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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21

The Cast of Shadows - REVIEW THIS STORY

Written by NicoPony
Last updated: 04/17/2007 12:31:02 AM

Chapter 17

Shadow’s lip twitched in annoyance, an involuntary tick that he struggled to control. Things were not going as planned. How had the girl evaded him? She seemed unaware of the power she possessed, yet she had still managed to escape. And where was she going now? Her direction seemed purposeful. However, when he had invaded her mind, he’d found it to be blank and featureless. Madelyne was an enigma, which only served to inflame Shadow’s lust to possess her. To further his irritation, his hunter, Wolverine, had so far failed to collect his quarry.

Shadow was closing in on Madelyne and her companion, Scott. Jean’s powers were useful in his pursuit of the pair, and her form was relatively unassuming to the outside, human world. As it was, he would have to leave this body soon. Jean’s telekinesis could only take him so far by way of travel, and she was wearing down. Shadow hoped to overcome Madelyne before this body became useless, for he was loath to re-enter the Astral Plane so soon after his liberation.

The road bound pair were slowing, giving Shadow hope that Madelyne’s journey had come to an end. He sensed several other minds in the otherwise empty area. Shadow set himself down in a wide, grassy field. The location was remote, and there was naught but a single gravel access road leading to the strange compound at the center of the field. He cocked his head in curiosity. The compound was definitely inhabited, and the mental signatures he sensed were eclectic enough to suggest there might be mutants about.

Shadow’s shoulders relaxed. Perhaps things were not as bad as they first appeared.

“Here?” Scott asked, his brow furrowed in confusion.

Madelyne nodded.

Scott pulled his car to the side of the road. The landscape was flat, covered in yellowing grasses, the colors foretelling the coming autumn. They’d been driving for hours on end, having stopped only once for a short night’s rest. Pennsylvania’s green mountainous roads had given way to Ohio’s rows of corn and cow fields. Flat landscape coupled with high winds had buffeted his car through upstate Indiana, and several hours of travel had brought them through the farmlands of Illinois and Oregon. They found only brief respite from seemingly uninhabited landscape in the city of Des Moines. Scott found himself growing more and more nervous as they’d passed the city and crossed the state line into Nebraska.

Madelyne opened the car door and stepped out onto the gravel. If Scott hadn’t parked beside it, he would have completely missed the small path amidst the grass and weeds. Madelyne started down the path.

“Maddie, wait,” Scott rounded the front of the car and had to jog to catch up to the red headed girl. He caught her by the arm and forced her to turn around. “What are we doing here?” he asked.

She looked at him, her expression slightly dumbfounded. “I—I don’t know,” she answered finally. “This is the place I had to go.”

“What are you talking about?” Scott asked. “What is going on?”

Madelyne shook her head slowly and sadly. “I can’t explain it,” she said softly. “There’s something here.” She put her hands to the sides of her head.

Scott covered her hands with his own, holding her face tenderly. He tilted her chin up, so he could look into her eyes. “You’re like a mystery,” he told her. “You come out of no where, appearing like a vision, and somehow I can’t get you out of my head.”

Her lips formed a trembling smile. “Don’t you think I feel the same about you? It’s as if I’ve known you my whole life.”

“Where ever you came from,” Scott told her, “know that I’d follow you just about anywhere.”

She blushed. “Scott, have you lost all rationality? You’re talking like a bad romance movie. This isn’t the boy I know.”

“You hardly make a body rational. Everything’s gone crazy since you showed up.”

“Let’s go,” Madelyne said, turning back toward the path. “I think this is the way home.”

He followed, though the feeling of trepidation only grew. The landscape was familiar, and when they crested a small hillock, he quickly came to understand why. The field sloped slightly down, opening into a wide empty space. Set at the center of the field was the place he’d hoped never to see again. It was a place of nightmares. Madelyne continued, undeterred, toward the compound. Scott’s voice had died in his throat; the fear was suffocating.

This, of all places, was Madelyne’s home? Scott’s mind reeled with the implications. As he stared, he came to realize that Madelyne was some distance ahead of him. He forced his feet to move, down toward Sinister’s base of operations, following after Madelyne. Despite it all, he was not one to break his promises. Follow her anywhere, he’d told her, and that was just what he did.

