Sweet Southern Comfort Challenge

Synopsis: Things have been changing in the X Mansion, especially for Rogue. Becoming more and more disillusioned with her mutation each day, she desperately needs an out. When out Christmas shopping one day, a chance collision of fates may just give her what she want… whether she realizes it or not. This omits X3 and Origins… mainly because I started writing this before the movies came out. :P

Rating: currently PG-13 for language and brief sexual situations.

Disclaimer: I do not own the X-Men, nor am I gaining any profit from this...except maybe the sweet satisfaction of handling Remy Lebeau and making him do whatever I so please. : )

The Difficulties of Christmas Shopping

Rogue leaned forward from the passenger seat and clicked on the radio.

"Blessed Graceland Whispers to me, Carry on, Carry on, Sweet Southern Comfort carry–"

"– And today's weather is a high of 28 degrees and a windshield of..."

"Hey, Ah was listenin' to that! Ah love that song."

"Well, when you get your own car, you can have all the control over the radio you want. But while you're in my car, you listen to the news," a rigid Scott Summers replied while gritting his teeth. Being blackmailed by Logan into transporting four teenagers to the mall for Christmas shopping was taking more strength and control than a hand-to-hand fight with a rabid Sabertooth in heat. "Besides, nobody likes country music."

"AH like country music!"

"You do?" came the muffled voice of Bobby Drake from the backseat. Not muffled enough to get that whiney tone out of his that boy's mouth, thought Scott.

"Of course Ah do! You of all people should know what kinda music Ah like!"

Scott rolled his eyes behind his ruby glasses. He didn't exactly know the cause, but within the past few months, the relationship between Bobby and Rogue had become rather stressed... almost violently so. More than once, the teachers at the Xavier Institute for Gifted Youngsters have had to break apart their arguments before the scathing words turned into fists.

"Marie, All I'm trying to say is–"

"Ah told ya not ta call me that! It's Rogue!"

Scott sighed. Rogue was a problem all of her own. First it was her uncontrollable power – which gave the staff the difficult task of creating accommodations as discretely as possible. Now the staff had to deal with a complete change in personality. Lately, she had become extremely irritable. Blowing up at the slightest irk. She disconnected herself from all of her friends, preferring to spend time alone in her room. When she was among the group, she snapped at everyone and hid behind a thick blanket of teenage attitude. Even Logan, her closest ally, couldn't get through to her.

"And why do y'all always attack me, anyways? Now Ah'm not good enough 'cause a mah musical–"

"ENOUGH! I don't want to hear another word from anyone until we are inside the mall!"

The teens all froze, staring at him in a startled astonishment. Scott had never really gotten used to the whole dealing-with-children thing. When faced with the all too common display of what he thought of as 'foolish judgment', he always passed the responsibility of punishment to Jean. Scott felt a deep pang from within his chest. Swallowing impulsively, he pushed back the thought of the woman he had loved – and lost– and directed his thoughts back to the issue at hand. Rogue.

Scott looked askance at the small girl beside him. Nobody knew how to help her. Ororo was the first to notice a shift in her personality. She began wearing darker, more brooding colours and covered her face in heavy makeup. Though she was always forced to cover her skin, she began layering her clothing to an almost ridiculous amount. As the weeks passed, she became noticeably thinner, and just the other day, Kitty Pryde reported to the professor that she saw deep cut marks all over Rogue's arms while they were changing. They were all worried, but even the professor was at a loss as to how to help her.

Studying her sullen posture, Scott clenched his jaw a few times, a habit of his to relieve tension. He personally thought she was being selfish. She had a lot to be thankful for, under the care of Professor Xavier, and she wasn't the only one who had to make sacrifices for her mutation.

Rogue stared out of the window through dark sunglasses. Half her face was hidden beneath a black woolen hat with a wide, down turned brim. She wore a cute little green summer dress, but the effect was ruined by the multitude of necklaces that decorated her throat, her thick black stockings, and the long leather jacket she insisted on wearing everywhere. Her feet were folded under her in an indian position. Scott had commented that her combat boots would rough up the interior leather of his new H2, but she only glared and said that the car was uglier than an armadillo with AIDS. Scott chose not to respond to that.

