Chapter 37: “Plastic Weapons (X3), Part I”

Andi had dressed for the memorial but she didn’t actually attend it. If she were a psychologist — oh wait, she was — she would have something to say about the fact that she had failed to set her alarm. She jumped from her bed, desperately late, and ran to the closet to dig out the sober, navy suit from the dusty recesses. She spent precious minutes dabbing at a stain with a damp cloth while the tears poured down her face. Then she coaxed her car to life and raced to Westchester, cursing out loud at the heavy traffic. Miraculously, she arrived just on time for the ceremony, composing her face into something suitably sad and strong. But then, just before Ororo rose to lead the service under the glowering October sky, Andi stood up and left the lawn.

She climbed the mansion steps and slipped into the Professor’s empty office and sat down in her accustomed chair. Despite her tears, she felt serene. It was almost like she was waiting for the man to arrive, late as usual, issuing smiling apologies. When a voice spoke behind her, she jumped.

“I don’t like crowds either,” Logan said.

Andi felt like she’d been caught trespassing. “No, it’s not that… I wanted to be there… I —”

“You don’t owe me an explanation.” He crossed the room and lay down on the leather divan. He was dressed in jeans and a school hoodie. Clearly, he had never planned to attend the memorial in the first place. She sat again, wiping her eyes, and they shared the silence. Despite seeing each other around the mansion, she and Logan had never really spoken. She knew most people found Logan’s brooding presence unnerving, but today she enjoyed his company. The Wolverine didn’t believe in chit-chat.

Still, it was he who broke the silence. “So, what are you going to do now? Stay on or find a new guru?”

“Charles wasn’t my guru. He was my teacher; same as everyone here. Except you, I suppose.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, sweetheart. I don’t know who taught me to fight and kill. I don’t know who taught me to speak Japanese. But I do know that Charles Xavier taught me more than any of them. I’m a different man than I was when he brought me here three years ago.”

She was suddenly finding it hard to maintain her composure, but she didn’t want to cry in front of him. She cleared her throat and said, “So, you’re not going to leave?”

“Why would I do that?”

“Isn’t that what you…? I mean, from what I hear, you’re quite the loner.” He didn’t respond, and she looked down at her hands, folded neatly in her lap. “Charles was the heart of this school. Without him here —”

“Xavier may be gone, but the school ain’t. The X-Men ain’t gone, even if Jean and Cyclops are. And the kids ain’t gone. The kids still need us, right raised her eyes to meet his gaze. “Isn’t that what you’re all about, Murakami? The kids, and what it means for them to be mutants?” he asked.

Her eyes were blurring now and there was no sense hiding the fact. “Yes, but —”

“Don’t tell me you just did all your fancy schoolwork just to please Chuck.” He stood up and walked to the door. For a man as heavy as Logan was, with muscles and his adamantium bones, he made almost no sound when he walked. He looked back at her before leaving. “Everyone checks out eventually, sweetheart. Even the leaders and the gurus. Then the rest of us have to decide for ourselves if we’re going to take on their work… or take off.”

 

***

 

Bobby didn’t know why it had to be today, but it did or… or he’d explode. Seriously. Still, it seemed so disrespectful, today of all days. The funeral had been about the life of Charles Xavier, the man who had been the anchor of their lives. In the hours since the memorial, everyone had been talking about the Professor, telling stories about his kindness, his wisdom and humor. But through it all, Bobby’s mind had been focused on his own fate. He had difficult decisions to make about the future. More pressingly, he had set scary agendas for the present.

He knocked quietly on Kitty’s door, but there was no reply. He put his ear to the paneling and heard the soft sound of her crying. He knocked again and turned the handle.

“Kitty?” he inquired.

She was lying on her bed, back to him, but she immediately sat up, wiping her eyes. “Bobby?”

“You okay?” he edged his way in, stepping carefully over her scattered school books, a disassembled laptop, and her X-Men uniform (which she was supposed to leave in the sub-basement after practice). He was suddenly very nervous.

