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"You call that safe?" Mystique sedately raged at
the flight controls while taking the aircraft away from the
riddled swat team below. Inside, the background drone of jet
engines drowned out the gunfire below. A lit button on the
console flickered insistently and was pressed down. The hull
vibrated slightly as a outside gun turret rotated.
Irené calmly removed the austere mask, setting it in a cubby
hole, in favor of her sunglasses. "Aside from a minor
scrape, she is unharmed and in fine health, as I predicted.
Truly, Raven, there is no need for such an emotional outburst."
She pressed back stray strands of gray hair.
"Emotional outburst? Emotional outburst?! I'll give
Irené smiled, leaning on her cane in the same way a knight
leaning on his sword. Mystique scowled, ground her teeth and
Rogue mutely watched as they bickered briefly now that the
excitement had faded. She felt a bit lost. The rush of adrenaline
had left her exhausted and charged at the same time. Sunrise
was approaching; it was bedtime. Her cloak dripped goo on
the clean floor and her clothes stuck, chafing skin. She craned
her head to examine the blood trickling from her side. The
cool, dry air of the jet bit sharply across the shallow furrow
running along her ribs. Scar? Being shot was not outstanding
but it happened. She grimaced. The wound, although relatively
small, would need to be well-cleaned to prevent infection
for mud wasn't conducive to healing. Meanwhile, Irené walked
up behind Mystique and leaned down to whisper something in
her ear that made her relax. Rogue desperately wanted to change
into clean clothing.
Mystique twisted in her seat, then frowned in mock distaste.
"What happened to you?"
"Ah fell." The truth sounded woefully inadequate
when the parts about running, mud, and a slippery log were
left out. Looking down, she realized her pistol was still
in her hand. A glob of mud was working its way down her glove
onto the barrel. She looked at the firearm, at a clean, empty
cubby, and back again unsure what to do. Irené took it away
from her solving the dilemma.
"You fell?" Her mother nodded in full understanding.
"Would you care to elaborate on that statement? As in,
is that why you're late?"
She bit her lip and wiggled her fingers. That was the problem
with putting the gun away, nothing to hold on to. Being late
was always bad. Wish I knew what she was thinking. "Uh
huh. The guy heard me an' Ah had t'go quiet like so's he di'n'
shoot me first except Ah had t'be quick too else someone might've
caught on." It was a very good reason. Not like I
did it on purpose or got lazy.
Mystique mulled over this and leaned back in the pilot's
seat. She looked at Irené who tipped her head. "I see,
your clumsiness cost us. Luckily, no one was hurt except you.
Luck is not something to count on. Training tomorrow afternoon."
"Aw, man." Her protest died. It was not that she
disliked practice, but the afternoon was the middle of the
night for them. Martial training had begun disguised as a
game. 'Try to hit the pine cone. If you can get through
the obstacle course, we'll go to the fair.' It had evolved
into things like 'How to asphyxiate someone with a ping pong
ball.' She grumbled to herself more when Irené came closer
with the first aid kit. This is going to sting.
"Yes, I am already tending her. Did you think I would
allow her to bleed all over the pristine floor?" She
pulled back the front flap of Rogue's burnoose. "Quite
harmless with the proper antiseptics. Hold still and keep
"But th'ain' no one-" This really was not fair.
Irené raised her chin imperiously and that was the end of
it. She applied the antiseptics liberally with brisk, efficient
motions. In seconds, it was done and she began to bind the
injury in gauze.
Rogue stared ahead at the dancing white spots filling her
vision. Her hand twisted tight until all sensation left it.
A little scratch shouldn't hurt that much, but it stung. Wuss.
So long as she didn't cry, it would be okay. Saying she felt
pain was one thing, whining and crying about it were not allowed.
It obviously could not be that bad because Momma had ordered
the training exercise. She gave another mental groan.
She gasped according and warm spread underneath the bandages.
Ew, yuck. It's bleeding again. And it hurts now. Someone
tapped her shoulder.
Mystique stood patiently. "If you were more careful-"
"Ah wouldn' get hurt. Ah know. Ah'll do better next
time." She sighed in resignation. Momma was right, as
usual. The inconvenience could have been easily deterred by
being more alert.
