#Two-Part Season Preview! When a media corporation launches with a bang in Bayville, the X-Men go under cover at the party in case Magneto decides it's an opportunity not to be missed#
Disclaimer: I own nothing, Corrinth owns Vixen, Marvel owns everyone else except Blaze, who owns me. Bruce Wayne, mentioned briefly, is obviously DC. The song on the CD player is 'Freak like me' by Sugababes.
A/N: Two-part preview for season 3 of my X-Men: Evolution stories. I'm thinking along the lines of 24: Redemption, but without Keifer in a sweaty vest!
X-Men: Evolution / Freaks on the Inside / Part One
"...Now we are going over to our entertainment correspondent Vikki de Matteo, who is live on the red carpet outside the Bayville Crown Plaza Hotel. Vikki how is the atmosphere downtown? "
"Thanks Mike, the atmosphere is building nicely on this very important evening for entertainment in Bayville. I'm outside the hotel now, and the expectation is electric. This night has been hotly anticipated ever since Pizzazz! Entertainment Corporation completed its takeover of TV channels Bayville District News, Bayville Lite Entertainment, the Bayville Bulletin newspaper group and our very own Radio Bayville."
"That's great Vikki! What kind of turnout can we expect on the red carpet tonight?"
"Well Mike, we can expect a host of stars from TV and film, rubbing elbows alongside Bayville's own rich and beautiful people. The guests will be treated to a night of premier-class entertainment including a live DJ and an in-house casino, culminating on the hotel's luxurious roof-top garden for a fireworks display of colossal proportions. Pizzazz! Entertainment is leaving no stone unturned in its quest to become the biggest name in Bayville for all your news and entertainment needs."
"Fantastic! Well Vikki, we'll be back with you soon…"
A manicured hand reached out and punched a button on the car stereo, silencing the radio presenters. The action made the bracelets that hung on the milky pale, slender wrist jangle loudly. Polished nails moved back to drum the black leather steering wheel as the car's CD player jolted into life. Electro-pop funk blasted from the car's speakers, loud and proud. A diva girl group took up the challenge, singing their hearts out with passion and soul.
"Let me lay it on the line,
I've gotta little freakiness inside,
And you know that a man has gotta deal with it.
I don't care what they say,
I'm not gonna pay nobody's way,
'Cos it's all about the dog in me mmm…
"I wanna freak in the morning,
Freak in the evening,
Just like me.
I need a rough neck brother that can satisfy me,
Just for me.
If you are that kind of man,
'Cos I'm that kind of girl.
I've got freaky secret,
'Cos we don't give a damn about a thing..."
The sleek silver convertible had the roof down, and the evening breeze lifted the driver's long red curls playfully as she drove through the traffic. The sun was setting, turning the sky cherry red and flame orange. The summer air smelt of diesel fumes and baked asphalt. Shop shutters rattled down as the day's trading finished, whilst bars and restaurants were just opening for the evening's service. A few cars roamed the streets, but for the most part the evening rush was over and the convertible was roared through the streets uncontested.
Heading out along the waterfront towards where the Crown Plaza Hotel sat amongst Bayville's most fashionable area, the driver hit traffic and had to slow. A Bayville District News truck with its blue and yellow BDN logo pulled alongside. That in itself was not usual. What made the redhead purse her rosebud lips in consternation was that it was the third such truck she'd passed since leaving home. Pizzazz! Entertainment was using tonight as a statement of intent in more ways that one, and she wasn't sure she liked it.
The truck pulled away, taking a right turn. The car driver hit the breaks as the traffic signal in front of her turned amber, then red. Engine idling, she glanced up at the tower block to her left. Worthington Tower stretched up elegantly, set in a paved area with raised flowerbeds and ornamental fountains. The girl looked up to the penthouse suite, raising a hand in greeting as she recognised the silhouette at the window…
Warren Worthington III smiled as he saw the girl in the silver car salute him, before jovially tapping her wrist. She was indicating that he was running late, which he was. Warren raised his hand to wave back, then turned away and gave his full attention back to his right-hand man.
"What I want to know is why Pizzazz! Entertainment is interested in our research and development department? What do they stand to gain by offering us funds?"
