A/N: The epic conclusion to this thrilling tale!
After spending about twenty-four hours dwelling over his newfound heritage, Joseph explains his terroristic genetics to Anna following a conversation consisting of their mutual love for the theme of enduring friendship and demonstration of class warfare in S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders. She's completely composed as she absorbs this information, but she's an X-Man, an Avenger, and a street-patrolling vigilante- nothing probably fazes her that much anymore.
"I've spoken with Magneto. He's not a monster. He just wants to justify the wrongs done unto him," Anna explains, as if they're discussing why the grass grows.
Later, Joseph aims a question at her that's been bothering him since that night together: "Why didn't you take your friend for treatment at the X-Men headquarters or the Avengers' mansion?"
Rogue considers this for a moment prior to responding. "Convenience, mostly. Your house was closer, and it's more innocuous in case someone was monitoring me. S.H.I.E.L.D. is aware of the X-Men, but the Avengers aren't, and I'd like to keep it that way." She hesitated, then continued. "I suppose I didn't want to go back to the X-Men because I'm almost ashamed. I feel like a sellout, leaving them to hang out with the big league- in this case, the Avengers in their ivory tower, drinking exotic liquor and eating shawarma. And I don't trust the Avengers."
"Why not?" Joseph queries.
"They work for the government, Joe. They're hired mercenaries, and their job is to be America's propaganda figures, to renew faith the government's decisions, to quell any sort of uprising. Besides, I keep my mask, literal and figurative, on at all times around them. I don't want them to be personally involved with my life."
"You don't trust them." It isn't a question.
Anna meets his gaze evenly, but her eyes blaze with glacial fire of conviction. "There's a war coming, Joe. Mutants will be discovered by the public before the summer is out. No matter if the Avengers simply fall in line to persecute mutants, I'll stand my ground and fight for mutants' freedom. Even if I have to do it from the inside."
Her tone and assurance bring Joseph to remember Michael and his talk of atonement and responsibility. And Joseph knows, like his father and his friend before him, he also will have to accept responsibility and take action.
But at this point, he has nothing to atone for, and he hopes to keep it that way. And he's not certain what he wants to be responsible for.
Graduation takes place on a Thursday. Joseph spends the nights leading up to it with Anna. Together, they visit a small retro-style cinema each evening. To kick off the summer, the theater is showing the original Star Wars trilogy in chronological order each night: A New Hope on Monday, The Empire Strikes Back on Tuesday, and Return of the Jedi on Wednesday.
The movies provide an excellent opportunity for Joseph to escape from reality for two hours or so. For the past few days, he's been alternating between despairing his life as a fabrication and determinedly resolving to stay strong, to refuse to allow his genetics to predestine his future. His wavering and internal battles are exhausting and leave him on edge; he needs some fresh material for his brain to process, something that takes most of his concentration. His solution is the movies.
In the theater, the various thoughts bouncing around Joseph's brain, which include his family, his D.N.A., random formulas he's memorized this year, fly away, leaving room for his mind to focus on the movie. He's seen each film before; nevertheless, he's entranced by each episode, all too willing to indulge in his imagination and let the story take him away. The original Star Wars trilogy represents a major part of his childhood- he can remember staying up late to watch the movies with Kyle as his father looked over medical reports. He remembers pretending to be Luke Skywalker with Kyle as Han Solo when the two frolicked on the playground during elementary school.
Nostalgia flares within Joseph during the scene with the binary sunset. The lonely violin music swells as the solitary figure of Luke gazes out onto the landscape with the two suns fading in the sky before him. This understated but memorable moment of the film brings back distant flashes of childhood memories to Joseph, and he longs for simpler times, when he was just an everyday kid in the suburbs of the Big Apple, not a mutant hiding out as a pre-med student.
He's certain to pay close attention to the second movie; he's seen this one a couple of times, but Return of the Jedi was always his favorite, and A New Hope was the first Star Wars movie to exist, so he practically knows both by heart. By default, this movie is the one he's watched the least.
The Empire Strikes Back has a much darker, more serious tone, and it ends on a bleaker note: Han has been frozen in carbonite, and Luke has not only lost a hand, but also discovered he is the offspring his reviled rival. Throughout the movie, Joseph smiles as Yoda's wacky antics, engineered to secretly test Luke's character, and the flirtations between Han and Princess Leia, but his mood darkens along with the story. He vacates the theater after the credits that night trying to quell a feeling of hopelessness, as Anna walks by his side, crunching on popcorn.
The final part in the trilogy re-inspires Joseph, as the movie's mood again captures the spirit and soul of the initial adventure. Despite it being the end of an era, the closure of an amazing work, the movie has so much vitality and energy that even those annoying teddy bears get a free pass this time. Of course, the barely clothed alien girls capture his interest, and Joseph can appreciate Leia's slave girl costume in spite of the skeevy circumstances.
However, both he and Anna agree later that nearly every one of the digital "enhancements" to the movie is pointless and sometimes even irritating. They're able to agree on the top three gratuitous changes- first and foremost being the extended musical sequence in Jabba's palace, second is the collapse of Boba Fett's mystique as he abandons his mysterious and deadly image to flirt with some sexy backup singers, and third being the redesign of the Sarlacc pit, which now looks like the sandworms from Beetlejuice.
