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Volume 2 -- Issue 24 -- Family and Fiends Part 3 Download Issue
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Family and Fiends Part 3
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Professor Charles Xavier founded the X-men and under his leadership they fight for peace and understanding in a world that hates and fears them. But his job has become far more complicated lately as a result of events unfolding throughout the world in response to the events on Genosha. With his loyal team of mutants, he has been working hard with policymakers around the world to ensure that the tension between humans and mutant doesn’t erupt into a war as their nemesis, Magneto, has predicted.

As if dealing with these far-reaching issues wasn’t difficult enough, a new more personal issue has emerged with one of his students, Rogue. Despite already having a difficult situation with her foster mother, Mystique, Rogue recently learned that her foster brother, Kurt Wagner, was kidnapped by a mysterious figure named Black Tom. By kidnapping his girlfriend, Amanda Sefton, as well, he forced Kurt to break into Worthington Industries to steal the plans for the sentinels. Black Tom later tricked him and tried to kill him by blowing him and Amanda up along with the Worthington facility.

But Rogue and Mystique, with the help of the X-men, stopped Black Tom and saved Kurt. And thanks to some coaxing for Warren Worthington Jr. by his distant son, Angel, Black Tom’s plan to frame him failed as well. Now Kurt Wagner has a new decision to make and it’s sure to affect Rogue and the rest of the X-men.

Frankfurt Germany – 10 Years Ago

“Again Kurt! You can do better! You must!”

The assertive voice of his father spurred young Kurt Wagner to push through his growing exhaustion and gather himself for another round. Short of breath and sore all over, the 8-year-old mutant picked up his fencing sword and rose to his feet. Standing before him was a taller, stronger, and far more imposing figure. Like him, he had a demonic appearance. Only his was far more ominous. He was slim, but bore well-developed muscles. His body was covered in reddish skin with short hair. His stature was more human, but his face looked far more demonic with a chiseled, dominating glare centered around two red eyes.

Most who saw this figure cowered in fear. Many believed he was the devil himself. They may be right to some extent. He was not a being of the normal world. He was a product of Limbo, a mysterious dimension that wasn’t quite the biblical Hell but it was certainly no Heaven either. It was a domain in which he was a powerful figure. He claimed that it was his responsibility to exact justice and maintain order amongst the various beings who had found their way to Limbo, some of which came from Earth. Sometimes his actions were evil. Sometimes they were good. His most defining trait was indifference. He only sought to do what was best for both worlds, regardless if it meant doing good or evil. It was part of what made him such a mysterious and terrifying being.

But Kurt Wagner saw him differently. To him he wasn’t the mysterious creature from Limbo. He was just his father. When he looked into his eyes he didn’t see Azazel, the powerful leader of an underground mercenary force that bore his name. He just saw the glare of a father looking to nurture and teach his son.

“En guard, father!” said the young mutant, gripping a small but sharp sword.

“That’s it, son. Never lose your focus!” said Azazel, “Now attack me!”

With a determined grunt, young Kurt began his assault. Using his recently manifested teleportation powers he popped in and out of sight in a puff of smoke, appearing for only a split second around his father’s figure. Every time he appeared, he attacked with his sword, slashing and stabbing with ferocious intensity. His father blocked and countered his every move, his focus never waning for a second. Kurt fought through fatigue, soreness, and his own youthful limits to keep up his assault. He was not going to disappoint his father this time. He was going to succeed.

The imposing figure didn’t give his son any passes. He countered and blocked his attacks as if he were a real enemy. The man known as Azazel to his close allies, and Adrian Christian Wagner to the rest of the world, pushed his son’s limits. He used his own strength and size in addition to his vast experience that spanned centuries. His youth was still a weakness, but he was already showing poise well beyond his years.

Grunting with relentless grit, Kurt kept slashing and stabbing as he kept appearing all around his father in every direction. At one point he appeared right behind him and went straight for the neck. His father countered, spinning around swiftly and slashing right towards his leg. Kurt saw this and countered with a move of his own, doing a back flip in mid air and appearing behind him again. This time when his father turned around, he was ready. When he moved in to slash near his neck, his sword was already at his chest. As soon as Azazel saw this, they both froze in their stance.

“Yield,” said Kurt breathlessly.

The demonic figure smiled proudly. It was officially a draw, a new feat for young Kurt. With a respectful bow, Azazel pulled his sword away and slid it back in its sheath. Kurt was still short of breath, but he knew what he accomplished. He was well on his way to joining his mercenary army.

“Well done, Kurt. You know how to make a very old man proud,” said Azazel.

“Danke, father,” said Kurt, “But vhen vill I be ready to join you?”

“In time, son,” he said ominously as he knelt down and embraced his boy, “It’s a dangerous world out there. The forces we’re up against are great and it’s only getting harder.”

“Is zhat vhy so many of your friends are disappearing?” asked the young boy, “I hear many of zhem are scared. Zhey are already calling me zhe demon heir.”

“That may very well be the case one day, Kurt. I’ve been at this a very long time and with the world changing so fast, I may not be able to keep up. That’s why I take such pride in training you.”

“But vhat if I’m not ready? I don’t zhink I can be zhat heir!”

“You’re still young, Kurt. You have a ways to go, but I can already see you’ll be a great fighter. That’s why I sought to have a son in the first place. And I couldn’t be happier with that decision.”

Kurt smiled at his father’s praise. It wasn’t easy for his father to show affection through his demonic appearance. But Kurt never doubted it. He often felt that only he and his mother saw through his dark appearance. They may be the only ones he ever revealed this side to himself.

“But vhy do zhey keep calling me a demon? I…I know how ve look. It still bothers me zhat zhey all assume I’m evil or…”

But Azazel stopped his son before he could go on. He was still so young and so naïve.

“Do not listen to them, son. When you’ve been around as long as me, you come to see things like evil and darkness in a different light. You see, in reality there really is no good or evil. There is only what we do and why we do it.”

“Zhat isn’t vhat I’ve been learning from zhe Magisters. Zhey have been reading me stories from zhe bible and all sorts of holy texts lately. It’s all so strict. Zhere is only evil and zhere is only good.”

“Ah, but that’s where the irony comes in, my boy,” said Azazel with another grin, “You see, I’ve allowed the Magisters to teach you these spiritual ways for a reason. While the reality of the world is very ambiguous, the ideal of right and wrong are still quite set. In my domain there is little room for such musings. But in this world, even the most indifferent of beings need to know what is right and wrong.”

“But how vill I use it? How can it vork in a place like zhis full of beings like us?”

Azazel placed both hands on his son’s shoulders and gazed at him with a strength that helped reassure the growing boy.

“Have faith, my son,” he said strongly, “You’re still too young to understand, but one day I’ll make sure it’s clear to you. We all have to decide our paths. Mine was decided long ago, but yours is still uncertain.”

“So…vhat path vill I go down?” the young boy asked his father warily.

Azazel smiled again and embraced his son with a strange affection that only Kurt could make sense of.

“That remains to be seen,” said Azazel, “But I’ll see to it that whatever path you choose, you’ll know without any doubt that it’s the right one.”

