Tell me now what have you done
To justify your life, my son
Did you help your brothers
When they were down?
And when the bullets flew
Did you stick around?
I had no words.
I never spoke.
If I had said one thing You wouldn't know.
I did no harm,
I hurt no one.
Please don't send me away.
I want to come in.
If you give me today,
I will try again.
Child, I gave you all the breaks,
But all you did was take and take.
You say you did no harm,
But you did no good,
And never sought redemption.
I think you should.
I realize my selfish love
Has always got me through
By just enough.
I never thought this day would come
When the demons of my soul
Would be undone.
Look up and see the angels.
The gates have opened up for you.
I hope your mind is peaceful,
And love is everything you do.
- "Please Don’t Send Me Away" by Matthew Jay
She really hated being told what to do.
The girl sighed and shuffled her feet in impatience. Her surroundings were dismal; an old warehouse in New York, its floors covered in dust and old oil stains, the windows broken out and boarded up. Water dripped onto a rusty barrel. Somewhere in the distance, a cat yowled and a garbage can fell over. When the echoes died away, she sensed a movement behind her. She spun, and the nearby barrel whipped into the air, flying end over end towards the source of movement. The figure standing behind her swatted the barrel from the air as if it were a fly. It clattered across the floor.
"Don’t sneak up on me," the girl said to the man who approached her.
"Smart aleck brat!" the man roared and leapt at her, grabbing her by the throat. She dangled in his powerful grip, gasping and swinging her feet. He threw her down in disgust, and she skidded across the cement floor, smearing a clean swath through the thick dust.
"Asshole," she hissed, touching her aching neck. She would have loved to kill the monster before her, but her master found him too useful, and would punish her severely for harming him.
He growled and advanced towards her. "Now you lissen up," he said. He seemed to be more animal than man, from his ragged appearance and claws, to the predatory way he moved. "I’ve got orders for you now."
"I’m listening," she said. She hated that the master spoke to Sabretooth first, and didn’t contact her directly. Ever since the police had incarcerated her and her gang, all orders were relayed through his hired goon.
"Your new target is the girl, Rogue," he snarled. "Now that Sinister has seen the girl at work, he thinks that she’d be more useful on our side."
"I’m not a recruiter," she snapped. "How am I supposed to convince her to play for the other team?"
"You’re gonna take her," Sabretooth replied.
"Idiot! You know I’ve been in this body too long. That I’m stuck!" she clenched her fists before her. "And this body has more power in it than that weakling’s does."
"The boss says t’force her to touch you. He thinks that she’ll be able to absorb you, but it’s gotta be for a long enough time," Sabretooth said. "The little bitch’s done it t’me," he admitted. "It’s like getting your brain sucked out through a straw."
The girl relented, then nodded. "And once I’m in, I can have any power I want. Rogue’s power…the power of Polaris!" she said gleefully, as she rose slowly into the air. "Gambit’s powers…even yours!" She let out a greedy laugh. "As if I’d want super-enhanced senses. You stink enough with regular powers of smell."
Sabretooth growled low in his throat. Malice was power hungry, and easily played. She would wreak enough havoc to distract the others from his true cause. Then the man known as Sinister would have exactly what he wanted.
Rogue was sitting across the table from Kurt, trying to enjoy her breakfast. Thankfully, it was the weekend, and it was quiet. Most of the other students slept in on Saturday morning. Kurt appeared to have passed out on the tabletop. He emitted a low moan.
"What’s wrong with you?" Rogue asked. "If you weren’t covered in blue fur, I’d swear you’d be a shade of green. Here," she said, pushing the box of Chocolate SugarBombs ("New! Improved!") across the table toward him. "Maybe you should try eating something."
Kurt looked up from the table. "Nooo," he moaned, pushing the box back. "No more chocolate."
Rogue studied him for a moment. "Hey, where’s your boxes of candy?" He usually carried with him two boxes of the fund-raiser bars, one in each arm and a third in his prehensile tail if he thought no one was looking.
"Gone," he said, and hiccuped. "All gone."
"How many did you end up selling?"
"Six boxes," he replied.
Rogue gasped. "That’s a-hundred and eighty candy bars!"
Kurt whimpered. "I know…I know."
"Then what’s upsetting you, Kurt?"
"I ran out of customers…no one could stand the sight of those candy bars. I had to do something! I still had one box left."
"You…you didn’t actually eat an entire box of candy bars…? Kurt! Why? Couldn’t you have just bought them and thrown them out?"
"You don’t understand!" Kurt exclaimed. "It’s about honor!"
Rogue shook her head in sympathy. Just then, the kitchen door swung open. Kitty appeared, and her face was full of happy expectations. Her face brightened when she saw Rogue and Kurt at the table.
"You guys!" she gushed. "I have the best news!"
"Cashmann’s is having a buy one get one free sale on fuzzy pink sweaters?" Rogue ventured.
"No," Kitty said, rolling her eyes. "I have a date to the prom!"
"Yippie skippy," Rogue said, returning to her cereal.
"Or at least, I think I do..." Kitty continued. "Anyway, look at this!" Kitty walked over to the kitchen counter and grabbed a gift-wrapped box. Presenting it to Kurt and Rogue, she opened the box. Kurt almost fainted. Inside was an assortment of chocolates. It was half-empty.
"I found it in my locker, along with this note," Kitty said. She cleared her throat dramatically as she brandished the letter. "‘Chocolate is sweet, but not nearly as sweet as you,’" she read. "'Signed: Your Secret Admirer.' Isn't that so cool?"
Kurt had a strange look on his face, but said nothing.
"You've got to be kidding me," Rogue said.
"Anyway, that's not all the news I have," Kitty said, tucking her note away and popping a chocolate into her mouth. "Duncan asked Jean to go with him to the prom, but she turned him down and then Scott asked her and then she said 'Yes!' and now Scott and Jean are going to the prom together, which is just so perfect!"
"Whoa," Kurt said, finally. "Information overload."
Rogue sulked. "What makes that so perfect?"
Kitty gloated. "I know something you don't know."
With a sneer Rogue said: "Oh, please. Ah'll make a random guess. Jean got made prom queen, and Scott got voted for king."
Kitty's mouth was agape. "How ... how did you know that? It was supposed to be a secret!"
"Yeah, anticlimactic, isn't it?" Rogue said, folding her arms across her chest.
"Fine, smarty pants," Kitty said. "I bet you didn't know this bit of information: Remy and Risty are dating."
"The whole school knows that, all ready, Kitty," Kurt said.
"What?" Rogue said, baffled. "They are not! I hang out with them every day. They aren't dating. Of all the stupid ... ha! Dating, right! Remy and Risty!"
"My ears are burning," said a new voice. Remy pushed open the kitchen door. "What about Remy and Risty?"
"Hi, Remy!" Kitty said brightly. "So, are you planning on taking Risty to the prom?"
"The prom?" Remy asked, and then laughed. "You're kidding, right?"
"Ha!" Rogue said, a triumphant look on her face.
"We are planning on throwing an anti-prom party that night, though. No shirt, no shoes, no problem," Remy continued. "It's at the boathouse. You can come if you want."
Kitty gave Rogue as smug look that seemed to say 'I told you so!' "Thanks for the invite, Remy. But I think I might be going to the prom after all."
"Really, with who?" Remy asked.
Kitty began to explain when Rogue interrupted. "Excuse me, but there's only so much a body can stand in one morning. Goodbye!" With that, she marched out, causing the door to swing wildly.
"What's wrong with her?" Remy asked.
Kitty and Kurt shared a look and smiled. Both shrugged and shook their heads.
"Kids," Remy muttered, before grabbing an apple. Then he too turned and left.
By Monday, word had spread about Scott and Jean. Duncan had also heard, and was taking out his aggressions on Scott. It began small, with paper balls tossed at him during class. It later progressed to a shove in the hallway. Halfway through the school day, Scott was beginning to lose his temper, and Duncan knew it.
At lunch, school announcements were being made over the televisions set up in the cafeteria. Announcements were run like a news program, orchestrated by the audio-visual students. Today they were making some important statements about prom. Scott was standing in line with his lunch tray, watching the announcements as the lunch lady put today's selection onto his plate.
"And now we announce the winner of the candy bar sale!" said Taryn, a close friend of Jean's (and Scott's), who was anchorwoman. She paused dramatically. "The winner of the two free prom tickets is ... Kurt Wagner! Yay! Congratulations, Kurt!"
Kurt was standing up in his chair, bowing to loud applause and whistles. Smiling, Scott paid the lunch lady.
"Also," Taryn continued. "I'm happy to tell you the song for this year's prom."
"I bet its Lady in Red," came a whisper from behind Scott. Scott turned to see Remy, who was watching the announcements.
"And the song is ... Lady in Red!" Taryn proclaimed.
"Tole you," Remy said to Scott.
Scott grinned. "I guess you've got it all figured out," he said. Remy shrugged. "Let's go congratulate the grand prize winner," Scott said, walking over towards Kurt.
"Don' know how anyone could consider him a winner...he spent most of Saturday yakkin' on the old porcelain telephone," Remy added.
As the pair made their way across the cafeteria, the broad-shouldered figure of Duncan Matthews shoved past, knocking trays with Scott and causing him to stumble into Remy, who also dropped his lunch.
"Oops," Duncan said, his voice laden with amusement. "Sorry, Scott."
Scott looked down to see Sloppy Joe smeared down the front of his shirt. "Do you have any basic motor control or concept of direction?" Scott asked. "Or has all that peroxide you put in your hair finally leaked through to your brain?"
Remy snorted with mirth as he handed Scott a paper napkin. Duncan sneered, and glared at the pair. "What's with the shades?" he asked Remy. "Scott, have you started up a fan club or something?"
"This is th'part where we're supposed t'say something clever," Remy said to Scott. "Then he challenges us to meet him at the flagpole when classes let out."
"Maybe then we'll come to realize that fighting won't solve our problems, after all," Scott said solemnly. "How very After-School-Special."
"What are you two idiots talking about?" Duncan said, getting angrier.
"I'm sorry," Remy said. "Can't you keep up? We'll try to talk slower next time."
"Seeeee...yoouuu...laaaaterr...Duncaaan," Scott said slowly as he tried to walk around the bigger kid.
Duncan refused to let him pass, grabbing Scott by the collar. Scott was furious, but not so distracted not to detect the soft whine of Remy's mutant powers igniting.
"Back off, Duncan," Remy said warningly. From what Scott knew about Gambit, one warning was more than he usually gave.
"Remy, don't," Scott said, his voice hard.
"That's right," Duncan said, his eyes never leaving Scott's face. "This is between you and me."
"Boys," said a voice over the din of excited teenagers. "What's going on here?"
Principal Kelly was fast approaching, kids dashing out of his way. Duncan released Scott with a shove. "Nothing," they both said. Duncan stalked off.