“Look, Remy,” Rogue began. “We don’t have to go back to the Institute, we can go some place else. Any place you want. Las Vegas, San Francisco…?”

Remy was frowning, and chose not to respond. He was driving now, giving Rogue a break from the road.

She put a hand on his arm. “Remy?”

“I don’t think so, Rogue,” he said, his voice morose and final.

She looked away from his devastated expression. “We’re both tired,” she said. “Why don’t we stop for the night and rest?”

Again, he did not answer.

“Do you really want to face whatever it is you’re after on a few hours worth of sleep?” Rogue asked. “I’m tired. Can’t we stop somewhere?”

He sighed through his nose. “We’re almost there. I want to get this over with.”

Rogue leaned toward him. “Please, Remy,” she said softly.

Finally, he glanced over at her. Her eyes pleaded with him. “All right.”

They found a small and slightly run-down hotel. “I suppose dis is de best we’ll find in de middle of no where,” he said.

Rogue was just thankful they’d stopped. She climbed out of the car with some effort and stretched. “Ah’ve been on the road forevah,” she announced. “It’ll be nice to sleep in a bed.”

“I’ll save my judgement until after I’ve seen what de bed looks like,” Remy said. “I’ve got some money, I’ll go get a room.”

Rogue nodded and watched him walk toward the front office. He no longer wore the leather jacket she’d become familiar with. Now he wore a long, black trench coat. He looked unkempt; his longish hair, which he’d dyed black, had grown out a few inches and showed reddish brown at the roots. Not that Rogue looked much better. She looked down at herself, wearing borrowed clothes and filthy shoes. It was a far cry from how she usually looked. She always took care to dress well and put herself together.

She shuffled sorely around the car, scuffing her shoes on the cracked pavement. She needed to stall somehow. Rogue kicked one of the tires. A flat would slow them a bit. Give her more time…time for what? She’d been trying to talk him out of this crazy idea for the past five hours. A few moments wouldn’t be enough to get him to change his mind.

“Got a room,” Remy said, and Rogue turned. He tossed her a room key. “Lucky number t’irteen.”

She snatched the key from the air. “Broken mirrors, unlucky numbers…what next, black cats?”

He took up his bag from the backseat. “I wouldn’t joke.”

Their room was on the second floor. They walked up the concrete staircase and found themselves before the rust stained door to their room. Rogue and Remy stood before the door in silence. They turned to look at one another. Nervously, Rogue bit her lip and her eyes darted away.

“So this is awkward,” she said. “Gettin’ a hotel room together and all.”

“Key---door---lock, open it all ready,” Remy said impatiently.

Rogue fumbled the key in the lock and pushed open the door. They stood on the threshold and peered into the darkened room. “I don’t see any dead prostitutes,” Remy said. “Looks like we’ll be okay.” He brushed past Rogue and entered the room, flicking on the lights. After setting the bag down on the wood laminate table, he approached the bed and yanked back the covers.

“What’re you doin’?” she asked, as she slowly followed him into the room.

“Checkin’ for hypodermic needles,” he told her, his face perfectly serious. “Drug users stick them in de sheets.”

“Y’know, you’re kinda paranoid,” she informed him.

“Kinda,” he agreed. “But given my present situation, can y’blame me?”

Again, Rogue looked away. She ran a hand through her tangled hair. “Ah think Ah’ll take a shower,” she said. He shrugged and lay down on the bed, staring up at the stained and buckling ceiling tiles.

In the bathroom, Rogue found a deceased cockroach lying in the center of the floor. She upended the small wastebasket and set it over the bug. “Yuck,” she said, wondering if a shower in this bathroom would only make her dirtier. She stripped off her clothing and tossed the shirt and pants onto the sink. Standing naked before the mirror, she gently probed the yellow-green bruises on her body. Rogue leaned forward and stuck out her tongue. She examined her face carefully. Her eyes were bloodshot, and there was a long scratch alongside her jaw, but otherwise, she saw no evidence of being sick. She touched her earlobes. The string Remy had threaded through her ears was gone, having been ripped out when she pulled her head through the gate at Sinister’s New Orleans home. She couldn’t have the virus. She wasn’t dying.

