Title:Cyclops and the Color Bandits
Cyclops and the Color Bandits
On any given day, a person can walk into the kitchen at Xavier’s School and see strange things. I’ve been witness to everything from levitating milk cartons to six-foot ice sculptures in the sink. One time, I even saw Jubilee eating an apple—or at least, some apple slices smothered in peanut butter and brown sugar. It was still something that had actually grown on a tree. If that doesn’t surprise you, nothing will.
Even so, I wasn’t quite prepared for what I stumbled across that early afternoon in March.
It was a Saturday, but we were having a few abbreviated classes to make up for a day we teachers had lost earlier in the week, while we were out saving the world or the whales or a cat in a tree or something… it all tends to blur after a while. In any case, during the lunch break I made my way to the kitchen, where I was promptly sidetracked from my objective.
When I stepped into the room, the first thing I noticed was that it smelled like a garage. Following my nose over to the counter, I found a heap of grimy tools scattered around a toolbox on the floor. In the midst of them was a pair of work boots, which were connected to a well-worn pair of jeans, which were connected to a brawny torso that was wedged under the kitchen sink.
"Hey, Shcott…" Logan’s muffled voice emerged from within the recesses of the cabinet. Our resident feral was lying flat on his back, halfway crammed into that dark space with a small flashlight between his teeth, and I suddenly remembered the leak which Jean had mentioned at breakfast that morning. I’d put its repair on my to-do list, but since it wasn’t an emergency, the day’s classes were my first priority. It had slipped my mind completely over the course of the morning—and now I was amazed to find that Logan had beaten me to the chore. Fishing for points with Jean, I bet.
"Logan," I returned his greeting neutrally, although I was secretly surprised he could identify me through the fumes his oil-stained tools were putting off. I moved to step over his legs, but he thrust out a hand that was gripping a wrench, and waved it in my general direction. With his other hand, he took the flashlight out of his mouth to make an attempt at intelligible speech.
"Hand me the next bigger one, will ya?"
I sighed, looked down at the tangle of tools on the floor, and considered giving him a kick in the kneecap instead… but Jean wouldn’t have liked me to do that. Shaking my head, I crouched down and began to sort through the gasoline-perfumed screwdrivers and pliers, at last finding the wrench Logan wanted.
As I replaced the wrench he was holding with the requested one, I noticed a strange spot on the side of his hand. Granted, living my life behind ruby quartz shades hasn’t done much for my ability to pick out colors, but it didn’t look like an oil smudge to me. I managed a quick double-take before his hand and the wrench disappeared under the sink, and thought I saw a few more off-shaded splotches on his knuckles.
"Logan, what have you got on your hand?"
It took him a few beats to reply, and for a moment I wasn’t sure whether he was lying or just embarrassed. "Oh. I was helping Rogue with something. For Chuck’s art class."
I smirked. "Professor Logan to the rescue again?"
The reverberating growl that came from inside the cabinet told me it was time to leave.
Logan’s explanation was plausible enough. I shrugged off the incident and went to have lunch with Jean. I didn’t think of it again until just before science class, when I realized I’d forgotten what I wanted from the kitchen in the first place. We were going to make volcanoes that day, and while all the necessary materials were waiting in the classroom, it had occurred to me that some food coloring would jazz up the "lava" made from baking soda and vinegar.
By this time Logan had finished the repair and was gone. He had taken the tools, and obviously made some effort to clean up, but there were still a few oily streaks and smudges on the floor that I determined to have a talk with him about later. In the meantime, I had a class to teach.
So I looked into the cabinet above the sink where I knew the food coloring should have been… but I found none.
While I was checking the other cabinets, with the same result, Ororo came into the kitchen to rinse a cup in the sink. I turned to her. "Don’t we have any food coloring?"
"That’s funny, I was wondering the same thing earlier. I wanted to bake some blue cookies for Kurt." Ororo grinned, then shrugged. "Maybe we used it all."
I frowned. "I was positive we had some…"
That was when I remembered the stains on Logan’s hands.
With one last glance at Ororo, I turned and left the kitchen. At the moment I needed to get to my class, but when school let out, I was determined to find the answers to the most puzzling kitchen raid in the history of Xavier’s School.
