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Chapter 1


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

Chapter 1

This is how it goes, every time: he gets up, walks over ta me like he’s got some goal. Sometimes the space is bigger than others--practically a football field or something--and sometimes it’s small as a closet.  He’s comin’ over for a reason but no matter how many times it happens, Ah cain’t figure out what it is till he’s right in my face.

Boy has a Purpose, no mistakin’ that.

He stops in front of me, grabs my face and…



Kisses me.

Smack-dab on the lips.  Not a soft lil peck, either.

Not a brush of skin on skin, not a tease of a whisper of a hint of a kiss.


Nice tonsils ya got there.

Very nice.

Ah never had a kiss like that before.  Heck, Ah barely even had a kiss before is all.  Cain’t we leave it at that?

No? Ya want details?

Ah was kissed.

Armed an’ Dangerous.  First Degree stuff.

Starts soft, gets warmer, gets very hot, and then wet, and then deep and then I forget where Ah am (not that Ah really know), what Ah was doing there, what my name is and what Ah was trying ta do. When he finally comes up for air, Ah...


Damn, this is embarrassing.

Ah whimper.  There, Ah said it. Happy?

Ah cry like some dumb kid and pull his head towards me, wanting more.  Not jus’ the kiss, but that too.  Ah never wanted anything so bad in my life.


Only...he pulls back and smirks.  Almost exactly the look he gave when we first met an’ he nearly blew my damn hand off with that playin’ card o’ his.

That’s when Ah wake up, with that smug face reflectin’ inside my head.  If ever Ah catch that mongrel dog he’s gonna pay for interrupting my sleep but good.  Ah spend my days plottin’ revenge, probably so Ah don’t hafta think about my situation.  Ah don’t know how Ah ‘scaped from Trask’s overgrown science fair experiment.  One mornin’ Ah just found myself lying in the woods near the side of a road.  Took mosta the first day just to remember who I was an’ figure out what the hell road it was.  My uniform had definitely seen better days.  Ah started walking north ta the Institute.

Ah don’t like not knowin’ how Ah got away.  Fact is, could be Ah didn’t an’ this is just some dirty trick ta make me hope again.  Ah think Ah’ve seen a Twilight Zone like that.  Poor slob goes crazy ‘cause of it.  Or Edgar Allen Poe.  The Pit and the Pendulum.  He had it ‘bout right--false freedom is the worst torture.  If Ah could remember fighting my way free everything would be different that’s for sure.

After four days of gettin’ lost and askin’ for directions and walkin’ till my feet were numb, takin’ rides where Ah found ‘em, Ah reached what was left of the mansion.  Ah collapsed at the gate, then dragged myself ta my feet and slept in the ruins.  The next mornin’ Ah woke up with tears on my cheeks, even though Ah couldn’t remember what Ah’d dreamed.  Probably somethin’ stupid like Kurt’s face when he’s tryin’ ta choke down Kitty’s waffles or Scott gettin’ all mad when Evan takes too long in the bathroom touching up his roots.

Ah knew they were dead, ‘cause if they’d been alive they would’ve been there, goin’ through the wreckage, rebuilding even.  Ah looked at my hands.  The palms of my gloves were ripped in places so the skin showed through.  Ah knew that there was nothin’ Ah could do on my own.  All my powers were in my hands an’ there was nothin’ those hands could do ta bring ‘em back.

*    *    *

My father called me un feu follet when he was filled wit’ wine or good feelings.  Most de times, de good feelings came wit’ de wine.  Jean-Luc LeBeau had me pegged ‘bout right: a spirit always moving, will o’ de wisp.  De time comes sooner dan I planned when I wonder why I be workin’ for sour ol’ Magneto in de first place.  De man is obsessed, and obsession’s no fun.  No point ta boude (pout) ‘bout it, but I didn’t figure on doin’ nothing either, neh?

Dat girl might have been a part of it, but I won’t say either way.  A man need some mystery.  Oh I could tell she was a tite pichouette (mischievious girl) sure ‘nough, but I t’ink I still hold all de cards between us.  Hers exploded, didn’t it?  Always could charm de pants offa belle femme from fifty paces.  Sometimes I wonder if it be me o’ de powers.  Dey never could resist de eyes.  If dat Trask hadn’t gotten her, she could have made de mighty fine lagniappe (bonus) that’s sure.

I flicked cards into de trashcan from halfway across de room.  I liked de sounds dey made when dey hit de metal.  Downstairs, Magneto and de others were about dere business.  Does de Magneto part surprise you?  Mec’s (man’s) got more lives den a cat.  Myself, I make a point not t’ be involved, keep my head down at de right moments.  Live longer if you don’t care.

Outside, de moon cast strange shadows across de lawn.  Seem t’ me to be roads made of light, goin’ somewhere.  Den I figured I needed t’ go somewhere sometime too.  Was easy enough t’ open de window, shimmy down de tree like I did in de Vieux Carre (French Quarter) comin’ up.  Dis time my father wasn’t dere t’ scare me inside wit stories ‘bout les loups-garous (werewolves) who gobble up little children under de full moon.

Once I was out in de fields past de house, de tight spot in my heart relaxed a bit.  Being locked up too long is bad for the soul, non?  I made good time, running and walking through de night.  I felt at home in de night, like it wrapped arms around me t’ shelter my face from...anyt’ing.

I passed de time in aimless thoughts.  My time was my own again, t’ waste or save for rainy days.  I hitched a ride where I could wit de vague notion dat I should head down south again.  Not dat I had a home dere either, but as de man says: old habits... 

You might be wonderin’ if I thought of de girl.  I did at times, sans doute (doubtless).  I wondered where she was and what she was doin’ wit herself.  I figured she might be dead.  Dat man Trask is one crazy fils de pute (son of a bitch) and I didn’t t’ink he was hidin’ no heart of gold neither.  No mercy, that’s fo’ sure.  C’est tout (that’s all) I thought of her at dat time.  De time dat I was walkin’ south, I never guessed how my life could change...poof...or how de girl could make me want t’ change it.

*    *    *

Ah hung around the mansion for a couple days.  Some of the smaller chunks Ah could lift myself.  Ah don’t know when Ah decided ta go back to Trask ta find the others an’ Ah certainly didn’t stop ta think about how Ah had no idea where ta start lookin’.  Or how ta start either.  All Ah knew was Ah needed weapons...big ones.  Funny how things happen--four months before Ah don’t think Ah’d have lifted a finger for any of them, but right then Ah was willin’ ta risk my own life for th’ Blob?

That o’ course was th’ exact moment when he walked over top of the hill.  For a minute Ah thought Ah’d fallen asleep and was dreamin’ him up. 

Nightmare more like. 

Even when he thought no one was watchin’ he swaggered.  All of my good feelin’s flew outta the window.  Ah wanted ta wrap my fingers around his neck, feel his skin before he passed out.  Even now Ah’m not sure if my motives were only homicidal.  Sometimes, skin on skin seems like the defining goal of my life, like push comes ta shove and nothin’ else is as important.  Ah took off my gloves and reached into the rubble.  A broken bit of pipe makes a nasty weapon.

He wasn’t expectin’ me.  Ah’m good at bein’ sneaky.  My power is just touch and if Ah don’t get close enough ta touch there’s no use in it.  Ah used the fence and tree line for cover, went in low, thankful for all the hours with Logan in th’ danger room.  Ah won’t say Ah’m the best fighter of the x-men, but top five percent an’ damn proud of it.

Ah swept the pipe into the back o’ his knees and he went down like he was wet clay.

“Putain (fucking hell)!”  Ah’m not sure what happened next, he seemed ta twist in the air and Ah saw a flash outta the corner of my eye.  My own legs went out and Ah landed hard on my ass.  Seems he hit th’ ground harder than Ah did though.  When Ah looked, he was on his front, not movin’.

“Hey,” Ah said, standing and brushing myself off.  Ah’m not stupid.  Ah still didn’t trust the bastard farther than Ah could throw him.  I figured he was fakin’ on me.  His staff was lyin’ right next ta him on the grass and Ah toed it away.  “Hey, get up!  Ah’m not fallin’ for it.”  Ah shuffled closer, poked him with my toe.  Nothin’.  Gingerly, Ah rolled him over, still expectin’ something dramatic.

Ah shoulda realized that life rarely gives ya the dramatic you’re expectin’.  He was out cold: bump on the side o’ his forehead and a little trickle of blood down his face.  It wasn’t a bad face, Ah hope Ah’ve made that clear (Ah’m not made of stone), but all the frustrations an’ worry of the past few days all crashed down on my head and Ah kicked him.  Not hard, but not too gently either.

Then Ah helped him o’ course, but ya understand why Ah had ta kick him first?  He was a lot heavier than he looked, then again he looked ta me then like a skinny son of a bitch too cocky for his own good.  Even unconscious his mouth had a smirk to it.  Ah was mad at myself for findin’ that interesting.

Ah dragged him ta the tree line and propped him against the trunk o’ an old maple.  Ah was careful not ta touch his skin, towin’ him by his collar like he was a damn dog.  He fussed a little, just like a kid.  Ah put my gloves back on, squatted in front o’ him and patted his face gently with the back of my hand.

“Hey you, wake up.  Wake up.”

Ah didn’t think he’d actually listen.  When his eyes snapped open all at once, Ah let out a hoarse yelp and jumped away from him.

“Oo yee-yi (ouch)!”  At least his vocal chords had recovered.  Ah felt better.  Not that Ah regretted knocking him out, exactly.  Now Ah figured Ah had a whole other set o’ problems.  Ah hadn’t heard him speak any English yet an’ my French is best described as creative.

“Comment tu t’appele (what is your name)?” Ah asked haltingly.  My tongue was fumbling over th’ words.  Ah felt angry again.  The situation was out of my control.  He smiled.  “Well aren’t ya gonna say something?”  Nothing.  Just that grin.  “Ooh!”  Ah shoved him in the chest and stalked away.

“Actually, beb (sweetheart), I was havin’ a bit too much fun listening t’ you.  Good t’ing my English is better den your French or we have a problem, neh?”

“Barely better,” Ah grumbled.

He continued like he hadn’t heard me.  He touched his head with a rueful look.  “Good t’ing I got de tete dure (hard head) or we have a problem.  Dat’s a nice hickey (lump on the head) you give me.”  He stood then but fell down just as quickly.

“Are ya always this stupid?”  Ah helped him ta his feet an’ even though he tried ta look suave he was leaning hard into my shoulder. Together we started walkin’ toward the mansion.

He flashed me a smile that was both strained an’ dazzlin’.  Ah felt my breath catch and hoped he hadn’t noticed.  “Are you always dis charming?”

“Only if the guy is really special.”

“I’m flattered, beb.”

“Ah wish you’d stop callin’ me that.”

“D’you know what it means?”

“Nothin’ good Ah’m sure.”

He shrugged.  “Comment tu t’appele?”  The words sounded much more at home on his lips.

“Rogue.  You?”

“Remy.  You got a last name, chère?”

“No.  You?”

“LeBeau.”  He tried a little bow, but Ah held him back.  Ah wasn’t about ta hoist him on his feet again.  “You weren’t expecting t’ see me here.”

“Ah wasn’t expecting ta see ya ever.”  His lips on my lips.  Ah could feel my face gettin’ hot.  “Except in my nightmares.”

“Or maybe your dreams.”  He raised one eyebrow and Ah became fascinated with something just over his left shoulder.  He shrugged again.  Ah was beginning ta hate the habit.  “‘S okay.  I thought you were dead.”

“Thanks for th’ vote o’ confidence,” Ah gritted.

He laughed an’ Ah told myself Ah shouldn’t find it charming.  “Ca c’est bon (that’s good) dat you’re here!  Nice t’ know I wasn’t wrong ‘bout you.”

“And what did ya decide about me?”  We’d reached the outskirts of the wreckage and sat on a chunk o’ concrete.

“Dat you might be almost as stubborn as me.”

*    *    *

Dere’s not much in de world t’ surprise me, but Rogue did when she left me sitting on de concrete and went back t’ de house. Open permission t’ escape.  Fo’ awhile I stared at de rubble.  Dere’s something especially sad ‘bout a house dat’s been destroyed, as if all de ideas of all de people who ever lived dere been killed. 

Look at me, de high and mighty philosopher!  First, I was only wondering how badly I’d have to hurt Rogue t’ get away, it was only after she left me on my own dat I wondered what might be dere for her dat she didn’t want t’ leave.

“Where ya going, beb?”  I saw her shoulders tense.  Was too easy to annoy her, but I couldn’t leave it alone for de life o’ me.  What can I say?  T’ief dat I am, trained t’ be silent, dere’s still a part of me dat wants all de attention, especially from a belle femme.  A game of chance, de best one in de world: dey t’ink de’re getting your heart, dey give you deres and poof...all gone.  De King o’ Hearts. 

“Ah have ta look for weapons.  Ah have ta rescue my friends.”

“Vraisemblablement (most likely) your friends dead, chère.  C’est la vie but you’re wasting your time.”  Figured it was time for de girl t’ face reality.

Dat was de wrong t’ing t’ say.  Rogue came at me like a bat outta hell, gray eyes dark and wide and shooting sparks straight t’rough me.  Dere was a moment when I wondered what her power was.  Dere was a moment when I wondered if dat would be de last t’ing I wondered.

“Shut th’ hell up!”  She clocked me good and my head snapped back.  Somet’ing cracked and multicolored stars burst in front of my eyes like de Fourth o’ July.  “God, don’t ya ever shut up?”  I heard de waver in her voice.  My jaw stung where she’d hit me.  Girl was bad news.  Every instinct dat I had told me not to look at her.  I looked anyway, mebbe for de perversity of it, mebbe I started growin’ a conscience after 20 minutes wit’ her, who ‘m I t’ say?  She was on all fours on de ground; her tangled hair covered her face.  I dropped down, lurching wit nausea--too much head trauma in one day scramble de brain, non?  I pushed her hair away.  Her face was red and shiny wit sweat, her mascara flaked into de dark circles under her eyes, she was crying silently in anger and exhaustion.  Ga lee (wow), in dat moment she was de most beautiful t’ing I ever saw.  Dere was somet’ing Jean-Luc said dat I never could understand: man chase a woman until she catches him.  Never knew how dat might be so until I saw dat face.  Always thought dat a man had de choice t’ keep runnin’.

“Don’t cry, chère.”  She folded herself into a sitting position, edged away.  I reached out and touched her hair, expecting t’ have my hand bitten off.  T’inking mebbe it was worth it anyway.

She wiped her eyes roughly wit’ de back of her hand.  “Ah’m not cryin’.”

“Dere’s a Cajun saying: lache pas la patate.”

She sniffed.  “What does that mean?”

“Don’t let go of de potato.  Never give up.  Myself, I’m a capo (coward) but you--lache pas la patate, beb.”


Merde, dis is embarrassing. 

I dropped my hand from her head, threw up on de grass and passed out.

Couldn’t have been out for more den a couple minutes, but when I woke up Rogue was brushing my face wit a damp cloth.  I saw dat she’d torn off a part of de uniform she was wearing.

“How romantic,” I mumbled.

She shook her head.  “You’re crazy.  You’ve probably got a concussion.  Ya should see a doctor.”

“Ain’t got no time for doctors, chère.”

“Why not?  Th’ nearest hospital is just...”

“Be time for dat after we rescue your friends.”  Dat shut her up quick.  She sat dere wit her mouth open.  Drops o’ water splashed onto my face from de cloth.  “Dat mouth be good for catchin’ flies, non?”  I raised my hand t’ tap her cheek.

She twisted away from me.  “Weapons.  We need weapons.”  At first I thought dat she was just gonna leave me dere again, but she came back quickly wit my staff, dropped it on de ground next t’ me.

*    *    *

Sometimes Ah think Ah must absolutely certifiable.  It seems like th’ best explanation for my actions.  Why else would ah be headin’ back north with the Cajun?  Maybe bein’ in his presence was what made me crazy.  Ah’ll admit he did help me find the guns Xavier kept in his office “just in case.”  Maybe Ah couldn’t have done that by myself.  He jus’ charged up some o’ those playin’ cards and bang!

“That your only power?” Ah asked him.  Ah’ll admit, Ah was tryin’ ta bait him a little.

“You tell me.”  He turned an’ Ah saw a flash of somethin’ red in his eyes.  Then, it’s hard ta describe, but a little like lyin’ in bed an’ feeling like you’re fallin’ out.  Ah dragged my eyelids down ta blink it away.

“So what’s that?”

He charged another card an’ tossed it expertly into the shrinking pile o’ rubble where Xavier’s office used ta be.  Ah silently resolved never ta play poker with him.  “Don’t know what t’ call it.  Suggestion?  Hypnotism?  I make people do what I want.”

That threw me.  “So maybe Ah’m only lettin’ ya come along because ya bewitched me!”

He laughed at that.  Ah didn’t find it reassuring.  “Beb, I use de charm on you, you can’t think straight ‘nough t’ ask dat question.  You’d be eating outta my hand.”

Ah rolled my eyes.  “Take a breather, Cajun.  Ah’ll finish this.”  He backed away obediently.  Ah smiled.  First reasonable thing he’d done since Ah’d known him.

A grim job, goin’ through the debris, but bein’ girly about it wasn’t gonna do me any good.  Ah lifted chunks o’ rock till my back was sore and my arms shook and Ah couldn’t lift anymore.  Then Ah rested an’ started again.  The sun was sinkin’ in the west when Ah found the box.  Ah dragged it outta the ground, too tired ta carry it. Remy was a little ways off.  He’d started a fire and was shufflin’ cards like he had nothin’ better in th’ world ta do.  Ah watched him, fascinated by his hands, the way that they moved the cards between ‘em quickly in arches an’ valleys.  Under his fingers it seemed they could do anything. 

