Rogue and Joshua walked down the sidewalk in the late afternoon, blending
with the tourists and other shoppers in the open-air market. One of the
largest in the country, the booths occupied several football fields' worth
of space. Everything and anything could be bought or sold, and often were,
from cheap clothing to exquisite jewelry, antiques to the latest knock-offs
of designer accessories.
Rogue flapped the open neck of her shirt, long-sleeved as usual, and pulled
her hair off her neck. The dark leather jacket slung over her arm made it
awkward to juggle the salt encrusted soft pretzel and the bottle of water
she carried, until Joshua took it from her.
"Thanks. Does it ever cool off down here?" she demanded in a mock-growl.
Joshua grinned. "Eventually. January and February are fairly nippy."
'Does the cold bother you? I mean, you're invulnerable, right?"
"Well, yeah, to bullets and knives and stuff. But I still feel the cold.
Not that I've tested, to see if I'd freeze to death or anything."
"Hmm. You probably should. You know, like, in a walk-in freezer. You
don't want to find the limits of your powers the hard way."
"Is that what you people do? Test yourselves?"
Rogue shrugged one shoulder. "We do some research, to see how capable we
are," she answered guardedly. "It wouldn't be great for Cyke to be in the
middle of a fight and discover he's only good for a dozen blasts or so."
"Have you found your limits?" he asked, curious.
She shook her head. "Nah. It would be different if I had a useful
mutation. My ability is fairly useless. Not to mention dangerous."
"Right. Like any of our mutations are worth squat." The bitter tone in
Joshua's voice surprised Rogue.
"Hey, c'mon. Invulnerable -- and you're strong. Gotta be a cage out
there somewhere with your name on it." Joshua looked at her, startled, and
she managed to drag her impish expression back into a serious mode.
"Anyway, you can fly, too. That alone has got to be cool."
Joshua snorted. "Yeah, me and Falcon. We made great second-story men.
And let's not forget the ability to pick up or drop merchandise anywhere,
"Well, okay. Actually, I was thinking about aerial reconnaissance."
"Now you sound like your friend Wolverine," he said with a laugh.
Rogue grinned. "He kinda rubs off on ya. But, come on. Flying has got to
be wonderful. No matter what you do with it." She flipped the last of her
soft pretzel at the pigeons strutting along the street. "I kinda envy you
"It doesn't bother you, what I do?" The odd note in his voice made her
look up at him.
His earnest blue-gray eyes were troubled, and she gave the question sincere
consideration before she answered. "No. I may not agree with what you do,
but I don't condemn you, either. I've done things I'm not proud of. When
I ran away from home, I was on my own for nearly a year. Some of the
things I did to survive� they were wrong." He frowned, but let her
continue. "It's not my place, and it's not my right to judge you, Joshua.
Maybe it's not your place to judge yourself, either."
"I could have done a lot of things besides becoming a thief, Rogue."
"Maybe. Maybe not. In Philadelphia, there's an enclave of mutants who
survive by panhandling. IF I had to make a choice between begging and
stealing, I can't say which I'd choose. I'm just glad I don't have to."
He snorted, almost amused.
"Maybe you shouldn't take yourself so seriously," she teased. "You never
know what's gonna change your life tomorrow."
"No. You don't." His long fingered hand caught one of the blowing strands
of silver, and Rogue held perfectly still as he gingerly tucked it back
behind her ear. "You never know."
Abruptly he straightened, as though remembering something. "Look, I've got
to be getting back. I'll walk you home, okay?"
Rogue smiled. "That's be fine."
Under the ornate iron balcony railing, the door to the Thieves' Guild safe
house was depressingly plain and reassuringly thick. It banged shut behind
Wolverine as he entered the small apartment the four of them had been
calling home for over two weeks. The building was built along traditional
lines for the French Quarter - wooden floors, tall ceilings, and long,
narrow rooms. The main room had a now-defunct fireplace, boarded up with
plywood and painted over with the same paint as the walls.
Ororo held up cautioning hand for quiet, her attention on the small black
laptop computer that graced the rickety wooden table. Part of the room's
spare furnishings, the wooden surface was barely big enough for two people
to sit at either end and eat a meal, but Scott and Ororo huddled together
along one edge.
One eyebrow went high on Logan's forehead as Scott started talking to the
small screen, until he remembered the latest craze among the computer users
in the mansion. He gave Xavier and Jean's separate grainy images a sparse
wave of his hand as he passed.
"Where's Rogue?" Storm asked.
"With Joshua," he replied shortly, heading into one of the two bedrooms.
Jerking the duffel out from under the crisply made bed, Logan stripped off
his sweat marked tee-shirt and grabbed a fresh one from the bag. The
discarded shirt was stuffed in at one end. Laundry had never been one of
Logan's strong points. His movements paused momentarily as his sensitive
ears picked up Xavier's voice, oddly tinny over the speaker and phone line.
"Bobby and Jubilee had a very close call on their way home."
"Are they alright?" came Ororo's softer voice.
"They're fine." Jean's voice this time. "They pulled their usual flash
and freeze routine. The manager called the police, but the owner of the
motel won't press any charges against the men who attacked and caused the
damage. Fortunately, our two were long gone by then."
"And the boy is safe?" confirmed Scott.
