Disclaimer: Jean, Rogue, Gambit, the X-Men and all related characters are property of Marvel Comics, and are used here for non-profit entertainment. Erin Malory, Patrick Jeune, Joshua Vasilis, and Carrie Perrine are mine. Comments can be sent to BelaLeBeau@aol.com.

A Cure's Ransom
By BelaLeBeau

Patrick Jeune heard voices in his head. They'd been there for nearly a week, babbling endlessly. There were too many speaking at once for him to decipher what any of them meant, and none of them spoke to him directly. In the morning, they were there. In the afternoon they hadn't stopped. At nightfall they didn't pause to let Patrick sleep; so he didn't sleep. Trying to get through school, or even a normal conversation, was a joke, so he stayed at home and did nothing. He couldn't concentrate on any one thing, because his own thoughts were interrupted by the hundreds of one-sided discussions in his head.

And he simply couldn't take it anymore.

So he stood on the edge of the roof, unnoticed, staring down at the traffic below him. Here in the city the voices screamed above the clamor of the street, angry and afraid. But not quite as much as he was.

He put one foot out into the air, his arms outstretched. And then he stepped into the sky.

He fell for only an instant, the throng of people and cars spiraling below him. But then he stopped, midair, and found himself instantly standing back on the roof again, as though someone had caught him, and placed him gently back on safe ground.

He turned. There was a woman behind him, and he knew somehow that she was the one who had just saved his life. She was an angel with hair the color of fire, and the instant he locked eyes with her, the voices stopped. The silence was so welcome, the ability to hear his own thoughts for the first time in what seemed like an eternity so good that he broke down crying.

"Thank you," he said. "Thank you."

She nodded, and then put a hand on his shoulder. "Patrick- I can't hold them back forever. But I can teach you how to shut your mind, and keep them out."

He said nothing, but he knew that somehow she had heard the mental agreement he had given. "There's a place for you, for people like you," she continued. "You're a mutant, you realize- a telepath. And it's just not safe for you to be alone, without knowing how to use your powers."

He agreed again, and she took his hand and led him off the roof.

"Who are you?" he remembered to ask, once they had walked down several flights of stairs.

"My name is Jean," she said. "Jean Grey."

The streets were so foggy that night that it was hard to see very far down them, but he knew they were there. And he knew that if he wanted to avoid them he was going to have to run like he'd never run before. It was cold, and his breath seemed to hang in the air, marking a trail of terror behind him. He turned corners and made his way through the alleyways without any real destination in mind- there wasn't any place he knew of that was safe for someone like him. There were no footsteps but his own clamoring through the midnight stillness, and he thought for a moment how odd it was that this city, of all places, would be so empty at this hour.

He found a door, and though he had no idea to where it led to he banged on it with his entire body in panic. There was no answer, and in moments he was off again. His lungs were blistering in his chest, his face chilled with sweat, and his feet numb, bound in the too-tight-shoes he didn't have the money to replace. He risked a moment to rip them off and toss them aside. They silently followed; they wouldn't let up on prey so vulnerable. And he knew they were thrilled with all of this, driven by bloodlust. The ones who were after him were his age, teenagers not old enough to appreciate a quick kill. They liked the chase.

He came to a large commercial street, on which there would be the 24-hour stores and brighter street lamps. If he was very lucky, there would be police- not that those who chased him respected the police; they just knew better than to kill a cop. But any hope he might of had was cut short by the sudden appearance of three figures in the distance, standing ready in a line across the road. One pointed, but said nothing, and the other two shifted their positions to a better stance, but none of them moved forward. He stopped, and in a moment felt the sharpness of a metal point in his back. Why don't they just end it? He found himself sobbing through painful gasps. He didn't say anything as they grabbed his shoulders and force him to his knees, and felt almost relieved when he felt the smoothness of sharp steel across his neck. A sword. He hadn't expected that. This would be a bloody death, and the people who found the stains would wonder, in the morning.

There were at least five of them. The young ones liked to travel in packs. One- the woman with the sword at his throat- spoke roughly in French to a teammate, grabbing her prey's hair to make some point unknown to the shivering victim. The others grinned.

Abruptly, each head was turned away from the victim, as though the killers had heard something. They stood perfectly still and perfectly silent, their sudden alertness reminding the boy on his knees of cats. A full five minutes might have passed before one of them moved again, to look to his companions.

