Into the Heart of Darkness
Sinister was furious. No, to say he was furious would have been labelled the understatement of the year. The red-eyed man fairly glowed with anger, his whole armoured body bristling with agitation.
" They failed..." he growled softly, planting his hands onto a console and staring at the monitor above him. The screen reflected the scene inside the warehouse he himself had so painstakingly set up for his assault. The X-men were gathering up his men and placing them into their over-sized jet.
" They failed...."
" Master?" Threnody timidly ventured into the room, holding a stack of papers that had printed out during the course of the battle. " I brought you the--"
WHAM! Sinister backhanded her into the wall. With a near inaudible cry, she slid down the side, a faint streak of blood trailing her to the floor. She sat there, half-slumped over, papers drifting down around her still form.
" I have no time for such trivial matters," Sinister said coldly, turning back to the screen, ignoring the broken doll he'd left there. " The boy seems to have broken the control. Much like Morph did."
Sinister didn't like the idea of two of his prisoners fighting back against his implant. Two out of thousands of course, but it was the principle of the thing. And it was three if you counted Remy Lebeau, but Lebeau was in a class all of his own, being unable to fall prey to any kind of mind-altering substances. Another mystery he'd left unsolved. With the boy, Shinigami - that made two. How did he break free?
" More importantly, is how do I reclaim my prize before it is irretrieveable?" he murmered, once-blue eyes, now black stared at the screen, trying to devour the images it presented. He watched as Shinigami was gently picked up by the wild man, Wolverine, and moved the the protective covering of the Blackbird. Then a flash of green, and Sinister froze the screen.
" You..." he breathed, eyes narrowing hatefully at the brown-haired boy, clad only in a green tanktop and black shorts. Shinigami had been visibly startled at the appearance of the boy. Before his arrival, Shinigami had been performing at acceptable levels, doling out death as excitedly as a boy begging his parents for a coveted bauble. But then this...this BOY had shown up.....and Shinigami had fought the implant.
Sinister trailed one finger down the screen, tracing the outline of Heero's profile. His dark eyes had narrowed to mere slits, and his rage was almost palpable.
" You will pay, young one....I, Sinister, swear this....and then I shall have both my revenge on the X-Men, and the information I seek." Sinister threw his head back and howled with insane laughter that shook the very air with its evil intensity.
( 2 HOURS LATER)
" So what was it you knew?"
The question hung in the air innocently, casually asked, but subtley demanding an answer of the wolfishly-haired man smoking a cigarrette on one of the mansion balconies. Remy leaned against the wall and eyed Logan appraisingly. The man took one last puff and then threw the butt into a metal trashcan the professor had seen fit to place at all of his and Remy's known smoking retreats, before returning the Cajun's level gaze.
" 'Bout what?"
" Back in de warehouse when Cyclops was about to zap dat kid. You stopped him."
Logan grinned, flashing his teeth. " Ya know what curiousity did to the cat, dontcha?"
Remy smiled. " Indulge me."
Logan's smile disappeared and he scowled in place of it. " Remember Morph."
" Same thing. Morph fought against Sinister's implant when he was around any of the X-men - the closer he was, the more his memories fought to get free. Cyke shoulda remembered that."
Remy blinked, realizing the truth in those words. " You saw--"
" I saw Duo fighting himself just as much as he was fighting Heero," Wolverine finished. " He had to break free on his own, otherwise the implant would just keep its stranglehold on him. And it worked."
" Yah," Remy said softly, thoughtfully. " But did it work in time?"
If someone didn't make the dancing elephants in his head stop, someone was going to pay.
" Who taught elephants how to congo anyway?" Quatre mumbled fuzzily as he slowly regained consciousness. " 'Bet it was Trowa...."
Quatre's eyes opened completely at the puzzled voice and looked straight into Trowa's green-eyed gaze.
" I'm here," the boy said softly. " How's your head?"
Quatre shook it slowly, nodding with a small smile as the noise in his head muted somewhat with the return of his faculties. Concentrating slightly, he stoutly ignored the brief flareup of pain that action caused him, and extended his awareness. The influx of background minds seemed even damper then usual, and he thought he could sense a hint of Jean's interference.
Just as he thought that, he got a vague mental chuckle from the red-head in question.
:: I left the block up in your mind until you get your strength back to do it yourself :: came Jean's low voice.
:: But why do I need a filter? :: Quatre sent back, confused. :: What happ- ::
" DUO!" He exclaimed, eyes snapping open. Trowa reacted quickly, blocking Quatre's rise from the bed. He shook his head at the blonde.
" But Trowa! What happened? Is Duo all right? " Quatre asked him in a rush. Something fluttered at the edge of his mind, a memory of something disturbing. Trowa's brow creased in concern at the apparent loss of memory.
" I wouldn't worry about it," commented a voice from the door. Jubilee snapped her gum as she entered the room. " Red sent me to tell you it's residual psi-shock. It'll come back." She grimaced lightly. " Though I don't know if that's a GOOD thing."
Trowa nodded, frowning lightly. When Quatre had continued to show signs of shock after witnessing a - what had Jubilee called it? - psychic death, Beast had administered a mild sedative that had knocked the Arabian out, and then transferred him to a room in the medical area. Speaking of which....
" How's Duo? And Heero? And where's Wufei?"
