Wanda breathed in deeply before her bated breath released in a ragged exhale. Sweat beaded on her forehead and dripped back into her hair, but she was unaware of it. Her heart was pounding a mile a minute in her chest. Her fingers lie on the ground, entangled with John's as she stared up at the sky, contemplating.
Beside her, John was also lying on his back, but his head was turned towards her, watching her. Wanda dragged in another long breath before she turned her head to face him. He was so perfect. His light blue eyes were almost crystalline as his gaze fell on her. Wanda smiled at him lightly before averting her eyes to the ground.
John reached out and brushed a lock of hair away from her eyes. "Are you alright, Wanda?"
"Never felt better." She glanced up at him and gave him another shy smile before averting her eyes once more. It was very cute, actually, John had never seen her so coy before. She reminded him of a little innocent kid who just found the cookie jar. John scooted closer and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, drawing her right up against him. He kept his eyes locked on her face, memorized by her.
"You're beautiful, you know."
Wanda glanced up from his chest once more to give him another coy smile. "Thank you, John. I really appreciate it."
"It was no work for me," John chuckled, then his face softened. "But I'm glad I could do this for you." He tightened his grip in her hand and was silent for a few moments, the only noise being their combined breathing.
Wanda's hand tightened around his own after those few moments of peace and her expression grew strained. She opened her mouth once, then shut it, then opened it again and shut it. Alarmed, John sat up and put his other hand on her shoulder. "Are you alright Wanda?"
Wanda's expression didn't relax. "I'm fine, John. I just…"
"Are you having another episode?"
"No, no," Wanda quickly dismissed. "I…can we walk home, John?" John's expression started to fall, so Wanda hurriedly rushed in, trying to convince him. "I honestly feel perfectly fine John—when I said never better, I meant it, and I will take it when we get back, I just…if I start to feel sick at all, you can call Pietro immediately, I promise—I just…I don't want this to end before it has to."
John's expression was torn between sympathy for Wanda and the desire to save her. Wanda pressed on. "Please, John. If it doesn't work then I'm going to die right there on the table. I just want to save my last hour with you."
"Don't say that Wanda, this isn't it." Wanda's face showed that she didn't believe that for a second. John's hand tightened around hers and he shut his eyes momentarily. "Promise that you'll tell me the moment you feel less-than-perfect so I can call Pietro."
John sighed. "We can walk then, as long as you don't feel anything." John got to his feet and pulled up Wanda. He stood a few inches taller than her when they both stood at their full height. John smiled at her warmly. "You should probably get dressed before we go. You might cause a riot with that body."
Wanda rolled her eyes, but was somewhat flattered by the comment. She broke away from John as the two respectively put their clothes back on. When they were both dressed, Wanda turned back to him and John held out his hand for her. It earned him another eyeroll, but Wanda still took it.
"Did everyone else leave already?"
"I'm assuming they did." John replied easily, "They had to wait for Logan to come to cure Rogue, but we've been here for awhile now so they've probably already gone home."
"What happened to Rogue this time? Who kidnapped her?"
"Dunno who he is, really, but seems like he had some grudge against Rogue. While Rogue tried to escape with Bobby and Kitty he shoved her out the window and they landed on the car. Rogue was pretty hurt, but Bobby managed to make an 'ice bandage' over her lung while they waited for Logan. She should be fine now."
Wanda shook her head incredulously. "That girl is a magnet for trouble."
John agreed. "Tell me about it—even before she met all of you guys, she had an unhealthy addiction for nearly dying." John pursed his lips for a moment. "You know about the Liberty Island incident? I mean, what happened in detail?"
"The one when Magneto tried to convert all of New York into mutants by kidnapping a girl and forcing her into a life-sucking machine? Yes, I am familiar with my father's terrorist activities."
"Well, I don't know if you know, but the girl he kidnapped was Rogue."
Wanda's stopped abruptly. "What?"
John stopped with her and looked back to her stunned expression. "It's true. Way back when Rogue first joined the mansion, Mystique morphed into Bobby and tricked her to run away again before Magneto kidnapped her right off the subway to use for his machine."