Remy gave the principal a disarming smile and said something that Scott couldn't hear. Principal Kelly blinked several times, then smiled back at Remy before turning to walk away. Scott eyed Remy suspiciously as the other boy stooped to pick up the spilled lunch trays.
"You're going to have to tell me how you do that," Scott said to Remy.
"Ancient Chinese secret," Remy replied, before glancing away. On the opposite side of the cafeteria was Lance, who was beckoning to him. "I gotta go," Remy said. "Extra-curricular activities."
"Remy, what--" Scott began, but the other boy was ignoring him as he hurried over to Lance. Lance and Scott shared a measuring glare before he and Remy left the cafeteria. Scott shook his head and sighed before joining Kurt at his table. Smiling warmly, he congratulated Kurt on winning as he sat with his other friends. His mind was still piecing together what had just happened between himself, Duncan, and Remy. Scott wondered if Remy's camaraderie was genuine, and if he were finally coming 'round to being part of their X-Men family. The part of him that had scoffed at Avalanche becoming an X-Man2 rebelled against the idea of Gambit joining up so quickly. Scott forced himself to think the best of Remy, before turning his attention back to his friends.
"Oh, look!" Kitty squealed when she opened her locker. "Another letter, and flowers!"
Jean huffed in irritation before saying: "Well, tell me what it says."
Kitty held up three roses, one white, one yellow, and one red. She was beaming as she read the letter. "'White is for your innocence...yellow is for the hand of friendship I give you...and red is for the romance I hope we share. From, Your Secret Admirer.'" Kitty sighed. "Oh, Jean...it's so romantic!"
"I like how he romantically broke into your locker," Jean said dryly.
"He lets nothing stand in his way of his love for me," Kitty corrected her, as she leaned back into her locker to search for any more possible presents. "Hey, where's my lunch?"
Jean perused the letter. "He spelled 'innocence' wrong," she added.
Kitty put her hands on her hips and glared at Jean. "Honestly, Jean! What happened to your sense of romance?"
Jean was still looking at the letter. "'Romance' is spelled with an 's', here too," she said, pointing.
Kitty snatched the letter from Jean. "I don't see Scott giving you any letters!" She turned away and smelled her flowers. "I wonder when my admirer is going to turn up? I bet he's handsome...and a senior."
Jean groaned and gave Kitty a shove into her open locker. The door slammed shut.
"Hey! Jean!" cried Kitty from inside her locker. "Not funny Jean! Let me out!"
There was no reply. Watching from the small vent in the locker, Kitty was forced to wait until the hall was empty before phasing out of her locker. She stomped off to the lunchroom, determined to give Jean a lecture on True Love and being more tolerant to those who were lucky enough to find it.
Remy took a steadying breath before knocking on the door. It had been a long week having to tiptoe around the mansion. No one had approached him since the incident in the Danger Room. Instead of feeling relief, Remy felt more and more nervous with each passing day. There was no answer to his knock. He sighed and began to walk away when the door opened.
"Yes?" a serene voice asked.
Remy winced and slowly turned around. "Hello, Storm," he said. "Can I talk t'you for a second?"
She nodded and stepped back from the door. "Come in," she said.
He followed her inside. Storm's room was in the attic; its ceiling was sloped to a peak. Large windows let in the dying evening light. The room was filled with green plants and the air was slightly humid.
"Don't mean t'bother you none," Remy began.
"No bother," Storm said as she sat on the edge of her bed. She gestured to a chair set beside a vanity table. He reluctantly sat facing her. "I can wager a guess as to why you are here," she said.
"You haven't told anybody about my being -- about what happened in the Danger Room last week."
"No, I have not."
Storm wasn't making this easy for him. He inwardly sighed. "Why not?"
She considered him for a moment. "I should not have acted as I did," she said. "I apologize."
"You're apologizin' t'me?"
"It was not my place to pry," Storm said. "You had not done anything to provoke my mistrust. You would have come forward in your own time."
Remy was stunned. "It weren't somethin' I like t'go round tellin' folks," he said, then added with a disarming smile: "For some reason, people don't trust me too good."
"After stealing Wolverine's motorcycle...?" Storm returned his smile.
"Well, I'm sorry 'bout that," he said. When Storm arched her eyebrow he added: "But not that sorry."
"I am glad you came to me," Storm said. "I was wondering how long you would continue to skulk about."
"Y'said you were a thief once," Remy said.
Her eyes turned sad. "Yes," was all she said.
"Now it's my turn t'pry," Remy said, as he stood up. "Sorry."
"It is all right," she replied, gesturing for him to sit back down. She paused, pursing her lips as she thought. "My parents were killed when a plane crashed into the building where we lived," she said finally. "I was left alone, to wander the streets of Cairo. I would have starved had I not turned to picking pockets. I left that life behind me a long time ago. The master thief who trained me moved as you do ... That is how I recognized you as a thief, and a well-trained one. You said your father taught you?"
Remy nodded. "Yeah, fore he died. I would've learnt more, had he lived."
"What happened to him?"
Remy folded his arms, looking away. "Got some disease, I dunno," he lapsed into silence. Storm waited patiently. "He was a mutant, too," Remy continued. "The disease he got, only mutants could get. At least that's what Nathan tole me."
"Nathan Essex? Your adoptive father, correct?"
"Yeah. He became my dad's doctor. He knows a bunch about genetics and stuff. When my father got sick, Nathan came and told us about genes and the X-factor that makes us mutants, and if he could study the disease."
"Have you spoken to Professor Xavier or Dr. McCoy about this?"
"No, only you. D'you think I should?"
Storm nodded thoughtfully. "If you feel up to it. I hope that you feel that you can trust us, Remy."
"I do, Stormy. Thanks for not tellin' anybody."
Storm put a hand on Remy's forearm. "Your particular talents may be an asset to the X-Men in the future," she said.
He gave her a grateful look, and nodded. "I'll do my best," he said.
Scott blinked blearily at the ceiling. He looked over at his alarm clock. 12:47: it read. He'd gone to bed almost two hours ago. Scott began to close his eyes again when something rapped against his window. His eyes snapped open as he realized the sound had caused him to wake. Getting out of bed, Scott walked over to the window and peered out. There was someone down on the lawn below. Something clattered against the glass; the person on the lawn was throwing rocks. Scott opened the window.
"Hey," he hissed. "Who's there?"
The figure on the grass lifted his head. With a jolt, Scott recognized the blaze of red as Gambit's eyes. "What are you doing?" he asked.
"Shh!" Gambit said. "Get dressed. I need you t'take me somewhere."
"Go to bed," Scott said. "It's a school night."
"Oh, c'mon, Ken Doll. Don't be such a wienie!"
Scott shook his head and slid the window closed. "Idiot," he muttered to himself. He climbed back into bed. He lay there for several minutes, staring at the ceiling. Then, with an exasperated groan, he jumped back up and grabbed a pair of sweatpants and a gym shirt. Quietly as he could, he went downstairs and out onto the back lawn. Gambit was gone.
"That jerk," Scott muttered and was about to return to his room when a hand clamped down on his shoulder. He smothered a cry of surprise when he saw it was Gambit. "What do you want?"
Remy put his finger to his lips. "Let's get your car. We'll push it to the end of the driveway. C'mon."
Flustered, Scott trailed after him. They manually opened the garage door and pushed the car out onto the driveway. Remy tossed a duffel bag into the backseat. They were both panting when they reached the end of the drive.
"Where are we going?" Scott asked.
"Aren't you full of questions?" Remy said, hopping into the passenger seat. "We're going to Duncan's house."
Scott was dumbfounded. "What for?"
Remy nodded to the bag in the backseat. "You'll see."
Scott started the car. Despite his initial shock and frustration, he was feeling somewhat elated. Whatever Remy had planned was most likely bad for Duncan. Scott drove down Greymalkin Lane and down the road that ran parallel to the lake. All the nicer mansions were along the back roads away from town. It was only a five-minute drive to the Matthews house. Remy had Scott cut the engine before they reached the house, and they both walked up the driveway.
"I saw you playing basketball out on the court," Remy said to Scott. "I'm glad you have a good throwing arm." He reached into his bag and pulled out a roll of toilet paper.
"You're kidding me, right?" Scott asked dubiously.
"Scott, we're both in high school. We're seventeen years old. When are you ever going to get t'do this again? When you're a thirty-five year old accountant? Now just haul back like this and put some spin on it." He let a roll fly, a white tail fluttering behind it. The toilet paper looped over a tree and came back down leaving a streamer of paper in the highest branches.
Emboldened by Gambit's actions, Scott bit his lip in determination and threw. In minutes, the stately manse was bedecked with trails of toilet paper. Scott paused as he stooped to recollect a half-spent roll. In the driveway was Duncan's car, a sporty red Mustang. Remy handed him a can of shaving cream.
"What is with this town?" Remy asked. "Do they just issue everybody a sports car when they move here? Cause I think I got gypped."
Ignoring Remy, Scott made a beeline for Duncan's car, shaking the can of shaving cream the whole way. He carefully spelled out the word "asswipe" on the hood. Satisfied, he took a step back to admire his work.
"Very nice," complimented Remy as he liberally applied petroleum jelly to the underside of the door handles.
"It's too bad we don't have any eggs," Scott said.
"Would I let you down?" Remy asked, proffering the emptied bag. They both backed away from the car and let the eggs fly. Unfortunately, the car's alarm began to blare.
"Oopsie," Remy said, and they began to run down the driveway. The lights on the front porch lit. "Such a shame Duncan left the top down on his car."
Scott let out a bark of laughter. Up at the house, they could make out the sounds of astonishment. Then Duncan's voice echoed down the driveway.
Remy barely made it through Speech class the next day. The other students were taking turns giving their persuasive speeches. Most of them were about saving the rainforest and the evils of using nuclear power. Remy's own speech on the pros of cigarette smoking hadn't gone over with the other students so well.
"At least it's more interesting than this drivel," he thought to himself as he stifled a yawn. He cast a glance over at Rogue, who also wasn't paying attention. She was frantically scribbling in her notebook. Her speech was scheduled for the next day. She must have felt his eyes on her because she looked up at Remy and gave him a glare.
"Brr," Remy thought as he turned away. Rogue had been especially chilly towards him lately.
The last speech finally came to a close and the students rifled about at their desks until the bell rang. Remy met Rogue at the door. "Hey," he said. "Do you need any help on your assignment?"
"No," she said hotly. "Ah'm fine thanks. As if Ah'd want any help from you. Your speech was awful."
"I bet I turned a few of them," Remy said, jerking his thumb back towards the classroom. "The teacher didn't say I had to make everyone agree with me. I followed the assignment."
"Are you evil on purpose, or is that part of your mutant power too?"
"What is with you, Rogue?" Remy exclaimed. "Are you really that upset by my defense of Big Tobacco? Or is something else pissing you off?"
Rogue continued on to her locker, ignoring him.