" Don't know, don't know, and fine," Jubilee said. " Since getting here, Beastie, Jean and Cyke have been locked up in the med room with Duo. Heero's still in there - refuses to come out." She began ticking numbers off her fingers. " Wufei's sleepin' off the Shi'ar medication stuff Hank gave him while on the Blackbird coming back - does wonders on concussions, lemme tell you - , Storm's in that garden thingie she's got happening in her room, Remy's poisening his lungs with Wolvie on the balcony, Rogue's with the Prof, talkin' with one of our scientist friends on Muir island, and the three of us are sittin' here wondering, what everyone is up to."
Quatre blinked. " Oh."
" I'm going to check on Wufei, and see if I can get any more information on how Duo's doing," Trowa said abruptly, rising to his feet. Nodding curtly at Jubilee, he exited the room. Quatre looked mildly hurt. Catching the look, Jubilee decided to reassure him.
" Relax Quatre - the guy hasn't left your side since we put you under," she told him sternly. " Even though he knew you would be fine, he still didn't take any chances. He was worried about ALL of you, but to him, you took priority. Now that you're awake and coherent, he doesn't feel bad about leaving you for a minute to check on everyone else."
Quatre felt vaguely ashamed. " I see."
" Dude, I didn't mean to bring you down," she sighed. " I just didn't want you to feel, ya know, abandoned."
Quatre smiled at the Chinese girl. " I understand Jubilee. And thank you."
Jubilee mock-groaned. " PLEASE don't thank me - I've got a rep to protect that'll be ruined beyond repair if word gets out I was bein' compasssionate, or somethin'."
Quatre laughed - genuinely this time. " I won't tell a soul."
Trowa eased the door to Wufei's room open. He hadn't seen anyone in the hallway, but Jubilee had kept tabs on everyone, and had let him know where Wufei had been put so he could check his partner's out later. The room was dimly lit and he could make out Wufei's still form on the bed. Gliding across the room, Trowa pulled up beside the bed, studying his teammate critically. He noted the bandage on the temple, various band aids covering smaller flesh wounds. It looked like Wufei would live after all.
" Enjoying the view?" came a raspy voice from the bed.
Trowa's eyes stopped their assessment and flew to the Shenlong pilot's face. Wufei's own eyes opened and met his with a faint touch of amusement. Trowa grinned slightly.
" How do you feel?"
" Like I've just spent several hours listening to Maxwell's rock and roll music at the highest possible volume," Wufei groaned, shutting his eyes. One hand crept up to his head, touching the bandage. " Ow." Opening his eyes again, he glanced at the brown-haired boy. " What is wrong?" A horrible thought struck him. " How is Duo?"
" Don't know," Trowa shrugged. To any casual observer, the apparent lack of emotion would have seemed cold and cruel, but to Wufei's trained eyes, he saw faint tensing of muscles, and the bleak tone in which the words were delivered, and knew that pilot 03 was feeling very worried indeed. " They're still in surgery with him."
" And Heero?"
" With Duo."
" Aaa," Wufei nodded. He would have expected no less. Then he blinked as something else ocurred to him, and he glanced around the room once in puzzlement before turning back to Trowa. " Where's Quatre?"
Trowa winced visibly. " In one of the other rooms down here."
" He is injured?" Surprise colored Wufei's tone. " What happened?"
Trowa filled the Chinese boy in on what happened. Wufei closed his eyes in shared sympathy at the description of Duo slashing the innocent boy's throat, with Quatre and the other two psi's still connected.
" Quatre felt the boy die?"
" Aaa. They were connected through Quatre's link to Duo. The boy possessed Duo and when his body died, his mind died."
" On the psychic plane," Wufei nodded in understanding. " So he didn't just feel the boy dying, he felt his fear, his pain-"
" -His innocence," Trowa finished. " It hit Quatre....hard."
" I'll bet," Wufei muttered. Then his eyebrows shot up. " And you left him alone?""
" Jubilee is with him."
Trowa smothered a chuckle as Wufei's face paled comically. Something about the Chinese girl seemed to rattle the Shenlong pilot. He made a mental note to ask him why, when everyone was feeling better. " I'm going to go and see if I can get any information on Duo's condition," he said, smoothly changing the subject. Wufei nodded - having been seperated from their erstwhile teammate for so long, it seemed inconcievable that he was back among them. Wufei had the feeling that until they had tangible proof that Maxwell was safe, they would continue to doubt his presence.
Wufei watched as Trowa gave a small wave, nodding his head in return. Then Trowa left, softly clicking the latch in place. Wufei yawned, feeling the tiredness still in his limbs but unable to sleep. His mind replayed over and over the final few minutes of combat between Heero and Duo - the sheer viciousnes of their fight made even more so by the fact that they were actually friends. Wufei shuddered. He was just glad it was not him that had to be the one to battle Duo. Then again...he thought of the way one of Duo's blows had shattered the concrete yet left no evidence of damage on his fist.
_He would have killed me without breaking a sweat_, he realized to himself. That thought disturbed him greatly, and he shivered, pulling the thick blanket on the bed up to his neck. Curling up to the pillow, he stared at the wall, seeing Shinigami in his mind.
Hank McCoy was tired. It was the kind of dragging, lingering tiredness that gripped one's limbs and made them feel as though thousand-pound weights had been attached when his back was turned. Images of his nice, soft, four-poster, antique - although steel-reinforced - bed flooded his fatigued mind, but he resolutely pushed the pictures aside - he was a doctor, and right now, he was on call.
