"Alright - we got a fight on our hands!"
Cyclops glanced back at Wolverine, one hand out to delay his comrade. "No, we don't."
"WHAT?" Logan fired up, claws out. Before either of them could answer, our ears were assaulted by the loud, blistering noise of a loudspeaker.
"Attention Mutants! This will be your only warning! Surrender peacefully, or we will take action!"
Logan's feral snarl made it pretty clear he wasn't ready to surrender peacefully. "You hear that? They're getting' ready t' fire on us!"
"They don't know what they're getting into. Iceman!"
Nodding, Bobby loosed a stream of concentrated polar energy that bricked up the cave's entrance; nobody was getting in or out for a while.
"No!" Scott barked into Logan's outraged features. "We're the X-Men, Wolverine; we're not kids anymore. You trained us, and you know something? We're good."
Several projectiles whistled through the air toward our location, but Scott turned, blasting right through the ice-shield and knocking them outta the sky, quick and easy.
"We're very good."
"Let me get this straight," Logan began menacingly. "You're defyin' me?"
"Nevermind you," Mystique put in, stalking forward between them. "I am in command!"
"Listen," he told both of them, teeth clenched. "Any one of us here could smack down those choppers. But we're supposed to be heroes, not thugs."
"This unprovoked attack makes them our enemies," Mystique said firmly. "We either retaliate, or perish!"
"No," Scott said again. "They're not our enemies, but they think we are. The last thing we need to do right now is prove them right."
"So we stand on your higher ground and wind up buried beneath it?" she screamed into his face. "You really ARE insane!"
"Just think about this!" Jean said hastily, taking up Scott's cause. The missiles continued to blow through Bobby's defenses, but he renewed them almost without thinking about it. "If we go out there and start destroying their forces, they'll have all the proof they need to have us outlawed, probably put us all in prison!"
"Hauled off to internment camps," Logan said with a hollow note, as if he'd seen enough of that in his lifetime. "Or worse yet... concentration camps."
"Guys, I'm beginning to feel a little woozy," Bobby warned.
"We can't risk alienating them too early," Scott urged. "For now, we have to wait and see how this plays out. But if the President authorizes a mutant head-hunt... then I have no problem fighting our way off this continent."
This, more than anything, seemed to convince both Logan and Mystique that Cyclops might be right. It wasn't that he was scared or delusional – he just wanted to make absolutely sure the White House was gunning for our freedom before he gave the evacuation order.
"Please," Jean pressed. "It's what the Professor would expect from us."
"Guys!" Bobby shouted again, falling to one knee as he put a fresh layer of ice up.
"FINE!" Mystique snapped angrily, teeth bared. "You jeopardize all our lives, but I cannot argue; it would be a sorry thing indeed if the weather-witch and the blue baboon manage to convince those bureaucrats that we're sentient beings worthy of rights, only for us to turn around and shoot ourselves in the foot here and now. We retreat."
I noticed Wolverine sneering behind her back, pissed that she still acted like she was top banana. But he held his tongue for the moment; we had an escape to put into action.
Wanda and Jean took care of bringing down their air forces. They still wanted to shoot us, but Kurt teleported Kitty up there so she could phase a hand through their weapon systems and short them out. Grounded and defenseless, the soldiers were just hopping outside with guns when the Velocity took off into the sky, leaving them in the dust.
"Let's go get Professor X now," Cyclops said. "I bet Storm and Beast could use his help in Washington, anyway."
"You sound like a broken record," Mystique snapped while checking their rations and supplies. "Now we yet again must find living quarters. What is the use in picking up your vaunted Professor when he'll just be one more fugitive to look after?"
"Maybe he'll know somewhere we can go," Kitty volunteered. "I mean, he's a pretty smart guy, and kinda rich, right? Inheritances or whatever. The X-Mansion can't be his only hidey-hole."
"Or maybe it was," Fred boomed, folding his giant arms. "Maybe we should just buy some property somewheres else. Lotsa open country in Montana..."
Everyone turned to where Jean was watching some news program. A member of Congress was shouting at Ororo and Beast about how untrustworthy mutants were, babbling about how this proved him right. A second later the picture changed to a feed from an in-the-field camera crew, and we all saw what "this" was.
"Juggernaut," Scott said as if it were a curse word. In my opinion, it practically is.
We all turned to Mystique. "Now, why would you say that as if you're burdened by some sort of personal guilt over this?" Risty demanded.
"Because... it's true." Two blue hands curled into fists at her side, and suddenly I was looking at the most defeated, forlorn Mystique I'd ever laid eyes on. It was almost... perverse, she looked so pathetic compared to how proud and sure of herself she normally was. "And... and now I shall tell you where to find Charles Xavier."
