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Interceptors: Intervention (IC)

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Pacing her small bedroom in a pair of sweatpants and an Ed Grimley T-shirt, Grim knew she wasn't ready to do this, but it still had to be done. With a resigned sigh, she stomped on the floor three times, then collapsed into a puddle that poured through a small hole into the room directly below, where Colt was waiting for her. Reforming next to his bed, the shapeshifter fell back on it with her arms thrown wide.

"God, this is gonna suck; even best case scenario, where he doesn't behead us both with a sword made of cheese? It's still gonna suck."

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"Well, yer right," Colt sighed, sitting on the bed next to Grim, he brushed a hair out of her face. "But I reckon we still gotta do it. You seen'em down there. It just ain't healthy."

Colt stood and walked towards the corner of the room. Pressing a button on the wall he waited for the elevator. A low thrumming sound echoed from the walls as the motor drew the car up to their floor.

"An' don't worry. If'n he tries ta decapitate ya, I'll get in his way." Colt stuck a thumb in his chest and gave Grim a wink.

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"An' don't worry. If'n he tries ta decapitate ya, I'll get in his way."

Grim smiled mawkishly as she held her hands over her heart. "Aww, you'd take a deathblow for me? That's so sweet!" She joined him in the elevator, but then her mood quickly shifted back to edgy; gnawing on a fingernail, she shook her head with worry.

"Okay, we need like an exit strategy if things go south; maybe we can...I dunno, ask VINCE to gas him? Can he do that? Or am I just talkin' crazy here?"

As the pair exited the elevator, several recessed indicator lights were flashing red along the corridor; suddenly very concerned, Grim ran over to one of the wall monitors.

"VINCE, what's going on?"

The screen lit up, revealing the lovable user interface nervously poking his head out of a combat trench, a Tommy helmet perched on his coiffure.

"I wouldn't go in the simulator if I were you, pumpkin; Zorro overrode the safety protocols."

Her jaw dropped in amazement. "He what? Oh my God!" Running to the Wreck Room entrance, she pounded furiously on the door. "Jack, can you hear me? JACK!"

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"Just open the doors, VINCE." Colt said dryly. "I'll take care'a the security." Colt pulled Jericho from the holster at his hip. He raised it to shoulder height, and cocked the hammer back.

At a look from Grim he shrugged his shoulders, "What? It's just'n EMP!" Colt gave her a pleading look, "Reckon I'll just kill the electricity an' we c'n waltz right in. This has to stop."

When the doors opened, Colt blasted the security panel. The lights flickered and dimmed. He holstered Jericho and began to pry open the doors. Entering the dark room, he greeted his overenthusiastic friend with a smile. "Jacky Boy!" Colt started, "Reckon we gotta talk."

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Electricity flashed in Jack of all Blades' eyes to match the pillar of bottled lightning clenched in his palm. The swordsman hadn't even bothered to shape the captured energy into his customary refined rapier; instead it was an ill-defined thing of raw power that performed a brutal dance, ripping apart machinery and shorting out electronics as Jack leaped around the Wreck Room's many obstacles. Diving under a gout of flame the poured suddenly from the wall, he turned his momentum into a slide that brought him smoothly to a robotic claw extending from the floor just in time to mange to machinery beyond recognition with an angry thrust. A dozen spinning disks, honed to a razor's edge, spat forth from opposite sides of the room. Jack cut one volley to pieces with a crackling swipe and swept his greatcoat around to bat the rest to one side. More dangers appeared, and the fencer dealt with them with similar grim determination. He had already been in the combat simulator for well over half an hour, and showed no signs of stopping. Mind seething, he was oblivious to anything but the next parry... until the machinery around him suddenly shut down and the room was plunged into darkness.

Jack whirled around with a snarl as the doors leading to the rest of the Underground were pried open and his teammates appeared in the opening. "What the hell do you think you're doing?!"

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"What the hell do you think you're doing?!"

Stunned by the sheer mechanical carnage on display, Grim could barely squeak out a reply.

"Crapping my pants, to be honest."

Clearing her throat, she took one tentative step into the darkened room, her elven eyes making it almost as bright as day, allowing the full extent of the destruction to be seen. "Dude, what the hell, man? Are you ****ing nuts? You could have been killed!"

