Evolution is taking humanity in a new direction. Extraordinary people are being born with extraordinary abilities. Professor Xavier and his X-men seek to use those abilities for the good of mankind in a world that hates and fears them. But many are wary of these abilities and as the mutant population grows, so too do the efforts to contain it.
Government bodies like the Mutant Security Agency and determined men like General Nathan Grimshaw work to police those who use their abilities to do harm. However, there are also those with far darker intentions like Weapon X, who seek more than just containment. They attempt to turn mutants into living, breathing weapons. Wolverine knows all too well the horrors of this program and since he joined the X-men, he’s confronted them in hopes of recovering the past they took from him.
Recently, Wolverine discovered a mysterious teenage girl with the designation X-23 who has the potential to answer some burnig questions. During a search for a group of escaped mutants, Wolverine finally found her. However, that wasn’t all he found. A dangerous new threat from Weapon X emerged named Fantomex. Calling himself the next generation of weapon, he mortally wounded Wolverine in battle. Now the feral mutant is on the brink of losing a life he barely remembers.
Eastern Europe – World War II
“PLEASE! HELP US! HAVE MERCY! I DON’T WANT TO DIE!”
Such desperate cries fell on deaf ears. They came in many languages from men, women, and children. But it made no difference. Team X was in the business of war, not mercy. As such, James Howlett and Victor Creed showed little remorse as they set fire to a house they barricaded with captured civilians. James did the honors, using a cigar to light a bottle of gasoline and throwing it into the house.
“NO! DON’T! IT BURNS! IT-AHHHHHHHHHHHH!”
James “Wolverine” Howlett stoically ignored these cries as he lit another cigar. The sight of desperate civilians trying to escape didn’t faze him in the slightest. He was the only one with the stomach to watch. The rest of Team X was surveying the ruins of the small town they had just decimated. The rest of this elite Special Forces unit had no desire to take part in such atrocities. They just turned a blind eye to it, as was their custom.
As the cries of agony were consumed by the flames, James’ second-in-command and most trusted associate met up with him. Even though he was all too familiar with the horrors of war, Victor “Sabretooth” Creed couldn’t help but be put off.
“You must not own a dictionary, Jim. If you did, it left out the word overkill,” commented Victor.
“This whole town was built around a factory. That factory makes vital machine parts that those Nazi scumbags need to keep their war machine going. The mission was to destroy the factory and everything that made it run,” James justified.
“I don’t remember the higher ups saying we should slaughter the civilians for good measure.”
“They didn’t have to. They know how Team X works. They drop us in a war zone, we do the mission, and we leave our mark. We do our jobs right and the enemy ain’t gonna have the stomach for war.”
“Sometimes I wonder if that’s how Team X works or if that’s just how you work,” questioned Creed.
“That mean you’re getting soft on me, Vic?” quipped James.
“Not in this lifetime, old buddy,” his associate grinned, “This ain’t the first stunt you’ve pulled. Hell, it ain’t even the tenth. I thought I had a mean streak coming out of Canadian Special Forces, but I’m learning whole new ways to crush my enemies with Team X.”
“You learn fast and that’s why I trust you, bub. The rest of the team only act tough. You and me…we’re beyond tough.”
“So long as we keep winning battles like this, I’m not complaining. Although when we die, we’ll be sent to a much deeper level in Hell. I might not be able to share a room with you at the rate you’re going.”
“To hell with Hell,” said James as he puffed away on his cigar, “Like it or not, we got a long miserable life ahead of us thanks to our talents. The way I see it, if life is this shitty we might as well take it out on someone.”
Victor Creed laughed and shook his head. James either had a very dry sense of humor or a very morbid outlook on life. They didn’t earn nicknames like Wolverine and Sabretooth by being cute. He was still learning from this man. If their healing doomed them to a long and embittered life, he needed to learn as much as he could from James Howlett because it would be a long time before death caught up to them.
Xavier Institute – Infirmary
“Hurry, Hank! Get him on an IV and get him on every med you can find,” exclaimed Ororo as she and Jean rushed the mortally wounded Wolverine into the infirmary.
“His healing still hasn’t kicked in. Get him on the bed and I’ll attempt a blood transfusion,” said an equally urgent Hank McCoy.
“You got enough for our guest here? Because it doesn’t look like she’s doing too well either,” said Scott, who was rushing the wounded X-23 in behind Wolverine.
“She’s still in better shape than our friend here. We have to stabilize him before we can even think about treating him!”
The X-men were in a life-and-death predicament. The last person they ever expected to be mortally wounded was now lying on a gurney fighting for his life. Logan lost a battle against a mysterious figure in Los Angeles who had long since disappeared. That same figure even managed to wound X-23, who wasn’t doing much better. Now they were both dying and the race was on to save their lives.
The moment Jean uncovered Logan’s dire condition in Los Angeles, she and Ororo summoned the X-jet. They rushed him aboard and ignited the afterburners to get them back to the Xavier Institute. There was no hospital equipped to treat mutants like Logan or X-23. Along the way their bodies attempted to heal, but something was preventing it. The bullet wounds and cuts scabbed over and the bleeding stopped. However, the wounds and extensive internal damage would not heal. The healing factor that made them so durable was failing them.
The moment they arrived at the mansion they were met with Charles Xavier, who returned moments ago from the Church of Humanity. He and Scott helped get Logan into the infirmary while Kitty, Remy, Piotr, and Betsy stayed back and watched nervously. They had also informed Bobby of the situation as well and was on his way back.
“My God…who did this to them?” wondered Scott as he took in their injuries, “Who could do this to them?”
“Someone who was as resourceful as they were ruthless,” said the Professor as he anxiously wheeled up to the infirmary beds, “Give me an early prognosis, Hank. What are we dealing with here?”
“I wish I could tell you, Charles,” said Hank grimly as Jean telekinetically set Logan and X-23 down on their beds, “These injuries are extensive. They’ve been littered with gunfire and drained of blood, but these are wounds that a strong healing factor should be capable of dealing with.”
“Well it’s not! So examine some more,” urged Jean.
“There’s something else,” he added, “While I was recording his vitals, I discovered he was running a fever…a very severe fever.”
“Don’t pile on the details, Hank! What does it mean?” exclaimed Ororo.
“I suspect they have been poisoned. It’s the only way a healing factor could be kept at bay like this. I don’t yet know the nature of the poison, but I know it is incredibly potent. If it isn’t treated, then Logan’s healing abilities and that of his female associate could be rendered inept. I don’t think I need to elaborate on what that entails.”
It was an astonishing notion, Logan being at death’s door. This is a man who has survived an adamantium bonding process, being burnt to a crisp, falling thousands of feet from the air, and untold battles with foes like Sabretooth. He had healed from it all while maintaining heavy drinking and smoking habits. Now here he was withering helplessly into oblivion.
Jean fought to hold back her sobs, collapsing into Scott’s arms while he gazed with worry over his teammate. Even though they rarely got along, Logan certainly didn’t deserve this. Ororo had to hold back her own sobs as she helped Hank and the Professor hook Logan and X-23 up to various medical equipment. Their bloodied bodies remained eerily still, the life fading from them with each passing second. When the vitals monitors were hooked up, they recorded more weak readings.
“What can we do for him? Surely we can treat this poison,” said Ororo strongly.
“We’re in unknown medical territory, I’m afraid,” lamented Professor Xavier, “Logan’s biology is so radically different. The normal rules don’t apply.”
“So what rules can we apply?” asked Scott, trying to maintain a level head.
“For that, I’ll need to get in touch with Moira MacTaggart. She knows more about mutant physiology than anyone. If she can’t provide an appropriate course of action…”
“Then Tessa will be our failsafe,” said Hank, not letting the Professor finish.
“Tessa? How could your computer-savvy girlfriend possibly help?” asked Jean through harsh sobs.
“Let’s just say she’s been working on some side-projects that may be helpful,” he said cryptically, “In the meantime, we must keep them stable. Logan and this girl will have to hold on. Time can heal many things, but it cannot heal death.”
Charles and Hank went to work with time working against them. Hank pulled out his phone and slipped away to contact Tessa. The Professor did the same for Moira, heading towards the War Room where he could contact her through the mainframe and download any necessary data. This left Wolverine and X-23 in Jean and Ororo’s care.
“He can’t die. Not like this,” cried Jean.
