Mystique’s Reflections (AN: Takes place shortly after issue 125)
In a deceptive world, the deceivers have the greatest insight. No one can make it through life without some form of deception. Most people (sane people) are able to balance whatever deception they employ with some sense of personal identity. It’s a luxury that everyone takes for granted. I didn’t know I was denied that luxury until recently.
Raven Darkholm had literally employed countless faces. As a shape-shifter, it was a fundamental skill on par with walking. It took more than just good acting. She literally had to bear the skin of another human being and wield it as if it was her own. Having such skill allowed a shape-shifter to live any life desired. Everything from a movie star to a billionaire to a homeless man was an easy shape-shift. Because it was so easy, this skill took an unseen toll.
Raven lived a life shrouded in mystique, which made her codename very appropriate. She had been so many places and been so many different people that it was easy to lose track. It never used to bother her. She never even felt it cause her any distress. That was before she learned the truth. Through all her shape-shifting, she forgot the woman she was before she became a shape-shifter.
“Rose…my name is Rose,” she said out loud as if trying to convince herself.
It still sounded like a foreign name. Having left the Xavier Institute after the Legacy Virus ordeal, she found herself standing in front of a mirror in a small motel just outside of New York City. She wasn’t in her blue form. She was in the form of Rose, the women she recently learned she was born as. Standing completely naked in front of the mirror, she stared intently at the figure looking back at her. That figure wasn’t a total stranger, but it still didn’t feel like her. Since Sinister awakened her latent memories, she was struggling to digest this new reality.
I still can’t bring myself to go by that name. It feels…strange. I know without a doubt that it’s me. I am Rose. That’s the name I was born with. That’s the person I was before I became a shape-shifter. Ever since Sinister dropped this cozy little bomb on me, all the gritty details are coming back to me. Rose’s life…my life…is becoming clear to me.
Rose…no, I was born in a rural area of Canada. I was the bastard child of poor logger who skipped town before my first birthday. I don’t remember much about my mother. She was a beggar who worked low-paying jobs so we wouldn’t starve. Since this was pre-feminism and pre-World War I such options were limited to say the least. To survive, she did what I would later master. She deceived.
My mother became a con-artist, dressing up in semi-fancy attire and pretending to be a rich widow looking for a new husband. I had to play the part of a spoiled little girl who wasn’t that spoiled. It sounds like a ridiculous ploy that could never work, but my mother learned how to walk the walk and talk the talk. She did such a good job that she even got some factory owner to give her three hundred dollars to plan their wedding. Instead, she took the money, skipped town, and used it to plan her next con.
I was rarely a part of the scam, but as I got older I learned some of my mother’s tactics. I started off playing the spoiled little girl. When I outgrew that role, I played the role of a bratty school girl. When I outgrew that, I played the role of a rambunctious young woman. My mom fooled her suitors while I fooled the children around me. It was almost like a game to me. My mother loved to reinforce the cardinal rules of cons: don’t get caught and never act suspiciously. It didn’t make for a very loving relationship, but it was the only life I really knew.
The more my mother did these cons, the more distant we grew. Having to play the role of someone else was stressful. In fact, it was so stressful she began drinking heavily like my deadbeat father. It got to a point where she would go through entire cons utterly soused. It didn’t bother me as long as the money came in. I finally took issue with it when my mother tried to use me as a pawn in her little game.
It was part of this con that involved a sickly man and his delinquent son, Smitty. The man wanted Smitty to inherit his fortune, but wouldn’t do so until he was engaged. I was only 14 at the time and Smitty was 20. Back then that wasn’t such a big deal, but it disgusted me for other reasons.
Smitty was a degenerate. He drank and smoked every hour he wasn’t sleeping. He had a nasty tendency to prey on young women. He was also mentally unstable, even by the standards of the time. I’m pretty sure he had syphilis. He could have had the Ebola virus for all my mother cared. Her health was failing too. Drinking so much bootlegged liquor will do that. I had gone along with my mother thus far, but this is where I drew the line.
I wish I could say it was difficult leaving my mother. I don’t remember feeling conflicted about it. My mother and I didn’t have a very loving relationship. It seemed like a prelude to the lousy relationship I would have with my own kids. I felt as though I was skilled enough to pull cons on my own. So I pulled a double-take.
Smitty wasn’t going to let me go without a fight. So I put together my own little plan. I went into town with Smitty as his arm-candy, which wasn’t unusual. He had a few drinks as always. He got into small bar fight and was kicked out. While he was cursing out the owners, I told him that a fresh train of imported whiskey was coming in at the station. If we hurried we could get to it while it’s fresh. I normally didn’t offer this kind of advice to Smitty, but he was too thirsty to question me and took me to the train station.
We stood near the end of the platform, watching as the train came in. Smitty was oblivious and so was everyone else around me. I was as deceptive as my mother taught me. I made sure I timed everything perfectly. Just as the train was pulling in, I ‘conveniently’ stumbled and tripped Smitty. He fell right onto the tracks, the clumsy drink he was. The train ran him over, crushing him like an insect. Everyone that saw it was horrified and came rushing over. In the commotion, I slipped away. By the end of the day, I was on another train heading into the United States.
Most fourteen-year-old runaways would have been in a pretty vulnerable position. I like to think I was better equipped. I had just killed a man. I had the instincts and drive to cross lines that others weren’t willing to cross. When I got to America, I would learn that I had more skills than I thought.
The shape-shifter kept looking at her reflection, going back and forth between Rose and Raven. Whether she was blue-skinned or not, she had another life she couldn’t escape. Rose and Raven weren’t complete on their own. Raven was the life she knew. Rose was the path she took to that life. It was confusing, thinking of them as two different lives when they were really one in the same. Neither felt right, but neither felt wrong.
