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Chapter 1


Written by NicoPony
Last updated: 01/02/2007 02:01:11 AM

Chapter 1

"Welcome to the real world"

she said to me, condescendingly.

"Take a seat, take your life

plot it out in black and white."

Well I never lived the dreams of the prom kings,

and the drama queens.

I'd like to think the best of me

is still hiding up my sleeve.

They love to tell you "stay inside the lines,"

but something's better on the other side.

I want to run through the halls of my high school.

I want to scream at the top of my lungs.

I just found out there's no such thing as the real world,

just a lie you've got to rise above.

So the good boys and girls take the so-called right track.

Faded white hats grabbing credits, maybe transfers.

They read all the books but they can't find the answers.

All of our parents, they're getting older.

I wonder if they've wished for anything better.

While in their memories, tiny tragedies.

They love to tell you "stay inside the lines,"

but something's better on the other side.

I want to run through the halls of my high school.

I want to scream at the top of my lungs.

I just found out there's no such thing as the real world,

just a lie you've got to rise above.

I am invincible.

I am invincible.

I am invincible,

as long as I'm alive.

I want to run through the halls of my high school.

I want to scream at the top of my lungs.

I just found out there's no such thing as the real world,

just a lie you've got to rise above.

I just can't wait for my ten-year reunion.

I'm gonna bust down the double doors.

And when I stand on these tables before you,

you will know what all this time was for.

"No Such Thing" Song by John Mayer

Evan Daniels was determined to make the life of his new roommate a waking nightmare. Why should he, whose own aunt was one of the instructors at Xavier's Institute, have to share a room with another student? And share with a newbie, no less. Evan lay on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. Sunlight splashed over his bed, cast from the nearby window. He glanced over at the second bed with contempt. It was on the opposite side of the room, cramped in the darkened corner. When Evan had moved in to Xavier's, he had made quick work of making the room his own. Posters of his favorite bands and skateboarders plastered the walls. Clothes scattered across the floor and spilled from the overstuffed closet. The top of the dresser was a menagerie of junk and knick-knacks Evan had amassed over the days, which turned into weeks, which turned into months of collected trash-treasures.

He leaned over to turn up the volume on his radio. He knew for a fact that none of the other students at Xavier's beside himself enjoyed the musical styling of the Festering Boils. He hoped that his new roommate would be no different. There came a soft knock from the door.

"S'a private party, man. Go away," he called, as he leafed through a skateboarding magazine.

The door opened in spite of Evan's greeting. Evan glowered at the trespasser over the top of his magazine. "'Lo," the kid in the doorway said.

"Yah, what?" Evan said with hostility.

"Don' know if t'others tell you or not, but I'm guessin' we're going t'be roommates."

Evan sniffed in response and returned to his magazine. "So the bed's over there," he said, pointing absently in the bed's direction.

"I see. And properly aligned with the southwest-northeast axis. How Feng Shui."

Evan gave the other boy a hard look "What?" Evan said. "Is that anything like Kung Fu?"

Evan's new roommate surveyed the room stoically. His eyes were hidden behind dark sunglasses, making it difficult to discern any kind of expression. "Uh, no," he finally replied. "But I think I might have to explain it to you later." He picked up one of Evan's dirty jerseys, which had been carelessly flung over the unused bed.

Evan glowered at the other boy. The suitcase the other had been trailing continued to trundle forward under its own momentum. It came to a halt when it knocked softly against a bedside table.

"So what kind of name is 'Remy' anyway?" Evan jibed.

"An unfortunate one," came the mumbled reply. "Y'can jus' call me Gambit if you'd like."

Evan sat up on his bed, surprised at Remy's lack of interest in Evan's attempt to bait him. "Is that all you brought with you?" he asked, eyeing the suitcase on the floor and duffel bag slung over Remy's shoulder.

"Ev'rythin' I need to survive," Remy replied, tossing his duffel bag onto the bed. He sat beside his duffel bag and tapped the suitcase with his foot. The suitcase fell over with a heavy thud. Evan watched with curiosity as his new roommate unzipped the case. Inside were three lidded oblong boxes. "Nate tole me I'd better get this stuff out of my old room," Remy said as he lifted one of the lids. "'Less he burn the whole lot."

Inside the box, neatly ordered and packaged in polybags, were a series of slim multicolored booklets.

"Hey, you like comics?" Evan said with mild surprise.

"I'll admit to having a mild obsession," Remy said. "You?"

Evan stood up and walked over to his closet. Opening the door caused an avalanche of comics to cascade across the hardwood floor.

"Cool," Remy said, and he smiled.

Kitty was excited. In her usual animated way, this morning's breakfast held a captive audience for the details of her latest obsession: the high school Junior-Senior Prom. Despite being a freshman, she had volunteered for the board who would help make all the decisions for this year's promenade.

"Today is the day we get to nominate the prom king and queen!" she proclaimed. "And prince and princess, of course. I can't wait until we get to announce the possible themes this year. It's either going to be "Parisian Lights" or "Medieval Romance." I personally think that the Parisian idea is the best, but then, I helped brainstorm that idea."

"Listen, Kitty," Rogue broke in sardonically, "Ah hate to burst yer bubble, but not all of us are as excited about this stupid prom thing as you."

"Speak for yourself, Rogue," Kitty snapped. "But the prom is a big deal!"

"Well, yer not the one who has to sell these stupid fund-raiser candy bars for the upperclassmen's prom," Rogue grumbled, idly stirring her soggy cereal. She glared at the odious box of candy that sat on the floor beside her. "It's been a month and Ah've sold all of two of these things. Leave it to Principal Kelly to make us sell candy that don't even have a proper name." She held up a candy bar sheathed in white paper. "Candy Bar" was written on the side in bold black letters. Rogue made a sound of disgust, and let the candy fall from her fingers to land back in the box.

"The problem is, Rogue," interjected Nightcrawler, who clutched two boxes of the candy to his narrow chest, "you're not marketing the candy bars properly. It's all about salesmanship and location. I, myself, have staked out the weight room. You wouldn't believe how many of these things Duncan has put away!"

Rogue rolled her eyes. "Who cares anyway!" she said. "Me and you are sophomores, and Kitty's still a freshman. We ain't goin' to the prom, so: So what!"

"That's not true," Kitty said brightly. Ever the optimist, she added: "If an upperclassman asks one of us to be their date, then we can go!"

"And who's goin' t'ask you?" Rogue sniped. "Lance, maybe?"

"Well…" Kitty said, twirling her hair around her finger, "There's Scott…and Remy is a senior, too."

Both Rogue and Kurt bristled at this.

"Why all the glum faces?" said Jean as she pushed aside the swinging door that led to the kitchen. "Does somebody have a case of the Mondays?"

Rogue thought to herself, "Ah hope ya strangle on your SugarBombs!" The thought came with such venom that Jean couldn't help but overhear her thought.

"We're just talking about the prom," said Kitty. "Did Duncan ask you yet?"

Jean carefully sidestepped Rogue. "Uhm, no," she replied. "Not yet."

"Well, what about Scott?" Nightcrawler asked, then cowered behind his boxes of candy when all three girls in the kitchen glowered at him. "Oh, I mean, uhm, Scott hasn't asked anyone yet, but I bet he'll probably ask Taryn," the stares continued. "…or not. Or maybe I should just…uhm, leave. See you at school! Bye-bye!" With that said, Kurt, and his candy, vanished with a burst of brimstone.

"Bleah," Rogue said, waving her hand to disperse the signature smell of Kurt's departure. "Crack a window. Ah've totally lost my appetite."

Jean walked over to the kitchen counter and selected an orange from a bowl of fruit. She paused over the stack of mail lying beside the fruit bowl. Idly she pushed through the stack of bills and credit card pre-approvals. She was just beginning to feel relieved when she reached the bottom of the pile and found an envelope addressed to her. She quickly folded the envelope in two and put it into her back pocket. With a smile, she turned back to the other two girls sitting at the table.

"Well, I'm going to head off to school early. Choir practice," she added.

"Hey, I'll come with you," Kitty said. "I've got to set up for visual communications."

Rogue rolled her eyes. "Sounds like a blast," she mumbled. But she too stood up to make an early start of her school day. Unbeknownst to Jean and Kitty, she knew for a fact that Scott would be out on the school track for an early morning run.

Class that day featured a new assignment: persuasive speechmaking. As the teacher outlined the structure on how to make a persuasive speech, Remy LeBeau let his mind drift. Speech was boring, one of his least favorite classes, but he had chosen it as one of his electives. The reason he had chosen to take the class was seated adjacent to him, only two aisles away. He looked over at her now. Rogue had the glazed over look of a student who has reached her limit on retaining knowledge. Her cheek was resting on her gloved palm while her other hand tapped her pen against the desktop.

Remy leaned back in his seat and quietly tore a leaf of paper from his binder. Smiling, he wrote: "Do you like me?" followed by the words "Yes" and "No." At the bottom, he penciled in the instructions: "Circle One." He folded the note into a tight football shape, and placed it on his desk. Holding it against the desk with one forefinger, he flicked the mini-football with the other, and sent the projectile flying over the head of the student that separated Remy from Rogue. With pinpoint accuracy, the note landed on Rogue's desk, right in the middle of her open notebook. She blinked and looked down at the note. She put her hand over it and pulled it beneath her desk to open it in relative secrecy.

Once opened, she gave a snort of mirth, causing several students to glance in her direction. She leaned her mouth against a fist, to conceal a grin. Satisfied, Remy returned to staring off into space. A few moments later, however, the note landed back on his desk. He looked over at Rogue, who was staring at the teacher with false interest. Remy unfolded the note and read.

"What I'd like," Rogue had written, "is for you to get a life, and let me alone!"

Undeterred, Remy added to the note: "Will you be my steady?"

Rogue's shoulders shook with unreleased laughter when she opened the new letter. The kids seated nearby, whom had up until this point, been in a state of half-sleep, were now attentively watching Remy and Rogue's exchange. The paper football volleyed across the room several times more, until, while Rogue was carefully aiming the projectile, the class bell rang. Startled, the note flew off course and skidded across the floor to stop in front of the teacher's desk. The teacher looked at the note, then back up at the class full of students. Everyone was suddenly interested in packing up their books and hurrying out of the room.

Remy and Rogue pushed out of the door together and out into the busy hallway. Once outside, they both broke into laughter.

"You coulda got me in trouble," Rogue declared, punching Remy in the arm.

"You asked for it," Remy replied, as he followed her to her locker. "Did y'get the new assignment?"

"Yeah," she replied with disgust. "Persuasive speech. Oh, man. Ah couldn't persuade a skunk t'stink."

"Mebbe I could give you a brief tutorial," he replied, his voice laden with innuendoes. Rogue had seen him apparently mystify others with his careful wording and practiced body language. She was determined this trick wouldn't work on her.

"Hey, you got anymore of those candy bars left?" he asked.

Rogue made a noise of contempt. "Of course. But Ah ain't givin' you another one. You still haven't paid me for the last two."

"Oh, c'mon, chere. Y'know I'm good for it."

For some reason, Rogue found she couldn't resist his request. She reached into her locker and handed him a bar from the box. "What d'you even want these things for? Y'don't actually eat them, do you?"

He pulled his sunglasses down his nose and gave her a wink. As usual, he had neglected to use the image inducer Professor Xavier had given him. His eyes were surprisingly black with red pupils, betraying the fact that he was a mutant. "I'm conducting an experiment in physics class. I'm bound and determined to discover what is really in those things."

Rogue shook her head. "Are y'sure you wanna find out?"

"Hey, t'ink of it this way. You're one more candy bar closer to winning the grand prize for most candy bars sold. A free ticket to the prom!" he clapped his hands in mock delight and looked wistfully skyward. "Oh, I do hope Duncan will ask me t'go!"

"Will you get out of here," Rogue said, shoving him aside. "Ah'm going t'be late for class."

"Fine, dash my girlish hopes and dreams. I'll see you at lunch, and we can discuss the color of my ball gown," he called over his shoulder as he strode down the hall.

"Forget the gown, bring the money you owe me!"

Remy wandered in to class several minutes after the bell had sounded. The room he walked into was empty, save for the long worn tables and stools. In the room adjacent were various power tools and equipment. He could see his other classmates through the window between the two rooms. They were all working studiously under the careful eye of Mrs. Barone, the shop teacher. Remy tossed his book bag onto the sawdust-covered table and lay his head down on his arms. Normally, he saved his naptime for study hall, but he was in the mood to taunt Mrs. Barone today.

He could sense her heavyset presence filling the doorway between the classroom and the workshop.

"Mr. LeBeau," she began as her preamble. "I suppose you think you can come into my class and sleep, do you?" She glowered down at the back of Remy's head, which hadn't yet looked up.

"Madame Barone," he said, his voice muffled from under his arms. "As you can see, I've completed the latest assignment you've given with record time." He reached over and picked up a dowel rod that was lying on the table before him. "A useful instrument, good for poking things." Without lifting his head, he aimed a poke at the instructor. She snatched it from him and gave him a thwack with it.


"Yes, very useful, indeed. Now get out there and fix that hovel you called a birdhouse before I have it condemned."

"Hey, I thought my days of corporal punishment were done when I left the Catholic school," Remy grumbled. He shuffled into the workshop and looked around before finding who he was looking for. "Tolensky, heads up!" With that, he tossed the candy bar Rogue had given him into the air.

Todd Tolensky, otherwise known as Toad, deftly caught the candy with his dexterous tongue and swallowed the entire thing. He tapped his chest with a closed fist and burped. A foil wrapper sprung out of his mouth and landed soggily on his workbench.

"That's very charming," commented the blond girl who was sitting across from Todd. "What's up Rem?"

"Usual, Boom," he replied to her. "Lance."

Lance Alvers flipped up the safety goggles he was wearing and gave a short wave before coming over to the table with Toad. Shop was the only class the two of them seemed to attend regularly. Amazingly, Todd was a pro at handling the tools, and Mrs. Barone's favorite pupil. So much so, that Mrs. Barone had vouched for him and he was going to the career center next year despite his abysmal grades.

Todd didn't take the free candy bar for granted. "So your birdhouse'll be done before three," he said, never once looking up from the project he was working on.

"Tolensky, you're awesome," Remy replied, lacing his fingers behind his head and leaning back luxuriously.

"Don't make it perfect, Todd, or Mrs. Barone'll never believe Remy made it," Boom Boom said.

"I resent that," Remy replied.

"Are you going to Harry's after school?" Lance asked Remy.

"Nah, got some stuff t'do," Remy said and added: "Though I overheard Kitty say something about a study group there this afternoon."

Boom Boom made a kissing noise. "Oh, Kitty!"

Lance glowered at her and Remy smirked. "Play it cool, Lance. No one's asked her out yet."

Toad sniggered. "Even if you do get Kitty to go with you to the prom, where y'gonna come up with the money for the tickets?"

Lance opened and closed his mouth several times. It was unusual for Todd to one-up anyone, especially Lance. "Who says I want to go to the stupid prom anyway? It's totally lame!"

Boom Boom rolled her eyes.

"All right, break it up, kiddies," said Mrs. Barone as she strode over to them. She handed them each a slip of paper.

"Yo, waz this, teach?" Toad said, looking over the paper.

"Prom king, queen, and court nominations," she said. "Fill em out and put them in the box in the cafeteria."

"I know who I'm voting for!" announced Todd, before filling in all the blanks with Mrs. Barone's name.

The teacher rolled her eyes and quickly walked away. The blush in her cheeks betrayed her delight.

"You, dog, you," Remy said and sniffed, wiping an imaginary tear from his eye. "He's learning so fast. I'm so proud!"

Boom Boom made a gagging noise and Lance said: "God, you are such a suck-up!" before grabbing a misplaced dowel rod and giving Todd a sharp smack.

Todd rubbed his sore arm. "Y'all just jealous!"

Jean was finding it hard to share Kitty's enthusiasm. As they walked down the hall together, heading towards the lunchroom, Kitty bounded from one topic to the next. Jean found herself fading in and out of the conversation. The envelope she carried in her back pocket was weighing her down, as if it were made of lead and not paper.

"Earth to Jean!" Kitty suddenly exploded into Jean's thoughts. "Hey! Are you still with me?"

Jean shook her head. "I'm sorry Kitty. I got lost in thought. What were you saying?"

Kitty waved her hand in dismissal and shook her head. "I bet I know what you were thinking about!" she cried with a smile. "You don't have to tell me. It must be about Duncan!"

Jean laughed weakly. "Oh, ha. Right, Duncan and the whole prom thing. Oh, I just don't know what to do."

"Like he's going to ask anyone else, Jean," Kitty said, in what she must have thought of as a conspiratorial tone of voice. "Or were you thinking about Scott?"

