Rating: R [mature themes] Characters: Alex Summers, Nate Grey, Joseph, others Archive: If you like it, just ask me.
Author's Notes: Pre New X-Men # 117 [i.e.: before the Shi'ar show up] - More troublesome topics and some bad language. 10/20/01
Oh, a bit late, but text in //slashes// is telepathic conversation. But you probably figured that out already. . . *shrugs*
Disclaimer: Marvel owns it all. I'm just pretending. They make the money and I certainly don't even pretend to do that.
Alex Summers woke to shifting darkness and the sounds of muted activity outside the good-sized tent he was billeted in. The cot was hard, the blanket scratchy military issue. He lay there gathering impressions as he worked his way back to full awareness; organized, purposeful motion outside, the quiet in the tent that led him to believe he was alone, the idle wondering if the Nexus would ever get any easier to bear.
He sat up slowly, looking around the dim tent. Boxes, bags and crates of supplies were shoved in among a few other cots. It had the air of hastily re-organized space. A water cooler stood near the closed tent flaps. He climbed to his feet, made his way eagerly to the cooler, and drew himself a cup of water, draining it thirstily. He looked around the tent again, frowning as he spotted someone else stretched out on a cot in the opposite corner of the tent.
He moved over to the boy, seating himself beside him in concern. Remembering blood and dazed reactions. His face was clean, if pale and he appeared to be sleeping peacefully, if rather heavily.
"Nate?" he called softly, laying a hand on the boy's shoulder. The young telepath shifted slightly, but didn't awaken even when he shook him gently. And brief outrage shot through Alex. Drugged, probably. But for his own health or for someone else's purposes? And where, he thought suddenly, lifting his head to look hastily around the otherwise empty tent again just in case, was Joseph?
He surged to his feet, irritation and concern running through him, and made for the tent flap, pushing through it and coming to an abrupt halt when he saw Cyclops standing a few feet away speaking with a SHIELD agent. Dressed in heavy black and yellow leather, a new thinner style visor, his hair cut ruthlessly short. There were lines in his face that hadn't been there before. Or that he hadn't noticed before, Alex admitted to himself, just like the ones he saw in his own mirror. Old men already in their mid-twenties. His brother dismissed the man, folded his arms over his chest and looked him over stonily in return.
"They told me you were finally awake," Scott said quietly. Alex ran his hand through his own hair and gave a short, humorless laugh.
"Good to see you too, brother," he said sharply, mockingly. "Glad you're not dead after all." Scott didn't change expression, face still and unreadable under his visor. The silence stretched uncomfortably long.
"I've had a few hours to get used to the idea, Alex," Scott finally said into the tense silence. "Besides, I understand you've been back almost a week now and couldn't be bothered to contact the mansion."
"Yeah, well, I've spent most of that sleeping," Alex replied defensively, annoyed and knowing he didn't have all that much room to be annoyed. But if Scott wanted to play it hard, he could do that too. "Where's Joseph?"
Scott raised a brow at him, lips narrowing slightly.
"He's supposed to be dead, you know," Scott said. He looked thinner, and pale. As if he hadn't been well. But the iron will, the solid drive remained. It was almost as if he'd been boiled down to his essence by En Sabah Nur.
"Well, looks like us Summers don't have the lock on that franchise after all," Alex said, peering around the camp. Starting to be concerned when all he could see were SHIELD uniforms and more tents scattered amid the rubble. Automatic weapons and power armor. Crates and jeeps. It looked like SHIELD was settling in.
"We were told Nate Grey was dead too," Scott said, a strange tightness to his voice. Alex glanced at him sharply. The boy was his brother's son, in a way, deleted-reality origin or not. He hadn't really considered how it would effect Scott to bring Nate back, not that he'd had a great deal of choice at the time. He sighed deeply.
"Effectively, he was," Alex said quietly. "I drew him back."
"You did?" Scott said, brow raised dubiously.
"Well, the Nexus," Alex said with a tight shrug. "It was a side-effect of the destruction of Genosha. The only way I could focus enough to keep reality together."
Scott went silent again and looked away, his expression remote and chill. Doubting, perhaps. Or lost in memories of his own. Painful ones. But he hadn't been the only one to suffer recently, to lose. Why did Scott seem so extremely fragile, so painfully distant? Just how much of Scott was left after En Sabah Nur's possession? Alex's concern took on a sharper edge.
"It was you who took out the Sentinel controls in the Amazon, wasn't it?" Alex's voice was cool too.
"Yes. The Master Mold," Scott said. "But I was too late. Too late for a lot of things."
Alex stared into his brother's visor. Remembering another Scott. A happy, relaxed, joyful Scott who cheerfully raided Shi'ar shipping as a Starjammer. One he'd barely come to know and accept before losing him to the Nexus. Now he was back with his real brother, the one he'd known most of his life, only to find him even more of a stranger. More rigid, more controlled, more distant than ever. It saddened him. But there was only so much he could do right now, and there were others who needed him more.
"Scott, where's Joseph? And why is Nate drugged?"
