Sat, 4 Dec 1999
K Nice <>
[NEW] Taking Prisoners 1-5

Disclaimer: The X-Men characters, and all other recognizable characters are copyright to Marvel Entertainment Group. This work of FanFiction is not meant to infringe on that copyright or defame Marvel Comics or the X-Men and related characters in any way.


Copyright:This work of FanFiction and the original characters described within are the intellectual property of K-NICE and her IRL persona. Doug Puryear and Kevin Buck are both good friends of mine and "Drivah"s. Kevin even let me in his truck once (which says a lot) :)

) K-Nice 1999

Taking Prisoners



The early morning gloom left a cold feeling in Remy's spine. He could feel icy fingers strumming his vertebrae. He longed for the warmth of his bed but stifled the desire by moving into action. Six hours of dark, cold, lonely waiting was about to pay off. He made several final keystrokes on the laptop computer he crouched over. His trench coat was stretched under and around it to protect its delicate parts from the gritty sand of the Nevada desert. The mountains were too far away to effectively to hide the sun and there was only an hour before day would break over the horizon. He held his breath as he waited for the big payoff. The screen blinked twice in rapid succession and a countdown screen appeared. He almost groaned in disgust. The security network was responding to the virus much faster than anticipated. It would take longer than he had hoped to shut down the system and the shutdown would last for a short period of time. Remy checked his watch and set it to match the countdown.

He slipped his hand into his trenchcoat and pulled out his cell-phane. He hoped he could make this call while the computer's transferred data at each other. Punching an intricate sequence of numbers, wondering what would happen if he got one wrong. The only warning he had was a soft "click" but he held the phone at arms length as it set off a piercing alarm. 'That's enough to give away my position, isn't chere?' he mused as he brought the phone back to his ear.

"This is Raven, speak now or I'll buzz you again."

"Listen careful now Raven, I'm at the Center and your "window of opportunity" just got narrower. And my fee just got higher, tu comprends?"

"Yeah, yeah, If you want the best you have to pay for it, right. Fine. When do we move?"

Raven heard silence and waited with baited breath to hear his next words. She was ready to move in any direction depending on what he said.

"It's already started, chére. With only one change of plans. It all goes down in 30 minutes, not 45. Starting 3 minutes ago."

Raven could hear the soft grating of metal on metal. She knew he was on his way and that left it up to her to get her part done in 17 minutes less than her meticulous planning accounted for.

She slipped into the shadows moments before the appearance of a guard, the one that usually lead the prisoners to the cafeteria or showers. It would not seem strange for him to order certain prisoners to another location. All she had to do was convince him to remove the power dampening collar around her neck so she could shape-shift.

Raven concealed the alarm she had rigged from left over parts in the clock radio she had "accidentally broken." She had to lower herself quite a bit to those human pigs just to get the darn thing but it was the key to getting them out of the Center. She had found an electronics major among the prisoners and she had created a way of communicating with the outside by pirating cell-phone signals. Tonight was the final culmination of weeks of planning.

Raven's mind sped ahead of her as she threw herself at the guard. The plan called for her to wheedle, plead and seduce until he freed her but now plans had changed. She grabbed his arm and twisted it around. He heard the crack of his arm breaking before he even saw her. She snatched his tazer and pressed it to his face, causing a ragged gash as he fell unconscious from the charge and the pain. She dragged his heavy body back into the shadows and lay it carefully. As she backed away she was convinced that he was just passed out drunk, or even sleeping on the job, not dying slowly in a pool of his own blood. She hoped it was enough to convince the other guards to leave him alone or else her little plan was going nowhere very quickly.

Remy was pissed. Raven's plan was a good one, but it was very precise. He was good, he was fast, but there was no way he could get through enough levels of the Center's security to allow for a full breakout. Raven had been adamant that no one be left behind, but he was being paid for is thieving skills, not to work miracles. When the final part of their plan, the schedule for the external power dampening shield, had come up disappointingly short, Remy had almost scraped the whole thing a gone home for the night. However, Raven was a tough mercenary and if she said this place was bad that meant it was worse. He couldn't live with the idea that someone he cared about, one of the girls or even a Guildmember would be sent to the Center.

Remy scooted on his belly across the beams in the crawl space under the guard station. He didn't mind the grime or the confined space, though he was glad he had left his coat where it could stay relatively clean. He did mind that the access door seemed to be blocked by a chair. Remy pulled out a card and tried to charge it.

There wasn't even a fizzle.

The dampening field was still up.

He checked the LED on his watch as it counted down to the 25 minute window he hoped his hacking had bought them. The numbers speed toward "00:25:00" and he remained motionless in anticipation. At "00:24:59" Remy placed is fingers on the hinges of the door and quietly disintegrated the pins. Then he charged the card and slipped it through the slit of the trap door.

The response was fast and loud. The guard who had been sitting on the door leapt up and landed on his rear. His four companions aimed their weapons at the site of the explosion. One of them gave the count, while another lifted the trapdoor. He was thrown off balance as it freed from its hinges. In the seconds that the door hide him from their sight, Remy charged five cards and sent them flying. Without pausing he kicked the chair over and vaulted behind the desk. He checked his watch again: "00:24:01"

Raven walked calmly down the blank hallways, her hands at her sides like a good little prisoner. Her right hand flipped through the guard's keys trying to find the one that fit the Genoshan Slave collar around her neck. "Got it." She slipped it from the ring and let the rest of the keys fall from the hand. She brought her hand to her mouth as if to cough and forced the key under her tongue. Raven rounded the corner in the women's cell block and presented herself to the guards. She forced a look of shame and despair on her face as the guards checked her over.

