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Volume 3 -- Issue 60 -- Mounting Losses

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Mounting Losses
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In a world that hates and fears them Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men fight for peace and understanding. But with the world becoming increasingly hostile, this fight has faced many new challenges.

In wake of events on Genosha, the public grew increasingly swayed by anti-mutant agendas espoused by the Friends of Humanity and presidential hopeful, Robert Kelly. To stem this growing tide, Charles Xavier teamed up with Lilandra Neramani. Together, they embarked on an ambitious media campaign to counter the forces of intolerance. For a while they made progress. Just as it seemed they were winning public support, tragedy of a very personal nature struck.

Kevin MacTaggart, the first mutant Xavier ever helped, went on a rampage after an ill-fated experiment to control his reality warping powers. With help from his mother, Moira MacTaggart, and the mutant inventor Forge, they managed to stop him. But the boy was so deeply distraught by his rampage and ended up committing suicide. In addition to the personal loss, Kevin MacTaggart’s rampage left a path of destruction that has garnered worldwide attention that some are poised to exploit.

Washington DC – Senator Kelly’s Campaign Headquarters

There was an old saying in politics. One man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity. It certainly held true for Senator Robert Kelly. Since the beginning of his campaign, his fortunes were inversely related with the efforts of Professor Charles Xavier and the X-men. Whenever they looked good, he looked bad. Whenever they succeeded, he seemed to fail. It had been a major obstacle for quite a while now. Now everything had changed once again.

Sitting comfortably in his DC office, Senator Kelly and Reverend William Stryker watched with macabre satisfaction at the reports coming in from Liverpool. In the days following the rampage of Kevin MacTaggart, the full extent of the damage became clear. Homes had been destroyed, people had been killed, and fear had once again taken hold on a weary public. This boy, ironically the very first mutant Charles Xavier helped, turned the tide of public opinion back against mutants. As tragic as it was, it did wonders for Senator Kelly’s poll numbers.

“Incredible,” mused he presidential hopeful, “Xavier and the X-men have gone from heroes to monsters in the span of a week. I have to hand it to the media. They really outdid themselves this time!”

“A politician complimenting the media?” snickered Stryker, “I’m pretty sure that’s a sign of the apocalypse.”

“At the rate we were going, we needed a little divine intervention. This MacTaggart kid gave us everything we needed and then some! The election is almost guaranteed at this point!”

Almost being the keyword,” reminded the reverend, “We still have a ways to go. We just have to capitalize on this tragedy in all the right ways.”

This tragedy was sure to give them plenty to work with. Watching the reports on TV, every detail coming in from Liverpool was a testament to the destruction of a renegade mutant.

“The latest news from Liverpool remains bleak for all sides. The massive cleanup in the city is underway and workers are still finding the remains of Kevin MacTaggart’s victims. The death toll has officially topped 200 and hundreds more remain unaccounted for. Much of England has held prayer vigils for the victims while others have staged rallies expressing their outrage. The story of Kevin MacTaggart has become well-known since he was revealed to have a history with Charles Xavier, founder of the famous X-men. His status as the first mutant he helped has shifted to the first mutant to go on a rampage of this scale. Scotland Yard has been investigating the incident and all the experts seem to agree that this boy’s mutant powers were beyond his control. This incident strikes hard at the efforts of Charles Xavier, who has yet to make a statement. Lilandra Neramani of Aerie Global has urged patience and understanding, but public polls indicate that this incident has greatly affected their views on the mutant issue.”

These reports were music to Senator Kelly’s ears. These ghastly images essentially proved what he had been arguing from day one.

“Unbelievable,” commented Stryker, “One mutant causing so much carnage. The devil must have worked overtime on this boy. There’s no way one of God’s creations could have committed such an act.”

“One is all it takes. This incident is undeniable proof of that,” affirmed Senator Kelly, “Human right and civil liberties go out the door when one disgruntled mutant is capable of all out slaughter.”

“That bodes well for your platform. It’s a pity it came at such a high price. We should pray for them.”

“To be fair, I did offer fair warning over the years,” the senator pointed out, “Now they’ll have this to consider when they go to the polls.”

“It may be fitting in that sense,” said the reverend distantly, “I’ve often said that God has a way of working things out for the better. This incident may be His way of putting us back on track.”

“If that’s true, I’ll remember to thank him in my victory speech,” Senator Kelly grinned.

“But even with God on our side, that doesn’t mean Charles Xavier won’t be a factor. This is the perfect chance for you to unveil your new strategy for the Mutant Registration Act.”

“You mean the strategy that hasn’t been working since the District X debacle?”

“That was then. This is now. People are no longer concerned with the madness showed by Graydon Creed. He was just a man with a touch of instability.”

“He’s facing charges on conspiracy, negligence, and fraud. I would say instability was the least of our concerns.”

“Be that as it may, Kevin MacTaggart has changed the debate,” Stryker pointed out, “This incident fully demonstrates the problem with mutants. Aside from being abominations of God, they are a danger that must be controlled. You can offer the people the salvation they crave. Nobody wants to live under the threat of another Kevin MacTaggart. If you can be the light that gives people hope, then it doesn’t matter what Charles Xavier or Lilandra Neramani says.”

It heightened the very importance of what this campaign was seeking to accomplish. This wasn’t just about winning an election. This was about protecting humanity. For him, a lone senator from New York, to be part of it was overwhelming yet humbling.

“I don’t know about being a savior, William. For now, I’m content to watch my poll numbers rise while Charles Xavier struggles with his own sins.”

“Of which he has many,” said Reverend Stryker firmly, “I have no doubt he’ll continue to be a thorn in our side. But without God on his side, Charles Xavier and his X-men are doomed."

Muir Island

The atmosphere on Muir Island was solemn. Moira, Rahne, and Sean were left to mourn the death of Kevin MacTaggart. Tears and remorse dominated each passing day as the grim aftermath unfolded. Ever since it happened, Moira and her family secluded themselves on Muir Island. The massive public outrage and intense media scrutiny was too much for them. Charles Xavier and Lilandra Neramani did their best to stem the public onslaught. They kept reporters from seeking her out and acted on her behalf during the investigation. They needed to protect her while she and her family mourned in private.

Even though this loss was deeply personal, it was inevitable that the authorities got involved. Muir Island was officially taken over by the Ministry of Justice for the investigation. Research could still be done, but only in a very limited fashion and under the strictest of supervision. Every aspect of their work was scrutinized as they sought answers for this national tragedy. Moira and everyone who worked at the island were essentially interrogated as a means of determining their role in this affair. It made for a tense environment during an already difficult time, but government investigations were nowhere near as bad as the reaction from the public. People were already calling Moira things like Satan’s mother, mutant whore, and a traitor to humanity. These labels hurt, but they paled in comparison to the pain of Kevin’s death.

In the midst of all this scrutiny, Moira and the Professor put together a small meMoiral service for Kevin. With help from Logan, John Proudstar, and Ororo they crafted a small stone monument near the cliff on the north side of the island. John hauled the stone in by hand, Wolverine carved it with his claws, and Ororo carefully crafted the inscription. It read “In loving memory of Kevin MacTaggart. Son. Brother. Friend. Saved by his humanity.”

