Issue #125 Loss and Lament



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Issue #125


Loss and Lament

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Life and death are part of evolution. Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men understand this better than most. They’ve used their extraordinary powers to protect a world that hates and fears them. Over the years, they’ve saved countless lives. Tin their latest battle against Sinister, they saved countless more. However, this latest victory came only after a terrible loss.
When Sinister unleashed the Legacy Virus on the world, it killed millions. All this death was meant to provide genetic information to Sinister that would further his research in unlocking the secrets of mutation. The X-men thwarted his plans when Professor Xavier unleashed a massive psychic blast all over the world that cured those afflicted with the virus. However, it still left over 300 million people dead.
Among those many deaths is John Proudstar, a former X-man who re-joined the team in hopes of stopping Sinister. His connection to the X-men was very personal. He was the one who first trained the X-men to be the heroes they eventually became. The pain of his loss will be shared by many who also lost loved ones. And as the afflicted recover, an intact yet decimated world is emerging.

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Xavier Institute – Xavier’s Room

All great victories come at a price. That was something Charles Xavier learned time and again with the X-men. For the victories that weren’t so great, the price was much higher. Once again, his X-men had stopped Sinister and destroyed the Legacy Virus. But even with this triumph, over 300 million people had perished. In that sense this was hardly a victory.

“Hnn…my head,” groaned a weak and tired Charles Xavier.
“Considering the obscene strain you put on your mind and body, that’s to be expected,” came a familiar voice.
Xavier opened his eyes to find that he was in his bedroom. His head was throbbing with such intensity. It felt like his skull was trying to leap out of his head. He tried to sit up, but a gentle hand pushed him back down. As his vision cleared, he saw that the hand belonged to a very concerned Dr. Cecila Reyes.
“Cecilia…how did you get here so fast?” he asked in a raspy voice.
“You’ve been unconscious for over a day. I had plenty of time,” she told him, “As soon as your students found you hunched over Cerebrum, they called me.”
“My students…are they okay?”
“They’re fine…for the most part,” said Cecilia warily.
“What do you mean?” asked Xavier nervously.
“You’re the world’s most powerful psychic. You’ll find out soon enough. Right now, there’s another issue we must address. It involves your latest blood work and the empty pill bottle in your pocket.”
Xavier’s demeanor shifted. She figured out what he had done. It was still fresh in his memory, downing all those pills so he could stop the Legacy Virus. He understood the ramifications. That didn’t make him feel any less vindicated.
“I knew the risks, Cecilia. Millions were dying. My X-men were in trouble. As far as I was concerned, they were risks were worth taking,” said Professor Xavier strongly.
“I won’t argue that the situation was serious. I saw first-hand what the Legacy Virus was doing to people,” said Dr. Reyes.
“Then you understand why I did what I did.”
“I do. That still doesn’t make it less foolish.”
Dr. Reyes sat down on Xavier’s bed. The massive loss of life incurred by the Legacy Virus took a toll on her, as it had taken a toll on everyone. That didn’t make her care any less for this man.

“You doused an entire bottle of these pills, Charles. Do you have any idea what this is going to do to your body? Not to mention your mind?” she said distantly.

“I’ve dealt with pain before. I’ll work through it again,” he said.
“It’s not that simple. There’s a reason I was so reluctant to give you those pills,” Dr. Reyes went on, “They’re not just potent opiates. They’re known for having significant effects on your nervous system. By taking so many, you may have done irreversible damage to your brain. That damage could be every bit as crippling as your cancer.”
“I’m already crippled, Cecilia. Is it manageable?” asked the Professor.
Dr. Reyes groaned and shook her head at Charles Xavier’s stubbornness. At times, his resolve was to be admired. At others, it was downright infuriating.
“Before I go any further, let me assure you that I haven’t revealed the extent of this damage to your students. As far as they’re concerned, you just over-extended yourself using Cerebrum,” she told him.
“Thank you. That’s one less problem for the moment,” said Xavier graciously.
“It’s going to be one sooner or later. I’m not going to keep your secrets forever.”
“I’m not expecting you to.”
“Can you promise me that? At least in a way that’s more convincing than you did when you were still fighting cancer?”
“I won’t take your trust for granted again, Cecilia. I promise,” said Xavier strongly, “We can only deal with so many crises at once. I need to move forward. I need to keep fighting. We all do.”
Dr. Reyes studied Xavier for a moment in his prone position. She gave him her trust before and he took advantage of it while he was fighting cancer. Now he was asking to trust her again and the devastation wrought by the Legacy Virus left her with little energy to argue with him.

