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Volume 3 -- Issue 57 -- Rivalry and Reflections

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Rivalry and Reflections
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As more and more mutants are being born with extraordinary powers, Professor Charles Xavier seeks peace and understanding in a world that hates and fears them. With his team, the X-men, he fights if war and intolerance in an ever-changing landscape. With mutants now at the forefront of a presidential election, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

While the X-men try to stay focused on their duties, they continue to deal with personal conflicts on the side. Recent clashes have brought Marvel Girl into conflict with her cousin Madelyn, Cyclops against his brother Havok, and Storm against her old mentor Amahl Farouk. These battles threaten to undermine their cause, but Professor Xavier is not letting up and continues his efforts to reach out to an increasingly anxious public.

While Professor Xavier continues his media tour with Lilandra Neramani, the X-men continue to work through their various personal issues. As the team continues to leave on each other for support, various other forces continue to work against them.

Xavier Institute – Back Yard

Jean Grey exhaled deeply as she sat meditating in the back yard of the institute. With every breath, the young psychic tried to push out all the stress and uncertainties. It was becoming part of her daily ritual. In her ongoing effort to mitigate her migraines, she was constantly seeking serenity in the midst of the daily chaos of being an X-man. While she still wasn’t sure what was causing these psychic induced headaches, she was getting better at managing them.

Sitting silently atop a rock looking out over the lake, she continued to breathe deep. The crisp air, the shifting waters, and the passing of birds and insects all made for a peaceful setting. It was a nice escape from the tension still plaguing the team. With Miss Munroe’s recent venture to Morocco, she had been a little out of it. Rogue and Kurt were in a similar rut, as was often the case after an encounter with Mystique. Professor Xavier was also stressing himself with his media efforts. He was scheduled to do a prime time one-on-one interview later today. She often worried that Xavier was pushing himself too hard, but with Lilandra supporting him he seemed more than capable.

Taking another deep breath, Jean continued to relax. The serene surroundings were soon interrupted by a new presence. She didn’t have to turn around or even open her eyes to know who it was. The smell of cigar smoke and the gruff presence gave it away.

“Out for a little fresh air, Logan?” she said as she continued to meditate.

“Since when have you known me to need fresh air?” he joked as he blew some cigar smoke over her.

“I meant to say figuratively, but thanks for clearing that up,” snickered Jean, “Usually when you go out for a walk with a cigar in one hand and a beer in the other, you’re either in an unusually nasty mood or an unusually good mood.”

“You pick up on those subtleties for every guy you slept with?”

“I like to keep track of my conquests,” she quipped, “So which is it?”

Logan sat down next to Jeannie on the rock and chuckled. Even after breaking up with her, Jean knew him so well.

“Believe it or not, I’m in a pretty decent mood. At least as decent as a guy like me can manage,” he said in his usual gruff tone, “And that’s sayin’ something after that clusterfuck in Morocco.”

“I’m guessing Miss Munroe has helped with that,” said Jean with a coy smile.

“She’s done her part, that’s for sure,” said Logan with an equally wry look, “But after the mess with Farouk, she’s needed me as much as I’ve needed her. We’ve been helping each other get through a lot of shit. It’s a good thing too because I probably would’ve lost it by now.”

“That’s always a good sign for a relationship. When you can get through that kind of stuff together and come out stronger, it really has a way of strengthening bonds.”

“No need to convince me of that, Jeannie. I know all about that sappy crap as much as you do,” said Logan as he took another puff of his cigar.

“Call it whatever you want, Logan. I think it’s been good for you. And for Miss Munroe as well. I know this sounds weird coming from an ex, but I’m happy to see you with someone.”

“What can I say? Going to bed with a beautiful woman after does a man good. I just hope I don’t screw it up with Ro like I did with you.”

Jean finally stopped meditating and turned towards her former lover. She leaned back on her arms and smiled. Logan seemed to have really settled with Ororo. He needed it after how messed up he was after Sinister abducted him. She sensed he was still troubled by that name, James Howlett. But he was doing his best, holding himself together as man and an X-man.

“Then while you’re in a good mood, there’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about,” she said in a more serious tone.

“If this is about swappin’ stories on bedroom antics, I’m game,” said Logan with another puff of his cigar.

“Maybe later,” said Jean in a bemused tone, “But seriously, Logan. This is something I need to get off my chest. After everything that’s been going on in our private lives lately, I think I owe you an apology.”

“For what? Not getting caught up in my shit ain’t something you need to apologize for.”

“I think I do,” she said in a low tone, “It hasn’t been lost on me that you’ve had your share of issues lately. First, there was Sinister. Then there was District X. Hell, you came close to walking out on the team! Ex or no ex, I should still be there for someone I care about. I’m just lucky Storm came along to pick up the slack.”

Logan fell silent and set his drink aside for a moment. Jeannie never ceased to amaze him. She was still as caring and compassionate as she was when they were together. It was something he took for granted in his crazy life here at the mansion.

“Honestly Logan, I still want to be there for you when you need it. I know I’ve had my own issues with migraines, my cousin showing up, and my relationship with Scott. But that’s not an excuse.”

“You don’t need one,” said Logan, “You do plenty just by being yourself, Jeannie. Even if you do reek of Summers most of the time.”

“I still should have done more,” she said honestly.

“Now you’re just making it hard on yourself,” said Logan as he puffed his cigar, “You don’t need to bear everyone else’s burden, Jeannie. I know you care about me and believe me, I appreciate it. There ain’t a whole lot of people out there who care for total screw-ups like me and next to none of them look as good in a bikini.”

“Logan, I thought I told you I’m being serious!”

“You did and so am I,” he said, his tone shifting someone, “You don’t need to keep doing this to yourself. You do more than your share with the X-men. Cyke has no idea how freakin’ lucky he is to have you. Just stop beatin’ yourself up over this shit. You do enough by just being the hot ex-girlfriend I blew it with who still gives a damn.”

Jean paused for a moment. Logan had a way of making a point in an overtly crude manner, but he still got his point across. It made Jean smile again, which in turn made him smile a little as well. He tried to hide it, being the gruff man he was. But Jean could sense the sentiment he was too tough to convey.

“So…you still accept my apology?” she said.

“If it’ll make you happy, sure. I accept,” he said with a wolfish grin.

“Thank you, Logan,” she smiled, “I’m glad we got that out of the way. Now we can move onto more important issues...like when you and Storm are going to double date with me and Scott.”

“Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves,” grinned Logan, “We got a long way to go before I go on any sort of outing with one-eye.”

“You’d rather talk about more lurid issues?” she joked.

“Hell yeah,” grinned Logan, rolling his eyes, “Just let me get a few more beers in me and I’ll give you ideas that’ll make Cyke’s head explode!”

They shared a round of laughs. Having made her peace, Jean gave her former lover a friendly hug. She was glad to have gotten this out of the way. Logan was still an important man in her life. He cared for her as much as she cared for him. Even though they had moved onto new relationships, they were still part of each others’ lives. Feeling much better and more energized, Jean got up from her seat on the rock and started heading back towards the mansion.

“I’m sure we’ll find plenty of interesting things to talk about later. I bet my conversations with Miss Munroe will be just as intriguing,” said Jean.

“Ask her about her leopard skin panties. She’ll start talkin’ then,” grinned Logan.

“I’ll make a note of that,” laughed the young psychic, “In the meantime, I should probably catch up with Scott. We’ve had our own issues lately and we’re trying to work harder on dealing with them.”

Logan’s demeanor quickly shifted as he finished his beer.

“I wouldn’t do that, Jeannie. Cyke probably ain’t in the mood for some late-morning humping,” he warned.

“What do you mean?” asked Jean curiously as she stopped in mid strike.

“Didn’t you hear?” he said as he tossed away his cigar, “A few hours ago, that crazy little brother of his got out of jail and skipped town. I ain’t seen him this pissed since I beat his best score in the Danger Room.”

Jean’s expression paled. She must have been meditating for too long. Alex Summers getting out of jail was sure to cause plenty of conflict and not just for Scott.

‘Oh no. I think my migraine just came back. That can’t be a good sign.’

NBC Studio – New York

Professor Charles Xavier took deep breaths as he prepared for another big interview. He should have been used to them by now, but it still had it’s challenges. He was still adjusting to the idea of being a public figure that faced the scrutiny a celebrity or politician. It was not easy because he was by nature a private person. There were some parts of his life that he didn’t wish to talk about, but with the stakes in the human/mutant conflict growing he had to be ready to confront such intimate aspects of his life.

“We’re almost ready!” said the director, “We’re going live in thirty seconds!”

Xavier adjusted his tie and put on his most professional demeanor. This was a big deal for their media efforts. Many of his previous interviews had been limited to talk shows and daytime news. This was his first prime-time interview that would be broadcast nationally and translated internationally. 60 Minutes even extended an extra half-hour to their time slot to make room for it. This was a big opportunity and he had to make it count.

Supporting him behind the cameras was Lilandra, who had helped put together this elaborate affair. She gave him a reassuring smile, letting him know she was there to support him. In the time they had been working together, he came to rely on her support. He wasn’t afraid to admit he was growing very fond of her. The particulars of their relationship were still developing, but that was something they had to set aside for the moment.

‘You’ll do great, Charles. Just be honest, sincere, and open like you always are. And don’t be afraid to get a little personal. Let the people know you’re a man worthy of both sympathy and respect.’

Xavier cast her a smile as the set was clear and the interview began. Getting personal was going to be a challenge, but that was a sacrifice he was willing to make for his students and his cause.

“Ready in 5…4…3…2…1. And we’re live!” said the director.

The teleprompter was turned on and the interview began. Now the eyes of many were on Charles Xavier.

