Disclaimer: The X-Men characters, and all other recognizable characters are copyright to Marvel Entertainment Group. This work of FanFiction is not meant to impinge on that copyright or defame Marvel Comics or the X-Men and related characters in any way.
Copyright: This work of FanFiction and the original characters described within are the intellectual property of K-NICE and her IRL persona. No copying, distributing or editing of this material is permitted without the express permission of the creator, K-Nice, under United States copyright law.
NOTE: Continuity diverges after X-Men #71, Uncanny X-Men #350, and X-Men Unlimited #18
Joseph Summers is an alias - see Part 2 or it won't make sense.

Spring Thaw: 9 to 5
by K-Nice

"Two pretzels, please." Bobby pushed himself toward the vendor's chart through a throng of young businesspeople. Bobby shoved two dollars at the grimy looking man as he juggled his pretzels. He backed out of the crowd and began to stroll down the street.

It was late on a Friday afternoon in February. He was not in a very good mood and it showed. His khakis were wrinkled, his shoes were a little scuffed and his face was beginning to take on the familiar despair of a New York job hunter. It had been seven years since Bobby had experienced such outright rejection. He had felt this dejected, this worthless, when his mutant powers manifested for the first time. The desperation of his situation was starting to pull him down. The results of his job hunt were abysmal.

Though he had his degree, Bobby had no real work experience. He was beginning to believe that, "We were looking for someone with more background," was the standard closing line of a job interview. Well, no duh, but how do you expect me to get a background when no one will higher me unless I have some experience. How he longed to shove his diploma down their throats! As if the weeks I spent prepping for the Exam weren't experience enough! The concentric logic inherent in Human Resources policies gave him a headache.

It had been a very disappointing three weeks. One would think that with only six weeks 'til tax time, a city as big as New York would have thousands of openings for CPAs. And all Bobby wanted was one of those illusive jobs. He felt like one of those emigrants from the midwest who migrated to California on the bogus promise of jobs. See, I didn't have to read the book. The movie version of The Grapes of Wrath was long enough.

Bobby ambled through downtown, not having the energy to go to his last interview of the week. They would just blow him off anyway. He was comfortable in the biting wind and stinging cold that had settled on the Metro area but even the most hardy of Manhattanites were heavily bundled. Bobby thought about wearing a coat just to fit in but it didn't bother. Why should I be uncomfortable to avoid stares. It's New York, everyone stares and everyone else and keeps on going. He allowed himself to be distracted from his ruminations by the shouts of street vendors and performers. He finished his second pretzel as he watched the Lost Tribe of Israel setting up a display in Times Square. He wandered away as they began to cry out their Gospel.

Bobby stopped into FAO Schwartz. He left his aimlessness at the door. He was 21, but he still loved that store. Unfortunately, his good mood was cut short by the unwelcome news that the piano was closed until further notice for repairs. He belatedly remembered something about Cannonball confronting Gladiator right in the store. He thought about going over to the Lego display, but his mood had already soured. Bobby rejoined the pre-rush hour bustle on the street with a scowl on his face.

His head snapped up, jerking him out of his foul temper. The whole point of his job hunt was to get a real life. I'm moody because things aren't going the way I expected them to and I go to a toy store to salve my pain. Then I get all whiny 'cause they don't have my favorite toy. "God, I am a loser." The last came out as a whisper, almost a prayer, full of wonder. Bobby's face grew stern, determined. He still had time to make that last interview if he hurried.

Jean Grey was listless. She was used to action and hustle and noise of people around her. Now that it was just her a Scott in the quiet cold of Alaska, she didn't know what to do with herself. Scott spent most of his time resting and healing when he wasn't trying to retrain his powers behind her back. But, today, Jean was tired of baby-sitting. She had a chore that had been left undone for far too long.

She sat on the floor, in front of the empty fireplace, her legs crossed Indian style. She tapped gently into the power that made her one of the world's foremost telepathy, and a fire blazed suddenly. Staring into the flames as they licked at the stone hearth, Jean grew calm and distant. Her eyes glazed over and her mind ventured out onto the Astral plane. Wearing the green and gold of her former costume, she walked, wandering with little purpose. She knew she should be reaching out for the Professor, trying to find him after all this time, but she just couldn't motivate herself.

