Of all the XvX, this has been my absolute favourite to write – a fascinating experience, to get inside the head of Hank McCoy! So – In association with the X-Men Comics group on Facebook, it’s the battle of the blue ones!
He could still hear the words.
“Now do you see,” roared a voice that haunted his dreams. “This is what it always comes down to! Mutants being hunted to extinction!”
He’d heard many such insane rants over his lifetime as a super-hero, but this particular one would forever stained the Beast’s memory. As he walked down the streets of New York, his appearance cloaked behind a holographic inducer, that familiar voice rang through his mind.
“The time to break that cycle is here and now,” the maniac had continued. “Stand with us, X-Men!”
Hank McCoy felt the weight of history crushing down upon his shoulders. He remembered so well what he had said in response, how he had flippantly joked about turning both ugly and crazy one day. Just the way he’d joked when he walked along the ashes of Genosha. Turn crazy, he mused, not noticing that he’d walked down an alleyway. What if he already was crazy? After all, hadn’t he already broken time apart?
More words rose unbidden in his mind; words spoken in a strange, alien, gravelly voice. “You disgust me.” It had felt as though the universe itself was peering down at him through a microscopic, and giving an unguarded assessment.
“You disgust me.”
Unnoticed, three men had moved behind him, each tugging a balaclava over their faces. One drew a knife, another a gun.
To Hank’s surprise, he was grabbed and slammed roughly against a wall. His eyes widened in shock. “Oh my stars and garters,” he cried.
“Shut it!” The one with the gun yelled, waving the pistol underneath his nose.
“Are you actually trying to mug me?” Something about the whole situation touched Hank’s sense of humour, and he allowed himself a laugh. He’d walked alien worlds, he’d battled gods, he’d gone to war with disease and reality itself… And these three fine fellows thought they could mug him!
“I said shut it!” One thumped him in the stomach, and was no doubt surprised when his punch didn’t even have enough force to make the well-muscled Hank McCoy double over.
Suddenly Hank didn’t see the funny side any more. How many others had these ruffians assailed? How many others had not been capable of defending themselves? Was a mugger any less evil than a madman?
Hank frowned. “Unfortunately, I’m afraid my friends will tell you that I am usually quite incapable of shutting up,” he observed; and then he moved. He didn’t bother to deactivate the holo-field; he swept forward with an animal’s grace, a hand effortlessly grabbing the gun-man’s arm and tugging it into the air. A bullet fired, and Hank frowned. “My, my, you actually didn’t have the safety catch on,” he grumbled. “How many times have you used that pea-shooter?”
The one with the knife got a foot in the face, and was sent flying; Hank threw the other two into the air, and then, unable to entirely break with his sense of humour, he leaped impossibly onto his hands, standing upright, and juggled those two with his feet. The knife-man, he saw, was watching with amazement – oh, and drawing a gun! Flexing effortlessly, Hank propelled his comrades towards him, resulting in what was no doubt a painful collision. All three were rendered unconscious.
Dusting himself off, Hank straightened his jacket and smiled to himself. “You know,” he murmured, “I actually rather enjoyed that. But it does leave me with a rather intriguing question: just what should I do with you now?” Presumably this was why Spider-Man carried webs, he mused. It saved you having to stand around and wait for the police. Chuckling to himself, Hank tugged out his mobile, and dialled 911.
“Hmm,” he muttered. “No signal.”
“I can’t believe you came,” spoke a voice he knew all too well. Hank McCoy looked across the alley and, as he had feared, saw the beaming face of Arcade.
“Yes,” he replied, “Well, it wasn’t exactly out of trust, you know?”
Arcade strode out of the shadows, grinning breezily. His hands were tucked into the pockets of his glistening white coat. “The Watcher really rattled you, didn’t he?”
Hank shrugged. “I confess what rattled me rather more was the fact that you knew of his visit,” he observed. “Are you monitoring the School, by any chance?”
In response, all Arcade did was grin even wider. “Sort of,” he admitted. “I saw it in your future.”
That comment caught Hank’s attention. “What do you know of the future? I seem to recall certain incidents involving Wolverine and the Black Cat…”
“That was the beginning,” Arcade replied cheerily, but chose not to elaborate.
“And are you behind all of these… strange disappearances? I mean, Storm’s gone, Wolverine… Well, OK, it’s pretty hard to keep track of him, I admit… Sunspot and Cannonball have just been reported missing… Even some of our TAs are gone!”
Arcade chuckled. “What gave it away?”
“The weather patterns over Russia, mostly,” Hank explained, lecturing as though in class. “That storm was most unusual, and centred around the old Rasputin farmstead. I couldn’t really see why Storm would be there, until I heard reports of a scrap in Times Square. Dazzler taking on an out-of-time Jubilee, but the present-day Jubilee doesn’t seem to be affected.”
Hank deactivated the holo-inducer, revealing his true form; a hulking furred shape, eyes gleaming with intelligence. “The concept of X-Man against X-Man is not particularly unusual,” he continued. “Frankly, Maria Hill rather seems to believe we’re making a habit out of it. But this seemed forced somehow, and given your last Murderworld exploits with those poor children…”
Arcade nodded. “Elementary,” he complimented. Beast bowed his head in acknowledgment. “So, are you ready to enter the competition?”
Hank laughed again. “I fail to see why I should. I suppose the explosives planted across the Jean Grey School were supposed to be an inducement, but I have to say that Krakoa thought they were a rather spicy snack.”
“Oh, those had been sat around for months,” Arcade retorted. “They were to get Kitty Pryde on board,” he added. “Oh, she was delicious! You should’ve seen her fighting Rogue…”
Hank raised an eyebrow, remaining silent. He vaguely wondered what that expression looked like with his current face.
