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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 21

Storm listened in surprise to the shrieks that could have been outrage or laughter echoing in the corridor outside the newly-refurbished Danger Room. She just had time to wonder who it might be when the door swished open and revealed Gambit stalking into the room with Azimuth slung over his shoulder. She was the one making the indeterminate shrieks and pounding rather fruitlessly on his behind. It was, Storm decided, definitely laughter.

Remy stopped and, with a flourish, swept Azimuth off his shoulder and onto her feet in front of him. 'Dis is de Danger Room, chere,' he said and turned her around to look.

Ororo smiled as Azimuth's eyes went wide. The room was currently configured to include a series of floating platforms that shifted continuously between walls full of automated laser rifles. 'Oooh,' said Azimuth and, walking forward, touched the wall lightly. 'Shiny,' she said.

'All the better to ricochet the laser blasts and turn you into toast, my dear,' said Beast, from where he was resting beside Storm.

Azimuth turned a gleeful smile on Hank and then rounded on Remy. 'Can we play?' she asked, almost bouncing with excitement.

Gambit cocked a questioning eyebrow at 'Ro, who nodded. Beside her, however, Hank was frowning. 'As your physician, I cannot recommend . . .'

'I know, I know,' interrupted Azimuth, rolling her eyes. 'I know what you're going to say, Hank. I'm still recovering and I shouldn't and it's too soon etcetera etcetera. What do you need me to do to prove myself fit enough? Handstands?' Leaning forward, Azimuth flipped herself lightly up onto her hands. Dropping back down she said, 'Cartwheels?' and executed two neat ones. 'Backflips?' Elegantly she arched her back and turned herself over. 'Honestly, Beast, I meant it when I said I heal well. I'm ready to start training again. I *need* to start training again.' The last sentence was a plea.

The look Henry gave her was dubious. 'Your gyrating gymnastics are most impressive. However, you have not regained all of the weight you so precipitately lost and it seems unlikely that your pulchritudinous physical self could satisfactorily cope with the demands of a Danger Room session.'

'I know I'm still skinny,' Azimuth said and, almost mournfully, reached down and pinched at her colours where they rested on her hips. Where once they had been skim-skin tight she was able to pinch material between her fingers. 'But most of that's loss of muscle-tone now and training will help that. Won't it?' The look she directed at Hank was astonishingly vapid.

He wasn't fooled by it and frowned at her. 'Of course it will assist in rendering your redoubtable form into fighting fitness.' He threw up his hands suddenly. 'I know that I'm going to lose this one so I shall cease and desist my efforts to get you to cease and desist *if*,' and he shook a blue finger at Azimuth, '*if* you allow me to supervise your training sessions.'

She bowed to him gracefully. 'Of course you may.'

Remy had gravitated to Ororo while his girlfriend argued with Beast. 'See you got de new technology worked out,' he remarked.

'Ro nodded. 'Lilandra gave us a full set of instructions. Between Scott and Henry it didn't take long to have the Room back to - *shiny*.' She smiled.

'She didn' come to visit, did she.' It was a comment rather than a question.

'Lilandra? No,' Ororo replied. 'A holographic visit to Charles on Muir, I believe, and then a cargo ship despatched with the most up-to-date equipment.' There was infinite sorrow in her voice as she added, 'Lilandra and Charles have not met in person for some time - a great sadness for both of them.'

'She'll never meet him, never touch him, again,' said Remy. He caught Ororo's sharp glance at him, explained softly, 'I remember what she felt like, when Xavier was a Skrull, what she t'ought *he* was doing to her. And even after she knew it wasn' him, she couldn' stop hatin' him for what de Skrull did. If he's on another planet she don' have to feel de hate, can t'ink of him - fondly.' The word was said almost scornfully. 'Dis - all dis,' he waved at the Danger Room, by inference at the newly equipped medilab, 'is jus' what a guilty conscience looks like when you're de Shi'ar Imperatrix.'

