Portraits In The Gallery:  The Red Pill

Title: Portraits in a Gallery: The Red Pill
Author:  Terri
E-Mail:  xgrrl26@yahoo.com
Rating: PG-13
Archive: Dolphin Haven, Peep Hut – anyone else, please ask :)
Disclaimer: I don't own these mutants. I only own Binky. Poo.
Feedback: Please! With the ability to make time stand still on top? Good, bad, and ugly welcome………
Summary: Marie takes time for some feline care, Binky lets us in on what he's been pondering, and Hank goes all silly in the face of Kitty-goodness. Charles gets a clue, and Mystique and her boss have a conversation.
Comments: First of all - sorry for the delay in this series! Holidays, collapsing house, etc., etc. have been evil.  Whew. Secondly, this is dedicated to Jason, who's made me wish heartily for the aforementioned making-the rest-of-the-world-freeze ability so that I could be able to spend unlimited time with him ;) There's no such thing as too much Jason-time (yet sadly, there's a very low threshhold for too much work time, too much house-cleaning time, and too much commuting time, but time feels free to stand still then all by itself – no fair! Stupid fourth dimension....). Contrary to my usual guy-karma, he's been nothing short of amazingly wonderful to me and he has moments that put both Logan and Hank to shame ;) And speaking of the big blue guy - there's a possible sequel to Writing on the Wall (which Tiffany and my HankMuse have been in cahoots to get) and a long-delayed With Marie on the horizon, but those won't be in progress until sometime after this weekend. In the mean time, keep your fingers crossed that my house remains upright, and that my unremittingly bad luck when it comes to matters of the heart has finally cut me a break ;)


Marie woke feeling surprisingly good. It was midday, still quite light out, and she'd just had one of the most traumatic events of her already stress-filled life, but she somehow felt more relaxed, more at rest than she could ever remember being before. Having Logan wrapped tightly around her was obviously the biggest factor, but there was also something reassuring about being here, in a house full of people, in a safe place, that was contributing. She'd been so used to being on her own and doing everything – everything – by herself that the presence of people willing to help clean up, to figure out what had happened, and to protect her at least on some level was a pleasant and substantial departure from her norm.

"Darlin'?" Logan queried softly. She was facing away from him but she had no doubt that he knew she was awake. The courtesy of the whisper, of giving her the option to ignore it and sink back into sleep yet still letting her know he was watching over her, touched her deeply. It wasn't the largest way in which he'd taken care of her in the past few days, not by a long shot, but this demonstration of his vigilance about meeting her needs, large and small, moved her more than anything he'd done so far. There had been some part of her that feared he'd change, withdraw a bit, having seen her at her absolute worst, having seen her so close to being crazy, like before. But he hadn't been scared off. If anything, he'd drawn himself even closer to her.

"I'm up," she replied, in a voice that was watery with emotion. "I'm OK," she added immediately, feeling his body tense at her tone. "I just – I'm glad you're here."

"Wouldn't be anywhere else." She remained turned away from him but could almost see his nose scrunch up in confusion, could almost see him trying to figure her out and supply what she needed. "You can go back to sleep."

"It's got to be afternoon."

"Aw, screw that, darlin'." Marie's lips twitched into a smile at his gruff but plainly well-intentioned reply. "Sleep if you wanna."

"I think I will," she decided, sinking back into the bed and Logan's embrace.

"Ummm……….Hank?" Kitty had diligently and promptly performed her duty of informing Hank of what she'd found out about their intruder. She'd shared with him all of the facts she'd told the Professor and Storm, and had done so very matter-of-factly and professionally. She wanted to live up to the Professor's new-found desire to have her help the team and blathering on to Hank about how exciting it was to crack the fire walls and how neat it was to finally have a real *challenge* for her hacking skills just wouldn't do, even if she did have a hunch that he'd share her enthusiasm for it. But Hank, unlike the Professor and Storm, had simply sat through her level, professional presentation and was now staring at her with his mouth hanging open a bit, saying nothing. "Are you OK? You're not talking."

