The Evo world is forever turned upside down when a man named Dr. Nathanial Essex begins a project known as Shadow Cell from which the lives of Scott, Jean, Vincent, Wanda, and X23 are changed forev...
Chapter 56: Mall Crawl
Bayville mall was a wide ranging mesh of sights, sounds, and experiences. Given that it was a Saturday afternoon, there were plenty of people to fill the vast halls, providing many of the stores with wave upon wave of customers. Yet through this crowd, a couple of newcomers to this experience were taking in all these stimulations for the first time. Jean Grey and Wanda Maximoff, two young women who had lived a great deal of their lives on the battlefield, had never been in a place like this before. And to say they were out of place here would have been quite the understatement.
"Ah, I love the smell of commerce in the morning!" exclaimed Tabitha as she, Kitty, and Amara followed the two young soldiers in through the front doors.
"Who are you talking to?" asked Wanda, casting her a curious look.
"Oh, nobody," she shrugged, "Just soaking up the ambience. Ain't it great?"
Jean and Wanda took in the sight of masses upon masses of people scurrying about like lab rats through a maze like structure of shops, advertisements, and propaganda. Everywhere they looked, the message was just 'buy, buy, buy.' And having had sketchy past memories at best, they had no memories of malls or any shopping of the sort, so it was really something they didn't have the same appreciation for in comparison to the two other girls.
"Damn, this place looks more chaotic than an Afghan war zone," said Jean, already wanting to leave, "Do people really hang out at these places?"
"You bet!" said Tabitha, not showing any real concern for their attitude, "Now come on, let's get you girls glamoured up so you don't look like you just came back from boot camp."
Tabitha led the way, seeming more excited about this place than any rational person ought to be. But neither Jean nor Wanda complained, for she probably knew more about this place than they did and if this is what they would have to go through in order to get some decent clothes, so be it.
"Is she always like this?" asked Wanda, turning to Amara and Kitty.
"More or less," shrugged Amara, who knew Tabitha better than anybody, "Just be glad she's not on a sugar high."
"Wonderful..." said Jean in response, rolling her eyes.
"Hey, it's not all bad," said Kitty, trying to stay a bit more positive here even though she didn't like being in the presence of these people who had nearly given her a concussion, "Just give this place a chance. I know you, like, haven't really experienced malls before, but it's a big part of civilian life."
"But why?" asked Wanda, not seeing the purpose, "Why would anybody in their right mind want to spend so much time in a mindless maze of stores and shit?"
Kitty merely sighed, for this was going to be a lot harder than she thought. These two really had been deprived. They honestly had little, if any, concept of living life outside a war zone. She was beginning to see why they acted so stiff at times and their behavior was finally starting to make a little sense. But nevertheless, she tried to do her part despite her anxieties. She tried to have at least some hope for all this, but it was already abundantly clear that this was going to be an uphill struggle at best.
"Well, it's sort of complicated because it's different for each person," she tried to explain, "The mall is, like, the center of the universe for some people and for others it's just a place to shop and hang out with friends."
"But why would you want to do that in a noisy, chaotic place that look more anarchic than half the Middle East?" said Jean, not understanding this point of view for a second.
"I..." stammered Kitty, unable to think of a clear, logical means of explaining it since such a mentality had always been instilled on her.
Luckily, Amara came in and finished her thoughts.
"It's just one of those social constructs that nobody understands, yet everybody is a part of."
"Oh, I see," said Wanda, thinking it made sense when she put it like that, "That makes sense. It's just one of the many norms society imposes upon itself in an effort to preserve order and provide distractions."
"Distractions?" said Kitty with a confused look.
"Oh believe me, Kitty...If you knew how government really works, you'd understand," said Jean in a somewhat ominous tone, yet it didn't seem to bother her since she had always lived with that knowledge.
It was an unsettling thought for Kitty and Amara. It only showed just how different a life these two had lived. They had insight that they couldn't even begin to fathom, yet despite this, they managed to function somehow. And after what they had been through, it was a real mystery as to what kept them going, but that was probably something they'd never understand.
"Hey come on you guys! Keep up!" shouted Tabitha, who was still leading the way, "We've got plenty of shopping to do and not enough time to do it all!"
"Yeah, yeah...We know Tabitha," muttered Jean, who found the younger girl's enthusiasm to be bit annoying at times, "We're right behind you and since you know more about this shit than I do, we'll just go along."
"That's the spirit! And don't worry, when I get through with you, you'll both be certified mall junkies like me! But first things first, let's get you girls some better fashion! Next stop...The Gap!"
While the girls were out, Scott and Vincent remained back at mansion. With no training to occupy themselves and with much of the X-men lounging about the institute, they chose to sequester themselves in the upstairs library where few students came during the weekends. They were simply enjoying a game of cards, which had always been one of their primary means of entertainment during their time at Shadow Cell. It was one of the few activities that they could do both as soldiers and civilians and in this instance, they just happened to have an additional guest.
Raven Darkholme, better known as Mystique, couldn't believe she was doing this. She couldn't believe that she was actually playing cards with two men she had little love for. These two had been behind the attack that left her beaten, bruised, and sore to no end. These two had overwhelmed and humiliated her and the Brotherhood in her own house.
Yet at the same time, they were a major factor in helping to save Rogue...That much she knew she owed them. But at the same time, that didn't mean she had to like them. At least the redhead wasn't with them. And as much as she hated to admit it, these two were nice company.
"Okay, what have you got this time?" asked Mystique as she looked at her cards and then at the two boys.
"Pair of duces," said Scott, showing his hand first.
"Pair of nines," said Vincent as he followed suit.
"Pair of Kings," said Mystique, showing them her winning hand.
"Damn, you got a strong bluff, lady," said Vincent with a sigh as he gathered up the cards and began to shuffle them with his super speed.
"Comes along with being a shape shifter," she shrugged, "It's all about showing people exactly what they want to see and getting them to accept it."
"Ah, the very motto of every government," said Scott in a slightly humored tone.
"Indeed...And as much as I hate to say it, they do a pretty good job," commented Mystique, "Although I was never really a part of the military, I did get plenty of insight during my mercenary days."
"Yes, I read some of your file," said Vincent, still shuffling the deck, "You really got around."