'And no-one knows guilt better than you, my heart,' said Azimuth quietly, having arrived in time to hear Remy's last few sentences. He smiled at her and their fingers touched, briefly intertwined, separated.

'So le Bete going to let you play?' asked Remy, having lost track of Azimuth's discussion while he was talking to Storm.

'With certain conditions attached,' rumbled Henry from behind Azimuth who rolled her eyes at Remy.

'*With* all the safety features on, *with* Hank having override power on any simulations so he can stop it if he thinks I'm getting too tired, *with* the promise that I won't sneak in here when he's not looking and do myself damage, *with* a hundred other withs,' said Azimuth. She pouted fiercely but Ororo could see the laughter that gleamed in her eyes.

'He doesn't trust us much, does he?' said Remy mildly.

'Not really, no,' replied Azimuth. 'You think I should tell him what I was doing the last time he let me out of the medilab?' She shared a grin with Remy, both remembering the exhilaration of leaping from building to building in Chicago. Then she frowned, tapped her foot. 'Maybe I could stay in bed for another week or so and then, when my head explodes from the inactivity, he might believe that I need some exercise.' Pointedly she didn't look at Hank.

'I did say you could play,' Hank said mildly. 'If you continue to stand around and harangue me, I won't believe you want to do any exercise at all.'

Azimuth turned a glorious smile on him. 'You're impossible to tease, you know that, don't you?' she said.

Hank smiled back. 'I have the advantage there,' he replied, eyes twinkling. 'I have Bobby Drake as a best friend. It makes you somewhat immune to teasing.'

'So what do you want to play?' asked Remy.

A whispered rush of feeling drifted past him, excitement and anticipation and a hot taste of lustfulness that dried his mouth as Azimuth flashed him a heated glance. Her verbal response, however, was utterly practical. 'I wouldn't mind trying this one out,' she said, pointing at the platforms. 'If you'll tell me what the rules are.'

'De platforms move, de lasers fire. Avoid de lasers and get to de top platform. Dat's 'bout it, really. Duck and run.' Gambit shrugged.

'Shall we go?' said Azimuth. 'I don't think I'm up to racing you, but I'll try and make it to the top.'

'After you, chere,' grinned Remy and followed Azimuth to just below the first platform.

After it was all over, she lay on the floor on her back and swore at him. 'As soon as I get feeling back in my arms I'm going to hit you so hard,' she threatened.

It didn't stop him laughing, so hard that he could barely catch his breath and he certainly couldn't stand.

'I'm sure that your hurts are merely cosmetic,' said Hank, his voice over the microphone mild. 'I am concerned about Gambit however.'

'I'm alright,' gasped the Cajun, but his laughing didn't stop. Azimuth crawled over to him, dragging a leg behind her and hit him with an arm that didn't work properly. It made him laugh harder until finally he caught her arm and dragged her down to kiss her. 'Ah, chere, if you could have seen your face . . .'

Azimuth had nearly made it to the top platform although lasers had caught her right leg and her midriff, rendering them numb. She had managed to staggeringly jump to one of the penultimate platforms and face the topmost one, where Gambit waited for her. She had launched another staggering jump, prepared to drag herself onto the platform with her arms, but mid-air a laser had caught her across the shoulders, numbing both her arms. Despairing, Azimuth had landed against the platform and tried to cling onwards with arms that no longer worked. Remy had watched, wide-eyed, as she had slipped backwards until she had disappeared with a noise like 'Geeeuyaahh', followed by a thud. It was the thud that had started him laughing, and then the memory of her expression and the extraordinary noise she had made. Once he started, he hadn't been able to stop, laughing so hard that eventually he had fallen off the platform and landed next to his love, weak as a kitten.

'How you feelin'?' he asked after he had kissed her into silence, himself into some sobriety.