Rising up from his bed, Dr. Reyes reached into her coat pocket and tossed a bottle of pills onto Xavier’s lap. It went against her better judgment. But for the moment, she gave this man the benefit of the doubt.

“That should allow you to manage for a while. We’ll discuss the details once things settle down,” she sighed.
“Thank you, Cecilia,” he said graciously.
“Don’t thank me, Charles. Not for this,” she said stoically, “You shouldn’t keep pushing your luck. Your students need you. The world needs you and your dream. After a disaster like this, nothing can ever be the same.”

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Xavier Institute – Infirmary
Recovering from a terrible disaster was a surreal but bittersweet experience. Like millions all over the world, the X-men had plenty of healing to do. And it wasn’t just for Hank, Remy, Betsy, Bobby, and Kitty, who had been infected with the virus. Those who had been on the front lines against Sinister had taken their share of hits as well. However, no hit struck them more than the loss of John Proudstar.
Scott, Jean, Rogue, Ororo, and Piotr had the grim task of carrying his body back to the mansion. They ended up having to cover it in a blanket in the passanger area. In addition, they also had to carry a wounded Mystique and Logan. Physically and mentally drained, they could barely walk. But even they understood the gravity of this loss. It was a solemn time for many all over the world and the X-men were no exception.
“I can’t believe it. Thunderbird is the last guy I thought would fall,” said Bobby, who was sitting up in his infirmary bed hugging his knees.
“From what you’ve told me about him, he sounds like a pretty tough bloke,” said Betsy, whose bed was right next to Bobby’s.

“He was more than that. That guy was the one who trained the X-men. Hell, he helped define what the X-men were. I still remember how he used to dog me for not doing enough push-ups. Now that he’s gone it just feels…wrong.”

“All this death is wrong. Sinister broke all the rules and shat on their pieces. The virus may be gone, but I still feel sick to my stomach,” said Betsy distantly.
The destruction wrought by the Legacy Virus was difficult to comprehend. In total, around 300 million people were dead. Among them was a fellow X-man. It could have been worse, but it was still very horrible on a terrifying scale.
Hank McCoy had been among those infected. While the others recovered, he refused to be bedridden when his medical knowledge was needed. Even with the presence of Dr. Cecilia Reyes, he pushed himself to contribute. This didn’t go over well with Ororo. As she led him back into the infirmary, she kept scolding him for his reckless dedication.
“You really shouldn’t be doing this, Hank. You’re not at full strength. You’re not even at half-strength and you’re taking on a full load here,” said Ororo, forcing him to stop and catch his breath.
“I’m fine, Ororo. Really…I can manage,” he said, hiding his light-headedness.
“If Tessa were here, I doubt she would be as understanding,” Ororo pointed out.
“You may be right, but there’s work to be done. I prefer to stay busy instead of dwelling on all the ways I could have helped had I not been infected.”
“You can’t punish yourself for getting caught up in Sinister’s madness,” she argued.
“I know, but I can…I should still make up for it,” reasoned Hank, “With Scott and Jean handling John’s affairs while Logan and Mystique heal, someone has to do the leg work. It might as well be me.”

Hank ignored Ororo’s worried gazes as he went over the blood scans taken from the infected. He had been going over the trails left in wake of the Legacy Virus’s destruction in addition to tending to the injured. Colossus and Rogue had also been significantly injured in their battle with Sinister. They needed their share of treatment as well.