"Beg pardon?" Logan demanded. "Why you bein' so cooperative all of a sudden?"
"He is our best chance of immobilizing Cain Marko; there's no belittling that. The faster we retrieve him, the faster we can end this public relations nightmare."
"There's no time," Scott barked. "Your stalling has cost us that luxury. Now we have to head Juggernaut off immediately, Prof or no Prof."
The growl in the back of Mystique's throat caught us all off guard. "You pompous little upstart. Do you really think we have a prayer of defeating him without a powerful mind like Xavier's? He's impervious to everything else!"
"That's what I'm here for," Jean said quietly. "My psychic blasts are improving, a little."
"I didn't think you were working that kind of mojo," Kitty hissed, trying not to make a big deal out of it.
"What choice do we have?"
The Velocity was quiet for a long moment as we weighed the pros and cons of both plans. Me personally, I was willing to let Juggernaut trample a few houses while we doubled back for the Professor since he was our best shot, but there's no way you'd catch me trying to take command of the whole X-Men to force-feed them my opinion. I'm a background kind of gal... or I definitely was back then. Rogue, the gothic wallflower.
"Then we attack with everything we have," Mystique said quietly, voice full of steel and grit. "It will take all our forces combined to defeat him without a telepath – a powerful telepath at our disposal." Jean winced. "I remain vehemently against this."
"I'll jot it down in my diary," Logan told her flippantly. "Now let's get a move on before there ain't no people left t' save."
By the time we arrived at the scene of the destruction, the indomitable behemoth had already made short work of an army helicopter... and burst a hole in a sturdy-looking dam. Thousands of people were living happy lives in the valley below, unaware that a flood was imminent. There was certainly no time to waste pussyfooting around.
"Here we go again," Rogue told me, teeth clenched. "You ready for this?"
"Ready as ever," I gulped. "Which is to say, not at all. Can I call in sick?"
"Let's go," Mystique ordered.
"May fortune favor the foolish!" I cried as we leapt from the moving aircraft, Scott keeping his eye out (small joke) for a landing spot. We didn't have time to wait for a gentle disembarking.
Kurt teleported away to rescue a pair of soldiers from the other chopper as Juggernaut used the first to knock it out of the sky. He seemed to notice us at last and grinned – and allow me to assure you that seeing Juggernaut grin at you is one of those sights that ought to be very low on your "bucket list".
"Mutant kids, now – HAH! Too bad you don't have your papa to help this time!"
"Yeah?" Scott shouted, which was an appallingly feeble comeback. Then the battle had begun, and we had worse things to fret over than snappy retorts.
Kurt and Kitty kept the neanderthal busy by distracting him; they provided ample insubstantial targets. As he concentrated on them, Mystique pounced on his back, releasing one of the four latches that kept his telepathy-proof helmet locked in place, then flipped catlike out of his range. He was still turning to retaliate when Jean magically raised him from the ground, and a quick burst of energy from Cyclops sent him spinning. Iceman tripped him up with a patch of black ice, sending him hurtling over the edge; his hand caught, and we could hear him struggling.
"Alpha Echo Charlie!" Logan ordered, and we all scurried away. I could see Mystique running over the scenarios in her head for a brief moment longer, but she caught on quickly enough so as not to compromise our strategy. It's wise to pay attention during battle sims.
Watching from the safety of the shadows, I saw his head jerking left and right, trying to figure out how we'd all turned invisible. "Where are you?" he growled, frustrated, just before Spyke sent a few bone shards his way. They bounced off harmlessly, but drew his attention; that was their only purpose to begin with. The moment he landed on the huge power transformer that Evan was on, our teammate jumped away, loosing another spike to cause it to explode and topple. Bobby hastily lubricated the side of the dam, and Kitty surfed down the ice-slide on Juggernaut's chest; when he collided with a ledge, she ghosted him halfway through it, then hopped off, smiling in a self-satisfied manner. That is, until he started pounding on everything with his massive fists; then she fled post-haste.
"Jean, the dam!" Scott said, pointing at the spillage.
"On it!" In a heartbeat, she was using her telekinesis to roll back the tide, and Bobby was solidifying it so they could leave it be for now.
"Job well done," Mystique panted, "but that won't hold Marko for long!"
"I'll handle this one," Kurt said, bamfing away. We watched as he reappeared dangling from Juggernaut's back; in a few limber moves he had two more latches released, but then the evening's villain had him by the scruff of his neck.