'I'm getting some feeling back in my leg,' she said, rubbing at it. 'Give me another ten minutes and I should be okay.' Azimuth ducked her head suddenly, blushing. 'Gods, Remy, I was terrible. I'm so out of practice,' she wailed.

'Dat's hardly surprising,' said Remy. 'You haven' done dis for over a year now. And dis ain' exactly what we normally practice. How 'bout we try somet'ing else for a while. Like dis.' He called out to the Danger Room explaining quickly and precisely what he wanted. The room's contents shimmered, melted away, re-formed. The room was full of doors suddenly, each standing alone, all with very complicated locks.

Gambit reached down, pulled Azimuth's lock-picks from their pocket at her hip, held them before her eyes. 'How about it, chere?'

She grinned and tried to take the picks from his fingers, but her arms still didn't work and she couldn't reach them. Remy took one look at the expression of frustration on her face and collapsed helplessly into laughter again.

Bo cracked against bo, skittered upwards, was caught, twisted, broke free and curved downwards again. An intricate dance wove within the framework of clattering metal, bodies twisting, sliding, arcing, motion without surcease. Clatter against clatter, each pass and form moving infinitesimally faster than the one before, bodies blurring and the separate blows becoming a single noise, a sound like raindrops drumming upon rooftops, until some movement made was too fast, too slow, not right and everything stopped.

From the sudden tableau a bo arced outwards, a high parabola, until it struck the wall hard and slid downwards to final stillness.

'So how'd I do?' asked Azimuth, holding very still as Remy's bo pressed against her throat, her head tilted backwards so she looked down her nose at him.

He dropped the bo downwards, reached out and traced the curve of her cheek. 'Well, 'cept for dat las' move you were doin' jus' fine. You dropped your bo too far, left yourself open for the straight strike. Don' you agree, Hank?'

'Indubitably, Azimuth,' said Hank, from his vantage point in the Control Room. 'Your martial skills are quite impressive, if unexpectedly familiar. I could not help but notice striking parallels between our Master Thief's most prepossessing skills and your own inimitable talents.'

'That's not really surprising, Hank,' replied Azimuth, wiping the sweat from her face with a towel. 'Considering they are his.'

'Pardon?' asked Hank, somewhat confused.

'They're Gambit's,' said Azimuth shortly. 'One of the joys of being Sinister's guinea-pig was a habit of waking up with a whole new skill-set. I've got Gambit's bo-fighting skills in there, at least part of Arclight's hand-to-hand stuff, some of Scalphunter's weaponry expertise, a few other things.'

'While I don't question your veracity,' said Hank, dubiously, 'my scepticism is aroused when you speak of being given a new "skill-set". Such skills cannot just be implanted. Though, considering the history of some of the X-Men . . .'

'Memories, really,' interrupted Azimuth. 'Not skills. The good doctor liked testing out his memory implants, needed to make sure his clones could start up again with all their old knowledge. Apparently I was an excellent guinea pig - that's why I've got so many fragments. And when you're being trained by the person who gave you the memories it doesn't take too long to gain the skills.'

'So could you best Gambit?' asked Hank, adding hastily, 'When you are fitter, of course.'

'Not even close,' she responded. 'Remy can kick my butt from here to Texas when he wants. What I've got isn't the same as what he's got. But he slows down for me when we're training. Doesn't like to show me up.' Her smile at her lover was dangerously sweet and he responded with his own grin, nearly feral. Something dark and unexpected burned in his eyes, ignited by the conversation and he tossed her bo back to her, resumed fighting stance.

'I would have thought that the undoubtedly insane but unimpeachably thorough Mr Sinister would have perfected his techniques when he had the opportunity.' Hank stopped suddenly, horrified at what he was saying

Azimuth's words were laced with bitterness. 'I was just a prototype, Hank. What he did to me was enough - he made sure his techniques couldn't harm his precious Marauders and that was the only way I ever mattered,' she said and then Remy's bo cracked down upon hers as she twisted, slid it down, caught and turned it and further conversation was stopped by the hectic abandon of the fight.

