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This was written before Mystique and Sabretooth were revealed to have been lovers, and when the intention was for Mystique and Destiny to be Nightcrawler's parents.


The Gift


The Countess had made herself part of their lives barely a year before, appearing on the doorstep one stormy night, seemingly out of nowhere. She was lost she said, cold and hungry, and might they offer her a warm bed for the night and a bite to eat? They took the girl in and cared for her happily, one night becoming two, and then three and four. She said she had no family, and nowhere to go, but she was willing to work, and work hard, if only they'd let her stay. Without hesitation they agreed, for she was industrious, kind, gracious, and she took an honest liking to the master of the house, bringing a smile to his sad eyes for the first time in years.

So taken was he with the ebony haired beauty that had suddenly swept into his life, Count Josef Wagner found that he was falling in love with her despite himself. Long before he had sworn he would never love another after the heartache that had befallen him as a youth. But Raven's infectious laughter that filled the house with happiness and joy eased his aged grief and infused him with a new life, one he wished to share with this wonderful woman who seemed to him a gift from God himself.

The speed of their courtship and marriage surprised everyone; but no one complained, for all were happy. Her new standing as mistress of the house did not change Raven's wholesome attitude as some had feared it might, and she was as selfless and giving as ever, even insisting she still be able to help with the cooking and cleaning. Her charitable work with the poor among the villagers was laudable also, and even after she announced that she was with child she continued spending time with the less fortunate, bringing them food and medicines, the knowledge of what it was like to be without still fresh in her memory.

Raven's pregnancy progressed marvelously, each month she would travel alone to Bayreuth to see a physician, and she always reported back with a clean bill of health. Josef was happier than he had ever been in his life during the following months, as he and Raven estatically planned for their child's future. Life was wonderful, and nothing could destroy it. Then, one evening in her eighth month, the Countess went for her daily walk and did not return by sundown. Anxious because of recent wolf attacks in the area, the Count headed a search party which combed the surrounding area until well into the night but found no sign of Raven. Distraught, knowing in his soul with dread certainty that he would never see her or his child again no matter how long or hard they searched, Josef once again found himself a shattered, lonely man.

Within a small hut deep in the Bavarian forest, Raven arose silently and placed fresh wood on the fire, the flames jumping higher, flickering, snapping and cracking, filling the tiny room with golden light and delicious warmth. She returned to her place on the bed just as quietly, and drew the blankets up higher around the nursing mother. "Do you need anything, Irene?" she asked, her voice soft and tenative.

"No, Raven, we're fine." As she shifted the newborn to her other breast, he let out a contented sigh and clenched his fist. Irene smiled and stroked his cheek, a tear running down her own. "He's lovely, isn't he, Raven? Our boy will be a handsome man, won't he?" She was cooing to the baby now, glowing with happiness so genuine it hurt Raven's heart to watch them. This morning, if someone had shown her a picture of what her son would look like, Raven would have been frightened and probably disgusted as well. But now, having delivered her flesh and blood, having held him in her arms and felt a love stronger and purer than she had thought possible, she had an entirely different reaction. Her son was beautiful.

"What are we going to tell Josef, Irenie? He'll know I'm a mutant when he sees the baby. I don't think he'll throw me out but I'm not sure." Raven shifted nervously. "I think Josef is open minded about all people, he's a truly kind man, but I don't know if that open mindedness would apply if he discovered his wife and child were so different. And what if he doesn't believe my story of going into labor while walking and you coming along to deliver the baby? It would kill him if he found out the truth." She glanced up at Irene and saw the older woman was crying openly now, tears streaming down her face in silent rivers. "Irene! What's wrong?"

Irene took Raven's hand in her own and clenched it tightly. "I want you to listen to me, child. I want you to hear me out before you say anything. I want you to try and understand."

"All right. Irene, did you have a vision? A bad one? About us?" Raven felt cold and slightly ill. Something was very wrong.

"Raven, we cannot keep him."

"NO!" The vehemence of her reaction surprised her. She hadn't even wanted this child to begin with, the pregnancy had been unplanned and she was little more than a child herself, not even twenty yet. She had wanted to give it away but Irene had been so opposed to the idea that Raven dropped it and reconciled herself to the fact that she would be a parent in less than a year. When she had worked her way into first Josef's household, and then his heart, she thought she had found the perfect solution to their problem. She would shift her body gradually to mimic pregnancy, and when Irene gave birth they would pass the child off as Josef's. Irene would come and live with them as wet nurse and nanny. They would be supported in comfort for as long as they wished. The sorrowful Count would have a family. Everybody won. And it was even easier than she had suspected it would be. As the months passed, Raven had grown very fond of Josef, who treated her with kind and gentle adoration. He was always tender, always loving, always honest. So different from any of the other men she had met in her life. She felt terribly guilty for decieving him in such a fundamental way but could see no way around it. She had come to accept that her life would no longer be hard and cruel; and she had even come to finally accept that she was having a child. Now that she had done so, nothing on earth would make her give that up.

The child began to cry at her outburst and Irene hushed him lovingly and cast a look toward Raven. The younger woman, feeling admonished, seated herself on the bed again. "I'm sorry, Irene. Why can't we keep him? Why?"

