Welcome, Guest

Volume 4 -- Issue 97 -- Uneasy Truce

Download Issue
Read Comments ( ) Issue #97
Uneasy Truce
Write Comment

In a world that hates and fears mutants, Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men fight for peace and understanding. They’ve gone against renegade hate groups, paranoid governments, and even aliens from other worlds. Hate and fear have bred destruction and taken the world to the brink of a human/mutant war. Now more than ever the X-men must rise to the challenge and forge peace out of destruction.

When Magneto was corrupted by the Cambrian, he evoked fear and hatred on a whole new level. Yet in the aftermath, his mental state deteriorated and he sought even more destruction. Using technology from a crashed Shi’ar vessel, he activated an advanced alien AI called Warlock. With it, Magneto sought to create a bomb that would disrupt all modern technology and send humanity back into the Stone Age. It took the collective efforts of X-men and the Brotherhood to stop him, but all hopes for stability seemed lost.

Then Professor Xavier came up with a bold idea. With help from Wanda Maximoff and Captain Jack Freeman, he took the technology from Warlock and used it to make a deal with General Nathan Grimshaw. It is their hope that this deal will forge a new peace from the brink of destruction.

White House – Oval Office

Anyone involved in politics knew the dangers of compromise. To the public, it was a gesture of civility. In the real world, however, it was a two-way street. It offered a slippery slope by which nations could rise and fall. If one side gained too much leverage, it was bound to be exploited. If one side compromised their principles, it was bound to come back to haunt them. This was the President Robert Kelly’s predicament.

He had already been confronted with many difficult decisions. He already faced scrutiny for compromising on some of his earlier positions. He used to be very intent about containing mutant threats. Then his son became a mutant and he was forced to become more careful. To his opponents, being careful was a sign of weakness. To his supporters, it was a sign of growth. He still had mixed feelings about his decisions, but this latest compromise left little room for second-guessing.

It had been three days since global communication blackout. Many questions remained and a fair level of outrage was directed towards Genosha, where many other countries traced the source of the disturbance. It could have become a very volatile situation, but General Grimshaw and the X-men managed to pull a few miracles. Before violence could erupt, they worked out a landmark deal with Genosha and President Kelly explained the nature of this deal in the form of a live announcement.

“So in conclusion, I can report with confidence that we have a new foundation for peace between Genosha and the rest of the world. Newly appointed leader, Wanda Maximoff, has agreed to export the valuable technological resources that tyrants over the centuries have kept to themselves. As I speak private corporations and government entities from every nation have been given a rundown of the technology Genosha is offering. For the first time in decades, the island is opening its boarders. In this historic deal, there is the promise of solving the energy crisis, curing dozens of debilitating diseases, and fighting poverty on an unprecedented level. In exchange the major nations of the world have agreed to scale back the occupation, relegating our forces to a base at the south end of the island. Just like Guantanamo Bay, our forces will have a presence on the island. But Genosha will have its sovereignty and this time it won’t be guided by Magneto’s whim.”

President Kelly paused for a moment. Looking behind the camera at his wife and family, he saw her smiling at him. She clearly supported this deal, as did many of his advisers. General Grimshaw was there as well. It was hard to tell just how much he supported this deal, but he brokered it so part of him had to support it in some way.

“I understand there is still anger and unrest towards mutants. I share some of that anger myself,” the President went on, “But in this treaty, Genosha acknowledges that it was Magneto who caused the destruction that has us so fearful. It was Magneto who inadvertently spurned the Cambrian. It was Magneto who either intentionally or by accident sparked the communication blackout. As such, his own people now reject him. As much as we want him to face justice, we must not lose sight of our future. The mutants of Genosha want peace as well. We cannot allow ourselves to be on the wrong side of history and act as aggressors. The technology Genosha is sharing is more than just a deal. It is a peace offering that says we are willing to extend a hand if only you unclench your fist. As President of the United States, I have done so. Congress has ratified the treaty and the next few months promise to be the most exciting in our history. Make no mistake. As we build this new peace, we will not allow anger and fear to destroy us from within. The Mutant Security Agency and local law enforcement will see to it that we all share in the responsibility. It is my hope along with that of many others that this deal will foster peace and prosperity for generations to come. Thank you for your attention and your understanding tonight. May God Bless America.”

The message was sent all over the world. It wouldn’t take long for the reactions to begin. President Kelly took a deep breath as the camera was turned off. Some of his staff even gave him a round of applause. It helped put a smile on his wary face.

“That was amazing, Robert. Definitely your best speech to date!” said his wife as she came over to give him a hug.

“Thank you, Sharon,” he said, hugging her back along with the kids, “But I have a feeling I’ll have to top it on a weekly basis as this deal goes into effect.”

“I think you’re up to it. I know a number of people aren’t too thrilled with the treaty. Then again, there will always be ardent critics.”

“I’m not worried about those people. I’m used to the scrutiny. It’s the deal itself that will be keeping me up at night,” he told her.

“I’ve read it over as well. I have my concerns, but I feel you’re doing the right thing. When all this began I remembered how our greatest concerns were protecting our children from mutants. By forging peace instead of conflict with mutants, you make a much better world for our children.”

“That’s always been my goal,” said the President as he smiled at his son and daughter.

The first family shared another embrace. Sharon’s sentiment summed up many of the President’s hopes and reservations for this deal. Especially with his son being a mutant, he came to see that the people behind the powers weren’t the problem. It was the conflict they brought that was so dangerous. It remained to be seen if it would work out in the long run.

The President shared a few more words with his children while his staff came in and cleaned up the set. A few of his advisers stepped in to address a few smaller points.

“Mr. President, sir. We still have an upcoming meeting with the heads of a dozen major nations to discuss the treaty,” said one of his secretaries.

“I also have some people from Congress looking to discuss which American companies will have greater access to Genoshan technology,” said his Secretary of State.

“There is also the matter of combating the lingering anti-mutant riots,” added the Secretary of the Interior, “Our latest report shows the deal has stopped their momentum, but it couldn’t hurt to bolster law enforcement’s efforts.”

“Take it easy, everybody. I’ll get to each one of these issues depending on priority,” said the President calmly, “The ink on the treaty isn’t even dry yet. Let’s take things one step at a time.”

The President and his advisers had to adapt to this new status quo just like the rest of the world. It would be a difficult adjustment, but one that was certainly worth making. Those adjustments would be harder for some more than others.

General Grimshaw was among those adjusting in small increments. While he was relieved that the Mutant Security Agency would remain intact, he had mixed feelings about this treaty. There was plenty of potential for good. Based on the technology Captain Freeman described, there were a lot of problems that could be solved with this. What kept his concerns from waning were the inevitable unintended consequences.

“Mr. President, may I have a quick word?” said General Grimshaw as he caught up with the President.

“For you, General, of course,” said President Kelly, “After your contributions, you’ve earned first priority.”

The President gestured to his staff so that they would give him and the General some privacy. He gave his wife one last kiss before watching her walk off with the children. Once they were clear, the General wasted no time in getting to the point.

“As much as I enjoyed the speech, I’m still skeptical that this deal with do away with human/mutant tensions,” said the General, “I have the MSA working overtime against this new anti-mutant crowd. They’ll probably be even more outraged by this deal.”

“I doubt there is little I could do short of forming a new Gestapo that wouldn’t outrage those people,” retorted President Kelly, “And to think, those men probably voted for me.”

“It isn’t just them I’m concerned about. This new technology is coming at us in a neatly wrapped present with a bow on top. I know that goes a long way towards opening dialogue with Genosha, but some of my people are concerned at how this technology will affect the regular swing of things. Keep in mind, we’re talking about alien hardware.”

“Keep your voice down, General. I don’t need to be reminded of those unpleasant briefings that every President has had since the 40s,” said Kelly under his breath.

“Forgive me, sir, but I’m compelled to point out that this is going to raise the stakes. History shows that all technology is a double edged sword. One group masters steel armor and the other discovers gunpowder. One group makes the ultimate fighter jet and the other crafts the ultimate missile.”

