The Last to Leave
by Red Monster


Disclaimer: All characters belong to Marvel Comics, I make no profit from their use. I realize that the bit I have about Johnny's military service is probably a load of bull that'll never happen, but I don't profess to know anything about the military or where they go, and this isn't supposed to be based in reality, anyway. I also know that the dating in New Mutants #99 makes it impossible for James to have returned to Cable the way he does in this story, but the dating in New Mutants #99 is totally screwy, as it starts on December 14 and ends on December 8 (apparently Rob and Fabian didn't mind their P's and Q's, and BOB didn't mind their P's and Q's either!), so my timeline for the Camp Verde massacre as it relates to James' affairs can't possibly be any worse than that!

Archiving: Just ask, and I’ll send you the HTML copy.

Feedback: Write me, or I’ll send Rhona to your house.

Warning: Much navel-gazing and voyeurism on Johnny’s part ahead!

Parody: MST this and suffer the consequences,, okay.

"Johnny, this is your new little brother, James," an old, white doctor once told me. He pointed to a scrawny, gray-blue little creature lying spread-eagled in an incubator, hooked up to an IV and a respirator. I was later told that he wasn’t supposed to have come out of our mother until nearly two months after he did, and he would probably have a minor learning disability due to his prematurity. Quite frankly, I think the medical profession thinks that all Indian people have messed-up brains, and their rationale, in Jimmy’s case, was his abrupt delivery.

Mom took a few days to recover, leaving my father, grandfather and me to fend for ourselves at home. Grampa came to live with us when I was two years old, after his vision went bad and he couldn’t live by himself anymore. He wasn’t a burden, though. Whenever Mom got tired of running after me and, later, Jimmy, she’d send us to go sit with Grampa and let him tell us a story. Worked for us. Anyway, Mom was then released from the hospital, but without Jimmy, as he still had a long way to go. So, we all went to the hospital every day for two months to visit my brother. Dad would get home from working his ass off to keep us off of welfare, and we’d all pile into that rickety old car and sputter off to check on the scrawny blue thing.

When little James was finally strong enough to come home, I was confronted with the shocking realization that I had a new roommate. After having my parents’ and grandfather’s undivided attention for ten years, I was sharing my room with a kid who couldn’t sleep two hours without waking up with a scream. Had to admire the little rugrat’s fortitude, though. After seeing him in that incubator, I never imagined he’d be able to vocalize with such enthusiasm. He didn’t just keep us up all night, either. He’d smile and make a squealing noise every time I held his little hands. Then, he learned that my fingers were very tasty. There went the squealing noise.

Our parents took Jimmy back to the hospital when he was three to have him tested to see if the doctor’s predictions about him at birth were true. They were told he was a very bright little boy, but would never read at the same level as other kids his age. I think James overheard this and decided to counteract his defect by getting a head start, because after they came home from testing, he dragged a copy of "Tracks" by Louise Erdrich into our room and asked me to teach him how to read. I put "Tracks" to the side to wait until I was ready to read it, and took out "A is for Apple" to introduce him to the alphabet. I showed him each letter and told him what sounds each of them made. Once he got that under his fingers, I started teaching him how to string letters together to make words. Dunno what those doctors were thinking when they called Jimmy learning-disabled. He soaked up reading like water in a sponge at the age of three, and could add and subtract numbers that other preschoolers couldn’t even count up to. By the time he started kindergarten, he was making the "experts" eat their words. Way to go, Jimmy.

James and I share a neurotic need to have someone depend on us. I satisfied this need by looking after him, but this left James without a dependent of his own. When he was seven, opportunity arrived in the form of a stray cat. When my baby brother carried in that smelly, starving, mewling, flea-bag, our parents said the same things all parents say when their kids ask for a pet. "He’ll take care of it for an hour, then he’ll lose interest, and we’ll end up taking full responsibility for it." This would be a valid argument if they weren’t talking about Jimmy. He needed to take care of that animal. "It’ll bring all manner of germs into the house and scratch up the furniture." Well, we were already living in the midst of all manner of germs and anything that cat could have done to our furniture would have been an improvement. Jimmy named his new friend Coyote and nursed him back to health, combing the tangles and fleas out of his fur and feeding him leftovers until he grew strong enough to decapitate mice with his bare paws. That was the oddest cat I ever knew. He fled from our parents, watched Grampa suspiciously, tolerated me, and adored James.

