Review responses:

Ishandahalf: I am sooo with you regarding Beast spouting his oh so lovable and iconographical "Oh my stars and garters!" :squeals:D The same can be said of Juggernaut's "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!" which was a reference to the fanvideo that's been making it's humorous rounds of the internet. There was TONS of fanservice in X3. :D Yeah, Essex has Gambit pretty desperate doesn't he? He gives me the creeps. Probably why I love him as an X-Villain so much. :D If you like the length of chapter four… you'll like this one better. I was tempted to chop it into two chapters because I had been aiming as a relative consistency between all the chapter lengths. However, I must've jinxed myself (like you did with chapter four's update time, hehe) because I had kept putting "chapter of 5" on all the chapter titles and such. :shakes head: That was silly of me. But, then again, if not for that, I would've gone and made it six chapters, and then, this post wouldn't be quite as long as it is, now would it? I'm having tons of fun with the segues between chapters, with connecting the different themes and dialogues and imageries… challenging, and fun. :D Honestly, I'm just having so much fun with all the aspects of this. And I'm so glad to see you and other readers enjoying as well. Those lines you mentioned seem to be common faves of readers… they were among my faves of that chapter as well. I wonder if we'll match up like that again this chapter, cause there sure are some douzies close to my heart in this one. :D

Jason: Haha. I love your reviews. So short, yet they say so much. :D There's more Betsy in this one for ya, though, probably not enough to sate you. As if you could be sated. :winks:ruffles your hair: Oh yeah... and you and alchy will recognize, likely, a couple little bits in this that I had pasted to you in IM a while back. But, they are minuscule compared to the rest of this chappy.

Ludi: :glomps: hehe. I have no problem whatsoever with you reviewing here and neglecting the email. Especially, when I'm pretty sure I forgot to send that chapter to you in email. oo Naughty me. And you are so right about those lines. You were very much on my mind when I wrote them. :D Oh mah goodness was this a long review… :melts with pride: hehe. I hold all of your comments close to my heart and my thoughts. You give such impeccable feedback. It's what every writer hopes for, I'm sure. :eats it up: As for the research… the internet is a mighty fine thing for such small things as the names of anatomy and such. Got more of that this chapter. Hehe. Oh, and I finally got some sleep… which is why this chappy here didn't get up yesterday. Of course, I still have to finish the fic you sent me, and I've gotta find a way to convince you to post it for everyone else to read. Tis fabulous. I'm so addicted. I'm not even to the end and already I'm wanting you to do a sequel. Hehe. :D

Alchy: You sweet, sweet kittie you. I can't thank you enough for reading and for reviewing. It means so very much to me. I'm sorry that chapter four wouldn't load for you. Here's hoping both four and five will work better now, and perhaps even to your benefit. They flow together almost as if they could've been one ginormous chapter. Well, at least I think they do. I am very eager to hear your thoughts on them once you get to read them. :Pets the kitty under his chin: hehe. And as I told Jason above, though you might recognize a couple parts in this chapter from stuff I shared in IM a while back, those bits are itty bitty compared to the rest of this chapter:D

Anamarie Chambers: I love your eye! I'm so giddy that you picked up on those extra-rich lines as well. I thrilled in writing them and I thrill it more when readers appreciate them. Thank you so much for that. :D As for saving everyone… well… there's a long road ahead, but some things, at any rate, get their just due in this chapter… sort of… hehehehe.

Angw: Thank you so much for the praise. I am so glad you're reading and I am honored that it pleases you. I hope you stay for the long haul (there are 5 parts to X-Men Rising and this is only Part Two). :D

And of course, thank you to everyone who has read even if you haven't let me know with your comments. :D

Now…
Hold on to your britches, ya'll… this be a long and winding one.
But, of course, not everything is exactly what it seems.
:winks:
Or is it?
Hee hee hee.

And one more thing…. Um… pardon my French.


Chapter Five

Musty. Stale. Dusty. Pale. Dank. Fetid. Rank. Indebted.

"Is there anything else?" Metallic. Doug.

Forge almost said no, but he was loathe to leave the child, for that was all he really was, a child, alone and thirsty. "Can you access the Regeneration pods?"

"Yes." Electronic. Ramsey.

Forge shifted. His mechanical leg pinched from the long awkward sit amidst the cables. "Can you assess one of their…" He fumbled for the word. He would not use Essex's term. "…inhabitants?"

"Yes." Cypher. "Which one?"

He realized… "I don't know her name. She's the third on the right."

"Unhelpful. Physical order is not computed and there are three females." A series of whirs and clicks, too similar to an old modem, though more advanced, and then, "What is her purpose?"

"Malice's host."

"Located." Metallic. Electronic. "Regeneration complete. Redundant diagnostic will take four hours, thirty-two minutes and nine seconds to complete."

Musty. Stale. Dusty. Pale. Dank. Fetid. Rank. Indebted.

Forge was conflicted. He could use some sleep. He could use some food. He could be nice and bring the boy more icy cold water. And yet, he found it near impossible to leave.

Permitting, not dismissing. "You can go." When Forge did not move or speak, he added, "I would like a bit of candy or cake. Any sweet you could find." Metallic. "It has been…" Electronic. "…time."

"I can do that." And still, it took more effort to drag himself from Doug's presence than it did to force himself to work on the Sentinels.

Musty. Stale. Dusty. Pale. Dank. Fetid. Rank. Indebted.


"Remy's accurate," Warren said. He shrugged, and winced for it.

The confines of Xavier's office, close quarters with eleven people in it, did little for the comfort of Warren's injuries. However, it was better than eating breakfast in the medlab.

Continuing, Warren confirmed, "Worthington Industries is one of the Diamond Research Center's biggest contributors. I personally consigned the funding that went to their mutant rehabilitation facility."

Kitty bit back the sarcastic remark regarding Remy's presupposed indictment bidden on her lips. She was in the big leagues now, after all. Maturity was expected of her. Of course, that didn't stop the petulant 'I told you so' scrunching of her face. It was only one motion shy of sticking her tongue out at Scott.

"And just how would Remy know that?" Logan asked, taking the punch out of Kitty's indignation.

Warren didn't even blink. Nor, did he acknowledge the slander to it. "He works for Dr. Essex." It was a fact, plain and simple, benign and lackluster.

"Worked," Gambit chirped from under those cinnamon and marmalade bangs of his. "Unemployed at the moment."

"Top dollar, too," Warren said. "According to last quarter's reports."

"So you're a mercenary," Scott stated more than asked Gambit.

"I'm a independent contractor," Gambit said. He smirked. "Freelance. Security ain't usually my style, though." He shrugged, non-committal. "Work's work."

"Pardon the tangent," Hank said. "But, it just occurred to me. You're the third, I take it?" Most of the team didn't understand the question.

Warren had. He nodded.

