Alex dealt with stress by working. He knew that compared to Scott, the Clark Kent/Superman clone and Remy, the con-man/rock star, his version of working was sadly mediocre but he liked it just fine and to hell with them anyway. It took a higher form of intelligence to act as mediator. That and masochism.
A binder full of his findings under his arm, Alex strolled into the medlab, his usual hang-out. "You're back to that?"
Hank waved at his three-month officemate and part-time lab assistant. "Good evening, Alex. Isn't it rather late to do research?"
"So says the guy who forgets to eat and sleep when he has a lead." Alex tapped the binder. "I think I'm getting closer to something. It's like... I see all the corner pieces and a few patches in the middle and I just have to work everything else out."
Grinning toothily, Hank said, "I'd offer my advance congratulations. Unfortunately, I won't be able to help you today as I have dedicated the rest of my day to this collar."
"How did the last test go?"
"Less than brilliantly, I'm afraid." Hank pushed back from the desk, leaning back in what Alex now recognized as his "lecture" position. Alex sat back himself to get more comfortable. Hank's lectures, while illuminating, frequently resulted in God's own case of numb-bum.
"While wearing the collar, there doesn't seem to be any adverse effects. As you can attest to, Rogue's power is negated, leaving both you and her as conscious and physically intact as ever. Piotr cannot shift into his metallic form and David, as the control group, suffers nothing more than slight stomach upset. I am, however, rather wary of the effect of this added electrical charge to personal bioelectrical dynamics."
"Have you seen anything unusual in the readings?" asked Alex. "I mean, other than the usual unusual."
"Any tampering with the body's physiology is dangerous," Hank said. "I will likely cap the tests at three hours and conduct the remaining experiments on a hypothetical level. It is far too dangerous to test it on live subjects and I doubt the student population would be amenable animal testing even if we could shrink the collar to fit a rat. My goodness, here I am again expatiating when you've just mentioned that you're busy with your own research."
"Don't worry about it," Alex said. "If I didn't want to talk to you, I wouldn't set up my study-room down here."
Hank grinned wide enough to look like a smile instead of a grimace. "Your indulgence is appreciated as always. Oddly enough, not everyone finds appeal in the discourse on the mutant promoter genes."
"What can I say? People are nuts." With a chuckle, Alex playfully jabbed at Hank's arm.
"Truly, you have lifted an Atlasian weight from my shoulders the past few months," Hank continued in a much more serious tone. "Scott often boasted of your academic prowess when he was a student. Without you, the idea of juggling my many hats in the school would have been unfathomable."
"Thanks, Hank." Not knowing whether to preen or blush, Alex changed the subject instead. "Look, I just remembered I have to call my girlfriend. Can I pop into your office?"
"By all means."
He really sucked at phone calls and had been meaning to actually talk to her instead of sending off short emails. It was probably morning in Hawai'i already. Alex pressed the speed dial on his phone.
Alex's shoulders relaxed at the sound of her voice. "Hey, babe."
"Oh, my god, Alex!" He heard her chair squeak on the other end. "Hang on, I'm in the study hall. Let me just..." Her voice faded for a few seconds. "Okay. I can talk now."
"It's not a top secret conversation."
"You haven't been here for months. This place might as well be Area 51 with all the armed guards passing thorough."
That was expected. Disturbing but expected. "Has anyone been in my room since the explosion?"
Lorna huffed. "Alex, the building got bombed. Everyone from CIA operatives to construction workers to tourists has been through the building."
"The police got most of the personal effects in the rooms so even if some of your stuff survived, it'd be held for investigation," she said. "You were pretty close to the main area of the bombing."
"Pretty close? Baby, I could've petted that rocket."
"Yeah, so that? Really not the kind of thing that'll make me feel better." She lowered her voice. "They've asked me about where you are. I told them that I didn't know--"
"Which is true."
"-- but I did know that you wanted to visit your family."
"Again, true. You don't have you worry about anything," said Alex.
"Any time someone says that, you know it's because there really is something to worry about." Lorna sighed, making Alex wish he was beside her. She had the cutest head-tilt when she sighed, perfect for tucking his lips into her neck. "It's kind of creepy around here. There's military everywhere and I've had classes cancelled twice because some people want to interview the students and the professors."
