Mystique and Janos looked up from their chessboard and the playful chatter between Angel, Mort, and Rémy ceased at the commanding sound of Erik's voice. Azazel sat back on the piano bench, folding his hands calmly in his lap and letting the last played note dissipate in the air. All eyes of the Brotherhood focused on the doorway, where Erik and Emma stood authoritatively. Erik shifted his helmet under his arm, slightly flushed at his team's sudden silence and total attention. Emma crossed her arms and waited patiently. After a long pause with no further instructions, Angel cleared her throat.
"Leaving? Like, right now?"
"Should we start packing?" Janos asked. Mort stood as if to get ready to leave that instant, but Erik shook his head. He opened his mouth to continue but hesitated, seeming to rethink his action and finally motioned for Emma to step forward. For the briefest second, the white mutant looked surprised, but recovered quickly and uncrossed her arms to address the group.
"We'll need time to prepare the new space and stock rooms, as well as finish establishing telepathic barriers." Emma looked thoughtful for a moment then added, "two or three days should do it." The white mutant glanced at Erik, who nodded in approval. Mystique raised an eyebrow. She had noticed that of late, Erik had been differing to Emma with some leadership decisions. Looks like he's finally learning to let us help him. The battle at the old headquarters and the Brotherhood's responses to it seemed to give Erik more confidence in the independence and skills of his team.
"Azazel?" Before Erik finished saying his name, the red mutant reappeared just behind Emma. Erik laid his hand on Emma's shoulder as she took Azazel's hand.
"I still expect you all to be ready to depart at a moment's notice." With Erik's final words, the trio disappeared.
"How does he always know where they're going?" Mort coughed and waved away the smoky air. Mystique bit her lip, staring intensely at the doorway where Erik had been. She knew they would all eventually leave the mansion – Azazel had even described the potential new headquarters to her in detail the other night - but she was still surprised to hear the announcement. She was also surprised to find that despite everything, part of her didn't want to leave. While the two teams didn't see eye-to-eye on how to fight for mutant rights, both sides were still trying to achieve a similar goal. Things had been fairly civil in the last few weeks, and she secretly hoped that after the attack on the Brotherhood's headquarters, Charles and his team would realize that all the mutants needed to be more proactive and take a stance instead of harboring at the mansion. I wonder what Charles makes of all this.
"Huh?" Mystique turned quickly towards Angel, distracted by her thoughts. The winged mutant looked at her with a raised eyebrow.
"Are you okay? You look...I dunno, worried." Mystique waved her hand casual in the air and smiled.
"Oh, I'm fine, I just…I just feel kinda tired, that's all." Mystique shrugged and patted her stomach. "Must be the baby. I should rest. Will you all excuse me?" The blue girl stood quickly before her friends could be further question her and trotted out of the room. She turned the corner from the parlor and strode down the hallway. Once she was a few rooms away and out of sight, she leaned back against the wall and closed her eyes, concentrating hard.
Raven? Charles's telepathic voice dripped with concern. Is everything alright?
Yes, I'm fine; I just wanted to talk. Is this a bad time?
Not at all. Meet me in the study? Mystique made her way to Charles's office. Her brother's familiar periwinkle eyes smiled as she slipped inside and closed the door quietly behind her. She stood with her back against the door for a moment, unsure of her intentions. Charles watched her patiently for a few moments.
"You know, you're rather quiet for someone who wanted to talk."
"Yeah, well…" Mystique shrugged. There were so many thoughts swirling around in her head that she didn't know what she wanted. "Old habits, I guess."
"Running to your big brother when you're not sure of what to do?" Mystique smiled meekly at Charles, who nodded and grinned boyishly. "I think I know what's troubling you. Erik told me you this afternoon that your team would be leaving in a few days. I, uh…I guess was hoping things would turn out differently after your time here." The smile fell from Charles's face. "I was hoping after these past weeks, he'd change his mind."
"You know Erik." While Mystique never doubted that Erik's intention to continue with his plans for the Brotherhood, she secretly hoped Charles would change his mind and join her side. Together, Erik and Charles would be unstoppable.
"Raven, that's not my path. You know that better than anyone else." Mystique frowned, and then looked sharply at Charles. He sighed and held his hand up apologetically for reading her thoughts uninvited. "I can't put my – my students – at risk like that. They are still so young and learning...it's not right. It would be irresponsible of me. What happened at your headquarters…I cannot invite that to happen here at the mansion by provoking the powers that be."
