Waking up hurt for so many reasons that Jonothon spent days, at first, just telling himself not to start listing them off. If he started, he pointed out, he'd just never stop. And then he'd be stuck inside his own head just telling himself all of the reasons that he ought to be miserable.
After a while, boredom won.
The X-Men had shipped him off to London at some point after everything had gone dark. Or else they'd dumped him off at a hospital in America, and they'd shipped him off to London. Something like that. Nobody ever really told him the story. Nobody wanted to look him in the eye long enough to do so. And it wasn't exactly as though he could ask for clarification.
Reasons to be Miserable, By Jonothon Starsmore:
(The fact that the list was only in his head didn't mean he shouldn't give it a snappy title, at least.)
- Bored and in pain.
- Guilty and bored and in pain.
- But at least it's quiet.
- And I haven't seen an X on somebody's belt since I woke up.
- I wouldn't want anybody to see me like this anyhow.
- Still bored, though.
- Which leaves me plenty of time to think about the guilt.
- So this is probably a fitting fate, really, isn't it?
- Plenty of time to think about what I've done. Not... much else I can do, anyhow.
- Can't even breathe. Not like that's anything new, I suppose.
- And they keep spelling my name with an 'A' in it. There's no A in 'Jonothon.'
- So, I'm bored, guilty, and in pain, and I'm surrounded by nitwits who can't read.
- How the hell am I still alive, anyway?
- I'm a murderer.
- I'm worse than a murderer.
- Maybe miserable is more fitting a fate for the likes of me anyhow, then.
- Miserable and bored.
Really... would it kill them to at least put a television in his room? Or some books?
No. Probably not books. The nurses would be too worried that he'd drop one into his gaping chest cavity.
Bring it on. He'd had worse.
"So, let me see if I've got this right... You were a secret agent working for something called... The Weapon X Program?"
Jono rolled his eyes. Rolling his eyes was pretty much all he could do, at this point. They'd been sending this bloody hack in to give him... therapy, or something. He'd just come in and sit down and talk and try to get Jonothon to share his feelings. And how the bloody hell was Jono supposed to do that, plugged into every life support system known to mankind, missing damn near everything from his lower jaw straight down to his navel?
By texting. Texting into a little box that read off the words for him. A fancy Speak & Spell. Brilliant.
"Oh, I apologize. You were actually an undercover agent for the X-Men, and you infiltrated the Weapon X Program in order to liberate a mutant death camp called Neverland, but you were caught and brainwashed into service instead."
Jono shut his eyes. What the hell else could he do, while this old coot prattled on about... Well. He could only assume that perhaps someone from the X-Men had filled him in regarding...
"Honestly, I don't even know how you X-People keep up with all this."
Preaching to the choir now, mate. No X-People here.
"Anyway, according to my notes, it says here a war broke out between three different factions of the program."
"And that's when all hell broke loose. Not that any of this really mattered, of course. Not after M-Day, anyway. Terrible, terrible thing... losing your powers like that. Especially since it was your powers that allowed the Weapon X-installed device in your chest to function. With your powers gone, well... everything pretty much went ka-blooey."
No shit, doc?
"And then you woke up to find your chest, lower jaw and several fairly vital organs completely obliterated."
Jono really got the impression that this man just liked to hear himself speak.
"Which brings us to you, now, and your sessions here with me. So, what do you think, have we made some progress in these last few weeks, you and I?"
The doctor sighed. Let him. Like he had any idea what the hell this was like, looking at the world from the flat of his back. Lovely hospital room today. It was very... clean.
Jonothon sure as hell wasn't.
"Look, Jonothan," and yes, Jono could practically hear his name being misspelled. Idiot. "I know it's been hard. I mean, the pain... both physical and mental. The uncertainty of your whole situation. My God, it's enough to break anybody. But you cannot allow that to happen, Jonothan. I know how... attractive giving up can be."
He went on like that. Went on for minutes that felt like forever, about how he used to be in a similar situation, about how he knew where Jono was coming from. About how people like them always had options.
