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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 15

Storm sighed as she rose from her chair at the head of the table in the War Room. This was going to be difficult and she knew it. Her tension made her words formal, her phrasing stilted.

'I have called this meeting to inform everyone of the situation in regards to Gambit and Azimuth. Unfortunately, neither of them could make this meeting and they have asked me to explain their current circumstances.'

'Why couldn't they make it?' asked Jean, her voice low.

Ororo smiled warmly at her friend, pleased to see her again, pleased that she and Scott had made the effort to fly down from Alaska in response to her request. But the smile dropped quickly from her face as she said, 'Azimuth is not well enough to leave the infirmary, let alone attend a meeting. Gambit is staying with her.' Storm sighed deeply. 'Azimuth does not like to be alone,' she said softly.

'But surely it would be better to hear the story from them,' said Scott, frowning. Even if he no longer held the post of leader of the X-Men, his sense of responsibility still bound him.

The Beast's soft rumble filled the room before Storm could answer. 'If Azimuth had the strength to make this meeting I have no doubt she would be here - and if she was here Remy would be at her side. But Azimuth does *not* have that much strength.' Hank leaned forward until he could look at Scott. 'On another note, the less times Azimuth has to tell her story the better. Such horror is not easily re-lived.' His blue eyes met Cyclops' enigmatic, visored, stare and they were harder than Scott had seen in some time.

Scott shrugged and acquiesced. He trusted the judgement of Hank and Ororo. If he wasn't satisfied with what they told him he could always go and talk to Azimuth himself, anyway.

Storm looked at the ring of faces surrounding her and sighed. Neutrality seemed the dominant emotion, but a harsh anger spilled from Archangel and Rogue's eyes were bruised with something that was halfway between longing and despair. Marrow worried her the most, though. Something secretive and gleeful lurked within her eyes and she twirled a piece of bone between her fingers. Storm sincerely hoped Sarah didn't do something stupid but she doubted if her hope would be fulfilled.

'Azimuth, as you are all aware,' started Ororo, 'was kidnapped by Sinister some seven months ago and has only just escaped. I am sure - as news seems to travel faster than light in this mansion - that you are all also aware of the fact that she is pregnant. That child is, essentially, a child of rape - even if Sinister's methods do tend towards the mechanical rather than the biological. Azimuth - and Gambit - are going to remain here until the child is born.'

'They are, are they?' asked Warren, suddenly. 'We don't get any choice as to whether we want a thieving murderer in our midst?' His face was flushed with anger - it made him go a rather interesting purple colour, Storm thought.

Her voice was gentle as she answered. 'I do not necessarily agree with your description of Remy, Warren. However, you are right. You do not have any choice in whether they stay. They are staying and there will be no discussion of the matter.'

Warren's face darkened further. 'So who died and made you Queen of the world?' he asked, his tone vicious.

'Chuck did,' interrupted Logan and was rewarded by the sight of Archangel's shocked face. 'Start thinkin' with your brains, Worthington, instead of your balls. You and 'Ro can sit here and spit a few nasty names at each other for a while, but you're goin' to lose, so you might as well get used to the idea. You can think what you want about Gumbo, and you got your reasons - but you try putting that girl out on the streets in the state she is and I, for one, am willin' to see if ya wings'll grow back a second time.' Wolverine's claws made a gentle 'pock' sound as they extended just far enough to touch the table.

For an instant Storm thought Warren would take up the fight, but just as he opened his mouth, Betsy leaned forward and touched him on the shoulder. Something passed between them, a telepathic conversation no doubt, and then Warren was settling back in his chair, somewhat sulky but at least partially mollified. Betsy nodded at Storm, who wondered suddenly what hold the enigmatic Englishwoman had on Archangel - and more to the point, where exactly she stood on the issue of Gambit's return.

Now was not the time to pursue the matter, however. Ororo brought her mind back to the issue at hand. 'Both of them shall be staying,' she repeated. 'However, this is not without its risks to the X-Men and, more specifically, to the mansion. Sinister went to a great deal of trouble to kidnap Azimuth in the first place and expended quite some time and energy on getting her pregnant with a very carefully engineered child. The probability that he will, therefore, attempt to regain Azimuth is very high. We need to be prepared for an attack from Sinister and the Marauders.'

'So why keep her here?' asked Bobby, suddenly. 'Surely it would be a better idea to get Azimuth as far away from the X-Men and Sinister as possible. Out of the country, for that matter. Sinister knows the mansion too well - staying here would have to place her in deeper danger.'

