not dried meats and field rations. These things are luxurious to him, outside of his comfort zone, but he eats them to please his daughter. She's always wondered about the world outside of their frantic trips through time, about a world that was safe and easy. He wonders if she's satisfied with it, but he doesn't ask. He's afraid that she'll say no, and that she wants to return to the life of a soldier. That she wants the action and the weapons and the blood upon her hands. Those things are addictive, as well he knows, and he's afraid that she'll never overcome it. “I can do what I want,” he finally answers, sticking one of the autumn-leaf cakes into his mouth. He'll suffer this for her; it's the least he can do.

His father didn't have that choice, so for this, he feels lucky.

“Always boil the water first,” Slym Dayspring said – his father, though in a body unlike his own. Suffering from bad knees and headaches, he was not the bastion of fortitude that he would come to know in later years. “This prevents bacteria.”

He'd been so young then. Five, maybe six. Slym and Redd had cared for him for as long as he could remember. He wouldn't know until much later that they were his real parents, come from the past to raise him. They'd spent the day making water skins from a deer they had caught, carving up the beast to reveal the precious hide and meat. He'd let Nathan make the incisions, talking him through the different parts of the animal, and of course, sharing with the rest of the caravan.

The people were starved there, hunted down by Apocalypse and going from city to city hoping to find solace. Slym's skills were greatly appreciated – and there were many who relied on him. From finding water, to keeping them warm at night when fires were impossible, he had taught them all a great deal, even if he didn't share his thoughts with the boy or anyone else. He was an intensely private man, but generous with his knowledge and abilities.

While the others feasted on deer, he stood by himself, combing the hide with lye in order to remove the hair. Afterwards, it would be boiled down, then hardened. “It makes it more durable,” he'd explained under starlight.

The boy was torn between Slym and the feast, not wanting to seem ungrateful, but also wanting to be a part of the crowd. In the end, he chose Slym, settling himself against the drying rack and peering up at the moon. “Don't you get tired of this?”

“Tired of what?”

“Always taking care of people. They don't even notice what you do.”

His tone was soft. “Or perhaps, you don't notice what they do. Your clothes are patched because of Mendel. I asked him yesterday morning. And they're clean because of Lila and Temeena. They've been washing everyone's clothes for a week. Dorian has been keeping the children occupied during the trek, and Sylla keeps us entertained at night. I don't do more than they do, I just do different things.”

“But if it wasn't for you, we wouldn't be eating venison tonight.”

“If it wasn't for Byron I wouldn't have had the arrows to shoot the deer to begin with.” He studied the boy for some moments, his eyes creased with concentration. “A good man doesn't do the work to get a pat on the back. He does it because it needs to be done. That's an important lesson to learn.”

And it was one that Nathan still carries with him to this day. Through all that he's been through, he's remembered that bit of wisdom, kept it close to his heart. Hope gathers her things – her backpack and lunchbox, a handful of coins so she can go play the cranes after school with her friends. She wants to win a banana plushie, one that she's been eyeing for weeks. “I'll be home by four,” she says, and after a quick I love you, she trounces out the door.

He doesn't want to leave her. Not again. But, he has to. For his father's sake.

By the time Rachel wakes, he's knee deep in blueprints and security plans. A dozen facilities and lock downs, plus the original plans for the Baxter Building warehouse. In the back of his head, he hears his father telling him to attack the smaller locations first, create a buzz, take out as much weaponry as possible before hitting the bigger places, and that's where the Baxter Building comes in. Rumor has it that Fury's been using it as a base of operations since Stark's announcement, and it's shored up with hundreds of soldiers – soldiers that are packed into that place like sardines, meaning if he's smart enough and quick enough, he can blast the whole thing sky-high, and then work on the rest. But, it's not a job he's comfortable doing on his own. He wants a team, and the X-men are sorely lacking in those that want to fight.

“You're really going through with this?” Rachel asks, cup of coffee in hand. She takes hers with cream and sugar, unlike Nathan who takes his black and muddy.

“They destroyed the mansion to get to him, so I'll destroy them to get him back.”

“And what about Jean?”

“I'll deal with her later, once Dad's safe.”

“I don't want her dead.”

“Doesn't matter what you want; it's a matter of what needs to be done.” He fears that she'll attack him again; that she'll once again try to take his powers for herself. “If she stays away, then I'll let her go. But, if she comes after him --”

“Why don't you let me deal with her?”

“A slap on the wrist?” he grunts.

“No. A taste of her own medicine.” It's rare that her green eyes go vicious with intent, and so seeing it, lifts gray brow and snicks a smirk across his cheek. She takes a deep breath, another sip of coffee, and returns to studying the blue prints.

She wants to come with him, to help him destroy SHIELD, but he refuses to leave Hope alone again, not with the mutants in such disarray. He needs her to take care of his daughter, just in case he doesn't come back. “She doesn't like fried rice,” he tells Rachel, making sure that she understands his daughter's inclinations. “She'll eat bowl fulls of it steamed, but if it's fried, she'll barely touch it.”

“You're going to make it back, Nathan. I know you --”

“She'll fight over her bedtime, but if she doesn't get nine hours of sleep, she does poorly at school. And once volleyball's done, she needs to find another outlet for her energy. I was thinking about Akido, like Dad. It will teach her that violence isn't always the answer. I think she needs that.”

Rachel listens dutifully to the instructions, every once in a while trying to soothe his suddenly scattered thoughts. “I just need to make sure that she's taken care of – the way she deserves.”

Rachel asks if he's going to find Sam or Tabitha or even Neena, the rest of his team, and he tells her no. There is no need to put the kids in any more danger than they've already been through. “Magneto's going to want something from them. They'll have enough to deal with.”

“At least he was on the side of angels for a moment,” she sighs. “At least they're free.”

“At least now, the X-men might fight back.”

“You'll learn one day the difference between pointless violence and a worthy battle,” Slym said. “Just because one is your enemy doesn't mean you always need to fight them. A good leader avoids battle when he can, saves his strength for those things that will truly make a difference in the future.”

“Is that why you're not fighting Apocalypse?”

“I am fighting him,” he said, “Everyday that this caravan is alive, Apocalypse is thwarted another day.” He looked at him then, his eyes squinted for the sun. “Not every battle is about violence, Nathan. Sometimes, the best way to fight is to simply stand your ground. You'll learn that too, one day.”

“You always act like I'm some sort of hero.”

“You are. It's in your blood.”

Rachel hates the sudden silence between them, the regret of her inaction. But, at the time, she truly believed that what she was doing was right. “Don't you ever get tired of fighting?”

In all honesty, he did at times. His bones were weary, even. Like now, looking over these plans. But, then, he can't imagine what he would do if there were no more wars, no more battles. He's known nothing but, just like Rachel, just like Scott. “Do you?”

“Sometimes,” she says. “I think that there's a whole world out there of people who have jobs and dates and things that don't involve defying death everyday. Some days, I feel like I want a cat and job at some retail store and an apartment with day old pizza in the fridge. Then other days, I think I would be bored to tears.”

He smiles softly, his gray eyes pouring over the blueprints once again. He'd never imagined this kind of life for himself, sedate and simple. He finds it difficult to fit into a life of t-shirts and jeans. He worries that this is why he's going to war with SHIELD. Fear that a normal life has no place for him.

“You should talk to Alex,” Rachel says, the idea of it burning in green eyes. “He'd go to war with you. He hates --”

“I don't want to get others involved.”

“He's already involved. At least as far as protecting Dad is concerned.”

It's an idea, and one that doesn't settle bad in the pit of his stomach. “Can you contact him telepathically?”

“I can get a message to Warren,” she says. “He has penthouse a few blocks from here. He'd pass it along. I'm guessing, if they took Scott, Logan will come too.” She tells him of the strangeness that's passed over Logan, the utter protectiveness for the man. She thinks it love, and she's not sure how she feels about it.

“At least he's not a telepath,” Cable smiles.

Chapter Text

“You can clone him?”

Sinister sighs and smiles. “I came close once, combining his DNA with the Inhumans, but alas, the experiment fell far short of my expectations. It's very difficult to duplicate what is constantly in flux.”

She's unimpressed by the admission. Brow lowered and blue eyes filled with spite, she shakes her head. “You said that he would love me.”

“Correction,” he admonishes with a finger in the air. “I said a part of him would love you. Tell me, Ms. Frost, how well do you like children?”

“You mean for me to have his baby?”

The Madelynes stop in their procession around the banquet table. Placing their utilities on the table – the wine, the food, the clean silverware and napkins – they put hands on hips and shake their head. Sinister gives them all a wide grin. “Oh, my little crumpets. We're not jealous now, are we?”

She's a mindless thing, doing tasks at his whim, but there are certain things ingrained in her genetics. Certain things that are unavoidable since her creation – and one of those being her need to bear Scott Summers' children. “Hmmm,” he muses, lifting the bold glass of red wine to his lips. “How unexpected.”

“You can fix that right?” Emma asks, unnerved by the dozen of clones suddenly angry over the mention of Cyclops.

“So, I take it that you are okay with the proposition?”

“I do like children,” she answers slowly, waiting for Sinister to send the Madelynes back to work, which he does in order to give himself breathing room. “And if it is a piece of Scott --”

Sinister's grin softens. Leaning forward, his elbow propped on the table, he speaks in a low, disquieting tone, one that sends shivers up her spine. “I can only imagine how powerful your progeny will be now that Mr. Summers is in the full scope of his powers. I must have a sample of its DNA as part of our bargain.”

For years, he's looked for suitable partners for that golden DNA, his hopes of mapping and correlating in order to prove himself a better, more perfect being. “And with Jean out of the picture, you're the next best thing.”

She doesn't like being compared to Jean, doesn't like that she's constantly second place. He's quick to remind her that it doesn't matter in the long run. “All that matters, my dear, is that you feel loved. And a child will love you unconditionally. And, who knows, maybe in the long run, he'll appreciate the lengths that you're willing to go for him. This could very well be the salvo that your relationship needs. After all, you were only trying to help him. You kept him patched together for years, and he should know that.”

“It's like you're reading my thoughts.”

“Perhaps I am.”

A snap of fingers and the Madelynes return, filling wine glasses and taking up the dirty napkins. Their dance is immaculate as they swirl around each other keeping the feast glorious and succulent. They bring venison to the table, and a rich cream sauce, wild rice, and stewed greens. They are perfect, save for the glint in their eyes when they take Emma's plate. These Madelynes are not prone to forget the little bargain that she's made with Sinister.

“I wouldn't drink the wine,” Sinister says with a smile, tipping his own glass to his lips. He motions for one of the Madelynes to come forward, and when she does, he wrests the small packet of rat poison out of her hand. “Curious.”

It's only at night that the guilt creeps in. Snugged under thick blankets, still awake and alert for the presence of the Madelynes outside her door, she feels the weight of her decisions deep in the part of her soul that she'd like once again to forget.

For most of her life, this soul of hers had lain dormant, crushed down by ambition, greed, and the snarls of men who wished to do her harm. It was Scott who reminded her that it was there, and the thoughts of him that scarred across it. She would cry now, if not for the sound of it rousting the Madelynes back to wakefulness.

Somewhere in the distance, the Creed clones howl. A deer, a rabbit, some manner of creature that they've decided to hunt. She wonders how many he has now, how many mutants he's managed to clone, keep mindless, keep under thumb for nothing other than his own pleasure. She's seen the Gambits – all resting in their cages, but there are fewer now than when the Phoenix had possessed them. She's also witnessed a McCoy and a Drake, but only one, and both seemed utterly oblivious to the world around them.

In her midnight haze of sleeplessness, she wonders if she can wake them up – the McCoy and the Drake. If she can bring them to life, make them into human beings. She wonders what they'd do should they have their memories returned to them, or at least their minds. If they'd pound this city to ash, or if they'd flourish inside of it. She wonders the same about the Madelynes, how they would react if they had their own will again. How much like Jean they would become, or perhaps, how much like Scott.

Pryor had done significant damage to Summers' mind – whether a directive by Sinister or of her own accord, Emma doesn't know. While, she too sipped at that power, she barely thought twice about the man and his condition. What the telepaths did was their choice, and it did not behoove her to interfere. It wasn't until after Apocalypse possessed him that Emma began to take notice.

For months, he fought back against the beast, his mind in turmoil, and the love of his life did precious little to help him. They simply kept up the war until the moment they were exposed. It was then – the utter heartbreak of seeing them inside his mind, of learning what they were doing to him, that singular moment when he was too stunned to fight back against them that Emma realized how wrong they were. And it was also the moment when she decided to help the man instead of punish him further.

She'd never loved someone before, not without some motive behind it, some need. And, she'd never been loved before.

“You don't want marriage?” he'd asked. It was so soon into their courtship, before the mutants were decimated by the Scarlet Witch's spell, and several months after Jean's death. He was shocked – a momentary glimmer upon his otherwise unreadable face.

“And share half of my fortune with whatever dullard decided to divorce me? Never. That money goes to a good cause,” she laughed, putting her hands on her hips to accentuate the perfect figure underneath her nightgown. “No, darling. Marriage is not for me. Men are too deceptive to trust --”

“I'm not deceptive.”

“You're suggesting I marry you?” The comment came out as more of a scoff than she intended. He blushed in his embarrassment, turned his head to the floor. Realizing that she'd hurt him, she sat down on the bed next to him, arms around his shoulders. “I'm not Jean, Scott. I don't need such things. Just knowing that you love me is enough.”

His face was rarely expressive, so when he looked at her, his autumn brows just perked and a soft smile creasing the left side of his face, she felt warm inside, she felt loved. She pulled him into a deep kiss, her hand upon his heart, and let him show her how much she was loved.

But even then, she wondered how much of it was real. “You'll never know how much I love you, Scott Summers. You can't even imagine it.”

He laughed, pulled her head to his chest and embraced her slim shoulders. “If it's even half of how much I love you, then I think we'll manage somehow.” She didn't judge him for things he couldn't control after being possessed – not the dark thoughts, not the boredom or restlessness, not the punishing way he felt the world was turned against him, or his lack of trust in those he thought were friends. She didn't pry, didn't heave expectations upon him. She accepted him – warts and all – and for that, he could never repay her. “As long I don't screw it up, right?”

She would laugh now over that conversation, and that he did screw it up when he took the Phoenix Force from her. But even so, she understood the drive to do it. The Phoenix had long been his, serving his interests from afar. If it weren't for him, the giant fire bird would never have returned to bring them back from extinction. Unfortunately, no one saw it that way.

And, then, he killed Xavier, and she couldn't stop the cracks in his psyche after that. Her patch job had already come undone, and if she lost telepathic focus for even a second, he would have exploded on the spot. The day he disappeared, she felt relieved, if she were honest with herself. That he was gone to somewhere unknown. To that dimension that he created to house his power. She could finally relax, and she was suddenly alone.

Outside she can hear the rustling of hoop skirts and corsets. There's six of them, she counts, entering each of their minds and feeling Sinister's presence in each. Either he's asleep and unmindful of their shenanigans, or he's spying on her. In the door lock, she can see the bright green eye staring at her, watching as she tosses and turns in her bed. She considers blasting across each of them, giving them the worst headache of their lives, but then she remembers that they're just like her.

All they wanted was Scott's love, his child, and Sinister took both away from them, and now they are mere shells of beings bent to his wishes and accords. Pryor was once whole and beloved, a special thing inside his heart, but when Jean returned, her world was ripped out from underneath of her. She's heard the rumors, that Sinister meant for her to force Scott away once she had his child, but Jean was far more powerful of a telepath, and it seemed more likely to Emma that Jean had pulled him out of his lackluster marriage and back into her arms.

She hated Jean Grey, but she didn't hate Madelyn Pryor. “You can come in, if you like,” she calls into the darkness. “I'm completely and utterly awake.”

More rustling outside of her door, and then the slow turn of knob. Madelyne Pryor stands in the doorway, with another five behind her. “He's asleep,” she tells the woman slowly rousting from her bed. “Can we talk?” She offers Emma a cup of coffee

Emma yawns and stretches, setting the coffee on the dresser, wary. “Of course. So long as you stop trying to poison me.”

Madelyne blushes. Her words are a struggle against her innate programming, against the will of Essex. “I want to leave here.” And they are also a surprise. Emma jolts straight up in her bed, staring wide-eyed at the clone. “We all want to leave here.”

“You want to find Scott,” she decides. Madelyne nods. “I'm sorry, dear, but that's impossible. I won't let you have Scott again. Once is enough for your meddling--”

Rage creeps across the clone's features – slowly disfiguring the full lips and red brow, until Madelyne is something unrecognizable. No longer the prim little waitress that sits at the foot of Sinister, she is herself, though with a struggle to resist the programming that keeps her compliant. “I want out.”

“Then find a way to escape, but you can't expect me to help you.”

“I will punish you for this.”

“You can try, but I doubt anything you can do will hurt me, my poor, dear clone. And you have Essex to thank for that.”

It is with but a thought that she turns the Madelyne off, much to the shock of the other five. “Come on, ladies, I'm a telepath,” she sighs, hefting the clone up by the shoulders to drag her out of the room. “Threaten me again and I will drop each and everyone of you just like this. I'm not here to play around.” As she sets the Madelyne outside her door, the others scurry off like little rodents, twittering and huffing, upset that their clone-sister was defeated. “I'm telling Sinister on you!” she calls out after them, hoping to goodness that Essex hears her, though she doubts it. She's not sure where his room is in this vast castle, but she's sure it's nowhere near hers.

For hours she waits – slumped against wall and floor, fighting sleep – for the cruel Madelyne to wake from her slumber. The clone is shocked to be outside and self-aware. “He'll surely scrap you in the morning when he hears of what you've done – because I do plan to tell him. So, I would take this moment of clarity to escape if I were you. It's your only chance because I'm not helping you any further than this.”

The Madelyne nods slowly, and takes off her impossibly high heels and runs down the hall. It's not long after that Emma hears the howls of the Creeds, and she wonders if they ended up catching the Madelyne after all.

Chapter Text

He doesn't dream of her anymore, though he can feel her reaching out with her psychic tendrils. He can feel her poke and prod at certain memories, trying to wake him up, trying to cause a reaction. She misses his attention, his undying love, his willingness to protect her above all else.

But, anymore, there is simply hatred. “How often you fool around in here, Jeannie?” She doesn't answer, not at first anyway. She's weakened now, both by the absence of Scott's powers and distance. She's a pixie, a gnat, a flying thing to bat away. “Haven't you learned to leave people's heads alone?”

“Just making sure he's okay, Logan.” The words chime inside of his mind, her voice like a distant memory.

In his head he curses at her, asks her if she thought of that while she was destroying his mind. He tells her that Scott's not okay, and he wonders if he'll ever be okay again. “Seven years bad luck and more I hope you get for breaking that man's mind.”

“I loved him, Logan.”

“You loved his power more, apparently.” He knows that she's hardening herself to his punishment, to the string of telepathic curses that continue to roll inside his mind. He pulls up his rage, his hatred, his vehemence, let's her feel it full force, no sugar coating or worry about the tears he feels inside his mind. “You never answered my question.”

She steels herself just a little more, enough so that her words don't tremble in the depth of his thoughts. “What question was that, Logan?”

“You ever mess around in my mind, too?” Again, she doesn't answer, and the rage within him becomes an animal in his veins. Claws come out involuntarily at the sudden surge in his adrenaline, and if she were here, he would rip to her shreds. But, she's not here – in his tent, out on the lawn waiting for the sun to rise so they can get back to planning Scott's rescue. She's nowhere near here, nowhere that he can touch. “Fuck you.” The words ring clear inside his mind, and he can feel the bend of her resolve.

“I'm sorry, Logan,” she mutters, her distant voice muddled with sadness. “I'm sorry about all of it. I wish I could make it up to you.”

“Was it all a lie?”

“Not all of it.” But, she neglects to explain which parts are and which parts aren't.

He could feel her weariness then, how exhausted connecting to his mind over such a distance has made her, but it dawns on him that she can reach this far, even though the connection is bad. “He's not here, darlin', and the next time you try this, I will hunt you down and put an end to you for good.”

“It's habit, Logan. That's all.” Her headache is beginning to become unbearable, and so she leaves with him with final words. “I really did love him. Make sure he knows that.”

The connection closed, he finally opens his eyes and stares at the top of his dewed up tent. It's cool in the early mornings, before the sun has risen. And beyond the shallow green fabric, he can see the carving of the moon in the pale night sky. Unblissfully awake, he crawls from the tent and out onto the grounds to find that he's not the only one who's risen.

“You look like shit,” he tells Alex, who stands guard over the campfire. Even from this distance, he can smell the percolation of coffee. Alex barely stirs, not surprised that the feral mutant is up and out of his den. “She messed around with your head, too, didn't she?”

He answers with a shrug of brow and then pouring the coffee into two mugs. They sit in silence, looking over the reams of tents and the nighttime yard. The disappointment still wrangles across Alex's face – that so few would join him to rescue Scott from the aliens, and some of them – like Angel – were too injured to be of use. They speak for a while about Forge and their hopes that he can create devices to block telepathy. In the end, if he can, they could bring the telepaths back, as they can feel the strategic lack of them at the moment. Had they had the telepaths during the battle, perhaps things would not have gone as they did.

Their conversation settles into a heavy silence. Alex doles out the coffee, stares up at the stars in the sky. So much has gone wrong in such a short amount of time, but still, the X-men are playing hide and seek with the world. “When did we become such cowards?” Summers asks, not really expecting an answer.

“We're not cowards, bub. Just damn tired of the world always being so screwed up that we've finally lost track of what we're fighting for.” It's been hard on Storm to protect the innocence of the children, but even in that, she appears to have given up. “She'll get it back,” he promises, “She always does.”

“You're surprisingly optimistic. You sure Jean didn't mess around in your head too much?”

Logan smiles. “Ain't optimism. It's hope. Maybe all this shit going down at once is the kick in the ass the X-men need in order to rebuild themselves again. 'Cause right now, they're as demolished as the mansion.”

Kurt would go with them. That much Logan knew for sure. And if the prisoners finally come back, he is sure that Proudstar will go, too. “We'll have to talk to Petey,” Wolverine continued. “Might just need a push in the right direction.”

“And you're the one to push him?”

“That's your job, bub.”

“My job? Why--”

“You're the leader.” It had been a long time since he'd called anyone that, not since his death, not since he left Scott's side. While he was sure he did a fine job leading the pack himself, he'd always felt more comfortable from the back seat, away from all the tacs and strats and everything else that made the Summers boys so damn great at what they did. Storm was once that way, and were she again, he'd bow to her, too, but her resolve had dwindled, and the goddess of weather needed time to collect herself.

Being called a leader again – especially by Logan – does not fill Alex with pride, but rather fear. He has a lot to live up to in terms of that moniker, especially considering that Logan followed Scott for decades. “I'll mess up,” he says quietly, sipping at his coffee to hide the lump in his throat.

“We all do,” Logan replies. “I did, your brother did, Storm did. All that matters is how you pick yourself from those mistakes and make yourself a better person.”

Alex can hear the years in Logan's words; the mantra of a soul that's lived a life far longer than any soul should. And, for it, he is thankful. Now he knows why his brother trusted this man so much and for so long. “If they set us up --”

“They will. Nick has a job to do, and knowing the man, I can guarantee you that he's not finished with Scott yet.” Fury doesn't make the rules, he just follows them, and as always, there are people above him who dictate his actions. “He isn't some autonomous fucker who does what he feels is right. He heads the biggest spy organization in the world, and carries out black ops all over the place. His orders come from above. If he doesn't do the job they set for him, they'll find someone else who will.”

“So I should feel pity for the man?”

“Fuck no. He's an asshole, but he's not the only asshole out there, that's all I'm saying. The world's going to hunt Scott for a long while, so we need a strong leader, someone that can plan their way through things.”

“I'm not as strategic as Scott.”

“You need to stop comparing yourself to your brother.” The tone is stern, and so is Logan's face – lips pressed flat, dark brow low against gray eyes. “He needs you too much for your little pity party right now.”

Lorna had told him as much before he left, before she was captured. She would go with them, if she were here. She would fight for Scott, if only because she, too, had committed actions against her will when under the spell of Malice. But, more than that, she would fight because he asked her, too. “Where do you think they are?” he asks Logan, looking out over the night time sky. “I thought they'd return by now.”

Logan shrugs. There's been too much going on for him to even think about their friends broken out of the Undertow. “One situation at a time, and right now, we need to rescue Scott before those aliens push him to the brink and he explodes.”

“I'll talk to Forge when he wakes up, see if he can outfit the Blackbird for the portal and come up with some sort of telepathy-blocking device. In the meantime, you talk to Kitty. See if we can pull our team together to go rescue our friends.”

Chapter Text

He knows the plan. Backwards and forwards, he recites it over and over again. A mantra against the ebbing flow of fear in the back of his head.

He watches them below – the children, save Pocket and Sliver. He watches them gnash and fight and punch and kick. He watches them take on a dozen aliens at once, wrenching through their heat rods and laser guns. He watches them chew their way through bones and purple-fluid-blood. They're spectacular. They're frightening.

Above them all, Tony Stark uses his repulsor ray to hide the cameras that watch them. He blacks them out, crushes them with iron fist and watches for the rest of the aliens to come forth with their weaponry. These children, he thinks, are untrained, yet they fight with all of their might.

They will get captured, drug to the belly of the ship where Cyclops thinks the prison is. There's no way these aliens don't have a prison aboard. The ship is too massive to not have a dungeon. He thinks it's a replacement planet, this ship. A place for this species to board and fly free, their own planet destroyed by a dimensional war that they intend to win by hooking him up to their machines. Scott can't let that happen – not only for those they intend to evade, but for the dimension and his world itself.

He'll destroy them all if he's not careful.

One nap, one blissful moment of sleep and the whole thing will go sky high since Logan and Alex are not here to shut him off. He fears it, more than anything, the uncontrollable taking of lives. He's already a murderer. A million times over. In his dreams, in the dimension he created to house his intense power. He's killed them all a million, billion times. And each time, he brought them back, with tears, with effort, only to kill them all over again.

In the cooling ducts, Tony's insulated from sight. A single man – with a heating rod tucked under the arm of suit – against a million of them, or so he exaggerates. Captured, they'll be brought closer to the escape pods, to the engine room, and Tony will be able to map their progress – be it through sight, or through Sliver's finger that he carries tucked into the crook of his neck. It's odd having her finger there – the tip bulbous, with its own pupil and iris. She swears that she can see in the dark like this, that she can see better with her finger than she can in real life, but Ironman doesn't know how much stock he puts into that. All he knows is that she's a fearsome child, and he dreads the day that she turns evil.

Cricket brings more blood than the rest. At seventeen, she's a helluva fighter, using the blades along her wrists and ankles to deliver cutting blow after cutting blow. She's untrained, that much Tony can see, but what she has is an uncanny sense of where her opponents are. She knows when to hit and when to kick, when to duck and when to jump. Raised in the streets, she is used to being wary, and that proves her boon when it comes to action down below.

Arlo – as big as he is – isn't nearly so effective. His broken hands still cause pain, and he's too big to be lithe. Strength, however, is his best attribute. A heavy hitter to be sure. It's nothing for him to pick up one of the aliens and toss them into the metallic walls of the navigation room. He's busted seven of the computer displays already. Three left, and he's done the job that Cyclops has set out for him. Tony prays that he can make it. If even one of those displays survive, then the plan his sunk.

Swarming the hold is Flicker, her prismatic body floating through the scene fighting the aliens over weapons and kicking them in the face. She works well with Arlo, blinding his opponents so that he can wrestle them to the ground and continue on his mission. She's a soft thing, this Sarah, but adamant enough about their instructions that she's vowed to see this through.

Any minute now, Tony reminds himself, and they'll be overrun and captured. No need to cheer for them, no need to wish them good luck, because the whole plan hinges on Cyclops' insistence that they're wanted alive. He hopes it's so – these kids are fighting too hard for Summers to have lied to them.

And so they come, the droves. At least fifty of them, guns at ready, pressing the nodules to heads and hearts and lungs. The kids act surprised. They struggle against the heavy binds latched around their wrists and ankles. Curse and spit as they are paraded further down into the depths of the ship – leaving Tony alone with Sliver's finger and the navigation room at ready.

