Logan waited, tense and edgy in the silence as Kurt did his checks. Well, not really silent. The old lady was talking a mile a minute, scolding one second and soothing the next. She wiped her eyes once, sniffed a few times as she rubbed a strong, sweet-smelling oil all over Rosa's scales. When she was done with that, she started chanting again. More religious stuff. Logan was quietly thankful that the elf did all his praying and chanting in private: this could really get on a guy's nerves after a while.
"Logan, they found us!" Kurt shouted. "Two vehicles closing in! One less than a mile away!"
Shit! That meant they were in firing range! How the hell did they get so close without being picked up? Logan suddenly grabbed both Rosa and the old woman and bore them to the floor, laying on top of them. The woman shrieked in surprise, but Logan quickly silenced her, putting a hand over her mouth.
"Men with guns outside," he whispered. "Stay down--"
Automatic weapons fire sprayed the walls of the little house. Chunks of adobe exploded away as the shells ripped through everything in their path. Stuffing bled from the couch. The bullets flew by bare inches over Logan's head. He looked back at the curandera's private room, where Ororo lay. The deafening gunfire had shocked her awake. She had rolled out of bed onto the floor automatically, her fingers trembling with the sudden surge of adrenaline and confused awareness as she looked back to Logan.
After a few seconds of destruction, the shooting abruptly stopped. That meant one of two things: the enemy was about to enter, or Kurt had gotten to them. Logan shot out of the open doorway, claws snapping into place, and made a quick, knee breaking turn in the direction of the shots. His target was easy enough to find. A vehicle that looked like an armored dune buggy, six men in combat fatigues, and a blue blur of activity.
Nightcrawler was not having an easy time of it. He still hadn't fully recovered from that stunt in the mine, and now he was up against a coordinated unit of armed and armored men. They broke into partners, spread out, and kept out of each other's line of fire. A hail of bullets clipped Nightcrawler on the shoulder from behind. They didn't penetrate the armored uniform, but they still hurt like hell, and they spun him off balance. He teleported as he fell, materializing behind the vehicle to get his bearings. He couldn't give them a clear shot: they would blow his head off if given half a chance. He felt warmth on his upper lip, tasted the bitter tang of iron in his mouth, and the world jerked to the side. Nosebleed. He was pushing himself too hard. But he couldn't stop. He had to distract them long enough for Logan to get there. He tumbled away as more bullets tracked his movement on the ground, and his head went uncomfortably light. No, no, don't pass out. You're a dead man if you pass out…. He teleported again and materialized literally on top of an enemy. He slammed him to the ground and buried his elbow in his neck, simultaneously foot-sweeping his partner.
He teleported away again, and found himself badly off-balance as he materialized. He stumbled for a half second, vision tunneling, and in that time more bullets sprayed his torso. He fell back, gasping for breath, and heard a soft, sickening sound. The sound of several blades piercing flesh and scraping on bone.
Against Nightcrawler, they did well. It was as if they were expecting him, as if they had planned their strategy around him. But once Logan came into the fray, it didn't last long. They shot him: he didn't care. They ran: he picked up a rifle and mowed them down.
When it was all over, he looked back at Kurt with a bit of distaste, an assault rifle in his hands. "Next time, elf, just pick up a rifle and start shooting."
Kurt smiled weakly. "And how would I pull the trigger, my friend? With my tail?"
"Jeez, your hands ain't working yet?"
Kurt's vision was returning to normal, and the world didn't spin so wildly anymore. He sat up and wiped his bloody lip with the back of his hand. "Only my wrists. My fingers are still like lead."
"Prone to nosebleeds, aren't you?"
He pinched his nose with the flexible tip of his tail. "When I teleport too much, yes, I bleed so."
"Where's the other vehicle?"
Kurt stared at Logan blankly for a heartbeat. "What are you --?"
"You said there were two vehicles, Kurt," Logan interrupted. "Where'd you pick up the other one?"