Czech Republic – 3 Years Ago

“You monsters! You vill pay for vhat you’ve done!” proclaimed an angry Kurt Wagner.

“Look who’s talking, Elf. A young whippersnapper like you ought to show respect to your psychopathic elders! So please, call me Mr. Deadpool! HAHAHA!”

It was a chaotic moment for 15-year-old Kurt Wagner. He was leading his first all out assault with the Azazel. It was a role once reserved for his father and one that was very overwhelming for someone so young. But his father was no longer with him. Years ago he disappeared in an attack orchestrated by a then unknown adversary. But earlier today, some intelligence came in from his mother. She said she may have found information on the group that took his father from him. Before she could even verify it, Kurt assembled what forces he could and led an assault. Without the tactical knowledge and charisma of his father, it was a difficult battle at best.

X-men Supreme Issue 24: Family and Fiends Part 3 Panel 1

“You’ll run out of energy before I run out of bullets, kiddo! You’re just making it harder on yourself and more fun for me!” proclaimed Deadpool as fired wildly towards Kurt and his Azazel comrades.

“You dare call taking my father from me, fun?!” exclaimed Kurt.

“Now you’re just talking crazy! And coming from a guy like me that’s saying something!”

Kurt grunted in desperation as he narrowly teleported away from a shower of bullets from Deadpool. He thought he made all the right choices, storming the alleged stronghold that was disguised as a church. But he was in for quite a shock. The forces based in this area were vast and very well-trained. When he and the Aazel entered, they were quickly surrounded and attacked by swarms of ninja-like assassins. They bore the emblem of the Hand, a group Kurt was very familiar with. But he had no idea they were this tough.

He caught them in the middle of some strange operation involving a couple of hostages. Leading them was a wise-cracking masked mercenary in a red and black body suit named Deadpool. He knew of this man’s reputation as well. He was a lethally skilled, but very unstable mercenary who had a knack for getting things done in his own unique way. But that didn’t stop him. He had to avenge the Azazel. He had to avenge his father.

In the heart of the church, he and Deadpool were locked in combat while the Azazel forces battled the Hand. But their lack of coordination showed. The Hand was making quick work of the Azazel and Kurt was too focused on Deadpool to regroup. He kept teleporting throughout the church, avoiding relentless barrages of bullets. With every second that passed, the battle tipped in the favor his enemies.

“Yee-haw! Keep portin’, Tex!” proclaimed Deadpool obnoxiously as he fired wildly with his guns, “This is more fun than a sack of rabid squirrels!”

Then Kurt appeared behind him and knocked the guns out of his hands. He then drop kicked him and grabbed him by the neck.

“Enough games! Vhere are zhey? Vhere are zhe ones responsible for my father’s death?!” he demanded.

“Damn! What the heck are you smoking and where can I get some?” taunted Deadpool.

“I’m not toying vith you, Deadpool!”

“And here I was hoping you were going to drag this out!” laughed the obnoxious mercenary, “Too bad I can’t egg you on! I really have no clue what the hell you’re talking about!”

“You’re lying!”

“Come on, do I look like the kind of guy who can keep a secret?” scoffed Deadpool, “I’m just here on a nice Sunday picnic with my buddies from the Hand! You’re wasting your time and a lot of your buddies for that matter!”

Kurt tensed at the mouthy merc’s words. He was definitely a few sandwiches shy of a picnic to say the least, but had a point. If he and the Hand did know something, they wouldn’t be secretive about it. They would be boasting about it. Whatever intel his mother gathered, it must have been faulty. It made no sense for his father’s murderers to be this oblivious. It was a harsh realization that may already be too late.

As he looked around, Kurt saw his Azazel brethren falling left and right. His ill-planned assault was catching up to them. The Hand was too well organized and his people were too outmanned. The Azazel had been devastated enough after the loss of his father. Now he was leading them to their ultimate demise. It left the young mutant dazed and at a loss for words. It was a distant state of mind that Deadpool took advantage off.

Breaking free from Kurt’s choke hold, Deadpool slugged the young mutant in the gut and knocked him back against a confessional booth. He then retrieved his guns and turned towards his allies in the Hand.

“Well that was fun!” he casually proclaimed, “Only one logical thing left to do.”

In a paradoxical gesture, he took out a small remote control and hit a large red button. As soon as he did, a series of sharp explosions ripped through the old building, causing fire and smoke to engulf the area. By now much of the Azazel were either dead or mortally wounded. The Hand had few losses to speak of. When they saw Deadpool’s actions, they instinctively regrouped and prepared to make their escape.

“Oh the irony!” he said in an overly dramatic tone, “Now it’s not going to be the Hand that’s responsible for destroying a church and killing the hostages! It’ll be the Azazel! I love it! Come on boys! Uncle Wade’s got some bills to pay and some beautiful ladies to put through college!”

With the fires quickly spreading, Deadpool stormed out along with the Hand. Their job was done. It didn’t go exactly as they planned, but it still worked out and they had Kurt and the Azazel to thank.

For Kurt, who was still reeling from Deadpool’s blow, it was agonizing in more ways than one. He rose up slowly, leaning on the confessional for support, as he watched Deadpool and the Hand escape. He then turned his attention to his Azazel comrades. But from the looks of it, they were beyond saving. The fires were already consuming the dead bodies. For those still alive, they were too weak to escape. Even for Kurt and his teleportation powers, it wouldn’t be enough.

“No…it can’t end like zhis,” he lamented.

But it was too late. He failed his father and himself. His youth was once again his greatest weakness. He thought he could do the right thing by avenging his father and leading the Azazel back to prominence. But instead he just led them to their ultimate defeat. Looking up at the large cross that hung over the church, Kurt bowed his head in remorse. Before he died, his father always taught him the spirit was the strongest part of anyone. For that reason, he turned to his faith in his darkest hour.

“God forgive me,” he said solemnly, “I have failed.”

But just when it seemed his world was falling apart, he heard a round of terrified screams from behind the curtain near the cross.

“Help us! Please! Get us out of here! You don’t know what you’re doing!” exclaimed a desperate voice.

Kurt’s demeanor perked up as he zeroed in on those desperate cries. They must be the hostages the Hand had taken. He didn’t know why they were so interested in them, but he didn’t have time to rationalize. If he couldn’t save the Azazel, he could at least save the hostages.

Braving the scorching flames, Kurt teleported up to the curtain. Using his sword, he swiftly tore back the curtain to reveal a terrified looking woman holding an unconscious teenage girl. They were dressed like pagan witches and shackled with chains to the ground. At first the woman looked terrified by Kurt’s appearance, but when he cut the chain restraints her attitude quickly changed.

“Who…who are you?” she asked.

“I’m here to help,” said Kurt.

Taking her hand and that of her daughter, he teleported them out from the inferno just as everything around them started collapsing. They appeared in a puff of smoke a block away on a rooftop. The smoke and fire still hung strongly in the air and it was already causing a stir on the streets below. The woman and the unconscious girl were still overwhelmed, but thankful at the taste of fresh air.

