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Volume 5 -- Issue 125 -- Loss and Lament

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Loss and Lament
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Life and death are part of evolution. Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men understand this better than most. They’ve used their extraordinary powers to protect a world that hates and fears them. Over the years, they’ve saved countless lives. Tin their latest battle against Sinister, they saved countless more. However, this latest victory came only after a terrible loss.

When Sinister unleashed the Legacy Virus on the world, it killed millions. All this death was meant to provide genetic information to Sinister that would further his research in unlocking the secrets of mutation. The X-men thwarted his plans when Professor Xavier unleashed a massive psychic blast all over the world that cured those afflicted with the virus. However, it still left over 300 million people dead.

Among those many deaths is John Proudstar, a former X-man who re-joined the team in hopes of stopping Sinister. His connection to the X-men was very personal. He was the one who first trained the X-men to be the heroes they eventually became. The pain of his loss will be shared by many who also lost loved ones. And as the afflicted recover, an intact yet decimated world is emerging.

Xavier Institute – Xavier’s Room

All great victories come at a price. That was something Charles Xavier learned time and again with the X-men. For the victories that weren’t so great, the price was much higher. Once again, his X-men had stopped Sinister and destroyed the Legacy Virus. But even with this triumph, over 300 million people had perished. In that sense this was hardly a victory.

“Hnn…my head,” groaned a weak and tired Charles Xavier.

“Considering the obscene strain you put on your mind and body, that’s to be expected,” came a familiar voice.

Xavier opened his eyes to find that he was in his bedroom. His head was throbbing with such intensity. It felt like his skull was trying to leap out of his head. He tried to sit up, but a gentle hand pushed him back down. As his vision cleared, he saw that the hand belonged to a very concerned Dr. Cecila Reyes.

“Cecilia…how did you get here so fast?” he asked in a raspy voice.

“You’ve been unconscious for over a day. I had plenty of time,” she told him, “As soon as your students found you hunched over Cerebrum, they called me.”

“My students…are they okay?”

“They’re fine…for the most part,” said Cecilia warily.

“What do you mean?” asked Xavier nervously.

“You’re the world’s most powerful psychic. You’ll find out soon enough. Right now, there’s another issue we must address. It involves your latest blood work and the empty pill bottle in your pocket.”

Xavier’s demeanor shifted. She figured out what he had done. It was still fresh in his memory, downing all those pills so he could stop the Legacy Virus. He understood the ramifications. That didn’t make him feel any less vindicated.

“I knew the risks, Cecilia. Millions were dying. My X-men were in trouble. As far as I was concerned, they were risks were worth taking,” said Professor Xavier strongly.

“I won’t argue that the situation was serious. I saw first-hand what the Legacy Virus was doing to people,” said Dr. Reyes.

“Then you understand why I did what I did.”

“I do. That still doesn’t make it less foolish.”

Dr. Reyes sat down on Xavier’s bed. The massive loss of life incurred by the Legacy Virus took a toll on her, as it had taken a toll on everyone. That didn’t make her care any less for this man.

“You doused an entire bottle of these pills, Charles. Do you have any idea what this is going to do to your body? Not to mention your mind?” she said distantly.

“I’ve dealt with pain before. I’ll work through it again,” he said.

“It’s not that simple. There’s a reason I was so reluctant to give you those pills,” Dr. Reyes went on, “They’re not just potent opiates. They’re known for having significant effects on your nervous system. By taking so many, you may have done irreversible damage to your brain. That damage could be every bit as crippling as your cancer.”

“I’m already crippled, Cecilia. Is it manageable?” asked the Professor.

Dr. Reyes groaned and shook her head at Charles Xavier’s stubbornness. At times, his resolve was to be admired. At others, it was downright infuriating.

“Before I go any further, let me assure you that I haven’t revealed the extent of this damage to your students. As far as they’re concerned, you just over-extended yourself using Cerebrum,” she told him.

“Thank you. That’s one less problem for the moment,” said Xavier graciously.

“It’s going to be one sooner or later. I’m not going to keep your secrets forever.”

“I’m not expecting you to.”

“Can you promise me that? At least in a way that’s more convincing than you did when you were still fighting cancer?”

“I won’t take your trust for granted again, Cecilia. I promise,” said Xavier strongly, “We can only deal with so many crises at once. I need to move forward. I need to keep fighting. We all do.”

Dr. Reyes studied Xavier for a moment in his prone position. She gave him her trust before and he took advantage of it while he was fighting cancer. Now he was asking to trust her again and the devastation wrought by the Legacy Virus left her with little energy to argue with him.

Rising up from his bed, Dr. Reyes reached into her coat pocket and tossed a bottle of pills onto Xavier’s lap. It went against her better judgment. But for the moment, she gave this man the benefit of the doubt.

“That should allow you to manage for a while. We’ll discuss the details once things settle down,” she sighed.

“Thank you, Cecilia,” he said graciously.

“Don’t thank me, Charles. Not for this,” she said stoically, “You shouldn’t keep pushing your luck. Your students need you. The world needs you and your dream. After a disaster like this, nothing can ever be the same.”

Xavier Institute – Infirmary

Recovering from a terrible disaster was a surreal but bittersweet experience. Like millions all over the world, the X-men had plenty of healing to do. And it wasn’t just for Hank, Remy, Betsy, Bobby, and Kitty, who had been infected with the virus. Those who had been on the front lines against Sinister had taken their share of hits as well. However, no hit struck them more than the loss of John Proudstar.

Scott, Jean, Rogue, Ororo, and Piotr had the grim task of carrying his body back to the mansion. They ended up having to cover it in a blanket in the passanger area. In addition, they also had to carry a wounded Mystique and Logan. Physically and mentally drained, they could barely walk. But even they understood the gravity of this loss. It was a solemn time for many all over the world and the X-men were no exception.

“I can’t believe it. Thunderbird is the last guy I thought would fall,” said Bobby, who was sitting up in his infirmary bed hugging his knees.

“From what you’ve told me about him, he sounds like a pretty tough bloke,” said Betsy, whose bed was right next to Bobby’s.

“He was more than that. That guy was the one who trained the X-men. Hell, he helped define what the X-men were. I still remember how he used to dog me for not doing enough push-ups. Now that he’s gone it just feels…wrong.”

“All this death is wrong. Sinister broke all the rules and shat on their pieces. The virus may be gone, but I still feel sick to my stomach,” said Betsy distantly.

The destruction wrought by the Legacy Virus was difficult to comprehend. In total, around 300 million people were dead. Among them was a fellow X-man. It could have been worse, but it was still very horrible on a terrifying scale.

Hank McCoy had been among those infected. While the others recovered, he refused to be bedridden when his medical knowledge was needed. Even with the presence of Dr. Cecilia Reyes, he pushed himself to contribute. This didn’t go over well with Ororo. As she led him back into the infirmary, she kept scolding him for his reckless dedication.

“You really shouldn’t be doing this, Hank. You’re not at full strength. You’re not even at half-strength and you’re taking on a full load here,” said Ororo, forcing him to stop and catch his breath.

“I’m fine, Ororo. Really…I can manage,” he said, hiding his light-headedness.

“If Tessa were here, I doubt she would be as understanding,” Ororo pointed out.

“You may be right, but there’s work to be done. I prefer to stay busy instead of dwelling on all the ways I could have helped had I not been infected.”

“You can’t punish yourself for getting caught up in Sinister’s madness,” she argued.

“I know, but I can…I should still make up for it,” reasoned Hank, “With Scott and Jean handling John’s affairs while Logan and Mystique heal, someone has to do the leg work. It might as well be me.”

Hank ignored Ororo’s worried gazes as he went over the blood scans taken from the infected. He had been going over the trails left in wake of the Legacy Virus’s destruction in addition to tending to the injured. Colossus and Rogue had also been significantly injured in their battle with Sinister. They needed their share of treatment as well.

For Colossus, his injuries were purely superficial. He took a beating from Vulcan and Wolverine. He had bandages along his body and his arm was in a sling. But the discomfort remained secondary for him. He spent much of his time at Kitty’s beside upon returning. While they both recovered, it gave them time to talk.

“So…you spoke with Illyana. Is everything okay on her end?” said Kitty, sitting up in her bed while Piotr sat near the edge.

“Da, she and Kurt are doing as well as can be expected. But Nova Roma is struggling like everywhere else,” said Piotr distantly.

“Guess that’s to be expected. Even hidden cities couldn’t avoid the Legacy Virus,” said Kitty, sounding just as distant.

“And yet I still find it…troubling. All this death makes lesser issues seem trivial.”

“I don’t know. I’d argue it makes some issues more important.”

Piotr knew this was coming. Kitty did promise that they would confront the difficulties that had emerged in their budding relationship lately. She was a woman of her word and coming so close to death didn’t change that.

“Kayta, I don’t think…” began Piotr.

“Time out, handsome. Don’t start beating around the bush. You know that’s not my style,” said Kitty in a more serious tone.

“I’m sorry. I’m…just not sure this is an appropriate time.”

“Do you really think that matters to me? Do you think it ever matters to me?” she said, scooting closer to him, “I’ll just come out and say it like I always do. I’m sorry for sending mixed messages. It was an immature reaction from someone who’s still at an immature age. When I saw the way you carried yourself during the Weapon Plus mission, I saw a side of you I hadn’t seen yet. It was a side that reminded me of how I can’t begin to understand what you’ve been through.”