"Hi, you guys," said Risty, as she trotted over to meet them. "Hey, what's wrong? You both look down."
"Nothing, Risty," said Remy coolly. "Let me walk you to your class."
Risty smiled at him as he steered her away. "Is something the matter with Rogue?"
"I dunno," Remy said. "She's pissy about something."
"Maybe she's jealous?" Risty offered.
"You complain about Scott being clueless...why don't you look at yourself?" Risty declared.
"She never acted like she cared about me b'fore," Remy retorted. He waved to Lance, who was just emerging from his English class. Lance joined up with them, but not before casting a glance over his shoulder at Kitty who was walking in the opposite direction.
"Maybe all of us want something we can't have," Risty said softly to Remy.
Remy looked down at Risty and frowned. "Hey, Lance," he said. "Is today the big day?"
"Yeah, I'm still working up the nerve."
"What's this all about?" asked Risty.
"Lance is going to ask Kitty to the prom," Remy said.
Risty laughed. "You're joking! Well, whatever you've got planned, it had better be good. She's obsessed with this secret admirer thing."
Remy and Lance shared a look. "Talk about being clueless," Remy said.
"You?" Risty said to Lance. "You're the secret admirer? I don't believe it! How did you manage breaking into her locker, then?"
"I had a little help from my friend Lightfingers, here," said Lance, right before Remy elbowed him in the ribs and glared at him. "Ow!"
"A lock-pick, eh?" Risty chided Remy. "When will I ever discover all your secrets?"
"All in good time, m'lady," Remy said, and gave her a quick kiss on the lips before she disappeared into her classroom.
Lance and Remy continued down the hall to the wood shop. "So Risty and you seem to be getting along pretty good," Lance said.
"What about Rogue?"
"What about her!" Remy exclaimed before stomping into the classroom and slamming the door in Lance's face.
Lance rolled his eyes. "Completely clueless," he said.
Hours before, Lance had nervously slipped a note into Kitty's locker, telling her where she could meet her admirer face to face. He sat outside the school on one of the picnic benches. Lance wiped his sweating palms on his jeans and checked his watch. It was six minutes after three o'clock. She was late.
"Maybe she didn't find the note?" Lance thought to himself as he chewed his thumbnail. Then he spotted her. She was just breaking away from a group of friends, waving to them. His stomach tied in a knot. "Okay," he told himself. "Remember, be cool."
"Lance?" she asked as she approached. "Hi."
"H-hi, Kitty," he stammered. Kitty was still looking around the school grounds. "Did you get my note?"
Her eyes snapped back to him. "Your note?" Kitty said incredulously. "You mean, it was you? The flowers and candy and poetry...?"
Lance smiled dubiously. "A-ha...uh, yeah, that was me. Here," he said, taking a small package out of his backpack. "I made you this." He thrust the gift at her. She took it from him, smiling uncertainly.
"Th-thanks, Lance," she said, unwrapping it. Inside was a little dragon, carved from wood. "Oh, Lance!"
"I know you like dragons, and stuff," he said.
"You made this?" she asked. "It's the nicest thing anyone's ever given me." She gave him a hug, which he excepted rigidly.
"Wow!" he thought. "This is going really well!"
"So, uh, Kitty," he began. "Will you go to the prom with me? I won't be a jerk or make fun of your friends or anything."
Kitty pulled back from the hug. She looked away guiltily. "Oh, about that."
"Uh oh," Lance thought.
"Lance, I didn't know it was you who sent me those things," she said.
Lance's face turned red. "So now that you know, you don't want to go with me after all. Is that it?"
"Now wait--" Kitty began.
"I mean," Lance continued, interrupting, "you wouldn't go to the mall with me, why would you want to be my date to the prom?"
"Lance," she said softly, putting her hand on his arm. "What you did was so sweet. I didn't know you had such a romantic soul. When Kurt asked me to the prom, I thought it was him all along. I came here expecting to see him. He does these kinds of hokey things all the time, y'know?"
"So now I'm hokey?" Lance demanded.
"No!" Kitty said. "Well, maybe a little."
Lance turned away.
Kitty took a step towards him. "But I'm the kind of girl who likes hokey things," she said. "I like flowers and candy ... and little dragons. You know that I'm a sucker for heart-shaped boxes and love notes."
Lance relented, but his shoulders sagged in disappointment. "Man, why'd I wait so long," he muttered.
"I'm sorry, Lance. I didn't mean to make you feel sucky."
"It's all right," he replied. "I guess I was acting completely out of character. Call it temporary insanity."
Kitty patted his arm. "Hey, uhm, after prom there's going to be a party over at the boathouse. Are you going to come?"
"Yeah, I was going to go," he said. "Remy asked if I'd come." What he didn't add was that Remy had made him a fake ID and he was providing the beer.
"Cool," Kitty said. "I'll see you there." She gathered up her belongings and tucked the dragon into her bag. "Hey Lance."
"Thanks for making me feel special, and like a girl. Sometimes I miss that when I'm dressed up in uniform and fighting evil robots in the Danger Room."
Lance rubbed the back of his neck, and he hoped that his face wasn't as red as he felt it was. "Uhm, don't mention it."
She smiled and waved as she walked off.
The bush behind him rustled and Todd's head poked out. "You're such a pansy," he said.
Lance leapt after him and proceeded to strangle the other boy. "I'm going to kill you!"
"Wait'll Maximoff finds out. He's going to--accckkk!"
The little green light on the laptop flicked on and off as the machine clicked softly to itself. Remy's eyes flickered, then opened. His laptop was sitting on the bed stand. He stared at it for several moments before putting a shielding hand over the light. He looked over at Evan, who was sleeping peacefully. Sitting up, Remy pulled the computer into his lap and slid out of bed.
Once in the bathroom with the door closed, he flipped up the screen. Bluish light washed over him as the monitor activated. Before the screen could come into focus, a soft harsh voice emitted from the computer speakers.
"Why have you been ignoring my summons?" said the voice.
Remy waited until the screen focused. The pale face of his adoptive father appeared in the window.
"Why are you calling me?" Remy asked, giving no answer.
Nathan's face turned dark. "I have a mission for you," he said finally.
"What? No: 'How's school?' or 'Have you made any new friends?'" Remy said snidely.
"Do not give me your insolence!" shouted Nathan, his voice echoing in the small room. "Do you think that you can behave as you'd like? Do you believe you've acquired some kind of new freedom? You are not as free as you'd like to think, Remy. I have eyes watching your every move. And your childish antics do not amuse me."
Remy's heart was pounding in his ears. "What do you want?" he said hoarsely.
"Professor Xavier has files on all the mutants in the Institute. You will infiltrate this computer known as Cerebro and retrieve those files for me."
"I can't do that!" Remy hissed at the computer screen.
"You can, and you will," replied Nathan stoically. "I have faith in your talents."
Remy swallowed, his eyes blurring. "Fine," he said. "Whatever. But this is the last time I steal for you."
"That is not for you to decide. I will tell you when your work for me is finished. Get the files. I will come for them." The computer winked off, the screen went blank.
Remy stared at the blank screen for several moments before closing the laptop. He leaned his head back against the tile wall, his eyes closed against tears he refused to shed.
The night of the Bayville High School prom had finally arrived. Scott and Kurt were nervously standing in the large foyer of Xavier's Institute, fidgeting with their poorly fitted rental tuxedos. Kurt was clinging to a clear plastic box containing a corsage. Scott adjusted his bow tie for the seventh time. Storm and Evan stood at the base of the staircase, talking quietly. Rogue sat in a plush chair in the corner, her eyes flicking to the top of the staircase and back to Scott and Kurt. At long last, one of the bedroom doors opened and Kitty appeared.
"Ta-da!" she said, flinging out her arms and striking a pose. "What do you think?"
Her hair, which she usually wore up in a ponytail, was now confined to a bun. Bejeweled dragonflies, which bounced on tiny springs, dotted her coiffure. She had on long, white satin gloves. Her dress was pink, bright pink, and while the bodice was form fitting satin, the skirt itself was an extravagant cascade of fluffy pink material. Little rhinestones floated in the skirt. Everyone in the foyer was stunned into speechlessness.
Scott was the first to speak. "Wow..Kitty. You look--uh..."
"You look beautiful," said Kurt softly in an awed voice. Scott glanced at him critically and saw that Kurt had actually meant what he said. Kitty smiled happily and bounced down the steps. She did a small pirouette in front of Kurt.
Rogue was blinking her eyes rapidly, as if Kitty's dress were physically blinding her. She put up her hands to shield herself from the dress' glow. Glancing back up at the stairs, she was the first to realize that Jean had half-descended the staircase. Rogue was instantly struck by how genuinely beautiful Jean was. The redheaded girl carried herself with such delicate grace, and yet seemed shy and nervous at the same time. Rogue was torn between jealousy and admiration, though she would have never admitted it to anyone, especially herself.
Jean made a tiny noise and everyone turned to look at her. Her dress stood in stark contrast to Kitty's lavish one. It was a simple gown with an open neck, with two small spaghetti straps to hold it up. Her long skirt brushed lightly on the ground. It was white with a faint iridescent shimmer. Jean's hair was pulled up in a french twist; ringlets framed her face and trailed down her neck. Evan let out a long whistle, breaking the spell the pretty girl had cast on them all.
"Jean, you look fantastic!" Kitty exclaimed, bounding over to hug the other girl.
"So do you, Kitty," Jean said modestly.
Jean slowly approached Scott. "So?" she said.
Scott thrust a corsage box at her. "Flowers," he said.
Jean nodded, raising her eyebrows. "Thank you, Scott. Would you pin them on for me?" His hands began to shake and Jean took the box from him. "On second thought..."
The quartet walked out onto the front steps, Scott gulping the cool late-afternoon air. His car, which he had spent the day cleaning, was parked in the front. After his head was a bit clearer, Scott opened the passenger-side door.
"Your chariot awaits," he said to Jean. He turned to Kitty and looked her over for several long moments. He then looked at his car, and the small two seats cramped into the back. Scott looked again at Kitty, who was smiling obliviously. Finally, Scott said: "I guess we should have splurged and rented the limo after all."
Risty Wylde climbed up the ladder that led up to the loft. She found Remy there, laying on his back and staring up at the ceiling. They were both in the boathouse, waiting for the other party guests to arrive.
"What are you doing up here?" she asked. "The others will be here soon."
He looked over at her and shrugged. Remy was in fact, miserable, and had no one to confide in. How could he admit to anyone that he had stolen information, the secrets of his friends, from the Institute? He had later destroyed the hard copy of the files, igniting the disc with a flare from his mutant powers, but it hadn't dismissed the feelings of guilt he still carried.
"What's the matter?" she said, crawling over towards him. She sat beside him and tucked a wisp of his hair behind his ear. "You've been mope-y lately."
"Nothing," he answered, giving her a slight smile. "Just thinking."