"Yes, you shall. Get changed and be ready to complete
the mission. As Irené predicted, dear old Nick found the boys
much more important than Suarez and left the FBI to handle
him. They're taking him to a facility in West Virginia, traveling
by ground, keeping a low profile. I doubt they expected us
to have planned for their little ambush. Your task is to obtain
the remaining information and make it a wash. Clear?"
"Yes'm." The insistent pain combined with her general
discomfort resulting in impatience. Want to change, want
some drugs, I know, you already told me, so what? Irené
waved the cane warningly at her. Sometimes, living with a
precog was a pain. She turned her thoughts back to business.
This whole event had started as a training exercise; show
and tell. A relatively simple task, kidnap one Emilio Suarez
and level his laboratory. Something had gone sour, someone
had tipped the Feds. So it was a wash; clean up job; eliminate
the witnesses. She stopped fidgeting.
At first the possibility that Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D.
might stay on scene had worried them. It could still happen
despite Irené's assurances that it wouldn't. Even if they
were guarding Suarez en route, there would be ample warning
at this point and they could get away.
Mystique narrowed her eyes in preparation for a lecture,
then changed her mind. "Fine, go sit down and cope. Wait
for my mark. You know the rules."
She sighed again.
None of the team were about. Ororo was likely gardening in
her personal greenhouse, Logan was terrorizing small furry
animals, Bishop was on rounds, and the rest could be anywhere.
She passed Sam watching TV on her way to the kitchen. Once
there, she halted in the doorway. Rogue watched Remy through
the door, knowing that something important had happened and
wishing she didn't know it had. It made her furious because
it made her hope and she could not stop that hope. Hoping
and hurting in the same tired cycle that marked most of her
life. And knowing that she could not walk into the kitchen
pretending to hate him or ignore him because, after all, he
understood that cycle. Most of all, she didn't want to acknowledge
that. Must've made a total ass out of myself last night
to boost his ego like this. She wanted to back out of
the kitchen, leave him to his cooking and sidelong glances.
Her stomach growled at her warningly and her mind conjured
an image of a red and white, clucking chicken running helter
skelter in a cloud of feathers. She crossed the remaining
distance into the room.
She squinted blearily at the window and grunted. "That
explains the bright light." The headache, nausea and
aches were passing. Thank you Kree metabolism. Her
stomach still flipped at the suspicious smells emanating from
his cooking. She regarded it warily.
"Either dat or a near deat' experience."
"Uh huh." Shifting from foot to foot, she folded
her arms while he tossed something in a frying pan that then
emitted a fierce crackling spatter and hiss. Several ticks
of the clock passed and the refrigerator hummed as she watched
his economical movements. "What really happened last
He glanced at her swiftly before returning his attention
to the food. "Came to tell ya 'bout de memories y'got
"Because y'knew Ah was gon' look at 'em?" Her question
came out testy. He can tell me anything he wants so long
as it isn't a lie. I couldn't deal with that. She felt
tired and confused. On one hand, she wanted to forgive and
forget, but on the other, he could abuse that trust. Shutting
the door, she stepped forward to lean against the lukewarm
linoleum of the refrigerator. It creaked in protest and she
tried to relax a bit.
He pushed some potatoes around the pan, not looking at her.
"Mebbe. Den 'gain, dat's what y'wanted, neh?"
"Don't try an' make me feel guilty for wantin' t'know.
Ah'll always want t'know.
"Wasn' tryin' to. Jus' pointin' out a fact. You di'n'
wan' me around 'cept t'ask what I done an' I t'ink y'already
know. On top of dat, ain' none of your business." He
caught his tongue and stilled before continuing. "A past
belong to a person an' de past itself. I not sayin' dat mebbe
I shouldn' of confirmed what ya was seein' but y'had no right
t'hold it 'gainst me."
"An' whenever Ah was 'round, you'd preten' like there
wasn' nothin' wrong." And so did I. Why? She closed
her eyes. For the same reason I did. For the same reason
we both understand. He was still looking away. All
right, so I'm intrusive and you're secretive. Fair's fair.
"Yeah, deep inside Ah knew something an' Ah definitely
do now, but so what?" He scraped the pan with more force
than necessary. "Sue me for carin' 'bout what troubled
ya, for thinkin' Ah was yo' pa'tner."
