Because Thorns Have Roses
Mohair sweaters and linen shirts had no business being in a bus this ratty. Rogue didn't use to notice weird details but she picked up the habit of cataloguing her surroundings somewhere between absorbing Erik and absorbing Logan. She sniffed suspiciously at the idea of someone wearing brand name clothing in a refurbished airport shuttle but immediately regretted the action. The mingling smells made her head hurt.
Mohair Sweater hitched his leather overnight bag higher on his shoulder and adjusted his shades. Serengeti's, whispered the banker she'd absorbed in Dallas way back when, at least two hundred dollars. Rogue looked around at the rest of the passengers. The closest they all got to luxury goods was window shopping at Fourth.
To her dismay, Mohair Sweater headed straight for the empty window seat beside her. He smiled in greeting, his whiskers darkening the laugh lines around his mouth, and dipped his head as he slipped in beside her. At that moment, the bus jerked forward. Rogue tilted her head away but as luck would have it, he fell in the same direction. When his cheek pressed against hers, she had the impression of sharp stubble, cinnamon-flavoured breath, and a cool, woody cologne before memories shot into her brain.
A strangely shaped hand-gun levelled at a target, shooting out empty darts.
A woman's silk-clad toes sliding up her leg, tickling her knee.
"I don't care who it cures; we've already got orders for 'em on the street."
A card sizzled in her hand, absorbing the heat that slid down her arm.
Laughing. Sunshine. Butter on toast.
The gun, darts now loaded with light green liquid, pointed at her. "Any volunteers?"
A quick check through her blackberry showed a five-figure increase in her bank account.
"You don't want to mess this one up, hommes. We're talking the big job."
Café au lait on the Canal St. Ferry. Salt in the air.
The card left her hands, whining slightly, leaving a trail of bright pink and orange as it sailed to its target.
The guns rested against a dozen others on a wire rack.
Rogue pushed him away, her eyes burning. Coughing, he flopped obligingly beside her, his bag forgotten at her feet.
"Is that what you do?" he asked when he got his breath back.
"I'm sorry?" she replied.
"That weird... brain drain when I touched you. Is that your mutant power?"
Stiffly, she nodded.
"Does it hurt?"
"Does it hurt you?" she asked in return.
He shrugged. "Kind of. It's like an ache in my skull, a pressure, and then pins and needles up... uh..."
He was starting intently below her neck. Rogue reared back. "What?"
"You might want to let go the armrests, sheri
Rogue jerked her arms back. The plastic armrests-- formerly navy blue, now neon magenta-- glowed with heat. Before she could ask what the hell was going on, her seatmate pressed his hands against them. His teeth bared, he took a deep breath and pulled the glow into his body. His fingers shone translucently, the nails shadowed black and the narrow bones briefly outlined in orange. With a barely audible series of snaps, the armrests stopped glowing, leaving only tiny trails of smoke and burnt polyester threads.
The other passengers diverted their stares and shifted as far away as the confines of the bus would allow.
"Thanks," Rogue said.
He inclined his head again. "So, not just a brain drain."
The bus rumbled over the Vermont border before he talked to her again. "Robin Sands." He held his hand out.
Ingrained politeness forced Rogue to accept the handshake. "Marian
"Neither are you," she retorted.
Instead of getting angry, his smile widened. "So, it's a brain drain, a power copying and a little bit of telepathy. You're a multi-talented lady. Seems a waste."
Rogue shrugged, unwilling to reveal any more than he did. Pulling her hood over her head, she turned away and closed her eyes. It would be a long while yet before they got to Maryland.
"How're you supposed to think of nothing?" asked Rogue, "unless you're really literal and 'nothing' means the word 'nothing', not actually no things."
Although her eyes were shut, Rogue knew that Dr. Grey was smiling. "Thinking of nothing is for advanced studies. Try simply concentrating on your body. Be aware of your toes, from your big toe all the way to the smallest on. Think of the texture of your socks on them. Think of the pressure of the floor on your heel."
Rogue wriggled. She couldn't help it. Every time she tried to concentrate, she thought of something else like how her boots rubbed up against her big toe. Then the thought of boots would make her think of the cool vintage shop just downtown. Then that would turn into lunch plans with Bobby--
"Rogue, you're thinking too hard."
"Sorry. I was just thinking about parking."
"So I gathered." Her voice went dry. "I know it's hard but you have a very special gift. With that come obligations, one of which is training to use it."
