This is not the first time General Armond Gaudier has stared Death in the face. It is, however, the first time Death has stared back. ‘You can’t hope to get away with this,’ Gaudier tells the enigmatic Raven Darkholme a.k.a. Mystique as she stands on his chest with her classy high-heels and points a large gun in his face. ‘”You can’t hope to get away with this,”’ mocks Mystique, before telling Gaudier that he cannot hope, and declaring that she is very unimpressed, as she thought a thirty-year career solider like him would have come up with a more creative epitaph than that. ‘Do you have any idea how unoriginal that will look on your tombstone?’
The frightened General claims to Mystique that he has done nothing to her. ‘Nothing to “me”, no,’ agrees Raven, before pointing out that when he started providing - or rather allegedly providing - the Friends of Humanity with weapons in their “war for genetic purity”, his name was added to her list of least favorite people. Mystique exclaims that as anyone who knows her will say that she doesn’t treat her friends very well, so one can imagine what she does to her enemies.
Armond Gaudier tells Mystique that he has read the files on her, and reveals that Forge, her mutant associate at the State Department made a full account of her treatment at his home in Dallas, which means everyone who needs to know has learned she was posing as the Deputy of the Defense Advanced Research Planning Agency. Gaudier tells Mystique that her cover has been blown and points out that it will take years to re-establish her power base here in Washington.
Mystique smirks, before boasting that she will somehow get by, pointing out that she is a shapeshifter and can therefore be anyone she chooses - alive, dead - or about to be dead. Raven transforms into Gaudier, and declares that she finds this particular form ridiculous, before exclaiming that she olds allegiance only to herself, and transforming into Abraham Lincoln, reminding Gaudier that he is a soldier of the United States and is supposed to stand for something - integrity, honesty, Mom and apple pie.
Shoving her weapon nearly up Gaudier’s nose, Raven tells him that he threw all that away, along with the rest of his life, when he put his faith in gene trash like Graydon Creed, the founder of the so-called Friends of Humanity. Gaudier defends himself by claiming that Creed had nothing to do with the weapons he provided, and declares that the Friends of Humanity is a perfectly legitimate special interest grass roots movement, adding that those who were involved with the assault on s SHIELD carrier were acting on their own.
‘General, please, I find dishonesty so…unattractive in a man. Don’t you?’ Mystique exclaims before the General shouts for help. Raven whacks him in the face with the gun, breaking his jaw. ‘How positively inconsiderate!’ she mocks, before shoving Gaudier’s face up against a window and cracking it, ‘But then, that’s me - selfish to a fault!’ Raven exclaims, before telling the General that to be brutally honest - as opposed to brutal - she couldn’t care less about him and his paramilitary mutaphobic friends.
Mystique tells the General that everyone should have a hobby, but unfortunately for him, Creed made the mistake of sending Sabretooth after her. ‘That affects me personally!’ she exclaims, pulling him back from the shattered window, adding that strictly through association, it also affects Gaudier. Raven informs Gaudier that unlike every other Mutant du Jour, she has no interest in defending “her” people. She remarks that she wouldn’t be here at all - if she didn’t need him to deliver a message to Creed.
‘You’re not going to kill me?’ Gaudier mumbles through his broken jaw and bloodied face. ‘I didn’t say that,’ declares Mystique as she unplugs a lamp and shoves it against Gaudier’s face, backing him against a wall. Raven reminds him that she said he is going to deliver a message, and beats him over the head with the lamp, before pulling the cord tight, and grinning as she brings it up to his neck. Mystique tells him not to worry about memorizing the words exactly, as she is sure Creed will get the gist of it.
Several moments later, before the General’s blood has even had time to dry upon his plush, carpeted floor…Mystique is already making her escape - in her own inimitable style. Posing as a soldier named Colucci, she exits Gaudier’s room, just as the Sergeant approaches, asking if there is anything to report. “Colucci” replies that there is nothing, and asks him what he expected - that some crazed mutant would break in here at the office for Genetic Integrity and kill the General. The Sergeant laughs, ‘yeah I see your point,’ he remarks, before wishing “Colucci” a good night.
Less than twenty-four hours later….along the tranquil shores of the South of France, in one of the many rooms in a large mansion. ‘So, some filthy American warmonger had a heart attack and died, mon amour, is that any reason to get out of bed before noon, Graydon dear?’ the young French woman asks as she lounges across her large bed. Graydon Creed reads the death note in the newspaper: “Gaudier was found in his office, sometime after midnight. The Washington coroner’s office cited a massive coronary as the cause of death.
Graydon tosses the newspaper down, informing Lorette that he has spent the better part of the last five years of his life cultivating a beneficial relationship with that particular “warmonger”, and furthermore, his sources assure him Gaudier was murdered. Graydon believes that Gaudier was killed in order to get his attention. ‘Wouldn’t, like, a post card be less austustatious?’ suggests Lorette. ‘Are you trying to say “ostentatious?”’ asks Creed. ‘You know what I mean. “Dear Graydon Creed, wish you were here, love blah blah blah”’ mutters Lorette.
Graydon asks Lorette if she ever wakes up and thanks her own personal creator that she was born royalty. ‘Hee hee…no, silly!’ laughs Lorette. ‘Then you should start – tomorrow,’ orders Graydon. Lorette’s butler knocks at the door, excusing himself, revealing that there is a person here to see “the gentleman”. ‘Sure Jarroll, whatever’ replies Lorette. Jarroll announces the arrival of Mister Gunther Reinhold. Reinhold exclaims that Graydon knows who he is, which is why he paid him so much for his researching skills. Gunther reveals that the only problem is that he may have happened onto more info than what Graydon may have wanted!