"Maybe we should stop coming to this boathouse," Risty said. "Whenever we come here, all we end up doing is thinking."
"Do you propose another boathouse activity, or just less thinking in general?" Remy asked, the familiar mischievous glint appeared in his eye.
Risty returned his grin. "Oh, I dunno. Maybe we could go over to my place, and think about something else," she snuggled close against him. "Like maybe later tonight?"
Remy chuckled softly and pulled her into his arms, kissing her. Risty sighed softly, and ran her fingers through his hair.
"Knock, knock!" came a call from below. "Hey, where are you guys?"
Remy and Risty peered down from the loft. "Hey, Lance," Remy said. "Up here."
Lance glanced up, and grinned. "Look what I got!" he said, lifting his arms. In each hand was a twelve pack of beer.
"Ugh!" Remy said, as he began to descend the ladder. "Milwaukee's Best! What were you thinking?"
"Hey, it was only like, five dollars! What do you expect?" Lance proclaimed. "And the ID you made me worked like a charm. Who'da thunk I could pass for thirty-five!"
"Excuse me," said a voice from behind Lance. A shadow fell over him. "I think I will be taking these."
He turned to see Ororo Munroe standing behind him. She took the cases of beer from his unrelenting hands.
"Uh..." he managed.
"And what is this about a fake identification?" she prompted. Lance reluctantly produced the card from his back pocket. "Thank you," Storm said. "I have come to inform you, children, that I will be chaperoning your party, since the professor and Henry are both out of town, and Logan is unavailable." At their crestfallen looks, she continued. "Rest assured I will be watching from afar, and will not interrupt your party. Unless things get out of hand, that is." She cast a meaningful glance at Lance.
"We'll be good, Stormy," Remy said charmingly with a smile.
She studied him critically and then returned his grin. "Very well," she said. "Enjoy yourselves."
The three watched her heft the cases of beer before walking off. "I wonder what she's going t'do with all that beer?" Risty said.
Remy and Lance exploded into laughter, struck by the unusual image of Storm hiking through the woods with a case of "The Beast" in each hand.
"Hey, what's so funny? Has the party started all ready?" Three new guests had arrived, Bobby, Jubilee, and Sam. Like Remy, they were all new mutants at Xavier's Institute, and weren't attending the prom that night.
"What? No music?" Jubilee asked.
"Right here, my friends," said Evan from behind them, as he lugged his expensive stereo equipment into the boathouse. "Let's get this stuff hooked up. Hey, by the way. Did anyone else see my aunt out there with two cases of beer? Or have I completely lost my sanity?"
It was late. By now, both the prom and the party at the boathouse were well under way. Rogue walked through the dense trees that surrounded the lake. The moon overhead was full and bright, and silver light shone through the trees, casting dappled light on the ground. The kids were having a good time over at the boathouse. She could catch glimpses of the party through the trees; the warm light that spilled from the windows, the sounds of laughter and music, the silhouettes of the party-goers dancing in the building and out on the lawn. Rogue looked up as two firecrackers whizzed over the lake and exploded. The brightly colored streamers lit up the night sky. It was Jubilee's handiwork, her own way of celebrating and having a good time.
Ah hope none of the non-mutant guests noticed. Rogue thought to herself. Ha, sounds like somethin' Scott would say. At the thought of Scott, her shoulders drooped. He had looked so happy when he had seen Jean tonight. Slack-jawed and dumbstruck, but happy, nonetheless. Rogue scuffed her boot on the ground, kicking up a rock in her frustration. She could always go join the party with the other kids, instead of moping about in the woods. But then there was Remy. She wasn't entirely sure about how she felt towards him. He ran hot one minute, cold the next. And he was currently involved with Risty. How could she? The angry thought ran through Rogue's mind, and was quickly banished. She wasn't sure what she wanted, but she knew she didn't want to feel left out anymore. Squaring her shoulders, she began to walk towards the boathouse.
A soft clink of metal against metal made her pause and turn around. A soft breeze from the lake stirred the trees. Rogue could feel the hair on her arms stand up as her eyes scanned the darkness. The party on the lake suddenly seemed very distant. She turned, and began to run towards the boathouse. Stupid. she thought to herself, trying to ease the feeling of anxiety. Scared of the dark. She slowed to a fast walk. Something shot past her on the ground; it glinted silver in the moonlight.
Rogue jumped back. "A snake!" The fast moving creature twined about her leg. But it was too cold and too hard to be a snake. Rogue fell when her foot was yanked out from under her. Wrapped around her leg was a heavy metal chain. It moved like something alive. She felt herself being pulled across the ground. Rogue grabbed hold of a tree and struggled against the chain. "Help!" she called, but her voice felt tiny and muffled under the canopy of trees. The chain whipped around her, binding her fast to the tree. She struggled, but the chains only pulled tighter.
"No one's here to help you, Rogue," said a soft viscous voice from the darkness. "All your friends are far, far away."
Rogue's heart pounded in her chest, and she fought to breathe against the constricting chains. She recognized the voice, she had heard it in her own mind once before. The girl known as Malice stepped out from the shadows, walking slowly toward Rogue.
"What do you want?" Rogue asked. "Let go-a me!"
"Oh no," Malice said, as she stripped off one of her gloves, and then the other. "I'm going to grab hold of you, and I'm never, ever going to let go."
Rogue cringed back from Malice's reaching hands. "What are you doing? Are you crazy?" she shrieked. "Don't touch me, get away!"
Malice took a steadying breath and pressed her palms against the sides of Rogue's face. Her body jerked as Rogue's powers activated. Rogue felt as if she were being suffocated. Her mind reeled, trying to push the unfamiliar thoughts and feelings out of her mind. But the new presence swarmed around her, like a cloud of angry bees. She continued to scream and struggle until Malice's body went limp and sagged to the ground.
Rogue leaned up against the tree. The chains slackened and fell to lie in coils at her feet. Rogue stood up and staggered forward. Idly, she toed the green-haired woman at her feet. Holding up her hands before her face, she studied them carefully, before looking down to take in the rest of her body.
"It worked," she breathed. "It really worked!"
Kitty stifled a yawn and pressed her gloved palm against her mouth. Her dress fluttered around her like a pink cloud. Kurt sat beside her in the backseat of Scott's fast moving car, trying his best not to be smothered by Kitty's dress.
Scott caught the sight of Kitty yawning in his rearview mirror. "Are you still up for the boathouse party?" he asked.
"Of course!" Kitty said.
Jean laughed. "You can't keep Kitty away from a good party." Jean stretched her arms. The top of Scott's car was down, and the night breeze felt good against her skin. "What a beautiful night," she said. "I can bet that Storm had a hand in this."
Scott glanced away from the road to look at Jean. They shared a smile.
"Aw, aren't you two just so cute," Kurt said from the backseat.
Scott began to retort when Jean gasped. "Scott! Look out!" Just as Scott turned back to the road, something leapt out in front of his car. The tires squealed against the pavement as he hit the brakes. He was too late. The car continued to skid forward and came to an abrupt halt.
Opening his eyes, he tried to make out what he had hit. Standing before the car was an enormous man. The car was slightly tilted upwards because the man had a hold of the front bumper. He released it suddenly, and the car fell back onto all four wheels. The figure stepped back, into the pool of light cast by the car's headlights. He growled.
"Party's over, kids," Sabretooth said, as he rubbed his hands together in anticipation of a good fight.
"Hey," Risty said, as she took Remy's hand. "Aren't you having fun?"
Remy cast a glance down at her, before his eyes returned to scanning the crowd of kids. "No," he said finally. "Let's go."
Together they slipped out the back door unnoticed. They trotted down one of the many nature trails towards the gravel lot where cars could be parked.
When they got into the car, Risty asked: "What's bothering you, Remy? You can tell me."
He shook his head. "Nothing, there's nothing wrong."
"Don't give me that," she said starting up her car. "You're upset. I can tell." Her voice changed slightly. "Is it about the X-Men?"
Remy looked at her sharply. "What?" he said.
"Don't worry," she said smoothly. "I all ready know. Rogue told me about it. We're good friends y'know. But don't tell her I said anything. I kind of promised I wouldn't tell."
Remy relaxed slightly. "Really? So you know I'm..."
"A mutant? Yes."
"And it doesn't bother you?"
Risty shook her head. "No," she said smiling. "Not at all. So tell me, what exactly is your power anyway? I've been curious."
Remy turned over groggily. There was an alarm clock beside the bed. It was some time after midnight. By now, the prom goers would have arrived at the boathouse to continue their party. The girl beside him sighed, then turned and snuggled close. Remy idly ran his fingers through her short, purple hair. Risty lived in a very nice house, an old Victorian mansion. She had told him her parents were out on business. He wondered why she rarely had anyone over to visit, but since she didn't mind hanging around mutants, it was just as well that she regularly came over to the Institute.
Remy thought he felt a faint tremor roll through the house. "Probably just the old furnace," he thought to himself. The tremor was enough to wake Risty's nearby computer from its sleep-mode. He blinked in the growing light from the computer monitor. Slowly, so not to wake Risty, he got up to turn the machine off. But when the screen came in to focus, he gave pause. He recognized the face on the screen as the X-Men recruit, Jubilee.
Remy froze, contemplating the image before him. Toying with the mouse, he clicked on one of the options offered on the screen. A new face appeared. It was Cannonball, also known as Sam Guthrie. A window popped open. Remy scanned the file, quickly realizing that it contained a run-down of all of Sam's mutant powers. There was a list of his strengths, as well as his weaknesses. Exploring further, Remy found that all the mutants at the Institute were listed in these files, except for his own. His heart began beating very quickly.
"Why would Risty have these files?" Remy asked himself. Looking down at the computer tower, he saw that the green light for the CD drive was on; that the program she had up was running off of the CD. Glancing over at Risty, he pressed the button that would open the CD drive. The tray whirred out, and Remy grabbed the disc from the tray.
He hurried from the room, grabbing his pants on the way. He found his shirt and jacket in the downstairs living room. Stuffing the CD into his coat pocket, he darted out the front door. Once outside, he paused, and glanced back up at Risty's bedroom window. He would have to tell someone about this. He felt a desperate need to talk to Storm, or even the professor, immediately. Risty's house wasn't far from the high school. Perhaps he could run there, and telephone the Institute from one of the payphones. He hoped Rogue was still at the Institute, since she had not shown up at the party. He began to run down the sidewalk towards the school. He lost his footing suddenly when the ground beneath his feet trembled.
"That was no furnace," he said to himself. There was only one reason the earth would be shaking. And that was if Lance were angry, or in trouble. Remy leapt to his feet and, deciding to forego phoning from the school, he sprinted in the direction of Xavier's Institute. He knew he could make it through town, past Harry's and the comic shop, and up the road to the nationally protected forest that surrounded the town. He could take a short cut through to forest straight to the lake. It would be a long run, and he mourned the loss of his Harley. He was just turning the corner where the comic shop was when he collided into a rock-hard obstacle. Remy fell onto his backside. Looking up, he gasped, and began scooting backwards across the sidewalk.