Rogue dared to peer through her lashes. Dr Grey lay beside her, completely boneless. "How do you think I can use this stupid power?" she asked.
"Don't under estimate your power, Rogue. I have a feeling that it'll turn into a gift in more ways than one."
Her dreams, as was always the case after using her powers, played out memories, her own were first, then absorbed memories from oldest to the most recent-- Erik intently studying his political science textbook, the taste of crappy fake Cubans that Logan bought at a rest-stop in Regina, the familiar diner food that Lloyd the Trucker experienced nine months out of the year. Some were so vivid that Rogue even remembered the smells.
With a hypnic jerk, the new guy's memories flowed through her. It was a bit like riding a rollercoaster with sensations and images passing by so quickly that processing them all was impossible. Certain memories stuck out, usually the most recent or the ones that were foremost in his head.
Those weird, flat guns featured in everything as well as the logo for Worthington Pharmaceutical Labs. The long line of numbers was a bank account-- that was handy, Rogue reflected, especially if he really had that much money. It explained the mohair sweater.
The bus jerked to a stop, throwing Rogue awake. "Robin" was watching her, his shades hiding his expression. "We're here," he said.
"I can see that," Rogue said, curtly. She shouldered her bag and quite obviously snubbed him as soon as she wedged into the aisle. His scent-- cinnamon gum, woodsy cologne, et cetera-- clung to her clothes, bringing hazy threads of his memories back up to her consciousness. Rogue swatted them away like midges.
She didn't see him in the line up, thankfully, but that didn't lift the strange discomfort that sped her pulse double time. Rogue shifted from one foot to the other, needing to get into the building for reasons other than getting the cure. She had to get inside the building. She had to get something inside the building.
Irritated, she shook herself. He needed to get something in the building, not her. She was feeling Robin's emotions.
"Number three-ninety-seven." An unseen receptionist called out numbers on the other side of the room, her voice barely audible amongst the shuffling and soft chatting in the room. Once in a while, someone burst out in laughter or tears and the background noise escalated until someone in the speaker systems calmly asked for quiet again.
The line snaked several times across the room like a line up at an amusement park. Nylon ropes marked the winding path to the seated area, the main source of the laughter and crying and the bored receptionists. A woman beside Rogue shushed her wailing child. The little girl had a bone pushing slowly out of her forehead; her skin split at the apex of the bone even as Rogue watched. And she thought her power was bad.
It wasn't until a cart of boxed syringes passed her that Rogue made the connection between the weird gun in Robin's mind and the sense of danger in her gut. Those darts with the green liquid, they were filled with the cure. Someone had made a weapon out of the cure and Robin intended to steal the cure for ammo.
Anger fired in her belly. How could he arm people against mutants? All for money? Just when she thought a body couldn't get any lower, people went and invented a new low. She twisted her bag strap, her hands clammy. A peek at the crowd revealed several armed guards pacing the waiting room and the half-concrete English garden outside. No Robin in sight but then if he was as rich as that bank account said, he was probably a pro.
"Excuse me, sir." Rogue tapped one of the guards lightly.
"There's a guy you all should look out for," she said. "I think he's going to try to steal some of the cure."
The soldier opened his mouth, presumably to recite the usual comforting pap, but caught himself as he realised exactly who he was guarding. "Your... powers showed this?"
"Yessir," said Rogue. "He's got reddish-brown hair, a couple inches taller than you, wearing a grey mohair sweater and jeans. He had a black overnight bag, too, leather."
The solider nodded. "Thank you for the information. I'll spread the word." And he did, speaking some shorthand language into the crackle and static of the mic pinned to his shoulder. It didn't ease Rogue's discomfort. She knew Robin was good because he knew he was good.
"Number four-thirty," the receptionist called out.
A seated woman holding a jacket over her humped back rose, just a few feet away from Rogue. Another ten minutes or so and she'd be in the seated section with a number. Maybe in half an hour, she'd take the cure. Somewhere in the building, a man who bought mohair sweaters with blood money was on his way to make another million crippling mutants who didn't want to lose their powers.
Oh screw it.
Rogue slipped out of the line.
She couldn't control the powers but she'd learned, with the professor's help, to control the voices. Rogue focused on Robin's distinctive scent to help her focus (with Logan, she had to smell tobacco; with Erik, she made herself a sandwich with Emmental cheese melted over tomatoes and lightly buttered bread). The roller coaster in her head slowed just enough to glean more information.
