Title: Branded (1)

Author: Wolverine6Claws

Rating: R, violence

Characters: X-Men, team

Word count: 6273

Disclaimer: The X-Men, Morlocks, Marauders, Power Pack, X-Factor, Thor, Sabretooth, Magneto and all other known heroes and sinister ministers belong to Marvel Industries and its partners. The only thing I own is this particular alternate story depicting what this author believes may have happened during and after the Mutant Massacre if Gambit had actually been found alive in the tunnels after this great siege and slaughter of his own kind.

Summary: A/U – On Sinister's orders, Gambit assembles The Marauders and leads the psychotic gang into the Morlock's underground lair. He is found after the slaughter by the surviving X-Men and their allies and brought back to the mansion as a prisoner.

Author's Note: Some of the facts have been altered in order to fit this version of that story. You may recognize some things from the comics but others have been added or detailed more for your enjoyment (I hope).

~~~Part One~~~

Logan hadn't been himself in weeks and it was really no wonder to the other X-Men. They all had taken their share of hits from the Hellfire Club and the Acolytes and just about anyone and everyone else who'd come along lately. Wolverine and Nightcrawler had taken the most of what should have been, for the most part, fatal wounds. They were lucky to come away from the latest encounters with only debilitating injuries, but they took time to heal. Both men were still recovering and getting rather restless at this point and, while Logan tried to find his peace with his limitations and stay physically active by doing light chores around the estate, Kurt was finding his entertainment through playful mischief.

Kurt had lost his ability to teleport for a while and was gaining it back slowly as time healed his wounds, but Wolverine's healing factor had been taxed beyond his ability to heal with his usual super human speed. That weighed heavily on the feral's mind and was affecting his mood. Of course his mood was never really sunshiny bright to begin with, so that detail hadn't changed much. His main concern now though was his limited ability to protect himself and his friends, should an emergency arise, so the sooner he was completely healed and his powers were at maximum strength again, the better he'd feel.

Kurt was starting to feel a bit better though and was out and about looking for his old friend when he came across Logan out near the stables. He'd been keeping himself scarce, and busy, by doing farming chores around the paddocks and cleaning out stables or stacking hay bales. Kurt smiled and thought he'd sneak up on his old friend.

*BAMF*

"Surprise!" he greeted as he suddenly appeared above Logan's head. "Wie geht es…"

"Nighcrawler!" Logan growled in surprise before Kurt lost his strength and fell into his arms.

"…Inhen?" Kurt finished his traditional German greeting slumped in Wolverine's arms.

"Real cute move, Elf. What were you tryin' to prove with that stunt?" Logan asked.

"Thought I was… well enough… to tele… port," Kurt replied between breaths.

"Yeh? Well, you thought wrong, bub," Logan informed him and put his friend carefully down on his feet. He waited as Kurt got his legs under him and watched him closely.

"My error, mein freund. We are some pair, ja? Worked over so bad we're pretty much useless."

"Yep. So take it easy, wouldja? We need to heal up an' get back out there. Pullin' these stunts ain't helpin' nobody," Logan told him.

"Ja, you are correct. What say we drown our sorrows in the time-honored traditional way then?" Kurt offered.

"You got it," Logan accepted and drove the pitchfork into a stack of hay. "Yer buyin'," he added.

"I zink we should toss a coin for zat honor," Kurt countered somberly.

"Yer idea, yer coin, bub," Logan pointed out as the pair turned to walk back to the mansion.

They hadn't walked ten yards when the earth began to tremble and shake violently under their feet. The ground beneath them erupted upward, tossing the two X-Men into the air. They landed haphazardly on the grass a few yards from where they originally had stood and rolled over to witness the disruption.

Both X-Men blinked in shock when a large, lizard-like creature emerged from the hole in the ground. It was wounded and obviously exhausted to the point of being near death. They recognized the creature as Lucid, a member of the Morlock tribe they'd met not too long ago; he possessed a beaked face with large yellow eyes and was forced to live underground and out of sight like the other Morlocks, due to his appearance.

"X-Men! Aid us!" Lucid implored them. "Beg thee, do I, for… salvation! Strangers… in the Alley… they kill… Morlocks… dying."

