Future Pluperfect: Chapter 15


Textual Poaching Alert: Marvel owns everyone, although Social Services would have stripped custody long ago...

"Good morning, dear Mirrin," Hank McCoy smiled cheerfully as the Askani made her way down the stairs towards the kitchen. "I trust your hours spent cradled in the arms of Morpheus passed undisturbed?"

Not fully awake, Mirrin could do nothing but stare confusedly at the blue-furred doctor.

"Don't be mean to de lady, Henri," Remy chided lightly as he wandered by. "Parlez anglais pour elle, hein? 'Specially before she's had her coffee."

"Coffee," Mirrin repeated as she mustered a groggy version of what could only be described as a beatific grin.

"Coffeepot's over here, Min," Jean called from the entrance to the dining room. "Kitchen's off-limits until the plumbers are done."

As if on cue, the sound of pipes being attacked with a wrench came from the kitchen. While neither messrs Lebeau nor Drake were accepting blame, the fact that several of the pipes were warped from extreme temperature changes was no doubt at least partially behind their structural failure at some point in the middle of the night.

Blameless though he claimed to be, Bobby had not exactly put up a fuss at being asked (at five in the morning, by a very non-plussed Scott) to transport away the water that had flooded the kitchen. Still dressed only in his Felix the Cat pajama bottoms, he had evaporated the puddles and waited for Ororo's gentle breeze (she had been the one to discover the problem upon creeping down for an early morning snack) to sweep the clouds out the open window before returning to bed.

Jean was already levitating a cup out of the kitchen cabinet by the time Mirrin made her way to the dining room, which had taken on a decidedly less formal air ever since it had become the mansion's temporary locus point. One end of the long table was covered in cereal boxes and stacks of bowls, spoons, napkins, and fruit while the other side had various newspapers strewn over it as people had been reading whilst they ate. The coffeepot was plugged in and resting on the breakfront and somebody (with handwriting quite similar to Scott's) had left a note that if anyone wanted hot water for tea, they should either wake Alex up or borrow Hank's Bunsen burner. Someone else had crossed out the latter suggestion.

Jean floated the coffee mug over to Mirrin with a smile. It was Nathan's mug, of course, a ridiculously large one that had started out as a father-son joke (Scott had dragged Jean all through the Cellar at Macy's until he found the biggest coffee mug they made) and had ended up being treated by Nate as one of Scott's better attempts at bonding. For practical purposes, the mug stayed at the mansion and the Summerses had often joked that Nathan only came to the mansion to visit it, not them.

But with Cable and Domino off doing something somewhere, the mug was free for use by the other caffeine-happy warrior from the future.

("No, Redd, I'm not telling you where and why... No, I'm not being secretive for the sake of being secretive... Because I don't want everyone getting sidetracked by a long, drawn-out debates on means versus ends, that's why... No, I wasn't referring to Scott... I have Dom... Actually, she's more than enough help, trust me... Yes, I'll be careful... No, I won't promise not to kill anyone... Oh. Well, it's not usually a joke coming from Westchester... No, I don't think you're all one homologous lump of pacifism... I will. You, too.")

Mirrin's love of coffee was a source of great humor among the X-Men, all the more so because they could tease her about it in a way that they couldn't Cable. At least not without great risk of bodily harm or an invite to spar in the Danger Room, which amounted to the same thing.

Mirrin did not volunteer information about the future she had come from and the X-Men, aware of its stark brutality, did not ask much. But when Mirrin had proven to be just as much an aficionado of fresh coffee as Nathan, someone had finally asked. She had explained to the curious that while coffee was indeed available in the future from which she and Cable had arrived, it had not survived the ages well. Coffee plants, like all other forms of life that managed to survive on a polluted planet, had had to mutate. And that meant, for both people and plants, toughening up.

The end result was that coffee had to be heavily processed in order to be ingestible (the acid content was poisonously high otherwise) and was acquired only in canisters containing as much artificial sweetener as dried coffee. But while nobody actually enjoyed the stuff, it was still consumed in great quantities. That it was now not only palatable but also enjoyable, Mirrin had explained, was something worthy of appreciation. Veneration, Warren had jokingly corrected.

"The workers in the kitchen are not... disturbed... by floating crockery?" Mirrin finally asked after she had taken a few sips of the steaming brew. For reasons identical to Cable's, Mirrin took her coffee black - milk was something to drink only when one was feeling either rebellious or dissolute. Hank, in his alter ego as the driven Doctor McCoy, had marveled at how Mirrin's bone density did not seem affected by a nearly calcium-free diet, something he had eventually attributed to simple evolution.