Scott looked at him, face set. "Nate is drugged for his own safety. Whatever that energy thing was. . ."
"Magneto's ghost," Alex interjected.
"Magneto's ghost," Scott repeated after a moment of level silence, brow raised. "Well, whatever it was, it did a number on his mind, according to Jean. Effectively, his telepathy was burned. Sleep is the best thing for him, she said, until he can heal a little more on the psychic plane."
"A day or so. He's strong."
"Okay, I can understand that," Alex said. Pondering whether it was worth the exhaustion to attempt to use the Nexus to help Nate. Or if it was best to let nature take its course. He sighed again. "I'll let him be for now, I guess. What about Joseph?"
"SHIELD is less than pleased to have Magneto back," Scott said dryly. Alex shook his head.
"No, Bridge knows better – he's not Magnus," Alex said impatiently. "He actually is Joseph, back from the magnetosphere."
"Regardless, his return does present . . . difficulties. . . regarding the legal status of Genosha," Scott said, nodding briefly to concede the point.
"Oh?" Alex said, crossing his own arms over his chest, unconsciously mimicking his brother's pose.
"Clones still aren't widely accepted," Scott said, expression grim. Alex flashed to Maddie, his own expression freezing. "Since genetically he is identical to Magnus, legally he can be considered to be Magnus, under the normal rules of evidence."
"Well, at least he won't be poor," Alex said with a tight smile. Magnus' resources were legendary. Scott didn't return the smile.
"SHIELD is contacting the Avengers," Scott said. Alex raised a brow. "The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, specifically."
"Oh shit, Wanda and Pietro," Alex said, glancing off into the night sky, trying to ignore the columns of smoke that still rose in the distance. He'd been too busy, before, to really think about where he was. The destruction. "I'd almost forgotten them."
"First you bring Nate back; then Joseph – raising the dead isn't your usual thing, Alex," Scott said without inflection. Standing stiff and somehow uncomfortable in his new leathers. What was wrong with the old unstable molecule costumes? Not trendy enough? And why did it bother him so? He'd always hated his own costume, or rather, the necessity for it. Maybe it was that by giving up the trappings of a hero, Scott had somehow compromised himself. Become something he'd always sworn he wouldn't. Alex frowned.
"No, it's not," Alex said, facing his brother. "But it's why I'm still alive. There's this force called the Nexus of Realities - a kind of focus point where everything and anything is real. And for some reason, it became linked to me when Greystone's temporal bomb exploded. Part of the Summers luck, I suppose, since it kept me alive and dropped me into another world."
"One we've encountered before?"
Alex shook his head, "Oh no, this one's way down the line from here. Quite a bit different."
"Okay," Scott said. No interest, no further reaction. Before he would have gotten a grilling, an angry denunciation, then a lecture on his failings. But this was simple acceptance of the colossal strangeness that was his life. Perhaps anything more was beyond his brother now. Alex just stared at him; dismayed, aching, afraid. Mostly afraid.
"Apocalypse did a real job on you, didn't he, Scott?"
Silence again that he didn't think Scott would ever break, his posture stiff, his face frozen. He could tell, from long experience, that Scott's eyes were closed behind his visor. Then they opened again and his brother looked away, trembling slightly.
"More than you'll ever know." Voice thin, ragged. Not Scott-like at all. His face haggard.
"How's Jean taking it?"
There was movement beyond, and Alex cursed inwardly at the timing. Scott heard, or sensed the motion, of course and turned, his face once more impassive as an anxious-looking young SHIELD trooper trotted up to them.
"Cyclops, sir? Commander Bridge wanted me to inform you that the Avengers Quinjet is on final approach. ETA fifteen minutes."
"Thank you, soldier," Scott said, dismissing the man. Who shot wary looks between the two of them before turning and leaving. Alex sighed deeply and bowed his head, shoving his fists in his pockets in frustration. Then lifting his head as something brushed the Nexus. A shade? But no, it didn't feel the same. It was more of a recognition rather than a draw. A connection. Something else left over? Maybe Magnus wasn't as gone as he'd hoped.
"I need to see Joseph," Alex fixed his brother with a sharp look. Scott nodded and turned away without further argument. Relieved, probably, to let the personal subject drop. Alex followed him, noticing the stiffness of his own body. It came from too much sleep, too much trauma, too little chance to just move and work his muscles. The walk through the SHIELD base camp, set in the flatter rubble-filled areas and wrapping around the worst piles of debris, loosened him up a little. He'd need to get some serious exercise in soon.
They eventually came to an isolated tent surrounded by nearly a dozen power suits, all with energy weapons charged. Latest version of Mandroid armor, Alex guessed. It looked slick and tough. He figured he and Scott could reduce them all to scrap in under two minutes, if pushed. He didn't bother to tap his cosmic charge, he could feel it practically bubbling from his pores. He'd have to drain it later, but it remained firmly under his control despite the pressure. One blessing of the Nexus.
Scott paused, glanced over his shoulder at his brother thoughtfully, then faced the armored agents.
