Mystique looked up at the newly rebuilt mansion, somewhat amazed that it had been completed so quickly. She wasn’t sure what she was doing here, why she had even bothered to answer Xavier’s summons. But he had said the lives of several of their young charges depended on it. Just which young charges he had failed to impart to her.
“I’m not so sure this is a good idea.” Avalanche said to her right. “I mean…we’re walking straight into the lion’s den…so to speak…”
“Aw c’mon…” Toad rolled his eyes. “You really think these goody goods are gonna jump us?” He dug something out of his ear, examined it, then flicked it into the nearby shrubbery. “Besides…we were invited…”
”I was invited, Toad.” Mystique corrected him. “You three are only here for back up.”
“Back up?” Avalanche arched a brow.
“You didn’t think I’d walk into the lion’s den…so to speak…alone, now did you?”
“So how come you didn’t invite the terrible twins to this little shindig?” Avalanche asked.
“I couldn’t find them…” Mystique admitted with a slight frown. Xavier had said something about some of the young mutants being in danger. Was he referring to them?
Before she could ponder any further, the door swung open. Xavier sat there, flanked by Wolverine and Storm. Mystique could see most of the mansion’s other residents lingering just behind.
“Raven.” He nodded his head in way of acknowledgment.
“Charles.” She answered with a slight frown. He so rarely called her by name. Doing so now set her on edge. The last time had been when he’d cone to her office to discuss her son…
Xavier turned to allow the quartet access. Wolverine watched with narrowed eyes as the three Brotherhood boys followed their blue-skinned leader into the main foyer. “You three better be on yer best behaviour…or I’ll drop ya where ya stand.” He promised them. Storm threw him a disapproving look, but said nothing.
Xavier ushered Mystique into his private study, Ororo following silently, pointedly closing the door behind them. Hank was already inside, looking up as the trio entered.
“So what’s this all about, Xavier?” Mystique demanded. “Your invitation wasn’t exactly forthcoming…”
“Does the name Essex mean anything to you?” Xavier said quietly. “More specifically an N Essex?” The colour drained from Mystique’s face. There was genuine fear in her golden eyes. Xavier arched a concerned brow of his own. “I take it by your expression that you know him?”
“Only by reputation.” She admitted. “Doctor Nathaniel Essex…”
“Doctor of what?” Hank asked with genuine curiosity.
“Medicine.” Mystique informed him. “He’s a surgeon. The sort that performs a lot of unnecessary surgery…” She looked at Xavier. “If he’s the one involved in whatever it is you’re concerned about…if he’s abducted some of our children…” Several brows arched at the mention of OUR children. “We have to get them back…yesterday!”
“I’m afraid it’s not that simple.” Xavier sighed. “He seems to have been very well organised. This…abduction…was very well thought out. They were out of the country before we even got a bead on them…”
“WHO was out of the country?” Mystique demanded. Xavier looked away, obviously not too eager to tell her. “WHO did he take?” His reluctance all but confirmed the growing fear in the pit of her stomach.
He looked at her then. He could tell by the look in her eyes that she knew exactly who had been taken.
Kurt awoke again, but remembered this time not to move suddenly. He stretched his limbs gingerly, favouring his injured shoulder. He was relieved that he didn’t feel any worse. Of course, he didn’t feel any better either.
He tried to flick his tail, but it must have been caught on something because it wouldn’t move. He followed it down in the hopes that he could locate the problem and dislodge it. He was a little stunned to find Wanda, curled up on the floor beside the couch, hugging his tail like a teddy bear, the spaded tip lay against the soft curve of her cheek.
He heard the hiss of a drink can opening. He turned his attention towards the sound. Pietro saluted the blue-furred mutant with the beer can in his hand.
“You are drinking hot beer?” Kurt questioned.,p.“There’s nothing else around here.” Pietro shrugged.
“You are under age.” Kurt pointed out.