“But, I’m rambling,” Arcade continued. “I was explaining why you’d join in!”
Arcade stepped forward, and draped an arm around Hank in a comradely manner that frankly disgusted him. He chose not to flinch, though, knowing Arcade was fishing for a reaction.
“It’s all gone horribly wrong, hasn’t it?” Arcade chuckled. “When you people set up the School, you thought it’d be a bastion of hope and enlightenment, shaming Scott Summers! You even brought his past selves into the present-day – gave me the idea for parts of XvX, actually,” he noted.
“Yet another aspect of my shame,” Hank grumbled.
“Quite,” Arcade beamed. “Look at it now, though. Logan’s back to being a hired thug. You’re scared you might’ve broken the future, and you’ve already seen what you could turn into. The timeline’s on that track, too, and you know it. You fixed it there.”
“I am well aware of my current dilemma,” Hank interrupted, crossing his arms. “Now please proceed to the explanation.”
Arcade pulled away, preening. “When you tried to reverse the Decimation, you crossed so many boundaries. I hear you even worked with your doppelganger.”
“I’m not proud of what I did.”
Arcade shrugged. “I don’t care,” he answered. “You did it, that’s what counts. And how many lines did you cross with the Legacy Virus? I hear you even wound up using that as a weapon against the Skrulls. That could’ve gone wrong, caused the death of an entire race…”
“I did as I was told,” Hank protested.
Now Arcade laughed aloud. “Just following orders, huh? Hank, you’re already falling! You were born falling!”
“You’re yet to get to the offer,” Beast roared back, unable to keep his cool.
“Simples,” Arcade replied. “You fight for the greater good. I put everything right, and this whole messed-up reality is fixed.”
“There are other ways,” Beast argued. “If I can get the original X-Men back to their own time…”
“What, Professor Xavier will wipe their minds?” Again Arcade laughed. “But he’ll know everything about the future. Besides, you chose a point in time when the Professor was off gallivanting in Europe, hunting down some alien or other. Your ‘original X-Men’ won’t see their precious Professor for months – so just how is the timeline supposed to fix itself?”
For once, Beast was lost for words.
“Here’s what I’ll do,” Arcade continued, and the arm was draped around Beast’s shoulders again. “You fight for me, and I’ll make sure you’re stopped before you bring those kids into the present-day. You never break your own history, and that timeline where you go ga-ga gets wiped out of existence.”
Beast considered. “Except, Jubilee is still here,” he pointed out, “Meaning that for some unknown reason, time is not resetting around the events you are co-ordinating. So how do I know you can change the past?”
“It’s called a Doomlock,” Arcade explained. “Technology S.H.I.E.L.D. stole from Doom, and I stole from S.H.I.E.L.D.”
It was all making sense now. Hank had never seen a Doomlock, but he was familiar enough with the theory. Time wasn’t changing because Arcade was preventing it from doing so, which meant he was capable of simply switching it off. And here was the thing: if the original X-Men never came to the present day, then Arcade would never be able to make this offer.
What Arcade had not realised, Hank concluded, was that he would wipe his victory out of time. And with that, Hank made up his mind; he would play Arcade’s games, ingratiate himself with the lunatic, and then betray him. And time would be changed, meaning this whole sorry mess never happened in the first place.
“Who do I fight?”
Arcade grinned broadly. “He just came back from the dead,” he explained. “His name’s Nightcrawler.”
Hank swore under his breath. This was not going to be easy.
. ~ .
The woods were filled with the sound of birdsong, and the air tasted sweet on his tongue. Kurt Wagner was grinning broadly as he strolled through the Westchester forest, enjoying once again the paths that he had always loved. It paled to heaven, of course; in heaven, as C. S. Lewis had said, the essence of everything he loved had been there. But he had known, deep down, that his story was not finished – that there were things to do on Earth. A part of him was beginning to wonder if that was the way it had been planned; after all, he had been sent to help Logan through his demon possession, and surely that had only helped reinforce his bond with the land of the living.
There were no answers; God moves in mysterious ways, Kurt reflected, and then paused. The path he loved had led him to an old stone cairn, and, as he always did, he circled around it warily. He considered the cairn symbolic, really – a representation of everything the X-Men did. In the midst of beauty there is also danger. For the cairn was a portal to the N’Garai, and at least a half-dozen times demonic invaders had swept out of it like a horde. Several times, Kurt had been left no option but to travel through it himself.
That was when he heard it; an off-note, a hint of movement, a suggestion that he was not alone in the forest. It had been very quiet at the Jean Grey School, with a lot of people off doing their own things – even Storm. But there were still a lot of students about, even outside of term-time, and Kurt wasn’t particularly surprised to find that someone else had discovered the joys of the Westchester countryside.
“Guten tag,” Kurt called out happily.
At the same time, he’d been ambushed in these woods on countless occasions; and so, even as he greeted the unseen presence, he tensed and prepared himself to teleport if his greeting was not returned.
“Good day to you, Kurt,” called back the familiar voice of Beast. Kurt relaxed.
“Henry! I thought you had gone out!”
Beast dropped out of the tree-branches, landing beside him in a crouch. “I had, Kurt,” he replied calmly.
Too calmly. Kurt stepped forwards, resting his hand on Beast’s furry shoulder. “Is something wrong, meine freunde? You seem… sad.”
Beast gave him a smile in return that Kurt still considered charming. “I have a chance to reverse my mistakes, Kurt,” he explained calmly. “But in order to do so, there is something I have to do.”
Some instinct made Kurt back away. For a reason he couldn’t pin down, he was suddenly scared of his old friend.
“And what is that?”
Beast’s smile faded, and he looked at the forest ground, studying it for a moment. Finally he managed to get the words out. “I have to beat you, Kurt,” he explained. And with those words said, he leapt to the attack.