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"Smoke and Mirrors"

Smoke and Mirrors

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19

Wheel of Morality, turn, turn, turn. Tell us the lesson that we should learn.'
Moral # 9
All characters (except a few minor ones) are property of Marvel and are not used to make me a profit, therefore you shouldn't use them or this story to make you a profit. If you wish to archive this story, e-mail me and I'll definitely give you permission. Make no changes to the story and credit me. Distribute freely to all your friends, colleagues and relatives! Send any comments, criticisms and ideas to RogueStar ( Please don't flame me, it's not my fault that you happen to think that Rogue and Joseph (bleech!) are made and meant for each other.
Apart from that, I hope that you enjoy the story as much as I enjoy writing it.
P.S. [Whatever] indicates a translation from another language
       <Whatever> indicates telepathic speech.

Part 7

"Dmitri? Dmitri? What is it?"

"No time to explain, Anya. Get Boris, we've got to leave now."

"Da." The middle-aged woman ran into the small house. "Boris? Come here now."

A small boy entered the living room, excitement shining on his broad face.

"Mother. . . mother. I saw a man made of steel and he had . . . ."

"This is no time for stories, we have to go."


"Your father will explain later." She said, gathering her possessions up in a bundle.

 "Mother? What is wrong?"

"Shush, child. Let us leave now and ask questions later."

"Da, Mother. But I am scared . . . ."


"Hello, Yevgeny!" The broad man sat down on the chair.

"Have you heard the old wives' tale of which the town is speaking?" Yevgeny laughed.

"The Rusalka has claimed another victim, or perhaps Baba Yaga has returned with her hut on chicken legs?"

"Even more ridiculous . . . .They say there is a man of steel whose tentacles strip people of their souls. More vodka than truth behind that story, I think."

"I have never heard anything so silly."

" Silly', but nevertheless true." A third voice said, from behind them. His thick Russian accent was contemptous. The two men turned around to face the stranger, and disbelief crossed their faces as they saw folklore become horrifying fact.

"Boszhe moi!"

"You called us in here, Professor?" Cyclops said, sitting next to the older man. The Professor had a worried look on his face, and was tapping a pencil impatiently. A habit which invariably surfaced when he was agitated. Scott looked as his mentor in worry, sending out a thought.

<Professor, what is wrong?>

"Watch." Charles Xavier turned the television on, ignoring the psychic query..

A smiling woman appeared on the screen, dressed in a designer suit. Behind her was a scene of desolation, burning buildings, sending smoke signals up to God; children playing in the rubble; women crying; men walking resolutely away from what once must have been home.

"Good day, this is Laura Bow, reporting live from Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, which so recently won its independence from the U.S.S.R. It seems, however, that mother Russia is not as eager to let its prodigal son go free as may be imagined. Throughout the country, there have been reports of a strange  man of steel' who has terrorised citizens, claiming to be acting on the authority of the Russian people. Let us cross to the scene of one of these violent and brutal attacks..."

More smoke. More rubble. More tears. More hopelessness. More death.

"A man of steel? Colossus?" Jean asked. "As unlikely as it may seem . . . ."

"No." Storm stook her head, "I know Piotr, he would never do such a thing."

"Carry on watching." Xavier told them. "There is more to come."

"This bustling, agricultural community was in the middle of harvesting their crops when the man of steel came, leaving destruction and death in his wake. Eyewitness accounts describe him as tall and made of a metallic substance with a large, red symbol on his front - the Greek letter omega..."

"I don't believe it." Wolverine snarled, "Omega Red."

"You know this lunatic?" Storm asked.

"Tangled with him a few years back, I got lucky. Thought I trapped him for good, but some meat-head obviously let him out again."


"Search me, bub."

"Allow me to posit a hypothesis." Beast paused, thinking. "This is probably the doing of some Russian extremist group who wish their country to be restored to its  former glory'. They feel the only way to do so is to reclaim the territory they lost to the independent states.To quote an old aphorism, they believe that the end justifies the means - no matter how barbaric the means may be."

Xavier stood up and cleared his throat, "My X-Men, the choice is in your hands whether to go or not. Given the current status of the team, I am not sure if it would be wise to endanger yourselves again so soon; but can we stand back with a clear conscience while men, women and children are being killed in cold blood?"

