Tarnished

A X-Men Fanfiction

Written and expanded upon by RogueMoon

Original Idea by Peppymint

Posted and continued with permission of Peppymint

Chapter Seven

::: :::

The door to her bedroom was flung open with abandon. He had to see her, to see that she was alright, that the wail he heard from the drive was not her last. The air was thick with sickness, but he could see her. See her moving, curling in on herself, body wracked with silent sobs.

"Rebecca!" He calls out, heading to her, the woman he had forgotten he loved. Foolishly forgotten in his grief and obsession for the last two years.

"Please, sir! Quiet. I have only just calmed the poor girl," the attending doctor stepped in his path.

Nathaniel hesitated, looking to his fellow for a shred of hope, "But... but the child..."

"Is dead, good sir. Born prematurely. Perhaps induced by some sudden stress," the man was sympathetic. He had helped birth the couple's first child some six years before. He was a kind man, a well practiced doctor. Had the baby been able to be saved, he would have been the one to do it.

Nathaniel nodded and moved past him, going to her beside and kneeling down. He had so much to apologize for. His arms brushed over her sides as he leaned against her chest in a desperate embrace. She was only half awake, but that didn't matter. She would still hear him as he whispered to her, "Oh, Rebecca. I am so sorry. Please... forgive me. But this is not the end, my love. When Adam died... I withdrew from you. You suffered alone. But I swear, on my life, you shall never be alone again. I realize now that you mean more to me than my work. More to me than science... I have returned to you, sweet Rebecca. We shall live again. We shall laugh again."

A hand came to rest on his shoulder. The birthing doctor, giving him a small squeeze of comfort, "Mister Essex... please wring what solace you can from these last precious moments with your wife, for I am afraid her time grows shorter with each passing moment."

"No! Rebecca, you cannot die!" His eyes, filled just a heartbeat ago with joyful tears, widened at the words.

"Courage, man. There is nothing to be done," The doctor pulled his hand away and took his nurse by the elbow, leading her away to give the couple time alone. Whatever time they had left.

"Nath....Nathaniel..." Rebecca spoke with labored breaths, eyes on her husbands' face as she gripped his hand in hers. "...my husband...you ask for my forgiveness. This... I cannot... give you."

"Rebecca!" His voice was hollow.

One finger shook as it struggled to lay against his lips, "Shhh... let me speak while I can... I loved you, Nathaniel Essex. At first... it was only duty... but I grew to love you... with all my heart."

He shook his head violently and pressed her hand to his lips, kissing the fingers, eyes shut, "No! It is to cruel! I refuse to let you die!"

"Some things are beyond... even your power, Nathaniel," She replied almost calmly, sadly. "If only you could have accepted that... things might have been different."

"Things can be different!" He was pleading with her now. His only love, his reason for living. "I have turned my back on the monster I might have become!"

"I was so proud of you. You were so brilliant. So... romantic, in your own way. But after Adam died, you became twisted. Twisted... and cruel."

"Cruel? No, I never meant to be... No. You are right. As ever, dear Rebecca," another kiss to her hand, "you are thoroughly right. And I am damnably... wrong." His fingers cupped her cheek, hope in those brown eyes, "But you must hold on... I shall save you... I shall use all my genius!"

"Your genius!" she said it like a curse and glared at him, pushing his hand away from her face. "See where your so-called genius has brought us, Nathaniel! In the end I felt, and feel... no love for you. Your... genius has seen to that." The angrier she was, the harder her breathing became. Still she continued, "You are my husband, but you... disgust me! You have made me lose... my child... to me... you are... utterly... and contemptibly... sinister!"

Death claimed her with that final word, a rattle of air pushing it from her lungs before her hand falls limp in his. He stands woodenly, her fingers slipping from him as he looks down upon his only hope for redemption. His only hope for a life not as a monster... she had taken it from him with her love, because love cannot conquer all. His love could not make her forgive him for his obsession. His love could not keep her alive.

Love was meaningless.

::: :::

The sledgehammer broke apart another tombstone. Another marker of those whose blood and bone brought Nathaniel into the world. Another slab of stone bearing the name Essex inscribed with pious scriptures. Every grave in the family cemetery dating back to who knows when. The oldest memorials had long since had their names weathered away by wind and time.

And when they are all destroyed, all smashed and broken... he is still Nathaniel Essex. He is still a man who lost everything he cared about because of his own blind obsession.