That seemed to snap him back. "Ah, yes. My apologies. Yes, I am fine. I…….."

"What?" Kitty prompted when he trailed off.

"I was just thinking that - as much of a pleasure as it has been to make your acquaintance and as happy as I am to have been of assistance to Scott and as wonderful as it has been to have met Logan and Marie – well, I was just thinking that my life was far, far simpler when I did not know of any such things as the Brotherhood, government conspiracies, or secret mutant experimentation laboratories." Hank finished with a sheepish shrug, wondering if what he'd said seemed totally out of the blue to Kitty.

"I know what you mean," Kitty sympathized, leaning forward across the table they'd commandeered for their discussion. "Sometimes I think – did I really want to be in on the super hero stuff? If I could go back and change things, would I? But it's kind of like the Matrix, you know? Once you've taken the red pill, there's no going back, and you and I have definitely taken the red pill." Hank gave her a confused look, not getting the reference. "You know – the Matrix," she non-clarified. "Keanu Reeves. Morpheus. Synthetic goo and mind control."

"You are speaking about a movie?"

Kitty couldn't suppress a grin at his earnestness. "A movie? *The* movie! We're going to have to rent it before the second one comes out. You don't know what you're missing." Hank found himself returning her smile and good humor, still a little too caught up in the 'we' part of her declaration to process the rest. "But I do know what you mean – it would be easier to just go back to our old lives in some ways. It was a good life, I guess at least partly, not knowing." Those words served as a reminder that Hank's 'old life' had actually been quite awful – simpler, yes - but awful. Perhaps knowing some of the behind-the-scenes workings of the mutant world wasn't such a bad trade-off after all. And the fact that this world had the bright, beautiful woman sitting across from him was enough to divert his mind from any regretful thoughts for good. "What?"

"Ah, what?"

"You're smiling all of a sudden."

Hank blushed beneath the fur and temporized, "I, ah, was looking forward to seeing the movie." He'd nearly added 'with you' but his insecurities had choked off those words before they'd gotten out. Maybe she hadn't really meant that 'we' or hadn't realized she'd said it. Better to let the fantasy of movie-watching with his arm around Kitty live just a little longer.

"You'll love it," she assured. "Fridays are usually movie nights around here, but Scott usually picks, so we never get anything good. He likes art house films – no offense. I mean, they're nice and all, and I really do appreciate an intelligent movie, but I'm really a sci-fi girl myself."

"Me too," Hank replied, then mentally smacked his forehead. He was interested in sci-fi – yes. He was, however, not a girl. Kitty hadn't seemed to catch it, though. Or at least she didn't point it out.

"I doubt anyone will take over and do it while he's in the sickbay, but that might be a good thing." She shook her head, but had a smile on her face as she did. "I'd be afraid to see what Jubilee would pick, or Logan. Well, we'll probably be pretty busy around here for a while anyway, but you and I will definitely have to boycott Scott's next Boring English Costume Film Friday and see the Matrix instead," she finished.

"It sounds lovely," Hank managed through a tight throat, still a little embarrassed and much more than a little surprised. She really *had* meant for the two of them to watch it together. She merely nodded in response to his words, and he thought he'd better get the conversation off this track before he did something really embarrassing. "I should get back to work on the image inducer. Thank you for sharing your information with me."

She nodded again and rose to go. "You're welcome. And hey – are you coming up for dinner?"

Suddenly shy, and still more than a little overwhelmed at her some-indefinite-Friday movie watching offer, Hank shook his head no. The possibility that she might ask him to dine with her tonight presented a very real threat of overload. There were only so many big things that one blue-furred beast could take in a day, even if some of them were spectacularly good. "I shall most likely work through dinner."

"You need to eat," she argued lightly. "I can bring you something down if you like."