"Oh, no," Jean said, waving the thought away. "He's like a brother…or something."

"Imagine! Your brother asking you out to the most romantic event of the year!" Kitty enthused. "So who did you vote for?" she continued, brandishing her voting slip. "You don't have to worry about telling me. I'll be doing the tally anyway, and I can recognize your handwriting."

Jean still held her blank slip in her damp hand. She looked at the crinkled and moistened paper and realized she'd been clenching it in her fist. "I hadn't thought about it yet," she said softly.

"I know I had to think for a long time, too," Kitty said understandingly. "It's an important decision."

"Yes, it is," Jean murmured. "Hey, Kitty, I'll catch up with you later. I'm just going to head in here for a moment." She paused by the door leading to the girls' restroom. "Save me a seat, okay?"

"Sure!" Kitty said, and trotted off after some of her other friends.

Jean waited until Kitty had rounded the corner, then turned around and walked back up the hall. She paused before the guidance councilor's office. She tapped on the door softly before opening it.

"Mr. Cassidy, are you in?" she said, peering into the room. She spotted him watering his plants by the window. He turned to the sound of her voice.

"C'mon in, lass," he said with his soft Irish-accented voice. "Have a seat. D'ye need t'talk about anything?"

Jean smiled at him warmly. "I do," she said. "And I needed someone with an…unbiased ear."

Remy clambered up the metal risers to where Rogue was sitting. She was staring out over the playing field below, half-involved in a conversation with the purple-haired girl beside her.

"'Lo, Rogue," he said, as he approached. "Risty."

"Hi, Remy," Risty replied with a smile.

"Where's my money?" Rogue asked. "Y'stood me up at lunch."

Remy bent down on one knee and presented Rogue with three crisp one-dollar bills, head bowed. "My lady," he said, humbly.

"Bout frickin' time," she said, ignoring his theatrical presentation and snatching the bills from his proffered hands.

"I need to get going," Risty said. "Tons of homework…Do you two need a lift?"

Rogue paused, still staring out at the field. "Uhm, no, thanks Risty. Ah think Ah'll hike it today."

Remy followed Rogue's gaze to the track below. Scott Summers was there, toweling his sweat-dampened hair and taking a swig from his water bottle. Remy's expression turned to one of contempt.

"I'm goin' into town," Remy said to Risty.

"Great, that's on my way," she replied. "Let's go. Bye, Rogue."

"See ya," she said distantly.

Remy followed Risty to her car, an old BMW that had seen better days, but still ran well. "Thanks for the lift," Remy said to her as he slid into the passenger seat.

"Anytime," she replied. She started the car and she paused to fiddle with the radio. "So where were you when it happened?" she asked.

Remy blinked and turned to her. "When what happened?"

Risty's mouth quirked into a grin. "When they announced the theme of this year's prom. I'll always remember the moment. I was in line in the cafeteria and Margaret was heaping a pile of mystery meat onto my tray."

Remy laughed. "A moment to treasure forever."

"Memories…" Risty sang.

"So what was it?" Remy asked.

"What was what?"

"The theme?"

"Oh, something about going medieval."

Remy laughed again. "And me without my battle ax."

"Are you planning on asking a special someone to the dance?" Risty asked.

He made a sound of contempt. "Right. Can you see me at the prom? With the corsage, and the suit, and slow dancin' to 'Lady in Red'?"

"What about Rogue?"

"What about her?" Remy asked.

"It doesn't take a mind reader to tell you're sweet on her."

Remy paused, studying Risty's profile as she drove. "She's all right. But I'm just using her to get to you. You totally hot and tempting vixen, you."

Risty risked a swing in his direction, which he caught on the arm.

"What is it with people hitting me today?" he asked to no one in particular. "Here, this is my stop."

Risty pulled up to the curb. "Thanks again for the ride," he said, leaning down into the open passenger side window.

"No prob," she said. "What are you doing after work?"

"Most likely that physics assignment I've been putting off for the past week," he replied.

"I know how it is. I've got a paper in French that's been haunting me since last Tuesday."

"Hey, if you need any help with it, I'm your man. Give me a call later, and maybe we can get together."

Risty smiled. "Cool."

Remy pushed open the swinging glass door and entered the dimly lit interior of the comic book shop. With a deep breath, he sucked in the wonderful smell of paper and the underlying odor of Taco Bell food.

"Hey, Ellis, I know you're here. I can smell the enchiladas."

Ellis appeared from the back room. He straightened his wire-rimmed glasses and gave Remy a grin.

"You're late," he said.

"Shouldn't you be watching the front of the shop? You never know what thieving miscreant could step through this door."

Ellis moved ponderously towards the register. He gesticulated wildly, encompassing the empty shop. "You're right. This place is just teeming with customers…a criminal element could be hiding in their midst."

Remy tossed his backpack behind the counter. "Business not too good today, hunh?"

"The usual," Ellis said resignedly. "Maybe I should just pack it in."

"You say that every week, and then the new issue of Spy Vixen comes out, and we're open for another month."

Ellis took a contemplative slurp from his emptying cup. "I suppose you're right."

Remy took a seat behind the register counter and opened his book bag. Ellis was cool with him doing his homework on shift, so long as he was helping the customers and there was nothing else to do. Ellis paid him so little anyway, it really didn't matter. Despite the poor wage, Remy was passionately vain about his after school job. After all, uppity tight-assed jerks like Scott Summers didn't have jobs, and didn't work for what was just handed over to them. Professor Xavier had permitted him get a job, so long as he kept up with schoolwork, and didn't neglect his X-Men duties. It was a lot more freedom than his adoptive father, Nathan, had allowed.

The front door squeaked open, and Remy and Ellis blinked in the bright afternoon sunlight that spilled in. Remy recognized the form in the doorway.

"Hey, Lance."

"If you're not buying anything, then get out," said Ellis.

"Nice to see you, too, Ell," replied Lance.

Ellis gave a snort, and lumbered back into the stock room.

"Whadup?" Remy asked.

Lance gave a moan and leaned his head down on the glass counter, covering his head with his arms. "High school is pure, hellish torture," he groaned.

"Would you get your greasy head off the counter?" Remy said. "I've all ready had to mop fanboy drool off it this week."

"I'm glad you're so understanding," Lance said wryly.

"So Kitty turned you down, eh?"

"How did you---?" Lance began, then sighed. "She totally blew me off. They're all over at Harry's. It was hardly a 'study group.' More like a nerd convention."

"I hope you didn't tell her that."

"They didn't seem to think it was as funny as I did."

Remy shook his head. "Didn't I tell you to be cool? Look, I've only lived over at Xavier's for a month or so, but I know Kitty. I can read her like…like issue number three-seventeen of Mech-Destroyers."

"Is that the one where Maximus throws Diablacon into the sun?"


"That was cool."

"Like I was saying. Kitty's a girl."

"I know she's a girl, dumbass. I wouldn't be after her if she wasn't."

"No, I mean a girl with a capital 'G.' Pink sweaters and giggling, teddy bears and stuff. And the difference between a Girl and a girl is that she wants to be treated like a Girl."

"I'm not following."

"You've got to romance the Girl. I'm talking teenage Sweet Valley High meets Sailor Moon."

"You know way too much about this stuff," Lance said, as he pretended to stand up to leave.

"Don't make me beat you over the head with my Physics book. Listen. Flowers, candy. Crappy stuff like that. Throwing a stink bomb at her isn't going to work. That's kindergarten stuff."

Lance groaned. "I don't know if I can live with myself. And if Todd or Dukes finds out…or Pietro with is big stupid fat mouth." Lance made a fist. "I'd just like to punch that guy just once," he said, mostly to himself.

Remy shook his head. "This may take a lot of work…"

Jean stared out of the car window, watching the scenic small town of Bayville whip by. She was seated in the passenger seat of a fast-moving Mustang; a car owned by the man to her left, Duncan. Jean was thinking about her earlier meeting with Mr. Cassidy, and what he had told her.

Jean had pulled the envelope from her back pocket, which was crushed and slightly curved to the contours of her backside. "I got this in the mail this morning," she had begun.

Mr. Cassidy took the envelope from her. It was addressed to Jean Grey at Xavier's Institute. It had come from Brown University, of Rhode Island. After Mr. Cassidy had read the letter, he smiled at Jean.

"Congratulations, Jean! What a wonderful opportunity. Brown is such a prestigious university, especially in medicine."

Jean nodded proudly. Acceptance to Brown was wonderful, but the scholarship they were offering was even better.

Mr. Cassidy continued: "But you didn't come here just to show me this, did you?"

"No," Jean replied. "My parents had driven me up to Brown over winter break…to see the campus before I applied. It's a long drive, isn't it?"

"It's a few hours, aye. But it isn't as if it were on the other side of the country. Is that what's bothering you, lass? How far away the university seems?"

"Far away, yes. From my family, my friends, from…everything. But you think I should go, don't you?"

"I think that it would be a mistake to pass this up, yes. But I can't tell you what to do, Jean. That is nae my job here. You should do what is right for you."

Jean was still thinking about the meeting, hours later.

"Hey, Jeannie," Duncan's voice broke into her thoughts. "What's on your mind?"

Jean smiled as she looked over at him. "I had a meeting with Mr. Cassidy today," she said.

"Geez, whatever's wrong must've been really bad, if you had to go talk to that guy," Duncan said. "Hey, open up the glove box. I think what you'll find will cheer you up."

Jean complied and opened up the glove compartment. Two tickets fell out onto her lap. "Oh, tickets to the prom. That's…that's really nice, Duncan."

"Yup," Duncan said, leaning back into his seat, obviously proud of his accomplishment. "Sorry I kept you hangin' for so long. Didn't know it would bug you so much."

She gave him a quizzical look. "What is that supposed to mean?" she demanded.

"Well, you've been so upset lately. Even Kitty noticed and---."

"You think I'm upset because you didn't ask me to the prom? That you left me…hanging?"

"Well, yeah. What color is your dress, so I know what flowers to get you."

Jean tossed the tickets back inside the glove compartment and slammed it shut. "I don't have a dress. I didn't get one. Do you know why? Because I don't care. That's why. About the prom, or whether or not you were going to ask me, or whether my corsage matches the color of my dress."

"Geez, I didn't know you were going to take it so hard. Calm down, Jeannie."

"Is any of what I'm saying getting through to you? Pull over."

"Oh, c'mon Jean…"

"I said, pull over!"

Duncan shocked himself by brakes so forcefully. It was as if someone else had taken control of his body. "Jean!" he cried.

She got out of the car and slammed the door. "Is that what you think of me? That I'm so shallow, my whole life revolves around a stupid dance? I don't want to go to the prom, okay! Not with you, not with anybody. I just want to be left alone!" Jean began to stomp away.

"Hey!" Duncan shouted after her. "Those tickets were expensive!"

Jean gave a cry of exasperation. She was so upset, she rounded the corner as quickly as she could and walked into the first door she came to. She blinked as her eyes adjusted to the dimness of the store's interior. She was shocked to find herself staring at Lance Alvers, and behind the counter, Remy LeBeau. They too looked equally surprised.

After a long moment of silence, Remy was the first to speak. "Uhm, can I help you?"

Jean looked around the small shop. Comic books were neatly aligned in cascade-style shelves. Posters were plastered to the faux wood paneled walls. A table with several metal folding chairs stood in the center of the shop. A placard on the table announced the next Magic: The Gathering card game.

Jean's feet felt as if they were welded to the floor. If Lance and Remy hadn't been at the counter, she would have turned and fled. "Uh, no," she managed to reply. "What I'm looking for is right here." She grabbed the first comic she set eyes on and walked mechanically towards the counter. "I---I didn't know you worked here," she said lamely.

"Yeah, for a couple weeks now," Remy said, taking the comic book from her outstretched hand. "Mech-Destroyers?" Remy inquired. Lance had moved off into the back of the store, pretending to read a Sailor Moon comic, which he held upside-down.

"Yes," Jean replied. "They're my favorite."

Remy studied her. "An excellent selection," he said. "What's your favorite issue?"

Jean paused, her mind stretching for a number…any number. "Three-seventeen…?" she said finally.

Remy and Lance shared a look, then nodded appraisingly. "That will be $3.12 with tax. Would you like paper, or poly?"

"Three dollars and twelve cents!" Jean exclaimed. "That's extortion!"

"Tell me about it," Remy said, understandingly. "Have a seat," he nodded toward the metal chair that Lance had been sitting in.

Jean reluctantly took the chair.

"So what's bothering you?" he asked.

"Hey, I thought we were talking about my problem," Lance interjected.

"Your five minutes are up, Lance," Remy replied.

"Don't let me interrupt you," Jean said, eager for a chance to escape.

"Not at all, not at all," Remy said, waving her back down into the chair. "How could I turn away a lady in distress?"

"Who says I'm distressed," Jean snapped. When Remy handed her a tissue, she suddenly realized she had been crying. "Duncan's such a jerk," she said finally.

"We all ready knew that," Lance said, coming over.

Jean sighed. "He asked me to go to the prom."

Remy and Lance looked at her questioningly. "And that's not a good thing?" Remy asked.

"What do you think of me…as a person?" she asked.

They were both stupefied.

"I---I think you're pretty. Hot. Pretty hot," Lance managed to stammer.

Remy shook his head with a sigh. "Lance…have I taught you nothing?"

Jean interrupted. "It's okay, Remy. I guess that answer is a good as any. You must think I'm really shallow. Cheerleader-type Girl. Girl with a capital 'G.'"

"Well, no," Remy began, even though it was what he had been thinking.

"Don't worry about it, I'm not offended. I've just been a little on edge lately. Here," she said, tossing the acceptance letter from Brown University down onto the counter.

Remy picked it up and read it, Lance craning over his shoulder to see. "Wow," he said finally. "Brown University. That's a big deal."

"Yeah, it is," Jean said. "Especially if I want to go into medicine, which I do. I think. Or art…or music…or social work, or…I don't know what I want to do."

"Isn't that in Rhode Island?" Lance said. "That's like, four or five hours away, or something. What are you going to do about the X-Men…? Oh."

Jean laughed ruefully. "See, even you get it."

"Hey!" Lance said.

"Sorry," Jean murmured. "I guess we all carry around our own biases."

"So it's Brown or the X-Men. For me, the answer would be easy," Remy said. "Pack it up and move on. But I suppose you've got baggage here that don't fit into a suitcase."

"How could I abandon the X-Men?" Jean asked, desperation in her voice. "The professor is counting on us. After Scott, I was his second student. I knew the professor since I was twelve years old, and he helped me get out of a bad time," she paused. "He's helped me so much. Professor Xavier is like a second father to me. I wish I could find an answer as easy as you could, Remy. But I'm also sorry that you don't see a reason to stay."

"You'll feel guilty no matter what you decide," Remy said. "What do you want more out of life? A career? A chance at a normal life? Or a lifetime of running Danger Room sessions and fighting bad mutants?"

"The X-Men were created to help people, just like I would do if I were a doctor or a social worker," Jean said. "But I'm a mutant. I've been made different for a reason. Maybe I'm obligated to a higher cause."

"Maybe you've all ready made your decision," Remy said.

Jean nodded, her expression closed. "Thank you for listening," she said softly as she stood. "I guess I still have a lot to think about."

"Here," Remy said, "don't forget your comic." He pushed it across the counter towards her.

"I haven't paid for it, yet," she said.

"It's on me," Remy replied. Jean picked up the book and walked to the door. She gave both of the boys a wave before she left.

"Hey, Remy," Lance said after they had sat in silence for a few moments.


"If the X-Men and the Brotherhood ever, like, got into a fight or something, what would happen to…or, I mean, what would we do? Me and you?"

"Lance, it wouldn't matter. 'Cause I would so kick your butt. It would be over before it even began."

"In your dreams," Lance rebutted.

"Gotta play the hand you're dealt, Lance. But if it ever came down to it, rest assured, I'd only kick your butt a little bit."

Scott tapped on the door leading to Evan's room. Usually, the door was shut tight to muffle the sound of blaring music. Today it gently opened when Scott knocked. He was astounded at what he saw inside.

"Evan?" he said, peering into the room. He took a step back and looked up and down the hallway, to make sure he had the right room. Sure enough, it was five doorways down from the stairs.

"Hi, Scott," Evan said brightly. Scott finally spotted him seated at his desk. The room before him was cleaner than he'd ever seen it before. The desk had been cleared, clothes put away, posters either taken down or neatly arranged. There was a carpet on the hardwood floor he hadn't realized was there before. Even the beds, which had matching red bedspreads, were made.

"What happened in here?" Scott asked in amazement.

"Feng Shui," Evan replied.

