Walk All Over You Part 2

September 01, 2018:

After some Stark revelations at the site of the FuturePharm offices, the Brotherhood closes in on Stark Tower and the few X-men that can get there in time rush to stop them.

Stark Tower

Characters

NPCs: JARVIS, FRIST, Dummy

Mentions: Magneto

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It is a day for revelations. A day for violence and horror. For Sudden Kryptonian Interference and for Rage Monsters to be unleashed. A day of tricks and subterfuge and of trusts to be formed and to be broken. For unshakeable faith and for horrible misunderstandings. It is a red day. A blood day. A day of—

Wait. Hold it. Wrong speech.

…ok. Yeah. Sorry about that. Got it now. OK! It is a day of terrible decisions and dramatic heroism…

…but half a continent away. In the City of New York though it is none of those things. In New York City it is just…Friday.

And in the shining Tower of Stark it is business as usual. Which means Tony is working, and Pepper is trying to get him to take a nap. Or eat something. Or helping him remember his Social. Any of the thousand things the woman does to keep his life in line.

Stark though? Stark does not make this real easy.

At the moment he is in one of the labs near the top of the Tower. Peering at a tube of liquid, it is glowing a brilliant amber light, flecked with bursts of neon blue and the inventor seems pleased with this. "Yes! I did it! Antigen complete! JARVIS think I should begin advanced trials?"

"…oh yourself, sir?" JARVIS sounds slightly agast. "Certinly you should wait till Miss Zatana or Mister Constantine can take a look at it. Even Miss Moonstar…"

"Spoilsport." Stark mutters as he peers at the liquid. "Hook it up to the closed system. Lets see what it looks like."

As this happens…

In the wilds of Ohio…

A Blackbird screams though the air at top speed, the Shi'ar tech pushed to the stress levels and then beyond as it hurls back home. Onboard the X-men sit, some wounded. Some thoughtful. Some freeking out. Some trying to prevent themselves from blowing holes in the skin of the jet.

Behind them a Kryptonian and a Hulk tear though the state, the damage from the subterranean fight massive.

…and before them….one speedster, one reality bender, and a power thief race ahead towards that gleaming silver spire where Stark works. Blissfully unaware of what judgement approaches.

*

For Frenzy her part in this 'mission' was to stay at home. In the city. Which rankles. So. Much.

She would rather be out with the Twins, but sometimes you have to do the 'boring' things because that's what needed.

And what's needed is Frenzy staying within the States.

Which works out completely when a communication, simple in its instructions, is received. With but a few words the woman finds herself activated.

'Go to Stark Tower. Open it up.'

And while questions could be asked they aren't. Instead Frenzy does as she's told, relying on the trust she has for the Twins that what they've asked of her is what's truly needed.

So, here she is. Outfitted in a new suite of black and blue with titanium made brass knuckles covering each hand. A look is spared for the various pedestrian and vehicle traffic around her and with a shake of her head, the woman murmurs something to herself.

"Ignorant fools."

Those two words release all of the woman's pent up frustration (and worry!) and with two steps forward, Frenzy, the Bruiser of the Brotherhood, slams both fists right into the main entrance of Stark Tower.

The force behind her hit is like an earthquake. Seventy tons of strength strike out and pulverize the door and surrounding concrete. It creates a plume of dust and debris both inward and outward.

Once the 'door' is opened the woman steps through, kicking the rubble aside to make a straight and clear path inward.

She turns to face whatever cameras may be seen and even if not, she knows somehow she's on candid camera somewhere. "Avon calling."
There's a flash of teeth as Frenzy allows a smile to transform her normally stoic and reserved features into something energized.

*

Tony Stark works in his lab, high above Manhattan. Unaware that he's been thoroughly set up. Unaware that a tank in woman form has been sent to his door… and that she is ultimately merely the distraction.

In the distance, there is the tortured sound of air superheating and tearing around something traveling at high hypersonic speed, its slipstream eradicating anything not nailed down. It slows marginally on reaching civilization, but only enough to avoid causing significant damage as it travels straight up the side of Stark Tower, bypassing systems unprepared for a threat moving at this speed.

It only becomes vaguely possible to glimpse what the hostile is when it slows on reaching the floor on which Stark's labs reside, swiveling around to a crouch on the building exterior and remaining there a few moments purely on the strength of its momentum: a young man, white hair flying, blue eyes narrowed and furious. Those few moments are long enough for him to slap hands down on the window and apply enough vibrational energy to instantly shatter it in a spray of glittering shards.

He disappears in through the ruined window in a crack of speed. No sonic boom. He's not going fast by his standards — he isn't aiming to kill just yet — but still fast enough a mortal human like Tony Stark won't be able to react when Quicksilver roars in through the gap and slams into him, bearing him straight across the open floor — away from his finished antigen — until Stark's spine slams against the far wall.

"We WARNED YOU, Stark!!" Quicksilver seethes, his grip on Stark's throat tightening. "Fix it, or we will come back one day."

With a sound of disgust, he whirls and slings Tony twenty feet, throwing him against the wall off to his right. "You have not only not fixed it, you have repeated your mistake!"

*

BEFORE

Thick globs of crimson hang unpleasantly from Hope Summers' swollen lower lip as she clings to that last server, now bent and ruined under the fury of a rampaging Hulk. Her vision swims for a moment in time; everything splits, doubles, triples into an endless churn of uncertainties. Her left eye is already starting to bruise over. She dimly feels her left ring finger cut on the edge of a slab of warped metal.

She can hear everyone talking. Feel Rachel protectively enshrouding her in that telekinetic bubble. Feel the Maximoffs slowly getting further and further away.

She's scarcely cognizant of her surroundings, but this is something Hope has had to know by instinct since she was a child. That moment you have to make a choice, and stick with it. When you have to decide: save… or destroy.

"Rachel. Lower this thing. We don't… have time." Her words are a wet cough as she hands the other Summers the data saved from this place. "Get that… somewhere safe. No one touches it but you. Okay?" Her eyes narrow. Her legs tense.

"I'll meet you there."

A second later, she's gone, puncturing the sound barrier a good mile out from where she was as she achieves speeds she never thought possible in pursuit of the man who has spent the better part of his life mastering those speeds.

She's made her choice.

NOW

Fast as she is, Hope is still too late to curtail violence at its head.

She knows where she needs to be. She knows where they're going. Across miles, across states, she follows the destruction like guideposts towards that gleaming tower on New York City's skyline. She's seen it bent and cracked and sad growing up in the ruins of what was. Part of her wonders if this is how it happens.

They are ahead of her, but she keeps moving. Fire burns at the soles of her feet, cosmic flame that spits contrails of orange behind her that she scarcely even notices. She runs, up an entire building; it shows, the difference between her grasp of these powers and Pietro's, how windows crack under speed and heat beneath her ascent until she punches through the only one above that has been shattered.

And that same furious fire is sparking in Hope Summers' tightened green gaze, ignoring her wooziness like a soldier ought to as she barrels her way straight for her target.

Pietro Maximoff, slinging Tony Stark like a ragdoll. Forcing her to protect a Stark.

"BACK OFF!"

And this is exactly when she seeks to bodycheck into the white-haired speedster at high speeds. She said it.

