Equal and Opposite Reaction
As per usual, many many thanks to Jedimom, my partner in crime, for encouraging me, and for giving me ideas, feedback, and the quote that opens this story to boot. This literally would not have been written without her. And thanks to r'Hul for giving me the spark of inspiration for this installment.
This story has two different endings. You get to pick which one you want to read. If you pick the plausible one, then you also get a follow-up story by Jedimom.
"I could be bounded in a nutshell and think myself king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams." --Hamlet
A few months before Hannah's second birthday, a new administration was sworn into office. The day after her birthday, the Mutant Anti-Discrimination Law was repealed. Magneto immediately ramped up his campaign. Hannah's birthday party was the last time I was allowed to set foot on the professor's compound.
My sister isn't happy with this, but she keeps bringing Hannah out to visit me. I have a studio apartment which I rent for the express purpose of our visits. It's neutral ground, paid for with cash every month so there's no money trail to follow. So far, the X-Men have agreed not to try and follow me when I leave, but I don't think they'll hold to that much longer. Not after our next mission. Hell, I'm surprised they didn't rescind that after we fire-bombed embassy row in D.C. But then again, they never conclusively pinned that one on us, and another mutant group publicly took responsibility. Suits me fine to have the public think that there's more of us out there than just the Brotherhood. Maybe a terrorized populace will finally leave us the fuck alone.
My sister walks in alone. "Where's Hannah?" I ask.
"She's in the car with Logan." She holds up her hand as I open my mouth. "I don't want to hear it. I know you don't like him, but he makes me happy, so just keep it to yourself."
"Fine." I don't want to talk about him right now anyway. "So why didn't you bring her up?"
"I wanted to talk to you alone first." She takes a deep breath and says, "Mortimer, I can't keep doing this. I don't want her to know what you're doing. As soon as she's old enough to understand, I'm not bringing her to see you anymore."
"Agnes, I'm doing this for her!"
"You're not helping. You're just making things worse."
"Like hell. And what are your precious X-Men doing to make things better for all mutantkind?"
"That's not the point. The point is that I don't approve of what you're doing and I don't want Hannah to look up to you as a role model."
"You really want her growing up in this world?" I say, gesturing broadly at the tightly curtained windows. "You really want her to have to spend her whole life living in fear of normals?"
"I'm a normal," Agnes hisses. "As are your parents and Margaret. I will not teach her to hate her family, and neither will you."
"You know I wouldn't do that," I snap, "but if things keep going like they are, she'll learn to hate them herself. You'll just be an exception."
I don't see the slap coming. "I should just take her back home," she seethes.
"Agnes, no." I take a deep breath as my heart hammers wildly in my chest. "I'm sorry. Look, please...I need to see her," I beg.
"Why, so you can spend time with the little mascot for your cause?" she challenges.
"Agnes, I love Hannah more than anything in this world."
"I know." The fight drains out of her, and she rubs the bridge of her nose and sighs. "I know. I'll go get her." She turns toward the door, then looks over her shoulder and says, "It's getting dangerous to bring her out. If you'd just quit, you could live with us and see her all the time."
"I can't," I sigh helplessly.
"I'll be right back."
I peek out the curtains as she pulls Hannah from the car, and my heart breaks to see how she's dressed. It's the middle of August, and she's in a hooded sweatshirt. I can't quit. I can't. Not when she has to bundle up to go outside. I can't even go to the places that used to be safe. Anti-mutant hysteria is too high right now. I'm a danger to the few normal friends I have if they're seen with me. Magneto's methods may be extreme, but he says he has a plan. I have to trust him. I can't live in this world. And I can't let Hannah live in this world either.
She bursts in the door, all smiles, and I hold my arms out as she leaps into them. This could very well be the last time Agnes lets me see her. Our eyes meet, and I can tell she's thinking the same thing.
El Paso. The American headquarters for a mutant chop shop for the rich and famous. Want to be ageless? Try getting a full blood transfusion from a mutant with regenerative abilities. Stronger? Get a pituitary transplant. Need a new heart and you want one that's better than the old one? Mutant hearts can fill the bill. Only problem is, no one's waiting for the mutants to die. They're hunting them down in Mexico and Central America and bagging them like wild game, killing some outright, and keeping others penned until their organs are needed. The ones with healing abilities aren't even killed. They're just kept in captivity and harvested over and over like a fucking field of corn as their various body parts grow back.
But hey? Who's going to stand up to the billionaires that run this country?
Guess that'd be us.
Step one went into effect before dawn. We poisoned the water supplies in L.A., D.C., and New York City so that anyone with mismatched mutant body parts would find those parts poisoned beyond repair by morning. Normals and full mutants will be totally unaffected, but if rumor is true, our president will soon find himself in need of a new kidney, not to mention a new head of hair.
Step two will happen any second now. As soon as Mystique gives the signal.
The organs that get sent out tonight aren't going to be mutant organs. They'll be the keepers'.
There's the flash of red light. It's show time.