“Yeah.” She cleared her throat. “I was just...” But the sentence didn’t go anywhere.

Now, Bobby thought, Say it now. Just say it.

But before he could, Kitty continued. “Xavier came to my house. He was the one that convinced me to come here.”

“Yeah me too,” Bobby replied quickly. “We’re all feeling the same way, you know. Listen, there’s something I need to —”

“Bobby, we’re not. You have Rogue and I’m...” She stood up, walking past him to the window. “I’m all alone. I don’t even know what I’m doing anymore!” She looked out into the darkness. “I came to the school because my family was going crazy keeping my powers secret, waiting for the government to come and take me away! And this place, Xavier, all you guys, you gave me hope, okay? And then I started thinking about how I’d maybe become a computer scientist or an engineer and not have to worry every minute of my life about being a mutant.”

“Yeah,” Bobby said. “You’d be a good computer scientist.”

She turned around and leaned against the wall, rocking slightly in distress. “But then the attack happened last year, right? And first I was scared, but then I did my part to save everyone. And suddenly I realized that having these powers wasn’t just a curse. I was powerful and brave, and so I wanted to become an X-Man!” She bent down and picked up the black boot from her X-uniform. She held the boot up, examining it like it was evidence of something. “Now I… I don’t know anymore. X is dead, Scott is probably dead — it’s all fucked! I didn’t make college plans because I was joining the team, but now maybe there won’t be any X-Men...”

“Kitty —”

“I just miss home. So stupid, I know. It was like a prison with my parents; but now all I can think of is being back there, lying on my bed with a book, looking out the window. The first snow and all of that.” She clutched the boot to her chest and looked at him. “Bobby, what am I gonna to do?”

“I’m gay,” he blurted out, as if he was answering her question.

She dropped the boot which landed with a dull thud on the carpet. His statement hung between them like some strange artifact from an alien culture.

Then she said, “Oh my fucking GOD! Yes! I totally see it now; I should have known right away!” She was talking really fast. “You know what I mean? Back when we were making out all the time, it was all ‘Hello? Anyone in there?’”

“I liked kissing you, Kitty, but it wasn’t —”

“No, I get it. It wasn’t right, right?”

She was smiling. He felt his heart swell. She wasn’t going to reject him. “Yeah. I was so afraid of telling anyone, even myself. Then I met this —”

“Oh my fucking GOD!” she exclaimed again. “John was your boyfriend!”

“Yeah, he was,” Bobby admitted.

“And no one knew. No, I bet Jubilee knew, right? She always knows everything.” Kitty looked at him in amazement. “That whole year and I didn’t figure it out! I’m such a dork.” Her eyes were sparkling in excitement. “Were you really in love with him?”

“Yeah, I was. I mean, maybe from the minute I met him. But after the first night in Manhattan he was gone, and then school started and it all got crazy, but then he was here, right? Larger than life! And I told him I loved him, but you know John. And then Rogue came, and I don’t know why I did it, why I asked her out and stuff, but I was confused! And John…” He sat heavily on her bed, suddenly weary. “It was never easy.”

“Huh, I bet!” She hurried across the room and sat down beside him, their knees bumping. “Is John the only one you ever did it with? And what did you do? Like, everything?

“Kitty! I’m not going to tell you all the… the details. And no, he wasn’t the only one. There was this guy called Remy.”

“Remy LeBeau?” she gasped, her eyes going wide.

Bobby felt at a disadvantage. “You… you know him?”

“No, but… duh! He’s Gambit! The mutant master thief! He was a student of the Professor’s for like 10 seconds — back when Cyclops, Jean and Storm were students. Don’t you know anything about the history of this place?”

“Well, yeah, but —”

“Heh. Did you check for your balls after you guys did it? He might have pocketed them.”

Bobby crossed his legs and turned way in indignation. This was his big moment and she was making him feel like she knew more about it that him. “Remy was, uh, really nice, as a matter of fact.”

