Distressing Damsel

Rogue shoved her books into her locker with a frustrated sigh. She had studied long and hard for that test, and knew her stuff this morning, but once that thick packet of questions was placed in front of her, she felt like her head was full of cotton. Only after the bell had rung and she handed in her exam did her thoughts begin to clear. Now, standing in the hall, she knew all the answers...she just hoped she'd written them down where it counted.

"Hey Rogue, how'd the test go?"

She peeked around her locker door to face the holographic image of a "normal" Kurt Wagner. "Ah don't wanna talk about it."

"Oh man, are you kidding me? After all that time we spent studying, you still didn't pass?"

"Ah didn't say that. Ah just...ah don't know. Ah had a lot of trouble concentrating."

Kurt couldn't blame her. After all, they'd all recently been outed as mutants thanks to a televised battle with a Sentinel. Of course, he was able to hide behind his image inducer, so no one was aware of the fact that he was really a fuzzy blue elf, or one of the X-Men. But after a few guilt-ridden days of publicly avoiding his teammates, he made the decision to stick by them, for better or worse. He put an arm around her shoulder. "Well...no use worrying about things that can't be changed. Besides, it's only one test. You'll do better on the next one."

Although she appreciated the sentiment, she squirmed out from under his arm. "Whatever."

He was used to her attitude, so he didn't take her response personally. "So, I'm going out with Amanda tonight, what should I wear? Is this ok?"

Rogue took a step back and looked him up and down. "Ah don't know, you wear that all the time. Maybe you should get the prof to come up with somethin' else."

Kurt looked down at his clothes. "You think?"

Her attention went back to the inside of her locker. "Look, Kurt, that's just mah opinion. Ah'm sure she won't care what you're wearin', she likes you for who you are, not what outfit you have on."

He nodded behind her. "Yeah...you're right. Still, it might be nice to wear something new. I will talk to the professor about it. Thanks, Rogue."

"That's what ah'm here for," she said with as much cheer as she could muster. He gave her a pat on the back and continued down the hall. Once he was out of earshot, her foul mood returned. "Anyone who comes to me for relationship advice needs some serious counseling," she muttered into her locker, grabbing her duffle bag.

"Hey, Rogue," an annoyingly cheery female voice called to her. "You need a ride?"

She dropped the bag on the floor and turned around just in time to see the super-perfect, super-beautiful, super-popular Jean Grey and her entourage of friends and admirers walking down the hallway towards her. What Rogue failed to notice was just how small Jean's group of friends had become in the past few days. "No, ah'm good."

Jean stopped in front of her, and everyone seemed to quiet down around them, as if they were getting ready to hang onto her every word. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah...ah'm gonna stay after school and work out."

Jean gave her a strange look, but said nothing. "Well, if you need a ride later, just call the Institute, ok?"

"Yeah...sure."

Irritated by the friendly offer, Rogue slammed her locker shut and headed for the weight room, unaware of the pair of eyes that had been following her every move for the past 5 minutes. The eyes themselves were special indeed - as far as their owner knew, no one else could boast black scleras and red irises - but not nearly as special as the man they belonged to. Gambit was leaning on a row of lockers, carefully planning his approach. He was not the type of man who jumped into a situation without some kind of strategy. He was a watcher, a student of human nature...even in battle, he liked to study his opponent before making his move, though he didn't always have that luxury.

This girl, aptly named Rogue, fascinated him. She was a moody loner, yet she decided to join the X-Men, who were, by all accounts, a happy-go-lucky bunch of do-gooders. He shook his head at the thought. The X-Men. Ha. Being good was no fun...a notion this rogue might agree with, if given the proper motivation. As Gambit had been observing her from afar for several days, he felt that he might have an idea just what kind of push she needed to be persuaded to join the other side, his side.

He absently pulled a deck of cards from his pocket and began to shuffle them. Magneto didn't seem to understand his interest in Rogue, but indulged him, allowing him time away from the Acolytes to pursue it. What Gambit saw was limitless power. This wasn't just any girl, or any mutant for that matter. She could steal the powers of other mutants...theoretically, she could absorb and store the powers of every mutant on the planet. If she could then call upon those powers at will and control them, she would be unstoppable. The possibilities were endless. Of course, he didn't know the particulars of powers...he knew neither the extent of her own powers, nor the amount of control she had over those powers she absorbed. These details were amongst the information he hoped to gather today, when he made contact.