"Flamin' right we can't." Wolverine said, "I put him away once, I'll do it again."

"Wolverine is right, Professor." Cyclops added, "I'm behind him all the way."

"Wouldn't that be in front of him, seeing as you're the leader?" Iceman quipped.

"There is a time for irreverance and joking, Bobby. It is not now." Storm looked serious.

"I'm with them too." Jean stood up.

"As am I." Beast followed suite.

"Guess I'll have to go too, unless I want to babysit the mansion. . . ." Iceman said, standing.

"Ah'm comin' too t'make sure that y'all are all right "

"Den I'll have t'come to, t'keep an eye on Rogue." Gambit smiled.

"Hmmp. Ah am capable of lookin' after mahself, cajun."

"Not gonna argue wit' you on dat point, chere. . . it's just dat it's fun t'keep an eye on you."

Rogue blushed slightly. "Nice line, didja steal that one from an old movie as well?"

"So *they* can joke and be irreverant, but can I? Noooooooo. " Iceman complained.

"Th' thing is, Drake, Ah have a harder right cross than yours."

"Point taken." Iceman laughed.

"Let's leave this conversation until later. We have more urgent things to do right now." Xavier said, almost smiling. "Which includes finding out a way to take down Omega Red before he hurts more people."

"We can discuss it in the plane." Wolverine said impatiently, "But right now there's a tin squid threatening the lives of some people, and the longer we take - the more people he gets."

"Wolverine is right. We must not procrastinate any longer."

"Then let's head Blackbird-wards, and prepare to fly off into the wild . . . grey yonder."

"Blackbird-wards, Hank?"

"So sue me, I made it up." Beast shrugged.

"I never would have guessed." Jean laughed as they walked off in the direction of the plane.

"Piotr. Come inside." Illyana tugged on the sleeve of her older brother. "It is getting late and mother and father are worried."

"Just let me finish harvesting this field and I shall come. You go ahead,  Yana."

"Da, brother." Illyana skipped off over the fields in the direction of the farmstead.

Piotr Rasputin wiped the sweat of his forehead and began cutting the rows of golden corn with his sickle. It was hard work; but good work, now that it was done for his family and country - both so recently freed from Russian tyranny. It had not been easy and it would not be easy. The way ahead for Kyrgyzstan was paved with difficulties but, with hard work and determination, they could succeed. Piotr shouldered the sickle and stood up straight. He had finished for the evening and was ready to return home to his family. Walking over the fields, he soon arrived at the small farmstead where they lived. Or more accurately, the remains of the farmstead, because all that stood in place of his home was a smoking pile of rubble . . . .

"Y'all sure you're up t'this?" Rogue asked for the twentieth time, as she and Gambit sat with the rest of the team in the Blackbird. "You were only discharged a week ago an' . . . ."

"I'll be fine." He assured her.

"Ah'd be happier if you stayed where it's safe."

"Much as I like t'make a lady happy, I'm  fraid I can't oblige you dis time, Rogue."

"Remy. Your condition was serious an' Ah'm . . . ."

"Chere, I've had dis talk from Beast, Storm an' Cyclops. If dey couldn' convince me, I doubt ya'll be able t'."

"If y'insist on endangering your life in this manner. . . ." She sighed, "Be careful. Ah don't wanna see you dead."

"Gambit's always careful, chere. He's learnt de hard way what happens when y'ain't."

"How's that?"

"Y'learn a lot on de streets dat no classroom could ever teach ya." He looked at her, his red eyes preoccupied. " Specially as a t'ief."

"Guess so." She smiled at him, attempting to break the sudden tension. "An' does that include how to sweep women off their feet?"

"Why? You been swept?" He laughed.


"Den I must be losin' my touch."

"Pity.  Cause . . . ."

"Attention, Passengers. We are about to land. Return your seats to an upright position and fasten your seatbelts. Welcome to Kyrgyzstan, and thank you for flying Beast Air." Beast announced.

"You were sayin', chere?" Gambit looked at her.

"Later, Remy. Right now, we've gotta kick some metallic butt." Rogue jumped up.

"Not sure if dere be a later." He muttered under his breath.

"What was that, sugah?"

"Not'ing. Let's go." Gambit disembarked the plane, stepping into the frosty air.

