Disclaimer: You might recognize a phrase from the manga “Neon Genesis; Evangelion”. I don’t own that and this usage has nothing to do with that story, I just think it fits for what I have planned! oh, and Pringles belongs to that little guy on the label. Remember, once you pop...
Rogue found herself in a dark, warm place. She floated through fuzzy gray clouds, content. She was not bothered by the absence of herself until she thought of-
She jerked awake and pushed herself onto her feet... and wished she hadn’t. The Southern belle reeled as she stumbled for balance. Looks like that gal had us a few suhprises.
Gambit lay crumpled a few feet away from where she had fallen. Her heart stopped in her chest as she prayed to see the rise and fall of his. Rogue knelt next to him and held her breath. At first it didn’t seem-
There! Thank God! She grasped his neck as if she were a drowning sailor and he a life raft. There was a pulse but it was a staggering one. Gambit didn’t answer her calls to him.
Rogue punched her comm link perhaps a little harder than necessary. “Professor?! This is Rogue. Remy’s hurt bad and Ah don’t know ‘bout th’ others. We need evac now!”
“On our way,” was the tinny reply.
As much as she hated to, Rogue turned from Gambit’s side to search for her teammates. She gasped as she saw the aftermath of the battle. Power lines sparked over a downed pole. Pavement buckled and was melted in several places. Small fires burned everywhere. Lightening flashed in the distance as Ororo’s conjured storm wreaked havoc throughout the town.
And among the debris lay her family. The Dark Riders had disappeared.
Movement off to her left caught her eye. Red hair swung over blue-covered shoulders. In the woman’s arms lay a uniformed figure. The sun glinted off of his visor as he was rocked back and forth. Back and forth.
“Jean? Are ya’ll all right? What happened?”
At first Rogue thought she meant Cyclops, the man cradled in her arms. But no- the only visible injury to him was a small burn on his left temple. She could see him breathing.
And then she remembered. Jean had connected them all as a habit at the beginning if the fight. Through it commands were given, strategies were relayed, and general conversation was carried. When the final attack came, Jean had acted as a human circuit breaker, feeding the others links. Rogue shivered as she recalled the anguished scream and the sense of instant... emptiness. When the telephone pole fell ...and Wolverine...
She felt tears stream down her cheeks as the dizziness she’d been fighting finally overtook her. She fell heavily to her knees and stared at the puddles of blood next to the pole.
“He’s dead and they took his body. Why would they take his body?” Jean stared at Rogue with haunted, vacant eyes. Her face was completely expressionless.
Shock, her numb brain thought. She’s in shock.
“You’d better wake Hank up,” Jean continued. “He can help with the others. And besides, his snoring is getting a little irritating.”
Eve was frightened. The Dark Riders always scared her, especially before and after a mission. They were all so bloodthirsty, even under orders not to kill. It made her skin crawl when she thought of the things she had done with them.
The evidence of their latest deception lay on a gurney next to her. Eve found her hand straying to smooth back his hair. Her fingers trailed down his face, luxuriating in his rough skin. Eve jerked as she came into contact with the dried on his face. Echoes of The Scream reverberated through her essence.
He seemed so gentle, so kind lying there. Was this the same creature that she had only hours ago attacked in the most private of places?
Eve knelt close to the inert form with a glance around her. They had left Void to watch him. He’d been given instructions to guard the body, but Eve wasn’t concerned. The Void was little more than an empty robot. He would do as told vehemently, but only what he was told. She thought it sad that a human being could be turned into something like that.
“I’m sorry, Mister Logan,” she whispered. “I didn’t want to hurt you like that. They never told me what kind of person you were...”
“...No one’s ever done that before. No one’s ever really... I just wanted to say thank you.” She smiled. “But don’t worry. You won’t-”
Her confession was laid to rest by a violent push between her shoulder blades. It came as such a surprise she had no time to put up her shield. She landed hard with a gasp as she bit her lip.
“No use talking to him ‘First Child’, he can’t hear you.” Without rising Eve knew it was Marta. The tall blonde used her title derisively at every chance she could.
Eve shivered as a horrifyingly painful numbness snaked inside her skull and spread slowly downward along her spinal column. Serenity. The deaf-mute let her feelings be known as she stared blankly down at Eve. Of all the Dark Riders, Eve was most afraid of her. She was able to control both the body and the mind of anyone with ease. She was also a telepath.