" There is, as they say, no rest for the weary," he sighed, one blue-furred hand reaching up to remove his glasses and tiredly rubbing his eyes. Indeed - it seemed as though fate or some higher power then mere mortal man had decided that today would be the day that, to paraphrase his good friend Wolverine, 'the shit hit the fan'. His nerves had already been worn on the day before with his colleague Cecilia being injured - and now the boy responsible for the act itself lay in the room before him, gravely injured.
To be fair, Hank harbored no malice whatsoever towards the braided boy for what had befallen the Latino woman - Duo Maxwell was the victim of a vicious ploy, hatched by an insane madman. It was not his fault.
Still - he kept seeing an image of Cecelia Reese collapsing to the ground, blood streaming from an open head wound. That image would forever be super-imposed in his mind, imprinted by a scene from a two-inch by three-inch personal communicator.
" Such heavy thoughts Hank," came a soft, chiding voice from the doorway. Hank looked up, slightly perturbed that his keen senses had not registered the presence of the voice's owner before they had spoken. Jean nodded at him.
" I masked my approach," Jean said, giving the Beast a warm smile as she neared him. She took a moment to observe her teammate, sensing his all encompassing tiredness. " I apologize for intruding on your thoughts Hank, but to be honest - I was getting a little worried by the self-doubt I'm reading from you."
" No need to apologize dear lady," Henry returned her friendly look, before letting his mask fall slightly. " And what you are sensing is nothing more then some residual emotions from earlier."
" When Cecelia was here?" Jean asked gently. Hank nodded and let out a small chuckle.
" A note to myself, that it is extremely difficult to keep anything from a telepath."
" It's all right to feel anger Hank."
" I know that," he chided the red-head gently. " I also know that it is ridiculous for me to feel anger towards a young boy for doing something over which he had no control, and no way to stop himself from......" he stopped, a pained expression coming over his face.
" From hurting Cecelia," Jean finished for him. " I understand Hank - and I'm sure Cecelia would agree that it wasn't Duo's fault."
" I know she would," Hank agreed. He sighed, rubbing the side of his head as though trying to massage away some sudden pain that had manifested. " She's a very forgiving lady." Then his head slumped forward. " When I saw her collapse.....Jean, I....I thought..."
Jean understood what Henry had wanted to say, even without the use of her telepathy, and she came forward, wrapping her arms around her old friend in support. Hank and Cecelia had expressed a hesitant interest in each other, once upon a time, when Cecelia had still been living in the X-mansion. But there had been too much going on then, too many battles to fight, and Cecelia still hadn't completely come to terms over the revelation that she herself was a mutant. They had gone their separate ways - Hank staying on as a valued member of the X-Men, and Cecelia trying to go back to some sort of normalcy. Since her being discovered as a mutant had been so public, it had resulted in her losing her job at the local hospital. But thanks to some private funding by Professor Xavier, the fiery Latino had set up her own practice in Salem, close to the mansion, and keeping in touch with her former teammates. She and Beast remained good friends. Hank had never wanted to damage that part of his life with her and had decided to keep his fledgling feelings to himself for the time being. Seeing Cecelia lying on the ground in a pool of her own blood, gasping for his help and then not being able to do a thing about it.....
Hank returned the embrace firmly before releasing Jean. He grinned at her, a trace of his old self back in his toothy smile.
" Thank you Jean."
Jean hushed him thoroughly. " No thanks needed Hank," she said, patting his arm. " That's what friends are for. " She bit her lip, studying him thoughtfully. "Do you feel any better?"
" Indeed I do," Hank said genuinely. Knowing that Jean knew how he felt, and understood his emotions and reason for feeling that way, gave him a sort of release from the guilt he'd been harbouring about feeling angry towards an innocent. Feeling much more clear-headed, he replaced his spectacles on the bridge of his nose.
" Good." Almost as an afterthought, Jean added, " Come on in, Trowa."
A blushing Trowa slowly entered the room. Sensing the apology in his mind, and half-formed on his lips, Jean hastened to reassure the boy that he was not intruding.
" Welcome Trowa," she greeted him with the same warmth that she had used towards Henry.
"........" Trowa looked a little lost. Hank waved jovially at him.
" Hello dear boy - how might we be able to assist you?" The doctor leaned forward confidentially and mock-whispered, " Just mind the red-head - she's notorious for causing trouble."
" Hank!" Jean protested playfully and punched him lightly in the arm. Seeing them play brought a sense of familiarity to Trowa, reminded of happier times when he and his teammates acted in such a manner, and he finally smiled at the two of them. The tension dispersed, Hank nodded slightly.
" I assume you're hear for an update?"
Trowa nodded in return. " Status report?" As an afterthought, he added, " Please?"
Hank reached up and gripped the ceiling pipes. Swinging his legs upwards, his feet hooked into the rafters and he let his upper body sway gracefully towards the floor. His arms folded and he reached over for a sheaf of papers on a nearby counter, turning them so that while they made perfect sense to him, to anyone else watching, it looked as though he were reading upside down. Which he was. Trowa's eyes widened at the sight of the hulking blue man dangling upside down from the ceiling, reading medical stats. Jean smothered a chuckle, recognizing Henry's classic 'gesticulating' pose.