"Kinda chilly, isn't it?" Rogue commented. "Sometimes Ah wish Ah had a built-in fur-coat like Hank."

"Rogue, I shall ask you to repeat those exact words when it is 95 degrees in the shade and you're wondering if  bald' isn't a good look for you." Beast teased.

"Enough." Cyclops said, "Let's concentrate on Omega Red right now."

"Sure t'ing , fearless leader."

"Fearless leader?" Beast asked, "I thought I had that one copyrighted."

"Hate t'tell ya, Beast - dat's one's de oldest in de book."

"Maybe I should buy me a new book." Beast muttered.

A sudden glint on the horizon.

"Lemme check it out." Rogue rose into the air and looked around. "Ah see somethin'. A man. A man o' . . . steel."

"Get ready, people." Cyclops cautioned, "We don't know what to expect."

"You're lucky then, bub. I do and I'm still gonna be cautious." Wolverine grinned.

"3 . . . 2 . . .1 . . ."

 Muscles tensed as they prepared to meet the oncoming attacker.

"X-Men?" Surprise filled his voice.



Storm stepped forward and embraced him, "My brother, it is *good* to see you."

"I wish the circumstances could be more pleasant though, Ororo." Colossus reverted back to organic form. "What brings you here?"

"The same thing, I imagine, that brings you. Omega Red."

"Da. He killed my parents . . . he took Illyana . . . I have to find her."

"Your parents?" She rested a hand on his arm, "I am so sorry, Piotr."

"Let us concentrate on the living and mourn later, Ororo. We must rescue Illyana."

"Wise words. We naturally shall do everything in our power to help."

"But . . . if it is . . . too late? Illyana is all I have left, I cannot lose her too."

"Do not think about that until you have to."

"If we're gonna save the kid, what in flamin' heck are we standing around here for? Our health? We've gotta act and we've gotta act fast. I know Omega Red and he ain't the waiting kind of guy."

"I echo Wolverine's rather brusquely expressed sentiments. The reunions can wait until later."

Beast intejected.

"Then let us go." Colossus nodded, "I thank you, my friends."

"Thank us when the kid is safe." Wolverine said gruffly. "Not before."

"I am afraid then you may not get thanked." Piotr looked worried.

"Yeah? Either way it'll be my pleasure taking him down."

"As it will be mine." Colossus smiled savagely.

"Piotr. . ." Storm said, her blue eyes concerned.

"Later. Illyana is out there. Somewhere. She's cold, she's frightened and - guaranteed - Omega Red is not far behind . . . ."

The darkness surrounded her, blinding her. Where was she? Where was Piotr? She had been scared of the dark since she was a baby, yet here, it was strangely comforting.

If she could not see him, she could almost believe he wasn't there; that this was a nightmare; that she was safe in bed. But the cold stone floor beneath her and the sounds of movement from nearby - unfamiliar steps beating an executioner's drum-roll - told her that it was all too real. She knew then. She knew that she had no chance. That she never had a chance. The mind knew but the heart refused to accept. She ran - like a fox from a hound; like a mouse from a cat; as if death pursued her, its steel tentacles hungry. She tripped, her ankle twisting beneath her. Pain. A hot flame shooting up her leg. Turning hope to ashes. She had time to murmur a simple prayer before her world became dark forever,  And if I die before I wake . . . . I pray the lord . . . my . . . soul . . . to . . . *'

Rogue smiled nervously as she watched the procession of refugees from the abandoned village.

"Lot o' them, ain't there?"

"Dere be not'ing left for dem dere - dey have t'move on." Gambit sounded unsymphathetic.


"Not really. Been t'rough it before myself. You survive."

"But what happens when you can't move on - when you're too old or . . . tired to even try?"

"Den you stay wit' all de bad memories an' de pain. Far better t'go."

"Y'all are right . . . but Ah can't help feelin' sorry foh them. Ah know what it's like t'lose everythin'." She smiled ruefully.

His red eyes looked at her curiously, "Y'don' show it, chere."

"Shoulda seen me a few years back."

"Pity I didn', maybe I coulda cheered you up some."

She laughed. "Darlin', if'n any man came up ta me then, Ah woulda run a mile. What happened with Cody spooked me bad."


"Mah first boyfriend, also mah last." Her green eyes were filled with pain.