For Colossus, his injuries were purely superficial. He took a beating from Vulcan and Wolverine. He had bandages along his body and his arm was in a sling. But the discomfort remained secondary for him. He spent much of his time at Kitty’s beside upon returning. While they both recovered, it gave them time to talk.
“So…you spoke with Illyana. Is everything okay on her end?” said Kitty, sitting up in her bed while Piotr sat near the edge.
“Da, she and Kurt are doing as well as can be expected. But Nova Roma is struggling like everywhere else,” said Piotr distantly.
“Guess that’s to be expected. Even hidden cities couldn’t avoid the Legacy Virus,” said Kitty, sounding just as distant.
“And yet I still find it…troubling. All this death makes lesser issues seem trivial.”
“I don’t know. I’d argue it makes some issues more important.”
Piotr knew this was coming. Kitty did promise that they would confront the difficulties that had emerged in their budding relationship lately. She was a woman of her word and coming so close to death didn’t change that.
“Kayta, I don’t think…” began Piotr.
“Time out, handsome. Don’t start beating around the bush. You know that’s not my style,” said Kitty in a more serious tone.
“I’m sorry. I’m…just not sure this is an appropriate time.”
“Do you really think that matters to me? Do you think it ever matters to me?” she said, scooting closer to him, “I’ll just come out and say it like I always do. I’m sorry for sending mixed messages. It was an immature reaction from someone who’s still at an immature age. When I saw the way you carried yourself during the Weapon Plus mission, I saw a side of you I hadn’t seen yet. It was a side that reminded me of how I can’t begin to understand what you’ve been through.”

“I’ve never hid what I am, Katya,” said Piotr, reaching over and grasping her hand, “I am a product of the Russian Mob. Try as I might, it still affects me.”

“And somehow you’re still the sweetest guy I’ve ever met,” she said, leaning in closer, “But we can’t kid ourselves. Where we came from does affect us.”
“I won’t let it,” he said strongly, “The mob tried to make me a heartless killer. I refuse to let them succeed.”
“We’re all tainted to some degree…some more than others,” Kitty pointed out, “Like it or not, I’m not from your world. I’m a middle-class Jewish girl from Chicago. That doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It just means that if we’re going to be serious, we have to take the good with the bad. Now I’m willing to share my darker side with you. Question is…are you willing to do the same?”
It sounded like a significant step in their blossoming relationship. Piotr kept holding her hand, but remained conflicted. The idea of sharing that cold, ruthless side of himself with someone didn’t sit well. Then Kitty leaned into his warmth, resting his head on her shoulder. In feeling her loving affection, such a task didn’t seem so daunting. As hard as it may be, Piotr had to come out of his impenetrable shell and this girl was worth it.
Piotr wasn’t the only one in a shell. Rogue and Remy had also been bedridden all day. Remy was almost fully recovered from the Legacy Virus. Rogue was still dealing with the after-effects of Sinister’s attack. It was still awkward between them. There was a lot left unsaid and they maintained that silence for the most part, but Rogue kept fondling the queen of hearts that Remy gave her. That seemed to say enough at a time like this.
“So…you kept Remy’s queen of hearts,” he said, breaking the silence, “And to think, Remy was worried you didn’t get the message I sent that day.”
“Ah heard ya loud and clear,” said Rogue, her eyes fixated on the card, “Ah like to think Ah understand your lame card puns better than most.”

“That’s because you understand Remy like Remy understands you,” said the Cajun in a more serious tone, “What Remy don’t understand is why you came running back to us when you found out about the Legacy Virus. Was it just to warn the X-men?”