"Bull. When's the last time we wen' on a mission together,
huh? Cyke's obviously not sendin' us out together for a reason.
Ah never asked for all the details, jus' 'nough t'explain
the mem'ries. Jus' who so Ah don' have t'worry so much."
The need to protect those she cared for was an ever-present
force in her life. It had driven her to attack both Carol
Danvers and Allison Blaire without regard for consequences.
Remy didn't make controlling that instinct any easier with
his reckless behavior and secrets. "You know that. Mos'
the time, y'di'n' even give me a chance an' snuck off with
some snide remark 'bout Joseph."
"Joseph, hah! Why ya keep callin' him dat?"
"'Cause that's who he is."
To her consternation, she realized he was jealous. Jealous.
The concept boggled her mind. Over me and Joseph. She
shook her head absently. No one had ever felt that way over
her. "Remy, Ah knew Magnus. This man ain' him. He will
be sooner or later, but for the time bein' Ah'm gon' respect
his wishes an call 'im Joseph."
"For the same reason Ah ask t'be called Rogue. It's
who he is." That wasn't quite the truth, but it held
a grain of it. Her surname was well known among some. She,
by all legal records, did not exist. Mystique had seen to
that as the first step in fostering her. For her forgotten
family, her criminal non-record, would be a scandal. She hardly
cared but a real identity would give lawgivers a lead. It
was best left alone.
He turned back to cooking with a mutter. "What about
"What d'ya mean, 'what 'bout him?' Huh?" Circling
around to his other side, she leaned over his shoulder. "Care
"T'ought y'liked him. Always goin' out wit' him, hangin'
off of him. He make you smile." He clamped his jaw and
concentrated on his cooking. His eyes were calm, body language
relaxed. It didn't fool her.
"Hangin' off of him?! Ah do not hang off of him."
Do I? "Ah pay attention to someone who's bein'
ignored left an' right an' if it does look that way it's 'cause
Ah'm the only one who will keep him company at all."
"Sticks 'n' stones."
"Joseph is my friend an' he spends time with me which
is more 'an you been doin' lately. Y'can hardly whine over
him takin' such a blatant opportunity. Anyhow, Ah'd rather
he 'member me as his friend when he gets his mem'ries back
instead of as a self-righteous jerk who kept callin' him Magneto."
"Pardon?" He bristled.
She bit her tongue, covered her eyes with one hand and swore.
"Ah'm sorry. Ah di'n' mean to.... Look, Ah don' un'erstan'
why y'actin' this way but Ah am tired of fightin' with ya.
Can we please ignore that las' part? Ah di'n' mean it."
If I try hard enough, maybe I can get the other foot in
my mouth. "Ah got carried 'way with that. You've
been awful nice 'bout it." she admitted reluctantly.
"Stupid, but nice. Joseph might think otherwise, but
he ain' more'n a frien' t'me."
He rapped the frying pan with the wooden spatula, buying
time with metallic drumming. His elbow almost brushed against
her as he moved, face impassive. "What if I don' wan'
ignore it, eh?"
"Ah am not gon' apologize for bein' his frien'."
She realized she was chewing on her lip and stopped. Remy
was moving more slowly and his arm was relaxed. It was very
tempting to bait him back but she didn't want to talk about
something as inconsequential as Joseph or names. "Toothpaste."
"Y'know, fightin' about whether or not t'cap the tube?"
He was expressionless for a time before breaking into a faint
smile. "Okay, I said we talk, might as well be somet'in'
'portant. 'Bout las' night and de teasin' dis mornin', I was
givin' ya space all dis time, but dat wasn' what y'needed.
An' I guess I should tol' ya 'bout...Sinister."
She blinked owlishly at the rush of information. So what
exactly do I need? "Yeah." Crossing her arms,
she lounged against the stove watching him obliquely. He had
breezed over the first part of his statement but she was willing
to bet it had something to do with this morning. "Sooner
or later he's gon' show an' if you don' go with him, he'll
use one of us as leverage 'gainst ya."