~You did well, First Child. I never thought of using you as bait. Good touch.~ Her mental voice was just as distant and composed as was her outward demeanor.
"I didn't plan it! It just happened!" she nearly screamed. Marta appeared taken aback by her outburst. Eve had never done that before; normally she was very passive. Eve herself was a little startled at her vehemence. She whispered softly "...He saved me all by himself. I wasn't controlling him then."
She felt Serenity's power wear off as she heard the two women head down the hallway of the plane. They might have lost interest in her but Eve didn't think so. Serenity probably filed away her outburst for examination and dissection later. She suppressed a shiver.
-YOU OKAY, KID?-
Eve, hugging her knees by the foot of the gurney, thought wretchedly: No, Mister Logan. I don't think I'm okay.
The unconscious form that lay on the med lab bed had an ugly yellow-purple bruise spreading along his left temple. It had been almost three hours and Gambit had failed to wake from his concussion.
Sitting to his right was Storm. A white cast stood out in bass relief from the dark skin of her left arm. As she settled into her chair, she had to stifle a groan. She supposed that she should feel grateful that she had not landed on her head when she fell, but the myriad bruises on her along her torso made it rather difficult.
She and Remy had suffered the worst injuries. Scott had received a small burn on his right temple, the only other evidence of the battle except . . . Ororo counted the faces around her. One was missing. She could almost see the gruff woodsman leaning indifferently against the wall. She smiled sadly as the ghost scent of tobacco whispered her nostrils. Could it be true? Could he really be gone?
"What happened?" Xavier's quiet voice shattered the silence.
"You know what happened, Professor. You felt it yourself," Jean Grey answered. The shock had worn away and been replaced by grief. She leaned heavily against her husband.
Storm herself had missed the end of the fight, and was glad. It seemed that Logan's pain had been so great that it had sent shockwaves across the psi-plane. Telepaths across the globe were witness to his final breaths. The mansion had been bombarded by phone calls from those offering condolences and their services, most of whom had never met Wolverine and didn't even recall how they knew which number to call. More than half of the messages were in a language other than English.
Or perhaps, thought Ororo, watching the red head, it was Jean who amplified and sent out her grief?
Scott ignored his wife's comment and answered Xavier. "It was a set up. The girl was bait for Wolverine. She ambushed Logan and the Dark Riders overwhelmed us. God, it was all my fault!" His eyes were haunted, voice stricken. "I went in overconfident and he paid the price!"
"No, Scott, don't," Jean murmured, stroking his face. "If it's anyone's fault it's mine-"
~Stop it.~ sent Xavier tersely. For a moment, Ororo thought she saw tears form in his eyes but he quickly controlled them. His voice quavered when he spoke, but still held authority in abundance. "If you start with that then we might as well dig a grave for you, too. Succumbing to our guilt and grief will help no one. Logan is dead. Nothing will change that. This is not the first time we have lost someone, and probably won't be the last-"
A shrill cry of denial tore through his words and Storm ran towards the door, slowed by the bruises. The others beat her there.
The site that met their eyes was a disheartening one. Beast had forgone the meeting with hopes of locating Jubilee. She had gone rollerblading as was her wont when under stress or just plain bored. Ororo could sympathize with her; she found the same comfort in her plants.
The teen had obviously come home to find Henry keeping a look-out by the open door. His calm voice tried to soothe her but to no avail.
"That's not possible! You're lying!" Her face was a snarl of anger, so reminiscent of Logan it gave Storm a chill.
Jubilee realized that she had attracted the audience of those she overheard and turned to regale them as well. Something in their faces must have stopped her though; the rage quickly crumbled along with her face.
Ororo dimly noted that the Beast's fur was matted with wetness on his cheeks.
"It can't be true." A single tear trailed her face. And I'm gonna prove it's not. . ." Her voice was very quiet. "Wolvie always comes back when I need 'im. . .Always. . ."
Storm wanted to go to the child but was beaten there by Rogue. The Southerner drew Jubilee into a big, protective bearhug. Tears streamed down her face.
