The kids half-heartedly roamed the halls as they were taught to do during missions. If they hovered, they could accidentally give away the entrances to the sub-basements. Also, the hallways were now silly with bullet-proof alcoves just in case there was another raid. As long as they were moving, they couldn't get trapped.
Hank and Kelly remained upstairs with the children while Scott and Warren took the new staff down to the council room where the Professor was already waiting. Hank and Kelly were more versed in safety guidelines and the situation was a good introduction for the newbies. They knew working here was a hazard, but actually seeing it in action would temper them. Kurt calmed the youngest kids best and Remy-- well, Remy could distract them.
"Colossus, please repeat your report," said Scott, standing at his place near the table.
Calmly, Piotr folded his hands. "We stopped at a gasoline station for fuel and food. I remained near to car to pump gas while Log--Wolverine--" he amended, forgetting briefly to use code names for the official reports, "--Iceman, Jubilee, and Rogue headed for the store. Iceman was twelve feet from the door when he fell to the ground as if in a faint. Wolverine yelled at us to return to the car. However, Jubilee also fell before he reached the car; she was closer to the store than the rest. Only Rogue came in and even then I had to restrain her and lock her in. Wolverine stayed behind with Iceman and Jubilee."
"We shouldn't have left them," said Rogue, arms stiff against her sides, lips bitten raw. "How am I supposed to get combat training if every time a situation comes up, I have to leave?"
"We can address that later," said Scott. "Right now, I'd also like to hear your version of the story, Rogue."
Looking like she would protest once more, Rogue sighed and let it go. "It's just like Colossus said. We were going to get snacks; Wolverine was going to get some cigars. Jubilee went on ahead but I had to fix my gloves-- they're new and they're not fitting right. Iceman was waiting for me but I told him... I told him to get me a Slurpee before Jubilee took all of the cream soda." Her eyes went glassy but she bit her lower lip again. The pain seemed to give her strength. "I wanted to give Wolverine back-up but Colossus pulled me back into the van. They didn't just fall though; they were shot."
Mrs. Rasputin gasped. David Semple, who used to be a cop, cursed lightly while his fellow new teacher, Narda Vardalos, did the same with more energy.
"You never told us you were shot at!" Mrs. Rasputin nearly yelled at her son.
Piotr's cool cracked. "I didn't want to worry you. It isn't new for us."
"Yes, but the reason you came here was to get away from such situations."
"Again, we'll table that discussion for another meeting," said Scott. "Where were they shot, Rogue?"
"They weren't bullets," said Rogue. "There wasn't any blood. They were tranqs; I'm sure of it. Jubilee had one on her shoulder and Bob--Iceman h-had a couple in his chest." She turned to face Scott. "Why did we just leave? We coulda landed on the Helicarrier and talked something out. I thought you guys knew Gen. Fury."
Scott's mouth twisted slightly downward. "You don't really know Fury. Most addicts don't really know their dealers." He brought up a map which tracked the missing X-Men's commelinks. The three X's were now blinking over the Atlantic. "What we have is a grudging symbiotic relationship."
"Rogue, I know you're upset," said Cyclops. "I'm not that happy with Fury either but I'd rather have him on our side looking after Bobby and Jubilee than pissed off and throwing them all in jail. Or worse, recruiting them into SHIELD."
Remy was racking up another round of eight-ball when Rogue streaked through the room.
"Hey, Peaches, where's the--"
She ran out the other door into the formal dining room.
"--fire?" He'd never had a girl pass by him so quickly. This bore investigation.
She ran up the servants' stairs like three flights was a ski run then barrelled through a small group of younger students on the second landing who immediately flattened themselves against the wall, one of them literally flat. Remy had never been on this side of a chase; those cops had no excuse for failing to catch him! Granted, he didn't telegraph his movements as much as Rogue did.
Stopping abruptly near the middle of the hall, Rogue wrenched open a door and popped in. The stained-glass window beside it shivered as the door slammed shut. That was a broom closet; Remy memorized the blueprints to this place and he really doubted it had been rebuilt completely in the past four years.
