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The Iceman's Tale
An ACCOUNTANT entered and sat on the
Hello Chris. This is an unexpected pleasure. Come on in. Care for a cup of coffee or tea? No, it's no trouble at all.
So you're Leslie. No, I'm glad to meet you!
How are things with Factor X? Now where's that filter... So, you want me to tell you something. What do you want to hear about?
The X-Men. Of course. Yes, Chris, I expect what your parents tell you about them is a bit limited, seeing they were active members only for a limited time.
Well, sit down in an easy chair and make yourself comfortable. This may take some time.
I'm not proud of being the only one of the original five to survive, but there's no denying I'm proud to have been one of them. We were a special group, the Five Musketeers you might say. In many ways we remained a clique of our own within the X-Men right until the end. Even Christopher's father never really became one of us, and he is Scott's brother!
It ultimately was because Professor Xavier gathered us together when we were so young. None of us really had yet learned to fend for ourselves. It was different for the Professor's later classes -- they either were older than we had been when we started, or at least some of them had been forced to look after themselves or their siblings, and thus were less impressionable. And the Prof had become more experienced by the time the new recruits arrived in Westchester.
But we were The First. The Originals. Most of us came to Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters from the bosom of our families, as it were. Only Hank had already started his college freshman year elsewhere and Scott had been taken under the wing of a villain called the Living Diamond.
Maybe it was inevitable that we became a surrogate family with Charles Xavier as the ersatz father, with me as the bratty kid brother. Or to use another comparison, Jean was Ginger X, Hank: Sporty, Warren: Posh, Scott: Scary, and yours truly: Baby X.
You don't remember that there used to be five Spice Girls? You really ought to listen to the oldies channels more often. Ah well. We were too young and too small a group for this not to happen. We kept living in each other's pockets through most of the early years. And we dedicated ourselves to the Professor's Dream of a world in which mutant and non-mutant would live together in peace. Rather ironic, what happened afterwards.
The Professor trained us to use our powers, to function as a team in a fight, to become superheroes. And that is what we became, heart and soul. Ultimately, it was the only job we became good at -- except for Hank, obviously. He had a Nobel Prize to prove it. But whenever one of the other four tried to actually live the Dream, to do a job that did not involve spandex suits and busting villains' heads, we grew uneasy and itchy within weeks and drifted back to what we knew best. Even after most of us left the X-Men, we kind of gravitated to each other in other groups -- first it was Warren and me in the Champions, then the two of us plus Hank in the Defenders, and finally all five of us in X-Factor.
It's hard to say how much of our personalities and that aspect in particular was shaped by the Professor. We didn't blame him. He did what he thought was right, and it was a dangerous time to be a mutant.
We would not always listen to him, even when we still were fairly young. Or was it that we became jealous because he devoted an increasing part of his attentions to others besides ourselves?
No, that probably would be exaggerating things.
But after Professor X assembled his second class -- Storm, Wolverine, Colossus and the rest -- Warren, Hank and I left almost precipitately and for a while we were totally out of touch with Xavier and the others, even Scott and Jean. We'd sometimes meet the new guys in action, but that happened little more often than I would meet, say, Spider-Man or the Human Torch.
We occasionally would come together with the others for 'family occasions', like the funeral service for the original Phoenix (we thought she was Jean) or later for your uncle Scott's first wedding. But with some of the new ones we simply could not (and did not want to) get along, especially with someone like Logan, whom most of us considered little better than the killers we fought as enemies. When Scott went off on his own after we thought Jean had died, Warren tried to help out at the Mansion, but he found it impossible to live with Wolverine, and after a few weeks he left.
We were dismayed by some of the later rookies the Professor took into the team. Rogue, a former Evil Mutant. We did not trust her, which in retrospect was a little funny because her life story was not without parallels to Scott's, only she had found it harder to disassociate herself from her past and her surrogate parent than Scott from his. But that was because Aunt Raven cared for Rogue more deeply and more genuinely than Jack O'Diamonds ever did for Scott. But you know that, you see for yourself every week how Mystique is about as obsessed with Rogue's memory as I am with...
Anyway, what was even worse from our point of view was that not long after that, the Professor even let Magneto join. We vividly remembered him as our worst enemy. It was then that Scott left the X-Men, shortly after Professor X had once again disappeared.
And then Jean Grey reappeared.
The original five could get together again to do what we thought was the right thing. But we soon slid into wrongness.