She settled back on Rose again. She reached forth and touched the mirror as if to reconnect with a life she once forgot.
My memory is still a bit fuzzy, but I recall discovering my shape-shifting abilities shortly after I arrived in America. They weren’t nearly as advanced as they are now. I didn’t have blue skin or yellow eyes. I was still a growing redhead that no one suspected of being a con-artist.
Somewhere along the line, I discovered that I could alter the shape and complexion of my face and skin. I have this vague memory of being in a costume shop on Broadway. I stumbled in there by accident. Out of curiosity I started trying on masks. The next thing I know my face is shifting along with the masks. I knew it wasn’t normal. Me being an unsupervised teenager, I went with it.
Pretty soon I was mimicking other women my age. Then I mimicked older women. I then graduated to mimicking men, although at the time I couldn’t be anatomically correct so-to-speak. I’m not sure at which point I was able to start altering my voice, but there was no going back. I had a gift and it was going to help me con my way to the top.
This was during the Prohibition years so I got involved with organized crime. I didn’t have much of a choice. Work that paid more than nothing for a runaway teenage girl was hard to come by. I was right at home, deceiving cops and impersonating politicians in whatever way a well-paying gangster would instruct. I had already come from a harsh world, but the criminal underworld hardened me even more. By the time I was 18 I was both a deceiver and a killer. I wasn’t ruthless or cruel about it. I did what I had to do in order to survive. That seems to be my justification in both lives.
This time in my life sewed the seeds of the killer instinct that would guide me through my life as Rose and Raven. I wasn’t the kind of woman who would yield to anyone. I fought back against those who tried to control me. There were plenty of gangsters that wanted me for more than just my deception skills. I had my way with the weaker ones, but for those that got too ambitious I taught them a lesson in humility. That lesson was often painful if not fatal.
I’m not entirely sure how long my gangster period went on. I’m not even sure how many people I deceived, how many lives I ruined, or how much money I gained. It all gets very fuzzy in the years leading up to World War II. Since Prohibition had ended, I needed a new job. So in ways I’m not completely clear on, I got into mercenary gigs and spying. I’m not even sure who I spied for. I did some work in North Africa, France, Germany, and the Soviet Union. It paid well and I was able to further refine my skills.
Then the war broke out and everything changed. This is where my memory gets even fuzzier. I remember meeting this shadowy figure. He was strong and imposing, so much so that I actually feared him more than any gangster or spy. It may be that Sinister’s little trick didn’t bring back all my memories or perhaps this is one I’m suppressing. All I know is that this figure turned me from a criminal into a true fighter. He also introduced me to the world of Team X.
Staying in the form of Rose, the shape-shifter closed her eyes and thought back. There were so many new memories to sift through. Processing all the memories and feelings that went along with it was overwhelming. There were minor stretches of recollection, offering only minor insight into her life as Rose. Then there were other periods that were far more profound.
Among those memories were those involving Team X, the special operations team that employed talented mutants for jobs too extreme for even the most hardened of soldiers. It wasn’t entirely clear how she got caught up in such an organization. It was only clear that this shadowy organization would be the greatest influence on her life.
This is where my memories become all too clear. Team X was where Rose and Raven Darkholm became one in the same. That strange figure that trained me did more than teach me how to fight. He prepared me for the horrors of war. Whatever he did, I was eager to prove my worth. I suppose arrogance is another quality that transcended both lifetimes. In this case I would need it. Team X was not for the faint of heart.
These people were ruthless. They wouldn’t just fight the enemy. They would kill, torture, and maim anyone that got in their way. They sent a message to the enemy that these were the kinds of horrors they faced. I suppose even Nazis and Soviets needed something to fear from our side. I was expected to contribute by being Team X’s top spy. Using my deceptive abilities, I was to gather intelligence from the deepest strongholds of the Axis powers. That intelligence would ensure that Team X was in position to do what they did and leave an indelible mark.
For a time they were skeptical of me. Not just because I was a woman but because I hadn’t crossed the lines that they had. I was expected to do so at some point. I resisted it. I’m not sure why. Maybe Rose was a better person than Raven in the long run. She wouldn’t dare take pleasure in the pain of others. Even as a career con-artist, she had an identity and a humanity that she would not compromise. This didn’t go over well with anyone in Team X. However, one man took notice. His name was James Howlett and this man would change everything.
The shape shifter opened her eyes and looked at her reflection again. She stood back and hugged her shoulders, seething with frustration as a new wave of feelings came over her. She was so used to being cold and angry. Getting her memories back brought forth so many new emotions that couldn’t be brushed aside. They were manifesting in small ways even before her encounter with Sinister. Now they were rushing back to her all at once. It was enough to confound even the most hardened of hearts.
It’s as strange as it is pathetic. I allowed myself to go soft on a man who had a reputation for maiming civilians without so much as a flinch. They called James the Wolverine for a reason. He was vicious, more so than Victor Creed at the time. I get the sense that even he knows how bad a monster he had been.
During one of my first missions, I infiltrated a small town in Italy where Nazi spies were passing freely through safe-houses. They were relying vital intelligence on the North African front for the Axis. I went in undercover and got the locations of the neighborhoods where these networks were based. Team X came in and rather than weed out the spies, they torched every town. James led the charge, lining up the civilians and shooting them with Creed. There was this one woman who tried to attack him with a kitchen knife. He decapitated her and looked like an animal doing it.
When I first saw this I was disgusted. I know I had been hardened to this sort of thing, but I couldn’t help it. For a time I kept my mouth shut. Then for reasons I’m still not sure of, I found myself drawn to James. He was the one who conducted my Team X training and it was during that time I gained insight into this man. He was a battle hardened killing machine. However, I didn’t sense that he took the same satisfaction in it that others like Victor Creed had done. That resonated with me. So against Team X protocol, I reached out to him. I’m not sure if that was a mistake or a blessing.