Those fingers on my face...

“Like what you see, beb?”

Ah snorted and walked toward him.  The box clattered on the ground.  “You gotta line for everything?”

“Only for you, chère.”

“Right.”  Ah dropped the box by his feet, close enough so he had ta jump away.

“T’ink I’ve had ‘nough blunt trauma fo’ one day.”

“Can ya do anything with this, or are ya only good for card tricks?”

“Alohrs pas (of course not), stand back.”  He touched the tip o’ his finger ta the locked box, just a brush really.  There was a flash and a puff o’ smoke.

“Thanks,” Ah said grudgingly.  The guns inside the box were frightening, but Ah swallowed my fear and picked them out like Ah did it every day.  Ah didn’t look at Remy when Ah handed him a gun.  He caught my hand, but Ah pulled it free.  The last thing Ah needed was for him ta touch me accidentally.

“Sit down chère, you’re dead on your feet.”

“I cain’t.  We have ta keep movin’.”

“You even know where t’ start looking?”  Ah let him pull me down ta the ground.

“Eat.  Feel better.”  Food appeared like magic from his pockets.

“Where’d ya get this?”

“Eat.”  He handed me a packet.  Ah looked down. 

Twinkies.  Fat Free Twinkies.

Ah started ta laugh.  First the sound was in my mouth and moved down till my whole body shook with it.  Ah looked at Remy.  “Twi...twi...twinkies,” Ah gasped.  Soon he was laughin’ too.  Sometimes that’s all ya can do if th’ situation’s desperate enough.  We laughed so hard we had ta lean against each other for support.

“Haven’t laughed like that since I was comin’ up,” Remy said once we’d got control o’ ourselves again.  “Un bon pomeè (laugh so hard you can’t catch your breath).”

Ah looked at him and thought again ‘bout how dazzlin’ he was, in the light from the fire his face looked strong, its hollows deep in shadow.  His eyes were bright, lookin’ right at me.  Ah knew Ah’d have ta watch myself around him.  Ah looked away, concentratin’ too hard on openin’ my Twinkies.

“I t’ink I got an idea how you can find your friends.”

“Oh, what’s that?”

“Magneto.”  Ah was instantly alert and on my tired feet.  Everything had been so confused, Ah’d almost forgotten who Remy worked for.  “Non, non, hear me out.  If anybody know how t’ find Trask, he be de one.”

“Ah think Ah know how much Magneto wants to get his hooks into me.”

“Sans doute (without doubt), but I find out for you, hein?”

“How do Ah know ya won’t turn me in ta Magneto?”

“You don’t.”

Ah looked at him hard.  “Will ya?”


*    *    *

Rogue likes control, I had figured dat much already.  After th’ conversation about Magneto, I had de devil of a time convincing her I wouldn’t kill her in her sleep.

“Ah want ya ta wake me up in three hours so Ah can take the next watch,” she told me.  I put on my best sincere face.

“Of course.”  She settled on de hard ground best she could.  “Fais do-do (go to sleep) beb.  Don’ worry.”  I wanted t’ touch her hair again, wonderin’ if she’d let me.  She didn’t like me touching her and dat only made me want to do it more.  Like I say, de perversity of it.

I looked up at de stars and wondered when my life had gotten so tangled up.  De life of a t’ief is no easy one, ‘specially de life of a Guild t’ief, but compared t’ dis it seemed easy.  I got t’ t’inkin’ mebbe I shouldn’t have burned all de bridges.  I could have stayed home, inherited de Guild, married Belladonna.  Cake, dat’s what it would have been, jus’ cake.

Rogue sighed in her sleep.  I was amazed she could sleep so well.  De ground wasn’t too comfortable.  “What you dreamin’, chère?”  Even out in de open, t’inkin’ ‘bout de Guild, Jean-Luc an’ Belladonna I could feel de old cage comin’ down. 

‘Man has to take responsibility, Remy,’ Jean-Luc had said.

‘Mebbe I want t’ choose my own responsibility, not take on yours wit’out reason.’  Don’t t’ink he was in de mood t’ hear me.  I might as well been talking t’ a brick wall.  T’ought I’d found what I wanted wit’ Magneto.  Wrong again.  I shook my head.  Mebbe I never find it.  Mebbe it don’t exist.  Panic clutched in my chest.

“La peur vient fort avec la nuit (fear becomes stronger with the night),” I muttered.

Rogue stirred.  “Y’ say somethin’, Kitty?”

I stroked her hair, wonderin’ who Kitty was.  “Fais do-do.”  She settled, leaned her head into my hand.  Make me seem like a schoolboy if I tell you how pleased dat make me.

Dere was gray in de sky an’ birds chirpin’ in de trees before I realized dat Rogue’s clothes were all wrong.  I slipped away t’ find some others, certain I’d be dere and back before she woke.  Merdeux (crappy) rich neighborhood too high and mighty t’ dry clothes de old-fashioned way.  Took me long time t’ find anyt’ing.  By de time I got back, Rogue had worked herself into a fine state.

“What the hell d’you mean runnin’ off like that?  Where’d you go?”

“Laisse be’ton (let it drop) beb,” I said, throwing her de clothes--faded pair of jeans and a t-shirt.

“What’s wrong with my clothes?” 

I looked at her torn uniform, raised an eyebrow. 

She looked down.  “Oh.” 

Silently, she go into de woods wit’ de clothes.  I was learning t’ read her silences den and I knew she was sorry.  She come out wit’ her face scrubbed clean, she could be any normal innocent girl.  I remembered de strength in her hands.  Nonedeless, I felt sorry t’ be takin’ her so near de lion’s den.

She tossed me an early apple from de armful she carried.  “Merci.”  We sat down.

“Why didn’t ya wake me?” she asked in between bites.

I polished de apple on my sleeve.  “Tried to, beb, but y’ were snorin’ and droolin’ t’ beat de band.”

“Ah was not!”

“How you know?  You be asleep.”

She bit her lip and glared at me.  I finished my apple off in t’ree bites.  It was sour and hard as a fist.

We off soon after dat.  Rogue set a wicked pace dat I figured she couldn’t keep up, but de hours pass as dey do and she didn’t slow down a bit.  Like she possessed.  Mostly we didn’t talk, more often I had to hurry to keep up and dere be no time for talking.  Was gettin’ on to four in de afternoon b’fore we picked up our first ride--back of a farm truck heading two towns up.  We climbed in back wit’ de corn.

“Y’ have more luck wit’out me, neh?  A pretty girl, all alone and helpless...”

Rogue slid a sideways look.  “Or you without me.  Ah saw the way those farmer’s daughters were lookin’ at ya.”

“Dat upset you, beb?  I only have eyes for you.”  Scared me when I realized I was only half-kidding.

“Do whatever ya want with your own time.  Ah just don’t want ya gettin’ distracted.”

I leaned back, folding my hands behind my head.  “No danger o’ dat.”  We looked at each other for a moment.  “I got a question, chère.”

Immediately, she on guard.  “Ya can ask, but Ah’m not promisin’ ta answer.”

“Why de gloves?”  I gestured toward the ripped brown t’ings.  “Y’ got claws for hands?  Or mebbe it’s for moisturizing?  Exfoliating?”  I tried t’ remember all de damn fool t’ings Belladonna did wit’ gloves.

Dat got a bit of a reluctant smile.  “It’s hard ta explain.”

“Got two towns t’ do it.”

“Easier if Ah just show ya.”  Den she took off a glove, brushed my face wit’ de tip of one finger.  Co (wow)!  Felt for a second like de life goin’ outta me.  She broke contact and I was gaspin’ for breath.

“I see.”

“It’s my power,” she said.  She tried t’ keep her voice neutral, but I heard de anger in it.

“I guess you don’t see it dat way, non?”

“Ah guess ya can see why Ah wouldn’t.”

“I show you somet’ing too.”  I took a deep breath an’ lifted up my shirt.

“What am Ah supposed ta be lookin’ at?”  Her voice was blasè, but dere was a blush in her face.

“Here,” I said, pointing t’ a bad one.  “And here and here and here.”  All my scars, most hidden by high-necked clothes.  Dey crisscrossed my skin like a crazy road map t’ nowhere.  She reached out a gloved finger and touched one.  My heart beat faster.  “Or dis one here.”  I tilted my neck so she could see de long streak.  “Almost got my jugular, dis one did.”

“How?”  Was barely a word, so low and breathy.

I pulled down my shirt.  “Don’t t’ink I was born wit’ de ability t’ control my powers?  Was a time I couldn’t touch anyt’ing wit’out blowin’ it up.  Got dis one from a razor.”  I pointed t’ de scar on my neck.  “Safety blade mon chu (my ass).”

Dat got a laugh outta her.  “Lemme show you something else.”  She picked up a pebble from de floor o’ de truck and concentrated on it.  Pretty soon it started glowin’, she threw it out de back and it exploded.  “Ah’ve been workin’ on that, controllin’ th’ power once Ah’ve got it.  Professor X was...is...helpin’ me.”  She teetered on de brink of sadness again.

“We’ll find dem, chère.  Move heaven and earth t’ do it.”

God help me, I was serious.

*    *    *

The second night Remy taught me a game called Pile.  He’d learned it as a li’l kid growin’ up in New Orleans.  Ah found the idea of him as a li’l kid with skinned knees and a dirty face pretty damn funny.  He tried so hard ta affect an air of dignity.  Ah laughed and he looked at me sternly. 

“You want t’ learn or mebbe you want t’ stand dere giggling all night.”

“Ya got no sense of humor.”

“Got enough sense t’ know what’s funny.”

Pile is a fairly simple game, mindless an’ good for keepin’ things light.  Keepin’ me from goin’ crazy.

Remy dug two holes, we stood a good distance away and flipped coins at ‘em, sometimes covering each other’s coins, sometimes sendin’ ‘em skittering across the dirt.  Sometimes we remembered ta keep score, but mostly we got caught up and forgot ta do it.

“Ah think you’re cheatin’,” Ah said finally, tryin’ ta aim my coin by the firelight.

“Don’t need t’ cheat, beb.  You lose all on your own.”

Ah flipped the coin.  It went wide and slid off into the bushes.  “Ya don’t have ta sound so damn pleased,” Ah huffed.  “‘Sides ya cain’t even see the damn holes.  It’s too dark.”

He pulled out his deck o’ cards and started shuffling them in intricate patterns.  “I could teach you t’ play Bourrè.  Good Cajun game.”

Ah shook my head.  “No cards.  Ah’ve had enough with you an’ cards.”

He had the good sense ta look ashamed.  “Never did apologize for dat.”

“Is that what you’re doin’ now?”


Right then it seemed so long ago and so insignificant.  “Well, you’d have a helluva lot more ta answer for if you’d blown my hand off.”

“Dat’s true.  Sorry anyway, chère.”


Ah never asked Remy where he got his food, at the time it was enough for me ta know that there was always something in his pocket, even if it was only a pack o’ Snowballs or a Honey Bun.  Ah enjoyed watchin’ the fine muscles in his jaw while he chewed, starin’ off into the middle distance.

“You’ve been gone three days.  What’re ya gonna tell Magneto?” Ah finally asked him.  As we got closer ta our goal, Ah got more nervous ‘bout Remy’s plan.

“Never t’ink about de lie before you tell it.  More natural dat way,” he said.  The firelight couldn’t hide the grim lines ‘round his mouth.  Knowing that he was scared too was cold comfort.  Then he seemed ta snap outta whatever funk he was in.  Whenever things got too serious, Remy liked ta bait me.  “Your French, she need practice, beb.”

Ah rolled my eyes.  “Your English, she need practice, beb,” Ah returned quickly, doin’ a fair impression.

Remy chuckled.  “Possibly.  How ‘bout I teach you somet’ing.”

“Ah get course credit for this?”

“You bring de necessary paperwork, I fix you up good.”  He grinned.

Ah shrugged.  Ah guess Ah was pickin’ up his habits.  “Shoot.”

“Pendant la nuit, tous les chats sont gris,” he said.  The words tumbled smooth outta his mouth like water.

Ah repeated the phrase haltingly.  He grimaced at my accent, but nodded when Ah was finished.  “What’s it mean?”

“In de night, all cats are gray,” he said philosophically.

“This’ll help me in everyday life?”

“Make you seem smarter dan you are.  Means t’ings not always what dey seem.  Chaque crapaud a sa crapaute.”

Ah stumbled over th’ words.  When Ah was done Remy translated again.

“Every toad got his toadette.”  Ah snickered at that.  He pretended ta be insulted.  “No romance in your soul.  Dere’s someone for everyone.  Beautiful sentiment.”  Ah remember thinkin’ the evening was going in interestin’ directions.  “One more.  Pains me t’ admit defeat so early, but I t’ink you’re beyond my help.  Can’t stand for you t’ be butchering de language anymore t’night.”  Ah punched him in th’ arm for that one.  “Ca qu’ete promis, ni du whiskie peut chager la veritie.”

“Ah understood the whiskey part,” Ah said when Ah was done.

“Neither whiskey nor promises change reality,” he said seriously.  Ah wondered if that was his way o’ tellin’ me that he might betray me ta Magneto because it was in his character.  Ah felt a cold weight in my stomach at the thought.  It was on the tip o’ my tongue ta ask him flat out, but then he produced a small bottle of whiskey from one of his magic pockets.

“Speakin’ of whiskey...”  His eyes glinted in the firelight as he opened the bottle.  He offered it ta me first, smilin’.  How could Ah refuse?  Anything you can do, Ah can do better, right?  The first swallow went down like fire, meltin’ my doubts for the time. 

In the mornin’, Ah woke Remy and we set out at first light.  He was a restless sleeper, but when Ah asked him about it, he said it was le cauchemar (a nightmare) an’ nothin’ else.  Ah had half a mind ta touch him again and find out for myself.  Ah had ta shake myself o’ that idea, it wasn’t one that’d ever occurred ta me before--invadin’ someone’s head ta get their secrets.  Ah guess Ah felt betrayed that he didn’t trust me enough ta tell me.

Magneto’s headquarters wasn’t that far from th’ mansion.  Ah guess that shouldn’t have surprised me.  Magneto and the Professor were flip sides o’ the same coin.  Sometimes seemed ta me they existed only ta oppose each other: necessary opposites.  Ah’m sure Mr. McCoy would have some fancy explanation for it, backed up by th’ proper literary references o’ course: Moby Dick an’ Ahab, Porfiry Petrovich an’ Raskolnikov, Inspector Clouseau an’ Chief Inspector Dreyfus.

Remy left me in the woods.  There was a good sight line ta the house.  He insisted, said he’d be safer by himself than he ever would be with me.

“Don’t worry, I’m still un sous-colline de terre (a scoundrel), t’inking only of my own skin,” he said with a rueful twist o’ his lips.

“Be careful,” Ah said, wanting ta say something and knowing that anything Ah did say wouldn’t be enough.  At the same time, Ah didn’t want him ta go without my saying anything.

“Always am,” he said, givin’ me a crooked smile.  My stomach lurched.  He handed me the gun Ah’d given him.  “Better if I don’t take this.”

Ah covered his hand with mine.  I felt a tingle of energy spread through my arm, pricking the hairs, like the shock Ah got from that charged card he gave me the first time we met.  “If you’re not back in an hour Ah’m comin’ in after ya.”

He rubbed his chin ruefully, fingerin’ the fading bruise Ah’d given him.  “Pity de man dat gets in your way, chère.”

Impulsively, Ah put my hand over his mouth an’ kissed the glove.  He caught my hand an’ tightened his fingers across mine before he took off down the hill.

The whole time we’d been talkin’ Ah heard Professor X’s voice in my head: ‘Under no circumstances do x-men go in without the proper support.’  Over an’ over ‘till Ah thought Ah’d go crazy from it.  Ah watched his shrinkin’ figure then looked down at my torn gloves for a moment, peeled ‘em off and shoved ‘em into my jeans’ pockets.  Ah loaded the guns.  My hands didn’t shake, not even a little bit.  Remy wasn’t an x-man and Ah didn’t know if Ah qualified as “the proper support” but ya understand why Ah had ta follow him, at a safe distance o’ course.

*    *    *

Figured I hit a rip in Rogue’s gloves.  Dat was de best way t’ explain de spinning in my head after we kiss.  Strangest kiss I ever had.  Easier t’ believe her power mix me up den de fact dat I might have finally found my envie (heart’s desire).

Before, I said dat I never t’ought ‘bout de girl and dat’s true enough, but right den--goin’ back t’ Magneto’s--she was all I could t’ink ‘bout.  She filled my head ‘till I want t’ explode just t’ get some peace.  Had all sort o’ crazy ideas ‘bout finding her friends and bein’ her hero.

“Gettin’ sloppy,” told myself.  “Gettin’ weak and sentimental.”  Didn’t help.

True what I said t’ her: never t’ink ‘bout what your lie should be ‘till you tell it.  I hoped I wouldn’t run into Magneto at all, it was early enough.  John and Piotr still in bed--dey consider it a minor sin t’ be up b’fore ten.  And wasn’t I a master t’ief?  Wasn’t I still Jean-Luc LeBeau’s son?  Be no problem t’ get in and out.  All I needed was access t’ de database and I was sure t’ find Trask.  Electronic t’ievin’ not my fortè, but I’m no slouch either.

Grabbed an overhanging branch and swung myself up and over, landing silently on de windowsill of my old room.  No one had bothered t’ latch de window.  I shook my head: too easy.  Dat’s what livin’ wit’ de most powerful mutant in de world gets you: carelessness.  More was de pity for dem.  Gripping de windowsill, I eased down de side of de house, held on wit’ one hand and used de other one t’ open de window.  Dat accomplished, I flipped silently into de room, disturbing not’ing.  Didn’t even hit de curtains when I came t’rough.  Felt a flash of pride at dat.

