Without his eye-patch, Gen. Nick Fury blended into the crowd. At a couple inches under six feet, he had the most remarkably unremarkable face. His head was shaved and he had a week's worth of scruff on his chin. His good eye was brown with the slightest upward tilt, his nose neither sharp nor wide, his jawline just rounded enough to pass as a billion other jawlines. He was, in short, SHIELD incarnate: invisible but powerful.
Tension knotted in Scott's neck and quickly travelled out at all points. Wasn't this just icing on the cake after yesterday's mission? He'd met Gen. Fury once just after he graduated from Xavier's. The man was on a quest and to hell with anyone who got in his way. Scott exchanged looks with Ororo. She didn't look any more comfortable. Hank was too quiet in his seat and Warren's feathers hadn't settled since he came in. In fact, only Piotr seemed unaffected by Fury's miasma; he was too young to know any better.
"Is that everyone?" Fury demanded.
"We're still waiting for Logan," said Ororo. "He should be coming in at any moment."
"Logan, huh?" Brows crinkled, Fury turned to Xavier. "Is that who I think it is?"
Xavier replied serenely, "Who do you think it is, Gen. Fury?"
Munching on his cigar, Fury declined to reply. He saved his words until Logan entered; then he couldn't stop growling. "Dammit, Xavier, I can let a lot of things pass but having him on the grounds breaches our contract."
"What contract?" Logan asked. Seeing that he was ready to do damage, Scott went into X-Men mode. On one visual sweep of the room, he had all possible obstacles logged and made note of objects to be kept out of the line of fire.
Holding a hand up, Xavier said, "Logan is here for rehabilitation, General. He helps Piotr with maintenance."
Fury snorted. "You want me to believe that you've hired James Logan as your plumber? You're either crazy or you think I am."
Logan's hackles went up. "You got a problem with me, bub? Let's take it outside."
"Logan," Xavier stressed the name, "is here as staff and a patient. He has gone through significant trauma the past few years. You know I never deny anyone treatment."
"Well you shoulda in this case." Fury stomped to the bookshelves where Logan stood seething. "You even act cross-eyed, you little hairy mutt--"
"Nicolas, you are stepping out of line!" Xavier was never closer to yelling as he was at that moment. "If you want my help, stop harassing my patients. Now please," he gestured to the Kevlar briefcase on his desk, "you had something you wanted to show us."
Giving Logan a parting evil eye, Fury marched to the desk. With quick, efficient movements, he opened the briefcase. A sleek array of touch-screens lit up softly and, after a series of rapid taps, buzzed to life. The largest of the screens projected a three-dimensional video a foot above the briefcase.
"We got this footage in Darfur seventy-two hours ago," said Fury. "Watch the guy east-by northeast. Is what he's doing look familiar?"
Those assembled scrutinized the dizzyingly realistic recording playing out in miniature before them. Warren cursed under his breath. There was just no way he was seeing what he thought he was seeing.
"Telekinesis?" Ororo commented after a few seconds but Hank was already shaking his head.
"He's only throwing things made of metal."
Scott leaned back. "So what? Lots of powers double up in mutants."
"No, Scott, look at him." Xavier was pale, aged in five short minutes. "It's Erik."
Warren arched back. "Professor, that can't be. I know he looks very familiar but that person's-- what, twenty-years-old tops?"
"Take a gander at the rest of these guys." Fury fiddled with his computer and the war zone dissolved into a line-up. Three women and four men stared blankly. Their facial features were too similar to be dismissed as coincidence. And while the prominent nose might be argued away, their pre-maturely silver hair could not.
"You told me Lensherr only had two kids," said Fury.
"As far as I know he only has two children living, both nearing middle age, and they are as far away from being mutant terrorists as possible," said Xavier, who covered his consternation under a mask of calm. "He isn't the type to carelessly father children."
"Not even to form an army?" Fury shot back.
"Magneto is many things," Xavier said, "but I refuse to believe he would do that to his own children."
"Yeah, he kidnaps other kids for that," said Logan. "Or did you forget about Rogue and Johnny?"
Xavier leaned back on his hair, his eyes half-closed in weariness. Scott stood to pour him some water from a mini-fridge discretely tucked in the antique bookshelves.
