Part Four: Friday
Preparation, Kisses and Confrontations
Disclaimer: All belongs to Marvel. etc, etc, etc.
Authors notes: This is an AU ending to Season 2 and the timeline begins during the first half of 'Hex Factor', with references to 'Operation Rebirth' - where events have been changed for the purposes of this story (and will be explained - don't worry! ).
Words in //slashes// indicate telepathic conversation.
Erik closed his eyes as he stretched and entered the dining room.
"Morning everyone." He opened his eyes just in time to be speared with glares from the assembled mutants, who left him in absolutely no doubt as to whom they held responsible for the events of the past few days.
"Um, nice weather we're having?"
Scott actually snarled at him before turning back to his breakfast. Erik felt a little guilty. The X-Men's team leader hadn't taken the SECOND secret bombshell that Rogue had dropped in two days very well. The news that she and Erik had been patrolling the local parks, with WANDA of all people, in search of a kidnapper, had gone down much akin to a lead balloon. His subsequent outburst had been awesome to behold, and Rogue's cool comment that "You're gonna have awful blood pressure later in life if ya don't calm down" hadn't really helped the situation.
Erik sighed as he took his seat, and then narrowed his eyes as he watched Scott snag the last few pieces of toast, and shoot him a smirk. His sympathy wasn't limitless, and after all - Scott needed to get used to adjusting swiftly to changed circumstances if he was going to be able to continue to lead the X-Men. Erik contemplated a couple of possible revenge situations and grinned to himself.
Looking up from his grin, he met the cool and knowing eyes of Professor Xavier, and winced at the memory of the scolding he and Rogue had received from him after he'd dismissed the others and Wolverine and Beast had been sent out to check the sewers. He squirmed slightly in his chair and dropped his eyes to his plate.
"Hey, better eat up quickly, you don't want to be late to school today!" Kurt reminded him, snagging some pancakes and dumping them on Erik's plate.
"Danke," Erik responded. Kurt grinned at him and rattled off a quick sentence in German. Erik choked on his first mouthful of food and had to be pounded repeatedly on the back before he was able to breathe properly.
"What did you say to him?" Evan demanded.
"It wouldn't translate well," Kurt replied loftily, and ported off to grab his schoolbag, smirking slightly at Erik's response to his carefully worded suggestion that he get plenty of food and rest for _tonight's_ activities.
*That little furball, * Erik thought as he hastily shovelled food into his mouth. *Just wait until he's alone with HIS girlfriend.* Another thought impinged on his consciousness as he looked around the table. "Mere'th Ogue?"
Professor Xavier suppressed a smile at the sight of Rahne and Amara berating the Master of Magnetism for talking with his mouth full. Off to one side, unseen, Kitty smirked.
Rogue opened her eyes, blinked, stretched and then groaned faintly as her mind unfogged and memory kicked in. Briefly she contemplated pulling a sickie and diving back underneath the covers, but she had a strong suspicion that no one would believe her.
"Oh well..." she yawned and rolled over, pushing her hair our of her eyes. "At least Ah must be early... the alarm hasn't gone off and it's... YEEEARGH!" she sat bolt upright and grabbed her alarm clock. "Seven fifty- five????"
Galvanised into action by pure panic, Rogue jumped out of bed and ran to the bathroom. She washed, put on her make-up and did her hair in record time before scrambling into her underclothes and flinging open the door to her closet.
"Huh?" Rogue blinked.
The closet was completely empty with the exception of a pair of jeans and an off-the-shoulder top. Rogue rubbed her eyes and wondered if she was dreaming or hallucinating. Surely her closet was full last night? Although she couldn't actually remember opening it. she had been so tired and dirty, smarting from the scolding and desperate for a warm shower and bed.
"But who's gonna take MAH clothes?" Rogue wailed aloud. "Why?" she yanked open her drawers - empty - and rifled through Kitty's closet for good measure. "Why?" she peered under the bed, looked under and behind the desk and in every possible place she could think of. "Why, why, why, WHY?"
"Rogue?" there was a knock at the door and Jean's voice filtered through. "Are you okay? What's all the noise about?"
Rogue swore under her breath. Just like Miss Prissy Perfect Grey to stick her nose in where it wasn't wanted. She wrenched open the door and glared at the tall redhead. "Mah clothes have been stolen," she snapped. "Ah just a little upset, is that okay with you?"
Jean blinked in surprise. "Stolen? But how...?"
"Ah DON'T KNOW!" Rogue yelled in frustration. "D'ya think Ah'd be turning the room upside down if Ah did?"
"Well," Jean checked her watch. "Unless you want to be tardy we can't do anything about it now..." she looked at Rogue and cleared her throat, blushing faintly and moving ever-so-slightly back. "Umm... so you don't have anything to wear...?"
Rogue looked at in her in puzzlement. "Why are ya..." she looked down and realised that she was still only wearing her underwear. "Ack!"
"Rogue, it's time to go," Erik suddenly rounded the corner. "Did you overslee..."
Both girls shrieked. Jean made to push Rogue back in the room, checked herself and instead made shooing motions. Which weren't required because Rogue bolted into her room, slamming the door shut at a speed defying Quicksilver's. Erik stood, looking half puzzled and half embarrassed, his face turning a lovely shade of red. "Ummm..."
"I suggest you leave," Jean said. "_Before_ she gets back out."
"Good plan," said Erik quickly and hurried away, almost crashing into the wall in his haste.
Rogue came out a minute later in the only outfit she had left, her pale face flushed and eyes glittering with anger. "He's gone?"
Jean nodded. "Never saw someone run so fast," she confided and Rogue cracked a grin, temporarily united with her nemesis.
"Come on," said Jean. "We better move if we're going to catch the bus."
Rogue shot her a curious look. "You're not going with Scott?"
Jean stiffened. "No. I'm not," she pressed her lips together in a thin line. Out of the corner of her eye she glanced at Rogue, wondering how the Goth girl was feeling about being the centre of the rumours at school. Jean, an honest soul, also had to admit that she was feeling just a bit jealous - which didn't help her temper because she knew it was silly to be jealous of Rogue - and couldn't help wondering if Rogue's crush on Scott was actually making an impact on the young man. Quickly she changed the subject. "So do you have any idea who stole your clothes?"
"No," Rogue growled. "But Ah bet the New Mutants had something to do with it. Ah just can't figure WHY they'd do it!"
"Do what?" Kitty bounced out of the dining room as they passed. "Hey Rogue, here's a muffin, I was just coming to see if you were up."
"Thanks," Rogue took the muffin and then paused, looking suspiciously at Kitty. "Mah alarm didn't go off."