Once the monument was complete, Charles and Moira gathered with their friends and family to take part in the ceremony. Sean and Rahne stood together with Sean spending much of his time giving his adopted daughter a shoulder to cry on. Forge also made an appearance. While he didn’t know Kevin very well, he was still compelled to attend since he played such a big part in this. Logan, John, and Ororo stayed to pay their respects. Kurt also joined them so he could lead the prayers, following a similar tradition set forth by his father when a loved one died. Lilandra also made the trip, standing by Charles during this difficult time. It was somewhat awkward with her being in the presence of his former lover, but any potential awkwardness fell to the wayside in wake of tragedy.

“He lost himself in powers zhat ve couldn’t understand. His very spirit vas twisted by zhe strain of becoming something more than human,” said Kurt as he led everyone in a final prayer, “Yet even vhen he seemed so lost, Kevin MacTaggart found his human soul. It led him to do what he thought vas right even though it leaves us all vith broken hearts.”

Rahne let out a hard sob as she relieved that fateful moment in her mind once more, seeing her brother’s pained expression before he took his own life. Her adopted father embraced her through her sorrow, allowing her to stand strong as Kurt finished the ceremony.

“But vith his sacrifice, he saved his loved ones while saving himself from further torment. In zhe end, vhat he did vas an act of strength and not weakness. And so ve pray for him and zhe strength he showed vhen he needed it most. May he rest in peace and may God grant him his unlimited mercy. Amen.”

“Amen,” everyone repeated.

Moira held back more tears as she gazed at the moment. She was standing next to Charles, her hand on his shoulder with her head held low. Nobody outside their family was going to grieve her. The world was already calling him a monster and labeling her an abomination. They could call her what they wanted. That was not going to prevent her from honoring her son’s memory.

“Why did ye have to do it, Kevin? Why?” sobbed Rahne.

“He did what he had to do, lass. There’s nothing we could have done,” said Sean sadly.

“Ye don’t know that!” she said bitterly.

“Maybe I don’t, but Kevin definitely knew. And he wouldn’t want ye to blame yourself or anyone other than him.”

“That’s part of why I’m trying me hardest not to be mad at him. Kevin always knew how to push me buttons. And God help me, I loved him for it. He was the first friend I had who really understood me. I spent the first ten years of my life locked in basements by my so-called parents. I never thought I could have a real family until…”

Rahne was unable to finish. She clung to her adopted father’s arm and kept sobbing. It was the first time in many years she had wept like this. It tore at Sean Cassidy’s heart to see this, yet he remained strong for his daughter and lover.

For John, Logan, Ororo, Kurt, and Forge it was difficult seeing so many emotions from their friends and mentor. Logan and John, two battle-hardened warriors, remained as supportive as possible. Kurt, a hardened mercenary himself, remained more compassionate as a man of faith should in times of loss. Ororo seemed to share this compassion as she tried with Lilandra to console Professor Xavier, who was still at a loss. Only Forged seem conflicted. He had his hands stuffed in his pockets the whole time, uncertain of how he should feel.

“Why does this keep happening?” wondered the mutant inventor, “When I use my inventions for greed or for show, they always go right. But when I actually try to invent something to do some good, it goes wrong.”

“Irony’s a bitch. That’s all there is to it,” said Logan stoically.

“If that’s the case, then I’m almost as cursed as Kevin,” muttered Forge.

“Don’t give too much credence to Logan’s philosophies on life, Forge. The musings of an admitted drunk and insufferable jerk are rarely accurate.”

“And to think I was gonna buy your ass a round of Guinness when this was over,” muttered the former living weapon.

“I try not to be that simplistic,” John went on, “I learned long ago that doing the right thing is hard for a reason. Nothing worth doing is ever easy.”

“So what does that mean for me? It’s not like I can stop inventing. I’d go crazy if I couldn’t invent. But if my inventions are going to go wrong like this…”

“That’s the chance you take when you’re trying to be a decent human being,” said John, “I’m sure that feeling is still new to you. It doesn’t make sense now, but it will.”

“Gee, you make it sound so appealing,” said Forge dryly.

“I never said it was. But so long as you’re still signed on with us, you might as well get used to it. You’re supposed to be a smart guy. You’ll figure it out.”

It was hard to tell if John was being sarcastic or just chiding him like he always did, but he was right about one thing. Forge was still tied to Muir Island and the research they did here. Even under the government’s supervision, he was part of this life now. He needed to adapt to the once foreign concept of being selfless and if this incident was any indication he had a long, arduous road ahead of him.

Forge wasn’t the only one with questions. Of all those struck by Kevin’s death, Charles Xavier was one of the hardest hit. For him, it wasn’t just about losing a boy he cared for and failing a woman he once loved so deeply. This tragedy struck at the very nature of his dream. He always held firm that no mutant was beyond helping. Everyone could be reached because mutants were still human. Even those with abilities that were difficult to control, no one was beyond saving so long as they remembered their humanity. It was one of the core tenants of the X-men.

But for Kevin MacTaggart, huamnity wasn’t enough. He truly became something that was beyond human. His mutation overwhelmed him, resulting in death and destruction. And this was the boy he first helped. This was the first success story that inspired him to create the X-men. Now that first success had turned into a tragic failure. It didn’t just impact him personally. It impacted the entire premise behind his dream.

“Goodbye Kevin,” cried Moira, “I’m so sorry I failed ye.”

“No Moira. You didn’t fail, Kevin. I did,” said Xavier solemnly, “I didn’t do enough for him. I was…foolish.”

“It’s never foolish to reach out to a boy that was suffering,” she told him, “You did more for him than I ever could, Charles. Don’t ever be saying otherwise.”

“Yet it wasn’t enough. I thought that just by teaching him to accept who and what he was, it would all work out. I was wrong.”

“You did everything you could possibly do, Professor,” said Ororo, “And as always, you did what was right.”

“It doesn’t matter, Ororo. No matter how righteous my intentions were or how compassionate I was, Kevin is still dead. It almost makes me wonder if Erik had a point. He always knew how to discern what was right and what was necessary. I may have done everything I should’ve done, but perhaps I simply wasn’t strong enough to do what was necessary.”

“I’m hopin’ that’s the grief talking, Chuck,” said Logan, “We don’t need you second guessing yourself when the world is going to hell over the mess.”

“A boy is dead, Logan. A boy I was supposed to help!” said Xavier strongly, “If ever there was a more appropriate time to second guess, this would be it!”

They were difficult words to hear from their mentor. The X-men had been shaken before, but never like this. It could have been grief or it could have been something more. For all they knew, Professor Xavier was prepared to completely rethink the principles that guided his dream.

Sensing his distress, Lilandra tried to comfort him. This was an incident in which she played no part, but because she allowed herself to get emotionally involved with Charles Xavier it affected her. She placed her hand over his and gave it a firm squeeze. She also opened her mind to his, allowing her to sense her thoughts and feel her concern for him. He had to know that so many people still clung to his dream.

“Please Charles…I know you’re hurting. But doubting yourself will only make it harder,” said Lilandrea.

“Why shouldn’t I doubt myself, Lilandra? I failed,” he said solemnly, “And because I failed, everyone I care about suffered!”

“Regardless of whether or not you could have done more, Kevin was the one who made this decision. You did the right thing, reminding him of his humanity. But as you well-know, doing the right thing often comes at a price.”

“Not this price,” said Xavier, getting choked up once more, “It’s not supposed to be like this. Confused boys such as Kevin should not have to die.”

“In an ideal world, they wouldn’t. But you know better than most that this world is far from perfect. There are going to be losses. Innocent people are going to be hurt. We all have to endure our share of sorrow. It’s part of being human.”

“That doesn’t make it right, Lilandra.”