“Thank you for joining us tonight on a very special edition of 60 Minutes. With us is Professor Charles Xavier, founder of the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning and leader of the controversial X-men. For the past few months he has been putting himself in the heat of the human/mutant conflict, both figuratively and literally. His X-men have already played a big role in shaping the landscape of the presidential election, but his ambitions are much greater. And tonight, we’re going to learn more about them.”

“Thank you. I’m very much looking forward to it,” said Xavier respectfully.

“As am I,” said the interviewer, “Now let’s get right to the most pressing topic, namely the election. You and a select few have dedicated many resources into opposing Senator Kelly’s campaign. In the past few weeks he’s come out with some bold new proposals that include expanding military resources and crafting special legislation to deal with the unique nature of mutants. As someone who has seen first hand how volatile mutants can be, tell me why you’re opposing that.”

“I’m not opposed to law enforcement dealing with mutants. Mutants are citizens like any other. They are subject to the law and should be prosecuted as such. Where I differ with Senator Kelly is his concept of unique situations regarding mutants.”

“But let’s face it, Charles. These situations are unique. Anyone who sees the abilities of your own students can see that,” said the interviewer as he looked down at a few note cards, “According to recent reports you have a students that can read minds, shoot destructive lasers our of their eyes, and walk through solid objects. Tell me, how can law enforcement expect to handle these sorts challenges?”

“There are many ways. My X-men are the best example, but certainly not the only one. The problem with the Senator’s assessment is that he’s assuming every mutant power is a ticking time bomb and that is simply not the case.”

“You mean to say these powers are not dangerous?”

“Of course not,” said Xavier quickly while keeping his calm, “But we have to remember that these powers have people behind them. By creating laws that place these people in such a dire predicament, it’ll only adding to the problem.”

“So then what’s the solution?”

“That’s just it. There is no clear cut solution. These sorts of issues don’t have solutions because they’re not simple problems. I look at the mutant issue not as a problem, but a dilemma. And dilemmas are unique in that solutions are impossible. Compromise and understanding is what matters most.”

“That’s all well and good, but that doesn’t change the fact that people out there are scared. They want to see something tangible that they can look to and believe that they are protected.”

“That’s precisely what my X-men try to do,” said Xavier strongly, “We stand against those who would use their powers, mutant or otherwise, to further conflict instead of peace. The nature of our struggle may change, but the goal does not.”

“And you have no problems pursuing this goal outside the law?”

“We do what we can with the resources we have,” quipped Xavier, “We’re no different than other superhero teams. But because we’re mutants, we face an anxious public. We try as hard as we can to work with authorities, but men like Senator Kelly make that exceedingly difficult and we cannot help those who seek to condemn us.”

His response impressed the interviewer and the director for that matter. Lilandra smiled at his handling of the situation so far. He was placing the source of the conflict on Senator Kelly, not mutants. It was an important counter to the senator’s fear-mongering rhetoric.

“Let’s shift topics for a moment,” said the interviewer as he sifted through his notes, “Issue number two, Magneto.”

Both Xavier and Lilandra shifted. This was an issue that was always difficult to address. It was personal and complicated, but Xavier kept his calm.

“Very well,” he said, “What is it you wish to discuss?”

“The joint chiefs came out with a statement today,” said the interviewer as he shifted through more notes, “He says Magneto has been showing more signs of aggression lately. As the election draws near, he’s starting to push the limits of the treaty you yourself put together. An earlier report today said Magneto was harassing military vessels doing routine observation runs. Is this a sign of things to come?”

Charles Xavier tensed somewhat. This was not an issue that was lost on him. He already had his X-men looking into it. But if he was to stop this from being a setback, he had to handle it carefully.

“Again, there’s no easy solution to this issue. Magneto is a very complicated man. I know that better than anyone in the military. I can only say with great certainty that me and my X-men are actively working to prevent such situations from becoming too volatile.”

“Do you feel they’re equipped to handle it?” asked the interviewer warily, “I understand they’ve already prevent Magneto from causing great destruction before, but how many times can your X-men avert disaster before it becomes too much?”

“My X-men are strong...much stronger than I think most people give them credit for,” he said confidently, “They’ll do whatever they have to do. It’s how I trained them. No matter what men like Magneto may do, I’m confident they’ll be able to handle it.”

Magneto’s Citadel – Toad’s Room

“Toad! Toad, wake up!”

“Hnn…huh? What?” groaned a drowsy Mortimer Toynbee.

The amphibious mutant rose up in his bed feeling dazed and confused. He seemed to remember being out on patrol with the rest of the Brotherhood last night and then turning in some time after three in the morning. He wasn’t sure what time it was now, but he was pretty sure he needed more sleep. Before he could crawl back under the sheets, a light tremor shook his bedroom door and forced it open. Storming into his room was a very disgruntled looking Lance Alvers. Apparently, he didn’t get much sleep either.

“What are you waiting for? Get your lazy ass out of bed!” he commanded as he pulled the sheets off his bed.

“What’s going on?” Toad groaned, “I thought Magneto was going to let us actually sleep for the night.”

“Well if he did, he changed his mind. He wants us in the throne room right now! He says something has come up and he wants the Brotherhood present!”

“At this hour?! We under attack or something?”

“I don’t know. Something about shaking up the team’s leadership. But unless you want wake up with a metal spike in your forehead, you’ll stop asking questions and get dressed! This sounds like another one of those pet projects of his!”

“Ugh, that can’t be a good sign,” Toad groaned, “Hopefully, this one doesn’t involve aliens.”

Lance stormed off while Toad dragged himself out of bed. He was tired, but not tired enough to risk defying Magneto. If it involved shaking up the Brotherhood, it was sure to affect him. It wasn’t like they didn’t need it. Given how crazy things had been lately, the Brotherhood could use all the help they could get.

Magneto’s Citadel – Throne Room

After the abrupt wake-up call, the Brotherhood gathered in Magneto’s throne room. There were plenty of tired yawns and restless faces. Avalanche, Blob, Pyro, and Toad had all been working overtime lately as Genosha’s de-facto police force. Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch were doing their share as well, but they looked a bit more rested. Lorna was there as well, albeit behind the scenes as usual. As Magneto’s youngest daughter, she got special treatment. It hardly seemed fair, but since she was the only one capable of tapering that anger of his it seemed appropriate.

Magneto entered in his usual assertive manner. He was probably the only one who didn’t look tired. He shouldn’t have been since he wasn’t the one who traveled throughout the country constantly stamping out crime and breaking up fights. It hardly seemed fair, but nobody was crazy enough to argue with him.

“What’s this about, Father? I thought this time of night was designated for rest only,” asked Quicksilver.

“There can be no rest, my son. Not while we’re building a new country,” said the master of magnetism sternly.

“Aw hell, not even a little?” groaned Pyro, “Are you trying to burn us out, mate?”

“You’re lucky to be as rested as you are,” said Magneto firmly, “Part of my reason for calling you here is to express my disappointment. Every one of you has failed to meet my expectations. Time and again, you’ve failed to maintain order throughout Genosha and it’s hampering my ambitious plans.”

The Brotherhood shifted uncomfortably. Getting that kind of criticism from Magneto of all people was anything but comforting.

“Jeez, guy sure knows how to encourage you,” muttered Blob.

“I’m not here to encourage. I am merely pointing out facts,” said Magneto firmly, “These past few months, our emergin society remains unstable. Theft is still rampant, petty feuding is still widespread, and a number of protests have broken out that you have been unable to subdue. It does not bode well for our international image. Can you imagine how vindicated our enemies would be if we proved incapable of governing ourselves?”

“With all due respect, sir. We’ve been stretched really thin!” argued Avalanche as he boldly stepped forth to counter his point, “There are only a handful of us. Even those other Acolytes you brought in can’t pick up the slack.”

“They have their own responsibilities and you need not concern yourselves with them,” said Magneto ominously, “I suppose I was naïve. I actually hoped that you could handle the day-to-day operations here.”

“It’s not like we haven’t tried! It’s a matter of logistics!” argued Quicksilver, “We’re having to go to one side of the island in the morning and end up on the other by sundown. We just can’t keep pace with everything that goes on! And that’s saying a lot coming from a guy like me.”

“Your frustrations are duly noted, Pietro,” said Magneto sternly, “But from what I see, it isn’t a lack of manpower or even a lack of fortitude. It’s a lack of leadership.”

This caught Quicksilver especially by surprise because he was the de-facto leader for the Brotherhood. It felt like an attack on him personally.

“Now wait just a minute, Father! I’ve done everything you’ve asked of me!” the speedster argued, “I’ve been holding the Brotherhood together since day one! It’s not my fault we’ve been ineffective!”

“Don’t overstate your worth, Pietro!” Magneto retorted, “You’ve done little to inspire and even less to improve. You being my son does not make you immune to incompetence. If anything, it makes your shortcomings all the more egregious!”

“Ooh, that can’t feel good,” commented Pyro.

“Shut up, Pyro!” spat Quicksilver, “Father, you’re not giving me my fair shot!”

“Please don’t go off on another ego-tirade, Pietro!” coaxed Wanda, using a touch of hex bolts to keep him docile, “As it just so happens, I agree with Father. You have not been an effective leader and Genosha has suffered because of it.”

“Oh? And just how the hell am I responsible for the mess that goes on here?!”

“I’m glad you asked because I intend to show you,” said Magneto.

Quicksilver remained skeptical while the rest of the Brotherhood stayed silent. Magneto used his powers to open a metal panel in the floor just in front of his throne. The panel revealed a holographic projector that displayed a 3-D map of Genosha. It depicted in detail the cities, coast lines, and the terrain. It also depicted the surrounding waters, all of which were swarming with navy vessels from various countries. It was this sore issue on which Magneto focused.

