Part II


Chapter 5

           "One more connection..."
           Beast's fingers moved over the replicator's exposed parts with enviable skill as he rapidly reconfigured its circuits.  "There, that should be sufficient!  Now if you would be kind enough to hand me that board, Banshee..."
           Rogue anxiously watched as the two mutant scientists pored over the dismantled replicator.  Even in that steel cage back in the Savage Lands, she'd never felt so incredibly helpless!  At least there, she hadn't been in such awful pain every time she tried to breathe!
           Every passing moment threatened to choke her, to drive her mad with unbearable tension!  Sinister could return at any second!  And Beast was proposing to break down a two-meter wall of carbanium--the strongest metal in existence--with a kid's computer speakers?
           As if he could sense her despair, Gambit slipped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close.  "How you feel, chér?" he murmured, his deep voice husky with concern.
           Rogue forced a wan smile.   "I don't much feel like dancin' right now," she conceded, sighing, "but I reckon I'll live."
           The light caress of his long fingers was a welcome distraction...she hadn't been this badly hurt in a long time.   Not since way back when she'd first been working with the Brotherhood, and that hick sheriff had put two bullets in her left shoulder!  She still carried the scars...absorbing Carol Danvers' powers hadn't changed that.
           "You gonna be able to move, once Beast an' Wolverine break down dat wall?" he added as Cyclops and Wolverine carried Kevin's computer into the room.  Xavier pushed the table closer to the replicator, allowing Banshee to reconnect the different pieces.  "You cain't keep up, Gambit carry you."
           Rogue grimaced in sour disgust.  "That'll be a change o' pace, huh, swamp rat?" she muttered.
           Gambit grinned.   "It's 'bout time, don' you think?  Jus' pretend it's our wedding night, chér!"
           A shiver ran down Rogue's spine at the very thought.   "That's crazy talk, Cajun!" she retorted, blinking back hot tears.  "We git outa here safe an' turn that Genosha ray off, things're gonna go back t' normal again!  You know that!"
           "Maybe, for now," Gambit reluctantly conceded, "but it ain't gonna be dat way forever!  Xavier want Sinister's machine saved dis time!  Beast'll find a way t' make things right, chér!  Jus' wait--you'll see!"
           Rogue forced a weak laugh.   "You tryin' t' convince me, lover, or yerself?"
           Then she sighed again, and shook her head.  "Remy, we gotta take each second as it comes--ain't no other way for us!  An' all th' wishin' in the world ain't gonna change that!"
           Gambit's reddish eyes narrowed as he curled his fingers around her face, forcing her to meet his steady gaze.   "Gambit love you, Rogue!" he insisted.  "Ain't nothin' gonna change dat!  We gotta go through hell an' back, we gonna find a way!  You hear me, gal?"
           Blinding tears stung her eyes again.  "I hear ya," she gratefully whispered.  Ignoring the pain in her broken ribs, she hungrily leaned into his strong embrace.
           Just one more kiss, that's all she'd ever dared to hope for...just one more...
           "I love you, too, Remy LeBeau!"
           Beast's anxious voice broke them apart.  "Professor, you should see this!" he exclaimed, apprehensively glancing up from Kevin's glowing computer screen.  "I believe I may have discovered why Mr. Sinister is so interested in Muir Island's facilities!"
           "Aye, he's after Moira's research files," Banshee shrugged, nodding.  "Complete records on every mutant who's ever been through here, plus blood an' tissue samples on most of 'em, kept in stasis.  Ever since the Phalanx destroyed Sinister's lab, I figured we'd be seein' more o' him!
           "I told her t' tighten security, but ye know Moira," he added, ruefully meeting Xavier's eyes.   "She'll not accept that anyone'd steal or do harm on purpose, so she thought the files'd be safe enough."
           He was blaming himself for their current plight, and hating his own helplessness.  Xavier hesitated for an instant, then compassionately laid his hand on Banshee's broad shoulder.  "We will find her again, Sean," he promised.
           The blond Irishman resolutely nodded.  "Aye, that we will," he agreed. "If she's down in th' nutrient chamber, she's safe enough...fer now.  'Twas clever o' Kevin t' git our attention that way!  Bright lad, that one, if he'd only learn t' control himself!"
           "Control is not so easily learned," Xavier soberly countered, shaking his head.  Yet Banshee noticed how he straightened, as if with pride, at the lad's accomplishments.
           "Ye could teach him much," he suggested, slyly canting his head to one side as the Professor seemed to withdraw into his own painful memories.  "Why don't ye stay here a while when this's over, an' work with th' boy?  It'd mean so much t' Moira!"
           Xavier snapped back to the present and stared at Banshee in surprise.  "I would only be in the way," he protested.  "Moira does not need me here."
           "Aye, mebbe not...but Kevin does," Cassidy insisted.  "Ye know that Joe MacTaggert's not a real father t' him!  He divorced Moira 'cause she gave birth t' a mutant!   He couldna live with th' truth!"
           "Professor!"
           Beast's persistent voice interrupted them, and Xavier felt a brief stab of irritation.  What had Banshee been trying to tell him?
           But the mood was broken now, and Sean had already returned to work again.  "Yes, Beast," he sighed, turning to peer over the scientist's wide, furry shoulder.
           "We must find a way to stop Sinister!" Beast was insisting.  "He cannot be allowed access to those mutant samples!"
           "It'd be like giving Dracula the keys to the national blood bank!" Jubilee exclaimed, her dark eyes wide with horror.
           "Indeed!" Beast agreed.  "With his capabilities, there would be no stopping him!  Banshee, are you ready?"
           The Irishman briskly nodded.   "Aye, now we only need t' find a way o' hookin' the speakers t' the wall, an' we'll be set."
           "Too bad we don't have any bubble gum!" Wolverine grumbled.  "That stuff'll stick to anything!"  And he slanted a mock-disgusted glare at Jubilee. "Won't it, darlin'?"
           Jubilee flushed--Wolverine was constantly teasing her about how often he'd had to track her by sniffing bubble gum wrappers.  "Well, as a matter of fact..." she lamely muttered.
           Wolverine grinned.   "I knew we could count on you, kid!  Come on, let's have it!"
           "Sorry, Kevin!" Banshee murmured as he plastered Jubilee's gum onto the speakers and pressed them against the front wall.  "About this far apart, wouldn't ye say, Beast?"
           The blue-furred scientist spared a quick glance at the simulations lighting Kevin's computer screen, then nodded.   "That should be sufficient," he cautiously agreed.  "Now to feed a tone into the digital signal processor...
           "It is a shame, Banshee, that you are not currently able to sing at your full strength," he added as his agile fingers danced over the keyboard.  "Then none of this would be necessary!