Wanda worked her jaw for a moment before finding the words. "…but, why? Why would he need her to do it? And—Mystique? As in the Mystique we work for? As in the newest resident of the X-mansion? How in hell did that work out?"
John smiled crookedly. "One question at a time girl, come on." He pulled on her wrist and Wanda started walking again as John began to explain. "Well, Magneto chose to use Rogue to power his machine because he'd have to do it otherwise, which would have killed him. Instead, he transferred his powers to Rogue through his mutation and put her in the hot seat."
Wanda's mouth sneered into a feral snarl. "Sacrificer for mutants, my ass. This was what, two or three years ago? Rogue had to be like sixteen, tops. He was willing to kill off a sixteen year old girl for his cause—the man disgusts me." John silently agreed with her. When the silence following her comment had gone on for several seconds, she cast a sideways glance at John. "Well? What else? Answer the questions." She demanded.
John chuckled and Wanda raised a skeptical, high eyebrow at him. "Sorry." He apologized. "I was just thinkin' that authoritarian Wanda is back." At her continued skepticism and glare, he quickly went on. "Anyway, Mystique joining the team is somewhat of a mystery to me. From what I know, she's probably doing it as revenge against Magneto."
"Go on…" Wanda urged.
"Well, you know when I was with Magneto?"
"We are going to talk about that too." Wanda interrupted.
John seemed somewhat intimidated, but he went on. "Well anyways, when I was with Magneto, Mystique used to be on the team too. That woman has put in a lot more hours than me too—as far as I know, she's been with him since she was just a kid. Either way, we were releasing these powerful, prisoner mutants to rally up on Magneto's squad when this cop shot a cure bullet at Magneto. Basically, Mystique took the bullet for him and he left her alone and naked in the back of the prison truck afterwards because he said that she was no longer one of us."
Wanda didn't look surprised. "Betrayal, corrupt, turns his back on those who trust him—sounds like him. So what's her deal with the X-Men?"
John shrugged. "I don't know why she wants to join, other than for the sake of revenge, but that's why she scoped out the mansion as a target for us. She figured if she could take away the X-Men's revenue, they'd let her join the team because her money would be needed. So really, she just kind of bought her way onto the team."
Wanda's forehead was creased in concentration. John nudged her. "What're you thinking about?"
Wanda's face held her thoughtful look. "You can't think of any other reason for Mystique to join the X-men besides revenge?"
John shrugged. "Nope. She doesn't share any of their ideals or anything. I figure she's just looking to join the X-Men so they can lead her to Magneto where she can exact her revenge against him. Without the X-Men, all her other sources are sapped dry. Besides us, at least."
Wanda's brow creased further. "Does Mystique know that I'm Magneto's daughter and Pietro is his son?"
"She probably does. I'm assuming she recognizes the name 'Maximoff'. When her and Magneto worked together the two were tight—I almost thought in a relationship—and she knew…" John began to trail off as a memory hit him.
Another body joined the hallway and collided into them both, throwing all three persons to the ground. Pietro was on his feet again before anyone could blink, staring down at them. "Where is she?"
"That's what we'd like to know." John stated wryly.
Pietro's jaw tightened. "What does that mean?"
"De fille is missin'."
"What?" Pietro exploded. "How the hell did you lose her? She's in danger! Mystique's trying to kill her to get revenge!"
John smacked himself in the forehead. "Holy shit!"
"Do you think she…?" Wanda started.
"She shot you with the Cure bullet!" John exclaimed wildly. "It's Mystique's ultimate revenge—she's going after Magneto's kids!"
"Pietro!" Wanda blurted, fumbling with her pocket to grab her phone. "We have to warn him!"
Tears were streaming down Pietro's face as he knelt in the abandoned church, facing a crucifix. "Please-please let her live, God. I know nothing comes for free and everything has a price—so take whatever you want—take me instead! Anything! Just don't let her die." Pietro coughed violently. "It's not fair!" Pietro broke down into sobs as his body shook with heart-felt agony. Nothing would change, he knew that, and he was so through trying. He had exhausted every avenue. There was nothing he could do to save her.