Truth be told, his attraction to Rogue wasn't strictly professional, though he refused to admit it even to himself. Almost. They were very much alike, he and Rogue. Both isolated from the groups they reluctantly belonged to. He didn't understand what drew her to the X-Men. His own membership in the Acolytes, and his devotion to Magneto were...complicated. But resolute. Still, he preferred missions where he acted on his own, or at the very lest, was allowed to follow his instincts as a means to whatever end he was supposed to reach. He suspected Rogue would respond well to such situations.

The sound of voices snapped him back to reality. He was still leaning against the lockers in plain view of anyone coming down the hall. Skilled in the arts of invisibility, as every thief should be, he slowly shrank back into a doorway, half concealing himself in the shadows as three rather large football player-looking types walked by.

"I'm telling you," one said in a deep voice, "One a' them's in the weight room right now."

"You're kidding me, right? One of them has the nerve to use our equipment...it's bad enough they're allowed in here with us...sit in the same seats, use the same bathrooms, but now one has to contaminate our machines? I think somebody should teach him a lesson."

"Him? No, man, this one's a girl," the first said once his companion's tirade had ended.

"A girl?" the third finally ventured. "Piece of cake. Let's go."

"I don't know," the first began, "I mean, they have super powers. What if she's really strong or can move things around with her mind or laser beams shoot out of her hands or something?"

"You afraid of a girl, Miller?" the second scoffed. "Mutie or not, we can take a girl."

"I'm not afraid of nothin'," the first insisted. "Let's do it."

Gambit watched the jocks turn the corner and disappear. He stepped out from the darkness of the classroom, choosing a card from the deck and charging it. He took a few steps in the direction they had gone before removing the kinetic energy and returning the card to its previous position. No, he wasn't going to rush in and play the hero, as tempting as that thought might be. This was a prime opportunity to study Rogue's response to a hostile situation as an individual. Besides, she wasn't exactly the type who'd appreciate being rescued, especially not by some guy who tried to blow her up on their first meeting. Without a sound he once again began to follow the young men, intent on acting as a witness, rather than a participant.

~

Shirley Manson's voice echoed through the room, the volume of the radio turned up enough to suitably drown out Rogue's thoughts as she pushed herself to the limit. She moved from one piece of equipment to another, working her biceps, triceps, quads, calves...because her powers required her to get up close and personal to whomever she was going to use them on, it was important that she be in the best physical condition possible. She had just finished using the machines, and was about to start taking out her aggression on a defenseless punching bag when she heard voices approaching. She took one good punch before the door to the room swung open.

Three mindless goons entered and eyed her haughtily. She didn't like their expressions - predators sizing up their prey right before they pounce. It was a look she'd seen once too often. Part of it, she supposed, was her own fault. After all, she went out of her way to make sure everyone around her was well aware of her disdain for just about everyone. And her being one of the few who leaned towards more gothic fashions in a school full of jocks and preppies didn't help much either. But these guys weren't here to make fun of her or piss her off. They wanted blood.

"Can ah help you?" she asked with obvious annoyance after they'd been staring at her for the good part of a minute.

"We came to see what kind of super powers you're hiding behind that pretty little face of yours," one of the boys said, shutting off the music.

"Trust me, you don't wanna know."

"Oh, but we do," another replied sarcastically.

Rogue's training kicked in immediately. All of Xavier's students had promised the prof that they wouldn't use their powers on school property...a promise she might have some difficulty keeping. She had changed into a black tank top, black yoga pants, and sneakers to work out...so part of her waist, and all of her arms were exposed. That pretty much meant that punching was out of the question - even with her gloves on, these guys could grab her arm, and that would be the end of mutants attending Bayville High. So no punching, no powers, one versus three...the odds definitely weren't in her favor. But she never backed down from a fight before, and she certainly wasn't about to start now. "Then why don't you come and find out."

One boy rushed her, and was greeted with a kick in the stomach. It wasn't much, but at least it knocked the wind out of him and bought her some time. She jumped on the nearby bench press and went after one of the other boys, kicking him square in the chest, knocking him down in the process. Then she charged the remaining boy, but he anticipated her means of attack and caught her foot in mid-kick.

"That's all you got?" he asked as he twisted her leg and threw her on the ground. "I'm unimpressed."

