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The Starlight Saga, Chapter Eight

Mac O'Roni

     Logan retired to his room to think. Or perhaps to try not to think, he wasn’t sure which he wanted to do. He wasn’t sure of anything anymore, except that he thought they’d done entirely the opposite of good today, breaking it off with Remy. And even that, he wasn’t completely certain of. Hank had seemed so certain that it was best for everyone that the entire relationship be abandoned…
     He lay down on his bed and twisted his great knotty fingers in his ragged hair. Too many questions were chasing themselves like wild dogs through his mind. He wasn’t used to feeling so indecisive. Maybe putting on a little music would help calm him down.
     He didn’t pay any attention to what was in the CD tray, he just punched the power button and turned up the volume. He wanted to drown everything out.
     As the honky-tonk intro to “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” came blasting out of his speakers, he thought perhaps he had made a mistake in thinking music would be a good cure. At least this music. It was the CD that Gambit had loaned him, the Warren Zevon album. Still, he felt no particular urge to turn it off.
     Most of the songs were innocuous, at least in his present frame of mind, and that was good—he was able to lose himself in tunes like “Werewolves of London” and “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner.” He had a little trouble near the beginning of the album with a tune called “Hasten Down the Wind,” which was about a painful break-up. Still, that song put him more in mind of Remy and Rogue’s tempestuous relationship than his own brief fling with the Cajun.
     But “Mr. Bad Example,” jovial tune that it was, nearly brought him to tears, and he knew that he could not possibly listen to the next song without breaking down. He sat up and turned off the stereo as the first strains of “Mutineer” listed on the airwaves. He sat where he was for awhile, hand still resting on the power switch, as the song played itself in his mind anyway.
     “Grab your coat, let’s get out of here,” he whispered out loud, half-startling himself. They had messed up big, he knew that now. Ending everything so abruptly, without even being solicitous enough to see if he understood that they really cared about him, really were doing it because they wanted to help him and not hurt him, had been a terrible mistake. He only hoped their selfish actions hadn’t put the kid into an irreparable state of torment. Maybe there was still time to put things right, somehow.
     He jumped to his feet and headed out the bedroom door, looking for Hank. They were both going to find Remy, and they were both going to apologize to him. They were going to help him through this and damn their own feelings.
     Upstairs, Storm eased her brother’s lanky body into the bed and pulled the covers up over his shoulders. She smoothed back the unruly mop of cinnamon hair falling over his pale brow and kissed him on that place over his left eye that was specially reserved for her. “Sleep, brother,” she whispered. “I promise everything will be all right.” Then she left, pulling the door closed behind her without a sound.
     But his eyes opened, glowing brilliant red in spite of the late afternoon sunlight shining through the room’s west-facing window, and he stood up in an almost impossibly languid, fluid motion. He crossed to the sliding glass doors, feet barely seeming to touch the ground, and stepped out onto Ororo’s balcony, where he stood for a moment surrounded by her jungle of potted plants. He seemed to be thinking something over, or listening to someone or something that only he could hear. But whatever the reason, the hesitation was only momentary. With a powerful contraction of muscles, he leapt straight into the air.
     At the top of his leap, a good fifteen or even twenty feet, he twisted his spine into a sharp S-curve and flipped his body out away from the mansion and towards the woods. He was higher than the tops of the tallest trees at the highest point of his trajectory, but he landed lightly on the grass, bending slightly at the knees to absorb the shock of impact. He was off and running before anyone who might have been watching could have been fully aware that he hadn’t been killed by the fall.
     The moon was up, chasing the sun away into twilight, and it was a bad moon, blood red and looming as big as the world itself above the horizon. A devil’s moon. But he was L’Diable Blanc, and the moon held no terrors for him. He ran toward it, as though desperate to catch it and follow it on its endless trek across the sky. What he was running from, he couldn’t remember.
     “Hope you got your things together,” he sang, heedless of the deadly speed of his race to nowhere, jumping rises and gullies like a gazelle and ducking under treacherous tree limbs that threatened to scratch out his eyes and reached to grab the long tail of his overcoat, trying to detain him so they could mangle him. “Hope you are quite prepared to die. Looks like we're in for nasty weather. One eye is taken for an eye.
     “Well, don't go around tonight, well, it's bound to take your life. There's a bad moon on the rise.”

