Title: Portraits in a Gallery: Revenge
E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:email@example.com>
Rating: R, violence
Disclaimer: I don’t own them. Rats.
Archive: Dolphin Haven, Peep Hut, Agony and Ecstasy - anyone else, please ask ;)
Feedback: Please? With some kitty treats on top? Good, bad, and ugly welcome…….
Summary: Sequel to The Red Pill. Marie’s protector comes through in a big way when someone tries to mutie-nap her (again).
Comments: This has been a long time in coming - sorry! As some of you know, my RL has been taking up most of my free time, but I’m hoping to have some prime writing time in the next few weeks :) Thanks to those of you who’ve kept up with this loooooong series :)
Mystique regarded the imposing façade of the mansion from just outside its security parameter. The trip-beams and cameras were all-but invisible, of course, but Mystique had made it her business to memorize everything she could find out about security here. She just hoped that they hadn’t changed things too much since Rogers’ attack. This ‘assignment’ was going to be difficult enough without any surprises.
Her boss had come through with a fit of self-declared ‘brilliance’ - Mystique would be sent to grab Rogue from the mansion in essentially the same way Rogers had before. It was all she could do not to snort in disbelief when the idea was presented to her. They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, and she thought that her boss fit that definition quite well.
Mystique sighed and checked her watch. Admittedly, modifying the plan to head in at a more concealed spot and to use her powers to abduct Rogue with a minimum of disturbance *were* improvements. She felt confident at least in her powers - shifting shape to avoid death by Wolverine claw or optic beam would be an appreciable advantage. She also felt fairly confident that her powers would allow her to sneak onto the grounds, even into the mansion, without detection. There are many things that any security system is set up to ignore - birds, rodents, pets, small children - and she could easily emulate any of them. Lastly, she felt fairly sure that she could carry Rogue out of her room, even if, as rumored, Wolverine guarded that room. Mystique had mastered a deft touch, a quiet step, and could move the girl without waking her. If necessary, she could take the form of someone Rogue trusted - Xavier himself would probably do nicely. But what was really giving her pause was the extraction strategy.
According to her intelligence, Xavier had injected each of the X-Men with a microchip, something like a subcutaneous mini-LoJack to identify where they were and to send a beacon back to the mansion. It activated automatically as soon as they passed the mansion’s security perimeter and fed a continuous stream of data back to a main computer somewhere in the bowels of the mansion, allowing Xavier to immediately pinpoint an X-Man in trouble, or one gone AWOL. Mystique actually quite admired that approach - it was smart, practical. And she didn’t underestimate Xavier - surely, by now, in the wake of Rogers’ failed abduction attempt, he would have injected Rogue with a locator chip, maybe even without her knowledge. If that was so, Mystique couldn’t even count on torturing its location out of the girl and digging it out to facilitate a clean escape. That upped the degree of difficulty involved in getting off the grounds with the girl from ‘nearly impossible’ to ‘doomed to failure,’ and while Mystique might be pathologically driven to avenging Victor’s death, she was also quite fond of her own hide; she wouldn’t try something that had no chance of success just to satisfy her lust for vengeance.
She’d protested these very impracticalities to her boss, but to no avail. In his estimation, this did not present a significant problem because she ‘should be able to elude the X-Men easily enough, my dear, even if they are tracking you.’ With more than a little irony she reflected that her boss had the same measure of concern about her living through this as he’d had for Rogers - which is to say exactly none. She suspected he might have something up his sleeve as well - perhaps intercepting her unexpectedly at some point past the mansion security but before the makeshift lab. Maybe he even knew how to locate and remove the device. It actually wouldn’t surprise her if her boss was planning to use her as a decoy or an obstacle for the X-Men somewhere along the way - it would be the smart thing to do, and in his eyes, she was certainly disposable enough.
