Author's note: I realized that I accidentally listed Rhodes as being in the garage when they left. He's not. Sorry. That was a mistake. So just ignore that. J Thanks for the reviews, and please keep them coming!
Marie stared at the dark ceiling above her bed, listening to the soft creaks and groans of the old mansion, holding her breath for the sound of the doors opening---the signal that they'd all come back safe and sound.
She glanced at her clock. It was too early for them to be back. It was only 11:30. She sighed, running a hand over her forehead. There was no way she could sleep.
Night Prince and Fury were working together. They had constructed the Avengers. Yes, it was a sideways, indirect way of doing it, but that had been their intention. Why? And was Vicar just a stooge, or was he an equal partner? And he had not killed Bobby. He had kept Bobby safe the whole time.
So what was he? What were his motives, why had he decided to help them?
Marie bit her lip, then got up and, her pajamas whispering around her, decided to go find out.
Tony watched the dark woods fly past them. Inside the car, all was quiet. He glanced at the GPS.
"We're almost there," he noted.
"Yep," Wolverine acknowledged. "I'm assuming we're not parking in the driveway."
"Nope. We can stop anyplace along here," Tony pointed to the shoulder of the road.
"Sounds good." Wolverine slowed the car, pulled over and stopped, turning off the lights. The car Storm was driving pulled up behind them, and everybody got out.
The night was cool and slightly windy, and the pine needles and leaves rustled ominously above them.
"We can walk from here," Tony decided. He rubbed his hands together. "It's chilly."
"Is it?" Wolverine glanced around. "I hadn't noticed."
The group began treading along the gravel beside the road, their footsteps crunching. Tony and Wolverine led them.
Tony's foot caught on something and he tripped.
"You okay?" Wolverine asked offhandedly.
"I'm sorry, am I the only one who can't see in the dark, here?" Tony asked in mild frustration.
"Um," Wolverine glanced over his shoulder. "Probably."
"I can't see in the dark," Bruce said quietly.
"I should have brought my helmet," Tony muttered. "It's got infrared."
"Just your helmet?" Wolverine raised his eyebrows. Tony could at least see that in the moonlight.
"That would be stylish," Angel snickered.
"Not to mention a bit top-heavy," Bruce added.
"We have some infrared goggles," Storm remembered. "We should have brought them---I just forget sometimes that you can't see."
"Okay, quit making fun of the guy with no superpowers," Tony grumped.
"Just don't fall down," Wolverine warned. "We're real close to Doom's place."
Marie crept down the stairs to the basement, still favoring her leg a little. She did not want to use the elevator, because in this stillness, the whole house would hear the heavy machine working.
Finally, she reached the bottom and made her way down the cool, dimly-lit corridor. Her breathing tightened, and chills ran up and down her back. The metal tiles were cold beneath her feet. Logan's dog tags jangled softly against her breastbone.
She felt a breath of air and she wrapped her arms around herself, trying not to shiver. Finally, she rounded a corner.
The Night Prince sat in the far corner of his cell, his arms crossed, his head lowered. A shaft of sterile light illuminated him, but the shadows it caused were deep and dark.
Marie halted, careful to make no sound. But he lifted his face anyway and gazed at her.
"Hello, little one," he said quietly. "Come to ask me questions?"
"Here we are," Wolverine murmured, peering through the last row of trees at the many-towered, moonlit mansion.
"Creepy," Tony commented.
"With a name like 'Doom,' what do you expect?" Storm wondered darkly.
"All right, this is probably where we ought to split up," Tony decided. "Webs, Storm and Gabriel, just spread out. You'll probably need to keep an aerial eye out," he pointed at Angel. Angel, silhouetted in the pale light, nodded once. Tony cleared his throat.
"All right. Let's do this thing, guys."
"Stay behind me," Wolverine instructed gruffly, and Bruce and Tony wordlessly stepped out behind him into the whispering field. Tony glanced back. Storm, Angel and Spiderman faded into the darkness of the woods. Tony swallowed. He had to admit it---he was nervous without his suit. He had never gone into a fight without its protection before. He reached down to his belt to feel the reassuring coolness of the gun strapped to his belt.
