Chapter 39: “Plastic Weapons (X3), Part III”

The Blackbird shot across America, heading for San Francisco and the X-Men’s long-anticipated confrontation with Magneto and his Brotherhood. The stakes were high, the fear palpable. Bobby knew just how fast they were going, but everything seemed frozen and still inside the jet. He was hurtling towards his destiny, and it should have felt like the whole world was screaming in his ears, making him squint and grimace; but all he could feel was the gentle puff of climate-controlled, circulating air. He looked over at Kitty, who was staring at him like he had a booger hanging from his nose. She unclipped her harness and crossed the aisle to his chair.

“You nervous?” she said into his hair, leaning over the back of his chair.

“Yeah,” he answered. “This one won’t be a Danger Room simulation, will it?”

“You and me have fought for real before. Turcott’s clinic, Stryker’s attack…”

“True.” They were silent minute, but Bobby knew her. He knew she was about to get to the point.

“You’ve managed to avoid telling me the story for three days,” she said. “But now you’ve got nowhere to run. Time to spill the beans.” He looked around nervously to see if they were being overheard, but the rumble of the jet was too loud for that.

“Nothing happened,” he said quietly, and then louder, “There’s nothing to tell.”

“But what did you say to him?”

“I told you. Nothing!” He found himself wishing for an explosive decompression.

Kitty came around and squatted in front of him, staring into his eyes in disbelief. “You mean you saw the great love of your life for the first time in a year and you were completely mute?”

Bobby pounded a fist on his arm rest. “He was there to torch the cure clinic! What was I supposed to say? ‘Hi, John, wanna see a movie Saturday?’”

“How about, ‘Magneto’s a loser and he’s on the wrong side of history. Come back to the mansion with me! And by the way, I really want to make out with you!’”

Bobby felt abruptly guilty, like if only he had said that, they wouldn’t be flying into battle and possible death and mutilation.

“Well, it’s too late now, isn’t it?” he hissed through clenched teeth.

Kitty clucked her tongue as if his point were irrelevant. “So, what did he say to you?”

And Bobby got quiet. “He said, ‘Come on, Iceman, make a move.’”

“Exactly!”

“Are we talking about John?” came a deep voice behind him. Peter. Great.

“No!” Bobby said indignantly.

“Yes,” Kitty added. “Bobby was there when John firebombed the cure clinic.”

“No way! You should have told Storm!”

Kitty shook her head. “It’s complicated, Pete,” she said, implying that she was the keeper of a great secret.

Bobby thought he might die.

Peter came around and sat cross-legged on the floor beside Kitty. “Did you see Magneto’s speech on the news that night? I’m telling you, John wrote it. I know his style.”

Kitty turned enthusiastically to Peter. “I was telling Bobby that we should totally kidnap John back to our side. It was bullshit that he left in the first place!”

Peter sighed. “He’s a criminal, Kitty. It’s a miracle no one was killed that day. If Pyro’s willing to go that far, you know he must believe all of Magneto’s lies. I mean, if he’s willing to climb into bed with that guy from the Congressman’s office —”

Bobby sputtered, “We don’t know what really happened there!”

Pete gave him a silent, potent look. Kitty looked at the floor. “No,” Pete said, “we have to accept it: he’s lost to us.”

Bobby undid his harness and stood quickly. “I can’t listen to this anymore! I-I have to get my head ready for this b-battle. Just… sorry!” He pushed in between them and staggered towards the back of the plane. He pulled down a small seat, folded into the wall near the emergency weapons station, and sat. Outside the tiny round window, the clouds streamed by like the jet was tearing through the peaceful fabric of the universe. He felt unsteady, like he might puke even, and dropped his head between his knees, trying to breathe his rising panic into submission.

But there was no privacy anymore in Bobby Drake’s life. Just across from him, the lock on the lavatory clicked loudly and someone emerged. The shiny black boots stood there, pointing at him, so he raised himself unsteadily, focusing on the solid legs, followed by the bulging crotch, barrel chest and, finally the unique (and actually kinda gay) facial hair and coiffure of the Wolverine. The world’s scariest mutant was holding a pair of plain white boxers.

