As the priest puts on a bullet-proof vest, he is assured emphatically that he doesn’t have to do this. Fastening the vest’s clasps, the priest replies to the officer that he’s done a good deal to emphasize it already. His conscience is clear. It’s not about his conscience, padre, the officer replies. It’s about him coming back in one piece. He’d hate to see him die just because he was trying to… Minister to one of his flock? the priest finishes. Sheep aren’t generally armed, the officer counters, to which the priest rejoins is a fair point.
As the officer then offers a helmet to him, the priest holds up his hand, stating that he won’t be wearing that. It’ll give him helmet hair. Told by the officer that this isn’t a joking matter, the priest replies that, seriously then, this bulletproof vest is the only concession he’s making to his safety. Ronnie has to be able to see his eyes. His face. He has to know he’s sincere in his concern for him. To this, the officer points out that, if the man can see his eyes, he can put a bullet between them. Another fair point, the priest admits. But he’s afraid… he’s just going to have to take that chance.
This said, the priest, Father John Maddox, wayward duplicate of Jamie Madrox, leaves the cordon of police officers who are holding back the locals.
As he walks cautiously toward the 23/7 Mart convenience store, the priest calls back to the officer and informs him that there’s a nun from the Peace Corps who’s supposed to come by his church today. If he doesn’t make it, send his regrets, will he? Yelling back, the officer tells the priest that God knows he’ll make it fine. Being omniscient, he would, the priest replies.
Reaching the door, John Maddox opens it slightly and calls inside inquisitively for Ronnie. It’s Father John Maddox. He’s come to talk, as Ronnie requested. Easing himself inside, Father Maddox quips to Ronnie, who is holding a man and a woman hostage, that it seems they have a bit of a situation here, doesn’t it? Why doesn’t he put down the gun and let them talk about it?
Ignoring the suggestion, Ronnie tells Father Maddox that he’s gotta make ‘em all go away. All the cops. Then they’ll talk. Keeping his hands up, Father Maddox counters that he doesn’t think that’s going to happen. He has to see it from their point of view: they can’t very well leave a gunman…
Interrupting Maddox, Ronnie places the gun in Father Maddox’s face and reiterates his demand for him to tell them to go. Told that he doubts they’ll listen to him, Ronnie counters that he’s a man of God! They’ve gotta listen or God’ll be pissed and smite them or something! That’s not how it works, actually…, the father replies.
Interrupting, the woman sitting on the floor tells Ronnie that he’s such an idiot. Drawing his gun, as well as his attention, to the woman whom he calls Crystal, Ronnie tells her to shut the hell up. This is all her fault. “Her fault?” Father Maddox asks. She made him rob this store? Yelling back to the priest, though keeping his gun trained on his hostages, Ronnie exclaims that it wasn’t supposed to be a robbery! He just wanted to scare him! She kept talking about this great job Larry had, and how wonderful Larry is, and how Larry sneaks her cigs and beer… and it’s Larry, Larry, Larry, day and night!
With this, Ronnie moves to the male hostage – in fact Larry – and places the pistol against temple. You’re a freaking clerk in a freaking corner grocery store, man! That is all he freaking is! He’s nothing, man! Nothing! Even if he was nothing, Crystal interrupts, to the surprise of both Ronnie and Larry, he’d still be twice what Ronnie is. Abandoning Larry, Ronnie makes his way to Crystal and pulls back the hammer of the gun. “First you, then him, then me,” Ronnie states coldly.
As Crystal yells, Father Maddox tries to assert control once again, telling everyone to calm down. He tells Ronnie to point the gun away from them and uncock the hammer slowly! He hasn’t hit the point of no return yet! He…
I think he should shoot ‘em, a voice interrupts. Turning to regard the source of the new arrival, Father Maddox sees his progenitor, Jamie Madrox, standing by the canned goods, almost absent-mindedly regarding a random can. His appearance is unkempt and unshaven, and on his left hand he wears a splint.
Continuing, Madrox tells Ronnie that anything would be better than listening to this teenage blah blah blah angst. He means, seriously, is he under the impression that anyone gives a rap about any of this? The truth is, the only reason the cops out there don’t want him to kill these two and blow his own brains out is that they’ll be stuck with doing the paperwork and cleaning up the mess. And it’ll be a hellacious mess, trust him on that. A real gunshot, it’s not like on TV where there’s a spatter and the guy dies. The blood, the guts… it goes everywhere. You wanna have an idea of what he’ll look like, Ronnie? They’ll be cleaning up? Let him show him on these two.
With this, Madrox pulls a revolver from his coat pocket and draws it in the direction of Ronnie’s two hostages. They all scream. No reason they shouldn’t, Madrox thinks to himself. He hopes for a moment that the screaming will drown out the screaming he hears in his head, even now… after a month… it doesn’t. Not even a little.
Two shots ring out and Ronnie recoils and yells as red liquid spatters across his face. Outside, the lead officer exclaims to his men that shots have been fired! All units move in! However, before they can make it to the door, Father Maddox rushes out, his hands in the air, exclaiming that it’s all right. Stay where they are! Nobody’s hurt! Just some produce! “Produce?” the officer repeats.
