"You once asked me where your happy ending was."
Alex said, after several minutes of silence. His voice was quiet, reserved, and more than a little weary. He didn't say who he was addressing, but for whom he was it would be clear. The technopath paused in his stride, a few feet from the stairwell where the confrontation had occurred between those left at the school, and John's white knights. Dallas and Ashley's shouts of glee and joy were clearly audible, even muffled by several walls, intermingled with the sounds of the school. A lot had happened. There had been attacks and kidnappings, murders and fights, and more deaths than Alex cared to count, but still the school stood.
Xavier's Institute was still here, and many of those inside never knew the cost of that fact. Alex had given up his freedom to keep it from the Enforcers. Terry had given his life, and so many more their sense of innocence, to keep it safe from Weapon X. Beast gave his life in the line of his job, and Ashlynn gave hers trying to keep the assembled X-Men safe. Members had come and gone, but each one had paid their share so that the students that called it home might continue to do so.
And it had worked. He could hear them all, chattering to each other in the halls, or getting ready for class. He heard more than a few video games in progress, and what sounded like a few instruments coming from the eastern wing. Footsteps, doors opening and closing. It was the sound of a building full of life and hope, despite all that had happened, and would happen in the future.
"I don't know where it is. People like you and I, because we're far more similar than either of us want to admit, never seem to get a happy ending. And I finally know why. It's because no matter how jaded and cynical we become, we can't stop helping. We can't stop trying to fix other people, or keep them safe. We look at it in different ways, but the bottom line is that neither of us can stop."
"And we take a lot of **** for it. We're beaten on, we're beaten up, we're imprisoned, and sometimes, we lose everything we ever cared about. And sometimes it still isn't enough of a price to pay to fix what's broken. Sometimes we can;t succeed, or maybe we were doomed to fail from the start. Maybe it's futile to try."
The technopath paused, turning to look at him. And for the first time in a long time, the mask slipped from his face. Alexander Smith was old beyond his years, because those were not the eyes of a sixteen year old boy. They were eyes that had seen too much, lost too much. He was tired, and he was beaten. But he kept dragging himself forward, because they needed him to. If they didn't, he would have simply stopped a long time ago. He would have stopped moving forward. He would have given up.
Instead he got out of bed every day to a world that had nothing left for him, to perform the duties of someone far older without complaint, to shoulder the responsibility that had been laid upon him.
"But I think that one day, it'll come around again. Not tomorrow, not the next day, maybe not even in the next year. Maybe it won't happen for a long time. But what goes around does come around. Those who sow evil will one day reap the reward, and those who choose to spread good will eventually find that it comes back to them. Maybe not in a big way. It could be anything from a little luck when they need it most, to a shoulder to lean on when they can't go on alone."
"But one day, it'll come around. We'll both get the ends we deserve, whatever it is. And maybe if we're really lucky, we can go out knowing we did a little good in the world's darkest days."
They say that it's always darkest before the dawn.
The irony of that thought occurred to him as he sat in the dim room he had once called his study. Not that he had done very much with it in recent days. It had mostly served as an office, a place to contemplate his organization's next move, and a place to retreat to when things were too chaotic. And now, it served as just that. His place of zen during the end of days.
It had been only a matter of time. MACE had been looking for the Brotherhood ever since their failed assault on Genosha, when they arrived to find only a paltry resistance, and none of the Brotherhood's main force. They knew they had escaped, and they were laying low somewhere. They just didn't know where. Two days ago, they had finally received the tip they were looking for; a small private aircraft had crossed into the country from the eastern seaboard, setting down somewhere in New York state. After that, it was only a matter of finding the places that could theoretically harbor them, and which were the most likely. It had taken a matter of hours to find Abraham's mansion.
He had known exactly one hour after they received they had their breakthrough. There were people in the system that understood what went down on Genosha; they understood the lack of attacks, and the significance of Pietro's corpse. His own people had performed a coup, and they were keeping quiet. These people wanted to leave the remnants alone, let them have their peace, but the men and women of MACE were going to have none of it. They were going to shoot to kill.