Amazing dat I actually lived dere.  De room was too bare and narrow.  I missed de sky immediately.  Seemed a life ago.  Co faire (why) had I become a different man in four days?  No time t’ ponder life’s deeper questions, I slipped into de hall and downstairs t’ de main computer room.

Couldn’t help but ‘member Rogue from de night before.  She tried t’ pretend dat she drink every day, but it didn’t take long before she dans les vignes du Seigneur (to be drunk, literally: in the vines of the Lord), laughing.  When she put her head on my knee, was all I could do t’ remind myself why I shouldn’t touch her. 

Dere was someone using de computer.  I dipped my head in and back quickly.  Magneto.  Merde, he could be at it for hours.  I decided t’ wait, but not long.  Wouldn’t be dat long b’fore Rogue chargin’ in like de cavalry and I wanted her far away from dat place.

“Lord Magneto?”  Always cringed at de ‘Lord’ part.  Didn’t figure t’ ever call anyone dat.  Respect’s t’ be gained t’rough power, not t’ be demanded by titles.  Least he wasn’t wearing de uniform.  Never could decide t’ be scared or amused by de t’ing.

He shut down de program he was working on an’ turned to face me.  “Ah, Gambit.  I’ll spare you the prodigal son references.”

“Merci.  Jean-Luc was a great one for speeches.”

“I take it that is one of the reasons you decided to join our little organization.”  I’ll admit, de man was much easier t’ deal wit’ out o’ costume.  “Comment ça va (how are you) or perhaps the better question is who is she?”

Suddenly everyone’s de comedian.  “Comme ci comme ça (so-so) but you got it wrong.  I went for de paper.  Got lost.  Ask Piotr t’ mow de grass more often.”

Magneto shook his head, looked at me hard.  “Not that I think you might have been doing anything foolish, but I have to insist you tell me.”  He rose, six inches taller dan me an’ twice as wide.  I got enough sense t’ know when t’ fight an’ when t’ be canille (tricky).

“Julianne,” I said sullenly, like he’d dragged it outta me.  “Merde, a man’s got no secrets here, does he?”

“Not from me.  The integrity of the work must not be compromised.”

“Dat’s true.  De integrity o’ de work.”  Afraid I slipped and dere was more mockery in de words dan I wanted.  Magneto looked like he want t’ say somet’ing more.  I weighed my options.

A gunshot and a scream from upstairs cut off his scrutiny.  Bon Dieu (good God), dere was only one person it could be.  De scream wasn’t fear, just anger.  I felt a flash o’ pity for John and Piotr.  Magneto rose into de air.  All I could do not t’ follow him.  Rogue had given me de opening I needed.  I only hoped dere would be enough o’ her left for me t’ thank properly later.

Didn’t take long t’ crack de system.  Most people so concerned ‘bout external security dey neglect internal.  De encryption codes were child’s play, but de noises from upstairs made t’ings more difficult: more gunfire and somet’ing dat sounded like thunder booming over and over.  “Wait for me, beb,” I whispered, “I’ll take you someplace nice.  Have ourselves a little rest.”  Minor reward t’ me when I found Magneto’s files on Trask.  No time t’ read.  I put de information on a small CD and made my exit, careful to put everyt’ing back de way it was.  I was in de hall just in time t’ see Sabretooth’s back disappearing upstairs.  Didn’t t’ink I could move so fast.

Everyt’ing was tumbled upstairs.  Took me a minute t’ process: Piotr unconscious at de end of de hall, John in his skivvies shooting fireballs at Rogue and Magneto trying t’ stop him.  Dere was blood on John’s shoulder, but dat didn’t slow him down, jus’ made him angrier.  His power went wild; he couldn’t control de flames like always.  Every so often he look down at de blood seeping across de white undershirt and de fire would grow. 

Rogue had absorbed Piotr’s power--de skin looking a damn sight better on her dan it ever did on him--and John’s fireballs bouncing away, setting fire t’ de house.  Dere were bullet holes everywhere, but I guessed Magneto made short work of de guns at least.  He was having less success wit’ John.  I knew how dat went.  Man’s obsessed wit’ his work, to de detriment o’ his brain most times.  Didn’t t’ink John could even hear him.  Sabretooth doin’ what he do best: standin’ in de corner lookin’ like he want t’ rip de world apart.  Even he t’ink twice ‘bout takin’ on de Colossus.

Magneto looked at me coldly.  Not’ing ‘scaped his attention.  Had t’ stop myself from putting my hand in my pocket t’ protect de disk.  Had t’ stop myself from looking at Rogue.  No incriminating moves if I ever wanted him t’ trust me again.  Met his eyes steadily even t’ough my heart was goin’ a mile a minute.  De moment passed and Magneto began shouting instructions.  “Sabretooth, shore up that wall, it’s going to collapse.  Get Colossus out of there.  Gambit, restrain Pyro.  I’ll take care of the girl.”

Since Magneto had noticed my absence dere was only one t’ing t’ do.  I grabbed John by his undershirt collar.  “Fuck, John, why you so coo-yon (stupid)?  Where’s your head?  You burnin’ de house down.”  He collapsed against me.  De blood loss must have finally got t’ him.  Behind Magneto’s back I caught Rogue’s eye.  She was terrified and silently pleading as he came toward her.

Run, Rogue, run, I willed.

Where? she seemed t’ reply.

I reached into my pocket.  If I blew de ceiling over Magneto’s head den mebbe she have time t’ escape.  So much for trust.  After dat, ‘course, my life wouldn’t be worth anyt’ing, but dat seemed a small price t’ pay.  Never considered myself de self-sacrificin’ type b’fore dat.

But dere was not’ing in my pocket, not even a ball of lint.  Not’ing except de disk.  I pulled it out.  Magneto blasted Rogue.  She looked tired, swaying on her feet under de blows.  She couldn’t move forward, but she wouldn’t move back either.  She saw de disk in my hand.  Her eyes widened, bright gray against de silver skin.  “No!”  De word torn from her lips.  De house was coming down around us.  Fire had spread to de stairs and dey collapsed in a crash o’ heat and flame.  Sabretooth, making de unlikely romantic picture, held Piotr to his chest and jumped to de first floor.  De wall t’ my right fell in a shower of sparks.  Barely felt dem on my skin.  Too busy judging where t’ aim.  Mebbe some miracle get us bot’ outta dis, run away t’ some tropical island.  Hear Genosha’s nice dis time o’ year, I t’ought.

“I thought Trask had taken care of you for me!” Magneto shouted.  Dere was somet’ing reckless in his voice dat made me shiver, crushing my wild hopes for any neat ending.

“Let’s go, Gambit!  Lord Magneto!”  John recovered from his temper tantrum.  Typical superior, bossy attitude annoyed me as much as ever.  As if dis wasn’t his goddamned mess.  He grabbed my shoulder.

Brushed him away, my hand came back bloody.  “Va te faire foutre (fuck off)!”  I raised de disk again, feeling de familiar rush as de atoms charged, like de world expanding.

“Don’t, please!”  Rogue shuddered as Magneto hit her again.  Everyt’ing around me shook wit’ de force of his attack.  Knew she wouldn’t last much longer.

De house was breaking and m’ coeur (heart) along wit’ it.  Seemed such an easy decision t’ make: Rogue’s life over de lives of people I didn’t know, people who saw me as Magneto’s hired thug an’ probably hated me for it.  Dere was no way I was losin’ Rogue in dis mess.  I knew I should just charge de disk, grab Rogue an’ get out as de house crumbled in behind us.  All my foolish heroic dreams come true, but den...I looked at her.  Such intensity in her face, enough t’ stop me cold.

De message was clear enough: save dem.  Bit my lip hard enough t’ draw blood.

Opening my mind t’ reverse de charge was more difficult, but I managed it and pocketed de disk again.

John caught me off guard.  “Gambit!”  He put his hands on my shoulders and shoved.  We went over de railing together, twisting in de air.  I landed in a crouch, rolled forward t’ absorb de shock.  John was beside me.

“Fils de pute (son of a bitch)!”  I punched John across de face and carried him, fireman style, t’ de lawn.

De roof fell in, starting in de center.  It was like a strange flower.  Magneto rose out of de hole, but not’ing else.  Sparks flew up as if dis were hell’s own bonfire.  My chest felt hollow.  Like I say: dreams die wit’ de house.

On de ground at our feet, Piotr stirred and asked for a glass of water.

*    *    *

Everythin’ destroyed.  Ta paraphrase one from the poet: so much depends on a glass o’ water.  That big hunk o’ tinfoil had practically run into me in th’ hall, glass in hand.  It all went downhill from there.  Ah touched him as long as Ah dared.  Ah never took in so much of anyone’s power before.  All Ah knew was that Ah had ta give Remy time ta finish up an’ get away with the information. 

Ah won’t lie an’ pretend the firebug forced me ta shoot him, or that the gun went off in my hands either.  Ah was tryin’ ta get a handle on the powers Ah’d absorbed and he was comin’ down the hall like he had other plans.  He had that look in his eye that Scott sometimes gets despite his “sensitive man o’ the new millennium” persona.  Pure John Wayne.  He was just itchin’ ta take me down on his own.

“Hold it right there, cowboy,” Ah muttered, raisin’ the gun.  My skin was developin’ a silvery color.  Ah heard Logan’s voice in my ear tellin’ me ta squeeze the trigger, not pull it.  A surge o’ anger ripped through me because the firebug was standin’ between me and my friends.  Ah squeezed the trigger.  The bullet went into his shoulder like Ah’d planned an’ he dropped ta the floor.

Ah knew he wouldn’t be down long an’ Ah devoted all my energy ta raisin’ th’ armor.  It was just about perfect timin’, really, because almost as soon as Ah did, the firebug recovered enough ta be angry.  All hell broke loose.

Maybe it’s better Ah only remember th’ battle in splinters.  It’s flame an’ noise an’ th’ smell o’ smoke.  It was strange ta be inside the skin.  Everythin’ seemed far away an’ Ah was too clumsy, like what wearin’ a space suit must be like. 

When only Magneto an’ I were left, it turned into a game o’ chicken.  Ah could feel th’ powers fadin’ but Ah also knew he had ta leave first if Ah ever wanted a moment’s rest again.  Heat was seepin’ into my body.

“What do ya want?” Ah finally yelled.  Magneto stopped firin’ and just hovered there, lookin’ at me.  Ah almost laughed, Ah was so tired an’ sore an’ relieved.  He actually looked like he was considerin’ my question.  It was a long time before he replied.

“The continuing work.”  Somethin’ in his expression looked like sadness, an’ Ah wondered if he was already mournin’ the loss o’ his house.  But Ah didn’t know what ta say ta that.  Ah didn’t know what work he meant.  Right then Ah didn’t want ta know.  It was getting uncomfortable.  The armor was fadin’ away, Ah could hear it sizzle.  Sounded like Pop Rocks.  “Did Gambit bring you here?” he asked, almost conversational.

“Ah don’t know what ya mean.”

“Remy LeBeau.  Did he bring you here?  You two are working together, are you not?”

If he thought he was intimidatin’ anythin’ outta me he had another think comin’.  Ah set my jaw.  “Ah’m not workin’ with anyone.”

It was pretty damn obvious he didn’t believe me, but when th’ ceilin’ fell down his interrogation was cut short.

Ah used th’ last o’ the powers ta get myself ta the first floor and make my exit outta one o’ the back windows.  Crawlin’ into th’ woods with cuts an’ burns on my arms an’ legs is somethin’ Ah hope never ta have ta do again.  The last o’ the mornin’ dew was meltin’ away under th’ sun.  Amazin’ ta think all that had happened an’ there was still a whole day ahead.

Ah went as far as my body would take me an’ collapsed. Pain ran through my limbs like a charge.  The clothes Remy’d given me looked even worse than my uniform had.  Ah’d lost the gloves completely.  My head hurt.  Touching it gingerly Ah could tell that some o’ my hair had burned off in places.  Ah felt tears buildin’ in the back o’ my throat, but Ah swallowed ‘em.

Ah drifted in an’ outta sleep replayin’ scenes inside my head, remembrin’ Remy’s face when he held the disk.  Remy wanted ta save me with that disk.  Ah shoulda let him, Ah thought darkly.  But Ah knew if the situation were the same a thousand times Ah’d make the same decision a thousand times.  Ah never woulda forgiven him if Ah thought he’d sacrificed the others ta save me, even if Ah found out they were okay after.  Ah never coulda forgiven myself for lettin’ him do it. 

There’re just moments when everythin’ gets real clear--crystallized so ya can see every side--an’ right then, lyin’ on the ground, half my hair burned off, Ah could see it all.  Everythin’ he’d done was for me.  The sweetness o’ that thought was like honey on my tongue.  He hadn’t cared ‘bout everyone else.  How could he?  He didn’t know them.  But he’d been willin’ ta save them for my sake.  He’d called himself un sous-colline de terre (a scoundrel) an’ until that moment Ah woulda believed him.  He tried so hard ta play the part. 

Ah had slipped off into a light sleep when Ah heard voices.  Two o’ them.  They were in the ruins, callin’ ta each other.  The big, gruff voice had ta be Sabretooth an’ the other one was Piotr, th’ tincan.  Just hearin’ him conjured a swirl o’ images: a dark-haired family, a farm somewhere, soldiers, explosions, fear an’ anger. 

“You find it yet?” Sabretooth growled.

“This is not as easy as you might think, my friend,” Piotr grunted back.  “Strong as I am, I cannot move tons of rubble as if it were nothing.” 

“Weakling,” Sabretooth muttered.  Ah think it was supposed ta be quiet, but Sabretooth ain’t much for subtlety.

“Perhaps you should help more and talk less.”

“Perhaps I should shut that mouth fer ya,” Sabretooth replied.  Ah remember thinkin’ it was th’ wittiest thing Ah’d ever heard him say.

“It would be faster if Magneto were here.”

“Ah, he’s too busy with Gambit.  Never did trust that bastard.”

“Nothing like a broken finger to inspire the loyalty of your men,” Piotr observed dryly.

It was as if a cold hand had grabbed my heart, but there was nothin’ Ah could do.  Ah didn’t want ta risk detection.  Ah was in no shape ta fight anyone right then.  Few minutes after Piotr an’ Sabretooth left Ah heard a scream like somebody bein’ ripped in two.  Ah bit my lip, forced myself ta stay where Ah was.  Blinked back tears.

By nightfall Ah was crazy with worry.  Ah’d felt Magneto’s attack through Piotr’s armor so what chance did Remy have?  As Mr. McCoy pointed out ta us over an’ over, th’ human body is fragile.  Ah staggered ta my feet.  My body felt numb from stayin’ in one place so long.  Ah crept along, watchin’ out for sticks an’ piles o’ dead leaves, but when Ah got to a place where Ah could see the front o’ the house, they were gone.  Cautiously, Ah made my way outta the woods.

Ah could see where they’d been.  Ah could see where they’d put th’ firebug because th’ grass was matted down, colored with a few drops o’ blood.  Looked black in the dim light.  When Ah found more blood a little ways off, Ah started ta worry.  Ah told myself it was just more o’ the same, but Ah couldn’t make myself believe it.

Off ta my left, somethin’ winked in th’ moonlight.  Once Ah got closer Ah realized it was a single card--ace o’ hearts.  The tension in my chest eased up.  “C’mon, Remy, tell me where you are,” Ah mumbled.  Ah never expected th’ answer ta be so literal.  Nearby in the dirt, hidden under a low bush he’d scrawled one word: GENOSHA.

*    *    *

“Tell me about the girl,” Magneto said, his voice low.

“Julianne?  She nobody special, but y’ know dat already.  Y’ know all de secrets, Lord Magneto.”  I’m sorry, Rogue.  Tried my best, chère.  Mebbe de best of a t’ief ain’t good ‘nough to do anyt’ing but lie.  My mind was racing.  If I could get myself outta dis jam, dere would be all de time in de world later t’ mourn.  For once, I wanted de slow luxury of sadness.

Magneto’s wrist twitched.  My feet left de ground.  “You know which girl I mean.  The x-man.  Rogue I believe her name is.”

Her bright gray eyes.  Her sharp wit.  Her chestnut hair.  Her hard fists.  Her full lips.  Her iron will.  Played like a song inside my head or a cunja (spell), but I had t’ ignore it for de time being.

Widened my eyes an’ did my best t’ fake fear.  Wasn’t a long way from my current situation.  Good, I t’ought.  Use de emotion.  Control it.  Dere wasn’t a muscle in my face I couldn’t control.  “Don’t know what you talking ‘bout, Lord Magneto.  De x-men are my enemies.”

Den his invisible hand closed ‘round my throat.  Shot high in de air.  I kept my eyes from narrowing.  Was one t’ing t’ kill a man wit’ your own hand, but Magneto always did it from a distance.  No honor in dat.  “I know you’re lying.” 

“Alohrs pas (of course not).  Wouldn’t do dat,” I gasped out.  “Gain not’ing by dat.”  Use what he t’inks about you against him.  Let him continue to believe according t’ his prejudice.

“Tell me what you were doing in the computer room.  Tell me what you stole from me.”  De grip tightened.  I saw stars for de second time in two days.  Dis becoming a bad habit.

“Trask,” I croaked.

Don’t know what he was expecting, but it wasn’t dat.  Another trick t’ lying is telling de truth once in a great while.  Misdirection is de mark of a good t’ief, what links us to de magicians.  Magneto blinked, de grip relaxed and he lowered me till I was a foot off de ground.  “Why would you want to know about Trask?”  Den a look of comprehension settled in his face.  “You wanted to help that girl to find her friends.  You would betray me for your own appetites.”  I started t’ rise again.

“I never betrayed you!  Wanted t’ save you, avenge de attack on you!  It was my responsibility.  Should’ve protected you in de first place!  I got nobody, no family, but I wanted you t’...”