Jean shrugged. "They won't remember anything that goes on around here."

"You'll tamper with their minds just to get them to repair the plumbing?"

"It's the only way we can get anyone out here in the first place," Jean sighed, frowning at Mirrin's arched eyebrows. Mirrin would never say anything if she found something hypocritical - say one of the X-Men doing something she herself had been treated badly because of - but she would take on this knowing expression that grated on Jean as much as Nathan's more vocal commentary.

"The people in town may not know about the X-Men, but they do know about the freaks that live in the Xavier place. The plumbers will do their work, get paid, and remember nothing other than a routine call for a burst pipe."

Mirrin nodded, as there was nothing else to be said on the matter, and Jean was relieved. It might be a reversal of the discrimination she knew in her own time, but Mirrin had already come to terms with the hatred between mutants and humans. Instead, she drank her coffee and ate her fruit in silence as Jean returned to taking notes on an article.

All of a sudden, a rumble of thunder was audible, growing louder until it manifested itself in the form of Sam Guthrie blasting quite closely past one of the open windows. The muffled sounds of what was quite obviously Logan cursing a blue streak followed shortly thereafter.

"A few of the team took their practice session outdoors," Jean explained without looking up from the stack of journal articles and newspaper clippings she was reading through. She could sense Mirrin's wariness and concern just as she could feel the utter lack of remorse behind the telepathic apologies she had gotten from Sam and Logan after she had 'yelled' at them.

Mirrin got up from her seat - while her ability to read English was now almost perfected, that knowledge wouldn't help her utter lack of comprehension of the sports news in this time - and went to the window. She was careful, however, to leave one hand free in case she should need to activate the shield on her bracelet.

"Do not ask a question to which you will not like the answer," Ororo was calling out to Remy as Mirrin poked her head out. "You are only inviting that which will displease you."

Looking around for the red-and-black-eyed man, Mirrin found him under a localized rain cloud some distance from the house. Hair plastered to his head like a helmet, Remy looked remarkably at peace. Although she could hear him cursing mildly in his patois, she could also 'hear' him think much kinder thoughts. To be the butt of a joke, even, was a sign of affection. And that affection was something that Remy eagerly sought out as both comfort and sign of acceptance. Mirrin had been careful to measure her distance from her former secret partner lest that acceptance be tainted by the suspicion that hung around her (still) like a heavy fog. She wanted honestly Remy to be happy and was pleased that he was so at this moment.

The pleasure turned abruptly to surprise as Remy was scooped up from behind by Sam, who carried him over to a nearby lake and dropped him into it.

"Well, if you're gonna be enjoyin' the rain shower, no such thing as too much of a good thing, right?"

Remy emerged from the underneath the surface of the water with a sputter. "Watch it, pup," he warned as Sam came to ground at the lakeshore. "Laugh now, mais jus' remember dat timing is everything."

"What's tha... ulp?!?" Sam's words were cut off as he went crashing to the ground, Logan landing on his back and knocking the wind from his lungs.

"'He who laughs last, laughs best' is what Gumbo's tryin' to tell ya," the short Canadian chortled as he moved to get up. Looking around for Ororo and finding her hovering in the air nearby, he nodded at the woman. "Looks like it just you and me left, 'Roro."

"Indeed, Logan," she answered with a smile as she picked delicately at the cuff of her shirt. "It is a shame our junior teammates were disqualified so quickly. If you would like, I shall close my eyes and count to ten to give you a head start through the trees."

"Who says I'm gonna let you chase me? I'm predator, not prey," he snarled, but not in a threatening manner. It was a simple statement, one that of all those present, Ororo best understood the truth of.

"You are also earthbound, my friend," she pointed out as she came to ground on the other side of the lake from Logan. "So I shall even the odds. Now, you have ten seconds... Ten... Nine..."

With a growl at the impropriety of the situation, Logan took off in a dead run towards the trees. Ororo finished her count aloud, knowing her quarry could hear her, and began her chase afoot, leaving Remy and Sam.

"Hey, pup, gimme a hand out," Remy muttered towards Sam as he waded to the water's edge.