Rogue silently reproached herself for being so predictable, then twirled around on the floor, using her leg to successfully take the last boy's legs out from under him. "That's a pretty big word for an athlete," she muttered, standing over him. "Ah am impressed."

She turned and went over to her gym bag, planning on grabbing it and making a hasty exit, unaware of the fact that in order to do so, she increased the distance between herself and her only means of escape. "Great," she said, mostly to herself, when she realized her mistake, "ah'm in the only room in the school that doesn't abide by fire codes an' have more than one door." By now all of the guys were standing directly in front of the door, waiting for her to make her move. She glanced at the nearby windows, but immediately dismissed that idea. The effort and time it would take to open and squeeze through one of the smallish windows wouldn't allow for a quick enough getaway. She'd have to try a different approach.

"Ok, boys," she said in the sweetest, most Jean-like voice she could, "Ah promise ah won't tell anyone what happened here if you step aside an' let me go."

The three exchanged glances before dismissing her offer with dubious smirks. "I don't think so, mutie. Now we gotta teach you a lesson."

"Ah never was very good at makin' nice," she admitted, throwing her bag aside. "Let's get this over with, ah have homework."

Two of them came at her at once, while the other hung back, presumably waiting for his friends to fail. Rogue backed up against the wall, reached up, grabbed the two pieces of equipment on either side of her, and pulled herself up. Again, she aimed her kicks to the chest, and though she hit her targets, one grabbed her leg and pulled her down with him. The three of them fell, but the boys recovered faster than she did and began dragging her across the floor. Rogue desperately clawed the smooth, cold tile, but to no avail. She was in trouble. The third boy leaned over and reached for her wrist. "No..." she whispered, but these guys weren't about to listen. His big rough hand enclosed her tiny wrist, but his grip was poor, so his skin came in contact with hers for only a few seconds. He stumbled backwards, stunned at the momentary drain he had experienced, but didn't black out.

"She's a witch," he said, leaning against the wall for support. "She's tryin' to suck my soul from my body. That's her power. Don't let your skin touch hers!"

The boys quickly let go of her legs and looked at her fearfully. Rogue was ready to forget her bag and run out right then and there, but the boys had other ideas. Just as she was getting up, one kicked her in the stomach, hard. She fell back to the floor in pain, but she was tougher than she looked. She tried to get up again, but received another kick. Rather than making another attempt and repeating her punishment, Rogue kept her body against the floor and began to inch her way towards the door, hoping they wouldn't jump on her back, or worse, her head. They didn't...they watched her breathlessly pull herself along until they gathered their courage and dared to grab her covered legs once again. This time they pulled her up, swung her around, and threw her across the room. She managed to miss the exercise equipment scattered around the room, but that fact brought little comfort. She flew into the wall headfirst, then crumpled into a heap on the floor. She saw a flash of black, followed by sparkling stars, and then her vision cleared. Her head was already throbbing as she tried to sit up. She was beginning to worry...her body couldn't take much more of this. She was going to have to absorb them, that is, if she could manage to touch them.

The three boys were beginning to advance again when a voice behind them chided them as if they were children. "Back where I'm from, you don' treat a lady like that."

Gambit, who had seen the entire confrontation, slipped in just as Rogue's flight came to its abrupt end. Whichever side she was on - X-Men, Brotherhood, Acolytes - she didn't deserve this kind of beating. No one did. He produced his bo-staff from inside his trench coat, pressed a button, and watched it expand. He was well aware of Professor X's "no powers in school" rule, and of Principal Kelley's disdain for mutants, so he decided that he was going to take on these fools sans powers. He took off his coat and threw it aside. "Now, fellas," he said, twirling his staff from hand to hand, "You wanna try that on me?"

"Stay outta this, pal, it doesn't concern you," one boy warned.

"Oh, but it does," Gambit insisted. "Three 'gainst one ain't fair, homme, an' I'm all about playin' fair."

The leader stepped up in front of the other two, standing toe to toe with the intruder. "What's the matter, this mutie your girlfriend or somethin'?"

Gambit stopped spinning his staff and held it with both hands horizontally, using it to give his opponent a gentle shove in the chest. "You wanna risk she ain't?"