The one holding the victim's hair gave it a sharp tug and then let go, letting her free hand fall to a knife at her hip. She and the others, except for one who seemed too preoccupied with searching the fog to speak, whispered loudly to each other, with deep scowls on their faces. Finally she let her sword down and stood away as rough hands pulled the prey up and threw him down a dead-end alleyway, where he lay on the ground whimpering.

The moment they had done that, there was a great flash of light, and a sound so loud that everything he heard after it was muffled. One moment he was on his side in the middle of the alley, the next he was being thrown by some tremendous force against the walls, and intense waves of heat and energy passed his body, bring with it a shower of rocks and debris which fell on him and left painful bruises and cuts in their wake. He struggled feebly to cover his head with the jacket, which calmed him a little, the way covering a horse's eyes keeps it quiet because it can't see any danger. When the rain of stone had stopped he heard nothing. He dared to look up, uncovering his head.

A huge hole gaped in the wall of an old building to the side, and he could see the tables and decor of a restaurant within. The killers lay scattered about in various positions, all of them unconscious, or maybe... dead? The woman with the sword lay in a pool of blood, the blade broken in her hand. She groaned, calling out names, and nearby two others did the same in weak harmony. One of them was trying to crawl towards another, the bones of his legs poking through his skin.

Joshua stood up, carefully testing his legs. Deciding he could walk, he went to the entrance of the ally and looked out, trying to find whatever had caused the explosion. He couldn't see anything for a moment, and was almost sure no one was there until someone from behind him spoke.

"Over here," the voice whispered.

It was a man, leaning against the wall with a cigarette hanging from his mouth as though he'd been there all along. His eyes were glowing. "What did dey want with you?" he asked.

Joshua shrugged. "Assassin kids," he mumbled. "Out training."

"Dey'll do a better job next time," the man sneered. "Are you all right?"

"Yes. Thank you," he whispered.

The man squinted, taking a good look at the boy's face. "No problem," he said. He didn't grimace, like everyone else did when they saw Joshua Vasilis. The kid had been deformed since birth: his nose was so flat it was almost non-existent; one eye was more than an inch lower than the other, and his teeth were gnarled so badly no dentist would bother trying to fix them. And over all that, the skin had shriveled and wrinkled. He was hideous.

But he could change that. He had only to think about it, and his face would shift itself, re-aligning and reshaping until he had assumed another identity. And as the man watched, he did just that, until his face became just as faultless as the stranger's.

"Neat trick."

"I just..."

"You're a mutant."


"You got a family? Or you livin' on de streets?"

"I... well... I... don't live with them," Josh stuttered. He hated talking. Hated conversations. It brought too much attention to his face.

"Hmm. It's obviously not too safe out here. Need a place t'stay?"

"I couldn't..." He could already feel his face reverting, not a minute after the shift. He didn't have the strength to hold it.

"Yeah, ya could. I take it you don't got a good hold on those shape-shiftin' powers. We could help you." He threw the cigarette to the ground, and crushed it under his boot. "Nobody'd care what you look like. An' dere aren't any Assassins runnin' around killin' people f'r no good reason. It's a safe place."

"Where?" Joshua asked.

"Let me show you."

"She majored in Chemistry, and had two years and a semester of lab experience behind her. She was the top student at Tulane University, remaining highest in her class until she got kicked out for being a mutant.

"I guess the stress of midterms and an important lab experiment had stressed her out enough to make a slight mistake in calculations, and the chemicals she had been handling had reacted. There was a big explosion. The table she had been working at had been burnt, a few test tubes shattered, and that was the extent of the damage done by the blast. But the shock of it activated Erin's latent mutant power. She created a poisonous mist which surrounded her, and the toxins she inhaled almost killed her.

"Lucky for her the doctor who cared for her was sympathetic to the mutant cause, and a friend of Cecilia's to boot." Jean paused, and sipped her coffee. "He referred Erin to us. She'll be moving in tomorrow."

"Three kids in a month," Rogue said, impressed. "Ah think that's the biggest number we've had come in durin' so short a time."

"And already we're making progress. Patrick managed to go six hours today without me protecting him. Josh's holding his shifts longer."

"And Carrie," Rogue grinned. "She beat Logan at cards yesterday."

Jean smiled. "Let's just hope they get a better childhood than we did," she said.