"Oh?" Kitty shrugged. "Like, maybe you forgot to set it after your little adventure last night!" she winked.
Rogue scowled. "Don't remind me... yesterday sucked on toast, today better be an improvement..."
"How couldn't it be?" Kitty beamed. "It's the ball tonight! Yeah!"
Rogue's eyes widened. "&*@$!" she exclaimed. "If Ah don't get mah clothes back before tonight Ah'm gonna have nothing to wear!"
"Eh?" Kitty looked confused. "What do you mean?"
Jean quickly filled Kitty in on the saga and the younger girl looked sympathetically at her roommate. "Like, that's awful, but don't worry..." she giggled. "You can always borrow something of mine."
"Or mine," Jean offered.
Rogue raised an eyebrow. "Uh-huh... Ah'm so sure Ah could fit YOUR clothes!" she said and the other two looked indignant.
"What do you mean by that?" Kitty asked. "Are you saying that I'm..."
"Smaller than me and Jean's taller," said Rogue. "Either Ah wouldn't be able to breath or Ah'd be wearing a dress that looked like a sack... not a good look!"
"Hmmm... you have a point," Jean said as they reached the bus stop. She clicked her fingers. "I know! The ball doesn't start until seven... that gives us plenty of time to go shopping!"
Rogue's expression was dubious. "Shopping?"
"I wonder what did happen to your clothes," Jean mused as they climbed on the bus.
Behind them, Kitty smirked slightly.
Scott entered his first class of the day and sighed inwardly as two of his classmates that were there grinned knowingly at him before returning to their conversation. "Great, just great," he muttered to himself, taking his usual seat by the window. Clearly it had been too much to hope that some other rumour would have replaced yesterdays already.
He counted himself lucky that neither Rogue or Erik were in this class or the next, he couldn't have stood that so early in the morning. However, Jean was and usually she would have come to class with him, but this morning she had disappeared directly after breakfast and not come down to the car. Scott smiled slightly. Jean being angry with him was the one bright spot in this whole mess. After all, she wouldn't be mad about him asking Rogue to the ball if she didn't feel something for him, right? But why she had accepted Duncan's invitation before waiting for Scott to ask was confusing... Scott shook his head. Women were peculiar sometimes.
He looked up to see Taryn standing in front of his desk, a smile hovering on her lips. "Uh, good morning Taryn, what can I do for you?"
"Well," she looked coy. "I was hoping to do something for you, Scott..." she twined a strand of dark hair around one finger. "I couldn't help hearing that... well, I understand that you don't have a date to the ball aaaaand it happens that I don't have a date for the ball either... Soooo, I thought that you and I could go together."
Scott gulped. "Umm... I'm really sorry, Taryn, but I... er... already have a date for the ball."
Taryn's coy expression vanished and was replaced by pure astonishment. "She changed her mind?" she asked incredulously.
"That little Goth, Rogue!"
"Oh no, no..." Scott shook his head. "No, I'm going with... uh... with Risty."
"Risty Wilde. You know... purple hair..."
"RISTY??" Taryn's voice rose up to a high pitch and Scott winced.
There was a loud crash behind him and he glanced round and paled. Jean was standing there, staring at him, her books at her feet.
"You're going with Risty?"
Erik towelled the tips of his hair, his face set in thoughtful contemplation.
Today had been a series of ups and downs. Actually, that pretty much described the whole week so far, but today was certainly taking the biscuit. First the unpleasantness at the breakfast table, then... his face heated slightly, the, ah, Rogue thing. He quickly tried to think about something else. Oh yes, then an unpleasant run in with Risty, who had told him to be very careful about what he was doing tonight. He REALLY didn't understand that girl, and wasn't sure if he wanted to. Then the pleasure of acing the science test that morning, followed by a depressing history class on concentration camps in World War II, which had put him into a VERY bad mood for some reason.
Let's see, after that Evan and Kurt had dragged him aside during morning break and given him tips for the dance, including clueing him in on some dances he'd never even heard of. He still wasn't entirely sure what a Macarena was, and he was fairly certain the Ketchup Song was some sort of attempt at a practical joke, but the two boys had cheered him up immensely, and given him the crucial information on the location of a place to rent a tuxedo at a reasonable price for this evening.
Oh yes, PE. Well, it hadn't been _awful_, despite all of Scott Summers' best efforts. But for some reason their class was combined with one of the junior classes, so Lance Alvers and Pietro Maximoff were also both present. This wouldn't have been so bad if it hadn't been for the fact that Pietro had been on one team for basketball, and Eric on the other and EVERYONE KEPT MIXING THEM UP! Both boys had copped yells for not passing to the right people, followed by, "Oh sorry. I thought you were the other one." For the love of heaven, they didn't look THAT much alike. Pietro had sulked about it terribly before they were dismissed to jog five laps as a cool down.
Erik sighed. Three periods down, three to go. Oh well, at least he had lunch first. With Rogue. Uh oh.
From a locker in the next row, Duncan Matthews slyly watched Scott Summers glaring at Erik as he finished dressing, and thought about the situation. Summers had been a pain in his ass from day one, always sniffing around Jean, being her "good friend". Interfering in Duncan's fun, being 'Mr Perfect'. Not to mention that he was a goody-good in class too, always doing well and making Duncan look bad. But this last week Summers had been off-balance, and it was all due to the new guy. Duncan hadn't particularly liked Erik after their first introduction, but the battles between him and Scott had been the highlight of Duncan's week. Duncan made up his mind. He didn't like the new guy, but he absolutely HATED Scott Summers. Tugging his t-shirt on, he made his way over to Erik, and clapped his hand down on his back.
"So, I hear you beat out Summers for the Goth Girl, huh Erik?"
Erik swayed forward from the impact and spun around, only narrowly resisting the instant urge to defend himself. While he tried to tell his body that he really DIDN'T need all that adrenalin right now, he didn't notice the utter silence in the locker room, until he looked up at Duncan's grinning face.
"Uh, yeah." He said finally, his eyes sliding around the room to read the expressions on the faces turned towards him. Lance and Pietro were restraining sniggers, and Scott looked appalled and disgusted. Erik didn't really blame him. "I mean, yes. I am going to the dance tonight with Rogue."
"Way to go man," Duncan lightly punched Erik's arm. Then he winked. "And to the victor go the spoils, hey?"
There was a wave of raucous laughter from Duncan's cronies. Erik blinked, trying to work out what was so funny. Then his face slowly turned a brilliant crimson colour.
"I. I. that is. I. Rogue. she." He stammered, trying frantically to get the words out and viciously wished that Duncan would go away. Preferably to another continent.
