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Lightning Over Elk River
Part 2: Music City
Warnings: Discussion of ADULT topics, including sex and drugs. Drugs are not glorified.

Notes: Regarding Storm's history . . . Millar confided in an interview that he's simplifying her conflicting comics background by dumping the goddess aspect to make her only a car thief, referencing her old comics history as a thief in Cairo. In issue #7, Colossus' quip suggests she's from Morocco. Millar further said that he hated the way her dialogue felt stilted in the classic comics, so he's assuming that she's been in the States at least since puberty to have acquired fluency with American slang. Issue #7 suggests that she might have been older when she came here than I indicate, but Peter was teasing her, so it's hard to tell. Scott's background is the same as the one I created in "Chocolate Milk." As always in comic canon, he's an orphan. His first name has never been given; I just kept the one I made up in "Micky Blue Eyes." "Miss Gredenko" belongs to The Police, found on Synchronicity, and "As Time Goes By" by Herman Hupfeld was, of course, used in Casablanca. Storm's singing voice was remarked on as notably good in the original comics, and I've kept that.  Yes, Dani Elk River is the same person as Dani Moonstar; please see my notes at the beginning of Part III to understand my reasons for the change.

"We're going to stay here?" Storm asked.

"Yes, we are."

"Xavier's gonna kill us. It'll cost a fortune."

"Xavier made us reservations," I said.

"Here" was The Hermitage Hotel, a Beaux arts building right across from the Tennessee State Capitol. It had a red awning over the door, and large, beautiful arched windows -­ one of those five-star Grand Hotels that Xavier prefers, quite a step up from the Knights Inn of the evening before. I'd never get used to this, no matter how long I was an X-Man. I felt like a goddamn imposter even walking through the front door. Cheap white trash dumped on the wrong sidewalk. For that matter, it still felt odd to drive a Mercedes, like I should be watching my rear-view mirror for flashing blue. Grand Theft Auto. But that's Ororo's department.

Why the fuck had she thought I was from Indiana, epitome of Midwestern Americana, anyway? And did that offend me ­- or relieve me?

"There are reasons for it, Ro," I said as I pulled into the drive circle. "The niceties of upper-class social convention can hide a multitude of eccentric sins." Opening the door, I tossed the keys to a valet and let the bellhop get our bags as I walked around to assist Ro, but she was already getting out with the help of another valet, and showing lots of leg in process. She wore a lycra knit mini-dress that fit like a body glove, and the valet looked ready to pee himself. She has that effect on men. Maybe I should've put her in that dress and sent her into the Brotherhood headquarters in Croatia, instead of Beast. She'd have incapacitated Toad, Blob and Quicksilver at a single glance.

Not a very egalitarian thought, Summers, I told myself. But it had made me grin.

She threw the valet a little dimpled smile like a dog biscuit, then flicked open her sunglasses to perch them on her nose. Moving up beside her, I offered my arm and we headed for the lobby. Two of the bell hops practically leapt to open the doors for us, and I confess, it pumped my ego to know that they thought she was with me. Fat chance of that, if Peter, Peter the pumpkin eater had been around.

Which thought gave me mental pause. Since when had I cared whom Storm was mooning after? I put it out of my head and turned my attention to business.

The lobby was . . . overwhelming, and I've been in some overwhelming hotels. Red and gold everywhere -­ rug, draperies, chairs, even the fucking wallpaper -­ indoor palms, mottled marble pillars arcing up to a spectacular Italian stained-glass skylight, plush furniture. Fucking obscene. The cost of decorating the lobby alone would have fed an entire Somalian village for a year.

"This is sick," Ororo muttered beside me, and surprised, I glanced down at her. She was still wearing her sunglasses like a movie star gone incognito, and I wondered, idly, if she was doing so because I had to wear them, or if she was just feeling blinded by the opulence. "There were days I'd have sold my soul to eat out of this place's trash cans."

It wasn't the reaction I'd expected. Jean basked in places like this, and Xavier took them in stride. "Yeah, I know," I said now. She glanced over at me sharply, and it dawned on me that she'd have no idea how I could know any such thing. "I ate out of trash cans a few times, too."

"Oh, really?"

"Yeah, really." I felt defensive.

She studied my face a minute, then turned away, patted my arm. "Sorry. Let's go get our rooms. We may as well enjoy it."

"I have a hard time 'enjoying' ostentatious wealth."

"What about the mansion? You seem to enjoy living there."

"It's a school, among other things. The professor spends his fortune helping others."

"True. But he also likes his Perrier instead of tap water. There's no sense in going through life on a guilt trip, Scott."

"You were the one who said it was sick. I was just agreeing with you."