We were desperate to have Scott with us, Scott was desperate to be with us. He deeply felt that he was the only one who could lead us, he really wanted to help Jean, and maybe subconsciously he was dreaming of getting together with her again.
Madelyne, Scott's first wife, got trodden underfoot in the process. True, she later turned out to be Jean's clone and to have been conditioned to some extent by Sinister, but that does not mean that she wasn't a person in her own right, that she did not have a soul. Had we considered her more, she might have been saved, who can tell? Instead, she felt abandoned, and when she discovered the truth, something in her snapped. She fell into despair and lived the rest of her short life for nothing but revenge. It sounds odd when I say that she sold her soul and her humanity to a demon in her bid to get her own back, but it's the honest truth. Ultimately, it also cost her her life.
Another thing we did not properly face was that we had begun to look on the "New X-Men" as enemies without trying to understand their point of view, but also without confronting them, without telling them what we thought they had done wrong. We did not bother to try to make them change their mind about their alliance with Magneto or to try to save the junior team -- the New Mutants -- from his influence. We simply cut ourselves off and decided the five of us were sufficient unto ourselves. We did not even invite your parents to join us, which ironically meant that not long afterwards he joined the ones we had banished from our presence.
As X-Factor, Incorporated, we became obsessed with secrecy and a complicated MO. To the outside world, we pretended to be mutant hunters, hoping to get mutant haters to call us, and then we'd go, pretend to capture the mutants in question but actually save them and give them a chance to learn to deal with their powers. We'd also operate as a bogus group of mutant terrorists -- staging battles against ourselves -- on whom we could blame the destruction in the wake of the battles that made X-Factor the darlings of mutiphobe media across the States. We finally reached a point where we became annoyed with a young television reporter -- Trish Tilby -- who began to investigate X-Factor, Inc. instead of praising them for their efforts to combat the 'Mutant Menace.'
Sooner than we expected, everything began to unravel. Sinister and his Marauders appeared and started to slaughter the Morlocks. The X-Men and X-Factor tried to stop them, but we acted separately and took heavy losses. Warren was so badly wounded that they had to amputate his wings. The emotional pain he went through then was enough to drive him to let Apocalypse recruit him for a time. His friend Cameron Hodge, who as our public relations guy ran most of our daily operations, was revealed as a snake in the grass. He had used our resources, our efforts, our ads to stir up anti-mutant hysteria for his own ends, and now he crowned his achievement by getting his claws into Warren's fortune.
Things got worse and worse -- our cover was shot, thanks to Mystique. The new X-Men were believed to be dead. Seeing Scott and Jean together on TV sent Madelyne off the rails and ultimately into self-destruction. One of the few gleams of hope was that we began to overcome our misunderstandings with Trish (her reports helped to limit the damage of the PR fall-out).
Well, I won't bother with the further details of the first X-Factor. In the end we were reunited with the X-Men after the Prof returned from outer space. Alex and Lorna then got together with Val Cooper and started the new X-Factor, the one that later became Factor X.
In our private lives, things became fairly stable for a while. Scott and Jean were a couple again, got married and raised Madelyne's son Nathan together. Unfortunately the boy was prone to be struck by temporal anomalies -- he got infected with a techno-organic virus, disappeared into the future, sent back into our past, that sort of thing. For a while there were two grown-up versions of him -- Cable and Stryfe -- fighting it out in our present, and then one day there was none. And that's when Jean and Scott really went through a crisis.
But I'm getting ahead of myself, aren't I? I'd better say something about the others first. Hank and Trish had fallen in love while we were still calling ourselves X-Factor. They had their problems and misunderstandings, but it really was inevitable that they got married. Once they got through the sticky patches, it became what was probably the most uncomplicated relationship of any X-Man.
That same year Warren met Charlotte; they quickly became an item, but later drifted apart. Myself, I had raised mismanaged romances to a fine art. Opal Tanaka was only the latest in a series of women with whom I fell in love but with whom I badly fumbled the follow-up. Somehow, until Em...
After we returned to the Mansion, the chemistry between the old and new X-Men changed. For a while, the team was reorganized into two sections, and the original five were split up among them. I'm not sure how much sense it made from a tactical point of view, but it did force us 'old-timers' to interact more with the 'juniors'. It seems to have worked -- after a while we even grew closer to some of the newer X-Men on the squad we weren't in. Warren and Betsy Braddock -- Psylocke -- became lovers for a couple of years, Hank liked to pal around with Jubilee, Scott and Jean both grew close to Ororo, and to my surprise I discovered that Rogue and I really could relate to one another as friends.