'Are you sure you're ready for this?' asked Ororo, concerned.

Azimuth just nodded, her tension betrayed only by the nervous flexing of her fingers around her bo.

'I would not allow Azimuth to join the team exercise if I felt her previous infirmity still impeded her abilities,' observed Henry.

'But are you sure you're ready for this?' Ororo asked Azimuth again, very quietly. Her hand quietly indicated the assembled team, closed in a fist, her own tension apparent.

Azimuth looked at Remy, then, raised a questioning eyebrow. A fragment of a previous conversation drifted through her mind, a conversation she had had with Remy the day Scott had suggested they join the X-Men in a team exercise.

'I don't want to be an X-Man,' she had insisted.

He had nodded, his mouth quirking in agreement or sympathy, she hadn't been quite sure which. 'I know, chere,' he said softly. 'But - I need you to do dis.'

'Why?' The question had been tight, flat and she knew she was glaring at him, but she couldn't help the fear that nearly choked her or the anger that was her only way of dealing with it.

'I need to know you're fit,' Remy had responded. 'Dat you're ready.'

'Ready for what?' Her voice was harsh.

'Ready to fight. Ready to face de world,' he said softly. He leaned forward, stroked her cheek lightly. 'Trus' me?' he asked and her anger had dissolved.

'Always,' she had responded and had meant it.

She looked at him now, asked the question again, silently this time, and he nodded once, expressionless, leaning against his bo. She looked into him, looked at the shape of him inside his/her head as her power saw the real Remy. An ulterior motive, she could see that, couldn't see what the motive was but no intention to harm, never to hurt her, a wanting to protect her allied with a need to trust her to save herself. Love, over it all, real love. She trusted him, without need for a choice, and her swift nod in reply made a quick flicker of a grin touch his mouth.

Her glance searched outwards, across the teams. Most were just waiting, tense, expectant, wanting the exercise to commence. Scott's intention to test her and Remy, to see whether they were ready to be X-Men, was clear but Azimuth dismissed that as unimportant. Rogue - Rogue was satisfied. There was no hint of other feelings, of ill-intent, simply satisfaction. Azimuth didn't understand it and definitely didn't trust it but even as she looked at Rogue, she saw the quick glance exchanged beneath Scott and Jean, Jean's short nod as Scott tilted his chin at Rogue. Azimuth realised suddenly that she and Remy weren't the only one being tested, being watched, and that was enough to allay her worst worries about Rogue. Turning to Storm she softly said, 'I'm ready.'

'Then I guess it's time to go,' replied Storm and nodded at Cyclops. He looked back at his team, assembled behind him and got nothing but affirmatives.

'Go,' he said, his voice a whip-crack through the tense silence, and the teams drew in upon themselves and then bloomed outwards, heading towards each other in a straight showdown.

Azimuth hung back, watched as the rest of Storm's team sprinted forward, heading for their adversaries. Terror dried her mouth for an instant and she mentally chanted, ~Not Marauders, they're not Marauders,~, the litany that stopped her running in blind panic for the door. Then she looked up and saw Archangel was swooping down towards her and her mind snapped back into focus, her power seeking, searching, seeing, the shape of Archangel's mind clear inside her head, looking for the cracks where she could twist his perceptions. His mind slipped open under the gaze of her power and she saw the crazed spaces where thoughts could be changed. Reaching out, Azimuth *twisted* and Archangel, suddenly unsure whether his wings were feathers or flechettes, tried to fly and shoot out his own feathers simultaneously. His wings twisted, tangled around themselves and he was falling, landing with an unceremonious thunk five feet in front of Azimuth. It was the work of a second for her to lean forward and gently tap his chest with her bo, the red mark it left the sign that Archangel was out of the fight.