Though the screens are busted, he can make out the keys based on Sliver's previous patterns and the slight scuff marks left behind by too many fingers. He can discern the numbers from the letters, and with that in mind, he can set the course back to the portal. It's Cyke's hope that they can get far enough through space that the pods will make it back before their energy runs out.

He follows them through the ducts – checking vents in large chambers – seeing where they take the children. The ducts are thick and heavy, wrapped with a spongy gray material that apparently keeps things cool. It's a remarkable system they have, one that could not be replicated on earth, but also one that keeps his movements quiet as he twists and turns around the sharp corners following the prisoners deep into the depths of the ship.

He passes over the engine room – run by a core that looks to be similar to the arc reactor, only it's bright and red, with a haze of fog around it. He rumbles over long hallways that extend to sleeping quarters and cafeterias, weapons rooms, medical bays, and small computer rooms that are probably placed for emergency use. Finally, he sees the escape pods which are closer to the prison than he imagined.

“The locks are magnetized,” Summers had wheezed, trying his best to keep his focus against the millions of demons haunting the back of his brain. “Heat them up and they'll--”

“I understand magnetic properties,” he'd interrupted. “What do I do after?”

“Retrieve the children from the cage, then the cells, and escape.”

“Not without you,” Indira had demanded.

But Cyke couldn't be aboard the small escape pod. It would put him too close to the children. He'd kill them all.

Heat gun in hand, Stark leaves Sliver's finger overlooking the cells. The children are indeed safe here, and thus he makes his way back to free Pocket from the cage.

“We're not leaving without you,” Indira says from the cage floor. Barely concentrating on the prison cells, her wide, brown eyes stare warily at the hallucinating Cyclops just beyond her reach. He speaks to Nightcrawler, begs his forgiveness for killing him. He speaks to his brother, he speaks to James Proudstar. His heart is heavy with the deaths he caused in the Red Dimension, with the deaths he caused on earth. He's a murderer, a hideous thing, and he doesn't know how to earn forgiveness.

“Mr. Summers?” Her small hand reaches through the bar, but he remains just out of her reach. She looks at Pocket, who is absorbed in the bunny pictures crumpled up in his pocket. “Mr. Summers?” she says again, but still he doesn't hear her.

Fading back from the world, she looks at the cells down below her finger. Her friends are there, shackled into small cages. She watches as an alien brings them water, shoves it into a small passage in the door. She wonders if it's real water – like on earth – or if it's saline or some other chemical that's been liquefied. She worries that it's poison, that Scott's hunches are wrong, and that they do intend to kill them.

They are a violent species, these aliens. All of their weapons and guns, their technology that traps the essence of Scott's powers into glowing red crystals that feed their war machine. To stop their fight or save themselves, only one of those sounds like a superhero to her.

She sees the glint of gold and red armor several minutes before Tony appears before them. She still doesn't trust the man, doesn't like that she has to work with him, but Cyclops has insisted, just as he insists that they leave him there hooked up to the giant machine. She realizes, then, how powerless she is in the scope of such minds, that her age and lack of training mean that she's not the hero that she wants to be. If she were, she'd not only find a way to save Mr. Summers, but she'd also figure out a way to dismantle the many weapons aboard the ship.

“They're going to destroy a planet,” he'd told her. “They're going to use my power to do so. You can't be here when that happens.” For, after, he would probably end up destroying the entire dimension. “You have to keep Pocket safe,” he'd instructed her, as she was one of the few that the autistic child had warmed up to. “You have to get him home.”

She hates this. She hates how trapped she feels. Even as Ironman begins to melt the bars of the cage, she argues that they also needed to save Cyclops, that it isn't right, this isn't what heroes do. “He's not going to hurt us,” she says, grabbing onto armored wrist. “He's not going to hurt anyone.”

“He doesn't believe that,” Tony argues back, wresting himself free of her child's-grip. “He knows his powers better than anyone, and if he says that we're in danger, we need to listen to him.”

“But it's not fair --”

“Life isn't fair, kiddo. As you grow up, you'll realize that.”

Pocket struggles against Tony's arms, kicks and hits and bites as Stark pulls him under shoulder, and then makes a grab for Sliver. Indira decides to fight him too, for if he won't listen to her, then the least she can do is make things more difficult for him. “I'm trying to save you,” he tells her.

“Save Mr. Summers.”

“We can't. We unhook him, he explodes, just like he's said.”

“Then we need to find Mr. Logan --”

“Which we can't do until we're out of here.” Cyclops had made these plans carefully in order to free them from danger. “He's not going to die, sweetheart.”

“How do you know --”

“Because I do.” He floats to the ceiling, hiding himself from the sudden entrance of more aliens. “Look, once we find the others on Earth, we'll come back for him, okay. Now please stop struggling. This is dangerous enough as it is.”

“Promise?” Indira's large brown eyes widen with hope.

“Promise.”

Chapter Text

There's not much she can do for Sam Guthrie. Not here, in this old bunker. His skin sloughs off at a touch, blackened and moist, as if it absorbed the ocean. It smells like ozone and rot, and other than keep him alive, she's at a loss on how to fix him.

She knows the pain he went through, how debilitating it felt, but unlike him, she had her invisible shield to stay intact during the experiments. In many ways, its guilt that keeps her at the man's side, that she doubled the experiments in order to get the pills and he paid the price.

Blue eyes meet red when she finally looks to Gambit. Outside this room, there are hundreds of mutants begging to go back home. Children and adults, a few X-men, but mostly civilians who want to go back their lives. They're bankers and bakers, janitors and vacuum cleaner salesmen. They're teachers, students, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers. They are loud, frightened, adamant. “We need Triage,” she says quietly, nearly mouthing the words. There was no need to alarm those outside the small door. It would only make things more chaotic.

Gambit shook his head, not knowing where Christopher Muse had hidden himself. “De boy's good at layin' low, Sue” he replies. “Always has been.” All of the healers are good at hiding, in fact. They're powers are too precious, too wanted, and even mutant haters tended to protect them. Joshua Foley was the same way.

“Magneto promised --”

“He's not always a man of his word, cher,” he cuts in. “Besides, if he knows where Triage is, den likely, he's a prisoner.” He hates to see it drain from her, all of the on-edge-hope, but it's necessary. Magneto is not as altruistic as he makes himself out to be. He's no more a leader for mutantkind than he, himself. “Don't make deals with de devil,” he tells her quietly as she stares down at Sam Guthrie on the table. “Because there's always something behind it dat you can't imagine.”

Out in the halls, he can hear the fear, the wonder, and finally, the gratefulness for their sudden rescue from that hideous prison. And it's then that Gambit realizes what Eric Lehnsherr has accomplished. “You know he's a villain, right?” he asks one of the men who brags about seeing the mutant in action.
“He wants mutants to rule the world--”

“And what's wrong with that?” The man shows him the long red scars on his arms. “They cut me open everyday for a month. No idea what they were looking for, but I'll have these for life now. Maybe I want to repay the favor.” There's a hardness in the man's eyes that Remy doesn't expect. The man is not a powerful mutant. He can detect poisons, and that's about it. He makes his living on a Hazmat team, seeking the stuff out to keep humans from harm. “Yet, this is what they do to me? I spend half my life keeping them safe, and they stuff me in a prison and experiment on me?” He's got a wife, four kids, and a bird. He'd never hurt a soul in his entire life. He was one of the good guys, like the X-men. “But where were they when we were being hunted down?”

The man isn't the only one to feel this way, and several more join in on his adamant refrains. The X-men abandoned them, let the humans destroy what little bit of lives they'd carved out for themselves. Let them be prodded and poked and tested. “They were supposed to protect us,” a woman says from the back of the crowd. “Seems to me that they only protected themselves.” She says the name first – Magneto. Says it loud and clear and declares him the leader of mutantkind. The chorus of his name rings out in the underground passageways, and builds as more and more join in.

Gambit escapes the halls out into the wide open of the forest around the bunker. They're not far from where they've escaped, and even now, he can see the sirens flash red and blue against the evening sky. Choppers overhead, smoke and flames. No wonder Magneto left them. He knew that there was a high chance of getting caught again, of being rounded up and put in another SHIELD hold.

“You'd best put a cork in all that racket, or they'll find you,” a voice calls from the shadows of trees. Gambit slowly turns to see Sabretooth and Christopher Muse clearing the thicket. “Not sure Mags is up for breaking you out again.”

“What are you doing here, Creed?”

“Delivering on a promise.” He turns to Triage, his eyes stern to the boy. “She's inside. Just do what she says.”

He hasn't seen Remy in years, not since the war over Hope. “I'm not here to hurt you, Cajun,” he says, his voice softer. For a second he wonders, if the young boy from his memories could be this man, but his heart tells him he isn't. No, that little boy died a gruesome death, torn apart and dismembered bit by bit. Or, that's what he's decided after too many dreams and too much guilt. “I'm here to make sure Sam Guthrie and Reed Richards are put back in proper order.”

Gambit squares off against the beast, secretly tendering a finger over the button of his shirt. Without his staff, without his cards, he figures the button will do in a snap. He doesn't mind going underdressed when the fate of mutants are at stake. “I already figured out your plan,” he says quietly. He can take Creed, he's sure of it.

Victor puts two hands in the air. “I already told you, Lebeau, I ain't here for a fight. I'm here to make sure that Mags lives up to his word.”

“He's going to recruit dem --”

“He ain't doing nothing but lying in bed right now. Lifting the Undertow up from the water took it all out of him. He ain't no spring chicken anymore.” There's a laugh that comes after, slow and wheezy, a half snarl mixed with enjoyment. “Bet your wife's missing you right now, especially since she ain't got no home no more.” Remy's eyes narrow as he waits for the punchline. Creed laughs. “You're behind on the times, boyo.”

He explains the destruction of the mansion – once again. The reports of aliens and the portal in the Baxter Building. “World's all worried about the Red Wave again. Thirty countries have declared martial law already, and here you are trying to unravel some geezer's plot to keep mutants safe. My, oh my, how the mighty X-men have fallen.”

But, there is no delight in the gloating, just habit and exhaustion, things that Remy is quick to notice. “You ain't been sleepin' well. Must be your conscience finally catching up to you.” Sabretooth would have laughed if it weren't true. “Why are you working with Magneto again? What'd he promise you?”

“Nothin' you need to worry about.” Creed decides that it's time to check on Triage, to make sure the boy is following Sue's orders like they'd planned. “I don't want to spend another month tracking him down in some podunk village in a heap of squalor. First time was bad enough.”

The bunker is quieter now, the people lined up in the halls, cautiously watching as the dark young man works his mutant magic. He doesn't know if there will be scars, but the wounds themselves will be closed and free of infection. “She tell you to do this?” Muse nods. He glances to Sue then, who stands beside a still shaken Cannonball. He's healed now, his skin a light peach, and there is color in his cheeks, but nearly dying has taken its toll on his psyche. “You got Magneto to thank for your safety,” he tells the crowd, and especially Sam. “I want you guys to remember that.”

“And where is Magneto?” Sue asks, but Sabretooth gives her a shrug in return. “After my husband is healed --”

“I know, I know, the bargain's done, and I walk out of your life. A promise is a promise. Kid's yours until that happens.”

She wonders then about how to return to the Baxter Building where her husband lies dead, but Creed's got that all taken care of. “We can leave anytime you're ready.”

There's an acceptance of Creed that Gambit is suddenly aware of. The looks of wonder, the adulation, the thankfulness. Many of the mutants remember him from the Undertow – how he rushed inside the place and pulled them free, or swam them to the top. They know his accomplishments, and that he works for Magneto is to their advantage.

“I want to come with you,” says a woman in her mid-20's. “I want to help. I want to keep mutants safe.”

The smile that crosses Sabretooth's face is both delicious and devious. This was all going according to Magneto's plan. “What's you're power?”

“I'm not very strong,” she says, looking down at the floor. “I'm not a superhero.”

“Strength ain't just liftin' trucks over your head. What's your power?”

“I can see through stuff. Like X-ray vision, I guess. I'm a doctor. I use it to help my patients--”

“That's a plenty useful gift you got,” he tells her, and stretches out his hand. “Be glad if you came along.”

“I want to come to,” says the man from earlier, the poison-detector. “I just need to see my family first, let them know that I'm safe.”

“I just want to go home,” says a young boy.

Creed shushes the shouts with a wave of his hand. “Those who want to fight will be readily accepted. Those who want to go home, are free to go home. There's no pressure here. I'll take everyone where they want to go.”

“And what about those ready to kill?” The voice comes from Sam Guthrie. “What about those who want to destroy SHIELD and everything they stand for?”

A fanged grin snips the side of Victor's cheeks. “Well, you'll be welcome, too.”

Chapter Text

“You need me,” Cable says, unloading his wealth of weapons and guns on the grounds outside the mansion. He looks over the tents, the small fires, the wounded and the weak. He sees the fear in their eyes, and the tremors that shake their bodies when faced down with the militant mutant.

Alex can't deny that Cable's help would be appreciated, but he worries about the telepathic abilities. Forge has too much on his plate between retooling the Blackbird for the dimensional rift and keeping up with the needs of rebuilding mansion. He hasn't yet had time to create devices that will block telepathy. Nathan, of course, scoffs at the idea, reminding them all that he's never entered his father's mind, and if he had, he would have made it his mission to destroy anyone and everyone who warred within those confines, and the only reason he doesn't do it now is because of his daughter. “She doesn't need to grieve anymore than she already has.”

Alex wants to believe him. He wants there to be a divide between Nathan and his father, that indeed his actions aren't fueled by the temptation to enter that mind and devour it. “I'll have to discuss it with Logan.”

“No,” he argues. “You'll make up your mind right now. Either you trust me or you don't. I want no lingering doubts either way.”

“You have to understand, Nathan. This isn't --”

“My father and a group of kids were kidnapped by aliens. I have the means to help get them back.” Cable will leave again, if he's really that unwanted. He has a daughter to raise and care for. He doesn't have to be here. “I cut ties with the X-men once already. I can do it again if you don't trust me.”

“It's not a matter of trust, Nathan. It's a matter of control. Your own self-control. I don't want my brother harmed anymore.”

“Then let me help you bring him back.” He's already got intel to share – on Fury and the trap lying in wait at the Baxter Building. “He plans to blow you sky-high to keep you out of that dimension. He's under orders to bring the bodies.”

Alex suspected that there would be a trap. “I already knew --”

“I know another way in.”

It's Forge who is the key to it all, that and his knowledge of technology. The red stones – the solidification of Scott's infinite power – and how to use them. “They can power the Blackbird through the rift, so long as you can get in there.” He's been getting his own intel from an anonymous source, the calculations used by Reed Richards to program the portal to begin with. “I can set a tracker for the ship, get you guys in and out with ease.”

“Are you sure it isn't a trap?” Logan questions, feeling ill at ease with Forge's connection to this source. “You sure we're not going to enter the portal and they blow it behind us?”

Forge shrugs. “There's a possibility, but I doubt it. It's coming through secure channels. I'm assuming it's Reed --”

“Reed's dead, Forge.” Cable immediately notices their shock. “He was killed for being a traitor. His body's under watch. They're afraid Magneto will somehow come for it.”

“But he's not a mutant,” Nightcrawler seeps in before the others.

“His children are.” Cable's sure that it's not Reed sending the messages, but he's not sure who would be giving them such valuable info. “The entire place is guarded by Red Hunt and SHIELD. They're ready for a mutant attack. Their last resort is an H-bomb that will blow the place sky high, kill a thousand soldiers and anyone in the tower. To them, it's worth it, so long as Cyclops is contained, and as far as they're concerned, with the weapons you gave Fury, his power is manageable.”

“But that's not true,” Forge was quick to interject. “The crystals we've seen are solidifications of his power, but they can't control him. If his power is truly infinite, then there's no way to truly contain --”

“That's why we need to find him,” Alex interrupts. Though his face is still pale from the news of Reed, he knows that there are other things – just as important - that he has to deal with. “If they attack Earth with their weapons as they are, they will destroy us. None of our tech meets these standards.”

“So, that's a third reason,” Logan says. “The kids, Scott, and the Earth. Screw the plans. Let's go get them.”

“We have to get into the portal first, and for that we need all of the intel, Nathan.” Alex gives a cryptic smile as he draws out a map in the dirt. He lets Cable have the stick, and then Forge next, and together, he, Logan, Cable, Nightcrawler, and Colossus come up with their plan of daring do that will take down SHIELD and the aliens.

Across the lawn Bobby Drake watches with some consternation. He's not a cranky guy, or so he tells himself. He's a good team supporter, but watching them as they discuss their plans gets under his skin like nothing else. “He's too dangerous to bring back here,” he tells Kitty.

Sweating, tired from a day without coffee and under the pressure of rebuild, Kitty has few words for him other than to let it go, or let them do what they will. She's not in the mood for his antics right now. Especially not his jealousy.

“I'm not jealous,” he argues, his sights set on the roof where Pixie and Rogue nail in replacement rafters. It's a slow process, but a necessary one that they hope is finished before the next rain comes. “I just don't think he should be here. I think we should let him go, like we did before.”

“You mean when we thought he died?”

Though the funeral had been full, there had been few mourners at Cyclops' funerals. No tears, and other than the eulogy, no words of regrets or reminders of what the man had done for them. Instead, they was anger. Anger that he'd killed Professor Charles Xavier; anger that he'd started a war with the Avengers; anger that he'd started a war with the Inhumans. No matter what they did, they couldn't overlook his crimes, his past, how far off the path that he'd deviated. He was a villain, a monster, and no matter what he did – no matter how hard he 'fought for them' there was no forgiveness. Yet now – even after he'd killed half the world in some maniacal binge on power – attitudes had softened for him. Even Storm was beginning to regret her vow of peacefulness in the face of the atrocities that he caused.

“He didn't have a choice,” Kitty glowers.

“Everyone has a choice.”

“Did you?”

It was the Death Seed that sent him over the edge. The need to kill, the need to prove. Of course he didn't have a choice, but Scott Summers was stronger than that, always had been, always will be. He was the first of them, the best trained, the most looked after. He was their leader – through thick and thin. He was the penultimate X-man, until he wasn't, and for that Bobby cried fowl. “I will quit the team if they bring him back here. I'm tired of staying up all night wondering when he's going to attack.”

“He wasn't attacking. He was --”

“We had to empty out the entire wing, Kitty. I consider that an attack.”

“When did you become so cold, Bobby?”

“Is that a pun?”

They worked together in silence after that, spreading grout and placing tiles. The entire place would be refueled with bright white marble flooring – the look of the original mansion and all of its glory. Though there are few that remember that look, how it spread out midst the rooms and parlors, the libraries and kitchens, Warren did remember and insisted on the flooring.

Bobby also remembered it, how grand it seemed when he was a kid. How beautiful, how luxurious. Years later, it would be replaced by hardwood and laminate, easier things to install and keep up with. But Warren was tired of the decay, of the continual diminishing of his childhood home. He wanted more than fake wood, he wanted what it was.

In other rooms, mutants worked with pale peach grass cloth, pasting its warm colors on walls. In other rooms, it was vibrant chevron wall paper, or coats of arms. There was paint and primer, things that recalled those early days when the X-men were unified and one in their mission – to fight for equality and peace.

Bobby misses those days, if he's honest with himself. There was a unity that he hasn't felt for years. Faction against faction, the constant strife between warring groups. To kill or not to kill. To banish or to keep sacred. It's harder now, the mission, since their split. Harder to keep track of who he's supposed to mad at and who he's supposed to accept wholeheartedly. But, Scott's never changed in that. He's never apologized, never admitted his guilt, never seemed upset over what he did.

He killed their dream. And yet, there are those that love him for it all the same.

Bobby Drake has never been in love. Never felt it. Never gave it. His life is one of hiding. For years and years, he kept up with the trends, tried to force himself into situations that would reek of normalcy. Lorna and Pearl, all those other women that his father should have been proud of. But, never in his life has someone looked at him the way that so many have looked at Scott Summers. Jean. Madelyne. Emma. Logan. Probably more than he knows, if he thinks about it. Probably a lot more.

The world loved Scott Summers as much as it hated him. And why? Bobby couldn't imagine.

He was a hard man to get to know, even as a kid. He was quiet, awkward, too ready with condescension or some rule that would show his authority. He avoided parties, chats, time away from responsibilities. As Logan had said so many times, he had a stick up his ass so far that he couldn't breathe without bending over. Yet, here Logan was fawning over him like he was the last man on Earth.

Since when was Logan gay? Or bi. Whatever the word was now. As much as Bobby had immersed himself in the lingo, there were still things he questioned.

Logan loved Jean. Mariko. Dozens of other women. His tales of mastery over the feminine sex were renowned. But here he was, more worried about Cyclops than he was a group of innocent children.

It made Bobby sick.

It made him envious.

Scott Summers had had enough love in his life. Enough people who saw through his stoic demeanor, tried to reach out to him, tried to make him feel loved and comfortable. There was no one like that for Bobby. Not one person every reached inside to delve out the truth about himself. If they had, then maybe he wouldn't have spent years in hiding. Maybe he wouldn't have wasted half of his life trying to appease those he thought normal.

“He's not gay,” he says in a fit of frustration.

One brow arched, Kitty looks at him with confusion. “What?”

“Scott,” he says. “Scott's not gay. Logan's wasting his time.”

“What's that got to do with you?”

“Everything.” It was just another reason to hate him. If the leader-man actually did return Logan's feelings, then it was just another notch in the hate tree. “If he hid himself--”

“Cyclops always hid himself--”

“From me--”

“From everyone.” Brows arched to center, Kitty looks at him with concern.

“It's not fair, Kitty,” he says with a sigh. “How come everyone loves him, but no one loves me?”

She cried when he finally confessed himself. For hours, days. She felt invaded, lied to, used. She'd slept with Bobby Drake – only the third man in her life. She took it seriously, but he'd been using her to hide himself, as he had all of his other women. But, she got over it. Her day and a half of Ben and Jerry's mixed with rom-coms and a few boo-hoos, and she left it behind, deciding that he needed her support, more than he needed her ire. She'd been there for him, as his friend, his confidant, but today, hearing this, she wants to simply slap him. “Love takes time, Bobby, and you tend to be impatient.”

He understands what she's saying, and indeed, in his heart, he knows that she speaks the truth. But still - “Scott Summers? I thought Logan hated him.”

“People change.”

“That much?”

“That much.”

It's not what he wants to hear. Whether it be the truth or not, Kitty's words does not soothe his soul. He'd rather she share his anger at their one-time leader; rather she curse and mumble about how the mutant is worth the genes he's printed on. But she doesn't. Instead, there is a grudging respect there. Be it her time listening to Rachel groan about her father's treatment, or her own thoughts, it doesn't matter. She's on Scott's side, not his. “He's wasting his time,” he repeats, hoping she agrees with him this time.

“It's his time to waste.”

He sees the pain in her eyes then, how they drift across the floor, her cheeks reddened, her eyes narrow. “I'm sorry,” he says at last, watching as she does anything to avoid eye contact with him.

“Don't be,” she says, still avoiding his gaze. “Your truth is yours. Let Logan's be his.”

Another long silence settles over them as they graze across the grout. Yes, he hurt her more than he realized. “You never looked at me like Logan does Scott,” he says quietly, looking up from his work.

“You never looked at me like that either.”

Swallowing down his anger and rage, he returns to his focus, and they work in silence until evening meal. Alex and his team are gone, off to save Cyclops and the kids, leaving him here to deal with things that he'd rather forget.

He hates Scott Summers. He wants Scott Summers to disappear.

Chapter Text

The scent of blood. Copper and wet. The kid was always bleeding. Wounded. So weak and eyeless, he lay on the bed, a simpering mess doing his best not to cry, not to shout out his pain. He was a stoic little fuck, never mentioning the pain, or the promise. It was a chore to get him to eat. Sabretooth had to shove the spoon in his mouth, make sure he swallowed after each bite. It hurt too much to eat, especially when they took his stomach, replaced it with a piece of plexiglass so they could watch it grow back, take measurements. They same they did with his lungs, his bones.

Observation. The word comes to him in his nightmare. Under observation. For observation. With observation. Along with the blood, the jars lined up on shelves filled with formaldehyde and the child's organs. The bones in the corner, standing up straight and tall into skeletons. The swathes of skin and hair – dried and leathered – all trapped in deep red jars.

“Eat or I'll shove it down your throat.” He held the kid's throat, that eyeless form, and forces open the child's jaws. There was blood on those claws. Anger in the words. He's going to kill him.

He wakes with a start, his fists pounding into the air and a growl within his chest. He wakes angry and tired – tired of these memories that act like dreams that keep him awake at night and interrupt his sleep. Mystique says that they're getting worse, that he howls in his sleep now, that he rips up the bedding. That more than once, she's had to vacate the bed in order to save herself. “We'll talk to Magneto this afternoon,” she said quietly as she picked up the remains of the blanket from the floor.

Coming back to his surroundings, he spies upon Beast still cowering in the corner of his cell. The blue behemoth lets out a mocking laugh before leaning back against the wall. “You deserve more than nightmares for all you've done,” he says and closes amber eyes.

It started with a hunch on Sabretooth's part, that the mutant captive was simply too at ease with captivity. He watched them too closely, hung upon their words. It was with that hunch that he unlocked the cell door two days ago, and yet the Beast remains their prisoner. “And yet here you are, free and clear, after everything you've done.”

Beast had committed his crimes – be it for the betterment of mutants or not, he had his follies. Messing with the time stream, his experiments upon the mutant genome as he tried to unlock the Scarlet Witch's spell. During dark times, he'd gone to dark places, and to Sabretooth, some of those places were worse than murder. “You could've destroyed the world,” he says, his blue eyes piercing the heart of amber.

He watches him carefully, those small movements of muscles – from the taut fingers that refuse to ball into fists, to the shudder of nerves over spine – Beast is any easy one to read. Mix that with Creed's enhanced senses – the rapid fire heartbeat, and the acrid stench of anxiety – and he knows without a doubt that Beast is worried about getting caught. “So, who are you working for?”

Heartbeat stalls completely, then jump starts into sporadic beats that dry out Beast's mouth. For just a moment, eyes widen and pupils dilate – a sign of shock. The moment fades quickly into the practiced demeanor of the scientist, all facts and logic. “I don't know what you're talking about.”

Victor smiles. “You're no Cyclops,” he says. “That man is hard to read, but you? You stink like a thousand lies. So, who are you working for?”

Calmer now, more stern, “I told you. I have no idea what you're talking about.”

Creed's laugh is low, throaty, harsh, a snarl mixed up with some sort of malevolent glee. “You want to be here,” he says. “You're gathering info.”

An aggravated sigh, and Beast shrugs his shoulders. “If I had a choice --”

“You've had a choice for days, McCoy.” He crosses the room and touches finger to cell door. It opens without pressure. “So, tell me, who are you working for?”

In the distance, he can smell gardenia and sandalwood, Mystique's scent. She's listening to this interrogation, gathering up her own amount of info. Like Creed, she's observant. She's watching for clues, for tell tale signs of lies. “I'm working for no one --”

“Not one escape attempt since you've been here. Which means that you're exactly where you want to be, and what I want to know is why?” He can hear the heartbeat quicken again, along with another bout of anxiety. He's close to panic, barely keeping himself together. He stammers his answer, makes excuses for his lack of escape. He knows Magneto – knows that he'd never let him go until he got what he wanted. Hence, there was no reason to try the cage. He cites worries for the X-men, for the mutants of the Undertow. But, Creed shakes his head. “Mansion got destroyed two days ago. You would know that if you were in contact with them.”

Sabretooth should have expected the sudden kick to the jaw that he receives. Should have guessed that Beast – as docile as he seems – was an animal at heart. He grabs hold of blonde main and slings Creed's body into the wall, taking off at speed towards the exit. Creed yells for someone to stop him, warns Mystique that the behemoth is on his way, and then fades out of consciousness.