While they recovered, Kurt gazed out over the burning church. It seemed symbolic of everything that had happened to him. His father was gone. The Azazel was in ruin. He had nowhere else to go. He had no one else to turn to. This life of violence and deceit had yielded nothing. He never got to understand what his father was fighting for. Now he would never know.

As he was lost in his daze, he almost forgot about the woman and her daughter. Despite his appearance, they were not afraid. In an unexpected gesture, the woman rose up and smiled graciously.

“Thank you! You saved my daughter!” she said with tears in her eyes.

“It’s nothing,” said Kurt solemnly.

“No, I can’t tell you how much this means to me! You have no idea how bad it could have been if you hadn’t saved us!”

Kurt was taken aback by her gratitude. There must have been more do this than he realized.

“Please, tell me who you are,” she said, “My name is Margali Sefton and this is my daughter, Amanda.”

“Kurt Wagner,” said Kurt in his thick accent, “If you need to get away, zhere is a cab service down below. I’ll take you to it.”

“No wait!” said the woman, “You saved our lives. Please, let us help you. It’s the least we can do.”

“Zhat’s really not necessary,” said Kurt distantly.

He was about to turn away, but the woman reached for him and placed a hand on his shoulder.

“No, it’s very necessary,” she said, “My daughter and I are Wiccans. All Wiccans must follow a sacred creed whereby we must reward those who do good for us.”

“Zhe threefold rule, I know,” said Kurt, his words still stoic.

“You know? Are you a Wiccan too?”

“Nien, but I know plenty about religion and faith. As vith all due respect, I’m not in zhe mood for spiritual matters.”

Kurt turned away, preparing to leave the woman and her daughter behind. But Margali wouldn’t let him go. She saw in him a pained soul. He was someone who needed help. To leave him like this just wouldn’t be right, spiritually speaking or not.

“Please…do not run from us so quickly,” she urged him, “This truly is important. Was it mere coincidence that you survived long enough to save us? I don’t believe that. You are clearly a unique individual. Perhaps our paths have crossed by fate.”

“Vhy vould fate have anything to do vith it?” said Kurt skeptically.

Before Margali could answer, a soft groan emerged from the unconscious teenage girl in her arms. It was her daughter, Amanda. She had awoken. As soon as she opened her eyes, her gaze fell upon Kurt. But to Kurt’s surprise, she didn’t look at him with fear or shock. Instead, she looked intrigued if not enamored.

“Mom? Who…who is that?”

Margali just smiled.

“Amanda, this is the young boy who saved us from those terrible men.”

“Really?” she said, still clearly weakened, “He must be an angel.”

Kurt had been called a lot of things in his life. Demon, freak, and monster were among the most common. But nobody ever called him an angel. That struck him in a profound way. Looking into the eyes of the tried teenage girl, he saw sincerity along with gratitude. Maybe this was fate. Maybe he was supposed to save these people. His old life with the Azazel seemed to be falling apart. Yet here he was with a chance to do something different. It meant making some major changes in his life, but if that was his fate so be it.

Sefton Farm – Present

Kurt Wagner’s bags were packed. Once again he was faced with a chance to walk a new path in life and once again he was taking it. Everything was ready. Three days after Rogue and the X-men rescued him from the clutches of Black Tom Cassidy, he was ready to join them. Professor Charles Xavier had flown out personally to pick him up. It was exciting, but at the same time it was a little disheartening. He had enjoyed his quiet life here the past three years, but he always knew this wasn’t where he belonged. His father trained him to be a fighter. Now he was going to fight again, only this time for all the right reasons.

It was still going to be difficult to leave behind. As he packed the last of his stuff, Amanda entered his room. She bore a saddened expression. She didn’t want to see him go, but she understood why he was doing this. Kurt was somewhat saddened to. Even though he felt this was right, that didn’t make it any easier for either of them.

“They’re ready for you outside,” said Amanda solemnly.

“Zhen I best not keep zhem vaiting,” he said as he zipped up his bag.

As Kurt gathered his things, Amanda just stood there in silence. She was clearly conflicted. Kurt shared the feeling and gave her a loving gesture, which brought a slight smile to her face. But she was still distant.

“Are you sure about this, Kurt?” she asked him, “Joining the X-men is a big decision.”

“I know. And I assure you, Amanda, I’m not taking it lightly. I’ve thought about zhis, contemplated it, and prayed about it. I feel zhis is zhe right zhing to do.”

“But you’re going back into a world of conflict. I’ve seen what the X-men do. It can be a violent world and violence is part of your old life,” said Amanda in an almost desperate tone, “I know I’m being a little paranoid, but I don’t want to see you revert to your old ways.”

“My old vays were part of my old life. Zhis is part of a new life,” he told her as he affectionately caressed her face, “I’m sorry Amanda, but I do not feel it is my fate to live out my days in seclusion on a farm.”

“Is life here with me really that boring?” she complained.

“Of course not, liebe,” he assured her, “But zhink of it in terms of zhe threefold rule. I still have so many past sins I need to repent for. I believe I was given zhese powers for a reason and I owe it to my soul to do as much good vith it as I can.”

His gentle touch warmed Amanda to her core. She could see in his eyes how important this was to him. It almost made her feel guilty for wanting to keep him here.

“Kurt…” she said, trying to hold back her emotions.

“Don’t zhink for a second I’ll forget about you, frauline,” he told her, “You’ll always have a special place in my heart.”

“And you’ll always have one in mine,” said Amanda, “It’s just going to be so hard living here without you.”

“I’ll be sure to keep in touch and visit as often as I can,” assured Kurt.

“That’s not the same,” she lamented.

“I know it isn’t. But no matter vhat happens or how far away I am, remember zhat I still love you and I vill be zhere for you.”

His words were sincere and the look in his eyes was serious. To further reinforce his point, he gave her a soft kiss. It was a feeling that made Amanda feel a bit better. She still had tears in her eyes, but she was able to smile now.

“I love you too, Kurt” said Amanda softly, “Be careful out there. We both know how unforgiving the world can be.”

“I’ll be okay. I promise,” he told her.

“And try not to worry too much about me. You’re a special man, Kurt Wagner. I guess it’s selfish for me to keep you all to myself. You’re still my hero and the world needs heroes.”

Kurt smiled at her encouraging words. He would take being a hero over being a demon any day. When he was with the Azazel, he didn’t get many chances to be heroic. He was confident that he would get more with the X-men.

They shared one last passionate kiss before he gathered the rest of his things. Then with Amanda following close behind, he walked out of the small farmhouse where Professor Charles Xavier and the Seftons were waiting for him. Standing beside him were Hank, Ororo, and Rogue. They were waiting by the X-van, which would take them to a nearby airport where the X-jet awaited. Rogue smiled upon seeing Kurt emerge. He couldn’t help but smile as well. In addition to having a chance to be a hero, he would also have a chance to build a better relationship with his sister.

“Ready little brother?” asked Rogue as she helped him with his bags.

“As I’ll ever be,” said Kurt, “Zhis is all happening so fast.”

“Yeah, that feeling’s normal. But trust meh, it wears off quickly,” assured Rogue, “With so much goin’ on with mutants, you don’t really have time to be overwhelmed!”