She sighed and I could see that her eyes had gone white behind her glasses, like they do when she's upset or anxious, even if it doesn't spoil the weather. She doesn't have complete control of her powers yet, and it occurred to me that she might have her own reasons for wearing sunglasses indoors. "So I'm occasionally a hypocrite," she said. "It's not going to stop me from finding the Jacuzzi."

I checked us in, and checked with the concierge for any messages -­ not that I expected any, but I like to cover all bases. Then we went up to our room. Suite, actually. Living area, kitchenette, two bedrooms. Tasteful decor in reds and some other jewel-tone color I thought might be blue. Or maybe green. In any case, the suite had a fucking baby grand piano. Ororo saw the piano and forgot anything else. Charmed, she sat down, tore her sunglasses off and ran fingers over the keys. "You play?" I asked, dumbfounded, as I tipped the bellhop. He left us alone after depositing our luggage ­- hers and mine both -­ in the larger of the two bedrooms.. I didn't bother to correct his mistake; I'd move mine later.

"Not really," she was saying, a little smile fixed on her face. "But my father played and I used to fiddle around on his, when I was small. It wasn't so fine as this, but I loved it." Her smile faded into a frown and I watched her plunk keys unhappily. I didn't know a lot about Ro's background -­ the professor isn't in the habit of divulging a student's history to another student -­ but I did know that she'd been on the street because she was an orphan. Like me.

I leaned up against the jamb of the bedroom door. "What kind of music did he play?"

"Anything. He could play anything. Couldn't read a note, but if he heard it, he could play it. We used to sing together."

"You loved him."

"He was my father. I thought him second only to the Prophet."

"You're Muslim?" I'd had no idea.

"My parents were." She glanced over and smiled slyly at me. "Most Moroccans are, Scott."

"I thought your mother was Ethiopian?"

She left off messing with the piano and turned on the bench to face me. "I said she could make berbere sauce. I never said she was Ethiopian. Actually, she was from Senegal, but moved to Rabat, where she met my father. They emigrated to the States when I was nine, opened a little restaurant in Atlanta called . . . " she drew it out for drama "Café Americain."

I laughed. "Of course. Were there lots of pictures of Bogart and Bergman on the walls?"

She nodded, smiling. "And a piano, of course. Which my father used to play. He even let people call him Sam," and she ghosted out the familiar melody, sang, "You must remember this, a kiss is still a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh. The fundamental things apply, as time goes by." She had an amazing voice, rich like espresso, or German chocolate.

"So you speak Moroccan?"

She said something -­ God knew what -­ then in English, added, "That's Arabic, Scott. The official language of Morocco is Arabic. But I also speak Berber and a little French, besides English."

"Man, you're quadlingual? I'm officially impressed. But 'Ororo' isn't Arabic."

"No. My mother named me that."

"And Munroe isn't Arabic either."

She smiled. "'Munroe' wasn't the name I was born with."

I felt my eyebrow go up. "So what was?"

But she didn't answer me, just turned back to the piano. I didn't want to pry, understanding the desire to keep one's secrets, but I didn't want to let this go so easily, either. "Do you have an Arabic name, in addition to Ororo? Not a last name, I mean."


"It's pretty." It was. Like water over rocks.

"My father called me Jilah." She plunked some more, almost idly. The notes tumbled over each other in an abstract tune. "al-Maliji," she said after a minute.


"My birth name. Jamilah Ororo al-Maliji. Munroe was just easier for people to remember, on the street."

It was an offer of trust. I needed to give her something back. "My first name is Michael. Michael Scott Summers."

She glanced around at me and smiled. "Why change it to Scott?"

"I didn't. I've been Scott as long as I can remember." True enough. I just didn't explain that I couldn't remember what I'd been called before the brain damage that had fucked up my life.

Abruptly, I stood. "I should contact the professor, let him know we've arrived and find out if he has a firmer location on the girl."

Which he did. This could get complicated, Cyclops, he told me inside my head. I had a special device in my visor that was an extension of Cerebro. Of course, the professor could contact us without Cerebro, but it put more of a strain on him. I'd ripped the device out before going to the Savage Land, so we'd had to reinstall it before I came here. Now, I lay on one of the beds in the smaller bedroom, hands folded on my chest, eyes closed. It was easier this way. As I briefed you before you left, the professor went on, this girl has been fading in and out of Cerebro's monitor for weeks, and I'm not at all certain of the cause. This has never before happened with a mutant signature.

Could it be that she's just not fully come into her powers yet?

Possible, but given the strength of her signature at other times, I find that unlikely. I fear it is what we discussed previously:  the interference of drug use on a psionic mutation.