*Professor, what should I do? What's wrong with me? I thought this was what we wanted, just me and Scott, together, alone, at last. But I can't shake the feeling that something is wrong.*

She was walking more purposefully now, with some focus. *I mean, you weren't there, Charles, but things were bad when we left. Bishop's missing, lost in space and we have no way to find him now that Bastion has gutted the Mansion. There are three new recruits, none of whom seem too heroic. Or too stable, for that matter. As a matter of fact, everyone is on edge, brittle, near the breaking point of their endurance. Everything has just been too much to deal with all at once. Rogue especially is in danger. She won't talk about what happened with Gambit, and I'm worried. She isn't herself lately and I dread what may have happened to Remy. Yes, he's a traitor, but still, no one seemed willing to tell me what happened to him after they left Erik the Red's "court."* As she spoke to the space around her, she began to orient herself, seeking any link to the Professor's psyche.

Jean began to construct her probes to search out the Professor more aggressively. While he no longer had his powers, he still possessed one of the strongest wills Jean had ever encountered. She hoped that she would be able to find his unique consciousness no matter how far away it was. *Part of me wants to be back there, to help my fellow X-Men. But, Professor, Scott really needs me and needs this time to recover. I feel so selfish, but he is more important to me than anything else, even you, Charles.* She extended her probes, which shimmering like red-gold fire on the Astral plane. They ranged out from around her in all directions.

*But I will do my duty for you, Charles. I am the Phoenix!* With that proclamation, Jean was surrounded by psionic energy in the form of the legendary Phoenix. Her probes glowed with psionic energy as she poured power into her probes. She carefully regulated the flow of power, fine tuning it to seek the Professor's potent signature. She was rewarded as she began to sense something. Before she could react and reach for the "something," her probes were sucked away from her, and she was knocked unconscious. As her Astral form fell to the bottom of the metaphysical realm, her physical body slumped forward.

"Sorry I'm late, sir." Bobby sat down quickly in the chair offered him. He had waited at the reception desk for fifteen minutes trying to prove he had an appointment. The receptionist was in her mid-30s and was obviously not happy about that fact or about anything else, for that matter. When he finally got in, he was flustered but still determined to do his best to get hired.

John Howe sat behind a plain wood desk, reviewing Bobby's application. Howe was not in Human Relations. He was actually the owner of the accounting firm. It was a small firm, which explained why Howe did his own interviewing. Though, he didn't seem to have a questions for Bobby. He just read the application and gave Bobby a calculating once-over.

"Well, Mr. Drake, I think I can offer you a position here."

Bobby was in shock. "But, but, I don't have any experience." Stupid, stupid! What am I saying? Shut up! He was tempted to cover his mouth or try to snatch the words back from the air.

"Yes, I know, that's the point. This place is small, the hours are long and the pay is lousy. But with your resume, you don't have much of a choice." Howe's smile was pure petroleum as he said this, both softening the blow and deepening it somehow.

"I'm hired!" Bobby knew he was squealing and tried to bring his voice under control. "I mean, Thank you for the opportunity to work for Woodard Accounting, Inc., Mr. Howe."

"No problem, Mr. Drake. May I call you, Bobby? Bobby, we here at Woodard expect good things from you. I'll get Gina to show you a cubicle and we'll see you bright and early Monday morning." Howe lead him out and spoke briefly with the receptionist. Bobby found that Gina was far more pleasant to him this time around.

"This way, Mr. Drake." He was liking this "Mr. Drake" business. She continued to talk as she lead him around the office. "You'll be working over here. This is your chair -- don't switch it with anyone else's. Even one at a vacant cubicle. This is your computer -- you'll get a login on Monday. Ask one of your neighbors to show you the database. This is your adding machine -- it doesn't leave this office, understand? This is the phone -- no personal calls. Over here is the employee lunchroom. These are the bathrooms. Mr. Howe will see you on Monday to sign confidentiality papers. Be here at 9 sharp every morning. Payday is every other Thursday -- hand your time card in to me on Tuesdays or starve." They had managed to go through the tour and get back to Gina's desk before she even seemed to pause to breathe. She left him staring at her back as she packed up her things and walked out the door.

Bobby watched her scuttle out the door, her polyester Fran Drescher-inspired ensemble covered by a faux fur. He turned back to the main office and tried to find is desk again.

"Hey, who are you?" The voice was male and came from the cubicle he had just passed. Bobby backtracked to face a man who was bent over a two inch thick pile of computer printouts, one hand making check marks down the page, the other flying over the adding machine.

"Bobby, Bobby Drake, I work here now, I guess." Bobby shrugged his shoulders and grinned.

The man grinned back without looking up. "Well, welcome to Woodard. This your first gig?"