The need to be valued eventually got the best of me. When I was nineteen and James was nine, I left home and joined the Marines. Mom and Dad were sad to see me go, Grampa wasn’t amused that I was joining the ranks of the same military that had bullied our people into submission, and James tried to chain himself to my duffel bag to keep me from leaving. But, off I went. I felt that I wasn’t being of any consequence at home and that I’d be more useful in the Marines. I’d also noticed that, for the past few years, I’d been unusually strong and fast, and thought this would be of value in the military. Life in the Marines wasn’t what I’d imagined. Basic training, having my head shaved, I could handle that much. Then, they sent us out to battle. In Southeast Asia, while keeping a few disgruntled factions from slaughtering each other, my company got into trouble. I’ll spare you the details of the ordeal, but I took a bullet in the shoulder, and saved the whole company from getting killed, except for my two best friends. Harry and Rick were kidnapped by some guerrillas and I later heard they were tortured to death. I got promoted to the rank of corporal for my "act of heroism," as they called it, received a medal, and the other guys learned not to give me any flak, but I couldn’t let go of seeing Harry and Rick get dragged off into the jungle. They were the only guys I could relate to since I left Jimmy in Arizona. When the Marines discharged me, I was only too happy to go home.

After a few years of making myself useless back at Camp Verde, I was out chasing buffalo one day when a voice popped into my head and snapped me to attention. There was Professor Charles Xavier, asking me to join his X-Men. As I left with him, I told myself I was doing the right thing. James was a freshman in high school, hardly a baby anymore, and hadn’t needed me to keep tabs on him in a very long time. These "mutants" I was joining up with sounded a lot sturdier than the guys I ran with in the Marines, so I wouldn’t have to worry about them getting carted off and tortured to death while I took a bullet. It turns out, I was the weak and puny one in their ranks. Anything I was good for, that Colossus was just as good for, if not better, and everyone else had powers much more interesting than my enhanced strength and speed. Scott Summers, whom I called General One-Eye, for example, could knock you down just by taking off his glasses. Sean Cassidy could scream and bring a solid brick wall crumbling to the ground. Ororo, that beautiful African goddess, was the best of all: she could make it rain indoors. Talk about talent. They were all good people. I respected them, they tried to make me feel welcome, but I knew I was just getting in the way. Never in my life had I felt like such a fifth wheel. Every time we had a mission, I’d try some crazy stunt to try and prove that I had something to offer other than my sparkling wit, and every time, it would end in disaster. Summers would berate me for putting myself and the team in danger, and I’d just snarl back at him, because I knew he was right.

Finally, there was a mission where I found an opportunity to pull my weight. After much fighting and running to and fro, our adversary was escaping in a plane. I knew that I could stop him from getting away. I also knew that in doing so, I’d be killing myself, but my pride wasn’t paying attention to that second part. So, I jumped onto the plane after Count Nefaria and started tearing up the cockpit. Cassidy was screaming at me to get off the plane so he could demolish Nefaria with his own powers, which would get the job done, but I wouldn’t let another mission go by with me playing a secondary role to my teammates. Xavier got into my head and demanded that I get off the plane because I would get myself killed. I went on bellowing about how I was proving myself as a warrior of the Apache who didn’t take orders from anyone, all the while wondering if my death would be worth anything.

Yeah, I got myself killed. Yeah, I left Xavier and his team torn and bereaved, and my family one course short of a meal. No, I don’t know if it was really worth it.

Ever since then, I’ve been relegated to watching my family go on without me, and not being able to tell them I’m right there beside them. It was either that, or go to "Heaven" or "Hell" or wherever it was that I was supposed to go, and cut myself off from them entirely. I decided to watch James grow up. So, it’s pretty much been his show since then.