One of the bulky men was in a jovial mood, according to plan. Someone had slipped him some weed earlier in the evening. "Briggs is done with ya then, huh pretty one. Fine then, you know the drill."

She spread her arms and legs as one ran a metal detector along her body, while Mr. Happy patted her down. The detector went off by her mouth, just as it had for weeks whenever she entered or left, thanks to a fortuitous trip to the Center's dentist a month before. This time they didn't bother to check her mouth. "Fillings" they said in unison.

Raven just grinned as they lead her through the gate into the general cell It was a 60' by 60' box, thirty women on 20 bunk beds. This morning, Raven was grateful for the conditions she was forced to live under. It would take them longer to notice she was gone. She walked quickly over to her cot, where her bunk mate, Irene, and Rebecca, the young woman they were raising as their daughter, sat waiting for her. Reb was reading to Irene, who, although blind, was the one to look up first as Raven approached. She knew something was bothering Irene. She was so tense when Raven sat down next to her.

"What do you see, Irene?"

"Raven, we must leave. Without any delay."

"I know." Raven watched as Reb gathered the things they would need and tucked them in her clothing. The knife, the ID card, the tiny vial of poison.

"No, Raven, you don't know." Irene was upset and Raven took her hands.

"Just we three may go. In every Path were you try to take the others, none of us survive. We must go alone."

Raven protested "We must get them out!"

"Not now, Raven. They must wait."

Raven knew better than to argue with destiny. A full break was impossible. But if they got out, there would be hope for the others. Irene was the one mutant in the Center who did not wear a collar. The Center took her once a week to some secret meeting, but Irene would never speak of what went on there. The Center was not afraid of her foretelling power but Raven had relied on it to make her plan for escape. All along it had been possible to take the others but now, things were happening too quickly. Raven resigned herself and was glad she had been cautious enough to keep the plans secret from the others.

Raven slipped the key in her mouth into her hand swiftly unlocking her collar and then Rebecca's collar. As Rebecca went to remove her collar, Raven stopped her.

"No, let them think we're still under their control." Raven signaled to the other prisoners. It was a kind of code for "start some trouble." They didn't need to know a reason. Suddenly, and just on time, a fight broke out. the guards could be counted on to watch a cat-fight rather than break it up.

Reb grabbed one of the floor panels, ripping it up and sliding it away. She waited as Raven and the Irene crawled under the floor, then went under herself and pulled her panel back into place. Reb then opened another panel in the ceiling of the level below them. Raven dropped down first, immediately shifting into a guard. Reb carried Irene down, hoping no one saw her flying.

There was no need for such caution. The hallway was clear. The was no one in sight.

They started to sprint.

Remy stuffed card into the control panel. He spun his bo-staff out between the guards, clearing a path to exit through. The five of them ducked for cover as he dove between them. He rolled outside, jumping to his feet and into a run with explosions at his back. They would continue as the timed charges ripped the fencing to shreds, one explosion at a time.

As he crept along in the darkness, he saw his ticket into the Center. A lone guard stepped down from his transport truck. He looked as if he would rather be anywhere but in the dark investigating strange noises. I suppose I should put him out of his misery, he thought.

Remy grabbed a guard by his helmet, twisting it with a jerk and bringing him to the ground unconscious in seconds. He checked his countdown. "00:22:16" he had three levels of security to get through in 12 minutes. Fine. He could do that just not quietly.

He quickly stripped the guard and took his ID and uniform. And truck.

As he drove at break neck speeds toward the second gate, he practiced his new accent. He nodded to the guard who took his ID. "There's some kinda trouble back at the entry gate. They sent me to pick up a regiment of reinforcements." They let him pass quickly.

In a matter of minutes he was inside the second gate and half the guard detail was rushing to support the outpost Remy had destroyed. They thought the attack was coming from outside. Remy would have laughed at them but time would not allow it. It was a five minute drive between the gates and it would take about 3 minutes for them to find the downed guard. His ID wouldn't be any good by the time he got to the final gate. He turned the truck's brights on and parked in front of the gate. The guards looked out at the truck. By the time the three guards came to check the truck, Remy was scaling the electric fence, conveniently shorted by his attack on the main gate. Life was so good.

Once on the other side, he was tempted to simply let go and fall the 20 feet to the ground. He couldn't risk it though. He swiftly climbed back down the fence. He was in the Center.

Remy checked his watch again. "00:15:21"

Raven, Irene and Rebecca skidded to a halt at the corner. They looked at Irene.

"It should be clear."

"It should be, dang it." Reb took point and let the bullets bounce off her. Raven and Irene crossed the hall under the cover she provided. They were two levels up from where they needed to be and Raven could feel the time crunching in on them. They couldn't afford to fight their way out.

"Reb, get over here." Raven was crouched behind the fire door of an emergency stairwell. When Reb dashed in next to her, she reached out a touched the girl's face. Raven felt weak for a second but the feeling past as Reb absorbed her shape shifting powers. Reb followed Raven's example, shifting into a guard. Reb put her collar on Irene then they balanced her between them. Irene went limp and suddenly they were two guards having their way with a prisoner, instead of three escapees running for their lives.

