A New Face
Matt stirred and opened his eyes, finding himself in unfamiliar surroundings. "Hello?" he called out. "Who's there?"
I'm a friend, Matthew, a friend who knows your pain. The pain hidden deep inside which you are too afraid to show anybody else.
Matt narrowed his eyes. "You don't know anything about me."
Oh, but I do. Your father disappeared when you were young, and you still deeply miss him. It hurts so much, doesn't it, Matthew?
"Get to the point. What are you trying to say?"
I can help you find your father. You only need to agree.
"Am I supposed to trust you?"
If you want to see him again. Goodbye, Matt. I'll see you soon.
Consciousness rushed back to him and Matt gasped, breathing rapidly. He looked around - same old hospital room - and rubbed his temples. Did that actually happen? He glanced at the chair by his bed and, noticing an envelope on it, leaned forward to pick up. Opening it, he pulled a slip of paper out and read the phone number and name written down on it.
There was a knock at the door and Matt quickly hid the slip of paper under his pillow before calling out, "Come in!"
Rogue stepped in with a tentative smile. "Hi."
A brilliant smile formed on his face. "Hi," he replied. "So… you decided to visit me. I'm flattered."
Rogue scowled lightly, but Matt could make out the underlying grin. "Great, anothah boost for yah inflated ego."
"Ego or not, I'm still glad you came." He motioned at the chair with his hand and Rogue walked to it and sat down. "Anybody else coming?"
"No interruptions." Matt shot her a wink and she blushed. "Don't tell me you wouldn't want to get with this." Rogue's face fell and Matt instantly realised his mistake. "Damn, um, I didn't mean to say that," he mumbled, embarassed. "Sorry."
"It's okay," she answered. Changing the subject, she asked, "How are ya feeling?"
"Largely fine, considering I got skewered by Buckethead. It actually doesn't hurt that much anymore." Rogue cocked an eyebrow and prodded his chest area gently with a gloved finger, causing him to wince. "Okay, maybe I was lying."
"No duh. Ya can't trick me, Matthew Quincy."
"You sure about that?" Matt grinned. "Then how come you're sitting on my bed, and not the chair?"
Rogue realised he was right and tried to move away, but something kept her there. For one reason or another, she wasn't able to lift even a finger. His closeness was over-whelming. "Ah, ah," she began and went a deep red.
Matt laughed as she slid off the bed and back onto the chair. "See what I mean?"
Another scowl. "Watch it, or ya might find yaself alone for tha rest of tha day."
"Hmph. We'll see." Rogue swatted him playfully on the arm as the door swung open again, and Natasha and her posse entered. "What are you doing here?" the cheerleader questioned.
"Ah've been keeping him company for tha whole of tha tahm he's been here, Ah'll have ya know," Rogue replied. "Why, where have ya been?" This question stumped Natasha, who decided to adopt a sneer.
The cheerleader turned to Matt. "Matt, how about we talk alone." She stressed the last word. "I'm sure you would like some new and better company." She made a move towards the bed, but Matt held up his hand.
"Actually, Natasha, I'm fine," he said. "And for your information, Rogue has been very good to be with. So, if you don't mind, I think you should leave." Natasha and her friends put up affronted looks and left, muttering "mutie sympathiser". Matt scowled after they left.
Rogue noticed this. "Ah know how ya feel, trust me on that."
The doctor walked in. "Good morning, Matt, how are you feeling?"
"Much better now." Matt looked pleadingly. "Please let me outta here."
The doctor responded with a light smile. "Well, you've improved, but that doesn't mean that the hole in your lungs is healed. You'll be here for another three weeks." Matt started to object but Rogue gave him a look, and he shut up. "Good. I'll be back in a few hours to check on you."
After the doctor left, Matt turned to Rogue, putting on his best sad face. "Rogue, why?" he whined.
"Because Ah don't want ya to get hurt again because ya were stupid and didn't listen to tha doctah," she replied. "Now stop pouting at me and stay still before ya open yah stitches."
Matt continued his pout, which Rogue found strangely adorable, and repositioned himself on the hospital bed. "One day, Rogue. One day you won't be able to resist the charm that is Matthew Quincy." Rogue scoffed.
"Are we interrupting something?" asked a gentle voice from the doorway and the two teens jumped in fright. "Oh, I didn't mean to scare you."
