Running to Catch Up
With a flick of his wrist, he sent the card spinning toward the target. It flew with a sharp whining noise, trailing a comet's-tail blaze of reddish-pink energy behind it. The strange projectile made contact with the target, and for an instant, the energy from the card seemed to transfer into the target before it detonated with the force of a small bomb. Another target, a silver, grapefruit-sized orb, zoomed past the boy's head. He ducked, and the object, missing its mark, crashed to the ground and exploded. When the second orb was destroyed, three more deployed from the steel walls with sharp, hissing pops. Anticipating their movements, the boy twirled his weapon, a staff, at his side. As the first orb approached, he swung his staff and with a crack, sent it flying into the next orb. The last and final orb seemed dead on target, but with an amazing feat of agility, the boy leapt into the air and flipped as the attacking orb zipped beneath him. As he landed, he swung the staff again, and sent the orb flying up towards the ceiling.
The four on-lookers flinched as the orb struck the mirrored window and exploded. They were up in an observatory, with a large computer console before them. The flickering of the console's lights slowly dimmed and blinked off as the Danger Room session came to a close.
The smoke from the explosion cleared, allowing the quartet to see the enormous room below. The simulation, which had been projected by the Danger Room computer, Cerebro, was just fading out. In the center of the room was a young man with chin-length brown hair and an angular form. He was a tall, with a narrow face and prominent cheekbones, which gave his eyes a slight up-tilt. That, combined with the olive tone of his skin, bespoke of a mixed heritage. Despite the height of the observatory, his eyes could still be seen as red on black, slightly glowing from the recent use of his mutant powers.
"Very good, Remy," said the man known as Professor X, who was seated in a wheelchair before the computer console. "That will be all for
Remy gave him a mock salute, then curtsied to the others standing in the observatory. With a final twirl of his staff, he turned and left the Danger Room. When the doors hissed shut behind the departing figure, Professor Xavier turned to the other three adults in the room.
"He made better time on the previous runs," commented a blue-furred man, as he adjusted his glasses on his broad nose.
"That's 'cause he was playin' with us this time, Hank," replied the shorter man with his gruff voice.
"Yes," the Professor agreed. "He did seem to be enjoying himself."
"As it is," said the last of the group, a tall African-American woman with long white hair, "he all ready seems to be in full control of his powers, and beyond many of the other students in that aspect."
"True, Storm," Xavier replied, holding his chin in his hand in contemplation. "He has been trained."
"Trained?" Hank said. "By whom?"
"Good question," Wolverine said. "Seems he knows a bit of martial arts, combined with acrobatics, and a little down-and-dirty street fighting thrown in."
"And yet, he's only been at the Institute for a few weeks, and has only practiced in the Danger Room alone," continued Professor X. "It would be interesting to know where he's accumulated this fighting knowledge, along with how he has learned to use and control his mutant abilities. But the most probing question on my mind is 'why' has he been trained?"
"I am sure you could ask him, Professor," said Storm. "But the child is hardly forthcoming with information."
"Do you suspect he was sent here?" asked Hank, also known as The Beast. "By Mystique, perhaps?" Beast had not been at the Institute during the time when Mystique had been one of the X-Men's most formidable enemies, but when he arrived at the Institute, the others had quickly filled him in on the true identity of the ex-principal, Raven Darkholme.
"Doubtful," replied the professor. "If he was sent to infiltrate the X-Men, you would think he would be doing better to hide his knowledge. I have been in contact with his adoptive father, a Doctor Nathan Essex, since Remy's arrival. The man is greatly interested in mutant genetics, and also quite an intimidating individual. Perhaps it was he who guided his 'Gambit' in the use of his powers."
"Or maybe the kid's just a show-off," grumbled Wolverine.
Professor Xavier leaned back in his chair, a slight smile playing on his lips. "Perhaps Logan, since Remy seems more advanced than the other students, you wouldn't mind taking him on exclusively."
"Hunh?" was Logan's well-phrased reply.
"Yes," said Storm good-naturedly. "I can see how he may flourish under your particular tutelage."
"Forget it," Logan said. "He'll do well enough with the other kids. I don't need some brat tagging along at my heels." With that, he turned and prowled out of the room.
There were six of them seated at the restaurant, their hands slightly sticking to the worn red-checked vinyl tablecloth. They had pushed two of the smaller tables together, and pulled up some of the diner chairs. The restaurant was a popular hangout for the students of Bayville High School. Harry's Hideaway offered the best, and largest, pizzas in town. Scott Summers, the eldest of the group, was seated at one end of the table, laughing and joking with the person to his right, Kurt Wagner. Across from Kurt, and on the opposite side of Scott was Kitty Pryde, who was currently kicking Kurt in the shins in retaliation for a crude remark he had made. Evan Daniels was seated at Kitty's left, and was chowing down on an enormous slice of pizza. At the opposite end from Scott, was Jean, who had made a point of sitting as far away from Scott as possible. They weren't talking to one another for some unknown transgression. Jean was trying to engage Rogue, the last member of the group, in a conversation about the upcoming Homecoming dance. Rogue's chair was scooted slightly back from the table, as if she hadn't fully committed to sitting with the others quite yet.
"So where's the new kid?" asked Kurt suddenly.
"He told me that he had some stuff to do," Scott replied somewhat coolly, having extended the hand of friendship to the new teen, only to have it ignored.
