Things in Westchester had been incredibly busy, and not just because Kurt and Ororo had just seen their little girl through her first birthday.
Mia was by far the most distinctive of the little ones in the mansion, with her mother's shock white hair but her father's blue fur and tail — which she loved to use to curl around whoever was closest, including K and Logan's little boy as well as both Rachel and Nate Summers. Rachel was old enough to be a good, careful big sister, though Nate and James, at two and three years old respectively, were just as likely to roughhouse as be gentle, to Logan's amusement and Scott's consternation.
It had been a little over six years since Jean and Scott had kicked off the parade of kids, so things had been busy for at least that long when it came to nurturing their growing families.
But now? Now, on top of the kind of busyness that the X-Men actually enjoyed, the Friends of Humanity had gained serious followers under their newest leader — Graydon Creed, surprising absolutely no one who knew that family name and knew it meant trouble. So the X-Men were swamped with more than skinned knees and first steps.
In the past few weeks, the rallies the X-Men had been called to had been increasingly violent and extreme. They were obviously taking cues from the genetic predisposition for the worst kinds of revenge that Graydon Creed exemplified. It wasn't terribly new, honestly. The calls for extermination, the "threat to humankind," all of it was the same old same old, at least in terms of the rhetoric used. But it wasn't just words at this point. Now, the X-Men were lucky if the only violence was counter protest clashes. More often than not, the Friends of Humanity would round up some mutants and put action to their words.
The mansion was busy, filling quickly with rescues.
This latest rally was no exception. The Friends of Humanity had gotten their hands on a pair of sisters. And really, as soon as Logan and K had seen how hurt, scared, and young those girls were, the rest of the team was practically superfluous. It didn't matter what Scott said at that point. The ferals were going to go after those girls, and they were going to destroy anything and anyone in between them and the girls.
Kurt shook his head and put a hand on Scott's shoulder even as the ferals did their work. "Really, they are only reaping what they sowed."
Scott narrowed his eyes at that. It wasn't that he didn't know exactly how Logan and K reacted to kids in danger. But he knew Creed knew it, and so did his son. And like father, like son — Scott knew either one of them wouldn't hesitate to play up that angle.
It had already happened a few times: some reporter would catch only the snarls and not the small kids in danger, and it would only add more fuel to the fire for people calling them dangerous animals and uncontrolled terrorists. But this was different. No gloating Creed. No reporters. Something was off.
Whatever it was, it wasn't immediately obvious, though that just had Scott frowning to himself. The crowd had dispersed almost too easily once Logan and K were through… though for as badly hurt as the girls were, the priority was on getting back to Westchester, not unraveling whatever Graydon Creed was up to this time. Hank was already triaging the sisters, who were hanging on tightly to Logan and K, almost buried in them, as all kids under a certain age tended to do in situations like this.
You're worried, Jean projected to Scott.
Of course I am. These rallies have been getting worse every time. There's got to be something else going on under the surface. This was too easy.
I bet we'll find out when the news picks it up when we get home.
Scott let out a long sigh. I'm sure.
Scott. Jean reached over to take his hand. We'll deal with it. After we get home and spend some time with the kids.
As the group settled in for their admittedly short flight, Logan and K were carefully cataloguing every single injury the two little girls had sustained, quietly sharing looks and assisting Hank any way they could to get the kids comfortable and more prepared for a real examination. But it was clear to the rest of their teammates that the two of them were simply simmering over all of it.
"We can't keep playing defensively," Kurt muttered, his arms crossed as he watched Logan and K.
"We still don't know where Creed has his headquarters set up," Scott said, the frustration obvious in his tone.
"There has to be a way to find it," Kurt replied quietly, though he knew he wasn't going to be able to keep the conversation from the Howletts. Not that he was trying to. For as truly evil as the Friends of Humanity had become under Graydon Creed, he wouldn't stop his best friend or his wife from doing what they did best and solving the problem. "He is escalating. With children. I know you're nowhere near as calm as you're trying to appear."
Scott let out a slow and measured breath before he rubbed a spot on his forehead. "I know the professor is looking," he said. "He's careful about telepathic shielding. And he's careful about his patterns."
"Then perhaps we ask K nicely to look down the more … hidden paths," Kurt said with a wicked little smirk. "Give her whatever weapons she wants and just …" Kurt shrugged. "Let nature take its course."
"That's not a good idea," Scott said. "They're trying to bait us into something. You know they are. This was too easy." He gestured to the two ferals. "They're escalating, like you said. But this time? They backed off."
