Chapter Eight: A Humourous Interlude
Disclaimer: All belongs to Marvel. etc, etc, etc. Damn it all.
Words in //slashes// indicate telepathic conversation.
Mesmero moved silently through the trees, his eyes darting from side to side, ensuring that no one was trailing him. At last his master had communicated that it was time for the final stage to begin and Mesmero had clear instructions about who he was to contact and what he was to offer her.
He halted abruptly and looked up in the direction of the voice. Mystique dropped down from the tree she had been perched on and glared at him. "Well?" she asked. "What do you want? You said you could help me secure my future."
"And that of your daughter," Mesmero said sibilantly.
Mystique's eyes narrowed to yellow slits. "Is that so?"
"My master will reward you and your daughter for your assistance."
"Is this a threat?"
"Not a threat, merely a offer."
"An offer I can't refuse?"
"You can refuse," Mesmero smiled. "But you would jeopardising your daughter's future happiness."
Mystique's lip curled. "You're not convincing me," she turned away.
"And she would finally come back to your side."
Mystique paused. This was the choice Irene had hinted at. But what was the right decision? Would she really place Rogue in danger if she turned this man down now? Or would Rogue be in greater danger if Mystique accepted? She bit her lip, keeping her face averted as Mesmero repeated his words. The chance to have her daughter back, could she really risk losing it?
"Very well," Mystique faced Mesmero again, her expression cold. "I will assist you, but be warned _magician_, cross me or hurt Rogue and you will regret it!"
Mesmero bowed. "I assure you, Mystique, your daughter's safety is my paramount concern. She is very important to my master."
A chill ran down Mystique's spine and for a brief moment she was prepared to renege on her agreement then and there. But she quelled the thought. She would be with Rogue, keeping her safe and if necessary pulling them both out of the deal.
"What do I need to do?"
Mesmero smirked inwardly. "Come with me and I shall explain."
Erik parked the X-van outside the Brotherhood of Bayville House. "Have I mentioned lately that I don't think this is a good idea?"
"Only about 20 times in the last 5 minutes. Congratulations! You're ahead of Scott."
"This is a bad idea."
"Oooohh, that's 18 for Scott and 20 for Erik."
Scott and Erik exchanged a glance and turned to glare at Bobby in unison.
Bobby grinned, totally impervious to his impending doom.
Scott sighed. "Maybe the Brotherhood won't want to come," he offered feebly.
"Woooo!!! Road trip! Road trip! Road trip!" Toad bounced excitedly out of the door. "So, next stop New York?"
"Just Bayville," Erik said coldly. "You know, it's not too late for me to go back to my evil ways and my super-secret hideout."
"The one on Mt Ereros?"
"How did you… Gambit told you, didn't he? He's got a big mouth for a thief!"
"Is it true that you can get 130 channels?"
"Shut up! I am not taking you to my formerly secret hideout."
Lance ambled over to the car and leaned in through the window. "So, what exactly _are_ we doing anyway?"
"Have we decided?" The X-Men and New Mutants looked at each other.
"Well, this was Kurt's suggestion…"
"Vhy are you all looking at me? None of you LIKED my idea."
"That's because going to ice cream parlours is girly."
"But I _like_ ice cream!" Kurt sighed. "How about a movie then? There's a really good pirate movie on! I've seen it six times, but I don't mind seeing it again."
"Nah, seen that one. Besides it's too expensive to go to the movies."
"Erik's got money. Gambit told me he's got a Swiss bank account."
"I'm not taking you lot to the movies," Erik said firmly. "Forget it."
"Well okay then, what did kids used to do in _your_ day for fun?"
Erik's mind went blank. "Uh, well we... we… there may have been swimming in summer. Uh, and the older boys would go to clubs and sporting events."
"Woooo, big excitement," Bobby mocked. "No wonder you're such a stick in the mud."
"Yeah, but what's Scott's excuse?" Evan muttered.
"I HEARD that Evan!"
At this point Pietro zoomed up. "Are you slowpokes still discussing this? Standing around here is _boring_. Why don't we go and get something to eat and decide _then_."
"Oh my God, a _sensible_ suggestion… from _Pietro_?!"