"Yes, he's fine," Jean replied. "He's settling in well."
Wolverine zipped the duffel with his usual physical economy and slid it
back under the narrow iron bed. Cyclops' bag lay on own bed, freshly
folded clothes laid out in typical orderly Cyclops fashion.
"How's the Sentinal fight coming?" queried Scott.
"Difficult," sighed the Professor. "Every single incident of mutant
violence is being paraded in its glory before the committee, not to mention
the cost of repairing a certain national monument." The amusement in
Xavier's voice was echoed by a twitch in the corner of Wolverine's mouth as
he flipped the clean shirt over his shoulder and headed for the small
Logan would have laid money that the hardware in the tiny lavatory was
original to the building. A huge cast-iron tub dominated one end of the
little space. Like the sink, it was equipped with depressingly tarnished
iron fixtures which left rust-stains down the porcelain.
"My greatest concern, at this moment, however, is something I've learned
just this morning. One of my sources in the Central Intelligence Agency
has warned me that a research file has been illegally copied.
"What kind of research?" Storm again.
"Essentially, it's an encyclopedia of release methods for chemical and
biological warfare, including aerial and water supply contamination. Their
technicians have traced the download and have verified that the information
was loaded onto a standard disk, but whoever did it used an anonymous
identification to access the network. They're currently investigating all
those who had clearance for that information, but unfortunately the list of
possible terrorists have mutants at the top and anti-mutants at the bottom."
Scott snorted. "Figures."
"Be alert, and be careful," admonished Jean. "Pyro and Shadowcat will be
on standby status."
In the bathroom, Logan splashed his face quickly and turned off the water,
reaching for the threadbare towel. He could hear Cyclops' voice again, and
the cracked mirror threw Logan's ferocious, startled expression back to him
as his head came up sharply.
"� and I think he could be a great addition. You might also talk to Rogue
about him, too. She� seems to be getting to know him."
"Indeed," replied Xavier smoothly, choosing to overlook Scott's
"I'll invite him to come and meet with you, once we're finished down here."
"Very well, then," finished Xavier with a nod, and broke the connection.
Clean-up forgotten, Wolverine strode quickly into the main room as Cyclops
closed the laptop. "Talk to Rogue about what?" he demanded suspiciously.
Scott pinned him with a red glare before answering him with a guarded tone.
"Ask her what she thinks about Joshua. I think the Professor would like to
know her opinion as well."
"What the hell for?" Logan demanded.
Storm answered him, attempting to defuse the sudden tension between Logan
and Scott. "Charles usually likes to meet potential candidates before we
make any move to recruit them."
"Recruit him? For the team?" Logan shook his head. "No way. Absolutely
Cyclops stood slowly. "And what makes you think you've got anything to say
Logan's long arm waved expansively. "You don't know this guy - you don't
know anything about him! How the hell can you consider opening up the
operation to someone like..."
"Someone we don't know -- like you?" Scott challenged. "As I recall,
you'd graced us with your presence less than a week before you got an
invitation! And Joshua's got a hell of a lot more to offer than you did!"
"You don't know if that kid can fight his way out of a paper bag! All you
see is a Scooter clone who'll take your orders and believe the sun shines
out of your ass! Xavier at least had the sense to dig through my head
before he tried to talk me into joining up with you. Maybe we outta see if
the big boy scout's got any dirt in his drawers before we give him the keys
to the house!"
"I believe that's what I just suggested, Wolverine. This conversation is
over." Cool contempt rolled off Scott as he passed Logan, deliberately
shouldering him to one side. The emphasis on his code name had been a
deliberate reminder of who was in charge.
Logan, seething, let him pass without ripping his arm off. Snot-nosed
sonovabitch with his perfect teeth. He noticed Ororo staring at him with
"What?" he snapped.
"You are such a bastard." 'Ro's careful English accents had turned clipped
and short with anger. Logan rolled his eyes. He did not need this right
now. Apparently Ororo thought he did. "You really don't care about anyone
but yourself, do you?"
That got his wary attention. "What the HELL are you talking about?"
"Don' be ridiculous!" he sneered.
"Admit it! Rogue had it bad for you when she was seventeen. Well, she's
not seventeen any more."
"Of all the stupid conclusions to jump on, 'Ro, that's gotta be stretching
"She's got a man who's interested in her. Two, actually, not that she'd
take Gambit seriously. And you cannot stomach it!"
"I am not in love with Rogue!" he shouted.
"No, you're not! And as far as I'm concerned, that just makes you even
more selfish!" she shouted back. "You waltz in and out of her life like a
damned stray dog, and now that another man has her attention, you can't
stand the idea that you're not the center of her universe any more!"
Logan was suddenly clenching his forgotten shirt in his fist, his body
bristling with rage. "You're full of shit, Storm. You always have been,
and you still are."
He turned his back and slammed out of the apartment, yanking on the shirt,
shower forgotten, and cussing under his breath while he wished for a beer.
The tavern beckoned to him and his boots made satisfying thunks as he
stomped across the street.
Out of nowhere, a familiar scent caught his attention. Shit. He stopped
in the middle of the street. Shit,shit,shit.
"How long have you been standing there?"