"That's not clear in their offer, Warren. They aren't putting all their cards on the table on this one."
"So what do you think we should do Geoffrey?" Angel watched as his operational director thought for a moment, then came to a decision and made his recommendation.
"It is a major potential investment proposal; I think we should seriously consider it."
"I think it sounds like trouble," Warren decided ominously, "why us? Why not go to Wayne Enterprises or Stark Industries? This deal is much more Bruce or Tony's line of work than ours." He ran his hands back through his thick blond hair, an expression of consternation.
"We're local," guessed Geoffrey. "Pizzazz! Entertainment has made no secret that it wants to be involved in everything in Bayville."
"Maybe," Warren said, but he didn't sound convinced. "Stall them for now, we'll call a meeting of the directors and…" There was a beep from the intercom on Warren's desk. A little red light flashed on his telephone until he pressed it. "Yes Deborah?"
"The limousine has just arrived back sir. Your young lady is waiting in the underground parking lot."
"Thanks Deborah," Warren said sincerely. He released the button to terminate the call, and then glanced wickedly at Geoffrey. "Gotta fly, I'll catch up with you tomorrow."
"Would you like me to call the elevator for you?" Geoffrey asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Now why would you want to do something like that?" Angel smiled, unfurling his white feathered wings…
Never mind butterflies, Rogue had a plague of locusts in her stomach and it was making her queasy. She had been fine back at the mansion, better than fine actually. She had worried about the Professor giving permission for her to go out tonight, but the old man had been incredible about the whole thing. Not only did she have permission, he'd let Storm take her shopping at Bayville's kitsch boutiques on the Institute's credit card. She'd lapped up the jealousy from Kitty and the other girls, relishing the satin green gown with its figure-hugging cut and high neckline. Teaming the dress with long black gloves and chunky boots, she'd used just enough kohl eyeliner to take her make-up from glam to Goth. And when the black limo had turned up at the mansion, it had been like a dream come true for the Southern Belle.
The locusts had only arrived when it wasn't Angel who got out of the limo to meet her. His driver had been courteous and polite, but it just wasn't the same. Warren had been delayed at work, she understood that. But now she was nervous and her palms were sweaty and Warren still wasn't here. Gasping for air, she shoved open the limo's door and stepped out into the deserted underground parking garage. The dress was now making her self-conscious, clinging a little too much and getting under her feet. She was starting to wish she'd stayed at home after all, when a sudden rush or air past her ear made her spin around.
"Ah t'ought you were gonna stand me up," she only half-teased as Warren dropped in, wings flapping.
"I'm so sorry Rogue, work just got away from me," he took an obvious double take, sizing up her dress and obviously approving as his eyes went wide. "Wow, you look amazing…"
"Thank you," Rogue blushed, tugging at her cropped hair shyly. "You look good too Sugah."
"Thanks," Warren gave a lopsided grin, tugging at the cravat at his neck. "This party better be worth it, this is so uncomfortable." The blond then produced a harness designed to keep his wings in check, and grimaced. "Would you mind doing the honours?"
"'Course not," Rogue took the harness and gently eased it over Warren's shoulders. She had to stand on her tiptoes to reach, making sure the straps didn't ruffle his beautiful feathers and that the fit was comfortable for him. The buckles were difficult to work; Rogue resorted to tugging her glove off with her teeth so she could get a better grip. She and Warren had already discovered that she could touch his feathers without hurting him, her powers were only damaging in skin-to-skin contact. Both of them enjoyed the contact. Warren's eyes glazed over slightly as Rogue smoothed his feathers with her bare hand, feeling the smoothness like silk between her fingers.
"All done," Rogue said at last, pulling back on her glove. Warren shrugged on an Edwardian frock coat- longer than a normal suit jacket so that it covered his wings- and presented himself to his girlfriend for her approval. "Ah guess ya'll do," she joked, stepping into his careful embrace. Angel placed a delicate kiss on the top of her hair, then took her hand in his and guided her back to the limousine.
"Let's not keep the party waiting, shall we?"