She looked at him smiling, shaking her head, and he realized to his relief, that she was impressed. He relaxed again.

“So,” she said. “Do you still love John?”

And now he felt like a tragic hero. “Well, yeah, but what can I do about it? He’s with Magneto. He’s one of the bad guys.”

“Pfff,” she answered with a dismissive wave of her hand. “I bet he’s already figured out that Magneto’s a pompous old fool and he’s ready to come back here.”

Bobby’s heart began to beat faster. “You think so? I just never thought… I mean it was me who blew it, not John!”

“Or we could stage a rescue! Go right into Brotherhood HQ and grab him, like we tried to do with…”

She stopped and her smile vanished.

“What?” Bobby asked, growing nervous again.

“Did you…?” Her eyes were suddenly all daggers. “Bobby, tell me the truth. Did you and Lance ever —”

“NO!” Bobby answered instantly. He produced the lie without a moment’s hesitation, with complete conviction and a bright red coat of wounded indignation. “He was your boyfriend! I would never have done that to you!”

Even though he was sure she believed him, Kitty dropped back on the bed, crushed under the weight of too much death. All Bobby’s good feeling vanished in a cloud of guilt. It wasn’t fair! Why did she have to spoil it? But wasn’t he responsible for Lance leaving? And for John leaving, too? He looked around, as if he might find a handy hole in the floor to drop through. Kitty’s closet door was open, and there, carelessly abandoned, probably since last winter, were her ice skates.

He jumped to his feet. “Kitty, get up, come with me.”

“Leave me alone, Bobby. Where do you want to go, anyway?”

“Come on, just trust me.”

“Storm told us to stay in our rooms!”

He held out his hand. “We won't get caught. You can walk through walls, you know.”

She smiled despite herself. Breaking rules always cheered her up. “Get your jacket,” he said.

As she went to the closet, she asked, “When are you going to tell Rogue that you’re gay?”

His stomach knotted. He decided that he hadn’t heard the question. “And bring your ice skates, too.”

As they skated around the ice rink he conjured up for them in the fountain, he thought about John. He knew the visions of a reunion that Kitty had sparked in his soul were just illusions, but what beautiful illusions they were! No, fate had decreed that Bobby and John be enemies. Bobby thought about Professor Xavier and about Magneto. The philosophical division between these two mighty men had grown into a great wall that separated Bobby from his former lover. He knew which side he stood on. He could never fight for any dream but the Professor’s. But that didn’t mean he had to be happy about the result.

 

***

 

John hated to admit it, but everything at the Brotherhood camp was a mess without Mystique. If it had been up to him, they would have brought her back here, cured or not. But you didn’t cross Magneto about something that serious. And maybe he was right? Could they trust her now that she was human? In any case, they had been scrambling to fill the myriad roles she played in their army. John was pretty good at picking up the administrative parts, but they had been forced to use Callisto to train the troops. She was talented and smart, but she lacked Mystique’s ability to inspire. Callisto’s hectoring and sarcasm left everyone bitter after practices. Fights broke out more often, and more soldiers had to be disciplined than ever before.

What was worse was the absence of Mystique’s silent, guiding hand on Magneto’s ambitions. She had encouraged more intelligence-gathering and long-term planning. Magneto was more prone to the big show of force. And while John loved blowing shit up, he worried that the lack of a real strategy made them vulnerable, or worse, pathetic.

And now they had another, terrifying unknown in their midst: Jean Grey — or something that looked like her. She had been given her own room in the bunker, displacing two annoyed lieutenants who had to move to the barracks. She had arrived with no belongings and took nothing from their stores — no clothing, no books, no spare furniture — before shutting the door for 24 hours straight. What was she doing in there? Sleeping? Meditating? Communing with the Devil? Maybe she was crying about murdering Xavier. Who the fuck knew? Magneto had come to collect her around nine that morning and John had trailed them up the hill behind the camp. He couldn’t hear what they were saying, but every time she spoke, the air seemed to crackle with electricity and the hairs on his arm stood on end.