Graydon asks Gunther if his expedition to Germany was worth the expense, and whether or not he has confirmed that Mystique is his natural mother. ‘Unnatural is more like it, eh?’ suggests Gunther, before remarking that it is rather funny considering Graydon is a guy who has made a living out of hating mutants. Graydon smashes a bottle of champagne on the table reminding Gunther never to speak of his parents, as his heritage is not something he is proud of.
Gunther mutters that he is trembling, before asking Graydon how he feels if they chat a bit about…his brother. Graydon is shocked, and asks Gunther if he has really uncovered a brother. Graydon asks Gunther to tell him everything, and approaches him with the broken wine bottle. Gunther smirks as he replies that he would love to reveal everything, but there is a small matter of compensation. Gunther reminds Creed that he was contracted specifically to confirm the question of Creed’s paternity, and he has done that. He declares that further information would force the two of them to renegotiate their current business relationship, because this information is a real bombshell and it could hurt.
It probably hurts as much as the blow to the head, brutal in its intensity, that Creed gives to Gunther with the smashed wine bottle. Gunther Reinhold now realizes that the tables have irrevocably turned. ‘Listen to me, you low-life piece of gutter trash…here’s my first, best offer’ exclaims Graydon, before demanding his brother’s name now, before claiming that he might find it in his heart to get the medical attention Gunther will need before he dies.
Gunther splutters blood all over the place, claiming that he was only kidding. Dropping the broken bottle to the ground, Graydon declares that it was his final offer and again demands a name. Gunther Reinhold gasps for breath, and amidst the rasping, Creed almost can’t make out the barely whispered name - almost.
Graydon grabs the leg of a small table upon which a birdcage rests, causing Lorette to ask Graydon what it is he is doing and exclaims that he is crazy. Graydon tells Lorette to shut up, before calling Gunther a filthy liar. Gunther gasps for breath, claiming that it is true, before begging for help. Graydon pulls the table out from under the birdcage, setting the bird free as he exclaims ‘I won’t accept this!’ and slicing the jagged table leg along Gunther’s throat. ‘I refuse to believe it! Tell me you’re lying!’ he screams.
Lorette stands, stunned, and exclaims that Graydon killed him, right here in her bedroom, in her home. Lorette reminds Graydon that he said if Gunther told him then he would find it in his heart to forgive him. ‘I lied!’ exclaims Graydon, before asking Lorette to excuse him. ‘Excuse yourself, jerk!’ Lorette exclaims, telling Graydon that she wants him out of her father’s home “A.S.P.C.A.”. She demands he leave before she gets her into any more trouble.
Graydon grabs Lorette’s wrist and points out that she doesn’t know this about him, but he has a “thing” about being thrown out, abandoned, tossed away or disposed of. ‘It’s rude!’ He brings her close to his face and declares that if and when he decides to leave, it will be his own decision and asks her if she understands. ‘Sure Graydon, whatever’ mutters a tearful Lorette. Lorette’s bird lands on Gunther’s motionless body as Graydon informs her that he must be going, because he is not stupid enough to believe the General’s murder and Gunther’s sudden “revelation” are unrelated.
Graydon believes that someone wants him in Washington, wants him there confused, and shaken up by what he has just learned. He boasts that “someone” will soon discover, to her everlasting regret, that Graydon Creed comes from far heartier stock than that….
Meanwhile, at Dulles International Airport, Washington D.C. Kurt Wagner a.k.a. Nightcrawler, the leader of Excalibur, sits aboard a large airplane that is about to land. He tells himself he is spoiled, as he is so used to flying across the globe on the Black Bird, that being crammed in with the huddled masses aboard a regular plane is quite maddening. Kurt thinks that he already had enough on his mind what with Rachel’s departure and Brian’s unfortunate condition, then Forge calls out of the blue and demands that he catches the next flight to the States, without so much as a word of explanation. Not that Forge is given to over-reaction.
Kurt understands that if Forge felt it was important enough, a “family matter” he said, that Kurt calls no undue attention to himself en route, then who is he to question America’s Mutant Liaison Officer? ‘Have image inducer, will travel! Ah, the good life,’ Kurt jokes as he leaves the plane, appearing as a normal-looking person but still wanting to know why Forge thought this was so important.
Suddenly, some commotion caused by a family grabs Kurt’s attention. The father pulls his son along, asking why he has to drag him through the airport. The tired son asks if they can rest, just for a minute, but the angry father declares that they cannot rest as they are on vacation, and they can rest when they get home. The man’s wife calls to him, pointing out that their son is exhausted, but Quinn tells Marla to butt out, and reminds her that he said they should have left the kid with his mother, as kids and vacations don’t mix. The boy apologizes to his father, claiming that he won’t be tired anymore. Quinn gets mad, asking Ian what he means by that, ‘You think you’re being funny?’ He raises his hand to smack Ian, ‘You want to laugh at your father?’ Quinn smacks his son across the face, ‘There, now we can all laugh!’
Suddenly, Kurt comes up behind Quinn and grabs his wrist, before excusing himself and teleporting away with Quinn. Kurt has returned to his real form, blue and demon-looking, as he stands on the edge of a rooftop, high above the airport. He asks Quinn how amazing it is that a different perspective can change your entire life. The terrified Quinn asks Nightcrawler to please not drop him.
Nightcrawler points out that only a moment ago, Quinn was the bully, the one with the power, the one with responsibility, and suggests that from here he must have a better view of how his son must have felt - frightened, intimidated, helpless. Kurt tells Quinn to take it from an orphan, that there is no more important relationship in your entire life, than that which exists between a parent and a child. ‘Are you following any of this?’ ‘Bully…orphan…parent…child…got it’.
Nightcrawler, in his disguised form teleports back inside the airport, and as a sobbing Quinn races to embrace Ian, Kurt informs Ian that his father has something he would like to share with him. Quinn apologizes to his son, admitting that it was wrong of him to hurt him and he is sorry. A confused Ian thanks his father, while looking at Kurt.