A welcoming grin split his beastly features. "Good to meet you, Warren Worthington the third." Now, they all understood. "I'm Dr. Henry McCoy." He offered his furry hand. "My apologies for missing our appointment two months ago." He swept a hand to indicate his body, his appearance, namely the blue fur and skin. "I was rather indisposed."

Warren eyed him with slight misgiving, but shook his hand nonetheless. "You didn't happen to have a run in with a mutant named Roulette, did you?"

"No," Hank said and adjusted his glasses in query. "Mine was with Essex."

Warren contained his distress, but not his concern nor the dawning confirmation of suspicion. He and Betsy shared this look. Between them, it was tender, caring, loving. A trauma shared. Closure, of a sort, communed. They squeezed each other's hands.

"In fact," Hank continued, "Until these fine people rescued me last night, I was a specimen of the less-than-public corner of Essex's rehabilitation program."

"When you say rescue?" Betsy.

"We broke him out," Rogue said, brusque and brash as a train chug, chug, chugging atop an anorexic, emaciated bridge over the Mississippi.

"That explains the half-dead soldier down there." Betsy was even blunter, and bolder. "Covering your tracks, were you?"

Rogue half choked on her coffee. Bobby, hand returned to normal, patted her back. Storm patted her hand. Neither comforted her, touched her where she needed it. She set her coffee cup in its saucer on the dark mahogany—the color of rescue—end table. It effectively pulled her from their claustrophobic reach.

"It was an accident, I assure you," Xavier said.

Scott briefly explained what had happened.

"We didn't have much time to decide." Nightcrawler. "The soldiers, they were coming. Fast, and in great number."

"She's sure as hell better here than there," Logan added. He chewed his unlit cigar, apparently the breakfast of wolverines. "Just look at Beast and the Cajun there."

Gambit paused in his chewing of his croissant. He cocked his head and peaked out those flippant bangs of his. Part disbelief. Part scrutiny.

"We have another friend in his custody," Storm said, laden with the plea.

"Y'r breaking in again?" Gambit asked. Part disbelief. Part eagerness.

"You volunteering?" Logan. It earned him a glare from Gambit.

"If I never see that place again, it'd be as good as heaven." It slipped out so swiftly he looked up as if to see who had said it.

"It'd be suicide," Warren said, shaking his head. "They'd be expecting it. Especially if they know to use your friend as bait."

"We don't think he knows," Storm said.

"It's our only anticipated advantage, actually," Scott said.

"A slim one, at best." Nightcrawler.

"We don't know what he knows." Xavier. "Even with Cerebro boosting my power, I've not been able to get any kind of a lock on him."

"Yeah," Betsy confirmed. "Telepathy doesn't work on him. Bloody hell of a backlash."

"So, he's a mutant too," Logan exposed, grousing.

"Or the devil himself," Gambit cuckooed. Quieter, not expecting anyone to pay attention to him, he supplemented, "Frankenstein, at the very least."

"I could get you in," Warren chirped in contribution. "Straight and narrow. Right in the front. Legit."

Scott harped on that. "I don't—"

Xavier stalled him with a raised hand. "Scott, let him speak."

"I declined a third-party request for more funding," Warren informed them. "I can use that to set up a meeting with him directly."

Betsy squeezed his hand, for which he winced, and she squeezed harder. "You aren't going."

"I wouldn't have to," he said and she eased off. "I'd tell him to meet with you regarding your friend."

"Caliban," Storm supplied.

"Caliban," Warren acknowledged. "I don't have proof, but I'm sure that my accident is connected. Essex may have even ordered it."

"How would that help us any?" Logan. "Seems like it'd just double the trouble."

"It does," Warren said. "And that's why it works. He knows that you know that he knows that you know..." He motioned 'on and on' with his hand. "But the media doesn't know that the missing Doctor McCoy here isn't missing anymore."

"Senator Kelly's Mutant Good Will Research Committee," Xavier said. It lingered. It sparked.

"It could use some good press," Scott said. "The media has been laying into it even more since your disappearance."

"Do you think—" she "—he'd do it?" Storm questioned both Xavier and Hank.

"I could call him," Hank suggested.

"How do we know you're not setting us up," Bobby asked. Most of them had thought it. Scott had been cut off from voicing it. Bobby only got it out because nobody had expected it from him.

"You don't," Warren said evenly.

"In these matters the only certainty is that nothing is certain," Hank quoted, and then credited, "Pliny the elder."

Betsy then filled in, "But it makes us equal in risks."

"Be wary of the man who urges an action in which he himself incurs no risk," Hank quoted again. "Joaquin Setanti."

Scott didn't see the connection. "Us?" Couldn't fathom it. "We're the good guys." Myopic.

"We only have your word on that," Betsy said. "And Moira's, too, of course."

"Who couldn't help us," Warren reminded them, "And who is an ocean away."

"It's our home, our turf," Rogue puzzled out for herself. "You're vulnerable here."

"I show you doubt, to prove that faith exists," Hank quoted a third time. "Robert Browning."

"What do you think, Professor?" asked Storm.

Obviously conflicted, he pondered it a moment.

Hank urged with one final quote. "Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd. Voltaire."

"Make it so," Xavier said decisively. "Warren, Henry, call your contacts. Storm, Scott, Logan and Piotr, ready the jet. You'll be accompanying Hank and me."

"Professor," Storm said, "Only Kurt to supervise the kids?"

Right on top of her, Logan blurted, "What about the Cajun?"

At the tail of them, came Scott. "No offense to you two," meaning Betsy and Warren, "I get that staying here exposes you, but too little defense here will leave us wide open at both ends."

"Ororo needs to come because of Caliban," Xavier reasoned. "Piotr isn't experienced enough to make much more of a difference here than I would." He tapped his chair in obvious explanation. "So, it'll have to be either Scott or Logan. Decide between yourselves. I want to leave here within an hour."

They dispersed, water in oil, slow and oozing. Only Kitty leapt up like grease splatter-popping in a hot pan.


Forge had the strangest urge to bring Doug griddle pancakes slopped in rich real butter, smothered in thick and dark maple syrup, and dotted with a few fresh strawberries. Of course, he had no access to those. He did, however, have some glucose tablets in lab two. Well, he didn't have them, but he acquired them from Essex's supplies easily enough. They were used for stabilizing blood sugar levels. It wasn't much, but he made a sweet-drink out of them by crushing them up and mixing them with another bottle of water. He was about to make due with that when he remembered the single pristine orange in his barracks—prison—locker. It had been a reward for the completion of the first working nano, currently possessing Sabretooth at that very moment. Reward it may have been, but there was no ceremony to its presentation. In fact, there had been no presentation or even any acknowledgment that that was what that Orange was. It had merely been resting in a bowl on the mess-hall-platter beside the protein patty and vitamin fortified carbohydrate mush. Forge hadn't much liked oranges, but he couldn't bring himself to discard the fruit either. It reminded him of the open air, the sting of salt, and the sun.

The sun.

"It has been…" Doug had said. Metallic. Electronic. Sunny. "..a long time."