Beast is surprised when Mystique doesn't attack him, even more surprised when Magneto simply lets him go. There's something to it, something that they've done. A tracker or something, meaning that they're going to follow him. “I've been compromised,” he says into the small com hidden in the fur on his wrist. “No, don't come get me. I'm returning to the mansion. I'll figure things out from there.”

Through the Savage Land he runs, looking for a ship, a way out. There are plenty here – these ships. There's a whole grave yard full of Blackbirds somewhere on the western seaboard as much as the X-men have crashed here over the years. It won't take him long to get to them, and thank goodness, he's sure he can fix them.

Behind him he's positive that Creed follows, tracking his scent through the thick underbrush. Like himself, the feral mutant knows the Savage Land from experience, knows what lay at the edge of the mountains – those magnetized mountains that pull down ships from the sky and buries their carcasses in the rich deep earth. He wonders aloud of Sabretooth knows the shortcuts to get there, that way to surpass the rope bridges over the deep cut river, or evade the pterodactyl nests upon the eerie.

Cutting a path through the jungle, through the orchids and vines, he plunges himself into the deep waters of the river that slashes through the land. Cold for the year, it's waters spun from the snow of the mountains and the cooling, constant rain, he dives underneath the flow and out of sight, coming up some feet from where he entered. Again and again, he does this, not knowing if Creed is following or not, and not taking the time to look back.

He's weary – more from the constant loss of oxygen then from strain, but still he swims until he's miles and miles from the bunker. It's only then, when he feels that he's lost the feral mutant to the wilds that he stops and checks himself. Like a marsupial checking for bugs, he scans his fur for tracking devices, but he finds nothing other than the com.

McCoy does not remember being unconscious at any given time. No strange taste in his food, no dark liquids. If he were poisoned or drugged, he would know about it, and if he were beaten into submission there would be marks to prove it. “I have to lay low for a while,” he says into com. “Don't contact me. I'll contact you.” And with that, he breaks the tiny device and begins his trek again.

A day a half he walks to the edge of this strange land, and he finally finds the remains of the jets. There are eight in all, most still in good condition save for some engine repairs. He feels thankful, all of a sudden, that he'd spent those long hours with Scott learning to repair the jet. If he hadn't, then he'd be up a creek right now.

What he doesn't notice is the watcher on the hill, some feet up above him, glaring down through binoculars. Toad hates the silence that he's forced into, hates that he's out here in the snow, but it's better than being torn to shreds by Sabretooth. He listens to the quiet com chatter, and answers them in turn. “Yeah, he's here, and doing exactly what you thought he would.”

“Good,” Magneto replies. “Let the plan play out like we expect.”

Toad yawns and slinks his back to the rock, hunkering down and staying out of sight. It'll be a day or two before Beast will have the engines repaired, so in the meantime, he's simply stuck on guard duty. It's times like this that he wishes he had a cooler power – or at least a warmer one. Amphibians and cold air were never meant to mix.

It's evening before Beast stops his toilings, feels confident enough to build a small fire to warm himself up to. He snacks on berries and nuts, tinkers with the engine some more before hefting himself into the branches to sleep. If he's aware of Mystique and Creed watching him, he doesn't show it, but that's the problem with the animal-like mutants, they're mostly aware of everything.

“Tell me if he moves,” Mystique whispers into com, and Toad perks up, putting the binoculars to his eyes. He can see her shadow move through the camp – a deft, adept thing that trickles over spare parts and busted engines. It's a beautiful sight, not that he'd ever say so lest Creed bite his throat out, but from here, from this distance, he allows himself time to admire it before returning his focus to Beast.

“He's awake,” he says. “I think he smells Victor.”

“Good,” she answers. “That's what we want. Keep watch. Tell him if he sees me.”

It's hard to tell where Beast is looking from this far away, even through the binoculars. “He's looking straight at you. I think.”

“Creed, move in.”

It's only seconds before the sounds of a skirmish kill the silence of the night, as Beast pushes himself out of the tree and lunges towards Sabretooth beneath him. “Remember, he has to win, Creed,” Toad calls into com and then is greeted by the static of battle. And though he's supposed to go down, Victor refuses to make it easy on McCoy.

He swipes upward with adamantium claws, misses heart and chest by a hair's breadth. He gets moved to the side by a might kick that breaks across his jaw, makes him sore, makes him angry. He can see the blood – his blood – that trickles out across the ground. “Let's have some fun,” he growls as Beast evades backwards, turns flips until he's safely out of reach. He takes up a mounting rod from one of the many engines that he's stripped and swings it wildly in the air. Sabretooth catches the free end of it, and pulls the Beast to the ground. “I guess there's a reason the X-men quit fighting, eh? If they're anything like you, they're full of sh--”

The foot to his face knocks him black.

“Best get out of there, Raven. Blue boy's done won the fight.”

He watches through the binoculars as Beast secures the feral mutant with metal cords and binds. He ties him up tight by both ankles and wrists, drags him to the far end of the field, which gives Raven enough time to escape. She quickly runs into the cover of trees, hoping that her scent is dulled by that of Creed's and disappears. Toad follows suit with a jump of his own, hopping back over the cliff and down into the warmth of the jungle where he belongs.

It'll be a long night for Creed, but Toad doesn't mind a bit.

Chapter Text

Gun shots at ten a.m. It's a helluva sound. Rings out through morning Manhattan traffic, makes those cars stop in their tracks, look around for the guns, for the attack, for the next super villain that's come to take their city, drive them from their homes in a panic. They pull off the road, get out of their cars, flee to the safety of indoors, those little shops and cafes, banks and bail bondsmen. Sirens follow soon after – the police, the firemen, the medics. They race across morning rush hour traffic, barrel through red lights and green, seeking out the source of the trouble, of where the violence is happening.

They seek out Wolverine.

The grin on his face is a wild one, filled with seething and seeping. The blood on his claws drips down upheld wrists and splatters across the flesh of those he cuts. There is no stopping him from plunging his way inside the Baxter Building. Not by gun, not by knife, not fucking missile. He's ready to take the pain and dish it out in return.

Somewhere on the other side of the building, near the public entrance, he can hear the shouts and hollers of another dozen men scrambling to avoid the plague of Cable and his arsenal. He can hear the flash bombs explode and see the billowing rise of gray smoke as it climbs itself towards the sky. “I'd run if I were you,” he tells the young woman, her rifle raised and shaking in the air.

He can hear the Blackbird engines hovering somewhere above him, near silent to the masses, but with his enhanced senses, it sounds like the beating of hummingbird wings. “They're here,” he tells her, lunges forward and knocks her to the ground. The single shot she fires in her imbalances lodges between his ribs. It hurts like a bitch, but it doesn't stop him. “I told you to run,” he says before bludgeoning her with adamantium fist, knocking her out cold.

He moves onto the newcomers – a few dozen soldiers, fresh from breaks and outfitted with vibranium kevlar. Even those suits can't stop his claws, nor can the tasers that pierce his flesh and send jolts of electric through his bones. He's a good conductor, his skeleton made of metal, but he's used to pain. He thrives on it.

As they continue to beat him back with voltage and bullet holes, he can feel himself begin to slip underneath it all. The burgeoning of the animal. It floods across his senses, highlighting the threads of anger, of rage, that burst through veins and nerves, that steal away his self and his hope, and those things that make him steady. He fights it, this animal, this raging wolverine. He fights it and fights it, and as they clamor on top of him, as they kick at his face, his ribs, as they pierce him with bullets and spurn him with electricity, he loses himself to the manic pulse of the beast that looms within.

Crawling up from the busted concrete at the warehouse entrance, a low snarl pierces the air. Like bloody gravel, it gurgles inside his throat as his flesh begins to piece back together. Claws out, he whirls on heel, striking out at guns and weapons, lunging into the circle around him, forcing the soldiers to break their lines. He tumbles across one of the men, stabs him in the shoulder and with sharp teeth, bites down into cheekbone, ripping the skin from bone.

Wild eyed and rambling, his movements are drunk on the power that he feels, on the blood that cools across his face. He leaps one to another, knocking them down and tasting their flesh. Rabid, he laughs at their weakness, at their sheer stupidity in attacking him. He'll kill them all. He'll destroy them, if only for their own hubris. The soldiers, they scream as he tears them asunder, dislodges arms from shoulders, skin from muscle. He bites and claws and stabs and thrusts, and soon, they give him a wide berth, and bring out the big guns.

“Wolverine.”

A hydro-bomb, a powerful thing, developed some years ago, but never deployed. It's a bomb with pinpoint accuracy, the power of a nuke condensed into but a few yards of damage. The men will die with him here, give their lives to stop the beast, to blow him to shreds. But they have to keep him here, keep him steady, make sure that he's targeted, and with that in mind, they loom forward again, ready for another round.

“Wolverine, stand down.”

He hears the voice, but it doesn't register. All he sees is the blood in his eyes, and the taste of it on his lips. He feels the pain as they burn him with alien guns, and shoot him full of shrapnel.

“I've got this, Wolverine. Stand down.”

Alex doesn't have a choice but to mix Logan up in his destruction. He's well aware of the bomb, thanks to Nathan, and is more than aware of what they intend to do with it. A force like – targeted just on his friend – could kill him, or at least maim him for life, and that's not a risk Alex is willing to take.

The first blast of plasma heats across the soldiers, burning against their vibranium suits. It's a light burst, a warning to them to back off and leave well enough alone. The second blast is a targeted one, going for the mechanism of Wolverine's destruction. It curves across the metal base, piecing the cradle apart at the seams, and dislodging the bomb to the ground. It hits with a thud, and the soldiers drop to the ground, hands over head. “Target acquired. Nightcrawler, do your thing.”

A sulfur bamf, and Kurt Wagner ports from the heavens, and then returns above, the bomb in his hands. Cable can dismantle it, make it safe, proving their billion dollar idea nothing but a waste. But the beast does not diminish so easily. Setting his sights on the alpha, the most powerful among those on the ground, Wolverine squares off against Alex, watches his movements, sizes him up.

“Wolverine, this isn't what you want.” Alex had heard the tales of the animal within, had learned from his brother on how to deal with it.

“Make no sudden moves,” Cyclops told him. “He's looking to dominate you, to prove that he's the alpha of the pack. Any quick movements will give him cause to attack.”

“So, I submit?”

“No. Never submit. You do that, you lose his respect. He'll tear you limb from limb.”

“So, then what do I do?”

“Keep still. Remind him of who he is, bring back his self. He doesn't want to be an animal. That's the most important thing to remember. But when he's overwhelmed, he often doesn't have a choice. So just remind him of who he is, what he wants.”

Which was all easier said than done. Havok takes a slow, even breath, wills his heart to stop beating so fast. He chokes down the fear, the bile, that comes from facing a killing machine, and speaks with a cool, controlled tone. “You're not an animal, Logan.”

He doesn't step back when Logan moves forward. Doesn't betray the fear that roils inside of him. Dry mouthed, he watches the beast slowly circle him, taking tender footsteps closer to the center of the circle. Gray eyes blister across the landscape of blood, taking in the scent of the feral breeze. He cocks his head to the right, pops his claws and puts his hand on the ground still trying to decide whether to fight or not. “You were never an animal.”

As the words sink in, Logan relaxes the tension in his hands and legs, eases upon his haunches, stares up to the much taller Havok, his focus solely on blue eyes. “I know you, Logan. You don't want to kill anyone.”

The words are foreign to his ears, but the tone – that calmness, that control – he recognizes it. He respects it. He knows that he's not the leader of the pack, that there's someone above him. He hears the words calm down. He knows those words. They quake against his furious thoughts, barrel deep into his nerves, clicking at switches. “You're not going to fight me.” He could though. He could kill, become the leader, become the head. He could pull them into directions that they've never sought. He could disappear them to the wilds, to the hunt, to track down those that would harm. “You don't want to fight anyone. Not like this.”

Healing wounds taste like copper in his mouth. A reminder of the damage, of the blood that's been spilled. “We're going to rescue Scott.”

Scott. The name pounds against his heart. “Yeah, that's right. Scott. We have to help him. We need you to do that.” In his head, he repeats the name, a sad little melody that plays out over the frantic race of his heart.

Alex kneels to the ground, holds out a hand so that Logan can see that he's unarmed. “We need you, buddy, so we can save him. We need to save Scott.” Wolverine sniffs at the proffered hand, the slow cooling of his senses at the scent. “Come on. Come back to us.”

“Scott,” he growls.

“That's right. We're going to see him.”

The dissipation of the beast is something slow, like a fog being separated by a cool morning breeze. It tingles down his spine, splashes out over his limbs. And when it breaks, when that fog finally concedes defeat, Logan comes back to himself. Gray eyes peer around the unconscious bodies in his surround, and then find Havok's grateful smile. “Thank goodness.”

He wants to apologize, but there is no time, not according to the renewed sound of gunfire. “Back to the plan,” Havok tells him, and the two rush forth into the mayhem.

Chapter Text

She sees the smoke first from far away, in the back of a cab, arm out the window. Then the rush of sirens, the police, the fire engines, the ambulances. Dozens of them, all heading west, towards the center of the small island. All heading to her home, where her children are.

“Ms. Richards?” Christopher Muse has seen the worst of humanity since he discovered he was a mutant. From bigotry to war, threats and actions, he knows that evil does lurk in the hearts of men, but he has also seen the goodness in them, and he sees the goodness in Sue Richards. So seeing her pale, seeing her jaw drop and her eyes widen as they drive closer to the smoking gun on the horizon makes him uneasy. “I can heal them, too,” he says with a lack of bravado.

“Might want to rethink your travel plans,” the cabbie says, eyeing the two in the mirror. “Heard the mutants are revolting, and the Avengers are on the scene. It's an all out war over there.” He's used to such things by now, living in Manhattan as he does. His life is filled with tales of run-ins with villains and super heroes. He knows all the names, all the costumes, and he doesn't live in fear of these things. “If I die, I die,” he chuckles. “But, that doesn't mean I can get you in the parking lot. Have a feeling it's going to be full.”

“As close as you can will be fine,” Triage replies, taking a glance at a still worried Sue. “And I'll pay double the fare if you get us there quickly.” The cabbie smiles and steps on the gas.

It still amazes the young Christopher Muse to see the superheroes in action. From the rampage of She-Hulk barreling across the road to wreck across a stalwart Colossus to the webs of Spiderman who keeps an angry Thor busy. He sees Daredevil and Black Widow, both rushing against soldiers armed with guns and alien lasers, and Cable with the arsenal on his back, holding his own against the onslaught of Hawkeye and Wasp. To him, they are figures out of stories, out of pages he read as a child. To realize that they are real, to realize that he has a stake in all of this makes him shudder with fear.

It wasn't too long ago that he was just a normal kid more worried about getting grounded for missing curfew than he was the world of heroics, but then his mutant power appeared, and since then, he's felt the weight of responsibility upon him. He's traveled the world, keeping the barest contact with Magneto – one of his mentors – healing those who find themselves in the midst of slaughter and disease. Which is why this still amazes him, this battle of heroes. Those that are supposed to stand as the examples to society, who should carry the moral burden that most of humanity refuses to shoulder. It makes him angry. It makes him sad.

Sue knows a way in that will avoid the battle. One of the mole man's tunnels leads to the basement of the Baxter Building. A few floors up and she should find her children and her dead husband. The entrance is an old manhole that leads down into the sewers. She apologizes for the smell, but Triage reminds her that he's seen worse, smelled worse, and that he's fine. He'll do whatever it takes to help her.

She regards him for long moments, the steel of his jaw and the sternness of his eyes. In her heart, she thinks of Franklin and Valeria, hopes that she never sees that look upon them. Hopes that they're never so cold to death that it no longer phases them. “If you can't bring him back--”

“I tend to let death be death, as it should be. But, I owe Magneto a great deal, so I will do as he asks.”

She gives a slight, uneasy nod before pushing forth through the sewers. The tunnel is massive, bricked up and steadied by great pylons Reed built decades ago to keep the city from breaking apart. She can still see the tracks of the monsters that used to roam these corridors – giant things with claws and pads, bigger than the Fantastic Four put together. She remembers fighting these things, too, how long it took to forge a peace with Moleman, how in love he was with his creations.

Even from here, in the depths, she can hear the battle rage on. There are bombs above that shake the ground and send loose mortar plunking down into the stench of the water here. There are moments where the earth shakes, and she must stand still, lest she lose her balance completely and fall into the rancid flow. Triage – with his long legs and bulkier build – is having no better of a time than she is. He uses his staff to keep himself from falling face first into the sewage, but keeps his silence as they walk.

She reaches the end of the tunnel where a series of small metal rungs are pounded into the rock. Here, the pylons are the strongest, beneath the Baxter Building itself, as the equipment within made it one of the heaviest structures in the city. The sounds of fighting intensified, with the earth beneath their feet a dull rumble of shocks and quakes. “I'm sorry to put you through this,” Sue says, turning to look at the young man one final time before ascending. “But I need my husband, and so does the world.”

He nods his understanding, wishing to waste no more words or talk. They'll have to run once they breach the surface. Run, hide, fight. It has been years since Christopher Muse lifted a fist towards anyone, not since his training under Cyclops. He does not relish doing so again.

The brawl is worse than they had imagined while beneath the floor. Hundreds of soldiers have stormed the Baxter Building – Red Hunt, SHIELD, military. And scattered between them, fighting among each other are the Avengers and the X-men. “This way,” Sue says, beckoning Muse to the stairs where Ironfist battles a teleporting Nightcrawler. Kurt sees them, is surprised, but knows that they are not here for the fight. The gentleman that he is, he bamfs away taking Rand with him.

“Why must they always fight?” Triage asks, his bones weary.

“Because some things are worth fighting for,” Sue is fast to reply. They are fighting for the abducted children, their missing leader. They are fighting for freedom from the Red Hunt and a return to their way of life. “If they don't fight, then nothing changes. And right now, they need things to change.”

He knows as much. Even as he watches the Human Torch swoop down from the ceiling to tackle Luke Cage in a fit of flames and ash, he understands why they fight. He just thinks it's a shame that there is no other solution.

Using the brawl as a cover, they make their way to the fifth floor. A retinal lock guards the private quarters of the Fantastic Four, one that she easily passes. With a click of the door, she is home for the first time in weeks, and Ben Grimm is all too happy to see her. Lowering his fists, he scoops her up into a gigantic hug and quietly calls for the children.

Christopher Muse has seen reunions such as this before – a brother, sister, mother or father thought lost to the world suddenly up and walking again. It's reunions like this that make him glad for his powers, no matter how heavy a burden they are.

Chattering excitedly, relieved to see their mother alive, it takes the force of Grimm to usher Franklin and Valeria out from their mother's arms. He knows why Triage is here, what Sue is hoping for. So, slowly, with the kids perched upon his rocky shoulders, he leads the way to the sixth floor where the cryo-freeze capsule is waiting.

“Only three percent tissue degradation,” Sue says looking at the reports. “That's better than expected.”

“'Zat mean he's frostbit?” Thing asks.

“No, just really cold,” she smiles. “It means his organs are still healthy and viable.” Taking a deep breath, she opens the chamber where her dead husband lay. The room fills with a cloud of chilled air, and with wide blue eyes, she looks to Triage. “He's all yours,” she says quietly and follows Ben and the children outside of the room.

It's like seeking a thread midst straw, a single piece of life, of hope. Closing his eyes, Triage places his hands upon the frozen skin of Reed Richards. For long moments, he studies the angular features – the slender jaw, the proud nose, the vacancy behind brown eyes.

The first time he realized the extent of his powers he had brought Cyclops back to life after a massive coronary seizure. The man had died on the ground, in the snow, but he'd found the thread – that sliver of life, and he made it grow. He wondered what kind of monster he was.

The last time he used his powers like this had been on a father of eight who had been the victim of biological warfare – a virus unleashed into the wilds of Africa, killing off half a village, including this father of whom the emergency workers relied on for translations. They begged him to help, and against his intuition, he did what they asked and brought the man back. He was shunned by his village, considered a pariah, a demon, and though it was his blood that created the vaccine the villagers took to avoid getting sick, he was cast out into the plains alone.

It wasn't the first time that life didn't bring what he imagined; how the end result of resurrection wasn't a happy and grateful family. And, he knows himself well enough to know that it won't be the last. Magneto calls him soft-hearted, he calls himself awake.

He immerses himself into the darkness of death, seeking out the damaged brain. The flow of blood and electrons, the waves of energy that supply the body with thought and oxygen. He repairs it, forces it to become whole again, and with a breath, he forces its function. He can feel it against his fingertips, the zing of neural pathways as they thrum back to life.

Tracing fingers down head to chest, he feels for the heart, how it's withered and cold. He sparks within it a warmth that carries through muscles and frozen veins, and with the power of his thoughts, he shocks it back to life. It's easy after that to find the necrotic tissue, make it pliable and bendable. To fix him, to return him to a state of function.

Exhausted, Christopher Muse falls to the floor, a heap of tired bones and wary thoughts. With large brown eyes, he looks to the cryo-chamber and then to the surrounding machinery, all blinking and green. For good or ill, he's done it. He's brought Reed Richards back to life.

Hours have passed since he sent Sue and the others away, since he began his journey into the heart and mind of Mr. Fantastic. He knows that he should tell them, but his head still spins with the effort, so he keeps himself still and just watches.

He'll walk soon. And talk. He'll have no memory of the afterlife, of the time after death. He'll remember the pain, though. How much that bullet to the head hurt. And, he'll remember the cries of his family as they watched him put down. Those are things he'll never forget, even as he ages, even as he becomes old and decrepit, he'll never forget the sound his children made when he died.

He hears the door open, just a crack, and he turns to see Sue impatient in the doorway. “The machines,” she says as an excuse for her curiosity. “They're louder, steady.” She helps Triage from the floor and into a chair beside the monitoring station.

Quiet relief flushes against her features when she finally checks the readouts. Heart and brain function normal. Blood flow and body temperature normal. She looks at her husband and then to Christopher Muse with tears in her eyes. “I don't know how to thank you for this,” she sniffs. “What you've done today is a mira--”

“Don't make them fight on their own,” he interrupts. She tilts her head in confusion. “If the fight is really worth it, if saving the kids and Mr. Summers is truly worth that violence, then don't make them fight on their own.” He'd heard enough of the tale from Mystique, how the Fantastic Four had turned a blind eye to the plight of the mutants; how they'd worked with the Red Hunt to capture Scott Summers. “You've been given a second chance. Make sure you use it wisely.”

Chapter Text

A week ago, Charles Xavier was murdered.

“We all know how bloody things can get when he's in a bad mood. I want teams on his tail twenty four seven. The first time he seems half cocked for battle, call it in, and get him back here.”

Daredevil had trailed him to Hong Kong. The Hand ran a shanty town there, fueled by illegal boxing matches and the sex trade. It was nothing compared to their other enterprises, but there were reasons the Hand refused to invest much here. Largely, it had to do with counterfeit drugs being run out of China. Every time the Hand put out a product, lo and behold, the product showed up in Beijing at three times the weight and less than half the cost. Their own drugs were being seized by the law, then cut with milk powder and other such things, then sold back to the public at a cheaper rate. The process was so rampant that the Hand couldn't keep up, so sold out most of it's drug leanings in the area, and stuck with the entertainment side of their ventures instead.

Logan knew he was there. As silent as he was, Murdock couldn't hide his scent. The older mutant just shook his head and rolled his eyes, waited those agonizing minutes for Matt to finally come forward. “Cap's worried about you. Afraid you're going to do something stupid.”

“Tell Cap to shove it up his ass. Ain't got nothin' to do with him.”

“You're looking for a fight --”

“I'm looking for a fifteen year old girl named Ellie. She was kidnapped last night, and her mother didn't know who else to call.”

“Is she a mutant?”

“Does it matter?”

The battle was short and sweet, and the Hand was quickly overrun. The fifty boys and girls that they rescued were handed over to Hong Kong authorities for medical care and treatment, leaving Logan with nothing else to do but drink himself silly. “I'm sorry he's gone,” Matt said, hoping that breaking the silence would urge Logan to talk.

“He wants me to kill him,” Logan eventually said when three beers in. He switched to the hard stuff after that, drinking far too much but never showing the signs of drunkeness.

“Cyclops?”

“But, I want him to suffer. Long and hard. I want him to hate himself as much as I hate him. More even. More than the world. He can't die until then.”

“We've all done our fair share of harm to others, Logan --”

“Xavier treated him like a son. He trusted him with everything. If I'd had a father even half so decent... He killed him, Matt. Xavier's gone.”

Logan didn't cry, just pushed himself further into the whiskey. “I thought I could trust him,” his voice rasped at the edges, barely escaping his pain-tightened throat. “I thought...”

“Logan, you can't think he meant to kill him. You can't think he's that vicious.”

“Scott Summers doesn't make mistakes, bub. He's told me that for years.”

He'd gone to Logan two days ago, gathered up those who had left the Hunt, offered themselves as fodder for whatever was needed. Of course, the mutants were suspicious – it was rare that the Avengers risked their public face to aid the mutants in their most troubled times. It was something they'd all expected, and something eventually overcome when Storm started putting them to work on the mansion. She needed all of the extra hands she could get, especially with the team leaving for space.

It took hours before they were trusted enough to be let in on the planning, and that was largely thanks to Natasha and her quick assessments about her teammates. Logan held her in an easier light than the rest, and once she proved trustworthy, the meeting opened up to the others as well. “You're really going to take on SHIELD? With just five of you?” Spiderman asked, half incredulous, have amazed. “Now I know you need us.”

“They have a solid plan, Spidey,” Natasha was quick to interrupt. “But, it'd be a little selfish to keep all the fun to yourselves. I owe Fury a face full of fist or two, if you don't mind a few tag-alongs.”

Daredevil offered to return to the mansion when the portal was freed, feeling that the children – still sleeping in tents on the lawn – needed extra protection. “I can make myself scarce,” he said. “Keep out of everyone's way.” The others also agreed, afraid now to interfere too much with the daily lives of their friends. And, perhaps that was for the best. Distrust still rang heavily in the quiet conversations around the sight, with the children afraid, and the adults angry at their sudden appearance.

“All this time, and they show up now?” Bobby had argued, wanting them thrown out. “This isn't fair, Storm.”

“Bobby, we need all the help we can get --”

“Not from them. Not from those traitors.”

“You're a traitor.” The words belong to Danny Rand, the Immortal Ironfist. He stands in the doorway of the warehouse, his fist lit up, and his body in fighting stance. He's a strong opponent for Daredevil, fast, agile. And he's angry, which means he'll be prone to mistakes.

Murdock listens to the surround, to hear the other battles being waged. Cable continues his assault on the front entrance, blasting away at those soldiers still loyal enough to come after him. Further on in the warehouse, within the perimeter of the portal, he can hear Alex threatening to use his mutant powers, and the slice and dice of Wolverine's claws. Nightcrawler clears a pathway for the Blackbird, currently under Forge's control, and Colossus takes on She Hulk in a never ending display of ridiculous strength.

“He killed Colleen. When he struck Manhattan, he killed her. She was gone, D. Completely gone.”

“I'm sorry you had to go through that,” Matt says quietly, remaining very aware of Ironfist's every move.

“She didn't believe that it was him. No matter what anyone told her, she didn't believe it. She dated him, you know. Yeah, a big secret that was. Said he was too nice to kill people like he did. She defended him.”

“She's back now, right? She's okay?”

“Doesn't matter if she's okay now. She died, and he could kill her again at any moment. He could kill any of us without even a thought. We're gnats to him, little insects to bat around and do with as he pleases. And yet, you're choosing to help him?”

“The Red Hunt is wrong, Danny. Surely, you've got to see that.”

The movement is sudden enough that it caught Matt off guard. Though he dodges the full force of it, he is still caught in the shoulder. The hit knocks him back several feet and to the ground. He lands with a thud, and is quick to scrape himself up from the tile floor and refocus his energies. Rand is in a fighting mood now, the blows will come quick. He has to be extra careful.

He blocks the flurry that follows, taking his own jabs when lack of defense allows. One to the stomach, one to the chin. He can tell that Danny is bleeding, though from this battle or a previous one, he isn't quite sure. “We don't have to fight,” Matt says quietly, hoping to gain at least a pause between the hits, but none come. Fueled by rage and adrenaline, Ironfist's assault rages on.