Pietro had thought he had prepared himself for this, but he'd just been fooling himself. He had always pushed the thought back. Every time Wanda came back from one of her episodes, Pietro had hoped and wished that it would be the last. That maybe, just maybe, her disease would exhaust and die out itself. Reality was much harsher than any of his dreams and the time of Wanda's demise was upon him. He had no reason to continue living after Wanda left.
Pietro's life was filled with empty promises, betrayal, closed friendships and distance from everybody. That part of Wanda had rubbed off on him. He wasn't as outwardly cold or weary as her, but he didn't find joy in anything. It had been a long time since Pietro had genuinely smiled last, almost as long as Wanda, before they ran into Rogue, but now that was ending. Pietro had no intention of continuing his miserable existence once Wanda had left it.
Pietro angrily pushed to his feet and glared at the altar before him. There was no God, no God would be cruel enough to watch his own creation writhe in such misery. Where was Wanda's justice? Did she not deserve the chance to live out a normal life? Didn't every mutant? Especially her, because life had been especially cruel to her. But no, life wasn't fair and good people didn't always get what they deserved.
"It's not fair, damnit!" Pietro shouted. With that, he grabbed the first thing his fingers grasped—which turned out to be his cell phone—and chucked it at the altar. The small piece of technology shattered into pieces when it hit the solid wooden base and scattered all over the floor. Without looking back, he turned around and raced out of the church.
Mystique watched the boy rush out of the church and start to disappear into the distance. She revved the car and raced after him, but he was much faster. Within seconds he was only a pinprick in the distance, but luck seemed to be with her because when he reached the edge of the park's clearing, he collapsed against the base of a bench underneath a large weeping willow tree. Mystique smiled to herself as she parked the car far down the street to the park and morphed into Wanda.
Carefully, with great deliberation and caution, Mystique approached Pietro and sat down on the ground next to him. She laid her hand on top of his and waited for him to run his sleeve over his eyes before he turned his head to the ground, unable to look at her. "I failed you." Pietro's heart was sickened with guilt. "I failed…t-to protect you. And now…"
"Shhhh," Mystique whispered, scooting closer to Pietro and drawing him into a hug.
Pietro's mind momentarily soared. Wanda had not hugged him since they were little kids. She didn't believe in gaining support from other people. And here she was, observing him in one of his weakest moments to her, clutching him to her body as if she were scared, as if she were equally as afraid as he was. He knew it was a lie, that Wanda didn't fear death and had taken steps to overcome this already, but it didn't make it any easier on him. Wanda might be ready, but he was not.
"I don't want to see you die." Pietro moaned, muffled by Wanda's shoulder.
Mystique nodded. "I know." After giving him a few moments, Mystique pulled away and looked deep into Pietro's eyes. "Come with me. I have something to give to you before it happens."
Pietro sniffed and rubbed his eyes on his jacket sleeve again. He started to follow her, but then stopped, causing her to halt as well. "Wanda…"
"I love you, you know."
"I know, Pietro." Mystique replied gently.
"And I'm sorry for it all…everything you've had to go through, always braving it though…I wish I could take your place. Life is so unfair."
"Shhhh," Mystique hushed. "It's okay, it's going to be alright, Pietro. I promise."
It was the biggest lie he had ever heard. Pietro let Mystique tug him away to the car and help him into the backseat. He rubbed at his eyes again and when he looked up, he was surprised to see Wanda climbing into the back with him.
"Shhhh," Mystique hushed. With that, she turned around quickly and a sharp pain pierced his arm.
"Ow—what?!" Wanda started to fade before him, and instead, a blue woman with scales and yellow eyes took form. Pietro's vision started to fuzz as he comprehended what was happening to him. "No!" Pietro struggled, desperate to get away. He had to find Wanda. He had to tell her goodbye—this blue bitch, Mystique, was taking away his last moments that he would ever have with her. He fought with all his strength, but the drug was too powerful. In seconds, he lay limply sprawled against the backseat. Mystique smiled lightly before hopping up to the front and driving away.
"Ah swear Ah'm fahne, Hank, ya cahn let meh go now."
Hank frowned. "What is with today's youth trying to escape from me so much? I still have to check your vitals, Rogue, if you'd please stay with me long enough to do that. I only want to help."
