Sunshine, orange and sticky, failed to relieve the mid-term's frenzy. Scott's heavy, pine door swung open and shut like the entrance to a corner store, admitting teachers and students alike and that was just the past week. For the past three months, Scott, Warren and Xavier put their heads together to plan the retrieval in Ecuador. With the other hand, they played an intricate dance of blackmail with SHIELD. He'd been able to use Bobby and Jubilee's situation to dig up more information on the Kelsey mine and all its affiliated companies. SHIELD countered this manoeuvre by giving them bits and pieces of potentially useful information, but nothing truly substantial.
With the third hand, they reopened the school. The larger student population was a cake-walk compared to everything that had happened since spring but the increased population pressured Scott to delegate, not his favourite option. Because Kelly had been teaching for a longer time, he charged her with training Narda and David to free up his time for administrative work. Hank headed the medlab on top of his classes and his personal research while Warren worked on academic details like the upcoming Hallowe'en party and the (dear God already?) Christmas one a bit further off. Alex had insisted on following a lead on Adam from his supposed FBI file; most days he was online down in the medlab or in the public library. Remy was, thankfully, training Rogue and therefore out of his hair. Scott didn't really think anything of the situation until Narda brought the subject up.
"How is the self-defence training set-up again?" she asked Scott as she dropped off a few more files. Scott was drowning in files.
"The lessons are three times a week covering a series of martial arts, usually judo and a few offensive moves that best utilises their power."
"Uh-huh." Narda chewed on her pencil. "Is there usually one-on-one mentoring?"
"Not for general classes but the X-Men training can if there's a compatible teacher." He crossed out one activity that proved to be a bust; there really was no exciting way to teach the quadratic formula. "Why do you ask?"
"Remy's been taking Rogue out a lot the past few weeks. I just wanted to make sure that was allowed."
Ororo also commented on the subject just after dinner at the teacher's lounge. "I'm going to say something that might offend you. If it's out of line, please let me know but I really can't keep quiet about it any longer."
Bewilderment pleated Scott's forehead lightly. He put a binder of CIA information down-- he'd never make fun of Area 51 again-- to listen. "Go ahead and tell me."
Ororo took some strengthening breaths. "I'm not comfortable with Remy being around Rogue all the time."
"All the time?" The wrinkles in his brow deepened. He pushed away from the table. "What do you mean, all the time?"
"They're attached at the hip," said Ororo. "The kids call them Rogue'n'Remy. If he was a little closer to her age, I wouldn't worry so much but he's twenty-seven--"
"Twenty-eight," Scott corrected. Remy's birthday was in August. The first edition "Alice in Wonderland" he'd picked out as a present had been sent to New Orleans as per his schedule but with everything going on, they hadn't had time to actually go out to celebrate. Scott mentally made a note to do something family-like after the Ecuador mission to keep Remy from more sulking.
"--and she's in a highly vulnerable state with Bobby and Logan gone," Ororo continued. She took a calming sip of tea. "He is your brother of course and you would have a better grasp of his personality. I cannot help but worry however, in light of his cavalier attitude towards dating in the past few months that he has been here."
At first, he couldn't quite understand where Ororo was going with this. When it finally hit him, Scott was hard-pressed not to gag. "You think he might... Rogue? Remy?"
Ororo spoke slowly, her words obviously picked with care. "I think he is very charming and Rogue, very young. He may not realise that his flirting could be interpreted more seriously than he intended."
Assuring Ororo that Remy's flirting was completely harmless, that Remy would definitely not take advantage and promising that he'd have a talk with him, Scott promptly forgot about it. More information about Adam had come in just as he and Warren returned from retrieving a new student.
Warren peered over his shoulder as he slipped out of his Kevlar. "What's that?"
"SHIELD information about Adam," said Scott. "I was going to run a variable on the Ecuador mission in the Danger Room but I have to look at this before I go to bed. It's a follow-up on the connection between Alex's bomber and the silver van that'd been following Adam back in June. "
"I'll run the Ecuador variable," said Warren, scooping the file up and scanning the newest notes, done in blue.
Scott's forehead wrinkled. "I thought you had a digital conference with New Delhi in a couple hours."
"I can run this in an hour." Warren read through the changes a second time to make sure. "I'll just reference the Mexico City program, add the Ecuador data and cycle it through the randomizer." Grinning, he added, "I could always pull an 'angel of death.' It's a good time as any to try it out."