"Know dat too. Dat's why I'm gon' leave 'fore den. Be
best t'prevent any-"
"Excuse me, but where did that come from? Ah am not
Belle an' Ah will not put up with you high-tailin' it t'protect
me. Heck, Ah'd be alot more ticked than she was. Y'think Ah'm
gon' let you run right into his arms?" Several times
the possibility that he might leave had worried her. She had
resources, but limited ones. They wouldn't be able to reach
him if he decided to disappear.
"He not m'type." After the flippant reassurance,
he looked up and they were left at an impasse.
Something hissed in the frying pan.
"Your hair drippin' in de pan."
"Water won' hurt it." She crossed her arms. "Remy,
Ah will hunt you down if y'leave so don' kid yo'self."
He didn't call her bluff. "Okay, den, if I leave, I
tell you where I goin'."
"Glad t'hear it." Lord, I don't need this headache
now. I have to leave and take care of Clive and Remy threatens
to vamoose. Should I tell him? "Ah am not mad that
you won' tell me nothin', frustrated, sure, but not mad. Ah'm
upset 'cause Ah know y'scared of Essex on account that y'care
'bout the team an' y'won' let anyone help. But y'need t'un'erstan'
that we've fought him before and we can do it 'gain."
A smile twitched the corner of his lips. What is the private
joke? Was he laughing because he knew he could leave at
any time or that she was concerned. Snorting, she began to
leave but a light fingertip on her shoulder brought her short.
It traced a line down her arm, dropping off at the elbow.
Her entire arm jerked at the unaccustomed contact. It had
been awhile. She drew a pined breath and rested against the
range letting him massage one shoulder. "Had me fooled."
" I...." He sighed and rubbed his jaw. "I
wasn' tryin' t'avoid ya."
I was. "No, jus' the subject." She kicked
a loose crumb across the linoleum floor when his eyes fixed
on her. "Ah guess we're even as far as that goes."
"Mebbe I shoulda caught on quicker, non?"
Not quite sure what he meant, she nodded. It was a start
and she wouldn't disrupt the tenuous peace just yet. Now,
how do I tell him that I have to go out on a mission that
They cleared the tree line to emerge over the black streak
of a semi-deserted highway. Further along the ribbon were
sparse yellow and red lights. The squarish bulk of an armored
van was flanked by two slate blue sedans, all crawling at
a seemingly sluggish pace.
"They could be more obvious." Mystique rose
from the chair and leaned into the recessed window.
"I would make no difference. I would derive their location
regardless of their camouflage. We have little time for discussion."
"Yes, I'm aware of that. I'm saying they could have
at least made an effort, unless of course, it is a trap in
which case, it's still obvious."
Rogue quit flicking pieces of mud off her pants and crept
up between her parents to look curiously out the widow. The
guarded escort was rather blatant. She couldn't see any other
vehicles that might be assigned to protect Suarez. Surely
the Feds understood the ramifications of fighting against
Irené. It might be a trap except that's what the ambush had
been. She pointed an imaginary bazooka at the van and blew
"Come along, they're no doubt catching up with us while
we philosophize. Hup hup, mustn't be shot down. We could cause
a serious traffic jam." Mystique settled back into the
"We have, perhaps, five minutes."
"Why, a veritable lifetime." Mystique replied and
began to whistle.
The trailing sedan was blown into a ball of flame and shrapnel.
It was barely audible, unreal in the nature of a video game.
The other two vehicles swerved speeding up in a futile attempt
to outpace the low flying aircraft. A white face was pressed
to the side of the window of the second sedan, then withdrew,
missing its own destruction. The van skidded directly into
the smoke filled crater tipping to skid with a shower of sparks.
Its wheels spun as uselessly as the legs of an over-turned
tortoise. A door was pushed open jerkily, then riddled with
black dots as Mystique lowered the jet to hover over the van.
"Tsk tsk, look at the mess I made."
Rogue trotted to the hatch covering her eyes as a blinding
beam shot silently from her right to melt through the side
of the van. The slag edged hole left in its wake glowed white.
She wondered if anyone had been misfortunate enough to stand
directly under spot. She was tired and would need a boost
from whoever left the van first.
"Take care what you seek, child."
She scrunched her brow in puzzlement. Whenever Irené gave
advice, it was always important and invariably cryptic. There
was no time for explanations. Instead, nodding, she slid down
the cable ladder to land on the van with a sold thunk.
