Thanks to: Monanotlisa, for beta-reading.
Disclaimer: Alias characters owned by J.J. Abrams, X-Men characters owned by Marvel.
Timeline: Early to mid season 2 for Alias, post-X2 for the X-Men movieverse. Sloane pov.
Standing on a boat on a windy day in March, you feel the cold creeping up your fingers. No matter how regularly you train to keep in shape, it's there, a bit more of it each passing day. As a young man, taking that same ferry between Staten Island and Manhattan, with Emily at your side, you didn't mind, not one bit. Still, you are aware that your present state, that chill even the early spring sun can't help, has nothing to do with missing her. It's age, pure and simple.
The man you're meeting isn't young anymore, either. In fact, according to the files, he's probably older. But then, it's better not to be too sure about anything found in anyone's record.
"Mr. Lehnsherr," you say as he comes closer. His dapper coat and hat remind you of an age past, and not necessarily the old pre-war world he might or might not be intending to evoke. His style hasn't changed in decades. You recall the early 80s when he was first suspected to have switched from militant mutant rights activist to international terrorist. Jack and yourself had trailed him from Paris to Vienna and back before losing him.
Those had been useful lessons.
He acknowledges you with a nod. "Mr. Sloane," he replies.
Of course, he must be aware that you and the CIA parted ways a long time ago. He wouldn't have agreed to meet you otherwise. His profile included references to his ego, but never at the expense of his safety. In a way, it was a pity; pretending to be a part of the company would have given you additional leverage. But then, you are reasonably sure a bargain can be struck in any case.
"It's been a while."
Rambaldi had not predicted mutants. They were not mentioned in any prophecies of the future, which was why they had never held too much interest for you. Given Rambaldi's accuracy in all other things, they probably were not the next step in evolution, but a time-limited phenomenon, an interesting branch in the human tree that would remain without descendants, like the Neanderthals. Watching the news and hearing the young people at your office hotly debate about the Mutant Registration Act, you were struck with a mixture of amusement and ennui. It did not really matter one way or the other, except in one regard. While the mutants were still around, they could be immensely useful, and the stronger the alienation from the American government such a law would inevitably provoke, the more likely their cooperation with third parties would be.
"Indeed it has," says the man who now calls himself Magneto, whom you regard as a case in point. "Now who would have thought that an earnest patriot such as yourself would go into the banking business?"
Acknowledging the hit with a thin smile, you quote Cicero. "Times change and we with them," you start to say in Latin, and as your tongue hits the consonants in mutant, you wonder whether his awareness of the Credit Dauphine cover is too much of a security risk, or not.
"…Et nos cum illis," he finishes the quote, and you decide that it isn't. SD-6 won't be around for that much longer, after all.
"And in this world of change," you say, "a man might find himself in need of some unconventional arrangements. Take yourself. Not to doubt your own resourcefulness, but I would imagine several new identities could be useful to any escaped prisoner."
He lifts an eyebrow. "My…associates already took care of such a need before the occasion arose. Do tell me there is more you can offer, Mr. Sloane."
"As you pointed out yourself, I am a banker," you reply, unhurried and determined not to let him get the upper hand. "And most willing to invest. We do live in a world where nothing is free, Mr. Lehnsherr, though I am willing to throw a rather exquisite Chateau Picard into the bargain."
This time, he is the one who smiles, and for all you know he might be genuinely amused. You have acquired a record of his escape. The man does have a sense of humour.
"And in return…?"
"You know, I've always admired your engineering feats", you state. Any trace of amusement he might have felt vanishes as his face becomes a hard, cold mask. Sloppy, Jack would have said, meaning one or possibly both of you. With a pang, you realize you are going to miss Jack and his poker face once SD-6 is no more. Oh, you are going to see him again, there is no doubt about that, him and Sydney both. But it might take a while.
"I am referring to your creative use of the Statue of Liberty a while ago," you add, to avoid any misunderstandings which might lead to the unfortunate necessity of mutual attempts at termination. Apparently, he did assume you had meant something else, judging by the minute way his body relaxes. A casual observer might never have noticed, but you were trained to register such things decades ago.
"Now you do surprise me, Mr. Sloane. I wouldn't have thought you shared my desire to increase the percentage of the mutant population."