She spoke for the first time since the Blackbird had landed and responded to what Xavier had last said. Her voice was smooth and harsh. "How can ya be so cold? Yah tell us to move on and forbid us to even mention Wolvie's name in this house again. Then you'll go an' put his face in that shrine on yah desk!" She addressed the others in her fiery gaze. "Ah'm with Jubilee. And if ya'll'd think for a minute you'd be, too!"
Ororo remembered seeing the picture frames on the Professor's desk one day. Intrigued, she had asked if she could look. He handed them to her reverently, as if afraid to break them. Some were of faces she recognized, others unnamed. Some wore the bright costumes of heroes, and others wore the plain clothes of men. Some smiled, some scowled, but all had been filled to bursting with life at the time of the picture. Scattered about his desk, they oversaw all that Xavier did, their faces giving judgment when they themselves could not. There had been at least half a dozen then. Storm knew their number would be one stronger by morning.
"The child is right." Storm added loudly. She called on every ounce of courage and will power within her to keep her voice and body steady. Remarkably, it worked. "This assault occurred too easily. Granted, the Dark Riders could not have known that the telephone pole would crash under Rogue and Remy's assault, but something of that nature had to be planned."
"The dreams," Xavier whispered.
"Does no one else see how strange it is that the rest of us received only glancing blows as Logan lay there dying? They held back until just the right moment. When we were out we were completely at their mercy. Goddess, they could have killed us as we slept! But why didn't they? My friends, there is something larger at work here.
"And what of his body? If we are completely wrong in our assumptions than there is still that. Goddess knows what profanation's the Dark Riders and their master are planning!"
Jubilee pushed away from Rogue. Her face and eyes were red but dry; she had not cried more than that once. Ororo knew she that she must be strong for Wolverine, as he had been for her countless times. Oh, child! She thought. For your sake I hope we are right.
Jubilee's voice was strong and adamant. "We have to bring Wolvie home. No matter what."
"Well that settles it. Anyone who wants to come, meet in th' hangar in a half hour." With that, Rogue turned back into the med lab and shut the door.
Rogue sighed and leaned heavily against the door. The tears she'd held in check during her "fairwell performance" welled in her eyes and a sob escaped her lips.
What was she doin'? Rogue had felt Logan's pain as Storm and Jubilee had not. The eerie sound of his last scream replayed every time she closed her eyes, his blood tattooed on her eyelids. She knew that Logan was dead . . .
. . .And yet part of her insisted that he was alive. She felt it, deep inside. A strange rumbling in her throat when she talked; the phantom smell of cigars on her breath; a bizarre itchiness all over her body. These were all tiny things, easily ignored and discarded, but there was a wrongness about it that made her wary.
As she knew Logan's death in her mind, she felt his life in her soul.
It reminded her forcefully of the times that she had been exposed to his flesh. As much as she hated it, a part of her subconscious mind relished that side of her vampirish nature. Those brief contacts chilled her and thrilled her. The sensations were twofold with Wolverine. His senses were so intense that she became aware of every little detail around her. Every scent intoxicating; every sight luxurious; every touch so erotic as to almost be sexual. Thinking of the pain it would cause them both was all she could do to resist the temptation. She had no idea how Logan lived experiencing the world that way without succumbing to his senses . . .
Much as she felt now, only slightly. . . fuzzy.
Or maybe Ah'm loosin' mah mind, she thought with a false levity. There had been no touching. Of anyone.
She crossed the room to where Gambit lay sleeping. Settling down next to him, she rested her cheek on his covered chest and stroked his face and hair with a gloved hand.
"Oh, Remy," she whispered. "Ah don't want ta go off an' leave ya, not like this. But. . .Ah have to. It's for Wolvie. Ah know ya'd help if ya could. He is your drinkin' buddy after all." She closed her eyes and listened to his smooth heartbeat. "And when Ah get back you'd best be awake, Cajun, else Ah'm gonna punch ya so hard you'll wish ya really were in a coma."
Rogue looked up as she heard the footsteps echo in the hangar behind her. She’d been doing an over-all check on the Blackbird’s exterior and could faintly hear Storm inside packing their supplies.
“Yah really cut it close, Jubie-” The sentence died in her throat as she saw who it was.
Cyclops stood before her, almost at attention. There was something odd about him, and it took her a while to realize what: he wasn’t in uniform. The drab green sweatshirt and jeans looked out of place on his tall frame. She suspected that Jean was the only one familiar enough with him to be comfortable around him in those clothes; including himself.