“Having a little conversation with the floor, kid?” the man asked.

“Just, uh, thinking. What’s with the shorts?”

Logan twirled them on his finger and sat himself down on the edge of the weapons console. Bobby could just imagine him accidentally dropping ordinance on Nebraska with his ass. “These damn uniform pants are too tight. Needed some more breathing room.” He crumpled the underwear into a ball and gave it a toss. They watched it vanish down the hatch into the jet’s hold. “Two points!” Logan quipped. He punched a button on the console and the hatch slid closed over the hold with a hiss and a thump.

Logan turned and gave Bobby a piercing look. “You holding it together, X-Man? Hope I won’t have to worry about you melting into a pool of ‘mommy-save-me’ when the fighting gets tough.”

Somehow this challenge to his manhood steadied Bobby. He sat up straighter and said, “No, I’m going to be fine. I’m not going to like it, but I’ll be fine.”

“No one likes a battle, kid. Well, actually, I do, but you don’t have to. You just gotta remember why you’re out there fighting.”

“I know.”

“And why are you fighting, Iceman?”

Bobby smiled. “Wow, you’re finally starting to sound like a teacher, Logan. I’m fighting because Magneto wants to start a war with humanity. Because I believe what the Professor believed: humans and mutants have to work together to make this a better world.”

Logan nodded and stood up. “Sounds good, kid. You’re ready. You can go back to kissing the floor if you want.”

The man turned to leave, and Bobby jumped up, grabbing his upper arm. “Wolverine — Logan, wait.” He dropped his hand. His heart rose again in his throat.

Logan turned and waited for Bobby to speak.

“Did you… did you ever have to fight a friend? Someone you… You know. A friend?”

“I don’t know. Me and my memory, right?” He mimed putting a bullet through his temple. “But I think I might have.”

“And you could do it? You didn’t hold back?”

“I don’t hold back, Iceman. It’s a blessing and a curse, but I never hold back.” He put a hand on Bobby’s shoulder. “You’ll do what’s right. I know that much.”

“Do what’s right,” Bobby repeated. “I have no idea what that’ll look like.”

“Me neither, kid. Guess we’ll find out in a couple of hours.”

Wolverine turned and walked back to the front of the plane. Bobby sat again and watched the clouds fly by.

 

***

 

Wolverine’s boxer shorts had landed squarely on Warren’s head and Jubilee had to pinch herself hard in the tit to keep from falling over laughing.

Warren made a disgusted face and threw them aside.

“Not your style?” Jubilee said with a smirk when the hatch closed. There was less sound insulation down here and they had to practically yell into each others’ ears to hear.

“These are strictly Hanes three-pack. I wear custom-tailored silk.” His face looked so serious, Jubilee couldn’t tell if he was joking or not. Did the ultra-rich really have special tailors just for their skivvies? Did they come to his suite at the Waldorf and measure his joint?

“What are you planning to do when we land?” Jubilee asked.

“I don’t know exactly, but the Worthington name is all over the cure and I have to do my part to make things right.”

She understood where he was coming from, but it made her uncomfortable. “Listen, Wings. I saw some of your moves at the mansion and you’re good, but my New X-Men have been training together for more than a year. They don’t need an amateur with good intentions getting in their way.”

“If you knew how much money I’d spent on training, you wouldn’t call me an amateur. What are you going to do with that brick on your leg?”

Jubilee looked down at her cast. She was almost tempted to give away her secret, but that was just vanity. She had to be smarter and more mature than ever, starting now.

“Can’t tell you, Worthington. Just cover for me; give me time to get clear. Don’t say it was me that helped you stow away. At least don’t say it until the battle’s over. Okay?”

“I hear you’re a wonderful fighter, Jubilee. Fierce. And a good leader. What are you planning to do when you graduate?”

“What is this? A job interview?”

“I like to know the talent. That’s the real secret of my family’s success. Get the talent on your side and you’ve won the war.”

“There’s too many damn wars to choose from, Wings.”