"Shut up Evan!"
"Fine, food it is!" Erik jumped in before an argument could break out. "Where?"
"Burgers!" The boys all called out in unison.
Erik twitched. "I thought you wanted _food_, not reprocessed plastic."
"Insensitive, moronic, stupid, unfeeling, rat bastard!" Rogue ranted. "Heartless monster! Idiotic, stubborn, arrogant, insensitive…"
"You already said insensitive," Wanda interjected.
"Oooh, here's a good one," Kitty looked up from the thesaurus. "Fascist!"
There was a long pause.
"Nooooo…" Rogue said slowly. "I don't think I can use that one."
"Elitist," Rogue rolled it around on her tongue. "I can work with elitist."
"Absolutely! How could I forget egotistical?"
"Chauvenistic worm?" Tabitha offered.
"I don't know if we can really describe him as chauvenistic," Rogue thoughtfully took a big bite of cookie dough ice cream. "How about caustic?"
"Caustic," Kitty looked it up in the dictionary. "Caustic's good."
"Okay," Rogue took a deep breath. "Elitist, egotistical, caustic worm!"
"Did _that_ get it out of your system?" Jean asked.
"For now. Don't put the thesaurus away yet." Rogue sniffed.
"So…" Wanda drawled. "Are you ready to tell us what prompted all of this?"
Rogue mumbled something.
"Oh come on Rogue. If he screwed up - _I_ want to know how… so that I can torment him about it for the rest of eternity!"
"Oh get over it Jean," Wanda yawned. "Come on Rogue, talk. What did he do that was so bad? Why did he reject you? God, he's not interested in someone else, is he?"
"Maybe he didn't realise that you were that into him," Amara suggested. "I mean, guys are pretty dim sometimes – even if they're really actually supposed to be mature like Erik – I mean, he does know that you're really, really interested?"
"Oh yeah. Ah was pretty…" Rogue squirmed, "clear."
"This isn't giving us much information," Wanda purred. "If you can't tell us, who can you tell? We're your _friends_."
"It's not _them_," Rogue indicated the other girls. "It's, well, _you_. Ah mean, he _is_ still your father and…"
"Oh please," Wanda scoffed. "I can handle it. I can handle _anything_."
Rogue blushed, although it was hard to tell under all that makeup. "Well, Ah, Ah… Ah told him Ah really liked him and suggested he take me away from all of this, and Ah'd be with him, day and… night…"
"EEWWW!!!" Wanda screeched. "Eugh! No! Images I did not want! Bad! BAD! UNCLEAN!!"
"You said you could handle it!" Rogue shouted.
"I was wrong! I didn’t know you meant… _that_. I thought, kissing maybe."
"Oh they've been there and done that," Kitty snickered. "I guess they're moving on to other things." She leaned forward. "So, how far _have_ you gone?"
"EW!" Wanda waved her hands. "Shut up! Shut up! I don't want to know!"
"Don’t you think you're overreacting a bit Wanda?" Jean asked. "After all, you had to come in to this world somehow. Sex is a natural part of life."
Wanda turned on Jean. "So you're okay with the idea of _your_ parents doing the nasty?"
Jean went pale. "I, well, that is…"
"Have you ever _seen_ them at it? All sweaty and…"
"WANDA!" Kitty screeched. "YUCK!"
Rogue smirked as Jean gagged. "Ah feel better now."
"Great, we feel your pain," Kitty made a face. "Can't we talk about something else? Like, why you even thought he was full out rejecting you? Considering he's been dribbling after you for months?"
Rogue's mood took an abrupt downturn and she scowled. "He kept blithering on about how Ah had lots of potential and was really powerful…"
"Which you are," Jean interrupted.
"Yeah, who kicked our collective butts all over downtown a couple of weeks ago?" Amara pointed out.
"And you have the magnetic powers," Kitty pointed out.
"Ah DON'T!" Rogue burst out.
There was a stunned silence. Rogue hugged her knees and bowed her head, not meeting the eyes of the other girls. Then Wanda touched her shoulder. "When did you realise that?"
"A few days ago," Rogue's voice was muffled. "Ah was feeling fine and Ah tried to… and it didn't work, nothing did. Ah've lost them for good."