If she ran into any Maximoffs today, she was going to go crazy.

*

A few floors away from Tony's workshop, Pepper sits in her office and finishes up the last of the week's emails. One second her office is peaceful and quiet, the gentle strains of Rachmaninoff and the aroma of fresh minty tea in the air…

And then the building shakes as if it's just been subjected to an explosion. FRIDAY starts reporting to her about the woman bashing in the front doors instantly, and Pepper is on her feet a second later. She's reaching for her shoulder bag when JARVIS speaks over the other AI to report that someone has infiltrated Tony's lab by shattering the windows, and her decision is made.

"JARVIS, FRIDAY, emergency calls out to everyone you can reach, now. The police, SHIELD, Avengers, that red-suited man in Hell's Kitchen, I don't care. Get them here. Now." She holds up her bag and slaps her hand over the COACH/STARK logo on the front, causing a flare of warm yellowish light to emit from the logo and the bag to start changing and wrapping her in teal and coppery armor.

Eight seconds. Why does that always feel like forever?

*

Even against Manhattan's skyline, lit in a thousand lights, the spreading cover over Stark Tower still evades too-quick glances.

They catch the light in momentary burns of scarlet, like sunlight playing over spider silk, suddenly showcased in an elaborate web — and gone again. Countless filaments, searingly scarlet, which neither have mass nor texture — criss-crossing in some primordial architecture of some early energy. They fall away like smoke to the touch, only to reassemble back again, offering no sort of barrier.

Yet, it is everywhere. No doubt whispered by the Witch's words, weaving in silence in and around Pietro's furious assault on Tony.

It is only upon Hope's between-moments, split-second arrival, and blurring hurtle straight towards Pietro —

The web comes to life at that same speed. It turns on the young woman, to try to bind her a hundred ways in a yoking grasp — the strength of a thousand, thread-thin threads come together at once, if just to hold to a jarring, jerking halt inches from both Pietro and Stark.

They cannot hold forever, tearing and shearing under that power —

— but enough for the Scarlet Witch to step out of nothingness, with red in her eyes, and light wafting from one outstretched hand, orders: "Paralyze."

The Witch flicks her wrist, at that, in a simple, dainty gesture, esconsced with a slap of her power to try to throw Hope backward, across the length of the lab. It is a dismissive thing, at that, the witch who only wants space for her twin brother to do his thing.

Eyes losing their humanity to burning light, she spreads both hands, a sphere rippling between them. A wall of scarlet begins to spread, whispered along by words that come without sound.

*

After picking herself up from the wreckage of the Brotherhood's decapitating strike, Rachel knew she had precious little time to react. She wasted the first thirty seconds desperately trying to calm herself down by saving a man who isn't her father but looks and acts exactly like him.

Thereafter, Rachel went into survival mode. So did Hope. That feeling of connection, of being the same as someone she's never met, that gave her strength.

Then they both made their choices.

Rachel dragged everyone who couldn't walk — or couldn't walk fast enough — back to the Blackbird with telekinesis. After engaging the autopilot to get them moving, she moved on to her next life-saving implement: her phone.

"Tony's not picking up," she says, possibly to herself. She redials, gets frustrated a few rings in, and types out a flurry of messages instead. Hopefully he'll get them. It's a better option than trying to psychic scream across half the continental United States so that he can hear, which would invite the Scarlet Witch to pick up on her location and possibly turn their plane into a hexbomb.

Rachel may be very specifically annoyed with the concept of hexbombs.

A moment passes. Rachel returns to her phone with a flurry, finding the contact name of the woman who's going to solve everything:

:smiling_imp: DEMONBABE :smiling_imp:

A stepping disc from Limbo opens up on the far side of the lab. Out steps Rachel Summers, armored bodysuit torn in dozens of places to varying levels of severity, her hound marks on full display. No time for niceties.

The astral plane distorts with her presence. She couldn't hide it if she wanted to. Layers of psychic contingencies swirl invisibly around her body, ready to be unleashed once triggered. The longing cry of some leviathanic force echoes from an unknowable distance away.

"You sure enough about what you saw that you're ready to murder someone?" she says. Already, thought-forms are swirling around Tony, setting up more contingencies. The only question is for what.

"Fine. Me first. Go through me."

*

Planes were horrible. Planes were horrible for a number of reasons but mostly because Lorna had managed to murder two people when she was a toddler. She hated planes. The Blackbird wasn't like most, and had the ability to travel far faster, but it was still a plane. A screaming metal death trap that if she lost it mid-flight, could end very very badly for those inside that couldn't fly or had portable force fields. The scramble from the destruction of the facilities to the plane had been filled with chaos, the green haired magnokinetic had been blown back into rubble and building scraps by Faora's entry. There were new bumps, bruises and a few new sore parts, but having built in plate armor to one's costume was decidedly a benefit.

But she got back up quickly enough, and spent what time Rachel did with Scott, lifting scrap metal and debris off those that needed to be freed from it. Eager to move and to do something, anything. To prove one way or another that the video was either false or true. The ground had practically hummed with the magnetic pressure that she was struggling and failing to tamp down entirely.

Of course, the sight of the injured slowed any thoughts of murder. Slowed her intent and made her stop to think as they boarded the Blackbird in a rush and Rachel attempted to contact Tony Stark. The (small) time of sitting there, broke up her anger enough to let her find some measure of patience until there was a Limbo portal to speed things along.

Grateful for the chance to get off the plane and to be moving, as soon as Rachel stepped up to go, the green haired mutant was right behind her. "Look, I promise to not murder anyone until proven either way." She offered up, before coming into the chaos beyond the portal.

*

And that is one way to knock.

The entire building shakes, furniture falls with a crash. The alarms kick in, evacuation plans go into effect. This is not the Tower's first rodeo when it comes to this kind of thing. Imeadeatly holoscreens pop up to reveal the smirking woman in his lobby.

"What the hell, JARVIS! Get her out of here! Use Veronica! I'll—"

And what he'll do is very. VERY. Rudely interrupted by the windows shattering and seconds later a speedster slamming fingers around his throat. He feels a rib give when he hits the wall behind him, choking on the surprise and pain. His face is almost comical expression of confusion, annoyance, and anger. Mostly confusion. Then more pain as he goes /flying/ across the room to crash with his side into a table.

He coughs. Scarlet tinging his hand and the side of his lips. He might be Tony Stark but he is still just a mortal man. He can't take abuse like that and come away scott free.

"What the hell are you talking about, kid?" He growls out. Confusion still but not hesitation. "JARVIS! Drop a beat!"

Even as Hope leaps to the rescue the whipcrack fast mind of the AI in control of the building splits into dozens. Part of him doing Pepper's bidding.

At the Avenger's headquarters alarms sound.

At SHIELD HQ, the mighty Triskelion the message goes out.

One Dr Jane Foster and Bucky Barnes finds their phones nigh exploding with messages.

Pepper gets a specific message of 'I know you're going to ignore this but /evacuate/ goddamit!'

But then there are disks opening. JARVIS processes. Allies.

A slight calculation and then? Then the AI /does/ 'drop a beat'.

