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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 8

'Good afternoon, Xavier Institute for Higher Learning.' Considering the current state of the mansion, Storm felt slightly ridiculous saying that,but the habit had been ingrained into her.

'Stormy, chere, t'ank god it be you.'

The accented voice over the line startled Storm immensely. 'Remy,' she gasped, disturbed from her normal composure by surprise. Then she glanced around to ensure that she was alone in the corridor and was reassured to discover she was. Lowering her voice, Storm continued, 'Where are you, Gambit? Have you found Azimuth? Do you need my help?'

'I've got her wit' me now, 'Ro.' Gambit's voice ached with bitterness. 'Sinister gave her back to me, chere, but he made sure she be broken before he did. I t'ink Azimuth be dying, 'Ro.'

Storm decided that explanations of how Gambit had retrieved Azimuth from Sinister could wait until more pertinent questions were answered. 'Is she injured, Remy? Where are you? Can you get her to a hospital?'

It was obvious that Gambit was fighting fear, frustration and anger in equal proportions - it was also obvious that he was losing the battle. His voice was ragged as he replied, 'She not be injured like you t'ink, 'Ro. Azimuth be fine, physically. But Sinister screw wit' her powers, chere. I can feel her in my head - de itch/buzz - it not stopped since Gambit reach her, hours ago. She flittin' t'rough realities inside her head like she be on drugs and she can' stop herself.'

'You need to get her to hospital,' Storm injected as much soothing reassurance into her voice as she could manage. 'You need to get her to a doctor.'

'A doctor be no good, 'Ro,' Gambit replied. 'Azimuth can' be fixed by no resident at an emergency ward. I need to bring her to de Beast.'

Storm's breath drew in sharply, involuntarily. 'You can't...,' she started.

Gambit interrupted her harshly. 'Gambit has to,' he replied. 'Sinister break somet'ing inside her head, chere. She be drivin' me crazy wit' de buzzin' in my head - what it be doin' inside her mind, neh? Azimuth be fryin' her brain to cinders right in front of me, Stormy, and de Beast de only chance she got. Please, 'Ro, you got to persuade him to help her. Please?'

Storm sighed. There were no choices, she knew. If Remy was willing to come back to the X-Men, to ask for their help, then he had decided that there was no other hope for Azimuth. If he would face all of the X-Men to try and save Azimuth when he had to know the reception he would receive, then Storm could not find it in her heart to reject his plea. 'I'll ask Hank,' she said, softly. 'How long will it take you to get here?'

'Take me a while,' Gambit replied. 'I be takin' back roads to Wes'chester. I had to tie her up, 'Ro.' The anguish he was feeling coloured Gambit's every word. 'She be fighting me half de time, tryin' to run away de other half. I got her strapped down in de passenger seat, her hands tied. I can' afford for le flic to be seein' me wit' her like dat. Dey t'ink I kidnap her, she be dead by de time we sort out de problem. So I be takin' de long way to de mansion. A few hours, at least.'

'Hurry then, Remy,' Storm said. 'I'll talk to Beast. We'll be ready when you arrive.'

Even in the extremity of his anguish, Storm could hear the sudden wryundertone in Gambit's voice. 'I come in de back entrance, neh? Wouldn' want de residents gettin' upset.' She could almost see the twisted, self-mocking grin he would be wearing as he said that.

'I think that would be a good idea,' Storm replied, her voice neutral. 'I will make sure that you are not - impeded - when you bring Azimuth in. Good luck, Remy.'

'Au revoir,' replied Gambit and hung up. He extricated himself from the phone booth and walked back to the car, parked askew on the side of this obscure back road he had found. Sliding in to the driver's seat, he turned to Azimuth, but she still didn't acknowledge his existence. The continuing itch/buzz in his head told him her powers were still cycling destructively in her mind. She was quiet now, her voice nearly gone after her occasional bursts of frantic screaming. But the tears she had started to cry nearly half an hour ago still streamed down her face and it seemed that they, like the madness in her mind, would never stop. Gambit wondered whether they were a product of the reality she was currently in or if, somewhere inside her cage of insanity, some tiny part of Azimuth knew what was going on and wept as she watched herself dying.