"Hey, I know how it is man," Duncan nodded knowingly. "She looks like a real dog, but you know, under all that goop she puts on her face, she could almost be pretty."
Lance's face went blank, Scott looked appalled, Pietro looked vaguely sickened, and Erik didn't know whether he should hit Duncan, flee, or just kill EVERYONE out of sheer embarrassment. He had the vague feeling that the third option might be overkill.
"But it's always the ones like her that are the best once you get them going," Duncan said knowingly.
Pietro suddenly found himself possessed of the gift of foresight. He just KNEW that what happened next was going to be bad.
"Yep," Duncan stood proudly and patted Erik on the shoulder. "You know how it is. Once you get her in the bushes I bet she starts off like a cold fish, but just hang in there buddy and I'm sure she'll give you everything she's got!"
For a brief moment the four mutants in the room shared the same thought of the probable consequences of even attempting what Duncan was suggesting and mentally shuddered. But then his brain caught up with the meaning of the words his ears had just forwarded, and without any further comments Erik swung his fist up and caught Duncan right on his filthy mouth. Snarling slightly, ignoring the pain from his scraped knuckles, he followed it up with another punch, and another and another.
Some of Duncan's friends began to hurry over to their leader, but Scott intercepted them with a waist-high tackle that brought them all down into one big brawling heap. Others looked as though they might join in, until Pietro and Lance took up positions in front of the fight, arms crossed, and eyes glaring. Behind them the battle raged on as Erik, mutant powers forgotten, attempted to BEAT the living daylights out of Duncan, while Scott kept his friends off.
Pietro glanced at Lance. "So, why are we helping out the X-geeks?" He muttered out of the side of his mouth.
Lance glared at a jock that was getting too close. "We're not helping the X- geeks. We're just not helping Duncan Matthews more."
"Oh." Pietro nodded. "That seems fair."
Lance grimaced. "Plus can you imagine what Rogue would do to us if she found out about this, and heard that we DIDN'T pitch in in some way?"
"I think I can handle Rogue," Pietro said with an arrogant expression.
"Okay fine. Can you imagine what Rogue AND YOUR SISTER would do to us if they found out about this, and heard that we didn't help in some way?" Lance said impatiently. "You KNOW girls stick together on this kind of thing."
Pietro went pale.
"Thought that might change your mind," Lance said smugly.
"This sort of behaviour is ABSOLUTELY UNACCEPTABLE!" Principal Kelly screamed. "How DARE you fight on school grounds."
"We fell over," Duncan mumbled carefully through swollen lips.
Principal Kelly glared at the six boys standing before him. Scott Summers was sporting a wonderful bruise on one cheek, Duncan Matthews looked as though his face had been repeatedly smashed against a wall (which it had), and three other boys had various bruises and black eyes. The only thing Erik Magnus had on his face was an innocent expression.
And nobody was admitting anything.
Principal Kelly seethed. "Very well, as you are all so APPARENTLY CLUMSY that you cannot simply get changed after PE without getting hurt, then for your OWN SAFETY I must INSIST that you all attend Saturday detentions for the next six weeks! Now get out of my office!"
The boys left in a hurry, Duncan leading the way. Erik and Scott started to head off to class, but paused in the corridor awkwardly.
"Thanks for helping me out back there," Erik finally mumbled.
"It's okay," Scott said. "It was totally worth it to see you thump Duncan like that."
Scott cleared his throat. "Look, Erik. I know we haven't really been getting along lately."
"Mmmm." Erik said cautiously.
"And I still don't like you, nor do you like me." Scott paused again. "But what say we come to a truce? I'll back off and we'll both try to be polite to each other."
"I guess I can do that," Erik said thoughtfully. "Alright then, truce."
They shook hands.
Erik sighed, and then grinned at Scott. "It's probably just as well we've called truce. It's bad enough that we EACH have two DIFFERENT girls mad at us!"
"Okay, let's get started!" Kitty cried as she, Rogue and Jean entered the store in Bayville Mall that was considered the most hip for party outfits. "This is going to be SO much fun!"
Rogue sighed. It had been another long day and she was not looking forward to this. However, her missing clothes had not reappeared after school - despite the various veiled (and outright) threats she had dropped on the New Mutants - so she was left with no option but to accompany Kitty and Jean to the Mall. To make matters worse Jean was clearly a little tense - she was still outwardly pleasant and her usual nice self, but Rogue suspected that she was angry about Duncan getting into a fight AND that Scott was going to the ball with Risty.
The news about the brawl in the locker room had made the rounds very quickly at school, but Rogue was starting to get used to the outrageous stories and decided that she wasn't going to let herself get upset this time. Although she was a little curious as to why Erik had found it necessary to try and beat Duncan into a pulp - aside from the obvious reason that Duncan was a complete idiot - but Erik wasn't saying and Rogue was too proud to ask.
"How about this one?" Kitty's voice broke into her thoughts. The younger girl waved a dress at Rogue who wrinkled her nose.
"It's powder blue, Ah don't DO powder blue."
"This?" Jean suggested.
Rogue's eyes narrowed. "Strapless? And yellow? No way!"
"Like, how can you refuse THIS one?"
"Easily, Ah'd never be able to move in something that tight and Ah believe the purpose of a ball is to _dance_."
"I take that's a no, then."
"This one!" Kitty bounced over clutching a black, satiny dress. "It's gorgeous!"
Rogue had perked up a little when she caught a glimpse of the dress, but when Kitty revealed it in all it's glory she scowled again. "Ah'd trip," she said, looking at the length of the skirt. "No."
"Oh," Kitty was momentarily downcast, but she soon brightened. "Well maybe you're right. I'll go and get something else!"
"This one is lovely," said Jean coming up as Kitty scampered off. She handed Rogue a blue and silver affair that looked to be both elegant and sexy. Rogue looked at it and was forced to conclude that it was lovely, but...
"It's not really _me_," she said. Swallowing against the jealousy rising up in her throat, she gave the dress back to Jean. "_You'd_ look good in it though," she said harshly.
Jean blinked and looked at the dress again. "Well I..." she felt flustered. Rogue was right, but Jean already had a dress for the ball and the purpose of this shopping trip was to help Rogue, not herself and... "I'll think about it," she mumbled, putting the dress aside.
Kitty charged back over, her arms full of dresses. "Okay, so... like... you MUST like one of these!"
Rogue sighed. Would this nightmare never end? Wearily she churned out comments as the choices were displayed.
"Lavender - ugh!"
"Too low cut."
"Argh!" Kitty let out a cry of frustration. "Rogue! You can't be shy about showing what you've got! This is a BALL! You need to be sexy! You need to be..."
