Apologies to everyone who's been waiting for me to finish this thing. Life doesn't always intervene in the best way.
I'm not the kind of person who gets on soapboxes, but considering the forum, considering I just discovered this today, and considering the general lunacy of it all, I couldn't remain silent.
For those of us who like Nightcrawler, I have really CRAPPY news:
1) The Nightcrawler solo series will be cancelled after issue 12. This series sold better than ANY solo series except for Wolverine's, has fantastic art, and a compelling storyline that proves you don't need "fight filler" to keep things interesting. It's making Marvel money, yet mysteriously getting the axe. Which leads to number two...
2) After the House of M is completed, Nightcrawler is due to be "teamless". That's right: no team, and no solo. Guess what this means? From what I have been told, the people up top in Marvel don't personally like the character, so despite what writers, artists, fans, and even finances say, they're going to shelve poor Kurt for the foreseeable future.
This is a poor decision, and it isn't even made for compelling monetary concerns. He's selling well, the solo book had universal critical acclaim, and he has a strong fan base of WOMEN, a demographic that marvel keeps trying unsuccessfully to crack. Apparently, personal desires are getting in the way of good business, not to mention good fan base/employee relations. (For example, Alan Davis has quit Uncanny X-Men over this.)
If you like this character, now is the time to write in protest. has a petition and information on who to talk to, as well as information on the whole looming debacle.
Soapbox removed. Thank you for your patience.
Sinister Designs: Epilogue
As difficult as that night had been, the coming day wasn't much better.
The NSA came down literally fifteen minutes after Xavier spoke with Ororo. Not the FBI, not the BATF; the NSA itself, with forensic units, ambulances, vehicles designed for tank removal, and much more equipment and military personnel than Xavier felt comfortable hosting. The school was cordoned off, air traffic diverted, and what little calm the students enjoyed completely shattered. The Blackbird would have to sit tight somewhere until it was all over, sometime about mid-afternoon.
Then the parents started coming in.
The X-men returned to a flood of cars in the normally empty parking lot. Only half of the students actually had guardians of any kind, but it seemed that all of them had arrived at the school the second the government presence abated. It felt like the aftermath of Stryker's invasion all over again, with one crucial difference. This time, most everyone knew what their children were. This time, there would be no mass "disownings".
Team SOP was to debrief in the first few minutes after a mission, then let everyone go their separate ways. When there were walking wounded (which was more often than not), that debriefing took place in medlab. But now Xavier and Summers had a lot of "damage control" to do, and medlab was a very crowded place, full of students and parents. They would be hard-pressed to find room for Kurt to squeeze through and tend to his bloody nose, to say nothing of their latest "addition", Richard. Therefore, once the Blackbird landed, most of the X-men drifted apart to less-impacted parts of the mansion. Sean met up with his daughter, Piotr and Isidro split up in their search for someplace quiet, and Bobby waited for Rogue at the elevator. That left Logan, Ororo, Kurt, and Richard heading for medlab on their own, Kurt holding formerly white tissues to his face that now resembled a mass of red carnations.
Bringing Richard to the medlab was a definite risk, considering his instability and the tense, fragile atmosphere. But it was Charles himself who suggested it, so it stood to reason that Charles would be able to control the situation as well. Ororo kept telling herself this as they rode the elevator down. She couldn't afford to waste time and energy worrying about Richard when her students were in such bad shape.
Scott and Rogue met the four of them in the steel underground corridor, just outside the elevator. Neither had changed out of their uniform. Logan guided Richard out of the lift first, gently pushing him to Scott, who took over easily enough. Richard could move without help. He simply walked in a daze, without direction. Scott noted the nape of Richard's neck, and set his lips in a grim line as he saw that distinctive, circular welt. How many people had Stryker done this to?
Scott guided Richard to the side. "How's he been? Any more activity?"
Logan shook his head. "He's in shock." He edged further into the elevator as Ororo and Kurt left. "It's all just sinking in." He looked at Rogue and his nose twitched. "You okay, there, pun'kin?"
"Gettin' there," Rogue answered softly. "Ain'tcha comin' out yourself?"
Logan glanced down the corridor, in the direction of medlab. "Nah, too many people down here. I'm headin' back up for a while."
Rogue stepped in the elevator. "Y'all mind sharing the elevator on the way up?"