He finally cracked a smile. “Tell me about it.”

 

***

 

“You’re having too much damn fun,” John snarled at Magneto as they marched across the hijacked Golden Gate Bridge at the head of their army of mutant warriors towards their moment of destiny on Alcatraz. “We’re taking on the US Army here and you’re acting like it’s mutant show-and-tell in kindergarten.”

“Your problem, Pyro,” Magneto said casually flipping an SUV off the bridge and into the bay with a wave of his hand, “Is that you don’t know how to celebrate life.”

The last thing John felt, at that moment, was celebratory. He looked around at the terror they had already wrought on San Francisco, and couldn’t help feeling they were a gang of punks on the biggest vandalism jaunt in history. And sure, it felt good to be a kid running around kicking over trash cans and spray painting the front of the post office — he’d done that gig before — but just when you felt like the king of the fucking world, the squad cars usually showed up.

The truth was, he didn’t trust Magneto to keep his eye on the goal. He was one of the most powerful beings on the planet, but John sometimes wondered if the man wanted to do more than show off. Furthermore, he didn’t trust Magneto to take care of John Allerdyce when the shit came down. John had been there before — standing beside some boss, thinking he was safe. But in the end, the bosses took care of themselves. Everyone else was just plastic weapons — shaped by the ones in power to suit their purpose; used, and then thrown away. Every time John had believed it would be different… until it wasn’t. What had he meant to Keever? To Xavier? Nothing in the end.

“Just tell me one thing,” John said to Magneto. “Are you serious about starting up a whole new world? I mean, if we win this war, are you really prepared to be a leader and make things right for everyone?”

“For mutantkind, yes, of course. It will be a world of justice and prosperity where all mutants will have a place and all will be cared for.”

“And what about me?” John stopped marching and Magneto, too, stopped. Behind them, the entire mutant army came to a restless, curious halt. John felt the weight of the moment, of his position of privilege. “Will you forget all about me when you’re sitting there on your throne?”

Magneto put a hand on his shoulder, and there was genuine affection in his eyes. “Oh, young Pyro, you know that I am grateful for your loyal service.” He smiled his charming smile. “Believe me, I allow no one to speak to me with the, ahem, freedom I allow you!”

But John wasn’t satisfied. “What about Mystique? She was loyal, too.”

Magneto’s face grew dark. He removed his hand and began marching again, waving over his shoulder for the troops to follow. John quick-stepped to catch up as Magneto growled, “Do not mention her again. There are parts of my past that I do not revisit. The future is my only concern.”

 

***

 

In his first real fight — the debacle at Turcott’s Clinic two years earlier — Bobby had learned just how confusing a battle could be. It was hard to have any real perspective while you were watching your own tail, being there for your comrades in arms, and trying to follow whatever orders you’d been given, which were basically impossible to follow anyway because the damn enemy refused to cooperate and do what the plan said they would do.

That’s how it was on Alcatraz, with just six X-Men and a small contingent of the military fighting a huge and savage band of mutants. What was different was Bobby’s training, which he quickly realized was head and shoulders above most of the goons who were trying to take them out. Storm was in the sky much of the time, barking orders into their earpieces and there were moments when it actually felt like they were going to win.

But still, chaos reigned supreme. Kitty was there one minute and gone the next, taking off after the British guy with the helmet. And then suddenly, blazing cars were raining down on them, launched by Magneto, ignited by Pyro. In one of the moments of explosive brilliance, Bobby clearly saw John on the raised ground, stand beside the Master of Magnetism. Bobby was seized by the urge to climb the hill, talk to John, touch him, but then Logan was shouting for them to retreat from the automotive missiles. Bobby snapped out of his distraction and ran after Wolverine, protecting the soldiers with frost blasts and ice shields as they ran for cover. Soon he was huddled beside Wolverine behind a demolished hunk of steel that had been a supply shed only an hour ago.

“I call this the tipping point,” Logan said. “The point in the battle where everything’s going to fucking hell, but you also have your best chance to cut through the shit and blood and make your kill.”