"Covered up," Rogue said flatly. "Ah'm going to be in a crowded room and you KNOW what'll happen if mah bare skin touches someone else's!"
"Oh," Kitty deflated. "Oh yeah..."
"Maybe, this one?" Jean said cautiously.
Rogue looked at Jean's selection and her eyes gleamed. "Now _that's_ more like it!"
"_Finally_!" Kitty sighed. "Okay, now we have to get the shoes..."
Rogue looked vaguely alarmed. "Shoes??"
Erik glanced at the clock and sighed. It was just on 7 o'clock, and he'd managed to get to the tux rental place and find something that fitted, back home to the Xavier Institute, through a quick martial arts session, and washed and dressed for the dance just in time. Now he stood in the foyer with the rest of the males who were attending the dance and waited for the girls to make their grand entrance.
"Why does it always take the girls so long to get ready?" Evan complained.
"So that we're paying full attention and can be suitably impressed when they show up," Scott replied.
"Well I for one am paying full attention, but I still wish they'd hurry up a bit," Kurt said forlornly. "I want to go and meet Amanda and be impressed by HER clothes. By the way, how's my hair?"
"It's FINE!" Everyone in the room snapped. Kurt had been asking this question every five minutes for the past _hour_ and they were all getting a little tired of it.
Scott tried to take over as leader again. "Now, does everyone have their tickets for the dinner?"
"Yes," all the guys chorused wearily.
"... daddy," Kurt added under his breath. "<We are all going to be GOOD little children tonight.>"
Erik tried not to laugh as Scott glared suspiciously at Kurt. Kurt smirked at Scott, "<Told you, you should have taken German, not French>," he said cheerily.
"Did he say something rude?" Scott demanded of Erik.
"Would Kurt do something like that?"
"Yeah right!" Kurt grinned. "If I wanted to insult you, I'd do it in English!"
"Thanks, that's _so_..."
Kitty posed at the top of the stairs. In a rare change, her hair was loose and the blue silk evening dress she wore made her look sweet, innocent, and cute as a button. Kurt applauded happily and Evan wolf-whistled as she sashayed down to them.
"Man, Lance's eyeballs are going to pop right out of his head when he sees you!" Kurt said. "You look beautiful, Kitty."
"Aww..." Kitty blushed. Then she grinned mischievously. "Jean! It's your turn!"
The guys turned to see Jean now descending the stairs. Scott almost swallowed his tongue as the red satin Chinese-style dress with gold embroidery clung to every one of her many curves.
"Gah, agh... ka..."
Jean ignored Scott's babblings - she was still angry with him - and turned slowly, letting everyone get the full effect of her outfit. "And for our grand finale!"
All eyes went back to the stairs to behold Rogue, blushing so furiously that it could almost be seen underneath all of her makeup. She was wearing an off the shoulder dress that shimmered in the light so that it alternated between black and jade green. Long gloves covered most of her arms and black tights and high heels accentuated her long legs.
"Oh very, very nice indeed Rogue," Kurt nodded in appreciation. "Stunning, wonderful, marvellous!"
"It's pretty cool." Evan said casually. "Don't you think so, Erik?"
Everyone's eyes turned to Erik, but he had apparently been struck dumb, and simply stared at Rogue.
Rogue felt her face grow hotter, and she stomped down the stairs and grabbed Erik's arm. "So are we going or what?"
"Uh, yeah," Scott shook himself. "We're just waiting for..."
"Rogue! Your outfit looks fabulous!" Risty walked in the front door. "This is gonna be such a blast! Shall we go?" She grabbed hold of Scott's arm and tugged him towards the door. "Want to ride with us Rogue?"
"Um, sure." Rogue said.
"Excellent." Risty released Scott and gave him a shove towards the door. "We can sit in the back seat together and talk while the boys drive."
Erik caught the glare that Risty shot him as she snagged Rogue's free arm and dragged her friend off. *Oh boy.*
In the kitchen of the Brotherhood house, Wanda glanced at the clock for the fiftieth time. At first she had enjoyed the unusual peace caused by the absence of all the boys, but now...
"No," she said to herself. "I do NOT want to go to the stupid ball!"
Her eyes fell on the ticket on the kitchen table in front of her. Todd had shoved it under her door just after school and hesitantly asked her to go with him. Wanda had eloquently expressed her revulsion at the idea and he had left her alone, but told her to keep the ticket in case she changed her mind. She had snorted and then watched as the others left - Lance going to meet Kitty, Pietro jumping in the car of some bubblehead and her equally silly friends, and Todd and Fred walking off together.
Wanda sighed. She hated to admit it... REALLY hated to admit it, but she was feeling a bit lonely. Irritatingly, she was also curious to see how Rogue was doing.
"Fine!" she snarled to empty air. "I'll go! But only for five minutes! That's IT!"
And with that, she stalked out of the house.
Rogue was, for lack of a better word, happy. The dance was turning out to be much more fun than she'd expected. Everyone had been really nice to her all night, and Erik hadn't said anything tactless since the evening began. Although she kind of wished that all of the people that kept coming up to the pair of them and talking about unimportant things would just go away. She knew damn well they were only interested in her because of Erik and all the rumours about them. They were the "hot goss" of the week. But a tiny part of her was actually enjoying her new-found popularity, even if it was dangerous to get to close to people. Still, all of these new-found "friends" would evaporate when the next new thing came along, so it was unlikely to be a problem. *True friends stuck through thick and thin,* she thought, looking over at Risty who was on the other side of the gymnasium. She knew she was lucky to have found Risty, someone who knew, who understood. It was almost like having a sister.
Rogue's eyes fell as the familiar depression fell on her shoulders. *Except that Ah'm lying to her, hiding my real self from her. Some true friend Ah am.*
Erik cleared his throat. "Can I get you some more punch?"
"Huh? Oh, no thanks." Rogue gave him one of her rare smiles. "Ah'm fine for now."
"Enjoying yourself?" Erik asked somewhat desperately.
"You know," she said thoughtfully. "Ah really am."
Erik nearly sighed in relief. The evening had been wonderful. His truce with Scott was still in place, Risty had been unable to get near him for the last couple of hours, Duncan Matthews was actively avoiding him, and Rogue looked beautiful and, for the first time since he'd met her, _happy_. People had wandered up in a fairly steady stream to talk to them, so they didn't feel isolated, and they'd been able to chatter away all evening about nice, safe, _normal_ things that couldn't possibly cause any arguments. Unfortunately, these topics had now mostly run out, and he was beginning to panic about the next topic of conversation. He really didn't know much about the weather.