Specially designed sonic weapons in the ceiling, blast downward suddenly with a cacophony of sound. To those not aimed at the white noise is grating, annoying, a thrumming painful hum that lasts for a split second. To those it's aimed at, Pietro and Wanda in this case, it could be a physical force. Especially for Pietro, meant to overwhelm speedster senses with that sudden /burst/ of sound and light that might seem fast even for a speedster. Which…Pietro might not be expecting. At least that is the hope that Stark has.

"Someone want to explain to me what the hell is going on?!" Stark doesn't seem too bothered by the sound, must be the earbuds.

And downstairs…

The back wall of the lobby is covered with debris from that punch, little robots rush here and there evacuating wounded and others. However the debris in the back shifts as a panel opens…

And ten feet of gleaming red armored suit steps forth. Massive hands flexing as it stalks from the elevator. JARVIS' voice though still sounds completely polite.

"Miss Cargill, that is no way to knock. Mister Stark has asked that I show you out. Will you please follow me?"

*

Once the Rescue armor is fully deployed, Pepper looks at the HUD display to try and get an idea of what's going on in the building. "FRIDAY, quick assessment. Where am I needed more, Tony's lab or the lobby?"

Either way, she heads for the small balcony off of her office, as the fastest way to get from one floor to another while wearing this suit is actually outside the building. Well, mostly when someoen ELSE has already made a hole in the building.

And speaking of, SERIOUSLY? The place was JUST repaired!

*

"Well," FRIDAY's rich accent comes to Pepper's ears. "The Boss is facing down a very angry Maximoff twins that are accusing him of /something/. I don't know what…but it looks like some of the X-men have showed up to help? Honestly Miss, I don't even know what's happening."

A beatpause.

"Oh, JARVIS is attempting to deal with the breach in the lobby. And being a might bit nicer about it than I would be."

*

Inside Frenzy is and when she comes upon those small robots that try so valiantly to clean the mess she created, the woman can't help but purposely step on them; crushing them with the weight and strength of her booted feet.

Then her brown-eyed gaze scans the lobby itself, before she focuses upon the elevators. Eventually she'll make her way up, but first she must stir the hornets nest a bit further.

Itchy fingers are flexed and while she was just prepared to slam her fists into another wall to shake the foundation, the motion at the back is seen.

What reveals itself allows another grin to crease the Bruiser's face, even as it offers that polite rebuff. "Make me." Because WHAT ELSE can Frenzy truly say to Jarvis' oh-so-polite question. It's a school yard challenge and it's what works best in this sort of situation.

With that challenge dropped Frenzy reaches over to a nearby wall and casually rips a monstrous sized chunk of concrete and drywall from it. That improvised shield is held before her and with a heft up, the woman runs straight at the ten foot armored robot, intent on slamming into it with her improvised battering ram.

Let's see how many walls they can make it through!

*

JARVIS gives an audible sigh as Frenzy refuses. And then Frenzy is charging, and JARVIS can't really manuver in this small of a space. So instead there is a suprised.

"Oh dear."

And then a new crash shakes the building, with enough force to be felt upstairs as the Hulkbuster and Frenzy go plowing though the /opposite/ wall and the next several. "Miss Potts will not like this at all! Miss Cargill you are making her job very difficult!"

And one hand reaches up to grab for Frenzy as the suit twists to now put /her/ in front as its repulsors kick in.

JAVIS /does/ mean to remove her the building it seems.

Even if they have to make a new door.

*

Quicksilver does not even spare a glance back at Hope as she comes barreling in. The reason why emerges from her dark scarlet web.

The Twins always watch one another's backs.

Evidence of that in the matching response to the sonic weapons, when they activate. It's fast enough to flood even Quicksilver's perceptions, certainly, but what Tony might not have accounted is that Pietro has made a point of learning to bull through sensory pain for the specific reason that it harms his sister. He leaps in the first nanosecond they start going off, racing across the ceiling in a long streak that rips the weaponry out of its housing, shutting them down.

He drops again in time for the stepping discs to start disgorging their first arrivals.

Rachel is talking. Quicksilver isn't even listening. He's still focused on Stark.

"I cannot take the risk," he says, his sides heaving from the exertion of his run and from the fury and fear beating through his blood. He radiates the terror, desperation, and raw anger of a brother trying to guard his sister with his own body. "I CANNOT take the risk. My — " My sister. My twin. My Wanda, who I gave up my life to protect, with a collar locked around her little neck. With humans picking their crawling fingers through her flesh for her secrets. The very mental image makes him feel sick.

There is a brief pause. Quicksilver's expression splits in a snarl, fury beating in his blood until it seems to smoke from his skin. Distantly he wonders if this was the anger his father felt that drove him to become what he was today. His father. He… wasn't he not going to be his father?

Maybe. But what if his father had the right idea? It was foolish to trust any human…

Never again.

"It's one of you, or all of us, Stark," Quicksilver snaps, drowning his own thoughts in talking, seeking to cut them off as much as he seeks to cut through Tony Stark. The vaunted Iron Man. "I am finished being afraid. I cannot let this happen again."

He moves, straight on Tony Stark, streaking towards him fast enough the floor smokes.

*

Hope Summers knows what it's like to be powerless.

It's not just facing overwhelming strength. That's common enough. But there's a powerlessness in not being able to choose your life for yourself. She's felt it every day with expectations and accusations leveled on her from too many sources to ever remember from before she ever even had the capacity to understand them. Living a life forever on the run because people wanted to use her or kill her. Never actually seeing her. Never actually knowing her. Just caring what she could do for them… or could do to them.

She knows what it's like to feel powerless. And she never wants to feel those shackles ever again if she can help it. And so as she feels her body slow to a crawl, as she feels muscles seize up as if she was being frozen like a mosquito trapped in sap, she feels a very existential sort of powerlessness creep all the way through her nerves. Green eyes burning with a kindling flame gutter out as the redheaded survivor stills, right fist cocked back in preparation for the follow up blow that was to be a high-speed battering ram into a vulnerable solar plexus.

She feels probability tell her that the deck has been shuffled and in this moment, in this place, in this time, she can no longer move. Fingers twitch their final twitches. And then she goes motionless. Helpless.

Powerless.

She feels cold sink into the depths of her stomach. Pupils dilate. Another person, trying to strip her of everything she is to be what they want her to be.

No. No. No.

A wrist flicks, dismissive as if Hope was nothing more than a gnat to be swat aside. She feels it -hurtle- her into the air as if she meant nothing, to fall away from the labs. But something happens. A shudder runs across scarlet threads to seize that motion.

And, as she halts in mid-air with a mind-boggling lack of inertia as if to spit in the face of all varieties of physical laws, Hope Summers' eyes glow an inhuman scarlet.

"NO!"

And then she rejects everything about those scarlet threads on a most basic level, her should like a feedback loop screaming reality-twisting static to rebound straight into Wanda as the time-displaced Summers falls onto her hands and knees, vision swimming, skin pale.

Eyes searing.

*

The astral dissonance turns the Scarlet Witch's eyes. Her web seethes around her, threads turned like a living body's cilia — attracted to the intrusion into her domain. That is — until the sonic attack.

It nearly fells her, on the spot — how easy it is, in simplicity, to break through the power of the Witch. Her focus fractures, but it barely threatens her perception before undone by Pietro.