Kurt realizes that he has lived too long, witnessed too much, to believe that all of the family’s problems will end here and now, yet as surely as there is a God in Heaven, he knows there is no stronger foundation than the light of hope in a child’s eyes.
Suddenly, ‘Now - that was hardly discreet, Fuzzy Elf!’ remarks a striking woman as she approaches Kurt. ‘Rogue? How ya been?’ asks Kurt upon seeing the super strong member of the X-Men. Rogue tells Kurt not to change the subject, and points out that the only reason he flew incognito, and why she came to meet him, was so not as to draw undue attention to themselves.
Rogue tells Kurt that the handful of people that know about the General’s political agenda, are not, what the Beast called, “mutant friendly”. Kurt takes one of Rogue’s gloved-hands and kisses it, telling her that there are many things she does well, but “Not drawing attention” to yourself, is impossible. ‘And they call me “Rogue”?’ mumbles Rogue.
Later, at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Rogue and a disguised Nightcrawler stand nearby a circle of people, all surrounding Gaudier’s coffin, while a priest stands at one end, and a crowd of other people stand at the other. Motioning to the cars parked along the drive, Rogue whispers that even she had heard of Gaudier before his death, but that this is crazy, as the line of cars doesn’t seem to end. Kurt replies quietly that there was never any proof Gaudier was involved with the less scrupulous Friends of Humanity, and even if he were, then there is no need to be killed for it.
Rogue motions to Graydon Creed who is standing amongst the circle and tells Kurt that there is his proof, the Friend of Humanity’s founder! Rogue exclaims that she has only seen Graydon through the media, like his Nightline debate with the Professor, but nevertheless there is something familiar about him. Kurt suggests this is a mystery for another time and asks Rogue to shush as the services are about to begin.
The Priest begins the service, ‘Blessed is he who is called to the house upon high…for he shall sit at the table of eternal life’. He declares that they hardly knew Armond Gaudier, and announces that though his professional career spawned nearly half a century, the man himself remains a mystery. Rogue whispers to Kurt again, asking him if he has thought to himself “why us”, why of all the X-Men who could have done this job, Forge requested the two of them. ‘Because I live a charmed life, perhaps?’ offers Kurt, before asking Rogue what she is getting at. ‘Just a feeling, sugah,’ Rogue mumbles, revealing that she is getting a familiar feeling at the back of her neck.
The Priest announces that very few people knew the ugly side of Armond Gaudier - the racist, the paranoid arms dealer, a traitor to his precious American people. Creed is confused as to why the Priest is revealing this, and his assistant admits that he doesn’t like the way this is going down, and that he thinks they should be some place else right now. Graydon peers over his sunglasses and tells Monte to have patience, as he thinks they are about to meet their host - the one who left him that “message”.
The Priest declares that it is fitting that Gaudier’s death should, in some ways, atone for the sins committed in his life, before kicking his coffin over, causing a commotion among the funeral mourners. Gaudier’s body tumbles from the coffin, strapped with explosive devices. The Priest announces that three months ago to this very day, seventeen people died at a genetic imprinting plant in a Chicago suburb, killed with a bomb provided to the Friends of Humanity by General Armond Gaudier.
The Priests’ appearance begins to change, smirking as he declares it is time they return the favor. Rogue’s eyes go wide in horror, realizing the Priest is actually her “mother” - Mystique! Holding the detonator, Raven announces that it is ironic the people who died three days ago had nothing to do with mutants at all. Rogue is about to leap into action, but Kurt holds her back, pointing out that Mystique holds the detonator in her hands and their priority is saving the people.
Raven declares that the very perception of impropriety was enough to target the people at the genetic imprinting plant for assassination. Mystique exclaims that this blood has stained the hands of Graydon Creed, just as her son calls her a lying witch and tells her to shut up. Mystique presses the detonator, and Nightcrawler returns to his true form while calling to Rogue. Rogue flies into action, as Mystique exclaims she was once leader of Freedom Force, and tried to bring about change by working through the system, but for doing that she was stupid.
Rogue grabs the coffin and Gaudier and flies up above the funeral crowd, knowing she has to get clear before the device goes off. She wonders why Mystique would risk her life like this - unless she knew somebody would be on hand to save her. The bomb explodes in a great display over the funeral, causing a soldier to announce that the mutant has played her card and now it is their hand, so they have permission to open fire - shoot to kill.
Mystique starts to run, pleased that this couldn’t have worked out better than if she planned it - which of course she did. Once she recognized Rogue in the crowd, she knew there was someone nearby to “help” her escape, and since Rogue has never done anything alone since Mystique has known her, she also knew there would be someone else.
Nightcrawler bamfs just above Mystique, who asks him what took him so long. As Kurt and Mystique land on some statue nearby, Kurt asks Mystique if she expected him to teleport her. Raven informs Kurt that she is not a big fan of suicide missions, least of all in the name of “politics”, and that her only reason for all of this was to put Graydon Creed - smug puppy that he is - on notice. Kurt asks if this is all staged for the benefit of one man, and asks what petty vendetta she harbors that was worth endangering the lives of the people here.
Raven reveals that Graydon came after her, and claims that she would have gladly left him to his pathetic games of power, but he hired that homicidal maniac, Sabretooth, to kill her, and now it is payback time. Mystique points at Kurt and sternly tells him to stop playing her for a fool, exclaiming that Kurt obviously wouldn’t be here if he didn’t know this is a family matter. Kurt looks shocked and asks Raven what she is talking about, ‘What would your family have to do with -’
Raven punches Kurt in the stomach before he can finish his question, and tells Kurt that even if he doesn’t know, and judging by the pathetic expression on his face she believes he doesn’t, he is going to have to get his answers somewhere else. Raven shoves Kurt up against the statue, reminding him that the very first moment she met him as an adult she told him to ask his mother about the connection between the two of them. ‘Why do we look so much alike?’ Raven asks, remarking that Kurt may be less unique than he thought, before realizing that he obviously never asked Margali about what she told him to.