They hurried down the stairs, two at a time, finally reaching the main floor of the complex.

Raven cracked the fire door and watched as guards hurried into transports all around them. This was why they had run into a minimum of guards inside the Center. It was under attack. Perfect timing, Raven thought, patting herself on the back.

"Mama," Reb said urgently. She was pointing up the stairs. Their pursuers had caught on finally.

Raven lead them out into the lobby. They stayed close to the walls, avoiding attention as they slunk toward the outside, toward freedom.

They were stopped by a guard several feet from the door. "This is no time for partying. Something serious is going on. Three prisoners are missing and the perimeter fence is being attacked. The computer system is shot and inner fences are down. Load up on a truck to defend the main gate."

Reb looked at Raven.

Raven looked at Irene.

Irene nodded.

Reb shifted back to her true form and broke the guard's jaw, then slammed him to the ground, unconscious or dead or whatever. At this point it didn't really matter. Raven also shifted back to normal and grabbed the knife from Reb's waist. She spun kicked at the dark form and slashed at it with the rough hewn blade.

"Easy, chére, I wouldn't do that if I were you." The shadow ducked under her kick and rolled to his feet in front of her."

"Gambit, I presume?" Raven asked. This thief definitely amused her.

"Enchanth, Madame Mystique." He had the nerve to bow. "Destiny, Rogue." He nodded to each in turn. Reb gave him a shy smile, Irene a questioning glance.

The pleasantries over, the little group suddenly noticed that they were alone. The guards seemed to have deserted the area.

It was too quiet.

As one, they ran toward the door. They rushed outside, ready for anything.

Almost anything.

They hadn't counted on the sentinels.

Sentinels. Eight of them, just standing there and constantly spouting their digitized rhetoric. The three escapees and their hired help were less than pleased. Rogue was terrified but hiding it well. Destiny was a bit put out. She wasn't used to being blind-sided so completely. Gambit saw dollar signs.

Mystique swore out loud. "Stinkin' lousy luck. I bet this never happens to Domino."

Raven was more angry than she was afraid. The Sentinels were not something she had figured on in her plan. She had assumed that there was no room for the hulking metal monsters since there were no in-ground silos like there were at Trask Industries. However, the Sentinels she saw were not physically imposing. In fact they were the only little larger than your average football player. Your average steroid using cyborg football player.

Raven didn't let that keep her from understanding the danger they posed. She tapped Destiny on the shoulder, handing her the knife. "Get to the transport. Stay close to the building. It's about 50 feet away on your left."

"Yes, I know. I can hear it."

"Well, you won't be able to hear it in a second. Be careful, Irene. We're going to get out of this alive." Raven gave her a parting kiss on the cheek and threw herself into the fray.

She grimaced as she realized they only had a matter of minutes before the suppression field would come crashing down again. She saw Rogue grappling with one of the robots in the air. Rogue wasn't gaining any ground so Raven morphed into her daughter's form and attacked the Sentinel from behind. Raven grabbed one arm and Rogue took the other. They pulled and the thing exploded in a shower of sparks and blood.

"They bleed now, Mama?" Rogue was incredulous and disgusted. She had nothing against killing in self-defense, but bleeding robots was a little much. Raven couldn't comfort her at all as she broke away and attacked another Sentinel.

Raven morphed into a Sentinel and began to fire at them with their own weapons. Her grimace became a grin as guards fled in confusion.

Suddenly, she was surrounded by other Sentinels who knew she wasn't the real deal. She spun around as they hovered, encircling her. Rogue was still engaged with one Sentinel and she couldn't spot Gambit.

"Surrender mutant. Your powers have been compensated for. You will be defeated."

She reared back and hissed as she began to morph rapidly. "Oh yeah, compensate for this, Tin Man."

Gambit saw the Sentinels as just one more thing to charge extra for. He didn't doubt that they would be able to avoid recapture even if his watch read "00:09:32". They were professionals and Sentinels were basically walking computers. He had confidence in their abilities.

What he did doubt was the overall fitness of Raven's plan. He saw her take Destiny aside and whisper instructions to her. When Destiny moved toward the transport truck that had been loading soldiers to defend the main gate. Those soldiers were all filing out of the truck and rushing towards them to support the Sentinels' attack. There were seven of the machines, as far as he could tell and they had seemed to erupt from out of nowhere

He swung his bo-staff out to it's full length as he noted that Rogue was taking the fight to the Sentinels. She struck one and pushed it high into the air, probably intending to drop it and watch it go "splat". However, it got a hold of her and she was forced to wrestle it for control of the flight.

Seems like she's got that under control, he joked to himself. Sentinels may be programmed to search and capture but soldiers like these are programmed to shoot to kill. He turned his attention to the men and their guns. He charged a fistful of cards and rushed the guards with his hands and eyes glowing with unhallowed energy.

Some of them recoiled. They had been trained to deal with all kinds of mutants but this guy looked like he had crawled up from the belly of hell. Most of them rallied, though, and Remy found himself in the middle of a fire-fight. He took refuge behind the rubble of a Sentinel that had fallen from heaven, and tossed charged cards and scrap metal at the guards.

Abruptly, one of the Sentinels began to fire on the guards. At first Gambit ducked too, figuring the energy blasts were meant for him. Then he realized that this Sentinel was carefully aiming at the guards only. He wasn't one to question gifts of fortune.