"It's okay, Storm," Matt replied. "Come in."
Storm entered, followed by Logan, Scott, Jean, Kurt and Kitty. "How have you been feeling?" she asked gently. "We were very worried about you."
"I'm okay, I guess. The doctor says I'll be out in three weeks." He winked slyly at Rogue. "Of course, I'm loving your visits, Rogue, and I'm definitely going to once I'm out of here. Maybe we can make it a permanent thing?"
Rogue blushed lightly and the onlookers smiled. "Glad to hear ya're okay, Newbie," Logan said gruffly. "Hate to lose ya so soon."
"Thanks, Logan." Matt turned to Storm. "So, I'm hoping I can still join the X-Men… provided I don't get stabbed in the chest again."
"Of course. Would you like to arrange your uniform now?"
"Why not?" Matt looked at himself and smiled apologetically. "Well, you're going to have to call my tailor for my measurements." This earned him several looks. "What? I have a tailor!"
An hour later, Matt had his uniform picked out and Storm stood up. "Well, this should be done by the time you are released." Logan checked his watch and shared a glance with Storm, who smiled and took his hand in hers. "If ya'd excuse us, we've got plans." They exited quickly and Rogue couldn't help but shudder.
"Ah'm still fahnding it hard to wrap mah head around it, and don't tell me y'all don't." They nodded.
Kitty snuck next to Rogue and tapped on her shoulder. "Hey, Rogue, like, are you and Matt seeing each other?"
Rogue blushed furiously whilst Matt grinned mischeviously. "Well, Rogue, are we?" he asked her. "I would be more than willing to go out with you again."
Rogue tried to put on a poker face but failed quite spectacularly, and it got even worse when she tried to speak. "Ah-ah-ah mean, um, eh, lahke, ah..." Her voice trailed away and she turned even redder. Why now! Why do I have to clam up at this moment?
Fortunately, Kitty came to her rescue. "I like, totally think that you two should go out again! Don't you agree, Rogue!" The southern girl only nodded, not trusting herself not to stutter again.
Matt smiled. "Well, if only I could get outta here quicker."
Hours flew past and Rogue stayed by his side until the doctor kindly told her that visiting hours were ending. She started when she noticed it had already gotten dark and Matt sighed.
"Looks lahke Ah have ta go. Ah'll see ya tomorrah, 'kay?"
"Sure." Matt gave her one last bright smile. "I'll be waiting for you."
As Rogue's footsteps died away, the doctor walked to the observation windows and shut the blinds and turned to him. "Goodnight, Matt, see you in the morning." As she was leaving, Matt coughed.
"Um, doc, can I borrow a phone?" he asked. "Just want to tell somebody I'm alright."
"No problem, just use the phone on the wall next to your bed." With another wave, the doctor strolled out and after she was gone, Matt reached under his pillow and retrieved the letter he had gotten.
"Hey, bub," growled a voice from the door. "What ya got there?"
"Nothing you should concern yourself with." Matt placed the paper back under his pillow. "What do you want, Logan?"
"I didn't want ta say anythin' when everyone else was here, but I got the feeling you're holding something back from us. You got something you wanna tell me?"
"It's none of your business."
"It is if you want to join the X-Men." Logan turned away and began to leave, but stopped midstep. "Newbie, if ya care about her, ya'll know what to do."
"I've got no choice in this, Logan. You don't know what I've been through."
"Trust me, I know. I've gone through worse."
Once Logan had left, Matt sighed. "I'll know what to do, huh?" It's not that easy, he thought. Before he came to Bayville, he would have pounced on any opportunity to find his father. Damn stupid feelings. Rogue's got my priorities all mucked up.
Taking one last look at the slip, he sighed again before scrunching it up into a ball and tossing it into the wastepaper basket across the room. "The things I do for a girl."
Somebody tutted from the shadows. "Well, why did you do that? I could have helped you."
"Please, call me Sinister. And oh, you should be blacking out any time… now."
The following day, Rogue stood outside Scott's door and knocked. "Scott? It's Rogue." The door swung open but instead of the expected shade-wearing guy, Jean answered the door, and she looked very disheveled. Looks lahke somebody had fun last nahght.