     John Fogarty he was not, but he had a fair singing voice and Creedence suited it well. Not that he could remember that the song was Creedence Clearwater Revival, or remember the foggy stridency of Fogarty’s voice. Ordinarily he did not forget such things, but tonight he was having trouble remembering anything at all. He remembered the tune and liked it, and he liked singing it. For now, that was enough. He would worry about the rest later.
     Singing felt good, he discovered, better than anything he could remember, and he didn’t want to stop when he came to the last of what he remembered of “Bad Moon Rising.” So he jumped right into another song, and just as before, it was a song he didn’t even know he knew.
     “People say I’m no good, and crazy as a loon, ‘cause I get stoned in the morning, I get drunk in the afternoon. I’m kinda like my ol’ bluetick hound, I like to lay around in the shade. An’ I ain’t got no money, but I damn sure got it made.
     “’Cause I ain’t askin’ nobody for nuthin’, if I can’t get it on my own. If you don’t like the way I’m livin’, you just leave this long-haired country boy alone.”

     “Long-Haired Country Boy,” by the Charlie Daniels Band. Was he a long-haired country boy? The long-haired part seemed true enough, he could feel the heavy tail of his hair smacking him between the shoulder blades when he landed after a jump, could feel it swishing back and forth as he ran. But he had vague memories of crowded, filthy city streets, a sick smell of wet asphalt and full storm sewers, a flurry of voices chattering in many languages. But he also seemed to recall empty reaches of space, calm black waters hiding lurking dangers, and distance, miles upon miles of distance between himself and anyone else. The bayou? Or somewhere more isolated still?
     “There’s no earthly way of knowing which direction we are going. There’s no knowing where we’re rowing, or which way the river’s flowing. Is it raining, is it snowing? Is a hurricane a-blowing?” he sang, laughing shrilly as he made a clumsy segue from the country song to the recitation of Roald Dahl’s poem a la Gene Wilder in the movie adaptation of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
     Twilight was drawing down around him fast; he was entering that dangerous time Tante Mattie had called “the dark thirty,” when evil things were afoot. “Not a speck of light is showing, so the danger must be growing. Are the fires of hell a-glowing? Is the grisly reaper mowing? Yes! The danger must be growing, for the rowers keep on rowing, and they’re certainly not showing any signs that they are slowing!”
     He stopped stock still, suddenly as immovable as stone. He stood like a marble statue at the far edge of the toy woods, on top of a steep hill near the highway leading down into New Salem. Not a muscle twitched, in spite of his recent exertions. The breeze could not riffle through his fly-away hair, though not for lack of trying. He was totally blank, as though breaking through the protective cover of the forest had wiped every last vestige of his life away.
     He stood like that for several frighteningly long minutes, and then slowly came back to life.
     “There’s a bad moon on the rise,” he sang, and started down the hill towards town.