It was almost a relief when he was interrupted from his attempts at blowing sunshine up Jonothon's arse courtesy of the stranger in the hallway.
"I don't know about you, doc... but the boy certainly does."
… How old did these people think he was? Bloody hell.
"Excuse me, but who are--"
"Name's Pete Wisdom. I'm an old friend, ya might say. Hell, you might even say a family member." Bullshit. "... A distant family member he's never met before. But a family member nonetheless."
"So which is it?"
Wisdom didn't seem all that concerned about the doctor as he pulled up a seat at the foot of Jono's hospital bed.
"Take your pick, mate. Don't matter to me. This is all a bit over your head anyway. Now where was I? Oh yeah. Hey Jono, I'm sort of here representing the family, you could say. Or a branch of us, to be precise about it. We're calling ourselves Excalibur, of all things -- I think it was Braddock's idea actually -- but that's not important."
Jono furrowed his brow. So much for not seeing any Xs around here.
"What is very bloody important, however, is what we're doing. And that's helping people in situations like yours post M-Day. Hell, when we do eventually fix you up, we'd even like you to maybe join us, mate-"
"I'm sorry, sir, but I find this to be highly irregular." And what Jono found irregular was the fact that he was actually thankful to hear the idiot doctor start talking, for a change. "I've been this boy's therapist for weeks now, and I don't recall him having a single visit, never mind any mention of family members. How did you get past security, again?"
Jono couldn't see what was going on all that well. Difficult to watch an exchange going on by your feet when you were stuck on the flat of your back. But he was pretty sure that Wisdom looked fairly peevish.
"Pardon me, Jono. You-- Doctor..."
"Whatever. I'm going out for a smoke now. It would be in your best interest to be gone when I return, hear me?"
Jonothon wasn't entirely certain what happened next. There was a bit of jostling. Tubes and wires being yanked out of him in a hurry and machines wailing around him and there wasn't a damn thing that he could do about any of it.
He had the sneaking suspicion, right before everything went dark, that Doctor Hartley wasn't going to be here when Wisdom returned.
It was dark for what felt like a very long time.
Dark and cold.
And then dark and warm.
And then warm and red. And there was a taste that didn't sit quite right in his mouth. His lungs ached.
His eyes flew open.
His lungs. His mouth. His hands flew up to his face, fingers pressing against his lips for all of a heartbeat before he looked down at himself.
His hands were grey in the dim light of the room, fingernails tinted black. His chest had... filled out some, was perhaps the best way to put it. There was more muscle on him now than there had ever been in his Chamber days, though he wasn't entirely certain that it was his own. And his doubts grew a little stronger as he stared down at his body, marked across the chest with the bold red tattoo of Clan Akkaba.
"I told you there were other options, Jono."
The voice cut through his head like a chainsaw, there in the dark and the silence, and Jonothon spun around as best as he could to look at the man who was speaking. His arms were being restrained by something. Tubes. One connected to each forearm, pumping a deep red fluid into his body.
Jono had seen enough blood over the past year to have no doubt in his mind that that was exactly what it was.
"I'm sorry for taking you like this," the 'doctor' continued. "But after we went through all the trouble of arranging your transfer to that hospital, and after I spent all that time gaining your trust with our sessions, I'd be damned if I was about to let someone swoop in and take you like--"
The doctor laid a hand on his arm. Jono pulled it away.
"Two questions answered immediately," he hissed, his voice low and raw and more than a little angry. "Why? And how?"
"Why? Because you are very special, Jonothan. More special than those horrible X-People could ever dream of. They have the audacity to call you family? They left you to die in a hospital like an animal-- worse than an animal." The old man balled his hands into fists, torchlight on either side of him casting dark shadows over his face. He was angry. Actually angry. For what? The sake of Jonothon's dignity? "No, they're not your family, Jonothan..."
And then the lights in the room went up. A table, with enough seats for twelve, all but one set with goblets of blood. Ten of those seats were filled, one by a large figure visible only in silhouette, framed by flames behind him. One of the empty seats, presumably, was for the old man who was standing and speaking. That left one for...