“Are you worried we’re creating a new arms race?” asked the President, “General, you’re not the only one to voice such concerns. I’ve already gotten an earful from both sides. But we have taken precautions. Charles Xavier has been working to decode the technology and distribute it in a way that doesn’t preclude weapons.”

“That doesn’t mean someone won’t get creative and I’m not just talking about rogue nations,” retorted General Grimshaw, “The Cambrian incident has polarized a lot of people on the mutant issue. I don’t think all the fancy gadgets in the world can undo that. If one side wants to use this technology in the same way that Bolivar Trask and Magneto used it, then we may be in for more trouble than we think.”

“That’s something we all want to avoid, General. That is why I’m hoping you and your Mutant Security Agency will be up to the task of keeping these unsavory elements from destroying what we’re’ building.”

“I appreciate the vote of confidence, sir. But I…”

“It’s not just a vote of confidence, General. It’s a new mission,” said President Kelly, placing a friendly hand on the officer’s shoulder, “Your MSA has proven itself. Without it, this deal never would have happened. So while the world reaps the benefits of this exciting technology, I’m hoping your humble organization will have the resources to maximize the benefits and minimize the drawbacks.”

“With all due respect, sir, keeping track of this technology and mitigating the impact of this treaty is not part of the Mutant Security Agency’s mission.”

“It is now, General. If for some reason you feel you’re people aren’t equipped to handle it, tell me now so I can find others who are.”

General Grimshaw’s demeanor hardened. The President had him in an awkward position. It was nice to hear that the President had such confidence in the MSA, but one of his major concerns was that his organization would become a tool of politicians. This seemed to be the first manifestation of that fear. Now they were a tool for enforcing a treaty. That meant politicians could guide their mission and not the law. It was a dangerous precedent.

Unfortunately, saying no to President Kelly meant someone else would be given the task and they may not have the backbone to stand up to the politicians. Very few had that kind of nerve and it was one of the tenants Grimshaw prided himself on, even if it made him few allies and plenty of enemies.

“No sir, it won’t be a problem,” said General Grimshaw, “I was just voicing my concerns.”

“Your concerns are duly noted,” said President Kelly as he led Grimshaw out of the Oval Office, “Don’t get the wrong idea. I understand this is a major adjustment period for us all. That means every one of us has to adapt in ways we aren’t always comfortable with.”

“But it’s better than the alternative, right?” surmised the General.

“That’s not the only reason. It’s just the most valid. Every great leader leaves a lasting legacy behind. I want a successful treaty to be part of mine.”

Genosha – Citadel

Pietro Maximoff was never shy about voicing his discontent. This was definitely one of those times when his concerns outweighed his hopes. Ever since word of the treaty spread, a new sense of optimism fell over the mutant nation. It spread even to the occupying troops as well. At last it seemed they had struck a deal. This conflict would no longer continue to escalate. The new treaty exchanging alien technology for peace seemed fair to many, but not to him.

“This deal is going to come back to bite us. I know it,” he mused as he gazed out over the main balcony of the throne room.

“We know, Pietro. You’ve been reminding us at least ten times a day since it happened,” said an exasperated Wanda Maximoff.

“I wouldn’t have to repeat myself if somebody actually took it seriously.”

“We are taking this seriously, Pietro,” said Professor Xavier, who was right behind Wanda, “I’ve been interfacing with Warlock for the past few days. I’ve made sure that the data records I’ve been distributing are clean of incriminating information. That includes advanced Shi’ar weapons and information regarding alien races.”

“We’ve also gone over every little piece of gear we’ve made with Warlock before parting with it. They’ll be able to build skyscrapers, cure disease, and travel into space with this technology, but they won’t be able to make a bomb out of it.”

“Yet,” Pietro pointed out.

“We’ll mitigate those problems as they come along. That makes cooperation all the more important,” said Professor Xavier.

“Sure doesn’t feel like cooperation,” muttered the speedster, “Feels more like bargaining.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” scolded Wanda, “This technology is Genosha’s greatest asset. Trading it in exchange for peace and sovereignty seems like a pretty fair deal in my book.”

“Think of it this way…if goods and ideas don’t cross boarders, troops surely will,” Xavier added.

Pietro still wasn’t convinced. It all seemed so clean on the surface. Looking out over the city, they could see the peacekeeping troops marching towards their new base in the south. They could even hear the cheers of their mutant citizens, waving goodbye to the occupiers and celebrating their renewed sovereignty. That was just what was on the surface. Having been raised by Magneto, Pietro Maximoff always looked beyond the surface to see the potential danger.

“I know what you’re thinking, Pietro. And I’m inclined to agree. Father would certainly be against this,” Wanda conceded.

“It isn’t just about Father,” said Pietro, “As far as I’m concerned, what he thinks is about as important as what he has for breakfast. Sure, he went crazy. That doesn’t mean we should forget the lessons he taught us.”

“Which lessons are those? The ones about never trusting the outside world even if it means more death and destruction?” said Wanda with folded arms.

“I’m talking about the ones involving why we shouldn’t trust humans, damn it! We could give them all the technology in the world. They could use it to make rocket powered iPods and adamantium encrusted dildos for all we know. That won’t stop them from hating our kind.”

“We have more important things to worry about besides how much humans hate mutants, Pietro. I think you’re losing sight of what we’re doing here.”

“Yeah? Well maybe you’re losing sight as well! Ever since we forged this new mutant country, you’ve been a lot less inclined to stick your neck out for our people! Father’s goal from the beginning to was lead us against human oppression! Now we’re making deals with those same oppressors?”

“I’m trying to give them less incentive to oppress us, Pietro!”

“Well keep telling yourself that, Wanda! And I’ll keep worrying about the price we’ll end up paying if we try too hard.”

Wanda fought the urge to hex her brother right off the balcony. Professor Xavier helped her resist that inclination. Pietro was right on some levels. Her outlook had changed since they arrived on Genosha. She was no longer a champion of mutant domination as her father had taught her. She saw more merit in sheltering their kind and protecting them from oppression. However, she wasn’t willing to become an oppressor herself. It was a fine line she walked because she was bitter towards humanity to an extent. She just wasn’t bitter enough to support her father’s methods.

Sensing the escalating tension, Professor Xavier intervened. He expected Pietro’s attitude to play a part in this peacemaking process. However, this was one process with which Pietro refused to keep up.

“Please Pietro…your father’s goals, misguided or not, shouldn’t stand in the way of the goals we have now,” coaxed the Professor.

“Don’t ask me to forget about my father!” said Pietro bitterly, shaking of a gesture from Xavier, “It’s been hard enough watching him disappear. It’s been even harder on Lorna. Lucky for her, she has Alex Summers comforting her.”

“Let’s not get into that discussion, Pietro,” groaned Wanda, “We’re all upset by father’s departure and Lorna was the one who could reach him better than either of us.”

“Well now Alex is reaching her in all sorts of ways since then. And I thought he was supposed to lead the Brotherhood in wrestling the authority away from the troops.”

“He’s doing his part, Pietro. We all are,” said Professor Xavier strongly, “I’m not suggesting you should forget about your father. I’m not inclined to forget about him either. He’s still a good friend to me and I hope that wherever he may be, he has found the peace he desperately needs.”

“Spare me the pity talk, Professor. You know he’ll be back,” scoffed Pietro.

“I don’t doubt that. I know Erik is not the kind to stay away from something this important. With that in mind, we have even more reason to succeed in this endeavor. That way when he does return he will see a world that hasn’t lost hope.”

“As if hope was ever his biggest problem,” muttered the speedster, “Even if we succeed, that doesn’t mean we’ll prove him wrong.”

Pietro turned around from the balcony and barged past the Professor and his sister. He had enough of this pointless debate. They weren’t going to convince him this was right and he wasn’t going to convince them that this was dangerous. Even if it worked, that didn’t vindicate this deal or discredit Magneto. In the end it may end up proving him right.

“Pietro…” groaned Wanda.

“I’m through talking about this,” he said firmly, “I’m going to catch up with Lance and Quentin. Since Havok won’t get off our sister, someone has to pick up the slack.”

In a speedy burst, Pietro disappeared in speedy a gust of wind. Wanda sighed in frustration while Professor Xavier just shook his head. Nobody assumed there was no danger with this deal. Wanda understood these risks and took them into account at every turn. It didn’t seem as though Pietro would ever accept them. It was just one more challenge among many they had before them.