“As you all know, our new nation endures constant scrutiny from every major military power in the world. It’s part of the treaty Xavier crafted. They’re allowed to watch over us, but only within certain limits. And lately, they’ve been testing these limits.”

The projection brought up a more detailed image of the coasts. On them were various yellow dots, which Magneto went onto explain.

“While we’ve been busy bumbling about, several nations have sent various spies and commandos onto our shores. They’ve been intercepting radio communications, scoping out defenses, and even sabotaging some of our rebuilding efforts.”

Quicksilver shifted awkwardly, but remained defiant.

“I still don’t see how this is my fault,” he said.

“As the team leader, the responsibility still rests on your shoulders. Since our attention and resources are limited, they’ve been getting away with these egregious acts.”

“So why don’t you call the president and tell him to back off?” quipped the speedster.

“Because the current president is too unpopular and weak. I doubt he could command a dog let alone his military,” replied the master of magnetism, “It is an unfortunate byproduct of America’s shaky political situation. So long as they have a weak president, his military leaders have free reign. And they’ll keep doing it as long as no one opposes them.”

Magneto powered down the projector and approached his team. Quicksilver remained unconvinced, but he did not fire back under his father’s stern gaze. Regardless of whether or not it was his fault, his father blamed him and there was nothing he could do about it.

“We can’t allow these zealous militants to threaten our people,” said Wanda as she offered her own input, “The peace Charles Xavier built is fragile enough. We can’t allow it to fall apart.”

“Is it possible for a woman to make politics so sexy?” commented Pyro under his breath.

“Will you turn your penis off and at least try to take this seriously? We’ll all live a lot longer!” said Avalanche, giving the Australian mutant an elbow to the ribs to shut him up.

“But what a way to go,” the Australian mutant sighed.

Despite Pyro’s comment, Wanda continued.

“If we’re to show the world that we’re a strong nation, we need to take a stand. We need to expose these transgressions and demonstrate that we will not tolerate it.”

“So tell me where they are and I’ll take care of it!” said Quicksilver, “You want me to be a better leader? Give me a chance to improve!”

“No Pietro. You’ve had your share of chances,” said Magneto firmly, “That is why for this vital operation, I am giving someone else the opportunity to lead.”

“And who might that be? As if it’s that hard to be an upgrade” asked Avalanche skeptically, earning him a look from the speedster.

Magneto paused briefly and turned to Lorna, who had a role in this as well. She remained the mitigating force for her father, helping to keep his emotions from clouding his judgment again. She also was becoming involved in Genosha affairs just like Wanda. The two of them were the ones to convince Magneto that the Brotherhood was in need of an overhaul. They had also been keeping up with events back in America and uncovered a promising mutant who could be the difference maker for them.

Using her own magnetic powers, she opened a large metal door behind Magneto’s throne. From the opening a new figure stepped out into the area. It was a young man in a full bodied black battle suit with dark blue dots on the chest and shoulders. He had messy blond hair, tanned skin, and a fairly strong physique. He couldn’t have been any older than eighteen, but he carried himself as someone much older.

“Everybody, please welcome Alex Summers. Codename Havok,” said Lorna, “He will be the head of this operation and the new leader of the Brotherhood.”

“Summers?!” exclaimed Quicksilver, “You don’t mean…”

“Yes Pietro,” said the Scarlet Witch dryly, “Summers as in the younger brother of Scott Summers from the X-men.”

“Oh you’ve got to be kidding me! The brother of an X-man?!” said Blob.

“It’s not by choice, I assure you,” said Havok, “And don’t be mentioning my brother. I’m not him and you guys are not the X-men! Not by a long shot!”

“Is this really what we need, boss?” questioned Blob, “Another sibling rivalry that compares us to the X-men?”

“You’re the ones who brought them up. Not me,” Alex pointed out, “I’m not interested in measuring up to my brother anymore. Not since he helped throw me in jail.”

“Ooh, and I thought Pietro got the raw end of a slibling’s wrath,” commented Pyro.

“But one thing I do have in common with my brother is the ability to win a battle. I’ve led my way through a number of fights and because of that, Magneto helped bust me out of jail. Now I’m repaying the favor.”

“No offense kid, but you don’t look very seasoned to lead something like this,” said Avalanche skeptically, “You look like a lesser version of Cyclops.”

Instead of countering his comment with words, Alex Summers responded with a little demonstration. Clenching his fists he formed a beam of yellowish energy around his hands. Then with lightning quick reflexes he fired a shot right at Avalanche. It wasn’t big or lethal, but it was focused. The young man didn’t have a chance to avoid it. His eyes only widened as the beam hit him right in the face.

“Augh!” he cried out as he fell to the floor.

“Lance!” exclaimed Toad, “What the hell, man?!”

Toad and Blob helped their friend up. He was not seriously hurt, but he was in a lot of pain and clutching his face. His nose was now bleeding and his jaw was bruised. As he writhed from the pain, he coughed out a tooth along with some some blood.

“Ahhh fuck!” he groaned, “You lousy…”

“Careful with your choice of words, rocky!” said Havok sternly, “That was just a warning shot! Next time I’ll aim lower! Think your balls will hold up as well as your teeth?”

It was a harsh, but assertive gesture. This kid may be young, but he made it clear that he was ready to fight. There was a fearless, driven look in his eyes. It was a look they never saw with Quicksilver. His leadership style was different and it got the point across.

“I like this guy!” grinned Pyro.

“You would,” muttered Blob.

While Avalanche recovered, Havok approached the Brotherhood with a stern but serious tone. He still got some nasty looks from Avalanche and Quicksilver, but his demonstration got their attention.

“Suck it up, Avalanche. We’ll get your teeth fixed later,” said Havok, “If you guys are done questioning my skills, let’s get to work! According to Scanner, we’ve got a commando unit making a spy run later tonight on the north beach. And this time, we’re going to stop them!”

“So what’s the plan? Just kill them and send their heads back to the White House?” said Pyro casually.

“As appealing as that sounds, we must avoid such unnecessary carnage,” said Magneto.

“Since when does carnage bother us?” scoffed Blob.

“Try and think politically, Blob. With a weak president, his generals will jump any chance to invade us,” said the Scarlet Witch.

“So what then?” scoffed Quicksilver, “We just give them a slap on the wrist?”

“Hell no,” said Havok strongly, “We won’t be killers, but we can settle for the next best thing…kicking their asses of our island!”

X-jet – Over Atlantic Ocean

As soon as Scott Summers found out his brother was out of jail and on Genosha, he couldn’t start the mission fast enough. The team was already assembled and en route to the island. Everyone except for Beast was going to be part of this operation. He was the one who discovered this brewing incident and said he was working with someone on alleviating it. This was a volatile situation concerning spies infiltrating Genoshan soil. Their official mission was to prevent an international incident from erupting, but that was only secondary for Scott.

‘Damn it, Alex! Why do you keep doing this to me? It’s not enough you provoked a full blown riot in District X. But that just wasn’t enough for you, was it? Now you’re joining Magneto?! Is this just your way of getting back at me? Or have you totally lost it?’

While Scott wrestled with his family issues, the rest of the team prepared for another difficult battle. Any encounter with Magneto on Genosha was stressful enough, but this time they faced even more pressure. Unlike previous encounters, failure would affect more than their physical well-being or their cause. It could actually affect the course of the election and seriously hamper Professor Xavier media efforts.

“We better get to Genosha soon. That vein in Scott’s forehead is going to explode any minute,” commented Bobby.

“I’m surprised it already hasn’t,” said Remy, “As if Scottie wasn’t ticked off enough at his brother. He be pushing his buttons almost as much as Wolverine.”

“It’s times like this I’m glad I’m an only child,” sighed Kitty.

The air remained tense as Cyclops flew the jet in lower. He was a little rougher with the controls than usual, pushing the afterburners and making sharper turns. It added to the already heavy turbulence.

“Take it easy, Scott! We’ll get there,” coaxed Jean, who was sitting behind him.

“I’m sorry, Jean. But in case I’m being too subtle I’m pretty anxious to get to my brother!” said the X-leader with burning determination, “I’m not letting him get caught up in Magneto’s battles!”

“Funny, given how pig-headed he was back in District X I figure he would fit right in with Mags and his buddies,” said Logan.

“Not funny, Wolverine!” spat Scott, jerking the plane’s controls again.

“Scott please!” Jean urged, putting a comforting hand on his shoulder, “Try and focus on the mission. Don’t let Alex distract you like this.”

“Hell, you might as well ask me to quit drinking while you’re at it, Jeannie,” said Logan, “When you hate someone’s guts, you’re gonna be distracted. Trust me, I know.”

Jean’s caring tone helped the X-leader ease up a bit while Logan’s comment annoyed him. He took some deep breaths, trying hard not to let Alex affect him too much. He couldn’t forget that they still had a job to do.

“We’ll deal with him, Scott. But our main concern are these spies,” said Ororo, who was also sitting next to Jean, “Hank says he corroborated this with the Pentagon. The military is indeed conducting spy operations on Genosha.”

“Translation, Mr. McCoy hacked this from the government,” said Rogue.

“Big deal,” scoffed Wolverine, “Guys like Magneto should be spied on. I hate the military, but if I were them I’d keep tabs on everything down to his brand of underwear.”

“It’s still a major violation of the peace agreement,” Jean pointed out, “And we can’t have that falling apart at a time like this.”

“If he makes an international spectacle out of this spy operation, it’ll undermine more than just the election,” said Ororo, “And Hank says there’s a good chance he’ll expose it tonight.”

“What makes him so sure?” asked Scott.

“Because he also intercepted a message from the CIA. A major operation is about to begin.”