“Phwah…” Pietro took a swig. “With my metabolism this stuff burns up before it can even have an effect on my system.” He eyed the other mutant. “I’m betting you’d find things the same. Even if you don’t…you’re German…isn’t this stuff like milk to you guys?”
“You are stereotyping me.” Kurt frowned. He flinched as Wanda moved in her sleep and accidentally pulled on his tail. “How long has she been like this?” He asked.
“Coupla hours…” Pietro informed him. “Isn’t she CUTE?”
“Adorable.” Kurt grumbled as she yanked on his tail again.
“Pity I haven’t got a camera…” Pietro mused as he eyed his slumbering sister. “This’d make great blackmail material…”
Kurt looked at his watch. “Jeez…” He groaned. “Ve must be over Europe by now…”
Pietro leaned over and looked out the window. “Hard to say…but we are over a city…” He said. “Decent sized one too…no landmarks I recognise…but then I was only four when I left Europe…”
Kurt struggled to sit up. Pietro noticed and was at his side in an instant. “Be careful…” He frowned with uncharacteristic concern. “You don’t want to start bleeding again…”
“I have a more up-to-date memory of European cities…” Kurt hissed as he leaned towards the window. “I should be able to figure out vhere ve are…” He frowned as he took in the buildings below, trying to focus a little more clearly. They were old, stone. The streets were narrow, weaving every which way.
“I’m guessing central Europe…” Kurt said as he lay back down. “Switzerland, maybe…or Austria…could be Czechoslovakia…”
“Isn’t that the Czech Republic now?” Pietro smirked.
“Picky, picky…” Kurt mumbled. He stopped suddenly, looking around. His somewhat frantic movements pulled his tail from Wanda’s grasp, awakening her.
“What is it?” She asked, noticing his agitation.
“Ve are landing…” Kurt said.
“How can you tell that?” Pietro asked.
“Ve are losing speed and altitude…”
“And how do you know THAT?” Wanda asked this time.
“It is part of my power…” Kurt shrugged with his good shoulder. “I can feel our change of direction…”
“You can’t be…” Pietro shock his head. “The plane’s full of power dampers…we can’t use our powers…”
“That’s what they told us.” Wanda said.
“The nice people who kidnapped us?” Kurt arched a brow, obviously amused at their trust in their abductors.
“I tried to use my powers to get us out of here.” Wanda growled at him. “They didn’t work.”
“Neither do mine…” Pietro added.
Kurt frowned in concentration for a moment, then he brightened. “You have to concentrate to use your powers, yes?”
“Well duh!” Pietro mocked.
“I only have to concentrate to teleport…” Kurt said. “All my other gifts are instinctive…or totally physical…I do not have to think about them at all…” He touched the wall, feeling his fingers adhere as per usual. “Perhaps their so-called power dampener merely hampers our ability to concentrate…”
“So someone like Cyclops wouldn’t be affected…” Pietro mused. “’Cos he doesn’t need to concentrate…he can’t turn his powers off…”
“Precisely...” Kurt beamed.
Riptide chuckled to himself. “Boss ain’t gonna like that the little freak figured that out…”
“It won’t matter.” Harpoon replied. “It’s not like it’ll do ‘em any good once he gets through with ‘em.”
“We about to set down…” Riptide noted as he glanced out the window. “Time to put our babies to bed…”
Pietro began to sniff the air. “God…what is that smell?” Kurt and Wanda began to mimic him.
“Some sort of gas…” Wanda frowned.
“Knock out gas…” Pietro’s eyes widened momentarily before they suddenly felt extremely heavy. He collapsed into a seat.
“Told you they’d have it planned…” Kurt yawned.
“Nobody likes a guy who says ‘I told you so’…” Pietro sneered.
“But I…didn’t…say…” His head fell back, his eyes closed.
The trio were soon fast asleep.
