Theresa had never been an early riser. But since she’d been brought to this awful place she was averaging about three hours a night. She just couldn’t sleep any longer. She was too nervous. Though she was yet to meet their mysterious host, she had seen what the meeting had done to David. He’d been a fairly average eleven-year-old boy when they’d first met, albeit, as terrified as she was. But then he’d been taken…she had no idea where…
He’d been gone for the better part of a week, and when he’d been returned to their opulent cell he had completely withdrawn into himself. He was slowly recovering, he’d play videogames all day, violent ones, where he’d get to take out his frustrations on computer-generated opponents, but he still refused to speak a word. As the older of the two, Theresa had felt somewhat responsible for his well-being. She made food for him, made sure he ate it. Saw him to bed, made sure he changed clothes and kept himself clean.
She staggered out into the main room, fed up with tossing and turning at the images in her head refused to give her any peace. She paused outside David’s door, as per usual, but he was sleeping soundly. She glanced at the doors that lead to the other sleeping compartments. The twins, Pietro and Wanda as they had introduced themselves to her, had fought over who was to get which room, until she pointed out that they had already been assigned, each equipped to accommodate them, including a rather impressive wardrobe for each occupant.
They weren’t children like David, they were the same age as she, but she couldn’t shake her role as big sister. She was about to crack the door on Wanda’s room when she heard a faint sound from the remaining room, the one closest to the kitchen. The one that was supposed to be empty…
The door was slightly ajar, so she pushed it open. Even in the darkness she could see the various platforms, hoops and bars that adorned the walls and ceiling. She’d found the décor of this particular room rather puzzling when she’d first arrived. Who could possibly feel at home in such a place?
Her attention was drawn to the bed when she heard a soft murmur. She tiptoed over, freezing when its occupant shifted slightly. He let out a pained whimper as he settled on his side but remained asleep. He was facing her now, and she knew exactly who he was.
‘They must have brought him in sometime last night…’ She mused.
Pietro and Wanda had told her of him, gone into quite some depth in fact. They had explained that he was more than a little different, but as she looked at him now she really couldn’t see it. But then, his eyes were closed, and he was so snuggled down amongst the blankets that even his ears where hidden. And the darkness of the room had reduced everything to shades of grey. His face…his hair…both looked completely normal…
He winced and began to toss in his sleep. David had been the exact same way when they’d brought him back. She reached out to brush his forehead, to soothe him as she had the young Israeli. She let out an involuntary gasp when she felt the soft fuzz beneath her fingers.
“Shhh…” She smiled at him even though he couldn’t see it. She began to sing softly, a gentle lullaby she remembered from her youth. “Yer safe…” She sighed. “At least as safe as ya can be ‘round here…”
His eyes opened slightly, drowsily, and she was certain for a moment that they had flashed with their own light. They focused on her, confused for a moment, then snapped open. He scuttled away from her as far as he could without falling off the far side of the bed, pulling the bedding up to his chin. She could see the unusual configuration of his hands now, but she’d been prepared for that. The tail flicking back and forth behind him was a little more disconcerting, but she managed to keep her cool.
“I’m Theresa…” She said to him, smiling slightly, hoping to put him at ease.
He looked down at himself, suddenly realising just how much of him was exposed. The tail stilled through some conscious effort. He studied her for a moment, with more than a little trepidation…
“You are not afraid of me…?” He questioned.
“Around here…” She said softly. “There are far worse things to be afraid of…”
Kurt looked down at his lap as he absorbed this. Theresa watched him for a moment, she knew exactly how he felt.
“I’m bettin’ yer hungry…” She said as she pulled open the doors of the massive built in wardrobe. She selected a simple shirt and a pair of overly baggy jeans and tossed them on the bed. Kurt touched the denim garment, a little shocked to find that they had been tailored for him. The cuffs were wide to accommodate his less than usual feet, and there was a neat hole sewn into the seat for his tail.
“How long has this guy been vatching us?” He wondered aloud.
“Best not to think about it…” she said. “Bathroom’s over there…” She pointed to a door on the opposite wall. “I’ll see ya outside when yer ready…” She left, closing the door behind her.
