"Access to level 2 granted...gates should be opening now."
"Good job - Colossus, you're on point. Shield up."
"Rogue, you and Jubilee take the east hall. Check every cell."
"Scott - watch out - on your left!"
"Thanks Jean. Two hostiles down, west hall clear. Okay in the east?"
"Yeah, two hostiles, taken care of. Five mutants over here. They're...okay. Physically. They are coming along okay, but..."
"But what, Rogue?"
"They're - I don't know, like dolls are something. Just empty."
"As long as they're mobile, that's what counts. You and Jubilee get them to the Blackbird. Let the doc sort them out. We've got four here but there's one more cell on the end."
"Shadowcat, one more door, special access. Do you have a code for me?"
"Working on it...you'll need a keycard."
"Okay...try hotel victor five seven whiskey echo zero."
"Got it...thanks. One more in here...damn it, watch out! He's not happy. Tranq him."
"Colossus, need you here...he's damn heavy. Shit - he's up! Fall back! Christ, Piotr, I didn't think anything could dent that skin of yours. Those claws are something new...Jean - can you get in his head? Get him to calm down and come with us?"
"Can't - not sure why - it's not working. What do we do?"
"Cyke, we got reinforcements coming. Military from the south, law enforcement from the east and west. First ones ETA 10 minutes."
"Thanks, Shadowcat. Piotr, get the others out. I'll try one more tranq."
"Great, I just made him madder. Must be a super-healer. Damn it, we'll have to leave him."
"Leave him? What do you mean? You can't!"
"Damn it Rogue, what are you doing here?"
Rogue took in the scene before her. She had passed Piotr in the smoky hall behind, herding four more of the doll-like mutants to the Blackbird. Now just a few steps behind Jean and Scott, she stared past them at the dim figure of a mutant, his back against the cell wall, hulking form barely distinguishable in the red emergency lighting. Looking closer, she saw the glint of metal, and made out the claws - razor sharp knives protruding from his hands. Christ, that must hurt, she thought.
The figure growled a warning as Scott's angry voice rang out. "Rogue, you're supposed to be escorting the others to the Blackbird."
"Jubes has it covered," she said absently, still scanning the scene, taking in the details. Deep gouges in the bars separating his cell from the narrow hallway, leather restraints on the wall, blood spattering his naked form... "We can't leave him."
"I'm not jeopardizing the mission, Rogue. We have to get the others out," Scott snapped. She could tell he was angry at the thought of leaving a prisoner behind as well - Scott didn't deal well with failure.
Rogue's eyes were adjusting better to the dimmer light at this end of the hall now, and for some reason she couldn't let this go. There would be hell to pay later she knew, but for now...there was something in the eyes of the prisoner. Anger, yes, but also underneath - a trace of panic? "Give me two minutes," she said calmly.
"What do you think..." Scott started.
"Two minutes, Scott. Please. Can you trust me?" she said. He turned around, prepared to snap out another order she knew, but whatever he saw in her expression must have made him reconsider. "Two minutes," he said grudgingly.
Rogue took a step forward slowly, and then another. The man was still, but she could see his labored breathing, the pulse hammering in his throat, and his eyes darting back and forth between her, Scott, and the cell door. "Kitty, cut the alarm," she said, and almost immediately the shrill blaring stopped. Kitty was damn good at tech, she'd give her that.
Rogue eased in the door of the cell slowly, ignoring the motion in the corner of her eye of Scott's intake of breath and the warning hand Jean placed on his arm to stop him from saying whatever he had planned to say. Easing to the side to be sure she was no longer between the prisoner and the door, she slowly approached the man.
His eyes stopped darting and focused in on hers, and she felt the sudden force of his gaze as a physical thing, causing her breath to hitch. One step, and then another, trying to project calm and warmth, not fear. For some reason it wasn't as hard as it should be. As fearsome as the man looked, she wasn't quite able to feel afraid of him. Mama always said I had no sense, she thought fleetingly.
Another step and she was close enough for him to skewer her if he chose but instead he remained still, body rigid with tension, pulse still hammering. She could see his eyes clearly now - pupils so dilated it was hard to tell the color of his eyes, but they were communicating watchfulness and not violent intent. At least not yet.
Slowly, making sure he saw every move coming, she removed her left glove. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Scott tense again, but she knew her skin was securely off. She would rather leave this man to fend for himself than do that to him. She held out her hand, palm up, and for a second time seemed to stop. The man narrowed his gaze on her hand, and then again on her eyes. He took one shuffling step forward, and she concentrated on keeping her body loose, letting no tension show in her posture. The sudden snick as the claws retracted startled her, but she managed not to jump.
He watched her closely, reaching toward her hand. Suddenly he grabbed it, and for a second she thought he was going to bite her palm. But he just took a deep inhale, smelling her scent and then looking back at her eyes, assessing. She thought she saw a slight lessening of the tension in his posture after this strange ritual, but either way they were out of time.
"It's okay, right?" she said, addressing the man in a voice so quiet it was little more than a breath. "You're coming with us. We're going to go now. Okay?" she said. He gave her no sign one way or another, but she nodded as if he had. She turned her hand, still held palm-up in his, until she was grasping his hand. "We're going now, Scott. It'll be fine."
For someone with a visor over half his face, Scott could be damn expressive. Hell to pay, she thought again. But - with a nudge from Jean- Scott turned and started back through the metal door they had jammed open that separated this cell from the others.
Rogue took a step towards the cell door, the man's hand still in hers. Please come, she thought, refusing to look back to see if he would. Their arms stretched between them for a second, hands still clasped, and then she felt him move to follow her. She swallowed down a sigh of relief as they padded awkwardly down the hall, her soft-soled shoes making as little noise as his bare feet, hastening their steps now.