Magneto tears open the gates with a wave of his hand and Sabretooth and I start ripping the guards to pieces. Magneto strides behind us, stepping through the carnage we leave behind, opening pen after pen to release those mutants who can still walk. Mystique's already killed the guards in the central tower, and is holding several doctors hostage, waiting for us to arrive. I'm reveling in this, drenched in blood and spattered with gore, and I haven't felt this alive in years. How dare these bastards sell us piece by piece? How dare they hunt us down like animals? We're their betters. We're the strong ones. They can't stand to live next door to us, but they'll happily take what makes us strong, so long as it's not visible to the outside world. No more. Not after tonight.
I'm not even paying attention to the details anymore. I know the plan, and I'm executing it to the fullest of my abilities with a huge grin on my face. Sabretooth and I round the final corner, and suddenly from out of nowhere, there's a little girl in a tattered dress. She must have been in one of the pens. And there we are, freaks of nature, streaked in gore, with bloodlust in our eyes. And she does the only thing that comes naturally. She screams and runs.
Right into the path of an oncoming jeep.
"No!" I scream, and I try to grab her out of the way with my tongue, but I'm not fast enough. There's a sickening crunch, and I fall to my knees. Somehow I crawl over to her body and cradle it in my arms. Her head hangs at an unnatural angle, and there's so much blood. So so much blood. I hear the scream, the crunch, over and over, as I sit there with her in my arms, rocking back and forth. "That's a good girl," I croon. "That's my good girl."
I vaguely hear Magneto telling Sabretooth to get me, and I look up to see his fist come crashing down.
Please let it be a nightmare. Please let it all just be a nightmare. I feel myself swimming towards consciousness, head ringing with pain, and open my eyes to see my gore-streaked hands.
Oh god. It was real.
I struggle to sit up as my gut churns, catch the looks of derision being shot my way by Magneto and Sabretooth, and pull myself up to the rim of the boat where I painfully throw up for what feels like hours. Oh god. I killed a little girl. I killed her. She couldn't have been much older than Hannah. I killed her.
"I didn't think you'd grown this soft," Magneto sneers. "You had no trouble killing the guards. What difference does one child make?"
"It makes all the difference!" I gasp, then start retching again. There's nothing left to throw up, but I'm not even close to being purged yet.
"You nearly let the head of the camp escape," Sabretooth growls.
Magneto adds, "If you hadn't been so focused on that whelp, you could have stopped the jeep. As it was, Sabretooth here had to catch it, and made quite a mess of it too. We hardly were able to harvest any organs from him. And he was already dead when we started. Pity. I wanted to see the look in his eyes when we told him what we were going to do."
The boat docks at the lair, and Mystique comes down from the cabin and looks at me with a very detached expression. "You didn't kill her, Mortimer. She ran in front of a jeep."
"Because of us," I counter, retching as I hear the crunch again in my head. No little girl should die that way. No little girl should die. Oh god, what have I done?
Magneto glares in my direction. "Here we are, triumphant. We should be celebrating. And what are we doing? Coddling our squeamish colleague." He turns to Mystique and says, "Get him off my island."
"I am not his babysitter," she counters. "I played a huge part in the mission's success, and I'm not missing out on the celebration."
I look up at her and finally see what she's become. I didn't want to believe that she'd gotten this hard, but something inside her died when she found her son, Nightcrawler, and he rejected her. "I'll go on my own," I gasp, another wave of nausea threatening to overwhelm me.
"Take the boat. I have others." Magneto turns on his heel, followed closely by Sabretooth, and steps off the boat onto the pier.
Mystique squats down to look me in the eye, and all I see is contempt. "I want you out of my house," she hisses, then gets up and follows them.
I watch their retreating figures as I retch on the deck of the small motorboat. When the nausea lifts fractionally, I crawl up to the cabin and aim for shore. I'll get there eventually. I can't come back here.
Oh god. What have I done?
I'm numb. Hollow. The boat runs aground, and I hop over the edge with a splash. My feet take over, and I'm stumbling through nearly deserted streets in the last hour before dawn. I find myself standing at the front desk at a police station in New York City, confessing to the murders I committed in El Paso. They don't even give me one phone call. I'm a mutant, covered in blood, offering myself up to them. I barely even feel the beating I get. What does hurt is when I get tossed in the cell alone with nothing but my memories to keep me company.
I hear the sickening crunch. I see her head loll.
Prison's too good for me.
People walk by my cell. I don't care. Don't bother listening to what they have to say. Doesn't matter. I killed a little girl. There's a shock of cold, and I close my eyes as the water sprays over me. Guess they decided I stunk too bad. Doesn't matter. She's dead. Maybe they'll beat me up again. I don't care. She's dead.
A voice cuts through the haze. "Mortimer?"
"He's totally disconnected," I hear a male voice say. "He's not gonna answer you. He's been lying in the middle of the floor like that ever since we locked him up. We're shipping him to Texas tomorrow afternoon. Don't waste your time on this one."
"He's my brother! Mortimer, please, look at me."
