Normally, Scott wouldn't be this blunt but he was seeing a little too much of this conference room lately. The fact that it was almost full time with the trainees present compounded his bad temper. He was sending kids on missions for God's sake when he was supposed to keep them in a safe environment. The one kid who wasn't present was injured. Remembering the reason for Rogue's absence layered a sharp sheet of ice on his temper.
"How do we know he's telling the truth?" he asked in his sternest tones.
"I scanned his mind," said the professor. "I didn't sense anything wrong besides the neural interference chip."
"He could be telepathic, too. Or have had a telepath mess with his head."
"If you say that, you have to admit that the conspiracy that he's talking about is at least true," said Alex.
Nonplussed, Scott said, "What are you doing out of bed? Aren't you still recovering from a bullet wound?"
"Aren't you supposed to be exploring every avenue to find Adam?"
Scott crossed his arms and leaned back, a pose that Alex and Remy matched unconsciously. "Okay, so there's an African island where some modern day Dr. Moreau is trying to clone mutants."
"Has cloned mutants," said the boy who called himself Gav. He had his hands cupped around a mug of chicken soup, his third in the past hour. "I am one I believe. Have not seen others but likely is." He shook his head and corrected himself. "It is likely."
"And that's the other thing: how can we trust his information when he's clearly suffering some sort of technologically-induced aphasia? He could lead us straight into the laundry chute for all we know."
"If Xavier takes care of the aphasia, I can make a plan," said Remy.
"Why're you being such a pussy about this, One-Eye?" Logan wanted to know.
"Because I'm not sending us into another mission unprepared," Scott snapped.
Thankfully, Logan couldn't find a comeback for that. Alex, however, wasn't as wise. "So you're going to spend a frillion years preparing?"
"Can someone strap him back to bed before his arm goes gangrenous?" Scott asked the room in general.
"It's just a flesh wound."
Alex just didn't know when to shut up and stop being a macho asshole. Scott unclenched his jaw. It wasn't easy. "And you know a lot about flesh-wounds because?"
"Perhaps Alex can help prep the jet," the professor intruded. "With Rogue ill, you'll need another hand at the hangar."
"Fine. You're flight crew. Now get to the medlab."
All that time Gav had swung his gaze between the two brothers like a spectator at a tennis match. "This is why Adam talks so much," he said to himself. His expression was that of content knowledge, one that Scott recognized on his own face after solving a particularly difficult equation.
"That proves it," said Remy. "He really does know Adam."
He almost teased a smile from Scott. "Okay, we're going on the assumption that everything we have so far is accurate. Remy, how dirty are we talking about?"
"It'll get us in but I don't know about getting out," said Remy. "Those defence systems he was talking about are more for confinement. It's not a one-man job."
"I don't care if you have to bring in an army of Guild members to do it. If you get stuck, there's someone on my contact list named Forge. He can build anything out of nothing but use him sparingly."
Remy saluted. "It's going to take a while."
"You have fourteen days max. If you can't figure something out in that time, you can't be as loaded as you seem to be."
Carefully, almost genially, Remy flipped him the bird. "What're you going to do?"
"What I do best, Pinky. You said you can get us in. I'm going to make sure that everyone gets out alive." Scott faced the wall of blueprints. He needed a calculator, a notepad and U2. It was time to strategize.
Gav bounded over and embraced Adam before Adam could get out a coherent thought. Strangely, once that first thought grappled out of his grey matter, it ended up being "Wow, he's dressed!" instead of "Gav's alive!"
That was a sure sign that something was up.
Adam let the embrace go on although he couldn't return it just yet. Something was so off.
"I am pleased that you passed the test," said Gav, drawing back just the slightest bit, rather oblivious to Adam's stiffness. Only seven inches of Adam was ever stiff around Gav; that he didn't notice was yet another indicator of wrong.
Well, okay, maybe six inches.
"I, uh, what test?"
"Dr. Essex's test for the elite troops. Only one in a hundred is culled from the pens and you--" Gav squeezed his arm-- "have been assigned on my team."
"Great." Adam was going to be on Team Stepford. Next thing Gav was going to tell him was that he'd have to wear leather and Kevlar like Scott. "Uh, does anyone else care here if I raise a giant W-T-F sign? 'Cause the weird officially started with the maggots eating my legs. I mean, the whole Matrix-slash-Gladiator thing was bizarre, yes, but this is Lime Coke weird. The same weird with an all new flavour and I'm the kind of person who thought that they should have stopped at cherry, y'know?"
Essex consulted a stopwatch-- who used stopwatches any more?-- from his coat pocket. "Unfortunately, I have somewhere else to be at the moment. DRA7, if you would be so kind as to fill our new recruit in?"