"What? Is that like Kung Fu?"

Evan shook his head. "No. Remy explained to me that a messy room was cluttering up my good vibes. I wasn't getting any positive chi."

Scott opened and closed his mouth several times. Surveying the room, he saw an octagonal mirror placed opposite to the window. There was a small bell hanging from the ceiling in one corner, whose red tassel swayed softly. A poster of Tony Hawk was neatly tacked to the closet door. Evan noticed Scott staring at it.

"That's the career corner," he said. "So I hung things there that would be related to what I want to be when I get out of school…a professional skateboarder."

"Right," Scott said, running his hands through his hair. "Where is Evan and what have you done with him?"

Evan laughed. "So what have you come up here for, boss?"

"I came to tell you that---."

"Hey, Evan," interrupted a voice. "You'll never guess who---," Remy stopped short of the door when he saw Scott in the room. "Oh, hi Scott," he said, before walking past him and into the bathroom.

"Well, I'm glad you're both here," Scott said, just as Remy closed the bathroom door. "Cause Storm wants you both in the Danger Room at seven o'clock," he said loudly.

"We all ready knew," Evan said. "I wrote it down in my daily planner."

Scott blinked several times. Evan had never made it to a Danger Room session on time unless Scott reminded him on several occasions.

A singsong voice echoed from the bathroom: "I know something you don't know…"

Scott rounded on the door. "What?"

"I said, that I know something you don't know," Remy replied, poking his head out from behind the door.

"Is it about the pod people that abducted Evan?" Scott asked.

"No, dumbass. Come here and I'll tell you."

Scott suspiciously approached the doorway when Remy grabbed him by the collar and dragged him inside. He then slammed the door.

"Hey!" Evan cried and banged on the door. "I want to know, too."

Ignoring Evan, Scott folded his arms across his chest and asked: "Well, what is it?"

"Don't be so snippy, Ken Doll," Remy said as he examined himself in the bathroom mirror. "I know that a certain jar-head who stuffs his jockstrap asked a certain red-headed hottie to the prom."

Scott glowered at Remy. "You don't know anything," Scott snapped.

Remy turned to face Scott. "I know that he got turned down," he smiled.

Scott tried vainly to conceal his surprise. "He did…? Well, so? What does that have to do with me?"

Remy rolled his eyes. "Don't you want to know why jockstrap got kicked to the curb? Or do I have to force feed you the details?"

Scott scowled.

"Jean confided in me," Remy began. "She's really upset."

"About what?"

"If I told you, you wouldn't be able to ask her. And if you don't ask her, you won't seem like the sensitive guy that I know you to be. Unfortunately for Duncan, he was not a sensitive guy."

Understanding dawned on Scott. "And why are you telling me this?"

"Because it's up to you to take Barbie to the prom to fulfill her destiny," Remy said.

"You're a real jerk," Scott said. "But thanks, I guess."

Normally, Evan would have been annoyed that he had to share training time with his Aunt Ororo. But for Gambit, he made an exception. Storm had taken Remy under her tutelage after Wolverine had refused to. Evan wasn't sure if Logan would have trained Gambit before the incident with the Harley Davidson, but there was no question now on the subject. Today's training session featured a large, multi-floored complex, with guards that they were to avoid. It had involved a lot of running around, hiding, avoiding the computer's motion detectors and seeking out an escape route. By the time it was over (Evan having clipped a motion detector which had set off a blaring alarm), they were both sweating, and Evan was disappointed. As the simulation ended, the guards faded away, and they were left standing in an empty corridor.

"Auntie Ro," he said. "What gives? We didn't even get to use our mutant powers in that session. What was the point?"

But Ororo, also known as Storm, was barely paying attention to Evan's complaints. She was carefully scrutinizing Gambit. He was leaning against the far wall, staring back at Storm, his arms crossed in front of his chest. Offhandedly, Storm told Evan: "Someday, Evan, you might find yourself in a situation where using your mutant powers is out of the question. You simply cannot solve all of your problems by firing bones at them." Storm's arm suddenly shot out, and grasped Remy's forearm just as he began to dart backwards. Her grip was firm, and Gambit's eyes widened in surprise at her quickness. The pair of them stood rigid for several long moments, staring into each other's eyes, carefully appraising one another. Evan was rooted to the spot, watching the exchange with his mouth slightly agape.

Storm was the first to speak. "I know what you are now," she said quietly. "I thought I recognized something familiar in you, but I needed to make sure."

Remy stared back in silence; his eyes were cold, betraying nothing.

Storm continued in her soft voice. "The way you carry yourself, how you calculate your next move…I know it, because I was once like you," she said. Then suddenly, she burst out in a loud commanding voice that echoed down the hall: "Tell me who trained you!"

Gambit suddenly jerked back, breaking free of Storm's grip. A look of fear flashed across his face. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Storm gave Evan a brief glance. "Evan, please leave the Danger Room."

But Evan didn't move. He kept looking from Storm, then to Gambit, then back to Storm again. He took take a step backwards when Gambit gave him a challenging glare, but held his ground. "What's going on?" he asked timidly.

Neither one gave him an answer. Instead, Storm questioned Gambit again. "Why are you here? Who sent you?"

Gambit finally turned away from Storm's powerful stare. "No one!" he shook his head. He started backing away from her. Storm continued to advance on him.

She said something too quiet for Evan to hear, and Remy continued to shake his head. Finally, he burst out in a voice that cracked: "I've never taken anyt'ing from you!"

"I know you have not," Storm said. "Because I would have known, if you did. You see, I was once a thief as well."

Evan was shocked. Auntie Ro was a thief! And Gambit, too. The revelation seemed to take a lot out of both of them. Gambit was sagging against the wall, and Storm stood back from him, her arms hanging at her sides. "I was just a young girl, then," she said, her voice returning to normal. "I was taken in by thieves on the streets of Cairo, and trained by a master thief." Her jaw jutted proudly. "I would not have seen it otherwise. You are far from a mere pickpocket."

Gambit looked resigned. "My father," he said to her softly. "My real father, Jean-Luc LeBeau. He taught me. Before he died. He would have taught me more! But I'm not a thief, not anymore."

Storm nodded. "Very well," she said.

Gambit took this as a dismissal and turned to leave. After he departed, Evan slowly approached Storm, who hadn't moved. "Auntie Ro?" he said. "Are you okay?"

Storm turned to Evan. "I will be fine. Please do not mention this incident to the others, Evan. I am counting on you."

"Whatever you say, Auntie Ro. I won't tell."

Storm put a hand on Evan's shoulder and smiled sadly. Then she too, turned and left the Danger Room.

Scott found Jean in the recreation room. She was seated on the couch, reading something that looked suspiciously like a comic book. Scott cleared his throat as he entered the room. Jean looked up and quickly hid her book behind a couch cushion.

"Oh, hi, Scott."

"Uhm, hi Jean. So I haven't seen you all day, what's up?"

She gave him an unconvincing smile. "Not much."

"Have you been thinking much about the prom?" he asked.

A shadow of anger passed over her features. "No. Not really," she said in a clipped voice.

Scott managed to continue on smoothly. "Yeah, me neither. There's been so much other stuff going on lately. I mean, between being an X-Man, and being a high school student, there isn't much room for anything else. Then there's track, and basketball…filling out college applications, getting ready for graduation. Can you believe it's only, what? Three months away?"

Jean was nodding in agreement. "I know what you mean. Who has time for shopping for a gown?"

"Or reserving a limo…or paying for a corsage in advance?" he sat down on the couch beside Jean.

"Where---?" Jean began. "Where were you planning on going to college?"

"Oh, I applied to Columbia and NYU. Someplace close, ya know. How about you?"

"I applied to Brown University. It's in Rhode Island."

"You did? Did you get accepted?"

"Yes. They've offered me a scholarship," Jean replied.

"Wow! An Ivy League school. Jean, that's awesome."

Jean smiled. "Thanks."

"I'll really miss having you around, though," Scott said softly. "I've known you for so long…we practically grew up together. The Professor is going to miss you, too."

"I---I haven't decided if I am going to go yet. I haven't decided anything," she said firmly. "But it helps to talk about it."

"Whatever decision you make will be the right one," Scott said. "You can't go wrong."

Jean sighed. "You've always had more confidence in me than I have. Thanks, Scott. You're a good friend. Better than that, even."

"Like, a brother, right?" he asked, a twinge of sarcasm entered his voice that he couldn't hide.

"No, not like a brother," Jean replied. She then leaned forward to kiss him softly on the lips.

Remy and Risty had quickly abandoned the idea of studying soon after she had arrived at the Xavier Institute. Remy's mind was far away from homework, and Risty soon realized this.

"Would you like to take a walk?" she asked him. They were seated in one of many rarely used rooms in the mansion. Remy had passed up the rec room and the kitchen, and had avoided the room he shared with Evan entirely. They all seemed too public, too exposed, for him to be comfortable.

Remy almost sighed with relief at Risty's proposal. "That would be great," he said.

They both stood, and leaving the books open where they lay, exited the mansion. Night had fallen, and the air was still brisk, though spring was upon them.

"I needed some fresh air," Remy said, and then lighted a cigarette.

"So do I," Risty said and with a laugh and snatched the offensive cigarette from Remy's mouth.

Remy smiled at her ruefully. They walked across the back lawn of the mansion, out of the circle of light cast by the halogen lanterns on the back porch.

"How was work?" Risty asked.

"It was…interesting, to say the least," Remy said, then proceeded to explain Jean's entrance and his reaction.

"So you went and told Scott?" Risty said. "I thought you two avoided each other at all costs?"

This much was true, but what Remy hadn't told anyone was that he avoided Scott for reasons other than animosity. Today's exchange between Jean and Scott had been a first for him. He recalled how his heart had pounded so loudly in his ears when Jean had appeared in the comic book shop. Being in close proximity to the pair reminded him painfully of his adoptive father, Nathan Essex, and his interest in them. It was more than an interest, though Remy refused to admit it to himself, it was borderline obsession. The less he knew about Scott and Jean, the better.

After the lapse in conversation Risty spoke again. "Ah, I've figured it out," she announced.

"Figured what out?"

"Why you told Scott," she said slyly. "If Scott and Jean hook up, permanently, where would that leave Rogue?"

Remy's expression remained neutral. "Why, Risty, I have no idea what you are talking about. What kind of twisted mind would come up with such an evil plot?"

She smiled a wicked grin, which she quickly hid. "Seriously, Remy, Rogue has carried a torch for Scott since I've known her."

"Yah, yah," Remy said, waving his hand in dismissal. Despite his blasé attitude, he was deeply disappointed. He didn't understand how someone like Rogue, who was so defiant and cynical, could like someone so straight-laced and wholesome. Rogue was to Scott what SugarBombs were to Shredded Wheat.

The pair soon found themselves at the lake on the edge of Xavier's property. The moon's reflection bounced up and down on the lake's surface. The peaceful setting did nothing to ease Remy's tension, which quivered nervously inside of him like a tightly coiled spring ready to rebound. Storm had seen him for what he was, and had put him on the spot. He had felt stripped down in her commanding gaze as she called him a thief. And she had done it in front of Evan. By now, the mansion's inhabitants would know. They'd never trust him with anything. And once Storm told Professor Xavier, he'd be shipped back home in disgrace. What would Nathan do to him then?

Risty took Remy's arm and he let himself be led along the shore of the lake. They approached a boathouse with a brightly shining security lamp poised at the peak of the roof. Insects flew in frantic circles around the bluish-green light cast from the lamp. They walked down the short pier, which stood at the foot of the boathouse. Risty let go of Remy's arm and pulled her shoes from her feet. Sitting down at the edge of the dock, she let her feet down into the water. Remy stood looking out over the lake, still craving the cigarette Risty had pulled from his lips. He turned to her then, looking down at the top of her head and at her pretty bare legs and small feet dangling in the water. She looked up at him and smiled. He too pulled off his boots and rolled up his pant-legs, then sat beside her. He felt nostalgic, sitting on the lake with his feet in the water. It was much colder here than in New Orleans, the water chilled him immediately. But it made him think again on earlier years, when he spent many quiet hours by the water with a different girl. One with blond hair, not purple.

"Do you miss England?" he asked her.

Her eyes were soft and distant. "Of course. But I've always dreamed of living in America since I was young. What about you? Do you miss New Orleans?"

"Some parts of it," he admitted. "Not the parts with my crazy lunatic father," he added bitterly, surprising himself by revealing his true feelings to the girl beside him. "I don't want to go back."

"Parents can be difficult, can't they?" Risty said. "But what they do might be for the best."

"I wish I could believe that," Remy replied, then changed the subject. "Sorry I wasn't much help with your homework."

Risty smiled, and gave a small shrug. "It's too nice out here to worry about schoolwork. Maybe we could get together some other night."

Remy slowly became aware of Risty's close proximity, how her shoulder touched his and the warmth she radiated. He was glad he'd brought the image inducer with him to change the color of his eyes, though he hated to hide his appearance. It was as if he were embarrassed of being a mutant, though he was not. Risty must have sensed him looking in her direction, because she turned her head towards him. Their faces were only inches apart.

"Could we?" she asked him softly.

"Could we, what?"

"Get together…some other night?"

"I'd like that," he said. Let Rogue find out for herself how unpalatable Shredded Wheat was. She'd learn in time, but for now, here was a girl who preferred her cereal with a little more kick. Remy touched Risty's cheek and leaned toward her.

In the darkness of the woods beyond the lake, a solitary figure crouched, unseen. How fortunate it was that his target had wandered away from the mansion and its security cameras and sensors. The figure lifted his head to scent the breeze that blew off the lake. His eyes widened a bit in surprise when he realized that he recognized both scents from the couple below. He watched as the pair leaned forward and shared a long kiss. He laughed hoarsely.

"Mystique(1), you cradle robber," he whispered to himself. "He's barely older than your own son!"

Tell me now what have you done

To justify your life, my son

Did you help your brothers

When they were down?

And when the bullets flew

Did you stick around?

I had no words.

I never spoke.

If I had said one thing You wouldn't know.

I did no harm,

I hurt no one.

Please don't send me away.

I want to come in.

If you give me today,

I will try again.

Child, I gave you all the breaks,

But all you did was take and take.

You say you did no harm,

But you did no good,

And never sought redemption.

I think you should.

I realize my selfish love

Has always got me through

By just enough.

I never thought this day would come

When the demons of my soul

Would be undone.

Look up and see the angels.

The gates have opened up for you.

I hope your mind is peaceful,

And love is everything you do.

~Please Don't Send Me Away

"Please Don't Send Me Away" Song by Matthew Jay

She really hated being told what to do.

The girl sighed and shuffled her feet in impatience. Her surroundings were dismal; an old warehouse in New York, its floors covered in dust and old oil stains, the windows broken out and boarded up. Water dripped onto a rusty barrel. Somewhere in the distance, a cat yowled and a garbage can fell over. When the echoes died away, she sensed a movement behind her. She spun, and the nearby barrel whipped into the air, flying end over end towards the source of movement. The figure standing behind her swatted the barrel from the air as if it were a fly. It clattered across the floor.

"Don't sneak up on me," the girl said to the man who approached her.

"Smart aleck brat!" the man roared and leapt at her, grabbing her by the throat. She dangled in his powerful grip, gasping and swinging her feet. He threw her down in disgust, and she skidded across the cement floor, smearing a clean swath through the thick dust.

"Asshole," she hissed, touching her aching neck. She would have loved to kill the monster before her, but her master found him too useful, and would punish her severely for harming him.

He growled and advanced towards her. "Now you lissen up," he said. He seemed to be more animal than man, from his ragged appearance and claws, to the predatory way he moved. "I've got orders for you now."

"I'm listening," she said. She hated that the master spoke to Sabretooth first, and didn't contact her directly. Ever since the police had incarcerated her and her gang, all orders were relayed through his hired goon.

"Your new target is the girl, Rogue," he snarled. "Now that Sinister has seen the girl at work, he thinks that she'd be more useful on our side."

"I'm not a recruiter," she snapped. "How am I supposed to convince her to play for the other team?"

"You're gonna take her," Sabretooth replied.

"Idiot! You know I've been in this body too long. That I'm stuck!" she clenched her fists before her. "And this body has more power in it than that weakling's does."

"The boss says t'force her to touch you. He thinks that she'll be able to absorb you, but it's gotta be for a long enough time," Sabretooth said. "The little bitch's done it t'me," he admitted. "It's like getting your brain sucked out through a straw."

The girl relented, then nodded. "And once I'm in, I can have any power I want. Rogue's power…the power of Polaris!" she said gleefully, as she rose slowly into the air. "Gambit's powers…even yours!" She let out a greedy laugh. "As if I'd want super-enhanced senses. You stink enough with regular powers of smell."

