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Chapters
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
 
 
 

Between the Darkness and the Light - REVIEW THIS STORY

Written by Amanda Sichter
Last updated: 01/02/2007 02:01:11 AM

Chapter 14

To: [email protected] xmen.com

Subject: {blank}

Azimuth is back. I have found her. She has found me. Azimuth has come back to me.

Seven months, 'Ro. Seven months. What he has done to her. Gods, what he has done. Sinister had her, he held her, he - she escaped, she has found me, she has found me.

We need your help. The Beast's help. What Sinister did . . . we are on our way now.

We are coming.

Remy

Storm had never believed the statement that the waiting was the worst part - until now. She paced the floor of the rec room in a constant, impatient beat, hands intertwined and worrying at each other, swift, precise steps taking her closer to - nothing. Just the waiting.

For what seemed the fiftieth time Hank, from his perch on the back of the couch, said, 'What do you estimate as their time of arrival?'

Storm opened her mouth to shout and caught herself just in time. Softly,her voice constricted with passion, she replied, 'I do not know, Beast. Remy's e-mail told me nothing. I do not know where he is coming from, how he is getting here, what is wrong with Azimuth, anything.' Unaware she was doing it, her hands waved about helplessly. 'I just don't know,' she said, her voice rising. 'All I know is he has Azimuth, that Sinister had her, that she needs our assistance. He didn't tell me anything!'

'But Azimuth is alive,' soothed the Beast. 'That is most of what matters. And I am prepared for any eventuality, any malady that Azimuth may have. Though I think I shall just ensure that the medi-lab is fully functioningand that I have not mislaid anything.' For the seventeenth time that evening, Hank went to check the medi-lab. Before he could reach the door, however, the proximity alarms went off. Within seconds, both could hear the sound of a car speeding up the long driveway.

It was difficult to tell which of the two moved the fastest. Hank's quick leaps took him out of the door and down the hallway at a precipitous pace. Storm, literally, flew. They reached the door at the same moment and nearly tore it from its hinges in their haste to get out. Only because Hank managed to wrench it open quickly was Storm prevented from blowing it out completely.

They stepped out into the portico in a flurry of movement and lithe limbs.

And stopped dead.

The car had been slewed across the driveway in front of the door as if it had come to a racing stop. Gambit was half out of the door and moving quickly to the passenger side, the side closest to the door. Through the window, both Storm and Beast could see Azimuth and that was what had stopped them.

She was sitting in the passenger seat, her eyes closed, her head tilted back so it rested against the seat. Her face was pallid far beyond usual, chalky-white with pain and ill-health. Beneath her eyes dark circles bruised her skin and her cheeks were drawn and taut. Her hair hung long and pale and unkempt around her face. Storm's mind flashed back to the first time she had seen Azimuth and she wondered if Remy would ever bring her to the mansion when she was in something approaching good health.

And then Remy was at the car door and was opening it, his body obscuring Storm's view of Azimuth. He leaned into the car and from the posture of his body Storm knew he was pleading. She could see, over his back, that Azimuth was shaking her head stubbornly. Finally, she opened her eyes and glared at Remy, mouthing something sharp and Remy's body drooped into the lines of reluctant acquiescence. Then he slid his arm around Azimuth and helped her out of the car gently. Sliding his arm around her shoulders he turned and began to assist her to the door.

It was only Hank's soft words that brought Storm out of the shock that was overwhelming her as she finally saw Azimuth and realised exactly what Sinister had done.

'Oh my stars and garters,' said Hank, softly, and Storm realised that he was as distressed as she was.

'By the Goddess,' she said, and her voice was resolute. 'By the Goddess, Sinister will pay for this.'

Azimuth was pregnant. Obviously pregnant. By the looks of it, painfully pregnant.

Her steps were small and she leaned heavily on Gambit as he helped her walk towards Storm and Hank. Her walk was just starting to take on the uncomfortable waddle most pregnant women developed when their centre of gravity started to shift. The mound of her stomach projected out beneath the shift dress she was wearing, but her limbs and her face were painfully thin.