"Oh, no. No. No. I would not trouble you to – "

"It's no trouble. It's grabbing a sandwich from the deli line. It's easy. I can come down later with some dinner, no problem." Hank still looked a bit uneasy, so Kitty guessed, "If you'd rather not be disturbed, I can leave it somewhere……….maybe on the outer desk, or – "

"No, no. That will not be necessary. You – you are not a disturbance at all." Hank felt an odd fluttering in his stomach, and his anxiety nearly stopped his next words in their tracks too, but he determinedly forced them out. "It would be a great pleasure to have your company this evening, however briefly. I shall look forward to it." The smile Kitty gave him made the effort worth it – she looked genuinely flattered by his sentiments.

"I'll see you later then," she said softly, adding, in a more sprightly tone, "Don't work too hard," before departing the lab.

For a long time, Hank watched her go, inwardly warring between letting out a whoop of joy and crying a river of relieved, disbelieving tears. He scarcely dared to believe that she honestly wasn't repulsed by him on some level, but, judging by the evidence, that seemed to be the case. It was the best thing he'd felt in a long time, maybe ever.

Scott lay in his sickbed, still confined to the medlab and thoroughly unhappy with that fact. The Professor had come down to brief him personally on all that had happened, and to let him know that his expectation was that Scott would concentrate on getting well while he and Storm handled the immediate crisis. That didn't sit well with Scott, not at all, and he'd protested all he could, but to no avail. The Professor simply wouldn't budge.

Scott sighed and stared at the opposite wall. Deep down, he knew he was nowhere near ready to be in the field, to be in battle, but that didn't mean he couldn't do *anything*. Didn't Charles value him for his brain, his strategic capabilities, not just his powers? Couldn't he still direct the team? It rankled with him that he'd been replaced so smoothly by Storm, although he certainly harbored no ill will toward her. Charles was the one who was drawing his ire – he'd plopped Ororo into the team leader spot without so much as a 'how do you do,' like Scott had never held the post at all.

Jean's entrance interrupted his reverie, and he could tell that she was at least as irritable as he was, although he had no ready guess as to why. There had been times, before, when they were together, that a mutual bad mood had provided an almost-pleasant kind of camaraderie. Scott wondered if this would be one of those times, or if it would be one of the times when each only served to magnify, not lift, the other's black mood.

"How are you feeling?" Jean greeted, already rubbing him the wrong way. Scott frowned, then decided to just say what was on his mind. He was just irritated enough to forego the usual caution and consideration he used when dealing with a bad-tempered Jean.

"Angry. I'm not fit for company right now, Jean, and you look like you aren't either." She raised a shocked eyebrow to him. He'd never spoken to her quite this way before and they were both well aware of that. "Would you mind leaving me alone for a bit?"

She considered both his words and his demeanor for a moment, then moved to sit at the edge of Scott's bed. He guessed that was her answer. But before he could argue the point, she spoke, and in a startlingly compassionate tone. "I know that you want to be in this, leading the team through it, but Charles is right. He needs you at a hundred percent as soon as possible. You need to focus on getting well."

"I think I've had enough of being told what I need." The retort held no heat; Scott's voice sounded only tired.

"Yeah, well, I've had enough of a lot of things," Jean volleyed back, almost good-naturedly.

"Marie?" Scott guessed, hoping he hadn't poked at too sore a spot.

"Hmph. I went to Logan's room to check on her, out of professional courtesy, of course." And to rattle his cage, Scott interjected silently. "And what do I get for my trouble?"

"Logan's usual sunny disposition and a cheerful thank you?" Jean almost laughed aloud at that, and couldn't even come close to suppressing a smile. She'd forgotten how funny Scott could be when he tried. The thought that he usually tried when she needed to be joked out of some bad mood followed closely, and Jean felt a bittersweet twinge at remembering just how often he'd done that for her and how little she'd appreciated it at the time. She could only remember feeling angry when he hadn't been funny enough or funny in the right way – when he hadn't been able to lift her mood. Scott's words broke her reverie. "Well, you have to consider the source, Jean. He's somewhere north of homicidal on a good day."