Emma... at that time was still running with the Hellfire Club, until Trevor Fitzroy slaughtered her first set of students, the Hellions. She wound up in a coma and in our medlab, and then one day she woke and ... possessed my body ... well, I think I remember telling you about Emma's story. Anyway, a few years after she reformed and became the headmistress of Xavier's high school, she and I fell in love...
But to get back to the others -- I guess it is your aunt and uncle you really want to know about, Chris. Things went smoothly, maybe too idyllic even, until the disaster in Connecticut, when Cable and Stryfe fused and disappeared into a parallel universe because of some magical accident I never really figured out. Scott was devastated, and it now emerged that he had a lot of bad feelings bottled up inside him that he had not dealt with properly. Especially the way he had treated Nathan's mother, Madelyne. For a time, he became estranged from Jean and obsessed about everything he had done wrong (or thought he had done wrong) in the past. Although Jean, although we all tried to bring him out of his depression, he became filled with self-loathing, and then he surprised everybody (but confirmed to his own mind his low opinion of himself) by having an affair with Betsy.
Why did they do it? God knows. We had endless discussions about it, both behind their backs and with them. Personally, I think it had something to do with Scott's special attraction to the opposite sex -- women always seemed to find him most irresistible when he was at his most vulnerable. Betsy originally must just have flirted with him -- possibly felt neglected by Warren -- but before she knew it, things went out of hand and she and Scott started to go to bed together in secret. When they were found out, the ... um, manure really hit the fan. Warren dumped Betsy like a hot potato and Jean ran out on Scott for a while and fled into the waiting arms of Logan. Some of us never had warmed up to him at all, but it was hard for us to blame him for that. After all, most of us had had a crush on Jean ourselves at one time or other, and we weren't sure how we would have reacted had we been unattached... In fact, Hank and I rather suspected that had Warren not gotten back together with Charlotte on the rebound, he might well have tried something with Jean himself. It would have made for some kind of symmetry had the cheated man and woman gotten their own back in that fashion, but it did not happen. Some of us only began to suspect what really happened when we jestingly suggested to place bets about Jean and Warren, and Logan offered suspiciously high odds against.
After this had gone on for a while, Jean and Scott came to their senses, decided they still loved each other, and determined to get their marriage off the rocks. And then they discovered that with someone with Logan's healing factor, "safe sex" might require more elaborate precautions than for the average Joe: Jean found out she was pregnant. But they dealt with it surprisingly quickly, and even before Abby was born Scott loved her as if she was his own. Four years later, he and Jean at last had a child together, Daniel.
Jean and Scott always were closest to the team. Unlike Warren, Hank and me, they never took part in the exchange program with the Avengers. Well, it really would not have worked most of the time, what with Scott usually being team leader or deputy leader.
They did not move away from the Xavier estate and happily settled down in their home in the converted boathouse. That was far enough from the Mansion for them, it provided enough privacy most of the time. The Professor had got them into the habit of seeing themselves as his heirs-apparent, and that was something most everybody accepted.
For us other three, it was different. Warren had his own places where he lived between missions. He set up house with Charlotte, and finally made it official by marrying her and adopting Timmy. They tried to have children together, but some of the stuff Apocalypse had done to him must have made him infertile. Since Charlotte continued to work in her job at the NYPD, they lived in their Manhattan penthouse most of the time, so Warren was in easy reach, usually, and did not have to live at the Mansion.
Hank probably had the most detached life of the five of us. Although there never was any doubt that he was first and foremost an X-Man, he also had strong personal ties to the Avengers. Also, his scientific research occupied a lot of his time. We never found out how he and Trish managed to squeeze a family life into their schedules and have three children. Maybe it was because they were so busy that they'd decided they did not have time enough for quarrels and marital crises.
Myself... I did not stay at the Mansion as much as I used to either. Emma lived in Massachusetts, and I spent more and more of my time with her there. At first it was a clandestine relationship because I was a high-profile mutant and Emma did her best to hide her powers -- it's always hardest for telepaths to find acceptance -- and also the true purpose of the School for Gifted Youngsters from public knowledge. She feared these secrets would be jeopardized if our liaison became known. For years we did not go to social events together. Or at any rate not physically; we sometimes linked up telepathically when only one of us attended.
