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Chapters
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
 
 
 

The Cast of Shadows - REVIEW THIS STORY

Written by NicoPony
Last updated: 04/17/2007 12:31:02 AM

Chapter 15

Madelyneís eyes fluttered open, and it took her several moments to piece together where she was. A flat countryside flew past the car window and a soft breeze tousled her hair. She blinked at the brightness, at the vivid summer colors. Madelyne groaned and rubbed her eyes.

"Youíre awake," a voice said softly.

She turned to look at Scott, sitting in the driverís seat.

"Mmm..." Madelyne said, leaning forward in her seat to stretch her aching back. "How long was I out?"

"A while," he replied.

Madelyne flopped back with a sigh. "I feel like I havenít slept at all. I had the worst dream."

Scott glanced over at her. "About what?"

She hunched her shoulders, as if she could shrug off the memory of the dream. "The Big Bad Wolf was after me. Everything was in black and white, except for me, and this huge red bird." She put her arm out the open window, and holding her palm and fingers flat, allowed the wind to direct the motion of her hand, like a bird swooping up and down. "It flew down and whisked me away. Do you think it means anything?" She cast him a curious glance, studying his serious profile.

"Dreams donít have meaning," he replied. "Theyíre just a series of miscellaneous images the brain arranges into a story."

Madelyne exhaled dramatically, and wiped a hand across her brow. "Whew," she said, "for a moment I thought all those hot sweaty sex dreams I had about you actually meant something!"

She began to giggle as Scottís face reddened. He cleared his throat nervously.

"Seriously," Madelyne continued. "It felt so real. And the bird seemed so important. Like, maybe it was my subconscious telling me something. Connecting me to, I donít know, how I like to fly and want to be a pilot...and how a plane crash stole my family and my past but somehow spared my life."

"I donít put much stock in dreams," Scott said. "Freud was a quack."

Madelyne laughed. "So its not about penis envy then, or latent sexual desires?"

"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar," he said with a smile.

Madelyne glanced down at her hands. They were red with tiny cuts. She examined her raw palms. Her arms were bruised and covered in scratches.

Scott glanced over. "Did you hurt yourself?"

She tucked her hands away, holding her belly. "No, Iím okay," she replied. "Havenít you had any dreams that felt real?"

He shook his head, "I donít remember my dreams."

She turned to look out the window, her voice somber now. "Youíre lucky."

Rogueís arrival in New Orleans was greeted with a blast of hot, humid air that weighed down on her like a heavy blanket. Her clothes and hair felt damp, and they clung to her sweat drenched flesh. It was late in the afternoon, and the sun bore down on the city, making the streets shimmer with heat. She rubbed her sleeve across her brow and sighed. Everything felt still in the heat. Even the cityís inhabitants seemed to be moving in slow motion.

She tugged Destinyís diary from her bag, and flipped to the page the oracle had written for her. Rogue was supposed to find a girl on a black horse. And the only place she knew of to look for horses was in the French Quarter. Rogue could feel Remyís presence at the forefront of her mind. She struggled to hold onto his thoughts, letting his memories guide her through the city. It was hard to maintain the connection, his thoughts tended to scatter away like a disturbed school of fish. Rogue turned to the sound of hooves clip-clopping on the pavement, only to see a mule pulling a white carriage. The driver of the carriage fanned himself with a straw hat, his carriage empty. Wrong animal, wrong color, and definitely the wrong rider, Rogue thought glumly. She continued down the street, turning the corners without concentrating too hard on where she was going. Things looked familiar, though she had never been to New Orleans before. She hoped she found what she was looking for before night fell. Rogue didnít want to be in the city alone after dark.

Hours passed, and the heat was wearing her down. The sun drifted across the sky, and shadows began to grow long. Rogue slumped onto a cement barrier and leaned back to rest against an iron railing. The feelings of familiarity plagued her, like a strong sense of deja vu tickling the back of her brain. Another carriage was approaching, and Rogue waited until the horse and driver came into view from between the cars parked before her on the street. It was a large bay draft horse that plodded heavily past, its platter-sized hooves pounding the street.