"...We are your family."
For him, then.
"We are Clan Akkaba. For centuries, it has been our duty and honour to safeguard the legacy and ideals of He Who Never Dies. En Sabah Nur. Apocalypse. But more than that, we are his descendants. His blood... his power runs through our veins. As it runs through yours, Jono. So while, yes, your powers are gone, so powerful is Our Lord that his very blood is power. And therein lies the how." Bloody hell. He really did like to hear himself speak. "It was a fairly simple matter to activate that power within your blood by combining it with Apocalypse's own. We used the blood's metamorphic properties to heal your body, making you whole again."
Apocalypse's blood. In him. That's what those tubes were? That was the blood of Apocalypse?
Jonothon's hands closed around those tubes as the old man kept speaking.
"And by whole, I mean with no mechanical parts like the ones Weapon X gave you. Now, as for your new appearance, it is simply a side effect of the treatment--"
"Enough!" Sparks and blood. Everything was sparks and blood and raw energy shooting off of Jonothon as he yelled, tearing the tubes from his arms and sending gouts of crimson spraying across the room. "I know all about you blokes, mate. My great-granddad used to go on about the clan all the time." His lip curled back as he spoke, his eyes still giving off sparks of energy, glowing hot-red around him. He ignored it. "But aren't you guys like, Clan Akkaba: The Next Generation? Ol' Blue-Lips wiped the originals out over a century ago. Only ones left were my great-gramps and a veggie named Frederick Slade."
The old man's voice could have sent a chill creeping through Hell itself when he spoke, next.
"Please." He closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them again, they were a fierce, solid green. "I never did like being called that."
There, in the stained glass work behind Slade, was a picture of a man in a wheelchair, eyes glowing green.
"I told you I was in a situation not unlike yours. Now are you beginning to understand what you truly are, Jono?" Slade reached for the goblet at the empty seat nearest to Jono, and held it up towards him. "In time, the healing power of our Lord's blood will return your powers to you, as it returned mine to me."
There, in the blood, reflected by torchlight and staring back at him with the same horrified expression that he could only imagine he was wearing himself, was a man with grey skin, red eyes, blue lips...
Jonothon threw out his hand and pushed the goblet away.
"My great-granddad was an old fool. He stopped believing in your mad god, and yet he still insisted every member of our family be branded with your stupid tattoos when we were babes. Just in case." He looked down at himself. Down, again, at the mark on his chest. "I was almost happy the first time my chest went Hiroshima, just so I wouldn't have to look at the stupid thing anymore. So," he stepped down from the altar, started to creep around the table toward where he was desperately hoping there would be an exit, "you can certainly imagine I'm not too happy to see it back on. And so... Thanks for the patch-up... No thanks for the creepy Apocalypse Jr. look, though... and now, if you can show me to the door, I'd really appreciate it."
All gusto. All guts. He was kind of amazed that he managed to get all of those words out without being sick.
He didn't want to vomit. It would probably taste like blood.
"Your decision," came a voice, deep and dark and dangerous as the figure that had been only a silhouette before finally spoke, "is a regrettable one."
And now it felt as though Jonothon's insides were going to leap clear out of his brand new, hideous skin, as the figure stepped into the firelight. Stepped right in front of him, easily three times Jono's size, clad in armour and looking back at him with those red eyes.
"I warn you, mate..." Jono had no idea what the hell he was doing as he grabbed a nearby torch and swung it up so that it was directly between himself and Apocalypse. What the hell was it supposed to do? Even the Mad God himself didn't so much as squint. "Powers or no--"
"This is not necessary, child. You have made your decision. You are free to go."
The doors opened, revealing the outside. Sunshine. Trees. Freedom.
"And the catch?"
"None. Just know that whether you wish to accept it or not, you are one of my own. And Apocalypse... always takes care of his own."
