Rogue shifted from one leg to the other, making a game out of kicking her bag every few beats. Bobby stood beside her, holding her hand almost too tightly while Jubilee nattered on about the mission.
"Omigod, I'd, like, totally die if I was in your place," she said. "Seven whole days in a car with Remy is, like, my ultimate dream!"
"I thought your ultimate dream was to sing with RhadaSquat," said Rogue.
"Dude, RhadaSquat's got nothing on Remy." She winked. "Make sure you accidentally on purpose fall on his lips for me, mmkay?"
Bobby's lips curled down and he swiped at Jubilee's arm. "Not cool, Jubes."
"Oh, she can totally keep you on the side, Popcicle."
"Jubilee!" Rogue squawked. "Please; it'll be completely professional."
"Uh-huh." Her friends cracked her gum. "Not if I was in your place. Mr. Summers and Dr. Grey got together remember?"
Rogue's eyes lowered.
In a near-whisper, Bobby said, "And look what happened to them."
"Still, you're totally lucky," Jubilee said, trying to return the playful mood by infusing her tone with even more glee than usual. "You get to get out of here while I have to re-do English and Geometry and Trig." She rolled her eyes. "In the worldview, who needs Geometry anyway especially since I'm totally going to be a career X-Man."
"What happened to RhadaSquat?" asked Bobby.
"That's my secret identity."
Logan ended any rejoinders Rogue or Bobby could have come up with by tapping Jubilee on the shoulder. "Munro's looking for you two," he told her and Bobby.
"What for?" asked Bobby.
"Do I look like a PA system?" Logan demanded. "Ask her when you get there." He watched them careen down the hall before turning to face Rogue, chewing viciously on his cigar.
"I'll be fine, Logan," Rogue said, exasperated. She knew that expression. "It's just a little scouting."
"Yeah? Well, I know how boring reconnaissance gets." Logan bit down on his cigar, wishing he could inhale some of the rich, relaxing smoke. "If he even looks like he might think about possibly getting fresh--"
"Logan!" She punched his arm. "I have a boyfriend already. And besides, he's Mr. Summers' brother; he won't do anything."
Logan snorted. "I don't care if he's related to the Pope. A guy like him picks a girl like you for a mission, there's only one thing on his mind."
Rogue crossed her arms. "I guess it has nothing to do with my skills or anything, right?"
Hmmm. Rewind, re-do. "I didn't mean that, Marie, I just meant..." He sighed and gripped her shoulders. "I don't like the idea of you going off on another hair-brained mission when you've had to deal with it twice in the four months you've been here. Hell, this was supposed to be a safe home for you. Some place to kick back and relax and not think about anything but math tests and book reports instead of soldiers and spin-kicks."
Placing her hands over his, Rogue said, "I want to go, Logan. It's real field practice. I can be more helpful to the X-Men after this."
Letting out a harsh, quick snort, Logan nodded. "There's still the matter of his hands--"
"Oh my gawd!" She pushed him away. "Stop it already! Flattering as it is for you to think that every guy within a mile radius wants to do me, he's as old as Mr. Summers and he doesn't even know I'm female."
"Sure I do." Remy ambled down the stairs with a backpack slung over one shoulder. "That's why I chose you. Young college guy going road tripping with his girlfriend before going back to school. No one's gonna pay attention to that."
"You shaved," Rogue said lamely.
Logan's hackles went straight up.
When he first arrived, many of the school's occupants found it difficult to tell who was older. Scott Summers had always looked younger than his age and with his whiskers and sun-lined face, Remy appeared older for all of his immature posturing. His jaw and chin were now smooth and he was clad in the ubiquitous student uniform of jeans-and-tee shirt. Remy easily passed as twenty-three.
Then he tucked his shoulders down a little, flipped on a baseball cap and cracked his gum and his age sank down to twenty.
Logan's claws eased out between his knuckles.
"Heya babe," Remy said with perfect Valley intonations. "We've got to jet, like, now if we wanna get to Nevada before school starts."
"Oh, my lordy, you look like that captain of the football team back in my old school." Rogue snickered. "That's so weird!"
"Just call me Remy Summers, Master of Disguise."
"I was thinking more International Man of Mystery."
"As in 'dead sexy?'"
"As in 'that's not my bag, baby.'"
Remy's grin threatened to split in face in half. "Oh yeah, I chose good. Nothing more hellish than a boring partner when you're scouting." He loped his arm around Rogue's shoulders. "We can talk about boys, and do our hair, and paint our nails, and when we're done that, I'm making French toast!"
"Remy, I thought I'd explained differences between genders last week," said Scott as he came out of his office.
"Yeah, but girls get so hot about the whole boy-on-boy thing nowadays."
Logan's claws were fully extended and thrumming to get buried in something skinny, brown-haired, red-eyed, and named Remy.