When he threw Kurt into Jean's midriff, sending both X-Men plummeting, I heard Rogue let out an anxious cry. Then the lummox was loose, advancing on the rest of the team. Wolverine pounced on his back and clawed the final latch open, but before he could swat the helmet free, he was swatted free.
"What are you tryin' to do, embarrass me to death? Come on, gimme your best shot!"
"You know, that's just what I had in mind!" Scott's blast easily relieved him of his dome-like headgear. Juggernaut flung a hand out desperately, trying to catch his saving grace, but it was out of reach; we heard a quiet splash in the waters below. Not waiting for him to shake it off, again and again Scott assailed him with optic bursts, but it made as little difference as if he were breaking wind.
"You think that fancy visor's gonna stop me? Nothing stops me! I'm RAW POWER!"
"You want it raw, tough guy?" Cyclops bellowed, clearly at the end of his tolerance; after everything we'd been through in the preceding hours, it's a wonder he didn't spit on the mammoth blackguard, as well. As it was, ripping off his visor and directing his unfiltered mutant ability at him was more than vengeance – it was reckless and insane. "Then take it – RAW!"
Juggernaut was blown back at least twenty meters. Moreover, entire sections of the dam were obliterated in seconds; I spied Wolverine leaping from ledge to ledge, scarcely managing to rescue a few stunned reporters from an unexpected cremation. The rest of us ducked and covered; for my own part, I hadn't the faintest inkling of what Scott might do at that moment. He was beyond reason.
Then, with steady determination, Juggernaut was walking toward him. Impossible! No way in hell could he withstand that much undiluted energy! But he was; he struggled against the crashing waves of crimson, hand outstretched, until he was clamping it down over Scott's face, sealing off the surges. His head reared back and he laughed.
The rest of us attacked, but it was no use; it was like throwing popcorn at a Buick. I spied Kitty running over to Rogue and the latter taking off her gloves. But would they be able to reach him without notice?
"You can't stop the unstoppable!"
"Are you that naïve?" I intoned, allowing the pigment to drain from my skin, stalking forward. To my dismay, my voice dropped an octave, and steam rose from my footsteps, but I couldn't care about the details. "Death comes for us all, Cain! All but me! Now it has come for you!"
My strongest empathic wave burst forth, aimed straight for the towering clot. I felt most of my energy go with it; this was all or nothing. He was a steamroller, and I was trying to rattle him. Ridiculous doesn't begin to cover it.
But it worked. I saw sweat beading on his forehead, saw his pupils dilate. He released his grip on Cyclops, and I was slightly amused to see Scott also backpedaling away and shoving his visor back in place, frantic and crazed. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of Toad fainting.
"Party's over – lights out!"
I cut off the wave when I noticed Rogue's hand latching onto his face, nails digging in as she held on for dear life – not a moment too soon, either, as I knew I couldn't keep it up for more than a further two or three seconds. Immediately, he began spinning in circles, scrabbling at his back, but my best gal pal had too good a grip on the lumbering fool. It was an agonizing stretch of time before he succeeded in throwing her off, whereupon she rolled across the concrete and lay still.
Oh, it wasn't I who screamed; Mystique beat me to it. Only because I was too out of breath from expending most of my reserves.
The look etched into Cain Marko's features was feral, incensed. He was out for blood. His fist was inches from Rogue's face when she caught it.
No, she caught it. With her own bare hands, she flung his attack away as if it were a mosquito. Again and again, he came at her, and she foiled him effortlessly. My wee little Rogue, an utter badass! With a mighty grunt, she hefted him by the waistband and chucked him into empty space.
"Crap!" Bobby hissed through his teeth, dashing forward and sending a sub-zero blast his way, encasing our foe in an enormous block of ice. We watched it spin end-over-end, then splash into the river below.
As we looked on, catching our breaths, Rogue stomped over to me, wobbling. I grinned at her. "We did it, luv!"
"Yep," she told me gruffly. She sounded a lot like Juggernaut, and her brow was furrowed much the same as his had been. Those delicious after-effects...
"That... was something else," Scott whispered to me. I'm sure his eyes were wide as dinner plates behind his visor. "I really felt like-"
"Like we were all going to bite it," Evan supplied for him. "Yeah."
"I'm sorry, X-Men," I apologised, staring down at my boots. "Guess I haven't got the hang of it enough to focus it on a singular entity."
"Oh, whatever," Kitty laughed nervously. "So I won't be able to sleep tonight – so what? It totally worked, you had him sweating bullets!"
For a few minutes we looked on as more military choppers began circling, searchlights gouging into the night to turn up the new Public Enemy Number One.
"They can't find him!" Jean wailed.
Kurt hopped over. "Should ve go hunt him down?"
