While still struggling with the Phoenix, a mysterious force is plaguing Scott Summers and it's a force that's frighteningly similar. In addition, a powerful warrior becomes involved and the Xmen fa...
Chapter 3: The Invitation
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful at the Xavier Institute...Well, at least as uneventful as things could be in a school for mutants. Classes weren't in session, but there were many youngsters who had a permanent residence at the school. And lots of free time along with mutant powers tended to be a bad mix.
Yet despite this volatile chemistry, the staff of the Xavier Institute organized a few activities to help keep the student body out of trouble. This took the form of pool parties for some and basketball games for others. Xavier was nowhere in sight for some reason, but few were really worried as they just sat back and enjoyed the weather.
"Lookin' good out there, sugah!" said Rogue to her husband as she watched him from the sidelines playing basketball with a group of the youngsters.
"Hey! No fair!" yelled Bobby, "You're distracting him on purpose!"
"Oh now whatevah gave ya THAT idea?" said Rogue with a grin as she stretched her arms, showing off her bikini-clad body.
"Oh boy. Be strong, Remy! Be strong!" urged Bobby, who was on his team and already beginning to see the effects of Rogue's presence.
"Too late mien friend!" said Kurt as one of the kids passed the ball to him right through Remy's legs, allowing him to teleport right up to the basket and slam it home, "Now zhat's vhat I call sibling coordination!"
Bobby, Remy, and the rest of the kids on their team let out a groan as they fell behind by yet more points. The only person who wasn't affected by it was Remy, who seemed to feel as though the sight of Rogue in a bikini was better than winning some game.
"Gambit, focus man!" said Bobby as he took the ball and began dribbling it back, "Now we're down by six points! You don't want to get beat like this, do you?"
"Sorry homme," shrugged the Cajun indifferently, "Dere are only so many t'ings dat Remy can filter out. An' Rogue in a bikini ain't one of em."
Bobby just rolled his eyes as he dribbled back towards center court, sending Rogue an annoyed look, but she didn't seem to care all that much.
Beside her, Amanda was also there sunbathing. Most of the others were in the pool, but they had taken enough playful splashing from energetic kids for one day so they decided to work on their tan. It was late in the afternoon and the heat from the sun was beating down on the picturesque surface below, a perfect serenade if ever there was one.
"You've got that guy so whipped, you know that?" said Amanda with a grin as she turned to her future sister in law.
"Meh, he doesn't seem to mind. And neither do Ah," grinned Rogue in response as she put her sunglasses back on and turned over to allow her back some time to tan.
While the girls relaxed under the warm sun, they were soon joined by Jean, who had been in the pool with Scott and Rachel having a little family fun. It was a nice way to forget about the ever present stress that so deeply consumed her, spending some quality time with her family. It was just what the doctor ordered.
She was still dripping wet as she dried herself off before lying down besides her fellow girlfriends, watching with amusement as the ever chaotic game of mutant basketball continued.
"I take it they're ignoring the 'no powers' rule again," she said as she plopped herself down on the soft ground.
"What part of that is supposed to shock you?" laughed Amanda.
"Never said it did," shrugged Jean, "But as long as they don't wreck anything."
"Yeah, there's a stretch," said Rogue, still the cynic.
While Rogue had never been on very good terms with Jean during those early years, things did improve over time. At first she thought that she was just some goody two shoes who happened to have the affections of a boy she was crushing on, but the more she got to know her, including details on her harsh past, she came to respect Jean as both a teammate and a friend.
It was only after she and Remy hooked up that they grew closer because Jean helped her sort out her feelings during those difficult early stages. And since Jean had been in the same boat in hooking up with Scott, she helped the southern Goth from first date to the altar and for that, Rogue was forever grateful.
"So how are ya feelin' Jean?" Rogue inquired as she watched the older redhead rest her eyes on the towel, "We were all a bit worried about ya this mornin' when Scott told us about the nightmare thing."
Looking back at her friend, Jean merely sighed. She didn't like to think about nightmares at a time like this, but she couldn't blame people for worrying. After all, it really had been affecting her lately.
"I'm fine, Rogue...Really. I've just been under a lot of stress lately with the new semester approaching. That and my powers are flaring up again, but the Professor put some more blocks on this morning and I'm feeling a lot better now."