The mansion loomed up in front of them, casting its shadow over them. Wolverine broke into a steady run, and Bruce and Tony followed quietly. They pressed up against the wall of the mansion and Tony surveyed their surroundings.
"I don't see any windows on the first floor," he whispered.
"We might have to go in through the front gate," Bruce suggested. Wolverine, a mere outline in the blackness, shook his head.
"Nope. That will attract attention." He tapped his earpiece. "Spiderman?"
"Yes, Wolverine?" Tony heard Pete's voice in his own earpiece.
"We need some ups."
"The nearest window is two stories above us."
"Got it. Be right there."
Tony and the other two waited with bated breath until a shadow swooped soundlessly toward them and Spiderman's lean form landed feet away from Bruce.
"Where are Storm and Angel?" Tony asked him.
"Storm is still in the woods," Spiderman answered. "Angel is up there somewhere." He pointed to the sky, then quickly cast his gaze across the side of the towering building. "Okay. Up you go." And he raised his arm, pressed his middle fingers to his palm, and his web shot out and stuck securely to a space just beneath a small window.
"Okay, give it here," Wolverine took this end of the strand in both hands. "Let the big gun go first."
"No argument there," Tony glanced around. "Spidey, we'll probably try to use this exit. Stick around in case we need help, okay?"
"Got it, Chief," he said crisply. Tony watched as Wolverine began hauling himself swiftly upward, and prayed that when he got up that high, he would have the self control not to look down.
Marie stopped still. She swallowed, but kept her expression steely.
"What makes you think I came to see you?"
Night Prince chuckled.
Neither spoke for a moment, then Marie took a brave step toward him.
"All right. Let's pretend I did come down here to see you. It would only be because I wanted answers."
Night Prince shifted.
"And you think I will give them to you?"
Marie thought she detected a small smile on his face. She expected him to give her some sarcastic answer and blow her off---so she was surprised when he spoke softly.
"What would you like to know?"
She tightened her jaw.
"You're working with Nick Fury?"
"Who told you that?" he wondered, though not harshly.
"Ah," Night Prince nodded. "Your one true love." She did hear some sarcasm that time. Marie did not answer it.
"Are you working with Nick Fury?" she pressed.
"I was," he acknowledged. "For one project."
"And what was that?"
"Didn't Iceman tell you?" Night Prince wondered. Marie lifted her chin.
"He told me you two were trying to create the Avengers."
"You don't believe that?"
Marie's eyes narrowed.
"You blew up Tony Stark's house, paralyzed Peter Parker, broke my leg, and almost murdered Logan twice." She lowered her voice. "Sounds like you were trying to kill us."
"But I didn't," Night Prince held up a finger. "Notice that. Everybody healed, as I knew they would. And I didn't even lay a hand on Bobby."
"Why did you take him?" Marie tried to keep her voice from shaking. "What's so special about him?"
"He's calm," Night Prince leaned back against the wall. "Cool, collected, logical. Stark would have given us a bunch of crap---he's used to sustained captivity, and he's far too inquiring. Storm…I wouldn't even try. Spiderman is not well-connected to the mutant world. And the Wolverine---I might as well bring an atom bomb into an airplane with me." Night Prince shifted. "Besides, everybody loves Bobby. The students are fond of him, and the staff is protective of him. He was to be the catalyst, the person that would represent an attack on the vulnerability and nobility of the X-Men and all other superheroes. And it worked splendidly." He grinned and held out his hands.
"You didn't really want his input at all," Marie whispered.
"Oh, no, we did," Night Prince was quick to assure her. "And we were glad to have it, too. If we could get him to quit talking about you."
"He talked about me?"
Night Prince nodded. Marie hesitated.
"What did he say?"
Night Prince laughed and shook his head.
"Oh, it's not what you're thinking. If he'd spent five minutes talking about your good-looks or your charm I would have shut him up. No, what I found most intriguing…and what he was most eager to talk about…" He lifted an eyebrow. "…were your powers."