“Just once I wish my brother wasn’t such a headache!” groaned Wanda, “Why do we always have to fight at times when we should be supporting one another?”

“Speaking as someone who has clashed with family before, that may be something as basic as sibling rivalry,” said Xavier with a light-hearted smile.

“I hope that’s all it is,” she sighed, “Because what if he’s right? What if this deal does lead to something we can’t control?”

“Then we’ll deal with it,” said Xavier strongly, “This isn’t something you’ll have to face on your own, Wanda. You’ll have allies in the X-men and allies in the international community. This technology gives some very powerful parties a very strong incentive to maintain peace. We’ll need that incentive as we move forward.”

“I’m all for using leverage, Professor. What bothers me is all the unexpected ways this technology will be utilized. It is alien after all. It could attract trouble.”

“Which is why my X-men are already being proactive,” he said, “We’ve had experience with these aliens so we’ve had a head start so to speak. We’re already aware of the ways in which someone may try to misuse it.”

“And what’s to stop you from misusing it yourself?”

“The same thing that keeps us from musing our powers, Wanda…our humanity.”

Xavier Institute – Hanger

“Keep her steady, Jean! We’re almost there!” said an all too excited Hank McCoy.

“It’s not going to get much steadier, Mr. McCoy. So save yourself the panic attack and let the girl with the cosmic power here do her thing!” said much calmer Jean Grey.

“You’ll have to forgive my exuberance, Jean. It’s not every day we get a new X-jet.”

“Let alone one we’ll be outfitting with alien technology,” added Scott, who was standing right next to Hank.

The wait was still agonizing for Hank McCoy. There were many reasons for the X-men to be excited. The Genosha treaty had opened the door to a new avenue for peace and the technology from Warlock was sure to have a lasting impact. While Professor Xavier was on Genosha working with the Maximoff twins on finalizing the deal, the rest of the team was back at the mansion getting ready to make use of this exciting technology.

Since they had encountered the Shi’ar previously, they had a leg up on the rest of the world. In addition to the data from the Starjammers, Professor Xavier had connections with Chandilar Enterprise and they had been living off the fruits of alien know-how for decades. Now with Warlock, they had the materials to turn that know-how into something tangible like a new X-jet.

Ever since they lost their last jet in the battle against the Cambrian, Professor Xavier had been working on obtaining a new one. It was finally ready and was delivered along with a host of new materials that Kitty and Piotr were helping to organize. Since the jet still hadn’t been configured, they needed Jean to maneuver it into the hanger via telekinesis. It was a shaky process even with help from the Phoenix, but when it was finally done the real work could begin.

“Feel better now, Mr. McCoy?” said Jean as she met up with Scott and Hank.

“Very much so now that I’m in the presence of such a technological wonder” said Hank as he ran his hands over the wings of the aircraft, “I’ve drawn up plans for some extensive improvements. Between the data from the Starjammers and the hardware from Warlock, there’s no limit to what we can do! The new Blackbird will be faster, fly higher, and wield a more extensive array of tools. It may end up being the most advanced jet ever created.”

“If that’s the case, then can working on it act as my final exam?” asked Scott as he admired the jet, “I wouldn’t mind testing some of this alien hardware myself. It’s every flight junkies dream!”

“You boys and your toys,” joked Jean, “I get the feeling you two will be as giddy as a couple of school girls now that you have all this alien gear at your disposal.”

“Can you blame us?” said Scott, “There’s a lot we can do with this stuff and I’m not just talking about gadget porn. The tech level of the entire world is going to rise thanks to the Genosha deal. If we’re going to stay on top of things, then we have to stay a step ahead.”

“And that means learning everything the Shi’ar has to offer,” grinned Hank, “Space flight, wormholes, faster-than-light travel, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, sentient machines, nanotechnology, and medical advancements…there are so many possibilities! Tessa and I have already scheduled a string of dates to look it all over.”

“You make dates out of analyzing computer data?” said Jean with a humored look.

“Some find romance in candle-lit dinners and James Cameron movies. Others find it in unlocking the secrets of alien technology,” shrugged Hank.

“To each their own,” said Scott, slipping his arm around Jean’s waist, “Either way, this tech can do a lot of good. Based on what the Professor told me, it’s already making things better on Genosha.”

“You almost sound optimistic,” Jean pointed out, “Does that have everything to do with the peace deal? Or is some because you actually parted ways with Alex on good terms for once?”

“You’re psychically linked to me, Jean. Why should I bother answering?” said Scott with a playful grin, “Besides, I think Alex is doing better. He now has Lorna keeping him in check. And I know better than anyone the therapeutic effects of a good woman.”

Scott’s words earned him an affectionate gesture from his lover. This was probably the most upbeat he had seen in a while. They were all relieved to see this new peace unfold on Genosha. It was already having a positive effect on the anti-mutant sentiment. In addition, Scott had the unexpected benefit of fighting alongside his brother instead of against him. This helped them leave on a positive note. They still were a long ways away from easing their sibling rivalry. At least now they had something to build off of. Lorna’s relationship with Alex should help as well.

While Scott and Jean went over the new X-jet with Hank, Kitty and Piotr were still busy pouring over the oversized crates that had just been delivered by Chandilar Enterprise. These materials were supposed to help them develop this technology better and for some reason this required some rather bulky components. It had been quite a chore lugging them down to the lower levels. At one point, Kitty took the biggest one and just phased it through the upper floors and into the lower levels. It made for some chaotic moving, but it was more efficient than the alternative.

“I believe this is the last one, Katya,” said Piotr as he set down the final oversized crate.

“It better be. My muscles are sore just looking at these things,” said Kitty as she checked off the final box on a piece of paper she had on a clip board, “You’re lucky you have the luxury of being able to lift 80 tons. Us puny types can only admire that kind of strength.”

“Ah so you are admiring me now?” he grinned.

“Don’t get cute with me, Petey. We still have to open this stuff before we can call it a day,” she said with a playful grin.

“That should not take long. Although it would go much quicker if Bobby had stayed to assist us.”

“Yeah, Bobby’s pretty sneaky when it comes to chores. I believe his excuse this time was that Jubilee needed help in District X.”

“How do you know he wasn’t telling the truth?”

“Peter, when you’ve dated a guy and experienced all his peculiarities, it almost becomes second nature.”

She almost sounded bitter when she mentioned Bobby. Piotr’s expression shifted as he watched Kitty’s demeanor shift. He was already well-aware of her romantic history. She told him all about her relationship with Bobby and Jean later filled him in on the details she conveniently omitted. While it hadn’t been the most serious relationship, it certainly had an impact on her.

“I do not mean to pry as you say, but are you still hung up about Bobby?” he asked curiously.

“What? Of course not!” she replied quickly, “Why would I be hung up? We hung out, we dated, we did all the standard relationship stuff. It just didn’t pan out. Sure, we made it work for a while to some extent and it did really pissed me off when I found out he had been flirting with Jubilee. But I don’t know how serious we were at that point. I mean we had some issues at the time and…”

At this point, Kitty had to stop herself. She noticed that Piotr was looking at her strangely now. It didn’t take an omega level psychic for her to figure out why.

“Uh…okay, maybe I am a little hung up,” she said sheepishly, “I just made a total fool of myself, didn’t I?”

“No…not a total fool,” he told her.

“Gee thanks,” she said dryly.

“I will drop the subject if it is too difficult. It seems I am still not understanding these relationships around here. A lifetime in the Russian Mob makes it difficult, I guess.”

“Oh don’t get down on me, Petey. It’s my fault for spazing out,” said Kitty, offering the tall Russian an friendly gesture, “After what happened with Logan, Miss Munroe, Rogue, Betsy, and Remy I think relationships have officially become taboo. It’s probably not a good time to try and understand them because you’ll just frustrate yourself.”

Piotr laughed at Kitty’s assessment. She had a point though. This probably wasn’t a good time to obsess over relationship issues. He was still adjusting to life with the X-men. Even if he was curious about such issues, there was still a matter of timing. He had a lot of work ahead of him now that this new treaty was in effect. With assistance from those such as Kitty Pryde, he seemed to be in good hands.