"Would you like to dance?" He offered, fairly sure that she'd turn him down.
Rogue paused. It had been a long time since she'd last danced with a guy. Not since Cody. Oh, there had been her part in the Dracula musical, but that was all choreographed, safe. Did she dare go out on that crowded dance floor? Oh what the heck.
"Sure, why not," she said recklessly. "It's do or die!"
Raising an eyebrow briefly at her words, Erik carefully guided her onto the dance floor. He leant carefully into her as they danced and inhaled. He'd been correct, she _was_ wearing perfume. It smelled nice. There was a quiet, peaceful silence for a while.
"Not that Ah'm complaining, but why are we waltzing?"
Erik shot a look around him. It was true; they did appear to be the only couple waltzing.
"Isn't this a waltz tune?"
"Well, it is a slow song," Rogue admitted. "But Ah don't think it was designed for the waltz."
"So what do you want me to do? Shuffle from side to side like everyone else?"
Rogue thought about it for a moment. "Nah. This is more interesting. Oooh, go right, Ah want to talk to Risty a moment."
Erik effortlessly turned left.
Rogue glared at him. "How do you steer this damn thing?" She muttered, but without much heat. She glanced at the doorway.
"Expecting someone?" Erik asked, inwardly planning to commit serious bodily harm if it turned out she was waiting for a guy.
"Ah told Wanda she should come along," Rogue said distractedly. "Ah hoped she'd be here by now. It's nearly 11.30."
Erik didn't say anything, but inwardly sighed in relief.
When Erik manoeuvred Rogue out on to the dance floor and started waltzing with her, Risty's eyes narrowed. She had never believed Magneto had amnesia, and here was proof. But she still had no idea exactly what he was up to and that was annoying, especially when he was paying so much attention to Rogue. For a brief second 'Risty's' eyes glowed golden as Mystique ruminated on the current situation. After all the work she had put into Rogue, making sure that the girl trusted her and liked her, and preventing Rogue from getting into too many dangerous situations, Mystique was not about to let Magneto take her without a fight.
However, currently Mystique was not having much luck breaking Erik and Rogue apart. She glanced sourly at her date. Scott had spent most of the evening with his eyes on Jean - who was ignoring him pointedly. Normally Mystique would have found the whole soap opera amusing, but right now it was simply frustrating her no end.
There was a rush of wind and Risty turned to see Pietro bolting to a corner of the ballroom, leaving three rather confused girls in the middle of the dance floor. Curious to see what had alarmed the speedy mutant, Risty looked around and spotted the source lingering in the main entrance way.
"What the hell...?"
Within seconds, Risty had dashed across the ballroom and sidled up to Wanda. "And what are you doing here?"
Wanda looked coolly at her. "Rogue suggested that I come," she said. "I wasn't going to, but I decided to have a look... see what it's like..."
Risty gritted her teeth. Here was yet another problem that she had not anticipated happening. She grabbed Wanda's arm. "I want to talk to you, in private,"
Wanda considered refusing, but she didn't want to cause a scene and they were already attracting a couple of curious glances. "Fine," she said flatly. "But let go of my arm!"
Risty smirked triumphantly and the two girls left the gymnasium. Risty led Wanda into a classroom and morphed back into her real form. Folding her arms, Mystique glared at Wanda. "I thought I told you to stay away from Rogue!" she hissed. "She's more dangerous than ANY of the X-Men!"
Wanda's eyes narrowed. "I don't think that's the real reason you want me to keep away," she said. "I think you're jealous that Rogue has thrown you over, Risty!" her fists clenched. "I don't know what you're trying to do, but if you try and interfere with me maybe I'll tell Rogue who her best friend really is!"
Anger flashed in Mystique's yellow eyes, but she controlled herself and simply favoured Wanda with a sly, superior smile. She knew the best way to throw Wanda off track. "You know, I was a little concerned about you, Wanda, hanging out with the X-Men so much, but... I have to admit that I'm impressed that you have managed to deal with your feelings towards him so well."
"What? Who are you talking about?" Wanda asked, confused. "Pietro?"
"No, not Pietro," Mystique's tone was syrupy sweet. "But you've been spending so much time with your father and I thought you loathed him so much that you were prepared to kill him on sight."
"I do hate him, I would never..." Wanda stared at Mystique in horror as her words hit home. Images flashed into her head. All the times spent with Rogue and... "Erik? ERIK?"
She recalled his remarkable similarity to Pietro, his powers, his arrogance, Rogue's words to him after she had absorbed Wanda's memories...
Objects buckled and lights flicked.
Wanda turned on her heel and fled out of the classroom.
The music changed to a more up-beat song and Erik led Rogue back to the edge of the dance floor and twirled them both apart in a perfect move.
"Thank you for this dance, dear lady," he said, bowing over Rogue's hand.
Rogue giggled. "Why it was nothin' at all deah suh," she said, her Southern accent becoming suddenly thicker. "Always a pleasuah."
Erik grinned at her. She grinned back. All was right in the world.
"Hey Rogue! Guess what!"
Yet another of the endless line of gossip-gatherers and curiosity seekers came up behind Rogue, eager to be seen talking to the girl of the hour. She began to turn to answer him but, impatient, he reached out a hand and put it on her bare shoulder to grasp her attention more fully.
Both Rogue and her unintended victim gasped and went rigid as his life energy, thoughts and memories began to flow into the young mutant. Stunned by the sudden disaster, Erik froze for a crucial second or two before shoving the boy away and hauling Rogue closer to him. She leant into him, gasping and shuddering as she assimilated the new identity within her.
"Did you _see_ that?"
The whisper was repeated in endless variations all around the room as the assembled teenagers drew away from Rogue and Erik. The whispers became louder and more panicked as rumour and suspicion took hold.
"What did she do to that guy?"
"All he did was touch her!"
"What kind of monster is she?"
Erik stiffened. "Someone call a teacher," he said loudly. "I think this guy's had too much to drink."
"Ian hasn't had anything to drink all night!" An indignant call came back. "What did your freak girlfriend do to him?"
"Ah... Ah didn't do anything." Rogue said weakly.
"Liar! We all saw it."
"Oh you all _saw_ it, did you?" The contempt in Erik's voice could have stripped paint. "What exactly did you see? That he touched her skin and collapsed? And how exactly is that supposed to have happened? Maybe Rogue hit him with her amazing 'psychic powers'? Or maybe she turned around and hit him so quickly that you couldn't see it with her incredible 'super speed'? Or maybe, ha! Or maybe she 'absorbed' his mind? I think you've all been reading too many comic books."