“I’ve never hid what I am, Katya,” said Piotr, reaching over and grasping her hand, “I am a product of the Russian Mob. Try as I might, it still affects me.”

“And somehow you’re still the sweetest guy I’ve ever met,” she said, leaning in closer, “But we can’t kid ourselves. Where we came from does affect us.”

“I won’t let it,” he said strongly, “The mob tried to make me a heartless killer. I refuse to let them succeed.”

“We’re all tainted to some degree…some more than others,” Kitty pointed out, “Like it or not, I’m not from your world. I’m a middle-class Jewish girl from Chicago. That doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It just means that if we’re going to be serious, we have to take the good with the bad. Now I’m willing to share my darker side with you. Question is…are you willing to do the same?”

It sounded like a significant step in their blossoming relationship. Piotr kept holding her hand, but remained conflicted. The idea of sharing that cold, ruthless side of himself with someone didn’t sit well. Then Kitty leaned into his warmth, resting his head on her shoulder. In feeling her loving affection, such a task didn’t seem so daunting. As hard as it may be, Piotr had to come out of his impenetrable shell and this girl was worth it.

Piotr wasn’t the only one in a shell. Rogue and Remy had also been bedridden all day. Remy was almost fully recovered from the Legacy Virus. Rogue was still dealing with the after-effects of Sinister’s attack. It was still awkward between them. There was a lot left unsaid and they maintained that silence for the most part, but Rogue kept fondling the queen of hearts that Remy gave her. That seemed to say enough at a time like this.

“So…you kept Remy’s queen of hearts,” he said, breaking the silence, “And to think, Remy was worried you didn’t get the message I sent that day.”

“Ah heard ya loud and clear,” said Rogue, her eyes fixated on the card, “Ah like to think Ah understand your lame card puns better than most.”

“That’s because you understand Remy like Remy understands you,” said the Cajun in a more serious tone, “What Remy don’t understand is why you came running back to us when you found out about the Legacy Virus. Was it just to warn the X-men?”

“That was tops on mah list if Ah recall.”

“And where was Remy on that list? If you kept that card, then I’m hoping Remy’s somewhere in the top five.”

It was annoying how well this man could read her. She didn’t hide that she still had feelings for him. He didn’t hide his feelings for her either. But he wasn’t flirting or being coy with her. He now looked at her with the honest emotion that few would expect from a former thief.

“Cherè…” Remy began.

“Let meh do the talkin’ this time, Remy,” she told him, “First off, Ah…”

Before she could begin, Hank interrupted. Having just treated Bobby and Betsy, he turned his attention to Rogue with a notably different demeanor.

“Excuse me for interrupting, but I need to discuss something with you, Rogue,” said Hank in an urgent tone.

“Can it wait, doc? We sort of be having a moment here,” Remy pointed out.

“I’m sure you’ll have others, Remy. And I think you’ll want to hear this too,” said Ororo, who shared Hank’s disposition.

“So will the others,” said Hank as he looked over a print-out of Rogue’s results, “Your blood work came back from the lab. Without getting too technical, it yielded some unexpected yet astonishing results.”

“Are we talkin’ the kind of results that will get meh back to smoking a pack a day?” asked Rogue warily, “Ah just cut back and Ah would rather not pay the dang cigarette taxes in New York.”

“That depends on how you take this. As far as I’m concerned, it can go either way.”

Now Rogue was as confused as she was anxious. She exchanged looks with Remy while Hank and Ororo paused for a moment. This was sure to be another shock to the system at time when they were recovering from many.

“If I recall, you mentioned something about Sinister being unable to infect you with the Legacy Virus,” he said.

“Yeah, that was an awkward moment,” said Rogue dryly, “It still hurt like hell.”

“You also mentioned that he forcibly infected you with some exotic variation of the virus that left you weak and sickly,” added Hank.

“Ah threw up twice on flight back and it wasn’t just because John’s body was right behind meh. But Ah’m better now, so what’s the problem?”

“I’m not sure it’s a problem per se. I’m a bit perplexed because there are some unusual forces at work. The Legacy Virus was so potent because it drained the life energy from its victims. Your powers involve a similar process…one that we still don’t fully understand. And when Sinister tried to infect you, there was a reaction of sorts.”

“Will you quit filling in every blank and give meh the big picture already? Ah need to know how screwed Ah am!” said Rogue impatiently.

“Calm down, Rogue,” said Ororo in a comforting tone, “You need to hear this.”

“I’m not sure how to explain it in full, but your reaction to the virus has made some permanent changes to your X-gene,” said Hank, “According to your latest blood work, the genes that controlled your absorption powers have been turned off. Your strength, flight, and invulnerability are still intact. But as of now, you can no longer absorb anybody.”

It was startling news. Anxiety was replaced with excitement. While she was no expert on mutant biology, she was smart enough to understand the implications.

“So…if mah absorption powers are turned off, does that mean Ah can touch again?” she asked intently.

“In theory, yes,” answered Hank with a bit of hesitation, “Although I’m not sure if there are other effects that could…”

“Then let’s get scientific and test it already,” said Rogue as she shot up from her bed.

“Rogue wait!” urged Ororo.

She didn’t listen. Rogue practically shoved Ororo aside and walked over to Remy’s bed. The Cajun didn’t have time to ask her what she was up to. He was rendered utterly speechless when Rogue grabbed his face and pulled him into a deep kiss. It wasn’t just a peck either. She smothered her lips with his in an act that brought out a great deal of pent up passions.

“Oh my…” said Hank in mild embarrassment.

“I think you have your test results, Hank,” said Ororo with a half-grin.

As surprised as Hank and Ororo were, none were more surprised than Remy. He soon found himself returning Rogue’s kiss. Once the shock wore off, he embraced her. For the first time, he could actually feel her warm skin against his. It was an intoxicating feeling and one that unleashed a range of emotions that had been suppressed for so long.

“Ah’d say that makes it official,” said Rogue upon parting from the kiss.

“What does, cherè?” asked Remy, smiling as well.

“That for all the horrible shit Sinister unleashed, something good came out of it.”

“You talking about controlling your powers, right? Or is there a wild card in that hand?”

“Quit it with the card puns and kiss meh again, Cajun.”

Rogue didn’t give him a chance to argue. She pulled him back into another deep kiss, savoring the warm touch that she had been denied for so long. Remy was content to return the feeling. Now they had no excuses. They could finally confront all the complicated emotions between them. It was a small consolation after such a horrific ordeal.

Hank was tempted to add more details to his analysis, but Ororo waved him off. She could tell that Remy and Rogue were in no position to listen.

“Leave them,” she said, “You can tell them the rest when they’re not so distracted.”

“Speak for yourself,” said Betsy from a nearby bed, “I’m the ex-girlfriend here and I’m feeling pretty distracted.”

“If it makes you feel better, I can move you to Logan’s room,” offered Hank.

Betsy cringed even as she continued watching Rogue and Remy. She had to shoot Bobby a look as well, if only to keep him from making one of his immature comments.

“I’ll stay here and try to hold my lunch down,” sighed Betsy, “I have issues, but there’s only so much insanity I can take.”

Xavier Institute – Logan’s Room

Logan hated hospitals and labs. He never made a secret of how much he hated them. Even after Sinister hijacked him with an extra dose of the Legacy Virus, he was not inclined to spend more than a few hours in the infirmary. In addition, he needed to get away from the other. Everybody had so many questions and he wasn’t equipped to answer any of them.

He wasn’t alone in his room either. Mystique had also been seriously injured by the Legacy Virus. It came very close to killing her so she longer to recover. Since it would have been awkward to be in a bed next to Rogue, Logan convinced Hank to let him keep an eye on Mystique. This surprised them, but Jeannie managed to persuade them. She knew the full story and assured him that he could handle it.

‘So here I am…as screwed up as ever, but with the love of my life in my bed. Guess I should be feeling a little less screwed up. So why the hell am I still a wreck?’

Many questions plagued Logan. Lying in his bed, he drifted in and out of sleep. Mystique had been lying next to him the entire time. Not much was said. Logan spent hours trying to talk to this woman. Even if Mystique was Rose, that didn’t mean the woman he loved was still there. So where did that leave them?

Logan was so caught up in his thoughts that he barely noticed Mystique sitting up from his bed. She was back in her blue-skinned form. She shifted herself some casual clothes and didn’t come off as hostile, but she looked every bit as messed up as he was.

“Rose?” said Logan, emerging from his daze.

“Please don’t call me that…not yet anyways,” she said in a conflicted tone.

“Well what do you want me to call you? Mystique? Raven? Old Blue?”

“I’m still working on that,” said the shape shifter, “For now, just don’t call me Rose. I’m not sure how much meaning that name has to me.”

Logan rose up and sat next to her. She still wasn’t looking at him. She was just staring off into space, lost in thought. He was tempted to console her, but they weren’t at that point yet.

“Well whatever the hell I call you, it doesn’t change who you are,” said Logan, “You’re still that same woman that fought and died with me all those years ago.”

“I know I am. I don’t intend to hide from that. I’ve deceived myself enough for one lifetime,” she said.

“So what are you gonna do about it?” he asked her, “Take it from someone who has been on the receiving in of many nasty revelations. You can’t go back to the way it was before. You gotta adapt or you’ll go crazy.”