Storm smiled at Bobby. Something had changed in him since O:ZT. For the first few months he had been angry, deeply angry in a way she had never seen in the fun-loving Iceman. But that anger had seemed at last to harden into resolve and he had been making increasing efforts lately to learn tactics and strategies. Storm had the startling feeling that Bobby was slowly heading towards a leadership position in the X-Men. She definitely approved - anyone who was capable of pulling so many successful practical jokes surely had a deeply strategic mind.

'We have little choice in the matter,' replied Ororo. 'Sinister is able to track both Remy and Azimuth across - well, certainly America and quite possibly the world. Whilst he doesn't have anything like a Cerebro device it appears that he is capable of tracking them by their DNA And as he is able to open a tesseract doorway in virtually any location, proximity makes no difference to our chances of keeping Azimuth out of his hands.'

'So why keep her here?' asked Bobby.

'Why risk ourselves?' asked Warren, quietly.

'Risk ourselves?' said Marrow suddenly. 'Risk ourselves, Angel? It's the Marauders who'll be risking themselves. Don't you long to taste their blood, Warren? I know I do. All hot and steamy.' Obscenely she licked the piece of bone she carried, and her eyes challenged Storm.

Storm ignored her and concentrated her attention on Bobby. 'Azimuth used her power on Sinister when she escaped from him . . .'

'She escaped from him?' asked Psylocke suddenly, interrupting Storm. 'Gambit did not rescue her?'

'No,' said Ororo, her brows furrowed in puzzlement. 'She escaped and found Gambit.'

'She is five months pregnant and barely has the strength to stand,' said Psylocke, her eyes narrowing. 'And yet she has the power to escape from one of the most dangerous and powerful mutants on the planet? What are you bringing into our home, Ororo?'

'I think you misunderstand,' said Hank before Storm could reply. 'Azimuth and Sinister have - a history together. Sinister has a tendency to underestimate Azimuth and her power - quite massively, actually. She is "only" a beta-mutant so what could she do to threaten him? Azimuth played on that - she made herself appear weaker and sicker than she was. Sinister was not willing to harm her while she carried the child it appears he so desperately wants, so she was reasonably safe from being - discarded.' Hank winced as he said the word. He had seen the pain in Azimuth's eyes when she had said it - had heard the sudden sharp pang of breath that Remy had drawn behind him. He dreaded to think what being discarded truly meant to them.

'When she appeared weak enough to be of no trouble,' Hank continued, 'Sinister loosened the bonds and shut down the force-field around her bed. Azimuth waited for weeks, playing up the fact that she was too weak to stand, too beaten to even think of escape. Eventually Sinister fell into complacency and left Azimuth unbound.'

'When Azimuth finally decided that it was safe, she slipped from the bed and crept out of her room and through Sinister's base.' Hank saw the picture in his mind again, the picture he had seen when Azimuth first told him the story, her voice dispassionate, her eyes desperate. Pale, pregnant, weakened, he could see her stalking through the base on soft feet, using every trick she had been taught to evade the security devices that knotted the base up tight, surging adrenalin and a fierce and desperate determination the only things holding her upright.

'How did she get through the security devices?' asked Scott suddenly, breaking Hank's mood. 'Sinister has more security than anyone I know - I find it hard to believe Azimuth could evade it all.'

'She is a trained thief, Scott,' reminded Ororo, gently. 'Trained by Gambit - and he *is* the best in the world.' Scott frowned at her for a moment and then subsided.

'Anyway,' Hank continued, at a nod from Storm. 'Azimuth found Sinister working in one of his laboratories - undoubtedly up to another of his nefarious experiments.' Hank always found the thought of Sinister vaguely distasteful - the man had no respect for scientific method let alone ethical reporting. The fact that he was quite mad and revelled in pain and blood was only a secondary consideration for the Beast, who was willing to admit to being a little narrow in his focus sometimes.

'Azimuth was able to twist Sinister just a little. She says that he is a particularly difficult individual to use her powers on, but she did what she could.'

It hadn't exactly been how Azimuth had described it. 'He's insane,' she had said. 'Completely, utterly, totally insane. He's got a mind like - his reality is -'. She had shuddered away from trying to explain it. 'But it's a madness that's so cold and so hard that the pressure of it has made his mind into something like diamonds - hard and glittering. Trying to break into it, to find cracks I can twist is almost impossible. I did what I could - and that wasn't much.'