Scott thought about it for a minute but shook his head. "I'd really like to give it a run myself just in case I--"
Reaching over the desk, Warren smacked Scott's head firmly with the file. "Repeat after me, Summers: I, Scott Summers--"
With a sigh, Scott placed his left hand over his heart and raised his right up in an oath-taking pose. "I, Scott Summers."
"Will learn to take help from my friends."
"Will learn to take help from my friends."
"Because I'm not a demi-god no matter how many mountains I can raze with my eye-lasers."
"They're not lasers, they're--"
"Shut up and repeat the oath, Summers."
Barely able to keep his beleaguered expression in place, Scott obediently said, "I'm not a demi-god no matter how many mountains I can raze with my force blasts."
"And I will thank my friend, Warren, for the help he is offering and will henceforth never protest when he offers his much needed help."
"Never protest?" Scott said. He didn't think he could keep that promise.
Apparently, Warren didn't either. "Well, I won't protest for the next twenty-four hours. This vow is null and void when dealing with plumbing, however."
"Yeah, some friend." Cracking, a grin, Scott waved his away. "Thanks, man."
He didn't finish reading by the time he had to perform the bed and bathroom checks. As he walked the halls, Scott recalled Ororo and Narda's words. He paused before Rogue and Kitty's door but, with a cursory sniff, he dismissed the thoughts. Remy liked the ladies, true, but he'd never be cruel about it and he would definitely never take advantage of someone so young or someone practically his student.
"Rogue, Kitty, lights better be out by the time I come around again," he said, rapping the door lightly, erasing the subject from his mind.
The sound of knocking faded in the wind curling around the rooftop. Shivering, Gambit squeezed Rogue closer, rubbing her arms then his and then hers again. "You can do this, Peaches," he said, securing her set in its belt pouch. "Just go in, get the prize and go out. Nothing to it, right?"
He winked. The butterflies in Rogue's stomach decided to break-dance. "Except you're watching me through the whole thing, waiting for me to mess up," she retorted.
"You haven't needed me to tell you anything for the past couple weeks. And this ain't Fort Knox; it's just Scott's room."
"Pissing off the assistant headmaster isn't supposed to make me more nervous?"
Instead of answering, Gambit stepped away from the edge of the roof. Plucking a stopwatch from this air-- Rogue knew that was just a very smooth palm-- he lowered his chin. The start button ticked.
Instantly, Rogue whirled around and ran for the west wing. Her soft shoes gripped the shingles, a little uncertain, until she reached the three-quarter-way to the tower. The wall was a black block from that distance but Rogue knew from practice runs that ivy and moss choked the grout, both aiding and hindering climbers. She opened her powder pouch, taking out a pinch of talcum to dry the sweat from her hands. Without breaking stride, she went from the roof to the tower wall, landing on the ivy in a cat-grab.
Taking a second to catch her breath, Rogue scaled the wall. One day, she'd be able to do this without the aid of the ivy or the talcum powder but for now, she concentrated on using the thicker branches as holds. The trick to free-climbing was balance. By sticking close to the wall, she didn't have to rely on her upper body strength as much; physics did half the work for her.
Even then, it took ten minutes to climb the wall. Starting to pant from her exertions, Rogue gritted her teeth and pulled herself up into a handstand as she reached the tower's crenellations. Gambit smiled. He'd asked for two flairs on this test; that was flair number one. Seeing her disappear behind the tower, he picked his away across the lower roof to meet her on the other side.
The moon picked out the white blaze of her bangs as she peered over the edge. Descending always took longer than ascending simply because the body insisted that it was about to fall and hesitated for half-seconds that added to minutes. His eyes always worked better in the dark and so Gambit could focus on any missteps. He tried not to wince when she used too thin a branch as a foothold and had to scrabble frantically to keep from falling.
After the tower, running across the other side of the roof was a piece of cake. He was right behind her as she counted windows and lowered a periscope to double-check her chosen spot. Satisfied with her decision, Rogue unrolled a series of nylon ropes and locks, attaching them to her belt and looping them around her legs.
"Spot me," she signed.
Gambit nodded and locked the other ends of the harnesses around his own waist. Points to her for realising that she needed a partner for this particular pinch. He allowed her to direct him, bracing his feet against the stone edging and slowly feeding the rope as she lowered herself off the roof to hang in front of the window.
