Author’s Note: All hail Basingstoke, only begetter of the Five Things genre. The section titles are all lines from Dylan Thomas.
1. Faith in their hands shall snap in two
“Does someone want to tell me what we’re doing when we get to Alcatraz?” Logan says.
Ororo keeps her hands on the controls of the plane, her eyes forward. “Why don’t you tell me what you think we should do.”
“Are you putting me in charge?”
“Would you like to be?”
That, of course, is the problem. None of them wants to be leader. She’s simply the one least freaked out by the idea. They need Charles to tell them what to do, and Scott to tell them how to do it.
“They’re going to kill that kid, right?” Kitty says from her seat behind them. “The one who makes the Cure. So we have to save him.”
She hears Hank stir in his seat. “It’s an admirable thought, Kitty. But we ought to consider what we are going to do with this boy if we do rescue him. The government will have a rather passionate interest in his return.”
Logan turns to look at Hank. “You don’t want another armed invasion of the school.”
“You may consider that cowardly, Logan, but—”
“I wasn’t arguing, furball, I was translating.”
“You said he’s not being hurt,” Kitty says. “So when it’s over, we could give him back.”
“To make more of the cure.”
“He’s thirteen. We can’t just let him die.”
“How many people do you think are going to die if we try to stop them?”
Up to a point, it’s flattering to Kitty to be argued with like an adult, but Ororo thinks it’s gone quite far enough. “They chose to join Magneto’s army,” she says. “They chose to make this attack.”
Logan turns a look on her he formerly reserved for Scott. She supposes that it’s good to know his issues with authority aren’t personal. “Who do you think his ‘army’ is? Professional soldiers? They’re just mutants who ran to him when the government started making Cure weapons. A bunch of scared kids who don’t want to be castrated.”
“I prefer the metaphor ‘lobotomized,’” Hank says mildly. “After all, many of them are women.”
“They’re kids. When was the last head count at the school? Maybe we’ll see someone we know.”
After a minute, Hank clears his throat. “No matter what we may accomplish today, Magneto has started a war between mutants and the government. A war in which the other side has Cure weapons would be the pessimal outcome.”
“You’re saying it would suck.”
It would be easy to stop this now. They’re all still waiting for someone else to make a decision. She could turn in her seat and say “X-Men don’t run” in her best teacher voice, followed by a plan, or even the promise of one. They’d be grateful for the resolution. Logan would grumble, but she thinks that even he would fall in line.
She’s not sure what they’ll accomplish if they go on. She’s not sure that they’ll still be X-Men if they turn away.
It’s Bobby who finally breaks the silence. “Are we going to make it in time?”
Ororo eases the throttle back, slowly enough that no one has to notice unless they want to. “No, I don’t think we are.”
2. Love in the frost is pared and wintered by
Raven pushes the file back across the table. “So he’s been cured. What does that have to do with me?”
The interrogator shrugs. “He’s cured. You’re cured. It might give you a reason to get back in touch.”
“We could start a support group. If I knew where he was.”
“You’re a resourceful woman, Raven. You must have contacts that are still good. Signals. You could find a way to locate him.”
“Why do you care? He’s not a mutant anymore.”
“He’s still a powerful symbol. Maybe even more so, now that he’s a martyr. We’d just like to know who he’s talking to and what he might be planning.”
“What are you offering me?”
“Your freedom,” he says. “A job perhaps, if you do well with this.”
She can’t change her face anymore. But if she plays this right, she’ll be able to change her identity. No more forged passports and hacked databases. She’ll have documents as real as the U.S. government can make them, attached to a face that a month ago didn’t exist.
“Think carefully, Raven. This is the only second chance you’re going to get.”
“No,” she says. “I won’t spy on him for you. I owe him better than that.”
“He abandoned you. You saved him, and he left you shivering naked on the floor to be recaptured. What could you possibly owe him now?”
“A clean death.”
He looks her in the eyes. He’s not stupid, this one. He’ll know if she’s lying to him. She has to be only the person who wants this, and let no hint of any other self show in her face.
At last he smiles. “Ms. Darkholme, I think we can come to an agreement.”
3. Though wise men at their end know dark is right
Erik unloads the groceries from their plastic bag onto the counter in his apartment’s kitchen. He doesn’t care much for the corner store’s idea of produce and has only picked up staples—coffee, bread, milk, tuna, olive oil, substandard bagels, a few single-serving cans of soup. He’s still going to have to do some rearranging to fit the cans into the narrow cabinet.