“Double translation, he hooked up with Tessa again to hack this out,” said Rogue.

“Wait...who’s Tessa?” asked Warren, having not been in the loop for a while.

“Long story,” replied Rogue, “But let’s just say she and Beast have been making time for each other in between hackin’ government files.”

“If hacking really is the right word,” said Bobby.

Ororo shifted slightly at the mention of Tessa. She was aware that Hank had been talking to her again. Since she was a major factor in their breakup, she still harbored her share of resentment for that woman. But she set that aside for the time being.

“What kind of operation are we talking about here?” asked Scott.

“A very ambitious one,” said Ororo, “They’re sending in their largest force yet tonight. They’re not just out to gather data. They’re out to sabotage Genosha’s infrastructure. It’s their way of keeping Magneto in check.”

“After he came close to destroying zhe whole vorld? Are zhey really zhat willing to provoke him?!” exclaimed Kurt.

“They’re the government, Elf. Being painfully stupid is practically a job requirement,” made Logan.

“That may be true, Logan. But that’s exactly why we have to stop this!” said Jean, “And if at all possible, we need to do it quietly.”

“Since when does it matter whether or not we do a mission quietly?” asked Bobby, “Isn’t that pretty much impossible when dealing with Magneto and the Brotherhood?”

“We’re going to have to make it possible, Bobby,” said Ororo, “Remember, any incident that can undermine the Professor’s media campaign will be exploited. So we have to be extra careful. Beast has already put together a plan for us.”

“What kind of plan?” asked Shadowcat anxiously.

“The kind that won’t satisfy either side, but will keep the conflict in check.”

A number of X-men groaned at the prospect. As if their jobs weren’t hard enough, now they had to worry about media impact. It was almost as if they were running for president as well and their every action was being scrutinized. It sort of took away from the heroic aspect of their cause and made it political.

“Boy, when did playing hero become so complicated?” groaned Kitty.

“When was it not?” argued Warren.

“Complicated or not, Storm is right. We have to be careful,” said Scott as he gripped the controls, “I’ll contact Hank to get the rest of the details. With any luck, we’ll catch them before they start their operation. And I’ll have time for another chat with my little brother.”

“And what if Magneto be the one to find them first?” asked Remy.

“Then we’ll have two fights on our hands and a hell of a lot of damage control to worry about. That’s why we’re not going to let it get to that point. The Professor is doing his part with his interview tonight. Let’s make sure we do ours.”

NBC Studios – New York

The interview had been going on for about a half hour now. Professor Xavier had been talking extensively about the political issues concerning mutants, spending a good portion of his time on Magneto. He made it a point to highlight the exploits of his X-men. It was important he remind the world that his students were using their powers for good and there were other mutants out there that could follow if understanding overcame fear. However, the interviewer wasn’t making it easy for him.

“You’re clearly very proud of your X-men, Professor,” said the interviewer.

“I most certainly am,” he smiled, “While the members have changed, their role has not. They are a force for peace in a world that is not always peaceful. They stand against those such as Magneto who would insight violence.”

“So then why are the X-men working under the guise of a school? If you truly want them to be heroes, why not join forces with authorities and be a legitimate force for peace?”

“With all due respect, you’re assuming the government would respect our mission and not exploit our efforts for their own political gain,” quipped Xavier with a humored grin.

“Duly noted,” said the interviewer sheepishly, “But still, why do you insist on having the X-men operate as they do? What has driven you to fight your cause in this manner?”

This was getting into more personal matters. It was something he knew he would have to touch on sooner or later. Pausing for a moment, he looked over at Lilandra. She had been watching intently and he sensed she was just as curious about his response. Even though they had come to know one another fairly well, there were still some details of his life he hadn’t revealed.

“To answer that question, it requires me to talk about certain parts of my past that are not well known. If you would bear with me, I may be able to explain.”

“Please do,” said the interviewer, “Our next commercial break is not for a while.”

Charles Xavier took a deep breath as he prepared to reveal the deeper aspects of his life. With the world watching him, now seemed the ideal moment to open up.

“As you know, I am a cancer survivor,” he began, “But during my battle against this disease, I met a woman named Moria MacTaggart. She was a doctor who specialized in mutant studies. She worked very closely with my oncologist during my treatment.”

“Was she a mutant?”

“No, but her son was,” Xavier replied, “I remember during the course of our treatments, she would go on and on about her son. She said she knew he was special from the day he was born. She just didn’t know how special until his mutant powers manifested at a young age. And as fate would have it, his abilities were quite intense. He had…difficulty controlling them and an even greater difficulty accepting them.”

“Were they dangerous?” asked the interviewer.

“As I’ve said before, any uncontrolled mutant power can be potentially dangerous. But this young man’s powers were especially volatile. I would constantly listen to Moria lament at how hard it was on him. It took a toll on her as well. She often confided how much she worried that he would never fit in or accept who he was.”

“It sounds like you were close.”

Xavier’s demeanor tone shifted. He noticed Lilandra shifting as well. She picked up on the same sentiment. It was not easy for him to hide given the nature of this story, but it was also a big part of how it panned out.

“We were close. For a time we were more than just doctor and patient,” Xavier revealed, “But that’s another story entirely. The main conflict arose when Moria’s son started lashing out. No longer able to control his abilities, he could not attend school and he could not go out in public anymore. He became a prisoner in his own home…in his own body even. And that’s when I made a decision that would greatly affect me and my X-men later on.”

“And what was that?” asked the interviewer, now looking very intrigued.

“First off, bear in mind that I am very weakened at this point. My body is failing fast due to the cancer and my strength is poor at best. But I pushed through these limitations and paid a visit to the boy. He was only nine at the time so he was very confused and angry. I started working with him. I talked to him, I taught him, and I helped him see his powers in a new light. At first I was just helping someone I cared about, but in that time I had what you may call an epiphany.”

Xavier’s expression shifted again. Now he was smiling again, reflecting on the fonder aspects of this memory. It was one of those times in his life that had a special place in his heart.

“Working with this boy gave me a level of fulfillment I had never felt before. It was exhilarating for me, a man dying of cancer, to help this boy with abilities that could easily become destructive if used improperly. I felt like a hero. I wasn’t just saving this boy from himself. I was helping him understand who he is. It was through that experience that the X-men were born.”

“That’s all it took? That one experience?”

“Indeed,” he affirmed, “I believe that epiphany played a part in me being able to overcome cancer. It inspired me to re-focus my efforts on the human/mutant struggle. There are still a lot of mutants out there just like that boy who struggle with their powers and endure many hardships at the hands of bigotry and intolerance. Through my X-men, I seek to both help and guide them as humanity as a whole continues down this exciting new path.”

Professor Xavier continued smiling. He noticed Lilandra smile as well. It was not the most exciting origins of a team of mutant heroes, but it carried an emotional impact that sent a powerful message to all those watching.

“That’s…an ambitious goal, Professor,” said the interviewer, “One might say it’s overly optimistic.”

“That may be so. Magneto himself has pointed that out to me many times. But I believe it is still worth fighting for. And that’s what my X-men hope to do, no matter how the nature of our struggle changes.”

“Is that why you eventually turned this school of yours into a world famous peacekeeping force that throws itself into conflicts all around the world?”

“Like I said, the nature of our struggle changes, but that’s not entirely why the X-men have evolved into what they are today,” said the Professor in a humored tone, “That process is yet another story...one that may take a whole other special to tell.”

“Well for the sake of our sponsors, we’ll have to wait on that,” said the interviewer with a lighthearted grin, “But regardless of how the X-men came into being, do you believe they will continue to be a factor if the election doesn’t turn out in your favor?”

“Absolutely,” said Professor Xavier confidently, “If there is one power all my X-men share it’s the uncanny ability to adapt to new situations. And regardless of what Magneto or future president does in the future, I’m confident they will be able to handle it.”

There was a strength in his tone. It wasn’t just confidence. It was certainty. He believed in his X-men and through his words, he was urging the rest of the world to believe in them as well. It was a powerful moment. It impressed many, especially Lilandra.

‘Good job, Charles. Your X-men would be proud as well.’

Professor Xavier smiled back. As difficult as it was to get so personal on camera, her warm thoughts further strengthened his resolve. It not only improved his chances with the public, it improved his chances with her as well.

“On that note we’ll take a short break. When we return, we’ll talk more about the mutant issue. Stay tuned for this and much more when we return.”

Genosha – North Shore

It was the dead of night as several inflated motorboats arrived on Genosha’s rocky shores. This was a rugged part of the island. The nearest populated area was over a mile away and few of Magneto’s patrols ever paid attention to this section of the island. It was the perfect place to conduct this daring operation.

“Hurry up! Deflate the boats! Hide anything made of metal! Let’s not give you-know-who a chance to screw us over!”

The assertive voice belonged to the leader of this covert operation. Their squad consisted of two dozen men, all with advanced training in Special Forces and covert espionage. None of them bore any emblems from a country or international entity. They weren’t all from a single country either. They were entrusted with this most sensitive of operations. If they failed, their entire existence would be denied and no rescue would be conducted. They were ghosts in every sense and as such they would be doing their share of haunting on this island.

As soon as they were on the beaches, they stashed their inflatable boats away behind some rocks. They then gathered at the top of the beach. They all bore the same black uniforms and each of them was carrying a small but versatile backpack. Their supplies would be limited, but they were going to make each asset count.

“Alright listen up!” barked the squad leader, “Our mission has officially begun. About a mile north of here is a small town with only few dozen mutants lofting about. That town is going to be our staging area. From there some of us will set up a radio link. Their jobs will be to intercept any and all communications throughout the island. If Magneto’s planning something, we gotta know about it!”