"Long enough." Rogue shifted slightly, but did not move from where she
stood, leaning against the grimy brick wall, her arms crossed. The late
afternoon sun highlighted the pure white strands of hair around her face,
making them glow silver. The charcoal colored leather of her jacket
blended down into the black of her jeans, and with every other inch of her
skin covered, the eye automatically gravitated to her face. Framed by the
rich brown and streaks of white, the lack of expression there conveyed as
much to him as her normal animated features, and it gave him pause.
Logan wanted to cuss, throw something, or get a beer. Instead he put his
hands in his pockets and tried to rein in his temper. "I'm sorry." He'd
always had a hard time saying those words, and this time wasn't any easier.
"We had no right.."
"It's okay," she interrupted.
He took a step closer to her, swallowing hard and trying to find the words
to get through to her. "Storm is right, in a way," he admitted. "Because
you saved me, Rogue." Her eyes flickered away, then back to him. Logan
took a deep breath. Honestly expressing himself was not something he was
good at. "Before I met you, I just didn't care. About anything. I was
just kinda existing in a haze of anger." He took another step. "Then I
met this kid. And for some reason she got to me. Made me start thinking
again." He hesitated. "Living again.
"I told her I'd take care of her, and then did a piss-poor job of it."
Rogue stood just outside of arm's reach and he paused again, not sure how
to say the rest of it. "And now, she's all grown up and she doesn't need
me. I'm not sure she ever did, but she sure doesn't now. And I don't know
where that leaves me."
The silence between them stretched out as she studied his face, looking for
something. When she spoke, her voice was so soft even he could barely hear
it. "Everyone needs a friend, Logan." The light accent was back, always a
sure indicator of her emotions. "Ah'll always need a friend."
Logan held out his hand. Slowly, she put her gloved hand in his, and he
squeezed it tight. "Yeah, well. C'mon. I need a beer." She finally
smiled at him, and he hauled her off the wall, putting an arm around her
shoulders. Her arm went around his waist, and together they crossed the
barren street to the tavern.
The place was slowly filling with patrons, but Logan ignored their usual
table and found a pair of stools at the bar. He lit a cigar and shoved
some cash at the bartender when two glass mugs appeared in front of them.
"Cheers," he said, lifting his mug to her and downing half of it
gratefully. Rogue took a sip of hers and made a face.
"You know, I never really like beer unless I'm mad about something."
Something in the amused tone caught his attention.
"And that's my fault?" he asked, mumbling around a new cigar as he lit it
with a silver lighter.
"Yeah. You're still hanging around."
Logan looked at the white streaked top of her head. "Do you still feel me�
in your head?"
Rogue shrugged, and reached out and took the cigar, puffed it a few times,
then handed it back.
"It's kinda like a bad habit, you know? Every now and then it just pops
out. Wanting a beer, Storm's claustrophobia." She took a drink and snuck
a glance at him. "I've had nightmares of watching my mother being dragged
to the gas chambers in Poland. I aced European History, thanks to Eric -
Magneto," she clarified. "My professor still gave me a B 'cause he was
sure I was cheating and couldn't catch me." The amused glint was back in
her eye. "And I never had the heart to tell Jean one of the main reasons
you hit on her is 'cause you've got an incredible thing for redheads."
Logan groaned and pounded his head on the bar once, then tossed down the
rest of the beer.
The bartender replaced it without a word while Rogue chuckled.
Five beers to her two later, he finally got around to asking her. "So.
You and Joshua."
She quirked an eyebrow at him, another habit she must have picked up from
his bad influence.
"There is no 'me and Joshua," she explained patiently. "There's me, and
"You seemed pretty cozy the other night," he muttered into his beer.
"It's called dancing, Logan. Okay," she confessed with a huff, "I like
him. Something about him seems so wonderful� and he gets points for not
totally spazzing on the whole skin issue. But don't be passing out any
cigars or nothin'."
He quirked his eyebrow right back at her. "Did I miss something?" She
gave him an exasperated look.
"Yeah, right. Like any man in his right mind is gonna want to keep going
out with a girl who can't touch him."
"That's the thing, darlin'. The right gal comes along, and men just lose
that objective thought process." She snorted at his comic leer and leaned
"Uh-huh. But when the brain loses all that blood, it goes somewhere else.
And that's where the problem comes up. So to speak." Amusement tugged at
the corner of her mouth, and he had no doubt what she was talking about.
"C'mon. You're smart. Surely you could get, you know, creative or
something." Dammit, his face was getting red. Time for another beer.
Rogue shook her head, then leaned in even closer, whispering in his ear.
"Alright, the thing is - with those flimsy silk scarves and heavy
breathing? - you can actually inhale those suckers at the wrong moment.
Really kills the mood."
"OKAY, this is a conversation I do NOT want to have," Logan interrupted,
laughing in embarrassment.
"Hey, you brought it up! How can you be embarrassed? ANYONE who did the
bunny hop at Jean and Scott's wedding has no right to�"
"I NEVER did the bunny hop!" he roared, nearly choking on a mouthful of
"Do you have any idea how drunk you got that night?" she challenged.
"No way," he insisted, waving one hand. "I don't care if I got blind
staggering pissed, I'd have been catatonic before I'd do anything that
Rogue eyed him over the rim of her mug, mischief sparkling in her chocolate
"Liar," he accused. She only grinned at him. "Alright, you wanna play
that?" He pulled at the last of his cigar, then stubbed it out in the
ashtray and grabbed her arm, hauling her towards him. His other found her
waist and began digging into her ribs. "Fess up. C'mon, tell the truth! I
- never - did - the - bunny - hop. Say it!"