We would talk for hours, sometimes getting into heated arguments. James would talk about the atrocities he committed and the people he killed. I would try to convince him that it bothered him more than he let on. He was so hardened by his work in Team X that he accepted that he had become a monster. I didn’t believe him. I remember looking into his eyes and seeing a different person from the man who committed those atrocities. I’ve never been known for my empathy, but as Rose I had a knack for reading people. The more I read James Howlett, the more I was drawn to him. The more I reached him, the more he was drawn to me. It quickly escalated from there.
We continued to conduct missions. I would spy and Team X would do the fighting. Yet over time, I noticed James pulling back a bit. He wouldn’t commit the same level of atrocity that he once did. He would actually show mercy, something that did not go over well with Victor Creed. It began the epic falling out those two would undergo. It also began a much deeper relationship between me and James.
We came to trust each other so implicitly that I don’t think it’s possible to quantify. I was showing him that he wasn’t a monster. He was showing me that I was more than a deceiver. He saw through all my deceptions. He knew the real me. He and I would fight side-by-side, carrying each other through the horrors of war. The bonds formed on a battlefield are unlike those formed anywhere else. To hell with idealistic notions of true love. A love that’s formed on the battlefield is one that defies classification.
It’s not romantic and it’s not the sort of thing Hollywood makes movies about. That doesn’t make it any less profound. I remember after Team X was part of the Normandy invasion, James and I made love for the first time. That was a powerful moment. That was the first time I gave myself to someone without any deception. It was…different. I think that sealed our fate together. We committed a cardinal sin in the eyes of Team X. We fell in love. It’s because of that love we ended up committing the ultimate act of betrayal…one that would haunts us for multiple lifetimes.
The emotions continued to burn. The shape-shifter actually felt tears forming in her eyes. She still wasn’t used to tears. For much of her life as Raven, she never shed a drop. That showed how bitter and hardened she was. For years she never questioned that mentality. She blindly assumed that she was just a cold bitch by nature. As any shape-shifter would know, there are many different ways to influence someone.
When she opened her eyes, she was back in her blue form again. This was a form where that solid identity in Rose gave way to something more mysterious. Her blue form was the form in which Mystique would be both a name and a mindset. Now that she understood the influences on her life, this mystique didn’t seem so mysterious anymore.
We couldn’t stay in Team X. We couldn’t love one another and remain a part of this horrific organization. So in the waning days of the war, James and I made a fateful decision. We were going to betray Team X.
It was an act fraught with danger. As devious as these people are, we still saw them as our brothers in war. They saw us the same way. The mere idea of betraying them disgusted us. James and I were left with an impossible choice. Either we stay and sacrifice our humanity or leave and live life on our own terms. In the end our humanity was more important than loyalty.
Together, we swallowed any disgust we may have had for ourselves and did what we had to do. I used my spy connections to tip the Germans off on the Team X headquarters. James bribed a few of the locals to carve us a way out. It all unfolded in the chaos of the Battle of the Bulge. For once, Team X was the one that was surprised. Since I conveniently forgot to tell them of the attack, they were caught off guard. The Germans showed as little mercy as we did on them. Pretty much everyone in Team X was wiped out. I wish Victor Creed was among them because he took James’s betrayal to an extreme. His hatred for his old friend was going to span a lifetime now.
“I KNOW IT WAS YOU, WOLVERINE! YOU AND YOUR BITCH! YOU’RE DEAD TO ME, YOU HEAR?! DEAD! I SWEAR I’LL MAKE SURE EVERY LAST BREATH IS YOUR OWN PERSONAL HELL!”
I can still hear that man’s sickening voice. At the time James and I shut everything out. We left our old lives behind in the ashes of Team X. That’s when he started going by Logan and I used my old alias, Raven. He still called me Rose in private, but he insisted that I call him Logan. As far as he was concerned, James Howlett was a monster who died with Team X. If he was going to be the man for me, he was going to be someone better. I took that promise to heart and vowed to return the favor.
We made it out of Europe, sneaking away on a merchant ship. We arrived back in Canada where for once, we were going to live life on our own accord. There would be no more deception or missions. He was going to be Logan and I was going to be Rose. We moved into a small cabin in rural Canada. He got a job as a lumberjack and I got a job at a general store. I remember those days being the happiest of my life. I don’t think I’ve experienced that sort of contentment ever since. I had the man I loved and a life that I didn’t have to steal to enjoy. I should have known it wouldn’t last. My past transgressions always have a way of coming back to haunt me.
The reflection of Raven Darkholm scolded her. Behind the bitterness and anger, the truth was clear. She was a fool. She was a fool for thinking she could make such horrendous decisions and get away with it. She was a fool for falling in love with a man who no one was equipped to love. She was a fool for thinking she could live a peaceful life. Even more frustrating, the alternative wasn’t much better.
“You can’t win,” she told her reflection, “No matter what you do.”
Had she not been such a fool, she would have been every bit the monster James Howlett almost became. If she stayed on the same path then that fragile identity that was so important to a shape shifter would have been obscured. So in that sense, was being a fool worth it? The answer wasn’t as clear as it should have been.
That happy life I had with James ended on the night I died. It would be nice if that was a metaphor, but it’s true. I really did die that night. Somehow enough elements from Team X survived to hunt us down. That wretched excuse for a beast, Victor Creed, led the charge. He was so consumed with hatred over Logan’s betrayal that it didn’t matter where we went. So long as he survived, he would find us.