Only when Emma became pregnant with Imogen she relented, and we made our relationship known to the world, and some time after her birth we finally tied the knot. Those years were the happiest in my life. I began to spend years at the Academy in Snow Valley, helping with the training sessions and administrative matters. This would alternate with 'tours of duty' with the X-Men. Emma and I were happily living together, raising Imogen, and she had finally worked up the courage to tell Cordelia that she was her mother. And then, ten years ago, I was assigned to the Avengers in the annual exchange.
We got into one of their periodic battles against Kang, and as usual, time travel was involved. We went to various points in the past and future, and when we finally returned, Immortus dropped us off two years after we left. When we arrived, Jarvis told us the news: The X-Men were dead, and Emma with them.
Well, you know what happened -- how the Shadow King came to possess Apocalypse and how these two beings coalesced into a threat that made Onslaught look shabby, both on the physical and psi level.
The Professor was no longer there -- he had died shortly before I joined the Avengers -- and so the three telepaths at hand, Jean, Betsy, and Emma had to link up against him in the final battle. It wasn't enough, and when Excalibur arrived at the last moment to finally destroy King Apocalypse, Rachel could only save one of them -- Jean.
When I saw her, Jean was in a terrible state. Her powers were gone, her life was a lingering death that consisted of long periods of pain or catatonia interrupted by lucid episodes. It took over a year for her sufferings to end. Logan had taken it upon himself to care for her until she died.
Apart from Logan and Dani Moonstar, every X-Man who had been active on September 2nd, 2013 was now dead. The survivors -- including many of those who had been on pregnancy leave or in other teams on the Day the X-Men Died -- joined up with X-Factor, which reorganized under a new charter as Factor X.
I was teetering on the brink of despair, or maybe I had taken the step over the line. My closest friends and the woman who had been the center of my life were dead. I was totally determined not to accept this, determined to undo what happened. I decided to commandeer the Fantastic Four's time machine to travel back and prevent the X-Men's death.
Yes, I knew Reed Richard's theories of time-travel before I went.
Well, Leslie, I know a little bit about mathematics, and I think he overlooked a couple of angles. But who's going to listen to an accountant over the world's greatest scientific genius? It is not impossible to travel in time without ending up in a parallel universe, it is just very improbable. When I first worked out the figures, I was so excited that it could be done that I unfortunately was off by two decimal places for the odds against, but if you want it, I've written a little treatise on the matter, I can download it for you. Anyway, there have been some time-traveling events that to me indicated that you do not always wind up in a different timeline. Consider Cable -- he is from our reality, grew up for years in the far future, and then returned to his original timeline years before the point from which he left. According to Richards' Theorem that should have been impossible. So I figured I'd do something similar, travel to the future first, and back from there to a point in time before September 2nd, 2013. If I didn't make it to our reality, I'd repeat the process until I did and saved Emma and the others.
So I catapulted myself 20 years into the future, into a parallel timeline, where I only had to wait until the FF were off on a mission. I could walk into Four Freedoms Plaza using my Avengers priority card. I had figured it would be more complicated...
But then things got very hectic. I had to put in as many jumps as I could squeeze into the time before the Fantastic Four returned home.
The first attempt was to go back to 2011. I knew that a day after my arrival, there would be a battle between X-Factor and the Shadow King near Savannah, the last sighting of Amahl Farouk before he merged with Apocalypse. In my past, this battle had been a surprise encounter, from which the Shadow King managed to escape. But if I cold bring in some of the X-Men's heavyweight psis to that battle in time, maybe it would be possible to capture or disperse his psychic essence and thus prevent his fusion with Apocalypse. I was fairly optimistic, because this was still two years before the Professor's death, and he was the most powerful telepath ever.
Time was pressing, but it worked quite well, all things considered. Professor X heard my story and immediately called together the telepaths. I got on the first plane, along with my alter ego and this reality's Emma. Yup, it was the same me all right, the other Bobby Drake could not resist quipping about me being beside myself with anxiety. At least as far as he and Em were concerned, there were no notable differences, they showed me photographs of Imogen which I thought I remembered taking myself in my reality. Had I been lucky at the first attempt?
Well, to cut a long story short -- we won. The plan worked, and the Shadow King's essence was scattered, I hope to kingdom come. I felt lucky and more than a little pleased with myself. But then I felt as if someone was walking over my grave.