"Are you sure?" asked Amanda, still unconvinced.
Jean hesitated, yet she still managed to get it out and say what they wanted to hear.
"Don't worry. I'm sure."
Rogue and Amanda knew Jean well enough to see when she was lying. As good as she was at managing her powers, her career, and her family all at once she just couldn't seem to master the art of lying. Yet still, the two younger women held back their comments, not wanting to push her when she clearly didn't want to be pushed.
"Well as long as you're okay," said Amanda as she turned over so that she was now on her back, "We just worry, you know?"
"Yeah, and I appreciate that," said Jean as she turned back towards the pool where the playful melee was still going strong, "All this stress just really seems to be getting to me. But after spending the day with my family, I feel a lot better."
"That's good to hear, sugah," said Rogue in agreement, "Hell even the best of us need a break at time."
"And that's why Scott and I were thinking of going on a family vacation," said Jean as she smiled at the sight of her husband playfully splashing her little girl in the pool.
"Vacation huh?" said Rogue with a tired tone, "Man, Ah can't remember the last time Ah had one of those. Hell, the only real one Ah can think of was mah honeymoon."
"Tell me about it. A vacation definitely sounds nice," said Amanda with a dreamy smile, "I can't wait to finally have one as Mrs. Amanda Wagner."
"Trust me, sugah, it's worth the wait," said Rogue with a playful grin.
"All the more reason to start planning," said Jean, her eyes still on her family as they played around in the pool, "And besides, a vacation may give me and Scott some time to work on that second baby we've been talking about."
"Second baby?" said Rogue as she took off her sunglasses and turned towards her friend with a curious expression, "You serious, Jean?"
"Of course I'm serious," said Jean with a smile, "Scott and I have been talking about it for a while now and after having Rachel, I really believe another baby would be every bit a blessing. Scott's a wonderful father and Rachel is such a little marvel that I just...I really want have a big family of my own."
Such words brought a smile to Rogue's face. She knew all too well the kind of hardships Jean had dealt with. On several occasions, she had absorbed her, giving her a taste of just how tough her life had been. And after having been abandoned and disowned, it was no wonder that she wanted a big family to fill that hole in her heart.
"Well if that's what ya want, Ah wish ya the best Jean," said Rogue with a smile, "Ah'm sure you, Rachel, Cyke, and the coming little one will make a great family."
"Thanks Rogue," said Jean, always happy to have the support of her friends.
"And in the meantime, maybe Remy and Ah can finally start workin' on a baby of our own."
That got both Jean and Amanda to turn towards her in relative shock, for despite having been married for nearly four years, neither of them had ever heard her or Remy say the word 'baby' yet.
"Oh man, you too? Are you serious, Rogue?" said Amanda with an excited look on her face.
"Hey, it's been long enough, sugah," said Rogue as she looked back at the basketball court and watched her husband play around with the other kids, helping to bring a smile to each and every one of their faces, "Ah know we haven't talked about it much, but at some point that biological clock in ya just explodes and ya want to start working on havin' a family of yer own."
"Well something tells me that Remy would make a hell of a daddy," said Jean with a light chuckle as she watched him pick up one of the younger students and hold him on his shoulders so that he could do a slam dunk.
"Definitely!" said Amanda in agreement, "Oh this is so exciting! I'm getting married and soon I'll also have a niece or nephew to go along with it!"
"Easy there girlfriend," said Rogue with a chuckle, "We haven't started tryin' yet, so don't go ape with baby talk, especially around your future husband. Ah don't think a guy would want to think about stuff like that before he's married."
"Yeah, just one stressful moment at a time," said Jean in agreement as she turned to lie on her stomach and rest her head in her arms.
All this talk about weddings and babies was truly exciting. It was just one of those points in their lives where everything turned a corner and the future before them began to come into focus.
For Jean, it gave her plenty of reasons to smile. Here she was with her friends talking about a bright future, going on vacations, having babies, and attending weddings. And at the same time, the stress that had been bearing down on her now seemed so much lighter. Having spent the day with her family and friends, her mind felt more at ease now than it had in weeks.
Now was not the time to worry about nightmares. Now was the time to reflect on just how lucky she was. She had friends who cared about her, a job she took great pride in, and a husband and daughter that she loved with all her heart. There was no reason to be unhappy or stressed. She had so many wonderful things going for her. She had so much to look forward to. And no nightmare was going to stand in the way of her happiness.