"Get Commander Bridge," he said shortly, expecting to be obeyed. The agents snapped to attention, responding instantly to his tone. "Havok's awake."
"Yes, sir!" One of the suited agents replied, then lumbered obediently off toward the rest of the camp. Scott simply stood there, hands in his coat pockets, staring at one of the larger piles of rubble beyond the tent. The echo on the Nexus grew stronger, more insistent. Alex began to look around warily, drawing Scott's attention, finally.
"Not sure," Alex said looking off into the darkness, toward the east and the bay. Shaking his head uneasily. "The Nexus is reacting to something, but not like it usually does."
As Scott was frowning, preparing to speak, Commander Bridge approached at a fast walk, a shame-faced armored agent trailing behind him, suit helmet popped open. Chewed out for obeying a civilian? Alex felt no pity. Better men had tried to stand up to Scott's leader-voice and failed.
"Cyclops," Bridge said curtly, nodding at them both. "Havok. What do you need?"
"I need to see Joseph," Alex said, shifting.
"Well, actually, I'm not sure that's a good thing, Havok," Bridge said, clearly uncomfortable. "While you were passed out, I received orders regarding him; detain and analyze."
"That's bullshit, Bridge, he helped save us back there and you know it," Alex said, focusing completely on the embarrassed SHIELD commander.
"Yeah, but orders are orders," Bridge said with barely concealed disgust. "Until I can get to Fury personally, he stays in custody. And Fury's busy right now."
Alex glared, Scott stepping to his side, unaware in that instant that he and his brother resembled each other so strongly that the humans were taken aback. Two mutants, unified; dangerous, powerful, confident – and annoyed.
"Any specific orders about visitors?" Alex snapped. Bridge shook his head with a deep sigh and gave a hand-sign to the power-armored agents. They parted reluctantly.
"No. Go on and see him," Bridge said. "Cyclops, I need a word with you."
Alex shot Scott a disgusted look then pushed past the suits to the tent. He slipped inside.
It was lit by a single electric lantern. Joseph sat on the edge of an uncomfortable looking cot just like the one he'd woken up on. He was dressed in a plain black bodysuit, the contrast with his long white hair stark. Around forearms and waist had been sealed specialized restraints of some kind, probably including a power damper, as the restraints were metal and Joseph's command of magnetism would otherwise allow him to shred them like tissue paper. Or he could be staying bound in order to prove himself to SHIELD. Alex met the angry gray gaze and knew it wasn't that.
"At least you're awake now," Joseph said, voice tight with annoyance. "Maybe you can talk some sense into these paranoid military fools. Where is Nate?"
"Easy there," Alex said, moving over to sit on the cot across from his. Recognizing a hint of Magnus' famous temper simmering in those icy gray eyes. "Nate's resting. The shade hurt him more than we thought."
"Telepathic attack," Joseph said, expression fierce. "Magnus was a beta-level psion."
"No signs of it yet – it might have been late-onset or activated by any number of traumatic events in his life," Joseph said calming slightly, his sense of irony rising to his rescue. "I may be his clone, and stuck with an incomplete memory transfer, but I haven't lived quite as dramatic a life. Yet."
"No, but you're about to," Alex said dryly. "SHIELD called the Avengers."
Joseph raised his head slightly, chin lifting. His long hair slid over his shoulder, falling across the side of his face. With his hands bound he couldn't push it back himself. He flipped his head impatiently to send it back, shooting Alex an annoyed glance when it didn't go.
"So, his children are coming," Joseph said softly. Alex nodded, watching him closely. The other man looked into the distance, his expression pensive, concerned. There clearly were emotions, memories for him to sort through; relationships to build on or tear down, hinging completely on Wanda and Pietro's reaction to him. Joseph had encountered Pietro before. The meeting, reportedly, had not gone well.
"Any side-effects from the fight?" Alex asked, feeling that strange echo on the Nexus growing stronger. Something was coming. Something he wasn't certain of, and that didn't feel hostile, just momentous.
Joseph shook his head, drawn from his thoughts.
"I'm breathing again," he said with a half smile.
Alex laughed. "Okay, other than that."
The piercing gray gaze met his, sharp intelligence clear in them. As well as uncanny understanding. He knew what Alex was afraid of, understood the necessity of the fear, accepted it without anger. The woman who had dared to clone Magnus and copy his memories had taken a considerable risk. There was a powerful personality in this man; tied to a brilliant mind and a staggering mutant power. Yet Joseph seemed consumed with a need to separate himself from the one who had been his template. Compassion was more important to him, the need for revenge for past injustices a fading thing. Joseph strove hard to be his own man, to avoid being led or even pushed by a past that wasn't truly his own.
"There was a slight merge, there at the end, but I believe I mostly managed to block him out. Some memories are stronger now is all," Joseph said, brows furrowed thoughtfully. "He was more determined to take me with him than to take me over – he always viewed me as an insult."
"I worried about that, so I held on to you pretty tightly," Alex said. Then he sighed deeply. "And I think that's why you're alive again. Just like Nate."