It didn't bother Rogue at all, which she found deeply relieving. She had been nursing a crush on Scott for the greater part of two years, and hated it whenever Jean swooped in to hold hands, kiss and whatnot. But now, she didn't feel a slightest twinge of jealousy. Mebbe it's Matt, a little voice whispered in her head, to which Rogue had to privately agree.
"What is it, Rogue?" asked Jean sleepily. Scott appeared besides her, his glasses slightly askew.
"Ah was hoping that Scott could drive me ta tha hospital. Could ya?"
Scott looked at Jean, who nodded, and turned to Rogue. "Sure, I guess. Let me get dressed first." A few minutes later, Scott emerged from his room and he and Rogue went down to the garage to fetch his red sportscar.
After a short drive, they pulled up in the hospital car park and got out, with Rogue speeding off to the hospital lobby. Scott raised an eyebrow and, locking the doors, headed into the hospital as well.
Minutes later, Rogue opened the door to Matt's room and frowned. "Excuse me!" she called to a nurse in the corridor. "Can ya help me?"
The nurse hurried over. "What is it, miss?"
"Yeah, a friend of mahn is staying in this room, his name is Matthew Quincy," Rogue said politely. "Ah was wondering where he was moved."
The nurse gave her a confused look. "There's been nobody in that room for over a week. Are you sure this was his room?" Rogue nodded. "Come with me. I'll check the hospital's database." Leading Rogue to the front desk of the lobby, the nurse went behind the counter and checked on the computer. She looked up with a frown. "Sorry, but it says here no-one by the name of Matthew Quincy's been admitted here. You must be mistaken." There was a shout from across the hall. "I'm sorry, I need to go, there's a patient going into cardiac arrest." The nurse took off running, shouting for a crash cart.
Rogue's blood boiled in her veins and she stormed out, fuming angrily. She didn't even notice Scott in front of her and barged into him, pushing him aside. He looked at her with surprise.
"Hey! Rogue! Hey!" Scott called after her, heading out of the hospital. She was surprisingly quick, seeing as though she had already strapped herself into the front passenger seat. "What was that about? Aren't you going to see Matt?"
"According ta tha hospital's database, he wasn't even there!" She growled in frustration. "I checked his room. He's disappeared!"
"What! Are you sure?"
"Well, him naht being here seems like pretty solid proof." Gawd, Scott is such a stick in tha mud sometahms.
"I'll contact the Professor immediately. Don't worry, Rogue, we'll get him back."
Rogue reached into her pocket and withdrew a scrunched up paper ball, and smoothed it back out. "Ah found this in tha bin in his room. A phone numbah of a Nathaniel Essex."
Matt awoke with a start and immediately began to struggle against the restraints keeping him fastened to the bed. "Let me go!" he shouted. "I'll kick your ass!"
"Ah, so you're awake," said a man. Matt recognised his voice.
"Essex? What the hell do you want with me?"
"Your powers. I want them." Essex began to pace around the table. "Ever since that memorable performance of yours against Magneto, I've had my eye on you, waiting for the right moment to pounce."
"You hacked the DR systems!"
"Yes." The man smirked. "It's a pity you got hurt in the process, but fortunately I've dealt with that problem. Your lungs are fine now. Anyways, as I said, the reason why you are here is because of your mutation."
"What about it?"
"Did you know that your abilities are not yet fully developed? Your manipulation of matter has been, up till now, limited by the boundaries others have set you. With my… research, your true potential will be realized."
"I don't want your help!" Matt tried activating his powers but instead of glowing green, his hands obstinately remained their usual colour. "What did you do to me?"
"Precautions, I'm afraid," Essex replied. "A simple serum injected into the bloodstream, temporarily nullifying the effects of the mutant genome. It rather pained me to develop it." He tapped on a console and several robotic arms dropped down from the ceiling and positioned themselves above marked points on Matt's body. "So. Shall we begin?"
"I've been unable to detect Matt using Cerebro, but I've managed to identify our Mr. Essex." Xavier tapped on the keyboard in front of him, bringing up a holographic display of a tall dark-haired man dressed in a labcoat. "Nathaniel Essex was a scientist employed in the genetics division of the government. He was heavily involved in the creation of several bioweapons.
Essex pursued in his own research the secrets behind human genetics, but in order to achieve his results his ethical code bece more and more twisted until he began to use live subjects in his experiments. As a consequence of this, the government shut him down but he disappeared before he could be apprehended."