Sam braced himself carefully before he offered a hand. As predicted, Remy tried to pull the younger man into the water with him. As compensation, Sam blasted off into the air, dragging Remy with him by the hand. At the Cajun's indignant yelp, Sam chortled. "Ah got how many kid brothers and sisters? Can you even imagine how many times that trick's been pulled in the lake next to the farm? Points for tryin', though."

"D'accord, d'accord. Land, s'il te plait," Remy sighed. "'Fore you take my shoulder out of its socket."

The two returned to the ground nearby the garage, where Hank was slowly backing a car out.

"Ah, hello again, Remy. Good morning Master Guthrie," the blue-furred man greeted them cheerily. "I am off to town. Would either of you like anything from the grocery or the hardware store?"

Neither could think of anything, so McCoy took off and they returned towards the house.

"Plumbers are still there," Remy sighed and frowned as they passed the truck.

"Better take the front steps, then," Sam offered, gesturing with his head in the vector he was proposing. "Best bet is to wait 'til they're gone before you run into anyone. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind and all. Ah think Bobby's stayin' in his room until they're gone."

Remy chuckled. "Talkin' like de voice of experience in the field of punishment avoidance, neh? Sweet little farmboy's got a history we don't know 'bout?"

"Ya know about it. Ya call it X-Force," Sam answered with a grin. "Not like we actually ever got anything past Cable 'n' Domino, but they were a whole lot less likely to assign punishment practices if you weren't found in close proximity to the mess ya made."

Remy nodded understanding, even he couldn't quite wrap his mind around the way Sam was so utterly comfortable thinking of the prickly duo in anything close to parental terms.

"Ah'm going back to see whether Ororo's found Logan yet," Sam said as he gestured with his chin back in the direction of the woods.

Remy nodded again. "Jus' don't hover too close. I t'ink they got us tagged early 'cause they really just wanted to have a talk, compris?"

Sam grinned. This, too, was something he had picked up from X-Force. Of course, as 'Berto had been the unfortunate one to have to verify, when Cable and Domino had sent the children away early from a game of laser tag... more than just talking was occasionally involved. Not that he thought Logan and Ororo..."Ah'll keep a high altitude and move along if they're stayin' put."

"Good boy," Remy nodded as he headed up the marble steps leading to the front door. As he reached for the doorknob, he could hear Sam blast off.

True to Remy's words, Sam found Ororo and Logan making their way through the woods at a distance from each other that was close enough to carry on a conversation, although the gap between them opened and closed with enough irregularity that Sam could see that they were still keeping up a very good pretense of the chase.

Without slowing down, he made a right and headed in the direction that would ultimately lead to the Hudson River. Today was a good day for flying and Sam hadn't taken a true pleasure flight in a while. There were no missions scheduled for today, although one of the telepaths could undoubtedly find him should the plans change.

Down on the ground below, Logan could hear Sam's blast field fade into the distance. Shifting his attention back to the scene in front of him, Logan made a sharp veer left and around a tree stump. They had dropped their banter in favor of more stealth, but Logan could hear the faint crackle of twigs as Ororo chased him. Although she sounded further away than she had been; that was cause enough for suspicion - she was too good to be lagging. Stopping suddenly, he waited and listened.

Silence.

Since the point of the exercise was pursuit, not surveillance, there was no reason for Ororo to have stopped when Logan did and that made him wary. Sniffing the air, he could only barely make out Ororo's scent. Walking quietly, Logan turned himself from prey back into predator.

Could something have happened to Ororo? There were no other people-smells in the air, certainly not the plastic-carbonite stench of Kurioon, but it would be foolish to think that other harbingers of evil had taken a holiday just because there was a new dog in town.

"Looking for me?" Ororo asked as she dropped from a nearby branch onto the ground behind Logan and tagged him on the shoulder.

"Good work, there, 'Ro," Logan chuckled. "Didn't smell a thing. How'd ya do it?" he asked as the two began their walk back to the mansion.

"You took off for the woods on the assumption that I would outrun you in open ground," she began as she dusted off a few leaves from her clothing. "So it only made sense that you kept to the forest once you entered it and that meant doubling back as its end approached. As for masking my scent... A thief knows to stay upwind of the guard dogs. I agreed to stay on the ground, but I did not agree not to use my powers in other ways."

"True enough, true enough," he agreed, shaking his head at being outfoxed. It wasn't that he didn't think Ororo capable of it - hell, he knew she was capable of it - more that it was his own fault for underestimating her so. That had been a general problem of late, he mused to himself. And his good humor drained away. "Too bad we couldn't have kept upwind of the Kurioon yesterday."