'What did she do?' asked Bobby, leaning forward in interest.

'Two things,' said Hank. 'She twisted him to think that she was still in her bed. Sinister held that belief anyway so it didn't take much of her power - and it kept him from checking on her long enough to give her a chance to get away from the base. She also realised that she would probably have to hide away for quite some time. Azimuth couldn't make Sinister forget she existed or about the child or anything along those lines - it was too central and too tightly controlled for her to touch the idea. So she undertook an oblique attack. Azimuth realised that she could seek shelter with the X-Men until the child was - gone. So she twisted Sinister to think that the mansion was in California.'

There was silence for a few moments as the participants in the meeting tried to reason out the implications of this. Finally, Sam said, 'Ah'm sorry if this makes me sound stupid, Hank, but huh?'

Hank smiled suddenly. 'It's okay, Sam,' he said. 'It took me a few moments to understand it - but it was a masterpiece of applied strategy. Azimuth will be in our base. Sinister will track Azimuth through her DNA - or, alternatively, track Gambit down. The results will tell him where Azimuth is. Sinister will see those results and realise she is in the X-Men's base. The twist that Azimuth put in will make him believe that the base is in California. Sinister will go looking for her in California - and not find her - or the mansion. Sinister will track her down again - and the cycle will start again. It was a master-stroke, really. Sinister will be trapped in an absurd logic loop that'll be very difficult to break - and hopefully he won't break it until Azimuth has had the child. I was very impressed,' Hank finished, grinning.

'She sounds very resourceful,' said Rogue, unexpectedly, and her voice was so flat it was nearly insulting. Hank flashed her a startled look, but her face was totally expressionless. She added nothing to her comment and Hank decided ignoring it would be the best policy.

'Anyway,' he continued. 'After she had twisted Sinister, Azimuth stole some of Vertigo's clothes and decamped from Sinister's base. She ran - ran for a very long time until she found a car and hot-wired it and managed to get herself into town and find an Internet cafe and track down Gambit through - a mutual contact. He collected her as quickly as he could and brought her here. It appears that Sinister did not manage to pick up their trail before they arrived. But, given time, it is possible he will break Azimuth's loop and attempt to re-acquire her. It is that possibility that has precipitated this meeting.' Hank stopped abruptly. He disliked this subject - it conjured too many distressing pictures in his mind.

'So what do we do when the baby's being born?' asked Psylocke. 'The medi-lab is not set up as a maternity ward - or a nursery, for that matter.'

'Azimuth can't go to a normal hospital,' said Hank. 'If she leaves the mansion - Sinister will be able to locate her nearly instantaneously. Cecilia,' he said, and smiled warmly at the woman he had named, 'has kindly agreed to supervise the birth with Edna McCoy's favourite son as her faithful assistant. As for a nursery . . .' Hank's voice trailed off.

Storm continued for him. 'There is another reason for this meeting,' she said, quietly. She waited until all attention had swung to her and leaned forward. 'Azimuth is not prepared to be associated with this child in any way after it is born - nor is Remy. We will have to make plans for an adoption or fostering of some sort - away from the mansion. And the child will be a mutant - with Sinister's involvement most probably a powerful one.'

There was silence. Ororo had expected some protests, had steeled herself against cries of moral outrage and dissertations on the child being Azimuth's - how could she abandon it? She relaxed slowly as she realised there would be none.

'Adoption shouldn't be a problem,' said Scott, unexpectedly. 'I can find someone.'

Jean turned to him, her face quizzical. ~Scott, are you sure~ she began telepathically, but he cut her off.

~Later,~ he said. ~I'll explain later,~ he assured her and Jean subsided.

'So what are we going to do about protecting the mansion?' asked Bobby. 'Just in case,' he grinned at Hank.

For a moment, Ororo wondered whether to interrupt - to insist that no-one try and pressure Azimuth into keeping the child, but the discussion caught fire around her as plans and counter-plans for the repulsion of a Marauder invasion were thrown around. ~I'll have to trust them,~ she thought, and then plunged into the discussion.

The tactical discussion lasted for nearly two hours, until Logan called a halt on the grounds that, as far as he could work out, they had covered all possible contingencies. He was backed up by Bobby who stated that the next possibility on his list was what to do if the Marauders attacked on horseback. 'There is such a thing as over-planning,' he opined.

'Then this meeting is closed,' declared Ororo.