Magneto’s voice was rising a bit in alarm. John peered out from behind the trees in time to see the woman telekinetically threatening the boss with a half dozen cure needles. Pyro immediately fired up his igniters, his heart accelerating. Maybe he could take her out before she spiked Magneto. But what if he failed? Then he would be the next victim of all that power. He had seen what she did to her parents’ house. But then the needles lowered themselves to the ground. It was the first time John had ever seen Magneto looking scared. He tried to act nonchalant as he walked away, Jean standing among the trees. John realized that making his own quiet retreat might be a good idea.

“Hello, Little Flame,” the hair-raising voice said. “Come out here where I can see you.” There was no sense of her raising her voice; instead, it sounded amplified, like the trees themselves were speaking with her. John doused his flames. He straightened his clothes and shook out his hair. His heart was still pounding, but he was determined not to look scared.

“What do I call you?” he asked, stepping into sight.

“That is the question I have been contemplating since yesterday,” she said. “Your master calls me ‘Jean.’ You might as well do the same. Come closer.”

She wasn’t actually looking at him, though he was sure she could “feel” exactly where he was. She was, in fact, looking up at the treetops as if she were bird watching. Little smiles and frowns crossed her face as he approached. Whatever it was she was hearing or seeing, he wasn’t experiencing it. Ten feet away was close enough and that’s where he stopped.

“So, what? You’re saying you aren’t Jean Grey?” he asked.

“Part of me might be… or all of me. It doesn’t seem to make a difference now. Here at the end.”

The words sounded like new-age cryptic bullshit, but they frightened him. “What does Magneto want with you?”

“He has collected me in his butterfly net, the same as you. He seems to offer respect and freedom, but beware: though his net is honeyed, it is still a net.”

“Heh, you’re some butterfly.”

“Watch me spread my wings,” she replied, and just at the edge of the visible, two flaming wings — more avian than insect — stretched into the air, causing the two trees flanking her burst into flame. John reached out with his powers to taste the flame and immediately staggered back a few steps. The fire was more and less than it seemed. It didn’t feed on wood and air, but rather on a source somewhere within Jean. He realized that if she wanted to, she could consume the whole forest, the whole Brotherhood, in an instant.

“Do you like my blaze, Little Flame?”

“Sexy,” he answered, trying to stop his voice from shaking.

The Phoenix laughed and her eyes went jet black. “So much you have lost, Little Flame. And so much you never had. And when you had it, you threw it away, or it was snatched from your grasp. Envy and hatred can be flint and fuel, don’t you think?”

“What are you talking about? I don’t understand —”

“I have a present for you.” She waved her hand in a circle, and her flames left the trees and flowed together in front of her, coalescing into a shape. It was a beautiful box, 10 inches on a side, seemingly of rich wood inlaid with gold in the shape of a stylized Phoenix. The box floated in the air, rocking as if on the gentlest of currents, glowing slightly in the shade of the trees.

John’s eyes were wide. If it was a trap, it was a compelling one. “What is it?” he breathed.

“Just touch this box and you will have the power you have always craved. You will be able to call forth flame from yourself, not just manipulate fires already created.”

John could hardly breathe. “What’s the catch?” he asked, trying in vain to sound disinterested.

“Good! You are wise in the way of tales, Little Flame. No magical gift was ever truly free, and the cost always gave the wise man pause. Listen closely: if you touch the box, you will be a true firestarter, able to call forth the blaze from deep inside yourself. I know where that power lies; I can make it manifest. But if you take this gift, you will lose the love of Bobby Drake.”

John might have had a thousand half-formed guesses about what she would say, but that one hadn’t even made the charts. “Are you fucking kidding? Why would I care if…” His tongue stumbled in confusion. He found himself walking towards her, towards the box, though his hands remained at his side. “And anyway, that’s bullshit! Bobby Drake hates me. He doesn’t give a rats ass if I live or die! Die would probably be better as far as he’s —”

“You are wrong. The endotherm loves you, not the girl. He dreams of you and draws the memory of your body close at night. He thinks he made a mistake when —”

“It’s not true!” John snapped and she smiled.