When the two teams gathered after the battle to congratulate each other and to compare notes, I noticed an unfamiliar young man among the ranks of X-Factor, a teenager with a striking white streak among his brown hair. With a sinking feeling I asked who he was, and my reawakened fears were immediately confirmed. He was Nathan Summers.
He had not been infected with the techno-organic virus and been raised normally (or as normally as could be expected) by Scott... and Madelyne. After graduating from Xavier's School, he had joined his uncle's team under the code name Myrmidon.
I had wound up in a different reality after all.
After I recovered from my shocked disappointment, I was able to talk with the others and find out more about this timeline.
It seems to have diverged from ours shortly after Jean's return from the bottom of Jamaica Bay. After Scott left Maddy to join the other original X-Men, Madelyne had taken a few days to make up her mind to follow him. In our reality, the flight she was going to take was booked up, and before she could board the next one, the Marauders attacked. Over there, there still were seats available, and so she suddenly appeared on Warren's doorstep with Nathan in her arms. Which meant that things became clear to Jean a heckuva lot earlier than in the reality I remembered.
It really was astonishing how differently things had evolved from that. In our world, Madelyne took the breakup of her marriage so hard that she flipped out into a murderous madness that she tried to kill her own son and ultimately killed herself. There, Jean stood back as soon as she found out that Scott was married. Scott was a good man, in that reality as well as ours, and Jean's unselfish forbearance enabled him to get through his deep crisis, to rediscover his feelings for his wife. The funny thing was that, over there, when Hank discovered that Maddy was Jean's imperfect clone, they actually began to look at each other as sisters, and grew kinda close, and Jean became a beloved aunt to Nathan and his younger siblings, Ruth, Naomi and David. After Cameron Hodge killed Candy Southern, she married Warren, but that ended in divorce after a few years. She later married Logan; they lived in the Boathouse with Warren IV and Mary.
I don't know if Scott became as happy with Madelyne there
as he was with Jean in our world, but near as I could tell they all were content. Scott
took a greater part in the running of the School, starting when he was called in after it
became too much for Magneto.
Anyway, they had done pretty well over there, all things considered. I only hope none of the telepaths pulled the story of what had happened to Madelyne in our reality from my mind. When my time was up, I bade good-bye to my counterpart and to his wife, and was pulled back to the future. With so many more powerful psis available, I could not even be sure that my intervention had been essential.
I immediately got started on my second jump into the past. The time machine was set for Snow Valley, a month earlier than for the first one. As I walked up to the Academy's front door, I thought I could hear my heartbeat, so anxious was I about which reality I found myself in.
When the door was opened by a teenage boy who looked like Irene Cooper's brother, I knew I had missed the mark once again. There was no way of knowing if my warning about King Apocalypse would be needed here. But I wanted to see Emma again, and asked to see her.
There was no problem and the blue-skinned student led me to her office. But I got another shock when he addressed her as 'mom'. It hit me like a punch to my gut. That boy could not be my son, so Emma must have...
This world's Emma Frost looked at me with wonder when she caught my unguarded thoughts. "Who are you?" she asked. She immediately saw I was not the Bobby Drake she remembered, something the electronic defenses of the School had failed to do. Seconds later, Mystique stepped into the room, ready for a fight (Emma had telepathically called her, just in case) and bundled the kid out of the room.
I... kinda broke down, or at any rate I sank into a chair. We talked, but they wound up asking me more questions than I did them.
As far as warning them about the Shadow King was concerned, my journey was a bust. It turned out that he had tangled with Doctor Strange and ended up imprisoned in the dimension inside a purple crystal ball, safely stored in the Doctor's Sanctum.
What Emma and Raven really grilled me about was my own life story. My counterpart in this timeline had evolved rather differently. He had not dared to unfreeze when he was wounded -- the confrontation with Emma did not help, and in the end Jean had to possess him to make him do it.
Physically that had saved him, but the way it happened made him spin further down into my old inferiority complex instead of overcoming it. He became convinced of his own worthlessness as a superhero and not long after retired from the business to become a full-time accountant.
Emma had been sorry to see him end up that way, but had not hesitated to write him off as a whittle either. And not long after that, she fell in love with Mystique, they had a son together, and Raven became the head of school security.
Seeing me, listening to what I told her of my life with Emma and Imogen came as a visible shock to her. But her amazed reaction was nothing compared to Mystique's when I got around to asking what had split her and Val Cooper up in this timeline.
