Disclaimer: I don't own any characters except my characters. Which are quite a few this time around. Let's try it this way: I don't own any Marvel characters that happen to show up in the upcoming chapters and which I'm sure you'll recognise without any need to name long lists. I also do not own Jenny, which Dizi created a few years back and which is a fabulous character. I strongly recommend you read her adventures with Wolverine and the X-Men.
11. Dealing with the Devil
Cyclops stepped into the distribution center behind Jubilee. He'd chosen Tigard and Wolverine to accompany them, no one else. However, both Cannonball, Bishop and Beast were in close proximity. One thing Cyclops hadn't forgotten was that this was the organisation that possessed bullets capable of killing people with strong healing factors. If it depended on him, Beast would always be on stand-by, ready for any eventuality.
"Agent Lee," the manager greeted them. Well, greeted Jubilee, since he ignored the X-Men. "If you'll follow me."
He led them to a different office which turned out to be smaller than the manager's. He let them in without a word then left.
The man at the desk didn't bother to get up. He simply waved a hand towards the two chairs in front of him. As Jubilee and Cylops sat down, he took in the man's wavy mousy hair and his grayish eyes. He was lean and tall and there was a bit of arrogance in his voice when he apologised for the late meeting.
"I've just arrived in New York," he added as Tigard took his position behind Cyclops's chair and Wolverine behind Jubilee's.
Both men stood in a ready to act pose, as if they were bodyguards expecting an attack at any time.
"I'm afraid I have a very busy schedule and I will need to leave as soon as possible. As such, let's cut to the chase. Ms Lee, we understand FBI's Supper Powered Affairs Department has pretty much lost interest in recovering the kidnapped twins. There is even less interest within the entire FBI to investigate these alleged theft charges you mentioned since one of our affiliate programs provides the Bureau, as well as other governmental agencies, with accurate information that is crucial to the success of several national and federal on-going and future operations."
OK, Cyclops thought, the Desideria would have to be an X-Ops operation from now. It was actually good to have the guy open the game, or the X-Men might have unwittingly passed on information that would have helped the organisation to protect itself.
"I don't need the SPAD to be interested in recovering the twins, Mr Greer," Jubilee snorted. "All I have to do is drop a word with the Avengers, every former X-Men member, and every ally of the X-Men… and that means both groups and individuals covering the globe from Canada and the US, to Europe and Asia. Come to think of it, if I mention you're kidnapping and auctioning off mutants and former mutants, I'll even get a handful of X-enemies to gang-up against you! You know, those pesky pro-mutant kill-off-normals groups. They love any excuse to create mayhem."
Greer sat back and popped his knuckles.
"So," Jubilee carry on, "let's proceed to the next point of the agenda, shall we? Where are the children?"
The man breathed out and shook his head.
"Their last known location was the airport of Madrid, where they were delivered to Ms Chantal Moreau."
"Mystique," Jubilee cut in. "You know perfectly well who dear Chantal really is."
He smirked and shook his head.
"We were accosted with a business proposition by Ms Chantal Moreau. I was very surprised to be informed we were actually dealing with Ms Darkholme."
"Uh-huh," Jubilee sneered.
"Unfortunately, our business association ceased the moment the children were delivered, so…" He opened a drawer and got a folder. "In a token of our interest in assisting the safe recovery of the children, we are willing to share all we know concerning the person you're looking for."
Jubilee got up to get the folder from his hands. She went through it quickly then gave it to Cyclops. It had two pages with information on the identity of Chantal Moreau, and tens more about Mystique.
"Since you now know all that we know concerning this topic," Greer carried on as Jubilee sat down. "You have no reason to pursue a harrassment strategy towards us. Such strategies tend to destroy careers, Ms Lee."
The man turned to him.