“We’re already halfway there sir,” one of the units pointed out, “Our last team of spies set up some bugs in the comm lines. We’ll be plugged in as soon as we arrive.”

“We damn well better! But in the meantime, the rest of us our going to do some sight-seeing! Each of you has some tools and a limited amount of explosives. With this, we’re going to do a little remodeling of Genosha’s utility infrastructure. Water, power, food, and sewage are our priorities. By the time we’re done here, Magneto’s going to be feeling the heat and his country is going to be falling apart at the seams. Everybody clear?”

“Sir yes sir!” the squad instinctively barked.

It was a bold mission against a powerful enemy. The squad was under no illusions. If Magneto found them, they were as good as dead.

“Now then, it’s time to suit up!” said the squad leader as he opened his backpack, “For the duration of this mission, you’ve all been given some masks, makeup, and assorted body art to make yourself look like a mutant. You’ve also been given a fictional mutant power so if anybody asks, you are a full blooded, human hating mutie. Got it?”

“Sir yes sir!” they said again.

“Good! Then as of this moment there will be no more discussion! The mission has officially begun! Move carefully men, but show no mercy!”

The two dozen commandos fell silent and dawned their mutant disguises. They were crude, looking no different than a common Halloween costume. But they didn’t need anything fancy. They just needed something that would get them through this mission. Now wearing a mask himself, the squad leader took charge and led his comrades up the beach. But just as he was about to step out onto a grassy ridge, something hit him.

“A little late for a dip, eh boys?” came a fast-paced voice.

Suddenly, the silence of the night was shattered as a series of blinding fast white streaks blew by them. Before they knew it, half the squad was hit by what felt like a clean punch to the gut. The squad leader quickly surmised it was an attack.

“We’re being ambushed! Fall back!” he ordered.

“Oh no you don’t!”

The squad leader was promptly drop kicked to the sandy ground. As he fell, the speedy figure of Quicksilver appeared over him. Having caught the squad completely by surprise, they were all scrambling for cover on the rocky shores. But there was nowhere to hide for them. Quicksilver already knew they were screwed.

Six squad members tried to dash behind a couple of large boulders. But just as they were about to dive behind them, they were met with another imposing force. From behind the bolder, the imposing Blob emerged. Standing beside him were Pyro and Toad. They quickly stopped them in their tracks with an attack of their own.

“Far as you go, pipsqueaks!” taunted Blob.

“Yeah! You don’t wanna leave before the bar-be-que, do you?” laughed Pyro.

“Roast em, Pyro! Make them pay for waking us up at this ungodly hour!” said Toad.

Upon igniting his lighters, Pyro formed two massive fireballs and shot them right at the bewildered operatives. Two were seriously burned while the rest ducked out of the way. This situation kept going from bad to worse.

“Ahhhhhh! Somebody put me out!” yelled one of the men who were on fire.

“Get to the beach! We have to get out of here!” yelled another.

“You guys aren’t going anywhere!” said Toad, “You’re on our turf! You play by our rules!”

As they tried to flee, Toad leapt into the air and spat thick globs of slime towards the operatives. The slimy goo struck them right in their legs and hardened quickly. The hapless commandos quickly fell to the sandy ground. They continued to struggle, but Blob came in and finished the job by knocking them out. Nobody would be leaving until they faced justice mutant style.

With Blob, Toad, and Pyro cutting off their escape to the east and Quicksilver cutting them off to the north, that left only the embankment on the west. Most of the squad ran in that direction, seeking to put as much distance between them and the mutants as possible. It was becoming increasingly clear that this mission was doomed.

“This job is a bust!” yelled one of the commandos, “Ain’t no way I’m going to a court with Magneto as the judge!”

“I’m with you! That leaves only one way out!” said another.

As they ran, many of the commandos took out a small pill they had stashed away in their suits. It was a potassium-cyanide capsule, better known as a suicide pill. For some missions, death was the only way out. And these pills would save them from the torment they were sure to endure under Magneto. But as they prepared to bite into them, a mysterious force literally tore each pill from their hands. Many of the commandos stopped running and fell back. Now they were in real trouble.

Over a ridge to the west, the rest of the Brotherhood emerged. Havok led the way with Lorna, Avalanche, and the Scarlet Witch following close behind. The Scarlet Witch’s hand was glowing bright purple, indicating that she was the one who ripped the pills away from their hands. There would be no cowardice tonight. These men would face the consequences of their actions.

“No one is taking the easy way out,” said the Scarlet Witch as she used her powers to crush the pills, “All of you are in violation of an international treaty.”

“And you know what that means,” said Havok as he cracked his knuckles, “Before you go to trial, we’re gonna kick your ass!”

With bold intent, Havok leapt off the ridge and ran straight towards the commandos. It was a brash action, even for the Brotherhood. But it showed a confidence and assertiveness that the Brotherhood hadn’t seen before.

”This guy’s pretty off,” commented Avalanche.

“And brave,” added Lorna, “He knows how to carry himself.”

“That remains to be seen,” said the Scarlet Witch, “The two of you know what to do.”

“Right!” said Avalanche as he clenched his fists, “Let’s show our guests a warm welcome!”

Grunting intently, Avalanche summoned a round of tremors in the rocky beach around them. He worked them in a way that caused the sand and rocks to shift violently, causing massive uplifts in the surface. This created large rocky ridges around the area that literally boxed in the disorganized commandos. This way none of them would escape. Every one of them was going to stand and fight.

Havok quickly displayed his fighting prowess. He boldly attacked the combat-trained commandos head on. First, he disoriented them with a powerful energy blast from his hands. Six of the commandos scrambled and one was injured. As soon as he came across one that was still on his feet, he slugged him hard across the face. When another tried to assist his comrade, Havok took him down to with a kick to the shin and an uppercut to the jaw. It wasn’t fancy or flashy, just good old fashioned street fighting. Not to be outdone, Quicksilver and Avalanche moved in to get in the action. Havok may not have inspired them to fight with charisma, but he did push them to fight harder. If for no other reason it was just so they wouldn’t be upstaged.

Soon nearly half of the two dozen commandos were out or incapacitated. And because of the rocky barriers Avalanche created, they had no means of escape. Their only choice was to fight back. Luckily, they were prepared.

“We’re pinned down! All remaining units initiate plan delta!” yelled one of the commandos.

“Plan delta?” laughed Quicksilver, “What kind of lame-ass plan is that?”

To answer the speedster’s question, the remaining commandos opened up their backpacks and took out what appeared to be some very advanced weapons. They looked like miniature shotguns, only much more high tech. They were all a metallic-colored plastic with a couple of ominous red lights on the side and what looked like a strange blue battery pack in the handle. The commandos didn’t waste time in putting them to good use. Five commandos who made it back to the edge of the water took aim with them and fired. The ensuing blast unleashed a concentrated burst of bluish energy. Quicksilver was able to dodge it, but when it struck the rocky barrier behind him it left quite a mark. When he and the rest of the Brotherhood saw this, they weren’t nearly as cocky.

“You just had to ask, didn’t you?” groaned the Scarlet Witch.

“Big deal! We can still take them!” boasted the speedster.

Quicksilver made a run towards the five commandos. Before he got halfway there, another one got a shot off. This time he didn’t miss. The bluish energy blast hit the speedy mutant. Immediately he was overwhelmed by a paralyzing surge as he was bathed in sparks. It was like being hit by lightning and sent him tumbling into the sand.

“Ahhhhhhhh!” he cried out.

“Damn it, Pietro! This is why you’re not the leader anymore!” his sister grunted.

She ran to her brother’s aid. Toad came over to help as well, but the commandos quickly took aim at her.

“Hang on, babe! I got your back!” said Pyro upon seing this.

“Pyro wait!” exclaimed Havok.

But he didn’t listen. As a result, the next shot from the commandos hit him. He endured the same painful shock as Quicksilver, causing him to fall to the ground. He let out the same agonizing groan. For the first time, the Brotherhood was taking hits.

“What are you waiting for, Summers?! Take them out!” spat Avalanche.

“I got it under control!” said Alex confidently, “Blob, protect Pyro! Avalanche, help him up! Lorna, see if you can disarm them!”

“Jeez, he is Cyclops’s brother! Only a Summers can be that annoying while barking orders!” groaned Blob.

“Stop complaining and do as his says!” said Lorna, who was still hovering in the air.

Blob didn’t like the situation any more than the rest of the Brotherhood, but he did as he was told. He protectively stood over Pyro while Avalanche helped him up. The Scarlet Witch did the same for Quicksilver, using her hex bolts to keep the rest of the commandos from drawing their weapons. It left only those who had gathered near the waterline. That was where Havok and Lorna would finish the job.

While Lorna was not the most well-trained combatant, she had the mental toughness to do her job. That’s why her father sent her on this mission. Havok drew the fire of the commandos by making another bold charge towards them.

“Take him down!” yelled one of the commandos.

They all opened fire on Havok, unleashing a fury of bright blue bursts. The new Brotherhood leader dove to the ground to avoid them, giving Lorna the chance she needed to take them down. Since the weapons lacked metal, she couldn’t just rip them out of their hands. But she quickly noticed the inflatable rafts they had used to come ashore. They were all propelled by motors which had metal in them. Upon seeing this, she summoned her powers and levitated them into the air.

“Gotta use the chances the enemy provides us. Just as father says,” she said boldly.

With the metal in the motors as ammunition, she unleashed a wave of shredded metal parts on the commandos. Their attack was quickly thwarted and most of their weapons disabled. They were forced to take cover in order to avoid the barrage. Only two managed to hang onto their weapons.

“Damn it! I thought this was a metal-free operation?!” grunted a commando.

“Tell that to the jerk who gave us the boats!” replied another, “Just shut shoot her!”