Wrong again, she thought, as her shoulders slumped. Across the street was a two story house of pinkish-hued brick. It was set close to the avenue, its wrought iron balcony was hung with drooping greenery and flowers. Once the carriage hove from view, a black car pulled up in front of the house. Rogue blinked in the heat as a girl stepped out of the car, her blond hair shining in the sunlight. The girl pulled her purse from the passenger seat and swung it onto her shoulder. She was slim and petite, her hair pulled into a single French braid at the back of her head. She was dressed in expensive-looking clothes, tight black capris and a white halter top. Rogue sat up straight, the feeling of recognition dawning on her. The girl trotted up the steps to the houseís front landing. Rogue jumped to her feet and grabbed her bag, then darted out into the street. A blare of a car horn and the screech of tires made her freeze in the center of the road. The driver of a car shouted at her to watch out, and Rogue hurried to the opposite sidewalk. The blond girl was staring at her curiously, her hand resting on the doorknob to the house. Rogue passed before the girlís black car. It was a brand new Ford Mustang convertible.

"Ah know you," Rogue said to the girl, putting her foot on the first step of the landing.

The girl cocked her head slightly, and studied Rogue with cool blue eyes. "Then you have the advantage," she said. "Since Iíve no idea who you are."

Rogue rested her hand on the landingís newel post, unsure of what to do next. The girl had triggered a memory. "Youíre Bella Donna...Bella Donna Boudreaux."

Belle turned to Rogue, her expression dark, her hands on her hips. "Yes...? And you would be...?"

"Mah name is Rogue, and Ahím lookiní for Remy LeBeau. You know where he is," the last sentence was not a question, but a statement. The flicker in Belleís eyes told Rogue that her assumption was correct.

"Rogue..." Belle rolled the name around in her mouth. "So, this is one of these X-Men Iíve been told about."

Rogue was taken aback. No one outside of the small group of mutants in Bayville knew about the X-Men.

"Remy told me all about it," Belle said flippantly. "He tells me a lot of tíings." Her eyes were calculating, looking at Rogue and searching out a reaction.

Rogue kept her face neutral, unwilling to betray her conflicting emotions to the haughty girl. Belle was obviously testing her, to see where Rogue stood. "Will you tell me where he is?" Rogue asked her.

Belle shrugged one of her bare shoulders and turned to the door. "Come on up," she said. Rogue let out a breath of relief. Apparently, she had passed the test. Belle opened the door and stepped into the foyer. A cold air-conditioned breeze chilled Rogueís skin as she followed. "Weíll go upstairs," Belle told her.

Rogue silently nodded. She did not know where she stood with Bella Donna, and was reluctant to trust her yet. Belleís room was brightly lit, and led to the balcony that Rogue had seen from the street. Belle pulled a pack of cigarettes from her purse and walked over to the balcony door. She opened it, pulled a chair over, and sat.

"Díyou smoke?" she asked around the cigarette held between her lips. Rogue shook her head while Belle lit up. She blew a stream of smoke out the open door. "Sit down," Belle gestured to the bed, which was covered in a white quilt. Rogue sat on the edge of the bed, keeping her distance from the other girl. Belle smiled at her.

"Do you know where Remy is?" Rogue asked.

Belle pulled on her cigarette. "Well," she said as she exhaled smoke, "he isnít here. My brother run him off all ready."

Rogue pursed her lips and shifted her weight on the bed. "So where did he go then?"

"Why should I tell you," Belle said somewhat snippily, unhappy that Rogue had yet to be baited. "Who are you tíhim?"

"Itís important," Rogue replied icily. "He ran away from the Institute, and Ahím worried about him. Since ya seem tíknow so much about us, you probably know heís a mutant. His powers are actiní up, and he needs our help."

Belleís eyes seemed to re-evaluate Rogue. She crushed her cigarette out and flung it onto the balcony. "Maybe heís tired of the X-Men? Maybe he doesnít want your help?" Belle tried.

Rogue shrugged. "That may be true, but itís not gonna stop me from findiní him. If youíre really his friend, you should be worried too."

That seemed to appease Belle, because her pose relaxed. "He didnít look himself," she said after a pause. "I figured it was that miserable northern weather." Rogue could tell that Bella Donna was making light of the situation, that she too was concerned. Rogue let herself relax.

"Is he still in New Orleans?" Rogue asked.

"As far as I know," Belle told her. "He came into town only two nights ago. Crashed here the first night, then took off."

Rogue held back her initial reaction; the hurt she felt by Belleís revelation that Remy had spent the night. Instead she asked: "Whereíd he get to?"