Well. That wasn't intimidating at all, then. Not that Jono was planning on sticking around a moment longer. He threw the torch on the floor and took off toward the outside world like a shot, not so much as slowing down as he grabbed the shirt that the butler in the doorway was offering him as he went.
Jonothon was barely ten steps out of the building when every sodding superhero in Europe came leaping down from the sky behind him, calling his name. Most of them, he barely knew.
"Jono!" At least Dazzler was difficult to miss. "My God! What did they do to you?"
"Please... I'm fine, Alison."
"Fine?" Wisdom sounded less than convinced.
"Healed, perhaps," Sage corrected, stepping up behind Wisdom. "But you'll excuse us if we're not so quick to accept this new appearance of yours as 'fine.'"
Yes. Thank you. Point that out as if perhaps Jono hadn't noticed.
"Looks like it's time to get some answers from some kidnappin' licebags." Cain Marko. Just as classy as always. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm about to do what I do best... smash some skulls."
And some blue-skinned girl, aping his pose, stomping toward the building right behind him with a "Right behind ya, big guy."
"No." Everyone stopped and just kind of looked at Jono, then. "Leave it alone."
Just what he didn't need. Being caught up in a battle between all the heroes of Great Britain and Apocalypse. No. No, he wasn't in the mood, thanks.
"Leave it alone? Am I hearing this kid right?"
"Obviously you've been through some kind of trauma, Jono," Sage attempted. "You're not thinking clearly. If nothing else, I'd like to get you back to our headquarters and see what exactly they've done to you. It could be dangerous--"
Jono was doing a lot of wrenching his arm away from people today.
"I said I was fine, didn't I? Whatever happened in there is my business and none of yours."
"Look, son." Apparently it was Captain Britain's turn, now. "I know we don't know each other that well, but--"
"You're wrong, captain," Jono snapped. "We don't know each other at all. Other than Alison, who I've met only a handful of times, and Sage, who I met all of once... and the bloody Juggernaut, who's tried to punch my lights out on more than one occasion--"
"Hey! Ain't no reason to bring that into--"
"--The lot of you are strangers to me. And now you all swoop in and save me? You people? Don't you get it?" God. God god god god god what was he doing. Weapon X and Neverland and M-Day and then finally it had been quiet, damn it. It had been quiet. "Not everyone wants to be saved. Not everyone wants to play dress-up as part of the brand-spankin'-new X-Men-Team-Of-The-Month. Not everyone even wants powers."
His gaze dropped to the ground, tinted red. The whole world was still tinted red. Not as vividly as before, and that tint would be faded completely soon enough, but it was an uncomfortable proof that Apocalypse's blood was running strong in him.
"Some of us just want to be left the hell alone."
It had been so quiet...
"Believe it or not, I was okay lying there with that giant crater where my chest used to be. I wasn't thrilled about it, obviously, but if those were the cards I was dealt, then so be it. I'd deal with it. At least I had some bloody peace for once. So now, here I am. Did I ask to look like this?" He was looking at you, Sage. "Did I even ask to be fixed up, for that matter?" And now to you, Wisdom. "It ain't none of your concern, mates, because one thing's for certain... I never asked for any of you."
He should have left it at that. Should have walked away. But so help him, he'd spent weeks in a hospital bed, unable to say a single word while people went on about fixing him, about how everything would get better, and so help him, maybe he didn't want it to get better. Maybe he didn't think such a thing existed.
Maybe he didn't deserve it, if it did.
"However," he snarled, apparently not finished yet, "there is one thing you can do for me, if you're still in a helpful mood. Pass on to 'Mr. High and Mighty' Charles Xavier and whatever other 'heroes' who want to help me out..." Now. Now he was turning and walking away, leaving England's finest staring after him in shock. "... the whole lot of you can go sod off."
Which was all fine and good.
They did as he asked. They left him alone.
But he was a monster, walking barefoot down a road in the middle of God-Only-Knows-Where, without a penny to his name.
Pride hadn't really done him any great favours, today.
Maybe that was for the best, too.
[NFB! Snagged for the most part from New Excalibur #9. And for one who knows who he is! ...