In turn, that moment is what makes the Maximoffs the reckoning force they are. Weak when alone. And when together —

Pietro destroys the weapons, culls the noise, and Wanda has her mind again.

What's left of her mind, these days.

The Scarlet Witch turns a furious glance back over her shoulder, and the smoky red licking off her limbs and skin moves an unseen wind along the hem and sleeves of her dress, whipping wild her dark hair. Light pours out from her eyes.

"Through you?" she petitions Rachel's words, eyes on her, then — switching to Lorna. There is no condemnation in her stare for her half-sister, only an unspoken question: THEM OR US?

X-MEN or YOUR BLOOD?

"If you want your human, you come through me."

The ephemeral pull of Rachel is too powerful to ignore. Same with Hope. Their blood — potent beyond calculation. Her chaos scrambles to their souls —

And Hope rises.

Wanda sees her, even without looking. Sees her, beyond the eyes, beyond sight, but as a second, spinning locus of chaos, reflecting back all of her possibilities. Compounding risk upon risk. She is not sure how to feel in that moment — indignation or sympathy — until Pietro's words pull her back to her fury. His terror. His urgency. His love for her —

Hope undoes her scarlet web, and its red tangle leaves Stark Tower in its entirety. Eyes on her brother, Wanda makes her decision.

The Witch calls the red to her hands. It will take more than she's ever tried — more of her than anything else she's asked of the void.

"Within my walls, negate the gene not of my mother's blood," whispers Wanda. "For those who breach, make them of the humanity they choose over us."

Scarlet crowns down around them in a semi-translucent sphere, large enough to cover herself, Pietro, and Tony Stark inside.

A miniature reality, separate from this one, all of twenty feet across. Who shall pass and become human?

*

"You all make our lives difficult." Snarls the Bruiser of the Brotherhood, "So we're just returning the favor. How's it feel?"

The improvised battering ram disintegrates after a handful of seconds thanks to the force between Jarvis and Frenzy. That doesn't stop Frenzy from continuing on this path of destruction.

It also doesn't stop her from being grabbed by the suit and being put in front, so that it's she herself being slammed through the walls. And Jarvis is supposedly a gentleman. Clearly that's not always the case.

Which is fine. It's all good.

As the two plow through another wall and into a vacant room the woman strives for control in this particular dance. She's the leader here, not Jarvis.

With that in mind, Joanna Cargill reaches up for one of the arms that has a hold of her. Her fingers dig deep into the metal and as soon as she has a firm enough grip she pushes back against their momentum and then pivots and pulls forward, pitching the monster-sized armor up and over her. The airborne arc of the Armored-Jarvis finds him going above and then over Frenzy, before he finds himself being slammed *hard* into the floor. It's enough that a crater is created from the force behind it.

He'll find his arm still locked in Frenzy's grip and with a hard twist and pull, the arm is torn free from the armor.

Then with a glance at the torn arm in her hand, the woman hefts it like a club and brings it down toward Jarvis. Specifically the faceplate of the armor.

*

Rescue steps lightly off of the railing around the balcony and freefalls most of the way to the ground before the suit's repulsors fire and halt her descent rather neatly. Then, with Pepper still trying to think of who else to contact and sending a mental plea for help along the emerald necklace she's wearing and hoping a particular tinsel-haired assassin elf hears, she follows the path of desctruction into the ground floor of Stark Tower.

She finds the armored young woman raising a red and gold arm to beat the rest of the Hulkbuster armor about the faceplate and without really considering it raisises one hand and fires off a repulsor at the woman's head.

It's not nearly close to full power, but likely more than enough to feel like a firm slap to the noggin.

*

Quicksilver isn't listening to Rachel. She knows this. She doesn't mind. People can't see a lot of the things she does. It doesn't make them any less real. As the speedster drives hard for Stark, there's no time for Rachel to react. This, too, Rachel knows. She knew that coming in.

One of the psychic contingencies swirling invisibly around Stark's body flares to life the moment Quicksilver gets too close. A telekinetic field springs into existence around him of such exquisitely defiant construction that it is as if a mirrored sphere swallowed him up. Not even light can get in. The floor under the sphere groans as the telekinetic construct sinks downward to plant itself, denting mental until it fissures outward. The mirrored effect gradually shimmers away as the permeability adjusts.

"I SAID you have to go through ME!"

Rachel steps forward, the air rippling around her with heat. A slice of her heart cries out for Hope, but she has to trust the power that the other woman is taking on. She has to trust that they're both going to make the right choices here tonight. She keeps walking, a living goddess of psychic power.

But the Brotherhood offers no easy battles. Wanda's words are a whisper, but they may as well be directly in Rachel's ear. The shimmering field that descends cleaves the astral plane like a glitch. Her telekinetic barrier remains around Tony, unbroken by Rachel's still-potent X-gene.

At the edge of the barrier, Rachel stops. The dark, scarlet field colors her figure from the otherside — all save her eyes, all save her marks. Those burn. Nothing can stop the burning. Rachel flexes her hand, stretching her fingers and then curling them into a fist. Her arsenal of psychic weapons swirls around her, and out from her, stretching backwards and forwards in time. All hilts point toward her. All wait to be drawn by their mistress.

Rachel glances backward, over her shoulder. Back toward Lorna. Her expression softens. Hope isn't the only person Rachel has to trust here.

A single step, and Rachel crosses the field. Her breath escapes her. The telekinetic field around Tony disappears, leaving him just a man without his metal suit.

And Rachel just a woman.

"You know I'm right," she says, her voice thick with hurt. She sags down to her knees, unable to fully support herself. The pains from Faora's sundering of the X-Men sing sharply through her muscles. No more X-gene. No more Rachel Summers, goddess of the White Hot Room. It's only a person looking up at Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.

"If it's real, it's real, but if it's not… you can't kill for them."

Her expression hardens, but her eyes shimmer.

"Don't kill for them."

*

WHAM! WHAM! WHAMWHAMWHAM!

The Hulkbuster's head is dented with its own arm as the suit struggles to raise. It is just hard to raise when getting beat over the head with ones own arm.

"Miss Cargill! Be reasonable! What even is this about?" JARVIS inquires as he struggles to raise…

…and then comes the repulsor blast from the Rescue suit.

"Ah, Miss Potts, Mister Stark wanted you to evacuate…" A streak of /something/ moving at high speed suddenly tears in though though the front door and makes contact with the Hulkbuster's ruined shoulder joint.

It is a new arm. Tony was prepped for this.

"Much better." And then the AI simply hauls off and /punches/ Frenzy as hard as he can, meaning to fling the Brotherhood Bruiser back out the hole she made in the lobby.

*

Chaos. It said something that no matter where she'd gone that day, Lorna had been surrounded by chaos. As the red splintered, as her half-siblings fought to kill Tony without so much as 'hey, by the way..' the green haired mutant was left breathless. Torn loyalties shifted and gnawed at her, halting any immediate actions on her part as she watched— from Hope, to Pietro, to Tony and to Wanda. Lights and sounds and chaos everywhere."Pietro! If you do this, you'll be just like him." She shouted over the din as best she could. There was no question of who he was.

Their father.

The man that had been absent in all their lives. That had only just begun to twist their relations to his own needs, wants and desires… Who each in turn did not trust but on some level yearned to have in their lives.

