The Bauers, Isabel Mendez, Emilio Suarez, I-Ping Soong and Tham Kriengchayapruk belong to me. Jason Auspach technically belongs to Marvel, but I supplied the surname. Anyone else belongs to Marvel. I'm not profiting by this.

Some language, graphic violence and mature topics in various places.

Comments go to ja_glinka@yahoo.com Flames will be blithely ignored.


Minute Change

Part 11

Karolina Phillips

10/11/98

 

Mystique stomped into the living room growling and snorting whenever appropriate in case someone happened to pass by.

"Mornin', Wolverine." A blond haired boy smiled at her and waved. "Anythin' ya'd like t'watch?" He offered the television remote to her, or rather, to whom he perceived to be the X-Men's resident Canadian.

She grunted. "No thanks, kid. Ya enjoy yourself." From here, she could keep a tab on the lovebirds. Under different circumstances, she might kill LeBeau but her daughter was clearly enamored of him. It was intriguing how circumstances changed, often as a result of nothing more than a change in point of view; intentions redirected. It wasn't that long ago.

Raven and Irené sat companionably in the kitchenette drinking coffee and working their way through breakfast in a small ritual that made an otherwise chaotic life resemble normalcy. They had set up residence in a small, somewhat shabby townhouse in a suburb off of D.C. The walls were plaster, the floor linoleum and worn carpet, furnishings from Sears. By appearances, those were what mattered when dealing with authority, they were honest, middle class citizens.

Irené murmured to no one in particular.

Raven stopped with the cup halfway to her mouth. "Another premonition?" Destiny had begun with increasing frequency to see flashes of one future among the tangle of thousands intersecting and branching, a future in which they encountered a former operative named Carol Danvers who would apparently cause them a great deal of trouble. In order to turn that future to their best advantage, they needed to take in a certain young person, all according to Destiny. Of course, the future rarely did what one expected. Very often it was the very actions one took to change a future that brought it about, as if the future had already taken into account people like Irené.

"Indeed. The more I review the matter, the more urgent my visions of the child are. Her future is not the only one I see, but it is the most common. I believe she may be crucial to overthrowing Ms. Danvers. Although...." She shook her head slowly, frowning. "I do not know more; it is too far in the future."

Sipping her coffee, she mused on that. "Her again? A child, the small, filthy, noisy, urchin? Runs around, gets dirty, wears a sign that says 'shoot me, I'm your enemy's greatest valuable'? And you still say this little monster will be powerful enough to crush Carol?" She had considered, quite a few times now, Irené's suggestion of fostering this unknown child. The precognitive was rarely wrong and this could be a delightful opportunity to mold someone into her own image.

"Raven, do not be so harsh. She could be very useful--will be--with the proper training. Come now, a child would not be so horrible and the future she has now has not the greatest prospects. Consider it at least."

Raven held up a hand for solace and closed her eyes. "Enough. I have considered it. Repeatedly." She was currently occupied with climbing the ranks of the Pentagon and investigating a mutant research program. Research program. Hah. By the time any mutant party notices, it'll be too late to save ourselves. The government will use mutants like Carol and then dispose of them when the public demands it, meanwhile endorsing a program of euthanasia. The last thing she needed was a child to take care of day in and day out. If any hint of mutant was connected to her life, it could ruin her ambitions, or complicate them at the very least. Any why should I spend years of my life caring for an ungrateful urchin, someone who could turn on me like a rabid animal?

Mystique started to attention, aware she had been daydreaming and wondered how much time had passed. Only four minutes and some seconds. She relaxed and thought of her first son with distant interest. She'd had the ill fortune to bear him in a time when social conformity was the ideal, when open contempt of those who were different was still an acceptable norm. Perhaps if she had shaped him more personally rather than allowing others to tend him Graydon would not have so avidly absorbed the culture around him. Yet, she recalled her utter rage when that boy, that mewling brat, had dared to look at her with his green Creed eyes full of self worth and disgust for her. Very few emotions touched her deeply, but smug superiority cut her to the quick. Maybe if he had not condemned her, judged her, for something she could not affect, she would not have discarded him like a piece of accidental human trash. Or, maybe I would have. He was of no use to me. Either way, he was lost to her.

