The Wolverine looked her over, his emotions running somewhere inbetween amusement and curiosity. His eyes raked over her lithe leather-clad body in a manner that would have made her blush, had she still been that innocent girl who let her emotions drive her. That girl had disappeared years ago somewhere during the unnumbered battles and attacks, lost somewhere back during the funerals for friends and classmates.
"Did I miss Halloween again?" Wolverine asked dryly as she slipped into a comfortable crouch just in front of him. He eyed her again, a more-discreet-than-most leer that ran up her entire body. Rogue smiled, expressing her dark amusement. If only he knew what a touch would do to him.
"Afraid not," she answered flatly, her tone giving him the hint that she was a person to listen to. "I'm Rogue. I'm a mutant, same as you."
"No one's the same as me, darlin'."
"Don't be so sure," she practically snapped at him, tired of arrogance and superiority complexes. The past months had been hard on her. Next week was her vacation, a whole week to herself. It was just this Wolverine and one other mutant that she had to deal with. "I'm here to find you and try to convince you to come back with me and meet others of our kind."
"You trying to rustle up some more freaks?"
"I don't have to do any 'rustling'. We know where the other mutants are. All of them."
"So why do you think you can convince me?"
"I have no expectations. I was asked because you and I have already met before."
"Have we now?"
"Laughlin City. You were earning money fighting."
"Hmm . . . can't say I remember you, darlin'. Did we do anything special that night?"
"You got in a fight with the guy that lost to you. When you left I hid in your trailer and tried to get a ride."
"I left you on the road," he remembered. It was the twang of the South in her voice that made him remember.
She nodded. "That's right."
Wolverine didn't care what he'd done. He wasn't one for regrets or questioning himself. If she wanted an apology, she wasn't going to get one. "So, you're still alive, then. Would have thought you'd freeze to death or something."
"Fortunately, no. I was picked up by the X-men. The same people I work with now. They gave me a home, an education, a family, and a purpose."
"So you find other mutants and make them part of your big, happy freak-family? Very impressive."
She suddenly appeared to grow irritated with his sarcasm and devil-may-care attitude. She had a job to do and he wasn't making her life any easier. "Listen, pal!" she grated. "You got a choice to make here. You can stay here in your pathetic little life traveling from fight to fight, or you can take a chance and come with me and change it up a bit. No skin off your back. If you don't like what you see, you can just leave and come back to this. But we've got what you want. You can get into all the fights you want. Actually have a challenge for once. You can have your freedom, use your skills, make something of your life. We could use your help. All you have to do is come with me and check it out."
"And where would we be going?"
"Westchester, New York. And we'll be flying there."
"We're high-tech freaks," she said, with more than a bit of bitterness in her voice.
The Wolverine suddenly took advantage of the moment and lunged forward, his claws snapping out as his arm reached for her neck. The three gleaming claws halted only an inch from the side of her throat. To his surprise her head only tilted back slightly and she stayed where she was even though she had all the room in the world to back away from him. He had meant to scare her, had assumed she would fall back out of her crouch and probably scramble away in fright, leaving him to his lonely existence. But she stayed, her gaze still fixed on his face, refusing to be intimidated.
That was impressive. He didn't even smell the fear that she should have been feeling. His gaze questioned her, waiting for her to move, to do anything in response to his attack. Finally, her eyes still locked on his, she tilted her chin down and sideways, and her lips opened only to close around his knuckle in a soft, tiny bite.
He was shocked for a moment, and then realized the purpose of it when he suddenly felt energy draining out of him. His instant reaction was the desire to pull back, to survive, but he couldn't move. When she released an instant later, he nearly collapsed out of his kneel, both hands grabbing the ground and his claws digging into grass and soil to catch him. Normally he would have hated appearing so weak, but he didn't have the strength to care. It felt like she had knocked the breath clear out of him, and that never happened.
"What . . . ?" he gasped, unable to do more than that for the moment. He wasn't even capable of tilting his head up to look at her. Already though, his healing powers were kicking in and he could feel the energy quickly returning to him.
"Some of us are just as dangerous as you, bub," she told him. His face flickered in surprise at the change in her voice. It was his words, his humor, and emotion that she was using. "Now typically I don't use my powers on others, it does a number on me, and changes me in ways I don't usually enjoy. Consider that your warning. A lot of us have defensive reactions that you might have a hard time walking away from. You're healing pretty fast from this one as it is though."
The Wolverine was already back upright again as she finished her statement and he took the moment to stare at her. Her power packed an unexpected punch. The drain might have knocked the breath out of him for a second but he was ready for another round. It had gotten his adrenaline running but he couldn't think of fighting for some reason. His only thought was for that mouth which had delivered such a damaging lovebite.
She let him stare at her for a moment more before she stood and asked, "You coming?" He stared some more. She seemed to have dropped all appearance of persuasion. It was like she knew his mind was made up and she was just trying to get him on his feet.
He gave a shrug as he got up. "I guess I am."
"Follow me," she said over her shoulder as she began walking. He admired her easy stride as she moved through the trees following some trail that he couldn't see. His nose told him that she had come this way previously though. She was quiet when she moved, quieter than he was even, and she didn't seem uncomfortable having him at her back. It was like she knew he wasn't going to hurt her, like she seemed to understand him.