"So what could he want with Matt?" asked Jean.
"I can only guess, but I suspect Essex is now turning his attention to the X-gene and more specifically, the powers it endows."
"How are we supposed ta fahnd this Essex?"
"We can only wait, Rogue. Until he uses his powers we will be unable to locate him." Rogue slumped back on her chair, crestfallen.
"I'll try ta track him," Logan spoke up. "He must have left a trail. No-one's that careful. I'll be back before sundown."
Xavier began to nod but suddenly cried out in pain, clutching his head. Jean rushed to his side. "Professor! Professor!"
"It's Matt," the Professor gasped. "Essex is doing something to him." He cringed again as another mental wave of pain hit him. "I know where he is."
"Let's move, X-Men!" Scott and the team suited up quickly and within minutes the Blackbird was in the sky. Rogue's hands clenched hard on the arm rests of her seat and she looked mad enough to throttle Essex to death with her bare hands.
The Blackbird cloaked as it began its descent and banked steeply, landing quietly on an empty stretch of land close to an abandoned warehouse. "Okay, this is how it's going to go," Scott said, having taken the liberty to draw up the plans for the rescue mission earlier. "Logan, you're going to be the distraction. Go through the roof and draw their attention, and try to remain free as long as you can. Kitty, Rogue and Jean, phase through the wall closest to us and locate Matt. I and Storm will hold them off as you bring him out. Understood?" There was a general nod. "Okay, let's go, people!"
Wolverine scaled the wall quickly and positioned himself above a crack in the roof, and sniffed for scents. The kid's scent was very strong so he was definitely there. He sniffed again, picking up another person who he assumed was Essex. Unsheathing his claws, Logan ripped through the roof and jumped down, bringing a large section of it down with him.
"Hand over the kid, Essex!" he snarled at the scientist, who merely smiled at him and gestured with his hand. Wolverine turned to see several armed guards taking a formation behind him and a grin grew on his face. "Bad idea, bub." He lashed out at a heavy looking supporting beam with all his strength.
The steel proved to be no match for the adamantium claws, which sliced through it like a knife through hot butter, and with a despairing creak, the beam collapsed, bringing down a large section of the overhanging balcony. This trapped several of the guards underneath and forced the ones still standing to run and take cover. Logan used this time to dash forward and lay havoc to the rest of the building.
Whilst all this was happening, Kitty phased her, Rogue and Jean through the other side of the warehouse and they silently made their way over to where Matt was strapped down. Rogue removed her glove and stepped quietly towards Essex, her hand stretching towards his neck.
"Tut tut tut, little Anna Marie, what would Mommy say about all this behaviour?" Essex asked in a mocking tone as he turned to face her.
"Watch yah tongue, mistah, or Ah'll make sure it nevah moves again," the southern girl threatened. Noticing the robotic arms still hovering over Matt's prone form, she continued. "What did ya do ta him?"
"It's a surprise, although you'll see soon enough." The scientist smirked and gave her a little wave. His form flickered and cut out as the holographic projector cut out.
"Gawd dammit!" Rogue growled as she marched to where Matt was strapped down and helped Kitty to unstrap him. Matt began to stir. "Matt? Can ya hear me?"
"It hurts," Matt groaned. "Burning… inside…" As he sat up, his palms flicked upwards and the air around him rippled. Rogue and Kitty were blown off their feet and landed a few metres away.
"That was totally not the thank you I was hoping for." Kitty muttered. Rogue ignored her.
"What is happening to me!" Matt rose up into the air, his entire body bathed in a green glow. The ground rippled and welled up, looming over the two girls, and fell. Kitty phased herself and Rogue right through it.
"Matt! Stop! It's us! Kitty and Rogue!"
"I-I-I can't control myself," the boy said tbrough gritted teeth. "Please, get out of here before I- before I-" His face contorted in pain as he screamed out, and the objects around him disintegrated.
Matt! Listen to my voice! Jean soothed mentally. I'm going to help you through this. You are the one in control, not your powers.
Matt groaned again and Jean was thrown backwards, landing hard and hitting her head. She did not get back up.
Kitty phased them through the ground just as a large spike occupied the space they were just in. She ran over to the cloaked X-Jet and knocked rapidly on the side. "Scott? Storm? We have like, a totally massive problem!"