He slipped out of bed and made his way to the bathroom. He flicked on the light and immediately checked the mirror. He’d seen enough movies to know that they were the ideal location for hidden cameras. But it was small, and opened to reveal a completely ordinary looking cabinet filled with the usual assortment of soap, toothpaste, brushes, combs and, he noted, several large packets of adhesive bandages. He checked everywhere he could think of for hidden surveillance equipment, but could find nothing.
‘I’m getting paranoid in my old age…’ He thought. Then he realised he’d been stripped to his lurid green boxers. As if suddenly remembering what happened, he spun back towards the mirror, turning in such a way as to examine his injured shoulder. It felt surprisingly good as he rolled it, considering what it had felt like, it was just a little stiff. There was a small patch of adhesive bandaging covering it, very similar to the packages in the cabinet. He tried to reach it with his left hand but it was just out of reach. Anyone else would have been stumped, but Kurt just brought up his tail and began prodding it gently with the spaded tip.
It hurt a little, but like any curious youngster he was way too keen to explore it. He felt along the edge, noting how smooth the surrounding area was. He’d been shaved.
‘Well…’ He reasoned. ‘Guess it won’t hurt too much if I…’
His tail, which often seemed to have a mind of its own, was already working on the edge of the patch. With a quick flick it was pulled free. He winced a little, but was too startled at the now exposed wound to really notice. It was several inches long, just as Wanda had said, a little on the jagged side, but now very neatly stitched back together. He counted thirty stitches before he gave up.
Theresa turned from where she was watching David’s latest pixelated warfare as Kurt silently entered the room. David too, glanced briefly towards the new addition to their ranks. He did a double take, his brain not entirely believing what his eyes had just seen. He hit the pause button, rose from his cross-legged position on the floor in front of the gaming centre and walked slowly towards the blue-furred mutant.
He slowly looked him up and down, taking in everything from the tips of his pointed ears to the spade on the tip of his tail. His face split in a smile as his eyes returned to Kurt’s face.
“Wow…” He said quietly.
Theresa’s eyes widened. Of course Kurt couldn’t fathom what was so monumental about that simple syllable.
“Wow?” Kurt echoed with a raised eyebrow. “That’s a new one…” David frowned. “Usually I get a ‘dear God, vhat is that thing?’“ He explained. “Or a simple…” He threw back his head and screamed at the top of his lungs.
Pietro and Wanda were both at their doors when he finished, joining David and Theresa as they stared at him.
“But wow’s good…” He beamed. “I like wow…” Then he noticed the startled looks on their faces. “Sorry…” He said sheepishly.
“KURT!” Wanda threw her arms around him in a relief filled hug, taking everyone, including herself, by surprise at the extremely public show of affection. She pulled back, noticing the flabbergasted look on Kurt’s face. “Sorry…” She whispered, her cheeks colouring as she stepped away from him.
“So how ya feeling?” Pietro asked, slapping him good-heartedly on the shoulder. Unfortunately it was his right shoulder. Kurt let out a pained hiss and glared at the snowy-haired mutant. “Opps…” He smiled uncomfortably.
“Better than I should…” Kurt admitted. “Seeing as how this thing almost killed me…” He rolled his should, clenched and unclenched his fist.
“We heal fast…” David said quietly.
“We?” Pietro asked.
“Special people…” He looked at Kurt, the most obviously ‘special person’ amongst them.
“You mean mutants?” Wanda asked. David nodded.“You all have powers too?” Theresa asked.
“I’m betting that’s why we’re here…” Pietro said. He cocked his head as he studied the strawberry blonde. “So…what do YOU do?”
“Um…” She frowned. “I’m not really sure how to describe it…” She admitted. “I can do stuff with my voice…I can modulate it…smash things with it…”
“Vhat sort of things?” Kurt asked.“Anything…” She replied. “Glass…wood…concrete…” She smiled. “I can even use it to fly…”
“Sounds pretty handy…” Pietro admitted.
“So what do you do?” She asked him.
“Um…super speed.” He smiled. “I can move so fast I can run across water…or straight up the side of buildings…”
“And you two?” She looked at Wanda and Kurt.