Scott shook his head, knowing it would be futile to try and figure her out.

XXXXXXXXXXX

The store was crowded. She hated crowds.

Once they entered the mall, Mr. Summers had given them a lengthy lecture on etiquette and adult responsibility then sent them off to shop on their own.

Rogue looked around, not quite sure what she should do. She resented Kitty and her 'holiday spirit.' She had forced Rogue into joining the rush of last minute Christmas shopping. Now the hyperactive computer nerd was nowhere in sight.

What kind of presents do you buy for a houseful of mutants?

"Well, there's always wrappin' paper. Everyone needs wrappin' paper." Satisfied with her choice, she went in search of a hallmark store.

Weaving in and out between the crowds, careful not to brush up against anyone, Rogue wondered vaguely how Kitty actually enjoyed this.

Picking up her pace, she rounded a corner sharply, only to collide into something very tall and solid. Looking up from the floor, Rogue added a very gorgeous tall and solid something. A hand reached down to help her up, but Rogue recoiled from it and clumsily stood on her own.

"Escuse-moi, ma cherie."

And in a flash he was gone again, swept up in the current of the crowd.

Rogue shook her head, shunning herself for being so careless. She scaled the sides of the mall for the next half hour, ducking in and out of shops to gather half-assed presents.

By noon, she had accumulated enough bags to feed a bonfire for a week. She contemplated stopping by the food court, but the thought of eating made her nauseated. Instead, she lugged her bags over to the nearest bench and plopped down to mope for a while. After a few minutes of wallowing in self-pity, she noticed Mr. Summers exiting a jewelry store. He looked miserable. Prob'ly returnin' Dr. Grey's engagement ring or somethin', she thought. Suddenly interested, Rogue got up and wandered over to the large, decadent window display. A beautiful diamond necklace greeted her from behind the glass, looking like it probably weighed a solid five pounds. How very Breakfast at Tiffany's. Rogue struggled for a moment, then against her better judgment, entered the store.

The lighting was almost blinding as it reflected off of rows and rows of sparkling jewelry under thick cases of glass. Surrounded by men in crisp suits and women in heels and fur coats, Rogue felt tremendously out of place with her plastic beaded chokers and cheap moodrings. Fumbling around with oversized bags with long tubes of gay-looking wrapping paper sticking out didn't help.

She traveled through the store, staring at the intricate gold earrings, brouches glittered with sapphires and rhinestones, and rings with stones as big as grapes.

In the centre of the store was a large glass display with a sign underneath stating in fine script: Silent auction, December 24th, 7:30pm. Featuring from Europe the memorizing Le Rubis de Sang Royal.

The ruby of royal blood? Rogue's upper lip curled as she snickered at the name. But when she looked up into the display, her smirk disappeared completely.

Surrounded by a scattering of jewels lay a black velvet pillow supporting the most beautiful thing Rogue had ever seen. A ruby so large it would barely fit inside her fist. As the light hit it from various angles, the deep red would shift into a brilliant crimson. Shaped into a teardrop, it did indeed look like a drop of blood.

For a moment, Rogue had the craziest urge to break into the case and steal it all for herself. She stared at it for a while until she noticed the strange looks she was getting from the employees. Reluctantly, she moved on. All of the other jewels that she had been drooling over now seemed dull and boring.

After about ten minutes of sneaking glances at the ruby, she decided enough time had passed to be considered fashionably late to Mr. Summer's meeting spot. She turned and strolled to the exit. As she was passing the theft detectors, someone pushed past her roughly, causing her to stumble slightly. Suddenly, the loud screeching of alarms filled the air.

"Shit!" Startled, Rogue made to take off, but a hand pulled her back by the neck of her coat.

"No, you don't!" The security guard behind her held onto her arms. Rogue could feel his fingers digging into her biceps. "You steal from here?"

"Ah don't know whatcha talkin' about!"

There was a shriek from inside the store. "le rubis! It's gone!"