"There's other ways, Wanda—" She broke off. Wanda wasn't going to be looking into anyone's minds nicely today. Not judging by the red webbing or hot prickle of energy that lanced through the room.

Green eyes met Wanda's scarlet. The question reverberating through her mind and echoing in a thrum through her said or unsaid. It was impossible for her to not know the question.

Or the answer.

Wanda's words echoed through the room. No louder than a whisper, but some how louder than all the chaos that exploded around them. Lorna stared, her mind slow to register just what it meant for them. For Tony. For all of them. Her feet shuffled forward, and she looked ready to throw herself in.. but Rachel dropped the protective bubble around Tony and stepped through the field herself. The green haired mutant's lips fell open in shock as she stared, rooted to the spot in dawning horror.

"Rachel! Don't-" She found herself standing on the edge of the scarlet bubble, boots shuffling heavy against the debris covered floor. Too late to stop Rachel. Too late. Green eyes flickered toward Wanda, her breath escaping in a hurried rush and she stared openly at her half sister.

All the words, all the pleas in the world came to her lips and died there. What could she possibly say that would, or could, change their minds?

"Don't make me come in there too. Please. Wanda.. Pietro.. You're both so much better than our father.. Don't act like him. Not now. Not when you've both done so much more. We can figure this out together."

*

The repulsor blast knocks Frenzy forward a step, simply because she wasn't anticipating an attack from behind.

That step forward turns into a pivot as the black-haired woman turns to see WHAT and WHO just attacked her.

The sight of Rescue earns a frown from the woman. "Should have shot harder." She advises, then the arm she was using to beat Jarvis with is sent straight at Rescue.

It might seem harmless, just a chunk of metal, but when thrown with the majority of her strength behind it that 'metal' becomes something more. It becomes a wrecking ball.

"I am being reasonable." She says, her movements bringing her right back around to Jarvis just as he receives his new arm. Upon seeing that an expletive echoes within Frenzy's mind, but for now isn't said out-loud. Instead she snarls, "This is how you reasonably deal with people who harm your family." Then the punch is upon her and while she brings her own hands up to block the strike, there's enough strength behind it to send her flying backwards. Back out to the lobby that now resembles something akin to an aftermath of a terrible earthquake. When she lands in the lobby the force of her body hitting the floor opens up a furrow into the already damaged floor. Within a second Frenzy rolls to her feet, pretty much unharmed. There's something to be said for durability.

Spying a broken wall and a steel beam within it, Frenzy makes her way right on over and rips the support beam from the wall itself. She hefts the steel upward like a bat and with new weapon in hand, Frenzy jumps back through the 'doorways' they've made, swinging her very large bat at both Rescue and Hulkbuster.

*

For not the first time in his life and defiantly not the last time, Tony Stark has no effin' idea what the hell is going on. Confusion is all that the man is eminating right now, confusion and pain. He could feel Pietro gearing up, he has raised his arms in front of him. The strange energy shields appearing, Iron Man might not be suited up but he isn't entirely defenseless.

But he knows. He /knows/ even as he starts the move that he is doing it only to make himself feel better.

He can't match Pietro's speed.

But then the room goes dark, eveything goes dark. For one. Split second there is a moment of pure terror as the bubble forms around him and he has no idea what is happening outside of it.

And then it shifts again just as he rebounds off a desk. The contents scatter across the floor before the gathered mutants. Holodrawings of a dozen things. Schematics for a collar(stolen from Trask and used to create his work around). A tube of familiar black goo(taken from Limbo) and a second thing of bright amber. Also a package of dried mangos that scatter across Pietro's feet.

The man is battered, hurt. Pain radiates out from him. "JARVIS, is Pepper out of the building. Everything evacuated?"

"Ah, no sir. Miss Potts is assisting me in the lobby."

One more worry on top of worry, even as the strange taboo of ideologies play out before him. Leaving him once more confused. At least until Rachel breaks the plane of that strange barrier and quickly collapses, then he's forcing himself up and towards her. Even as the TK shield drops. "Will someone," Stark is angry it is true, but it is also true he doesn't have the data. So he hesitates, hesitates to counter-attack towards Pietro. Possibly to his detriment. "Explain to me what the /hell/ is going on here?" He /demands/ as he reaches down to see what the hell is wrong with Rachel.

Because he only has eyes, and she looks hurt. Having missed most of Wanda's declaration of power.

*

The telekinetic field drops. At first, Quicksilver doesn't even register why.

And then he realizes.

He stops, and turns, and finds himself looking down at Rachel — human. Rachel, pleading not just for Tony, but for the souls of him and his sister.

But the first person he reacts to? His half-sister. He stares past Rachel, over her, looking at Lorna as she speaks to him and Wanda in a way only the three of them could ever understand. About their father. Their shared need both to fly away from and towards him, conflicting urges at eternal war.

"Lorna," he says, almost pleading. "Don't come in here. Don't give it up for them."

His gaze slants back down to Rachel. From this angle, in the dark of the lab with all its lights sparking and guttering out, the primary things visible about Quicksilver are the colorless white of his hair and the steel blue of his eyes. This image has been seen before. It has stood in front of mutants for decades. Pietro hated it, until there came a time he didn't. It took nearly three decades of pain. Don't let this ever happen again.

"Do you know how it feels to be afraid?" he wonders of Rachel. "I know you know."

He leans forward. Rachel does not need her infinite telepathic powers to know how he feels, because it is written on his face: his expression is ripped between fury, agony, and fear, the look of a young man who wants to accept her reasoning, to still believe that everything will be all right, but learned long ago it never will be.

"I know you know hatred," he says. "The kind you nurse after they stake out your sister and laugh while she burns. Ask you if you want to fuck her a last time before she's ash, because that's what filthy Roma do. Filthy Gypsies. Isn't it? Rut like animals.

"I know you know the waiting… the waiting for someone stronger to come and take everything you are, everything you have. Just because they can. Because they have all the power, and you have none."

The tears start to run down his face, because he already knows what he's giving up, but his eyes are still steel.

"It's past time to take some back." He looks up at Lorna. "And I will do it." You save yourself, sister.

He turns his back on Rachel, his gaze resting on Tony Stark. "What is going on," Pietro says, almost sad, "is something necessary. You'll have your life — " his father will hate that, but one small shred of Pietro still shrinks from completely sinking into his father's shadow — "…but you need to stop. It's you or my sister."

And Pietro is looking at his twin, at Wanda, when he reaches forward to vise his grasp shut on the arc reactor glowing in Tony's chest, and saw it out of his flesh.

*

One advantage to having an AI-assisted suit of armor, while Pepper's eyes focus on the arm Frenzy flings at her, FRIDAY makes the armor react and move, firing the repulsors to scoot Rescue sidways so the Hulkbuster arm merey clips her instead of hitting her full-on.

"Miss, we can't take another hit like that," FRIDAY offers as Pepper closes her eyes for a second. That. HURT. BUT. That woman is still in HER tower, making a mess of HER lobby. And that will not stand.
"Then you will understand that you've forced me to deal with you in the same 'reasonable' manner. Because you are currently. Hurting MY family."