Rogue shrieked and giggled at the same time, twisting to avoid his fingers.
"Uncle," she finally gasped. "Alright, I give! It was Jubilee! You
wouldn't dance with her, you said you'd rather eat glass than dance the
bunny hop! Then I had to take your drink away from you, 'cause you tried
With smug satisfaction, he released her and helped her back on the
barstool, ignoring the whack she gave him. "Told ya."
"Yeah, you're so smart," Rogue flipped back. "You know, she thinks you're
"Who?" he asked, completely mystified.
He thought about it for a second. "Jubilee scares me," he replied,
honestly. Rogue laughed, to his chagrin. "She's got more energy than any
three people deserve. I swear, it's gotta be a part of her powers or
something. She could take the ninth fleet on maneuvers and wear them out."
"Combat or sex?" Rogue asked brightly.
Logan paused. "Pick one," he finally replied.
An easy calm settled between them as he commandeered a bowl of pretzels,
until she sighed and he noticed her pensive expression. "What?"
"Logan, do you ever think about God?" she asked, toying with the rim of her
mug. "About why we're what we are?"
He shrugged uncomfortably. "Not really. Why?"
Her hair danced as she shook her head. "Just something we were talking
about the other night. About God. Prayer. The whole 'meaning of life'
He was quiet for several long moments, and finally answered her. "I've
only ever prayed once, that I know of." He glanced at her. "You lived.
So� I don't really want to press my luck."
Rogue favored him with one of her slow, heartbreaking smiles, knowing he
was thinking of the top of the Statue of Liberty.
"We've got trouble," Gambit said shortly, appearing between them at the
bar. "Two of my people were moving a shipment. They're overdue."
"Were they mutants?" asked Rogue.
Remy shook his head. "No. But I'm not taking any chances. I want them
Without a word, Logan and Rogue slid off their barstools and headed for the
door, Gambit leading the way.
"Shouldn't we tell Cyclops�" she began.
"Screw 'im," growled Logan over his shoulder. "We'll call for backup if we
The sun had set fully by the time Gambit drove them to a dockside
warehouse. The tall buildings were clad with rusty, corrugated iron over
old wooden timbers. The cool breeze blowing in from the Gulf was almost
strong enough to cover the stench of dead fish and diesel fuel from the
trucks and forklifts that ran during the day.
"Tig and Al received a shipment an hour ago. The supplier swears he left
them here with the goods. They checked in when the package arrived, but
when I called them back a couple o' minutes later, Tig didn't answer his
"Wasn't a package of computer CD's, was it?" Wolverine asked absently as
they slipped in through the tall doors. Rows of anonymous wooden and
cardboard boxes lined the floor. Stacks of pallets towered above them,
creating a landscape of mountains and valleys.
"What?" Rogue and Gambit asked in unison.
"Tell you later." Wolverine's hand came up in a warning gesture, and LeBeau
looked on, puzzled, as Logan sniffed the air. "What're you doin', homme?"
he asked, only to be shushed by both of them this time. Abruptly Logan
dropped beside a large drift of pallets. The other two immediately copied
"Sabretooth," he said simply.
Rogue automatically tuned her head from side to side, checking for any
sight of the big mutant, and for possible drafts that might carry scent.
The air was relatively still, and she followed Logan's stealthy advance to
the back end of the warehouse.
Crouching behind another series of cartons, they peered around the edge to
see Sabretooth ripping open a small wooden box. White packing peanuts
cascaded as objects were plucked out, cursorily examined, and tossed to one
The contents of other boxes were strewn about in haphazard fashion. In
fact, the place looked like an upscale if disorganized tag sale; however,
the bargain basement prices were more likely to net a five to ten year
"Oh, no. That was a Benton," Rogue breathed as a middling sized painting
went sliding across the floor. Gambit and Wolverine gave her identical
looks, which she returned with exasperation.
"Wonder what that overgrown cockroach is doing here," mused Wolverine,
returning to his surveillance. "Magneto's still locked up, so he can't be
working for him."
"You know this chat grande?"
"Oh, yeah. We've danced a couple of times. He's as tough as he is ugly.
Whatever you do, stay downwind of him until you make your move." Logan
lowered his head closer to Gambit. "You can fight, right?"
The thief's face was blank, his scarlet eyes flat and dark as he replied.
"I grew up on the streets, monsieur. Remy can handle himself." Nimble
fingers fished inside his leather jacket. "And I always got dese." A
handful of playing cards spread wide under Logan's puzzled frown, then
quickly disappeared back into the pocket in the front of his coat.
Logan grunted, then looked over at Rogue. Her chocolate eyes were wide,
and he could see the wary tension in her frame. He knew Sabretooth was one
of her least favorite people, if only because he'd been so nearly
successful in helping Magneto kill her years before. "I want you to stay
"Now wait just one minute," she protested. "I can handle..."
"Against any other psychopath, maybe," he interrupted her. "You're stayin'
put. If things go south, get out and call Cyke."
"Mebbe we make him into a rug for jus' you an' me, chere." Gambit grinned
outrageously, his implication clear.