“That was tops on mah list if Ah recall.”
“And where was Remy on that list? If you kept that card, then I’m hoping Remy’s somewhere in the top five.”
It was annoying how well this man could read her. She didn’t hide that she still had feelings for him. He didn’t hide his feelings for her either. But he wasn’t flirting or being coy with her. He now looked at her with the honest emotion that few would expect from a former thief.
“Cherè…” Remy began.
“Let meh do the talkin’ this time, Remy,” she told him, “First off, Ah…”
Before she could begin, Hank interrupted. Having just treated Bobby and Betsy, he turned his attention to Rogue with a notably different demeanor.
“Excuse me for interrupting, but I need to discuss something with you, Rogue,” said Hank in an urgent tone.
“Can it wait, doc? We sort of be having a moment here,” Remy pointed out.
“I’m sure you’ll have others, Remy. And I think you’ll want to hear this too,” said Ororo, who shared Hank’s disposition.
“So will the others,” said Hank as he looked over a print-out of Rogue’s results, “Your blood work came back from the lab. Without getting too technical, it yielded some unexpected yet astonishing results.”
“Are we talkin’ the kind of results that will get meh back to smoking a pack a day?” asked Rogue warily, “Ah just cut back and Ah would rather not pay the dang cigarette taxes in New York.”
“That depends on how you take this. As far as I’m concerned, it can go either way.”
Now Rogue was as confused as she was anxious. She exchanged looks with Remy while Hank and Ororo paused for a moment. This was sure to be another shock to the system at time when they were recovering from many.

“If I recall, you mentioned something about Sinister being unable to infect you with the Legacy Virus,” he said.

“Yeah, that was an awkward moment,” said Rogue dryly, “It still hurt like hell.”
“You also mentioned that he forcibly infected you with some exotic variation of the virus that left you weak and sickly,” added Hank.
“Ah threw up twice on flight back and it wasn’t just because John’s body was right behind meh. But Ah’m better now, so what’s the problem?”
“I’m not sure it’s a problem per se. I’m a bit perplexed because there are some unusual forces at work. The Legacy Virus was so potent because it drained the life energy from its victims. Your powers involve a similar process…one that we still don’t fully understand. And when Sinister tried to infect you, there was a reaction of sorts.”
“Will you quit filling in every blank and give meh the big picture already? Ah need to know how screwed Ah am!” said Rogue impatiently.
“Calm down, Rogue,” said Ororo in a comforting tone, “You need to hear this.”
“I’m not sure how to explain it in full, but your reaction to the virus has made some permanent changes to your X-gene,” said Hank, “According to your latest blood work, the genes that controlled your absorption powers have been turned off. Your strength, flight, and invulnerability are still intact. But as of now, you can no longer absorb anybody.”
It was startling news. Anxiety was replaced with excitement. While she was no expert on mutant biology, she was smart enough to understand the implications.
“So…if mah absorption powers are turned off, does that mean Ah can touch again?” she asked intently.
“In theory, yes,” answered Hank with a bit of hesitation, “Although I’m not sure if there are other effects that could…”
“Then let’s get scientific and test it already,” said Rogue as she shot up from her bed.
“Rogue wait!” urged Ororo.

She didn’t listen. Rogue practically shoved Ororo aside and walked over to Remy’s bed. The Cajun didn’t have time to ask her what she was up to. He was rendered utterly speechless when Rogue grabbed his face and pulled him into a deep kiss. It wasn’t just a peck either. She smothered her lips with his in an act that brought out a great deal of pent up passions.

“Oh my…” said Hank in mild embarrassment.
“I think you have your test results, Hank,” said Ororo with a half-grin.
As surprised as Hank and Ororo were, none were more surprised than Remy. He soon found himself returning Rogue’s kiss. Once the shock wore off, he embraced her. For the first time, he could actually feel her warm skin against his. It was an intoxicating feeling and one that unleashed a range of emotions that had been suppressed for so long.
“Ah’d say that makes it official,” said Rogue upon parting from the kiss.
“What does, cherè?” asked Remy, smiling as well.
“That for all the horrible shit Sinister unleashed, something good came out of it.”
“You talking about controlling your powers, right? Or is there a wild card in that hand?”
“Quit it with the card puns and kiss meh again, Cajun.”
Rogue didn’t give him a chance to argue. She pulled him back into another deep kiss, savoring the warm touch that she had been denied for so long. Remy was content to return the feeling. Now they had no excuses. They could finally confront all the complicated emotions between them. It was a small consolation after such a horrific ordeal.
Hank was tempted to add more details to his analysis, but Ororo waved him off. She could tell that Remy and Rogue were in no position to listen.
“Leave them,” she said, “You can tell them the rest when they’re not so distracted.”
“Speak for yourself,” said Betsy from a nearby bed, “I’m the ex-girlfriend here and I’m feeling pretty distracted.”
“If it makes you feel better, I can move you to Logan’s room,” offered Hank.
Betsy cringed even as she continued watching Rogue and Remy. She had to shoot Bobby a look as well, if only to keep him from making one of his immature comments.