After all, Logan might have been called "Wolverine", but that’s really just a fancy name for a big weasel.
The volcanoes in science class went over big, but, I was sure, not as big as they might have with bright red and orange lava.
In hindsight, I’m a big enough boy to admit that it was no big deal, but at the time, it was annoying—if only because I knew Logan had something to do with it. Jean calls it a "territorial response". Ororo calls it "being a tad obsessive". The Professor calls it "overreacting slightly". I, on the other hand, call it "keeping that sneaky dirtball of a hoser from bringing the house down around our ears".
The moment class let out, I headed upstairs and knocked at the door of Logan’s room. Considering his love for the great outdoors and his general wanderlust, it was really one of the last logical places to look for him, but at least it was a starting point.
Surprisingly enough, the door opened a few inches, and Logan stood glowering at me through the opening.
I folded my arms and gave as good a glower as I got. "Do you have the food coloring from the kitchen?"
Bingo. Logan tried to conceal his surprise with a fiercer scowl, but I noticed the way his eyebrows jumped. He definitely knew something about it, and he didn’t like the fact that I was asking questions.
"Ask Rogue. I told you, it was her project."
That was fair enough. Heaven knows the kids are liable to commandeer just about anything in the house, for any reason, without explaining why or even asking permission. Still, there was something about Logan’s demeanor that kept my suspicions running high—but at the moment, my suspicions were just that. I didn’t even know precisely what I suspected him of.
With a frown and a shrug, I turned to begin searching for Rogue. It was certainly true that if Logan was up to something strange, she might have instigated it. What influence that girl has over him, I’ll never know.
"Wait a minute." Logan’s voice halted me, and he leaned a little further through the doorway. "If you see Bobby, send him up here."
I glanced back dubiously at him. "Why?"
The Wolverine gave me a flat look. "Because I like my whiskey on the rocks."
Okay, sarcasm. Fine. If he wasn’t going to explain this conspiracy to me, I wasn’t about to be an accessory to it. He’d just have to find Bobby on his own.
In the meantime, maybe I could get some real answers from Rogue.
A few minutes later, I found Rogue in her room, with Kitty and Jubilee. The three girls were engrossed in the mysteries of cosmetics when I poked my head through the half-open doorway.
"Rogue, did you borrow the food coloring from the kitchen?"
The girl’s overly-tinted lips quirked into a small O as she stared up at me, looking a little too much like the proverbial deer in the headlights—that is, if deer ever wore eyeliner and metallic nail polish.
"Oops… I forgot." Looking sheepish, she went to the dresser and picked up an ancient, thoroughly stained cardboard carton that contained half a dozen bottles of food coloring. She shuffled to the door and held it out to me. I took it, realizing at once from its weight that there wasn’t much left.
"So just why did you need food coloring for art class?" I asked her.
It was hard for me to tell, especially under all that foundation and blush, but she appeared to pale slightly. "Um. I was…"
"We made a cotton-candy sculpture," Jubilee put in abruptly, with a complacent grin on her own made-up face. "It was a pony. Too bad you didn’t get to see it, but we already ate it all."
There was something extremely fishy about the glance Rogue shot toward Jubilee before turning to smile ingratiatingly at me and nod. On the other hand, knowing Jubilee, perhaps cotton candy was not such a far-fetched objet d’art. After all, even Ororo had been talking about blue cookies not two hours before.
"Okay," I murmured blankly, and walked away with the food coloring firmly in my grasp. Much against my better judgment, I resisted the temptation to creep back and listen to the frantic whispers that broke out in the wake of my departure.
Somewhere on the staircase, inspiration struck, and after depositing the food coloring safely in the kitchen cabinet, I made my way to Professor Xavier’s office. He, at least, was one person referred to in this little dodge whom I could rely on for straight answers…
"Ah, Scott," the Professor said from his sunny spot by the window, closing the book in his hands as I came in. "You give the appearance of a man with a problem. How may I help you?"
I decided not to ask how he could tell my "I’ve got a problem" face from any other expression of mine.
