Language warning: some words not Comics Code approved.
"Whatcha reading, Icecube?" Not that it was a difficult thing for Scott to figure out. There was a small stack of thin, brightly colored magazines on the dining room table, and it was a Wednesday.
Bobby had his nose buried in one already. "Comic book. Not that you've ever read one, of course."
"Not that I remember, no." Curious, Scott flipped through the six or so books on the table. They mostly seemed to feature improbably proportioned women in little clothing, or be about Batman.
But, for being called a "comic" book, Bobby didn't seem to be very amused. In fact, he seemed downright tense. Scott tried to see the cover, without making it too obvious that's what he was doing.
"Oh man!" Bobby exclaimed abruptly, and Scott jumped. "I bought it!"
"I'm almost done," Bobby glanced up at him. "Scotty, you're gonna want to read this."
"I don't think --" Scott started to demur, but then Bobby tilted the book to let him see an interior page.
It was Wolverine. A badly drawn Wolverine, but the costume was pretty unmistakable.
Scott snatched the comic right out of his hands, earning him an outraged "Hey!" which he ignored. He flipped to the next page and froze, just as if Bobby had used his powers on him. "Oh my god, that's me." He stared at the drawn and colored image, which was obviously him, in his visor and what looked like a warped version of the X-Factor uniform.
Feeling very strange, Scott turned to the cover. "Codename: X-Men" it read, and on the cover were pretty unmistakably himself, Logan, Jean, Bobby, some weird cross between Archangel and Deathbird, and-- he realized with a jolt -- "Jesus, that's Mastermind!" He turned his head to look at Bobby. "What is this? Where did this come from?"
Bobby shrugged. "Comic book store. It's a new imprint. They claim they're doing reality comics-- based on real heroes. They've also got another book out on the Fantastic Four which I didn't get-- I mean, come on, if I read about Johnny Storm anymore I'm gonna be sick."
The levity, as usual, fell flat and Bobby shrugged uncomfortably. "I saw the title and had to check it out." He brightened, "I'm a contract assassin in it. Pretty cool, huh?"
Scott just gave him a look and sat down in the opposite chair to read.
"You're not gonna like it," Bobby warned him.
"Popsicle, I already don't like it."
But it turned out, Bobby was right. Scott liked the book even less after he had read it. It started with the name "Goblin Queen" on the first page and was all downhill from there.
When he was finished, he stared at the final panel -- a picture of _him_ that made him want to be seriously ill -- for several seconds, until seemingly without his conscious volition, his hand crumpled the magazine into his fist.
"Hey!" Bobby objected, having read over his shoulder. "That's a first issue!"
Scott just glared at him balefully until Bobby shut up. "I do not," he said in a low voice, "like being portrayed as a killer. I do not like Jean being portrayed as a bimbo. And I especially do not like mutants being portrayed as evil cannibals!"
He hurled the crumpled comic book at the side door, just as it opened to let in Logan, who caught the book before it hit him in the face. "What's got yer panties in a bunch, Cyke?"
"Look at it," Scott invited. "I'm sure you'll love it."
With a suspicious glance at Scott, as if he thought the pages would attack him, he smoothed the pages and started to read. He snickered once or twice as he read, cigar burning away in his mouth. "Heh. "Hetero-superior." Somethin' you ain't sharing with the rest o' class, Cyke?" Scott refused to say anything in response to the jibe, and Logan continued to read. His eyebrows drew together and the snickers turned into a growl.
At the end, three adamantium claws stabbed through the paper and into the table underneath. "The Doc ain't even a mutant."
"At least you get to be a hero," Bobby muttered sullenly, "I just get killed like an idiot. Like I wouldn't have known the quinjet's engines would be pretty damn hot."
"You're not the only idiot," Scott pointed out. "I'm not exactly a brain trust either."
"But you live to the end," Bobby muttered.
Logan withdrew his claws. "An' I got to take ole' Creed and Mags with me. Nothin' wrong with that."
