Rogue's head was buried against St. John's side--absently, he knew he was stroking her hair, knew he had to look at her, check and see how she was, but there was nothing he could do but let her know he was here. No light, no power, lots of space that was so dangerous that he didn't dare move. Third floor of an abandoned warehouse. Jubes was up here, he knew--but he couldn't be sure about Remy. He'd been too consumed with utter agony to really get around to seeing what else was going on around him.
"Johnny? Rogue? You okay?" Jubilee--he couldn't see her yet, it was too dark. Reaching out, St. John groped for a moment toward the sound of her voice, finding her hand and realized she was crawling in his vague direction. Fingers closed over his as he corrected her angle and she fell beside him, and a sharply indrawn breath made him wince. "Johnny? Where's Remy? Rogue there?"
"Fuck if I know. Rogue's here." Jubilee breathed out a sigh of relief and he could see the vague grey-darkness of her face. Rogue twitched but she still wasn't making any sounds, and he wondered what was going on in her head. He'd do just about anything for the Professor, for Logan, for Hank--hell, for Scooter or Jeanie at this point, anyone at all that knew how to handle this.
Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck times fucking ten, this wasn't how it was supposed to go. He shut his eyes, but all his reserves were gone--if he wanted light, he'd drain himself unconscious. Keeping his touch on Rogue's hair so she'd know he was there (fuck knew if she even knew there was a world outside her head), he shifted until he could pull Jubilee closer and guided her hand to Rogue's covered back. She breathed out in relief.
"You have anything that can burn?"
"No. Fuck. Reminder--candles next time. Or maybe we could just keep our fucking flashlight, like, with us. I can try--" He could feel her gather herself and grabbed blindly for her hands.
"You'll burn yourself out. Just relax--if I can find paper, I can do a small fire." Though he wasn't sure of that at all, not with his head and his ribs and his knee--oh, his fucking knee. A tension headache was pounding behind his eyes--or it could be incipient burnout. They'd stretched themselves too much too fast. Until they recharged a little, they were as helpless as any other human--even more so, because he knew they were wounded, no matter how stoic Jubes was playing it. And he knew his body temperature had dropped dangerously low. "That fucking bitch." Even his voice sounded exhausted--maybe that was what scared him about it. "That fucking little two-timing, psychotic bitch. I wish I'd killed her. Fuck, I wish I could kill her again."
Rogue twitched but only burrowed closer, and he reached under her, levering her head until it was on his lap. Through gloves, he couldn't get anything on her condition and he could only see the vague paleness of her face and feel the twitching of her body.
"She took it all?"
"Fuck if I know. Carol Danvers is very dead and Rogue's very alive, so you tell me. I don't know what the hell is going on otherwise. Shit, God, let Kitty have gotten the message through."
Jubilee shifted a little more and he felt her hand on his thigh, locating Rogue by following the line of dark hair until she found her head.
"Johnny?" Her voice was low--almost familiar, in that way that screamed she knew something he didn't, something she wished she didn't know.
"Don't say it. If they're not here in an hour, I'll blow this place. Nice and big and someone'll notice that." Hopefully the right people.
"You don't have that kind of control. Or that kind of energy."
"Trust me, Jubes--oh fuck--why the hell didn't you *tell* me?" The fresh smell of blood as she shifted and he felt her freeze. "How bad?"
"We got at least an hour, babe, so no problems--I got it bandaged, sort of. Gimme Rogue and go look for something safe to burn--I wanna make sure she's okay. Besides--well, you know."
Yeah, he did know, and Johnny made a mental picture of her positioning--yellow jacket, gloved hands, her thigh slashed to the knee and blood soaking steadily through her uniform pants. That was her injured left leg stretched--carefully, he gathered Rogue like a child and handed her over, bracing her head on Jubilee's good leg and taking Jubilee's hand from his leg and carefully showing her where Rogue's wounds were. Jubilee stopped him before he could wander off.
"No go--it's too dark to go without an anchor. Gimme a sec--" a pause and he heard her going through her pockets, finding the string she'd grabbed from her room that afternoon and forgotten to put up before they left. "Got it. Ten feet, that's all the give this thing has got. I know you're good spatially, Johnny, but this is absolute dark--and I cant' light fireworks for you, even if I so lost my mind as to do so in a dry wooden building." He could hear the forced good humor in her voice and had to smile himself. "Johnny? Be careful. Bobby'll have my hide if you get hurt."
What neither of them would say--that they couldn't be sure the other three members of their team were even alive.
Two hours earlier
"Johnny!" He stared up at the sky--was someone talking to him? He didn't know--but a body fell beside him, hard on its knees and he winced in sympathy. His knees hurt too. He supposed having one broken was definitely a bad thing. Definitely. "Oh fuck, Johnny--what the hell--"
What the hell *had* happened? Still mostly unclear and he was pretty sure he liked it that way--memory might tell him about more painful injuries and how he got them and that would be Bad. Capital B. Bad. Ignorance was bliss. St. John winced as he turned his head against the gloved hand resting on his cheek, wondering if he should tell--whoever--that. But it seemed like an awful amount of trouble, the whole talking thing. He really didn't want to do it.
"Fuck, sugar, don't you dare move your head--did you hurt your neck? Oh God--oh sugar, you're cold--who the hell--what the hell--shit, you're goin' into shock, aren't you? It's okay--I'm here, I'll get us outta this. You--just lay still. I'm here. Everything's fine. Just--just rest. Okay? I'm gonna--shit, where're the others--" A pause and he heard something ripping--leather ripping, and their uniforms were so new, so nice, fit so well. Hell of a first mission, that was for sure. Then gentle hands were probing his knee, but how odd, it didn't hurt all that much. Then--
"FUCK!" Talking was possible. Screaming was better. Much, much better.
"OH GOD! STOP!"