It sure had.

When Forge fed a lump of that sticky, dripping, pulpy flesh to Doug he fought down remembrance of the other reason he hadn't simply eaten the fruit himself out of pure and simple principal of deserving. Would be a fine spoiler of a time to find that suspicion confirmed when he was trying to spoil the boy.


"Kitty," Scott called. He had meant to address the roster issue with Logan first, but didn't want to let Kitty slip away. "I'm revoking your suspension," he told her. "I over reacted."

Kitty stopped and regarded him with teenage suspicion. "Is this a trick?"

"However…"

Kitty sighed with a roll of her eyes. "It's a trick."

"However," Scott reiterated more strongly, "I would like you to stick close to home tonight. No trips to the mall or the movies."

"You're grounding me? Some apology."

"I admit I didn't listen to you as well as I should have," Scott continued. "That doesn't change that it's also important that you understand why I did. You can't be negligent with our privacy. It can cost us more than our personal secrets. I can cost us the lives of our—" His throat closed up, refused to finish it. Still, he tried again. "Cost us our—"

"I get it," Kitty told him. "I do." Pity etched her voice as it did her expression. "I promise to be more careful from now on." Grudges, for her, were like her mutation: wispy, flimsy, and disappearing.


As though nonchalance made him invisible, Gambit watched and listened.
"I have some research to finish," Scott began the roster debate with Logan.

Logan, however, wasn't much listening. Unfortunately, he didn't like what he was hearing in its place.


Rogue was hesitant, somehow embarrassed, as she asked Bobby about his hand, "So, what's the verdict?"

Perhaps her self-consciousness was infectious. Perhaps all of her was infectious. Perhaps he misinterpreted her doubts. Perhaps he masked his own. Perhaps he didn't see the benefits of having ice instead of skin. Perhaps he didn't want to find out if it would make him untouchable and thus, didn't want the chance to find out if two untouchables could touch each other. Perhaps he was just confused. Whatever it was, not meeting her gaze erected a wall, barred the way.

Gambit eased into that tiny space like slipping free of his cuffs. His gaze slid over her, sauced pralines over her ice cream skin, and past, to Bobby. He jabbed a finger at Bobby's unfrozen hand and asked him, "De Bête cure y'r meatsicle?"

Rogue scoffed. "C'mon, Bobby. Let's talk about this somewhere else."

"Why, Rogue?" He widened the gap. "I can't keep it secret. And covering it up won't stop it." Added more bars.

"I wasn't suggesting that," Rogue defended. She had no idea how it had soured so rapidly.

To Gambit, Bobby answered, "There is no cure for mutation." He stabbed a look at Rogue that made her all too aware of her long sleeves, her long hair, and her long gloves. "There isn't even a reprieve."

Gambit didn't get his chance to agree. Bobby fled.


"I'll stay." Logan interrupted Scott's plethora of reasons to remain. "Won't be much use for protection if you've got your eye glued to a computer the whole time." Logan had paid closer attention than he thought. "Besides," Logan added as he headed off after his quarry, "Cajun's still got a date with the Danger Room."
"Bobby!" Rogue chased her voice that chased after him. She didn't get far, though. Gambit grabbed her sleeve.

"Let him go, chére," Gambit said. It was mild, and without flirtation or innuendo. But then that, in and of itself, was a sort of charm all on its own.

Rogue spun back. She eyed his hand on her as if it were a viper's bite. Her voice shot low and venomous to match it. "You're a real slow learner, ain't ya, Gumbo." Acid-eaten. Gravelly. "Don't mind teachin' ya another lesson." She twisted her wrist, got the upper hand. Dug her fingers into his forearm muscles, like claws like teeth and tongue chewing and dipping for the Anconeus, the Extensor carpi radialis longus, ulnaris, minimi, and of course that ever tasty digitorum muscle. "Hope it's just as spicey."

"Marie." Only Logan knew how to really get to her.

She blinked, doe in the headlights, and released Gambit like he'd been a downed power line. He stumbled right into Logan's grasp.

"Move it along," Logan told Remy. Around him, Logan whistled and called, "Kurt!" When Kurt glanced over he pointed at Remy and then gave Remy a nudge in Kurt's direction. "Go with the Elf."

"So much for not being hounded," Gambit griped, but walked on over to Nightcrawler just the same.

Rogue could guess what was coming. "Oh, Lordy, Logan, I don't need a lecture telling me to steer clear of the sleazy swamp rat."

"You heard what happened with Kitty?"

"Does it count as eavesdropping when they talk that loud and they know they're only three feet from ya?"

"Gambit's been playing her," Logan said, bypassing her small talk. "Pumping her for information."

"Yeah," Rogue scoffed, "Because the dorm room gossip around here is such a hot commodity. What is he going to learn from her? The Professor's favorite color? Boom-Boom's latest prank victim?" Rogue mused then for a moment. "Actually, there might be something to that. They do both have that tossing-exploding-objects thing going on. They've got about the same mentality too. 'Course she is only thirteen. Or is she twelve. Or was it fourteen."

He swatted at her and growled the warning, "Rogue." Did his hand just pass through her wrist or had he merely missed her?

She blinked brown eyes at him. Caustic. "What?" Nonplussed.

Had to have just missed her. "Listen up, kid," he said, returning to the topic. "Anyway I slice it, Gambit's got no loyalty."

"'Cause you're the poster child for meaningful, selfless prioritizing. Abandoning us ta chase your tail… Like white on rice."

Green eyes. Rogue blinked. Hazel. Blink. Brown.

Logan narrowed his eyes on her, but continued, "I know his type. Saw his kind around the cage fight scene all the time. He's into dirty money. And, he'll turn over quick for a higher bid."

"Well, the solution to that is easy, Sugah," Rogue said with a flip of her hair. "We make the highest bid."

"I can't talk to you when you're like this," Logan said and shook his head at her. "Go after your boyfriend. Keep away from the Cajun. When Chuck and the Doc are back," he poked her shoulder, "Get yourself checked out."


"I can correct the error," Doug Ramsey, aka Cypher said in that metal on metal electronic voice of his.

"Just like that?" Forge asked.

Musty. Stale. Dusty. Pale. Dank. Fetid. Rank. Indebted.

"It is a relatively simple procedure. It will take me an estimated forty-nine minutes and thirty-four seconds to complete," Cypher clarified. "Is that acceptable?"

"Yeah," Forge said. "Can I do anything to help?"

"More water would be appreciated. But, otherwise I require no assistance."

"Sure," Forge said as he stood to retrieve another few bottles of water. So far, there had been no signs that the orange had been poisoned. It set his mind to wandering over that… and other things.

Musty. Stale. Dusty. Pale. Dank. Fetid. Rank. Indebted.


Erik woke at the speed of social change. His head pounded out a protest march. His limbs unfurled with the flexibility of bigotry.

Mystique stood over him with a glass of water and two aspirin in hand. He waved them off.

