As anal retentive as he might have been, Scott knew, going into the Blackbird, that Jubilee was pissed off at him and Bobby, disappointed. Smacking Logan in the head with the butt of his gun in front of them probably induced that change in attitude. Strangely, he'd found the action highly stress-relieving. Or perhaps not so strangely considering how hard his temple was pounding. Warren was pissed at him too but Scott couldn't quite figure out why nor did he have the time to suss it out. With the two students retrieved, he had to get that Genosha file and think of the next plan of action.
Fury's expression didn't change past "implacable" even with his supposed most wanted felon manacled and caged. He held a CD out to Scott. "Thanks for staying the day to debrief, Cyclops. Here's our end of the deal."
"Thanks," said Scott, all but grabbing the CD. "Everyone in the jet."
Fury lit his cigar and took a long puff. "You keep those kids trained. If I spot them making green mistakes, I'm going to be mighty pissed at you."
Guiltily, Bobby hunched his shoulders while Jubilee tucked her arm around his and stalked towards the Blackbird.
His voice dangerously even, Scott said, "I'll keep that in mind."
"You know, SHIELD could deploy a search for your brother," Fury called out to their backs, "but I'd need you to make good on that Brazil contract."
He hated that he actually paused to think about it. "Not interested," said Scott. "We'll make do with what we have."
"You sure? Brazil's less than an hour away from here on that fancy, illegal jet of yours. I'm sure I can convince the pencil pushers to release a small squad and another plane if you four tag along. Especially since you brought Logan back."
Scott wondered if how many cannons they'd level at him if he flipped Fury the bird. Definitely two, maybe three. Four if Fury was in a bad mood. Really though, in the face of Scott's headache, four cannons sounded heavenly.
"We're not interested," said Warren before Scott could make up his mind about which gesture he should use to say good-bye. "If you want any more deals with the X-Men, Gen. Fury, I suggest a meeting at neutral ground with an army of lawyers."
Fury tapped his cigar. "You don't want to be meeting SHIELD lawyers, son. They make me look like a baby bunny."
Six feet away from the jet and a truly spectacular exit, Scott's commelink rang. Caller ID spat the name "Clifton Trauma Centre" onto the screen. Why would a hospital have his commelink number unless... Scott's other temple pulsed. "Cyclops."
"Before you yell at me, I want a chance to defend myself," said Alex.
The throbbing on either side of his head combined forces to triple his headache. He had painkillers somewhere on his uniform. Searching his pockets, he asked, "What happened?"
"He got shot, that's what happened," said Remy.
"Remy, what-- are you tying up a hospital phone line?"
"No, Alex rigged my cell phone to the landline."
"You're using a cell-phone in a hospital?" Ah, there was his ibuprofen. Scott popped two pills out of the bubble strips and dry-swallowed.
"Focus, asswipes!" Alex barked. "The landscape here is the bullet in my shoulder."
Scott paused as he climbed the ramp into the passenger cabin. "You really got shot?"
Warren's head whipped around. "Who got shot?"
"There's a surprise."
"Who's Alex?" asked Bobby.
"Cyclops' brother," Warren answered Bobby.
Scott held up a hand to quiet the ones in the room. "Not right now, guys."
"I just got shot and you don't want to talk about it, right now?" Alex practically screamed.
"Typical," said Remy. "Worthington's probably giving him head."
"How many brothers does Cyclops have?" asked Bobby.
Warren frowned. "Too many."
Forcibly unlocking his tense jaw muscles, Scott moved away a few feet to pretend he had some privacy. "What happened?"
"Alex thinks he's Fox Mulder," said Remy.
"Just because I'm paranoid, it doesn't mean they're not after me," Alex said, still audibly groggy. "My brothers get kidnapped by a multinational company, my dorm gets bombed and I get shot at--"
Remy snorted. "The way I hear it, you stood in the middle of the road and painted a target on your chest."
"Will someone explain this chronologically without the commentary by Abbot and Costello?" asked Scott.
"Who?" chorused his brothers.
"Just... Small words. Short sentences."
Alex tackled this one. "Sniper. Salem Center Mall. My right arm and left shoulder."
"You didn't try to be a hero, did you?" Before Alex could confirm or deny, Scott continued. "You're not like us, Alex. You can't just jump into situations like that and--"
"Why the hell not?"