'Definitely,' said Scott. 'Everyone should get on with what they have to do.' Ororo flashed him a hard look but made no comment at his assumption of leadership.

Then the meeting was breaking up and there was a general movement throughout the room that caught Ororo within it. She tried desperately to catch Marrow's eye, to try and make her stay until she could speak to her, but everyone was moving towards Scott and Jean and she couldn't push through. Finally, she managed to extricate herself but, even as she looked around, Warren's hand caught her arm.

'Warren,' she said, flustered by her inability to get to Marrow, her eyes darting to catch a glimpse of the girl.

Archangel misunderstood her look. ''Ro,' he said, his voice soothing. 'Don't worry, I'm not going to rant at you. In fact, I want to apologise.'

'Apologise?' The notion startled Storm so much that she turned her full attention to her winged colleague.

'Yes, 'Ro,' said Warren. 'I'm sorry I was rude to you at the beginning of the meeting. I shouldn't have said what I did. I know you're Gambit's friend and I think I have a little more understanding now of why he and Azimuth must stay. It's just,' he smiled suddenly, a self-deprecating grin, 'well, let's just say I have issues. Gambit tends to bring out the worst in me.'

Storm smiled at him, suddenly, radiantly. 'Thank you, Warren,' she said, her rich voice warm. 'Apology accepted. I do understand your reluctance to show Gambit any forgiveness - I do not blame you for *that*. But Azimuth needs our help.'

'I know,' shrugged Warren. 'I'll just - do my best to keep away from them.'

'That will do nicely,' replied Ororo and then turned to continue looking for Marrow. A quick scan of the room showed there was no sign of Sarah. She had slipped out in the confusion.

'Oh, goddess, don't let her do anything stupid,' breathed Ororo.

'She will, darlin',' said Logan, materialising at her elbow. 'That girl was born to do stupid things. She calls it pushin' the boundaries. I call it a suicide wish.'

'But she'll kill her,' said Storm, her voice belying her distress.

'Yeah, maybe,' said Logan. 'It'd serve her right.'

For a moment Ororo looked at him in confusion but then it cleared and her eyebrows rose in surprise. Somehow, though, she knew Logan was right. In a fight between Marrow and Azimuth, she knew exactly which one would be the more dangerous.

Whatever she thought, it wasn't going to be Sarah.

Azimuth stared down at the cards, a puzzled frown on her face. Remy was trying to teach her the rules of a particularly convoluted version of two-handed solitaire and some of the variants were baffling her slightly. She looked at the cards for some time, trying to determine how she was going to get out of the current predicament she was in, but she couldn't dredge up the mental energy.

With a sigh she leaned backwards into the pillows and closed her eyes.

It felt so good to be free - to be, to some extent, safe. Every moment was to be savoured because she was away from Sinister, away from the terrible prison he had made of her bed. Here, she was free to get up when she wanted, to walk when she wanted, to bathe and change clothes when she wanted. To indulge her strange cravings, for that matter.

Her mouth curved in a sudden smile. The look on Remy's face when she had told him she desperately needed a plate of spinach with sour cream and cranberry sauce had make her laugh until she gasped. She had never expected to see fastidious distaste on his angular features but he had managed it. ~Thank the gods I was over the fish and chocolate sauce cravings before I escaped. Imagine the look that would have got me.~ She did and her smile broadened and then pursed. She was glad she'd never managed to indulge that craving - even the thought of its possible flavour was enough to make her tastebuds cringe.

~Remy,~ she thought and it was filled with a desperate longing, a surging mixture of passion and despair. Gods, how she loved him. How she wished she could be well enough to indulge the heating of her whole body when he slid his hand along her leg, to be able to run laughing with him over the rooftops, to whisper sweet nothings in the night as he made her body sing. Instead, he had to hold her tight against him as she struggled to walk once around the room, had to cradle her to him and soothe her in the night when she woke weeping from nightmares, had to go to the kitchen and try and rummage up things to satisfy her cravings because she wasn't even strong enough to do that.

~Your fault.~ She sent the savage thought to the unformed thing that rested within her abdomen, that sapped her strength and her energy away. The bastard werechild was still eating her, no matter what Hank said and she wished desperately that it would get out of her and let her have her own life back. Sudden tears rose in the back of her throat, but she swallowed them down again, her face contorting. ~I won't cry,~ she thought, determination strong in her. She was so damned tired of crying.

'So the upworlder wants to cry, does she?' came the voice from the door. Azimuth's eyes snapped open in surprise and a moment of harsh terror.