Before him stood Nathan Essex, tall and dark, his skin shining white in the moonlight. As always, he was polished and immaculate, with his sleek black hair tied back at the nape of his neck and his goatee neatly groomed. He seemed even more omnipotent and impassive than Remy remembered. He was wearing a long black jacket over a dark shirt with a high collar. Nathan's eyes were stern and glowing a dull red.
"Have you done as I commanded?" he asked.
Remy's mouth opened, but no sound came out.
"Come," Nathan said, extending his hand. "Do not be foolish, boy." Remy reluctantly took Nathan's hand and stood. "Do you have the files?" Nathan asked again.
Remy began to shake his head, but then stopped. His adoptive father's face was growing dark and angry. "Why now?" Remy croaked.
"Time grows short. Victor is collecting the specimens I need as we speak."
Remy lurched back from Nathan. "What?" he cried. "What you call specimens I call friends! You can't do this!"
"Silence, boy," he said as he grabbed Remy by the collar of his jacket. "Give me the files, and I will let you free."
Remy looked up into Nathan's hard blank eyes. "What do you mean? That you'll let go of my coat, or you'll let me go? As in, I won't never haveta work f'r you again?"
"I will release you from all obligations you have to me," he replied.
Remy took a deep breath and then reached into his jacket. "Here," he said, relinquishing the disc. He fell back a step when Nathan released his collar to take the disc from Remy's trembling hands.
"You have served me well," Nathan said. He then disappeared in a flash of light. Remy blinked at the slightly scorched mark left on the sidewalk. He was finally free from Sinister. Yet all he felt was a crippling sense of dread. He had to find Scott and Jean before it was too late.
Sabretooth flipped over Scott's car, sending it flying into the ditch on the side of the road. It landed with a sickening crunch. Jean and Scott flew clear of the wreckage with the help of Jean's powers. Kurt grabbed Kitty and teleported to relative safety.
With a snarl, Sabretooth leapt at Scott and Jean, narrowly missing a blast from Scott's optic beams. The big man backhanded the teenage boy, sending him flying. Jean struck back by flinging Sabretooth into the street with the use of her telekinesis. He landed on his back with a grunt, but quickly flipped over and regained his footing. Kurt was helping Scott from where he had fallen.
"Are you okay?" he asked, handing Scott his ruby-hued glasses.
"Yeah," Scott said. "But what is he doing here?"
"We'll find out when we beat the truth out of him!" Kitty said angrily in a swirl of pink fury. "C'mon, we've taken this goon before!" Suddenly, the ground shook, knocking them all to their knees. "That was Lance!" Kitty said.
"There must be something going on at the boathouse," Jean said.
"Kurt!" Scott said. "'Port Kitty and yourself to the lake!"
"But what about him?" asked Kurt, pointing back at Sabretooth who was fast approaching.
"We'll hold him off," said Scott, aiming a blast at Sabretooth.
Kurt nodded and Kitty grabbed a hold of his hand. They vanished in a blast of brimstone.
Sabretooth snarled and leapt. The last thing Scott saw was the glint of light on tooth and fang and a blast of bright red light.
Rogue strode purposefully up to the boathouse. On the dock, three of the young teens from the Institute waved their hands in greeting. Rogue raised her hand and flicked her wrist. The steel bolts, which held the dock together, shot out, flying in all directions like bullets. The dock collapsed, sending several shrieking kids into the water.
Other party guests emerged from the boathouse, to see what was going on. Rogue stopped a few paces away, the long chain she carried swinging in coils from her shoulder.
"What happened?" asked Evan, as he hurried over to the lake to help. "Rogue, where have you been?"
Rogue didn't answer. Instead, the chain shot out looping around Evan and swinging back to entangle him and two other kids. They shouted in confusion before being launched up into the air and tied to the highest branches of a nearby tree.
The ground rumbled and Rogue staggered. As she righted herself, she caught sight of Lance, whose hands were out to command the earth.
"At last, a worthy opponent," Rogue said in a voice that was not her own. Up above, the halogen lamp that lit the front of the boathouse exploded, shedding glass shards onto Avalanche.
"Is that the best you got?" he asked, and a more powerful tremor caused the earth the shake. Instead of falling, Rogue rose a few feet off of the ground. "What the heck? What's wrong with you, Rogue?" Lance said, marveling at Rogue's newly acquired powers.
"Not Rogue," she said. "Rogue is gone. You can call me Malice now!" With that, she used her powers to rip the remainder of the security lamp from the roof of the boathouse. She sent it flying towards Lance. He dodged out of the way. Steadying himself, he reached out with his powers, finding a boulder lying nearby. The earth lurched, flinging the boulder into the air. Malice laughed as she avoided it easily. It landed in the lake behind her with a mighty splash.
"What is going on here?" said a commanding voice from above. Malice looked up to see Storm hovering in the air nearby. Storm was glaring down at Avalanche, suspecting him of attacking Rogue. "Explain yourself!" she said as the winds began to rise.
"Hey, lay off, weather lady! It's Rogue! She's gone crazy!" Lance said as he shielded himself.
Storm glanced over at Rogue, and was shocked to see the girl flying towards her. Malice locked her arms around the older woman's waist and forced her down. With a bare hand, Malice grabbed at Storm's face and made contact. Storm's eyes widened with shock, and she managed to throw Malice away before she crashed into the lake.
"Ahh!" Malice said. "That's better. What use were the powers of magnetism out here in the wide wilderness. Now you can face the power of nature itself!" Commanding the winds, she forced Lance backwards and sent him flying. The wind and the rain howled around her, thunder rolled ominously. Lighting began to crackle around Malice's closed fist. "And now to finish you off," she said, gliding towards her prey.
The amassed lightning shot out, striking Lance where he lay. When the smoke cleared, both he and Malice appeared shocked to see he was still alive. Small fires crackled around him, but he was otherwise unscathed.
"Cool," Lance said. "I guess that means I'm invulnerable now too. Mutant powers rock!"
"Think again," said Kitty as she phased up through the ground and right through Lance's midsection. "Surprise."
"Nice save," Lance said. Rain began to pour down around them. They looked up to see Malice with an ugly look on her face. Suddenly, there came a blast of light and smoke which materialized in the air beside Malice. The smoke dispersed, revealing the shape of Nightcrawler. He grabbed Malice around the shoulders in a bear-hug and teleported again. The pair reappeared back on the ground, with Nightcrawler straddling Malice.
Nearby, Iceman was using his powers to slide out over the lake. Storm was bobbing on the surface, barely holding onto consciousness.
Malice was squirming in Nightcrawler's grip. Before he could 'port again, she had flung him off. She lunged at him, but he responded by putting his foot in her stomach and using her own momentum to fling her over his head. She landed in the mud, and skidded a short ways. Shakily, she stood again. When she turned back to the few remaining mutants, Avalanche, Shadowcat, Nightcrawler and Iceman, her eyes were a blank whitish-blue. Electricity crackled all around her. The trees whipped and thrashed and a huge funnel cloud appeared over the lake.
"I think we made her mad," Nightcrawler said.
Lance nodded. "Brace yourselves people."
Scott and Jean were on the run. It was impossible to ignore the roar of the wind coming from the boathouse. Scott, missing his glasses and blind, stumbled along beside Jean, relying on her to be his eyes. Sabretooth lay behind them, cast aside by a powerful blast from Scott's optic beams. Knowing his powers of recuperation, they didn't have much time before he was back on their heels again.
The branches whipped past them, tearing at their clothes and skin. Jean ignored the pain, focusing only on the fear she could sense from the boathouse by the lake. They arrived just in time to see the boathouse ripped to shreds by a powerful tornado. The roar of the winds was deafening. The ground buckled beneath their feet, causing them to slide in the mud.
"Where's Storm?" called Scott over the sound of the wind.
Jean was scanning the minds of the people on the lake below. There was Kitty and Lance, near the focus of the storm. The pair were clinging to one another. Nightcrawler was braced behind a fallen boulder. Iceman was at the edge of the lake, shielding himself with a block of ice. Jean continued to search. She found Evan, Jubilee, and Boom Boom swaying precariously at the top of a tree.
"Scott," she called mentally, and relayed the image to him. "I have to get them down. Stay here!"
Scott shook his head, and cursed his mutant powers. Without his glasses, he couldn't control his powers, and could do more damage than good if he tried using them.
Jean used her powers to lift herself into the air and buffer herself from the powerful winds. She was worried for her friends in the tree, but even more concerned for the people she couldn't sense with her powers. Where were Gambit and Risty? Rogue and Storm? There must have been others at the party, as well. Cannonball, Wolfsbane, and Multiple, possibly even Toad. She could only hope they were unconscious, and not...
Remy's lungs were burning when he finally reached the lake. Rain was pouring down, soaking him through. He heard a loud crack, and pieces of wood and debris flew around him. The force of the wind sent him to his knees. He could make out the clearing through the trees. The winds were causing the lake to froth and roil. Using the branches of the swaying trees as support, he pulled himself forward. Up ahead he could make out a figure standing at the center of the raging storm.
"Rogue!" he cried, but his voice swallowed up by the storm. He struggled against the winds towards her. She was concentrating on something in the distance, facing the area where the boathouse once stood. "Rogue!" he called again. Her expression flickered, and she turned. Her eyes lit and she smiled when she saw him.
"What's going on?" he asked her. He stopped a few paces away, shielding his eyes from the flying rain and sleet. "Where's Storm?"
"She's right here," Rogue said calmly, and she pointed to her temple. He stopped and studied her carefully. She took a step forward, and Remy shrunk back. "What's wrong, Gambit?" she asked. "Weren't you worried about me?" Remy felt himself jerked forward, and he fell to his knees before Rogue. She smiled wickedly before leaning down and bringing her lips to his. Their embrace lasted for several long moments. Remy slumped to the ground, and Malice stood up. A red glow streamed from her eyes and hands. The air around her warped and sizzled. Malice rose up into the sky, to better see what else she could destroy.
Jean freed the three teens from the top of the tree, lowering them to the ground slowly with her powers and loosening the chains that bound them.
"Thank the Goddess you're here," Evan said, grabbing Jean by the arm. "Rogue's gone crazy!"
"She's totally possessed!" Boom Boom cried.
"Rogue got Storm, and threw her in the lake," Jubilee added. "But she's got somebody else's powers too. Then Lance and her started fighting."
Jean listened carefully, and took in the images the teens were showing her from their minds. "I'm going to try and stop her," she said finally. "You guys see if you can find the others, and lead them to safety. Do a head count, make sure everyone from the party is okay."
"What are you going to do?" asked Evan.
"I--I'm not sure," Jean said. "But I wish the professor were here."