“Very well, Katya. I will take your word for it,” he said, “I still have much to learn. I suppose it would be wise to take things one step at a time.”

“That’s the spirit! And I’ll be there every step of the way!” grinned Kitty as she playfully clung to the Russian’s muscular arm, “Stick with me and I’ll give you the complete package on life with the X-men!”

“I’m already excited,” he said, blushing a bit as he smiled back.

“Then what do you say we finish up with these boxes and celebrate with a quick lunch and a round of Guitar Hero?” she suggested.

“Guitar Hero? What is a Guitar Hero?”

Kitty blinked in astonishment at Piotr Rasputin’s question. She almost erupted in laughter because this was serious. She had taken it upon herself to get closer to this man. Even if she was serious about keeping it simple in terms of getting him up to speed with the X-men, it looked like she had her work cut out for her. If she was to show Piotr Rasputin a good time, she was going to have to go the extra distance.

“Ooh boy, better finish this stuff quickly,” she sighed, “Because you and me have a long road ahead of us.”

Xavier Institute – Infirmary

Remy Lebeau was probably the only person on the planet not keeping up with the news from Genosha. For him, he had other concerns besides the peace treaty that Professor Xavier worked out with the Maximoff twins. Most of those concerns involved him healing from the injuries he suffered against Warlock.

He had been in and out of the infirmary since they returned. The ride back to Westchester sure didn’t help. Since the Velocity was in ruin, they hopped a ride on a transport plane from the military. They weren’t exactly comfortable and did little to ease his injuries that included three cracked ribs, a punctured lung, a sore shoulder, and at least two dozen minor bruises. The others had their share of injuries too, but he definitely had it worst.

“Bloody hell, how do you not bother to replace these bandages? Between the ointment and your wounds, they look almost as awful as they smell,” groaned an exasperated Betsy, who had been helping Remy through the healing process.

“Remy’s survived worse,” said the Cajun stoically while puffing away on a cigarette.

“Your nicotine intake isn’t helping either,” she said grabbing the cigarette from his mouth and dissolving it with her psionic blades, “Honestly, luv, is more than just your body hurting? You’ve been giving me the cold shoulder since we got back.”

“Sorry if Remy can’t be cute with cracked ribs and a punctured lung, cherè.”

“You being cute isn’t the issue. I’m still a telepath, remember? I can tell when you’re beating yourself up more than usual.”

Remy fell silent while Betsy finished reapplying his bandages. This was the part about having a telepathic girlfriend that was so annoying. How Scott managed with Jean was beyond him. There were times he wanted to keep his thoughts to himself and this was definitely one of them.

Being cooped up in the infirmary gave Remy some time to think. It was something he had been avoiding for a while now. As a philosophy student, he spent enough time thinking about all the troubling questions of man, truth, and nature. He often tried diverting his thoughts from the more personal problems he faced. That made things a whole lot easier. Now it this easy method so to speak was affecting Betsy.

“Come on, Remy. You know you can talk to me,” she told him, “I’m your girlfriend. Aren’t I supposed to help you with your problems?”

“You ain’t supposed to do anything, cherè. What you do is out of the goodness of your heart and Remy appreciates that. But there comes a time when it’s better to stay away from these problems.”

“Call me curious, but this doesn’t seem like one of those times,” she said wryly, “Are you upset because of the mission? Aside from the beating you took, it wasn’t an outright failure.”

“The mission ain’t been what’s bugging Remy. The devil be in the details.”

“Please don’t start with the philosophy talk,” Betsy groaned, “Just speak plainly for once! It’ll save us both the trouble.”

Remy sighed as he reached into his pocket and pulled out deck of cards. He began casually shuffling them as Betsy listened intently. This was clearly something Remy had been sitting on for a while and he might as well get it off his chest while he had pain killers coursing through his system.

“Back at the citadel, them Warlock thugs ganged up on you pretty good. They singled you out like they did our telepaths,” he began as he did a few tricks with the deck, “The others tried to help the Professor. Jean held her own even though Scottie always kept an eye on her. So it follows that Remy should keep an eye on his cherè.”

“Which you did,” she said, offering a tender gesture to show her gratitude.

“Did I?” questioned Remy, “Warlock had you pinned, Betsy. The thing might have killed you if Beast hadn’t worked his magic. Remy fought hard through every one of them alien hommes and it wasn’t enough.”

“Don’t tell me you’re hung up on not being my white knight. I don’t think less of a man just because he can’t save me at every turn. I’m not the kind of gal who needs that kind of saving.”

“It ain’t just that Remy couldn’t save you. That’s where it gets complicated.”

Remy shuffled his cards a bit more thoroughly. At one point he picked a random card from the deck. It turned out to be a queen of hearts, a card that held a very significant importance to him for reasons Betsy couldn’t understand.

“There be times in all our lives when the people we love be in trouble. They usually the times when we learn what we’re  made of. You being in that kind of trouble was one of those times. Remy had a moment to see what he had and without getting too philosophical, I didn’t like what I saw.”

“Why? What did you see?” she asked intently.

“Someone who has been in that position before and fought a lot harder,” he said, now looking his lover in the eye, “Remy’s had to fight for Belladonna, Rogue, Stormy, and a bunch of other friends he’s cared about. In each of those times, Remy’s reached deep into himself and found a strength that made him fight harder. But this time, Remy couldn’t find that strength.”

Betsy looked at him more seriously. She was still confused, but she was able to surmise what he was getting at. Philosophy or not, the conclusions were somewhat distressing.

“So that’s what this is about,” she said, “You think you should have had more strength? Luv, that sounds like a classic case of being humbled. That’s nothing worth obsessing over.”

“Non, it be more than that,” said Remy strongly, “If you as good a psychic as you claim, then try and think from Remy’s perspective. I had a chance to fight for you the same way Remy’s fought for the other loves in his life. I did everything a homme could do and for once, it didn’t happen. Remy tried, but that extra strength never came.”

“So what? That doesn’t make all this brooding necessary.”

“Maybe it don’t. But what makes it even more messed up is that for all those other times...Remy didn’t even have to try.”

Betsy had never been good at following Remy’s philosophical musings. She specialized in detective work. There was little room for philosophy in that field. He was coming to all these grim conclusions and was so hung up on it even after she said she didn’t hold it against him. Now she was getting hung up on it as well. If this deeper strength he mentioned was a big deal, then it may be a sign that he couldn’t summon it when he needed to save her.

An awkward silence fell over the two lovers. They both looked away while Remy continued shuffling his cards. There wasn’t much left to discuss. Eventually, the silence became too awkward. Remy palmed the deck of cards he had been shuffling and got up off the infirmary bed.

“Remy needs some time to think,” he said as he grabbed his shirt and slipped it back on, “It’s almost lunch time. Might as well stock up on some barbecue to help these injuries.”

“Should I tag along? Or is this one of those moments when thinking goes along with being alone?” said Betsy stoically.

“Alone would be better for both of us,” said the Cajun, offering a tender gesture to lift Betsy’s spirits, “Don’t be thinking Remy’s running out on you. I ain’t the kind of homme who runs out on a beautiful femme that easily.”

“Lucky me,” she said with a weak smile, “I’m still going to worry though. Alone time is often associated with a bad turn in a relationship.”

“Let’s not be getting ahead of ourselves, cherè. Remy just talkin’ about thinking, not doing,” he assured her.

“For now,” Betsy added.

“More like for as long as we need it. You don’t be needing detective skills to figure out that some extra thinking could do us both some good.”

Remy left Betsy to ponder his musings as he left the infirmary. Perhaps this was a good time for musing. The whole world was going through and adjustment period. Why shouldn’t it extend to relationships? Betsy had always been good at reading thoughts and following clues. Musing on the deeper meaning behind them was always a challenge. A part of her didn’t like where it was leading. Maybe she was  burned out from adjusting to a new body and that strain was finally wearing off. Now she had some new adjustments ahead of her and they promised to be even more challenging.

‘Bloody hell, maybe I need to start smoking as well.’