Gav saluted. "At once, sir." He beamed down at Adam as soon as the doors closed.
Adam did his best not to recoil. "So, Gav." He tried and failed to sit up again "A little help?"
"But of course!" Gav hopped to the task, giving support at Adam's right. Gav never hopped to a task. "They tranquilizers were for your protection," continued Creepy-Gav as he adjusted something on the IV "Dr. Essex feared that, in a moment of confusion, you might attempt to leave the clinic and do further injury to yourself."
"Yeah, wouldn't want to upstage those security goons they sent after us."
"You are still confused."
Pulling on his best Valley face, Adam said, "Yuh-huh."
His eyes widened for real when Gav trailed one hand down his uninjured leg. The free hand traced his hip bone and no matter how weird the vibes he was giving off, Adam's body couldn't help but respond.
"It is quite simple." Gav let his fingers lightly trace the sinewy outlines of Adam's quadriceps. "We are, all of us, superior beings, chosen by Dr. Essex as the next evolutionary step in mankind."
"So you weren't grown in a tank?"
"Indeed, I was. But my genetic matter was chosen first. That is why unlike many other mutants, I have multiple mutations. I am stronger, my muscles more dense, my bones stronger and yet more flexible."
The blanket went. Gav angled across Adam's body to pull the rest of it off, his elbow brushing Adam's semi.
"I can heal. My sense of balance in unparalleled. I can understand any language within a week and most writing in less than a month. And, should those fail to impress, I can conduct bio-energy through any material I so choose."
His nails dug into Adam's leg, the injured one of course. Adam tensed up, knowing what was coming next. A powerful shockwave shot up his leg, stealing his breath away. Arching off the bed, he gagged on a scream.
Next thing he knew, Gav's mouth was on his and there was a hand around his dick and this was so very, very wrong but his body didn't want to listen because, Jesus Christ, this guy knew how to give a hand job and those seven-or-maybe-six inches were the only parts of his body that didn't have a bone that felt like shattering.
Adam came with a sob, swinging his arm out to sock Gav on the jaw. "Fuck you!"
One of Gav's eyebrows rose. "That was the general idea."
He sat up, wanting something to wipe himself with. Like maybe a Lysol pad. "What happened to sacrificing yourself for a thousand people? Or freedom from our oppressors?"
"That was part of the test," said Gav. "We had to ensure that you could work as a team, keep your discretion and complete the mission. I brought you clothing."
"You keep moving your mouth but all I hear is blah-blah-blah." Adam settled for wiping his nose. "How do I know this isn't another sick joke? Like, maybe an extended version of one of the Pen games?"
Shrugging lightly, Gav said, "You do not. You must trust my word."
"Comforting." Yanking at his new pants, Adam said, "Trust the guy who admitted he was using me for my connections, abandoned me in the face of the enemy and just now also admitted that he was on the other team all along? Totally not the kind of stuff to build trust on, y'know?"
"But, lie or truth, answer me this: Where else can we be together?" He leaned back down, resting his arms on the bed, his hands millimetres from Adam's leg. Flicking an ankle strap away, he met Adam's eyes.
Shit, he had pretty eyes.
The chairs in the council room barely slunk into the definition of "ergonomic." There was absolutely no reason for Remy to play Clock there for over an hour besides the fact that the medlab lay six steps from the door. Nothing short of death could drag Remy into a hospital which was why the medlab's insistent pull on his gut scared the living shit out of him. He'd successfully kept away all day on the excuse of finishing up the Genosha job. This was partially true at least.
The current card layout let him down; Remy gathered all the cards together, one stack at a time and shuffled them with the expertise of a Las Vegas dealer. The plastic-coated bits of paper snapped, like little slaps against his hands. He cut the deck, performed several perfect faro shuffles, cut it again and dealt a new game. The odds of winning were in the mid-hundreds. Coincidentally, those were the same odds Remy had of getting out of this predicament with his skin intact.
Copies of the Genoshan laboratory lay under the card game. Five different ink colours marked the diagram where Remy noted security devices. Red self-adhesive tabs marked the guards' barracks and common areas. Green ones tagged the exits. The number of red tags vastly out-numbered the green.
His gaze flickered to the door for the fortieth time. He could do this. He could go through that door and not see Rogue's lips nearly blue with lack of oxygen. He could hear the ECG machine without hearing echoes of Rogue's sobs. He wasn't going to shake.
With the cards tucked in one of his coat pockets, Remy stood and headed for the door. Of course, with the luck that he was having, Worthington would be heading down the same hall at the same time. What was it about old money that they could make everyone else feel like crusted shit on the heels of their Cole Haans?