Nathaniel Essex watched with great anticipation as his private plane taxied towards him. He allowed himself a triumphant smile. His underlings had managed to snatch the trio right out from under the overprotective noses of their respective mentors.
They no doubt knew what had happened. And he also knew that they would have connected him to the abduction by now. He hadn’t exactly been trying to hide the fact. He had been studying them all from afar for some time now. He knew what each and every one of them could do. He was confident that they proved no threat.
Besides, he wanted them to know WHO had the children, just not WHERE he had them.
“Hey boss!” Riptide smirked as he jumped down from the still opening door. “Mission accomplished!”
“Yes…” Essex arched a brow at him. He looked up as Scalphunter emerged, the unconscious Pietro slung over his shoulder. Archlight followed with Wanda. Vertigo was next, glancing back with a face full of fear. Essex frowned as Harpoon disembarked, a very pale Kurt cradled in his arms.
“Put the Maximoffs in with the others.” He said quietly to Scalphunter and Archlight. The pair moved off to follow his instructions. He checked Kurt’s pulse, then pried open an eye to check his pupil dilation, more than a little perplexed to find that he didn’t appear to have any. He frowned at Harpoon when he prodded at the bandaged shoulder.
“Take him to the infirmary…” He growled. “NOW!”
He watched as Harpoon disappeared into the dilapidated looking castle that was his current home.
“You two!” He snapped at the remaining Riptide and Vertigo. “Look after my plane!”
Theresa looked up as the door hissed open. She glanced to where David was sitting, silent as always, playing some overly violent video game. The boy hadn’t even reacted to the intrusion.
Archlight and Scalphunter entered carrying two immobile teenagers, laying the pair relatively gently on some convenient couches.
“Brought you a couple of new playmates.” Scalphunter smiled at her. The pair exited, locking the door behind them.
Theresa looked at them. A pale-skinned, fair-haired boy and a dark-haired girl. There was something similar in the structure of their faces, the shape of their noses. She figured they were related in some way.
She sighed deeply in totally sympathy for the newcomers. She knew they were in for a world of hurt.
Essex almost winched in sympathy as he cut the bandages away from Kurt’s shoulder, revealing the ugly gash beneath. As soon as the wrappings were removed it started bleeding again.
“I said I wanted incoherent…” He looked at Harpoon. “Not impaled!”
Harpoon wouldn’t meet his eye, and Essex could tell from his body language that there was something he wasn’t telling him. Essex had a feeling he knew what it was.
“Riptide did this, didn’t he?”
Harpoon looked up quickly, then away just as fast. He sighed. “The kid tried to make a break for it…”
Essex held up his hand to stop him. “Don’t…” He shook his head. “I don’t want to hear it.” He turned his attention back towards the injured youngster. “I often wonder why I keep that sadistic little bastard around!” He grumbled as he began cleaning the wound. “Tell him I want two coats of wax on my plane…”
Pietro groaned and massaged his temples. He risked opening his eyes. When nothing bad seemed to happen he decided it was safe to sit up.
“I’d say welcome…” A feminine voice with a distinct brogue spoke. “But not here…”
He looked at the pretty strawberry blonde who had spoken.
“Who are you?” He demanded. “Where am I? What the HELL is going on?”
“My name is Theresa.” She said. “As to where you are and what’s going on…” She sighed. “You’re guess is as good as mine.”
“Great…” He grumbled. Then he noticed his surroundings.
“Will you get a load of this place?” He whistled in awe despite himself. The majority of one wall was comprised of a wide-screen plasma television set. On the adjacent wall was a video and DVD collection that could put Blockbuster to shame. Every available video game system, along with an impressive collection of games were lined up beneath the massive screen alongside a state-of-the-art, top-of-the line VCR and DVD player.
On the wall opposite the impressive selection of movies was an equally impressive collection of books. Both fiction and non-fiction, on every subject known to man. There was a decent sized opening next to the library that led to a kitchen, which, Pietro had no doubt, was stocked with everything and anything they could possible desire. The remaining wall was lined with doors, five of them.