"You're right," she smiled, suddenly determined to let him see that it was working, that he was having an effect on her. She also had a sharp, intense urge to return the favor. "And you're still the leader of the X-Men, you know. Charles would never want to replace you. There's no one as well-suited for it as you are, Scott. I told you that when he offered you the spot. I meant it then, and I mean it now. He just wants you to get well, that's all. He just wants to make sure you're around to lead us for a long time to come."

Scott blinked behind his visor a few times, touched by her unexpected words. "Thanks," he said sincerely. Jean hadn't ever spoken to him quite this way. He wasn't sure what to make of it.

"You're welcome." She rose from the bed, looking a little at sea herself. "I'm going to check in on McCoy and see how his work on the device is coming along. I'll be back in a little while to keep you company." She paused, looking at him intently. "If you'd like, that is."

Scott nodded numbly, then watched her give a half-smile before turning to go.

Binky yawned, stretched, and kneaded his paws. He'd had a nice long nap on the cushy bed that Marie had provided for him, and he peeked his head up to try to locate his human visually. One of her paws appeared to be sticking out of the covers of her lair bedding; Binky could recognize it by the bright red coloring she chose to enhance her claws. He didn't blame her for employing such tactics – her claws were quite unimpressive on their own.

Satisfied that Marie was nearby and well, Binky ventured off of his pillow and set out to explore his new surroundings a bit. There was an immediate surprise as soon as he'd taken a few steps toward the doorway. The smell of blood – and lots of it – greeted his sensitive feline nose, and right on its heels was the smell of death. Something – something *big* and with lots of blood – had died near that doorway. His little cat-brain dancing with thoughts of a scavenger's feast beyond compare, he clawed at the door separating him from his meal.

The clawing, after a while, attracted Marie's attention, and her familiar head popped out of the bedding. "Binky? You don't need to get out, kitty. Your litterbox is right over there."

The rumpled head of her new companion popped up from the bedding as well. "Just don't worry 'bout the cat, darlin'………" he commented, before flopping back to the bed.

"Mrow," Binky offered, clearly hoping his request to get at the big dead animal would be heard. Marie sighed, and pulled herself out of bed. Crouching down and picking him up, she rubbed his head in a way that made him purr. A lot. He really did like his human, despite her eccentricities and inability to follow all of his commands.

"Oh, dear – you're out of food. That's the problem. We forgot to feed you with everything going on. Sorry, kitty. I'm really sorry. I know you must be starving after all you've been through." She set him down on the floor and he was about to renew his request to be let out when he saw her reaching for the small tin and metal device that unfailingly heralded a tasty tuna meal. It wouldn't be as much fun as a big dead animal, but then again, Binky was sure he would like the taste of this particular game. He decided to settle for his usual. "There. There you go," Marie commented as she spooned out the whole can. Binky rubbed up against her legs in gratitude before diving in. She rubbed his head once more, then set off to get him fresh water.

The past few days had been confusing, to say the least, and Binky was comforted by the familiar ritual of mealtime. All the different territories, different lairs, different beds they'd been in – there had been a lot of new things to get used to and Binky, like all cats, did not take easily to change. However, the worst thing had been when the giant hairy beast had tried to hurt his human. Although the monster had clawed him and Binky knew instinctively that it had been a very close thing, he didn't regret attacking him on Marie's behalf. Cats, contrary to popular belief, did have a sense of loyalty – or at least this one did.

Binky had found Marie when he was just a small kitten, one who'd been separated from his mother and was teetering on the edge of starvation. They'd both been rummaging in the dumpster out behind that spicy-smelling place when she'd come across him. This was in the time when Marie had been a little wild, not quite a settled human yet. She'd spied him in the dumpster, clawing through the refuse, looking for a meal, and all of a sudden, the shift in her scent signaled that she'd found her dinner – and that Binky would be it.