"Returning to the scene of the crime," Worthington stated.
Wide-eyed, Remy held both hands up. "You got me, Sherlock. How could I ever have thought to get away when you and your long, flowing locks were on the job? Book me now; I can't stand to be around you and your coif without feeling the oppressive weight of--"
"Shut up." Those wings of his could do damage if they were fast enough to actually make contact. Remy smirked as he easily sidestepped the hit.
"Does that mean you don't want to read me my rights?"
Worthington snapped the wing back although they didn't fold completely into a rest position. "You're incapable of giving a shit, aren't you, Remy? There's a girl in there in a coma because you couldn't keep you pants zipped and you're cracking jokes."
"Wait, don't talk for a sec." Remy cocked his head to one side and cupped a hand around one ear. "Yeah, I definitely hear the Our Lady of Sorrows Soundtrack of Woe. This is where you say something up-lifting."
Warren almost growled in disgust.
"Try to use words like 'honour' and 'freedom.' They're huge with the Mayflower crowd right now."
"Suck my dick."
"Thanks. I got it from your dad."
Worthington's fists clenched but he apparently didn't want to wrinkle his shirt too badly. With a shudder-like movement, he tucked his wings flat against his back. "You're disgusting, Remy. You obviously got the worst of Chris Summers in you; no wonder Scott couldn't stand to go home with you around."
Remy's ribs seemed to contract and press against his lungs. Against his heart. "Feathers ain't alive," he said, blandly.
"I can only charge things that ain't alive."
Eyes narrowed, Worthington asked, "Are you threatening me?"
"You know what I think, Kentucky Fried?"
"Wait: you can think?"
"I think you got nothing else in this world except Scott. I don't know if you want to screw him or adopt him but you need him worse than anything in the world so that makes you scared. You hated Jean Grey 'cause suddenly he wasn't hangin' off of every word you said any more and you hate all of us 'cause you're afraid he's gonna remember about family obligation sooner or later."
"I've heard better psychoanalyses at company cocktail parties."
Taking pride in the heightened colour staining Worthington's fake-baked cheeks, Remy continued. "See, I know a lot of people like you from the Guilds. People who always need a sidekick, always need someone on their side yapping 'yessir' and 'nossir' every five seconds."
Plucking one of Worthington's fallen feathers, Remy nudged the molecules enough to make it smoke. "Scotty never forgot about family 'til you came 'round whispering country club nothings in his ear. I think-- no, I know you been saying things against us just so you could wind him a little tighter around your finger."
"All I've ever done is remove the blinders from his eyes," said Warren. His wings remained folded but all the little downy feathers stood, some shivering with emotion. "You're the master of emotional manipulation, Remy. I've seen you at work. You're like a lot of the closers in my company, the necessary sharks who know how to push the right buttons to make people do what you want them to do. I've seen you do it to Scott for years, to the Professor, to every woman that's crossed your path."
"Hardly. All my dates know exactly what they're getting into with me. You? You're like a cuckoo. You trick people into caring then fly merrily away when you've gotten what you want." He nodded towards the medlab. "You want to know about fostering dependency? How about the way you took a girl who'd just lost her mentor and her boyfriend and used her guilt to turn her into your puppy? And then as if that wasn't enough, you fucked her."
Remy's eyes blazed. "You watch how you talk about her."
"What, you weren't aware of her vulnerabilities before you slept with her?"
Remy's paused to swallow-- just to swallow-- but that was all the time Warren needed to come to the right conclusions. Triumph touched his blue-blooded frown and, giving Remy a wide berth, he continued on his way to the medlab.
His eyes still burning, Remy slipped a hand in his pocket and pulled out his cards. Fifty-two laminated slips of paper flipped comfortingly between his hands as he fought to stay icy. He refused to give Worthington the satisfaction of a response. He'd rather make him eat it when this damned lab got cracked.
All his life, airplanes had surrounded Alex but he never took to it the way his brothers did. This particular failing undoubtedly precipitated the majority of the hopeless looks his dad threw Alex's way; it certainly made the few family dinners they'd had pretty damn boring. It wasn't that he couldn't fix planes and cars; he just didn't worship them the way Scott and the others did. Still, Scott didn't have to act so damned surprised when he was showed up at the hangar to prep the Blackbird.
"Are you sure you're up to it?" Scott asked, his eyebrows wrinkling above the bridge of his nose.
"I went to the exact same camo-drenched summer camps as you guys. And unlike Remy, I didn't spend most of it sexing up the female counsellors."
Scott's brow cleared, his expression going blank. Inwardly wincing, Alex reflected that he probably shouldn't have reminded Scott of Remy's nymphomania at this exact moment.
