TITLE: The List
AUTHOR: Roseveare, t.l. PG-13
SUMMARY: Picking up the pieces post-X2. Scott, Rogue and Logan search for the missing.
LENGTH: 9,000 words. 3 parts. NOTE: I have stretched the timescale of X2 somewhat for this story, providing almost a week between the attack on the mansion and the return, though it likely took rather less. I'll somewhat guiltily admit that I recall Jubilee largely from the cartoon series. I've never seen X3, so I have no idea if it contradicts canon or not.
NOTES #2: I wrote this some years ago and for one reason or another never posted it. It was going to be a series, but the rest will never be written. Therefore I declare a fic amnesty on it and I'm posting it now. DISCLAIMER: Not mine, no profit, yadda yadda yadda.
A tyre cutting into a clogged gutter drenched his legs to the knees in water that he would swear iced up the instant it hit. He turned his head, but he didn't shout after the car or slow his steps. He'd learned the value of keeping a low profile unless necessity called for the exception long ago. Rain soaked his hair, clung to and drained off over the red lenses of his glasses, making vision a more lofty ambition than normal, and he wished he'd worn the visor, for all that it drew more stares.
He ducked into a phone booth, only partially to dry off, the clamour of New York traffic muffled by the closing of the door. Sealed inside, the smell was strongly unpleasant over the scent of rain and petroleum. He unzipped his coat and kept his eyes screwed tight shut while he used the mostly-dry fabric of his shirt to clean off red lenses.
Sight returned, he fed change into the telephone and dialled the number. It rang for a long time, but he was prepared to wait.
The phone was finally picked up and a soft, accented voice said, "Hello. Xavier's School for the Gifted."
"Kurt? I guess you're the secretary today." He didn't know why he'd expected Jean's voice on the line - she'd seldom been the one to answer the mansion phones even when she'd been alive - except that she'd always been the thing he most associated with home.
"Scott." Nightcrawler still sounded uncertain saying his name, courtesy of a too-short acquaintance composed largely of emotional breakdown (Scott's). "Everything is all right?"
"Yeah... everything's fine." The words tasted bitter on their way out and he had to tell himself it wasn't a lie. Everything that would be news to the rest of the school was fine... better than fine, in fact. One target had been acquired for retrieval already, far easier and earlier than expected. "Everything's great. Tell the professor our party will be home and sleeping in our own beds for the night - plus one."
"You found one?"
"We found one." The line blared at him for more coins he wasn't willing to give it. "We should be back before midnight, I hope. I have to go now." He set the receiver down before the 'click' and the dead air, and stared at it in its cradle, his fingers still touching the smooth plastic, wondering why he'd rung at all. Perhaps it was only a need to foster the appearance of achievement, of progress... of hope.
It is an achievement, he told himself irritably. And the professor deserves to know there's at least one missing student now safe and on their way back to him. Especially when so much has been damaged or lost.
He took his hand from the phone and zipped up his coat. Though it was more late afternoon than early evening, the rain had darkened the sky and the city almost to the shades of night. He saw his own reflection, caught between the anaemic lighting in the roof of the phone booth and the dark outside, caught in monochromes and glass and jagged, refracting dashes of rain. Scott Summers - a young man wearing sunglasses built like a prison, a coat that swallowed up the thinness of his form and pants that sagged with the weight of the weather. He felt indeterminably old. He pushed back the door and walked through the space where the reflection had been into the night.
The sidewalk skidded under his feet, puddles sucking at his steps. Hands stuffed in pockets and hunched forward against the rain, he trudged his way across the street and the path of a honking station wagon whose driver leaned from the window to join in the serenade. The front of the diner was a foggy neon glow. Blue neon; purple to him. 'Jemima's', it read.
Two steps up to the door (no obvious wheelchair access). The door, glass, shiny and recently cleaned, grease fingerprints already collecting by the handle nonetheless. There was a bell that tinkled when he pushed the glass inward, adding his fingerprints to the collection, and his chest clenched a moment because it had sounded like something splintering. The comfortable heat and dryness of the interior embraced him and reminded that this wasn't another warzone, here and now.
He saw Logan and Rogue at their table across the diner with raised heads. The plate of fries that had been in front of Rogue when he left was in front of Logan now, and empty; Logan was sucking grease from his fingertips and sprawling indecorously in his plastic chair. Rogue hunched as Rogue was wont to do - although he'd thought she was doing that less of late, so perhaps it was something to do with his own presence.
"Conquered the savage elements, huh?" Logan asked, one eyebrow climbing in low-key humour. "The chief have anything to say?"
"If you mean Professor Xavier... I'm sure the message will get to him."