           "A pure sine wave with properly overlapping resonant frequencies should produce the desired effect," he thoughtfully continued.  "I recommend that you all cover your ears...I suspect that the high volume, if not the piercing tonal quality of the signal, may prove most uncomfortable."
           "For once I'm glad that I don't have my super-sensitive hearing right now!" Wolverine muttered, jamming his fingers into his ears.
           Cyclops reluctantly tugged his visor back on as Xavier moved closer to his dormant hoverchair.  Gambit lifted Rogue to her feet, then scooped their gloves off the floor. "We gonna need these soon enough," he conceded, tugging them on as they joined the other mutants near the front wall.  "You ready, chér?"
           "Ready as I'll ever be!" she retorted, shaking off his supportive arm.  "Relax, Gambit, I'll be fine!  Like I said, I ain't an invalid!"  Then she smiled up at him to take the sting from her words.  "Just don' leave me behind, ya hear?"
           The signal processor's shrill whine made them both wince and cover their ears.  "I do apologize for the dissonance!" Beast exclaimed, raising his voice as the other mutants rapidly followed suit.  "It is necessary, in order to weaken the wall!"
           Then his eyes widened in alarm.  "Oh, dear," he anxiously murmured. "Professor!   Motion sensors indicate that Mr. Sinister and his team have discovered our activities!  They are converging on our location!"
           Almost unheard beneath the amplifiers' raucous scream, thick fumes began to hiss down through an overhead vent.   "Look out!" Wolverine yelled, gesturing.  "It's more knockout gas!"
           "Turn the volume to high!" Xavier ordered.  "We will not get another chance to escape! Now, Beast!"
           Grimacing in pain, the scientist spun the appropriate knob...and the entire room began to vibrate!  "Now, Wolverine!" he shouted.  "The wall is weakening!"
           Wolverine never even heard him--the amplifiers' shrill wailing drowned out Beast's frantic commands.  The other mutants sagged to their knees, clutching at their heads.  Wolverine blindly lashed out at the source of his agony...Kevin's speakers!
           His long razor-sharp claws slashed into the wall once, twice, a third time...
           Without warning, the wall exploded outward!  The speakers emitted one last tortured shriek and then disintegrated in a brilliant flash of light.  Thick pieces of carbanium rained down across the room as the ceiling cracked and began to collapse.
           "Run!"   Xavier's desperate shout was lost in the furor as they staggered to their feet and launched themselves through the jagged opening.
           "C'mon, Rogue!"   Remy frantically grabbed her hand and yanked her toward the widening portal.   "Hurry!"
           Rogue only had time for a quick glimpse at the rapidly-spreading cracks above their heads.  Yelling a warning, she shoved Gambit through the door and dove after him.  Carbanium thundered down, half-burying the immense hole under a massive pile of rubble.
           Wolverine was the first to recover.  Staggering to his feet, he weakly stumbled across the wide laboratory.   "Sinister's Genosha ray!" he gasped.  "Gotta turn it off..."
           The small, silvery machine was vibrating on a lab table across the room, humming to itself.  "Kinda dumb, leavin' it in plain sight," he muttered as he grabbed it and fumbled to shut it down.   It was warm in his hands. "No challenge at all...takes all the fun out of it!"
           The soft clicking sounded explosively loud in his ringing ears.  Vivid colors and tantalizing scents suddenly overwhelmed him...
           Relieved, he straightened.   "It's off!  C'mon, let's go!" he roared, tossing the unit back on the lab table.  "C'mon, people!"
           Xavier tried to struggle to his feet, and failed.  "The beam is off!  Jean, Scott, hurry!  Stop Sinister before he can access the sample archives!"
           The powerful telepath closed his eyes and focused on retrieving his hoverchair.  A moment later, the gleaming mechanism floated through the broken wall and settled to the floor beside him.   Gasping at the effort, he dragged himself into it and climbed up into the wide, comfortable seat.
           "Rogue!"   Gambit's agonized voice made him hesitate as his other students raced through the opening double doors.  "She still in there!  We gotta git her out!"
           Horrified, Xavier turned and stared at the huge pile of carbanium littering the doorway.  He quickly closed his eyes and concentrated again.  Rogue was buried under that heavy mound, but she was still alive...just barely!
           "Quickly!  Beast, you must help us!"  He pressed both hands against his temples and telepathically joined the struggle as Gambit heaved at the nearest jagged chunk of metal.  The huge piece shuddered, then slowly shifted to one side as Beast launched himself the last few feet and braced himself...


Chapter 6

           "This way!"   Banshee urgently motioned the others to follow as he sped down an adjacent brightly-lit corridor.  "Beast's motion sensors showed 'em comin' from the stasis chambers!  We've gotta stop 'em before they've a chance t' cause more trouble!"
           "More trouble!" Wolverine scoffed.  "Ain't we got enough trouble now?"
           "Beast...where is   Beast?" Banshee suddenly demanded, realizing for the first time that the burly blue scientist was not following them.
           Jean concentrated, a worried frown creasing her forehead.  "He stayed behind with Gambit and the Professor!" she finally offered.
           "That Cajun!"   Scott's harsh voice was filled with angry scorn as he glared back down the corridor behind them.  "He's got no sense of responsibility!  We need every team member right now!"
           Wolverine whirled around, his eyes narrowed with black fury.  "He's stayin' with the woman he loves!" he snarled.  "Wouldn't you do the same, if Jean was hurt?"  And he gestured at the beautiful young telepath anxiously floating a few lengths behind Banshee.
           Jubilee glared up at the two men, fists on her hips.  "Both of you, knock it off!  If you want to fight, at least wait until we're out of this mess, will you?  Anyway," she added with an encouraging grin, "we don't need Gambit this time--we're evenly matched, five to five!  We've beaten worse odds than those before, so don't worry!"
           Banshee spared an amused smile for her ingenuous naiveté, then grimly shook his head.  "Five t' four," he corrected, gesturing down the hallway.  "Here they come!"
           The X-Men instinctively spread out as Sinister's huge, threatening black shadow seemed to darken the entire corridor.  Hairbag and Gorgeous Jorge were a few paces in front of him and Slab, the muscular balding Mongol, was smirking nearby.  Ruckus, however, was nowhere in sight.
           For one breathless instant, no one moved.  Then Jorge grinned and stretched his long, flexible arms straight at Jubilee!  Before she could duck, he snatched her off the floor and hauled her back against his chest.
           "Let me go, you giant tarpit!" she raged, struggling to free her hands.  Dazzling bolts of plasma energy exploded from her palms, scorching the tile floor and part of the nearest wall.