Those snowy brows rose and amusement shone in the gray eyes below them. "Thank you," he said dryly. Then shook his bound hands slightly, exasperation rising again. "I think."
"Legally," Alex said, disgusted with SHIELD's knee-jerk fear response too, "you can be considered to be Magnus himself, Scott thinks, since you are genetically identical. And Magnus was ruler of a sovereign nation. They won't be able to hold you long."
"There is no nation left," Joseph said solemnly, jerking his head toward the wall of the tent, and by implication toward the ruin and rubble outside.
"So? Rebuild it."
"Dangerous words, Havok," a new voice interjected. Alex's head whipped around toward the now open tent flap, and he stared into the grim face of Pietro Maximoff as the white-haired mutant stepped inside. "I doubt the flatscans would tolerate that."
"Quicksilver," he acknowledged calmly, hiding his dismay as he examined the newly arrived Avenger. Wearing icy blue and white and black. A new costume, but still a familiar one. No black leather, at least. But Pietro had eyes only for the man beyond him.
"So, it is as SHIELD reported: you are alive and whole again, Father," Pietro said stiffly.
Joseph awkwardly rose to his feet, hindered by the heavy power binders, his face still and impassive. Pietro frowned. Alex stood as well, feeling the Nexus hum with something eerily like anticipation.
"Where's your sister, Pietro?" Alex asked, trying to delay any unpleasantness until the normally cooler-headed Wanda could arrive. The mutant speedster had obviously come on ahead of her with his usual impatience.
Quicksilver didn't look away from Joseph's face, matching gray gazes locked together.
"She is on her way," he confirmed tightly, taking a step further inside the tent, still glaring at Joseph. Alex could see the coiled tension in the lean body, and feel it as a kind of vibration, a wave almost, through the Nexus. Something about Pietro was making it react too, but he wasn't the source of the echo. That was rapidly approaching, however, and Alex had a sinking realization of what was causing it, just as the tent flap parted again and a tall, dark-haired woman stepped inside.
He'd forgotten just how incredibly stunning Wanda Maximoff was, Alex thought for a bemused instant, simply staring at her as she caught her long red cloak in her hand and came to a halt beside her brother, dressed in her signature red costume. Not just beautiful in the conventional sense, but strong in presence and poise, a woman of great willpower and skill.
Her dark gaze shot to him first, and the Nexus rang in recognition.
"It's coming from you," the Scarlet Witch said softly, her eyes wide with puzzled curiosity.
"And you," he replied, their gazes locked, the Nexus resonating, filling him with a strange sensation of completion, of rightness. Pietro, as always protective of his twin, glanced between them with annoyance, distracted from his focus on Joseph at last.
"What is going on?" her brother demanded. Wanda stepped further inside, her gaze never leaving Alex. The tent flap opened again and more people entered but Alex paid them no heed. He couldn't look away from Wanda nor she from him. The Nexus sang inside him, calling her, lulling him.
"I don't understand this," she was saying, moving closer. Then suddenly, Joseph was between them, pushing Alex back, raising his bound arms toward Wanda to stop her slow advance.
"No! Alex, something is not right," Joseph said, looking anxiously over his shoulder at him. "I think it would be dangerous for you two to touch."
"What?" Alex said, shaking his head, trying to fight off the dazed feeling that had overwhelmed him. The Nexus was not reaching, as it could do, just calling. Pulling toward itself something familiar, something connected, maybe even another aspect of itself. Wanda shook her own head hard, and she raised a hand to her forehead, frowning.
"Yes, I can see now," she said, taking a staggering step back. Pietro caught her to him, his hands flexing protectively on her shoulders. She burrowed back against him, shivering, seeking familiarity and comfort. "It wants to absorb me."
Alex could feel the pull, the call reaching out to her, and knew she was right. The Nexus sought its like. He tried to suppress it, struggling with the strange force, succeeding partially. Wanda blinked as if coming out of a daze, glancing around the tent, her gaze skimming blankly over her brother, then Joseph before locking once again on Alex.
"The Nexus of Realities is inside you," she said softly, her expression vaguely worried. He nodded. She frowned and shivered again. Pietro pulled her closer. "And I am a nexus-focus, or so I have been told by a few dimensional travelers."
"Which means?" Alex said. His knowledge of the force he was dealing with was practical rather than theoretical. Wanda appeared to have some understanding of the forces at work, or maybe just a recognition. He still didn't truly know what the Nexus was. Or all of what it could do.
"Events pivot around me in many realities. . ." she said, glancing at Joseph where he stood stolidly between them, her gaze locking there as if she were noticing him for the first time. Her eyes widened and she sucked in a sharp breath, "Father."
"No," Joseph replied, smiling at her a little sadly. "I am Joseph. His clone. Your father died with Genosha, Wanda. But I was drawn back when Alex released his spirit."
"You sent him on?" Wanda said, looking back at Alex. Quicksilver shifted at her side, a dark frown on his face. He and Joseph locked gazes. Pietro haughty; Joseph stern.