"Iím guessiní he went back to his old house, where that snake Essex kept him," Belleís voice turned bitter. Her expression changed from one of anger to one of contemplation. She fixed another questioning look on Rogue. "So whyíre you here alone, without the other X-Men?"

"Ah went off on mah own. And Ah had tíget out of that house," Rogue confessed.

"Remy gave me the idea that somethiní was wrong," Belle said.

"Amaziní that you could pick up on that, when the others seem completely oblivious," Rogue told her. "You donít have mutant powers, do you?"

Belle shook her head. "Nope, just eyes in my head." Belle stood and crossed the room to her desk. "Look, Rogue...about what I said earlier...Remy and I arenít boyfriend/girlfriend. Weíre just friend-type friends. I meant to make you jealous, but Iím the one whoís jealous of you. I apologize."

"There isnít much to be jealous of," Rogue said to Belleís back.

Belle cast a sardonic look over her shoulder. "I know heís sweet on you," she waved her hand in dismissal. "But never mind. Youíd better get after him before he gets into any more trouble."

Rogue stood up and approached Belle. "Thanks for your help," she said.

Belle turned to face her. "Itís gettiní late," she said, gesturing at the window. "Are you gonna be all right?"

Rogue nodded back. "Ah suppose," she replied. "Honestly, Ah was nervous about beiní in the city after dark."

"With good reason...Hold on," Belle said, then walked past Rogue to the bed. She flipped back one of the lace trimmed pillows. When she turned, she was proffering a gun in her hands. "Why donít you take this, for protection?"

At first Rogue was aghast, staring at the stainless steel pistol held in Belleís hand. She began to shake her head, refusing the weapon. "Ah think Ah can defend mahself..." Rogue began.

Belle stepped forward and held the gun out to Rogue. "Yínever know," Belle said. "It might buy you some time."

Rogueís hands dropped to her sides. The words Destiny had spoken echoed through her head: íA girl on a black horse...she will give you time.í Rogue extended an arm and took the offered pistol. Etched along the barrel of the gun were twining, bell-shaped flowers.

"Whatís this?" Rogue asked, studying the gun.

"Deadly nightshade," Belle said with a grin. "You know, Atropa Belladonna, my namesake. My father had it customized for me."

Rogue swallowed dryly. "Thanks," she said, while thinking: What kind of father gives his daughter a handgun? And what kind of gal sleeps with a gun under her pillow?

"Do you know how to use it?" Belle asked.

"No," Rogue replied. "But Ahím a fast learner." She pulled off a glove. "Did Remy tell you about mah powers?" Rogue extended her bare hand towards Belle, who slowly approached. "Think about everythiní yíknow about handguns," Rogue said. "...concentrate now..."

The Astral Plane

I wiped my arm across my face, leaving a smear of soot on my forearm. I must have looked horrible, covered in ash and smoke from the fire. Emma and I had worked hard to keep the fire alive and very hot. It had burned for a day and a night, keeping the evil meanies in the woods away. Together, we must have gathered every scrap of burnable wood within a half mile. When there was nothing left to burn, we sat before the blaze and waited. The wall was blackened and radiated heat like a furnace. I kept my eyes focused on it, refusing to look behind me at the ruined world that was once mine. I knew it was slowly deteriorating; the grass and trees wilting to brown, the sky filling with gray smoke. I hid my apprehension from Emma, since I didnít want to worry her.

The flames began to die before the second night. I forbade Emma from approaching the fire earlier; it had gotten too hot, sucking the oxygen from our lungs if we ventured too close. As the fire began to slow, we inched closer and closer to the protective light. I picked up a stick, black and hardened by the flames. As we crept slowly towards the wall, I noticed that the golden brick had turned pinkish in hue. I hoped that was a good sign.

"The fireís going out," Emma said, looking up at me with hope in her eyes. "Are you going to make another one?"

"No," I said. "I think the job is done." I walked up to the wall, which was still quite hot. I jabbed the stick at the wall, where the heart of the flame had burned for so long. The mortar began to crumble. My heart leapt with hope. "Emma," I called from where I crouched in the debris. "Can you find me a sharp rock?" She turned and trotted off. "Donít go too far!" I called after her.