District X

“Hey Bobby! Are you done yet? I’m running out of ways to entertain myself here!” yelled an impatient Jubilee.

“Don’t get bored on me, Jubes! I’m almost finished!” replied Bobby as he hovered over her aboard an ice slide near a burned down building.

“That’s the third time you’ve said that and you don’t sound any more convincing!”

“This time I mean it! Just keep your panties on! Or don’t! Whichever works for you!” he joked as he used his ice powers to encase the structure in an ice shell.

“Hey! People can hear us you know!”

Bobby Drake held back his laughter. He originally came to visit Jubilee because they hadn’t been able to hang out much. Since the Cambrian affair, she had been busy keeping the peace in District X. With the Genosha treaty in place, the riots finally settled down. Humans had fewer reasons to lash out against mutants and mutants had fewer reasons to lash out against humans. That means they could get their relationship back on track.

Dating Jubilee hadn’t been as smooth as dating Lorna. This had less to do with the logistics of her being in District X and more to do with her attitude and mindset. When he first sought out Jubilee, their relationship consisted of playful flirting. After he broke up with Kitty, it got more serious. They went on a few dates, hung out around the city, and shared a few passionate nights together. Other than that, they hadn’t discussed the extent of their relationship. They didn’t even called themselves boyfriend and girlfriend. Bobby had been burned out after Lorna and Kitty while Jubilee seemed somewhat adverse to getting too close to anyone. Maybe now they could change that.

Bobby was doing his part by helping Jubilee clear some rubble left over from the riots. A number of buildings had been burned down during these tense times. Some damaged structures were still standing and needed to be demolished so that the mutant community could rebuild. Bobby did his part by using his ice powers to freeze what was left so Jubilee could shatter it with a few quick energy bursts.

“That should do it! Let her rip, Jubilee!” he said as he swooped down to the ground on an ice slide.

“Stand back, handsome,” she said as she put on her sunglasses.

Jubilee cracked her knuckles and unleashed a barrage of fireworks-like energy blasts. As soon as they hit the frozen structures, the main supports shattered due and the building came crashing down. It was not the cleanest way to demolish a building, but it got the job done.

“That’s the last one,” said Bobby with an accomplished grin, “We make a pretty good demolition team, don’t we?”

“I’d say so. I never was much for physics but freezing condemned buildings and blasting them works a lot better than what Bishop had in mind,” said Jubilee.

“Why? What did he want to do?”

“Let’s just say it involved a certain level of firepower that would have worried the neighbors,” she replied coyly.

“Ah, say no more. Maybe it’s just me, but that Bishop guy seems a bit too comfortable with blowing things up.”

“Can you blame him?” sighed Jubilee, “These past few weeks have been tough on everybody. We went through a period where there was a riot on our streets every other day. The city sure didn’t want to help and those anti-mutant people got pretty nasty.”

“Some were probably on the payroll for the Friends of Humanity. Those guys have been making a comeback lately,” Bobby pointed out.

“Wouldn’t surprise me. Hell, I was tempted to join some of the mutant protests that wanted to fight back. But I’ve never been one for embracing mob mentality.”

“Yeah, you’re too much of an individual. It’s one of your finer qualities,” said Bobby as he snaked his arms around her waist.

“I’m sure I have better ones,” she snickered, “I’m also sure Bishop will be in a better mood once I tell him we’re done tearing things down and can finally start rebuilding. Now that there’s an actual peace deal on Genosha, we have a nice riot-free window that we can use to improve our community. We sure as hell need it.”

“I’m sure you’ll do your part. You can be sure the X-men will do theirs as well.”

Jubilee lifted her sunglasses and smiled before pulling her lover into a light embrace. There was a lot to admire about Bobby Drake. He may be a jokester, but he was no slouch. He took his duties seriously. She always admired that about the X-men. They put themselves out there to make a difference. Those efforts extended all over the world and beyond District X. That kind of dedicating put Bobby in a new league for her.

After enjoying her warm embrace, Bobby remembered that it was still early in the afternoon. There was still so much he and Jubilee could do besides help Bishop clean up District X.

“So now that we’re out of buildings to demolish, what do you say we dedicate the rest of the afternoon pampering each other?” he suggested.

“By pamper you mean…” she said coyly.

“I mean just you and me venturing into the city,” Bobby clarified, snickering at the subtext in her words, “I honestly can’t remember the last time we just went on a date. Hell, I can barely remember the first time.”

“That’s because normal dates for us are kind of impossible,” Jubilee pointed out.

“I get that, but with all the craziness surrounding riots, Genosha, and 500 million-year-old killer blobs we haven’t really had a chance to get serious. So why not now?”

Jubilee shifted at the mention of getting serious. She loosened her embrace on Bobby and diverted her gaze. For a moment, Bobby thought he was in trouble.

“Um…did I say something wrong? If I did, can I try again?” he said.

“No, you said nothing wrong, Bobby. I just…” she began.

“You’re not ready to be serious. Is that it?” Bobby surmised, “If that’s all there is, then I’m cool with that.”

“Don’t say you’re okay with something before you hear the answer. You might be the coolest guy in the world, but you should hear me out.”

Bobby fell silent as he and Jubilee started walking back towards the main street of District X. He maintained a serious demeanor, which was sometimes a challenge for him. Walking was something Jubilee often did to help herself think. It was rare when she actually shared her thoughts so he listened intently as she explained.

“Now don’t get the wrong idea, Bobby. I like you,” Jubilee began.

“A lot?” Bobby asked.

“Definitely a lot,” she said with a light smile, “But getting serious for me is like putting on a shoe that’s two sizes too small. Keep in mind, you’re talking to someone who never developed a relationship with her birth parents. I didn’t even get a chance to develop one with my foster parents either. Most people have some idea on how to have that deeper connection with people. For me, it’s a lot harder.”

“You wouldn’t be the only one,” Bobby pointed out, “Hell, I live with people who have that problem. It’s a pretty sore subject.”

“I’m sure it is, but I bet they’ve had experience at some point. Maybe not with family, but probably in some other capacity. Looking back at my 16 years on this planet, I can honestly say I’ve had none. It’s a good thing I’m not anti-social or I may have ended up like Magneto.”

“Dude, don’t even joke about that,” said Bobby, the recent battle against the master of magnetism still fresh in his mind.

“Sorry...too soon is never soon enough I guess,” she said sheepishly, “But do you get what I’m saying? I’ve never had a problem making friends. District X has been the first place where I’ve actually been able to make friends that last. I’m still getting used to that and that’s not a good place to be when it comes to getting serious.”

Bobby thought for a moment. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he walked with Jubilee for about a block or so. He understood where she was coming from. He remembered how reluctant some on the X-men were when it came to getting serious with someone. Warren had that whole Candy Southerner affair and Rogue had issues with her powers. Then there was Logan, who had issues too long to list. Jubilee was a unique character. She was young, but was as tough as they came. She still had some growing to do and so did he, especially after what happened with Lorna and Kitty.

As they stopped at a street corner, Bobby and Jubilee faced each other again. Jubilee was still conflicted while Bobby remained silent for a moment. It started getting a little awkward and Jubilee began to worry at one point. Then to her relief he smiled and took her hand in his.

“Does that goofy grin mean you’re not going jump ship on me?” said Jubilee wryly.

“There’s nothing goofy about it, Jubes. I live in a mansion where one of our biggest talking points is not to jump ship when the going gets tough. So don’t think I’ll wave the white flag just because you don’t tell me what you think I want to hear.”

“So you do understand where I’m coming from,” she said with a warm smile.

“I’m no telepath, but I have plenty of experience with people who are,” he joked, “I get it. Now is not a good time. If you want our little excursions together to be casual for now, then I’m game!”

“You sure?”

“As sure as the ice at the North Pole.”

Bobby reinforced his point by forming a neat little ice flower in his hands. He then presented it to Jubilee, which made her blush. In return she latched onto his arm and gave him an affectionate kiss on the cheek. It helped settle much of the tension from earlier. This was a busy time in mutant affairs and they each had their own personal issues to deal with. For now, what they had worked and they were content to enjoy it.

“You’re too cool to be hung up on a girl like me,” teased Jubilee.