“He won’t. Logan’s stubborn with everything, including death,” assured Scott.
“What of this girl we found?” asked Ororo, turning her attention to X-23, “Where does she fit into all this?”
“Who knows?” said the X-leader, “So much of Logan’s life is a mystery. If he’s not around to solve it, we’ll never know.”
“Almost makes me wonder if it’s possible for his life to flash before his eyes,” mused Ororo as she tenderly caressed Logan’s wounded face.
“With his memory and all the pain it’s brought him…I think that would be worse than death itself.”
Team X Training Facility – World War II
James and Victor returned from the battlefield two days ago. In between the carnage the routine was the same. The two men shared some drinks with the rest of Team X and smoked a few victory cigars. Then they went back to the rigorous training drills that helped make them such effective killing machines.
This training was the core of Team X. Their old drill sergeant, who was more a mentor than a superior, put them on this punishing regiment that involved them tearing into slabs of beef, ripping at their flesh with barbed wire, and hardening their instincts so they didn’t give a second through to killing. At the Team X headquarters, there was an elaborate training arena filled with various equipment that was more extreme than the average soldier was equipped to handle. At times it made them more animal than man. It translated nicely to the battlefield, but didn’t always go over well with the higher ups.
“I think you’re secret admirer is calling you, Jim,” teased a bemused Victor Creed.
“The way he yells, it ain’t much of a secret,” said James Howlett flatly.
Another part of their routine involved clashing with their commanding officers, who were often irritated by their methods. To them they weren’t soldiers. They were glorified thugs. They may have been right to some extent. That didn’t make dealing with them any less annoying.
“Another one, James? You and your buddies razed another town?” spat a very upset Colonel as he stormed into the Team X training room.
“You don’t have to yell, Colonel. I know what happened. I was there,” said James stoically.
“Spare me the sarcasm. You shouldn’t be so caviler about rounding up civilians and burning them alive.”
“The mission was to cripple that town completely. That’s what we did,” said James firmly.
“There were no stipulations to commit atrocities. We’re supposed to leave that to the Nazis and the Soviets!” barked the Colonel.
“Ain’t the Soviets our ally?” quipped Victor.
“Their methods are different. We’re supposed to be held to a higher standard. What you scoundrels did wasn’t acceptable the first time. Why do you think it would be different on the tenth?”
“Tenth? Your count must be off, sir. I had it at way more,” said Victor.
“Can it, Creed! You and the rest of Team X are wearing on our last nerve. With codenames like Wolverine and Sabretooth, you’ve given me a long list of reasons to come down on you. Don’t tempt me to skip the several steps needed to send you to the firing squads.”
For most ordinary soldiers, this was a serious threat. For James Howlett and Victor Creed, it was no worse than a slap on the wrist. However, the Colonel’s harsh tone did get under their skin.
James was in the middle of attacking a hardened slab of meat with barbed wire wrapped around his arms. When the Colonel made that threat, he snarled and turned around. As he did he ripped some of the barbed wire off his arm, creating major wounds that would have sent most enlisted men crying for a medic. The pain barely registered for James. He approached the Colonel, making sure he watched his wounds heal. This sent as powerful message that overshadowed all notions of rank and authority.
“Not to sound disrespectful, sir…but for a second, how about you step down from your power trip and quit talking to us like we’re your dogs?” said James in a menacing tone.
“You dare think you’re in any position to…” began the Colonel.
“Yes, I dare!” he barked, “You and everyone else in a fancy uniforms give us this bit at least once a week. You come in here, yell at us, and claim we’re a pack of rabid animals that need to be put down. Well guess what? You need this pack of rabid animals. I get that you hate our methods and frankly, I don’t give a damn. So unless you got someone else who can do what we do, quit yelling at us like it’s gonna end the war.”
The Colonel stared down Major Howlett. He didn’t show it in his gaze, but James Howlett had an intimidating presence even to an officer. His lips quivered, hinting that he was ready to yell back. That didn’t happen though. The Colonel took a deep breath and cleared his throat while remaining under the Major’s harsh gaze.
“These atrocities aren’t issues that just perturb us officers, Major,” he said in a calmer voice, “You have to understand that this hurts the war effort. We only embolden our enemy when we resort to such tactics.”
“There ain’t many who can stomach our method,” conceded James, “But this is how we were trained. You know our mentor. I’m sure he made that pretty damn clear.”
“Yes, I had the misfortune of meeting the man who whipped you two into shape. Frankly, I hope to never meet him again,” said the Colonel begrudgingly, “What he taught you can’t be untaught. However, he is not in charge anymore.”
“I would still like to know whose fault that was,” said Victor bitterly.
“I’m not in a position to answer that question. It doesn’t matter because right now Team X is under our command. Even if we didn’t train you, this team must follow our rules.”
“That mean you no longer give a shit about getting the job done?” said James dryly.
“We all care about winning this war. That’s why we’ve determined that for Team X to be successful, it must be more a surgical knife rather than a blunt instrument.”
“I’m a little fuzzy on the subtext, Colonel. You sending us to the firing squad or what?” asked Victor.
“Not yet,” warned the Colonel, “To put it in a way you blood-lusting thugs can appreciate, we’re expanding the scope of your missions. You’ll still get to do plenty of killing, but now it will be more precise. In order to accomplish this, Team X will need a spy, but not just any spy. You’ll need someone who can get information that no one else can get. As it just so happens, your mentor recruited one shortly before his dismissal. Like you, she has some unique talents.”
“She?” questioned James.
“Yes, it’s a she,” clarified the Colonel, “And I expect you to work diligently and professionally with her…at least as professional as you can manage.”
The Colonel signaled his subordinates to bring in the new recruit. James and Victor watched with mild curiosity as several MPs led a young woman who appeared to be in her mid to late twenties. She had red hair, an athletic frame, and a stern disposition. She definitely bore the marks of someone their mentor would recruit. However, she was still clearly raw. She had on a dark skirt and white blouse with heavy duty black boots. Even if she was a looker, James and Victor weren’t impressed.
“That her?” questioned James.
“If it is, I’ve seen better,” scoffed Victor, “Met this Russian chick back in Poland. She had a much stronger build than this broad.”
“I assure you, this one will surprise you,” said the Colonel.
“I’m sure she will,” said James dryly, “She got a name?”
“That’s actually a difficult question to answer,” replied the officer, “This spirited young woman has quite a history if that’s the right word.”
“No need to be coy, Colonel. I understand that history has a way of being forgotten around here,” said the woman in a strong tone, “My name is Rose. And that’s the name I won’t be using as a spy.”
“Rose? That your full name?” said James as he approached the woman to greet her.
“I have no last name. I left it behind in Canada, just like you did, Major Howlett,” she retorted, not intimidated by James’s presence, “You look at me like I’m weak now, but I assure you I’m not. I look forward to you and Victor showing me the ropes so I can assist Team X.”
James wasn’t sure what to make of this woman. The idea of a woman being part of Team X seemed ridiculous, but if his mentor recruited this girl she must have something going for her. Whatever her skills, they were going to be tested in every possible way if she was to contribute to Team X. It helped that she was easy on the eyes as well, but James had no intention of letting that affect him.
Outside Infirmary – Present Time
The mood was tense and solemn as Piotr, Kitty, Remy, and Betsy paced restlessly outside the door. A sick feeling permeated the team. While injuries were part of being an X-man, nobody ever thought Logan would end up at death’s door like this. He was the most durable and resilient member of the team. The notion that he may die still hadn’t sunk in.
“This is wrong. This is totally wrong on infinite levels,” cried Kitty, who was pacing the most.
“I’m tempted to say you’re being melodramatic, luv. But I happen to agree with you,” groaned Betsy, who was sitting with her back against the wall hugging her knees, “Logan is the last person I ever thought would be in this position.”
“Remy’s seen that homme get burnt to a crisp and go on a bender that same night. This ain’t just wrong. It’s downright cheating,” added Remy who was sitting next to her.
“But his healing is supposed to protect him, is it not?” asked Piotr as he paced with Kitty, “Why can’t it save him now?”
“That’s what the Mr. McCoy and the Professor are trying to answer,” said Kitty, “After seeing how he looked when he came in, I’m not sure I want an answer.”