This was the hardest part. Gambit had outlined the pinch but she was in charge of the mechanics. She'd had to figure out the security devices herself before the pinch even started, disarm it, get in, get the item, get out and, perhaps most challenging of all, re-arm the alarms so that no one would suspect anything. All of this and she couldn't leave a trace. Gambit would be in there after tonight looking for prints or displaced items.
Four minutes later, the alarm hadn't gone off yet and Rogue's rope went slack, signalling that she'd unhooked herself from it. He followed her in, checking on her set-up. Angled mirrors for the lasers and a neat hook on the latch. Damn good job, this. Rogue stood in the middle of the room, turning around slowly on one heel. He could nearly hear the click-click-click of her brain as she observed and catalogued possible hiding places for the prize. In the end, she went for the closet. Gambit's eyes narrowed but he didn't say anything. He'd gone through the closet himself without finding the stash but he'd let her learn that lesson herself.
To his surprise, she went straight for the back of the closet. Carefully pushing items aside, she felt along the walls. Gambit peered over her shoulder. Her nails scratched at a loose board. She bent it back, quickly reached in and took her hand out again holding a small nylon pouch.
She signalled the retreat. Gambit swung back up to the roof to secure the harness while Rogue strapped herself in. In a few minutes, she was out of the room and racing for the north wing. Dodging the tower, she dove head first for the lower roof, flipping once before landing. Her second flair. After a second's pause to catch her balance, she easily ran back to the starting point.
Panting quietly, she handed him the package. "Well?"
He weighed the bag in his hand. "I can't be sure until I check things out in the morning, Stripes, but if you went in there as smoothly as it looks, you passed with flying colours."
Breathless with joy, Rogue buried her face in Gambit's chest, nearly squeezing in the breath out of him. "That was so much fun," she said. "Am I allowed to say that?"
"Peaches, if you aren't having fun, why bother doing it?" He twirled her out and back into his arms, kissing the top of her head before spinning her back to the edge of the roof. "How'd you know where the pic-- the package was?"
"After we got attacked in March, they came in with pre-fab closets because we didn't really have time to renovate properly. Some of them have spaces between the walls. His closet looked like the ones we had." She smiled, obviously proud of herself. She had every right to be. Hell, he was proud as hell of her.
"You deserve a prize," said Gambit.
"Even though I haven't technically passed?"
He grinned. "How about you and me hop over to the rec room and get in touch with space cowboys?"
"Again? So, what part of training is that?"
"You know a lot of cops trust their partners more than their wives?" Remy snagged his grappling hook on the chimney and swung down to the ground floor.
Rogue climbed down as soon as his feet touched the patio tiles. "And now, I've really lost my thing for men in uniform."
With a shallow bow, Remy gestured for Rogue to unlatch and disarm the French doors leading into the rec room. "Partners hang out," said he simply. "And to be honest, Sugarplum, you're a fun person to hang out with. You gave me space cowboys, for fuck's sake! If that ain't a sign of true friendship, I don't know what is."
"The fact that Mr. Worthington goes purple every time he sees us hanging out has nothing to do with it."
"You wound me." Remy placed a hand over his chest to show the exactly where her verbal lash hit.
"What do you have against him, anyway?"
Scratching his chin, Remy said, "Let's sum it up to his thinking that he's God's gift."
"To women?" Rogue clarified.
"Among other things," said Remy. "Women, men, dogs, certain breeds of chickens."
Muffling her laughter, Rogue shoved him through the opened door. "It takes one to know one, buster."
"Are you actually comparing me to that overgrown pigeon?"
"Minus a couple million in the bank and a Rolex watch--"
Remy snorted. "Wanna-bes wear Rolexes. This is a Breguet."
With a snort of her own-- and a more impressive one too-- Rogue pushed him into the couch then fell onto it herself. Only a soft smack of her thigh kept her from squashing his lap. "Have I told you lately that you're conceited?"
"No and I've been feeling distinctly unloved because of it."
"Well, you are. Now shut up and watch the show."
A lot of people were at the meeting today. Adam started to smile but one look at Gav's face wiped that away quick.
"What?" he whispered. "I thought a lot of people on our side was good?"
"It is," said Gav, in that cautious way of his, like he had to mentally compose sentences before speaking. "However, too many at one meeting might alert the unwanted."
Hmmm. Good point.