“It is true. I touched his mind two days ago at Xavier’s mansion. I know the shape of that love and where it lives.” She licked her cracking lips. “Take this gift and I will snuff it out. The love that still burns hot will become merely a memory with no weight or flavor, an incomprehensible foible of his youth.”

John could feel the heat from the box as he approached. He finally raised his hand in front of him. The box was full of fire and the fire was a mirror in which he saw himself as he had always dreamed: a sun god, a torch to light the world He started to sweat. Everything in him longed for the power… so why was he moving so fucking slow?! To his horror, the box began to rise slowly and then to drift away.

“No! I want it! Stop, I’ll touch it.”

The Phoenix’s laughter twisted like the wind as John began running after the accelerating object. “Ten seconds, Little Flame! Touch the box in 10 seconds or the prize is forfeit. It is time to choose: Power or the love of a mortal?!”

Her voice followed him as he ran after the box which was descending the hill, always just out of reach. He tripped on a tree root and tumbled, rolling and rising, a branch scratching his neck as he resumed the pursuit.

“Five seconds!” the Phoenix trilled as the box come to rest just a few feet off the ground in the middle of a sun-dappled glade. He fell to his knees just in front of it, gasping for breath, and raised a desperate hand. But that hand still faltered.

It’s mine! he thought. I am owed this! I don’t care about him I don’t care I hate him and all of them they betrayed me Bobby fuck you you don’t you don’t you CAN’T!!

And with his hand quivering, frozen an inch from the box, he screamed, “Fuck!” and then “NO!!” as the box vanished like a candle flame blown out in a draft.

He looked desperately back up the hill, and he could see the figure of the Phoenix there, silhouetted against the sun. “Please!” he screamed. “Give me another chance! I need this!”

And the Phoenix’s voice was in his ear as if she were kissing it with flaming lips. “You made your choice, Little Flame, now live with it.”

John collapsed on the ground, twisting his limbs in anguish. He lay there for more than an hour.

 

“You trust her?” he asked Magneto as they marched across the compound from a planning meeting, Callisto tagging along as usual. “She’s one of them.”

“So were you, once,” Magneto replied. “You’re more surly than usual this morning, young Pyro. Are we out of coffee again?”

“He’s having his period,” Callisto sneered and Magneto pretended to be shocked. John ignored them.

“I’ve stuck with you all the way,” he said. “I would have killed the Professor if you’d given me the chance.”

These words did stop Magneto who turned and snapped at him, “Charles Xavier did more for mutants than you’ll ever know. My single regret is that he had to die for our dream to live.”

But John already regretted the words, even as he spoke them. His mind flew unbidden to a May picnic at the School for Gifted Youngsters. Under a dazzling blue sky full of promise, he and Bobby were wheeling Xavier way out across the fields behind the house. The Professor was entertaining them with tales of New York in the 70s that verged on the ribald. John remembered laughing so hard his ribs hurt at some suggestive reference to a noted poet of the time. Bobby was going “What? Who?” which made both him and Xavier laugh like naughty confederates. John loved them both intensely in that second, under that sky, in that life.

Magneto’s voice cut through the skin of memory like a knife. “They are opening the New York cure clinic tomorrow,” he announced. John sobered up and remembered who he was and the life he had chosen. The Master of Magnetism continued. “We have arranged a flight back east for you, Pyro. I want a memorable display for the TV cameras.”

“I won’t kill anyone,” he answered.

“Hmm, lucky for you and your scruples that Charles is already dead, then.” John winced. “The clinic doesn’t open until noon, but they expect the line ups — and the news coverage — to start considerably earlier. Give us our show at around 11:15 and you should avoid casualties. Fine?”

“Sure,” Pyro growled, declaring, “I’ll give them something to remember.”

Chapter 38

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