Without further thought both Hank and Storm raced to the couple's side.

'Gambit,' said Hank, sharply, harshly. 'You shouldn't be letting Azimuth walk. Here, let me carry you.' He turned to Azimuth.

'No,' she said, and though her voice was faint it was vehement. 'Let me walk.' Her eyes - great black pools in her too-pale face - were dark with intense emotion. Storm tried to identify it but couldn't until Gambit spoke.

'You t'ink Gambit don' offer to carry my chere?' he said, and his eyes snapped red with emotion that matched Azimuth's in intensity.

~Anger~ thought Storm, somewhat surprised. Now she had identified it, she could feel how the air between Azimuth and Remy crackled with anger and half-suppressed rage. For an instant she was terrified of what had happened between them, until Remy turned and slid his hand over Azimuth's in a solicitous, protective gesture. ~They're not angry at each other~ thought Storm and relief coloured her thoughts. The anger radiated from both, but it was directed outwards, at someone else, something else. Storm did not have to think long to realise exactly at whom it was aimed.

But Azimuth was talking again and her words drew Storm's attention back. 'I've been locked in a bed for seven months,' she said, softly. 'I want to walk.'

Hank's mouth opened as if he would argue the point, but then he nodded. Wordlessly, he fell in beside Azimuth and slid his hand beneath her arm. Together, he and Remy supported her as she walked, slowly and carefully, into the mansion.

The trip to the medilab took three times as long as it should have, but Storm did not begrudge the time. It gave her time to assimilate the current situation - a situation she had never anticipated. Her mind began to process possibilities and they terrified her. Sinister wanted the child within Azimuth, of that Storm was certain, and Azimuth was now in the mansion, ill and incapable of defending herself. Sinister would definitely try and take her back at some point. Storm realised the danger inherent in Azimuth staying there and her thoughts began to turn to the mansion's defences.

Even as she worried over the probabilities they arrived at the medilab. Remy began to lead Azimuth to the bed, but Hank stopped him with a hand on his arm. 'I'd like you to get on the scale before you get into bed,' he said to Azimuth, who nodded grimly and moved to the scales. Hank's face showed nothing as he checked Azimuth's weight, but his hands were very gentle as he assisted her to bed.

For a moment Storm thought she would have to pull Remy away from Azimuth's side, but as soon as Hank began to examine her, Remy stood back from the bed. Without even thinking about it, Storm slid her arms around him in a welcoming, supportive hug, trying to convey by her touch how glad she was to see him, how much she loved him, how glad she was he had Azimuth back, how sorry she was to see Azimuth like that, how much she was willing to help. At first Remy resisted, but then h e slid his arms wordlessly around her slim back and allowed himself, just for a second, to be supported by her. Then he pulled away, turning his gaze back to watch Azimuth. Storm let her arms slide away from Remy, but reached for his hand and grasped it tightly as they watched Hank and Azimuth.

'You look better,' she said, softly.

'Gambit take your advice,' Remy replied. 'Take better care of myself, keep myself well so I can rescue Azimuth.' His voice nearly cracked at the end of the sentence.

'What happened?' Storm asked in a low voice.

Anger seemed to swirl around Remy at her question and Storm could almost feel it on her skin. 'Sinister did dis to her,' replied Remy and his voice was flat with controlled rage. 'Sinister get dis t'ing inside of her and den he keep her locked up in her bed so she couldn' move. Azimuth manage to escape eventually and den she went to one of Gambit's drops and find de note I put dere for her. She track me down on de Net, told me what he done, so I go and get her and bring her here.' He turned blazing eyes on Storm. 'Sinister keep her in a base Gambit never knew about. No matter how long I try to find her, no matter how many bases I take down, Gambit would never have found her. If she hadn' escaped . . .' Gambit's voice trailed off and he turned his gaze back to Azimuth.