Before he does, he reaches out for the stacked cans with his powers. They’ve been coming back intermittently, sometimes strong enough to lift the salvaged metal floor lamp in his living room, sometimes barely enough to make it shudder. The experience might have been custom designed to infuriate him, but the memory of Charles’s stoicism in rehab shames him into hiding his frustration. He, at least, has the knowledge that he’ll someday be whole.
The first can trembles a long time before it falls. He tries to expand the field he’s generating, manages to get the other cans to shake, then is startled when the olive oil is next to topple.
The bottle is all plastic, nothing his powers should be able to affect. Automatically, he tries to scan it, wondering if there’s a seal of metal foil beneath the plastic lid, but his metal-sense is still gone. Something different has taken its place, something immeasurably powerful that burns inside him.
The cure didn’t fail. This is something else, a new gift he’s been given.
“Jean,” he breathes as the groceries rise toward the ceiling. “Oh Jean, you shouldn’t have.”
4. And when blind sleep drops on the spying senses
Moira scans the monitors—normal, all normal—then looks back down at his face. “I still can’t believe it’s really you.”
“I assure you I’m not a demonic possession,” Charles says. “Nor an elaborate practical joke by your students.”
“I can tell that much. The speech pattern is a giveaway.”
“But I look different. It must be very strange for you.”
“Yes,” she says, because there’s rarely any point in trying to hide the truth from him. “It doesn’t matter. I still love you, Charles.” She smiles. “But you know that.”
“Not anymore,” he says. “Or rather, yes, I know, but not the way you mean.”
“This man is not a mutant, Moira. I could give him my mind, but my powers are gone with my body.”
“Oh, Charles.” She touches his arm. “Are you.... What does it feel like?”
“It’s so quiet,” he says. “It’s finally quiet.”
She can’t think of anything to say to that. She just holds his hand, trying to believe that his tears are of joy.
5. Though lovers be lost love shall not
“Your name is Jean Grey,” Logan says, taking a step toward her. “Try to remember.”
“I remember everything. That’s what I’m for.”
“That’s good. Focus on that.” He takes another step and feels his skin start to disintegrate. Yellow flame is haloing her head and stretching out behind her like an angel’s wings.
“I remember that four billion years ago there was a world,” she says. “And on it lived an old and wise and very peaceful people. I was born among them, just like I was born here. And when the time was right, I pulled the surface of their world apart. I protected all the living cells with pieces of myself, and I lifted them up into space.”
“Okay, now try to focus on some recent memories.”
She smiles, and for a moment her expression could be Jean’s. “Four billion years ago is yesterday.”
“Your name is Jean Grey,” he says again. “You were born in, um. Upstate New York, I think. But definitely Earth. That’s the important thing.”
“My name is Phoenix. I come to all worlds that have life, sooner or later. To love them, and to help them die.”
He takes another step toward her and is blinded. “You did your residency at Mount Sinai,” he says as he waits for his eyes to reform. “You wear a lot of red, which doesn’t always look that good on you. You like those little violet candies I can smell five hundred miles away. And you loved Scott Summers.”
“Try to understand, Logan. It will make a better memory if you understand.”
“Make me understand.” He’s noticed that the more attention she pays to him, the less her power tries to pull him to pieces. Maybe if he keeps her talking, he can get close.
“When I destroyed that other planet—long ago, as you would say—some of the pieces fell into the ocean of this world and seeded it with life. Without that sacrifice, the earth would still be sterile.”
“You mean, like it’s about to be.” His arms are being torn apart almost as fast as they can heal.
“Life was a gift I gave your world. Now it’s time for that gift to be passed on to others. There will be a hundred new worlds full of life, where there was only one.”
“We’ll all be dead.”
“But I’ll remember you forever. Just like Charles and Scott. Like Tas’wzta of the D’Bari, who was my lover. Like Lyja of the Skrull, who was my mother. And Lilandra of the Shi’ar, who was my friend.”
She’s let him reach her now. He puts his fist against her, trying to flex his muscles. But the adamantium has boiled off of his bones, and there are no claws left to pop. He doesn’t really think that it would make a difference anyway.
She smiles down at his hand. “That’s brave. I wish you could have understood, but that’s a good way to remember you.”
“You can still stop. You don’t have to do this.”
But he’s not sure that’s true. Her bright wings have spread, stretching past the horizon. The water of the bay is pouring up into the sky like an inverted thunderstorm.
“I love you,” she says, and she touches his face with her burning hand.