He'd obviously barely escaped the mayhem unfolding in the tunnels and had made his way to the X-men's mansion seeking help. With his dying breath he explained the chaos unfolding beneath their feet and pleaded for the X-Men to help the Morlocks. Wolverine and Nightcrawler summoned the others to put them on alert and then took him and his report to Storm and her new team.

The nurse tended to the Morlock's medical needs, but his wounds were more than she could manage. "Multiple blade and gunshot wounds… massive internal trauma… pulverized bone… it's a miracle he was able to reach us," she stated.

"Desperation breeds miracles," Wolverine interjected. "You pick up anything, Bets?" he asked the newest member of the team, Betsy Braddock. Not only was she a telepath, but she was also sister to Captain Britain. With all of the original X-Men having gone off to form their own team, now known as X-Factor, the newly reformed team had needed a replacement for Jeannie and Betsy was the best available candidate.

This was the first time Betsy had been asked to step up; she was yet unproven and not yet quite accepted as a full-fledged member of the X-Men's team. She hesitated only briefly as Wolverine's question had surprised her. "Yes. I saw in his dying memories… a cadre of violent beings… super villains, if you will… they are massacring every living thing inside the Morlock tunnels."

"What? No!" Ororo exclaimed. These were her people now, both the X-Men and the Morlocks.

"We getting' involved in this, Storm?" Logan asked.

"I lead the Morlocks as well as the X-Men, Logan," she told him. "Of course we must go to their rescue."

"With you there, Boss," he agreed.

"This time, I must have your obedience, my friend," she told Wolverine straight out. "I must have your trust."

"You have it," he assured her. He would never second guess her orders again. Not after the last time. Logan's feral nature often caused him to rebuke the best judgments of others; forsaking their authority in favor of his own instincts for survival. That hadn't turned out so well for them then.

"Magik," Storm turned to Colossus' little sister, Illyana. She possessed the ability to teleport through time and space by creating portals through another dimension; much like Kurt did, but she could teleport the entire team from the mansion to the Morlock tunnels forty miles away and as an entire group. Normally she wasn't with the X-Men, but was a member of a team of young trainees called the New Mutants. She and her teammates were being honed to be the new generation of Charles Xavier's X-Men in the coming years. However, Illyana had come to the mansion this week to visit her brother and now her ability would prove useful to the senior team.

Once the team was prepared for the incursion and the conflict ahead, newcomers and veterans alike were transported by Magik's power and, in a blink of an eye, re-materialized in the underground lair of the Morlocks. They suddenly found themselves beneath the streets of Manhattan standing amidst dozens of mangled bodies strewn far and wide.

~o0O0o~

"Goddess!" Storm exclaimed in a breathless whisper.

This was the main entrance to the largest Morlock tunnel, known as "The Alley" by the underground residents. Buried a mile beneath the bustling city of New York and running the entire length of Manhattan, it was a massive maze that the X-Men didn't know all that well. It was the very same tunnel that had set the stage for the classic battle between the Morlock leader, Callisto and the X-Men's Storm, who had fought for leadership of the subterranean tribe of disfigured misfits only a few months before. Storm had defeated Callisto and had taken over as leader of the Morlocks. But Storm knew too that she couldn't live her life below the streets; not just because of her claustrophobia but because she had important work to do above ground, so she allowed Callisto to continue to lead the Morlock band in her stead, acting as her second-in-command in her absence.

On this night those same tunnels had become the stage for the bloodiest mass murder in planetary history – an incomprehensible scene of mayhem and slaughter as hundreds of helpless innocents were struck down.

~o0O0o~

Awakened from peaceful sleep and forced from their beds by shouts, shots and underground tremors; men, women, and children found themselves thrust into an unimaginable nightmare of terror. Suddenly facing the very real threat of imminent annihilation - of extermination - they ran for their lives.

The great tunnels that had once been their home; their sanctuary from the world above that despised them and their very existence, were now a maze of traps and ambushes. The well-known darkness that had once brought a sense of safety was now filled with the stench of fear and death.