At least, that's what she kept hoping for.
Up in his study, Professor Charles Xavier was going on the eight hour of his never-ending work. He pushed his crippled body hard, drudging along with page after page of research. All over his desk, there were dozens upon dozens of books. Many of them dealt with things like mythology and mysticism. While it seemed strange that a man of science would be so taken by such subjects, the Professor seemed intent on researching this matter to the fullest.
It was around four in the afternoon when his fellow teacher and long time friend, Hank McCoy, came into the room carrying a tray of tea. Yet when he entered, he was a bit disheartened to see Xavier slumped over on his desk, looking fast asleep after having gone nearly seven hours without a break.
As a man who knew Xavier better than almost anybody, this kind of behavior was very disconcerting to Hank, for he knew that it took quite a bit for the Professor to do this to himself. And from the looks of it, whatever it was that was bothering him seemed to really be taking hold.
"Charles? Charles, are you awake?" asked Hank as he set the tray down and shook him slightly.
"Hmm? Oh Hank," said a very tired looking Professor Xavier as he quickly came to, still very drowsy, "What time is it?"
"It's past four," replied the ape-like man as he sat down in the chair right across from Xavier's desk, "You've been at it for nearly seven hours now."
"Seven hours?" said the Professor, looking quite shocked as he turned to check the clock.
"Yes...You're starting to worry me. I haven't seen you push yourself like this since the whole Apocalypse incident ten years ago."
"Yes, well I...My work tends to get the better of me," said the crippled man with a sigh as he went back to his books.
"I most certainly wouldn't argue that, but seriously Charles...What's going on? Why are you doing this to yourself? Has something come up? Did Cerebra detect anything that we should be concerned about?"
The Professor was a bit weary about letting anybody in on what he had sensed. While in some ways, they had a right to know. In others, they had a right to be protected. And if they knew the kinds of things he had been sensing then there was no telling what kind of reaction he would get.
For ten years, he had dreaded this, but only recently had it gotten really bad. And it was just as ambiguous now as it was back then, but there seemed to be little, if any, answers to shed light on this inexplicable phenomenon.
"It's...Complicated Hank," said the Professor, knowing that Hank would probably not believe him if he just flat out denied it.
"Complicated? Sounds like my kind of challenge," replied the walking Beast in an almost upbeat tone as if to lighten the mood, "Just exactly is it that baffles you my friend? I know full well that it takes quite a puzzling enigma to stump the likes of you."
Xavier just sighed, not liking the powerless feeling that overcame him with every dead end he reached. And with something like this, there were few things that were ever clear to begin with.
"I'm afraid this matter goes beyond mere puzzles, Hank. This...This phenomenon has left me at wits end. I honestly don't know what more I can do at this point."
"Phenomenon you say?" said Hank as he picked up a few of the books from his desk, "Just what kind of 'phenomenon' are you talking about here? I gather that it has something to do with mythology."
"In some parts it does," said the Professor as he turned the pages in his book to reveal a majestic illustration of a fiery bird, "But in others, I'm not so sure."
"Well maybe you need to take a break, Charles," coaxed Hank as he took the tray of tea and began pouring a few cups, "Deny it if you dare, but you know as well as I do that no mind can find the answers they're looking for without any energy or nourishment."
"Don't worry old friend. I know better than to argue with your logic," said Xavier, managing a smile as he took the cup and began taking weak sips, "I just...I wish I knew more about what I was dealing with here."
"And just what exactly is it that we're dealing with my friend?" asked Hank curiously as he took some tea for himself, "Is it a possible threat?"
"That's just it old friend. I honestly don't know. I can't explain it, but I just have this...This feeling that whatever this is, it's going to bring us all great pain. And it's not just the team...It's the world as a whole. I don't know how, I don't know why, and I don't even know when...But something's coming, Hank...Something beyond the realm of human comprehension."
Xavier's words sent a chill down Hank's spine as he took a moment to digest those words. Having known the Professor for many years, even before the school was opened, he knew full well that Xavier was never one to overemphasize. When he said something was going to be big, it was going to be big. And to see him so taken by whatever this phenomenon was just gave him all the more reason to be concerned.