"Dr. Henry McCoy is no longer missing."

He took the water.

"He's requested a press conference with Senator Kelly."

He took one of the aspirin.

"Xavier will be with him."

He took the other one.

"Locate Cortez before you go," Erik told her. Stiff-armed as the law, he handed her the now empty glass. "Send him to my chambers."


Logan tracked down Kurt in the recreation room. He was crouched over a small pale haired child, ten years old, wailing at the top of her lungs. The child was on her hands and knees, which seemed to be adhered to the floor. Gambit was nowhere to be seen.

"Litarra, liebling, you have to relax like the Professor taught you," Kurt was saying to the panicking girl and he tugged on her. "When you calm, the secretion will soften. Then you can reabsorb it and come loose."

"Where's Gambit?" Logan was about over asking that question.

"I told him to meet us at the Danger Room later," Kurt said. He tugged at the crying girl again, to no avail. "I think I'm going to be a while."

"Why don't you have Kitty phase her free?"

Kurt immediately brightened. "Good idea." He gave Litarra a pat on the head and told her, "I will bring katzen. She will solve this." A snap to Logan preceded, "Logan will stay with you."

"Kurt, wait."

BAMF! Too late.

Litarra took one look at Logan and sniffled. Logan sighed. He had fallen right into that one.


"Hmm," Forge mused as he returned with another bottle of water. "I wonder why Essex involved me in this at all."

"Because I have bypassed every summoning program and device he has ever applied on me." Cypher.

"Really?"

"Yes. There is no language I cannot translate. All of Essex's devices require programs to direct them. All programs are composed of computer languages. It is merely a matter of learning the language it uses and then rewriting it. He may bind me to this room, to these cables, but I will not work for him."

"If you can refuse his bidding, why do you do this deed now?"

"Because we are the same. Contained, misused, and lonely." Metallic. Electronic. "Twenty-seven minutes and thirty-one seconds remaining."

Forge situated the bottle carefully between the wires and brought it to Cypher's mouth. He let the boy have his fill. Doug swallowed the water and sighed contentedly.

"There is something else you can do for me," Doug said.

"What?"

"Stay until I am done."

Musty. Stale. Dusty. Pale. Dank. Fetid. Rank. Indebted.


BAMF!

"What?" Jubilee wasn't so jubilant first thing in the morning. "Well?"

"I am looking for Kitty."

Jubilee flung open the door, apparently indicating he come on in and look for her, then, with a vague gesture to the beds further over crawled back into her own.

Kitty's bed was made. He identified it by the homemade stuffed toy replica of Nightcrawler, himself, that sat sprightly on her pillow. Kitty herself, however, was not in the room.

BAMF!


BAMF!

There was no sight of her in the library either.

BAMF!


Gambit explored the grounds. Being inside the mansion had begun to feel like a prison. Granted, it was better than being at Essex's beck and call. For all his misgivings regarding this lily place he'd been brought to, at least it was out of Essex's range.

Having begun his wanderings as a sneaky escape, he had gotten as far as the paved trial that wove around a clump of trees that hugged a lake when his fingertips began to itch. By the time the lake was in sight, his fingers prickled as if with heat. Seeing the two mutants at the dock behaving so mundanely—the girl swung her feet off its edge, kicking the water, and the boy skipped rocks with practiced ease—knotted his gut and clenched his now stinging hands into fists. He wasn't sure if the glow of his fingerless gloves was for the picture perfect scene before him or the hard to bury tingling need to belong somewhere worth belonging or the memories of a home too long denied him or the combination of all three, which even he admitted linked too easily together. Whatever it really was, he packaged it, wrapped it in stained clothed, and remitted it Just Due, from Essex.

"McCoy's gotta come through," he encouraged himself as he turned on his heel. The knot slackened. "He's a good guy." He skirted past the grove of trees. His fists unclenched. "He wouldn't leave me like this." He crossed the open field. Sting faded to prickle. "He wouldn't leave himself like this." He stepped off the path. Prickle dulled to itch.

Despite the distance, and despite the population, the white stripes stole his attention.

This itch of a different kind he welcomed, delighted, and well, frankly, explicitly, saluted. Though, admittedly, it made it awkward for him to jog around the basketball court and cut out in front of her.


"I have to cut out of here," Forge told Doug. He'd already stayed an extra fifteen minutes beyond what he'd vowed. "Want me to fetch one more bottle of water before I go?"

Musty. Stale. Dusty. Pale. Dank. Fetid. Rank. Indebted.

Metallic. Electronic. "I'm sated, thank you," Doug answered.

Forge lingered by the exit. "Hack into my summoning program when you want more."

Musty. Stale. Dusty. Pale. Dank. Fetid. Rank. Indebted.


Erik was riding the renewed rush when Irene burst into his office.

"You can't let her do this," she told him.

"That will be all, Cortez," Erik dismissed. Without waiting his departure, he smiled, broad and energized, at Irene. "I can't very well let my old friend walk into the Lion's den on his own."

"You supercilious fool," she condemned him. "You will suffer your endgame. We will all rue it. Derailing it is the only solution. You will not be able to exploit it." She waved her cane at him. She waved it in synch with the energy roiling off of him. "Especially, not if you keep this up."

"I hear you quite clearly." He patted her shoulder as he passed by her. "I just have a different view."

"You see too narrowly."

"Untrue." His grin condescended. "I've set my sights to encompass a great deal. Now, if you'll excuse me, Destiny. I have to mediate my children's squabble and recruit more mutants to my army."

"Erik… I'm begging you."

"Don't. It doesn't suit your stature."


Amusement elevated Xavier's erudite voice when he telepathically contacted the chaperoning remainders.

"We will be taking off in a couple minutes."

It was due to Logan's efforts to subdue the frightened, wailing little Litarra.

"Let Kitty be. There's a solvent in the medlab that will do just fine."

He fastened his safety belts and he sobered. Such a small action incurred such painful memories still.

"Unless things go terribly wrong, we'll contact you on our way back this evening."

"Locking it up," Storm said as she sealed the Blackbird's door.

Xavier reached out touched each of his students' minds, just a little, like ruffling their hair or giving a hug or a handshake, but he didn't skim beyond their surface thoughts. It would wound him terribly to undermine their trust in him. He valued them all so very much. He would do all in his power to keep them safe. Even if that meant—

"And Logan, Kurt," Xavier added. One mind had troubled him rather unexpectedly, but in a way that made him wonder why he hadn't been expecting it. "Keep Rogue from…"

He wasn't even sure what he needed to keep her from, really.

He finally settled upon the request, "No training until we return."


"Pester me some other time, swamp rat. I'm busy."

"Where y' going? Remy might like it."

"It'd be negligent of me to compromise the team by letting a traitor know," she said, parroting what she expected Scott to have sounded like when he lectured Kitty. Next she paraphrased Logan, succinctly informing Gambit, who had eavesdropped earlier as best he could, that her anger wasn't really for him. "That's what ya are, right?" She asked him thickly. "Switch sides on a dime. Follow the profit."