“And if you don’t?”

“Figure it out.” A Brotherhood member did a kamikaze dive into their position and Logan dispatched him with a growl and fast jab of his claws. Bobby winced, but Logan continued his assessment as if nothing had happened. “Kitty’s got the cure kid, and me and Henry have a plan to bring down Magneto.” The flaming cars continued to rain down. Logan turned to Bobby. “You think you can take out your old friend?”

He didn’t know the answer to the question, but nonetheless, he was on his feet, racing into the open as another missile flew across the sky. He raised his arms and quelled the fire with his ice. Bobby watch John descend slowly from the hill, and it was as if all the mayhem around them had vanished, as if Bobby could hear every footstep as John approached him.. They squared off like gunfighters in an old Western, John’s eyes were wide and terrifying, full of emotions Bobby could never hope to catalogue.

Bobby hadn’t planned it, but he found himself calling out, “John, we don’t have to fight. Leave Magneto and come back to us. Everyone wants you to.” He knew that wasn’t true. He knew that what he meant was I want you to.

John’s response was a swift and uncompromising attack. He held nothing back and the flames were his hatred made manifest. Bobby would have died instantly if he hadn’t been able to anticipate the moment — almost as if by telepathy — firing back with an ice blast of almost equal magnitude. They poured everything they had into the cataclysmic, elemental meeting, but Bobby could not match John’s searing commitment to his former lover’s destruction. Bobby found himself losing ground, falling to his knees.

Absurdly, a poem of John’s came into his mind; really just a fragment on a scrap of math homework, one of the pages that Bobby had rescued from John’s inferno, the day he had left them in spirit, if not in body:

Combustion river — the downstream is dream
Your burning promise more
Than I bargained for:
A foundation, a flint, a fertile field

Would you give me what I cannot ask for?

“John,” he called to him above the roar. He could barely see through the steam that rose where his ice met the obliterating fire. “John, I know now. It was all about me.”

It was almost as if he was hearing John through the line of conflagration itself, a voice of flame voice in a sheathe of ice.

“What are you babbling about, Drake? What’s about you?”

“All of it. The poems you wrote. ‘Your burning promise… foundation, flint —’”

“Are you crazy? Do you think you were ever that important to me?”

“All of them, for me. And I didn’t know. But you didn’t tell me, John! How could I have known if you could never even say ‘I love you’?”

There was no way they should have been able to hear each other. And then Bobby realized, he had not even spoken aloud. Elemental telepathy. They talked through their gifts, through the union, though the union meant mutual destruction. The intensity was too much — the intensity of hate, of regret — and he almost let go, let John’s flames take him, just punishment for having been so weak in his love. But was it so easy to love John? Did he invite the love, or did he forever hold himself apart? Would you give what I cannot ask for? ASK! Bobby thought. But John was too proud. His heart of fire was for him alone.

Bobby felt the change begin deep inside him. What was liquid became solid. Doubt turned to certainty as flesh turned to ice. He was done blaming himself and done begging for forgiveness. He wasn’t fragility, he was the Iceman!

“Don’t switch majors, Drake. English lit is beyond you!” John taunted through the elemental network. “You’re in over your head, Bobby. You better go back to school!”

The Iceman rose from his knees, and his frozen forehead connected, shatteringly, with John’s all-too-human head. The flames were abruptly snuffed out, and the furious warrior that was Pyro, fire mutant, lieutenant to the great Magneto, fell unconscious to the ground.

“You should have never left,” Bobby smiled, victorious.

 

The Iceman felt calm and powerful as he walked through across the battleground. The glow of fire and the raw gleam of emergency lights glinted on his frozen limbs. The wind had picked up out of nowhere and debris was beginning to fly through the air. A piece hit him in the back, and he barely felt it. He smiled, thinking that this must be how Pete felt in his organic steel armor. Untouchable. He wasn’t frightened anymore, and the ghosts of the past were put to rest. John Allerdyce was now just a memory. In defeating him, he had put away all the worry and guilt. It was over.