"That was fun," Tony grunted painfully as he pulled himself over the windowsill into the darkened space beyond. He felt as if his arm-muscles were tearing from their sockets. Bruce, who was apparently in slightly better shape, was not huffing and puffing as badly as Tony. Wolverine looked like he was set to have afternoon tea.
"Okay," Tony panted, reaching in his pocket and pulling out a sensor. "The nerve center of this place looks to be…somewhere in the lower levels. That's where I'd poke around."
"Makes sense," Wolverine acknowledged, taking deep breaths through his nose. "This place seems empty."
"It is," Tony nodded. "I'm not getting any life signs."
"That doesn't necessarily mean anything," Bruce reminded them, hushed. "Doom is very technologically advanced."
"Then let's do what we need to do and get out before he knows we're here," Wolverine said swiftly. "Let's go."
The three padded quietly down the nearly pitch-dark corridor, the floor of which Tony perceived was metal.
"Stairs," Wolverine hoarsely warned, and Tony groped for a railing. He found it, and he hurriedly picked his way down the steps after Wolverine, Bruce right behind.
"Here's the floor," Wolverine realized. Tony hit the bottom moments later, and Bruce right after him.
A loud clang rang through the space. Blinding white light illuminated the vast, white, empty courtyard.
"Guys---!" Tony gasped, reaching for his gun.
"I don't have any powers," Marie stated, confused. Night Prince raised his eyebrows.
"Is that what you think?"
Marie, frustrated that she could not see his face because of the shadows, edged closer."That's what I know," she answered.
"What can you do, then?" he wondered. Marie glanced down.
"When I touch people with my skin, I steal their powers if they're a mutant, and I suck the life out of them." She glanced up at him. He was definitely smiling now. "What?" she demanded.
"So it is true. I never thought this day would come," he confessed quietly. "I thought the last of us had died long ago."
Marie went cold.
"What do you mean?"
He rose to his feet. Fluidly, he stepped toward her, and she could not force herself to move. He came up to the bars, and for a moment, his eyes blazed red.
"We're peas in a pod, you and I."
SHINK! Wolverine's wicked claws shot from his knuckles. The next instant, the floor heaved, like a tablecloth being shaken out, and Tony, Bruce and Wolverine were flung violently to the center of the room. They all managed to keep from slamming too hard into the floor and rolled to their feet, though pain blared through Tony's shoulder. The floor flattened again.
"What the heck was that?" Tony exclaimed.
"I think he knows we're here," Wolverine growled, glaring at the metal walls of the courtyard. The walls that were moving.
"What's that?" Bruce pointed.
"Storm," Tony said, pressing a shaking hand to his earpiece. As they stared, a hundred chambers opened in the walls. The gleaming nozzles of machine guns peaked out.
"Yes, Tony?" Storm's voice crackled. Tony cleared his throat and spoke quietly.
The guns fired.
Marie was frozen, captured by his haunting gaze.
"What are you?" she said through her teeth. Night Prince's pale, handsome, narrow face tilted toward her between the bars, but he did not reach up to grasp the metal that held him.
"I am called an Obyri. It's an old Slavic word. I'm a mutant."
"And…what can you do?" Marie asked, her voice hoarse.
"The same thing you can," He folded his arms. "I can touch people and take life from them. But I can also do many other things. I can see in the dark, hear like a bat, I'm extremely durable, fairly strong and cold-blooded---although I do bleed and it hurts---I heal quickly…and I live a very long time."
"How old are you?" Marie asked, feeling her curiosity pulling her dangerously into his speech, but being unable to resist.
"I lost track a while ago," he waved it off, turning back toward his corner. "Perhaps four-hundred."
Marie was staggered.
"I don't believe that."
"Doesn't matter if you believe it or not. Doesn't change the facts. The use of my powers gives me longevity."
Marie stared at him a long time, weighing his words. Then, she decided to risk another question.
"Why aren't there more of you?" Marie asked. He chuckled bitterly.
"Oh, a family member of mine enjoyed his wars too much. And he established himself in a very scary castle and didn't invite anyone to visit. So people began looking for an excuse to massacre his people. A rumor started that he didn't touch people to take their life---he sucked blood from their throats."