"You know, I’m starting to feel like I’m in one of those Family Circus cartoons where Billy leaves a trail all over the house," I said, hunkering down on the arm of the sofa. "Rogue and the usual suspects have nearly used up all the food coloring we have, and I’m trying to figure out why. I don’t think they’re being honest with me about it—and with Logan involved, I’m starting to worry that I might open my drawer and find out my underwear have turned a lovely shade of pink." I folded my arms and looked hard at the Professor. "Did Rogue and Jubilee really make a cotton-candy pony for art class?"
For an instant, the Professor’s face was totally blank…
And then he smiled.
"Ah. Yes. It was really quite an… innovative medium. Rogue still needs to work on her sense of proportion, but on the whole, it was quite a good effort. I’m afraid it was dispatched rather quickly, however. They were even kind enough to give me a hoof."
My heart had sunk with a feeling of baffled betrayal before he even uttered a word, and now I could only stare at him forlornly. The thought that the Professor would ever deceive me had always been completely alien—and yet here he was, doing just that. I knew he was. After all my years as a teacher, I didn’t have to be a telepath like him to recognize a fib when I heard it.
Even so, this was the Professor. I slumped, sighed, and murmured a resigned "Yes, sir," then turned and left his office without looking back.
If the entire household was conspiring against me, I’d just have to uncover the plot by myself.
Throughout dinner that evening, I watched both the students and my fellow teachers like a hawk. There were a few more hastily whispered exchanges among Rogue’s contingent, and these sometimes extended to include Logan, but each time he listened to the girls impassively without replying. If he had been anyone else, I would have said he looked mildly disgruntled—but of course, in Logan’s case, that’s just his natural expression.
Immediately after dinner, Logan accosted Bobby and they went upstairs, heading in the general direction of Logan’s room. About five minutes later, Bobby came back down to join Rogue and several other students in the TV room. Logan reappeared briefly a few minutes after that, passing through the halls on his way to somewhere else.
All the while, the rest of the adults gave no sign of awareness that anything was out of the ordinary. Kurt and Ororo were giggling over a game of Pictionary with Peter and Kitty—apparently Kurt’s fingers aren’t quite designed for rapid sketching, and he accepted the resulting amusement with tolerant grace. Judging by Ororo’s real puzzlement about the food-coloring mystery that afternoon, I had a feeling she was ignorant of the vortex of machinations swirling around us, and I suspected Kurt was too. He just isn’t that good at bluffing; he’s too innocent by nature to fake it when he’s not.
The Professor, of course, was another matter. All evening, he deflected my searching looks with a benign, fatherly smile that I just couldn’t bring myself to confront. It wasn’t even comforting to think that whatever the conspirators were brewing, it had somehow gotten his sanction.
That left Jean—and the prospect of asking some questions I felt strangely uneasy about. She’s a telepath, like the Professor, which means very little happens in the house that she doesn’t know about. Yet if she did know what was going on, I could hardly believe she wouldn’t tell me about it. We shared everything with each other, no matter how trivial. It’s kind of hard not to when you’re joined at the soul.
After my fourth round of stalking through the halls, looking in on people, I went back to the rec room where that Pictionary game was going on. Jean was sitting on an overstuffed couch off to the side, trying to wade through Moby-Dick once and for all. I plumped myself down beside her with a heavy sigh, and she lowered the book, smiling at me almost sympathetically.
"Rough day?" she asked.
I frowned. "Weird day." A sudden gust of laughter from the game table made me look up, and I lowered my voice as I turned sideways on the couch to face Jean directly. "Does anything seem strange to you around here lately?"
Her lips quirked. "This is a mutant school. Define strange."
"Okay… Logan’s taken up finger painting, Rogue is stashing food coloring with her makeup, Bobby keeps gravitating to Logan’s room, and the Professor lied to me today." I folded my arms and gazed firmly at Jean. "The only thing that isn’t strange is that Rogue and Jubilee seem to be behind it… whatever it is."
It was a crushing blow to my psyche when Jean suddenly laughed.
"Oh, Scott," she gasped merrily, trying to bring her outburst of humor under control. "I think you’ve been working too hard."
I scowled, feeling hurt by how lightly she took my concern. "I’m serious. I think the patented Xavier School brand of catastrophe is about to strike. Remember what happened last week?"
"That wasn’t a catastrophe. That was just the hermit crabs for my science class accidentally getting loose."