This was much worse than she ever expected; Grim threw a worried glance back at Colt as she took another small step inside.

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Colt stepped in front of Grim protectively. "Reckon she's right, Jack. You keep on like this, and your gonna get hurt." Colt smacked a button on the wall. The room quickly powered up again. One of the robots came charging at Jack from out of the corner of the room.

Colt quickly drew his pistol again and fired a single bullet. It took the robot's head clean off. Colt blew the smoke from the barrel spun the gun in his hand and holstered it. His voice low, he continued speaking. "This's why ya need'a team."

"Jack. We need ta talk 'bout all this trainin'. It ain't safe. We're yer friends. Ya gotta let'us help sometimes." Colt's expression was tough, but it pleaded with with Jack to understand.

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Jack stalked forward, getting right up in Colt's face, his mouth etched in a tight line and the bar of lightning still arcing in his hand. "Gee, Sheriff Billy," he said with mock sweetness, "You gonna teach me about gun safety next?" He brushed past the cowboy without waiting for a reply, letting the electrical blade fade as he did. "It's training. If you help is pretty much defeats the purpose, doesn't it?" The swordsman whirled around just before reaching Grim in the doorway, his flaring coat coming within a fraction of an inch of the shapeshifter's face as he spread his arms wide. "Speaking of which, what 'team'? Why do you think everyone left, Colt? Wake up and smell the inadequacy! We couldn't cut it! We need to get better, and at least one of us should be trying, don't you think?"

Spinning back around, Jack paused for a moment to tower over Grim, standing the better part of a foot over her in her natural form. "You know what, you're right, Lynn. I should be more careful. I really could have been killed." Snapping the fingers of one hand as though in sudden realization, he pulled his wig and mask off with the other and tossed them to the ground, revealing the shorn dusty brown hair beneath it. "Oh, wait! I already did die! Been there, done that, and do y'know, I didn't even get the novelty t-shirt?" His exaggerated sincerity gave way to a barely restrained snarl as he pushed around her and started down the hallway. "I do not need this right now."

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"I do not need this right now."

"Hey!" :evil:

Furious at her teammate's avoidance of the issue, Grim conjured up a raquetball and whipped it at the back of Jack's head; maybe he was good enough to dodge it, maybe he wasn't, but right then she really didn't care.

"We're talking about this, whether you want to or not! Do you think we're stupid? This is about the Invasion, isn't it, about what happened to you? Maybe you're not aware of it, but you've been a colossal douche since that went down, and it's starting to piss us off!"

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Reckon I forgot'e hated guns... Colt was taken aback when their offensive was turned against them, but when Grim responded, he was quick to back her up.

"Now ya sure they left cuz we can't fight? Cuz last time'a checked, we're hero's. Fightin's what we do. An' we do't well." Colt frowned and gazed at the back of Jack's head. "Problems don't crop up when ya stop trainin'. They come up when the team stops talkin' ta on'nother!"

"Na turn'round, Jack. Ya need help. An' we need you."

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Jack spun on his heel and grabbed the racquetball out of the air just in time for the magical construct to evaporate between his fingers. "Whoa-ho, check you out with the mad detective skills! A guy gets his insides pulped and you figure he's maybe upset about it? Somebody get this girl a deerstalker and pipe!"

When Colt followed him out of the Wreck Room to stand behind his girlfriend, Jack crossed his arms and snorted. "Fantastic, another performance of 'The Thing With Two Heads'. Honestly, I surprised the pair of you noticed anything the past few weeks, what with getting welded together at the hip and all." The swordsman pointed emphatically upward in the direction of the brownstone. "Those walls are not that thick!"

He was about to launch into another stream of biting retorts when Colt said four words.

"An' we need you."

Jack's venomous rejoinder died in his throat. He started to speak, then stopped. He raised a finger to point angrily at the cowboy, then let it fall. He stood there for a moment longer, quivering with suddenly stunted anger, then all at once the rage and energy seemed to drain out of him, leaving a much diminished man standing in the hallway, shoulders slumped and expression agonized. Drawing a hand across his face, Jack swore softy. "Dammit, Colt," he said without looking up, mouth quirking into a sad smirk. "Right in the sense of responsibility, huh?"