The girl who lounged in the doorway was quite young, with strange magenta skin and bony fragments protruding from her face and limbs. Her face contained a gleeful savagery, her eyes glimmering with a secret delight.

'You must be Marrow,' said Azimuth. Storm had told her about Marrow. She had failed, however, to mention the psychosis that lurked and gibbered in Marrow's mind. It was tightly controlled for now, but it was definitely there. Azimuth wondered if Storm knew about it.

'I am,' grinned the girl. 'Marrow the Morlock, the ugly, the sinful, the freak. Did they warn you about me?'

Azimuth shrugged. 'Any reason you're here?' she asked and the indifference in her voice was deliberately insulting.

'I came to see the poor upworlder who was stupid enough to get snatched by Sinister, stupid enough to be carrying another freakish thing inside her belly, stupid enough to take up with the Massacre-Maker.' Marrow leered at Azimuth. It was a remarkably unpleasant expression.

'Well, you've seen me,' said Azimuth, shortly. 'Now you can go away again.'

But Marrow ignored her, instead moving further into the room. 'You're very pale for an upworlder,' she said. 'You could almost be a Morlock. Except you're far too pretty to have to live down in the sewers with the ugly freaks like me.'

Azimuth closed her eyes and sighed. She really didn't have the strength to deal with this right now. She wasn't normally a sarcastic bitch but just this once (~okay, just this thousandth time~ she amended in her head) she thought it was justified. 'Tell me,' she said, opening her eyes. 'Are you here to make me drown in self-pity or are you going to put me out of my misery in a kinder, gentler way?'

Marrow's indrawn breath was harsh. 'What do you know about misery, bitch?' she said. 'Where were you when your boyfriend was down in the sewers making sure my people were slaughtered? You think you know anything about pain and suffering? Believe me, you will after I've finished carving your boyfriend's guts out and making pretty patterns with them.'

'Oh, I'm sure I don't know anything about pain and suffering compared to you,' said Azimuth, her voice breathy. 'Give it a rest, Marrow. You don't know shit about me and mine and you don't know anything about the pain I've gone through in my life. So don't tell me you're the only one that knows about misery - you're just the one whose chosen to drown in it. And as for Gambit, you of all people know he wasn't part of the massacre. He was the one who saved your life when he had half his guts ripped out. You know he wasn't the cause of your pain - and you know you don't want to kill him. Why don't you just admit it, agree to therapy and get the hell out of my room?'

For half a moment Azimuth thought she had made it through to the girl. Emotions swirled and clashed in Sarah's head, Azimuth glimpsing fractions of images that had defined her whole life. Gambit was there and he was wrapped up in a savage hatred at the thought of what had been done to the Morlocks and an aching longing for the man who had risked his life to rescue her, who had held her close and sung lullabies to her when the bad people came looking for them, who had made sure she had been safe before he had had to leave her. For a moment, Marrow's face was pained and Azimuth thought she might have got through.

But then Marrow's face hardened and she said harshly, 'I don't need therapy, surface-dweller. All I need is to take your boyfriend down and my world will be a happier place. And I thought I might practice with you.'

Azimuth sighed again. 'Has anyone ever told you that macho is really unattractive? Particularly in a girl.'

Marrow's face showed her confusion. 'You don't know who you're dealing with, frail,' she said, but her voice was uncertain.

'Yes, I do,' replied Azimuth. ~A scared, psychotic little girl with gross emotional problems,~ she thought, but didn't say out loud. 'And, quite frankly, I am far too tired to deal with you at the moment. You're going to go away now.'

'That's what you think,' started Marrow and then Azimuth reached out and twisted. Marrow's sentence strangled short in her throat and a sudden, puzzled look crossed her face. Without even looking at Azimuth, she turned and left the room.

Azimuth settled back into her pillows and tried to remember the rules of solitaire again.

Remy was walking back from the kitchen with the disgusting concoction Azimuth had asked for on a plate in his hands. He was trying not to look at it too closely in case his digestion rebelled at the mere thought of it.

'Why do women get dese weird cravings?' he asked of no-one in particular. 'Dey jus' trying to make deir menfolk sick as well?' There was no answer - not surprising as everyone was in the meeting. He hadn't seen anyone on his journey to the kitchen - and the long process of trying to find what Azimuth had asked for.

And then, completely unexpectedly, he felt the itch/buzz inside his head. Better than any siren it told him Azimuth was under attack.