"I'll drop you off in Delaware. Plane tickets--"
"In the bag," said Remy, patting his duffel.
"You've got one stop-over before you get to Carson City and you can make your way south by car from there," said Cyclops. "You need to develop a paper trail anyway."
"Can we narrow down the location to somewhere slightly smaller than an entire county?" asked Remy.
"I thought you'd be happy; Las Vegas is close to Nye County."
Remy winked at Rogue. "Here that, babe?" he said, reverting to the Valley accent, "We'll like totally be all laaaaapdaaaaance, and shit."
Patting Rogue's shoulder, Cyclops said, "I'm so sorry for you. If you want an extra ten percent added to your math mark, just talk to me and we can arrange it."
With the lights off and the candles flickering, Lorna looked like a naiad, a water spirit. Her hair curled just at the ends; when she was naked, they framed her breasts, mermaid's locks against pearls. Adam reached up to brush it away, preferring to see his hands on them instead.
He pushed a case of empties off the couch. They fell back on the threadbare but sturdy cushions, Lorna giggled slightly as Alex ran his hands up and down her sides.
"You are so goddamn sexy," he whispered, flicking her hair away to access the pulse at her neck. "Every time I see you, I want to touch you."
"Hmmm." Lorna arched back, pleased. "Let's go to the bedroom."
Alex grinned. "Nuh-uh, baby. Right here, right now."
"Alex!" She looked around nervously, almost expecting people to pop out from behind the room's sparse furnishings.
"What? Window's closed, door's locked." Alex nipped at her neck. "No one here but us."
Lorna pouted. "Your couch is too small."
"We can make it work."
"Alex, really, I--" The phone rang. Using that as an excuse to sit up, Lorna asked, "Shouldn't you get that?"
"Hmmm, the phone or you?" Alex weighed the two options in his hands. "The phone's not looking good, babe."
She crossed her arms, hiding the most gorgeous breasts in the Pacific. "You've been waiting for that other country club to call you for work. This could be it."
"It's seven at night!"
"Fine, fine." Sighing, Alex stretched to grab the telephone. "Summers."
"I hope you don't mind my calling this late," said the voice on the other line, "but your consulting professor gave me a copy of your resumé and I thought you'd be perfect for my lab."
"Really? Hey, that's great," said Alex. He shifted slightly to the right, unseating Lorna but keeping his hand at her thigh. "Um, who exactly is this?"
"Oh, I'm sorry." The person on the other end forced a chuckle. "This is Julia Bridgerton. I'm with the Sunsnatcher, researching rock recycling and reformation."
"The aquatic lab just off the coast of Ni'ihau, yeah." Now truly interested, Alex slid closer to the phone. "Your team was the one that published the article on forearc metamorphism."
"That's right," said Bridgerton, sounding pleased. "That was only published a few months ago."
"I try to keep up to date."
Sighing, Lorna rolled off the couch and pulled on a shirt. Once Alex got going on rocks, there was no speaking to him.
Alex was also searching for his shirt and failing since he had his eyes were glued to the phone. "What can I do for your, Dr. Bridgerton?"
"Like I said, I'd like to invite you to work for the lab," Bridgerton said. "We have an opening for some an assistant-- mainly sitting on your arse for weeks on end staring at squiggly lines and numbers until you go daft."
"I'm already daft," said Alex, "I can handle it."
Bridgerton let out a sharp laugh. "Very well then. Why don't we arrange an interview, just for formality's sake, and then we can get cracking."
"That'd be great." Alex spent a few more minutes on the phone arranging times and places then hung up, unable to stop grinning.
"Good news?" asked Lorna, sliding up close again so their thighs and hips and shoulders touched.
"The best," replied Alex and shared the details. To his displeasure, Lorna didn't seem as excited as he was about the prospect of working on a first-class off-shore research lab.
"The Sunsnatcher is a really popular lab," she said. "Our professors fight for a seat; why would they pick-- I mean, not that you aren't smart but..." Lorna faltered, seeing the fire behind Alex's eyes.
"But what?" he demanded, shooting up to his feet. "What exactly are you saying?"
"Nothing," said Lorna soothingly. "I was just stating a fact."
"That I'm not good enough for the Sunsnatcher?"
"No!" Lorna cried out. "You're twisting my words!" She tugged at his arm but he shook her off.
"Forget it." Alex jerkily gathered his clothing. "I'm going to the gym."
Less than five minutes later, with the sticky tropical breeze shuffling through the palm trees and the salt air clearing his senses, Alex regretted shouting at Lorna. He couldn't bring himself to return yet, however, so he kept going to the gym. The one closest to his apartment was open twenty-four hours, catering to the strange hours of the university students.
The manager didn't blink when Alex strode through the front doors. The kid had a lot of demons to fight. She was only glad that he took it out on the punching bag instead of a real person.