I’ve always known that my death was entirely up to me, that Xavier and his X-Men desperately wanted to save my life, but I wouldn’t let them. James, however, felt differently. At my funeral, he waited until everyone left my body unattended, and stole it. Budding mutant that he was, he dragged my big unwieldly corpse several miles to a place he’d set up for a traditional Apache cremation. In that heartbreaking, unsteady, pubescent voice of his, Jimmy wished me farewell. A bunch of my old teammates found him and were about to put an end to his makeshift ceremony, but Logan, the guy who I was always trying to measure up to, told them not to interrupt. That’s when Jimmy said something that disturbed me. He looked up to the sky and told me that Xavier had lured me to my death and that Jimmy would avenge me. That never bodes well for peace and tranquillity on the home front.

Over the next two years, James grew from an peaceable, affectionate, skinny kid to a brooding, disagreeable, hulk of a guy, much like I was at sixteen, only moodier. Emma Frost recruited him into her Hellions, not at all like how Xavier recruited me into his X-Men. Despite much protestation and foot-stomping from Mom and Dad (Grampa had previously died in his sleep), he went with her, seeing an opportunity to adopt the mantle of "Thunderbird" that I had left behind, and spill Xavier’s blood to avenge my death. During James’ time in the Hellions, I got to see how different he was from me. I never beat up people less than half my size like he did (I believe they were called the New Mutants) but he was also much more secure in his value to his team than I had been. James didn’t mind that his powers were merely beefed-up versions of normal human abilities, and he became a sort of alpha-male figure to his team. If only he’d used his power for good instead of evil. Eventually, James took action towards his plan. He kidnapped Sean Cassidy, one of the sweetest guys I ever knew, and hid him in Cheyenne Mountain, and told the X-Men to come and get him in the next 24 hours, before Jimmy killed him. I wanted to smash the guy’s head in and demand to know what he’d done with my little brother. He had originally planned to kill all the X-Men so Xavier would suffer like Mom and Dad did after I died, and then he’d kill Xavier. Well, he canceled his plans to waste the whole team midway through the ordeal. I was proud of him for that. Then, he tracked down Xavier. There he was, wearing my costume, using my name, holding the knife I’d taught him to use, and generally looking a lot like me (Sean had mistaken him for me, in fact) and was just as confused as I’d been when I tore the wires out of that plane. I prayed that James would turn away from his lunacy, and be a saner man than I was in life. Xavier began talking him out of his plan, telling him that I deserved better than to be "honored" with his blood.

James wasn’t like me. He listened to Xavier.

When Jimmy dropped the knife and fell to his knees, I would have sighed in relief if I’d had a body. I wanted to hug my little brother and tell him it was okay, that he’d done the right thing. He was ashamed at having not followed through, but he knew inside that he couldn’t have forgiven himself for murdering in cold blood. Fortunately, Xavier was right there to tell Jimmy how proud I would have been if I could have seen him.

Correction, Professor. How proud I was because I could see him.

After that incident, I went back home to see how Mom and Dad were doing. For another two or three years, while James clung to the Hellions out of loyalty, our parents carried on pretty well for a couple who’d lost one son to his own insecurity and had the other one living two-thousand miles away against their wishes and was running with a bunch of people of questionable moral standing. With Grampa and I dead and James out of her hair, Mom started working outside the home for the first time in twenty-eight years. She and Dad finally had enough to put a down payment on the house they’d been renting since they got married. I’d be lying if I said they were happy, though. Dad would drop Mom off at her new job and then drive off to his, they’d put in their full day’s work, then they’d come home together after a wordless drive back. Dad would retreat to the couch (a nice new one, bought with the dual income and fewer expenses) with that day’s newspaper and Mom would go about her homemaker rituals: take care of Coyote, whom Jimmy had left behind and was getting more sociable in his old age, do the laundry, cook dinner. She and Dad would sit down and eat, and their conversation would go something like this:

"I assume your day at work went well, Maria?"

"Can’t complain."


(Then they’d just sit there and eat for a few minutes.)

"I called James today. Got ahold of him, but he didn’t really want to talk."

"What was it this time?"

"Oh, he had a class to go to or something."

"At least he’s getting an education."

"We don’t know that. How do we know he’s telling the truth?"

