Panthalassa in New York City didn't have celebrities. It didn't need extra security for paparazzi. It barely made the top twenty clubs in Manhattan. Nevertheless, people who knew about it always packed the dance floor and the public never knew that those people were just as powerful as the old-moneyed politicians and the latest Hollywood darling.
Remy straightened his collar as he wove through the crowd to the bar. The blueprints they'd pinched the other night burned a hole through the safe deposit box in Downtown Manhattan. The sooner he could get the other half from Ms. Manners, the sooner he could figure out the mess he'd made of this whole damn deal and the sooner he could get drunk.
Catching the bartender's eye, he ordered a dirty martini for himself and a virgin mai-tai for Rogue. The bartender grinned. "I've got a stack of phone numbers for jobs and another stack for dates; which one do you want first?"
"I've got some of my own business tonight," said Remy. "Don't think I'll be able to make calls in either department but I'll give 'em a read."
"Business. Right." The bartender jerked his chin at Rogue who gyrated by herself in the middle of the dance floor as The Pussycat Dolls wondered if your girlfriend was raw like them. Catching his eye, Rogue rolled her eyes and stuck her tongue out, twisting lithely as she traced the S-curve of her body. "So the squeaky clean Gambit finally gets his fingers wet in that type of merchandise."
Remy felt an inexplicable desire to charge the man's teeth then shove them down his throat. "I don't. She's my apprentice."
He rolled his eyes. "Your apprentice. Right. I bet I know what happens for punishm-- urrrk!"
Remy had reached over the countertop and yanked the idiot's tie, his trenchcoat tipping over a trio of expensive frou-frou cocktails. "My. Apprentice."
"Yeah, sure," gasped the bartender. "Apprentice."
"Anyone say any different, I'll charge their nut-hairs, got it?" He swept the bar with a naked-eyed glare, making sure everyone could see the red glow in his eyes.
Message duly delivered, he wove back into the sweaty mess of bodies on the dance floor. Some of the confusion stemmed from Rogue's adopted persona. She had a big-eyed, innocent look perfect for blending in with the crowd and catching snippets of conversation. It helped that she was covered from the neck down; most women here wore less than two feet square of material. Her dark clothes absorbed much of the coloured lights with only the onyx beading at the neckline and hem sending off a hint of colour.
Still, a few people looked. Remy ended their slavering by partnering up with her before they could.
"Thanks," said Rogue. "That guy in the pinstripes didn't quite understand what I meant when I turned my back on him."
"Want me to kill him?" Remy asked casually.
She studied his expression, unable to gauge his sincerity. To be honest, Remy wasn't so sure himself. The idea of Rogue kissing anyone, even Bobby, made his stomach burn.
"If you kill him, we'll draw attention to ourselves," she said in the end.
Remy sighed. "Next time I guess. Start paying real good attention. The game's about to start and you're getting graded on this."
"Bullshit. You haven't graded me yet."
"Making me look bad on a public dance floor should result in a fail somewhere. Or," Remy scrunched his nose up thoughtfully, "maybe a really creative A. It's real hard to make me look bad."
Rogue thwapped him on the shoulder. "Egomaniac."
"Only to hide my soft, creamy centre."
A smile curled up despite her narrowed eyes, Rogue said, "I'll tell you what you can do with your soft, creamy centre."
Remy wagged his head. As song's vocalist worked towards the crescendo, he picked up the beat, whipping Rogue into several spins before pressing up to her back. His breath caught but he convinced himself it was because her arm dug a little too hard in his side. He intended to say "Now, now, Sugarplum. No matter how irresistible I am, you've got a boyfriend" but as he leaned down to yell in her ear, he caught scent of her.
Peaches. Jesus wept, she smelled like peaches. Why'd she go and slather herself in his favourite flavour?
He found his hands sliding down to cup the flare of her hips. She hooked one arm around his neck and curled her fingers around his, her head dropping back to rest on his shoulder, their rhumba morphing into something considerably more intimate.
A lady beside him sniffed jealously, muttering to her partner about needing more practice. Remy jolted out of the peach-coloured dream. Taking Rogue's hand, he twirled her out at a safe arm's length. "We almost turned that into a daytime soap."
"As opposed to a prime-time one?" She promenaded in a circle around him, arching her back dramatically and pointing her toes.