"You got Scotch there, kid?" Fury demanded. "I could use one. Neat."
"I'm sorry, Gen. Fury, but we don't keep alcohol in the premises," said Scott with a straight face. "This is a school."
Fury barked out what might have been a chuckle if tigers could chuckle. "Pull the other one, Summers." He returned his attention to Xavier. "So, it's a positive ID from all of you? The OpFor's from Lensherr."
Steepling his fingers, Xavier said, "General, if Magneto had such an army, don't you think he would have used it on American soil instead of foreign? He doesn't care about overseas politics; what he wants is here. If it's a war he wants, he'll bring it to the States." He tapped the desk for emphasis.
"Nowhere on American soil to train 'em," Fury said as counterargument. "Everyone knows you train outside the fight zone and fly the troops in. What better place than a country that's already so bombed up they wouldn't notice a couple mutie missiles flying around?"
Warren's wings snapped in attention at the careless wording.
Fury spread his hands on the desk, leaning down to meet the professor eye to eye. "Cards on the table, Xavier. Something this hot, nothings off the record. Not for us. We don't need a third party in that place, messing it up more than it already is. Give me something to shut them down and I'll keep the suits off your back."
"Until you need him again," Warren shot back.
Not bothering to disguise his impatience, Fury said, "That's how the world works, kid. I thought you knew that by now."
"Magneto only has two children living," said Xavier calmly. "He would tell me if there were more."
He and the general stared at each other, willing God only knew what. Finally, Fury straightened. "Fine. Thanks for your help, Professor. I'll be in touch again later."
Xavier extended his hand. "Of course, General. I am at your disposal. You should stay a while next time as a guest lecturer. I know some of the children wish to join the armed forces after graduation."
Fury let out his barking laugh. "Your kids are wasted on the US Army. Send 'em to SHIELD; we'll train 'em proper."
Scott rose to see their guest to the door, returning soon afterward with the tiniest of twists to his mouth that could mean anything from annoyance to indigestion. "What's going on, Professor? Does Magneto have other children?"
The professor shook his head. "Impossible," he said. "Like I said, he is not indiscriminate."
"If he has secret children, he is being discrete," said Warren.
"He's just crazy enough to do it, Chuck," Logan put in. "A guy like that with a Messiah complex; he'd be able to talk himself into all sorts of crazy shit."
Xavier studied his hands. When he finally looked up, it was with slow, deliberate movements, aged movements. Scott never realised how old the professor had gotten. "SHIELD has certain obligations to this school but there is a price." He stifled a sigh. "Two of our people will go with Fury to investigate the goings on in Darfur. If this is Magneto's army, we need to retrieve as much unbiased information as we can. I will contact Muir Island Academy to see if they have personnel to spare. Logan, I would like you to represent our interests."
"Him?" Scott parroted at the same time that Logan muttered, "Great."
"I don't do army," grumbled Logan. "Besides, you heard the guy. I did something to him that pissed him off."
"What a surprise," Scott said with wry humour.
"I understand your concerns, both of you," said Xavier. "However, I cannot spare a teacher at this moment and Logan does have the most military training despite his amnesia. I need you here, Scott."
Damn. Scott barely held back the curse. It wasn't that he didn't trust Logan; the man did was what right ultimately. His methods, however, left much to be desired. There was something about the words "quick" and "quiet" that never seemed to key into Logan's head. He had bad feeling about this.
Her hair tangling behind her like ferns in a hurricane, Lorna leapt into
Alex's arms and covered his face with kisses. Alex breathed her scent
in. After spending a night stuffed in a gym full of other anxious bodies,
she smelled like freedom. Or at the very least, like proper hygiene.
Alex gentled her tirade. "I'm fine," he said firmly so she'd know it was true. He brushed one lock behind her ear. "How are you? Is your place safe?"
"We heard the bang from down the street," she said, her voice tremulous. "We thought it was an earthquake or an eruption. What happened?"
"I don't know," said Alex honestly. "I think--" He exhaled, unwilling to put words to his suspicions. "Look, I want you to stick somebody all the time, okay? Never get stuck anywhere alone."