"It's alright. I caught the little thief." The guard looked down at her with cold eyes. "Now give it up."

"Ah don't got nuthin'! Now let me go!" Rogue tried to wiggle out of the steely grip, but realized he wasn't about to let go any time soon.

A stout man pushed his way through the crowd that was forming, stopping in front of her. "You've been caught, miss, now I suggest you give back the jewel before you get yourself into any more trouble."

"Ah don't got no jewel!" She yelled as she continued to struggle.

"Please, you are only making things more difficult for yourself," The man said calmly, folding his arms.

"Are ya deaf! Ah don't have it, fat man!"

"Why you little–!"

"James, what is this ruckus?" A thin, wrinkled woman with a blue power suit hanging off her boney frame stepped into the ring of gawkers.

"Ms. DeWinter! This little snit stole le rubis de sang royal!" James whined.

The woman looked down her nose at Rogue. "Are you positive?"

"Of course!"

"Yes," a woman's voice cried out from the crowd. "She was the one who had been staring at it so suspiciously!"

"Hand it over, girl!" growled the security guard.

"Ah don't got it!"

"GIVE IT HERE!" The fat man named James lunged toward her and grabbed her bags, searching through them for the jewel. Not finding it, he padded down her pockets, then crudely plunged his hand inside her coat.

"Hey!"

Not finding any inner hiding spots, he tried to rip off her coat.

"No! Wait –" She wrenched away from him, but not before his hand brushed against her bared shoulder. She felt the familiar pull of her power as she watched him recoil and stagger. He fell to one knee while holding his hand as if it were burnt.

His wife left him a week ago for her aerobics trainer. He is relieved that she now will not learn of his affair with her secretary. It hurts that he can only see his kids once every two weekends. He feels the same lump in his throat every time his mother calls and he has to pretend everything is okay.

His eyes were wide and fearful. "M-m-mutant!"

A string of gasps ran through the crowd as people backed away from her.

"It WAS her!"

"Someone get the police!"

"But where did the ruby go..."

"She probably teleported it somewhere–"

"– or turned it into something..like a piece of lint!"

Rogue rolled her eyes.

"Stay away, Billy!"

"Be careful! Don't upset her or she'll kill us all!"

"Oh, fer cryin' out loud." Enough of this. Rogue found an opening and elbowed the guard still holding her in the gut as hard as she could. As he grunted and let go, she bolted through the crowd. They parted for her, acting as if she had the plague or something.

It took a good five seconds before the shock cleared and the security guard took off after her, followed by a few brave individuals.

Rogue twisted through the sea of shoppers, lugging her bags behind her. From the shouts behind her, she could tell they were getting closer. She turned a corner sharply and squealed as a pair of strong hands enveloped her. One arm slid around her waist and pulled her though a doorway while a gloved hand covered her mouth. For the third time in an hour, she struggled against the grip holding her down and yelled out muffled curses.

"Shh! Would y'be quiet!"

"Mmm mm MMM mm MMM!"

"Oh hush up! I ain' gon hurt ya."

The arms disappeared and Rogue whipped around to her attacker and glared. He was leaning up against a stall with his arms crossed, an amused smirk playing on his full lips. A small dimple rested on chiseled cheeks, complimenting a strong jaw and high cheekbones. Auburn hair fell across this face in a disheveled, yet complimenting fashion. Rogue cursed inwardly as she felt an unwelcome blush rise in her cheeks as she stared up at him. He was tall. Very tall.

It was then she noticed the urinals and grungy white linoleum. She was in a bathroom. A men's bathroom.

"What do ya want?" she asked warily.

An eyebrow lifted over black reflective sunglasses. "I jus' saved y'from an angry mob."

"Yeah. Why?"

"Ooo, hostile!" he grinned, "Mebbe I feel an obligation t'save a belle femme in distress. But now be de time t'be questionin' yo' white knight when dey still be huntin' ya?" He cocked his head to the side as the sounds of shouting grew louder.

"Fuck!"

"Dieu, I like my women spicy!"