I blink, and see gray. Wait, that's the ceiling. Turn my head to the right. "Agnes? Why did you come?" My voice is little more than a croak.
"Don't worry, we're getting you a lawyer. Why didn't you call?"
"Didn't call anyone."
"You're supposed to get one phone call." She turns and glares at the policeman standing next to her.
"Didn't want one," I reply. So hard to think right now.
She kneels on the ground, looking at me with stricken eyes. "You were just going to let yourself be tossed into jail without telling us where you were? How could you do that to us?"
"It's better this way," I say, hoping she'll understand.
"You're my brother!"
"I'm a murderer."
"Do you know how we found you?" she asks, tears starting to slip down her face. "A van showed up at the school's doorstep and started unloading boxes of your possessions. I had this terrible feeling, so I had the professor use Cerebro to find you."
"You should just leave me here."
The policeman says, "He confessed, ma'am."
"Shut up!" she snaps. "Mortimer, you can't do this. What about Hannah?"
That name pierces through the haze of numbness like a dagger. Oh god. Hannah. I hear the crunch. I see a little green head loll. Choking on tears, I say, "I can't ever go near her again."
"Mortimer, I know a little girl died last night, but the investigators in Texas say she looks like she was run over by a car."
"She was running away from us," I sob. "I couldn't stop her. It's my fault."
I can't hear anything more she says. All I hear is the crunch, over and over again.
At some point, I realize that they've left me food and water. The smell's making me sick, but I drink the water. Don't need to eat. Blink. Look at the tray. They left me a fork. They're hoping I'll off myself. Which would be worse to Hannah? An uncle in prison, or an uncle that committed suicide?
Either way she ends up with an uncle who can't hurt her.
I pick up the fork and stare hard at it, the crunch ringing in my ears. Which is more appropriate? Me ending my pain, or me paying the price for my crime?
I want it all to end so badly.
That's the last thing I deserve.
I drop the fork as the shakes start overtaking me.
//Please concentrate. Focus. We need to talk.//
Focus. The voice in my head says to focus. I'm hearing voices now.
//This is Professor Xavier. You're not insane. Please focus. I have a lawyer here with me, and your sister.//
"Agnes?" I sit bolt upright and stare out the bars.
"Please listen to what the professor has to say," she says. She looks terrible. Oh god, that's my fault.
I guess the lawyer is the woman in the suit standing behind both of them. "I don't need a lawyer. I confessed," I mumble.
She shakes her head. "Not admissible in court. Not in the frame of mind you were in."
"Then I'll confess in court."
"We've negotiated a plea bargain," she says.
"Then I'll confess to more. That wasn't the first time I killed."
Agnes yells, "Will you just shut up and listen?"
Breathe. Don't forget to breathe.
The professor looks at me levelly and says, "We've spoken with the attorney general in Texas and explained your situation. Considering your background, he says he won't pursue the death penalty. However, he would be willing to be even more lenient if you help him gather evidence against the mastermind behind the crime."
"I can't," I whisper.
"Mortimer," Agnes says, kneeling on the floor in front of the bars. "Please. I know you feel you owe Magneto everything, but he turned you into a killer." She reaches her hand through the bars, and I just stare. "You don't owe him anything."
"Please don't ask me to do this. Please don't. I can't." I can feel the shakes coming back.
"Take my hand. Please." Her eyes are pleading.
I crawl over and collapse against the bars, sobbing and shaking. "Please don't ask me to do this. Please."
I feel a hand stroking my hair. "I don't want Hannah growing up without you. She already is figuring out she's different from the rest of the kids, and she asks to see you all the time."
"I can't. Can't get near her."
"It was an accident, Mortimer."
The professor adds, "And if you don't help me find Magneto, he might cause more accidents."
"Oh god." Magneto saved me. I can't turn him in. But I can't stop hearing that crunch. Seeing that face. Taking a deep breath, I try to steady my voice as I say, "I can't do it. But..."
There's an expectant pause.
"...if you go into my mind and just take what you need, I suppose I can't stop you."
"Thank you," Agnes whispers, and we sit together silently, my body wracked with shakes, as I feel the eerie sensation of not being alone in my brain.
It feels like he's in there forever, but there's a lot to cull, I guess, and Agnes sits with me the whole time, one hand in my hair, one hand clasping mine. Finally, he pulls out, and it feels like someone's drained my body of all its energy. I've done it. I've sold out Magneto. Oh god, I'm going to be sick.
I hear a voice saying that they have to leave, and Agnes says, "We'll be back soon. I'll bring Hannah."
"Don't," I whisper, looking up at her desperately. "I don't want her to see me like this. Please."
"Don't you want to see her?"
"I can't. Please. I don't want her to remember me this way."
She nods reluctantly. "Okay. If that's what you really want." She kisses her palm, then presses it against my cheek. "You did the right thing."
I hold her hand against my cheek for a moment, then let go and watch her walk away.
Show me the plausible, yet depressing ending.
Give the boy a break! Show me the implausible ending.