"It cannot be helped," Gav added. "Come, let us fetch our assignments."
A lot was a relative phrase of course. Including the two of them, there were fifteen people in the room. They passed by a guard who nodded before frisking them. Adam had to repress a shudder; the guy was on their side but he'd been on the business end of those guns and needles too many times to fully trust anyone in a black uniform.
Tonight, the meeting was in a utilities room on the second sub-basement. Adam passed through the dizzying border of a collar-disruptor; Gav grabbed his shoulder to keep him from knocking his head on the doorjamb.
"I'm never going to get used to that," Adam said sheepishly.
"Good," said Gav. "Only those who have been here many years are accustomed to it."
Yeah. Gav was really good at bringing down the mood.
Frenzy, one of the major-leaguers in the Resistants and the scariest damn person Adam had ever met since he broke his arm and had a nurse from hell give him X-rays, nodded to acknowledge their presence. "I haven't seen you in the pens in a while, Gav."
"Ghosts," Gav said curtly and Frenzy didn't ask any more questions. There was a running debate on who were worse: the guards or the doctors, also known as ghosts for their lab coats. Adam had never been squeamish about needles until he came here.
"Lots of people here," said Adam.
"Most are leaders," added Gav. It was hard to be certain but he might have been disapproving.
"I know," Frenzy said, "It's risky but Domino insisted on spreading the news quickly." Turning to the rest of the room, Frenzy lifted her arms for silence. "This will be quick but important. Someone has gotten this information from a main computer." She lifted a memory stick.
Adam took his cue. As one of the few Resistants who knew their way around modern computers, his main job around here was to decode useful information from useless and do it quickly. It wasn't as hackers as it sounded; from what he'd gathered, he was one of the few people who'd been taken after the mid-nineties and the only one taken after the millennium. For some reason, everyone else was freaked out by the idea of itty-bitty floppy disc-like things. Fully half of the Resistants were, strangely, vat-rats and had never seen computers before.
Frenzy slid a laptop to his end of the table. Adam slipped the memory stick into a makeshift reader and started rooting around the contents. Quickly discarding the smaller files, he clicked on a good sized jpeg document.
A browser popped up to envelop the whole screen. To Adam's amusement, Gav and the others jumped back, their mouths forming little O's of surprise and amazement at the graphics.
There were lines. Different coloured lines with labels like "A02" and "A17." Acting on a hunch and a culturally-bred habit of clicking randomly, Adam pointed the arrow over "A17" and clicked. A new window slid out, this one an image file of handwritten notes.
"It's dated June 12, 1948," read Adam. "Devonshire, England, blah, blah, blah. Subject has osseous tumours, the measurement of which will be outlined below: six-eighths of a ... boring, boring...Wait, there's some different stuff. Delivered retrovirus with hypodermic syringe through the left carotid artery. Delivered placebo to control subject. Is any of this making sense or should I go somewhere else?"
"Move forward," said Gav. "Find information more pertinent to the current date."
"Okay. Fast forwarding." Adam closed the document down and returned to the main chart. There, he clicked on an orange line coming from A17. More spidery lines grew from the label, like geometric branches..A17-ABA5. A17-ARL3. A17-AKB3. Adam dragged through the lines until A17 melded with D02 and the nomenclature changed: KY-II-ABT4, AK-IV-DAA5, MA-I-ABO2
"These are us," said Adam numbly. "These are notes about us. What they're doing to us."
"Yes," was all Frenzy said. "Is there anything on the building? Any maps or place names?"
After a few minutes of searching, Adam shook his head. "Nothing on this file. I can check the others."
"Quickly," Gav said. "We must disperse in six minutes and fourteen seconds."
"I can only go as fast as the processor will let me and, dude, this thing can barely handle having a card reader in it."
"Well, can you tell if there is anything of worth?"
Adam shook his head as he scanned the file names. "This has word documents, images, video files, something looks like it might be spyware... And they're not exactly being helpful with the titles. TX-84, KY-77. AuxLoc03. It's like the most boring, anal person ever made the manuals for this company." He paused. "Like my brother."
"Those could be states and years," suggested Resistant member behind Adam.
"Yeah, but how do we know which have something useful?"
"Well, if someone would tell me what they were looking for," said Adam, getting testy.
"That will compromise our group," Frenzy said.