When you say a person's face turns ash-gray, that normally is a figure of speech. For Raven at that moment, it was a literal description. Her knees actually buckled, and Emma rushed to throw her arms around her and comfort her.
The explanation was cruelly simple: Valerie was dead. Her throat had been slashed by the last swipe of Sabretooth's claws in the moment when she saved the lives of X-Factor in '95. Raven had taken a long time to get over Val's death, and hearing me tell of our Valerie and Raven, of Irene and Hope, did not just reopen old wounds, it was as if I was rubbing salt into them as well. Yet she insisted I tell her everything once she had calmed down.
I still had almost a day until the time machine would take me back. But there was nothing urgent for me to do, so we just sat down together the three of us and talked the rest of the afternoon. After we got past the upsetting revelations, we quickly warmed up to each other. They showed me around the school. Watched the beginners' class in a training session. Had supper together with their son, Valentine. And then found out that Emma and Raven together led rather a different kind of marriage from those they led with their partners in our world...
When it was time to go to bed, Emma asked me if I wanted her to share mine with me. I was speechless and goggle-eyed. Raven was totally unfazed by her partner's proposition, just grinned evilly and asked if I wanted her to join in. At that moment I thought they were joshing me, but they weren't. Emma really had taken a shine to me, and they were surprised when I told them that my Emma and I had not led that kind of an 'open marriage.'
I had to think for a long time when it finally sank in. In the end I thought the opportunity was too good to miss. It had been so long since I had last made love to my Emma, and I was having my first doubts that my self-imposed mission would actually succeed. I accepted Emma's offer. We went to their bedroom, Raven kissed us both impartially and withdrew (she knew I would be gone for good within a day, so she could afford to be generous.). We were left alone.
It really was astonishingly like making love to my Emma, her body was almost exactly as I remembered it. This Emma too had given birth, and the stretch-marks were virtually identical. She even had given her breasts the same names as in our universe. Sorry, should I have mentioned this with you around, Leslie...?
Geez, I didn't know you two...
Man, when I was your age, I was only having wet dreams about stuff like that, but then I was the late bloomer of the team... Ernie and Bert? You have a warped mind... Oh, I get it. Well, if you must know, Emma called the left one Charlie and the other Samantha. And both Emmas had this trick that drove me wild. She'd bite down on the tip of Charlie and pulled upwards as far as she dared...
It was wonderful while it lasted, so much like being with ... her. Not just physically... uh, making love with a telepath is not an experience that you can easily describe in words. But the 'shape' of this Emma was exactly as I remembered it, for those few hours I felt it was not like being with the love of my like, I felt I was with her. My bedmate felt a real affection for me, as well as no little curiosity, a desire to get to know me completely, and she wanted to comfort me. It was easy for me to concentrate on the similarities between the feelings she was conveying to me telepathically and physically, and the memory of my Emma's love for me. And to sorta ignore the differences, to edit out the bass note of her deeply-felt love for Raven...
When the time for my return came, she said: "Pity I'm on the pill. It would have been a great adventure to have an Imogen with you here as well."
She said it to make me feel better, but as I was transported back into the future I came from, it actually did the reverse. In bed I thought I pretended I was making love to Emma, but that remark reminded that she was not her, and I hated myself for betraying the woman I was still trying to save.
But I did not have much time to think about it, to wallow in my guilt or to rationalize what I had done. I had to make haste with my third attempt before the owners of the time machine returned. I again aimed for the Massachusetts Academy building, a couple of weeks after the point I just came from.
I immediately ran into a group of blue-clad goons with facemasks, big guns and an attitude. Tried to get away. Took out half a dozen. And then was knocked out by a stun-gun.
When I came to, I found myself in a dungeon.
No really. If I hadn't already recognized the uniforms, I would have known from the décor of my prison that I had been captured by the Hellfire Club.
I was shackled and chained to the wall. Some device neutralized my powers. As I slowly got acquainted with my surroundings, I saw there was another prisoner in the room. The costume she wore -- a claret and white number with the obligatory 'X' on it -- was unfamiliar, but the face was not.
"Irene?" I asked.
"Whatever," was the teenager's curt reply.
It was not an easy conversation. I was certain the room was bugged, so I had to be careful what I said. I did not want to give away too much. So I phrased my questions very cautiously and tried to keep to myself that I was not 'of that world.' Which made my fellow prisoner sense that there was something odd about me and led to her keeping her answers down to about a sentence each.
