Cyclops weighed a throwing knife in his hand for a moment before passing it back to his brother. Remy handled the blade with ease, the edge sliding frighteningly close to the webbing between his fingers. Two other knives joined it, plucked from invisible pockets. Scott eased the plane lower, skimming the clouds over Wyoming.
Both men were extremely loose-limbed considering they were on a mission.
"Are you even awake?" Wolverine asked Cyclops. He hadn't spoken to Remy since he returned Rogue with a hickie on her arm (albeit a self-inflicted one) and half a dozen scratches on her face and body.
"Remember when we had that briefing about disturbing the pilot?" Cyclops asked in return.
"Naw, couldn't with all the yacking-- shit!" A tremolo of tiny explosive charges fired white and yellow behind Wolverine's head. He recovered a second later, flashing his claws under Remy's aquiline nose. "You want my attention, punk? You got it."
Remy's lips curled upward and his eyes slitted like a well-fed cat. "Sorry, I was seeing if I could charge dust motes." He shrugged indolently. "Guess I can. Handy trick, huh?"
"You want to see if you can charge up the claws before I cut your dick off?" Wolverine growled.
One of Remy's eyebrows arched up to his hairline. "Is he always this hostile?" he asked Cyclops.
"Only if he doesn't nap before the flight," Cyclops answered, returning his attention to the controls. "And if his litterbox hasn't been cleaned."
"Ever tried neutering? Heard it does wonders for aggression."
Disgusted, Wolverine slunk back into his chair.
His lips quirking up, Cyclops turned to exchange another gibe with his brother. Remy caught his eye then deliberately slipped his shades on and looked away. Snorting, Cyclops did the same.
Fucking drama queen.
The plane touched down in canyon ten miles from the objective. Because they had built-in self-defence, so to speak, all they had to carry were nylon backpacks, twenty-pounds max for various types of equipment. Wolverine also packed two automatics with a couple of extra magazines each, compensation for the lack of built-in long-distance weapons.
"Is your bag secure?" Scott asked Remy out of habit.
With an aggrieved expression, Remy said, "I have done this before, y'know."
"Last I checked, you didn't do this for a living," said Scott, curtly, "or has the antiques trade gotten a lot more dangerous in the past five years?"
"What do you know about danger, Urkel?"
"About as much as you know about genital crabs, Fabio."
As much as he was enjoying the acerbic banter, Wolverine wanted to get the show on the road. "Kids, don't make me give you two a time-out."
"Shut up," the Summers chorused then exchanged glares, each blaming the other for the inadvertent thought fusion.
Ten miles and fifteen minutes later, the trio crested a craggy slope. Using the dust as a shield, they lay flat on the precipice and drew binoculars from their packs.
No activity, Cyclops signalled.
Veering south. Checking, Remy said with his hands. He crouched away before Scott could protest.
I'm surrounded by cowboys, Cyclops thought crossly. It was a bad day when Wolverine seemed like a team-player. See him? he signalled.
Wolverine nodded. After peering through his binoculars a while longer, he whispered. "I think he's found an entrance."
Cyclops nodded and motioned for them to follow. When they reached Remy, he was lying on his stomach, an ear pressed against a dusty grate while he worked a screwdriver one-handed. A few expertly deft twists later, and the grate shivered loose. Despite this, Remy was frowning.
What's wrong? Cyclops' expression asked.
Remy eased up to his knees. "This is too easy," he whispered. "I'd never use something like this."
"Uh, Nirvana song?"
"The simplest answer is usually correct," Cyclops explained. "Your call."
Remy's eyes glinted with satisfaction. In once swift, soundless movement, he pulled the grate free. "Apprez-vous, M'sieu Bulletproof," he said to Wolverine, executing a gallant bow, then winced as he heard the heavy clang of an adamantium-laced body hitting concrete. "You sure he's done covert before?"
"If he hasn't told me, it's because he doesn't remember," replied Cyclops. "Unlike some people I could name." He dropped through the hole before Remy could get the final word in.