Jean stood away from them and rose up into the air. She could just make out Rogue's form through the storm. She created a bubble around herself to protect her from the wind and rain. There seemed to be a new energy flying through the air, one that flew past in glowing red streamers and burned when it came in contact with anything. Jean rose up until she was level with Rogue, then, reaching out with her powers she called out into Rogue's mind.
The girl spun on her, shocked at the new voice in her mind. Opening her eyes, Jean realized that the striped-hair woman before her was not Rogue, but some other person. Jean concentrated, and pushed herself deeper into the-girl-who-was-not-Rogue's mind. She found herself in a different place. A storm still raged about her, but the sound was not of wind, but the screaming of a dozen voices.
Jean put her hands to her ears to block out the sounds, but it was of no use. The sounds were inside her head. She forced her eyes to open. She was standing on the ground, in a setting that reminded her of a vast desert during a sandstorm. Jean staggered forward into the wind. She had never been in a setting such as this. She was wandering about in someone else's head.
She cried out "Rogue" time and time again, but there was no answer. Jean fell, her hands sinking into the sand. "Where are you!" she cried into the maelstrom. She squeezed her eyes shut. She could leave, rip herself out of this mind and back into her own body. She could feel the cord that bound her to her own body tugging at her, begging her to leave. But she couldn't leave Rogue here in this desolate wasteland.
Suddenly, there was someone standing beside her. He crouched down, and blocked the worst of the wind from her face. Jean looked up into the black and red eyes of Gambit. He helped her to her feet and the two of them leaned into one another. He looked different than he did in real life. He was thinner here, his eyes and hair very dark. He was dressed in a long black jacket, which was so dark, that she had trouble making out his true form. She then realized that she had taken on a different appearance as well. Gone was her prom dress, which was replaced with her X-Men uniform. "I suppose this is how I truly see myself," she concluded.
"Jean," Gambit said, his voice going straight into her mind, rather than being spoken out loud. "Did Malice get you, too?"
"No," she answered. "I'm using my powers to be here. I don't know what's happening on the outside. We have to find Rogue."
Gambit nodded. "My guess is that she's in there," he said, and turned to point. Jean looked in the direction he'd indicated. On the horizon, a dark spinning cloud kicked up sand. Jean could feel the malevolence flowing from it like a wave of heat.
Together, they staggered towards it against the wind.
Spyke, Jubilee, and Boom Boom made their way back towards the ruins of the boathouse. They found Cannonball behind a stand of trees. Boom Boom shook him awake and the foursome continued on their way. Of the other new mutants, they knew that Iceman was the only other one to attend the party; it had been past Multiple's and Wolfsbane's bedtime, and Berzerker had taken a date to the prom. Sunspot and Magma were both out of town. Then there were Gambit and Risty, both of whom could not be found. Iceman had pulled Storm up from the lakeshore. She was weak, swaying precariously on her feet when Spyke, Tabitha, and Jubliee happened upon them. They then joined up with Shadowcat, Nightcrawler and Avalanche.
Kitty beckoned the group together and they took shelter behind a grove of trees. The winds had died down some by then, and Storm seemed to be regaining more strength.
"Where's Scott and Jean?" Kitty asked as they gathered together.
Evan pointed up into the sky, where Jean and Malice were facing off. Malice was throwing everything she had at Jean. Lightning struck, blazes of red light burned through the air, and the wind blew gales of rain at the redhead. Jean was unmovable. She hung in the air, her eyes closed against the onslaught. She appeared to be protected in a bubble of safety. Her hair and her ruined white gown streamed out around her, as if only rustled by a soft breeze.
Nightcrawler drew their attention away from the battle up above. "Ja, but Scott is still missing. I haven't seen him since the car crashed." He went on to explain to the others about their encounter with Sabretooth. The thought that the savage mutant was still out there caused the group of mutants to huddle closer together.
"What are we going to do?" squeaked Jubilee, her usual brave façade cracking a bit.
"We wait out the storm," Storm said quietly. "And we trust in Jean."
"What happens if Jean fails?" Lance demanded.
"Let us hope it does not come to that," Storm replied. "For Rogue's sake."
Jean and Gambit were slowly approaching the eye of the storm. Amidst the biting sand that swirled about them was an even bigger obstacle. Jolts of memories and voices from other minds sent Jean staggering. She could hear the voices of her friends and enemies alike. Nightcrawler, Cyclops, Storm and Shadowcat. The Blob and Magneto. Every time she fell, Remy picked her back up. He seemed undeterred by the voices, perhaps because he was one himself. The winds tore at them, but Jean felt that she was getting close.
"Rogue, where are you?" she called out.
A weak answer: "Jean? Is that you?"
"Up ahead!" Jean told Gambit and they forced themselves forward. A pale form materialized before them. Rogue appeared to be bound to a rock, her body raw and torn from the buffeting winds. Jean reached out to Rogue with her mind. The other girl was very weak, and growing more so.
"We have to help her," Jean said. "We don't have much time."
Gambit nodded to her, but said nothing. His eyes were focused entirely on Rogue.
When they finally reached Rogue, her eyes fluttered, but did not open. Jean and Gambit struggled with her bonds. "Rogue," Jean said. "Rogue, can you hear me? You have to help us so we can help you! C'mon Rogue! Pull! Don't give up!"
Rogue strained one arm, and with Gambit and Jean's help, one of the manacles that held her broke free. Rogue gasped at the effort and seemed to come more awake.
"Yes!" Jean cried triumphantly, as she helped pull another bond free. Rogue gave a sobbing cry of relief as she came free, tumbling into Gambit's arms. "Yes!" Jean cried again, elated at her victory.
"Don't celebrate so soon," said an evil voice. The winds abetted and a ghostly form emerged. The creature before them was transparent and nearly formless. She only vaguely resembled Rogue, herself.
"Malice," Jean hissed, naming the creature.
"You don't belong here," Malice said. "This is my domain, now!"
Jean stood her ground, facing Malice. "You're the intruder, here," Jean said. "And I'm not going to let you get away with what you did to my friend!"
Malice laughed hatefully, but her mirth was cut short when Jean leapt at her. A long dagger appeared in Jean's hand, forming straight from Jean's own mind and her need for a weapon. Jean lashed out at Malice, and the other jumped back, looking stunned. Malice caused the earth to quake beneath Jean's feet, but she took to the air. Jean found herself laughing. She could do anything if she put her mind to it. Malice suddenly looked frightened. She struck out randomly; bolts of energy flew at Jean. She evaded them easily, or just let them pass through her as if she were as intangible as Kitty. Jean drew back her arm and threw her dagger. It spun, end over end, and plunged itself into Malice's chest. The specter shrieked and dispersed.
The winds died and the earth settled. Jean came down to stand upon the ground. The atmosphere changed, and the earth changed from sand into grass. Clouds parted to reveal the blue sky. Jean sighed and turned back to Rogue and Gambit.
"Thank you," Rogue said softly.
Jean and Rogue tumbled from the sky and landed in the mud on the far side of the lake. A soft rain was still falling, creating a mist that hung over the lake and milled through the trees. A dark figure approached and bending low, hefted a weight off of his shoulders and deposited two forms beside the fallen girls.
"That all of 'em?" the dark man grumbled. "Where's the kid?"
"He has been attended to," another voice answered. "You had best be on your way, Victor. By now, Xavier will have been alerted to your presence."
Victor grunted and slunk off into the fog. Sinister surveyed his captives and smiled. Then he, the three girls and the boy, disappeared in an instant.
Gambit came awake but did not open his eyes. Unmoving, he used his other senses to take in his surroundings. His jacket was gone, which was definitely a bad thing. A faint humming noise came above from fluorescent lights. The way the sound echoed indicated the room he was in was small and enclosed. The air was stuffy and stale. This room was not often used. Beneath him was a stiff mattress. He concluded he was alone, and slowly opened his eyes. Directly above him were the lights he had heard, recessed into the ceiling and concealed behind a screen of frosted plastic. The walls around him were sleet-plated. Experimentally, he tapped on the one beside his bed. It did not ring or echo. The wall behind the steel was solid and thick. From his position on the bed, he could see a door directly before him. There was no doorknob or hinges, which meant that the door would slide aside into a pocket. It also meant that he was locked in.
He sat up on the bed. There was just enough room for him to stand beside the bed and approach the door. He ran his hands over it now, finding it seamless. The only thing in the room worth noting was the recessed lighting fixture and the small ventilation duct above the door. Though he was missing his jacket, he was not without other resources. If Batman had a back-up plan if he lost his utility belt, why shouldn't he? Gambit sat back on the bed and pulled off his boots. Inside the rolled-up cuffs of his jeans he found his Swiss Army knife, a package of chewing gum, and a toothpick. His pants-pockets were empty, but inside his boot was a package of playing cards.
Moving quickly, he ripped the sheet off of the mattress and wrapped it around his fist. He jumped up on the bed, and punched at the plastic shield over the light. Luckily, the ceiling was rather low, and he was able to crack the plastic on the first punch. Further manhandling caused it to shatter and break apart. Picking the plastic out of the fixture, he found two fluorescent bulbs and a camera. Picking up a shard of the hard plastic, he stabbed upwards and broke the lens on the camera. When he jumped down from the bed, he removed the mattress and lay it on its side, creating a barricade between himself and the door. Gambit then took a card out of the deck he carried. Stepping over the barrier, he looked at the card. It featured a man in a harlequin costume, juggling. Joker, he smiled. He studied the door again. Judging there must be a control panel on the opposite side of the door, he wedged the corner of the card into the door at about hip-height. He charged it and dashed behind the mattress. The card detonated with a boom that was deafening inside the small chamber. When Gambit peered over the mattress barricade, he was disappointed to find that the door was unscathed. There was only a slight scorch mark where the card had been. It would take a bigger blast to open the door.
He studied the naked bed-frame. He could push that up against the door and charge that, which would most likely destroy the door, as well as everything else in the room, including himself. Undeterred, he put the mattress back onto the bed-frame and pushed it up against the door. Gambit stood up on the bed and studied the vent. It was small, but if he could fit his head into the shaft, he would be able to fit the rest of himself as well. Taking out his knife, he unscrewed the screws on the vent's faceplate. Once done, he put his knife and the pack of cards back into his boot. Taking a deep breath, he dislocated his left shoulder. Since his muscles and tendons were so flexible, he was able to do this at will, without pain. (Awhile ago, his friend Emil had challenged this particular talent Remy had by daring him to squeeze through the hole in a toilet seat. All that had witnessed this particular feat were stunned and amazed, and more than a little bit grossed-out.) With his right arm, he was able to pull himself up into the shaft. After a lot of kicking and undignified wiggling, he managed to get his entire body into the shaft. He was relieved to find that the vent that led to his room was a short one, which branched off of a larger air duct.
