Chapter 38: “Plastic Weapons (X3), Part II”

“I knew Storm would come through,” Kitty told Bobby with a satisfied smirk.

They were sitting in the bay window of the staff room looking out into the back garden. Ororo, Hank, Logan and the new arrival — the blond guy who Bobby could tell came from serious money — had just left.

“Really?” Bobby asked. “I was sure this was it; the end of the school. I’m still in shock.”

“Please!” Kitty laughed. “Storm loves big dramatic moments. I knew she was going to step up. After all, she’s a woman who doesn’t mind a bit of power, right? Oh wow, there he is!”

“Who?”

She pointed out the window at a group who were just shaking hands on the back lawn. “There, talking to Sam and Terry; the new guy. You know who he is, right? Warren Worthington the goddamn Third!”

“Never heard of him.”

“That’s because your father never tried to raise money for a foundation. And, hello, Worthington Labs? Mutant cure?”

Bobby’s mouth gaped. “And Worthington’s son is a mutant? That’s just wrong!”

“Hmmph, maybe that’s why daddy was so keen to find the cure. Oh!” she gasped and Bobby’s eyes widened as the blond young man undid his jacket, followed by his shirt, stripping right there on the field for a growing audience. Beneath the shirt, he wore a leather harness that held in a feathered mass on his back.

“Holy shit,” Kitty breathed as the harness fell away and the wings spread wide. And even Kitty Pryde was rendered speechless as Warren Worthington III jumped into the air and, with a great beat of his wings, took to the sky. Through the glass and two hundred feet away, they could still hear Sam shouting “Yeeeeee-haw!” as he blasted off like a rocket after Warren. They dodged each other playfully, high above the back field as the crowd of students chased after them.

“God, it’s like a dream,” Kitty breathed.

Bobby said, “What?”

“Worthington! Come on, he’s stunning! You have to admit it! Like a classical painting.”

“Yeah, I guess —”

“Except one you’d like to fuck.”

“Kitty!”

“Come on, Bobby! You’re queer and, evidence would suggest, a total horndog; do not tell me you don’t find him hot.”

Bobby stood up, blushing and walked away from her. “I’m not playing ‘hot or not’ with you, Kitty.”

She followed him to the next window where they found themselves staring out again. “You are the least fun gay boy I’ve ever met!” she sulked. “Cut the bullshit. Worthington: hot or not?”

Another wave of blush passed over Bobby’s features as he lowered his voice. “Not as hot as Sam.”

Her laughter echoed off the walls. “Excellent! Admit it, it’s more fun now that you’re out, isn’t it?”

He managed a smile. “Maybe.”

Kitty was playing with the window latch, watching dreamily as the boy with angel’s wings swooped high in the air. Almost nonchalantly, she asked Bobby, “So, you told your girlfriend yet? You know, the one who thinks she’s marrying you one of these days?”

Bobby cringed. “I-I’ll tell her after dinner, I promise.” This time they both gasped as Warren Worthington III flew right past their window, close enough for them to see his exultant smile. It was the face of freedom.

By the time Bobby went to look for her, Rogue had already cleaned out her room and left the mansion.

 

If Scott had still been there, Bobby would have been able to beg a car, but he didn’t have that kind of relationship yet with Storm, Hank or anyone else who might let have the keys. He had never hitchhiked before, but he had to get in to Manhattan. As he left the gate, he contemplated the long stretch of Graymalkin Lane, practicing smiles and non-threatening “good mornings” that he would deliver to drivers. With his luck, some pervert would stop for him, offering him a ride that wasn’t exactly free. This led to a distracting and kind of arousing train of thought that was interrupted by the sound of a motorcycle approaching from behind.

“You going after her?” Logan asked, pulling up beside Bobby and fixing him with that intimidating stare.

“Yeah. Are you?”

“Nope. I told Rogue it was her decision to make.”

Bobby thought about this. Maybe Logan was right. Maybe he was sticking his nose in where it didn’t belong. A wave of relief passed through him; not confronting Rogue would be totally awesome. “So maybe I shouldn’t go after her either.”