"You know how strong his will was," Alex said quietly, meeting her calm gaze. She nodded in understanding. "His spirit lingered here, where he died – feeding on despair and anger. Joseph was able to warn me that something was warping the magnetic field, gathering strength. I came here to release him, and all the rest of the shades trapped by his rage." Wanda swallowed hard, her face paling. Grief rising in her eyes. Despite all the trouble and pain he'd caused her and the world over the years, Magnus had still been her father. Even Pietro's eyes were suspiciously bright. Grief was to be expected now that the danger was past.
"I imagine it was . . . difficult to persuade him to go," she said, eyes brimming. She glanced at Joseph, who bowed his head before her grief and Pietro's reluctant pain. Keeping a wary distance from her, Alex stepped to Joseph's side. He placed a hand on the other man's shoulder, felt a tremor run through that powerful body.
"Yeah," Alex said, "and I couldn't have done it without Nate and Joseph."
Wanda looked up at her brother and raised a brow, eyes bright. He looked down at her, solemn. It seemed as if some kind of communication passed between them. Acceptance, regret, perhaps, but no joy. They were finally free of Magnus. But Joseph remained.
"I do not know you, yet," Wanda said, looking once again at the white-haired man who had been cloned from her father. "I don't know what kind of . . . relationship we can have."
"None!" Pietro snapped, glaring. Wanda shook her head, her hand pressed soothingly to her brother's chest, calming him somehow with just her touch. Close and connected, as they had always been. He bent his white head over her, still glaring sidelong at Joseph.
"Pietro, he is not Father," she said evenly, her dark eyes filled with concern. Trying to head off her hot-headed brother before an unnecessary feud erupted. But Joseph didn't rise to the hostility.
"No, I am not your father, not exactly," Joseph said, his face grim. "I remember parts of Magnus' life, but most of it is indistinct. I have memories of you, of both of you. I do know he regretted some of the decisions he made regarding you both, but he did not let that sway him from what he saw as his path. The two of you were both a great source of pride to him, as well as a great sorrow. He admired and respected your dedication to the Avengers, Wanda, and Pietro, to his family."
Pietro seemed stunned, Wanda moved. Her control slipped and the tears she'd been holding back fell freely. She turned into Pietro's hold, drawing her brother close, holding him tightly as she cried. Pietro bent his head, hugging her in return, murmuring suspiciously hoarse words of comfort to her in a soft, guttural tongue. Joseph blinked in surprise as he undoubtedly realized he could understand him, then he turned his face away, toward the empty far corner of the tent. Wanda's quiet sobs were loud in the sudden silence. Everyone shifted uneasily, feeling like intruders on the twins' grief. Joseph waited, stoic and still.
Alex looked at his friend, watching a single tear track down the man's face. How did it feel, to listen to others grieve the death of someone who was you, in a strange way? He was perhaps not quite as distant from Magnus as he pretended. Alex's hand tightened on Joseph's shoulder reassuringly, then he glanced up into the stony face of his own brother. Scott stood near the tent flap, Commander Bridge at his side, both of them silently watching the drama unfold in front of them. Reality intruded.
"Joseph, you'd better make a stand here," Alex said with quiet intensity.
The gray gaze shifted to him, a single brow rose. He nodded back, urging him on. Joseph seemed reluctant, clearly understanding that this step would send him down a difficult path, and one he wasn't certain he wished to take. Both the desire for freedom and a strange sense of duty seemed to tug at him; Wanda's tears twisting them in his heart. Then he raised his head and with all the firm dignity but none of the arrogance of Magnus said, "Commander Bridge, I hereby claim Genosha by right of genetic identity. I will take over Magnus' rule of this island and make it again a haven for all those who are outcast."
"Shit," Bridge said tersely, acceding. "I was afraid you'd catch on to that." He broke into a quick grin then, clearly relieved to have his moral dilemma resolved for him. The SHIELD commander reached into a pocket then tossed a card-key to Alex. Who caught it, grinned back, and swiped it through the slot on Joseph's restraints without further hesitation. They fell away, Joseph catching them with his magnetic powers before they could hit the floor. He stared at them for a moment, his expression pensive.
With a gesture, he tossed them into the far corner, lifted his head, stepped around the silently watching twins and strode out of the tent, Alex following close on his heels.
It was even harder than he had thought it would be, to walk amid the ruins. It was true that most of Hammer Bay was blasted beyond recognition, but the pattern of streets remained. He knew exactly where they were. There used to be a park, a tiny haven of trees around a fountain, here in the center of the bustling city. And an elementary school across the street. He carefully didn't look that way.
After trailing Joseph from the tent, Alex found himself guiding the other man around. Joseph had never visited the capitol city before it's destruction, had never even been on Genosha. So Alex pointed out the blasted base of the Citadel itself, the charred foundations where the Ministry of Defense had stood, and the rubble that was all that remained of several hospitals, training centers and schools. Places with deep underground complexes. The SHIELD telepaths had long ago determined that no survivors remained, and the Nexus had confirmed their assessment when he swept the island to free the trapped shades, but machinery and computers didn't need air to breathe.
And Genosha would need every resource that they could recover.