Abraham Daniels regarded his chessboard in silence, contemplating the game before him. He was playing the white side, his foe the black, and it was clear who was winning. The black had all of their pieces in attendance and at full strength, while the white was down to the King. So few moves left to make, and all of them were limited. Brief respites until his foe accomplished their victory.
The King stood alone, without his allies, without those he trusted. Abraham had sent them all away the moment he confirmed MACE's intentions. Every last one of them. Some left without complaint, happy to avoid the oncoming assault. Others had hesitated; they had finally found a home. a stable place to remain. Did they truly want to give that up?
But one by one, they had all departed. Some stayed together, seeking safety in numbers. All were equipped with a week's supplies, and a disposable cell phone; if it was safe to return, or another location was found, he would call them. But what they didn't realize was that the call would never come. Abraham had devised his strategy, the last one that he would ever need.
The Brotherhood had always been defined by their leader. Intelligence agencies described the Brotherhood in terms of the Quicksilver era, or the Magneto era, and now, it was down to it's last era; the last evolution. Because without the head, the serpent cannot function. If one were to remove Magneto, as had occurred, another stepped up. When one removed Quicksilver, another stepped up. But what if there was no one left to step up? No one left to take on the mantle of leader, no one left to drive their hatred and give it form?
The group would simply cease to be.
When there is but the King left, one has two choices. To either continue the game, in the hopes of forcing a tie, or to tip the King; to surrender. To refuse to play the game. People have argued since the dawn of war whether 'tis nobler to fight to the last, and force the opponent to fight for every step of their advance, or to give in. One is without a doubt the more prideful approach. A refusal to surrender indicates a dedication to one's cause, a determination to make them work for every bit of their victory. But the other is the path of least bloodshed; by accepting defeat when one has lost, many lives can and will be saved. Kings have taken so many different approaches over the years. Mass suicide, to deny the enemy the satisfaction. Last stands to inflict as much damage as possible before they fall, and final battle to accomplish the same. Others have surrendered so as to spare what is left of their army, and their country.
But there has never been a conclusive decision, nor has there every been a way without pain. Without loss of life.
Abraham had sent his allies away to spare them the assault, but that was not all. By sending them away, he took responsibility for their crimes, for their acts of hatred. The serpent cannot survive without the head. He was the lone King, the sole piece on the board, standing before an onslaught of foes. This was not a fight he would win, this was not a fight in which he could force a mutual defeat. Loss was the only option.
So now he came to the choice that had haunted so many for centuries; is it nobler to fight to the last, or to accept one's defeat?
When he fell, the Brotherhood would fall with him. They had no real leader left, no one with enough anger in their heart to continue the fight. This was the last battle. With its end, so came the end of the Brotherhood's war against humanity. And a chance for peace. There would not be an organized group of mutant terrorists, there would be no convenient target for humanity's racism, its bigotry. They would be forced to look long and hard before they took action again, realize that the people they now persecuted were not villains, not demons, they were people. They had spent so long demonizing the mutants using the Brotherhood as their excuse. They feared what lurked in the dark, using the Brotherhood to give a name to their fear and loathing. With this, he would illuminate that darkness, and force them to see that which they feared face to face.
This was his last strategy. His zero approval gambit.
He looked from the board to the revolver on his desk. Modeled after the Civil War LeMat revolver, a six chambered gun with a second barrel just below the first to be loaded with buckshot. The Confederates had favored it so.
The sound of splintering wood alerted him to the MACE operatives' arrival; they had broken down the door. Idly, Abraham smoothed the front of his suit, and picked the revolver up off of its stand. The hammer was primed with a click, and he regarded it calmly.
Abraham had always lived his life with dignity, and with honor, even if it was not the same code that society followed. He fought for his beliefs, and he did not regret that. But he did regret the lives lost when he lost his way. His penance had arrived.