"I do not think that that would have helped any, my friend," Ororo replied with a sigh. "Our only comfort is that we escaped without casualty."

It had been a short, brutal battle and had made up in ferocity what it lacked in form. Both teams had been present and that, Scott had agreed during the debriefing, was all that had kept Minot from becoming another Lebanon. The ratio of red-level soldiers to colorless had been double what it had been previously, but Forge's latest device made it possible to give warning when any of them faced imminent explosion. The structural damage to the city was substantial, even if no lives had been lost.

"Small comfort, that," Logan said with a shake of his head. "Morale seems okay now, but that's more due to the hubbub over the busted pipes than anything else. We can't keep hoping Drake and Lebeau can keep up the USO routine. We need something a little more substantial."

"Perhaps Mirrin or Cable will be able to provide us with such substance."

"The one's only lookin' after the other," Logan frowned as he spoke, jogging to keep up with Ororo as she began to walk back towards the house. "Mirrin's prepared to throw the lot of us to the Kurioon if it keeps Cable alive. She's no better than Sinister like that."

"Don't be so harsh, Logan," Ororo chastised gently. "Mirrin's methods are... perhaps not as open as we would like, but she has done nothing but save lives while she has been with us."

"I'm not denyin' that she's done good, I'm just... suspicious. She's hiding too much information. From us, I can understand even if I don't like it. But she's hiding from Cable as well and she's supposed to be buddies with Twinkle Face. This ain't like Remy hidin' his past 'cause he's afraid of how everyone'll react," he said, waving aside Ororo's automatic reaction to defend her friend. "Gumbo's got a right to his privacy like everyone else. But Mirrin's hiding info on an opponent we aren't having too much success with on our own. She's hobbling the wrong team."

Ororo paused for a moment and pulled a twig out of her hair. "Are you sure that that is what she is keeping hidden from us?"

Logan stopped and looked at his teammate. "Whattya mean?"

"She comes from the future, as did Bishop. She is burdened by the knowledge that our future - her past - is full of dark and troubled times. Perhaps it is the simple weight of that knowledge that keeps her from appearing forthcoming?"

"If that were the case, she'd just be a better looking Cable. It's something else."

They had arrived at the edge of the woods.

"Then we have no choice but to wait and hope that you are wrong, my friend," Ororo said. "And that if you are not, then that the price is not high."

"If I'm right, the price is coming out of her hide, 'Ro. I guarantee that." Logan gestured towards the house. "I'm gonna grab a smoke before I head inside. I'm assuming ya ain't gonna be joining me for that." He cracked a smile. Ororo would sooner smother her plants than sit willingly next to one of Logan's cigars.

"You assume correctly. It was fun, Logan, we should do it again soon," Ororo laughed and took off into the air, heading directly for her open attic window.

As Logan headed towards the back porch - and his stash of cigars he kept in a strongbox underneath one of the benches - he saw the plumbers packing up their truck. Jean stood nearby, presumably ready with the mindwipe.

"What we have to do to get good help around here," Warren fairly hissed as he jogged up to Logan.

"It's better than no workin' toilets," Logan replied with a shrug that nonetheless managed to convey a certain agreement. "You lose somebody? Two somebodies?"

Warren had gone off running with Betsy (who had been deemed ready for basic workouts, but no Danger Room sessions) and Scott more than an hour ago, yet he returned alone now.

"Betsy got distracted by a garage sale and Scott peeled off by the hangar," the winged mutant explained. His wings fluttered as he rolled his eyes in bemused exasperation.

"Garage sale? How does she find them all?"

"I'd say it was some kind of mutant power, but the normal women I've dated get the same way," Warren answered. "Of course, Betsy left me and Scott in the dust so she'd have enough of a workout by the time we passed the house on the return trip... I'm guessing it's safe to use the hot water again, I'm heading in to shower."

Logan chortled as the younger man headed towards the house. In the distance, he could see the hangar door open.

Warren looked up to find that the hallway window he had left open was still open (in the good old days before separate dorms, Jean would always shut the window right after his departure; it had been a source of friction that was eliminated by Jean's current refusal to go into the men's side of the residence unless absolutely necessary and armed with Lysol) and flew up to the room that he kept for his visits to Westchester.