“I’m leaning towards a little of both right now.”

“Why? Is it because of me? Or because of Rogue and Kurt? Or even that dirt-bag, Sabretooth?”

“He escaped last I checked. Your friends said he was gone when they picked us up,” she reminded him.

“I don’t give a damn about Sabretooth in any way that doesn’t involve cutting his head off. I only give a damn about you and everything we just learned about each other.”

Logan placed his hand on Mystique’s shoulder. It was still awkward, but he still felt the same warmth from her that he felt from Rose all those years ago. This meant that on some levels, there was still a trace of that woman within Mystique’s bitter shell.

“Let me help you catch up with all the recent shit in my life,” Logan went on, “For the past few months I’ve been a mess…more so than I already am. I found out that I was a hell of an asshole in my past, I broke up with Storm, and I discovered I had a teenage clone.”

“A clone?” said Mystique with a raised eyebrow.

“It’s as fucked up as it sounds,” he sighed, “And because of that, I drowned myself in booze and self-loathing. The whole time I felt this hole in my soul that kept clawing at me. And every nugget of truth I learned just dumped acid into an infected wound. The Professor didn’t understand. The X-men didn’t understand. Nobody understood.”

“Are you trying to win sympathy?”

“I’m trying to convince you that I ain’t bullshitting you. For every lousy memory I’ve recalled, one keeps tying them together…one that came from the only part of my life that was peaceful. Rose was more than just a woman I loved. She destroyed the monster I had become. Even when I couldn’t remember, I felt her influence. So when I found out she was alive, I had to see her.”

“That makes about as much sense as everything I’ve learned the past week, which isn’t saying much,” muttered the shape shifter.

“But those memories were why we couldn’t stop bugging each other. They’re why you couldn’t kill me when you had the chance. They’re why we kissed that night and why we’re sitting here now, trying to make sense of it all. Don’t act like you ain’t feeling them. If Sabretooth and I can hate each other through this shit, then why can’t other feelings work the same?”

Mystique fell silent. Even she couldn’t deceive herself into believing otherwise. For once, her emotions were raw and sincere. She finally turned to face the man that made her feel so many conflicting fleeings. In her yellow eyes was a look that came from Rose rather than Raven Darkholme.

“Logan…James…I’ve been an angry, bitter woman for a long time,” she told him.

“That’s okay. I’ve been an asshole for just as long,” he said half-jokingly.

“I’m serious. All these years, I’ve lied and deceived the world around me. I’ve lied and deceived myself just as much. Even my kids, Irene, and Azazel never broke through that deception. Sinister, as much as I hate the bastard, gave me my first taste of truth. Now I have an identity to call my own.”

“But that’s a good thing, ain’t it?”

“I’m not sure. I’m still wrapping my head around it,” said Mystique distantly, “I don’t know if I can be that woman you loved and I don’t know how I’m going to deal with my feelings for you. But I’m not going to run from them. As ridiculous as it sounds, a part of me actually loves you.”

“That’s what all my old girlfriends said at one point,” he pointed out.

“Well the extent of that love is something that spans decades of deception, lies, and lost memories. So it’s probably something we’re both going to struggle with,” she added, her tone still serious, “But it isn’t enough to just remember who I am. I need to re-learn how to live my life as Rose and not just Mystique. Because of that, I’m not staying.”

This didn’t surprise Logan, but it still disappointed him. He didn’t expect things to go back to the way things were at the cabin in Canada. For that reason, he didn’t pull her back when she rose up from his bed.

“Yeah…I figured you wouldn’t stick around,” said Logan in a low tone, “It would be pretty damn awkward between Rogue, the X-men, and everyone in between.”

“It’s not just that. There are some issues I need to work out… loose ends I need to resolve,” she said, “However, I don’t plan on running forever. I will come back.”

“To me?”

“Who else would I go to?” she said with a slight smile, “I’m sick of being this bitter old woman who keeps making the wrong decisions. If I have any chance at some form of sanity, I figure it’ll come from you. And that disturbs me to no end.”

“Likewise, darlin’. I would still argue I need the sanity more than you,” he told her.

“Be that as it may, I have to go. In the meantime, all I ask is that you keep an eye on my kids and maim Sabretooth if you ever cross his path again.”

“Sure, I can do that,” said Logan.

“Also, I want you to hold onto this.”

Mystique turned around and retrieved the dog tags she got from Sinister. She had been wearing them around her neck since she returned. She placed them into Logan’s hands, making sure he knew their importance. When he saw the names etched on the tags, he smiled. He understood the meaning and why she trusted him with this.

“This time I’m making you a promise, Logan,” said the shape shifter, “I will return. You and I will have our chance. While I can’t promise it’ll be the way it once was, I can promise to make right decisions this time.”

“Good enough for me,” said Logan.

Having given him her word, the shape shifter smiled. It was probably the most honest smile she ever had. She then leaned in and planted a soft kiss on Logan’s cheek. It was another one of those strange feelings that was pure instinct. This time it wasn’t confusing or overwhelming. It felt right and for once she was going to hold onto that feeling.

Logan kept smiling as Mystique left. He didn’t go after her. He remained on his bed, clutching the dog tags she gave him. They were another to the past, reminding him of the fateful moments that made him who he was. He owed that woman a great deal. That’s why he believed her when she said they would get another chance. The past was the past. Now they could look forward to the future.

Xavier Institute – Scott and Jean’s Room

‘Our bodies and minds may make us resilient, but it’s our spirits that make us strong.’

These words were among the strongest memories Jean Grey had from John Proudstar. Many of them came from when he was an instructor at the institute. He was the first to train the X-men. He helped forge their identity as a team. Being both her instructor and her first lover, he held a special place in her heart. That’s why accepting that he was dead was so difficult.

“I can’t believe he’s gone,” she cried, sitting at the foot of her bed with Scott.

“Yeah…me neither,” said Scott in a low tone as he held Jean in his arms.

“John was a warrior. He taught us. He trained us. He wasn’t supposed to…he comes back for one mission and that’s how it ends?”

“I know. It’s not fair.”

“It’s more than unfair! Sinister was so damn casual about it! Killing all those people and then killing John…it meant nothing to him,” said Jean, anger mixing with her sorrow.

“He’s gone now. We made sure of it,” said Scott, “He paid the price for his crime.”

“It wasn’t high enough…not by a long shot.”

Scott allowed Jean to bury her face in his shoulder and weep for their fallen teammate. He had to hold back emotions of his own. John Proudstar didn’t just teach him how to fight. He taught him how to be a soldier. Having dedicated himself to following his family tradition, learning from John meant a lot to him. Losing him to Sinister struck everyone in a major way.

“There’s nothing else we can do, Jean,” said Scott softly, “Sinister is gone. So are Madelyn and Gabriel. They even took Sabretooth with them.”

“They’re just as guilty,” said Jean bitterly, “I don’t care if they are family. They helped Sinister. They deserve what he got!”

“It doesn’t matter anymore. They left and took their secrets with them. John always taught us that everything worth having comes at a price. It’s not always a fair price, but everyone bears the cost.”

“You’re already quoting him? As if he’s been dead for years?”

“It is what it is, Jean. We can’t make it hurt any less,” said Scott solemnly, “You think I wasn’t tempted to stay back and listen to Gabriel? I want to know the truth about my family. I want it more than I’m comfortable admitting. Just as much as I’m sure you want Madelyn to take responsibility for all the pain she’s caused you.”

Jean looked at him with tears still streaming down her face, remembering the pain that went beyond John’s death. There were so many forces working against him. There were so many different ways it could have played out. The end result was just too unfair. It left her conflicted over how much they lost.

“Did you really contemplate going after Gabriel instead of Sinister?” she asked him.

“Yes…but only for a few seconds,” affirmed Scott, “It was still too long. I had to remind myself that as upset as I was with Gabriel, the truth about my old family wasn’t worth risking my new family. You’re part of that family, Jean. And so was John.”

“Did it make even make a difference in the end,” questioned Jean, “We still lost someone. Millions more still died.”

“It definitely made a difference,” said Scott strongly, “We took on the man responsible and made him pay. We didn’t take it out on our wayward brothers or deviant cousins. We didn’t let our personal missions stop us from doing what was right. In that sense we proved Sinister wrong. The truth isn’t worth any price. We did what we had to do…what John trained us to do. In that sense, we succeeded.”

“If this is success it sure doesn’t feel like it,” she muttered.

“I didn’t say success made losing someone any less painful. The whole world needs time to cope with its losses. We’re no exception. All we can do is pick up the pieces and honor John’s memory. He died an X-man. Let’s remember him that way.”

It seemed appropriate. John may have left the team, but he was an X-man at heart. He was among the many that the world lost to Sinister’s atrocities. Processing so much death was difficult, even for someone imbued with a cosmic entity. With so much to deal with, Jean rested her head on Scott’s shoulder again so they could mourn the loss of their friend.

‘The pain of so many deaths is strong. Yet the pain of this one death is so much stronger. As a being that cannot die, I cannot begin to understand. It seems to go against nature, mourning one over many.’

‘That’s because life is precious when you don’t live forever, Phoenix. Death on a scale like this is hard for anyone to comprehend. That’s why we mourn those closest to us. It reminds us just how precious life truly is.’