The silver convertible careered down a side street straight to the rear entrance of the Bayville Crown Plaza Hotel. At the front of the building, ceremonial spotlights roved the darkening sky, and the red carpet was lined with hysterical fans and photographers. The screaming and the popping of camera flashes as guests started to arrive made it resemble a war zone. At the back of the building, things were calmer and more isolated. As the convertible's driver extracted herself and secured the vehicle, only one man waited to greet her.
"What time d'you call this?"
"Its barely eight-thirty Logan, the party only started at eight."
"Yeah, and you were supposed to be here an hour ago to help get set up," grouched Wolverine. The redhead was nonplussed, taking a radio earpiece from her pocket and slipping it into her ear. Logan watched as she twisted her long hair back and clipped it up out of the way. He couldn't resist making an additional dig at the late comer as he handed her a silver serving platter. "Jean was here at six setting up. You could learn something from that if you wanna make it as a senior member of the team, Firefly."
"Yeah," the English girl replied sarcastically, "like Jean needs a life." She took the tray and went to enter the hotel, but Logan wasn't done yet.
"And no flirting with the party guests, Blaze. Think you can manage that?"
"Honestly Logan, you are no fun at all," Blaze replied with a smile, before opening the door and passing through.
The blackjack dealer had his white shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows, and his black bow tie was already undone around his open collar. He meant business, and every one of the punters sat around the table knew it. The stacks of casino chips made brightly coloured columns on the green felt table, whilst the playing cards were scattered in between. The dealer wore sunglasses, not because he thought it looked cool even inside and at night, but because he didn't want to scare away the punters. He didn't think they would take too kindly to red-on-black demon eyes, not this early in the evening. It would kind of render the whole evening pointless. The X-Men were here to prevent any mutant-related dramas, not start one. Gambit appreciated that.
As he gathered in the cards to make the next deal, he saw the girl enter the room out of the corner of his eye. She was carrying a silver tray and heading straight to the bar, where Storm was filling fluted glasses with fine champagne. Jean Grey was already meandering her way through the growing crowd, tray in hand as she plied the guests with drink. Jean looked nervous and uncomfortable, but the newcomer was exactly the opposite. The redhead cut through the crowd like a hot knife through butter. Like Jean and Ororo, she was dressed all in black, trying to blend in with the regular hotel staff. Yet the redhead stood out, her lacy black blouse and short black skirt showing just enough skin to tantalise, her walk graceful in heels with her curvaceous hips swinging.
She was short, but slim and graceful with big brown eyes like glowing embers. Gambit didn't like her hair pinned up as it was, although it did make a feature of her high cheekbones and finely arched eyebrows. Blaze was exquisitely made-up as always, rings on her fingers and earrings jangling. She must have felt his eyes on her, because the English girl glanced Gambit's way and she waved her silver tray in greeting. Gambit grinned, making one of his punters glance over his shoulder to see what he was looking at. The newly elected Mayor Kelly was not impressed.
"Socialise on your own time, mister. Now shuffle those cards again. I'm not convinced you're not cheating."
"Whatever you say homme," the Cajun replied calmly, shuffling the cards deftly with a flick of his wrist. Of course he was cheating, but there was no way Bayville High's ex-principle could know that. "Whatever you say…"
"…And following the stars of Bayville's Got Talent are Bayville royalty Professor Charles Xavier and his daughter Ilehana," droned the TV announcer, although no one in the Brotherhood's living room was listening. Blob was sprawled on the sofa, whilst Quicksilver perched on the arm of the chair and Toad sat cross-legged on the floor. There were cheesy nachos and chilli dip to share, whilst Avalanche was in the kitchen rustling up popcorn. As the TV camera roved round to get a better shot of the father and daughter psychics, Toad chortled in amusement.
"Man, I ain't never seen no Xavier look so uncomfortable! Who'd a' thought they'd be so scared of a few cameras?"
"What is Vixen wearing?" exclaimed Quicksilver, darting in to get a closer look before returning to his perch on the arm of the sofa. The Vixen must have heard him, turning in front of the camera to demonstrate her slinky black, full length dress that hung coyly from one shoulder. The tall slender blonde had her father's brown eyes, but her deceased mother's fine eyebrows and straight nose. Her gaze was predatory and as she flicked her long straight locks back from her face, there was a challenge in the way she moved.