“And you’re too hot for a guy who can literally melt,” joked Bobby.

“So long as we’re praising each other like this, why don’t we hit up this cool lounge that just opened up?” she suggested.

“Does it have foosball?”

“And a ton of other games!” she grinned, “And I happen to be the reigning champion if I recall!”

“Not for long you aren’t!” boasted Bobby, “We’ve got a peace treaty now. That means I have more time to test your skills...among other things!”

Downtown Westchester – Ben’s Barbecue

‘If Remy ain’t said it before, he sure as hell ought to. Most pain can be made bearable with the proper application of good barbecue.’

Remy Lebeau left the Xavier Institute in need of some time to clear his head. As was often the case, he found solace in good southern cuisine. It wasn’t as good as the food back in New Orleans, but it was good enough to help him forget about his injuries and his recent spat with Betsy.

Sitting at an outside table of his favorite local barbecue, Remy bit into a thick pork sandwich he had drenched in hot sauce and cayenne pepper. The burning sensations in his mouth and eyes helped distract him from the pain he still felt from his three cracked ribs. Bodily injuries were nothing new, but these had an extra sting to them. It seemed like a fitting price for him to pay after his shortcomings against Magneto.

It still bothered him that he couldn’t find the strength to help Betsy. Even though their relationship had been bumpy from the beginning, she was still his girl. He should have been able to make that extra effort like he had done with Belladonna, Storm, and even Rogue to some extent. Being the philosopher he was, he struggled to figure out the meaning behind it all.

‘If only good barbecue could give Remy the answers he be looking for. This whole mess with Betsy stinks. I be failing femmes all the time, but Remy ain’t ever failed to make the effort. Betsy sure don’t deserve that. She been through enough with switching bodies and all. Remy’s either got to find a way to step up his game or figure out the source of the problem so it don’t happen again.’

He continued to attack his burger while letting his mind wander. He was already halfway done and would probably need seconds. This wasn’t the kind of problem that could be solved in one sitting. He at least had to get himself back on the right track. It wasn’t like the solution was going to walk up to him.

Remy was so lost in his thoughts and in his food he didn’t notice a familiar presence cast a shadow over his table. He didn’t even look up until he saw a familiar playing card drop into the center of the table.

“Somehow Ah knew you’d show up here sooner or later. It’s the only barbecue place in this whole dang city that will put hot sauce on everything if you ask ‘em,” said a smiling Rogue.

“Rogue?!” gasped Remy, almost choking on his sandwich.

“Take it easy, sugah. Chew your food before you act all surprised,” she said as she sat down in the chair across from him.

Remy needed a moment to regain his composure among other things. He had a mouthful of food and sauce dripping down his chin. Moreover, he was completely unprepared for Rogue’s arrival. He hadn’t spoken to her since she left with Kurt to live with the Seftons. They had only exchanged emails in that time. It took some getting used to and Remy still hadn’t adjusted. Now she was here and he had to adjust on the spot.

“Jeez cherè, you know how to pull a fast one!” said Remy as he swallowed his food, “Is sneakin’ up on hommes like Remy your new hobby since you moved out?”

“No, but if you keep lookin’ this goofy it might be!” she teased.

“Don’t be foolin’ with Remy. Not after all the shit that happening between us,” said the Cajun in a more serious tone, “Talk to me, cherè. Remy knows you don’t drop in on people unless you got a reason. And getting kicks ain’t one of them.”

Rogue’s amused grin faded as she sat down next to him. Remy knew her too well. He could read her subtleties better than anyone. He could also figure out the deeper meaning behind someone’s actions. It was part of his charm and his philosophy buff persona. More often than not, that meaning was valid on some levels and this was no exception.

“Fahne, if you’re gonna be that uptight,” she sighed, “Now don’t get the wrong idea. Ah ain’t coming back to the mansion. I also ain’t regretting mah decision to leave with Kurt.”

“Remy wouldn’t expect you too,” said Remy, “He is your brother and family comes first, non?”

“Which leads meh to mah reasons,” said Rogue in a more serious tone, “Ah know there has been a lot going on since Ah left. Ah followed the X-men’s latest scuffle with Magneto and the new treaty like everybody else. But believe it or not, those problems barely registered for meh. Most of mah time has been dedicated to supporting Kurt.”

“Sounds like he needs it. Remy’s guessin’ he needs it.”

“That’s one way of putting it,” she muttered, “Let’s just say Kurt ain’t nearly as upbeat as he used to be.”

“After what happened to his girl, who can blame him?”

“Ah ain’t about to blame him, but Ah still have a right to be a little pissed off.”

Rogue’s demeanor sank even more, but it wasn’t because of sorrow or anger. She was genuinely upset and not in a way that was easy to talk about. Remy Lebeau was one of the few guys on the planet she felt comfortable confiding in like this.

“If you think things in the mansion are tense, you ain’t seen nothing. Amanda’s condition ain’t getting any better even though Shaman is working with her every dang day. She’s still a walking time bomb, countin’ down the days until she becomes the key to some dark secret she won’t talk about.”

“That can’t be easy on, Kurt.”

“That’s putting it mildly,” Rogue scoffed, “He’s trying to be strong for her. She’s trying to be strong for him. Neither one of them are doing themselves any favors. It’s pushing Kurt beyond his limits. A fellas heart can only take so much pressure. I know he loves her and all, but this thing with Amanda is tearing him apart!”

“Love will do that to a man,” said Remy.

“Ah know that and Ah’m doing mah best to help him through. Problem is mah best ain’t enough.”

Rogue let out an exasperated sigh and reached across the table. She took from the center the playing card she dropped earlier. It was the queen of hearts and when she looked at it, there was a special glint in her eyes. Remy couldn’t help but smile because he recognized the importance of this card.

“Remember when you gave meh this?” she said, showing him the card, “It was just after mah powers cut meh off touch again. Ah was in a bad place and didn’t want to be around anybody for any reason.”

“That’s exactly why Remy gave you that card,” said Remy with a smile, “The queen of hearts has always been my special lady. She gives Remy hope when there ain’t much to go around. Figured you could use it more than me.”

“And Ah have,” said Rogue as she smiled at the card, “Ah admit at first Ah thought it was a stupid gesture. But for whatever reason, Ah held onto this thing and it’s been a big help. Lately, it’s been working overtime because Ah keep having to watch Kurt endlessly obsess over Amanda. Without gettin’ into too many details, it’s been a losing battle to say the least.”

“Remy can understand that. What still ain’t clear is why you decided to drop in on Remy like this. It can’t just be about Kurt.”

Rogue paused for a moment. She then shifted her attention to Remy, who still gave her a look that made her weak in the knees. She never realized how much she missed that feeling until recently. It brought another smile to her face, which had been pretty rare lately. She found herself reaching across the table and taking his hand in hers.

“Since Ah know you ain’t gonna stop until Ah blurt it out, Ah’ll save us both the trouble,” she told him, “Between helping Kurt and having some time away from the X-men, Ah realized something.”

“And what might that be? Does it involve Remy?” said the Cajun with a touch of nervousness.

“In part,” Rogue clarified with a touch of coyness, “Ah realized that no matter how messed up Ah feel, Ah ain’t gonna make it better by shuttin’ out the people Ah care about. Ah thought it would be good for meh to get away and work on mah problems. Ah now realize how wrong Ah am. So think of meh dropping in as meh correcting that mistake.”

Rogue gave Remy’s hand a light squeeze. A brief silence fell over them and before long Remy was smiling as well. There were all sorts of ways he could interpret this. Rogue could have sought out anybody from the mansion and they would have taken the time to help her through whatever she was dealing with. But she chose him. That alone said a lot that no philosophy could sufficiently interpret.

“So…now you know. You gonna grill me for it or what?” she said.

“Nah, you know that ain’t Remy’s style,” said the Cajun, “Hell, this be music to Remy’s ears! I ain’t never want you to deal with bad mojo on your own. It’s been hard for me too since you left and Remy will be more than happy to welcome you back into his crazy world.”

“Thanks, sugah. Ah had a feeling you would be quick to forgive meh,” said Rogue, giving his hand another squeeze, “But what about Betsy? Won’t she be a little edgy with us hanging out again?”