Inside the store, Madrox regards the shattered two watermelons, their red juice dripping down their wood crate. Noting that it’s pretty disgusting, Madrox remarks that that’s a preview. Their remains, he then adds, referring to the two hostages, will be way more decorative. First of all, a head shot will spatter gray matter in a bazillion directions.
Placing the revolver back in his coat pocket, Madrox adds that a shot to the heart or throat will send blood pumping like a geyser, so he’ll probably want to stand pretty far back. Gut shot’s a little tidier, but it could take days to die, even after the bullet makes hash of their insides. That’s assuming the bullets don’t just tear the stomach open and the intestines and bowels spill out .And since people have about twenty-five feet worth of intestines in them, that’s lots of spillage. And the bowels! Whewww! The stench from that’ll be like raw sewage in…
Moved to nausea by Madrox’s description, Ronnie begins to vomit, leaning toward Madrox for support with the hand in which he is holding the gun. Deftly, Madrox takes the gun from Ronnie’s hand before Ronnie drops to his knees, emptying the contents of his stomach onto the floor. Holding the pistol, Madrox opines to himself that he guesses Ronnie just didn’t want it enough.
A short while later, as Ronnie is being led away, the lead officer questions Father Maddox, trying to get the situation straight. He’s saying it was some homeless guy who talked him down? Where’d he come from? Stammering, Father Maddox replies that he has no clue. He just entered through the back of the store. Must have left the same way. Impossible, the offer replies. They had men covering that back alley. No one in or out. When the padre suggests that maybe he had ninja training, the officer mulls over the concept of a homeless guy with ninja training. Told that stranger things have happened, the officer replies that not around there, they haven’t. Oh, he’d be surprised, Father Maddox rejoins, putting on his coat.
Above both the father and the officer, standing on the roof of the 24/7 Mart, Jamie Madrox watches silently.
Later that night, Susan and Daniel Maddox, wife and son of Father John Maddox, welcome him home. Calling his name, Susan tells her husband that she was so scared! She came home from shopping and put on the local news and when she saw it… and they were going to come straight over there, but then it was all over…! It’s fine, John tells him Everything’s fine.
Hugging his dad’s leg, Daniel looks up to his dad and tells him he was so brave. He was awesome! God is awesome, John replies. He’s just basking in his reflected, uhm… awesomeness. Speaking of God… he thinks he’ll go extend his thanks. As he goes to kiss her forehead, Susan tells John that that nun from the Peace Corp called to say she’s running late… Turning to leave, John asks Susan that, when she gets there, for her to send her over to the church.
In short order, Father Maddox finds himself in his church, waking down the center of the darkened pews. Sitting in the front row, Maddox clasps his hands in prayer and lowers his head. Dearest Creator, he begins. Thank you… “Don’t mention it,” Jamie Madrox replies. “Wait…” he pauses in mock realization. Which creator was he talking to just now? Because he’ll bet only one of them answers.
Shocked by the appearance of his progenitor, standing up next to the pulpit, Father Maddox stammers that he barely recognized Madrox back at the store… To this, Madrox incredulously asks who else wears his shirt, referring to his t-shirt with his trademark emblem.
Besides that, he means, Father Maddox replies. He looks terrible. Has… has he come there to…? Has he changed his…? Staring coldly, Madrox asks his dupe if he means whether he changed his mind from the last time they met? Decided to reabsorb him? Because he’s just a wayward dupe who has the temerity to not only set up a life of his own… but have it be a life that’s better than he’ll ever have? Reaching out his arm, as if to absorb his dupe, Jamie Madrox lets the question linger for a moment. However, much to John Maddox’s relief, Madrox lowers his arm. No. Live his life, John, Madrox tells him. Live it for both of them.
After a moment, Father Maddox asks his creator to wait. What’s that supposed to mean? What’s that “M” on his face? Why does he look so… so unkempt? Why’s his finger broken? Since when does he carry a gun? What’s happened to him? Stepping down from the pulpit dais, Madrox tells the padre that he took it off a guy who tried to mug him with it during his walk. Asked what walk, Madrox replies from Detroit. “You walked? From Detroit?” When John points out that that’s something like five hundred miles, Madrox corrects that it’s six hundred twenty seven, actually. He bought a pedometer. Then asked why in God’s name did he walk all that way. Too far to run, Jamie quips.
To this, Maddox tries to press, but Madrox interrupts. He’s done, “Johnny-boy.” He’s had it. And he just… He needed to say it to his own face. John’s face. His face, Madrox then adds, pointing to the cross at the front of the church. Mark Twain once said that, if God existed, then it was clear he was a malign thug. He thinks Twain was on to something. He gives them happiness only. And he’s tried of being his whipping boy. He’s sick of the world he’s living in, and the only thing that’s kept him going is the hope that he could make it better. And he’s given up that hope.
