Her Harley-by-way-of-Kawasaki rat bike, Quasi, cranked down the Xavier's Institute driveway. The cobbled motorcycle stood apart from the shiny town cars and the student clunkers. Marie liked it that way. Logan liked the bike too which meant she did something right when she put it together. One of these days, she'd take up Logan's offer to come refurbish Cyclops' Ducati. That would mean making more trips up to Westchester, of course, but somehow, she couldn't picture the Ducati outside of the mansion's grand garage. It was Cyclops' bike. It should stay at the mansion with him.
She parked in the garage to give herself and the Ducati a few minutes of alone time. She was so shiny, sexy, and dainty next to Quasi. "They treating you all right, here, Duchess? You tell them you ain't all show, y'hear? You actually need to strut your stuff once in a while."
"Maybe if you show up more often, there'd be someone to take her out."
Marie twirled around, beaming. "Logan!" She took a running leap into his arms.
He caught her, his expression bordering on genuine laughter. "Hey kid. You smell."
He sniffed again and put her down. "Really, you reek. Like an electrocuted snake thrown into a dumpster."
"That's... oddly appropriate."
He gave her the side-eye. "You been using Magneto's powers? You know how he messes with your head when you let him loose in there."
"No more than you do," said Marie. Hurt flashed through Logan's face. She mentally smacked herself and her stupid fapping mouth. What was it with this case and her not-so-inner bitch letting loose on her friends? Time for damage control. "Like with the cigars. Y'know I hate smoking but when I use your powers, I feel like lighting one up."
Logan smirked. "You can't have any of mine. I swear Ro sends a rain cloud over me every time I even pull one out. I could be out past the lake and it'll rain on me."
"It's a filthy habit."
"Kissing guys who smoke is like licking ashtrays."
Crossing his arms, Logan asked. "Exactly how many smokers have you kissed to get to that conclusion?"
Grinning, Marie linked her arm with his and leaned her head on his shoulder. "Don't worry, Daddy, I always come back before curfew."
"Doc's been asking for you. Frost, too."
"Work's been keeping me busy."
"Something you're not telling me?" he asked. The downside to having Logan as a parent figure was that he smelled every lie she'd ever told, even when it was partially truth.
"Undercover job. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you."
"You're visiting because it's finally over and you need to use the horse troughs to wash up. All right. I'll get them ready."
Marie punched his arm. "Ha ha. Actually, I need to talk to Storm about something."
"Again with the 'hrmph.'"
"Darlin', the last time you and Storm willingly talked to each other with your inside voices, it was to stop an international incident."
"Nothing with as much paperwork this time around but I'd say it's just as serious," said Marie. "Is she in?"
"Should just be finishing up brunch."
"Business brunch. Must be important."
Logan grunted. Marie slowed her stride.
"You're even more emphatically monosyllabic today. Don't tell me you're actually disagreeing with one of Storm's business ventures."
"It's my job to disagree with her ventures. This one's not for business."
This time Marie's jaw dropped. "Storm had someone overnight?! For sex?!"
Logan slapped his face with his open palm. "Don't they teach you tact in police school?"
"No, really, Storm having sex is like... like my mother having sex. Worse. It's like my mother, my kindergarten teacher, and my pastor all having sex. Together. In one of those big Catholic churches with the naked-people-smiting paintings staring down on them."
"Have I got some high school photos to show you," he muttered.
They entered the mansion proper, the clunk of their boots transitioning into softer thumps as the flooring changed from tile to hardwood. Marie imagined the Xavier mansion felt very much like this during the professor's childhood-- exquisitely decorated but quiet. Nothing at all like when she went to school there, when every wooden panel had a gouge and nothing remotely breakable was set out as decoration. It was homier then but just as beautiful. The veneer of old money had faded into the warmth of a home.
Now the mansion was very much a presence and Marie understood why it had to be so. Xavier's School for the Gifted was now The Xavier Institute, bastion of mutant rights. The Grey Clinic in the west wing was the first and finest mutant clinic and research hospital. Currently housing the worst cases of Alcatraz Legacy Disease, or ALD, Dr. MacTaggert and her small crew of nurses and research assistants treated as many mutants as they could. They also consulted around the clock with any medical facility needing information about treating mutant patients. The former pool house just past the gardens and beside the lake had been transformed into a hostel of sorts. The rest of the east wing were offices dedicated to lobbying for mutant rights, creating mutant-transition curricula for schools nation-wide, and other social advocacy work. And underneath, of course, was the X-Men headquarters. It was a damn important place. Still, Marie missed the school.