"He's a totally buff hottie," Kitty said, smiling sweetly at Kurt as she sipped her diet Sprite. "If you like those bad-boy, long-hair, leather-jacket types."
Kurt made a face at Kitty. "If wearing a leather jacket all the time makes you a buff hottie…" Kurt said. "I prefer to wash my clothes, danke!"
"I hadn't noticed," said Scott, leaning away from Kurt with a pained look on his face.
This comment started another mock fight between the pair.
"Man, this music is lame!" announced Kitty in a voice loud enough to be heard over the talking of the many other kids in the restaurant. She pointedly glared at the jukebox on the opposite side of the room.
"Ah'll put somethin' else on," said Rogue, interrupting Jean in mid-sentence. "You guys got any change?"
Kurt turned his pockets inside out to show they were empty. Kitty rifled around in her small purse, which was bulging at the seams because of all the junk she had shoved into it. Evan looked up from his pizza, a string of cheese dangling from his lip, as he shook his head 'no'.
"Here you go," said Scott, extending his hand.
After a moment of hesitation, Rogue held out her hand as Scott dropped several quarters into her gloved palm. "Thanks," she mumbled before starting off towards the jukebox.
As Rogue stood before the glowing box, she felt her ears grow hot. She instantly regretted offering to change the music on the jukebox, because by now, everyone in the restaurant would be staring at her. She considered the alternative: listening to Jean list every dress color, from 'champagne' to 'ebony', and decided public humiliation would be better. She popped in a few quarters and her finger trailed down the list of songs before stopping on a favorite of hers by Garbage. She paused before selecting. "Would the others like it?" she thought to herself.
"Whatcha wanna listen to, hunh, Rogue?" came a snide voice at her shoulder.
Rogue recognized the voice without having to turn around. A feeling of dread crept over her.
"Go away, Lance," Rogue grumbled under her breath.
"Maybe you like this one!" Lance Alvers, otherwise known as Avalanche, announced before poking a few keys.
Suddenly, Billy Ray Cyrus' voice emitted from the speakers, begging her not to break his "Achy Breaky" heart. "Remind you of home, hunh?" Lance continued as Rogue turned on him. He performed a little two-step while singing in a mock southern accent. "Wull, you c'n tell mah haurt, mah achy breaky haurt…!"
A few kids seated nearby giggled. Rogue's cheeks turned red.
"Hey, is there a problem here?" asked Scott, as he approached Lance and Rogue.
"Oh look, here comes Summers. Your knight in shining armor," said Lance to Rogue.
"Shut up," said Rogue.
"I think you'd better leave her alone," said Scott.
Lance sniggered. Rogue ground her teeth. "Look," she said, rounding on Scott. "Ah don't need you to rescue me, okay?"
"Hey, Rogue, I know that. I just---."
"Ah gotta go," Rogue said. "Later." She turned on her heel and marched out of the restaurant, the little bell above the door announcing her departure.
"Real smooth, Cyke," said Lance snidely. Then, recognizing the dark look on Scott's face, decided to leave as well.
Wolverine was grumbling to himself as he worked in the driveway. A noise inside the engine of his motorcycle (that only he could hear), had been bothering him, so he set himself to taking the bike apart and putting it back together. Night was drawing near, stretching shadows across the drive. It was still warm outside, but a cool breeze was tickling at his forearms, which were exposed by the rolled up sleeves of his grease-stained flannel shirt. A scuffing sound of feet on the cement made him look up and turn around.
Remy's long shadow fell just short of Logan. He stood a few feet away, at the edge of the driveway, as he watched Wolverine with his strange eyes.
"What?" Logan said to him. "You want somethin'?"
"Nice bike," he replied. Logan's eyebrows raised. They were the first words Gambit had spoken to him since his arrival.
"Oh yeah?" Logan said, turning back to his work.
"I had a bike like that once," Gambit continued.
"Really now?" Logan replied.
"Yup," Gambit said finally.
"You're goin' to strip out that bolt, ya know."
"Maybe if little know-it-alls weren't runnin' their mouths, I could concentrate," Wolverine grumbled, and sure enough, the next turn of his wrench rounded the corners of the nut. "Dammit," he said, then turning to Gambit added: "You didn't hear that."
The boy gave a snort and a wry smile. He walked over to Wolverine and crouched beside the bike. Wolverine could smell the distinctive scent of cigarettes as Remy approached. "Here," he said, and gripped the nut with his forefinger and thumb. There was a faint whining noise Wolverine recognized from when Gambit had ignited his playing cards with his mutant powers. Logan was about to protest, knowing full well the explosive nature of Gambit's powers, when the nut gave a rusty squeak and twisted under Remy's grip.
Remy tightened the bolt and leaned back. "Made the atoms do a little jig, and loosens the bolt a bit," he offered in explanation.
Wolverine studied the boy for a moment. "Since yer talkative all of a sudden, maybe you'd like t'tell me how you come to know Sabretooth?"
Gambit's expression remained neutral, but something flickered in his eyes. He stood and reached into the pocket of his jacket. Wolverine stood as well as Gambit put on a pair of sunglasses.
"Can't say I know him, personally," Gambit replied. "So what's he to you?"
"Know him from way back," Wolverine said coolly.
Remy took a small step back, a guarded look on his face.