“Don’t be worrying about, Betsy. This is about you, cherè,” said Remy seriously, “You still an important femme in Remy’s life. So if you be goin’ through something and you need more hope than any queen of hearts can provide, then Remy’s gonna be there.”

“Does that also mean you’re gonna let meh stick around and buy meh some barbecue?”

“You be in luck, cherè. Remy was just about to ask for seconds!”

Rogue and Remy laughed as Remy summoned the waiter. They each had their own personal issues. Trying to figure it out on their own wasn’t working and they needed someone to confide in. Even though so much had changed in wake of recent events, it was comforting to know that there were certain constants to help them move forward.

Xavier Institute – Garage

The stages of heartbreak were always hard. Ororo Munroe had gone through them before and it hadn’t gotten any easier. Since Logan broke up with her, she was still working her way towards accepting it. The battle against Warlock provided a nice outlet, even if it didn’t resolve the lingering issues between them. If anything, it only made those issues more pressing.

The past few days had been pretty rough. Logan had been keeping to himself more than usual lately. He hadn’t been a part of the battle against Warlock and he barely stuck around for briefings regarding the treaty. He ran off so frequently that nobody was able to reach out to him. It was not unlike the phase he went through after he broke up with Jean, but he was taking it much further this time. He wasn’t just upset or bitter. He was practically punishing himself. He often reeked of alcohol when he was around the team and snapped at anyone that even attempted to talk to him.

For this reason, Ororo needed to confront him. She was slowly but surely coming to terms with the end of her relationship with Logan. She and Logan weren’t meant to be. Even if she hadn’t been ready to end it, in the long run it made sense. There were still so many unknowns between them and neither of them was going to have closure until they laid these issues to rest. So when Ororo was done with class for the day, she caught up with him in the garage just as he was getting ready to head out on his motorcycle.

“Logan?” she said as she opened the garage door, “It’s only 5:30. Don’t tell me you’re going out to get drunk already.”

“Nice to see you too, darlin’. Glad to see our breakup ain’t killed your concern for my liver,” he said dryly as he moved his bike to the front end of the garage.

“Please don’t run off on me again, Logan. We seriously need to talk,” said Ororo strongly as she approached him.

“What’s there to say? I thought we finished this. You ain’t gonna hop on another bike and ride after me again, are you?”

“I just might if you keep making it so necessary.”

Logan grumbled as Ororo folded her arms critically, giving him that look that always froze him where he stood. Even after breaking up with her, she still had that effect on him. The same thing happened with Jeannie. It didn’t seem fair.

Now standing behind him, Ororo got the former living weapon to turn around and face her. She noticed he didn’t have the same embittered look he had shortly after their breakup. There was something else to his demeanor now. She tried to offer him the same warm presence that once made them such passionate lovers, but this time it seemed to do little good.

“We need to clear the air, Logan. There are things I have to get off my chest…important things that we shouldn’t ignore,” she said in a deeper tone.

“I’m all ears, Ro. I’ll try not to be an asshole,” said Logan, “Feel free to hit me with lightning if I am.”

“I hope that won’t be necessary,” said Ororo with a half-grin, “I know you and I went through our share of rough patches in our relationship. Through every one of them, we still managed to keep things civil.”

“Given how we were in bed, that’s pretty damn incredible.”

“Agreed,” she conceded, “But what still bothers me are the things that drove us apart. These past few days I’ve been thinking about everything from our memorable encounter with Yuriko to that incident with Mystique. Each one of those affairs tested our love. For what it’s worth, I think we managed them pretty well. Let’s face it, these aren’t the kind of issues most couples have to deal with.”

“Well maybe they ought to. It was good for us,” said Logan, “Made for some great make-up sex.”

“Please stop referencing the sex. We both know that was never the problem,” said Ororo more seriously.

“I know it wasn’t. Can you blame a guy for wanting to focus on the good times?”

“The good times are always good,” she went on, “It’s the degree to which we allow the bad times to hurt us and that’s what I’ve been contemplating lately.”

Ororo moved in closer and shared a tender gesture with her ex-lover. He still looked so distant. He had all the signs of a man who was going through some a rough time in his life. She hoped this important conversation could make it better.

“I loved you, Logan. And a part of me always will,” she said strongly, “But the darker parts of your life…those same parts you warned me about when we got together…they’re too much. Working our way through those incidents should have made our love stronger, but it didn’t. It only forced us to put in more work. And love should never feel like work.”

“Yeah…as if we don’t get enough work around this joint,” Logan muttered.

“But these shortcomings are not all your fault. You said they were and I can tell you still believe that. I’m here to say that you’re wrong.”

“You’re not going to start blaming yourself, are you? There’s a fine line between humility and bullshit, Ro. And you’re a hell of a lot smarter than that.”

“I’m not casting blame. I’m offering perspective,” said Ororo with honest eyes, “I’ve always believed that every relationship goes both ways. When one person deals with an issue, the other deals with it as well in their own way. The important part is whether the other person can manage these issues on their terms. I couldn’t manage those issues we faced. It’s not that I wasn’t strong enough and it certainly wasn’t because we didn’t love each other. I’m just not that woman who can be everything you need me to be.”

Logan’s demeanor eased a bit. Ororo reached out to him again and caressed his burly face. Her touch was still something he treasured. He still bore much of the burden for ending their relationship. However, Ororo cared too much to let him shoulder that burden on his own.

“I’m still learning to accept that we aren’t meant to be. I can tell you are too,” said Ororo distantly, “I will eventually. I just needed to clear the air.”

“Consider it clear, darlin’,” said Logan as he pulled her into a soft embrace, “Sorry I had to put you through this.”

“Don’t apologize, Logan. I don’t regret a minute of it and neither should you,” she said, smiling while in his arms, “I don’t want there to be any bitterness between us.”

“You ain’t gotta worry about that. If Jeannie and I can get along after what happened with us, then you and me can skip a dozen steps.”

“Glad to hear a touch of optimism in your tone for once,” said Ororo with a smile, “Does that mean you’ll stop punishing yourself like this?”

Logan fell silent as they parted from their embrace. His demeanor grew tense once more. This time it was for a very different reason. It was a good thing Ororo confronted him like this. He had one too many reasons to beat himself up and this woman was one that wore heavily on his heart. But even without it, Logan still had many burdens he had to bear.

“I’m sorry, Ro. But right now I’m in a pretty rough place,” he said to her, “It ain’t just because of you. Hell, I wish it were that simple, but it never is.”

“What do you mean? Is something else going on that I should know about?” asked Ororo.

“I can’t exactly tell you the whole story because I’m still trying to fill in the blanks. But I will tell you is that I ain’t just going out to get drunk anymore. Some new problems have come along to bite me in the ass and I need to look into it before the biting gets any worse.”

“It sounds serious. Is it something I can help with?”

“No…this is something I gotta handle on my own. I got places to go, people to see, and heads to bust. Now don’t think that means I’m leaving or something. But I can’t put this off! I need answers! I don’t expect you or anyone else on the team to understand. I promise I’ll explain everything when it makes sense. You can hold me to that.”

Ororo wasn’t sure what to make of this. It sounded like something unrelated to their relationship. She watched anxiously as Logan got on his bike and started the engine. Even after laying their relationship to rest, he was still going out. She debated briefly whether or not she should go after him. It took only a brief moment to realize what was best for the both of them.

“Logan…” she said, getting his attention before he rode off.

Logan turned around, half-expecting her to talk him down or try to go after him. Instead, her response was different.

“Good luck,” she said, “You’re still a wonderful man. Don’t ever forget that.”

The former living weapon replied with only a slight smile. Ororo smiled back as she stepped away, watching Logan kick his motorcycle into gear and ride off. They each had a long ways to go on their respective paths. Sometimes it was best to walk those paths alone. As their lives as X-men took this new and uncertain course, they each had to find their place in it. Having laid these final matters of their relationship to rest, they could now move on.


News of the Genosha treaty was spreading far and wide. This news had the potential to affect every citizen of every nation. The promise of a new human/mutant peace had so many on edge with a faint sliver of hope. New technology and new shifts in society were certain to bring great change. For some, however, these changes were utterly meaningless.