The Morlock citizens ran in panic. Many tried to help those who were slower or weaker than themselves only to fall dead atop those whom they were trying to save. They fell in pairs, in small groups and by the dozens. Many died slowly and painfully and others died quickly, many died in large groups like lambs to slaughter and still others died terrified and alone at the hands of their murderers. All throughout the Morlock tunnels there was mayhem and murder.

Another shockwave raced down the tunnel annexes, knocking them off their feet and disorienting them. In the smoke and confusion and lack of direction a group hovered like terrified cattle waiting for their slaughter as the tunnel walls crumbled over their heads and came crashing down atop them, killing and burying Arclight's victims in one swift move.

Scalphunter kicked open doors and fired his weapon indiscriminately at anything that moved. His personal kill count mounted by the seconds and his laughter echoed off the walls.

Riptide blew through the tunnels mowing down anyone in his way. His cyclonic spinning gave great velocity to his myriad arsenal of bladed weapons that sliced through flesh and bone at hundreds of miles an hour; slicking off arms and legs and even decapitating a few.

Harpoon laughed with abandon as his powered spears bore through his victims, impaling and eviscerating. Spilled guts and entrails on the dirt floor made escape treacherous footing for those still running for their lives. In their shock and trauma they gave up trying to hurdle the bodies of their friends, now not even noticing them as obstacles. Many hit the slippery entrails at a full run and lost their footing, landing hard on the spilled intestines of their friends only to be stampeded by those behind them coming down on their positions like a tsunami wave of pure terror and panic. Bones crunched under foot, screams rose toward the ceiling and shots rang out; gunfire echoing deafeningly loud in the hollowed out tunnel system.

Sabretooth strode through the tunnels, reaching out and grabbing his victims by the throat; simply squeezing his fingers and tearing out their vocal cords with his three inch claws as they tried to scream or begged for mercy. Saliva dripped in long slimy ribbons from his cat-like fangs as he thrilled with each kill; his bloodlust spurring him on and the scent of warm blood filled his nostrils, making him salivate. Hunting down another victim, he'd pounce on them from the shadows; his six and a half foot, 300 pound frame driving them into the packed dirt before tearing them limb from limb.

It was a night that would be indelibly etched in their memories for the rest of their lives; those that survived anyway. Even those who would survive this night may not be able to fully recall the events that were unfolding around them, but the effects of the event and of the aftermath would be long-lived by all who witnessed it.

~ o0O0o~

The X-Men had materialized in the main hub of the large tunnel system, at the entrance to The Alley, and quickly spread out to cover all angles until they were able to get their bearings. The atmosphere was dark and rather quiet, nothing at all what they expected after the report they'd been given by the mortally wounded Lucid back at the mansion. They'd expected to port into an ongoing conflagration with gunshots and explosions and mayhem. They stood quietly for a moment, allowing their vision to adjust to the sudden darkness as Logan sniffed at the stale and stagnant air.

"Wolverine?" Storm asked.

"I got Morlock scents close by," Wolverine informed his companions. "Better brace yourselves though," he advised. "This won't be pretty."

The scent of the Morlock residents wasn't all his sensitive nose was picking up; the odor of sweat and blood and terror reeked inside the underground lair. Wolverine shook his head as if trying to fend off the offending stench and Storm frowned at the action, she'd never seen him react that way before and she tried to brace herself as he had warned.

Storm and Wolverine led the X-Men a short distance down the tunnel and came upon a dozen more bodies strewn about including the Morlock's former leader.

"Callisto!" Storm called as she ran to her. As she gathered up her second-in-command in her arms, Callisto's eye opened to take in the sight of the X-Men standing over her.

"Storm," Callisto greeted, raising her hand and Storm clasped it.

"She is wounded, but she lives," Ororo informed her team.

Kitty and Peter were moving from one body to the next, looking for anyone who had survived the onslaught. They were coming up empty as they gingerly checked each body for signs of life. When they reached the last of the group, Colossus turned toward Kitty and Illyana.

"You two remain with Storm while I search for more survivors."

Kitty now stood in shock, looking upon the scene. "My cousin once worked in a slaughter house… he took me on a tour once. It smelled just like this," she said, then turned to Colossus and grabbed his arm. "Oh Peter, I knew some of these people. They were my friends!"