"Oh I did. It was a chaotic existence. Find people willing to pay you for your services and carry them out to the fullest. Whether it was assassination, blackmail, or simple reconnaissance...I did my duty and I always succeeded."
"Yeah, I understand. Believe me...We both do," said Scott in a more distant tone, "Only you had more freedom to go your own path. We were always controlled and guided down ours."
"You may think that, but that really wasn't the case," she said, sighing somewhat at the difficult memories associated with such a life.
"What do you mean?" asked Vincent curiously, wondering just what made this woman do what she did.
"I'm a shape shifter in case you've forgotten. I'm a freak, plain and simple. I didn't have the freedom to be myself. I didn't have the freedom to live my own life. All I ever did was steal certain piece of the lives of others, doing whatever was necessary to get by. And needless to say, there aren't a lot of options for someone of my skills. So naturally, I turned to the path of a soldier to guide me."
"Hmm, I never thought of it like that," said Vincent, who stopped shuffling for a moment to run that through his mind, "Sounds kind of like having your entire identity erased."
"I suppose it was in some ways. But the difference was that I had my identity...I just couldn't use it. And looking back on it, the only thing that kept me going during that time were the tenets of a soldiers...To Fight, survive, and win. They were simple, clear, and concise. And I guess its part of what shaped me into who I am."
"Yeah, it shows," said Scott, casting the shape shifter a slight smile, "I don't think anybody other than a soldier would have sacrificed so much for a loved one. And after seeing what you put yourself through with Magneto, I think you deserve a little credit."
"That's your opinion," she muttered, "At least you believed in better ideals. You fought to save innocent people. I just fought for myself and nobody else. I didn't care who got in my way. I didn't care who I had to kill. It was purely survival for me...Survival in a world that had completely rejected me."
"Yeah, I know how that feels," said Vincent, his thoughts drifting back towards the time he spent on the streets during his childhood, "So is that way you chose to go with Magneto and the Brotherhood?"
"No, it was a bit more complicated than that."
"How so?" asked Scott.
The memories of her decision to go with Magneto were probably going to haunt her for the rest of her life. It was among one of her greatest mistakes, choosing to follow that man. It only brought her great pain, frustration, and heartache because it further distanced her from her kids. But regardless of how much she hated her decision, it was one she could not unmake. And even though that part of her life was behind her, it would surely affect her for many years to come.
"I guess it had more to do with me wanting things I couldn't have," she said with a sigh, "As exhilarating as the life of an internationally wanted mercenary was, it wasn't a life I wanted to be stuck in. I wanted to get out. I wanted to have a life. I wanted to have a family. I honestly tried to get away from it all, but no matter what I did, I couldn't escape what I am and I had to keep hiding myself from the rest of the world. It was so lonely...So disheartening. Hell, there were times I just wanted to end it all right then and there. But after I had Kurt and later adopted Rogue, it really did give me something to live for. Because now I was no longer simply out to survive in this chaotic world...I was out to protect my children from it."
"And you thought you could best do that with Magneto?" said Vincent, sounding a little skeptical at that.
"Yeah, I know...Bad assumption on my part. But I honestly thought that his views made more sense because I knew the world never accept me as a mutant. And I knew Kurt and Rogue were doomed the face the same problems. And I just...I didn't want them to have to go through the same shit I did. I wanted to make things better for them. I thought that with Magneto, he would push for mutant equality more forcefully than Xavier and we as mutants would take our rightful place. But as you both probably know, Magneto's goals were a lot more self serving than he let on."
"Yeah, I guess it kind of goes back to the whole telling people exactly what they want to hear," said Scott.
"Exactly...And I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. He knew I hated being labeled as a freak. He knew I wanted to live my own life without having to steal the lives of others just to function. He completely tricked me...Not unlike the way Sinister tricked you. We were all used. We believed what we were told. And we paid the price."
"Yeah...Don't I know it," said Vincent with a sigh.
A heavy silence soon formed over the three soldiers, for they had more in common between them then they could have imagined. It was remarkable to think that had all been used in the same way, manipulated and deceived only to further help the gains of some crazed madman. They all could definitely relate. They could share this hurt. And despite her lingering grudge, Mystique had to admit that it was nice having people who genuinely understood.
"Thanks for letting me rant," she said with a sigh, "I kind of needed to get that off my chest."
"Hey, no problem," said Scott, managing to smile despite the grim topic of discussion, "We got to make up for what we did somehow. Consider this just part of it."
"Yeah, I'll keep that in mind," she said, her tone finally starting to sound a little lighter.
"Just remember that your not alone here, Ms Darkholme," said Vincent as he resumed shuffling the cards, "We've been down the same roads before. And if you ever need someone to unload on, just know that Scott, Jean, Wanda, X, and I would be more than willing to help. We owe you that much."
"I appreciate that, but as long as the redhead keeps her distance, then I'll be fine," she said, making it clear to the two young men that she still had a thorough distaste for that woman for what she did to her.
"Well, at least try to give her a chance at some point," said Scott in defense of his lover, "She said she was sorry and I know that's not enough to you, but that doesn't make it any less true. I'm not saying you have to like her, but would you at least give her the benefit of the doubt?"
"I'll...Think about it," she said with a defeated sigh, "But don't expect me to be all buddy-buddy with her overnight."
"Don't worry, Ms Darkholme, I am still a realist," assured Scott, smiling back at her.
"Good...And please, call me Raven," she said, still seeing the respectful soldier as being a big part of them.
"Very well...Raven," said Vincent as he prepared to deal the cards, "Thanks again for hanging with us. It sure does get lonely around here in a place where everybody seems so suspicious of you."
"Tell me about it," she said with a slight laugh, "Honestly, you'd think they get tired of casting us death glares after a while."
"Yeah, but I guess some of these people here are just really stubborn," said Scott with a shrug.
"No surprise there," said Raven, actually smiling now as they all reflected on their current situation.
They continued playing their game, the conversation between them remaining a bit more relaxed as shared war stories and even compared battle scars. It was the first time Scott and Vincent had managed to hold a decent conversation with somebody outside the unit. And for Mystique, it was the first time she got a chance to talk to people who really understood her. It was a welcome feeling, one that she never would have expected to have with these two. And grudge or no grudge, they were still nice company and probably one of the only ones who she could talk about the complicated life of a soldier with.