Four interminably long minutes until take-off. Remy amused himself by cataloguing the potential worth of the passengers around him. Tailored suit, discrete highlights and matching luggage: in the upper hundred thousands. Baggy sweatshirt with designer sweats and the latest runners: ten thousand tops. Rhinestone shades and animal print handbag topped with a face-tearing ponytail: broke as a dog. A flight attendant passed by, maroon skirt pressed perfectly and stocking seams pointed straight to the money. Remy flashed her a grin. She returned it a little shyly.
His seatmate, Rogue, fussed with her blanket as she watched the clock. She started off pretty timid but he could see possibilities under all that hair. After three or four years on the vine to ripen, she should be pretty ripe for picking. Meantime-- Remy adjusted his shades-- that flight attendant was sauntering back.
Rogue poked his side. "You're supposed to be my boyfriend," she whispered. "Stop flirting with everything in a skirt."
Remy patted her knee. "That would mean not flirting with you," he said, "'cause I distinctly remember seeing something flowery and skirt-y on you when we boarded."
"Everyone but me then," she amended. Blowing strands of newly-dyed hair from her eyes, Rogue picked up the in-flight magazine, flipped through two pages, and put it back. Then she began an in-depth exploration of the overhead control panels.
"Stripes, I can only flirt with people who flirt back," said Remy.
Rogue flushed. "Sorry. It's just the first time I've ever done this and..." She chewed her lip. "I'm feeling bad about Bobby," she whispered. "Y'know, being his girlfriend and all."
Remy ducked head closer and ordered her to do the same. "You got the window seat, which is safer, but that means when we're talking, everyone else here sees your face. You gotta get more into it."
"I know but--"
'But nothing, Sugarplum." He reached over the armrest to loosely hold her hands. "We went over our stories with Bobby. He knows this is all pretend and he said it'd be okay."
"Yeah, like he really means it," said Rogue, wrinkling her nose.
"I ain't any more comfortable than you," Remy pointed out. "Never been caught dating jailbat."
"I'm eighteen in February."
"Don't make that much of a difference where I'm standing, Stripes." Letting his shades slide down a bit, he winked at her. "C'mon, just give it a try. Pretend I'm Bobby if you have to."
"That's just the thing," said Rogue. "I don't have to think about flirting with Bobby. I don't even know if we flirt. We just kind of... hang out."
"Ah, high school love." Remy raised his eyes to the ceiling. "To be that innocent again. Okay, Stripes, I'm about to give you a quick rundown on how we flirt in the big bad world. First of all, you gotta keep looking me in the eye."
"You're wearing shades."
"Don't matter. We don't even have to touch a lot as long as we keep eye contact."
Rogue stared deeply into the twin reflections of her own face.
"Not bad," said Remy. "But with more feeling."
"I can't stare with feeling," she said.
Remy leaned back for a moment to rethink his strategy. "Okay, how about this: Who's your favourite actor?"
"Orlando Bloom," Rogue replied quickly.
"You and a frillion other women--no, no, wait, I'm kidding, Stripes." He nudged her knee. "Okay, you've just turned twenty-one and your friends decide to take you to a nightclub to celebrate. You've dancing it up, shakin' your booty when suddenly, you bump into Orlando."
"And immediately absorb his British accent."
"No powers. No boyfriend," Remy clarified. "You're young, you're hot, and this equally hot actor is lookin' at you like you're a tall drink of water when he's been trapped in the desert for a week. Now you know it probably won't turn into love but, hell, you might as well get a good story out of it, right?"
"So, what do you do?" He leaned away from her, resting his elbow on the armrest and did cultivated a jaded expression. "I'm Bloom and you're five people away from me on the bar and the music is blaring so you gotta scream at the person next to you and three other women are pawing at my jacket." He flicked his shades back up to cover his eyes.
To her credit, she didn't quite roll her eyes. Cupping her chin in her hands, Rogue lowered her eyelids a smidge, and peered myopically at him through thick brown lashes.
One dark brown eyebrow arched. "Peaches, you look like you're falling asleep."
"What am I supposed to do then!"
"Keep it simple," said Remy. "Just look him in the eye and don't stop, not even when he looks back. Especially when he looks back. You can have whole conversations with looks if you can maintain it."
"Okay, Don Juan," Rogue said with a sardonic twist of her lips. "So now, I've got Orlando Bloom's attention. Now what?"
"Well, then you just let him know that you're a helluva lot more fun than the squids around him," said Remy. "Grab your favourite drink and finish it off casual like. Keep smilin'. Keep looking him in the eye. Wink at him and then go back to dancing."
"How about a little of this?" Rogue tongue the corner of her mouth with the tip of her tongue.
"Maybe if you're in a café but no one'll see that in a bar," said Remy. "And if you showed enough tongue to be visible in a bar, you've officially crossed the line into skanky."
"Join the X-Men; flirt with stars."
Remy grinned. "Now you got the spirit, Stripes."