" He does his best thinking when all the blood rushes to his brain," she whispered to Trowa who couldn't take his eyes off the man. Trowa nodded slowly, apparently accepting the explanation.
" I heard that you know," Hank commented mildly. He adjusted his glasses - Trowa marvelled at how they seemed to defy gravity - and began reading excerpts from the papers aloud.
" For startes, your friend Quatre is fine, absolutely one hundred precent in the peak of physical condition."
" And the mental?" Trowa asked with a hint of concern still left over from the disturbing scene he'd witnessed earlier.
" Did he seem disturbed to you when you talked to him earlier?" Hank returned. Trowa shook his head - negative. " Well, there you go. I ran a few tests on him, and other then residual psy-shock, he's fine. The shock will go away - and Jean will talk to him about what he experienced, once he's regained his mental strength."
Trowa looked to Jean for confirmation. The red-head nodded solemnly at him, projecting her assent into his mind.
:: The filter is still in place for now, Trowa. I won't remove it until I talk to him and help him deal with what happened ::
Trowa thanked her with his eyes, satisfied.
" The Professor is upstairs talking with one of our friends - the confrontation coupled with all of his searching did a number on his mental reserves, so it's back to the conventional video-phone with him for a while." Beast shuffled his papers. " He'll be fine though."
" Wufei is also going to recover completely - I originally feared he had a concussion, but it turns out that aside from that bump on his head, and some other bumps and scrapes, he's uninjured. He'll just be a little stiff for the next few days."
Trowa hid a smirk at the thought of a bed-ridden Wufei - nah, he couldn't see it. The Chinese pilot was too strong, too proud to let such an insignificant injury keep him from his daily exercises, and morning rituals.
" Rogue, Gambit and Cyclops suffered no lasting injuries other then the usual assortment of cuts and scrapes. Wolverine's costume was blasted to high heaven but thanks to his healing factor, he's already back to his old habits."
" I believe he's with Gambit on the balcony right now with Gambit, indulging in one of them," Hank sighed. " I thank my lucky stars and garters that the Professor declared the entire interior of the mansion to be smoke-free."
Trowa again suppressed a smile at the thankful look on Henry's face. Then he straightened, waiting for the axe to fall. Henry noticed and he too, lost the joking expression.
" Heero will be fine. I did a preliminary examination of the lad and he's healing remarkably quickly. He has told me of his enhanced abilities - not how he acquired them of course, but if mutants do not exist in your world, it only stands to believe that his DNA has been tampered with. While whoever did it should be drawn and quatered for performing such acts on a child-" Hank's lips pulled back in a soundless snarl, "-it has indeed served him in good stead. Thanks to Sinister's manipulations on your comrade Duo, I have no doubt that had it not been for that DNA tampering, Heero would be dead."
Trowa swallowed, feeling a strange tightness coiling in his stomach at the picture the doctor's words painted. " Where is he?"
" With Duo, where he's been since they arrived." Hank shook his head. " I didn't have the time to fight with him over his presence in there, but it was a new feeling indeed to have a sixteen year old boy in an operating room watching your every move, one who seemed totally unfazed by the blood, and the cutting I had to do to reach the bullet, and the stitching up afterwards."
" I guess after setting your own leg, routine surgery is kind of tame," Trowa offered awkwardly. Hank eyed him nervously.
" Please tell me you're joking."
" He's not," Jean answered, noticing the look of relief in Trowa's eyes as she deflected the doctor's questions. " I have a feeling they've done this before anyways - after all, they are fighting in a war, in their own dimension."
" I...suppose," Hank said. Trowa looked up at him, eyes dead serious.
" And Duo?"
Hank let out an explosive sigh this time, placing the papers back down on the counter. From his dangled position, he could look Trowa directly in the eye.
" Physically, Duo will recover. He was in the best shape I'd wager he's ever been in when he took that bullet. All that battling he did, as I understand, inflicted only minor wounds to him. The bullet was the most severe, and that entered his right side. Luckily, it exited as well, tearing a large hole, but ultimately a clean one - it missed all of his vital organs. The most danger he was in was from shock and blood loss - and I replaced that as soon as he arrived here, setting him up with an IV. I was hesitant to use our blood - different dimensions and all that - but fortunately, Heero is a compatible match."
_Maybe in more ways then one_. Trowa noticed his evasion of the 'shock' part. " And the rest?"
" Well, the body is one thing - the mind is another." Beast folded his arms again. " I want to wait until he's recovered some of his strength before I attempt to remove the bug that Sinister implanted in his mind. From what I've seen, that shouldn't take too long."
Trowa quirked an eyebrow.
" Apparently Sinister did to your friend what had been done to Heero - the bug in his mind not only made him loyal to Sinister, it also heightened his abilities, increasing his agility, his stamina, his speed and his strength."
" How do you know for sure?" Trowa asked, somewhat puzzled by the doctor's deductions.
" When you all first arrived here in such a state of shock, I ran some tests on you to learn a bit about you before I started with the dispensing of various medications and such. Shi'ar technology is such a wonderful thing." Hank smiled dreamily at the images of all his pretty mechanical toys, just waiting to discover new, prize-winning discoveries. He shook his head, returning to the business at hand. " Anyway, I recorded all that I learned, and I compared the latest result's from Duo's testing to the originals and there were some significant changes."