"Why?" Bewildered, Lorna drew back slightly. "Alex, what happened?"
"I don't know," he said, a little louder this time. "I don't know but I think it has something to do with... with my family."
"Family?" Her eyes widened. "Omigod, Alex, you're not with the mob or something, are you?"
Alex let out a laugh. It might have been hysterical. "Not quite. It's not something I can share."
Hurt, Lorna angled further away. "Not even with me?"
"Sorry, babe. Not even with you." Inspiration struck him. "Hey, have you seen Milbury around?"
"That doctor you said creeps you out?" She shook her head. "No. Do you think it's him?"
Alex paused. Okay, he really liked Lorna. Really liked her. He could even see himself living with her in a few years. But if he told her about Milbury, he'd have to tell her about his family and if he told her about them, she'd run screaming the other way. Or she'd sleep with Remy.
"I can't talk about it," was what he said in the end.
Lorna sighed. "Alex, I really wish you could trust me more. You just shut down when I try to communicate."
"Oh, jeez," Alex whispered under his breath.
Obviously, he wasn't quiet enough because Lorna left his arms completely. Fists as her waist, she said, "I heard that, Summers. I was worried sick about you being hurt or worse and when I want to talk a little all you do is act like I'm about to give you a shot."
"Lorna, we can communicate all you want when I come back but right now I have to find--"
"Come back from where?"
"New York," he said quickly to distract her. No such luck.
"New York? It's almost finals!"
"This is important," he said. "I'll tell you all about it when it's over, I promise. I just need to find Milbury. Or Kim. Have you seen Kim?"
"He's gone to his parent's place for the weekend."
"Damn." How was he going to find one man, albeit a distinctively creepy one, in a campus this big when the other only person who'd know Milbury on sight was on the other side of the island?
As if lit from on high, there stood Milbury, pale as the moon, his body swathed in black even in the sticky tropical night. He was looking right at Alex. If he hadn't been desperate, the timeliness of his appearance would have rung alarms in Alex's head.
Alex grabbed Lorna's shoulders. "I mean it," he said. "Don't go anywhere alone. Is anyone from your dorm here?"
Troubled by the gravity in his tone, Lorna nodded then turned her head as she pointed to a similarly attired girl gawking nearby. "My roommate came out with me."
"Okay, go to her. I'll watch you." He kissed her cheek tenderly. "And as soon as you can, go straight in your room and lock the door, okay?"
"Alex, you're scaring me."
"I hope I'm just being paranoid, babe." He kissed her one more time. "Don't worry about school; I'll work something out with the professors if I miss too much work."
"Work something--" Lorna was now hopelessly lost. "Alex, how long are you going to be gone?"
Instead of replying he kissed her again. Then he made a bee-line for Milbury.
Remy braced one leg against the wall behind him, letting his cigarette smoulder from the corner of his lips. While Piotr and Rogue tried to get their drawings finished-- his on traditional paper, hers on AutoCad-- Bobby and Jubilee valiantly saved the world from utter destruction via the PlayStation. The kids' conversation filtered through the open patio door, interrupting the early morning cricket chorus.
"Bobby, is your entire body wired to the console?" Rogue asked.
Bobby released his tongue from between his teeth long enough to reply, "No."
"Then why are you dodging and jumping around so much? It's not helping any."
Jubilee hooted and proceeded to kick large, rotting zombie butt. "I heard that people who play video games are much better at multitasking and have better hand-to-eye whatchamacallit... coordination. Make great pilots."
"Just don't fry the console again," said Bobby. "It's a sign of a bad loser."
Jubilee thwapped him with a pillow. "That was an accident."
"Had nothing to do with the fact that I had twenty more kills than you?"
Smiling, Remy let his head tilt back. Tobacco smoke curled out of the way only to return, haloing his head. Not for the last time, he congratulated himself of his excellent taste. Rogue was the perfect assistant in this bunch: not as flighty as the Ice Cube or the Lollipop but not as serious as the Tinman. She was instinctive, something this place was seriously lacking. Her response during their little vacation in Nevada was pretty damn impressive for a seventeen-year-old; reminded him of another seventeen-year-old who was damned determined to prove something to the world. Also, she was real nice to hug, much better than the other three.