Mystique declares that this is neither the time nor the place to satiate Kurt’s sudden curiosity, and tells him that if he wants answers, then he needs to come home, they will discuss it there. ‘”Home”?’ asks Kurt. Jumping away, Raven tells Kurt to ask Rogue politely, as she should remember. Kurt sees that Mystique must have morphed to resemble one of the crowd rushing past, unless Rogue managed to spot her from the air.
Suddenly, there are gun shots against the statue, and Kurt huddles for safety as someone announces that they have cornered Mystique’s accomplish. He orders them to keep firing as they will separate the blue fur from the bullets later. Hiding, Kurt knows that it would be a simple enough matter to teleport away - but to where without endangering the welfare of the panicked bystanders.
Luckily for Kurt, Rogue, her dressed rather tattered, drops down and picks Kurt up, informing Kurt that she spent ten of the most impressionable years of her life with Mystique, and that she can honestly say she doesn’t understand her any more than she did they day they met. Rogue asks Kurt if he managed to pry anything out of Mystique as to why she did what she did her.
Kurt informs Rogue that Mystique was actually quite forthcoming, in a cryptically Mystique kind of way. He suggests to Rogue that if they could go somewhere relatively quiet to discuss it, like Forge’s office, they might be one step closer to finding out exactly what is going on here.
On the ground below, a police officer approaches Creed and tells him that he hates to do this, after everything he has been through, but he is going to ask him to come with him. Looking up at Rogue and Nightcrawler, a furious Creed replies ‘Of course, officer’.
Shortly, at the Department of Mutagenic Affairs, Forge sits at his desk, as Graydon Creed stands nearby, asking him how many times they have to go over this. Creed understands that as Forge is a mutant his natural tendency is to give the benefit of the doubt to one of his own, ‘But as I have said again and again for the better part of the last hour, I -’ Creed is cut off, as Forge mimics what it is that Creed has been saying: “Have no idea what it was Mystique was ranting about”.
Forge points out that Creed also denies the results of the handful of intelligence reports that connected him to Gaudier, and the more spurious factions of his political party, the Friends of Humanity. Forge exclaims that for no reason whatsoever, Mystique has decided to turn Creed into a martyr, and asks him why he finds that so difficult to believe.
Creed tells Forge that he doesn’t care what he believes, and mutters that he has indulged in his posturing for long enough. He exclaims that if Forge is not going to recommend to the authorities that he be charged with anything, then he must be going. Forge replies ‘Fine’, before telling Graydon that just so they are clear on something, when he does have enough evidence against him, he needs to rest assured that when that day comes, he and his xenophobic hate mongering pals will fall - hard.
An angry Creed leans down near Forge, ‘That was honest,’ he snarls, before returning the favor as he informs Forge that he doesn’t care how well connected he may be here in Washington, as evidenced by his self-appointed role as X-Factor liaison, Creed wants Forge to understand that he is here for good! Graydon boasts that he is going to be a power in this country, and that when he is, he will do his utmost to control, and purge if he must, the genetic aberrations that are destroying the quality of human life on this planet. ’And I’ll do it because it has to be done!’
Creed declares that for fun, there is nothing more he will enjoy than seeing Forge and his freak squad strung up by their necks in the public square. He boasts that in short, he has a vision, and there is nothing Forge can do to prevent it from becoming a reality. Forge looks Creed square in the eye and tells him that the best thing he can do for everyone, is to keep right on believing that. Graydon turns and leaves, ’Goodbye, Forge, I trust this will not be the last conversation we ever have’.
Nightcrawler and Rogue make their presence known after Creed leaves, and Rogue mutters ’There goes one charming fella!’ Kurt tells Forge that despite it being exciting to watch, what was the point of having them eavesdrop on that little encounter? Forge explains that he wanted them to know exactly what it is they are getting into - what kind of megalomaniac they are up against.
Forge exclaims that the rest of the world can believe that Creed is a up and coming politician with the support of the people, even though the fact is he may be one of the most dangerous threats they have ever faced! Kurt replies that he doesn’t doubt that, but questions what exactly he and Rogue have to do with this, and why the cover up of Gaudier’s murder - ‘Why not have X-Factor handle this?’ In short, Kurt wants to know what is up with all the secrecy.
Forge hesitates, before revealing that in a way, this is all his fault. Forge explains that while he thought he was treating Mystique for her emotional problems, she was rifling through his files, apparently for info about the Friends of Humanity. Rogue asks Forge if he is surprised that Mystique betrayed his trust, reminding him that Mystique is a lot more devious than many people want to believe.
Forge admits that the time he and Mystique spent together was not without its…revelations. He declares that while everything else about Mystique can change with little more than a stray thought, he is willing to take the risk that Mystique can be reached, despite all appearances, Raven has a heart - she has a soul. Forge tells Kurt than in answer to his question - why you - he has reason to feel he and Rogue are the only ones capable of reaching Mystique.
This puzzles Kurt, and he asks why, but Forge tells him that there are some things he shouldn’t hear in a debriefing. As Forge promised them earlier, they have the full resources of his office at their disposal. He informs Rogue and Kurt that he needs them to find Mystique and being her back, to make her stand trial for Gaudier’s murder - before some other government agency decides to be less judicious with her.