But was it nobler to go down fighting, or refuse to play the game?
The quiet reverie was broken by the sound of gunshots, and the disturbance of Abraham's time of zen. The Brotherhood's time was up, and it was time for judgement. The last judgement that would ever be inflicted.
For without the head, the serpent cannot continue.
[color=#0000cd;]The battle was winding down, but it was not yet won.[/color]
[color=#0000cd;]Hydra soldiers did not cease their attack, even when their main base of operations fell from the sky. They had taken down the Helicarrier, they were pushing back the remaining SHIELD forces. Where was their disadvantage? The battle could still be won, and failing that, more damage could still be inflicted. They marched on, shooting at anything that wasn't wearing their uniforms, civilian or soldier, it didn't matter. But what they didn't see coming was the last relic of the old age of heroes.[/color]
[color=#0000cd;]In a blur of red, white and blue, a metal disc slammed into the lead soldier's chest accompanied by a loud crack. It bounced back even as he fell, returning to the hand of the one who threw it. Grim-faced, James pulled the trigger of his sidearm, sending one of their number to the ground in a spray of blood. Another fell when he threw he shield again, only for it to rebound, and be plucked out of the air by the sprinting super soldier. His drove his fist into the side of the soldier before him's head, their neck snapping to the side with a sickening crack. There were only two left now, out of an original squad of five.[/color]
[color=#0000cd;]He didn't know where the others had gone. They had been separated when the airstrike began, and driven apart by the waves of enemy forces. Molotov was missing, Alyss hadn't been seen since her offer to take them to the ship, and he thought Alyssa was somewhere behind him, but with her powers, one could never be sure. The super soldier twisted as he ran to avoid a spray of bullets from the soldiers, the few that were not dodged ricocheting off of his shield. He hurled his shield towards the rearmost soldier, ignoring the cry of pain as it connected, and waited for it to bounce back...[/color]
[color=#0000cd;]But it didn't. The shield had spiraled off course after impacting, landing somewhere outside his field of vision. He pivoted on one foot to face his remaining foe, spotting the soldier standing a few yards away. His rifle was raised, the barrel angled to fire directly at the Patriot before him. Too far to punch, too close to dodge. No shield to protect himself. Options flew through James' mind, each one more desperate than the last, but none were feasible. Letting out a long breath, he raised his own weapon, taking aim at the enemy before him.[/color]
[color=#0000cd;]In the span of a second, two shots rang through the air. A moment later, one body hit the ground.[/color]
[color=#0000cd;]The soldier had fallen, the bullet impacting between his eyes. His rifle lay on the ground beside him, having fallen out of his hand when his grip relaxed. James still stood, hunched over, hand pressed to the right side of his chest, struggling to keep his breaths regular, seeking to block out the pain. Black spots danced across his vision, the pain blocking out all other thoughts in his mind. He slid to the ground, resting his back against a piece of rubble nearby, blinking as his breaths grew shallow, irregular. He looked down at his hand, but it took him a moment to register the rapidly spreading stain of red.[/color]
[color=#0000cd;]The shot had hit him in the right side of his chest. He couldn't tell what it had hit, but judging by the amount of blood, it had most likely struck a blood vessel. The shallow breathing indicated that it may have nicked a lung. He looked up, resting the back of his head against the rubble, closing his eyes for a moment.[/color]
[color=#0000cd;]No one was around. Even with his hearing, he couldn't hear anything. No gunshots, no screams. No voices, no footsteps. Nothing. The last symbol to fall lay alone, surrounded by the bodies of his fallen foes, even as his own blood leaked through his fingers. With a shaking hand, he reached up and flipped the switch on his earpiece. Instantly, he could hear voices talking over the channel. Military men reporting the slow advance through the city, SHIELD agents working to regroup. But there was one prevailing message; New York had not fallen. Hydra had not succeeded, the fight had not been in vain.[/color]
