by Alicia McKenzie
DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to Marvel, and are used without permission for entertainment purposes only. This is the sixth Nocturne, the sequel to 'Memento Mori'.
Amelia Voght materialized just inside the locked door, her stomach churning as she swiftly scanned the darkened room. She knew she was taking her life in her hands, disobeying his orders like this, but someone had to do something. It had only been yesterday afternoon that he'd fled that 'staff meeting' in such obvious distress, but rumors had already begun to leak out into the general population. Probably either Cortez or Huxley's work, she figured, but that didn't really matter, not now. Genosha was no less a tinderbox than it had ever been, and it would take only a spark--even just the appearance of a spark--to set the entire country ablaze.
"My lord?" she called tentatively, and bit her lip at the utter silence. He was alive, they knew that--his bio-signature still registered within the room--but the telepaths had been unable to get a response from him. They'd pointed out that he could simply be blocking them, that his mental defenses were quite capable of keeping out anyone but an alpha-class psi bent on breaking them down, but Amelia had been unable to help entertaining a grimmer possibility. "Magnus?" she tried again.
"When I give an order, I am accustomed to seeing it obeyed."
Amelia nearly reverted to mist on the spot at the sound of the hoarse, ragged voice that emanated from the darkest corner of the room. "I--" she started frantically, knowing that his 'favor' was a tenuous thing at best, these days. "I didn't--"
"I suppose I should have expected it." A moment of silence, and then a light was switched on. A small, dim light, just enough to let her see his face. Amelia couldn't quite hold back a soft gasp, and a humorless smile tugged at Magnus's mouth. "Judging by your expression, Amelia, I gather I do not look quite--myself."
You look like death warmed over, was the comment that sprang to mind, but she managed to stifle it. As much as he claimed to value her frankness, there were moments where it was appropriate and others where it wasn't. This was definitely one of the latter.
"You look--unwell," she said, diplomatically. "What happened? You were obviously in pain when you left the meeting yesterday--" And that was putting it mildly. He'd doubled over in mid-sentence, bleeding from the nose and ears, and then staggered from the room, snarling at them not to follow. The look in his eyes had been about as far from sane as Amelia had ever seen--and considering the length of her experience with this man, that was saying a lot. "Was it--" She bit back what she'd been about to say, unsure of whether it was a safe topic.
He'd told her what had happened with Cable. She'd noticed his sleeplessness, the spasms of pain he covered so well, and been bold enough to ask, flat-out. Thankfully, instead of being annoyed with her presumption, he'd decided that someone needed to know about the psi-link Cable had accidentally formed with him--and why Cable had decided to leave it in place. His bare-bones recounting of that confrontation on an astral representation of Cable's damaged mind had been chilling, even in its lack of details.
Magnus nodded slowly, his eyes distant. "I'm--not sure what happened," he said quietly. "The events of--that day started--replaying, through this damnable link. He was in agony--but he continued to throw himself into the memory. He WANTED it that way." His eyes focused once more, his face setting into grim lines. "I would have been kinder to kill him that day."
Amelia stiffened. "What would you have done?" she asked acidly, not bothering to modulate her tone. "Put him out of his misery like a wounded animal?"
His expression didn't change, but his eyes hardened. "Do not make light of the situation."
"Is that what you think I'm doing?"
There was a flash of something close to frustration in his eyes. "The reason why I put up with your insolence continues to escape me, Voght--"
"That's an easy one. You put up with me because you're intelligent enough to recognize that you need someone around who doesn't either cringe at your shadow or plot to put a knife in your back as soon as it's turned," she said levelly.
Still glaring, he gestured at the seat next to him. She came over and sat down, noting the tension that seemed to radiate from him. "Are you still in pain?" she asked, more quietly.
Magnus shook his head. "I don't understand why the effects were so--transitory," he admitted heavily. "I can barely sense him any longer. There is only this feeling of--distance."
"That's a good thing, isn't it?" Amelia had watched Cable's grief on the monitors, after she'd teleported Magnus to safety. She'd be lying to herself if she pretended it hadn't touched her. But she had other concerns, other priorities--and having a grief-stricken X-Men fry her putative 'lord's' mind through a psi-link would be counterproductive at best. "Maybe whatever happened broke the link."
"I told you, Amelia, the link is still there. Only fainter--" The irritation on his face dissolved suddenly into shock. A moment later, he toppled forward, and Amelia lept to keep him from hitting the floor face-first.
What the HELL? she thought wildly, lowering him gently to the floor. No blood, and he was breathing regularly, his pulse steady and strong. It didn't seem like a repeat of yesterday--"Magnus?" she called loudly, leaning over him. "Magnus, can you hear me?"
--Magnus? Come on, open your eyes--
Amelia, Magnus realized. But her voice was almost inaudible, a muted echo coming from some immeasurable distance. He gave his surroundings a measuring look, uneasiness stirring inside him. Not again-- he thought bleakly. This featureless darkness couldn't be real. It was too empty.