Being young, and not as fearsome a predator as he was now, he hadn't been sure that he could fell the larger Marie with his claws and fangs. He'd been well and truly scared, scared for his life, when she reached down and grabbed him. But when she'd picked him out of the dumpster and looked in his eyes, something changed in her. A little bit of the feral predator washed away and she looked a lot like a mother finding a lost young one. Instead of winding up as Marie's dinner, she fed him the few scraps they'd found in the dumpster, and took him with her to look for more food. Binky never forgot the kindness she showed in not only sparing him from being her dinner or anyone else's, but also her care for him in letting him have the first of the meal.

In later days, when she'd become a settled human, Binky found that she was willing to share not only her food, but also her shelter and comforts. There was seemingly no limit to her kindness to him, and he appreciated that, valued it. Those kitten-days memories of a brutal life on his own were still fresh enough in his mind to understand what things could've been like, to ward off taking all that she offered for granted. If the price of having a human who treated him well was to risk his life in her defense on occasion, he could hardly complain. His life would've been forfeit long ago, and not in a cause nearly as noble – he would've been dog food, or worse, if not for Marie.

Binky was glad that she had found her human companion, one that seemed to suit her as well as Binky himself suited her as a feline companion – all humans needed one of those too, of course. And Binky was doubly glad that Marie's human companion seemed to be capable of defending her well. His claws – now, those were claws that Binky envied, and they would never need blood-mimicking red coloring to enhance their prowess. No, those claws were quite capable of painting themselves in real blood. Perhaps, Binky mused as he finished off the last of the tuna, he was the one who had killed the large animal just beyond the closed door. Yes, that made sense. Those claws could bring down something twice or even three times the size of the human that wielded them. How fortunate that Marie had added him to their family. He hoped this new human, one seemingly so close to a true animal, might even develop into a mate for Marie. All humans needed one of those, almost as much as they needed a feline.

Feeling suddenly sleepy again, now that he had a full belly, Binky lazily padded back to his bed. Marie had already climbed back into hers, and showed no signs of wanting to leave this new shelter just yet. Binky felt confident that he had plenty of time for another nap. However, as he circled the pillow Marie had given him, he felt that something wasn't quite right. Pausing, and sniffing the air, he decided to join Marie in her lair. That was the missing something – her soothing scent and warmth. The mingling of her scent with that of her companion was confusing at first, but once Binky settled in at the foot of the bed, all seemed right in his world once more.

Charles hung up the phone and breathed out a long, resigned sigh. While he was happy he'd been able to find out *anything* about their intruder, he wasn't pleased at all with what he'd uncovered.

According to his sources, this ex-Marine, Jeremy Rogers, was affiliated with some kind of secret network of mutant experimentation labs, and not only that – he was suspected of being one of it's leaders. Whether it was FOH, some covert ops government group, or someone they had yet to hear of running these labs, Rogers was rumored to be the number-two man in the organization, and *the* scientific authority on how to harness mutant powers for human use. No one could tell Charles exactly how or why Rogers had come to focus his brilliant yet twisted mind on the idea of 'harvesting' mutant powers, and no one could tell Charles who Rogers' superior was, but it was still clear that this organization was a threat, and not only to Logan, the one Rogers had tried to mutant-nap last night.

There were some swirling rumors about the leader, whoever he (or she, Charles reminded himself) was. Whispers, really, and not much more, but the kind of whispers that sent a chill down Charles' spine. The leader was well-connected and well-financed. He felt himself above the law, and whatever attempts had been made at bringing him to justice for past, lesser crimes had proven futile. He was paranoically secretive and even more obsessed with his own security, making it nearly impossible to acquire any information on him and making it even harder to try to take him out. And, as if all that weren't bad enough, the way he ran the labs gave him a reputation as the kind of sadist that would make Vlad the Impaler nauseous, someone infused with an unparalleled, icy ruthlessness and carrying more than a smidgen of insanity on the side. Charles hoped these were exaggerations, the demonization of this man's enemies at work, but inwardly he realized that there was probably more truth than lie to this picture of him.