     “I don’t know where else to look, Blue,” Logan said sourly. “Haven’t caught a whiff of the kid since we checked the roof, and that scent was pretty damn cold, too.”
     “Perhaps we should speak to Ororo. She might know where her brother is.”
     Logan growled. “She’d probably zap us both with lightning as soon as look at us, Hank. I don’t think we’re currently very high on her list of favorite people.”
     Murphy’s Law at work, Storm appeared in the hallway ahead of them at that moment.
     To say that she "appeared" was putting it in the mildest terms. In truth, she blasted in from the stairwell leading to her attic loft, cold winds bearing her off the ground, bearing her down on the two men like God’s own righteous judgement. Although McCoy knew she would not be appreciative of the Christian comparison.
     “Aw, shit. Speak of the devil,” Logan said. His voice was the quiet sigh of a man resigned to impending execution.
     “You left him, just like that, with no real explanation of why you were breaking it off and no assurance that you still cared for him! How could you be so stupid?” she shouted. “I credited you with enough intelligence to know that such abruptness would have a devastating effect on my brother’s mental state, but apparently I have to spell everything out for the two of you like children who are too young to know that you must pet the kitten nicely or you’ll be scratched!”
     She was raging, clouds forming around her pretty head, lightning flashing in ominous crackles in halo above her. Thankfully, none of these bolts made contact with the walls, or floor, or flesh. Yet.
     “We know, ‘Ro,” Logan said, his voice still quiet and his tone respectful.
     “You know?”
     He nodded. “It took me awhile to wake up to the fact, but we know that we went about this whole thing wrong, start to finish. We were just looking for Remy. We want to try and make things right. If we can.”
     She seemed utterly confounded by his frank admission of guilt. The cloud above her broke up, and at last her feet settled to the floor as her fury subsided. “I should still be angry with you,” she said. “You’ve caused my brother a great deal of pain. He cried himself to sleep in my arms this afternoon. I have never seen him so upset, so vulnerable. Ever.”
     The two men shuffled uneasily and shared a guilty glance. She continued. “He thinks you used him, like every other man before you. Took him for the pleasures he could give you and then tossed him aside when you were no longer interested.”
     Logan’s head jerked up. “Did he really say that?”
     “He didn’t have to. We share more than friendship, he and I. In many ways, we are closer than blood brothers and sisters ever are. I know him, and I know his feelings.”
     “It isn’t true, though, what he thinks,” he said, voice pleading now. “I love him. More than I’ve ever loved anyone or anything on this earth. He’s…different, from everybody else. Better. Purer, in spite of everything he’s been through and done. It’s like…it’s like none of it could ever really touch him, the real him—the truth of him buried deep inside, like a diamond in a lump of coal. Do you understand what I’m trying to say?” His eyes pleaded with hers for that understanding. He was not accustomed to eloquent speech, and had no idea if he was coming anywhere near the depth of feeling in his heart.
     She nodded slowly, eyes brimming. “Yes. Nothing can touch the core of him, not even this. That quality of childlike innocence he’s retained through all his darkest years, his wide-eyed wonder of the world and all its people, his desire to be happy and to make others happy. Is this the diamond you mean, Logan?”
     “Yes,” he said, thinking of all the times that diamond had shone through the coal. It had been hard, damned near impossible, to see that worth in the beginning, when Gambit had first joined the X-Men. Back then, Logan had thought him as much an annoyance as everyone else did. A whining, buzzing Cajun mosquito with a painful sting. He had wanted to slap him down and squash him. He wasn’t fool enough to think that everyone on the team had eventually gotten over those feelings, but he had, with only the occassional moment when something the kid had done (deliberately, always deliberately; twisted little prick got off on annoying people) made him want to strangle him.
     He thought now that the first time he began to see the other side, the diamond side, of the young thief’s personality had been the time he had caught him in the Danger Room all alone on a Saturday night, when everyone had thought the Cajun was out carousing at the bars and picking up women. He hadn’t been working out; he’d been in there for the acoustics.
     He’d been singing. Some French folk song, by the sound—Logan couldn’t work out the meaning of the words for the life of him. But it didn’t matter now and it hadn’t mattered then, either—it was the look of pure, unfiltered joy on the young man’s face that had impressed him. It was the first time he had ever seen that face betraying an honest, untinctured emotion. The memory brought a sharp pang of regret.
     “I understand what you mean, my friend. It is not always easy to see to the truth of my brother’s soul. He hides behind walls of sarcasm and mockery. It is one of the ways he protects that core truth,” she said, as though reading the run of his thoughts.
     “How can we make it up to him, Ororo?” Hank asked. “We truly didn’t mean to hurt him, not now and not ever. I…I don’t know if I love him, not the way Logan is certain he does, but I do know that I care very deeply for him.” The big man blushed through his fur.
     “I do not know, Henry,” she said. “I think you’ll have to figure it out for yourselves. I might suggest an apology, and an explanation as to why you cannot at this time continue your physical relationship with my brother. If you let him know that you care, I’m sure you’ll find him quite forgiving.”
     She rose into the air again. “Come with me. He is in my bedroom now, sleeping. When he awakes, we can all sit down together and talk this out. I know that, between the three of us, we can bring him back to himself. We just have to show him that we truly love him.”
     But of course, when they reached the room at the top of the stairs, he was nowhere to be found.

