Roleplaying Log: Charism
IC Details

Directly after Caesura.

Other Characters Referenced:
IC Date: October 26, 2019
IC Location: ????
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 26 Oct 2019 19:17
Rating & Warnings:
Scene Soundtrack: [* ]
NPC & GM Credits: Apocalypse run by Warren
Associated Plots

Alison opens her eyes, and takes in that first, raking mouthful of air. Its alien aftertaste oils her tongue, alkaline and quinine, and it burns her parched throat. That is all she is, acute and overwhelming sensation, newborn tissues sensitive to this organic apotheosis, already worried raw.

She hears her first sound. Herself, over and over, stationary in a downpour rain of her own fractal echoes. Air hitching between her teeth. Hyperventilating.

Her moving eyes break through the fog. She sees, and she does not understand. A vaulted ceiling, nothing her thoughts can rationalize, that taper into a pyramid's peak, cartilaginous sides braided by a golden spiral of rotting ribs, like some great prehistoric creature turning in circles. Familiar and unfamiliar sewn together. It smells like nothing she can remember.

And she remembers…

Gloom obscures the rest of the room. Ridges and ovals of the architecture darkles a mossy green where the holographic light reaches, warmth and lux cycling to the stuttery meter of her breathing. The room is responsive to her.

Metallic sibilant sounds, moving pieces humming, the birring of internal machinery. Hissing air. All around her, an open, dark expanse like an empty basin, coated with molded swathes of silk. Nothing she's ever seen before, nothing her half-awake mind can route to memory. Several large chrysalises stud the bottom of the basin, cellophane membranes unpeeled.

She lays along a mottled green and black slab that extends up from the floor. She has legs. She has hands, and one of them feels along her head, searching for the hole. There should be a hole.

Alison remembers, but cannot understand. The sounds worsen, her sounds, closing in on her from all sides. Where is she? Why is she? She shakes, realizes what she feels is cold, and numbs her fingers when the wet streaks through them, running from her face. She weeps.

Alison's searching hand soon finds itself covered by another. The touch is familiar in shape, every knuckle committed to her tactile memory, but in every other respect it is as alien as the room that breathes around her.

It is cold, and it is sheathed in what feels like metal, and its fingertips are gentle to avoid pricking her with too-sharp tips.

The touch soothes her hand away from where the hole should be (where did it go?). It turns her head, gently, so she can see who she is with.

Her final glimpse of Warren, in their first life, was of a man with his crumbling world written all over his agonized features. Here and now, she opens her eyes on her second life, and the first thing she sees is his familiar face returned to a beatific sort of peace. The expression contributes to how statuesque he looks — so much like that machine angel she saw Between — with his flawless beauty so regular as to seem smithed out of a single sheet of metal. Adding to that impression of hammered mechanical perfection is the fact his skin hues in a cold, corpse-blue shade, uniform and smooth as blued steel.

It must be the light in here that makes his skin so deathly… his hair so colorless and washed-out. The light that pulses, strobing, from walls that seem to breathe in time to their own jumpstarted lungs.

It reflects in his eyes, as they watch her. The blue of them seems oddly luminescent, the irises so white they seem to glow in the half-dark.

Ali." His voice, at least, hasn't changed much. It steeps with tenderness. "It's all right. You're back."

After a moment, she might realize he is sitting on the floor beside the slab on which she is laid, leaned against it, as if deeply exhausted by some long exertion.

After a moment, she might realize that she is under a familiar white wing, arched over her to shield her from the cold, the blue light reflecting frigidly off each sleek feather.

She is, and she is not. There is no certainty.

There are many somethings she is supposed to think, supposed to be, and supposed to remember, like after-images burnt to the backs of her eyes that she can only see, lightning-quick, between blinks. Truths race beyond reach.

She was somewhere else, but not here. She was something else, but not this. There was a life. There was a name. There was a hole.

Alison doesn't know what any of this is. Her slowly-focusing eyes lock, unblinking, on this alien room, pathing its alien shapes and textures. Rows of biologic capsules, like chairs for creatures far larger than she is, in some geodesic fusion of machine and organism. They spiral from the floor as enormous polished mollusk shells, its bases all massive networks of cables woven into the circular platforms spining them into the basin. The nacre of its lower half shines dark orange. A number of pearl-like buttons ride the ridge lines, each pulsing a dim green. Grotesque shapes born of something beyond and transcendent of human understanding —

It hits her squarely, where this is, what this is. There is nothing human about it. No place a human was ever meant to exist.

None of it makes any sort of sense.

Alison shivers on the slab like a newborn fawn. Her breathing quickens, gets noisy, but she doesn't seem to hear it, too busy reconciling look after look with the panicked sense of drowning. Perhaps, if it were only her here, and she was alone, at this point she would start running. Run until her legs give out, and then hide until her world made sense again.

But she is not alone.

A hand finds hers, where she has forgotten her own fingers, tangled into her yellowy hair, pressing down on her temple where there should be… where there was…

She shudders beneath the touch, and her hand palpably shakes, but she does not pull away. Something arrests Alison into stillness; the trace memory of those fingers, handling her in a way that worries the ends of a hundred many memories. And that same touch, familiar but cold, turns her head. She reorients her blue eyes.

And she sees him.

At first, she tenses, panicked with confused tears on her face, her foggy vision unable to make out anything but colour and shape, and both are so unfamiliar that she does not know what to expect. Struggling to tighten up, drawing in her legs, Alison — stops at his voice.

She knows. She knows. She knows, she knows, she knows, as the years come back to her, a torrent of memory as swift and painful as a slap across the face. "Warren?" she whispers, voice breaking, dry and broken-bone brittle.

She still does not seem to understand, however, especially when he reclaims all his detail to her clearing eyes. Warren, her Warren. Not Warren. His skin. His eyes. His wings, one crowned over her, stealing the alien room away to be ceilinged in familiar white feathers. What happened?

Alison reaches without hesitation to touch him. She wants to believe he's real. She needs a grounding, something for all this to make sense. "Warren?" she asks again, and this time she's beginning, her voice unravelling, breaking apart in hitches and catches. She never did this in life. But she's no longer alive, and none of that matters. "I don't… are we dead?"

Warren? she whispers.

He does not answer immediately. The gleam of his eyes interrupts briefly with a blink. His head turns slightly afterwards, as if in a brief confusion. His hand stays where it is, cradling her head.

He thinks, long and hard, about the question.

"Yes," he decides eventually, his head turning back towards her. It leans into her reaching hands, open eyes watching her without blinking. "Yes. It's me."

He is cold under her touch… cold like it's not blood that circulates under his skin. His wing shifts slightly to veil away the rest of the room from sight, with an audible rustling. Not the kind she's used to. This kind has edges.

Her voice starts to unravel, begging, needing some center — something to tell her this is real. He closes his eyes in that familiar trusting way he's always had with her, and his hands move to take hers, holding them, tight. Both wings unfurl, folding around to close her in a curtain of white.

Are we dead?

"You were," he confirms, his voice rusted and dull. "I watched you die. I don't know about me. There was no one watching me."

Only one person — who now is no one.

He knows that's not enough. His blue eyes slowly reopen to a half-lid, wan light leaking from under his lashes. He struggles, a moment, to remember how to convey more information in speech. To see Warren struggle to put things into words is like seeing a fish struggle to swim.

"We were taken from where we were," he eventually explains. "By a mutant, from another world."

His touch ghosts along her face with a tender, exploratory searching, relearning it. "He gave me what I needed to bring you back."

His head leans into her hands.

At first, her touch is a careful thing, a too-light, gossamer brush of her fingertips over his skin. Alison's hands palpably tremble, either with shock or the straining effort to hold them still. She wears the look of a woman unable to trust her mind, and what it deceives her to be true; she is sure the second she touches Warren, he will sigh away into nothing inside her hands.

She is not sure whether this is living or death. She is not sure if this is some afterlife or a last torment… or worse, the hallucinating last heartbeat before brain death.

But Warren exists, solid and sure, under her twitching fingers. Little by little, they ease, uncurling to take his face into his hands. He is freezing cold to the touch, and his skin dusks a shade that should not be — but those things seem not to matter to her. Not right now.

The details barely scrape the shores of Alison's new life, new world. All that matters is that this is Warren, he is real, and they are here together. She doesn't know where or what any of this is, and she may just lose her mind to have to suffer it out alone.

"Warren," she says again, just to ratify who it is in her hands. Her fingers tighten, and her eyes shine with terrified relief.

Warren. Here. Real. He closes his eyes to her contact. He has done that before countless times, she remembers. She remembers…

Screaming, shredding, blood. Sweet rot, bedsheets, sky out the window. A plane. A bottle. A gun.

The new world disappears from her periphery, and covered are the alien pyramid walls, the opened steel chambers with their living oyster innards, and the ambient green glow. Rows upon rows of feathers canopy it away, opened with a sound she has never before heard — like a hundred closing fangs.

Alison does not yet look at it. Her eyes are still on Warren, her only touchstone in this resurrection. Tears streak down her face as she holds onto him, the idea of him, the idea that all of this what is happening is real… but, just as easily, her hands yield when he takes them in his.

He speaks to her. Her head bows slightly, eyes unfocusing, but she listens. His wings enclose them both, and holds Alison as a heartbeat to the circulating cadence of Warren's voice. As she drinks off his presence to center herself, her body does the same with the sound of him: she feeds off every word, until a haunting glow shimmers off her skin, low and wan, nothing left in her to suppress it. It is the first warmth she feels in what may be a forever.

Her field. His voice. She remembers…

Her ear. Sharp, violent pressure, puncturing through, and no more — Alison's left hand twitches inside Warren's, and possibly if it were free, she would bring it back to touch her own head, and the phantom sensation of injury. Memory threatens to draw away her blinking eyes, but they hold on Warren.

There was no one watching him.

The next breath rakes out of her, kicked. "You died," Alison says, out loud, to make the sickening realization real. "We died." And then…

Finally, her gaze drifts up. The sky is a crowning dome of feathers, some pinions longer than her limbs, so familiar, so beautiful, so different. They are so much part of him that she did not question their presence, but Alison remembers missing them so painfully —

He touches her face, and she shudders, shivering needily into the contact. Alison is every soft, pale line that was her cold, unmoving corpse. She is also something transcendent of it, warmth back into her skin, light back into her eyes, blood back into her blue veins — the something that was lost in the instant of that gunshot has been returned. It is back, reclaimed from whatever took her, and returned to Warren's hands.

"Your wings," she says after a moment. Her voice is still wishbone-brittle, ready to break in two if pulled too hard. "You. What happened?"

Everything about him is achingly familiar… except the color palette of his skin, his eyes. Except the silvery way his wings gleam in the blue-toned dark, odd patterns seeming to chase along the shining planes of his feathers with an oddly organic, fluid life.