"So?" Wanda said. "Does it really matter? You're still you. You're still capable of cleaning our clocks if you really wanted to."
"But… Ah miss being able to _do_ things. And Ah thought if Ah could learn how to use them Ah could eventually generate a shield, like Erik does, and Ah could touch… anyone Ah choose."
"I know this sounds harsh," said Jean softly, leaning closer. "But perhaps it is a good thing they're gone. You were relying on them too much and ignoring your natural mutation. I'm sure that you will learn to control it, because you can do anything you want to," she grinned. "Who saved Scott from Mystique? Who saved me from Blob? You didn't have magnetic powers then!"
Rogue raised her head and glowered at Jean. "All right, all right, Ah get you. Just stop the inspiring speeches, okay?"
Jean held up her hands in surrender. "Speeches stopped, I promise."
"Okay, like, we _need_ to break the tension!" Kitty clapped her hands together. "Let's… watch 'Maid in Manhattan'!"
A chorus of groans and thrown chocolate wrappers greeted this suggestion.
Blob burped loudly and a chorus of disgust rose up from the tables around him.
"Keep it down, man!" Evan tossed a straw wrapper at the larger teen. "That must've been heard in LA!"
"At least it came out of his mouth, Daniels," Pietro snarked from the table he shared with Blob, Lance and Todd. "Unlike some people…"
Evan's face darkened with rage. "Why you…"
Erik sipped moodily on his black coffee as yet another slanging match erupted between his son and Evan. Swallowing the dregs, he crushed the cup and tossed it acurately into the rubbish bin nearest his table. He supposed to the eventual agreement to eat at the Bayville Mall food court had not been a bad one, but he still thought the food tasted like cardboard. Plus the noise – not just from the X-people and Brotherhood boys – was giving him a headache. And they had _still_ not decided what to do next. He wondered if he could slip away without anyone noticing.
"This is fun, isn't it?" Jamie asked him.
Erik winced inwardly. He wasn't sure at what point in the evening Jamie had decided he was a fun person to be around, but he wished he'd seen it in time to stop it. Now the boy was following him around like a puppy.
"Yes," he said, trying not to sigh. "It's very… scintillating."
"Never mind." Erik had an idea. "So Jamie, if this were _your_ party, what would _you_ do?"
"Oooohhhh!!! I know!" Jamie beamed. "The video arcade! I'm really good at that Initial D driving game!"
"Arcade, great!" Erik rolled his eyes. *Dear God I hope not.*
"Did someone say arcade?"
*I'll get you for this God.*
In one great mass, the boys converged on the mall arcade, dragging the unwilling Scott and Erik along with them. Once inside, everyone split away to their favourite games. Kurt even managed to convince Scott to join him in a game of air hockey, while Pietro challenged Evan to a game of Dance Dance Revolution.
"And no powers Maximoff!"
"I'm warning you Pietro! We'll be watching you!" Roberto said menacingly.
"Oh, I'm _so_ scared."
Erik watched the game for a couple of minutes, and then realised it was going to descend into carnage, and decided to remove himself.
"Hey Erik! Come and play this with me!" Jamie waved. "It's a two-player shooting game. We play cops and we have to shoot the bad guys."
Erik sighed. "Alright." Taking the second player gun, he prepared himself.
"Kay. Oh, just shoot offscreen if you run out of bullets. Here we go!"
BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM.
Jamie blinked. "Wow. That was great. Ummm… but you're not supposed to shoot the civilians."
"Oops," Erik said insincerely.
"Okay, let's try again!"
Erik rolled his eyes and sighted once more.
Five minutes later Team Jamie and Erik had achieved the highest score in the history of the arcade. Jamie had only fired twice.
"How'd you get so good at shooting people?" Sam asked.
Erik smirked. "If I told you, I'd have to kill you."
Sam searched his face for a sign this was a joke. Nothing.
"Okay Rogue, truth or dare?"
"Remind me again why we're playing this?"
"Because it's _fun_," said Kitty. "Truth or dare?"
"Shoot, I was going to ask you what your name was."
"Ah know. That's why Ah went with dare."
"No fair! It can't be _that_ bad."