I should warn Ororo about that. It was half a statement, half a request for permission. I didn't like keeping aspects of a mission from my teammates, and there were things about this one that troubled me. I worried that Ororo was being used, and wondered how much I was, as well. She should know what we might be up against.

There was a pause, then the professor agreed. Do so. Remember that I have assigned both of you to this for specific reasons. You have experiences which the others do not. And Cyclops, Storm can be an excellent actress. Follow her lead when you go undercover.

Yes, sir. I wrote down the information the professor related as to where we were likely to find the girl, then switched the visor for my glasses and went out to make plans with Ro.

"Your ID," I handed her one of the two fake driver's licenses that the professor had prepared for us, before we'd left. Of course, my real license was just as fake. Legal photo IDs required that the eyes be visible -­ an impossibility in my case. The picture on my license was an extremely fine image manipulation. "Don't abuse it," I told her. "It's for the mission, not to buy jello shots."

"Don't trust me?"

"Should I?"

Making a mou of cherry-red lips, she said, "You wound me."

"No, I don't."

That just got a dimpled grin. "I won't abuse it, don't worry." And she slipped the ID and some money into the bustline of that body-glove dress which she still wore for our foray on the town. Watching the card disappear beside café latte skin was . . . distracting, which I'm sure she'd intended. Ro isn't above yanking even my chain.

"Aren't you going to put that in your purse instead?"

"What purse?"

"You're not taking your purse?"

She turned to look at me. "Why would I take my purse into a club? I can't dance with it."

"We're not here to dance. We're here to look for a mutant."

"No kidding. But I thought we were undercover?" She reached out to run a thumb over my lips, playfully. "I plan to dance, boyfriend."

I jerked away. "This isn't a game."

She grew serious. "No, it's not. But we have to look convincing, okay? If you're supposed to be my date, you can't act like my touch gives you the heebie jeebies."

"It's not that."

"Then what it is?"

"It's just -­ " And what was I supposed to say? 'It's not the heebie jeebies, Ro, it's a hard-on?' That would go over fucking splendidly. Of course, I'm sure she already knew exactly what it was. She was teasing me, didn't mean to be cruel. But it was cruel. Having control over my body was my personal religion, for a lot of reasons.

I opened my own car door. "Never mind. Stay there; I'll come around to help you out, if you're so worried about playing this right." She did as I said, and I handed her from the car, tried not to notice how the sleeveless top strained over ample cleavage.

Christ.  I was on a mission, dammit, and it didn't include speculating on the cup size of my female teammates. Not for the first time, I wished we could do this in uniform. In uniform, I didn't have these problems. In uniform, I could detach my mind from my rebellious body, see her as someone under my command, my protection. Not a gorgeous woman in lethal lycra.

She hooked her hand under my elbow and we crossed the street from the chintzy dirt parking lot where I'd had to leave the Mercedes (thank God for alarm systems and The Club), to the door of the 'Film Noir.' Fucking pretentious name. This was hardly upscale Nashville. The windows of the stores had bars on them and all the buildings were faded, crumbling a bit at the edges. Several had been boarded up. An abandoned grocery cart listed half into a gutter. "Charming."

A bouncer sat outside the club door and watched us with a bored expression as we approached. The music was loud enough to be heard even outside. Retro '80s New Wave at odds with the club name.

Your uniform doesn't seem to fit.
You're much too alive in it.
You've been letting your feelings show,
Are you safe, Miss Gredenko . . . ?
He took my money for the cover but despite our preparations, didn't ask either of us for an ID. I wasn't surprised, and not because I look older than I am. I found myself wishing for my visor. It was folded up in an interior pocket of my leather jacket if I needed it, but would require precious seconds to get onto my face. I put more trust in the switchblade up my sleeve. Ro had a knife of her own strapped under the hem of the dress, and I was sure she knew how to use it.

Inside, it was impossible to hear myself think, much less speak over the music. I wouldn't have minded the decimal level if I hadn't been on a mission. I could feel the bass line in my molars and my solar plexus and the balls of my feet.

Is anybody alive in here?
Is anybody alive in here?
Is anybody alive in here?
Nobody but us . . . .
The clientele was . . . interesting. Most were high or drunk, or both, and between the tattoos and piercings, studded leather and purple lip-stick, they would have made Wolverine look like a Boy Scout. Strobe lights left over from the '80s and a kaleidoscope dance floor, along with dry ice, gave everything a surreal effect, like hell on speed. "Where's the brimstone?" I shouted. "And I thought punk was out?"

"Nothing ever goes out, Scott," Storm yelled back. "Besides, this is goth, not punk."