Remy glared at the shadows under his feet. Fucking know-it-alls.
Cyclops and Wolverine had already taken point by the time Remy bent out of his crouch. He took the next wall, ball-bearings in hand and humming softly with potential energy. Wolverine slipped past him and peered around the corner and, seeing nothing, gestured for Cyclops to move forward.
Like clockwork, they made their way deeper into the underground labyrinth. The walls were still taupe but none of the lights were on. Cold, stale air swirled listlessly around their feet, bringing with them the scent of mould and decay.
They searched an hour longer than planned but Remy knew they would find nothing. This base was empty, just like the three other mines they'd searched, just like the Kelsey mine.
For once, Wolverine didn't have a damned thing to say as he buckled up for the return flight.
The word "shitcakes" might have passed through Alex's lips as well as a long string of blue-tinting expletives gleaned from years at military bases. Unfortunately, he couldn't hear them. The concussion from the explosion had deafened him to everything except a painful, high-pitched ringing.
Coughing, he crawled to the only part of the apartment that still have upright furnishings: the kitchenette. Thank God most of his stuff was cheap plastic; he didn't have to worry about cutting himself. But his laptop, his books, his notes--- Jesus, two years' worth of work! Alex let loose another bout of vulgarities, exercising his imagination to the nth degree in terms of perversity.
Foot long splinters littered the entrance, the remains of his door and bookshelves. Alex stumbled through the wreckage bumping to a hysterical girl. He recognized her; she had been in his intro to anthropology class. Her entire body shook and her mouth was wide open. She was screaming, Alex realised, and he shook his head roughly, trying to get the ringing out. It didn't help much.
At the end of the hall, the resident advisors tried to keep everyone calm with varying levels of success. Not only were the students half-deaf and screaming, they were scared themselves. It wasn't every day someone launched a bomb in your building. Alex started to flow with the crowd when the memory of Milbury stopped him.
This couldn't be...
Alex froze, Milbury's words nearly blocking out the rocket's effects.
Item 1: Remy threw money around like candy in ways that even an clandestinely-supported antiques business couldn't explain.
Item 2: Somebody tried to skewer him with a standard issue SEAL knife a little more than a month ago.
Item 3: Adam had never run away for longer than two weeks.
Item 4: Scott said that Remy was in New York asking for help to find Adam despite the fact that those two hadn't seen each other face-to-face in three years, six months, and two weeks.
Item 5: Milbury said that people would probably be trailing him to get at that sensitive information.
The ringing had decreased in volume but the sound of his heart thumping madly took up the slack. With one last, "Fuck it," Alex shoved his way through the crowd, back to his room.
The bed looked like it met with a sledgehammer-wielding Mack truck. That meant his clothes were shredded too. Alex wrapped his hands in the least damaged articles of clothing and lifted the largest pieces out of the way. His favourite sweatshirt covered the envelope. Alex quietly bemoaned the fate of the sweatshirt; he was all out of air for vocal swearing.
The incongruous manila envelope pillowed by shirts, shorts, and jeans was just as pristine as when Alex first buried it with the intention of forgetting it until the end of the term.
The airport was only an hour away.
The punching bag released a satisfying fffwuhhmp as it made contact with Rogue's fist. It swung back on a rebound but she cut its return short with two sharp jabs and a side-kick. By the third swing, the bag gave up the ghost, allowing her to lay as many combinations as her pasta-and-coffee-charged body could give. Three weeks of daily lessons with Logan on top of X-Men training did wonders for her stress levels.
A few yards away, Jubilee straddled a yoga ball, supposedly doing some aerobics but the only reason her heart thumped badly was from watching a topless Remy do his katas. He'd been at it since he returned from the mission. Rogue had to admit, there was something about the guy that drew the eye. He wasn't conventionally handsome-- his features were a little too sharp, his eyes sunken and baggy from his late nights, and he had a perpetual fog of cigarette smoke around him. But damn, he had a fine body. A really fine body. A body was usually wasn't possible outside of implants and heavy use of Photoshop.