“You should have known that I wasn’t Jubilee. My steps are too heavy.” Despite the fact that he’d been trying to walk noiselessly. It must rile him that he couldn’t accomplish what some team members did naturaly.
Like Wolvie. . .
“Did ya come by just ta critique me or did everahone send ya ta convince us ta give up?” she asked crossly.
“Neither. I want to come.”
Never before had four little words baffled her more. It took her a moment to even realize that he said them.
“Why?” she asked thinly.
Rogue couldn’t tell if he looked away from her- damn them glasses- but she saw his throat work a moment before he answered. “Jean’s utterly convinced that he’s dead. Up until a few minutes ago I would have agreed. But. . . you and Storm made sense, I guess.”
It was the first non-committal sentence she remembered hearing him say. He did look away from her this time, though. He stared across the hangar at the form coming towards them. A small, rueful smile played at his lips.
“I feel like I owe it to him. He’s the most honorable person I know.”
Rogue sucked in a breath she realized she’d forgotten to take as Jubilee blurred by, a rush of sound issuing from her so peculiar- "HisorryI’mlatebutIhadtapacksomestuffan’Ipickedsomethin’upferustamunchonaswelookedseein’ashowwe’llmisssupperan’allan'Hi’Ro!” -that Rogue wondered if it was some new language; Mallese or something. She turned back to Scott and his beleaguered expression made her grin.
"C'mon, O Fearless One. Ah think we can find ya a seat."
They heard Jubilee call them from inside the plane. She'd already dug into a can of Pringles but strangely her Californian accent did not alter around her mouthful of chips. "Hurry up you guys! We've got us a Wolvie ta find!"
Scott shook his head as he marched inside. "And just how are we going to do that? We don't have any idea where he is."
"Easy! Ya see that little gray box over there?" Jubilee pointed vaguely towards the cabin, already absorbed in munching down another handful. "That's a mini Cerebro. I took it from one of the labs when Beast wasn't lookin'. Don't look so shocked, Cyke, I left 'im a note explainin' it all. Well, we can't use that on Wolvie for obvious reasons but we can use it on the Dark Riders and the girl. Storm said that Chuck had gotten a lock on 'em with the big mamma in the house before you guys even left so it should be a piece o' cake ta find 'em on this one. An' where the Dark Riders are, Wolvie's most probably there too."
Scott turned to Rogue to complement her on her plan but she shook her head before he could say a word. He turned to Storm but she only glanced mischievously at the beaming teen.
"You came up with. . . Jubilee, remind me never to underestimate you."
A chill so deep it turned his bones to ice.
At first, that aching sensation was his whole world. He barely sensed the uncontrollable trembling of his distant body. An internal twitching, as if his entire body had fallen asleep.
Slowly, blearily, color bloomed out of nothingness. It crept along the edges of his perception until he was surrounded on all sides by it. Then the colors moved. They blurred and melted together, forming fuzzy shapes and images. They were so bright and dizzying that he tried to close his dry eyes against them but found that he was unable to.
It occurred to him that he must have had his eyes open for a very long time.
In fact, now that he thought about it he couldn't move anything. All of his mental commands for movement were ignored. There was just the cold. His brain couldn't accept anymore sensory input than that; even the colors threatened to overwhelm him.
And then there was a sudden feeling of warmth. It blossomed from his forehead and down into his eyes and cheeks. It was such a wonderful feeling that he let go of the colors and focused solely on the sensation of the hand on his face. It sat there lightly, as if hesitant. It was a small hand; he could feel the little bones work beneath the skin.
He concentrated hard and brought his eyes into swimmy focus. A face looked down on him. It was very delicate, and the eyes were white to black. Wispy strands of silver-white hair fell over her shoulders and into her eyes.
His expression must have changed because she raised her other hand to her lips and made a "shhh" noise. She glanced furtively over her shoulder and then back to him. She bent close to his ear and whispered softly.
"I'm so sorry, but there's not much time now. Death is only a prelude to immortality and they'll be coming for you soon. You are Logan. No matter what happens, you must remember that. You are LOGAN."
He felt something soft press against his forehead where her skin met his and she whispered even lower.
She pulled away quickly and he realized that a woman had appeared at his other side. This one was older and had dark blonde hair. From his prone position her features looked harsh and eerily motionless.