"If it's not punk, what do you call that guy with the green mohawk and a ring through his nose?"

"A pig with bad taste?"

I burst out laughing and she smirked, plastered herself to my side like the brainless trophy girl she was dressed to be, and pulled me through the crowd, bobbing her head to the beat. I remembered what Xavier had said:  follow her lead, but I couldn't begin to conform. "Relax," she whisper-shouted in my ear. "They'll think you're a vice cop, and we won't find out a damn thing."

She had a point, but I'm a lousy actor. Still, I tried to relax, and slipped an arm around her shoulders. "Better," she mouthed at me.

Miraculously, we found an empty table on the upper mezzanine. Or maybe the skinny kid who'd occupied it was intimidated by my height and my leather. He gave it over when he saw us, and Ro sat me down in a chair. Then instead of seating herself opposite, she plopped down right in my lap. But she wasn't watching me at all, just using the added height and the vantage of our place near the rail to survey the room below. "Do we know what this girl looks like?" she bent to ask. "Aside from not being white?"

Her bending had put her cleavage right at my eye level. "She's, um, Native American," I said. "Average height. I assume black hair. Ro, would you mind moving? I can't see anything." Well, I could see plenty, but it wasn't what I ought to be looking at.

She moved. "You can't assume black hair. I knew a girl once, half Menominee and half German with curly pumpkin-red hair and freckles. And where's that mini-cerebro that you have?"

"In my visor, unfortunately."

"Given the way some of these people are dressed, Cyclops, I don't think the visor would get a second glance."

"Yes, it would. Trust me. I could come in here wrapped around in chains and no one would look twice, but If I put on the visor, I may as well hang a sign around my neck that read 'mutie.'"

"So we're on our own?"

"Powers of observation only. And the professor."

"He can speak to us this far away?"

Indeed. It was said into both of our heads. I've been monitoring your progress since you left the hotel.

Great, I thought privately. I'd known he was there -­ he's always with us on missions ­- but I tend to forget it until he reminds me, or until I remind myself. I wondered what he thought of my less than gentlemanly observations regarding Storm's cleavage?

Do you have any idea where she is?, Storm was sending to the professor. Even at this distance, Xavier could link us to each other, not just to himself. Trouble was, utilizing telepathy when my eyes were open always made me slightly motion sick, as if the room were spinning. I had to swallow back nausea.

I am afraid, the professor was saying, that I am as handicapped in this as you. Due to the peculiar nature of this mutant's mental signature, I cannot tell you any more than that she was at your present location earlier. I am not reading her at all, currently.

So she might not even be here now?, Storm asked.

Unfortunately, yes.  Storm, why don't you go down and canvas the room, and Cyclops, remain on guard at the upper level, to keep an eye out for potential trouble.

In what I hoped was a private thought, I sent, Should we be expecting any?

I do not know.  Previously, her periodic disappearances from Cerebro's monitor have always been followed by explosive reaffirmations -­ the kind that one would expect from an extremely strong psion exercising her talent with little or no control.

Similar to what you felt when Storm called the lightning in Texas that nearly killed those kids?

Yes, exactly.  And considering Storm's mental state immediately after that event, this girl may be traumatized by the time you reach her.

I nodded. He couldn't see it, but I knew he could feel my agreement. Most of us were a little traumatized when our powers manifested. Or a lot traumatized.

Oh, and Scott?

Yes, sir?

Regarding Storm's cleavage . . .

I felt myself flush from the roots of my hair all the way to my toes.

. . . I would be far more worried about you, if you had not expressed the thoughts that you did.  I could just hear the humor in that. You are almost nineteen, male, and perfectly healthy -­ and thus, normal, although I know how little you feel so.  Enjoy the dress.  I think she means you to.

And with that enigmatic last quip, he faded in my head -­ still there, but not active. He'd turned his conscious attention to Ororo, no doubt, and I watched her make her way through the crowd below, loose white hair a glossy beacon. She really was stunning. Hardly a new observation -­ a man would have to be blind not to appreciate her looks ­- but it suddenly hit me at a different level, one not so intellectual. She was beautiful, and classy despite her background in a way that Jean wasn't. Odd. Jean had been steeped in that upper-class debutante atmosphere, but it was Ororo who had the poise. Ro could be a smart ass, occasionally insubordinate, and too clever by half, but she was also fundamentally grounded. The street did that to you ­- grew you up or took you apart. And sometimes it did both at once by killing your optimism. I understood Ro, and for all her quirkiness, respected her. If I hadn't been Cyclops, I'd have been Storm. She'd follow me because she chose to, not because she'd been told to. I could trust that, because I knew she'd object if she thought I was wrong. In all fairness, so would Jean, but Jean was too sympathetic. She trusted people too readily because she believed that people were fundamentally good, and I wasn't sure some days if she was attracted to people like me, and Wolverine, because of our dark side, or because she wanted to save us from it. Maybe both.