He nearly dropped the plate as he started to run back towards the infirmary. At the last second he gripped it tighter as he realised what an effective weapon it could be. Without even thinking about it, he began to charge the molecules in the plate.

He dashed around the corner into the last corridor and nearly barrelled Marrow over.

'Sarah,' he shouted at her. 'What have you done?'

She didn't look at him, didn't notice him at all. Remy waved his free hand in front of her eyes, but there was no response. She walked past him as if he didn't even exist. Remy watched her walk away from him with a puzzled, almost yearning, expression. There were emotions mixed up in his perception of Sarah that he barely wanted to think about. Then he shook himself and ran into the medi-lab, the charged plate held out in front of him.

Azimuth looked up from the cards with a slightly concerned expression. 'If I'd wanted the spinach heated I'd have asked, Remy,' she said, looking pointedly at the glowing plate. 'You'd better stop before the sour cream all melts.'

Remy stared at her for a long moment. 'Dere was - you twisted someone,' he panted. Then he looked at the glowing plate and somewhat shamefacedly drained the charge out of it.

'Marrow came,' replied Azimuth. 'She had some rather serious thoughts about doing me some damage - and you, for that matter. I stopped her.' She shrugged. 'Can I have my food now?' she asked, brightly.

Remy frowned at her. 'I passed Sarah in de corridor. She didn' see me, didn' recognise me. What you do to her, chere?'

'I erased us from her mind, Remy,' explained Azimuth patiently. 'Just got rid of any perception of us. As far as Marrow is concerned, we never came here, we aren't here now and, if she does see us, well - she doesn't see us, if you know what I mean.'

Remy looked at her for a long moment and then smiled suddenly. 'You know, chere,' he said, handing Azimuth the plate. 'Dis may mean I'm a complete emotional coward, but I am *really* glad you did dat.'

'Good,' said Azimuth shortly and picking up her fork, downed the first mouthful of the meal Remy had brought her. He shuddered slightly and averted his eyes.

'Remy,' said Azimuth, after a moment and he looked at her with one eyebrow raised enquiringly. 'Maybe spinach, sour cream and cranberry sauce wasn't really what I was craving after all.' She held the plate out to him and he took it from her with a sudden laugh at her somewhat queasy expression.

'Somehow, chere,' he said, 'I had a feelin' dat wouldn' go down dat well. So I brought you a chocolat as well.' He pulled the bar from his shirt pocket and grinned as Azimuth fell on it like a starving wolf.

'You know, LeBeau,' she said somewhat indistinctly, her mouth full of chocolate. 'I knew there was some reason I kept you around.'

'So not'ing to do wit' love den?' asked Remy.

She grinned around the bar. 'You keep supplying me with chocolate and it'll always be love.'

'Good,' replied Remy and there was something nearly savage in his tone. 'I missed you so much, chere,' he whispered and cupped her face with his hand.

'Me too, lover,' Azimuth whispered back and rubbed her cheek against his hand. 'Now how about showing me how to beat you at this damned game?'

Remy grinned and looked at the cards. 'You ask de impossible, mon amant,' he said. 'How about I jus' show you how to beat everyone else, non?'

'It'll do for a start,' said Azimuth and turned her mind to the cards.

'So how am I going?' asked Azimuth, pulling the sheets back up to her neck. She knew she was being ridiculously defensive but she hated being examined.

Hank sighed and settled on the edge of the bed, making it sag somewhat. 'You're still losing weight which is very worrying. I had expected that you may be starting to stabilise but it appears not. However, we should be getting a supply of enzymes for you soon and that may start to alleviate the weight loss. I just wish I knew what Sinister had been supplying you with - I have to assume he was fairly versed in what he was doing and I would like to ensure you are getting the maximum possible nutrition.'

'I'm not going back on a drip, Hank,' said Azimuth, quietly. 'I don't care what I could get supplied - I am just not up to dealing with a drip.' She smiled suddenly, wryly. 'Look, mummy!' she said. 'A phobia. It followed me home - can I keep it?'

Hank smiled at her and then frowned slightly. 'Are you sure you're getting enough to eat?' he asked anxiously.

Azimuth groaned. 'Hank, if I ate any more food, I promise I would explode. LeBeau keeps trying to feed me up - I think he's decided I need a bit more meat on my bones.' She smiled at her lover, lurking quietly in a corner of the room and then pressed a hand dramatically to her brow. 'Unless, of course, it's another guilt reaction. I must feed my chere or I shall have yet another thing to weigh on my conscience.'