           Wolverine instantly launched himself across the hall, claws slashing.  "Let her go, ya big bully!" he snarled.  "Or is pickin' on kids the best you can do?"
           Jubilee fell to the hard floor as Wolverine's claws gashed into Jorge's big arm.  She quickly rolled away and staggered to her feet, gasping for breath.  The huge black-skinned mutant merely grinned in amusement.  As she watched in horrified shock, his arm easily reformed into its original shape.
           Frightened, she blasted him again, this time aiming for his big, ugly face.  He staggered back, swearing, as vivid lights danced in front of his eyes.
           "Serves ya right!" she jeered, slapping her hands together in smug satisfaction.
           Grinning, she turned to help Banshee with Hairbag...but she needn't have worried.  When Hairbag belched, trying to overwhelm the Irishman with his foul, acrid breath, Banshee simply let loose a sonic yell that drove the harsh fumes right back into the hairy aborigine's face!
           Wolverine added insult to Hairbag's injury by slamming into him, and throwing him back into Jorge's tarry, sticky body.  Then he hurtled across the corridor, savagely grinning as he searched for a way to distract Slab.
           The burly Russian was surprisingly agile.  Despite his mass, he was adroitly evading both Cyclops' dangerous laser blasts and the objects that Jean was telekinetically throwing at him from a safe distance.
           "Three against one ain't even odds!" Jorge gleefully chided as he and Hairbag finally scrambled apart.   "You Yanks gotta learn t' play fair!"  He balled his large hand into a fist, then casually reached across the wide hallway and knocked Jean out of the air.
           "JEAN!"   Scott's and Logan's anguished voices split the air in unison as she hit the far wall and crumpled to the floor.  Then Scott was at her side, gently rolling her over.   Enraged, Wolverine spun around just as Hairbag snarled and leaped onto his back.
           "Wolverine, look out!"  Hands protectively splayed, Jubilee darted across the hall.
           Logan ducked his head just as a tremendous volley of plasma bolts erupted from the spunky teen's gloved hands.  The blast caught Hairbag full in the face.  Growling with fury, he stumbled back just as Banshee let loose another sonic yell.  Jorge yelped in pain as the full force of Banshee's agonizing bellow enveloped him.  A violent shudder swept through his huge body; then he crumpled to the floor in a viscous black puddle.
           Grinning with satisfaction, Banshee turned to tackle the Mongol...just as Ruckus appeared in the hallway behind them.   The portable Genosha ray generator was in his hand, and pointing straight at them!
           "It's about time!" Sinister angrily hissed, his sharp fangs gleaming in the overhead lights.   "Subdue them, Ruckus, quickly!"
           "Love to!"   Ruckus deftly turned the device on high, and its soft hum rose to a shrill whistle.
           Wolverine's black eyes narrowed.  Then he fell to his knees, clutching his ears as if in agony.   "Turn it off!" he howled.  "Turn it off!"
           Ruckus laughed, and deliberately pointed the device in Wolverine's direction.
           "Watch out!" Sinister yelled, his blood-red eyes widening in alarm.
           His warning came an instant too late.  Snarling, Wolverine launched himself at Ruckus, and the Genosha generator clattered to the floor in lacerated pieces.  Ruckus staggered back, shocked by the wiry mutant's unexpected attack.  Then he quickly recovered, and opened his mouth to scream at Wolverine.
           Banshee instantly intervened.   He knew, better than anyone else, how the Canadian mutant would suffer, with his super-sensitive hearing!  He launched a blast of his own that rebounded Ruckus's yell.  Bits of plaster began to vibrate from the ceiling as all three mutants staggered back from the tremendous sonic shock wave.
           Cyclops saw his chance!   Protectively hunching over Jean, he slapped at his visor and began shooting laser bolts at Hairbag, who was closest to them.
           Jubilee darted in front of Slab, and launched a vivid salvo right in his face.  The bald Russian howled in pain, then grabbed her and began squeezing.  "Now I finish what Gorgeous start!" he growled, his beady eyes glittering with malicious glee.  "You shoulda learned to pick your fights better, girlie!"
           "Jubilee!"  His eyes wild with panic, Wolverine pushed himself back up and staggered in the girl's direction.
           Hairbag snatched a fallen lab stool off the floor, and hurled it at Jean and Cyclops.  The instant Scott ducked, protecting Jean with his own body, the hairy aborigine tackled him.  "Now I got you!" he cried.  "You no shoot holes in Hairbag!"
           "Let them go!"
           The familiar voice made Jubilee's head snap around.  Then her mouth dropped open in shock.  "Two Storm's?" she gasped, bewildered, as an identical pair of white-clad women swept down the corridor, their eyes angrily glowing.
           Wolverine spun around in shocked delight as he eagerly sniffed the air.  "Morph!"
           Sinister took a cautious step back, his eyes narrowing, as one of the flying women suddenly transformed into a roaring black panther, and dropped on Slab's broad shoulders.  The burly mutant bellowed in pain as he dropped Jubilee and fell flat on his face.
           "Whirlwind, heed my command!" Storm majestically cried, spreading her fingers wide.  "Rid us of these evildoers!"
           Brilliant bolts of lightning flickered around her as she summoned a violent tornado into the long hallway.  With a surgeon's precision, it caught Hairbag in its grip and spun him into the distant wall, then abruptly dissipated.  The furred aborigine collapsed, unconscious, onto the tile floor.  Scott lifted Jean to her feet, his arm supportively curving around her slender waist.
           "Morph!" Wolverine cried, a rare grin curving his lips.
           The panther spared him a quick glance, and whipped its long tail back and forth several times.  Then it turned to glare at Sinister.  Deadly hatred filled its glowing golden eyes.  Sinister cautiously backed up another step.
           The panther stalked forward, its large black feet whispering on the cold floor.  As one, silent with menace, the X-Men fell into step behind it and followed.  Sinister anxiously glanced from side to side, but the smooth walls were unbroken.  He could only retreat.
           Rippling energy beams abruptly extended from Sinister's black gloved palm as he stretched one hand toward the panther.  "You cannot hurt me, Morph!" he rasped.  The narrow doorway briefly surrounded him, then let him through.  "I saved your life when your so-called friends left you to die!"
           The panther ignored him.   It crouched low on the floor, tail lashing back and forth.
           "Morph, no!"   Jean's frantic voice echoed through the room as she struggled free of Scott's arm and stepped forward.  "You're still one of the X-Men!  Don't you see--if you kill him, you'll become everything he tried to make of you!  You've already won, Morph!  Don't throw it all away for vengeance!"
           The panther furiously bared its sharp fangs and hissed at her, but she refused to flinch.  "Morph," she tried in a gentler voice, "there's got to be another way!  Don't let him do this to you!"