And what, in the end, did I believe? The professor's dream, or Magneto's paranoia? Maybe a little of both. Despite what people thought, I hadn't run to Magneto because of Jean and the Wolverine. Or because Hank had nearly been killed. Those had only been straws that had broken the camel's back. I'd gone because what Magneto had said to me in Croatia had made more sense, given my past experiences, than what Xavier preached. I wanted to believe Xavier, but in my heart, I believed Magneto. It was the man's methods that gave me the creeps. The more I'd seen, the more I'd realized that I couldn't ally myself with that. So I'd gone home. And I was pleased that the professor's actions on behalf of the president had met with public appreciation finally in Washington. But I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. As I'd told Jean at one point, gratitude was a tricky thing to trust in because people are fickle, and have short memories. I gave it half a year before fear once more replaced gratitude in the public awareness. We'd be living for a long time at the edges of public acceptance, constantly needing to prove ourselves, but the choice I'd made in the Savage Land (unconsciously more than consciously) was that ­- as depressing as that prospect might be ­- it was better than a war. The road to hell was wide and easy, and if I didn't believe a lot of what the Bible said, I did believe that. Sometimes hard was best; I'd walked a hard road before, just to be standing where I was now. I could survive hard.

Meanwhile, on the floor below, Ro had made a complete circuit without finding anything, and now, made her way onto the dance floor. I'd assumed that she planned to search there, and for a few minutes, that's what she appeared to be doing. Before long, however she was just dancing, not searching. What the fuck?  I'd told her we weren't here to dance!  But soon, I stopped worrying about it and just watched, entranced.

It wasn't sexual.  Despite the dress, despite a figure like that, despite her own eyes-closed, head-back abandon, it wasn't sexual.  Instead, she became the music, her white hair swinging and her body incarnating the rhythm in a way I could never manage, body-paranoid as I was.  I loved music, it calmed me, and singing was a private joy.  It opened up part of my soul.  But I couldn't dance.  For Ro, her body was her voice; she sang on the floor.  Hypnotic.  She didn't give a damn if anyone else was watching, and for that reason, people did.  She entered the music, let it move her limbs by driving her heart.  I had to tear my eyes away to scan the crowd but found my gaze kept drifting back.  People had moved away to give her room -­ a strange act of respect in a place like this.  But she was creating sacred space with her body and her feet.

That's when I noticed the other girl.  She hadn't been there just a few minutes before, but seeing Ro dance must have lured her out of some hidden pocket in the crush of crowd.  Like Ro, she danced for the music, not the watchers, moving in a sway like long prairie grass, black hair sweeping her shoulders and her face lifted up to an invisible sky.

She was Native American.

I was moving almost before I thought about it, table abandoned to head for the stairs to the lower level.  Professor!

Yes, Cyclops.  I am aware; Storm spotted her.  But be careful.  There may be more than one Indian in Nashville, you know.  More of that bubble mental laughter.

Agreed.  Storm -­ we converge on the target.

Woah! -­ Ro's mental voice -­ She's a girl, not an 'obbjective.'  Chill, Cyclops.  Let me handle this.


But he didn't reply.  He was going to let me call this one.  All right. I had to trust my team at some point. She's yours, I sent to Ro. I'll be on the sideline if you need me.

The music was ending, and I could see the inevitable shift and shuffle as dancers left the floor to let others squeeze on. People jostled me and I ground my teeth together. Man, I hate crowds like this ­- and not just out of fear that my glasses might slip. I couldn't see where Ro had gotten to. Six feet is on the tall side, but I'm not Peter. Even craning my neck, I caught no glimpse of white hair. It was too late to return to my table above; that was long gone. Fuck, I'd been too impulsive again. If I could just see where Ro was, and whether or not she'd managed to contact the girl. Professor? But he didn't answer. He must be concentrating on Ro and I shouldn't distract him. Instead, I raised a hand to pat the lump my visor made inside my jacket ­- just to reassure myself that it was still there.

"Hey!" It was shouted at what seemed like my elbow. I glanced around, and down. Black pixie hair, pale skin, some dark shade of eyeshadow over eyes that might be green or might be blue -­ I could never tell -­ and lots of black lace, including a fine net over her face from a pillbox hat. Silver and amethyst exotic jewelry, but it matched instead of clashed. She looked like a gothic version of Jackie O, and I couldn't decide if I found that attractive, or just weird. "Dance?" she shouted at me, though she seemed to be dancing already right where she was, beer bottle in one hand, cigarette in the other. Her bow-curved lips were very red.