Gambit reached out his hand and stroked Azimuth's cheek lightly. 'De Beast will help you,' he said softly. 'De Beast will save you. He has to, because Gambit can' live wit'out you, chere.'

Smoke-grey eyes stared into his red-on-black, but they were utterly blind to his presence. Sighing at the lack of response, Gambit started the car and pulled away from the side of the road, aiming towards Westchester and the possibility of help.

Under the relentless assault of Azimuth's powers, his head began to pound.

Getting out of the base had been easy. His arms curled around Azimuth's limp body, cradling her to his chest, Remy had feared what would happen if he had to fight his way out, feared either Azimuth getting in the way of a bullet or laser, or worse, having to put her down so he could fight unimpeded. There was no guarantee she wouldn't slip between realities and flee from him if he did.

But Sinister had obviously been telling the truth when he had said he had what he needed from Azimuth, that Gambit could take her away. No-one came to fight them and the automated defenses hadn't been re-calibrated to try and keep him in. Ever alert, Gambit had walked the corridors on cat-soft feet, hands full of cards, but the white-coated people in the rooms who had even noticed him had simply watched him walk past. After walking by several rooms filled with people who ignored him, Gambit had finally realised what they were doing.

They were packing up. Every one of them was packing instruments, notepads, equipment into boxes, obviously preparing to move. Sinister had been getting ready to move base when Gambit had broken in, ready to take what he had obtained from Azimuth and conduct his insane experiments elsewhere.

That knowledge allowed Gambit to relax, and that meant he spotted the danger he was in almost too late. The fist had come from nowhere, suddenly filling his vision, and he had jerked his head sideways nearly too late. But he managed to avoid the brunt of the blow, gaining a couple of deep scratches across his cheek, rather than losing an eye. And then he didn't have time to think at all as Azimuth turned into a spitting, screaming, flailing she-devil in his arms.

He hadn't been able to bring himself to hit her, much as his instincts screamed at him. So in the end he had had to wrestle her against a wall, pinning her arms above her head and wrapping his legs around hers until her could immobilise her. Still her eyes spat fury at him and she shrieked obscenities as she twisted and writhed in his arms, her nearly-beautiful face distorted by hatred. Gambit held her, suddenly glad that Sinister's experiments had left her in less than perfect fighting nick. He dreaded the thought of trying to hold her in this insane fury if she had been healthy.

But as he held her, as she fought and strained against him, he could see the exact moment that her reality shifted again. One moment her eyes shone with fury, the next with lust. The writhing of her body beneath him changed from fighting him, to a sudden, sensual slide across his skin. Azimuth arched her body into him, shifted her muscles so she could press herself against him and went from screaming obscenities at him to whispering those same obscenities while begging him to take her now, right now, please. Despite their situation, in the sudden, animalistic heat that Azimuth gave off Remy found his body responding. He began to back away, trying to distance himself from her, but Azimuth followed him, her hands all over him, until he found himself backed against the corridor wall by her, in a curious reversal of roles.

And then her reality shifted again, and she was gone. She dropped so quickly that Gambit barely caught her before she hit the ground. Her body was now limp in his arms and, as he grasped her and picked her up, he could feel that she was shaking again.

This time, Remy discarded all caution and ran from the base as if Sinister himself were on his heels.

Azimuth was still quiescent when he got her back to his car, trapped in catatonia. Remy laid her down beside the car and decided that he was far enough from the base and the road to risk trying to find out what Sinister had done to his lover. He let his empathy out from behind the psychic shields he always clamped down when he was near Sinister, and extended the tendrils of his mind into Azimuth's.


There was no coherent thought in Azimuth's mind anymore, only a whirling scream of words and colours and terrors that nearly flung Gambit's mind straight back out. Steadying himself mentally, Remy threw his mind into the middle of what he could only describe as a rainbow tornado.