"So what is your plan, then? Collect teenage mutants and hide them away so the world doesn't know who we are?
"First, the world does know who we are, unless you've forgotten our little outing to Cuba." Charles rolled his eyes. "The problem is that the world simply isn't ready for us – not just yet, and not until we can show the world that our mutations are just another step in evolution, and that we are not a threat to humanity. Please understand Raven - I'm not hiding mutants here; I'm preventing them from being harmed.."
"But we're already being harmed! Do I have to remind you of the Weapon X program I discovered? You remember what Moria said about it - super soldiers and genetic testing like we're animals!" Mystique's nostrils flared angrily and she threw her hands in the air. "Charles, they'll kill most of us if they have the chance. They already tired in Cuba, even after we saved them, and I saw more orders to kill in those damn files!"
"Killing humans an expecting to earn acceptance is not the answer. Young mutants need to learn to control their abilities and accept themselves before they can expect humanity to accept us. I'm teaching them to do this. That's what this school I'm establishing is all about. We all have to hide for a little while as we establish things…"
"I'm tired of hiding. I don't want to hide who I am just because other people cannot accept how I look." Mystique crossed her arms and looked at the floor. Something had been digging at her for a long time and there was no stopping it from emerging. "…Charles, I don't want my baby to have to hide." Mystique looked up at her brother, her eyes stinging. She motioned to her body. "It's bad enough that I've looked like this as long as I can remember, and Azazel's always looked they way he has; he and I have had to hide out entire lives and made to feel ashamed for being born different. I can't even begin to imagine what this baby will look like, but I know more than anything and I don't want it to have the same childhood as I did, or that Azazel did."
"Raven, your child is being born to parents who will accept him or her no matter what the appearance – that alone must be some comfort." Mystique wiped away a tear and nodded. One thing she held onto like a lifeboat in a wild sea was the fact that no matter what her baby looked like or what its mutation, she and Azazel would accept and love it as perfection. What hurt her the most was the thought that everyone else outside of the mutant community – the world at large – would reject it as a freak.
"You know you always have a place here." Charles looked earnestly at his sister. "I cannot shelter your team if they continue on their path of violence and destruction, but if you leave and you want a safe place for your child...I can give that to you."
"No," Mystique shook her head, "I…appreciate the offer, but really, you're just giving us another place to hide." Charles opened his mouth to protest but Mystique held up her hand, silencing him. "I'm leaving when the others do. I can't sit here and wait for things to change; I need to try and make them change."
"We are making things change Raven; just not in a way you're ready to accept." Charles sighed and rubbed his forehead. He eventually turned his back to Mystique and faced out the window overlooking the lawn. The track was still there, now overgrown with weeds. Mystique thought about the first time Hank raced past Charles while running on that same track. She remembered waving to him from the weight room as if it was yesterday. She wondered vaguely if Charles thought about that about that day as well, or the joy of running, something so simple but so impossible for him to ever do again.
"Charles," her brother glanced over his shoulder at the sound of his name. The room had been silent for a long time while the two siblings contemplated their paths and private thoughts. Mystique buried her face in her hands, feeling like she was holding back a scream. "When did things get so fucking complicated?" Charles smiled at her and shrugged.
"When were they ever not?"
Mystique left Charles contemplating the lawn in his study, her mind clouded with the changes necessary to prepare for leaving the mansion. While she felt bittersweet about it, she was glad she had talked to Charles. As she passed the door to the kitchen on her way to the main stairs, she overheard snippets of a whispered conversation.
"…you don't have to go with them. The Professor would be more than happy to find a place for you here, especially with your talents."
"I don't know, mon amie. Is tempting but the others, they accept me like famille." Mystique recognized Rémy's voice and froze in mid-stride.
"They're not family. The people here - the X-Men - we are a real family. The Brotherhood turned their back on us and eventually, they'll do the same to you." Alex, he's talking to Alex. A white-hot rage shot through Mystique. She clenched her jaw and stormed into the kitchen.
"How dare you!" Her voiced echoed like thunder in the small kitchen. Rémy jumped up from his seat and looked guilty as Mystique walked towards the table at which the two men were seated. Alex did not stir from his spot, but rather, he gave the blue girl a challenging look.
"Mystique! I non…" Rémy fumbled his speech. Mystique pointed past her teammate to Alex.