Bobby arched his eyebrows. Gig? What does he thing this is? My Cousin Vinny? "Yeah, it's my first real job, I guess."

"Don't be nervous, it was my first too. You'll do alright." The tapping of the keys paused as he flipped the page of computer printout.

"Yeah, I guess so." Bobby began to move away towards his own desk. He was still in a haze over his surprise hiring. He almost didn't hear the man speak again.

"Remind me never to bet against you." The man still hadn't paused in his work.

"Why?" Bobby turned to face the man's back.

He spun in his chair and looked at Bobby. "Because you're one lucky guesser." The man was a few years older than Bobby with dark hair and Italian features. His looks seemed to match his accent. He wasn't wearing a suit, but black jeans and a t-shirt that read "I grew up in the shadow of greatness" under a picture of Yankee Stadium.

Bobby figured the guy had turned around, so they might as well talk. "So, you're from Da Bronx."

"So, you're from Long Island. You can always tell where someone's from if you listen to them yap long enough. And you are definitely Long Island." The guy seemed to be warming up to the conversation already.

"Yeah. Hey, I didn't get your name."

"That's probably 'cause I didn't offer it." He paused, leaving Bobby feeling awkward. "It's Rick DeSantis, okay, but don't spray paint it on any bathroom walls, I'm in enough trouble around here already."

Bobby was intrigued. "Really? Why? How?"

Rick turned back to his work and let his fingers fly again. "All in good time, my man. For now you better try and scrounge some supplies and get set up. Come Monday, Howe's gonna work you like a pit bull."

Two heads. He had counted twice and the thing still had two heads.

He reached into his trench coat for some cards to charge but, to his surprise, he discovered that he was naked. Bare naked, from the part in his brown hair to arches of his calloused feet. Except for the Genoshan collar around his neck.

This was bad.

Very bad.

As he tried to assess his chances against the . . . thing, he realized that one head was Sabertooth and the other was his own. Well, almost. It had his red eyes and her white stripe but the face was a mess of scratches and bruises, further deformed by rictous snarl. It towered above him at over seven feet tall, its long, heavily muscled arms larger around than his whole body.

The beast lunged at him. He ducked and rolled away, trying to figure out a way to save himself. A voice he almost recognized told him that looking out for himself was something he was good at. The only thing.

The beast lunged again, attacking at all times. He dodged the thrusts by instinct. His mind and body grew sluggish as the battle drew on. A kick grazed his head, then a claw dug into his leg. The beast struck him suddenly and his arm went numb. The cut on his thigh was a stinging gash and his head was ringing. He kept retreating, circling, trying to stay out of the reaching of those powerful arms.

Suddenly, his feet gave out and he was lying flat on his back.

The head that resembled his own slobbered over him, raising its claws in preparation to gut him. The Sabertooth side raised it's head and sniffed the air. As one half struck him, the other side turned and headed in the opposite direction. The killing blow was changed to a deep slash across his middle.

He grasped his belly, breathing deeply, completely shocked and somewhat relieved. The beast was gone and he was safe. He lay there, in the dark, panting, until he could sit up. His stomach was in upheaval against the motion and he was abruptly throwing up blood. He gasped several heaving breathes until he heard a noise that stopped him cold.

He knew this noise.

It was the sound of death screams. Coming from the direction of the beast's departure. He's mouth went dry. He stumbled to his feet and ran haltingly toward the sound. His head throbbed and his leg burned like a California wildfire. His left arm was almost non-existent as far as he could tell and he was in danger of bleeding to death, if his spleen didn't fall out first. He continued to stagger along until he caught up with the noise.

The beast was slaughtering hundreds of people, thousands, millions. The smell of blood and death overwhelmed him as his eyes jerked from horror to horror. He howled, his scream of terror matching the death cries of the beast's victims.

Everything became silent. There was no one left to kill. No one but a small girl who whimpered, cowering against the wall, stroking the dead body that lay at her feet.

The beast saw her a second after he did. As it charged, he screamed, "No!" and ran full speed to intercept the attack. He got there first, snatched the girl up and kept running. He hid beneath a pile of corpses, his breath ragged, his mouth filled with his own blood.

The beast searched for them but quickly lost interest. The Gambit head slashed at the Sabertooth side. The Sabertooth half ripped the other head off and roared at it.

He began vomiting again. The little girl growled at him as he curled over his stomach, retching. She attacked him with her fingers, prying at his wounds, poking at his eyes. He didn't scream or even flinch, not even once. He just murmured words of comfort to her as she slowly ripped him apart.