Joseph stopped finally, standing silent near the edge of the latest rubble pile. He closed his eyes and spread his hands out flat in the air over the earth. A blue-white glow surrounded him, enveloping Alex as well. The Nexus reacted as it had with Magneto's shade, reaching greedily for the raw power around it. Alex kept a ruthless hold on it, struggling with it until he remembered that if he bled a small portion of his own plasma energy into it, it was far easier to control.
"Tell me again what I am looking for?" Joseph's voice was remote, distracted by his concentration.
"Anything useful," Alex said shortly, still wrestling with the Nexus. It was taking more concentration of his own than he liked to keep it under control.
"Ah," Joseph said. "This should be useful. The lower levels of this hospital are mostly intact." And with that, Joseph reached out with his power deep into the ground. As the glow left them, Alex felt some relief. The Nexus, apparently, reacted to proximity. He took a few steps away and felt even more relief.
Before them, the ground shifted, obviously filled with metal fragments and other elements that the new master of magnetism could control. He felt a twinge of pain. Lorna could have done this as well. Then he firmly put his grief, his regret aside.
Rubble flowed like water, pouring away as a huge chunk of blasted concrete and twisted steel rose into the air.
"Where should I put it?" Joseph asked, looking over his shoulder at him, an eyebrow raised. Not showing any sign of strain as he held tons of debris suspended inside a magnetic cocoon in the air above them.
Alex frowned, at a loss how to answer him. Pile it on top of other rubble? Then they'd just have to move it again later. Further inland somewhere? Suddenly Quicksilver stood between them, his gray eyes flashing.
"Put it in the sea, off the coast," the speedster said, his voice harsh. "If there is enough to break the surface when we have finished, then we will place a monument there, so that all may remember Genosha's dead. And the cost of intolerance."
Joseph raised both brows at Pietro, glanced at Alex who nodded slowly in agreement.
"Show me where you wish this place to be," he said quietly.
"You can track me?" Quicksilver asked, a challenge thinly cloaked as a question. Joseph nodded calmly and Quicksilver was gone, like his namesake, disappearing instantly between the piles of rubble, only a plume of dust rising to mark his path. Joseph frowned deeper, his concentration total as he tracked the other mutant by his bio-magnetic signature. Then, as Quicksilver apparently reached the desired location, the pillar of rubble shot across the sky toward the bay.
During their wandering through the ruins, they'd attracted a small following of curious off-shift recovery workers. Dusty, battered, grim-eyed from their work. They appeared human, all of them. Alex soon found it more interesting to watch the humans than it was to watch Joseph as he sent contained masses of rubble approximately the size of city buses across the sky with apparent ease. There were looks and cries of surprise and astonishment, and something like envy from the humans but surprisingly little fear. Awe, perhaps, but no fear.
Quicksilver returned, coming to a stop beside Alex. He was already used to the odd way the Nexus reacted to Wanda's twin, and so blocked its call absently. And with Joseph's power under such strain, the Nexus was no longer reacting to him, but returning to it's quiescent state. He felt a wave of weariness, but not the debilitation he'd feared. At least he hoped he wasn't going to fall over on his face, asleep. Just in case, he seated himself with a sigh on a nearby chunk of concrete.
Joseph paused in the shifting of rubble, his face as still and grim as the broken slabs of concrete he lifted. Then he turned and gestured to the closest of the watching humans. Startled, the man and woman approached hesitantly, darting wary glances at the deadly debris suspended above them.
Joseph then closed his eyes and the debris shifted slowly. The humans, both below and watching beyond, gasped, flinching back. However, nothing but dust fell, the dangerous weight safely contained by a magnetic bubble. The rubble shifted and parted until finally, from out of the debris two crushed and mangled bodies descended gently to the ground. Comprehension lit the worker's faces and they gestured others forward. Who hurried down with gloved hands, dark bags and stretchers, the grim tools of their trade, accepting the bodies in silence.
When the dead had been taken away, Joseph sent the rubble arcing toward the sea, then began his work again. Shifting debris, load by often grisly load, slowly exposing what looked like the garage entrance to the hospital that had once stood there. Around him, more recovery workers gathered. Understanding now, that he needed their help, their expertise. The humans worked beside him without hesitation, united in their grim work.
A weary woman, sweat and dirt smeared across her face, even came up and touched Joseph's shoulder to direct him to an area they wished to search. He listened patiently, then held a precarious pile of rubble in a grip of magnetic force to allow her group to safely remove more bodies from beneath.
Something stirred inside Alex at the sight. Hope. He and Pietro watched Joseph and the humans work in silence for a while.
"He is strong," the Avenger finally said, arms crossed over his chest, his expression dark with suspicion. "With so much power at his disposal, tell me, Havok, what is to keep him from becoming, in the end, just like my late father?"
"People like those. And me, and Nate, and Wanda," Alex said without hesitation, meeting Quicksilver's hot glare. "If we help him find reasons to keep caring, reasons to remain compassionate and just in the face of those who will hate and fear and fight him, he can be what he always should have been: a great and beloved leader." Quicksilver frowned again, his narrowed gaze locked on Joseph where he worked, oblivious to their conversation. Struggling with his memories, his fears, his own cynicism; Pietro Maximoff had been a man too often betrayed to trust easily.