Logan and I tried to escape. Our cabin was destroyed and we were surrounded by armed mercenaries. It all happened so fast, yet even in these newly recalled memories it seemed like a lifetime. We fought our way into the bitter cold, trying to escape in the dead of night. Then a rocket blast exploded near us. It blew me and Logan into a mound of snow. In the process, his claws popped open and impaled me.
I remember enduring a lot of pain in my life as Rose. None was worse than that moment. I know it was an accident. Logan did everything he could to protect me. Yet by a cruel twist of fate, I died in his arms. I clung to him…giving him what was left of my love. It was a dark, solemn feeling. There was no tunnel of light or gentle release. It was just a cold, dark end.
I should have died that night. Whether I was Rose or Raven, I should have passed on. As usual, forces beyond my control came back to haunt me. Dr. Nathanial Essex and a new project called Weapon X found my rotting corpse in the rubble. At least this is what Sinister told me. I don’t know if there were more details. I may never know. This is where my memories get really fuzzy. There are literally years of gaps between my death as Rose and my new life as Mystique.
The shape shifter reverted back to her Rose form, but maintained her yellow eyes. It still felt strange. This innocuous form of a middle-aged redheaded woman felt as natural to her as her blue form. Usually when she changed into someone, it was like putting on a mask. Being Rose was the opposite. It was like taking off a mask she had been wearing for a lifetime. It should have been liberating, but it was also distressing.
Her blue form was the form she knew best. That was the form she lived as Raven Darkholm. It was a life full of bitterness and anger. Much of it was irrational because she had no memory of where she came from. If that wasn’t agonizing enough, she wasn’t even aware that she didn’t know. She assumed that she had always been shape-shifting and deceiving. That was a side-effect of having to live someone else’s life and not having the freedom to live one she could call her own.
As much as the man disgusts me, I owe Sinister my life. He didn’t just bring me back from the dead. He enhanced my shape-shifting abilities. Now I could do more than just disguise myself. I could reshape my body to be both physically and anatomically accurate. It’s so accurate that I can fool the most advanced biometrics. I can become a man complete with the ‘equipment’ necessary to prove it. I can become certain animals if I need to be more subtle. Having such a malleable form also adds to my durability. I’m practically immune from infectious disease (the Legacy Virus notwithstanding) and I can heal from injuries that would paralyze others.
This enhanced shape-shifting came at a price. When you’re able to mimic someone so perfectly, you can live their lives with little regard. You look, sound, and smell like another person. That can be deeply disorienting. It can give the perspective that you don’t have an identity of your own. Your only identity is the one you’ve stolen. I still suspect there were some side-effects to Sinister’s little experiment. There had to be for me to completely forget about my life as Rose. Whatever the cause, I was so engrossed in deceiving the world that I deceived myself.
This is the period in my life where I became Mystique full time. My memories start to get clearer around the late 50s. I know that at the time I was trying to live a quieter life. I would find rich women who died in accidents, find some elaborate way to cover it up, and take their place. Then I lived that woman’s life and no one was wiser. At least that was the case until someone found out about the original. No matter what I did there were always loose ends.
I mimicked rich wives, rich husbands, wealthy businessmen, and even some royalty. For over 15 years I lived the lives of others in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Along the way I got more frustrated because I couldn’t make it last. I started killing some of my victims to take their place, which always got messy. I had to creatively steal the money I inherited from these people and consolidate it so it wouldn’t be lost. The longer it went on the more frustrated I grew. Stealing other peoples’ lives left little room for my own life and since I was a mutant, that life could never be lived openly.
This was also a time when mutants were starting to emerge as a larger issue. It got especially chaotic during the Civil Rights movement in the 60s. This is where I got a bit more ambitious. Somewhere along the line I decided that I wasn’t going to hide forever and live the lives of others. I was going to fight for my own place in the world. That’s where my old soldier training came back into the picture.
The odd thing is I wasn’t entirely sure where that training came from. I assumed it to be survival instinct or something I picked up from an old con. Looking back on it, I can’t digest how I could have been so stupid.
It happened in Europe. I was mimicking the wife of a prominent minister who happened to be corrupt in a very blatant sense. He was leaking secrets to the Soviet Union. I knew about it and rather than ignore it, I took advantage of it. I follow the contacts he made and offered my services as a shape-shifter and assassin. To prove myself I actually framed my pseudo-husband so he was promptly arrested for espionage and put to death. That made a compelling point. It also marked a new period in my life. I was a fighter now. That’s the life I wanted to live.
The shape-shifter clenched her fists and looked away from her reflection. As Raven Darkholm, stealing lives from other people just wasn’t enough. She couldn’t put herself in a position to enjoy or embrace the world she snuck into. In the end it wasn’t part of who she was. As Mystique, she was much more at home fighting endless battles. It was a way for her to vent her anger and bitterness. It should have been therapeutic. All it did was make hidden wounds fester even more.
Maybe it was the thrill or excitement that kept me going. Maybe I really wanted a cause to fight for. I didn’t look at the big picture. I rarely do. I found a mission, completed it, and moved onto the next one. I had about as much foresight as a blind man stumbling through an alley of broken glass.
Even without that big picture, I was good at what I did. I started off with more espionage, doing private spy work for underground mercenary groups. I infiltrated places no one else dared to infiltrate. I gave British military secrets to the IRA. I extracted classified documents from the Soviet Union and gave it to Polish rebels. I even took the shape of a high ranking General in the United States and stole enough Pentagon papers to keep the North Vietnamese army three steps ahead for years.