"Then I hate to see what it is they do to the next child that crosses their path."
"That's not what I meant."
"I know," Kurt said, sounding weary and more than a little frustrated himself. "I'm just tired of seeing it happen. It's not a criticism, really. I just … think that perhaps they'd regret their life choices if Logan and K were to actually start hunting them properly."
"We have to draw lines somewhere, Kurt," Scott said.
"I know, and you and the Avengers have it all worked out on where those lines are," Kurt said almost in a breath. "Easy for them to choose the lines when they aren't fighting this fight."
Scott narrowed his eyes, but it wasn't obvious behind the visor. "You know I've already tried to talk to them. Many times." In fact, he and the Avengers were no longer on speaking terms after he told them flat out that they were turning their backs to a genocide — and he wasn't going to retract a word of what he'd said, either.
"I know," Kurt agreed. "They only want to set the rules, not help." He held up both hands. "But I'm not trying to pick a fight, Scott."
"Good. Because I've already tried to fight that fight. We can't wear ourselves out." Scott leaned back and let out a breath. "If we can't find Creed… if this keeps up…"
"We'll find him," Kurt said.
"One way or another," Scott said.
"In the meantime … these two … I'm torn on if they should have family or not," Kurt said with the first whisper of a smirk. "If not, we may need to make arrangements to expand Logan and K's suite…"
Scott gave Kurt a dry look. "Oh come on," he said. "You're just hoping for another one because I got the godfather title for James. Admit it."
"Ah, but for that, I'm hoping for a newborn," Kurt countered. "This … I am hoping he continues his streak of adopting lost little girls. Even if it's not official."
"Like any of us can stop him."
"Yes, well … that was sort of my opening argument without trying to say as much. I should have been more blunt."
Jean finally leaned over Scott with a smile. "After a mission like that?" she asked. "Always be blunt. I think all of us are too tired for subtlety."
"Except, of course, for the three very quiet adults in the back," Kurt said. "The ones whispering to the little girls."
Ororo smirked and took Kurt's hand in hers. "You're always finding a way to be caught up in future happiness," she teased.
"It's a tough job …" Kurt said in a sigh, smiling crookedly.
"But you'll do it in style," she said, smiling even wider.
"Speaking of future happiness…" Jean said, smirking between the two of them.
"If you're not telling me about a future niece or nephew, I do not want to hear it," Kurt said with his chin tipped up just to irritate her.
Jean rolled her eyes and nudged him telekinetically just to do it. "Oh, do we have to do all the work?" she teased.
"Not that we'd complain," Scott muttered, though that got Jean to hit him with the back of her hand.
"Not who I was pointing at," Kurt said before he reached over to 'adjust' one of the levers just out of Scott's reach with his tail. "But please, carry on."
"I think we will," Jean said before Scott could say anything. "After a mission like that… we need something to unwind…"
"She's not wrong," Ororo teased Kurt, just because it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
The flirting definitely helped to lessen a lot of the anger the team still had over the way the rally had gone. Of course, they knew they were going to have to go after Creed when they got home, but at least some of the harsh tones had left the conversation. The girls had even managed to fall asleep with Logan and K before they came anywhere near the approach to land, not that it helped the two ferals to express what they were actually thinking of doing once they got back.
Whatever their thoughts were, though, that went out the window when they got close enough to Westchester to see evidence of a fight. There was a trail of icy destruction leading out into the forest, not to mention plenty of evidence of weaponry. But Jubilee had left the biggest imprint, with half a wing blown out, obviously from the inside, where she'd fought back.
And considering she was the one watching the kids while the rest of the team was out...
"Kurt," Logan said softly. "Get us down there now."
Kurt nodded quickly, teleporting down with Logan and K, while Jean reached out telepathically to see where the others were. I can't contact the professor, she warned.
We'll find him anyhow, Kurt projected back before he teleported away from where K and Logan were to search for Charles.
What about everyone else? Scott projected to Jean, clutching the controls a little tighter as he landed the blackbird.
Nothing so far, she replied, frowning deeply. But … you know they might just be unconscious ...
Scott only narrowed his eyes further at that, his jaw tightly locked. He didn't say it out loud or project it, but he was sure this was the escalation he'd been worried about.
On the ground, while Kurt was teleporting from one room to the next, getting more and more concerned with what he found, Logan and K were climbing through the wreckage looking for any sign of Jubilee or the kids … though that search split fast when they moved a section of wall to find Jubilee. She wasn't moving at all, and the list of injuries on her that were clearly not connected to the explosion she'd created …
Logan barely took a breath to swear to himself before he started frantically working to revive her, the rest of the search momentarily at a standstill while she so clearly needed help — so it was K that hit the comm.