Logan huffed in exasperation. "C'mon, Gumbo."
The two men left in opposite directions, leaving Rogue crouched alone.
They scuttled closer, to where they could hear the huge blond mutant
muttering to himself as he sorted out his twice-ill-gotten goods.
Unfortunately, Victor Creed had senses as good as Wolverine's, and the big
man whirled at the faintest brush of fabric against wood.
"Wolverine," he growled as Logan stepped out into view. Creed's stance
slid wide as he flexed his talon-tipped fingers. Big enough to hold a
basketball and strong enough to puncture it easily, Logan had a healthy
respect of Sabretooth's long reach. Unfortunately, he had very little
respect for the man himself.
"Here, pussy, pussy, pussy," Logan taunted. A rumbling growl greeted his
taunt, but their meetings had a ritual to them, and it wasn't time to
attack yet. "What would Mags say if he knew you were down here killing
"What are you talking about, runt?" Creed snarled. "I ain't killed anybody
in this town, yet. Hell, even those two are still kickin.'" A casual wave
towards the corner revealed two sets of feet sticking out from a large
packing crate, their crumpled owners unconscious or possibly dead. "Well,
kinda," he amended, noting their stillness.
"So you haven't taken any mutants to join your little pansy-ass
Brotherhood? A little 'join or die' action? 'Course, last time it was
more of a 'join and die,' wasn't it?"
"Five years, little man," Creed sneered. "Get over it."
Anyone who knew Wolverine would have recognized the signs of his
always-tentative hold on his temper giving way. All six claws sprang from
between his knuckles with a metallic rasp. "Just getting started,
With identical roars, the two men threw themselves at each other, slashing,
kicking, the wooden floor of the old warehouse vibrating as Wolverine was
slammed to the ground, only to roll instantly and spring back into Creed's
chest, his teeth clenched in a grimace of rage and determination.
Skirting the battling pair carefully, Gambit slid to the packing crate and
checked the pulses of his men. One twitched slightly as he touched his
neck, and he breathed a slight sigh of relief. He peered back at the
combatants, wincing in sympathy as Logan's claws missed a swipe and
imbedded themselves in a metal support post. In the split second it took
to yank them free, Creed hammered him twice in the kidneys. Logan ducked
away in the next instant, spinning out of the way, only to spin back in a
high kick that caught Creed in the face. Creed kicked back, catching Logan
high in the inner thigh from behind and knocking him off balance, sending
him tumbling across the floor towards Gambit.
Time to join the game, he thought to himself, rising from his crouch and
retrieving his Bo stick from its place. His other hand fished out several
cards from the specially sewn pocket.
Creed paused. "Who the hell are you?" he demanded.
"Name's Gambit," he said with a nod. "Wanna play cards?" The edges of the
first card rippled with scarlet light, which abruptly coalesced into the
center with a blinding intensity. A flick of his wrist spun the card into
With a deafening blast it detonated, knocking Creed stumbling back. Two
more followed with quick succession, keeping him off balance. On the
floor, Wolverine frowned up in grudging admiration at the concussive force
of Gambit's talent. The Bo stick was abruptly planted in the wooden
flooring by his waist as Gambit vaulted over the top of him. Both boots
nailed Creed in the face.
Creed snarled ineffectually as he was driven back another step, the
confusing whirl of Gambit's stick leaping out to slam him on one temple,
then the other in quick succession. He blocked the next, bringing the
whirling to an abrupt halt as he grabbed the weapon. Hauling both it and
its owner over his shoulder, he sent them sailing with tremendous force
into a stack of cardboard boxes against the wall.
Wolverine stabbed him with his claws, eliciting a roar of pain from Creed.
His other set of claws was grabbed in a massive hand as he tried to drive
them home. The first set were yanked out, and Wolverine knew instantly it
had been a mistake to let Creed get control of both his hands. Creed
yanked his arms out, then down, his longer reach giving him the advantage
as he drove his knee into Logan's gut, two, three times.
Logan coughed, breathless, as the air was driven from his lungs. If not
for his reinforced bones, his ribcage would have been crushed under the
force of Sabretooth's blows. One huge, meaty hand found its way around his
neck, squeezing, and he grabbed the hand with both of his, his own claws
jutting up dangerously close to their faces as Sabretooth throttled him.
He flailed one set at Creed's other hand, then stabbed up into the man's
biceps. Creed dropped him with a curse, kicking at him as he rolled clear.
Not clear enough, though. Creed kicked again, catching Logan in the solar
plexus and flipping him over once more and sending him skidding several
more feet. With a pounce, absurdly quick for such a big man, Creed planted
his knee in the small of Logan's back, one of his big feet crushing Logan's
clawed hand into the floor. Logan got his other arm under him, but not
before those hands again found their way around his neck and began
His one free arm was not strong enough to flip both his and Creed's weight,
and try as he might, he could not pry the fingers loose from around his
throat. He looked around desperately for Gambit, but the Cajun was on his
back in the crushed boxes, one hand moving feebly as he fought for
Logan's face began to turn dark red, and he rolled his eyes desperately,
seeking Rogue's hiding place. "Run," he tried to mouth, unable to see her.
Perhaps she'd already taken off. Then, from the corner of his eye, he
caught sight of a tiny scrap of fabric that made his hammering heart
A single glove lay crumpled on the wooden floor.