“No way, Frosty. You have to go. You’re a big part of her problem, and a little honesty from you might get her thinking clearly.”

Bobby was going to launch into a bunch of what are you talking about? lines, but bullshitting the Wolverine didn’t get you very far. “Shit,” he muttered and looked down the road again for any approaching vehicles.

“Hop on. I’ll give you a ride to the train.”

Bobby reluctantly climbed up behind the powerful man. Besides the rumble of the engine between his legs, there was a palpable rumble of masculinity emanating from Logan, and Bobby felt embarrassed to be so close to him, in such a suggestive position.

To distract himself from what Kitty would have called more horndogness, he asked, “So, if you’re not going into Manhattan, where are you going?”

“Heading west. I’ve got a lady needs talking to, same as you.”

 

***

 

Rogue climbed off the bus in New Paltz, New York. It was colder here at the base of the Catskills than it had been in Westchester. She pulled up her hood and closed her cloak around her as she looked nervously at the soldiers who were escorting them to the regional cure clinic.

She had left the mansion early the previous morning, seen only by Logan. She hadn’t gone far at first — only hitchhiked as far as White Plains where she’d checked into the cheapest motel she could find, paying cash up front. She knew it was a waste of scant resources, but she needed time to think. Somewhere deep inside, she had hoped that someone from the school would track her down and talk her out of it. She knew Logan wouldn’t. More than anyone else in her life, he had always treated her like she could make up her own mind. While she appreciated that, sometimes she found herself wishing he would maybe play the big brother, and just kind of tell her what to do. Sometimes. So there would be no “rescue” from the Wolverine, and with all the upheaval at the school following the Professor’s death, she was pretty sure no one else had even noticed her absence.

Sitting alone in that depressing motel room, she realized it was time to be Marie again — not Rogue the “gifted youngster,” not one half of Bobby-Rogue. It was time to rely on the bravery and smarts that had led her from Mississippi to Northern Alberta when she had been only 16. Her heart was stabbed again by the memory of Bobby and Kitty skating, looking so happy, so natural. She couldn’t blame Bobby for wanting someone he could have a normal relationship with.

Upon arriving at the bus station, she had been shocked to find the scarily anonymous “cure” buses, complete with military escort, ready to carry would-be former mutants to the regional clinic in New Paltz. The other mutants didn’t seem to hesitate before climbing aboard. Rogue, on the other hand, couldn’t help but feel they were all being herded off like cattle to the slaughter.

When they arrived at the clinic, the size of the line-up outside surprised her, as did the presence of protestors who made up for their small numbers with loud ferocity. Everything felt wrong, like the universe was sending her signs to turn back, return to the mansion and Bobby and work everything out. But she knew that wasn’t really an option. It would have been like returning to her parents’ home and saying, “Hey, I was just kidding about that mutant stuff.” Then she realized that soon she’d be able to do just that.

There was a sign marked “Registration” with a smaller line and this she joined just behind a serious black man who revealed webbed fingers when he filled out the forms. Then it was her turn.

“Name?”

“Marie Anton.”

“Age?”

“Eighteen.”

“Any allergies to medications? To antibiotics? Latex?”

“None.”

“Family history of stroke, diabetes, heart disease?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Take this form and join the line. The wait is about 90 minutes.”

“Oh! Is there somewhere to sit down while we wait?”

“Sorry. If you can find someone to hold your place in line —”

“That’s all right, thank you very much.”

She walked backwards along the line, seeking its end. She turned the corner and saw that it stretched all down the side of the large municipal building and then wrapped around the back. She finally found the end. No one spoke to each other, and a strong sense of shame hung in the air like musk. Some of the people, she was sure, were embarrassed just to be seen in a crowd of mutants. Others, like her, must have been wondering if there was a secret price to be paid for normalcy — a bill in the mail that would soon arrive to shock them.

The line inched forward.

