Sorry Ive been so long, everyone, but what with two summer jobs, three people fighting over one computer, five people battling the on-going telephone vs. internet war, and the 4th of July, I honestly have only had time to write about a paragraph a night. Which stinks because as soon as I get into it, I have to get off the computer and lose my train of thought entirely! URGH!
I just finished the chapter, but its still really choppy to my mind, especially at the end. Unfortunately, Ive run out of time to fix it. Its less than an hour to midnight and I have to get up at 4 tomorrow morning to catch a plane to Las Vegas! My Dads taking me to fight the Borg Invasion at the Las Vegas Hiltons Star Trek Experience! Its a graduation/birthday present. Im absolutely bursting with excitement! I really wanted to get this chapter up before I left, though. Its already been a week since I last updated!
I get back from Las Vegas on Monday, so hopefully Ill have time to work on Ch. 8 then. If this chapter really is as confusing and just generally smeggy as I fear, just tell me what you dont like or like about it and Ill make changes accordingly. Thank you!
P.S. I take full responsibility for any and all mess ups I made with the Italian. I lost my dictionary and didnt have time to go searching for it so I did all the translations off the top of my head. I hope its not too awful!
And now, without further ado, here is Ch. 7!
Ororo stood in the medbay just outside the doorway to Hank’s adjoining laboratory. The large, furry mutant had been working steadily for the past four hours, drawing samples and running tests in an attempt to discover not only the reason his patient had lost consciousness on the lawn, but also the truth of his identity.
Ororo sighed, leaning her back against the cold, metallic wall. Closing her eyes, she brought her fingers to her temples and began rubbing in slow, calming circles. Outside, the sun had already risen, warming the nighttime chill from the air and evaporating the tiny, crystalline drops of dew that had collected on the grass. The birds were singing in the trees, the squirrels were chattering, the insects were humming and buzzing. But Ororo couldn’t hear them. All she could hear was the mechanical hum of the ventilation system, Hank’s distracted muttering and humming from where he was working in the next room, the soft clacking of Scott’s shoes as he paced beside their prisoner’s bed with slow, deliberate steps. And all of it was overshadowed by the steady, impersonal beeps and hisses from the machines monitoring the unconscious man she alone seemed to believe was Kurt Wagner.
Ororo lowered her head and clenched her fists in angry frustration, struggling to slow her quickening breaths. Breathing in deeply through her nose, she tried to picture herself on the roof of the mansion, looking out over the rustling treetops to the hazy horizon in the far distance. Normally that would have helped calm her so she could focus her thoughts, but today her efforts weren’t doing much good. The former weather goddess had been trapped underground in the subbasement for four hours now, surrounded by metal walls and breathing sterile, recycled air; hemmed in by hanging, florescent lights, their impersonal brightness reflecting in the smooth, polished floor… The regular, mechanical sounds assaulting her ears were so loud, so repetitive, so utterly maddening!
She opened her eyes wide, struggling to control the frantic, trapped feeling squeezing her heart as it pounded in her chest. She needed to get out of there, if only for a moment. She needed to feel the sun on her face, the breeze flowing through her hair. This place was too sterile, too cold. It was an airless box, a prison, a tomb. The large space was getting smaller by the moment, and Ororo was finding it harder and harder to breathe…
Ororo gave a violent start, turning quickly to face the man who had spoken.
“Oh, Scott!” she smiled with a rather shaky laugh, bringing a hand to her chest as she felt her heartbeat begin to slow. “I’m sorry, I was just…. You startled me, that’s all.”
Somehow, Scott had managed to come up beside her without her noticing. He was now regarding her with a concerned expression. It bothered the normally stoic elemental to realize her…discomfort…had been so obvious.
“You holding up OK?” he asked softly. Ororo’s jaw tightened slightly as she noted how, although he was looking straight at her, he always managed to keep Kurt in his sights. The intellectual part of her knew that it was a necessary safety precaution to make sure that they didn’t turn their backs on Belasco for a moment—especially since Hank had insisted the forcefield remain down until he was certain he didn’t need any more blood or DNA samples— but emotionally, it galled her to think of Kurt as under armed guard by his own friends. By the Goddess, the poor man was unconscious and he was in pain. He was strapped to the bed and hooked up to machines! Wasn’t that enough?
Ororo sighed angrily through her nose, then turned to Scott.
“Yes,” she responded at last, her voice calm and steady once more. “I’m fine, Scott. Thank you.”
Scott nodded slowly, but Ororo knew she wasn’t fooling him for a moment. He knew her and her claustrophobia too well to be put off by her aloof stare. She opened her mouth to say something else, but Scott beat her to it.