It could be mistaken for a trick of the eyes, here in this alien place with its fitful breathing light. But when her feeble light starts to flicker back to life — fed by the gentle cadence of his voice — and provides more clear a view, it becomes evident it is not.

Not that these things matter to her, at first. All that matters is that when she touches him, he leans into it and does not disappear. All that matters is that when she takes his head into her trembling hands, he leans forward, shuts his eyes, and fans his wings the same way he always used to. She always used to joke that he looked like an oversized bird getting caresses, that way…

She always used to…

Memories come back, piecemeal. If he feels her hands shaking, he does not note the fact aloud.

Her light strengthens as he speaks to her, flickering, and those arching wings fold to close around them both. Their shining feathers shut away the outside world in much the same way they always have, though their movements now ring with unfamiliar sound. The feathers shift like knives whispering against one another. He takes both her hands, whether to distract her from those changes or to center her — or both — and his fingers twine with hers. They are gentle, so as not to scrape her with the metal that veins down their backs, spidered out from gauntlets which join back to armor…

Things she can think about later. There are more pressing things to consider, like how she died — like the hole that should be in her head, but isn't. He feels her hand twitch with the urge to touch, but he doesn't let it go.

We died, she realizes. His beautiful head inclines. Following his gaze would lead her eyes to the sight of her own arms… the needles sunk into them. The lines running out from them, and the place where their ends terminate: pierced into his chest. "You died," he confirms. He still does not know if he did. "And then," he repeats dully, "I brought you back."

He struggles briefly with his own fractured memories. "Like the girl," he finally explains, after picking out an image of a freshly-dead child on a dark night. "I could sometimes do it. He made it so I could absolutely do it. I gave you all the blood that I had." His touch brushes the delicate veins in the back of her hand. "It's all in here."

She could ask so many things. Who is he? Where are they? But her focus zeroes in instead on him, his wings, what happened. He does not immediately answer. His right hand has lifted to touch her, to explore her remembered face — the life and vitality and warmth back in it, after his horrifying last sight of it dead and empty. He palpably cannot get enough of staring at her, back where she belongs, her soul placed back in her body to look back out at him through her bright blue eyes.

He brought it back. He made her whole again. He put the spark of her back in her flesh, and here she is now in his hands.

What happened? He finally blinks, recalling he should answer.

"We aren't home anymore," he says. "We're somewhere that was like home… except it got worse for our kind. A lot worse. This mutant… the one who helped me… he is trying to save those of us who are left."

The sound of whispering steel hisses around them. It takes a moment to realize that it comes from the familiar hackling spread of his primaries. "A few thousand of us," he says, baldly stating the decimation without outward emotion. "Not much. So he brought us here."

His voice is warming up audibly, her presence clearly invigorating some remembered glimmer of Warren to flicker back to life amidst the mechanical angel before her. "And he said," he finishes tonelessly, "he could help me get you back. He said… he could give me back my wings…"

And he did.

He is real in her hands. And though Warren's skin is cold as polished marble — smooth and lifeless — he responds to her touch as seamlessly now as he did countless times before. Alison's heart hammers with hope.

Her surge of relief is so great that she cannot concern herself with the details. The changed look of him. The difference in his too-bright eyes. It is her Warren, and they are together, even though she can remember looking at him and telling him without speaking: goodbye. This is our goodbye.

His wings open and flare their long pinions in rote habit, though now their spreading rows of feathers make a sound Alison has never heard before. Her field drinks it too, her golden light shimmering silvery-blue.

It does not yet draw her eye. Instead, when Warren leans closer, Alison mirrors him, drawing in to lean her forehead to his temple. Stay, she hears in a familiar voice, somewhere in her memory.

Her fingers run the contours of his face, her glowing fingers slowly able to impart warmth over that unnatural chill, but when Warren instead takes her hands in his, Alison does not resist. Her fingers twine docilely, hanging onto their physical contact like the way a dying man could clutch a rock in a torrential river, hanging on as not to be pulled under. The distance in her eyes, pupils still slightly unfocused, warns of her shock. Alison barely keeps it together.

Barely holds herself sure, knowing she just died. Died, and cannot even remember if —

Her eyes cut down on their joined hands. She looks at his, blue skin, strange metal, and taloned ends that she's never seen on him. It is her Warren, but he was never like this. Is it real? Is it permanent? And why?

I brought you back, he reveals.

Alison finds Warren's eyes, looking on with transparent confusion. Her eyes gleam with the question she does not say. Her irises shine brightly — far more brightly now than they did in her last life. She always had dark eyes, blue like the cobalt stalk on a rifle, but now they shine brighter: a different blue, like the sky on a cloudless day. She chases the direction of his gaze, and looks back down, this time not on him, but —

Her arms twist slightly to reveal it; at the pale crooks of her elbows run lines. She had not even noticed them. Beyond comprehension, forgotten amidst the shock, like everything else. It looks like intravenous tubing, but not — not human plastic, but a membranic material that shines like a translucent diamond. It runs with the last few drops of blood. From him to her.

Her hand feels the sweep of his finger over her veins. Veins carrying his blood.

She pales to see the other ends tunnelled up into his chest, lanced where his heart should be. "All of it?" Alison echoes, timourous. Something manifests through the shock, and it squirms her hands in his. "No, no, what about you? I don't want it all. Take it back — look at you! You're dying. Let me reverse it, or —"

Alison's voice hitches. Warren keeps staring at her, taken by something in her face, and she helplessly looks back, drawn by the aural rings in his silvery eyes. New, she slowly remembers. Not there before. Never there before.

His next words arrest her thought process, the revelation of where they are possibly the only answer that does not give Alison significant pause. It's the only part that makes immediate sense, seeing this alien world… or, at least glimpsing it, before Warren shrouded her beneath his wings. It makes her nervous to wonder how it's possible, or how far they travelled, but the particulars seem not to matter. Not immediately. What matters is he is here with her, and that they are safely far away from…

From something.

A phantom gunshot splits her memories. There should be a hole. "Thousands?" Alison echoes, struggling to stack a global crisis on top of her own resurrection. Her head tilts, giving his hand her face freely to touch, leaning into his palm as if to hide within it. Her opened eyes search the middle distance. "He did this to save you? To save us? Save us from…"

She's thinking aloud. Remembering. She wanted to save him, yes. Fly away, she kept thinking. He couldn't fly…

A shudder runs through Alison. "Yes," she realizes, heartbroken. "Oh, god. I remember. They took your wings away. All of them. And now they're —"

She looks up. Now they exist, so familiar, so alien, reaching their sails in a living ceiling. The sound they make stirs her field again. Her free hand twitches like she wants to touch them, remember the sensation of soft feathers. "They're back," she says, just like that, because the miracle seems so simple. Tears lick down her cheeks. "How? Warren, what happened? Why are you so cold?" Her thoughts stutter back into panic. She struggles to sit up. "You're sick. I took too much blood. We have to put it back!"

Alison's glow returns to her slowly, fed by the slow sound of his voice and the sharp slithering of his feathers against one another (should feathers truly sound like they're slithering?). The one hues her light in familiar golden tones, but the other introduces a cold shivering blue into her field that was never there before.

There is no explanation forthcoming yet. Only the desperate indulgence two people take in one another, when a mere few days ago they were certain they would never see one another again.

Her hands cross his cold marble skin, over and over, leaving behind an evanescent warmth that soon drains again from his body. He simply will not hold her heat, no matter how long she holds him. His hands are equally cold when they finally take hers, letting her hang on through the glassy look of shock he can see in her eyes; Warren remembering enough of himself to remember basic protective impulses, and — as always — giving her wings to shelter under.

Literally. There they are, again — the wings he lost so many weeks ago — arching over and around them in a private curtain.

The longer she holds him, though, the more discordant notes filter through her perception. She looks down and finds the hands holding her cold and dark blue as the rest of him, drained of all vitality, covered in dark silvery metal which slides over his fingertips in hooked, sheathing talons. He hesitates, noticing her regard, and his eyes flicker with a brief fear; with a whispered hiss the pointed metal seems to retract, slipping back along the backs of his hands to recede into his veins.

He brought her back, he explains. He looks into her changed eyes, sky-blue, before he lowers his gaze to show her the alien lines which join them both. It is all his blood, given wholly to her, which fueled her resurrection.

All of it. The realization hits her, and his hands tighten on her hitching voice. "I'm fine," he says. "I am not dying." A hesitation, as a trance-like flicker unfocuses his gleaming eyes. Still blue, but circled now by limbal rings which glow a cold silver light. "I'm stronger than before. Something else was put in me. What happened to us…"

His feathers spread, with a sound like a thousand knives whetting against one another. "…it's not happening again."

His explanation of where they are, why they were brought there, seems to fit the quiet rage of that statement. Alison absorbs it, but transparently without understanding much — yet. Her waking mind is still parsing through other things, more important things… the memory of what happened to them right before they died. His lost wings. The betrayal. The hole that should be in her head…

And now the hole is gone. Now his wings are back.

Some semblance of true joy touches his sad face for the first time. "They're back," he confirms. "This mutant who brought us here — he has advanced technology, alien — it gave me wings back. It — hurt — " his hands shudder a little with the memory, " — but it worked. It made me able to give you all my blood and still live."

He prevents her, gently, from rising. "I'm regenerating my own blood," he says, though he doesn't say what kind. He may not even know. "I'll be fine. When you're more awake, I can explain more. Or — he can explain more."

There is an odd raptness to his eyes when he speaks of his benefactor. It flickers brightly for a moment, there and gone in his wide silvery eyes.

Moment by moment, Alison counts the differences in this strange rebirth.

It is a slow process, painstakingly gradual by a mind still coming to terms with what happened — what what has become of them both — that she finally looks down at their joined hands. Twined through her fingers are hooked talons, carved of some sort of apparent metal, and lethally long enough, sharp enough, they could mulch her hands in the slighest grip.

At the same time, he has been careful enough not to leave a scratch: gentle enough that Alison has not even noticed them once before now. There is no visible revulsion on her face, but her eyes do linger, surprised — surprised to reconcile her healing memories of Warren Worthington with this. Is it really him? What was done to his body?

He does not miss her staring.

Alison's lips part slightly, but she does not speak, stricken to silence when those talons… move on their own. She meets his eyes, then looks back down, taking in the unnatural way the metal retracts into his flesh, dissipating away as though it were some conscious process of his body. Worry burdens the corners of her features.

"Does that hurt?" she must ask. Her thumb runs the backs of his knuckles, as if to feel out where that metal may have receded. A part of him, now, it seems.

It doubles her intent to move, to sit up, to fix whether Warren pushed himself too far, and her thoughts are reeling — she has little understanding why he looks the way he does, other than it was to possibly help him, and he might have done it all for her — but he patiently herds her from sitting up.