There was an uncertain rumble from the watching crowd. Across the room, Scott and the others were holding their breaths, not wanting to intervene and make things worse.
Erik sneered at the watchers. "Probably the most _likely_ suggestion is that Rogue has some sort of knock-out liquid on her skin to prevent halfwits from manhandling her. Likely isn't it? Happens all the time, right?" His sarcasm had reached all-new highs. "Well, just to reassure you all. Rogue?"
Rogue looked up at him and Erik leant down and kissed her. In reality it was the lightest of kisses, but it looked passionate.
"..." said the various mutants in the room.
"..." said the various non-mutants in the room. And then...
"WOOOOOHOOOOO!!! GO FOR IT ERIK!!!"
The room erupted as waves of applause began to spread. Guys were cheering, girls were applauding, and the X-Men and Brotherhood were flabbergasted.
Erik finally broke the kiss and grinned at the assembled students. "We now return you to your regularly scheduled dance!" He said. "Oh, and someone still needs to get a teacher for the guy on the floor!"
Dragging Rogue away, he moved quickly to the back of the hall.
"Wha... wha...?" Rogue was stunned. She'd been terrified at first, and then nothing had happened, and she'd been so surprised and then everyone had been cheering and she wanted nothing more than to run away.
"Stay with me," Erik muttered. "If you run out of here you'll look guilty." A couple of guys came up to congratulate them and he accepted their words with a cheerful grin. Then he hit an impenetrable wall.
"Ah... Scott, Kurt, Jean, Kitty, Evan... good to see you all here."
"Okay Erik, what the hell did you do?" Scott demanded.
"Me?" Erik was offended. "I helped Rogue out of a situation. I thought that was the X-Men thing to do."
"But weren't you worried about being absorbed?" Kurt's eyes were bright, and contained a small amount of hero-worship.
"Did you put up a magnetic shield or something?" Scott asked.
Erik snorted and, feeling nervous, reverted to arrogance.
"I didn't _have_ to," he said haughtily. "Not with the amount of lipstick that Rogue wears."
Then he froze as his brain caught up with his mouth. So did the X-Men. Everyone turned to look at Rogue.
Rogue looked at Erik calmly. "Well in that case you can feel safe because," her voice altered to a low hiss, "nothing on this earth would make me ever touch you again, you creep."
She turned on her heel and strode towards the left exit. Halfway to the door she started running.
"Oh hell," Erik said.
"Nice one Erik," Kitty's voice dripped with contempt.
Erik went red. "Ummm... excuse me." He dashed after Rogue.
"What an idiot," Lance observed once the music had restarted and people were once again dancing.
Just at that moment the floor trembled and the strobe lights blinked on and off, causing some of the dances to let out yelps of alarm. Lance found himself pinpointed with angry glares and held up his hands defensively.
"I swear it wasn't me!"
"Then who?" Scott said, not believing Lance's denial for a second.
The doors of the main entrance flew open with a crash and Wanda stood there, her expression one of barely concealed rage. "Where is he? WHERE is HE?" she cried, eyes darting about the gymnasium.
Todd bounded over with no consideration of the danger. "Whassup, sweetums?"
"WHERE IS MY FA..." Some small shred of sanity checked Wanda and she amended her demand quickly. "WHERE IS ERIK?"
Erik burst through the doors and let them bang shut behind him as he stood in the dimly lit hallway.
"How did she move so quickly in those shoes?" he wondered.
The click of heels on lino alerted his attention and he spotted a slim figure hurrying away.
She paused, her back to him, her hands balled into fists - a damp tissue poking out of one hand. "What do you want now, Erik?" she asked in a harsh voice. "Feeling the need to insult something else about me?"
"No," he said, catching up to her. He placed his gloved hand on her shoulder and gently tugged her round to face him. "I was actually going to apologise."
Rogue slowly looked up at him and his eyes widened slightly. Her face was almost naked except for some eye shadow and Erik thought he had never seen her look so vulnerable - an impression emphasised by the faint reddening around her eyes. She had cried and he felt like a heel.
"Look," he said awkwardly. "Why don't we go back in and..."
"Ah'm not going back," said Rogue acidly. "Ah knew it was a bad idea to come in the first place and tonight's only proven me right," she turned on her heel. "Ah going home."
"Abandoning me just like that, eh?" Erik said. "I recollect that I didn't particularly want to come to this either."
She looked back at him. "Ya could've said no when Ah asked. Ah didn't force you to accept," her eyes narrowed. "Or did you just feel sorry for me? Huh. you probably did."
"I would never accept an invitation because I pitied someone," Erik said firmly. He moved closer to her. "Rogue... I went because..."
The door to the gymnasium opened, spilling colourful lights and sound into the corridor. Voices were heard and people stared to emerge - laughing and talking. Beside Erik, Rogue shrank back, painfully aware of the connotations that her peers would place on her being here with him.
"Damn!" Erik swore under his breath. He grabbed her wrist and suddenly Rogue found herself flying down the corridor, away from the other people, Erik holding her to him.
"What are you doing?" she squeaked in astonishment as, using his magnetic powers, Erik whirled them round a corner and out of the building. "Someone could've seen us!"
"But they didn't," he said, setting them both down gently on the far edge of the football field.
A reluctant smile tugged at Rogue's mouth. "Well, true..." she rubbed her arms as the light chill wind prickled her skin. The sudden weight and warmth of cloth enveloped her shoulders, causing her to look up.
Erik took a small step back and smiled at her. She flushed slightly, twitching the ends of his jacket so that it sat more comfortably on her smaller frame. "Uh. thanks, but won't you get cold?"
Erik shook his head. "No, I can generate a thin magnetic shield that will keep the cold away, besides... aren't we going home anyway? I'm not so weak that I will crumple at the first touch of a chill wind!"
Rogue dropped her gaze. "You don't have to come with me," she said. "You can go back to the dance. Ah'm sure there are plenty of girls who'd want to dance with you," she bit her lip. "And ya don't have to wear gloves to dance with them."
"You don't fool me, Rogue," Erik said in strangely gentle tone that made her look at him again. She could see him clearly thanks to the lights on the field and the expression in his eyes made her heart leap. "You really do want to be there..."
Rogue sort refuge from her feelings in anger. "How do you know what Ah want?" she snapped. "Ah didn't know that you were suddenly a telepath as well now!" she crossed her arms and glared at him. "Ah do NOT want to associate with a bunch of bubbleheads and jocks! Ah going home!" she said defiantly and stalked past him.
Erik watched her go. It was frustrating trying to get through to this stubborn, prickly girl who refused to admit that she was achingly lonely. And, as much as he didn't want to admit it, Erik knew that he kept trying to reach her because he wanted to be the one to help her banish that loneliness.