"Unless it's like, Sue Ellen or something…"
"Or maybe Marie-Louise?"
Rogue sighed. "Quit guessing and dare me already."
"Fine then," Kitty smiled evilly. "I dare you to stand on the bed and sing 'Oops, I Did It Again'."
"You'll pay for this Pryde!"
"Who's got the camera?"
"Quick, more cookie dough ice cream! I need to be on a sugar high!"
"Good thing I brought a large tub," said Wanda, handing it over.
"So what do we do now?" Pietro asked.
"You want to do _more_?" Erik asked incredulously.
"Mmmrrmm.." Jamie muttered.
Erik sighed. After finally being kicked out of the arcade following a suspicious 'accident' on the Dance Dance Revolution machine, the mutants had piled back into the X-van and Lance's jeep. However, the whole thing had been a bit rushed, and subsequently the teams had been a little bit mixed up. This meant that Blob, Toad, Lance, Sam, and Roberto were all in Lance's jeep, which had taken a wrong turn, and left Erik, Scott, Ray, Jamie, Kurt, Evan, Bobby and Pietro in the X-van. This was _not_ an ideal mix. As a result, Erik was still driving, with Jamie sandwiched between himself and Pietro. Scott had volunteered to sit in the back and keep an eye on the more volatile members of the X-Men. This mostly consisted of saying "Shut up Bobby," or "Shut up Evan" every two minutes.
"Well, what _can_ we do?" Erik asked more quietly, trying not to wake up Jamie. "You're all too young to drink or go to nightclubs, you don't want to go to the movies, and I'm not going _near_ another arcade," he glared meaningfully at Pietro.
"What did _I_ do?"
"Shut up Evan."
Erik sighed and stopped for a red light. His head was thumping loudly. He frowned and turned to look at the car which had pulled up next to him. Apparently the thumping was coming from the unnecessarily loud sound system within it. Two boys roughly the same age as Pietro and Evan grinned at him and nodded in time with the beat. The driver revved his engine loudly.
Erik raised his eyebrow. "You want to race _me_?"
"What? Afraid you'll wreck your Daddy's car?"
The other boy laughed. "Aw, leave em alone Eli. They're just a bunch of kiddies, probably on the way home from Bible class. They could never keep up with _us_."
Erik wondered what they'd look like as their car came apart around them. Hmmm…
Scott poked him in the shoulder. "No powers!"
Erik twitched. "Why Summers, I would _never_ do _anything_ like that."
"Shut up Erik."
Pietro sneered and leaned over to the window. "You losers think we couldn't keep up with _you_? I could _run_ faster than your cheap, souped-up little Japanese import!"
"You tell him Pietro!" Evan cheered. "Kick their asses Erik."
"I'm NOT racing these children!" Erik snarled.
"Who're you calling children?!"
"Ixnay on the ildrenchay," Kurt reminded Erik.
Insults began to fly fast and furiously between the two vehicles. Evan and Pietro, united against a common foe, easily coming up with the most inventive expletives. Finally the light turned green and the car peeled away.
"Thank goodness _that's_ o…OW!" Erik howled as Pietro moved his foot over and slammed down on top of the accelerator – and Erik's foot. The X-van lurched forward. At the same time, Evan leaned over Erik's shoulder and punched the turbo accelerator button.
"Shit," Scott fell back, slamming into the side of the van and losing his usual calm. "Evan! Pietro!"
"Wha's happenin'?" Jamie awoke and was jolted against Pietro.
"GAH!" Erik struggled to keep control as three Jamies filled the front seat, one of them practically in his lap. "Jamie, reintegrate! Pietro, get the hell off my foot!"
The van swerved wildly down the street, overtaking the boy racers and screaming off into the night. The two boys stared after it as it took a corner. Just.
Sheer chaos reigned inside the van. Erik frantically tried to reach the cut-off switch for the turbo, but couldn't take his hands off the wheel for long enough to hit it. Loud sirens sounded behind them.
"Oh no," he moaned. "I said reintegrate Jamie!"
As the three Jamie's became two, Erik shoved Pietro back into his seat, and then pinned him down by using his power to snap the seat belt into place around him. "Don't move!" He growled.