“I’ll stay here and try to hold my lunch down,” sighed Betsy, “I have issues, but there’s only so much insanity I can take.”

________________________________________________________________________

Xavier Institute – Logan’s Room
Logan hated hospitals and labs. He never made a secret of how much he hated them. Even after Sinister hijacked him with an extra dose of the Legacy Virus, he was not inclined to spend more than a few hours in the infirmary. In addition, he needed to get away from the other. Everybody had so many questions and he wasn’t equipped to answer any of them.
He wasn’t alone in his room either. Mystique had also been seriously injured by the Legacy Virus. It came very close to killing her so she longer to recover. Since it would have been awkward to be in a bed next to Rogue, Logan convinced Hank to let him keep an eye on Mystique. This surprised them, but Jeannie managed to persuade them. She knew the full story and assured him that he could handle it.
So here I am…as screwed up as ever, but with the love of my life in my bed. Guess I should be feeling a little less screwed up. So why the hell am I still a wreck?’
Many questions plagued Logan. Lying in his bed, he drifted in and out of sleep. Mystique had been lying next to him the entire time. Not much was said. Logan spent hours trying to talk to this woman. Even if Mystique was Rose, that didn’t mean the woman he loved was still there. So where did that leave them?
Logan was so caught up in his thoughts that he barely noticed Mystique sitting up from his bed. She was back in her blue-skinned form. She shifted herself some casual clothes and didn’t come off as hostile, but she looked every bit as messed up as he was.
“Rose?” said Logan, emerging from his daze.
“Please don’t call me that…not yet anyways,” she said in a conflicted tone.
“Well what do you want me to call you? Mystique? Raven? Old Blue?”

“I’m still working on that,” said the shape shifter, “For now, just don’t call me Rose. I’m not sure how much meaning that name has to me.”

Logan rose up and sat next to her. She still wasn’t looking at him. She was just staring off into space, lost in thought. He was tempted to console her, but they weren’t at that point yet.
“Well whatever the hell I call you, it doesn’t change who you are,” said Logan, “You’re still that same woman that fought and died with me all those years ago.”
“I know I am. I don’t intend to hide from that. I’ve deceived myself enough for one lifetime,” she said.
“So what are you gonna do about it?” he asked her, “Take it from someone who has been on the receiving in of many nasty revelations. You can’t go back to the way it was before. You gotta adapt or you’ll go crazy.”
“I’m leaning towards a little of both right now.”
“Why? Is it because of me? Or because of Rogue and Kurt? Or even that dirt-bag, Sabretooth?”
“He escaped last I checked. Your friends said he was gone when they picked us up,” she reminded him.
“I don’t give a damn about Sabretooth in any way that doesn’t involve cutting his head off. I only give a damn about you and everything we just learned about each other.”
Logan placed his hand on Mystique’s shoulder. It was still awkward, but he still felt the same warmth from her that he felt from Rose all those years ago. This meant that on some levels, there was still a trace of that woman within Mystique’s bitter shell.
“Let me help you catch up with all the recent shit in my life,” Logan went on, “For the past few months I’ve been a mess…more so than I already am. I found out that I was a hell of an asshole in my past, I broke up with Storm, and I discovered I had a teenage clone.”
“A clone?” said Mystique with a raised eyebrow.

“It’s as fucked up as it sounds,” he sighed, “And because of that, I drowned myself in booze and self-loathing. The whole time I felt this hole in my soul that kept clawing at me. And every nugget of truth I learned just dumped acid into an infected wound. The Professor didn’t understand. The X-men didn’t understand. Nobody understood.”

