For Adam, seeing Scott collared, naked and bruised was a frillion times worse than being in the tubes himself. Scott was his big brother, the big brother. He was larger than life. When he was little, he was more terrified of Scott than of the principal. His helplessness was so very wrong on so very many levels that Adam didn't quite register Essex's words until Cadre prompted him with a shove.
He looked up at the doctor's face, blinking in confusion. Essex, OR, Scott, SNAFU. Right.
"I asked you what you knew about this," Essex repeated.
"Nothing," said Adam honestly. "I... I thought they'd stopped looking. It's been months right? If they were still looking, they'd've found me earlier."
Essex lowered his chin and did the proper facial movements for a frown. "I suppose you will now attempt to free him."
Shaking his head, Adam said, "No fucking way. He abandoned me first." At Essex's inquiring expression, he kept on babbling. "If you heard anything I said in the third floor or did any research on us at all, you'd know that we're not close. I haven't talked to Scott face to face in years! And when he does visit, it's to haul my ass over stupid things that he's never around to see. He fucking loves his students more than he ever loved me."
Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted Vertigo pretending to play a violin. Adam whirled around, fists clenched.
"Don't make fun of me, skank bag."
Vertigo made a face. "Watch who you're calling a skank, you little gaylo--"
"Ladies and gentlemen!" Essex clapped his hands for attention. "Now is not the time for quarrelling in the ranks. This problem can be solved easily enough." He turned to address Adam. "What is your brother's power?"
"The ability to stick a ten-foot pole up his ass?" Essex's frown lines deepened so Adam answered a little more truthfully, "Some sort of laser thing from his eyes. I don't know a lot about it. He went somewhere to get glasses for it and then suddenly, he was too cool for all of us."
"Hmm, so you would not be opposed to having him undergo the same process that you did?"
"Hell no. Pitch him in the pens as much as you like; it'll do him good to have someone beat him up for a change."
"You showed none of this hostility towards him when you spoke of him during your stay on the third floor."
Adam rolled his eyes. "Look, Gav-- Cadre seemed to want a way out. So I hyped up my brothers' connections. Scott has some military mutant school somewhere and Remy's gangster; they're connections enough to get them here."
"And yet they would not have gone through that effort if you were not important."
Hoo-boy. This was going to stretch his lying capabilities to the max. "I don't know why they tried. Maybe it was Scott's anal-retentive need to be in control of everything he surveys. Maybe Remy's bosses thought a guy who couldn't protect his brother wasn't worth keeping in the family. I don't know why they did it, I don't know why they took so long to do it but I'm not surprised that they fucked up when they did do it. Are we done now or do we have to hash my fucking brothers over again like I've had to do all my life up to this point?"
Cadre snuggled in. Adam didn't think it was out of character to shrug him off; he just couldn't take that right now. "Is this line of questioning necessary, doctor?" asked Cadre. "After all, you have almost all of X-treme's genetic line now. The flatscan brother will be captured easily enough."
Essex hummed. "Time is of the essence. You are all dismissed." He turned his back then, slowly, turned again. "On second thought, there is one thing you can do to quell my doubts."
"What?" asked Adam. "Name it."
"Strap him into the operating table," said Essex. "As long as I have to operate on his injuries, I might as well have a glance at the clockworks, so to speak."
Adam threw up a little bit in his mouth. "Sure," he managed to blurt out with reasonable conviction.
At six foot nothing, Scott was the shortest brother. Adam topped him by a whole inch, a fact that he took pride in. Like Remy, Scott was more lanky than ripped but every pound in his body was muscle. Teaching applications to Mutant High apparently required gorilla wrestling as work experience. Adam had worked out since being carted to the third floor, of course, he had martial arts classes pre- and post-kidnapping and he could hold his own with Gav which was a glowing recommendation for the UFC if ever there was one. Still, carrying Scott to that table was the hardest thing he'd ever done.