Rogue sighed, half in resignation, half in irritation. "Ah'm sorry Hank, Ah'm just impatient and the Logan in meh is drivin' meh away from the hospital as quick as Ah cahn go."
Hank began preparing a needle to draw some blood. "That's certainly understandable." He wiped the crook of her arm with a wet swab. "Hold still for a moment, this'll sting."
Rogue held still as Hank pushed the needle into her arm and pulled back the stopper to draw blood into the container. Rogue sighed forlornly as she watched Storm busy herself around Logan's prone body. Storm was no physician, but all of the X-Men had elementary first aid skills. She was giving Logan the best care as she saw fit, although there was little to do in the case of Logan. His healing factor would take care of him. Rogue only hoped he woke up soon; she was feeling slightly guilty that Logan always took care of her like this.
Remy had momentarily left the room to seek out Bella and update Henri and Bella on the recent events and current conditions of everybody. After Kitty's ankle had been stinted and wrapped, Hank had left the third examination room to look after Risty, Rogue and Logan. Bobby and Kitty still needed attention, but now that Hank had fixed the primary problem, he wanted to check and make sure the others were alright. Risty was sitting on the table opposite of Rogue, tortured with the same medical treatments that Rogue was receiving.
Risty was lost in a whole different level of pain than the rest of them. She hadn't stopped crying since Taliz's death and she remained deathly quiet. Although her sniffles were rare and silent, each one felt like a jarring stab when she made a noise. The poor girl was tortured. She sat staring, her eyes vacant and not seeing, at the door to the adjoining hospital room where they had placed Taliz's body and strapped down Zalen's unconscious form.
Rogue felt responsible. Although Taliz had been the one to initiate the conquest for her blood, it was Rogue's fault that anything even went that far. If she had just let go of David a little sooner…maybe none of this would have happened at all. Rogue sighed deeply and bit her lower lip as Hank left the room to test her blood in the other lab.
There was silence, except for the minute ministrations Storm was giving to Logan. Rogue cleared her throat. "Are you alright, Risty?"
At first, Rogue didn't think the girl even heard her. Her dark brown eyes remained blank and unregistering. She looked too lost in thought to be comprehending anything, really. Rogue was surprised then, when Risty turned her head down and answered lowly. "I'm okay."
Her voice was squeaky and it was obvious that she was lying. The silent tears that fell down her cheeks were proof of such. Rogue swallowed thickly before speaking again, trying to help the overwhelmed girl. "Risty…" she started, not really knowing where she was going with it herself. "Ah'm sorry fohr causin' this. Ah know how much you loved Taliz." Rogue mentally berated herself, sure that was not the right thing to say in such a situation.
Risty's head shot up at her words. "You think I blame you?" Risty shook her head vigorously. "No, Rogue, what happened is not your fault. I should have stopped him before he went that far. I'm sorry that you had to be caught in the middle of this…it almost killed you." She sniffed and wiped at her eyes again. "I deserve this—Taliz was mislead, but he probably did too. I only wish it could have…" she trailed off.
"No, Risty, it's not Taliz's fault. He didn't know I hadn't intentionally killed David." Rogue winced at the words. "He was as much a victim as any of us."
Risty made an odd, hiccup noise that could have been a laugh. "It's nice of you to try to tone it down for me, Rogue, but I know it was Taliz own doings that changed him into a vengeance-seeking monster." Risty shook her head. "I could have stopped him, begged him to run away with me. He would have listened…now it's too late."
There was nothing Rogue could say that would make things better. Whatever words were spoken, Taliz would still be dead and the undeserving Zalen would still live. Life was unfair. Rogue stood up off her medical table and went over to Risty to hug her, trying to provide as much comfort as she could for the stricken girl.
"It's not even ringing! It immediately goes to his voicemail!" Wanda drew in a breath sharply. "What if she already got to him?"
"Shhhh," John hushed. "Calm down, Wanda. Pietro's more than capable of holding his own, you know that."
It didn't seem to calm Wanda at all. "I'm well aware of that! What if she shot him with a Cure bullet? –He can't possibly win against her without his mutation!"