Does he want to know where the “M” comes from? Madrox then asks. A dupe of his and a girl named Layla Miller – who always talked about how she “knew stuff” – were sent hurtling years into the future. They wound up in a mutant concentration camp… head shaved, with an “M” for mutant, just like Bishop had. The dupe was killed… he was killed… He acquired the memories and, somehow, the tattoo. And… Layla was stuck there. Still is. And his inability to find a way to rescue her is just another failure piled up at his doorstep.
He’s the Hamlet of the mutant world, John, Madrox continues. Always pondering what to do, struggling with decision. “To be or not to be, that is the question,” he begins to quote, acting out the Shakespeare melodramatically. “Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune… or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them. To die, to sleep no more. And by a sleep, to say we end the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.” Turning back to Father Maddox, Madrox notes that one of his dupes spent eighteen months with the RSC. Not bad, huh.
Taking this in, John asks Madrox if he means he’s talking of killing himself? But… but why, Jamie? Because nothing good ever lasts, and things only get worse than before. And he can’t take it anymore, waiting for good things to crash and burn, knowing it’s inevitable. Incredulous, John states that he can’t believe he came all this way to see him, just to kill himself. He didn’t, Madrox rejoins. He came all this way to tell him something that he didn’t just want to do by phone or mail. Asked what that is, Madrox explains to John that he knows Daniel wasn’t adopted. He checked. He and his wife announced his birth. John thinks he’s his son, except… he needs to know… that he’s not.
Over the next few minutes, Jamie Madrox lays it all out for his duplicate. What happened back in Detroit. How a dupe of his fathered a child with Theresa, except it wasn’t a real child but instead an infant dupe… One that he reabsorbed the moment he touched him. Which meant that the same thing would have happened when “John” held his son… or, for that matter, when he interacted with him last year.
Taking this news in, John asks how is it possible? The child would have shared half of Theresa’s DNA. How could… He can’t just… just absorb a whole separate person. To this, Madrox replies that he doesn’t think it was ever a “person.” He thinks the dupe’s in utero presence convinced Theresa’s body that she was genuinely gestating. A hysterical pregnancy on a massive scale. It started to happen with Monet, too, Madrox adds. He realizes this now. She was showing signs of morning sickness early on. But her mind’s stronger than Terry’s and she stopped it without realizing. A psychic miscarriage, as it were.
“Interesting,” John replies, taking this in. Interesting?! Madrox mocks incredulously. Wasn’t he listening? He said Daniel isn’t his son! He knows, John replies calmly. Seeing Madrox taken aback, John explains. He’s not going into denial because, frankly, it’s none of Jamie’s business. But he knows. He knew from the beginning. Suffice to say there were tears, and confessions… and Daniel has no idea. Funny, he then adds, everyone says Daniel has his eyes. People see what they want to, he supposes. So you see, he tells Jamie, good things do happen if you have the patience to see them. He guesses he’s right, Jamie replies, once again pulling the revolver from his coat pocket. Too bad he’s out of patience.
Holding out his hand, John tells Jamie to give him the gun. When he’s told he can’t do that, John states that Jamie wants him to talk him out of this. To this, Jamie admits that, for a while, that’s what he thought too. But now… now he’s thinking he just wants someone to call the team and let them know he’s gone, and it’s over. They’re still there, y’know. They’ve gone on without him. He calls the firm from pay phones every few days, just to hear Terry answer and say “XF Investigations, how can we help you.” Now in tears, Madrox admits that he then hangs up, because she can’t help him. No one can.
“I can,” John replies. God can. “You can’t, and he won’t,” Jamie counters. Then help yourself, John replies. What he’s talking about here is a permanent solution to a temporary problem… The problem is life, and that’s permanent, Jamie rejoins. And this is the only solution. Undeterred, John presses. He can’t stand by and let him do this, he tells Jamie. Asked if he will stand by if he threatens to absorb him, John replies negatively. He won’t!
With this, John lunges toward Jamie, who counters by pulling a small canister from a coat pocket and sprays its contents point blank. As John goes down, Jamie tells his dupe that he believes him, and thought he’d say that… because once upon a time… it’s what he would have said. He may be him, Jamie tells the unconscious John… but Jamie is not John. John will never get tired of trying but, him, Jamie says referring to himself, he’s done. Through his tears, Jamie Madrox eyes his revolver, telling the oblivious John to sleep… perchance to dream. Now closing his eyes, Madrox puts the barrel of the revolver up to his temple and wishes goodbye to Terry. Good bye to X-Factor.
Before Madrox can pull the trigger, a voice calls out to him. Noting that that’s a lot of goodbyes, the voice opines that he should give someone a chance to say goodbye back. Rolling his eyes, Madrox mutters “Oh, perfect.” Though he turns his attention to the newcomer, a young woman in a nun’s habit, Madrox does not lower the revolver from his head. Told by the nun that he’s not going to kill himself, Madrox mutters, “Great.” Now he’s got nuns walking in and telling him what they think he’s going to do. “Not think,” the nun corrects. “Know.”
Asked how she could know that, the nun replies “two reasons.” First, she’s not really a nun. She just told John that because, well… the truth is a bit more involved. “And second…” she continues, pulling off the nun’s habit, allowing Madrox to fully discern the visage of Layla Miller, several years older than last he saw her, “I know stuff.”