Scott shrugged out of his wet coat and sat down in the spare chair that wasn't opposite Logan, depositing the coat on the one that was. While any amount of time spent close-quarters with the Wolverine wasn't even approaching his idea of fun, they hadn't come close to actual violence yet, now that the ghost of Jean lay between them. Possibly it had as much to do with the awareness of Marie looking on, but he supposed their newest recruit would have to warm up to the fact sooner or later that not all of the 'X-men' were the big happy family the faculty liked to project. He made an effort to relax, resting his chilled hands flat to the table top in front of him. Their skin was pasty and he rubbed his fingers together, trying to encourage circulation.
"I guess I'm glad I'll be sleeping at home tonight after all," Rogue offered, sounding none too sure. "But I kinda had worked myself up to all this taking longer, you know?"
"It'll take longer, don't worry," Logan said. "We got lucky first time, can't expect it every time. Course, it depends on your definition of lucky. With a bit of 'luck', the place'll even have begun to look like home again by the time we next get back."
Rogue scowled at him a little, apparently for once not appreciating his wisdom. "That ain't why I came," she snapped, and he looked surprised.
"No, it's not," Scott agreed heavily. "You came because I asked you to." And Logan came because Marie came, and Scott had no illusions about why the professor had sent himself.
"Where the hell is that kid?" Logan demanded, his head turning from side to side as though trying to scent her on the air. "What time did you say she got off-shift?"
"Another hour." Rogue's chin sagged into her hand. "I can't believe Jubilee got a job." She ducked her head from their questioning looks. "I mean, Jubilee? Washing plates?"
"Set herself up pretty good without much time or planning. Girl's a survivor."
"We can only hope the same of the others that scattered," Scott murmured.
"Shouldn't have talked to the aunt, though." Logan chewed the inside of his mouth. "First place anyone'd think to ask questions. Look at us."
"I'm not going to grade them on it," Scott told him, frowning. Both of them looked at him with their expressions a riddle he wasn't about to attempt to unravel. He shifted in his seat and wished he'd bought a coffee or a soda, or anything to distract his hands.
Logan's eyebrows had quirked up almost enough to bury into his hairline. He spun the plate on the table using his index finger as a pivot. Cleared his throat. "Might not be a bad thing. Bit of in-the-field experience, you know?"
"If we were teaching them to be soldiers, which we're not. The idea is to teach them to be whatever they want to be, and that doesn't have to be us."
"You think they won't have to fight all their lives anyway?"
And, God damn it, he wasn't qualified to answer that anymore than Logan to believe it. He slapped his hand down on the spinning plate, killing its motion. "We work for a future where none of them will have to fight."
He didn't miss noticing the pinpoints of blood on Logan's knuckles where the claws had almost sprung - from instinct at the sudden motion, he'd guess, more than genuine desire to cause harm - a reminder that, with Logan, he was playing with fire. And who was he to preach pacifist methods, with a foul temper all his own and a body just as deadly a weapon? The pinpricks faded, and Logan growled, "Get the hell off."
Scott covered with, "I'm heading back up to the counter. You want a drink?"
"Sure." Logan sat back and let him take the plate; Rogue shook her head.
The only other current customers, a young couple with an impressive collection of body jewellery between them, paid him a cursory glance as he walked past them on his way to the counter. If his glasses or prior conversation suggested 'mutie' to them, they didn't care... or were too wrapped up in each other to notice. But he hoped for the former. A final victory would be composed of such little things.
The diner's proprietor, whose name was not Jemima but Bob, emerged from the kitchens when he set the offending plate down on the counter. He ordered sodas for himself and Logan and asked to make sure Jubilee was still there in the back.
"Yes she is," the man said gruffly. "I'm telling you, I've been watching her like a hawk. She won't run off again from my place, Mr Summers."
It had seemed an easier prospect to pretend Jubilee was a runaway and themselves stern school officials sent to collect her than to explain the truth. Even if the story of 'How The Government Raided My Mutant School' would've sounded great on Oprah. Thankfully the girl caught on quick, hardly afraid it might sully her reputation, and played the part to perfection. Given that they were already depriving the proprietor of one of his staff, it had seemed only reasonable to wait the few hours until she came off-shift.
Rogue was looking at her watch again when he returned to the table, handing Logan a soda that he looked at as though it was something offensive. Scott didn't sit down, asking instead, "You want to fill in the time with a game or two?" and gesturing over to the pool table in the corner.
A wicked gleam came into Logan's eye. "Yeah."
Scott scraped together enough change for a handful of matches which Logan lost, badly, until he finally tossed the cue aside on the table, bared his teeth, and said, "You set me up, you red-eyed freak."
"Just using the gifts God gave me," he returned sarcastically. "Besides, I'd no idea how you'd play, either." He glanced at Rogue and felt a twinge of guilt. "The two of you go ahead, and I'll sit out."
It turned out that Logan was a gracious and generous player against Rogue, and talked her through choosing and setting up her shots with a rare patience that just made Scott feel more a heel. Patience was something he was short on just now, and the rivalry between he and Logan was on a level of instinct he didn't always notice in time to catch when he wanted to. He resented the Neanderthal in him that uprooted reason and sense when he was thrown together with the guy. It made him feel like a teenager. Jean'd had every right to be pissed.