Her second child, Kurt, had been an equal shock. She had settled into a life of moderate luxury, servants and ease. It had been a small price to pay to bear her husband a son in return, or so she thought. As it was, they received a darling baby demon. To make matters worse, his birth had been damaging enough so she lost focus and assumed her natural form horrifying the physician and maids. Running from a lynch mob while nearly bleeding to death was one of her less pleasant memories. She had managed, just barely, to contain her hatred of the newborn. Some scrap of maternal instinct led her to abandon the child on the doorstep of a Romany family instead. I wanted so badly to throw that cruel joke of nature into the river, drown it and be rid of it. Let Kurt think I did. It's for the best that he not try and seek me out. He is too forgiving, too trusting.

I never wanted that responsibility.

Anticipating the argument, Irené disrupted her mental tirade. "If rearing of the child is your chief concern, St. John and I could assume that responsibility. The both of us know a great deal. We could tutor her in to avoid messy education issues. I swear to you she would not be underfoot. I would see to it myself, if necessary."

"You would do that? Why? Why are you so in favor of fostering an unknown quantity?"

"A child, dear, not a thing," she mildly corrected. "First, because it would aid your cause, second, you spend a great deal of time working."

Raven winced, glad that Irené's eyes were hidden. Too polite to say lonely with me away. "Very well, but remember, if she ever becomes more of a hindrance than aid, we're rid of her."

"As you wish."

"Good. So what will her mutation be, specifically, that is?"

"Will be? Is, perhaps. She is under a great deal of psychological stress and regardless of age, that can easily trigger a budding mutation." Irené shrugged in a motion that could be mistaken for an intake of breath. "You may recall our difficulty in defeating Ms. Danvers will stem from her great strength and your problem of acquiring an individual who can match it, yes?" Raven nodded slightly. "She will be able to take that power and the woman's skills for herself."

"A mimic, then?"

"That too."

Destiny was a wonderful person but prone to cryptic remarks. Mystique raised an inquiring eyebrow knowing Irené would, in her unique way, sense her puzzlement.

"Like a mirror but the reflection will only include what she has taken and will be warped in unexpected ways. It will be a hazardous ability, fraught with risk to her sanity, but I believe we could make use of it and, in turn, prevent her from becoming mad. That is, of course, incidental."

"Naturally." Great, just what the world needs, another Sybil. Mystique thought about the opportunities such an ability would create. They could obtain information firsthand without leaving a paper trail. Enemies could be neutralized, and in a way, used. Irené tipped her head with a soft smile entreating her. "All right, all right. I'll give it a go. Hmph, a daughter. Talk about unexpected parenthood."

Irené smiled into her plate. A soft, somewhat sad, laugh followed. "Yes. I wish there was more time to examine this, after all, a life altering decision, but there is not. I am pleased you agree."

"What else do you know about her? Should we lock up the silver? Install a security fence?"

"Tsk. We already possess a fine security grid, but to answer your question: Do not be overly disturbed if she takes it upon herself to hide in a dark corner from time to time. I am sure you can extrapolate the remainder."

"Oh. Is that all," Raven commented dryly. An abused child. Wonderful. "Trying to appeal to my altruistic side?"

"You do not have an altruistic side," Irené loftily retorted.

"You realize what you're asking of course? No doubt her family has political connections that will need to be diverted, relatives, legal records, property issue...." Her coffee mug wavered in midair before she set it back down and reached for the salt shaker. "This could take- oh, you said tomorrow. You realize that's a very annoying habit you have, don't you?"

Irené's smug smile was at odds with her words. "My sincere apologies."


Rogue halted part way through her room door. There was nothing obvious, but all her possessions seemed to be subtly rearranged. The books on the shelf were tilted in the opposite direction. The stuffed dolphin was on the corner of the bureau not in the back. A clean wooden area showed where the answering machine had been shifted a half inch. The paper piles on the computer desk had been moved. She rolled her eyes as the hum of rapidly displaced air interrupted her doubts and caught a white-booted foot.

"Pathetic. It took you at least thirty-six seconds to realize someone had been in your room."

"Afternoon, Momma. Nice t'see y'again." Her mother shifted from Storm's shape into her own, as it were. The first thing that caught Rogue's eye was the glitter of many gold rings. She counted the piercings and decided not to speculate on other unseen locations. Probably aren't even real. "Lookin' young 'nough?"