"Maria, it’s our son you’re talking about."

"That didn’t stop him from running off with that Frost woman and trying to kill those X-Men that John was with when he died."

"Honestly, Maria, you make it sound like James is having an affair with Frost."

"She’s a telepath. He’s a handsome young man. It wouldn’t surprise me."

"Maria, you worry too much. You don’t have enough faith in James."

As to the conduct of Emma Frost with my younger brother: It’s my philosophy that there are some things that are none of my business, and some places I don’t need to go.

Finally, Jimmy came home. Apparently, Emma had encouraged him to leave the Hellions, seeing his heart was no longer with them. Once he pried Mom’s arms off his neck, Jimmy went about making himself at home on the reservation once again. A sense of harmony and well-being resumed in the Proudstar home. For a few months, I thought we’d— I’m sorry, -they- would be a real family again. Then one day, James was sent a plane ticket to New York, by a guy named Cable. While he went off to meet with this Cable guy, I stayed home with our parents. A couple days later, Jimmy called us and said that he was boarding the next plane for Phoenix and would be home by morning. He, didn’t get to return to his family, though.

Someone beat Jimmy home.

That night, I may never know exactly why, a bunch of guys in space suits came along and set fire to Camp Verde. Every person on the reservation at the time died that night. When the first fires started, I floated into the nearest town and looked for someone who might be calling the authorities. But, what could I have done? I was privy to everything I chose to see, but I was still powerless. No living person could see or hear me, and I had no body to act with.

Over two-hundred people died that night, for no reason I’ll ever know. They all had lives to live. Just like I did once, but they had their lives ripped away from them by someone else. My father spotted me the morning after he died and stopped to talk with me.

"Well, hello, Johnny, I wasn’t expecting to find you here," he said.

"Yeah, well, I figured I haven’t gotten enough out of this world to leave it just yet," I said with my "head" down.

"So, are you coming with us?" Dad asked.

"No. Jimmy’s still alive, and he’s going to find out about this. He shouldn’t be alone when the news hits," I said.

"Well, if any man is cut out for the job of seeing the look on your brother’s face when he finds out about this, it’s you. Good to see you again, son," said my dad.

"Thanks, Dad. Tell Mom I miss her," I said to him. He then took off with the rest of the deceased, and that was the last I heard from my father.

Of course, I hadn’t told Dad the whole truth. I honestly hoped Jimmy would die before he found out about this. He’d already endured much more than he deserved, and finding out that his family and everyone he’d known as a child had been killed would really take the cake.

Just as he said he would, he was home early that morning. His Jeep came to a screeching stop at the edge of the reservation, and James practically exploded out of the vehicle. The killers had left a mask behind that Jimmy thought was from the Hellfire club. He held the mask in the air, looked up to the sky and shouted "You’re dead, Frost, dead!!!" Then he dropped to his knees and mindlessly tossed the mask over his shoulder, taking in the sights with wide, horrified eyes. He then got up and ran toward what was left of the reservation. When he reached the first of the buildings, he started searching madly inside them, or what was left of them, for someone still alive. He kept on like that for hours, bolting inside every pile of rubble, trying to find something with a pulse. Not even a cockroach had made it through the fire. He had to check inside our house. Mom and Dad hadn’t been burnt that badly, but they were pinned under some furniture that had fallen through the ceiling from the second floor and they died of smoke inhalation.

I watched Jimmy throw the fallen bed away from their bodies, which still looked okay, aside from the ash and dirt, and pry Coyote, now reduced to lukewarm meat and singed fur, out of Mom’s stiff arms.

"Coyote, what happened here?" he said to his old pet. Those were the only words he said until the BIA arrived.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs came screaming in a few hours after Jimmy arrived back at the reservation. Apparently, they had found out about it somehow. It didn’t help Jimmy to be the only living person in the vicinity at the time, although it certainly didn’t hurt that he was busy preparing their bodies a funeral similar to the one he’d given me five years earlier. Sure, they all looked at him like the kid who held the hammer when they found the broken piggy bank, and they had their questions for him, but he answered them all, dazed as he was. They finally left him alone, and he finished dealing with the bodies.