"Well, there was a bomb. You know how jittery everyone would be about that."
"I guess. But..." She sighed again. "Alex, do you trust me?"
Oh, crap. This was perfect timing, wasn't it? "I do, baby, but if you're going to ask about what I'm doing, it's not really my secret to tell."
"Okay," Lorna said quietly. "But... it's not anything illegal, is it?"
"Of course not," Alex lied easily. "It's just complicated. Hey, have you seen Milbury?"
"Nuh-uh. Not since you went off with him."
He hung up a few minutes later, knowing Lorna wouldn't be able to let this go. She was so good at prying secrets that she should have been a journalism major.
There went his Hawai'i lead. From this point forward, most of his new material would come from Remy. Scott sure as hell wasn't sharing. It hadn't passed Alex's notice that Scott was less than enthused about looking for Adam. After the hell Adam put them through the last time he ran away, Alex really couldn't blame him but there was a difference between Scott pissed off and Scott indifferent. This had too much of the latter for Adam to be comfortable with.
Indifference explained Remy's actions since coming to Xavier's. Remy wilted if he wasn't the centre of someone's attention and for reasons that Alex had never been able to understand, his other big brother downright shrivelled when Scott ignored him. Flirting with a student would guarantee attention all right; Scott would ram an optic blast full of attention down Remy's throat if he tried anything with one of his students.
So, Alex had three jobs to take care of before he could get back to living his life. First, he had to make Scott aware of Remy's exploits. Once Remy had Scott's attention back, they could all get down to the important business of looking for Adam. After that, he had first dibs beating on the assholes that caused all of this trouble. As entertaining as Hank's lab was, Alex had been perfectly content in Hawai'i, thank you very much.
Scott cleared his throat and clasped his hands behind his back before speaking. "Professor."
"No, Scott, I haven't found new information on Adam's whereabouts."
During occasions when he was sure he wanted to sink into the ground (and there had been far too many of those to recount), Scott was infinitely glad of his father's heritage. They said colouring went first with mixed-blood Indians but in Scott's case, his natural colouring was bronze. Only years of dedicated hermitage mellowed his skin to its present off-tan. Still, the colouring kept anyone from knowing how often he blushed.
"Thank you, sir. I just... wanted to check before we left."
The professor inclined his chin. "I know we've been over this before but why won't you work with the information that Alex brought?"
Scott barely stifled an impatient huff. "I don't trust it."
"Alex's informant," Scott clarified. "We can't waste time chasing down his false leads."
"Scott, we've been wasting time chasing down our own false leads," said the professor gently. And that was as close to a rebuke as the professor was ever going to get.
If the professor knew how much Scott wanted to bug him about using Cerebro to find Adam (and Scott suspected that the professor did know which made his reticence all the more galling especially since he had no idea himself why he was being reticent), he would probably hit Scott on the head with Cerebro. Part of the reason he was so frantic about getting those two kids was because it made him feel a little less helpless. He could do something about Bobby and Jubilee now. He could save them now. With Adam, the sting of failure hurt too much for him to be able to concentrate. It was Jean all over again and he just could not get his brain to go there, no matter how he tried.
Jesus, that was a long thought. He had to be really tired.
Xavier opened a drawer and took out a thickly stuffed accordion file. "I have also received further information on the army that engaged Fury's team in Darfur. All records point to the possibility of a large, hidden mutant population in the Middle East."
With a sardonic twist of his lips, Scott crossed his arms. "He's got some ba-- nerve asking us to do work after what he did."
"You did ask for a lot of help finding Adam," said Xavier.
"I know. But I don't have to like it." Scott took the folder and skimmed the material. "Cloning? Is this for real?"
"We have no solid evidence of it," said Xavier. "But the technology outlined is feasible to my knowledge. Hank will have to confirm it first of course."
"I could use one," Scott murmured as he tapped the papers back in place. "What does he want me to do about it?"
"I've already given Hank a copy of the first packet. The second one is for you and Angel. Fury would like you to investigate a possible laboratory which might be housing this project near the Conjunto Sao Isadore in Brazil. I advise you to keep this superficial despite SHIELD's request-- take note of the grounds and as much of the interior facilities that you can."