Wolverine turned back to his bike. "Well, that seems to do it for the day," he said, grabbing a rag and wiping down the motorcycle. "Tank's almost empty, though," he turned to Remy and reached in his pocket. "Take'er in t'town for me, will ya, and fill her up." He tossed Gambit the keys which the boy snatched easily from the air.
"So you said you had one of these?" he continued, as Remy approached the bike. "Didn't bring it with you, then?"
"Couldn't," Remy said, as he straddled the seat.
Wolverine backed up as Gambit turned on the engine. "Why's that?"
"S'at the bottom of a lake."
Wolverine opened his mouth to reply, instantly concerned for his motorcycle's welfare. "Hey, now, wait a minute."
"Be right back!" Remy said, revving the engine loudly. With that, he sped off, the back tire squeaking on the pavement.
Wolverine almost took off after him, but caught himself when he saw the Professor sitting before his office window smiling at him. Saving what little dignity he had left, Wolverine gathered up his tools and strode off to the garage.
Rogue spotted him from across the street. He was backlit by the light from the gas-station window; the colorful light threw harsh shadows across his face. She strode over to the gas station, stopping just short of the glow of the lights.
"What do you think you're doin'?" she said angrily.
Remy tore his eyes away from the digital readout on the fuel pump and looked over at her, a bemused expression on his face. "I'm gettin' jiggy wit' it," he said sarcastically. "What does it look like I'm doin'?"
Rogue walked over to him, and clamped her hand down on his wrist. "That bike ain't yours," she said. "And Ah'm not about to let you take off with it."
"I see my reputation proceeds me," he said, smiling. "For your information, the bike was loaned to me, proper like."
"Now Ah know yoah lyin'," Rogue snapped. "Logan would never let anyone ride his bike."
Remy laughed and returned the nozzle to the fuel pump. "Maybe he's got a crush on me," he said. "Anyway, I've got to go pay. Wait right here."
Rogue stood beside the motorcycle, her mouth slightly open as she watched Remy walk into the convenience store, smile and flirt the young female clerk behind the counter, and return to the bike while sliding a pack of cigarettes into his coat pocket. "So you need a ride or what?"
Rogue closed her mouth. "Yeah, right, and get busted with Logan's bike? Ah'll walk, thanks." She turned to go when she stopped short. On the other side of the street was Lance Alvers, and the unmistakable form of Fred Dukes.
"Friends of yours?" Remy asked.
"Hardly," she replied. "On second thought, Ah could use a ride."
"Sure. Here, take this," Remy said, handing her a helmet. "There's only one, but I'd never forgive myself if you smashed your perty head open like a melon."
She took it from him uncertainly. Lance and Fred were fast approaching. She fit the helmet over her head, and tightened the chinstrap. Remy had all ready mounted the bike and was beckoning her to sit behind him. "I don't have cooties," he said with a grin. Rogue straddled the bike seat, suddenly closer to Remy than she'd have liked. His backside warmed the inside of her legs and as she leaned forward, she could smell cigarettes mingled with the scent of his shampoo.
"Hold on," he said, and she cautiously put her hands on his waist. The motorcycle rumbled to life and jolted forward.
Remy turned the bike around the fuel pumps and came to a halt in front of Lance and Fred, who were looking at Remy and Rogue in a confused sort of way. Remy gave them a jaunty wave and a smile before peeling out and leaving them in a fog of exhaust.
Rogue watched them coughing and smiled to herself as they sped away. Her smile faded as she realized they were heading away from the Institute.
"Where are you goin'?" she asked loudly. "The Institute is that way."
"Just takin' her for a test drive," Remy replied. "So what's there t'do in this Podunk town anyway? Besides eatin' pizza and hangin' out wit' the Brady's?"
"Ah dunno," Rogue said. "There's uhm, a rec center or somethin' by the school."
"Well, gosh-golly, gee, that sounds swell!" he retorted sarcastically. "How far's the city?"
"Bout a half-hour, why?" she said suspiciously.
"Well, that ain't far at all. No point hangin' out here, then."
"Hey! We can't go there. We gotta ask permission first."
"Well, Daisy Sue, if you're gonna be such a downer, I can always drop you off here." He came to an abrupt halt right in front of Harry's Hideaway. Rogue could see Scott and Jean through the window, apparently on speaking terms again. Everyone inside looked like they were having a good time. Kurt looked up from his pizza-slice and saw Gambit and Rogue on the motorcycle. His eyes widened with shock and he pointed. Kitty turned in her seat to stare. Jean and Scott both looked surprised and disapproving at the same time.
"Forget it, let's just go," Rogue said. "You're right, the city is pretty close by."
He turned in the seat and smiled over his shoulder at her. He winked at her and she found herself smiling again. They both looked through the window of Harry's and gave 'the gang' a farewell wave. Then the bike's engine roared and they sped off towards the city.
After the initial fear of falling off had faded, Rogue found that she was really enjoying herself. Remy guided the bike through the cars, gliding smoothly over the pavement like a fish through water. He changed lanes and left the main roads, traveling down streets that had less traffic. Soon they were free and alone on the road, with the night around them; the darkness broken periodically by yellow-hued street lights. Rogue found that the loud rumbling of the motorcycle's engine combined with the numb tingling in her legs had emptied her mind of thoughts. The school, the Institute, and the X-Men suddenly seemed very distant and unimportant. She was glad that she wore her black jeans and her long sleeved shirt, instead of the skirts she usually preferred. The night wind on her face was cool, but her hands, which were resting on Gambit's hips, were warm.