Leading her lightly around the waist, Remy said, "Well, those do have more nudity."
Rogue hit him again, this time across the side of his head. "If I didn't know you were kidding ninety percent of the time, you'd seriously be in deep shit by now."
"You wound me, Peaches." He pulled her close and she let her head tilt back, falling with calculated limpness to her knees before he yanked her back up again. "I only kid seventy-five percent of the time."
Taking three steps away, hips swinging, Rogue turned on her toes and waited for him to come. "Should I be telling on you then?"
"Only if you never want to finish this job." As he stalked towards her, he made a twisting motion with his wrist. A rosebud appeared between his middle and ring fingers. "Ready?"
She almost ducked behind her bangs, a sure sign of nerves, but at the last second, she threw her shoulders back instead. If they weren't on a job, Remy would have applauded.
Tucking the rose behind Rogue's ear, Remy took her gloved hand and retreated to a table behind thick green and gold curtains. Two bodyguards stepped forward. Remy shed the trenchcoat then held his arms out to his sides for a frisking. Rogue did the same; only Remy saw how nervous they made her, impersonal as their touch was. Oddly, he felt pleased; she was trusted him enough to be at ease with his hands but not others. The next moment, he dismissed the emotion; he had to concentrate on Adam and finding information about him.
A well-coiffed if rather skinny man in a pinstriped suit and a cravat pushed aside the drapes that separated Ms. Manners' table. "I'm Courier, Ms. Manners' assistant. You must be Gambit and..." He raised an eyebrow at Rogue.
"My apprentice, Rogue," said Remy, pulling his coat back on.
With a sigh, Remy asked, "Why does everyone say it like that?"
"Gambit, buddy, you're the most requested member side of the Mason-Dixon line and if you hired out as a gigolo, you'd get paid just as much. When you come waltzing in a prime club with someone as vanilla as that one--" Courier dipped his chin in Rogue's direction-- "the first thing one everyone's mind is that you're trying a new flavour of ass."
Rogue stiffened, starting to protest "He's not a--" and Remy had to yank at her sleeve to keep her quiet.
"Also, she's not a registered Jewel," Courier said.
Remy said. "We've been training for the past four months."
Courier stared her up. "She doesn't look like much."
"Mais yeah, she cleans up nice."
"She is still in the room," said Rogue, a little more peevishly. Remy raised a brow at her and she ducked, murmuring, "Sorry, sir, but one minute it's an honour to be apprenticed to you and the next I'm some invisible bimbo. That's not what I signed up for."
Courier cracked a smile. "Oh, I like you, little Jewel. You remind me of the boss. Have a seat, you two. Ms. Manners will let us know when we're needed."
A passing server dropped off a bottle of wine and three glasses. The guard poured for them all; considering the type of business around here, underage drinking was the least of the crimes.
"So, little Jewel," Courier said as he swished his wine around in the glass, "How're you liking training with this guy?"
Remy quaffed his drink, hoping Rogue could hold up to this.
"It's adequate," was what she said.
"Adequate?" Courier studied Remy from the corner of his eye. "Training with one of the best Lefts in the Guilds is merely adequate?"
"He says I'm not ready for any big jobs," said Rogue. "I find that situation inadequate."
Courier laughed, eliciting a small reaction from the bodyguards this time. "I'm going to have to watch out for you, little Jewel. Gambit, if you don't name her, I'll be-- oh, that's you." He laid a hand on Rogue's arm as she stood to follow Remy. "The Jewel stays with us out here."
Touching Rogue's shoulder briefly, Remy stood. Nothing unexpected so far. She could steal a few more memories while he talked with the Guildmaster. The Courier's memories should have juicy information.
The guard waved him through as soon as Rogue was out of sight. "Your table is the second one from the right of the bar."
To Remy's surprise, Ms. Manners was, in fact, a woman. In the old-fashioned, macho world of organized crime, women were beloved treasures at best and abused belongings at worst. The woman at the table was no fresh lily. Although her make-up was exquisitely applied and her hair sedately golden brown, she had visible lines bracketing her mouth and eyes. Not that they deviated from her power; she wore her dress like a queen. She nodded at them, a hand briefly touching her ear where she undoubtedly heard the conversation that had just taken place in the antechamber through an earpiece.