It wasn’t just spying either. I was an assassin as well. I got hired to take down foreign dignitaries, businessmen, and even other spies. As Rose I would have had reservations. As Mystique, I was as cold as arctic wind. I killed quickly and efficiently, often employing elaborate deceptions. I remember this one mission where I had to shift into this respected politician’s pre-teen daughter, who was paralyzed from polio. I stayed in a wheelchair for two weeks until I got close to the politician. When I got him alone in private, I strangled him with my bear hands. I then took the body of the girl who died naturally weeks earlier and placed her in the chair. It was a mystery that was never solved and cemented my reputation in mercenary circles for decades to come.
I was good at what I did. As a mercenary I got more respect and satisfaction than I ever got mimicking rich people. I could use my blue form when meeting contacts and rather than being a freak, I was someone to be reckoned with. I won’t say I was happy, but I was pretty content. Other mutants were struggling with their powers and I was utilizing them to prosper on my own terms.
With that prosperity came some complications. Living in the mercenary world meant constantly looking over your shoulder, never having a really stable life. There was always someone betraying someone else. There were revenge jobs, double agents, and bribes that could compromise my work. There was a stretch of time when I had someone trying to jump me at least twice a month. I was always able to fight them off, but it made the fruits of my labor difficult to enjoy. Even if I was a fighter, I was only making myself more bitter by living in a world of paranoia.
Sooner or later, my streak of foolishness was going to catch up to me. Fate just loves screwing me over…in some cases literally. The biggest wake-up call came when I crossed paths with a rival mercenary that I didn’t know I had already met. His name was Victor Creed and what he did to me will leave scars from which I can never heal.
The shape-shifter tensed as she shifted back to her blue form. A new anger came over her. This was more than just the bitterness that had dominated her life. This was an anger that stemmed from being weak, vulnerable, and violated. It was the high price she paid for such a dangerous lifestyle. No matter how tough she was, the danger would always find her.
“Damn you, Creed…there isn’t a place in Hell hot enough for you!” she seethed.
It happened in Eastern Europe. Opposing mercenary groups hired us to do the same job. We were to sabotage a Soviet oil refinery. It should have been an easy job for me. I mimicked the chief manager and got into the secure areas. While I was setting the explosives, Victor Creed found me.
“Hey! I thought I just killed you!”
Those were the first words he said to me. I was still mimicking the manager. When I reverted to my blue form, something came over him. He erupted into an animal-like rage. I fought back as I always did, but Victor was no ordinary mercenary. He was Sabretooth, a mutant more resilient than me and a lot stronger as well. I shot him eight times and that barely slowed him down. We brawled for a good five minutes until he knocked me against a boiler. I hit my head so hard I was almost knocked out. I couldn’t fight anymore so I was at Creed’s mercy. He made sure to take full advantage of the situation.
It gets fuzzy after that, but it played out like my worst nightmare. Rather than just leave me for dead, Creed took it a step further. He raped me. He stripped me bear, laid me on the cold floor, and raped me for a good half-hour. It was like being in hell, so weak and violated. The whole time he was snarling and smiling. When I close my eyes I can still see his sadistic face. I wonder if part of him knew the truth. He said he didn’t realize it at the time in our last encounter, but I’m certain his subconscious was clued in! He knew I was Rose. So just beating me wasn’t enough. He had to desecrate me in ways that matched his hatred. It was by far the worst feeling I ever endured.
When he was finished, he set the charges and prepared to blow the refinery up with me inside it. He thought I was out cold. I was really just woozy. When I heard him leave I stammered out, bruised and battered. I barely got far enough from the explosion to escape injury. I had so many wounds that even I couldn’t shift myself into a presentable form. I’m lucky I’m malleable enough to hide scars. However, all the shape shifting in the world couldn’t have prepared me for the other mark Creed left in me.
At this point, the shape shifter couldn’t hold back her disgust. She had to look away and run towards the bathroom. A wave of nausea overcame her. The mention of Victor Creed made her feel as sick as she was angry. She stammered over the sink, having to hold on in order to keep herself from keeling over. She was on the verge of throwing up her last meal. Looking up at the dirty mirror, she saw a woman who wasn’t strong or deceptive. She saw a victim of fate. It didn’t just taint her. It tainted her children as well.
“Graydon…I’m sorry it had to be this way,” she mused.
That foul act of rape impregnated me with Victor’s son. I didn’t find out I was pregnant until I left for America. I sought some much needed recovery time. When I found out I contemplated terminating the pregnancy. I didn’t want to have Victor’s child. The thought disgusted me. I was equally disgusted at the idea of just getting rid of this baby. For some reason I felt like that would give Creed more satisfaction.
So I went forward with the pregnancy. I gave birth to a baby boy and put him up for adoption. I remember how holding that baby in my arms affected me. I realized that being a selfish fool was going to hurt more than just myself. So I organized an adoption plan. I gave the child to a wealthy family, making sure that the name Creed remained. The way I figured, if this child was raised in a decent environment then the world would have a Creed that wasn’t a monster. I now know that logic was deeply flawed.
Even though I erased every record I could, that didn’t stop the child from becoming a monster. That baby Creed became Graydon Creed, leader of the Friends of Humanity. He’s so disgusted with mutants that it’s a pathological sickness for him. I didn’t find out he was that child because I cut myself off from him. I didn’t dare visit him, less my troubles follow him. It turns out my troubles were unnecessary. He still became a monster. It still burns when I remember his disgust upon learning that I was his mother.
Sickening heaves filled the bathroom as the shape shifter hunched over the sink, spewing whatever bile her stomach could manage. She kept seething and grunted, bitter over her failure and enraged over what Sabretooth did to her. She would never be able to escape it. She failed her first son just as she failed to see the truth.
Looking up from the sink, her blue skinned image looked back at her with a pathetic glance. She looked so fragile and vulnerable. She was supposed to be a hardened fighter. That was the power of the truth. It could make even the most stubborn of souls stop and question their current path.