Heedless of the blood dripping from him as Sabretooth's talons dug into his
neck, he managed to vocalize a choked "NO!" Only the fact that his eyes
were starting to roll back in his head let him catch the flicker of
movement as Rogue charged the short packing crate in front of the embattled
pair. She launched herself up and over, her hands outstretched to grab.
Her bare hands.
The big mutant rose to catch her, dropping Wolverine automatically as he
reacted to this new threat. He caught her around the body, pinning her
against his chest. Her body mass knocked Creed backwards, forcing him to
stumble to keep his footing. Rogue's hands braced themselves against his
face, fending off his open fangs as he roared. One big hand grabbed at her
wrist, prying it away from his eye just as her mutation kicked in.
Another roar came from his chest as he staggered, his face going gray.
Long blond hair tangled with hers in a parody of a lover's embrace as he
collapsed to his knees. His black eyes, for once open wide in pain and
shock, stared into hers as she rode him to the ground, still clasped
tightly to his body. A third roar came weakly from his chest, echoed by
Wolverine forced himself to hands and knees as his neck healed and allowed
him to draw a rattling breath. He could only watch as Sabretooth slowly
collapsed to his back, taking Rogue with him. She straddled his huge
chest, her hands finally yanked free and planted on either side of Creed's
head. Her hair hung down in a tangled curtain of brown and platinum,
shrouding her face. He could hear her gasping breath as her shoulders
Gambit managed to sit up in time to see Logan make it to his feet and
stagger a few steps closer to Rogue and call her name in a thick voice.
The young woman's back tensed at the sound of Logan's voice. He glanced
down, drawn to the fine-boned hands that flexed against the wooden
flooring, almost lost in the loose mane of her victim. It took a split
second for the narrow, white talons to register. He watched in horrified
shock as they raked against the floor, effortlessly dragging up splinters.
"Oh, SHIT," he muttered.
Slowly, sensually, Rogue rose off Sabretooth's prone form. Suddenly, she
whirled to face him, talons held out and down to her sides. Her pure black
eyes narrowed at him, and a contralto growl rose from her throat. The
formerly sleek brown hair seemed wilder, fuller, framing her face in an
untamed mane. Her head snapped to Gambit as the thief made it to his feet,
leaning heavily on his Bo stick.
"Rogue," Logan ventured again, questioningly, and she launched herself at
him with unbelievable speed. Years spent sparing with her did not prepare
him for her additional strength as she kneed him in the side and knocked
"Chere!" protested Gambit, and with lightening speed she turned on him as
well, kicking the stick out from under him and shoving him, hard. Gambit
went down, sliding across the floor. He crabbed backwards on his elbows as
she stalked towards him.
"Why is she so strong?" he shouted at Logan.
"Because fuzz-face is so strong!" Logan replied tersely. The sound of his
voice distracted her again, the feminine rumble in her chest rising and
falling with the slow heaving of her chest. "Go low!"
Logan charged her from the front, his hands grabbing for her covered arms
as Gambit scrambled to his knees and threw himself at her legs. Between
them, they knocked her to the ground and struggled for control. Logan
levered himself on top, his hands tight around her forearms. Slowly, he
forced her arms against her chest as she fought him. A fierce feline
scream of rage pierced his eardrums as he gained the upper hand, and her
talons arced dangerously close to his face.
He checked Gambit's position - the thief had both arms wrapped around
Rogue's legs and was hanging on desperately as she tried to kick free.
Leaning on her with all his weight, Logan pinned her down and shouted her
"Rogue!" She snarled in frustration as he called her name again and again.
"Rogue, can you hear me?"
She blinked at him, panting through clenched teeth. "Yes," she grated.
"Control him!" She snarled and wrenched against his restraint again. "You
can do it! You have to!" he urged. She snarled again, then lapsed into
dry sobs, shaking her head, her wild hair dancing across her face. "Do
Her fists clenched tightly, drawing her own blood with the nails, creating
small wounds that healed immediately. Her brows drew together furiously,
and Logan could see her eyes moving beneath her closed lids.
Slowly, Rogue's breathing began to even out. The clenched hands opened and
pushed up against his chest. Logan felt her body relax, and moved back
slightly, easing his hard grip. Her closed eyelids slid open, revealing
the fact that her eyes, although still solid black, were calmer. Logan
moved off of her gingerly. As Gambit released his hold on her legs, she
rolled over and coughed lightly.
The two men moved back, freezing as she suddenly leapt to her feet in a
burst of feline grace. Logan pulled at Gambit's sleeve, backing them both
up another step. She startled at their movement, then took several
slinking steps to stand over the unconscious Sabretooth. Another contralto
growl slid from her throat.
Logan was dealing with several conflicting emotions at that moment, and was
having a hard time regaining his calm. He'd seen Gambit's interest perk up
at Rogue's sensual glide. Hell, he was having a hard time dealing with it
himself. The animal characteristics abruptly manifesting themselves in
Rogue were bringing instinctive responses from him, bypassing his brain
completely. Desperate for something else to focus on, he cast about and
fixed his gaze on the back of a metal shipping container, the doors wide
open and inviting. Used for transporting goods all over the world, the
walls were made of thick steel and the doors would close with no way to
open them from the inside.