Remy sprinted to the transport truck, where Destiny was holding the young driver by knife point. What she couldn't see was that the fledgling guard was reaching for his own weapon. Remy stuck his bo into the boy's throat through the truck's window. "Now, now petit, that's no way to be treating the nice lady." He snapped his wrist hard and fast and the boy slumped forward.

He opened the door and snapped at Destiny, "You wanna tell me whachu t'ought you was doing 'ere? You could have been killed and we would have had no way out of 'ere."

He turned to Irene as he pulled the unconscious body out of the cab, expecting an answer. She sat there with a smug look on her face. "I knew you would come. I Saw it."

He could tell what she meant by the way she said the word. "Hmm. Handy power." He then braced himself as a shock wave rocked the truck. He reached out for Destiny, who was staring out the window.

"This, I didn't See."

They both stared out of the window, mouths agape. Magneto was outside surrounded by a blue nimbus of magnetic energy. He stood triumphant above the wrecked Sentinels that struggled to pull themselves back together. The nimbus pulsed and the Sentinels went still.

Gambit was distracted for a moment as the alarm on his timer went off. He felt a wave of energy pass over him as his powers were suppressed again. He shook it off and forced himself to focus. He finally got a clear few of what was going on outside.

The nimbus disappeared. Then, Magneto fell out of the sky.

Raven shifted through her repertoire of mutants quickly, firing optic blasts, then coating them with ice, then slashing them with claws. She kept this up, morphing before the Sentinels could recover and counter her attack, until she came upon a better idea. She swept her eyes around a made sure Destiny, Rogue and Gambit were out of range. She then shifted into the scarlet cape and helmet of one of the most powerful mutants on earth. The Sentinels took a moment to react, to readjust and prepare for an electro-magnetic attack. They took to long.

"Sorry suckers! We've come to the end of this little love-train and this is were you get off." She pushed his powers outward, shredding the Sentinels were they levitated. As they fell to the ground and began to reconstruct, she let out another blast, a far weaker one, but it was effective. The Sentinels were scrambled. Permanently.

She was about to congratulate herself when she felt a wave crash over her. "The power-dampening field!" She was thrust back into her own form as she fell from the sky. Miraculously, Rogue swept in to save her. As the field began to affect her, Rogue was able to do little more than fall with style, but it was enough to save them both from serious injury.

They rolled to their feet running as a new wave of guards began pouring out of the Center. They were in full riot gear, fully prepared to deal with a few mutant escapees. The truck was already in motion as first Rogue and then Raven launched herself into the transport area. They were bounced toward to front of the truck, which saved them from the hail of bullets ricocheting off the back of the truck.

A few weapons had been left behind and Rogue and Raven returned fire until the truck exited the Center's main fence. Out of the range of power suppressing field, Gambit was suddenly hurling charged objects behind them. Raven climbed into the cab and Rogue grabbed him under his arms.

As Raven and Irene drove out into the night, Remy and Rogue made good their escape. Rogue fended of the guards until Remy had charged a large chunk of the road leading away from the Center. Rogue again lifted him into the air and they flew away just as the asphalt exploded, shutting down any chance of pursuit. The fireball reached out to grab them but Rogue kicked in some extra speed and they managed to avoid getting scorched. Now all they had to do was catch up with their ride.

The ground shook and Raven watched a blast roll up behind them. "That takes care of anyone following us but that still leaves us with a couple hundred miles to our destination."

Raven and Destiny burned down the road, jumping to side roads and speeding through towns until they found the road they were looking for. I44 would take them straight to California, their intended target.

Raven tuned the CB radio in the truck to the police band and listened carefully for any sign of road blocks ahead. This was the most difficult part of the plan. They had to figure out a way to get the Los Angeles International Airport without running across trouble.

"We will not be able to leave as planned." The certainty in Destiny's voice rang out.

"Why not? Does something happen?" Raven was anxious. If one more thing went wrong she'd probably have to kill that thief instead of just shorting him. Either that or he'd kill her. Or, he'd get sick of the whole fiasco and abandon them.

Raven knew she, Destiny and Rogue would have a hard time of it alone. The months in the Center had taken their toll. She was already worn out by having to fight their way to freedom. She doubted she would be of much use in another encounter. As much as she hated to admit it, she would need to keep the thief around to ensure their safe passage out of the country.

So, she really didn't need anymore bad news.

"Yes. When we get to the California border, we will be apprehended by a police road stop set up for our benefit."

"You Saw all that?" Irene's visions were rarely so detailed.

"No, it's on the radio." Destiny wore a little smile as she turned up the volume on the CB.

". . . All NST units report to the state line on I44. Repeat, all Nevada State Trooper units report to the California State border at I44. Nevada National Guard is in route as support. Immediate apprehension of three female patients, escaped at 6:23 from the Agee Center for the Criminally Insane. Consider them armed and dangerous . . ."

Raven and Destiny were startled by a voice. "Criminally Insane! Ah don't believe this!"

Rogue was hovering outside the window. The thief in her arms looking quite nauseated at the prospect of traveling that way indefinitely.

Rogue flew to the rear of the truck and deposited her cargo inside. She touched down gratefully and sat down across from Gambit. He took her all in as she moved around gracefully. She was strong but still gentle. Definitely pretty, definitely smart, definitely forbidden by his employer. He still couldn't help looking.

"So, what do we do now? Ah mean, we can't go to California."