“I affect probability…” Wanda said. “It’s harder to explain than yours…say I need to get out of a room…I can make the hinges on the door rust…or the lock fall apart…or the wood decay…”
“Sounds a little…” Theresa searched for the right word.
“Yeah…I know…it’d my power and I don’t even understand it…”
Theresa looked at Kurt. “Do you have a power…or is it purely a physical thing?”
“I guess you could say my body is a power…” He admitted, looking down at himself. “I am extremely agile…can stick to just about any surface…jump two to three times higher than average…the tail’s like an extra arm…it can even bare my weight…”
“You’ve got all that?” Theresa sounded impressed.
“I have an infallible spatial awareness…I can sort of blend into shadows and I can see in near total darkness…” Kurt continued. “But my primary power is teleportation…”
“He is going to LOVE you…” David said.
“Who?” Kurt frowned.
“The sinister man…” David said. “He likes me ‘cos I got more than one power…”
“Really?” Pietro arched a brow. “And what exactly might they be?”
“Telepathy, telekinesis and pyrokinesis…”
“Nice little arsenal…” Kurt commented.
“Pity we can’t access them…” Wanda sighed. “We’d be out of here in a second…”
“They’re mutants too, Wanda.” Pietro pointed out. “Adults…more adept in their powers than we are…”
“Are you saying we should just give up?” She turned on him. “Let them do whatever it is they’ve got planned?”
“No…” He began. “But what are we gonna do?”
“Vhat do ve know about them?” Kurt asked, thoughtfully. “Tell me about the ones that grabbed you…”
“Grabbed?” Pietro questioned. “She made me an offer…”
“Me too…” Wanda added.
“So you came villingly?” Kurt asked them, glancing at the other two as well. They all nodded in agreement. “So vhat vere you offered?”
“Control…” Wanda said. She sighed. “My powers are out of control…they told me he could help…”
“Said he could get me into the music industry…” Theresa said.
“A better life…” David sighed. “Not too many prospects in Israel…”
“Pretty much the same thing…” Pietro jerked a thumb at the spiky haired youngster.
“What about you?” Theresa asked.
“I vasn’t offered anything…” He shook his head. “I vas just given some massive blood loss and a nice scar to remember the whole thing by…”
“How’s it look?” Wanda asked curiously.
“Not too bad…” Kurt admitted. “Vhy do you ask?”
“C’mon, Blue Boy…” Pietro smirked. “Don’cha know chicks dig scars?”
Kurt threw him a look, then attempted to get them back on their former track. “So vhat do ve know about our captors? They are mutants…but vhat are their powers?”
“Never saw ‘em use any.” Pietro shrugged.
“Great.” Kurt muttered.
“There are five of them…” Theresa said. “Not counting their employer…going by the names Arclight, Harpoon, Riptide, Scalphunter and Vertigo…”
“Harpoon and Riptide I know…” Kurt all but growled. “Energy weapons and super speed…of sorts…” He added when he noticed Pietro raised brow. “Vhat do the others do?”
“Arclight causes shockwaves whenever she hits something…” Theresa said.
“Sounds a bit like Avalanche…” Pietro commented.
“Scalphunter can cobble together any sort of weapon he needs to counter any mutant’s power…” She continued.
“A bit like Forge…” Kurt mused. “And the other?”
“Vertigo?” Theresa shook her head. “I don’t know…I’ve never actually seen her do anything…”
“Going by the name…” Kurt theorised. “I vould say she makes you sick in some vay…”
“Makes sense…” Pietro agreed. “So how does this help us?” He asked. “They teach Strategic Planning 101 at the Institute or something?”
“Know thy enemy, Pietro…” Kurt said. “If ve know vhat they can do, ve know how to counter it. I am used to dealing with Avalanche…so Arclight shouldn’t be a problem…” He then smirked at Pietro. “Ditto vith Riptide…”
“HEY!” Pietro protested.“But the others…” He shook his head. “I vould have to see more of them in action to know how to fight them…”
“Haven’t you forgotten one tiny little problem?” Pietro countered. “We don’t have any powers!”
“You are completely reliant on you powers, aren’t you?” Kurt asked. Pietro looked away.