"I know," he replied, laying a comforting hand over hers.

"Better watch our step, Cat or we'll find ourselves in the same way," Wolverine interjected. He was staring down the adjacent tunnel, his head held low in concentration. He caught everyone's attention when he suddenly straightened in urgency and shouted. "Heads up, people! We got trouble!"

Before anyone could move to react they were struck by Vertigo's concussive sonic wave. The younger members of the team were sent reeling and fell to the ground disoriented. The older veterans felt as though they'd had the wind knocked out of them, leaving them slightly light-headed for a moment, but Colossus, Storm, Wolverine and Nightcrawler were able to remain on their feet. They'd danced to Vertigo's music before and were becoming accustomed to the effects of her sonic powers. Although she was no lightweight, it was her partner who was of more concern to them.

"They're all yours, Rip. Cut 'em loose from life," she said with a leering grin.

Riptide laughed in glee and began his death spin. Standing beside Vertigo, Riptide's momentum turned cyclonic and then the knives and shurikens were let loose, ripping into flesh and tearing protective coverings to shreds.

"Ahh!" Storm shouted as she was grazed by a sharp edge. She curled over Callisto to try to protect her as she lay wounded on the floor.

Kitty quickly phased to her intangible state and took Illyana with her to protect the young girl.

Colossus moved quickly to shield the wounded with his metal form as Wolverine's claws shot out to fend off the attack. He was able to deflect most of the sharp objects with his foot long metal claws while Nightcrawler teleported out of target range. Wolverine was shocked and dismayed to see that Kurt had intentions of dealing with Riptide himself.

In a cloud of sulfur he reappeared in front of the killer cyclone and kicked out hard, catching Riptide with the ball of his foot hard in the face at high speed, knocking the marauder out cold. He then turned and grabbed onto Vertigo.

"You are very good at dishing out ze misery, Fraulein. Let us see how well you can take it," he told her and then began to teleport in short spurts around the area. This was a tactic he'd used in the past on both Wolverine and Sabretooth when each had been in the grip of an uncontrolled feral rage. The quick bursts in and out of the other dimensional forces caused his passengers to become weak and disoriented, some would even pass out.

"Careful, Elf," Wolverine advised. "You may not be up to that amount of 'porting yet. Stay close so we can cover you if we have to."

When Kurt stopped teleporting he'd managed to not only disorient the murdering mutant but he'd knocked her unconscious. Unfortunately though for him, he'd also expended most of his own energy taking her out of the fight. He didn't notice Riptide suddenly appearing beside him until Logan yelled a warning.

"Nightcrawler! Port outta there now!"

Kurt had a split second to react, but he had nothing left to save himself. Riptide rotated into funnel form again and engulfed Nightcrawler, shredding his flesh with his bladed weapons before scooping up Vertigo and leaving the area.

"Kurt!" Storm yelled and ran to his side as the others gathered up their wounded teammates. She knelt beside his bloodied body and grasped his wrist. "I feel a pulse. We still have a chance to save him."

"Oh Storm, he's cut all over," Kitty said as she knelt beside her. "There's so much blood."

"Find me a cloth or something to use as bandages," Storm requested. Nightcrawler had been nearly shredded with hundreds of deep gashes all over his body and his uniform was in tatters as he lay unconscious in a pool of his own blood.

Kitty scavenged a torn shirt from one of the nearby casualties and gave it to Storm. She looked up as Rogue stepped past her to stand beside Wolverine as he kept watch at the tunnel junction.

"I've got that creep's scent," Logan growled. "He can run all he wants, but he can't hide."

"You got that right," Rogue agreed.

"Magik!" Storm called to Illyana as she finished securing the bandage around Kurt's abdomen. Some his soft tissue injuries were deep and near exposing major organs. "I need you to teleport the wounded back to the mansion."

"Everyone is wounded, Storm," Illyana replied.

"If we're standing, we ain't that wounded," Logan growled.

Storm nodded in agreement. "Take just those who are severely wounded."

"I'll take them straight to the infirmary. You want me to return with reinforcements?" the young girl asked.