Their games continued and they kept up with their stories, simply reflecting on where they had come from and how they had ended up at this point. It was nice to get this stuff off their chest, especially with others who understood. The rest of the mansion may still have harbored a great deal of resentment towards them, but that didn't mean they couldn't find some solstice during times of such uncertainty.
"So how much longer do you think we'll have to stay here?" asked Scott as Vincent gathered up the cards in preparation for another hand.
"Beats me...As long as we have to," said Mystique, still not willing to go out and face more death glares.
"Well as long as we've got plenty of stories to go around, then I think we'll manage," said Vincent with a smile as he continued to show off his super speed abilities in shuffling cards.
Just then, the doors to the library suddenly opened and Kurt and Rogue stepped in, quickly drawing the attention of the three soldiers.
"Mama, are you in..." but Rogue quickly stopped in mid sentence as she saw her at a table playing cards with two of the soldiers from Shadow Cell.
Like the rest of the institute, Kurt and Rogue had not been all that comfortable around Shadow Cell to say the least. And to see them hanging out with their mother was a bit unnerving since they had yet to find any such comfort to trust them enough to be around their mother.
"Oh, uh..." she stammered as she and Kurt began to back away, "Sorry, Ah didn't know ya were busy."
"Ja, ve'll come back later," said Kurt as he and Rogue prepared to make their leave.
"Hey wait!" said Mystique, stopping them before they could get away, "Don't just up and leave like that! Why don't you stick around and play some poker with us?"
Kurt, Rogue, and even the two young soldiers of Shadow Cell cast the shape shifter a strange look. But she knew as well as the others that if this awkwardness was ever to be alleviated, they would have to start somewhere.
"Are you serious?" said Rogue skeptically, casting an untrusting glance towards Scott and Vincent, "Why would we wanna play with them?"
"Well, why not?" she said in response, mixing in a little parental scolding.
Neither Kurt nor Rogue knew what was going on. Near as they could tell, their mother resented Shadow Cell as much as they did, but now things seemed to be a bit different. Had something happened? Did they miss something? Despite this, however, she seemed quite serious in her proposition.
"Come on, you two have been telling me I need to loosen up a bit, so why try this?" she reasoned.
The two siblings exchanged a conflicted glance. Looking back over at the two mutant soldiers still sitting indifferently to their presence, it still didn't feel right. But then again, if Mystique could do it, why couldn't they? They had been told time and time again by the Professor to give Shadow Cell a chance and for the most part, they had been just as reluctant as the others. But then again, they had been spending so much time with Mystique that they never really had time to consider their views towards Shadow Cell. And now that she here with them, why not try to kill two birds with one stone? After all, if they didn't then who else would?
"Vell, I guess it couldn't hurt," shrugged Kurt as he teleported over towards the table and took a seat next to where Mystique had been sitting.
"Yeah, as long as these two don't go all super soldier on us again," muttered Rogue as she joined her brother.
"Glad to see you have so much faith in us," muttered Scott in a sarcastic tone.
"Hey, come on Rogue," said Kurt, trying to be a little more optimistic about this, "If zhey haven't gone nuts on us by now, zhen I zhink it's safe to say zhat zhey don't have any plans to."
"Yeah, good logic, Kurt," said Vincent as he continued to shuffled the cards at inhuman speeds, "And besides, even if we did, we'd have to go through your mother...And honestly, that's something I'd rather avoid."
"Smart move, Vincent," said Mystique, casting him a humored grin, "But enough with the icebreakers. Come on, let's play some poker."
Back at Bayville Mall, Tabitha and her two friends were using every bit of their knowledge of fashion to help restyle and revitalize the two mutant soldiers into presentable civilians. Ever since they had arrived, they had been stuck wearing clothes that were lent to them by Betsy and Rogue and it was high time in their minds that they found a style of their own. But despite Tabitha, Kitty, and Amara's extensive mall experience, such a feat was proving to be harder than they could have imagined.
"Come on you two, you've been in there for ten freakin' minutes!" exclaimed Tabitha as she and the other girls stood outside the girls' dressing room of the Gap, waiting to see the fruits of their labor.
"I'm coming! I'm coming! Just hold your damn horses! I swear, you're more impatient than some of my old drill sergeants!" shot Jean from the changing room as she slipped on her shirt and made one final adjustment to her pants.
The three other girls were starting to get restless. As much as they loved shopping, these two were proving to be quite the hassle when it came to choosing something as simple as a new outfit. They knew shopping with soldiers would be an experience, but they had no idea it would be like this.
"God, these two are impossible!" groaned Amara, "We've been in here for over an hour!"
"Yeah, I mean, why do they have to be so picky about this? They practically hated everything we showed them," added Kitty.
"Girls, girls..." said Tabitha, trying to mediate the overall mood, "Let's cut them some slack. This is the first time they've done a mall crawl before. They gotta take baby steps, you know?"
"I don't know, Tabby..." said Amara in an uncertain tone, "These two aren't exactly your run of the mill teenage girls. They're soldiers for crying out loud! And I still have some of the bruises to prove it."
"Oh now you're just being bitter," scoffed Tabitha, "Honestly you two, you're starting to sound like Warren."
"Hey, I'm just stating the facts here," argued Amara.
"Yeah, and they don't exactly seem to be enjoying themselves so far," added Kitty.
"Oh ye of little faith," said Tabitha, still not daunted, "You two seriously have to get over this shit. I mean, come on, these two are okay. They got us a ride in Warren's car, didn't they?"
"Which they drove like maniacs, mind you," muttered Kitty.
"Oh, and you don't?" said the young blonde with a grin, "At least they were skilled enough not to leave any dents, scratches, or messed up sign posts all over the hood."
"Hey, that was only ONE time!" exclaimed Kitty in her defense.
"Oh I'm sure."
Just then, Jean and Wanda finally stepped out of the changing room after having struggled a bit with some of their new clothes. Over an hour and a half of browsing, bickering, and rejections finally seemed to culminate for the young women who had spent the better part of their lives in a war zone. And at last, Kitty, Tabitha, and Amara could see the fruits of their labor.