"I've personally witnessed his heroism in another reality," Alex continued earnestly, "and we've all heard of his fight to the end during the Age of Apocalypse. Nate believed in him there. Now, Joseph has a chance to be that noble man here for us." Waving his hand toward the ongoing work.
"Will you help him too, Pietro?" Wanda interjected softly, her dark eyes filled with compassion and the blurring edge of grief and hope. "Help him to be the man we have wished our father to be?" Alex had felt her approach through the Nexus, and noted that she was careful to stay some distance from him. Wary of the Nexus. Her brother did not seem startled by her voice either.
Quicksilver looked into his sister's eyes for a long while, finally turning away to stare thoughtfully at Joseph and the humans working beside him. His face was stern in repose, giving nothing away.
"Perhaps," Pietro said finally, "he will wish to meet Luna, someday."
Exhausted again, but not only from using the Nexus this time, Alex Summers sat in a straight-backed chair beside a low bed, arms resting on his knees as he watched his erstwhile nephew sleep. A gray and white cat that had apparently come with the house was curled up by the boy's head. Happy to have people around again. The Sentinels hadn't bothered with animals and there were cats and dogs and cattle and other farm animals roaming loose everywhere around the inner parts of the island. Freed by the massive destruction.
Nate was still sleeping. He'd been out now for nearly twenty-four hours. Alex had asked Scott to relay his concerns over the boy's condition to Jean. His sister-in-law had contacted him directly, reassuring him that Nate was already much improved and that he should be allowed to wake on his own.
//I didn't realize how much I'd miss the brat until he was gone,// Jean had said wistfully in his mind. Alex had smiled, scrubbing a hand over his face as he watched the boy sleep. //I'm glad you found a way to bring him back, Alex. And I'm glad you came back too.//
//Thanks, Jean,// he had replied, warmed by her gentle sentiment. They had carefully avoided any mention of Scott.
//Details later? I can 'see' how tired you are,// she had said, her mental tone tinged with worry. He smiled again, knowing the feelings associated with the gesture would transmit to her.
//Details later, I promise,// he said. She had broken contact with a light brush across his mind, the psychic equivalent of a hand brushing against his cheek.
Then, alone in his own head again, he had stared blankly at Nate on his cot, not really seeing the boy as he reflected over the busy events of the afternoon.
It had taken Wanda and Alex and the head of the International Red Cross recovery team – a bluff Englishwoman by the name of Caro Forsythe – a great deal of persuading to finally convince Joseph to leave off his efforts amid the ruins. They had found many more bodies, and opened the lower levels of the hospital to the surface again. The recovery team had plenty of new work to do. Joseph had begun to tire, his control slipping, yet refused to pause. It was only when Alex starkly pointed out that he was endangering others by leaking bits of debris across the sky that he finally stopped.
He had buried his face in his hands, big shoulders shuddering. His long white hair gray with dust, tangled from the wind. After a moment, he had mastered himself, raising his head again to reveal haunted eyes. They all shared that look.
Then Joseph requested the use of the Avenger's Quinjet. Or more accurately, the use of the extensive communications systems available on board, through which he relayed a press conference and several interviews to worldwide broadcast systems. Calmly informing the world that Genosha would go on, that he, Joseph Lensherr, heir of Magneto, would open the island as a haven to all the outcast peoples of the world – both human and mutant. His only requirements being a willingness to work, and a binding pledge of tolerance for the differences inherent in both human- and mutant-kind.
Once Joseph had decided to take over Magnus' mantle, he'd gotten right down to business.
Stunned, Wanda and Pietro had offered him the cautious support of the Avengers after a hurried conference with the Avenger's current leader, Janet Van Dyne – the Wasp.
Joseph had then formally requested that SHIELD surrender jurisdiction of the island to him. Commander Bridge's superiors conceded the point only after heated argument with the two Avengers, and the threat of a call to the United Nations.
When it was all over, Joseph allowed SHIELD to remain for a few more days. The recovery workers he made his guests, through Caro Forsythe. Most agreed to stay and continue their work. Wary of the politics, but willing to give him a chance after that afternoon's display.
SHIELD grudgingly confirmed that numerous refugee boats were already on their way. Some long-term exiles, some new. Several nations offered aide for the rebuilding, and were, Joseph commented darkly, no doubt eager to see to the creation of a place where the unwanted could be housed off their own soil. They'd soon need to watch for the dumping of criminals, he said wryly. Publicly, Joseph accepted their aide without protest, not quibbling over motives, just results.
With Joseph weary from his earlier efforts, Alex had borrowed a jeep. With Quicksilver as guide and scout, and Caro Forsythe to coordinate, he had taken Joseph out into the only slightly less devastated countryside. Nearly every building, installation or structure they encountered had been damaged if not outright destroyed. In the foothills beyond Hammer Bay, they found a small hydropower station still on-line. Down the road from it, there was even a relatively intact village. West Moreau. Aide workers had already been through it once and buried the dead. Joseph immediately decided to set up his headquarters there.