New York City – District X

“In the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit. Peace be with you,” said Isaac for what had to be the hundredth time.

It was a solemn scene in the streets of District X. A similar scene played out all over the world. In every city in every country, the grim task of gathering the dead was underway. The Legacy Virus may have been vanquished, but the damage it did could not be undone. Entire blocks of New York City had been cordoned off so that the dead could be shipped away. It was a bit more different for District X. In a community of mutant outcasts, there were fewer loved ones to mourn one another.

For this reason, Isaac took it upon himself to pray for those who died. All along M-street, the bodies of the dead lay in rows covered by white sheets. Multiple had employed dozens of clones to help with this solemn task. He became so distraught over this grim task that he needed to take a break. It would be a while before city officials came by and carried off these bodies off. So long as they were there, Isaac would give each soul his blessing.

“Heavenly Father, please guide these blessed ones into your grace,” he prayed while clutching his crucifix.

“You still at it?” came a voice from across the street, “It’s been twelve hours and I ain’t seen you take so much as a bathroom break.”

Isaac turned to see Bishop approaching. He looked demoralized and drained, having seen the community he swore to protect suffer because of this virus. He was usually pretty hostile towards Isaac. But right now, he lacked the strength for such petty feelings.

“Someone needs to pray for these poor souls. If no one else is up to the task, then it’s my responsibility,” said Isaac as he turned to the next body.

“If God’s gonna help us, he’s late to the party,” said Bishop as he walked along the rows of covered bodies.

“This was not a result of God’s action or inaction. This was the work of devious man. Dead in sin and without compassion, only the damned are capable of such atrocity.”

“Don’t seem like it matters. I just got done talking to Tess. The final body count ain’t good. District X lost two-thirds of its people. That’s way more than the body count for the whole city.”

“Are you about to curse God for allowing District X to suffer more loss?” asked Isaac.

“Hell no. We didn’t even get the worst of it,” muttered Bishop, “You should see the body count for the Morlocks. They lost so damn many their entire society is collapsing. We may get an influx of refugees if they got nowhere else to go.”

“Then we should welcome them. In wake of such loss, we must cherish the brothers and sisters we have left…even if they come from afar.”

“That’s all well and good, but it ignores some fucked up logistics. And Jamie, Jubilee, Tess, and I sure as hell ain’t equipped to handle it right now.”

“God makes these tasks challenging for a reason. If it were easy, then we wouldn’t appreciate the value of struggle. It’s that kind of value that motivates us to do what needs to be done.”

Bishop resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Isaac was a strange guy. He always talked like he was giving a sermon. It was annoying, but at times it helped him say the right things. He had never been big on God. Having spent his share of time in a jail cell, it left little room for any holy spirit. But that didn’t dissuade Isaac. Ever since he arrived at District X, he had been preaching his message to all the mutants who felt abandoned by God. It wasn’t until now that this message actually resonated with Bishop.

“Look preach, I appreciate what you’re doing here. Everyone does,” said Bishop, watching as Isaac blessed another body.

“Then why do you question my dedication? I’ll rest only after the last body has been tended to,” he said strongly.

“I ain’t questioning your dedication. Right now, we got a lot of work to do with the living. Folks around here are pretty traumatized. Hell, the whole damn world is traumatized.”

“Sometimes you must respect death first in order to appreciate life,” retorted Isaac while holding his cross over another dead body.

“We got plenty of respect to go around. What we don’t got is manpower. Even Madrox can’t duplicate himself that much,” said Bishop, “If you’re gonna help, we got other shit that needs to be done. I got a call from that pastor at your church, Father Hansen. He’s mobilizing his people to mutant communities everywhere. He wants you to be part of it.”

“Tell Father Hansen I have other duties to tend to first. I’ll do what others require of me, but the needs of God’s fallen children come first.”

“Whatever,” Bishop sighed, “Just let me know when the Lord gives you a break. We got us a new world to deal with. We gotta ride with it sooner or later. For District X, we need it to be sooner.”

He left Isaac to his heavenly duties. Isaac got the message, even as he said another prayer for another innocent mutant. So many spirits had been wounded. Many livelihoods had been wounded as well. There was only so much he could do with praying. As Bishop walked away, Isaac remembered a few issues that were outside his heavenly duties. Upon finishing his prayers, he turned back towards Bishop.

“Excuse me, Bishop. There happens to be one matter that concerns me,” he called out.

“What is it? It better now be major because I got enough on my plate,” said Bishop, stopping without turning towards the holy man.

“It’s about Rogue,” said Isaac, “I haven’t heard from her since this ordeal began. There were a few matters that I needed to discuss with her.”

“Far as I know, she’s still with the X-men. She called Tess yesterday and said she was hanging with them while they heal up.”

“Did she say when she’ll be back?” asked Isaac intently.

“Hell if I know,” shrugged Bishop, “But I wouldn’t worry about Rogue. She can take care of herself.”

“Few would doubt her strength, but I’m not convinced.”

“You wanna worry about her, be my guest. If Rogue don’t wanna work on her shit, that’s her problem.”

Bishop left Isaac to continue with his solemn task. He certainly didn’t share the preacher’s concern. Rogue was very low on his list of priorities right now. She was an X-man. She rolled with her crew while they stuck to theirs.

But Isaac wasn’t as dismissive as Bishop. He still hadn’t earned the man’s respect. He was human so he couldn’t truly be part of District X. That was fine with him, but he still had unresolved duties and Rogue was one of them. He had been helping her and they made so progress together. He still wasn’t finished with her and he hoped she wasn’t finished with him.

‘Heavenly Father, please look after your fallen children and offer special guidance for Rogue. She’ll most certainly need it in the tribulations to come.’

Genosha – Northern Coast

“This feels wrong. I’m not sure we’re doing the right thing,” lamented a conflicted Wanda Maximoff.

“I don’t think there is a right way for something like this, Wanda,” said a distant Alex Summers, “I consider this the lesser of many evils.”

“I still don’t like it. These were our brothers…our sisters…our friends. They die from this virus and the best we can do for them is burn their bodies?”

“As opposed to digging a mass grave for them to rot in?” questioned Alex, “Explain to me how that’s more fitting.”

Wanda had no response. She was the leader of Genosha and she was horribly short on ideas. She could change probabilities, but there was no chance of making this any easier. She and an entire island of mutants were at a loss.

As terrible as the Legacy Virus had been, cleaning up from it was just as bad. Genosha’s population had been decimated. Nearly a third of their citizens had perished. Mutants of all ages and abilities had been afflicted. Their efforts to treat them with the advanced technology at their disposal failed. It wasn’t until Charles Xavier came along that the sick were healed. That still left a mountain of dead bodies to deal with. After the shock wore off, there was a debate over what to do with them.

It was decided (albeit reluctantly) that the bodies would be piled up on the north shore and burned in a ceremonial fire. Some wanted to dig graves. Some wanted to cast them out to sea. It seemed so wrong, disposing of their bodies like this. But it had to be done.

Much of the island had gathered for this moment. Atop a ridge overlooking the north shore, hundreds of Genoshan citizens watched solemnly as Wanda and the Brotherhood carried out the grim task of piling up the bodies. Pietro, Blob, Pyro, Lance, and Mellencamp did much of the heavy lifting. Alex, Lorna, Wanda, and a number of acolytes stayed back and watched. They were almost ready to begin this grim memorial.

“So much senseless death,” said Lorna sadly.

“And for once it didn’t come from the humans,” said Pietro, rushing over as he delivered the last body, “I want to be pissed at the world, but they lost a lot of people too.”

“Everybody lost someone. This was a fight nobody won,” said Alex in a flat tone, “It’s no use pointing fingers.”

“That doesn’t mean no one will,” added the speedster, “My father used to drone on and on how the holocaust changed everything. When millions die and the depths of human depravity are exposed, the world gets pretty damn uncomfortable.”

“As it should,” said Wanda, struggling to hold back her emotions, “There’s no going back to the way things were. It’s going to be a different world tomorrow…one where our problems go beyond selling alien technology in exchange for peace.”

“So what will we sell?” questioned Pietro.

“I don’t know. I honestly have no idea where we go from here,” said Wanda, hugging her shoulders anxiously, “I’ve been listening to reports from Charles Xavier all day. Every country on the planet is struggling to recover. The story of this man, Sinister, is hitting every major media outlet.”

“Yeah, my brother told me about that asshole. Says he’s even been keeping secrets about our family,” said Alex bitterly, “Damn, I wished I could have been there to kick his ass!”

“Whatever secrets he had are probably lost now. Sinister is dead and so is his virus,” Wanda went on, “A number of nations are collapsing. The global economy is pretty much at a stand-still. And mutant communities seem to be the hardest hit.”

“No surprise there,” muttered Pietro.

“Based on Xavier’s reports, the Morlocks have disbanded. Mutant ghettos around the world have been deserted. There’s even talk of a mass migration of displaced mutants.”

“I’ll bet some of them will find their way here,” said Lorna, “Do we have any idea how we’re going to deal with them?”

“I don’t know!” said Wanda in an outburst of frustration, “For the first time I don’t have goddamn idea how to deal with humans, mutants, or this island!”

“That’s a dangerous state of mind to be in, Wanda,” said Alex.

“I know that! You think I’m not bothered by it?”