           Suddenly Wolverine grabbed Jean's arms and pulled her back.  "Trust him, Jeanie!" he hissed in her ear.  "Let him go!  He knows what he's doin'!"
           Unhindered, the panther slowly advanced again, its golden eyes glittering.  Sinister raised his hands a second time, and a dazzling bolt of energy arched through the air--but it was too late.   The giant cat was already airborne.
           Jubilee whirled against Banshee's chest as Sinister emitted a terrified howl...and then there was only silence.   Wolverine released Jean's arms, and took a half-step forward.
           Jubilee shuddered as she glanced back around, half-expecting to see the panther's sharp fangs buried in Sinister's throat.  Morph, his faded brown bomber jacket partly hiding a familiar blue and yellow X-Team uniform, reassuringly grinned back at her.  Sinister was frozen in midair behind him, his hideous face twisted with shocked outrage.  A faint golden glow surrounded his suspended, contorted body.
           "A stasis field!" Cyclops exclaimed, his face brightening with belated understanding.  "You knew it was there!"
           "Sure!" Morph grinned.  "I could smell it!"  He suddenly shifted form again, until two identical Wolverines stood side by side.  "Couldn't you?" he added, mimicking Wolverine's husky voice.  Then he changed back to his own form with gratifying speed, and gave a high-pitched, delighted cackle of laughter.
           "You never really meant to kill him, did you?" Jean realized, her troubled expression clearing.
           "No, but I had to make him think so," Morph confided, grinning at her from the corner of his eyes.  "I could feel him trying to influence my mind again, but a panther isn't easy to psychically control!  It scared him so much that he forgot where he was...and that gave me the opening I was looking for!"
           Storm abruptly glanced around the room, frowning.  "Where are the others?" she demanded.   "Where is the Professor?"
           Cyclops and Banshee exchanged worried glances.  "We had t' leave 'em behind," the tall Irishman reluctantly admitted.  "They'll still be in Kevin's rooms.  We'd best go see if they're all right."
           "No need, Banshee."   Xavier's weary voice preceded him into the laboratory.  "We followed as quickly as we were able."
           "Professor!"   Storm eagerly stepped forward, a welcoming smile lighting her dusky, aristocratic face.  Then her smile faltered as Gambit soberly followed Xavier into the room, Rogue's limp body tenderly cradled in his arms.
           For one brief instant, horrified silence echoed through the large, gleaming laboratory.  Banshee instantly took charge.  "O'er here!" he ordered, waving at the nearest lab table.   "Hurry!"
           Rogue's head fell to one side as Gambit gently lowered her onto the padded surface.  Grimacing with anguish, he carefully touched her cheek, as if trying to reach through the dark shroud of unconsciousness enveloping her.
           "We will do our best, my friend," Beast promised, laying a comforting hand on his shoulder.   "Banshee, activate the stasis field."
           Gambit reluctantly pulled his hand away as a faint golden glow enclosed Rogue's still body.  Then he spun away, his fists clenched.  Jubilee gasped as she caught sight of the dark bloodstain staining his long brown coat.
           Banshee was already bending over a monitor, his agile fingers darting over a complex series of controls.   "Looks like Wolverine shut off that Genosha ray jus' in time!" he muttered under his breath as Beast joined him and stared over his shoulder.  "A few more seconds an' she'd've been a goner!"
           "Indeed!" Beast agreed, his blue eyes warm with praise as he glanced over at the wiry Canadian.    "She owes her life to your quick reflexes, Logan!"
           Gambit spun back around and impotently glared at them.  "Won't do her no good like dat!" he protested, flinging one hand in Rogue's direction.  "You think Gambit don' know how bad she hurt?  How she gonna fly again with a broken back, huh?"
           "I need Moira," Banshee urged.  "She'll know what needs t' be done!"
           Xavier briskly nodded.   "Wolverine, you go with Storm and Jean--they may need your assistance in freeing Kevin and Moira.  The rest of you, round up Sinister's henchmen.  We cannot leave them running free!"
           Wolverine hesitated, rebellion clearly imprinted on his rugged features.  No way was he going back near that mixed-up, monstrous kid!
           Jean coaxingly touched his hand, and his defiance faded again.  "Never could resist a pretty face," he sighed, scowling as she gripped his wrists and gracefully floated up into the air beside Storm.  "Be back in a flash, Professor!" he grumbled.  Then she telekinetically lifted him off the ground and headed for the outer door.
           Cyclops, Jubilee, and Morph cautiously headed out into the long hallway.  A moment later, they were back.   "They're gone, Professor," Scott frowned.
           "But they left this behind!" Jubilee offered, lifting a glowing, golden belt.  "I think it belonged to Gorgeous Jorge--it's kinda sticky inside!"
           Beast quickly took it from her and began examining it.  "Fascinating!" he murmured.    "Now if I can only manage to reverse Sinister's technology..."   Muttering under his breath, he wandered toward a workbench on the far side of the laboratory.
           Gambit silently watched him go, his reddish eyes darkened with grief.  Then he turned to Banshee, a determined look on his face.  "Shuttin' off dat Genosha ray bring back her powers, so her bleedin' stop," he conceded, "but she still lose lots o' blood.  You need more, you take it from me, y'hear?"
           Xavier glided closer to the distraught Cajun.  "Her mutant powers may make that impossible, Gambit," he gently cautioned.  "The same genetic factor which makes her dangerous to others may prevent her body from accepting a transfusion.
           "But we will try," he quickly added as Gambit's eyes narrowed.  "Banshee will take samples of her blood, to test for compatibility.  We will do everything in our power to heal her."
           Ironically, Scott could sympathize the most with Gambit's pain...he'd felt the same soul-searing anguish when Jean had been killed by the Shi'ar Imperials, before the powerful Phoenix entity had been driven from her body.  And he owed Gambit and Rogue for her renewed life.  Each of the X-men had generously donated a portion of their own life-force to literally bring Jean back from the dead.
           "Professor," he urged, "test me, too.  If I can help in any way..."
           "Banshee will test us all," Xavier soberly assured him.  "It is the least we can do.  I only pray that it will be enough!"


Chapter 7

           "Turn the Genosha generator back on, Sean," Moira quietly instructed, her lilting voice firm with authority.  "Beast, ye'll hafta insert the IV the moment the stasis field's off.   We've only a few seconds to work with--she's hangin' by a fine thread.  Are ye ready?"
           Beast anxiously glanced over at Banshee, who was already manipulating the Genosha ray's settings.  Then he spared a quick look at Rogue, laying so pale and motionless on the lab table.  Her body was still protectively enveloped by the stasis beam's gold light.