"Not you, him!" Her amber eyes were narrow and cold. "How dare you talk about the Brotherhood like that! You've never even attempted to even know us!"
"I'm just telling Rémy exactly what you all did." Alex's voice was calm and measured, as if he had been anticipating this conversation. He started back at Mystique with the same cold intensity she threw his way.
"We didn't abandoned you, we..." Mystique hissed, but was cut off.
"Oh, really?" Alex stood suddenly, faced Mystique as if preparing for battle. While they were near evenly matched in height, Alex's figure was larger and more menacing. Rémy was trapped between them, looking like he'd rather be inside a volcano than in the kitchen at that moment. "You and Erik didn't just turncoat and run away with Shaw's team after Cuba? You didn't just break Hank's heart and leave him when all he wanted to do was help you, like you asked him too?" Alex clenched his fists, veins bulging out of his neck as he yelled at Mystique. "You didn't just abandon your own brother lying half-dead on a beach after everything he did for you you?"
"You have no right to talk about Charles to me. You. Have. No. Right." Mystique clenched her jaw but her voice wavered. She had no idea how badly Charles had been hurt on the beach that day; it wasn't until after she visited him at the mansion months before and saw his wheelchair that she fully understood what happened. Even then, she would have eventually left. Living with Charles had given her many things, but no matter how pretty a cage, the bird in it still sings behind bars.
"No, I do have a right, Mystique." Alex said her chosen name as if it had a foul taste.
"Why do you hate me so much?" Mystique crossed her arms and continued to stare down the blond mutant. "What did I do to you?"
"What did you...?" Alex looked at her dumbfounded. "What did you do? What didn't you do!" Alex smashed his fist into the table, knocking several dishes to the floor and causing Rémy to jump in surprise, startled sparks shooting from his fingertips. Mystique held her ground, but her heart was beating wildly in her chest. So far Alex had manged to control his mutation, but she didn't know how long that would last.
"Alex, mon amie, stay calm…" Rémy held up his hands in a friendly gesture and stepped between the two mutants, keeping his back to Mystique. "Ain't no one here trying to hurt you." Mystique admired Rémy's cool thinking under pressure. If there is one thing I will give him, he's one brave son-of-a-bitch. Alex ignored the Cajun and continued to verbally attack Mystique.
"Christ, do you even remember Armando? Shaw murdered him in front of us yet not a week later you run off with the same villains who watched him die and did nothing?" Alex's nostrils flared, his face flushed red with anger. "You run around stirring up trouble and anger against mutants and you claim you're doing to it so we'll be accepted? That's crazy! All you're doing is pissing everyone off and making us look like a danger to society! Charles is trying to change that – he's trying to make the world safe for people like you and you just walk away from him when the going gets tough. You leave him to die because of a disagreement! He's the only one who ever believed in the good in me, and you're his sister and you don't even care if he lives or dies!" Alex looked at her defiantly past Rémy. Mystique could see the wild rage in Alex's eyes, and suddenly, she understood: Charles had been the only one in Alex's life to give him a chance when the world gave up on him. His fierce loyalty to her brother made it impossible for him to even try and understand her and Erik's side.
"Chere, is…is dis true?" The Rémy looked bewildered at Mystique.
"No Rémy, it's not like he's telling it." Mystique shook her head. Rémy bit his lip and looked unsure. "It's…just complicated."
"No, it's simple: the Brotherhood is only out for themselves. Even after all Charles has given you here yet again, you and Erik are abandoning him."
"That's not true!"
"Gambit, you don't have to leave when they do." Alex looked at his new friend. "You have a choice, and you have a home here."
"He has a home with the Brotherhood!" Mystique yelled and threw her hands in the air.
"What is going on in my kitchen?" Moria stood in kitchen doorway holding a bag of groceries on her hip. Behind her stood Warren and Bobby, both holding additional bags. The two teens watched the scene warily.
"Yeah, he has a home with you." Alex eyed Mystique for a moment longer and then spat on the floor. "For now." With that he stormed out of the kitchen, knocking into Mystique's shoulder roughly as he passed her. Moria quickly handed her bag to Rémy and approached Mystique, putting her hand on the blue girl's shoulder.
"I'm fine." Mystique brushed Moria's hand away and exited the room before the occupants could see how not fine she actually was.