He was such a whiner, fuck him. Tears burned into his skin--cold tears, very cold. That was his life--cold, cold, cold. Icy, even, like Bobby's skin. Nice skin. Nice, cool skin. Nice, cool--skin--in their bed, he'd woken up--
"Johnny! Snap outta it! You can't--fuck, Johnny! Listen to me!"
Reality was all sharp corners and pain unlike anything he'd *ever* experienced before. And there was something--something he had to tell her. Something important. His eyes didn't want to move at first, but slowly, so slowly, they began to open and he squinted into a night that had really started out much better than this. Had to tell her something.
"Jubes," he choked, because he was sure, so sure--sure that was important. Her eyes widened. "Remy. I don't--" Breathe out, blood on his lip and she reached down, wiping it away, and absently licked her glove clean. It should have made him slightly nauseated, but she was taking in the taste, just like she took in his scent. Marking him in her mind--he'd seen Logan do that once, when Rogue cut herself during a Danger Room simulation.
How very--er, primal--of her.
"Who did this to ya, sugar? Who is it?"
*That's* what he had to tell her. Tell her--tell her 'bout--tell her to run, because they hadn't known--
"You must be the last one--I thought he was, but guess I was wrong. Any more of you I have to worry 'bout?"
Midwestern, flat voice, slightly mocking, mostly annoyed. He felt the hand against his forehead stiffen and it took all the energy in his body to reach up, grab her hand--and who was she again? Dark hair, dark eyes, gloves--oh yeah. Got it. Good.
"Rogue," he whispered, trying to get her attention.
"Who the fuck are you?" The hand on his forehead pressed down briefly.
"I don't think introductions are really necessary, do you? You might wanna move away from him--I'd hate to hurt him anymore by dropping you on top of him."
"Carol," he choked out, and Rogue's hand on his forehead stroked to his singed hair. "Invulnerable--very strong--" wow, he remembered that. Something else--something important, something Rogue wouldn't know how to deal with, something--
"What are you doing here?"
He'd asked that question--he remembered that. Right before she broke his knee and the world went dark, right after he'd vaporized concrete around her that really didn't seem to have much an effect on her--no, something happened, because really, invulnerable or not, those were pretty high temperatures. Pretty fucking high. So invulnerable yes, but something else, something--
"I'm not here to play twenty questions, kiddo. Be a dear--pick up your friends and get outta here. If you can find them all, that is."
Kitty had gone to call for help. Yes, he remembered that, he gave the order. Go get help. Walk if you have to, use an unsecured line, scream at the top of your lungs, just get away and get help. Get help now.
Get out now. Get Bobby out.
"You want me gone too bad--whatcha up to, Carol?" A pause as he felt Rogue's hand leave his forehead and he clung to her fingers, wanting to tell her--tell her something, something important--he knew it was important. Knew it. But the blood on his tongue was so fascinating--did she get through one of his lungs? Maybe broke a rib, pierced a lung--yeah, it was possible and he could measure his life in minutes. On the upside, once he was dead, his knee would stop hurting, and that couldn't be all bad, right?
Her hand slipped from his grasp after a quick squeeze and he did the hardest thing he'd ever done in his life--rolled onto his side, his wounded arm a pillow for his head, forced his eyes to stay open, though God, that hurt his knee--that hurt like *nothing* except maybe the moment she broke it, but he wasn't sure about that because he'd passed out. Groaning softly, he managed it, he was on his side--would that be bad for splintered ribs? Hmm. Gotta think on that one. Biology class--
--no, he had to tell Rogue--tell Rogue--
"Have it your way." Her flat voice was really painful to hear. He didn't like it at all. Forced his gaze up, saw Rogue standing with that odd, perfect concentration of hers, the look on her face the one she got when Wolvie--hehehe, Logan, oh God, he had to be concussed too--ran them through drills. But she wasn't up to their level yet, she just didn't have the muscle developed--though she was a shitload faster than any of them and that made up for a lot. It really, really did. But speed--speed wasn't what he wanted to think about, because Carol had survived when concrete did not, and there was something wrong with that, because she did something then broke his knee and ribs and fuck, maybe his head too.
Maybe he could take a nap and forget about it for awhile. Though were you supposed to sleep with a concussion? Mr. Summers had said--had said--
"Shit!" Rogue, skipped backward, and Carol's fist just missed her face. Girl had the reflexes--couldn't be easy. Not at all. She was watching Carol--yes, that was why she was so still, Logan telling them to know their opponent, that blind attacks just weren't the brightest idea in the world. When he saw Logan again, he was going to tell him he was right--blind attacks were bad. Especially if you weren't around when Bobby went down, when she hurt him, you can hear in your head his voice telling you he loves you. This morning, in bed. Rolling over and smiling, going back to sleep against him.
St. John would be remembering that for the minutes, hours it would take for that theoretically broken rib to finish turning his lungs into confetti. It was a good memory. He wanted that to be his last. He did.
"No--fuck!" Rogue hit the ground inches from him at a bad angle for her shoulder and he watched her wince before she shook it off, rolling and on her feet--and did she growl? Yeah, she growled, and he dragged his gaze to Carol--she was used to fighting powers and Rogue didn't have that kind--Rogue was doing this the old-fashioned way, physical. And she was trained and Carol wasn't like that, all Carol had was that raw strength and the invulnerability crap that was really odd. It occurred to him, rather vaguely, that maybe Carol didn't know--
"Fuck! Shit!" On her back, barely landing well enough to avoid spraining something, and he saw the imprint of a fist on her eye--that would make a spectacular shiner.
"Stay down, kiddo. I won't have to hurt you anymore."
Rogue spit blood out on the dirt, gloved hand bracing on the ground as she got upright, and he watched her shake her head roughly, keeping the low crouch on the balls of her feet.