Kitty found herself walking into Piotr’s arms through her pacing. The Russian mutant willingly embraced her, offering what solace he could. This was a grave situation. One of their own was dying and there was nothing they could do about it. Piotr had seen enough death from loved ones to lose all taste for such loss. If Logan succumbed, then that would be a blow to the X-men that would be difficult to recover from.
While they contemplated the grim scenarios, the elevator from down the hall opened and Bobby Drake came sprinting towards them. He had been hanging out in District X all day. Kitty was the one that phoned him the news and it was enough to drag him away from Jubilee.
“Guys! Please tell me there’s an update. Tell me Logan’s condition isn’t as bad as I heard it was,” said Bobby breathlessly as he arrived at the infirmary doors.
“Glad you could pull yourself away from your girlfriend long enough to care,” said Kitty in a bitter tone.
“Whoa now! That’s not fair, Kitty,” spat Bobby angrily.
“You’re right. It isn’t,” she retorted, “Neither is Logan dying. So for once I think I’m entitled to blurt out stupid shit.”
“That don’t make it right, petite,” said Remy as he pushed the two of them apart.
“I know it’s not right! This is how I vent, okay?”
“Well why don’t you vent over here with me, Katya? There’s no need to inflict more wounds than we already have,” offered Piotr, pulling her away before she had another outburst.
Her boyfriend’s strong grasp helped put some much needed distance between her and the others. She ended up burying her face in Piotr’s shoulder again, leaving Bobby to process this in his own way. However, his way wasn’t much more effective than Kitty’s.
“Don’t start sulking for the wrong reasons, luv. We’re all on edge here,” said Betsy, offering Bobby a comforting gesture.
“I’m trying not to. It isn’t like me catching up with Jubilee in District X made a difference,” he said, “It doesn’t help that it wasn’t the productive kind of catching up either.”
“Would you be insulted if Remy told you to spare us the details?” asked the Cajun.
“I was going to anyways. Right now, I want to know everything. What happened to Logan and what are we doing about it?”
“What happened is the long part of the story,” answered Betsy, “What we’re doing about it is shorter and slightly more complicated.”
“How so?” asked Bobby anxiously.
Betsy’s question was answered when the same elevator that brought Bobby to the lower levels opened again. This time, a new figure entered and it wasn’t someone they had seen in the Xavier Institute before. Some recognized her as Tessa from District X. She was also Hank McCoy’s girlfriend, but she hadn’t befriended the rest of the X-men so when she approached with an unmarked briefcase in hand they were weary.
“Need I say more?” asked Betsy.
“No…you don’t,” said Bobby as he and the others approached the raven haired woman.
“So it is you,” said Kitty, pushing aside her sobs, “When Mr. McCoy said they were bringing in help, I didn’t think you were at the top of the list.”
“Why is it so hard to believe?” said Tessa in her emotionally empty tone, “Hank is my boyfriend and he’s asking me for a favor. It always helps to add a few hundred IQ points to our collective minds.”
“Brains don’t equal results,” said Remy apprehensively, “Last Remy checked, you a telepathic computer in a beautiful woman’s body. What you got that’s gonna help our friend?”
“The answer to that question is in this case,” said Tessa, holding it up for them to see, “I wish I had time to explain it, but I don’t.”
“Would you hold it against us if we find that excuse utter bullocks?” said Betsy.
“Not at all,” she replied, “I assure you I’ll go the extra distance. I won’t just save Logan and X-23’s life. I’ll hopefully answer a few other pressing questions.”
It was hard to tell if she was being sincere. Her voice was like a machine. It was impossible to determine any undertone. It was hard to see why Beast was so drawn to her, but at this point they were desperate. They didn’t just need answers. They needed a miracle.
The infirmary doors opened before Kitty, Piotr, Bobby, Remy, and Betsy could ask any more questions. Hank was the one to step out and as soon as he saw his lover, he didn’t need any convincing.
“Tessa, my dear, I would kiss you if our friend hadn’t just taken a turn for the worse,” said Hank urgently.
“We’ll have plenty of time for kissing later. Did you set up everything as I instructed?” she asked, keeping a steady composure.
“I just finished. Did you bring what you said you would bring?”
“Yes, I brought EVA…her second incarnation to be precise,” said Tessa, holding up the black case, “I haven’t tested her yet, but I’m not opposed to a trial by fire.”
“So long as she does as you said she does, we’ll take that chance to save our friend.”
Without any further explanation, Hank led Tessa into the infirmary. The doors closed behind her, leaving the others behind to wonder what was going on. All they could do at this point was pray that Tessa knew what she was doing and hope that Wolverine would respond.
Team X Training Facility – World War II
“Are you gonna quit on me?!” barked an intense James Howlett.
“No!” grunted an equally intense Rose.
“Are you gonna get weak on me?”
“Are you gonna be the timid woman everybody expects you to be?”
“NO!” she shouted with more intensity.
“What was that, Red?”
“I SAID HELL NO!”
This time Rose got her point across. The exceedingly resilient woman was fighting harder than half the men in the allied forces right now. For months now, she had been working with Team X. Major James Howlett took her under his wing and prepared her to be the soldier they needed her to be. That meant putting her through the same rigors his mentor did with him.
Rose’s life now revolved around drills. She woke up early in the morning and trained until the latest hours of the night. The drills she participated in were drills that most ordinary recruits couldn’t handle. They involved things like crawling through pools of blood under barbed wire, cutting wounds into bare flesh while running an obstacle course, tearing into slabs of meat shaped as humans, and being locked in a room tied to corpses for hours on end. It was the kind of training meant to turn a normal human being into a cold-blooded killer. Rose demonstrated a toughness that surprised James, Victor, and the rest of Team X. However, she had yet to develop that cold killer instinct.
‘This dame ain’t half bad. I’m surprised she’s lasted this long. First time I ran this drill I fell flat on my face at least five times. She’s got something special. I ain’t sure what it is, but she better not lose it. Sure helps that she looks good doing it.’
The live ammo drill was one of the most dangerous drills anyone could run. James and Victor were at an advantage because they could heal. Rose didn’t have those talents, but James insisted on putting her through it. The drill involved traversing a small obstacle course with pools of blood and barbed wire to get to a couple of machine gun nests. Both were fired remotely and the objective was to kill both shooters, who were cadavers dressed in Nazi uniforms, with only her bare hands. Rose made it through the obstacles. Now she had to kill the shooters before they killed her.
“You’re getting clumsy,” barked James as he saw her stumble, “If you wanna finish the mission, you gotta cross a few more lines.”
“Don’t need to,” she retorted, “I can do it my way.”
Rose showed more skill, jumping up from a pool of blood and narrowly avoiding a wave of bullets. She showed some agility, pulling off some acrobatic moves to avoid the gunfire and get in closer to the machine gun nest. She braved more barbed wire dripping with blood, earning more gashes in her flesh along the way. She ignored the pain and got into position at the base of the nest right under the gun. Then she made her move.
Using more acrobatics, Rose ascended the sandbags that made up the nest and reached the gun. It was still firing when she grabbed onto the barrel and used it to pull herself up like a skilled gymnast. In the process she roughly kicked the gun operator. Were the target not already dead, he would have ended up with a cracked skull. Now with the machine gun at her disposal, she turned it to the other next. She aimed it carefully, making sure it disabled the gun in addition to incapacitating the shooter. It didn’t maim him the way James expected, but it did complete the drill.
“Time!” yelled one of the Team X operators from above, “It’s a new record.”
“Shut up!” barked James, “You know how little I think of records.”
“Is that because Victor always tops yours?” said Rose from atop the nest.
“Get down here and I’ll explain if you give a damn.”
Rose was not put off by his snarling tone. She had gotten used to his attitude. Unlike the many others who worked with James Howlett, that didn’t turn her off. If anything, she was attracted to it.
She pulled off another acrobatic move as she jumped down from the machine gun nest. James met her with folded arms, ignoring for a moment that her uniform was torn and covered in blood. Even if this woman was easy on the eyes, she had to be held to Team X standards.
“You’ve got skills, Rosie. You’ve also got guts, more so than most of the grunts who run this course,” he said, “But to be part of Team X, you need more than that. My mentor ain’t here to teach it so I’ll have to get the point across.”
“What point might that be? Is completing a task not enough? Does it have to be done in the most inhumane way possible?” questioned Rose.
“It’s war, Red. It’s always inhumane. The only way you win a war is by making the guys on the other side unwilling to fight. To do that, you gotta play rough.”