Sabretooth growled low in his throat. Malice was power hungry, and easily played. She would wreak enough havoc to distract the others from his true cause. Then the man known as Sinister would have exactly what he wanted.

Rogue was sitting across the table from Kurt, trying to enjoy her breakfast. Thankfully, it was the weekend, and it was quiet. Most of the other students slept in on Saturday morning. Kurt appeared to have passed out on the tabletop. He emitted a low moan.

"What's wrong with you?" Rogue asked. "If you weren't covered in blue fur, I'd swear you'd be a shade of green. Here," she said, pushing the box of Chocolate SugarBombs ("New! Improved!") across the table toward him. "Maybe you should try eating something."

Kurt looked up from the table. "Nooo," he moaned, pushing the box back. "No more chocolate."

Rogue studied him for a moment. "Hey, where's your boxes of candy?" He usually carried with him two boxes of the fund-raiser bars, one in each arm and a third in his prehensile tail if he thought no one was looking.

"Gone," he said, and hiccuped. "All gone."

"How many did you end up selling?"

"Six boxes," he replied.

Rogue gasped. "That's a-hundred and eighty candy bars!"

Kurt whimpered. "I know…I know."

"Then what's upsetting you, Kurt?"

"I ran out of customers…no one could stand the sight of those candy bars. I had to do something! I still had one box left."

"You…you didn't actually eat an entire box of candy bars…? Kurt! Why? Couldn't you have just bought them and thrown them out?"

"You don't understand!" Kurt exclaimed. "It's about honor!"

Rogue shook her head in sympathy. Just then, the kitchen door swung open. Kitty appeared, and her face was full of happy expectations. Her face brightened when she saw Rogue and Kurt at the table.

"You guys!" she gushed. "I have the best news!"

"Cashmann's is having a buy one get one free sale on fuzzy pink sweaters?" Rogue ventured.

"No," Kitty said, rolling her eyes. "I have a date to the prom!"

"Yippie skippy," Rogue said, returning to her cereal.

"Or at least, I think I do…" Kitty continued. "Anyway, look at this!" Kitty walked over to the kitchen counter and grabbed a gift-wrapped box. Presenting it to Kurt and Rogue, she opened the box. Kurt almost fainted. Inside was an assortment of chocolates. It was half-empty.

"I found it in my locker, along with this note," Kitty said. She cleared her throat dramatically as she brandished the letter. "'Chocolate is sweet, but not nearly as sweet as you,'" she read. "'Signed: Your Secret Admirer.' Isn't that so cool?"

Kurt had a strange look on his face, but said nothing.

"You've got to be kidding me," Rogue said.

"Anyway, that's not all the news I have," Kitty said, tucking her note away and popping a chocolate into her mouth. "Duncan asked Jean to go with him to the prom, but she turned him down and then Scott asked her and then she said 'Yes!' and now Scott and Jean are going to the prom together, which is just so perfect!"

"Whoa," Kurt said, finally. "Information overload."

Rogue sulked. "What makes that so perfect?"

Kitty gloated. "I know something you don't know."

With a sneer Rogue said: "Oh, please. Ah'll make a random guess. Jean got made prom queen, and Scott got voted for king."

Kitty's mouth was agape. "How…how did you know that? It was supposed to be a secret!"

"Yeah, anticlimactic, isn't it?" Rogue said, folding her arms across her chest.

"Fine, smarty pants," Kitty said. "I bet you didn't know this bit of information: Remy and Risty are dating."

"The whole school knows that, all ready, Kitty," Kurt said.

"What?" Rogue said, baffled. "They are not! I hang out with them every day. They aren't dating. Of all the stupid…ha! Dating, right! Remy and Risty!"

"My ears are burning," said a new voice. Remy pushed open the kitchen door. "What about Remy and Risty?"

"Hi, Remy!" Kitty said brightly. "So, are you planning on taking Risty to the prom?"

"The prom?" Remy asked, and then laughed. "You're kidding, right?"

"Ha!" Rogue said, a triumphant look on her face.

"We are planning on throwing an anti-prom party that night, though. No shirt, no shoes, no problem," Remy continued. "It's at the boathouse. You can come if you want."

Kitty gave Rogue as smug look that seemed to say 'I told you so!' "Thanks for the invite, Remy. But I think I might be going to the prom after all."

"Really, with who?" Remy asked.

Kitty began to explain when Rogue interrupted. "Excuse me, but there's only so much a body can stand in one morning. Goodbye!" With that, she marched out, causing the door to swing wildly.

"What's wrong with her?" Remy asked.

Kitty and Kurt shared a look and smiled. Both shrugged and shook their heads.

"Kids," Remy muttered, before grabbing an apple. Then he too turned and left.

By Monday, word had spread about Scott and Jean. Duncan had also heard, and was taking out his aggressions on Scott. It began small, with paper balls tossed at him during class. It later progressed to a shove in the hallway. Halfway through the school day, Scott was beginning to lose his temper, and Duncan knew it.

At lunch, school announcements were being made over the televisions set up in the cafeteria. Announcements were run like a news program, orchestrated by the audio-visual students. Today they were making some important statements about prom. Scott was standing in line with his lunch tray, watching the announcements as the lunch lady put today's selection onto his plate.

"And now we announce the winner of the candy bar sale!" said Taryn, a close friend of Jean's (and Scott's), who was anchorwoman. She paused dramatically. "The winner of the two free prom tickets is…Kurt Wagner! Yay! Congratulations, Kurt!"

Kurt was standing up in his chair, bowing to loud applause and whistles. Smiling, Scott paid the lunch lady.

"Also," Taryn continued. "I'm happy to tell you the song for this year's prom."

"I bet its Lady in Red," came a whisper from behind Scott. Scott turned to see Remy, who was watching the announcements.

"And the song is…Lady in Red!" Taryn proclaimed.

"Tole you," Remy said to Scott.

Scott grinned. "I guess you've got it all figured out," he said. Remy shrugged. "Let's go congratulate the grand prize winner," Scott said, walking over towards Kurt.

"Don' know how anyone could consider him a winner…he spent most of Saturday yakkin' on the old porcelain telephone," Remy added.

As the pair made their way across the cafeteria, the broad-shouldered figure of Duncan Matthews shoved past, knocking trays with Scott and causing him to stumble into Remy, who also dropped his lunch.

"Oops," Duncan said, his voice laden with amusement. "Sorry, Scott."

Scott looked down to see Sloppy Joe smeared down the front of his shirt. "Do you have any basic motor control or concept of direction?" Scott asked. "Or has all that peroxide you put in your hair finally leaked through to your brain?"

Remy snorted with mirth as he handed Scott a paper napkin. Duncan sneered, and glared at the pair. "What's with the shades?" he asked Remy. "Scott, have you started up a fan club or something?"

"This is th'part where we're supposed t'say something clever," Remy said to Scott. "Then he challenges us to meet him at the flagpole when classes let out."

"Maybe then we'll come to realize that fighting won't solve our problems, after all," Scott said solemnly. "How very After-School-Special."

"What are you two idiots talking about?" Duncan said, getting angrier.

"I'm sorry," Remy said. "Can't you keep up? We'll try to talk slower next time."

"Seeeee…yoouuu…laaaaterr…Duncaaan," Scott said slowly as he tried to walk around the bigger kid.

Duncan refused to let him pass, grabbing Scott by the collar. Scott was furious, but not so distracted not to detect the soft whine of Remy's mutant powers igniting.

"Back off, Duncan," Remy said warningly. From what Scott knew about Gambit, one warning was more than he usually gave.

"Remy, don't," Scott said, his voice hard.

"That's right," Duncan said, his eyes never leaving Scott's face. "This is between you and me."

"Boys," said a voice over the din of excited teenagers. "What's going on here?"

Principal Kelly was fast approaching, kids dashing out of his way. Duncan released Scott with a shove. "Nothing," they both said. Duncan stalked off.

Remy gave the principal a disarming smile and said something that Scott couldn't hear. Principal Kelly blinked several times, then smiled back at Remy before turning to walk away. Scott eyed Remy suspiciously as the other boy stooped to pick up the spilled lunch trays.

"You're going to have to tell me how you do that," Scott said to Remy.

"Ancient Chinese secret," Remy replied, before glancing away. On the opposite side of the cafeteria was Lance, who was beckoning to him. "I gotta go," Remy said. "Extra-curricular activities."

"Remy, what---." Scott began, but the other boy was ignoring him as he hurried over to Lance. Lance and Scott shared a measuring glare before he and Remy left the cafeteria. Scott shook his head and sighed before joining Kurt at his table. Smiling warmly, he congratulated Kurt on winning as he sat with his other friends. His mind was still piecing together what had just happened between himself, Duncan, and Remy. Scott wondered if Remy's camaraderie was genuine, and if he were finally coming 'round to being part of their X-Men family. The part of him that had scoffed at Avalanche becoming an X-Man(2) rebelled against the idea of Gambit joining up so quickly. Scott forced himself to think the best of Remy, before turning his attention back to his friends.

"Oh, look!" Kitty squealed when she opened her locker. "Another letter, and flowers!"

Jean huffed in irritation before saying: "Well, tell me what it says."

Kitty held up three roses, one white, one yellow, and one red. She was beaming as she read the letter. "'White is for your innocence…yellow is for the hand of friendship I give you…and red is for the romance I hope we share. From, Your Secret Admirer.'" Kitty sighed. "Oh, Jean…it's so romantic!"

"I like how he romantically broke into your locker," Jean said dryly.

"He lets nothing stand in his way of his love for me," Kitty corrected her, as she leaned back into her locker to search for any more possible presents. "Hey, where's my lunch?"

Jean perused the letter. "He spelled 'innocence' wrong," she added.

Kitty put her hands on her hips and glared at Jean. "Honestly, Jean! What happened to your sense of romance?"

Jean was still looking at the letter. "'Romance' is spelled with an 's', here too," she said, pointing.

Kitty snatched the letter from Jean. "I don't see Scott giving you any letters!" She turned away and smelled her flowers. "I wonder when my admirer is going to turn up? I bet he's handsome…and a senior."

Jean groaned and gave Kitty a shove into her open locker. The door slammed shut.

"Hey! Jean!" cried Kitty from inside her locker. "Not funny Jean! Let me out!"

There was no reply. Watching from the small vent in the locker, Kitty was forced to wait until the hall was empty before phasing out of her locker. She stomped off to the lunchroom, determined to give Jean a lecture on True Love and being more tolerant to those who were lucky enough to find it.

Remy took a steadying breath before knocking on the door. It had been a long week having to tiptoe around the mansion. No one had approached him since the incident in the Danger Room. Instead of feeling relief, Remy felt more and more nervous with each passing day. There was no answer to his knock. He sighed and began to walk away when the door opened.

"Yes?" a serene voice asked.

Remy winced and slowly turned around. "Hello, Storm," he said. "Can I talk t'you for a second?"

She nodded and stepped back from the door. "Come in," she said.

He followed her inside. Storm's room was in the attic; its ceiling was sloped to a peak. Large windows let in the dying evening light. The room was filled with green plants and the air was slightly humid.

"Don't mean t'bother you none," Remy began.

"No bother," Storm said as she sat on the edge of her bed. She gestured to a chair set beside a vanity table. He reluctantly sat facing her. "I can wager a guess as to why you are here," she said.

"You haven't told anybody about my being---about what happened in the Danger Room last week."

"No, I have not."

Storm wasn't making this easy for him. He inwardly sighed. "Why not?"

She considered him for a moment. "I should not have acted as I did," she said. "I apologize."

"You're apologizin' t'me?"

"It was not my place to pry," Storm said. "You had not done anything to provoke my mistrust. You would have come forward in your own time."

Remy was stunned. "It weren't somethin' I like t'go round tellin' folks," he said, then added with a disarming smile: "For some reason, people don't trust me too good."

"After stealing Wolverine's motorcycle…?" Storm returned his smile.

"Well, I'm sorry 'bout that," he said. When Storm arched her eyebrow he added: "But not that sorry."

"I am glad you came to me," Storm said. "I was wondering how long you would continue to skulk about."

"Y'said you were a thief once," Remy said.

Her eyes turned sad. "Yes," was all she said.

"Now it's my turn t'pry," Remy said, as he stood up. "Sorry."

"It is all right," she replied, gesturing for him to sit back down. She paused, pursing her lips as she thought. "My parents were killed when a plane crashed into the building where we lived," she said finally. "I was left alone, to wander the streets of Cairo. I would have starved had I not turned to picking pockets. I left that life behind me a long time ago. The master thief who trained me moved as you do…That is how I recognized you as a thief, and a well-trained one. You said your father taught you?"

Remy nodded. "Yeah, fore he died. I would've learnt more, had he lived."

"What happened to him?"

Remy folded his arms, looking away. "Got some disease, I dunno," he lapsed into silence. Storm waited patiently. "He was a mutant, too," Remy continued. "The disease he got, only mutants could get. At least that's what Nathan tole me."

"Nathan Essex? Your adoptive father, correct?"

"Yeah. He became my dad's doctor. He knows a bunch about genetics and stuff. When my father got sick, Nathan came and told us about genes and the X-factor that makes us mutants, and if he could study the disease."

"Have you spoken to Professor Xavier or Dr. McCoy about this?"

"No, only you. D'you think I should?"

Storm nodded thoughtfully. "If you feel up to it. I hope that you feel that you can trust us, Remy."

"I do, Stormy. Thanks for not tellin' anybody."

Storm put a hand on Remy's forearm. "Your particular talents may be an asset to the X-Men in the future," she said.

He gave her a grateful look, and nodded. "I'll do my best," he said.

Scott blinked blearily at the ceiling. He looked over at his alarm clock. 12:47: it read. He'd gone to bed almost two hours ago. Scott began to close his eyes again when something rapped against his window. His eyes snapped open as he realized the sound had caused him to wake. Getting out of bed, Scott walked over to the window and peered out. There was someone down on the lawn below. Something clattered against the glass; the person on the lawn was throwing rocks. Scott opened the window.

"Hey," he hissed. "Who's there?"

The figure on the grass lifted his head. With a jolt, Scott recognized the blaze of red as Gambit's eyes. "What are you doing?" he asked.

"Shh!" Gambit said. "Get dressed. I need you t'take me somewhere."

"Go to bed," Scott said. "It's a school night."

"Oh, c'mon, Ken Doll. Don't be such a wienie!"

Scott shook his head and slid the window closed. "Idiot," he muttered to himself. He climbed back into bed. He lay there for several minutes, staring at the ceiling. Then, with an exasperated groan, he jumped back up and grabbed a pair of sweatpants and a gym shirt. Quietly as he could, he went downstairs and out onto the back lawn. Gambit was gone.

"That jerk," Scott muttered and was about to return to his room when a hand clamped down on his shoulder. He smothered a cry of surprise when he saw it was Gambit. "What do you want?"

Remy put his finger to his lips. "Let's get your car. We'll push it to the end of the driveway. C'mon."

Flustered, Scott trailed after him. They manually opened the garage door and pushed the car out onto the driveway. Remy tossed a duffel bag into the backseat. They were both panting when they reached the end of the drive.

"Where are we going?" Scott asked.

"Aren't you full of questions?" Remy said, hopping into the passenger seat. "We're going to Duncan's house."

Scott was dumbfounded. "What for?"

Remy nodded to the bag in the backseat. "You'll see."

Scott started the car. Despite his initial shock and frustration, he was feeling somewhat elated. Whatever Remy had planned was most likely bad for Duncan. Scott drove down Greymalkin Lane and down the road that ran parallel to the lake. All the nicer mansions were along the back roads away from town. It was only a five-minute drive to the Matthews house. Remy had Scott cut the engine before they reached the house, and they both walked up the driveway.

"I saw you playing basketball out on the court," Remy said to Scott. "I'm glad you have a good throwing arm." He reached into his bag and pulled out a roll of toilet paper.

"You're kidding me, right?" Scott asked dubiously.

"Scott, we're both in high school. We're seventeen years old. When are you ever going to get t'do this again? When you're a thirty-five year old accountant? Now just haul back like this and put some spin on it." He let a roll fly, a white tail fluttering behind it. The toilet paper looped over a tree and came back down leaving a streamer of paper in the highest branches.

Emboldened by Gambit's actions, Scott bit his lip in determination and threw. In minutes, the stately manse was bedecked with trails of toilet paper. Scott paused as he stooped to recollect a half-spent roll. In the driveway was Duncan's car, a sporty red Mustang. Remy handed him a can of shaving cream.

"What is with this town?" Remy asked. "Do they just issue everybody a sports car when they move here? Cause I think I got gypped."