Purple neon rose and fell like breathing, the night reflecting it back in through the glass. Realisation that he was staring, mind blank, at nothing, forced him to slowly unfreeze. She's not here anymore. She'll never be here again. You have to accept that, or you'll be useless to the rest who still are here and still can be helped.
Rogue's tentative, "Are you all right?" brought him the rest of the way back to reality.
"Yeah... I was just thinking. Yeah."
"You wanna play again?" She held out a cue, and he reached out to accept it.
Logan cleared his throat uncomfortably. "We're out of money." That did explain how it was they'd come to look to him. The best of friends, these two... or, no, not friends; tight in some way that transcended friendship, but was a long way from sexual. He was the third wheel here, the one they didn't notice unless he advertised himself.
He was on his way to the counter to break open a note when the proprietor, coming out from the kitchen, saw him and said, "I told her to wrap up. She'll be out in a minute."
"Thanks." Scott turned back. Logan and Rogue at the pool table had overheard and were already finishing up drinks - his own as well, he noted - and gathering their things. Rogue handed over his coat, which he wouldn't have known was a particularly dingy shade of dark green but for the fact Jean had told him once. He delved into the sodden pockets for his car keys and tossed them to Logan.
"What the hell am I gonna do with these?"
"Bring the car around?"
"You want me to drive your car?" He narrowed his eyes. "Sure you're feeling all right? Stryker didn't mess with that brain of yours any more than we already know about?"
"Just get the car, Logan. It's a long drive." No hard choice to forgo an explanation of the effects of darkness and rain on his vision.
Logan expelled a small, derisive laugh through his nose, tossed the keys in the air and caught them. In a smooth continuation of the motion, he pointed his finger like a pistol; clicked his tongue. Then he'd spun on his heel and disappeared out into the rain, the music of the door's chime fading in his wake.
Without him, Rogue seemed to shrink in on herself. Her eyes turned down and her shoulders sagged inside the x-jacket, which had been Jean's, that once again encased them. Scott and Logan were in civvies, but Rogue's jacket had somehow found its way along, worn over her jeans and blouse and swinging loose on her shoulders, and since it was new, and did not look particularly out of place, Scott had let it slide and even experienced, when he allowed himself, a small sense of pride.
He wondered about her attitude, though - whether it was second-hand dislike from Logan, who she got along with so well and had had inside her head, or simply the fact that they'd never had a lot of contact, he and she. He refused to believe he was really so intimidating.
"Hey." The voice from behind them was almost a whisper.
Turning, he frowned at the thin girl. A little younger than Marie, black hair, perfect skin, wrapped in a long coat that covered her slim figure near neck to foot. There were dark smudges under her eyes, and a pinched look marred her face. She looked worse than she had two hours ago - the waiting had done her no favours. Too late to regret that he'd allowed the proprietor's claim she ought finish her shift.
"Jubilee..." He touched his hand to her shoulder and she stared palely up at him. Her eyes slid over his face - most people's did; he had no point of contact for them with his own eyes perpetually hidden - and beyond him, to rest longingly on the door.
In spite of the rain and the dark, he gently suggested, "Let's go wait outside for Logan."
They'd climbed down the few steps to the dark recess to the side of the entrance, the rain making its presence felt again on clothes, hair and skin that had barely had time to begin to dry, when he felt something hit him around the midriff, knocking him into Rogue and the both of them backwards against the wall of the diner.
"Oh, God..." Jubilee gulped into his sodden jacket. "Oh, God, I thought you were all dead." Her left arm curled around his back in a grip like steel. Her right was around Rogue's shoulder, and he was very aware that the other girl had gone stiff with terror beside him. A careless contact with her skin could kill. Awkwardly, he disentangled Jubilee from Rogue and let her cling to him.
"It's all right," he told her. "It's all right."
But it wasn't and it hadn't been. "I thought you were all dead," she reasserted, aggrieved, to his chest.
"We're not... everyone's... most of us..." And, oh, he hadn't thought about this. It had never occurred to him - nor, he would imagine, to the professor - that they would have to be told, or that he would have to be the one to tell them. "Everyone except... Jean..." In spite of his best efforts, he heard his voice break.
"Oh, God..." Jubilee's hold clenched tighter.
"Everyone else is okay," he said quickly, stepping over the issue of seven more missing kids. "The school will be fine."
Still, she didn't let go. "I'm sorry," she said, her face pressed to his heart. Her voice squeaked. "I'm so sorry."
With a sigh, he gave in; rested his chin on the top of her head, careful of his glasses, and let the rain wash over them both, too distracted to be glad Logan wasn't there to witness another display, or to wonder what Rogue was thinking, who was.
"Shh," he whispered, rubbing her back as though she were a much younger child. "I know. Shh."