The conflict seemed to have disintegrated around him, and pointless chaos reigned. Everywhere, soldiers and Brotherhood members alike were running in all directions. The fighting was sporadic and aimless.

More flying debris. Was Storm making this strange wind? No, it was something stranger: Telekinesis, random shiftings of everything from dust to delivery trucks. Screams in the distance, explosions. Above him he saw white wings against the ash-black sky. Warren! What was he doing here? The telekinetic wind was picking up in intensity. He tried his X-phone again and, finding it dead, got a bearing and headed for the emergency rendezvous point.

“Iceman!” Storm called, coming in to land as he arrived at the designated spot by one of the administrative buildings. “Impressive ice form! Are you all right?” But before he could answer, Warren landed, and through the flying debris, he saw Kitty approaching, leading a bald boy.

Her eyes went wide as she took in his new look. A rush of pride moved through him. He liked being impressive.

“Whoa, you look like an ad for a floor cleaner,” she said. “Bobby, this is Jimmy.”

Bobby reached out a hand, hoping to give the kid a thrill at meeting the one and only Iceman, but as his hand touched the boy’s, he reverted to flesh and blood, a cloud of pale mist rising from his head.

“What the fuck?” he gasped, his head spinning.

“Sorry,” Jimmy answered bashfully. Immediately, all the doubt and fear he had felt earlier rushed back in. He looked across the battle field and watched the telekinetic storm growing around a central, glowing point, forming a vortex.

Storm looked grim. “Colossus and Beast are heading for the Blackbird. We’ll meet them there. I want to leave while we still can.”

“Where’s Logan?” Bobby asked.

“He’s gone to stop her before she kills us all.”

“Her?” Bobby asked, confused. “Jean?” Bobby could just make out the glowing figure at the center of the vortex.

“That’s not Jean! Jean Grey is dead,” Storm said with finality. “Come on.”

With Jimmy in tow, none of them could use their powers to speed up their escape, so they took the stairs. A few minutes later, they reached the roof of the tottering building, only to find their jet gone.

“Destroyed,” Hank said, walking up to them. “Just as we got here. The Phoenix effect is causing pockets of complete molecular dissolution all over the island. I don’t know if they’re random or purposeful.”

“No!” Warren screamed. “Jubilee! She was hiding in the jet!”

“Are you sure?!” Storm said.

Warren ran his fingers through his hair. “Let me go look for her!”

He tried to take to the air, but Hank grabbed his arm. “You can’t fly in this mess.”

Bobby felt sick. Jubilee couldn’t be dead! It wasn’t fair; she wasn’t even in the fight! He turned to Storm as if their leader could make it not be true. But it was Kitty who found the answer in the rubble: Jubilee’s cast, cut in two and discarded, and Wolverine’s boxer shorts sitting on top of them. On the skivvies was a note scrawled with a black marker:

            Don’t worry about me. Business to take care of. CU soon. J.

Bobby, Pete and Kitty fell into an abrupt, relieved group hug.

“Thank God,” Kitty breathed, and then added, “I’ll kill her.”

Hank and Storm were conferring. He told them, “The destruction wave is expanding along a spiral trajectory from the Phoenix’s location. I think the safest path is towards that shoreline.” He pointed.

“Okay, X-Men,” Storm shouted. “There’s a fire escape down the back of the building. Let’s move!”

Bobby turned to look back on the unfolding holocaust. He couldn’t see the center anymore for the debris in the air. Somewhere in there, Wolverine was trying to stop Jean, risking death at the hands of someone he loved, just as Bobby had done. Screams. He watched in horror as a retreating group of eight soldiers was suddenly reduced to three. Looking around he saw more and more people disintegrating into showers of ash. His lips were moving without sound. Sweat poured from his shaking body.

“John,” he heard himself say.

Kitty screamed to him from across the roof, her voice barely audible above the howling storm: “Bobby, we have to hurry!”

“No!” he called back. “I have to save him!” And he ran for the staircase they had come up, not looking back. He burst out of the building into a disintegrating landscape. He reached inside himself and realized his power was back. That, at least, was something. A soldier began running with him, perhaps hoping that one of the uniformed mutants would know how to escape. Bobby groaned in horror as the man became a cloud of dust. And still Bobby ran.