Ignoring Remy, Scott made a beeline for Duncan's car, shaking the can of shaving cream the whole way. He carefully spelled out the word "asswipe" on the hood. Satisfied, he took a step back to admire his work.

"Very nice," complimented Remy as he liberally applied petroleum jelly to the underside of the door handles.

"It's too bad we don't have any eggs," Scott said.

"Would I let you down?" Remy asked, proffering the emptied bag. They both backed away from the car and let the eggs fly. Unfortunately, the car's alarm began to blare.

"Oopsie," Remy said, and they began to run down the driveway. The lights on the front porch lit. "Such a shame Duncan left the top down on his car."

Scott let out a bark of laughter. Up at the house, they could make out the sounds of astonishment. Then Duncan's voice echoed down the driveway.

"My car!"

Remy barely made it through Speech class the next day. The other students were taking turns giving their persuasive speeches. Most of them were about saving the rainforest and the evils of using nuclear power. Remy's own speech on the pros of cigarette smoking hadn't gone over with the other students so well.

"At least it's more interesting than this drivel," he thought to himself as he stifled a yawn. He cast a glance over at Rogue, who also wasn't paying attention. She was frantically scribbling in her notebook. Her speech was scheduled for the next day. She must have felt his eyes on her because she looked up at Remy and gave him a glare.

"Brr," Remy thought as he turned away. Rogue had been especially chilly towards him lately.

The last speech finally came to a close and the students rifled about at their desks until the bell rang. Remy met Rogue at the door. "Hey," he said. "Do you need any help on your assignment?"

"No," she said hotly. "Ah'm fine thanks. As if Ah'd want any help from you. Your speech was awful."

"I bet I turned a few of them," Remy said, jerking his thumb back towards the classroom. "The teacher didn't say I had to make everyone agree with me. I followed the assignment."

"Are you evil on purpose, or is that part of your mutant power too?"

"What is with you, Rogue?" Remy exclaimed. "Are you really that upset by my defense of Big Tobacco? Or is something else pissing you off?"

Rogue continued on to her locker, ignoring him.

"Hi, you guys," said Risty, as she trotted over to meet them. "Hey, what's wrong? You both look down."

"Nothing, Risty," said Remy coolly. "Let me walk you to your class."

Risty smiled at him as he steered her away. "Is something the matter with Rogue?"

"I dunno," Remy said. "She's pissy about something."

"Maybe she's jealous?" Risty offered.

"Of what?"

"You complain about Scott being clueless…why don't you look at yourself?" Risty declared.

"She never acted like she cared about me b'fore," Remy retorted. He waved to Lance, who was just emerging from his English class. Lance joined up with them, but not before casting a glance over his shoulder at Kitty who was walking in the opposite direction.

"Maybe all of us want something we can't have," Risty said softly to Remy.

Remy looked down at Risty and frowned. "Hey, Lance," he said. "Is today the big day?"

"Yeah, I'm still working up the nerve."

"What's this all about?" asked Risty.

"Lance is going to ask Kitty to the prom," Remy said.

Risty laughed. "You're joking! Well, whatever you've got planned, it had better be good. She's obsessed with this secret admirer thing."

Remy and Lance shared a look. "Talk about being clueless," Remy said.

"You?" Risty said to Lance. "You're the secret admirer? I don't believe it! How did you manage breaking into her locker, then?"

"I had a little help from my friend Lightfingers, here," said Lance, right before Remy elbowed him in the ribs and glared at him. "Ow!"

"A lock-pick, eh?" Risty chided Remy. "When will I ever discover all your secrets?"

"All in good time, m'lady," Remy said, and gave her a quick kiss on the lips before she disappeared into her classroom.

Lance and Remy continued down the hall to the wood shop. "So Risty and you seem to be getting along pretty good," Lance said.


"What about Rogue?"

"What about her!" Remy exclaimed before stomping into the classroom and slamming the door in Lance's face.

Lance rolled his eyes. "Completely clueless," he said.

Hours before, Lance had nervously slipped a note into Kitty's locker, telling her where she could meet her admirer face to face. He sat outside the school on one of the picnic benches. Lance wiped his sweating palms on his jeans and checked his watch. It was six minutes after three o'clock. She was late.

"Maybe she didn't find the note?" Lance thought to himself as he chewed his thumbnail. Then he spotted her. She was just breaking away from a group of friends, waving to them. His stomach tied in a knot. "Okay," he told himself. "Remember, be cool."

"Lance?" she asked as she approached. "Hi."

"H-hi, Kitty," he stammered. Kitty was still looking around the school grounds. "Did you get my note?"

Her eyes snapped back to him. "Your note?" Kitty said incredulously. "You mean, it was you? The flowers and candy and poetry…?"

Lance smiled dubiously. "A-ha…uh, yeah, that was me. Here," he said, taking a small package out of his backpack. "I made you this." He thrust the gift at her. She took it from him, smiling uncertainly.

"Th-thanks, Lance," she said, unwrapping it. Inside was a little dragon, carved from wood. "Oh, Lance!"

"I know you like dragons, and stuff," he said.

"You made this?" she asked. "It's the nicest thing anyone's ever given me." She gave him a hug, which he excepted rigidly.

"Wow!" he thought. "This is going really well!"

"So, uh, Kitty," he began. "Will you go to the prom with me? I won't be a jerk or make fun of your friends or anything."

Kitty pulled back from the hug. She looked away guiltily. "Oh, about that."

"Uh oh," Lance thought.

"Lance, I didn't know it was you who sent me those things," she said.

Lance's face turned red. "So now that you know, you don't want to go with me after all. Is that it?"

"Now wait---." Kitty began.

"I mean," Lance continued, interrupting, "you wouldn't go to the mall with me, why would you want to be my date to the prom?"

"Lance," she said softly, putting her hand on his arm. "What you did was so sweet. I didn't know you had such a romantic soul. When Kurt asked me to the prom, I thought it was him all along. I came here expecting to see him. He does these kinds of hokey things all the time, y'know?"

"So now I'm hokey?" Lance demanded.

"No!" Kitty said. "Well, maybe a little."

Lance turned away.

Kitty took a step towards him. "But I'm the kind of girl who likes hokey things," she said. "I like flowers and candy…and little dragons. You know that I'm a sucker for heart-shaped boxes and love notes."

Lance relented, but his shoulders sagged in disappointment. "Man, why'd I wait so long," he muttered.

"I'm sorry, Lance. I didn't mean to make you feel sucky."

"It's all right," he replied. "I guess I was acting completely out of character. Call it temporary insanity."

Kitty patted his arm. "Hey, uhm, after prom there's going to be a party over at the boathouse. Are you going to come?"

"Yeah, I was going to go," he said. "Remy asked if I'd come." What he didn't add was that Remy had made him a fake ID and he was providing the beer.

"Cool," Kitty said. "I'll see you there." She gathered up her belongings and tucked the dragon into her bag. "Hey Lance."


"Thanks for making me feel special, and like a girl. Sometimes I miss that when I'm dressed up in uniform and fighting evil robots in the Danger Room."

Lance rubbed the back of his neck, and he hoped that his face wasn't as red as he felt it was. "Uhm, don't mention it."

She smiled and waved as she walked off.

The bush behind him rustled and Todd's head poked out. "You're such a pansy," he said.

Lance leapt after him and proceeded to strangle the other boy. "I'm going to kill you!"

"Wait'll Maximoff finds out. He's going to---accckkk!"

The little green light on the laptop flicked on and off as the machine clicked softly to itself. Remy's eyes flickered, then opened. His laptop was sitting on the bed stand. He stared at it for several moments before putting a shielding hand over the light. He looked over at Evan, who was sleeping peacefully. Sitting up, Remy pulled the computer into his lap and slid out of bed.

Once in the bathroom with the door closed, he flipped up the screen. Bluish light washed over him as the monitor activated. Before the screen could come into focus, a soft harsh voice emitted from the computer speakers.

"Why have you been ignoring my summons?" said the voice.

Remy waited until the screen focused. The pale face of his adoptive father appeared in the window.

"Why are you calling me?" Remy asked, giving no answer.

Nathan's face turned dark. "I have a mission for you," he said finally.

"What? No: 'How's school?' or 'Have you made any new friends?'" Remy said snidely.

"Do not give me your insolence!" shouted Nathan, his voice echoing in the small room. "Do you think that you can behave as you'd like? Do you believe you've acquired some kind of new freedom? You are not as free as you'd like to think, Remy. I have eyes watching your every move. And your childish antics do not amuse me."

Remy's heart was pounding in his ears. "What do you want?" he said hoarsely.

"Professor Xavier has files on all the mutants in the Institute. You will infiltrate this computer known as Cerebro and retrieve those files for me."

"I can't do that!" Remy hissed at the computer screen.

"You can, and you will," replied Nathan stoically. "I have faith in your talents."

Remy swallowed, his eyes blurring. "Fine," he said. "Whatever. But this is the last time I steal for you."

"That is not for you to decide. I will tell you when your work for me is finished. Get the files. I will come for them." The computer winked off, the screen went blank.

Remy stared at the blank screen for several moments before closing the laptop. He leaned his head back against the tile wall, his eyes closed against tears he refused to shed.

The night of the Bayville High School prom had finally arrived. Scott and Kurt were nervously standing in the large foyer of Xavier's Institute, fidgeting with their poorly fitted rental tuxedos. Kurt was clinging to a clear plastic box containing a corsage. Scott adjusted his bow tie for the seventh time. Storm and Evan stood at the base of the staircase, talking quietly. Rogue sat in a plush chair in the corner, her eyes flicking to the top of the staircase and back to Scott and Kurt. At long last, one of the bedroom doors opened and Kitty appeared.

"Ta-da!" she said, flinging out her arms and striking a pose. "What do you think?"

Her hair, which she usually wore up in a ponytail, was now confined to a bun. Bejeweled dragonflies, which bounced on tiny springs, dotted her coiffure. She had on long, white satin gloves. Her dress was pink, bright pink, and while the bodice was form fitting satin, the skirt itself was an extravagant cascade of fluffy pink material. Little rhinestones floated in the skirt. Everyone in the foyer was stunned into speechlessness.

Scott was the first to speak. "Wow..Kitty. You look---uh…"

"You look beautiful," said Kurt softly in an awed voice. Scott glanced at him critically and saw that Kurt had actually meant what he said. Kitty smiled happily and bounced down the steps. She did a small pirouette in front of Kurt.

Rogue was blinking her eyes rapidly, as if Kitty's dress were physically blinding her. She put up her hands to shield herself from the dress' glow. Glancing back up at the stairs, she was the first to realize that Jean had half-descended the staircase. Rogue was instantly struck by how genuinely beautiful Jean was. The redheaded girl carried herself with such delicate grace, and yet seemed shy and nervous at the same time. Rogue was torn between jealousy and admiration, though she would have never admitted it to anyone, especially herself.

Jean made a tiny noise and everyone turned to look at her. Her dress stood in stark contrast to Kitty's lavish one. It was a simple gown with an open neck, with two small spaghetti straps to hold it up. Her long skirt brushed lightly on the ground. It was white with a faint iridescent shimmer. Jean's hair was pulled up in a french twist; ringlets framed her face and trailed down her neck. Evan let out a long whistle, breaking the spell the pretty girl had cast on them all.

"Jean, you look fantastic!" Kitty exclaimed, bounding over to hug the other girl.

"So do you, Kitty," Jean said modestly.

Jean slowly approached Scott. "So?" she said.

Scott thrust a corsage box at her. "Flowers," he said.

Jean nodded, raising her eyebrows. "Thank you, Scott. Would you pin them on for me?" His hands began to shake and Jean took the box from him. "On second thought…"

The quartet walked out onto the front steps, Scott gulping the cool late-afternoon air. His car, which he had spent the day cleaning, was parked in the front. After his head was a bit clearer, Scott opened the passenger-side door.

"Your chariot awaits," he said to Jean. He turned to Kitty and looked her over for several long moments. He then looked at his car, and the small two seats cramped into the back. Scott looked again at Kitty, who was smiling obliviously. Finally, Scott said: "I guess we should have splurged and rented the limo after all."

Risty Wylde climbed up the ladder that led up to the loft. She found Remy there, laying on his back and staring up at the ceiling. They were both in the boathouse, waiting for the other party guests to arrive.

"What are you doing up here?" she asked. "The others will be here soon."

He looked over at her and shrugged. Remy was in fact, miserable, and had no one to confide in. How could he admit to anyone that he had stolen information, the secrets of his friends, from the Institute? He had later destroyed the hard copy of the files, igniting the disc with a flare from his mutant powers, but it hadn't dismissed the feelings of guilt he still carried.

"What's the matter?" she said, crawling over towards him. She sat beside him and tucked a wisp of his hair behind his ear. "You've been mope-y lately."

"Nothing," he answered, giving her a slight smile. "Just thinking."

"Maybe we should stop coming to this boathouse," Risty said. "Whenever we come here, all we end up doing is thinking."

"Do you propose another boathouse activity, or just less thinking in general?" Remy asked, the familiar mischievous glint appeared in his eye.

Risty returned his grin. "Oh, I dunno. Maybe we could go over to my place, and think about something else," she snuggled close against him. "Like maybe later tonight?"

Remy chuckled softly and pulled her into his arms, kissing her. Risty sighed softly, and ran her fingers through his hair.

"Knock, knock!" came a call from below. "Hey, where are you guys?"

Remy and Risty peered down from the loft. "Hey, Lance," Remy said. "Up here."

Lance glanced up, and grinned. "Look what I got!" he said, lifting his arms. In each hand was a twelve pack of beer.

"Ugh!" Remy said, as he began to descend the ladder. "Milwaukee's Best! What were you thinking?"

"Hey, it was only like, five dollars! What do you expect?" Lance proclaimed. "And the ID you made me worked like a charm. Who'da thunk I could pass for thirty-five!"

"Excuse me," said a voice from behind Lance. A shadow fell over him. "I think I will be taking these."

He turned to see Ororo Munroe standing behind him. She took the cases of beer from his unrelenting hands.

"Uh…" he managed.

"And what is this about a fake identification?" she prompted. Lance reluctantly produced the card from his back pocket. "Thank you," Storm said. "I have come to inform you, children, that I will be chaperoning your party, since the professor and Henry are both out of town, and Logan is unavailable." At their crestfallen looks, she continued. "Rest assured I will be watching from afar, and will not interrupt your party. Unless things get out of hand, that is." She cast a meaningful glance at Lance.

"We'll be good, Stormy," Remy said charmingly with a smile.

She studied him critically and then returned his grin. "Very well," she said. "Enjoy yourselves."

The three watched her heft the cases of beer before walking off. "I wonder what she's going t'do with all that beer?" Risty said.

Remy and Lance exploded into laughter, struck by the unusual image of Storm hiking through the woods with a case of "The Beast" in each hand.

"Hey, what's so funny? Has the party started all ready?" Three new guests had arrived, Bobby, Jubilee, and Sam. Like Remy, they were all new mutants at Xavier's Institute, and weren't attending the prom that night.

"What? No music?" Jubilee asked.

"Right here, my friends," said Evan from behind them, as he lugged his expensive stereo equipment into the boathouse. "Let's get this stuff hooked up. Hey, by the way. Did anyone else see my aunt out there with two cases of beer? Or have I completely lost my sanity?"

It was late. By now, both the prom and the party at the boathouse were well under way. Rogue walked through the dense trees that surrounded the lake. The moon overhead was full and bright, and silver light shone through the trees, casting dappled light on the ground. The kids were having a good time over at the boathouse. She could catch glimpses of the party through the trees; the warm light that spilled from the windows, the sounds of laughter and music, the silhouettes of the party-goers dancing in the building and out on the lawn. Rogue looked up as two firecrackers whizzed over the lake and exploded. The brightly colored streamers lit up the night sky. It was Jubilee's handiwork, her own way of celebrating and having a good time.

"Ah hope none of the non-mutant guests noticed," Rogue thought to herself. "Ha, sounds like somethin' Scott would say." At the thought of Scott, her shoulders drooped. He had looked so happy when he had seen Jean tonight. Slack-jawed and dumbstruck, but happy, nonetheless. Rogue scuffed her boot on the ground, kicking up a rock in her frustration. She could always go join the party with the other kids, instead of moping about in the woods. But then there was Remy. She wasn't entirely sure about how she felt towards him. He ran hot one minute, cold the next. And he was currently involved with Risty. "How could she?" The angry thought ran through Rogue's mind, and was quickly banished. She wasn't sure what she wanted, but she knew she didn't want to feel left out anymore. Squaring her shoulders, she began to walk towards the boathouse.