Raven Darkholme was probably one of the few mutants in the world who couldn’t care less about a treaty or a slew of new technology. For her, there were far more pressing mysteries that had nothing to do with how the events on Genosha would affect the world. It even went beyond her ongoing mission to uncover Azazel’s final wishes. The shape shifting mercenary now found herself on a new journey that went beyond Azazel, her children, and the Inner Circle. However, she sensed this could be the path from which every other conflict in her life was connected.

It all came back to one person…Wolverine. Between the awkward moments she shared with him and the conflicting feelings she felt for him, she was certain that he was somehow the key. Mystique could no longer ignore this. She had to find the answers. Destiny’s recent visions seemed to agree. For that reason, she was on her way to meet with a special contact that Destiny strongly advised against.

“Stop trying to talk me out of it, Irene. You’ve told me enough. I’m going through with this,” said Mystique over the phone.

“You’re making me sincerely regret sharing the details of my vision with you. What part of unavoidable damage, impending doom, and mass destruction don’t you understand?”

“Those dangers have never scared me away before. Why should they scare me now?”

“This is different, Raven! It’s very rare a portion of my vision is this clear. I cannot see the details that lead to it, but I am certain that this path only has one outcome. You will face a threat that will leave you devastated if not completely destroyed. I see you on your knees, crying in anguish! Everywhere around you there is death and destruction! You look ready to abandon all hope!”

“You know me better than that, Irene. I outgrew petty weaknesses like crying long ago.”

“I wish I could take comfort in that, but I’ve never seen the future so clearly before. Coming from me, you know that’s nothing to scoff at.”

“And yet here we are,” said Mystique dryly.

“You need to trust me, Raven! As crazy at it seems, there are people who care about you in this world! And unfortunately, I’m one of them! For your sake and that of the future, I implore you…walk away! There’s still time!”

Destiny had never been this worked up over a vision. She had seen some pretty grim omens before, but this was on another level entirely. Mystique didn’t doubt her sincerity. She knew that Destiny cared about her. Even if she was right about her future, there was no turning back. Raven Darkholme had made her decision.

“No Irene…that time has long since passed,” she said stoically, “I’m going through with this. If it means suffering in the way your dream describes, so be it.”

“Raven don’t!”

“Keep an eye on Marie and Kurt for me. If all else fails, you know what to do.”

The shape shifter callously turned off the phone and threw it away. She could afford no more distractions. If Irene hated her for it, that was her problem. Mystique’s desire for answers outweighed any possible urgings from her loved ones.

Having trudged through bitter Canadian cold, she arrived on a landing strip to an old abandoned airfield. There wasn’t a soul for at least fifty miles. She had to come here on a snow mobile after going through a maze of secrecy with this particular contact. She understood that anyone who operated in this business with half a brain made sure they took precautions. There was no such thing as excessive secrecy although this shady figure sure came close.

“I know you’re out here! Show yourself so we can get on with this!” she yelled out into the cold.

There was no response at first aside from the howling winds. Mystique stood stern and determined in the middle of the antiquated runway, looking in all directions for her contact. Her determined urgings were soon answered as a dark figure emerged from the blowing snow.

“Raven Darkholme…you’re looking quite well even in these dreary settings,” said a dark voice.

Mystique turned towards the voice and made out the image of a man approaching her.

“Nathanial Essex, I presume?” she said.

“Please…call me, Sinister. If we’re going to be working together, we might as well dispense with the formalities.”

That name was well-deserved as his appearance became clearer through the snow, but Mystique was used to dealing with ghastly figures. His ghastly complexion failed to make the shape shifter cringe as so many others had. This didn’t seem to dissuade him any more than it did her.

“I don’t care what you call yourself,” she said in a strong tone, “I was told you could give me answers to some very important questions.”

“I like to think I know a thing or two,” said Sinister wryly.

“I was also told you had ties to people who have already made my life miserable. There’s talk of you having ties with Weapon X and the Inner Circle…Selene to be precise.”

“Is that going to be a problem?”

“That depends. I’m usually willing to overlook such details if given the proper incentive.”

“Oh I don’t doubt your resolve. You see, I’ve read up on you too, Mystique. You don’t take your job lightly. As such, I’ve taken the necessary measures to ensure you have the proper motivation to do as I request.”

With a grin that could make even the hardest of souls tremble, Mr. Sinister reached into a pocket and pulled out a small object. He gripped it firmly in his fist and held it out right in front of the shape shifter’s face. While she watched with a touch of skepticism, he let the object fall slightly from his hand to reveal what it was.

Mystique was frozen with awe and it wasn’t just from the cold. The object turned out to be a dog tag and from the looks of it this tag hadn’t seen the light of day in decades. It was old and rusty, appearing to be from the World War II era at least. Yet it was still possible to make out the engravings on one of the tag. Mystique reached out to grasp it and read the name carefully.

“Codename: Mystique. Special Forces. Unit X2. Canada.”

“You almost look surprised,” taunted Sinister as he dropped to dog tag into her hand, “Do you not know your own past? Is it possible that with all the shape shifting you’ve done and all the identities you’ve stolen, you’ve forgotten the one that belongs to you?”

“That’s…impossible! I know who I am!” she said as she clutched the dog tag.

“Do you? Can you honestly say without a sliver of doubt that something hasn’t been lost in your lifetime of deceit?”

It was a profound question nobody had ever posed to her before. It was a question she never even asked herself. Looking at this dog tag, Raven Darkhome’s world was shaken. It was not a completely outrageous claim. She had done a lot of shape shifting over the years. At times it was hard to keep up with the identities she took on. If at some point she began losing track, she probably would have known about it.

That didn’t mean there weren’t some gaps in her history. Maybe at some point she lived a life that had become muddled in the constant changes her body and mind underwent. Holding this dog tag, she felt that same burning uncertainty she felt around Logan. This was a clue. She could feel it. For whatever reason, Sinister proved he could deliver and that was all she needed to know.

“There is another tag to that ancient relic,” said Sinister, “The information it contains is far more profound than what you see before you.”

“Let me guess…you’re not going to give it to me until I do a few favors for you,” said Mystique, her gaze still locked on the dog tag.

“Since you’re so knowledgeable, I’ll skip a few steps and save us both the trouble. It’s true. I do need your expertise for some exceptionally difficult tasks. This new treaty from Genosha and the technology it promises to export have changed my plans.”

“What kind of plans are we talking about here?”

“The kind you don’t want to be asking too many questions about. It’s nothing too damning, I assure you,” said Sinister tactfully, “Just a little experiment I’ve been looking to conduct for a while now and require some special resources to do so.”

“I’ve heard that before,” she scoffed, “The last time someone needed my help with an experiment, Magneto came close to destroying the whole damn world!”

“Do I look as foolish and misguided as Magneto?” quipped Sinister.

“With a name like Sinister, I assume that’s a rhetorical question”

“Assume what you want, but your choices are limited, Raven. I have what you need. Assist me and you won’t just get the other half of the dog tag…I’ll tell you how I got it and the story behind it. By the end you will have the answers you seek. You have my word.”

Mystique looked up from the dog tag and studied this devious figure. He seemed about as trustworthy as a hungry wolf. But he had the knowledge she was desperately seeking. Her brain told her not to trust him, but this unsettling feeling within her told her she could. She couldn’t explain this feeling. Ever since the incident with Logan, she found herself being guided by these mysterious unconscious whims. It was as if something latent within her was trying to get out. The only way she was ever going to find the truth was to trust this man, even if it went against every notion of sound judgment.

“So…do we have a deal?” asked Sinister.

“I thought you said there was no room for questions,” said Mystique dryly.

The dark figure didn’t flinch. He kept on grinning as if he already knew her decision.

“Tell me my first assignment,” said the shape shifter bitterly.

“Come with me and I’ll fill you in,” he said with a grin every bit as sinister as his name implied, “You had best bring your wits with you. We have a brief window with which to work as the ignorant masses recover from Magneto’s blundering. When all is said and done, a bold new world will await us!”

End of Volume 4

Write Comment
Read Comments ( )

Share |