Forge informs the duo that his private transport is fuelled and waiting. Kurt supposes that they should be going, for if Mystique’s “invitation” was genuine…’Then my “momma” is expecting us’ says Rogue, assuring Forge that they will find her. Looking out the window as Kurt and Rogue leave, Forge believes that indeed they will find Raven - but what about everything they are going to no doubt discover along the way? ‘What about the truth?’ Forge wonders if he is foolish enough to think that they stand a chance of turning Raven’s life around - or is he somehow trying to appease his own guilt for the part he played in Destiny’s death?
One hour later, aboard a private aircraft belonging to Creed, this man of action finds himself squirming in his chair as he surreptitiously pursues his only lead to the woman who gave birth to him. A mother he has not seen in fifteen years. Creed’s pilot informs him that they are picking up a second reading, a ghost image almost too small to identify on the radar, but whatever it is, it has broken away from Forge’s transport that they have been tailing out of Washington.
The pilot asks if they should keep following the craft, to which Creed declares ‘Of course not!’ and tells the pilot that the “echo” must be the two X-Men from the funeral. Creed orders his pilot to target the X-Men, but to stay far enough away until they have touched down. The pilot announces that they seem to be descending over somewhere, and Creed grins when he sees that it is Caldecott County, Mississippi, and realizes he should have figured it out on his own - they are going home.
Rogue carries Kurt as they fly towards the ground, and Kurt asks Rogue to tell him about Mystique. Rogue informs Kurt that there is a lot to tell, some of it good, a lot that wasn’t. She starts her story by revealing that she had been on her own ever since what happened to Cody - more than that, she was alone…and scared.
‘Don’t take another step, ma’am,’ a sassy young girl with a thick Southern accent holding a rifle exclaims, trying to sound as tough as nails, she boasts that she will blow her all the way back into the next century, telling the woman not to think she is joking either. The dark-haired woman wearing a purple outfit asks the girl if she is the one they call “Rogue”, to which the little girl exclaims ‘That’s the nicest thing folks these parts say about me…what about it?’
The woman smiles and tells Rogue that she doesn’t think she wants to hurt her, or anybody else for that matter. Of course the raven-haired woman is right, this is just after everything that happened to poor Cody, and Rogue just couldn’t bring herself to be around other folks - she couldn’t risk it happening again. The little girl clicks the rifle, ‘I mean it ma’am…please?’
Then the woman does the strangest most amazing thing Rogue had ever seen in her entire life, she crouches down beside her and informs her that she thinks she knows what she is going through. The mysterious woman tells Rogue that she knows what it is like to be “different”, to be alone in a way that no one else understands The young Rogue tells the woman that she doesn’t mean to be rude…’But you is the most beautifulest person I have ever done met!’, so therefore, she wants to know how she can possibly know about being scared, about folks hating you because you can do things that they cant.
The woman smiles warmly as she tells Rogue that she will unfortunately discover something that she suspects Rogue to have already experienced on her own - that most people fear and hate those things which they don’t understand, before informing Rogue that that is what separates the two of them from everyone else, it is what drew her to Rogue.
As the raven-haired woman suddenly changes form, now a blue-skinned woman with striking red hair and a skimpy white dress, she declares that it is why from this moment forth that they will never be apart - ‘In short, we are not “most people”’.
The young Rogue asks the mysterious woman how she did that, the reply being ‘I’m a mutant child, as are you’. ‘Moo-tant?’ asks Rogue. ‘Close enough’ remarks the striking woman, informing Rogue that she will explain it to her in detail later, but that right this minute, she is just a little girl, one who she is willing to wager is in desperate need of a hug.
The mysterious woman…Mystique…hugs the young Rogue and tells her to let it all out, that everything is going to be fine. ‘Promise?’ asks the young Rogue. ‘Yes, Rogue…I promise’ replies Mystique.
Kurt asks Rogue if Mystique was being sincere, and as the fly down towards a house, Rogue tells Kurt that for the first few years they were together she could have sworn that Mystique cared for her, that she would never do anything to harm her, but being realistic, Mystique had Rogue trussed up in uniform and slugging it out against Ms. Marvel, among others. ‘Not exactly the nurturing mama I always guess I pretended she was’.
Kurt motions to the large house and asks if this is the home she was raised in. ‘My, Mystique and Destiny, snug as can be in the house at the end of the woods’ replies Rogue. Kurt points out that she sounds bitter, to which Rogue replies that perhaps she is. Descending still, Rogue tells Kurt that she will drop him of so he can look for clues to Mystique’s whereabouts. Kurt asks Rogue if she isn’t joining him, to which Rogue replies that she will eventually, but she has someplace else to check out first. ‘While you’re in the neighborhood, ja?’ ‘While I’m in the neighborhood’.
Kurt leaps to the ground as Rogue flies off. Kurt thinks that Rogue has changed since he was a member of the X-Men, while asking him when that was - ‘some zillion years ago?’ Nightcrawler admits that he has considered returning to the X-Men on more than one occasion since forming Excalibur, but knows that as Rogue can no doubt attest to, it isn’t always possible to go home again.
Nightcrawler spies a swing set and wonders if it was a toll to lure an impressionable Rogue into a false sense of security, or erected as a normal act of love by a “mother” for her “child”. Kurt reminds himself that he has never been on intimate terms with “normal”….
‘Smile, Kurt!’ Smile!’ exclaims Jimaine Szardos in her native German, as her foster brother Kurt hangs by his feet from two rings high up in the circus tent, while juggling stick of fire. The beautiful Jimaine reminds her brother that the people are paying good money to see happy circus performers. Jimaine adds that if the people wanted to be depressed they would simply stay home. ‘And far be it from me, fair sister, to ever disappoint an audience!’ Kurt replies, also in German.
Kurt leaps over to Jimaine and blowing out the flaming sticks, he asks what more there is to life than show business and the chance to share the spotlight with the beautiful Jimaine Szardos? Kurt sits down next to Jimaine, who exclaims ‘The things you say!’ and admits that she almost wishes he weren’t her foster brother. ‘How “almost”?’ asks Kurt.