“Calm down, sis. We’re all a little shell-shocked,” coaxed Lorna, “Give it some time. But at least try to appear strong for your people. A lot of them are watching, remember?”

Wanda took several deep breaths. She forgot she had an audience. If the mutant citizens on Genosha saw her in this state, they may question their confidence in her. She wouldn’t blame them either. Even with the support of her siblings and the Brotherhood, she never felt so lost. If her father were here, he would scold her for being so weak.

But for the moment, the focus was on their fallen brethren. Lance and Pyro set the last of the bodies down in the pile while Mellencamp and Blob arranged a series of sandbags around them. They were all feeling the strain of having to carry out such a grim task.

“That’s the last one. I’m so done with this,” said a beleaguered Lance Alvers.

“I hear you, Lance. Carrying all these bodies has killed even my appetite,” said Blob, “I couldn’t even eat my second lunch this afternoon.”

“If only everyone could eat their problems away,” sighed Mellencamp.

“Watch it, pretty boy. I may have carried one too many bodies, but I got no problem getting pissed,” said Blob.

“Easy, big guy,” coaxed Lance, “Everybody came here to pay their respects. Let’s not make light of mass death by acting like assholes.”

Blob grumbled a few curses towards Mellencamp. Even with his size and strength, standing next to a pile of dead bodies was disconcerting to say the least. He was ready to end this. Now that the final body was in place they could get on with it.

“We’re ready, Wanda. Give us the final word and we’ll get this over with,” said Lance.

“And not a moment too soon,” said Wanda anxiously, “I’m really not ready for this.”

“None of us are,” said Lorna, “Go on…say what needs to be said.”

“We’re with you every step of the way…whether you find us annoying or not,” added Pietro.

Her siblings helped Wanda gather enough strength to face the masses behind her. Hundreds of mutants had gathered. They were expecting her to say something. She was not a charismatic speaker like her father, but they needed to hear from their leader.

Scanner and Mercury set up a series of loudspeakers all along the ridge so everyone could hear. One of her acolytes came in and gave her the microphone. Her hand shook as she looked at so many saddened faces. After taking a deep breath, she addressed the citizens of Genosha.

“Thank you all for coming,” she said over the speaker, “We’re here today to say goodbye. I know many of you lost someone. We all lost friends, neighbors, family…none of whom deserved to die. For once, our powers and our technology did not protect us. We were as vulnerable as the humans. In this sense we’ve been humbled. So I ask on this day that we not let tragedy tear us apart. We need to be stronger if we’re to move on. So in that spirit, we bid farewell to our fallen brethren.”

There was no big applause for Wanda’s speech. It wasn’t worded to be uplifting or cheerful. It was a short, concise assessment of a horrible tragedy that had befallen them. For the hundreds of mutants listening, it was a call for unity. The mutant population of Genosha stood together, ready to take in this solemn moment.

Having said her words, Wanda turned towards Pyro, who stood near the pile of bodies.

“Do it, Pyro,” said Wanda through a strained voice.

“I usually take great pleasure in burning things. This ain’t one of those times,” said the Australian mutant.

His voice was devoid of his usual charisma. It showed that even he had been affected by all this death. When Pyro activated his flame throwers, he didn’t laugh or grin this time. He simply did as he was told.

Upon forming a large fireball, Pyro directed the flames to the pile of bodies. The embers quickly engulfed them, fueled by the mountains of dead flesh. It caused a thick layer of smoke to rise up that could be seen for miles. This smoke was accompanied with the sickening smell of death. Pyro made sure the fires burned with extra intensity so that they consumed the bodies as quickly as possible, creating a solemn spectacle for the citizens of Genosha to observe.

“Is this the part where someone says ashes to ashes, dust to dust?” said Lance.

“Let’s not and say we did,” said Lorna, who was leaning on Alex for support.

“I’m sure father would say something more poetic,” said Pietro flatly, “That’s assuming he wasn’t among those stricken with this virus.”

“Don’t even joke about that, Pietro,” said Wanda firmly.

“Why? Is the thought too hard to bear?” said the speedster harshly.

“No, because you and I both know that isn’t true. Father is still out there. We don’t know what he’s up to, but we can assume he’s aware of what’s going on. We can also assume that he or someone else is going to exploit this tragedy for their own gain.”

“You don’t think the world will hold hands and come together?” said Blob dryly.

“Not for a moment,” said Wanda, “Whatever good comes of this, I’m certain it will be overshadowed by the bad.”

“So why don’t we do something about it?” suggested Alex, “I’m sure my brother would pound that idea into our heads if he was here.”

“He may be right, Alex,” sighed Wanda, “But like I said, I don’t have a plan. I don’t think anyone has a plan. Until that changes, we’ve got plenty of dead to mourn.”

It was not a comforting feeling, being lost and without direction. As the beleaguered citizens of Genosha watched the burning bodies, a wave of sorrow came over them. For once, this mutant nation had to contend with feeling painfully human.

Pentagon – Mutant Security Wing

General Nathan Grimshaw wasn’t used to defeat. He built his career on being able to squeeze victory from even the most hopeless situations. He had seen his share of missions that went horribly wrong. None of them could compare to what he experienced in the span of one week.

It was ironic. He dedicated himself to addressing the mutant conflict, but the greatest damage was done by a mutant. By now word had gotten out that Nathanial Essex was behind the Legacy Virus. The X-men spread the news to every agency in the world. Proof of his involvement came from information hacked from Shaw Industries, an organization that once operated above the law. Now it was an accomplice to one of the greatest mass murderers in history. No amount of lobbying or lawyers could save them now.

Even though Sinister had been killed and every details of his insidious plan had been revealed, the mission was still a failure. Over 300 million people died. General Grimshaw and the American military were completely helpless. He watched countless innocents perish. He oversaw the clean-up efforts that were unfolding all over the country. Now he was embarking on a new mission that he had been putting off for too long.

“General Grimshaw, sir? Pardon my tone, but please explain what the hell you’re doing?” said the tense voice of Captain Jack Freeman.

General Grimshaw was in his office and had just finished changing out of his uniform and into civilian clothes. When he turned around to face Captain Freeman, he saw a man who was just as distraught about their collective failure.

“Don’t bother overreacting, Captain. I’m not stepping down and I wasn’t fired,” he said as he fixed his collared shirt, “These are the clothes I wear when I take a break.”

“A break?” questioned Captain Freeman.

“Yes Captain, a break. You know that thing people do when they get away from their job and do something less strenuous?” replied the General.

“I know what I break is, sir. Why are you taking one at a time like this?” said Jack, trying to control his outrage, “I just had to fight off three nurses who tried to keep me in bed. They said I was too weakened from the virus.”

“From my perspective, they should have fought harder. You look terrible, Jack. You looked better after you spent three weeks in the Columbian jungle.”

“Does it really matter how bad I look? The virus is gone. I’m still alive. The mission isn’t over yet!”

“I disagree. The mission you’re on isn’t a mission anyone else is fighting.”

“Sir, we have every man in uniform working around the clock to pick up the pieces from this global clusterfuck!” exclaimed Captain Freeman, “I heard from that MacTaggart woman in Muir Island that our people are moving on Shaw Industries. Why am I not a part of it?!

“Because you don’t need to be, Captain.”

“With all due respect, sir…that’s bullshit! I took part in the operation that…”

“Stop right there, son,” said General Grimshaw firmly.


“That’s an order.”

The General’s tone silenced Captain Freeman in a way few things could. The battered Green Beret looked restless. His face was unshaven, his hair was a mess, and he smelled like he hadn’t bathed in over a week. He bore the mark of a soldier who had seen one too many horrors in combat. General Grimshaw had seen that look before and stopped Captain Freeman before it took over completely.

Walking out from behind his desk, General Grimshaw approached the battered soldier. This time he looked at him not as a superior officer, but as a concerned friend.

“Captain, let me tell you a little story about an old buddy of mine,” said the General in a calmer tone, “We knew each other when I was in West Point. One day he dropped out to go fight the war in Vietnam. He wanted to serve his country by being a soldier, not an officer. And I supported him every step of the way. I even kept in touch with him as much as I could. Then after four years, we sat down and had a chat. And on that day I got a harsh lesson in the scars of combat.”

“What happened? Was he crippled?” asked Jack dryly.

“No. Physically, he was a picture of health. Mentally…he might as well have been paralyzed,” said the General sadly, “You see, my friend was a tough son-of-a-gun, just like you. But over time, he saw one too many horrors. It got to a point where he couldn’t deal with it. He slept with loaded guns under his pillows. He would lash out at enemies that weren’t there. He would constantly look for another mission. Now he’s locked away in a mental ward at a VA hospital in West Virginia. That friend I had never came back from combat. All the fighting…it didn’t just consume him. It destroyed him.”

Captain Freeman was silent for a moment. The battle-hardened Green Beret was still ready to fight. He could push himself beyond the limits of a normal soldier and never hesitated to do so in times of crisis. He thought he was still ready. General Grimshaw thought otherwise and in his experience, the General’s judgment was better than his.

“I know what you’re trying to do, sir,” said Captain Freeman.

“Then don’t argue with me, Captain,” said the General, “I have a wife who has been surrounded by the sick and the dead for nearly a week. I have two kids in the service who have been busting their asses to hold the country together. I have another kid at West Point who has been on the road for the last two days trying to get home. I’m going to go home to them. I’m going to be Nathan Grimshaw for a few days. The MSA and the rebuilding effort will continue without me. It can continue without you too.”