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Once again, Jack's verbal barbs struck home, and Grim was sorely tempted to let him have it, but for once she kept her trap shut and let Colt do the talking, and thankfully it looked like he was getting through. She stepped over to the swordsman and lay a hand on his arm.

"Look, you're right; me and Colt have kinda had our heads up our butts with this new relationship, and it distracted us. We've been bad teammates and bad friends."

The changeling summoned a sofa right there in the hallway and took a seat, motioning for the others to join her.

"We've got the makings of a great team; hell, we are a great team, but only if we work at it and talk to each other, especially when things start to suck."

She gave Jack a warm, almost loving smile.

"Dude, you are one of the most dedicated crimefighters I have ever met; you care so much about the West End it hurts. You worry about doing the right thing, and you care about the folks out there, which is something a lot of so-called heroes (especially a certain flying garbage truck we will not name) seem to forget."

Grim took his hand in a firm grip.

"Me and Colt, we can't do this alone; we need someone to slap us silly from time to time, and slapping folks silly is what you do best, bro."

She frowned, seemingly deep in thought.

"Well, that and really pissing me off; you're a frickin' genius when it comes to that."

She shook her head apologetically and continued.

"But enough of that; what's goin' on, big guy? What can we do to help?"

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"Now if'n things break down when we stop talking," Colt began by sitting on the couch, putting Jack between himself and Grim. He wanted to show that Jack was the center of this meeting, and suspected that if he moved to sit by Grim, it might make things worse. "I reckon they'll get much better when we ARE talkin'."

"Yer arguably the best'a us. Ya patrol more'n us, and I'll be damned if'n ya ain't more focused than us all put together. But jus' stop'n think fer a moment. Think 'bout how much better we c'n do fer this city if'n we make this here team work." Colt smiled as he offered Jack the floor. "So talk ta'us. Make this here team work. Tell us what's wrong."

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As soon as Colt placed Jack down on the couch, the acrobat was back on his feet, hands held out to ward off any advance. "Whoa, ha, yeah, no." The swordsman moved to lean against the wall across form the others. "Look guys, you're happy and that's fantastic, truly and honestly, but you're in that stage where you finish each others' sentences and smile knowingly a lot and think you can solve everyone's problems and want to go on double couple dates and are freaking creepy as hell, okay?" He ran a hand through his hair and winced uncomfortably. "Living with you, even in this big place, is like the textbook definition of 'third wheel'. You two do what you gotta do, more power to you, but I need some time away from the merged Grolt entity sometimes. Colrim? Billynn. There we go. Anyway." The swordsman sighed and looked upward. "Okay, granted, I may be a little extra sensitive about this because, y'know, the secret identity renders my social life nonexistent, but such is the world, moving on."

He smirked in spite of himself. "And, yes, I'm pretty generally terrific; you don't have to patronize me." The smile left his lips as his expression clouded over. "It's not even about, uh, dying, really. I mean, how do you even begin to conceptualize your own death in the past tense? It pretty much just feels like I got hurt real bad, then I got better. Ta dah." He made halfhearted jazz hands indicating himself from head to toe."It's all pretty fuzzy, but... we- I wasn't fast enough, wasn't strong enough. We didn't win, and the city burned. We got so, so lucky when everything went back to the way it was, and that's unacceptable. We can't rely on that."

Jack rubbed his face with his hands. "That's not even really it, though," he admitted. "I've gotten my butt handed to me before. Never with those kinds of consequences but... You lose, you learn from it and you get better so you never lose the same way again. Hence the Bruce Banner school of anger management," he explained tipping his head toward the Wreck Room. "I've always had an edge against chumps and thugs; I need to get that edge against the all the other stuff out there." He paused again as though framing his thoughts, staring at the palm of his right hand. "Bottom line, I was gone, then I came back. But..." Jack suddenly jerked his hand violently like he was flinging something from its surface. As he jammed it into his pocket, he grimaced, suggesting that the movement had been involuntary. "I think I came back wrong.

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"It's all pretty fuzzy, but... we- I wasn't fast enough, wasn't strong enough. We didn't win, and the city burned. We got so, so lucky when everything went back to the way it was, and that's unacceptable. We can't rely on that."