There was nothing to hold on to, no safe, sane platform that he could cling to, nothing that would give him a place to try and pull Azimuth back to reality from. Helplessly, Remy felt himself pulled into a screaming concatenation of colour and sound that nearly overwhelmed his senses. Struggling to hold his psyche separate from Azimuth's, Gambit was able to piece together some of what his empathy was telling him. Each change, each flicker of colour was a tiny shift in Azimuth's reality, a movement between parts of wherever she was right now. Even between major shifts in her reality, she was experiencing myriad tiny changes.

And then he felt it, a *lurch* that shifted all the colours and sounds to another plane. Instinct kicked in before conscious thought and Gambit threw his body over Azimuth's just in time. Even as he wrenched the tendrils of his empathy out of her insanity, he found he was holding Azimuth down, pinned to the ground by his body, as she desperately tried to pull away from him, fear etched in her face.

He held her down, writhing in terror, for fifteen minutes before her reality lurched again and she went limp beneath him.

When he put her in the car, he tied her hands and feet and strapped her in so she couldn't move. He was so lost in the horror of what he was doing to the woman he loved he never even realised he was crying.

'So the rejected exile returns, seeking our assistance if not our forgiveness.' The Beast did not turn to look at Storm, instead continuing to place bottles of medicine in the drugs cabinet he had just had installed.

Storm sighed. 'Remy will never seek our forgiveness, Hank,' she replied.

That, at least, got Beast to turn and look at her, one eyebrow raised in enquiry. 'He believes that what he did placed him beyond redemption,' continued Storm. 'If he won't forgive himself, how can he ask anyone else to?'

'Interesting point,' conceded Beast. 'But I suggest we can discuss the convolutions of Gambit's ethical conundrum at some later time. For now I need to know why you think I will assist our errant ex-colleague and his erstwhile companion?'

'Because she will die if you don't.' Storm watched the sceptical, mocking expression soften and disappear from Beast's face. 'And I cannot see you ever allowing anyone to die if you can help them.'

The Beast lowered himself onto the edge of one of the beds in the infirmary and stared at his hands. 'You know,' he said, softly, 'that I never approved of what Rogue did to Gambit in Antarctica. If I had known what our emerald-eyed enchantress had predicated I would not have left her behind to bring the Cajun out.'

Storm nodded. The Beast had explained all this to her previously when he had told her what had happened at Gambit's so-called trial. It was why, of all the X-Men, Hank was the only one she had told that Gambit was still alive and in contact with her.

Hank continued. 'I have long thought that we X-Men, excusing your exquisite self, were somewhat remiss in how we have behaved since we returned from Antarctica. Why did we not search Gambit out? Why did we leave him to die - when we would not have left Magneto or Sabretooth in such a place? And why haven't we asked questions about the trial? Who was Erik the Red? What advantage did he gain from the exercise? Why was Maggott chosen on the jury? Why did Betsy remember only then what she had seen in Gambit's mind? If Rogue really did take Remy's memories, why was he still conscious after she kissed him?'

'Why are you telling me this?' Storm interrupted the flow of the Beast's questions. Much as she approved of Beast questioning the blind rejection of Remy that the others had shown, she couldn't understand what he was driving at.

The Beast raised his blue eyes to hers and let a small smile creep over his face. 'I'm telling you this,' he said, 'so that when I treat this Azimuth you will know that you can trust me.'

Storm hadn't realised how desperately she had been hoping for this until she felt the strength of the relief that flowed through her. 'Thank you,' she said, weakly. 'Thank you, Hank.'

'I will ask Cecilia to assist me,' Hank said. 'She has not been introduced to Gambit, so she has no agenda to pursue with him. And from the sound of Azimuth's problems I will need more than just my intellect pursuing the solution to this puzzle.' He gazed shrewdly at Storm. 'You have to answer me a question, though, Ororo.'


'Are you going to inform the others?' The Beast's face clearly showed the sympathy he felt for Storm.

'I have no choice,' replied Storm. 'This cannot be concealed from them. I am just thankful that Angel and Psylocke are not in residence at the moment.'

'Indeed,' murmured the Beast. 'Indeed.'