That horrific affair with Sabretooth was a wake-up call. I couldn’t keep living this life. I needed to find a way out or at least a way I could protect myself. That’s what led me to the Azazel, a mercenary organization that wasn’t like other mercenary organizations.
I had heard of them before. The Azazel had a reputation for dealing in rather obscure missions. By obscure I mean they didn’t have a political agenda or a war to fight. They used the criminal underworld to gain wealth for a more specific mission. It was a mission that those who were a part of it followed with religious devotion. That was in large part due to their charismatic leader. His official name was Adrian Christian Wagner. Privately, he was Azazel, a high ranking lord from another realm known as Limbo.
Now I was not put off by the whole supernatural ploy. I knew the supernatural existed. You see all sorts of bizarre things in the mercenary underworld. I crossed paths with the Azazel purely by chance. I was in France hunting down one of my old contacts who I knew had betrayed me. He also happened to be a target for the Azazel. They sent five of their best assassins after him. I beat them to it and when they found me, I fought them all. After being raped by Sabretooth, I was a lot more vicious in my attacks. I fought so well that I impressed them. They insisted I meet Azazel.
When I first saw the man, I wasn’t impressed. Then when I saw his true form, I was deeply intrigued. He had red skin, a tail, and a demonic disposition. He also had the strong build of a powerful man. He radiated an aura of confidence and strength. Above all, he was no fool. A part of me found that very attractive.
We had dinner together. I told him about my situation and he told me a bit about his. He said if I worked for him he could help clean up the messes I left behind from my mercenary career. It seemed counterintuitive, joining a new mercenary organization to get away from the after-effects of it. I suppose I was too attracted to Azazel to realize the truth. That attraction got heated very quickly.
At around this same time I met up with a woman named Irene Adler, who was another mutant that the Azazel employed. She was a precog in that she could see the future in her dreams. She was someone who was also bitter about a world that could never surprise her when something went wrong. We quickly became friends. She was probably the only friend I could relate to. She also warned me about Azazel’s advances. I listened for a grand total of three seconds. This was one future she didn’t need to have a vision to see.
After doing only a few jobs for his organization, Azazel was enchanted with me. He found my tough, vicious, and somewhat bitter demeanor so appealing. It’s strange because that’s usually what turns off most men, but Azazel was a lot more than that. So when he flirted with me, I flirted back. We soon became lovers. It was a nice reprieve from the horrors I endured with Sabretooth. Azazel may have looked like a demon, but he was an angel in bed.
I needed that kind of satisfaction in my life. It was invigorating, full of all the lustful inclinations that I was too paranoid to indulge in. I don’t deny that I felt something for that man. I actually wanted to love him as much as he seemed to love me. I could never bring myself to do so. I can’t help but wonder if it was because part of me remembered the love I shared with Logan. That was a feeling that simply couldn’t be matched, even if Azazel did his best. I also had my share of suspicions about him. I turned out to be right in a rather annoying way.
The truth came out when I discovered that I was pregnant again. We had been lovers for six months. Azazel conveniently sabotaged any birth control efforts I tried. When I found out about this I was pretty upset. Then when I heard his reasons for doing so I was even more upset. He explained that part of his mission was to father a child with a woman from this realm. It had to come from a worthy woman and I was the lucky girl.
Needless to say, any love I may have had for him went out the window. As a shape shifter, I didn’t take kindly to being deceived. He made this elaborate speech about how he initially only felt lust for me. Then he somehow grew to love me. Apparently, men from Limbo think with the wrong head as often as men from this realm. His pleas didn’t make me want to sleep with him again. However, they convinced me to help with this mission.
The shape shifter took deep breaths as she splashed water on her face, wiping away trails of bile in the process. After calming herself from such disgust, she looked at her reflection again. The pitiful woman who was a victim of Sabretooth’s perversion gave way to a woman with renewed resolve. Her anger at the world didn’t stop her from taking a chance as a mother. It was a risk that may or may not have been wise to take. As her experience with Graydon Creed indicated, she had lousy luck when it came to parenting.
So under his careful supervision, I gave birth to my second child. This time, I welcomed Kurt Wagner into the world with more hope. That hope was dashed by the harsh reality of the world he was born into. Azazel quickly took Kurt under his wing, treating him like a prince. He took to fatherhood in ways I’ve never seen a man match. Demon or not, Azazel was dedicated to making his son strong. That’s where we parted ways.
As I watched my son grow, I watched the Azazel condition him for a chaotic life. He learned to fight at an age when most children can barely run. He learned to fence at an age when most boys were playing with toy trucks. I didn’t like the idea of my son following the same path I had followed. I didn’t want him to end up old, bitter, and hardened to the harsh realities of the world.
However, Azazel wouldn’t have it. He wanted me to be a part of Kurt’s life, but his destiny was literally written in his blood. Kurt had my mutant DNA and Azazel’s demonic heritage. He was the key to a mission that would protect both their realms. If I tried to take him away, I put both our realms at risk. I didn’t want to believe him, but Irene kept telling me that Kurt needed to stay with his father.
This upset me in more ways than I could articulate. I started avoiding doing work for the Azazel. Aside from being part of Kurt’s life, I didn’t want to take part in Azazel’s affairs. If he wouldn’t let me raise my son, then I would embrace motherhood in another way. That’s how my adopted daughter, Marie Anna Darkholm, came into my life.
The shape shifter managed to settle her stomach and turn away from the sink. She ventured back out into her room, avoiding her reflection in the mirror. She was only making it worse by scorning herself. She had dug herself quite a hole and she wasn’t going to get out of it by digging any further. She tried to pull herself out of this bitter world. Having children changed her circumstances a great deal. That brought new challenges and new consequences.
