They drove for another two hours before they were forced to stop for gas. Logan found a truck stop perched on the edge of a thick tree line, the green of the forest contrasting with the dirty cement and old neon lights of the station.
"You two hungry?" Anne asked, her eyes roving over the small, dilapidated restaurant attached to the station.
"Chere, Gambit wouldn't eat in a place like dat if you paid him. 'Sides, there must be betta' places down da road, huh Logan?"
"Sorry, Cajun. The next food stop is gonna be two hours from here."
"Well, I don't know about you guys, but I'm starving. If you don't want to stop, I can run in and get us some food for the road."
"Sounds good ta me, darlin'. Just get me somethin' with a lot o' meat in it."
Gambit delivered a long suffering sigh. Anne grinned and patted him on the shoulder. "Why don't I surprise you, Remy."
"Yeah chere...but be kind to dis poor body, 'kay?"
"Whatever." She quipped mischievously, and climbed out of the jeep.
Gambit watched her enter the restaurant, and he shook his head.
"Dat's some woman."
Logan followed his gaze, and nodded silently.
A smoky haze filled the interior of the gas station's small restaurant, and Anne's ears were assaulted by the sounds of pots banging and loud, rough voices. She narrowed her eyes reflexively as she glanced over the diners. There were ten of them, all men, seated at various booths that hugged dark paneled walls. Most of them looked up as she entered, and Anne ignored their appraising gazes as she headed for the counter next to the door.
No waitress came to greet her, so Anne plucked a menu from a shelf by the cash register and began to flip through it. There wasn't much to choose from, and she sighed as her stomach rumbled furiously.
Sorry, Remy. she thought weakly, picking something for him.
"Can Ah help ya, miss?"
Anne looked up to find a skinny middle aged woman looking at her. Her face was hard, her eyes like grainy pebbles. Blond hair had been pulled back into a tight pony tail that stretched the skin of her eyes.
"I'd like to order something to go."
The waitress jotted down the order and told her in a clipped and unfriendly voice that it would be around ten minutes. Anne leaned back against the counter, her warning bells beginning to jingle. She contemplated probing the diners, but rejected the idea. She had not intruded on anyone's mind for eleven years, and the habit was hard to break. Especially when she had inadvertently nullified a man's personality, the last time she had entered someone's mind. Better to interact with trees instead of people, she had decided then and there. At least they could not be hurt by her carelessness.
Anne glanced out the tinted windows of the diner. The hood of the jeep was up and Logan and Gambit were hovering over the engine, their faces hidden from her sight. She felt the ghost of a smile on her lips as she watched the two of them. Cary Grants they were not, but those two had a charm all their own that she found irresistible.
She couldn't remember when she had last felt so comfortable around anyone. It surprised her, considering how short a time she had known them.
Getting me out of that trap definitely made a good impression, she thought wryly. But there was more to it than that. She just couldn't put her finger on it yet.
She was abruptly pulled from her thoughts as the overwhelming scent of cigarettes and grease filled her nose. One of the men she had noticed earlier was leaning on the counter beside her, his eye boring into her face. Anne met his gaze squarely, taking measure of his considerable height and girth. His face was tanned and rough, thinning brown hair combed down over his ears. Greasy lips pulled back into what Anne thought he considered a charming smile.
"Yes?" she asked expectantly, her eyes narrowing as his smile grew. There was something in his eyes that made Anne distinctly uneasy—a hunger that she recognized and was repulsed by.
"Me and my friends were wondering if you'd like to join us for lunch." he gestured with his head towards the table behind him. The three men seated at the booth grinned at her, but Anne did not return the smile.
"I'm afraid not," she replied, her voice empty of emotion. His eyes hardened.
"You sure? I think you might enjoy yourself." He placed a firm hand around her left arm, squeezing just enough to show her how strong he was.
"Remove your hand," she ordered softly.
He chuckled, turning his head to look at his friends who were watching the spectacle with undisguised enjoyment.
The man's fingers tightened around Anne's slender arm as he swung back to look at her.
He's not going to let go without a fight, is he. Well, I can give him that much.