“What you call rough others call downright wasteful,” she retorted.
“You gonna give me the pacifist speech like the Colonel?”
“Heavens no. I was orphaned by the time I was three, forced to be a maid-servant by the time I was ten, and had to kill this oaf of a man named Smitty who tried to force me to marry him.”
“Quit playing the scared little girl card. I’ve read your file.”
“Then you know I’m anything but scared. I’ve been fending for myself since I was a teenager. That’s how I got involved in the art of sabotage and espionage. Being a pretty doll goes a long way when men let their guard down. It helps me get useful information.”
“We’re getting off subject here. Make your point so I can get back to yelling at you.”
Rose moved in closer so he could smell the blood and dirt that covered her body. She looked him in the eye with a penetrating gaze that even a battle-hardened man like James had to respect, making sure he listened closely to what she had to say.
“I bring this up because I was brought here to make Team X more efficient. To do that, I need to do my job. And the job of every spy is information,” she said before turning her attention back up to the machine gun nests, “You see those bodies up there? Imagine for a moment that they weren’t corpses. Say they were real Nazi soldiers. If they’re alive, there’s a chance they could provide useful information. Using some of my unique talents, I can get that information and use it to advance the mission.”
“Advance it how? By telling us where Hitler’s favorite vacation house is?” scoffed James.
“Well we won’t know if we ask him and we can’t ask him if he’s dead,” she reasoned, “This is the flaw in your mentor’s tactics.”
“Watch your choice of words, Rosie. Especially when you’re talking about my mentor.”
“No James. I won’t,” she said firmly, “Loyalty is a wonderful thing, but it’s foolish if it’s demonstrably wrong. You and Victor embraced everything he taught you. Now you’re a mean, bloodthirsty grunt. At least, that’s how you carry yourself. I’m not yet convinced that this is who you truly are.”
“This ain’t about me. This is about you,” he retorted.
“You’re the one training me, James. And at times you’ve let that whole Wolverine persona slip a few times. As someone who has a knack for seeing through the secrets of others, I see in you a man who isn’t just a grunt. You may have crossed lines that I’ve refused to cross, but you hide the wounds you’ve incurred. And I can tell those wounds are festering in ways that even you can’t heal from.”
James fell silent, a rare feat for anyone who argued with him. Rose made it clear that she did not see him as a heartless killer. She was the first in that respect in a very long time. She reached out and caressed his burly face. James usually didn’t let anyone get this close unless he was fighting them. Under her gaze, something within his usually stern demeanor cracked.
“I’m not claiming the moral high ground. I’m not even asking you to rationalize the things you’ve done,” she said in a more understanding tone.
“So what do you want from me, Red? I still gotta job to do. I gotta get you ready for action,” said James, grabbing her hand and pushing it away from his face.
“I’ll be ready when the time comes. That I promise you. I can also promise you that I won’t cross certain lines. I won’t become something I’m not.”
“What don’t you want to become? A killer?”
“No…a monster,” she said to him, “You shouldn’t allow yourself to become one either. I don’t think that’s what you are, even if you’ve convinced yourself otherwise.”
James let go of her hand, allowing her to give his burly face one last brief touch. She even smiled a bit. Very few people smiled around Team X. This woman just ran through an obstacle course meant to break a man’s spirit. Yet she made it through and could still smile at the end. If this woman hadn’t impressed him enough already, she was exceeding his expectations in every possible way.
They kept standing in silence, James Howlett still at a rare loss for words. He was only broken out of his daze when Victor Creed came barging into the training area and saw the awkward position they were in.
“Hey! You two better not be getting fresh or something,” he said with a dirty grin, “We can’t have that kind of shit going on in Team X. It’ll make you soft.”
“I’m sure you’d love that, Vic. It’ll give you even more reasons to bust my balls,” said James, turning away from Rose.
“Like he ever needs many reasons to begin with,” said Rose, still smiling.
“Don’t get cute with me. I just got word from the higher ups. We’re gonna start a new round of missions in three days. So this training better be sinking in.”
“Oh I’m ready for it,” she said confidently.
“I’ll believe that when I see it,” scoffed Victor.
“Don’t be too skeptical, old buddy,” said James, shooting Rose a grin of his own, “This dame has a lot going for her and I wanna see what she can do for us.”
“Us? Or just you?” she said playfully.
“Like Vic said, don’t get fresh with me…not yet anyways. Let’s win some battles first.”
Xavier Institute Infirmary – Present
Everything was set up for Logan and X-23’s treatment. Hank and Professor Xavier worked swiftly under Tessa’s guidance to set up a complex series of IV tubes. They already had one going into their arms and several more would need to go into their face, chest, torso, and legs. Basically every major artery had to be wired for this radical and risky procedure.
Scott, Jean, and Ororo helped out wherever Hank and the Professor deemed appropriate. It was an agonizing wait. With each passing moment, Logan and X-23’s condition worsened and Logan’s was deteriorating faster since he got a larger dose of the poison. They could tell it was spreading because his wounds becoming discolored, his veins were bulging as every system broke down, and his muscles were starting to whither. It was not a pleasant sight. They had to look away periodically just to keep the contents of their stomach in place. All their hopes now resided with Tessa.
“We’re almost ready. Logan is all wired up so to speak,” said Hank as he finished inserting an IV into Logan’s neck.
“So is our other guest here,” said Professor Xavier, who did the same to Laura, “I’ve also integrated our IV drips into the biometric synthesis apparatus that Moira helped configure.”
“Then we’re ready to begin and so is EVA,” said Tessa, who was going over some last-minute data on her laptop.
This treatment was pretty elaborate. All the tubes going into Logan and X-23 fed into a complex machine about the size of a large stereo. This machine usually worked as a dialysis machine that doubled as a device for administering specific IV medications. The Professor made some adjustments so that another tube ran from this device into the mysterious black case that Tessa arrived with. Within this case were a series of tubes and vials. They all centered around two football-shaped cells containing bluish-silver liquid, which was the key to this treatment.
Scott, Jean, and Ororo remained on edge. They kept an eye on Logan and X-23, but more of their attention shifted to Tessa. The whole team was anxious, but Ororo had additional reasons to be anxious. This woman was instrumental in breaking up her and Hank. It may have been in the past, but it certainly didn’t help matters.
“Excuse me, Tessa. But I think we deserve to know more about this treatment,” said Ororo, “Are you going to tell us about this EVA you speak of or are you expecting us to assume it’s just some miracle cure?”
“I want to chalk Miss Munroe’s suspicions up to being Hank’s ex, but this is one instance where we can’t make many assumptions,” added Jean, “Just what are you about to pump our friends with?”
“It’s not more poison if that’s what concerns you. It’s something a bit more exotic,” said Tessa, not looking up from her laptop.
“With all due respect, Miss Tessa. You’re not alleviating our concerns,” said Scott in a more serious tone.
“I wish I could do something about that, but it would require several books worth of back story…some of which contain details I would rather not reveal.”
“Seeing as how we’re trusting you to save our friend, I think we at least deserve the cliff notes version,” said Jean.
“Even that would be pushing it,” she said as she worked faster, “I can only offer a slightly more detailed explanation than I offered before. EVA is a codename for research I did on advanced techno-neural interface with an emphasis on mutant physiology. It’s part of a longer string of research meant to blend flesh with machines.”
“Sounds too much like mutant cyborgs,” surmised Jean, “And given our experience with mixing mutants and machines, I’m not feeling too good about this.”
“It’s nothing like Weapon X…at least, that’s not what I intended it to be,” said Tessa with her first hint of emotion, “The interface itself is a new kind of bio-matter called techno-organic material. Think of it as artificial blood laced with tiny nanomachines. In theory you can program the interface to completely rework the genetic and biological makeup of a specimen. In practice, however, there are some kinks that need to be worked out.”
“Are these kinks as you call them the reason why this treatment is so risky?” asked Ororo.
“It’s one of the reasons,” sighed Tessa, “Since reworking an entire genome wasn’t feasible, I focused specifically on the X-gene. I was able to program a rudimentary AI into the material, which I named EVA. This AI could rework the makeup of their X-gene. I use the term rework loosely because it’s actually a very complicated process. And for the sake of full disclosure, I never had time to fully refine the process.”
“I’m studying medicine and some of my first lessons described the dangers of using unrefined treatments,” said Jean grimly.