Dat’s when he dropped me.  I was about 3 feet up and landed hard.  “Your nose is bleeding.”  I raised my hand t’ my face and my fingers came away bright wit’ blood.  Wiped it on de grass.  Still tasted de copper in my mouth from when I bit my lip.  “If you wanted information concerning Trask, why didn’t you just ask me instead of stealing it?”

He was warming.  Felt a little thrill.  No one plays de game better dan me.  I looked away t’ make him t’ink I was shamed.  “It was my business.  I didn’t want John or Piotr t’ get de credit.”

“Very well,” he said, still cagey.

I allowed myself a small sigh--just right.  Family always be de touchy subject for ol’ Magneto.  Didn’t know de details ‘bout him an’ Pietro an’ Wanda, but I didn’t need t’ know dem either.  De confidence game is always sight-reading an’ improvisation.  Once I heard Magneto’s tune I play it from memory.  “Merci.”

“See that it doesn’t happen again.  I’ve no room for loose cannons or cowboys or Cajuns who should know better.  A man should only put his faith in ideas, Gambit.  They’re the only thing in this world that won’t let you down in the end.”

“Yes, Lord Magneto,” I said, wiping de blood from my face wit’ de back of my hand.

“Go clean off your face.  We’ll speak again later.”

Obediently, I climbed t’ my feet and headed into de woods.  Not too far in, near de back o’ de house was un petite stream.  Used t’ make it a game t’ see how far I could go wit’out makin’ a sound.  My record was five miles.  Hard in de woods, everyt’ing leaves a trace if y’ know how t’ look for it.  Even though I grow up in a landscape different from dis as night from day, I taught myself de signs: branches broken t’ show de green inside, bits of fur caught in low bushes, leaves disturbed on de forest floor.  Dat’s how I knew someone was dere in de woods wit’ me.  De signs pointed de way as clear t’ me as bright lights flashing.

De trail led t’ a thicket, dark and deep as de line goes.  I was on cat feet all de way.  Dere was a rising, fluttering feeling in my chest, but I didn’t dare let hope into my mind until I saw her.  My strength left me in a rush.  She looked de worse for wear, but not’ing terrible.  She was breathing, deep and slow, sleeping.  Don’t know how long I stood dere.  I wanted t’ wake her, but I knew we’d never get away.  Magneto had tightened his fists on me and I didn’t t’ink he’d hesitate t’ do de same t’ her.  Better if no one knew.  Safer.

I wanted t’ stay wit’ her until she woke up, but even dat be dangerous.  Lucky t’ing dat de scent from de fire overpower Sabretooth’s nose, but I didn’t t’ink dat his hearing was less sharp for it.  All it would take was one cry t’ bring him down on her head.  I heard dem in de ruins.  Rogue stirred.  Just one more look, I bargained, but I had been gone too long.  De thrum o’ insects in de trees covered my retreat.

Quickly, I washed my face and hands.  Blood a hard t’ing t’ get rid of.  It creeps into cracks in de body as if it were tryin’ t’ find its way home.  Piotr and Sabretooth came back from de rubble at about de same time as I came back from de stream.  Dey had Magneto’s box.  It was roughly de size o’ de one Rogue had pulled out of Xavier’s house, but instead of guns, it held backups t’ all of Magneto’s files.  Struck me as funny dat while Xavier, de great pacifist hid guns Magneto, de great terrorist hid knowledge.

“John does not look so good,” Piotr observed.  Boy always did have too much heart, but dis time I had t’ agree wit’ him.  John’s face was a sickly yellow and covered wit’ sweat.

“That bitch shot me,” he moaned.

My fingernails dug into my palms, left stinging marks.  “Y’ burned de house down, John,” I pointed out.  “Que tu es emmerdant (you really piss me off).”

Magneto put his hand on my shoulder.  I remembered t’ flinch just enough t’ stroke his pride.  “That’s enough, Gambit.”  He put his hand over John’s wound.  John howled t’ make my hair stand on end.  Dere was a sucking sound and den de bullet was in Magneto’s hand.  He dropped it wit’ distaste.  “You will live,” he announced dryly.  “Get up.  We’re wasting time here.”  Shaking, John obeyed.  He leaned heavily on Piotr.

“Where are we going?”  Piotr really was de babe in de woods when it came t’ Magneto.

“I have business to conduct with Mr. Trask,” Magneto said.  De way his brows lowered, I knew dat it wouldn’t be business at all.  Couldn’t help de twist of my lips at dat.  ‘No room for loose cannons’ indeed.

“And where would dat be, or can’t you tell us?”  I baited him, but only a little.  He felt at de disadvantage and I figured he’d jump at de chance t’ get in his little dig.  ‘Integrity of the work’ or not, Magneto’s a man in de end, just like anyone.

He smiled deliberately.  Cold.  “I don’t know if I can trust you not to go running off half-cocked again.” 

I looked around t’ see Sabretooth, John and even Piotr smiling in satisfaction at my humiliation.  Dey still t’ought anyt’ing dat made me weaker made dem stronger.  Everyt’ing rebelled at de verbal boot-licking, but I t’ought o’ de disk and Trask and of Rogue in de bushes and den told him what he needed t’ hear.  “I should never have gone wit’out your permission.”

Magneto’s tongue darted out quick t’ wet his lips.  Only I saw.  De man run on power.  “Trask has extensive laboratories on Genosha.  Mystique will secure the jet.”

Should have left it alone, not dragged Rogue across de ocean wit’ me.  Hear Genosha’s nice dis time o’ year.  Den I rationalized.  Tried t’ be practical.  Told myself dat I just couldn’t do it alone.  Was one t’ing t’ get in and out wit’ information or valuables, was another t’ steal people.  De fact o’ de matter was, didn’t want t’ do it alone.  Let de card flutter t’ de ground.  Wrote de word under de bush.  Was her choice t’ go or stay.  Would be our time in paradise.  Had t’ smile bitterly at dat.

*    *    *

Ah had ta believe Professor X would understand.  He was always warnin’ us not ta use our powers in public, not ta call attention ta ourselves.  Ah looked at my reflection in th’ gas station bathroom an’ had ta laugh at that.  Twenty minutes an’ a pair o’ scissors hadn’t done much ta improve my look.  Ah ran my hand over my newly-cut hair.  Homespun punk.  Ah felt only slightly less conspicuous than Ah had before with the burned parts.  Ah’m sure Kitty would know what ta do with this.  Felt a stab o’ pain at the thought.  Ah balled my hands into fists an’ promised myself Ah’d see ‘em again.  Turnin’ on the tap, Ah wet my hair an’ left the bathroom.

Clothes were easy enough ta find, dryin’ on a line in some poor slob’s backyard.  Ah felt bad.  If Ah’d had any money Ah woulda left some.  Even though the clothes weren’t completely dry, the fabric still stung where it rubbed against my healin’ skin.  At least Ah looked less like Ah’d just stepped outta a bomb site.  Ah looked down at my hands.  It was too much o’ a miracle ta expect gloves.

Boston wasn’t as far away as it’d seemed back when Ah was at the Institute.  The old way Ah used ta live seemed small ta me then.  Ah was headin’ for Genosha.  Ah’d never even been ta Canada.  Gettin’ rides was old hat ta me an’ Ah used the time ta think about what Ah needed ta do.

Problem: Ah needed ta get to the international terminal an’ for that Ah needed a ticket

Problem: Ah needed ta get outta the country an’ for that Ah needed a passport.

Problem: The name on the ticket should match the name on the passport.

Problem: Once Ah got ta Genosha Ah had no idea where ta find Remy or Trask.

Ah decided ta take a page from Remy’s book and wing it as much as Ah could.  Had ta make a conscious decision not ta think about the last problem.  Th’ other three were big enough ta keep me busy for awhile anyway.

The airport was a terrifyin’ crush o’ people.  Ah had ta force myself ta keep movin’ forward.  The crowd makes your job easier, Ah told myself.

Fact is, in an airport, people don’t watch their things as well as they should.  They get impatient waitin’ for plans ta arrive, they get impatient waitin’ in line, minds drift an’ bodies follow.  Ah stole a pale blue suitcase from an excited teenage girl ‘bout my size.  She was lookin’ the wrong way at th’ wrong time, her eyes intent on somethin’ outside th’ large plate glass windows.  Ah was there and gone before she turned ‘round.  Went a little ways then ripped her ID tag off the bag.

The passport was tricky.  Ah’m not proud ‘bout the way Ah used my power ta stun a girl who coulda been me on a bad day, but Ah did it because there was nothin’ else ta do.  Ah made sure Ah was at the other end o’ the terminal b’fore Ah opened the passport an’ started memorizin’ all th’ information.

Kendall Miller.  8644 Cedar Parkway.  Derry, New Hampshire.  Born: June 10, 1985.  Little girl smilin’.  Yellow bedroom.  Pictures of me with my arms around a boy who looked kind.  Th’ taste o’ peppermint stick ice cream.  Pull o’ muscles in my back as she swam.  Tired satisfaction at th’ end o’ a race.  My event was th’ 100 meter butterfly.  Ache of shoulders.  Nighttime in a neighborhood lake and that boy an’ my...Kendall’s...bathin’ suit wavin’ like a flag on shore an’ his lips slidin’ across mine an’ his hands skimmin’ down my thighs.

Ah closed my eyes as if it would squeeze out the memories.  My stomach tightened with jealousy an’ desire.  Kendall was my ticket ta Genosha an’ that’s all, but Ah had ta stop myself from dippin’ back into that memory. 

The Air Genosha counter wasn’t hard ta find.  Tasteful shades o’ blue an’ green.  Ah put on my best respectful face.

“Ah’m lookin’ for standby.”

“Adult fare?”


The woman behind th’ counter barely looked at me, just entered th’ information into th’ computer.  “I have a seat available on flight 1189, leaving in two hours.  Would you like to reserve it?”

It was all Ah could do ta stop myself from grinnin’ like a fool.  Seemed like things were finally startin’ ta go right for a change.  “Yes please.”  Ah felt like my feet were liftin’ off the ground already.  Thank god Kendall had a credit card just like any normal teenager.

“Do you have any bags?”

“Just a carry-on.”  She handed me the receipt and Ah signed it.

She gave me the ticket.  “Gate 19.  Have a nice trip, Ms. Miller.”

His hands on my thighs.  That smirk on his face.

Passport an’ ticket got me through security no problem.  The bag made me look like any other traveler.  Ah did all this without breakin’ a sweat, without fear.  How much o’ Remy had rubbed off on me in three days?

Flight 1189 ta Genosha was boardin’ in thirty minutes.  Ah took a seat in the corner o’ the waitin’ area and watched the passengers come an’ go.  Ah passed th’ time makin’ up stories ‘bout ‘em: here was th’ family on th’ vacation they’d saved for an entire year ta take, here was the elderly couple on their second honeymoon, here was th’ gaggle o’ girls lookin’ for some Club Med-style action.  Ah wondered what it must be like for them.  Ah wondered if Ah’d ever get th’ chance ta take a normal vacation.

It wasn’t the first time Ah’d thought about a normal life, not that it was a realistic possibility with my powers, but maybe a normal mutant life.  How many good years did anyone have?  Years when they were really happy.  Ah could remember snippets o’ my childhood.  That had been happy, just me an’ Irene in th’ house together, ramblin’ around.  Ah missed laughin’ sometimes.  Maybe that would never happen again.  Ah’d gotten so used ta my dark costume that Ah wondered if Ah was stuck in the role forever.  Ah was a freak by chance an’ a freak by choice.  Even then, with all my makeup washed away, Ah still caught people starin’ at my hair.

Ah sighed.  Couldn’t blame them really.  If the situations had been reverse Ah’d have been starin’ too.  Ah snapped open the fastenin’s on the suitcase.  Maybe that girl packed a hat...

Right about then, they made th’ first boardin’ announcement.  Ah quit rummaging through the suitcase an’ just listened with a growin’ sense o’ excitement.  Ah tried ta dredge up all the information Ah had about Genosha.  Unfortunately it involved rememberin’ my time in Mrs. Ryan’s ninth grade geography class.  Mrs. Ryan had no tolerance for anyone different, which made her the perfect candidate ta teach high school.  Ah’d spent most o’ the year tryin’ ta keep my head down.  On the few occasions when Ah’d caught her eye, my answers had been correct enough, but she was always eyeballin’ me, dyin’ for me ta take a wrong step.

Genosha is an island nation off th’ coast of Africa, not far from Madagascar.  Its economy is strong an’ technology-based.  The standard o’ livin’ is high.  The President o’ Genosha is Madame Reneau.

All that information at my fingertips and none o’ it helpful.  My row was called.  Ah rose, clutchin’ the handle on my bag.  My palms were beginnin’ ta sweat.  Ah scrubbed my right hand on my pants an’ tugged my passport outta my pocket.

*    *    *

Dere was no one on de plane t’ be de motherin’ type so I got stuck wit’ de job. 

“Gambit, I want you to check on St. John,” Mystique had said.  Wanted not’ing more dan t’ slump down in my seat and pretend I wasn’t listening while Magneto and Mystique discussed t’ings.  Somet’ing had happened, dat’s sure.  De look on her face was unmistakable.  Since I was still on thin ice wit’ Magneto dere was not’ing t’ do but obey.

“Po-yee-yi (that stinks),” I muttered, just loud enough for dem t’ hear.  Being too contrite wouldn’t do me any favors if dey expected a little resistance.

John was lying at de back o’ de plane.  I took de first aid kit from off de wall.  “Comment ça va (how are you)?”

“In English, arse boy, in English,” John gritted.

His shoulder wasn’t bleeding anymore, but it still looked a mess.  “No need t’ be so charming ‘bout it.”  I pressed de antiseptic wipe into his skin a little harder dan necessary.  “You dyin’ or what?”  Grinned at him.

“How d’you think I feel, drongo (dope)?  I’m bonzer (great), just bonzer.”

Definitely time t’ change de subject.  “Why Mystique call you ‘St. John’?”

He grimaced, alt’ough I wouldn’t say if it be de pain or de name.  “It’s m’name.  Makes me sound like a bloody lady boy (queer).”

“So why you let Mystique call you dat?  Maybe you’re sweet on her, neh?”  De boy actually blushed.  I finished cleaning de wound and wrapped it wit’ gauze.

“C’n I ask y’ something, Remy?”

“You can ask, but I’m not promising t’ answer,” I replied quickly, rememberin’ dat it was de same t’ing dat Rogue told me when I asked her about de gloves.  Wondered how many o’ her habits I’d picked up.

“You and that girl, that x-man...”

“Don’t know what you babblin’ ‘bout, John.  Never met no x-man.”

John laughed weakly.  “Come off it, mate!  Even Piotr knows you were runnin’ around with that bird and he doesn’t know Christmas from Bourke Street (he’s a bit slow).  What was her name again?”

“Dat your question?” I asked sourly.

“No.  I wanted to know if you two had a naughty (had sex).”

“You really a child sometimes, John.”

“I get it then,” he said, his voice rising wit’ mirth.  “You flashed your gash (an invitation to have sex) and she turned y’ down.  Not quite the figjam (“Fuck I’m Good; Just Ask Me”, a braggart) we all thought y’ were.”

Turned my back on de taunts.  “He’s feeling better,” I told Mystique when I got back t’ de front of de plane.

“So I hear,” she said coolly.  No trace of amusement in her eyes.

Threw myself into de seat in front of Piotr an’ tried de best I could t’ sleep.  Was fitful at best and I woke up several times in de night.  De third time it happened, I heard a low noise, like someone talkin’ to demselves real quiet.  But den another voice joined in.  Craned my neck around t’ see Magneto an’ Mystique jus’ as thick as t’ieves.

“How do you know that this Dr. Moreau can be trusted?” Mystique demanded.

Bit my lip t’ keep from laughing, remember de H.G. Wells story.  Any doctor named Moreau should consider a change in name or profession.

Magneto rubbed his forehead.  He looked tired and old.  “I do not know if he can, but it was he who contacted me regarding Trask, not the other way around.  He appears to believe in our work.”

“But will he do what we ask of him?  He works with Trask.”

“Works for Trask,” Magneto corrected quickly.  “There is a significant difference.  One of Moreau’s sons is a mutant and the other one has mutant connections.”

Dey looked at each other for a long moment but said not’ing else.

Woke in de morning wit’ sunshine piercing my eyelids an’ my head jammed into de space between de seat and de window.  Done my share o’ flying in de past, all business-related, but never got tired of de feeling traveling t’ another place.

Below de plane, water stretched out.  Looked like a sheet of turquoise silk.  In de distance, I could see land, a coastline.

“Are we almost there, bugor (boss)?” Piotr asked weakly, clutching his stomach.

“You been riding the porcelain bus, mate?” John asked.  Miracle recovery you ask me.  Personally liked him better rollin’ wit’ pain.

“Otsosi (blow me),” Piotr muttered.

“Shuddup, both o’ you,” Sabretooth snapped.

John pulled a face.  “Guess he’s not a morning person, eh Remy?”

“Don’t drag me down wit’ you, John.”  De sky was too wide and de sea was too blue.

“We arrive in Genosha in ten minutes,” Mystique said.  Though her voice wasn’t loud, it cut t’rough de bickering immediately.  “I have secured the lease on a house in Hammer Bay for our base of operations.  You three will set up the internal systems: computer and security, while Victor takes care of external concerns.  Then you will wait until you hear from either Magneto or I.”  Those spooky yellow eyes cut t’rough me.  “That means remaining on the grounds.”

Was already figurin’ ways t’ get outta dere fancy cage.  Instead of answering, just leaned back in de seat, quietly whistlin’ an old tune: Moi et la belle on aviait ete-z-au bal.  On a passé les honky-tonks.  S’en ont revenus lendermain matin le jour etait apres se casser.  J’ai passé dedans la porte dans arriere...  (My sweetheart and I went to a dance.  We went to all the honkytonks.  We came back the next morning at daybreak.  I went through the back door...)  Under my feet, dere was a rumbling as de landing gear came down.