“Careful Rogue, we don’t want to intimidate our newest addition,” said Hank jokingly.

“Ah wouldn’t worry about that, Hank. In a family like ours, we don’t get intimidated. We just get tougher,” grinned Rogue, giving her brother a friendly swat on the shoulder.

“Well said, mien sister,” laughed Kurt.

Amanda and her mother chuckled as well. It was still hard to contemplate that Rogue was Kurt’s sister, albeit his foster sister. But the way they carried themselves was almost indistinguishable from real siblings.

“It’s an honor to welcome you to the X-men, Kurt Wagner,” said the Professor as he shook the young man’s hand, “I imagine this must be a difficult time for you.”

“Indeed, but I’ve faced far worse. Like Rogue said, it’s sort of family trait,” he told him, earning an a grin from his sister.

“Well I can assure you we will do everything we can to help you build a new life with us. You’ve already overcome a great deal to get to this point. Allow us to help guide you on your new path.”

“Danke, Herr Xavier,” said Kurt respectfully, “I promise I von’t let you down.”

While Rogue and Hank loaded up his stuff and Xavier wheeled into the van, Kurt turned to the Sefton’s to say his goodbyes. Amanda was still somewhat tearful and so was her mother, Margali. Like Amanda, Margali had grown fond of Kurt’s presence over the years. She always suspected he would one day head back out into the world. In her mind it was probably for the better.

“Zhank you, Margali,” said Kurt graciously, “Zhank you for everything you and Amanda have done for me.”

“You’re very welcome,” said Margali warmly, “I always knew you were destined for greater things. We’ve done all we can to help you get away from your old life. Now it’s up to you.”

“I von’t let you down. I promise” vowed Kurt, “I have faith zhis is right for all of us.”

“As do I,” said Margali, “Godspeed, Kurt Wagner.”

Kurt smiled and gave the older woman an affectionate hug. But as they embraced each other, Margali’s expression fell somewhat. It wasn’t just the sadness of seeing this wonderful young man leave. But like Kurt, she had faith that this would be for the better.

Once they finished their embrace, Kurt walked over to Amanda and shared one last moment with her. They embraced warmly and shared one last kiss. They made sure to commit it to memory because they weren’t sure when they would get another chance. When they finally parted they shared a strong, loving gaze.

“I’ll always be zhere for you, Amanda,” he told her softly, “No matter vhat happens, ve’ll be together.”

“Oh you’re so sweet, Kurt. Don’t ever forget that,” said Amanda warmly.

With one last tender gesture, Kurt reluctantly pulled away and joined Rogue in the back seat of the van. She welcomed him openly, but seemed a little put off by his and Amanda’s affectionate display. But that stemmed from an entirely different issue. This was supposed to be a happy moment for them. They weren’t just going to be teammates. They were going to be family again.

As they drove off, Kurt waved goodbye. Amanda and Margali waved back, watching until the van disappeared from sight. But even after it was gone, they stood together in a solemn state. They were truly sad to see him leave. Kurt Wagner had been a big part of their life. But it wasn’t just his departure that concerned them. There were other more complicated issues at work. They were the kind they couldn’t discuss with him, even before the affair with Black Tom unfolded. It was uncertain if they would ever be able to reveal it to him. But it may be better in the long run if he didn’t know the truth.

“We never told him,” said Amanda sadly.

“I know,” said Margali solemnly, “But if we had, he never would have left.”

“Would that have been a bad thing?”

Margali turned to her daughter. She knew she loved Kurt deeply, but part of loving someone was protecting them from forces beyond their control.

“You know why we can’t tell him,” she said, “It’s better for all of us this way. We’ll tell him when the time is right.”

“But when will that be?” asked Amanda desperately, “When will the time ever be right to tell him what we’re a part of?”

Margali sighed and hugged her daughter closer. As much as she wanted to protect both her and Kurt, she was no match for the forces of fate. It would catch up to all of them. They could only have faith that they were strong enough to overcome it.

“Hopefully never, Amanda. We’ll just have to be patient and keep praying.”

Lower ManhattanWorthington Corporate Headquarters

Warren Worthington III once vowed never to step foot in this building again. This fancy skyscraper, laced with so much wealth and prestige, was where so many complications in his life took shape. It was here the rift between him and his family became insurmountable. It was also where he had his heart broken and his life forever tied to the X-men. It hadn’t changed much since he was last here. That was three years ago and he still got a sickening feeling when he thought about it.

It was near the end of the day as he stood with his father in his opulent CEO office. Together they stood out on the balcony, watching over the picturesque Manhattan skyline. His father was holding a glass of expensive brandy, which was hardly surprising. Warren heard his father had been drinking a lot more over the past few years. It definitely showed in his demeanor. He didn’t really care. He was beyond caring at this point with his father. But as tenuous as it was between them, he tried to keep it civil.

“I’m glad you came,” his father told him distantly, “I honestly didn’t believe you were going to show up.”

“Neither did I,” said Warren bitterly, “I’m still mad as hell at you. But damn it if Bobby, Jean, and the Professor aren’t persuasive. They convinced me that since you helped get Kurt out of trouble, you deserved a little face time.”

“Should I consider sending them a thank you card?”

“Don’t thank them yet. You still haven’t heard me yell at you enough for getting involved with the sentinels!”

Warren’s words were harsh and rightfully so. He had firsthand experience with the sentinels. He knew how deadly they were. Now they were under the thumb of a company bearing his name. It didn’t sit well on so many levels.

“Is it not enough you’ve invested millions in anti-mutant research in the past?” he scolded, “That so-called cure you were working on didn’t pan out so now you’re seeking a more direct solution?”

Despite his son’s harsh criticisms, Warren Jr. was quick to justify his decision.

“This has nothing to do with past mistakes, son. There were many factors that pushed me to make this decision and believe me I’m not taking it lightly.”

“I wish I could believe you, dad. But forgive me if I find you less than credible.”

“It’s the truth!” said the older man strongly, “You think what happened between us hasn’t affected me every moment of every day?”

“If it has, you’re not very convincing,” quipped Warren, “Let’s face it dad. You were never the sentimental type, even before my powers manifested.”

“I still love you enough to keep trying, don’t I? I still love you enough to keep you tied to this company. I’m even naïve enough to hope that you’ll still inherit all this the day I move on.”

“I know you do,” said Warren distantly, “I want to believe it too. I just have a hard time getting past everything you’ve done. You cost me the love of my life. You almost cost me my wings. How the hell am I supposed to get past that?”

His words were strong, but within them were laced the pain that still lingered from years of bitterness. Warren Jr. couldn’t say anything to make him forget. Looking over at his son and then back at his glass of brandy, he cursed himself. He really had hurt him in ways no father ever should. That didn’t mean he had to stop doing what he knew in his heart was best for him.

“I’m not asking you to get past it, Warren,” he told him, “I’m just asking you to try and understand. These sentinels are powerful weapons. You know that better than anybody. In the wrong hands they could do untold harm.”