He gestured to the empty space beside him. She walked in silently and took her place by his side. She was rubbing her neck muscles with both hands as the doors closed.
The walk to the medlab featured dead silence. Inside was another matter. It wasn't so much the volume; conversations were quiet, hushed affairs, for the sake of both privacy and politeness. It was the tension, the emotions barely contained. Both of Kate's parents were there, while Judy and James only had their mothers present. Ororo's heart sank several levels. Jamie looked like he had literally been hit by a freight train. And, as expected, Jubilee had no parents to stand by her at all. She looked at Jamie, unconscious but stable, and flanked by Ms. Madrox and Professor Xavier. Then she looked at Jubilee, trying to act unconscious in the middle of all this. Right then, Jubilee needed her more. She didn't need to signal her intent to Scott or Kurt; it was understood. She moved to Jubilee, Kurt climbed up and clung in an upper corner, and Scott patiently steered Richard to the other side to sit in a chair against the wall. Along the way, Ororo caught clips of whispered conversations.
"You should've seen it, dad," Kitten said, her voice hoarse with exhaustion. "Rogue made twenty of herself and kept that thing pinned like it was on spears."
Mrs. Pryde's voice wavered. "Considering what I'm seeing in here, I'd rather I never saw any part of this battle."
Mr. Pryde stroked his daughter's long, curly hair. "Kitty, I'm all for fighting the good fight... but I never though you'd start so soon..."
Ororo passed by Judy Colombrate and her mother.
"...I don't care what your father and I thought, you can't stay here!" Mrs. Colombrate hissed, tears streaming from her eyes. "This is the third time in one year. In one year, Judith!"
"Mom, please, don't take me away from here," Judy pleaded. "Don't. Let me stay here."
"For God's sake, you're in danger here!"
"But nobody spits at me here. No one pours soup in my locker or anything. The teachers don't glare at me. Please, mom, don't take me away..."
Ororo pulled up a rolling stool and sat by Jubilation Lee's bed. Jubilee opened one eye upon hearing the noise to her right.
"How're you doing, Jubilee?" Ororo asked softly.
"Okay," she answered. "Better'n Jamie. Just wish people'd stop waking me up every hour."
"That's to make sure you aren't slipping into a coma. You've had some pretty nasty 'blunt trauma' up there."
"Well, duh! I got whacked by a tree!"
"How'd it happen?"
Jubilee shrugged. "Don't remember a lot. They probably told you everything by now."
"No, they didn't. With the NSA so close by, they didn't want to risk revealing our position with a communiqué, so we haven't heard much."
She looked directly at Ororo. "Are you serious? You don't know what happened here?"
"We know very little."
It wasn't quite true. They knew some of the situation; Xavier had briefed them in transit, before the NSA descended on the institute. But if a little white lie got Jubilee to talk, it would suffice. Sometimes that girl was more Loganish than Logan himself.
Kurt watched the entire room from his vantage point, unobtrusive and unnoticed. Well, mostly unnoticed. Kitty saw him up there and insisted on not just waving, but pointing him out to her parents. (Since Kurt needed at least three limbs to cling to the smooth metal walls, and one was occupied with his bleeding nose, he tentatively waved back with his tail.) The conversations were all murmured sounds, unintelligible in the echoing room, for which he was grateful. There was enough pain here; he didn't need to listen in on it as well. After a minute or so, Scott and the Professor switched places, with Scott standing by Ms. Maddox's side and Xavier moving to a spot by Richard Martin.
At that time, Kurt started to feel a bit dizzy and light-headed, and he couldn't seem to catch his breath. Perhaps being up in the corner wasn't the wisest of moves. He dropped silently to the floor, head bowed between his knees as he crouched in place. Over the next two seconds a migraine blossomed out of nowhere, he started to feel incredibly nauseous, the world tunneled in front of him, and then everything turned a dark purple. In a room full of grievously injured, he was about to faint from something as minor as a bloody nose. Wonderful. Well, at least, those verdammt silver sticks wouldn't hurt so much now...
He didn't completely black out (purple out?). He was vaguely aware of his name being called, and someone hauling his arm over their shoulder. It was utterly unfair that the world shot back into focus with a nasty burning sensation in his sinuses. He shouted and jerked his head back, but found himself restrained.
"Whoa," Scott's voice said from the left. "Easy, there, big fella."