A soft clink of metal against metal made her pause and turn around. A soft breeze from the lake stirred the trees. Rogue could feel the hair on her arms stand up as her eyes scanned the darkness. The party on the lake suddenly seemed very distant. She turned, and began to run towards the boathouse. "Stupid," she thought to herself, trying to ease the feeling of anxiety. "Scared of the dark." She slowed to a fast walk. Something shot past her on the ground; it glinted silver in the moonlight.

Rogue jumped back. "A snake!" The fast moving creature twined about her leg. But it was too cold and too hard to be a snake. Rogue fell when her foot was yanked out from under her. Wrapped around her leg was a heavy metal chain. It moved like something alive. She felt herself being pulled across the ground. Rogue grabbed hold of a tree and struggled against the chain. "Help!" she called, but her voice felt tiny and muffled under the canopy of trees. The chain whipped around her, binding her fast to the tree. She struggled, but the chains only pulled tighter.

"No one's here to help you, Rogue," said a soft viscous voice from the darkness. "All your friends are far, far away."

Rogue's heart pounded in her chest, and she fought to breathe against the constricting chains. She recognized the voice, she had heard it in her own mind once before. The girl known as Malice stepped out from the shadows, walking slowly toward Rogue.

"What do you want?" Rogue asked. "Let go-a me!"

"Oh no," Malice said, as she stripped off one of her gloves, and then the other. "I'm going to grab hold of you, and I'm never, ever going to let go."

Rogue cringed back from Malice's reaching hands. "What are you doing? Are you crazy?" she shrieked. "Don't touch me, get away!"

Malice took a steadying breath and pressed her palms against the sides of Rogue's face. Her body jerked as Rogue's powers activated. Rogue felt as if she were being suffocated. Her mind reeled, trying to push the unfamiliar thoughts and feelings out of her mind. But the new presence swarmed around her, like a cloud of angry bees. She continued to scream and struggle until Malice's body went limp and sagged to the ground.

Rogue leaned up against the tree. The chains slackened and fell to lie in coils at her feet. Rogue stood up and staggered forward. Idly, she toed the green-haired woman at her feet. Holding up her hands before her face, she studied them carefully, before looking down to take in the rest of her body.

"It worked," she breathed. "It really worked!"

Kitty stifled a yawn and pressed her gloved palm against her mouth. Her dress fluttered around her like a pink cloud. Kurt sat beside her in the backseat of Scott's fast moving car, trying his best not to be smothered by Kitty's dress.

Scott caught the sight of Kitty yawning in his rearview mirror. "Are you still up for the boathouse party?" he asked.

"Of course!" Kitty said.

Jean laughed. "You can't keep Kitty away from a good party." Jean stretched her arms. The top of Scott's car was down, and the night breeze felt good against her skin. "What a beautiful night," she said. "I can bet that Storm had a hand in this."

Scott glanced away from the road to look at Jean. They shared a smile.

"Aw, aren't you two just so cute," Kurt said from the backseat.

Scott began to retort when Jean gasped. "Scott! Look out!" Just as Scott turned back to the road, something leapt out in front of his car. The tires squealed against the pavement as he hit the brakes. He was too late. The car continued to skid forward and came to an abrupt halt.

Opening his eyes, he tried to make out what he had hit. Standing before the car was an enormous man. The car was slightly tilted upwards because the man had a hold of the front bumper. He released it suddenly, and the car fell back onto all four wheels. The figure stepped back, into the pool of light cast by the car's headlights. He growled.

"Party's over, kids," Sabretooth said, as he rubbed his hands together in anticipation of a good fight.

"Hey," Risty said, as she took Remy's hand. "Aren't you having fun?"

Remy cast a glance down at her, before his eyes returned to scanning the crowd of kids. "No," he said finally. "Let's go."

Together they slipped out the back door unnoticed. They trotted down one of the many nature trails towards the gravel lot where cars could be parked.

When they got into the car, Risty asked: "What's bothering you, Remy? You can tell me."

He shook his head. "Nothing, there's nothing wrong."

"Don't give me that," she said starting up her car. "You're upset. I can tell." Her voice changed slightly. "Is it about the X-Men?"

Remy looked at her sharply. "What?" he said.

"Don't worry," she said smoothly. "I all ready know. Rogue told me about it. We're good friends y'know. But don't tell her I said anything. I kind of promised I wouldn't tell."

Remy relaxed slightly. "Really? So you know I'm…"

"A mutant? Yes."

"And it doesn't bother you?"

Risty shook her head. "No," she said smiling. "Not at all. So tell me, what exactly is your power anyway? I've been curious."

Remy turned over groggily. There was an alarm clock beside the bed. It was some time after midnight. By now, the prom goers would have arrived at the boathouse to continue their party. The girl beside him sighed, then turned and snuggled close. Remy idly ran his fingers through her short, purple hair. Risty lived in a very nice house, an old Victorian mansion. She had told him her parents were out on business. He wondered why she rarely had anyone over to visit, but since she didn't mind hanging around mutants, it was just as well that she regularly came over to the Institute.

Remy thought he felt a faint tremor roll through the house. "Probably just the old furnace," he thought to himself. The tremor was enough to wake Risty's nearby computer from its sleep-mode. He blinked in the growing light from the computer monitor. Slowly, so not to wake Risty, he got up to turn the machine off. But when the screen came in to focus, he gave pause. He recognized the face on the screen as the X-Men recruit, Jubilee.

Remy froze, contemplating the image before him. Toying with the mouse, he clicked on one of the options offered on the screen. A new face appeared. It was Cannonball, also known as Sam Guthrie. A window popped open. Remy scanned the file, quickly realizing that it contained a run-down of all of Sam's mutant powers. There was a list of his strengths, as well as his weaknesses. Exploring further, Remy found that all the mutants at the Institute were listed in these files, except for his own. His heart began beating very quickly.

"Why would Risty have these files?" Remy asked himself. Looking down at the computer tower, he saw that the green light for the CD drive was on; that the program she had up was running off of the CD. Glancing over at Risty, he pressed the button that would open the CD drive. The tray whirred out, and Remy grabbed the disc from the tray.

He hurried from the room, grabbing his pants on the way. He found his shirt and jacket in the downstairs living room. Stuffing the CD into his coat pocket, he darted out the front door. Once outside, he paused, and glanced back up at Risty's bedroom window. He would have to tell someone about this. He felt a desperate need to talk to Storm, or even the professor, immediately. Risty's house wasn't far from the high school. Perhaps he could run there, and telephone the Institute from one of the payphones. He hoped Rogue was still at the Institute, since she had not shown up at the party. He began to run down the sidewalk towards the school. He lost his footing suddenly when the ground beneath his feet trembled.

"That was no furnace," he said to himself. There was only one reason the earth would be shaking. And that was if Lance were angry, or in trouble. Remy leapt to his feet and, deciding to forego phoning from the school, he sprinted in the direction of Xavier's Institute. He knew he could make it through town, past Harry's and the comic shop, and up the road to the nationally protected forest that surrounded the town. He could take a short cut through to forest straight to the lake. It would be a long run, and he mourned the loss of his Harley. He was just turning the corner where the comic shop was when he collided into a rock-hard obstacle. Remy fell onto his backside. Looking up, he gasped, and began scooting backwards across the sidewalk.

Before him stood Nathan Essex, tall and dark, his skin shining white in the moonlight. As always, he was polished and immaculate, with his sleek black hair tied back at the nape of his neck and his goatee neatly groomed. He seemed even more omnipotent and impassive than Remy remembered. He was wearing a long black jacket over a dark shirt with a high collar. Nathan's eyes were stern and glowing a dull red.

"Have you done as I commanded?" he asked.

Remy's mouth opened, but no sound came out.

"Come," Nathan said, extending his hand. "Do not be foolish, boy." Remy reluctantly took Nathan's hand and stood. "Do you have the files?" Nathan asked again.

Remy began to shake his head, but then stopped. His adoptive father's face was growing dark and angry. "Why now?" Remy croaked.

"Time grows short. Victor is collecting the specimens I need as we speak."

Remy lurched back from Nathan. "What?" he cried. "What you call specimens I call friends! You can't do this!"

"Silence, boy," he said as he grabbed Remy by the collar of his jacket. "Give me the files, and I will let you free."

Remy looked up into Nathan's hard blank eyes. "What do you mean? That you'll let go of my coat, or you'll let me go? As in, I won't never haveta work f'r you again?"

"I will release you from all obligations you have to me," he replied.

Remy took a deep breath and then reached into his jacket. "Here," he said, relinquishing the disc. He fell back a step when Nathan released his collar to take the disc from Remy's trembling hands.

"You have served me well," Nathan said. He then disappeared in a flash of light. Remy blinked at the slightly scorched mark left on the sidewalk. He was finally free from Sinister. Yet all he felt was a crippling sense of dread. He had to find Scott and Jean before it was too late.

Sabretooth flipped over Scott's car, sending it flying into the ditch on the side of the road. It landed with a sickening crunch. Jean and Scott flew clear of the wreckage with the help of Jean's powers. Kurt grabbed Kitty and teleported to relative safety.

With a snarl, Sabretooth leapt at Scott and Jean, narrowly missing a blast from Scott's optic beams. The big man backhanded the teenage boy, sending him flying. Jean struck back by flinging Sabretooth into the street with the use of her telekinesis. He landed on his back with a grunt, but quickly flipped over and regained his footing. Kurt was helping Scott from where he had fallen.

"Are you okay?" he asked, handing Scott his ruby-hued glasses.

"Yeah," Scott said. "But what is he doing here?"

"We'll find out when we beat the truth out of him!" Kitty said angrily in a swirl of pink fury. "C'mon, we've taken this goon before!" Suddenly, the ground shook, knocking them all to their knees. "That was Lance!" Kitty said.

"There must be something going on at the boathouse," Jean said.

"Kurt!" Scott said. "'Port Kitty and yourself to the lake!"

"But what about him?" asked Kurt, pointing back at Sabretooth who was fast approaching.

"We'll hold him off," said Scott, aiming a blast at Sabretooth.

Kurt nodded and Kitty grabbed a hold of his hand. They vanished in a blast of brimstone.

Sabretooth snarled and leapt. The last thing Scott saw was the glint of light on tooth and fang and a blast of bright red light.

Rogue strode purposefully up to the boathouse. On the dock, three of the young teens from the Institute waved their hands in greeting. Rogue raised her hand and flicked her wrist. The steel bolts, which held the dock together, shot out, flying in all directions like bullets. The dock collapsed, sending several shrieking kids into the water.

Other party guests emerged from the boathouse, to see what was going on. Rogue stopped a few paces away, the long chain she carried swinging in coils from her shoulder.

"What happened?" asked Evan, as he hurried over to the lake to help. "Rogue, where have you been?"

Rogue didn't answer. Instead, the chain shot out looping around Evan and swinging back to entangle him and two other kids. They shouted in confusion before being launched up into the air and tied to the highest branches of a nearby tree.

The ground rumbled and Rogue staggered. As she righted herself, she caught sight of Lance, whose hands were out to command the earth.

"At last, a worthy opponent," Rogue said in a voice that was not her own. Up above, the halogen lamp that lit the front of the boathouse exploded, shedding glass shards onto Avalanche.

"Is that the best you got?" he asked, and a more powerful tremor caused the earth the shake. Instead of falling, Rogue rose a few feet off of the ground. "What the heck? What's wrong with you, Rogue?" Lance said, marveling at Rogue's newly acquired powers.

"Not Rogue," she said. "Rogue is gone. You can call me Malice now!" With that, she used her powers to rip the remainder of the security lamp from the roof of the boathouse. She sent it flying towards Lance. He dodged out of the way. Steadying himself, he reached out with his powers, finding a boulder lying nearby. The earth lurched, flinging the boulder into the air. Malice laughed as she avoided it easily. It landed in the lake behind her with a mighty splash.

"What is going on here?" said a commanding voice from above. Malice looked up to see Storm hovering in the air nearby. Storm was glaring down at Avalanche, suspecting him of attacking Rogue. "Explain yourself!" she said as the winds began to rise.

"Hey, lay off, weather lady! It's Rogue! She's gone crazy!" Lance said as he shielded himself.

Storm glanced over at Rogue, and was shocked to see the girl flying towards her. Malice locked her arms around the older woman's waist and forced her down. With a bare hand, Malice grabbed at Storm's face and made contact. Storm's eyes widened with shock, and she managed to throw Malice away before she crashed into the lake.

"Ahh!" Malice said. "That's better. What use were the powers of magnetism out here in the wide wilderness. Now you can face the power of nature itself!" Commanding the winds, she forced Lance backwards and sent him flying. The wind and the rain howled around her, thunder rolled ominously. Lighting began to crackle around Malice's closed fist. "And now to finish you off," she said, gliding towards her prey.

The amassed lightning shot out, striking Lance where he lay. When the smoke cleared, both he and Malice appeared shocked to see he was still alive. Small fires crackled around him, but he was otherwise unscathed.

"Cool," Lance said. "I guess that means I'm invulnerable now too. Mutant powers rock!"

"Think again," said Kitty as she phased up through the ground and right through Lance's midsection. "Surprise."

"Nice save," Lance said. Rain began to pour down around them. They looked up to see Malice with an ugly look on her face. Suddenly, there came a blast of light and smoke which materialized in the air beside Malice. The smoke dispersed, revealing the shape of Nightcrawler. He grabbed Malice around the shoulders in a bear-hug and teleported again. The pair reappeared back on the ground, with Nightcrawler straddling Malice.

Nearby, Iceman was using his powers to slide out over the lake. Storm was bobbing on the surface, barely holding onto consciousness.

Malice was squirming in Nightcrawler's grip. Before he could 'port again, she had flung him off. She lunged at him, but he responded by putting his foot in her stomach and using her own momentum to fling her over his head. She landed in the mud, and skidded a short ways. Shakily, she stood again. When she turned back to the few remaining mutants, Avalanche, Shadowcat, Nightcrawler and Iceman, her eyes were a blank whitish-blue. Electricity crackled all around her. The trees whipped and thrashed and a huge funnel cloud appeared over the lake.

"I think we made her mad," Nightcrawler said.

Lance nodded. "Brace yourselves people."

Scott and Jean were on the run. It was impossible to ignore the roar of the wind coming from the boathouse. Scott, missing his glasses and blind, stumbled along beside Jean, relying on her to be his eyes. Sabretooth lay behind them, cast aside by a powerful blast from Scott's optic beams. Knowing his powers of recuperation, they didn't have much time before he was back on their heels again.

The branches whipped past them, tearing at their clothes and skin. Jean ignored the pain, focusing only on the fear she could sense from the boathouse by the lake. They arrived just in time to see the boathouse ripped to shreds by a powerful tornado. The roar of the winds was deafening. The ground buckled beneath their feet, causing them to slide in the mud.

"Where's Storm?" called Scott over the sound of the wind.

Jean was scanning the minds of the people on the lake below. There was Kitty and Lance, near the focus of the storm. The pair were clinging to one another. Nightcrawler was braced behind a fallen boulder. Iceman was at the edge of the lake, shielding himself with a block of ice. Jean continued to search. She found Evan, Jubilee, and Boom Boom swaying precariously at the top of a tree.

"Scott," she called mentally, and relayed the image to him. "I have to get them down. Stay here!"

Scott shook his head, and cursed his mutant powers. Without his glasses, he couldn't control his powers, and could do more damage than good if he tried using them.

Jean used her powers to lift herself into the air and buffer herself from the powerful winds. She was worried for her friends in the tree, but even more concerned for the people she couldn't sense with her powers. Where were Gambit and Risty? Rogue and Storm? There must have been others at the party, as well. Cannonball, Wolfsbane, and Multiple, possibly even Toad. She could only hope they were unconscious, and not...

Remy's lungs were burning when he finally reached the lake. Rain was pouring down, soaking him through. He heard a loud crack, and pieces of wood and debris flew around him. The force of the wind sent him to his knees. He could make out the clearing through the trees. The winds were causing the lake to froth and roil. Using the branches of the swaying trees as support, he pulled himself forward. Up ahead he could make out a figure standing at the center of the raging storm.

"Rogue!" he cried, but his voice swallowed up by the storm. He struggled against the winds towards her. She was concentrating on something in the distance, facing the area where the boathouse once stood. "Rogue!" he called again. Her expression flickered, and she turned. Her eyes lit and she smiled when she saw him.

"What's going on?" he asked her. He stopped a few paces away, shielding his eyes from the flying rain and sleet. "Where's Storm?"