Remy heard a chair creak followed by Rogue's lusty sigh. "I'm going cross-eyed." She yawned. "I wish I could draw a straight line."
"They have a fantastic invention called a ruler." Remy's comment made everyone jump. He crushed his cigarette at the threshold. "If you look it up on eBay you can grab it for twenty whole bucks. Good deal."
Piotr's eyebrows rose to his considerably noble hairline at Remy's bedraggled appearance but said nothing.
A slow smile crept over Rogue's face. "Hey you. Any word?"
Remy snorted. "What good's word gonna give us now? Whoever's got Adam is long gone."
"We will return to the mine a fifth time to gather more information," Piotr offered in consolation. "I heard the teachers discussing it. They have someone from Muir Island Academy retrieving the trashed computer data as we speak."
"I heard it too but with the new teachers here and the new school yeah coming up fast, who the hell knows."
"Mr. Summers wouldn't let us down," said Piotr, staunchly defending his newfound hero. "What more his own brother?"
Remy cocked his head to one side. "Yeah. You'd think, hein?" He dropped cans of soda on the desk-- one for Rogue and the other for Piotr-- took one for himself then lobbed the remains of the six-pack on the couch. "I was going to print off some of the pictures. You want yours?"
Rogue glanced over at the couch. "Hey, Bobby, wanna come see my pictures?"
Bobby glanced briefly only his shoulder, his tongue once again caught between his teeth. "In a sec, okay? We're coming up to the mansion."
"I think I know where the key is this time," said Jubilee.
"You said that the last time and I got eaten by a zombie gorilla."
Rogue shrugged wryly. "I guess I can go. My click finger's all worn out anyway." She skipped to the couch and ruffled Bobby's hair. "See you in a few."
He squeezed her hand briefly. "Yeah, sure, Rogue."
"Boys," Rogue said in a huff as she nimbly followed Remy to his room. "I swear, once you hook 'em up to a game, you might as well be invisible."
"You got shoes and purses, we got games and cars," said Remy. "Don't matter how much you explain it, the other sex is never going to understand. My room's down the north wing. I'll just grab the laptop and you can have a looksee."
She wrinkled her nose as she passed him by. For a second, Remy wondered if she felt something was off but then remembered her barely concealed distaste for cigarettes during their road trip. Remy shrugged off his jacket in deference.
"How was your date?" she asked diplomatically.
"The person you got all buffed up for yesterday?" Rogue elaborated. "The one who left that lipstick stain on your pants."
Remy wiped distractedly at his legs. He studied the dark pink smear on his hands. "This musta been Denise."
"You remembered her name. How gallant of you."
"Aw, Peaches, don't you be getting mad at me." He slung his arm around her. She stiffened and Remy was genuinely hurt. "I didn't hurt anybody none. I'm not that kind of player. And I washed up before coming home so you don't got to worry about any cooties."
"It's not that," said Rogue, still too rigid under his arm. "I'm not used to people just..." She bit her lip for a moment then shook her head. "Sorry. Forget it. I'm just trying to get away from the cigarette stench."
Letting out a chuckle, Remy said, "That's the ornery partner I know and love. Now, c'mon. You got some pretty good shots. When we have the time, we can print it out big and frame it."
Rogue blushed. "Let's not." At Remy's questioning expression, she said, "I don't show my pictures to everyone."
"But they're mine," she said. "Just mine."
He scratched at his chin whiskers. "Did you want me to print them off then? I could just burn them on a DVD if you want."
"Let's see them first." When they arrived in his room, Rogue looked around for a piece of furniture to sit on that was less volatile than the bed where the laptop lay, its screen blinking with stars.
Seeing the problem, Remy picked the computer up. "Ever been on the roof?"
"Of the mansion?"
"Sure." He gave her the laptop and jumped over the bed to the window. The sash flew up with little complaint, unlike the third floor windows. "I used to always go up there. Gives you the best room to think."
"Aren't you worried I'll drop this?" Rogue shook the laptop.
"Nah, you'll take care of it. Just follow my lead." Confidently, Remy threw his leg over the side and stretched his arms up to look for a handhold on the gable.
"That's what you said in Kelsey."