Up ahead, the sight of the city slowly hove into view. Rogue lifted the visor on the helmet to get a better view. Being from a very rural area, she hadn't had opportunities to see any cities until she had come to New York. Seeing the city up ahead, with its immense glittering towers, sent a strange sort of thrill inside her. She found herself leaning forward in anticipation of reaching their destination.
Remy darted a quick look over his shoulder. "So how y'doin'?" he asked with a smile.
"Ah wish Ah knew where we were goin," she replied.
"There's a place I know, I think you'll like it," Remy said.
"You've been to New York before?"
"Coupla times," he replied. Remy glanced in the rearview mirror on the handle of the bike. "Somethin's comin' up on us, fast," he said, mostly to himself.
Rogue turned in her seat to look on the road behind them. Five independent headlights were gaining on them. Remy guided the bike into the right-most lane to get out of their way. A brightly painted motorcycle whined past them, moving so fast, it seemed as if the Harley were at a standstill. A second bike pulled up even with them. A large man with a shaven head leered at them, and the girl on the back of the bike smirked. Then they too sped off with a burst of speed.
"What was that all about?" Rogue asked herself. Three more bikes flew past, the last one, carrying a young woman riding solo, swerved suddenly in front of Gambit. He braked, and dodged out of the way. Rogue found herself clinging to Gambit's back.
"Cut it out, you jerks!" she yelled, but her voice was swallowed up by the sound of the bike's engine. The five bikes had slowed down, and had spaced themselves out to block the road ahead. Three of them slowed further, so that two were riding just behind the Harley, and one astride them.
"Cain't you outrun them?" Rogue asked Remy.
"A Harley outrun a crotch-rocket? I doubt it," he replied. Just then, the big man they had seen earlier feinted at them, causing Remy to swerve away into the berm. He hit the brakes and came to a halt, spraying up gravel in his wake. The five other bikes sped along, but their tail lights flashed as they all hit their brakes. "Let's get out of here," Remy said as he spun the bike around. They were soon speeding in the opposite direction, against the flow of traffic.
"Are you crazy?" Rogue shrieked as a car zipped past, it's horn blaring. He did not answer as he drove into the high-speed lane and pulled the bike sharply to the right into the median. She risked a glance behind and saw the other bikes gaining on them. With a sudden roar of the engine, Remy turned the bike around again, and headed back towards the city…and their pursuers.
"Oh mah gawd," Rogue moaned, as she hid her face against his jacket. She could hear the high pitched whine of the motorcycles' engines growing closer until it was a loud buzz in her ears. Then, just as suddenly, they were gone. Rogue looked up and looked back. Remy had driven straight through their ranks, causing them to scatter. One of the bikes let up a blue stream of smoke as it hit its brakes with a screech.
Her heart leapt. They had evaded their pursuers. She could see Gambit's face reflected in the rear view, but he was not smiling. He was frowning down at the bike, looking anxious.
"What's wrong?" Rogue asked, but then she heard it too. A clanking sound from inside the bike's engine. The bike was slowing, then the engine cut, and they rolled to a halt in the berm.
"This is bad," Remy said, trying to kick the engine back to life. "Wolverine just fixed this thing today…I don't know what's wrong."
Rogue was gnawing her lip. Five headlights had reappeared on the horizon. "What are we gonna do?" she asked.
He gave a resigned sigh and climbed off the bike. "I guess we'll have t'open a can of whupass." He removed a package of playing cards from his coat pocket. "So which one are you? The one who can move things with her mind?"
She gave him an indignant look. "No," she snapped. "You're thinkin' of Jean."
"Shoot bones, then, do you?"
"That's Evan, and he's not even a girl!"
"Ah, right. Well, so long's you're not the one who can walk through walls, I think we'll be all right."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Rogue replied sarcastically as she hopped off the bike.
Their pursuers grew steadily closer and finally surrounded them. They blinked in the brightness of the bikes' headlights, unable to see the riders. Six people dismounted from the bikes, their darkened forms moved forward at the same time. Rogue recognized the two riders that had ridden astride them. Off of his bike, the man was larger than all the rest, standing nearly seven feet tall. He was broad, with a shaven head and a sandy-colored goatee. His arms were bare and heavily muscled. Standing beside him was a girl with green and white striped hair pulled into a high ponytail. She was still wearing a smirk on her face.
Two others walked into the circle of light. One was a tall scrawny kid with a lean, almost haggard face with lanky white hair pulled into a stubby ponytail at the nape of his neck. The second was sharp featured, almost planar, as if he had been chiseled out of crystal. Another stepped forward; he was a lean and handsome Korean boy, who was wearing large goggle-like glasses on his face. Lastly, a girl strode forward, her heeled boots clicking on the pavement. She would have been pretty if her face weren't contorted into a wicked grin. Her eyes and lips were a shocking bright green. Her curly hair, which was the same color, was closely cropped to her head.
"We like your bike," said the big man in a rough and slow voice.
"We like your girl too," chirruped the white-haired boy in a squeaky voice.
Remy was standing askance, his hand on his hip and his head tilted to the side. He was wearing his sunglasses again, and a faint smile on his lips. "The bike ain't mine," he replied. "And the girl's borrowed too."