Rescue fires another — yes, stronger — repulsor blast at Frenzy, but at the same time uses a less-obvious sonic weapon to hopefully either disorient Frenzy or vibrate the metal in her hand and on her person enough to heat it to uncomfortable levels.

*

Pietro speaks to Rachel, but Stark hears. His mind slips back to a cave. To armed men with strange accents who degrade him. Torture him. Call him weak. A devil. A monster. Hours that turned into days. Days into weeks. Blackness and pain blending together in one nightmare while wires connected to a car battery kept him alive.

He /does/ know what the mutant speaks of. He knows and he lives with those nightmares. Of being unable to protect what matters to him. Of being the reason for the death of those he cares about. He /knows/ exactly what Pietro is talking about. Those with the ability to feel it can /feel/ it. The empathy from someone that is not supposed to have it. All of it…

"Kid…" There is his own emotion there. How can he articulate that. How can he show them that…

Fingers vice around his ARC reactor.

Sparks stream out as the speedster /tears/ it free with all the angry force that the silver haired mutant can muster.
#644iterally tearing the heart out of him.

The effect is nearly immediate. His skin goes ashen gray and he beings to go into shock. The wounds from earlier compounded. A rib lodged somewhere important even as he crumples to the ground like a broken puppet, not unconscious but in such pain that his body is shutting down to protect his mind from it. Eyes wide, fingers curling into claws as he reaches out one hand for…something? Anything to help.

He can hardly speak.

He can only claw for one strange amber vial on the ground, mind focused only on survival. He is so far from any of his actual ARC reactors. So far from anything to help.

This would be the moment that Dummy trundles in though a side door. Armed with a fire extinguisher. Which the little bot drops as he sees Tony drop to trundle…he can't really go faster than that ok…towards him. Past the mutants and their standoff. Franticly the little manipulator arm swinging round, looking for something to help the man on the ground as he pauses to focus on the mutants there. As if to say 'WHAT ARE YOU DOING STANDING THERE?!' before the robot goes back to rooting though the debris on the floor.

MEANWHILE! DOWNSTAIRS!

"Harm your family? Mister Stark would never. He is trying to assist you as much as he can!" JARVIS replies as he leaps forwards to meet Frenzy's bat to shield Pepper from it. He's content to be more of a shield than a sword at the moment…at least until…

FRIDAY's voice chirrps on Pepper's coms, the AI's usually cheerful and sultry voice drained of emotion. "Miss Potts," The AI sounds shocked. "Its Mister Stark, he's going into cardiac arrest." A pause. "He's dying!"

*

The steel beam hits Jarvis versus Pepper and there's a metallic ring like a bell, or gong.

It echoes, even as Frenzy is hit with that repulsor fire (again) and then likewise the sonic weapon. While the metal of her brass knuckles heats up, as does the metal upon her suit, the woman seems to barely feel it. Unphased as the metal warms up.

The disorientation on the other hand does annoy her. It causes her to stagger away, steps mismatched for a few seconds, as the tall woman tries to regain her balance and moment. When she does manage to straighten up there's an almost perceptible pause from Frenzy. A slight un-focusing of her eyes as a message is heard and received.

Only after the message is heard does Frenzy's gaze sharpen and her attention return to those around her. "Liar." Is the only word she says to Jarvis, then she drops the steel beam and leaps away from them both.

It's back to the lobby and then out the front door, as Frenzy leaves the shattered remains of Stark Tower.

*

She can see it all, past the red film of her gaze. Everything this situation could be, is, was, is going to be. Like she could reach out and tug a cue card out of the sleeve of reality and just layer it over this one.

Everything numbs out in the face of that. She can barely even feel how her left eye has practically swollen shut by now. She can barely hear Rachel's voice. Barely see Lorna's movements. Her wide eyes look past that, to everything underneath.

To the chaos everything is, deep down.

And it's so much. Too much. Compared to the cool and controlled spiderweb twine of Wanda Maximoff's threading probability fields, Hope's is more like a fraying explosion of static yarn, jolts of red hopping haphazard and uncontrolled across the redheaded soldier's immediate vicinity. A springing bolt of scarlet turns a desk into a chair, into an SUV, into a waterspout, into a mass of cancerous tubules spilling from another reality so close to this one it is practically rubbing up against it like it was overstuffed to the point of bursting and it sees you now it knows you're there and there's no point in escaping the life beyond death — to a pig, that promptly and harmlessly scampers off with a squeal.

It is a similar process all around her until, by the time she staggers into a stand, Hope Summers is a jagged chunk of guttered, sanded down lab machinery worn down by thousands of years of neglect, a gold plated wall and a fifteen foot stretch of shag carpet with 'TONY'S LOVE LAB' written across it in proud, garish letters letters, and that's just what she's even passingly aware of.

Focus. You're better than this. Are you? In this other world you're not, in fact, the Purifiers found you and burned you out in your crib so maybe you're actually dead right now — remember what Nathan taught you, except it wasn't Nathan, was it, it was Stryfe, and then you became everything they feared you were so maybe you should just let them gut Tony and then you can just crack world open —

No. Nathan. Remember Nathan. Remember Rachel. Remember Jean.

It is a poor trade when so many lives lost leads only to misery.

Do you know how it feels to be afraid?

"Y… you don't stop being afraid this way."

Hope stumbles. The static spring of Wanda's powers turn inward, focusing chaos. Every step, red ripples beneath the soles of her feet like she was walking across a a pond instead of solid ground. Every step, a piece of her changes, copy-pasted with another her, another possibility. One step, and her hair is a punkish mess. Another step, her right arm is covered in armor and spikes of silver. Another, the TO Virus is infesting her other arm before it's gone in the next. Another, the emblem of the Phoenix sears itself into her chest—

She can barely focus. Barely find her words, because what if they're just another her's words? But they come, stuttering and cracked, as she advances towards that field.

"You-you're just fee-ee-ee-eeding it." She sees Rachel, braving that probability field. Stripping away a core part of what she is. Not who she is. Hope's jaw sets. Focus. "Giving it power. Giving power to everyone's fears. And then… and then…" She can see where Pietro dissolves Tony into a million particles. She can see where she steps through that field only to have Wanda wipe out Rachel before she can even do anything. She can see a thousand ways to be scared of what's coming. "… and then you create a world where no one wins, where the only difference between a human and a mutant is the kind of ammunition you need to make sure you survive through them to the next day. This isn't that world. Not yet. This world still has so much good in it, so many wonderful things. It still has a chance, and…" Hands tense; she bites into her split lip, the pain both there and not.

"Please. Please don't ruin everyth-"

CRRRSH

And for a moment, all Hope Summers does is stare with wide, red eyes as Tony Stark falls into a limp, gray in that way she's seen so many times in people who are dead without even knowing it. Her lips parted, she tries and fails to absorb what she's seen, what she KNOWS is real, and — and —

"God…"

— and she sees every moment of the horrors of her life, and exactly how they could all spiral out from moments like this —

"DAMN YOU!"

And she hurls her probability-soaked body straight into Wanda Maximoff's hexfield, one fist drawn and swinging at whichever Maximoff it can find first in a furious spark of rage and flame.

*

Rescue breaks off her attack at FRIDAY's voice, and it's just as well that Frenzy chose to leave on her own, because Pepper doesn't hesitate to turn away and take off toward the upper levels of the Tower again.