"I could roll a marble down his stomach and it wouldn't fall out of that centre crease," Jubilee sighed.
"I bet we can bounce pond rocks off his buns," Rogue said, joining in the fun.
"Nice, Ms. Taken."
"Hey, Bobby's sweet and all but he had a way to go before he turns into that."
They both sighed as Remy eased into a handstand as easily as he would reach for a cup of coffee. Then, amazingly, he began to do upside-down push-ups. Sweat slicked his body into silky crème caramel, muscles bunching and relaxing as he maintained his balance. A complicated knot of tribal thorns and gothic arabesques swirled on his left bicep. Another tattoo traced his spine, curling ever so slightly to the right as it neared his tailbone. It was almost like an arrow pointing to his butt, not that anyone would need directions to that lovely, luscious, squeezable--
"Oh, my gawd he can do the splits," wheezed Jubilee.
"I think I'm going," Rogue said, her voice gone thin.
Jubilee lolled off the yoga ball. "I already went and I'm going again. You might want to sleep in Bobby's room tonight 'cause I'm gonna have me some great dreams and I can't promise that I'll be quiet."
Rogue stopped exercising, shocking rounding her mouth.
"What?" said Jubilee. "I'm just saying."
"Shut up and do your sit-ups, Jubilation, before Ms. Munro comes over here and asks why you're just laying there in a pool of goo."
"Not goo." Jubilee wagged her eyebrows in a decidedly lascivious fashion. "I'm so disappointed in you for not even copping a feel."
"Some of us have self-control when we're on the job," Rogue said archly, returning her attention to the punching bag.
Scooting herself and her yoga ball closer, Jubilee said, "Come on. You haven't dished a thing. Don't tell me you weren't even tempted to reach out and squeeze them buns."
"I'm hardly going to dish in the middle of gym with him in the room."
"So there is dish!"
"There is no dish and I swear, if you ask again, I'm going to tell Remy what you've been saying."
"You wouldn't!" Jubilee gasped. "Rogue, you total bitch, I'd totally die if he knew I liked him."
"Jubi, hon, everyone knows you like him." Rogue's expression lightened, pleased to have the boot firmly on the other foot. "You're not exactly subtle. Your eyes go all googly when he passes by and, for frick's sake, you've been sitting there staring at him for the past hour! I bet his ears are on fire."
Remy had flipped back on his feet, dragging the bandanna from his head and wiping sweat away with a towel. He waved at the two girls then sat down to do some cool-down stretches.
"Hmph." Jubilee crouched beside the yoga ball and braced her legs for some squats. "I guess if I'm failing at being subtle, I should just go vampy."
"Help me pick something to wear for dinner tonight. I think I have the perfect tank-top but I need help accessorising."
Rogue stopped again. "I'm not sure it's such a hot idea. Do you really want to go out with someone who's had three different dates this week alone?"
"Dude, I'm not looking for love and marriage. So he's a player; I can deal. I just want a little somethin'-somethin' to cut the boredom, y'know?" She paused. "How do you know he's been out with three different dates this week? Has someone been doing their own little bit of stalking?"
"Please!" Rogue rolled her eyes. "He asks me to help him figure out what to wear."
Jubilee winked. "Sure, he has. Anyway, Saint Pete's not touchable, Bobby's yours, and everyone else is just... ick, no. I think I'm about ready to tackle a real man."
"I'm sure he'll be glad to know you think of him as a somethin'-somethin',"
"I'm hoping he'll concentrate on the tackling part, personally." She beamed. "I'm gonna call on the ties of friendship, dude. I'm gonna pick your mind on his likes and dislikes before we attack."
"We?" said Rogue. "I'm staying clear out of this. I just want my X, my boyfriend, and my degree in whatever order the worlds deems fit."
Ororo came by holding the telephone. "Girls, I am needed in the professor's office. Kindly look after the younger students while I am away."