"ETA law enforcement 7 minutes - I'm heading back now," Kitty said in her earpiece, as they followed the backs of Jean and Scott. Once he had made up his mind it seemed like the man had no other doubts. Although she could feel the tension in the hand gripping hers, he followed her wordlessly through the complex, hand-in-hand. Like first-graders in a fire drill, Rogue thought wryly, as they ran up the steps and out, suddenly, into the crisp air.
She half expected him to break for the open space - seeing the Blackbird through his eyes as a mass of light and noise. She felt a momentary tug as he hesitated, but she tightened her hand in his and forged on, hoping her certainty would draw him along through sheer force of will.
The Blackbird's engines were already going, the ramp starting to fold up as they ran up it, and Storm was wheels-up in seconds. The rest of the team had wisely stowed the other rescued prisoners in the fold-down seats along the wall and left the back two bucket seats empty. Rogue guided the man into one of them, only having to push a bit to get him to sit. He was cooperating, but she didn't fool herself into thinking him passive. Unlike the other rescued mutants, who had vacantly looked into space and numbly moved where guided, this one was fairly trembling with tension. His eyes were constantly assessing the situation, glancing at Storm, narrowing on Scott, and then focusing back on Rogue as she strapped herself in to the seat next to him.
Scott had been busy letting the school know that they were on their way back and making sure the med bay was prepped for the rescued mutants, but now he disconnected and roughly unbuckled his harness, heading for the back.
"Rogue, what the hell..." he started, and then they all froze as the prisoner leapt to his feet with a growl, placing his body in front of Rogue's chair and unsheathing the claws, hands in fists and arms splayed at his sides.
"Scott, listen to me and do exactly as I say," Rogue said quietly, as Scott's hand instinctively went to the side of his visor. "Take a step back." Scott dropped his hand and stepped back as Rogue slipped out of her harness. "Now another step back. Now sit in your chair." Damn, it's kind of fun to give Cyke orders, Rogue thought, getting a quick glance of Kitty and Piotr wide-eyed and craned around in the seats in front. I could get used to this.
She eased around to the side of the prisoner again, making sure his attention was focused back on her. "It's okay," she said. "It's all okay. Sit." Acting as if the claws weren't there, she reached a hand out to his shoulder, and again he let her guide him into the chair. She stifled the urge to say, "Good boy," and pat him on the head, instead pulling a blanket from a handy storage spot and tucking it around him, like that would keep him in his spot.
"Obviously, we'll talk about this later," Scott said from the front, his voice so carefully neutral it was bordering on robotic. Obviously, Rogue thought.
"So, where is he going to go?" Kitty piped up, and then looked flustered as the eyes of every team member swiveled to her. Scott, Jean, and Rogue exchanged glances, acknowledging that neither of them had thought ahead so far.
"He can't come to the mansion," Scott said.
"No..." Rogue agreed, and then she continued "...It's too noisy" at the same time that Scott said, "It's not safe for the children." Great, Rogue thought, feeling her cheeks flush a bit, More proof that I'm a lousy X-Man. The safety of the kids should come first, and I didn't even think of them. She decided she was in enough trouble, and resolved to zip her lip, and both she and Scott looked at Jean.
"We don't have facilities at the medbay to restrain him," Jean said thoughtfully. "If he could cut Piotr's metal skin I don't know what will hold him except for chemical restraints, and I think he's had plenty of that."
"How can you even think of that after where we just found him?" Rogue hissed angrily. A warning rumble from the seat next to her cued her that she better switch back to her Everything-Is-Hunky-Dory calm voice.
"I'm just talking it out, Rogue," Jean said, and again Rogue felt her cheeks warm at the gentle censure in her voice. These two had the ability to make her feel like a child. "I understand that this situation may be a little sensitive for you..." Jean continued.
"No, you don't understand," Rogue interrupted flatly. It was a tacit agreement at the school that no one mention how Rogue had come to them, rescued from a lab herself and half-mad with the voices in her head. Jean must truly be pissed off to play that card.
Into that tense moment, a calm clear voice from the front spoke out. "The lake house," Storm said. Like a ping pong match everyone turned their attention to her, but she remained facing forward, serenely flying the plane as she had since the moment they lifted off.
"The lake house," Scott repeated, and Rogue could practically see him turning the suggestion around in his head, looking at it from all angles to create a detailed list of risks and benefits.
"That'll work," Rogue said, forgetting her resolution to be quiet. She had always found it remarkably peaceful there, and if there was a better place to house a potentially violent, traumatized, knife-wielding mutant she didn't know of it. "I'll stay there with him," she said. "Just have some groceries and supplies sent out from the mansion. And some clothes."
She only had the slimmest hope of sliding that by without objection, and sure enough Scott didn't take it well. "Rogue, has your common sense gone out the window? We have no idea what we're dealing with. We don't even know the scope of his mutations. Probably a superhealer, probably feral as well, and those claws - we don't even know what the hell those are. He could go berserk at a moment's notice - we don't even know what kind of drugs they pumped into these guys."
Rogue took a deep breath, willing herself for once not to answer impulsively. "I understand it's a risk," she said, "and a big one," she hurriedly continued as she saw Scott draw breath to argue with that understatement. "What can I say? He trusts me. I don't think he'll hurt me. I'll be as careful as I can be. Don't forget, I'm not exactly defenseless. And honestly, what other choice do we have? Is there anyone else who can even get him off this plane?"
Scott leaned back, frustration in every line of his body. He looked almost automatically to Jean, but whatever he read in her face, it wasn't objection. "Storm, is there room to set down by the lake house before we return to the mansion?"
"No problem," Storm said, with a quick conspiratorial look back at Rogue that made her have to look down to hide her smile.