"Watch your tone. I seem to recall a girl who wanted a tattoo a few years back." Brushing by, she prowled the room in discrimination. "What if I'd been an assailant? The only thing that saved your life is your seventh sense and it's not even your power is it? I taught you better than that. I spent years teaching you common sense and what happens?" She gesticulated broadly. "A few years with this pathetic group of do-gooders and you lose it all." A cigarette magically appeared in her hand.

"Saved my life? You were gon' kill me? Le'me guess. Pathetic is the word of the day? An' please don' smoke in my room." Mystique's ranting meant she was only putting on a show. When truly angry, she would become deathly quiet, stalking her subject in predatory circles smiling politely the whole time.

One arm akimbo, Mystique pointed at her with the cigarette. "For you? Certainly, I expected better. Why did it take you so long? And since when do you object to tobacco? You tried to smoke all sorts of things," she verbally jabbed.

"Yes, well, Remy smokes. Ah figured it was the best way t'get him t'leave me alone, an' Ah wasn' the last one in my room so how was Ah s'posed t'know it was you who done moved everythin'? Although, Ah did know." She pocketed her hands. "No one else would. Y'came all this way t'insult me?" You intruded on a private moment, laughed at me, knowing how I feel about spying, and expect me to be happy about it?

"No." Mystique arched a supercilious brow, smirking at the empty liquor bottle in the trash. "Hungover?" She pocketed the smoke.

"No, Ah'm jus' pissed off at you."

"Ah, so you're upset that I interrupted your cozy chat? If you'd dropped me a note I would have been more traditional and invited him to dinner. And then we could have made charmingly barbed small talk and sent each other thinly veiled death threats. Interrogating suitors is a mother's prerogative." She grinned toothily. "Some things are better said in person."

Rogue took a deep breath and walked into her quarters. When she reached the center of her room, though, she could think of no small task with which to occupy her mind. "So maybe Ah should have mentioned it. Sorry. Ah was busy an' forgot." More than that, I didn't want to believe he meant it. It was a silly game and then it changed into something else. "But Ah don' think y'came here t'discuss my love life."

"Love life? What a charming way to phrase it." With a long-suffering sigh, Mystique shook her head making the dozen or so rings jingle merrily. The motion also served to disguise the worry in her now dimly glowing eyes. "LeBeau." Waving the cigarette to the ceiling, she shook her head dramatically and chuckled. "Did you fuck him?"

"Momma, geez...." She ground her teeth once, then folded the cuff of her glove. Mystique was goading her out of worry. I will not let her rile me. "No, of course not. Could you at least be civil?"

"Very well. Did you do anything at all with him?"

"No."

"He seems interested. Have you even managed to touch him without putting him into a coma?"

He seems interested. Yeah. He does. She astonished herself by smiling for a fraction of a second. Then she recalled why Mystique was here and groaned. "No," she answered belatedly.

"No. I see. That's a glitch in things, isn't it? If you've used your power on him, and I sounds to me like you did, then you know his every fantasy, his every desire." Mystique was close enough to brush her shoulder. "And you can't give him anything -"

"Can it. This is none y'business. Like Ah said, if this tauntin' is all y'came here for, then y'can up an' leave right now. Ah know this game an' Ah've had enough of it."

"What's wrong? Hurt your feelings?" she bit out, chopping the air over Rogue's head. "That's what you came here for, isn't it? And like I said, have you made any progress whatsoever with you power or are you still conveniently stalled at 'the slightest touch triggers the transfer'?"

She wanted to hit, to say something, anything, to surprise Mystique. But, dammit, she's right. Grown adult and she still makes me feel like an uppity kid. Mystique had never been one to set her down and teach lessons from a book or with explanations. Everything had been taught on field or through consequences. Every now and then, Irené had taken pity, offering a bit of guidance but her powers had been left entirely to her own discretion. Even so, Mystique had stopped to check on her, to prevent serious injury. She just acts cold. She doesn't mean to hurt. Or at least, she believes it's for a good cause. She never played games and she's not playing now so why do I feel like a pawn?

There was a litany of excuses to offer: No time, no opportunity to practice, the stigma associated with her native power, inability, and more. None of them were true. There had been a great deal of free time to practice, many private moments, but she had not wanted to go behind Xavier's back. He wanted to be present when she practiced in case something went wrong and she did not want to lose his trust.

"The Prof's been busy and the team goes from one fight to the next, like we used to."