"Oui, I like money," Gambit said and puffed up like royalty. "Keeps me in the lifestyle I'm accustomed." He deflated. "Y' know. Roof, food, clothes," he tipped down his lenses to show off his ruby on onyx eyes, "Sunglasses." He popped them back into place. "And, the occasional pass of the good time. Laissez le bon temps rouler. Y' know, the luxuries en vie." Copious.

"Roof's right there." She pointed to the top of the mansion. "Stocked kitchen is under it. Full wardrobe in your room. Set of leathers probably waiting for you right below our feet. There are games in the rec room, library full of books, big ol' screen TV and lots of movies to go with it. There's computers, pool, basketball quart, big yard… Lots to do. Plus, you sure seem to get a kick out of razzing me and everyone else around here. And, far as I've seen, nobody's slipping a bill under your door, are they?"

"Other ways of charging." He almost winked, that wry smile. "Other ways of paying. Not always so direct, either."

"Is this a confession? You saying you're dirty?"

He nodded and admitted, saucily, "Beaucoup crasseux." He dared her, taunted her, invited her. "Evict me."

"Why bother? You're doing it for us."

"Same a y', chére. Just keeping out of reach."

"But there's a problem with making everyone chase your tail." It was the same phrase he'd heard her use on Logan, except in a different way. "Easy to see where and when you turn."

He dipped his head. "And yet, here I am, chasing y'."

"All y'r chasing is a gut full of claws."

Yup, all about Logan. He wondered if the Popsicle ever got tired of it.

"He smells the lies on you."

Something of a snarl twisted his face and her gut. But then, she wasn't looking. She was better than that. Smarter than that. It's what everyone expected of her, leastways.

"Lies? Cunja! Maudissez-les pendant qu'ils me maudissent. J'ai des cornes. Be nice to be on de bon côté pour une fois. Du côté des anges pour une fois. Just once! Bâtards. Profondément comme sang? Profondément comme voleurs? Eux et lui et Belle. Tous. Vous aussi, j'ai parié. Pensez au moins l'aide de bête. Mais non. Pas pour Remy. Jamais pour le baiseur avec les yeux de diable. Baisez-le. Tout le vous peut bec mon chu"

Rogue had stopped a few steps back. She had the most toxic glare he'd ever seen on her. Not that he'd seen much of her at all. A thought he was smart enough not to let show with a twist of a naughty grin.

Soon as he had turned back, had acknowledged her change, she spat, "Baron sweet-tongue, ain't ya?" She cocked opposing hip and eyebrow, akimbo, crossed her arms under her chest, and asked, "Wanna say that in English so everyone can understand whatever kind of pathetic self-indulgent pitiful rant that was supposed to be?"

He had the good sense to look sheepish. "Désolé." But then he ruined it by slipping in a slow self-conscious, self-amused smirk—the sweet-tongue phrase had done him in—before he translated, "Sorry."

She knew it was petty and childish, but that's how she was feeling, so she said it anyway. "Yeah, you're sorry all right." She snorted and kept walking.

It grated him, incited a revenge, a second mistake he'd later thank himself for and yet regret, for which he'd doubly embrace. "Wouldn't happen to be looking for Slurpee the boyfriend, neh?"

Rogue hesitated, imperceptible only to one who was looking for it, which he was. "No," she said and kept right on walking.

"Y' sure?"

Kept on walking.

He lit a cigarette with a spark of his powers and a flick to the minimally charged tip. "'Cause I saw de damnedest t'ing by de lake."

She reeled on him. "It won't work," she snapped.

He had her. Showed it in a wicked switchblade grin.

She thrust her face into his. "You hear me?"

He didn't flinch. He had her.

She flew off.

He had her.

He took a long satisfying drag off his cigarette then crushed it out. He had a bitter taste in his mouth and the blood roared his ears. He blamed the first on the only-Logan-can-smoke-inside rule and the latter on the Blackbird lifting from out of the basketball court and flying away overhead. So, he turned on his heal, stuffed his hands in his pockets, and mumbled lower than a whisper, "Sure is funny what y' can find by a lake."


She coughed and sputtered. The clear viscous fluid expunged from her lungs and onto the floor. Covered in it, sticky-pasting her hair to her face, shoulders, chest, neck and back, and sliming her skin, her already rickety limbs slipped and balked erratically out from under her, and she cracked her chin on the tiled floor.

Forge didn't want to be there doing that any more than he wanted to be a part of anything else he'd done while stuck with Essex. It was another order among many orders that he, unlike the wired Cypher, could not ignore.

"Why me?" Forge had questioned. It wasn't like him to dole out the pet project tasks as intimate as this one.

"Just do it," Essex had snarled. There was more anger in it than the minor insubordination could have incited. Perhaps, Essex hadn't had much of a choice.

And that, THAT, Forge took significant notice of. He wrapped it in silk and tucked it deep into a pocket in the back of his thoughts.

Besides, his sympathies for the girl acknowledged, better him, than Creed.

It was little comfort Forge could offer her, but he draped the terry cloth robe on her anyways. Had he the appropriate words he would have spoken them. Alas, he did not. So, it was in morose silence that he belted the robe modestly, that he directed her wobbly steps to the shower stall, that he helped her soap and scrub all that fresh as new skin and hair, that he left the water running over her to give her a little more time to rediscover her existence, that he brought her the softest loose fitting clothing so that she wouldn't feel quite so bound, that he moved unhurried, non-invasive, deliberate, and generous as he dressed her and brushed her hair, that he bandaged her chin with uncommon irony, that he lay her mournfully on the slab, that he cuffed head, ankles, wrists, and that he ruefully pleaded "Forgive me" before he slapped the choker on her.

No, he didn't want to be there, doing that, but at least it wasn't Creed. And more so, it wasn't Essex.

Before unlocking the cuffs, before setting Malice—in her new host—free, he smoothed the sides of her hair with all the comfort, appreciation, and hope he could muster. It just happened to include three fingers brushing along the skin just behind each of her ears.


"Yes, a tour would be pleasant," said Emma as she tucked a lock of hair smartly behind her ear, composing herself. She didn't remember having it this short. She didn't remember how she even got where she was; it reminded her of the lobby of Worthington Industries Tower in Manhattan, though less… sunny.

She had been gripped by the shoulders, roughly, and was being forced down a dank hall only minutes before when the fog of… of… she didn't have a word to cover it aptly. But, once it began to clear, once she had the first stirrings of recognition of self in the most minuscule sense of the concept, she had lashed out, painfully, to both her and the gruff guy with his paws on her. She clutched a hand to her head, holding her skull together, keeping her brain from leaking out the gaping cracks that had to have been there after that kind of pain, but she didn't stand still. The ferocious looking man with hands like claws and long hair like a lion's mane wouldn't be prone for long, and she sure didn't want to see just what those claws would feel like once he realized it was her that had tried to explode his head from the inside out.