"Why'd they bother goin' if they don't wanna do the whole red carpet thing?" asked Blob, spraying nacho bits into the air.
"Who cares?" replied Pietro, "sure is good to watch 'em squirm."
"Oo Oo Oo," bounced Toad, "here comes Rogue n' Angel!"
Sure enough the TV cameras zoomed in on the young couple, and the female TV announcer started to croon.
"Next we have Bayville's hottest bachelor, Warren Worthington the Third. The young lady he's with is a bit of a mystery, but whoever she is I hope she's ready for a serious catfight to keep hold of her man!"
"Catfight? Hah!" Quicksilver derided, "who's gonna fight over that winged freak?"
"Rogue'd win," pledged Blob, drawing glances from Pietro and Toad. "Well, she did used to be one of us, somethin' must've stuck."
"Who wants popcorn?" Lance announced as he entered with a giant plastic bowl of the stuff. "Hey Blob move over will ya, there's room for one more on here." Blob obligingly shuffled over a micrometer on the sofa, and Lance wedged himself in with the popcorn bowl. Just then Pietro's sister Wanda arrived from upstairs. She ran a disparaging glance over the boys, the food and the TV before letting out an elaborate sigh.
"You are not seriously going to spend all night sitting in front of the TV watching this garbage?"
"Sure we are snookems," said Toad cheerfully, "here you go, I saved you a space right here." He patted the carpet next to him invitingly. Wanda rolled her eyes and made no move to join them.
"It's only happening six blocks from here. If you're so fascinated why don't you go down and take a look?"
"Why bother when we got the best seats in the house?" argued Avalanche, whilst blob went grey at the thought of walking six blocks.
"I dunno," said Toad. "I think it's a great idea. You wanna go take a look Wanda? …Wanda?"
Wanda did not answer, because the front door had opened and an imposing figure had just stepped through into the hallway. Wanda backed into the living room as Magneto followed, his telepathy-blocking helmet on his head and his cloak billowing around him.
"Father!" jolted Pietro, jumping to his feet to stand besides his sister. Blob and Avalanche had the good sense to stand to attention also, but Toad was still sprawled on the floor trying to watch the TV through everyone's legs.
"Indeed," said Magneto, his steely eyes flicking towards the TV set. For half a nanosecond Avalanche wondered if he should offer popcorn. Was he going to stay and watch the show with them? Instead Magneto just waved his hand at the TV screen contemptuously. "You are perhaps waiting for an invitation?"
Whilst the others looked gobsmacked, Toad seized on Magneto's suggestion, but getting Magneto's meaning all wrong.
"Y'know he's right! These X-Men don't know nothin' about how to work a crowd. We should be struttin' our stuff on the red carpet, not them!"
"Y'think?" said Pietro, clipping Toad around the head with the back of his hand. Magneto did not react as he explained what he wanted.
"The X-Men are there tonight because they believe we may want to target such a high-profile event. I would not want to disappoint an old friend, nor have my God-daughter Ilehana dressed to the nines for no reason. I think this is one party I would encourage you to gatecrash."
"We've seen the Xaviers, Rogue and Angel arrive Father," said Wanda. "Are there more X-Men already inside the hotel?" Magneto looked straight at Wanda as if amazed she would ask such a sensible question.
"My contacts at Pizzazz! Entertainment suggest that there could be several more senior X-Men working undercover as hotel staff."
"Senior X-Men?" asked Blob, "like Storm n' Wolverine?" When Magneto didn't reply, Toad protested.
"No way I'm goin' in there to get my butt kicked! I'm stayin' here and watchin' it on TV!" Without a warning, Magneto used his powers to hoist Toad into the air by his belt buckle. Toad dangled uncomfortably, kicking his legs and waving his arms about.
"Listen very carefully Toad," the Master of Magnetism warned. "You should be grateful that I am once more affording you the opportunity to prove yourselves. Any more cowardice from you and all the Brotherhood will suffer for it, understood?"
"Y…y..yessir!" stuttered Toad, only to be dropped unceremoniously to land on his rump. Magneto gave one last cursory glance over the Brotherhood before leaving the house. Only when the door had closed behind his father did Pietro let out the breath he had been holding.