“I’m not sure I can do that,” said the Green Beret.

“You’re a young man. You can afford to take a break.”

“No sir, I mean I’m not sure I can be just be Jack Freeman,” he said strongly, “Unlike you, I don’t have a family to go home to. My mother is a drugged out hippie. All my old friends are drug dealers and stoners. For all I know, they’re all either dead or in jail. I never want to go back to that life. I hate that life.”

“Well now you have a chance to make a new life,” retorted the General.

“Sir, I’m a Green Beret. War is my life. The next mission is my life.”

“Then you’ll end up just like my friend. The fighting will consume you. You’ll be a prisoner without a cage, tormented by a mission you’ll never be able to complete.”

“I can handle it.”

“No Jack…you can’t. I know you can’t because powers or not, you’re still human. You need to take time to remember that. Otherwise you’re not a soldier. You’re just a tool of war. Is that how you want to end up?”

Jack Freeman had spent many years trying to make something of himself. He was once a nobody and a deviant. It got to the point where he didn’t dare let his guard down to ensure he didn’t fall back into old habits. Now he was being ordered to not be a Green Beret. That was a daunting mission even for him.

“It’s time to step back, son. Nobody hates wars more than warriors,” said General Grimshaw as he stepped back from the bewildered shoulder, “Those that do are the ones that lose sight of what they’re fighting for.”

“So what do you expect me to do? Just walk around and twiddle my thumbs?” asked Captain Freeman.

“You’re a young man. Go out, meet people, make friends, get laid, do whatever it takes to remind yourself that you’re still human,” said the General.

“You make it sound so simple.”

“It isn’t. It’s as challenging as any mission. That’s what makes it worthwhile,” Grimshaw assured him, “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have somewhere I need to be. You do too. I’ll leave you to figure it out where it is.”

White House – Oval Office

It was history’s most poorly kept secret. Power bred arrogance. When men gained positions of authority, they often forgot that he was as vulnerable as everyone else. It was easy to feel untouchable, especially for the President of the United States. There were entire departments dedicated to protecting him and his family. But none of that mattered when the Legacy Virus hit.

It was painful reminder for Robert Kelly. While the Legacy Virus had been destroyed, the pain it caused still lingered. He didn’t just lose millions of constituents. He lost his son. For all his power, it meant nothing in the end. While his family was grieving, he still had a nation to address. So with a heavy heart, he delivered a special prime time speech to share his grief with the world.

“So in closing, it is with a heavy heart that I call upon everyone to pray for those who died. Over 300 million souls are no longer with us. In the span of a week, everyone lost a parent, a child, a friend, or a colleague. The Legacy Virus struck everyone equally. Every race, creed, ethnicity, and nationality was vulnerable. It didn’t matter whether someone was powerful or powerless, rich or poor, human or mutant…all were struck by this virus. In our collective grief we are humbled. Let us also not forget that the man behind this madness, Nathanial Essex, was painfully human. This man who the world now knows as one of history’s greatest murderers was still a man. That is why we must maintain perspective as we rebuild.”

President Kelly’s demeanor faltered in front of the camera. On live TV with the entire world watching, his sorrow became apparent as he reflected on his own losses in addition to those suffered by the world.

“As many have reported by now, I lost my son to this plague. My boy was twelve-years-old. He was a mutant, but he was still my son. I loved him with all my heart. Like so many other families, I’m left to grieve his loss. Yet in our grief, we as people must remain strong. The world is damaged, but still intact. Our spirits our wounded, but not destroyed. The only direction we can move is forward. So to this country and the people of the world, I ask for unity over sorrow. May God bless this great nation and the nations of this world. Thank you, and good night.”

The cameraman signaled that they were out. As soon as they were clear, there was a light applause among the President’s staff and body guards. Among them were his wife and daughter, who took a moment from grieving to see him give his speech. Despite the applause, President Kelly was still consumed with sorrow.

“That was excellent, sir. I think you just raised the bar for speeches in times of tragedies,” said his Secretary of Defense.

“My people will be getting feedback from abroad very soon. All early indications point to some very positive responses,” said the Secretary of State.

“The country needed this,” said the Secretary of Interior, “Morale has never been so low and unity is our best weapon against it. And at the moment, I think this may be the most united the country has ever been.”

“That doesn’t make it any less bittersweet,” said the President in a low tone.

Even after a successful speech, Robert Kelly was still a broken man and doing a poor job of hiding it. This was distressing to his associates, who worried about the strength of their leader. The country needed him to be strong and losing his son would make that difficult.

Some were more than just worried though. Among those not praising President Kelly’s speech was Henry Peter Gyrich. He had been lingering around the President since they left the bunker the other day. The CIA was relying on him to be their mouthpiece. He also had some personal concerns that simply couldn’t wait.

“Mr. President, sir. May I have a word?” asked Gyrich.

“Make it quick, Mr. Gyrich. My appetite for more conflict is very low tonight,” said President Kelly flatly.

“I’m sorry for your loss, sir. We all are. However, I feel you may have glossed over some important issues in your speech.”

“Is one of me call out Nathanial Essex by name?” he said dryly, “I already heard the pleas of every military branch in this country and Canada. I don’t need to hear it again.”

“I’m not pleading with you, Mr. President. I’m warning you,” said Gyrich in a more serious tone, “Nathanial Essex was a monster. No one is debating that. However, he’s a monster that we’re responsible for. We recruited him. We gave him the resources to develop his research. We were also the ones that foolishly assumed he had been dead for thirty years.”

“All the more reason to come clean,” argued the President, “You think it was easy telling the world that Essex was a man who once worked for us?”

“It may have been even easier to leave out a few details. I know you omitted the part about Weapon X, but you could have also left the part describing how we recruited him to make weapons. Do you have any idea how bad that makes us look?”

“It would have looked a lot worse if the truth came out another way. I’m sorry if it makes your job harder, Mr. Gyrich. But in the face of tragedy on a global scale, we have to be more forthcoming than usual.”

“That’s going to lead to some pretty significant consequences, Mr. President,” said Gyrich grimly, “We’ve already got a scandal brewing with Shaw Industries. We also have dozens of countries all over the world that have completely collapsed. It’s a free for all that any wannabe tyrant with enough ego and guns can exploit. Worst of all are the mutants.”

“Why am I not surprised?” said President Kelly flatly.

“That’s not my personal bias talking, I assure you. Genosha has been ravaged and its leadership won’t allow themselves be weak. Entire mutant communities all over the world are equally devastated and the CIA has tracked widespread migrations of surviving mutants to new locales. Now they have even more reasons to resent humans because it was a human government that created Nathanial Essex. This whole unity deal may not last long when mutants start venting their frustrations.”

President Kelly’s vision narrowed on Henry Gyrich. He was a man who was clearly focused on his work and nothing else. He had no family or loved ones. He didn’t have to endure losses like so many others. His hostel tone obscured the relevance of his words. Robert Kelly had his share of concerns and for the moment, they weren’t in line with Gyrich’s.

“I understand your concerns,” he began.

“With all due respect, sir…I can tell you’re about to brush them aside,” said Gyich strongly.

“Don’t patronize me, Gyrich! I’m not in the mood!” said the President in a firm tone, “I just lost my son. The country that I’m supposed to lead has been devastated. This is not the time for more conflict. This is a time for healing. I know that the after-effects will eventually catch up with us. And rest assure, it will be dealt with. But not now.”

“Mr. President, I…” began Gyrich.

“Now step aside,” he ordered, “I’m going to spend time with my family and I don’t care how much it upsets the CIA.”

The Secret Service guards pushed Gyrich aside to prevent further protest. It was a gesture he didn’t appreciate, but Kelly was the President. He could afford to be rude. Gyrich had to swallow those concerns as he watched the President meet up with his wife and daughter. They shared a heartfelt hug, no doubt reflecting on their loss. It was a touching moment, but one that only heightened Gyrich’s concerns.

“Go on and mourn, Mr. President. Leave the dirty work to people that actually give a damn,” he muttered as he stepped aside, “This just means I’ll have to take care of these things myself.”

Apache Reservation

Great tragedies often involved fallen heroes. The X-men had always tried to be heroes in their struggle for human/mutant peace. When the X-men first trained to use their powers, they weren’t just taught the merits of heroes. They were taught in the traditions of a warrior. Nobody embodied that warrior spirit more than John Proudstar. So when the time came to lay his body to rest, it was an especially solemn task.

“Carry on great warrior. Allow his spirit to return to the Earth. May he join our ancestors in the great beyond.”

These prayers were the chants of John’s fellow Apaches, who organized a traditional burial for the fallen warrior. John’s family had been in high standing with the tribe. As a result, many from all over the reservation took part in the ceremony. The X-men and many of their allies joined them to be part of this moment. Everyone was to share the sorrow of losing someone who was a hero as much as he was a warrior.

Apache tradition required a sizable ceremony. As such, Professor Xavier turned John’s body over to the elders on the reservation to carry out the necessary customs. They cleaned up John’s battered body and dressed him in his best clothes. Usually, that meant he would be dressed in the garb of an Apache warrior. But since he did so much good as an X-man, he was dressed in his former X-men uniform. Once prepared, his face was painted and his body was wrapped in a blanket. Then came the grim task of carrying John to his final resting place.