"Sure thing, Storm," said Rogue.
"Thank you." She looked pointedly at Jubilee.
"What?" Jubilee pulled her most innocent face on.
"If I hear anything at all about equipment exploding, someone could receive Beowulf as a reading assignment. In the original Old English."
Jubilee dimpled, a picture of angelic goodness for all of thirty seconds. Then, her towel slung over her shoulders to disguise her distinct lack of bosom, she sashayed to the part of the gym where Remy was now gulping down water. She showed her crossed fingers as she stepped onto the mat. Rogue followed, eyes turned heavenward in a silent plea for patience.
Remy didn't help things by grinning like a cat that had gotten the canary, teased the dog, and rolled in a field of catnip for dessert. Who knew watching someone get dressed could be sexy? By the time he was decent, Rogue was red enough to toast tomatoes, envious of Jubilee's casualness. Easy as milkshake, Jubilee nipped a pair of Ray Bans from the edge of the mat and slid them over Remy's eyes.
He grabbed one of Jubilee's hands kissed it as he pushed the glasses more securely on the bridge of his nose. "My thanks, chère."
"No problem," said Jubilee. "I actually just wanted to get my hands on a pair of those 'Bans. I've been drooling over them for months now."
"In that case." Remy slipped the glasses off, flipped them around, and eased them on Jubilee's face, tapping the tip of her snub nose. Leaning back, he hummed thoughtfully. "Looks much better on you than me, Lollipop. Take 'em."
"Really?" Jubilee squealed, jumping up to strangle Remy in an excited hug. Rogue wasn't sure what led to the emotional out-pouring: the endearment or the shades.
Suddenly, Rogue's hands itched for her camera. The planes of Remy's face and Jubilee's soft, spiky hair had a lovely architectural structure. Sunshine streaked jaggedly between their faces as Remy danced an exultant Jubilee around the mat.
Finishing the impromptu salsa with a spin, Remy slung an arm around Jubilee's shoulders then reached out to include Rogue in the embrace. "Ladies, wish I could stay longer." He pressed his lips on Jubilee's forehead. "But I have to be in Manhattan in a couple hours and I still got to shower." He tipped Rogue's head down so he could kiss the crown of her head.
"Got a hot date?" asked Rogue.
"Now why would I go lookin' 'round when I've got two absolutely gorgeous girls right here in my arms, hein?" He winked.
Rogue pursed her lips. Glancing briefly at Jubilee then back at Remy, she crossed her arms.
"I don't have a date." Remy relented with a beleaguered sigh. "But I will by dinner time."
With that quip, he departed. Rogue caught Jubilee just before her friend swooned, bereft as she was of Remy's hot and sweaty support. "He's talking about picking someone up in the City and I'm still crushing," said Jubilee. "Am I perverse?"
Sighing after Remy's retreating backside, Jubilee confessed, "I can live with that."
Having surrendered his dreams of joining the X-Men long ago, Warren contented himself with throwing obscene amounts of money into the school, enough to make his dad rip his hair out in frustration. However, since W. Kenneth Worthington, Jr. voluntarily gave his son one-third of the company's shares in exchange for Warren giving up X-Men leathers, he really couldn't do anything about it. The real deals were a lot more complicated involving a troupe of accountants and lawyers but it boiled down to this: Warren tripled Worthington Enterprise's worth in ten years. A measly thing like politics was not going to get rid of him.
Nevertheless, Warren missed putting his training to use. Bobby Drake was the last student he picked up on behalf of Xavier's School. He kept in touch for nostalgia's sake but he had to admit, Bobby's... Bobby-ness changed duty into genuine pleasure. The kid had so much potential. He kind of reminded Warren of Scott when he first arrived. He certainly was as skittish about the stables as Scott used to be. The kid had nothing but relief of his face when Warren came in, announcing his intention to help brush down the horses.
"So, you're dating Paris Hilton, huh?" Bobby winked. "Watch out for hidden cameras."