“It’ll probably be a while longer before Hank comes up with anything,” he said in a completely neutral tone of voice. “If you want to go out for a few minutes, you know, get some air…?”
“No,” Ororo retorted, a little more sharply than she had intended. She strode over to Kurt’s bedside and leaned her arms against the cool, metal railing, not looking at Scott.
“I’m not leaving him,” she insisted, her voice softer this time but no less firm. “I won’t.”
Scott looked like he was about to say something, but he pursed his lips instead with a small nod.
“OK, ‘Ro,” he said, coming up beside her and following her gaze down to Belasco’s russet face. Even with the oxygen tube running over his upper lip and tucked under his chin, now that he could see the demon’s features relaxed and calm, Scott had to admit that there was a marked resemblance to Kurt. It wasn’t exact, but that might have been because of the different skin color, or possibly the lack of fur…
Scott closed his eyes behind his visor and turned away, a sudden pang tightening his throat.
“You’re really convinced it’s him, aren’t you.”
Ororo glanced up, her brow furrowed slightly. Scott didn’t say anything more, and he didn’t turn back. Ororo sighed.
“I am,” she answered softly, looking down at Kurt. She frowned slightly as she noted how swollen and purple his fingers had become. Just looking at them was painful. Ororo longed to touch him, to try to bring him some comfort with her presence, but she was too afraid of hurting him to do more than gently brush a few errant strands of vibrant, red hair from his horned forehead.
“I know he’s…unbalanced,” she went on, running a hand agitatedly through her own snowy hair as she made the admission. “And I know he’s a danger to all of us as he is right now. But I also know he wants our help, Scott. You didn’t hear him under the tree. He called out to me.”
She swallowed, taking in a shaky breath. “The look in his eyes almost broke my heart,” she admitted, her voice barely above a whisper.
Scott turned to face her, his expression dark. “Belasco is a master of emotional manipulation,” he said. “I wouldn’t put anything past him if he thought it would suit his purpose. Don’t forget, Ororo…he’s already attacked you once.”
Ororo spun on him, her blue eyes blazing coldly in her mocha face. “Why are you so eager to just write Kurt off like this,” she snapped. “You and Charles both! Good and evil aren’t always so simple as the difference between night and day.”
She frowned, gesturing to the unconscious man strapped to the bed. “Belasco is our enemy, yes. So we must take the proper precautions to protect ourselves. Granted. But Belasco isn’t real, Scott. What is real is the fact that our friend has been physically altered and emotionally manipulated by person or persons unknown to the point where he believes he is Belasco. That doesn’t make him our enemy, Scott. That makes him a victim. And it is our duty to help him.”
“I’m not saying that we shouldn’t!” Scott retorted, his visor beginning to glow. “And I’m not ‘writing Kurt off’ as you say. He was my friend too, Ororo. You’re not the only one hurt by all this.”
”No,” Ororo acknowledged. “But I am the only one who speaks of Kurt in the present tense.”
Scott straightened, taken aback. Ororo just glared.
“Contrary to what we were led to believe, Kurt Wagner is not dead, Scott,” she snapped. “He’s right here, lying on this bed. You just choose not to see him.”
Scott tightened his jaw. “Look, ‘Ro,” he said, forcing himself to remain calm. “I believe you, OK? I’m on your side in this, whether you believe me or not. It’s just that, I have to look at this situation from both sides of the equation. I can’t afford to let my guard down. Even Charles believes—“
”Charles is a telepath,” Ororo interrupted with a scowl. “He knows the truth. He’s just unwilling to acknowledge his own mistakes. If he hadn’t sent Kurt out to—“
”Where is Dr. McCoy,” a deep, commanding voice rang out from the hall, causing both Scott and Ororo to jump in surprise. “I demand to know why I was not notified of this new development! Where is Charles?!”
Scott winced, closing his eyes behind his visor with a low groan. Ororo mirrored his pained expression as Erik Lehnsherr stormed into the medbay, his long cape billowing out behind him.
“So, this is the intruder that was spying on us?” the tall man sneered, leaning over the bed. He frowned when he caught sight of the prisoner’s swollen, purple fingers.
“What happened to his hand?” he demanded, spinning on Scott and Ororo as though the unconscious man’s injuries were somehow their fault.
“That’s what Hank’s busy trying to find out,” Scott snapped back, crossing his arms over his chest. “If you want to know more, you’re just going to have to wait here for his findings, just like the rest of us.”
“That’s nonsense,” Erik scowled, striding across the room to Hank’s lab. “I know my way around a laboratory. I’ll just—“
”You’ll just calm down before you wake the entire mansion,” Charles Xavier’s even, cultured voice spoke up from behind them. The three mutants turned as the old man wheeled into the room, his expression grim.