Rogue placed so much importance on touch, without it she would never believe that she wasn't alone. However, Erik was stumped as to how he could touch her, even he couldn't...
(Did you put up a magnetic shield or something?)
Scott's question from less than an hour ago floated into his mind and Erik inhaled sharply. Of course! Why hadn't he thought of it before? If he could generate a shield to keep out the cold, why couldn't he generate one to stop Rogue from leeching his memories and powers?
"Rogue! Wait!" he ran after her, stripping his gloves off his hands and stuffing them in his pockets.
She stopped and turned an irritated gaze on him. "What now?"
Erik took a deep breath, mentally tweaking his shield and sending up a prayer that this would work and he wouldn't end up in a coma, he placed his bare hands on her bare shoulders. "I never got to apologize properly to you."
"Is that it?" she snorted. "Ah really don't..." her voice trailed off as she became aware of his hands. "Ah... uh..."
"Shh... don't panic," Erik laid his fingers on her lips. She stared up at him, green eyes wide and questioning. "It's a bio-magnetic shield, in theory it should mean that I can touch you without you absorbing me."
"In theory?" Rogue gasped past his fingers. She felt tingly, breathless and almost scared. He lifted his other hand to touch her cheek, gently stroking the side of her face. His hands seemed to be burning her bare skin and she was totally aware of the feel of his skin, the pressure of his fingers and she felt the prickle of tears in her eyes. "Erik..."
Erik hadn't intended to do more than simply show her that he could touch her skin, perhaps just remove her gloves and take her bare hand, but his body wasn't listening to his brain. Involuntarily his hands caressed her shoulders, neck and face and he moved closer so that their bodies touched. If Rogue had protested or tried to push him away he would have stopped, but she simply closed her eyes and let out a little sigh, clearly revelling in the unfamiliar sensation of touch. Erik's breathing turned ragged and he leaned down, his mouth hovering over hers. A small part of his brain screamed for attention, yelling that this was a dangerous, stupid move - how could he be sure that the shield would hold? Erik ignored common sense and gently, firmly, placed his lips on Rogue's.
Her eyes flew open as he kissed her - properly this time- and for a brief second she succumbed to panic, but when she realised that she wasn't absorbing him Rogue leaned into the kiss. A nagging voice in the back of her mind told her that she should stop now because this wasn't simply a teenage boy she was kissing, but the Master of Magnetism, X-Men adversary and a man much, MUCH older than herself. Recklessly, Rogue thrust the voice away and embraced Erik, abandoning herself to the feelings welling up within her.
Eventually the need to breath was too insistent to ignore and they parted, remaining in a close embrace, noses almost touching. Erik broke the brief silence. "I shouldn't have done that," he said softly.
"No," Rogue agreed. "Ah shouldn't have let you do it either."
"After all, once I was your enemy..."
"Well, it's not going to happen again."
Erik's fingers delicately traced the line of her jaw before moving up to pull strands of white and auburn hair from her face. "Absolutely not," he said. "A moments madness not to be repeated," his breath was warm on her skin.
"Yes," Rogue murmured. Her head tilted back as his moved closer once more. "Never."
"It would be... a..." Erik's lips brushed hers. "mis..."
They sprang violently apart, whirling to face the source of the cry.
"Wanda?" Rogue blinked. "What... oh no..."
The ground rippled beneath their feet, some tufts of grass uprooting and floating away. Wooden benches wobbled, bolts pinged and popped out of their settings. And Wanda glowed.
"After all this time," she growled. "I will finally pay you back for EVERYTHING!"
Erik moved forward, hands outstretched. "Wanda, please... listen to me... what I did to you, I'm sorry, I..."
"SHUT UP!" Wanda's power flexed and Erik was bowled backwards. "I don't want to listen to your LIES!"
"Stop it, Wanda! Stop it NOW!" Rogue leapt in front of Erik. "You can't do this, not now!"
Wanda's blazing gaze focused on Rogue. "If you don't move, Rogue, I'll take you down WITH him!"
"Is this what you want Wanda? Is this what you really want?" Rogue screamed in Wanda's face. "Do you really want to see which one of us is faster, stronger?"
"You can't stop me Rogue, now get out of my way!" Wanda screamed back.
"You think Ah can't stop you?" Rogue responded. "You may have a lot of power, but Ah do too! Ah've already taken yours once. You want to go through that again?"
"Why are you helping him? He betrayed me!"
"So? Ah stole some of HIS powers and then HE threw ME into a building once. It's just the way things are in this crazy world. Ah don't pretend it makes sense. It's just sometimes you know what the right thing to do is, and this is one of those times! Come _on_ Wanda, you've met him, you've talked to him, before either of you knew anything about each other. This isn't 'Magneto', this is _Erik_. You know that."
Wanda glared at her, but the ground stopped rippling and the insane look started to fade from her eyes. "And what if this is all another one of his tricks?"
"It isn't," Rogue glared back.
"But what if it _is_?"
"Then Ah will personally help you punt him into orbit," Rogue promised.
"Ummm..." Erik said.
"SHUT UP!" They both yelled at him.
Erik's eyebrows twitched. "Okay."
Wanda eyed Rogue, a small smile tugging the corners of her mouth. "So you'll help me if he reverts? Even after what I just saw you two doing?"
Rogue went brick red. "That was a..."
The three teenagers froze. "That came from Bayville Park..." Rogue breathed fearfully. "Wolverine..."
"Would not scream like that," said Erik grimly. "That sounded distinctly feminine." Erik, Wanda and Rogue sprinted down the pathway to the park, and felt rather than saw a white blur go past them.
Pietro circled back and stopped in front of them, quivering like the Road Runner.
"Ohmygodwhattheheckisgoingonallthesetentaclessomekindabigmonster..." Pietro was almost gibbering in raw fear.
"Slow DOWN!" All three shouted at him, and Pietro's fear whatever was out there was briefly outweighed by his fear of the three angry mutant teens.
"My date was feeling a little hot," he said slowly. "So we went for a walk. Then... tentacles!"
"Tentacles?" Rogue asked in a wary tone of voice.
"Tentacles?" Wanda repeated, with a slight tone of panic in her voice.
"Tentacles," Erik sighed. Resigned, he looked back where Pietro had come from. "I suppose we should go check it out."
"Maybe we should get reinforcements first," Rogue said.
"Yeah, that would be... where's your date?" Erik demanded suddenly, turning to glower at Pietro.
"Uh, well you see..."