“Bedrooms.” Theresa said as his eyes lingered on them curiously for a while.
“All this stuff…” Pietro spun to encompass the room. “It’s all for us?”
“He wants us to think he’s our friend instead of our captor…” She said in a whisper.
“This is GREAT!” Pietro beamed as he began to study the movies collection.
“Yer missin’ the point.” Theresa said, her accent growing thicker as her anger rose. “No matter how gilded the cage…it’s still a cage!”
“Oh, c’mon…” Pietro smirked at her. “If this is a dungeon…then chain me to the wall!”
“Pietro?” Wanda said suddenly, waking with a start at the sound of his voice.
“It’s cool, Wanda…” He said to his sister. “We’re safe…”
“Where’s Kurt?” She looked around quickly, failing to locate the blue-furred X-Man, oblivious to the treasures around them.
“Kurt?” Theresa echoed.
“He’s a…” Pietro paused, wondering just how to put it. “He’s a friend…” He decided.
“They only brought you two in…” Theresa informed them.
“He was with us.” Wanda insisted. “He was injured…”
“Injured?” Theresa looked truly frightened. “They must have taken him to…” She trailed off.
“Taken him where?” Wanda asked. “To who?”
Essex tossed the bloody gloves casually into a nearby bin. He leaned in closely to examine his work. He couldn’t remember ever doing better. Sewing the muscle fibre back together in a way that only he could. There would be a scar, but a barely discernable one. In fact, once the fur grew back, it would be totally invisible.
He checked the intravenous drip that was replacing the fluids the boy had lost during his journey. He couldn’t help but smile at his innocently peaceful face. Young mister Wagner was far more resilient than he seemed. A lesser being would not have survived the trip. A couple of days and he’d be as good as new.
He cast his eyes over the boy’s uniquely shaped limbs. The tail undulated slowly, never resting, coiling and uncoiling around whatever it came into contact with. The rail of the bed, a misshapen foot, a slender ankle. He was truly an amazing find.
“I look forward to studying you in greater detail, my young furry friend…” Essex smiled at him, sinisterly.
Even after all she’d put them through, Ororo couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. Of all of them, she was truly the only one with a bond with all three of the missing youngsters.
One far more so than the others…
Mystique sat quietly, staring into the brandy balloon in her hands. Ever since Xavier confirmed that Kurt had indeed been one of the mutants abducted, Raven had lapsed into a remorseful silence. Hank had thought the brandy might help to calm her nerves, but she had only gazed at the amber liquid.
“Why…?” She said finally, softly. She looked up at Xavier, here eyes filled with unshed tears. “Why him? He’s never hurt a soul…”
“I know…” Xavier agreed.
“God!” Mystique slumped back in her chair. “First Magneto…now Essex…why must these megalomaniacs experiment on him? Isn’t he…different…enough already?” She sighed deeply. Xavier didn’t mean to pry, but he couldn’t help sense her thoughts at that moment. She blamed herself for Kurt’s appearance, and all he’d suffered because of it. He had, after all, inherited his looks for her.
“Hank believes it has something to do with the fact that Kurt and the twins are second generation mutants.” Xavier said softly.
She looked at him again. “Second generation?”
“Mutant offspring of mutant parents.” He explained.
‘So it’s my fault again…’ She thought.
“You can’t blame yourself for this, Raven.” He said gently.
She glared at him. “Are you dipping into my thoughts?”
“Not intentionally.” Xavier assured her. “Some thoughts…some emotions…are impossible to hide.” She looked away, equal parts angry and embarrassed. Xavier smiled sadly. “You shouldn’t be ashamed about caring for you son…” He told her.
“He is my weakness…” She whispered. “I don’t like having a weakness!” She growled.
“Now, Raven.” Xavier tried to smile. “We all have our weaknesses. We are…after all…only human.”