So, without telling her boss, Mystique had changed the plan a bit. If she couldn’t leave Xavier’s backyard without Rogue’s mutie LoJack going off, she wouldn’t. She’d take Rogue to the lodge at the edge of Xavier’s property, briefly ‘play’ with her, and then end her miserable, offensive little life. As long as she stayed within the bounds of Xavier’s security, the device wouldn’t activate; they couldn’t find her or Rogue if they tried, and they’d probably assume that she’d found a way to deactivate the device before they’d think that she might’ve stayed on the grounds all along - after all, who’d think that she’d keep the girl right under their noses instead of high-tailing it out of there? After Mystique was done with Rogue, and perhaps after she took her eyes or her heart to lay as a trophy at Victor’s grave, she’d use the stash of bearer bonds and the variety of foreign currency that awaited her in a Union Station locker to put the Atlantic Ocean between her and her crazy boss. Mystique knew well what the punishment for deviation from his plan would be and had no desire to experience his form of ‘persuasion’ back at that horrid torture chamber for herself. Besides, it was well past time for a visit to Europe. She’d always liked the continent, and, with Victor no longer here, there was nothing really keeping her in the U.S. anymore beyond this one bit of unfinished business.
Mystique sighed, checked her watch again, pulled on her mask and gloves, and waited for the one-second break in the trip beam that came every thirty-seven minutes. Only twice per day did the break coincide with all four security cameras being directed away from the point at which she could slip through unnoticed, and if she missed now, she’d have to wait another entire day - there was no way she was going to try to go in during daylight. Patiently, she counted down the seconds and, at the right moment, made a mad dash for the break in the perimeter. Holding her breath as she cannonballed through and stood on the other side of the quickly reactivated trip beam, she realized that she’d made it; nothing was happening. Before the cameras could swivel back around, she began stealthily making her way toward the mansion.
Xavier sat in his study, exhausted from the day’s events and from the team briefing. Although Storm had carried most of the load, taking it upon herself to fully explain the situation and field most of the questions, he could see that no one missed the magnitude of what they’d discovered. The secret mutant experimentation labs were out there, and would have to be dealt with. Of course, the unsaid implication of all that - that their teammate, Wolverine, was a target of those labs, was perhaps the most troubling issue of all.
Charles knew his team well - and he knew Logan’s vitally important role particularly well. It wasn’t only his mutation, and the benefits it provided. Logan was the one member of the team who wouldn’t flinch at doing what had to be done. He was the one X-Man who was experienced enough (some would say jaded enough) to consider taking a life, hurting others, if it came down to that. As much as Charles abhorred the idea of something like that himself, he also realized that survival was the primary necessity - human/mutant peace was his goal, but he could not allow mutants to be wiped from the face of the earth. The discovery of the lab, and the information about its shadowy leader, made that possibility seem a lot more real than it ever had been, and Logan was needed now more than ever.
Charles sighed, and wheeled over to his desk, schooling himself to replace brooding with some positive action. After all, that’s what he’d asked of his team, and he could do no less. Right now, Storm was reviewing the security at the mansion, Kitty was working to find whatever she could about the lab’s existence and funding, Jean was tending to Scott, and Hank was busily unearthing the secrets of Rogers’ image inducer. Charles could only hope that all of this activity, and all of his precautions, would keep them safe. Still, something told him that another attack would come soon, and that all of this might be too little too late. Reluctantly, he went to his desk to think, this time directing his attentions away from how to expose and guard against the labs and the men who ran them, and toward an even more distasteful subject - just how, exactly, he could stop Logan if he *was* turned to the other side.
Logan rolled over in bed, waking enough to notice that Marie was still curled up quite nicely next to him, and that they’d been joined by Binky, who had also plastered his small body to Logan’s thigh. Smirking at the thought of this wealth of cuddling for someone who, until a few weeks ago, had been quite content with the label of ‘loner,’ he gave Marie a gentle squeeze and laid his head back on the pillow. It was night now, probably well past dinner, but the complaints of his stomach took a back seat to his desire to give Marie all the rest and recuperation that she needed. She’d had more than her fair share of trauma since hooking up with him, and a day’s worth of sleep would make for a good start on getting her back to normal.