Was it Apocalypse? Was it Magneto? Was it some new enemy the likes of which they had yet to face? It was all up in the air in Hank's mind, but for the Professor, the identity of this grave threat was all too clear...And unknown to the rest of his students, it was much closer than they ever could have suspected.
Hank didn't say another word as he allowed the Professor some time to rest and gather his thoughts. Looking down at some of the books he was reading, he couldn't help but grow curious. While he was never very good at mythology or mysticism, mainly due to his scientific background, that didn't mean he couldn't try. And from the looks of it, there was plenty of material to sift through.
"Thank you for the tea, Hank...But I'm afraid I must get back to work," he said as he set his half full tea glass down to the side and returned to his books.
"I take it that me badgering you to rest more won't dissuade you in this instance," made Hank as he set his cup down.
"Not this time old friend," said the Professor as he gathered a few more books, "Just tell the others that I won't be down for dinner tonight ask Logan and Ororo if they can take care of some of my paperwork tonight."
"Very well," said Hank with a sigh, "But in the meantime, why don't I lend a hand? It looks like you could use it."
"I would appreciate that," said the Professor, managing somewhat of a smile, "But at this point, I'm afraid that this little enigma will continue to elude our understanding unless..."
Then suddenly, just before he could finish his thoughts, the smell of brimstone filled the air as a 'bamf' sound echoed through the room. And in a puff of smoke, Kurt Wagner appeared before the Professor holding a chord-less phone.
"Sorry to interrupt you from your study, Herr Professor. But you've got a phone call. And she specifically asked to speak to you and nobody else."
"Me?" said the Professor curiously as he took the phone.
Once he had the phone in hand, Kurt vanished in another puff of smoke. And as soon as he was gone, the Professor put the phone to his ear, not knowing just who would be on the other line waiting for him.
"Hello? This is Charles Xavier."
Hank watched with a curious look, wondering who would be calling at a time like this asking for just the Professor. Then suddenly, as the voice on the other end became clear, Xavier's expression turned to one of great shock. And before Hank could even inquire to his friend just who this was, the answer came to him in the form of a single name.
Downstairs in the dining room, the team was setting up shop for dinner. Most of the time they had prearranged foods shipped to the mansion for easy preparation for a large student body, but there were a few instances when the resident food experts of the house took the time to prepare a little something special to keep things from getting bland.
"Ah the smell of genuine Louisiana Gumbo," said Remy with a content sigh, "Ain't many smells dat can top it."
"Well for all our sake, I hope ya made enough, Cajun," said Logan as he helped Ororo carry in a few bags of groceries, "Just remember not to add so much hot sauce this time. Not everybody has yer tolerance to spicy foods."
"Yeah, especially in a place where some of the students actually spit fire," said Jubilee, who assumed her role as the official taster.
"Hey, dey ain't gonna learn if dey don't get a taste o' de hot stuff!" said the proud Cajun as he took a little sip.
"In that case, I should probably prepare a backup dish," said Ororo with a sigh.
"Suit yourself Stormy," shrugged Gambit as he gave Jubilee a taste, "You don't know what you're missin'!"
"Yeah, seriously Storm, this stuff is..." but before Jubilee could finish, she was quickly overcome by a burning feeling inside her mouth, "HOT!!!"
Then, under the echoes of laughter and grins, Jubilee rushed to the sink and began to frantically gulp down water. This earned Remy a few snide gazes, as if to say 'told you so.' And as much as he would have liked to keep his classic recipe, it was now clear that not everybody had the stomach for good old Cajun food.
"Fine. Remy will make sure it's mild," he said grudgingly.
While things in the kitchen continued to progress, Jean went along with setting up the table and buffet...Which was pretty much a snap for her thanks to her telekinesis. Scott and Rachel were there with her, helping in whatever way they could. But from the looks of it, Jean had everything under control.
"Looks like your powers are finally stabilized," commented Scott as he watched plates and utensils fly about the area in a smooth streamline.
"For now at least," said Jean, not wanting to get too overconfident as she set the last few dishes down, "I guess those blocks seemed to be doing their thing."
"Yeah, I guess so."