"C'mon," he ordered, slapping Gambit lightly on the arm. Gambit grunted
once and collapsed his Bo stick, stowing it away. Warily, the two men
circled the predatory woman and each grabbed one arm of her victim. Rogue
watched intently as they dragged Sabretooth into the container.
"Will this hold him?" Gambit asked.
"Dunno." Logan answered with a grunt. "Rather slit his throat, but it'd
probably just wake him up."
The old wooden bar was damp, and the shot glass slammed down with a sharp
retort. Immediately, the rotund bartender filled it again with a clear
"Clyde, why don't you cut the chere off?" Gambit called from the far end of
the bar, where he stood with Logan, Storm, and Cyclops.
"'Cause I want to keep my fingers," the bartender replied. He watched his
customer warily as she flexed her gloved fingers, seemingly fascinated by
the way her own talons erupted from the fabric tips.
Remy turned back to the others with a light grin. "So, she'll sleep off le
chat along with her hangover, non?"
"No!" Logan kept his voice down, but he all but spit on the smarmy little
bastard. "She got me five YEARS ago, and she's still having my nightmares.
And right now, Sabretooth's stompin' around inside her head, wearin' his
shitkickers and wantin' OUT!"
"Sabretooth is a very powerful Alpha class mutant," Storm added. "His
life-force, his personality, could be overwhelming Rogue. Her body is
trying to conform to Creed's feral mutation - trying to mimic what he is.
Her talons, her eyes.."
"Her pheromones," added Logan succinctly. The others looked at him, but
realized he was holding onto his temper and self control by only the
slightest margin, and decided to leave it alone.
"If her sense of self collapses, the most dominant personality in her mind
could take over. Best case scenario would be Wolverine, and I'm not sure I
can take two of you." Cyclops' feeble attempt at humor was ignored by his
target, and he shifted into leader mode.
"Xavier's contacts in the Justice Department claim they'll be able to hold
Creed if we can deliver him. We need to get back over there and make sure
"Joshua will meet you at the warehouse," Gambit added. "Monsieur Creed has
helped himself to our shipments before, but this is the first time we've
caught him cold. If you don't get him out of town immediement, the Guild
will demand his head."
"Alright. The Professor will be leaving Washington in a day or two. He
wants us to do what we can to keep Rogue quiet until he gets here. Logan,
that means you. You're probably got the best chance of controlling her if
she loses it."
Logan only nodded in recognition of his status as Rogue-keeper. Over
Gambit's shoulder, he could see her at the bar, turning the shot glass over
in her fingers. She carefully placed it upside down on the bar and stiffly
made her way to the blank wall, sliding down to rest on her haunches under
the little sign that pointed a finger towards the restrooms. Her gloved
hands laced together behind her head as she hunched over, leaning against
the cheaply paneled wall.
"The only good news, according to Jean, is the physical manifestations
should fade within twenty-four hours." He checked his watch, gauging how
long it had been since Sabretooth had been brought down. Logan had been
out for hours, but one example was not enough to set a rule on. "We'll
meet back here as soon as we get Creed locked down."
Storm and Cyclops took off quickly, leaving Gambit chatting with Clyde.
Logan moved to Rogue's side of the bar and crouched beside her. Her head
lifted, eyes closed, but her nose twitched slightly. Realizing she was
taking in his scent, he wondered idly if her senses were as acute as his
"Decide to go on the wagon?" he asked lightly.
"HE likes tequila. I don't." She raked her fingers through her hair,
pulling it out of her face impatiently.
Logan watched her intently, and she turned her face towards him, her head
sliding on one plane only, exactly the way Sabretooth moved his head. "How
you holdin' up, kid?"
Her eyelids sagged almost shut, then opened up wide. They were still pure
black. When she replied, her voice was a husky drawl that sent that did a
dance on his hormone center. "Everything I am is all about controlling
myself. He's all about losing control . . . He says it feels so-o-o
good." Her voice slid into a seductive whisper. With a start he realized
he was leaning towards her, scenting her. He froze, leaning no further,
but unable to move away.
"Does it feel good when you loose control, Logan?" Her hand reached out,
nails kneading the air by his face. "Do all the voices in your head shut
up, when you loose control?"
He thought about it. "Sometimes. They always come back." He paused. "I
know this is hard for you. But you're stronger than him, Rogue. You can
A sound, part sob, part laugh, came from her. "He's full of rage, desires.
I can't have what I want. But I can give him what he wants� " her
talon-tips lightly traced his jaw, lightly denting the skin of his throat.
He was unable to tell if it was the talons or her scent that made him
swallow convulsively. "How do I know what I want, and what he wants?"
She snarled suddenly and grabbed the front of his jacket, yanking him to
his feet and slamming him against the wall. The leather made little popping
noises as her talons dug in. The others in the bar reacted, but held their
ground when Wolverine held up a cautioning hand.
Rogue's head cocked to one side, another unnerving Sabretooth mannerism.
"Call me kid one more time, I'll tear your heart out and eat it." She
pushed him forcefully into the wall and stalked off, the door to the
ladies' room banging harshly against the wall as she slapped it open.
"Gotcha," he muttered.