He was proud of how well she was bouncing back so far. She really was amazingly resilient. In fact -
Logan’s train of thought was interrupted by a foreign yet somehow familiar scent. With another sniff, he pinned down that the scent wasn’t unknown, just out of place here. In the next heartbeat, he had it - it was Mystique, somewhere close.
Logan bolted up in bed, startling Marie. Before he could free himself of the covers, though, their door was unceremoniously flung open.
“Marie, get - ooof!” Something unseen collided with his torso, knocking him out of the bed. It was definitely Mystique in some form, but even Logan’s enhanced senses couldn’t make out what she’d disguised herself as this time.
“Logan!” Marie scrambled to help him, but was soon grabbed from behind and hefted upwards. Swiftly being carried from the room by the still-unseen Mystique, Marie tried to squirm free, but could only watch as a very angry Logan receded from her view.
Mystique sprinted with every last ounce of strength, finally allowing her chameleon-like appearance drop only when she’d cleared the lawn and headed into the thick woods. Her prize was no longer struggling against her, thanks to a quickly-administered sedative. It should keep Rogue unconscious just long enough to get her to the lodge. Mystique definitely didn’t want the little brat sleeping through what she had planned for her.
But a hundred yards shy of the lodge, Rogue began to stir. Mystique was surprised - she’d calculated the dose precisely, and was sure all of it had been injected. She frowned, redoubled her pace, retrieved the small can of skunk scent she’d strapped to her ankle hoping it would throw off that troublesome nose of Wolverine’s, and gripped her prize more tightly.
Xavier felt Logan’s distress like a red-hot poker to the brain. But it didn’t make sense to him at first - why would Mystique want to abduct Marie? It took only a moment for it to register that Marie would be a very useful way to persuade Logan to do whatever the Brotherhood or government (why did Logan think Mystique might be working for them? - no time to sort that out now) wanted. It took only a moment more for Charles to set aside his confusion and summon his X-Men to rally to Marie’s aid.
They responded with astonishing speed; it was less than ninety seconds before every last team member, save Scott, had been roused and it was less than three minutes before they were out the door after Mystique. It was astounding; however, it was also entirely too late.
Logan tore through the thick woods, eyes watering at the intense skunk-scent. It was literally painful for him to smell; pungency like that was beyond sensory overload for him. But he knew that scent led to Marie. Maybe his nose couldn’t find anything *but* more of the strong skunk-odor after an inhaled noseful or two, but Mystique’s mistake had been in thinking it would throw him off. Quite the contrary - the sledgehammer-subtle cover tactic served no purpose better than lighting a path to its perpetrator, and to Marie.
“Good, you’re awake.” There was something wrong about the labored breathing that accompanied the words, but Marie was still too groggy to place it.
“I’m sorry, what’s that?” The voice was more controlled now, and the brutal punch to the face that was visited upon Marie immediately after the words were spoken sent the message loud and clear that her captor was angry. “You know, I really don’t like the sound of your voice. Perhaps I’ll cut off your tongue for starters.” Marie blinked her eyes open, wildly, desperately trying to focus them. Just as she was feeling more and more panicky, her captor seemed to be gaining more and more composure. Marie dimly registered that this was a Very Bad Sign. “Yes, that will do nicely.” Working hard to focus on the shiny metal something in front of her face, Marie almost wished she hadn’t succeeded. It was a claw. Logan’s claw. That didn’t make any sense. “Stay still now,” her captor purred, cruelly grabbing Marie’s jaw and forcing her mouth open. “Squirming will only make it hurt more.” She felt something cloth-like grab her tongue and yank it forward. She wriggled, feeling for the first time restraint of her movements. What had happened? Was she tied to something? “On second thought, go on ahead and squirm.” A cackle followed and then searing pain.