Once in the larger duct, he put his arm back into its socket. He moved carefully, because the slightest sounds were amplified tenfold in the shaft. Luckily, this fact alerted him to the presence of another person in the room beside his. There was a lot of shouting, cursing and pounding echoing down the shaft beside the one he had just crawled through.
"Rogue?" he called softly. "Is that you?"
There was a pause in the tirade. "Remy? Where are you?"
"I'm in th'vent."
Another pause. "You're kiddin' me!"
"Give me a few minutes, I'll try an' get you out." Without waiting for an answer, he continued down the shaft until he found what he was looking for. He came upon a vent on the floor of the shaft, which pointed down into a hallway below. He unscrewed the bolts holding the screws in place. Three of the screws fell into the hallway, but it could not be helped. Gambit turned the vent aside on the last remaining screw and peered down into the hall. It appeared to be empty. There were a line of doors to his left, probably cells like the one he had just climbed from. He landed in a crouch on the floor of the hall.
Carefully, he counted the doors and came to the one that would lead to Rogue's cell. He put his ear to it, but could hear nothing on the other side. There was a control panel beside the door. There was a digital readout, a keypad, and a red blinking light. He breathed on the keypad, fogging up the plastic keys. Unfortunately, there were no fingerprints to indicate what the possible code could be to unlock the door. Using his knife again, he pried off the faceplate, revealing wires. Randomly, he yanked out the wires, causing sparks to fly out of the control panel. The door beside it whirred and slid open a crack.
Rogue's eye and her hand appeared in the crack. "Remy!" she said.
"Shh!" he hissed at her. Putting his shoulder to the doorjamb, he pushed against the sliding door. Rogue began to pull and the door slid open a few more inches, enough for Rogue to squeeze herself through.
"Where the heck are we?" Rogue asked.
"I dunno," he said, taking her hand and hurrying down the hallway.
"Well, let's get out of here," Rogue said.
"We've got to get Scott and Jean first," Remy answered.
Rogue forced him to slow. "How do you know they're here?"
"Nevermind, I'll tell you later." He ducked into an alcove, dragging Rogue after him. "There's cameras all over th'place," he whispered to her, as he peeked around the corner. "I'm hopin' no one's payin' attention, since nobody came when I broke out of my cell."
Gambit continued down the hall with Rogue at his back. "I'm glad you're back t'normal," he told her.
"Ah don't know if normal is the right word," she answered.
He cast her a smile, but she didn't return it. "Are you okay?" he asked.
Rogue shook her head but didn't answer.
They paused before going around another corner. Rogue moved to continue on their run, but Gambit held her back. "Wait," he said. "I hear something."
The pair strained their ears to a small sound coming from one of the many darkened rooms down the hall. It sounded as if someone were crying. The sound didn't seem to be threatening, at the very least. Gambit nodded to Rogue and they slowly walked toward the sound. In a dark room lit only by the glow from the hallway light, they found the source of the noise.
"You!" Rogue hissed angrily.
The girl inside the room looked startled. She was bound spread-eagle at the wrists and ankles against the far wall. Her short green hair was mussed, her clothes torn and smeared with dirt. Her face was streaked with tears. Gambit put a steadying hand on Rogue's arm.
"Please," the green-haired girl said. "You have to help me!"
"Why should we help you?" Rogue snapped. "Ah could kill you for what you did t'me!"
"You've got to understand," the girl said desperately. "It wasn't me! It was Malice. I couldn't control what she was doing to my body."
Gambit and Rogue approached the girl.
"I know it won't make anything different," she said tearfully, "but I am truly sorry."
"How can we know that you're tellin' th'truth?" Gambit asked. "That Malice isn't still controlling you?"
The girl glanced meaningfully at Rogue. Gambit turned to her. "Rogue?" he asked.
"I can understand if you don't want to..." the other girl started.
Rogue shook her head. "No, Ah can do it." She looked at her bare hands. "This is the power Ah've got, and Ah'm not goin' to be afraid to use it." She walked forward and reached up to the other girl's face. After a moment of hesitation, he tapped her lightly on the cheek. Rogue stepped back. After a moment she said: "Okay. Let's get her down from there."
Remy nodded in answer, as Rogue began to pull at one of the manacles that bound the girl to the wall.
"Wait," Remy said, staying Rogue. "There's a switch over here." Gambit pulled a level on a console nearby. The manacles clicked open. "'S plastic," he commented, looking at the switch.
"So are these," Rogue replied, fingering the manacles.
"I have the ability to control metal things," Lorna explained. "Thank you, Rogue."
Rogue shrugged. "It's okay, Lorna," she said.
Lorna smiled. "It feels good to be called that again," she said.
Jean woke, painfully stretching her aching back and rolling her head and shoulders. She was unaware of how long she had been unconscious, and she was shocked to find herself in a completely new and alien setting. She was no longer at the edge of the lake, surrounded by trees. Instead, she found herself propped up against a wall, contained in some sort of cylindrical prison. To her back was a curved metal wall. Before her was a glass enclosure. Jean had the sickening feeling she was inside a glass coffin, or an enormous test tube. She put her hands to the glass, slapping and punching at the surface ineffectively. Her breath came in ragged gasps as she panicked.
"Where am I?" her mind shrieked, as she peered through the glass. Beyond her prison was some sort of laboratory. There were steel-topped tables and dollies holding trays of scalpels, needles, and other frightening equipment. On a table were several computer monitors, as well as trays holding vials and beakers. If she pressed her cheek against the glass, she could just make out another chamber like her own to her right. Scott was inside. She could just see his feet; one foot wearing the shiny shoe he had rented along with his tux, the other foot just wore a muddy sock. He didn't seem to be moving. Jean tried to reach out with her powers to contact him, but she found her telepathy absent. The sudden disappearance of her powers filled her with a feeling of dread. She didn't realize before how much she depended on them, how the faint murmur of the thoughts of people around her had been somewhat comforting. Jean now felt very, very alone.
Something appeared in her line of vision. It was an extremely tall man, broad in the shoulders, with whip-thin limbs. His skin was a chalky white, which contrasted sharply with his dark black hair. He would almost have been handsome were his cheeks and eyes not sunken and his eyes not a blank red. As he approached her coffin, she shrunk back from him. He stood before the glass and studied her with a cold and clinical gaze.
"So," he said, "you awaken."
"Who are you?" Jean asked. "What do you want with me?" She gave a quick glance over at Scott. "With us?" she amended.
The man smiled, but not pleasantly. "Some call me Doctor Essex. Others, usually my patients, call me something more...sinister?" He spoke the word as if it were a question. He continued to smile, as if enjoying a personal joke. "As to what I want with you..." he continued, and turned to walk away. "I have been studying you for quite some time, Jean Grey. You and your young friend here. You two are of special interest to me. Did you realize there are only two hundred and seventy-eight known mutants in the whole of the world, Jean? Out of billions and billions of base humans, only a comparable handful of mutants exist. You are a very special young woman, Jean."
"How--how do you know this?" Jean stammered.
"Ah. Yes. Well, Ms. Grey, let me put it this way. Your professor isn't the only person capable of locating mutants. And I've been at it for a very long time. I have something of a collection going, you see. Of mutant DNA. I'm very interested in continuing our mutant race, and preserving it. I've spent years combining the DNA of one mutant with another, exploring all the possibilities. Unfortunately, in my studies I happened upon a most deadly virus, which infected only mutants." He laughed bitterly. "A pox created by an accidental mixture of DNA, which produced a mutant capable of bringing illness and plague to all who touched her. She hated me, right enough."
"What does this have to do with me?" Jean demanded, losing patience with the madman.
Sinister rolled up the sleeve of his lab coat, baring a long, pale forearm covered in oozing boils and welts. Jean cringed back from the sight. "I believe that you and Scott hold the key to eliminating the disease I inadvertently created. A mutant with the ability to control the disease and manipulate it. This mutant will be born carrying the virus; he will live with it his entire life and adapt to it. I believe the amount of power the mutant will wield will ultimately destroy the virus itself. And since I am able to graft the powers of other mutants to my own, I will also provide a cure for myself, so that I may continue my research."
"You've got to be crazy!" Jean cried. "What gives you the right to play God?"
"I was once told that only the fit are to survive. I plan to be one of that number. I tried once before to devise a cure, but failed. Nevertheless, the death of my last patient provided me with not only a treatment, but also a useful tool. I believe you've met my young charge, Remy? You see, these things work out for the best."
"You...killed Remy's father?" asked Jean, aghast.
"I regret to inform you that our time together grows short, and our conversation is at an end. I have to prepare the virus. It is an airborne virus, and you will note the ventilation shafts on the floor of your chamber."
"What are you going to do? You're going to infect us with the virus?"
"Indeed. I need your mutant cells to incorporate the virus before I extract a sample of your DNA to create my new mutant. But rest assured in the knowledge that your very valuable genes will continue on into a new generation of mutants." With that, the man turned and departed, leaving Jean to pound her fists against the glass walls of her cell, with furious tears pouring down her cheeks.
Lorna had immediately turned towards the nearest exit, determined to get away from Sinister as fast as possible. Her two rescuers had protested, and they both insisted on finding their two friends who they believed to be inside Sinister's compound.
"Scott Summers and Jean Grey," Lorna repeated to herself when Gambit and Rogue explained who they were looking for. "I've heard those names plenty of times before. That bastard was always fussing about his labs muttering about them and talking about a new mutant race and blah, blah, blah."
Gambit nodded. "Which is why we have to find them right away."
"I can find the way to the labs," Lorna said in a voice that was angry and sad at the same time. "When Malice possessed me, I was a prisoner in my own body. I could see everything that she did, and went with her wherever she went. I know this place...its permanently fixed in my memory."
"Okay, then," Rogue said. "Let's go and get out of here. This place gives me the creeps."
Lorna took control of her powers and lifted herself into the air, choosing to fly to her destination. Gambit and Rogue ran after her, following her down the many interlocking hallways, each seemingly identical to the last. They were thoroughly glad they had happened upon Lorna, otherwise, they might not have ever found their way out of the compound.
"It's just up ahead," Lorna said, slowing down. "I don't know if I can face going in there again..."
"That's fine, chere," Remy said. "You can jus' wait here--" Gambit was suddenly cut off in mid-sentence by the sound of a low growl. The threesome froze and together, looked towards the source of the sound. There came a sound of clicking claws on steel, moving slowly down the hall. They watched in growing horror as Sabretooth came around the corner ahead, walking lazily towards them on all fours. He paused as he raised his head and sniffed his prey. Sabretooth smiled, revealing long fangs.
"Hi there, kiddies," he said.
Lorna's face darkened at the sight of Sabretooth. "Hi, yourself, Victor," she said. "Gambit, Rogue, thanks again for the rescue. Go find your friends. I can take care of this animal myself."
Sabretooth licked his lips. "Think so, girlie?"