“I don’t think we have the luxury of refining this treatment right now, Jean,” said Scott.
“Therein lies the danger,” Tessa went on, “The two samples I brought with me are the largest reconstructions of EVA I’ve been able to synthesize. I only picked this research back up recently and I’m re-learning how to handle it.”
“Well I hope you’ve learned quickly. Given Logan’s condition, I doubt he’ll survive a second trial,” urged Ororo.
“Try to have a little confidence in the science behind my work, Ororo,” said Tessa, hiding her frustration, “If my calculations are correct, then EVA will send Logan and X-23’s healing into overdrive. It will knock out the poison and heal all their wounds within seconds. They’ll wake up feeling like they just won the New York lottery.”
It was a bold claim that left Scott, Jean, and Ororo more worried than convinced. This research Tessa described gave them all sorts of nervous feelings. Ororo turned her focus back to Logan while Jean leaned on Scott for support. Manipulating the mutant genome was the domain of Sinister and Weapon X. They had yet to see it used for much good. Unfortunately, their options were limited and they needed take a chance.
Hank and Professor Xavier finished the configurations on their end, making a few more adjustments on the IV tubes and the biometric synthesis apparatus. It was all on Tessa’s shoulders now.
“I understand it may be difficult to trust Tessa’s know-how for something this great,” said Hank, “But if you cannot trust her word, then please trust me. I’ve gone over this research with her. I’ve helped her re-develop it.”
“Would you still use it as your first option if a friend’s life was in danger?” questioned Ororo.
“This is a dire predicament. No one wishes to go to Plan B before trying Plan A. We simply don’t have the luxury of trying a Plan A this time. This is our best bet.”
“I share your concerns as well, my X-men. I assure you none of us is taking this lightly,” said Professor Xavier, “I discussed this treatment with Moira. We both agree that the general principle of Tessa’s treatment is sound.”
“In theory, but not in practice, right?” said Jean anxiously.
“I wish I could offer more certainty, but I can’t. Logan and the girl are running out of time. We need to do this now,” said Xavier grimly.
He and Hank retreated from the two beds, leaving everything in the hands of Tessa now. The vitals for Logan and X-23 were getting weaker by the moment. They needed this treatment to work or the X-men would suffer a terrible loss.
“We’re ready, Tessa. Begin the procedure,” said the Professor.
“As much as I would like to reassure everybody, I’ll need every bit of computing power my laptop and my brain can muster,” she said.
“Is there anything else we can do to help, my dear?” asked Hank.
“I want to say yes, but I know I’ll never earn your trust by lying to you,” said Tessa, “Just step back, sit tight, and be ready if something goes wrong.”
“For some reason, I’m not appreciating the brutal honesty,” said Jean dryly.
“I don’t know if this will make you feel much better, but it’ll be okay Jean,” assured Scott, “This is Logan we’re talking about. He’s used to defying death.”
They were hallow words that had little substance behind them, but just hearing them went a long way. The X-men were powerless for once. They could only watch as Tessa sat down between the two beds with her laptop in her lap and initiated the program.
Tessa shut out all remaining distractions. Her mind was now focused on the surge of data that was going out into EVA. The biometric synthesis apparatus was now running at full power thanks to Xavier and Hank’s adjustments. A series of lights and electronics came to life within the black case that contained the techno-organic material. Once Tessa’s mind was completely focused, she initiated the injection process. The two vials of bluish/silver matter were drained out of the vials and into the IV tubes. Within moments, the fluid was injected into the ailing bodies of Logan and X-23.
“EVA is active,” announced Tessa in a mechanical tone, “I’m beginning the mutagenic acceleration process. Success will be determined within the next three minutes.”
Everything was so dark and cold. There was nothing but emptiness and despair. The man who became a living weapon was confronting his own morality. Life was fading. Death was rapidly approaching. There was nothing more he could do. There was no one to fight and no way to heal. The abyss of oblivion was consuming him whole.
‘So this is it…this is how it ends.’
Logan wasn’t sure if he was in his body anymore. Everything felt detached and distant. It was as if he was a spirit now and the light guiding that spirit was fading. He was seeing fragmented flashes of the past, but those flashes were limited to his broken memory. The strange flashes from the life of James Howlett had stopped without any memory of a resolution. It seemed he was destined to never know the past he had lost.
The end was close. He could feel it. There was nothing peaceful or pleasant about it. His tortured soul remained tortured. He finally faced a battle that he could not win.
Then in an instant, it all changed. Through the abyss, a faint light emerged. It seemed distant at first. It looked nothing like the tunnel of light that was supposed to accompany death. It looked more like a presence from beyond calling him into its grasp. Despite his darkened despair, Logan was drawn to it. He found himself drifting to the faint light through the void. As he got closer, his strength returned to him.
‘No…this isn’t how it ends. To hell with death! I NEVER go down without a fight.’
Grunting and snarling like the fighter he was, Logan made his way towards the light. He struggled for every inch, fighting all the forces that were intent on drawing him into the abyss. As he got closer, the light grew larger and brighter. Every ounce of fear and doubt had to be cast aside. He wasn’t about to let a little thing like death stop him.
Everything slowed down. With every labored breath he reached harder for the light. There was something or someone reaching out to him. It felt familiar. It was as if this presence had been reaching out to him all his life. Logan grew disoriented. The light was so close he could smell it. And when he finally touched it, everything around him faded and a string of flashes played out before him.
It was Team X’s first mission with Rose. She had gone in ahead of them, infiltrating the heart of a Nazi command center in southern Italy. She provided them information about who was present and where they were. James and Victor led the attack and soon found themselves surrounded on the top floor of the complex.
“That stupid bitch. She led us right into a full blown shit storm!” roared Victor over the gunfire.
“Quit blaming her and take your anger out on the enemy!” barked, “She’ll pull through. She damn well better.”
The fighting continued. James and Victor fought through bullet wounds, traps, and smoke to kill everyone in their path. They were close to the top office. With the rest of Team X covering them, they charged towards the heavily guarded doors. Several high ranking SS guards fell in their wake. But when they barged into the office they were met with an unexpected sight.
The top Nazi officer had already been taken out. He was lying face down and unconscious. He wasn’t dead, but his body guards were. Huddled in a corner close to the officer was Rose, wearing an elaborate disguise and gathering as many classified files as she could carry.
“Glad you guys could make it. You’re just in time to help me get this precious cargo back to base,” she said.
“Quit acting tough, doll face. That intelligence of yours left out a few details like the freakin’ army in the other room!” barked Victor.
“Get over it, Creed. She got us our target,” said James as he stood over the Nazi officer, “She even left the dirt bag alive for us to finish off.”
James pulled out his colt 45 and his combat knife. He was about to execute this defenseless officer like he had so many. Then Rose rushed over and stopped him.
“No James!” she exclaimed as she grabbed his arms and pushed him back.
“You gotta be shitting me. Now you’re against killing this Nazi scum?!” exclaimed Victor, “You have any idea the kind of shit this guy would do to us if our positions were reversed?”
“That doesn’t mean we should follow his example. We’re better than that,” said Rose, looking James in the eye with her penetrating gaze, “Besides, we need him. He could provide vital information for future missions.”
“I got your vital information right here,” said Victor as he took out his side-arms as well.
The hardened soldier prepared to finish what his partner started. Then to his surprise he was pulled back as well. This time it wasn’t by Rose.
“No Vic! She’s right,” said James, holding him back.
“You gotta be shitting me. You’re siding with her?” exclaimed Victor.
“It’s an order. I ain’t taking sides,” retorted James, “This is war. There are gonna be plenty of chances for killing. Let’s be smart about it for once.”
Victor was enraged. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. His best friend and brother in arms was going against him. He stared angrily at James for a moment. He also shot an angry glare towards Rose. With the fighting still going on in the other room, this was no place for an argument. As much as he hated it, he had to hold back this time.
“You and me are gonna have a long talk after this,” snarled Victor.
“Looking forward to it,” said James.
“Wasn’t just talking to you, Jim.”
Victor pulled back, allowing Rose and James to gather the unconscious officer. While James did not like arguing with Victor, the mission felt more complete by taking Rose’s advice. Even though Victor was fuming, he and Rose exchanged smiles. This was definitely the beginning of something very new.