 

***

 

Bobby couldn’t believe the size of the line. Not only was he unused to seeing so many mutants in one place, he was astonished that so many wanted to be rid of that core part of themselves. The clinic was located in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, not far from Mutant Town. He remembered his visit there on his birthday. That night, he had been unable to see any visible mutants except in the club. Today was different. Down the east side of the street, in the shadow of the tall buildings, were two long lines of nervous mutants waiting for the clinic to open. At the front of one line, would-be cure recipients registered and then, paperwork in hand, joined the other long line. In a brightly lit parking lot on the west side of the street was an almost equally large group of protestors. The crowd, made up of both obvious mutants and those that could pass for human (maybe some were human), was vocal and angry. Their signs read: “Stop the Government Conspiracy to Wipe Us Out!!” and “God Made Me a Mutant.” Bobby noted more than a few omega tattoos. Cops with hooded, suspicious eyes watched the scene, muttering to each other in low voices.

His best approach, he decided, was to get in and out of there quickly. When he found Rogue, he would ask her to go with him to talk somewhere. Over coffee or something. He left his safe and neutral spot up the street and approached the mutants awaiting the cure. He scanned the line in vain for her. He panicked that he might be too late, but then he realized that the clinic wasn’t even open yet. He made his way up to the registration desk, receiving dirty looks from people waiting in line.

“Sorry,” he told them. “Just… just checking for someone.” He cleared his throat and a woman at the desk who looked more than a little frazzled turned her head his way.

“Please join the line at the back, sir,” she said.

“I’m, uh, looking for a friend. Do you think I could see your, um, list of… people?”

“You’re kidding me, right? Please step aside.” the woman said and turned to help the next person in line.

“Look,” Bobby said, pressing forward. “It’s really important! She’s 18, about 5’6, long brown hair with a big white stripe —”

The woman raised her head, trying to see around the people pressed close in front of her. “Security!” she called and Bobby backed off.

“Okay, okay!”

Frustrated, he crossed to the west side, walking backwards, scanning again for Rogue. Some of the people in line shot him dirty looks, as if he was there to stop them in their quest for normalcy. Still walking backwards, he suddenly ran out of street and tripped on the curb. Strong arms grabbed him and he spun around, righting himself, preparing an embarrassed word of thanks.

His four-armed rescuer greeted him with a snarl that showed pointed teeth. “You better choose which side you’re on, buddy! If you’re a traitor like those fuckwads, you should get out of my face before you get hurt.”

Bobby was so shocked, he just staggered away. He might have thought he’d be more at home on this side of the street with the proud mutants, but the level of hostility, the fury of the banners and the slogans made him queasy. Didn’t these people know how hard it was for some mutants? Couldn’t they appreciate this wasn’t an easy choice?

He turned again and found himself face-to-face with someone from his past.

 

***

 

John had flown into LaGuardia the day before and spent the night in a Brotherhood safe house in the Bronx. Away from the strict schedule that ruled his life at Brotherhood headquarters, he could have slept in a bit, but he wanted to hike again through the streets of Manhattan. As the towers loomed up around him and the cars and people surged by, he reflected how you never really know you’ve changed until it’s already happened. It hadn’t been so long since he had freaked out on the steps of Xavier’s school in front of everyone because he was too scared to join a field trip into the City. He had been terrified of meeting up with someone from his past — a gang member or an old customer. Safe at last at the mansion, he couldn’t handle the repercussions of facing down his old life.

Well, he had grown up, hadn’t he? Magneto’s lieutenant walked with swagger and self-possession down those very same streets. No one could fuck with him.

He heard the crowd before he turned the corner, and when he saw it he felt a thrill. An angry mob of mutants, including a lot of Omega Revolt, hurling abuse at the clinic across the road and at the mutants lining up to be neutered. It was quite an audience, and he would give them a hell of a show!

Then he saw him, and his heart stopped: Bobby Drake, large as life, staggering around like a lost dog with his “uh-oh” expression on. Two things struck John immediately — no, three: Bobby looked as beautiful as ever; even better with a bit of maturity around that jaw, a little less baby fat. Two: he wanted to talk to Bobby, hear his voice, even though he knew it would hurt like mainlining battery acid. Could the Phoenix have been right? Was it even conceivable Bobby still loved him? Impossible!