"Okay girls...How does this look?" asked Wanda, hoping that this would end this seemingly incessant search.
The three other girls looked upon the two young women with mild shock in their eyes, for if they hadn't known about their complicated pasts, they would have easily passed for normal girls. Jean had on a pair of skin tight, dark blue jeans that hung extra low on her waistline along with a tight fitting red shirt that seemed to really bring out her full, womanly shape. Wanda also looked very nice, wearing a pair of equally tight black leather pants which also rode incredibly low along a scarlet shirt without any sleeves that partially matched the tone of her old uniform. They both also bore new shoes, which were quite a departure from the usual heavy duty military boots they were so used to wearing.
But differences aside, they both looked good...Very good in fact. Their new outfits really helped to exemplify the enhancements done to their bodies as well as their years of military training. And in the eyes of the ever outgoing Tabitha, it was mission accomplished.
"Ladies, I think we've finally done it here!" said Tabitha as she looked back at the two older girls with an approving look on her face.
"The underwear still feels weird though," said Jean, adjusting the bra again under her shirt, "I thought you said we'd get shit that was actually my size."
"Hey, it is your size, Red!" said Tabitha in an encouraging tone, "It just feels a little uncomfortable because it's designed to really bring out your cleavage. And you two definitely have plenty to offer in that department!"
"Cleavage?" said Wanda, also finding this thing to be a bit of a hassle, "Why would we want that?"
"Yeah, our boobs are big enough from the enhancements," grunted Jean, thinking these girls were just messing with them in some areas.
"Oh you can never have enough cleavage!" said Tabitha with a wry grin, "Believe me, it's one of the best tools a woman can use!"
"Well then how come it hasn't worked on a certain Kentucky farm boy that you've been buying wonder bras for since last month?" quipped Kitty with a humored grin, earning her a distasteful look from the young blonde.
That got Amara to laugh a bit, for she knew full well that Tabitha had been attracted to Sam for some time now, but unlike other boys, she seemed a lot more reserved about making a move with him.
"Yeah, yeah...Laugh it up," she muttered to her friends, "I don't see you trying anything to entice a certain fuzzy friend of yours."
"Whoa! Hey, low blow there, Tabby!" said Kitty, suddenly blushing profusely at the mention of Kurt, "You know Kurt and I are just friends."
"Yeah, and I'm not a princess," said Amara, rolling her eyes at the young valley girl's denial.
"It's true!" she spat, getting rather defensive about it.
"Hey! Take it easy there, Kit. No need to get all worked up about it," said Tabitha, quickly stepping in before this little argument escalated any further.
Kitty took a few deep breaths, knowing this was neither the place nor the time.
"You're...You're right," she said, managing to calm herself down, "Sorry, I just..."
"Hey, no biggie, it was just a comment. Nothing more," said Amara, although she was beginning to think that Kitty may have given too much away from her abrupt reaction.
Both Jean and Wanda found this all the more confusing. They had intensely studied the art of human interaction and psychology during the course of their training, but this behavior was simply baffling. Maybe it was because they were taught such skills with a greater emphasis on military applications or maybe it was just a civilian thing, but either way it was still quite enigmatic.
"I still don't see the need for all this cleavage shit," said Wanda, feeling as though the comfort wasn't worth it.
"Trust us on this one, Wanda," said Tabitha confidently, "This kind of thing is definitely a must when it comes to living in a world full of hormonal men! Wear your cleavage like a weapon and there's no man you can't entice."
"Why the hell would we want to do that?" scoffed Jean, "If I ever catch anybody looking at me like that, I'll rip his balls off!"
"Dude..." said Kitty, her eyes widening with shock upon hearing those words, "That's a bit extreme, don't you think?"
"Yeah, besides it's just for fun," said Amara, finding this little quirk of theirs to be a bit disconcerting.
"Well after being leered at buy GURSO soldiers all my life, I think I've had enough attention for one lifetime," Jean explained, her tone firm and strong, "And besides, I'm a telepath, remember? I know what they're thinking when they look at me."
"Hey, I totally believe that," said Tabitha, who didn't seem nearly as shocked or horrified at their words, "You're right, that's just how some people are I'm afraid. But as long as they exist, why make the best of it? There are plenty of great guys out there and you two are both smoking hot, so the world is pretty much your oyster."
"Thanks, but no thanks," said Jean sternly, "Scott's the only man I want."
"Scott? Wait, you mean you two are like...Involved?" said Amara in a curious tone.
"Yes, but it's more than that," said Jean in a vehement tone, "Scott's a friend, a soldier, a comrade, and a lover. I've known him since I was ten and he's always been there for me both on and off the battlefield. I trust him with my life, my heart, my soul...Everything. And anybody who just calls it anything less will have to answer to me!"
"Wow, like, take it easy, Jean!" said Kitty, finding her words to be a little disconcerting.
"Yeah, we weren't the ones that mentioned Scott...You were," said Tabitha.
Jean let out an exasperated sigh. Even in the world of civilians, she still managed to get worked up about things like this. And now that her relationship with Scott was less a discrete, forbidden affair, it was finally being allowed to manifest in new ways. The same held true for Vince and Wanda, who were just beginning to scratch the surface of their relationship. And in this new world, they both had a long ways to go. It was just a matter of adapting to all these new changes.
"Right...Sorry, it's just...It's hard still thinking that the rules of the military apply," said Jean, sounding a bit calmer.
"Meh, don't worry about it you two," assured Tabitha, still the more understanding of the group, "Just give it time. I'm sure you and your boys will adapt. And these new clothes can only help."
"Well I still don't get it, but I'll trust your word on that," said Wanda, who finally gave up trying to adjust her bra.
"Glad to hear, girlfriend!" said Tabitha, still brimming with enthusiasm as she took in the accomplishment before her, "And if you're both happy with my work, go ahead and change and we'll pick out a few more outfits like this one before we go on to the next step of our little venture!"
"Oh I can't hardly wait," said Jean in a sarcastic tone as she and Wanda once again disappeared into the changing rooms.
Once they were out of sight, both Kitty and Amara once again turned to their friend, casting her a strange look.
"What? I think they're really starting to come around here! We succeeded in getting them a new look, didn't we?"