Maggie quietly entered the apartment. In three weeks, she had managed to put together enough money to carry them as far as they wanted to go. He wouldn't stay in Peru much longer. Physically, he was beginning to heal and Joseph hated nothing more than being out of the action. Maggie washed her face in the bathroom sink, slipped out of her work clothes and threw on an ratty looking t-shirt. She rolled her outfit into a ball and stashed it in a particularly lumpy cushion on the couch. She was moving into the kitchen to fix herself a plate of whatever it was that Joseph had left for her, when she heard him scream "NO!" The tortured sound of his voice worried her. She shook him, trying to wake him out of his dream, but to no avail.

She slipped into the bed beside him, hugging him to her. She lay there, whispering assurances to him, until his trembling stopped and he seemed to sleep peacefully. Then, she shook him again, waking him finally.

Joseph's eyes fluttered open. Maggie regretted turning the lights on as he blinked his sensitive eyes against the brightness. Joseph returned her embrace, patting her back. He was confused. What has her so upset? She's shaking like a leaf. She looks so worried. Why?

"What's wrong, Mags?" After three weeks, the aliases flowed easily.

"You had a nightmare, a bad one. I can feel it." She shuddered unconsciously as the strong feelings of pain, fear and guilt overcame her senses. She didn't need to discuss the dream with him. She already knew the story by heart, this being the fifth time she had woken him this way. She decided to take a different tack. "Tell me what happened in Antarctica."

His eyes were hard, his face clouded. He did not respond. Maggie shrugged and got out of the bed. She rested on the stool that doubled as a nightstand. They stared at each other for a little while before she broke the silence.

"You should get some sleep." Again, he was confused. He remembered no nightmare, only uninterrupted sleep until she had roused him. And her tone was strange, oddly deferential. Normally, she was as bossy as the swamp was wet.

Joseph recognized it as her way of getting the information she wanted out of him. She wanted details of the events that preceded her rescue and she wasn't above trying to con them out of him. He couldn't give her answers when he didn't have them himself.

"So should you." He turned his back to her defensively. He attempted a misdirection, using a bit of information he had puzzled out over the dull days of recuperation. "You haven't been getting much rest lately, since you spend de days hovering around me and de nights stripping in some tourist trap." His tone was bitter. He couldn't believe she was selling her body to make money. With all her skills . . . this was the best she could do?

"I take it that you don't approve." Her voice was terse.

"You're right, as usual. I don't approve. All de training, all de discipline, all de work you've done to gain d'abilities you have and now dat you need dem, you ignore 'em and prostitute yourself --"

"I'm just dancing. What is wrong with that? It's money, all the same, right?" She was half whining, half pleading. Anger sparked in her dark blue eyes and her accent returned as she continued, "Besides, what else I am supposed to do? I spent every last penny I had available on dragging your ugly carcass out of the ice. We're gonna need money, whedah we stay 'ere or go elsewhere." She gestured to indicate her body. "Dis be de only equipment I could bring, 'ceptin' dem t'ings ta heal ya. How else am I gonna make enuf money in dis little bita time?" She threw her hands up beseechingly.

"And don't you go gettin' righteous wit' me, "Joseph". I know you done dis and worse in your time, and you still 'ere, you still you. You ain't got no pulpit to preach from." She knew he couldn't see her but she still tried desperately not to pout.

Joseph kept his back turned and ignored her. As he began to fall asleep, he noticed she didn't seem to be coming to bed. She was mad at him, but he knew he was right. That wasn't the kind of work she should be doing. He knew he was right. He was right.

Maggie watched him fall asleep. Then she went into the living room.

One of the reasons she did the work she did was the contacts it afforded her. She now had a laptop and an Internet connection. She logged on to a private network and began to search the daily postings.

There were several people who had gone pretty far afield to cover their assignments. That was unusual but not alarming. Obviously her absence was not being felt too deeply. So far, she was not being called back or called over the carpet for all the rules she broke to locate and retrieve "Joseph."

She posted her location and status to the network. Then, instead of logging out, Maggie entered a special clearance code. Now, her screen displayed the classified information it was her responsibility to manage. She read the messages, posted several sets of instructions, and finally shut the computer down.

One message in particular frightened her. The Kingpin knew where she was. She just hoped he hadn't realized who she was.

Maggie lay away on the couch, thinking. Most things were working out according to plan. Everything else, she would deal with.

to be continued >>

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