"You're not a mutant," Scott said slowly. "You don't have invulnerable skin or a healing factor or, hell, a Kevlar vest. You can and did get hurt--"
He could almost see Alex sitting up off the bed, loaded for bear. "Listen, I may not have any of your so-called gifts but last I checked, I'm still the only one who can hit a bull's eye at forty feet, rapid fire and when we fought in the Danger Room, I whupped your pansy asses even when you were using your powers so where do you get off telling me what I can and can't--"
"Why're you pissed off about this?" Remy demanded. "Three hundred sixty-four days out of the year, you don't like us doing our jobs and now you're complaining 'cause we don't want to drag you into--"
If he had another painkiller, would he still be able to pilot the Blackbird? Scott decided against it, barely. "I'm going to hang up now and call the professor."
He pressed the end button. After a deep breath that did nothing for his headache, he speed-dialled the professor's office.
"I thought I'd hear from you," said the professor with enviable calmness.
"I knew something like this would happen if Alex--" Scott stopped short. Now was not the time to hash this out. Swallowing the rant, he said, "Remy and Alex are confined to school grounds until I come back."
The professor didn't speak for a while. "Scott, I'm not certain that will go over well."
"I don't care what they think; it's for their own good. I'm not going to lose any--" Scott's larynx seized. "Keep them on school grounds until I come back. I just have to follow a lead." More softly, he added, "Please, Professor. I know you'll keep them safe."
The professor sighed. "I'll do what I can."
Warren waited until Scott had tucked his phone back in its case before speaking. "I know that look. You are not going to Brazil."
"No!" Warren's wings snapped out, feathers standing on end as he made a negating gesture. "No, Scott, just... no. No! You're flying the 'Bird back to the school ASAP."
Scott's visor flashed in annoyance. "Warren, they shot Alex."
"And I appreciate that you're concerned but you've had ten hours of sleep total in the past four weeks. You've lost muscle mass and I don't even want to guess what your reflexes are like any more."
Scott zoned him out and headed for the ramp.
"If you go on this mission, you'll compromise yourself and the other SHIELD agents," Warren continued, his tone escalating. "I don't care that much about them but they're the ones holding our back--"
"You're not coming," Scott told him. To the kids, he said, "Buckle up. Angel will fly you both home."
Baffled and concerned, Bobby and Jubilee sat down but kept their attention on the fighting adults.
Warren blocked the exit with a wing. "You're not going on this SHIELD mission, Cyclops."
"Stand aside, Angel."
"No." Warren's voice was just short of shouting. "I've helped you out as much as I can for the past few months but you just find new ways to make things hard on yourself. You're tired, you're stressed, you're still depressed over Jean's death-- you're in no condition to do anything else today. Maybe not for the next week."
"Angel, I'm not going to ask you again. Move aside."
"For God's sake, Scott! Why are you being so goddamn stupid about this?"
Icily, Scott said, "You wouldn't understand; you're not family."
Although his wings drooped, Warren's spine straightened and his features hardened. A hollow ringing reverberated through Scott's ears, echoing the pounding in his head.
"I guess I'm not," said Warren softly.
"Warren, I didn't mean... I was..."
Argh! Scott inwardly kicked himself in the balls. His life needed rewind and erase buttons.
Even though he sounded like a twelve-year-old, Alex maintained that he had a valid point. He just had to convince the professor of that. "Why do I have to stay at home but Remy gets to leave?"
"Because I wasn't stupid enough to get myself shot," Remy said before Xavier could answer.
"To the contrary, Remy shouldn't be allowed to leave either," said Xavier. "However, his contribution to finding Adam requires that he go outside school grounds while you only need full access to our computing systems." He sighed. "Scott, I'm sure, will not like my leniency but short of mentally restraining the both of you until he returns, I know there is no way to keep you confined. I am not mistaken in my belief that you have the best of intentions, I hope."
"Of course, Professor." Remy beamed. "In fact, I have to get to that issue right now so if you'll both excuse me, I've got to get ready." He left but not without winking at Alex first.
"You know he's corrupting Rogue," said Alex.
"I've talked with Remy about his intentions with Rogue," the professor said. "He means her no harm."
"Remy never means anyone harm but it happens anyway," Alex groused. "He just knows exactly how to weasel his way into looking clean as fallen snow. Did you see they way he was all buddy-buddy with those cops? They don't know he's wanted in, like, a frillion different crimes; they freakin' bought him doughnuts!"
Xavier studied him over steepled fingers. "I'm sure you brothers appreciate all the help you've given so far, not only in the current situation but throughout your lives. They may not vocalise their gratitude but it exists."