*    *    *

Ah landed in a different world than the one Ah’d left.  Outside th’ airport everythin’ was drenched in cool, bright light.  It got in everywhere, even the darkest corners.  Genosha seemed like a place where nothin’ could stay hidden for long.  The airport was on a rise, lookin’ down a long slope into Hammer Bay.  Everythin’ was so neat an’ clean.  Past th’ spires o’ the city, a green haze of jungle, th’ high blue sky an’ the ocean everywhere.  All that color almost woulda been garish except for the small, white houses dotted along the valley.  The towers flashed silver in the sun an’ I felt like Dorothy lookin’ at the goddamned Emerald City.

“Places like this aren’t supposed ta exist,” Ah muttered, shiftin’ my bag from one hand ta the other.

“But Genosha isn’t like any other place.”  A female voice.  Someone just over my right shoulder had heard me.  Ah had ta force myself not ta flinch away at the sound.  Ah had ta get information somewhere, so Ah pasted a cheerful look on my face and turned around.

About my height, maybe a little taller.  She had dark eyes and dark hair done up like Wanda’s--all spiky.  Tryin’ too hard messy, Ah woulda said on another day in a gloomier place.  “It’s just the sunshine.  Gets me down,” Ah replied, tryin’ ta keep things light.

She smiled.  “I guess I can tell you’re not from around here.”

“What gave me away?” Ah asked, sarcastic but not unkind.

“My name’s Jenny, by the way.”

“Rogue.  Nice ta meet ya.”

“This your first trip to Genosha, Rogue?”

“My first trip anywhere.”

“How exciting!”

“Ah guess you’re from around here.”  Girl was bright as the weather.  Ah kept scannin’ the crowd for that familiar Cajun face.  So many things coulda happened between Massachusetts and Genosha.  Ah had ta force myself not ta think about that blood on the grass.  But it wasn’t as if Ah’d expected him ta meet me at the gate with a kiss and a “HelloRogueAh’veMissedYou” while he wrapped his long arms around me.  Ah don’t think Ah coulda handled that anyways.

“Born and raised,” Jenny said proudly.  Then she appeared ta consider things a second.  “Look, you’re heading into Hammer Bay, right?  Lemme give you a ride.”

“You don’t even know me,” Ah protested.

She looked at me.  “I guess I could take you down,” she said seriously.  Her eyes twinkled.  Ah felt a stab o’ panic rememberin’ other twinklin’ eyes and thinkin’ mebbe Ah’d never see ‘em again.  Genosha was so big.  Ah’d known it was big, but bein’ there was a whole different story because Ah could see it was big.  “Anyway, I’m going to my boyfriend’s house to drop off some stuff.  It’s no problem at all for me to take you.  Save you cab fare?”  She was tryin’ ta entice me then.  Ah didn’t even have cab fare.  Ah didn’t have any money at all.

“So much for takin’ things on the fly,” Ah thought.

“Thanks,” Ah said aloud.  “Ah really ‘preciate it.”  Impulsively Ah added, “Ah was supposed ta meet my boyfriend here, but it looks like he flaked out.”

Jenny’s face immediately filled with concern.  “Once we get to the city you’ll be okay, right?”

“Oh yeah,” Ah said dismissively, “Ah’ll just find him at the hotel instead.”

“Strange that he didn’t show up though.”

“Yeah.  Strange.”

Jenny’s “car” turned out ta be an immaculately-restored Harley Davidson Logan woulda given his right hand ta own.  Ah held onto Jenny’s waist while she whipped it around curves, sometimes dippin’ so low ta the side that Ah could feel the barest brush of asphalt.  We arrived in Hammer Bay in record time an’ pulled up in front of the biggest house Ah’d ever seen.  The Institute coulda fit on the front lawn.  Even before Jenny shut the bike off, a man was runnin’ down the front steps ta see her.  He was tall an’ broadly muscled with a stern face that softened into anticipation as he got closer ta Jenny.

He didn’t stop till he’d reached her, then he picked her up like she was nothin’ and swung her around before pullin’ her into a fierce hug Ah didn’t think was gonna end.  Ah felt the typical stab o’ jealousy watchin’ ‘em touch, but immediately scolded myself for bein’ so black-hearted.  Guilt was a familiar dance.

“This is my boyfriend, Phillip,” Jenny said finally.  “Phillip, this is Rogue.  I gave her a ride from the airport.”

“Gotta stop picking up those strays, J.R.,” Phillip said, squeezin’ her shoulder.

Ah think he was tryin’ ta be funny, but it came off all wrong.  Ah ignored the comment.  “This is some house, Phillip,” Ah said.  “Ya must be loaded.”

Phillip looked ashamed.  He rubbed the back o’ his neck with his hand.  Not the reaction Ah was expectin’.  “Not my place.  It’s my dad’s.”

“Ah’m sorry,” Ah apologized, not knowin’ what else ta say.

“It’s okay, Rogue,” Jenny said.  “It’s not your fault.  Phillip and his dad...well, it’s complicated.”

“You don’t need to drag her into my family problems,” Phillip said angrily.  “You don’t even know her!”

“I can tell she’s a good person.  It’s in her face.”  Ah almost laughed at that.  It almost didn’t seem like my real face without th’ makeup.

“That’s what you said about Tom,” he said quietly.

“That’s not fair, Phillip.”

“Can I call you a cab?” Phillip asked, acknowledging my presence again.  He was tryin’ ta be polite, but the boy just rubbed me the wrong way.  Had ta remind myself ta be civil.

“Ah can walk.”  Came out more curtly than Ah’d planned.

“At least have the young lady in for a moment, Phillip.”  Another person behind me.  Ah resolved ta stop lettin’ everyone just sneak up.  “I raised you better than that.”

“Hi, Doctor Moreau,” Jenny said.  Ah could see that she was squeezin’ Phillip’s hand pretty tight.  Probably ta stop him from openin’ his fool mouth again.

“And you are?”  Doctor Moreau was a middle-aged man with steel grey hair that jagged into a deep widow’s peak on his forehead.  There was somethin’ about his deep-set brown eyes that scared me.  Some part closed off inside.  Ah wondered if he even knew about it.

“Ah’m Rogue.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Rogue,” Doctor Moreau said, shootin’ Phillip a pointed look.  “Why don’t you come inside and rest for a moment?”

Ah looked back and forth between the two of ‘em, wonderin’ what the best thing ta do would be.  Either way Ah was gonna alienate one of ‘em.  “That’d be nice, Doctor Moreau,” Ah finally said.

“Please, call me David.  I’ve asked Jenny to numerous times.”

“But I’m just an old-fashioned girl, Doctor Moreau,” Jenny said.

“Surely you wouldn’t disappoint me in the same way, Rogue.”

“Ah guess not.”

Inside, th’ house was even more impressive.  Ah could barely take it all in--parquet floors, the rich glow o’ oriental rugs an’ the quiet gleam o’ silver.  Felt like a church ta me.  Made me nervous.  Ah didn’t know what ta do with my hands.  David led me an’ Jenny back into the kitchen.  Phillip had disappeared into the house, still burning with annoyance.

“What can I get you?”

“Ah’ll just have water.”

“Water’s fine.”  Jenny seemed more subdued.  Ah figured she was probably thinkin’ ‘bout Phillip.  “Which hotel is your boyfriend staying at, Rogue?” she asked me while David was gettin’ the water.

Ah knew better than ta lie.  Ah’d only be caught.  “Well, Ah don’t really know.  Ah was hopin’ Ah could call around.”

Jenny looked confused.  “I don’t understand.  Why wouldn’t you know where he’s staying?”

Sighed an’ did my best ta look a little desperate.  “He doesn’t exactly know Ah’m here.  Y’see, a coupla months ago he left ta start a new job in Genosha.  He said he’d write an’ call since Ah was supposed ta come out an’ live with him when he got more settled.  Ah got worried when Ah didn’t hear anythin’, so here Ah am.  Ya probably think Ah’m real dumb, right?”  Ah’d worked myself up an’ my eyes were actually a little damp then.  There was somethin’ liberatin’ about a lie well-told.

“I think that’s really brave,” Jenny said, touchin’ my arm sympathetically.  Her fingers almost brushed my bare wrist and Ah tried ta shrug her away without her knowin’ what I was doin’.  Ah tried my best, but her skin grazed mine.  She felt the shock o’ my powers an’ her eyes widened a little bit.  So much for my brilliant cover.  “I think you should stay here at Doctor Moreau’s house tonight.”

“That’s a little presumptuous, don’t you think?” David asked.  Ah wondered how much of our conversation he’d overheard.  Ah wondered what he’d seen.  Ah felt my palms begin ta sweat.

“It would be too generous,” Ah protested.  “Ah’m sure Ah’ll find Remy.  Ah’ll be fine.”

Ah don’t know what happened next, but Jenny gave David a look.  There was meanin’ in it without doubt, but Ah didn’t have the slightest idea what it was.  “Don’t be silly, Rogue.  Do you know how many hotels there are in Hammer Bay?  It’s needle in a haystack time.  Doctor Moreau works for the government, he’ll be able to help you find your boyfriend.”

“Yes, Rogue, I insist you stay,” David said.  Ah didn’t like the way he was lookin’ at me, like he was tryin’ ta see inside.  Ah crossed my arms over my stomach.  There was nothin’ else ta do.

*    *    *

Dey watched me all de time.  Could feel dere eyes on me everywhere I went.  Mystique had been dead serious ‘bout de house arrest policy.  Dey still didn’t trust me and in de weaker moments, I didn’t blame dem.  I’m not trustworthy.  Every minute I was in de house, I be plannin’ ways t’ get out.  Oh de cage was plenty guilded and for de first day or so, we had our hands full just tryin’ t’ get everyt’ing up and running.

After dat everyt’ing slowed down considerable.

Passed de time in de gardens filled wit’ mango trees an’ mimosa.  De whole country seemed heavy wit’ de sweet scent.  Piotr, John an’ me played endless games o’ poker and waited.  We took sentry duties an’ waited.  Magneto wouldn’t tell us what we be waitin’ for.  Second night, John got tired o’ scribbling in de notebook he always carried an’ went out.

“‘Posed t’ stay put, John,” I told him.

“Don’t spit the dummy (get very upset) on me, Remy.  I’m just goin’ out for a spot o’ fun.  Besides,” he added wit’ a smile, “Magneto and Mystique care fuck-all about what I do just so long as you stay right here.”

“What makes you t’ink I’m stayin’ here?”

He didn’t answer dat one.  Surprised when Piotr followed him.

“Khers nim (I don’t give a damn).  It is too boring here,” I heard him mutter before he followed John out de door.  Was hard t’ get a read on Piotr.  Made him difficult t’ manipulate, but wit’ him and John outta de house, I was free t’ look for information on Doctor Moreau.

You might be wonderin’ if I was concerned ‘bout Rogue.  Sans doute (doubtless), but den I had t’ remind myself dat she was my tite pichouette (mischevious girl) and probably better at takin’ care of herself den I was.  Figured t’ find Moreau den Trask.  Figured dat Rogue would be dere wit’ Trask, dat is if she’d even decided t’ come t’ Genosha in de first place.  Dat gave me pause.  T’ought ‘bout how much I wanted t’ see her.  But worry never caused anyt’ing but wrinkled foreheads.

Easy enough t’ hack de database when I helped t’ set it up, but dere was not’ing.  Tore de house apart looking for hard copies.  No luck dere.  Wasn’t out of tricks, not by half, but de t’ing dat finally gave me information about Moreau was de Hammer Bay telephone book.  Coo-yon (stupid).  De address was all I needed t’ have.  Openin’ de French doors into de garden, I slipped into de sweet, humid night and over de high garden wall almost as fast as t’ought.

Felt good t’ feel de ground under my pounding feet.  Memorized a street map de day before; part o’ my t’ief’s training was layout.  Get t’ know de terrain.  Know your entrances an’ exits by heart.  Keep shortcuts in mind.  Don’t know how many times dat saved me from disaster.

Slid in and out of shadows.  De city was strange at night.  Felt like de couche mal (evil spirits) lurking.  No one on de streets, not even so much as a stray dog.  De whole city holdin’ its breath for somet’ing and I knew I didn’t want t’ be dere when dat breath got let out.

Doctor Moreau lived at de end of a long street lined wit’ date palms.  De fronds rustled in de gentle night breezes.  I circled de house, noted de security system--top of de line, but I also knew de company cut corners by only arming de downstairs windows.  Tall pine tree at de side of de house was better dan a ladder t’ me.  De spicy scent was still in my nose and de sap on my fingers five minutes later when I jumped onto de roof.  Lowered myself down until my toes caught de edge of a windowsill, clung to de side of de house and opened de window wit’ one hand, keeping my body braced in de window frame.  Dropped t’rough de opened window, soft roll when I hit de ground.

Never even heard de soft footfalls behind me.  Dere was a flare o’ pain at de base of my neck, de world flashed bright for a moment, de brightness hurting my eyes, and den not’ing.

*    *    *

“What’re you doing here, Tom?”  Jenny’s voice came softly through th’ door.  Ah wish Ah could say that Ah’d sensed danger an’ that’s why Ah was awake, but that’s a lie.  After a restless half hour where Ah hovered ‘tween sleep and wakin’, haunted by strange half-dreams that faded when Ah tried ta pin ‘em down, Ah sat bolt upright in bed.  My head was spinnin’ and for a terrifyin’ moment Ah couldn’t remember where Ah was.  When certainty disappears, it’s like the floor tiltin’ in a gigantic funhouse.  My mouth went dry, but Jenny’s voice brought me back ta myself.

Tom’s reply ta her question was too soft for me ta hear.  Ah figured it was the same Tom that Phillip’d mentioned earlier, only he’d called him ‘Thomas.’  Slowly, Ah eased outta bed, crept ta the door an’ pressed my ear against the wood.

“You know that Phillip’ll kill you if he finds you here.”

“Phillip is the least of my problems right now,” Tom said.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes you do, you and Phillip are just too blind to see it.  Just take a look at this thing in my neck!  It’s only because he’s never touched you...”


“He wanted to help you, Tom.  He wanted to help both of us.”  The second part was so soft Ah had ta strain ta hear it.

“I know my father has connections to the Press Gang!  He’s not helping anybody.”  He was pleadin’ with her, beggin’ her to believe him.  Almost like if she did then he’d be justified.  Ah wondered who the Press Gang was.

“Give it up, Tom.  Please!  I hate to see you like this.”

“Like what?”  There was a growlin’ kinda dangerousness in his voice but Jenny didn’t hear it or didn’t care.  From under th’ house there was a stirring, like Avalanche does right before all hell breaks loose.

“Acting so crazy.”

“I caught one.”

Ah heard her gasp softly.  “What?”

“Right here in the house.  Sneaking in.  From the look of him it has to be Pipeline.”

“Are you sure?”

“No, I’m not sure, Jenny!  How could anyone be sure?  No one knows what they look like.”

“No one believes they exist,” she breathed.

“Well this one does, and he’s down in my father’s study.”

They didn’t say anythin’ after that.  Ah heard the shuffle o’ their feet against the deep pile of the hallway carpet.  My hand flew ta the knob.  It rattled, but stayed put.  Locked.  “Fuck,” Ah muttered.  It wasn’t gonna be a headache for long.  Girl should always have a few tricks up her sleeve for emergency-type situations.  Pickin’ a lock is one o’ mine.  Ah was a bit rusty.  Life at the Institute had changed me--sharpened some edges at the expense o’ others.  Still, Ah had the door open in sixty seconds flat.  It was only after that, followin’ Jenny an’ Tom downstairs, that Ah really started ta wonder who’d locked that door and if it was for keepin’ me in or keepin’ somethin’ out.

A thin streak o’ light fell across the downstairs hallway and Ah moved toward it, careful where Ah put my feet.  Jenny and Tom were inside with their backs ta me.  They were crowded in front of a third person who seemed ta be tied up.  Ah watched, fascinated, while Jenny picked the person up and hoisted him aloft, one handed like she was pickin’ up a gallon o’ milk.

Ah felt a shock o’ recognition go through me.  My stomach dropped in horror and Ah’m afraid Ah reacted before Ah even had a chance ta think things over.  Ah burst into the room, goin’ in low, scannin’ the sidelines for a weapon.  Outta the corner o’ my eye, Ah saw Tom make a grab for me, but Ah dodged him and went after Jenny instead.  All my good feelin’s about her flew outta the window.  Remy squirmed a little in her grasp, but mostly he looked dazed and out of it.

Runnin’ into Jenny was like hittin’ a stone wall.  She didn’t give an inch.  Instead, she grabbed the back o’ my borrowed nightshirt in her free hand and pulled me into th’ air, the actual air.  By the time Ah got my wind back we were hoverin’ near the ceiling just as ordinary as anythin’.  Ah tried ta reach around and grab Jenny’s skin, but she held me as far away from herself as she could.  Strangest thing ta look down and see your legs danglin’ offa nothin’.

Ah heard that rumblin’ again and this time the house shook with it.  Pictures on the walls rattled.  It was another moment before Ah could find my voice.  “He’s a friend o’ mine, Jenny,” Ah gasped.  My nightshirt collar was diggin’ into my throat.

She lowered me ta the ground but kept her hold on Remy.  “You shouldn’t be here, Rogue,” she said sadly.

Ah rubbed my throat, smoothed th’ nightshirt over my hips and tried my best ta look dignified.  “Ah don’t think he should be here either.”  Ah jerked a thumb at Tom.  Facin’ him full-on, he looked a lot like Phillip: brown-haired with a small tattoo on th’ inside o’ his right arm, tall an’ muscular, but with somethin’ wild in his face always switchin’ between freedom an’ craziness.  He didn’t seem impressed by my attempt at respectability.