While this was going on, Rachel just watched in awe. No matter how many times she saw it, her young mind couldn't get over how amazing it was to see things floating in mid air without a human hand to guide it. It was like magic to her while to her parents, it was a prelude of things to come. After all, their daughter was a mutant and it was only a matter of time before her own powers manifested.
"Rachel? What's wrong?" said Scott as he noticed his daughter making a few strange faces.
"Nothing daddy," she said innocently, "I'm just trying to move the plates with my invisible hand like mommy."
"Invisible hand?" said Scott with an amused grin, "You think you've got one too?"
"I know I do!" the little girl said in a confident tone, "Uncle Hank told me that if my mommy has it, then I'll have it too!"
"Did he now?" said Jean with a smile as she picked up her little girl, "Did he also happen to say that in addition to her invisible hand, Mommy also has another magic power?"
"Another power? What is it?" asked the little girl in an excited tone.
"Super tickling power!"
"Mommy! Mommy! Not that! That tickles!" said the little redhead as she let out a joyous fit of laughter.
"Then Mommy's power is working!" she said, not letting up in the slightest as she let the laughter of her daughter fill the air.
Soon, Scott even joined in the fun as Rachel's youthful cries filled their hearts. No matter how many times they heard it, neither Scott nor Jean ever tired of it. With all the craziness in their lives, sometimes it took the simple laughter of their baby to make it all worth while.
Rachel was too young to understand the hardships that they had endured. To her, mutant powers were still magic tricks. But they knew since the day she was born that she was X-factor positive. One day, she would be a mutant in a world that hated and feared them. While it was uncertain when and how her powers would manifest, Scott and Jean wanted to make sure that their daughter lived in a world where she knew that such gifts were not curses. And like them, she would have to learn to control them.
Once their little playtime ended, Scott and Jean proceeded to get everything ready for dinner. After the table was set, they hung back for a while as the rest of the meal was prepared. And after about a half hour, everything seemed ready and the team gathered in the dining room for dinner.
As usual, the regulars sat around the head of the table while some of the younger students ate at the buffet style setup off to the side. Yet even as everybody dug in, it was not lost upon them that Professor Xavier was not present. In fact, few had even caught a glimpse of him all day. They tried waiting for him and even calling him with their thoughts, but he seemed to be stuck in another world at the moment.
"Mommy? Where's Grandpa Xavier?" asked Rachel as she sat between her Mommy and Daddy like she always did.
"I don't know baby," said Jean as she looked towards the empty seat at the head of the table where the Professor usually sat, "I haven't seen him since this morning."
"Last I heard, he was still stuck in that study of his," grumbled Logan as he used his claws to perfectly slice a few pork chops.
"Still? Don't tell me he's been in there all day," said Ororo, who was sitting next to Logan.
"Near as I can tell, he's been locked up there since this morning," said Logan, shaking his head, "The guy must be hibernating or something."
"Well I hope nothing's wrong," said Kitty, who still insisted on eating vegetarian food even after all these years, "When the Professor shuts himself off he usually has a pretty good reason for doing so."
"Then let us hope that it isn't something we should be worried about, Katya," said Piotr in the kind, reassuring tone that always had a way of making Kitty swoon.
"You and me both big man," said Scott as he helped cut his daughter's meal up into smaller, more manageable pieces.
The Professor's continued absence remained strong in the minds of his eldest students and staff, but as dinner progressed, they found themselves settling on other topics of conversation. Kurt and Amanda's wedding plans were at the forefront as usual and there was also the upcoming semester that was set to start soon after.
Yet through all this, they kept expecting the Professor to come in at any minute. They knew that his actions were never without reason and the thought of something so important that it sequestered him in his study for this long was certainly not lost upon the rest of the team.
"So what do ya think, cherÃ¨?" said Remy as he sat next to his wife and watched her eat his famous gumbo, "Is de gumbo as good as ya remember?"
"It's a little mild," said Rogue, flashing her lover a brief smile, "But then again, not everybody can share mah taste for Cajun spice."
"Yeah, no kidding," muttered Jubilee, who was sitting right across from them, her mouth still stinging from when she tried to taste it earlier.
"Aw lighten up, Jubes!" said Bobby in his ever encouraging tone, "You know what they say, if you can't stand the heat, stay cool with the Iceman!"
"Ha! And you say Remy has an ego," joked Jubilee with a humored grin.