The gunshot comes from the right, a misstep on Daredevil's part, for not paying attention. He hears the hammer click and rolls himself to the floor, covering vitals with the thicker bones of his arms and legs. And though he avoids being hit, Ironfist does not. The bullet strikes between the ribs, the shrapnel shredding the veins and bones inside. He curses and falls to the ground.

Matthew is quick to lay Danny flat on his back, putting pressure on the wound while still under threat of gunfire. “Don't just stand there, get help,” he yells to the soldier. The young man simpers away, not sure what to do in the heat of battle. “I got him,” a voice says from behind.

He does not recognize Triage's voice, having never met the young mutant before. He listens close to the boy's heartbeat, how calm it is midst the craze of battle. “You're a mutant, aren't you?” he asks.

Muse laughs in return, but does not give a direct answer. He can hear the soft whisper of the young man's power, how skilled his hands are as they weave through the energy, knitting together flesh and bone. “He's going to be fine,” he says. “I'll take him with me, maybe talk him into a cooler head.”

“Just be careful. He's not a big fan of your species right now.”

“Story of my life.” He can hear the smile in those words.

Taking a deep breath, he plunges himself back into the heat of battle, picking up soldiers that try to interfere with Colossus and She hulk. They're easy to put down, unaccustomed to fighting superheroes as it is.

Muse watches for some time before putting Danny over his shoulder and carrying him off to the elevator. The second floor med labs will be far more comfortable for the injured than the floor, and Sue is already waiting on him. “I don't know how many more we can fit,” she says, holding open the door.

“We'll fit as many as we can and then use the hallway, I guess.”

Already some of the soldiers are waking up from their stupors. Once armless or legless, they've been healed and are whole, but still, they want to fight. Thankfully, one look at Ben Grimm, and they grow quiet again. “You boys and girls are going to behave, right?” he asks, looking around the room for any sign of movement. “Told ya, Sue. They're gonna be good for ya. Ain't a one gonna make a sound.”

She knows that any minute, her husband will wake up. That he'll run a scan and search for her, that he'll find her here with the wounded. And though she would rather be at his side, with everything that's happened, she doesn't feel comfortable just letting it slide anymore. Yes, the road will be harder, but she can't let the mutants fight their own battles by themselves. She means to be their ally.

Chapter Text

“What-what was she like? Our mom.” He looked at the ground when he spoke, his body so still save for the slight tremor in his fingers that betrayed his nervousness.

The moon was out overhead, full and bright, crowding out the stars in the sky, but it offered no warmth on the chilly spring night. Not the like the fire which Alex stoked. “You've never asked about her before.”

He didn't take his focus from the ground. Though, to be honest, with his visor on, Alex couldn't really tell where he was looking. All he knew is that his brother seemed so small in the moment, vulnerable, that even a shift in the wind could knock him out of his seat. “I've only got a few memories of her myself, really.” He paused, studied his brother once again. “She liked pearls. We got her a strand for Christmas one year. Saved up our allowances and then Dad paid the rest. She was really happy. Never took them off.”

Scott listened to the small treasures, not interrupting once. She was a happy woman, with a quiet voice. Stern when she had to be with two energetic boys and a dreamer of a father. She was the organizer, the heart of the family, the pinnacle around which they turned. She was there to ground them when they acted up, to tell them stories when they lay to sleep. She took care of them when they were sick and cheered them on when reaching out for the stars. “She loved that plane almost as much as Dad did, I think. But, I think she just liked the idea that the two of you worked on it together.”

“I worked on the plane?”

“Yeah. You were out there everyday begging to help him with it, so he finally let you do some of the sanding and varnishing work. Mom was really proud of you.”

The words seem to strike him. For the first time, he looked over at Alex, his face drawn in wonder. “Really? She was proud?” His voice sounded too close to disbelief.

“Yeah, bro. She was always proud of you.” His brother looked back to the ground, his jaw clenched, his brow drawn tight to red lenses. “What's wrong, Scott?” He shook his head in reply. “Well, something's wrong. You're not this tense for nothing.”

“Just overthinking things,” he answered, a slip of smile spreading across his face. It was the ultimate leave-me-alone gesture. No more conversation would be had unless the subject was changed, to which Alex obliged, as he always did. “So, you and Jean are finally tying the knot, eh? Do I get to be your best man?”

He stands at the foot of Thor, and he knows doubt. As lightning crashes down from the ceiling, as the thunder god winds his hammers in order to strike, Alex Summers doubts his reason for being here, that he's good enough to lead these men and women. That he's as good as his brother. That he can do what he'd promised. But for his brother, he will try.

“Little man,” Thor speaks, his voice booming across the warehouse, “thou shalt feel my wrath if thou dost not move.”

He's not meant to avoid the hammer. He knows that he can't dodge it, and he knows – without a doubt – that the hammer can kill him. What he's counting on is the god not wanting to kill him. “There's a difference between capture and kill,” Natasha explained. “He's okay for the capture, as long as that's all it is. But the death – he won't stand for it. Unless its Summers. I think he's willing to kill your brother.”

“Half the world is,” Alex shrugged and went back to the plan.

He moves to the right, hoping that when Thor does pull his punch, that the errant shot takes some pricey machinery with it.

Above, on the platform overlooking the portal, Fury watches his chance of winning the battle slowly fade away. The attack was simply too well organized, splitting his forces into three fronts – the front entrance, the warehouse entrance, and the field where the Blackbird cordoned off those meant to support his already tired troops. He glares at Alex knowing that he's the one who planned this.

Thor throws his hammer. It effortlessly glides over Summers' shoulder, crashing into air guns in the rear. Twenty million dollars of research and development, another thirty million on production, and the air rifle is about as useless as a soda can. To make matters worse, the errant throw gives Havok plenty of reasons to not be afraid. He moves in, arms and chest glowing with his mutant power. He aims for the small ship that they mean to take beyond the void, destroying it outright before turning his plasma blasts upon Thor.

Thor is shocked to be attacked, that he left himself open for such a blow. To make matters worse, he struggles now with the telepathic involvement of Cable, who forces the god of thunder to his knees. “Just give up, Thor. Walk away from this,” Cable taunts, finally close enough to reveal the strength of his telekinesis on top of everything else. The god folds himself to the floor, hands splayed and digging into the tile, his nose touching rubble.

“Never,” he manages, but that is all he can do. That is all Cable will allow him to do.

It's time now, to finish the plan, and with a call into com, Alex brings the Blackbird forth, and the X-men quickly get on board. Before Fury can blink, the ship is gone, flying blind through the portal. “Get me a ship!” the Commander yells, “Get me a fucking ship and Carol fucking Danvers!”

“Sir,” a wounded soldier approaches. “Maria Hill.” He hands Fury a cell phone.

“This is a traceable line, Lieutenant. You better --”

“It's Magneto,” she said. “He took out our com relay. This is the only way I have to reach--”

“You've been attacked?”

“Not just us, sir. Six of our bases are running at half power. The casualties are in the hundreds. Magneto's raised himself an army.”

“Shit.”

“Your orders, Commander?”

Nick shakes his head and once again looks over the destruction of the warehouse. Today just isn't his day. “Get cleaned up. Send any extra personnel to the warehouse. We've got a situation to deal with here as well. And send Danvers down here. We need her piloting skills.”

“Over and out.”

He turns to the scientists, somehow unharmed midst the fray. He orders them to pilot the telescope back into the dimensional rift, to find where the X-men have gone. “Track them. Keep me posted.” And then it's to the troops who have suffered a fantastic loss against the mutants and the heroes that are now clamoring out of the building and off to unknown places. “I want that mansion under watch twenty four seven. I want to know exactly who's there at any given time. If Storm and her crew have anything to do with this, I want them arrested on the spot.” He also orders ONE to be contacted and any other government agency that's had it's fill of the mutant species. “I want to know what they're planning next.” To the rest, he simply wants this mess cleaned up. He's tired of losing. He's tired of being behind, and he's damn tired of looking at this waste of good material.

At the controls of the ship, Forge types in their course through the dimension, the ship swerving right in hopes of soon catching up with the kidnappers. “Everyone buckle up,” he says, quickly turning over his shoulder to make sure the team is listening to him. “I'm hitting the boosters.”

Wolverine lights his cigar and gives Forge the nod. “The faster we get there, the sooner we get everyone home,” he says just as the inventor hits the button. The ship jolts forward, pushing them all back into their seats. Forge laughs at the speed, exhilarated as the stars become long white lines in the windows around them. He looks to Logan who does not share his enthusiasm.

The ship soon settles into a rhythmic speed. Between that and the automatic sensors, it adjusts its path to avoid collisions from stars and meteors, space junk and the like. Forge settles back with a beer that he pulls from under his seat. Logan gives him a raised brow. “Cyke never would have allowed this,” he says, “So, I figure, we'll have at least a go at it until he's back.” He passes the beers around, lifts up a toast for Alex and a plan well thought out. “Always knew you had it in you.”

Alex says nothing, just takes a sip of beer and focus on the speeding space outside the windows.

He rarely dug into his brother's childhood, the mess of memories that even Xavier couldn't fix or the nightmares that went along with it. And he'd heard them, in the middle of the night, his brother begging a wraith of an assailant to stop and leave him alone. By morning, though, there was no fear left. No reminder that his brother was as human as anyone. “Coffee?” he asked, holding up the fire-brewed pot.

“Sure,” Alex nodded, climbing out of his tent and across the snow dusted ground. “Did you know it was going to snow?” he shivered.

“Why do you think I picked this weekend?” Scott took a long sip of the brew. “Last snow of the season. Figured we'd better get our kicks in while we could.”

“Our kicks?”

“Ice fishing. We used to do that, right?”

“We also trained for polar bear swimming. That doesn't mean I'm going to strip naked and plunge myself into the frigid river.” Scott smiled – a rare thing that took Alex aback. “You remember that, don't you? You remember polar bear swimming!”

“I'm not sure,” he replied. “Maybe. Just us in the water. Your lips were blue.”

“Hey, so were yours.”

“We were happy.”

“Yeah. We were happy.” Alex takes another sip, still smiling. “I'm glad you remember that. It's one of my favorite memories.”

“It's a good memory to have.”

“Us Summers brothers have to stick together. I still believe that, you know.”

“So do I, Alex. So do I.”

Chapter Text

The rescue is fraught – a broken ship and a teleporter jaunting back and forth between the escape pod and the Blackbird. Kurt doesn't like porting where he can't see. It's too easy to get trapped inside walls or doors or somewhere else. He especially doesn't like taking the risk with others in his arms, but he has no choice. They're running out of oxygen, and the children are unresponsive.

One by one, he takes them to the Blackbird where he refills his lungs and jaunts back for another one. He considers, for a moment, on breaking his vows to never take a life, to let Tony Stark suffer here and die, but his beliefs are too strong and they win out in the end – much to Logan's chagrin.

They were shot at, their engines ruptured and their life support on minimum. It was all Tony could do to send out a distress signal on that alien panel before he fell unconscious like the children. There is worry that they're hypoxic, that their brains have suffered with lack of oxygen, and certainly, they are cold.

Stretching them each out on the floor of the Blackbird, they are wrapped in emergency blankets and between the six of them, they are oxygenated by mask and tank – at least until Alex is sure that they are breathing on their own. “I can't believe they escaped,” he says quietly.

“But Scott is not with them.”

To save the children was half the goal, and that's something that Alex has to appreciate regardless of where his brother is at the moment. And, he allows himself to briefly feel the relief of their safety, taking a deep breath and exhaling. “Your brother never would have done that,” Logan muses, a half smile clipped across his cheek.

“Do what?”

“Let himself relax. I think it shows how much more centered you are.”

For someone to actually realize that he's not his brother is a compliment on its own, in a way. For them to applaud him for something he does differently sends a shiver of nerves down his spine. Sometimes, for Alex, that shadow is a comfortable place to be, and stepping outside of it – for someone to acknowledge that he's different – makes him feel as if he's on display. “Yeah, well, Scott always was wound tightly. Even as a kid.”

Logan can't imagine the mighty Cyclops as a child, though he's sure that the kid ate all of his broccoli. Alex shakes his head, his memories of the time fuzzy, but yes, he's quite sure that Scott ate his vegetables. “Anything to be stronger,” he said. “Anything to prove that he was strong.”

Stark stirs under the crinkling weight of foil cover. Alex is quick to put a hand against his shoulder to keep him laying down and out of the way. “We got you,” he says. “Your safe now.”

“Scott,” Tony groans. “He's going to explode. We have to get out of here.”

Alex and Logan eye each other for long, tense moments, both believing and not believing Tony's words. They know it's possible, but he'd been so much more grounded in recent days, so much more controlled. “He's going to fight it as long as he can,” Alex eases and shoves a thermometer in Stark's mouth. “Besides, there aren't any places to run. He can wipe it all out according to Strange.”

Another attempt to rise is thwarted, this time by Logan who bares a single claw pointed towards his forehead. “I'd lie still if I were you, bub, and start telling us what's going on and why the hell you left him behind.”

“It was his plan,” Tony coughs, hoping that Logan truly doesn't stab him. “He wanted us to leave without him. He's having a hard time controlling his power.” He explains the hole in his chest, the wires and cables that are welded onto bone, how they plugged him into the mainframe. “I think it's his power that runs the ship, maybe an entire fleet.”

Forge isn't surprised by Ironman's revelations. He'd posited as much when he studied the weapons. “He's an infinite source of energy, and this dimension appears to know how to use it.”

“Any idea what they're planning?” Alex asks.

“No.” He caught glimpses of their war machine, of the ships and weapons and other things that sent chills down his spine, but no concrete proof that Scott is powering an arsenal of any kind. “But I have a feeling that's what he suspected. He wanted us out of there.” Stuffed into the plate armor on his chest are Sliver's drawings – the relays, the screens, the maps. He marks a few more things himself before finally shaking his head. “If you plan on invading, you need more guns than this. You're not nearly strong enough to take them down.”

“All we need to do is get on that ship, get my brother, go home, and then figure out how to close the portal behind us.”

“You see, that's the thing. They're controlling the rift. They can close you inside if they wish. Keep you trapped here forever.”

“Yeah, but we're X-men. It's hard to keep us trapped anywhere for long.” If anything, Cable can bodyslide them out of the dimension, back to their proper place and time. “Can you reach out to him yet?”

Cable closes his eyes with concentration. The strain of seeking out his father in the vastness of space draws gray brows down and tenses his mouth into a long, tight line. It's a tenuous thing to concentrate like this, to expend so much energy in the search. A drop too much and he'll be eaten alive by the techno-organic virus that threatens him every minute of every day. A drop too little, and he'll simply overlook the mutant somewhere in the depths. It's like an echo of a seed, dwindling and twining. It wraps itself around his thoughts, pushing back against his interference. “We must be close,” he says at last. “I can feel his pain and his wavering control.”

“He was hallucinating the whole time,” Stark reveals. “I'm surprised he had the wherewithal to come up with a plan, much less one that worked.”

Logan knows it's dangerous for Cable to be so near to Cyke's mind – the draw of his power being what it is, but he also knows that things can't be left as they are. “Can you calm him down from here?”

“I can try.” He admits that he'll be able to do very little, but if he can offer even an ounce of solace, then he will. If he feels the tug of the power, he'll withdraw, but otherwise, he'll stick with his father until they reach the ship in a matter of hours. Until then, it's up to Alex to plan their way into and out of the ship, hoping they don't get caught up in a fire fight like the escape pod did.

Chapter Text

He placed his hand upon the wall, his body so weak and limp with pain. Gone were his lungs, and in their place, a large piece of clear glass that stifled the regrowth of skin and bone. It was all for science – his missing ribs and organs, the hole in his chest, the absent ear and left eye. He was still bleeding. Days into it, the blood still gushed from the wounds, and his bandages constantly had to be refreshed.

“Jean?” his tiny voice eked into the darkness. He was little more than seven now, and all he endured, he endured for his brother so that he could be reunited, so that his brother would stay safe. “Jean?”

Right on cue, she answered his call, leaning her head against her bedroom wall. “Hello, Scott. How are you today?”

“How are you?” Her child's mind didn't notice the lack of answer, instead embarking on her day's journey from her mushy cereal this morning to the playground after lunch. Today, she read a big kid's book all by herself, and Darren Woback pulled her hair on the bus. “Boys,” she grumbled. “The world would be a lot better without them.” Realizing what she said, she quickly backtracked, “Except for you. You're a nice boy.”

“You're a nice girl,” he breathed, containing a bout of biting pain between clenched teeth. She asked him what was wrong, if he was okay. He sounded like he was hurt. “I'm okay,” he told her and asked her about dinner with her family.

She spared him no detail – from how good the lasagna was to the chocolate cake for dessert. “Chocolate's my favorite,” she said. “What's yours?”

He thought for long moments. “I don't remember cake.”

“How can you not remember cake?” she giggled, but it was the way with him. So many things he didn't remember. She asked to see him, thinking that maybe they could go to the playground together. She'd bring him a piece of cake. He laughed politely in response – more of a chuckle than a guffaw – and asked her about her homework.

Jean could chat for hours to the wall, something her parents were increasingly disturbed by. Though she told them a million times that she was talking to Scott, they just didn't believe her. Not even Professor Xavier – the man in the wheelchair who came to visit her once a month to check on her 'progress' or so he called it – believed her. He insisted that the imaginary friend would go away in time and that her parents shouldn't worry. She tried dozens of times to convince him that her friend was real – even go so far as to tell them about the orphanage where he was being kept – but to no avail.

“I thought he was simply the product of an overactive imagination,” Xavier says as they walk along the beach. “It was years before I realized he was real.”

“You took my memories?” Jean asks.

Xavier nods. Something had happened, something that had scared her. “You were frantic, talking about ghosts and werewolves. I feared permanent damage to your psyche, something I wasn't willing to afford.”

“Because I was like you?”

“Because you were like me.” He admits it now, his fascination with her. That there was another with talents like his. He felt a kinship with her, far more than he did with his other students. “It's an incredible thing to realize that you're not alone in the world.”

They talk like this now, as if their lives have come to end. As if there is nothing left for them in this world, and it makes Jean sad. She used to feel so vibrant, so full of life, even when she was dead. “He has every right to hate us,” she speaks quietly while looking down at the coming tide.

“Yes.”

And in a sense, their lives are over, at least what they knew of them. They are no longer those enviable heroes with a clear sense of right and wrong. Their names have been tarnished, and their merit called into question. Their need for power has brought the world to its knees.

Jean knows that if she asks, that if she talks to Ororo, she'll be allowed back with the X-men. Storm, Iceman, Beast – they'll forgive her anything. They will understand her need to protect, to do whatever it takes to keep friends and family alive. But Logan won't. She could wait a thousand lifetimes, and his trust in her will never return. “It's better if he dies,” she says, darkly, with remorse.

Blue eyes look up from the white-washed sand for the first time in an hour. He looks to her first, studies her bright green eyes before looking up to the clouds in the sky. “Logan's not going to kill him,” he replies matter-of-factly. “Neither will Alex.”

“Captain America might, if he's pushed hard enough.”

“And you're going to push him?”

“I thought we both could.”

He smiles, a broad, toothy grin that is near reminiscent of his former self than he'd like to admit. It's a smile out of place on Phantom X's smooth jaw, but one right at home on the former headmaster's face. “And tarnish one of the world's greatest heroes? He'd never forgive himself.”

“The world's in danger, Charles. It's our job to save it.”

“When did we lose our faith, Jean?” he asks, staring out at the waves. They're slow, but rising with the morning tide. They'll have to go soon, evacuate this part of the beach, clamor back up to the house on the hill, sip their brandy from glass tumblers and watch the rest of the morning float by. He's not opposed to abandoning this conversation, but Jean is intent. “When did we choose to give up?”

“When we realized how powerless we are in the scope of things.” For all their might, singular or combined, the two are nothing in comparison to Cyclops. “We're just specks,” she continues, her green eyes cast to the damp sand at her feet. “But we want to be more. We want to be enough to protect the world.”

“I don't think we need to worry for long,” he says quietly. “The Phoenix will destroy him, as is her wont.”

“The Phoenix is in love with him. She'd rather --”

“You felt it just as I did. It's trapped inside his mind. It will do whatever it takes to be free again, even if it means tearing him to shreds.”

Wincing at the thought, Jean bends down to pick up a piece sea glass from the beach. Opaque violet, it's scratched white surface is smooth and chunky, its sharpened facade dulled by years tumbling within the turmoil of the ocean. In many ways, it reminds her of her husband, how the years of psychic manipulation had left him cold and distant, not nearly as sharp for human contact as he had been as a child. “Logan will save him,” she says, stuffing the glass into the pocket of her jeans.

“You always did have too much faith in him.”

“That faith comes from love.”

“Oh, so you were in love with him? You finally believe me?”

She smiles. “Of course, I was in love with him, just as I was Scott. Though the choice between the two was easy.”

“Would you have still chosen Scott if he were powerless?”

She doesn't have the answer to that. She likes to think that her love of Cyclops came from how well they knew each other. They were, after all, best friends, and she could tell him anything without fearing his judgment. But she'll never truly know if he would have chosen her in return. Not now. Not with Logan in the mix.

Back up to the house they silently walk. Each one contemplating the things that must be done. Over brandy they discuss the weight of the world a little more before once again returning to the subject of Scott's death. “If Logan fails, then it will be up to us. You realize that, right?” Xavier's gaze is harsh.

“Doesn't Emma control the switch? The failsafes that can turn him off?”

“She left her mark on it, yes, but with the two of us together, we can override her.” Charles sips at his brandy, relishing the burn of alcohol. He was never allowed to indulge like this when he was leading the X-men, so to do so now is something that he takes great pleasure in.

Jean, however, is more concerned about their plans. She gulps her drink down to steady her nerves. “Emma might be willing to cooperate now that he's out of control.”

“Emma has gone the way of Sinister.” Jean raises a brow to Xavier's admission. “She has other plans for dear old Scott, plans that don't include death.”

“Well, that's an interesting turn of events. She'll cause problems for us then, if Logan can't keep him under control.” Jean thinks back to her nemesis, how hard she fought to keep the telepaths at bay when she finally got Cyclops under her wing. For years, Jean had to hide her presence in that mind until she finally had the strength to come back. “And what do you know of Sinister's plans?”

“Not much, I'm afraid. The man is as mysterious as ever, but it can't be good.”

“No, it can't be good. One of us will have to go back if he decides to interfere.”

“You will have to go back, you mean. My days of superheroing are over, Jean. The world is no longer mine to save. Unless it comes to fixing my greatest mistake, then I will make an appearance.”

That both of them consider Scott to be their greatest mistake is very telling, or so Jean thinks. That, for as much as they both came to care for him, their need to damage him for the sake of power had always been paramount. “I don't know if I can handle Sinister on my own.”

“You'll have to try, my dear. You'll have to try.”

Chapter Text

Mimicking the alien language was no small feat for Forge, but he managed to convert the Blackbird's system into something akin to the other ship's, and before long, the X-men are docked inside the belly of the beast trying to remember their way around. Sliver's maps are of great use, but they're not complete, so the team must still stumble their way through the long corridors and hope that they don't get caught.

His senses on overdrive, Wolverine crouches at the edge of the doorway, his head tilted to the right and his claws almost fully extended. They're here, the aliens. They know that they've been invaded. They know that they're here to rescue Scott.

At the mansion, they'd been overwhelmed by the techniques and weaponry of the aliens – from the heat guns to the lasers, they'd been unable to cope. But Forge had been fast in adapting the weaponry for their own personal use. From heated spears to uncanny guns, the X-men are outfitted for war.

Logan motions for the rest to stay quiet as he counts out the enemies waiting outside the door. He counts at least eight – which isn't many considering how many are on the ship. The X-men take their positions to either side of the wall, their weapons drawn, their breath held. Slowly, Logan tips his hand against the door, letting it creak open to reveal their waiting enemies.

The fight is immediate, with the aliens blasting their heat guns into the air, trying to burn and solder the waiting fighters. Kurt bamfs from one place to the next, sending the aliens into a flurry of nonsensical movements. They twitch their guns to the right and left, aiming and misfiring again and again. It sets Alex up for a take down as he brandishes his own heat gun against the belly of an alien, while Colossus pins another to the wall, choking the oxygen from his system. Cable – front and center with his futuristic guns blazing – plows through any number of knees and elbows, trying to keep his violence to a minimum.

Logan stabs one through the guts – his claws coming out blood red and purple with ooze. The alien staggers back on haphazard feet, falling against an array of buttons. Taking a deep breath before he falls unconscious, he hits an alarm, and suddenly the whole room is lit yellow and red. “Shit,” Logan curses and wide-eyed turns to Alex.

“Nightcrawler!” Alex calls into the sudden roar of footsteps out in the hall. “You and Logan go find him! Cable, it's your turn, bro.”

Sometimes they forget that they are family – uncle and nephew. So different they are, raised so far apart that it's hard not to see Nathan as the grizzled warrior and Alex as the upstart. But, here he is acquiescing to the younger one's commands and hefting a missile launcher onto his shoulder.

Forge had the good fortune to look at the thing before they left. His few experiments on the crystallized crimson energy from the Red Dimension had yielded promising results as far as weapon deployment went. Rather than just a heating rod, he managed to create an energy launcher that would burn a hole in damn near anything it hit. It's only drawback was the kick, something Forge swore would send Cable flying through the air if not properly grounded by Colossus.

Piotr steadies himself, pushes his steeled arms into Cable's back and holds on tight to the vest he wears. As the room fills up with aliens the others are pushed back to the sides, leaving Nathan plenty of open space to pull the trigger. The missile shoots out with an incredible boom, heaving forward through the air, melting the stone-hard flesh of the aliens. They scream and writhe in pain, drop to the floor in their agony before passing out. Dayspring smiles, a wicked, crooked smile. He likes this gun very much.

Scrambling through the door on purple smoke and sulfur, Nightcrawler bamfs into the hallway with Logan in his arms. The feral mutant is too heavy to teleport for long chains, so the fuzzy elf drops him to the floor, and together they enlist their own battle against the rushing aliens.

Wolverine – though his claws are sharp enough to cut through the stone-thick alien hide – does not go for the kill, much to Kurt's admiration. From the ceiling, latched onto the grates that that they will soon crawl into, he watches as Logan pierces the skin in non-vital areas, injuring but not maiming.

White gloved hands work quickly to dislodge the metal cage on the oversized duct work, twisting and prodding the screws that keep it together. “Wolverine,” he says, porting down to the ground with a mighty kick to alien stomach. “You'll have to cut it open.”

Logan looks up to the grating, so high above his head and smirks. A rush of claws to alien shoulder, spun down to cut at ribs, and he waits for Kurt to port him up to the ceiling where he rams his claws into the metalwork overhead. Three swipes it takes for him to cut open the cage, and with a final smile down to Kurt, he crawls into the ducts on hands and knees.

They know their way from here – through the maze of cooling vents. A right up ahead, and then another, brings them to the emptied navigation room now ablaze with red and yellow sirens. Through the slats, they can see the rush of aliens and their weapons down the corridor, and though it's tempting to dislodge themselves from the ducts, Nightcrawler reminds his friend that they have other work to do. “We have to rescue Scott,” he says quietly and motions for Logan to continue on.

They don't know what to expect, what they'll see. From the last memories Cable was able to share from Stark's mind, Cyke looked like shit – the dearth of his energy a red fog emanating around him, his mind in turmoil. Logan's stomach turns at the thought of it, that once again, Scott is drowning inside his shattered mind, seeing the ghosts of things that aren't there.

It had been a quiet mission. The two had barely spoken during the forty five minute trek through the forest, just walking and listening for the sounds of vehicles and the click-click of guns. Mutant experimentation. That was the rumor surrounding the old compound once used for Basic Training and other military activities. The place had been rented out by Yurin Enterprises, paid up for a year according to intel, and the authorities seemed to look the other way.