He was already making plans to clear and re-pave the damaged highway. Alex was impressed.
With Quicksilver's assistance, they soon relocated to the little village. Most of the buildings were suitable for habitation – the bulk of the residents had fled before the Sentinels and died on the roads or in the hills. Commander Bridge sent agents to restore power to the small town for them. Alex had insisted on Nate remaining with him, and anxiously oversaw his transfer to a suitable place. He was worried about the boy, who despite having the sedation stopped, had for hours now shown little sign of waking. He had no idea what to do.
Alex had showered, eaten and fallen into bed for a few hours rest. Then woke, restless and unsettled in the dark of the night. Only to come up to Nate's room again to watch him sleep. Lost for a time in memories of Scotty and the Six. Wondering how his son was coping with his absence. Wondering about Madelyne, free of the Goblin Force forever. His wife.
"Hey, Uncle Alex," a hoarse voice interrupted his reverie. He looked over in surprise, meeting a weary blue and gold gaze. He smiled widely, relieved.
"Hey, kid," he said, leaning toward the bed. "How you feeling?"
"I've got the mother of all headaches, but otherwise I'm okay," Nate said with a faint wince, then looked around curiously. "Where are we?"
"Still on Genosha," Alex said. "We found a town further inland that wasn't completely razed."
"Oh," Nate said, squeezing his eyes shut and lifting a hand to his forehead. Apparently still in pain. His movement woke the cat which raised it's head and blinked sleepy green eyes at Alex. "We?"
"Joseph. Quicksilver. The Scarlet Witch."
"You said Joseph? Does that mean he's back like me too?"
"Yeah," Alex said ruefully. "I don't know my own strength, I guess."
Nate smiled faintly, face pale. "Good. I like Joseph." His hand massaged between his closed eyes. The cat settled back down to sleep again. Alex was considering getting him a bottle of aspirin, but wasn't sure it would do any good for psychic pain. He noticed that the boy wasn't trying to get up yet, just lying on the pillow looking like someone nursing a bad hangover. Maybe Jean had been too optimistic.
"Wait." Nate's eyes cracked open again as he frowned. "Aren't the other two Magneto's estranged kids?"
"Yeah," Alex said.
"Damn, and I missed that reunion?" Nate struggled up onto his elbows, a sardonic twist to his lips. The cat got up, moved to the end of the bed with an indignant glare and settled down again, tail tucked neatly around it's body. The boy was moving slowly, but at least he was moving, Alex noted. So he smiled again, chuckling softly. Then sobered, watching Nate's pale face, the small lines of pain between his eyebrows and around his mouth. Not fully recovered, but mule-stubborn like all Summers. He didn't want to tell him this yet, but knew he'd better. If Nate learned later, he'd be even more hurt.
"Scott was here too."
"Oh?" The tone wary, cautious. Left eye flaring. The TK was fine, apparently. Alex sighed deeply.
"He's gone back to Westchester. The Professor summoned him."
"Yeah, well, I'm sure he's busy," Nate said, only partially hiding his disappointment as he sat all the way up. Alex understood the boy's pain. The only father he'd ever acknowledged hadn't bothered to wait for him to wake up, to see if he was okay. Alex sighed again, angry with his brother even while he understood his reasons, feeble as they were.
"You were right," he said, trying to catch his gaze. Feeling weary and defeated in the face of the boy's disappointment. "En Sabah Nur damaged him. He's not... he's not the Scott I remember."
Nate met his gaze finally, grief and guilt evident. "Apocalypse was my enemy. He took my place."
"Don't beat yourself up over it, Nate," Alex said quietly after a moment of tense silence. "He did what he had to do to save you. There wasn't anything else he could do. Not Scott. And if anyone can recover from this, it's my brother. He's tough." He kept his doubts to himself, burying them. Hoping Nate's telepathy was still too raw for him to be scanning him.
"I guess so," Nate said, staring into the shadowy corner, expression thoughtful. Then he glanced at Alex. "What's Joseph been up to? How did the meeting go with Magneto's kids?" The change of subject was obvious.
"Aren't you hungry?" Alex asked instead of answering, sliding back in his chair. Nate's stomach almost immediately growled in response. The boy rolled his eyes.
"Guess so," he said again. Alex shook his head, laughing softly as he climbed to his feet. He held out a hand to Nate who took it after first shooting him a hard look. He hauled the boy easily to his feet. Nate swayed slightly and he put his hand on his shoulder to keep him steady.
"Yeah," Nate replied through gritted teeth, pale face flushing as he shot him a weary look. "I never realized Magneto was a telepath. He got the drop on me. Sorry."
"Latent. But then, he was really pissed too."
Nate gave a bark of surprised laughter. "Oh, fine. Next time you get the headache then…"
Alex laughed too as he led the boy down to the kitchen to feed him, the cat trailing along behind them, anxious for company.
- - to be continued - -