The girl spoke as if answering a question. The putrid scent of fear filled the room. She was terrified.
"Nothing! I just thought... But couldn't we just-" She dropped her gaze from the woman's and stopped her argument cold.
After what seemed like forever, he felt the warmth slide away from him with her touch. He almost whimpered as the cold inched its way over his skin again.
The blonde woman found and locked his eyes with her own.
Something squirmed deep inside him and came charging to the forefront of his mind with her gaze. It was something very angry... but also very scared.
This time he couldn't hold back the whimper as her icy hands replaced the girl's warm caress at his temples.
~Goodbye Mr. Logan.~
His skin was suddenly on fire and all remnants of the numbing cold were pushed violently from him. Tendrils of searing heat seeped into every pore. His body seemed to be a pyre of living flame and his mind was engulfed with the acrid smoke of its burning.
He screamed as if the very Hounds of Hell were devouring his soul. His chaotic thoughts were shredded and taken away.
Then he was gone-
-And back again.
It was so cold.
Only this time the chill came from the inside of his mind, and spread out to the world.
The sun shone gold over the placid, flat landscape. Corn bowed as it passed under the Blackbird's streamline form. Farm houses dotted the fields at comfortably long intervals.
It's so peaceful down theah, Rogue thought. Ah bet those people don't have a care in th' world other than gettin' th' cows home early.
Her tranquil perusal of the farm lands outside the jet's thick window was rudely interrupted by a shrill beeping noise. After it had pointed the way to the Dark Riders the mini-cerebro unit had remained quiet. Not now, however. Cyclops and Jubilee tore into the cockpit as Storm straightened in the driver's seat. The noise continued for a small moment more, then stopped.
"Cerebro," Storm's voice shook a little as she addressed the computer. It could just be an anonymous mutant living in the vicinity, but it was entirely possible... "Identify mutant signature registered."
"Known mutant: Logan. AKA: Wolverine."
The air seemed electrically charged as each mouth fell to the general vicinity of their owner's knees. After a few seconds of shock, a barrage of cries exploded from pale lips.
"I knew it! I knew Wolvie wouldn't leave me!"
"Goddess! Could it be?!"
"All right, calm down. Calm down! Rogue, sit back down, you know better than to take off inside a plane. Jubilee stop jumping. Storm- for heavens sake we're veering off course! Drive!" Cyclops face remained impassive as he raised his hands for attention. Energy tendrils snaked out from underneath his mask, however, giving away his true feelings of excitement. A barely restrained smile curled the ends of his lips and his voice quivered. "Cerebro, read off location."
"Unable to comply."
"Mutant Designate 'Wolverine' signature no longer registering."
Jubilee looked confused. "What's wrong? We just found 'im!"
Cyclops shook his head. He picked up the little box and read the screen. "I don't know. Cerebro definitely found Logan, but his signature just disappeared after a few seconds of contact."
"Cerebro can't find 'im?" An unexpected chill coursed down Rogue's spine. The hair on nape of her neck tingled. She looked at the others. "It's like he died again."
"Well. Ah guess this is the place."
Duh, Rogue, Jubilee thought wearily. They had landed near the spot where Wolvie's signature had terminated. Clearing away some abandoned wheat left to grow wild by some negligent farmer they had discovered a large camouflaged opening fit neatly into the ground. It was made to slide into two doors and open towards the sides.
A thought occurred to Jubilee as she watched Ororo walk gingerly on her bruised leg. Not only was having an underground lair tactically ideal for the Dark Riders but it would wreck havoc on Storm's claustrophobia. "Hey 'Roro? You gonna be OK down there?"
Storm met her eyes and smiled. "I shall be fine, child, as long as I know that Wolverine is down there as well, perhaps suffering even more than I."
Her words of confidence filled Jubilee with such an intense feeling of pride and devotion that she thought she might burst. This is gonna happen, she thought. We're comin' Wolvie, don't give up yet.
Cyclops turned to the girl. "Jubilee, I want you to stay-"
"No way Cyke," she interrupted. "I'm here for the duration. Those slimes have my Wolvie, and I aim ta get 'im back."
Cyclops looked at the teen for a long moment, as if measuring her will to stay. Finally, he let out an exasperated sigh and began speaking again, his voice resonating with the "Boy Scout" tone he used when giving orders.
