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There was delayed rumble from the passing thunderstorm over the monotonous pounding of rain. Everything was gray, the sky, the trees, the mud caked ground, even the air in front of them it seemed. The lightening momentarily illuminated three women running quietly through the edge of the forest. One elderly in a mask and cloak, the second with blue skin and feral eyes, the last an awkward teenage girl.
Rogue dared a look behind searching for tell tale flickers of a laser sight. Her vision was marred by the haze of rain blurring the forest and the drips from her hood. It had long since ceased to be water proof and droplets now ran down her face and into the collar of the burnoose.
"Come child, watch the path before you."
"Yes'm." Near tripping over the roots and bushes in front of her, "Sorry, Ah'm comin'." She took a tighter grip on her machine gun and leapt to follow her parents. Up ahead was Victoria Bauer's estate. Behind them was a posse of federal agents led by Clive Bauer, her husband. Good luck schmucks! Rogue bared her teeth in a grin as they broke through the tree line in a mad dash to the back door of the house in the clearing. Wonder what good ol' Clive would think if he knew his dear little Tori was in collusion with such "bad elements". She grabbed the cape snapping angrily behind her to run breakneck across the clearing. It would be a damn shame, and Momma would kill her, if she got shot on the eleven o'clock mark.
Tori hustled them in at the door frowning at the muddy tracks left behind. "Raven, the mess."
"Yes, I know. Rogue."
"How come Ah haveta-"
"Do as you're told. We don't have time to argue."
The girl stuck her lip out but went in the direction Victoria pointed her. It's not fair. She's just making me do this cuz she don't want me to hear what her and Tori talk about. Shucking her own boots, she grabbed the two pairs left for her and proceeded to wash all traces of their entry away. It was stupid to complain about this. One of the most important Rules was not to leave any evidence.
The house was air conditioned so that gradually, she began to shiver. Freaks, how can they stand it this cold all the time? Ugh. It was tempting to burrow deeper into her cloak, but she would dry quicker by taking it off. She tried, she really did, but it was so hard to hold still and wait patiently. There was nothing to do which was boring in itself but also led to the temptation of finding something to do. Luckily, or unluckily depending on one's point of view, her hair had only begun to dry in short spikes before Victoria ushered them down to the basement wine cellar. The three of them fled up the old bootleg tunnel and back into the forest behind the pursuing federal agents.
Rogue woke curled in a ball and a foul mood as the alarm clock buzzed in synch with her ears. It wasn't quite worth the effort of reaching out to crush the offending instrument so she could buy a new one. It was morning. It was cold. Her head still hurt. Hardly a surprise upon appraisal of last night's dreams, if they deserved the title. The chronic nightmares or terrors, someone else's and one easy step to becoming an insomniac, were beginning to grate on her nerves. After a try to two, she shoved herself out of bed, stretched the kinks out, and headed for the shower.
The barren metal halls of the subterranean levels reminded her of a psyche ward. Then again. . . . She let out a huff. Probably would've been better off going straight to a shrink instead of Xavier. The shadows thrown from support beams by the unnatural blue lighting were shallow and angular. Underneath her feet was a muted thrum like a giant heartbeat caused by the power generator. What had she accomplished during her entire stay here? Saved the world and died a couple of times. That was all good and well, but what about her original reason for joining? Lost in her musings, she was unprepared to fight her reflexes. She whirled, grabbing the person behind her by their hair and throwing them bodily against an adjacent wall. What the hell?
Psylocke hit the steel with a hollow boom. Hand cocked to her mouth as she rose with an indecipherable look. "My apologies if I startled you."
Rogue flushed. "Betsy? Sorry, my fault. Ah think Ah was runnin' on auto."
"Of course. I understand." The ninja brushed by her and continued onwards.
Yeah? Well, if you understand, explain to me why you triggered my Sense. You're a 'path Betts, you should know better.
Psylocke paused but deigned an answer. Rogue shrugged. Her and Elizabeth had never been best of friends. Never enemies or rivals, but there were certainly differences between them. Yah, like class. Rogue found her snobbish and was considered rude and uncouth in return. Yet, sneakiness aside, there was no reason for Elizabeth to set her off like that.
"Okay everyone, pick your target. This is tag, everyone for themselves."
Rogue immediately rose into the air with Angel. Psylocke disappeared into a nearby shadow while Wolverine and Gambit both hid to begin stalking each other. In short, no one felt any particular initiative. Below them was a mock up of the city, razed by Onslaught. Some building lay in heaps mixed with the remains of a sentinel. Another stood undamaged.
"Remember, I want everyone to do their best. This is a reassessment of abilities. Cyclops out."
Warren measured her and she crooked a finger at him. "C'mon fly boy, your move." He gave a shrug and went into a mandatory dive at her. Poor boy, without his metal wings he don't stand a chance. Not unless he gets lucky. Below her Wolverine and Gambit were already at each other's throats. Psylocke was still nowhere to be seen. Now there was the wild card. Betsy and Warren made sense in an odd sort of way. Like I'm one to talk about bizarre relationships. Besides, the wings are kind of kinky.