"Fuck you. Who the fuck you think you're dealing with, sugar?" A pause, and Rogue was crouched, still watching--and he wanted to tell her that it really didn't matter--that they were gonna be dead anyway. That Kitty and Bobby were probably dead, that Remy and Jubes were so totally unconscious that Carol'd have an easy time getting rid of the evidence. That Carol really couldn't afford to leave anyone alive, he knew her M.O., and God, he was so cold. So cold. He had no idea he could *get* that cold. He was drained down farther than he'd known he could go.
He could split a molecule of water with enough force, but taking out Carol should have been all about finesse. Because Carol was all about finesse. Fuck, she knew him too well. Rogue couldn't fight her--shit, she'd gone through four of them and who knew what had happened to Kitty? Who the hell knew?
Rogue hadn't moved from her crouch, still watching--her eye was swelling shut and he could see the tears in her uniform from the rough handling, and it was odd, he hadn't known she wore jewelry, because she was wearing something around her neck, he could see it beneath the torn collar of her top. Blood was winding down her chin from her mouth and he wondered if Carol had broken some of her teeth.
And Carol was watching her, confused--but he could have told Carol that Rogue was methodical, that she was doing this by inches, testing for weakness. And the girl had a scary threshold for pain--he supposed nightly dreaming of being dissected or being stuck in a life-sucking machine changed your perceptions on pain. He himself--
"Come on," Rogue breathed, staring up with that intense focus. "Afraid of a little girl?"
Carol attacked and it was all dust and dirt and voices that didn't make any sense, though he could see the twist of Rogue underneath--big mistake, Carol was too strong, once Rogue was pinned, Rogue was very dead. Rogue was--Rogue was--
Rogue was spinning out and on her feet and blinking as Carol hovered a few inches off the ground.
"You're fast," Carol said, and Rogue shook her head--oh right! Carol could *fly* that was how she'd gotten away from Bobby and Jubes and him--she could fly and they fought in two dimensions, not three--back and forth and left to right, this up and down business was just for the dogs. No, he just didn't like it at all.
"Cool," Rogue murmured, watching Carol hover. "I like that. How many are you gonna kill, Carol? All of us? You gonna make a clean sweep?"
"Nothing personal, honey. Just a mission."
"It's never personal until it is. You took down a lot of my friends. Who ya workin' for?"
Silence, and St. John blinked rapidly--something about Rogue's tone bothered him. Something that made him want to lift his head--as if he could--and maybe ask what the hell was going on. Rogue was still watching Carol--Rogue was dangerously still.
Carol seemed to sense the same thing--she hovered a little, when frankly, St. John had expected her to attack the second she got the opening. Rogue had a bad shoulder and from the way she was standing, possibly a sprained ankle. Easy pickings.
"None of your business, kid."
Rogue's head cocked to the side briefly--and St. John had seen that look before, watching Logan and Scott face off in the dining room, watching Logan work out in the Danger Room, watching Jean cross a room. Measuring, testing, deciding--knowing. Fuck, knowing.
Then it happened--and maybe it was just Carol didn't really quite understand that Rogue hadn't shown off her mutation, though she wore the uniform. That Rogue wasn't the type to fight a losing battle--
--and Rogue was pinned on her back, a hand wrapped around her throat and not doing a damn thing about it, and St. John found something in him that dragged him almost upright.
"Rogue!" Could they even hear him? One of Rogue's hands was locked on the woman's wrist and she was doing all the right things to get her off--not that someone that strong could be thrown easily--but Rogue's entire focus wasn't on those reflexive movements, on the lack of oxygen or the crushing force of that hand that would wreck her windpipe in only a few seconds--he saw her free hand finally, braced under her hip as she began to pull her fingers free of her glove--
Oh no. No, no, no--
Rogue twisted her hand up and grabbed Carol's very bare face. Reflexively, Carol let go of the vulnerable throat and Rogue threw her over, pinning her under the weight of her body. Teeth bared in a smile that hurt to look at.
"The name is Rogue, not little girl. And you just fucked up bad, sugar. I'd like to learn to fly."
Both bodies went stiff as the connection snapped into effect and Rogue's eyes widened.
That's when they both began to scream.
Ten feet wasn't much and he followed the kite string back to Jubilee, finding her hand and collapsing beside her. He wanted a new knee, he wanted his bed, and he wanted Bobby.
God, he wanted Bobby.
"How the hell did we get in here, anyway?" whispered Jubilee.
"Rogue--she got control for awhile and got us out of the rain." He sighed softly. "Then Carol started fighting again and she collapsed. Fuck, Jubes--she's been catatonic for over forty-five minutes. We gotta--"
"Remember what happened with Remy," Jubilee whispered.
"She started usin' her other personalities to fight off Remy, and she didn't kill the idiot either. In case you're curious, she can fly--and lemme tell you, that was an experience I don't wanna repeat when she's in the middle of a personality battle. You should thank God you were unconscious." Up and down, left and right, Rogue wasn't used to flying and with Carol in her, hadn't been able to control it very well. "Fuck knows what's happenin' now--we *don't* know what it was like those first few hours, before you got down there."
"Shit. When Scooter and Jeanie get here, she's screwed. They might take the whole 'kill the evil mutant' the wrong way. And then there's that isolation chamber--" Jubilee shivered a little against St. John's arm and he sighed, sliding an arm around her and letting her lean against him. "Or she might not--might not be--"
"This is Rogue. She won't let that bitch win." Shit, he wasn't sure, but he had to believe in three definite things--that Scooter (what did that say about him, that they'd all picked up Rogue's Scooter and Jeanie for Mr. Summers and Dr. Grey?) and company would be here, that Bobby was alive, and that Rogue would still control the body stretched over Jubilee's good leg.
There wasn't even a point in believing anything else.
"Why'd she call you Pyro?" Neutral, careful--you don't ask about a mutant's former life, personal details, or anything else. Jubilee, however, was one of his best friends and had been for too long for him to try to duck that one. He reached down, feeling Rogue's hair again, absently working what could have been dirt or blood out of some of the strands.
Shit, he should have known. Bitch.
"Old life--my not so interesting lifestyle choice before the Professor found me."