Rogue tore her eyes away from the gang long enough to scowl at Gambit.
"Those were some nice moves," said the green-haired woman, who was standing closest to them.
"Chere, that was nothin'," he replied. "I've got others that could make your toes curl."
The girl smiled at him, a gleam in her eye.
"Like what I did to your bike?" piped up the Asian boy, as he adjusted his glasses.
Rogue frowned at him. "What d'you mean?"
"Means I stopped it," he said, his manner of speaking was quick and clipped. "Name's Scrambler. Got a knack for machinery. See," he said, pointing at the Harley. "On, off, on, off, on…" he said, and the bike rumbled to life, then shut off repeatedly.
Rogue glanced at Gambit, whose face had gone cold. Nervous panic was flooding her. They weren't just facing a gang, but a gang of mutants.
"Me next!" cried the skinny kid with the white hair. "Riptide!" he proclaimed and instantly a small cyclone swirled at his feet before swallowing him up. Rogue and Gambit ducked their heads as debris flew about. Then the roar of the wind died and a few dead leaves scampered away down the road. "Taa-daa!" Riptide said proudly.
"I really hope y'all aren't going to introduce yerselves one by one and perform a little dance," Rogue said. "'Cause this could take awhile."
"If that's the way you want it then," said the green-haired girl. "Show's over," she reached her hand up and made a fist. The street light overhead exploded with a shower of sparks, and the pole bent over. It reached for Rogue like an enormous steel tentacle. She ducked the swinging arm and rolled across the pavement out of its reach. There was a sudden blast of wind and Rogue found she was being dragged along the pavement on her stomach, sucked toward a whirlwind of flying debris. Amidst the tornado, she could make out the form of Riptide, who was cackling maniacally and screaming, "Come to poppa!"
A flying red comet zoomed overhead, followed by an explosion. Instantly, the cyclone ceased. Before her was a rather large hole in the pavement. On the opposite side was Riptide, who lay stunned. Rogue looked back to see Gambit, holding a playing card in one hand as if it were a knife.
Two other teens were approaching Gambit: Scrambler and the kid with sharp features. The latter had seemingly changed, for now instead of skin, he appeared to be made out of iridescent crystal. Gambit was backing away from the pair, the card held out before him as he waited for them to attack. Rogue was climbing to her feet when a big arm came down around her and squeezed.
"Got ya, cutie," said the big man. "Howzabout a kiss?"
"Mike-y!" shrieked the girl with the ponytail. "You're such a jerk!" She aimed a punch at his shoulder, but came a foot short, and slapped him ineffectually on the forearm.
He laughed at her. "I was only kiddin', Vertigo," he said, as he squeezed Rogue tighter.
"Let go a me, you moron!" Rogue cried, kicking out and wriggling in his grip. Her left hand clamped onto the fingers of her right glove and she pulled. Mikey was still taunting his girlfriend Vertigo, dangling Rogue over his arm. Their banter stopped when Rogue's bare hand gripped Mikey's wrist. He let out a yowl of surprise, and tossed Rogue away like a rag doll. She hit the pavement forcefully, but to her amazement, was unhurt. Blockbuster, she had learned his name now from absorbing his thoughts, took a staggering step and fell forward. Vertigo shrieked, clapping her hands to the sides of her face in shock.
A sudden flare of bright light caught her attention. The boy made of crystal was glowing with an inner light. Remy had stumbled away, his hand covering his eyes. The other hand released the card and it fluttered to the ground. The two attackers stared at it for a moment, bewildered. Then the card detonated and they flew backwards.
Rogue turned in a circle. Vertigo was standing over Blockbuster, trying to get him to stand. But there was no sign of the green-haired girl.
"Looking for me?" her voice asked.
Rogue looked up. Hovering a few feet above her was the girl. Rogue's jaw dropped. The girl was flying. She pointed downward, and Rogue looked down at the street. The ground was rumbling and the pavement cracked. Suddenly, a pipe burst from the earth, writhing like something alive. Rogue was knocked off her feet, and she scrambled away. The pipe came down on her, its opening like a hungry mouth as it swallowed her. She lashed out, and her fist punched straight through the metal.
"Wow," Rogue said, looking at her hand which was unscathed despite punching straight through the pipe. She grabbed at the opening she'd made with her fist and pulled the pipe apart and jumped free.
The green haired girl, who apparently controlled the metal pipe, was looking at her in amazement. She looked back at Blockbuster, who was still unconscious, then back at Rogue. Rogue put up her fists and challenged the girl with a smirk. The girl lowered herself back onto the ground.
"Rogue!" Remy's voice called. "Move!"
Rogue jumped back as a playing card whined overhead. She scrambled for cover behind the fallen pipe as the ignited card hit one of their attackers' bikes and exploded. The green haired girl flew several feet and landed in the grass just beyond the pavement.
"Let's go!" Gambit cried, as he hopped on the Harley. Amazingly, it had been left running when Scrambler had first showed off his powers.
Rogue surprised herself by running to the bike and vaulting onto the back. The bike peeled out and they took off, leaving the partially destroyed street behind. All the time they had been fighting against the gang, cars had been swerving past. Now the sounds of emergency vehicles were fast approaching. Gambit and Rogue flew past them as the ambulances and police vehicles zoomed in the opposite direction towards the fight scene.
"Are you all right?" he asked her.