Adjusting his hold on the curry brush to ensure, Warren said, "I can't believe you actually read magazines that would actually have things like that printed on it."
"I don't!" Bobby protested. "Jubilee eats it up though. Paris Hilton is her hero."
"Tell your friend that she could definitely find a better hero," said Warren. "Take Paris' PR manager for one; that woman is single-handedly turning her client into a global power." They exited the stall, giving the gelding a congratulatory pat on the neck. Warren pointed at an iron bench. "Have a seat. Tell me what the problem is."
"How do you know there's a problem?" asked Bobby, warily lowering himself.
With his ankle, Warren hooked another chair closer and sat on it backwards so his wings would have room to breathe. "Call it instinct. That and you didn't ask me for Paris' photo like you did when I was dating Liya Kebede. So, baller to baller confidentiality's in effect: what's up?"
Bobby took a deep breath. "When did you start growing wings?"
"When I was ten," Warren answered quickly. "But it didn't show until I was around fourteen. It was all feathers."
"How do you.... I mean, like, how did you know that you had the bone structure stuff and--" Bobby shrugged, slouching into the chair in lieu of finishing his sentence.
"If you mean how did I know I could fly, I didn't until I came to this school," said Warren. "I knew I had wings and wings were for flying but I sure as hell wasn't going to try it out by jumping out of our condo." He chuckled wryly. "Not that I wasn't tempted every time my dad said something about surgery."
That pulled a smile from the teenager.
"Is there something new about your mutation?" asked Warren, encouraged.
"Sorta." Exhaling loudly, Bobby bent to fold his jean cuffs. Warren leaned back to give him air.
There was a thick block of ice stuck on Bobby's leg. Warren peered closer. The thick block of ice was Bobby's leg.
"Holy shit," said Warren. Seeing Bobby's morose expression, he quickly amended his initial reaction. "I'm taking you to every party I'm invited to. You're like an instant cooler."
That made him smile again.
Warren knelt on the carpet, reaching out to inspect the leg. "May I?"
"Sure," Bobby said, nodding. "A patch comes and goes on my chest, too. This morning there was a new one on my thumb."
The patch felt exactly like ice, cold and slippery with no give at all. "Can you feel my finger?"
Bobby shook his head. "I can't feel anything in the iced up parts. It was just a little bit at first so I ignored it; I thought it was just, I dunno, spontaneously icing my body up or something. That used to happen before I came to school, when I didn't know enough to concentrate the ice away."
"And it's gotten bigger," Warren said.
"It's my entire shin now." Bobby voice pitched higher. "What if it covers my entire leg? What if I fall and my leg breaks? It's summer; what if I melt?"
"Hey. Take it easy." Warren shook the boy lightly. "I'm sure you're not going to melt. Remember what the professor said about your powers? You can take heat out of your surroundings. If you're spontaneously icing up, I'm sure that your body will suck the heat out at that spot, too. You're not going to melt"
"I'm not positive," Warren amended cautiously. "But it makes sense to me. Go to Dr. McCoy as soon as we're done here though. He'll run a few tests and let you know whether I'm full of hot air or not."
"But what if I turn completely into ice?"
"Then I'm hiring you for the next company function. You'll be wasted as my accountant." Warren winked, easing a chuckle out of Bobby. "Now, is there anything else or can we go back to the wonderful world of debits and credits?"
To his surprise, Bobby's neck went pink. "Uh, actually, you remember Rogue?"
"Of course," said Warren. "The one from Mississippi with the white stripe in her hair."
"Yeah." The flush migrated from his neck to his cheeks. "I kinda want to... Well, we're sorta, uh, having an anniversary thing I guess and... geez, I was such a huge dork before I came to Xavier's. I don't know what to do!"
Warren did his best not to laugh. Slinging an arm around Bobby, he said, "Let me set something up, for you. I guarantee she's going to love it."
Yeah, he might not wear the leathers any more. But there were other ways to be a hero and Warren liked this role well enough.