“Yes, Erik, as I tried to tell you before you stormed off and broke the mental link, this is the intruder,” Xavier explained, still in that calm, even tone. Erik scowled. Xavier ignored him and went on.
“His name is Belasco and he has been an enemy of the X-Men for many years. The reason you were not told he was here immediately is because the situation was not urgent enough to wake you for. As you can see, the demon is unconscious and safely contained.” He frowned, turning his sharp gaze to Scott.
“Except for one thing. Scott, did I or did I not expressly tell you to activate a forcefield around his bed?”
“The forcefield is down at my insistence, Charles,” Hank spoke up from his lab, poking his furry, blue head around the open doorway. “I’ll need to draw a few more samples before my analysis is complete, and I can’t do that through a forcefield. I have come up with several intriguing preliminary findings, however, if any of you are interested in hearing what they are.” He made a beckoning gesture with his long, bulky arm as he vanished back into his laboratory. “Just come in here, please.”
“Scott,” Xavier said, “you stand by the door and keep an eye on Belasco. With the forcefield down, I don’t want to take any chances. I’ll be monitoring him as well.” He tapped his temple with a knowing look.
Scott nodded, suppressing a sigh. “I understand, Professor,” he said, taking up his position by the door. At least he could still hear Hank’s explanation, even if he couldn’t see his work.
“Here,” Hank said, gesturing to his microscope. “Take a look in there and tell me what you see.”
Erik cast a glare at his companions, then strode forward to take the first look. He blinked, then looked again, his hard expression softening to one of amazed bafflement.
“But that’s impossible,” he stated, turning to Hank. “These cells are dividing at an alarming rate. It’s as if they’re showing…almost morphagenic properties! Where are they from?”
”Believe it or not,” Hank said, “they were extracted from the patient’s hand.”
“What?” Erik furrowed his brow, stepping back to allow Ororo a look.
“I’m sorry,” Ororo said, looking up from the slide of dividing cells, “and I don’t mean to sound dense, but I’m afraid I don’t understand. What’s wrong with him? What do you mean by ‘morphagenic properties’?
“In basic terms,” Hank explained, “it means his genetic structure is unstable and can be altered at will.”
Ororo shook her head in disbelief. “But that can’t be right,” she said. “I thought only shapeshifters like Mystique could consciously alter their form…” She trailed off, her eyes narrowed in confusion as she looked to the others for help.
“That’s true,” Hank said, taking up a lecturing position on the opposite side of his lab table so he could face the others as he continued. “But I don’t think the physical changes brought on by the genetic manipulation were consciously made in this case. For example, he obviously has no conscious control over what is happening to his hand right now.”
”What is happening to his hand, Hank?” Xavier prompted, his brow furrowed.
“Well, the changes are still in their early stages, but I would guess that the bone, muscle, and skin of his first and second fingers are beginning to merge into one digit. The third and fourth digits are likely to follow until his five fingers have become three.”
Ororo let out a short, involuntary gasp, her eyes widening slightly. Hank shot her a sympathetic look. “Unfortunately for him, though,” he told her, “the morphagenic process is extremely slow and, I’m afraid, excruciatingly painful. But this is mainly because it is not a natural process, as it would be with a true shapeshifter.”
“You see,” he went on, “somehow, someone has manipulated a dormant morphagenic X-gene in the patient’s DNA. Now, this particular gene is recessive, and can only be inherited from the individual’s mother. Shapeshifters, particularly female shapeshifters, are extremely rare in the mutant population, and as we all know, Mystique was Kurt’s biological mother.”
He shot both Charles and Ororo a pointed look. “If there was any doubt before that this man is indeed Kurt Wagner, I believe these singular findings have certainly removed it.”
Ororo looked down at Charles, but the old man seemed to be lost in his own thoughts, a deep frown creasing his face. She turned away from him with a soft snort.
“What I would like to know is why,” Ororo said, looking straight at Hank. “Why would anyone do something like this to Kurt? Kidnap him, manipulate his genes, brainwash him into thinking he’s Belasco?! What could possibly have been the motive?”
Hank shook his furry head with a small sigh. “I don’t know, Ororo. But I do know that whoever did this to him has a knowledge of science far beyond our own. Unfortunately, that means I have no idea how they did it and even less idea as to how to reverse it.”
“What was it that triggered the gene to start working now?” Scott asked from the doorway, never taking his eyes from their unmoving prisoner.
“I would have to guess extreme emotional stress,” Hank responded. “But just in case you’re wondering, none of this has anything to do with why he fainted on the lawn.”