One of the commandos who still had a weapon stayed low to the ground and took aim. Despite the awkward angle, he got a shot off. When Lorna saw this she tried to avoid it, but she wasn’t fast enough. The bluish energy beam grazed her right side and she fell to the rocky beach below.

“Augh!” she cried out.

“Hurry up! Alpha maneuver!” exclaimed another commando.

“Oh boy…another maneuver,” groaned Toad, who was still huddled with Quicksilver.

This time, their actions were bolder. The other commando who still had his weapon ran out and grabbed the downed Lorna by the neck. With dominating strength, he pulled her up and put the weapon to her head. Since she was stunned, she couldn’t use her powers to free herself. It put Havok and the rest of the Brotherhood in a precarious position.

“Get back, kiddies! Or your playmate here gets a permanent time out!” the commando spat.

“Lorna!” exclaimed the Scarlet Witch, “You let her go or…”

“Shut up, Wanda! I got this!” said Havok as he carefully stepped forth.

“Don’t take another step!” barked the operative, “You are going to let me and my men go first! Then I’ll let the girl go!”

He pressed the weapon closer to her head to show that he was serious, but Havok remained undaunted.

“No deal,” he said sternly, “You let her go now or you’ll be sorry!”

“I don’t think so, punk!” spat the commando, “Now step the fuck back!”

Havok didn’t listen. He kept inching his way closer. The tension was building. The rest of the Brotherhood wasn’t sure what to do. Any wrong move and Lorna would pay the price. With Pyro and Quicksilver out of the fight, the rest of the team could only watch. The Scarlet Witch was prepared to use her hex powers to stop this, but Havok waved her down.

“You better know what you’re doing!” seethed the Scarlet Witch.

“Don’t worry. Your sister will be fine,” said Havok, “This guy looks tough and sounds tough, but he’s still afraid. He’s afraid because no matter how strong he is, he’s not a mutant. And he can never match us.”

These words enraged the commando.

“Boy, you done lost your mind! You have any idea how many war zones I’ve been in?! I got no problem capping this little bitch!”

“Then why don’t you do it?” he tempted, “You’ll be bringing Magneto’s full wrath on yourself and the rest of humanity. But if you’re so brave, that shouldn’t stop you.”

The Scarlet Witch and the rest of the Brotherhood now saw what he was doing. Havok was psyching out the man. It was tantamount to trash talking. Itwas grossly immature, but it seemed to work. The commando’s hand was shaking now. Havok was getting him to overthink. That would give him all the opportunity he needed.

“Errrrrr! Shut up, freak!” he exclaimed.

In a brash response, he turned the weapon away from Lorna and pointed it at Havok. When the younger Summers brother saw this, he reacted instinctively. He fired a small concentrated burst at his hand. Just as the weapon went off, the blast hit him and caused it to literally burst. His hand was severely burned and as he keeled over in pain, he struggled to maintain his grip on Lorna.

“Auuuggghhhhh! My hand!” he yelled.

Havok ran in to get him away from Lorna. But to his and everyone else’s surprise, Lorna got herself out. As soon as the man keeled over, she fought out his grip. Then with a frustrated grunt, she roughly kneed the man right in the groin. This put him in even more pain and effectively took him out of the fight.

“Ungh! Bet your hand doesn’t feel so bad now!” she grunted.

This show of toughness surprised the Brotherhood. Even the Scarlet Witch was impressed. Lorna showed her share of toughness in the past, but this was new to them. She may just be good Brotherhood material after all.

“Dude…” said Avalanche, cringing somewhat at what Lorna just did.

“I know. Even I felt that,” commented Toad.

Havok was especially impressed. Lorna didn’t look like much of a fighter on the surface, but she just showed she could get the job done. It was a strange mix of subtlety and boldness. He found it difficult not to admire that.

“Wow…” he said to Lorna, “Guess you’re tougher than you look.”

Lorna blushed at his comment. The way he was looking at her and the way he handled himself in helping her really struck her. She tried not to let it show too much. Even in the heat of battle, teenage hormones had a way of obscuring the mission.

While this moment showed a clear dominance for the Brotherhood, the fight was not over. Many of the commandos were knocked out, disarmed, or just plain out of the fight. Only one other commando still had their weapon. Growing increasingly desperate, he rose up and took aim for one last stand.

“If we’re going down we’re taking some of you with us!” he yelled.

He pointed the weapon at Havok and prepared to fire. But this time, he was thwarted by a different force. A cold gust of wind blew through the beach and an unseen force literally yanked the weapon right out of his hand. This surprised not just the commando, but the Brotherhood as well.

“Uh…I thought those things had no metal in them,” said Toad.

“They don’t. That wasn’t me,” said Lorna grimly.

“But I think I know where it came from,” groaned Havok as looked up.

The commandos and the Brotherhood directed their attention to the sky. From the clouds above, they saw the X-men descending into the mayhem. Guided by the winds of Storm and armed with the telekinesis of Marvel Girl, they landed between the commandos and the Brotherhood. The moment Cyclops saw Havok, his face tensed with anger and disappointment. It was yet another bitter reunion for the two Summers brothers.

“I know it feels like we’ve just been through this, Alex. But stand down!” Cyclops ordered.

“Or at least save the brotherly love for later!” said Iceman, “Because this has gotta stop before it blows up in all our faces…again.”

“It won’t!” said Storm confidently, “X-men, secure the commandos!”

“Like you gotta encourage me to beat up military types,” snarled Wolverine.

Cyclops immediately attacked his brother, tackling him to the ground and trying to restrain him. While they fought, the X-men followed the plan. Nightcrawler teleported right up to Blob, Toad, and Avalanche and grabbed the commandos that Toad had slimed earlier. Blob tried to attack him before he could get away, but all he got was a face full of sulfurous smoke.

“Get back here you little rat!” yelled Blob.

“Ease up, big fella. That anger can’t be good for your health…as if you care,” grinned Gambit as he came in and hit Blob with some charged cards to blind him.

While Gambit kept Blob and Toad at bay, Rogue flew in and scooped up the units around Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. She was an easy target for a barrage of hex bolts and the Scarlet Witch wasted no time in unleashing her wrath.

“No! These men have to stand trial!” she exclaimed.

“I’m sorry, Wanda! But times are too fragile to be this petty!” urged Storm as she flew in to back up Rogue.

“Ah don’t think she’s gonna listen this time, Storm!” said Rogue as she narrowly dodged another hex bolt.

Rogue was right. The Scarlet Witch didn’t let up. She kept trying to hex Rogue while protectively hovering over her wounded brother. Storm had no choice but to attack. Using her powers, she brought in some winds from the sea and blew her back against the rocky barrier created by Avalanche. This didn’t knock her out, but it did stun her long enough to get the commandos away.

Not far from the Maximoff twins, Avalanche was trying to secure the last batch of commandos he had on his side. He watched as Shadowcat and Angel bore bearing down on his position. Clenching his fists, he summoned another tremor. This time he used it to trigger a sharp uplift in the rocks surrounding the commandos. This created a tall, thick barrier between him and the two X-men. But it wouldn’t do him a lot of good.

“You X-men are out of your jurisdiction! You’re not taking these criminals away from us!” yelled Avalanche.

“You should talk, Alvers. I’ve seen your arrest record,” said Shadowcat who didn’t even slow down.

Using her phasing powers, Shadowcat ran right through the rocky barrier and grabbed the bewildered commandos. Most were not seriously injured so she was able to help them up and get them out of their rocky prison. When Avalanche saw this, he became even more frustrated.

“Oh no you don’t!” he yelled as he prepared another tremor.

But before he could attack again, Angel flew in from above and hit him with a flying kick.

“Oh yes we do!” grinned the winged mutant as he landed the blow.

Avalanche was out and so were the Maximoff twins. Nearly every commando was secure now. Wolverine and Marvel Girl secured the rest. Only Wolverine was a lot less friendly with the commandos. He grabbed them by the collar and literally dragged them across the beach. When some resisted, he wasn’t afraid to get rough with them.

“Let go of me!” one complained, “We don’t need help from you X-men!”

“You think I wanna help? I’d rather let Blob eat you!” grunted Wolverine, “But as it just so happens, you’re better as failures than you are Magneto’s toys!”

To shut him up, Wolverine slugged him across the face. This earned him a look from Marvel Girl, but he ignored it and tossed the commando in the group with the others. He was about to get the last one when he encountered Lorna. Unlike previous battles, she was not an ally. With nervous reluctance, she used her powers to freeze Wolverine where he stood.

“Augh! Damn it, I hate magnet people!” growled Wolverine.

“X-men please…stop this!” said Lorna desperately, “What you’re doing is wrong! These people are spies who were going to sabotage our island! We’re just bringing them to justice!”

Marvel Girl promptly flew in and used her telekinesis to push Lorna back.

“I’m sorry, Lorna. But it just can’t be that simple!” said Marvel Girl.

“Since when are the X-men against simple justice?!” she demanded.

“There’s nothing simple about Magneto’s form of justice. Judging these men is not going to make our situation any better! It’s just going to make mutants everywhere even bigger targets!”

“Maybe so, but it’s the right thing to do! We can’t just overlook this sort of thing!” she argued.

“I actually agree with you, Lorna,” said Marvel Girl solemnly, “But in complicated situations, you can’t always do what’s right.”

Lorna kept fighting, using her powers to push Wolverine away a bit. But Marvel Girl pushed harder, using her telekinesis to knock her back against a nearby boulder. This freed Wolverine. He was a bit stiff, but it wasn’t the first time he had been tormented by a magnetic attack. It probably wouldn’t be the last either.

“Thanks Jeannie,” he muttered, “Can we get this over with and get the hell out of here?”