"Yeah, funny how the Brotherhood's master isn't much of a player," Scott snorted once. "Guess these Marvels people didn't want a big lawsuit from the UN appointed leader of Genosha."
"Can we sue 'em for defamation of character?" Bobby asked. "Or using our codenames without permission or something?"
"Not if we want to keep our identities secret." Scott swiped the book and flipped through it again. "Which, thankfully, still seem to be intact. Not a real name in the bunch." He stopped, caught by an image he hadn't really paid attention to and a shiver ran up his spine. "I can tell you somebody else isn't going to be pleased by this." He showed the page to Bobby, an image of Sinister, and smiled a little. "I think I'll send him a copy, just to make his day. Though it doesn't explain how the _hell_ the makers of this book know about him. Or a bunch of other things in here that they manage to twist against us."
It took less than a second to decide what action to take. He tossed the book down on the table and rose. "I think I'll pay a little visit to the editorial offices. Iceman, you coming? I'll go in X-Factor togs, just so they won't be ... confused."
"Mind if I tag along, Cyke?" Wolverine asked, a glint in his eye of appreciation for the decision. Sometimes it made Scott uneasy when Wolverine approved of his plans of action, but right now, he found himself pleased. The poor little people at the offices of the comic book had no idea what was coming their way.
"Nope. We'll take my Jeep, civvies over uniforms. Meet outside in ten."
Scott took out the suit and was glad for that moment that he was alone to change. Light blue ground color, and white X across the front. His right hand settled on the very center of the X, trembling slightly. It had been awhile.
Most of the worst and yet paradoxically some of the best memories of his life had come while wearing this uniform. He had found Jean, but he had lost both Nathan and Maddy. He'd almost lost his own sanity.
Thinking about it made him even more angry. It was not for some comic book to take those memories and tarnish them. Entertainment was one thing-- inflammatory propaganda was something else. He would bring an end to the book's lies and half truths, or he would bring down the book and the building which housed it.
Terrorism or not, he didn't care. He had no legal recourse to stop what they were doing-- couldn't sue them for libel on behalf of mutants or even his own self, couldn't even sue them for trademark infringement-- so it was quite simple: he would take other steps. Let them deal in the "reality" they wanted to depict, and maybe they'd realize that mutant terrorists were not to be taken lightly.
He drove, Wolverine in the other front seat, Iceman in the back. The Jeep was a bright yellow, with blue roll bars and grill. The top was off, and it should've been a glorious day. But he drove tensely, taciturn, deeply angry.
"Hey, Cyke," Wolverine muttered, "You okay?"
"Fine," he answered automatically. "Pissed off," he grunted more honestly and his hands tightened on the wheel.
"Just don't roll us, man," Bobby told him, earning himself a glare in the rearview mirror.
"You'll live, if I do. I, however, will be jam on toast, so I have a vested interest in keeping us upright. Just enjoy the ride."
"Ya drive like an old woman, Cyke," Wolverine lit his cigar and leaned back in his chair like he was in a rocker on the front porch.
"Oh? Really?" Cyclops asked in a dangerously even tone.
"No, no, Logan quit it!" Bobby pleaded from the back. "Scotty, don't listen to him. You're driving just --"
His words flew out of his mouth with a startled screech, as Scott put his foot to the floor. He knew Logan had taunted him on purpose, and he tried to work off some of his tension by driving fast, darting through the cars. Reflexes honed by supersonic jet piloting and hours of combat practice found it easy.
In the city, however, traffic was too heavy to speed or dodge, and they were forced to the same crawling pace as everyone else crossing into Manhattan.
"Remind me why I came again," Wolverine muttered, eyeing the packed cars with a snarl.
"To kick the ass of the people publishing that manifesto of hatred," Scott reminded him.
"Oh yeah. What if they're gone by the time we get there?"
"Then we take down their fucking building, Wolverine, what do you think?"
Scott felt Logan's sideways glance, surprised by the hostility. It wasn't often that he lost his temper. "Takin' this kinda personal, ain't ya?"