"Find it hard t'believe dat a pretty woman like you only had one man interested in her."

"A prettier woman with mah power woulda had trouble." She shrugged. "Ah'm used ta it."

"Don't t'ink dere be many prettier." He smiled.

"Remy . . . ." She paused, not knowing what to say in response. "Ah know that . . . oh LAWD. . ."

Terror filled her eyes, producing confusion in his. "Get down!"

Rogue pushed him over, falling with him into the soft snow. The sound of a tentacle, whipping past them, cut into the silence.

"What de . . . ?" He looked up.

"It's him." She stood.

"An' here I t'ought dat it was my irresistable animal magnetism. . . ." Gambit grinned.

"Save th' small talk - where is he?" Rogue looked around frantically.

"Behind you." He unleased a barrage of cards, pushing Omega Red backwards and concealing him in a blanket of smoke.

"Ah don't believe it - he's not even scratched." Rogue gasped as she saw him emerge.

"Believe it, woman. Like progress, Omega Red can not be stopped so easily."

"Then maybe, ya'll like ta tangle with me." She stood up, dusting the snow off herself. "Man to woman."

"You challenge my supremacy? The supremacy of mother Russia?" Increduality colored his voice.

"Rogue, stand back! Let me take care of this tin squid." Wolverine growled, unsheathing his claws.

"Let's see how you do against a little adamantium."

"Wolverine." Omega Red smiled.

"Got it in one, bub. . . Oolmph." Wolverine fell to the ground, gasping for air. Behind him, Colossus stood, his steel face split by a grimace of hatred.

"I am sorry to do that to you, Logan." Colossus said, "But this is my fight and my revenge. Mine alone."

"I'll excuse you - right in your face." Wolverine snapped.

"Wolverine." Rogue put a restraining arm on his, "Ah know what Colossus is goin' through - he needs ta do this t'be at peace with himself."

"Don't look too much at peace now, chere." Gambit smiled, "Looks downright unpeaceful in fact."

Squinting, she looked at them. The light was unbearably brilliant, refracting and reflecting as it was through a landscape of cut glass. Their steel bodies too shone with blinding radiance as they fought. A tentacle whipped out, twisting around Colossus. He screamed.

"Ah gotta stop them - b'fore Colossus gets killed." Rogue gasped.

"What happened to  leave-well-enough-alone'?" Wolverine asked, gripping her arm tightly.

"That was then an' this is now." She shook his hand off. "Ah gotta do this. Ah'm th' only one who stands a chance."

 "Keep your eyes closed, that intensity of light is detrimental to the optic nerve of the eye." Beast yelled.

"Ah can't, Beast."

She flew into the radiance, feeling her eyes burn; watching helpless as redness passed over her field of vision; as day turned to darkest night. She blinked, hoping wildly that when she opened her eyes she could see. Darkness. Fear. Letting her instincts guide her, she felt her fist connect with steel, felt the shock reverberate through her bones.

"Pursue." Cyclops yelled. The sound of footsteps pounding against the compacted snow.

Rogue shook her head, trying to remove the black curtain that had fallen over her eyes.

"Are you okay?" Beast asked. He sounded concerned.

"Ah can't see, Hank."

"You're kidding, right?" Worry.

"Wish Ah was darlin'." Tears stung her sensitive retina, "Ah'm blind."

"Let's see." She felt a hand touch her arm.

"Hank? What's wrong with mah eyes?"

"Can't say for sure, but it is plausible that prolonged exposure to light of that intensity has caused damage to the optic nerve of your eyes."

"Damage? As in permanent?"

"Probably not. When we get home I'll run some tests."

"Hank . . . Ah'm scared." She hugged herself.

"Don't be. Modern medicine has made it possible to cure most ailments - including light-induced blindness."

"But . . . if'n Ah'm blind forever, then what?"

"Then we deal with it."


"Let's answer that question when it needs to be asked."

Footsteps behind her. Rogue spun around, terrified.

"Stay back." She cautioned, frantically. Knowing under the bravado that if the encroacher was inimical, there was nothing that she could do about it.

"Chere, it's me. Y'blind or somet'ing?" The familiarity of his cajun accent made her relax.

"Yeah, actually Ah am."

"Mon dieu. Y'can't see at all?" The touch of Gambit's gloved hand on her face.

She shook her head.