They were approaching from the surround in teams of two – Jean and Jubilee, Gambit and Rogue, Scott and Logan. Cyke was strict on com silence unless evidence was found, and forty five minutes in, nothing untoward was seen. “We need to get in there,” Scott said quietly staring at the line of supply trucks filtering in through the front gates. “We won't find anything out here.” And before Logan knew it – before he could grapple the guy and put a stop to his inane plans, Cyclops was on the move, hiding himself underneath one of the stalled trucks. Wolverine followed suit, climbing up into the engine rack, a white-knuckled death grip on the spinning axles. In all, it was an impetuous move, but a genius one at that. Even the dogs couldn't smell them over the stench of engine grease and whatever else they carried in the back of the trucks.

Once parked, Cyke slithered off into the shadows and waved for Wolverine to follow him. The hallways were long and dark, filled with the offense of anesthetic and the quiet, muffled sounds of mutants being operated on. Opening one of the doors, Summers froze in place, his mouth open, his breathing stuttered. An entire workshop of mutilated mutant parts – arms and legs, jarred organs and skeletons. His hands began to shake; his jaw began to tremble.

“Slim?”

There had been no answer, then, but a psychic call to Jean – who was still outside the compound waiting to get in – and Scott was back to himself within moments. “You okay there, big guy?” His question was once again met with silence. “Hey, bub, what happened to you?”

“What do you mean?”

“You freaked out back there.”

“Where?”

At the time he thought that Scott was being an ass, playing up his stoicism and unbreakable facade. Acting like perfection. He'd growled, shook his head, moved forward in their efforts to rescue the mutants, and they never spoke of it again. It's only in hindsight that he realizes it was yet another clue in a long line of them that pointed to the man being attacked from the inside out.

It takes time – more time than the two would like – but they eventually come to the mainframe room where Summers is being held prisoner. Just like in Stark's memories, Scott hangs from the machine, connected to the host of blinking lights and rhythmic sounds by wires and cables welded through his bones and into a giant metallic ring at the center of his chest. His forehead sweat damp from concentration, a fog of red energy emanates around him signaling that he is indeed losing the battle to the hurricane in his head.

Nightcrawler ports them to the cage and hangs to the back so that Wolverine – immune to Cyclops' vast powers – can get close enough to calm him down. “Slim?” There is no reaction at first, merely the mumbling of numbers and the pleas for it to stop.

It's a hard thing to know that he still wants to die, that he plans on dying, that his whole mind is bent towards that single fact. He reaches out through cut bars, grabs the hand that hangs limp inside of the machine. His skin is hot, burning up with the Phoenix who longs to be free of the nightmare. “Scott?”

His hand seizes upon Logan's, the long fingers curling around his own, squeezing tightly at the sudden intrusion upon his addled dreams. “Logan?” he sobs, his voice cracking with fear.

“I'm here, Scott. I'm real.”

“No, no, no, no, no,” he rushes, his face a picture of agony and defeat. “You can't be here. You can't do this.”

“We're here to rescue you, Cyke.”

“No. They're going to kill me. I can't control it. I can't stop it. Please, let them kill me.”

Wolverine's soft smile fades into worry. Gray eyes glance back to Nightcrawler who whispers a gentle prayer, crossing himself with pinched fingers. “Scott, they're going to use you to kill others,” he explains. “They're going to use your power to go to war.”

Scott inhales – a deep, sharp breath that cuts across his ragged sob with searing pain and fear. The ache is all that keeps him in check, the only thing that stops him from losing himself to the storm inside his head. “Please, Logan. Make it stop.”

The red energy puffs out, corroding across the mainframe. It eats away at wires and cables and the steel ring welded into his chest. He's immobile, for the most part, his spine cut away to make room for the metal in his chest, so when it bursts, when the shackles that chain him to the machine breaks, he falls uselessly to the floor in a heap of red fog and pain.

Logan calls his name, then looks to Nightcrawler once again. The fuzzy elf grabs hold of his shoulders and ports him a safe distance from the madness, and Wolverine slowly stalks forward. “Scott, I need you to calm down.”

“Make it stop, Logan,” he pleads, the red energy beginning to wear away at the floor beneath him. “I can't control it. I can't do this.”

As the red energy begins to spur out of control, Logan does the only thing he knows. “Er dogren,” and instantly, Scott is out like a light, the red energy suddenly dissipated. Sadly, he picks his friend from the floor, inspects the damage. He's not free of the mainframe completely, of the the things that connect him to the machine. Still, there are long metal spools that run between his broken ribs and spineless chest and into the crevices of the giant computer. Wolverine cuts away at them, slashes open what he needs to in order to free the man, and stares for long moments at the silent form. Picking him up from the floor, he hands the taller mutant to Nightcrawler who ports them both up to the ducts, and slowly they make their way back to the ship.

Chapter Text

A plasma blast strikes against a hoard of aliens pushing them back against the walls and singeing across gray skin. An elbow to the soft of jaw, hands under shoulders to throw another across the room. Alex realizes that even with their improved weaponry, they are overwhelmed. Into com, he tells Forge to start the ship – they won't be able to hold out much longer, and he just prays that Nightcrawler and Logan make it back in time with his brother.

The missile launcher lays in shambles on the floor, destroyed by a clever alien tactic that burned holes in the barrel, but Cable isn't out of the game yet. He telekinetically holds the aliens in the door, keeping them from progressing forward while Colossus uses a heat spear to take out their legs and arms. If they can't walk, they can't fight, and soon the bodies pile up, making it harder for the aliens to enter.

But, the aliens are crafty and they know their ship. A blast through the rear wall opens up another front in the battle. “Fall back!” Alex calls, beckoning them to the previous room, one that's still defensible. One by one he ushers them through the door and watches the hallway carefully for purple smoke and the smell of sulfur. When there is none, he fights his way into the other room, sending out a plasma blast that nearly wipes out his energy. Without the sun, he's wearing out fast, but luckily, Cable came equipped with his arsenal and throws Havok a rifle equipped with a red crystal and plenty of energy.

The feel of a gun in his hand is odd and not something he wants to get used to. He feels violent, enraged, a killer. It's so easy to pull the trigger, to not think of the consequences, as if the battle had somehow become impersonal. He continues to blast away, however, despite the disgust that he feels in his actions. “Cable, can you find Nightcrawler?”

Practiced telepathic tendrils reach out through the chaos seeking the threads of Nightcrawler's consciousness. It's a placid mind that Nathan looks for, a place of temperance and warmth. It's rare that he touches this mind, rarer still that he wants to as he fears the elf shunning him for his more egregious tendencies towards violence. When he finds him, he is quick to take a peak inside the mutant's mind to see how far away they are. “They're coming up on the room now,” he calls back to Alex, and adds just as fast that his father is unconscious.

“We have to clear out that room,” Alex yells over the din of battle. “We have to clear a path for them.”

It's a telekinetic push - one so strong that it threatens to let go the techno-organic virus that ravages his body – and Cable is exhausting himself in the process. His entire focus, his entire being, pushing at the aliens, forcing them back and back until finally the room around them is clear. With wide-eyes, Tony Stark stares at the empty room, and not a one of them say a word out of fear of interrupting Nathan's concentration.

It's in that silence that Nightcrawler appears on purple smoke and sulfur. Between himself and Logan, they manage to easily carry Scott from the empty room and into the next, both showing signs of battle fatigue. “Sorry,” Kurt says quietly. “The ducts couldn't hold all three of us.”

Alex nods and waves them onto the ship. “Nathan,” he says, “Let's go.” He waits for his nephew to go before him before running mad like the rest of them.

The ship is ready to go, it's doors open and waiting for the team. The kids are anxious to see them return, to see that Scott is rescued. Stark sits quietly, guilt and shame rounding his shoulders and dipping his head. The children won't even look at him now, and he doesn't blame them.

Today, he witnessed heroes. Not mutants, not activists, but heroes. Men that would give their lives to right an injustice, to rescue one that could not rescue themselves. It didn't matter how powerful Summers was, how insane, all that mattered was that he was safe and sound in the back of the Blackbird and they were rushing home.

He listens to their chatter, watches as Logan wipes blood away from the half-dissolved steel ring in Cyclops' chest. It will take days to remove the bones from that, days more for him to heal. And even longer than that for forgiveness, and goodness knows, Stark needs a whole heap of that right now.

His legacy would be one of stern hatred and intolerance if he wasn't careful, if he didn't patch burned bridges while he had the chance. Certainly, he could stand up to Fury, revoke his riches from the Red Hunt, find technology to counteract what he'd built for them. That would be an easy task. Much harder would be to talk to Storm once again, to re-earn her trust. And harder than that would be finding the gall to look Alex in the eyes and apologize.

As if reading his thoughts, Alex turns to him. “Thank you for getting the children out of there,” he says, his tone hushed in hopes of not interrupting the children's gleeful chatter. Their fear is replaced by wonder as they stare out the windows of the Blackbird looking at the fast display of planets and stars. They are fickle creatures like that – going from agitation to wonderment at the drop of a hat. “Without you, this rescue would have been far more difficult.” He reaches out his hand, but Tony doesn't take it.

His stubbornness abides in the face of camaraderie. “There's such a thing as too much power,” he says, glancing at Cyclops. “What are you going to do when he decides to take over the world?”

“He would never do that.”

“He's done it before.” It's too easy for him to impose his idea of a utopia upon the rest of the world, to force a peace and feign prosperity. Free energy, plentiful food was one thing, but to disarm the world of weapons, to threaten those in conflict with violence was quite another. “There was a reason the Avengers fought against him and his imposed rule. It wasn't right.”

“You fought him out of sheer hurt pride,” Alex is quick to scold. “He brought peace to the world and you were no longer needed. That's why you fought him. Don't disguise it as something else.”

In part, Tony knows that he's right. There was an arrogance to their actions when Cyclops was possessed by the Phoenix. Mr. Fantastic had made sure to point that out to them, accusing them outright of poking at him to make him lose control and prove themselves right. But, another part is still worried that Cyclops will come to blows with the world once again. “I can't argue that he wants peace, but to achieve that through force --”

“He's not going to take over the world, Tony, but if you continue to throw stones at him in an attempt to provoke him, you will start another war, and this time, the X-men will win.” They learned enough about the Avengers the last go around, enough to stop them in their tracks should the world explode around them. “I'll make sure of it myself.”

Tony takes the threat as he should – a warning against further attacks on the X-men and the need to change the subject. He regards the man for long moments – his stern stare and clenched jaw. He's very much like his brother in that respect. A mutant who knows his own capabilities and that of his team. “I'm sorry,” he finally says. “I should have asked for your help.”

“I doubt the help you sought would have been given. At least not from me.”

“Come on, you hated what your brother was doing as much as I did.”

“But, I didn't need to see a war start over it. There were other ways, Tony. You just didn't seek them out.” Violence has long been the easiest path for the world's heroes, whether they liked to admit it or not.

“So, you would have just talked to him? You realize that he was unreasonable.”

“Did you tried to reason with him?” As far as he knew – in the tales that had come after – no one had tried talking to him, not Tony, not Storm, not Captain fucking America. The heroes of the world had simply banded together to take him down, and not one person tried to reason with him. “No wonder he went crazy. Imagine the entire world turning against you all at once, and not one person has the guts to tell you why. My brother's not who you think he is, Tony. He's not an unfeeling asshole who doesn't consider others' opinions.”

“I never said he was --”

“But, you treated him like that. We all did.” Alex blames himself, too, like a good Summers brother should. Always the weight, the guilt, the burden of conscience on their too heavy shoulders. He makes no bones about the way he reacted to his brother and his breakdown. He was in the wrong, too. “And now it's time to make it up to him.” He looks to Logan, who has been listening quietly to their conversation. “Somehow.”

“You can't change the past,” Logan says. “But you can certainly learn from it. Cyke was right. We were wrong. And because of that, we put him in a bad way for a long time. Won't happen again. Trust me on that.”

“We've got a problem,” Forge calls from pilot seat. He taps the radar on the dashboard. “We've got fighters on our tail. Everyone buckle in. This ride's going to get bumpy.”

Alex double checks that everyone is strapped in before he takes a seat at the front beside Forge. Slipping on the head gear, he pulls up the weapons display and seeks out his targets. Four ships – light fighters with plenty of energy to run on. “Can you outfly them?”

“We're going to try.”

Chapter Text

They stand at the apex of battle, caught between the alien hoard and Fury's fleet. Hundreds of ships lined up and primed for battle, and at the center of it all, Scott Summers. A pariah, a commodity, the man that Logan wants to save.

He smelled like juniper and rain. A simple mix of shampoo and aftershave, just a hint of citrus behind it all. “Cyke?” Jean was dead. Her funeral near two weeks ago, and Cyclops was finally sober. “You still look like shit,” he said when the man looked up at him and shoved the plate of food under his nose. Five pounds, ten. He'd lost weight during his sojourn into the bottle. He looked pale.

Scott stared down at the chicken and potatoes, his stomach grumbling for relief from it's starvation. “I'm not hungry,” he lied and pushed the plate back across the table.

“To hell you're not.” It had been trying times as Logan fought with the younger mutant tooth and nail to get him healthy again – in both mind and body. He dreamed every night, woke from a sound sleep sweating and screaming, ready to fight. Twice, he'd let loose with his optic blasts, blowing through the mansion walls, and once, he'd attacked Wolverine. If not for the adamantium in his skeleton, Logan's sure that Cyke would have broken his bones that morning.

“Look, kid --”

“I'm not a kid.”

“Fine. Slim. You're not the only one who cared about her. You're not the only one who blames himself.”

“You didn't promise her, Logan. I did. I told her that we'd get through it. That everything would be okay.”

“You still need to eat.”

“I lied to her, Logan.”

He didn't cry, not like when he was juiced up on vodka. Not one tear cascaded down his cheek, but Logan could hear it in his voice – the pain, the grief. He could hear the ache that shredded across the man's soul. “Jeannie made her own choice, just like you have to make yours. But, beer help me, if you don't eat, I'm going to stuff it down your throat.”

He didn't know why he suddenly cared so much. At first, he thought it was just the loss of Jean, but now he knows there was more to it. “Come on, Slim. Wake up. Let me know you're okay.”

At the helm of the Blackbird, Forge and Alex pilot the jet through a host of battle-tuned lasers. Swerving right, left, swifting upside down and right side up, they keep the jet clear of the laser fire and try to make their way to the portal.

“Hav-chchchchc – Hail-chch -vok.” The com sparked to life, and with it a familiar, if broken voice on the other end. It was Reed Richards – Mr. Fantastic. “Haili-chch Havo-chchc.”

“You're breaking up, Reed,” Alex said smoothly into com, keeping his eyes on the battle around him. Like Forge, he kept watch on the missiles and lasers, the debris from exploding ships and the bodies of the pilots forever lost to the fight. “Speak again.”

Alex can hear the adjustment on the other end, the easing of the crackling. “Havok?”

“Speak quick, Reed. We've got a helluva battle to avoid.”

“I'm closing the portal as we speak. If you don't get out of there, you'll be lost to the other dimension for good.”

“What about Fury and his fleet?”

“I gave him the same warning. Get out of there now before you're lost forever.”

A deft turn and a barrel roll, and Forge manages to swerve just in time to avoid a head on collision with a Fury-sent missile heading for their engines. “We need get out of here,” Alex says before sighting another missile to the right. The missile smacks the side of the hull, jolts them all and sends them careening down through space until Forge manages to re-take control of the jet. Systems running haywire, Alex does his best to get them back, pressing in loge sequences and overrides while Cable works his way through the wiring in the back.

At the side of the ship, the kids whimper in their fear. Colossus does his best to keep them calm, reminding them all that the X-men have been off-world multiple times, and that Alex knows what he's doing. Beside him, Kurt says his quiet prayers, his fingers coursing over beads. Indira – in her state of anxiousness – joins him in the prayers.

The portal looms in front of them, still guarded by a dozen of Fury's ships. Behind them, the aliens continue their scourge across the armada, firing lasers and other advanced weaponry at the fighters. Ships continue to explode, their flames deftly put out by the lack of oxygen, and soon their field of vision is littered by the rubble, debris, and the burned bodies of pilots. Behind the pilot's seat, Logan curses, heading to the back to help Cable with the wiring.

He's not good at this, the technical aspects of the ship. He's not a pilot, not a mechanic. He's always relied on others to do this part. He's simply the killer, the one that gets tossed through the air, his claws out and his rage on high. He rips things apart, not pieces them back together. But, in this case, he must do something – the damage is getting too extensive, and without an extra set of hands, Cable is falling behind on repairs.

He listens to Nathan's directions, coats the wires in foam that douse the electrical sparks, puts out the fires that threaten to deplete their oxygen, then slowly detangles them from the wreckage. He splices them together, color by color, fixing the damage piece by piece. “Targeting telemetry's in the can,” Alex calls from the front. “Get it fixed.”

It's a risky tactic, firing the photon cannon at this range to the other ships. But, he's not trying to hit the ships, no. Alex wants the kickback, the sudden jolt forward that will propel them faster to the portal, giving them extra time to make it out before Reed closes it for good. He needs the targeting to make sure he's not killing anyone in the process.

“You sure you want to waste a blast?” Forge asks, rolling the ship once again in order to avoid an alien laser blast. “We only have three before energy's depleted.”

“We don't have a choice. We need through that portal.”

“It's not difficult,” Cyclops said, laying the schematics on the table. He'd worked on the Blackbird since he was a kid. He knew the thing backwards and forwards, knew it's systems, knew it's mechanics. Half of it was his own design – the engines, the life support systems, the anti-detection systems. It was Forge who'd added the weapons and space capabilities, and it was time for Scott to learn them. And Logan, too, considering he'd gone on several missions now and was considered part of the team. “It's better for all of us to learn them.”

“Ain't no good at fixing things, One-eye. Ain't mechanically inclined --”

“You fix your bike all the time.”

“Bike ain't some complicated piece of shit that could explode if you put a wire in the wrong place.”

Summers sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Look, we need someone else who understands the ship. You can't rely on just Forge, Beast, and myself for repairs. If you're on a mission--”

“Then teach someone else. Someone who knows what the fuck they're doing.”

It was the way they were then, always on the verge. Always scattered away from each other. Keeping each other at arm's length. As the years open up behind him, as the telepathic manipulation unravels, he sees it. How hard the telepaths worked to keep them apart. The jealousy, the fear of discovery and the loss of power. Had he been allowed to keep close, had he been able to remain at Cyke's side as he truly wanted, then none of this would have happened.

“You have to fix the green ones first,” Cable instructs as he works on a lower panel. Nightcrawler has come to help, as has Colossus, leaving the children in the care of Cricket, the calmest of the children. She sings to them, her melancholy voice a whisper over the sparks and destruction of the panels. It is the only thing she was ever good at – these little gospel songs her mother taught her. The only thing that made her feel safe in the urban areas of Chicago. At night, when she was walking home, wary of too many eyes and too many feet, on the look out for guns and mutant haters, she would sing to herself, and she does so now.

Her faith stopped burning so brightly when her mutation appeared, when her mother finally woke up from her years-long stupor and realized that her daughter needed her. But, the calmness of these songs, the warmth they bring, and the bravery – those are things that Opal Johnston will never forget, even in the face of the danger that they are now presented with.

As she sings, Pocket stares up at her, stuffing his crayons back in his bunny suit. Folding himself in the corner, keeping a distance between himself and the rest, he listens to her sing and bobs his head in time with the music. It's rare for him to pay attention so intently to another person, so Opal smiles and hopes that this is a break through, that the child will finally open up and talk.

Out of the corner of her eye, far outside the window where the main battle takes place, she watches the explosion of another ship from Fury's armada. She watches the alien laser pinpoint its hull and fire, breaking the thing into a thousand pieces and body parts. She knows that they are close to death here, something not foreign to her. She's used to this feeling. Used to the shake within her bones as the fear of that sudden moment weighs over top of her. She continues to sing, louder now in order to soften her nerves, to pull herself together for the sake of the younger ones. She's not ready to die. Even throughout it all – those years begging for food and money for electricity, of being hungry, of being threatened – she's not ready to let loose her life. She knows that it can only get better. She knows, without a doubt, that it will get better.

“We're breaching portal in ten. Nine. Eight...” Forge calls from the front of the jet.

Breaking from her song, she watches as the other ships follow suit. Turn on thrusters and propulsion and turn from their battle with the aliens to follow the Blackbird through the dimensional rift. The aliens are also in pursuit, their light fighters as well as their main ships zooming forth to catch up.

Through the portal they go, and then up at top speed, breaking through the warehouse ceiling in a hale of gunfire and battle. “They're on your tail,” Richards warns them, “You have to shake them.”

The Blackbird is a stealth jet, made for fine maneuvers and speed. On Earth, it's one of the fastest air transports in the world, but the aliens are faster. No sooner do they reach open sky, then the first of the light fighters break forth from the larger ships, firing non-rhythmically into the air. “They're not even bothering to target,” Alex says, checking the still malfunctioning systems. “We have to go faster, Forge, if we're going to lose them.”

“Approaching Mach Five,” Forge warns them all as the jet starts to shake with the force. “Better buckle up we'll hit the stratosphere in fifteen.”

It wasn't their plan to go back into orbit, but they have no choice. With both Fury and the aliens behind them, catching up with ease, they have to go higher and faster and hope that someone doesn't follow. To Alex, it comes down to a matter of heat shielding, flying to the sun. “Can the Blackbird take the heat, herself?” Forge thinks she can, at least for a while, and with that, he changes course and heads for blackness of space. The ships follow them at their fastest speed, some overtaking him, some trying to block their path.

The light fighters hit the stratosphere first. Outside of the Earth, they form a long line, preventing the escape of the Blackbird, and behind them, Fury's men line up. “Surrender, Havok,” Fury calls. “Surrender before you and everyone else is blown sky high.” He's armed his fleet with nuclear devices. He'll kill everyone out here, melt the aliens, destroy the X-men. He'll do whatever it takes to see them safe.

To prove his point, he launches one from the command ship. The nuclear bomb propels through space, striking against the fighters. The explosion is massive, and the radiation shields go wild with use. Alex curses and reminds them all that there are other enemies to deal with right now. That if they don't stop the aliens, the world's going to pay. To answer him, another nuclear missile is launched through the air, destroying yet another alien ship, and then the battle begins in earnest, light fighters against Fury's fleet with the Blackbird in the center trying to avoid it all.

What they don't expect is the arrival of the motherships. Three large and looming vessels that sit at the edge of the battle. Thought to be just transport by Fury, Alex knows better, especially when the ships turn, great cannons opening up from their bellies, pointing towards earth. Though he doesn't understand the language, he knows very well what they want. They want his brother, and they'll destroy his home to get him. Even Fury sees the threat and orders his fleet to provide a buffer against the attack.

“You have to surrender him,” Fury calls, hoping that Alex listens to reason. “One man against the Earth. It's a non-question. You have to surrender Summers.”

“The portal's closed, Nick,” Alex reminds him. “They're going to hook him up to that weapon, and where do you think they're going to point it? Surrendering him will endanger the entire universe.”

They look like tiny stars, these cannons. Blindingly bright, and they buzz with energy, vibrating across the ships, destroying those that are barely held together. Turned away from it all, his eyes closed, he doesn't see his brother wake. He doesn't see his brother phase through the straps, or from the ship. All he knows is that blast lets loose, and hears the explosion in the distance.

Scott floats at the center of the battle, his arms shielding his face, the alien fleet destroyed. Tendrils of red energy flare out from his body, growing bigger and bigger as the rush of power begins to fill the void. He yells as the pain fills him, as the energy becomes a maelstrom around him. “Er dogren,” Logan says for the second time in less than a day, and knocks the man unconscious.

Chapter Text

He knows the other man is here. He can feel the sick slithers of thought coil through his mind, testing and probing. But, he does not speak the name. Does not give Sinister the glory of a welcome. A side-eyed glance as the man enters, once again creating Summers' themed furniture to sit upon, a glass of deep burgundy wine in his hand. Essex smiles – a slick, cruel smile – as he takes his place upon the chair. “Seems you're in a right mess,” he says quietly, looking at the mindscape projected around them.

It's been three days, and Summers' mind is a torrent of guilt and shame. Though he says nothing, doesn't cry or gasp, the energy is flurried and out of control. The X-men have turned to Strange for help. “I assume you're here with a solution?”

Strange looks at the memory once again. Replays the roots and the fallout. The miraculous phasing through the hull of the ship, the arms outstretched as lasers and missiles bounced uselessly away, and then finally, the blinding white light of a star cascading forth against red shield. The force of that blast propelled backwards once it met the crimson shroud of Cyclops' energy. The aliens died at the speed of light. Tens of thousands of them in a matter of seconds. Yet, to Strange, there was nothing that Cyclops could have done, especially without control of his powers. Those deaths led to the saving of the entire world – nay, the entire universe. Even Strange would not reverse the outcome.

“Perhaps,” Essex grins once again. He sips at the goblet, putting his feet up on the Cyclops' shaped table in front of him. He finds this enjoyable, the conundrum of this falling apart mind. Fascinating. Splendid. “I don't know why you waste your time trying to fix something so obviously beyond repair.”

“And how much of this damage was caused by you?” Strange makes no secret of his disdain for the ageless man, his lips curled upward in disgust and a side-eye glance with lowered brow.

“Not much in the scope of the things. All I did was protect the world from his blossoming. I allowed the world to survive by blocking his powers.” He toasts, glass in the air, a tip of his head. Indeed, he knows more about this mind than anyone on Earth – the upstart Xavier included. “That makes me a hero, does it not?”

He wants something. Something devious and malicious. Strange can feel it in his bones. He won't erase the memory. That's been done too many times. That's why this mind is in such a mess. The erasure, the manipulation. He won't be like Xavier and Grey. He won't assume to control this mind. A distance, he thinks. A fade. From immediate to something in the past, something he can deal with. “If I fog the memory enough, it will seem like years between its passing and the present day,” he explains. He looks to Sinister who wiggles his brow in response. “I can make the memory distant, make it less of a weight.”

Sinister considers the plan. Long moments of silence as he searches his logic for drawbacks and explosions. “Indeed,” he says at last. “Putting a distance between himself and the murder of tens of thousands. That will make him feel better.”

“You advocate the erasure of the memory?”

“I advocate nothing more than the destruction of Scott Summers. Again and again and again.” He's not an ally, that much he makes clear. “If you delete the memory, you, too, could have a stake in the power at hand.”

“I'm not a mutant,” Strange says warily. “I can't use this power.”

“Nonsense. Your spell is telepathic in nature. A few twists and turns and you can have him all too yourself. You could be the puppet master. Rule the world in his stead.”

“You think he was meant to rule the world?”

“I think he was meant to destroy it.” Sinister pauses, refills his glass, snugs down in the Cyclops shaped chair. “He was such a frightened child.”

“You abused him.”

“I saved the world,” Sinister reminds him. His powers would have gone out of control had it not been for Essex's intervention. They would have eaten the world at its core. “Xavier never realized the beauty of what I did. Never understood the blocks and stoppages I put on his power. He was far too greedy. He was a madman.”

That he fashions himself a savior is not beyond the humor of Stephen Strange. The laugh is subtle, fused with the irony of the destruction that he has wrought. “You're no hero. None of us would count you among our numbers.”

“And to your malaise, dear Dr. Strange.” He smiles again, though this time it is softer, more hesitant. “Had you seen him when those powers erupted, you would have done the same. If not for me, the world would have died some years ago with no one the wiser as to why.”

There's a fear in Sinister, an unexpected one. Strange turns, looks at him full on. “You feared him,” he says quietly as the memories of the alien destruction play out behind him. “You knew that he could destroy you.”

Of course that was part of it. The power, the threat. There were few that could withstand the ultimate manipulations of Apocalypse, but Summers was one of them, even with that broken mind. Sinister knew it, had always known it, but he'd also known something deeper. Scott Summers was the universe itself. He was the power that fueled it; the power that could end it. He was the Earth's best and last defense against a universe that would see its end. “Natural selection,” he explains. “The evolution of a species. Only in Summers, it wasn't complete. Almost, but not quite.”

He intends to be the finished product, the perfection. Years and years of genetic manipulation, of cloning, of pushing the limits of genetic mutation, he sees himself as the best there is. “But, there is no endgame if he kills the world, is there?” It was as simple as that, at first anyway. Protecting the world so that one day he could rule it. So that he could become more powerful than Apocalypse, free himself from that tyranny.