"Accidental, my foot. It was the Crab Liberation Front. And getting pinched by those things hurts!" With a sigh and a shake of my head, I scooted a little closer to Jean. "Come on. Can’t you just… well, take a quick mental browse around the school, and see what’s going on?"
Jean gave me a look of surprise that faded into mild reproach. "Scott, you know better than that. I’m not going to go prying into everyone’s business just because you’re overreacting. If the Professor really does know something, I’m sure everything is fine, even if he hasn’t told you for some reason."
Feeling utterly wilted by the gentle but firm rebuke, I shrank away from Jean somewhat.
"Fine," I muttered dourly. "But when it hits the fan, I’m not going to be the one cleaning it up…"
And with those words, I jinxed myself but good.
Before going to bed that night, I left the bedroom door slightly ajar, so that I could watch for movement in the hallway. If anyone was sneaking around the school at night, I was prepared to bring down some real wrath on them. Jean watched me with an unamused expression as I moved from the door to the bed, but she didn’t say anything, and her breathing softened into repose soon after I shut off the light.
I lay awake beside her for a long time, watching the crack in the door.
Sometimes there are advantages to having vision that skews a little into the infrared. I had halfway slipped into a doze, but I snapped to in an instant when a figure ghosted past the opening. Moving very carefully, I began to extricate myself from Jean’s unconscious embrace and sit up.
Waking much less than halfway, she reacted on instincts honed by years of the middle-of-the-night crises kids are bound to have, and automatically relaxed her grip to let me rise unimpeded. Her voice was muffled charmingly by her pillow as she murmured, "Scott?"
"We’ve been invaded by ninja yetis," I informed her gravely, sliding off the edge of the bed.
"Um-hmm," she sighed agreeably, and rolled over.
In the dark, I pulled on a shirt over my pajama pants, then slipped out the door and down the hall. I had no way of knowing where the wraith that had passed by our room was headed, but I was ready to search the entire house if I had to. The upstairs landings were quiet, so I crept down the stairs and began to engage in my stealth reconnaissance mission.
It didn’t take me long to find what I was looking for. A light was on in the library, and the door of the room was half-open. There were some rustling and shuffling sounds from within. I moved forward as silently as I could, debating what approach to take: I could try to peek around the door and observe unseen, or storm in and confront the miscreant directly.
Before I could make up my mind, I heard an audible nasal sniff, which under the circumstances sounded like a death knell.
"So you’re havin’ that somnambulist Dick Tracy fantasy again, huh?" Logan’s voice rasped from within the room.
For a moment, I was too stunned that Logan’s vocabulary included a word like somnambulist to be angry. Clenching my teeth, I interjected myself into the doorway.
Logan stood there, gazing back at me with a perfectly mild expression. He was poised in front of an antique pine cabinet with his arms folded, in the attitude of a man who was waiting in no particular hurry to cross a busy street.
"What are you doing?" I demanded.
He shrugged. "Just taking a little walk. You know me and my nightmares."
I frowned at him. It was true that roaming around the house in the dead hours was his way to unwind after a private screening of the horror show inside his skull—but considering the things I had seen through the day, and the sounds I had just heard while I was in the hallway, I wasn’t buying it. I stepped farther into the room, shaking my head.
"No," I said. "You were doing something in here, and I want to know what."
"Looking at a book," Logan replied blandly.
"Which book? Where is it?"
Blinking, he cast a glance around himself; although the bookshelves that lined the walls of the room were well stocked, there were no books to be seen within several feet of the cabinet he stood in front of. He turned back to me and shrugged again, half apologetic and fully unyielding. For a moment, he looked like an obstinate nine-year-old… albeit one who weighed two hundred and fifty pounds and had enough muscle to snap a grown man’s spine.
My gaze shifted from his blank but somehow ominous expression to the ornate pine-bough carvings on the cabinet doors behind him. One of those doors was not quite closed.
"What have you got inside that cabinet?" I asked him. Even as I spoke, not expecting an answer, I stepped forward to investigate for myself.
Logan made a very subtle movement, an almost imperceptible shift of stance, that stopped me in my tracks. In that same casually elegant motion he raised his hands, crossing his wrists in front of him, and closed his fists. There was an audible snikt and a flash of light reflecting on shining adamantium blades, and suddenly I found myself confronting the Wolverine.