Hank's examination of Azimuth had not taken long. He had perched himself onthe side of the bed, sitting so he faced Azimuth, but half-turned towards the other two so he could include them in what he was saying.

'You're five to six months pregnant,' he said to Azimuth and his voice was very soft. 'The child is alive and reasonably strong, judging by its heartbeat, but you are underweight, dangerously underweight. If you do not gain strength soon, I will be seriously concerned for your well-being.'

Azimuth closed her eyes and nodded. Her voice was equally soft as she said, 'It's eating me, Hank. It's eating me alive. Sinister pumped enough nutrients into me to drown me and the - thing - took them all. It's going to kill me.'

Hank's face mirrored his distress. 'No, it's not,' he said. 'I'll find a way to keep you strong. I'll find out what is wrong - there will be some supplement, some additive that will help. You'll be okay. You'll both be okay.'

'I don't want it to be okay,' said Azimuth, softly, but the veins in her temples throbbed. 'I want you to get rid of it, Hank.'

Storm's gasp of shock was mirrored by Hank and, for a second, his face showed his startled revulsion before he carefully schooled it into impassivity. 'You're more than five months pregnant,' he said. 'The child is nearly fully formed. It could almost survive on its own. Think about what you're asking, Azimuth.'

'I know what I'm asking,' said Azimuth and opened her eyes again. They blazed with a fervid anger. 'I don't want this - this *bastard werechild* inside of me any more, Hank. It's eating me alive. It's killing me. I don't want it inside of me, reminding me.' The cords in her neck stood out as she clenched her jaw tight.

Hank tilted his head, sympathy gleaming in them. 'Is it - Sinister's?' he asked, softly. 'Did he rape you again?'

Azimuth made a noise that was halfway between a laugh and a sob. 'He didn't touch me,' she said. 'I was too precious this time. He might have damaged me.' She turned dark eyes on Hank. 'This - thing - is made of *mechanical* rape. Sinister harvested my eggs and fertilised them and implanted them back into me one by one. And when they didn't take, he'd rip the debris out of me and fill me up with hormones again until he could try again. Two months it took, Hank, *two months*.' Azimuth's eyes were haunted as she turned her head briefly to look at Remy. 'Every third or fourth day for two months. He didn't even have the humanity to knock me out when he did it. He just watched me with his damned, cold eyes as his probes moved inside of me and he watched as they opened me up to him and he had me locked down so tight I couldn't even move. And I screamed every day inside my head until an egg took and then it started to grow and then this thing started to eat me alive. And every day he filled me up with nutrients and drugs and he gloated over me like I was precious because this thing was growing in me and I don't want it inside of me, don't want it growing and killing me, don't want it reminding me of him, don't want this abomination touching me, hurting me, forcing itself out of me . . .' Azimuth's voice was rising rapidly into something approaching hysteria as Remy wrenched his hand from Storm's. He covered the distance to the bed in a stride and held Azimuth tight. She buried her head in his chest and her shoulders shook as sobs wracked her body.

Finally the sobs slowed and stopped and Remy eased his grip on Azimuth. He turned to look at Hank. 'Can you do it?' he asked. 'Can you get rid of it?' His voice was low and intense, his eyes pleading.

Hank sighed and, removing his glasses, he rubbed his hand over his eyes. 'I can't,' he replied. 'Without even considering the morality of it, or my personal feelings, it is simply illegal. Azimuth is at least five months pregnant and her health is not yet in immediate danger.' He lifted his head and his clear, blue eyes looked into Remy's. 'It may be a child of rape,' he said, 'but I will not break the law.'

The tension in Azimuth was exquisite, her body quivering like a bow-string. 'Then you won't do it?' she asked.

'I won't,' replied Hank. 'No doctor would.'

'But if it endangers my health to the point that it may kill me?' Azimuth's eyes were wide. Remy's reached out his hand and intertwined his fingers tightly with hers. He knew why she asked for he, too, had once been Sinister's. Both of them knew that, if such a choice faced Sinister, he would destroy Azimuth to save the child he had created.