Pathetically little sniffles reached his ears, muffled by the door and cloth. Remy set to work immediately, flipping a tiny screwdriver from a pocket. Broom closets barely needed to be picked; he'd taught a seven-year-old Alex once. In fact, a strong tug could loosen the tumbler sufficiently but Remy would rather not damage the mansion. It was too damned nice.
"Didn't anyone teach you what a locked door means?" Rogue snapped as he stuck his head in.
"Sure." Remy grinned unrepentantly. "Made me more interested in what's behind them. Scoot over."
"Scoot over. I'm coming in."
It was a good-sized closet, seating two comfortably even with the shelves fully stocked. Remy saw Scott's influence in the militarily perfection of the supplies and the inventory list stuck to the back of the door. Rogue curled up beside a toolbox with giant packs of toilet paper at her back for cushioning. Looking at his own back rest-- half a dozen mops, three brooms, and a pail-- Remy shrugged philosophically and dropped cross-legged on the floor.
"What's up, Sugarplum?" He tapped the toe of her shoe.
She ignored him, shoving her face deeper between her arms.
"Okay." Leaning back, he spread his legs so that they bracketed her body. "Go ahead and have a cry then. I'll just sit here and talk to myself until you get too pissed off at me to be pissed off at whoever else you're pissed off at right now." He tapped a rhythm on his knees. "Ever wonder about how old this place is? I'm betting pre-Civil War myself. There's bits of the walls that were way too easy to convert into hidey-holes and sub-basement elevators. Knowing Xavier's background, they were probably part of the Underground Railway. Hell, they probably went and hid Protestants from Catholics in France then Catholics from Protestants in England before going to help blacks from whites in Antebellum South then Jews from Nazis and now down to mutants. Man's got a messiah streak a mile wide."
"Do you always talk this much?" asked Rogue.
"Can't get me to shut up," Remy answered. "Unless, of course, you tell me what's up."
Sighing, she shifted her head on her knees so that her cheek rested on her forearms.
Remy tapped her shin with his foot once more. "Fine then. Make room. I'm pulling out the big guns."
"What--" Rogue looked up only have the world shift left and go stripey as Remy lifted her onto his lap and pressed her face in his chest. "What are you doing?"
"Feelin' you up, Peaches." He chuckled when she squirmed. "Hold still, I'm kidding! I'm giving you a hug. You look like you need one."
He didn't speak for a second, simply stroking her back with a wide, callused hand. "Because you're my partner still. Far as I know you haven't said 'You're an incompetent poop and I quit' so here I am. Partners take care of each other, hein?"
Rogue clenched her eyes shut and relaxed into the embrace. When her breath evened out, she said, "Someone shot Bobby and Jubilee."
"Ah, shit." His arms tightened. "Shit, Sugarplum."
"I don't think they're dead," she said. "But we had to leave them. L-Logan stayed behind to find whoever did it but they're off somewhere now and we can't get to them and I couldn't help! Pete threw me in the van and made me leave them! No matter what happens, I'm always some damned Scarlette O'Hara clone getting shoved off to one side for my own protection. I mean, why do they bother to train me if they're not going to let me help?"
"Stripes, you're trained for self-defence, not combat," said Remy.
"Then I want combat training," Rogue said, her fists grabbing handfuls of Remy shirt as though she could squeeze the breath from the shooters. "I want someone to teach me to fight. I'm not gonna be a liability any more."
"Of course you won't," Remy said soothingly. "I'll teach you to fight."
"You?" Rogue leaned back slightly, unconvinced.
Remy gasped, pretending to be hurt. "I'm hurt, Stripes. You think Cyclops was the only one who had to attend aikido class?" He tugged on her shirt lapels, smoothing the wrinkles and straightening the folds. "What's that you said to me before? We'll work twice as hard. Make up for lost time."
Gingerly, Rogue leaned forward against Remy again. "Thanks, swamp rat."
Remy was going to say something pithy to cancel out all the mush but as luck would have it, Teresa needed more toilet paper for the girl's bathroom just then. Predictably, her reaction to seeing them in each other arms brought the entire wing out of their rooms.