"She's right here," Rogue said calmly, and she pointed to her temple. He stopped and studied her carefully. She took a step forward, and Remy shrunk back. "What's wrong, Gambit?" she asked. "Weren't you worried about me?" Remy felt himself jerked forward, and he fell to his knees before Rogue. She smiled wickedly before leaning down and bringing her lips to his. Their embrace lasted for several long moments. Remy slumped to the ground, and Malice stood up. A red glow streamed from her eyes and hands. The air around her warped and sizzled. Malice rose up into the sky, to better see what else she could destroy.

Jean freed the three teens from the top of the tree, lowering them to the ground slowly with her powers and loosening the chains that bound them.

"Thank the Goddess you're here," Evan said, grabbing Jean by the arm. "Rogue's gone crazy!"

"She's totally possessed!" Boom Boom cried.

"Rogue got Storm, and threw her in the lake," Jubilee added. "But she's got somebody else's powers too. Then Lance and her started fighting."

Jean listened carefully, and took in the images the teens were showing her from their minds. "I'm going to try and stop her," she said finally. "You guys see if you can find the others, and lead them to safety. Do a head count, make sure everyone from the party is okay."

"What are you going to do?" asked Evan.

"I---I'm not sure," Jean said. "But I wish the professor were here."

Jean stood away from them and rose up into the air. She could just make out Rogue's form through the storm. She created a bubble around herself to protect her from the wind and rain. There seemed to be a new energy flying through the air, one that flew past in glowing red streamers and burned when it came in contact with anything. Jean rose up until she was level with Rogue, then, reaching out with her powers she called out into Rogue's mind.


The girl spun on her, shocked at the new voice in her mind. Opening her eyes, Jean realized that the striped-hair woman before her was not Rogue, but some other person. Jean concentrated, and pushed herself deeper into the-girl-who-was-not-Rogue's mind. She found herself in a different place. A storm still raged about her, but the sound was not of wind, but the screaming of a dozen voices.

Jean put her hands to her ears to block out the sounds, but it was of no use. The sounds were inside her head. She forced her eyes to open. She was standing on the ground, in a setting that reminded her of a vast desert during a sandstorm. Jean staggered forward into the wind. She had never been in a setting such as this. She was wandering about in someone else's head.

She cried out "Rogue" time and time again, but there was no answer. Jean fell, her hands sinking into the sand. "Where are you!" she cried into the maelstrom. She squeezed her eyes shut. She could leave, rip herself out of this mind and back into her own body. She could feel the cord that bound her to her own body tugging at her, begging her to leave. But she couldn't leave Rogue here in this desolate wasteland.

Suddenly, there was someone standing beside her. He crouched down, and blocked the worst of the wind from her face. Jean looked up into the black and red eyes of Gambit. He helped her to her feet and the two of them leaned into one another. He looked different than he did in real life. He was thinner here, his eyes and hair very dark. He was dressed in a long black jacket, which was so dark, that she had trouble making out his true form. She then realized that she had taken on a different appearance as well. Gone was her prom dress, which was replaced with her X-Men uniform. "I suppose this is how I truly see myself," she concluded.

"Jean," Gambit said, his voice going straight into her mind, rather than being spoken out loud. "Did Malice get you, too?"

"No," she answered. "I'm using my powers to be here. I don't know what's happening on the outside. We have to find Rogue."

Gambit nodded. "My guess is that she's in there," he said, and turned to point. Jean looked in the direction he'd indicated. On the horizon, a dark spinning cloud kicked up sand. Jean could feel the malevolence flowing from it like a wave of heat.

Together, they staggered towards it against the wind.

Spyke, Jubilee, and Boom Boom made their way back towards the ruins of the boathouse. They found Cannonball behind a stand of trees. Boom Boom shook him awake and the foursome continued on their way. Of the other new mutants, they knew that Iceman was the only other one to attend the party; it had been past Multiple's and Wolfsbane's bedtime, and Berzerker had taken a date to the prom. Sunspot and Magma were both out of town. Then there were Gambit and Risty, both of whom could not be found. Iceman had pulled Storm up from the lakeshore. She was weak, swaying precariously on her feet when Spyke, Tabitha, and Jubliee happened upon them. They then joined up with Shadowcat, Nightcrawler and Avalanche.

Kitty beckoned the group together and they took shelter behind a grove of trees. The winds had died down some by then, and Storm seemed to be regaining more strength.

"Where's Scott and Jean?" Kitty asked as they gathered together.

Evan pointed up into the sky, where Jean and Malice were facing off. Malice was throwing everything she had at Jean. Lightning struck, blazes of red light burned through the air, and the wind blew gales of rain at the redhead. Jean was unmovable. She hung in the air, her eyes closed against the onslaught. She appeared to be protected in a bubble of safety. Her hair and her ruined white gown streamed out around her, as if only rustled by a soft breeze.

Nightcrawler drew their attention away from the battle up above. "Ja, but Scott is still missing. I haven't seen him since the car crashed." He went on to explain to the others about their encounter with Sabretooth. The thought that the savage mutant was still out there caused the group of mutants to huddle closer together.

"What are we going to do?" squeaked Jubilee, her usual brave façade cracking a bit.

"We wait out the storm," Storm said quietly. "And we trust in Jean."

"What happens if Jean fails?" Lance demanded.

"Let us hope it does not come to that," Storm replied. "For Rogue's sake."

Jean and Gambit were slowly approaching the eye of the storm. Amidst the biting sand that swirled about them was an even bigger obstacle. Jolts of memories and voices from other minds sent Jean staggering. She could hear the voices of her friends and enemies alike. Nightcrawler, Cyclops, Storm and Shadowcat. The Blob and Magneto. Every time she fell, Remy picked her back up. He seemed undeterred by the voices, perhaps because he was one himself. The winds tore at them, but Jean felt that she was getting close.

"Rogue, where are you?" she called out.

A weak answer: "Jean? Is that you?"

"Up ahead!" Jean told Gambit and they forced themselves forward. A pale form materialized before them. Rogue appeared to be bound to a rock, her body raw and torn from the buffeting winds. Jean reached out to Rogue with her mind. The other girl was very weak, and growing more so.

"We have to help her," Jean said. "We don't have much time."

Gambit nodded to her, but said nothing. His eyes were focused entirely on Rogue.

When they finally reached Rogue, her eyes fluttered, but did not open. Jean and Gambit struggled with her bonds. "Rogue," Jean said. "Rogue, can you hear me? You have to help us so we can help you! C'mon Rogue! Pull! Don't give up!"

Rogue strained one arm, and with Gambit and Jean's help, one of the manacles that held her broke free. Rogue gasped at the effort and seemed to come more awake.

"Yes!" Jean cried triumphantly, as she helped pull another bond free. Rogue gave a sobbing cry of relief as she came free, tumbling into Gambit's arms. "Yes!" Jean cried again, elated at her victory.

"Don't celebrate so soon," said an evil voice. The winds abetted and a ghostly form emerged. The creature before them was transparent and nearly formless. She only vaguely resembled Rogue, herself.

"Malice," Jean hissed, naming the creature.

"You don't belong here," Malice said. "This is my domain, now!"

Jean stood her ground, facing Malice. "You're the intruder, here," Jean said. "And I'm not going to let you get away with what you did to my friend!"

Malice laughed hatefully, but her mirth was cut short when Jean leapt at her. A long dagger appeared in Jean's hand, forming straight from Jean's own mind and her need for a weapon. Jean lashed out at Malice, and the other jumped back, looking stunned. Malice caused the earth to quake beneath Jean's feet, but she took to the air. Jean found herself laughing. She could do anything if she put her mind to it. Malice suddenly looked frightened. She struck out randomly; bolts of energy flew at Jean. She evaded them easily, or just let them pass through her as if she were as intangible as Kitty. Jean drew back her arm and threw her dagger. It spun, end over end, and plunged itself into Malice's chest. The specter shrieked and dispersed.

The winds died and the earth settled. Jean came down to stand upon the ground. The atmosphere changed, and the earth changed from sand into grass. Clouds parted to reveal the blue sky. Jean sighed and turned back to Rogue and Gambit.

"Thank you," Rogue said softly.

Jean and Rogue tumbled from the sky and landed in the mud on the far side of the lake. A soft rain was still falling, creating a mist that hung over the lake and milled through the trees. A dark figure approached and bending low, hefted a weight off of his shoulders and deposited two forms beside the fallen girls.

"That all of 'em?" the dark man grumbled. "Where's the kid?"

"He has been attended to," another voice answered. "You had best be on your way, Victor. By now, Xavier will have been alerted to your presence."

Victor grunted and slunk off into the fog. Sinister surveyed his captives and smiled. Then he, the three girls and the boy, disappeared in an instant.

Gambit came awake but did not open his eyes. Unmoving, he used his other senses to take in his surroundings. His jacket was gone, which was definitely a bad thing. A faint humming noise came above from fluorescent lights. The way the sound echoed indicated the room he was in was small and enclosed. The air was stuffy and stale. This room was not often used. Beneath him was a stiff mattress. He concluded he was alone, and slowly opened his eyes. Directly above him were the lights he had heard, recessed into the ceiling and concealed behind a screen of frosted plastic. The walls around him were sleet-plated. Experimentally, he tapped on the one beside his bed. It did not ring or echo. The wall behind the steel was solid and thick. From his position on the bed, he could see a door directly before him. There was no doorknob or hinges, which meant that the door would slide aside into a pocket. It also meant that he was locked in.

He sat up on the bed. There was just enough room for him to stand beside the bed and approach the door. He ran his hands over it now, finding it seamless. The only thing in the room worth noting was the recessed lighting fixture and the small ventilation duct above the door. Though he was missing his jacket, he was not without other resources. If Batman had a back-up plan if he lost his utility belt, why shouldn't he? Gambit sat back on the bed and pulled off his boots. Inside the rolled-up cuffs of his jeans he found his Swiss Army knife, a package of chewing gum, and a toothpick. His pants-pockets were empty, but inside his boot was a package of playing cards.

Moving quickly, he ripped the sheet off of the mattress and wrapped it around his fist. He jumped up on the bed, and punched at the plastic shield over the light. Luckily, the ceiling was rather low, and he was able to crack the plastic on the first punch. Further manhandling caused it to shatter and break apart. Picking the plastic out of the fixture, he found two fluorescent bulbs and a camera. Picking up a shard of the hard plastic, he stabbed upwards and broke the lens on the camera. When he jumped down from the bed, he removed the mattress and lay it on its side, creating a barricade between himself and the door. Gambit then took a card out of the deck he carried. Stepping over the barrier, he looked at the card. It featured a man in a harlequin costume, juggling. Joker, he smiled. He studied the door again. Judging there must be a control panel on the opposite side of the door, he wedged the corner of the card into the door at about hip-height. He charged it and dashed behind the mattress. The card detonated with a boom that was deafening inside the small chamber. When Gambit peered over the mattress barricade, he was disappointed to find that the door was unscathed. There was only a slight scorch mark where the card had been. It would take a bigger blast to open the door.

He studied the naked bed-frame. He could push that up against the door and charge that, which would most likely destroy the door, as well as everything else in the room, including himself. Undeterred, he put the mattress back onto the bed-frame and pushed it up against the door. Gambit stood up on the bed and studied the vent. It was small, but if he could fit his head into the shaft, he would be able to fit the rest of himself as well. Taking out his knife, he unscrewed the screws on the vent's faceplate. Once done, he put his knife and the pack of cards back into his boot. Taking a deep breath, he dislocated his left shoulder. Since his muscles and tendons were so flexible, he was able to do this at will, without pain. (Awhile ago, his friend Emil had challenged this particular talent Remy had by daring him to squeeze through the hole in a toilet seat. All that had witnessed this particular feat were stunned and amazed, and more than a little bit grossed-out.) With his right arm, he was able to pull himself up into the shaft. After a lot of kicking and undignified wiggling, he managed to get his entire body into the shaft. He was relieved to find that the vent that led to his room was a short one, which branched off of a larger air duct.

Once in the larger duct, he put his arm back into its socket. He moved carefully, because the slightest sounds were amplified tenfold in the shaft. Luckily, this fact alerted him to the presence of another person in the room beside his. There was a lot of shouting, cursing and pounding echoing down the shaft beside the one he had just crawled through.

"Rogue?" he called softly. "Is that you?"

There was a pause in the tirade. "Remy? Where are you?"

"I'm in th'vent."

Another pause. "You're kiddin' me!"

"Give me a few minutes, I'll try an' get you out." Without waiting for an answer, he continued down the shaft until he found what he was looking for. He came upon a vent on the floor of the shaft, which pointed down into a hallway below. He unscrewed the bolts holding the screws in place. Three of the screws fell into the hallway, but it could not be helped. Gambit turned the vent aside on the last remaining screw and peered down into the hall. It appeared to be empty. There were a line of doors to his left, probably cells like the one he had just climbed from. He landed in a crouch on the floor of the hall.

Carefully, he counted the doors and came to the one that would lead to Rogue's cell. He put his ear to it, but could hear nothing on the other side. There was a control panel beside the door. There was a digital readout, a keypad, and a red blinking light. He breathed on the keypad, fogging up the plastic keys. Unfortunately, there were no fingerprints to indicate what the possible code could be to unlock the door. Using his knife again, he pried off the faceplate, revealing wires. Randomly, he yanked out the wires, causing sparks to fly out of the control panel. The door beside it whirred and slid open a crack.

Rogue's eye and her hand appeared in the crack. "Remy!" she said.

"Shh!" he hissed at her. Putting his shoulder to the doorjamb, he pushed against the sliding door. Rogue began to pull and the door slid open a few more inches, enough for Rogue to squeeze herself through.

"Where the heck are we?" Rogue asked.

"I dunno," he said, taking her hand and hurrying down the hallway.

"Well, let's get out of here," Rogue said.

"We've got to get Scott and Jean first," Remy answered.

Rogue forced him to slow. "How do you know they're here?"

"Nevermind, I'll tell you later." He ducked into an alcove, dragging Rogue after him. "There's cameras all over th'place," he whispered to her, as he peeked around the corner. "I'm hopin' no one's payin' attention, since nobody came when I broke out of my cell."

Gambit continued down the hall with Rogue at his back. "I'm glad you're back t'normal," he told her.

"Ah don't know if normal is the right word," she answered.

He cast her a smile, but she didn't return it. "Are you okay?" he asked.

Rogue shook her head but didn't answer.

They paused before going around another corner. Rogue moved to continue on their run, but Gambit held her back. "Wait," he said. "I hear something."

The pair strained their ears to a small sound coming from one of the many darkened rooms down the hall. It sounded as if someone were crying. The sound didn't seem to be threatening, at the very least. Gambit nodded to Rogue and they slowly walked toward the sound. In a dark room lit only by the glow from the hallway light, they found the source of the noise.

"You!" Rogue hissed angrily.

The girl inside the room looked startled. She was bound spread-eagle at the wrists and ankles against the far wall. Her short green hair was mussed, her clothes torn and smeared with dirt. Her face was streaked with tears. Gambit put a steadying hand on Rogue's arm.

"Please," the green-haired girl said. "You have to help me!"

"Why should we help you?" Rogue snapped. "Ah could kill you for what you did t'me!"

"You've got to understand," the girl said desperately. "It wasn't me! It was Malice. I couldn't control what she was doing to my body."

Gambit and Rogue approached the girl.

"I know it won't make anything different," she said tearfully, "but I am truly sorry."

"How can we know that you're tellin' th'truth?" Gambit asked. "That Malice isn't still controlling you?"

The girl glanced meaningfully at Rogue. Gambit turned to her. "Rogue?" he asked.

"I can understand if you don't want to…" the other girl started.

Rogue shook her head. "No, Ah can do it." She looked at her bare hands. "This is the power Ah've got, and Ah'm not goin' to be afraid to use it." She walked forward and reached up to the other girl's face. After a moment of hesitation, he tapped her lightly on the cheek. Rogue stepped back. After a moment she said: "Okay. Let's get her down from there."

Remy nodded in answer, as Rogue began to pull at one of the manacles that bound the girl to the wall.

"Wait," Remy said, staying Rogue. "There's a switch over here." Gambit pulled a level on a console nearby. The manacles clicked open. "'S plastic," he commented, looking at the switch.

"So are these," Rogue replied, fingering the manacles.

"I have the ability to control metal things," Lorna explained. "Thank you, Rogue."

Rogue shrugged. "It's okay, Lorna," she said.

Lorna smiled. "It feels good to be called that again," she said.

Jean woke, painfully stretching her aching back and rolling her head and shoulders. She was unaware of how long she had been unconscious, and she was shocked to find herself in a completely new and alien setting. She was no longer at the edge of the lake, surrounded by trees. Instead, she found herself propped up against a wall, contained in some sort of cylindrical prison. To her back was a curved metal wall. Before her was a glass enclosure. Jean had the sickening feeling she was inside a glass coffin, or an enormous test tube. She put her hands to the glass, slapping and punching at the surface ineffectively. Her breath came in ragged gasps as she panicked.