A door with a plastic name plate flashed in her head. Rogue held onto that thought and followed it backwards until she spotted something familiar. In this case, it was a potted palm a few yards past the nylon rope lines.
"Where are you going?" asked one of the guards.
"I need to use the restroom," Rogue said, twisting her expression into something like embarrassment. After he pointed out the ladies' room out, she smiled her thanks and made a beeline for it. The potted palm was in the same direction.
The emergency staircase tugged at her borrowed memory. Rogue quickly switched directions, pushing the door open then cringing in wait for an alarm to go off. When nothing interrupted the crowds' murmuring, she shut the door and leaned against it. A glance up the stairs did nothing, nor did looking down to the basement. As an experiment, Rogue skipped up one stairwell, then paused, waiting for a sense of rightness. After a few seconds, she ran down. And kept running. Her eyes saw soft leather shoes taking the steps two at a time instead of her clunky slouch boots.
A sign proclaiming "Staff only beyond this point" flashed in her head. Well, no freakin' kidding. She followed the stairs until the sign showed up on the last landing. She turned the knob.
Nothing happened. Rogue tried to door again. It was locked fast.
Great. So much for her heroics. Rogue took another big sniff of her lapels, hoping there was enough of Robin's scent in her jacket to trigger more memories. Short flicks about lock-picking and hot-wring flipped through her head but he had tools that she didn't have. Hell, she didn't even have a pin to hold her hair up.
The only thing left to do was run back upstairs and tell the guards. Rogue scratched at her shoulder. This was a fantastic waste of time and she'd even lost her place in line because of it. As she turned for the stairs, the door clicked open. Robin popped his head out, one arm clutching his leather bag close to his chest.
They stared at each other for a second that lasted for an eternity.
"Catch." Robin hurled the back at Rogue, who caught it automatically. Just as suddenly, she threw the back right back, grazing his head as he dove for her legs.
"Ow!" Rogue came down on hard on the steps, one edge catching her butt and the other smacking her left side.
"Apologies, sheri, but I got places to be." Snagging the fallen bag, Robin ran up the stairs. Rogue swiped at his legs. He leapt over her easily but while he was in midair, she surged upward. Her head butted his knee and he went down on his elbows.
Nimbly, Rogue climbed over his prone body to take the bag. "Not without this medicine, you' don't."
"Hey! I stole that fair and square." Robin popped up on his knees and swung a leg out to kick Rogue down. She jumped over it but couldn't quite escape his arm, which he'd swung stiffly in the opposite direction. She threw herself the only direction that was free-- right at him.
Rogue's bare forearm made contact with Robin's face. She started to jerk back then, on second thought, kept the contact.
Robin-- no, his name was Remy-- gasped for breath. Rogue's hands grew warm just like in the bus when her armrests started to glow. In a panic, she released him, afraid to turn the bag into a giant bomb.
Remy dragged himself upright and leaned against the wall. "Fool girl," he said, still panting. "They're gonna be here any minute."
"That was the point," she said. "Get the guards in here and take you away. How could you arm those awful cure guns? Do you know what'll happen if that kind of weapon gets out? Or do you even care at all?"
He laughed cynically. "You think just 'cause the army comes in that it'll be the end of those guns? Naw, you bet they got their own prototypes waitin' in the wings. Me, I'm just wanting my cut to make sure I'm comfy when all hell breaks lose."
"You're a real humanitarian."
"We live in tenuous times, sheri. The only thing you can count on right now is money in an off-shore account."
Several heavy combat boots thundered down the stairwell. His lips tightening, Robin-Remy-Whatever looked up.
"Come on, sheri. Have a heart for a fellow mutant." His smile was perfectly calculated to charm the pants off a nun but Rogue still had him clinging to her consciousness.
"You're not going to do anything," she said. "I know. You'd rather run than fight."
"Fighting ruins my clothes," he said. "And I bruise easy."
The combat boots drew closer. The guards were just a floor above them now. Remy clenched his jaw. Seeing his desperation, Rogue braced herself for action.
He didn't react quite as she expected.
With a whispered "fuck it", Remy jumped back to the bottom of the stairwell, the same direction he'd come from. The first of the guards were visible now. Remy grasped the knob and began charging just as Rogue, guessing at his plan, reached out to try to stop him. But it was too late.
The lock exploded. Rogue covered her eyes against the debris at the same time that Remy must have thrown something at the guards because she felt heat at the nape of her neck as well as her face. A second, larger explosion threw her forward.