"Negative," Mystique sighed. "I'm sure he's gone. Soon enough, the day will come when he shows his ugly face once more."
"And by then, we'll have the Professor back," Scott finished. "We're done here, guys. Let's move out."
As we were walking back to the Velocity, I saw Rogue swoon and pitch forward; my borrowed reflexes saved her from a bloody nose. "Hey, luv, what's the matter?"
"Nothin'," she gusted, swallowing thickly as Bobby jogged over and helped me support her weight. Scott, Jean, Logan and Mystique were all casting fleeting looks over their shoulders, trying to gauge if immediate medical attention was needed. "I'm fine, just... getting high off Chrome Dome's strength left me crashing pretty hard afterward. Got a big chunk of his memories, too. They-"
Everybody held their breath when she stopped. "They?" Scott prompted.
"They're telling me where the Professor is," she spat angrily, turning on Raven.
"What?" she said casually. "Didn't I tell you he was safe? No one would bother looking for him there."
"You let that power-tripping bully out just to stash the Prof in his chamber?"
"That true?" Logan asked, his tone deadly serious, claws out again.
"It is." Mystique folded her arms, sneering even as her face betrayed how... I think the word embarrassed applies. She was embarrassed to have us discover this flaw in her great plan to take over the X-Men. "I hope none of you are under a mistaken impression that I will not do whatever I deem necessary to meet my goals, because I will. Time and time again, I will, without hesitation or indecision."
"That would be an admirable quality," I snapped. "Well, if you weren't a raging cunt."
In a flash, Mystique's hands were curled around my throat and mine were rocketing up to bruise her wrists, but then Rogue was holding us apart with ease, gloved hands clamped around our shoulders; a little leftover muscle enhancement from old Mr. Unstoppable. "Enough, both of you," she grunted, lip curled back in a snarl. "Mystique, you should probably just shut the hell up for a while. And Risty... stop baiting her, okay?"
I nodded; she had a point, there could be no denying. Mystique squirmed for a few seconds, then also gave a curt nod, barely moving her head as her bizarre catlike eyes stared off elsewhere. Satisfied (for the moment), Rogue released us.
"Now say you're sorry and shake hands."
"Excuse me?" Mystique spat, eyes wide and deranged, just before Rogue started laughing. Most of the team joined her – even the Brotherhood tykes.
"Oh well; it was worth a shot."
••••••••••••••••••X••••••••••••••••••END CH XX
POST SCRIPT: Hi! To commemorate finally reaching Chapter 20, I've put together a little something. (All of you who've read Lark and Chimaera, just you keep silent; I know how ridiculous I am. No, no, stop that laughing!) Anticlimactically, it's a fan-soundtrack. Since X:Evo went off the air in 2003, I did my best to see that none of these songs came out any later; they are period-canonical (assuming that Evo was supposed to be set during modern times and not a bazillion years in the future), and therefore Rogue could actually have listened to them. Being that I read somewhere that she digs KoRn, Manson and Garbage and that we know her to also be the stereotypical goth teen, it wasn't difficult to use a few old favourites from my (ahem) angsty youth to fill out the rest of the track list. And I've babbled enough about this idiocy, so...
EVOLUTION OF FRIENDS: Rogue's Mix
1. Naked Birthday (Gothtastic Remix) [Switchblade Symphony] (this version is a MUST!)2. Make Me Bad [KoЯn]3. Great Big White World [Marilyn Manson]4. Tear [Smashing Pumpkins]5. Schism [Tool]6. I Love Myself Today [Bif Naked]7. The Only Thing [Stabbing Westward]8. Runaway [Linkin Park]9. Monster [Abandoned Pools]10. For You [Staind]11. Who Am I Now? [Rogue's theme from X-Men:Evolution - find it at toonzone dot net slash x-men slash music1 dot php.]12. Androgyny [Garbage]13. Misfits [Third Eye Blind]14. 3 Libras [A Perfect Circle]15. Please [Nine Inch Nails]16. I Don't Have Anything [VAST]17. Sleep Together [Garbage]18. Hopeless [Train] (a nod to Rogue's well-suppressed Southern roots, teehee)19. Stand Inside Your Love [Smashing Pumpkins]
By the way, they do add up to the length of a single CD-R, thanks for asking (preemptive strike). Then again, if you're using iTunes to compile this soundtrack because, for some unimaginable reason, you trust a random fanfiction author's taste in music, you'll probably just be synching them to your iPod. Well, FINE! Go have fun with your fancy, newfangled gadgetry, you crazy young punk! I'll bypass that technological generation entirely and wait for them to pump my jams directly into my cortical implant!