The boy grabbed for his staff, but Gambit was too fast for him, and gave him a good smack in the head. He went on to leap around the room for several minutes, getting his shots where he could, but not doing much harm. He didn't want to hurt them, he wanted to teach them a lesson...though they didn't seem to be getting it. After a few more minutes, Gambit lost his patience. He corralled them towards the door, collapsed his staff, and threw it aside. He stood in the middle of the room, holding a deck of cards in his left hand, and picked up the top card with his right. "Enough is enough. I'm tired of these games. Get out now."

Two of the football players were more than convinced, but the third, the leader, stood his ground. "You gonna make us?"

"Yeah," Gambit said softly, charging the card with little effort. The boys' eyes widened at the glowing card and they backed up slowly. "You mess with the lady again, and you may not live to regret it. Understand?"

"Absolutely," the leader stammered, and the three ran out the door without another word.

Gambit shook the card, returning it to its natural state, and slipped it back into the pack, which he shoved in his pocket before turning his attention to the sagging figure in the corner. He walked over and crouched next to Rogue, who was watching him with a mixture of contempt and gratitude. "You all right, cherie?"

His tone was surprisingly tender, but she refused to be taken in by what was most likely some kind of trick. "Ah'm fine," she said, and attempted to stand, but a wave of dizziness struck hard and fast, almost knocking her down. She put a hand to her head as she slowly slid down the wall. "Ah just need to rest a little."

Gambit went across the room and retrieved his trench coat, throwing it over the bench press as he crouched beside her again. He rifled through his pockets and pulled something out she couldn't see. "Put your head down," he instructed, "I want to take a look."

She glanced down at his hands - he was wearing gloves, but they were fingerless. "You can't...ah mean..."

"I know," he replied, taking off one pair of gloves and putting on another. This pair, which he had produced from his coat, covered his hands completely. "Now put your head down."

Rogue reluctantly did as she was told, staring at her own gloved hands in her lap as his gently searched her head for a wound. "Ow..."

"It hurts right there?" he asked, parting her hair to get a better look. What he found was much less than he expected. "You're lucky, you have a pretty bad bump, but it doesn't look like the skin's broken."

"Oh yeah, that's me, little miss lucky."

"Stay here, I'll be right back."

While he was gone, Rogue managed to get herself in a standing position, though she was still dizzy. Leaning against the wall, she gingerly felt her abdomen, searching for areas of stabbing pain. She was no doctor, but since everything seemed to be equally sore, she came to the conclusion that she wasn't suffering from any significant bodily damage. Gambit returned with a bag of ice that he promptly handed over. She accepted it gratefully and held it against the back of her head. "You should have that checked out."

"Thanks for the advice, but ah can take care of mahself."

Gambit sat down next to his coat and stared at her. Just stared. The look in his eyes made Rogue uncomfortable. With effort, she made her way to the other side of the room and sat down on the bench that ran along the wall. Finally, what was left of her patience dissolved. "What?"

"I wouldn't mind fighting by your side again."

"By mah side? Don't you mean for me? Ah didn't exactly put up much of a fight."

"You held your own longer than most would," he replied thoughtfully. "The tough-girl persona you so successfully project isn't just a mask...it's who you are deep down. I bet most people miss that about you."

Deep silence followed his words. Rogue was confused...this man, by all accounts, was her enemy. Yet he not only voluntarily came to her rescue, he showed concern for her injuries, and was hanging out and talking to her. Not that she wasn't secretly enjoying it. This guy was gorgeous. In fact, if he hadn't tried to kill her the first time they met, she would've totally fallen for him. Who could resist a tall, handsome, slightly older stranger? Not even she could argue with that combination. Especially since he seemed to understand her better than anyone else in Bayville. Still, this whole scene didn't make much sense.

She shook her head. "Ah don't get it."

"Don' get what?"

She used her free hand to gesture to him. "This."

"I don' get it either, cherie."

"What?"

"You an' the X-Men."

"Whadda ya mean?" she asked defensively.

He held up his hands in self-defense. "No offense, but you don' seem like X-Men material."

"Well you don't seem like Magneto material."

"Touché."

Rogue paused...her head really hurt, making it difficult to think about much else. But the ideas sloshing around her brain screamed with relevance. "You an' me...neither of us really belong do we?"

He eyed her curiously. She was rather perceptive for a high school girl. Or, should he say, woman. "Nothin' wrong with that...maybe we should run off and start our own group."