"She knows about that?"
"We--met." He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "She remembers, apparently. It's not--I didn't know her that well. But yeah--we were acquainted, in that lowlife mutant criminal way. As opposed to the now, non-lowlife quasi-criminal mutant way I have with the rest of you."
Jubilee was silent for a minute. The code in effect--don't ask about the past, don't ask about the things that included federal warrants and the skeletons in the closet. Sometimes the old saying was just a little too apt.
But then, in Santa Fe, he hadn't known anyone was in that building.
"I like the name. You should keep it."
"You would." He let out a breath, fixing his concentration. "Okay, we gotta get something to burn here--Jubes, it's been at least a couple of hours since you topped out--can you get me enough light to look around? At least find the fucking paper or wood--its gettin' cold and we gotta stay conscious. Just in case."
A pause, and Jubilee breathed deeply.
"Fifteen second blast, move fast. You see, you get, you get your ass back here. I don't wantcha wandering 'round. On the count of three, babe--one, two, three--"
Two hours earlier
The field looked terrible and St. John knew something had gone very wrong. Very fucking wrong. Stared around vaguely, trying to figure out where the hell Bobby and Jubes were--
"Oh my God," whispered Kitty, and he turned sharply to try and meet her eyes, then following her gaze to--oh God, no, not Bobby.
Before he could even move, before he could breathe, he felt the oddest sensation crawling across his back and jerked Kitty around, dropping automatically into a slight crouch, staring at--
"Carol." Oh fuck, oh wow, what were the chances, huh? Pretty damn good when mutants were one in a million or so--literally, the very lottery winners of the universe in the negative sense, and he felt Kitty stiffen beside him.
"Pyro. Nice uniform." She was young--three years older than he was, if that, but she'd always been the best at everything and it showed. Short blonde hair, green eyes, beautiful if you were into the slightly mercenary type. She'd been sixteen to his thirteen the last time he saw her, and looking at her now, he wondered what had changed. Obviously not the morals.
"I like it. What the fuck is goin' on, Carol?"
"Just a mission. You're in the way, Pyro."
"St. John--your memory never was good. Kitty, get Bobby and get off the field. Now."
Kitty froze and St. John saw Carols' gaze flicker toward her. Without missing a beat, he grabbed Kitty and shoved her behind him.
"Run, Kitty. Now. Orders."
Carol smiled a little.
"Don't, Johnny. You know better."
"We're all dead anyway, right? You never left any witnesses before." His palms were warm and the tingle spread through him, hot and vivid and he never felt more alive, not even when he touched Bobby, not ever--nothing like this, nothing in the world. He felt her smile and knew she was remembering things.
Of all people, she knew best what was in him.
"Old times sake, you walk." A wave of her hand, casual in the dim light. "Just walk, Johnny. Pick up your little buddies--em, they yours?" He followed her hand, and in the twilight saw Jubilee and Remy, dead? Fuck, no, this wasn't real, no one was supposed to be here, *why* the fuck was she here? "Just knocked out--they're stupid, you know? Don't watch their backs."
"I'm not playing this, Carol."
Her head tilted, looking at him with a trace of impatience. Smiling now, happy, she wasn't quite what he remembered and the fist to his jaw told him that, even as he caught himself, tumbling backward, rolling onto his feet, wishing he had a knife so it could be personal.
"Pyro, baby, where's all that power? Show me, baby. Show me."
Rogue sat up straight, so suddenly that both Jubilee and Bobby drew back all unwilling.
"I'm okay--for a second." Grabbing her head. "Pyro, St. John--fuck, sorry, sugar. She's--fuck, this is different." Rubbed her head. "Or those fucking meditation exercises are better than I thought--we gotta get outta here, kiddos. Like, nowish. She's--she's gathering strength. I won't be able to do this for long." Turning in a startlingly fast movement, hissing--did she have rib issues? He knew he did, felt them move when he touched his side.
"I sent Kitty and Bobby--"
"They got away." Rogue's hand closed over his, squeezing briefly. "She didn't follow--she thought she'd finish up with you and then I showed up. Don't worry. They're--fuck, they're somewhere." Rogue let out a noisy breath and turned her head, spitting--probably more blood."
"How long can you keep with us?"
"Not fucking long--let's say the others in my head aren't too happy about her right now. Call it a multiple-personality battle of wills." He could almost see her smile. "Where is she?"
St. John swallowed, suddenly feeling the drop in his stomach, Jubilee stiffening against his side. Unmoving. Almost unbreathing.
"Umm--guys? Did she get away? Fuck, shut that bitch up!" He reached out when he felt her sway, grabbing for her shoulder. "Johnny--"
Everything went absolutely still. Beyond words still.
"She--what? Guys--" Rogue stopped. "I killed her, didn't I? That's why it's different--I got all that bitch." Beneath his hand, her body began to shake. He wanted to see her eyes, wanted to see her face. "That's why--" she cut off and her entire body convulsed, toppling forward, clawing at the floor. He jerked Jubilee back as Rogue rolled onto her back and he could hear her breathing--not panting, but the hard, fast, deep breathing that should have been slower if she was trying to center herself. Then nothing--Rogue was back inside herself and St. John shifted until he could feel her hair, her shoulder, fingers tracing along her chest to check for her heartbeat, feeling that--what was that? Jewelry. Careful of her skin, he pulled it up, tracing the line of something vaguely rectangular, letters upraised though he couldn't tell what was written on it.
"She's breathing--I think she's out again. Fuck, fuck, fuck, Jubes, something's wrong."
"She was bad after Remy."
"I know. That's what's worrying me." Shoulda been worse, shoulda been letting some of it out, and it scared him, how she was keeping it interior like this. Like she was afraid. Like--
Like what would happened if her eyes opened and it was Carol looking out? Oh God no. He almost pulled away, almost scooted back and he wanted to--to grab Jubes and leave, in case Carol awakened in Rogue's body with Rogue's powers and her own. She could kill them, take everything they were.