"Yeah, Ah guess," she replied. "How 'bout you?"
"That one guy blinded me for a sec," Gambit replied. "It was lucky I was wearing my sunglasses. Who in the heck were those people?" he added, mostly talking to himself.
Rogue thought for a moment, and a name registered in her mind. "The Marauders," she said finally.
"What?" he said, startled. "You know those guys?"
"No, Ah just…When Ah touched the big guy, Ah kinda got a glimpse of his thoughts."
Gambit glanced back at her, a perplexed look on his face.
"Ah can absorb people's energy," she continued. "And if they're mutants, Ah can use their powers."
"Cool," he replied, but sounded unconvincing.
"Well, that was pretty neat what you did back there with your cards," Rogue said.
He smiled at her then.
"So where is it you're takin' me, now?" Rogue said with a grin.
The adrenaline rush that Rogue had gained from absorbing Blockbuster was beginning to wear off as she and Gambit stood in front of the club. It was called The Burning Windmill, and the place was swarming with kids dressed up in Goth garb. Rogue had on a tight black top that had a sheer fabric down to the low neckline and her black flares, her regular makeup and gloves. As they stood in line outside of the club, Rogue had been hugging her arms until Remy offered her his black leather jacket. Compared to the other kids, she still felt oddly underdressed. The girl standing behind her had impeccably straight black hair and was wearing a black ball gown. Still others were wearing jeans and tee shirts, some in various states of dress and undress.
Remy was wearing a pair of worn blue jeans and a fitted dark maroon tee shirt under his jacket. When he removed the jacket to give to Rogue, she was startled to see that he had a brightly colored tattoo just below his shirtsleeve: a gothic-looking Virgin Mary with a burning sacred heart underneath it.
Besides her nervousness about her attire, Rogue doubted they would even gain entry to the club. "Don't you have t'be twenty-one t'get in?" she asked Remy nervously as they approached the front of the line.
"Shh," he said to her with a grin. "Don't worry 'bout a thing."
At the head of the line was a tall black man who was wearing a black jacket not unlike Gambit's. He frowned at them as they approached.
"ID?" he said in a doubtful voice.
"Here y'are," Remy said as he proffered his driver's license.
The man studied the card. "You're twenty-one?"
"According to the state of Louisiana, I am," Remy retorted.
"All right, Mr. LeBeau, if that is even your real name, we'll see about that," the man said as he ran the barcode of Remy's ID under an electric scanner. The scanner beeped and a green light flashed. The man looked at it in shock, then tapped on the top of it with his fist.
"Well?" Gambit prompted.
"Humph," the man said, giving the card another once over. "Remy LeBeau? Even the name sounds fake…but I guess you're clear."
"Shall we?" Remy asked Rogue.
"Now hold on," the man put his hand out to stop them. "I need to see her ID too."
"Come now, monsieur," Remy said smoothly. "I'm not a cradle robber, me. And how could you deny me the pleasure of her delightful company, if even for a moment?" He took Rogue's gloved hand and kissed it.
The man blinked at Gambit for a moment then seemed to find his voice. "Eh…yeah…okay. Go ahead." He was still blinking his eyes and scratching his head when they entered the club together.
"What did you do, hypnotize him? How did you do that?" Rogue asked over the sound of the pounding music.
"Mysterious, aren't I?" he gave her as an answer.
Rogue had to admit that the music inside of the club was much better than that of inside Harry's Hideaway. There was a live band up on stage, and blue lights flickered though the smoke and haze that permeated the club. Remy had taken off his sunglasses, but no one seemed to think that his eyes were anything out of the norm. In fact, Rogue felt almost normal inside the dimly lit club. Everyone was dancing and having fun, biases and discriminations were far from anyone's mind.
"I hope you like to dance," Remy said as he pulled her out onto the dance floor.
She did. Awhile ago, she had absorbed a bit of Kitty's know-how, and hadn't had a second thought about dancing ever since. Not that anyone would have noticed she was a bad dancer or not. Everyone here was dancing to his or her own personal beat. Remy grabbed both of her hands and they spun in a circle. She found herself laughing and several others standing by laughed with her, seeming to enjoy the fact that she herself was having fun. They both danced through several songs, and only stopped when the band paused to take five.
"Do you want something to drink?" Remy asked her.
She chewed her lip for a moment before saying: "Sure, but nothing alcoholic."
He laughed. "Bien sûr. I wouldn't completely corrupt you on our first date."
Rogue felt her face flush at this, and the corners of her mouth pulled up into a smile.
There was a screech of feedback that filled the club, bringing everyone to a standstill as they turned to look at the stage. The band members hadn't returned to the stage, but there was a figure standing in front of the microphone. Rogue gasped as she suddenly recognized the teen they had met on the road, Scrambler. He looked a little rough on the edges, his clothes singed and his goggles cracked.
"Hiya all you freaks and weirdoes. I'm scratch-master Scrambler, and I'm bout to bring down da house." With that announced, there came another loud screech and everyone clutched his or her ears in pain. Several glasses shattered and the blue lights flickered and broke, shooting sparks as they exploded.
"Mah ears!" Rogue moaned.
"Anything is better than having to listen t'that moron say another word," Remy replied.
Sudden flares of light made Rogue think that one of the large spotlights had exploded, but the boy made of crystal had made a sudden appearance.