She returned with a stone, daintily stepping through the charred bracken in her once-shiny Mary Janes. "Good job," I told her as I took the rock. I began to score the mortar with the rock. At first, whole chunks of the wall fell free, but the work got harder as I got deeper into the wall. I chipped and scraped, my knuckles getting cut on the rough brick. I sat back on my heels to look at my progress. The stick I picked up earlier was nearby, and I jammed it into the hole with the last of my strength. Amazingly, a hole, no bigger than my fist, appeared in the wall. Behind me, Emma gasped. Bright white light spilled through the hole.

"It worked," I said, flopping onto my backside. I was so tired. My arms ached, my head ached, and I felt like one big bruise.

"Iíll help," Emma said, brandishing the rock. She pounded ineffectually at the wall.

"Here," I said, holding out my hand for the rock. "Let me try again." By the time daylight broke, I had a larger hole, slightly larger than a basketball. The wall refused to be broken any further. I could only peer through the hole at the blank, untouched space of the Astral Plane beyond. The hole was too small for me, but not too small for a child.

"Emma," I gestured her over to my side. She looked longingly through the hole. "You need to go." My voice was rough and my arms hung limp at my sides. "Go and find Professor Xavier. Heíll be able to help. Can you do that?"

Emma nodded, her face set. The sense of purpose filled her with importance. I smoothed her snarled blond hair from her face. I smiled wearily at her and my throat tightened. Even if I hadnít saved myself, at least I had saved this girl. "Iíll wait here, okay?"

She threw her arms around me and hugged me fiercely. "Iíll be right back," Emma told me and turned toward the hole. She struggled through, her legs kicking out behind her. I helped her as best I could and finally she pulled herself through. Emma crouched down beside the hole and looked back at me. "Iíll get help, Jeannie," she told me. She scampered away, and I watched until I could no longer see her. When she was gone from view, I lay back against the wall and faced my ravaged world.

The clouds swirled gray and black in the sky. The dark trees swayed menacingly and the ground trembled with brief shock-waves. I pulled my knees up to my chest and wrapped my arms around myself. I was so scared. I was so alone. And I was certain Iíd never leave this place or see Emma or my friends ever again.

Night fell on New Orleans, but the darkness did nothing to abate the oppressive heat. Bella Donna lay on rumpled sheets, wearing nothing more than a sheer slip. She turned over onto her back, sighing with restlessness. The shift in position did not bring comfort. A squeak of floorboards made her eyes fly open. She lay still and breathless, listening for more sounds.

"Julien," she called her brotherís name, her voice sounding loud and brave, "yíget yourself outta my room right dis minute."

She was answered by a low growl. Belle bolted upright at the sound with a gasp. Silhouetted before the balcony doors was the hunched figure of a man. Before she could cry out in alarm, the man leapt at her, throwing her back onto the bed. His weight crushed the air from her lungs. She could only manage a frightened squawk. The man reeked of sweat and dirt. She pulled her nails down his forearm before he clasped a hand on her wrist and pinned her down. He snarled menacingly, his face very close to hers. She tried to twist away, her fingers searching beneath her pillow. Her heart sank when the remembered the pistol she had given away. The man was sniffing her face, her neck, the place between her breasts. Belle grunted and struggled to kick him.

"Rogue," the manís voice rumbled. A string of drool fell from his lips and dripped onto her cheek. Belle squealed and bit down on the hand held over her mouth. She tasted dirt and blood and the man growled again. She saw him lift his head to sniff the air. Abruptly, his weight lifted off of her, and the man slunk across the room. "Rogue..." he snarled, all the while searching out a scent.

Bella Donna gasped and struggled away to the far corner of the room. She caught a better look at the man before he climbed out onto the balcony. He was short and powerfully built. His snarled hair pulled into two horn-like tufts at either side of his head.

"Le loup garou..." Belle breathed. The man cast one final glance back at her and she stiffened. Then he leapt the railing and was gone. Her heart pounded in her chest as she slumped to the floor. She touched her face, sticky with blood and saliva. It wasnít Belle the devil was after; something she noted with surprise.

Belle drew the drawer from her bedside table. Her shaking hands fumbled inside the drawer before connecting with the object she sought. Moonlight glinted on cold steel as she pulled the blade from its sheathe. Rogue had done something to lure le loup garou from the swamps, and she was certainly in dire need of help.

"How are you feeling?" Storm asked, as she sat on the edge of the hospital bed.

Lorna looked up at her from where she lay back in the pillows. "I feel bald," she said with a small smile and ran a hand over her shorn head.