Rogue took her time in the shower, using the complimentary bar of soap to wash her hair. Despite the dinginess of the hotel room, the hot water felt good. She stepped out of the shower onto a towel. She dried off with a second towel and wrapped it around herself. Her clothes looked dirty and unappealing. She was reluctant to put them back on. Opening the bathroom door, she peeked out into the hotel room. Remy was still on the bed, his eyes closed. His bag was on the opposite end of the room.

Cautiously, she stepped out of the steamy warmth of the bathroom and into the ice-cold air of the main room. Remy gave no sign of being awake, so Rogue tiptoed over to his bag and unzipped it as quietly as possible. There was a crumpled tee shirt lying on top of his belongings. She pulled it from the bag and shook it out. Unlike the gray gym shirt from Bella Donna’s duffel bag, this one was several sizes too big. She pulled the shirt over her head while simultaneously loosing her grip on the towel.

“Sure, you can borrow my shirt,” she heard Remy say, and she whipped around, pulling the shirt down to hide her exposed bottom. “Shirt…pants…memories, help yourself…” he said.

Though the comment seemed bitter, Rogue found Remy to be smiling. He was reclined on the bed; his eyes closed, as if he were still asleep. The smirk on his face betrayed him. Rogue picked up the towel, taking care not to expose herself to him again. She marched over and slapped the damp towel over his face. “Jerk,” she said.

He pulled the towel down and grinned up at her. To her surprise, he laughed. It was the closest he’d come to seeming like his old self since she’d run into him in Mississippi. Things didn’t seem so bad when he smiled.

She sat down on the bed beside him. “Ah’m glad we stopped for the night,” she told him. “Ah’m tired.”

“Me too,” he agreed. His expression once again turned somber.

“Don’t,” she said, reaching out to touch his chin with her fingertips.

“Don’t what?” he asked.

“Get that depressed, angst-filled look,” she replied. “We can pretend for tonight everything is okay.”

“I’m tired of pretending,” he said. “Nothing is right, and hasn’t been right since my dad died. Sinister has ruined everything. He’s taken everything from me.”

“Not everything is gone,” Rogue said. “Ah’m here.”

“Y’are,” he answered. “But I can’t ever forgive myself f’r hurting you. If you die, it’ll be my fault.”

“No one’s dying, Remy,” Rogue said flippantly, and shook her head. “You’re hardly on your death bed, and there isn’t a thing wrong with me.”

“Don’t lie,” Remy said quietly. “You’re not very good at it. You’re supposed to be honest, remember?”

Rogue felt her face grow hot. “Ah wish y’hadn’t left that night,” she said. “I wish you had stayed, instead of running off.”

“Dey would’ve locked me up,” he answered. “I thought if I got away from you people, I wouldn’t be so out of control. If I’d stayed, things would have gotten worse.”

“How can it be worse than it is now?” Rogue cried. Tears wet her eyes. “Ah don’t want you t’leave. Ah want to be with you. When we touched, I can’t tell you what it meant to me.”

“Don’ cry, petite,” Remy said, and he sat upright in the bed and pulled her close. “Things can be okay, we can pretend.”

Rogue allowed herself to rest her face against his chest. He combed her wet hair away from her face with his fingers. She took a deep and shaking breath. “How d’you know when you’re in love with someone?” she asked.

His hand stilled from its tender ministrations. She tilted her head to better see his face. Remy looked down at her with sad eyes. “My father tol’ me once,” he began haltingly. “Once I asked him the same question, when I thought I’d fallen for Belle.”

“What did he tell you?”

“He said, if you have to ask, then you’re not in love. That you know it when it comes t’ stab y’in de heart and mess y’in de head. I’m sure that weren’t his exact words, but somet’ing close.”

Rogue looked down at her hands. “Oh,” she said quietly. “Sorry Ah asked.”

He kissed the top of her head and tugged her white forelock. “That’s okay. Being in love isn’t so great. You end up thinking about that person all the time, and worrying about what they might be thinking and feeling and it all goes downhill from there.”