“I’m not saying it does, but no matter what sorrow we may endure we cannot let those losses dampen our resolve. The world still needs you, Charles Xavier. And it needs everything you stand for.”

The Professor found himself squeezing Lilandra’s hand. Feeling her warm touch and sensing her kind thoughts was comforting. His spirit may have been wounded, but it was still intact. It was just going to be a lot harder now, bearing this burden in wake of such a devastating loss. Looking up at Lilandra, Moira, and his X-men he knew he couldn’t let them down. Even if his first effort to help a mutant turned out to be a failure, he couldn’t allow this to be the end of his dream. So with a solemn nod, Xavier bowed his head and said a silent prayer for Kevin.

As the Professor grieved, Lilandra stayed close. Her comforting gesture to Charles did not go unnoticed by Moira. As a former love of Charles Xavier, she took a keen interest in his personal affairs. She had suspected a stronger connection between him and Lilandra before this all began. Now she could see first hand just how deep it ran. Even in her state of grief, she took the time to acknowledge this new part of his life.

‘You don’t need to say anything, Moira. I know what you’re thinking,’ said Lilandra to Moira through a telepathic message.

‘Aye, he told me ye shared more than just visions. Thank ye for being there for him,’ Moire replied.

‘It’s the least I could do. The world is bearing down on him and his dream. I’m doing my best to keep it together.’

‘And you’ve been doing a fine job. Charles is lucky to to have someone like ye.’

‘Coming from a former girlfriend, that means the world to me. But I know how hard loss can be. I lost my father in a tragedy as well. No matter how strong we may be, we still need time to grieve and Charles Xavier is no exception.’

Moira managed a light smile towards Lilandra. She even found herself moving closer to Sean, the love she found after Charles. She may have moved on with her life, but it was nice to know Charles had someone to help him through these difficult times.

‘Charles is a good man, Lilandra. He deserves to be loved. Please, take care of him.’

‘Of course. And rest assured, he’s in good hands.’

As Moira, Xavier, and the X-men grieved it started to rain. It seemed to reflect the dreary new circumstances of their fight. It had been going their way and this tragedy sent it all crashing down. Even if it didn’t destroy everything they worked for, it damaged it a great deal. Such losses were sure to leave scars that would go beyond this tragdy.

Xavier Institute – Infirmary

The infirmary always felt colder when someone lay suffering from battle wounds. After the fight with Proteus, nearly everyone in the team needed to heal up both physically and mentally. The infirmary became a bittersweet sanctuary, a place to start putting behind the loss they endured. For some, however, the lingering effects were more severe and more mysterious.

Since the incident, Jean Grey had been bedridden. Her mysterious show of power may have helped subdued Proteus, but it exacted a heavy toll on her. She was left weakened, confused, and very ill. After the battle she was consumed by a new round of ailments. This time it was worse than just migraines. She suffered seizures, nausea, and fatigue both physically and mentally. It seemed to stem from her powers. She complained of not being able to filter out thoughts anymore and her telekinesis flared up in bizarre ways, causing anything that wasn’t nailed down to fling itself across the room. For so long she maintained such a firm grasp on her powers. Now it was all falling apart.

It was difficult for her friends and loved ones to see her like this. Most offered their support, but preferred not to risk further injuries when they were still recovering from the ones left by Proteus. Yet through the ordeal, Scott remained by her side. He was a constant presence next to her bed, holding her hand and talking to her while she struggled to regain control. It seemed to be harder for her than it was at any point in the past. What she endured was unique. The only other parallel Scott could draw was her weakened state after using Magneto’s machine. However, this was many times worse.

‘Please be okay, Jean. I don’t know if you can hear my thoughts, but you’re really making me worry. Hell, you’re making everyone worry! What’s happening to you? What’s putting you in so much pain? Whatever it is, I know you’re strong enough to fight through it. Just know I’m here for you...and that I love you.’

The worried Scott Summers gently squeezed her hand. Jean was fast asleep, having been sedated in wake of another seizure. It was hard to tell if she sensed his thoughts, but he swore he felt her squeeze back. It offered some comfort. He could sense she was fighting this. He just wish he knew what she was up against.

As he gazed over his sleeping girlfriend with growing concern, the doors to the infirmary opened and Hank entered. The expression on his face didn’t offer much hope for improvements.

“You know, you’re going to have to get some rest yourself at some point, Scott,” he said as he walked up to her bed, “You’re not doing yourself any favors with self-inflicted insomnia.”

“Jean needs me. My health can wait,” said Scott in a low tone, “What’s the latest? Did you get her latest test results?”

Hank sighed as he flipped through a print out of Jean’s latest checkup. With every reading, he kept shaking his head in dismay.

“Still no change, I’m afraid,” he said, “I’m still at a loss for what I’m seeing here. Her powers remain highly unstable. Her neuro-scans remain erratic and her psychic blocks continue to falter. It’s as if some outside force is ravaging her psychic faculties. Even the Professor isn’t sure what to make of it.”

“But she’ll still get better, right?” asked Scott desperately, “She’s been through this before. She can do it again.”

“This is different. As you know, Jean’s powers were very unstable when she first arrived. The Professor once told me that her psychic potential was vast, rivaling just his in terms of breadth.”

“How is that different? Morever, how is that supposed to help her?!” said the X-leader with growing frustration.

“I’m just trying to explain to you what Jean is up against. Like all psychics, the mind requires a certain amount of training and discipline to control these abilities. But due to the potential being so strong within Jean, the ability to control it is made all the more difficult. The addition of the accident and the mental asylum certainly did not help.”

Scott’s demeanor shifted at the mention of Jean’s history. Having been a big part of it, he knew how bad it was. Controlling psychic powers was bad enough. Dealing with the emotional strain of the accident that tore her family apart and being locked away an in insane asylum made it worse. She had always been so strong, never letting it never affected her like this. That was why it left him so deeply concerned.

“I’m sorry, Scott. I’m just not sure what we can do at this point,” said Hank, “But Tessa and I are on the case and so is Professor Xavier. You know he won’t let her suffer like this. We’ll help her. I promise.”

“With the way he’s been hurting over Kevin, I’m not sure he’ll be up to it,” muttered Scott.

“A lot of people are hurting, Scott. But now, the incentive is even greater. No one wants to experience such a tragedy again. For Jean especially, the Professor will move heaven and Earth to help her, no matter what the cause of this mysterious ailment may be.”

Scott tried to take some comfort in Hank’s words. It was difficult when these events were still so fresh in his mind. He found himself thinking back to that fateful moment when she took down Proteus. He still remembered vividly that look in her eyes. That strange fiery gaze struck him in a way that led him to believe that the worst was yet to come.

“She said something was coming,” Scott said distantly, “She didn’t say what it was, but I get the feeling it was a warning of sorts. There are other forces at work here. Between these migraines and the nightmares she’s been having, there has to be a cause for it all!”

“It could be anything. Getting upset about it isn’t going to change that,” coaxed Hank.

“I know, but…”

“Beating yourself up over it isn’t going to help either,” Hank went on, placing a hand on his student’s shoulder, “I know you’re worried. We’re all worried. That’s why we have to be strong. After what happened with Proteus, we can ill-afford more losses.”

The X-leader still wasn’t satisfied with the situation. He continued to fume as he clung to Jean’s hand. Hank could hardly blame him. The woman he loved was suffering. For someone already bearing his share of heavy burdens, it was a major strain.

“We’ll figure it out,” Hank reiterated, “Until then, don’t negate your own well-being. Jean will need you and so will the rest of the X-men.”