Storm smiled back, and patted the girlís hand. "It will grow back. Perhaps you can see this as a time to purchase some chic hats for your wardrobe?"

"The very second Iím allowed out of this bed...Howís the prof?" Lorna asked.

Storm glanced away, unwilling to meet Lornaís eyes. "He is resting," she replied, bitterly regretting her lie.

Lorna seemed to notice, and her mouth pulled into a frown. She did not pursue the matter further, after sensing Stormís stress. "My headache is gone," she said. "Did you guys find out what that doo-hickey did?"

"Henry seems to think it is some sort of tracking device," Storm replied with a look of disapproval and sadness. "But the electro-magnetic waves created by the device directed pulses inward, to your brain, rather than projecting outward to an unknown source. It seems that the pulses were interfering with your powers, which caused your headaches."

"So if it wasnít sending info to someplace, and sending pulses to my brain, why does Hank think it was a tracking device, and not some evil mind-controlling machine?"

Storm shifted, her expression became distant as she contemplated. "The pulses grow weaker when pointed in one direction rather than another. Right now, the signal is strong, and the difference between pointing the device northerly rather than southerly is minute. Henry hypothesizes that the signals would have grown weaker as you approached a particular destination. That the pulses were intended to cause discomfort should you move in the opposite direction of the destination."

"And the pain would have stopped if I went where ever the device wanted me to go..." Lorna added. "So where is this mysterious destination?"

"We are not sure, but we are attempting to find out."

"Do you think that Remy might have been implanted with one of those trackers too? Maybe thatís why he took off?" Lorna suggested.

"It is a possibility. But we are certain we will be able to locate Madelyne and possibly Scott."

"Madelyne? What does she have to do with this?"

Storm paused. "Madelyne has everything to do with this," she finally answered. "I can only hope we reach the destination before she does. For her own sake as much as Scottís."

Rogue arrived at the stately manse well after dark. The house, which was shrouded beneath a canopy of cloying wisteria, was unlike many of the brightly colored homes along the avenue. It was guarded by a black fence. A gate blocking the curved driveway was pulled shut. Before the house was a fountain, half full of dingy water and choked with weeds. The damp yard was a nesting ground for numerous mosquitos, and Rogue found herself as the center of their attention. She squeezed herself between two of the bent bars of the fence and slowly walked to the house. Rogue climbed the short set of steps to the wrap-around porch. The front door stood open, a sign which filled her with foreboding. Her eyes darted to the windows, finding all were dark save for two. One of the lit windows was open. The rest of the house was dark. Rogue approached the door and peered inside. The foyer inside was silent and still. She let out a long, slow breath and entered.

"Hello?" she called softly, her voice swallowed by the dust and thick walls. She took another step into the house. "Remy?"

There was a bump and a crash, and Rogue shrieked as a vase toppled from its perch on a nearby table. She jumped with fright as a small dark shape shot out the open front door. Rogue stood staring after the shape, her whole body trembling. Just a cat, she thought finally, a mangy stray. She shook her head, angry with herself. Apparently, the door had stood open for a long time. Long enough for curious animals to come investigating. And the sound of crashing glass and screaming should have brought someone running, if there had been anyone home.

The first door to the right was ajar, and a beam of soft light fell from the opening and across the carpet. Rogue crossed the foyer to the room. Behind the door was an office, lit only by a lamp on the desk. There was a computer laptop sitting on the desk as well, its lid closed. Rogue pushed open the door to reveal the rest of the room, which was in shambles. Books and files were scattered about the floor, along with broken glass and empty liquor bottles. It looked as though someone had purposefully destroyed the room, rather than having actually been looking for something. Rogue doubted anyone could find anything in this mess. She crossed over to the desk, stepping over debris. She drew up short when she saw Gambitís leather jacket thrown over the back of the office chair. Rogue glanced about the room; unsure what to make of the forgotten jacket. She did not remember a time when Gambit had been without his coat. Setting down her bag on the desk, she then took the jacket from the chair, holding the soft, pliant suede between her fingers. The coat was well-worn, the leather shiny and stiff at the elbows. Searching the pockets revealed nothing. The jacket had been emptied of all of Gambitís usual accouterments: his cards, cigarettes and lighter, all were gone.

What would make Gambit leave his coat behind? she wondered. Unless he were returning for it later. The empty pockets seemed to indicate otherwise.