Remy slid past her, tugging at the bag. Well, Rogue was not going to have that! Bad enough he was getting away; she was not going to let him sell these cure guns to the black market. Calling up as much strength as she could, she yanked the bag's handles back.
Strangely. Remy didn't put up much of a fight. At her first hard tug, he let go, making her stumble backwards. He bolted for the door. Swinging the bag's straps around her arms like a backpack, Rogue dashed after him. Shouts of "Halt!" slipped past the doors but she was too intent on catching up.
Metal and wooden crates towered over her, forming a labyrinth that Remy seemed disgustingly familiar with. Rogue didn't have time to access his memories; even if he'd had something about this place, it was all she could do to keep him in her sights. The minute she got back to the school, Rogue swore she'd work on her cardio endurance.
In the time that it took for the promise to flit through her mind, Remy had disappeared. Rogue let out a frustrated growl. Great. Just peachy. She whirled on her toes, ears cocked for any sound but the crates were stacked too high.
So you'll just have to get above them, won't you?
Rogue clambered up the nearest wall of crates. Thankfully, the top-most one came with a built-in ladder. Cigarette butts littered the roof along with dust and something that she really hoped was dried bird crap. From this height, she could see the guards filing in and fanning out like an oil slick. Remy, unfortunately was no where in sight.
She could really use Logan's sensitive nose right now. Rogue patted down her pockets even knowing that she'd left her cigar stub at home. So much for boosting her memory. Then the cigarette butts caught her eye.
They weren't quite the same thing and she didn't even want to think about where they'd been but desperate times called for desperate measures. Rogue picked one up, thankful for her gloves for once, and brought it up to her nose. She inhaled deeply.
"Bleh!" She gagged. Lordy, that was vile but at least her brain was firing. Rogue caught hold of the memory of the scent and, her nose wrinkled, sniffed at the cigarette butt again.
Look for signs that someone's been disturbing things, Logan whispered in her head.
Like what? Rogue wanted to scream. There aren't any broken twigs I can spot around here.
Scuffmarks on the ground, handprints on the dust on the crates-- everything leaves a track.
"Up there!" a guard called out.
Rogue jumped off the crate into a shoulder roll and set off running as soon as the ow! pressure, ow, ow, ow went away. Disturbances, she had to look for disturbances.
You won't find 'em here. Go to the last place you saw him.
There are guards there!
So what? You want to find him or not?
Tight with the strain of the landing, Rogue ran towards the entrance. I'm supposed to look for footprints on concrete. She sighed. This was a stupid idea. I should've just let the guards--
A large skid mark trailed from a small puddle of oil. Rogue didn't run in that direction and besides, the heel was too big to be her footprint. Looking down one aisle, she spotted a faint, crescent-shaped gloss. Cinnamon gum teased her nostrils.
With the guards approaching, she put all her energy into running. The clarity of panic settled in her stomach and she felt that usual weird sense of calm, like her consciousness went and gave upon her already and just wanted to float above this wreck of a situation. Maybe that was how she spotted Remy's trail so easily and why, after taking only short glances at the clues, she charged on ahead.
Or it could have been the blinking, red "Exit" sign at the back of the room.
She barrelled through, shoulder striking the door first and slamming it open. Rogue found herself in a small courtyard surrounded one three sides by more skyscrapers flush with windows. Remy was nowhere in sight. The most logical way for him to have gone was out the alley but somehow Rogue couldn't see him taking the logical way out. It was too easy.
Tracking; she had to go back to tracking. But it was way too hard to track anything outside with no dust or weird oily puddles to follow. The cracked grey asphalt just wasn't any good at maintaining tracks. While Rogue scrounged for a clue, the guards burst through the door.
"Freeze!" they yelled in stereo.
Rogue's first instinct was to run for it. Logic tamped that down and she raised her hands up in surrender.
"Put the bag down!" a faceless guard ordered. "Do it slowly and keep both hands visible at all times!"
Before Rogue could obey the orders, someone grasped her wrist and yanked her up off her feet. Half a dozen pink and orange missiles rained down on the guards, throwing up pebbles, asphalt flakes and smoke to cover her unexpected escape.
"Don't let the bag go," said Remy and she knew it was Remy because there was no mistaking that voice: smooth as blackstrap rum tinged lightly with self-deprecation. Her knee banged against brick as he hauled her in through a narrow second story window. "Good that you're a little thing, ain't it?"