One of Scott's eyes, the one that wasn't swollen like a ping pong blal, cracked open. Adam flinched before remembering that he had a suppression collar on. The last time he saw Scott's eyes, he'd been seven years old with no front teeth, still confusing "d's" and "b's" when writing. Scott had always crouched down to talk to him so that they could speak eye-to-eye. No one else did that; he never told Scott how much he appreciated that small consideration.
Don't think about it, he ordered himself. Don't think about homework help or cutting the crusts off your sandwiches or making hot chocolate on the stove or any of the billion things that'll make it hard for you to do this.
Without care for Scott's injuries, Adam hauled him onto the operating table like a bale of hay. A pained groan wheezed out of him. When his bare brown eye closed, Adam gulped down the lump in his throat.
"This is not going to work," Alex muttered to himself even as he sized up a possible victim. The plan was simple: grab a guard of similar height and colouring, knock him on the head, wear his uniform, use his passes to gain access and generally wreak havoc inside the building until the X-Men came back with reinforcements. He wouldn't feel the need for it if the X-Men actually returned within a decent amount of time. The sun had set two hours ago and there was still no sign of them. Alex had to do something to keep these guys from turning his brothers into "vat mix."
Hence the plan. It was hokey and right of out every action film Hollywood shovelled out but Alex didn't have the time or the manpower for anything more creative. And he was hungry. He could never access his smarts on low blood sugar.
Several guards were too short, many too dark and quite a few were women. Just as he despaired of finding a six-foot-three, blond, Caucasian guard, one jumped out of a Jeep, cheerily waving his semiautomatic at the rest of the passengers. Convenient.
"And what are the chances he's going to go this way?"
But he did head to the teeming compound, nodding to various personnel as he walked towards the back of the village where huts gave way to cement and metal-plated loading docks. Lots of guards congregated there; Alex didn't plan on using that for his entry. No, he wanted in through the little dirt hut. All evening, he'd watched a dozen people go in and out of that place, never the same people twice. Something twelve feet across couldn't hold that many people for very long unless they were real friendly.
The blond guard didn't enter the loading dock right away leaning instead behind some wooden crates to light a cigarette. Alex had to get him to the edge of the jungle without attracting the rest of the guards. He snuck closer to the loading doors, sticking to the shadows of the bushes and trees.
The guard was chatting with someone not visible as he smoked. Bad, very bad. Alex picked up a pebble and threw it at a truck parked several meters away. Predictably, the blond guard and his buddy turned around to look. Alex used their distraction to run deeper into the foliage, making sure to crack branches and stomp on twigs. When he finally ducked into a clump of over-sized leaves, he saw the blond guard jogging in with another two guards at his back.
"Home, we're just checking on a disturbance in Sector A7," said the blond. "It's probably just wildlife but you did tell us to be paranoid."
All three of them charged to bushes. When they passed his hiding place, Alex sprang out, knocking two down with arnis sticks to their windpipes. The third fired a shot before Alex whacked the weapon away and slammed the arnis stick into his temple.
Undressing the knocked-out guard was harder than he estimated. Alex muttered a blue streak as he worked.
"Lake-2, Lake-2, we heard gunfire. Report," crackled the blond's walkie.
Alex snapped the hat on his head as he grabbed the walkie from the guard's belt. "Uh, yeah, Home, this is Lake-2. I'm in Sector A7 with, uh--" he checked the other two guards' uniforms-- "with Lake-3 and -10. 10 got a little jumpy and shot at a goddamn lemur. Rest assured I will, uh, mock him for days. Over." He dropped the walkie and set to wrenching the blond's jacket off.
Home chuckled. "Okay, Lake-2. Understandable given the events of the past weeks. Just give me the password and we'll put this down as a false alarm."
Password? Shitcakes. He hadn't even gotten the guards' pants unbuttoned. Time to stall. "Yeah, another false alarm. How many of those have we had?"