“Are you trying to win sympathy?”
“I’m trying to convince you that I ain’t bullshitting you. For every lousy memory I’ve recalled, one keeps tying them together…one that came from the only part of my life that was peaceful. Rose was more than just a woman I loved. She destroyed the monster I had become. Even when I couldn’t remember, I felt her influence. So when I found out she was alive, I had to see her.”
“That makes about as much sense as everything I’ve learned the past week, which isn’t saying much,” muttered the shape shifter.
“But those memories were why we couldn’t stop bugging each other. They’re why you couldn’t kill me when you had the chance. They’re why we kissed that night and why we’re sitting here now, trying to make sense of it all. Don’t act like you ain’t feeling them. If Sabretooth and I can hate each other through this shit, then why can’t other feelings work the same?”
Mystique fell silent. Even she couldn’t deceive herself into believing otherwise. For once, her emotions were raw and sincere. She finally turned to face the man that made her feel so many conflicting fleeings. In her yellow eyes was a look that came from Rose rather than Raven Darkholme.
“Logan…James…I’ve been an angry, bitter woman for a long time,” she told him.
“That’s okay. I’ve been an asshole for just as long,” he said half-jokingly.
“I’m serious. All these years, I’ve lied and deceived the world around me. I’ve lied and deceived myself just as much. Even my kids, Irene, and Azazel never broke through that deception. Sinister, as much as I hate the bastard, gave me my first taste of truth. Now I have an identity to call my own.”
“But that’s a good thing, ain’t it?”

“I’m not sure. I’m still wrapping my head around it,” said Mystique distantly, “I don’t know if I can be that woman you loved and I don’t know how I’m going to deal with my feelings for you. But I’m not going to run from them. As ridiculous as it sounds, a part of me actually loves you.”

“That’s what all my old girlfriends said at one point,” he pointed out.
“Well the extent of that love is something that spans decades of deception, lies, and lost memories. So it’s probably something we’re both going to struggle with,” she added, her tone still serious, “But it isn’t enough to just remember who I am. I need to re-learn how to live my life as Rose and not just Mystique. Because of that, I’m not staying.”
This didn’t surprise Logan, but it still disappointed him. He didn’t expect things to go back to the way things were at the cabin in Canada. For that reason, he didn’t pull her back when she rose up from his bed.
“Yeah…I figured you wouldn’t stick around,” said Logan in a low tone, “It would be pretty damn awkward between Rogue, the X-men, and everyone in between.”
“It’s not just that. There are some issues I need to work out… loose ends I need to resolve,” she said, “However, I don’t plan on running forever. I will come back.”
“To me?”
“Who else would I go to?” she said with a slight smile, “I’m sick of being this bitter old woman who keeps making the wrong decisions. If I have any chance at some form of sanity, I figure it’ll come from you. And that disturbs me to no end.”
“Likewise, darlin’. I would still argue I need the sanity more than you,” he told her.
“Be that as it may, I have to go. In the meantime, all I ask is that you keep an eye on my kids and maim Sabretooth if you ever cross his path again.”
“Sure, I can do that,” said Logan.
“Also, I want you to hold onto this.”

Mystique turned around and retrieved the dog tags she got from Sinister. She had been wearing them around her neck since she returned. She placed them into Logan’s hands, making sure he knew their importance. When he saw the names etched on the tags, he smiled. He understood the meaning and why she trusted him with this.

“This time I’m making you a promise, Logan,” said the shape shifter, “I will return. You and I will have our chance. While I can’t promise it’ll be the way it once was, I can promise to make right decisions this time.”
“Good enough for me,” said Logan.
Having given him her word, the shape shifter smiled. It was probably the most honest smile she ever had. She then leaned in and planted a soft kiss on Logan’s cheek. It was another one of those strange feelings that was pure instinct. This time it wasn’t confusing or overwhelming. It felt right and for once she was going to hold onto that feeling.

Logan kept smiling as Mystique left. He didn’t go after her. He remained on his bed, clutching the dog tags she gave him. They were another to the past, reminding him of the fateful moments that made him who he was. He owed that woman a great deal. That’s why he believed her when she said they would get another chance. The past was the past. Now they could look forward to the future.

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