The two other girls just shook their heads and laughed, for it seemed as though nothing could bring Tabitha out of her rut when she was in her groove.
"You know Tabitha, sometimes your optimism astounds even me," said Kitty, earning her a round of collective laughs.
Once Jean and Wanda were done, they picked up a few more outfits that were similar in style so as to make a decent wardrobe. They also picked up a few things for the boy as well, knowing that they were probably getting just as sick as they were wearing all these loner clothes. X23 on the other hand, may require a separate trip. But they didn't want to think too much about that now as they proceeded onward to the next leg of their little excursion, simply following Tabitha towards the central area near the checkout counter for one last little accessory that would hopefully add the finishing touch towards making them look like true civilians.
"Okay you two, we've got new clothes to help make you look smoking hot, but before we call it a day, we need to move onto a little aesthetics," proclaimed Tabitha as they stood before what was without a doubt one of her favorite parts of the store, "So tell me...Any of you girls have an experience with cosmetics?"
"Cosmetics?" said Jean, not knowing what exactly she meant by that, "Does cammo paint count?"
The young blonde gave her an odd look, but she quickly brushed it off, for she should have expected as much from the young soldier.
"Oh boy, looks like we'll have to work on this as well," muttered Amara.
"No worries, ladies! For when it comes to makeup, I'm your girl!" said Tabitha in an enthusiastic tone.
"Gee, I wonder what gave that away?" said Kitty to Amara, causing them both to laugh, which Tabitha completely ignored.
"In the world of civilians, sometimes it's just not enough to wear good clothes. You also have to look and smell the part."
"Smell?" said Wanda, once again not getting this concept, "Why would we need to smell good? Wouldn't that just make you too conspicuous?"
"Well outside the military, we don't worry that much about standing out in a crowd," explained Tabitha, who couldn't help but laugh somewhat at their remarks, "Hell, for some of us, we prefer it! And for those occasions, it's always helpful to have the best makeup you can muster!"
"Makeup huh?" said Jean, only vaguely familiar with the matter, "Smells like shit."
"Oh don't knock it till you've tried it, Red! Here, let me show you."
From this point on, it was pretty much all instruction and demonstration for the two young soldiers. Tabitha remained very enthusiastic about showing them the ins and outs of cosmetics, but for the most part, they still didn't seem to get into it. Kitty and Amara tried to help in whatever way they could, picking out shades of lipstick and perfume that they though might go well with the two older girls. But for the most part, they didn't really like what they chose. If anything, they were a bit annoyed by it.
Nevertheless, Jean and Wanda soon found themselves getting into it. There was still plenty they didn't understand, but they managed to make the best of what they knew for the most part.
"So what do you think?" said Tabitha as she showed Wanda a mirror so that she could check her appearance.
"I think I look like a clown," she muttered as she took in her new look.
"Hmm, maybe the blush was a little too much," said Tabitha, using her acute fashion knowledge to make a refined judgment, "But I think we finally got the right lipstick."
"Yeah, I guess so," she said, still finding her appearance a little odd as she wiped off some of the mascara, "But I really don't know if all this stuff is necessary."
"Hey come on, don't you want to give that big, strong, handsome man of yours a little treat?" said Tabitha with a suggestive grin, "Who knows? He might really like it."
"I don't know," she said, looking over some of the many samples that she had yet to try, "Putting all this shit on my face makes me feel like I'm kind of hiding something. And since I kept my feelings for Vincent bottle up for so long, I really don't want to hide from him any more."
"Hey, you're not hiding from him, Wanda," said Tabitha in an encouraging tone, "You're just giving him something pretty to look at. Is that so wrong?"
"Well...I guess not. But with this? How do you know he'll even find this attractive?"
"Oh trust me, girlfriend...He will!" said Tabitha in full confidence as she helped Wanda further refine her look.
While the young blonde was working her magic on Wanda, hopefully preparing a nice little treat for Vincent when they got back, Kitty and Amara did their best to help Jean, who seemed to be having slightly better luck than her friend.
"I think you should go with a darker shade," said Amara as she watched Jean apply some light mascara to her cheeks.
"Oh, like, you always think people should go with a darker shade," said Kitty, rolling her eyes at her friend's remark, "Just because it works for you doesn't mean it works for everybody."
"Hey, I'm just saying it may go along better with her hair," said Amara in her defense, "Especially if she let it grow a bit."
"Why would I want to grow my hair?" said Jean, running her hands down her short, yet distinctly feminine style, "I've always kept it at this length. I've had to so that it doesn't get in the way during combat."
"Well you're not, like, in combat anymore Jean," reminded Kitty, "You're free to grow your hair to whatever length you want. And I think longer hair would really look good on you."
"I don't know. I like to keep it manageable."
"Well that's understandable. That's what Rogue always tells me as well," said Kitty, thinking both Jean and Rogue seemed to share uncannily similar tastes when it comes to hair length.
"Yeah, and personally, I think it looks just fine. But you shouldn't be afraid to style it every once in a while," said Amara.
"Whatever," said Jean with a sigh, still not understanding this whole 'fashion' thing that these girls seemed so passionate about.
As Jean leaned forward to make a few final adjustments to the makeup, both Kitty and Amara suddenly noticed the tattoo she had on her lower back which had been concealed for the most part since her arrival. At first they weren't sure what it was, for they were never really sure when it came to these two. But as they took a closer look, they got a feel for just how elaborate the majestic mark was.
"Wow! I didn't know you had a tattoo, Jean," said Kitty as she and Amara took in the sight of the fiery red Phoenix etching majestically onto her lower back.
"A tattoo? Oh let me see!" said Tabitha, suddenly diverting her attention away from Wanda to check it out.
"Huh? Oh, that? Yeah, I got that years ago. Everybody in the unit has tattoos in some form or another. We kind of use it as our own little mark to help symbolize our identity," explained Jean, as she lifted her shirt a bit to give them a closer look.
"Yeah, and you got the most elaborate of them all," commented Wanda, "It took them what? Two hours to make that thing?"
"Two hours?!" said Kitty, wondering how anybody could endure a tattoo needle for that long.
"Well to be fair, tattoos are just scars and since we all heal faster than normal humans, the guys who gave us these things had to use special tools that Sinister made," explained Jean.
