Darkness surrounded her, enfolded her in its close arms. It pressed upon her senses, filling her eyes and nose and mouth. No matter how she blinked or squeezed her eyes, she couldn't change it; it was all-encompassing. Stifling.
A sudden guttural noise broke the pounding silence. She swung towards it, aware suddenly of a dragging weight on her arms, which were enclosed in something stiff and metallic-sounding; it clanged across the floor in front of her knees.
"Joseph?!" His name came out sounding wilder than she'd intended it to. She was scared, and while she'd admit it to herself, she didn't want anyone to know. Especially him; for some reason she seemed to feel it important that he not see her as a scared rabbit.
Her answer was another soft moan, achy in sound. He was awake, she thought; his breathing was irregular, but deep and full-sounding.
"Talk to me," she begged. "Are you all right?"
"No," came the flat response. "Whatever they hit us with knocked my powers out, and I feel like I'm going to be sick. I am," he sighed, "most decidedly not all right."
"Can you see me?" she asked.
A pause, then, "No."
"Then it's not me," she breathed, relieved. Up until then she had been worried, somehow, that the flash of light their attacker had hit them with had permanently blinded her. But now it appeared that they were in a dark cell. Small, from the lack of resonance in their voices, but by no means cramped. Joseph's voice floated at her from the opposite wall, and she began to try to move towards him.
Barely a foot away from her own wall, she was forced to a halt by heavy chains attached to anklets. She couldn't feel her feet - that scared her - but the chains wouldn't budge. As her ankles began to sting and tingle, though, she relaxed somewhat. All right. So she was bound hand and foot - and would have to assume that he was, too - and they were in a seamless, lightless cell.
"Ugh," Joseph groaned quietly. The sound made her heart ache. "Lee, how do you feel?" he managed after several more moments of silence passed.
"I'm... I'm okay, I guess". She did a mental inventory. Cuts, maybe; a bruise here or there. Nothing major, though her head still wobbled a little if she moved it too fast. The worst part was being chained up. The heavy manacle that encased her hands had forced them together in front of her, with her arms pressed together from wrist to elbow. Some kind of padding separated her hands, though, and from the consistency, she guessed that it must have inflated to fill the space between flesh and outer metal casing. Neat, she thought distractedly, then smothered a giggle. Wouldn't do to admire her captors' ingenuity while she was still entrapped by it.
"Talk to me," Joseph's voice came again, disembodied in the brutal darkness. "I don't want to fall asleep... not when my head feels like this."
Lee could just barely make out the dim shape of his face now, though her eyes hurt when she tried to discern detail. So there was a faint light source from somewhere; too faint to determine where it came from. "Well... I guess that they want us alive," she started quietly, not knowing what else to say. "But they want us scared and panicky. Do you know who they might be?"
"I'm... afraid not," he half-mumbled. "Didn't recognize the armor... no logos, nothing. They could be anyone."
"Hmm. Smart on their part, I guess," she decided with a sigh. "Any hope your friends will come looking for you?" She vaguely recalled something Joseph had mentioned on their date - which now seemed a million years ago - about the team of superheroes which he inhabited.
At that, his tone seemed to brighten. "My comm badge was damaged in the fight. They'll get an alert about that when I don't report in to explain it."
"Well, that's good. Although we don't know how long it's been..."
"Or where we are," he finished, subsiding. "It could be a while before they find us."
"Days," she murmured, feeling a sudden sinking in the vicinity of her stomach. "Weeks, even."
"Lee." He spoke her name softly, insistently, breaking her from the hopeless trance. "They will come for us. But if they don't, we have to get out of this."
She seemed to consider this; then, her voice steeled. "All right. We need a plan, then. Any suggestions?"
Had he been able to know it, Joseph would have been pleasantly surprised to discover that the system was indeed working: in fact, it was working better than expected. Within moments of the comm badge's destruction, Cerebro had red-flagged the notification, and before an hour had passed, a team of X-Men was scrambling for the Blackbird. The quick grouping of Cyclops, Rogue, Gambit, Psylocke, Archangel, and Beast took to the air in short order. Hank had brought along more complicated software to complement the online tracking systems, in hope of locating Joseph's unique energy signature.