"Wha' I wanna know is, how'd dey figure we was going to Cali. Mystique figured dey'd assume we was heading to Vegas. Dat's de nearest airport. I guess dey out smarted us."

Rogue watched him as he furrowed his brows, obviously trying to think of a way to fix this latest problem. He was very handsome. And much younger than she had thought at first. He was only a year or two older than her, at the most. He was obviously good, or Raven wouldn't have gone through so much trouble to hire him. Rogue found herself staring at him and blushed.

He wasn't oblivious to her attentions but he didn't respond to them. He was trying to find the chink their plan that had let their pursuers know were they were headed.

He had it! "The truck. Dat's how dey know what direction we goin' in. The truck must have a homing device or somet'ing. I gotta tell Raven." Remy grabbed the canvas sides of the truck's covering and climbed out onto the roof.

Rogue flew out and hovered next to him as he crawled along the soft roof. "You could've just asked me, I would have flown you up front."

"No t'anks, petite. I like my feet on solid ground." He grinned but he really didn't want to fly with her. Those belly rolls were a trip.

She grabbed him anyway and they went to the cab.

After relating what he had devised, Remy asked "So what we gon' do about it?"

Just then, they saw the lights of a truck stop ahead. Raven looked at them and sighed. This was still her show. Their lives were in her hands. Destiny and Rogue were her family and the thief had done right by them, even if he was a greedy little frazem tazem.

"First, we get a new vehicle. Then, we get a new plan."

Mystique pulled the military truck up to rear of the station. She stepped down from the cab carefully, the sticky, greasy asphalt threatening to suck her in. She shifted into a classic good 'ole boy Teamster before as she worked her way around the front of the truck to were Destiny awaited her.

From the cover of the truck, Raven watched drivers come and go. What she needed was a truck with out cargo, maybe even a detached cab. More trucks were leaving than were coming in, making her search seem futile.

A big black rig pulled in, all gleaming chrome and shiny black steel. It pulled to a stop near the entryway, obviously not there for gas. Raven turned away from it. It was too expensive not to be missed. It was also probably privately owned, and truckers were a nasty bunch about their personal property.

On the other hand, there was a small green cab hauling a long white trailer out of the weighing station. Rogue hadn't sent any signal saying it was empty, so Raven let it pass. The driver stopped next to the black rig and hopped down.

"Hey Doug, is that you?" The man in the green truck was banging on the black rigs door. Raven nearly snickered at his appearence. He was tall, blond and straight off some Mid-Western farm.

"Hey, there Buck-Buck, when'd you get here?" Doug, the black rig's owner, was an equally massive black man, who seemed to be competing with his truck for girth.

"'Bout the same time as you, I reckon. Hey, why don't you buy me dinner and I'll tell you about some fine sistah's I met in California." Buck was grinning from ear to ear and Doug seemed to explode with laughter. The two compatriots guffawed their way to the diner.

"Momma, that's the truck." Raven squelched a desire to backhand her daughter. Rogue had suddenly appeared at her shoulder, shocking Mystique into dropping her shift. Instead of responding, Raven spent a moment shifting into good ol' Buck-Buck's form.

Rounding on her daughter, Raven screamed in a whisper, "Where on God's green earth were you? You were supposed to be at the weigh station signalling empty trucks, not gallivanting around trying to give people heart attacks." Raven watched Rogue carefully as her daughter's skin flushed. Satisfied that the girl had learned her lesson, Raven was able to get back to business. "Which truck, fagod'ssake?"

"The green one. It's not empty, but all it's got in it's a couple boxes of books." Raven was about to interrupt, but the girl went on chattering. "Remy, he said I could call him that, broke into the back of it. We can put the cargo on this truck and then steal the green rig. Or maybe just leave the trailer and take the rig."

Raven stared at her daughter some more. The plans were decent, but they would all lead to detection long before they reached any viable destination. "Okay, we take the rig and the trailer, but we dump the trailer before we get to the next weigh station. I'll get the tractor-trailer, you take this truck and dump it somewhere. We'll be up the road a ways, so be quick about it." Raven took Irene by the hand and started off toward the green truck.

"Ya forgot one t'ing Raven." A voice came from the cab of the Agee Institute truck they had commendered.

"Oh, you, right. And here I was hoping you'd gotten lost." Raven smiled at the slimy little thief. She had assumed he would take the first exit stage left available and leave them to their troubles. The Cajun cuss had some backbone in him after all. Which meant Raven was probably going to have to pay him, and soon. Eliminating him was out of the question, too many people knew she was in contact with him. Raven had no interest in leaving a body trail.

"Nah, I ain't lost, but I t'ink I know where we should be headin'."

"Ah, and where is that we are going, hmm?" Raven let Irene stroke her back through the flannel shirt she now wore. She could Destiny whispering nonsense in her ear, but the one thing that stood out was "Don't trust." Raven already distrusted the boy, but perhaps Irene meant something more. In reality, he was only one of them in fighting shape, and he couldn't get that much from them if things went sour. Raven resolved to be more open minded, at least until she could discover what ever it was Irene's powers had uncovered.

"Well, dere's always Washington." Gambit rested his head on his arms, hanging half out the truck window.