“I’ll remember that, but I can’t make any promises,” said Scott solemnly.

“I wouldn’t expect you to.”

Hank left the young man alone with his lover. Scott Summers fell silent, not taking his eyes off Jean as he sat back and took a deep breath. He continued holding onto her hand and caressing her face. It was hard to see her like this and not get upset, but Hank was right. He had to be strong for her. He had to be strong for her in a way he hadn’t allowed himself to be with anyone else. A lot of people were hurting. The X-men needed to be strong even in times of darkness.

Yet still, he couldn’t help but wonder what she meant by her ominous words. “It’s coming.” That was all he had to go on. It could be anything. It could be nothing. Their relationship was just beginning to evolve in ways no previous relationship ever had. He loved her too much to let her suffer like this. Whatever this was, he was prepared to fight it with her.

‘I know we’ve had our share of issues lately, Jean. I shut you out when I was upset over Alex. I haven’t allowed myself to be truly vulnerable with you even though I trust you with my life. I don’t want to just go through the motions of being your boyfriend. I...I want to be more. I’m willing to be more! But I won’t have that chance unless you fight this! Please Jean...whatever it is that’s coming, fight it!'

Xavier Institute – Bobby’s Room

Bobby Drake prided himself in finding ways to lighten the mood. He often found that when times were grim, a good laugh helped put everything in perspective. That philosophy only went so far when it came to people dying. There were no jokes in existence that could soften a blow like that. Kevin MacTaggart was dead, over 200 people that got caught in his path were dead, and the world once again feared mutants. It really was nothing to laugh about.

He tried to distract himself. He hung around in his room, watched movies, and chatted with friends online. One person he had been talking to more frequently was Jubilee from District X. She sought him out unexpectedly after their encounter with Bastion. She was really flirty at first, but it was all very casual. Lately, however, he was wondering if there was something more to it.

Gazing distantly at his computer screen, Bobby Drake sighed and wondered where it was all going. His thoughts were soon interrupted by a knock on his door.

“Bobby? Don’t tell me you’re still sleeping in there!” came the critical voice of Kitty Pryde, “We seriously have to talk!”

“Ugh…not now, Kitty,” he groaned.

“You can’t keep avoiding me, Bobby! Moreover...I don’t want you to,” she said in a more sincere tone.

“Well I don’t want to want to right now so can you hold out just a little bit longer?”

This was another conflict to add to the aftermath of Proteus. Just before this all went down, Kitty found out he had been chatting with Jubilee. Needless to say, she wasn’t thrilled. It wouldn’t be the first time an internet romance had complicated his life. Before he could make another excuse, she entered his room. When she saw him on his computer again, she quickly assumed the worst.

“Chatting with Jubilee again? Why am I not surprised?” she said dryly.

“Seriously Kitty, is this really the time to get into it?” he said as he quickly closed his chat.

“It’s been a week, Bobby! That excuse only lasts for so long! We should have talked about it sooner, but you’ve been avoiding it…and you’ve been avoiding me.”

Her tone shifted. She was using the guilt card now, something Bobby always hated. Lorna used to pull the same trick on him. He swore all women conspired to use it on him.

“I’m sorry, Kitty,” he said more seriously, “It’s just…I don’t see why this is a big deal. So I’m talking to Jubilee. Why does that bother you so much?”

“Probably for the same reasons it bothered Miss Munroe when Mr. McCoy did the same thing,” Kitty pointed out.

“This is nothing like that!”

“There are enough similarities to make a girl feel upset. If you want to deny that then you’re just being a jerk! And this is a pretty lousy time to be a jerk in case you haven’t noticed!”

Kitty’s harsh words silenced Bobby. For a girl with no self-censoring mechanism, she always had to pile on when the situation was difficult. Kitty forced herself to be silent for a moment as she sat down on his bed, trying not showing a whole lot of anger while making it clear she was still very upset. Bobby shifted awkwardly in her presence, indicating he understood what he was putting her through.

“Let’s skip the shouting match. You know that never goes anywhere,” said Kitty, “Let’s try and be honest here.”

“Fine…honesty works for me,” said Bobby distantly, “Because honestly, I think you’re making too much out of this.”

“How is you getting flirty with some other girl nothing to get worked up about?” she said cynically.

“That’s just it. You’re making it sound like you and I are a serious item and me putting myself out there is a huge offence.”

“So all of the sudden we’re not serious?”

“It sure seems like that, at least to me,” said Bobby, keeping an honest tone, “Seriously, Kitty, I like that you and I have gotten close since I broke up with Lorna. Hell, we’ve gotten a lot closer than I expected we would.”

“That surprised me too, but in a good way,” she said, offering a more sincere tone.

“You’ve really helped me through some rough times,” Bobby went on, “But…that’s all you’ve been doing. We’ve never actually been official.”

“So all those late nights and intimate moments were meaningless?”

“I’m not saying it was. But if you and I were official, I never got the memo. You wouldn’t talk about it. You wouldn’t even use the word relationship. Yet you expect me to just assume it has all the workings of what I had with Lorna? I may be immature, but I know what it means to beat around the bush.”

Now it was Kitty’s turn to feel awkward. Looking back on it, she definitely avoided making this whole deal they had official. She was always so quick to brush it off, assuming it was too soon or something. Now that approach seemed downright asinine.

“But it wasn’t like I was leading you on,” she said, “I mean you remember how snarky the others got when we were still butting heads. I figured when we stopped…”

“There you go assuming again!” Bobby interrupted, “Kitty, did you ever stop and wonder that the whole bit with us butting heads was just that? Butting heads? We made up, got a little closer, and that’s it.”

“Well I’m sorry if I didn’t spell it out for you!” said Kitty, getting defensive, “But I’ve never had a boyfriend before. I’ve never even been intimate with anyone until I started opening up to you.”

“Did you ever stop and wonder that there might be a reason for that?” questioned Bobby.

“The thought had crossed my mind. Are you going to tell me you figured it out before me?”

“Just think about it, Kitty. You and I start spending more time together. You help me get over Lorna. We have our share of moments along the way. But nothing happens. No sparks fly. Birds don’t start singing and the sun doesn’t shine any brighter.”

“So now you’re saying we didn’t feel anything?” said Kitty, still defensive.

“I’m saying that maybe we both assumed too much. When I was with Lorna, we couldn’t stop ourselves from saying how much we loved each other. That’s because the feelings were there and impossible to ignore. You and I haven’t even been close to that. We’ve just been friendly with extras on the side.”

Kitty was hurt somewhat by his words. She found herself looking away, trying to hold back her reaction. She was tempted to yell at him again for being so insensitive about the time they had spent together. However, the more she thought about it, the more she questioned the whole premise of this so-called relationship. It was flawed in ways she had been all too willing to ignore. It left her feeling more upset with herself than she felt with Bobby.

Bobby got up from his desk and sat down next to Kitty. He offered a tender gesture, one that Kitty barely seemed to notice. She was upset and he couldn’t blame her. It was his fault for letting it get this bad.

“Look Kitty, I’m really sorry. I never meant to hurt you,” he said honestly.

“A little late for that,” she muttered.

“But can we at least agree that maybe we got a little ahead of ourselves? If we get to a certain point and can go no further, what else is there? We can’t be coy about it forever. That’s like living in one of those cheesy teen comedies only without a corny ending. And I know how much you hate those.”

It was a light joke for a very serious matter. Kitty didn’t laugh, but she did manage a half-smile. Bobby remained awkward, still at a loss for words. It seemed as though neither of them knew what to say at this point. After another round of awkward silence, Kitty sighed and rose up from his bed.