"Oh dear god... if only... if only I could turn back time!" he whispers as he stands over the decimated marker of Adams' grave. He doesn't need to see the now scattered words to know what it once said. His head leaned back and he looked into the night sky, so clear and beautiful and at odds with the pain. It should have been raining. "No... fool! There is no god. And time is not a highway..." He brought the pistol to his head and cocked it, finger wrapping around the trigger, "...down which we can travel."

He was still the monster of a man, Nathaniel Essex, and there was but one way to escape from that.

So why couldn't he pull the trigger?

::: :::

He woke slowly. Eyes refusing his command to open them, lids stuck together with the dry salt of tears long since shed. When had he been crying? More importantly, why?

He pushed the thick blanket off himself and strode toward the bathroom with that half-awake lack of grace that afflicted so many of his fellow man. He was still like the baseline humans in so many ways. He still needed to sleep, to eat. He was driven by his passions. But he was also so much more than them now. He was like unto a god. A god without the pointless morals or emotions that held mortal man back from all he could achieve.

So what had made him cry? Surely it couldn't be the memories of his last hours as a mere human. He felt nothing in regards to them during his waking hours. They couldn't possibly cause him grief in his sleep. He was far to experienced a telepath to not know what his subconscious mind was up to.

And yet...

He paused in his trek, eyes finding the water damaged music box. It no longer played. He had dropped it on the rain soaked streets of London following the funeral of Darwin. Dear Charles to whom he had left the future when he became Sinister. He dropped it to prove that Nathaniel Essex was dead and he had let go of it all.

His pale fingers lifted the brass box to open the casing and look upon fair Rebecca. The glass covering her portrait cracked and broken. The picture bubbled and warped and browned beyond repair. She smiled back at him despite it all. A handsome woman. Eyes, dark. Jaw, delicate. Cheekbones, lofty. Skin, rather like milk. Lips...

The music box returned to him in 1914. It was on display in the window of a used goods store, the brass still fine enough to fetch a few pence. He hadn't meant to stop. Hadn't meant to enter and find other items that once belonged to his family, to Milbury house. Little things, like the rabbit and some candle sticks and even her wedding dress, lace yellowed and silk cracked with age. He hadn't meant to buy it all and take it home, store it in a metal box lined with black velvet and lock it all away.

He hadn't ever meant to open that box again.

He could probably fix the mechanism that made the music. Have a new glass plate made to cover her face. But what would the point be in such action, indulging in the sentimentality he shouldn't feel? Indulging in the sentimentality that ghosted through his mind just beyond his ability to control. The box snapped shut and was put back on its shelf.

He continued with his morning routine. Showered, no need to shave, brushed his teeth because he liked the cleanliness of the act and changed his appearance to a normal human one before getting dressed in mundane clothing. He was meeting with Carla Davidson for brunch and then to discuss what would be required of him so far as follow up appointments after Remy was returned to him. She was confident the paternity test would settle everything and just the basic legal paperwork would need to go through final processing before he could take custody of his child.

She was such a useful tool.

::: :::

He met her at a small diner sitting next to a daycare center. She smiled and greeted him with a handshake, "Doctor Essex. Thank you for coming out here."

"It was no issue. Though I confess I am curious as to why you insisted on this... establishment," he couldn't quite keep the disdain from his voice. The place wasn't exactly the cleanest by any stretch of the imagination and the noise from the daycare, the shrieks of overly sugared and active children piercing the air, made it difficult to believe a meal could be enjoyed there.

She laughed and blushed slightly when he pulled her chair out for her, "You are quite the gentleman, Doctor. I actually have appointments to see several of the children and their guardians next door this afternoon for follow ups. It was convenient for me."

"Ah, I see," he murmured, taking his own seat and ordering a black coffee with wheat toast, no butter from the waitress who had been waiting for him to finally sit down. Carla ordered blintzes and they dived quickly into the discussion they had come for. It was terribly dry and business-like, interspersed with only a few jokes and light, comfortable flirting on both parts. Nothing serious as she was married and he had no real interest in her beyond keeping her inclined to like him.

When the meeting was finished, it really wasn't enough to count as a meal, the doctor escorted her next door, holding the doors for her as a gentleman should. It was rather pleasant to act on the common courtesies he had been raised with so long ago. So many women thought they had to be 'independent' and would not allow a man to act politely. Carla had no superfluous illusions.