Remy easily pulled himself up over the gable, barely grunting with the effort. "And still you follow." He lay flat on the roof and hung an arm down for Rogue.
"I know. It's kinda depressing." After handing Remy the laptop, she peered out the window. The ground was a nauseatingly long way down. A shallow brick cornice protruded from the base of the window and a gauged arch echoed it above. A small sunken lunette crowned the window.
She muttered something along the lines of "In for a penny," before grasping the window jamb. Lying on his stomach, Remy hung an arm down to guide her up.
"I love it up here," he said, standing as soon as Rogue was steady in her place. "I could never breathe properly in there with Kentucky Fried verbally copulating with Scotty over Temuchin's attack on the Jin Empire then doing some downstairs sign language with the Ice Queen with the other hand."
Rogue wavered between amusement and disgust at his disrespect. "Ice Queen?" she asked instead.
"Emma Frost," said Remy. He hopped on top of the gable's ridge, easily finding his balance. "The professor's first five students were Hank, Scotty, Jean, Emma, and Warren. They gave him the idea for this whole set up."
"I've never heard of Emma Frost," said Rogue.
"That's 'cause you're female." Holding his arms straight forward, Remy bent his knees then, in an inhumanly graceful movement, leapt on top of the next gable. "Anyone with a dick has heard of Emma Frost. She runs another mutant school on the west coast. Tried to get me to teach there." At Rogue's snort, Remy pretended to be insulted. "You don't think I'd make a good teacher?"
"Last time I checked, picking locks wasn't in the standard state curriculum."
"Maybe not in New York, but California..." He grinned. "Wanna learn how to parkour?"
"That sounds like something I should be doing with Bobby," said Rogue.
"Jumping roofs, Peaches," Remy said with mock severity. "You caught on real quick back in Kelsey. You got the makings of a great traceur."
"I thought we were going to look at pictures." But Rogue stood up nevertheless. "What's a traceur?" She had a little trouble with the gargled French "r."
"Something that started in France," Remy explained. "Parkour's being able to go anywhere no matter what the obstacle, moving anyway you want to but being fluid doing it, not making it a labour. For example, most people would get from here to there by sliding down, grappling around and all."
"Or they'd never got on here to start with," said Rogue.
"But they'd miss on this fantastic view!" Remy stretched his arms wide. "See that forest? You don't see old world growth like that any more not even this far upstate. In the fall, it looks like it's on fire. You could hire a plane or something to get you up and see it but why when you can just perch up here? The air is just--" He took a deep bracing breath-- "take a breath, Sugarplum, and tell me that don't fill you up like a five-course meal."
Rogue threw her shoulders back and filled her lungs, wobbling only slightly.
"One more time," Remy commanded. "Until you're dizzy from having so much oxygen."
"If I fall, I'm going to haunt you," Rogue said. "Especially if you're just stalling because you lost all my pictures."
"I can deal with that. Let's start simple; walk that ridge but don't make it laboured. Just sort of--" Remy's hands made a flourishing movement, like a push at the air. ""-- make it like a sidewalk."
"Easy enough." Toes pointed for effect, she glided along the ridge and back. "I used to compete in gymnastics when I was little," she explained. "I quit before high school but some things stick."
"No kidding." Remy crouched down on his haunches. "I mean it, Peaches. I can teach you some good parkour moves. Give you a little extra something to do when you're in the leather suit downstairs. Maybe take down a few names while kicking a whole lot of ass."
Rogue tilted her head to one side uncertainly. She knew from Danger Room exercises that she was at a disadvantage in combat situations. Her powers just weren't strong enough unless she managed to get to someone up close.
"Thanks for the offer, Remy," she said. "But Logan's already teaching me judo. I don't have time between that and normal training and school."
"That right?" Remy shrugged. "Can't compete with a man in that haircut, Stripes. Not even gonna try."
"You are the absolute limit!" Rogue laughed. "I'm going to practice my moves on you after I start training."
Squatting at the corner of the gable and the roof, Remy said, "See, that's the beauty of parkour. Before you can get anywhere near me to try and kick my ass, I'd've run far, far away."
"When you're this sexy, you gotta protect yourself."
Remy flipped away from Rogue before she could smack his head.