"All right people, listen up. Our fatal flaw last time was that we underestimated our opponents. And now we're on their turf, and our numbers are cut in half. We cannot afford any screw-ups! Our goal here is to locate and extricate Wolverine. There will be no personal vendettas, just get him and get out." During this last remark he looked pointedly at Rogue and Jubilee. Well, gestured anyway. Who can tell what he's lookin' at with that stupid visor of his.
"However, if and when we do run into the Dark Riders or there like, use whatever force necessary. Do not hold back." Jubilee noted the way the glass of his visor glowed a fiery red as he spoke. She knew for a fact that he wouldn't be restraining himself much at all.
"Any questions? Good. Rogue, ring the doorbell and see if anyone's home."
"You got it sugah!"
Muscles used to much harder labor ripped through the metal doors as if they were made out of crepe paper. Metal screeched too loud in the silent meadow as it bent and tore under Rogue's will. Jubilee winced. Well, there goes the element of surprise!
Storm conjured up a gale-force wind inside the doorway, blowing away any would-be attackers. In the next breath, Jubilee felt herself lifted into the air and swept gently into the opening by another, softer current.
As the darkness of the shaft overcame her, Storm took a deep breath to steady herself. It tasted stale and recycled. This place has never seen the light of the sun, she thought irrationally. Taking several deep breaths, she braced and opened her opaque white eyes.
The rays of light coming from the broken door illuminated her current position. They were in what appeared to be a hallway receding into four different directions, like a compass. The adjoining halls grew dark about ten feet from their beginning. Storm could not see deep inside and was very aware that they could lead to anywhere-or to anyone.
What I would not give Charles or Jean here now. A telepath would prove invaluable. We have no idea where we are and Goddess only knows what we are walking into.
"Cyclops?" Storm whispered. "Perhaps you should contact the others through your psychic rapport with Jean. They should be notified of our situation in case we require back-up. And I am sure that they would be greatly relieved at the news of Wolverine's-"
"Already taken care of Storm, except I didn't go through Jean. I called the Professor while we were still in the Blackbird. He's volunteered to mentally 'boost' our mini-Cerebro's link to the main computer. That should give us a wider range and a more powerful beam.
"As to why I didn't contact Jean...She wasn't...feeling too well when we left. I didn't feel it necessary to bother her." Storm was a little taken aback by Scott's dismissive tone, and then she realized what had sparked the words. There was still a high chance that this was a trap, and the Wolverine was not here at all, or that what they would find would be...less than what they hoped for. Jean had gone into shock the first time Logan disappeared, how would she react if it happened again? No, it was best to not tell her until they were home, safe and sound- all of them.
"Okay," Cyclops said in a hushed commanding tone. "We've got two options. One: pick a direction at random and hope for the best or two: we split up."
"That'd be suicide!"
"I know, Rogue...Jubilee, does Cerebro have anything to say?"
She hunched over the little box. "Not a peep. Maybe it's broken-hey!"
"What?!" the other three said in unison.
"It didn't detect a thing two seconds ago and now look!" Jubilee straightened and held out the computer for the X-Men to see. Set on "silent alarm", the screen flashed a brilliant green when mutant energy was present. As far as Storm knew, it had still been searching for Wolverine's signature.
Jubilee did a slow circle holding the mini-Cerebro unit in front of her. The blinking intensified to a hectic beat when she passed the tunnel directly in ahead of the entrance.
"That was far too convenient," Storm whispered. "Showing us where to go just as we ask? It must be a trap. Charles could not have possibly boosted the Cerebro unit this quickly."
"Ah don't care what it is, we gotta do somethin'! Us standin' out here in th' open's gonna be like spottin' Beast's bald spot if they come after us!"
Jubilee joined the cluster of anxious X-Men again. "We gotta move Cyke."
Cyclops peered into the forbidding passage. "All right. I want everyone to be on their toes. I'll take point. Rogue, cover the rear. Jubilee..." A corner of his moth irked up. "Be a flashlight."
"Did Fearless Leader jus’ make a joke?"
"Hey, Cyke made a funny! Isn't that one of the signs of the Apocalypse? 'Ye, and the spandexed one shall speak of chickens crossing roads and fire shall fall from-'"
"What? Geez, you guys're no fun at all."