She returned the coat to its place and sat on the chair. She opened the laptop and the screen flickered to life. On the screen was a medical file, filled with big words and confusing graphs. There was one thing that did make sense to her, however. Rogue quickly spotted Remyís name amid the records. Her face paled and her skin grew chill as she read. Slowly, her hand went to her mouth. Gambitís father murdered, and Gambit himself, infected with the mutant virus!

Where could he have gone? Rogue wondered, I have to find him now! Her eyes searched the room, but she found no clue of Remyís whereabouts. She turned to her bag, and pulled out Destinyís journal. Flipping through the pages, she began shaking her head. None of this was useful, it was all cryptic messages and morbid drawings. She tossed the book onto the desk. A glint of light from her bag drew her attention. It was the pistol. She put her hand on it, and drew it across the desk. Her finger traced the pattern of flowers. Though Gambit had no one else to turn to, he would not go to the X-Men for help. She knew him well enough. He would be angry, no doubt, enraged even. Knowing how well his powers were attuned to his emotions, she hoped he hadnít done any serious injury to himself or others. Even so, Gambit would most likely want revenge and retribution; heíd taken action against Wolverine for minor incursions. She wondered how far heíd go for this. The ruined state of the office seemed to be a testament to his desire for vengeance. There was only one place she could think of to go, though the thought filled her with dread.

Abruptly, the light and the computer shut off, plunging the room into darkness. Rogue had not been aware of the thrumming sound of an engine, coming from somewhere behind the house, until it fell silent. Now the house was filled with a consuming silence. Rogue waited for her eyes to adjust to the darkness, turning her attention to the curtained windows. Pale moonlight spilled in patches through the closest window, dappling the carpet with a silvery glow. The second window was draped, and the curtains billowed softly. Rogue found her gaze fixed to the moving curtains. The curtains stirred, but hot air was still. There was not a sign of a breeze.

Slowly, Rogue stood, her heart pounding. Six blades pierced the curtains, then shredded the fabric into ribbons. A dark figure pulled away from the window, turning slowly to face Rogue. Her eyes widened.

"Logan...?"

The timid sound had barely escaped her lips when Wolverine tensed and leapt towards her. Rogue cried out and dove to the floor, glass cutting into her palms and knees. The lamp and computer flew from the desk and smashed onto the floor. Rogue turned over onto her back, and for a moment, she was frozen with terror. Wolverine stood on the desk, towering over her with claws bared. His lips were drawn back in a horrifying sneer, eyes wide with fury. Rogueís right arm thrust out, and the sharp crack of a gun shot pierced the air. Wolverine jolted as the bullet struck him, and a dark spot of blood blossomed on his chest. Rogue gasped as the recoil pulsed down her arm. She hadnít even realized she had fired the shot. Her eyes connected her hand to the gun, to Wolverine, to the sound, to the pain in her back, to the blood, to the howl of pain and anger...and she was on her feet and running to the door.

"Oh mah God oh mah God oh mah God..." she gasped and all but flew out the front door and into the yard. The sound of crashing glass followed her. She hadnít a second to think why Wolverine was chasing her. She didnít think twice about shooting him, it had been instinctual, thanks to the memories she had taken from Bella Donna. Her feet pounded down the driveway toward the front gate. She knew without looking that Wolverine was not far behind.

Rogue hit the gate and turned. She pulled half her body through the bars, and for one terrifying second, she was certain her head was stuck. Rogue twisted and yanked, her ears ringing with pain as she forced herself through. She stumbled free from the gate just as Wolverine struck the bars with all of his weight. Claws swiped out and she jumped back into the street. Rogue caught a glimpse of Wolverineís twisted features before turning to run down the road. The gate rattled and Wolverine snarled. He was climbing over. Fear turned Rogueís stomach. It would only be a matter of time before he caught up with her.

A fast moving car rounded the corner, and Rogue found herself frozen in its headlights. The car swerved with a screech of tires, coming to a halt barely three feet from where she stood. The passenger door was thrown open.

"Get in!" screamed a voice.

Rogue threw herself at the car, and had just pulled herself inside when the car sped off. The flapping car door struck Rogue in the knees before she could pull her legs inside and close the car door after her. The driver pulled a U-turn in the street. Rogue was thrown from the seat and into the gear-shift. A hand roughly shoved her back. Rogue righted herself just in time to see Wolverine standing in the street, illuminated by the carís headlights. Rogue screamed, and threw her arms up before her face.