They entered the kitchen which had thankfully escaped most of the redecorating tornado. Marie supposed even the most hardened designer recognized the emotions steeped into the walls. The island's granite top had fewer nicks and a several smaller tables replaced the six-seater beside the kitchen's bay window but otherwise everything was just as it was.
Storm sat at on the island bench, ankles crossed, lazily stirring cream and sugar into a cup of coffee. Her guest-- Marie had no doubt this was the guest-- sliced strawberries and grapes with a sort of unfamiliar grace; he obviously wasn't used to doing kitchen chores but he did the job competently. Storm turned her attention to prepping a second cup of coffee and that was when Marie knew this wasn't a fling. Few actions spoke of intimacy as well as knowing how your lover took their coffee.
Logan cleared his throat. It sounded like he was clearing a porcupine out of his gullet.
Storm and her guest turned. "Oh! Marie. What a pleasant surprise. We haven't seen you in a while."
Marie was more taken aback by the fact that Storm actually seemed to mean what she said maybe in a way. "Yeah, well, Dr. MacTaggert's been on my ass about a check-up and something came up with work that I think you might know something about so I figure kill two birds with one stone."
Nodding solemnly, Storm said, "Detective, you know the way to my office. I shall meet you in a moment."
"Sure thing," Marie said. With Storm's back to her, she made an engagement-ring gesture to Logan, who shrugged and signalled "Quit it."
Storm's office was on the second floor, in what used to be a small bedroom and a shared study area. She shut the door; the tumblers clicked in place. Marie leaned back on her chair, making the hinges creak. With the area rugs and the plants, the couches and the kafrillion artfully hung gifts around the walls, sounds should have been muffled. Storm had a way of moving with space instead of through it which emphasized how loud everyone else was in comparison.
"How can I help you, detective?"
Marie took her tablet out of its case and pulled out the picture of the Nightcrawler doll. She slid the tablet across the table. "Do you recognize this?"
Storm visibly stiffened. Her eyes went glassy. "Where did you find this?" she demanded.
"I'm sorry, I can't say until you confirm whether or not you recognize it."
"This is Illyana Rasputin's Bamf doll."
"Illyana... Pete's baby sister?"
"Is she a mutant?"
"She has the x-gene but her powers have not catalysed. How did you--" Storm closed her eyes and swallowed. "Please tell me you are not a homicide detective."
Man, Marie felt like red shit. "Um. Violent crimes, actually. Homicide is under that umbrella. The good news is the body--"
"There is a body?!"
"-- I found this with is most definitely not that of a little girl. The bad news is that if this doll is Illyana's then she's been in contact with whoever killed my vic and I'm sure I don't gotta tell you how dangerous that'd be." Marie took the tablet back.
"Illyana went missing four and a half weeks ago," said Storm. "Emma Frost contacted Boston PD as soon as possible but they have no leads that I'm aware of. She flies down here fairly frequently to use Cerebro for the search."
"Can you give me the contact of the detective in charge of Illyana's case in Boston?"
"Yes, of course. I can call him right now."
Marie snatched a look at her watch. "That would really help actually. I'm in a bit of a time crunch."
"Xavier's will do anything at all to aid in this case."
"Thanks. And I'm actually going to need you to leave the room while we talk. Confidentiality and all."
Storm stopped in mid-dial, looking like she wanted to protest but, instead, dipped her chin. "I understand. But Marie, you must know that Illyana is family. The X-Men protect their own."
"And you gotta understand that we need to do this through MacTac or else we'll have half the country breathing down our backs about vigilante justice and registration," said Marie. "Unless this is about not trusting me to do my job."
The line on the other end picked up. Saved by the bell. Storm connected the call to the desktop computer and left the room.
Twenty minutes later, Marie had more questions in exchange for exactly one answer. Yes, the doll looked to be Illyana's. It disappeared the same day she had. The detective in Boston had no leads and little hope but as a big fan of MacTac thanks to Mayor Worthington, he'd been happy to allow Marie access to all his reports.
She looked at the clock again. She had to be back to in the city by nightfall. She called Massachusetts Academy. It was time to interview a friend.
The receptionist chirruped, "Massachusetts Academy, the school of tomorrow, how may I direct your call?"
"Is Pete Rasputin in?"
"He sure is, may I please ask who's calling?"
"Marie D'Ancanto, NYPD MacTac. It's pretty important that I talk to him or to Anne, please."
"Oh. Omigosh, is this about Illyana?"
"Sorry, I can only talk to the Rasputins."