"Xavier," Mystique drawled sarcastically. "Open your eyes girl. There must have been a week he could have given you in the past five years. A month. If he didn't, it's because he didn't care or didn't want you in control. When has he succeeded in honestly helping a mutant control their abilities, hm? His son, Cyclops? That brat, Iceman? Emma took care of that for him. You? Face it, this team is using you and you would give your life -- I would include your services except you clearly haven't been doing anything skillful -- for so little in return?"

"They're family." Too late, she saw Mystique physically flinch, then feign disinterest.

"How fortuitous for this group of bleeding hearts. Tell me, what did I do, that this team hasn't, to earn your rejection?"

You used me when I didn't know it. You lied to Kurt. You faked your death, twice. You rejected us. If we did the same to you, it's only fair. "Ah haven' rejected you. Why is it always one or the other with you?"

"Me? I believe in being decisive and following through, which brings us to the purpose of my visit. We, or rather, you have some matters to wrap up. We're going to play a different game, one called: How to avoid being stabbed in the back, also known as leave no witnesses the first time around but if you do, remember, they know who you are."

A cold wash of betrayal shocked her dumb. Despite their difficulty communicating, Rogue had always believed that Mystique would never intentionally put her in harms way out of spite. True, she had done so in the past but only because Destiny had assured her safety and survival. This was different. "No. Ah won't do it. What rock y'been livin' under? Ah am not your thug anymore!"

"No, that's right. You're Xavier's thug. You were never mine. You were my protégée. If anyone in this room sees things in extremes, it's you. I don't care what you do with your life, but I'm ashamed at what you've become: Useless, spineless." Suddenly aware of what she was saying, she braced herself against a wall and rubbed a hand over her face.

Rogue blinked away tears and nudged out her desk chair. She sat on it backwards and listened to Mystique muttering in German. She had a lot of good memories associated with that language as it was one her Momma and Irené had used. Why are we hurting each other like this? Why can't we stop?

"I'm sorry. I've never been good at being a mother. I didn't mean to hurt you."

"Ah know."

Mystique straightened, with no expression on her face, and continued as if she had not reacted emotionally moments before. "So I'm correct in assuming you wouldn't want to bestow a similar fate on any future children?"

Rogue cocked her head in puzzlement, seeing but not quite seeing where the discussion was heading.

"I'm assuming that you still have the guts to use and control your power regardless of whatever censure you encounter, that you still wish for a 'normal' life, a husband, children. Very quaint," she shrugged with a less than scathing smile, "but if that's what you want, you're going to have to learn how to survive without your team of bodyguards. The X-Men may fight for a different cause, actually, the same cause we did only in a different way, but it's still a perpetual combat situation."

"Ah could take stand-by status."

"Until you tired of being a dutiful mother and decided to go play war again? You can't sit still for more than five minutes unless you're sulking," she scoffed.

Rogue did not deny the truth; she thrived on action. When in combat, she could forget all her personal problems and limit herself to the moment of motion, power, balance. A good fight was the only effective way she had of relieving stress. She had a bit more difficulty processing the concept of ever being a mother.

"You know, I nearly went insane when you all staged your collective death in Dallas. You can blame the reality of the world I'm imposing on you on me if it makes you feel better, but the truth is, I might go psychotic if you died by a knife in the back or spent our whole life letting this team, a dream, drain you dry. This isn't a game. This is the life I've been sheltering you from. Now, are you going to deal with Victoria or not?"

She rested her forehead on the chair back in consideration. She could turn down Mystique's petition, tell her to leave and never return but she loved her foster mother. Their parent-child bond might lack the traditional elements but it was very real and dear to both of them. Why else would she come back, keep an eye on me? She knows she can't use me. She thumped her head making the chair squeak in protest. Then there was the less noble facet of the situation. Mystique had information and it was obvious that data would only be given if Rogue agreed to hear out the game plan. I could turn her away, but that'll leave someone out there who knows and resents me and might take it out on someone innocent. She was not frightened of unexpected attacks, they came quite routinely, but neither was her mother. If this situation warranted a warning, it warranted an open ear.

"Ah think we should go for a drive."


The sun was waning, melting snow off the trees with mid afternoon heat fogging the windows. By its very nature, the inside of a car was neutral territory for them. It was cramped, options for attack were limited and Rogue's strength could easily tear the vehicle apart. As for Mystique, she was driving and could, in an unlikely circumstance, be killed by an error in judgment.