It was Team X’s fourth mission. Rose was undercover in Paris and what was supposed to be simple sabotage mission turned into a messy situation. James and Victor just stormed in ready to blow up a vital fuel depot. Time was running out because reinforcements were on their way. However, there was a much bigger obstacle right in front of him.
“Go James…finish the mission,” said Rose in a desperate voice.
“Quiet, bitch!” said an angry German officer who had her in a choke hold with a gun to her head, “You and your Allied thugs aren’t going anywhere.”
“Listen to her, Jim,” urged Victor, “We got a whole division coming after us. We gotta blow this dump now!”
“Hold on, Vic. We ain’t done here,” said James.
The moment was tense. On one side of the barracks was Rose being held at gunpoint. On the other was James and Victor, the door to the fuel depot within running distance. The sound of incoming reinforcements could be heard in from the distance. Rose had done her part. She sabotaged the shipments so that they were concentrated on this one spot. She didn’t work fast enough because one officer who was trying seduce her got suspicious. Now her life was on the line.
The mission dictated that they blow the fuel depot. Team X had a policy that anyone who got caught had to be left behind if it meant accomplishing the mission. James was actively resisting that policy, pointing his gun right towards the officer with the intent of saving Rose. Old instincts were pulling him one way. New instincts were pulling him in another. In the struggle between the two, only one side could win out.
“Rose…” he said strongly.
“James…do the right thing,”
In an instant he made his decision. Rather than go with Victor, he fired a single shot from his gun. This shot narrowly missed Rose’s face and struck the German officer right in the upper chest.
“AUGH!” he cried out.
The second Rose felt his grip loosen, her training kicked in. She elbowed him in the gut and pulled of a quick take-down move to put the officer flat on his back. The gunshot saved Rose, but it also had the effect of alerting the incoming reinforcements.
“Damn it, James. Now they’re gonna be all over us!” yelled Victor.
“Quit your whining. The mission ain’t over. It’s just gonna be harder,” said James flatly.
While Victor seethed in frustration, James rushed over to help Rose. She was keeping pressure on the downed officer, making sure he stayed alive so they could get some information out of him. James’s shot had been perfectly placed, ensuring he wouldn’t die instantly. He could have just killed the man. It would have been a lot easier, but he didn’t. That spoke volumes for Rose.
“Thank you, James,” she said to him.
“You really thought I would leave you behind?” scoffed James.
“Not for a moment,” she said with a smile, “I mean thank you…for doing the right thing. You’re a better man than you give yourself credit for.”
James rarely smiled on a mission. For once, he made an exception. It was a powerful moment even in the face of a coming attack. They could hear the reinforcements swarming outside. They were going to have to fight their way out.
“It’s gonna be a lot rougher getting outta this, Red,” he told her.
“I’m not afraid. So long as you’re by my side, I know we’ll make it out,” said Rose confidently.
“You trust me that much already?”
“Only as much as you’ve come to trust me.”
Sharing another smile, Rose and James prepared for the coming battle. Armed with a growing trust between them, they thrust themselves into battle. There wasn’t a shred of doubt. So long as they stood together, there was no mission they couldn’t accomplish.
The beaches of Normandy on June 6th 1944 were the closet any enlisted man would ever come to being in Hell. It was one of the largest amphibious assaults in history. The Allied invasion of Nazi occupied France was a pivotal moment in this war. As always, Team X was sent in ahead of the invasion force to clear out artillery and radar stations. Intelligence from Rose told them exactly where they needed to attack. In the dozens of missions she aided them with this was by far the biggest.
That didn’t make the invasion any less bloody. Victor Creed and James Howlett led the charge to a vital radar station that had to be taken out. To do so meant braving heavy machine gun fire and artillery bombardments. In this instance sheer determination was no match for a powerful mortar blasts.
“Keep going! We’re almost there,” urged James.
In a desperate and brazen attack, the hardened soldier ran out ahead of Team X. That’s when a mortar shell went off right in front of him, knocking him back and stopping the charge cold.
“JAMES!” yelled Victor.
While the rest of Team X faltered, Victor Creed pushed forward. He grabbed his downed comrade, who was bloodied and dazed. Even with his healing, it would take time for him to recover from this.
“You don’t get to take the easy way out, buddy. I’ll carry your ass the whole way if I have to. Something Rose sure as hell can’t do,” he said.
Victor roughly hitched James’s tattered body over his shoulder and prepared to move forward. The station was close. Victor was ready to storm it himself if he had to. Then some machine gun fire came in from a nearby turret and several bullets ripped right through Victor Creed’s legs and chest.
“ARRRGGGH!” he grunted.
Now both he and James were down. They were still pinned by the mortars, leaving the two of them as easy targets for the gunners. James had since fought through his daze and looked up to see the machine gun operators pointing their guns at him. He braced himself for more punishment.
Then there was another blast. This time it didn’t come from the mortars. It came from within the station. A series of explosives went off, blowing the machine gunners right out of their nest. The soldiers manning the sentry posts were caught completely by surprise. However, James quickly surmised what was going on. And despite the horrors of war surrounding him, he smiled.
“James!” yelled a voice from atop the station.
Emerging from the destruction was Rose, who had been the source of the sabotage. As soon as she saw James and Victor down below, she used a rope with a grappling hook on the end to descend rapidly from the large concrete structure. When she arrived, James had gathered himself enough to rise to his knees. With bullets and bombs going off around them, she helped him rise to his feet again.
“This is becoming a bit too routine. You saved my ass again, Rosie,” said James.
“It doesn’t seem to bother you as much anymore,” she said with a smile, “Besides, I still have a ways to go if I’m to match all the times you’ve saved me.”
“The way this day is going, you’ll get plenty of chances.”
“Then let us make the most of them, shall we?”
The two hardened soldiers continued supporting each other as they rushed back to rejoin the rest of Team X. The strength they drew from one another was becoming something that went beyond being mere teammates and fellow soldiers.
Along the way, Victor Creed watched this scene unfold and snarled. Even though he was still reeling from bullet wounds, he seethed with anger and it wasn’t just for the Nazis. That same something that was drawing James and Rose together was destroying everything that once made them strong. He still saw James as his brother. He trusted him with his life. Now for the first time in their long history, he started to doubt it.
“Come on, Jim. Kill ‘em already! What are you waiting for? A written invitation?” exclaimed a frustrated Victor Creed.
James had been in this position before. He was on the French/German boarder taking out entrenched German sentries. He and Victor fought through several heavy machine gun nests. Now they were near the last one and that’s where it got complicated.
The uniformed soldier manning the gun was already dead, but there were also a few civilians who had been bringing food and medicine to the soldiers. They were not part of the German army. They were a few teenage boys, two girls, and an old man. They were huddled in the corner of the nest and cowering in fear. Not long ago he would have killed them without a second thought. A lot had changed since then. As he looked at these people, he kept thinking about Rose.
“Damn it, Jim! It ain’t funny anymore. Do it!” roared Victor, who was busy clearing out a few more sentries.
“No…I won’t,” grunted James.
“The hell did you say?”
“Not this time, Vic. I won’t do it!”
Those were the last words he got out before a grenade was tossed into the area and went off.
In the office of the Team X headquarters, James Howlett stared down his superiors. They were not pleased with him. His recent exploits in the field had drawn the ire of the higher ups. The unfortunate incident at the machine gun nests that left him wounded for a while along with a string of other recent incidents left many in Team X very upset.
“I never thought in a million years I would have to have this conversation with you, Major Howlett,” said the Colonel, “I still remember a time when I was chewing you out for committing one too many atrocities. Now here you are getting soft on us, hesitating when even a half-competent soldier wouldn’t.”
“Needless to say, we’re very disappointed,” said an irate General, “If your mentor was still here, he would be disgusted.”
“Well he ain’t here so I don’t see why I should give a damn,” retorted Major Howlett, “First I was too cruel. Now I ain’t cruel enough. What the hell do you suits want from me?”
“We want you to remember who you are, Major,” said a brawny lieutenant, “You chose to walk this path. You cannot unwalk it. You are Team X. And with that responsibility, there are certain expectations of you.”
“Like what? You want me to be less a soldier and more a mindless brute?”
“Among other things,” said the Colonel sternly, “For what you’ve done, there’s no other path for you. You are not a normal soldier. You never were and you never will be. Those little tricks you and Victor Creed can do have long since affirmed that.”