However, all of this was merely the bad news. The horrific news was that he was also rumored to force mutants to assist in capturing and torturing their own kind, sowing paranoia amongst his enemy as well as fear. Charles had also heard wildly unsubstantiated rumors that certain of his own kind voluntarily, for a price, assisted Rogers, but Charles staunchly refused to entertain that idea, at least for the moment. He just couldn't fathom a fellow mutant cooperating with a human so hell-bent on the suffering of mutantkind. Even Magneto and the Brotherhood wouldn't sink so low. Erik would never permit it. And the lone rumor that had been repeated to Charles that this monster was, himself, a mutant was simply beyond the pale. However terrible the rest of the picture may be, Charles didn't want to believe that particular detail could be true.

Kicking himself a little for not delving into the whole issue of secret labs a little earlier, he also admonished himself for not knowing that there was this kind of adversary out there before he'd violated the mansion and tried to take the most powerful mutant on the X-Team. Of course, these operations had been kept low profile - *very* low profile – and thus had the benefit of a certain kind of denial. Anyone who heard tales of mutant experiments and secret labs would want to dismiss them, and the stunning lack of evidence that Rogers and his cohorts left behind allowed them to do so with relative ease. After all, even Charles, sworn protector of mutantkind, had dismissed the rumors he'd heard over the years. There simply had been no hard evidence, not until now.

As he mused over his notes from this morning's conversations, he pondered how to tell the team what he had found. Had it been Scott leading the team, he would've undoubtedly given him a full briefing then asked him to share the news with the other X-Men. But he felt a strong urge to protect Ororo from that experience, to somehow blunt the troubling news and spare her the unpleasantness of having to find a way to convey it to her colleagues. Part of him knew it was a misplaced concern – Ororo could, and did, handle herself very well in even the most difficult of situations. But part of him still wistfully wanted to shield her nonetheless.

This was exactly what he had feared when he was forced to appoint her as team leader – the hesitation, the emotional onslaught that his affections for her had wrought. He knew he should treat her just as he would Scott, but he found that he could not; his mind, powerful as it was, simply could not overrule his heart in this matter. Sighing again, he leaned back in his chair, wishing that somehow he could go back in time and prevent that little sports car from falling on Scott. His life would be so much simpler if he could just manage that one little trick.

Alas, time travel wasn't among his gifts, and the situation wasn't going to go away if he just ignored it in favor of, say, sweeping Ororo off to his New England country home. No, he'd have to summon her to his office and tell her the news, and the sooner the better. He'd always believed in confronting problems head on – procrastination rarely did the work of solving them for you. He reached out with his mind until he felt the familiar serenity of the weather goddesses'.

(Storm,) he called, purposefully using her codename to indicate an 'official' matter, (please come to my office as soon as you are able. I have some news on our dear Mr. Rogers.) There was a brief pause and, without quite meaning to, Charles' curious mind looked for the cause of it. Seeing that she'd been enjoying a hot bubble bath did nothing to help his mind overcome the follies of his heart. (My apologies for the interruption.)

He felt a mental smile from her. (It is no trouble. I shall dress and be there momentarily.)

Silently thankful that she understood, he nodded, both in his telepathic communication with her and physically, as he sat in the office. (I shall await your arrival. Thank you.) With that, he closed the pathway and settled in to wait for her. Visions of chocolate skin lathered in creamy, fluffy bubbles danced through his head even as he tried to school his mind on the business at hand.

"I told you he was an idiot," Mystique hissed, upon hearing the news that Rogers had perished.

"Now, now," her employer said sharply and with more than a little venom. "His I.Q. beat yours by fifty points, mutant."

Mystique's yellow eyes narrowed at the figure cloaked in darkness at the other end of the room. She'd taken this job for personal reasons, and she'd known it would involve some distasteful things – betraying her own kind, buying her own safety with the blood of others, and kow-towing to this psycho were some of the more troublesome conditions of her employment. She usually soothed her temper with the surety that she would pay back this crazy old bigot as soon as she'd finished with the Rogue. In fact, visions of Rogue's shredded, bleeding corpse usually brought a genuine and immediate peace to her. But now, her employer's insult coupled with the failure of Rogers to get the girl put even that comfort beyond her reach. "Yes, well, it's doing him a lot of good at the moment, isn't it? Hard to play the genius when your head has been separated from the rest of you."