"How much do you remember about the Bauers?"

"Well, as far as Ah know, Tori always worked for you in one way or another. Ah guess she must owe you, or something, but y'never did tell me those sort of things an' frankly Ah don' think Ah want t'know. She's married to Clive, last Ah heard, active FBI, although Ah guess he'd be gettin' kind of old for field work these days. We ran afoul of him back during the whole Suarez mess. That was the first time Ah met. Course, Ah don' know 'bout you."

"Good start. Do you know why it turned into a circus?"

"Clive showed up sooner than you expected?"

"Yes. Apparently the government was a bit more paranoid than we suspected and had a squadron pre-assigned to the laboratory. Either that, or someone tipped them off. Regardless, we encountered more resistance than expected."

"Yeah. They even tried to ambush us after we doubled back but how could they have known we were gon' double back unless.... Wait, are you sayin' Tori sang? But that's crazy. If you had gone down, she would've too."

"Not necessarily. She's married to the government and the last thing the Feds like is a scandal. They might well have offered her immunity in exchange for the infamous Brotherhood of Evil Mutants." Mystique dragged out the word evil with a bit of glee. "It would be quite a nice deal, actually. I would have done it. In fact, I did do something along those lines later in life." She flashed a rueful smile when she referred to Freedom Force.

"But if she did turn traitor then why didn' Clive set up a clean ambush right at the house? Y'know, it's not impossible that Clive was jus' smart enough t'realize what direction we were headin' in while his back-up located the jet." If Tori is turncoat, why would she warn us before hand? Why not hand over the information to Clive and high-tail it? The only reason she could think of was that Clive would have resources to track her down unless he was eliminated altogether. But why would she talk without immunity in exchange? "Anyway, what about Suarez? What happened t'him, that is, after Ah, y'know."

"Oh, come now. You can say it. 'I shot him.' Accept it. As for the good scientist, his body mysteriously disappeared. No remains, nada." She shrugged eloquently. "I imagine it was a cover up, or maybe he did get up and walk away. Maybe he was a mutant," she cheerfully suggested.

Rogue only heard the first part of her commentary. "Oh, so, what? Ah'm s'posed t'be proud of bein' dragged along on Brotherhood missions? Sure, everyone's Momma teaches 'em a hun'red and one ways t'kill by the time they're thirteen."

A muscle in Mystique's jaw worked furiously and her nostrils flared. "Don't you dare accuse me of forcing you to do anything. You asked, you begged to be part of the team. You even overachieved," she growled. "I learned long ago that relying on others for protection was a deadly trap. I wanted to make sure you didn't fall into it. If you're going to blame me for teaching, you better be prepared to blame yourself for learning."

But it's not right. I only wanted to please you. I would have died for praise and you still can't give approval, can you? Rogue toyed with the ashtray. She had absorbed Mystique's psyche several times and knew how devoutly her mother cared. Hating her for her mode of expression was pointless. "Y'have somethin' t'tell me 'bout Clive an' Tori, besides that Tori might be a traitor?" Although traitor's pretty relative.

"Yes. Clive went on an extended meeting about a week ago, out west. Someone took great pains to cover his tracks. He came back and Victoria called us."

"So he gave the info t'someone in exchange for what?"

"Us, most likely, or a means to get at us."

"Yeah, so why should Ah get involved? Why should Ah risk my good standin' with the X-Men? Even if there's a third party involved, though Ah can't see an agent putting out a hit on someone, why should Ah go solo? The team'll protect me if it comes down to it." She already knew she would go, but a decent bluff never hurt.

"Because the information includes the names of five people who are alive and in the country. These people, by virtue of being members of the Underground, don't want to be associated in any way with the vaunted X-Men and would most likely run if they saw a red X anywhere within their vicinity. I need to keep a low profile which leaves you to protect them, if you're up to it. Second, I'm sure someone or several someones might learn things you didn't want them to know."

What her mother meant was that she refused to help out old friends that had outlived their usefulness. Personal survival came first for her. Not for me, not for a hero. She knows me; she knows that I have no choice but to stick my neck out for them. Furthermore, she did not want her friends and family to learn any facet of her past from anyone other than herself. That sort of thing shattered trust. "Who are they?"

"Krieng, Brammel, Izzy, I-Ping and Auspach."