Alison remains sprawled there on that slab, her blonde hair fanned, visibly concerned but still too weak to put up a fight. However discontent, she finds some semblance of calm, helped by being joined to Warren in two ways: through their blood lines, and her reaching hands. Her eyes search his face, reluctantly forced to believe him — at least he's not dying. He was dying. Many times. In that bed. She remembers…

But, still, her scattered memory comes pocked with holes. Palpable ones. All of this happened to him in her absence. All of this change. His skin, his eyes, and all that metal. And, forming the beating heart of it all: his fierce, violent declaration that it's not happening again.

Alison is silent to the encompassing, cutting noise of his wings: all around her, they trap her into a small, cloistered world born of knives. The wall of sound feeds her charge, and her glow casts a silvery glint to what looks a sea of edges.

Not the feathers she remembers. Wings given back, but not as they were before. Alison visibly reels with questions, so many so quickly that she feels her head hurt. Her head hurt once before, acutely, nauseatingly, pain that eclipsed everything else in that moment. She couldn't move, couldn't fight, and only screamed…

"It hurt?" Alison echoes, voice tighter, and narrowing immediately on those few words. Her hand curls more tightly on his. "Was it bad? How… how long? Have you been alone?" She absorbs the rest, somewhat in a daze, letting the realization dawn as slowly and oppressively as did this second life. A mutant brought him here, whether dead or alive — and empowered Warren out of his winglessness. Empowered Warren to do what? To use his blood, and to —

She holds him with her eyes. "Warren," she murmurs, "you did this for me? To bring me back?" All of his blood. All of him.

Her hand reaches again for his face. It does not matter to her the changed colour of his skin. It does not matter to her that he is cold beneath her fingertips. Alison wants onto to hold Warren, her thumb running the bone beneath his eye. "I don't remember," she confesses on a roughened breath. "No, I remember before. But not after it… when it… I don't remember anything. I didn't see anything." Her words hitch and stumble, trying to speak of an afterlife, or some grand meaning that is supposed to await souls like theirs after death. "It was just nothing. I, I was nothing. But you brought me back."

Her breathing thickens, stutters. Tears blink free from the corners of her eyes, wetting her temples. How can you possibly tell someone how much it means to be pulled from the dark? How can you stagger through comprehending that he fought her back from death's door?

In all the years he's known her, traded from one life to the next — Alison has never done this. The first sob wells up, and shakes her. She weeps very quietly, but openly, overwhelmed in every way that matters. How do you answer such a gift?

Alison's fingertips chase those metal talons when they abruptly sheathe away. Her searching touch doesn't find much, though; that odd living metal seems to flow seamlessly back into him without trace, as if fully integrated now into every cell of his body. Its path suggests that their retreat follows the lines of his veins, however, and it's easy to suddenly picture that fluid silvery metal coursing through them… taking the place of the blood he claims to have given wholly to her to replenish her exsanguinated body.

His luminous blue-silver eyes watch her, mutedly anxious at her reaction. The lack of revulsion seems to relieve him, though the worry that appears there isn't surprising.

Does it hurt? "No," he says — and doesn't seem to be lying. "It's integrated into me. Like…" He searches his mind visibly, turning over death-fogged memories. "Like Tony. Remember Tony? He integrated that nanite technology into himself. It saved his life."

Whether it is truly 'like Tony' or not, Alison seems intent on sitting up to see for herself. It's not hard for Warren to dissuade her attempt to rise, his wings hackling a bit as he tightens his hands on hers to keep her prone. "You need to stay still," he says. "The blood still needs time to work."

Alison remains insistent, and her instant focus on his admission of pain briefly shuts his eyes. He falters. "I don't know how long I was alone," he admits. "I was alone once you died. It was dark, for a long time. Then I woke here. I… think it has been a few days, since."

But he trails, his eyes opening, as Alison tries to comprehend that he brought her back. He brought her back. Out of the abyss of nothingness, he made her Alison Blaire again, and how does she answer that? What do you say? How do you respond to the very gift of life?

You did this for me? she asks.

"I mistreated you," he starts, his voice shaking. "I ignored you. I was too absorbed in myself… and then I lost you your life. I killed you. How could I not give you back your life if I had the chance?"

His hand tenses on hers. "I keep replaying that last day in my head. All the signs and signals he gave leading up to it. All the signs and signals he had been giving for years. I know… if I'd been faster, if I'd stopped sitting there, just trusting… I could have saved you. I didn't, then. So I did now."

She starts to cry in earnest, then. His hand detangles from hers to wipe helplessly at the tears. "Don't cry. It wasn't a hard choice. It was the only choice.

"And, he whispers, spreading them wide, "It gave me my wings."

Remember Tony Stark? The neural connections, chilled by death, resurrected by a miracle, mend palpably behind Alison's blue eyes. Her moment of incomprehension lasts for less than a heartbeat, before recognition dawns back on her face. A life forgotten, but due to be remembered — bit by painstaking bit.

"Yes," she answers, still pensive. The comparison, however, seems to assuage her immediate worry, and gives some context to all this alien strangeness fused to his body. Her fingers run the bones of his hand, tracing them down to pass her fingertips over the pulse point of his wrist. Her hand is warm on his, already heating back to her familiar, unnatural temperature — her resurrected field imprinting on the sound of Warren's voice, taking its first transducing drink since her first breath of life. "As long as it doesn't hurt." She couldn't bear the thought.

He does wait anxiously. This would be the moment, if it were Alison's heart, to reject him — to shy away from all these changes that have removed him from his golden-haired beauty. For the longest time, that same beauty was the only reason anyone set eyes on him, or dared to linger close. The reason an entire world deigned to forget there was anything else left to Warren Worthington, whether it be his courage, his temper, or his hidden wings. With a face like his, what else even matters?

Now it is a face chilled with bloodless blue skin. Studded with countless metal ends and edges —

Alison, finding a moment of contemplation through her own shock, looks at him. The moment ends, and her hand covers his. There is no rejection. No change in her face, which wears nothing but raw, aching relief to know he is here, and real to the touch. "You can bring them back," is all she offers, speaking of his talons. They do not bother her.

She wants to sit up, even tries to, perhaps wanting to study more of him, but Warren's will is final. Obedient, she settles, exhaling — just that minute shift makes her head swim. Blinking back clarity into her eyes, Alison answers Warren with a ceding nod, her hand tightening on his. But if she cannot move, then she needs to ask questions: her waking brain brings back familiar pieces of Alison Blaire, and forefront of it all is her irrepressible nature. She has to ask. She has to know.

Fortunately, he provides answers. Answers that quietly twist her heart. He shuts his eyes, and she reaches immediately for him, taking his face into her free hand. "I'm sorry you were alone," she tells him, voice tight. "I won't — I'm here."

And she is. She is here. Alive, despite the impossible. Alive, though she cannot even remember dying. Her scattered memories recall only pain — pain, and trying to speak. Like in those paralyzed dreams, she could not force the words. And then her body was dead, dead for days, and now she's here. She didn't see anything, meet anyone, or remember anywhere. Just a hole. A hole in so many things. Her head, her heart, her soul.

It all makes sense in one strangling instant. What Warren has become. All the blood in his body moved into hers. The price to give her this gift of another chance. His sacrifice to bring her back from the lonely cold, doomed not to be alone, but here —

"You killed me?!" Alison echoes breathlessly. No part of her expression believes that. "Don't you dare. Don't you dare. You —" Her voice only breaks to his. He, says Warren, and she freezes for a heartbeat, retreating back into startled memory. She knows, she doesn't know. A shadow waits beyond the boundary of her thoughts. She doesn't dare chase it, though she knows it's there.

Instead, she turns her head to anoint the center of his palm with a kiss. The tender gesture is a mirror of something else, a memory back in the first life. "You saved me from the dark."

His fingers wipe her tears, and her weeping gentles back down to her slow breathing. The rest of her shock gets eclipsed by his spreading wings. Alison cannot take her eyes off them, lost in their miracle. "Your wings. They'll never take them again." She is quiet. "What do we do now?"

With that coiling, clawed metal gone, his hand feels much the same as it always has under her wandering touch… albeit cold as polished marble. He always had such fine-boned hands, long-fingered and patrician and deft, the hands of someone bred over many generations to do no work. In defiance of that lineage, he wound up working with them anyway, and they became strong from sparring, from fighting, from reaching out to try and help build the better world his mentor envisioned.

They were never lethal, though. And that taloned armor that briefly sheathed them, just a moment before, could have no possible function but lethality.

What happened?

It is a puzzle he seems reticent to explain in-depth while she's still recovering from the shock of resurrection — or perhaps, just plain reluctant to explain at all. One hint of why comes in the nervous glance he passes her, sidelong, gauging her reaction to his changed appearance, and if she might recoil from his lost beauty or gained lethality. Warren never looked nervous, not in his old life, much less about this — he has no experience in facing the world without the shortcut of his good looks — and the rarity of the expression makes it stand out all the more.

But she seems to accept it — accept him — without hesitation. So long as it doesn't hurt him. "No," he lies. "It didn't hurt much."

She goes so far, even, as to tell him he could bring those things back out — if he chose. Warren balks visibly, still. "That's… not who I want to be around you," he says, evasive. "Those have a purpose that doesn't belong with you."

Vague words… and he makes no immediate clarifications on them, especially when she promises he won't be alone, and takes his face into her hand. Then, all he wants is to feel more of her touch… even if he seems to think he does not deserve it.

He speaks on, dully, of his failure to protect her, of how he remedied both it and his lost wings with his bargain. Her vehement objection to his self-blame draws his eyes in a brief moment of startlement, his feathers lifting with a sibilant metal sound; he seems briefly ready to argue his point, to insist, but she kisses his palm and speaks of how he saved her, and it makes him feel a faint echo of his first life's preening ego. The recollection of that emotion makes him smile… the first smile he has shown since she opened her eyes.

It is probably the first time he has felt like himself ever since he came to this place. A little glimmer of Warren amidst — whatever he has become.

What do we do now?

Warren's eyes half-lid, looking away. "He said you would have free choice," he says. "You could go home, if you wanted. He would send you. Or, you could stay."

The answer does not address whether Warren has that same freedom of choice.

"Me," he says instead, the chill of his skin — the coldness in his eyes — suddenly becoming all the more pronounced, "I… feel… like I want to make sure they will never take them again. From me. From anybody."

Shock is a fickle thing, never able to tarry for too long before it must pull away, like a receding tide from a shoreline — leaving behind exposed sands that one cannot help but see without drowning waters disguising it away. Alison, in particular, was always deft in compartmentalizing the mess in her head — everything to its own place, some tucked away not to be thought about for years — but even she cannot ignore these exposed sands for too long. Not even in the dawn of her resurrection. There are just so many questions.