" Such as?" Jean asked curiously.
" For one thing, his lung capacity has expanded, allowing for a greater intake of air at each breath, increasing one's stamina. His bones are lighter, the muscles longer and more elastic then normal - this would explain any increase in speed and flexibility."
" I thought the bug was simply a method of mind-control, Hank," Jean protested. " That's what it did to Morph, after all."
" Indeed - but it also gave Morph increased control over his shape-shifting abilities. He went from being able to only to change appearance, to being able to alter his scent, and DNA enough to fool even Wolverine's senses. Remember what Wolverine said when he chased after him when Morph left?"
" He said it took him a while to register Morph's scent, even when Morph had been in the bar with him," Jean said slowly. " He'd never been able to block Wolverine before - scent or no scent - Wolverine was his best friend. They were too close as friends to be able to hide from each other."
" And yet he could," Beast nodded. " What I'm seeing here with Duo confirms it - that bug, if left implanted for any length of time, not only changes a person's mind, but their DNA as well."
" So Duo's like Heero," Trowa noted. His brow furrowed. " But is he Duo?"
Hank understood the somewhat convoluted question.
" That, we won't know for certain until the boys awakens. But from what I understand, he beat the bug, if even only temporarily, when he pushed Heero out of that bullet's path. That speaks volumes for Duo's strength of mind and determination of will."
" If that bug is beaten by mind power, Duo's going to be fine," Trowa said calmly. Inwardly, his mind reeled at the information being shot at him, and he closed his eyes for aminute, letting it all sink in. Duo was in for a rough time of it, he could tell. Not for the first time, he thanked the powers that be that it wasn't Quatre going through all of this. then he immediately felt guilt towards feeling that way.
:: Stop it Trowa :: Jean's 'voice' told him sternly. :: I just went through something similar with Hank. It's natural for you to be thankful it wasn't Trowa - that doesn't mean you're GLAD it happened to Duo, right? ::
:: No :: Trowa sent back vehmenently.
:: I rest my case :: Jean said, somewhat smugly.
Trowa blinked at her, apparently accepting her logic. Then something else occured to him.
" Who's the Professor talking too?" he asked curiously. What could be so important that the man was actually foregoing rest and recuperation for conversation? While it could be innocent, Trowa couldn't help but feel that familiar sense of paranoia creeping up around him again - was this person trustworthy? Would the Professor mention his...unusual, guests? The urge to stake out a computer and do background checks came up and hit him with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer between the eyes. Jean chuckled at the mental image and sent a rush of calming, soothing words. Trowa relaxed slightly.
" He's speaking to a colleague of ours - Moira McTaggart," Beast explained. " She's one of the Professor's oldest and dearest friends - and a brilliant scientist."
That was not comforting to Trowa, who knew first hand, what 'brilliant' scientists were capable of.
" Moira is completely trustworthy," Jean said resolutely. " And she's the only one with the backup information on the dimensional warp hole Beast had been studying - all the equipment that had been stolen from us."
" She has the same stuff?" Trowa's eyes grew even larger then before.
" Not quite, " Beast said somewhat mournfully. " What she has, is every note, test result and drop of information that I had about the matter container, and the experiment's I had been conducting with it."
" Is that safe?"
" It's a actually a standard procedure for us," Jean informed him. " And it's justified - if we hadn't begun our practise of making backup copies of everything we do and sending it to Muir Island, we wouldn't have anything to work with, and you'd be stuck in our world for the rest of your lives."
" Miss McTaggart has her own experiments and problems that she spends her time on - but she does the same thing. I have, in our safe, the copies of everything she's done." Beast grinned. " It's a safeguard for when things like Sinister showing up and robbing us happen."
" I guess," Trowa conceded. " Where's Muir Island?"
" Across the Atlantic," Jean supplied. Trowa blinked.
" Yeah, I guess that would be enough distance between the two facilities to minimize joint threats," he mused, reverting into tactical ops mode. Jean and Hank exchanged concerned looks, and Jean just sighed. From her talks with this somewhat reticent young man, and Quatre, she knew what they both had gone through - it didn't seem unusual for Trowa to think about things like placement and attack procedures, if you ignored the fact that the person in question was a sixteen year old.
Trowa nodded, as though coming to a decision within himself, and then looked up.
" May I see Duo and Heero." Politely worded, nevertheless it was more of a statement then a request. Hank nodded, pointing towards an door that was half-way open, across from his laboratory.
Trowa walked the length of the room, pulling away from the two observers. Stepping up to the door, he slowly and silently peeked around the edge.
The room was dimly lit, the faint light casting its shadows around the room. Trowa's eyes immediately picked out Duo, lying prone and motionless on the bed.
The American was deathly still, so still that for a moment, Trowa forgot the reassuring words of the doctor and had to force himself to breathe. _He's alive, you idiot_, he told himself sternly. No. Even as Trowa's eyes roved over the sheet-covered form, picking out the IV lines from the tangle of wires and monitors, he knew it wasn't Duo's physical health he had to be concerned about. Briefly, he wondered what would happen if Duo never regained his own personality, or worse - if he was permanently warped from his experiences. Trowa couldn't remember a time when the braided one wasn't doing his best to lighten a tense situation, and he shuddered at the thought of Duo turning into a shell of his former self.