“As if they aren’t already in the wrong hands?” said the winged mutant bitterly.

“Better mine than some other company with no emotional stake in the human/mutant conflict,” said the old businessman strongly, “I’ve been doing this a long time, son. I know how it works out there. As soon as a company gets its hands on that kind of machinery, they’ll look to use it. And you know as well as I do there are some bad people out there who wouldn’t hesitate to sell it to some anti-mutant zealot with too much free time and money on his hands.”

“That doesn’t mean they won’t find another way.”

“Maybe not, but so long as they’re here they still have to go through me. Even if the military wanted to turn them into some super weapon, they won’t be able to so long as I assert control over parts of the system. That’s why I did this. So long as Worthington Industries has the proper leverage, they won’t be employed as they were under Hodge.”

Warren was silent for a moment. It was hard for him to believe, but his father almost sounded sincere. In a way it did make sense. If the sentinels were in his possession, he could make sure someone more unsavory didn’t get their hands on them. That still didn’t mean it wouldn’t lead to trouble.

“But how do I know you or some of your unsavory friends won’t take advantage of them?” asked the winged mutant.

“You don’t. You’ll just have to trust me,” he replied, “I know that’s a tall order.”

“That’s putting it lightly,” scoffed Warren.

“That’s all either of us can do. I can’t tell you what will come of the sentinels. In all honesty I don’t know. In a perfect world I would dispose of all of them, but I have various business interests tied up with them. Do you have any idea how many useful non-combat functions this technology could hold?”

“Not enough to make people forget about their anti-mutant applications, that’s for sure.”

“That remains to be seen. Also bear in mind we’re dealing with the military. I can’t even begin to tell you how difficult they are to manage, especially when it comes to new weapons systems.”

“You think you can handle all this? After all the other times you’ve disappointed me?” said Warren bitterly.

Warren Jr. took another gulp of his drink. There wasn’t enough alcohol in the world to make him confident enough to look his son in the eye and assure him in the way he deserved. There would always be a touch of uncertainty. He just had to keep it in check.

“I can’t make any promises that’ll set your mind at ease. I know I’m a long way from that,” he said solemnly, “But try to believe me when I say what I’m doing has your best interests at heart. It may not seem that way now, but what I’m doing will be for the betterment of all mutants and humans. One day, you’ll understand.”

“Like I haven’t heard that before,” sighed Warren.

The winged mutant still wasn’t convinced. But there wasn’t much else he could do at this point. His father made his intentions clear. He was going through with this and he was not a man to back down easily. Looking over at the man with who he felt so much conflict with, he tried to acknowledge his sincerity. His father was a complicated man and theirs was a complicated relationship, but his father still wasn’t giving up on him. At the very least, he could return the favor.

“Look dad, I can’t look you in the eye and say I trust and believe in you. I wish I could, but I can’t,” he said, “As long as those monstrosities are under the Worthington name, I won’t be sleeping any easier. If anything, and I mean anything, happens with these sentinels, the X-men won’t hesitate to take you down. I’ll even lead the charge.”

“I would expect nothing less,” said Warren Jr.

With that understanding, the winged mutant turned away and prepared to leave. He did what he came here to do. Now he was ready to get out of here and not come back unless he had to. Before he flew off, his father had one last question for him.

“When are you going to stop hating me, Warren?” he asked, “How much longer will it be before you accept how sorry I am for everything that went wrong between us?”

Warren was silent for a moment. His expression was hallo with sorrow and uncertainty. As much as he resented this man for what he put him through, he was still his father.

“I don’t know,” he replied honestly, “It all depends on the decisions we both end up making. But make no mistake dad. When that day comes, you’ll know. I promise. Just don’t be too surprised if it never comes.”

Warren flew off into the night, leaving his father to contemplate those words. With no more brandy left to drink, he gazed distantly over the skyline as his son flew away. Clearly, they had a long ways to go. This sentinel conflict wasn’t helping, but it was just one of the many difficult decisions Warren Jr. had to make in his life. It was times like this he wished his wife was still alive. She would know just what to say to their son to make him understand. He could only hope that one day he would see that everything he was doing was for his own good. He may not like him, but it was all for the best.

Xavier Institute – Hanger

Upon returning to the mansion, Rogue helped Kurt unload his things from the jet. He didn’t have much, but she felt it was her duty as his sister to help him adjust as much as possible. She and the Professor had already given him numerous details during the flight. Overall, he optimistic. He seemed especially excited about trying out the Danger Room. He was also intrigued by the idea of studying for a real degree. Rogue commented it was the first time she ever heard anybody get excited about the prospect of school.

Once they got off the jet, Xavier led Kurt on a tour while Rogue walked off with Ororo and Hank to put his stuff away.

“Ah’ll see ya later, Kurt,” she told him, “We got a lot of catchin’ up to do!”

“I’m looking forward to it, Rogue,” grinned Kurt as he followed the Professor.

Rogue smiled and made her way to towards the elevators. She was genuinely excited about having her brother here with her. It would be nice to have some family to lean on for support. She and Kurt were surely going to need each other now, especially if Mystique came into the picture again. Knowing her, it was only a matter of time. But Rogue tried not to think about that. She had enough on her plate at the moment.

Just as she was about to enter the elevator, Scott emerged from behind the corner and caught up to her.

“Rogue! Wait up!” he said, catching her before she could slip inside.

“Oh…hey Scott,” she said distantly, not greeting him with her usual affection.

“Can we talk?” he asked urgently, “You haven’t said a word to me for two days now.”

“Ah know and there’s a reason for that. Ah’ll fill ya in later,” she said dryly.

She stepped into the elevator in hopes of evading him, but Scott slipped in with her. He wasn’t going to let this go on any longer.

“Come on Rogue, don’t be so stubborn,” he told her as they rode up the elevator, “I already told you how sorry I am for not getting your message.”

“Ah know ya are,” she said distantly, “And Ah believe ya.”

“So why are you still giving me the cold shoulder? What more do I have to do to make up for it?”

The elevator doors opened and they started walking through the dormitory halls. Rogue walked out in front of Scott, but he quickly caught up. He obviously wasn’t going to let this go. Even with the drama surrounding Kurt, this issue hadn’t escaped her. She had to face it sooner or later. She might as well get it out of the way.

“Scott…it ain’t just about you not gettin’ mah message,” she said through a bitter tone, “Granted, Ah was pretty dang pissed when Ah found out Kitty was the one who got it and that was a downright fluke. But that didn’t make meh nearly as angry as when Ah found out why you didn’t get it.”

“Are you talking about Jean?” asked Scott, “I told you we just went out for coffee and dinner. It was nothing serious, I swear!”

“Damn it, Scott! It ain’t about whether or not it was serious!” exclaimed Rogue, unable to control herself anymore, “It doesn’t bother meh that you were hanging out with your best friend! What bothers meh is that this friend of yours distracted ya enough to make ya forget about your girlfriend!”

“I didn’t forget! I told you, I just made a mistake! It doesn’t need to be this big an issue!”

“You’re wrong, Scott! It is an issue…an issue we’ve been ignoring for too dang long.”