I actually got involved with Rogue before I got pregnant with Kurt. During a mission against one of Azazel’s most tenacious enemies, I came across this baby girl who couldn’t have been older than a few months. She had been abducted by another group, taken, abducted again, and kept hostage. There wasn’t much on this girl. I’m not even sure who her real parents were. Having given up my son for adoption, those damned maternal instincts took over.
Against the mission objectives, I took the child and brought her back to Azazel. When he saw her, he sensed something special within her. Irene saw it as well. She was positive for the X-gene and had potential that exceeded all measures. Azazel kept her in seclusion with Irene for a while. After I got pregnant with Kurt and learned of Azazel’s little deception, I took a more active role in her life. As I saw it, if Azazel was going to do most of the parenting with my son then I was going to have my chance with this girl.
Azazel had his reservations. So did Irene. This little girl was important enough to warrant attention from many rival groups. There was something about her that attracted danger. I didn’t care. I was bitter at Azazel for lying to me and I needed to get away. So I coaxed him into erasing much of the paper trail surrounding this girl. He even let me name her Marie Anna Darkholm. I legally adopted her as my daughter and then I moved out of Europe and into an isolated community in Mississippi.
It was during this time that I tried to collect myself. I was still upset at how I let Azazel deceive me and use my son for his mission. Raising Marie was a nice reprieve. I could do for her what I couldn’t do for Graydon or Kurt. I admit I wasn’t a well-equipped parent. I got so frustrated I wanted to shoot dirty diapers with a machine gun. I managed to do okay for myself, giving Marie a decent environment away from the chaos. She was a rowdy little girl. I suppose that should have been a red flag. At the time I was content to be your typical overprotective parent.
I refused to make the same mistake with Marie that I did with my other children. That meant teaching Marie to fight at a young age and warning her about the dangers of the outside world. I tried to keep her connected to it in some ways. I allowed her to send letters to Kurt so she would have some sense of family. That helped, but over time my overprotective style caused tension. She didn’t like being controlled. That’s where she got the nickname, Rogue. As she got older she came to resent the strict limits I placed on her. I tried getting Irene involved. She agreed to fly over and live with us. Even though Marie got along with her, it didn’t make things any less tense.
“My judgment is as lousy as my parenting,” she muttered to herself, “Why couldn’t I have seen it coming?”
As good as Mystique was at deception, she was terrible when it came to foresight. Even having a friend who could see the future didn’t help. She still couldn’t see the signs until it was too late. In a ways she deceived herself almost as much as she deceived others. It didn’t just cause her more frustration. It affected her kids as well.
While I was raising Marie, things were going downhill for the Azazel. As Marie got older I found myself having to do more missions for Azazel. His enemies were growing stronger. Black Tom, the Hand, and Selene Gallio all colluded to weaken his organization. I did my share of missions, but resisted getting fully involved. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so selfish. Irene warned me there was trouble for the Azazel. I didn’t do enough and that is a failure I’m still paying for in many ways.
I tried confronting Azazel, demanding that he reveal all his secrets about his mission and why so many were trying to stop him. He always assured me that it was for the preservation of his realm and ours. I believed him. Before he could tell me the truth Black Tom got to him. Azazel was defeated and banished back to Limbo. For Azazel, it was the end of his mission. Now I was caught in the chaos.
I went on the run for a while, having to quietly sneak through Europe while avoiding Azazel’s enemies. Kurt was with me, but he would not run. Azazel taught him too damn well. He tried fighting back. That didn’t work, but he got lucky. He met up with Amanda and Margali Sefton, who gave him sanctuary. I didn’t trust them. Maybe it’s just the overprotective mother in me, but something about those two didn’t sit right. I tried to convince Kurt to come with me to Mississippi. He wouldn’t have it. He wanted to stay with the Seftons. Him falling for that Amanda girl certainly played a part.
While Kurt was able to slip under the radar, I was still too paranoid settle down. I left Marie alone for a prolonged period because of this. I trusted Irene to look after her. That was a daunting task because Marie was entering her teenage years. That meant she grew even more rebellious. Keeping her isolated left her bitter like me. It was an act of parenting almost as poor as me having to give up Graydon as a baby. I thought I was protecting her. All I did was deny my daughter her mother when she needed her most.
I was sick of running. My children were never going to be safe. I was never going to escape this blood-soaked world of deception. I would have taken any chance to get away from it. That naturally left me vulnerable and this time Magneto was the one who exploited it. By now mutants were becoming a full blown conflict. Magneto wanted to be on the front lines of that conflict. He needed help to carry out his plans. I was desperate and he was offering something I needed.
It seemed as though she couldn’t win. Whenever she got in over her head, she got desperate enough to trust the first madman who offered help. It’s what led her to Team X. It’s what led her to the Azazel. It was also what led her to Magneto and the Brotherhood of Mutants. She shouldn’t have been terribly surprised at how that fiasco turned out. Yet she still found a way to make it painful for her and her family.
My children were mutants. I was a mutant. I had the worst of humanity coming after me for a lifetime of deceit. As far as I was concerned the human race rejected me. The only way out was to reject them as well. So I paid one last visit to Kurt and Marie. I told them I was working on something. I was going to find a way for us to be together and be safe. I promised them that I would deliver. It was a promise I knew I couldn’t keep. Even Irene warned me about making such a promise. I underestimated how leaving my children behind would hurt them more than protect them.