But the Beast was not Sinister, had nothing in common with the insane geneticist. 'Then I save you,' he responded simply. 'But it would be a birth, not an abortion, and I would do everything I could to keep the child alive.'

'No-one,' said Azimuth and her voice was savage. 'No-one asks me to keep it, no-one asks me to hold it, no-one tries to make me love it or care for it at all. It goes, as soon as it is born, adopted out, taken out of my sight, taken as far away from me as possible. Otherwise, I walk out of here tonight and find someone who will kill it.' Her voice made it clear there would be no argument.

Storm's voice came from behind them, startling them all slightly. 'Do you agree with this?' she asked, and her question was directed at Remy.

The look he gave her was clear and steady. 'Absolutely,' he said. 'This - it - is an abomination. To make Azimuth keep it would be - torture.'

Azimuth's face was bleak with anger as she looked at Storm. 'It is not his choice, Storm,' she said. 'It is mine.'

Storm's face was imperturbable as she inclined her head to Azimuth. 'Iknow,' she replied. 'But we cannot make a decision with the limited information we have. I have no doubt you have told Remy the whole situation and if he agrees, then I am willing to agree. I trust his judgement.'

Gambit snorted suddenly. 'Brave t'ing to do, chere,' he said, and the smile he directed at Storm was grim and twisted.

But Hank was nodding as he divided his gaze between Remy and Azimuth. 'I, too, trust his judgement,' he said. 'Gambit may have made some ill-considered choices in the past, but I can conceive of no situation in which he would do anything that would injure you in any way.'

Azimuth's smoke-grey eyes traversed the two X-Men with the intensity of a tracking laser. 'Then you won't try and make me keep it?' she asked, softly.

Storm and Hank both nodded. For a long moment Azimuth stared down at her fingers, tightly intertwined with Remy's, and then the tension seemed to

leak from her body, until she leaned back into the pillows as if she had no strength left to support her. 'Thank you,' she said and her voice was little more than a whisper. She looked up then, and tears formed a sheen across smoke. Relief made her words formal - almost stilted. 'I know that you find it hard to accept how I feel about the - the bastard werechild I carry,' and for a moment Azimuth's voice held its former savagery. 'But if I am not forced to accept it, if I don't have to keep it, then I will carry it to term.' Her face reflected the growing confidence she was feeling as she looked at Storm and Hank, read their intentions. 'You do not have to be so concerned about our safety either, 'Ro. I twisted Sinister, you see, so he thinks that the X-Men's base is in California. He will not try to follow me, at least not for a while. Maybe long enough.' Storm nodded her approval, though she knew she would have to ask Azimuth for more details later. But Azimuth was speaking again. 'I feel safe here,' she said, and her voice was almost joyous.

Remy's fingers tightened around hers. 'You are safe here,' he said and Hank and Ororo murmured their agreement.

'Safe - and, if Mrs McCoy's favourite son has any say in it - well,' said Hank. 'I need to do tests,' he continued. 'DNA tests, amniocentesis, white blood cell counts, platelet counts, a gagillion others.' He smiled at Azimuth's brightening face. 'We are going to find out just exactly why this foetus has had so deleterious an effect on your well-being and we are going to rectify the problem. You will be well.'

His gentle reassurance enfolded Azimuth with the warmth and strength of a bear-hug. She sat up straighter in the bed and her almost-beautiful face was lit with a smile as she replied, 'When you say it, Hank, I could almost believe it.'

Hank pushed his glasses to the top of his head and rubbed his hands over his eyes. He'd done every test he could think of on Azimuth and the child and, as yet, he hadn't been able to find anything that could explain Azimuth's weight loss or the deterioration in her health. Her platelet count was normal, the same as her white blood cell count, ruling out a persistent, low-level infection. She hadn't tested positive to any viruses and her blood-pressure was normal, so eclampsia was not a problem. Nor did she have diabetes. The amniocentesis had showed no problems with the baby and its blood fell within all normal ranges. In a last hope to detect anything, Hank was doing DNA tests on the child to determine if there was a genetic reason for its effect on Azimuth.