"She'll win, Johnny."
"I know." He believed, he did. He believed it with his whole soul.
Four hours earlier
Mr. Summers smiled as they assembled, looking way-too-eager in their new uniforms. Logan was scowling in the background, but that was to be expected--this was a practice run and Rogue was going, and that made Logan jumpy.
No problems. Rogue was tossing him reassuring smiles. Like that would cool him down. St. John got the feeling exactly one thing was keeping him from coming along anyway, and it certainly wasn't Mr. Summers.
"This is a routine check. You go, you look around, you come back. Radio if you find anything interesting--we're looking at a property outside Albany that has suspected ties to the Brotherhood. I expect you to keep in contact at all times. Look for evidence, come back. Ororo will be going with you as supervisor, but the responsibility is yours. She won't be in the field with you. Johnny, you'll lead this mission--I'll be rotating among you so each of you understand the duties of leadership. Understood?"
Logan had probably wanted to go--and scare the crap out of them, not to mention hovering over Rogue like she'd break if he wasn't personally looking straight at her. As Summers dismissed them, she wandered over, coming up to stand in front of him.
"Don't worry." Her voice was soft.
"Yeah, whatever kid. Be careful." The dark eyes went down her body in the uniform and St. John grinned to see Rogue flush suddenly. "Looks good on you."
"Looks better on you." Logan snorted something and Rogue grinned before turning to leave, and a gloved hand reached out, caught hers, pulling her over.
"I'm serious. Be careful. I got a game to watch, don't wanna be called out to haul your asses out of any crap."
"Tape the game. I wanna see."
"We'll watch it tonight." A long look, and St. John felt suddenly like he was intruding on something very private--like he didn't do it all the time. Turned his head away, but from the corner of his eye, he saw Rogue take a step forward, leg brushing his.
"I'll be good, promise. No random absorptions of my erstwhile companions."
"Good idea. Tends to get people twitchy." He still hadn't let go of her hand. "Go on." And he did let go, leaning forward and startling her with a slap to her ass. "Get outta here, go play. See ya." Logan got up and left without another glance, but Rogue, all the colors of a sunset, had reached back to draw her fingers slowly over her mishandled backside, and a reluctant smile fought its way across her face.
Mr. Summer was frowning, but that was to be expected, considering everything.
"Wow, Roguey, baby, what aren't you tellin' me, your roommate and bestest buddy, huh?" Jubilee smirked--so he hadn't been the only one taking notes on that little encounter. He'd have to compare with Jubes later.
Rogue flushed even darker.
"He's bein' Loganish--nothing big."
"Everything about him is big, chica. You'd know right? You have any memories of him in the shower? Share, girlfriend. My fantasy life could use it." Remy choked in the background and St. John glanced back at him. Ooh, didn't like that, very interesting.
He *had* to get out more often. Glancing at Rogue, she was tomato style now--damn, even her neck was red. She tilted her head down and the spill of dark hair concealed her face.
He knew she was smiling, though, and was glad.
"Let's get outta here, kiddos," Rogue said stiffly, like she was talking through her teeth. Smirking, St. John grabbed Bobby's arm and propelled him toward the door.
"Do you think Carol got to 'Ro?" St. John whispered. "Shit, she wasn't that far away. She could--"
"Don't think like that. She's not omnipotent--she didn't even know Rogue was still around, you know--you said it yourself. She was surprised. If she'd gotten 'Ro--and the woman is weather, so Carol woulda been screwed three ways from Sunday if she tried any crap."
"Yeah, well Bobby's ice and I'm fire and you're some cool plasma and Remy's little charges and fuck us, we didn't get through her."
"We're not trained like 'Ro is. Doncha go worrying 'bout that."
"She woulda been here by now."
Jubilee didn't answer, because it was true.
"Pyro," she said softly, as if testing the sound of it, and he stiffened. "Sorry. You don't like it, I won't use it." Against him, Rogue twitched again, letting out a low sound that could have been a moan. Absently, he reached down, rubbing a hand along her back, not even sure if she was aware of anything outside her mind. She jerked a little, but he didn't think it was in response to his touch.
"S'okay. I know you and Kit's and Bobby's past. Guess it isn't unheard of that you might be sorta curious 'bout mine." Not that he had any intentions of telling her anything. Period. Some things belonged in the past.
He smiled a little--mutants had their own code, they really did.
"Jubes, your leg wrapped?" Change the subject to something else, always good. But it seemed--shit, it seemed wrong, like he was trading on their friendship or somethin'. A pause, then Jubilee answered.
"Not very well--"
"Okay, lay back--lemme move Rogue. Strip your jacket--sorry, babe, but it's goin' into scraps."
She sighed in frustration but the jacket landed in his lap and he took a breath, closing his eyes. His body temperature was slowly returning toward very low normal, which meant he had some reserves. Which now he needed, bad.
"I can do this. Just--just relax?" The beginning of the rush--he'd never felt it so faint before--and the heat coalesced into pure fire. Weak, a little soft, after the unending darkness it was more than enough.
The first thing he thought was simple--she needed to be in Dr. Grey's lab and she needed it right this second. No question--that was stitches territory, though from the amount of blood, he figured a little vaguely that no major arteries had been touched. Quickly, he braced the jacket under his knee and began to tear. The fire flickered, but didn't go out, and the drain wasn't as bad as he'd worried about. Taking a long breath, he memorized where the wound was, how long it was, and closed his hand, letting the fire die. He'd need both hands for this.
Jubilee gritted her teeth--if she whimpered, he never heard it--Jubes kicked ass, no question. After a few minutes, he knew he had a decent, if awkward, bandage for her leg and slowly crawled up to lay beside her, his knee screaming things that had to do with death and never walking. He wasn't sure he cared.
She turned over in the dark and he found her face with a gloved hand.