The terrain was so altered, he could barely figure out where he had left John. He let blind instinct drive him, past panic, past fatigue. And there he was. Unconscious, crumpled and small on the ground, the only complete figure left in a world of swirling particles. Bobby threw the inert body over his shoulder and turned to run back the way he’d come. There was a humming in the air and he dared look back. Gaining on him was a wave of fiery energy, not flame like John’s, but a wave of pure malice, like a pack of carnivores driven by hunger insatiable. All around the island, a wall of water a hundred feet high rose, and all he could think was run, run!

Bobby crested a hill and saw the ground so broken below, he knew he would never been able to cross it, not with the burden on his back; the oncoming wave would consume them. He had no time to plan. He jumped from the hilltop, making a river of ice ahead of him, landing with precision and flying down the ice slide, a vision of speed and grace. He created the slide even as he rode it, banking around corners ahead of the wall of destruction, compensating for the dead weight of John. The dust in the air was thinner now, and he could see lights glinting in the water. Please, he prayed, just let me save him.

 

***

 

At the heart of the storm, the Phoenix tore at the Wolverine, and still he came towards her. *Useless!* she screamed in his mind. *There is nothing human left inside me. You stand at the threshold of the unmaking of creation!* But he did not stop.

Out loud, she said, “You would die for them?”

“Not for them. For you.”

Jean Grey awoke in her prison and looked through her eyes. Power flowed from her like an unfettered beast. She had failed to contain the Phoenix. She had brought herself to this point and there was no way out. I’m sorry…

*There’s no need to be sorry,* said a calm voice that was so familiar she did not recognize it for a moment.

*You’re still here! How…?*

*You never let me go, Jean. You couldn’t, even when things were darkest.*

More than anything, she wanted to believe that it wasn’t just a trick of her dying mind. If it were possible that he was here, she could face death with some measure of peace. But whether he was hallucination or miracle, he had to know the truth. She had to confess everything.

*I killed the Professor. I didn’t want to, but I did it.*

*I know. You couldn’t help it. I forgive you.*

“JEAN!” the Wolverine cried over the howl of the Phoenix force.

*And I love him. I love Logan. How can you forgive me for that?*

*Your love for Logan can’t diminish what we have. Love begets love. It is the life force. So simple, but I never saw it before. Love is like the power of the Phoenix; it’s deep and limitless. But where the Phoenix force is insatiable destruction, love is continual creation, faith in the future. It is hope, the gift you gave me when I had nothing. I was just a boy, but I had already given up on life. If not for you, I would have killed myself. That’s why I’ll always love you, and why I’m not afraid of who else you love.*

*We die together, then? Together at the end of things?*

*This isn’t our funeral, Jean. Don’t you see? It’s our wedding.*

“Save me,” she told them both, and Logan’s claws pierced her human heart.

 

***

 

It was a beautiful night, still and warm. Gulls circled overhead in the last streaks of sunlight, crying out the usual complaints and exultations as if the world hadn’t been turned upside down less than an hour earlier. The waves were gentle and the breeze pleasant on his cheek. He knew the city would still be in panic, but somehow Bobby’s soul was peaceful. Their raft of ice was drifting across San Francisco Bay towards the far shore (and not out to sea, which would have been bad). He looked down at John who lay unconscious at his feet, and watched him breathe slowly and evenly. Magneto was cured, the Brotherhood finished. Maybe the X-Men were, too. The thought made him wistful, but not truly sad.

“I want a new beginning,” Bobby said out loud. “I think we both deserve that. Is it really too much to ask?”

John’s eyes were closed, but he gritted his teeth and hissed. “Kill you, fucker, fucker…” Bobby frowned, but such a small thing couldn’t diminish his optimism. He’s just dreaming, he thought and smiled again. Nothing to worry about.

They drifted into the dark on the fickle currents of the night.

 

END OF BOOK FOUR

Chapter 40

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