But what was before him made no sense. The DNA charts showed a selection of genes and combinations of genes that matched nothing Hank had seen before. The child seemed to have fifty-two chromosomes rather than the normal forty-six, some of them appearing to be little more than duplications. Deeper RFLP analysis was showing strange genetic markers and sequencing. The codons were all wrong - genes were going to be turning on in places where they shouldn't, when they shouldn't. The Beast couldn't even begin to imagine what some of the effects would be.

It was DNA gone feral.

'This child is going to grow up to be Superman - or spontaneously combust as soon as it's born,' Hank murmured to himself and then put his glasses back on and went back to trying to work out what Sinister's malevolent magic had done.

He stared at the chart for a long moment and finally shook his head. 'Start from first principles,' he said to himself. 'Eliminate the wildly divergent DNA and check out the basic genetic structure. If that's not causing the problems, then start working your way through the anomalous genes. Eliminate the impossible and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.' The Beast sighed. He really did feel like Sherlock Holmes when he was undertaking a task like this.

He worked through the chart slowly, working out what genes were standard and which ones were bizarre, seemingly misplaced, duplicated or just plain strange. Bit by bit, he was able to remove a reasonably large portion of the chart until he had a DNA sequence that looked somewhat closer to normal - at least, as close as it could look with a mutant parent.

Hank stared at the chart for a while and then called up Azimuth's chart, stored in the computer system since the last time she had been there. He matched the two charts and confirmed that Azimuth was definitely the child's mother. Obscurely, Hank felt relieved. Somehow, despite what Azimuth felt about the child, it would have been even worse if it had not been hers.

He stared at the super-imposed charts, seeing the darker lines where Azimuth's DNA underlay that of the child. There was something about the chart, something that caused a faint tug in his memory, something that he had seen before.

He stared at the sequence for a very long time before he was able to make the connection and confirm what he suspected from the records on the system.

'Oh my stars and garters,' he whispered into the silence of his research lab. For once, Hank had nothing more to say.

Sometimes body language tells the story.

Hank paused in the doorway of the medi-lab, watching Remy and Azimuth talking. He could see Remy's ardent need to protect in the careful positioning of his body, his deep care in the tenderness with which he caressed Azimuth's hand, his distress in the rigid lines of his back. He could see the restlessness of Azimuth in her constantly fidgeting fingers, the tension in her sudden movements and her love for Remy in the soft glances that lingered on his face, the gentle half-smiles that crossed her own. But most of all he could see the way they ignored the child, Remy's attention fixed firmly on Azimuth's face, hers on his. Hank noted the way Azimuth's hand, when she fidgeted, would skitter over the rounded mound of her belly, unlike the protective pat of most other pregnant women he had seen.

Hank sighed. He knew then that this child was never going to be accepted, never going to be part of this particular happy family. It made what he was about to say even more difficult.

Both Remy and Azimuth turned their attention to him at the sigh. They had been aware of him for a little while, but had waited until he announced his presence before turning and greeting him with a warm smile.

Hank smiled back, tiredly. 'I have some results,' he said, and sat down on a chair near the bed.

'First of all, you're five months and approximately two weeks pregnant,' Hank said. 'And the child is a girl.'

There was no reaction from either Remy or Azimuth, their faces remaining neutral, blank, and Hank realised that, quite simply, neither of them cared what the child was.

'I've determined the problem with the child,' he continued, hurriedly. 'There is an error in its genetic structure - she is unable to produce an enzyme that is necessary for the break-down of fats and proteins and their conversion to glycogen. When your body produces the enzyme, Azimuth, the child absorbs the majority of it, meaning that there is very little left for you to process your own nourishment.'

'Can you fix de problem?' Remy asked, his eyes glowing slightly with his concern.