"Well it must have hurt like hell," said Tabitha, who had been thinking about a tattoo, but the pain factor always seemed to dissuade her.
"Not really," shrugged Jean, "Then again, I have gone through extensive torture endurance training. And besides, I wanted to get something that really went along with my codename."
"Yeah, I figured that," said Kitty as she took in the majestic detail, "Phoenix is definitely a hell of a codename."
"No kidding! I wish I had one like that," said Tabitha, "Boom Boom sounds SO unoriginal."
"Hey, it sure beats the hell out of the other name they wanted to give me," said Jean as she lowered her shirt and set aside some of the makeup that she had been sampling.
"Really? What was that?" asked Amara curiously.
The three girls cast her a strange look, not knowing whether or not they should be humored by a name like that.
"Yeah, yeah...I know. It sucks," conceded Jean, "Which is why I'm glad I didn't go with it."
"Well I think it's good that you did," said Tabitha, still taken by the sight of the elaborate tattoo, "Phoenix is just such a cool name! Sure beats the hell out of Boom Boom, which sounds more like the name of a porn star rather than an X-man."
"Well if you don't like it, then why don't you change it?" inquired Wanda.
"Meh, don't really care," she shrugged, "Besides, a name like that kind of makes for another means to entice and manipulate men."
"True, but you have to admit Tabby, it makes for some pretty lame pick up lines," said Kitty, "Like, remember that time you were all 'let me show you why they call me Boom Boom' when you first saw Warren and Betsy nearly decapitated you right then and there?"
"Blegh, don't remind me. Besides, how the hell was I supposed to know that little miss ninja was the jealous type?"
As the three girls continued to admire Jean's tattoo, something else caught their eye...Something that lay just above the majestic mark that the redhead had named herself after. And once gain, Kitty, Tabby, and Amara found themselves deeply curious.
"Damn, Jean! Like, where the hell did you get a scar like that?" said Kitty as she saw what looked like a rather sizable gash across Jean's upper back.
"Oh that? I got that in Sarajevo about a year and a half ago when we infiltrated one of their notorious state sponsored death camp. Apparently, I didn't shoot one of the guards enough and he attacked me with a knife."
"Yeow! That must have hurt," cringed Amara.
"It did. It stung like hell for the rest of the mission, but it's not the worst wound I've suffered," shrugged Jean as she then lifted up her shirt a little more to show another mark she had on her side, "I've been shot over a dozen times, stabbed just as much, broken at least several dozen bones, and suffered more concussions than I care to recall."
"Damn girl! You're pretty tough!" said Tabby as she ran her hand over the slightly visible scar where a bullet had ripped through her side.
"Oh that's nothing," scoffed Wanda, "You should see the scar I've got on my leg when some prick in Tibet jammed knife right down to the bone."
"Yeah, and don't forget that time you nearly had your arm shattered by that RPG in Syria," said Jean.
"Oh yes, I remember that," said Wanda, looking back at her left arm which had bore the blunt end of that blast, which still had a few tiny scars here and there, "It looked like a fried chicken for the rest of the mission and there was a shard of glass the size of a golf ball sticking right out of my shoulder."
"Like, ewww!" cringed Kitty, finding that too disgusting to picture.
"Dude, you two are like a mosaic of scars!" said Tabitha, finding it a bit more intriguing than sickening.
"Comes with the job I guess," shrugged Jean, "And if you think these are bad, just be glad that neither Vince or X show their old wounds. Hell, I remember this time when X23 took a grenade right to the face and nearly had a chunk of her lower leg torn off. But thanks to that healing power of hers, she was ready to kill the fucker who hit her within a few minutes."
"Can't say I blame her," said Amara, unable to picture the kind of agony something like that would have caused.
"Oh, and don't forget that time Vincent went right into that chemical weapons plant in Iran and was hit with so much nerve gas that he puked for three hours straight and went blind for a day," said Wanda, remembering that little incident all too well.
"Yeah, you didn't leave his side the whole time," said Jean with a smile, knowing that memory probably held more meaning to the both of them now.
"Hey, it's no different than that time you stayed with Scott when he took three bullets to the chest and you had to telekinetically yank them out of him."
"But I held his hand the entire time and let him bite on one of my bullets," reminded Jean, never one to leave out the details that had the most meaning in her eyes.
"Wow! That is, like, romantic on a totally weird level," said Kitty, not knowing whether to be touched or sickened.
"More like disturbing," muttered Amara.
"Oh, lighten up, Amara!" said Tabitha, giving her friend a playful slap on the back, "I think it's sweet! Sharing the pain of bullet wounds with a lover...Can't get much more intimate than that."
"Tabby, you have, like, a weird sense of romance, you know that?" made Kitty, laughing somewhat at her friend's comments.
"Hey, you don't have to read cheesy novels to know love!" she shrugged, "Some show affection by walks on the beach and candlelit dinners, others show them by digging bullets out of each other! It's SO sweet!"
"Oh, I'm sure," said Amara with a light chuckle.
Once again, the three girls had officially lost Jean and Wanda. They still found so much of this banter to be very strange. It was just so different when they were on their reconnaissance run because they had a clear cut objective on what to look for. But now that they were civilians and were no longer on a mission, ascertaining these bits and pieces of human interaction was a challenge at best.
"So are we done here?" asked Amara, "Is this enough for you two?"
"Well..." said Jean as she looked down at the lipstick and small makeup kit, "I guess the lipstick looks okay. I'm still a bit skeptical about the whole makeup thing."
"Hey, don't stress over it too much Red," assured Tabby, "Just get the starter kit for now and you and I will work on finding your style together. By the time I'm through with you, Scott won't be able to keep his hands off you!"
Despite her lingering uncertainty about this matter, Jean actually found herself smiling at that, for such a notion definitely had it's appeal. Looking back in the mirror, Jean still found her appearance strange, even though she had wiped off most of the blush and wore only the lipstick. She wasn't sure if Scott would find this enticing, but then again, she wouldn't know for certain until she showed him.
"I guess this will do for now," said Wanda as she gathered up her kit and lipstick, "I'll fool around with this stuff later. Maybe I'll even get one for X23."