"So will slogging through a frillion documents at random!" He glared at Frenzy who returned his look imperiously. Before getting thrown into the lab, Adam would have broken the stare immediately. The New and Improved Adam was not going to take any of her shit.
"Two minutes and forty-three seconds," Gav gritted out. "We must prepare to leave."
"Security information," Frenzy finally said, giving in.
Woot! Adam tried not to grin too widely but failed.
"We apparently don't have anything useful in this drive," Frenzy added, just to be irritating.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa." Adam raised his arms. "Now that I know what we're looking for, that makes everything a lot easier. Sort of. The security specs will probably be on a PDF or something so I can get rid of half the things on this drive. You're sure this was the right file?"
"We have it one the greatest authority," the guard said.
"How long do you need?" asked Frenzy.
"Two hours?" Adam said cautiously. "Maybe three if these documents have a lot of writing. Unless there's someone who's mutant power is speed-reading."
"We cannot risk four hours," said Gav.
"We'll figure something out," Frenzy said. "Right now, we have to disappear."
The guard quickly grabbed her and one of the vat-rats by the collar and shoved them towards the door. Frenzy assumed a meek stance. It didn't quite suit her but most people were fooled. Gav and Adam waited a few seconds before leaving, turning in the opposite direction. They'd received and memorized this shift's guard pattern. It changed every day according to the sticks they had on the inside.
As they ducked into adjoining alcoves, Adam said, "Skids says she doesn't bother hiding in secure hallways any more."
Gav's eyebrows flickered but he didn't reply. Bending down, he ran to the end of the hall, listening cautiously for footsteps. Adam followed him around the corner where they waited, crouched before moving again.
"Skids will die before we escape," said Gav. When Adam stared at him in horror, he elaborated, "She is too confident. She will be caught and killed."
"Dude. Harsh." He would have said more but Gav covered his mouth and pressed him back against the wall, holding a finger against his own lips for silence. Really, when the guy did things like that how could Adam not like him? It took all of his willpower not to stick his tongue out and have a little taste. Just a small one. A microscopic taste. He could pretend he was licking his lips or something.
Then, holy ever-lovin shit, Gav was leaning towards him, his face drawing closer, his lips brushing Adam's ear and he smelled really freakin' good. "Are you hurt?"
"Mmmrh?" Adam gurgled, drowning as he was in a keg of lust.
"You whimpered. Are you hurt?"
He could pretend. He could fake a knee injury and Gav would have to kneel and, oh, hell, if he didn't stop fantasizing right now, he was going to have to jerk off then listen to Scalphunter sneer at him for needing to jerk off even though he, Adam, heard him, Scalphunter, jerk off on a regular basis as well and using the weirdest expletives ever involving ABBA and someone named Beth doing something that Adam was sure would hurt without some really good stretching first and maybe liberal use of shrooms although why Scalphunter would want any more drugs after this place pumped them full of the stuff as beyond imagination but then maybe it had something to do with voluntary drugs use versus forced although if had to be honest with himself, the stuff they used to knock him out for testing was really pretty nice once you relaxed into it.
"You think too hard," said Gav.
He moved his chin to the left. That was Gav's version of a head shake. "Later. Move."
All the corridors were dim. Adam heard it was so the prisoners would be easier to freak out. He also heard that mutants were mostly solar powered and darkness weakened them. For all he knew, the owner just wanted to save on his electric bill and prevent a screaming sign that said "Mad Scientists Here." It made for really difficult running if you didn't have night vision that Gav did.
Instead of turning left to the electrical ducts, Gav hung a right. Adam's heart went into triple beat. The service shafts were to the right. The service shafts with their many alcoves and winding passageways that were so numerous and convoluted no one bothered to monitor them. The service shafts which were the lab's version of lover's lane.
One of Gav's eyebrows rose as they approached an alcove, a self-assured question on his face as he turned his hand up. With a little less confidence, Adam accepted the hand. Gav pulled him into the alcove. Adam's breath caught as he pushed his lips against Gav's, humming quietly in reaction to the still-strange sensation of another person's tongue in his mouth. It felt good and weird at the same time, soft, full and slimy, kind of like a ginormous wad of gum only so much better.
With a wall at his back and Gav's knee between his thighs, Adam's humming increased in volume. He pulled on Gav's ears to bring him closer, to stifle any more sounds that might come out of his mouth.
It didn't work.
But both boys were beyond caring.