“I’m going for a walk,” she said, “Maybe even unwind with a level two Danger Room session.”

“You’re not going to program my face on the robots, are you?” asked Bobby in a half-joking tone.

Kitty didn’t smile this time, not even a little. She just turned to Bobby before staring to make her way out.

“I just need to get my head straight. Go ahead and keep flirting with Jubilee in the meantime.”

“Oh so now you’re going to guilt me to death?” said Bobby dryly.

“Call it whatever you want, Bobby. But you’re right. Maybe I don’t understand this as well as I thought. We’re all burned out from the Proteus mess. It figures now would be the time to get this out in the open.”

“Then why are you walking away?”

“Because if we keep talking like this, one of us is going to say something stupid and that’s only going to make it worse,” Kitty pointed out, “We’ll talk later once we’ve had time for all the death, destruction, and loss to sink in.”

She painted a pretty grim picture. It left Bobby with plenty to think about as he watched Kitty walk off, closing his door behind her. She really knew how to make him feel like a jerk even when she clearly shared some of the blame. Even if she was overreacting, there was no getting around it. He was only making things worse by talking to Jubilee. Then again with the way he and Kitty had been going, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Groaning to himself, he lay back on his bed in a daze.

‘I just can’t resist making a bad situation worse. I put myself in these crazy situations with women and find a way to screw it up. Even by my standards, that’s cold.’

Xavier Institute – Backyard

It was a beautiful, cloudless day outside. The air was crisp, the winds were light, and the sun was bright and steady. It was the perfect weather for flying and under normal circumstances Warren Worthington III would have been up in the skies enjoying it. After an incident like Proteus, he sure needed it. For once, he decided to remain grounded. It just didn’t feel right, trying to fly away from these issues.

Instead, he was sitting silently on one of the picnic tables in the backyard. Remy was sitting next to him, casually shuffling cards and playing solitaire. The winged mutant had been lost in thought ever since they got back from Muir Island. Like everyone else, he had been affected by the Proteus affair. Except for him, there was something else he had been dwelling on that hung strongly in his mind.

“You sit like that much longer and people gonna start to think you a statue, homme,” commented Remy, “Pretty soon pigeons are gonna start poopin’ on you and Remy ain’t inclined to stop them.”

Warren ignored the Cajun’s comments. It was as if he didn’t even hear him. Shaking his head, Remy went back to playing solitaire. For him to stay grounded like this, he had to be dwelling on something heavy. Given his recent history since the Candy Southerner affair, it could be any number of things.

As Warren continued to ponder, Rogue came flying in from over the lake. Unlike him, there was nothing keeping her from enjoying the beautiful weather.

“Dang, this is a good day for flying!” she said as she stretched her limbs, “Why the heck ain’t you up there, Warren? This is the kind of day you skip class and training for!”

“Don’t bother pointin’ out the obvious, cherè. He be sittin’ in that same position for the last two hours,” said Remy as he shuffled his cards, “I’m starting to wonder if we should call the paramedics.”

“Maybe you ought to try an exorcist,” said Rogue as she tried to get his attention, “Then again, for him that would be downright blasphemous.”

At this point Warren couldn’t keep ignoring their comments. They were getting annoying and interrupting his train of thought.

“You know, just because I’m not listening to you guys doesn’t mean I can’t hear you,” he said in a monotone voice.

“He finally speaks. It be a miracle,” laughed Remy as he kept shuffling his cards.

“Sorry sugah, but you’re starting to worry us,” said Rogue in a more serious tone, “Ah ain’t even seen you go on your mourning flights anymore. Something has got to be wrong and Ah hope you don’t waste time denying it.”

Warren fell silent again, not indicating he had even heard Rogue’s concerns. Remy shook his head in exasperation while Rogue kept trying to get his attention, waving her hand around his face to make sure he was still there.

“Hello? Warren?” she said with growing frustration, “Maybe paramedics ain’t such a bad idea after all.”

Rogue was on the verge of yelling at him. Then Warren finally came out with what was plaguing his mind.

“Do you guys ever think we could have done more for Kevin? Like, I don’t know, maybe we had opportunities we missed?”

“Is that what’s been bugging you?” said Rogue incredulously, “Dang Warren, ain’t we had enough of that? Ah’m still sore from that mess that kid put meh through.”

“I’m serious, Rogue,” said Warren strongly, “Everything spun out of control because Moira and Kevin got desperate. They didn’t understand what was happening to him. They didn’t have the resources to deal with him. They knew his powers were getting out of hand and were willing to take big risks to contain them.”

“Ain’t like we had any control over that,” shrugged Remy, “It just be one of those things that was bound to blow up sooner or later.”

“That’s exactly my point. Because what if they did understand? What if they did have the resources? Kevin may have never lost control and Moira wouldn’t have lost her son.”

“Now you’re just piling on more guilt than you need to,” said Rogue, “We did all we could, Warren. There was nothing else any of us could have done.”

“Maybe you guys couldn’t, but I sure had a chance. And not taking advantage of it may have cost Kevin his life.”

“What chance you talkin’ about, homme?” asked Remy, now taking it seriously as well.

Warren was silent for a moment, struggling with many conflicting thoughts. Rogue may have had a point. He was piling needless guilt on himself, but that same guilt is what got him thinking so hard.

“Years ago when my powers first manifested, my father tried to formulate a cure for mutation. He claimed he was trying to help mutants by giving them a way to control their powers, maybe even suppressing them completely. I, of course, hated his guts for it. I still do. But now I’m wondering if maybe he was at least partially right.”

“Now you’re second guessing the very reason you hated your father so much?” said Rogue with even more surprise.

“Maybe Remy should be callin’ those paramedics and the exorcistl,” said Remy.

“Will you quit with the paramedics and exorcists?! I’m being serious!” Warren shouted, “Yes, my dad’s heart was in the wrong place and so was Candy’s when she took over the project. But that doesn’t mean the idea wasn’t sound.”

“That don’t mean it wouldn’t create more problems than it solves,” Remy pointed out.

“Well we can never know for sure. I got them to shut the whole cure program down because they were pressuring me to give up my mutation. But what if I hadn’t? What if my father’s people managed to put together some sort of cure? One that could have helped Kevin before Moira did that test?”

“And what if he ended up making it worse?” made Rogue, “You might as well blame yourself for him being a mutant in the first place.”

“That doesn’t change the truth!” said the winged mutant, now hanging his head low, “I was selfish. I forced my dad to end that program without ever considering that maybe it would help other mutants. You of all people should understand Rogue. Some mutant powers really are a burden. Isn’t a cure that could help them worth pursuing?”

Rogue shifted awkwardly. She hadn’t forgotten that she still couldn’t control her powers. Looking over at Remy, she could tell he hadn’t forgotten either. It was hard to get around. If she had a chance to touch again, she would definitely take it. It wasn’t hard to imagine Moira contemplating something similar. She was beginning to see why Warren was so torn up about this.

Remy stopped shuffling his cards and looked at his winged friend more seriously. As the institutes's resident philosophy buff, it was only appropriate that he offer his input.

“It still ain’t something you should beat yourself up over,” he said, “We can’t undo the past in the same way we can’t rewrite history. Kevin made his choice just as you make yours. Ain’t nothing much we can do about either.”

“Maybe so,” Warren conceded, “But that doesn’t mean others have to share his fate in the future. There may be mutants out there facing the same problem. And there’s only so much the X-men can do. Worthington Industries has the resources and since my name is in the title, I have the influence. Maybe I can do more for these mutants as Warren Worthington III than I can as Angel.”