"Where am I?" her mind shrieked, as she peered through the glass. Beyond her prison was some sort of laboratory. There were steel-topped tables and dollies holding trays of scalpels, needles, and other frightening equipment. On a table were several computer monitors, as well as trays holding vials and beakers. If she pressed her cheek against the glass, she could just make out another chamber like her own to her right. Scott was inside. She could just see his feet; one foot wearing the shiny shoe he had rented along with his tux, the other foot just wore a muddy sock. He didn't seem to be moving. Jean tried to reach out with her powers to contact him, but she found her telepathy absent. The sudden disappearance of her powers filled her with a feeling of dread. She didn't realize before how much she depended on them, how the faint murmur of the thoughts of people around her had been somewhat comforting. Jean now felt very, very alone.

Something appeared in her line of vision. It was an extremely tall man, broad in the shoulders, with whip-thin limbs. His skin was a chalky white, which contrasted sharply with his dark black hair. He would almost have been handsome were his cheeks and eyes not sunken and his eyes not a blank red. As he approached her coffin, she shrunk back from him. He stood before the glass and studied her with a cold and clinical gaze.

"So," he said, "you awaken."

"Who are you?" Jean asked. "What do you want with me?" She gave a quick glance over at Scott. "With us?" she amended.

The man smiled, but not pleasantly. "Some call me Doctor Essex. Others, usually my patients, call me something more…sinister?" He spoke the word as if it were a question. He continued to smile, as if enjoying a personal joke. "As to what I want with you…" he continued, and turned to walk away. "I have been studying you for quite some time, Jean Grey. You and your young friend here. You two are of special interest to me. Did you realize there are only two hundred and seventy-eight known mutants in the whole of the world, Jean? Out of billions and billions of base humans, only a comparable handful of mutants exist. You are a very special young woman, Jean."

"How---how do you know this?" Jean stammered.

"Ah. Yes. Well, Ms. Grey, let me put it this way. Your professor isn't the only person capable of locating mutants. And I've been at it for a very long time. I have something of a collection going, you see. Of mutant DNA. I'm very interested in continuing our mutant race, and preserving it. I've spent years combining the DNA of one mutant with another, exploring all the possibilities. Unfortunately, in my studies I happened upon a most deadly virus, which infected only mutants." He laughed bitterly. "A pox created by an accidental mixture of DNA, which produced a mutant capable of bringing illness and plague to all who touched her. She hated me, right enough."

"What does this have to do with me?" Jean demanded, losing patience with the madman.

Sinister rolled up the sleeve of his lab coat, baring a long, pale forearm covered in oozing boils and welts. Jean cringed back from the sight. "I believe that you and Scott hold the key to eliminating the disease I inadvertently created. A mutant with the ability to control the disease and manipulate it. This mutant will be born carrying the virus; he will live with it his entire life and adapt to it. I believe the amount of power the mutant will wield will ultimately destroy the virus itself. And since I am able to graft the powers of other mutants to my own, I will also provide a cure for myself, so that I may continue my research."

"You've got to be crazy!" Jean cried. "What gives you the right to play God?"

"I was once told that only the fit are to survive. I plan to be one of that number. I tried once before to devise a cure, but failed. Nevertheless, the death of my last patient provided me with not only a treatment, but also a useful tool. I believe you've met my young charge, Remy? You see, these things work out for the best."

"You…killed Remy's father?" asked Jean, aghast.

"I regret to inform you that our time together grows short, and our conversation is at an end. I have to prepare the virus. It is an airborne virus, and you will note the ventilation shafts on the floor of your chamber."

"What are you going to do? You're going to infect us with the virus?"

"Indeed. I need your mutant cells to incorporate the virus before I extract a sample of your DNA to create my new mutant. But rest assured in the knowledge that your very valuable genes will continue on into a new generation of mutants." With that, the man turned and departed, leaving Jean to pound her fists against the glass walls of her cell, with furious tears pouring down her cheeks.

Lorna had immediately turned towards the nearest exit, determined to get away from Sinister as fast as possible. Her two rescuers had protested, and they both insisted on finding their two friends who they believed to be inside Sinister's compound.

"Scott Summers and Jean Grey," Lorna repeated to herself when Gambit and Rogue explained who they were looking for. "I've heard those names plenty of times before. That bastard was always fussing about his labs muttering about them and talking about a new mutant race and blah, blah, blah."

Gambit nodded. "Which is why we have to find them right away."

"I can find the way to the labs," Lorna said in a voice that was angry and sad at the same time. "When Malice possessed me, I was a prisoner in my own body. I could see everything that she did, and went with her wherever she went. I know this place…its permanently fixed in my memory."

"Okay, then," Rogue said. "Let's go and get out of here. This place gives me the creeps."

Lorna took control of her powers and lifted herself into the air, choosing to fly to her destination. Gambit and Rogue ran after her, following her down the many interlocking hallways, each seemingly identical to the last. They were thoroughly glad they had happened upon Lorna, otherwise, they might not have ever found their way out of the compound.

"It's just up ahead," Lorna said, slowing down. "I don't know if I can face going in there again…"

"That's fine, chere," Remy said. "You can jus' wait here---." Gambit was suddenly cut off in mid-sentence by the sound of a low growl. The threesome froze and together, looked towards the source of the sound. There came a sound of clicking claws on steel, moving slowly down the hall. They watched in growing horror as Sabretooth came around the corner ahead, walking lazily towards them on all fours. He paused as he raised his head and sniffed his prey. Sabretooth smiled, revealing long fangs.

"Hi there, kiddies," he said.

Lorna's face darkened at the sight of Sabretooth. "Hi, yourself, Victor," she said. "Gambit, Rogue, thanks again for the rescue. Go find your friends. I can take care of this animal myself."

Sabretooth licked his lips. "Think so, girlie?"

She gave him a deadly look. "I've waited a long time for this." The walls around them began to bend. The metal groaned and whined as it rented. "Go, you guys!" she said, before flinging the solid steel plates towards Sabretooth. Sabretooth dodged, giving Gambit and Rogue the opportunity to run past him and down the hall toward the laboratory. From behind them came more sounds of screeching metal and a loud pop as a pipe burst. Electricity crackled in the air and several lights exploded, casting the scene into flickering darkness.

Gambit skidded to a halt just inside the lab, causing Rogue to collide with him. The pair quickly took in their surroundings. Gambit was the first to move toward the two glass-fronted cylinders that contained their teammates, Scott and Jean. They both appeared to be unconscious, but when Remy approached, Jean lifted her head. Her eyes widened in shock when she saw them.

"How're we gonna get them out?" asked Rogue. "Ah don't see any switches or nothin.'"

"We'll just have to improvise. I wish I had my staff," he said. He walked over to one of the metal tables and turned it over. Reaching into his back pocket, he found his package of chewing gum and put a stick into his mouth.

"Have that not-so-fresh feeling?" Rogue asked.

Remy ignored her. "Stand back," he said as he took the gum from his mouth and put it under the table, where the leg joined up with the tabletop. Rogue soon realized he had charged it with his powers and there came a sharp hiss and a pop. The table leg shot sideways. Gambit picked it up and approached Jean's chamber. "Okay, Jean." Jean nodded to him silently and leaned back against the far wall of her cell. Gambit swung and the metal leg connected with the glass. The glass splintered, but did not break. He swung again until the cracks began to split. By now, the table leg was bent into an unusable shape.

"Dammit," he said, tossing down his weapon.

"Can't you throw somethin' at it? Like one of your cards?" Rogue asked.

"Not without hurting Jean," he answered.

"Can you charge the glass?" Jean asked, her voice muffled from behind the glass. "Just a little. I have an idea."

Gambit studied her for a moment and then nodded. "All right," he said, and put his hands to the glass. The glass began to glow a faint pink.

"That's good enough," Jean told him. Gambit stepped back as Jean put her back up against the far wall and put one foot up against the glass, and then the other. She pushed with her legs against the glass. The cracks in the glass began to spread, the pink lines of energy following the cracks up the glass. Finally, the glass shattered, and Jean fell onto the floor of her cell. "Ow," she said as she stood. She then reeled and gasped, clutching at her head. Gambit and Rogue caught her as she fell forward. "My powers!" she cried. "They're back!"

"Okay, Remy. Now get Scott," Rogue said.

Remy nodded and put his hands on the cell holding Scott. An explosion just outside the lab that sent smoke billowing into the room and interrupted him. Jean, Gambit, and Rogue stood back as a dark figure materialized from the smoke. Sinister paused and took in the scene before him. He scowled particularly at Remy.

"You have tried my patience for the last time, Remy," he said, his voice sounded tired and perhaps a bit regretful.

Gambit unfroze, and let loose a playing card. It blazed across the space that separated the two. Sinister did not bother to evade the flying projectile and it hit him just below the collarbone, where his heart would be. The explosion caused the man to step back a bit, and when the smoke cleared, a huge, gaping hole was left in his chest. Sinister began to stride quickly towards Gambit, and the wound in his chest began to meld back together. He had crossed the room in an instant, moving faster than the eye could see, to grip Gambit by the throat and hold him in the air. By the time he'd grabbed Remy, the wound had completely healed.

"I believe you've outlived your usefulness to me," Sinister said, as Gambit gagged and struggled to break free.

"No!" Rogue said, lunging forward with her bare hands extended.

"Rogue, wait!" Jean screamed into Rogue's head, causing her to falter. Jean instantly showed Rogue a mental image of Sinister's diseased arm and the threat of the deadly virus. Rogue shrank back as Sinister turned on her, still holding Gambit aloft with one hand. Sinister held out a hand towards Rogue and a blast of energy knocked her back against a dolly. Trays and scalpels scattered across the ground. Jean noticed that Sinister was standing amidst the shards of broken glass. Grabbing the particles with her mind, she yanked them from beneath his feet, causing him to slip. Both Gambit and Sinister hit the ground, Remy grasping at his throat and gasping for air. By this time, Scott had regained consciousness. He was watching the events unfold from behind the faintly glowing glass. Jean sent the image to Rogue, who was just sitting up. Rogue grabbed a nearby tray and threw it.

The silver projectile whizzed through the air, just over Sinister's head as the man began to sit up. Scott threw up his arms and curled into a ball. When the tray hit the glass there was a powerful explosion. Sinister stood, broken glass rained off of him. For one moment, he and Cyclops looked at one another. Suddenly, Scott's powers reactivated and twin beams of red light blasted from his eyes, striking Essex down.

Sinister let out a terrifying wail when Scott's optic blasts hit him full in the chest. The beams passed through his body and out the opposite side, hitting the medical equipment and monitors. Sinister's body writhed as his powers struggled to cope with the large wound in his chest. His skin began to break out all over with tumor-like boils. His powers of recuperation seemed to be overcompensating, producing too much flesh. His body lost form, and he begin to melt. They all watched in horror as the puddle that was once Nathan Essex spread out across the floor. Gambit, who was closest to the growing pool, began to scramble backwards.

There came a faint crackle of electricity, and they all felt the hairs on their arms raise. Lorna appeared at the door of the lab. "Let's get out of here," she said.

Cyclops, Jean, Gambit, Rogue and Lorna all sat in the grass, staring off into the distance. On the far side of a large expanse of grass was a nondescript compound which faintly billowed smoke. Lorna sat a bit off from the other four teens, picking at the blades of grass. Scott and Jean looked like a mockery of a bride and groom, with Jean in her torn and stained white dress and Scott in his mangled tuxedo. Jean's feet were bare and were covered in bloody scratches. Scott was lying back in the grass, the remnants of his cummerbund tied over his eyes. Rogue and Gambit were leaning up against each other, back to back. They both looked as if they were about to fall over from exhaustion. Rogue was staring at her bare hands. Gambit was despondent, watching the compound burning in the distance with glazed over eyes. No one spoke.

Time passed and the sun traveled overhead, until it came to rest its belly on the horizon of trees. In the distance came the faint whine of engines. The five teenagers looked up into the sky to see a long black shape approaching. The X-Jet landed in the grass a short distance away, causing the grass to ripple like the waves of the ocean. They all sat stoically as the gangplank to the jet lowered and Storm stepped out. She walked towards them slowly and took in their ragged appearance, their worn and tired expressions. When she reached them, she embraced them all in a fierce hug.

"If I never see a lab again it will be too soon," announced Jean on the final day of her quarantine.

Scott looked over at her from the adjacent bed. "What about your dreams of becoming a doctor?" he asked. She cast him a glance. Her haunted expression was all the answer he needed.

"What about you, Storm?" Rogue asked, her bed faced Scott's. She was picking idly at the strings of her guitar. "You look positively green about the gills. Ah'm sorry we got you stuck in here."

The five teens, Jean, Scott, Rogue, Remy and Lorna, as well as their instructor, Ororo, had been isolated in quarantine for over a week. Henry McCoy and the professor both feared exposing the other students at the school to the possibility of getting infected with the mutant virus. As of yet, none of them had shown any symptoms, and tests had come back normal.

"It is not your fault," Storm said. "I do not regret my actions that day." She was sitting on the edge of Remy's bed. He was facing the wall, his back to them. Ororo put a hand on his shoulder, which he shrugged off.

"Don't mother me, Storm," he said. "I don't need another parent. I've all ready had two go dead on me." Storm stood and he flicked the separation curtain closed. Since returning, he had become uncommunicative. Storm sighed and walked in the direction of her few potted plants.

Scott turned to the pile of books and papers on his bed stand. "Ugh, homework. I suppose being in here gives us all plenty of opportunity to think."

"Yes," Jean said absently, twirling a strand of hair around her finger.

Scott asked her more quietly: "Have you had a chance to think more about college?"

Jean nodded, and looked over at Rogue, who was busy tuning the strings of her instrument. "I will stay where I'm needed," she replied. "Scott. I've also been thinking about us. I think we should stop seeing each other."

"That's going to be kind of hard, seeing as how we live in the same building," he said, giving her a watery grin.

"You know what I mean," she said, before giving him a sad look. Then she too slid the curtains closed.

Scott sighed and looked over at Rogue. She glanced up at him. "Don't look at me," she said, before taking her guitar by the neck and disappearing behind Gambit's curtain.

"Well," said Lorna from her bed. "I think you're pretty cute. But you've got way too many issues…You don't happen to have a brother, do you?"

The students at Xavier's Institute were all gathered in the large room they used for group meetings and social gatherings. The professor and Henry stood somewhat in the center of the other students, talking quietly between themselves. Lorna Dayne, also calling herself Polaris, stood against a far wall, watching the others silently, until a boy named Forge approached her and they shared introductions. Several of the new mutants sat on the floor with Wolfsbane. She was sprawled on the carpet in her wolf form. Jean and Scott sat on couches, opposite the room from one another. There were only two missing from the group, Rogue and Gambit.

They now paused at the door leading to the room. Gambit was nervous, and Rogue was anxious for him. "I don't even know how to begin," Remy said.

"It isn't as if you haven't spoken to large groups before," Rogue replied. "Remember speech class? Don't forget to project," she added, which was their speech class teacher's favorite expression.

"They'll be angry," he said.

"They won't be," Rogue told him.

The pair shared a long look. "How do you know?"

"Ah know," she said meaningfully. "Cause Ah'm not."

Gambit looked away from her. "So you know all ready?"

"When Ah touched you, or rather, when Malice touched you," Rogue explained. "Ah saw your thoughts in mah head. It took me awhile to piece everythin' together. Your father, you bein' a thief…Sinister, the stolen discs…and Risty."

"Why didn't you say anything?"

"Ah was waitin'," she said softly. "Ah knew you'd come forward eventually."

Gambit shook his head. "It amazes me how much faith you people have," he said.

"Are you ready now?" she asked, taking his hand in her own.

Gambit nodded, and squeezed her hand back. Then, together, the two walked into the room to join with their friends.

Deep underground lay a glass-fronted coffin. The room is dark and silent. Cables hang from the ceiling, tables are overturned, and cracked monitors stare out from the walls like blank eyes. A small light inside the coffin flickers, lighting the embryonic-like fluid inside with a ghostly green glow. Amidst the destruction around the coffin, a small glimmer of life stirs. Red hair floats around a serene and beautiful face. She is naked, floating bodiless inside the coffin. A finger twitches, and a faint smile plays upon her pale lips.

"Scott," she seems to whisper, before the light fades, casting all into darkness again.

Extra information on X-Men: Evolution acquired from Beyond Evolution and Marvel.com

(1)See Episode #17 "Fun & Games": Risty is revealed to be Mystique in disguise.

(2)See Episode #21 "Joyride": Lance Alvers asks to join the X-Men


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