His mood lightened from what it's been these past few days, Joseph suggests he and Anna stop by a café for a late snack. The hour is just nine o'clock as they walk into the coffee place. Most of the other patrons appear to be college students, hipsters, which is to be expected- it's one of those spacious, earthy places, with gentle lighting and indie music playing softly over the stereo. Samples from the menu include basil smoothies, Nutella sandwiches, and organic raspberry honey mustard, in addition to dozens of types of coffee.
The walls are mainly neutral colors, decorated with tasteful but bland tones in order to make the vibrant stone carvings or rich oil paintings stand out against the background. Shallow clay bowls of herbs sit on the tables beside the containers of sugar packets, their heavy, musky aroma wafting into the air. Old-fashioned fans, arranged in a wide square, are kept in motion by a revolving belt around the fixtures that continuously cycles, propelling the blades, which ruffles the long silk curtains that enclose each window, allowing diners their privacy.
Anna and Joseph seat themselves beneath a sizable pen-and-ink drawing of Audrey Hepburn in her signature pose from Breakfast at Tiffany's, the likeness situated on heavy yellow paper reminiscent of parchment, positioned in an embellished wood frame.
"I have your graduation gift," Anna says after they give their order to their fedora-wearing waitress. She withdraws a small velveteen box from her pale blue, compact crossbody purse. Her outfight is very casual considering her normal dark, chic style: a white, gossamer peasant blouse with puffed sleeves, a gathered neckline, and blue and yellow embroidery down the front.
The graceful shirt stopped above her slim waist to display her dark leather belt with its bedizened metal buckle in the shape of a sideways oval, worn with light blue jeans that showcased her toned legs. Impeccable lilac polish coats her toenails, visible due to her slingback sandals. Auburn that hair flows beyond her shoulders shines under the lamps, pulled back from her alabaster face by a broad vintage clip. The style, with her hair loose but prevented from obscuring her face, accents her vivid green eyes.
Tonight, her gaze is intense, anticipatory.
Joseph accepts the box and pulls back the lid. Reposing on a satin cushion is an analogue watch of masculine design. According to the small card protruding from the cushion, it's fourteen-karat gold. The style of the piece is decorative while remaining refined rather than gaudy. Judging by the intricate details, the watch is mostly likely hand-crafted.
"Good Christ," Joseph murmurs. He can only imagine how much Anna shelled out for this extravagant article. He glances up at his girlfriend. "You didn't have to get this for me, Anna."
"I wanted to," Anna replies levelly. Since the night they spent together, her calm disposition has been unshakeable. She spreads her hands on the wooden table and fixes her eyes on his. "Cliché as it may be, I want to be friends with you, even when we do go our separate ways. You've helped me cultivate a life outside of the Avengers, outside of the X-Men. My relationship with you has allowed me to be my own person, to assert my own identity. Your presence in my life has freed me, let me be normal for a few hours every so often. I'm grateful."
"And what, you're trying to buy me, now?" Joseph jokes, and she smiles at him. He's grown to love her smile- there's happiness, but with just a hint mischief and schemes yet to come.
"I thought the watch could represent our time together," Rogue tells him, and when Joseph glances at the back of the watch's face, he can see words engraved in the metal. To Joseph Stockton.
He grins. "It's spectacular." He leans over and lightly kisses Anna's jaw.
Years later, when the watch stops ticking and he takes it to a clock shop for repairs, all memories of Anna rush back to him as he finds the other part of the message on the inside of the metal casing: Stay gold, Joe- Love, Rogue.
When Joseph is called forth for his speech as valedicatorian of his class, he's able to spot Anna sitting beside his father. He's introduced her to his family at last, and she'll be joining them when they go out for dinner that evening.
Today, she wears a form-fitting, short, ruched dress in royal blue, with beading on the shoulder straps. Combined with the style of her heels, the outfit seems less at place at a commencement ceremony than a club, as he later hears a few of his female classmates cattily mention as they watch he and Anna embrace, but Joseph is thrilled to see her. A smile grows on his face and his oration takes new energy.
He's more than his D.N.A. He has enough intelligence and work ethic to graduate at the top of his class. Genetics of another person, of a mutant, won't determine his future. Joseph won't allow it to.
Joseph closes his speech not as a mutant, not as Magneto's clone, but as Michael Stockton's son, Kyle Stockton's brother, and Anna Marie D'Ancanto's boyfriend, but more importantly, friend.
The air is warm that night, but not uncomfortably so, which Joseph is grateful for, as Michael insists on taking dozens of pictures of Joseph and Kyle in their caps and gowns. He even snaps of few of Joseph holding the bouquet of a dozen roses Anna presented to him at the ceremony- three red, three dark pink, and three orange.
But before they can go out and celebrate graduation, there's work to be done.
As their father prepares for their outing to the sophisticated restaurant, Joseph absently uses the remote to click the kitchen flatscreen to power, and sees the news footage- an enormous robot is trekking through Brooklyn, crushing cars beneath its colossal feet, firing blasts with its eyes, causing buildings to crumble.