"Omigosh, I'll get him right away. Don't hang up!" The phone clattered for half a second before the receptionist remembered to put her on hold with the requisite classical music. Despite the seriousness of the situation, Marie had to grin. How did that girl stay on with Emma Frost as headmaster?
The other line clicked back on. "Hello? Marie?" Pete's bass voice shook slightly from running or nerves.
She modulated her own tone to try to calm him down. "Heya, Pete. Been a while."
"Yes, we've been... there's been a lot going..." His voice cracked, honest to God cracked, and right then and there Marie made a promise to herself that whoever it was that took Illyana, whether it was the asshole in her current case, or some other version of jizzmould, she would find them and make them hurt tenfold for making such a sweet man cry.
"God, Pete, I'm so sorry for what you're going through. I truly am."
"Thank you, Marie. Your thoughts are appreciated."
"She's... she's not so good. You know my brother, Mike, died when we were in high school. This is bringing all of it back."
"I'm so, so very sorry."
He acknowledged her condolences with a nod. "You have something about Illyana?"
"I'm working a case right now and I found something I need you to identify," said Marie. "Does the phone you're on have video?"
"I can transfer to another one. Hold on."
Marie pulled up the picture of the Nightcrawler/Bamf doll on her tablet again. It was such a cute little doll. She could exactly imagine Anne making it for her youngest. Pete Rasputin's mom was everyone's mom back in school. Her official job title was catering manager-- a fancy name for cook that allowed the Professor to pay her more-- but she was also the freshest taste of normalcy the students got. Most of them came from abusive homes or had run away so long ago that memories of a loving family were barely dreams. Anne made hot cocoa from scratch and bought magnets to post artwork on the fridge. She smelled like rich stew on a winter day and when she talked, with that ever so slight Russian accent, her sincerity was never in doubt. Pete came by his sweetness honestly.
A conference window popped up on Storm's desktop monitor. Marie immediately recognized signs of stress on Pete's face. The bags under his eyes only emphasized the gauntness of his cheeks.
"Oh, sugar," said Marie. She touched the screen where his forehead would have been.
"We are surviving," he said. "We try not to lose hope because losing hope means we believe she's gone. I can't believe it. I would know."
"I hope you're right." She held up the tablet. "Do you recognize this?"
Pete made a sound like she had punched him in the stomach.
"Be very sure. I'll flip through the other pictures so you can get a good look."
"Wait, before you do, tell me: does the doll's left foot have a slightly off-colour patch at the heel? It would be circular and a darker blue than the rest."
Marie checked. Now she felt like she was the one that had been punched. "Yeah."
"Mom made Bamf for Yana when she was five; Kurt was her favourite babysitter. She carried that doll around by that heel so tightly, she pulled the seams open. Mom couldn't find any more felt of the same colour so she used another shade and told Yana that it was one of Kurt's tattoos." He rubbed his mouth and jaw. "Where did you find it?"
"We pulled a body out of the river a couple days ago," Marie said softly. "The body's male so we know it's not her. But the doll was in the same bag as the body. It could mean nothing, Pete. It could be a coincidence."
"But you don't think so."
She bit her lip. "I'm going to need you to tell me a story, Pete. Tell me all about the day Illyana disappeared. Don't try to get every little detail out, don't worry about getting things in order. Just tell me your story."
He nodded. "Yana's school is a little less than a quarter mile away from MassAcad. She's only ten; the youngest we can take in is twelve but we did intend to transfer her for sixth grade. I usually walk her to school because Mom's still busy with breakfast. In the afternoons, either myself or Mom walk her home. When we get a little busy, one of her classmates' moms walk her home. A lot of families take the same route. They know we're from a mutant school, that I'm a mutant and Yana probably is as well and they're all right with it. At least as far as I know. Her school has a very good mutant-transition program and works quite closely with MassAcad."
"You think her disappearance had something to do with being a latent mutant?"
"It was my first thought, yes. But everyone has been so helpful." Pete sighed and ran both hands through his hair. "That day, I was supposed to take her home but I was running slightly late. I called ahead to the school and they agreed to include her in the after-school care even though I would only be ten or fifteen minutes. I texted Yana and told her to not to go home with her friends. I arrived at the school at three o'clock, exactly fifteen minutes late. There were children on the playground. The teacher monitoring them was caring for a child who had skinned his knee falling. I waved at her and looked for Yana. I couldn't see her anywhere."
"What about the teacher?"
"She said she last saw her on the jungle gym with a small group of girls. We asked the girls, and they say she had left to get Bamf out of her bag to introduce him to them."