Rogue forced herself to calm down, taking deep breaths to ease the anger and frustration that was brewing inside her. It was hard for her not to get worked up about this. It had been lingering with her for a while now. This latest incident only brought it to surface. She found herself leading Scott into her room so they could discuss this in private.

“Scott, let’s be realistic here,” she said in a calmer tone, “Ever since Jean broke up with Logan things have been different between us. And don’t start with the whole you’re-just-helping-her-through-it bit. We both know there’s more to it than that.”

Scott wanted to deny it, but when he saw that critical gaze in Rogue’s eyes he fell silent. He wanted to reassure her, but he didn’t want to lie to her.

“Ah’m not gonna yell at your for bein’ a good friend. Ah’m not even gonna yell at ya for bein’ a lousy boyfriend. Heck, you’ve gone above and beyond to do everything right. You’ve pushed yourself to be there for meh and you’ve done your darnedest to not let your friendship with Jean come between us.”

“So what’s the problem? Where did I mess up?” asked Scott desperately.

“Ya didn’t screw up anywhere!” she groaned, “What Ah just described pretty much summed it all up. Ya push yourself so hard to make this work. Ya try so hard to be a good boyfriend. And despite everything you do, you still get distracted from it all when you’re with Jean. Now Ah don’t know much, but Ah know damn well that’s pretty telling.”

Scott shifted uncomfortably. It was hard to deny that Jean had an affect on him. He tried not to let it affect his relationship with Rogue, but it was a bit too late for that.

“I won’t deny that Jean does affect me in a lot of ways. But this is just one incident. We can still get past it.”

“This ain’t just some incident!” Rogue went on, “You can’t expect meh to just up and ignore it!”

“I’m not asking you to, Rogue! But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep working on our relationship.”

“Scott, there’s a fine line between workin’ on a relationship and pushin’ it. Eventually, it gets to a point where it feels…forced.”

Rogue started getting emotional again and turned away from him. Scott tried to reassure her, moving in closer and pulling her into a light embrace. Even when she looked him in the eye again, he still saw the same uncertainty.

“Are you saying you don’t want to be together anymore?” asked Scott with a strained voice.

“Of course not. Ah love being with you. You’re a great guy. You’ve done so much to help meh since Ah got here. You’ve shown me so many good times. You’re also great in bed,” she told him.

“You’re trying to soften blow, aren’t you?”

“Ah’m trying to be honest,” Rogue went on, “It really ain’t about whether or not we can be together. It’s about whether or not we should be together. It ain’t enough to just love each other. It’s about whether or not we’re right for each other.”

“But we don’t know yet!” said Scott strongly, “That doesn’t mean we should give up.”

“You’re wrong. Ah think we do know. The signs are there. We just gotta fess up to them.”

Rogue held back a sob, trying to stay strong through a very difficult moment. She looked at Scott’s shrouded eyes with a mix of affection and sorrow. She could see he didn’t want it to end like this. She couldn’t blame him, but they had to do what was best.

“You’re a good man, Scott Summers. You know how to treat a gal well. But if mah recent experiences with Mystique have taught meh anything, it’s that ya can’t force love. It’s either there or it’s not. Trying to force it into something it ain’t only causes more pain. So let’s save ourselves the trouble and the heartache and end it here.”

“So…we are breaking up,” said Scott solemnly.

Rogue tried to remain stoic, but a tear still escaped from her eye.

“It’s for the best, sugah,” she said, “Don’t get meh wrong. Ah still care about ya. But this…this has to stop. Ah got enough on mah plate as it is and so do you. Let’s make at least one thing simpler.”

It was a harsh realization. Breakups always were. Rogue didn’t put it in the simplest of terms, but Rogue was an unusual girl. Scott had come to know that. He genuinely wished it wouldn’t end like this. He could still tell Rogue was a little bitter about Jean affected them even when he tried to hard to avoid it. But she was right. They couldn’t force this. That wasn’t the mark of a good relationship. That was the mark of a relationship that had to end. In the same way they had so suddenly come together, they were now breaking up. It was ironic, but strangely fitting.

They stood in silence for a moment. Rogue still bore some bitterness and Scott still harbored a strong sense of regret. As they looked each other in the eye, there was no animosity or hatred. There was only a sense of sorrow that it was ending between them.

“We were still good together,” said Scott, finally breaking the silence.

“Yeah…we were,” said Rogue in agreement.

“You did a lot for me, Rogue. I wish it didn’t have to end like this.”

“Me neither,” she sighed as she pulled away from his embrace, “Breakups suck. But we’ll get through it.”

As another silence came over them, Rogue turned away to leave. But before she walked out the door, she turned back and gave her former lover one most meaningful look.

“Ah’ll see ya around, Scott,” she told him.

“Yeah…see you,” said Scott distantly.

Rogue tried to manage a light-hearted smile, but she didn’t have the heart at this point and neither did Scott. They were content to leave it here. It was never easy ending a relationship. It was especially difficult for Rogue since this was her first. But they both knew deep down that this was right. They would still have plenty of good memories to overshadow the more complicated aspects of their relationship. It was time to move on and confront the new challenges that lay ahead of them.

While Scott and Rogue went off to deal with this in their own way, neither of them realized that Jean was lingering around the corner. She had heard the whole conversation from the argument to the breakup. She originally hoped to catch up with Rogue and talk to her about what happened. But Scott beat her to it and now it was too late.

It didn’t necessarily surprise her. She never did get the sense that Scott and Rogue would be a long term thing. But it still left her at a loss of sorts. Now that she had broken up with Logan and Scott had broken up with Rogue, they were single again. They could once again hang out without the complications of being in some other relationship get in the way. That was a relief in some ways, but daunting in others.

‘Wow. How’s that for irony? I break up with Logan and now Scott breaks up with Rogue. All this time and all this emotional stress and we’re right back to where we started. So what’s next? How do we move forward?’

They were daunting questions. Now that they were both single, it opened the door to a new realm of possibilities. There were still a lot of mixed emotions they had to make sense of. It was still too early to say where this would lead them. Only time would tell.

Xavier Institute – Xavier’s Office

After a thorough tour of the institute, Professor Xavier sat down with his newest student in his office. Having lived on a farm for the past three years, being in a place like this was somewhat overwhelming for Kurt. But he took nicely to the setting of the institute. The idea of being in a school and living as normal a life as someone like him could live really appealed to him. It would be a major change for the life he lived with the Azazel and with the Seftons. But some aspects would remain.

The fighting skills he learned under the Azazel were sure to come in handy as an X-man. He already had a head start and based on how he handled himself against Black Tom, he was already deemed ready for field work. But he wasn’t without reservations. Fighting alongside the X-men still meant he would be thrusting himself into heated conflict and he spent the last three years trying to distance himself from that. Only this time, he had a chance to use them for the greater good.

“Your institute is truly amazing, Herr Xavier,” said Kurt as sat with the Professor over some tea, “Zhe news reports I saw back in Germany did not do it justice.”

“Thank you, Kurt,” said Xavier as he sipped his tea, “I’m glad you decided to join. I hope you’ll be happy here.”