"Shut up! Now how do we get outta here?"

"Dis way." He turned away from her and she couldn't help but be disappointed that her view of his butt was interrupted by a long, brown trench coat. He turned to the wall and reached up, wiggling the corner of the vent above his head. It popped out, dispelling dust everywhere. He shook his head, a cloud of dust puffing out of his shaggy hair like some backward halo. "Come on," he urged as he bent down to give her a lift.

She hesitated.

"C'mon! We ain't got all day!" A pause. "I said I ain't gon hurt y'none! Ya gotta trust me here."

Rogue grudgingly stepped forward, grumbling, "It's not me Ah'm worried about." She swung her bags into the small hole then stepped into his hands. The momentum from the man caused Rogue to shoot up into the vent a little more forcefully than necessary. She felt him scramble up behind her just as she heard the door to the bathroom crash open.

"They're in the ventilation system!"

"Go, go, go, go, go!" and she was pushed from behind. That was all the urging she needed.

XXXXXXXXXXXXX

The space was even more cramped than it looked. Rogue felt her back scrape against the smooth aluminum, occasionally rubbing up against a rough bolt. She felt her stockings tear at the knee. Oh, this is pleasant. Her hands were grimy from crawling through years of dust.

"Turn right, chere."

At least he sounded a little stuffy from the debris. That made Rogue feel a tiny bit better.

After a few minutes of clamoring through the dark, the man behind her told her to stop. "Dere should be a loose vent right under ya."

Indeed, she could feel tiny screws sticking up under her palms. She twisted them the rest of the way out and flung them carelessly behind her.

"Ow, fuck!"

Rogue smirked as she slammed her fist down on the vent, causing it to swing open, then jumped down smoothly.

She landed on her feet, the heels of her boots clapping loudly against hard cement. She grimaced as the jarring of the impact vibrated painfully up her legs. Behind her, she heard a soft swish of cloth. As she turned around, the man was straightening and dusting off his coat nonchalantly. Wow. Someone's done that before.

They were on a platform leading into a garage. Abandoned semi trucks stretched across yellow and black strips of tape so covered in oil they were hardly visible. Mountains of cardboard boxes stood in darkened corners, almost reaching the ceiling. Behind them, a row of blackened windows could be seen. The huge garage doors were closed, but there was a small exit off to the side.

The trenchcoat guy slowly strolled down the handicap ramp with his hands in his pockets, moving back and forth, back and forth across her vision. At the bottom he twirled around to face her and held out a hand. "Shall we, ma belle?" He gave her a crooked smile.

Rogue rolled her eyes and swung underneath the handrails, brushing past him. She walked to the heavy looking door about ten metres away and yanked on it. It didn't budge.

She turned back and was annoyed to find the man hadn't moved. He was still halfway across the room, leaning against the railing.

"It's locked, Frenchie."

He pushed himself off of the metal bars and took his time crossing over to her. He turned his back to her and jiggled the handle a few times with both hands, then twisted it. It gave under his hands. He turned to look over his shoulder. "No it ain't."

Rogue huffed and pushed past him into a damp but sunlit alleyway. The cold air bit at her, but she was glad to feel it. Taking a deep breath, she started walking away.

"Y'still didn' t'ank Remy fo' savin' ya, chere."

"Yeah, well 'Remy' didn't save me from anythin', sugah, so he can hop right off his high horse," she threw into the air, not turning around. "Ah could've gotten outta there all by mah – oh shit." As she rounded the corner, she skidded to a halt.

Half a dozen blue and whites were parked outside the mall's main entrance with their lights flashing wildly. Police officers were scattering everywhere, around the entrance and behind the semi circle of cars. A couple were heading right in their direction.

"Fils de Putain!" the curse was spat into the back of her neck. She jumped, not realizing he had snuck up behind her.

"What are we gonna do?" she whispered.

There was a brief silence before he answered. "I save you, now you gonna save me." He then grabbed the back of her neck with his right hand and swung his left around her body. A long knife glinted in front of her face Her eyes widened as it was pressed against her throat. With his knee, he pushed her forward.