"We'd rather have too many than get taken by surprise."
"I guess that's fair. Hey, did we get all the turncoats? I'd like to have a go at smashing their bits in if only for the extra duties."
"They're all in lock down."
"Awesome. When do we get a go at them?" Pants off! Alex wiped the sweat from his brow.
Home didn't reply for a few seconds. "Lake-2, do you have a password for us?"
Double shitcakes. These guys were pros. Time for an even bigger distraction.
"Yeah, it's--holy shit!" Alex fired the guard's machine gun as he yelled. "Ambush! Ambush! It wasn't a lemur!" He fired his own handgun, too. "They got 3! Send backup! Send--" Throwing the walkie on the ground, he stomped on it. He fired off more shots then grabbed the clothes, another walkie, and ran. Engines revved and men barked orders as plants crunched under a dozen booted feet. Where the heck could he run?
True to form, Alex ran straight into the little hut that served as the entry into the laboratory compound. After all, everyone else was headed for the woods.
Adam pondered the best places to be thoroughly sick. If he went to the bathroom here in the dorm, everyone would know. If he tried one of the public toilets out in the hallway, he'd have his two bodyguards with him and they'd know. If he just sat here and vomited all over his himself, everyone would know. And he'd smell.
Two hours wasn't enough to get over the fact that you'd handed over your big brother to a mad scientist.
"Are you all right?" Cadre draped himself all over Adam.
That was the other thing. Cadre was seriously developing a bad case of bad touch. Gav groped a lot but never with the sense of... possession. Adam really didn't have the patience for it right now.
"I'm just remembering stuff," said Adam. "Stuff I'd rather not remember."
"Your unhappy childhood." Cadre tucked some of Adam's hair behind his ear. "We shall create new, happier memories."
Yuck. Which soap opera did he get that out of? And what kind of demented idiot would think that being a mutant mercenary was at all conducive to making happy memories?
"I... I need a few minutes to think," said Adam. "I'm going to walk around for a bit."
"A walk would be most pleasant." Cadre jumped up.
Truly irritated, Adam asked, "Can't I even have a nice, angst-filled walk alone around the block like a normal teenager?"
Well, that taught him. Adam had his walk with Cadre and Vertigo trailing three feet behind, muttering to each other.
"Naw, all outsider kids go through this phase," Vertigo was telling Cadre.
"It is not disinterest?"
"Man, you should've seen me at seventeen."
Mutant mercs gossiped about each other. How nauseatingly normal.
Adam didn't know what about the guard loitering near the supply root
caught his attention. Maybe it was his height-- there weren't a lot of
guards around here that topped six feet. Maybe it was his stance. Something
switched Adam's newfound danger-sense on.
That was Alex's bag.
Adam studied the features visible under the guard's cap. Unlike a lot of high school jocks, Alex's boyish cuteness aged into a classically handsome profile.
Alex, you ass, what were you thinking of? Adam thought, irritated. Was he going to have to rescue everyone?
Elevator lights came up to Adam's right. He slipped into it as soon as the doors opened, shoving the previous passengers out. Before those doors slid closed all the way, he prised the rear ones open. The laboratory was built like a maze to make it harder to get around but Adam had the maps memorised. Mostly. He hoped.
Three lefts and a right later, he was back in the corridor he'd escaped from only on the other side of the supply room. Adam tiptoed behind Alex who had his hands up, the guards' guns pointed at his face. Checking to make sure his gun's safety was on, Adam reversed his hold and swung the butt at Alex's head. His older brother dropped back into him like a rock. A very heavy rock. A frickin' boulder! Did the guy take 'roids?
"We have it from here," said the guard.
"Good." Adam slammed both his guns at the guards' throats and, as they fell, clutching their crushed windpipes, he clocked them again for good measure.
With them out cold and his own tails out of sight, Adam dragged Alex into the supply room. He was already stirring. Adam let his arms go, kneeling in front of Alex's face so that he'd recognize him right away.