Her arm a blur of motion, she slammed the heel of her right palm into his nose, driving her shoulder behind the blow. Blood spurted from the collapsed structure of cartilage and bone, and Anne danced away as he released her from his grip. The man clutched at the remains of his nose, his eyes filled with rage and pain.
"Damb funkin bith!"
Anne clucked her tongue at him mockingly. His eyes widened with fury, and suddenly she found herself facing not only him, but his friends and several other diners. She probed gently beyond her shields and found that there were two men behind her, blocking the door. The faces staring at her were hard and unforgiving. Their hands clenched into fists.
One of her father's lessons came to mind. "Sweetie, you're a slip of a girl, and you'll only be a shade bigger when you're a woman. People will underestimate you 'cause your tiny. Won't be expecting an attack. So give 'em hell like a wildcat and I promise sweetie, by the time they figured out what happened, you'll have their heads as a drum set."
Of course, daddy never thought I'd be taking on nearly ten men at a time.
She quickly realized that the area was too small and there were too many angry people for her to come out unscathed. Her best chance was to get out into the open where she could move more freely...not to mention where she could get some back up.
Anne whirled, launching herself at the closest man to the door. His blue eyes widened with surprise, and he doubled over with a sharp cry as she struck a fist into his groin. Anne dodged a cuff to her face from his companion, driving her knuckles into his kidney and then into his stomach, knocking the wind out of him.
Anne leapt for the door, only to have heavily muscled arms wrap around her waist from behind.
"Gotcha now." The scent of cigarettes filled her nose.
Anne found his hands and wrapped her tiny fingers around his pinky. She yanked it away from her waist with a sharp grunt, feeling and hearing the crunch of bone as she twisted his finger from its socket.
"Agrghhhh!" he screamed, dropping her immediately. Anne landed lightly on her feet, making a wild dash for the door. Just as she reached the exit, the door slammed open and she was nearly clobbered as Logan and Gambit careened into the restaurant.
Logan barely paused to change directions before barreling into the crowd of men that were surging forward after Anne. Gambit glanced at her quickly to assure himself that she was all right before following his friend into the fight.
"What the hell." Anne muttered darkly, following them back into the fray. One man, T-shirt punched with holes, was attempting to sneak up behind Gambit while the Cajun was busy fending off two assailants. She shot her foot out towards the back of his knee, forcing his leg to collapse. As sharp cry of surprise escaped from his throat, and Anne clubbed him at the back of his head with her fists. He fell into a heap.
Anne looked up to find Gambit staring at her in pleased shock, but her eyes moved past his face as she caught sight of someone lifting a chair to swing at Logan. She watched in amazement as claws shot out of his arms. With a few wild swipes, the chair fell into pieces. She had seen Logan in action on news broadcasts, but it could not compare to real life.
Under less than a minute, most of her attackers lay on the ground, groaning in pain or unconscious. Anne, Logan and Gambit stood side by side, staring out over the remains of the restaurant. Tables were torn over, upholstery ripped open. Shattered glass littered the floors as did food. There was even a fair amount of blood staining the linoleum. Anne looked around for the waitress, but didn't see her.
"You know, you guys aren't bad in a fight." Her voice echoed in the relative silence of the restaurant.
Logan and Gambit looked at her in surprise. Gambit snorted.
"You ain't so bad either, chere. Heard some yells from de rest'raunt and thought you were in trouble."
"But it looks like ya' did some cleanin' up 'fore we even came in, darlin."
"My daddy was a Marine. After my mutant powers began to emerge, he started training me to defend myself. It's become second nature."
Anne frowned, eyes scanning the restaurant.
"Um, maybe we should talk about this after we get out of here. There was a waitress around, but I don't see her and she might have called the police."
Logan grunted. "There's no sense in hangin' around ta' find out."
The three of them filed out of the restaurant and into the jeep. The car's tires squealed as Logan revved the vehicle from the gas station and back onto the interstate.
"Dammit." Anne muttered after they had driven for about ten minutes.
"What?" the two men asked in concern.
"I'm still hungry."
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