Clyde was dozing on a chair in the corner of the bar when Gambit returned,
his feet on another chair and his head drooping on his portly chest. He
carried two large paper cups to the bar and sat down next to Rogue's
hunched form. Her jacket lay discarded beside her, and he pushed it aside
to place the cups on the wooden counter. Her long sleeved shirt, made of a
gauzy white cotton, looked much the worse for being worn all night, but the
wrists had been neatly buttoned over the cuffs of her tattered gloves, and
the front buttoned up nearly to the neckline. It was a small attempt to
impose control on herself, but even the smallest effort was helpful to her
state of mind.
"Feeling better, chere?"
"Gimme that coffee and we'll find out," she growled, and he slid it to her
with a chuckle. Logan, smoking a cigar on the far side of the room,
"Your eyes'r startin' to come back to normal," he noticed.
"Bully for me," she replied shortly. Her fingertips were still talons, and
skittered across the paper cup as she drank the coffee gratefully.
"Tell me somethin'. You touch Remy, you get my memories, or jus' this?" A
stained coaster flipped through his fingers like an oversized coin, the
edges glowing faintly red. He reabsorbed the energy with a slight popping
noise, and she took it from him, frowning with the obvious effort of
"It depends. How long I hold on, how powerful you are. I'll know what
you're thinking at that exact moment, but long term memories� " her voice
trailed off as she shook her head. "That's iffy at best. General stuff,
yeah. Exact details are a hard to nail down."
"But it goes away, right?"
"No," she said flatly, her voice colder than winter.
Gambit might have said more, but the door opened to let Joshua in, his long
form covered in dark clothing, a black leather jacket covering him. More
than ever his close-cropped hair and square bearing evoked military
reminders from the Wolverine and Magneto in her head.
"Well?" demanded Gambit.
"Nothing," Joshua announced, disgusted. "No sign of him."
Logan shot off the wall. "He's gone?! Shit! Where's Storm and Cyke?"
Joshua jerked a thumb behind him. "They're right�" he broke off in a rough
laugh as Rogue threw herself into his jacket, snuffling deeply at his
chest. "Okay, good to see you too, honey. The container was empty," he
continued, holding out a pair of tranquilizer darts.
"Then maybe he didn't get away," Gambit offered.
"Maybe the people we've been chasing took him," Logan said grimly. He gave
Rogue's head an exasperated look, at least as much as he could see of it,
buried as it was in Joshua's chest.
"C'mon kid -- Rogue," he corrected himself, taking an arm and pulling her
away. "Snap out of it."
"But he smells . . ." she protested, snuffling into Logan's chest this
time, her face scrunched up in concentration. Her hands fisted up beside
her head as she struggled for control. "Not me. Bosco."
"Bosco." Wolverine stared at her, pieces in his head moving. "The dog."
Remy's gaze flickered from the woman clenching her hair in fists to the
Joshua, who stood still with a strange, thin smile on his face.
"Who the hell is Bosco?" Gambit demanded.
A violent twitch from Joshua brought Logan's hard stare back to him.
"Bosco's the dog that died when it attacked Rogue at the Humanity's
Joshua's eyes gleamed with the strain of meeting Logan's, the tense tableau
of a beta wolf challenging an alpha causing the hair to rise on both their
necks. In the circle of Logan's arm, Rogue stood perfectly still, shock
and recognition moving across her face.
"Where's Cyclops and Storm?" Wolverine demanded in a deadly growl.
Remy took a single step forward, breaking the tension like a gunshot.
Joshua's hand shot out and backhanded the Cajun thief, sending him sliding
across the floor. Wolverine caught sight of the tiny black microphone in
Joshua's collar as he tackled the younger man, his claws shooting out. The
metallic rasp was all but lost as chaos broke loose in the bar. The wicked
double slash of claws shredded Joshua's leather jacket but left only faint
red lines on his shoulder. Joshua shrugged, catapulting Logan into the
wall several feet away.
"All units - move in!" shouted Joshua into the collar mike, before a boot
slammed across his jaw with enough force to stagger him. The impact of
Rogue's boot and fists twisted his head back and forth as she threw
successive kicks and punches, but even with Sabretooth's addition, she was
no match for his tremendous strength when he grabbed the flying black heel
and heaved her away from him.
Wolverine threw himself on the young man's back, claws tearing at the
leather but ineffectual against the invulnerable skin of his neck. A
handful of Logan's jacket was all Joshua needed to throw Logan headfirst
across the room. One of Gambit's exploding cards caught his back, but the
inrushing horde of men from the main door knocked the Cajun over. He
rolled on the ground, hauling out his Bo stick and flailing at the men
surrounding him, each one of them in the light tan uniform of Humanity's
Wading through the crowd of his men, Joshua caught Rogue's arm as she
punched and kicked at the two men who opposed her. He quickly snagged her
other glove-covered wrist and added it to the first. The shoulder of his
jacket was in tatters, but the long leather sleeve kept him safe as he
wrapped his other arm around her neck and pinned her to his chest, whirling
to face Wolverine's next charge.
"Back off or I make a wish!"
The four parallel lines on his cheek testified that Rogue's talons had
scored, but they only added to the ugly expression on Joshua's face as he
pivoted with his hostage. Reluctantly, the action died around him as Clyde
the bartender surrendered the baseball bat he kept under the bar. Remy's
staff was jerked away from him by one of the goons.