Which meant he was--where? Inside Cable's mind, again?
Light, where there had been none before. Blazing, sunset-hued light, surrounding the form of the slender, fire-haired woman who drifted down to 'land' in front of him, her red and gold robes rippling in a breeze that wasn't there.
"Rachel?" He stared at the being in front of him, his memories of the thin, scarred teenager he had known warring with the evidence of his eyes. The luminously beautiful woman standing in front of him gave him a brief smile that held no warmth. Her emerald eyes were somber, darkened by a combination of emotions he couldn't quite distinguish.
"Magnus," she said softly. "I wish I could say it was good to see you."
Her words sparked indignation deep within him. "Is this your doing?" he demanded, gesturing around at the darkness. "My presence here--"
"You brought yourself," Rachel Summers said in that same soft voice. "But I suppose I should be honest. If you hadn't, I would have come for you." She smiled again, some wryness to the expression this time. "I wonder if I would have beaten the Professor to the punch. I imagine he's already reaching out telepathically to find you."
"And what will he find?" He knew he sounded wary, but he also knew how deeply Rachel had cared for her infant brother. And the younger Phoenix had her own ethics, her own sense of right and wrong--she always had. He remembered very clearly how close she had come to killing Charles' and Kitty's would-be murderer.
This was not a woman who hesitated to protect--or avenge a loved one. He wondered what her intentions were.
"Don't be ridiculous," she said in a neutral voice. "All he'll find is you, returned to your body." Rachel half-turned, the light around her growing again. "One way or another, Magnus, this will only take a moment."
Something was taking shape, just beyond them. A bed--no, a bio-bed, recognizably of Shi'ar make. Dim shapes, one in a gleaming gold hoverchair, surrounded it. They became more solid as Magnus watched. One was Charles, of course. But Summers was also there, Jean Grey at his side. The other two were Logan--and Emma Frost, he was surprised to see.
"I thought you might like to see," Rachel murmured. "To put your questions to rest."
Magnus took a careful step closer, already half-knowing what he would see before Logan--or whatever sort of reflection of Logan this was--moved slightly, allowing him a better view of the occupant of the bed.
Cable might have been merely asleep. His face was pale but relaxed, almost serene--save for his eyes, which moved back and forth behind closed lids, as if he were dreaming.
"He's alive," Magnus said, unnecessarily. He didn't know how that made him feel. The thought of being rid of Cable's presence in his mind, of the pain that had seethed constantly down the link, had been a welcome one. And yet--
"Of course he's alive," Rachel said, not turning to face him. "You would have felt it, otherwise." Finally, she did look back over her shoulder at him, almost challengingly. "The question is, what are you going to do about this?"
"What am I going to do?" he repeated stupidly, and then shook his head, scowling at her. "This isn't my responsibility." Whatever game she was playing here, he had no part in it.
"No?" Rachel inquired. Mildly.
Somehow, her apparent lack of emotion pushed Magnus over the edge into real anger. He might have lashed out at her, if he'd cherished any hope that his powers would work here. Knowing that, he limited himself to words. "No!" he grated. "I do not deny the blood on my hands, Rachel--"
"You never have," she murmured. "It's one of your redeeming virtues."
He plunged on furiously. "If he had come to me, face to face, and held me to account for Domino's death--" He would have given Cable a battle, had he wished it. It would have been hypocritical for him to deny another's right to seek revenge. But the way Cable had chosen--there was nothing of clean vengeance about it.
"You're angry with him because he repaid pain with pain?" Rachel asked. The figures around the bed faded away, gone in the blink of an eye, and she strode forward to stand beside her brother. Not reaching out to make physical contact, but just watching him. Studying his face. "I thought you were a proponent of the 'eye for an eye' philosophy, Magnus."
"Or is this all a smokescreen, to cover up the fact that you're secretly terrified of having another telepath in your mind, after what Charles did to you?" Rachel looked up from Cable, her expression calm, almost serene.
He stared at her for a long moment in silence. "What do you want, Rachel?" he finally asked. There was nowhere to go, no option but to hear her out.
Rachel looked away from him sharply, her gaze going back to Cable's face. "He is dying, you know," she said in a very different voice. One with steel beneath it. "His mind's retreating farther and farther. Eventually, his body will shut down entirely. In the 'real world', they have him on partial life-support already."
"You didn't answer my question." The image bothered him. 'Dying of a broken heart' had always seemed like such a cliche to him; he had never expected to see a real-life parallel.
"When did you get so impatient?" she said quietly, finally reaching out to lay a hand on her brother's forehead. "What I want is very simple, Magnus. I want you to bring him back."
He didn't know what to say to that, at first. "You can't be serious," he finally managed.