           "I am ready," he nodded.  Sean's blond head bobbed once in sober agreement as he reached for the stasis control panel.  They both understood the need to eliminate her mutant powers for a few precious seconds; otherwise, her body's natural invulnerability would never permit them to begin the transfusions.
           The golden glow abruptly vanished.  Beast rapidly cut the sleeve of Rogue's uniform, and the IV needle smoothly penetrated her arm.
           "Done!" he exclaimed, jerking his large hands away.  Banshee instantly slapped the control panel, and the stasis field reactivated.
           Moira and Xavier breathed silent sighs of relief.  The first part was successful...the rest would depend on Rogue herself.
           "Start the transfusions," Moira ordered, keeping her voice calm with an effort.  This was always the most critical moment, when a million things could go wrong, and often did.   "Gambit's first.  If she reacts well, it'll be Wolverine's turn."
           Xavier angrily rounded on her, startled by her choice of words.  "You said that their blood types were compatible!" he accused.
           Moira anxiously glanced past him at Gambit, who was stretched out on a nearby table.  To her relief, the tall Cajun's attention was completely riveted on Rogue and the delicate equipment linking them together.  "Aye, an' so they are," she reassured Xavier, gesturing for him to lower his voice.  "We've run all the tests we could, typin' her blood an' combinin' it with theirs to check for compatibility.
           "But Charles," she gently reminded him, "ye've studied genetics most o' yer life!  Ye know that real life's so often different from a mere test tube.  We can theorize that the transfers'll go smoothly, but we've no way o' knowin' for sure 'til we actually try!   Now it's time to try...an' pray!
           "Are ye ready, Gambit?" she added in a louder voice, as the Cajun restlessly shifted on the long lab table.
           A matching IV was already taped to Gambit's bared forearm.  "Gambit ready when you are!" he brusquely assured them.  "Dis better work!"
           "It will do better than work, my friend--it will help to save her life," Beast consoled him.
           The stasis field vanished again, and Beast quickly released the clamp on Gambit's arm.  The clear plastic tube instantly darkened as the transfer began.
           "Squeeze yer fist, Gambit," Moira advised, trying to sound encouraging.  "The quicker yer blood pumps, the quicker it'll be over!"
           Gambit's eyes narrowed.   Then he deliberately reached across the intervening space and curled his fingers around Rogue's.  "Someday, chér, we get rid o' dose gloves for good!" Xavier heard him murmur.
           "Moira!"   Banshee's deep voice was suddenly charged with dismay as he stared in alarm at the flickering readouts on his diagnostic panel.  "Her readin's are goin' crazy!   I've ne'er seen anythin' like it before!"
           "What?"   Startled, Moira whipped around and stared at him.  "But all the tests showed..."
           "Her body is rejecting the transfusion!" Xavier cried, horrified.  "Banshee, the stasis field!   Now, before she dies!"
           "NO!"   Appalled, Gambit strained at the thick security straps binding him to the table.   "Don' you leave me, chér!" he protested, desperately thrashing back and forth.  "Rogue!"
           Banshee stabbed at the controls, but Wolverine was faster.  Before anyone could stop him, he hurled his gloves aside and launched across the room.  "No one's dyin' today!" he snarled.  "Keep it comin', Cajun!"
           Dazzling light erupted through the room as the wiry Canadian grabbed Rogue's pale face in both hands, and tenaciously held on.  "C'mon, darlin'!" he gasped, his teeth bared in agony.  "You're too young to die just yet!"
           "Logan, no!" Beast yelled.  He grabbed Wolverine's muscular arm and tried to yank him away.  A violent surge of energy threw him back, sprawling across the cold tile floor.
           On the other table, Gambit emitted a hoarse, agonized cry as the forcewave backlashed and caught him in its fiery grip.  The thick straps binding his arms disintegrated in a brilliant flash as he lost consciousness.  Rogue's limp body stiffened in shock as Gambit's mutant energy merged with Wolverine's, and flooded through her with staggering intensity.
           Wolverine reeled back and sagged to his knees.  "I'm still next!" he rasped, swaying.  Then he collapsed, and the room went dark around him with startling speed.
           Beast staggered back to his feet, his head reeling.  Morph steadied him as Cyclops unceremoniously hauled Wolverine's limp body up onto a third table.  "Crazy hero!" Scott muttered under his breath.
           "Beast, are you all right?" Xavier demanded.  "Will Wolverine and Gambit be all right?"
           Morph examined Gambit, and reassuringly nodded at Scott.  "They should be, Professor, once the backlash wears off," Scott conceded.  "Wolverine caught the worst of it, as usual."
           "Charles, look!" Moira suddenly exclaimed, pointing at the readouts.  "She's stabilizin'!   She must've absorbed Wolverine's healin' abilities--her body's startin' to repair itself!"
           Eyes wide with stunned delight, she rapidly punched up a new batch of data, and a glowing hologram of Rogue's internal structure slowly rotated above her console.  Bright red patches were already fading to healthy pinks and golds as, one after another, her damaged bones and organs began mending.
           Beast blankly stared at the hologram for a moment, then shook his head to clear it.  "Of course!" he exclaimed.  "I have always speculated that Rogue's absorption abilities were similar in nature to an antibody's defenses!  The moment a foreign entity comes in contact with her body, her mutant 'antibodies' must rise to the defense, draining it of energy!"
           "But everything worked fine when you tested it!" Jubilee protested, bewildered.  "What went wrong?"
           Beast ruefully shook his head.  "I am afraid that the blood samples we used were not from Rogue herself, but rather from the bloodstains on Gambit's coat.  In my haste to discover a solution, I failed to consider that they would be diluted, tainted by the organic material they had soaked into.
           "My error nearly cost Rogue's life!" he guiltily murmured.  "If not for Wolverine's quick thinking..."
           "Look, Sean!" Moira interrupted, too excited to contain herself.  "Even her spine is reformin'!"  Laughing, she threw her arms around the tall Irishman's neck and hugged him.  "We've done it!"
           A soft flush of color warmed Rogue's pale cheeks as they watched, eyes wide in wondering awe.  Then Gambit blearily stirred, his long fingers tightening over hers.  "If she take my blood now, dat mean she don' hurt Gambit no more?" he hoarsely ventured, his accent heavy with sudden hope.
           Xavier hesitated, startled.   "I do not know, Gambit," he reluctantly confessed.  "When she is fully recovered, we will certainly conduct experiments..."
           "Huh!" the Cajun snorted.  "Gambit conduct his own experiments!"
           "Not right now," Beast protested, noticing for the first time how pale Gambit had become.  "You have already donated more than you should have."
           "Gambit give more if she need it," the lanky Southerner insisted, blinking as he tried to focus on Beast's blue-furred face.  "Jus' need rest, dat's all..."