Storm could not help but feel the eyes of her fellow X-Men staring at her, as she stood before them, head bowed. She had summoned those presently in the mansion to the war-room - which currently looked like it was furnished from garage sale rejects - and had found herself facing Iceman, Cannonball, Rogue, Joseph & Maggott. Cecilia had been summoned by the Beast already and where the others were Storm did not care - there was not time to wait for all of them.

Storm took a deep breath and raised her head to face the others.

'I have had a phone-call from Gambit,' she said. She ignored the sharp gasps from around the table and continued, 'He has a - companion - who is very ill. Dying, he thinks. He has asked for our help in saving her. I have asked the Beast and he is willing to treat Azimuth. I thought you deserved the courtesy of knowing, because Remy shall be arriving soon.'

There was a moment of silence which Bobby, predictably, was the one to break.

'How dare that creep get in touch with you,' he half-yelled. 'What gives him the right to think he could talk to you - ask for your help?'

Storm said softly, 'I have never ceased to be in contact with him, Bobby. I have been exchanging e-mails with him since he left. That is why he contacted me.'

Bobby's face mirrored his shock. 'How could you?' he said. 'How could you keep in contact with that jerk? He's the one who . . .'

Storm cut him off with an impatient, imperious gesture. Her voice when she replied was so cold that even the Iceman felt the chill. 'You may be my team-mate, Robert Drake,' she said, 'but don't *ever* presume to tell me who my friends may or may not be.'

Bobby fell back in his chair, suddenly silent, but that only gave Rogue a chance to start.

'How could you do that, Storm?' she said. 'You know what he did to me, you know how it hurt me, how could you stay in contact with him? How could you let him come back?' Rogue's voice was plaintive.

'His friend is dying, Rogue,' replied Storm. 'Gambit would never have asked for our help if Azimuth was not so gravely ill.'

'I don't care,' snarled Rogue, her eyes suddenly blazing. 'If he comes near here, near me, I'll - I'll -.' Her voice trailed off as if she could not think of a punishment strong enough for the man who had betrayed her.

Storm's voice was precise as she replied. 'You left Remy to die in the Antarctic, Rogue. Do you really want another person to die because of your spite?'

Rogue's jaw literally dropped. 'Oh, my,' she said. 'Oh my Gawd.' Her face went suddenly crimson with shame.

Joseph looked from Rogue to Storm with concern. 'Do you really think this is the best thing?' he said. 'To let - *him* - back in when he has caused so much trouble?'

Storm's bearing was suddenly so regal that it was easy to see why she had once been revered as a goddess. 'I find it an appalling abrogation of our values as X-Men that this conversation is even taking place,' she began. 'Remy *will* be coming here, we *will* be treating his companion, we will *not* attack them or hinder them in any way. If you do not wish to see him then you will stay away from the infirmary. He seeks only medical aid for someone gravely ill, and nothing else. If you cannot see that this over-rides any other concerns we may have with his presence, then you are not deserving of being an X-Man. Am I understood?'

Storm's eyes swept across the assembled X-Men and they could only nod.

'Good,' said Storm, her voice still hard. 'I am going to assist the Beast in preparing the infirmary. When Gambit arrives I will escort him there. I would suggest the rest of you stay away, because I will *not* have unruly emotions disturbing Hank while he treats Azimuth.' With that Storm turned on her heel and walked out, leaving only a stunned silence behind her.

He had almost turned the car around and fled when he had seen the mansion. It perched in the afternoon sunlight, serenely magnificent, and when he had driven around the curve in the road and caught his first glimpse of it, Gambit had been as afraid as he had ever been in his life.

But just as he had considered fleeing from those he had once called friends Azimuth had twisted beside him. Turning to look at her, his heart had caught in his chest at the terror shining in her eyes and he knew he had to face the X-Men.

'Only for you, chere,' he whispered to Azimuth's indifference. 'Only for you.'

And he had stepped on the accelerator and driven through the open gates and up the long drive, until he could nose the car around the side of the mansion and out of sight of the front door. He knew he couldn't drive the car to the back door and so he parked beside the side-wall of the mansion.