Questions about how they came here, and what this place is. Questions about what became of Warren in her absence, in those few, lonely days she was nothing. Questions about the nature of that alien metal circulating through his body, what seemed to have returned his wings, but irreversibly changed the rest.

Questions, such as the ones that arise, when Warren speaks of a purpose ensconcing those metal, meathook talons. Alison answers that remark with an uncertain silence, unsure what he means, but she lets it go. "It's a part of you," she explains instead, on her weary, papery voice. "Then I love it too."

That is an assured constant here, carrying over from a promise of Alison's last life. He hesitates, insecure of his face, his features, and his once-unspoiled beauty now in disarray, but such things seem to mean little to her. She once told him his beauty was not the reason she chose him, and eventually fell for him. And in those choice, she wanted all of Warren: be it his less-than-perfect anger, or this less-than-perfect alien enhancement, singing new power through his blood.

But there is no strength in her to put up a fight; it takes all of Alison merely to summon up the furor to put down Warren's guilty proclamations. She has a great and rigourous patience, but allowing him to believe he killed her? She hopes, with some vague throb of pain, he did not do this out of some sort of obligation to her. If he gave her all his blood as if he owes her…?

Half-formed memories move through her thoughts, and the more Alison tries to grasp at their images, the quicker they dissipate. She is still so foggy, but she knows — she knows — it could never be him. She holds his eyes a moment, fierce, before fatigue steeps her that she must lay down her aching head, no strength left to argue — but strength enough instead to absolve and appreciate Warren with a kiss to the heart of his palm.

How could he think her his killer, when he did just the opposite?

The gesture works enough to make him smile. Seeing it softens the look in her blue eyes.

With his guilt allayed, all that remains for Alison is one last, great question: someone saved him, and then he saved her. What now?

Warren's answer briefly averts Alison's eyes, pensive. She feels unsure of the shape of that statement. She was asking him, not the will of that unknown benefactor that brought them here. "I don't understand," she says, distrusting the fog in her mind — she's not hearing him right. "You're staying here?"

His further words about his wings are less help. Alison's free hand hovers unconsciously close to her left ear. There was pain there. Not hearing things. "I'm not… make sure?"

Her easy acceptance lowers his eyes, and brings him to take back his hands from her. If it is part of him, she loves it.

That silver-chased black metal moves under his skin again in response, patterning the backs of his hands briefly before seeping out to recoat them in those alien gauntlets. It's obvious armor of war… especially when the finishing touch comes in the form of their shapes sheathing out over his fingertips, raking out into long talons. Black, hooked, and savagely pointed, they resemble nothing so much as the talons of an eagle.

He works them fitfully, like a cat extending and retracting claws, watching them flex with an inscrutable look in his changed eyes. "I guess you meant it," he finally says, putting voice to her thoughts, "when you said you weren't in for my looks."

He sounds more and more like the old Warren — her Warren — by the moment, his mind perhaps limbering back up into some semblance of normal after days of isolation, and confusion, and rage, and crippling pain. But the outward facade of 'Warren Worthington' does not match his new external look… and there is something brittle and volatile and violent laying in wait under the surface, held barely in check. Something that burns out through his eyes, and makes obvious what a mask his offhanded remarks are.

Whatever it is, it rhymes much more with the sudden decisive movement he makes: to grasp the blood lines still connecting them, and sever them with a twist of those edged claws. They pass through the material — whatever it is — with no discernible resistance, whisper-sharp, and Warren quietly removes the remaining halves from his chest and — much more tenderly — from Alison's arms.

He pauses only when she leans forward to kiss his palm, in absolution of the guilt she does not think he should even be feeling. The claws, that strange techno-organic armor — it all wisps away immediately the moment she gets close, retracted so as not to harm her. That, combined with the rusty smile, almost makes him look like himself again. If only for a moment.

It dissipates again when inevitably, Alison asks on of what they are going to do now. Her confusion brings his eyes to lower again, back to his hands.

"I made a promise, Ali," he says eventually. "When I agreed to take his help. When I… when I said yes… then he explained it all to me. He made me see it. He gave me something which helped me see…"

His eyes flicker oddly, unfocused, not really here nor there. His wings flare their feathers, shivering with the sound of a thousand guillotine blades. "Our species here — it's almost dead. It's being strangled out."

He looks up. Not at her. At the ceiling. "Show the deck."

The room breathes to life, blue light flickering into a holographic display overhead. Data, news snippets, fragments of video and audio collected over the course of years. Population counts: humans in the billions, mutants in the millions. Both numbers grow steadily, up until the latter — starts to level out, then to falter, then to fall. Then to drop.

Registration goes into place. It takes fire globally, an idea taken and replicated across the world, as other countries watch it trial successfully in America. It's benign at first, and for a time things are safer — more orderly — and then the wrong people get into power. They start to heavily abuse the Sentinel program to brutally control the mutant population. After a few too many mutants are killed by Sentinels going lethal prematurely, enraged mutants fight back. There's an incident which wipes out a city. Some mutant who lost control, and swept it completely off the map.

Active conflict bursts into being between radicalized mutant sects and world governments. The uninvolved mutants get rounded up, courtesy of the registration lists, and sent to internment camps to keep them from 'joining their fellows.' That's not enough for some humans, though. Mutant hate groups manage to engineer a virus which targets those in possession of the X-Gene, and they start to bomb every camp they can find.

The sickness decimates them. Those who escape and try to flee carry it to every corner of the world. The mutant population plunges like a rock —

The images freeze.

"Look how imbalanced it is," remarks Death. He points, here, there, with a taloned hand. Billions of humans. A few hundred thousand mutants. A tide of mediocrity swarming over the evolved few. "It's like… algae choking a pond. It wants… correction."

His eyes stare off into nothing. "I need to correct it."

Wordlessly, passively, Alison turns her heavy head on that slab and watches Warren through her lashes. Her eyes study the conscious movement of that metal all over his body, and the way it pools out of nowhere to cover his hands in armor and talons. There is little haunting her gaze — no disgust, no fear, perhaps a note of worry for him at the worst — but a resurrected body's need to organize and learn her new world. And a new Warren amongst it.

She is not even sure what that technology is in him, but if it saved him, and it is not hurting or killing him to keep it… she will accept it as an integrated part of him. Perhaps at full cognizance, she would feel more paranoid; right now, Alison has little energy left but to blindly trust what looks real.

His remark draws her attention. Not in it for his looks. Alison stares facelessly for a beat, and then remembers. Her expression softens. "Yes," she confirms, as if just realizing it now, "I did say that."

Warren relenting to far more familiar behaviours, down to that brief flicker of reflexive arrogance, seems to center Alison: something to watch, something to focus on, to keep her repairing mind to circle back on far more terrifying things, and this veritable world of unknowns. What happened to them. What will happen. The first seems beyond reach of her memory, allowing her little footing save for trace steps of what should be (a hole in her head) and what is not (something she should be feeling). The second seems beyond immediate comprehension.

But Warren is something sure. Something trustworthy. Something brilliant, really, that reached his hands past the boundary of this life and pulled her out of nothingness. A nothingness she doesn't remember. A nothingness she doesn't deserve to remember? The afterlife is supposed to only be real to the right-minded and the good-hearted —

Alison shakes that thought away with a shudder, too tired for the existential cold terror that will nonetheless haunt her soon. She does not struggle as Warren severs the blood line between them, her blue eyes watchful and her expression trusting, and she does not twitch when he pulls the threading needles from her arms. Blood wells up, his blood, still so fresh that it heals the puncture wounds shut.

Instead, she summons strength to reach for him. Warren's odd words compel Alison foward from her own fog. What happened in her absence? Why this world? And what about their own? Their lives? Their people? Everything he spent years building and protecting?

Apparently, while her corpse cooled and stared off into space, Warren made a promise. Alison gives him a strange look, not quite comprehending, as she lets him go.

Light instead turns up Alison's eyes, the entire alien ceiling filled with an aurorae of information and video — the story of another world whose beginnings sing with such ominous familiarity. As Warren narrates the trajectory of this world, and its fallen future, she looks on, the lenses of her blue eyes reflecting distant, upside-down images of mutants being dehumanized, mutants being culled.

She looks on, motionless, at countless pictures of war. War on this world. War on hers. Maybe war on a million worlds, with mutants always fated to be feared, hated, and destroyed. Everything she remembers herself doing feels so small, so inconsequential, an intangible nothing on the scale of some cosmic fate balanced against her kind. Why even be brought back from death to this?

Alison looks unmistakably like that corpse again, unbreathing and unmoving, arms at her sides where she left them, her fixed eyes staring up and into nothing. She barely even breathes. It could even be wondered if his blood failed her, and with no hope left, her tired body simply gave up its soul and let go. Then her face tilts away, and she drags up one hand to cover her eyes as her heartbroken tears fall.

Newly revived, Alison visibly relearns her body, her mind, her memories — learns the alien dimensions of this new world around her — with the faltering slowness of a fawn. Patient as falling snow, Warren seems dedicated to sheltering her under his wings through her slow boot-up back to life, the heavy appendages canopying her in a gleaming ceiling of —

— something. They're not feathers, not as she remembers them. They shape like feathers, chased with the familiar patterns of vanes and barbs, recreated faithfully down to the way they notch at the ends to make the upbeat of the wings easier… but they reflect light in a way they never did before, and there is a rigidity to them that is not wholly organic.

The claws, of course, the living metal that slides over him in the form of blue-black armor — that's an even bigger signal that something about him is not right. But he looks like Warren should — for the most part — and he's now talking like Warren used to, and he's reminding her of things they said in their last lives. Things only Warren should know. And for now, that is enough for Alison Blaire.

Enough that she starts asking other questions. What happened? Where are they? And what now?

Slowly, he removes the lines from her arms, smoothing the last drops of his blood over the punctures to heal them. And then, he shows her answers to the first two questions.

Her reaction does not seem to surprise him. Perhaps he wept too. More likely, he raged. Anger was always his first response to things, and what could be more inflaming than to see a world where all they did — all they built and pursued and upheld — still led them, in the end, to the virtual extermination of their species?

"I wonder if we could change it," he says, after a time. "If we went back and did something different. Avoided the same mistakes. Resisted more. Campaigned harder. I also wonder if it would make no difference… if this is where it always goes, in the end."

He is pensive on the question a moment, before he shakes his head and pushes himself up to a stand. His wings pull back in as he does, with a familiar ruffling shake to straighten the feathers which is no longer strictly necessary, but which is obviously a deeply ingrained habit. "Anyway," he says, his voice carrying that odd distance again, "that was what he asked me in exchange, after he gave back my wings. To stay, and fix this world. Then, maybe, I'd go back to mine — if I wanted."

The talons of his right hand twitch once, twice, piercing an imaginary body. "There's one major reason I would."