And so three: he could take Drake prisoner. Who knew what the Brotherhood could demand from Storm for his safe return. Weapons? New recruits? The mansion itself? The plan had merit, but the very idea of it made him break out in a cold sweat. All of the swaggering confidence seemed to drain out of him, like a trail of piss leaking down his leg. Magneto’s fucking lieutenant had one Achilles heel and there he was in his preppy little windbreaker, apologizing to people as he stepped all over their feet.

What the fuck was Bobby doing here anyway? Surely not taking the cure. Rogue. It had to be Rogue. John wasn’t surprised; if he had been forced to spend another year with Drake, he might have run screaming for the cure himself. Bobby’s beauty might still pierce his soul, but the cost of loving that hypocritical ball of confusion was too high for anyone to bear. Fine, he wouldn’t kidnap him (if you even could, the realist in him reminded). At least Drake would see him in action. He’d know what John had become.

He was about to stride boldly out onto the street when a hand grabbed his ankle. Startled, he looked down at the terrible, ruined face of a homeless guy. Overweight, swathed in layers of grimy, baggy clothes, his head and exposed hand were patched, stretched, practically melted with terrible burn scars. He seemed to be African American, but there was so little normal skin left, it was hard to be sure. Still… something familiar…

“Guh… Muh… Muh…” the man said through burned lips, thick as hot dogs, gripping John’s pant cuff with one hand, shaking his tin can with the other. John knew he should just kick the guy loose, or throw some coins his way and move on, but there was something… something… Nikkatyne? No! Impossible, the gang leader was dead! John had lit him on fire and he had blazed like a torch!

“Gi… Me… Yuhhh…”

“Leave me the fuck alone! Let go!” John screamed, totally freaked out, and shook his leg spasmodically until the man was forced to loose his grip. John fled, diving into the crowd of protesters, heading for the back where he pressed himself against a brick wall and panted, waiting for his heartbeat to slow, waiting for the return of his mojo.

 

***

 

The man with the webbed hands was just ahead of Rogue in the long line. He had a terrible story of ostracism and degradation to tell, and he related it bit by bit as they progressed slowly, inexorably from the back of the building to the side. Rogue’s feet hurt and she cursed herself for wearing heels. And for not packing a lunch. But this wasn’t a pleasure trip, so she focused on the man and his story. He told her he wouldn’t be seeking the cure if he could have remained hidden, but in addition to the hands, his mutation involved his skin changing to a vivid purple when he was excited or scared.

Rogue was less specific about her own story, saying only, “I can never love anybody… the way I am.” She and the man spoke confidentially, their voices lowered, and the people around them pretended not to be listening. There was no true sense of community or camaraderie; just grim determination.

Rogue reached the point where the line turned the corner to the front of the clinic. Here she was forced to endure the taunts of the anti-cure protestors. She watched the line progress and estimated that in about 25 minutes, it would be her turn to pass through the glass doors into the building and change her destiny.

She first became aware something was wrong when staff from the clinic ran to the soldiers, gesturing and pointing. Two of the armed men quickly relayed some message into their radios and ran around the corner. A terrifying crash and the sound of distant exclamations. Everyone around her jumped in surprise. The protestors stopped their chanting. The mutants in line looked at each other, but no one wanted to be the first to move; they had already waited so long.

“Listen, sugar,” Rogue said to her neighbor, whose skin had indeed begun to change to the hue of a ripe plum, “I’m just gonna take a look-see. Hold my place, wouldja?”

She slipped around the corner, realizing that the battle instincts from all her Danger Room sessions were kicking in. Calm down, she thought. It’s probably nothin’. Then one of the soldiers was flying through the air, crashing into a mailbox. The line flew apart, like a chain exploding into its component links. People screamed and ran, and Rogue ran too, but towards the trouble, without stopping to question her decision. Her cloak rose behind her like a sail.

The source of the chaos was two mutants, a man and a woman, who were dressed in what appeared to be circus outfits — skin tight, brightly-colored, designed more to show off their fit bodies than for any practical purpose that Rogue could imagine. The man had the other soldier suspended by his shirt, feet milling the air.