The ramp opened and Cyclops, along with Storm, stepped out. "We're coming!"
Things were not faring well for the X-Men in the warehouse. Matt was still wildly out of control amd all attempts to calm him were unsuccessful, and the team were unwilling to resort to harsher measures.
"I say we blast him!"
Rogue glared angrily at Kitty. "No-one is doing any blasting!" She checked on Jean, who was still out cold. "Ah'm going ta have ta drain him. It's our only chance."
Scott nodded. "I agree. Storm, Logan, let's give him something to concentrate on!" The three of them leapt out from behind their cover and dashed from side to side, drawing Matt's attention away.
Kitty stuck her head through the wall. "It's clear. Come on, Rogue, let's do this!" Her friend took her hand and they phased through the wall and headed directly for Matt, who was still floating mid-air. The ground wobbled underneath them and a yawning crater opened up in front of them, which they narrowly avoided falling into.
"Kitty! Can ya get me up onta that bit of platform!" Rogue pointed at the remaining part of metal platform.
"Like, yeah!" In a blink of an eye, the southern girl was standing on the platform. "She took a deep breath and slid both her gloves off. "Here goes nothing." With a run up, she jumped off the platform and landed on Matt, breaking his concentration enough for both of them to drop to the ground.
Matt was clearly in pain - his body was all tense and he was lashing out at times. "Help me…" he gasped out just as another wave of pain shot through him. He arched his back and screamed.
Rogue watched on in horror as her friend (scratch that, let's make it boyfriend) continued spasming. "Matt," she whispered, "Ah'm going to help ya, but this is gonna hurt a little. Just bear with it for a little longah, 'kay?" She held her hand above his forehead. "Here Ah go." With that, she pressed her hand to his skin.
The transfer was rougher than usual and it felt like somebody had hit her head full force with a sledgehammer. Her hand was begging her to let go, but still she held on. Through her strained eyes Rogue saw that Matt was relaxing and his powers shutting down. At last, she let go and, with a sigh of relief, collapsed unconscious over him.
"Rogue! Rogue! Rogue!"
An hour later
Hank was attaching a monitor to Rogue's head when she suddenly sat up, and he almost tripped over backwards. "Whoa, Rogue, stay calm, you're back at the mansion, you're fine," he told her reassuringly.
"Where's Matt?" she asked. "Is he all right?"
Hank put down the brain monitor and sat down on the chair by her bed. "Matt's not doing so well. Essex injected him with a whole load of different chemicals which are wreaking havoc to his body systems."
It didn't sound good to her. "Can Ah see him?"
"Not yet, I still need to keep check on your brainwaves," Hank started, but seeing Rogue's downcast expression, he relented. "Logan's gonna have my head for this. Fine, you can go see him, but I insist that I must escort you."
"Thanks, Dr. McCoy," Rogue replied gratefully as she swung her legs over the side of the bed and stepped into her slippers. Hank led her to the holding cells, where she saw Xavier focusing intently with his fingers on Matt's head. After ten minutes, he took his hands off and shook his head sadly at an older man sitting on a chair by his bed. "I'm sorry, Mr. Quincy, but I've had no luck so far. With your permission, I would like to keep him here at the Institute until I've figured out a way to bring Matt back."
Mr. Quincy nodded. "Of course, Professor Xavier. Anything to help my boy recover." He patted his grandson's hand. "I'll see you tomorrow, kiddo. Thank you again, Professor." He shook hands with Xavier and left the room, walking past Rogue and Hank.
"Um, Professah?" Rogue queried.
"Oh, Rogue. Aren't you supposed to be in the medbay?"
"Dr. McCoy let me out to see Matt. Is his condition that bad?"
"His body's reacting erratically to every treatment we're trying. The chemicals Essex used on Matt changed something inside him and it's effectively shut itself down in an attempt to heal. I'm not sure if he's ever going to wake up."
Rogue looked sadly at the boy, who was lying unnaturally still. "Can Ah stay a while with him?"
"Take as much as you need. I'll be outside if you need me." Xavier rolled his wheelchair out and the doors closed behind him. Rogue walked over to Matt's side and placed a gloved hand on the side of his face. "Matt," she whispered softly. "Ya silly idiot, what did ya do?" She let her hand drift down to clasp gently onto his, intertwining their fingers together, and hung her head, sighing.