“Then what does that make me? Tell me so I know my place in the pecking order of this dump!” demanded James.
There was a brief silence. Many were hesitant to answer. No one wanted to say the truth. That kind of silence said more to James than words ever would.
“You already know what you are. You would be wise to accept it,” said the General, “The more you resist the more of this unpleasantness we’ll have to deal with.”
“And before you think about testing us, remember the people you’re dealing with here,” said the lieutenant, “We may not be able to heal like you, but we can still hurt you in ways you’ll never recover from. Is that clear?”
James Howlett’s vision narrowed. He wanted to go berserk on all these arrogant pricks in fancy uniforms who relied on guys like him to do their dirty work. They were telling him there was no way out. He was trapped here. No amount of fighting could change that. For that, he had only one response.
“Yeah…it’s clear,” he muttered, “For now.”
“Ooh James! Hold me,” gasped a very content Rose in a heat of ecstasy.
James Howlett clung tightly to the only stabilizing force in his life at the moment. He and Rose were in a bed at a hotel in France. Their clothes were strewn along the floor and they had just finished a long night of passionate love-making. For a brief moment, everything felt right. However, even in this moment of ecstasy, James Howlett was still deeply conflicted.
“I’m a monster,” he said distantly, “That’s what they made me. That’s all I’ll ever be.”
“What are you talking about? Have I not proved on multiple occasions that you’re more than that?”
“You proved it, Red. Hell, you’ve proved in ways I wish you hadn’t at times. But that doesn’t undo the things I’ve done.”
“What you did doesn’t change who you are. You think I haven’t done horrible things in my life? I’ve told you every dark secret I could possibly tell another human being. You know where I’ve come from. You know how I got to where I am now.”
“What you went through doesn’t come close to the shit I did,” he said as he held her closer, “Before you came along, it didn’t bother me. I could care less if this war went on for a hundred years. Now for the first time in my miserable life, the idea of being a mindless killer fighting war after war really bothers me.”
Rose looked up at him with loving concern in her eyes. For the first time, she saw vulnerability in this man. He had always been so tough and determined, carrying out the barbaric acts that others had trained him to embrace. Now he was caught in a battle both knew they could not win. He was trapped in this world and wanted out. It was a world she didn’t care much for either, which left them with only one recourse.
“Then let’s leave,” she told him.
“Leave? Since when do you crack jokes after sex?” said James.
“It’s no joke, James. I’m serious. Let’s find a way out,” she said, rolling on top of him and fully immersing herself in his warmth, “These people…they’re turning you into a monster. I don’t want that. I know you don’t want that either. They want us to believe they’re in control, but they’re not. We can escape them. We can build a new life.”
“What kind of life could we possibly build? All I’ve ever known is killing.”
“We’ll figure something out. We can leave this all behind and start over. We can even change our names. You don’t have to be James Howlett anymore.”
“Yeah? Who could I be?” he said, not completely adverse to the idea.
“I don’t know. You could start going by that name you said your uncle gave you after you ran away from home.”
“You mean Logan?”
“Yeah…I like that. You look like a Logan,” she said with a teasing smile, “And I can go back to being Rose. No more spying. No more war. It could be just you and me…together. You just have to be willing to make the necessary sacrifices.”
She made it sound so appealing. Looking into her alluring eyes and feeling her naked body against his, James Howlett saw the key to saving his soul. Everybody he thought were his comrades only cared about continuing this war. He no longer wanted any part of it. He wanted something more. He wasn’t going to find that with Team X or even Victor. Everything he wanted was right here in his arms with Rose.
“But how would we pull it off?” James wondered, “How could we make it so Team X and the rest of the world doesn’t come back to haunt us?”
“I don’t know,” said Rose distantly as she started kissing and caressing her lover again, “But I’m sure something will come to us.”
“DAMN IT, WOLVERINE! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? WHAT HAVE YOU LET THAT BITCH DO TO YOU?”
Victor Creed’s angry words rang out amidst a chaotic scene. It was the winter of 1944. The daring Nazi offensive known as the Battle of the Bulge was in full swing. Lines all over the Allied forces were under siege. The target that was hit hardest was the Team X headquarters. Somehow the Germans uncovered their base and attacked just as the higher ups and the bulk of their forces were gathered inside the complex. An onslaught of bombs, artillery, and tanks shocked and overwhelmed the entire area. The officers had been killed. A great deal of Team X’s resources had been destroyed. And Victor Creed was one of the few who remained alive amidst the crumbling structure.
The attack was devastatingly efficient, so much so that there was no way the Nazis would be this competent. Someone tipped them off. Someone encouraged them to attack when they were vulnerable. The list of people who could offer such information was short and only one name stood out. That one name was inevitably connected to another and it was a name that was now forever burned into Victor Creed’s enraged soul.
“I KNOW IT WAS YOU, WOLVERINE! YOU’RE DEAD TO ME, YOU HEAR? DEAD! I SWEAR I’LL MAKE SURE EVERY LAST BREATH IS YOUR OWN PERSONAL HELL!”
These angry words echoed from the rapidly crumbling ruins of the Team X headquarters. Few could hear them over the sound of gunfire and explosions. However, James Howlett could still hear it. He and Rose had slipped away in the confusion of the attack. They retreated out the back and made sure everyone else in Team X stayed behind to meet their doom.
It did not come without a price though. James knew what he just did. He betrayed his team and follow soldiers. He betrayed Victor Creed, a man he once saw as a brother. Now he had just carried out the ultimate act of treachery. As much as he wanted to get away, it was a hard pill to swallow.
“What did I just do, Rose?” he said distantly as he looked back at the destruction behind him.
“You did the right thing. You did what needed to be done,” she told him, “Don’t look back. Look forward from now on.”
“It’ll be okay, James,” she assured him, “As of this moment, I’ll call you Logan. This is the end of one life and the beginning of another. It can only start if you choose to let go of the past.”
For a brief time, the man now known as Logan shared a quiet and happy life with Rose. They lived peacefully together in a cabin in Canada, supporting each other through love and strength.
In a horrific moment, everything came crashing down. Logan and Rose were escaping from an attack from the remnants of Team X. Led by Victor Creed, Logan ended up killing the woman he loved when his claws mysteriously manifested for the first time. In that instant, the man Rose saved died and a new monster was born.
Everything was being ripped away. His heart, his soul, and everything that made him human was being destroyed. His senses now enhanced and his body now infused with adamantium, Logan was something different. In these cold laboratories, the man known as Logan died. And Weapon X was born.
Years go by. The rage and the anger continue. Weapon X erases his past. Victor Creed remains intent on making him suffer for his betrayal. Little by little, he loses himself. He’s never able to escape. His past always comes back to haunt him. He is still a monster.
Professor Charles Xavier and the X-men come to him. They give him a second chance. They take him off his current path and give him new hope. He gains friends, meets new loves, and learns secrets that had been taken from him. Then it all comes back to haunt him again. A teenage girl with claws like him shows up. A man in a white mask calling himself Fantomex shows up. He watches helplessly as the man in white stabs him with a poisoned dagger.
Then everything goes dark again. Everything fades.
Now Logan was somewhere new. The light had pulled him from the abyss. Now he was in a place that was neither memory nor reality. It was like a dream. Everything felt disconnected and fluid. It was a world not anchored to the cold clutches of reality.
Logan felt solid ground under his feet. When the light faded, a strange scenery formed around him. It resembled the woods of rural Canada. All around him were tall pine trees and above them was a pristine star-filled sky illuminated by a bright pale moon. It made for a quiet and peaceful surrounding. It was quite possibly the most peaceful place he had ever been in. As he took in these surroundings, a figure emerging from the woods.
“Logan…I’ve missed you.”
Through the trees, a beautiful woman emerged. It was a figure that captivated Logan in a way that defied all logic. She had red hair, alluring green eyes, and a presence that could only be matched by one special woman.
“Rose!” he gasped, “Is…is it really, you?”
“It’s me, Logan. I’m here…in a manner of speaking,” she said as she approached him.
“Then I gotta be dead or something. This…this ain’t possible.”
“You of all people should now that possibility is only relative. There are too many known and unknown forces to say otherwise.”
As if to prove her point, she pulled him into her warm embrace. It felt as wonderful as his tattered memory could recall. Her scent, her touch, and her penetrating gaze were so powerful. As he took her in his powerful arms, so much hardship melted away. A great many questions ran through his mind and Rose didn’t hesitate to answer.