Logan stopped, frustrated that there was no more skunk scent and no more Mystique scent to follow. The trail ended here, within about a dozen yards of the edge of the property line and about four hundred yards from the mansion. He didn’t notice that he’d been followed - but it wasn’t by Ororo in the air or by Jean on foot as he might have expected. No, his pursuer was much smaller, and not a mutant; he was, however, just as interested as Logan in finding Marie and just as attuned to the scents that were leading them both to her.
Just as Logan was about to give up, go back to the last scent marker and take a different path through the woods, he caught something on the wind - blood. Marie’s blood. Lots of it. He didn’t need to take another whiff of the polluted air to confirm it, but his companion in the hunt did. Logan let out a loud, long howl and hurtled toward the offending scent, enraged. Binky was close behind.
“You know,” Mystique said coolly as she watched Rogue spit blood and whimper in pain, “I believe Victor will quite like this little trophy.” She waggled the still-warm severed tongue in front of Marie’s face. “And there’s a special irony in having cut it off by the ‘claw’ of your new - ah, what is he exactly? Your boyfriend? Lover?”
“Oh. Right. Sorry. The tongue.” Mystique affected chagrin and waved the tongue again.
“Well, we’ll skip the conversation then, I suppose. What next, hmmm?”
“Yes, yes, I remember - no tongue. That was a rhetorical question, my dear. Let’s see……..eyes, ears? Interesting yet somehow unsatisfactory. Fingers? Toes?”
“I agree - those are somehow too pedestrian. Heh. Do you get the joke, dear girl? Pedestrian? Toes? Yes, I suppose you do. Well - ”
Mystique’s soliloquy was interrupted by three claws; three claws that penetrated the door and roughly wrenched it off of its hinges. A furious Wolverine appeared behind the cast-aside hunk of wood. Wasting no time, Mystique morphed to something that would elude even the bestial, blood-thirsty Wolverine. She wasn’t prepared to give up the fight and run quite yet - but she still hadn’t completed her mission; she still hadn’t killed Rogue. Perhaps this would buy her a little time, help her find a way to get around Wolverine, at least long enough to snatch Rogue once more. Unfortunately for Mystique, she made a fatal choice of form - she chose to morph into a mouse, a tiny gray one. While this was quite successful in allowing her to elude the Wolverine, she did not count on the intervention of another predator sworn to protect her victim.
Even as Logan raged, his claws slicing through thin air and missing Mystique entirely as she shifted to mouse form, Binky pounced toward the fleeing mouse. His claws did not miss their target.
Logan let out another howl of frustration before it registered with him that Mystique had been caught. Binky had quickly pinned the fleeing mouse with one claw and then, with a decisive swipe of the other forepaw, he cleanly broke its neck. It all happened in a few quick seconds and as soon as her mouse-neck was snapped, Mystique began expanding back into her natural form and both Binky and Logan froze in surprise, albeit for very different reasons.
“Mrow?” Binky inquired, seemingly half-freaked out and half-absurdly pleased at the change in size of his meal. Logan, though, was heedless of the concerns of Marie’s unlikely avenger. He simply snarled and gave the still form of Mystique an impromptu disembowelment via adamantium claw for good measure. “Mrow,” Binky concurred when Logan was finished.
“Marie!” The sound of her garbled cry brought Logan to her side immediately. He let out several low howls, savage and primal, at the sight of her blood-covered mouth and neck, and the severed tongue that now lay on the floor. But he soon realized he needed to work to calm himself if he was going to be of any help to her.
“Mmmm!” Her own eyes were wild with panic and a frantic Logan focused on calming himself enough to cut through the duct tape that secured her to her chair. When she had been freed, he was almost back in control again, and took her in his arms, holding her tightly to him and struggling to express the whirlwind of sorrow and rage he felt in words.
“God, Marie……..oh, baby, I’m so damn sorry.”
“Lwoooognnnn……” Her voice was desperate and pained and her enunciation was a mangled shadow of the honeyed voice that Logan had grown to love, but it was enunciation; it reminded him that with Sabretooth’s powers, she would heal from the injury. She would heal.