I shook my head and turned away.

"Why not?" she yelled at me, tugging on my sleeve again.

"I don't dance," I replied, not looking at her and hoping she'd get the message.

"Watcha doing next to the dance floor then, staring at it like you lost your best friend?"

"I'm waiting for someone."

"Oh!" She smirked. "Girl gone off with somebody else?"

"No." I still wasn't looking at her. Where the hell was Ororo?

"You a vice cop or something?"

The question made me jump and glance around. "Huh?" I remembered what Ororo had warned me of. And it was true. Three years ago, I'd have nailed me as a vice cop, too. Or actually, not vice. Vice was too good at their jobs. More generic government type. "I'm not a cop at all," I told her now.

"Of course not." She studied me with wise eyes. "Don't worry, Mister. I'm legal." And she wove away through the crowd.

Shit. That was all we needed, a rumor running rampant that I was law enforcement. Reaching out, I grabbed a piece of lace and hauled her about. "I'm not a cop," I said, annoyed.

Her expression hovered between confusion at my action, and faint alarm. "Okay. Fine. You're not a cop. Let me go."

"Sorry." I did as she asked. "I'm . . . in the military. That's all. I don't fucking like cops."

"Your girl in the military, too?"

"What makes you think I have a girl?"

"Well who else were you waiting for? Cinderella?"

"Just a friend."

That same knowing smile. "Yeah. Sure." She jerked her chin back towards the dance floor. "Go find your gir ­- "

She never finished. The front door slammed open and a voice shouted, "Everyone freeze! This is the Nashville Police Department." Figures in black riot gear were sweeping into the room, carrying floodlights.

"What the hell?" I muttered, along with about five hundred other people -­ though it was obvious enough what it was. Vice raid. This was too freaking weird. I started to reach for my visor but thought better of it. It might look like I was reaching for a concealed weapon. Which I was, after a fashion.

"Not a vice cop, huh?" Jackie O Goth shouted beside me.

"I'm not!" I yelled back.

Others in the crowd were less circumspect than I'd been. Knives appeared in hands and all hell broke loose. A good dozen patrons leapt at the cops . . . only to pass right through and slam into the wall behind.

"What the fuck!" someone shouted. "They're not friggin' real!"

"Is this some kind of motherfucking VR show without the goddamn goggles?" another yelled.

Bouncers and management were on the scene, but of course couldn't stop the manifestation. Mirage cops continued to shout, and now fired harmless bullets into the crowd. Had it not been so clearly a hallucination, it would have been terrifying. As it was, it frightened mostly because no one seemed to know what was causing it.

But I had a damn good idea.

Leaving Jackie O Goth behind, I wormed my way between people, looking for Storm and trying to contact the professor. But he was still shut down from me; he must be focused on trying to contain the psionic illusion. The mood in the room had turned rapidly ugly, aided by alcohol and other chemicals. Bottles were being thrown and knives hadn't gone back into sheathes. I pulled out my visor with my left hand and palmed my own knife in my right.

"Where the hell did they go?" I heard behind me and glanced over my shoulder. The mirage cops had disappeared, but it wasn't calming the mood. If anything the crowd was getting worse. We had to get out of here, and quickly. If the rest caught wind of what was really going on, and who was causing it, Storm and I would have our hands full protecting the girl -­ if we could without a lot of people getting hurt, and a lot of property damage, too . . . which would undo everything accomplished in Washington a week ago.

The professor was suddenly back in my head. To your left, Cyclops. They're in the women's restroom. Meet them there and get out through the window.

Yes, sir. Did Cerebro read that . . . whatever it was?

Indeed, it did.

I looked for bathroom signs, spotted them past the dart boards near the bar, and headed in that direction. My body had slammed into battle high. When I pushed the door open on the women's room, I was nearly zapped by lightning.  "Don't blast me, dammit," I said.

"Didn't your mommy ever teach you that the door with the skirt was for little girls?"  Adrenaline made Storm snappish.

"Can it. There's a riot starting out there."  I glanced at the Indian girl, now hanging unconscious in Ro's arms.  "What happened to her?"

"I slugged her."

Well, that was one way to handle it. I scanned the little room. The only window was high and narrow. No way we were climbing through that. "Get back from the wall." And I switched my glasses for my visor. Considering what was going on in the main room, one more hole in a wall wouldn't matter. So I blasted a good chunk of concrete from around the window, then took the unconscious girl while Ro pulled off her heels and hoisted herself out with a boost on my knee. I passed up the girl and started to follow, gripping Ro's hand for leverage.