"Where was her bag?"
"With everyone else's, along the wooden planks lining the playground. Her bag was still there but Bamf wasn't."
"Where else did you check?"
"Inside the classrooms, in all the bathrooms, everywhere in the school. We even recruited the older kids and some parents to call out for her on the grounds. Then outside the grounds. That's when we called the police. We kept searching while we waited for them to arrive."
"How much time passed between realising she was gone and calling the police?"
"Should we have called sooner?" Pete asked. "I should've called as soon as-- I had this feeling when I couldn't see her. Like the bottom dropped out of my stomach and my heart was trying to barrel out my throat."
"You did everything right," Marie hurried to assure him. "I just needed time frames. Keep going."
"We continued the search that evening. So many people came out to help. Even some students from MassAcad. Mom... I told Mom to stay at home. She wasn't up to the search. Mrs Frost even flew down to Westchester to use Cerebro but she said Yana's mind fuzzed in and out."
"But Emma Frost found her biosignature," said Marie. "That's a good sign."
"I know," said Pete. "But she can only search every few days. Each time, it's the same. She says she gets smoke trails at best but she can't triangulate a location."
"As long as she can still feel Illyana, I'm hopeful."
"When was the last time she searched?"
"Two days ago."
Marie let out a long sigh. "Okay, so when I found the doll, Illyana was still alive. Hold on to that, okay, buddy?"
With minutes to spare from her trip upstate, Marie decked herself out as Liz, stashed her civvie clothes in the nearest dumpster-- there went a perfectly good set of jeans-- and sashayed to her usual block on the eastern-most border of Mutant Town. She waved to Skids across the street. Tonight, Liz wore a translucent black catsuit with a pair of fingerless gloves and boots with steel stiletto heels. Her riding crop hung from her wrist; she ran it along the windows or street lamps occasionally as she sauntered up and down her turf.
When a police cruiser came around, she did as the others-- turned her head away and walked more deliberately. That didn't deter her followers; they pulled up and flashed their lights. She threw her arms up in the air and yelled, "Oh come on!"
Two cops stepped out of the car. "You're going to have to come with us, miss."
"Why? I'm busy. I gotta go home."
"I'm sure you'd get there faster if you stop turning around once you hit the end of the block," said one cop.
"Gimme a break, guys, I was tired. I got lost."
"Lost on your way home?"
"I said I was tired!" she snapped.
"You can get some rest over at the station then."
"But I wasn't doing anything!"
"Then this'll take no time at all." They zip-cuffed her hands in front of her and led her into the cruiser. Marie saw Skids watching from her hiding place. She let out a sigh, resisting entering the patrol car only to be ornery. Once she was in, she dropped the petulant act.
"Really, guys, what's this about?" she asked.
Everett Thomas and Bob Henshaw, both MacTac officers, threw sheepish grins over their shoulders. "Sorry, D'Ancanto, Captain's orders," said Thomas.
"This op's finished, remember? From that time when we raided the club? It was only a three nights ago," Henshaw added.
"I kind of took Jones' words as a suggestion."
"You're real brave and real stupid."
"I'm so close," Marie said. "I just know the guy who threw that party the other night is connected to the murders. Just let me off this one time so I can make contact again--"
Thomas piped in. "Captain Jones said, and I quote, 'Tell D'Ancanto to get her obsessive, overachieving, slap-happy, ex-freedom fighting tuckus out of that death metal Hallowe'en costume or I'll throw you both into some fishnet stockings.' Endquote."
"There are three dead mutants in our city. Soon there could be a fourth. And this one might be ten fucking years old so I don't care what I have to do, I'll do it if it means we catch our asshole!"
Henshaw and Thomas exchanged a look. "Ten years old?" Henshaw repeated.
"Yeah. New evidence from the last body."
"Does Jones know about it?"
"She will as soon as you two report it. Get her to contact Dr. Jessica Jones at 32nd Precinct for a copy of her report. I'll hand in details about my discovery as soon as you idiots let me get back to my spot."
Henshaw let out a long breath, right out of his diaphragm. "You are a pain in the fucking assets, D'Ancanto. Turn us around, Thomas."
She smiled at them both. "Thanks. And really, Henshaw? You can say 'fucking' but not 'ass?' What's with that?"
"I knew D'Ancanto when she was a beat cop," Henshaw told Thomas. "Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, opening doors for her elders and shit. A real Girl Scout. I blame MTV."
Marie smacked her head on the backrest. Twenty whole minutes she'd have to endure this. Truly, her job required many sacrifices.