While Cyclops and Beast kept up an easy banter in the cockpit, Remy had ensconced himself in a seat in the rear. Though no one doubted his enthusiasm for the mission, his current attitude puzzled a few of them. Psylocke had even invited him to join the rest of them up in the front, but he declined with a shake of his shaggy head and returned to staring out the side window, as if fascinated by the miniature scenery below.
After some time, a presence appeared beside him. Recognizing it without having to look, he bit his lip and kept looking out the window.
The sound of her Southern-accented voice made his heart twitch painfully. Still, with studied indifference, he regarded the landscape below them. "Yeh?"
"Can I... sit by ya?"
He shrugged, hated himself for the cool act. He wanted nothing more than to break the wall of aloofness that divided them, but for reasons he couldn't begin to comprehend, he felt compelled to retain his position.
She gingerly took the seat beside him. Leaning forward a little, hands loosely clasped between her knees, she let out a soft sound.
"Ah wanted... t' apologize," she began in a voice that tore him apart. He turned then, protestation on his lips. Seeing it, she shook her head.
"No, let me talk. Ah... ah've been a real jerk lately, ah guess, with everythin' that was happenin'. Ah feel really bad 'bout it."
"Don't know where mah head's been, on another planet maybe," she said, her voice even quieter. "But ah hope y' can forgive me. Ah... ah love you, Remy LeBeau."
He touched her chin with his gloved fingers, raising her eyes to his. Twin tracks of tears glistened on her face. He blinked hard, fighting back his own emotion.
"Guess I ain't been too sweet t' be 'round, neither," he admitted quietly. "If you f'give me, I'll f'give you."
"Course I will, y' insufferable Cajun," she sniffed, a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.
His arms slipped around her then, and as he held her close to him, running a light hand over her soft auburn curls, his heart swelled with something he thought he'd never feel again. Happiness.
So faint it could barely be heard, he murmured something for her ears alone. She grinned and squeezed him even tighter.
At that moment, a whoop from the front echoed through the cabin. Remy and Rogue jumped apart like guilty children caught kissing in a broom closet. It was Beast, shouting cheerfully. "We got 'em!" he crowed, and the pair in the back smiled at each other.
"Just a blip for a moment," Archangel reported over his shoulder to Gambit and Rogue as they came up to the front. "But it should be enough."
"Well, we'd best go in and get ol' buckethead 'fore his date gets completely ruined, neh?" Remy chuckled.
When the figure first appeared, Lee credited it to her dazed eyes and jangled nerves. Flickery at first, the image took on solid form within moments, glowing slightly as if projected from elsewhere, though the far wall of the cell could still be seen through it.
"Well," it murmured in a pleased sounding voice. And, "Well," again.
It was a man - dressed in a strange kind of armor, with the bald head exposed and the eyes glowing in a way that made Lee feel queasy - but it was a man nonetheless. She guessed that the image was a hologram of some kind.
"Close," the man stated, "close enough, anyway."
She jumped, gasped. Joseph only glared at the illusionary intruder. "Didn't torture us enough last time, Gamesmaster?" he spat. In the dim light, Lee could see bruises on Joseph's face, and wanted to weep.
The image only smiled, faintly, an expression devoid of any emotion. It chilled Lee. "Interpret this as you will. Your will is of the least concern to me."
"Why - what do you want with us?" Lee gasped. She was close to tears, but fought them back.
"Oh, I'm merely contracting out - this time," he replied. "Not as if it particularly matters - you don't get a choice in what happens to you from here on out - but someone's taken a great interest in your DNA. You do know why, Lee, don't you?"
Flat as the voice was, there was still something smug about it that made her want nothing more than to tear his throat out. "Oh, I'd be honored if you'd enlighten me," she replied, so sardonically that even the Gamesmaster raised a hairless eyebrow.
"Why should I? Others have already told you, but you didn't want to believe them. Not that the Cajun should be trusted to begin with, but--"
"Enough!" Her voice was hoarse and shaky. The image promptly began to fade, accompanied by the hollow sound of laughter. With it went the light, but Lee didn't care anymore. She was shaking too hard, too lost in flickers of memory that danced behind her eyelids.
"Lee?" Joseph murmured, and at the same time, a dull explosion sounded, resonating through the ground as if it had occurred some distance away. She jumped.
"My God," was her answer. "What was I thinking?"
And suddenly there was light in the chamber again.
this page last updated on 18 january 2003