"That's my image in their foul little book. That's my wife. My friends and family. So yeah, I'm taking it real personal. Do you have a problem with that? If so, you can get out right now."
Logan held up a hand. "Hey, I'm on yer side."
"Good. I was wondering. Besides, from a practical stand point, I do _not_ want people in the future thinking this thing is the truth. I don't want our children to think that book is what the X-Men were all about."
"Good point," Bobby chimed in from the back seat. "Are we there yet?"
In predictable unison, both of the men in the front seat said, "Shut up, Bobby!"
At the office building, Scott saw to his genuine dismay that he couldn't bring the whole thing down. It was at least forty floors tall, and unfortunately he only had a complaint against one floor worth.
Though most of the people in the lobby were leaving and dressed in suits, they found it easy to slip through the opposite direction. Scott checked the directory, and joined his friends in the elevator. Although none of them had taken off their outerwear yet, it nonetheless in that instant became an X-Men mission. They moved in silent accord, in practiced routine. All of them looked down, hunched over so the camera in the ceiling wouldn't get good looks at their faces and they waited in taut silence.
The door to twenty-two opened and the three moved out. The big oak doors across the hall from the bank of elevators had too many names on it to be anything but a law firm, but Scott wasn't interested in them. Only the stairs.
There was an emergency exit at the end of the corridor and a cursory examination suggested there were no electronics attached to the door, which made sense. If someone wanted to go up or down a few floors it was probably far faster to use the stairs than the elevator, so the stairs were probably in use fairly often.
He gestured upward and indicated twenty-five with his fingers. Wolverine started up the stairs first, then Iceman, and Scott took rearguard.
At the landing for twenty-five they stopped and stripped off their civvies and Scott changed into his visor. When he put on the visor, in a sense, he put on Cyclops as well. Cyclops did not show or express anger and certainly didn't act in anger. He was very calm now, in the heightened state of readiness that he acquired before battle.
Wolverine had eased the door open to take a look. "Empty," he reported.
The office for Marvels comics was in the center, opposite the elevator on this floor, and the glass doors were shut, not locked.
Cyclops entered first, Iceman in full ice form at his heels, with Wolverine hanging back at the door to watch the hall.
The reception room was covered in framed comic book art and promotional items. Behind the desk, a young dark-haired woman was obviously getting ready to leave, and wasn't a good enough actress to cover her annoyance at someone entering so late, as she glanced up.
Her mouth opened in shock.
Pleasantly Cyclops told her, "We're here to see Jason Bagley." That had been the credited editor on the Codename: X-Men volume.
"I- uh-- Jason's -- not -- uh --" she stuttered helplessly, staring up at him with huge terrified eyes.
"We just want to talk to him about the new issue," Iceman smiled at her, leaning closer. She looked to him in some relief, but her eyes still darted between Cyclops and Wolverine.
There was absolutely no doubt that she knew who they were.
"Why don't you take us to him?" Cyclops suggested.
"Uh, okay," she could barely get the words out, but she managed to stand up. "Uh, you're not going to hurt him, are you?"
A curious question -- since she wouldn't believe the answer. "We have no intention of hurting him," Cyclops told her brusquely. "But we do want to talk."
He gestured and she flinched as if he could cast lightning from his hands or something. Or maybe she was just afraid.
But she gathered her courage and led them down the hall. Most of the rooms were vacant, the people already gone for the day. About halfway down she stopped and pointed, "Here."
The door was open and as Cyclops walked in, he automatically took note of the posters and action figures on every available surface, and the man maybe ten years older than himself sitting behind the desk at the computer by the window. It was very odd to look on the northern wall and see a large poster of the cover of Codename: X-Men-- like looking in a distorted mirror.
Bagley had heard the girl and was already turning when the X-Men entered.
"Thanks, darlin'," Wolverine told her. "Go home." She scurried away.