Narda whipped Rogue away after sending Remy a scathing look. Shrugging gallically, Remy wound his way through the mansion to the garage where he could hop on a bike and disappear while everyone cooled down.
At least, that was the plan. However, Scott came barrelling down the hall with his "Your ass is grass" expression along with Mr. Forbes Five-Hundred-Dollars-a-Capped-Tooth, effectively cutting off Remy's escape route. He threw his hands up in the air. This was not a good day.
"Remy," Scott began, "what were you doing with--"
The doorbell rang.
"I'll get that," Remy said. When God closed a door and all.
He almost made it to the door and out of Scott's hearing range but one of the kids beat him to it. "Mr. Summers!" hollered the kid that would soon find all his belongings in the reflection pond. "Someone's at the door for you!"
"We'll continue this later," said Scott as he brushed by.
"Sure," Remy said amiably, spinning on his heel. The garage. He could still make it to the garage.
A perfectly manicured hand grabbed his shirt. "You're not going anywhere, buddy," said Warren Worthington the Third Most Obnoxious She-Male. "I'm got my own bone to pick with you."
Bonelessly, Remy slipped from his grasp and turned the tables around so that he had Worthington's hand twisted quite painfully. "Aw, shucks, sweetheart. All you had to do was ask." He batted his eyes as he gave Worthington's ass a hefty squeeze. "But what'll we tell Scott?"
From the door came a retching sound. "Oh, gross, Remy! Jesus, of the top ten things I do not want to see, my brother groping another man is one of them."
Alex's voice so surprised Remy that he actually forgot about heckling Worthington. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"Me?" Alex exclaimed. "Who was the one who said he'd make-out with a corpse before he set foot back at Xavier's? And unless you're planning to kill Worthington with disgust, he doesn't count."
"Quiet, both of you," said Scott. "I want to talk to you in my office, right now. Alex, you better have a good explanation for leaving school a month before finals. Remy, stop molesting my best friend and everyone else with an unplugged orifice."
Alex saluted snidely. Remy also saluted but it was only with one finger. Scott zapped them both with an optic beam but Remy deflected it with a charged card. Both beams hit Alex, one on the chest, the other on the thigh.
"Motherfucking ow!" Alex launched himself at Remy who rolled back, using Alex's momentum to throw him into the wall. Twisting his body into a more suitable position, Alex bent his legs and leapt back at Remy who blocked his fists efficiently.
"Stop moving," Alex grunted.
"Stop hitting like a girl," Remy shot back. He pointed at Scott. "He's the one who shot at us."
"Well, your face pisses me off more than his," said Alex.
Hooking Remy's ankle, he tried to trip him up but as Remy fell, he grabbed a fistful of Alex's shirt and dragged him along so that Alex cushioned his fall.
"I'm going to kill you," wheezed his younger brother.
"Yeah? You and which moshpit?"
Scott ended the fight by letting out a weak, wide beam. But not too weak. Alex and Remy tumbled back on their rears.
"Stop shooting at us!" Alex yelled.
"I would if you stopped acting like toddlers!" Scott yelled back. Realising they had an audience, he struggled to modify his volume. "My office. Right now, or I swear to God, I'm going to shove your balls so far down your throats, you'll shit white."
Remy reached into his jacket and charged three cards. Scott placed a hand at his visor's controls and braced his feet for a blast. Alex whipped out a couple of arnis sticks and whirled them in his hands.
None of the students watching in the sidelines moved. They barely breathed.
"Forget my office. We're all going to the Danger Room quietly," said Scott, gathering the fallen pieces of his temper back inside his gut. "Once we get there, we are going to beat the holy hell out of each other. And when we're finished doing that, everybody is going to slink back to their respective holes for the next ten years. Is that understood?"
"But I was--"
"Shut!" Scott pointed at the panel hiding the sub-basement doors. "Danger Room. Now."
"Woof," Remy said sulkily but obeyed.