"Hold on!"

The car swerved, but not to avoid the man in the street. The car came to an abrupt halt as Wolverine was struck head on. He sprawled across the dented hood of the car before slumping to the road. The breath was forced from Rogueís lungs as she hit the dashboard.

"Buckle up, dammit!" the driver cried. Then she threw the car into reverse and sped down the road backwards. Rogue had no time to comply, and merely braced herself as the car swerved back and forth down the street. The car came to a halt, was thrown into first gear and flew forward. The car rode up onto the sidewalk before righting itself on the road and then squealing around a corner.

"A fine mess youíve made for yourself," the driver said breathlessly.

"Bella..." Rogue managed to choke. "How did you---."

"Le loup garou paid me a visit," Bella Donna explained. "Seemed intent on finding you."

"Wha---?" Rogue began, then shook her head. "No, heís not a werewolf. Thatís Wolverine."

Belle glanced at Rogue wide-eyed before turning back to the road. "You know that monster?"

Rogue nodded, and was about to wipe her brow when she realized her hand was still clamped onto the pistol. She gasped, then opened the glove compartment and threw the gun inside. "His name is Logan. Heís an X-Man. Ah donít know whatís gotten into him. Ah mean, heís lost control before, but this..."

"You should be glad you and Remy got out while you could!" Belle said. "This is insanity!"

Rogue sat back into the seat and pulled the seat belt across her shoulder. "Mah God, what is going on?"

Bella Donna slowed the car to a reasonable speed. "You didnít find Remy?" she asked.

"No," Rogue said with a sharp shake of her head. "He was gone. Ahíve got to find him, and soon. Heís dreadful sick."

"What? No!" Belle cried. "What do you mean, sick? Whatís the matter with him?"

"That mutant virus," Rogue said. "Heís been infected."

Belleís fist slammed down on the steering wheel. "It canít be true!" she cried. "How do you know dis? Itís a lie! Remy canít be dyiní, not like his father!"

"Ah donít know anything for sure," Rogue told her. "Ah only know that Ahíve got to catch up to him."

Belle continued to drive in silence, her expression dark. Strands of hair had escaped her braid, and whipped around her face. "Youíve got tíget yourself out of New Orleans," she said finally. She turned the car down a side street, taking a winding path through the city.

"Where are we going?" Rogue asked, not recognizing the streets they were going down.

"To a safe house, here," Belle pointed as she pulled the car to the curb. She took the keys out of the ignition and got out of the car. Rogue followed her and stepped up onto the sidewalk. "Take these," Belle said, extending the car keys to Rogue. "I can stay here for de night."

Rogueís mouth fell open, and she made no move to take the keys. Belle came forward and took Rogueís hand. She put the keys into her hand and closed Rogueís fingers around them. "Take de car and go find Remy."

"Ah canít take your car," Rogue said. "Wonít your dad be pissed to find it gone?"

Belle shook her head with a smile. "Hell," she said, "itís all ready trashed." She gestured at the dented fender. "And when your family deals in illegal arms, people donít tend to ask too many questions. Besides, I wanted an Audi."

"Ah...well, thank you. Thank you Belle. Ah donít know what tísay. íCept Ah donít have a drivers license."

"So try not to get pulled over," Belle said. "And when you find Remy, have him make you up a nice fake I.D."

Rogue made her way over to the driverís side. "Are you goiní tíbe okay?" she asked.

Belle gave a curt nod. "I can take care of myself. You, on de other hand, seem to be in constant need of supervision. You keep yourself alive, hear?"

Rogue sank into the driverís seat and started the car. "Ahíll do mah best," she said with a smile. Belle waved as Rogue pulled into the street. Rogue watched Belle in the rear view mirror until the girl disappeared from sight. Fear plagued Rogue, and as the adrenaline began to wear off, she found herself to be in great pain. A glance in the mirror showed her face to be bruised and bloody. Her ears were bleeding and there was a cut on her cheek. She could also feel pain in her back and knees. "Ahím as crazy as the rest of them," she muttered. "Runniní after a boy who donít want to be found."

There was a lot of road between New Orleans, Louisiana and Nebraska. Rogue prayed she would find Gambit between here and there, preferably before he reached his destination. There was no telling what could be waiting for him.

Le Loup Garou is the Cajun equivalent of Bigfoot and the Wolfman combined.

 

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