"I just had one myself," Emma continued, "but it was rather brief. Rushed really."

She looked over the gathered group. Senator Kelly she recognized, along with the telltale identifiers of the small gaggle of secret service that lingered at all of the doors. One had almost taken her head off when she burst into the room. They also seemed nervous and watchful of all the reporters and their cameramen, who, mind you, turned their cameras from the media-loving Senator and the blue fur ball with glasses to her inelegant entrance. Besides the Senator, there was only one other person she recognized by name on sight. That was Xavier, whom she'd kept frequent tabs on over the last few years, since before she began her own mentoring program. Two people flanked him. The regal, yet timid and fragile looking African American woman with lightning white hair stood to his right side. The mid-western-farm-boy, complete with healthy muscles and glow—though too muscular and too dark of hair to fit the stereotype well enough for her—had his left side. Pushing the wheel chair from behind was a young man that suited the previous label even more. She thought it was too bad his eyes were hidden by the hideous eyewear. She had an itch in her brain that told her they would blow her away. The final person also itched at something in her head, but it hinted at something much more… scary, disturbing, wretched. All of the others were looking to him for an answer regarding her current situation, and more, it seemed, and for that, she couldn't help but want to tinker in his head as well. If she didn't like what she found, it would be a simple matter to, say, lose all motor controls, or even those over his bowels… or worse. There was very little limitation to her imagination.

She stabbed a vicious glance at that too calm, too refined, too proper, too studious and too curious looking man with the too freshly crisp hair cut, too sharply masculine jaw, and too starkly pristine white lab coat. He was too much for her good sense, indeed.

"I suspect these VIPs are the cause." She regarded the Senator with a brilliant smile and stuck out her hand—professional, confident, flirtatious, and direct—to him. "It's very nice to meet you, Senator Kelly. I'm Emma Frost. CEO of Frost Inc."

Senator Kelly grinned, winningly, appropriate for potential campaign contributors. "A pleasure, Ms. Frost. I would be more than happy if you joined us on our little foray into the heart of this complex, since, as we all know, it is the key institution for my Mutant Good Will Research Committee. You have heard of it, have you not?"

She had stumbled/ran down the halls. She took most every turn she came across, hoping she wasn't going in circles. The more she moved, the more her head pounded, but the less clouded her consciousness, and the clearer her thoughts. That was when she pushed through the door and into the public-front lobby of the Diamond Research Facility, which she figured out by the large trademarked ruby emblem hanging above the reception/security desk. Several cameras spun to take her into their scope and she was overwhelmed with an urge to touch the… empty space at her neck. The gesture was odd to her so she had maneuvered it to resemble composing her appearance for the cameras.

"Of course I've seen bits here and there on the news," she told the Senator silkily. She slid her arm into the proffered crook of his. "But, I'm sure you could enlighten me with many more interesting details on the topic."

With that, they began the tour. They left the media and the security behind in the lobby.


"A little more each time?" Kitty asked Bobby. "Sounds scary."

"It is, but it isn't."

They were by the lake. Kitty had her shoes off so she could swing her feet over the edge of the dock into the water. Bobby skipped stones. He did it pretty well. She figured he'd done it a lot growing up.

"It goes away while I sleep, but I don't know, I have this… feeling… that I'll eventually be able to turn it on and off all on my own."

"That would be cool," Kitty said, then wanted to kicked herself for it. She dipped her head down, shyly, embarrassed. "No pun intended."

Bobby actually chuckled. The mistaken joke made him feel better; it made him feel more normal. The last thing he wanted was to feel like an outcast among the X-Men, among the other students… among mutants. He liked that about Kitty, how she always made a person feel included, like family. He missed his family.

"It would be cool," he told her and plopped down beside her. A sudden grin split his face, and he added with mock-egotism, "I'll be hot."

Kitty rolled her eyes overdramatically and mock-complained, "Oh, you did not just say that!"

"Oh, I did," he said. "And you know it's true. Don't deny it!"

She broke out in fit of giggles and playfully shoved him. He returned it, then she did, then he did and with all her laughing she almost fell into the water. He grabbed her and yanked her up.

The laughter ceased. They were breathless and close. Bobby froze. Mist billowed from his between his lips, which he licked, nervous, awkward, and icy. Kitty bit her lip, let it roll out, and it frosted over with ice, her own breath escaped white as winter. She leaned in.

"Kitty…"

They shivered.

"…Rogue..."

The bushes rustled, the moment broken. Kitty glanced over to find icicles dripping from the leaves. A trail of frost glistened on the ground. It stretched from them to the bushes… and beyond.

"It's beautiful," Kitty said, hushed. She was blushing. She thought it a compliment. But then she saw Bobby's kind and apologetic and serious expression.

"I'm not doing this," he told her.

Her heart stilled, froze, and shattered into a billion pieces. It sometimes happens that way with young crush-sick girls. She ghosted and sank.

"Kitty!" He called, but it wasn't nearly as desperate as the romantically minded sixteen year old would've liked.

He was too late. She was gone.

He went to the bush and broke off one of the already melting icicles. From there, he could see farther out of the small grove. The frost littered along the trail curving around the copse of trees. Footprints spotted its length.

She was gone.


The room was so still, the bed so neatly made, the drawers so perfectly closed that for a fraction of a heartbeat, he thought she was gone. Then he saw the shoes haphazardly ejected at the foot of the bed. Then he saw the light coming out from under the bathroom door. And, then he saw the old, threadbare stuffed rabbit with one floppy ear flipped over its head and the dangling button eye. He touched it and thought of her mother, his long ago Magda. It was she who was fond of rabbits. It was she who had purchased the plush toy for their daughter. He had not been involved whatsoever. He had not been…

He shouldn't dwell on such things, he told himself. He was grateful that the bathroom door opened to do what he could not.

"Wanda," he began. However, he was unsure of what else to say.

She moved swiftly to the opposite side of the bed as he stood. She snatched the bunny up, got it out of his reach, and sat with her back to him.

He caressed the space where it had been.

Cr-r-r-rack!

He followed the sound to its source. A family picture in a silver frame etched with bunnies. Pietro, silver haired even at that pre-teen age, grinned too large for his own face filled the right side. Wanda, dark and brooding of hair and eyes and penetrating expression, was an unmatched puzzle piece signifying the twins' fraternal state. The crack split right between them; the marred clarity of the glass there blotted out the view of Magda between them.

"I…" He began again and failed.

"I will try harder." She said it for him.

It would have to be enough for now.


"You're pathetic," Logan barked at Gambit. The cards exploded weakly more than three feet away from him. It had barely sprayed him with dust. "You're not even trying."

"Maybe y're not worth it, couchon." But the truth was that he had wanted to lay it all out with Logan. He had wanted to blow off some steam. He just didn't trust it. He didn't trust not to fight back too hard, not to lose control, not to blow up Logan. He might not have been fond of him, but he wasn't that mad at him. He hadn't been that mad at anyone since Julien. And, even that was debatable.