'You makin' fun of me, chere?' asked Gambit, one eyebrow raised.

'Would I do that?' responded Azimuth impishly.

'Sometimes I t'ink you *live* to do dat,' responded Remy, rolling his eyes theatrically. 'But I must endure de slings and arrows of my outrageous chere for guilt renders me helpless to respond - Gambit can but accept dat he deserves all de scorn and infamy dat his amant lays upon his humble head.' His grin was charmingly lopsided and Azimuth favoured him with a small round of applause.

'Beautiful, my love,' she said, and then smiled winsomely at him. 'Now could I possibly induce my guilt-wracked sweetheart to get me a cup of coffee? One of your special ones? With the cinnamon bits?' She batted her eyelashes at him outrageously.

'How can I possibly refuse?' said Remy and, getting up, flourished a deep bow at Azimuth. 'Your wish is my command, m'lady,' he said and managed to sweep dramatically from the room - not an easy task when wearing battered jeans and a t-shirt.

Hank looked at the door in astonishment and then turned startled eyes to Azimuth. 'What have you done with Gambit?' he asked suspiciously. 'Who is that impostor who just left the room?'

Azimuth looked at Hank in puzzlement. 'Impostor?' she asked.

'That - Remy - I thought guilt was Gambit's religion,' said Hank. 'He was - he was - *laughing* about it.'

Azimuth patted his hand lightly. 'If it makes you feel better,' she said, 'it's all still there inside of him - a great seething sea of guilt and despair. Remy just - sometimes he drowns in it when - when there's no-one there to help him hold his head above water. I just try to keep him from brooding.'

'It appears you are more than capable of ameliorating his despair,' replied the Beast. 'You are not experiencing any similar moments of despondency, I would hope?'

Azimuth sighed and sank back into her pillows. 'I'm not very good at despair, Hank - I tend to bypass it and go straight to suicidal insanity.' She forestalled Hank's anxious interjection with a raised hand. 'Don't worry about me. Ever since the first time Sinister took me right to the edge of dying I haven't been that stupid again. I've got very good at surviving now. It's called living through it. I lived through my father, I lived through Sinister, I'll live through this.'

'I wish you didn't have to.' Hank's voice was very soft. 'If there was any way . . .' he started, and his hand helplessly patted at Azimuth's. 'I wish I could get you into a conventional hospital, I wish there was some way we could get rid of this child for you, I wish - but the law . . . If Bastion hadn't come, if we still had the Shi'ar technology I could have induced the child, grown it in an artificial womb - you wouldn't have to lie here getting weaker while it feeds off you. If there was anything, any way at all, believe me . . .'

'Hank, Hank,' Azimuth's voice interrupted him and her hands cupped his face until he looked at her. She smiled at him, ruefully. 'I'm not exactly the world's happiest mother-to-be, Hank, and I admit that freely. But I will live through this. It is only a few more months and then the werechild will be gone and I can get back to living my own life. A month ago I was thinking that it would be ripped from my dead body by Sinister - at least here I know you'll make sure I survive - that I'm more important to you than the werechild. You can't imagine how much easier that makes it. Just so long as I don't have to have anything to do with it after it's born - I couldn't deal with that. I just couldn't.' Azimuth's eyes were suddenly fearful.

'No-one will make you keep it, Azimuth,' said Hank, gently. He smiled suddenly, trying to lighten the mood. 'You were right, by the way.'

'Right?' asked Azimuth.

'Long hair doesn't suit you. You really need a haircut.'

Azimuth laughed and brushed her fingers through her pale hair, hanging about her face now. 'I know,' she said. 'But Essex just wouldn't let me out to see my stylist.'

'You'll have to ask Logan if he'll do it,' said Hank, solemnly.

'Logan?' Azimuth was startled by the name. She had only just met Logan - if met was the right word. She had been alone in the room, Remy off on some errand when a short, stocky man had walked in and planted himself inside the door. She had stared at him for a moment and then looked away, her eyes watering. He was - shattered. She couldn't come up with another word for it. His reality had been broken and re-arranged so many times that Azimuth could make no sense of it. Her eyes had actually hurt when she looked at him. But then something in her head had shifted and she saw him through his own perception. Safe, warm, solid, a strange combination of gentleness and danger. She had smiled at him just as he had grunted and nodded in something that she thought was approval - and then he was gone.

But Logan and a haircut?

'Logan?' she asked again.