A child. That's all he was. Seven years old and too small for his bones. Bright eyed and trusting. For a year at least, maybe longer. “To block that power was a feat I should be lauded for,” he sneers and sips the wine. It wasn't easy – his sweat and tears, his mind-grinding work to figure out how to force that power back. Yet, the X-men consider him a villain, someone who is against their goals. “What good is an Earth that is dust?” he asks. “What good is something already destroyed?”

Strange can't deny his contributions. The years it took for him to block the immensity of that power, but he also understands the maliciousness behind it. “You gave him to Xavier. You knew what Xavier would do with that power.”

“I was bored,” Essex shrugs. “As long as I've lived, I need entertainment, and Summers provides it without a thought. In the end, I will always win against him, despite his most ardent plans.”

“So, that's what this is?” Strange asks, arms outstretched to indicate the disheveled mindscape around them. “Entertainment?”

“It's a game, indeed. His perfect power versus my perfect mind.”

“You mean to rule the Earth --”

“No. I mean to rule him. I want him to bow at my feet and recognize my superiority. Why is that so hard for you to understand?” He protects the Earth simply out of convenience. “It would be challenging to find another place to live, wouldn't you say?” A chuckle lights across the silence. “Distance, eh? Is there truly distance for an idle mind?”

“An idle mind?”

Sinister shrugs. “He has no mission. No focus. He was always easier to deal with when he had a focus. Saving his brother, saving the world. It gives him something to pour his energy into. Something to obsess over. Better that than his failings.”

It's something that Strange had not thought of. “What kind of mission would you give him?”

“He can come up with a mission on his own. With the right pieces in place, that is.”

“And what would be the cost of putting those pieces into place?”

“A bone sample.” Sinister pauses, looks square at Stephen with a wily grin. “He's already cut open. I'm sure you can find an excuse to get the sample.”

“He would seek out his own mission? Allow the deaths to be put behind him?”

“Possibly.”

“And what about his control?”

“You want me to increase his need for control? That will be two bone samples. Viable ones from the ribs. At least an inch wide.”

Telepathic meditation is not exciting to watch. The stillness of body, the shallowness of breath. Like a person is asleep, but awake at the same time. Giving off signs of both. The increased heartbeat, the slow dip of chest. It's confusing. It's boring. But Logan keeps his eyes on it all.

He doesn't trust Strange. Not completely anyway. That he works in secret, in private, that he spends so much time with his eyes closed bothers Logan. But, he understands it's necessary. There are things about the psychic plane that he can't begin to comprehend. Things that only Jeannie understood, that Xavier knew about, that Strange can bend to his will. It's a place that he knows little of, thankfully, in the end.

He's a man of action. Blood and guts and the sheer rush of adrenaline. These calm things, these moments spent as a statue, these long hours without whiskey or beer or cigars or murder, they don't appeal to him. He doesn't have the fortitude for them, the stamina. He needs things to be fast, to be rushed. The feel of getting something done.

Scott doesn't move. Hasn't for hours. His entire self trapped within the puzzle of Strange's creation. That spell, such a haggard one, a painful one. Each time he wakes, he can smell the pain waft from the man's body – a dry, acrid scent. Wet sand and dead wood. A long night lit by moon and the sound of crickets and frogs, bellowing out for the end of their world as the waters dry beneath them. A bog. A swamp. Pain is an unpleasant scent, and it comes off of Cyke in waves even before the spell is broken.

Hours pass before Strange finally twitches in his wakefulness. Drawing himself from that long telepathic motionless. There's a glow to him – a slight golden aura as he comes back to himself, to reality. It lasts until he finally lifts his hand to the back of his neck, massages the stiff muscles underneath. “Logan,” he greets the other man, suspicious now that he knows he's been watched.

“Stephen.”

“I need a bone sample. Two of them.”

“What for?”

“What do you know of a man named Nathaniel Essex?” he dodges, hoping to catch more of the story and get his sample.

But Logan doesn't veer. He can sense it – the animal within him driving forth with that preternatural prediction of danger. He knows something's wrong. “He owned the orphanage where Scott grew up. Manipulated half his life. Why?”

“It was in Scott's memories. I don't know much about him. I was hoping that someone could fill in the details.”

“Scott never spoke much about his childhood, especially the orphange. Reckon that was one of those things wiped away by Jean and Xavier.”

“He's a driving force of Scott's anxiousness.”

“I bet he's more than that.”

Strange looks at the still carved up Cyclops on the bed. Reyes has managed to remove the metal ring in his chest, but not without the hefty cost of blood and organs. It took her days to clean him up, and he doesn't heal well when unconscious. “I've put a distance between himself and the aliens,” Strange explains, hoping that the more forthright he is, the less suspicious Logan will be. It works. To a point. “The memory will feel ten years old instead of three days ago. It will, perhaps, give him time to process it and understand that he did nothing wrong.”

But, as Logan is quick to correct, this is Cyke they're talking about. “Everything he does is wrong. It's what makes him a good leader.”

“Odd to hear you say that.”

“Yeah, well,” Logan pauses, staring down at the rib bones Strange touches. “Apparently I was manipulated, too.” He regards the sorcerer with some wariness before moving close to Summers' body. “You need an organ sample, too?” he asks, popping his claws with a quiet snkt.

There are files in the mansion. That much Strange knows. McCoy kept them; Tony had them. Files about the X-men's history, and within those files, there are – perhaps – some relating to Scott Summers and his childhood. The thoughts of Xavier or the O5, his growth, his progress, the pieces of himself he left behind. Mostly, he wants to know more about Sinister – that dastardly man that haunts that fragmented mind, that always seems to know what's best, what solution is being called for. Stephen wants to know who he's making these deals with. “No,” he says. “But I would like any information you have on Summers' childhood. It will make it easier when the time comes to restore his memories. Private files, anecdotes. Whatever you have on hand. The more I learn about him, the better.”

Logan knows nothing about files and whatnot, but Storm might. In all honesty, he simply wants to know what the bone samples are for. “Cutting off his ribs is going to make the healing process last all that much longer. Mind telling me what they're for?”

“Do you trust me Logan?”

“No, not really.”

“Then I'll gather the sample myself.” An incredulous look from Logan. “I was a doctor before I was a hero.” He picks up the bone saw Cecilia used for scraping metal fragments from the bones. With a final glance to Wolverine, he begins taking the samples.

Chapter Text

It's the weight he feels in the sudden absence of pain. Pressed up against his chest, small and warm. A child. Tatsuya. Pocket, he decides before opening his eyes behind the visors, waiting for his body to unclench, to let him free.

The child plays a video game – some handheld thing that he'd kept inside his bunny suit. He likes the sounds it makes, the animation. Running, jumping, the way his character falls through the cracks of the world with whomp-whomp sound. He doesn't smile, but his focus is unrelenting.

Focus. The word sends shivers down Scott's spine. A chorus of whispers behind his thoughts. Focus and control. Two things he doesn't have. Two thing he doubts he'll ever have again. And then death. The memory hits him like a brick, sends waves of nausea flooding over him, and in his loss of focus, the red energy comes. He can feel it seep from his pours, a miasma of too much and not enough.

He killed them all.

And for it, they called him a hero.

Pocket turns his head only slightly to view the awakening Cyclops. Stiff from being under for days at a time, he groans as he sits up, giving time for the kid to reposition himself upon the bed. He curls up to Scott's healing chest, and with large black eyes, stares in wonder at the risen X-man. There is no telling what he thinks, what he wants, but he's not afraid.

Scott thinks he should be.

“Slim.” The moniker comes the corner, a low husk of half-dazed growl. Logan stretches his arms far above his head. “'Bout damn time.” He's been worried. A nightly watch, barely sleeping, as evidenced by the dark circles under his eyes. “Thought you'd never wake up.”

Summers says nothing, merely inspects the damage his body has gone through. The hole in his chest, the bloody bandages. Casts on his legs, his arm. Finally, after long, silent moments, he turns back to Logan. “I'm a murderer.”

Wolverine indicates the child snuggled against Cyke's chest. “First person he's touched since he got here, apparently.”

Looking back down at the mop of black hair, then back to Logan, he shakes his head. “Why don't you hate me?”

Ignoring the question, Logan continues, “He's been in here everyday waiting for you to wake up. A few of us have.” He reaches out for young Pocket, only to be avoided at the last second. “Sorry, kid, adults got to speak for a bit.” The child shoves the game into his bunny suit and places his hand upon Scott's. For long moments, he simply watches the man and the slight shift of red that pours over him. Then, he jumps from the bed and disappears. “He likes you.”

From under the chair in the corner, Logan drags out a bag of gauze and the first aid kit. “Every four hours,” he explains. “Doc Reyes says it's necessary to prevent infection.”

Quietly, “Can I get infected?”

Logan shrugs. “Don't know, but I'd rather not find out.” As he ushers Cyclops back against the bed and readies the gauze, he stares at the younger man, noticing the blankness of features, how practiced that unreadable face is. His whole life has been one war after another, yet the scars seem so faded. Tiny silvered lines that trace across high cheekbone, trail down neck. On the outside, he heals, all scabs and reminders. But on the inside, he's vulnerable to attack.

Gentle fingers trail across shoulder, up to neck. Tracing the lines of muscle into jaw. He inhales, sharply. Fast. And open-mouthed, Scott accepts the trail of fingers over his jaw. “Logan.”

“Slim.”

He knows what he's doing, his hands as they ravage the broken body. His ministrations are nothing short of sunlight and bright summer mornings as they cloud against jaw and the edge of neck. Scott responds with an inhaled breath and lowered visor. Cheeks blushed, he avoids gazing into gray eyes as the red cloud begins to seep from his skin. Like water, it drips across his body. And the heat. The heat of it as his skin flares with sensitivity.

Logan swarms down to damp bandages, red with blood and damage. It's with careful fingers that he removes them, skimming whole skin, leaving his indelible mark. Claws out, he pricks the gauze free, throws it to the hard wood floor below. “Don't move around too much,” he instructs. “Whatever you need, you just tell someone. We'll get it for you.”

“I'm not worth this, Logan,” Scott says quietly.

Logan doesn't respond, just splashes alcohol onto a pad and begins to clean the gaping wound. “Doc figures you'll grow your heart back within the week.”

“My heart is gone?” His voice is distant, as is his attention. He looks to the corner of the room. “No wonder,” he continues with no relief.

Logan considers him for some time before continuing with the bandages. “Can you feel this?” he says, pressing his hand along the collar bone. Cyke nods. “That's all that matters, then. That you can still feel the real world.”

“Are you real?”

“I'm real.”

“That's what she says, too. She tells me she's real, and then she sets me on fire. She likes to watch me burn.”

“I'm real, Slim. Trust me on that.” He wonders what he's seeing. What hallucination is traveling across his mind. He wonders how to soothe it, to take it away. But, he's always wondered that. The Boy Scout and his unrelenting pain, how he chose to avoid it, to ignore it. “Is the Phoenix here now?” he asks, tilting red visor to himself. “Is she talking to you?”

He shakes his head, glances back over his shoulder. “Alex is.”

“What's he saying?”

“That you should kill me.”

“I'm not going to kill you, Cyke.”

“For the sake of the world.”

“Still not going to happen.”

“Then I have to find another way.”

The determination in his words sends shivers down Logan spine. He's been told by Strange to find him a mission, that he needs something to distract him. “What about training the kids? Don't you want to train them?”

“The kids hate me.”

“Indira idolizes you. You're the only one that can see her true potential.”

“It's not safe for me to be around them.”

“It's not safe for you to be around anyone so long as you're like this,” Logan bites, frustrated with the continued distance in Cyke's voice. “You have to control this, Slim. You have to beat this.” He tells him of the kids in space, how well they did when given a solid plan, how they fell apart when the deeds were done. “Without direction, they just sat in the corner --”

“They're kids.”

“They're kids who need to know how to handle themselves.” It was an argument they'd had before, only on opposite sides. And Logan feels shame for bringing it up. “They're mutants, Cyke. Things are going to happen to them. They need someone to prepare them for it.”

“Then, they'll just be killers. Like Idie.”

Idie never wanted to kill anyone. Never wanted to fight. But her genetics, the scope of her blood, made it impossible not to. Attacked from all angles, a constant fight for survival and the survival of others, she killed in the sake of peace, of safety, in orders for others to live. She regrets these deaths, but she no longer sees herself as a monster. Rather a soldier. And no kid should have to be a solider – regardless of what genes they carry. Still, life is not so kind and logical. These kids, these mutant children who have come to them for care and education, they will be hunted. They will be subjected to things that most children can only imagine. They need to be trained for the eventuality of their genes, whether Logan agrees with it or not. “They'll be safe. Like Idie.”

“I didn't know what else to do,” he confesses softly. He places his hand upon Logan's, looks at him full on. “They were going to die,” he says. “Emma was going to die.”

“She did what she was thought was right.” His hand graces jaw and high cheekbone. “For me to call her a killer was unfair. She was a hero, and I should have treated her like one.”

“But, I'm a killer.”

“You couldn't help what happened--”

“If you won't save the world,” he says, “I will.”

Logan hushes him. Places forefinger to lips. Gray eyes penetrate red visor, looking deep into thought, into soul. “You already saved the world,” he husks, “Now it's time for you to heal.” He notices the dip in Adam's apple, the nervous swallow as Wolverine places both hands upon Scott's cheek. “Whatever happens, I'm not going to leave you again,” he promises. “I'm here until the end.”

He finishes the bandages in silence, cleans the wounds, checks for infection. Scott suffers it, his visor looking off towards the door. He mumbles at times, the hallucinations so strong that he can't help but talk back to them. Numbers and words, blending together. Then finally, “Where's my heart?” The younger mutant looks at Logan, his hand upon his chest, “I lost my heart.”

Taken aback, Wolverine takes a deep breath, looks at the way Scott's hand curl into the bloody cavity. He can feel the thrump of pulse inside veins, the flow of blood, the beat of heart, but the organ was cut out some time ago. “It'll heal, Slim. You'll grow it back.”

“No wonder I killed them,” he says quietly. “I had no heart.”

He wants to tell him that he had no choice, to make him see that the aliens were going to destroy the world and he saved it. That he's a hero, just like Idie. That he knows the other man didn't mean to take a life. That it's all okay. But he can't bring himself to do it. Not while looking at those paled features and the scent of drowning pain.

He pulls Scott against his chest, holds him close, tangles his fingers into autumn hair and watches as the red cloud becomes thick and destructive. “Calm down, Scotty,” he whispers. “I don't want to shut you off right now, but you got to focus. Pull it all back. You can't afford a breakdown.”

Hands against his shoulder blades, they would draw blood if Logan was shirtless. Scott holds onto him as if he's the only thing in the world. “Calm down, hon,” he repeats, gently as the red energy begins to eat at bloody sheets. “You can do this. You can stop this. Just focus.”

“Focus,” Scott whimpers. “Control. Focus. Focus. Control.” The words run across his tongue, and a deep breath sees the unleashing of his hands, the pulling back of emotions, and with it, the depletion of the red energy. Logan smiles, but Scott does not. “Focus,” he says again, his entire demeanor shifted into one of coldness.

“Slim?”

He picks up the bandages and begins to wrap himself, fastening the gauze at his side. “You should eat,” Scott tells the older mutant. “You haven't eaten in days.”

“Neither have you.”

“I'm not hungry.”

“Take it from me, you'll heal faster if you eat.”

“Will I get back my heart?” His focus. His control.

“Yeah. You'll heal.”

“Then I should eat.”

Logan watches him for long moments, unsure of the sudden lack of pain, of sadness. Like a steel wall, Scott leans back against the bed, staring down at the bandages, his entire self suddenly emotionless and still. “It's okay to grieve, Scott. It's okay to let it out.”

“We should eat,” he responds quietly, not looking at the other man.

Logan nods. “I'll send Alex in while I rustle up some grub.”

“I'll be fine,” he says.

Another nod and Logan exits, still unnerved and worried. “Just look in on him,” he tells Alex. “I'll be about an hour.”

The same cold distance greets his brother. Unflappable, unfeeling. As if his entire self was suddenly bottled up inside of him. Uncomfortable in the silence, Alex flips on the television.

“We're asking that the X-men do what is right and hand Scott Summers over to authorities. He is a danger to this world and many others. We promise immunity for any crimes committed during the Red Wave in exchange for having him in custody. We can't afford another mutant war. One of side of it will not survive.”

“Don't listen to him, Scott,” Alex says, flipping on the TV in his own disgust. “We're not handing you over. Not a chance.” Scott says nothing, merely stares at the blank screen. “We're going to keep you safe. Promise.”

Chapter Text

They've forgiven Steve Rogers. SHIELD has. Fury has. They asked him to return to the fold, to once again take up the mantle of Captain America and lead the Avengers. “The Red Hunt is over,” Fury explained over telescreen. “That's what you rebelled against, right? Well, it's done. So no reason to stay away.”

They are a tangle of limbs, their eyes half-lidded, their thoughts hazy. There is no world outside this bedroom, one just completed in the nick of time last night. It's just the two of them, as it should be. Still in a daze, Steve leans forward and lets his lips linger upon Tony's, slowly pressing harder into that softness, tongue begging entrance. Tony responds with a moan, runs his hands over shoulder blades, pulling the great Captain America closer.

If he could, Steve would never leave this room.

The kiss melts away, and Tony begins a new one, his lips dragged across earlobe and pulse. Licking and sucking at tender flesh, sending static jolts down his spine and into his groin. Steve moans with the pressure, dragging Tony across his chest and holding him still. “This is nice,” he says, lifting up to peck those kiss-red lips.

“It could be nicer,” Tony slithers, trailing tongue from pulse to collar bone, then to hardening nipple. A gentle tip of teeth and Steve bucks into the movement, his body lifting from the mattress. He calls Tony's name. “And even nicer than that,” a slick trail down abdomen to already nude groin. Steve awakens splendidly, grows hard as Tony sucks at inner thigh, his hand upon the man's shaft. “Come back with me,” he says, his eyes hooded with lust. “Come back with me and we can have this every night.”

He cools to the touch. The words. They weigh heavily upon him. Tony notices his sudden hesitation, the sudden dousing of the fires. “Too soon?” he asks, placing a gentle kiss to the tip of Steve's manhood. “Ignore it. I'll make it go away.” His tongue upon shaft and head makes Steve quiver. If only it could disappear the comment completely. He could rise up, abandon himself to the sensations.

“I can't go back.”

Steve sits – pulls himself away from that warm tongue and mouth. Defends himself with hands across his crotch. “I can't go back,” he reiterates, brows lowered. He pulls himself from that abyss of pleasure, sits against the headboard and snugs blankets over his nudity. “What they did was wrong.”

Suddenly frustrated, Tony sighs. “I'm going back,” he says, hedging upon on knees, his hands roaming the naked chest before him. “It'll be good to get paid again.” Health insurance, subsidies for his wild experiments. The government can pay for his expertise, as far as he's concerned.

“But the mutants,” Steve says, pulling the blankets over top of himself. “They don't deserve this.”

In a huff, Tony sits at the edge of the bed reaching out for the nudity underneath the blanket. He's unhappy that his time is interrupted by this sordid thought, even more unhappy that once again its the plight of the mutants that separates them. “Tell me truthfully,” he begins, “you don't think that Summers is too powerful?”

“You think he deserves to die because of that?”

Tony rolls dark blue eyes to the ceiling, getting up out of their nest to shuffle himself into boxers. He can't have this conversation nude, now matter how much he wants to. Steve sighs, reaches out for the other man. “We don't have to talk about this now,” he says quietly, pressing lips to knuckles. “We have more important things to do.” He runs his fingers along the edge of waistband, tracing the jut of hips down to the slight bulge within. He licks his lips, wanting nothing more than to once again be caught up in bliss.

“You're staying with the mutants, aren't you?” Tony scoffs.

“At least until the situation with Summers is resolved.” A pause as he leans back in the bed, draws covers up over top of him. “They need help, Tony.”

“So do the Avengers. The team is a mess. They're not going to trust me--”

“What makes you think they'll trust me?” They are tarnished beings now. Their reputation, their shining images. They have to re-earn their place among the heroes after what they've done. “And sticking around to help Storm until things are more normalized is the best way --”

“And what about me?” Tony asks with a glare. “Was this,” he says, gesturing to the bed, “just some way to placate me until your plan could be put in to place? Was this another sneak attack?”

“It's not what you're thinking, Tony,” Steve pleads. “Please, calm down. It's not forever. It's just until things settle down for them.” He'll talk to Fury at a later time, explain himself, his plans. “They're in a fragile place and they need our help. Isn't that what heroes are supposed to do?”

“And, here I thought we were supposed to save the world.” Tony rubs against his eyes and sighs, slumping into the bedside chair. “I think I can help him,” he says. “In time anyway. Come up with some machine to put a cork on his power. But, I need him in custody, first. I need to run tests.”

“They're not going to hand him over. Not after everything we've done.”

“You didn't see him, Steve. You weren't there. He obliterated those aliens in seconds. These were weapons that we still barely understand, and he killed them all without a thought. He needs – no, the world needs – for that power to be controlled.”

“By you.”

“By anyone with a sense of responsibility about them. Logan and Alex are too lenient with him. They don't see the danger that he poses, but I do. I know that he saved the world. I recognize that, but at the cost of tens of thousands of lives. We can't let a power like that go unchecked.”

Steve agrees, but doesn't think the mutants need to pay the price for that any longer. Their species has been ravaged enough, and as disparate as they are, they need unity. Something to believe in. “Storm wants peace. I need to help her achieve that.”

“And what about Summers?”

“I'll talk to her.” He holds out his arms for the other man, waits for him to crawl into bed beside him. “She's hesitant to trust the outside world right now, and for good reason. It may take time, but she'll do what's right.” He kisses over Tony's jaw, his hand once again skimming across the waistband. “And so will we.”

It's enveloping, the way they kiss. Warm, powerful. Lips to lips, tongues beg entrance in teasing swipes. Hands roam across heating skin, down ribs, to stomach, out over hips. Widening his legs, Tony waits for Steve to crawl across him before pulling him back into another needy kiss, his arms collapsing against spine, as if his skin isn't enough. As if the only way he can feel one with the world is for Steve to be inside of him.

Steve pulls down, takes command of those boxers. “You won't be needing these,” he laughs, removing the offense and throwing them on the floor. Lips and tongue work their magic upon hardening manhood, sucking and licking, taking pleasure in the moans and thrusts. Tony takes the ride with lusty moans and curses, his eyes tightly closed, his hand wrangled in hair guiding Steve's movements. He's close, so close, but he doesn't want it to end this way. He wants to feel the other man inside of him again, wants to come on Steve's dick alone.

Pulling away, Steve reaches for the drawers, grabs the lube. A swathe on his fingers, he slowly works his way into that tightness, watching as Tony throws his head back with the entrance. A string of curses as Steve works in a second finger, opens him up even more, and heads for the prostate. “Fuck me,” Tony breathes. “Fuck me hard.”

It is electric, the way he slurs into the movements, his body bucking against his hand, begging to be filled. A third finger, and Steve runs light kisses over the small trail of hair leading up to his chest, exhilarated at the stuttered breath and tiny moans. Sucking hard at the nipple as he works down below, Tony arches his back again, begs for more. His name caught between lusty curses once again, Tony's hand rifles through his hair, absently tugging at the stray strands, unable to concentrate on a single movement.

“Relax, Tony,” Steve coos, lifting from the hot body beneath him, and centering himself at the tight passage. Slight pressure at first, just to watch Tony whine for more. Just to watch him beg. Tony holds his breath between the soft, muddled noises that he makes. Then eyes shoot wide open. “Fuck me,” he begs, tired of the teasing, wanting nothing more than to be filled and consumed by the great Captain America. Steve obliges with a smile, pushes in to tip, and waits for Tony to relax around him.

Again and again, achingly slow, he pushes in a little further each time, then pulls out until Tony can take him fully to the hilt. The rhythm then is faster, languorous for Tony's needs, but it gives Steve time to find the prostate once again, angling himself so that he pushes against that rapturous gland again and again with each thrust.

Tony arches into the thrusts demanding a faster pace. He pulls Steve down into a deep kiss, nipping at the edges of his lips, and growling as Steve meets his need. He can feel it, deep in his stomach as the Boy Scout hits his gland again and again, leaves sloppy kisses across his chest. He can feel it rise, that state of exultation. He calls out Steve's name again, let's it billow out from his lips as the sudden bliss explodes across him. In his pleasure he clamps down on Steve, making the passage even tighter, sending Steve over the edge as well.

Sweat-damp and sated, they curl up into each other, dragging soothing fingers over still-sensitive skin. They lay like this for some time, staring into each others' eyes, their silence an agreement between them of peace no matter what happens now.

Tony can no longer imagine a life without him. His every thought of the future includes Steve, from his latest inventions to the quieter moments. A meal, a shopping trip. They'll grow old together, retire to a porch swing with lemonade. A nice little house in some suburb where they can grow a cute little flower garden and invite the neighbors over for dinner. There will be those that they consider their children – the young Avengers that come to them for advice, for help. And they'll learn from them. They'll become a part of the family. His family.

In a way, the thought makes him sad. That this could all be ripped away from him – this whole dream of his – in the blink of an eye gives him pause. “Good night, Tony,” Steve says with a gentle peck. No longer able to keep his eyes open, he drifts off to sleep, leaving Tony with his unsettled thoughts.

That the world could stop this – that Summers could end this – only makes things worse. His fear for the world, for losing the one thing that he cherishes. There has to be a way to control that massive power, and he has to find it.

Chapter Text

Magneto had given him a single name to track down. Gary Bennet of Deerborne, Michigan. “He'll have answers for you, if you dig hard enough.” Mystique had argued with him then, said that if he knew something he should dish. But, Magneto was firm. “I don't know the whole story, Raven. But, I do know that he's at the beginning of it.”

The house they pull up to is as small and unassuming as the man himself. A cute little yard with boxwood bushes trimmed into square hedging, some out of bloom day lilies, and a seldom used porch swing, judging by the weathered look of the seating pads. Victor would much rather go inside with her – 'The guy could be a serial killer for all Mags told us.' - but Mystique trusts her own instincts on this, and thinks the introduction of the big and burly Sabretooth would prove a little too intimidating.

There had been little information about Mr. Bennet online – a birthdate and a credit report. He'd held a job at the local sawmill for the couple of decades, but before that, Mystique couldn't find anything, which led her to believe that Bennet was an alias, and whatever he'd been caught up in before was something worth checking out.

Bennet is a hearty man with broad shoulders and tattooed arms. His dark brown hair is receding, and his teeth a little crooked. Guessing by the ink, she assumes him to be a man of nature – the type that enjoys camping and fishing, and all those things that outdoorsmen do. Things that she's not quite fond of herself. She greets him with a smile. “Mr. Bennet? Macy Tremaine. We spoke on the phone?”

With a wave of hand he gestures for her to come into his home. The place isn't so messy as it is just cluttered. Newspaper clippings and pictures line the walls. Whatever he's researching is extensive. He clears a pile of scrapbooks from a wooden chair against the wall, and then disappears into the kitchen, leaving Raven alone to peruse the various articles. “You like coffee?” he yells from the kitchen.

“I love coffee.”

“Good, ain't no tea drinkers around here. Only brew is the fresh stuff.”

Most of the articles revolve around mysterious disappearances and alien abductions. The spark of hoaxes as people returned to life after being thought dead for years. Kidnapping, amnesia, even reincarnation. A fanciful bit of research, scattered for the most part, but it gave Raven something more to go on than simply knowing about an alter ego. “You're very thorough,” she says, giving a nod to the walls and settles back into her chair.

“You said on the phone that you thought I could help you?” He takes a seat in an old worn recliner, lifting the cup to his lips. “Not sure I ever helped much of anyone, but if you're here for the reason I think you are, there's not much I can tell you other than what I've already told everyone else.”

“And what reason do you think I'm here?”

“You sure you ain't some reporter?”

“I'm here as a favor to a friend, investigating the disappearance of a child. I have reason to believe that you have information about him.”