Marie's stomach clenched and her eyes widened. However, she could not speak because her mouth didn't work. Night Prince went on anyway, carefully studying her face.
"His name was Dracula. Yes, he was real---not just in a book. And yes, Obyri evolved into another word." He raised his eyebrows pointedly. "I am a vampire, little one. And so are you."
Tony threw himself under the staircase, hearing the bullets ping like a rainstorm on the floor behind him. But some of them thudded against something softer and solid---and when he landed under the stairs, a bleeding Logan crashed to the ground right next to him. He had shielded Tony and taken the bullets in his back.
Logan groaned, his eyes squeezing shut, and laid down. Tony snatched fistfuls of Logan's jacket.
"Are you okay?" he roared, shaking him. Another salvo of fire exploded over their heads, shattering against the metal stairs.
"Not like I've never been shot before!" Logan answered loudly over the thunder. Tony lifted his head.
Logan, forcefully clearing his eyes, sat up and looked around furtively. But neither man saw him.
"Crap," Logan hissed.
"That's not possible." Marie's voice trembled. "I can't be like you."
"Why not?" Night Prince held out his hands.
"Because…Because I can't see in the dark or hear like a bat and I…age normally and I'm not cold," Marie said in a fearful rush.
"Oh, the cold sets in about your 300th year," he told her. "And you can't do the other things because you haven't set your mind to it."
"Obyri powers, unlike any other mutant abilities, are strictly psychological," he began. "You have to believe, totally, that you can do whatever it is you are trying to do. If you believe you can jump off a building and land without hurting yourself, you can." He looked at her pointedly. "If you believe you can touch someone without hurting them…you can."
Marie's heart thudded in her chest. She clenched her hands into fists.
"You're just saying that."
"No, I'm not," he shook his head. "How would any of us be able to have families if we could never touch anybody else? Our kind has survived for nearly a thousand years. We taught our talents to our children, in our homes. That's why your precious professor Xavier couldn't help you. He had no idea what you are."
"Why would I want to live forever?" Marie demanded. "Why would I want to be young while all of my friends get old and die?"
"All of them?" he cocked his head. "How old is your clawed constant companion? By the look in his eye---and that alone, I suppose---I would wager upwards of a hundred."
"Logan?" Marie gasped. "A hundred?"
Night Prince nodded once.
"He ages very, very slowly, probably because of his healing abilities. He wouldn't get old and die and leave you."
Marie gazed at him for what felt like an eternity, letting that sink in. Finally, Night Prince took a breath and stuck his hand through the bars. Marie jerked.
"Relax. I just want you to try something," he said easily. "Grab my hand."
"What's the worst that can happen? I'm behind bars," he reminded her.
"I could kill you," she murmured.
He looked at her blankly.
"And you think that's bad because…?"
"That's…a good point…" Marie said shakily.
"You can't hurt me, Rogue," he said in a hard voice. "I'm not afraid of you, and you can't hurt me." His eyes pierced. "Grab my hand."
The floor heaved again. But it wasn't the same as before. Tony sat up. An ear-splitting, beastly roar shook the air. Tony's mouth fell open.
A towering, massive monster, seemingly made of rippling, pulsing muscle, his hide thick as tar and so green he was almost black, stood in the middle of the room, shredded clothes hanging off him. His eyes blazed, and his white teeth snarled. He took a wrecking-ball of a fist and swung it into the wall. It punched through, shaking the whole structure, and sending metal and stone flying into the air. Now, all the machine-gun fire concentrated on the Hulk. He roared, more in fury than pain, as the bullets bounced off his skin. But then another weapon powered up.
It was a laser---a green, piercing shaft of light that sliced from one side of the room to the other in brief spurts, originating from a different place each time it fired. It singed the air, and filled it with the stench of ozone. It also cut the floor and walls apart like butter. Even the Hulk couldn't withstand that.
"We've got to disable these weapons," Tony gasped to Logan.
"How do we do that?" he demanded.
"I'll find the control console on this level. Then you slice it apart."
Logan met his eyes.
"Sounds like a plan."