"Oh, I'm quite serious." Rachel looked up at him. Her expression was still calm, but there was something simmering beneath the surface of those green eyes, now. Something that made him even more wary. "Charles, Jean, and Emma are trying and failing. I'm not--tangible enough in this time, from a psychic sense, to do any good, and I have no way to get back to this century in time." Her sudden smile was brittle. "Domino could have brought him back with a word. Unfortunately, you'll have to do."
"He attacked my country, my home. Forced this psi-link upon me--and you expect me to help him?" Magnus barked.
A moment later, he was wrapped in a crushing telekinetic grip and Rachel was hovering in front of him, her hair aflame and her eyes glowing like twin suns. "I EXPECT you to recognize your part in this and DO something!" Her voice was a feral hiss, chilling him to the bone. "Do you think I'm blind to the circumstances, Magnus?"
"Let--me go," he grated. "If you think you can force me to do as you wish, Rachel--"
He was released, suddenly, abruptly. The light around her died to a soft glow. "I know I can't," she said, in that reasonable voice once more. "I also know that if you don't use what little influence you have here, through that damned psi-link, Nathan will die. My BROTHER will die."
"Do you think I want that?" Magnus said angrily. "You are terribly unperceptive for a telepath, then! I would prefer than none of this had ever happened, but I was not the one who chose to raid Hammer Bay for those records! I did not cause this--ANY of it!"
"Shut up." Rachel looked like she was going to continue, but then hesitated, frowning as she met his eyes. "You really don't want him to die, do you?" She threw her head back in a mirthless laugh. "Regret. It's there, I see it. You've just half-convinced yourself that you don't need to feel it."
"I didn't dance on the woman's grave, if that's what you mean," he snapped restlessly, wearying of this verbal sparring. "She was nothing to me--"
"You're not endearing yourself in my eyes, Magneto," she said, a bit of a warning edge to her voice now.
"I did not want to kill her," he continued, ignoring it. "But what Cable is doing now disgusts me! I have lost, as he has lost--do you see me allowing myself to be consumed by grief?" Two women, both loved. Both lost. He forced the memories away as he had done continuously over the last few weeks, since X-Force's raid on Genosha. He couldn't afford to sympathize so with the man holding him as a telepathic 'hostage'. He was vulnerable enough as it was.
"Haven't you?" Rachel murmured. "Denial's not just a river in Egypt--"
"Oh, be SERIOUS!"
"I am," she said calmly. "Quite serious." Rachel's head tilted slightly as she regarded him. "I suppose it is your choice, in the end."
"To do what?" he snapped. "Cease being so cryptic!"
"I told you," Rachel said. "To bring him back--to use that link you despise so much and try to repair at least a little of the damage you've done. You hit the nail on the head, talking to Amelia. You WOULD have been kinder to kill him."
Magnus gave her a skeptical look. "And if I had?" If he had, he somehow doubted she would be speaking of the issue so calmly.
"The why of any situation is secondary to the situation itself. You'd probably be dead by now if you had, but that's not important." Rachel took her brother's hand in hers. "You really don't understand, do you?" she continued, looking around at him almost wearily. "You've left him in limbo, Magnus. Part of him wants to die, part of him's trapped by his sense of responsibility and hating the world for it, and the rest is pure pain. He has to make a decision, one way or the other--but he can't do it like this."
"You want me to make him decide?" Magnus asked slowly.
"Of course not," Rachel said almost irritably, her expression softening as she leaned over, kissing Cable's forehead lightly. "Little enough freedom to choose in his life as it is," she said as she straightened. "All I want YOU to do, Magnus, is to wake him up."
"And how do I do that?" he demanded in frustration.
"Charles will know," she said softly. "He'll be able to--facilitate, I mean."
Iron replaced his spine at her casual suggestion. "I realize you have been--elsewhere," he said harshly, "but clearly you are aware of what transpires in this time." Otherwise she wouldn't be here, would she?
"Of your latest hare-brained attempt to hold the world hostage? Of course, Magnus. I even know how it's going to end, too." Rachel's expression was wintry. "Don't make the mistake of thinking that there are any more palatable options here, Magnus. He may have chosen for some reason not to drag you down with him, but that doesn't make it any more likely that you'd survive his death. Self-preservation is a powerful motivation. So is honor. I'd like to think you'd act from one rather than the other."
And, with that, whatever was holding him there released him. He found himself in his body again, gasping for air, his heart racing. Amelia was at his side, helping him sit up.
"What HAPPENED?" she demanded, checking his pulse. "Calm down, Magnus--try to breathe more slowly."
"I--" He hesitated at the unmistakable feel of 'presence'. Rachel, with some parting words? he wondered wildly.
But it wasn't the young Phoenix. No, the presence was much more familiar than that. And it wasn't actually IN his mind, he realized, but instead hovering at the edge of his perceptions, like a guest waiting at the door.
He took a deep breath. Hating Rachel, hating Cable, hating that sneaking sense of responsibility that was nagging at him to answer, to commit to a course of action.
Charles, he finally
continued in The City Of The Evening Star
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