“Vith Rogue here to help me I’m sure I’ll do fine,” said the young man with a smile, “It’s going to be quite a shift from life on a farm, but I believe I can do much more good here. I owe it to myself after some of my past sins.”

“I’m honored to give you that chance, my boy. But while we’re on the subject, I did look into your history a bit further,” said Xavier in a more serious tone, “You have quite the reputation in the mercenary world. Your exploits are impressive for someone your age.”

“Ja, it’s a part of my life I can never escape,” said Kurt solemnly, “I’ve hunted people down, beating people up, and taken a few lives in zhe process. It may have been war, but zhe things I’ve done can’t be undone. Granted, zhey could have been a lot vorse had my father not protected me from zhe darker parts of our business.”

“Did he ever fill you in on just what his goal was?” asked Xavier curiously, “I understand if it’s too personal.”

“I’d tell you if I knew, but my father never got zhe chance. He disappeared years ago vithout a trace.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. That must have been very difficult,” said Xavier empathically.

“You have no idea. Everybody thought I vas going to carry on his legacy. Zhat’s pretty hard vhen you don’t even know vhat our goal is. My father vas a complicated man. He vas not just after money and power. Zhere vas so much more to him zhat I never got to learn about. But I guess it’s too late now. Zhe Azazel is long gone and vhatever our goals vere, zhey are gone vith him.”

Kurt grew solemn as he sipped some of his tea. The issue of his father and what they were a part of still affected him. But he was determined to move forward with his life.

“While I respect the privacy of all my students, if you ever wish to look further into your father’s past I’d be more than happy to assist you.”

“I appreciate zhat, Herr Professor, but I’m content to leave zhe past behind me. I don’t know vhat my father vas caught up in, but I vould rather focus on zhe here and now. For vhat I’ve done, it’s only fitting I try to do my best vith zhe X-men to repent for my sins and those of my father.”

“I respect your desire to make amends,” said Xavier, “I also encourage you to focus on more than just penance. In my experience, it helps to have something to look forward to.”

“I don’t doubt zhat. And I vill vork on it, I promise. I want to be a part of zhis dream of yours. I’m just not sure vhere I vant to take my life in zhe long run.”

Xavier cast his new student a warm smile, which helped lighten his mood. Kurt Wagner was clearly a very troubled young man, but he had a good heart and a spirit worth nurturing here at his institute.

“I understand it may seem daunting now. It is for many when they first enter this world. Being in the X-men isn’t just about promoting peace between humans and mutants. It’s about helping people find their place in a complicated world. I can’t promise you you’ll find all the answers here. I can only promise we’ll do what we can to help you find your place.”

“Danke, Professor. I von’t let you down,” vowed Kurt.

Kurt finished his tea and sighed to himself as he took it all in. From the Azazel to the X-men, his life had taken many turns. Now he was on a new path. His father once told him few things in life were certain. The only thing anybody could do was move forward. Doing so always brought it’s share of challenges, but Kurt was ready to face them.

With the tour now complete, Kurt Wagner was ready to start his new life. Once Xavier finished his tea as well, the doors to his office opened and Kitty Pryde entered.

“Hey Kurt, Rogue told me to let you know your room is ready,” she said, “Come on, I’ll show you!”

“I’ll be right zhere,” said Kurt.

Getting up from his seat, Kurt set his tea aside and made his way toward the door. But before he left he had one more question for Charles Xavier.

“Before I go, I’ve been meaning to ask, Professor, are you a God-fearing man?”

“Yes, I would definitely say so,” answered Xavier, “Why do you ask?”

Kurt was silent for a moment as his gaze grew distant, yet hopeful.

“In zhe story of Job, God tests zhe faith of one of his children by plaguing him with anguish and loss. And even though Job curses God at one point, he never loses faith. I bring zhis up because zhese lofty goals you set for zhe X-men tests our faith as vell. It may seem hopeless at times, but I sincerely believe zhat zhe power of faith can do more zhan any mutant power. It’s just a matter of how ve rise to zhe occasion.”

The young man left Xavier with those powerful words as he followed Kitty out. They struck him in a deep way. It seemed so fitting at a time like this when he was struggling to foster peace from the aftermath of Magneto’s uprising. There were times when he and his team really started losing hope. But their faith never waned. They still fought hard for their cause. Kurt Wagner was a testament to the power of such faith. Hopefully he and the X-men could follow his example.

Munich, Germany – 8 Years Ago

It is often said that children take on the best and worst traits of their parents. For Raven Darkholme, she wasn’t sure if that was a good thing. She had a long list of questionable character traits, some of which she didn’t want to impart to her son, Kurt Wagner. The same could be said about his father, Adrian “Azazel” Wagner. He was an enigmatic man with a mysterious past. His persona meshed well with his demonic appearance. While he was by no means evil, he was certainly no angel.

At times Raven wondered if it was right of her to bring her son into a world like this. Even though she didn’t have much choice in the matter, she constantly mused over what kind of life lay ahead of him. Here at the Azazel, the secretive mercenary organization founded by the very man whom it was named for, he was being groomed to endure a life similar to hers. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that. She had been in the mercenary trade a long time and it had worn on her. Usually parents felt pride when their child followed in their footsteps, but she wasn’t sure.

Kurt was already well on his way. In one of the many opulent manors owned and run by the Azazel, Kurt was training with a team of advanced trainers. She kept a close watch on him from a balcony looking over the area. For a ten-year-old, he was doing pretty well. He was teleporting all over the area, attacking and evading his trainers. He was a long ways from being a full fledged mercenary, but he was making progress.

“Ha! Looks like I’m going to break my record!” proclaimed the young mutant, “Are you vatching me, mother?”

Raven managed a smile as she kept watching, offering quiet encouragement to her son. She didn’t want to distract him and she was still lost in thought. She didn’t even realize someone approaching her from behind.

“I’m surprised you’re not cheering him on,” said Azazel as he walked up next to her, “He’s doing quite well, don’t you think?”

“That he is,” said Raven in agreement, “But I was hoping I’d be able to do more with my son on our monthly visit than just watch him train.”

“You’ll have your time with him, my love. I promise,” said the demonic figure affectionately, “You are his mother after all. Every boy needs his mother.”

“Yet here I am, watching other people raise him while I’m caught up in my own affairs,” she said bitterly.

“Oh come now, Raven. You know it doesn’t have to be this way,” he said while affectionately trailing his arm around the shape shifter’s waist.

Raven had to stop herself from getting too sucked into his gestures. While she did have a soft spot for this man, their history was complicated to say the least.

“Please don’t do that,” she told him, “You know how I feel about it.”

“Yet part of you still likes it,” grinned Azazel, “Honestly, Raven, how long are you going to resent me for that? I’ve told you many times before. What I felt for you was genuine. If you want you’re more than welcome to join me along with little Marie.”

“Sorry Azazel, but I’ve told you repeatedly it takes a while to get over being deceived,” she replied, brushing off his gesture.

“Coming from you, I find that incredibly ironic.”

“To hell with the irony! If I had known you were on a mission just to father a worthy child, I would have told you to keep it in your pants.”