“Vell, then…” Kurt sighed. “You vill just have to follow my lead…”
“Fuzzball’s defiantly gonna be trouble…” Scalphunter commented as he watched the security monitor hooked into the hidden camera in their guests’ main room. “He’s already figured out about the power dampers…and now he’s planning a break out?”
“I expected as much…” Essex noted. “He was trained by Xavier and Wolverine…and his Romany upbringing stresses freedom above nearly all things…”
“Romany?” Scalphunter frowned.
“Gypsy.” Essex explained.
“Better watch the silverware then…” He said absently.
“Don’t stereotypes our guests, Scalphunter.” Essex chided. “He’s almost nauseatingly honest…except for hiding his true self…and, believe it or not, a fairly devout Catholic…”
“We should still keep a pretty close eye on him…” Scalphunter reasoned. “Maybe even separate him from the others…”
“Don’t concern yourself, Scalphunter…” Essex smiled. “I plan to begin working with young Mister Wagner as soon as possible…”
Charles Xavier sighed and pulled the Cerebro helmet from his head. He massaged his temples as he rolled back a little from the high tech console.
“You gotta get some sleep…” Logan commented from the nearby shadows.
Charles shook his head. “I have to find them.” He said firmly. “From even the little Mystique has imparted about this Nathaniel Essex…I fear for their lives…” He put the helmet down heavily on the console. If its circuitry wasn’t so delicate he would have hurled it in frustration.
“I’m going to have to recalibrate this thing…” He sighed. “Figure out a way so that it can track them regardless of whether they’re using their powers or not…” He lowered his head, looking utterly defeated. “Who knows what that monster is doing to them…?” He whispered.
“I got the impression that he likes to tinker with, not out and out slaughter mutants…” Logan said thoughtfully. He put what he hoped was a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Kurt may play the clown more often than we’d like, but he can be serious when he needs to be. We’ve trained him well, Charles…he can take care of himself.”
“He was injured, Logan.” Charles pointed out.
“Only make him more dangerous…” Logan smirked. Charles arched a brow at the comment. “Kid don’t give in easy…he’s a fighter. He’s had to deal with the way he looks all his life. Hell, even other mutants rarely accept him right off the bat. But he never gives up…he eventually wins ‘em all over…
“And he’s been through so much since he hooked up with us…he probably regrets leaving home…” He chuckled mirthlessly. “He’s been outed as a mutant…nearly been killed half a dozen times…found out his birth mother id a borderline psycho…and he just keeps smiling…” He sighed deeply.
“Elf’s stronger than we’ll probably ever know…”
Kurt was systematically rapping his knuckles on every available wall, trying to judge their thickness, desperately searching for even the slightest weakness. Pietro looked over from where he was watching a movie.
“Give it a rest, dude…” He sighed. “This place is a freaking fortress.”
“They’ll come for us soon enough…” Wanda added glumly.
“That is vhat I am trying to avoid…” Kurt said. He glanced at David. The young mutant hadn’t actually imparted anything he knew about their host, but there was a haunted look to his dark eyes, Kurt knew he’d been through something he felt was too horrible to discuss.
And Kurt would be damned if he’d let anyone else go through a similar experience. He’d do everything in his power to protect them from such a fate. He’d examined every surface he could reach from the floor, so decided to explore further up. He touched the wall with his fingers, then gingerly, his toes.
Theresa looked up, her eyes widening as she saw him clinging to the wall like a giant blue spider. He’s told her that he could cling to just about anything, but it was something else entirely to actually see him do it.
He’d just started to move upwards when the main door slammed open. Its impact against the wall was enough to shake Kurt lose. He went into a roll as he hit, fortunately on his good shoulder, and was on his feet and in a fighting stance in a blink of an eye. He bared his fangs when he saw who was standing there.
“Enough of this, Fuzzbutt.” Riptide smirked as he strolled into the room. “You’re coming with me.”
“The hell I am…” Kurt snarled menacingly.
The ferocity of his voice took Pietro by surprise, as did the way the blue-furred mutant moved. Low to the ground, tail moving in a slow arch behind him, eyes never moving from the threat in front of him. Pietro had always considered Kurt to be the X-Man equivalent of Toad. Quick and agile, but really little more than comic relief. Hell…he’d always thought Evan was a bigger threat.