"We'll get outta this, Johnny. I mean, law of probabilities--someone's gonna wonder where were are, you know? We're in the same general area--"
"We weren't expected back before late tonight."
"It is tonight."
"Yeah, but does it qualify as late?"
Jubilee snickered and grabbed his hand.
"We're talking 'bout that king of anality himself, Mr. Summers. Someone'll come."
St. John sighed.
"And I can say how five of us got overcome by one girl. My leadership abilities, babe, are impressive as all hell."
Another low laugh and she shifted a little, probably trying to get her leg comfortable.
"Rogue--here she is." He followed her hand, found Rogue head pressed just below his thigh, still twitching slightly but utterly silent. "And for your leadership abilities--" another shift and he lifted his arm carefully, feeling her rest her head against his shoulder--"well, Johnny, let's face it. We didn't expect actual opposition."
"We will next time." Kill them first, ask questions later. Mr. Summers might not like that attitude. Fuck him.
"Yeah, we will. Especially flying-bitch opposition." A pause. "She surprised Remy and me--I don't think Remy knew what hit him, you know? He went down and I turned and there she was. If I tell you I don't like your former buds, babe, don't take it personal. I had friends like her--one reason I'm here and not Los Angeles, comprende?"
"Sure, chica. Just rest. But--um--don't go to sleep. I don't know if you're concussed."
"I'm pretty sure I am, a little. I was wandering earlier, you know? I know you are--when you had the fire up, babe, I saw your head. So--you know, talk or somethin', Fearless Leader. Talk and be wise. Or--well, be yourself and not wise. Like how'd that date with Bobby the other night go?"
He chuckled softly.
"You two are cute."
"Yes. So Rogue keeps saying." She snickered again. "He's--" Took a breath. Don't think about it--Rogue said Carol didn't get him--get him *again* anyway--that he was fine. That everything was okay. That everything was just fine. "He eats a lot."
"Oh yeah. Never seen anything like that. Better have deep pockets with a boyfriend like that, you know." She paused--maybe she felt him stiffen. "Johnny--I sort of never asked you 'bout that. About--you know--how it happened?"
"You're asking the wrong person. No idea."
"No--I mean, it's been obvious that you--well, you were always sort of--you know. Umm--" A strained pause, and he wondered where Jubilee was going with this. "I mean, ever since you got here, it's been you and Bobby. You know--so it's not like this massive surprise or anything. I just never thought you'd settle exclusive so fast."
"Oh. That. Easy. Rogue."
Jubilee laughed softly and he found himself playing with the dark hair against his hand. She shifted, snuggling a little closer, then a hiss, sitting up so fast his hand was knocked to the floor. Shit, even his reflexes were fucked up.
"What's wrong?" Something in her voice worried him. Instantly, she was sitting up and he felt her hands unzip the top of his uniform--and God, her hands were hot oh his chest, and that was wrong--she'd always been pleasantly cool to him. "Jubes?"
"You're bottoming out. Fuck--did you leave anything outside burning?"
"I'd feel that!"
"Not concussed you wouldn't--or remember. Fuck--oh fuck, can you shut it down? Like, completely?"
"I *am*. Babe, I couldn't light a cigarette in the condition I'm in."
"What the hell did you do? Vaporize a city or somethin'?" The worry in her voice was beginning to get to him. He stared at her, trying to breathe. "Or--oh shit. Oh fuck, Johnny, your uniform is torn--did Rogue touch you when she brought you in here?"
Oh, there was a nasty thought. But--
"No--trust me, I'd know about that--Remy described it. I don't feel that kind of drained. I just feel--normal-drained." Well, not normal drained, but Remy said it was pretty noticeable, how you felt after a Rogue-encounter. Very different. And this wasn't like that.
She paused above him, her hands still on his chest. Still too warm.
"Johnny, something's wrong. Listen to me--you're pretty concussed. You left somethin' burning out there--you shouldn't still be this low. That little fire shouldn't bring you this far down."
"I used a lot against Carol." Odd though, that she'd say that--wouldn't he know if he'd left something that was still pulling at him? Wouldn't he feel it? Concussed or not, he had that much control, he knew when he was using it--he would know. Period.
"I'm getting recharged, Johnny, and trust me, that bitch got everything I had. Work with me here--think. What. Did. You. Do?"
"Tried to fricassee her, of course. Invulnerability is a bitch and a half. She was near some concrete, I blew that around her, she got away. I didn't start anything that could keep burning, Jubes."
"I've seen you blow cinderblocks, babe. Listen to me. Think. Something out there is still burning. Or something is draining you. Work with me."
"If I cant feel it and can't see it, I can't do anything about it."
"Good point." Jubilee took a breath, then let it out. "Shit, Johnny--you're so far down--" Another breath, then she shifted back beside him, and he felt her reach for Rogue instinctively. Then she was against him, and her skin was warmer than it should be--which meant his temperature was dropping again, and she was right--he'd left something burning. Fuck by five.
Six hours earlier
"Logan? You in here?"
St. John glanced up from his book, a little surprised to see Rogue come in the rec room looking for Logan--they were, or should be, in the middle of a session, and her attitude said that she'd been looking for awhile. Hmm. About to get up, he saw in surprise Mr. Summers walk in from the dining room, Logan only a step behind him.
Neither looked particularly happy with the world.
"I don't think that would be a good idea, Logan."
"Good thing I wasn't askin' your permission then." Logan stopped briefly, scanning the room--ah, saw Johnny, who wasn't eavesdropping, oh no. He was here first, with his book, they brought their conversation to him. So take that.
"Summers, classes end in three weeks and you told me she isn't starting college until the spring semester. So there's plenty of time. It's a fucking vacation, that's all--I'll bring her back in one piece."
"That's not the problem."
"What's the problem? Other kids get their asses outta here every chance they get."