He stands motionless a moment, as if picturing it. Then he shakes his head again, and leans down to take Alison carefully up into his arms. It is a familiar gesture — he has carried her many times before — but his body is cold. "I'll take you somewhere else to rest," he says, bearing her out of the strange, alien chamber. "You could talk to him later — if you wanted."

In her absence, everything has changed, realizes Alison in her slow-sunrise cognizance. Her awakening brain is full of memories of what was, though its resurrection still repairs her memories — and there's no linear organization of same, when memories of twenty years ago heal as fresh as ones weeks ago, and she still cannot tell beyond vague glimpses what led up into her final day — but none offer any explanation for… this. Here. Now. Him.

All is different, from this alien room, to the promise of a different permutation of her world beyond those walls, to the very fletching of Warren's regrown wings. His feathers, but no longer what she remembers, or what she tells herself she knows. They make artificial sounds. They ring with noise her field has never before tasted, frequency and pitch so strange and unusual that, even under the mantle of his wings, Alison can feel no soothe of familiarity.

In its place, only questions, and an amorphous sense of dread — the realization any corpse should never learn. That the world goes on without them.

But even without familarity, there is still trust. Alison trusts Warren that, whatever his changes, still remains himself, and reorganizes her grounding with that faith as its beating heart. It will be the only thing that holds her together as the rest of her world falls apart.

Still dreamy with death, lain like some altar offering in this coptic shrine, Alison does not even stir to Warren removing deep, innervating needles from her arms. If the movement hurts her, even incidentally, it does not show. It is pain that does not even matter.

What matters is what Warren shows her. The ceiling is a sky of visual history, blurring from image to image in a grotesque tapestry of their future. Of their present. Of their place in this universe, existing and enduring only to be hated no matter what world mutants are born.

Something seems to go out of her. Some light. Some internal system of faith that, no matter how much she feared the worst, she still believed the best. Some last signal of hope — at least what a body would have after being told it had just died. It had just been murdered.

The tears blink free from her despairing eyes. And, unlike the tears Alison wore before, she does not want to showcase them, does not want Warren to see them, and her head turns away, one heavy hand lifted to cover her face. She weeps for herself, for her race, for the future she thought they once had. No matter the world, it will still go this way.

Warren speaks, the pointed corners and tapered ceiling of the room nocking his voice to some lofty height — words reaching with wings of their own. Alison says nothing back, but somewhere among them, her eyes remain open, and she lets her next tears fall unhindered. She is listening. Can they change it? She doesn't know. She doesn't know anything anymore.

There is no struggle as he lifts her; her body folds in his arms, too-light, bonelessly weary, but undeniably alive. His cold touch does not even seem to bother her, Alison either too-warm with her light, or unable to care. Or, without anything else left in her world, ready to accept this chill as her sole comfort. Everything has changed, but she still has Warren.

Her head lolls heavily to his chest. Her blue eyes flicker half-shut.

"Later," speaks Alison, voice brittle. But therein is her acknowledgment and consent to meet their mysterious benefactor — the only reason they are alive, and together. He is well-worthy a visit, even to thank. For now, all whom she can bear near is Warren.

Some part of Warren grieves to see the light and faith go out of Alison's eyes. It is like watching her die all over again… though this is not a death of the body, but a death of the soul. A death of the guiding hope that has carried them through their persecuted lives, even in the many years after the Professor vanished.

The rest of him watches with the stoicism of wordless necessity. These are things he had to learn, to realize, and to accept, days earlier; she, too, will have to accept, in order to move forward. In order for them to understand the true breadth of the human hatred which they face. In their own world, or in this one… or in any world, really, where a species arises which makes humans fear — and envy.

These are things they must study and understand in order for them to know how to fix it… perhaps even how to prevent it.

If they even can. That, too, remains a question, one which Warren eventually articulates aloud to no particular answer from Alison.

Her lack of reply does not seem to upset him. He does not seem to expect one. Registering her need to rest, he lifts her instead, his wings sheathing at his back with a hiss of honed metal. His arms are cold as he carries her away.

They do not go far, and there is not much to see along the way. The halls of this place are dark, and the little wan light that illuminates their way pulses slowly, as if breathing in some deep sleep. Given the oddly organic architecture, it contributes to the overall impression of their habitat as some vast and somnolent animal, at rest: for now.

The chamber to which Warren eventually brings her seems to be one he has been inhabiting for the past few days. Cold and austere, it is a far cry from the lavish spaces they have shared before, but nonetheless it is obvious the room is meant to serve as a quarters. The bed to which he takes her is more of a scoop than anything else — a little scratched-out nest amidst the alien austerity — but Warren seems to have found enough bedding to make it serviceable. It is hard to imagine anything so mundane as bedding being found in this alien place. Perhaps it is best not to try to think about where Warren might have gotten it from instead.

He places her down in the scoop, nonetheless, sitting her on its edge with care. "You should sleep here. I have…" he says, suddenly evasive, his eyes glowing a little stronger with that silver gleam, "some things I need to do."

This is when he should leave… but he dawdles, transparently wanting to linger despite the pull of duty that flickers in his eyes. His head tilts slightly, looking down at her, and after a moment he reaches forward.

Black talons gently enclose her chin, their lethal hooks brushing along the line of her jaw. They turn her face up to his with vanishing care, the point of one pressing her pulse briefly in passing, as he tilts her head side-to-side to absorb the sight of her. Every last inch.

Whatever looks down at her, through Warren's familiar blue eyes, does not entirely seem like Warren himself.

"And I see what I have made," he murmurs, mostly to himself.

He stands there a few moments more, thinking — listening, perhaps — before his touch drops away. "This won't take long," promises Death, before he turns and is gone.

Time passes. It is hard to say how long, and even harder to say what Warren might now consider to be 'a long time.' There are no clocks to measure the hour.

There is only, after a long silence, the sound of steps approaching her room. Too heavy to be Warren… and once their owner draws into view, there is no mistaking the towering figure for Warren.

"Welcome," greets the figure, in a deep slow voice whose oration speaks of thousands of years of refinement. "One who has died. One who lives again."

He advances fully into the room, assuming a set stance, hands folded before him. The wan light picks him out in more detail: a grand figure, standing far taller and broader than a man, sheathed in heavy war-armor in the same shades of blue and black which she has seen all over Warren's body.

"A miracle, is it not?" he muses. "Your resurrection. And just one of the many things of which our race is capable… if pushed."

The cold always bothered Alison, long-acclimated to and comfortable with constant heat and light. Now, however, she does not seem to notiice the cold at all.

She hangs discontently in Warren's arms, offering neither resistance nor complaint to whatever destination he walks them. The darkened corridors curve like a throat, shining chitin-black in a strange, alien metal, but Alison barely spares her new environment a look. It blurs by in exotic sameness, faded to amorphous shadow beneath her shock. To be resurrected, only to be told her kind are destined to die out… her eyes avert down and far away.

His journey bears them into a small, self-contained room, just as dark and just as sparse as the rest. There is nothing familiar to Alison within all of Warren's chambers, its emptiness as startlingly chill as the feel of his body next to hers. But, much like the rest, Alison accepts it without disdain.

Set down, she obeys all his attending gestures to situate her properly, her turned eyes cast down blandly on the bedding. Alison's thoughts are still elsewhere. What a waste her life was. Everything what mattered to her was, is, will be rendered worthless.

In fact, the only anything that breaks her ennui is Warren's next, vague declaration, speaking down on her words she never imagined he would say. They only just found each other, and he has to leave? She answers with a reflexive look, face steeped in irrational panic: resurrected so fresh from nothingness, Alison isn't sure she's ready to be alone. However, that brief flinch in her expression never graduates to begging, either too exhausted or emotionally drained to plead Warren reasons to stay.

A heartbeat later, Alison consents. Normally so full of questions, especially now to inquire what it is he now must do… she accepts. What would it even change?

She seems to expect him to leave — just another change to endure through her drowsy shock — so when points of metal touch and take her chin, her eyelashes flicker with surprise. Despite Warren's words raking through her foggy memory (he said he would rather not use the metal on her, how long ago did he say that? Just now. Just now. She convinced him otherwise), he turns those talons on her, though their handling is with such a vanishing care that Alison can barely feel their sharpness.

One runs perilously over her carotid sinus, and she hears herself exhale into the touch. There is something exquisite in the sensation, something she's never felt before, something that, unlike the feel of Warren's hands, comes disaffected of familiarity, of memory. The tension and panic sigh out of her, and her head tilts peacefully to his ministrations, bowing whatever angle he asks of her. Her thoughts numb, and her eyes slip shut in trust.

Only to the sound of his voice do they flicker open. Alison's blue eyes reflect nothing but Warren. To his pronouncement, she does not disagree.

He frees her to see to his unknown task. Alison, less fearful now, answers with one hand reached back to Warren, her fingers touching his face in a passing caress, her thumb swiping his bottom lip to relearn it. Her eyes soften, and she lets him go without a word more.

Then she is alone. The darkness, silence, and alien taste of the air close in on all sides. Intimidated, Alison eases down into that scoop of bedding, and hugs herself. Immediately, sleep stings her eyes, but she fights the sensation away as long as she can. She's terrified of being nothing yet again, and never waking up a second time.

But she does.

Alison snaps awake, unaware of the time, or anything else, really, beyond these same dark walls. Alone, there is little for her to do but wait. With some recovered strength, she spends the time examining her own arms and hands, or staring off, eyebrows furrowed with concentration, as she feels from her temple to her left ear. Whole, alive, and unblemished skin and bone, walking into her hairline — it's her, but it's wrong.

Eventually, she feels restless enough to test her legs, perhaps even take her reanimate-newborn steps to find Warren, and sits up aimlessly on the edge of the messily-constructed bed. Something gleams and catches her eye. With lowly-glowing fingers, Alison reaches down to take it: she finds she must be careful, because the shard of metal is razor-sharp. Avoiding the edges, she brings it closer. Under her light, it carves the shape and texture of a feather.

Absorbed in it, she does not immediately realize she is not alone. The voice draws Alison's gaze in a flinch, pathed across the room, and then eventually drawn up — the figure far more towering than what she knows. Without asking aloud, Alison knows immediately who this is. And, more important, what he's done. She searches him for a moment in the dark, before her eyes lower. "Still not enough to save ourselves, apparently," she murmurs, her once-legendary voice papery and bone-brittle.

"You're the reason Warren and I are still alive. How did you find us?"

The reflexive panic in Alison's face stops Warren briefly in his departure. He pauses, waiting for the torrent of questions… only for a mote of discordance to gleam in his eyes when she says nothing instead, and simply accepts.

After a moment, however, he seems to understand. The same thought process went through his mind, in the days he was alone. Why ask? Why press matters? Would anything truly change if he stayed? If she knew what he was going to do?