Jimaine runs her hands through Kurt’s hair and tells him that she finds his attention flattering, but that for his own sake he has to realize that there is a whole world waiting outside these circus walls and that there is going to be someone who will see past his “looks”, and love him as she does.
Jimaine asks Kurt to come with her, and reveals that she wants to leave here and see more than just these tiny, sad towns that they pass through. ‘I want to fly to the four corners of the world, and see everything and meet everyone!’ she exclaims excitedly. ‘”Jimaine Szardos, World Traveler!” that has a nice ring to it!’ declares Kurt, before informing her that he cannot join her.
Kurt points out that Jimaine is young and beautiful and has the support of her family, while he is a circus attraction - a handful of somersaults away from the side show. Kurt reminds Jimaine that he was so abhorrent that even as an infant he was left for dead by his own parents, and declares that he doesn’t think the world is ready for a Kurt Wagner.
‘Speaking on behalf of everyone who has ever loved you - legion that we are - their loss was out gain’. Jimaine tells Kurt not to let some mistake made fourteen years ago by some faceless people dictate the way he lives his - Kurt interrupts by leaping away, ‘Hey!’ yells Jimaine who hasn’t finished her speech, but swinging on the rings, Kurt exclaims ‘The bottom line is, it’s only show biz!’
‘It should have been ours’ comes a voice from the shadows. Kurt turns and sees Graydon Creed. ‘”Ours?”’ asks Kurt, confused. ‘The house. The swings. The safe security…the love that can only come from a mother’. Kurt goes wide-eyed and asks Graydon what he is talking about, with his usual ‘Mein friend’ at the end of his sentence. Graydon replies that they are much more than friends, and reveals to Nightcrawler that he has just learned they are brothers. ‘Mein Gott!’ exclaims a horrified Kurt, asking how that is possible.
Graydon lunges for Kurt and grabs him around the neck, shouting ‘Anything is possible, you freak - when you consider the mother that we share!’ Kurt leaps away from Graydon, informing him that this is the second time in one day that someone has made a proclamation regarding his family, adding that neither one of them is what he would consider to be a paragon of credibility.
Kurt grabs Graydon from behind and asks him who this woman is that has supposedly sired both of them. ‘There is no supposition you idiot!’ snaps Graydon, asking Kurt if he thinks he would dirty the air he breathes in order to be standing here beside him if he wasn’t positive of their connection. ‘So humor me’ exclaims Kurt.
Graydon mutters that there is nothing “humorous” about it, and reveals that nearly ten years ago, he learned that Raven Darkholme was his mother! Graydon declares that less than twelve hours and some three million dollars worth of classified information ago, he learned about his mother’s other child.
Graydon reveals that his mother was the widow of a recently deceased German Count, adding that he is sure he doesn’t need to add that he was deceased of mysterious circumstances. He explains that his mother was a bit of a grifter at the time and she seemed content to live in the pal pf luxury - up to, and including the day she gave birth to a two-fingered, pointy-eared blue-skinned monstrosity!
Graydon re-tells the story he learned - that Raven’s cover was blown and the Royal Family was none too thrilled. Apparently Mystique morphed into her original form and momentarily startled her oppressors who were chasing her, allowing her to make it to the grounds behind the estate. But Raven was young and inexperienced and she dropped the baby at the waterfalls - and apparently didn’t bother to stop and pick him up, opting instead to leave his defenseless blue behind to the less than tender mercies of the townspeople.
Graydon remarks that it makes one wonder, where was their mother as the crowd gathered around, and as they cheered the sight of the “demon” being expunged from their midst. Had she preceded over baby Kurt at the falls - her body bloodied and battered below? Creed suggests that it is more likely Raven was hidden among the shadows, behind the cliffs…nestled among the sanctuary of the pines.
She would have been watching, as her only begotten son, at the time of course, was hurled to what should have been his death. ‘Your death’ Graydon reminds Kurt. Raven would have been hiding as a helpless, defenceless ‘dare I say it, innocent’, infant was cast out over the waters, abandoned by his mother. ‘your mother’. Graydon tries to jibe Kurt by informing him that Raven didn’t save him because she didn’t want him. ‘She didn’t want you…because she didn’t love you’.
Kurt shoves Graydon aside, ‘Enough!’ he yells, exclaiming that he doesn’t believe Graydon. Kurt remarks that he cannot believe Graydon because if his story is as he says it is, then Kurt should not have survived the fall. Creed punches Kurt in the face and declares that nothing human should have been able to walk away, before pointing out that Nightcrawler is much more than human - ‘much more, and much less!’
Graydon remarks that of all the affronts to his lineage that he has had to bear - from the fact that Sabretooth is his father, to the realization that Mystique is his mother, he finds nothing more repulsive than knowing he shares the same blood as Kurt. He whacks Kurt’s head against a wall, claiming that he didn’t claw his way out of the gutters in Europe, only to be slapped in the face with the insult that his only brother is nothing more than a smear on the face of humanity!
As Creed continues to bash Nightcrawler’s head against the wall, he shouts ‘So die, Kurt Wagner, die knowing you’re but the first of our “family” to suffer at the hands of the prodigal son!’
Meanwhile, down the road…Rogue hovers over the woods, telling herself that she doesn’t get it - that she never has, and is beginning to doubt that she ever will. Rogue remembers that Mystique was the nicest person in the world that ever lived - caring and nurturing and loving. After all, she took Rogue in, made her part of a family when every other decent folk was ready to feed her to the wolves. But at the same time, this is a woman who can beat a man to death with her bare hands, leaving his body on his desk at the Pentagon like some big old bloody Post-It.