"They have families to go to--"
"I'm Rogue's family." Must be nice, St. John thought suddenly. Bobby had Hank, even Jubes and Kitty had outside people, and Rogue had her very own X-Man to take her shopping and show her how to drink everyone under the table. Which she'd done, damn it. "Look, you wanna throw a fit 'bout it, feel free. I ain't gonna change my mind. Whatcha really worried about?"
A pause, and St. John suddenly realized Rogue was listening to this conversation, just out of sight from the door.
"I see how you watch her."
Sir, you'd have to be blind not to. Hehehe, never mind. Didn't mean it that way. St. John stifled a giggle, keeping his eyes on the book
"You're worried I'll take advantage of her?" Oh, moved into Dangerous Territory. In Which Logan's Honor Is Questioned. It never ceased to amaze him that Logan had actual active sensitive spots, and even more so, that this was one of them. "That's low, even for you, Summers."
Another sigh, and that was when St. John actually began to seriously listen--because that sure as hell didn't sound like what he thought it was.
"I don't think you realize the danger, Logan. I don't give a damn about the sexual issues except as they pertain to safety--and Rogue has no control. I'm not saying that should anything happen, she'd hurt you on purpose--"
The direction was called Surreal, and St. John stiffened as it came together. He could almost put money down that Dr. Grey had had an influence on this attitude.
"First off--since when do you care if I get hurt? Second--fuck, there is no second. I'm not--"
"Logan, you may think nothing will happen. But she might think differently, and I don't see you turning her down. And that will end with a call to the mansion telling us about a dead mutant and a feral girl wandering the continent."
That Logan didn't skewer him right there was something of an accomplishment.
"I'm not even gonna go there. As soon as classes end, she's having her trip. Got it? You wanna argue it, go to the Prof and tell him exactly what you just told me. I'm not paid to deal with this crap and he seems to get off on intepersonal discussions. And if you ever--*ever*--say anything like that to Rogue--you even fucking *hint* it--you won't have to worry about breathing again. Got it?"
Yeah, he supposed Logan wouldn't have been amused by the 'talks' Mr. Summers and Dr. Grey had had with Rogue about that.
"It's happened before. The student in question could have died."
Fuck on a stick. St. John's eyes went to the doorway, saw Rogue standing there, eyes wide and dark, utterly unreadable. Logan hadn't moved, hadn't even breathed.
"That explains a lot." His voice was so even that St. John shivered despite himself--there was too much behind it, and even Mr. Summers had to have heard that.
"She didn't tell you?" Was that satisfaction? Didn't Mr. Summers understand that if Logan knew all of it, Rogue wouldn't even *be* here?
"She knows I'd gut the kid that fucked up that badly with her." Remy, you'd better be thanking God for Rogue's discretion right now or your ass would be ever so much grass, my friend. Fuck. He looked up at Rogue, huddled in the door--still utterly unreadable, but the body language screamed that she was hurt, she was hurt bad. And worse, and that's what scared him--that maybe she was beginning to believe it.
Logan's eyes flickered to him and St. John deliberately stared at the far doorway, hoping he'd understand--God, hoping he'd figure it out. A pause, then Logan pushed by Mr. Summers and the corner was turned and he saw Rogue standing there.
The look on Mr. Summers face was one St. John hoped he'd never forget--but the one on Rogue's he knew he wouldn't.
"Sorry," she said, as if she could play off standing there like that, play off the shell-shocked look on her face, the stiffness of her body. "I was lookin' for you. Got--um--gotta go do some stuff, 'kay? See ya." A turn on the balls of her feet and she was gone, and it was a close thing, when Logan looked back--find Rogue or gut Mr. Summers--but Rogue won and Logan turned again, following her out the door and down the hallway in that creepily quiet lope.
Mr. Summers went out the door and never even saw Johnny, which was all kinds of good as far as St. John was concerned, and he took a deep breath, forgetting his book to lean back against the back of the chair.
St. John knew he couldn't sleep--knew he had to stay awake, take care of everyone. Even if his knee hurt, even if it was hard to focus on consciousness, even if it seemed like everything was moving in circles--and *how* did perfect dark move in circles anyway? Tightening his grip on Jubilee in response, he slowly sat up.
"I'm fine," he said softly, running an absent hand over his knee. Probably not broken, but something in there was all kinds of damaged. Hurt like hell.
"Johnny--" Her voice sounded odd--turning, he reached out and hit wood instead of her leg--hit cool, sticky-substance covered wood--
"You're bleeding out." His voice was more even--more calm--than he'd expected.
"Yeah," she whispered. "Sorta figured. I think--"
"Don't move. Don't fucking move, Jubes. We gotta get a tourniquet--"
"We don't have anything to make one with and even if we did, you don't have the strength or the attention span to hold it. Neither do I. Just--wrap the jacket tighter, kay? Can you do that?"
"Yeah. Got it." Tracing the blood as it got steadily warmer, finding the source. Grabbing his sleeve, he pulled down sharply, ripping the already-shredded material and somehow making a strip long enough to tie around her thigh, over the jacket. Twist, turn, fingers turned clumsy in making that knot. He breathed out sharply, feeling the movement of his ribs beneath the remains of his uniform top and when he brushed his fingers along his forehead, they came away sticky.
He wondered when he got hit in the head.
"We'll get outta this, Johnny."
Eight hours earlier
Early morning--time to ponder your life and how extremely good it is. Time to think happy thoughts. Time to roll over and smile down at your lover and say--
"Fuck you, Johnny." Bobby rolled over and St. John grinned, trying to stretch his back and take in the feel and look of a very naked and very good Bobby Drake on the bed beside him at the same time. "Just 'cause you're a mornin' person--"
"Hey, go back to sleep. No rush."
"Like it when you're here too."
"I'm not goin' anywhere." He felt the kinks in his back give and grinned, curling slightly against the broad back, levering himself up on one arm to trace the line of his shoulder. It amazed him, how physically perfect Bobby was--even that flawless cool skin, the defined muscles of the chest and abdomen, the fine cheekbones and long blonde lashes. Beautiful.