“Who’s this, Jenny?  Another one of my father’s ‘volunteers’?”

Ah guess it was just somethin’ about th’ boys in the whole family that pissed me off.  “My name’s Rogue an’ Ah don’t know what the hell you’re talkin’ about.”

Jenny touched Tom’s arm.  “She’s only staying for the night, Tom.”

He looked at me an’ snorted.  “That’s what she thinks.  Free tip, kid, don’t ever fall asleep in my father’s house.”

It was about then that Remy came to.  He looked at me, askin’ for a distraction.  Ah looked at Tom an’ Jenny.  They were off in their own li’l world, absorbed with problems Ah didn’t give a damn ‘bout.  It was easy enough ta slip my fingers ‘round Jenny’s wrist.

Worst part was when she screamed.  God, Ah never heard such a noise.  Usually people go real quiet when Ah touch ‘em, but not her.  The power tore into me like fire and then she screamed.  Ah was so startled, Ah pushed off the ground an’ hit the ceilin’ before Ah could get a hold o’ myself.  Remy used the opportunity ta break away from her, pushing his feet into her shoulder an’ flippin’ backwards ta the floor, landin’ gracefully.  He charged the ropes and they seemed ta dissolve offa him.  Jenny crumpled like a paper cup.  Ah let go o’ her an’ she dropped onto a couch, spillin’ the cushions everywhere.

By that time, th’ screams had woken up the doctor, or maybe he was never asleep.  He took stock o’ the room in a moment.  As soon as Tom saw him, the house began ta quiver, plaster dust fallin’ down from the ceilin’.  Remy charged a card an’ looked back an’ forth from one ta the other, not knowin’ what ta do.  He looked at me again and Ah shrugged.

“It’s good to see you, Thomas,” David said.  He was calm, especially considerin’ the fact that his house seemed like it might fall on him any minute.  Tom’s only response was an inarticulate shout.  The walls wobbled.  “I only wish your homecomings weren’t so dramatic.  I’m still paying off the repair bills from the last time.”

“You sent me to that camp to die!”

“I sent you to that camp to be cured.”

“Is that what Trask calls it?”  He had my whole attention then.

“Anyone would have done the same.”  There was somethin’ in the doctor’s hand, small, ‘bout the size o’ a car’s keyless entry system.  He raised his hand as if the thing were made o’ lead, pressed a small button.  There was an electronic twitterin’ noise.  Tom’s posture changed, he stood straighter with his shoulders back--military style.  Doctor Moreau looked over the room, from Jenny on th’ couch ta Remy crouchin’ on the floor ta me in the air.  He sighed, heavy an’ there was exhausted sadness in his face.  “I think you’d all better come with me.”  He turned ta Tom.  “665.”

Suddenly, the house was fallin’ and it was like my feelin’ from before when Ah woke up and couldn’t remember where Ah was, only it went on and on.

*    *    *

Woke up on de floor.  Brain was workin’ in spurts t’ process de surroundings: cold, hard, concrete, cot, toilet.  My head hurt somet’ing awful.  Possible at dat moment I trade my soul for an aspirin, no problem.  De pain in my head made it hard t’ notice de pain in my arm, but when I pushed myself upright, I noticed dat right away.  Long, burnin’ spike clear up t’rough my shoulder.

“Putain (fucking hell)!”  Wasn’t hard t’ see de problem.  Dey’d been busy.  Dere was a number tattooed inside my right arm, small and neat.  Turned my arm over and squinted: 8749.  A wail from de next cell brought me back t’ de larger situation.  Dere was a small grating at de base of de wall between de two rooms, large enough for a hand, mebbe, but not’ing else.  I touched de bars, waitin’ for de usual rush o’ power, but not’ing happened.  Dere was fear in my mouth den, but I swallowed it.  “Qui c’est ça (who is that)?”  Translated a second later.  T’ing ‘bout being bilingual is some o’ de times you slip, lose your place inside de language you’re speaking at de time.

“Ah guess Ah always kinda wanted a tattoo,” Rogue said a moment later.  Could hear in her voice dat she was tryin’ t’ convince herself dat everyt’ing was going t’ be okay.  Smiled despite de situation.

“Which one dey give you?”


“I’m 8749.  Funny.  T’ought I asked for de number thirteen.”

“Ah’m glad you can laugh at th’ situation.”

“Not’ing else t’ do, beb.  It’s laugh or cry, neh?  Your powers gone too?”

Dere was a long, breathless silence.  “What about our powers?”  Her voice trembled wit’ hope and fright.

“Try dem.”

Rogue pushed two ungloved fingers t’rough de grate an’ brushed my hand.  De sensation had not’ing t’ do wit’ draining.  I heard Rogue’s breath catch.

“How?” she asked, pleadin’ wit’ me t’ give her de answer.

Tore me up t’ disappoint her.  “Don’t know.”

She continued t’ stroke my skin, makin’ de hair on my arms prick up.  My coo-yon (foolish) heart leapt at dat.  Kept tellin’ myself she was drunk wit’ de sensation.  She didn’t know what she was doin’.  Had been amazin’ t’ see her, dazed as I was, chargin’ t’rough dat door.  Somehow she had become my cavalry.  Felt good t’ have someone t’ watch my back.

“Ah didn’t think anyone was over there.”

Withdrawin’ from her touch, lyin’ flat on de floor an’ putting one eye t’ de grate, I could see a pale expanse of leg.  “Lookin’ good, chère.”

She kicked a toe in my direction.  “Eyes ta yourself, Cajun.  Ya got any bright ideas ‘bout how ta get us outta this mess?”

Rubbed my neck t’ ease de pain in my head.  My fingers ran across somet’ing raised under de skin.  Had t’ will myself not t’ panic as I felt out de contours: rectangle, ‘bout an inch an a half, hard, probably metal.  “Just give me time,” I said, but I t’ought it sounded forced.

“That’s what Ah like ta hear.”  Her hand found my knee and traced lazy patterns.

“Never on de first date, beb,” I said absently, still fingerin’ de t’ing under my skin.

Rogue withdrew her fingers a little and I immediately regretted calling attention t’ anyt’ing.  “Ya wouldn’t know what ta do with me on a date.”

Amazing how a simple touch had changed de girl.  “Dat a promise or a threat?”

De only response was an amused snort.  “Ah was talkin’ ta Jenny earlier,” she said, more seriously, keepin’ her voice quiet.

“Dat girl give Piotr a run for de money.”

“She didn’t know th’ whole story, but she said that Tom is Doctor Moreau’s older son an’ he always suspected his father of bein’ involved with a group of violent mutants workin’ for th’ Genoshan government.”

“Trouble in paradise?”

“Not that Jenny said she ever noticed, but Tom was convinced that they were makin’ mutants disappear.  Keepin’ ‘em against their will ta do what the government wanted.”

“She know how Trask fits into dis?”

“She said she never heard o’ him before.”

“You believe her?”

“Ah do.  She has an honest face,” Rogue finished wit’ a touch of grimness.  A commotion in de hallway and I snapped my head around.  “Someone’s comin’!” she hissed.

A male voice: “Wipeout, you’re with me.  Hold her down.”  I went cold all over.

“Rogue,” I began, refocusing my attention t’ de grate, but she was gone.

*    *    *

Too rugged for my tastes, but he smelled good.  Flung me over his shoulder like a bag o’ dirty laundry.  In the instant he’d grabbed me Ah’d decided ta play along, see where they took me an’ what Ah could learn there.  Ah knew Trask must be close an’ my mouth had watered at that.  When Ah found him, Ah knew Ah had ta stop him: for what he’d done and for what he would do.

My nose pressed into the man’s shoulder blade.  Ah had plenty o’ time ta contemplate th’ scent while he took me outta the cell.  Cool Water?  Hugo?  Not like Ah’d been shoppin’ for cologne anytime recently.  Spicy an’ herbal, like a walk in the woods.  Filled my nose ‘till Ah suspected Ah might be drownin’ in it.  Ah raised my head an’ rested my chin against his back, hopin’ that the sharp point might be diggin’ in just a little.  The man he’d called Wipeout followed closely behind.  He seemed outta place: tall an’ skinny with thick glasses and a nervous flutter ta his hands.  Lookin’ more closely Ah could see beads of sweat hangin’ like pearls at his hairline.

Ah knew then that he musta been real powerful for them ta keep him around.  Wondered if he were a psychic like Jean or the Professor.  Experimentin’, Ah thought o’ the rudest word Ah knew, screamin’ it inside my head.  Wipeout didn’t react a bit, just kept trudgin’ behind, watchin’ me an’ sweatin’.

They carried me into an enormous room.  The hum o’ machinery was like a chant.  Footsteps behind me an’ another male voice.  Not Trask.

“Put her down over here, Hawkshaw.”

Ah was dumped unceremoniously onto a stainless steel table, cuffs at my wrists an’ ankles.  “That’s enough.  Thank you, Wipeout,” Hawkshaw said.  Ah got my first look at the man who’d spoken.  He was almost pretty, with full pink lips an’ brilliant blue eyes.  Somethin’ in that softness frightened me more than if he’d been as big as Mr. McCoy and twice as strong.  It was th’ fanatical glaze that blinkered his vision.  Ah was a puzzle piece ta him and Ah needed ta know the entire picture.

The man snapped on a pair o’ surgical gloves.  Ah noticed Hawkshaw had done th’ same.  The man drew amber liquid into a syringe.  “Hold her arm,” the man said.  Ah squirmed at that, tearing my skin against the metal cuffs.  “Keep her still!”

Hawkshaw clamped his hands down on my upper arms.  Ah tried ta bite him and he slapped my face, not hard, but enough ta sting.  “Hurry up, Tam,” Hawkshaw urged.  Ah lunged at him again and my reward was a slap that made my ears ring.  Ah felt the quick pain as the syringe went into my arm, pressure as Tam injected th’ liquid.

“What is it?” Ah growled at them, doin’ a fair impression o’ Logan.

They ignored me.

“How long?” Hawkshaw asked.

“Not long,” Tam answered, all business.  He pressed a button in the wall.  “We’re ready for you, Bolivar.”

My head was spinnin’.  Ah felt nauseous, but that mighta been fear.  Ah closed my eyes, tryin’ ta concentrate on my breathin’.  Helped a little.  Ah heard their voices as if we were all in a tunnel. 

Heard a hiss o’ a door openin’.  “Gentlemen.”  That voice...ran through me like lightnin’.  Trask.  My eyes snapped open.  The world was a wash o’ colors with no distinct lines.  Ah could see them all by the door, but they were blobs.  My nausea rose.  Ah swallowed bile.  “We should get started.”

“Where’s Doctor Moreau?” Hawkshaw asked.

“He will not be assisting in this case.  Prep the subject.”

Something wet on my arm.  My body was comin’ apart.  Ah felt a dull pressure.  Wetness runnin’ down ta my wrist.  Fingers on my arm, holdin’ the skin taut.  Prick o’ a blade runnin’ all th’ way down.  Ah wouldn’t give ‘em the pleasure o’ a scream.

“Do you have the electrode?” Trask asked.


His hands were surprisingly gentle on my arm.  But then...Ah can hardly think o’ it.  Somethin’ went down under my skin and Ah woulda fought against it only Ah couldn’t move.  My body was too far away.  All Ah could manage was a whimper.  Ah felt one o’ those gentle hands touch my forehead.  “Too much like Tonya,” he murmured.  Ah could barely hear him.  Louder he said, “Now let’s do the other arm.”

“What about the legs?” Tam asked.

“If we have time,” Trask replied.  “We don’t want to compromise the subject’s recovery by keeping her under too long.”

They repeated the process on the other side.  By that time, whatever they’d given me was wearin’ off.  Ah felt ribbons o’ pain in each arm.  By concentratin’ hard Ah found Ah could move my head a little, but when Ah looked all Ah could see were clean white wrappings over my skin.  Ah was frightened by what might be inside.

When they were done, Hawkshaw lifted me again, this time carryin’ me against his chest.  “Where’s Wipeout?” he asked.  Ah could hear th’ words rumblin’ inside.

“He’s occupied right now,” Trask said.  “You’ll just have to be careful.  Don’t touch her skin until you get back to the cellblock.”

Wipeout.  My skin.  Don’t touch.  Cellblock.  Ah saved th’ words for later when Ah could be sure ta understand ‘em.  Hawkshaw moved under me with a steady gait, but each step was a challenge ta my heavin’ stomach.  Ah musta passed out a little, ‘cause the next thing Ah knew, Hawkshaw was dumpin’ me onto the cot in my cell.

As soon as he closed the door, Remy’s face appeared in the grate between th’ cells.  “Comment ça va (how are you)?” he asked immediately.

Ah rolled my head ta face him.  “Ah’ve seen better days,” Ah told him with difficulty.

“Y’ want t’ talk ‘bout it?”

A wave o’ nausea rolled over me again.  “Ah’d rather not.  Why don’t ya tell me somethin’ nice instead.”


Ah closed my eyes.  “Interestin’.  Somethin’ Ah’d like.”

“Like t’ take you out proper when dis is all over.”

“An’ how do Ah know that’d be nice?” Ah managed weakly.

Remy chuckled.  “We argue ‘bout dat later, non?”  He was quiet a minute, ‘till Ah thought he wasn’t gonna say anythin’ else, but then he continued in a serious voice.  “At night, I used t’ take my bike out t’ de highway dat runs into Nawlins t’ watch de trucks come t’rough.  At night when dere all lit up, dey look like spaceships flying near de ground.  Used t’ t’ink dat of all de t’ings t’ do in de world dat might suit me best.”

The pain in my arms had settled into a dull throb an’ Ah was driftin’ off ta sleep, but Ah wanted ta hear the rest o’ Remy’s story.  “Why?”

“Diff’rent roads t’ take.  Always lookin’ for de best one I figure.  No set path t’ follow.”  Ah remember thinkin’ that was a nice idea.  “Fais do-do (go to sleep),” Remy whispered.

*    *    *

Rogue been gone a li’l bit when de doctor came t’ see me.  Didn’t stand on ceremony, just unlocked de door and stepped right in.  Pulled out a scalpel and I backed into de corner.  Didn’t figure t’ go wit’out a fight, powers or no.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” he said.  De man seemed tired an’ beaten.  Dere was somet’ing in dat combination dat made me want t’ believe him.

“Why don’t you put down dat t’ing and we talk, hein?”

He shook his head.  “That thing in your neck?”

“What about dat?”

“Do you want it out or not?”

“I don’t turn my back t’ nobody.”

“You will if you want that thing out.”  He circled ‘round t’ my side den, just like I was some skittish animal and he was afraid I’d bite him.

“Laisser les bons temps rouler (let the good times roll),” I muttered grimly an’ turned my back t’ him.

Dat was some kinda pain.  De doctor was tryin’ t’ be careful, but dat didn’t change de fact dat he was cuttin’ me open wit’out de benefit o’ anesthetic.  De hurt was like liquid under my skin.  “How come my powers don’t work here?” I gasped, tryin’ t’ take my mind offa t’ings.

“There’s a general dampening field around the detention area, but it’s not perfect.  If you really tried I think you could push through it.  I’m not sure what would happen on the other side though.  Your powers would most likely be weak, but it’s also possible that they could come out explosively.  No one’s ever done it before.”

“Dat what you want me t’ do?”  De doctor had finished wit’ de incision and pulled out a pair of tweezers.  Dere was a little flash of pain and den he was holding a bloody chip so I could see.  “What’s dat?”

“The first stage in a process Trask and I invented.”  He shook his head and continued, almost as if he was talkin’ t’ himself.  “It was never supposed to be like this.”

“Be like what?”

He jumped, like he was rememberin’ I was dere.  “We found a way to control mutant powers, put them to good use.  The process was almost complete when Trask’s daughter, Tonya, she...vanished one day.”


“No.  Literally vanished.  She was a mutant and that was her power.  She couldn’t control it, she was too young.  After, Trask changed.  Even I’m not sure what he’s thinking these days.”

“Dere somet’ing you want me t’ do ‘bout dat?”  De old mercenary’s role slipped down on my head before I knew it.  I didn’t want t’ get involved in de doctor’s private battles.  From what I’d seen back at de house, dere was more t’ it den he was saying.  De words slipped out and den dere was no way t’ take dem back.

De doctor looked at me coldly.  No one likes de hired guns, but den most people need dem at one time o’ another.  “No.  All I want you to do is take Tom, Jenny and Rogue and get them out of here before Trask completes the process.”

“What is dis process?”

“We use electrical impulses to tap into the mutant nervous system.”  Despite de current situation, de doctor couldn’t help but let a little pride seep into his voice.

“You turn mutants into slaves.  C’est vrai ça (is that true)?”

“That’s not exactly...”

“It’s de truth, isn’t it?”

“Keep your voice down.  I’m risking a great deal to be here.  You’ll ruin everything.”

“I’m risking a great deal t’ be here and so’s Rogue and everyone else you got locked up in dis funhouse.  You invented dis process t’ control mutant powers, why didn’t you ever consider dat mutants might be able t’ do it for demselves?”  I was getting too angry, but it felt good t’ say it.  “Take away free will and den what kind o’ world you got?”

De doctor looked like he didn’t know whether t’ be embarrassed or angry.  He chose t’ retreat.  “If you’re going to get out of here, you have to do it tonight.  They’ll come for you first thing in the morning.”  He turned t’ go.

“Wait!  Rogue’s got some friends.  Dey were captured by Trask.  Dey must be here somewhere.”

De doctor looked puzzled.  “Trask does many things these days without telling me, but if they’re mutants they’re probably in recovery on the other side of the complex.  It takes about a week to synch the devices with the subject’s neural impulses.”