She gave him a deadly look. "I've waited a long time for this." The walls around them began to bend. The metal groaned and whined as it rented. "Go, you guys!" she said, before flinging the solid steel plates towards Sabretooth. Sabretooth dodged, giving Gambit and Rogue the opportunity to run past him and down the hall toward the laboratory. From behind them came more sounds of screeching metal and a loud pop as a pipe burst. Electricity crackled in the air and several lights exploded, casting the scene into flickering darkness.
Gambit skidded to a halt just inside the lab, causing Rogue to collide with him. The pair quickly took in their surroundings. Gambit was the first to move toward the two glass-fronted cylinders that contained their teammates, Scott and Jean. They both appeared to be unconscious, but when Remy approached, Jean lifted her head. Her eyes widened in shock when she saw them.
"How're we gonna get them out?" asked Rogue. "Ah don't see any switches or nothin.'"
"We'll just have to improvise. I wish I had my staff," he said. He walked over to one of the metal tables and turned it over. Reaching into his back pocket, he found his package of chewing gum and put a stick into his mouth.
"Have that not-so-fresh feeling?" Rogue asked.
Remy ignored her. "Stand back," he said as he took the gum from his mouth and put it under the table, where the leg joined up with the tabletop. Rogue soon realized he had charged it with his powers and there came a sharp hiss and a pop. The table leg shot sideways. Gambit picked it up and approached Jean's chamber. "Okay, Jean." Jean nodded to him silently and leaned back against the far wall of her cell. Gambit swung and the metal leg connected with the glass. The glass splintered, but did not break. He swung again until the cracks began to split. By now, the table leg was bent into an unusable shape.
"Dammit," he said, tossing down his weapon.
"Can't you throw somethin' at it? Like one of your cards?" Rogue asked.
"Not without hurting Jean," he answered.
"Can you charge the glass?" Jean asked, her voice muffled from behind the glass. "Just a little. I have an idea."
Gambit studied her for a moment and then nodded. "All right," he said, and put his hands to the glass. The glass began to glow a faint pink.
"That's good enough," Jean told him. Gambit stepped back as Jean put her back up against the far wall and put one foot up against the glass, and then the other. She pushed with her legs against the glass. The cracks in the glass began to spread, the pink lines of energy following the cracks up the glass. Finally, the glass shattered, and Jean fell onto the floor of her cell. "Ow," she said as she stood. She then reeled and gasped, clutching at her head. Gambit and Rogue caught her as she fell forward. "My powers!" she cried. "They're back!"
"Okay, Remy. Now get Scott," Rogue said.
Remy nodded and put his hands on the cell holding Scott. An explosion just outside the lab that sent smoke billowing into the room and interrupted him. Jean, Gambit, and Rogue stood back as a dark figure materialized from the smoke. Sinister paused and took in the scene before him. He scowled particularly at Remy.
"You have tried my patience for the last time, Remy," he said, his voice sounded tired and perhaps a bit regretful.
Gambit unfroze, and let loose a playing card. It blazed across the space that separated the two. Sinister did not bother to evade the flying projectile and it hit him just below the collarbone, where his heart would be. The explosion caused the man to step back a bit, and when the smoke cleared, a huge, gaping hole was left in his chest. Sinister began to stride quickly towards Gambit, and the wound in his chest began to meld back together. He had crossed the room in an instant, moving faster than the eye could see, to grip Gambit by the throat and hold him in the air. By the time he'd grabbed Remy, the wound had completely healed.
"I believe you've outlived your usefulness to me," Sinister said, as Gambit gagged and struggled to break free.
"No!" Rogue said, lunging forward with her bare hands extended.
"Rogue, wait!" Jean screamed into Rogue's head, causing her to falter. Jean instantly showed Rogue a mental image of Sinister's diseased arm and the threat of the deadly virus. Rogue shrank back as Sinister turned on her, still holding Gambit aloft with one hand. Sinister held out a hand towards Rogue and a blast of energy knocked her back against a dolly. Trays and scalpels scattered across the ground. Jean noticed that Sinister was standing amidst the shards of broken glass. Grabbing the particles with her mind, she yanked them from beneath his feet, causing him to slip. Both Gambit and Sinister hit the ground, Remy grasping at his throat and gasping for air. By this time, Scott had regained consciousness. He was watching the events unfold from behind the faintly glowing glass. Jean sent the image to Rogue, who was just sitting up. Rogue grabbed a nearby tray and threw it.
The silver projectile whizzed through the air, just over Sinister's head as the man began to sit up. Scott threw up his arms and curled into a ball. When the tray hit the glass there was a powerful explosion. Sinister stood, broken glass rained off of him. For one moment, he and Cyclops looked at one another. Suddenly, Scott's powers reactivated and twin beams of red light blasted from his eyes, striking Essex down.
Sinister let out a terrifying wail when Scott's optic blasts hit him full in the chest. The beams passed through his body and out the opposite side, hitting the medical equipment and monitors. Sinister's body writhed as his powers struggled to cope with the large wound in his chest. His skin began to break out all over with tumor-like boils. His powers of recuperation seemed to be overcompensating, producing too much flesh. His body lost form, and he begin to melt. They all watched in horror as the puddle that was once Nathan Essex spread out across the floor. Gambit, who was closest to the growing pool, began to scramble backwards.
There came a faint crackle of electricity, and they all felt the hairs on their arms raise. Lorna appeared at the door of the lab. "Let's get out of here," she said.
Cyclops, Jean, Gambit, Rogue and Lorna all sat in the grass, staring off into the distance. On the far side of a large expanse of grass was a nondescript compound which faintly billowed smoke. Lorna sat a bit off from the other four teens, picking at the blades of grass. Scott and Jean looked like a mockery of a bride and groom, with Jean in her torn and stained white dress and Scott in his mangled tuxedo. Jean's feet were bare and were covered in bloody scratches. Scott was lying back in the grass, the remnants of his cummerbund tied over his eyes. Rogue and Gambit were leaning up against each other, back to back. They both looked as if they were about to fall over from exhaustion. Rogue was staring at her bare hands. Gambit was despondent, watching the compound burning in the distance with glazed over eyes. No one spoke.
Time passed and the sun traveled overhead, until it came to rest its belly on the horizon of trees. In the distance came the faint whine of engines. The five teenagers looked up into the sky to see a long black shape approaching. The X-Jet landed in the grass a short distance away, causing the grass to ripple like the waves of the ocean. They all sat stoically as the gangplank to the jet lowered and Storm stepped out. She walked towards them slowly and took in their ragged appearance, their worn and tired expressions. When she reached them, she embraced them all in a fierce hug.
"If I never see a lab again it will be too soon," announced Jean on the final day of her quarantine.
Scott looked over at her from the adjacent bed. "What about your dreams of becoming a doctor?" he asked. She cast him a glance. Her haunted expression was all the answer he needed.
"What about you, Storm?" Rogue asked, her bed faced Scott's. She was picking idly at the strings of her guitar. "You look positively green about the gills. Ah'm sorry we got you stuck in here."
The five teens, Jean, Scott, Rogue, Remy and Lorna, as well as their instructor, Ororo, had been isolated in quarantine for over a week. Henry McCoy and the professor both feared exposing the other students at the school to the possibility of getting infected with the mutant virus. As of yet, none of them had shown any symptoms, and tests had come back normal.
"It is not your fault," Storm said. "I do not regret my actions that day." She was sitting on the edge of Remy's bed. He was facing the wall, his back to them. Ororo put a hand on his shoulder, which he shrugged off.
"Don't mother me, Storm," he said. "I don't need another parent. I've all ready had two go dead on me." Storm stood and he flicked the separation curtain closed. Since returning, he had become uncommunicative. Storm sighed and walked in the direction of her few potted plants.
Scott turned to the pile of books and papers on his bed stand. "Ugh, homework. I suppose being in here gives us all plenty of opportunity to think."
"Yes," Jean said absently, twirling a strand of hair around her finger.
Scott asked her more quietly: "Have you had a chance to think more about college?"
Jean nodded, and looked over at Rogue, who was busy tuning the strings of her instrument. "I will stay where I'm needed," she replied. "Scott. I've also been thinking about us. I think we should stop seeing each other."
"That's going to be kind of hard, seeing as how we live in the same building," he said, giving her a watery grin.
"You know what I mean," she said, before giving him a sad look. Then she too slid the curtains closed.
Scott sighed and looked over at Rogue. She glanced up at him. "Don't look at me," she said, before taking her guitar by the neck and disappearing behind Gambit's curtain.
"Well," said Lorna from her bed. "I think you're pretty cute. But you've got way too many issues...You don't happen to have a brother, do you?"
The students at Xavier's Institute were all gathered in the large room they used for group meetings and social gatherings. The professor and Henry stood somewhat in the center of the other students, talking quietly between themselves. Lorna Dayne, also calling herself Polaris, stood against a far wall, watching the others silently, until a boy named Forge approached her and they shared introductions. Several of the new mutants sat on the floor with Wolfsbane. She was sprawled on the carpet in her wolf form. Jean and Scott sat on couches, opposite the room from one another. There were only two missing from the group, Rogue and Gambit.
They now paused at the door leading to the room. Gambit was nervous, and Rogue was anxious for him. "I don't even know how to begin," Remy said.
"It isn't as if you haven't spoken to large groups before," Rogue replied. "Remember speech class? Don't forget to project," she added, which was their speech class teacher's favorite expression.
"They'll be angry," he said.
"They won't be," Rogue told him.
The pair shared a long look. "How do you know?"
"Ah know," she said meaningfully. "Cause Ah'm not."
Gambit looked away from her. "So you know all ready?"
"When Ah touched you, or rather, when Malice touched you," Rogue explained. "Ah saw your thoughts in mah head. It took me awhile to piece everythin' together. Your father, you bein' a thief...Sinister, the stolen discs...and Risty."
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"Ah was waitin'," she said softly. "Ah knew you'd come forward eventually."
Gambit shook his head. "It amazes me how much faith you people have," he said.
"Are you ready now?" she asked, taking his hand in her own.
Gambit nodded, and squeezed her hand back. Then, together, the two walked into the room to join with their friends.
Deep underground lay a glass-fronted coffin. The room is dark and silent. Cables hang from the ceiling, tables are overturned, and cracked monitors stare out from the walls like blank eyes. A small light inside the coffin flickers, lighting the embryonic-like fluid inside with a ghostly green glow. Amidst the destruction around the coffin, a small glimmer of life stirs. Red hair floats around a serene and beautiful face. She is naked, floating bodiless inside the coffin. A finger twitches, and a faint smile plays upon her pale lips.
"Scott," she seems to whisper, before the light fades, casting all into darkness again.
Continued in "The Cast of Shadows"
Extra information on X-Men: Evolution acquired from Beyond Evolution and Marvel.com
(2) See Episode #21 "Joyride": Lance Alvers asks to join the X-Men
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