For an instant, Gambit closed his eyes in relief that he had made it, but that only meant he could *see* the pain that wrenched within his head - jagged white flashes of lightning that illuminated the inside of his eyelids and drove shards of agony into his brain. With a gasp at the sudden hammer-blow inside his mind, Gambit opened his eyes again.

'I t'ink dis be what dey call a migraine,' he said to Azimuth. 'If dis be happenin' inside my mind, god only knows what you're feelin'.'

Unsurprised by the lack of response, Gambit got out of the car and went to the passenger side. Opening the door, he undid the seatbelt and other restraints he had wrapped around Azimuth, but decided he was safer to leave her hands and feet tied. Gently he eased her body out of the car and cradled her to his chest as he began to walk to the back entrance of the mansion.

He had only made it halfway when Storm opened the door and came to meet him. 'Storm,' he gasped in relief, but could add no more as a sudden bolt of pain arced between his brows.

But his beloved friend didn't need words. Her smile told him more than any words how much she had missed him, how glad she was that he had returned and how much she looked forward to talking to him. But then her forehead modulated down into a concerned frown as she looked at the bound woman in his arms, and suddenly Gambit was free of Azimuth's weight, as Storm wrapped bonds of air around her and lifted it away from him. The lessening of Azimuth's weight to a feather-touch meant the two ex-colleagues were able to run through the mansion and to the infirmary.

Remy had the same old reaction when he stepped into the infirmary - his mouth suddenly flooded with bitterness, his knees suddenly weak. ~It's not Sinister, it's not Sinister,~ he chanted in his head, trying desperately to dispel the nausea that gripped him. But even as struggled for control of his own mind, Remy was able to maneouvre Azimuth to the medical table in the centre of the room. He placed her lightly down and felt Storm's bonds dissipate so Azimuth lay flat on the table.

'Why is she bound?' The voice from behind Remy was unfamiliar - and angry. Turning, he faced a slim, Hispanic woman who nearly vibrated with intensity.

Realising from Storm's prior descriptions that this must be Dr Cecilia Reyes, Gambit took no offense at her question - or the tone in which it was asked. 'She'll hurt herself, or run, or hurt you,' he replied wearily. 'I needed to get her to help wit'out getting myself killed.' Unconsciously, Gambit's hand reached up and brushed over the deep cuts under his left eye. He could feel the blood caked there and knew he was going to have to get them seen to eventually. ~After they fix Azimuth,~ he promised himself.

And then the Beast was there in front of him, his hands around Azimuth's wrists. 'I need to take them off,' he was saying. 'I can't examine her like this.'

'We don't have an examination table with strapping.' Cecilia's voice had lost none of its anger, and Gambit's empathy informed him suddenly that this was her normal state. 'How can we keep her still if she's not strapped down? If she really is likely to try and attack us.' The look Cecilia turned on Gambit was dark with suspicion.

'I can hold her.' Storm, as always, was an island of calm. 'I can wrap air around her, hold her that way.'

'Excellent,' said the Beast and when he lifted his hands from Azimuth's wrists, Gambit could see he held the length of rope that had wrapped them. As he moved to Azimuth's ankles, Gambit surreptitiously pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes. The pain in his head was now extraordinary, but it would stop - he *knew* it would stop - when the Beast fixed Azimuth, and Remy was not going to distract anyone's attention from his lover.

And then Gambit felt it, a sudden, sharp lurch in the itch/buzz in his mind. 'Be careful,' he started to shout, but he was not fast enough. Torn though her voice was with screaming, Azimuth was able to let out a shriek that must have nearly deafened the Beast who was leaning over her chest. Then she was fighting, fighting with every ounce of her rapidly diminishing strength, her clawed hands striking at every part of the Beast she could reach, eyes, mouth, ears, chest.

Before Gambit could run to the Beast's assistance, Azimuth's hands were pulled back from the Beast and back to the table, her legs locked down as well, and Gambit knew that Storm had wrapped Azimuth in bonds of air and was holding her. Although he couldn't see her face behind the bulk of the Beast, Gambit watched the arch and writhe and twist of her body and knew that she fought with the strength of insane fear to get out, get away, to run and hide forever.