"Watching me sleep is not the same thing as sleepin' yourself."
"You complain a lot."
"Uh-huh, and I give good head, so screw bein' picky." Bobby rolled over, lithely twisting the blankets from out under him and throwing them over both of them. A hand slid down his chest, and then the blonde head quickly followed, against his shoulder. "Go to sleep. We got a long day."
"We really are gonna be goin' on our first mission." It seemed too incredible for words. Uniforms and the good cars and they were trying their wings as X-Men.
"Yeah, and any shit could go down--like anything at all." A hand brushed across his jaw, over his mouth, and he felt Bobby smile against his shoulder. "Go to sleep, Johnny."
St. John grinned, threading his fingers through the blonde hair as he closed his eyes.
"Love you, Johnny."
St. John opened his eyes on the ceiling in shock, listening to the sound of Bobby immediately dropping back into deep sleep.
"Ditto," he murmured, and the warmth that ran through him had nothing to do with his mutation. That was Bobby, pure and simple.
Someone was shaking him and he tried to keep hold of the leather that was holding Jubilee's bandage in place, but the sticky-dried cloth tore from his fingers. Hadn't he been tying it on? How the fuck long had he been drifting? He jerked around, raising a hand--but no heat. God, he was cold.
Cold. He was freezing.
"Johnny. Look at me." Too much light and he tried to jerk away, groping for Rogue--but the warmth of her was gone and he heard himself snarl, coiling his body until Jubilee's fingers curved around his arm
"It's Mr. Summers, Johnny." She sounded faint and someone was talking quietly in the background--and someone was crying, but he couldn't tell who or why. Only that there was talking and he was sick and afraid and wanted more than anything to go home.
"They have her--Johnny, you know where you are?"
"Rogue," he said again, because something was wrong with Rogue, and he pulled away from the hands trying to hold him--light, there was too much, but he could see her, long hair washing to the floor, head tilted back, eyes wide and staring. "God--I'm sorry, babe. Rogue, please--" Because something had happened and he knew it was his fault, just knew it. Logan was holding her, gloved hand turning her head, eyes narrowed slightly, and the claws were out--that was new. That was new and different and a whole new level of scary, but he didn't care.
She was his responsibility and something had happened to her, he knew it.
"Johnny." Strange warm arms around him--who the hell? Against his face, and he tried to pull away, tried to reach her, to tell her he was sorry--sorry for something, something bad. Something he'd done, or tried to do--"Johnny, stop. Listen to me. Please, listen. We gotta know--"
"She got that bitch." Jubilee in the background, voice a little faint, edged. "Dead. Carol Danvers, Johnny said. Rogue's assimilatin' or somethin'. Woke up once to bring us in here, once to talk, then went back under. Bobby, anythin' burnin' outside?"
St. John froze, turning to see Bobby's face swim into view. Bobby's very pale, very worried face. The arms around him tightened and he took a deep breath.
"Get it put out--Johnny's burning out fast. God knows how he's stayed rational this long."
"Shit." Someone else, someone he didn't recognize. He stared up at Bobby, then back at Rogue. Logan had tilted her head forward, and the claws were still out and that had to mean bad things, it just had to. "I'll get it out."
And Bobby shifted him gently, looking down at him with worry and fear and--and relief. He shut his eyes, letting his mind drift. Carol was sixteen and it was that building in Santa Fe and they split the pay between them--she was laughing at him when he wanted to buy food, told him there were better ways to make money than idiots hiring them for insurance claims.
She said Eric Lensherr would protect them both, all he had to do is come with her, and he'd sat on the mattress and blinked, trying to imagine someone that would ever give a damn about him.
"Johnny, look at me--fuck, he's on empty--he's cold. I can't--Dr. Grey--" Hands cupping his face, something--a blanket?--was wrapped around him, and how odd, Bobby was warm against him. He blinked, trying to look around, trying to grasp where he was--something had happened. Something Bad.
"Logan, make it stop, tell her to stop, make it--fuck--" Rogue was twisting and he knew Logan was talking to her, trying to bring her out, but--but there was something wrong, he knew it, something had gone wrong and it was all his fault.
He could see Dr. McCoy leaning over Rogue, heard the low growling when the blue hand (could be latex covered, maybe, seriously?) touched her face. Rogue's body twitched and those long claws still were out.
That was Bad. Capital B.
"Outta here," Logan said--growled--looking down at her as if she'd disappear if he looked away. "Whatever's here, we gotta find out later--"
"Carol," he heard himself choke out, and Rogue twitched again, hand going out and up. Something in him snapped abruptly--something he hadn't even known was stretched, and he shut his eyes. Relief flooded his body and he felt Bobby pick him up--God, he was strong. Burrowed his face into too-warm skin, shutting his eyes tight for a minute, taking in the scent of Bobby and sweat and comfort. Bobby. He'd been worried about Bobby, but apparently, whatever had happened was just fine. Bobby was fine. Rogue was not, Jubilee was not, and it was his fault.
It flooded through him, a rush of soft heat, building again--God, he was getting warm again, that was good. Whatever he'd left burning had stopped. That was what he was--burned things so well. He'd always been good at it. Ask anyone. Ask Carol.
Somewhere distant, he could hear Jubilee complaining, and through half-closed eyes, he could see Logan was carrying Rogue out, her head back, dark eyes open and staring but there was something behind them now. Staring at him, grinning, not Rogue.
"Pyro," she breathed. "Past always catches up with you." A shudder went though her body and she whispered something else and Logan may have answered it, he didn't know.
They were in the Blackbird when St. John let go and the building exploded into pure fire, rushing through him so hot it hurt, it was taking everything out of him--but it was a good pain, so good, even with the sound of Mr. Summers yelling something and Kitty's confused questions to everyone. Bobby was trying to ask him something, but he couldn't answer, let it go finally, sinking into an endless warm dark where Carol never existed.
Some things should stay in the past.