“What are dey doin’ t’ Rogue now?” I asked.  Fear made me cold.

He didn’t answer, just shut de door behind him.

When dey brought Rogue back, I tasted relief.  Was like cream in my throat.  Hard t’ see her on her cot.  She rolled back into de corner, her pale skin shinin’ in de dim light.

“Why don’t ya tell me somethin’ nice instead,” she said.

Dat caught me by surprise.  Woulda figured she wanted t’ talk strategy, not hear sweet not’ings.  “Nice?”

“Interestin’.  Somethin’ Ah’d like.”  Wanted t’ charm her, like I’d done t’ so many others.  But den I was nervous dat de words wouldn’t come, or dat I wouldn’t know of de right t’ing t’ say dat she might like.  Never wanted t’ touch anyone more in my life.  Reassure both o’ us dat we were still alive.  But den I got t’ t’inkin’ ‘bout how nice it might be t’ get away an’ forget dat we stood on opposite sides o’ de fence.  Magneto seemed a distant memory t’ me den, but I didn’t know what Xavier was t’ her.

“Like t’ take you out proper when dis is all over.”  My voice shook at de end.  Hoped she didn’t hear dat.

“An’ how do Ah know that’d be nice?” she countered softly.

Had t’ laugh at dat.  De girl certainly could keep her wits ‘bout her.  “We argue ‘bout dat later, non?”  Dat’s when I t’ought o’ de perfect t’ing.  Closed my eyes and ‘t was like I was right dere in de moment I wanted t’ describe for her: exhaust fumes, de swish o’ tires, heaviness in de summer air and de rising feeling while de trucks came down.  “At night, I used t’ take my bike out t’ de highway dat runs into Nawlins t’ watch de trucks come t’rough.  At night when dere all lit up, dey look like spaceships flying near de ground.  Used t’ t’ink dat of all de t’ings t’ do in de world dat might suit me best.”

 “Why?”  Could tell she was tired.  Didn’t have time for de longer explanation.  Realized I didn’t want t’ give her de longer explanation.  Had t’ save somet’ing for later when we went out proper like normal people.

“Diff’rent roads t’ take.  Always lookin’ for de best one I figure.  No set path t’ follow.”  Dere was an ache in my chest when I realized dat I’d given all dat up fighting wit’ Jean-Luc and leavin’ home.  “Fais do-do (go to sleep).” 

*    *    *

Th’ sound o’ the scream was like a freight train bearin’ down on me.  Ah started bolt upright in bed, jarrin’ my bandages an’ addin’ a note o’ my own ta the terrible noise.  My hair pricked an’ Ah shivered.  What was that Irene used ta say?  Someone walkin’ over your grave.  Someone was doin’ a goddamned jig on mine right then.  Took a minute ta clear the cobwebs an’ Ah dove ta the floor, crawlin’ by feel toward the wall Ah shared with Jenny.

“Jenny?  Ya hear me?”

Girl didn’t have any air left ta answer me with.  Ah could hear her hiccupin’.  When Ah pressed my face ta the grate between our cells Ah was met with a whole lotta nothin’.  The cellblock was dark at night, darker than anythin’ Ah could ever think of.  Ah prayed that Ororo wasn’t there.  Didn’t wanna know what th’ dark would do ta her claustrophobia.  Ah was havin’ a few difficulties myself as the blackness in front o’ my eyes pressed in.

“Try ta take deep breaths.  Ya don’t wanna hyperventilate.”

“Rogue?”  Remy’s voice reached me through the dark.

“Ah’m okay.  It’s Jenny.”

“Oh Christ, my legs,” she whimpered.

“What about your legs?” Ah asked, my stomach tied into a hard knot like a peach pit.

“I don’t know.  They gave me something and I can’t feel them.  I don’t know.  I tried to fight them, almost got away, but then they brought in that Wipeout guy and...I...Tam had a needle full of something.  I think my wrist is broken.”  She laughed a little crazily.  “I actually prefer the wrist since I can feel it.”

“Here.”  Ah wiggled my hand through the grate.  “Give me your good hand.”  Her fingers found mine.  She seemed weak and her skin was wet, but whether it was blood o’ tears Ah had no way ta know.  Ah squeezed her as hard as Ah dared, still amazed at the touch.

“It’s bad, isn’t it, Rogue?”  She was practically beggin’ me ta tell her that everythin’ would be okay in the end.  Much as Ah wanted ta, Ah couldn’t lie, not even then.

“It’s bad.”  At first Ah figured the truth-tellin’ was just automatic pilot.  So much o’ what Ah did with th’ x-men was what th’ professor wanted.  With him or Scott or Jean tellin’ us what ta do Ah didn’t figure that left much room for me ta think for myself sometimes, but Ah wanted ta tell Jenny th’ truth an’ let her decide for herself how she was gonna handle it.

Her hand tightened in mine ‘till her fingernails were tearin’ into my palm.  “Tam said I didn’t need legs if I could fly.  I want to kill them, Rogue.”

“We have ta get outta here first.”

Ah felt a little breeze on my face an’ realized Jenny musta been shakin’ her head.  “I’ll never make it.  You gotta leave me.”

“That’s crazy,” Ah said fiercely.  She was still grippin’ my hand and Ah squeezed back, just ta let her know that Ah wasn’t gonna be lettin’ go anytime soon.  “We all go or none o’ us do.”

“Then you have to absorb me.”  Her voice was wilder.

My throat went dry.  “What?”

“Absorb me.  It’s the only way to take me with you.  I’ll never make it out on these legs and a broken wrist.”

“She’s right, beb.”  Quick as Ah could, Ah extracted myself from Jenny’s grip an’ scuttled over ta the opposite side o’ the cell.

“Are ya outta your fuckin’ mind?” Ah hissed at him.  “The girl’s delirious.  She doesn’t know what she’s sayin’.  An’ Ah’ve got no powers.  An’ you don’t know what she’s askin’ me ta do.”  Remy’d convinced me that he was a decent guy an’ that bought him ‘bout 30 seconds o’ explanation time in my book.

“Alohrs pas (of course not), but she’s hysterical.  Slow her down ‘nough an’ she got no say whether we get her outta dis place or no.”

My anger from the moment before drained away.  “But Ah couldn’t absorb her even if Ah wanted to.”

“Dat’s not what de doctor told me.”

“When did ya see Doctor Moreau?”

“You were gone.”

“An’ ya were plannin’ on tellin’ me this when?”

“Y’ told me ‘somethin’ naahce’,” he whispered, makin’ th’ last part all high an’ fluttery.  “Didn’t t’ink it was somet’ing nice t’ say dat de doctor came an’ made small talk while he cut de chip outta my neck.”  Ah could hear him grimace.

Ah willed myself ta be calm, even though Ah was half-crazy with fear an’ angry at Remy again for lettin’ me sleep when he had important information.  Then Ah thought o’ th’ doctor’s scalpel on his neck.  Ah touched my own skin, right at the curve o’ my shoulder an’ tried not ta think o’ how fragile the neck is, how many veins run under like rivers.  “What did he say?”

Remy didn’t miss a beat.  Ah wanted ta know if it was because he understood what Ah was thinkin’ or if it was only because he’d landed on his feet so often.  “Said de dampening field around de cellblock isn’t perfect.  Concentrate enough an’ you can break t’rough.”


Everythin’ was quiet for a few minutes.  Ah could hear Jenny breathin’, labored but stubborn.  Ah knew she wasn’t gonna give up anytime soon.  Could Ah do any less?  Evan always said there was a time ta think things through an’ then there was a time ta be brave.  Ah supposed that this was my time.

“Rogue?  Don’t have t’ do it if y’ don’t want, chére.  We find another way, neh?  Dis too dangerous.”  Sounded like Remy’d almost convinced himself we could do it any other way.

“Ah’ll get Jenny.  You take care o’ th’ doors.  Ah hope Tom’s around ‘cause it’s time ta blow this popsicle stand.”  Ah tried ta smile and, weak as it was, it made me feel better ta do it.

“And your friends.”

My breath caught.  “What?”

“De doctor wasn’t sure, but he said mebbe, on de other side o’ de compound.  Recovery.”

Ah felt wobbly all over.  Good thing Ah was sittin’ down.  Ah brought my face as close ta the grate as Ah could until Ah could feel Remy’s breath stirrin’ through my hair.  Ah reached past the bars ‘till Ah touched his face in the dark, tracin’ the contours Ah’d only been able ta admire by sight: smooth forehead, broad cheeks, angled jaw, fine lips.  Ah lingered on his nose, playin’ with a bump Ah found there.

“Broke it dere when I was ten, stealin’ from someone I shouldn’t have in de Vieux Carre (French Quarter).”  The waver in his voice made me smile.

“Hmm.”  Ah touched th’ tips o’ his hair and then his ears, runnin’ in their patterns.  Finally, after there was no more o’ his face ta read, there was nothin’ left ta do but kiss him.  The bars made it awkward at first, but we adapted.  It’s hard ta describe it an’ Ah’m not sure Ah want ta, because th’ soft slidin’ o’ skin on skin was all ours.  Kinda like arguin’ with him, tryin’ ta figure out what position ta take when the situation is always changin’, tryin’ ta anticipate every move but bein’ surprised more often than not.

Broke apart reluctantly an’ Ah knew he was reachin’ for me through th’ bars.  Ah hated ta be th’ one ta pull away.

“Jenny, you still there?”  The only response was a stifled moan.  “Hold on, Ah’m gettin’ you outta here.”  Jenny’s hand was still in my cell an’ Ah grabbed it, frightened when Ah found it cold.  Ah sent up a silent prayer ta whomever takes care o’ those things ta help me.  Ah closed my eyes an’ focused my energy inward, just like the professor taught me.  Ah could feel my power inside, but only faintly.  Ah pushed toward it like Ah was one o’ them pearl divers an’ it was the biggest an’ farthest.

There was a roarin’ in my ears an’ Ah thought Ah heard a voice callin’ my name, but Ah was too far in ta care.  My mind wrapped itself around the pearl an’ my hands clamped down on Jenny’s arm just like we were magnetized.

It was then Ah knew somethin’ was real wrong.

*    *    *

Licked my lips and I could taste her dere: mint.  Could still feel her warm hand on m’ face.  But I knew as well as she did dat dere was work t’ be done.  Carefully made my way over t’ de door.  Touched de bars and tried t’ concentrate on chargin’ dem.  My mind was driftin’, but I kept trying because I didn’t want t’ let either o’ us down den.  Tried t’ remember de way it felt when de atoms charged, like openin’ up a dam inside and lettin’ everyt’ing pour out.  T’ought how dat was how I was in a way--afraid t’ let anyt’ing out because I might not get it back in after.

Dere I go again!  De great Doctor Freud!  De charging was old hat t’ me by den, I’d been practicin’ it ever since dat razor almost killed me when I was fourteen.  Didn’t take long for de power t’ build up.  But dere was somet’ing different dis time.  De metal was hot in my hands, glowin’ flamin’ red.  I yelped an’ jumped back, overturnin’ de cot an’ pullin’ de mattress over my head.  De explosion was bigger dan any I’d ever created before.  Shards o’ metal thrummed on de mattress.  Had t’ put out a few fires on de fabric.

“Cho (wow),” I breathed.  “Guess de doc was right ‘bout de unpredictable stuff.”  Took me a split second t’ t’ink o’ Rogue and her power an’ Jenny in de next cell over.  Whipped my head around, even though I couldn’t see anyt’ing in de dark.  “Rogue!  Stop!”

Too late.  Heard Jenny start ta scream again...or was it Rogue?  Mebbe after a while, wouldn’t matter anymore.  What would happen t’ somebody dat Rogue held onto too long?

“Rogue!” yelled again, even though I knew she couldn’t hear me.  Dashed into de hallway and blew de door.  Dis time I had my powers under control.  Somewhere in de dark, an alarm started t’ blare.  De walls were trembling and I heard shouts.  Fumblin’ on de ground, I picked up a piece o’ de door, charged it slightly t’ light de way.

Rogue was on de floor, body twisted into a stiff arc.  Her eyes rolled so far back into her head all I could see was de white.  Tried t’ pull her away, but she stuck fast t’ Jenny’s arm.  Her knuckles were white.  Heard running footsteps far down de hallway, but dey seemed t’ be heading away from de cellblock.  Tore de blanket from de bed and covered Rogue wit’ it so I could pry her fingers away from Jenny’s arm.  She went limp under de cover.  I was afraid de damage was already done.  Reached down t’ Jenny’s wrist, lookin’ for a pulse.  Her skin was cold and dere was no beat dat I could feel.  Bit my lip.

“I’m sorry,” I said t’ Jenny.  Scooped Rogue up, blanket an’ all, runnin’ out t’ de hallway again.  “Stand back from de door, Tom!” I shouted.

“What’s going on?” he demanded.  “Where’s Jenny?”

“Zute (dammit to hell)!  Just get outta de way!”  Touched de door, hopin’ dat he had de good sense t’ listen.

Rogue stirred in my arms.  “Phillip?  What’s going on?”  Jenny’s voice.

Looked heavenward.  “One t’ing at a time?”  As if Dieu would hear.  As if He would listen.

De door blew an’ Rogue pushed de blanket from her face.  Looks like I was gonna get no help from any quarter.  “Ya can put me down, Cajun.  Ah’m fine.”  Set her on her feet.  T’ing was, she did seem fine.  “Where’s Jenny?”

Tom was out by den.  Dey were both lookin’ at me as if I might have her stashed behind my back somewhere.  More footsteps.  More rumbling.  Dis time I could hear shouts.

“Dere isn’t time for dis.  We have t’ get outta here, now!”

Rogue looked at me quizzically, but she knew dat I was right.  Tom came ‘round too.

“Ah think it’s this way!”  Rogue took off down de hallway in de direction of all de noise.  “They took me this way.  Ah didn’t see any other doors along this hallway, but there were plenty in th’ lab,” she tossed over her shoulder while Tom and I struggled t’ keep up.  Dere was somet’ing off ‘bout her now, but I didn’t want t’ t’ink about dat.  Didn’t want t’ t’ink ‘bout Jenny’s voice calling for Phillip over Rogue’s lips.

We reached a smooth door in de wall.  I was getting ready t’ charge it, when Rogue ripped clean t’rough it like it was one o’ those Japanese paper houses.  Dere were finger marks in de metal.  Looked at her, startled, expectin’ t’ see wide eyes starin’ back, but Rogue just stepped into de room like it was not’ing.

“Come on!” she urged us.

Tom looked at me.  “Didn’t realize she was like that too.”  Knew he didn’t want t’ say “like Jenny,” because in the back o’ his mind, he knew dere was somet’ing wrong. 

“She’s not,” I replied grimly. 

We followed Rogue into a mad scientist’s wet dream.  Stainless steel glinting, operating tables wit’ straps, rows of scalpels under plastic coverings. 

“Quit dawdlin’,” Rogue said.  De noises seemed right on top o’ us den.  Could almost distinguish individual words from de angry din.  T’ought I heard somet’ing dat sounded like John.  Easy t’ distinguish de Aussie’s speech patterns from others since de rhythm o’ his words wasn’t quite de same as everybody else’s.

“Wonder who’s at the door,” Tom commented dryly.  “I was gonna knock this place down when we were out, but it seems like I might not have to now.”  Across de room, Rogue pulled open another door and we scrambled t’ follow her.  “I know something happened back there,” Tom told me.  “Something between her,” he pointed at Rogue, “and Jenny.”

“Somet’ing did.  Better not t’ t’ink ‘bout it right now.”

He shot a sideways look at me.  Ahead, Rogue was ripping out doors lining de side o’ de hallway we’d come into.  Dere was somebody behind each one.  Some seemed  amazed t’ see Rogue, others only seemed amazed t’ be out.  If any o’ dem tried t’ talk t’ her she ignored dem and went on t’ de next door.  Dey were all weak, blinking wit’ de unexpected freedom.  Tom and I supported as many as we could.  De ones we couldn’t supported each other.  Only t’ing t’ do was get dem back t’ de lab an’ try t’ find a way outta de funhouse.

“I have to find my father,” Tom said, straining under de weight o’ de large boy on his back.  De boy kept muttering “sorrysorrysorry” under his breath.  Stitches were infected, he couldn’t walk.

“Why?”  Didn’t like de tone o’ Tom’s voice.

“Make sure he’s inside when the building comes down.”

“Your father de one who told me how t’ get outta dis place.”

Tom shook his head violently.  “That’s not true.”  He lowered de boy onto one o’ de operatin’ tables.  “Every year my father sent me to Trask for treatments.  I was his goddamned guinea pig.”

Shook my head.  Funny how some people t’ink dey’re de only ones who got inner conflicts.  “I’m not lyin’, but you believe what you want.”  Dere wasn’t time den to debate de finer points o’ human nature.

Rogue came back into de lab.  “That’s the last of ‘em.”  She wrapped the boy in a blanket an’ picked him up wit’ one hand.  “It’ll be okay, Fred.  We’re gettin’ th’ hell outta here.”

Tiles started t’ crash down from de ceiling, breaking apart when dey hit.  “T’ink it’s Magneto,” I said.

“Least he’s makin’ himself useful,” Rogue responded darkly.

“Mec (man) be none too happy t’ see you.”

She balled her free hand into a fist.  “Ask me if Ah care.”

“Let me go first.  I’ll find de best way out o’ here.”

“What you do best, huh?”

“Wouldn’t say dat, beb.  Top five.”  Lifted my eyebrows at her and ducked t’rough de doorway.

De next room was in chaos: flames an’ shouts an’ men flyin’ t’rough de air.  Hole in de wall let in de night breezes.  Funny t’ing, but I could still smell de jasmine over de scent o’ scorched uniforms.  Didn’t want t’ t’ink ‘bout how de men on de ground were probably dead.  Trask’s men, Moreau’s men, but men nonedeless.  Zeerah (disgusting).