More than a little satisfied and quite possibly (she admitted to herself) rather smug, Azimuth looked up at the fighting raging in front of her. It had ebbed away from her, outwards, something of which she decidedly approved. She may have inherited memories of skills from some of the more enthusiastic combatants among the Marauders but her fighting style tended towards that of Vertigo - holding back from the physical and doing what she could to turn the fight with judicious applications of power. Azimuth's advantage over Vertigo lay in the way her power changed others without them being able to tell - none of the X-Men came for her because she seemed so innocuous standing back near the wall, leaning on her bo. Her disadvantage lay in the fact that she had to hoard her power carefully, unable to use too much in any one strike lest it fail her completely. She had grown wise in its use however, and carefully aimed her strikes to use minimum power for maximum effect. And so Psylocke faltered, missing her psychic strike at Beast because her stomach suddenly cramped with old pain. Cyclops' blast, aimed to drive Iceman away from Phoenix, caught Jean instead as his mind suddenly told him that she was not where she was. Azimuth checked quickly for Gambit, but he was easily holding his own against Cannonball, so she turned her attention to the fast-moving Nightcrawler, battling against Cecilia, and looked for the spaces inside his head.

She was far too engrossed in the shape of Kurt's mind to see the danger she was in. To see Rogue break away from the fight and loop upwards and then plummet towards Azimuth like a falling star.

The shout came inside her head, Remy's voice, more than voice, an urge, a push. ~Move,~ his voice said inside her mind and caught at places within it, turned thought into action, her limbs moving without her volition. Her head turned upwards and she saw Rogue, twenty feet above her coming down like a thunderbolt, a bullet, her face transfigured by a gleeful look of murder. Her mind froze, would have kept her still under that attack, except Azimuth wasn't the one controlling her own limbs now, and the surge of thought/urge/push drove her to plant her bo solidly, to leap and arc and pivot over the length of it, a high acrobatic cartwheel that took her away from ground zero. She was still in mid-air when Rogue hit the ground behind her and Azimuth was only just able to control her movements through the air, to land on her feet.

'Gods,' she breathed, as soon as she could get her breath back and turned to see Rogue crawling out of the hole that she had made in the Danger Room's floor, the cracked stone and surging metal that made clear the fact that Rogue had hit the ground at maximum force.

It had stopped being a training fight and the X-Men, honed by too long in combat, knew that. Silence, stillness, rippled out from Azimuth and Rogue and the attention of all X-Men turned to the two women.

Rogue ignored them, her eyes fixed on Azimuth. 'Yah certainly ain't cut out to be an X-Man,' she said, contemptuously. 'Can't take a fight.'

'You tried to kill me,' said Azimuth, her voice low, shocked. She lifted her eyes slowly, locked them on Rogue's. 'You tried to kill me,' she repeated.

'It's a training exercise,' said Rogue, her smile tigerish. 'It's up to you to get out of mah way.'

'You can't lie to me.' Azimuth gripped her bo tightly, trying to stop the shaking of her hands. 'I saw what was inside your head. You were trying to kill me.'

'Yah can say what yah want, *sugah*. Yah can lie to the X-Men and try and turn them against me. It won't work,' hissed Rogue. 'This is *training*. Yah ain't much of an X-Man if you can't get out of the way.'

'No. No!' Azimuth shook her head. 'I'm not an X-Man. I'm not invulnerable. I couldn't have survived you hitting me like that. You knew that.' She ran a shaking hand through her hair. 'And you know I'm not lying. The X-Men know I'm not lying. You wanted me dead.' Each word was an accusation.

Angered beyond pretence, her expression one of absolute loathing, Rogue snarled, 'Why wouldn't I? You're stealing mah life.'

Fury burst inside Azimuth's head, a red star of rage. 'You fucking bitch,' she snapped. 'You wanted me dead. I saw you. You knew I couldn't get out of your way.' Her stance altered subtly, without conscious thought, until she stood poised to fight. 'You tried to kill me.'