But for all his changed, cold austerity, there are some things which have not altered about Warren Worthington… some impulses so strong that even the voices now whispering in his head cannot override them. Death knows his duty — it is being sung throughout his techno-organic blood — but Warren remembers things which were important to him too.

That strange gestalt entity looks down at Alison now through gleaming eyes, absorbing the sight of her whole and alive — and by his hand. Both halves of him can take pride and joy in that… and both halves are very present, here and now. It is Warren's compassion that drives him to touch her, to comfort her before he leaves with a brief caress; but it is Death, proud and beautiful and as utterly ruined as Lucifer ever was, that drives him to do so with the points and curves of his talons.

Perhaps he wants to see if she meant it, when she said she accepted them. From the way her eyes close and her panic subsides, her head leaning peacefully into their points, she did. His eyes gentle to her acceptance; they gentle further to her proactive attempt to reach out for him. He leans down, giving her easier access to touch him. A lady's favor for her knight, before he takes his leave.

Not that courtly knights ever took their leave to do what he is about to do.

Left alone, the hours pass in undisturbed silence for Alison Blaire. The only small comfort is the bed, whose scooped, nestlike shape makes it easy to hide within, and which smells of Warren… but his familiar windblown, sun-drenched scent now carries a distinct metallic tang that throws it off just enough to be disconcerting. That scent is also extremely faint, suggesting that Warren does not actually use the bed often. Alison has woken in the night enough times to find Warren sleeping perched, standing upright, that this wouldn't be surprising… but enough else has changed about him that it is easy to imagine more morbid reasons for him not to be sleeping in a bed.

Eventually, Alison finds something else in the bed with her: a small, shed secondary feather. This, too, is familiar enough — living with Warren rapidly became an exercise in finding shed feathers everywhere — but when she picks up the feather, it is to find that though the thing emulates an organic feather in shape and flexibility rather convincingly, when left at rest its edges stiffen into razor sharpness.

A voice interrupts her reverie.

The great figure who now shares the room with her does not smile at her bitter rejoinder. His silver-white eyes glow too strongly for them to be any cue of his reaction, either. "If pushed," he repeats, his voice patient. "The miracles of the mutant race are not sufficient to save us… if we are not properly motivated to use them. And you children were not. Not until it was too late."

He exhales. "It grieved me to wake to this. But it is not too late for a correction. The greatest showings of a species emerge when it is pressured…"

How did you find us?

"War winnows the weak on a continual basis," says their nameless savior. "And our numbers are already few. There are those of us who can see past the confines of our own dimensions. There are those of us who can open paths between them. We search for those who have nothing left in their own worlds, and we offer them a second chance in ours. The opportunity to clean the slate, and be the genesis of something new."

Perhaps, one lifetime ago, Alison would savour her panic and paranoia for far longer.

It hits fast and hard in old habit: she never enjoyed being alone, and certainly not now, minutes deep into this strange resurrection and even stranger world, with her only source of familiar grounding in the one man who bore her here. Part of her, stricken, wonders if the Warren of before would have left her alone just after them finding each other, though when Alison tries to search herself for hurt, or even heartbreak, she simply feels… nothing, really.

She remembers hearing, early into the business, how professional dancers treat their feet in alcohol to harden the skin and dull the sensation. Something inside her feels equally pickled, and earlier sensations are out-of-reach reveries, barely felt through the numbed nothingness.

Instead, those wicked talons catch her by the chin, and their passing touch brushes Alison's thoughts away. She does mean it, every word, and the promise translates into a trust in Warren's hands as automatic as breathing. He handles her with edges and points so effortlessly lethal that one wrong tic of his hand, or a too-careless close of his fingers would sever her arteries and cut out her trachea — so easily end the life he gave all his blood to return.

She doesn't seem to mind. Her eyes drift shut, and her head tilts into the contact, trusting it as the last anything in this universe that may bring her harm. Those metallic talons may be the only anything Alison can accept at this moment, free of any trappings of what either of them are supposed to be, or the cruel world they left behind. And for a few, second seconds that she does not need to think, she loses herself to him.

Unfortunately, the segue ends too soon. Warren pulls away, and leaves her to attend to his duty, and Alison does not even ask him what that duty is.

Left to her own devices, she sits without moving for a considerable time. Then, wordlessly, she draws in on herself and fights back sleep.

It happens, even if it does not last long. Too many amorphous images among her dreams, and none of them kind, none of them peaceful. Her repairing brain pits Alison in the theatre of her own unhappy life, cliffhangered on the too-close, eel-eyed face of a man, whispering venom down into her —

Alison shakes awake, shivering and clutching her head, so sure of the split-second punch of opened bone, so sure of a hole. There is nothing there, nothing but her, and that no longer feels like enough.

She sits on the edge of his unfamiliar bed, and holds in her hand one of his unfamiliar feathers. Alison looks down on it with tired, hollowed eyes. It is the only thing she can focus on, at length, through the storm of her thoughts. It exists, foreign and alien and deadly, as representation of so much changed. Warren. Herself. Their very world, folded over into the next. She gave everything — everything — to make her life, and it is for nothing, left behind like some chrysalis shell to rebirth her into… what? Everything Warren won and lost, fought for, bled for. The lives he touched. The wings he lost. The hope they so bled for, while worlds such as these fell.

It makes hope feel so meaningless.

So deep in thought, so consumed in the draw of her finger down the runic patterning on the flat side of that feather, Alison does not realize she is in the company of something far greater. Their benefactor, in all his mystery, seeks to speak to her.

His figure draws her eyes and commands her attention, even if Alison comes short in faith: her first words are leeched of anything hopeful, the blood pulled away to a dry, bitter husk. However, something still remains — a part of her that deigns, even now, to ask her questions.

Her averted eyes find him again, perhaps not expecting to be answered. "Then I should thank you," she says, without venom or spite, but still bleak — like the woman who glows can no longer see her own light. "For saving us. It wasn't… our time. We had…" Alison forces the words; they hurt her to say out loud. "Lives."

Futures. Taken away.

Her gaze retreats, and she goes silent, staring down at the razor feather cupped in her hands. "He showed me everything," she eventually confesses. One life before, Alison would be rigid, reserved, restrained. No sense to now. "I don't understand how this is a second chance. There's nothing left. None of us left. Is this what happens everwhere?" She is quiet a beat. "Is that what happened to Warren? He was pushed?"

The feather warms slightly in Alison's hands. It ruffles in a familiar way as her fingertip strokes down it, the barbs separating silkily in the way a real feather's barbs would. It's easy to pretend, in those moments, that she IS holding a real feather… but when her touch stops, the feather inevitably stiffens back into what it truly is: a small, deadly blade.

Deadly — like everything else about Warren now. What did he allow himself to be made into? And for what purpose?

Perhaps the great figure who suddenly shares the room with her might have some answers. Perhaps he might not.

"It is not necessary. I take gratitude in currency other than in words," is the first answer he does have for her, in response to her supposition she should thank him. His pale eyes regard her, glowing dimly in an ashen, metal-jointed face. "Your reclaimed lives… cultivate them, and grow strong. That is how you may thank me. Squander them in weakness, and I shall abhor you, and you shall go from my sight."

His head bows slightly, the better for him to make eye contact. "It is a time that can ill afford the weak."

He seems to have some reserve of patience, however, for he listens as Alison despairs. How is this a second chance, when nothing and no one remains, and this is what happens everywhere?

"It is not what happens everywhere," is his initial answer, though he does not explain how he knows.

He absorbs her words a few moments more, before he extends his right hand, palm up. A few motes of dust, settled there, shiver and spin up suddenly into a blooming flower, its petals shining a dark metallic blue.

"Here, in this world… there are 'enough' of us left." The blue flower nods, seemingly fragile… but bending with the passing winds instead of breaking. "All the great things I have seen over the millennia sprang, in the beginning, from 'enough.' They needed only the proper crucibles in which to be forged."

Is that what happened to Warren? He was pushed?

"Yes," is the First One's unhesitant reply. "And when stressed to his extremity… he worked a miracle."

The flower is left for Alison to take. A miracle for a miracle.

"I have read Death's story," he says, after a long moment. "In those pages was written a man with no conception of adversity, who lived a life untested. Easy. Soft. Then a trial came to him. He should have broken. He did, for a time."

An expression very like a faint smile crosses the metal-veined face. "And then he survived. That is a satisfactory beginning for a new story, I think."

He looks down on Alison Blaire. "You may stay, until you decide the shape of your own story."

He lets that be his parting words. For such a vast figure, he moves with the grace of a leopard as he turns and walks away.

The feather exists beyond Alison's understanding. Its malleable, dynamic texture, adapting to heat and manipulation, is nothing before she ever felt. There was a time, and not even long ago, she would feel compelled to question it; now, she resigns that simply it is real. It is a piece of Warren, part of him, and no degree of understanding will alter it. Things fall apart, and there's nothing she can do. Worlds can rise and be destroyed. Lives can be broken and hulled of all their value. The man she loves can be changed irreversibly in the days she did not exist, all the humanity strangled out of him —

By other humans. By circumstance. By the design, Alison believes.

Her eyes cast down on that feather, she listens. There is little change across her face, hollowed-out and torpid, save for a brief flicker between her eyebrows at their benefactor's warning against "weakness." A few weeks ago, Alison would question the word without hesitation, her voice tight with suspicion. Similar faces from the past have mused parallel condemnations.

A few weeks later, her next words are simply empty. "Weakness," Alison echoes, "like hoping for the best. Hoping it's just fear, and not…"

She cannot finish the sentence. She doesn't need to.

She is also not disagreeing.

Her cupped hands open, and she lets the feather go, drifting peacefully as its unnatural barbs circle it down to an end on the darkened floor. She slouches, her opened hands left empty, curling their fingers absently at her own peripherals. Weakness, thinks Alison. She has been weak her entire life. Weak with hope to be accepted. Weak with hope to be loved. Weak with hope, that even in those last moments, her begging voice would compel the torture to end —

Memory brands the edges of her thoughts. Alison blinks the image away, horrified, and glances up instead when the benefactor imparts her a brief vein of knowledge. The genocide is not what happens everywhere, he reveals, but with so much unspoken that she doesn't know what to think. Surely not to hope. Does it get worse than this? She dares not ask.

Instead of speaking, he indulges a miracle. In one great hand, the same hands that found and brought them here, he forges her a flower. It is no flower Alison has ever seen in her life, as alien as Warren's feathers, or the structure of this room, but that does not repulse her away when he inevitably makes his offering.

Alison looks down on it, then accepts, taking the bloom in her hands. She looks deeply at it, or starts to, but his voice draws her away.