"Maybe you're just not good enough without the shadows to skulk around in."

Logan, claws sprung, lunged at him. Gambit dodged, planted the tri-pointed tip of his bo/staff into the mortar crevice between the bricks of the alley wall, leveraged a kick off the dumpster, which rolled at Logan, and caught hold of the lowest solid rung of the broken fire escape ladder. He was up two more levels by the time Logan maneuvered the dumpster back into to place and started up the ladder himself. As Logan pulled up to the next level, Gambit was out of sight altogether. He'd ascended the roof and Logan couldn't even hear his footfalls anymore.

"End it, Elf," Logan called up to the booth. He pulled out a cigar and lit it as the scene pixel-dissolved away. When he heard the thump of Gambit's unprepared landing, he took a long hard draw and slowly blew out the smoke. He regarded him little, when he told him, "If you're not gonna show me what ya got, I'm not wasting my time."

"Maybe this is what I got," Gambit said as he stood. "Prince of t'ieves, that's Gambit, that's all."

"Sure, kid," Logan huffed. "I believe ya."

"Fine," Gambit said, now angry enough to put at least a little more risk to the fight, 'Y' really want it, then y' got it."

Clank! The bo/staff connected hard with Logan's head. The look Logan returned almost made Gambit think better of it. But then, he was really was sick of being tired, that and he was saved by whatever stole Logan's attention up in the booth.

"No way," Logan called up. "Chuck said no training for tonight."

Gambit saw Rogue, the source of the distraction, a sentiment he actually agreed upon with Logan. She made an exasperated gesture of challenge that ended with a point at Gambit. Between Logan's last statement and her motions, he deducted that Rogue had been communicating "What about him?"

For that, Gambit taunted her with a wink.

Logan figured it out too and answered with the holler to the booth of, "He doesn't count."

For that, Gambit blew Rogue a kiss.

Logan growled, almost, and blew a puff of cigar smoke in his face. "Shower up," he told him. "You stink."

When they looked back up to the booth, Rogue was gone. Gambit had plans to follow after her—sweat dripped from his bangs—after he showered. And for some reason, he had a feeling she would be waiting for him.


Caliban was waiting for her just as agreed. She would've preferred to have been there alone with him, but Xavier didn't trust any of them alone anywhere in there. Hank went missing once while in it, and she was a smaller bundle to slip between the cracks. So it was with an audience of family—Xavier, Scott, Hank, and Colossus—of enemies, Essex and Kelly/Mystique; and of strangers, Emma and again Essex. Family watched with awe and love and hope and relief, as family should. Kelly/Mystique watched with a touch of that, for she was family in her own detached sort of way, and well, such were common similarities to villainous, traitorous, infiltrating intentions as well. Though he/she played it up well as the charming politician to entertain and distract and engage and toy with the unexpected party member, Emma, there was something of the predator in the furtive glances spared between. And though, as enemy, Mystique's presence should've incited an extra layer of danger to the scheme, it invoked the opposite. In there, Mystique was more Essex's enemy than theirs, and that, as some clichés and histories respelled, made them friends. Essex watched with more detachment, but eagerness crinkled the edges of his eyes and tightened his pleasant plastic smile, and it spoke of being enthralled by his own endgame. It was a penetrating gaze that could find its little sister in Emma, who watched as though searching for herself in the display. But Storm, she traipsed the purest glimpse of them all in that moment. She looked for Caliban inside of Caliban.

"I am to stay," Caliban said. His voice was dense in timbre but hollow of wisdom… and other like things.

Storm searched those sallow eyes as she had caressed the sallow skin when she first encountered him here. He was so different, that sickly yellow tinge to his once albino hide. But he seemed whole, he seemed himself in there, and he spared no fearful, or conspiratorial, or reverent reproach to a single one of them, so she had to take him at his word.

"Are you sure," she asked him once more. She had repeated those exact words twice already. Something in him, some vacancy she couldn't clearly identify, begged her not to leave without him.

"Caliban stay," he said without ire or mire or sire or tire or dire or even desire or lie. The presence of himself in his eyes repelled force.

"Okay," she told him. She gave him her communicator, an action which Scott wanted to protest, but which Xavier dispelled with a gesture of hand, and then told him, "If ever you want out, you call."

She stood and turned. She could not look at him a moment more.

"Well then, Senator" Hank said, marble veined, smooth, and hard. "Shall we readdress the press?"

He had said it with such vehemence nobody contained their shock. He ignored it, and went out the door. He made Essex go after him.

"Excuse me?" Essex asked him strife with superiority.

"The deal was for a trade, Nathan," Hank said. "You are not upholding your end of the bargain."

"You gave him a choice," Essex told them harshly. "I didn't interfere." There was a thread of panic to him. "I'll carry him out for you if you want."

"We don't divulge certain information to the press only if you release her friend."

Essex's smile sickened then and he readjusted the hold of the cane. The light glinted off it, reflected in Essex's own eyes, and that's when the smile… changed. No physical difference marked the transition, but the thought behind the conniving and desperate expression had evolved. He'd had a new idea.

"What if I had another friend?"

He had all of their rapt attentions. He had them. It made him stand tall and proud, sinister with conceit and intelligence. He looked down at them as though from on high.


After meeting with Wanda, Erik disparaged his power high. Perhaps it was why he saved Pietro for second. Previously, Quicksilver's overabundant hyper quality, a side effect of his speed—a thought that sent him reeling in wonder over what it must have been like in his childhood days—tested Erik's patience on the best of days. Today, however, the mad tapping of foot and drumming of fingers served to relieve the anxiousness created when despair had shrouded his surging powers.

"You will make efforts to mend this rift between you two," Erik told him in his best fatherly voice. It was remarkably similar to his I-am-King-of-mutants-hear-me-roar voice, only quiet enough for the confines of the small room.

He tapped his foot. "You think I haven't been?" He drummed his fingers.

"I think you need to work harder. I think you need to fix it."

"And what if the problem is my continuing existence?" Surprisingly the tapping and drumming had stopped sometime during the question. Neither could pinpoint which word had horded the cessation.

"Then you must find a way for her to rejoice it."

Neither spoke the shared thought that followed, but they both knew it was there. Like you do?

It wasn't the first time Erik marveled at how he'd kept them with him rather than having lost them to Xavier's ideals, ideals that shone like hellfire in both of their spirits. They were swimming in circles, against the currents. Coasting it was a reckoning they thought never to occur. It was one of the reasons—not all, just one and a lesser and lesser one as the years had passed and other motivations usurped it—he fought so hard for his goal of mutant prosperity. Winning brought them another step closer to the home on the hill. Picturesque, like winning itself.

The foot tapped. The fingers drummed. The energy roiled up in licks and peels.

They would need all the energy they could get.