At that moment, the door swung open in a blast of noise from the brawl outside. I jerked around. It was Jackie O Goth. She'd lost her pillbox hat. "What the hell?" she asked. "I thought I saw you come in here. And what happened to the fucking wall?" She was staring at my visor.

"Don't ask hard questions if you don't want hard answers."

"Are you responsible for what's going on out there? People are getting trampled, dammit!"

"I'm not responsible, no. We're trying to get out the person who is -­ not to hide her," I added when I saw thunder start on the girl's face. "To help her."

"She didn't do it on purpose," Ro added from above, her face appearing in the blasted-out hole. "We came to stop her from doing any more damage, accidentally."

Jackie O Goth studied Ro, then glanced again at me. "What are you people? No, don't answer that." She held up a hand. She seemed to make some decision and came forward. "Just get me the fuck out of here." I exchanged a glance with Ororo, who nodded. So I hoisted up Jackie O through the blasted wall, then followed myself. God knew why I trusted the girl. Surely not just because she could get her Wiccan jewelry to match.

The alley outside amounted to a crawlspace between buildings. It stank of beer vomit and piss, and someone had scrawled obscenities on brick. "What next?" Ro asked.

"There'll be bouncers at the back and front, to catch trouble makers," Jackie O supplied. "If you go waltzing out there with an unconscious girl, and that" ­- she pointed to my visor -­ "they're gonna stop you." And she was right.

"Too bad we can't go up," I said, eyeing the crack of night sky above.

"Who says we can't?" Storm.

I glanced sharply at her. I knew she'd been practicing the manipulation of air currents to lift herself, but ­- "I didn't know you'd mastered that yet."

"I don't know that I have, but we haven't got many other options right now, do we?"

"Mastered what?" Jackie O asked.

"Watch and see," Storm said, and closed her eyes to concentrate, hands out a little and palms up. I felt the air move, rustling loose trash. When Storm opened her eyes again, they'd gone white.

"Shit -­ " Jackie O whispered.

The winds sped up, whirling around us, and we started to leave the ground. "Shit!" Jackie O said again, louder. I could see the strain on Ro's face, sweat glistening on forehead and lip. Christ, if she dropped us . . . . "You can do it, Storm," I said.

It was slow going, both because she was being extremely careful, and because she was trying to lift four people, not just herself. But necessity is a stern taskmaster, so she raised us two stories to the roof, then collapsed in my arms, panting. "Fantastic job," I said, stroking her hair and holding her up while she got her strength back. Meanwhile I looked about, considering options. I wasn't sure that we were better off, but at least we were out of the way for the moment, and I could think about what to do next.

"You're mutants, aren't you?" Jackie O said, after she'd quit shaking.

"Duh," Ro replied, straightening up out of my grip, then asked, "What's your name?" to make up for the smart-ass answer.

"Annie," the other girl said as I left them to pad around the wall edge. I could still hear their conversation clearly up here in the night air, out of the racket below.

"I'm Storm. That's Cyclops."

"Storm? Your parents actually named you that?"

"Well, no. It's a nickname, sorta."

"Who's the other one? The Indian girl."

"I don't know."

"I thought she was with you?"

"Not exactly. Like we said, we came to find her."

"What's wrong with her?"

"She's unconscious."

"Duh," Annie replied, and Ororo laughed. "I meant what's wrong with her that made you come after her?"

"Her powers recently manifested and she doesn't know how to use them yet. Not safely. We came to help her learn, so she's not a danger to herself and others."

"Oh.  Probably a good idea, after what happened in there."

They were silent then while I finished my scouting. As the girl Annie had said, both back and front were well covered, but the crowd was trying to push out and the bouncers had their hands full. They weren't paying much attention to what lay outside their immediate vicinity.  I returned to the girls. "Okay," I said, "the plan is this:  we move east over the next three rooftops -­ they're all about the same in height -­ then drop down into the alley and get out to the car, pronto."  I glanced at our impromptu addition. "We can take you home if you like."

"Just get me out of this neighborhood and I'm grateful.  This is nuts."  She was studying the unconscious girl.  "You know, I think she might be on wack."

I followed her gaze.  I hadn't given the Indian girl more than a second glance.  Now, I did.  She was malnourished, and barely dressed.  Not barely dressed like Ro, whose top was supposed to look like it might fall down at any moment, not actually do so. This girl was barely dressed in a thin tank, leather miniskirt, and sandals despite the cool spring night air.  And she was sweating still, copper skin all flushed.  I reached for her wrist, took her pulse. Way too fast.  Pulling open her lids, I checked the pupils.  Definitely dilated.  Even in the dark, I could see that.  "You're right.  Looks like Angel Dust."