Alex blinked myopically. "You hit me."
"Uh-huh. It was fun. Can we do it again?"
"As soon as you stop spinning, I'm going to beat your ass."
Adam pulled on a chin-wibbly Disney face. "I missed you, too, you big dumb jock."
"I fucking mean it, you-- hey." Alex grabbed the front of Adam's jacket, peering blearily at the insignia over his heart. "You're one of them."
"Oh good. I get to hit you harder. Dude, your eyes are all Remy-esque."
"What do you mean?"
"They're totally black. At least come up with an original physical permutation of your powers."
Adam rolled his eyes. "I feel like I'm home already."
After shaking his head vigorously, Alex palpated the tender spot behind his ear. "Did you have to hit so hard?"
"You yell when you're angry and I didn't know how long it would take for my teammates to realise that I slipped away."
"Dude, are you really working for them?"
"It was play along or get stuck in a giant test tube with catheters in unspeakable orifices for another few months. The choice is pretty obvious, don't you think?"
"Unspeakable orifices? Fiend. You speak multisyllabically. Who are you and what have you done with my real baby brother?"
"Ha-fucking-ha. You should take your show on the road." Adam cracked the door open. There was still no sign of Cadre or Vertigo. "Come on, we have to find Scott and Remy."
Alex crawled up the wall. "I'll be right there as soon as my brain stops bleeding and my arm re-attaches to my shoulder."
"Oh, stop whining. I thought you were the big, tough muscle. Suck it up, soldier."
"Hey, I got shot in the shoulder! It needed stitches and glue and shit."
"Do not compare injuries with me; I'll totally win." Adam slid back out into the corridor.
A hand squeezed his neck. "I knew we couldn't trust you," said Cadre, his tone casual. "Where did you-- argh!" He jerked his hand off, stumbling away with a sai through his booted foot.
"Shitcakes!" Alex fell on his butt, eyes wide like he'd been the one stabbed.
Adam focussed on the wound. "Burn," he commanded with great satisfaction.
Cadre's foot sizzled. Adam took a deep breath and squinted; Cadre shrieked, falling to the floor, clutching his leg in agony, his entire body convulsing. The smell of burnt meat filled the air.
Alex shook off his shock. "Remind me to tap you for our next barbeque," he said with a casualness that didn't reach his eyes.
"You're sick and wrong in the head," said Adam. "Let's go before Vertigo gets here."
Alex slung his backpack on securely and checked his weapons. "Vertigo is?"
"Right behind you." As Adam's second tail spoke, the world went upside-down and inside-out. Adam fell, knees cracking on the cement but he didn't even care. He was going to vomit so badly. The walls warped around his body, sucking his head into a black hole--
Then it stopped.
Adam looked up. Alex had Vertigo in an arm-hold, a big ass knife stuck under her chin. "Good girl," said Alex. "Now, tell me where you took Cyclops and Gambit."
"Never!" Vertigo spat.
Sighing, Alex tried again. "Vertigo, I am very, very hungry. When I get hungry, I get cranky. When I get cranky, I get mean. When I get mean, I do all sorts of stuff that look really, really good in a Quentin Tarantino movie."
"It's true," Adam said helpfully. "I'm seen him. He gets like a rabid Golden Retriever. There's foam and growling; it's horrible."
"Now, to top that all off, you have my brothers captured somewhere, diddling around their insides and pumping them full of drugs. My brothers pay for the lifestyle to which I have become accustomed including, but not limited to, my meals. If they die or in any way become so incapacitated that they can no longer support me, I will be hungry forever. Forever, Vertigo." Alex emphasized his words by drawing the knife across her throat, leaving an angry pink line. "Now I know you're a mutant and can do all sorts of shit to mess me up but really? All that means is that I'm going to be desperate enough to do whatever it takes to put you down. So, I repeat: Where did you take Gambit and Cyclops?"