"Oh, like, definitely!" chirped Kitty as they all made their way to the checkout counter, "And if you want, we could even schedule another little outing like this so we can have her experience all this as well."
"Umm...I don't know about that," said Wanda in an uncertain tone, "X isn't necessarily a 'people person' to say the least."
"Yeah, and what part of that is supposed to shock us?" made Amara, rolling her eyes somewhat at such an obvious notion, "I can't say I would expect anything less from a girl who has Logan's DNA."
"Like, totally!" said Kitty in agreement, "There must be some kind of anti-social gene written in their blood or something."
"Hey, it's just the way X is. She's alright. We've been working with her for over five years. She's like a little sister to us," said Jean.
"Well that doesn't mean she's immune from Logan's tendencies," groaned Amara at the mention of the feral young girl, "My head is still ringing from that concussion she gave me."
"Hey, I've seen her eviscerate an entire gang of Yakuza in Hong Kong with nothing but her claws, so consider yourself lucky," said Wanda with a slight laugh, "She did you a favor using only a standard takedown move. That just took you out of the fight so you didn't have to get hurt any more than you had to. And a concussion just happens to be a side effect. Hell, a concussion should be the least of your worries. I've seen her literally rip a guys head off."
"Yeah, like, that's comforting," muttered Kitty.
"But SO like somebody made in Logan's image," said Tabitha, who seemed a bit less disconcerted by such a revelation, "By the way, if this X23 chick really was created from Logan's blood...Doesn't that technically make them family? I mean, isn't Logan kind of her father now since it was his blood that made her?"
Both Wanda and Jean exchanged glances, not having thought too much about that for the most part. However, such a notion had come to mind that day when Logan came out to join them during their training. They saw the way they interacted and they witnessed just how alike they truly were. They both had vivid memories of X23 being very isolated and alone during those early days at Shadow Cell and how desolate she felt for not having anybody. They had families at one point...She didn't. And that had always been a source for sorrow.
But now that Logan was in her life, did that really make them family? Was their blood bond and their tortured pasts enough to make them so? Such questions could be debated until doomsday and for Jean and Wanda, who were still deeply concerned for their friend and comrade, it was definitely something to think about.
"I...Wouldn't go that far just yet, Tabby," said Jean, trying to find the right wording, "X is still working a lot of things out...We all are."
"Well I think there can be, like, some major benefits for the both of them," said Kitty, who had noticed the affect X23 was having on their favorite feral instructor as well, "I think they definitely deserve something like that after everything they've been through."
"Yeah, good point, Kitty," said Wanda, not having really thought of it from that standpoint, "But I guess only time will tell."
"Yep! But for now, let's just pay and get out of here! I'm starving and I hear the food court a calling!" said Tabitha, eager to move on from here.
"Well whatever the hell that is, we'll get there. Just let us pay, first," said Jean, taking out her new debit card which she had just gotten yesterday, "We have plenty of money, so just sit tight."
"Hey, look who you're talking to," said Kitty with a smirk, earning her another glare from Tabitha.
While the two former soldiers waited in line with Kitty, Amara, and Tabitha standing close by, suddenly a few unexpected guests made their presence known as a rather distinctive commotion came from the area back down towards the entrance. It didn't really resonate much for Jean and Wanda, who were used to filtering out such distractions, but for the three younger girls, it was an immediate cause for great dread, for they knew that there could only be one source of such a racket.
"Oh shit! Not them...Not now!" groaned Kitty as she saw a posse of familiar faces from school make their way towards them.
"On no! What's Duncan doing here?" said Amara, quickly sharing her friend's concern.
"I don't know! I thought he got suspended after that little scuffle with Warren during that PTA meeting bit," said Tabitha, trying to avoid his line of sight.
"He was, but I hear Principal Kelly managed to revoke it," said Kitty with a distasteful tone.
"Figures..." said the young blonde in response, "Just stay back and try not to make eye contact."
However, as the three girls quickly tried to take cover, Jean and Wanda remained indifferent to it all, not really noticing the commotion. But despite this, that didn't stop Duncan Matthews, the star QB of Bayville High and an avid hater of the Xavier kids, from noticing Jean and Wanda.
"Hey, check it out Dunc," said one of his buddies, directing his attention over towards where Jean and Wanda were paying for their purchase.
"Wow," said the young jock with a cocky grin, "And I thought Gap was for old nerds."
"Guess not. Damn, I wonder what a couple of good looking chicks like them are doing in a place like this?" said another one of his friends.
"Only one way to find out..." said Duncan with a confident poise.
"Oh man, 50 bucks says you can't get her number!" said one of his linebacker friends.
"You're on!" affirmed Duncan, "And if I can get one or both of them into bed by tonight, you owe me 200!"
"Deal!" said the linebacker, giving his fellow teammate a high five as if to cement the bet.
"Just sit back my friends and watch the master work his magic," said Duncan, his focus now solely on the two shapely, attractive girls...Not knowing for a second just who he was dealing with.
Jean and Wanda were just finishing their purchase, letting the cashier put all their stuff in a big bag and printing out a recite. They were almost ready to move on, when suddenly a voice diverted their attention and they were met with the sight of a young man with a cocky grin wearing a distinctive Bayville Hawks jacket.
"Hey there, I don't think I've seen the likes of you two around these parts," said Duncan in his best nice guy tone.
"Who the hell are you?" said Jean, not one to enjoy the presence of random strangers.
"You've never heard of me?" said Duncan, not daunted for a second by their unenthused tone, "Well since you're new here, allow me to introduce myself. The name's Duncan Matthews...Star QB of the Bayville Hawks and holder of the state record for rushing yards in a single game."
"And we should care...Why?" said Wanda, her distaste clearly apparent from the get go.
"Because I make it my mission to let all the beautiful women of Bayville know who I am," he said with a confident grin, "And you fine ladies definitely fit the bill."
Jean and Wanda exchanged glances. They knew this guy from their reconnaissance run. He was Betsy Braddock's ex boyfriend. They didn't get a whole lot of info about him over the course of that mission, but based on what they had just learned about him now, they could safely say that they didn't really like his presence.
"That's it, we're leaving," said Jean as she and Wanda gathered their bags and turned to walk away.
"You read my mind, Jean," said Wanda, which in retrospect wasn't that far from the truth.