Ororo did a double-take. "Crap.  Major bummer drug."

"Just what we need," I muttered.  "A psi on wack.  Talk about the mother of all bad trips. Well, as long as her blood pressure doesn't drop and she doesn't start convulsing, I'd like to keep her out of the hospital.  It's probably not the best choice, but under the circumstances, I think it's wiser."  Mentally, I sent, Professor?  Now that I had my visor back on, he could hear me better.  I kept my eyes shut.

I followed the conversation, Cyclops, but have no better advice to give at the moment.  You know more of this than I -­ it's why I sent you.  Get yourselves to safety where you can place the girl under observation, twenty-four/seven until she comes out.  I cannot tell how much she has taken, but if the dosage was high enough, it would explain why Cerebro is intermittently blinded to her.  As you said, given her mutation, it is probably best if we can keep her out of the hospital, but take her if you think it necessary.  I bow to your experience.

My experience, whoopee. What I wouldn't give not to have my experience.  But even I'd never been stupid enough to take Angel Dust. What happened back there in the club . . . ?  I asked. One minute, I was talking to Annie about vice cops, and the next thing I knew, illusions of them had showed up at the door.  Seems a little too coincidental.

I agree, but at this point, can only speculate.  Our new mutant was open to Storm's introduction until Storm mentioned mutant powers, then I felt her probe Storm's mind in self-defense.  I could feel her, but not stop her.  Right at that moment, Storm's main fear was of upsetting her further -­ not something from which she could form an effective hallucination.  So it may be that she somehow managed to follow the telepathic link out of Storm's mind, through me, and into yours, where she picked up on vice cops.

So the illusion disappeared when Storm knocked her unconscious?

No.  I collapsed it.  Once generated, her mirages appear almost to take on a life of their own, nor does she have to be conscious to create one.  Keep that in mind.  Her gift is very strong.

Yes, sir.  And blinking my eyes open again, I returned to the present.  The girl Annie was staring at me like I'd grown two heads and I wondered if I'd been muttering my replies out loud again, like I did sometimes.  Storm had gone off to the roof's east edge to consider the distance to the next building.  I picked up our unconscious mutant and joined her, Annie following.  "Okay," I said.  "We need to get a move on, people."  It was six feet across to the other side.  I could make the leap but doubted Annie could.  She was much too small, and God knew what kind of physical shape she was in.  Not to mention that we had the other girl to carry.  "Storm, are you up to it?"  She just nodded and raised her arms to summon the winds, lift us across. No one below seemed to notice. And in this way, we covered three roofs and eventually got down into the alley beyond.  Storm was almost falling off her feet by that point, but we weren't out of the woods yet.  I handed her my keys.  "Take Annie, get the car, and bring it around to pick me up.  I'll stay with the girl."  Three buildings away, the club still milled like a kicked ant-hill, and real cops had arrived.  We'd better not try to cross the street with an unconscious body, and Storm couldn't pick up the girl and get her into the car; she could barely pick up herself.  Better if she drove.  I looked at Annie.  "Help her.  She's exhausted."

"Check," Annie said. She got an arm around Ro's torso and off they went, Ro trying to slip back on heels as they walked. A few minutes later, the Mercedes stopped in front of the alley where I was waiting, and Annie had leaned across to swing open a rear door. I hurried to get in, half flinging the unconscious girl across the back seat. Ro was moving even before I could close the door and it almost slammed on my foot from the momentum of her acceleration.

"Man, would you watch it?" I snapped.

"What?  You want them to catch us?  Annie, where's home for you?"

I kept an eye out the back window as Ororo followed Annie's directions to her apartment. So far, so good. No one was following. It turned out that Annie was a student at Vanderbilt University, and lived in what amounted to the student ghetto -­ if a private university like Vandy could be said to have such a thing. Ro stopped in front of Annie's building to let her out. "Thanks," Ro said.

"Thanks to you," Annie replied, bending down to look in the window and give us both an impish grin. "That's the most freakin' scared I've been in a long while, but the most fun I've had, too. You guys be careful."

"We'll try. And Annie," I said before she could get away. "Remember -­ not all mutants are out to hurt humans."

She gave me a funny look. "Who said you were? Not everybody buys into that media shit, y'know. As near as I could tell, the Sentinels did more property damage than mutants ever did. Fucking waste of tax dollars, if you asked me. Good luck, guys." And turning, she dashed up the stairs to unlock the door to her building and slip inside.

Well, I thought, people could surprise you. And maybe Magneto wasn't always right. Normal humans and mutants could work together when they needed to.

Part 3

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