She smiled and pressed her face into his chest. “So sorry to have troubled you.”

“S’all right. You’re worth it…sometimes.”

Charles Xavier looked up into the deep cerulean blue of a late summer sky. Bright, fluffy clouds drifted by, cartoonish in their intensity. Shapes could clearly be read in the clouds: a pony, a goose, a kitten. His brow furrowed in confusion. He heard the shuffle of feet on grass, and a shadow leaned over him, blotting out his view of the sky.

“Are you awake now?” a childish voice asked.

Xavier blinked his eyes, as his eyes focused on the figure before him. “Emma?” he asked finally.

She took a few steps back as he sat upright. He was lying on his back in the middle of a green field. After sitting up, he was able to see the rest of his body. It was oddly transparent and blank, holding only the barest resemblance of human form. As his thoughts swam together, and his body seemed to grow more substantial.

“Where am I?” he asked.

“My place,” Emma answered simply.

Clearly, he was on the Astral Plane, that much he knew. Emma reached out and pat his head awkwardly. She did it partly out of concern, but mostly out of fascination for his bald head. “Are you better now?”

Xavier put his hand to his temple. “Yes, I just need a moment. Emma, did you bring me here?”

The girl nodded proudly. “Oh yes,” she said. “I found you wandering around. Or parts of you. I brought all the pieces here and you woke up.”

“Thank you, Emma,” Xavier said, a tremor in his voice. If what the girl said was true, then she had very well saved Xavier’s life. A nearly impossible feat for someone so young and inexperienced. “Have you been here all this time?” he asked, surveying his surroundings.

“Nope,” Emma replied. “I’ve been with Jean.” She took up his hand and tugged his arm. Xavier complied and stood.

“Jean?” he reiterated.

Emma nodded her head forcefully. “Uh huh, we have to go and save her.”

“Save her?”

Emma put her hands on her hips and stuck out her lips, looking very much like an angry blond duck. “Are you going to repeat everything I say?” she asked somewhat snottily. “Maybe you should get some more rest!”

Xavier made a conciliatory gesture with his hands, trying to reassure her. “No, no, I’m fine. Please, tell me what has happened to Jean.”

The girl gave him an unbelieving look, but continued anyway. “She’s stuck in her place, behind a wall. We have to get her out.”

“How did she get there? Why can’t she escape?”

“Becaaause,” Emma said, as she began to walk. Xavier followed after her. “I was in her place and then Shadow came. Jean wasn’t there yet.”

At the mention of Shadow’s name, Xavier faltered. “Shadow? Where is he now?”

Emma shrugged. “Dunno,” she answered. “Shadow came to Jean’s place and kil’t Crumpet.” At this she paused and rubbed one of her eyes. “Then Jean showed up, and Shadow left and we were stuck. Everything got dark and scary, but Jean made a fire and I got out but she’s still there. She said go find Professor Xavier, and I *did*! But you were all in pieces, and it took me awhile to put you back together.”

By now, they had left Emma’s “place,” and ventured out into the untouched realm of the Astral Plane. “Do you know the way back?” Xavier asked.

“Well, ye-es!” Emma exclaimed, as if the question were the stupidest she’d ever heard.

“Of course,” Xavier murmured. She was apparently aware of how to navigate the Astral Plane. The youngster had not ceased to amaze him.

“Her place isn’t far from mine. We’re neighbors! See, there’s her wall.” Emma pointed at a golden brick wall. Xavier could see the disturbance contained within the wall’s boundary; a cloudy gray riddled with brief flickers of lightning. Even at a distance, Xavier could feel the strength of the wall, and the penetrating evil permeating this section of the Astral Plane. He quickened his pace and overtook Emma, whose short legs could not keep up with his long strides.

“Hey!” she cried, as he broke out in a full run towards the wall. There was a hole in the boundary, and the tainted psychic disturbance was leaking out like water from a faucet. He had to stopper the flow.

Xavier reached the wall, and crouched beside the hole.

“Jean’s in there!” Emma cried.