She was a member of the New Mutants, and she was certain that Sebastian Shaw intended to have her brainwashed her into joining the Hellions. Who had not been murdered in this reality. Which was why Emma Frost was still the Hellfire Club's White Queen here, and why she still ran the Massachusetts Academy for them.
I did not have to wait long to see for myself what kind of a woman she was in this reality. She and Shaw came into the dungeon to question us. She turned to Irene's counterpart first, saying: "Ah, young Rowan. I've been looking forward to this."
Rowan (as I later learned, Irene was her middle name here) certainly had spunk. She hurled her defiance at the Queen, finally shouting: "My parents defeated the Shadow King, mind-lady, so don't think you can make me your thrall!"
"Maybe so, child, but your 'father' is still dead and I'm still here," the White Queen retorted with a smile I wish I could forget.
"And who have we here?" asked the Black King. "Aren't you supposed to be dead, Mr. Drake? You had such a grandiose funeral, we saw it on television..."
"I got better," I said. Okay, not original, but the best I could come up with under the circumstance. I had been killed in this timeline???
The White Queen looked at me really intently. I could feel the her telepathic probes looking for cracks in my psychic defense, but I had trained resisting that comparatively low-level stuff with Emma in my world. She raised her eyebrows and raised the intensity of her assault.
I hated this. Hated having to weather her massive frontal assault and at the same time guard against sneak attacks on figurative back doors to my mind and soul. Hated being locked in a battle with this world's version of the woman I loved more than my life.
It got so that I actually tried to reason with her on the telepathic level, to talk this woman out of doing what she was doing. I tried to appeal to her better nature that I knew was there beneath it all, asked her if she wanted Cordelia to remember her mother like this, as the cruel Queen of the Hellfire Club, unloved and unloving. A pretty quixotic thing to do. But it got a reaction. She froze.
"How do you know...?" she asked. Telepathically, because not even Seb Shaw knew that Cordelia was her daughter and not her sister. I seized on her confusion, told her things about the Emma I knew that I hoped would have the kind of effect on this Emma that I was aiming for. Told her about our life with Cordelia and Imogen. Sebastian Shaw was growing restless as our silent conversation drew on, this was not what he had expected to happen.
For a few moments I thought I was making headway with the White Queen, but then an alarm sounded and she was all business again. Her companion was almost relieved that the Academy was under attack, seeing how it made her quickly get over her 'moment of weakness.' The two quickly left to conduct the defense, leaving Rowan and me behind in the detention cellar.
Rowan certainly was a lot more hopeful now. And not long after the two monarchs of the Hellfire Club had left, there was a familiar 'bamf' sound outside, and then the door was blown open. One of the guards in the room swung his gun on us to use us as hostages, but within a split-second Nightcrawler had teleported behind him and knocked him out.
A few seconds later, Valerie Cooper entered the room, followed by Rogue, who was carrying three or four unconscious Hellfire Club goons. No, they had been Kurt's 'passengers' when he 'ported inside the building. Val carried the assault weapons for blowing open doors and all that. Evidently in this world she had become even more of a fighter than in ours, probably as a consequence of the death of Rowan's father, Mystique.
Rowan, meanwhile, beamed at me, bursting with pride at the handiwork of her siblings and mother. Kurt teleported us all out in two jumps. After hearing her daughter's breathless account, Val was itching to question me; I could tell. But the battle was far from over, we could see it raging near the Academy building in the distance.
Once an X-Man, always an X-Man, no matter where in time and space you find yourself. Nothing could have stopped me from joining the assault (I silently prayed that maybe if we succeeded in subduing the White Queen, we might help her in finding her road to...)
We were up against at least half the Inner Circle, but we were slowly making headway, pushing them back yard by yard. One group retreated into the building; Emma and Cordelia were among them. I was among those who cautiously followed. The Hellfire Club's hired muscle was firing at anything that moved, so the ones who weren't invulnerable had to keep their heads down. I felt I was doing all right though, when I suddenly found myself face to face with Emma, and I choked. When it came to the crunch, I hesitated. She didn't, and knocked me out with a psi-bolt.
This was getting monotonous! Somehow I was fated to spend most of this time-trip unconscious.