           Beast ignored him.   "You have done everything possible, my friend," he promised as he gently removed the long needle from Gambit's arm.  "Lie still, now, until you feel stronger."
           For a moment he feared that Gambit might protest.  To his relief, the exhausted Cajun sighed and sagged back onto the long table, his eyes wearily closing.  "Her own body will manufacture what it needs now, thanks to Wolverine's timely assistance," Beast added as he began dismantling the transfusion equipment.
           "Will Wolverine really be okay?" Jubilee anxiously demanded, her dark eyes huge with worry as she stared at Logan's limp frame.
           Storm comfortingly touched her shoulder.  "He should be himself again in a few hours," she assured the girl.  "Do not concern yourself, child--he has survived worse ordeals!"
           Jubilee spared another quick glance at Gambit's pale face.  If Wolverine hadn't intervened--and Rogue hadn't had such a bad reaction--she might've had to donate, too.  Would she have looked like that, so drawn and exhausted?  A clammy fist gripped her stomach at the very thought.
           Dinna worry...it's na so bad!
           A soft lilting voice, unmistakably Gaelic, seemed to echo in her ears.  Startled, she quickly glanced around the lab.  Moira and Banshee were still concentrating on their readings--only Proteus was looking in her direction.
           Now that Sinister's Genosha ray had been shut down, he'd reverted to his customary energy-charged state.  His eyes and mouth were roughly visible, but his face and body were totally obscured beneath the heavy golden energy flux.  As he met Jubilee's startled gaze, his mouth seemed to curve slightly against the blank, glowing mask of his face.
           Jubilee hid another shudder.   How could the Professor possibly be so proud of that?  Proteus looked like something out of a B-rated science fiction movie--a really bad one!
           But Moira, Banshee, and the Professor all doted on him, despite his scary appearance!  Maybe...maybe there was more to him than she'd originally thought?
           Still, Proteus was telepathic--he never spoke out loud.  She distinctly remembered hearing Banshee say so.
           Shrugging, she turned away again.
           She'd imagined that quiet, gentle voice--what else could it have been?



Chapter 8

           "So where'd ye disappear to when we were taken?" Banshee urged Storm as he stretched warm blankets over Gambit and Wolverine.  "An' how'd ye run into our lad Morph?"
           "Yes," Xavier prompted, his eyes alight with interest.  "Rogue said that she did not see you taken..."
           "I was not, precisely," Storm conceded, shrugging her shoulders.  "I was on the far side of the island, close to the nutrient storage entrance, when you called us.  When you did not respond again, Rogue and I flew back toward the complex.  I saw her fall, and then I caught a glimpse of Ruckus between two of the buildings.
           "I knew that it must be a trap, so I tried to fly farther away from the island.  Unfortunately, before I could escape, Ruckus caught me in his Genosha ray."  The dignified weather-witch shuddered slightly at the memory. "I fell into the water, and dove beneath the waves.   I hoped that if I could swim far enough, I could escape its influence."
           "And you could do that?" Jubilee interjected, her eyes alight with curiosity.  "Swim, I mean, without feeling claustrophobic?"
           "I have always loved swimming," Storm confided, tilting her head to one side.  "Somehow that does not bother me in the same way that closed spaces so often do."
           "I found her down on the rocks!" Morph eagerly chimed in.  "She was soaking wet!"
           "So would you have been, if you had been hiding at the water's edge for over an hour!" Storm wryly retorted.   "I could not be sure whether Ruckus was still nearby, and I dared not let him catch me.
           "Perhaps I was too cautious," she ruefully concluded, glancing over in Rogue's direction.  "If only I had returned sooner..."
           "I heard her trying to raise you on the communit," Morph added, his young voice bright with smug satisfaction.  "When you didn't answer, I figured something must be wrong!   So I dropped in to check things out!"
           "But what were you doing here in the first place?" Scott demanded.  "I'd have thought you'd seen enough of Muir Island to last a lifetime!"
           Morph's enthusiasm faded into a grim frown.  "I've been tracking Sinister all around the world!" he explained.  "I knew that sooner or later, I'd get another shot at him!"
           The glare he cast at over at Sinister's frozen body was filled with venomous loathing.  They were briefly reminded of the dangerous transformation that had overtaken him whenever Sinister had controlled his mind.
           Then he smiled again, and the shadows receded.
           "You can imagine my surprise when I saw myself hovering nearby!" Storm continued, shaking her head in amusement.  "Then Morph landed on the rock beside me, and changed back into his normal form."
           "I'd been wandering around the island, disguised as a human," Morph explained, changing into an innocuous figure that Jean and Scott recognized all too well--the kindly old 'pastor' who had presided over their first attempted wedding.  When he saw their distressed expressions, Morph promptly shifted back.  "Sorry!" he apologized.
           "Anyway, I knew the layout of the island and the different research buildings, so I snuck around for a while, trying to find out what Sinister was up to this time.  Then I flew down to get Storm, and here we are!" he finished.
           "And not a minute too soon!" Jubilee gratefully exclaimed.  "I thought we were dead, until you guys showed up!"
           "It's too bad that the Nasty Boyz all got away," Scott sighed, scowling, "but at least we still have Sinister."
           "And one of those belts!" Jubilee eagerly reminded him.  Then she glanced over at Jean, who was silently following the entire conversation.  "So whadya think Beast's gonna do with it?" she urged in a half-whisper.  "Wouldn't it be neat if he gave it to Rogue?"
           The beautiful redhead smiled.   "I think he's going to give it to Kevin!" she softly confided.   "It would mean so much to Professor Xavier!"
           Jubilee spun around to stare at Moira's son again, startled by Jean's meaningful tone.  As if aware of their fear and distrust, he was keeping his distance, shyly hovering near the opposite end of the lab.
           How lonely he must be!   Professor Xavier had already told her how Proteus had never had any friends, never had anyone to play with. And all because he looked so different!
           For one brief moment she wavered, torn with indecision. Then she hurried across the room, snatched the belt off Beast's lab table, and impulsively handed it to Proteus.  "Here," she offered.  "Put it on!  Then no one'll be afraid of you anymore!"
           Proteus hesitated, his luminous eyes widening.
           Ye'd do that fer me?
           Jubilee heard the soft voice echoing in her mind again, and this time she understood--he was talking to her telepathically!  "Sure!" she nodded.  "Believe me, I know what it's like to have people be afraid of you, just because you're different.   Please?"  And she tenaciously held the belt out again.
           The room was suddenly silent, and she realized that she and Proteus had become the complete center of attention.   Even Moira and Banshee had abandoned their medical scans, and were staring at her in stunned surprise.