Marie was afraid of him. And his hand looked hard as marble. His whole aura seemed impenetrable, invincible---terrible. She swallowed as she realized that her measly ability probably had no chance of doing anything to him. In fact, he would probably suck her dry. But her curiosity burned, and before she knew it she was stretching out her bare hand toward his.
She grasped it. His chilly fingers closed around hers. Nothing happened.
She stared at their clasped hands. He did not move, nor tighten his grip. They stood that way for a full minute, neither of them twitching a muscle.
"There, you see?" Vicar said quietly, finally letting her hand slide out of his.
"How…?" Marie rasped.
"Like I said, it's all psychological."
"But…" Marie's brow knotted in bewildered concentration. "Sometimes I've hurt people and sometimes I haven't. I kissed one boy and I put him in a coma. I kissed another and nothing happened for…I don't know, half a minute. And when I broke my leg, I was on this painkiller that made me be able to touch people---"
Vicar shook his head.
"No. That painkiller must have been a placebo."
"What do you mean?"
"If you're totally relaxed, you can't hurt anybody. The painkiller relieved you, so you were relaxed, and when you touched people you didn't hurt them."
"So…when I touched people later…that was all me?" Marie gasped. He nodded sincerely. Marie covered her mouth with her hand, overwhelmed.
"There's little tricks you can learn, mind games you can play with yourself to help you maintain that security, that confidence, so you won't hurt people," he informed her. "Then, if you do wish to hurt somebody, you grab them and will yourself to suck them dry, and you can."
"I'd never want to do that," Marie said sharply.
"Don't be so sure," he answered back coldly, arching an eyebrow. "If an enemy was trying to kill one of your friends, I'm sure you would have no objection."
Tony spotted the small console in the far corner. But in order to get to it, they would have to leave the shelter of the staircase. So they did the only thing they could think of.
They made a run for it.
They raced along the wall, making themselves difficult targets. Wolverine roared as he charged, rivaling the hammering of the gunfire. Tony shot back up at the machine guns as he ran, hoping to take at least one or two of them out so they wouldn't hit Bruce.
He felt blood splatter against his face before he heard a distinct shot. He slowed down.
Wolverine whirled, his claws extended. Tony staggered slightly. Wolverine's eyes flashed, and he tackled Tony.
Instantly, Logan pressed his hands down hard over the right half of Tony's chest. That sent agony lancing through Tony---agony he had not felt since the grenade.
He screamed. So did Logan---bullets bit into Logan's back and head and arms. Tony choked, feeling warmth seep out of him. And for the second time in his life, he smelled death.
Marie looked down at her hand, still eerily stunned that she had not harmed Night Prince.
"You don't suck people's blood," she ventured. He laughed.
"No. The very idea…"
She lifted her head.
"Would you teach me?"
"To do what?" he canted his head.
"To…control my skin."
"Why would I do that?" he airily wanted to know. Marie shrugged.
"You don't have anything else to do. You're locked in a cell."
"Good point," he chuckled. "Although I'm not sure that Wolverine and Stark would be too happy about me getting to close to you. Especially the Wolverine."
"Maybe they'll relax now that you've told them you were actually helping them get the team together." Marie tried not to roll her eyes.
"I didn't tell them."
"Why not?" she frowned.
"They didn't ask. They just beat me up."
"Then you can tell them when they get back."
"Ah, yes, they're out on a mission." Vicar sat back down in his corner. "Off to pay a visit to my old friend the Kingpin."
Marie looked at him.
"No. They're going to Dr. Doom."
Vicar turned his head.
"They took a group and they're going to investigate Dr. Doom," Marie clarified. "They think he's stolen something---"
Vicar leaped to his feet, lunged and grabbed the bars. Marie leaped back, but Vicar's eyes were wide with dread.
"Oh, tell me you misheard them," he said urgently. She shook her head, her heart starting to pound.
"No, I'm sure. That's where they're going."
Vicar swore, shaking the bars and backing up from them. He leaned back against the wall and covered his face with his hand.
"What's wrong?" Marie demanded, starting to tremble.
"They're going to get killed," he muttered. "They're going to get killed because they didn't listen to me."