Gary Bennet pales at the thought, leans back into his recliners and stares at the blonde-haired woman in front of him. Prim and pretty, she's easy on the eyes, but she can't hide the predator's glare that sneaks out from behind those baby blues. That's simply in her nature. “You know my whole life was ruined?”

“I'm sorry to hear that. Can I ask what happened? In your own words?”

He digs around in his old scrapbooks for nearly thirty minutes, opening and shutting them, complaining that he used to be better organized than this. He used to have a system for these things, used to know the dates just by looking at the cover. But the flood. Oh, the flood. Five years ago. It nearly wiped him out of his home. “To lose two homes in a lifetime would have been too much,” he says, hefting up another stack. “Taught me to pray though. Taught me to have faith in the Good Lord and even if something does screw up, at least I still have Him.” Mystique smiles softly, understanding more about Heaven and Hell than she would like. “Ah, here it is. It's all I got left from my first life.”

“Your first life?”

“When I was Dirk Williamson. Name I was born with. You're really not here about all that, are you?”
She shakes her head no. “That's a first.” He was a rescue worker near Anchorage, a mountain guide. “Word came out about a plane being shot at by some strange looking ship, and then witnesses said they saw a parachute, meaning that there were survivors.” They pinpointed the crash quickly enough thanks to the excessive smoke. “An old d'Havilland. A wooden plane. Someone'd put a lot of care into restoring that baby, only to have it shot at by some freaky aliens.”

“Were there survivors?”

“Not at the site,” but, as he explained, the survivors would be with the chute, and that had deployed some minutes before the crash. “Spread out our search over three mountains with hourly updates from all of the crews. It was my crew that finally spotted the prints.” Judging by the size of the prints, they were looking for kids, two of them, and based on the blood they found, they were looking for injured kids. “Lots of things up in those mountains. Bears, coyotes. It gives you a real sick feeling when a kid's in danger like that.”

It had taken them days to track down the boys, and then only from a distance. They were running scared and afraid, and getting near them only caused a lot of commotion. “Soon as we'd get the equipment close, they'd be off an running. They wouldn't even fall for our traps.”

“Your traps?”

“Left food out for them almost every night – sandwiches, waters. But those boys were wily. They knew how to survive, but the one. The one was in real bad shape. Looked like a head injury, and he was getting worse.”

At the edge of her seat already, Mystique leans forward in interest. She listens quietly as the man recounts those days of trying to find the boys again. “They even walked down the streams to hide their footprints. Don't know who they thought we were, but they weren't going to be caught easily.” But, four days in, and the older boy was dragging tail. He was bleeding too much, and was woozy on his feet. “We watched them the entire day, afraid to spook them again, and he was on his last legs as far as we could tell.” The boys had curled up in the trunk of a tree, trying to get out of the cold. Their clothes were in tatters, and the oldest one looked to be hypothermic along with the injuries. “Probably had some other broken bones, too. Kid was in bad shape.”

All he remembers is waiting until evening for the kids to finally go to sleep. “Youngest one spotted us and started screaming at the top of his lungs trying to wake his brother up, but the boy was too sick. Kept right on sleeping. I woke up on that same patch of mountain six years later with the rest of my crew. My wife was remarried, my kids grown up, and not a single person in town wanted anything to do with me. Either I was a liar or I was touched by the Devil, and they made sure to let me know how unwanted I was. As you can see, the press at the time was ugly.”

And, indeed, she did see that. He was called a hoax, a dead-beat dad. There were rumors of another family, or attention seeking. All of this because he woke up with no idea where he'd been for so long. “You think the aliens took you?”

He shrugs. “Most plausible explanation yet. There were sightings of that ship. So maybe they beamed me up.”

“Can you tell me anything else about the kids? Did they ever contact you, or did you check up on them?”

“Nah, had too much else to worry about when I came back, like reporters knocking at my door at three in the morning or people lighting crosses in front of my house. No, the best person to talk to about the boys would be Jeremiah Hanover. Don't know where he's at now, but he was the park ranger on duty that night and might have an inkling what happened to them. Why? Did they come up missing, too?”

She shakes her head. “I'm sure their fine. No need for milk cartons.”

“No, I mean, if they disappeared, let me know. Maybe the same thing happened to them. Maybe we can help each other figure it out.” It was a solemn request, his heart on his sleeve. Mystique found herself reaching out and touching the human's shoulder, trying to comfort him from the confusion that he woke up to everyday.

“I will,” she says quietly. “I'll let you know what I find out.”

“'Bout damn time,” Victor says when she makes it back to the car. Snarled and cranky, he watches as she buckles in, her look more contemplative than he expected. “We have to go to Anchorage,” she says, explaining that they need to find Jeremiah Hanover, ask him about the kids.

“Kids?”

“Yeah. There were two of them. Brothers most likely. You ever dream about another kid?”

“Just once. He was behind glass walls screaming his head off. All scared like. There was blood in the floor?”

“Do you think you killed him, too?”

Sabretooth shrugs. All he knows is that the dreams are getting worse. Last night, the boy had his eyes and ears cut out, his tongue and nose sliced off. “I mutilated that kid, only I don't know why.”

“Have you ever thought that it wasn't you who hurt him like that?”

“Can't think of anyone crueler than me, babe. Only, I'd like to know the whole story.”

Silence befalls them as he starts the engine. A full tank of gas and a three day's drive that neither are looking forward to lays ahead of them, along with nights full of dreams that neither one understand.

Chapter Text

“Where's my keeper?” Beast asks as Magneto enters the small prison area. A communicator was left on overnight, just for the purposes of tempting McCoy out of his cage, but the behemoth is more than cozy and hasn't moved an inch.

Eric quirks a long gray brow at the continued presence in his cells before smiling and taking a seat against the wall. With a flick of fingers, he opens the door to the unlocked cell, thereby completely freeing the other man. “You used to be such a trustworthy fellow, doctor.”

“You have an army now, Eric. I presumed this to be the safest place in the world for a mutant like me.”

“A mutant like you?”

“They will oppose your arming of the masses, Eric. Even Storm won't sit this one out.”

“If, indeed it does get out,” Lehnsherr cautions him. “This is SHIELD we're talking about.”

“They're crafty. They'll find a way to frame you for something.” As a member of the Avengers, Beast understands SHIELD like no X-man ever has. He knows Fury, has operated under that anonymity for years when he was needed. “Trust me on that. They will not go down so easily.” Then, blue brow raises. “But, that's why you're here, isn't it?”

“You're after SHIELD's destruction, so why not help me?”

“What makes you think --”

“You knew about our assault on the Denver base this morning. I made sure of it. I even left the communications open, yet you didn't warn them. That leads me to believe that your employer and myself might have common goals. Why not work together? Bring this world to its knees. Put mutants in their rightful place.”

Beast is a student of Xavier, ever the idealist for a new world order. Superior and sapien – they are bred from the same cloth, neither better than the other. “Peace can only happen when both human and mutant realize that they are equals in this world. Neither should be lord and master, but both rightfully and justly treating each other with respect.”

“You sound just like him,” Eric sneers, folding arms across his chest. He's on the defensive now, angered by the words of his one-time friend. “Ever the learned student, aren't you?” A smile snicks across his cheek. “But, you knew, didn't you? You knew that he was siphoning Summers' power?”

The arrogance fades from Beast's blue face, his cheeks become hollow with guilt, his shoulders round, his hands clench. “I was told it was necessary, and I believed him.”

“You believed everything he ever told you. What damage he has done to such a fantastic mind. To both your minds.” He smiles knowingly at McCoy, the door swinging back and forth on invisible magnetic strings. “And you believe he's dead, too, do you not?”

Breath stalled, Beast carefully examines the man outside the cell for truth or lies. Indeed, it has always been difficult to tell the two apart, but Henry is practiced at this art through his years and years of observation. “You only think he's alive. Some hoax has led you to believe --”

“He's been alive for quite some time. Before the Red Wave even.” An angry grin. “Why do you think he hides himself? Do you think it's shame?”

“Xavier would have been front and center during the Red Wave. As the architect of that mind--”

“I can take you to where he is. Both himself and Jean Grey.”

The mention of the two names together gives him pause. That Jean knew as well. That they didn't try to end the chaos that happened upon Scott's awakening. In many ways, it makes him angry, but in other ways, he's simply just tired. “For what price?”

“The name of your employer. I wish to speak to them directly.”

“I have no employer.”

A snap of his fingers, and Sam Guthrie enters the room. A shell of his former self, his face is pale and gaunt, his hands still shaking with the fright of his near-death experience. There is also anger. Immense anger as his blue eyes flicker towards Beast. It's enough to make Henry draw back on haunches, prepare himself for a battle. “Relax, Henry. He's not going to hurt you. Sam's not going to hurt another mutant.” He takes a long pause, beckons the mutant to sit. Blue eyes drill holes in amber. “He's still not recovered, as you can plainly see. They tried to kill him. Tried to remove the mutant gene from his DNA. It turns out that it's your research that led them down that path.”

“My research?” Eric nods. “I've never --”

“Of course not. Of course not. You would never do anything untoward in the name of science, would you? All of those years of faking data in order to hide Charles' nasty little secret? You may have left them some very valuable clues that will eventually eliminate the X-gene in our codes.”

It's a faulty science, at best, Beast explains. Whatever they're trying to glean from those early days of research will prove futile because he'd already looked down that avenue after Wanda's spell. “If it can't unlock the genome,” he says, “then it can't lock it. My research and theories were sound, but there is nothing--”

“Your research may be futile, but their research is killing mutants.” He takes a long pause, looks to Sam who has yet to move his gaze. He touches the young man on the shoulder, gains his attention. “Is there something you'd like to say to him?” Cannonball shakes his head, the glass of his eyes becoming more pronounced. “You see, Dr. McCoy, to him you are a traitor.”

“What I did, I did for the world.” It's a weak defense now, especially looking at Sam's hollow cheeks. “How long's it been since he slept?”

Magneto shakes his head. “You don't get to change the subject.”

“I'm sorry about what happened to you, Sam. I didn't know about the Undertow. I didn't know what they were doing.” His words are genuine, shamed, but Guthrie doesn't move, doesn't angle his angry glare away from him. To Cannonball, all that matters is that he sided with those that tried to kill him. “If I could change it--” He stops short, knowing that the rest would be a falsehood. “I was only trying to save the world. Scott Summers is a danger to us all. He needs to be stopped, not used as a weapon, not put at the forefront of mutant rights.”

Sam finally speaks. “So you still want him dead?”

In truth, Beast doesn't know what he wants anymore. He fears Cyclops and that explosive power, especially now that there is no one controlling it. But if Xavier is indeed alive, then perhaps his fears will be assuaged. “If I can just talk to him, I can convince him to--”

“Tell me who you're working for, and I'll give you his location.” Henry refuses once again. “Very well then. You are free to leave whenever you would like. You're not needed here, nor are you wanted. My army is quite angry with you, so it may not be as safe as you think. I will not stop them from committing violence upon you, nor will they stop you from evacuating your cell.” And, with that, he taps Sam upon the shoulder and they leave the good doctor alone.

Outside the cell, he can hear the rumblings of the mutants. They want his blood, his soul. They want to subject him to the horrors that they faced in the Undertow. He doesn't blame them. He, too, has been a victim of mutant experimentation, thanks to his dark counterpart. He knows what it feels like. He knows what it does to the mind.

But, this is not why he leaves. It's the news of Xavier that draws him forth out into the hallways of the bunker.

The mutants pull and tug at his fur, bump his shoulders, slam themselves against his wide ribs. A chair hits him from behind, shatters over his head, and he falls to the ground in a wailing of punches and kicks. It's Magneto who stops them, forces them back against the walls and enables a clear path for Beast to leave. He reminds them that they are not animals, that they will not act as such. They're an army, and together, they will make sure that the horrors they have been through will never happen again.

McCoy picks himself up from the floor and drags his bleeding body out into the sunlight, and on shaky legs he runs. And runs. And runs. There is no single direction to his movements, no clear path. He only runs until his lungs fail and his stomach churns violently out onto the ground. It's evening now, and he stares at the bile on the ground, dizzy with the need to calm his nerves. Xavier's alive. He must warn them all.

Chapter Text

He returns to them, his arm half gone, his mind a wreck. He convulses, a seizure overtaking his body, and Logan turns him onto his side and calls for someone to help him. Within minutes, the room is filled with onlookers and the scent of fear. “He disappeared again,” Logan rushes as Dr. Reyes administers a sedative to calm Scott down. “He was gone, maybe ten minutes.”

She's tired, wary. Dark circles rim her deep, brown eyes, and she continues to examine her favorite patient. Other than the missing half of his arm, he has chunks of flesh removed from his sides and legs, as if eaten by an animal. “No further broken bones,” she assesses with relief. “No further organ damage. His arm needs bandaged to contain the blood, but he'll be okay.” The skin will heal, much faster than the previous damage, or at least that is what she's observed thus far.

He smells like burned rubber and iron. A light scent, quickly fading, but it's still there. Logan watches as flailing limbs slowly calm, and the haze of thoughts slowly settles. Scott says nothing when the seizure finally ends, simply puts hand on head and curls into a ball, the cloud of red solidifying around him, a brief shimmer of a crystalline structure before it shatters into nothingness. “Get away from me,” Scott hisses struggling with his control. “Please.”

With a gesture, Logan waves the onlookers away, waiting until they're alone in the room once again. “Just breathe, Scotty,” he says quietly, kneeling down to feather fingers through autumn hair. “Big, deep breaths.”

He tries, and fails, the need to control himself so pertinent, so necessary that he can't relax. Logan lays down on the floor beside him, runs thumb down cheek in slow, soothing strokes. “It's okay. You're safe now. Just breathe.” He inhales loudly and exhales through parted lips. “Just breathe.”

Scott tries again to mimic the breaths, to follow Logan's lead. A frustrating process that mashes his teeth into a tight, harsh hold, but Logan continues, twining his fingers up into hair, smoothing it back from forehead. Again, he tells Summers to breathe, to allow himself to relax, and slowly, painstakingly, he finally does. The cloud of red settles into every-so-often wisps, breath evens out.

It's a moment of peace, Logan realizes, afraid to break the spell. He continues to soothe his fingers through hair and down jaw, afraid that if he stops, then Scott will disappear again. There is no world outside of this, this moment. No pain, no fear. It's simply breath and touch, and slow, languid movements that speak to days they hope to come.

“Where were you?” Logan asks, sitting up and grabbing the first aid kit. He carefully removes the tattered clothing from Scott's form, urging him to lay back on the floor so that he can work. He doesn't like being nude, but the wounds have to be cleaned. “Scott, where were you?”

“I don't know.” His voice cracks with the admission.

The fear becomes an overwhelming scent, and the red miasma begins to hover over Scott's body once again. “It's okay, Slim,” Logan eases, pressing a hand to his stomach, a slow back and forth meant to calm the troubled mutant. He takes a deep breath, hoping that Summers follows his lead. Whatever he's going through must be frightening, enough that his jaw would tremble at the thought of it. “No need to rush it. Just breathe.”

Scott hides himself behind bloody hand, even as Logan strips him of pants and underwear and parts his legs to get access to the wounds. Logan bends his leg to dab alcohol upon the wounds that runs mid-thigh to just at the crease of legs. The gashes are deep, to the bone, piercing veins and arteries, but it's not that which surprises Logan. It's the scent of arousal and a thickening red cloud. Strong and heady, he looks at Scott who apologizes quickly and tries to hide himself further. “No shame in it,” Logan says, looking away quickly. “Must have been a long time for you.” Scott doesn't reply, so Logan tries his best not to focus in on the scent no matter how hard it is to do so.

Wounds cleaned of gravel and dirt, he proceeds to tape long pieces of gauze over the wounds, making sure that they are tight and firm. Still aware of Scott's growing need – and the miasma that surrounds him – he helps Scott back into a fresh set of loose clothing, and into the chair. “You must be hungry, too,” he said, still not able to look the other mutant in the eye. As much as he's thought about it lately, he is sure that it is an involuntary reaction, and that the other man can't help it. “You probably haven't eaten for years either.”

“I'm fine,” Scott says weakly, turning towards the window, red tendrils still seeping out over him.

“Maybe, but you'll heal faster with some food in your stomach. Trust me on that.” He can feel the distance between them, how silent and cold the other man has become in the moments following his release from first aid. The scent of lust dissipates under the nothingness that the room suddenly becomes. “Don't get worked up while I'm gone,” he says quietly, his thoughts heavy.

Most of the construction is complete. A few odds and ends on the grounds and the finishing touches – tile, paint, carpet. Storm spent the morning picking out wallpaper and helping the students with their new schedules. She plans to re-open the school as soon as Scott is squared away regardless of the President's warning on television. She doubts it will come to another war, in fact she knows it. Her confidence makes Logan wince, as if she knows something that she's not telling him.

The kitchen isn't as well stocked as Logan's used to. Leftover red beans and rice – Rogue's attempt to wish the Cajun back into these walls – and a vegetarian lasagna seem the most interesting things left in the staff fridge. A side of cornbread, some stewed zucchini. Stuffed in the microwave, the smell hits Logan hard, making his stomach jerk and jolt with pangs. He heaps the plates full of the mouth watering goodness.

“You don't have to baby him.” Storm stands in the doorway. Dressed in black skinny jeans and a loose cotton top, she looks as beautiful as she is comfortable. Logan can't help but admire her. “He is allowed to get his own food.”

“He needs time to collect himself,” Logan grunts. He's tired of her picking at him.

She's heard about the disappearance earlier, and it worries her. Just like the stories that she's now heard about the ship. “Logan, are you sure you can control him?”

“He'll be fine, 'Ro,” he mutters, taking up his plates. But, she's not done with him. Stretching out across the door, she blocks his progress. She tells him that she's on his side, that she wants what's best for him. Regardless of his feelings for her, she still loves him, and she wants him to be happy. “You don't have to worry about me, darlin'. I'll be fine. I know what I'm getting myself into.”

“He's not staying,” she says, her blue eyed gaze suddenly upon the floor. “He's turning himself in.” She draws back, waits for the sudden flare of temper. When shock overlays it, when she knows she's safe, she continues, “Steve is taking him to SHIELD headquarters the day after tomorrow. He'll be put on trial for his acts.”

Still speechless, it takes Wolverine long moments to reply. “What'd you say to him?” She shakes her head. It was his own plan. He went to her with it. “And you thought it was a good idea?”

“I didn't have a choice. He called us together, brought Steve in on it.”

“But you didn't try to talk him out of it, did you?”

“No.” Before the rage catches up to him, she places a tender hand on his shoulder. “A trial will clear him, Logan. He's not in his right mind --”

He knocks her hand away. “You really think Fury is going to let this go to trial? You just signed him up for an execution.”

“It was his idea.”

“Of course it was. Ever since he came back, all he's been doing is trying to die. And you just gave him the go ahead.”

It's an astounding revelation for Storm, one that parts her lips in a sudden gasp. “I thought – But we were standing behind him. I thought that he wanted us to be free.”

Logan shoves past her, plates in hand, and barrels up to his room. Calmer now, but not completely rid of the red sheathe, Scott doesn't acknowledge his stormy entrance or the plate thrust into his lap. “I thought we were past this,” Logan says, sitting on the bed. The words cool the atmosphere even further. “I thought you wanted to get better.”

The flick of visor, just the barest edging towards the sound of Logan's voice. Scott cools even further, reacting to the rage with a calmness that has been rare since his return from the Red Dimension. The fog around him becomes a slow pulse that sticks close to skin, the barest leaking of his power. “There is no getting better,” he replies coolly. “But, this way, there are no further deaths.”

“Scott, what happened wasn't your fault. They shot at you. They--”

“Tell me that you're not frightened of what I can do.” He places the plate on the bedside table, folds his hands upon his lap. “You can't, can you?”

“There's a lot of mutants out there with frightening powers--”

“I don't want to destroy the world.”

“Then don't.”

“I don't know how to stop it.” Visor to the floor, he speaks in a hushed tone, frail, vulnerable. “I'm barely hanging on, Logan. I don't want to hurt anyone else.” That fragility disappears as soon as the words are but an echo. That cold resolve returns, forcing visor back to the window, and the miasma back into skin. He looks so much like his old self now, the same grit to his jaw, the same distance. He's Cyclops through and through, the leader of the X-men.

Logan wants to rage and scream and throw a mighty fit. He wants to push Cyke against the wall, bury his tongue deep within the depths of that mouth, prove to him that there are things yet worth living for. But he's been tempered by that attitude. Years of following orders, of watching the man's back, of second guessing and picking fights. It stays him, makes him hesitant. He picks through his food, the taste of it unpleasant with the bile in his throat, with the wave of nausea that overtakes him. “You should eat,” he finally says, staring at the untouched plate. Dryly, “Maybe your heart will grow back faster if you eat.”

The words sting against that frigid resolve, bring forth that pulse of red from skin. His heart. That absent thing. Scott's head jerks slightly down to view the bandaged hole in his chest, and the slow progression of numbers starts eking from trembling lips. Logan watches with some amazement as a single word nearly rips him apart. “Come on, Scott. Don't make me force it on you. Just eat.”

Frustrated at the sudden mumbling of words, at the conversations with the corner, Logan loses his appetite completely, puts his plate down on the floor. He climbs across the bed, takes a seat near the chair. “Please,” he says, placing his hand over the heartless wound, “You need to eat. It will help.”

Scott shakes his head, a sudden fear coming over him. “Which one of you is real?” he asks.

Logan takes his hand, twines their fingers together. “I'm real, Scott.” He can't tell where Scott is looking, what he's focusing on. All he can see is the fury of his powers slowly beginning to spur out of control. He curses for his temper, for his words, that he broke the slim margin of control that Summers had managed. “Fuck,” he says, before rolling over and hoping that Scott pulls himself together on his own.

It's like a splinter. How it works its way out of the skin. How the skin pushes and pushes until the offense is gone, until the skin can heal, become whole again, become something new and perfect. Except, for Logan, the guilt doesn't go away. As much as his mind pushes at it, as much as he rationalizes and tries to talk himself down, the grief and guilt well up inside of him, stings across his eyes, and curls him onto the bed.

Hands to eyes to push back on the tears that threaten to spill, nails digging into forehead. Logan's frustration boils over into a primal snarl that fills the room with the dangerous scent of rage. A deep down murkiness, damp at the edges, the scent is nothing less than the need to rip something apart, iron rich with blood and need.

Staunching fingers into fists, he opens gray eyes to watch the one he loves quietly mumble to the corner about his heart and its lack. He doesn't blame his father for abandoning his boys for the adventures of space. Doesn't blame him for their loveless relationship. He has no heart. He can't be loved without a heart. Someone told him that once. He just can't remember who. It's on the tip of his tongue, somewhere buried in a box. He wishes he could remember.

Logan pulls the chair to the bed and edges out a bite of food onto the fork. He gently squeezes Scott's hand. “Hey bub,” he tenders. “Look at me. I'm real. Look at me. I'm the only one that's real.” He watches as the flash of recognition filters over normally stoic features, tugging at the corners of mouth, creasing brow. Once again, there's fear as red visor turns corner to corner in the room before settling upon Logan once again. “I'm the only one that's real.”

With his only hand, Scott grabs at his chest, pulls at the bandages covering the wound. “I lost it,” he says. “I lost my heart.”

“I'll help you find it,” Logan humors him, hoping to calm him down. “But you gotta eat first. Okay? We need to keep you strong.” He puts a spoonful of red beans and rice to Scott's mouth, urging him once again to take a bite, and when he does, Logan is quick with another unsure how long this clarity will last.

“My father hates me.”

“Your father doesn't know you.” He says this knowing that there is no comprehension at the moment, that thoughts are too blurred to understand. “It's okay, Scott. Just eat.”

It takes an hour to finish the plate, and Scott is more than tired by then. Between the delirium and the food, he's on sensory overload, but there is no rest for him, not with the Phoenix daring him to dream. He fears to sleep, even in his oblivion. He fears the sudden wrenching of what little control he has. He fears Apocalypse, the prison in his head. He fears himself and the act of letting go. But, it's a necessary function. Even for one such as Summers, one that heals, one that can warp reality. It aids the mind, the body, the heart. And so, Logan lays him down upon the bed, keeps him still, fingers threaded through hair trying to keep him calm.

He tells him that maybe in the morning his heart will return, and Scott hopes so. He doesn't want to be hated. He doesn't want to hurt anyone. Not again. Not ever again.

Chapter Text

The office is much bigger than Alex imagined for Hell's Kitchen. Two private rooms with desks, a greeting area, a phone station. Uncomfortable chairs next to the door. A coffee pot. There was nothing extra here. No lavishness or plush carpeting. Nothing to speak of expected largess or even success. But Logan insisted they were in the right place, and his nose rarely lied.

The man that approaches them is a bland chap, with a chubby face and chubbier middle. Dressed in a dour tweed of charcoals and slates, he looks every bit a sheister, rather than part of the team that Logan swore he would trust with his life. “Foggy Nelson,” the man says, extending his hand to Alex first and then to Logan. “How can I help you?”

“We're here to see Murdock,” Logan spits out, unintentionally sounding angry.

Nelson smiles and shakes his head. “Mr. Murdock isn't in right now. He'll be back around--”

“We'll wait then.”

Alex shrugs politely, a nervous smile breaking his tightly pressed lips. “Sorry. It's a difficult situation.”

An uneasy smile. “As long as you can pay, that's not a problem.”

“We can pay,” Wolverine issued, pulling a wad of bills from his pocket. “So long as Murdock can get results.”

Foggy disappears into his office, returning with a clipboard of paperwork. “Might as well get started while you wait then. Basic forms. Name, address, blood type.” He laughs at his own joke before his eyes narrow in sudden recognition. “You're Alex Summers.” The name is said with trepidation. Nelson takes a step back and regards Logan with the same anxiety as he does Alex. “You're Wolverine.” A pause, he nearly drops the clipboard. “You're here about Scott Summers.”

Eyes go wide, and a large toothy grin. Thrill splashes up Nelson's spine. “Holy shit! You're here about Scott Summers!” In a rush, Foggy zooms around the office collecting papers and books, ushering them both inside his office. “I've been following the events closely,” Foggy reveals. “It's not your average civil rights case, especially after the President's warning on television.” The two men take their seat and continue to watch the buzz of activity around them. “Do what we command or we hurt your family. That's a clear violation of civil rights, not to mention the threat of the Red Hunt.” He stops in his chatter, looks at them, his eyes still wide with disbelief. “I can't you're believe here. Do you know how many lawyers would love to take up your case? This is a legacy case. People would kill for it, you know.”

His flurry to gather his things done, Foggy takes his own seat at the desk. Leaning forward, he taps a pen against his cheek. “This could go to the Supreme Court--”

“It'll never get that far,” Logan snarls.

“And that's why we're here,” Alex cuts in before Logan's anger boils over. “We need to make sure there is a trial or at least the possibility of one, and not just an execution.”

Foggy's excitement dims. “An execution? You mean Death Row?”

“No, I mean an execution.” Logan leans forward, elbows on knees and takes a real deep breath that's meant to calm his growing frustration. “No trial, no nothing. Just flat out murder.”

The world is scared of Scott Summers, his powers, and rightfully so. Even Alex understands the worry. He has the same anxiety himself, that his brother will overload with power and destroy everything. “But, we can help him,” he explains. “That's what the X-men do. We help people learn to control their powers, and my brother is no exception.” He would be safe with them, out of the way, but it's going to take time before his mind is truly healed, before he can be a semblance of himself again.

Foggy Nelson scribbles as he listens, capturing key words in messy black squares and red underlines. He comments on an insanity plea, to which both mutants immediately refuse. “Call a man with that much power insane, and that will only hasten his death,” Alex explains. “It's the very thing we're trying to stop.”

“But he was the Red Wave?” Foggy clarifies. He gets two nods as his answer. “I doubt a jury will find him innocent. Insanity is your best--”

“The case isn't going to court.” Matthew Murdock stands in the doorway to Nelson's office. “They'll never allow it to get that far, not with SHIELD involved.” He walks across the room, the tap, tap of his cane a rhythmic sound in the silence. He takes a chair and pulls it to the side of Foggy's desk. “You need us to bluff our way inside to make sure Scott's still alive.” A pause, then to Logan, “How did you know?”