"No! This killing ground is no place for the New Mutants, child. You stay at the mansion and be quick, these lives depend on you," Storm told her.

"I will. Good luck, X-Men," Illyana offered as she teleported the wounded away.

"We won't be the ones needin' it," growled Wolverine in return.

As Illyana disappeared with the many wounded at her feet, the air in the tunnel shifted to fill in the empty spots where the physical masses of the others had been a moment ago. No one was truly aware of the shift of atmospheric density except Wolverine and his heightened senses. As the shift settled, he cautiously slid around the corner and into an adjacent tunnel, following his nose.

~o0O0o~

Elsewhere in the tunnels, Scalphunter was systematically clearing the rooms and firing his guns indiscriminately at anything that ran or tried to hide as he kicked open doors. This time he kicked and the door flew open to expose an old woman hunkered down in a dark corner and trying to shield five mutant children with her body.

"Please!" AnnaLee pleaded. "Do what you must to me… but spare the children. They've done nothing!"

The terrified children peered out from behind AnnaLee's protective cover to stare at the man towering over them. Scalphunter sneered at each of them before answering AnnaLee's plea.

"They were born. That's more than enough."

"Please!" AnnaLee screamed in terror.

"Wrong plea, old woman, to the wrong man. It didn't work months ago when I nailed a quartet of Morlock brats on the surface streets. It won't work this time either." Scalphunter stepped into the room and dropped the nose of his gun, aiming at AnnaLee's head. *BLAM* And then, without mercy or remorse, he did the same to the others, aiming haphazardly into the group of mutant children. The rapidly fired shots from the large caliber rifle rang deafeningly through the labyrinth.

He took a moment to look them over, to take pleasure in the sight of their bloodied bodies lying still on the cold dirt floor. Scalphunter sneered, then turned and left the room to find Arclight resting against the wall waiting for him when he came out, she simply grinned at him.

"My job's done, sweets. Your turn now," he said as he swung the rifle up to rest atop his shoulder.

"I thought this assignment would be a lot rougher than this," she replied, inspecting her weapons and holstering her own pistol as she looked around as if bored.

"Be patient, Arclight. The day's still young… and this ain't over yet."

~00O00~

As the two marauders took a moment to revel in their closing victory, Colossus appeared at the opposite end of the tunnel. He lifted a giant boulder that had come down during the earlier tremors and raised the half ton rock over his head. As he hurled it at the two murderous fiends Arclight caught the motion out of the corner of her eye and shouted a warning to her companion.

"Scalphunter! Hit the dirt!"

He barely had time to duck before she punched out to strike the incoming object with a sonic blast, shattering it into tiny pieces of shrapnel hurtling in every direction.

"Watch it, Arc! Those shards are deadly!" Scalphunter admonished her as the pieces whizzed past him, a few making contact. "Ahh!" he winced as one bit into his right bicep.

"That's why we wear body armor, mister!" Arc shouted as she side-stepped a punch from the over-sized X-Man.

"Armor will not save you from Colossus, you murderers!" Peter raged back at her as he threw another deadly punch that missed its target when Arclight jumped backward. She stretched her arms out to her sides, palms open flat as she prepared her counter attack.

"It won't have to!" Arclight shouted and brought her hands together, pushing out a powerful shock blow that sent Colossus flying backward. He traveled twenty yards through the air and slammed into the wall at the end of the tunnel. "Colossus, huh?" Arc said, grinning in delight. "Hey, Scalp… he's no Morlock. We're up against the X-Men here! Finally, some real competition!" she exclaimed with a smile then sent another explosive round of energy toward the downed X-Man, collapsing the damaged wall down on top of him. "Okay, that Russkie's history… along with anyone else in that section of the tunnel. Thought they'd be more trouble than this."

"Colossus!" Kitty yelled as she came through the tunnel in time to see the mountain of dirt and rock burying her boyfriend. Then she stood in shock as she felt the heated end of a gun barrel press against her temple.

"You gonna miss the big guy, honey?" Scalphunter asked with an evil grin. "I can remedy that. How about you join him?" he asked and pulled the trigger. The round went straight through the young girl's head and he stared in surprise as she turned to stare at him wide-eyed. "What are you?" Scalp asked. "A ghost?"