"A group a' what, misanthropes? Ain't that an oxymoron?"

He knew she didn't absorb those words from the jerks who jumped her...this girl had a head on her shoulders, though it was pretty banged up at the moment. He knew she had street-smarts before, now he saw she had book-smarts as well. "That it is."

He got up and put his coat on. He wasn't going to coerce the girl into switching sides when she was suffering from a concussion. That wasn't playin' by the rules. And as far as the rules could be bent, it was rare that he himself actually broke them. Moreover, he felt that the choice to join him had to be voluntary...he did't approve of Magneto's propensity for blackmailing people into his service. He felt that such techniques would only work for so long before its victims rebelled against their captor. "You want a ride somewhere?"

Rogue hesitated. She wanted to say no, but was intrigued by this knight in a trench coat brandishing playing cards. Gambit saw her reluctance, and gave a little verbal shove. "You don' want to call Jean, do you?"

That was all she needed. "Ah just have to grab a few things from my locker."

"I'll meet you out front."

Five minutes later, Rogue found herself climbing onto the back of Gambit's motorcycle.

"Are you gonna be able to hold on?" he asked, turning his head back towards her.

She gave him a dirty look, which he took as an affirmative, and they were off. Rogue held on for dear life as he sped through the streets, unaware of the fact that as fast and reckless as his driving was, he had actually toned it down out of consideration of her injuries. Of course, she didn't mind the risky ride...it was just the way she liked it. It wasn't long before they were pulling up in front of the newly restored mansion. Gambit stopped his bike and Rogue swung her leg up and over the seat, stumbling a little. Embarrassed by her inability to gracefully dismount, she was thankful that he waited for her to right herself on her own, rather than lending a helping hand.

"So..." she began, unsure of where she was going, "Ah guess this is it." She silently cursed at herself - why did she have to say something cheesy like that?

"Looks like it," Gambit replied, ignoring the idiocy of her comment and waiting patiently for her to say whatever it was that she wanted to say. But the combination of her brain sloshing around at even the slightest movement and her growing attraction towards him made rational thought next to impossible. Rather than pulling it together and making a concerted effort, she gave way to her frustration and turned on him.

"What are you sittin' there starin' at? You did your good deed for the year, get outta here."

His face hardened, and immediately Rogue realized her mistake. He revved his bike and was about to drive away when she ran up to him, with difficulty, and grabbed his arm. "No, wait."

He turned to face her, and for a moment, her eyes betrayed her. He saw a lonely young woman yearning for a friend. He blinked, and the vision was gone, replaced by a pair of intense green eyes framed by violet eye shadow. "Yes, chere?"

She let go of his arm. "Ah just wanted to...ah mean, ah think ah owe you..."

Her clumsy attempts to thank him were interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Kitty Pryde, who burst out the front door and came down the stairs. "Where have you been, I've, like..." She paused as her brain processed the scene before her, but even seeing her friend and teammate fraternizing with the enemy wasn't enough to shut her up in mid-sentence. "Looking...all...over...for...you..." By the time she reached the couple, the message had been received and she found herself at a loss of words. "Uh...hi," was all she could get out.

Rogue was mortified. Kitty's presence made her feel even more self-conscious, so she decided that she should make this as simple as possible. "So, anyway...thanks."

Gambit was unaffected by the appearance of the other girl, and fought to hide his amusement at Rogue's increasing discomfort. Then again, he appreciated how difficult it was for a girl like her, or a guy like him, to humble herself and thank someone, and although she didn't express her gratitude in the most eloquent manner, she had thanked him. He took her gloved hand and brought it to his lips. "Until we meet again, cherie."

With that, he once again revved his bike, and sped down the driveway.

"What was that all about?" Kitty asked when her voice returned.

Rogue glared at her and carefully made her way inside without responding. Just to be on the safe side, she wanted see the prof to make sure those guys hadn't done any permanent damage. But what was she going to tell him? That three guys jumped her, that she held them off the best she could, but that she would've been nothing more than a bloody pulp if one of Magneto's lackeys hadn't shown up? And what was Gambit doing there anyway? Why did he help her? Why did he kiss her hand? There were too many questions for her to deal with, especially with her head feeling the way it did. They'd have to wait. But she would find out what he was doing there, even if that meant finding out from the man himself the next time she saw him. And she was sure there would be a next time.