But this was a totally different side. And he hadn’t actually done anything…he just LOOKED mean.
“Oooohhh…” Riptide teased. “Scary, scary…don’t you look mean?” His smirk turned nasty. “Whatcha gonna do? Slap me with your tail?”
Kurt did lash out, but not with his tail. His fist connected so quickly with Riptide’s face nobody present had even been able to follow it. The only way they could tell that he’d even been hit was by the blood now oozing from his nose.
“You little shit!” He bellowed, lunging at Kurt. The blue-furred mutant simply sidestepped and brought a knee up into his stomach.
Both combatants were suddenly lurching as the floor rippled beneath them. Arclight stood in the doorway, smirking at the bloody-faced Riptide. “Will you stop dancing with that kid and get him out here?” She demanded.Kurt’s eyes narrowed. “The power dampener does not extend beyond the door…” He said in a hissed whisper to the nearby Wanda. He leapt onto Riptide’s head, smushing his already damaged face into the floor. He then launched himself at Arclight, the pair crashing against the far wall in a tangle of limbs.
“C’mon!” He yelled at the others as he quickly disentangled himself. They didn’t have to be told twice.
“We don’t know where we are.” Wanda pointed out as they ran along the corridor.“A small oversight.” Kurt countered. “Ve only need find a telephone so I can call the Institute…we have a home free link…”
“Yeah…” Pietro groaned, straining not to overtake them all. “Like they’re not gonna come after us…”
“With the combination of your speed, Theresa’s flight, Wanda’s reality warping, David’s telekinesis and my teleportation, how are they going to catch us?”
“They got us once…” Wanda pointed out.
“Only because they caught us unavares…” Kurt countered. “Ve know vhat they are now…”
“Is that a fact?” A new voice entered the hurried conversation. The group came to a halt as if they’d suddenly encountered an invisible wall. They tried to move, but it was as if their bodies would no longer obey them.
“Who are you?” Kurt demanded. He caught sight of David with his peripheral vision. The boy was looking extremely edgy, that alone was enough for Kurt to identify the speaker. “Vhat do you vant vith us?”
“I want to help you…”
“Then let us go!” Kurt wasn’t sure when he’d been elected group spokesperson, but no one else seemed too eager to address their disembodied captor.
“Let you go?” He repeated. “You all came here willingly…”
“Yeah…right…” Pietro spat.
“You all accepted my offer…”
“I vas made no offer.” Kurt snarled. “Unless you consider an electrified harpoon through the shoulder an OFFER.”
“No…” He admitted. “That was not what I had to offer you…” He sighed, he even sounded regretful. “Riptide does tend to be a little overzealous…”
“You have nothing I vant.” Kurt growled.
“Really?” The smile was evident in his voice. “You haven’t even heard my offer…”
“Save your breath.” Kurt hissed. “I have control of my powers…I care nothing for fame or fortune…”
“I’m well aware of that.” He was informed. “What I have for you is nothing so materialistic…what I have for you is information…”
“Information?” Kurt frowned.
“What I offer you is your heritage. I can tell you precisely who you are and where you came from…the identity of your mother…”
“I already KNOW that!” Kurt snarled, his feelings evident in his voice.
“Perhaps…but what about your father?”
The anger drained from Kurt’s body. Was it possible that this man truly knew what he claimed? Could he answer the questions that had plagued him all his life?
“Believe me, dude…” Pietro hissed at him. “You may be better off not knowing…”
“Believe ME…” The voice intoned. “You won’t be disappointed…”
“Vhy should ve believe you?” Kurt asked, his voice soft now. “You claim you vant to help us…but how? And vhy?”
“This world is a dangerous place...far more so for mutants. People will want to hurt you, kill you, just because you were born different…I merely want to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Five pairs of eyes widened as their would-be benefactor finally decided to show himself. If they’d been capable of moving they would have taken an involuntary step backwards. He was immense…well over seven feet tall. His skin was chalky white, his eyes blood red. There was a red diamond emblazed on his forehead, right between his eyes.
“After all…” He smiled at them, though there was no warmth in his expression. “I am one of you…”