"Locations?"

Mystique grinned tauntingly. "In the interest of time, I'll give you one. Brammel's in the Big Apple, the sweltering cesspool. You might want to try a phone book. They're usually about yea thick, thin white pages, newsprint type. I'm sure you've seen one."

"Y'don' have t'be patronizing," she mumbled back. Why now? Remy and I have just gotten the legs back under our relationship and I have to go save some people I don't even remember? Just because they might try and kill me if they don't get killed first? She fought back the childish resentment, the frazzled distractions. As soon as she did, she felt a guilty burst of excitement. A mission would be a welcome distraction from laboring over a relationship. Surely a search and rescue of five people who should know her would not take long. In a way, it would be a reunion. Remy could wait a couple of days without missing her.

"I'm not. Would you mind some additional incentive, advice, if you will?"

Here we go again. "Your kin' of advice?"

"Please?"

"Fine." Her acquiescence was unconditional now. Her mother never asked nicely.

"If you're serious, if you see any future with LeBeau, then you might want to do your homework on the guilds. Sooner or later, he'll return to New Orleans. If not there, then definitely a guild. He's ranked and respected in certain circles and neither of those things can be tactfully rescinded."

"He ain' goin' back; he got banished." It had not stopped him before and, according to rumors, he had gone back on a number of occasions. He's got home and family here, but sometimes clan comes first. Sometimes.

"So?"

"So, nothin' t'worry 'bout." His visits home were temporary and generally interrupted by enemies of one type or another. A long stay was unlikely and judging by his clan's politics, impossible.

"That trick may work on your friends, but it doesn't work on me!" The car fishtailed, tires squealing. "You know I'm right. Jean Luc's oldest son and heir was already assassinated. What better way to prevent a second case?"

"Yeah, well, if he ever goes back, I'll deal with it then." The question was how to choose between him and the X-Men. He was possibly heir apparent to a clan that had all but shunned him. And ignored me. Jean Luc wasn't exactly friendly. Tante Mattie was, but I get the impression she's nice to everyone. The team had a dream to fight for and she was useful to them. Not only that, but she had learned to value loyalty at an early age. It would be cowardly and dishonorable to simply leave the team over a personal want. She laughed to herself. Must be why I came back.

Mystique twisted back with a scowl. "Deal with it when? Since when did you put things off? Is that what you learned here?"

"No. Ah learned to trust my friends and their word."

"LeBeau will become guild head, and unless you get up off your lazy ass, you might as well leave him now without wasting any more of your time! I don't believe this." She calmed so all that moved, with a tremor, were her rings. "You may have a choice in your future, but he does not. His path is fixed."

"How can y'know that," she scoffed. "He's an X-man now." Rogue was amused by this new tactic. Had it not been Irené's favorite method to claim destiny, fate, multiple but fixed paths? This was incredibly unlike her mother. Does she really think I'm going to believe her? I'm not that gullible.

She shook her head briefly. "He is, always has been and always will be a Master Thief. Nothing will change that and until you accept it, I can't help."

Rogue slouched in the car seat, reconciling Mystique's earlier comments about Remy with these. Was it possible her foster mother was curious? "Help with what? Ah thought y'di'n' like him."

"Oh, I don't, but when the choice it between him and Magnus-"

"Joseph."

"Yes, Joseph. When the endorsement choice is between a self-appointed messiah and a disenfranchised thief, I'd rather back the one that won't spend more time trying to rule the world than take care of his friends. At any rate, once you set your heart on something, there's no point in dissuading you. I have no intention of losing you to your own foolishness." She fell silent for a moment, relegated one hand to the task of steering.

"My life."

"Don't be flip." She pulled out another cigarette, rolling it between her fingers impatiently. She pensively stared at the road and after a few seconds, a wry smile curved her lips, and she seemed to come to a decision. "You still read the paper, watch the news?"

"Uh huh."

"Mm. Did you know that some hospital wards have begun testing fetuses for the X-factor? Did you know they offer the choice of induced miscarriage in the case of a positive result? Did you know that there were three reported lynchings in the past week, more probably? Can you tell me how many mutants have been executed by Sentinels?"

Rogue caught her breath as the import of that sank another piece of fragile hope she held about her home country. Trust her to attack from an unexpected direction. She turned her head away from Mystique. "Why're y'tellin' me this?"