"If you all give a big round of applause for my man, Prism!" announced Scrambler, who had apparently used his powers to tap into the sound system.
Prism shot up a flare which flew up to the ceiling and hung there, casting them all in bright white light.
"There you are!" said a familiar voice. Rogue turned to see the green and white haired girl, Vertigo, standing on a table behind them. She smiled at them and added: "I'm going to make you pay for what you did to Mikey, you skank!"
"Bring it on, you---!" Rogue's insult was drowned out by another scream from the amplifier, but the language was bad enough to make Gambit wince.
Vertigo's face turned ugly and she slapped her hands together, as if in prayer. Vertigo seemed to stretch out, and her form twisted. The floor waved and the walls bowed inward. Rogue lost her footing and fell. Her head was spinning. From amidst the roiling room, Vertigo suddenly emerged and her foot lashed out, kicking Rogue in the jaw.
Rogue fell onto her back, clutching her face. She could taste blood, and it didn't help the waves of nausea that were flooding through her. She began to crawl away, her eyes shut tight. Vertigo's weight fell on her, and tackled her to the ground. Rogue was lying on the floor, with Vertigo straddling her. Rogue put up her arms, to block herself from Vertigo's blows. Rogue's face felt suddenly hot, and her vision cleared enough for her to make out a red beam of light, burning a scorch-mark across the ground toward her head. She threw herself forward and tumbled the girl to the ground. Vertigo had her hands on Rogue's neck, and the two were struggling to strangle each other.
Remy was suddenly there, pulling Rogue off Vertigo and pushing the other girl away. Holding Rogue he ducked behind a wall as Prism's light beam burned a path just behind their heels. There were several other kids hiding behind the wall. People were running everywhere, some of them shrieking. Shattered glass lay across the floor, broken from Scrambler's screeching amplifiers.
"I count three of them," Remy said. "Where are the others?"
"We can only hope they were caught by the police," Rogue said, as another flash of light burned overhead.
"Stay low," he ordered her as he stood up.
"Where are you goin'?"
"Don't worry 'bout me. Find an exit. You get yourself, and as many others as y'can, out of here." He dove out from behind the wall and somersaulted towards an overturned table. The flash of light followed him across the room. Gambit took out a long cylindrical form from his pocket and it suddenly telescoped out into a staff that was as long as he was tall. The beam of light cut through the tabletop just at Gambit's shoulder, and he vaulted over the table, out into the open. His free hand ran across the ground, scooping up several glass shards, which he quickly charged and sent flying towards Prism. Prism tried to scramble away, but the force of the explosion knocked him to the ground.
Gambit turned and pointed a glowing finger at Scrambler, who still stood on the stage. Scrambler's face turned white and he dashed off the stage, tumbling off into the wreckage. Gambit turned again to face Vertigo, who was striding forward confidently. She began to raise her arms when Remy advanced on her, spinning his bow staff. She deflected his first few blows, and aimed a kick at him, which missed.
"C'mon," Rogue hissed to some of the others nearby. "Let's go."
Rogue dashed out across the floor and glanced back. Several others were following her after a moment of hesitation. The entrance to the club was in just in sight through the waves of smoke. Behind her came an exclamation of fear. Rogue stopped short as the green-haired ringleader dropped down from above.
"Leaving so soon?" she asked. "You may have taken out Blockbuster, but he's a puppy compared to what I can do." She gestured and a chair flew off the floor and struck Rogue down. Spotlights were tumbling down from the ceiling, smashing all around her. A high pitched whine Rogue recognized caused her to duck, and two of Gambit's exploding cards zoomed overhead. Both flew past the green haired girl and detonated on the wall behind her. Rogue was on her feet, covering her eyes to protect them from the flying debris. Gambit was soon standing at her side, holding a pair of cards. In the other hand was his staff.
Their enemy seemed unfazed by Gambit's attack. "I'll save you for later, sweetie," she said, and pointed at him. The staff in Gambit's hand twisted suddenly and curved around his torso. He was sent flying backwards and the two ends of his ruined staff embedded themselves in the opposite wall, pinning him there as he struggled.
Rogue took a page from Gambit's book and scooped some broken glass from the ground and threw it. While the shards didn't explode as Gambit's had, they were enough to distract the girl for a moment. Rogue jumped and grabbed the girl around the ankles and pulled her down.
"If Ah could just touch her bare skin," she thought to herself as she struggled to pull off a glove. The girl aimed a kick at Rogue, which she avoided. She grabbed the girl's exposed ankle as it swung.
Rogue suddenly felt as if she couldn't breathe. Her hand felt as though it were glued to the girl's ankle. She shrieked and writhed on the ground. Rogue struggled to pull away. Her head felt as if it were being stuffed with cotton. She learned the girl's name now: Malice, and she could feel her hatred flowing through her in waves.
"Get out of me, get out of mah head!" Rogue cried. Behind the mask of hate was another voice, one calling out to her weakly.
"Help me!" it called. "I can't help it, she's taken over. Please!"
"Rogue!" someone was shouting over and over again. "Rogue, can you hear me? It's me, Jean!"
Rogue took a deep shuddering breath, and Jean's face swam before her eyes. One of Jean's hands reached toward her and smoothed back Rogue's hair. "Are you all right?" Jean asked.
Rogue shook her head. "It's like…it's like there were two people inside her. Ah couldn't take it…" Shaking violently, she bent forward and put her head on her knees. Malice was lying motionless nearby.