"Okay," Colt said, standing and pointing a finger at Jack. "Stop right there. Meanin' no disrespect an' all, Jack. But, get yer head out'a yer ass!" Colt made a dramatic dismissive gesture with both hands as if trying to clear Jack's words from the air. "I know ya were dead'n all, an' maybe non'a us said this, so maybe ya didn't know. But I'm sayin' it now, an' I'm sayin' it once, so ya better listen." Colt approached Jack and placed his hands on the Swordsmen's arms on either side. "It was cuz'a that final stand'a yers we were able ta win that fight an' save those people. Sure, a lot'a the city was burnin', but we were winnin'. An' cuz we won in the streets, we were able'ta make it ta the mansion. We helped in'na final battle. We saved more people. We won. People will argue," Colt withdrew his hands and stuck a finger in Jack's chest. "But I say it was cuz'a you."

Jack rubbed his face with his hands. "That's not even really it, though," he admitted. "I've gotten my butt handed to me before. Never with those kinds of consequences but... You lose, you learn from it and you get better so you never lose the same way again. Hence the Bruce Banner school of anger management," he explained tipping his head toward the Wreck Room. "I've always had an edge against chumps and thugs; I need to get that edge against the all the other stuff out there." He paused again as though framing his thoughts, staring at the palm of his right hand. "Bottom line, I was gone, then I came back. But..." Jack suddenly jerked his hand violently like he was flinging something from its surface. As he jammed it into his pocket, he grimaced, suggesting that the movement had been involuntary. "I think I came back wrong.

Colt gave the slightest shake of his head, trying to clear back the sense of unease, and possible misunderstanding. "What're ya sayin'? I reckon ya seem fine'ta me. If'n anythin', yer at the top'a yer game." Colt Gestured to the Workout Room, at a loss for any other words. Don't tell me. Reckon maybe I don't understand'em. Maybe I can't help...

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Grim listens intently to both sides of the discussion, then stands and takes a step away from the sofa, hands spread.

"Okay, I've officially seperated from the Colt module for the rest of this conversation; and by the way, 'Colgrim' seems to be the most commonly used term in the fanfic community."

She takes a deep breath and let's it out slowly.

"Luck had absolutely nothing to do with our winning that day, because luck was not on our side; we won because we fought our asses off, and yes, folks died. Folks made sacrifices, and would again in a heartbeat if the same thing happened again tomorrow. Next time it could be my turn, or Colt's, and next time we might not come back; maybe next time there is no reset button, and dead is dead."

She takes a few random steps up and down the hallway, frowning as she stares at her feet.

"I dunno, I can't speak for everybody, but for me, it's never been about 'winning'; I screw up all the time. People die on my watch everyday, which sucks beyond all comprehension, but I can't be everywhere at once, and if I tried to be I'd go freakin' nuts, because all I'd be able to think about is who I failed. But that's why we have teams, to coordinate effort and spread our good works a little farther, so the weight of the world is not on our shoulders alone."

The shapeshifter shakes her head in annoyance.

"Okay, you've heard enough uplifting, supportive BS from the wise pixie and her hunky cowboy friend; I get that, and I'm gonna try and shut up now, even though that's not playin' to my strengths. You said you came back 'wrong'; wrong how exactly? As in sick, or broken or what?"

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Jack listened impassively as Colt and Grim expounded on the varied relationships between luck and winning and death. To the swordsman's mind, keeping everyone who deserved it safe was the one and only win condition; anything less was at the very least a slightly mitigated failure. Intellectually he knew that he couldn't save everyone, especially against such overwhelming odds, but he refused to accept it. The moment he started compromising with himself, started putting reasonable expectations on his limits, was the moment he'd no longer be able to face those overwhelming odds face on.

Regardless, he wasn't in the mood to launch into a lengthy philosophical debate over the matter, especially with his teammates so ardently attempting to cheer him up. At least Nadia knew how to resolve an issue quickly and cleanly. That's my kind of 'conflict resolution'. When they turned their attention to his assertion that he'd 'come back wrong', he would have been relieved, if the new topic of discussion weren't just as uncomfortable.