"DC!! Are ya crazy? There's no way we can get all that way without getting caught!" Rogue said it before Raven could get a word in. Raven's eyes darted back to the rigs, but no one seemed to notice their little discussion. They were well concealed in their dark corner

"Not DC, Washington as in Seattle, as in Space Needle, grunge, Starbucks! It's not dat far. And I know someplace we can stay once we get dere." Raven found that smug grin infuriating, but the boy had guts making such an offer. Her mind said it was a trap. The thief was a professional. He would see the job through, which was great if she was his only contract, but if he was also working for someone else, someone who wanted the Sisterhood of Mutants out of the picture, they were as good as dead.

But Raven's instincts warred with her logic trained mind. If it was just a job, the boy would be long gone by now, payment or not. It was personal with him, to a certain extent, and a quick glance at her daughter's blushing face gave her all the answer she needed. As much as she loved Rogue, if the girl stood between the S.O.M. and certain death, then the thief could toy with her as long as he wanted. He would learn soon enough that Rogue was no easy prize. But Raven would let him play for a while, if it meant he wouldn't double cross them in the end.

Banking on her daughter's capableness, Raven took Irene's hand and headed for the green rig. "Then Seattle it is. You go with Rogue and make sure that homing device is as far from us as possible."

"Sure, Momma, we'll meet up wit' ya soon." Gambit's grin was beginning to set Raven's teeth on edge, but she kept her shift and moved from the shadows of one truck to another.

Irene pulled herself into the rig as Raven watched the passing traffic.Gambit was driving the stolen truck out of the station, with Rogue in the passenger seat. They headed back to the highway, south bound and Raven considered that part of her plan underway.

Once in the rig, Raven was for the first time grateful for the changes Dr. Agee and his associates had wrought on her powers. The rig felt as comfortable as Buck's skin and Raven pulled it out of the truck stop before its owner had even started his first course around the buffet table.

Irene sat silently by her side, fuming. Destiny had done everything she could to prevent the disaster in her mind's eye. After all, she had warned Raven, "Don't trust Rogue with her own heart and don't trust our lives to a thief's instincts."

From Nevada to Oregon to Washington, they avoided the interstate and hugged minor highways. After a short pause to ditch the trailer just outside of Reno, the small cadre of professionals moved on toward Seattle in the large green truck. Buck-Buck apparently liked Country music. And not just any country music, but Merle Haggert and Hank Williams in their prime, according to his tape and CD collection. The radio presets indicated he believed the more the twang the better. At least one slide guitar solo per song was a minimum requirement before something could be considered music.

Excepting, of course, his secret vice. Remy lightly pounded his head into the side of the cab as Rogue sang along to the 29th rendition of "Baby, Hit Me One More Time" by Britney Spears. Remy was tempted to oblige her.

When Gambit and Rogue caught up with Raven and Irene for a second time, Raven had sent them straight to the back seat. It had been a little disconcerting to hear that Minnesota twang coming from what he knew was Mystique somewhere inside the 6' plus blond. She refused to let him drive, even if the shift didn't keep her from looking like a rung out sponge. He didn't have a CDL license and Rogue couldn't absorb Buck's skills from her mother, so Raven was stuck at the wheel.

When the CD began to cycle again, Rogue finally protested. "Momma, doesn't he have any Patsy Cline?"

Raven weighed her overwhelming hatred of Country music with her inborn antipathy for teeny-boppers. "Fine."

Remy smiled as the first strains of "Crazy" wafted back from the front of the cab. Rogue rose from the floor to stretch. She sat on the bench/bed, sliding to the far end away from Remy. Putting her feet up and resting her head back against the wall, she looked at his lanky body through lash veiled eyes.

"So, what's in Seattle?" She watched him watch her, captivated by his eyes.

He swung his body around so he could face her. "I've got a place out there."

"Oh." Rogue couldn't think of anything else to say, so they sat in silence as they trucked around Salem. It was late afternoon, but their nocturnal excursion had left them far too wired to sleep. As the day progressed, however, exhaustion set in. Rogue watched Irene drift off to sleep and contemplated offering her the bed to lie down on. She looked so peaceful, however, that Rogue resisted the urge to wake her, even for the sake of a more comfortable resting place. Rogue watched the road slide under the hood, her mind falling asleep as the driving lulled her. How her mother was managing to stay awake was beyond her, until she heard the grating strains of "Stand by Your Man" belting out from the speakers. Rogue was snapped back into awareness when they passed the sign welcoming them to Washington State.

Her mind went right back to her last conscious thoughts and she started the conversation anew, as if it had just ended. "I thought you were from New Orleans?" She might have been sleepy, but Raven had breed suspicion into her bones.

Remy stiffened by a fraction, then drew his body into a knot, pressing his back against the wall. "I was from N'awlins. But not no more." He was quiet for several seconds and then he whispered, "I'm not from anywhere anymore."

They retreated back into silence, letting the minutes and miles slip by as they wrapped themselves in thoughts of family and home. Raven watched them through the truck's rear view, plowing up the highway with a satisfied smile on her face and a worry-filled gleam in her eye.

Darkness came again, ushering them into the metro Seattle area. Raiding another truck stop yielded an innocuous looking Mercury Topaz. Rogue was too exhausted to hide the truck, so Remy stripped the plates and filed the serial numbers off the engine. It wasn't perfect, but it was a fair delaying tactic. They had no choice--they couldn't drive the truck through downtown Seattle--so they had to make do.