'I think so,' Hank said. He hated to hedge his bets like this, but he couldn't give any other answer in this case. 'I've determined a series of supplements that should be able to get more nourishment to Azimuth. And I'm attempting to obtain supply of an artificial enzyme that should be able to replace what the foetus is absorbing. I am currently unaware of any commercial production of the enzyme, but I am hoping that a specialist research lab will be able to produce viable quantities. This is not a problem I have ever seen before.'

Hank frowned suddenly and the agitation and frustration he felt after trying to work out what Sinister had done was clear in his voice. 'I don't know what Sinister has done to this child. He's changed the DNA in such a way that it should be dead - for a start it's polyploid and that precludes the possibility of it surviving.' The Beast noted the puzzled looks he was getting and explained, 'Polyploid means it has more chromosomes than it should. In a normal situation it is invariably fatal, but Sinister seems to have been able to bypass and manipulate pathways to enable the child's survival. And he must have known about the problem with the enzyme, but he hasn't corrected that flaw. My speculation is that amending that flaw would introduce a fatal variation in another area. But he's created an alternative pathway where the child is able to absorb the enzyme directly from Azimuth, which is totally unheard of, but he hasn't made any attempt to create an artificial enzyme. It's a balancing act that keeps the child alive at the expense of the mother, whilst it is still not fully functional in itself. If it was an ordinary child, without the alterations he has encompassed in its fundamental structure, then it would have died long ago. You probably would have miscarried before you'd even known you were pregnant.'

Azimuth's smile twisted wryly. 'Just my luck, hey?' she said, and there was a world of bitterness in her voice. Hank couldn't find any words to respond with, but Azimuth was continuing anyway. 'So I was right,' she said. 'It is eating me alive.'

Hank nodded. 'Technically, your statement was not in error. But I am hoping to make it false.'

'I know,' said Azimuth, and suddenly her voice was soothing. 'You're doing everything you can for me, Beast, I know that. I just wish I could be a little more of a - grateful patient.' Her smile was rueful. 'I'm sorry.'

'You have nothing to be sorry for,' replied Hank. 'My personal wish is that you were never placed in this situation in the first place.' He flashed a smile at her and then sobered rapidly. Clearing his throat, Hank said, 'There is one more thing.'

Two curious faces turned to his and Hank found himself clearing his throat again. Annoyed with himself, he stopped it. 'I found something when I was doing the DNA tests,' he said, finally. 'I eliminated some of the more anomalous genes and ran a profile check against Azimuth's DNA. It is definitely your child,' he said to her.

Azimuth shrugged. 'I know,' she said. 'Why else would Sinister put so much effort into kidnapping me, if he didn't want my genetic material? The fact I provided him with a nice handy womb as well was just the icing on the cake as far as Essex was concerned.' Azimuth practically spat the word Essex.

The Beast was startled by her vehemence, so much so that it took him a moment to gather his thoughts. Finally, he said, 'Once I had completed the check against Azimuth, I perused the rest of the DNA sample, the sequencing that would normally indicate who the father was. It was a very unusual pattern and it struck me that I had seen it before. I realised where it was and I did another cross-match and I was correct in my assumption.' For an instant Hank looked down at his hands, until finally he looked up squarely into the red-on-black eyes of Gambit.

'It appears, Remy,' Hank said, very quietly, 'that *you* are the child's father.'

The Beast did not get the horrified reaction he expected. For a long moment, Remy looked at him, his face blank and unsurprised. Unconsciously his fingers began to gently stroke over Azimuth's, as if he sought comfort in the touch. Finally, Remy dropped his eyes from Hank's and leaned into the bed, his body bending, his head bowing.

His voice was low, but it reached Hank easily. 'I know,' said Remy, and guilt and grief laced the words. 'I know.'

Azimuth's eyes were bright with sympathy as she looked at her lover's bowed head and her hand reached out and gently stroked his back, seeking to give comfort.

'We both know,' she said, and her voice was gentle and filled with an infinite sorrow.

 

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