He rubbed the back of his neck self consciously. "Right, well, probably easiest to just show you." Reaching into the pocket of pants, he withdrew the lighter he carried with him at all times. Before the invasion, creating swords out of flame had been one of his preferred tactics, as much out of fond familiarity as ease of implementation. Since then, however, the other Interceptors had noticed him going out of his way to avoid that particular energy source. Presently Jack rolled the lighter around in his left hand contemplatively before letting out a long, apprehensive breath and flicking it open. Gesturing with his right hand, he drew a line of fire from the resulting flicker, pulling it into him palm and fanning it into a rapier-length blade.

For a moment nothing seemed amiss. Suddenly the sword flared violently, dark blue flames erupting from Jack's hand to consume the more mundane fires. The blade expanded into a broad, jagged shape; no longer a tool of precision but of wanton destruction. It was hard to tell in the deep blue light, which almost seemed to make the hallway darker rather than brighter, but it almost looked like Jack's eyes dilated slightly as an involuntary shudder ran up his arm. When he spoke, his voice held an uncharacteristic gravelly quality.

"Happens any time I try to use fire. Hurts a little bit. Feels good, too." His expression flickered as he made a conscious effort to control himself. "It's wrong. Seen strange energy, destructive, deadly, but this... Fire wants to burn. This stuff... wants to hurt." Colt and Grim couldn't help but notice that, having successfully demonstrated the problem, Jack showed no sign of wanting to extinguish the sword.

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"Happens any time I try to use fire. Hurts a little bit. Feels good, too."

"It's wrong. Seen strange energy, destructive, deadly, but this... Fire wants to burn. This stuff... wants to hurt."

Grim took a step backward, her eyes wide with fear; her hand quickly found Colt's, and gripped it tightly. "Yeah, okay, you may have a point there, Jack; that **** is messed up, alright."

She looked worriedly between Colt and Jack. "Who do we know who's good at this kinda stuff? Phantom's more extradimensional, and Scarab's more of psychic/telepath kinda gal, but I have no idea what the hell this is. Wait-"

The changeling snapped her fingers and a business card appeared in her fingertips.

Det. Morena Colby

Supernatural Crimes Unit

FCPD

She twisted the card around, nervously flipping it from finger to finger.

"She's a cop I met in the bookstore, helped me out with some magic stuff. She said if I ever saw anything weird, y'know, like stuff that would give me nightmares?"

She indicated the blade of blue fire with a jerk of her head.

"To give her a call. I have her number on my cell, but I've never used it before."

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Jack silently stared unblinkingly into the deep blue flames, giving little indication of hearing what Grim was saying. When she produced the card, he finally tilted his head to the side to look directly at her for a long moment before dropping his gaze to the paper rectangle in her hand. As he did, he lowered the arm holding the eerie blade, and the fire at it's tip inadvertently licked across the card. The swordsman blinked rapidly as it caught alight. "Gah!" he exclaimed, releasing the blade into nothingness as he swatted the burning paper out of the shapeshifter's hand. It was consumed before it hit the floor.

Jack followed its path with his eyes before clearing his throat and looking back up, his expression chagrined. "Jeez, sorry, I... ngh. That, uh, that wasn't the real card, right?"

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"Whoo boy," Colt breathed after he took in that last exchange. He squeezed Grim's hand for reassurance. "Yea, I ... uh... I reckon callin' in the cavalry might just be a good course'a action here." Colt's brow furrowed while he tried to consider their options.

By this point the previous argument was almost all but forgotten. Colt held on to a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, the two issues might resolve themselves together. But even still, this new problems was much more serious than Jack's training montage gone wrong.

"I reckon ya hit the nail on'a head earlier, Jack. That thing just ain't right. I say we call in'a expert just in case the c'n do somethin'. Either way, we're gettin' ta the bottom'a this."

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"Jeez, sorry, I... ngh. That, uh, that wasn't the real card, right?"

Grim shakes her head, eyes never leaving the spot where the card was incinerated. "Nah, it was just glamour, hence the pretty colors." With a deep sigh, she gives Jack a sympathetic look.