           She didn't care--she knew that she was doing the right thing!  Bracing herself, she boldly laid the belt across Proteus's glowing hands.
           Instead of the painful jolt she'd expected, a surge of warmth enveloped her fingers.  Startled, she hesitantly smiled up at him.  The grotesque mask of his face suddenly wasn't so terrifying anymore--he was only a kid, just like she was!  Her smile grew more confident as she felt a light pressure on her hands.  Then the belt disappeared into the dazzling glow that obscured his body.
           Across the room, Moira instinctively laid her hand on Xavier's strong shoulder, her heart pounding.  A faint, reminiscent smile curved her lips as she felt his warm fingers gently cover hers, comforting and supportive.
           Sweet, wonderful Charles!   If only she'd done things differently!
           Then her attention returned to Jubilee and her son.  Could the brash young girl possibly realize how much her spontaneous offer meant to Kevin?  If this worked...
           For one breathless moment, nothing happened.  Then Proteus's golden glow flickered and vanished.  Kevin MacTaggert shyly smiled at them, his brown eyes alight with ecstatic joy.
           "Wow!"   Jubilee's awed whisper broke the stunned silence.  "He is seriously cute!"  Then she blushed as she realized that she'd spoken out loud, and everyone had heard her.
           Xavier floated forward a few inches, his hand still clasping Moira's.  Then he hesitated as Banshee's urgent words echoed in his ears. 'Why don't ye stay here a while when this's over, an' work with th' boy?  It'd mean so much t' Moira...ye know that Joe MacTaggert's not a real father t' him!  He divorced Moira 'cause she gave birth t' a mutant!  He couldna live with th' truth!'
           Could it be possible?
           Xavier stared at Kevin with new awareness, his heart racing with sudden, unexpected hope.  How could he not have sensed the truth before now?  Those gentle brown eyes, so like his own mother's, so warm with adoration as Kevin tentatively smiled down at Jubilee...
           As if she could sense his chaotic thoughts, Moira warily stiffened beside him.  All these years, she had kept the boy's existence a secret, until circumstances had forced her hand.
           Was she still afraid that he would reject them?  How little she understood him!  Xavier squeezed her cold fingers, a compassionate smile curving his lips.
           If only he could have done things differently...
           Straightening, he decisively moved forward again.  Moira's slender fingers clutched at his for a moment.  He could sense her sudden fear through the contact, and spared her a quick, reassuring smile.    Then he glided across the room, his hoverchair quietly humming.
           Kevin glanced up from Jubilee and hesitantly met his intense gaze.  So he really does not know the truth yet, Xavier thought, quelling a brief stab of disappointment.  He took a deep breath, then extended his hand.  "Welcome back, Kevin," he smiled.
           The Genosha belt prevented Kevin from responding telepathically, and for a moment the teenager looked frightened.   Then he gingerly touched Xavier's fingers, and a silent sigh of relief escaped him.   The intense, powerful man in the hoverchair understood what he was feeling, even if he couldn't communicate anymore.
           "I will teach you what you need to know," Xavier was promising, his fingers supportively tightening around Kevin's.  Warmth and reassurance washed over the boy in tangible waves.   "In time, you will no longer require the Genosha belt to remain with us as yourself...if you are willing to learn."
           Kevin solemnly nodded.   Charles Xavier had fascinated him ever since their first meeting, when he'd escaped from Muir Island to search for Joseph MacTaggert.  Yet despite his genuine joy over finally being reunited with his long-absent father, something had been missing...some sense of connection, of completeness.
           Something that, ironically, he could sense in Xavier's firm, steady grip.
           Moira touched Xavier's shoulder, and he could feel the thread of emotion flowing between them.  Her inexplicable fear was fading into vivid relief.
           What had she been afraid of?   Why was this man so important to her, that his opinions mattered so much?
           "Charles can teach ye much, Kevin, if ye'll let him," she assured him, a glowing smile lighting her face.   "I'll be glad t' have him stay as long as he will."
           "Can I stay, too?"   Jubilee's impulsive question disrupted the poignant moment, and she flushed again as Xavier slanted a reproving frown at her.
           Kevin imploringly met Xavier's eyes, his fingers tightening.  Xavier hesitated, then reluctantly yielded.   "It appears that you have made a friend," he informed the embarrassed girl.  "I suppose you can continue your studies here as easily as at the mansion--if Moira and Banshee both agree."
           "Professor?"   Beast's urgent voice made them spin around as the scientist glanced up from Banshee's console.  "Rogue's body has completely healed itself.  I believe she is starting to awaken!"
           Gambit's eyes snapped open in mixed surprise and relief.  Grimacing with distaste, he pushed the thick blanket aside and unsteadily rose to his feet.  "' Bout time!" he exclaimed.  "Now we see how she really feel!"
           Xavier stared in bemusement at the tall Cajun for a long moment, then slowly nodded in belated understanding.   "Perhaps this would be a good time to assess the damages to Kevin's chambers," he suggested.
           "But Professor!"   Jubilee's impetuous protest was cut short as Kevin nudged her in the ribs, a warning grimace on his face.  "Aw, I always have to miss the good parts!" she muttered, her shoulders sagging.  "Come on, let's go!"  And she angrily stomped out the door, arms folded across her chest.  Kevin meekly followed her from the room.
           "Professor," Beast anxiously murmured, "we still do not know if the transfusions have rendered Gambit immune to Rogue's absorption powers.  If I correctly interpret his intentions, he may be putting himself in grave danger!"
           Xavier moved a few inches closer, a troubled look on his face.  "I agree that there may be a risk, Beast," he confided as he watched Gambit settle himself on the edge of Rogue's makeshift bed.  "But I have no right to deny him the chance of discovering for himself.  Have we not all taken risks to be with the ones we love?"
           Beast reluctantly nodded as he thought about Carly, the young woman he had fallen in love with earlier that year.   "Indeed," he sighed.
           "Jean and I will remain in light telepathic contact with Gambit," Xavier reassured him, "at least long enough to ensure that he is not in any danger.  If there is any trouble, we can return in a matter of minutes."
           "And if there are no complications?" Storm urged, her dark eyes glowing with pleasure.
           "Then we leave them alone for a few hours!" Scott insisted.  "They deserve that much!"
           Jean smiled at his fierce tone.  "Come on, Scott, let's go help Kevin and Jubilee," she cheerfully suggested.
           Beast started to follow them, then hesitated.  "What about Wolverine?" he protested.  "It could prove most inconvenient if he were to awaken prematurely!"
           Jean tossed a bright grin back over her shoulder.  "Leave Logan to me!" she teased.  "I'll make sure he doesn't wake up until at least tomorrow morning!"