Remy took the wheel, sliding though evening traffic with a drowsy ease. As they passed the business district and began to enter a lower class neighborhood, Irene's concerns grew. She leaned forward into the front passenger seat, and spoke to the now female shapeshifter in an undertone. "I don't know Raven, Can we take a car like this into this boy's neighborhood?"

"Don' worra 'bout it. The RowDogs will probably steal it before we turn the engine off." Remy managed to turn full around and keep the car in the proper lane. He did get rather cozy with a parked car, but he turned his head back before disaster had a chance to strike.

Irene's eyes were as blank as they were blind, yet she raised them to stare unfocused in the direction of his voice. "Ah, and this is a good thing?" Raven raised her heavy head to watch the exchange. Irene was upset, which was understandable with the events of the past few hours bearing down on them, but it was not prudent to take that discomfort out on the hired help, especially when he was all that stood between them and being hauled back to the Center by talking, walking tin-cans.

Eyes on the road as he made a sharp turn, Remy smiled into the rearview mirror. "Sure. No evidence."

Rogue giggled, her humor heightened by two days without any rest. "I take it you've done this before." Remy just smiled and waggled his eyebrows.

They come to a stop in front a dilapidated building that screamed crack house. Raven wished fervently for a gun or even the strength for hand to hand combat.

Remy got out, moving with the lazy assurance of some suburbanite pulling into their cul-de-sac and walking up their driveway. He didn't hesitate, didn't look back, so the Sisterhood had little choice than to follow him down the alley beside the crack house.

Forming the other side of the alley was another apparently abandoned building. The facade had been boarded up from the first to the fifth floor. Raven was thus surprised at the intact steel door Remy lead them to.

Taking a key from around his neck, Remy unlocked the door. Rogue looked up and down the alley as he cracked the door about a quarter inch and disabled the booby trapped alarm from the hinge. "Nice security system." It was nearly fool-proof, since it was nearly impossible not to trip an alarm with that small a window of oppurtunity.

"Thanks. We had some trouble with junkies trying the door. One 'em got all the way upstairs." Remy shivered as if chilled by the cool Seattle night.

Raven stopped just inside the entry way. "Who's 'we'?"

Remy was working on another booby trap, this one on the first stair leading to the upper floors. He turned his head, a confused look dominating his features. "Huh?"

"Never mind." It was hard to imagine that 'we' wasn't whoever the dirty thief planned to sell them out too. It was even harder to figure out what to do about paying him if he had back up. If he wasn't alone, Raven needed to rethink her plans. And she would, just as soon as she got some real sleep.

They trudged up three flights of stairs, exhaustion making their feet lead. Remy hushed them as they reached the fourth floor. It wasn't really necessary, since the only conversation going on was between Raven's eyes and the back of his head.

"Yo, 'Ro?" He stood perfectly still, his arms slightly raised away from his body.

"Hey, come on up." The disembodied voice was definitely female but beyond that, Raven could only discern a complete blase. A completely crafted and utterly false blase.

Remy waited until he heard five of the six locks clicking off. Taking a key from his boot, he unlocked the last and stood back for several seconds. He then approached again, opening the door and walking through with the Sisterhood right behind him. He felt a rush of air and a strangled yelp. Not even looking back, he faced his partner. "'Ro, its cool. They're with me." He ambled into the kitchen and headed straight for the fridge.

Raven couldn't move and from the struggling pants of her daughter, she could tell Rogue was also incapacitated. This was exactly what she was concerned about. The thief had friends and they were nasty.

Actually, so far "they" was a tall, slim black woman with shock white hair in a spiky pixie cut. She was also carrying semi-automatic weapon. Raven watched as Remy nonchalantly pulled a beer from the refrigerator and leaned against the kitchen table. He flicked the top off, sending it into the sink with a shower of pink sparks, tilted the bottle to his mouth and took a long drag while his partner placed the barrel of her gun at the exact center of Raven's forehead.

"I can see that, Remy, but who are they?" That same cultivated indifference that Raven had discerned from the hall. Raven's eyes were the only thing mobile on her body and she couldn't see what form of energy was being used to bind them. However, it was strong and unforgiving.

"This is Rogue." The words were hardly out of his mouth and Raven felt her bonds disappear. "That's Destiny." The gun shifted. "And this is Mystique, the contractor." She removed the gun from Raven's brow and let it go. Raven fought the urge to jump for it as it floated back to nestle under the kitchen sink.

Ro obviously recognized the names of the Sisterhood of Mutants, especially after helping Remy prepare for the job. Even with the cease-fire, the woman seemed dubious. "Welcome. Pull up a pillow."

Remy seemed a bit guilty as he asked, "You still sleeping?"

"No, I was up. Working some things out." The door closed behind Irene with a whoosh of air.

Unable to contain her curiosity, Raven hazard a guess. "TK?"

"Wind. I'm Ororo. Around the business, they call me the Egyptian Storm." Darting a good-natured glance at her partner, she smiled, the first honest emotion Raven witnessed in her. "Only fools call me Stormy." A stiff breeze buffeted Remy briefly and abated.

"Whatevah." Remy grinned and Raven could almost feel Rogue deflate behind her. "You workin' tonight, Stormy?" Remy rose from his lean, still nursing the bottle and drew them into the living room.

Remy noted his free weights scattered across the floor in front of the television, which was playing cable radio, and 'Ro's track pants and sports bra. She ran every morning and worked out three times a week, but a late evening set was usually a salve for bad dreams or worries she was not prepared to acknowledge. Remy wished for once that their demons would take a back seat and let them finish a job in peace.