Speculating on this, she feinted at Angel. Her head hurt, she was tired and cranky, nor was this a challenge. In fact, it was almost insulting. What if I had a gun or a knife on me? He'd be dead's what. Everyone was sluggish with disinterest. The man looped back around behind her and she pirouetted belting him in the face with more force than necessary.
"Rogue?!" Through the spots dancing in front of his eyes he became aware of a serious, unsmiling face.
"Mornin', Wings." He looked so surprised and baffled like a hurt child. Her mind superimposed the image of a guard's crushed skull. He'd had the same expression on his face right before she'd brought the butt of her gun down on it. Tackling him with a sudden ferocity, they both crashed down into a pile of jagged rubble. She wasted no time in grinding a knee into his back and grabbing his wings.
"Ow, ow, okay already, you win."
"Yah?" She began twisting his wings. C'mon Betts, I know you're there.
He cried out and arched backwards. "What are you doing?"
"Rippin' y'wings off. Ain't that obvious?"
Angel began to struggle in earnest. No matter how much he fought, she refused to let go. In her peripheral vision, Wolverine cracked Gambit's staff in half and lifted him off the ground with a blow to the solar plexus. C'mon, can't waste any more time. There! The prickle of warning as the hair on the back of her neck rose. All or nothing, let's see if her powers work when I'm prepared for them. She saw the pink light of Psylocke's knife reflected from Warren's wings long before it hit her.
Gambit heard Elizabeth scream in pain and surprise. The distraction proved his undoing as Wolverine cracked him on the chin, then turned in Rogue's direction. She was swaying drunkenly shaking her head.
Betsy had rolled into a fetal position staring vaguely ahead with blank eyes. Well, looks like she finally had the guts to do it. It was one of only a few clear thought in the muddied morass of her brain. It was going to explode any minute now. Should be out cold. I guess sorting out memories is what I do best. Rogue felt a brief twinge of remorse and hoped Psylocke wasn't badly hurt. The warning growl from Logan prompted a crack to Angel's temple but only her heightened reflexes stopped him from pinning her.
"Cheatin' girl. What happens if your powers aren't handy?"
"Maybe, but them's the breaks. 'Sides, Cyke said this was a 'reassessment of our powers'."
"Mmm." The older man began to circle. The ground was even with no obstructions where they were presenting no advantages.
"Y'know, this is stupid."
Logan frowned. "Shouldn't have warned ya." He let his claws retract. "'Kay Slim, games over." Turning his head away, he reached for a cigar. As Rogue began to walk past him, he violently reversed direction to swing at her. She smiled and grabbed his arm to throw him straight up.
"Sorry Wolvie, but Ah did warn ya."
He had time to notice her mouth a "thanks" before his legs shattered on the impact of landing. "Yah, I know darlin'. Ol' Canuck had to try though." More importantly, it would satisfy Cyclops.
Rogue folded her arms with a thin lipped frown. What's this bullshit Cyke? Why you pitting me against small potatoes huh? Storm, Joseph or Jean could have taken her out. Going over to Logan, she tactfully waited for him to stand on his own. He met her questioning look with faint smile and a dismissive wave.
This wasn't going as he'd anticipated. Cyclops fumed in displeasure while entering data into the computer. Gambit had allowed himself to be distracted, Warren was outmatched. Neither Wolverine nor Rogue seemed to be taking the session seriously. And Psylocke, what happened to her? In short, none of them were on task and that was simply unacceptable.
Now what. "Yes?"
Warren mantled his wings protectively, "Betsy's still out. I can't get a response from her."
I heard, I'm already on it.
Red flared through his visor. Rogue. She'd used excessive force, handicapped Gambit's performance, and now hurt Elizabeth along with Jean. He watched as she tried to go to Psylocke's side but was blocked by a beat from Warren's wing. After an awkward pause, she left with Wolverine.
Scott? I've gotten to Elizabeth. She's shaken up but seems fine. Apparently the sheer amount of information temporarily overwhelmed her.
Below, Betsy shook off Warren's hand and slowly got up.
Good. Keep and eye or her-
Until she tells me to bugger off.
Um, yah. One more chance, that was all. He didn't have anything against her but right now the team couldn't afford internal conflict. She would either deal with the problem, or she was off.
Logan grinned and puffed on a noxious cigar. "Mind tellin' me what yer so glum about?" Rogue gave him a noncommittal wave in the general direction behind her. "It's the danger room, not the playground, darlin'. You've warned her enough times so she should know better."
"Yah, but that doesn't mean she dese'ves to have a bunch of garbage in her head. 'Sides, can't rightly say Ah wasn't tryin' t'hurt her."