Adam awoke in a broom closet or a cell. As cells went, these were pretty posh. The bed was nice and firm with real sheets, not those ratty numbers you saw on TV. He twisted into a sitting position, taking his surroundings in stock. Heated floors, bouncy bed-- he reached out to tap the sink-- actual ceramic stuff. There were even toothbrushes and face towels in a little shelf over the faucet. The toilet didn't appear to have toilet paper but Adam found three buttons over the stout tank. Pressing the right-most one resulted in a stream of water arching just where his butt would be positioned should he ever need to sit down.
Joy arced up inside Adam, too. If he had a toilet that meant-- he ran a finger down the crease of his buttocks and then cupped his penis-- no tubes! A split second after that, he realised he was bare-ass naked.
"This is messed up but if it means no tubes, I'll take it," he announced to the wall before promptly falling back on the bed and sleeping again.
The second time he woke up, it was completely dark except for a few tiny green or red lights blinking in inestimable distances from his room. Adam blinked, rubbed his eyes and waited for his night vision to kick in. It had always been better than average and when he'd been younger, he thought he'd have that as a mutation. Then he could go to Xavier's like Remy and Scott.
Charcoal shapes materialised out of the flat blackness, edged here and there with green and red. With a start, Adam saw that his cell didn't have bars. Cautiously, he extended his hand towards the missing wall.
"It will burn you," said a voice.
Adam jerked back.
The voice continued. "When you have the collars, your powers do not work so if you were relying on them to protect you, you will find yourself disappointed. And wriggling about on the floor in a great deal of pain."
"Uh, I don't think I have that power," said Adam.
"Unsurprising." The voice snorted. "You lasted all of three seconds in the pits."
Adam was glad of the darkness; it hid the bright redness of his cheeks. "Yeah, well, I must have missed ultimate fighting in PE class. Had the chicken pox." He squinted, trying to find the source of the insult. "Who are you?"
"You are far too new to be on this floor," said the voice. "Most of us have risen because we have shown the full extent of our powers during exercise."
The speech patterns clicked Adam's memory. "You're the redheaded guy," he said. "GA-V-Whatever."
"Gav-7," the voice said, highly insulted. "And you are Cai-3. You supposedly killed Teke-2 but I have not seen anything too impressive."
Adam nearly fell out into the invisible burninator door. "What? No! No freakin' way! I mean, like, I didn't kill anyone but I can be damned impressive if I really wanted to. I'd like to see you drag a quarter mile in ten seconds without popping a blower, dude. And my name is Adam."
"Exactly." Adam leaned back on his bed, satisfied he'd won this round so far.
A few seconds' worth of shuffling later, Gav-7 asked, "You are familiar with technology?" he asked.
Adam was so startled to hear the question that Gav had to repeat it before Adam could answer it. "I know a lot about cars," he said.
"What of comp-yoo-ters?"
Adam cocked his head to one side. "As much as the next person, I guess."
Gav made an impatient sound. "I am the next person and I know nothing. Scalphunter has been here for years, even before I was unplugged."
"Indeed. So, what do you know of comp-yoo-ters?"
"Uh, it has a monitor, a keyboard, a mouse, and a CPU," Adam recited, trying to understand what Gav was looking for. "Most of them run on Microsoft systems but Macs are more popular with artists, students, and people who like matching furniture. They're all Internet connected now and the newest models don't even have floppy drives any more. Hell, what are you looking for?"
Gav-7 didn't speak for a few seconds and when he did, it was with even more deliberation than usual. "When you are next called to fight in the pens and you meet your opponent, ask him or her if the weather has been rainy lately."
"Weather? What are-- "
"If he or she replies 'I hope it will stop soon,' tell him or her that you have always liked umbrellas."
Adam blinked. A lot. "This feels like a really cracked up episode of Punk'd."
"Do it if you desire life."
Then it was just him and the blinky lights again. And the soft rumble of generators overheard. And the muffled crying from his left and the snores from his right. Someone somewhere was licking something. A different someone from way, way off howled like a coyote with the click-click-click of the guards' boots on the metal floor as accompaniment. And always, the muted whirring of the collar around his neck.