“That didn’t stop you from embracing your role as mother to my child. And it didn’t stop me for feeling a genuine love for you. Where I come from a woman of your strength, skill, and grace is very hard to come by.”

“I’m sure it is,” muttered Raven, “But my mind hasn’t changed and neither have my reservations. So do us both a favor and drop it.”

Her tone left little room for coaxing. Sighing to himself, Azazel removed his arm and turned his attention back to his son. As much as he cared for Raven, she was a very stubborn woman.

“It still bothers me that you’re training Kurt for the very life I’ve been trying to escape. He and Marie deserve better. Marie isn’t even a part of this elaborate fight of yours.”

“Maybe not at the moment, but she may certainly become a factor down the line. Which is why I entrusted her to you in the first place,” said Azazel, “But make no mistake, Kurt will not be fighting the same battles you have been carrying on for years. He is going to be a part of something much greater. He and everyone else in this humble organization may be harsh in tactics, but we are noble in our intent.”

“Now who’s being ironic?” scoffed Raven, “Given what you are and where you came from, noble is one of the last words I would use to describe you.”

“What I am is irrelevant. What I do and why I do it is all that matters,” said Azazel, “You of all people should understand that.”

“All I understand is that I am a mother and Kurt is my son,” said Mystique strongly, “You do what you have to, but I will do whatever is best for both my children. Even if that means going to the ends of the earth, I’ll see to it that they are safe from this corrupt world.”

“I would expect nothing less,” grinned Azazel.

Raven fell silent again as she turned and walked away. Azazel couldn’t help but admire her dedication, but even he could see that she was a tad arrogant. She sincerely wanted a better life for her children. He wanted the same, but he had other priorities. There were far more important matters to prepare for. And they all were going to have to be ready.

But whatever Azazel’s agenda may be, Raven Darkholme was resolute. She was not going to let Kurt slip away from her. He and Marie deserved better. She had a much more promising life laid out for them and she was going to do whatever was necessary to make it possible.

Outside Mansion – Present Day

As the sun set over the Xavier Institute, the tumultuous events of the past few days were laid to rest and the team was ready to move forward. They officially had a new member in their ranks. Kurt promised to contribute greatly to their cause and Rogue was sure to support him as a teammate and sister. While they were optimistic about this new path, some were not so hopeful.

Standing atop the outer wall of the mansion, Mystique stood stoically in a dazed state. She had officially lost two of her children to the X-men. After working so hard and planning so meticulously, she had to sit by and watch her kids push her away. If she didn’t despise the X-men with every fiber of her being before, she sure did now. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. She joined Magneto so they would finally be a family again. They were going to live together on Genosha without having to worry about fighting for their survival. But so much had gone wrong. What was supposed to bring them closer had only torn them apart.

Clenching her fists in a rage, Mystique scolded the institute where her kids now resided. She couldn’t let this stand. She wasn’t going to let the X-men keep her from her kids. She wasn’t going to let them become casualties in Xavier’s fruitless war. Kurt and Rogue deserved better. So many conflicting forces had pulled them apart. But one way or another, she was going to get her children back. She didn’t care what she had to do or who she had to go through, she was going to get them back.

‘I failed you, Kurt. Just like I failed Rogue, I let you slip away. I should have done more. But it’s not too late. It’s never too late. One day the both of you will understand. We will be a family again. Even if it means tearing this whole world asunder, we will be together again. I promise.’

With those ominous thoughts, Mystique shifted back into a raven and flew off. As hopeless as her situation now seemed, that didn’t mean all was lost. She was a resourceful woman who knew many resourceful people. If she was to make good on her word, she was going to have to go to extremes. But for her children, she would go to any length. As fate would have it, she had already set something into motion that was sure to change everything.

Northern Scotland

Black Tom Cassidy was not used to his plans falling apart. He was always so meticulous and thorough. He left nothing to chance. But every so often something would come along that even he couldn’t anticipate. This latest complication would definitely qualify. He never could have predicted Kurt Wagner’s devious mother and sister to make an appearance. The X-men getting involved was even more unexpected. Even though they made quite a mess of everything, he still succeeded in part of his plan.

Before he could enjoy the fruits of his work, he had to endure some significant treatment to his hands. After leaving America, he and Siryn returned to their castle compound in Scotland where one of his private doctors was ready to treat his wounds. Thanks to Mystique’s solid aim, his hand would need a cast. He would also need a sling for his forearm, which still hurt a good deal despite the pain killers the doctor gave him. But he sustained worse. It was still worth the plans they recovered.

“Ow! Go easy on the stitches!” spat Black Tom as his doctor’s needle slipped.

“Forgive me, sir. But please remain still. The wound is still sensitive,” said the doctor.

Black Tom groaned as he sat in the makeshift infirmary he had in the basement of his castle. This is where many of his operatives got treatment for wounds suffered in battle. This was the first time he ever had to use this area. As the doctor cleaned up the stitching, Siryn entered carrying a thick file.

“How are you feeling, father?” she asked with a worried look.

“I’ve been better, but overall I’m no worse for wear,” Black Tom assured her, “I knew I should have killed that shape shifting bitch along with Azazel!”

“I’m sure we’ll get another chance,” said Siryn, “But try not to think about her now. I called that number you mentioned. While the X-men may have stopped us from stirring more fear of mutants, we still have a few very interested buyers. And they’re all willing to pay top dollar for this technology.”

“For what I went through to get it, they damn well better,” muttered Black Tom, “A few deals here and a few more incidents with the X-men and I’m sure demand will start soaring very soon. We just have to make sure we’re in prime position to take advantage of it.”

“We always are,” grinned Siryn.

The doctor finished the stitching and Black Tom’s treatment was officially done. Despite lingering discomfort, he grabbed his new cane and rose up. He couldn’t let something as menial as a bullet wound slow down his plans.

“So what’s our next move, father?” asked Siryn.

“Did you gather that intel I told you about?” he asked.

“Of course, it’s right here,” she said, giving him the thick file.

“Good, then we’re already in business,” he grinned as he opened it up and looked at the first page, “As it just so happens, I’ve already brokered a deal with an old ally of mine. He’s a real braniac who’s sure to help us make good use of this technology.”

“Are you referring to who I think you are?” asked Siryn warily.

“You’re a smart woman, Siryn. I’m sure you’ve already figured it out,” said Black Tom ominously, “I know you still have reservations about him. But he’s the right man for the job.”

Siryn shifted uncomfortably. Normally, she never questioned her father. But this was one issue where she had reservations. Of all the men she had come across over the years, only a handful struck her as being truly devious. One stood out above all others. He was a man as mysterious as he was unsightly. She always figured if evil had a face, this man would be it. Why her father trusted him she would never know. The man made no secret of his devious nature. It was even in his name and it couldn’t have been more fitting.

“You may be right, father, but I still don’t like that man. I know we deal with plenty of unsavory characters, but something about him just seems so…”

Sinister?” said Black Tom with a humored grin as he looked over the file, “I know what you mean. Try not to worry about that, my dear. It’s just business.”

Next Issue: Power Play

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