     He’d been roof-jumping for a half an hour at the least, and he was vaguely aware that his legs ought to have been getting sore. Some part of his mind was a little surprised that he still felt fine. Another, deeper part of his mind was aware that, in his current condition, he would not notice if Sabretooth jumped out of the shadows and tore one of his arms off. But these thoughts were far below the surface. At the forefront of his mind, there was simply nothing. No pain, no grief, no fear. It was a wonderful feeling.
     Without warning, he came to a stop on the roof of a ranch-style house with a nicely manicured lawn. He crouched down on his haunches, fingers lightly resting on the asphalt shingles between his feet, head cocked at an aggressive and questioning angle. Wolverine would have recognized the posture. It was the look a wild animal gets when it senses danger.
     With a snarl of rage that Logan would have been proud of, Remy scrambled down off the roof and ran on all fours to come to rest in the shadows behind a house four blocks away. A man was working in his garage, laid out on a creeper under his old Jeep, whistling along with the song on the radio as he tinkered with some mechanical problem or other.
     The song was “Wake Up Little Susie,” by the Everly Brothers.
     In his blankness, Remy did not know why the innocuous and rather inane little song should affect him so strongly. Nor did he care. He only knew that he wanted it to stop playing. Moreover, he knew that if it did not stop playing, he would make it stop.
     He stepped from the shadows, not caring if he was seen. It was very difficult not to see him now, because in his wrath his eyes, and then his hands, and then his entire body had begun to glow a dull crimson that intensified with each slow, rational step he took toward the portable radio perched on the top of a Craftsman toolchest.
     There was nothing rational in the inarticulate howl of rage that reverberated through the quiet neighborhood, or the massive explosion as both radio and toolchest disintegrated into their very atomic particles. Understandably alarmed, the man on the creeper jumped up, banging his head on the Jeep’s chassis. Groaning and rubbing his brow, he rolled out from under the car and sat up. When he saw the glaring, glowing man standing in his garage, still growling out French curses and voodoo hexes, he forgot his sore head and took off running down the street. “Mutie! Crazy mutie!” he screamed.
     People were coming out of their houses to see what the fuss was about. It was time to leave.
     A bearded man with a rolling pot gut came trotting breathlessly out of the house next door, leveling a double-barreled shotgun at Remy’s chest. “Hold still, mutie bastard,” he said. “I got y’ covered. Ellen, call the cops!” he hollered over his shoulder to the dough-faced woman in pink hair curlers hovering behind him.
     Mr. Pot-Gut heard the red-glowing mutie bastard snarl something at him, something in some weird, slippery-sounding language like French, maybe. Worse than a mutie bastard, a foreign mutie bastard. He snapped back both hammers.
     “I got about three pounds of pressure on a five pound trigger,” he shouted, although he had no idea how much pressure he was putting on the two triggers, or how much it took to fire. He had heard someone say that in a movie once, and it sounded good so he stole it. “You wanna shut your damn mutant mouth and sit down nice and quiet and wait for the cops, or I’m gonna fill y’ so full a’ lead you can use yer ass for a pencil.”
     Gambit sprang. In surprise, Mr. Pot-Gut fired. The blast of both barrels going off at once knocked him off his feet. Gambit, of course, was safely on the roof of Mr. Fix-It’s house. He snarled another French curse at Mr. Pot-Gut and flipped him the bird. When he did, Mr. Pot-Gut’s shotgun, which he’d dropped when the recoil knocked him on his ass, exploded in a brilliant crimson flash.
     Gambit was long gone before the police finally arrived.