Rogue discovers a rope tied from a tree, and grabbing it, she wonders if it is just her - is she afraid to look at Mystique for who she is, because it will make Rogue look at herself for who she truly is. But she decides that if she didn’t want to know, she wouldn’t have come back here - to where it all fell apart - her first day in a party dress, she hated it, all frilly and pretty….
Wearing the party dress, a young Rogue swings from it, and tells Cody that there is no such thing as a “Boy’s Rope”, and that if she wants to swing on it, she will so as she pleases. Cody tells the young Rogue that she has proved how brave she is, so now it is time to get down before she falls into the river. Cody calls Rogue “Sugah” and tells her that if anything happened to her he would up and die. A surprised Rogue asks Cody why he called her “Sugah”, to which Cody replies that underneath all of her tough words and even tougher wrestling, she is just a sweet little thing.
Cody tells the young Rogue that he thinks she is sweet, but there is only one way to know for sure, and he leans in and places his lips on hers. Suddenly Rogue screams ‘Cody? Cody, watcha done to me?’ Thoughts and memory’s start rushing through the young Rogue’s mind - but they are not her own, they belong to Cody. Rogue screams again, ’Please Cody - get outta my head! Get outta my head!’
Rogue remembers that Cody did get out of her head eventually, but only after her mutant power had soaked his head dry - after he had no more thoughts or feelings or memories left for her to swallow. Tears falling from her eyes, Rogue realizes that it is no wonder Cody was in a coma when the townsfolk found the both of them - still unconscious three days later. Of course neither one of them was ever the same after that.
Suddenly, Cody comes up behind Rogue and exclaims ’I never blamed you, Sugah’. Rogue looks over her shoulder ’Cody? It can’t be!’ she exclaims. Cody just smiles and tells Rogue that they both know she blamed herself enough for the both of them. ’Don’t do this…’ exclaims Rogue, but Cody just asks her if he didn’t think he knew how many times she has been back here after that night, in the day or night, it didn’t matter. He tells Rogue that he knows in her mind she played that scene out again and again, each time with a different ending, a different face attached to her memory of him.
‘If ya love me you’ll stop…’ whispers Rogue, but Cody just exclaims that sometimes he was called “Willie” or “Arny” or “Freddy” Cody extends his hand to touch Rogue’s shoulder, telling her that on behalf of all of “us”, of all the people she has ever touched, everyone she has violated with her mutant power, ’We forgive you’.
Rogue’s expression turns from surprise to disgust ’Ya forgive me?’ asks Rogue rhetorically, before turning around, grabbing Cody, and shoving him against a tree, ’It ain’t your right to forgive me…is it, Momma?’ Rogue exclaims as Cody’s form gives away to that of Mystique.
Rogue reminds her “mother” that what she did - by accident - she had absolutely no control over her body at the time, and while she would like to think she could have stopped hurting Cody, the truth is she was just as much of a victim as Cody was. Rogue asks Mystique how she could be so cruel as to tarnish her memory of him this way, adding that everyone is obstacles to Mystique getting what she wants out of life.
A stern faced Mystique informs Rogue that she is not entirely true, ’I’d like to think I never hurt you’ she says, to which Rogue lets her go, admitting that she doesn’t think Mystique ever did hurt her, not deliberately anyway. One of Mystique’s gloved hands touches Rogue on the forehead, informing Rogue that she never would, and never could, not deliberately. Rogue asks ’Why me, Momma? What makes me so…special?’
Mystique replies ‘Because you’re the closest thing to me that I have ever met’, telling Rogue that the moment she learned of Rogue’s existence, of the first manifestation of Rogue’s power, it was she above everyone else who understood what Rogue was going through, pointing out that Rogue cannot be touched because her mutant ability prevents physical contact, and that Mystique herself cannot be “touched” because she is not really herself. Raven reminds Rogue that she has been so many people, lived so many lives in so many shapes that even she feels like she has lost track of who she really is.
‘Which is fine…if I can’t be touched, I can’t be hurt’ Raven declares, before admiting to Rogue that in some way she felt that by reaching out to her, helping her, being there for her and protecting, she would somehow learn to know herself. ‘Did I work, Momma?’ Rogue asks, before exclaiming that she doesn’t care what the rest of the world things, just so she can believe that the Mystique she knew was the real one. Rogue asks Raven to tell her the truth - ‘Did I “know” you?’
A furious Mystique asks Rogue how she can dare even ask such a question, asking how Rogue could not know that the feelings for her were the only genuine feelings she has had in her life except for Irene? ’A consideration - apparently - you never extended to your sons, eh, “mother”?’ declares Graydon as he steps out of the shadows, holding an unconscious Nightcrawler by his costume.
Raven raises her weapon and aims it at Graydon, telling Rogue to ’shut up’ when she protests. Raven tells her daughter that this is between herself and ’this worthless arrogant pup’ who tried to send his father to do a job he wasn’t man enough to do himself. Raven admits that Graydon must get that from her side of the family, revealing that when she left him for dead shortly after his twelfth birthday, after it became apparent he was never going to be a mutant therefore he was never going to be any use to her, she should have made absolutely certain he was dead.
Graydon narrows his eyes and tells Raven that it sounds like she made the same mistake with his stepbrother, Kurt. Raven bares her teeth and points at Kurt, declaring that it was different, that she tried to kill him only as a means of self-preservation. Graydon looks slightly perplexed, revealing that his sources indicated the child was tossed over the falls by a “third party”.
Mystique laughs and tells Graydon that he doesn’t know as much as he thought he did then, before revealing that Kurt was hurled to his death by a “third party”…in a manner of speaking, before revealing some truths - perhaps - about what really happened that night so long ago.
(With Flashback images)
Raven remarks that it might have been the creature’s difficult delivery, or maybe she was just tired and lazy after posing as the pampered widow, either way she had accidentally revealed her true form to the villagers, and to this day, she doesn’t know what horrified them more - the monster that walked among them, or the demon child to whom she had given birth.