Joseph thunders upstairs, whipping on his prepared outfit of black clothing with similarly-colored workgloves and boots with such speed that he could challenge the quick-change artists of Vegas. He races to Kyle's door, which opens before he can urgently pound on the wood. Kyle is dressed much like himself.
"I'm coming, too," Kyle declares, holding up two colorful lucha libre masks.
Joseph doesn't argue- he's thankful to have someone to help him.
It's a long way to run, so they hightail it to Brooklyn in a cab and exit the car a few block away from where the robot is running amok. They don their masks in a back alley before sprinting to the scene.
The humongous mecha looms ahead of them as they run toward it, and the strangest sensation overwhelms Joseph- a pull of sorts, an urge to leave the ground behind him and soar into the sky.
But the majority of his attention is directed at the immense robot in front of him, so he pays little mind to the impulse, instead summoning every ounce of his willpower, concentrating with every fiber of his being.
"Help the civilians," he orders Kyle, who nods and runs off to aid the people who have become injured and trapped during the robot's rampage.
Joseph closes his eyes, visualizing the robot in his mind, but this time with its eyes ripped from its sockets, metal legs folded like tinfoil, rendering it immobile. Arms coiled like corkscrews, body warped and twisted, too damaged to function.
Power surges within him, flowing from him, as he pours his focus and determination into the image. He opens his eyes, and his hands move in unexpected gestures, like he's a marionette and someone else is pulling the strings. But despite the chaos, serenity floods through Joseph, as his commands are obeyed: flaws and dents begin appearing in the metal, then large sections of steel start to peel and curl upwards.
Using as much energy as he can muster, Joseph rearranges the metal plating on its legs and fixes it there, locking the steel monstrosity into place. Joseph lurches and sways, dizzy from expending that amount of effort all at once.
He has no need to worry, though- out of the corner of his eye, he spots a large form hurtling through the air towards the robot. As his vision refocuses, the single large form turns out to be two smaller ones- Anna, in her Ms. Marvel II uniform, firmly holding that Kitty girl, also in costume, by her side. Once above the mecha, Anna drops Kitty downwards, who fades through the thing's head.
There's a spattering of sparks and crackling of electricity around the eyes, and Kitty emerges out the other side. Anna swoops down to catch her and brings her down to an area of the ground where civilians are cowering. Kitty promptly joins Kyle in his efforts to take the bystanders to safety.
Exhausted and jittery, Joseph is no longer sure how much longer he'll be able to remain upright; the robot has trouble as well. The hulking mass of metal teeters, then topples.
Joseph barely manages to outstretch a hand to guide and slow its descent before Anna appears, tearing the robot's head clean off with a ferocity even her mask can't disguise, then easily lowering the both the motionless head and body to the street.
After her task is finished, she rises back into the air with the intention of flying over to him, but to his surprise, Joseph finds himself meeting her halfway. At first, he's terrified, but then giddiness overcomes his fear and exhaustion, and he zooms toward her.
Anna has removed her full head mask, revealing that beneath it is another mask, this one of the domino variety, covering only her eyes and upper cheeks. "Just full of surprises, aren't you, Joe?"
"That's right," Joe grins even as he rolls up his lucha libre mask past his mouth to allow for conversation.
Her jocular demeanor disappears. "Joe, that robot was specifically designed to hunt mutants. Kitty told me. She's an amazing tech geek, and she saw the internal mechanisms of its control center. It's begun."
So here it is. The conflict they've always know would occur has at last reared its ugly head.
Gently, Joseph traces the top few lines of the lightning bolt on her chest. Anna, a well-known Avenger, a lesser known S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, took down a highly-visible mutant-hunting robot while in her very recognizable uniform, in broad daylight, in full view of the public. Undoubtably, there will be repercussions for her actions.
She's already made her choice. She chooses to fight, not in the shadows, but in the day, when she's certain to draw attention and criticism.
Now, he too must make a choice.
"I'll fight with you," Joseph murmurs. "I'll fight on behalf of the X-Men."
Their lips meet, and they wrap their arms around each other, entangled as their bodies rise upwards.
It's just for a moment. Joseph doesn't know what the future holds, and he knows that they're not going to be together forever.
But at the moment, they have each other, among other things.
And at the moment, being together is what matters.
A/N: Points to you if you get the "stay gold" reference.
Can you tell that I've re-watched the Star Wars movies lately?
That's the end. Sorry everybody, this story is complete, and I don't don't want to overdo it. Maybe one day I'll write another fic about Joseph and his family, but that's it for now.
FYI, the robot was a Sentinel.
Joseph's bouquet from Rogue- dark pink roses indicate appreciation and gratitude, red roses mean love and respect, while orange roses are supposed to promote a relationship. A dozen roses generally means someone wants a relationship to continue.
Thank you to all my lovely reviewers. I couldn't have done it without your feedback. A special thank you to lychee loving, who has faithfully reviewed this story and many of my others. You rock, girl!
I'm glad people seem to like this story, it was my first official "romance" type of fic. I'm also happy that I'm not alone in my support of Rogue/Joseph.
Peace and joy.