Death, he calls Warren. She answers that with a too-long beat of mute incomprehension. A lifetime ago, she would argue that Warren suffered as much as anyone did, whatever his resources. He lost those important to him, before he had carved from his body the fundamental piece of himself. But perhaps there is truth in the benefactor's words. Warren did not break. Even she worried, at times, he would, but he never did… and is that the reason he's now forged in steel? The reason this unmet mutant has declared him Death?

Death of what? Death for whom?

Does it even matter? Alison's thoughts circle on themselves, that even she struggles to separate their beginnings from their ends. What is right? Everything she knew before killed them both. New lives. New world. What is true now?

What is there left that could make the emptiness go away?

With that last declaration cast down unto her, he turns to leave. She can stay, and Alison does not argue. She does not imagine herself anywhere else. Leaving Warren alone feels like an impossibility, and what life waits for her between worlds?

There is only one last question that chases her benefactor: "What do they call you?" she asks of him.

Their strange benefactor pauses at the door. Such a question is more complicated for him than most.

A long minute passes, in which he sifts through the millennia and the hundreds of names he has had; though of course, to him, a minute is less than a blink.

"Many things," he finally says. "They have invoked me, as Set. They have sacrificed to me, as Huitzilopochtli. They have anointed me, as Kali Ma. In some times and places, I am the Apocalypse."

He smiles faintly. "For this new age, I have decided to be Genesis."

The wan light coming in through the door blinks briefly out as his great form obscures it. Then, he is gone.

The flower persists, even in his absence. However he wrought it, the effect seems to be permanent. It is her sole company, for the next long hour.

The silence is complete. It makes it all the more easy to discern the sound of wingbeats, when they come into Alison's range of hearing. It is an achingly familiar sound — the rush of great wings carrying Warren home to her — though as it draws closer, angling towards the shaded balcony towards the far back of the chamber, Alison can pick out the aural differences.

Warren's old wings never sounded like fanned swords, cleaving the air with every slashing downbeat.


The name seems to wall her in even long after he has departed — something unspoken among its syllables what hold Alison's eyes on the door.

In the end, she is not certain what to think, or how to feel, so she gives up trying either. That is their benefactor. The sole reason she and Warren are together, and not scattered like ashes among a meaningless aether… memories destined to forgotten within the folds of the next generation. Everything she knew right and true left her for dead. And for those choices, all she has left… is this.

Left behind in the chamber, Alison's eyes linger back down on the flower. It remains inside her hands. Her fingers brush the petals.

There were roses in the western garden. He gave her that garden. She kissed him good-bye among the green. Blood from a thorn run down his finger…

So much blood. The way he looked at her.

Agony just to move. Hot tears over her mouth. Pressure, she could feel it. She knew. She remembers, she remembers…

Cameron Hodge.

She cannot move. She cannot breathe. The nothingness calcifies into a pin, pushing down into her head, puncturing through a membrance and yielding pain that feels like fire. His hands on her. His voice trickling down, unmoved, calculating, hateful.

Abruptly, Alison unlocks, stumbles three steps, hits a wall, folds, and dry heaves a wave of sickness.

There is nothing to bring up, nothing in her empty, newborn body, though she tries, again and again, despite to purge the cold terror, sitting like a stone in her gut. Moments later, she begs for breath, tears running down her face, turning her eyes to one shadowy corner of the room, and hallucinating Hodge's face from its darkness. She was murdered. She was murdered.

Alison hears something, probably herself, weak, animal noises that dilapidate farther into broken weeping. She holds her face, and that flower too, lost inside her hands, and spends much of that hour crying away the vivid images running her reanimate mind. They burn on the backs of her eyelids, and she'll never forget them. He murdered her. He turned her into nothing. She begged. Warren pleaded.

There was nothing in his eyes. She had looked at them so many times, and never knew. There was nothing.

Eventually, Alison needs air, or something, because these alien walls are too similar, too strange, too confining, and she needs to get out. She finds her legs, still wobbly from resurrection, healthy with life but uncoordinated. Out in the hall terrifies her, and she nearly considers it, before she lays first bleary look on the balcony.

Stumbling her way out, she liberates herself to fresh air. Fresh air, dark skies, and a cloudy sea beneath her — a sky in every direction, suspended so far up that she cannot even cast first look on this new word.

The alien ship dominates the rest, hanging like a heavy eclipse — this balcony only one small stud among its endless, shining-metal hulls. Holding the rail to bear herself up, Alison breathes. The wind eventually dries her tears.

When the hour passes, heralded by the alien sounds of wings, from miles away, Warren's eyes grant him first glimpse of Alison. He can see her long before she even expects his arrival. She sits on the balcony floor, back against the outer wall, her eyes distant, expression gutted out, as she watches the sunrise.

Alison could always watch sunrises. Burning light does not make her lashes flicker.

The balcony opens out onto the startling revelation that Alison stands aboard a great alien ship. It stretches endlessly in every direction, consuming her field of view where the open sky does not; this chamber must be situated near the vessel's heart. There are obvious means by which the ship can seal itself for the vacuum of space, but those shields and shutters all seem to be open for now… the ship ventilating itself freely while it hangs in-atmosphere.

It is cold… but so long as Alison has some charge, she has never much felt the cold.

She has also been up in the sky with Warren often enough by now, his low voice teaching her about his domain all the while, that she would have a basic idea how to tell types of clouds, and thereby guess their altitude. They are hanging surprisingly low, perhaps about six thousand feet, judging from the carpet of cumulus clouds stretching below the motionless ship. Either the vessel has a means to avoid detection, or…

…there is simply nothing left below it to oppose its presence.

She is not left alone out there for long, at the least, before a distant sound like the fanning of a thousand swords breaks into her consciousness. It is an odd sound, like nothing found in nature, and it takes a moment of listening to identify something familiar among it all: the fact that those bladed susurrations are organized into the steady, sonorous beats of great wings.

Out of habit, he flies out of the sun, keeping its pouring light at his back. Such isn't an obstruction for someone like Alison, however, who can stare straight up into the sun and watch his approach. Even when the sunrise flares blindingly off the metal of his wings, she does not have to blink.

He has his own extraordinary eyes, of course. Long before she heard him, long before she looked up to his approach, he picked out the details of her tears when he was still two miles out.

It makes his demeanor particularly gentle, when he comes in to a light landing balanced upon the rail. He is fully clad in that odd morphic blue-black metal, but it retracts seamlessly as he steps down to the floor, cowl and talons and armor hissing away and back under his cold blue skin. His clothing is simple beneath, and entirely white. His wings stay out, though folded tightly. Like sheathed weapons.

He is holding a small basket, containing what appears to be food. Mundane realities, it seems, must reach them even here.

"I brought you something," he says, though it's plain that he wasn't gone all that time just to make a food run. Before that armor vanished, there were spots on it which looked like dried blood.

It has been many weeks since she's seen the sky like this: framed in it on all atmospheric sides.

For months, she'd known intimately the sky this way, which was a considerable feat for a woman who cannot fly. But Warren could, and he took her everywhere, showed her everything. She remembers, and vividly, every time.

It hits her at once. Alison remembers now. Remembers enough, and linearally, that she can storyboard some sense from her final weeks. Warren lost his wings, and she broke herself trying to hold it all together. She exhausted every last ounce of herself filling the multiple roles he could no longer provide, as well as working herself to the hundreds of voices — mutant, human — begging for help. She balanced this with giving all the rest to Warren.

She was all the things she refused to be for those ten years, hiding, succeeding — doing what's safe, as Warren spitefully told her one night in the garden — and it still wasn't enough. She thought it was, especially that last day, when she was so sure there was a destination point through all the fog, like some lit end point barely within reach.

It wasn't enough to fix anything. It wasn't even enough to save herself. And she died. It wasn't a grand death, either, not some compassionate sacrifice for the lives of her loved ones, or some noble trade pushed past the precipice of her cowardice to do something meaningful in this world, not as the Dazzler, but just as Alison Blaire. She was tortured, she was murdered, and she screamed, and she was turned into nothing.

No memory of anything after. No Heaven. No Valhalla. Nothing, nothing, nothing.

Alison spends most of that hour rocking, racked with heaving, gut-wrenching sobs, at some points barely able to breathe through the agony of remembering. The shock is gone, and with it the numbing holes in her memory, replaced with the last synaptic connection of how helpless she was, spread out on her belly, head twisted, screaming in pain, and how empty Cameron Hodge's voice slithered at her ear, instants before he deafened it.

It was all him. She didn't know, and when she finally realized, it wasn't enough.

He finds her this way, her breakdown long since passed, her tears long since dried. All that remains is Alison sitting where she long ago hugged herself, her unmoving eyes fixed on her horizon, her skin fainty glowing white. No energy, or care, even to suppress her field as she normally does. The wind batters her hair. She is probably not cold, but even if she is, the look on her face is someone who may not even feel it.

Her light flickers silver, distantly transducing the novel sound of metal wings raking the open air, and her eyes turn as his figure mantles the rail, perched there like someone's lost shadow. Alison studies Warren in a moment of detachment; with all his changes, from his bloodless skin to armor to new wings, if she did not know the shape of his face so well, she would think him a stranger.

Her gaze drifts to something on one of his wings, before they close and fold against his back. Her eyes flicker, but she says nothing of it. She studies, instead, the basket, or the empty middle distance before it, before Alison's changed blue eyes eveentually lift, finding Warren's.

"I tried to fight," she blurts out all at once, breathless. Her voice is raked raw, splintered, and he's never heard her sound this way. "He — put — something in me. He put it through my ear."

The way he moves is still the same. The shape of his face, the lines of his body — that's still the same, too. It's everything else that is different.

He always used to come in for landings this exact way, feather-light, touching down on railings with a grace so natural it looked as effortless as the perching of a bird. His wings spread to either side of him as he does, flaring briefly to frame him either in a practical need for balance or an impractical need for drama: he always insisted the former, but she knew it was probably the latter. The beautiful lines of his face and features are the same, though there's something a bit distant about his expression… a bit cold.

But that face is still chilled its bloodless, death-blue. Those wings are still gleaming arrays of deadly blades. The body that those wings frame is no longer slender and ethereal, but warlike and almost brutish in its cladding of heavy blue-black armor.

There is — something — on his armor, on the edges of his wings…

Then he steps down to the floor, and the wings sheathe at his back and the armor slithers away. With those major differences gone, he seems more recognizable… but his skin is still chilled that unearthly blue, and his silver-ringed irises are still a bit distant as they regard her. As if his psyche is still in th process of comimg slowly back to her, winging back from some faraway place a million miles away.

After a long few moments, 'Warren' seems to click back into place. His eyes gentle, and he approaches a few steps, and…

Alison blurts out what she has to say.