He nodded. He could sense her presence amidst the foul air pouring through the wall. Crouching, Xavier peered through the gap. “Jean!” he cried. At first, he could not see her. Beyond the hole was a dark, frightening landscape of cracked dirt and straggling plant forms. The sky was a deep gray and the wind whipped the dry earth into a sandstorm. He squinted into the darkness. “Jean!” he cried again.

Craning his head, he caught sight of the bright red of Jean’s hair. She was lying on her side, her pale arm flung out toward the hole of the wall. Xavier reached through the wall to clasp her limp hand. He began to pull Jean closer. Her body was still and unresisting. “Jean, wake up,” he told her as he pulled her arm through the hole in the wall. Xavier was able to clasp her by the shoulder and shake her gently. She groaned, but remained unconscious and uncomprehending.

“Jean!” Emma cried out shrilly. “Don’t be dead! Don’t be dead!”

“Easy, Emma, relax,” Xavier said, extending a hand to her. “Jean isn’t dead. I need you to help me get her out.”

“The hole is too small!” Emma wailed.

“We’re going to make it bigger. I need your help.”

Emma began to cry in earnest. “I don’t want Jean to die!”

“She won’t. We’re going to help her. But I need you to help me.”

“I can’t!” Emma hid her eyes behind balled fists. “I’m not strong enough. I w-want my daddy! I want daddy!”

“You *are* strong enough,” Xavier said soothingly. Though he had more than enough patience for the antics of children, he feared the longer Emma delayed, the lesser the chances of saving Jean. “You were able to save me when I was lost. You’ve done so well, Emma. I’m very proud of you, and so is Moira.”

Emma looked up at him with tears in her eyes. “Mo? Is Mo here?”

Xavier nodded. “Moira is with me, in the physical world. She’s waiting for you. Come hold my hand,” he said. “Help me pull down some of this wall, so we can get Jean out.”

The girl shuffled forward and took Xavier’s extended hand. “Concentrate on freeing Jean,” Xavier told her. “It’s just the same as when you built your own place. Help me break the wall.”

Emma closed her eyes and her lips trembled. Xavier took hold of one of the bricks with his free hand. Jean’s belief in the wall’s existence was strong, but her dying consciousness made the break-up of the bricks easier. The first brick slipped free of crumbling mortar. Emma gave a short squeal of happiness. Xavier scrabbled at the next brick, grit digging into his hands. The second brick broke free with such force, both Xavier and Emma fell backwards.

“That should be enough,” Xavier said breathlessly. He reached through the hole to grab Jean by the arm. However, as he reached for her, her arm slipped back inside the wall’s barrier. Xavier dove forward, grabbing her wrist. The world inside the wall was a twirling maelstrom of dirt and flying debris. The ground was falling away, as if into a giant sinkhole, and Jean was going with it.

“Jean!” Xavier cried out, and clasped her arm with both of his hands. Her body was suddenly very heavy. The world was reluctant to let her free and it was collapsing in on itself, creating a vacuum. Xavier could feel psychic winds sucking back through the hole, buffeting his body. He put his feet against the wall and pulled back. Jean’s shoulder and head appeared through the hole. Emma began to move forward, but Xavier barked at her to stay back. He was able to slip his hand under one of Jean’s arms and pull her torso through the hole. Emma grasped Xavier by the shoulders, and together, they pulled the rest of Jean’s body through the wall. The three of them landed in a heap. Swirling winds were still being drawn through the hole. Xavier made a final effort to create a stopper, forming thoughts into a rigid clear surface wide enough to cover the gap. The stopper was sucked from his grasp and smashed against the wall, effectively plugging the hole with a sudden snap. Xavier gasped, and lay back in exhaustion. Beside him, Jean stirred groggily.

“Wha---?” Jean groaned. “Where am I?”

Emma crawled over to her and put her small hands on either side of Jean’s face. “We got you out.”

“Emma?” Jean blinked back tears. She turned to look over at Xavier. “You found me.”

“Can we go home now?” Emma asked.

Xavier and Jean continued to look at one another. “Shadow,” Xavier said. Jean nodded in understanding. There was still a long road ahead.