[color=#0000cd;]But the cost had been high. James closed his eyes again, remembering the sight he had borne witness to a few blocks back. Noel Rogers and Howard Stark, two of his comrades, his friends, lay motionless in a remote alley. Through some twist of fate, they had fallen in the same place. Perhaps it was best that way. No one should have to go alone. [/color]
[color=#0000cd;]A single voice pierced through the chatter; it was Brando. Holed up in a pawn shop with Siegfried and Erin, he was rallying them all for one more skirmish. He heard him ask about Noel and Howard, asking if anyone had seen them. He didn't know, James realized in a moment of delayed realization. He didn't know about their fate, he didn't know that blocks away, James himself was injured. James reached for his Avengers' priority card, fumbling inside his jacket. He needed to tell him, he needed to get their attention, he needed to get someone's attention...[/color]
[color=#0000cd;]There was a quiet clink as the card fell out of his coat, fragments impacting against the pavement. The shot had blown clean through it, shattering it into smaller pieces. It was useless, in every sense of the word. [/color]
[color=#0000cd;]No headset, no priority card, and no backup in sight. Walking was out of the question he realized, as he tried and failed to stand. His muscles no longer obeyed him, no longer heeded his desires. He was exhausted, mentally and physically. He had finally found his limit, the end of his strength. He slumped against the stone behind him, his strength deserting him as he came to the final conclusion; he wasn't going to walk away from this one.[/color]
[color=#0000cd;]This was the end of the line. No backup, no way to communicate, and he lacked the strength to move. When one couldn't run, they walked. And when they couldn't walk, they found someone to carry them. But what's left when even that is impossible? [/color]
[color=#0000cd;]"Anyone out there?" He said weakly, coughing slightly. After a few moments of silence, he sighed. "I guess not."[/color]
[color=#0000cd;]The super soldier closed his eyes, muscles quivering, breaths growing weaker with each passing minute. He was done. But that was okay. Because it hadn't been in vain. New York was safe. Brando was safe, Alyssa was safe, Siegfried was safe. They'd made it. In the last day of his life, in the last fight, he'd finally managed to do something right. The shield was gone, somewhere in the street behind him, but that was to be expected. It had a way of going where it was needed, making itself known when the time was right.[/color]
[color=#0000cd;]SHIELD would probably find it. They'd keep it safe, and make sure that it got where it needed to be. And one day, when it was needed again, it would find its way into the proper hands. He'd had his turn, he'd made his mark. It was time for someone else to up the call.[/color]
[color=#0000cd;]But the Rogers line ended today, and with it, came the end of an era. Noel was dead, James was dying. The Helicarrier had fallen, the Stark line was coming to an end... The old symbols had been torn from their pedestals. But the Avengers would live on. Brando, Erin, and Siegfried were competent, maybe even more. They'd recruit, build a new team. That was their job. It was where their name came from. No matter what, no matter how many losses they suffered, they would endure and avenge those who died along the way.[/color]
[color=#0000cd;]But at the same time, he didn't want to be alone. He could feel the darkness closing in. His strength had abandoned him, his body was failing him, and he faced the end alone. No allies, no friends. At that moment, he would have wished even for an enemy, if only to have some semblance of human contact before the end. It didn't matter if he had any last words to say, no one would know what they were, for no one was there to hear. Two of his friends had made the trip before him, but they had had each other. There was someone there when they passed, they had someone they loved to make the trip with them.[/color]
[color=#0000cd;]James would do it alone. In the end, despite his team, he fought alone, he was defeated alone, and he would die alone. No way to send a goodbye to his friends. His family would get the news from a SHIELD consolation agent. Years ago, Nick Fury had asked him if he wanted to make a difference. If he wanted to do something with his life beyond a menial existence, if he wanted to put his abilities to a use that would have made his grandfather proud. He didn't know if he'd succeeded or not, but in the end, that was for history to decide.[/color]