It's precious seconds wasted getting there, but then she blasts into workshop through the hole already in the side of the Tower.

Not knowing who is friendly and who isn't — except that the AI highlights the arc reactor in Pietro's hand — Rescue shoots forward and puts herself between the speedster and Tony. Red sphere? Pfft, she couldn't care less. Tony is in trouble, and THAT is all she cares about right now.

"FRIDAY, will this suit's arc reactor work for Tony?" Regardless of the AI's answer, she promptly does what some people might think is the stupidest thing ever and turns her back on Pietro and Wanda, letting the armor disassemble from around her, leaving yet another entirely human and completely vulnerable person kneeling by Tony and the panicking Dummy.

"Tony?" Her voice sounds small and scared in comparison to Dummy's loud panicking.

*

That wreathing red runs every ounce of Wanda Maximoff, so much so that there seems little left of the woman so named — and in her place, the Scarlet Witch.

It crawls her skin, rings her fingers, and bores out her eyes from her head — replaces their blue, their humanity, with twin currents of burning scarlet light. Given to her gift, wielding it as both guiding mother and child vessel, she provides the world for which her twin brother to rule.

To make his edict. To cast his punishment. In here, it is his right.

And yet, even here, even now, and true to her own name — Wanda's mind… wanders.

There is no denying or ignoring the too-close window into chaos. In all her years, the closest she felt of this was only once, in the boy whose soul sang so sweetly and achingly a note that made her eyes sting —

— and here, again, though not the same: it's identical, a perfect mirror back on herself. Chaos upending, and turning on its host, in a way Wanda knows far more intimately than most. A cruelty runs through her, brief and sharp like a needle-poke, and a cunning thought how she could end the young woman here. Go into the mind. Delve deep. And tell her a simple, sweet thing: don't think of a single memory that broke you before. Don't think of a single thought that makes you afraid.

The viciousness almost takes her, as she sees the roulette spin of probabilities orbitting Hope — almost.

Rachel steps through Wanda's boundary and loses everything. The action arrests the Witch in place, though her eyes are steel, her expression a lock. She would do this for Stark? Do this for a human? She would —

Lorna's appeal calls from beyond the scarlet wall, and Wanda's glowing eyes meet her green ones. The half-sister bound to the twins by blood, equally swallowed beneath the long shadow of their father whose sins, at some point, were destined to become their given birthright. The half-sister who gave up her own child to this unending hatred that must still go on, and yet still finds the strength to call to them — to tell them they can figure this out together. That there is an answer.

Rachel sinks to her knees, and the action earns back Wanda's attention. She can feel it on her, the mutant, the now-human — pain, hatred, blood. Pietro speaks of their own trials, recalling an old memory —

*

The light dims from Wanda's eyes, back to iris and pupil and scelera, quietly stricken. She looks down, pained, ashamed. Her lips press, and glancing back up, her last look is back on her half-sister. In the end, she speaks no words, but the look in her eyes is answer enough. It communicates clearly, one thing only: we're sorry.

Because she knows, as immediately as it is true for Pietro, what they need to do. He looks at her. She looks back. Matching tears streak her face. Her lips move, tracing the shapes of unspoken words — words of their first tongue.

And he rips out Tony Stark's tin man heart.

As Pepper rushes into her reshaped reality — it does nothing to her, being human — Wanda's attention circles briefly on the woman. She could toss her out. She could crush her attempts to save her friend. She — finds herself choosing to do nothing. Let her do as she wishes. The Brotherhood has no animosity with her.

Scarlet instead fans out from the Witch's hands, intent to shape the teleportation possibility to see the Maximoff twins away —

— and Hope is not yet finished. Hope, with all her betrayed fury. Hope, with that of her namesake dashed at her feet, forcefed of second reality turned to bleakness. Hope, with the scarlet in her eyes.

God DAMN YOU!

Wanda goes pale. Her reaction is simple, immediate, and horrified: "NO!"

It is the first, cardinal rule of their gift, their curse: when you can bend all of reality to your will, YOU WATCH YOUR WORDS.

She whirls on Hope, moving with an immediacy not unlike some quantum state, Schrodinger's Wanda that inhabits two states so quickly it's nearly at once: at Pietro's side, then intercepting the redhead barrelling down on her brother, emblazoned with probability so likely it could as much damn the soul from his flesh. Scarlet light burning from her hands, she tries to catch Hope's upraised fist, trying to close it with power, as the red burns desperately off her body.

So much power just to hold on. Power she can barely control in herself, much less another. It is painful to exert, to wall, to try to hold back, as she reaches down into chaos itself, moving through billions of changing variables to try to turn her hand on one to try —

"NEGATE!"

It's the last thought in her head, one last push of her will — before it is too much. The Scarlet Witch goes boneless, unconscious, for Quicksilver to take.

*

Some scientists say that the horrors of the Holocaust changed the DNA of those that survived it. If that was so, then the scars of those horrors chased those descended from survivors as well. The horrors and trauma of a people etched forever onto the minds and psyches, and bodies forever.

It was those horrors that chased the three children of Magneto to this moment. The shadows haunting every breath and action.

Don't be like him.

It was a struggle each dealt with differently. That they won or lost on a daily basis with each choice they made. But some choices left deeper marks, deeper scars and moved them ever closer to the imposing shadow cast by their father.

Across the scarlet haze of Wanda's hex-woven-bubble, Lorna met Pietro's icy blue gaze as he addressed her. A glimpse of a brother and sister that she'd never had the chance to grow up with, because fate was cruel.

A glimpse at the eyes that mirrored their father. Just as Wanda's screamed an apology.

She stared, eyes wide as she pressed as close as she dared to the hazy field that separated them.

The tears found an answering mirror in her own glassy gaze as it slowly dawned on her that Pietro wasn't going to stop. Her head was shaking back and forth slowly, a raw, choked âNOâ fell from her lips.

But she was too late.

Again.

A curse of their family.

CRACK. Tony was down.

Chaos stepped in and moved faster than Lorna could step forward. She wasn't a speedster. She had no control over reality She couldn't mend the broken or heal to save a life. For the first time in a long while, Lorna felt well and truly helpless. As red light exploded and Hope broke and mended reality in pieces and attacked and was negated.

She was blown backwards briefly, shielding her eyes from the light. And then she was moving.

There was one thing she was good at. One thing that sheâd inherited from her father that both a blessing and a curse. Her hand flashed outwards to yank the crushed arc-reactor to her magnetic grip, reshaping it with her powers between her hands as she rushed toward Tony's fallen figure on magnetic currents and skidded on the ground as she dropped down beside him. â?Pepper! Help me put this back in!â

*

Sometimes Rachel doesn't feel like she belongs with the X-Men. In this moment where her mutant blood is silent, she is forced to kneel beneath the haloed glare of the homo superior as her adoptive family of mutants has done many times before. The cosmos always aligns for her. It often hurts.

He asks of fear. He doesn't ask only with his lips. The tension in his jaw, his brow. The quivering-still control. She can see. Even without her true eyes, she can see.