"I'm done, Kurt," Ororo said quickly. Her voice came from the right. "The stick is out. All done."
"What happened to smelling salts?" Kurt asked groggily as he opened his eyes.
"We had to do this anyway," she answered. "At least we were almost done before you awoke." She looked into his eyes then gave a rueful smile. "You've got a matched set now, Kurt."
Kurt looked around. The three of them were alone in the small side room, surrounded by diagnostic equipment. They had placed him on a small gurney.
"Matched set of what?" he asked as he slowly sat up.
Scott looked at Kurt's face. "Yeah, I see it. Another blood vessel burst, Kurt. By tomorrow, that right eye could be solid red like the left. It's pretty impressive."
Kurt smiled weakly. "Hours without trouble in the plane, and everything goes to hell when I get onto solid land. I hope the parents won't think too badly of me."
"You're a lot better at flying when your nose isn't gushing like an uncapped oil well. You'd better take it easy for the next day or so. How are you feeling?"
Strangely enough, except for the stinging in his nose, he felt far better than he had before he blacked out. He swung his legs over the side of the gurney. "Much better. I'm sorry about this. It happened so fast..."
"Well, there's no sign of skull fracture or swelling in the brain," Ororo said as she looked at a few displays of Kurt's head. "Do you think you can make it back to your room? Without teleporting?" Ororo added that last point in a bit of a rush.
Kurt stood. Traces of dizziness remained, but nothing to stop him. "If I am not stupid about it, then yes. This means I can sleep in my own bed, ja?"
"We're a little short of room down here," Scott admitted. "And make sure you get something to drink before you go to bed. I don't have to tell you how short you are on fluids."
Kurt nodded, trying to think of a beer cache that was close enough for him to get to right then. Maybe he could get Logan to go after it, seeing as he'd created the stashes in the first place...
Beer is the last thing your body needs right now, Kurt, Xavier's mental voice gently chided.
Spoilsport, Kurt fumed.
There was no debriefing that day. Nor that night. Exhaustion, mental and physical, didn't loosen its grip until the next morning. One by one, the group shuffled down to the teacher's lounge for breakfast, where Charles was waiting with coffee, bagels, and bagel-related accessories, and a quiet request for each person to stay for a morning meeting. Sean and Isidro showed, and stayed, as well. For once, Kurt was the last one down. True to prediction, both Kurt's eyes had "reds" instead of "whites".
"I know, I know," Kurt yawned as he received stares of astonishment. "I look like something out of a cheap horror movie. Not my fault."
"Good Lord, Kurt, how'd ye manage that?" Sean asked, staring at Kurt's red-on-gold eyes.
"At least they're symmetrical," Kurt muttered, pouring himself a huge cup.
"You can see all right?" Piotr asked, watching Kurt pour the hot coffee with great concern.
"Danke, Peter, I am fine. It's just the whites of my eyes, not my pupils." He looked to Professor Xavier. "Sir, have you heard anything from Herr McCoy?"
"No, but I have heard from Moira," Xavier said. "Henry will be calling us within the hour, I believe. That's one of the reasons for this meeting."
Kurt took his spot on the kitchen counter by the sink, and settled in as one would get comfortable at the table. Xavier maneuvered his chair to face everyone in the kitchen.
"Jonathan has been channel surfing most of the night, but has yet to see anything on what happened here, or in Britain," he began. "I doubt that either government wants this kind of information getting out to the general populace, so unless someone gives the Sun or the Mirror another big scoop, we'll be 'safe' for the time being. For those of you who don't know, we found Harold Trask himself in the huge man amplification vehicle that attacked the institute. In the ensuing battle, feedback from the suit caused Harold extensive brain damage; he currently seems to be in a level 5 coma. Since he was unquestionably one of the main minds behind this technology, I believe that we may not see too many more of these suits for a while. The chances are we've bought ourselves some breathing room."
"Anything happening with Friends of Humanity?" Logan asked.
"Nothing public," Scott answered. "And since Hank's contact in the FBI is still in ICU, I'm not going to try giving them any information for the time being. Someone in there tipped Larry and FOH off to Isidro and Hank's whereabouts. Until we know for sure, I'm doing a communication lockdown."
"Please, I... I don't want to interrupt..." Piotr glanced from face to face. "But has anyone found out anything more about Mr. Essex?"