She heard a low chuckle from the other end of the room. "Point." The sound of shuffling and movement reached her ears and she knew before she heard the next words that her employer had moved closer. "But you hardly did any better. What was it, scratched by a cat? Yes, the poor widdle kitty scwatched you."

"Shut up," Mystique hissed.

"Watch your tone with me, girl, or I'll have more of your hide. Literally." Mystique frowned, but bit her tongue. "We will try again," the voice intoned from the edge of the darkness. "We will keep trying until we succeed. She is the key, the prize. Whoever controls her, wins. It is that simple."

"You should just kill her," Mystique offered. "She may not be able to be controlled."

"Au contraire," the retreating voice murmured. "Pain conquers all, and we barely had the chance to show her the true meaning of pain during her last stay. That dumb, stupid animal let her escape before I could visit upon her *all* of my special tricks." Mystique had heard what had been done to the girl, mostly at her dead lover Sabretooth's hands. She knew that her employer was telling the truth – Sabretooth was just the opening act, the real show began after the scientists' experiments were finished and it ended at the hands of the person at the other end of the room. She'd heard the rumors, and heard a prisoner or two endure the tortures for herself. Most of the mutants that lived long enough to receive her employer's 'attentions' begged for death loudly and often – well, at least they did before their vocal cords were cut or their tongue torn out. She wouldn't mind hearing Rogue do that kind of begging, but Mystique was determined that it would be at her hands. That was the only reason she tolerated this situation, the only reason she'd hooked up with the other side. In her estimation, her obligation to avenge her lover came before the more abstract loyalties of race, species, or whatever it was fashionable to characterize having a mutancy as these days. Once that business was concluded, other issues could take center stage and demand her wrath or vengeance. But now, working for the organization was the means to executing her vengeance for the murder of her lover – it provided her with the money, information, and connections she needed to find and secure Rogue better than anything else could. And it was working. She was close, very close. She couldn't quit now.

"I am sure you will……..persuade her," Mystique temporized, pulling herself out of her more philosophical thoughts. Practicality had always been her strong suit, and it was best now to focus on the matters at hand.

"Hmmm……..yes. Of course, had we realized the true extent of her powers at the time all of this wouldn't be necessary. Well, it was an unfortunate error." Mystique already knew that the lower-level scientist who'd assessed Rogue as 'moderate' in value when she'd first been captured had paid dearly for his mistake – first in blood and agony and, eventually, with his life and that of his family, including their pet dog. Her boss was nothing if not thorough. "But we must look to the future, and in that spirit, I shall spend the day in my chambers, planning our next attempt. Do be a dear and behave yourself while I am occupied. I wouldn't want to have to do without your special…….talents. You did quite well on that job in Vancouver, and finally discovering Rogue for us was a wonderful bonus, yes? Too bad your poor impulse control prompted you to attack her before it could be properly planned. Pity, that. Heh – 'poor,' 'prompted,' 'properly planned' – it's quite the alliterative day for me. Ha. Yes, what was I saying? Right. You made a mistake. Understandable, though, and I am certain you will not repeat it. After all, it is so sad when one puts their own needs ahead of everyone else's, isn't it? That kind of behavior cannot go without punishment for long." For a moment, Mystique wondered if her ulterior motives had somehow been found out – there was a bad vibe and more than a little foreboding in those words - but then the moment passed. "Do not disturb me. I shall emerge when I have achieved brilliance."

Mystique heard more movement and then she knew she was alone in the room. Silently cursing Victor for getting involved with this nutjob in the first place while simultaneously wishing he were here beside her, she turned to go, summoning visions of a dead, broken Rogue to give her at least a faint echo of satisfaction.

Back To The Index   Back To The Archives