“Get rid of him, Buster!” the woman yelled and the man drew back his mighty arm and sent the guard flying after his colleague. He landed badly, just to Rogue’s left and she ran to him.

“Shoot! You okay?” The man cursed and held his arm. Rogue said, “That might be broken. Get out of here and call for backup.”

The man grunted through his pain. “Leave the area… Everyone leave —”

But she already on the move, saying, “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be okay.”

She assessed the situation. The woman had taken to the air, flying smoothly and effortlessly. She and the man had corralled about 20 of the people in line into the alcove around the building’s loading dock. The woman guarded the entrance of the alcove, floating a few feet above the ground. Any time someone tried to escape, she would fly at them and drive them back.

“I’m Boomer,” she shouted as she came to rest a few feet above the ground. “And the big guy is Buster. We call ourselves Team Mayhem.”

Buster stood behind the group and, hearing the team name, was moved to bellow what sounded like a football cheer: “Spitting in the humans’ face / Mutants are the master race!”

Boomer laughed with appreciation and continued. “You weaklings make us sick! It’s our job today to show you how real mutants use their powers. You have a choice. Use your gifts or die. There is no cure for you. Yo! Incoming!”

Buster gave a guttural roar as he ripped a huge HVAC unit off the back of the building. It must have weighed at least a ton, but he lifted it over his head like it was nothing and hurled it into the crowd. Screams, desperate attempts to escape and then suddenly a cloud of bubbles rose and caught the projectile, suspending it in the air for a second or two while people scrambled out from underneath, before it crashed to the ground. A young teen, bubbles still leaking from her upraised hands, tears spilling from eyes, stood gasping beside the wreck.

“Excellent, kid!” Boomer cried, flying excitedly overhead. “That’s how a mutant behaves! Not whining for a cure.” She called to her partner: “Boomer! Another one!”

“Stop it!” Rogue shouted and ran into the alcove to face the floating mutant. “Let these people go immediately.”

Boomer looked excited and amused. “And who the hell are you?”

“I’m an X-Man,” Rogue said defiantly, realizing just how weird it was to be saying that under the circumstances. You gotta do what you gotta do, she realized. This morning, that meant coming to get cured. Now, well… She turned and marched toward the strong man who was just about to tear the concrete pad of the loading dock loose. “And you leave that where it is! It is none of your business if these people want the cure, and I will not allow this criminal behavior!”

Her heart was pounding as she stared him down. “You?” he said in confusion. “You won’t allow…?” Rogue glared at him and pulled off one of her gloves. Buster didn’t know what she could do to him, but he was clearly intimidated by her attitude. Then his eyes left Rogue and he looked up, over her head. Before she could turn, Rogue was grabbed under the arms and swept off her feet, high into the air.

 

***

 

“Derek!” Bobby called in surprise.

The mutant with the bright red face and gill slits on his cheeks pulled off his oversized, rhinestone-studded sunglasses and gave Bobby a cool, appraising glance. “Drake, my brother. Glad to see you here, ready to fuck da fascist system up the ass (no homo)!”

“Huh? Oh yeah, actually I was looking for —”

“Yeah, me and Tonio were supposed to be bustin’ our rhymes against the cure here.”

“Oh yeah?” Bobby said with a nervous smile. “That’s great.” He was looking past Derek, trying to see if Rogue had joined the line across the road.

Derek grabbed his arm and brought his face close, spitting lyrics at him like bb pellets. “A twisted psychology / To cure your biology / All the knowledge we gained / Why not shoot out your brains?!”

Bobby pulled his arm loose and took a step away. “Uh, that’s great. I’m sure you would have been a hit.”

“Fuckin’ right, but OH NO! Someone’s got his priorities FUCKED UP!” Veins were pulsing in Derek’s temple. “I mean, you tell me, Bobby, what’s more important? Stopping mutant genocide or screwing over your partner — your brother — for ten goddamn percent on a merchandise contract?!”