"No, just . . . thinking." Ro grabbed up the lighter weights and helped Remy put them away.

Raven took their occupation with mundane tidying up as a chance to survey her surroundings. The living room was large, much too large for a tenement building, but as Rogue guided Irene over an uneven spot on the floor , Raven noticed where a wall or three had been knocked down. The resulting space was large enough to house a South Hampton aerobics class, certainly enough for two renegade thieves to work in. There were several doors off the main room, and Raven deduced that the majority of the fourth floor had to be accessible from inside the apartment. It was actually a smart set-up, much more than she had been expecting.

"You're about my size. I have some things in there you might fit." Ro pointed to one of the doors, a clear indication that she wanted them out of sight and hearing range. Raven complied with only a few comments under her breath, more eager than she would admit to get out of her prison uniform.

Left alone in the living area, Remy was quick to grab Ro up in a hug. "Missed you. Everything alright here?"

"Yeah. The kid's inside, chatting or something. She actually ate dinner tonight, so that's a plus. So, how'd the job go?" Ro darted a glance at the store room door. The contract would certainly be able to find something to wear. It was basically a walk-in closet, with enough clothes to outfit, say, an entire Thieves Guild. Remy's father might have banished him, but he didn't abandon him. Ro herself was three days late with her Cairo Guild tithe. Remy had promised her part of his cut if she baby-sat.

"It was alright. You probably could have done it. Except for the crawling through tight spaces and spending 23 hours in the cab of a truck." Remy smiled as he peeled off his kevlar body armor, stacking it neatly next to two other sets of work clothes. "Come to think of it, nah, you couldn't have cut it." He ducked her fist, but lost his balance on a hard wind. He rolled into a dive, but instead of coming up with spikes blazing fuchsia, he remained on the floor, too worn for impromptu sparring.

Ro backed off after catching the stiffness of his movements. "Anyway, so where's your coat?" As much as she hated it, that trench coat was Remy's constant companion.

Remy hung his head a smiled wryly. "Um, somewhere in the Nevada desert."

A few quick footsteps and Remy was thrown on his back by 110 pounds of female fury. "Ou est mon laptop?"

"Avec mon pelage." Remy covered his face as he was hissy-fitted by the fourteen year old technophile.

"I know dat. It went dead yesterday. I cain't believe you left my compy! Dat was de only one I had. Je te deteste!" Alex LeBeau lit into her brother, heedless of his exhausted state. She was used to his not fighting back: he never hit her, except during training, but that was different.

"Ro, come on, help me out here." Remy put a hand out toward his roommate. With Raven, Irene and Rogue in the other room, he didn't need to deal with a domestic dispute.

"She's your problem, Remy." Belying her protest, Ro set a warning thundercrack into motion. "Alex, leave your brother alone. With the money off this job, he can buy you three of four more laptops, right Remy?"

"Sure, Lex, don't worry about it. And I made sure to trash the hard drive, so even if they find it, they won't get anything from it." Freed from her weight, he gingerly lifted himself up. She was muscular and strong, and she knew how to hit, so she must have been pulling her punches because he was feeling no pain. Unless, of course, he was past the point of registering pain.

Remy knew he had Alex to thank for even the minimal support his father was offering by letting them live in a Guild safehouse. When he had picked her up at the bus station eight months ago, she had claimed she was running away from home, but even then he had wondered how she found him. Even now, he wondered if his father had sent her to keep an eye on him. It was a somewhat unnerving, somewhat comforting thought.

With those thoughts on his mind, he ignored the instincts that told him to get his money and get rid of the Sisterhood. He had no reason to trust them, and every reason to protect Ro and Lex, no matter how tough they each were. At the same time, he couldn't abandon Raven and the rest when they were unable to defend themselves.

Ro watched Alex drift over to the TV. Like the brat she was, Lex had even apologized. Ro hid her scorn behind a calm facade and gathered her 22 years, three months and ten days' experience (which put her 1 year, ten months and seventeen days ahead of her partner) and asked, "So, when exactly are you getting paid? The job's done, right?"

"It's done. I just . . . well, look at them. They've been through a ringer in the last day and that place was definitely bad news. A few hours to rest up and they're on their own," he swore to her as she watched him skeptically.

The closet door opened and Raven and Irene walked out, dressed in sweats and holding their prison uniforms. Rogue, on the other hand, had found a baby-doll pajama set. Smirking at Remy's dropped jaw, Ro went to lead them to the spare bedrooms. "There's plenty of room, so don't be shy." She looked at Rogue, who seemed to take it as a challenge.

"Well, thank you. I'll keep that in mind." Rogue narrowed her eyes briefly. For that brief moment, ozone seemed to burn the room with tension.

Remy found his voice at the thought of an angry Ro. "I'm going to bed. See you in the morning." He slunk to his own door and made it to his bed before he got his boots or pants off.

Rogue took an eyeful of his departing back, turning a catty expression on Ro's cat-blue eyes. Then she remembered who's hospitality she was prevailing on for the clothes on her back. "Um, so where do you want us to sleep?"

The tension abated immediately between the two young women, but Irene was not so easily put at peace. "Yes, young lady, we'll need three separate rooms."

Ro shrugged, not noticing the anger that shimmered between two of her unexpected house-guests. Raven watched Irene select a room and vowed to find out what was going on. In the morning.