For this part of the ceremony, the X-men joined some of the younger warriors in the tribe to carry John’s body to the top of a hill that overlooked the reservation. Atop that hill, some of the other X-men worked with the tribal elders to erect a grave. The grave consisted of a pile of stones that was arranged to house John’s body so the winds could carry his spirit away. It was left half done so his body could be placed inside.

When they arrived, the X-men and their Apache guests were present. Among them was John’s wayward brother James Proudstar, who took the loss harder than anyone else.

“It should be me in that blanket. Not John,” said James distantly.

“You did more than your share to stop the Legacy Virus, James,” assured Charles Xavier, who was right next to the distraught Native American, “Had you not succeeded against Shaw, more people would still be dying.”

“Had I not stumbled through the mission, John might still be alive,” argued James.

“Sinister was the one that murdered your brother. He’s responsible…not you,” said Xavier strongly.

“That doesn’t make it right! When this reservation was falling apart, John made the hard decisions while I always found ways to screw it up. He trained himself and his spirit. I just fought random battles, never thinking about the bigger picture.”

“John made the ultimate sacrifice for his people, his friends, and his family, James. The best we can do is honor that sacrifice. That’s why so many have joined us for this ceremony. We’re here to pay our respects, not to beat ourselves up for what we did or didn’t do.”

Professor Charles Xavier knew how to maintain perspective in the face of tragedy. James was beginning to see why John had been so loyal to this man. He had a way of making sense of things that seemed so wrong. It was easy to forget that James wasn’t the only one struck by John’s death.

X-men past and present had shown up for this ceremony. Scott, Jean, Hank, Bobby, Logan, Ororo, Remy, Betsy, Kitty, and Piotr were all present. Rogue was with them despite her current status with the team. Kurt also attended with Illyana, who transported them via teleportation from Nova Roma. Warren was there as well. He appeared somewhat sickly, but kept to himself.

Tessa also paid a visit from District X, supporting Hank and the X-men during this difficult time. Moria MacTaggart from Muir Island made the trip as well along with Sean Cassidy and Rahne Sinclair, two former X-men who once worked closely with John Proudstar.

Another former X-man who trained under John was Emma Frost, who set aside her cold persona to mourn with her former teammates. She even brought X-Factor with her. This included Julian, Sam, Tabitha, Amara, Roberto, Noriko, Doug, and the Stepford Cuckoos. Sunfire came along as well. X-23 met up with Logan along the way, who they figured needed a lesson on the merits of death.

Even some of John’s White Cell friend such as Karma, Jean-Paul, and Jean-Marie were present. All these people were here to pay their respects to John with the tribe and yet James still found a way to be selfish about it.

James held his head low as he looked around at the friends and loved ones John had gained over the years. He did a much better job of endearing himself to others than he ever did. It was an overdue dose of perspective that he could no longer ignore.

“Guess John did okay for himself,” said James as he took in the crowd, “He knew how to make people give a damn for all the right reasons.”

“And then some,” added Jean-Paul, who was standing behind him, “At least he died an X-man. He always held them in high regard.”

“That he did,” said Karma sadly, “We should all learn from it.”

“Right…we should.”

James kept watching with a heavy heart as the X-men laid John’s body into its final resting place. The whole time a group of Apache shaman led the tribe in a ritualistic chant. The words in their native tongue filled the air as John Proudstar’s family and loved ones bid him farewell. Once his body was secured in the grave, Jean Grey used her telekinesis to carefully arrange the heavy stones so that it formed a sizable stone mound that would not be disturbed.

“So long, John,” said Jean with tears in her eyes, “You were the man who first taught me how to love. For that, you’ll always be special to me. I’ll miss you.”

“We all will,” added Scott sadly.

The shaman kept chanting as the final stone was put in place. Amara and Roberto then used their powers to light a series of torches through which the tribal elders burnt some ceremonial offerings. The scented smoke rose into the air, helping to overshadowing the stench of death. While John’s fellow tribesmen prayed, the X-men took time to reflect. A fellow X-man had fallen. It was a difficult loss amidst millions of losses.

Sage had to turn off more emotions than usual. The destruction wrought by the Legacy Virus may not have been a direct result of her actions, but Sinister still utilized techno-organic material. That increasingly infamous material was still her doing.

“I still feel responsible,” she said flatly, “I know you’ll tell me I’m not responsible, but I still feel guilty as hell.”

“In that case you’re needlessly punishing yourself, my dear,” said Hank who was firmly grasping her hand.

“You know, that may qualify as sadomasochism,” Emma pointed out, who was standing behind them.

“I’d rather not have your input, Emma,” said Sage.

“And here I was thinking you were smarter,” she quipped, “You saw what we saw. You didn’t help Sinister. Sebastian Shaw did. Thanks that data Warpath sent me, his company is in ruin.”

“It was still my work that made the Legacy Virus possible,” she pointed out.

“And it took Sinister’s madness and Shaw’s ambivalence to make it reality,” reasoned Hank.

“Listen to the man you’re currently sleeping with,” added Emma, “Don’t take it out on yourself. Take it out on those responsible. You’ll do yourself a favor. You’ll do John a favor as well.”

Emma’s comfort wasn’t quite as warm as Hank’s, but it helped Sage turn some of her emotions back on so she could mourn. Tears formed on her face and Hank was there to wipe them away. Seeing those tears meant to Emma that she said everything that needed to be said. She turned her attention back to her students and mourning Thunderbird. She knew better than most that they would not honor his memory by feeling overly guilty.

While John Proudstar was supposed to be the focus, others couldn’t help but ponder the lingering effects of this devastation. One who was affected in more ways than mere grief was Rogue. The fight against Sinister led to some unexpected changes. She could touch now. She was already enjoying this feeling by holding Remy’s hand while they watched the ceremony. And this new development was sure to cause changes with her and those close to her.

“So after all this, you got any idea what you gonna do, cherè?” asked Remy.

“Is this really the place to be askin’ that, sugah?” said Rogue in a low tone.

“I say it’s very appropriate,” said Kurt, who was standing next to them, “A lot is going to change after a disaster like zhis. You being able to touch is one of many such changes.”

It was impossible to ignore. Her not being able to touch guided many of her decisions. While this was a time for grief, it was also a time for reflection. Rogue clearly had some important choices to make.

“To be honest…Ah don’t know what Ah’m gonna do,” she said distantly, “This all happened so fast. Ah don’t know if Ah’m gonna rejoin the X-men or hang out in District X a bit longer. Ah’d like to make this one of the few positives that came outta this mess.”

“Remy’s all for positives, but Remy prefers clarity,” said the Cajun in a deeper tone, “How is this gonna change you, cherè? How are you gonna let this affect us?”

“If you don’t know zhe answer, zhen let us help,” offered Kurt, “I zhink everyone vill be needing help for a while…especially after vhat Logan told us about our mother.”

“Trust meh, Ah don’t even wanna think about that,” groaned Rogue, “But don’t worry. Ah ain’t about to go it alone. Ah’ve pushed people away before. Ah ain’t gonna do it again. And now that Ah can touch, Ah can be as open as Ah need to be.”

Rogue smiled slightly at Remy and Kurt. They smiled back, especially Remy. He felt her grip his hand more affectionately. He could tell she was embracing her ability to touch again. It was definitely going to change their always tenuous relationship. Being open, as she put, it offered many possibilities to explore.

Through this tragedy, there were still reasons for hope. The X-men and their allies clung to that hope as they watched John’s fellow Apaches finish with the ceremony. They kept chanting for a good ten minutes. As the activity died down, a solemn silence fell over the team. There was little left to say. Even James couldn’t bring himself to speak up. Sensing a need to nourish that hope, Charles Xavier stepped up.

“I suppose I should say something,” sighed the Professor.

“Aye, I think that would be appropriate,” said Moira.

“John would want it that way,” said Sean, who was standing next to Moira and Rahne, “Ah kept me promise to me family. You should keep yours.”

“You know we’ll listen,” said Rahne, “Just like John, we’re still your students.”

It was a comforting reminder. It helped Xavier work up the nerve to wheel out in front of his students and friends so he could address them. As the mentor who brought John into the X-men, he was best equipped to give the final word on their fallen friend.

“Thank you all for attending this ceremony,” he said, “For my past X-men, my current X-men, and the friends who have supported us…let me start by saying that I’ll miss John Proudstar. He was a true X-man and a good friend. When he first came to me, he was lost. He kept trying to do the right thing, but faltered due to circumstances beyond his control. What always stood out about him is that no matter how difficult his struggles, he never lost sight of what was right and wrong. That’s what made him a great X-man.”

Hearing those words touched everyone, but they especially affected James. While others listened, John’s older brother held his head low. Xavier was listing all the qualities in John that he callously brushed aside. Now everything took on a different light.

“We can and should follow his example,” Xavier continued, “In times of great sorrow, it’s easy to become bitter. In our bitterness we lose sight of what’s right and wrong. If we’re to continue using our powers for the greater good, we must never forget the importance of that good. We must carry on as John did until his dying breath. So I ask that you all say goodbye to John Proudstar in your own way. With those parting words, make him a promise. Promise that you’ll never losing sight of our collective dream. John ‘Thunderbird’ Proudstar was an X-man and a warrior. Today, let us honor him as such.”