"Emma told me about her baby." Mystique was kneeling in front of a box, packing the few items they were able to save from the destruction of the old headquarters as Azazel carefully wrapped his weapons for transport. Azazel nodded but did look at her or respond in any additional way. He began to polish a sword instead. Mystique got up and sat on the edge of their bed. She was still shaken from her confrontation with Alex a few hours earlier, and had retreated to her bedroom shortly thereafter to get away from it. She decided against telling Azazel about their fight; he already didn't care for the blond mutant, and since they were leaving she didn't see the point in stirring up trouble.
"Why did you never tell me about that?" Azazel's hand froze in mid polish for a second at her question. He shrugged, then flipped the sword over and began cleaning the hilt.
"Was not my story to tell." Mystique watched her lover work silently on his sword for a several moments. He kept polishing the same spot and did not acknowledge her gaze. She knew him well enough to realize that he was politely avoiding the subject. She sighed and laid back, draping her arm over her eyes to block out the light. Even after only just a short time of packing, the blue girl was feeling fatigued. She had read somewhere that exhaustion was a symptom in the early months of pregnancy. She really hoped the entire pregnancy would not be like this. I'll never be able to get anything done at this rate.
"He would not come back to see her." Mystique slid her arm from her eyes and turned towards his voice. Azazel was leaning forward, his elbows on his knees and his hands holding the polishing cloth. The gleaming sword lay across his lap.
"What?" She propped herself up on her elbows.
"Sebastian would not come back to see Emma, even though he knew she was badly hurt." Azazel put his sword down and picked up another one. He set to work, cleaning it vigorously while he spoke. Mystique could see his anger as he polished. I should piss him off whenever there are dishes to wash. Mystique quirked an eyebrow at her observation. On second thought, I've seen him break dishes when he's mad. She wanted her baby to grow up knowing how to use a knife and fork. After a few moments, Azazel sighed and put his sword down.
"When I was a small one," he indicated with his hand the average height of a young child, "I found a bird lying on the floor of the forest. The bird's wing was torn and it could nyet fly. I took the bird to Father Daytolv and asked him to make it better. He told me there as nothing we could do, but he let me keep it in a box and take care of it until it passed." Azazel paused for a moment, seemingly lost in thought. "The bird lived for two days. I buried it out in the churchyard during the night. That was the first time I learned about death. It was very hard. I cried for a long time because of that bird." Azazel looked at her thoughtfully for a few moments, his cool blue eyes piercing.
"The night I found Emma, she looked at me the same way the bird in the forest looked at me. That I remember very much." Azazel learned back and crossed his arms. "Emma I did not know well. She was…Sebastian's woman. We did not often work together. When I found her, I did not know what was wrong at first. I saw blood, she said "hospital," so I did what I could. I took her to hospital, put her in empty room, and rang emergency call for nurse, disappearing when door opened. Am good at not being seen," Azazel smiled lightly at his comment, but quickly sobered. "I went to Sebastian after this, but he would not come back." Azazel frowned at the memory. "He said his business was too important, and told me to take care of it." Azazel looked in earnest at Mystique. "How can one do that? How do can one know someone they love is hurt, maybe dying, and not do anything?"
Mystique wrapped her arms around herself as she thought about Azazel's words. She couldn't imagine the pain Emma must have felt when her Sebastian didn't come for her.
"When Emma left the hospital," Azazel continued, "she talked much to me that week, and that is when I found we could talk using our heads, just like my mother and I. By week's end, knew each other like old friends." Azazel picked up another sword and began to clean it vigorously. "Emma loved Sebastian and wanted the baby. When he returned, she acted as if everything was fine, but it was not fine. Emma was very sad, and I never forgave Sebastian for it. Never." The red mutant stopped suddenly and looked at Mystique, his eyes hard and piercing. "I never do this to you. Understand? We fight sometimes da, but I never leave you. I always come back for you." Mystique nodded and he looked at her for a moment longer before continuing to polish his sword.
Alex doesn't know what he's talking about, she thought. My place – my home is with the Brotherhood. She watched Azazel's reflection in the gleaming metal as he worked. The hue of his skin was a stain that would never be washed clean from the blade.
Author's Note: I was happy to fit Alex in this chapter and explore him a bit more. I always felt that deep down inside, he was always grateful to Charles for believing in him when no one else did. It makes sense to me that Alex would be extra mad at Erik and Raven for leaving Charles so abruptly.