Regaining consciousness was a lot worse than the time before. The whole room was a mass of wreckage and debris (Shaw had tried to cover his escape by bringing the roof down). I was covered in dust and felt an excruciating pain in my right arm, it was pinned under a concrete beam and, as far as I could tell, badly smashed. Every movement seemed to send a spasm all the way down to my toes.
The battle had moved on, only Rowan was kneeling beside me, tightening a tourniquet. Fortunately, we did not have to wait too long until it was all over and for Rogue to come, lift the beam off me and fly me to a nearby hospital.
No, she had been with the other group, she hadn't been there when ... it happened.
Well, you know my right arm comes off now.. Doctor Reyes could only tell me that it was beyond saving, and then she immediately put me under for the surgery.
I did not even have a chance to find out what had happened to Em-, er the White Queen. All I knew was what Rogue had told me on the way to the hospital: that they had lost sight of her after the wing I was in collapsed.
When I woke the third time, I found myself with a cleanly bandaged stump below my right shoulder. Lying on a cold floor. In Four Freedoms Plaza. As I groggily got to my feet, a vaguely familiar sound was throbbing in my ears. My mind was still in an anesthetic haze, so it took a while for me to realize that I was hearing the hangar doors opening to prepare for the FF's return.
I was in no condition for another attempt to prevent the death of the X-Men. All I could think of was that I did not want to be caught. I went to the controls of the time machine as quickly as I could manage, to set it for my return home. Luckily I had not lost my left arm, so I still had my watch and knew how much time had elapsed since I first arrived in the year 2034 (I had that set to the time of my departure in 2014 so I would not miss my timeline).
I escaped having to confront the Fantastic Four in the future, but not in the present of 2014. They were angry at me for hijacking their time machine, but seeing I had lost my arm, they swallowed it down. Mostly -- Reed Richards still gave me a lecture about not interfering with the fabric of time and the laws of causality after they hauled me to their medical lab. And, as was to be expected, the part of Four Freedoms Plaza where the time machine is housed was off-limits for me ever since.
Well, then came the dark days. Physically, I was all right soon -- Forge constructed some prosthetic arms for me, including one that is up to handling the temperatures near absolute zero I can generate when I freeze up. But added to the grief over losing Emma and my friends I now acutely felt the disappointment over my failure to change the history of my reality. What I had seen and done in the realities I visited did nothing to raise my self-esteem. I felt like a big fat failure. I beat myself up over having slept with the Emma I met on my second attempt (interpreting my loss of an arm as some kind of instant karma for a while, and not for the bad luck it was). That I had failed to save the Emma of my last trip aggravated my self-loathing.
Even at home I sometimes felt superfluous. Imogen was going through puberty, but not unnaturally she turned to her elder sister for counsel, not to me. Cordelia had been her semi-official guardian anyway since Emma's death.
Cordelia really had thrown herself into her work. You know she had a miscarriage when she saw Synch (they had become lovers while I was away) and her mother die with the X-Men; her way of dealing with her grief had been work, work, work -- taking charge of the School and looking after Imogen. Helping her sister deal with her bereavement helped her to overcome the triple agony she experienced herself. By the time I returned with the Avengers, she had already settled into a routine that was as comfortable as could be expected. I did not fit in easily then.
I don't know if she subconsciously resented me for not having been there when she needed me, but in my state of mind I felt she had every right to be. She also had inherited (or learned) from Emma her pronounced dislike of showing feelings that could be interpreted as weakness. She would rather have bitten off her own tongue than ask me for help. Only years later, after we had grown closer again, did she once admit that she would have liked me to...
Also, there was less for me to do as a superhero. The next generation was taking over, and after the X-Men's sacrifice the problems about acceptance had lessened appreciably.
Anyway, I slid into my drinking problem. I won't bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that I eventually licked it. I think Trish's support helped. Shortly afterwards we married, and my life returned to a semblance of normality, as did that of the family as a whole. Cordelia found a new love in Alex Power, and we loosened up with each other. She even insisted I gave her away at the wedding, even though I'm just eleven years older than her and no one gives away their daughters these days. Sometimes you do get another chance.
Why the marriage with Trish didn't work out? Good question, I keep asking myself that all the time. Maybe you best come back in another ten, twenty years, maybe I'll be able to tell you then.
Sorry that I rambled on about myself so much when you wanted to know about the others. Well, it's gotten late. Tell you what: I'll see if the spare bedroom is usable, and then we can take a look at some of the scrapbooks without you having to worry about when you start for home. And I'll try to answer any question you have.
= Finis =