"Mr Cyclops, if I may address you as such, being older and more experient, you will surely agree that harrassing us will be quite detrimental to Ms Lee's future and will, naturally, advise her against it. Because we are all aware she is expected to have a long, bright future ahead of SPAD, as it evolves and becomes a fundamental department within the Bureau. It would be disastrous to see such hopes cut short. Who knows if it wouldn't even threaten the existence of SPAD! There are so many people who have yet to understand the importance of its work. Unlike you, Mr Cyclops, and your associates. You understand how crucial it is to have a national wide network controlling anti-mutant associations. How else would you protect your people from Purity Gangs? How else would you investigate the unhealthy practice of sterilising young men and women who are at risk of conceiving mutant children?"
What? For a moment, Cyclops forgot the veiled threat. This was news to him and alarming, too. The X-Men had been focused on physical attacks on mutants and former mutants over the years. Sure, they had also dealt with supposed cures, but those had always been advertised, so it had been easy to get to whoever was behind them. But if there was an underground plot to prevent mutants to come into existance through sterilisation… They needed to find out who was behind it as soon as possible!
"That's right. And how else would we save people from being kidnapped and auctioned to the highest bidder?" Jubilee said sharply. "Let's really cut to the chase, Mr Greer. Here's the deal: no more people get kidnapped. Not mutants, not former mutants, not normals. Not a single person. You started out as thieves, carry on as such. I as much as dream you're back to kidnapping and selling people, and I'll unleash any and every group I can sic on you. If SPAD is the price to pay, so be it. We managed before, we'd manage again. Oh, and let's not forget I'm not alone. If I am not able to unleash hell on you people…"
Jubilee leaned back on the chair and opened her arms.
"There'll be many more ready to do so. Have we got a deal?"
"Living beings were never really a part of our expansion plans," he got up and stretched out a hand towards Jubilee. "But you should look into some parties who do kidnap people based on their genetic profile. They mostly see themselves as scientific in nature, so I hear."
Jubilee hesitated before getting up and shaking his hand. Greer turned to Cyclops, who also shook his hand.
"Let me warn you," Cyclops said, not letting go of his hand. "That the parents are not interested in deals and are AWOL. With their powers and shady connections… Well, I'd say it's in your best interest that the children are found safe and sound as soon as possible. Powerful parents hell-bent on revenge tend to be impossible to control, after all, and it would be tragic if a failed 'expansion plan' were to cause crippling damage to your organisation."
Creed couldn't have been more pleased with how the meeting had gone down. Now he only had to make sure he got the information from Owen Nills and sent it to Rogue before the X-Men could get to Mystique. Only!
As if it were that simple.
He had tuned out on their return to the Institute, after having collected McCoy from his observation post. The other two guys had stayed behind to see if they could trail Greer, not the least happy to hear they had to keep an extremely low profile. There really wasn't anything worth hearing in the car, anyway. The girl was just venting her disgust over having to make deals with the devil, while grumbling whether that piece of information about sterilisations was fake news to stear them into a different direction because, obviously, he'd been lying when he'd said they had no more information on Mystique.
Creed himself wasn't exactly sure why they hadn't outed all the info they had on Raven, whatever that 'all' meant. It seemed counter-intuitive to make the crazed parents' lives harder when they could derail whatever deals had been made. When working for Desideria, a merc usually had no idea who the client was unless one was talking security ops or personally collected trophies. Since none of Creed's aliases did security – too many chances of things going wrong or simply getting prolonged – the only times he'd met clients had been on hunting expeditions, and those clients had mostly been using aliases as well as company-provided image inducers in order to protect their identities, even if they didn't always took advantage of the offer. Desideria was big on that, protecting the clients' identities. But it was still a dumb move to protect a very well-known terrorist when you had two super-powered, super well-connected people aiming for your throat. Plain dumb!
A thought had him frowning. Could Nills have kept stuff to himself? Better yet, how had Gambit found out that the nervous little man knew where Mystique was? How accurate was that intel? Because, yes, Greer had lied. Creed had smelled the lie on him as he had claimed he was sharing all they knew. But that didn't mean they actually knew the woman's location.