"Take the cockpit," Scott said curtly. "There should be a diagnostics list under the pilot seat. Start with the equipment checklist. I'll let you know when it's time to run the board tests."
"Should I salute?"
"Only if you want to lose fingers."
Maintenance had a zen-like quality to it, almost like group mediation if you had a good team. With Piotr and Scott handling the heavy mechanics, Ororo doing the equipment checks, Kitty on the digital and himself on refueling and light repair, the Bird limped along nicely.
"Rogue usually does all the light repair," Kitty shared. The kid seemed to think he was her mentor or something after all those hours doing research. "I bet Mr. Summers is really choked. She's the only one here as plane crazy as he is and she helped out with the jet all the time." Throwing Alex a sidelong glance from the pilot seat, she asked, "Is it true she's sick 'cause... um, like, can Remy charge things with any part of his body?"
"As far as I can tell, only his hands," replied Alex. "Try to boot up the infrared now."
"Okay." The computer fans whirred enthusiastically as Kitty started up the program. "So you're not sure if he only charges up with his hands? He could charge things with, like, other parts of his body and you might not know it, right?"
Alex stuck his head out from the guts of the co-pilot board. "What did you hear?"
Studiously avoiding his gaze, Kitty said, "I totally don't believe any of it; I just want to have concrete information so I can shoot the rumours down."
"What are the rumours?" At her shrug, Alex said, "I promise I won't beat anyone up. You're all too young anyway; it wouldn't be fair. Except maybe in Piotr's case."
"Well one person said that Remy accidentally charged Rogue up."
"Nope. Remy can't charge anything alive."
"He didn't put a mickey in her hot chocolate?"
"What?" Alex pulled out from under the control board at that. "Who said-- damn, I can't beat-- Remy doesn't use any drugs on anyone. Trust me, he wouldn't."
"He didn't accidentally choke her while playing a bondage game?"
This time Alex sat up. "No. Also, yuck and, in conclusion, barf. Where did you get this?"
"Nothing exists in a vacuum," said Kitty. "In the absence of real information, false ones can and will be created to fill in the void."
"I hope you're not looking to me to fill that gossip void."
Snorting as he ducked back under the control board, Alex said, "And I've got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you."
Kitty made an indecipherable noise.
Innocently handing him a wrench, Kitty also said, "What?"
"What was that 'hmm-nmm' thing you said?"
"Um, a completely incongruous, noncommittal noise for the lack of an appropriate or committed response?"
Alex accepted the wrench warily. "I'd believe it from anybody but you. You've got a quadprocessor for a brain."
"I'm not sure it was a compliment."
"Under the current context, I'll totally take it as one."
"Do you think you can run the infrared again while you're patting yourself on the back?"
"Of course. I'm a quadprocessor, remember?" Kitty tapped out the diagnostic program on the laptop then switched the infrared screens on. "Read outs are steady."
"Good. Let's run the recorder this time to make sure we have decent playback with this view." Alex slid out of his supine position, stretching out his cramped fingers. "If you run into any of the info-void fillers, do them a favour and tell them that sometimes the void should be left alone, okay?"
"Sure." Kitty cocked her head to one side. "I thought you didn't like Remy's thing with Rogue."
"I don't but that doesn't mean I'm going to let some fuck-- uh, let lies spread about him." In a softer tone, he added, "I wish he wouldn't be such an obvious dick, at least."
"Why do you think he's an obvious dick?"
"A long crafted habit carefully moulded to piss Scott off?"
"Maybe. Like, a lot of the kids here who have brothers and sisters say that pissing them off is a full time job."
"I can attest to that."
"Maybe he feels like it's the only thing he has."
"Like, you're this supergenius and Mr. Summers is the perfect eldest child and Adam's the baby. Maybe being hot's the only way he thinks he'll stand out." Kitty made that hmm-nmm noise again. "Y'know, that totally parses."
Alex stared, not quite knowing how to respond. "Does anyone else know how scary you are?"
She tilted her head to one side, all modesty and quiet clout. "They're oblivious. But that's part of my master plan."
The deck walkie coughed out muted static. "Alex, have you seen Gaveedra?" asked Scott.
It took a while for Alex to remember the name. "Haven't seen hide nor hair since this morning when the TV caught him in its tractor beam."
"Find him. We need to cross-reference his information with the SHIELD specs."
"Can I hear a magic word with that?"
"Now." And Scott signed off.
"He sounds totally ticked," said Kitty, glancing between the walkie and the window out to the hangar.
"You kidding? That's Scott's loving voice." Studying the laptop's readouts, Alex said, "Look over the rest of the visual options and then get started on the commelinks. I should be back by then. Oh, and try not to take over the world while I'm gone."