Bobby kept backing away, and the crowd began filling in between them. As apologetically as he could, he called, “Derek, I don’t have time for —”

Derek was still shouting as Bobby retreated. “What are we here for, Drake?! What’s our goddamn mission?! That’s what Tonio’s gotta ask himself!”

Bobby squinted through the crowd. The clinic would open in 30 minutes. Media trucks were in the street now, and reporters had begun talking earnestly into cameras. If Rogue wasn’t here, where was she? Somehow, stopping her, finding her, confessing everything seemed like the only road to salvation. He had to focus, but everything was confusion and he was turning, turning, staring past faces of fury, faces of despair…

…and straight into the face of John Allerdyce.

 

***

 

Rogue screamed as Boomer flew her up over the building and almost smashed her into one of the chimneys of the clinic. “Come on, tough girl,” Boomer mocked. “Show me your mutant moxie! Or are you just another pile of self-pitying slime?” She flew them around and around in dizzying jerks. Below, Rogue could see soldiers firing on Buster without effect. The man ripped a light standard from the ground and used it to sweep his attackers away.

“Put me down!” Rogue shouted, and the woman dropped her. She tumbled end over end, screaming, her cloak coming loose and blowing away before Boomer swung round and lifted her again into the air, taking them higher than ever.

“Gonna drop you again, girl,” Boomer shouted over the whistling wind. “Come on, show me what you got! Lightning? Telepathy? Make me think I’m a dog and I’ll bark for you!”

Rogue knew she should be terrified, but the terror was somewhere back there in the back of her mind. Up in the front, she was just really, really pissed off. “You have got three seconds to take us down to the ground!” she warned the flying woman.

“And you’ve got two seconds before I let go and make you into a little sidewalk stain!”

“No!” Rogue yelled, and she could feel the arm holding her begin to loosen. She pulled quickly at her glove and it flew away in the breeze. And just as Boomer let go again, Rogue reached out to grab her bare arm, tightening her hand around the unfamiliar flesh. She felt the incredible, shocking exhilaration as the woman’s life energy began to flow into her. Power, knowledge, history, feelings — the floodgate open wide.

Mom said I was NOTHING! Wait until she sees this… I love Buster so much, but how can we ever… If Buster knew about Lars and me, he would kill me… Never tell Please never tell ANYONE I tried to kill myself after the abortion…

Focus, focus, Rogue sifted through the flow of information and found it… the key to the power, the knowledge she needed… And just before they hit the ground, Rogue took charge and flew them back into the air. Oh! flying was wonderful! It was not like turning on jets in her feet, or being lighter than air… No, it was some amazing push-pull with gravity itself… Dancing into arms of the Earth and then spinning away — swing dancing into the sky!

But there was no time to exult. She could feel Boomer (whose real name she now knew was Vera Garai, born in Iowa, overweight as a teenager, lost her virginity at age 15 to a boy named…STOP!) could feel her dying. She had to land. She swung around and headed for the ground, but had to turn sharply up again as Buster appeared below her, swinging the light standard like she was a fly and he was determined to swat her.

“Let go of her, you fucking bitch!” he called, and Rogue could hear the desperation in his voice. She knew from Boomer’s memories how jealous he could get, but then she realized the truth for the first time: he actually loves me… No! He loves Boomer, not me… Rogue was getting confused as the woman’s ebbing life force kept flowing into her.

“Let me land or she’ll die!” Rogue screamed. Buster didn’t seem to hear. She turned and flew towards the roof, but he was faster than he seemed. He jumped halfway up the wall and climbed the rest of the way hand over hand, arriving up top before Rogue did. She turned away from his pummeling fists at the last minute, but the man was crazy with rage and launched himself into the air, grabbing onto her. His arms were around her waist, and his skin was touching her bare stomach where her shirt had come un-tucked.

The shock of the second energy flow made the whole world spin sickeningly. The pair were more than friends; dependent on each other, perhaps in love, they were coming face to face, completely and without masks in Rogue’s mind. Rogue, dizzy and confused desperately wanted to land, but she seemed to be rising, rising as if these lives that collided inside her were rocket fuel. She experienced everything. She took all and left nothing. She couldn’t help it.

Chapter 39

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