There! Such a good mood he'd been in, and now that little doubt ruined it all!
If it turned out Nills didn't know where she was, or that she had moved elsewhere in the meantime… He needed to have a word with Rogue. The clone was a mean little feral by all accounts, born and raised to kill without a second thought. If Rogue could get the girl to become invested in killing Raven, perhaps Creed could relax a bit. Because if Rogue ended up not killing her, for one reason or the other, then Creed would have to forget about his plans to get his family back to Canada. His soon-to-be-thought-of plans, that is. He'd simply have to… Damn, he'd have to escape the X-Men while leaving his woman and baby girl behind in order to do the deed himself. That would mess up everything!
Better not to sweat it out before time, he shook his head as Jubilee stopped her FBI SUV and they got out. Rogue might still manage to do it.
"I can't stick around for the meeting," she explained. "My guys are covering up for me, but I've got to join them going through the videos. We're all stuck working late today."
That was a good excuse.
"Hey, Summers," he called as soon as she drove off. "Do I really gotta be in that meetin'? I'm gonna have ta spend a few minutes with my Lil' Devil, but then I was thinkin' I could jump right into those damned videos and, I don't know, keep at it till ten or eleven. Ya know, ta make up fer all the time we wasted at school this mornin'."
Making himself look like a stellar, eager to work little soldier might help him stretch those few minutes into half an hour. The guy sighed then shrugged a 'fine'. Perfect! He followed both men in as they headed to the kitchen. It was nearly five, so Isabel should be preparing dinner. With the spike in work, she had ended up cooking all the meals which was great! He had sorely missed her recipes, even if she hadn't yet made any of her specials.
Even before he got there, though, his enthusiasm died. While Isabel's scent was everywhere in the kitchen, she wasn't there, and the one cooking was Wagner's wife. While her cooking wasn't bad – way better than ordering – it still annoyed him.
"Where's Lilia?" Summers asked.
Creed was dying to ask where Isabel was, but he knew better than to acknowledge Jenny Wagner's very existance.
"She's playing with Zelig and Wolfy, in the dog pen outside. Kurt's with them."
Wagner? Not Isabel?
Summers started heading out but Creed hesitated in following him. He almost asked the woman about Isabel, but he'd been clearly instructed to keep away from Wagner's family as much as possible, not to mention the woman acted nervous around him. His only option was to tell Summers or Logan to ask her about Isabel, which, seeing as he did his very best to act civil around Lilia's current best friend's mum, was not the most polite thing to do. Even he knew that!
"Uh… Scott?" The guy stopped with his hand on the door handle when the woman spoke. "Zora Gibson, the school receptionist, called while you were out. They've accepted Lilia so she wanted to set a meeting with the kindergarten teacher tomorrow, at 2.30. The idea is for Lilia to get to know the teacher and the classroom before she joins the group on Monday."
Great! One less worry for him.
"And then, of course, there's the list of material. Isabel had mentioned she'd have to go shopping for school material but she, uh…" The woman glanced Creed's way fleetingly. "She doesn't want to go anywhere alone."
"No, of course not," the guy grumbled. "It's no problem. Meeting, then shopping. Anything else?"
Like mentioning where Isabel was right now? No? No.
"It's like we have nothing else to keep us busy," Summers kept on grumbling as he left the kitchen. "Creed, hurry up!"
Hank had been by the kitchen's doorway, analysing Victor Creed's behavior. He'd become… nervous wasn't the most accurate term, but he'd been certainly nonplussed at realising Isabel wasn't in the kitchen. As usual, he had refrained from making eye contact with Jenny, but his expression of impatience had told Hank he'd been anxious to say something. Not even the good news of his daughter's acceptance into school had undone the anxiety.
He waited a full minute after Logan closed the back door before asking Jenny about Isabel's whereabouts.
"I don't know," she shrugged, putting a hand on her hip. "When I came in, she asked if I could keep an eye on the children because she had a headache and wanted to lie down a bit. But when I went to her room to tell her about the school call, she wasn't there. I looked everywhere but I simply couldn't find her. That was two hours ago and… still nothing!"