"Let's get down to the hotel quick before he comes back!"
It seemed to Rogue that Angel knew every single person invited to the bash. She had been introduced to so many of Bayville's finest that she felt like the room was spinning. Angel soon noticed his girlfriend's glazed look, gave their apologies to the group they were with and led her to a quiet spot away from the hordes.
"Are you alright?" Warren asked gently, touching her gloved elbow.
"Ah'm fine," Rogue replied. "Ah just don't do too great in crowds, that's all."
"You're doing great," Warren insisted. "I'm so glad you could come with me tonight, I…"
"Well I'll be," interrupted a booming voice, "if it isn't Warren Worthington the Third himself!"
"Stark!" laughed Warren, turning to shake the newcomer's hand, "I should have known if there was a free bar you'd wrangle your way in." Tony Stark only chuckled, not the least bit offended. The owner of Stark Industries wore a dapper tuxedo and sported thick dark hair and a goatee beard. He clapped Warren on the back jovially, before turning his attention to Rogue. Sizing her up openly, Stark grinned as she blushed.
"Who is this intriguing creature?" Tony asked, taking Rogue's hand in his, "Warren you scoundrel, were you hiding her away back her so I didn't see her?" He didn't wait for an answer, leaning forward to plant a kiss on Rogue's cheek…
Rogue panicked, but Warren calmly stepped between Stark and Rogue. His voice had an edge of danger to it as he warned Stark away.
"I wouldn't if I were you Tony," he said. "Or else you might find yourself falling from thirty thousand feet without a 'chute…"
"Huh," Stark shrugged, trying to appear nonchalant but clearly intrigued by Warren's threat. "It happens. So how's business?"
Rogue breathed a sigh of relief as Tony and Warren steered their conversation onto safer ground. Excused for the moment, she took a brief look around the room to find her X-Men colleagues. Storm had taken time out from behind the bar to serve tea to the Professor and an elderly lady Rogue didn't know. Jean was struggling on proudly with her drinks tray, making her way though the crowds and trying to spot trouble before it started. Wolverine was lurking by the kitchen door, near the fire exits, and up by the DJ booth as he acted security guard. Gambit had a table full of punters losing money hand over fist, whilst Blaze…
"Champagne?" speaking of the devil, the redhead appeared at Rogue's side with a flourish and a tray of drinks. Rogue scowled. The two girls did not get along. Rogue thought Blaze was superficial and untrustworthy, whilst Blaze thought Rogue was a martyr with an elevated opinion of herself. There was truth in both statements, but the main reason they couldn't get along was their remarkably similar taste in boys.
Rogue reached out to take the drink that Blaze offered, not surprised when she was also given a radio earpiece like the one the fire elemental was already wearing. Quickly Rogue inserted the earpiece into her ear and pulled her hair down to cover it.
"The Professor really thinks Magneto's got somethin' planned?" Rogue asked.
"Would I be wasting my Friday night serving you drinks if he didn't?" Blaze answered rhetorically.
Rogue didn't get chance to reply as Warren and Tony noticed they had extra company. Rogue's opinion of Stark took a nose-dive as he gave Blaze a lecherous smile.
"I'm beginning to see why you stay in this backwater Warren; the ladies around here are stunning."
"Champagne?" Blaze asked with a wry smile.
"I'd rather have a dance with you," Tony replied hopefully.
"I'm working," Blaze pointed out, "I don't think my boss would approve."
"Who cares what your boss thinks," Stark insisted. "Live dangerously."
"Uh-huh," said Blaze, "and what about tomorrow?"
Stark was confused, "Tomorrow?"
"And the night after that, and the night after that," Blaze continued. "I'm flattered sir, but I need this job." She gave Angel a flattering smile as she acknowledged him, "Warren." Then she was gone, leaving Stark bewildered.
"You know her?" Tony asked Warren and Rogue.
"Yeah," Warren admitted. "I'd stay clear of that one Tony, or you'll get your fingers burnt."
"Warren, you should know me better than to say things like that! Now you've only gone and got me interested!"