Adam shivered as he hopped back to bed. "Hey, Gav?" When the other boy didn't reply, he shouted louder. "Gav! Gav-7, it's Adam. Cai-3. Are you awake?"
"No, but I am, kid, and if you keep talking with your little boyfriend, I'm gonna smash your head in when we do exercises," said a voice to the left.
"Sorry," Adam said meekly. He curled into the sheets for all of seven seconds. "What happens if I don't learn how to fight?"
"Shut up, kid!" Voice to the Left growled but remarkably, Gav-7 spoke up again.
"You will be demoted to the lower floors," he said. "I am told that is especially grating for those who come from the outside."
Frowning, Adam said, "That do you mean 'coming from the outside?' Where did you come from?"
Growling Voice to the Left piped up again. "I'm gonna tell you two where you're going if you don't shut the hell up!"
"That's Scalphunter," said Gav-7. "I spoke of him earlier. He is an exemplary maker of weapons. He is often aggravated. Most ignore him."
"Scalphunter?" repeated Adam. "Dude, that is so un-PC. Even if you really are Indian, you might as well call yourself Howling Wolf or Runs with the Elk or Bear With Two-Willies. Besides, what does scalphunting have to do with making things? If I could make things, I'd call myself the Maker. Or the Pimpster. Or Hephastion but that's like a different continent and I'm not sure that's PC either but since Lucy Liu played O-Ren Ishii in Kill Bill even though she's not Japanese I guess that'll be like globalization so I guess it's okay as long as its not like Nike's version of globalization because that's totally not on and I haven't bought Nikes since I found out about their sweatshops. I'm totally a DC or Puma person now even though this guy in my class said that they're made in sweatshops too but I really don't believe him because he's one of those goth guys who hate on everything that's remotely popular but still hasn't given up on Marilyn Manson even when Manson went through that popular phase and everyone listened to him including the preppy kids who were trying to be hard core and, dude was Lionel ever pissed off at that except I'm not really supposed to call him Lionel. His new name is Valmont."
"Christ, I'm in a quart with a motormouth." The wall rung hollowly was something blunt-- perhaps Scalphunter's fist or foot. Hopefully his head.
"You outsiders are a strange bunch," said Gav-7.
Adam started to ask what the heck Gav-7 meant by outsiders when a whisper drifted down from the right. "Sticks!"
"What?" asked Adam.
"Guards," Scalphunter translated. "Go to bed. Look whipped."
"Such a stretch," Adam thought as he flipped up into his cot. Huddled under the thin sheet, he listened for footsteps but these guards either wore carpet-soled boots or floated because he had no warning before the sheet was whipped from his body. The room was still dark and this time, the guards blocked out the green and red lights from the hall. Adam had a brief impression of hockey helmets or World War II gas masks before his brain was wrenched six inches above his skull and thrown into a spin cycle. He might have screamed. He definitely went into a seizure because he felt his knee crack against the wall.
When consciousness finally extinguished the fire from his brain, Adam realised he lay on the bed with his arms and legs buckled in a spread-eagle position. Something covered his entire head. He tried to scream but nothing would work.
"I hate tapping the new ones," said one of his captors. "It gives me the creeps knowing they used to come from the outside."
"Outsiders, vat-rats; they're the same thing," his companion said. A needle pricked the inside of Adam's elbow. "It's like people who grouse over farmed or wild salmon. It's all fish, y'know."
"Yeah, but the vat-rats don't act human. They're more like smart zombies." As he spoke, the first captor swiftly palpated Adam's stomach and poked the soles of his feet with a blunt needle. He pulled Adam's eyelids apart, his blurred face coming close presumably to check his eyes. His sure hands moved on to the rest of the inspection-- nose, mouth, ears, and just under the jaws-- with the swiftness of habit. "I mean, this guy has fillings. It's just creepy."
There was a grunt from his companion. "Grab a beer when we're through. It'll pass."
The drugs kicked in full gear at this time. Adam didn't know if he was thankful for it or not. The last thing he heard was "Did you catch the Pacers game yesterday?" before he slept again, dreaming of the Lakers soundly smashing the Pacers into dust.