John was nearest an’ first t’ catch sight o’ me.  “Damn, Remy, we thought you’d carked it (bit the dust).”

“An’ dat would tear you up, right?”  Picked up a piece o’ rubble an’ tossed it at a guard who got too close.

John shot a stream o’ flame into de room an’ shaped it into a vine wit’ branches growing like veins.  “I’d certainly miss your charming company.”  He grinned.  In a way, I t’ink he was being genuine.  One o’ de vines took out three guards.  “Ace (excellent)!”

“Guess dis is all Magneto’s idea, non?”

“Got it in one.”  Looked around t’ make sure dat no one had followed me.

“Look, John, I need t’ get out o’ here.  Dere’re other people here, mutants.  Hate for dem t’ get hurt in all dis mess.”

“This is all about that girl, ain’t it?”

“‘Bout a lot o’ t’ings.  Forget I asked.”

“No, wait.”  Another long column o’ flame flew across de room den arched away in complicated patterns.  “These guys just don’t know when t’ quit, do they?”  He looked at me.  “I’ll cover ya.  Bring ‘em out here and I’ll cover ya.”  Opened my mouth t’ speak, but he was faster.  “Don’t worry, I won’t dob ya in (inform on you).  She’ll be apples (it’ll be all right).”

Great weight lifted from my chest.  “Merci.”

“Best be quick about it.”

Let out a breath didn’t know I was holding.  Never t’ought ‘bout one o’ de undocumented truths o’ life: everyt’ing in balance--once somet’ing goes right, den sure ‘nough somet’ing else gonna be shot t’ hell.

*    *    *

“Everyone here?” Ah asked.  “Did Ah leave anyone out?”  Fred stirred, but didn’t say anythin’.  He seemed ta be hurt pretty bad.  Ah wondered if they’d done anythin’ for him.  Probably not.  They didn’t care.  My anger had been goin’ at a slow burn ever since Ah’d seen ‘em all caged up like animals.  They wanted ta do that ta all o’ us.  Funny thing was, Ah couldn’t remember how they got free.  Ah figured Remy musta blown up the doors or mebbe Tom had shaken ‘em down.  Ah idly decided that Tom an’ Lance should never be in the same room together.  God knows what might happen then.

In the back o’ the room, Ah could see Evan, Mr. McCoy an’ Logan all standin’ around together.  Ah guess it was understood that there’d be plenty o’ time ta talk later an’ sort things out, but it hurt that they weren’t comin’ up ta me.  Once in a while, one of ‘em would toss a glance in my direction.  Why weren’t they comin’ up ta me?  Ah turned away, caught Tom’s eye.

“Where’s Jenny?” Ah asked suddenly, my stomach droppin’.  “We were supposed ta carry her outta here.  She cain’t walk on her own!”

Tom’s only answer was a pained look Ah couldn’t understand.  Ah wondered if maybe he was sweet on her or somethin’...his brother’s girl.  How predictable was that?  Ah shifted my weight from one foot ta the other.  “When Remy gets back we can all go,” Ah told them.  They were all lookin’ at me now, all except Evan, Mr. McCoy an’ Logan.  God, even if they didn’t want ta talk ta me, why wouldn’t they just look at me?

Caught sight o’ Jenny standin’ at the back o’ the room.  “Nice ta finally see a friendly face,” Ah told her.

“Who’re you talking to, Rogue?” Tom asked.  We ignored him.

Jenny ran a hand through her hair, makin’ it even messier than usual.  “What’s goin’ on, Rogue?”

“We’re just waitin’ for Remy ta get back an’ then we’ll be out.”  Ah gave her an encouraging smile, but it turned into a frown when Ah remembered ‘bout her legs.  “Guess that stuff Tam gave you musta worn off, huh?”

“It wasn’t as bad as I thought.  I can barely even feel it now.”  The whole time she was talkin’ she’d been movin’ closer ta me.  “Tell me though, why are you letting Remy do everything?”

Ah shrugged.  “No glory in tryin’ ta do everythin’ yourself.  Cain’t be done.  Remy’ll be back soon.  You’ll see.”

“It just seems like you’ve been slipping lately.”  Ah musta let my annoyance show.  “Just a little!” she soothed.  “I mean, you have to admit you’re not the same girl who punched his lights out three days ago.”

“Ah know him now,” Ah protested weakly, wonderin’ how she knew about that.  Ah couldn’t remember tellin’ her, but then my memories had become so fogged lately.

“Are you sure?  He did work for Magneto after all.  Did he ever give it up?”

“Ah...Ah think so.  Why are you askin’ me?  How do ya know about any o’ this?  Did Ah tell ya?” 

“You might keep slipping.”  Seemed like she was talkin’ ta herself then.  “You might make bad mistakes and get killed.”

“Ah’ve come this far, haven’t Ah?”  Jenny was startin’ ta piss me off.  Didn’t seem like any o’ her fuckin’ business.

“But there wasn’t anyone to think about before.”  Ah opened my mouth, but she was faster.  “Maybe except for Scott.”  She laughed a little at that an’ Ah felt my cheeks get hot.  “Good ol’ Scott, ordinary like white bread and butter.  But it was never like this with him.  You could put him aside anytime you wanted because you were sure it was better for the team that way.  A little conformist under the skin?  The needs of the many outweigh yadda yadda yadda.”

“Ya don’t know anythin’ about it.”

“What if Remy were on the other side and they expected you to fight?  See what I mean about mistakes?  I don’t know which choice would be right.  I think they’re both wrong, actually.”

“Ya don’t know what you’re talkin’ ‘bout!”  She was very close ta me now, close enough that Ah shoulda been able ta feel her breath on my face when she exhaled, but there was nothin’.  Her skin was translucent, just like a ghost.  “What’s the matter, Jenny?  Are ya mad at me?”

She thought about that for a moment.  “Interesting.  You can’t remember anything?”  She didn’t wait for me ta answer.  “How do you think you’re holding Fred up?”  Ah looked at him on my arm as if that arm belonged ta a different person.  Ah guess it kinda did.  “I’m not mad, but I’m not about to stand by and just watch you get killed, okay?”  Right then two things happened: Wipeout an’ Trask slipped into the lab through a different door an’ Jenny slipped her hands inside mine.

Ah felt tingly all over an’ then the room seemed ta shrink into a pinpoint.  Ah could still hear an’ see an’ feel, but only faintly.  Everythin’ was distorted.  Fred fell to th’ floor and Ah felt a faint pain in my wrist from all that weight.  Ah saw Trask an’ started forward, only it wasn’t me.  Jenny was in control o’ everythin’.  Ah was beginnin’ ta understand what Ah couldn’t remember.  Jenny was dead.  Jenny was in me.  Jenny was gonna be my goddamned April witch twelve months outta the year.  Ah didn’t even like sharin’ a room with Kitty.  Ah woulda cried then, but Ah didn’t have control over my tear ducts.

Jenny jumped on Trask an’ put my hands around his throat.  Ah remembered her sayin’ that she wanted ta kill them, but Ah didn’t want more blood on my hands.

Wipeout kicked Jenny in the stomach, hittin’ her square in the diaphragm.  The breath was forced outta her.

“Bra-fucking-vo,” she snarled after a bit.  “Takes a big man to kick someone when they’re on the ground.”  Jenny looked around ta the other mutants, but they backed away from her and Wipeout as if both o’ them had leprosy.  “Cowards!” Jenny cried.  Someone Ah couldn’t see had her by the hair now.  Tears streamed down her face.

“Who’s makin’ bad mistakes now?” Ah asked smugly, tryin’ out my voice.

“Shut up!” Jenny screamed.  “You have no idea what they did to me!”

“Ah’ve got some idea,” Ah returned quietly.

“What’s wrong with her?” Wipeout asked Trask.  It was the first time Ah’d heard him talk an’ it startled me.  Guess Ah had him figured for a mute or an idiot or mebbe both.

Trask got ta his feet an’ dusted himself off.  He eyed Jenny.  “A possible side effect of the mutation.  Often the stress is too much for the mutant’s mind to bear.  My...Tonya was much the same way before she disappeared.”  A particularly powerful blast from th’ next room punctuated his theory.  If Ah’d been able to Ah’d have told him his idea was complete bullshit.

“That’s complete bullshit,” Jenny said calmly.

“Way ta go!” Ah cheered.

Jenny winced.  “I can hear you just fine.  You don’t haveta shout.”

It was then that Logan and Mr. McCoy moved in.  Mr. McCoy grabbed Trask.  Even without the powers, Ah wouldn’t want ta take on Hank.  It’s only ‘cause I know him that Ah’m not scared o’ him, but sometimes Ah’m scared o’ him anyways.  D’ya know what it’s like sneakin’ in after curfew an’ findin’ him waitin’ there in the half dark?  It’s enough ta frighten ten years offa person.  He has a way o’ fillin’ a room.  Logan made short work o’ Wipeout, clippin’ him neatly across the temple with his fist.  Wipeout fell over heavily.

Jenny wiggled away from the person holdin’ her...my...our hair.  Some o’ it ripped out an’ for the first time Ah was glad for my new hairstyle.  Focusing, Ah was able ta grab control for a moment, scissorin’ my leg back an’ catchin’ the person square in the stomach.

“Bitch!”  Whoever it was was female an’ strong, mebbe as strong as Jenny.  Struck out again, keepin’ my foot planted an’ lettin’ all my strength flow through my free leg.  The woman went down.

Jenny grabbed control again an’ flew forward.  Wasn’t so much that Ah could hear what she was thinkin’ as feel it.  “Jenny, you cain’t!”  She stretched out my hands.  “Don’t touch anyone!  Please!”

Evan shot a swarm o’ bone spikes at me, but they might as well have been made o’ smoke.  Ah heard Logan yell, “Stripes!”  Ah wanted so bad ta tell him that it was none o’ my doin’, that Ah’d stop her if Ah could.  My mind scrabbled for a way through her control again.  Ah’d done it once, but Ah didn’t know how ta do it again.

Mr. McCoy’s face loomed in front o’ me.  He was scared.  The Beast was scared.  God, Ah’d seen him lift the x-van outta the mud once, the whole van in one go, an’ he was scared o’ me.

“Don’t hurt him, Jenny!”  Ah felt like Ah was trapped inside a glass jar.

“I won’t hurt him if he gets outta my way!”

Ah could hear her sayin’ ‘I want to kill them, Rogue.’  It was stuck on continuous repeat in our memory.  “But Ah don’t want ya ta kill him.  We can stop Trask without killin’ him.”

“You’re kidding yourself.  It’s the only way to stop him.  This isn’t your choice.”

Jenny touched my fingers ta Trask’s throat.

*    *    *

“Forgive me, chère,” I whispered, chargin’ a piece o’ rubble an’ throwin’ it at her back.  Sure dere was no love lost ‘tween me an’ Trask.  Sure he was de one who put de chip in my neck and de electrodes in all de other mutants, but Tante Mattie hadn’t raised me t’ be no killer and I knew it would pain Jean-Luc t’ see me go de way o’ de Guild o’ Assassins.  He hadn’t trained me for dat.

Hadn’t realized how much I missed dem, not dat everyt’ing was ever perfect or ever would be, but ‘t was nice t’ get up in de mornin’ or t’ crawl in in de night in a house where people cared if I lived or died.  Where people knew me an’ called me by my given name and not de code name.

De explosion didn’t slow her down one bit, but de big blue man was keepin’ Trask away from her for de time.

“Should I even ask?”  De voice was gruff in my ear.  Turned t’ see a man little shorter and broader dan me at my side.  His body was tense, balanced on de balls o’ his feet.  Somet’ing ‘bout him put me on edge.

“Le Loup-Garou (werewolf),” I breathed, wit’out knowing why I did.

Smiled icily.  “Not quite, kid, but close.  I guess you must know Stripes.”

“And you must be one of her friends, non?  We been lookin’ for you.”

“What’s wrong with her?”

“Bit of a li’l more dan she could chew.”  Was quiet a second.  “‘t my fault.  Didn’t tell her de whole story, all de risks.”

De man looked at me hard.  “No time fer regrets now, kid.  We’ve gotta stop her or she’s bound t’ do something she’ll regret.  Bright ideas?”

Found Tom standin’ wit’ de rest o’ de mutants across de room.  “You been here before, Tom.  Can you t’ink o’ any way t’ slow her down?”  Knew Rogue was still in dere, she had t’ be.  Was one t’ing when I t’ought she was dead, quite another t’ see her up and around wit’ nothin’ but Jenny inside.

Tom t’ought ‘bout it for a second, den his eyes lit up.  “That machine, there, in the far corner.  It generates an electromagnetic pulse to scramble brainwaves.  Some kind of prototype brainwash I think.”

Provided I could operate it, but I didn’t want t’ tell Tom.  He seemed so pleased wit’ himself t’ have suggested it.  “Den quick, y’ get dese people outta here.  In de next room, John will cover your escape.”  Saw his puzzled expression.  “De one wit’ de fire.”

“Try and stay outta sight,” de man ordered.  “Evan, you go too.  Take everyone as far as the treeline and wait for us there.”

“But, Logan...” de boy wit’ de spikes began.

“This ain’t one o’ those things you can convince me about,” Logan said.  “Just go.  Wait.  If we don’t meet up with you in twenty minutes I want you to use the emergency channel to call the others.” 

Dere just some t’ings in life gotta be obeyed.  Threw another chunk o’ stone at Rogue.  She shrugged it off like de last one.  Knew it was only a matter o’ time before Magneto came into de lab. Vraisemblablement (most likely) dis was his revenge, because it had t’ be bigger an’ more dangerous dan anyti’ing.

“Hank!” Logan shouted, pointed t’ de machine.  Looked at me.  “He can’t keep this up forever.  I’ll give you twenty seconds t’ figure out how that hunk o’ junk works.”


Ran t’ de far wall.  De sense o’ déjà vu was almost stifling.  Like I was back in de house.  Dere were rows o’ small switches, some larger levers and a pair o’ buttons in green and red.


“Let me go!” Jenny yelled.

“Not likely, sweetheart,” Logan replied.

Okay, de upper switches seemed t’ regulate voltage...


...while de middle ones controlled de width o’ de beam.  And de lower ones...intensity.

“I’d encourage you to make haste in your endeavors, my friend.”  Dat musta been Hank.  Wasn’t sure who he was talkin’ to, but decided it was a good all-around suggestion.


Flipped dem all t’ de highest setting.  Dere was no time t’ be subtle ‘bout it.  Pressed de green button t’ test.

Not’ing.  Merde.  Foutre (fuck up).

Rogue hit de wall beside me, cracking de cinderblocks.  She fell t’ de ground.  Was all I could do not t’ help her.

Sweat ran into my eyes, stinging.  I was missing somet’ing.


Rogue stirred.  Logan pulled her up by her collar, set her in de machine.

“Now, kid!”


De levers.  Dey weren’t really levers at all, needed t’ prime dem t’ get a charge.  Grabbed hold an’ my hand slipped off again.  Second time was de charm.

First lever primed.

Outta de corner o’ my eye I could see Rogue start t’ stir.  Logan braced his legs on de floor an pushed his hands into her shoulders t’ keep her still.

“Remy?” her voice was weak, but it was definitely her.

Second lever primed.

“What’re ya doin’, Remy?”

“What’re ya waitin’ for, kid!  Do it before she recovers.”

Silence for a beat.  What if it was too much?  What if I killed her instead o’ just stoppin’ her?  What if she never forgave me for pushin’ de button?  My finger hovered dere, unable t’ go forward.

What if she got loose an’ killed Trask an’ Dr. Moreau an’ everyone else who’d hurt her?  Took a long look at de beautiful gray eyes.  Sorry if dis de wrong t’ing t’ do, beb.  All I know t’ do t’ get us all outta here.  Dis de best o’ a t’ief an’ might not be good ‘nough.

I pushed de button.

*    *    *

Ah woke up in a jerry-rigged hospital room with bandages on each arm.  Jenny was gone, at least Ah couldn’t hear her.  Maybe she was only hidin’ in my head, or sleepin’ there.

Everyone was there.  Their voices crowded down on top o’ me.  Ah coulda cried in relief, but Ah knew that’d spook ‘em more than anythin’ ta see my façade crack.  We all want people ta be exactly what we expect o’ them. 

It was a miracle Ah was alive, they said.  It was a miracle that everyone else was too.  Magneto had disappeared again along with Piotr an’ John an’ Doctor Moreau.  At least he hadn’t gotten Trask.  It was up ta all o’ us ta decide what ta do with him, but all that was for later.  They wanted ta hear my story ‘bout findin’ Magneto an’ then Dr. Moreau an’ Trask an’ Genosha’s deepest secret.  Ah wanted ta tell ‘em too, but when Ah thought about how Ah should tell the story nothin’ seemed right.  The words weren’t right.  An’ then there was Remy...

“Where’s Remy?” Ah asked suddenly, strugglin’ into a sittin’ position.  Mr. McCoy looked like he wanted ta restrain me, but he held himself back.  “Ah’m not gonna break,” Ah snapped.

“Mr. LeBeau was called away suddenly.  Some urgent family business in New Orleans I gather.”

Logan dug in one o’ his pockets an’ came out with an envelope that’d seen better days.  Inside, Ah found a joker card with a quarter taped on the back an’ the word ‘rematch?’ scrawled under th’ figure.  At first Ah didn’t understand what it meant, but then Ah remembered ‘bout that game o’ Pile we played.

He was comin’ back.

Smiled at that.  Turned into a frown when Ah caught sight o’ my tattoo.  Ran my fingers lightly over the numbers.  Everythin’ would be different now, Ah guessed.

But he was comin’ back.


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