Once inside the daycare, the two were accosted by children running around apparently without supervision. Appearances could be deceiving, of course. Though, if they were, it was a very good deception. After the fourth pass of the same two shrieking and giggling four-year-olds playing tag and deciding his legs were the perfect tunnel, he grabbed them by their collars and lifted them easily to look him in the eyes. His expression was mild as Carla let out a soft gasp and he raised an eyebrow at the two, "Do play elsewhere. My legs are not toys."

The kids nodded, eyes wide and full of the wonder and blossoming adoration that came from seeing an adult do something 'cool'. Such as easily lifting two children off the ground. Essex set them back down and they ran off to the other side of the room as Carla cringed and mouthed 'sorry' to him before a worker finally noticed them and waved. Mrs. Davidson waved back and yelled over the noise, "You can leave anytime, Doctor. Thank you for escorting me inside."

He grinned and waved politely while she walked off. But he didn't leave, instead going to the waiting area and sitting down, legs crossed as he watched the children continue their chaotic rule of the center. Both inside and out on the playground visible through the glass, the source of the dissonance heard at the diner. He was hidden from view of the general facilities, Carla out of his view and he out of hers. That was preferable.

Nathaniel Essex rather liked children. They were innocent, little bundles of nature's promise. Delicate, fragile, full of life. It was for them that he had begun his work. So that no more of those tiny bodies would have to suffer the same fate as Adam. To be born weak and pointlessly, randomly, mutated in a way that served no purpose for the continuation of the species. Rebecca hadn't understood him. That he had done it for Adam... for her and their unborn child. For mankind and the great mutation.

One of the little brats he had picked up spotted him and veered in his run around the room, coming over to him, arms stretched out and imitating a plane. Little could he know, could anyone know, that he might actually have the possibility for flight within his DNA. The child tugged at his pants and once he was sure he had the doctor's attention, held his arms up and jumped in place.

Essex smirked at the request to be picked up, clear even to those who could not read minds. He leaned over his knees and looked the child in the eyes, "Do you want to be a plane today?"

The kid shook his head and bit at his nails, "No. I want to be a space man!"

"Is that so? You intend for me to be your rocket ship, then?"

The kid grinned and nodded his head. The doctor chuckled and pulled a small candy from his pocket, handing it to the boy and then ruffling his hair before turning him around and giving a gentle push, "I am not a rocket ship, child. Go play with your friends."

The boy no longer cared about flying, he had candy to preoccupy him and he ran off with the treat in his mouth. Essex shook for a moment with soft laughter at the pleasant and innocent, unsullied thoughts of the boy. He shut his eyes and leaned back, expanding his senses to listen to all the children there. So much pure delight and wonder. The occasional bout of pain or anger quickly dissipated by the reassurance of an adult.

He hadn't indulged his senses like that in years and it was rather relaxing to take some time to do so. Carla left while he sat there, never even noticing him. The daycare emptied out over the hours and his presence went unheeded until 6pm when the center closed for the day. A few children still remained, and would until their parents, late to pick them up, came. The discord of the lone worker's thoughts at having to stay late brought him out of his revelry.

He stood and dusted himself off, drawing the attention of the children and the worker, a woman in her thirties with nothing better to do than go home and watch TV. She had no reason to complain, even in her own head. Her demeanor brightened at seeing him, instant attraction for an decent looking older man with no ring on his finger, but not so old he could be her own father.

"Oh! I didn't see you there sir. I'm so sorry, can I help you?"

He smiled politely at her, it didn't reach his eyes, but she didn't seem to notice, "Just observing. I am in the process of gaining custody of my son... his mother kept him from me... and was merely interested in how your facilities were run." He nodded at the children who were sitting on the carpet staring at him, "You seem to do quite well with keeping them occupied and in line. What is the oldest you take?"

"Cut off is at six for public schooled and eight for home schooled," She replied pleasantly. "How old is your son?"

"Eight."

"How long til he turns nine?"

"About two months."

"A bit old then."

"So it seems," he agreed, smiling at the children. This one did reach his eyes as he wiggled his fingers in a wave. "Do you mind if I stay for a bit longer? I love children."

She shook her head, any fears she might have had over him easily dissipated with a mental push, "Nope. Could use the company."

::: :::

End Chapter

Author's Note: Memory scenes and dialogue come from "The Further Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix" which was, essencially, the origin story of Mr. Sinister. He is portrayed as having a soft spot for children throughout the book and in most of his comic appearances that actually involve a child under the age of ten.