During their run, Scott had asked Warren why he didn't give up the pretense and move his things to Betsy's room as that was where he spent most of his nights anyway. Warren had muttered something about closet space and not wanting to completely associate the X-Men with Betsy - he did come up to see his friends as well. Scott had wisely chosen not to pursue the topic. In truth, it probably had more to do with Warren not being sure that Betsy wanted that sort of commitment from him.

Warren stopped by his room to grab his robe and nearly ran into Alex stumbling out of the shower.

"'Bout time you got up, you bum," Warren snorted with playful disdain as he negotiated past the yawning man.

"Hey, I'm a civilian, I can get up when I want," Alex replied with a groggy grin. "Besides, there was a Mel Brooks marathon on last night. Drake and I were up until three..."

"Aren't the two of you either too young or too old to be reliving your college years?" Warren called over the sound of the shower.

"You're as young as you act," Alex called back. "Are the plumbers gone yet?"

"Yeah, tell Bobby it's safe to go downstairs," Warren answered with a chuckle.

"Will do," Alex agreed as he left the bathroom. Passing by Bobby's door, he stopped and put his ear against it. He could hear the sound of the man inside snoring gently. "Get up, Drake!" Alex pounded on the door heavily. "Sentinels at six o'clock!"

There was a mild shout of surprise from inside the room, then a groan, and then a couple of words Alex knew Bobby hadn't picked up watching Mel Brooks. With the sound of heavy footfalls coming towards the door, Alex beat a hasty retreat towards his own room and it was only years of training that gave him the instinct to duck at the faint sound of Bobby tossing something cold at him. The snowball hit him squarely in the lower back and he lost his balance, falling indelicately on his hind.

"I knew you'd duck," Drake called over as he closed the door again.

An appreciative chuckle from the top of the stairs made Alex face forward quickly.

"Nice view there, Alex," Jean commented dryly. "Maybe I did marry the wrong brother."

Not even bothering to see how much was exposed, Alex grabbed for his towel and beamed at his sister-in-law. "Where's the can of air freshener, Jeannie? Thought you never left the main wing without it?"

"The windows are open and air is getting in; I figured it was a good day to live dangerously," Jean mock-sneered. "I was going to ask if Bobby's up yet, but the snowball answered the question. You could have melted it before it hit you, ya know."

"I opted for flight instead of fight," he answered primly. "Are you going to move now so I can get up?"

"I've already seen everything there is to see. No point in false modesty now," Jean pointed out, green eyes dancing.

"Humor me."

"Don't I always?" she asked as she daintily stepped over Alex's legs and went to Bobby's door. "Oh, Bobby," she sang out.

"Bobby's not home right now. If you'd like to leave a message at the sound of the beep..."

"You have five minutes to get downstairs, Drake. Rogue's in a bad mood and needs a partner in the Danger Room," Jean announced, dropping the saccharine tone in favor of a more wicked one.

The door opened suddenly. "The mostly-invulnerable woman wants to break things and I get sacrificial lamb duty? How's that work?" Bobby poked his head out of the doorway.

"Well, you are her friend, Bobby," Jean reasoned, her voice taking on a color that Alex, watching from his own doorway, had always identified with Madelyne rather than Jean. He could almost envision the wicked gleam in her eyes. "Besides, nobody will be able to show you the plumbing bill if you're in the Danger Room."

"Or the med lab," Bobby answered easily. "Tell Rogue I'll be down in five."

"Will do," Jean called over her shoulder as she headed towards the stairs, passing by Alex and giving him a saucy wink.

She had almost reached the bottom when a searing pain shot across her brain.

A heartbeat later, Mirrin was at her side, a similar expression of pain and worry on her face instead of her normally guarded look of calm.

Two heartbeats later, the alarm sounded.

Three heartbeats later, Mirrin had them both in the monitor room, where Remy, hair still dripping from his shower, sat with red-and-black eyes wide and brow furrowed in concern as he pushed buttons and ran a system check.

"Dere musta been a hangup with the satellite," he said, not turning around as he concentrated on the console. "Message is time-stamped five hours ago, but it's coming in now..."

Domino's voice, raw from shouting, filled the room specially built for surround-sound.

"Westchester, can you read?... We have a situation here... Damnit, people, where are you?... We have one down, one wounded and we're getting overrun... I'm cutting comm. so they don't trace... If you hear this, you'll know where to find the bodies..."

***


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