His expression was as neutral as ever. Frankly, there’s never a time when he doesn’t look dangerous, but there was at least no open hostility. The message was more morbidly matter-of-fact: touch the cabinet, lose a body part. It was just that simple.
I had no intention of being intimidated… but on the other hand, I wasn’t suicidal, either. After staring at him incredulously for a moment, I turned halfway to look over my shoulder, and picked out a pillow-laden armchair that stood a few feet behind me. I took one step back and reached out to pull the chair forward, as Logan watched me warily.
"Alright," I said grimly, pushing the chair into place directly opposite and about three feet from him. "I can wait just as long as you can."
With that, I moved to sit down.
Logan’s expression swiftly changed from dubious to alarmed, and the claws went away as he began to take a step forward. "You don’t want to sit—"
From somewhere beneath the pillows that augmented the chair’s padding, there came a muffled, crunching squish. More of a sensation than a sound, it was enough to make me shoot up out of the chair as if I’d just sat on a nest of fire ants.
Logan sighed heavily, folded his arms, and shook his head.
I glanced at him, then back at the chair. Slowly and apprehensively, I reached out and lifted the throw pillow from the seat. On the cushion underneath it, I discovered a thoroughly pulverized mass of pale mush that was interspersed with brittle flecks.
By the time I looked back at Logan, he had turned to the cabinet and opened it, and was carefully lifting something out in both hands. My jaw sagged as, with a blackly chagrined expression, he held out a large round basket that was filled with colored eggs.
The sudden realization was like a lightning bolt to the brain.
"Tomorrow is Easter," I blurted dumbly.
"That’s right, Sherlock." Logan set the basket down on the cabinet shelf again, but did not bother to close the door before turning back to me. His scowl had faded somewhat.
The entire escapade was suddenly as clear as day. I nearly sank down onto the chair again in astonishment, but caught myself just in time to keep from making the mess of mashed boiled egg any worse.
"So that’s what Rogue and Jubilee used the food coloring for," I said, thinking out loud.
"Like I said, it was Rogue’s idea. She wanted to have an Easter egg hunt for the smaller kids." Logan leaned his hip against the edge of the cabinet, frowning at his hands, which still showed some faint spots of color. "I just got shanghaied into the whole thing."
"And the Professor knows about this?"
"Yeah, Rogue cleared it with him—because he’s the man in charge, and because she figured he’d probably know anyway. She asked him not to tell anybody. She wanted it to be a surprise. I warned her it was gonna be a surprise for somebody, alright," he concluded bleakly.
The Professor had certainly done his best to keep the secret, just as Rogue had asked of him… much to my misfortune. I shook my head in amazement.
"What did you keep needing Bobby for?" I inquired, suspecting the answer already.
Logan confirmed my guess. "Rogue decided the best place to hide the eggs until tonight was in my room. They were packed in a cooler, and I had to have Bobby keep freshening up the ice."
"Then the big bad Wolverine sneaks out and plays Easter Bunny." I cracked a smile. "That’s almost worth the kind of day I had."
He attempted to glower at me, but somehow, he didn’t quite succeed.
"I’ll make a deal with you," he grumbled. "If you don’t tell anyone about me doing this, I won’t tell anyone about how you laid an egg." He tilted his head meaningfully toward the egg-plastered chair cushion.
"And that way neither one of us gets egg on our faces," I rejoined, my lips twitching.
Logan winced visibly, and I couldn’t blame him one bit.
"Alright," I chuckled. "Let me go get something to clean up this mess, and after that, I’ll help you hide the rest of the eggs." I paused, frowning, as thoughts of other similar incidents or worse came to mind. "You’ll remember where they’re all hidden, won’t you?"
His nostrils twitched, a seemingly unconscious but very clear suggestion of what he meant when he replied phlegmatically, "I won’t have to."
That was good enough for me. I grinned and hurried out of the room, on my way toward the kitchen closet where the cleaning supplies were kept. The kid in me was already thinking ahead to the most creative places for hiding the Easter eggs.
Maybe we weren’t in for a catastrophe, after all.
© 2005 Jordanna Morgan -send feedback