"Professor, you want us to lie?" Scott asked, feigning shock.
"I'm sure Angel will have many ideas as to how to get information with little interference."
"As long as we get the students first," said Scott. "Will that be all, sir?"
At the professor's nod, he headed for his office to assure himself that Kelly had all the material she would need in case they didn't come back on schedule then took the elevator to the hangar. Warren had already prepped up the Blackbird for him. Her engines purred, if the sound a twenty-foot lion made could be called a purr.
"I've checked our flight plan with the FAA," said Warren, handing him a checklist as soon as he buckled in. "We're good to go."
"Has SHIELD contacted us yet for coordinates?"
Scott's jaw tightened. "Let's just head in that general direction then. It's not like we can miss something as big as the Helicarrier."
"Roger, captain. Bringing her out."
Scott couldn't fight against a grin. "You're a dork," he said as soon as they were steady in the air.
"Technically, I'm closer to a duck. Oh and speaking of sitting ducks." Warren took his hand briefly off the controls to point at a leather attaché behind his seat. "My contact with the Inner Circle updated me on some stuff recently. Just before you came aboard, in fact."
"Yeah?" Scott stretched to grab the bag. "Tell me about it. I'll take the controls."
After a brief struggle with the seatbelts-- Warren's wings always gave him trouble in plane seats, even ones as roomy as the modified X-Jet-- he booted up the laptop and found the file in question. "Basically, there's a really long money trail with between them and three dummy corporations. They all lead to the same owner in the end along with a few others that have been buying things like solar cells and--" here, his wings ruffled with pleasure-- "desert real estate. I'm talking wastelands in the States, Africa, the Middle East, places that would cost an arm and a leg to make liveable."
"And there's nothing built on them," Scott deduced.
"Nope. Some properties were bought as long as forty years ago and there's still nothing. It just passed by everyone's radar because, well, they're really dumb places to buy land. The Rub al'Khali, for God's sake! The only things that survive there are bugs."
"So why buy them?" Scott thought aloud.
Warren made a noncommittal noise. "Exactly. Interestingly enough, a sister company to one of these real estate developers is in biotechnology. It's actually been dabbling in it from way back in the beginnings of DNA analysis, the human genome project and up to stem cell and mutation research."
"Those last two are still illegal."
"In the States, they're technically illegal," Warren agreed. "But there are lots of other countries that are more openly flexible. That was why I stayed up until one in the morning for talks with New Delhi. The laboratory I talked to specialised in creating simple tissues, mostly skin for grafts, but they're also experimenting with things like muscle fibres for people who've had major muscle loss through burns or bites, for example."
Scott's head was starting to hurt and not only from the biology refresher. "Okay, following you so far."
"Apparently, there are three companies who've been ordering nothing but proteoglycans. The gel inside eyeballs or between joints for lubrication," Warren explained. "It's used in hospitals to prevent clotting, too."
"And this is strange?"
"On the whole, there isn't really a need for vats of proteoglycans. There's no such thing as whole eye replacements, after all, just corneas. This company buys gallons of this stuff, the equivalent of one fuel truck a month. That's a heck of a lot of eyeball jelly."
Scott's back went cold. "Abandonned real estate and biotechnology equipment." He took a deep breath to push the nausea down. "Shit."
"We have names," Warren rushed to assure him. "The largest company involved -- the main one-- is based in Sweden. The third largest has an outfit in Bulgaria."
"Who's the second?"
Warren's wings shivered again, this time in agitation. "The government of the United States of America."
With one last tug of his tie, Remy told his reflection, "You are kicking ass tonight, my man."
"You betcha you are, sugar." Rogue leaned against the door, a vision in teal with a skirt cut up way up to there and a bodice cut all the way down to there. Her hairclip had all sorts of green-blue feathers hanging off of it, one fluttering over her eyes.
Remy's insides pulled.
She sashayed to his side, her long, pale legs balanced on fuck-me heels with little bows around the ankles that just begged to be unravelled with his mouth. "You're looking so good I really don't feel like sharing you."
"But we're all dressed up already," he offered in token protest.
With a wicked smile on her ruby-red lips, Rogue raised a hand to her left hip and tugged. The entire teal bit of nothingness slipped off her body, leaving her in nothing but shoes, very brief briefs and that damned feather clip still teasing her eye. She was at his side in an instant, yanking his tie down so that he could see every crease in her lips.