"Okay, here are a few things we can do; obviously, no more fire for you, but you knew that already. In fact, don't even use the stove; I think we have a lot of stuff you can microwave, or just order out or something. I can go see this lady, ask her a few things, but I have a feeling we'll probably be bringing my old teammate Phantom in on this one; she's got her own stuff to deal with, so I'm not gonna bug her just yet."

She shudders involuntarily.

"That creepy voice sounds kinda...well, I dunno, but it's definitly kinda something.

Grim takes both of Jack's hands in her own, and gives them both a good squeeze.

"We're gonna help ya, buddy; you can count on that." She scrunches up her face a bit. "Also, we seriously need to get you laid, but that's a whole 'nother issue. I'll see you guys later, okay?"

She gives Jack a quick peek on the cheek (involving a little hop to reach his face), and then pulls Colt down to her level by his collar, affecting a revoltingly saccarine tone.

"And I'm gonna miss you, too, huggy wuggy pooka bear!"

After a big smootch, she lets Colt go, gives him a nice slap on the ass, and turns to the swordman with a wink. "Sorry, just messin' with ya, dude. Later!"

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"And I'm gonna miss you, too, huggy wuggy pooka bear!"

"Ack!" Colt blanched at the nick name. "Don't call me that! Reckon it's too damn cute!" He jumped and turned only the slightest shade of red at the slap on the ass she delivered. He turned and watched her run down the hall.

Once she was out of sight, he turned back to Jack. Having regained his composure, he put one arm around Jacks shoulders, all buddy buddy, and began leading him down the hall. "Alright, I can't take much more'a this here stress. All this talkin's made me thirsty. What'a'ya say we go'n have beer while we wait fer Grim ta call?"

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"Creepy voice...?" Jack asked raising an eyebrow. His confusion was cut short by Grim's next statement. "Whoa-ho, hey now, who says I'm not doing, y'know, just fine for myself, huh? I mean, I... guess I did, but... uh... shut up." The swashbuckler cleared his throat and adjusted the waist of his bodysuit. "Well, if this friend of yours is good police, that sounds like a good place to start," he allowed, changing the subject. "Dunno how much training in crazy evil fire sword things they get downtown these days, but I guess everybody's gotta have a hobby." He let out a long sigh when Colt suggested getting a drink. "Dios yes."

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Unknown to -- though perhaps suspected by -- Grimalkin, Colt, and Jack of Blades, another set of eyes had been on them the whole time. From his Wissenschaftthron in one of the sub-sub-levels of his Hanover home, Doktor Archeville, the true founder and backer of the Interceptors, had watched the "intervention."

Near-Death Trauma, brought about by "demons" from "Hell"... no wonder he's such a mess!

True, but it is a testament to the team that they are helping him. Just as I had hoped!

Whatever; I'm more interested in how his experiences altered his powers. Look at that manifestation! Not just his energy construct changed; his personality shifts, too!

Yes, but those readings could be as indicative of his fractured mental state as it is of any physiological change that occurred in him.

No, no, there is something physical, I'm sure of it!

... that's unusually agitated, even for you. I- ohhhh... I see!

What? You see what? What are you prattling on about now?

You think that if he is changed due to dying during the Invasion, we might be, too, since we also died then.

Bah! The circumstances of our deaths were vastly different!

Yes, but the event afterward -- that whole temporal reversion effect -- was experienced by both of us. And if whatever made that reversion occurred is what is responsible for Erik's change, if he was "rebuilt" wrong, then maybe we were, too.

Bah! There is nothing wrong with me, and if any changes did occur to us due to exposure to "Hell" or the temporal reversion, I will master them!

... perhaps I shall put in a call to Phantom, on their behalf.

"VINCE," he said aloud, seemingly speaking to the air but really communicating via the secret secure channel he had direct to the team's butler/mascot "do keep a close eye on young Herr Espadas."

VINCE materialized, looking like Dr. Juan Miguel San Roman, the sexy Cuban psychoanlyst from the telenovela Cuidado con el ángel. "¡Sí, señor doctor Archeville!"

".... jaaa... oh, und tomorrow, give Colt some instruction on how to repair de security panel to Wreck Room, so he can fix it. Or, at de very least, make him sit dere und vatch you fix it."

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