'Yes,' said Hank, very seriously. 'It's actually his secret mutant power. How else do you think we get our hair to stand up and do that pointy thing?'

'Like Edward Scissorhands?' asked Azimuth, her eyes wide. Hank nodded, his face perfectly straight and Azimuth laughed, suddenly, helplessly. 'I don't have to do the pointy thing, do I?' she asked. 'I'm quite happy with just plain old short.'

'I think we can probably manage that,' replied Hank. 'I'll organise something with 'Ro. You have managed, you realise,' he said, his voice suddenly chastising, 'to completely divert me from the topic of your health. Now, how are you feeling?'

'Not too bad,' said Azimuth. 'Remy helps me take walks around the room and I feel better when I've done that. I just wish I had the strength to walk a bit further and a bit longer. I'm hungry a lot as well.' She grinned suddenly. 'That's normal, though. I've got a metabolism on high octane most of the time. I do sleep a lot.'

'That's to be expected,' observed Hank. 'I must say you do seem healthier than when you first came here - though considering you had just escaped from Sinister it is not surprising that you were hardly in peak physical condition. I just hope I can reduce the weight-loss you are experiencing - that may lead to an increase in your strength. The more exercise you can do at this point the better, though I would suggest you are hardly up to a Danger-room session. If we still had a Danger-room. Keep up the walking.'

'I will,' said Azimuth. 'Don't worry, I will.' She didn't try to explain to Hank how much she needed to take those walks, how they almost made her feel like she had her freedom again. She just wished they didn't leave her so deadly tired. When she thought of how she had run from Sinister's base - fleeing so fast and for so long - she wondered how she had managed it. Pure adrenalin, she supposed.

'Good,' Hank was saying. He sighed suddenly. 'There is something I have to ask you, Azimuth,' he said. She nodded at him to make him continue. 'What did you do to Sarah? She keeps vehemently denying that you are here no matter what anyone says. What did you do?'

'Ah, Sarah,' replied Azimuth. 'I wondered when someone would ask me about that.' She looked at Hank curiously. 'Do you know she's psychotic?' she asked.

'No, she's not.' The Beast's reply was quick, defensive. 'She just needs a lot of guidance, that's all. She has a tendency to melodrama, I agree, but . .'

Azimuth interrupted sharply. 'But nothing, Hank,' she said. 'She's psychotic. It's very tightly controlled at the moment, but it's there. If you keep her around and she gets into a stress situation she could be very dangerous.'

Hank gave her a considering look. 'I'll keep that in mind,' he said. 'Now, what did you do?'

'She came in here and wanted to kill me,' said Azimuth, matter-of-factly. 'Just as practice until she could go off and gut Remy. So I erased us from her mind. She won't be able to break the twist either. As long as I'm here, I'm not going to have to deal with her.'

Hank looked somewhat uneasy. 'Are you sure such tampering with her mind is a good thing?' he asked. 'I do not like the concept of imposing such a hold on someone's psyche.'

'Well, I suppose I could have tried mindless violence,' said Azimuth, shortly. 'Unfortunately, I'm not quite in the right physical condition for a really good knock-down, drag-out fight with someone who wants to stick a knife in my heart. But I'll keep it in mind for next time.' The look she directed at Hank was very angry and he felt somewhat ashamed. 'I'm tired, Hank,' continued Azimuth. 'I don't want to have to deal with crap like that. Maybe, normally, I'd have tried something different, but not right now. Besides, I don't want Remy to have to deal with the kind of feelings he's got about Sarah at the moment. I'm having a hard enough time stopping him from guilting over the fact he didn't rescue me and the fact that his DNA is part of the werechild, without getting back into Morlock Massacre territory again.'

'Ah,' Hank's exclamation was delicate. He considered pursuing the matter, but decided to leave it. 'Is there anything you wish to do in the next few hours that I could assist you with? I have a couple of hours before I need to prepare for my date with Cecilia.' He grinned broadly at Azimuth's delighted exclamation.

'Well now, of course, you're going to have to stay and fill me in on all the gossip,' replied Azimuth. She looked over at the pack of cards lying on the table next to her. 'Tell me, Hank, do you know the rules to two-handed solitaire?'

'I am somewhat conversant with the game, yes,' replied the Beast. 'I am quite happy to wile away a few hours over the cards and gossiping like an old housewife, if such is your desire.'

'Oh, it is my desire,' said Azimuth and grinned wickedly. 'Tell me, are you a betting man by any chance?'


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