"No. Worse," Kitty answered. "I'm a Shadowcat and you can't touch me, killer. You cannot hurt me," she told him. Immediately she thought to herself that he couldn't hurt her more than he already had by slaughtering her friends, but she was sure he couldn't harm her physically. "But I can hurt you," she told him. "I could phase you into the ground and leave you there. You'd be maimed for life if you were actually so unlucky as to survive it… but my teammate comes first. Then it'll be your turn!"

Kitty ran from the aggressors, unable to take their lives. Talking big and bad was one thing; all she had to do was pretend to be Wolverine, but when it came to following through she just couldn't do it. She didn't understand the need some had for taking lives and despite knowing that she should, despite knowing that she just let them go free to go and kill again, she chose to focus on rescuing Colossus from the cave in instead. The other X-Men… Wolverine… he'd be able to excise these fiends without a thought. Kitty knew however, that she could not.

~00O00~

In another tunnel a pitifully small group of Morlocks were being led to safety by Storm, Wolverine and Rogue. The X-Men were determined to protect this group while getting them to the annex that connected to the tunnel that would take them straight to the X-Men's mansion nearly forty miles away.

"We're moving too slow, boss. We need to pick up the pace," Logan felt it necessary to voice what they all knew already.

"All of these Morlocks are wounded, Wolverine. Some simply cannot move any faster than they are." Storm replied and slowed the group as Logan reached a junction in the system. She watched him as he sniffed the air; taking a moment to sort the varied scents before peering around the corner. "Is the way clear?" she asked.

"Seems to be," Wolverine answered and stepped out into the new tunnel, turning in the direction of the estate. "Wait a second," he growled.

"What is it?" Storm asked.

"There's lots of familiar scents down here all of a sudden." He sniffed at the air again. "What the hell are they doing down here?" he asked. "I must be goin' crazy… it can't be…"

"Who is -?"

"Get down!" Logan shouted, grabbing the back of Storm's head, he pushed her to the ground just as a red beam of energy cut through the air and slammed into the tunnel wall at the other end.

"Was that an optic blast?" Storm shouted.

"Sure was," Wolverine confirmed. "I sensed the pressure wave slicing through the air and comin' at us a split second before the beam itself did."

"Cyclops?" she asked.

"All of 'em," Wolverine told her. "I can smell 'em. Angel, Beast, Iceman… all the original X-Men."

"Why are they here?" Storm asked.

"Why don't we ask them?" Logan pointed out. Suddenly another explosion took down the wall at the far end of the tunnel and the X-Men's group along with the Morlocks retreated into the smaller tunnel as the rock and debris crashed to the ground, filling the larger tunnel with choking smoke and debris. "…so much for that idea!" Wolverine shouted over the din. "That explosion took down most of the ceiling; the tunnel's blocked between us and Cyke's team."

"Are you saying X-Factor was down there?" Storm asked as she came back to stand beside the feral.

"Sure are," he replied.

"Was that Arclight's work? Seems her style," Rogue pointed out.

"She is not the only powerhouse present," Colossus stated as he and Kitty appeared on the other side of the collapsed wall with a small group of refugees in tow, including two small children.

"Kitty!" Storm called to her. "Are you all right, child?"

"I'm okay, Storm. These two kids aren't too badly hurt either. AnnaLee had tried to shield them with her body, but we had to leave her and three other children behind. They weren't so lucky," Kitty reported, trying to rein in her emotions. "How can anyone be so cruel?" she asked, dropping to her knees in shock and sorrow.

"For some, young child, it comes naturally," Callisto told her evenly.

"Truer words, my dear disfigured darling," Arclight's voice boomed out of the darkness, "were never spoken."

The team and their charges had to jump out of the way as one of Harpoon's energized Slayspears slammed to the ground amidst their feet. As the X-Men pulled in ranks again, they were set upon by Arclight, Harpoon and Scrambler.

"Wolverine is our deadliest foe!" Scrambler shouted. "Harpoon, send him to join his ancestors!"