I still don’t know exactly what Cable had asked Jimmy to meet him in New York for, but Jimmy hopped back in his Jeep and started driving East. I went with him. He drove on, stone-faced, for two days, not even stopping to eat, just keeping his eyes on the road. On the highway in Ohio, his composure cracked. Jimmy pulled the Jeep onto the shoulder and ran into the woods. I just "sat" in the Jeep for a few minutes, wondering if I really needed to follow him. After all, if he was running into the woods to do himself in or pull some equally crazy stunt, what could I do about it? Of course, by that logic, I should have been playing poker with dead guys then, so I eventually went after him. Upon floating through the walls of the Jeep, I heard the air crackle with the sound of thick metal wires being torn apart. I kept floating in the direction James had been running, and eventually found a chain-link fence in the middle of the woods, with a big hole torn in it. James was sitting on the other side of the hole. He had his head in his hands, his knees drawn up, and his shoulders shook. Was my little brother crying? Sweet Mother Mary, he really was. I hadn’t seen that kid shed a tear since he learned to feed himself, but there he was. Then again, he’d seen what was left of Camp Verde and the bodies of all its inhabitants days before, and it had taken him this long to break down.

"James, you’re on private property. You’d better get out before someone finds you," I said. I saw a big house and patio up ahead, and James was sitting in their back yard. Still, the living cannot hear ghosts like me, so my advice went unheeded. Sometimes, being a noncorporeal entity is fun, and other times, it’s just frustrating.

Finally, Jimmy calmed down and dried his eyes. He saw the house and patio, and scrambled out of their back yard. He took a few minutes to pull the fence back together, and even twisted a few of the loops together to close up the hole which he had torn for some reason I’ll never entirely know. The rest of the drive to Westchester was pretty uneventful.

We eventually pulled into the main drive of the mansion where I’d lived in the weeks before my death. While James wandered around the outside grounds waiting for someone to find him, I checked out the mansion, to see how it had changed since I left it. I tell you, it’s really something to return to a place you haven’t seen in years, and find it looking so much the same. Sure, there were a few new paintings on the walls, but most of the ones from my X-Man days were still there, in the same places. They hadn’t changed any of the light fixtures. It’s something you don’t think about until you come back to it. I’ll bet the carpets even felt the same as they did when I lived there. And I hadn’t changed out of my uniform in five years. Suddenly it was no longer clear who was the real ghost.

Eventually, I wandered far enough that I ran into James. In a dark room filled with built-in computers and view-screens and keypads made up of hundreds of little illuminated buttons, (this room must have been added after I died) James was led in by a chalk-white-skinned woman with a black patch around her eye. "Look what I found wandering the grounds topside," she said to a much older man sitting in a chair in front of one of the view-screens.

"Hello, James," came the voice from the chair.

"My whole village was wiped out. Everyone was killed," said James.

"I saw it on the news. I’m sorry," Cable replied.

"It was the Hellfire Club."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes," James said. As they were talking, a white light had formed in the corner of the room, above their heads. It was growing larger, and now it’s sending smaller, dancing versions of itself around James, Cable and the patch-eyed woman, in my direction. "I want revenge, Cable, but I know that I can’t do it alone," James continues. The little lights are gathering around me, and pushing me towards "the mother ship" where they came from. They’re not pushing me very hard, but they don’t seem to want to take no for an answer. "If you help me fight my war…then I’ll help you fight yours!" James says to Cable. I could fight against this if I wanted to, but I don’t want to anymore. It’s clear that my time for pretending to be something I’m not (namely, alive) is over. This might be heaven, and they seem to want me very badly.

Bye, little brother. Be sure to get as much out of your time here as you can, so I won’t have to wait up for you.

Notes: For those of you not terribly familiar with John's and James' canonical histories, this is about it. Some of it can be found in back issues, the rest (including Johnny's hanging back as a ghost) is my filling in the blanks.

The ending and the title, in case you're confused, are open to interpretation. :) Don't get stressed out over figuring them out. (Yes, the sudden change in tense was a conscious choice.) In fact, the whole story is open to interpretation if you want to split hairs.

Back to Archive