     I can still smell ‘im,” Logan said, scenting the air on Ororo’s plant-covered balcony. “Jesus, I think he jumped like a god-damned mountain lion—there’s still traces of him in the air up here, there ain’t been enough breeze on this side of the house t’ blow it away.”
     Storm rose into the sky, searching the grounds in the hopes of spotting her brother lounging as was his wont in the branches of some tree, or stretched out on the ground beneath one. “I do not see him. Wolverine, I believe we shall be forced to employ your excellent tracking skills to find him. I fear what mischief my brother may find himself at the bottom of this night.”
     “A capital idea, but may I suggest we take it one precaution further?” Beast said. “Jean is presently out for a stroll in your garden, Ororo, and if what you have told us of Remy’s psionic shields being collapsed still holds true, she may be quite as effective in tracking him as Wolverine, and can at the very least keep us apprised of his situation while we search.”
     “An excellent idea, Hank. I shall tell her of our dilemma and ask her to join us.”
     Storm flew off to the nearby garden, where the two men could see her as she explained, with animation unusual to her normally stoic, dignified declamatory presence, the situation to the telepath. They saw Jean nod, and then her body appeared to be consumed by orange flames as she rose into the air as Phoenix.
     “She will join us,” Storm said, flying back to them. “You can manage the descent from my balcony under your own power, I trust?”
     “Certainement,” Beast said, climbing nimbly over the balcony railing. He winced at his own ill-considered use of the French, shrugged apologetically, and dropped lightly to the ground. Wolverine grumbled, but had little difficulty following the agile doctor’s lead.
     Jean was casting about telepathically for Remy’s presence. “I have him,” she said at last. “He’s…it’s very strange, it’s like he’s not really there at all, but I have him. I can’t tell where he is, though. It’s as though he doesn’t know where or who he is at all.”
     “I’ll find him,” Logan growled. “He took off this way.”
     They followed him on the same twisted, treacherous path through the surrounding woods, skirting the verge of the lake, that Remy had taken. Their pace was dangerously swift, at least for the two grounded mutants, but it was nowhere near the speed at which Gambit had fled through the shadowy trees, and it was getting dark quickly now. None of them had anything approaching Gambit’s night vision.
     “I believe,” Hank panted, narrowly ducking a tree limb that appeared out of nowhere to smack him in the face, “that we are more likely to break our necks in this woods than to apprehend our fleet-footed Cajun compatriot.”
     “We gotta find him, Hank,” Logan said, pausing briefly to cast for the scent. “You heard what Jeannie said—he’s gone totally schizo. He could hurt somebody, or get hurt. An’ it would be all our fault.”
     McCoy opened his mouth to remonstrate Logan on his use of the term “schizo,” then closed it as he realized that the description was more-or-less accurate. From what Phoenix had said, it sounded very much as though the young man had indeed suffered a psychotic break. They plunged on through encroaching darkness.
     They finally made it to the edge of the woods, where Gambit had stood for a moment before making for the town. Logan stopped there, hunched on all fours, hackles raising as he scented the alarming smell of a man well past the boundaries of sane behavior. There was something deeper and more unsettling here than mere madness, however. But for the life of him, he could not tell what it was.
     “The trail is fading already,” he growled. “He must have been here and gone in a helluva hurry. Didn’t think he’d have had time to run this far from how fresh the smell on ‘Ro’s balcony was. Jesus, he must be doin’ a pretty good clip to outdistance us this fast.”
     “Can you determine how fast he may have been traveling? If we can determine how far ahead he may be, we can send the ladies on ahead to detain him if possible.”
     “I can figure out how fast he was goin’, doc, but I ain’t prepared to swear he went straight on ahead. An’ I don’t think it’s too smart to send the girls to catch him alone. I don’t know if it’s safe for all of us together to take him on, the way he is now.”
     “What do you mean, Logan?” Ororo asked.
     “I mean it smells to me a lot like we’re following a guy who’s got more power in one little finger than we’ve got all together between us, and he’s not exactly in control of it or himself.”
     Ororo raised one meticulously sculpted eyebrow. “My brother does not have any more power than any of us.”
     “Would you be prepared to call and raise that ante, ‘Ro?”
     She said nothing. Her silence said everything anyone needed to know about that.

     Unable to pinpoint the exact location of the tantalizing psychic presence still tickling the back of his twisted mind, Sinister chose to tesser to the exact geographic center of the town of New Salem, knowing it was useless to attempt a tesseract within the grounds of the Xavier Institute. He was pleasantly surprised to discover that he had chosen his landing site with unwitting wisdom.
     LeBeau was on a rooftop not far up the street. Sinister could see him in sharp relief against the night sky. He was glowing brilliantly now, like a red star seen through the most powerful of telescopes. Even in his first acquaintance with the thief, when he had “helped” him put his rogue powers under control by limiting them, Sinister had never seen him in such a state—power simply exploded from him in a never-ending nuclear reaction. The thief’s agile body had become a powerhouse of incredible magnitude. Sinister licked his thin, bloodless lips in anticipation of the wealth of knowledge he expected to rip from the young man’s physiology when at last he was back where he belonged—in a specially-constructed dispersion cell in one of his underground labs.
     A tall, hulking figure stepped out of the tesser behind him. “Should I take him down now, Master?” the Sabretooth clone asked.
     “I have serious doubts that you will be able to,” Sinister replied. “But by all means, try. If you succeed, you can have your choice of reward.”
     The clone grinned. “I know just what I’ll choose,” he said lecherously, and bounded up the street, whistling “Wake Up Little Susie.”

On to Chapter Nine!