"We need Hank, right now," K said, her voice constricted as she tried to help where she could. "Jubilee …" And the fact that K didn't finish what she was going to say was proof enough of how rough it was down there. "I don't see the kids anywhere …"
"We'll find them," Scott promised over the comm. "We're here. We'll look for the kids; Hank is coming your way."
Hank was, in fact, already bounding over as fast as he could, but before he got there, Jean very nearly felt all of her breath leave her when she felt the wave of shock hit Logan as he finally accepted that Jubilee was honestly beyond his help.
"Jean?" Scott stepped forward to catch her when it looked like she might falter.
Jean glanced up at Scott and opened her mind just enough for him to hear what she knew — though when he heard it, Scott's reaction was more anger than anything else, an almost blind fury that Jean hadn't heard from him before as they both rushed to catch up to the others.
When they caught up, Hank had done his best to try and reverse the situation, but Logan was clearly just lost as he watched Hank work, and K had gone the other direction entirely and was pushing harder to find a scent or something that would give her a trail to follow to find the kids. But that was hard to suss out when the air was thick with ozone from the massive plasmoid that had taken out that section of the school. Hank looked up at Scott and Jean as they arrived and minutely shook his head.
Jean had one hand over her mouth, but that didn't muffle the noise that escaped her all the same. And Scott crossed the space to where Logan was to put a hand on his shoulder. "We'll stop him," he said, "whatever it takes."
Logan didn't respond at all, and for the first time, Hank had to wonder if Logan had even heard what Scott had said.
Honestly, none of them were thinking clearly, all of them in obvious shock. So none of them were paying enough attention until a few of the intruders — several Friends of Humanity members — were practically on top of them. And Graydon Creed was at the head of the group, with Mia Wagner asleep in his arms and curled up with her tail around his wrist.
K was the first to start growling — not exactly with it but absolutely ready to fight anyhow. Partly in the kids defense but also automatically trying to cover whatever Logan wasn't quite up to yet.
Creed smirked, his expression carrying all the malice his father had. "That won't help them," he said.
"Even your dad wasn't low enough to threaten kids, you slimy, lowdown bottom feeder," K managed through the growl. "What a time to prove you're like your mother."
Creed narrowed his eyes at that before he let out a frustrated noise. "I'm better than either of them," he snapped. "Because I have defeated the X-Men." He tipped his chin. "The other three children are already gone. This one is only proof and insurance. Give yourselves up and they live. Anything less than a full surrender, any attempt to fight back, and they all die."
By that time, Kurt and Storm had arrived as well, and it was clear that they were both locked onto Mia. They hadn't found any survivors of the assault, though they hadn't found Kitty, Bobby, or Charles' bodies, either. Seeing Mia alive was heartening, but seeing her in danger had both of them on the edge of the worst kind of panic. And close by, Jean had fire in her gaze, one hand on Scott's arm as she tried to hold back what could too easily be destruction of the kind that would endanger Mia, too, considering how little control she had over her own emotions at the moment. And K and Logan shared a look in stark silence. Those that knew them best were pretty sure they'd already had a plan in place for just such an occasion — but no one knew what it was. Or if it was even feasible.
Creed tipped his head toward his men, who spread out to surround the X-Men. "Now or never."
For a long moment, there was only silence before, finally, Scott bit out a "fine" that he barely got through gritted teeth.
When the soldiers came closer, they were understandably wary of the group — though they had measures for each of them to keep them from causing too much trouble. For Kurt and Storm, they brought collars, and once they had them subdued, they were dragged over and tossed into a small, dark compartment in the transportation the Friends of Humanity had brought. At least they were together.
For Jean and Scott, there were collars as well, though they weren't placed in the same cell as Kurt and Ororo. They were both tightly bound and blindfolded before they were thrown in together in a different transport. With the collars on, they couldn't reach out like they usually did through their connection, but neither one of them had anything to say when they were both furious.
And for the ferals, as expected, even though they weren't fighting back, there was an obvious level of force in play. Several soldiers to each of them, a set of gloves on both that would keep them from using their claws — and just for extra insurance, their hands were bound behind their backs before they were pushed into separate travelling cells from the others with bags over their heads as well.
Not one of the X-Men knew where they were headed or even where the others were. They still didn't know what had happened to Bobby, Kitty, or Charles, either — and all things considered, they didn't have much reason to be optimistic.