Waking came abruptly to Rogue, bringing momentary disorientation. Eyes wide, she looked about, until she remembered where she was. She was in the dark hotel room. Frightening dreams of falling had plagued her. She had seen Jean’s face, cruel and laughing. Voices clamored for attention, echoing inside her mind. Just before she had started awake, the image of a wolf-like demon had appeared, its horrible teeth bared in hate.

As the dreams faded, she became aware of Remy lying beside her. She could feel the warmth of his body. His breathing was deep and regular. Slowly, she sat up. The tee shirt she wore had hiked up around her waist, and her bare legs were tangled in the sheets. She couldn’t help but feel a passing moment of desire. Even just being horizontal next to Remy was enough to arouse her. Quietly, she slipped from the bed, hoping not to disturb Remy’s sleep. She lifted the heavy phone from the nightstand and took it to the bathroom. The cord was just long enough to make it to the door.

Life at the Institute had gotten weird. She wondered whom she could trust. Scott was gone, and whatever had caused him to leave must have been important. Kurt and Evan were absent from the Institute, both were with their families. And she’d never been a friend with Jean. The recent dream only strengthened her wariness of the girl.

There was only one person she knew she could turn to. Kitty would talk to her. Kitty wasn’t an authority who would get angry with Rogue for leaving the Institute. She might even think it was romantic that Rogue had taken off to find Remy. Rogue dialed not the Institute’s number, but Kitty’s cell phone. When the phone began to ring, Rogue pulled the receiver into the bathroom and closed the door. The phone rang twice, and Rogue held her breath. Kitty was not a light sleeper. She might not even have the phone turned on.

Rogue sagged with relief when she heard the groggy voice on the other end of the line. “Hello…?” Kitty’s voice came out as a groan.

“Kitty?” Rogue whispered.

“Rogue!” Kitty exclaimed. By now, she must be sitting bolt upright in bed. “Where are you? Are you okay?”

“Ah have t’be quiet,” she said. “And Ah’m fine for the moment.”

“Well, stay right where you are, we’ll come and get you.”

“Kitty, Ah think we’re in big trouble,” Rogue said.

“‘We?’ What do you mean ‘we’? Are you with Gambit?”

“Yeah, we’re at a hotel for the night.”

“What?” Kitty squeaked.

“Listen, Kitty---,” Rogue began, but was abruptly cut off as the receiver was yanked out of her grasp. The phone clattered against the floor, Kitty’s voice sounded small and tinny through the mouthpiece. Rogue dove for the phone, but the door was thrown open.

She stumbled back, ducking away from the door so not to be struck in the head. Remy picked up the receiver, listened briefly to Kitty, then slammed the phone down into its holder. Then he pulled the cord from the wall.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Remy demanded.

Rogue opened and closed her mouth, struck dumb for a moment. Finally, she managed: “Are you completely crazy or something?”

“Why did you call them?” Remy cried.

“Ah was scared!” Rogue answered. “With the way you’re acting, Ah think Ah’m completely justified.”

He turned and walked away from her. She scrambled to her feet. “Where are you goin?” she asked as she watched him pull on his shirt.

“I’m leaving,” he picked up the car keys from the table, and Rogue dove at him.

“Give me those! That’s mah car!”

He easily kept the keys away from her, pushing her away. “You can wait here ‘til your friends come and pick you up,” he told her. “I’m getting out of here.”

“Stop it! Ah won’t let you leave!” She raised her fists. “Ah’ll knock you flat before Ah let you go t’that place!”

He spat out a bitter and disbelieving laugh, causing Rogue’s eyes to flash dangerously. Unexpectedly, her fist shot out, which connected with his jaw. He stumbled against the door. They both stared at one another in shock. “Well, you asked for it!” Rogue cried out.

“I can’t believe you punched me!” he said. “That really hurt!”

“Baby!” Rogue responded. “Now go sit on the bed until Ah figure out what to do with you.”

“As tempting as dat sounds…” Remy turned to the door.

Rogue jumped on him from behind, throwing her arms around his neck and dragging him backwards. Together, they stumbled back, until the edge of the bed met the back of Rogue’s knees, causing her to fall. Remy fell on top of her, and she grunted as his weight knocked the breath from her lungs. He rolled off of her and grappled her flailing arms, pinning her to the bed.