“What are you saying? You wanna quit the X-men and join your father? The guy you once claimed to hate with the passion a thousand suns?” said Rogue cynically.

“I’m saying I should be willing to do more, even if it means setting aside my resentment. I still hate the very notion of a cure for mutation. But if it could help people like Kevin or even you, Rogue...isn’t it worth taking seriously?”

It still sounded like they should get Warren some medical attention. He really was serious about this. He actually saw some merit to the cure his father tried to develop for all the wrong reasons. It was hard to wrap their head around. Remy and Rogue weren’t heir to a massive industrial fortune so they couldn’t begin to understand.

“You still be playing a dangerous game, homme,” Remy pointed out, “What happen to Kevin was bad. Hell, it be the worst. But dustin’ off this here cure is the same risky gamble that Moira be playing.”

“Remy’s right,” conceded Rogue, “As much as Ah would love to touch again, it could still go horribly wrong in way too many ways.”

“That’s exactly why I’m so hung up on this,” sighed Warren, “I know it goes against common sense and pretty much everything Professor Xavier has taught us, but we have to face facts. Proteus may have been an extreme case, but he may not be the only case. It only takes one to derail the Professor’s dream and we have to do whatever it takes to keep that dream alive.”

“Your heart be in the right place, Warren. But the question remains...at what cost?” said Remy.

Looking at Rogue and Remy, Warren could tell they didn’t agree with what he was saying. It was easy for them to make that argument. They didn’t have the luxury of being associated from the Worthington name. Since the asteroid incident and the whole affair with Bastion, his family connections took on a new level of importance. The question remained and needed to be answered. Should he or shouldn’t he make more use of it?

Still contemplating this issue, Warren got up from the bench and flew back towards the mansion. Rogue and Remy clearly weren’t going to give him any answers. This was something he was going to have to figure out on his own.

“Still think we should call the paramedics?” asked Rogue as she watched the winged mutant with growing concern.

“Probably wouldn’t do much at this point,” said Remy, “Warren ain’t the kind of guy who doesn’t subscribe to the whole ignorance is bliss approach.”

“You think he’s gonna go back to sulking in strip clubs?”

“He’s probably tempted, but Remy don’t think he’s gonna let this burning question about his family ties go unanswered.”


After bidding Moira, Sean, John, Forge, and Rahne a solemn farewell, Professor Xavier boarded the X-jet with Logan, Ororo, Kurt, and Lilandra and headed home. He would have liked to stay longer. Moira was still reeling and would be under plenty of scrutiny now that Muir Island was under the thumb of the government, but Sean and Rahne assured him that they would take care of her. John Proudstar said he would spend the rest of his leave to assist them. As much as Kevin’s death still stung, Xavier  could not continue to avoid the ongoing fallout.

As the jet flew over the middle of the Atlantic, Lilandra made a number of calls back to her people at Aerie Global. While Xavier was dealing with Kevin, her organization scrambled to keep their mission from completely collapsing. Even with their vast resources, their impact could only go so far. With Kevin’s rampage still reverberating all over the world, it was sure to get worse before it got better.

“Yes…I see…no, thank you for getting these numbers so quickly. We’ll start reformulating our strategy immediately…in the meantime, keep responding to every report you can. Play up the fact that Kevin was an accident…I know that’s not what’s being report, but don’t let Senator Kelly spin this in his favor! We’ll find a way to work though this. For now, all we can do is limit the damage.”

Lilandra sighed as she put away her phone. It didn’t sound too encouraging. Ororo and Kurt were sitting in the passenger area with her and Xavier while Logan was flying the plane. They were lending what support they could to the reeling Professor Xavier, but now they were going to need some support themselves.

“How bad is it?” asked Ororo nervously.

“Very bad,” said Lilandra grimly, “It would be analogous to suddenly entering a parallel world where everything that was going right for us a week ago was completely reversed.”

“So is it safe to say zhat Senator Kelly’s election is inevitable?” asked Kurt.

“I wouldn’t go that far, but the polls are clearly back on his side. This incident with Kevin has given him all the more justification for his anti-mutant stance. Within hours of the story breaking, he was laying out a detailed plan on mutant containment as he calls it. Given the current public sentiment he could pass it off without even trying to be politically correct. Even if it’s still loaded with some egregious human right violations.”

“But the election is still a ways off,” said Ororo, “We still have time to turn this around, don’t we?”

“That depends,” said Lilandra distantly, “Kevin’s rampage left people with many frightening images in their minds. That’s going to be hard to work around. Fear, it seems, is going to rule the day for the foreseeable future.”

“So vhat do ve do? Vhat can ve do at zhis point?” wondered Kurt.

Lilandra’s expression grew solemn. It really was a sad situation. The loss of Kevin was made even worse by the loss of public support. So much of what she and Xavier worked for seemed to be falling apart beyond the point of repair.

She found herself turning towards Professor Xavier, who had been gazing distantly out the window. Usually, he was very engaged in these conversations. This time he remained distant, still clearly hung up on Kevin’s death. Lilandra tried to get him involved. Even in his grief, he needed to be part of this.

“Charles, we need to refocus,” she said to him, “I understand that you’re hurting, but we still have a job to do.”

“Please don’t claim to understand, Lilandra. Just because you can sense my thoughts, it doesn’t mean you understand what I’m going through,” he said in a flat tone.

Lilandra’s expression fell. It was easy to forget that being psychic had its limits, even when she was romantically involved with the world’s most powerful telepath. She knew as well as Xavier that they would have to test these limits to get through this.

“I’m sorry. You’re right, but that’s not a reason to get fatalistic here.”

“Don’t get the wrong idea, Lilandra. I want to help. I’m not going to let Kevin’s death keep me from doing what needs to be done.”

“Zhat vill already set plenty of minds at ease, Herr Professor,” said Kurt with a half-hearted smile.

“But will it do more harm than good?” wondered Xavier, “I was the one who brought Kevin’s story to the public. His loss and the outcry behind it is on my shoulders. How can I possibly speak out when my own personal failures are there and agonizingly apparent?”

“That’s exactly what my people are discussing as we speak,” said Lilandra, trying to sound more optimistic, “From what I’ve gathered, everyone is in agreement. If we’re to counter something this big, we must take action that is equally big.”

“And what might that entail?” asked Ororo.

“We don’t have anything concrete at the moment. A few interesting ideas have come up. They all carry with them some significant risk, but at this point we must be willing to take a chance.”

Professor Xavier’s expression remained hallow. It was hard to get excited when the outlook seemed so grim. Mentally, he wasn’t up for any such challenge. But for his students and his ailing dream, he had to be strong. He owed Moira and Kevin that much.

“In that case, which of your ideas carries the most risk?” he asked.

“Um…I really don’t think it’s necessary to discuss the extremes, Charles,” said Lilandra, surprised by such a request.

“But there is one you have in mind that is particularly bold,” Xavier pushed, “You’re broadcasting it pretty strongly, Lilandra. So you might as well share it with us.”

Lilandra scorned herself for not being been more mindful of her thoughts while talking to her advisers. Just because Charles was in a distraught state didn’t mean he wasn’t picking up on her projections. She had a good feeling she knew which idea he was referring to. It was one she didn’t dare contemplate it at this point, even if it made the most sense.