With his orders given, Harpoon charged straight at Wolverine who was waiting for him with protracted claws. *SNIKT*

"It's been tried before, chump," Wolverine growled at the slayer as he charged up another spear, "it ain't as easy as ya' think."

Even as Harpoon's spear struck home, running Logan through the chest, the Wolverine's foot-long metal claws drew blood, impaling Harpoon's ribcage. Wolverine roared with fury, clutching the long handle of the charged harpoon sticking out of his chest as he stepped away from his opponent and fell to his knees. Harpoon screamed in surprise as the Wolverine's razor sharp claws sliced through his torso, cutting through two ribs and nearly eviscerating him. He too fell to the ground in agony clutching his abdomen as the weight of his intestines threatened to pull them from his body. Neither man dies, but both have landed killing blows.

Wolverine, on his knees still, gasped for breath as his hands, slick with blood, gripped the harpoon's long handle and began to slowly pull it out. Colossus noticed his friend's torment and stepped over to help him. Wrapping two steel hands around the slippery handle, Peter met Logan's gaze and held it. Logan let his hands drop away from the spear and he gave Colossus a single nod.

Being mindful to draw the implement out in a straight line, Peter concentrated on his task as Wolverine roared against the intense pain. Once the harpoon was removed, he collapsed onto the floor. Colossus stood guard over him to give Logan's healing factor time to work. Callisto, who possessed the gift of accelerated healing as well, now stood nearby ready to assist the team.

As the others were still watching the aftermath of their short-lived battle, Scrambler grabbed onto Storm, hoping to neutralize her powers. He didn't realize that she was without her powers at that point. Storm turned on him and landed a right cross to his chin, shattering his jaw. Callisto saw her opening and came in with a hard fist, breaking ribs and as Scrambler doubled over in pain, he spat out teeth and coughed up blood.

"Oh you poor boy," Riptide shouted. "Need a rescue?" The marauder laughed maniacally as he began to spin wildly. Sharp stars and spikes flew through the air, cutting into everyone standing in their way. Many were hit and too many died as Riptide's laughter echoed deafeningly through the tunnel section.

Colossus was the only one not affected by the knives and shuriken so he tried to place himself between his teammates and the marauding gang. Harpoon, kneeling at Peter's feet still, came up with another Slayspear and slammed it into Peter's chest, but the colossal X-Men held his place, making his stand as a white fire seemed to race through his metal form.

At that moment, Scrambler raced toward Rogue who grabbed onto him, ready to toss him into his own teammates with the hope that his powers would neutralize theirs. Instead, Scrambler reached up and grabbed onto Rogue's face. Because their mutant abilities were similar; his worked to disrupt mutant powers and she absorbed others powers, they ended up neutralizing each other and fell to the ground.

Harpoon saw Rogue down and vulnerable and decided to take advantage of the opportunity. He threw a spear at her back but Kitty saw the attack. Her reaction was instinctive to protect Rogue. As the spear came in for its strike, she tackled Rogue and phased her teammate with her, praying that Harpoon's energy blast would pass right through them without harm.

It was a nice idea and it was the bravest of tries. Colossus heard Kitty's scream and lunged for Harpoon, but Riptide blocked his way.

"You care so much for that baby-brat?" Riptide taunted him. "How about I send you to join her?"

"You go ahead and try," Colossus challenged.

"Hurricane force winds can punch a straw through solid oak… and I can spin a lot faster than that!" Riptide warned the X-Man. "I figure, my robust Russian friend, that my blades with my speed can cut even you down to size."

"You are NOT my friend!" Colossus pointed out and as Riptide let loose with his blades again, agonized screams were heard as more Morlocks died, struck down by the flung stars and spikes. Screams - like Riptide's laughter - that would haunt his memories from this day forward. "And you are wrong!" Peter growled at the murdering mutant and he lashed out, catching Riptide by the throat. Holding the Marauder in his metal grasp Peter Rasputin clenched his teeth in frenzied fury and terror crossed the Marauder's face as the steel grip tightened around his throat. He struggled to breathe or to scream, digging at the metal vice around his neck.