You don't, which he undoubtedly knows. Just whether Lehnsherr's machine would have been capable of changing everyone within its sphere of influence into a mutant was uncertain. You suspect he would not have made the attempt in the first place if he had not been able to make a successful test run, but judging by every file you have been able to obtain, he never revealed the identity of the subject.
"You cannot increase a percentage by changing just one person," you reply, and the wind grows stronger, leaving you colder than ever. There is a reason why you live in Los Angeles. The Philippines, soon, you think, and you imagine Emily's face when you tell her.
"Just so there are no misunderstandings," Lehnsherr says. "If you want me to reconstruct this machine in order to change you into a mutant, I'd like the necessary financial compensation first. It is, shall we say, a somewhat painful procedure."
You think of the pain Emily has already endured. Of the cancer eating her away. A remission was just that, a remission; it could change at any point. Unless her physical structure becomes altered altogether.
Mutants never held much of your interest…until you realized that some of them were self-healing.
"As long as the procedure is not lethal and has positive results," you say softly, "you will be compensated, Mr. Lehnsherr. On the other hand, any negative results might put an end to your financial woes altogether, and since I will not be the subject of the procedure, it will be my pleasure to make sure of this in person."
His eyes narrow. "If this is how you motivate your co-workers, Mr. Sloane, the rumours of your… bank's uncertain state do not surprise me", he says sardonically.
If there were indeed rumours of the increasing failures of SD-6, you might have to move faster than you had originally planned. You have not set everything in motion only to have the Alliance execute you for failure instead of betrayal at the last minute. Ah well. There are always trap doors. If necessary, you can always drop a blunt hint or two to Sydney through Sark. Hating both him and yourself as she does, she will never suspect the truth.
"I've always prided myself on my personnel skills," you retort, acting insulted, and then return to business, for the possibility that this man and yourself might try to kill each other is as real as the chance he can give you what you want, the key to saving Emily's life for good.
"I want to save the person in question," you say matter-of-factly. "To prolong her life. Anything else will be unacceptable. Can your machine do this for me?"
He regards you silently. There is a coiled strength in the man which age has only increased. "You get only one shot with him," Jack had predicted when the two of you were trailing him. Not literally, of course; obviously, guns would be completely useless against someone who can control metal. Which is why you are armed a variety of poisons and plastic needles instead. Marshall can be so creative.
"No," he finally says, and you compartmentalize, the way you always do. This is not the time to permit yourself the luxury of disappointment. That time will come later, in the air plane to Los Angeles, clutching a single glass of whiskey you do not drink for hours. Right now, you concentrate on the noise the ferry makes, on the wind blowing in your face, on the chatter of all the tourists on board.
"I see," you finally say. It does occur to you that he could have lied, taken the money and killed you before you could exact revenge, or at least tried to. You wonder why he did not. It cannot be some obscure code of honour; no one who plays the game for any length of time can afford one, as you found out a long while ago, and you are reasonably sure that this was true for him as well.
"Then I am sorry to have wasted your time," you continue in the polite tone you use for the Alliance meetings in London. A child runs past the both of you, a girl, bored with the slow approach of the ferry. Her mother calls after her, ordering her to come back for a photo with Daddy, demanding to know why the girl can't sit still for only two minutes.
"I don't think you have," he replies slowly. "It's a beautiful day, after all, and I do appreciate the chance to get some fresh air now, believe me."
The girl is still running, ignoring her mother, chasing some paper bag the wind blows away from her. She can't be older than seven, and for a moment, you think of Sydney in the year Irina disappeared and Jack got arrested. Then you notice Lehnsherr is watching the child as well, a somewhat wistful expression on his face that vanishes as soon as he registers your look.
His file does not mention children. But then, it's better not to be too sure about anything found in anyone's record. Including your own.
"Yes," you say. "It is a beautiful day."
You will return to Los Angeles and your plans, short of a hope that was as elusive as that wind-blown bag, finally carried over board and into the harbour, evoking a cry of disappointment from the girl. He will return to his most recent hideout. There might be an opportunity for the two of you to be of use to each other in the future. No need to waste potential resources.
Today, though, you are simply two old men watching a child return to its mother, feeling the cold spring sun and the unruly wind on your skin.