"Why am I telling you this," she turned the words over in her mouth, as if they were foreign cuisine. "A better question would be, why are you unfamiliar with current events? Why are you upset that I told you that? Do you really think that if you avoid knowing these type of things, they won't affect you? Tell me something," Mystique leaned over the narrow space between them, "do you think an elite paramilitary group of mutants can protect you from things like that for the rest of your life?"

Rogue?

Rogue was ashamed at the relief she felt over the interruption. Jean?

Yes. I'd like to meet with you and discuss the fluctuations in your power and mental state.

You make it sound like I've lost it. What's going on?

I'll explain it to you later. Who's that with you?

Can't you tell?

No. There's some type of disruptor around them.

In that case, it's Mystique.

Why's she here?

She's my mother. She's entitled to visit.

Does Forge know?

By now? Sure.

Oh. When can you see me?

Now, I guess. The contact broke and Rogue started. "Jean wants t'talk with me 'bout my powers."

Mystique literally hissed. "You always were lucky. She was listening?"

"She probably used Cerebro t'track me down. We're in range, after all."

"And you didn't think to mention it?"

"It hardly matters...Momma."


Jean met them in the foyer of the Mansion. Mystique noted how she and Rogue put a good five feet of personal space between each other, gravitating like two planetary bodies trying to avoid collision course. Jean, with her direct gaze, the jut of her chin, was a woman on a mission while Rogue resorted to darting glances. Raven wanted to know the source of the tension between the other two. It might be interesting.

She gave Jean a gimlet smile. "Good afternoon."

The telepath inclined her head. "Mystique. It's nice to have you here."

"Yes, I've had a pleasant visit. Give my regards to your husband. Though," she waited a beat, "you wouldn't, of course, mind my continuing presence?"

"No, of course not." Jean was obviously not pleased, as she fell in beside Mystique and they both followed Rogue.

"So, what exactly have you two been working on?"

"Uh...well, that's a bit confiden-"

"Jean's been helpin' me with my power."

"Rogue-"

"Oh, come off it Jean. This is my Momma we're dealin' with. She's gon' find out one way or 'other so it's best t'jus' tell her."

Excuses. I suppose this is her way of telling me that she has been working on regaining control. It was too little, too late by her standards. "She's quite right, Jean, so let's skip the preliminaries. What have you two been doing? Nothing I'd approve of, I hope?"

Jean closed her eyes and shook her head ever so slightly. "Charles Xavier had enormous responsibilities and some of them...some, I can't begin to deal with but I can try and complete some of the smaller tasks."

"And what is your exact task, concerning Rogue?"

Jean did not answer immediately, but as if prompted, Rogue interceded. "It's okay, Jean. She did raise me after all. If she's feelin' charitable," and that aside came with a dry look, "she might tell you somethin' useful. Y'all jus' preten' Ah'm not here."

Mystique raised her chin guilelessly, allowing some jauntiness to infuse her walk. It was two against one at this point. Jean could not stonewall without being rude and Mrs. Mother Hen could not possibly be uncharitable to a guest, even an obnoxious guest. She saw Jean mouth an angry phrase.

"I've been helping her with memory suppression. In most cases, you want the opposite, but with her unique power, repression and containment of memories seems to be the norm. Although, she does seem to have solved that problem on her own."

Now she had to make sure that Rogue did not follow Jean's direction blindly, which meant casting the telepath in a negative light through choice phrase. "Well, if she has then why are you still harassing her?"

"It's my job to harass her," she snapped.

Mystique chuckled. The irritated response furthered her previous goal. "Very good, but you haven't answered my question."

"There have been some unexpected developments with her power and the developments are connected with.... Can you please turn off the psi-shield? I'd rather not speculate out loud like this. If that's all right with you, Rogue?"

Rogue sighed and scuffed her foot once along the ground, before answering, "Feel free."

Raven disliked trusting a telepath within her mind. Her secrets were nobody's business but her own. Nevertheless, telepathic communication would be a quick way to learn what she wanted to know. While her view of Jean was tainted by her memory of Madelyne, whom she'd mistaken for the other in the past, the telepath struck her as extremely earnest and patient. As odds went, these were not bad. She flipped the 'off' switch on her discreet psi-shield. Never leave home without one.

Mystique?

I hear you.