"Ms. Manners." Remy performed the archaic courtly bow-- one leg stretched forward, one hand over his heart and the other flourished before him.
"Gambit." She inclined her heard. "Spat didn't say anything about an apprentice."
Remy nodded in the same supercilious manner. "I didn't tell her."
"I spoke with Le Beau Roi just a few days ago," she continued, referring to the Guildmasters of the south. "He didn't say anything about an apprentice either."
"Really?" To be fair, Remy had only hinted to his boss about Rogue. No sense in getting her too deep into it until she had a chance to wet her feet in the business, so to speak.
Ms. Manners pushed a portable screen towards him. A camera tracked Rogue's conversation with Courier. Thankfully, she performed wonderfully, choosing not to reveal her powers in close quarters and keeping the conversation light. "What's her name? What can she do?"
"Rogue. She's going to be one of the best cat-burglars you ever seen."
Ms. Manners laughed aloud. Apparently, it didn't happen often; the guards had their hands on their weapons as the first crackling syllables hit the air. "Why, Gambit, I wouldn't have expected you to choose someone like her as an apprentice. A girlfriend, even a long-time mistress--" she eyed Rogue's outfit critically, "-- but certainly not a Jewel."
"You'll notice, ma'am, that she's a Jewel in every way possible," said Remy diplomatically even though he really, really wanted to comment on her age as a retort.
Calming. Down. He had to stay cool if he wanted his way.
"How long have you been training?"
"Four months." They'd agreed to stick as close to the facts as possible. Remy didn't know how far the Guildmasters of the East Coast could reach but they certainly would be able to follow one skunk-haired girl into a private school in upstate New York.
"And how are you finding it?" Ms. Manners continued, sounding like a high school guidance counsellor.
Remy thought on the question. "I'm beginning to see why my trainer was bald."
Ms. Manners cackled again. "I've heard stories about you, Gambit. In a fair world, you're going to suffer the same fate as him. Now, to business."
"First, a gift. My thanks in advance for all of your help, ma'am." He held out a small brown box, roughly the size of a cell phone.
One of Ms. Manners' guards took the box, scanned it for threats, then opened the lid. Inside were three lumps of bluish crystals, each roughly the diameter of a dime, slightly cloudy and cold to the touch.
"Blue diamonds," said the Guildmaster admiringly. "You flatter most convincingly, Gambit."
He only smiled.
"Three blue diamonds and a revenge heist. I didn't know you were so eager to work for me." Setting the box aside, Ms. Manners folded her hands on the table.
"Don't play stupid, Gambit; it doesn't suit you. There are grudges, there are lessons and there are politics. I didn't get to be Guildmaster here without knowing how to balance the three."
"Ma'am, I do appreciate this great favour you've done for me and Le Beau Roi so--"
"Le Beau Roi no longer has need of you," Ms. Manners interrupted. She flicked her fingers and made a thin red envelope appear out of thin air. "He has released you into the East Coast to whatever capacity we need you." She smiled ferally.
In that instant, Remy felt the cage door creak behind him. The price for Adam's freedom was settled: a switch in guilds that meant proving himself all over again, clawing for a place in a new hierarchy and years to go before he could even think about freelancing. Ms. Manners, unlike her New Orleans counterpart, didn't see him as a favourite son, only as a fine tool for her collection.
Then again, it meant having Adam home.
"Thank you for your support, ma'am," he said, forcing a charming smile on his lips. "I'm always at your beck and call."
"You certainly are. I'll call on Le Beau Roi for your records and assets tomorrow morning then we'll talk about terms."
Stiffer than usual, Remy excused himself from the table and collected a wide-eyed Rogue. She almost asked but something in his body language must have given his temper away. Bowing quickly to Courier, she scampered to his side.
"Dance with me," he ordered as soon as they stepped into the common room.
She laid a hand on his shoulder. "Remy?"
"Just dance with me, Sugarplum."
Biting her lower lip, Rogue slipped her arms up under his so that her palms lay flat on his shoulder blades. With her tucked perfectly in his arms, Remy swayed slowly to a rock song.
Alex crashed into the great room just as Scott charged in from the hangar still in his leathers. "Scott, I've got--"
"Not right now, Alex," he said. "I've got a lead on Adam's--"
"So've I and it's better than yours." Scott didn't pause so neither did Alex. "There's some seriously weird shit following Dad around. That biotech company in your files is actually connected to this investment group that Remy found."