Warren says nothing back, at first. He slowly puts aside the basket, and comes a few steps closer, and seems to really think about what she is saying. His own mind paws through rusty memories, turning images over and over. Alison on the floor. Alison, weeping. Alison, with blood pouring out of one of her ears. And 'he' did that, she says — he put something in her, through her ear, even though she fought —

She fought, and Warren did nothing at all —

One moment he is standing a few feet away, watching her. The next, he is standing over her. His spread wings shadow her under a twenty-foot span of razored metal, every single pinion blade flared in a bloodthirsty readiness, but his hands are gentle when they take her face in tactile, tacit comfort.

"I know," says Warren — or Something wearing Warren's face. The blue of his eyes gleams wanly, nearly overtaken by the fanatic glare of the cold silver which rings his irises. "And after I wipe this world clean, after I get rid of every single objectionable human life that has infested it, I will go back to ours. And I will kill him."

His hands shift. One drops away. The other takes her by the jaw, tilting her head up. The eyes that meet hers are both familiar, and the eyes of a stranger. "No one will touch you again."

There are many somethings on his armor. Many more, spattered here and there in dark smears, along the stria of his silver feathers.

There is something in Warren Worthington's eyes that Alison cannot recognize: some stranger taking roust among everything else that's so heart-wrenchingly familiar. With less shock and more cognizance, she cannot ignore that dissonance even if she tried; the truth is palpable, and he is no longer just that man she remembers. In body, absolutely, but also in soul.

Perhaps it should frighten her. Perhaps her soul has changed too.

Genesis called him 'Death', something Alison thinks she understands, yet does not want to think too deeply — something Warren chose for himself. Something Warren wanted for himself, perhaps solely for her, perhaps for himself as well, mourning the lives they had stolen. His life in particular, taken by a man who was supposed to be family.

A man — Alison cannot think too deeply about, either, anxiety twisting her insides just to imagine Cameron Hodge's face, and the way he looked down on her…

The words, the memory, the trauma — all pour out of her. Whatever Warren became in her absence, he's still her Warren, and she needs him to know. She isn't sure if he does. She doesn't know if he was ever told. She needs him to know that she fought.

"I… tried…" Alison keeps trying to confess, but her voice cannot find the strength to finish the sentence. "Tried…" To tell him. To apologize. To say good-bye. There were so many things she wanted to say, in those horrible last moments, and even with life, blood, vigour, she feels just as terminally breathless.

Her eyes flinch down, then back up — and Warren has changed places. He assumes space he did not a heartbeat before, before her, mantling her on all sides, and Alison meets his silvery eyes. Her field flickers with the sounds of a thousand blades, scissored out in a thousand more directions. She cannot take her eyes off it, not until Warren's hands find her face, the cold touch drawing her gaze.

He speaks, and she is silent. That violent admission, like a falling guillotine, severs any last question of what Death serves in this world. A promise not just to avenge her, avenge him, but do what Alison never thought Warren would ever be capable — a genocide on humanity. The inhuman silver in his eyes consecrates the oath.

She should be horrified. She should flinch in rejection against that gruesome promise. She should fight back against how wrong it is.

It is wrong, so wrong — as wrong as how his murmurs make her feel so safe. Sickened at herself, Alison shivers, but does not resist the demand of Warren's hand, tilting up her jaw, locking their eyes. He binds her to him with that last oath, and she loves him for it. It's not right, but she's so tired, she's so weak, and she's so empty. They took every last thing she loved. Her father's acceptance. Her music. Her identity. Her life. Her future, her kind, never allowed to co-exist, never suffered to survive.

In the end, Death's promise closes her eyes, and Alison answers it with the desperate brush of her mouth to his.

In time, Warren comes back to her. But it is plain from the look of him — from the silver shadow in his eyes — that he now shares space with someone else. Someone else who speaks of himself as Death, and is addressed by others as such.

It is not hard to comprehend why, especially when the wind at his back carries forward the sharp iron smell of blood. It is just hard to want to comprehend why.

It is a startling metamorphosis. Shocking, really, to see someone like him — taught nonviolence since childhood, with every advantage in life and a mutation geared solely towards beauty, and freedom, and salvation — reduced to such a state as this. But then again, there were always darker currents under that white-winged surface. It seems tearing free his wings — the seat of all his hope and inspiration — was the catalyst to let all those dark things loose.

That — and other things. Things that run in his blood. Things which fan out into the shape of his replacement wings: great arrays of bladed organic steel.

Seeing him, remembering the last few moments that led them both to this grim eventuality, Alison begs out a confession from her raw throat. She wants him to understand that she tried…

He is in front of her, in the space of time it takes her to blink. His wings shut out the rest of the world, his cold hands take her face, and he makes her a promise. Several promises, in fact, each more shocking than the last. To hear him speak of a genocide is unfathomable: Warren, who was the third student to come to Xavier's teachings, and who has tried ever since then to live up to the beneficent image his mutation implied.

Yet beneficence was only ever half of what an angel was.

Everyone has a breaking point. Warren reached his. And so, perhaps, has Alison… because she hears it, knows how wrong it is… and yet feels more safe for his violent promises than she has ever since she was tortured out of her mutation and shot in the head. She should reject it, she should speak in defense of the humans as they always have — as they were taught — but she is tired, and she is weak, and humans are the reason she has lost everything that ever mattered to her, up to and including her life.

Humans are the reason their people are a dying race. Here, and perhaps someday in their own home world too.

So she accepts him. Death shows no surprise when she stretches up to take her mouth with his. His wings fold in with a sibilant hiss of metal, barriering them in, and he answers her in kind. His right hand takes the line of her jaw, feeling much the same as it ever has other than its odd chill, and with his strange armor gone, it is easy for her to close her eyes and imagine nothing has changed.

Easy… until he speaks. "It will be the same there, when we return," he murmurs. "He will be the first. Then we will judge the rest."

He leans back, looking her in the eyes. His head tilts, birdlike, before he stoops down to her join her more thoroughly at her level, arms slung across his knees, his wings draped so their metal pinions fan across the floor. "I know you tried," he finally says, his voice thready, tired. "We both did. We tried for them, and they killed us."

His thumb brushes along the arch of her cheekbone. "You went to try to save me, didn't you?" he asks. "And I was a fool… and I let you." His voice hardens, bitter. "I trusted… too much."

Each dark admission off Warren Worthington's tongue — beyond murderous, and reaching into genocide — chills Alison. They cut her straight to the very marrow of her soul.

Old habits are not easily broken, and even she cannot deny the pang of guilt: shouldn't she fight harder for humanity?

You don't belong to them, speaks a voice from her memory. Warren's voice, searing down on her, a hot blade through her own light, cradling her like a crucible in that nightare. You've always given everyone ? everything ?-

She did not listen at the time, but now she cannot turn her face from the truth. She did. She needed them to love her. She gave them everything… everything she ever was… and it still wasn't enough.

Her giving did not stop them from taking. Her privacy. Her dignity. Her career. Her passion. Her life. And Alison hates herself a little for it, but she doesn't want to fight for them any longer. She doesn't have anything left to give.

She is so tired. And she is so terrified —

That is, until Warren answers the desperation in her kiss, and closes them both under the curtain of his wings. The world strangles into silence beyond their metal, closing Alison into some embryonic cradle — and it is the first time since Hodge put his hands on her that she feels safe.

A certain terror shudders free from her lips. They did this to her, Alison thinks, heartbroken: gave her last seat of piece in the throne of Death's apocalyptic words. They did this to both of them.

When we return, promises Death, one last time — not to Genesis, but to her. But to them both, hurt and deserving of vengeance. He wishes something unspeakable upon humanity of this world, but shining against Warren's eyes, glinting from the barbed backs of his wings, is a solemn vow that the violence will not end here. Chase it back to their beginnings, and alley their old world with blood.

Her eyes close when he touches her, and Alison does, weakly, try to pretend for a heartbeat nothing is changed, though her stray tears still wet Warren's cold fingers. Pretend the world never tore the wings off his back and tortured him with a lesser existence, stolen from the skies; pretend the world never held her down, ignoring her begging cries, and pushed a needle deeper and deeper into her ear. None of this is right, but perhaps it's all they have left — not to return to their old lives, but forge some manner of survival someplace else.

Would it really be so wrong if she let it happen? If she just… didn't… care?

That minute trembling — constant on Alison since he first sighted her, miles away — gentles only inside Warren's closing presence. He kneels down so near, and she responds, quieted no matter what name Genesis decreed him, or what dark smears paint his fanned wings. Her head leans into that drifting touch down her cheekbone. Alison's eyes open to his first question, flickering blue through their lashes. The gesture answers for her. She had been trying to save him from the start.

"I wanted to protect you," she confesses. "I went to protect you. They were going to take everything else away. Everything you worked for. I was going to fight it. I thought —" She thought Hodge wanted to protect him, too. Alison's voice breaks on the words. She can barely speak about the man that murdered her, because any mention brings back to her memory that hollowed look in his dark eyes.

In the end, Death's vindications open only for that shard of Warren to shoulder some blame on himself. His ignorance. His negligence. Alison looks on him, silent, bringing up both hands to cup his, touching her face. "They lied to us. Every one of them. They promised us… hope." Her eyes flicker, and her gaze implores. "We don't have to think about them," she murmurs, maybe even pleads. "For a little while."

They are horrifying, alien things to hear Warren Worthington say. But judging by the cold savagery that reflects in his off-colored eyes, it is not just Warren Worthington behind that narrowed gaze anymore. Something older and more primal makes roost there now, too… an elemental force with a single, basic, murderous drive.

Death, one could say.

Alison should resist it. She should object to his cold, slow speech about cleansing away lives and making worlds anew. She should fight harder for faltering, frail humanity, as she's always done, as they were taught to do by the man who raised them all. She should understand. She should accept. She should give…

But she tried to give them everything before, and they answered her by taking everything from her that ever mattered. They answered her by murdering her, and throwing her into the dark.

It was Warren who brought her back. Warren, who closes her now in strange wings, and answers her kiss with a cold mouth. She could pretend nothing had changed, if not for those glaring differences… could pretend the both of them were not tortured and murdered for something so banal and malignant as simple human hatred…

He pulls back, eventually, but not far. He sinks down beside her, and his wings drape to either side of them. He smells of metal and blood, but his touch is gentle, and his listening silence — as she speaks in the confessional of his mantling wings — is patient as falling snow. She wanted to protect him, she says, and his head bows, his gaze going distant.

He should have been the one protecting her.

She ends, finally, on a plea. Warren is silent. Then his right wing rustles to life, lifting from the cold floor. His hand pulls away from her face to reach over and take two feathers, shedding them as easily as he would unsheathe two knives. They gleam dully in the low light, their razor edges whisper-sharp.

Very gently, he gives them into her hands. He presses them into her grasp like the weapons they are.

"This is our hope, now," he says.

He rises. His hand keeps hold of hers, and it bids her to rise along with him. "Come," he says. "We will not think about them at all."

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