*KRAK*

Riptide's body went slack and the dead weight pulled the murdering mutant to his knees. Peter held him there by his broken neck and looked over his shoulder for the other opponent. Seeing Wolverine now struggling to push himself to his knees as his body healed the mortal wound in his chest, Peter snarled as he glanced around.

"Harpoon!" he roared. "Make peace with your maker, little man! You are next!" Dropping the dead mutant to the ground he turned toward his group. "Where is he?" he demanded to know.

"Gone," Rogue told him. "Scrambler too. It appears the fight is over." She stared at Colossus in surprise and shock as she realized the magnitude of what he'd just done. Peter Rasputin was not built to kill - he was made for more peaceful endeavors, like painting and poetry.

Killing was her job - hers and Wolverine's, but Peter was meant for gentler things and it took a lot to push him to such extremes. As a matter of fact, none of them had ever seen him pushed that far before. Rogue looked around them, at the desolation left in the Marauders' wake. Seeing Wolverine getting to his feet and using a wall to bear his weight, she moved to him quickly. Tucking herself under his arm, she shared a look with him and Logan offered the hint of a nod; accepting her assistance.

Rogue helped Wolverine back to the group as Storm went to Kitty to help her to her feet. As she reached for the Shadowcat, her hands passed right through the girl. "Kitty, are you – Merciful Goddess!"

The two women looked at each other, shocked. The entire team stared at Kitty as Storm reached for her again and her hand passed through as if the girl wasn't really there.

"Oh no! Nononononoooo! I can't unphase!" Kitty cried.

"Concentrate, child," Storm counseled.

"I'm concentrating as hard as I can but nothing's happening."

"Oh Sugah, I'm so sorry," Rogue told her. "This is my fault. You were hurt saving my life."

Storm turned to her. "If the X-Men must fall, Rogue, let it be while saving lives."

"Well, X-Men shouldn't fall! I'm done taking the lumps, Storm," Rogue shouted at her as Wolverine took his own weight from her. Nearly completely healed now he stood on his own, listening and finding himself in total agreement with Rogue, but he held his tongue. "It's time to start dishin' 'em out!"

"Vengeance can wait!" Storm yelled back. "Look around you! If we pursue the Marauders now most of our own wounded will die. Is this what you want?" she asked.

The two women stared each other down for a moment longer as the team stood around them, watching. A moment passed then Rogue spun on her heel and stormed away.

"It was the right thing to say, boss," Wolverine told her. "Too bad it doesn't help any, huh?"

"I understand Rogue's feelings, Logan and I appreciate them. If she only knew how her anger pales against my own," Storm confided in him. She spared a moment to look at his injury and felt some of her burden lift as she saw for herself that what should have been a mortal wound was barely a scar now beneath the blood he was coated in.

"The price of leadership, darlin', is doin' what's necessary, not what's desired," he told her.

"My leadership has led us to a bitter defeat," she admitted to him.

"It happens… even to the best."

"I do not like to lose," she told him.

"Me neither, darlin', but it's the war that matters in the end, not these small battles," he reminded her.

"Cold comfort, my friend," Storm told him then she stopped and turned to him. "I want you to stay behind… here in these tunnels. We know nothing of the Marauders. I require a prisoner for interrogation. Are you able to do that?"

"No problem. What about the rest of 'em?" Logan asked with caution. He knew Ororo's stand on violence and excessive force; and her stand was strictly against it and that was in direct opposition to his point of view… usually. So he had to ask. He had promised her his trust and obedience and he needed her orders to be clear, especially regarding this.

"One prisoner is sufficient, Wolverine," she told him pointedly. "The rest are yours."

With that last order given, Wolverine bowed his head once to indicate he understood the order. He watched as Storm spun on her elegant heel and marched away.

The rest of her team slowly turned to follow her, each one sharing a look with him before they turned away. He knew he would be doing this for all of them; for each of the X-Men now felt that burning desire for vengeance. He felt for them, too. He was used to that hunger for revenge, the others weren't. For most of them, this was their first taste of it and the end was hardly satisfying.

Wolverine turned away from them to face the dark tunnels behind him. He'd certainly do his best to satisfy their need for revenge… no, no, not for revenge this time… for justice.

TBC'd