Rogue's hands cradled her head as she crossed her feet, looking for all the world to her peeping-tom, like she was lying on a grassy knoll, picking out the animal shapes in the clouds high above.

"Almost like floating in the Mississippi," she said to herself before busting out in that life-is-good grin again.

Maybe his hormones usurped his thief-honed awareness of his surroundings. Maybe he just wanted her to notice him. Maybe it was just her, there, sweet as custard pie, dreamy as peaches and cream, lulling him to stupidity. And maybe he hated it, thrived it, guilted it, deserved it. Whatever it was, his boot cracked that twig like a bat to her skull.

She opened one eye and saw him. And that thief-honed awareness screamed at him to run. And her grin only widened.

"Just the person I wanted to hook," she said.

And then she was on him and he was damning his observation and she was rolling him over her and he was thrilling his agility and then she rolled him again and he was clinging to her cause he sure as hell wasn't feeling the dew soaked ground under him anymore.

"I don't want t' open my eyes, do I?"

"Don't see why not," she said, the grin in her tone reminding him of Julien just after the sword skewered him and sealed Remy's fate with both families. "It ain't the fall that can kill ya."

She paused long enough for him to wonder if she'd let the impact answer for itself. But then she whispered-drawled, magnolias, peaches, river ebb, pecans, and pie, "It's my kiss."

He waited for it.

His breath hitched.

Waited for it.

His pulse sped.

Waited for it.

His temperature rose.

Waited for it.

His skin dampened.

Waited for it.

He swallowed.

Waited for it.

He licked his lips.

And…

She…

Moved.

She threw him with less force than she'd swat a fly. His rump cushioned the five or so feet fall. It was his turn to peek out one eye at her.

She hovered a dozen feet in front of him, two dozen above. "You're dangerous, Remy."

"Y' like it."

She scoffed, puffed up on of those pesky loosened white locks of hair of hers. "I like that nobody's gonna miss your slimy coon-gator-ass."

"Fetching, it is, then," he said, and at the first word uttered, she dropped a whole ten feet before she caught herself. And by the time she did, he was surprised to find he was already on his feet, that he'd already crossed half the distance.

"That blind lady, Irene, she tell you to say that?"

He cocked his head to the side like a puppy. She mistook it for confusion over her question, for a denial to it.

"If I find out you're a plant of Erik's, I will leave you a dried up husk."

He believed her. "I'm not." It was the most honest thing he'd said to her and yet, he nearly choked on it when he said it.

She believed him. "Good." And, something eased between them.

She lowered to the ground, flipped that stubborn lock of hair out of her face, and asked, "Spar?"

He grinned, wicked, naughty, and genuine. "There be better ways t' get a little flesh t' flesh with this willing Cajun."

She mirrored his grin. Then, without faltering hers, she tried to kick his off. Blood pumping, he blocked with his left arm. His right hand telescoped his bo/staff, sweeping her legs. Well, he tried to, at least. It was like trying to forearm a bowling ball, trying to buckle the Brooklyn Bridge.

He quirked an eyebrow at her.

"Gotta do better than that to meet my challenge, swamp rat." It was thick and syrupy with entrenching endearment.

Remy sent a charge to the tip of the staff. He tapped it to her rear. The small detonation stumbled her, scorched a hole in the right buttock of her jeans. A mischievous leer accompanied the words, "Mais, isn't that interesting."

She rolled her eyes. "Distracting, more like," she said as she swatted the bo/staff aside and rounded another kick at him. It connected, and she said, "But I don't need a handicap."

"Nice view, that's for sure," he said.

He took long drawling admiration of it. Then, he threw a charged card, a distraction to his real move, some fancy footwork that ended with a jab of the charged tip of the bo/staff to the quarter sized gaping of her bare skin.

"It's also a target."

"A lure."

The kick was uncouth, but the force propelling it more than made up for it.

He wheezed and clutched his surely bruised chest. He spared more than one thought for his ribs. No wonder he hesitated when she reached out her hand.

"You're right, Remy," she said, a twinkle in her smile and eyes glistening blue reflections of the skies. "I do like it."

He let her yank him up, let his body slap against hers. Sweat beaded them both—wrangled close, chest to chest, left hand to left forearm, and outstretched right arms in mirrored clutches. Gambit got a flash of what it'd be like to dance wickedly with her. And then she grinned, spiteful, joyful, ravenous, and pushed with her left hand.

"I needed a good punching bag."


A blow to the gut. That was what catching her stumbling form in his arms was like. A blow to the gut.

"Jean?"

It was chance that had him closest the door at the moment of her entrance. Pensive eyed, paranoia minded, rickety limbed, she had entered and tripped and he had caught her, cotton clothed, silken haired, gentle lipped and sacred.

"Scott."

They trembled then. Fear and hope and relief and disbelief and all was good and right in the world. So, they trembled, now that it was safe to do so. They had each other again.

"I take it this substitution suffices?" Cheshire.

"Yes," Xavier said too quickly. Nobody could blame him.

"Then we are done," Essex said. "Please leave."

And they did, some in separate ways, others together, but all were together and separated in so many myriad ways. Essex, with Caliban and his other specimens sequestered beyond the others' eyes, stayed at the military science base. Emma accompanied the good Senator to some other place. And the X-Men… Well, the X-Men went home. They went unawares. They went and brought a fox into the henhouse, for an ethereal faced pendant chocked malice around Jean's neck.

The Blackbird soared through the skies from Seattle to Westchester as the sun was setting. The light was behind them and darkness ahead.


End Chapter 05 of 05.

Keep a look out for X-Men Rising: Part Three – "From Ashes to Embers."

"I've got a Snowball's chance in Hell." —Bobby.
"Y' know chére, ain't like y' got the market cornered on powers that steal y'r touch." —Remy.
"Charles, please, get here quick. It's Kevin. I need your help." —Moira.
"Professor, you couldn't have known. Don't be so hard on yourself." —Scott.
"Sewers and rats and roaches, oh my. At least it's better than watching the grass grow… or doing physics homework." —Jubilee.
"You drew this?" —Kitty.
"I have to redeem it." —Xavier.
"So there's no going back?" —Betsy.
"He runs a moving company?" —Magneto.
"There's something off. You even smell different." —Logan.
"I've … I've got a secret." —Rogue.

And much, much more…
:grins:

(Note: Some of the above quotes may appear in any of parts left to come. There are five sketched out total.)


Translation of Gambit's Rant (mind you, my French could probably be better):

"Lies? Cursed! Curse them like they curse me. I have the horns (the devil touch, cursed). Be nice to be the one on good side for once. Side of the angels for once. Just ounce! Bastard. Thick as blood? Thick as thieves? Them and him and Belle. All of them. You too, I bet. Think, at least, get Beast's help. But no. Not for Remy. Never for the fucker with the devil eyes. Fuck it. All of can you kiss my ass."


Edited/rewritten May 27, 2006
Edited/rewritten June 1, 2006
Posted June 1, 2006


Thank you for indulging.