Good. I know she's been here several years and her condition hasn't improved, so you have no reason to believe me, but I really am trying to help her. I'm not an empath, but I can see she's upset about something, and not to be rude, but I'd be grateful if you didn't antagonize her. She's already under a lot of psychological stress right now.

Then my apologies. I have no choice but to antagonize her. I can see she's having difficulty with a certain personal relationship, but I doubt she'll go crazy because of it and you admitted that she had overcome a memory suppression problem. Unless there's a new development you'd like to tell me about, I have no reason to aid you. She had Jean hooked, now to draw her in by implying she, Raven, had valuable information relating to her goals.

You want a good reason? Her power is not only out of control, but it seems to be taking self-initiative. The worst kind of mutant is one who is controlled by their power instead of the other way around. Suffice to say I think the root may be psychological. Furthermore, I'm not asking for your help. I doubt you can help because I know enough about you to realize you would have if you could have. For her sake, don't make things worse.

Quite the worry wort, aren't you? And how do you know I can't tell you something useful?

I'm not going to deal information with you.

You have no choice. I'm more familiar with her past than she is. I'm also a third party observer. I can speed up your treatment process.

If you really know something, I can pluck it out of your mind.

But you won't. You can't. You're too moral to do something that convenient and helpful in the long run. That always was Xavier's weakness, his inability to do what was necessary the majority of the time.

Having morals and constraints isn't a weakness it's-

Oh, for pity's sake, don't give me that tired lecture. I'm older than you and intend to live for quite some time. When the shit hits the fan, all the morals in the world make not one whit of difference. I wouldn't be surprised if it's his absurd morality that kept him from properly helping Rogue. Xavier's only a man and he couldn't have helped being influenced by his fear or superiority. A mutant that can tear free minds? Can take power at will? Can violate secrets of the soul? It would be immoral to facilitate that kind of ability wouldn't it? That type of power is wrong. How could he trust someone 'less' than him to use is properly? Of course he didn't do anything. And you claim to be a therapist.

Jean fell silent, withdrawing into herself. I'm not going to defend myself against such an openly biased attack.

Of course I'm biased. Everyone's biased. Mystique did not ask if she would defend Xavier or contest the existence of Onslaught. Gloating could cost her victory. Now, is there something you'd like to know? You said there's something wrong with her power?

...Yes. I was going to say earlier, a trauma induced defense mechanism. I need to know the past to understand the present.

Telepathy had one major disadvantage: It could not convey emotion. Mystique heard the words but could not tell if they were resentful, a pale shade of the truth or impassioned. That went back to odds, though. Besides, she had accomplished her own intention; swayed Jean's perception of the vaunted Professor Xavier. Like a change in one degree, that change could throw her course off by miles. And the dear girl won't talk about her past, will she?

No.

And?

And, I can see what she meant about you always getting your way. Jean's expression was equal parts perturbed and amused. We've wasted seconds waltzing. If there's something you'd like to tell or show me, then by all means, do so. Otherwise, make yourself comfortable somewhere else in the Mansion.

Here was the greatest gamble. Though she wanted this situation to be to her advantage, Mystique also wanted what was best for Rogue. That meant revealing a bit of truth and trusting that Jean would act on it. Very well. Here's something Xavier probably knew and in his great wisdom chose not to mention:

Irené sent me to find her and when I arrived at the appropriate destination, I disguised myself as the maid, which tells you something about her family's financial condition. As you know, money is power and in this case that power overwhelmed a certain member of her family. Her mother was...unfit. She and her child were being supported by a male relative. A rather charming man, actually, smooth-tongued, well-dressed politician type. Raven shrugged. It was clear to me that he was resentful of the burdens placed on him. I'll assume you know the statistics and, as indeed, he expressed that hostility, shall we put it politely, towards the child. She was about eight. Too young.

Too young for what? Jean halted in mid-stride, rapt.

I don't know exactly. I was generalizing.

You suspect abuse and are dismissing it as trivial?

Many children are abused, Ms Grey. I would go as far as to say it's not abnormal or unusual. Humans seem to enjoy hurting each other.

"Guys? Um, we're here." Rogue was observing their telepathic ping-pong match with her characteristic puzzled frown.

"Er, I.... Yes, I think we're done. Mystique?"

Raven gave Jean a hard look, then turned to leave. "I think I'll search out young LeBeau. Good luck. Don't lose your head."


PART12

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