Logan grins and touches finger to nose. “Hardly ever lies.”

Murdock promises to meet them in the morning at the mansion, prepared and ready for a fight. “I'm going to give a call to Ben Ulrich, too,” he explains. “The more witnesses the better. They won't be able to disappear him so easily if the whole world knows that he's been captured.” He leaves them then, for the books on the shelves, running his fingers across the bindings to gather the ones they need.

Once in the car, Alex takes in a lungful of air, breathing out slowly through his nose. “It's probably not my brightest plan,” he admits to Logan.

“Only plan we got, bub. No use in doubting yourself now.” He's like his brother in that respect, that same thread of doubt coursing through the both of them. “You did what you could, now let's pray that it's enough.”

Silence settles between them, puts them in their heads to face their wants and their fears. The worst case scenarios and unrealized miracles. It isn't until Westchester that they finally speak again. “What happens if he doesn't love you back, Logan?”

That thought alone churns dread into the pit of Wolverine's stomach. “I don't know,” he answers honestly. For him, it's not so easy to just pick up and leave as his younger self would have done. There are too many connections, too much responsibility to simply go his own way. He's needed. More than needed, he's welcomed. “Act like nothing's wrong, I guess.” And he's good at that. He understands unrequited love.

“Are you still going to stand by him?”

“Love don't fade just because it's unwanted,” Logan surmises. “If he needs me, I'll be there.”

Alex stops the car right outside the gates of the mansion. The damage done is still evident, the scattered bricks and pieces of stone. Roofing shingles laying in the once dense gardens, and patches of rubble lining the driveway. Alex never felt at home here, not like Scott did. Not like Logan does. To him, this place will always be something unattainable, a family that never quite clicks. “If it gets too much for you,” he tells Logan, “I'll understand if you need to leave.”

“Who said I'm leaving?” Logan growls.

“I just don't want to see you get hurt.”

“It's not easy to hurt me, Alex. I heal real fast.” Logan flashes a sarcastic grin, but he's thankful that Havok is so attuned to him. “Besides, I leave, you're stuck with Steve being the other babysitter. I'm sure you don't want that.”

They are greeted by Kitty Pryde, a less than happy scowl on her face. She complains about Steve, and how he wouldn't let Pocket in to see Scott. “Poor little bunny has been outside the door since breakfast, hasn't moved an inch, but Steve won't let him inside. He won't even let me inside.” Even Tatsuya's father is shocked about the boy and his sudden need to be around Scott. “It's amazing,” she says. “It's almost like they're bonded.”

Alex volunteers to talk to Steve, leaving Logan and Kitty alone in the kitchen. Logan digs through the fridge until he finds the rest of the vegetarian lasagna from the night before. He pops it in the microwave and takes a seat at the counter. “You okay, Logan?” Kitty asks, taking a seat opposite him. She knows the look on his face, this mood. It's a ponderous one, one that speaks of covered up worry.

He nods, taking a bite of the lasagna. “Yeah, punkin. I'm okay.”

She knows that he's lying, but she doesn't force the point. “Pretty amazing, don't you think? Even Tatsuya's father is amazed at how quickly he's become attached to Scott.”

“How long's the old man going to stick around?”

“Probably until the school opens and he's sure that Pocket is doing well. He says that his son has problems with change, that he'll need someone familiar for a while. It makes sense, really. I sort of wish more parents would take that kind of interest.”

“Be glad they don't,” he mutters, “You don't need a bunch of parents complaining about how their kid isn't an X-man yet.”

Kitty laughs before realizing that she hadn't laughed in ages. Curling fist under chin, she picks a clump of spinach from Logan's plate. “He's going to be okay, right? I mean, with this whole going to prison thing. He's going to survive it, right?”

It's not something that Logan can answer. There are too many what variables, too many what ifs. Even with a looming court case, SHIELD could easily bury it under mountains of paper work, make it take years for the case to go to trial, and by then, it also be easy enough for them to disappear Scott, to hide the body, to hide their treachery. “Fury's not above deceit, especially when it comes to national security.”

“They've been calling him a terrorist on the news.”

“They've called him that for years,” Logan reminds her, hearkening back to the days before his supposed death. “It's a label that won't easily go away.”

“But, he saved the world, Logan. How can they --”

“No one knows about that damn space battle, and even if they did, all they would see is that he killed tens of thousands of aliens to protect this planet. That kind of massacre doesn't go down well, regardless of whether it was his fault or not. It's just plain scary.” And, he admits that it even scares himself. “He was trying to kill himself,” he says. “Only it didn't work.”

“It's like he's on a mission,” Kitty says, snagging a piece of zucchini from the plate opposite her. “He's so focused on it that he can't see past it.” She's seen him like this before – they all have – when voices and opinions stopped mattering, when he pushed himself to the brink to bring about a resolution. “And when he's on a mission, there's no stopping him.”

It's one of the things that made him such an excellent leader, one of the reasons why he'd garnered so much respect from the X-men. He had a do or die attitude when it came to their field work, and though every one else had learned to compartmentalize their downtime, Scott was constantly working in order to keep the mutants safe. “He never learned to relax,” Kitty adds. “He never learned to have a life outside of the team.”

Logan wonders if the telepaths were responsible for that, too. If they'd gone into his head and given him such a steeled focus. Though it's hard to imagine that the Xavier they all knew and loved had stooped so low as to force a child's hand, in light of everything they've learned, he now questions it. “What if he never wanted to be an X-man?”

Bringing up Xavier causes conflicting emotions in Kitty. Xavier treated her like a daughter, and in many ways, she was closer to Charles than her own father. That relationship grew even further after her father's death on Genosha. “I could go to him with anything. He never judged me, never thought poorly of me, even if I did make a bad decision. He taught me everything I know about leadership and responsibility.”

Like most of the X-men, she took the revelations of his deceit hard. To find out that he'd been destroying Scott's mind for years in order to gain power had shaken her, made her question her very motivations for being here. “To see your surrogate father fall so low, it changes your world,” she says quietly.

Having lost his appetite, Logan pushes the plate to her, lets her finish the few scraps that are left. He's tired of thinking about Xavier and what he did, how he'd treated Scott and lied to everyone else. Of course, he's angry, rageful even. But, the man is dead, and it does no good to drag him through the dirt when he's not here to defend himself.

“People come back,” Kitty says, picking through the leftover lasagna. “They come back all the time.”
She doesn't know how long Storm will keep the telepaths away, how long until they're part of the school again. “She's got Psylocke on the schedule for both European history and self defense.”

“Self defense? That's usually my class.”

“She doesn't think you'll stay. Once Scott is in custody, she thinks you'll take off. She thinks Warren is going to leave, too.”

“Warren, eh?”

“He's not happy with her leadership. He's not happy with how she's treated Scott.”

“Who else is leaving?”

She's not sure, but she thinks Kurt is dissatisfied as well. And the kids. “Opal Johnston and Indira Gomez had some words with Storm this morning. They're pissed off that she allowed Scott to turn himself in. I think we're looking at another schism.”

“This ain't the time to be squabbling amongst ourselves. We don't show a united front, the world's going to take us down without batting an eyelash.”

“It's hard to be united when you disagree with leadership decisions.”

“You sound like you're itching for a fight.”

Kitty shakes her head. She's loyal to the school, to Xavier's dream, regardless of the pain the man inflicted. Like Storm, she's too weary to fight anymore, too enamored with the idea of normal days and schedules. She agreed with Storm, that hiding was the best solution to the problem, but if it hadn't been for Cable, then all those kids would have been in the Undertow. “I sort of miss being out on the field,” she reveals. “I miss making a difference.”

“You're going to make a difference here, Kitty. At the school, and that means a lot.” He's seen the way the kids react to her, and she makes a damn good teacher. “They look up to you. You're a good example of what they can become.” She's level headed, speaks her mind. She's a great field leader, from what he's heard. “I'm not expecting you to give all this up for Scott Summers. Not when Alex and I can take care of him.” He doesn't expect anyone to give it all up. So, there's no need for her to feel guilty over not coming with them.

Relief brings a soft smile to her face. “Thank you,” she says quietly, reaching out to grip his hand. A gentle squeeze, and she returns to the half-eaten lasagna. “If there's anything I can do, let me know.”

“Will do, punkin.” It's a short-lived smile, but still one that lifts Kitty's spirits. “And, the same goes for you.”

Chapter Text

The mansion still looks like a war zone. Though largely rebuilt – and with an entirely new roof to boot – Ben Ulrich can still see the remnants of battle here. “Impressive how fast they worked,” he comments, brown eyes then focused on Matthew Murdock to his right.

Already there are protesters here. Dozens of them, soon to be hundreds. Spreading out across the street, trying to climb the fence that protects this building from the masses, they scream and yell and pelt the car with eggs and tomatoes, doing everything they can to discourage these mutant sympathizers from their visit. “Rough crowd,” Ben says taking pictures from inside the car.

“It will only get worse from here,” Foggy Nelson says from the driver's seat. Making it through the gate and onto the driveway, they are followed by a lucky few protesters who manage to sneak through. They run across the lawn, shouting their obscenities at the top of their lungs. They find the debris in the mansion yard, picking up bricks and stones and anything else that can smash through the mansion windows.

“Where are the police? Why aren't they out here to keep the peace?” Ben prays silently that these violent creatures don't turn their stones on him.

“This is mutant territory,” Foggy explains. “Cops decided that they can take care of their own.”

As they pull into the gate, they see the beginnings of a press junket. A crowd of reporters swarm around the mansion taking photos of the destruction and graffiti that's yet to be repaired. They knock on the door, peer through windows. They flash cameras when a mutant is spotted within the depths, with each one hoping for an interview.

As they exit the car, Foggy leads them to the front door, and already Ulrich can feel those dangerous eyes upon him. Both the protesters and the press, they are jealous that he's here. “You can't go in there,” one reporter exclaims. “No way you're getting that exclusive.”

But, before the fight can heat up, the lawn is suddenly drenched by a downpour of rain, sending protesters and reporters under cover for a brief time. Ben watches them with a laugh as they cower under clipboards and plastic bags. It's then that he notices the mutants – Piotr Rasputin in his flesh form and Rogue. He snaps pictures as they reel back the crowds outside of the gates, claiming it's private property. “They're only making things worse,” Ben says, noticing how angry the crowds are as they are pushed out. “They'll start throwing fire soon.”

“We're on private property. The X-men have a right to defend it,” Murdock answers.

Ben isn't accustomed to mutants. Though he's covered capes for most of his career – including the X-men – he's still a bit wary of them. The world hates them, and it's hard to deny such fervency, especially after the Red Wave. “So, he's really not well? In the head, I mean?”

“You'll see for yourself,” Matthew promises as the door opens. Storm looks out across the lawn, watches as Rogue and Piotr get the gate closed again. She apologizes for the delay, but there are children here. Children that she's trying to keep safe. “It's not a problem,” Murdock tells her. “We're here to help.”

She gives them a small tour of the mansion – mostly the rooms that have been finished already. A few parlors, the rec room where the kids are watching a movie and kept out of the way. She allows pictures of these places, the emptiness of them. “Most will become classrooms,” she speaks of the parlors, “where the children will learn about everything from English to math. “It's a well-rounded curriculum. I can show you the schedules if you like.”

“Don't you train them to become X-men?” Ben asks.

“Only if they wish to be so, but most of the children that graduate go on to lead very normal lives. They have families and jobs, and want nothing more than to just feel safe.” She's good at this, these interviews. Having done thousands of them between her time as an X-man as well as queen of Wakanda. “We do teach them self defense,” she admits, “But, as you can see outside, that's often necessary in the life of a mutant. Just being born garners much hatred, and it only worsens as the children age.”

There are rooms here that still show signs of the destruction. Rubble and broken ceilings, graffiti and yet to be replaced windows. He photographs these places, the remnants of the battle that took place here. “How many died?” he asks, looking up and into pale blue eyes. She's a beautiful creature, and deadly, he supposes. That she can control the weather is a mighty gift, and he is surprised that she doesn't use her powers more often. The things she could do – bring rain to the desert, snow to the tropics. He admires her self control. “When SHIELD attacked, how many died?”

“None that I know of,” she answers. “Many were wounded on both sides, but as far as I know, no one died.”

“Would you be sad if they did?”

She nods. “All life is precious, regardless of genetics.”

“Is that why you're harboring this menace? The Red Wave?” She is surprised at the question, quickly glancing to Nelson and Murdock for some clarification. The interview was supposed to be an easy one. “He destroyed entire cities, yet you're keeping him here. Why is that?”

Foggy gives her the nod that she should answer. “He wasn't aware of what he was doing. He's barely aware now.”

“Are you saying he's insane?”

“No. Just very confused.” Her long legs carry her to the stairs leading to the upper levels. “His mind was severely damaged, and it will take time to heal.”

“But you are scared of him. I can see it in your eyes,” Ben presses.

“I am scared of many things, Mr. Ulrich,” she sighs, “but Scott Summers is not one of them. We have taken measures that help keep him under control while his mind is healed. He will never become the Red Wave again, so long as he stays with the X-men.”

“That sounds like a threat, Ms. Munroe.”

“It is not meant to be taken as such. We simply know how to handle him. SHIELD does not.”

Ben scribbles on his note pad, taking down Storm's words with a hurried pen. “You're doing very well,” he applauds her. “Most people would have avoided those questions completely.”

Storm shrugs a shoulder. “I wish they were questions that didn't have to be asked. You'll see that he's a broken man right now, but he trying at least to recover himself. He doesn't want to hurt anyone.”

Nelson and Murdock had explained the telepathic damage. “Greed,” Murdock had called it. “They siphoned his power to bolster their own. And, in the end, he lost his reality.” He also warned him that an interview may not go smoothly.

Storm knocks politely on the upstairs room, waits those seconds for Alex to answer. It's necessary for him to be here, another thing that the attorneys had warned him about. The younger Summers is their safety net, their best chance to keep the immensity of Cyclops' powers under control.

It's a wonderful thing to meet Scott Summers. Ulrich had followed his career as a superhero for many years. He was well known as a master strategist and tactician, as well as a premiere voice in the struggle for mutant rights. He'd scared the world first as the Dark Phoenix, and then again as a renegade mutant, but he was an honest rebel, and one that did no harm. He just wanted to protect his species.

“Alex Summers,” he says and proffers his hand for a shake. “I'm a big fan of your work, Mr. Ulrich. Thank you for coming.”

“I know who you are,” Ben says with a smile. “What you did during the Red Hunt was pretty impressive. You got people to listen.”

“Just not the right people, eh?”

Scott sits facing the window, the slow seeping tendrils low against his skin. He's a ghost of himself, that proud man who fought for his species, his family. “Scott, this is Mr. Ben Ulrich. He wants to ask you some questions.”

Though is face denies emotion, the sudden fog of red energy betrays his stoic features. “You shouldn't be here,” he tells the writer. “I deserve what's going to happen to me.”

Ulrich sets his tape recorder on the bed side table and takes his seat opposite the chair. He looks to the lawyers, then to Alex and Ororo before continuing on. “Do you mind telling me what you think they're going to do to you?”

“They're going to save the world.”

“From you?”

“From me.”

Red visor drops its visage to the floor. “I didn't mean to hurt them,” he says quietly. “I tried to fix it.”

Ben is careful now. Careful not to press to hard against the man's answers. Indeed, he is not himself. In all of the interviews, in all of the aftermath of battles, Scott Summers had been a paragon of self control and bravery. Often the voice of the X-men, he never wavered in his beliefs that mutants and humans could get along. “You did fix it, in the end. You put the world to right.”

“I don't blame them for being scared,” he says. “I deserve their hatred.”

He presses stop on the recorder, looks to Nelson and Murdock. “It was his decision to turn himself in, wasn't it?”

“The President's speech spooked him,” Alex says. “He's trying to save the world from another war.”

He presses record once again, turning back to Scott. “Mr. Summers, how many people are in this room, right now?”

“Twelve.”

“Can you tell which ones are real?” There is no answer to the question. Scott turns his focus back to the window and to the lawn where even more reporters have crossed over the gate. “Do you think that they're going to kill you?”

A soft nod at the question. “They're going to save the world.”

Ben walks to the window so that he can see the man himself. His chest is covered in bloody bandages, remnants of the battle with the aliens. Half an arm, his legs chewed up. Ben snaps a picture of him, of his wounds. “Can you actually die?” he asks.

“I hope so.”

Ben switches off the recorder once again and leads the others into the hallway. “If I do this, then you have to give me license to tell the truth.”

“And what truth is that?” Murdock asks.

“That he's not well. I want to know what happened to him.”

“We won't drag a dead man's name through the mud,” Storm replies.

“You're going to have to if you want this trial.”

Steve Rogers appears at the end of the hallway. Dressed in full uniform, he is commanding, his very presence drawing their stares. “It's time,” he says. “They're landing now.” Even from here, the rear of the mansion, they can hear the thrum of helicopters landing in the lawn. The X-men don't move for him, forcing him to hedge his shoulders between them and the bedroom door. “I'm sorry,” he says, “But this has to be done.”

“Do you think Scott Summers deserves death?” Ulrich is quick to ask.

“Who said anything about death?” he answers just as quickly. “He deserves a trial for his crimes.”

“And the Avengers will make sure that he gets one?” Steve nods. “I can quote you on that?”

The Avengers believe in the right to a fair trial, no matter the person, no matter the species. “He won't be harmed while in custody, that much I can assure you. But, this step must be taken in order to allow the public to feel safe and protected. And yes, you can quote me on that.”

Steve opens the door to the flash of another camera, tells Scott that it's time. Like a shadow, Scott rises from his chair exposing to everyone the wounds he has suffered. There's blood on his shirt, on his beige slacks that are just a tad too short. He wears Alex's clothes as all of his things were discarded upon his death. He walks silently down the hall, saying nothing save for an askance for the whereabouts of Logan.

“He's asleep,” Alex replies. “But, we'll come see you soon.”

“Don't,” Scott cautions him. “I need to do this alone.”

The children – those trapped in space – gather in the hallway. Indira is in tears, Sarah a nervous wreck. Arlo howls his sadness while Cricket smooths his forehead hoping to calm him down. And, then there's Pocket who stands in the center of the corridor, his hands stuffed into his bunny suit, his eyes on the floor. Nearby is his father who watches his son carefully.

“I have to go,” Scott tells the young child. Kneeling down, he stretches out his arms, reaching for the boy. Tatsuya collapses upon him in a tight embrace. “It'll be okay,” Scott soothes. “You'll be fine here.” The flash of camera draws Cyclops back. “The X-men will take care of you.” Pocket hangs onto Scott for dear life, kicking and fighting when he's released from the embrace.

His father comes to the rescue, pulling the boy into another hug. There are tears in his eyes, both happy and sad. “Arrigato,” he says, thanking the man, “I have hope for him now. That he may fit into this world after all.”

The crowd that follows him down the stairs is a quiet one. A death march, as Ulrich's been told. The end of Cyclops, the death of a hero. He can see it in their faces, how solemn they are, how outraged. He takes pictures as he can, stopping to jot down notes when the crowd closes in upon them. “He's very admired,” he tells Alex.

Blocking the door is Logan, his body still lacking rest. “I didn't rescue you so that you could throw your life away, One-eye.”

“You should have killed me first.”

Logan takes a deep breath, watches as Ulrich continues to write stuff down. There's so much more that he wants to say, but he can't, not with the reporter watching. “I'll see you soon,” is all he says after, though even Ulrich can tell that the conversation wasn't finished.”

Out into the sunlight, the reporters beg their questions while the protesters beyond the gate swell in their anti-mutant chorus. Rocks are thrown, flaming bottles of alcohol. Steve holds up his shield, protecting them from the projectiles as he leads Cyclops to the edge of the driveway where the black van awaits. The reporters swarm the van then, making it hard for them to get through.

Hand on Scott's head, Captain America helps the mutant terror into the backseat and shuts the door. He ignores the many questions thrown out into the air, opening the opposite door and getting inside. “That was fast,” Ulrich says. “They didn't even handcuff him.”

“Wouldn't matter if they did,” Logan grumbles. “He'd just break out of them.”

“What makes them think, then, that a cell would hold him?”

“They don't. They're going to find a way to kill him. For good this time.”

Chapter Text

He envies her. Her death. It was a quick one, the Creeds made sure of it, biting into her neck first, then puncturing lungs with their claws. He finds her – the pieces of her – strewn about the rolling hills of his underground estate. Her arms first, over by the forest, then her head dumped into the small stream, a fleshless skull with hollowed eyes.

He says no prayer as another Madelyne is buried by the Gambits. No words of well wishing, none for grief. He simply watches her torn apart body disappear under the mounds of dirt. “'Tis a shame,” he says. “She was a magnificent piece of work.”

“She tried to kill me,” Emma retorts, phasing from diamond to flesh in a mere instance. “I have a right to defend myself.”

“So you do,” Essex smiles. He hates seeing his work wasted like this, but he's still fascinated by the Madelynes behaviors. “To think, that such a singular thought can lead them to their deaths. It's a fascinating thing to watch.”

He leads Emma down the grassy hills, over his corrals of Creeds. They howl at him, beg for his attention, for food, for freedom. “Such an animal,” Essex shakes his head, reaching beyond the wooden fence to scratch behind one of their ears. “Nothing but instinct and pride. It's so easy to force them into such a rabid state.” He looks at her then, “Be thankful it's not your scent that they're trained to catch.

Beyond the pens is a stable where the horses are kept. It's what Essex enjoys most about the country, the freedom to ride these majestic beasts whenever he chooses. A Gambit cleans out the stalls, raking the hay from the bottom of the floor and shoveling it into a pile just outside. He bows to his master, a mon ami upon his tongue. He's not capable of conversation, his mind controlled as such. But Sinister speaks to him anyway. “We'll be taking the white ones today,” he says, “And don't forget my guns.”

Today is a hunting day, a time for Nathaniel to relax as his plans are delayed thanks to Summers' imprisonment. “Have you ever hunted, Ms. Frost?”

She hasn't, but she's been around hunting parties in her youth. Her father was a crack shot when it came to ducks; her brother not so much. It was a sport unfit for ladies of her breeding. And once she discovered she was a mutant, she'd lost the taste for it all together. “That's too bad,” Sinister sighs. “It's a good way to clear your head, to relax. There's nothing like fresh blood on your hands.”

Everything here was created by Sinister, from the growing green grass to the large trees in the distance. The foxes, the birds, the deer. It's a whole microcosm, down to the very clouds that shift in and out of the makeshift sky. Celestial technology, or so he'd explained the evening before last. “It's not so hard to manipulate as one would think. It's reminiscent of Apocalypse's machines, how they work. It was all too easy to adapt it to the underground.”

It's also what he uses in his cloning process. “Always looking for perfection,” he smiles, “And one day I will achieve it.” Sinister is not a mutant, which causes him great anxiety, especially when it comes to Scott Summers, that perfect power in an imperfect mind. He admits to jealousy of the child, but also an obligation. “What good is a world destroyed?”

“You think he's safe now that he's in SHIELD custody?”

“Oh no, far from it.”

“Then why don't we rescue him?”

“Because there's thrill in the wonderment.” He looks at her, one brow raised, “Don't you feel it? The will he, won't he? How far will the Avengers go before they realize that they're in over their collective heads?”

The Creeds howl in the chase, cornering a fox just up ahead, clinging to the trees. It runs, buries itself in a long ago hole while the beasts surround it and growl. Sinister lines up his shot and pulls the trigger, scattering the Sabretooths into forest out of fear. “That one's a nice size,” he says. “It's pelt will hang well in the second floor parlor.”

“You act as if you planned on this.”

“It was one of my contingencies, yes. But, I am surprised that he turned himself in. I expected the others to force it upon him.”

“He was always a martyr.”

“Perhaps, but I expected more fear in the X-men than what they've shown. I suppose Alex is to be blamed for that.” But even though the younger Summers had surprised him on occasion, he is still not his brother. “Poor Alex must always live in the shadows of his brother's feats. He'll never rise above it.”

“You can't clone him either, can you?”

Sinister smiles. “You are very observant, Ms. Frost. I like that about you.” Over the course of weeks, he's come to enjoy their witty banter. “Talking with poor Maddie is a dim conversation. Nothing like you.”

“You're not cloning me --”

“Of course not. One of you is enough for this world. For now, anyway.”

They ride in silence for sometime, staying on Creed's trail through the woods. She shifts to diamond when the Sabretooths track down another fox, trapping it in the hollow of a tree. The poor thing is frightened, and obviously nursing judging by the swell of her belly. “You're going to kill a mother,” she says.

“Indeed I am.” It's a quick death as the bullet pierces her heart, explodes blood across the forest floor. “But, she's mine to kill. I created her after all.”

“Is that what you're going to do to my child?”

Essex laughs, turning to see the diamond chill behind him. “I'm a man of my word, Ms. Frost. I merely want a blood sample and a swab, and after that, I will leave your precious infant alone.”

His smile leaves her cold, makes her wary. She realizes that deep down she does not trust this man. Though he promises her the world, he can easily rip it away. She has her plans, though, to get past the Creeds and Gambits, to leave this place once she's pregnant. And the Madelynes play a key role. Already, she's mapped out what paths they've taken in their escape, giving her an idea of the traps that the man has laid on these grounds.

As if sensing her plans, Sinister smirks. “The Creeds are constantly hungry,” he warns her, throwing the peltless carcass to the ground. They fight over the thing, growling and snarling, ripping the tiny fox to shreds. In the end, it's too small of a meal for them, and for that, they only fight more. “Calm down, my beasts. Calm down.”

His telepathic control over the Sabretooths are far more advanced than his hold over the Madelynes. They are mindless creatures, driven by pure instinct and telepathic suggestions. They hold no thoughts of their own other than the need to kill. Piling the fur into the saddlebag, Sinister looks to Emma once again. “But, at least they are loyal.”

“Only so long as you wield your power over them,” she snubs in return, turning her head away from the devouring of the fox.

“You're upset that I killed a mother?”

“I'm upset because your plan is taking too long. We've had days to--”

“Patience, Emma,” he eases. “All good things come to those who wait, and our plot is not yet ready to be sprung upon them.”

“He's in prison, which means he's far out of my reach --”

“Do you really think they can hold him?” His words give her pause. “It's merely a delay. You know the man and how he struggles with his demons. Once he tires of being kept in their cells, he'll leave. And, that's when we strike.”

There's a sense danger about the smile that snips across his face. Something cruel and malicious. “You're going to break him.”

“He's already broken, dear.” His grin widens. “Well most of him. There is a part that is still as strong as ever.”

She knows of what he speaks, that small kernel of glimmer, the last of the layers. Emma had marvelled at that small breath of mind for years, never understanding what lay beneath it. She'd tried once to crack it herself, to break open, but like with Sinister, this little piece of his mind resisted her prowess. She'd turned a blind eye to it then, ignored it's presence as she kept that mind together. “That little piece is all that's left of his sanity. Are you sure it's wise to break it when he's so unstable?”

“Another part of the game. I want to see what it is that drives him forward, despite the things you have done to him.” He boards his horse again, sounds a whistle that alerts the Creeds to the continued hunt. “You don't like me much, do you?”

“I don't have to like someone in order to work with them.”

“Other than those few renegade Madelynes, have I not treated you as a welcomed guest in my home?”

“Your courtesy is astounding. All this for a bit of blood and bile? It seems to small a price.”

“That's the crux of your anger then,” he says, kicking at his horse to run. Already the Sabretooths are on another trail. “You think that I have been lying to you about my plans.” A quick glance back to watch Emma's nod. “You see, Ms. Frost, you are also part of the game. Though a minor piece right now, in the end you will help me conquer that man's mind. And willingly so.”

Even in diamond form, his threat sends shivers down her spine. She avoids the gaze from up ahead, focuses on the trees and the howls in the distance. She realizes now that she shouldn't have come here. That this is all an elaborate trap that he's laid out for her. “What happens if I don't produce a child?” she asks, knowing the answer already.

“Then I will have no further use for you.” He pauses, stops his horse. “And neither will the world.” The Avengers aren't the only ones in over their heads.