Or worse - turning into someone like HIM.
Trowa forced that thought back into the corners of his mind, and firmly locked it in place. No sense in making problems now - they'd have plenty of real ones when Duo woke up.
His eyes then noted the still form next to the bed. Heero Yuy sat in the reclining chair, half slumped over, head tilted downward on his chest, arms folded. His whole body had shifted to face the doorway - even while sleeping, Heero was watching out for his partner. Staring at the protectiveness of that stance, Trowa wondered what was going through Heero's mind. Was it concern for a friend? Worry about a partner? Did Heero blame himself for not watching Duo's back? After all, they had been the ones taking out the lab that had eventually started all of this - and it would be just like the Perfect Soldier to blame himself. Trowa snorted - he knew he would. Was that what made the Japanese pilot scowl in his sleep so? Or was it something else entirely?
Only Heero knew that answer, Trowa decided finally. Part of him wondered why Heero hadn't yet sensed his presence. He should have been waving a gun in his face by now, threatening to kill him or something.
:: I put him to sleep :: Jean said, somewhat apologetically. :: He had been awake since early this morning - and he hasn't really slept since you've arrived here and Duo was found to be missing. He was asleep on his feet - he just didn't know it ::
:: And here I thought he was losing his touch :: Trowa sent back in a rare moment of levity. He felt Jean laughing mentally and he smiled. Backing away from the door, he turned and faced the two across the room. Walking by, he paused, turned and bowed lightly.
" Thank you," was all he said, before leaving the room. Henry's eyes met Jean's and he sighed once again.
" Children," he mumbled sadly. " Remarkable."
Heero watched impassively as Hank went through what had become a morning ritual. Check the machines that monitered the boy throughout the night. Check the silent boys vital statistics. Adjust the intravenous feed into the slender wrist, test the reflexes. Throughout the entire procedure, Heero's eyes never left the sight of Duo's morning checkup. Soon enough, it would be his turn, and Hank would turn those concerned eyes and prodding thermometers and needles his way.
It had been three days since the huge battle/slaughterfest back at the warehouse. Three days in which Duo had remained unconscious, and completely unresponsive. When he voiced his concern, Heero was told by Hank and Jean that it wasn't unusual for a victim of mind-control to be so unresponsive. Duo was in a coma-like state, that would only help him at this point - he needed the down time to allow the rest of his body to heal the physical wounds.
Heero winced - at the time when he was trying to beat some sense back into Shinigami, he hadn't realized just how hard he was hitting.
During sparring matches or even hand-to-hand combat against OZ soldiers, Heero had a very tight reign of control on his body. Doctor J had trained him well, and his genetic enhancement meant controlling his power at all time, else he would accidentally knock someone's shoulder out of joint if he tried to casually slap someone on the back. During the fight, Heero had somehow sensed something different about Duo, had felt the raw power radiating from the blood-drenched figure, and let loose.
Three broken ribs, two cracked, three broken fingers, lacerations all over his arms and face. The baka hadn't felt a thing though, and had kept fighting like a wild animal.
Heero flexed his own muscles gingerly - Duo had given as good as he'd been dealt. Lucky for him, another perk from the Doc's happy house of horrors had been extraordinary recuperative abilities. He was almost fully healed from the encounter, a fact that Hank found fascinating.
Especially since Duo was exhibiting the same ability.
_What did they do to you?_, he wondered silently, staring at the still form.
:: We're going to find out, today ::
Heero looked up as Jean entered the room, Hank and the Professor right behind her.
Jean watched Heero's eyes snap up to meet hers, mentally chilled at the emotionless sight of those blue ice chips drilling into her. Then Heero relaxed somewhat, recognition seeping back into his expression. His fists unclenched, and she felt his protective level drop a notch. But only a notch. The sense of protectiveness she was registering warmed what the hard gaze had frozen. He was worried about his best friend - it was understandable.
Jean had been in the worrying business a long time. Well-used to the tension of wondering whether a loved one was going to pull through, she hoped that by the end of today's little session, they'd have an idea as to what had been done to the American pilot.
With the help of the Professor, she was going to enter Duo's mind, and bring him back.
" Why can't you do it now?" she remembered Heero demanding, nearly the minute Duo had been stabilized.
" Because he's still hurt. Badly."
A trip into one's mind was dangerous enough when the person was conscious and healthy. In the mind, one was capable of defending themselves and their thoughts with anything they could think of, and a blow felt on the psychic plane was just as painful as a physical one. There was also the added danger of Jean having to dig past Duo's defences and past the implant Sinister had implanted.
Jean recalled the horror and nausea she'd felt when the x-rays of Duo's skull had come back, and they had seen the little blip on Duo's frontal lobe that was so eerily similar to the one that had appeared on Morph's x-rays. The thought of someone so young having to go through so much pain weighed heavily on her mind and she sighed as she reminded herself that these young pilots were no strangers to pain. That was good because what she was about to do was going to hurt like hell.
Heero watched her sit down on the bed, stroking her hand gently across Duo's face, brushing the long bangs out of the way. The look on her face was almost maternal and it reassured Heero, seeing how much she cared. He knew she wouldn't hurt Duo. He relaxed a bit more.
Hank looked at the professor.