“Hang on baby, hang on.” He tightened his grip and spared a glance to her fallen tongue, which Binky was now zealously standing guard over, as though some possible predator may try to steal it away. Logan parted from Marie enough to see her face. “I know it hurts, baby, but hang on, you’re healin’. Just let the powers do their work.” He knew better than anyone that healing, while ultimately a wonderful and amazing (not to mention damn handy) power, was also an incredibly painful process to have to live through. Enhanced senses and super-speedy healing only heightened the acute, unbearable ache created by flesh and blood knitting itself back together. Marie gave a brave, teary nod and tried to compose herself. Logan was never more proud of her. He gazed into her eyes and tenderly used the hem of his shirt to wipe away some of the blood staining her jaw and neck.
Ororo’s voice, still outside and a few yards away, broke through the moment. “Marie!”
“In here,” Logan called, in a subdued tone. Then, seeing her appear in the doorway and give out a gasp at the scene that greeted her, he instructed, “Just you. Everybody else stays out for now, huh?”
“But - but we must get Marie to the medlab immediately. She is bleeding, she is injured, she…….” Binky hissed as Ororo’s eyes found Marie’s severed tongue. Nonetheless, she took an involuntary, curious step toward it, causing Binky to change the hiss to a low warning growl.
“She’ll be OK. Just go on, get out and give us a minute,” Logan gritted out, realizing where this would lead. If Storm knew that Marie healed, that her tongue was already growing back, then Chuck would soon know more than he really needed to. He couldn’t let that happen - he needed to protect Marie. He’d already failed at that once tonight and once was definitely more than enough. But Storm seemed unconvinced.
“She needs to go to the medlab, now. Perhaps Jean can reattach it,” Storm argued in a commanding tone, even as she waved off whoever was approaching behind her. “Logan - she must have medical attention immediately. There is no discussion.”
Marie traded a look with Logan. He inclined his head toward her, just minutely, to let her know that it was her decision. “I don’t need medical attention,” Marie said softly, but with perfect enunciation.
Storm gasped, and she nearly fainted.
“You should have told me,” Charles thundered, in as angry a voice as Logan had ever heard him use. It was a voice that would’ve rattled just about anyone else - especially the X-Men and students who couldn’t conceive of Xavier as anything but the personification of even-tempered benevolence - but it barely registered with Logan. He was plenty angry himself. Still, somewhere beneath the haze of anger, Logan knew this was in its own way a compliment - Xavier trusted him enough to let his own guard down, gave Logan enough credit to be able to deal with a little fiery antagonism, and knew that Logan wasn’t one of the ones who needed Xavier always to be in calm control in order to feel confident about their own powers. Scott, Jean, even Storm to some degree - they all saw Xavier as their rock, the unshakable leader. Logan knew him to be merely a man, impressive mansions and the respect of the mutant world notwithstanding. That didn’t completely blunt Logan’s irritation, though.
“Why? So you could recruit her to the team? I toldya, I don’t want that!”
“And I have told you that it is not your choice!” Charles wheeled out from behind his desk and over to where Logan was pacing. Marie, the subject of this contentious discussion, sat on a couch just behind both men. Binky was curled up beside her, having finally been convinced to leave both the tongue and his freshly killed meal behind in favor of snuggling and head-rubbing with Marie.
“Ain’t your choice either, and you best remember that,” Logan growled, pointing a thick finger in Xavier’s general direction. “Wouldnta ever come up in the first place if you didn’t have such piss poor security here, Chuck.”
Xavier’s eyes narrowed. “Perhaps our security could have been more effective if we had known who the actual target of the incursions had been.” The angry tone was ebbing out of his words, replaced by an icy sharp one, but Logan knew that was a sign Xavier was calming down. “Now that we are aware it is Marie, I shall take special measures.”
“Hmph.” The two men were now facing each other. “You think you can keep whoever’s after her out?” It came out as a question, not a taunt, and that was a sign that Logan was calming as well.