"Who gave you permission to go through my files?" Scott demanded, finally pausing to throw Alex a glare.
"Xavier," he shot back. "Straight from Daddy Warbucks himself. So listen up unless you want to be grounded for a month."
Scott rubbed his temples. "Fine. I'd be happy to. Just give me a few minutes to get my things together."
"Dude, we don't have time to gather things together! I'm talking totally crazy acid trip of a conspiracy here the likes of which would obsess Chris Carter and the writing team of 'Lost' all at the same time!"
Leaning his knuckles on the desk, Scott visibly swallowed, took a deep breath and swallowed again. "Okay. Show me this conclusion."
Alex had just spread his papers out on the desk when Remy strolled in, twirling a cardboard tube. "I know where Adam is."
"Take a number," said Scott.
Remy smacked the roll on the desk, sending a few of Alex's papers flying.
"Hey!" Alex squawked.
"We'll get to you in a second, Fabio. Scotty, take a look at these blueprints." Remy unrolled five large sheets on the desk, improvising paperweights to hold the ends down. "It's a place in Genosha that my contacts say--"
"What would the Thieves' Guild know about Genosha?" asked Scott.
Remy gave him what could only be a patronizing look and if Scott had the energy, he'd zap it off. "If it's illegal, the Guilds know about it and, Scotty, big brother, this place is steeped in it."
"Rather like your dick," said Alex cheerfully.
"You've been obsessed with dicks from a young age," Remy said. "Are you trying to tell us something? Is the gym actually more than a place where you pump iron? Maybe you pump something a little more."
"I was just referring to the fact that you smell like alcohol and weed when Xavier said you were just taking Rogue out on some training exercises. In the middle of the night. Wearing a silk shirt and designer leather shoes." Alex bared his teeth. It could have been a smile if lions smiled before going for the throat. "Exactly how did you exercise her, hmm?"
"I'm going to beat the--" Remy launched himself at Alex's midsection.
Scott blasted them both. His finger might have accidentally-on-purpose stayed on the switch for too long. "I'd been under the impression that you both had something worth while to contribute but apparently, I was mistaken. If you'll excuse me, I'll be in the council room trying to look for Adam."
"That's such bullshit!" Remy yelled. "You've been too busy with your precious students and crying in Worthington's three-piece suit to look for Adam."
"Some of us prefer to use legal means to obtain information," said Scott.
"And some of us actually try to get things done."
"I don't see Adam around, do you? Or are you saying you've managed to steal him back from here?" Scott tapped the blueprints. "If you really wanted to help, you'd get out of the way and let me do my job."
Remy slapped his arm away from the desk. "And if you took some time out from being Cyclops, Fearless Leader of the X-Men, maybe I wouldn't have to sneak around behind you to get things done."
"And if you both just listened to me to begin with, we could've pooled our energies instead of running around like idiots with different parts of the puzzle." Adam had to put in.
"You want to contribute? Fine." Scott gathered the notes, the blueprints and the manila folders in his arms. "Let's go to the council room and contribute."
Unfortunately, in order to get to a sub-basement elevator, Scott had to cross the great room again where Bobby and Warren swapped gripes, Jubilee cracked her gum in annoyance and Rogue--
"What are you wearing?" Scott blurted out, unable to help himself. Her outfit didn't show much skin but it might as well have been black paint! And where the hell did she get fuck-me red lipstick? The same store that sold red stiletto boots?
She looked down at herself. "I... we had to go clubbing."
"You had to go clubbing," Alex repeated with a lot more irony. "I wasn't aware Hoochie 101 was an elective around here."
Remy smacked a hand against Alex's chest. "Shut your mouth or I shut it for you." His face softened; Scott's went stiff. "She looks fine."
"Were you drinking?" asked Scott.
"No," both Rogue and Remy answered too quickly.
Scott caught the confused look that Bobby bounced between Remy and Rogue. Jubilee glared at Bobby as he swung his head between the two. Wonderful. As if he didn't have enough to worry about teenage relationship drama had to be added to the mix. He reached for his ibuprofen only to remember that his arms were full of papers. "Council room. We need to get to the council room."
He'd barely taken a step in that direction when David entered carrying an unconscious student. "Is now a bad time to ask what the usual punishment is for psychic bullying?"