“Gladly,” said Marvel Girl as she turned to Iceman, “Iceman, secure the commandos. I’ll put them under so they don’t remember any of this.”

“Sure thing,” said Iceman distantly, who couldn’t take his eyes off Lorna, “The last thing I want to do is stay here longer than we need to.”

This was the first time Iceman had seen his ex-girlfriend since they broke up. Needless to day, the circumstances could have been better. Her words about administering justice Magneto style really struck him. It showed just how much she had taken to the Brotherhood. As if her choosing to stay with her father wasn’t hard enough, she was now playing an active role in his affairs.

Swallowing his regret, Iceman slid around on an ice slide and used his powers to form a block around all two dozen commandos. With Marvel Girl’s psionic touch, they were all soon put into a psychically induced sleep. It would keep them docile while they settled this mess up and there was plenty to settle.

Cyclops and Havok were still fighting. The two Summers brothers had been locked in a brawl since the X-men arrived. Their personal plight kept them distracted, which was just what they needed. The frustrations from District X were still fresh in their minds. Havok was bitter about having to go to jail and Cyclops was bitter about him jumping ship and joining the Brotherhood. As if their history wasn’t riddled with enough complications, this took it to a whole new level.

“Why are you doing this, Alex?! Picking fights and starting riots is one thing! But joining the Brotherhood?!” Cyclops exclaimed as he held his brother in a choke hold.

“You have your mutant team! Why can’t I have mine?!” spat Havok.

The younger Summers managed to elbow Cyclops in the stomach, loosening his grip and allowing him to pull away and drop kick him. The X-leader stumbled back, but kept fighting.

“If you’re doing this just to spite me, you’re doing this for all the wrong reasons!” said Cyclops, “I’m sorry you had to go to jail! I really am! But going to Magneto for vengeance is not the way to deal with it!”

“Don’t act like this is all about you, Scott! It isn’t!” yelled Havok, “I joined the Brotherhood because I wanted to! Magneto gave me an opportunity and I took it!”

“He’s only using you, Alex! Just like he uses everyone!”

“It’s no different than how Xavier uses you! You’re a fighter for his cause just as I’m a fighter for Magneto’s!”

“You’re negating one little detail! Magneto is a madman!”

“Now you’re resorting to name-calling? I thought you were supposed to be the mature one!” quipped Havok.

The two Summers brothers stepped up their fight. Cyclops adjusted his visor and unleashed a powerful optic blast. Havok did the same, charging his own energy blasts in his hands and unleashing it in a concentrated burst. These two similar energies clashed in a burst of bright sparks. Neither seemed to be stronger and neither seemed willing to back down. It was dragging the fight out even longer.

As the rest of the X-men were gathering around the commandos, they watched the battle rage. Marvel Girl grew especially concerned. She remembered how bad it got between these two in District X. She let them fight it out then, but seeing them both struggle so much she couldn’t allow it to happen this time. There were bigger things to worry about besides sibling rivalries.

‘Scott! You have to end this! We have the commandos! Don’t make this worse than District X!’

‘I can’t stop, Jean! This is my brother! I can’t let this happen to him! I already lost Gabriel to Sinister! I won’t lose Alex to Magneto!’

‘I know you want to save them. I understand more than you think! I lost Madelyn to Sinister as well! There was nothing I could do and it pisses me off to no end! She made her decision just like Alex did! And by fighting him like this, you’re just making it worse!’

Cyclops continued to struggle as his girlfriend’s words echoed in his mind. The energy between him and Havok was building, threatening to make this situation all the more explosive. But Marvel Girl kept pushing him.

‘Please Scott…you need to be the stronger brother here. Part of being stronger is knowing when NOT to fight. You’re better than this! I know you are! You know what you have to do!’

Cyclops continued to struggle. As he looked over at his enraged brother and contemplated his lover’s words, he realized she was right. Between him, Alex, and Gabriel the Summers brothers had nothing but anger and hatred. They were family torn apart by tragedy and they were tearing themselves apart even further with this. Alex wasn’t going to step up and neither was Gabriel. That meant it was up to him.

In an unexpected move, Cyclops halted his blasts. As a result, Havok’s blasts burst through and hit him head on. Because of their similar powers Cyclops was able to absorb it, but it still put him in a world of pain. He fell to his knees. Havok then ran up to him and grabbed him by the neck.

“What the hell, Scott? Don’t tell me you’re giving up on me!” grunted Havok.

“No…I’m not giving up,” he said through the pain, “But I won’t keep fighting you like this either, Alex. This has to stop!”

“You expect me to just stop after you let them haul me off to jail?!”

“Don’t act like I forced you. That was your decision,” the X-leader reminded, “I asked you to do the right thing. And you did. Now I’m asking you do it again.”

Havok looked at his brother in confusion. This had to be some sort of trick. Scott didn’t just give up on a fight like this. He kept pushing him and pushing him until he conformed with how he wanted him to be. There was no way he would just change his mind.

“If you’re asking me to just quit and go back to jail, you’re wasting your time!” he yelled as he clenched his fists.

“Forget about what happened in District X!” grunted Cyclops, “Let’s talk about the here and now! Because this is bigger than you and me! This involves all mutants, Brotherhood and X-men! And I’m asking you as a brother to do what’s best for everybody!”

“What makes you think you know what’s best?” scoffed Havok, “Magneto wants these people punished! And he has a right to defend his land!”

“I’m not saying he doesn’t! But…there may be a better way,” said Cyclops, “If you just hear us out!”

It still sounded like a trick. Havok’s grip on Cyclops’s neck weakened somewhat. He knew his brother well enough to know when he was being serious. He could see it in his face. The rest of the Brotherhood couldn’t see it and he could tell they were intent on seeing him finish the fight.

“What are you waiting for fearless leader? Sock him one already!” yelled Toad.

“Shut up, Toad! He knows what he’s doing!” said Lorna, who took it more seriously.

Havok finally released his brother. Cyclops rose up, not responding with any counterblow. It surprised even some of the X-men.

“Ten bucks says Cyke throws the next punch,” said Wolverine.

“No deal, Wolverine,” said Marvel Girl seriously, “We came here with a plan, remember? Beast gave us some options. So let’s use them.”

Marvel Girl took it from there, flying over towards Havok and Cyclops and landing between them. This way they would have to go through a telekinetic barrier if they wanted to restart their brotherly spat. Cyclops was still seething at his brother somewhat, but he stayed calm and let Marvel Girl do the talking.

“Havok, I know you and the Brotherhood want justice for these men. I can’t say I blame you. But you can’t be this willing to turn it into an international incident!”

“So what do you expect us to do? Just let them go?” scoffed Havok.

“No, I’m just suggesting something a little less extreme. We can do justice here without inciting hatred.”

“And how do you propose we do that?” said Havok skeptically.

Marvel Girl reached into her pocket and took out a communicator. This was part of the option that Beast gave them at the start of this mission. In addition to finding out about the operation, he and Tessa put together a solution.

“Instead of having an X-man explain it, I was thinking you should hear it from someone you trust. I know you cut your ties with District X, but I also know you still owe a lot to people like Tessa and Bishop. Even though you caused them a lot of trouble, they still want to help you.”

Marvel Girl tossed the communicator to Havok, who instinctively caught it. He still looked at Marvel Girl and the rest of the X-men with great suspicion. None-the-less, he answered the communicator and heard a familiar voice on the other end.

“Hello?” he said, “Tessa? What’s this about?”

For the next few moments, the X-men and Brotherhood watched anxiously as Havok listened to Tessa on the other end. They couldn’t make out what she was saying, but they could see that Havok was taking it very seriously. More seriously than he would have if someone like Cyclops or Marvel Girl was explaining it to him. The Brotherhood wasn’t sure what to make of it. Havok was supposed to be the leader. Whatever he decided was going to carry some weight whether they liked it or not.

“Who the hell is he talking to?” wondered Blob.

“I have no idea, but I’m pretty sure I don’t like where this is going,” said Avalanche.

After another minute or so of listening, Havok’s expression hardened. He didn’t say a word into the communicator. He just turned it off and tossed it back to Cyclops. He looked over at the Brotherhood. Then he looked back towards the unconscious commandos that were being restrained by Iceman. He was still determined to fight, but just like he did in District X he was willing to make a hard decision.

“Okay Scott. You and your X-men have a deal,” said Havok, “You can take the commandos.”

“What?! Are you under some kind of mind control now?!” exclaimed Avalanche, “Magneto’s orders were clear! He wants these people to face justice!”

“And they will, but on subtler terms,” said Havok, “I know what Magneto’s orders are. But he also said our chief concern is the protection of Genosha. And I feel this is the best way to do it.”

It utterly outraged the Brotherhood. Havok was supposed to be a strong leader and strong leaders didn’t give in like this. They were ready to fight him over this. Only Lorna and the Scarlet Witch took it seriously and they made sure it didn’t escalate.

“Are you sure about this, Havok? My father may not be pleased,” asked the Scarlet Witch as she continued to hover over Quicksilver protectively.

“He made me the leader. This is my decision. If there are consequences, I’ll deal with them,” said Havok strongly.

“Oh that’s just fine and dandy!” scoffed Blob dryly, “You come along saying you’re going to make us better and already you’re getting soft?!”

“It’s not soft to make hard decisions. None of you seem to get that and that, which is probably why none of you emerged as leaders,” said Lorna, stepping forth to defend Havok, “Alex is the leader. He’s making this decision. I may not agree with it completely, but I’m willing to do what I can to make it work. If you really value this team, the rest of you should as well.”

Coming from Magneto’s daughter, her words carried plenty of weight. Blob, Toad, Avalanche, and the Scarlet Witch had to respect it. When Quicksilver and Pyro woke up, they were going to have to respect it too. Lorna showed her support, standing close to Havok. It was a gesture that raised a few eyebrows, especially with Iceman.