"First of all, Piotr, rest assured that Nathaniel is not some long lost brother of yours," Xavier said. "There isn't the slightest match between the two of you. In that manner."
Piotr seemed quite relieved, until he heard the last sentence. " 'In that manner'? Is there another way we could be related?"
"This is something that took both Henry and Moira's efforts to untangle. Apparently -- and they're not sure how -- Nathaniel has discovered a way to 'graft' mutant abilities onto him. One of his successes... was yours."
Jaws dropped across the room, followed by startled denials. Piotr's face reddened.
"He 'steals' powers from other mutants? How could he do that to me? I have never seen him! Not once!"
"All he needed was some good DNA to work with," Xavier answered, a bit wearily. "Your hairbrush, some blood or skin samples from a legitimate doctor..."
"But he would need to know what I could do before he went looking! Not even the government knew what I could do when I came here! Not America and surely not Russia! I was very careful to hide it! Otherwise they would never have let me go!"
"I don't know, Piotr. That's a mystery to me as well. In any case, he seemed to have grafted several abilities onto himself. According to Hank, he also seemed to have some of Fred Dukes' physical resistance to damage and a kinetic ability that his DNA code alone could not produce. And Nathaniel is apparently a mutant himself, albeit one on a low enough level that it would be difficult to pick up."
"Oh really? And what ability would he have?" Ororo asked coldly.
"Again, this is just a hypothesis, albeit a well-educated one. It appears that Nathaniel Essex's cellular regenerative level has remained at that of 35 to 40 year old man for over quite some time. It will take a detailed genealogical investigation to see how far this goes."
"Make your own Dracula joke here," Bobby mumbled.
Xavier's voice grew soft. "There is more here on this, I'm afraid. Nathaniel apparently had four mutant experimentation labs. A few hours after the battle, the British government launched a massive raid on all of his properties. They found one of his experimentation labs still occupied by more unfortunate test subjects. But after that one..." He paused to take a steadying breath. "There must have been some communication between the labs, because two of them exploded seconds after the first. One went up as it was being stormed."
Kurt's hands started to shake. He set his mug aside before he slopped coffee all over the floor. Bobby paled. Storm pressed her hands to her forehead, as if trying to quell a fierce headache. How many had died? How many more had that butcher killed by this?
"Two major explosions and the media doesn't see a damn thing, huh?" Logan muttered. "Nice censorship, there. Be interesting to see how long it lasts."
"The rest of his labs were just as they looked on the outside," Xavier finished. "It is highly doubtful the scientists there had any inkling of what went on at the other sites."
"Does Moira have room for them all? All the 'experiments'?" Sean asked.
"Will any be comin' over here?" Rogue added.
"Some may, but not until they're in better shape," Xavier said.
"How about our pal Richard?" Logan asked. "Guy's military or ex military. He's gotta have a record."
"Ah, yes, Mr. Martin." Charles steepled his hands in front of his face as he took a moment to collect his thoughts. "According to his public record, Sergeant Richard Martin is missing and presumed dead in a barracks fire."
"Everybody raise your hand if you're surprised," Rogue said with dull resignation.
"And now for what the public record doesn't say," Xavier went on. "Richard came to Stryker's notice because there was a mutant in his Ranger troop, and the troop as a whole refused to treat him any differently, let alone turn him out. So far as they were concerned, they went through basic together, served together, and nothing was going to split them up. You can imagine the row it created upstairs." He paused again. Whatever he had to say, it wasn't easy for him to do. "Stryker arranged for Richard to be transferred to him for a week or two. He must have just been perfecting his control serum at that point, and wanted a human subject, because that's what Richard went through. And to test the serum's effectiveness... Stryker had him kill his entire troop while they slept, then light the barracks on fire. Considering the fact that the weapon of choice was a silenced pistol, I have to assume Stryker hand-picked the arson investigative team as well."
Isidro stared at the table, doing his level best to keep things in check. Kurt gripped his upper arms so hard that the skin started to blanche under his fingertips, thanking God over and over for that one bullet that grazed his skin. That one bullet that stopped him in the Oval Office.
"But it seems there is one crucial difference between mutant and human physiology when it came to Jason's serum," Xavier went on. "For a mutant, it one application might last for a few days at a time, unless prematurely ended by a shock of pain. In Richard's case, one application lasted for months, despite outside stimuli. He received some shrapnel damage while under its influence, yet he remained under its control. In fact, the control wouldn't fade until over a month after Alkali Lake."