“There is one move that’s being floated around,” she said, “A number of my advisers believe that if you’re to stand against Senator Kelly when he’s this emboldened, you can’t do it through interviews or speeches anymore. You have to do it directly in a public forum.”

“Are you referring to a debate?” the Professor surmised.

“A live debate?” said Ororo warily.

“Yes,” Lilandra affirmed, “I know it sounds foolish, but it’s bold and it would show Senator Kelly that you’re willing to face public outcry.”

“Uh…pardon my ignorance of zhe American media, but von’t zhey tear him apart?!” exclaimed Kurt.

“There is a substantial risk,” she said seriously, “But it would be the best possible way for you to overcome this horrific event. If you could come out and put it into perspective, you can keep Senator Kelly for capitalizing on the public outcry. It may not prevent him from getting elected, but it could certainly restore balance to the debate.”

It was a daunting notion. Facing Senator Kelly in wake of this tragedy seemed foolhardy at best and counterproductive at worst. Yet Professor Charles Xavier found himself seriously considering it. He turned his gaze back towards the window as he pondered this.

Lilandra, Ororo, and Kurt all shared worried looks. They knew that look on the Professor’s face. He was already contemplating how he was going to carry this out. Aut after the anguish he just endured, even they weren’t sure he was up to it.

“Charles, no one is saying that this is the only way,” said Lilandra.

“And if you aren’t up to it, no one would blame you for refusing,” said Ororo.

“Yet it makes the most sense,” said Xavier distantly, “The only way to address something of this magnitude is directly. If I can’t be the one to step up then that would be nothing short of cowardice.”

“Zhat does not mean it is zhe right move, Professor. Zhere may be another vay,” argued Kurt.

“Could possibly think of one with more potential? If not, then I don’t have a choice. You were right, Lilandra. I thrust myself into this debate. It is my responsibility to keep it going regardless of tragedy, personal or otherwise.”

They were bold words from a man still mourning a terrible loss. Lilandra still had her reservations. Kurt and Ororo were not too trilled about it either. Professor Charles Xavier was nothing if not dedicated. It would take much more than a terrible personal loss to force him away from this challenge. Even if Senator Kelly had the edge over them, he couldn’t let him win ride anti-mutant sentiment all the way to the White House.

“Charles…” began Ororo.

“We’ll discuss it further when we get back to the mansion, Ororo,” said Xavier, “In the meantime, we must focus on regaining our strength. We’re going to need it if we’re to get through this final push.”

There was no room debate. The Professor seemed to make up his mind. There was nothing Ororo or Kurt could say to dissuade him.

“Very well, Charles,” said Ororo as she got up from her seat, “As always, we’ll be there to help.”

“Ja…help against politicians and mutant hate groups,” muttered Kurt, “I almost miss zhe sentinels.”

“You’re not the only one, Kurt,” she sighed.

Ororo slipped away into the cockpit with Logan while Kurt settled in for the rest of the flight, already dreading the complications that lay ahead. Professor Xavier remained distant, his gaze still focused out the window. Lilandra continued to look upon him with worry. She had learned a lot about Charles Xavier in the brief time they had been allies. This past week she saw a side to him she had yet to experience. She took part in a very personal and very tragic event in his life. Seeing him so distraught showed just how deeply invested he was in this dream of his. Now despite his pained state, he was pressing on with a fight he clearly wasn’t ready for. It truly set him apart from every man she ever knew.

“You’re a very bold man, Charles,” she said softly.

“It’ll only be bold if I succeed or the greatest act of stupidity if I fail,” he said, “I’ll be counting on you to make it happen, Lilandra.”

“Are you absolutely sure about this?” she asked intently, “I may not be able to understand what you’re going through, Charles, but I can tell you’re still hurting.”

“You need not worry about my current state. I’ll find a way to gather myself. Rest assured I’ll be ready when the time comes.”

He gave Lilandra’s hand a firm squeeze to reassure her. She still showed her share of concern, but she trusted his word. Such trust had been well-placed thus far in this partnership/relationship of theirs. She had no reason to doubt him at this point.

While Charles and Lilandra finalized their plans, Ororo sat down in the seat next to Logan in the cockpit. She let out a sigh of exasperation, worried for what awaited them when they returned.

“We’re fucked. Aren’t we?” commented Logan.

“I wouldn’t put it so crudely, but we are in quite a predicament,” said the African woman, “I hope the Professor knows what he’s doing. He may not be up to this.”

“I wouldn’t worry about, Chuck. You know for a cripple he’s as tough as they come,” said Logan, “Hell, I’m more worried about holding the runts together back home. I hear Jeannie’s still sick from her little episode against Proteus.”

“Yes, I’ve been concerned about her as well. It seems there’s no shortage of issues for us to deal with.”

“If only there were some heads to bust that would make it all better. Almost makes me wish for some other mission with some crazy punk making trouble.”

“Yes…almost,” said Ororo with a bemused grin.

There was certainly plenty of frustration to go around. They were all reeling in their own way. They were going to have to lick their wounds, but they couldn’t stay out of it for long. Professor Xavier wasn’t going to stop and neither could they. There were still plenty of potential threats out there. More were sure to arise. Even with their festering wounds, they had to be ready to confront any new issues that emerged. At a fragile time like this, the world couldn’t take any further madness.

Panama City, Panama – Downtown Business District

‘Annnnnnd cue scene transition!’

Wade Wilson hated coming to Central America this time of year. The temperatures were always sweltering, the humidity was unbearable, and thunderstorms seemed to pop up every fifteen minutes. For a guy like him who wore a full body suit all the time, it was not a pleasant environment. If only his targets could choose nicer locations to do business like Las Vegas, Tahiti, or South Beach then his job would be a whole lot easier.

Alas, the life of a mentally unstable mercenary was not easy. He went wherever people needed to be killed and stuff needed to be blown up. That was why he was here in the sweltering heat doing the always boring reconnaissance part of the mission. He was currently nestled on the roof of one of the major skyscrapers in the downtown area. He had to coax one of the maintenance workers to give him his keys and to make sure he wouldn’t be bothered he stuffed a clamp onto the door. This way it was just him, his guns, a pair of high powered binoculars, and some burgers and fries from McDonalds.

‘God I hate reconnaissance. Almost as much as I hate these brown onions they put in my burger. Seriously, how do you screw up a Big Mac? It should be an international crime! That should be the focus of my next mission! Oh well, at least the fries are good.’

The merc with the mouth continued to watch through his binoculars the target building. It hardly seemed fair that he had to scope the place out from this far away. There were several other buildings that were much closer and with much better views, but this was the best he could do. The target building belonged to company known as Shaw Industries. It didn’t look any different than a typical skyscraper, but there was definitely something unusual about it.

‘As if you would even be writing about it if it weren’t. Woops! Forgot I wasn’t supposed to talk to the writer. I swear I would lose my mind if it weren’t already crazier than a Mel Gibson rant.’

It was kind of spooky, even by his standards. The whole area around this building was heavily monitored. It wasn’t overt. To the untrained (or un-crazy) eye there was nothing suspicious, but Deadpool had been in the mercenary game long enough to know the signs. He saw traces of electronic surveillance on all the surrounding buildings. He also saw an army of armed guards dressed in neatly tailored suits guarding the entrance. What really stood out though was the sheer number of spies. At any given time there were dozens of spies walking the streets and working the other buildings, keeping an eye on the area. He could tell they were spies because he picked up on some of their radio traffic. They were serious about keeping people out. It could only mean they had something to hide and Deadpool loved a good secret.