"You LEFT her there?!" Rogue's voice spiralled up into a shriek. "Augh!" Turning on her heel, she headed into the darkness of the park at a dead run, pausing only to kick off her high heels.
Wanda settled for scorching her brother with a look that by rights should have left him a smoking heap of ashes, before heading off after Rogue. Erik snarled and grabbed him by the arm. "Make yourself useful," he said, shaking him slightly. "Go tell the other X-Men what's happened and where we are."
"Why should I?" Pietro demanded.
Erik leaned in close. "Because if you don't I will ensure that you are NEVER mistaken for me again." He smiled gently. "Get the drift?"
Pietro quailed. There was something in Erik's eyes that reminded him irresistibly of the last time he'd failed his father in something. It wasn't a good memory.
As Pietro flashed away across the grass, Erik turned, lifted himself into the air with his powers, and flew after the two girls.
*Can't believe that idiot*, Rogue thought to herself as she ran. *Stupid, moronic, useless...*
Her trail of thought came to an abrupt halt as she rounded a slight curve in the park to see a frightened girl cowering by a tree as familiar metallic tentacles caressed her.
"HELP ME!" The girl screamed as Rogue came into view.
"Duh," Rogue snarled back. Taking a deep breath, she held both hands out in front of her and then jerked them away hard. The metal tentacles bothering the girl were violently shoved away from her, leaving a clear path, which she didn't hesitate to run down towards Rogue.
"Thank you," she whispered as she ran past the skunk-haired mutant.
"Nrgh," was Rogue's only response. Sustaining the magnetic "walls" while the girl ran was a lot harder than simply smashing the tentacles apart. She bit her lip and concentrated as beads of sweat ran down her face. Some of the tentacles began to head towards her.
"Get BACK!" Wanda spat as she drew even with Rogue. Throwing hex bolts as fast as she could create them, she reduced the tentacles to shreds of tattered metal, but more were coming. They came out of the drains, out of the ground, shattering through dirt and rock, and even some of the trees. They were everywhere.
"I can't hold this much longer," Rogue said through gritted teeth. "There's just too many of them."
Erik flew down to land beside her, and added his abilities to her now very shaky "walls". "I sent Pietro to get help," he said. "But I don't know how long it will take to get here."
"Then let's fall back and wait for the others," Rogue wheezed. Erik and Wanda nodded, and the trio began to walk slowly back the way they'd come. Tentacles continued to advance, but now some had come up through the ground behind them, and twined to produce a fairly solid wall. Erik grunted and focused some power to blast them apart, but more came, wrapping and binding until they formed a thick, heavy wall.
"Can't you blast through it?" Wanda demanded, her voice heavy with suppressed panic.
"Not without letting the ones in front of us through," Erik replied.
Wanda sighed. "Do it. I'll handle them, you get the wall, and we'll make a run for it. Plan?"
"Plan," Rogue agreed.
Erik nodded. "On three. One, two... THREE!" He focused all his energy on the metal wall behind him and ripped a hole through its centre. "RUN!" He shouted.
But it was already too late. The tentacles in front of them finally smashed through the remains of Rogue's shield, and Wanda was unable to get them all. Rogue managed to avoid getting hit by the simple tactic of diving to the ground, but Erik and Wanda were both grabbed by a number of tentacles.
"NOOOO!!!" Wanda screamed.
"Get OFF ME!" Erik shouted, tearing at the cords.
Rogue looked around, trying to think of some way to help.
"The ground!" She yelped suddenly. "WANDA! Don't target the tentacles, target the SOURCE! Blow up the ground, blow up the park!"
Fighting down the fear that threatened to drag her back into the darkness, Wanda focused a huge hexbolt in her hands.
"Take THIS!" She shouted, and let fly.
The ground rumbled and shook, and dirt and bits of trees and plants flew everywhere. One particularly large boulder smashed through Erik's shields and hit him hard on his forehead, cutting in and drawing blood, and also knocking him unconscious, a massive bruise already forming. Broken bits of tentacles landed everywhere, and Wanda was about to screech with triumph when she caught sight of the hollow tunnel her explosion had revealed. Like a massive nest of snakes, it seethed with tentacles, and they reached up and pulled her down, screaming all the way. Others snagged Rogue, still struggling but unable to overcome her opponent, and the unconscious Erik and dragged them both in.
Darkness swallowed them and, as they moved further and further down, all Rogue could hear was Wanda sobbing with fear and the rasp of the moving tentacles. The horrendous experience seemed to go on forever and Rogue was about ready to scream when light hit her eyes and she was momentarily blinded.
Blinking away the spots dancing before her, she focused and tried to make sense of the situation. She was still wrapped from neck to feet in metal tentacles, on either side she could see Erik and Wanda in the same situation except that Erik was still unconscious and Wanda had one tentacle wrapped around her eyes - obviously an attempt to prevent her using hex powers. Blinking Rogue looked around, they were in a large room that seemed to be about the size of the Bayville High gymnasium. Around the walls were large openings that clearly led to the sewer system and strange objects that looked a lot like thin metal 'beds' holding some sort of butter yellow bubble or cocoon. Some of the bubbles seemed to be occupied.
Fear welled up in her once more and Rogue swallowed against the urge to scream hysterically. She tried to see what sort of monster had produced these masses of tentacles, but they just seemed to lead to a huge metallic dome in the middle of the room. There was a panel on one side of the dome that resembled a console and lights flickered on it. Rogue drew in a deep breath and prepared to try and break the bonds using her magnetic powers, but a groan on her left distracted her. Erik was coming round.
His eyelids flickered briefly and then snapped open. He looked at her with a mildly confused expression. Some other emotion flashed in his eyes, but before she could identify it, it was gone and Erik's face could've been carved from stone.
"Are you okay?" Rogue asked quietly, eyeing the trickle of blood coming from the cut in his forehead.
"I'll live," he said curtly and then managed a slight, almost apologetic smile. "I've got one hell of a headache though."
"Ohhh... my poor sugerplum!" a voice, sweet and sugary enough to produce instant cavities, reverberated from one of the dark tunnels. There was a whirring sound and a figure glided into sight.
Rogue's eyes widened. "What the hell...?"
The voice belonged to a robot. It was the size of a tall human and shaped like a woman wearing a short, hooped skirt. Its bottom half was a long thick stalk tapering down to a roller, which allowed it to move around. The head was a bucket shape and the eyes slanted, large and red with the mouth a parody of a woman's lips. It was dressed like an old-fashioned nanny or maid with a ruffled white apron and ruffled cap.
The robot halted before them and looked at Erik. "Do not worry. Nanny will look after you forever."
Go ON to Part Five
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