Mystique informs her children that the only thing that mattered to the villagers at that time was that this mother and son were too much of an affront to their creator. But there were too many of them chasing her, and she was too weak to stand and fight. Raven declares that she realized she had a choice - die with an unwanted child in her arms, or save herself at the expense of her newborn son, before admitting that to be brutally honest there was never really any decision to be made.
Raven explains that by the time the villagers had reached her, she had morphed into a form of just another local farmer, and that the crowd cheered when “he” told them that “he” had hurled the woman to her death. However the crowd wanted more - they wanted it all - so she gave it to them. Mystique grins as she admits she killed her son in order to save herself - without a second thought, and claims that she never regretted it - not once.
‘Any more than I’ll regret this!’ yells Raven as she starts firing at Graydon, who odly exclaims ’Nein!’ and suddenly vanishes in a burst of brimstone. The bullets pass through the smoke, as Raven remarks that it is impossible, as Graydon is human. ’Though no fault of his own, true’ exclaims Kurt as he teleports in front of Mystique and grabs her weapon, telling her not to look so surprised, for as far as deceptions go, this one wasn’t all that complicated.
Raven notes Graydon dressed in some of Kurt’s costume, before asking Kurt if he used his image inducer to pose as Creed. ’Send a shape-shifter to catch a shape-shifter, Mystique - technological wonders notwithstanding’ exclaims Kurt. Raven asks Nightcrawler to listen to her, claiming that she didn’t want him to find out this way, that he has to believe her.
Mystique explains that when she found out he was alive, she wanted him to believe that his mother was better than the person he had become - Graydon interrupts by shouting that it wasn’t supposed to happen this way, revealing that he wanted Kurt to be hurt - angry enough to kill the woman who abandoned him to the mob.
Creed declares that not only does he refuse to allow any of them to live happily ever after, he refuses to allow them to live at all! Rogue approaches Graydon and tells him that while she doesn’t know him from a brick in the wall, looking at him is like looking at what she might have been if Mystique hadn’t found her and taken care of her. She starts to suggest that it might not be too late, but Creed shouts ’Of course it’s too late! Too late…for all of us!’
Suddenly there is a blinding light, and Mystique, Rogue and Nightcrawler are all knocked aside, as Monte, Graydon’s pilot announces from the helicopter that the good news is no one has to see anything - all they have to do is die! Raven, Rogue and Kurt all dodge for safety, as in less than an instant, the unadulterated beauty of the Mississippi River shoreline is destroyed by a technological horror.
Mystique informs her children that their brother must have given his hired hand a “Scorched Earth”, to take no prisoners, before mumbling that Graydon might not be as weak as she had always assumed he was. Kurt tells Mystique that if she admires this about the man, then she truly is a sick woman. Raven calls Kurt “son” and tells him that he doesn’t even know the half of it - or even half of that.
Nightcrawler tells Mystique that if they are ever to discuss the rather warped roots of their family tree, twisted and rotted as he fears they may be, they will have to survive this precursor to World War Three. Raven suggests to Kurt that they use the cliffs for temporary cover, to which Kurt remarks that it is scary how much they think alike.
From the safety of the helicopter, Graydon congratulates Monte on a good show, before ordering him to finish his “family” off. Monte announces that he is launching the missiles, but before the countdown reaches number one, Rogue flies up from under the chopper and smashes in the front of it, but a moment too late, as the missile is launched, though she did manage to throw it off course - unfortunately, it strikes the ground where Mystique and Kurt are standing.
Rogue grabs Graydon by his throat, and Creed tells his “sister” that she is fast, but points out she cannot be in two places at once, that she cannot drag him back to D.C. by his throat, and save their mother and brother from death. Rogue glances at Raven and Kurt and sees Mystique dangling from the cliff by a rope, and Kurt hanging onto a tree stump. Raven informs Rogue that Kurt is barely conscious and is slipping, and Raven is too far away to help him.
Rogue flies towards Mystique and Kurt, enabling Graydon to make his exit in the comfort of his chopper. Rogue thinks to herself that it is bad enough she had to let Creed get away in one piece, but now things have gone from bad to worse. Seeing that Kurt is slipping, Rogue knows there is no way she can save both of them from tumbling into the river.
Things take another twist, as the chopper remains hovering above the cliff, though Monte informs Creed that they cannot stay aloft much longer as they have sustained too much damage. Creed smiles as he tells Monte to shut up, that he has waited his whole life for this moment, finally someone in his family is going to pay for what they have done to him - and he wants to see it happen!
Rogue flies towards Mystique, unsure of what to say or do, Raven narrows her eyes as she looks at her daughter, ’After all I’ve done for you? Let me protect you like I always have, child! I’ll make your decision for you…’ declares Mystique, before letting go of the rope and plummeting to the river below. Rogue grabs Kurt, while calling out to Mystique. ’Momma?!’ she screams.
Kurt starts to regain full consciousness, exclaiming that he doesn’t understand, that Mystique sacrificed herself for him - but why would she do that? From the helicopter above, Creed smirks as he announces ’For the same reason she’s done everything else in her life, brother - because it served her purpose’, before ordering Monte to take off, as there is nothing more left to do. Monte asks Creed what they are going to do about Rogue, to which Creed replies that he trusts she has a lot on her mind, not the least of which is attending to her wounded foster brother - or whether she would have made the same decision Mystique made on her behalf.
Flying high over Mississippi, Rogue carries Kurt in her arms and tells him to take it easy, that everything will be fine, but then again, she suspects they all have things to consider. ’Fine? Nein, my sister. After all we’ve learned this day…about ourselves, our heritage…I’m afraid it may be a long time before anything will be “fine” again.