Not dissuaded in the slightest, Duncan continued to press onward, for in his mind, these girls were just playing hard to get. That's what all beautiful women did, brush him off at first only to become putty in his hands later on. And these girls were beautiful, so why should this be any different?
"Hey, come on girls, don't be like that," said Duncan, keeping his nice guy tone, "At least allow me the honor of escorting you ladies about this fine establishment."
"Thanks, but no thanks. I'd rather dive headfirst into the middle of a Chinese nuclear testing site," said Jean, who couldn't get away fast enough from this persistent man that only had one thing on his mind when he looked at her and if she had her gun, she would have been quite tempted to use it.
"Ooh...Sassy," said Duncan, admiring the redhead's wit, "It should be a federal crime that we haven't gone out yet."
"Little man, if you don't get out of our way within the next few microseconds, I'll be tempted to go marine on your ass!"
"Marine huh? Sounds sexy," said Duncan, still grinning incessantly.
Letting out a frustrated grunt, Jean just wanted to get away from this guy before he burned him to a crisp with her pyrokinesis. She began looking for Tabitha, Amara, and Kitty, but noticed that they were still hiding and this only gave Duncan more motivation to stick around.
"Come on Wanda, I think we've overstayed our visit to this store," said the redheaded soldier as she and her friend.
"Definitely...It's even starting to smell funny," said Wanda in agreement as she followed her comrade out as far away from this guy as possible.
Yet still, Duncan persisted. He wasn't about to be rejected by a couple of girls like this. Nobody rejected Duncan Matthews...Nobody. Then again, he had never tried hitting on a couple of killers before, but he remained completely oblivious to this as he foolishly followed the two girls, keeping up with his relentless flirtation.
"Hey don't be like that," said Duncan as he reached forward to grab Jean's arm in order to stop her before she got away, "Just stick around a bit and I'll..."
But he didn't even get a chance to finish, for he had just crossed a line that should NEVER be crossed when dealing with the likes of Jean Grey and Wanda Maximoff. They had tried to resist the urge to give this guy a one way ticket to the emergency room and they had tried to be civil about it...But there was only so much they can take and if Duncan wouldn't get a clue, then they would make sure he understands now and forever just who he was dealing with.
"What the...AHHHHHHHHH!" he yelled, letting out a pain scream which resembled that of a little girl covered in spiders.
With a swift CQC maneuver, executed to perfection through years of training and skill, Jean forcefully grabbed the hand that Duncan had tried to lay on her and crushed it with her firm grip. Her enhanced body gave her strength that surprised even Kitty, Amara, and Tabitha, who were watching from afar with a wide eyed expression on their faces. And with a swift knee to the gut and a firm twist of the arm, the highly skilled soldier sent the ignorant young jock falling to the floor in a pained, crumpled heap.
"Ahhhhhh! Oh shit! Fuck!" he yelled, now in a world of pain upon hitting the hard floor and feeling the bones in his hands shatter like glass.
"I DON'T LIKE TO BE TOUCHED ASSHOLE!" yelled Jean in tone that would have petrified a Russian Commando, "I DON'T LIKE TO BE STARED AT! I DON'T LIKE TO BE HIT ON! AND I DON'T LIKE YOU!"
Giving his already mangled hand another squeeze, Duncan let out yet another pained cry.
"I should rip your balls off out of general principle so you can't contaminate the world with your seed! But I'll let you off with a warning this time. And if I EVER catch you even so much as thinking about me or any of my friends for that matter, then no army on the face of the planet could keep me from finding you to make your body look just like your fucking hand! Now get the fuck out of my sight!"
And with those last firm words, Jean stormed off with Wanda following suit. Duncan remained on the floor, still in a world of pain as his friends came rushing over to his aid, cringing at the sight of his mangled hand.
"Duncan! Duncan, are you alright man?" said his linebacker friend.
"Ahhh!" he yelled again clutching his mangled hand, "God damn it, my hand! Fuck! This is my throwing hand! The couch is going to kill me!"
"Hey! Calm down man!" said another one of his friends as he helped him back up to his feet, "Let's just get you to the emergency room, okay?"
"Motherfucker!" he cursed, his body still reeling from whatever that redhead did to I, "God, those bitches! They were crazy!"
"Yeah, no kidding man. I'm surprised she didn't do worse. She looked like she was going to bite your head off," said his linebacker friend.
The group of jocks proceeded to make their way out of the mall, getting as far away from those two girls as humanly possible. But before they left, the linebacker had one last comment before they could put this behind them.
"Oh and Duncan...You owe me 50 bucks."
Back with the girls, Kitty, Amara, and Tabitha emerged with a look of shock and awe upon their faces as they met up with Jean and Wanda. They had actually done what pretty much everybody at the Xavier Institute had dreamt of...They made Duncan Matthews cry like a little girl. After all the shit he put them through since before even mutants were revealed to the public, it was nice seeing his jerk off attitude coming back to haunt him. And if he had the slightest brain in his skull, he would NEVER mess with them again.
"Dude..." said Kitty, her eyes wide with amazement as she stood before the two young soldiers.
"What? He was being an asshole," said Jean in an indifferent tone, "Now let's get out of here. I don't want to risk having some other prick come in here and force me to bust his balls."
Such words only caused the three girls to smile even more. As rough as these two were around the edges, they definitely had some spirit in them...Spirit that was truly worth admiring. They downed Duncan Matthews. They braved the insanity of a mall crawl with Tabitha. And that alone said volumes to their tenacity and strength not just as soldiers, but as human being. And based on what they had just seen, they had a feeling that these two were going to be alright in the long run.
"Red..." said Tabitha, a wide grin dominating her face as she led everybody out of the store and back into the main mall area, "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship!"
AN: Ah the joys of the mall. Man, I have seen the movie "Mall Rats" one time too many! Oh well, that didn't make this any less fun to write! Now the five mutants of Shadow Cell are finally beginning to find their place. Even Mystique seems to be coming around and given her legendary stubbornness, that's not an easy task! There's still more to come, so stay tuned my friend! As always, I urge you to REVIEW! Send them to me via email or post it on the fanfiction website! Thank you all very much for reading and I wish each and every one of you the best!
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