Jamie finally managed to get himself together, and Erik hit the brakes. "Everyone better have their seat belts on!" He snarled, sounding uncannily like his former self. "Now licence… oh shit."
"Um…" Pietro started.
"Don't make me tell you again, young man! You are in BIG TROUBLE!"
Mutely Pietro held up a licence.
"Oh. Okay." Erik snatched it just as the policeman tapped on his window.
Erik took a deep breath as he rolled down the window. "Good evening officer," he said, smiling calmly. "What seems to be the problem?"
"Son, do you have _any_ idea how fast you were going?"
"No," Erik said with complete honesty. "I'm very sorry. It will _not_ happen again."
The policeman didn't look convinced. "Licence please."
Erik handed it over.
There was a tense pause as the policeman checked the details of the licence. Everyone began to sweat when he looked up at Erik and then narrowly examined the picture on the licence again.
Finally the officer spoke.
"So Mr Maximoff, aren't you a little young to be driving so many passengers?"
Erik tried not to snarl. "Um, we have a more experienced driver on board."
"Hi!" Scott said brightly. "We were taking turns you see. It's pretty late and I was tired and didn't want to risk driving without my night glasses. I have an eye condition you see."
The officer looked dubious. "And can you explain why you were lurching all over the road at well over the speed limit too?"
"That was my fault!" Jamie piped up suddenly. "You see, I was teasing P… Erik," he pointed at Pietro, "and then he tickled me, and I bumped into E… Pietro, and that made the car lurch."
The officer looked at him narrowly. "You shouldn't be playing games like that in the car, son."
"I know, I'm sorry," Jamie looked up at him with big, soulful eyes. "I promise I'll _never_ do it again."
The officer smiled briefly. "Well, seeing as this was an accident, and nobody got hurt, I'll just give you a ticket for speeding."
Pietro made a spluttering sound. Erik tried not to smirk.
"But if I catch you speeding again Mr Maximoff, there'll be hell to pay. Understand?"
"I understand," Erik said. "I'm really sorry about this."
The ticket written, the policeman gone, Erik started the van again and drove, slowly, down the street.
"A ticket? A TICKET!" Pietro spluttered. "That's not fair! I wasn't even driving!"
"Oh really, you could have fooled ME!" Erik shot back. "If it weren't for your powers I'd make you _walk_ home after that stunt you pulled!"
"It's moving! It's moving!" Rahne squeaked excitedly.
"Only because Tabitha's pushing it!" Jubilee glared at the blonde who grinned and stuck out her tongue.
"Tabitha! You can't manipulate the ouja board!" Kitty scolded.
"Aw who cares? It's just a load of tripe anyway. This thing isn't going to tell our futures!"
"She's got that right," Rogue muttered to Wanda from her sprawled position on her bed where she was watching the game and nibbling on Hershey's kisses.
"I can't believe Kitty has all this… stuff," Wanda murmured back.
"Believe it, Ah room with her."
"Come on, you two. It's been fun, don't you think?" Jean encouraged.
Rogue considered this, eyeing the group of girls gathered around the ouja board, the scattered rubbish of ice cream tubs, sweet packets and soft drink bottles and the piles of DVD movies stacked up by the TV. "Ah guess so."
"Do you feel better?" Jean asked, sitting down on the bed.
"A bit," Rogue admitted. "Erik's still a jerk though."
Wanda twisted to look up at her friend. "So he's a jerk for _not_ taking advantage of you. Huh, that's a new one."
Rogue opened her mouth and then hesitated. Mentally she replayed the incident with Erik and a blush stained her cheeks. "Maybe Ah was a bit hasty slagging him off," she muttered, not meeting Wanda or Jean's eyes. "But… Ah don't know. Ah guess Ah was still a bit mad after _our_ fight," she admitted, glancing at Jean. "By the way, Ah'm sorry about that."
"Me too," Jean said. "I shouldn't have said some of those things. But at the same time, I'm kind of glad we got it off our chests."
"Yeah," Rogue admitted. "Ah do feel better now."
"So does this mean you're going to give Erik another chance?" Wanda asked.
Rogue grinned at her. "Now you're on _his_ side?"