'Ah obviously didn't try hard enough,' replied Rogue, her fists clenching.

'If you ever try anything like that again,' Azimuth's voice was a whisper, a shout in the utter silence, 'I will twist you so you never *walk* again.'

Rogue laughed, eyes flashing. 'Yah like threatening me, don't yah? In case yah don't remember, Ah'm invulnerable.'

'Only your body. Not your mind,' replied Azimuth. 'That's as fragile as glass and I can break it any time I want.'

'And Ah can rip your arms off and tie 'em in a knot,' snarled Rogue.

'Gambit,' Azimuth heard Scott say, but she didn't take her eyes from Rogue. 'Stop this.'

Gambit's voice was cool as he responded. 'My chere can take care of herself,' he said, and then his tone altered and Azimuth could tell he was smiling. ''Sides, I like my limbs de way dey are. You t'ink you can stop dis wit' all of yours still attached, den go ahead.' Azimuth's mouth quirked at her lover's comment, at the dreadful absurdity of her situation.

Azimuth's half-smile seemed to light the same red fuse in Rogue's mind that had previously burst inside her own. The Southern mutant's eyes went wide and her face contorted in a murderous grimace. An inarticulate noise burst from Rogue's throat and she was suddenly flying, lifting up and barrelling towards her target. Azimuth lifted her bo, ready to strike hard wherever she could.

Rogue never made it, Cyclops' blast catching her amidships, driving her sideways and into the wall. Even as Rogue began to clamber to her feet his voice sliced through the air. 'Stop it. Now,' he said and it was a command, beyond resisting.

~So that's why he's the leader,~ thought Azimuth irrelevantly, even as her hand holding the bo dropped, grounding it, and Rogue stopped moving, leaning against the wall, panting.

'Rogue,' snapped Cyclops. 'Go and take a shower now. When you're cleaned up, I'll see you in the Professor's office.'

'But, Cyclops . . .' began Rogue.

He cut her off short. 'I don't want to hear it now. You need to cool down. Go.'

Rogue's expression was mulishly stubborn, but she stalked from the Danger Room, shoulders stiff with pride.

'As for you, Azimuth,' Cyclops turned to look at her, 'I think we need to talk. Later.'

'She started it,' pouted Azimuth, knowing she was being sulky, but deciding that the shock of the attack justified her currently less-than-charitable emotional state.

'I really don't care at the moment,' replied Cyclops. 'Just stay away from Rogue right now.'

'No problems,' Azimuth agreed fervently.

'We need to talk, too,' she heard Phoenix say to Gambit. She glanced at Remy and saw the panic inside his head, despite his impassive features.

'Got to talk to my chere,' was his brusque response and he walked over to Azimuth. 'You okay?' he asked softly. 'You looked like you didn' need no help.'

'I was doing okay,' she replied and then belied her words by reaching out a shaking hand to Remy. He caught it, wrapped her in his arms, held her tightly as reaction made her tremble.

'She tried to kill me,' Azimuth whispered. 'I saw it in her head, Remy. She hates me so much.'

'I know,' he replied softly, kissing the top of her head. 'I know.'

'What are we going to do?' she asked.

'Still trust me, ma amant?' he whispered. She nodded, burrowing further into his arms, needing his warmth to counteract the sudden iciness in her limbs. 'I'll tell you later, den. Not here. Dere's t'ings we need to do.'

'I know,' she responded. She did know, had seen in his head that he was anticipating something, making plans. 'I can't wait to find out.'

He looked down at her, grinning wryly. 'Bet you a night on de town you don' say dat after I tell you.'

She grinned back, feeling the tension in her limbs lessen. 'You're on,' she said and leaned back into him again, savouring the sensation of safety it gave her. Very firmly, very deeply, she squelched away the small voice that told her that, whatever Remy's plans were, that feeling of safety was not going to last much longer.


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