Bullets peppered the wall. Rogue grabbed Remy's sleeve and covered him from the fire but he wriggled away.
"Where are you going?" she hissed.
"You want to get hit?" he asked as he crab-crawled to the door. "C'mon, sweet thing. This way."
"I'm not helping you get away," said Rogue.
"Okay, but you ain't gonna stick around and get shot either, are you?"
He had a point. Securing the bag on her back. Rogue followed him out. He led her to another window on the other side of the building just behind the alley and up the fire escape. What was with this guy and rooftops?
"The guards are gonna see us that way," she said.
He swung a leg around the thin ladder. "I'll be real quiet."
"I wasn't worried about you," Rogue muttered as she followed.
Sure enough a guard looked up eventually and called a few of his buddies over. Within minutes, the rooftop clinked with bullets, leaving Rogue to cringe and pray their weapons couldn't hit anything this far up. God hadn't exactly been listening to her prayers lately so even though she didn't get hit, a muffled groan from above told her that Remy wasn't so lucky. He managed to drag himself back into the building through another open window before collapsing. Rogue followed him in, watching him fumble through his pockets for a makeshift bandage.
"So you just gonna let them come up here and get me?" he asked as he gingerly poked at the wound with a bandana.
"Actually, I was thinking of kicking your leg to make sure you couldn't get away again but that'd just be petty," she said. "On the other hand, you made me lose my place in line; I'm going to have to rethink that pettiness."
The noise from the alley softened. The guards were on their way up.
Remy tied the bandanna off, grunting a little at the pressure. She watched him lean against the wall for balance as he tested the injured leg. If need be, she could always whap his leg with the bag. His leg gave way though, his lips going white with the strain.
"Jesus H. Christ!" He smacked his hand on the floor. "I ain't ever been shot until now. It hurts as much as they say."
Rogue pursed her lips. "I could say something about crime not paying or karmic retribution but I'm really more about action not words so I think I'll just point and laugh."
"That's real cold, sheri."
"Says the guy who sells guns to buy himself a Rolex."
"Good time pieces, them."
The alley was completely silent now. The guards must be in the building.
Remy turned desperate eyes on her. "You know they're gonna shoot first and ask questions later," he said. "I got two marks against me: I'm a mutant and I stole government property."
"Well, you shoulda thought of that before all of this."
"No contingency plan on Earth coulda factored you in, sweet thing." His smile drooped ever so slightly. "C'mon, just hide me or something. You can keep the bag. Just don't let them get me."
If he had smiled at her again, Rogue could have left him without another thought. But there was no masking his desperation and he did have a point about the government. They weren't exactly on Rogue's love list any more.
She peered out the window. No visible guards. They were five floors up and if Remy couldn't even stand on his leg, there was no chance he'd be able to use the fire escape. She looked around at what they had on his level. They were in a dead-end corridor that went for maybe ten yards before turning away. No windows but the one they came in through and no other exits except for the thick sliding doors of an elevator. Rogue grinned.
"Can you get to the elevators?" she asked.
He nodded. "I'll have to do an impression of a jackrabbit but I'll manage."
"Good. Let's go."
One short-circuited scanner later, the doors opened to an underground parking lot. As Rogue took out her cell-phone, she noticed Remy hopping to the nearest car. "What are you doing?"
"Making my getaway?"
He was close enough that she could hit him with the bag. Which she did. His yowl did wonders for her bad mood.
"You're going to sit tight until I call in some friends of mine," she said. "They'll fix up your leg and then deliver you to the proper authorities."
"Yeah that? Not making me all excited about your friends," he said as he sat on the ground massaging his thigh. "Besides, by the time they get here, those guards woulda figured out where we are."
Rogue glared at him. On the one hand, she couldn't let him get away with something as serious as this. He was doing the exact kind of thing that would compromise the mutants like the X-men any, just because she didn't want to stay one forever, it didn't mean that she didn't believe in their goals. On the other hand, she couldn't just have him over to the guards. After Alkali Lake, anything connected to the government gave her the willies.
Damn, she hated how Remy was right. "Fine. But you're not hot-wiring anything. I am."
He whistled. "You got hidden depths, sweet thing. What're you doing on that bus?"
"You're really the last person I want or need to explain myself to," she said. Pulling her gloves off, she cupped his cheek. A welcome side-effect to absorbing his hot-wiring know-how was that the process shut him up.