"Has she made any references to you concerning her request to Scott?"
Jenny frowned and shook her head in a negative.
"She attempted to convince him that Lilia should be sleeping on her own and, once she was aware of the security issues that forbid such a reality, that she should be sharing the room with the father, not her."
Jenny crossed her arms, a look of mild shock on her features.
"No, she didn't tell me."
"It is my belief that she is suffering psychologically as a sequel of her abduction, ten days ago, and that her request is part of her attempt to overcome said suffering on her own."
Jenny sighed and turned back to the potatoes on the counter.
"I've told her I am here for her. That I'll listen to whatever she wants to talk about, no judgement, but…"
Jenny of all people knew what it was like to deal with traumatic experiences and how important it was to have a network of friends offering support in order to fully overcome said traumas.
"She is so withdrawn!"
Yes, that didn't surprise him. Having lived years under Creed's imposing control, she must feel unable to trust anyone for fear of inciting his anger. It was likely he had indoctrinated her to bow down to his every wish as a way to have a painless existence, while at the same time teaching her to see any act of jealousy and control as a sign of protectiveness to be desired. His aggressive prohibition to leave the grounds after her rescue had clearly shown how he used her fears as a tool to control her behavior.
"Jenny, may I expect you to assist my endeavours to help Isabel?"
"To do what?" She frowned suspiciously.
"I am still considering the best approach, but my aim is to help her achieve a sense of self-reliance and self-respect that will, in time, weaken her emotional dependence on Creed." He breathed out, frustrated. "I'm not sure if you're aware, but Isabel's refusal to leave the grounds without Creed… he forbade her of doing so on the night we rescued her."
Jenny breathed out with surprising annoyance.
"On my word of honor," she grumbled angrily, looking to the side.
"Is there something you'd like to share?" Hank asked.
"Yes," she snapped, turning her back on him and getting busy with the potatoes on the counter once again. "But I gave my word of honor I wouldn't say a word. Something I sometimes regret having done!"
"In relation to… ?" Hank probed, even if he knew she would not break her work.
Letting out a sigh, she stopped peeling the potatoes and stood still for a long minute.
"Look, this was nothing anyone told me, ok? But… have you noticed how Creed is very gentle with Lilia? And then there was the meeting, this morning. He was… borderline rude at a certain point, ok, but he was obviously under stress and he was very honest, saying he was no nice guy and that anything nice he did was for his daughter's sake. Keeping that in mind, could it be – I'm not saying anything here, just throwing ideas up in the air – but could it be…"
She clicked her tongue a couple of times, irritated.
"Look, I'm simply going over his behavior, ok? He is gentle with Lilia, and he was even fair to my son while going against his daughter's wishes, back at the barbecue. Jubilee's boyfriend found him about as easy to get along as Logan! A bit defensive in relation to his daughter, but nothing that merited being called a jerk. Obviously, he is a murderer and he tried to kill you all a bunch of times and you are – rightly so, in my opinion – but you are constantly breathing down his neck. You know, piling up stress. Could it be – and, again, this has nothing to do with what Isabel may or may not have told me – but could it be that he is a little less… violent towards Isabel than we all think?"
Hank took a step back. What had Isabel confided to merit this roundabout exposition?
"And mind you," she turned around, knife in hand, "that I'm not in the least convinced he doesn't act like a jerk towards Isabel in their normal life. I won't even go as far as to say he can't have some abusive behavior that Isabel simply discounts as being part of his charming self. But maybe, just maybe, he isn't physically violent."
Hank stood there for a moment, digesting the information. Jenny had been near Creed… twice, if he was not mistaken. Three times, taking into account the school meeting that morning. It was simply impossible that she would analyse his behavior and come to those particular conclusions if Isabel had not said something to the same effect.