“You’re not dead yet, Logan. Far from it,” she told him, “You have quite a life at the moment and you deserve to live it.”
“I’m not sure I can, Red. Look at me. I’m a complete freakin’ mess. I’ve done so much to mess it up. I…I’m falling apart and I can’t pull myself back together.”
“You’re in a state of conflict. You’ve been in that state before. We both have. I could list many reasons why you should keep on fighting. Or I could just remind you of the friends that care so deeply for you.”
“Yeah…I know the X-men care. Ro, Jeannie, and even Cyke put up with a lot of crap from me.”
“Yet they’ve never turned their backs on you,” Rose went on, “They’ve always supported you, unlike the others you once thought were your friends.”
“As if it takes much to upgrade from a guy like Creed,” he muttered.
Still not convinced, Rose gently caressed his burly face and held him closer. She made it clear that she would not let him despair while in her grasp.
“There are other reasons as well. There are questions you can’t leave unanswered. There are issues you can’t leave unresolved. There is also a scared and angry teenage girl with your blood in her veins who is in need of guidance.”
“The girl…you mean, X-23?” said Logan, the memory of his encounter with her now rushing back to him.
“Her name is Laura,” Rose reminded him with a humored grin, “You know that. You also know that she needs you and you need her.”
“I’ll trust you on that, but why?”
“She needs answers just like you. That’s the key to it all. That’s where the past and the present must meet. Those answers are out there for you to find. Some are closer than you think.”
Her warm voice echoed in the mind of the former living weapon. So much of his pain and anger stemmed from the frustration of not knowing his own past. Now he was holding a piece of his past in his arms and she was telling him keep fighting. Yet as much as the past pained him, there was also no escaping the present.
The X-men still needed him. Jeannie, Ro, and the others still cared about him whether he liked it or not. There was also that mysterious girl that bore his scent as well as his blood. There was a lot of unfinished business. He couldn’t pack it in just yet, especially when Weapon X was still at work. With Rose in his arms he felt a strength return to him that he hadn’t felt in a long time. It was a strength that made the air around him hotter and the stars above shine brighter.
“I wanna keep going. You know I ain’t one to let little things like dying get in my way,” Logan told her.
“I never expected you to,” she said with a warm smile, “Sometimes you just need guidance.”
“That’s something I ain’t had since I lost you, Rose. You pulled my soul outta the depths of Hell. You gave me a kick in the ass when I needed it most. I can keep on fighting no matter what, but without you…I ain’t sure I can succeed.”
“Yes you can. I know you can. That’s because you’re the best at what you do…even if what you do isn’t always nice.”
“But where the hell do I even start?” he asked desirably.
“I think you already know that, Logan. I’m just here to point you in the right direction.”
With her hand still on his burly face, Rose leaned in and drew Logan into a deep kiss. This simple yet powerful gesture seemed to fill the rest of the void. In a surge of love and strength, a new resolve filled the former living weapon. It was a wondrous feeling, one that seemed like the first part of the many answers he sought.
The stars kept glowing brighter. The moon rose higher into the sky. A gust of wind swept through the woods and the world around Logan started fading. The same light that brought him here was taking him away. It was taking him back where he needed to be. But before he left, he had one last message to Rose.
“I still love you, Red. A part of my always will,” he told her.
“And I love you, Logan,” said Rose as she started fading.
“I’m sorry you had to die by my hands. I failed you.”
Xavier Institute Infirmary – Present Time
“They’re convulsing, Tessa! Stop this already!” cried an anxious Ororo Munroe.
“I know what I’m doing. It’s working,” said Tessa in a focused tone.
“You call this working?” she exclaimed.
Logan and X-23 looked like they were in agony. Grunts and groans echoed through the infirmary. The techno-organic material had been flowing through their veins for nearly five minutes. As it did, their bodies underwent bizarre and at times grotesque manifestations. Their muscles and veins bulged and throbbed with a silvery tint. Their wounds rapidly healed and their physical tone was returning, albeit in a painfully labored fashion. Their vitals were all over the place. They thrashed and groaned as they were fought back from the brink.
“I…I sense their minds returning,” said Xavier, who had been using his telepathy to monitor the situation.
“Does that mean they’re healed, Professor?” asked Scott, finding that hard to believe.
“Almost!” he said, “Jean, use your telekinesis to hold them down. The treatment needs a few more moments to stabilize them.”
“Those moments better be quick,” she said strongly.
Jean did as her mentor instructed. She telekinetically held the two figures down on their beds. They continued to thrash and contort, but life and vitality were clearly returning to them. It was a painful process that couldn’t end fast enough.
“He’s waking up,” announced Hank McCoy as the X-men watched with bated breath.
For Logan, it was over in a flash. His eyes opened and he shot up from his bed. As he did it was like his body was being pumped with molten lead. His first instinct was to rip out all the IVs going into his body.
“Wait! He’s not…” began Tessa.
“Too late, Miss Tessa. He’s back,” said Jean as she released her telekinetic hold.
While Tessa was reconciling a string of erroneous data, the X-men rushed to their friend’s bedside. Logan’s veins were still bulging and discolored from the treatment. As he ripped out the IVs the silvery fluid spilled out before his body quickly healed over the wounds. He was dazed and disoriented. After coming so close to death, no one could blame him.
“Logan! Logan, it’s okay,” said Ororo as she and Jean held him settle down.
“You’re back in the world of the living,” said Jean with a smile.
“Hnnss-un-mmf,” he muttered in an incoherent tone.
“What did he say? Did the treatment do some permanent damage or something?” asked Scott.
“I said…you’re a dick, Cyke,” groaned Logan.
That earned smiles all around even from Cyclops.
“I take it back. He’s a picture of health,” said the X-leader.
It was starting to come back to him. The burning in his body faded and his mind was catching up. Ororo and Jean kept him upright while Hank and the Professor approached. They all looked concerned yet relieved. He must have really been close. He could still remember being with Rose and those flashes that led up to it. He also remembered what she told him and that meant he didn’t have the luxury of being shell shocked.
“Take it easy, Logan. You can rest now. Your ordeal is over,” the Professor told him in a calm tone.
“No, Chuck…it ain’t,” he said.
“My friend, you just had an up close and personal meeting with the Grim Reaper,” said Hank in a more urgent tone, “It would be more than just wise to…”
“Laura…” said Logan, completely ignoring Hank’s words.
“Who?” asked Ororo curiously.
“Laura! Is she okay?”
In a defiance of doctor’s orders that surprised no one, Logan stumbled out of the bed and barged past Hank. Ororo and Scott were tempted to go after him, but Jean and the Professor sensed something in his mind so they held them back.
“What is he…” began Scott.
“Hold it, babe,” said Jean, extending her arm so he and Ororo couldn’t pass, “Let’s watch and listen. It’ll save us a world of trouble.”
The Professor seemed to agree, prompting Hank to stay back as well. While they were helping Logan along, X-23 had a less ceremonious recovery. Like Logan, she had been healed. Her wounds and sickly discoloration had faded. Some of the IV tubes even fell out in the process, allowing her body to heal over the openings. Unlike Logan though, she didn’t rise up and lash out. Instead she collapsed back onto her bed in a dazed and weakened state.
When Logan reached her, he gently helped her up. He was careful not to provoke her. She was still reorienting herself. This brought with it some danger. He remembered how messed up this girl was the first time he encountered her. This was a chance to make a much better impression.
“Nnn…you,” she said in a weak tone as she opened her eyes.
“Heya kid,” said Logan with a half grin.
“Don’t call me kid,” she muttered.
“Yep…you’re okay too,” he affirmed.
Former Weapon X-23 was even more confused now. Her old instincts were telling her to attack this man. But something was different now and it wasn’t just the fresh memory of being beaten to a pulp by Fantomex. There was something about the way this man was holding her that made her feel strange. When she looked up at him, she didn’t feel the same rage as before. She felt something different that triggered a new range of feelings she didn’t understand.
“What happened? That man…Fantomex. Who was he? And why am I here?” she asked.
“I know you got questions, Laura. I’ve asked that same shit more times than I care to remember,” said Logan in a reassuring tone, “But you don’t have to be so messed up about it. You’re here now. I’m gonna help you find the answers…for both of us.”
Next Issue: Weapon Plus
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