Behind her, Lorna begs a world ruled by blood to wash its hands. Beside her, Tony reaches for something he doesn't understand but must touch. Rachel stares up at Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. She can't talk, but neither can she look away. The tattoos on her face do not burn in this world of scarlet, but she can feel them burn all the same. More than tattoos. They're her skin now.

The shimmering in her eyes breaks and wetness stains her marked cheeks. She can hear it crying for her outside of the hex. It always reaches. It cannot stand to be apart.

We are one

for what was

what is

and what will be

But it is so far right now. At the bottom of the ocean, buried by the currents of probability. For a moment, there is silence. It is peaceful. Rachel feels the fractured shards of her mind sink into rest. Her shoulders sag. It feels good to cry, to be only a person. Her, Pietro, and Wanda. Only people.

But the blood calls.

Tony Stark falls limp before Rachel, a wind-up toy with a broken key. Her voice catches in her throat. Hope screams a curse that Rachel will not feel the full potency of for another three seconds. The Scarlet Witch rises in a bizarre lashback almost borne by care. Rachel Summers stares numbly down at Tony's potential corpse even as Pepper Potts shouts about arc reactors. Arc reactors. Arc reactors —

The probability field collapses and the X-gene comes rushing back all at once. Rachel can't hear herself scream. The many-shattered weave of local reality pounds in her head, demanding her touch. This is Phoenix work. Lives are so small, the whispers come, the universe so vast. Fix it. Fix this orphaned reality, fix everything, forever —

Rachel pitches forward, slamming her hands down Tony's chest. She stares into his face, crowding Pepper for the space. Tears blot his stupid smug beard as they fall from her eyes.

"Tony Stark," her voice broken and strong, "I am LIFE INCARNATE!"

Fire, bursting up from the floor, rising toward the ceiling. Engulfing everything. Burning no one. Rachel's hair swims in the telekinetic updraft, her face a barely-human mask of shadow and flame. Her blood sings with her birthright. The Phoenix shrieks from its distant prison. It is Rachel and Rachel is it, but it cannot have her this day, no matter how strong her soul shines.

Rachel hears the first beat of Tony's heart. It will not stop while she is the divinity in residence. The infinite micro-complexity of her telekinetic will spreads through his body, rushing life back to him, holding shrapnel in contemptuous stillness.

Deathly quiet save for the roar of spectral flames, Rachel rises to her feet. Pepper and Lorna are left space to work. She turns her head to look out across the lab. Before her stretches broken things: building, realities, people.

So much to fix.

So much the Phoenix cannot.

*

Kid…

Pietro looks at Tony. His hand shakes, but he finishes what he started.

After, it is almost anticlimactic. He looks at the arc reactor in his hand — such a small thing, to power a man so much larger than life — and then lets it drop to the floor. The father would have been resplendent in a moment like this, high on vengeance and power, almost euphoric — but the son? Pietro just looks exhausted, as if he tore out all his own strength along with Tony's tin heart. There is nothing remaining in him to bother Pepper, as she rushes to Tony's side. He lets her try.

But he looks up at Wanda, and his shoulders square again, because he knows it was worth it. Always worth it, for her.

But what has he given up? He wonders that, as he looks at the way Lorna looks at him through the lingering barrier. The 'no' that falls from her lips. Sorry, he mouths back.

She chose — this time.

He turns his back and walks away, back to his twin. The updraft of Rachel's life-giving psionic flames rakes through his white hair and sears at his shoulderblades with divine non-heat, but he does not look back or stop. What they work upon now is a crippled man.

GOD DAMN YOU!

He stops for that. He starts to turn, alarmed, and what he sees is half a lifetime's worth of nightmares realizing in a single split instant. For once, Wanda moves faster than he does. Hex field meets hex field. There is a horrible spasm of clashing, negating energy. His sister shields him, and —

"WANDA!" Desperation and fear crack his voice. He rushes to gather her in his arms, and in a split second the two are gone. Quicksilver — off and running, again.

It feels like running is all he's ever done, all his life.

*

Emotion and power crackles across the air. Hex meets Hex as reality itself threatens to tear itself apart. The power of a goddess fills the room along with pleading voice of a mortal woman.

Dummy whirrs to Pepper now, clutching something in his little claw. An injector ampule, the liquid inside glowing bright amber and blue. He drops it on Tony's chest as the man clutches at it with muscles that are beginning to lock up. He can't speak, but he nods. Do it. He doesn't have the strength.

He can feel the tears in his heart growing. Darkness gathers and it would be so easy now. So easy to slip away, to rest.He deserves a rest doesn't he? The thick muscle shreads further with every beat until…

…until flames.

The bringer of Life Incarnate. The Firebird. The Phoenix herself. A shard of that ancient thing springs into being. Tony at least smiles, a vague ghost of his smirk. His heard stabilizes, the beats slow but steady. Still ashen gray, still at death's door…but she bought them time.

And time is something they can work with.

<Crying over me, Firebird?> Stark's telepathic voice is weak, threaded with the pain every breath calls him. <Or missed brunch?>

The man can't even take his own death seriously. <You know I don't deserve tears.> A pause.

Then others come to help. Lorna shaping the broken reactor for Pepper and Dummy, little innocent Dummy trundling over to open his own power casing. Pulling his own wires out to hold for Pepper. To form the bridge for the Reactor to work for Stark.

And Stark himself, clinging to what little life he has left. Trying to work that strange injector. Trying to /fix/ it. Even when /it/ happens to be himself.

He can't just leave now can he?

*

It takes Pepper a moment to figure out what Dummy is trying to do, but then she recognizes the difference in the arc reactor that Lorna hands her — it's got parts still attached to it that shouldn't be… "oh god."

And then Rachel does… whatever she just did. It was bright and firey, and Pepper does understand it at all, but she has to mentally set it aside for now, as FRIDAY links to the bluetooth she forgot to take out of her ear in all of the chaos.

With FRIDAY instructing and guiding via bluetooth, Pepper uses the arc reactor from Lorna, the wiring Dummy offers, and every last shred of 'calm under pressure' she has left to cobble together a stopgap measure to keep Tony's heart from being shredded. Because this bright and firey thing? She doesn't understand it, and she doesn't trust it to last. JARVIS and FRIDAY and Dummy understand, though, and they'll get Tony's arc reactor sorted out.

They're the only ones who can so far as she knows.

And that injector? She's mentally dismissed that as well for now. Time will tell if in that case she chose … poorly.

*

It is desprite work. Touch and go and back and forth as JARVIS, FRIDAY and even little Dummy help Pepper save one Tony Stark. One by one the linkages are connected and the soft hum of the ARC reactor powers back up. It isn't enough to power a suit. It is hardly more than a trickle of its potential energy…but it is enough to start the electromagnets protecting Stark's heart from the shrapnel…

At least it should be.

But the physical damage is great. The shards and the damage from being manhandled is greater than most would know…the sophisticated sensors of the Rescue suit registering damage as still mortal…

…at least until Stark manages to work that injector.

And those sensors turn from mortal to just…odd.

"Oh dear," JARVIS' voice is quiet. But there is relief. "That was…well…" A pause. "…Mister Stark is stable." A longer pause. "…and could someone call Doctor Foster?"

Because Tony? Has passed out by this point. But he isn't waking up.

"I fear he just did something…reckless."

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