"The professor," Scott said. He was going to crack. He needed to get to the council room before he cracked. The split would start right above his left eye and tear down his skull, through his nasal passages, continue to his chest and end between his balls. The plan wasn't his only concern; he had an extra bottle of painkillers down there.
Alex took the table over once they reached the room. Snatching his papers from the disorganized sheaf in Scott's hands, he laid them out in the same order as in Scott's office. "Here's what I figure. Somebody named Michael Milbury or Michael Essex or Nathaniel Milbury or Nathaniel Essex or any other combination of those names--"
"Essex Milbury would make me want to join an eighties hair-band," said Remy under his breath.
"-- is deeply obsessed with eugenics," Alex continued, without so much as a glare, amazingly. "Because it's been outlawed pretty much all over the world, he's doing his experiments in a lab on the island, Genosha. All of these companies--" he tapped half a dozen sheets-- "are investors and these--" he picked out the remaining sheets-- "are the false front companies for supplies and stuff. I don't know how far he's gotten on the actual practical side but I think he's trying to go for, like the ultimate human."
"Blond, blue-eyed, six feet tall and square of jaw?" Remy smirked and glanced in Warren's direction.
"I don't know," said Alex. "But I think he's got a wider scope. Why go for plain old Aryans when you can have Aryan mutants?"
"That has to be an oxymoron," said Scott.
"I haven't even gotten to the weird part." Alex held up the DNA sequences that Hank had given him. "Remember those semen samples that the Guild gave you, Remy? Well, they're Dad's."
Remy went pale. "I think I just threw up a little in my mouth."
"But Hank also said that with the amount of degeneration in the sample, it's got to be at least thirty years old. Now look at this." He hopped to the other side of the table and held up a personnel file. "One Michael Milbury was the delivering doctor for Katherine Summers on November 12, 1980. My birthday, Scott."
"You said that he told you he delivered you," said Scott.
"Yeah, but that's just the beginning of the point." Alex held four fingers up. "One, he's got a thirty-year-old semen sample from way before DNA was used for criminal identification. The only reason to preserve semen back then was for in vitro fertilisation which was only starting off. Two, the same company that had the semen sample is connected to Genosha. Three, one of Milbury's aliases shows up on the employment records in GDA, an investment firm in Europe. Four, Milbury delivered me, thereby having access to Dad's genetic material. Five, you just told me that SHIELD said Adam's on Genosha." He threw his hands up in the air. "It's so obvious that there's some weird conspiracy to take our DNA to help make this eugenics thing work."
"Aside from the fact that your theory is completely crazy," said Remy, "you also sound frickin' egotistical. Our DNA will help make the perfect race? Come on!"
"Well, maybe not yours," Alex retorted snidely.
"No jury on earth would convict me," Remy muttered, charging a coin.
Scott decided to skip painkillers and go straight for decapitation as a way to relieve his headache. "With the knowledge I have in my disposal, I can see some connections in your proposal, Alex and I do appreciate the work that you put into it but it's just--" He pursed his lips, searching for the proper word.
"Batshit insane?" Remy suggested.
"Yeah, that works."
Alex crossed his arms. "What are you two more pissed off at: that I figured this out by myself or that I haven't fucked up my life as much as you two've managed to in the past few months?"
"Up yours with a flaming pogo stick," said Remy at the same time that Scott said, "That has nothing to do with this conference."
"It has everything to do with this conference!" Alex yelled, his good arm windmilling. "There's some weirdo mad scientist stalking our family who threw a bomb--"
"--into your dorm room and shot you," his brothers ended.
"Well, he did."
"I'll take your movie proposal in consideration," Scott said. "You're excused, Alex. And Remy, when I'm done, I want to talk to you about Rogue's training."
"That's it?" Alex exclaimed.
Scott closed his eyes and counted to ten. "Alex, please. Later."
"I hope the uniform gives you a scrotal yeast infection," Alex snarled, punching the doorway as he stormed out.
One eyebrow quirked, Remy drawled, "Smoothly handled, Fearless Leader."
"Out, Remy." Scott pointed to the door.
With a snort and a shake of his head, Remy followed Alex out. "Woof."
As soon as the room emptied, Scott threw back another two pills. Jesus ever-loving Christ, he had a headache.