"Hmph. That's the point. Why bother practicin' if ya know ya won't get hurt? Ya think Sinny's gonna pull his punches? She knew the risk."
"I didn't think the training session would be over yet." Approaching them was Joseph. He had a bounce in his step and smile plastered on his face. Rogue was still unnerved by that. Magneto never smiled.
Wolverine's grin widened as he began to gnaw audibly on his cigar. "Yah, bashful here helped move things along."
"Oh, um, well I just wanted. . . ."
"Yep, I think I'll just make myself scarce if y'don't mind."
That's right pal, you just leave me to deal with Joseph. Some friend you are. Rogue smiled brightly, "So, what's up?"
"Well, I thought, that perhaps we could go out for lunch. . . to talk."
Noooo, I don't want to "talk" with you. "Honestly wish Ah could, but Ah promised t'help Jean prepare lunch today."
"Oh. Do you have to?"
Nope. "Yup, mah turn and Ah can't weasel out of it this time." As she watched him from the corner of her eyes, his mouth dropped in disappointment.
"In that case, may I ask you something now?"
She rolled her eyes discreetly, Figures he'd really mean talk. "Fire away."
"I don't mean to sound pushy, but why haven't you made use of the Z'Noxx chamber?"
"How do ya know Ah haven't?" His protests were cut off with the flat of her palm in his face. "Listen, when Ah want to, Ah will but not 'fore then. It has nothin' t'do with my 'preciation or lack of it." She turned her face away to signal the end of the conversation.
The gesture had been very sweet of him. But she still doubted his intentions. Was he really just thanking me or was he capitalizing on the rift between me and Remy? That's what Magneto would have done. Joseph was growing to be more and more like his old self every day. Gambit was on to him, so was Logan, him from the start. Everyone else seemed blissfully oblivious.
Flirting with him was fun, but anything more was out of the question. Nice enough body, charming in his own way, but unnerving. So, she had used his height to her advantage and kept her head down when he moved to kiss her up on the Twin Towers. For that reason, and to disguise her disappointment that it had been an amnesiac being nice in response to kindness given, rather than Remy, who had made the effort. Maybe that's why I don't tell him about it. Him with all his "Your power's not a barrier" talk. Unconsciously, thin lines formed at the edge of her nostrils and between her brows. Of course it ain't a barrier to him. All he has to do is hop on his Harley and ride to town.
Joseph sent her a hesitant glance but she had that look again. Mouth set, eyes slit and unfocused, the planes on her face hardened. It made him angry at the man responsible. Remy didn't deserve her. When they had traveled up through the coast, she had smiled every day. Now, she was grinding her teeth. With false gaiety, he broke in, "Have fun then, I shall. . . take a walk."
"Huh? Oh, yah, have fun."
Sounds of pots and pans being moved, water running, and footsteps filtered through the kitchen door. The wood was warm to her touch. Opening it, she was met with a blast of heat from the oven and a harried once over by Jean. Rogue didn't terribly care for cooking, but the kitchen was just about the only place in the mansion. "Hi, y'need any help?"
The other woman was frantically juggling two bowls, one filled with egg yolk, while stirring a pot of yellow something. "Fine, Remy promised to be here, but for now. . . ." Jean whipped by and slapped a wooden spoon into Rogue's outstretched hand. "Burn it and I'll kill you."
Idly stirring the pot of custard, Rogue was tempted to do exactly that. It wouldn't be very diplomatic after all the grief she'd caused her. Least she doesn't hold grudges Don't know why she lets everyone use her like this. She shouldn't have ever let the gang know she could cook. Watching Jean go psycho trying to time everything made her glad she'd never revealed that Irene had taught her some more than basic culinary skills. Of course, the X-Men didn't let me cook for the longest time for fear I'd poison them. The sudden draft alerted both of them to Remy's entrance.
Jean pretended not to notice busying herself with some batter when Gambit glared daggers at Rogue disguising his initial dismay. Their relationship hadn't gone well these past few weeks. To be more precise, it had dissolved into a war of attrition.
"T'ought y'be wit Magneto."
"Ah wish. Least he never pretended t'want anythin' other 'an he did. But Joseph's not Magneto." It was possible that Remy seriously thought she was interested in him. More than likely, it was simply another attempt to push her away for her own safety.
"So he says. Heard him ask you out." He looked past her shoulder.
"Then y'also heard me ditch him. What's yo' point?"
He crossed his arms trying for a nonchalant facade. "Nothin' at all, jus' di'n' t'ink ya was done stringin' me up."
She was glad for the task currently keeping her hands occupied. I don't believe this, he's trying to guilt trip me! Pulling the spoon out to strike it on the edge of the pot, she gave it to Remy with a blasé gesture. What's my line now? Oh yah. "Up yours too."
Mouth open in a small "O" he craned his head to watch her leave as Jean neatly let go of a cup of corn starch. Rogue slammed the door for good effect.