"I am _not_," Wanda asserted. "I don't care about him at all. But you're happy with him, so…" she trailed off. "Don't make me say these things."
"Sooo…" Jean nagged.
Rogue rolled her eyes. "Ah guess Ah can give him another shot."
"Good, I'm glad that's all sorted out," Wanda nodded decisively.
Rogue smirked, "So you're all fine with me and Erik… _doing_ things together."
Wanda went green. "I shouldn't have eaten all that ice cream."
"See, I _told_ you this thing was stupid!" Tabitha's voice rang out. "Who the hell did that?"
"Well it wasn't _me_, ouja-cheater!" Kitty yelled back.
"Hey, hey! No fighting!" Jean yelled. "What's the problem?"
"We asked the ouja board about Rogue's future," Amara explained. "And now Kitty and Tabitha think that they each messed up the results."
"What _were_ the results?" Rogue asked, curious despite herself.
Amara hesitated, and then held up the pad with the results written on it.
YOU ARE IN PERIL.
Rogue stared at the words for a long moment, before snorting loudly. "You're right," she said. "That _is_ stupid."
Despite this, they all continued to stare at the words until a knock on the door distracted them.
"Girls, it's late!" Storm's voice came through clearly. "The boys are on their way home and it's time for everyone to go to bed. Lights out in fifteen minutes!"
"Want to stay the night?" Rogue asked Wanda.
"Nah, I better go back with the Brotherhood," Wanda yawned. "Thanks for inviting me though."
"Thanks for coming."
They looked at each other.
"No hugging," they chorused.
Piotr Rasputin AKA Colossus walked towards the gates of the Xavier mansion, his head bowed. For days he had carried out Magneto's orders and searched for information about Apocalypse and a clue about the final key, but all his efforts had yielded nothing. The Russian was dispirited. Magneto may have changed somewhat, but he was surely not going to be pleased. Colossus only hoped that his team-mates, Pyro and Gambit, had had better luck.
"Bonsoir mon ami," Gambit emerged silently from the shadows. "From your expression I take it your luck has been as good as mine?"
"You found nothing?"
Gambit shrugged and spread his hands. "This is a secret even I could not find."
"You blokes came up short too?" Pyro sauntered up, seemingly untroubled. "Well, no use pissing and moaning about it. Let's just tell the man and…"
Headlights blinded them all briefly as the X-van roared up towards the gates, followed by Lance's jeep. Seeing the Acolytes, both vehicles screeched to a halt.
"What are they doing here?" Pietro poked his head out of the window, gawking at the Acolytes.
Grim reality intruded on Erik and his mouth thinned. His Acolytes did not have the appearance of successful men, which meant the third key still remained unfound. "Scott, take over. I'll talk to them."
For once Scott didn't argue. Erik got out and walked over to the Acolytes as Scott drove the van through the gates, the jeep following.
"Report," Erik ordered.
"There's nothing to report, boss," said Pyro. "We haven't found a bloody thing."
"He's right," Gambit agreed. "Apocalypse's whereabouts remain secret and we couldn't find out anything about the third key. And I even asked the people who usually know such things."
Erik frowned and stared into the darkness. "Very well," he said eventually. "I acknowledge that you have tried. Come, we must talk to the X-Men and work out a new plan."
After a brief hesitation, the Acolytes followed their leader inside the mansion gates, unaware that they were being closely watched.
Mystique lowered her binoculars and turned to Mesmero. "Are you sure?" she asked. "Xavier is in there, surely he'll sense you."
"Not when he is deeply asleep," Mesmero replied. "Like most, he believes he is safe in his home. Besides, all you need to do is guide me to the girl's room. I can capture her mind from beneath the window and she will come without resistance."
"And no one will know what she had done afterwards?"
"As I told you, I will give her some of my power and she will befuddle their minds. It will seem like a bad dream, nothing more."
"And Rogue will be unharmed?"
"Have I not already given you my word? She will know nothing and will come when you call."
Mystique tucked the binoculars away. "Fine," she shrugged away the prickle of unease within her. "So now all we can do is wait until they're asleep."
Mesmero drew his hood down so she couldn't see his smile. *Soon, master, the third key will come to you and revive you to your full glory!*
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