Kurt's eyes widened as he suddenly remembered the second signal. He looked back over his shoulder, in the last direction he knew the second vehicle to be. According to the Blackbird's terrain maps, it was flat land that way, and the road was bare of other vehicles. Their target should still be inside his range, but in his condition….
Kurt stood up, still pinching his nose, and offered his motionless hand. "This is going to hurt…."
Matt had never driven so fast in his life. They almost had X108. The almost had him. His power signs had grown weaker and weaker with every activation. The hounds were doing a great job. Then it all went to hell. In a few seconds, all transmissions ceased. Every life sign monitor on every hound went dead. And "dead" is what he and Angelou were going to be if they didn't get the hell out of here, but on this rough road there was only so fast they could go.
Got to get to the main rig, he thought. Got to get there. Got to get out of this God-forsaken shithole. The hounds'll take the fall for this. Me and Lou are clean. We'll be okay if we can just get to the main rig.
"Matt, we got a power blip!" Angelou shouted from in back. "I think it's the blue freak! It's almost on top of us!"
Matt's heart pounded. He took a split second to glance back at Angelou, before returning his attention to the bumpy, but clear, road. From out of nowhere, someone in black sprang out in front of the truck. Matt was going too fast. There was no way to avoid hitting him. Then the guy jumped up, and the last thing Matt saw was the blades that shot out of the man's fists.
Logan crashed into the windshield claws-first. The driver never had a chance. The truck swerved wildly and slammed onto its side, skidding to a halt on the dirt road. Logan clambered through the access hole between the cab and the rear. There was someone else back there. With any luck, this meant they'd have a prisoner this time.
The back of the truck, which looked like a basic camper shell on the outside, was filled with sensor arrays and other high-tech equipment. The man in back was some kind of skinhead neo-nazi. Something about the shaved head and swastika tattoos made that abundantly clear. Logan sheathed his claws as he crawled back, a warning grin on his face.
"Okay, bub, it's just you and me," he said. "You wanna play the hero like everyone else, or you wanna live?"
The guy backed up in the far corner, blood trickling from a minor scalp wound he must've received from the turnover. He was trying to stand up, bracing himself against some equipment and trying not to step on others. Too late Logan noticed the surreptitious movement of his target's fingers over a single red pushbutton.
The back of the tiny chamber glowed with red light, the same disturbing bloody color Logan saw in the teleport wormhole at the switching station last month. The skinhead screamed. Everything warped. Metal buckled. Plastic melted. Glass shattered. Electricity arced.
And then rear section of the vehicle was gone, and Logan was looking out at a sunny afternoon. Sparks sporadically leapt up from equipment that was only half-gone. Some of the skinhead was left behind too, identifiable only as bloody, partially charred lumps of muscle and bone. So much for their prisoner. He looked around at the remains of the sensor array. Not that he'd know what to do with this stuff, but it all looked pretty fried to him. And there was no real way to take any of it home with them….
Then he saw the computer box, laying on its side as far away from the rear of the truck as possible. No scorch marks on the casing, just a few dents. It might have survived. It might have something of value. He bent down and began disengaging the unit from the rest of the junk. It was the best chance they had of making sense of any of this.
Ororo woke to shooting. She rolled onto the floor instinctively, in the hopes of ducking the bullets. The shooting stopped and Logan bolted, then the shooting started again, but nothing came through the walls. Their little girl, in her secondary form, laid shivering on the floor of the front room, along with an old woman. Were they at one of her relatives' homes? How much time had passed? What was going on?
She heard Kurt and Logan talking over the comlink, but she couldn't concentrate enough to understand them, much less muster up the strength to speak herself. She waited there long after the bullets stopped. After a few minutes, she shakily sat up.
"Gentlemen, what's going on?" she asked.
"Good to hear you're up, 'Ro," Logan's voice answered. "Give us a few more seconds. Kurt's just recovering enough for one last 'port." He paused for a split second, then asked, "You sure this isn't hurting the hard drive?"