"Since I first realized I was pregnant I've been having visions about the future of our child. Really, that was how I knew I was pregnant. At first they were almost like dreams and I couldn't make sense of them no matter how hard I tried; but they gradually became decipherable to me and I was horrified by what I saw. I didn't tell you because you seemed so happy, and so at peace. I didn't want to ruin it for you before I had to. I was also hoping the visions would change; but they didn't."

"Irene, you're scaring me." Raven twisted the sheet in her free hand, then reached up to touch the child. "What did you see? I want you to tell me, I can handle it."

"Every possible future in which our son is raised by either of us or Josef, is a terrible one." Irene's voice broke as she thought about what she had seen. "He will be killed as a baby, or a little boy. Sometimes he makes it all the way to adulthood but those are not much better. He is twisted, evil, or insane. He causes pain and suffering wherever he goes. He will be cruel, heartless, almost inhuman. I do not want that for my baby."

"Are you sure? Every future? Maybe there's one you didn't see, maybe his life will be good and happy with us." Raven struggled to remain calm. "Why would he turn out like that if we kept him? Would we be that terrible as parents? I don't understand."

"I don't know, Raven, I really don't. I see very big changes in our future, in the kind of life we lead, in the type of people we are; but nothing that says we would be bad parents in general. Just to this little boy. I don't understand it, I don't want to accept it; but I know that it's the best thing for him and we must--"

"No! No. I will not give him up, Irene. I won't do it. I can't do it. There's always the chance that you could be wrong. I don't want to lose my baby." The tears came then, and she sobbed as she buried her face in the pillow. Irene stroked her hair until she quieted.

"I know how you feel, Raven", she whispered. "But the futures I see for our child if we do give him up are wonderful. He will be happy. He will make other people happy. He will have a good heart and soul and will make the world a better place. I want to give him that chance. He deserves that kind of life, one that may not always be the easiest, but that enables him to be a good person. Don't you want to give him that kind of life, especially since we know what will happen to him if he stays with us? We will be happy, for awhile at least, but we would be knowingly condemning him to a horrible existence. Can we do that to him? I can't."

Raven lifted her head, still crying. "You're absolutely sure that if we...give him away, he will be happy?"

"Yes."

"And a good and decent person?"

"Yes."

"And he will make life better for other people?"

"Yes. When I see him in those futures, he is filled with laughter and joy that he wants to share with everyone. Oh, Raven, I wish that you could see what I do. You would not hesitate in your decision if you could."

"I believe you, Irene, and my mind knows that you're right. It's my heart that can't understand."

"Mine feels the same way. Broken. But it isn't the end of the world, Raven. The hurt will ease in time. We know that he'll be safe and well cared for. And you're young. Even if I'm too old to ever have another child, you can. Maybe someday we'll even be lucky enough to take in a child whose birth parents are unable to care for them, like someone will do for our son. It will be the most precious gift we could ever give him, a chance at a good life, a life that for whatever reason, we're not able to provide. It's up to you, Raven. Should we give him that?"

"I...I...guess so. But I don't like it. And I don't think the hurt will ever fade." She shuddered, her grief evident on her face.

Irene embraced her closely, holding her in one arm, their child in the other. "I knew that you would make the right decision. Now, before I change my mind, get the warmest blanket to wrap him in."

Raven sat up with a start. "Tonight?! We're giving him away tonight?!"

"The longer we wait the harder it will be. I have had a long time to think about this, we must do it tonight. If we don't do it now, I know that we never will. Please, Raven, take him away. I wish that I could do it for you but I'm too weak. Please, do this for me. For our son." Hesitant, Raven did as she was asked, swaddling the child tightly in a warm wool blanket.

"Can we at least name him, Irene? Can we give him something tangible?" Irene nodded. "What do you think of the name Kurt? It was one of the only ones Josef and I agreed on. A solid, dependable kind of name. And the surname Wagner, in honor of Josef, because he's been so good to us and tonight we have taken so much from him."

Irene smiled. "Kurt Wagner. That is a very good name that suits him well. Write it on a piece of paper and pin it to the blanket. But you'll have to leave him far enough away that whoever finds him does not know that the Countess Wagner was expecting a child."

"I will." They finished getting Kurt ready in silence, the pain in the room almost palpable. Raven pulled on her shoes and cloak and picked the infant up, holding him tightly. Irene kissed him gently, whispered things to him that Raven could not hear, and turned away, not wanting to watch them leave.

"I'll be back soon, Irene. When I am we can figure out what to do next. I pray that we're making the right decision."

Irene began to cry.

Raven stood in silence at the edge of the trees, waiting and watching. She had walked for hours through the dark woods, child cradled in her arms, almost turning back more than once as doubts gnawed at her mind. But she had kept going until she came first to the road, and then to a small, friendly looking house where she had left her son in a basket on the step. She could see him now, his little hand had worked it's way out of the blanket and seemed to be waving at her as she steeled herself to keep from running to him. Finally, the door opened and a woman stepped out, stopping in surprise as she saw Kurt. She picked him up while scanning the area intently, and Raven caught her breath as the woman's eyes came in contact with hers. The woman looked at Raven and nodded, a smile on her lips as she hugged Kurt to her breast. Raven nodded back, tears welling in her eyes as she turned and made her way back through the woods to Irene. They had made the right decision.




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