Remy pulled her into close-embrace position, their chests touching. Her nipples pebbled against his shirt. "Not interested in tango lessons tonight, I see."
"Screw the tango, sugar." Her very breath kissed him. "I want you to teach me a more horizontal dance." And she-- there was no other word for it-- shimmied against his body.
They danced back to the bed, collapsing back on it. She was light as air on his stomach, her hair coming loose from its bun and falling, mahogany and ivory, on his chest, her breasts soft, alabaster peaches in his hands. When she kissed him, she left ruby all over his mouth and cheeks and neck and jaw.
"I want you, Remy," she said, travelling lower on his torso. "I want your cock in me."
"Jesus Christ," was all Remy could come up with.
"Fuck me hard, Mr. Summers." Her mouth closed over him.
And that was when Remy woke up, hard as fucking granite and disturbed beyond belief. He jumped out of bed and ran into his little ensuite bathroom where he tried to think of someone--anyone-- besides Rogue as he jerked off into the shower. Everyone from Angelina Jolie to Drew Barrymore to Angelina Jolie making out with Drew Barrymore faded back to that mental image of Rogue in heels and red lipstick and oh, shit, he couldn't breathe!
One arm braced against the wall, his whole body stiff, Remy came.
As soon as feeling came back to his body, Remy crawled to the sink where he dragged his body up for a good splash of cold water.
Okay, he had to figure out what the fucking hell just happened. Fantasizing about Rogue was just not right. It was beyond wrong. It was Keee-rist, she called him "Mr. Summers" in the dream.
Remy dunked his whole head in the sink and just let the cold water pour over his head and down his back.
It was just a weird wet dream, he told himself. Lots of people had weird wet dreams. This was Rogue. Rogue was his partner. She was his buddy. He had a feeling she was the only friend he had and he sure as hell didn't want her to turn into a fling.
"A weird wet dream," he told himself as he walked out of the bathroom.
Rogue was still in his room, hands on her hips and popping mad.
Remy gaped, shook his head and gaped some more.
Hold on, this Rogue wore cotton PJs and her hair was in a rough braid not an artfully curled bun.
"Remy, I--" Her words stopped abruptly and turned into a squeal. "Oh, gawd, you're naked!"
Whuh? Remy dove back into the bathroom for a towel, his heart going crazy. An unfamiliar heat rose in his cheeks. Was he could he be blushing? Jesus! What the hell was wrong with him tonight?
Pulling a cigarette in his mouth, he sauntered back out. "Sugarplum, if you wanted to get a bit freaky, you should've warned me first."
"Remy, please, I'm not here to--" She pursed her lips. "What the hell did you get me to steal?" She threw a flat rectangle on the bed. It landed face up. A blonde woman smiled warmly at the ceiling, her cheerleader cuteness still apparent although she had an arm around two little boys.
"It's just a picture," Remy said.
"That's not just a picture," Rogue countered. "That's Mr. Summers' mom."
"Remy, you don't just take things like that! They're... they're precious." She crossed her arms. "You don't take something like it unless you really want to hurt someone."
Remy did the same. "It's just a picture, Stripes. Don't get your panties in a twist."
But she wasn't reacting to the old Remy charm. "Is this part of the little war you're having with your brothers?"
"Jesus, Rogue, it's the middle of the night. Do we really gotta hash this out right--"
Growling, Rogue smacked the bed's footboard. "I am not going to be used again! You wanted to train me, fine, thanks a load for it and I'll even help you find your brother but don't think for one second that I'm going to let you manipulate me into helping you win some sort of family dick-measuring contest."
"That's enough." Remy's vision went bright and he knew that his eyes had flashed.
Rogue drew herself up, filling her lungs with air and maybe courage or righteous indignation. "I thought you were my friend," she threw at him as she ran out the door.
Remy stalked back to his closet of a bathroom to clean up. What did she know, the uppity little-- That, he told himself, was what happened when he let someone get past the shades. They poked and prodded and when they found something they didn't like-- 'cause they always found something they didn't like about Remy-- they couldn't wait to get away.
So he didn't chase after her and told himself that he didn't regret it.