" He's healing very well - I'd wager he's got only a fraction of say, Wolverine's healing factor, to give it a comparison, but that little bit has been more then enough to stabilize him enough to attempt a mind jaunt."
His flippant tone did nothing to mask the underlying note of concern. The Professor nodded slightly, well aware of the dangers of the mind.
" Jean is more then capable. I will act as a link, should she run into any danger."
Hank and Jean both nodded - it was standard procedure to have a 'back-up psi' on hand to sever a link in case of trouble. Heero frowned.
" What do you mean danger?"
" Duo may or may not be the Duo you know," Jean said softly, meeting his eyes evenly, not holding back anything. " He could still be Shinigami - the boy you fought in the warehouse."
Heero scowled and crossed his arms but said nothing, knowing of the truth in her words. She may be right. That didn't mean he had to like it.
Trowa, Quatre, Wufei and Jubilee sat in the large, spacious kitchen, making idle conversation. The past three days had been so tense, what with their concern over their teammate. Quatre, having been fine since waking up, felt it clearly, and was thankful for Trowa's solid belief that everything would turn out. Wufei had been up on his feet two days ago, declaring he felt fine, and when told he should go back to bed, his single response had been, " Give your concern to the one who needs it most right now. I assure you, that it isn't me."
Quatre reflected that Jubilee had probably been the saviour of their sanity during those three days. Well-used to battles and their after-maths, she had spent most of her time reassuring the pilots that their friend was in the best hands he could be in. The rest of her time was spent flirting with Wufei who had, she noticed delightedly, the interesting ability to turn various shades of red whenever she teased him.
Quatre watched Jubilee try to feed Wufei an orange slice and smiled at the Chinese pilot's attempts to fend her off. Then the smile turned a tad meloncholy and he stifled a sigh, noting once again, the non-presence of two of their members. Trowa sensed his mood change and cast a curious glance his way.
" Hai." Quatre smiled tiredly. " Just worried."
" We all are," Trowa said. " But it will be fine in the end."
" Yeah," said Jubilee, pausing in her attempts to cram fruit down Wufei's throat. " Hank is like, a super-genius doctor, and Jean is the second most powerful telepath in the world, next to the Prof."
" I wish I had your confidence," Quatre told the girl. " But I'm afraid we've seen too much disappointment to get our hopes up just yet."
" It's gonna be fine!" the girl insisted. " Geez, you guys are SO untrusting."
" It's part of training," Quatre admitted wryly.
" Beside's," Wufei challenged her, suddenly tired of her countless reassurances. What could she possibly know of their fear? Their pain? She said she'd been in fights before, but how could she know what it felt to look death straight in the face, every single day? " You know nothing of what we've seen." He hissed this out, and watched Jubilee's eyes widen in shock, the forgotten orange slice hitting the ground with a faint smack.
Quatre closed his eyes. He could feel Wufei's tension that had been building for some time - the presence of Jubilee had seemed to grate on his nerves ever since they'd arrived for some unknown reason. Her casual remarks of hope must have fanned the flames that had been simmering. Still, there was no reason to be rude, and Quatre opened his eyes and his mouth, intending to say something.
His words caught in his throat at the look of pure unadulterated fury on the girl's face.
" You selfish asshole!" Jubilee shouted at the shocked Wufei. " What is your problem? I'm trying to be friendly here, and you've done nothing but snipe at me since you've arrived! Excuse me for living, Chang Wufei, but you're not the only one dealing with issues here!"
She stood up, slamming her fists into the table, making the rest of them jump slightly.
" I don't know what you've seen, huh? Well, Chang - have you ever seen one of your friend's assimilated in front of you by some inhuman creature?  It's worse then watching them die - at least if dead, they're at peace! I've seen people turned against each other by mind-control! I've seen my best friend in the world have his skeleton ripped from the inside-out while still alive! " She leaned right up to Wufei, sticking her nose right into his. " At our school there are two little boys that can't leave the building without using hologram technology to disguise the fact that they have green and pink skin 'cause even though they're children, they'd be hunted down!  Hunted down! I have been kidnapped, attacked and abused by numreous bad guys who seem to enjoy causing pain even though their actions once resulted in the construction of Sentinals - who's sole purpose is to wipe us out! And why?" she snarled. " Because we're not considered human! We're mutants - we don't have the right to live, the right to breathe the same air as humans! But even though we're spit on, we have to defend these bigots from our kind because its the right thing to do! You say I know nothing of your pain, but if you'd open your damn eyes you'd see we have more in common then you think!"
Having exhausted her temper for the moment, Jubilee thumped back into her seat, still glaring at the shell-shocked boys. Wufei was still frozen in place. Jubilee blew out an explosive sigh, and ran her fingers through her hair, pushing her sunglasses back further and steepled her fingers under her chin.
" Aw damn...what am I doing?" She shook her head. " Look, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to dump on you - I know you're worried about yer friend and all..."
Her voice trailed off, and she looked away shame-facedly. Since they had arrived she'd been flirting, teasing and generally making light of what was a bad situation. Obviously they weren't used to this kind of hassle - they didn't know of mutants and powers and the sickening displays of bigotry they were forced to take each and every day. She pushed herself up.
" I'm sorry," she gasped and turned, bolting out of the kitchen as though the hounds of hell were nipping at her heels.