           "I'll do you one better!" Morph chimed in.  His brown eyes danced with laughter as he abruptly transformed into Colossus's huge, steely body.  "After you, comráde!" he exclaimed, mimicking the Russian's rich accent to perfection.  Then he swept into a deep, courtly bow, and scooped Wolverine into his arms, blanket and all, as if the wiry Canadian was a small child.  "I will see you all soon!" he added, striding out the door.
           Chuckling, Banshee draped his arm around Moira's shoulders and firmly led her from the room.  Jean and Scott fell into step behind them, heads affectionately close together.  Xavier watched them leave, poignantly aware of his own lonely isolation.  If only he had done things differently somehow...
           Yet he was not truly alone, he suddenly realized as Storm's dark hand descended on his shoulder.  Not while he had the loyal companionship of his friends and students.  Smiling, he gratefully squeezed her long fingers, then followed Beast from the room.
           Gambit barely even heard them leave.  His reddish eyes burning with eager anticipation, he daringly pulled Rogue's soft gloves off and curled his long fingers around hers.  For just an instant he thought he felt the barest trace of a lingering tingle.   Then it was gone.   Her hand was warm and smooth beneath his.
           A relieved sigh escaped him.   Finally, after all these years, he could touch her without either of them being hurt!  If this was only a dream, he never wanted to wake up again!
           "Rogue?" His soft, husky voice was choked with emotion as he bent to kiss her forehead.
           Again that brief flicker of energy...then nothing.  "C'mon, chér, wake up, y'hear me?"
           Several agonizingly long moments passed while he waited, his heart pounding.  Then Rogue's eyes flickered, and slowly opened.  He patiently waited, knowing all-too-well how bewildering those first few seconds could be, when everything was still a confusing blur.
           "Remy?"  A faint smile curved her lips as he slowly swam into focus, then bent closer to brush a lock of white-streaked hair off her forehead.  "It didn't work, did it?"
           Puzzled, Gambit tilted his head to one side.  "What din't work, chér?" he gently countered.   "You miss all da excitement--Morph an' Storm showed up an' save da day!"
           Startled, Rogue struggled to sit up.  "Morph?  What's he doin' here?  Where is everybody?"  Then she jerked back as he lightly stroked her cheek.   "You crazy, Cajun?  You know better'n that..."
           "Maybe Gambit know more'n you think!" he retorted, grinning.  And he deliberately kissed her bare hand, his gleaming eyes bright with suppressed laughter.  "What you say now, eh, chér?"
           Rogue numbly met his amused gaze, bewildered.  "Remy, what...if the generator's off, then..."
           Gambit chuckled.   "Long story, chér! Let's just say Wolverine give us a helpin' hand!   You wanta waste time hearin' it right now, or you gonna hush up an' kiss me?"
           Rogue stared up at him in blank confusion for one more moment.  Then a wondering smile slowly curved her lips.   "I love you, Remy LeBeau!" she whispered.
           "Remy love you, too, Rogue!" he solemnly promised.  "' Till da end o' time an' beyond!"
           A bright flicker of energy enveloped them, tingling with promise, as he bent to kiss her.  "We git married soon as Xavier find us a preacher-man," he added as her arms eagerly tightened around his broad shoulders, "but we gonna have our honeymoon right now!"

• • • • •

           "Ohhh, man, what hit me?"
           Wolverine's low, husky groan caught the entire team's attention as he weakly rubbed at his aching temples.   Blinking, he rolled to one side and struggled to sit up.
           Jean was instantly at his side, her gentle touch soothing to his throbbing head.  "I think it's more the other way around, Logan," she countered, a sympathetic smile lighting her face.   "Don't you remember?  You let Rogue absorb your powers to keep her from dying!"
           The surly Canadian frowned.   Then his expression slowly cleared as wisps of memory came floating back.   "Never felt anything like that before, though," he muttered.   "Damned Cajun let go with a blast of his own that nearly knocked me through the wall!"
           "Believe me, my friend, you were not the only one to feel its effects," Beast soberly assured him, rubbing the back of his neck.
           Suddenly Wolverine's eyes widened.  "How'd I get back here?" he demanded, glancing around the shattered remains of Kevin's chambers.  "Where's Rogue?"
           Xavier floated close to the low couch, a faint smile curving his lips.  "Thanks to your quick thinking, Logan, she has fully recovered.  Gambit chose to stay with her while we began repairing the damages here."
           Wolverine blinked in startled surprise.  "You sure that's safe?" he rasped, staggering to his feet.   "Maybe we oughta go check on 'em!"
           Storm immediately laid a restraining hand on his muscular arm.  "There is no cause for alarm, Logan," she promised.  "After your intervention, Rogue was able to accept Gambit's transfusion with no further problems."
           "That still don't mean she'll be able to touch him," Wolverine countered, his eyes narrowing with anxiety.
           "Jean and I maintained a light telepathic contact with him until Rogue regained consciousness," Xavier reassured him.  "They are not in any danger."
           Jubilee hurried over then, her eyes gleaming with excitement.  "Beast thinks that she absorbed Gambit's energy at the same time as yours!" she exclaimed.  "That's why you got such an awful backlash!"
           "Indeed," Beast agreed, nodding.  "Such an intense concentration at such a critical moment...it is no wonder that we were both so strongly affected.
           "However, the end result seems to have been particularly fortuitous!" he beamed.  "Rogue has absorbed enough of Gambit's genetic pattern that they appear to be fully compatible with each other!"
           "Huh!" Wolverine scoffed, glaring up at the blue-furred scientist.  "For how long?"
           His grim implication dimmed the air of eager anticipation.  Xavier and Beast exchanged worried glances.
           Then Jean smiled.   "Long enough," she assured them.  "Long enough!"
           Xavier briefly closed his eyes, and a matching smile brightened his angular face.  "Long enough, indeed!" he murmured.
           Beast's deep blue eyes began to glow with pleasure.  "'These two imparadised in one another's arms, the happier Eden, shall enjoy their fill of bliss on bliss,' " he softly quoted, smiling.  "John Milton, Paradise Lost."
           "'Paradise Lost'!" Jubilee sourly echoed, disgusted.  "How depressing!  They haven't lost paradise--they've found it!"
           Then she flushed with embarrassment as Xavier slanted another reproving frown at her.  "Well, they have," she rebelliously muttered under her breath.
           "Truly spoken," Storm agreed, her eyes warm with delight.  "Now, if you would be so kind as to help me with this section of wall..."
           And, enigmatically smiling, she turned back to her work.

The End


Click here to read what happens when Gambit and Rogue
are finally left alone (adult-oriented story) in
"Paradise Found - Epilogue"

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"Serpent's Kiss."

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