Bagley looked up and his reaction was not as fearful as hers had been. For an instant he was surprised, but then he grinned, jumping to his feet. "You saw it didn't you? Omigod, the guys are gonna love this! You saw it!" He pointed to the poster on the wall.
Cyclops waited a beat to allow the enthusiasm to dwindle and die. The editor's smile faded into uncertainty.
Only then did Cyclops answer in a quiet voice, "Yes. We saw it."
"You ... you don't like it?" Bagley stared up at him, surprised and seemingly a little hurt. He swallowed hard.
"Tell me," Cyclops moved to the very front of the desk, forcing Bagley to really look up. The guy was at least a foot shorter and had nowhere near the attitude to not be intimidated by height. "If you discovered that you were published in a comic book -- without your knowledge or consent -- and being portrayed as a murderer, would you like it? Or would you be... offended?"
"But..." Bagley's voice was very small. "You're heroes. Don't you get it?"
"Heroes..." Cyclops murmured and idly picked up an action figure from the Matrix in his right hand, spinning it between his fingers and across his knuckles. The gesture was easy enough with practice, but it looked impressive. Bagley's gaze was drawn to it. "Perhaps I'm old-fashioned, Mr. Bagley, but I don't believe heroes kill. And while I certainly believe in redemption, I *don't* believe it can be heroism when your so-called heroes are forced into it with death threats. A hero does what he or she does because he wants to do the right thing and protect the innocent." He very gently set the figure back down where it had been.
Iceman spoke up, impatient, "Can we get to the cannibal crap now?"
"Yes." Cyclops leaned forward, grabbed Bagley by the shirt collar and yanked him across the table into his face. Toys and papers went flying. Bagley let out a strangled scream, that Cyclops shook silent, unleashing some of the anger to thread his voice, "I protect innocents, Mr. Bagley, including young mutant children from those who would hurt them, kill them, for no other reason than they're different. My job is hard enough without anti-mutant propaganda like yours fanning the flames."
He shoved Bagley back across and into his seat, where he landed with a thud and stared up at Cyclops with wide eyes, panting and shaking.
"If I were you," Cyclops advised coldly, "I would cease publication. That is not a threat-- However, it is a warning. There are several people depicted in this book who are quite... -- how should I put this?-- ... *obsessive* about their privacy. They may not take kindly to being dragged into the light."
Satisfied they had done enough, Cyclops gestured Iceman to go and he turned and followed. On the way out, he caught Wolverine's gaze and he waited out in the hall.
Wolverine strode forward, held up a fist and with a metallic snikt, opened the three claws in his right hand in front of Bagley's face. "Don't be stupid, boy."
Then they were done. The reception area was dim as they went back through and the hall and stairs were deserted as they swiftly re-dressed and went down eight floors to catch the elevator to the lobby.
They blended with the others leaving and their little visit went unnoticed by nearly everyone.
Meanwhile up in the Marvels editorial offices, Jason Bagley was trying to calm his racing heart.
Damn, he'd had no idea that Cyclops was so damn scary. Tall and huge. And Wolverine...
He'd have to work that into the next issue somehow.
Methodically, Jason straightened his desk, righting the fallen figures, until he felt a deep chill-- a cold draft that was coming behind him, as if the window was open. But the window didn't open, not on the twenty-fifth floor.
He turned and looked up.
Into a gray, expressionless face above a nightblue armored shape with hellspawn eyes, which were cold. So cold. Evil. He'd had no idea when he'd seen the sketch that such a being existed, nor that the real thing would be so utterly terrifying.
In that moment, Jason Bagley knew he was going to die.
In a chill voice like dead leaves, the figure told him, "My son is a master of understatement. I do not take _kindly_ to anything."
There was a moment of bewilderment and inane questions -- son? -- then the pain hit.
In another moment, Jason Bagley was past caring about anything.
The second issue of Codename: X-Men failed to appear, and the first issue became a quaint collector's item and eventually forgotten. Scott considered the mission a success, and thought no more about it.
No one ever discovered what happened to the unlucky editor.
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