Behind Jean and Rogue, Scrambler was approaching Gambit with a pair of live wires. Gambit was struggling against the metal staff which had pinned him to the wall. "One blackened Cajun, comin' up!" he said.
Shadowcat rose like a specter from the dance floor a few feet behind Scrambler. She grabbed the wires and pulled, causing Scrambler to fall backwards. He fell right through Kitty and lay on the ground, twitching convulsively with his eyes crossed and sparks shooting from his goggles.
"Wow, that was way weird," Kitty said.
"A little help here?" Gambit said.
"Nevermind, kid," said a gruff voice. "I got it." Wolverine approached and yanked what was left of Gambit's staff out of the wall. Gambit fell a few feet and landed on his backside.
"Uhm, hi Wolverine," he said meekly. "Thanks for the save."
Wolverine growled and pulled Gambit up by the collar of his shirt.
"You are so dead," Kitty informed Remy.
Vertigo was trying to make a quiet exit when a blast of foul scented smoke forced her to stop. Standing in the smoke was a furry blue demon and a kid with bones sticking out of his skin. The latter shook his finger at her.
"Na-ah-ah!" he said, and fired several bones at her.
She raised to arms to access her powers, when two of the projectiles shot through her shirtsleeves and pinned them to the ground.
Everyone winced and shielded their eyes as a bright blast of light filled the club. Cyclops was the only one unfazed by Prism's attack, his eyes shielded by his visor. There was a sudden blast of red light, and Prism was sent flying.
A cooling gust of wind blew through the club, and the smoke and dust blew away. Storm flew through the broken entryway of the club and landed gracefully amidst the wreckage. On the street behind her was Professor Xavier.
Wolverine half-dragged Gambit up to the professor's chair. Rogue followed behind them shyly. Logan was so angry he was only forming partial words and growls.
Professor X gave them both a stern glare before saying: "Let's return home, shall we?"
"I'm very disappointed in you both," he began as a preamble when they were all safely aboard the X-Jet. "You are very lucky that you or any of the others in the club were not hurt."
"Professor," Gambit interjected. "Look, I'm really sorry and all, but it was my fault not Rogue's. I made her come with me…kidnapped her practically."
Rogue sighed. "Don't listen to him, Professor. Ah went along for the ride. Ah'm sorry, too."
"Those guys jumped us, it was completely unprovoked!" Gambit added.
Professor Xavier raised his hand. "I believe you, Remy. It is not the fight that I am upset about, but the fact that you stole Logan's motorcycle, broke curfew, and managed to get yourselves into a club with an age restriction. And for that, I'm afraid there will have to be repercussions."
Rogue and Gambit glumly nodded. "Prof," Gambit said, "can I ask you somethin'? Please don't tell Nathan what happened, I'm beggin' you. I didn't sign up with you t'battle evil mutants or learn how to use my powers, or even help with your cause. But I'll fight to my dying breath for peace, love, and happiness for mutant-kind if you don't send me back t'him."
The professor looked stunned for a moment. "Remy," he began after a moment of silence. "I wouldn't dream of sending you back. Or worrying your guardian needlessly over teenage antics." Professor Xavier put a hand on Gambit's forearm and smiled at him, but the look of concern hadn't left his eyes.
"If it were me," called Logan's voice. "I'd start by stringin' him up by his toenails."
"Thank you, Logan, but I think we will stick to more conventional means of punishment," replied the professor. "First of all, you are both grounded to the Institute for a month…"
The small view screen crackled to life, and eventually cleared to show a thin man's face with very pale skin.
"All of them, incarcerated?" said his voice through the tinny speaker.
"Yup," came the reply.
"Disappointing," he commented.
"Saw her take down the big guy with my own eyes," said the man to the screen.
"The girl has amazing powers, and could prove useful. Victor, you must free Malice. We shall continue the tests on the other X-Men, before proceeding."
Victor grunted in reply.
"And keep an eye on my young charge. I fear he is trying to distance himself from me."
With that, Sinister's face winked out, leaving Victor Creed only with the company of static.
Scott was giving orders, arranging their ranks before they began the Danger Room session. "And Gambit," he said, "you'll be bringing up the rear."
Remy was leaning up against the wall, looking slightly bemused. "You're the boss," he said.
Cyclops graced him with another disapproving glare, one of several he had earned himself that day. Gambit had surprised the team earlier by showing up in his new X-Man uniform, which looked similar to Rogue's, save for that the X on his chest was red. He was also wearing a red bandana to keep his hair out of his eyes and his trademark black jacket, both of which seemed to offend Scott.
"All right," Cyclops said, raising his hand to signal that the team was ready and assembled. The Danger Room began to change shape before their eyes.
"Hey," Rogue said to Gambit. "It was kinda nice of you t'try and save me from getting' in trouble. But Ah don't need to be rescued."
"That, I've noticed," Gambit replied with a smile. "Maybe you can pick our next date, and corrupt me instead."
"Next date?" she quipped with a grin. "What next date? And Ah don't believe you can get any more depraved than you all ready are."
"Concentrate people!" called Scott, as he blasted an obstacle with his eye beams. He risked another glare at both Gambit and Rogue before darting off to the head of the group.
The pair shared a private smile before running to catch up with the rest of the team.
Continued in "Stolen Lives"
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