[color=#0000cd;]He'd failed to stop that bloody reptile. He'd failed to keep the president safe, he'd failed to keep the members of his team safe. But he'd finally succeeded in keeping something safe. New York would survive, the Avengers would survive. Maybe that was all he could hope for; to die a good death.[/color]
[color=#0000cd;]He was getting weaker by the moment. He couldn't open his eyes anymore, no matter how hard he tried, and he could feel his heart slowing down. He didn't want to go alone. Send a friend, a civilian, an enemy, someone so that he wouldn't have to go alone. Slowly dying on a New York street, and there was no one around. How ironic was that? The city that never sleeps, the city of stubborn citizens, and the one time he wanted someone to be around...[/color]
[color=#0000cd;]He could feel his eyes watering behind closed lids. That wouldn't do, what kind of image would it set, found dead in a side street with tears in his eyes? No, he needed to be better than that. A drop of water landed on his face, but it wasn't his own. His senses were fading, but he could still feel, and there was one unmistakable sensation. Almost at the end of his time, he could feel a hand close around his. They were relatively small, almost certainly belonging to a girl. He didn't know who, and he was long past the point where he had the strength to open his eyes and find out. But in the end, it didn't matter. At the end of his time, someone had been there.[/color]
[color=#0000cd;]He faintly heard her say something, in a voice indistinct but at the same time familiar. He could hear boots impacting on the pavement, he could feel himself picked up, and put on a stretcher. But through the entire time, the person didn't let go. He felt the stretcher lifted off of the ground, as all faded to black.[/color]
[color=#0000cd;]The supersoldier's body went still, his breaths almost imperceptible. But even now, he hadn't let go yet. Because very faintly, one of the medic's instruments beeped quietly, with a slow, but regular pattern.[/color]
[color=#0000cd;]His heart hadn't stopped yet.[/color]
"Well, it looks like my job is done here." A quit voice commented from the alley he rested inside. An old man, late fifties to early sixties, judging by his appearance, pushed his way to his feet. A cat glanced up at him, cocking his head.
"Dr. McCoy died a few days ago. If Alaric's here, then I'd be willing to bet that they're going to need their staff back, Sebastian. So let's go do our job, shall we?"
OOC:This, my friends, is the end.
James and Abraham's fates are ambiguous, and I intend for them to stay that way. Any attempts at deciding their fate for them will be summarily ignored, though if any Brotherhood characters find that they must, Abraham can be assumed
to be dead. James' shield, despite what you might think, is not up for grabs. Only one person has permission to pick it up, and they already know. So if you weren't explicitly told, it isn't you.With the unpleasantness out of the way, it's time for a few goodbyes. This game has been a ball, and I've loved being a part of it. It's let me create some characters that I'm very fond of, and have some interactions that I'll miss. It's helped me make a few new buddies, too. Kaithas, we went into this game at each other's throats, and we came out friends. Tyler, Snelly, thank you for being great fellow staff members. Advent, even if we didn't always see eye to eye (Especially in the early days.
), it's been fun playing with you. Onarax, Hubert, Grochi, thank you for the joy that was Delta Squad. Shame we never got to see ENF-X realized, but alas, some things are too awesome to see the light of day.
To all my fellow Avengers, both old and those newly arrived, it's been an honor avenging with you. To the Pantheon, I am truly sorry for more or less stealing away some of your best characters.
Flex, thank you for creating this game in the first place. There's a lot that's been said, and I see no reason to bring it up here. I intend to leave this game on a relatively cheerful note.
I apologize to any of you that may feel pained by the apparent deaths of some of my characters, but I felt this was the end that each of them was moving towards at this point in time. I truly wanted to create a final post for Rebekah, and I still might if I can come up with the correct idea, but I couldn't find a way to wrap her up in a single post. There was too much to be said, too many points on the character arc left untouched. So she will remain as she is.
It's been a ball folks, and God willing, I'll see you all again in XMDD 2: The Search for More Players.