“Now, you quit,” he said, his breath coming in gasps.

Rogue blinked her eyes rapidly and her bottom lip quivered. “Remy…” her voice weak and trembling.

His face instantly softened and he loosened his grip. “Rogue…I---.”

Rogue saw her advantage and deftly flipped him onto his back with a twist of her hips. She wrapped the blankets around him, pinning him effectively. All evidence of the tears in her eyes was gone now, and she smiled triumphantly. His exclamations of outrage were muffled by the enveloping blankets. “Say uncle!” she said, as she turned him onto his stomach and held him down by his shoulders.

He gave an incoherent cry of anger and tried to throw her off. “You’re a very bad boy!” Rogue cried. “You’re askin’ for a spanking!” A gleeful laugh escaped her lips. Where did that come from? she wondered.

Remy seemed to suddenly give up, going limp beneath her with a groan of frustration. He then began to hit his head in defeat against the mattress. Rogue found the keys to the car, grabbed them, and scurried back from the bed, allowing Remy to free himself. When he finally extracted himself from the blankets, he glared at her. His hair was mussed and stood on end, causing Rogue to burst out laughing again.

“Do you think dis is a game?” he asked.

“Neener neener neener,” Rogue said, dangling the keys at him.

He stood and straightened his clothes, then sat down on the bed. “I don’t like this annoying side of you.”

“Get used to it,” Rogue replied saucily. She was just about to begin her victorious saunter about the room when something banged against the door.

They both started, staring at the door. “What was that?” Rogue asked, all previous confidence she had possessed drained from her like air from a balloon.

“Probably just an angry neighbor, comin’ to yell at you.”

He stood and cracked the door open. “No one’s dere,” he said, opening the door wider. A bagged newspaper dangled from the doorknob. “Just a newspaper,” he took the bag down and looked up at the sky. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen de sky dis early in de morning.”

Rogue took the newspaper from him. “Let’s do the crossword,” she told him and opened the paper on the table. “Turn on the light, will you?”

“You’re kidding,” he said.

“Mm hm, page E 12,” Rogue replied, opening the paper.

Remy snatched the paper from her grasp. “Hey!” Rogue began to protest, but froze when Remy pointed at the picture on the front page.

Rogue’s mouth dropped open in shock. “‘Killer Apprehended in Local Bar’” the headline read. The photo below was an unmistakable image of Victor Creed, Sabretooth. Remy turned the paper back toward himself and read: “‘Victor Creed, wanted in connection for numerous crimes committed across the United States and Canada, was apprehended by authorities…blah blah blah…was found struck down by an unknown assailant…!…taken into custody…’”

“Oh mah gahd!” Rogue cried.

“This is the local paper,” Remy said. “This happened in the last town we passed.”

“Well, it’s a good thing we didn’t run inta him,” Rogue replied.

“Yeees…” Remy began slowly. “And who do you t’ink could take down Sabretooth?”

Rogue paled. “We’ve got to get out of here,” she said softly.

“I’m glad you’ve finally come to your senses,” Remy said, and they both started towards the door. He put his hand to the doorknob and spun around. “Mebbe you should put on some pants first.”

“Oh, right,” Rogue ran to the bathroom to retrieve the pair of sweatpants. She hopped into them while Remy grabbed his duffel bag and they both hurried out of the hotel room. Hand in hand, they ran to the car and peeled out of the parking lot. Neither dared to look behind.

The door to their room stood ajar, left partially open in their haste to depart. He pushed through the doorway, head tilted upwards to sniff the air. Rogue’s scent was fresh and close, as close as it had been in New Orleans. Wolverine crept to the bed, where the sheets lay rumpled. He took up the bedclothes, with filthy, bloodstained hands. He held the sheets to his nose and drew in a deep breath. She’d only just been here. He found the second scent of the boy she traveled with. Memories stirred, and Wolverine found himself growling with anger. That scent was familiar as well, and it brought back feelings of frustration, though he couldn’t remember why. Never mind, he concluded. The end of the hunt was near, and when he found the pair, he’d gut them both.


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