The others waited for a beat, then Erik rolled his eyes. “Are you going to tell us why he fainted, or are we going to have to drag it out of you?” he asked. Hank shot him a look.
“Kurt—and I use the name because that is who I believe my findings prove the man in the medbay to be,” he elaborated with a glance at Xavier, “Kurt fainted because he hadn’t eaten a thing in days. He was also severely dehydrated. I’ve started an IV drip, but once he regains consciousness I want to start him out on some soup, and then maybe some solid food in the evening if he’s feeling any better. I don’t dare imagine what he’s been living on this past year in that slum of his.”
Xavier nodded, his expression stern. “He can have his soup in here,” he said, “but if he does start to feel better, I want him moved out of the medbay and into a secure holding cell. No matter his true identity, as long as he poses a danger to the population of this school, he will be under armed guard at all times. I’m sorry if this sounds harsh,” he continued with a pointed look at Ororo. “But I believe such measures are necessary. I’m not taking any chances with the students.”
“I agree,” Erik said with a short nod. “The safety of the students is our first priority. After all, if he were to--”
Just then, a sound was heard in the other room. It was brief and strangled, almost like the start of a scream. The four mutants rushed out of Hank’s lab to join Scott by Kurt’s bedside.
“His eyes just shot open,” Scott explained as the others came up beside him. “There wasn’t any warning or anything.”
Hank put his thick, furry finger against the red man’s neck, then shook his head with a frown.
“I was afraid of this,” he said. “It seems to be a side effect of the merry havoc that mutagenic X-gene is playing with his system. His pulse is racing and his metabolism is rising exponentially. The tranquilizers I gave him should have lasted twice as long as this.”
“What can you do for him?” Ororo asked, looking down at the thrashing, moaning Kurt with deep concern.
Kurt turned his head to look at her, his golden eyes wide and bright with fever and pain.
“Beatrice,” he whispered hoarsely, reaching out to grab her wrist with his tail. Ororo gasped slightly as the red, spaded tip wrapped around her arm. “Mi dispiace, Beatrice. Tu sei il mio cuore. Tu mi credi? Mi dispiace!”
“What is he saying?” Ororo asked, a frantic note creeping into her voice as he started to sob, the hot tears trickling down his russet cheeks and onto his pillow.
“I think it’s Italian,” Scott observed.
“Why would Wagner be speaking in Italian?” Erik asked, furrowing his brow. “I always thought he was German.”
”He is,” Xavier said. “But Belasco is not.”
At the sound of Xavier’s deep, cultured voice, Kurt tried to sit up, straining against his restraints as he shouted, his tail lashing wildly in agitation.
“Padre?!” he exclaimed, his golden eyes blazing with fury and streaming tears. “Perche, Padre? Perche Beatrice?!”
“Should I raise the forcefield?” Scott asked, rushing over to the control station on the far wall.
“No,” Xavier responded, catching and holding Kurt’s fevered eyes with his own. There was something there, something behind the turmoil and the madness, beyond the confusion and the pain. He could almost see it, the memory of a sunny, spring day, crowds of people in colorful clothing walking up and down narrow, cobbled streets…
The images were lost as Kurt tore his eyes away from Xavier’s, turning instead to Scott and Hank. “Io non sono un demonio,” he said, his voice weak and trembling after his previous outburst. He was losing energy fast, his eyes already drooping with exhaustion as he fell back against his pillow. “Azazel! Io non sono un demonio!”
“Azazel?” Erik repeated, confused. “Who or what is that?”
Scott narrowed his eyes behind his visor. “Isn’t Azazel—“ he began.
“Kurt’s biological father, yes,” Xavier finished for him.
“Do you think he has anything to do with all this?” Ororo asked, keeping her eyes firmly on Kurt as he slowly drifted back into restless unconsciousness.
“If my suspicions are correct, Azazel has a great deal to do with this,” Xavier said, wheeling up closer to Kurt’s bedside and reaching out to place his hand against his horned forehead. “Unfortunately, the only answers are locked up inside Kurt’s head. And with the chaotic state his mind is in, I don’t think even he knows how to find them.”
“What are you going to do?” Hank asked with a slight frown as he watched Xavier smooth Kurt’s wavy hair until the red-skinned man stopped his restless thrashing and his breathing began to slow.
“I’m going to scan his mind,” the old man explained, his voice soft and calm. “It should only take a moment. I won’t go deep. But if this works…”
He trailed off, closing his eyes as he established a telepathic link with the unconscious Kurt Wagner.
And thats all Ive got at the moment. Now, Im off to bed and then to Las Vegas! Roller coasters, horseback riding, Klingons, and Borg await!