Jean hated this. She didn't see why Rogue and Ilehana got to attend as guests, whilst she had to work AND keep her telepathy scanning for any sign of trouble. As the guests got steadily more inebriated, it became harder and harder for her to concentrate. A posse of TV stars made a dash for Jean's tray of drinks, nearly upending the whole lot as they grabbed their refreshments. Telekinetically steadying the remaining glasses, Jean weathered the storm until they had left her again. Her former principle, prevented from recognising her by the blanket telepathy the Professor and Ilehana were contributing to the undercover crusade, relieved Jean of her final two glasses of champagne. With relief Jean decided to collect a few empties and head back to the hotel's kitchens for a well-earned break.
Tray stacked with empty champagne flutes, Jean saw Logan across the other side of the room and sent him a telepathic buzz. #Off to the kitchen, back soon.# Logan nodded, message received and understood. Jean saw him raise a hand to the earpiece and his lips move as he filled in the others. She would have done the honours, but unlike Blaze who seemed to be a dab hand at the balancing act, Jean needed both hands to hold the drinks tray. She backed through the swinging double doors to the service corridor and took a left into the kitchen. One of the hotel's regular staff took the tray off her without as much as a thank you and turned back to load an industrial dishwasher.
I need some air, Jean thought, no one will miss me for a minute. Crossing the kitchen, she weaved between stainless steel counters and huge pieces of equipment, stacks of pans and rows of dangling utensils. Jean got to the back door, pushing down on the horizontal bar to lever the door open. The cold night air brushed her skin, and she felt like she could breathe for the first time that night. It wasn't like her to be claustrophobic, and she wondered if it was sensitivity to the Xaviers' telepathic blanket that was making her crave fresh air?
Stepping outside, Jean let the door close behind her. A small concrete ramp led down into an alleyway, where Blaze's car was abandoned at the far end. It was dark in the alleyway; the only light was a small yellow bulb hanging by the back door. It took Jean a few moments for her eyes to adjust after the neon lights of the kitchen. Fortunately her hearing was not so affected, and she heard the two voices before they walked around the corner. Recognising one voice, Jean panicked and stepped back quickly behind the kitchen door. Magneto!
No good, Jean told herself as she stood with her back to the closed door, must calm down. I need to find out what he's up to… With shaking hands, Jean turned around and pushed the door open a fraction. Cautiously, she put an eye to the crack between the door and doorframe. Pressing her face to the door, she could just about make out the two figures as they stopped by Blaze's car. She tried to engage her telepathy, but Magneto was wearing his shielding helmet, and his companion read only as static. That was strange in itself, but Jean had no time to consider it. If she listened hard enough, she could just about make out fractions of the conversation.
"…always wanted a car like dis," Magneto's companion was female, and there was something familiar about her accent that Jean couldn't place. She was tall and slim, and she ran a hand lovingly over the smooth curves of Blaze's pride and joy. Then she perched lightly on the bonnet, drawing up one foot to rest on the bumper. Magneto had his back to Jean, for which Jean was grateful. His associate looked up at him and addressed him bluntly. Jean wondered if the woman had more courage than sense. "…team ready?" were the only words Jean caught. Whatever Magneto said in reply Jean missed entirely, but the woman laughed.
"The fireworks are… ten minutes…" Jean heard her say, but that was all. Magneto said something else, something that the woman did not find so humorous. "He's a man o' his word… Sure I understand… Don't you…" Magneto raised his hand in warning, and for the first time the woman blanched. It was momentary though, and she shook her hair back over her shoulder in a gesture that reaffirmed that she was not afraid of Magneto. "…should get goin'," she acknowledged finally. Magneto seemed to agree, raising his palms he used the steel frames of the buildings around him to propel himself upwards and away. The woman watched him leave, before standing up and walking directly towards the hotel's back door.
Jean quickly shut the door and dashed away. Stepping behind a seven-feet high refrigerator, she listened to the door open and then close. Heeled shoes made a clicking noise as someone walked across the tiled floor. Jean dared to peek out from behind the fridge just as the woman disappeared into the service corridor. The only thing Jean could make out was long blonde hair braided into a million plaits, and some mean cowboy boots. She stored the knowledge away for later, but for now she only had one thing on her mind. Her finger found the radio earpiece, and it took all her self control not to shout.
"Magneto is here!"
#To be continued…………………#