Quatre raised a hand as she went. " Jubilee!" He turned to glare at Wufei who continued to blink, jaw gaping. " Wufei - that was uncalled for!" He snapped angrily. Trowa sat silently, eyes boring into the Chinese pilot who suddenly shook his head. " Wufei?"
Wufei's head bowed for a moment, and when he looked up, Quatre was surprised to see a small smile on the pilot's face. " What are you smiling at?"
" Just like Meiran," mused the Shenlong pilot. He stood up, nodding at the couple remaining. " Please excuse me - I believe I have an apology to make."
Quatre watched, astonished as Wufei did an about-face and walked off in the direction Jubilee had gone. He turned to Trowa, jaw hanging open. " Did you see that?"
" Uh-huh." Never one to waste an opportunity, Trowa took advantage of Quatre's open mouth and kissed him. Qautre eye's widened. Trowa shrugged. " It was tempting me."
Quatre mock-glared at him. " What about those two? Shouldn't we go after them? They might kill each other or something!"
" Wufei can handle it himself." Trowa got a very predatory look on his face as he began commencing on the small blonde. " You worried me, you know."
" Um....sorry?" Quatre offered, before wrapping his arms around the Heavyarms pilot. But as he re-acquainted himself with his mate, his thoughts turned back to their original worry. _I wonder how Duo's doing?_
Remy smothered a chuckle at the adorable sight in the kitchen and decided to get something to eat later. By-passing the kitchen, he instead went straight to the elevator and selected the sub-basement level. When the metal doors opened, he went down the corridor, and turned right at the intersection. Left would take him to Cerebro. Right would take him to...
" Hey Rogue!" He grinned. She looked up from the computer screen and smiled back.
" Remy! " Her brow creased as she eyed his empty hands. " I thought you were getting something to eat?"
" Didn't wan' to interrupt - Trowa and Quatre were a having a moment together."
Rogue grinned rakishly. " I love moments." She sighed, glancing back at the data flying across the screen. " But I don't have time for one."
" D'at be unfortunate Cherie," Gambit drawled lazily before pulling up a chair. " So what's up?"
" Nearly finished downloading everything Moira had on Beast's matter converter and all the notes and whatnot he sent her on his experiments. She's really interested in what's been happening - she's thinking about flying down to give Hank and the Professor a hand."
" Not like we couldn't use de help, eh girl?" Gambit tilted the screen slightly so he could see what progress had been made. He whistled at the numbers and science jargon assaulting his eyes. " An' here I t'ought I knew somet'in' 'bout science - dis be way over Gambit's head."
" Yeah right," Rogue shot a look at him. Remy could probably follow along almost any technical conversation Hank could choose to have - it was Remy's choice to downplay his own intelligence. _You can take the rat off the street but you can't take the street out of the rat_, she thought fondly. " M'almost done swamprat."
" Always wit' de names," Gambit grumbled. He stood up, stretching slowly. Rogue stole an appreciative glance out of the corner of her eye. Gambit noticed and winked exaggeratedly. She laughed.
" Git Cajun! Go check on what the other's are up too! You're distractin' me!"
Remy laughed and nodded, disappearing out the door. But isntead of going to the infirmary, he made a detour into one of Beast's labs, seating himself at the computer and pulling up his email account. He groaned at the amount of mail that had come in, in the few days he hadn't checked it. The icon blinked at him, signalling a new message and he clicked on it.
Where you been boy? I've been sending message after message - what's going on? We know ya had to leave town quick - X-men work, right? - but the Guild is still waiting for an answer. Get back to me, 'kay?
Remy swore tiredly, and rubbed his arm across his face. It was hard to believe that only only a week or so had passed since he'd left New Orleans and had been thrown into this nightmare involving Sinister. He found himself becoming somewhat protective of the pilot's - warriors in their own right, especially the still unconscious Duo. He knew, better then anyone, what it felt like to be under the control of that madman. He vowed to be there when Duo woke up and came to his senses - he'd be damned if he let another child fall prey to that psycho's mind trap.
He scowled at the message on the screen. He didn't need this crap right now.
_But you ain't got no choice, boyo_, he told himself sternly. Clicking on reply, he typed his response.
Relax, mon frere - I know. We got some problems here I got to take care of. Let me handle this first. I'll be in touch.
Short, and to the point. He clicked send, and then erased the original message. Exiting the program, he decided he'd go check on how Jeannie's mind jaunt was going.
1. This is in referrence to the Phalanx - an enemy that's kinda like the Borg on Star Trek. They assimilate any organism into their collective consciousness, but the soul is still there. They just can't do anything about it. Jubilee was referring to her friend Blink who was assimilated and killed by the Borg.
2. The famouse Wolverine storyline where his adamantium skeleton was ripped out. In my story, like in the comics, he has it back. I mentioned this before - in this fic, he has his adamantium, placing this story in a TWT - at one point he lost it, but has it back, even though this story takes place in a time when the comic-Wolverine still doesn't. *pause* Did that make sense to you?
3. Referring to Artie and Leech. Artie has pink skin and is mute. He communicates through mental pictures. Leech is green-skinned, and has the power to drain the power of any other mutant in his immediate vicinity. Leech and Artie are survivors of the Morlock clan that was killed in Marvel time ish's Uncanny X-men 210 to 214. At the time though, they were living with a team called X-Factor, which is how they escaped being killed. Both are gues-stemated at being approx. 7-9 yrs old.