"Better get her back to the plane." Beast said, "The sooner I conduct those tests the better."

"Could . . . could ya . . . help me, Remy?" Shattered pride in her voice.

"You not have t'ask, chere. Course I will."

His hand in hers, he guided her back to the Blackbird where it stood holographically masked in a copse of pine-trees.

"Watch de steps."

Painstakingly she picked her way up the steel steps, hearing them clank beneath her, and found her way to a seat.

"Remy, you still there?"

"Y't'ink I leave you at a time like dis?" He squeezed her gloved hand reassuringly. "Don' worry, I ain't gonna leave you."

"Even if'n Ah'm blind?"

"More dan ever den - ya'll need eyes, and I got two of dem."

"This means a lot t'me - you know that." She smiled weakly. "Ah just wish Ah didn't have t'be grateful to ya for this reason."

"Nor I."

 "Ah'm not sure how ta thank ya."

"I can t'ink of a few ways, but ya'll slap me if I tell you." He laughed.

"Remy, about us?" She paused.

"Oui, chere?"

"This has been goin' on foh a few months . . . this shadow-dancin'."

"Shadow-dancing, Rogue?" His voice was curious.

"Shadow-dancing around each other; around our feelin's foh each other; around mah feelin's foh you."

"T'ought you knew how I felt - ain't exactly b'n subtle." He laughed.

"Remy, it's just that Ah'm confused. Ah want . . . this ta work but Ah'm too scared ta try, in case. . ."

"Den, perhaps, Rogue, we should jus' f'rget about de fear and go wit' our feelings."

"Ah want ta . . . but what if . . . what if ya end up like Cody. Seems like th' best thing foh ya is if'n Ah back off."

"Chere, I'm old enough t'decide what's good for me."

"But now . . . Ah'm helpless an' Ah keep thinkin' that it would be nice t'have someone ta depend on. Someone ta love me. Sounds selfish, don't it?" She laughed bitterly.

"Non. Sounds nat'ral."

"Th' thing is Ah'm too scared ta trust you, in case Ah get hurt. In case Ah hurt you."

"As I said b'fore, I can wait."

"Foh how long?" She smiled nervously.

"F'r as long as I have t'." He took her hand.

A sudden scream split the deathly silence that shrouded the ship. Rogue stiffened, feeling terror course through her veins.

"What's goin on, darlin'?" She held his hand tighter, almost crushing his bones in the process.

"Don' know, chere. Don' particularily wanna find out neither."

"Illyana is dead." Storm walked into the ship, her booted feet tapping against the steel. Her voice sounded exhausted.

"How's Piotr holdin' up?" Rogue asked, her concern for herself superceded by her sympathy for Colossus.

"As well as can be expected." Storm replied.

"Poor guy." She bit her lower lip. "The burial?"

"Will take place back in America. Piotr is not sure if he will be able to bury her in the midst of such turmoil." Storm sighed. "It is sad that she cannot be buried in her native country."

"Always sad when a kid dies."

"Perhaps it is as the Goddess wills."

"Ah could never accept that a god or goddess could ever exist an' still let such terrible things happen. Just seemed screwy t'me."

"That is where faith comes in." Storm smiled. "Faith that everything turns out for the best."

"And if it don't, Stormy?"

"How are we to know what is best? Do we have the wisdom to question divine intelligence?"

"Guess not, chere."

"Ah just wish Ah could have faith; could believe in somethin'- someone." Rogue shook her head.

"Faith is hard, it relies on complete suspension of increduality."

"That's mah problem, Ah can't trust nothin'. Not even mahself."

"Then perhaps it is time that you did."

"Think Ah've forgotten how ta." She bowed her head, her sightless eyes filled with pain as the Blackbird turned and pointed in the direction of home.


Continued in Chapter 8.

1.Kyrgyzstan (Don't ask how you pronounce it) was really part of the U.S.S.R. It does exist. Its capital is Bishkek and its president is Askar Akaev. I don't think Colossus lived there but for the story's sake he does; he actually lived in Siberia.
2. Yup, this part is 7 pages on my Word Processor!

In Smoke and Mirrors Part 8 . . .
* Get out your Kleenex and dust off your black suits, Illyana's funeral.
* Donate money to a guide dog fund, Rogue may need one.
* Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.


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