Kurt's voice sounded like he was speaking between pants, though the mike "edited out" the intakes of breath. "It never did before. It's good to hear your voice, liebling."
"You're not pushing yourself too hard, are you, Kurt?" she asked.
"Do I have to tell you… how hypocritical that sounds? Especially if you're out of bed?"
"I rolled out to avoid being shot, thank you."
"Is the doorway clear, by any chance?"
She glanced through the living room to the front door. "The door's open outwards, but other than that, it's clear."
"Good. Hold on."
The two men materialized in a blue sulfurous cloud just outside the door. By this point, Kurt's chest was spattered with shining red, and there were several bullet "marks" on his uniform from where he'd been shot, but the shells did not completely penetrate. He immediately dropped into a low crouch, bowing his head, and a scarlet drop fell onto the ground before him. He pinched his nose shut with the entire spade of his tail, trying to stem the steady dribble of blood.
"Verdabt dose," he muttered.
Logan looked from Kurt to Ororo as he hefted a computer tower in both hands. "You two okay for a minute? I wanna put this baby on the 'bird where it'll be safe. I'll get the first aid kit."
"Ad sub Gatorade," Kurt asked. "I tig I'll deed it."
Kurt raised his head just enough to see Ororo, and instead found himself looking straight at the creature who was little Rosa. She had crawled over to him across the tile floor. She knelt in front of him and reached for his hands, then gently pulled. She wanted him inside.
When Logan jogged back, a six-pack of Gatorade in hand and a first aid kit in the other, he found Kurt sitting on the floor in front of the curandera. She was pinching his nose with one hand and shaking her rattle with the other. Rosa laid curled up nearby, and Ororo sat against the doorway to the next room, out of everyone's way. The skin that showed through the hole in her uniform was pink and glistening, very fresh and raw. Logan made his way to Ororo first, popping off a plastic bottle of electrolytes and handing it to her. She accepted it gratefully.
After a few gulps of the sweetish, neon yellow liquid, she said, "Is this one of our girl's relatives?"
"Don't think so," Logan answered. "We were lookin' for someplace to get you taken care of, but the only one our girl here knew of was a faith healer. Good thing for us she's the real thing. I think she's a mutant, too."
"We're at a curandera's place?"
Logan paused. "Yeah, she and Kurt said that word a few times."
Ororo sipped her drink and nodded. "Traditional folk healers of Mexico. Combination of prayer and herbalism." She looked down at her side, specifically at the healing wound. "She did this?"
"Like I said, I think she's a mutant."
The curandera finished her chant and removed her hand. When she spoke, her voice was tremulous with exhaustion.
"I sorry, senor, I so tired. No more blood, but maybe start again."
Kurt nodded just a little bit, responding in Castilian. Ororo could gather he was thanking her, but there was more to it than that. He and the curandera spoke for a little bit, and she traced one of the delicate scars on his face, prompting his embarrassed smile.
"You flirtin' over there, partner?" Logan called. "Doncha think she's a little old for you?"
"She said she knew I wasn't a demon," Kurt answered. "No demon could wear the angels' marks on its skin."
The curandera nodded and pointed to Kurt's face. "Angel here. Is no diablo."
Logan moved over to Kurt and handed him the rest of the six-pack. Kurt removed two bottles and set them aside for Rosa before tearing into to the remainder.
"Y'know the worst part about all this?" Logan asked, surveying everyone in the room. "Now I'm the one who has to call up Charley."
They stayed at the curandera's that night, for the healer insisted on it. Kurt was in no shape to fly the Blackbird just then, and Ororo would take even longer to recover fully. While Rosa slept, apparently trapped in her secondary form for the time being, the X-men managed to explain some of what was going on. Where they came from, who and what they where, what they were trying to do. The curandera did not seem to understand all of it, but she also seemed not to care. All that mattered to her was that they planned to take Rosa to a safe school in America, and it was the best thing she could ever have hoped for.