However, this wasn’t a typical job. In fact, it wasn’t even technically a job. Nobody was paying him to spy on these guys. He had no connection with them whatsoever and they had not wronged him in any way. Usually, he would never throw himself into something this mysterious unless there was a good reason. Mental stability aside, there was just something about this mess he couldn’t turn away from.

‘Damn…whoever this Sebastian Shaw guy is, he’s a paranoid son-of-a-bitch! The freakin’ White House should have this kind of security! No wonder I had to practically disembowel that guy in Madrid to tell me about this place. These people definitely follow the don’t-ask-or-we’ll-kill policy.’

As he watched more spies scope out the area, covertly talking into communicators at subtle intervals, his curiosity grew. His twisted thoughts drifted back to the Sefton girls, for whom this entire mission was based around.

‘Seriously, what were these chicks caught up in? They steal the secret formula for Coke or something. If these were the guys who hired me to kidnap that Sefton chick three years ago, then she’s in WAY more trouble than I thought! It sure makes for a killer mystery! Give me a talking dog with me and the Mystery Machine van I’m officially one of those meddling kids! Ha! ’

The masked mercenary watched with more intent. This whole affair sounding the Sefton’s had intrigued him since his last encounter with them in Germany. Normally, he wouldn’t have taken such a keen interest in the trivial matters of two women who weren’t working the night shift at Hooters, but something about this intrigued him. Never being one to think twice before thrusting himself into danger, he decided to look into it. The only problem was the deeper he dug, the fewer clues he came across. If he didn’t get some fresh leads soon, he may have to shelve this side-project for a while. He couldn’t afford to abandon his mercenary trade for too long. There were too many beautiful ladies counting on him to put them through college.

‘Man, this website needs more artwork! Come on, guys! Don’t you wish you could see my twisted thought bubbles right now? Yeah, that’s what I thought!’

Still staring through the binoculars, Deadpool lifted up his mask briefly and stuffed some fries into his mouth. It got cloudy overhead and he could hear some thunder in the distance. It was that tropical rain again. It always came up at the worst possible time. If it got too bad he was going to have to pull out and try his luck tomorrow. In the meantime there was a margarita bar uptown he had been looking to dry out.

But just as he was ready to pack it in, something caught his attention. A long, black limousine pulled up to side of the building. It was followed by a number of black vans with blacked out windows. Even for those not in the mercenary trade, it was clear sign that something was going down.

“Hello, hello! What do we have here, chaps?” grinned Deadpool, “Either Denzel Washington is in town or someone with deep pockets just arrived!”

Carefully moving over to the northwest corner of the building, he adjusted his binoculars so he could get a better look. He watched as the black vans pulled up in front of and behind the limousine. A couple of other police officers pulled up on the ends of the streets, effectively cutting off any traffic from coming into disturb them. Whatever was going on, they didn’t want any onlookers. It was just the kind of break Deadpool had been waiting for.

‘Wow…it’s like Miami Vice without the Hawaiian shirts. This is either a big deal or somebody’s been watching too many Soprano reruns! Let’s see if Big Pussy gets wacked again!’

With his view clear, Deadpool watched as several figures stepped out from the building and approached the car. There were about a dozen of them, all heavily armed and dressed in neat black suits. They reminded him of the Men In Black only without the alien weapons. They all seemed to be following a tall, middle-aged man wearing what could only be described as very old fashioned clothing. It looked like he was plucked straight from the Victorian Era, never Deadpool’s favorite period in history. But fashion critique aside, he seemed to be the leader of the pack so he took notice.

As he approached the limousine, the two black vans in front of and behind the vehicle opened. From the back a team of equally armed men filed out, only they were in more military-like uniforms. They weren’t quite soldiers, but they were equipped like them. They all surrounded the limousine carefully as the driver stepped out and opened the passenger door. From this heavy guard, an equally imposing figure stepped out. He was wearing a trench coat, but he could still make out a heavily muscled figure. But what really stood out was his pale, chalky skin tone and his messy blond hair. He was an odd, but intimidating looking guy and as luck would have it Deadpool recognized him.

“Well bend me over, kiss my ass, and call me Madonna. It’s Omega freakin’ Red! Isn’t he supposed to dead?”

This was getting more intriguing by the second. This Shaw guy was mysterious enough, but Omega Red was no mystery. If he was somehow involved, then this whole affair just got a lot more volatile.

He watched as Omega Red approached the man in the Victorian suit. They shook hands and exchanged a few words. Deadpool couldn’t make out what they were saying at this distance.

“Ooh, fresh gossip! I just gotta hear this!”

Quickly setting aside his binoculars, he pulled out the sonic amplifier from his bag of supplies. He had been using it to hold some of his fries so it was a little greasy, but it still worked. As soon as it was active, he picked up on the conversation.

“So it’s settled then. The package is en route and set to arrive tomorrow.”

“Da, I’ve enlisted my best courier to guard it. But you had best make good on your deal, Sebastian. The Omega family went through a great deal of trouble obtaining this.”

“I assure you it’ll be worth your while. I’ve already arranged for the reactor components you requested to be present at my secure freight yard tomorrow. As soon as I have the device, you’ll have your components.”

“And they’ll be packaged and ready to ship back to Russia, yes?”

“Of course, but that is still contingent on the device being fully functional. I must warn you I’ve already gone through two such deals that turned out to be frauds. And I made sure the parties involved suffered severe consequences for their indiscretions.”

“Do not be threatening me with your American bullying! The Omega family is not prone to intimidation! I don’t take kindly to fraud either. The last man who went back on a deal was not just punished, I saw to it personally his entire family was butchered slowly and painfully with a steak knife. Then I made him eat their remains before I peeled his skin off and set him on fire.”

“Are you warning me or are you trying to brag?”

“I’m trying to offer perspective, Mr. Shaw. Neither of us wants this deal to turn out badly. So long as we both keep our end of the bargain this won’t be problem, yes?”

“I certainly hope not, Arkady. Because as it just so happens, I need this device as soon as possible. I have big plans for it, just as I’m sure you have big plans for your new toys.”

“I could care less what your plans are, Sebastian. Just as I’m sure you could care less for what a Russian mob boss would want with components for a nuclear reactor. This is all business. Let us keep it that way.”

“Agreed. Now if there’s nothing more to discuss, I suppose we can continue this at the freight yard this Friday. I assume your courier will be there on time?”

“Da, the Colossus is never late. Just be making sure everything is ready, Shaw. The sooner I can get back to Russia with my parts, the sooner I can be put them to use.”

“I’m sure your associates will be thrilled.”

With this final agreement, the two men shook hands. To further reinforce his point, Omega Red showed an ominous metal tentacle extending from his wrist. It surprised some of the guards, but it didn’t surprise Shaw. He just kept smiling and accepted the gesture.

Deadpool grinned under his mask as he turned off the sonic amplifiers. It was starting to rain and the thunder was getting louder. At last this little personal mission was going to see some action. Between a mysterious guy like Sebastian Shaw and a crazed killer like Omega Red, it was a party that he just had to crash. However, if he was going to get the information he wanted, he was going to need some help. He may be crazy, but even he understood when he was overmatched.

‘Mysterious black market devices? Nuclear reactor components? Freshly waxed limousines? It’s a deranged mercenary’s wet dream! I just got to invite me some old friends to join the fun! And I know just the guy for the job! Too bad it’ll have to wait for the next chapter. Oh, and don’t forget to leave a review! Gotta give the writer some props for giving me a chance to blow more shit up! See you in two weeks!’

Next Issue: Partners in Madness

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