The slag around the blast hole glowed a deep orange fading
to red and she could feel the melting heat through her boots.
It wasn't a safe entrance. She removed a small grenade from
her belt, depressed the button and tossed it into the opening.
Five seconds later, gas poured forth in curling wisps and
ribbons as a small audience gathered at a distance. One of
them held up a camcorder but no one came forward to investigate.
Typical. Folks can't ever resist a good show.
Turning to crouch with arms dangling over the back edge of
the van, she waited until there came the grind of unlocking
gears and the back doors were kicked open. One fell with a
crash to the pavement, the other was held up until a helmeted
head appeared from the corner. The man wasn't stupid and was
already looking up. She grabbed him by the visor, yanking
the man's head back to lay her palm against his neck and closed
her eyes in transient pleasure at the surge of energy. Only
when his legs collapsed and the weight of his body began to
drag on her did she let go.
According to the guard's memories, another man was inside
with the scientist. Dropping down, she used him as a shield.
A lonesome shot came but veered wildly echoing in the night
air. The man, now a corpse, was pushed into the buckled pavement
as she scuttled inside the van underneath the fallen door.
The second guard was half buried, unmoving, under a rack.
She let the knife sheathed in her glove slip into her hand.
Past him sat Emilio Suarez, legs sprawled, hands limply between
his knees. Several areas on his white lab coat flaunted spreading
red stains. Gentle eyes behind cracked glasses on a round,
smile-lined face appraised her soberly.
He sighed. "Of all people.... How old are you?"
"Ah as old as y'wan' me t'be. Where're the names?"
"I imagine there's no point in asking you to reconsider?"
"Sorry, sir. Where're the lists?" She flipped the
knife in her hand, up, down, toying with it, a comfortable
weight in her palm. This was her favorite weapon, small, sleek,
held or thrown. She ran her thumb down the spine of the blade.
"Nor will I reconsider. I'm afraid, girl, that we both
lose tonight." He smiled, a glittering smile. "Although,
some lose more than others."
"Yeah, you." She grabbed his hair and chin for
a dispassionate kiss. Into her mind flowed an incomprehensible
glory of information and power. The knowledge of a lifetime
of science, memories of a family, children, a dream of living
in a fine country house, images of fire and pain, dismay,
hatred, disinterest and...amusement. Smug amusement.
Sucking in her breath, she jerked away and shook her head.
Something was wrong. Something felt wrong about the transfer.
Something was...missing. Her heart was in her throat and her
vision almost hallucinogenic. The pleasure was missing. Force
of habit kept her upright. Letting go, she met direct, cognizant
eyes, and without thought, swept out with the knife.
Rattled, she shook her head and squeezed her eyes shut. It
took a few seconds to get rid of the mildly nauseous sensation.
Not supposed to stay awake. Is this what Irené was talking
about? Her arm swung to execute the fallen guard.
There was no one there.
She ducked, pivoting to face the bedraggled agent who fired
where her head had been. You idiot! Should've double-checked.
He was injured, gassed and confused. It saved her. He struck
out savagely clipping her jaw and she fell on her elbow with
a yelp. A layered series of splintering cracks shot to the
inside of her eardrums. Hot tears leaked out as she swore,
clutching her side and fractured arm. Her knife fell uselessly
into the clutter.
His leg was inches from her nose and she could see the muscles
flex as he readied a kick. There was an embossed shape in
the cuff of his boot. A dagger shape. I still have strength.
Working with the acquired energy from the first guard and
Suarez, she snatched the second knife from his boot to embed
it in the back of his knee. He made an inhuman sound and kicked
Everything moved and a reverberation went through her body.
Somewhere, there registered the sound of booming metal. The
muted tangle of the van interior went out of focus when her
arm was twisted further. Her hand tightened on the knife handle
and she hung from it as if it was a buoy. The leg attached
to it moved again, then went limp. The man collapsed on her,
suffocating and she flailed ineffectually. Get off of me!
Rage filled growls mixed with her own shocked pants, were
both interrupted by the shrill beeping of her watch. Time!
He had fallen on the blade. It took precious seconds find
hers. A stab to his unprotected throat. She staggered out
and grabbed the cable ladder with her good arm. Shock was
a wonderful thing, but Mystique was going to kill her.
Continued in Chapter
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