John hadn't considered that, but it was a likely possibility. Not to mention, Mystique's ability made her the perfect trap. She could lure Pietro in as anyone she wanted, even Wanda herself. John didn't voice his worries to Wanda, she was too hyped already, but instead he calmly withdrew his own cell phone and began punching in the mansion's number. Someone picked up after the third ring.
"Bonjour! How can de establishment help y'?" He sounded awfully cheerful. Rogue must have turned out alright, John assumed.
"Remy it's me, cut the crap, this is serious. I need to know if Pietro is at the mansion with you guys."
"Y' sound frantic, Johnny, what's wrong?" Remy paused in a moment of seriousness. "Is Wanda alright?"
"Yeah, she's fine right now. Remy, tell me, is Pietro there?"
"Non, he's not. Remy hasn't seen him since he ran off after droppin' Wanda off. What's wrong?"
"Shit! Remy, we know who shot Wanda! It's Mystique—she's been orchestrating this whole thing. She's out for revenge against Magneto and she's taking it out on his kids. We have to find Pietro, fast!"
"Merde!" Remy exclaimed with fervor, "Remy goin' t' inform de X-guys. Do y' need a pickup?"
"That'd be appreciated."
"Be dere as soon as fast as lightnin'." The phone went dead and John pocketed his cell. "They're on their way to get us and Remy's informing Storm of the situation."
Remy burst through the infirmity doors with a shout. "Stormy!"
Alarmed, Ororo turned away from the unconscious Logan and both Risty and Rogue turned to Remy. Remy rushed in and pulled up short, catching his breath before he continued. "Stormy! Dis is important. Do y' know where Mystique is?"
"Whatever's wrong, Remy?"
Remy took in another great breath. "It's time Remy made some confessions, Stormy." Remy glanced at Rogue before he rushed on. "Remy's been workin' for Mystique. She's de one who hired us t' rob de mansion." Remy rushed on when he saw Ororo's stricken look. He couldn't bring himself to look Rogue in the eye. "It's true dat Mystique only joined de X-Men t' get revenge on Magneto. In order t' do dat, she hired us t' make her position for joinin' more applicable."
Ororo urged him on. "Well, yes Remy? Tell us what's happened."
"Don' y' see, Stormy?! Mystique was de one t' shoot Wanda with de Cure bullet! She found out dat Wanda an' Pietro were Magneto's kids—now she's takin' out revenge on 'em! Pietro's in danger!" Remy took another great breath. "We need t' find Pietro an' Mystique. Do y' have any way of trackin' dem down? Wanda needs t' be picked up too."
Ororo was overwhelmed. They had just gone through a crisis at the mansion that had left many of her students injured and scarred for life, to have to deal with something like this directly after was just cruel. She didn't even have the staff for it. The only adults left were her and Hank, and Hank still needed to tend to his patients. Half of the X-Men were down from the last rescue and she was desperately short on resources. Not only that, but she had no immediate psychics on hand to scan the area for Pietro and Mystique. "Do you know where Wanda is, at least, Remy?"
Remy nodded. "She's out at de field dat we left with Johnny."
Ororo sighed in exasperation. "What is she doing there?! We left hours ago!"
Remy chuckled slightly. "De activities dose two were plannin' didn' belong in a van with other people."
Ororo didn't share his humor. "We're short on staff—Remy, I need you to ask Henri and Bella to pick them up, please." Remy nodded.
"What about Pietro?"
"I need to make a phone call to a friend to try to locate them. Get suited up with Rogue and Bobby, we're leaving as soon as I get their location."
"What about de other X-Men?"
Ororo glanced at the adjoining door where Hank, Kitty, and Bobby were. "Hank has patients to care for and no one else is well enough for this task. We'll have to make do with what we have. I have to go make that call."
Remy nodded again. "Gotcha Stormy, we be ready t' go in minutes."
"I'm counting on you, Remy." Ororo left without another word to head for her office. Remy cast one lasting glance at Rogue's stunned expression before he disappeared to talk to Henri and Bella.
Numb slightly, Rogue hopped off the medical table and went to explain to Bobby what was happening. It was becoming a hell of a long day.