"Well I'm not the one who's completely whipped, so I guess the title goes to me now!" said Bobby confidently.
"True, but who knows? One day you may be every bit as whipped as he is."
Jubilee's flirtatious tone caused Bobby to blush, earning him a snide grin from Remy as if to say 'Just you wait.' He knew that Bobby had a soft spot for Jubilee. And since they both returned from college, that soft spot was beginning to show again. But neither of them had said anything...Yet that is.
"Poor boy. He's in for one hell of a shock if he ever make a move wit Jubilee," mused Remy as he shook his head in amusement.
"Oh come on, sugah," said Rogue playfully, "Being whipped isn't SO bad."
"Hey, I second that," said Scott with a grin, "Hell, it has its advantages."
That earned Scott a look from his wife, but she didn't seem to mind.
"And just think, Kurt," said Scott as he turned to his friend, who was sitting right across from him, "Pretty soon, you'll be part of the club as well."
"Oh I can't hardly vait," he said, rolling his eyes a bit at that, earning him a laugh from Amanda.
Then suddenly, Scott felt a tug on his shirt.
"Daddy? What does it mean to be whipped?" asked Rachel, ever the curious little girl.
Scott blushed at that, causing many of his surrounding friends to snicker. It was times like this that he was glad Rachel didn't have psychic powers just yet. Otherwise, she'd know way more than any four-year-old ought to.
"I'll...Tell you when you're older."
"Good save, homme," laughed Remy in response.
"When you and Rogue have a kid of your own, feel free to tell it whatever you want."
"We'll keep that in mind, sugah," said Rogue as she took Remy's hand, causing him to blush somewhat after hearing the word 'kid.'
Now it was Remy's turned to be embarrassed since he and Rogue hadn't really been planning for kids yet. Nevertheless, it was still a topic that was never far from their minds. After three years of marriage, it was only natural to want to take it to the next level. But at the same time, there was plenty of reason to proceed with caution since neither Rogue nor Remy had parents that could be considered stellar models.
But if Scott and Jean could overcome that obstacle and have a beautiful baby girl like Rachel, then so could they.
Dinner went on with little incident and things settled for the most part as some of the younger students finished and left while the regulars stayed behind to clean up. But before the meal could end, the whole team was met with one last little surprise...The appearance of the Professor.
"Grandpa Xavier! Grandpa Xavier!" Rachel cried with delight as she got up and ran over to her grandfather.
"Oh my, aren't you the energetic one?" said the Professor with a warm smile as he scooped her up onto his lap.
"Yep! But where have you been Grandpa? Uncle Logan says you were hibernating."
"Did he now?" said Xavier as he cast his friend an amused look which he refused to return for some reason.
With Rachel still on his lap, the Professor was in high spirits. This came as a major relief to the others, helping to set some of their concerns to rest. But still, Xavier had a way of putting on a good face even when something was up and this was no exception.
"It's good to see you out of your study, Professor," said Scott as he got up to clear his plate, "Just what have you been doing? Is anything wrong?"
As simple as that question was on the surface, it still stung the Professor every time he heard it because it meant he had to keep on lying. But he forced himself to set such matters aside for the time being, for he had far greater news.
"It's nothing you should concern yourself with, Scott," he said, keeping a casual tone, "But I came down because I have a major announcement."
"What is it, Chuck? Is it somethin' that needs shredding?" said Logan in his usual, cautious tone.
"Oh hush, Logan," said Ororo, rolling her eyes at her boyfriend's presumptions.
"It's hardly that serious," assured the Professor, "I just got a phone call from an old student of mine and she's invited us all to attend a major gathering in New York City tomorrow night."
"Gathering? You mean like a party?" asked Bobby.
"I'm afraid I don't know the details, but I did receive a full fledged invitation telling me to bring along my students and staff. It's from someone I've known for many years, so I think it would be good PR if we all attended."
"Hey, free food and a night in de big city...Sounds like a plan to me!" said Remy, never one to veer from a party, "Just what is dis party anyways?"
"They're a premier New York social club who seem very interested in establishing a partnership with my institute," said the Professor, not looking too worried about it, "And they call themselves the Hellfire Club."
OUT OF THE FRYING PAN! INTO THE HELLFIRE! REVIEW!!!