Isidro's eyes closed, and he looked as if the words struck him like a physical blow.
"Where has he been all this time?" Bobby asked.
"He's not sure. The memory of what he was forced to do is all too vivid, but despite his apparent lucidity during combat, he's been in mental shock for several months. At some point Nathaniel captured him for the purpose of seeing if one exposed to the serum could be genetically reprogrammed to create it on their own, but fortunately his attempts proved futile."
"Contacted Dick's family yet?" Logan asked quietly.
"Not yet. I don't doubt that Beth's presence would be good for him. His memories are clear on their close relationship. But there are obvious logistical problems with bringing a dead man back to life, especially considering the mechanism of his disappearance, the fact he's technically still enlisted, and that we are the object of governmental scrutiny. Besides, this man has the worst case of post traumatic stress disorder on record, and I want to stabilize him a little more before bringing his family into it."
As he finished speaking, the phone rang. Hank, perhaps? Scott went to the wall and looked at the caller ID: Moira's lab. He picked up the receiver.
"Xavier Institute," he began. After a moment, he said, "Sure thing, Hank." He then punched the speaker button and stated, "You're in the kitchen, and it's an open mike."
"Good morning, everyone," came Hank's voice through the speaker. "I want to let you know that in case the bottom drops out of this whole science trend, I'm considering taking up life as a Barry White impersonator."
Even with the distortion from the amplifier, everyone could hear the differences between the Hank they knew and what he was now. Hank's voice had always been rather deep, but now it positively rumbled, like the growl of a great cat. There was also a slight lisp to it, from the inclusion of pronounced, simian fangs.
"Currently I'm working with Dr. McTaggert to stabilize our patients and attempt to undo their very undue damage," he went on. "But I must say that the locals are somewhat bemused by my presence."
"Are those the same locals that tried to burn Rhane at the stake?" Ororo asked cautiously.
"It can't be proven, but I fear so. It's difficult to tell behind the protest lines they've formed outside the facility. But on the brighter side, my fur appears to have excellent heat retention properties. I appear to be perfectly suited to Scottish weather. I wonder if Nathan was good enough to consider that?" He paused, then added, "Moira is less than happy with me when I come in from the rain. Something about smelling like a wet dog, I believe."
The jokes were the kind of things they tried to smile at, and it was better than the tension that would so surely result from any other approach. But, still, there was an edge to it that couldn't be denied, and they were all too drained to try.
"You're not in any danger, there, are you?" Scott asked.
"Currently we have discreet government support here, and by the end of next week it won't be necessary at all. She was in the process of moving to Muir Island before she left. To be honest, I doubt seriously that any of the protesters will take to water to get at us."
There was an uncomfortable silence for a second or two. It was up to Professor Xavier to break it. "After the move is complete, what are your intentions, Henry?"
They could hear Henry exhale slowly in a long sigh. "Truly, I've been so concerned with what's in front of me that I hadn't given much thought to days ahead... Moira has told me that her invitation still stands, that she'd welcome my addition to her crew. Of course, that means a work visa, and photographs, and all sorts of unwelcome government involvement."
All things that were easily enough accomplished, but his tone made it clear he wasn't wild about the idea.
"You sound like you'd rather return to the states," Sean observed.
"Yes, I would, Sean. But I'm not sure what I would be returning to. It's going to be difficult to return to my former position with Genentech." Pause again. "It's going to be difficult just walking around the streets."
"I know the problem," Kurt mumbled.
"You do know that you will always be welcome back at the Institute as well," Xavier said. "For starters, we have great need of a surgeon and a geneticist."
"Not a combat medic?" Hank asked back, a slightly bitter edge to his words.
"Membership in the Xmen is voluntary, Henry," Xavier said softly. "Without exception. It always has been. And right now, we surely have as much need of a healer and scientist as a combat operative."
"Among other things, there's a little girl here who could use some cleft surgery," Ororo added.
"So your pictures showed," Hank said. "It would be a simpler procedure if she had some control over her abilities. It will take some testing to determine the right approach for her."
Another pause. There were far too many uncomfortable pauses in this conversation.
"Professor Xavier, would you be kind enough to arrange the transfer of my personal effects?" Hank finally asked. "It would appear--..." His voice caught. He tried again. "It would appear... that I have nowhere else to go."