“I think we have a better chance now that the nature and location of some of our weaknesses have been demonstrated and since we now know the goal of the intruders.” Charles answered evenly, even as his eyes left Logan’s and met Marie’s. “Marie - are you certain that you are all right?”
She nodded. “I’m fine, thank you.” She could see the tic of surprise and wonder on Charles’ face over her flawless speech. “It’s a little freaky, but it - ah, it comes in handy, the healing.”
“Marie,” Charles began, “I know that Logan has his own thoughts about you joining our team of X-Men, but a mutant with your ability - the ability to absorb other mutant powers through a simple touch - well, you would be extraordinarily effective. I would be remiss if I did not ask you to consider the possibility of training for the team, of using your powers for good.”
A half-smile tugged up one corner of Marie’s mouth and her eyes slid away from Xavier’s. “It’s not exactly a ‘simple touch,’ Professor - I can kill someone with it. And it’s - it’s not exactly pleasant on my end. I just - I don’t want to use my powers to kill other people, and that’s all they’re really good for.” She hadn’t had time to talk with Logan about just what to tell Xavier, but she didn’t need a conference with him to know that it should be as little as possible. She hoped that was enough to sate his curiosity and close the topic.
“Damn right,” Logan reinforced, strolling over to put himself between Xavier and Marie.
“And that’s why she doesn’t need to be joinin’ the team.”
“Are you saying,” Xavier began, maneuvering his chair so that Marie was once again in his line of sight, “that the only reason you were able to absorb Logan’s healing powers without killing him was due to the nature of those powers? Do you - are you saying that you believe your touch will invariably kill a mutant who cannot heal rapidly, like Logan?”
Marie looked to Logan. He gave a barely-perceptible nod. If Xavier assumed that her healing mutancy had come from Logan, so be it. “Yes,” she answered. “I don’t have any reason to think otherwise.” She could see Logan’s entire body relax a bit at that.
“You could still be a powerful member of the team,” Charles reasoned.
“You mean she could be your assassin,” Logan snarled, more for effect than anything else, but the words still held some heat and Logan once again moved to block Xavier’s view of Marie. Logan knew that none of this would keep Xavier from reading Marie- or both of them for that matter - if he really wanted to, but it would keep Charles off-balance, and Logan had found that to be the most effective tactic in preventing him from an easy telepathic read. If Charles were determined, and entirely unscrupulous, he could of course read as much of them as he liked, whenever he liked. Logan had no delusions about the man’s power. But he also knew Xavier would only go so far.
“Logan, you know very well that the X-Men do not operate that way.” Xavier wheeled around him to address Marie. “We do not believe in killing,” he explained, in a soothing voice, “unless there is no other choice. And there is almost always another choice.”
“Almost,” Marie repeated, meeting Xavier’s eyes. “I don’t like killing. I don’t enjoy it. Not one bit,” she said sharply. Logan winced a little at that, wondering if Xavier had picked up on the fact that she hadn’t said she *wasn’t* a killer or the defensive tone her words had come out in.
“No one does,” Xavier smiled, apparently oblivious to her choice of words.
“That’s not true,” she argued back, in a soft but firm tone of voice. Her level gaze gave Xavier a moment of pause. There was obviously much more to the girl than he’d thought.
“Look, Chuck,” Logan interrupted, “she’s told ya her answer. The team thing ain’t gonna happen. If that’s a problem for you, well, I can be out the door too.”
Charles kept his eyes on Marie but addressed Logan as he leaned back in his chair. “It is Marie’s decision, of course, and there is no need for you to leave us in any case. You are both welcome here. We shall bolster the security system immediately, and I shall take every precaution to ensure that this does not happen again. I hope you enjoy your stay, Marie, and please - think about what I have said. Perhaps, after you spend some time here, get to know the team and how we operate, you will think differently upon this matter.”
Marie cautiously nodded. Logan gave Xavier one last glare and then took Marie’s arm, leading her out of the room with Binky trailing dutifully behind - after giving Charles a long look with sharp green eyes. It was a look remarkably like Logan’s.