"So what kind of name is Rogue?"
"What kind of name is Wolverine?" she threw back, understanding that he didn't mean offense. He was discreetly poking for information. People interested him, even if he wasn't willing to show it.
"Name's Logan," he said in a quiet sort of pained manner.
Rogue paused, suddenly thrown by the way he'd said it. It meant something to have a man so secretive and lost about his past give you his name. "Marie," she whispered.
They were silent after that and the walk continued for another ten minutes through the trees until they arrived at the side of a dark jet which had been carefullly landed on a rock outcropping just inside the valley.
"Nice plane," he commented with just a touch of sarcasm. She smiled slightly, finding a familiar humor in his tone. Somehow even the ridicule to the plane that her only family had taken effort to build and shape didn't offend her.
He followed Rogue up the ramp into a spacious cabin with a half dozen seats facing front and more along the sides. She headed up to the front and he followed but stopped at the back seat to watch the woman stride up towards where the pilot, copilot, and a passenger sat.
"How are we doing, Storm?" she directed to the pilot as she moved forward.
The passenger, whom she had been pointedly ignoring, reached out and danced his fingers along the back of her thigh. She hissed at him, quite like a cat, and raised her hand, the fingers curled like claws.
The man instantly raised his hands in surrender. "Perhaps Remy made a mistake, cheri."
"Damn right you did," she snarled, lowering her hand as she forced the fingers to unbend and relax. Wolverine couldn't help but think that the conversation was directed to something more than him touching her just this time. They seemed too uncomfortable with each other to be anything but close.
The pilot threw a disapproving back at Remy before looking to the young woman. "The professor added a third name to the list, Rogue."
Rogue groaned. "Dammit, we'd better be done before four. I've got places to be." She turned away from the front and pointed at a seat for Wolverine as she took the one beside it. He noticed that she chose the one behind Remy, the better to keep an eye on him and stay where he couldn't easily see her.
Wolverine took a long glance at Remy's face as he sat down. He was slightly startled to see the man's eyes, a disconcerting combination of black and red. It gave the man an exotic look but Wolverine instantly pegged him for a brigand without any honor at all. That man would be happy to use anyone and do so without guilt.
"Everyone, this is Logan," Rogue introduced as the engines of the jet kicked on. She seemed to realize that he would rather be considered human than animal. Her tone was soft when she turned to him. "Logan, this is Remy LeBeau, Ororo Munroe, and Kitty Pryde."
"Call me Storm," the white-haired pilot said over her shoulder as the jet slid smoothly into the sky. "And buckle up."
Wolverine rolled his eyes and looked over to see Rogue struggling with her harness. "Hate these things," she murmured to him.
Remy popped his head out from his seat to look back and ask, "Can Remy offer his assistance, cheri?"
Her lip curled as she looked at him and her foot kicked the back of his seat. Her voice was icy. "Your persistance is only going to land you in the infirmary."
Remy shut up and sat swiftly back down.
It was only a twenty minute flight before the pilot, Storm, brought the jet to land again. "This the one with the destructive tendencies?" Rogue asked wearily.
"That's her. Gambit and Kitty and I have this one if you're okay with staying here."
"Sounds good." They all unbuckled, Rogue heading towards the back as the other three dropped out of sight at the bottom of the ramp.
Logan sat there, pleased for the moment to be ignored as he attempted to gather his thoughts.
"You want something to eat?" Rogue called up. Logan turned in his seat to find her head stuck in one of the storage lockers in the back.
He wasn't exactly hungry, but he felt like he could eat something. Especially if it was the peace offering from her that he thought it was. "What have you got?"
"Beef jerky," she pulled her hand out with a ten ounce bag in her hand, but her head was still in the compartment, searching for more.
Logan left the seat and took the bag from her. "Sounds good."
"It's Remy's. Eat it all," she invited with a fearsome grin.
Logan smiled with pleasure at the idea of pissing off the creepy little mutant. Even if it would be totally Rogue's fault, he loved being able to contribute something to the mischief. "Take it you don't like him much."
"Let's just say he doesn't really have a reason to think so highly of himself," she said off-handedly as she shuffled through the compartment and pulled out a can of peaches which she contemplated for a moment. "His uses are few and far between," she finished as she set the can on the bench and pulled out plastic spoons.
"Huh." Logan let himself be amused by her frank assessment and straddled the bench next to her while chewing loudly on a chunk of the jerky.
After Rogue had snatched a piece of the jerky she pried open the can of peaches and Logan immediately picked up a spoon to dig into that as well. Rogue joined him and the meal suddenly felt like an impromptu picnic for two. Logan felt surprisingly sociable with the young woman, though they ate in a comfortable silence.
"We're leaving," Kitty announced as the three mutants staggered back in and interrupted the picnic. Remy looked startled and silently angered at the sight of his empty package of jerky but Logan flashed a challenging grin that sent any of the man's more daring thoughts running for shelter.