Logan disappeared for an hour after dinner, but came back before the sun went down, laden with several bags of gear and four heavy assault rifles. No one bothered to ask him where he had been.
The next morning, as they were prepping the Blackbird for takeoff, Rosa finally turned back into her human form. She immediately ran to the curandera and hugged her, her words muffled in the old woman's side. The curandera smiled sadly and shook her head as she answered, patting Rosa on the back. The three X-men watched from a discrete distance, ready to go, but unwilling to interrupt.
Kurt sighed. "She wants to stay with the curandera. I cannot blame her. But the woman wants her to go with us. 'I will not be here much longer. When God takes me, what will happen to you? You will be in the same place as before. You go with the Americans. Go to a good place.'"
Rosa detached from and looked up at the old woman, her face damp with blotted tears. She lowered her head and nodded as the curandera gave her a kiss on the cheek. Logan, Kurt, and Ororo glanced at each other; it looked like this was the right time. They unzipped their uniforms part way and reached in for their slender billfolds. They were issued two hundred dollars apiece to remain in the suits for field emergencies, and this was most definitely a case for using it. As the curandera walked toward them, Rosa at her side, they put their money into Kurt's now-recovered hand, and he offered it to the woman.
"You help us very much," he told her in Castilian. "You have save Ororo and Rosa. We thank you. We be sorry the bad men come for us and shoot your house. This be all we have. We hope this help fixes your house."
The healer gasped as she beheld the money. It seemed this was more than she had seen at one time for quite a while, if ever. She hesitated.
Kurt gently pressed it into her hand. "Please take it. You be doing God's work here."
Her hand closed around the small stack of tens and twenties. She smiled at all three of them.
"You do God work too," she said in English. "You take Rosa. Take to America to safe place."
"We will," Ororo told her.
Ororo extended her hand to Rosa. The girl looked back at the old woman, hugged her once more, then turned to Ororo and took her hand. Ororo walked slowly up the gangplank with her, mindful of her still tender injury. As the others came up behind her, she strapped Rosa into her seat, then went to the copilot's chair. She was never so relieved as when she could sit down. But she wasn't done yet. She activated the closest comlink and waited for a reply.
Within seconds, she heard Scott's voice. "Cyclops."
"We're about to take off, Cyclops," she said. "We should be back by early afternoon. Kurt's going to be flying while I supervise."
"How are you doing, Storm?" Scott asked. "Will you be in any condition to walk once you get in?"
"I should be. Listen, have Kitty ready to work on something when we land."
"Yes, Logan told me about the box. It sounds like it's going to take a lot of work, but it could yield something useful. How's Rosa?"
Ororo glanced back. Rosa craned her neck to look out the window as best she could. "She's going to need some care, but she's better than last night, at least. And if we could, maybe Hank could do some reconstructive surgery on her lip when he gets back."
"I'm sure he'd be glad to."
The Blackbird's thrusters powered up as they spoke. For some reason, Kurt was taking the time to clean his control yoke. She looked at him curiously. He glanced back at her, then finished his cleaning.
"You don't want to know how I managed to fly this last night," he said softly, apparently in the hopes that Scott wouldn't hear.
"Yeah," Logan said a bit loudly from his seat. "Never seen someone fly with their feet before."
"Flying with his feet?" Scott asked.
Kurt glared back at Logan and bared his teeth in a snarl. "If he chews my ass off for this, I'm taking a hunk of yours to replace it."
"You should've let me fly. Then you wouldn't have to worry about it."
"And you would have nosed the Blackbird into the ground in five minutes. I've seen your scores."
"You keep Logan off the controls at all costs," Scott's voice added quickly. "I've seen his scores, too."
Kurt stuck his tongue out at Logan. Behind Ororo, little Rosa stifled a giggle. Storm leaned back in her chair and looked up at the clear morning sky. This day would be just as dry as the day before to this parched land.
"Kurt," she asked softly, "do you think you could handle flying through some rain?"