I honestly thought that Magneto was doing us all a favor. I believed him just as I believed Azazel. That shows just how horrendous my judgment is. I went deep undercover for the man, pulling the same mercenary tricks to aid his cause. I spied on Genosha and the surrounding countries. I organized the theft of materials and assets. I even scoped out potential recruits. With the situation deteriorating for mutants, it seemed like Magneto was on the right track. Then the X-men entered the picture.
I’ve never been a fan of idealism. Professor Xavier and his X-men seemed like the antithesis of my struggle. I thought they were deluded. I assumed that fate would eventually catch up to them. I underestimated them along with Magneto.
It started off with Marie. When her powers manifested, I wasn’t there. Irene has lost control of her in her rebellious teenage spirit. I never had a chance to reach out to her. It was the X-men who were there for her. So she ended up joining them. That was the first sign of trouble.
Then the time came for the uprising. I hoped that this would change the stakes. Rogue would see how dangerous it was to remain with the X-men. It didn’t turn out that way. In the end we only grew more distant. She became entrenched in Xavier’s message. I thought they were deceiving her. Maybe they still are. Whatever the case, she rejected me in favor of them. That hurt more than I care to admit.
It hurt even more when Kurt joined. I was okay with him living in isolation in Germany. Then Black Tom had to show up again. I tried to save him, but once again the X-men showed up and I found a way to lose my son’s trust. When he saw Rogue and heard Xavier’s message, he chose them over me. I suppose I can’t blame him. I was so angry and without direction. I probably would have put him in even greater danger if he came along with me. That didn’t make it hurt any less.
The shape shifter hugged her shoulders again as she gazed out a nearby window. It was pouring rain outside, which seemed very reflective of her mood. There was some thunder rumbling in the distance along with a few flashes of lighting. It was a good metaphor for the life she had lived. She fought and struggled, but had little to show for it.
“What more can I do?” she wondered.
It was inescapable. She failed her children. She failed herself. Every time she took a chance, she made things worse. Now she was in another vulnerable position. She had no choice but to take another chance. History had shown time and again that she would only make everything worse. If she did nothing, she would be further consumed by her bitterness. It seemed like there was no way she could win. However, there was one major difference this time. She had the truth to anchor her.
So here I am, stumbling around in the dark with no clue as to what I need to do now. I talked to Irene. She warned me about every decision I’ve made to this point. I listened to her when she said that someone needed to carry on Azazel’s mission. That’s why I investigated the Shadowkings and the Inner Circle. I’m not sure if that mission is still important. After the Legacy Virus, every priority has changed.
I know my kids still don’t trust me. I’ve given them too many reasons to doubt me. Even if there is a chance for us to salvage a family relationship, we have a long ways to go. That says nothing about their respective personal issues. I know Kurt has relegated himself to caring for Amanda Sefton full time in Nova Roma. I also know that Rogue went on her own personal mission for a while. They’re still tied to the X-men and so long as that doesn’t change then our relationship will remain damaged at best.
I don’t have much to work with. Right now, my biggest asset is the truth I paid such a high price to obtain. Sinister used me like he used everybody. I played a part in his scheme to unleash the Legacy Virus. That’s another burden I have to bear. However, he still delivered on his promise. He revealed the truth about Raven Darkholm and Rose. He probably didn’t expect me to survive long enough to make use of it. He probably didn’t expect the X-men to screw him over. To their credit, I didn’t expect it either. That leaves me with more impossible questions with impossible answers.
Who am I? Which life do I live now? I am Rose and I am Raven Darkholm. When I’m in both forms, it feels right. It’s confusing to say the least, but having them both at my disposal makes me feel…complete. I know where I came from. I can finally put context into my life. All these new memories I have are like missing pieces to a puzzle I’ve been struggling to complete. I haven’t begun putting it together yet. A part of me is reluctant to do so. When all is said and done, will I like what I see?
The shape shifter turned away from the window and reverted back to her Rose form. She looked at her reflection in the mirror again. This time there was no scolding herself. Instead she approached the mirror and looked at her appearance more critically.
“I am Rose. I am Raven. Could it be that simple?” she wondered.
It was beginning to sink in. Her form as Rose was just as much a part of her as her blue skinned form. Her life as Rose was just as valid as her life as Raven. That carried with it new feelings and burdens. Mystique was a cold and bitter woman who fought endless battles. Rose was a survivor, fighting only the battles she needed to fight. She wasn’t afraid to follow her heart. It was that same heart that presented another inescapable issue.
Those feelings she had for Logan as Rose were still there. They were stronger than either of them expected. It’s what led to so many awkward moments. It made a disturbing amount of sense. If Victor Creed’s hatred could span all these years, why couldn’t the love they shared as Rose and James span that same stretch of time? It was unavoidable. Whatever decision she made, it was going to involve Logan. She had to make those decisions sooner or later. She refused to make the same mistakes that had tormented her as Rose and Raven.
I can’t keep deceiving myself. I have to accept the truth. Perhaps that’s been my problem. Being a shape shifter has kept me in a world where I can’t tell left from right. Not knowing who I am or where I came from gave me nothing to cling to. Now I have something.
I have my life as Rose. I have the love I felt with Logan during that life. When you forge a bond with someone in your darkest hour, it’s difficult to unforge it. I don’t doubt our paths will cross again. I’m a bit more doubtful that the love we shared can turn into something meaningful. Maybe I’m still too bitter to see the big picture.
Being a shape-shifter, I can’t help but be guided by deception. I’ll always have my mystique so to speak. However, I can’t rely on living the lives of others. I must live my own life. I must hold onto my identity this time. It’ll do a way with all the damned bitterness that has led me to make so many bad decisions. This time it really will be different. There is more at stake than the next mission. I have my children, my identity, and most importantly I have perspective. As Rose and Raven, I have the truth. It’s up to me to use it now.
End of Supreme Reflections Volume 5
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