“You’ve really done it, Lorna. You’re a product of your father now,” said Iceman.

Lorna heard this and looked away, having no response for her ex-lover. His demeanor didn’t go unnoticed by Shadowcat, who was understandably unnerved.

“Hello? Ground control to Bobby!” she said in an annoyed tone, “That’s your ex-girlfriend, remember? The one you moved on from?”

“I know,” he said, rubbing his neck awkwardly, “Just…kind of a harsh reminder.”

“You sure that be all it is?” commented Gambit.

Iceman groaned and turned away. Shadowcat still showed some frustration, but fell silent for the sake of not provoking another fight.

With Havok’s decision, the fighting could stop. The X-men gathered behind Cyclops and Marvel Girl to prepare the commandos for extraction. The X-jet was already on its way, ready to pick them up and take them away from this island. The rest of the Brotherhood gathered themselves as well. Blob, Avalanche, Toad, and the Scarlet Witch helped the still unconscious Pyro and Quicksilver up. The tension between the two teams was still present, but there would be no further conflict for the time being.

“So is this really how you want it to be, Alex?” asked Cyclops, “With you on the Brotherhood and me on the X-men, our paths are going to cross a lot more.”

“If that’s how it’s gotta be, then that’s how it’s gotta be,” said Havok.

“But are you sure about this? You’re my brother, Alex. You may not like me, but I don’t want to keep fighting you like this.”

“It’s out of our hands, bro. You have your place with the X-men. Me, I never found a place to belong. It wasn’t at the orphanage. It wasn’t on the streets. It wasn’t in Juvie. And it wasn’t in District X. And whether you like it or not, I believe I may have found my place here with the Brotherhood.”

It was not an easy predicament. Looking at his brother as he stood with the Brotherhood, Cyclops was tempted to fight with every fiber of his being to get him away from these people. The idea of him fighting alongside Magneto made him sick to his stomach, but he could see in his eyes that Alex had made up his mind. Accepting it would be a test of his strength, but as Marvel Girl had told him it was up to him to be the stronger brother.

“As much as I’m sure you want me to fight it, I accept it. If this is what you’re going to do, I’m not going to stop you.”

Havok couldn’t help but be surprised.

“You’re actually respecting my decision for once?” he chuckled, “You better not be joking, Scott.”

“I wish I was, but I’m serious,” affirmed the X-leader, “Just promise me you’ll be careful. And if you ever need me, as a fighter or a brother, I’m still here and I’ll never turn my back on you...even if you wish I would.”

It was a somewhat annoying way to reassure him, but Alex Summers accepted his sincerity. As much as he enjoyed seeing his brother humble himself, he wasn’t going to make more of it than he already had.

“Fine,” was all he said, “But you’re still an overbearing jerk.”

“And you’re an immature ass, so we’re even,” said Cyclops.

Havok scoffed bitterly, showing he was still going to hold a grudge. Being the more mature brother between them, Cyclops would have to endure that. Having made this difficult decision, they prepared to part ways yet again.

“Since this is probably the most civil we’re going to be with one another, I might as well get this out of the way,” said Cyclops.

“It better not be bugged or anything. I don’t need you to be keeping an eye on me,” said Havok cynically.

“It’s nothing like that, I promise,” said the X-leader, “I meant to give it to you back in District X. But given the circumstances it just didn’t feel right. These aren’t much better, but you still have a right to know.”

“Know what?” he asked curiously.

Cyclops reached into his pocket and pulled out a slip of folded paper. On it was a letter he wrote a while back regarding Gabriel and Sinister. He was originally going to send it to him in the mail. Then District X happened. He hoped to bring this up after he got him away from the Brotherhood, but that wasn’t happening so this was as good a time as any.

“It’s about someone named Gabriel,” said Cyclops as he gave his brother the paper.

“Who’s Gabriel?” he asked.

“You’ll see,” he said solemnly, “Although I recommend you read it when you’re in a good mood.”

Against his better judgment, Havok trusted his brother’s word and pocketed the paper. Whatever it was about, it was something he could deal with later. He and the rest of the Brotherhood had enough excitement for one day.

The two brothers fell silent and turned back to their respective teams. From there, they parted ways. The Brotherhood started heading back and the X-men started loading the X-jet with the commandos. Overall, it wasn’t a victory for either side. The Brotherhood didn’t get what they wanted and neither did the X-men. Now that Havok was on the Brotherhood, they were sure to see plenty more conflict. They would have to be more careful than ever now.

“Did we do the right thing, Jean?” wondered Cyclops as his lover helped him towards the jet.

“We did what we had to do. That’s all we can do,” she told him.

“But it just feels…incomplete. I think Kitty had a point. When did our jobs become so complicated? We’re not just doing the right thing anymore. We’re compromising for the sake of politics. Just like I compromised with my brother.”

“I know how you feel…on both counts,” said Marvel Girl, giving her lover an affectionate gesture, “But these are the kinds of things that push us into doing what we have to do. That’s what keeps a bad situation from becoming a full blown catastrophe.”

“Are you talking about my brother or Magneto?”

“Does it matter? We just have to keep being the better two opposing sides. That’s what makes us X-men.”

It was still a grim assessment, but Marvel Girl knew how to put in a way that made sense. She gave her lover a reassuring smile to help. It was a gesture the X-leader partially returned as he affectionately slipped his arms around her and followed the others back onto the X-jet. These personal issues were still a developing part of their relationship. For once, they confronted it and they helped each other through it.

The X-men always prided themselves on being heroes, setting examples for other mutants to look up to. Now they were acting like political tools, trying to further an agenda against men like Senator Kelly. It may have been vital for the sake of mutants everywhere, but it didn’t make these decisions any easier.

District X

Sage let out a sigh of relief upon closing the communication link to Havok. That boy may be a pig-headed juvenile, but he could still be counted on to do the right thing. Through this whole affair, she had been monitoring the situation with Hank at her office in District X. Together they uncovered this whole operation involving spies, sabotage, and corruption. They also put together an ingenious solution that would protect Professor Xavier’s public outreaching. Overall, they made for a potent team.

“Did it work?” asked Hank, who was sitting at a console next to hers.

“As well as I could have hoped,” answered Sage, “Alex still remembers that I did help him get out of Juvenile Hall a while back. So he gave me the benefit of the doubt, although I doubt he was fully satisfied with the solution.”

“I can’t say I blame him. But are you sure you can make something like this happen?”

“I’ve waded through government systems this easily so far. It isn’t that great a push to bring this matter to a fitting close.”

She already went to work, making it happen. Using her computer-like mind, she brought up a series of images on her computer screen for Hank to see. Then she ran a couple of programs that would bring it all together.

“I already have the covert orders from the CIA and Pentagon regarding the spy missions. I also extracted some memos from the President’s top generals authorizing the operation. With a little creative hacking and a few convenient press leaks, the public will be all over this by morning. It’ll leave every officer and agent in Langley scrambling. They won’t be able to run another spy operation in Newark, let alone Genosha.”

“What of the commandos?” asked Hank, “Magneto seemed to want them all hanged as war criminals.”

“They’ll get their dues as well. I’ve made sure they’ll be on their way to prison cells by tomorrow,” said Sage as she kept on typing, “Thanks to a few old friends of mine, they’ll all be hit with terrorism charges. The higher ups made a huge mistake using private spies instead of military regulars. As such they don’t have the protections of official soldiers. As part of a conspiracy, they’ll be court marshaled, sentenced, and disgraced. They won’t be publicly executed, but they will be punished.”

She made it sound like a victory even though Hank knew otherwise. It was sure to cause chaos in the current political climate, but it was also sure to stir human/mutant tensions. Magneto was certain to be emboldened and the military units watching over Genosha were sure to be more cautious as well. It wouldn’t be enough for him to have the rallying point he wanted, but Hank was certain Magneto would find some way to use this.

Overall, it was the best they could have hoped for. There were so many ways this could have gotten out of control. Professor Xavier’s prime-time interview would still carry plenty of weight. While they were working, Hank had the interview broadcast going on a TV they had mounted in the back of the room. As he looked at the image of his friend and mentor, he smiled. The fragile peace they fought for would continue for now.

“I’m sure Charles will be relieved,” he said while fixated on the broadcast, “They haven’t interrupted the story yet so it appears we’re in the clear.”

“So long as he keeps doing his part, we’ll make progress,” said Sage confidently, “It’s good you X-men are being so proactive now.”

“Indeed, my dear. But it’s just as comforting to know we have such generous allies willing to help us.”

Hank turned back to Sage and smiled. Now sitting just across from her, he reached over and placed his oversized hand on hers. It was a gesture that made her smile as well, a rare show of emotion from a woman who was so mechanical by nature. But it was a part of her he was growing to like.

“I couldn’t have done this without you, Sage,” he told her in a sincere tone, “I knew the moment I discovered this that I could trust you to do what I could not do under such rigors.”

“It helps when you’re able to provide so much extra motivation,” said Sage coyly as she moved in closer to him, “As brilliant as we are, it helps to have someone we care about push us the extra distance.”

“I would say we pushed each other in just the right ways,” said Hank, smiling even more, “The two of us make a great team.”

“That we do,” she agreed, moving in even closer, “Perhaps we can team up more often? And maybe in instances that don’t involve hacking government defense systems.”

“By stars and garters, are you trying to seduce me Miss Sage?”

Sage answered his remark by leaning in and planting a soft kiss on his furry face. If Hank’s skin were still showing, he would be blushing profusely. It was as good an answer as he could hope for as well as a promising sign of where they were going.

Next Issue: Proteus

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