"Discarding physical violence does not discard psychological violence," he said carefully. "Some instances of which may not be promptly recognised by their victims."
Jenny nodded sideways in a 'perhaps' way.
"I wouldn't know," she said. "I would have to… I mean, we would have to see them together. Acting naturally. But, obviously, we will never see them act naturally with each other when there are people around, will we? We'd have to… I don't know, get them together and spy on them. Which I do think is the wrong thing to do even if it might be the only way to find out the truth. Maybe he is a gentle, caring man to her, or maybe he really is a brute who brainwashed her. Even if she swears the former is true, will anyone who knows Sabretooth ever believe her word?"
Jenny went back to the potatoes and Hank pondered the situation for a long moment.
"Katherine – and myself, to be fair – we are of the opinion Isabel is emotionally dependent on him. Do you partake of that view?"
"Maybe, maybe not. If I was forced to spend three months away from the man I love, I might jump at every little opportunity to be with him as if he was the only thing I had eyes for. If we keep in mind that she lost her baby… their baby and that she was then kidnapped and tortured, I think it's only natural that she may be a bit desperate for spending some alone time with him. In her place, I'd probably be too."
Yes, it was true. Under the conditions Jenny had described, even an emotionally independent woman might show signs that could easily be mistaken for emotional dependence. He should find a way of assessing… But no. Hank shook his head as he recalled Creed back at the infirmary, growling and snarling the entire time. Yes, most of that fury had been brought on by the state they'd found Isabel in, which did merit a degree of anger, but he had seemed equally ready to expand his emotions to Isabel herself.
"Look, Hank, you all know I don't like that man being here, but he has shown he is a dedicated father and… very honestly, maybe you should give them some private time together. Isabel looks like she hasn't had a good night sleep since the attack and if being alone with him helps, then so be it."
"Are ya listenin' t'me?" Creed's vicious growl echoed in Hank's memory. "I don't want ya goin' nowhere without me, ya understand?"
Hank shook his head with disgust at the very thought.
"No, I'm sorry. I've considered enough deals with the devil for one day, Jenny. I won't even contemplate such a proposition! If you'll excuse me, I will attempt to locate Isabel and give her the news concerning the school."
Jenny shrugged and sighed.
"Don't forget to mention that Scott gave the okay for Creed to go shopping with her."
Hank stopped at the doorstep.
"Jenny, I don't know what Isabel shared with you, but you mustn't forget that both Logan and I can smell how often she feels afraid around him."
"Oh, yeah? Well, she was very offended when…" Jenny stopped herself with a grimace. "I gave her my word of honor, Hank. Why don't you just ask her directly? Maybe she'll come to her senses and be honest with you."
For that she'd have to trust him. Hank didn't mention that Isabel had told him the wounds on her wrists didn't require his attention anymore and which, therefore, she saw no more reasons for further appointments. Not using those exact words. In reality, though, they simply didn't require bandages, as they were far from being fully healed.
As he started up the stairs, though, he saw her coming down. Both her countenance and demeanor were of grim determination and he once more swore to himself he'd find a way to get around her defenses and help her.
"Isabel," he called out with relatively fake mirth, "Jenny has been looking for you! Good news: Ms Hill has accepted to enrol Lilia. You'll have a meeting with the teacher tomorrow so Lilia can become acquainted with her new environs, and you shall then proceed straight into a supply shopping spree. Creed will, naturally, be present throughout."
Her smile seemed genuine for a moment, but then it became pained – if Hank was not fabricating impressions. He recalled Jenny's conviction that Isabel needed to spend time with the man she, unfortunately, had fallen in love with. Hank would never allow for private time between the two, not when the few interactions he had witnessed had been so cold and imposing on Creed's part, if not aggressive, but if there was someone supervising their encounters…
"Creed is currently with Lilia, by the dog kennel, so perhaps you may wish to join them."
Anxiety enveloped her as she nodded stiffly and hurried down the steps. Hank followed her slowly, considering how he could nudge her out of that anxious state.
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