"I take it she didn't like the suggestion?" Rogue asked mildly. Logan smelled blood, sweat, fear, and a bit of exhaustion on the three. They'd been fighting, and it appeared as though they'd lost their battle.
"I think there was PMS involved," Kitty replied and Rogue chuckled before dumping the remains of the meal in a plastic bag and stuffing it back in the locker. She shoved Logan in front of her back towards his seat as Storm started getting the jet ready for take-off.
There was a sudden thud of something large and heavy striking the side of the jet which set the entire vessel shaking. "Storm, can you raise the ramp please?" Rogue asked patiently.
Logan raised his eyebrows, concerned rather than frightened. He knew from experience how very difficult it would be for him to die, and his invulnerability made him unperturbed by the situation. He didn't know these people well enough to really care about their well-being, although Rogue was interesting if nothing else. "Problem?" he questioned her mildly.
She threw him a barely irritated glance. "Is it possible you might have been followed?" she called up towards the front.
"It would appear so," Remy tossed back furiously. He was beside Storm at the controls, though his skill was far below anything that could really benefit them. "How long till you can get us in the air?"
"Another thirty seconds," Storm answered just as the entire jet rocked from a hard hit. "If she doesn't damage anything important. Get in a seat."
Remy threw himself back into the seat and buckled in quickly as Rogue scrambled for her belt as well. Logan reached over and snatched the buckles from her, fastening them himself before she could object to his help. He didn't know why the urge to see her secure had come over him but he did it and buckled himself in fast before Storm sent the jet rocketing for the clouds.
Logan watched Rogue slow her breathing in only moments and then relax. "Are you all alright?"
Kitty was looking herself over, and even though she was the one who was most likely to get out of the way of danger, she appeared to have a few bumps. "I hit my head."
"Tell me when we're good," Rogue said.
Storm nodded. "Two minutes until we've got altitude and a chance for me to check the radar." Rogue waited patiently until Storm nodded at her and then she unbuckled and went up to check on Kitty's head. "It's just a little blood. Don't fall asleep, okay?"
"I will slap you if you so much as blink for a second longer than normal."
"Storm, how did you make out?"
"I'm pretty sure there was some blood on my leg. Just a second and I'll see to it."
Rogue crouched down beside the chair to check it out and popped back up after a moment. "Yeah. I'll get some bandages." She kept her balance moving towards the back of the jet but only barely. Logan caught her from falling at the slight bit of turbulence when she made her way back up front with bandages in hand and she nodded her thanks to him as she kept moving towards Storm.
"This will be easier if you turn away from the controls."
"I should stay here. The turbulence might get pretty bad."
"At least give me your leg." Storm carefully turned her body out towards Rogue who unzipped the leg revealing the smooth dark skin. Rogue didn't have much experience medically, but the physiology she had studied combined with emergency first aid training gave her some understanding of what needed to be done. "Storm, does your leg hurt very much?" she questioned in a concerned tone after a second.
"Worse every second," the woman said, and a bit of pained harshness finally seeped out in her voice.
"It's swelling up pretty ugly," Rogue announced. "Might be broken. Or at least fractured. I think we should take you back to the mansion."
"We have a mission to finish."
"Do you honestly think you can make it? You're the only one we have to fly this thing. Maybe some painkillers."
"No. I need to keep my head. I've had worse."
"Do you think I should bandage it up?"
"The scratch is bleeding though."
"It's already stopping. And you need to get ready. You're going out for the last one."
"I'm just barely injured," Remy offered.
Rogue stood up, deigning to glare at him for a moment. "You can fucking die." She folded the medical supplies back in their box and headed to the back to return them to their locker. "What information did the professor give us on this one?" she asked as she pulled her hair back and tightened the wrists of her gloves.
Kitty first looked at Storm who was too focused on the computers to be bothered, and then answered. "Male, mid twenties, moderate chance of danger. He's been sighted before, even put in the tabloids, but he's managed to protect his identity. He's safe, though that might not last long. We'll find him at his house in Kentucky; we've got the coordinates. It's his mother that wants him to come up with us."
"How's she know?"
"She's Cannonball's mother."
"Oh. And the newbie?"
"Cannonball's brother, Jay. He's got fucking wings."
"Don't start with the wing thing, Kitty. Why's he coming with us?"
"Last resort. He's been having some trouble killing himself. Been trying real hard was my impression."
"Like we don't have enough emo teenagers around the mansion to babysit."
"Rogue!" both Kitty and Storm managed to snap chidingly.
"Jeez. Ease up. I'll take care of it. What kind of danger will I have to worry about?"
"None. His mother and the family is expecting us. Get in, pick him up, get him out. The only trouble might be him not wanting to come."
"Well, if he's that suicidal, maybe he'll be depressed enough not to care."
"If he doesn't want to come, you're going to be hard pressed to make him by yourself."
"I can come," Remy offered.
"Not even when hell freezes over." She turned to the only other option, and one that she knew would piss Remy off. She also knew she could trust him. "Logan, you can come with. See what we do. You can carry the kid if we need to. Or just scare him into doing what we want."
"Sure. Why not." Logan shrugged and sent Remy another animal grin of dominance.
"Just two minutes to touch down," Storm announced.