Rolling his eyes and crossing his arms, Alex said, "I'm not going to go to pieces because they don't pat me on the head."
One of Xavier's eyebrows arched up.
"I don't! I just hate it when they patronize their little baseline brother because I don't have built in weaponry."
"Would you like to be a mutant?"
"Hell no. Life's hard enough as it is." Alex didn't like the way Xavier sometimes just looked through you. It was creepifying. "What?"
"Nothing," said Xavier. "As soon as you're feeling up to it, come by my office. You can use the computer room beside Cerebro to do your research. As undoubtedly excellent as your current technical unit is, Cerebro's mainframe has access to several databases that would otherwise be unavailable to civilians."
"Scott has access to classified information?" Alex twisted his expression into incredulity. "Whoduh thunk it?"
Xavier turned his head to one side. "For someone who doesn't care about his brothers' opinions, you always seem to bring them into the conversation."
"For a school that's supposedly pacifist, you have a shitload of militaristic material," Alex shot back.
Xavier's face tightened and, just as quickly, smoothed out, leaving Alex to wonder if the morphine had played a trick on him.
"Buzz me on the intercom when you're ready," was all the professor said before wheeling out.
In hindsight, Alex reflected, pissing off a powerful telepath wasn't smart. For all he knew, Xavier could mind-meld him into cutting paper dolls for the rest of the day
Doctor's orders kept him in bed until morning when he could get up under the influence of a Tylenol 3. The computer the professor told him about ended up being a nerd's wet dream with six slave monitors and an air conditioner to cool the harddrive. Three of the slave monitors already showed news feeds; the remaining four had star fields zooming out in a rainbow of colours.
Alex stepped in with the solemnity of a seminarian at an altar.
"We usually use this to search for mutant activity," said Xavier as he wheeled to one side. "I can't be in Cerebro all the time, of course, so we have a program that scans for certain keywords in the newscasts."
Alex slid into the chair. An ergonomic chair. Lots of soft bumps and supports. Nice. "Which program?"
Xavier pointed it out on the desktop "I presume you would be able to manipulate the search parameters."
"Give me a few hours," he muttered. Code spanned across the screen. Dude. "And a brain transplant."
"I can give you an assistant," said Xavier. "She's quite good with computers."
"Her first year here, we had to ground her for shunting funds from Microsoft to the school's expense account."
Alex blinked. "Bring her in."
Moonlight and the lamps on the driveway left a ragged square of ivory on the bedroom floor. Remy shifted from one foot to the other, his heart inexplicably palpitating. He didn't like the feeling. Twirling the cigarette between his fingers, he asked, "Come again?"
"You heard me, Gambit. Le Beau Roi ain't too pleased with you." Lapin's voice came through with crystal clear remorse.
"What you going on about, hommes? It's just a job. Skills for info, you know that."
Lapin clicked his teeth. "Boy, you on something? This ain't no ordinary job. This is a revenge pinch. Minute you took this job, you good as handed in your walking papers to New Orleans."
Remy opened his mouth to speak then clamped his lips down again. Stupid Guilds. Stupid heist. Stupid, stupid, stupid Remy. He should've seen this set up from miles away but he'd been so distracted with everything that he'd failed to make the connections. He'd gotten too cocky.
"Le Roi, he's hopping. Wants your head on a platter. Don't think you can ever go back to this city, hommes. Not without your skin intact not to mention a two or three body parts I know you like keeping around for fun."
"Fuck." Remy pressed the balls of his free hand against his forehead. "I put in good work for him, goddammit. Hell, he's the one who told me to ask Ms. Manners for info. What the fuckin' right does he have kicking me out of the city?"
"Right of any Guildmaster according to Law. You crossed a territorial boundary with a revenge pinch. That there's practically the second commandment." Lapin chuckled nervously. "Hope that info was worth your life."
Before he did something even more stupid like yell at his one contact, Remy hung up. He even managed not to throw the damn cell-phone out the window. Stupid Remy. So goddamned stupid.
Okay. Okay. this was still salvageable. He had a reputation and skills to back it up. He wouldn't have to start at the bottom again. This was going to be a lateral type of movement, goddammit.
The curtains flew open. Remy saw Rogue stick her head in, her eyes adjusting to the darkness of his room, before she spoke. "Wake up call."
He waved at her, hoping the smile didn't look as forced as it felt. "Hello there, Stripes. Mighty nice night to practice a little crime, ain't it?"