It seemed the most appropriate way to deal with such a sad moment. Some even smiled at the Professor’s words. As difficult as it was to say goodbye to a friend and fellow X-man, making him a promise seemed like a fitting way to honor his memory.

The sun was starting to set over the horizon. The Apache tribesman who gathered for the ceremony had finished their rituals. The time had come to say their final goodbyes. Once the Apache elders had their final say, the X-men began following Charles Xavier’s example.

They all lined up along John Proudstar’s grave and made their promise to him. They took their time. Some even left mementos on the grave. Jean left a picture of them from when they were dating. Bobby and Rahne left a piece of his old uniform. Logan even left a can of John’s favorite beer. It earned him some looks, but he didn’t make anything of it. This was his way of honoring John and that didn’t make it any less meaningful.

When it came time for Warren to say his goodbyes, he left one of his feathers atop the grave. However, as he plucked one from his wing he winced. He was wearing a heavy coat so others wouldn’t notice his sickly condition. One person who noticed was Betsy, who lingered close as she picked up on his demeanor.

“How much longer are you going to hide it, Warren?” she asked him, “Everyone else may be respecting your privacy, but I have a hard time respecting someone’s desire to remain sick.”

“It…it’s complicated,” he told her, “You’re not going to make me talk just because we had a little moment that one night, are you?”

“Not unless you want to,” said Betsy in a sincere tone, “I’m still willing to listen. You just made John a promise to do the right thing. I can help you make good on that promise if you let me.”

“Why would you care? You barely know me,” said the winged mutant in a shaky voice.

“You learn a lot about a man during a passionate night at a New York nightclub,” she said with a light smile, “I see that there’s a man behind those wings form that’s worth helping. Or if it makes you feel less feeble, I’ll say I need a new distraction from everything that has happened.”

Warren smiled back. Betsy offered her hand and he took it, following her away from John Proudstar’s grave with the hopes that he may keep the promise he just made him.

One-by-one, the X-men and their associates honored John. They tried to draw strength from this moment as they prepared to confront a decimated world. The only one who hesitated was James Proudstar. When he approached his brother’s grave, he didn’t say anything or make any promises. He just stood as still as a statue, fixated on the brother he just lost. He stood in silence even as the X-men and Apache tribesman were preparing to leave. They all made their peace with John. So why couldn’t he?

Ororo Munroe noticed James’s conflicted state. She lingered behind and stood next to him. Knowing this loss was so much more personal, she didn’t say much. She only offered her presence and her comfort.

“I’m not going to ask if you’re okay, James,” said Ororo, “Take as much time as you need.”

“I still think it should be me in that grave,” he said distantly, “John was always the better warrior. He did everything I was too stubborn to do. He was braver. He was stronger.”

“He was your brother,” she said with a comforting gesture, “Whatever differences you had with him, it doesn’t matter anymore.”

“I know. He’s dead. He’s not here to bust my balls anymore. But if I screw up again, who will be there to stop me? How can I make a promise that I’m not sure I can keep?”

James Proudstar was a complicated and distraught man. Thankfully, Ororo was used to dealing with complicated men. In her experience, the only way to get through to men like James was to give them something to hold onto. John understood that as well. Remembering his final wishes, she reached into her pocket and pulled out the beaded necklace that John gave her.

“Here…John told me to give this to you,” she said as she placed the necklace in his hand.

When James looked down into his hand he was momentarily shocked. In an instant a whole host of memories came rushing back to him. In those memories this necklace played a major role.

“He…he kept it?” he said in a near gasp.

“I take it that means something to you,” said Ororo.

“When we were kids, we always knew we were going to be warriors. In all that time we competed, getting on each other’s nerves every step of the way. During this one test of strength we had to fight in this tournament while going without food or water. This necklace was something our mother made. She gave it to me before she died so I wore it for luck. Then in the final round, John beat me. I was so upset I tore off the necklace and threw it away. I never expected to see it again, but…”

James choked on his words under the strain of emotion. Clutching the necklace, he looked back towards John’s grave. Even in death, his brother pushed his buttons in just the right ways.

“He told me he would never give it back until I got my act together. If he gave it to you to give to me, then I guess that means…he never stopped believing in me. More importantly, he believed I was capable of not screwing up for once.”

Through his sorrow, a smile formed on James Proudstar’s face. With the necklace in hand, he knelt down to his brother’s grave.

“I can make this promise now. I’ll do the right thing, brother. I’ll be the warrior I should have been…the warrior that we both wanted to be.”

It seemed as though James had made peace with his brother. It showed a level of spirit that Ororo couldn’t help but admire. No matter how many times he failed, he was going to keep fighting. With that in mind, she was confident that James Proudstar was in good hands.

“I’ll leave you now. I’m glad I could help,” she told him.

“Actually…I’d like it if you stayed,” said James, reaching up and grasping Ororo’s hand before she could walk away.

“Are you sure? This is as a family affair and I don’t want to intrude.”

“Believe me, you’re not intruding. You’ve already done more than I can ever thank you for,” he said to her, “Besides, your good company. I think we could all use that at a time like this”

Ororo kept smiling and stood by distraught man, keeping a comforting hand on his shoulder as he shared one last moment with his brother. Everyone had made a promise to John. It was only fitting that none were more motivated to keep it than James Proudstar.

The sun soon set over the reservation. The X-men paid their respects to a teammate and friend. Despite this loss, they had so much left to fight for. The Legacy Virus had done a lot of damage. The world had a long and painful road to recovery. Now more than ever, the world needed the X-men.

Unknown Location

Of the many that were devastated by the Legacy Virus, none were hit harder than the Morlocks. The Legacy Virus didn’t just kill friends and loved ones. It destroyed their entire society. Living in a sewer with so little access to basic resources only exacerbated the devastation. The biggest loss of all was the death of Healer, the founder of the Morlocks. Once word got out that he was dead, the Morlocks as everyone knew it ceased to exist.

For Callisto, it meant making some difficult decisions. Marrow, Sunder, and the remaining Morlocks planned to seek refuge in places like District X. She saw that as cowardice. They rejected the surface world for a reason. Now they were fleeing to it knowing that once the shock of the Legacy Virus wore off, they would go back to being freaks. Callisto sought another path, but she could still hear Marrow scolding her for doing this.

“Is this how you honor the memory of the Morlocks? In our darkest hour you run off with any random stranger that offers you a chance to vent your frustrations? I guess our people didn’t mean enough to you!”

Those words stung, but not enough to make her reconsider. Marrow and the others may be okay with hiding from human barbarism, but she chose to stand and fight. That’s what led her to this mysterious place.

Her destination could not be reached by traditional means. In the weeks leading up to the Legacy Virus, there was a rumor circulating that someone was recruiting mutants for a new team. It wasn’t the X-men. It wasn’t the Brotherhood. There was no one else like it. And in wake of the Legacy Virus, she made her decision.

She met up with a familiar face in Stryfe and a mysterious figure named Gateway. After affirming her loyalty, Gateway formed a portal that took them to some mysterious tropical island. It was hot and humid, full of lush vegetation and swampy terrain. Callisto wasn’t used to the beating sun, but she was willing to adapt if she would have a chance to battle the humans.

“So are you going to tell me the full story or what, Stryfe?” asked Callisto as she followed him over a patch of rough vegetation, “Keep in mind I’m pretty skeptical after you screwed me over in that Inauguration Day debacle.”

“I assure you this is different. I’m not the mastermind behind this little endeavor if you can believe that,” said Stryfe somewhat bitterly, “We’ve been biding our time, waiting for an opportunity. Now that the Legacy Virus has weakened the entire world, we’re ready to strike and we want you to be part of it.”

“That’s all well and good, but who’s we?” she asked.

“See for yourself,” grinned Stryfe.

Stryfe led her over one last ridge. It led to a clearing where a series of makeshift houses and buildings had been constructed. There were a number of mutants running back and forth, carrying out various tasks. She recognized some as former Morlocks. There were other familiar names like Vertigo from Sinister’s Marauders, the Kleinstock brothers, and Sauron. They were all working on something big, further heightening Callisto’s intrigue.

Leading the operation was Toad, someone Callisto recognized. However, he looked very different now. He was more heavily muscled, his skin was a different shade of green, and he seemed to be controlling the flora and fauna surrounding them. When he saw Callisto, he skillfully leaped across the landscape to greet her.

“You must be Callisto,” he said in a strangely deep tone.

“Toad? You’re the one behind this?” said a bewildered Callisto.

“Don’t look shocked. But as you can see, I’ve been working out. I’ve also been working on a plan.”

“You…a plan?” she said skeptically, “I was under the impression that you were expendable enough for the Brotherhood to let you get arrested!”

“That was then. This is now. As you can see, I’ve gotten an upgrade. I’ve also learned a thing or two that my buddies in the Brotherhood never realized. You’ve seen how fucked up the world is after the Legacy Virus. Where most see tragedy, I see opportunity. It’s an opportunity for us…the Mutant Liberation Front!”

“The Mutant Liberation Front?” she repeated with a raised eyebrow, “I like the name, but what’s the plan?”

“Come with me,” said Toad with a grin, “I think you’ll like what we have in store.”

End of Volume 5

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