"I wanted to give you something," she blurted out. "I know it's too late for your birthday and too early for Christmas but I wasn't sure what to give you back then and I think it might be kind of dumb so if it is just tell me and I can return it or something or get you cologne for Christmas instead 'cause I think I remember you telling me you were running out and anyway, you shouldn't have to keep a stupid present just because you opened it in front of a bunch of people so here it is." She shoved a paper bag at him.
"You suddenly developed a second mutation, Peaches?" At her puzzled silence, he explained, "You talked five minutes straight without breathing. That's got to be something new."
"Just open the freakin' present, Remy."
"Hang on a sec, I need some air. Let me get out there and open it." He snagged a fitted black sweater hanging on the bed's footboard and yanked it over his black tee. Then, he pulled himself up on the roof where Rogue crouched, her present balanced on her lap.
"You're totally under no obligation to keep this," she said. "And if you lie to me and tell me that you like it even though you don't, I'm gonna go Wolverine on you."
"You're going to get a bad haircut and smoke fake Cubans?" He grinned, his teeth brilliant white in the waning moon.
She thumped his shoulder. "Just open it already."
"All right, Peaches." He reached inside the bag and drew out a heavy mass of sepia leather. "What's this?" Remy stood and shook the mass open. It unravelled into a trenchcoat-- supple, a bit worn around the edges but still serviceable.
"You know how you were saying that you get cold all the time because your body's always charging things off-hand?" Rogue stood as well, a little shakier. "I saw this when I was in the city going through the second-hand stores with Kitty and I thought it was perfect 'cause it's a little like those old Western dusters so now you can honestly say you're a Browncoat. It's got this really warm lining but it's still kinda light. And I sewed these little pockets on the inside for your cards and lockpicks and stuff."
Remy silently held the jacket at arm's length. Something sparkled in his guts.
Rogue wilted. "I know, it was stupid. You could probably buy a better one, a newer one and I should just--"
"It's not stupid," said Remy.
"No, it's not," Remy said firmly. He twirled the coat around his shoulders, slipping his arms in the sleeves with the ease of familiarity. The cut fit well around his torso; not too tight but with enough of a bias to please his finicky eye for detail. He smoothed the thick lapels around his neck then followed their line down to his waist pockets which led to an investigation of the inner pockets. There must've been half a dozen of them-- room for his cards, his set, a few loops for other tools and knives.
"What do you think?" He spread his arms. "Do I look just about ready to smuggle cows into some podunk planet?"
Rogue smiled. "It looks great on you. Peacock."
"I never would've found one like it," he said. "Wouldn't've thought of it at all." He ruffled her hair. "Thanks, Sugarplum. Best present I ever got."
"You're welcome." Rogue's smile transformed into a full-out beam as she stuck her hand out for a shake.
"What's shakin' hands bullshit?" Remy said, mockingly affronted. "C'mere and give me a hug, Stripes."
"Not on the roof!" Rogue squawked. "I'll fall then you'll fall and I'm not strong enough to carry yo--aaawwwk!"
Remy caught her up, wrapping her in the coat and leaving only the top of her head uncovered. "For waking me up at five in the goddamned morning, you're getting a classic noogie."
"Remy!" She punched his stomach but he had tensed those muscles precisely for the possibility. "Get off! You were already awake and this coat hasn't been washed."
"Oh, so you woke me up at five in the goddamned morning and you're sticking me with a cleaning bill. Death is too good for the likes of you."
"Remy!" Rogue wormed her way out of the coat, her head finally popping up just under the collar just as Remy was lowering his body to get a better grip on her. His mouth cracked against her forehead.
Rogue rubbed her forehead; Remy, his teeth. For half a second, he felt a niggle of... something. Embarrassment? Expectation? Something terrifyingly familiar that pulled his gaze-- hell, his entire body!-- forward, closer to Rogue.
"I know I got morning breath but that's no reason to headbutt me," said Remy, trying to shake the mood off.
Much to his disgust, her open smile only tugged at him more. "You don't know how bad your morning breath is. Stale spit and stale cigarette smoke. Bleuch!"
"Well, if someone hadn't woken me up at five in the goddamned--"
"You asked for a wake-up call!"
He let go but couldn't quite bear to completely lose contact so he "So I did." Critically, he eyed her, not her outfit so much as her expression. Controlled excitement danced in every pore of her body. Remy smiled, his problem with the Guilds momentary forgotten.