And then the Beast was swearing and beckoning to Cecilia. 'She's exsanguinating,' he half-shouted.

'What?' Gambit said, bewildered, as Cecilia turned towards him and pulled a towel from the desk behind him.

'She's pissing blood,' was Cecilia's response and then she was forcing the towel under Azimuth's nose, keeping her hands away from Azimuth's sharp teeth as she did.

Remy could see it then, the sudden bloom of redness that soaked the towel in seconds, and his mind stung with the pain of memories. 'Sinister,' he whispered. 'Oh god, Sinister, you'll pay for dis,' and then he was backed against wall, his eyes locked on his lover's face, agony in his head like the jagged edges of lies, and he could do nothing else but watch and wait and hope that these two doctors could save the life of the woman he loved more than anything else in the world.

She didn't know how she felt.

She hadn't been able to move after Storm's revelation that Gambit was coming back, coming here. She sensed Cannonball leave the room, locked in an anger that had nothing to do with Gambit's return, but that had been with him since he'd returned from X-Force. And Bobby had shouted at her for a while, but the words had no meaning, sliding over her consciousness like a storm outside the windows of her mind. Eventually the Iceman had tired of her lack of response and had left in disgust, Maggott trailing in his wake.

But she hadn't been able to respond to Bobby's outrage, her mind swirling through a thousand emotions, a hundred memories, some of them hers, some of them from another mind she had known too well - and not well enough.

Eventually, she had heard the car pull up. For an instant rage boiled up within her, but it was sucked back down into fear, then hatred, love, then pain. A scream came, from a voice she did not know, a scream on the brink of infinite madness, and then faded away. There were the sound of movements, Beast shouting, Cecilia responding, then quietness. Someone, somewhere, was crying.

She rose, jerked out of her chair like a puppet, her every movement a wince. She had to know what she felt, what was happening, the turmoil in her mind dragging her reluctant body towards the infirmary, a woman without volition. She could sense Joseph rise up from his chair and follow her, and a sudden flash of irritation underscored her thoughts. Why was he always following her, why couldn't he leave her alone, give her space, stop being her puppy?

Rogue wondered if they were her thoughts, or if they belonged to the man who had once loved her enough to be jealous.

Her every step a limp, she forced herself towards the lab, nearly blinded by preoccupation. At the door she stopped, felt the bitterness of fear fill her mouth and mind, and knew that these were the left-over feelings of the man she was about to face inside the room that terrified him. Or were they her feelings towards facing him?

And then she was inside, and Storm was turned to her, her face imperious, prepared to eject Rogue if necessary, and then softening as she realised Rogue meant no harm. The Beast and Cecilia didn't notice her, concentrating on the scans they were conducting on a woman who lay on the medical table.

Rogue inspected her, this Azimuth, this *companion*. She was blonde and pallid, her face filled with fear and hatred, her smoke-gray eyes oblivious to her surroundings. Cecilia was holding a towel to her face, so Rogue could see no details of her features, but she could see the blood that soaked the towel and the mess of sodden material that surrounded the bed. Abstractly, Rogue hoped they could stop the bleeding, for otherwise this woman would die.

She tore her eyes from this broken creature and at last set eyes upon the man she'd called her lover, her betrayer, her torturer, her beloved. Gambit was pressed against the wall, out of the way of the doctors, using it to hold himself upright. His face was as pale as she had ever seen it, stark white beneath his stubble, drawn into lines of suffering. There was a half-healed cut on his brow, and several nasty scratches on his left cheek. His eyes, sunk deep within their sockets, glowed crimson and were fixed on the face of this Azimuth, desperate with fear and hope and love.

The last time she had seen such passion in his gaze it had been for her.

Now, he didn't even see her.

She couldn't remember why she left him in Antarctica.

She could remember the feel of his mouth beneath hers, remember the last night in the cave, remember the first time he had said he loved her. And she remembered, through senses not her own, shocking pain, the splash of blood across vision, the slaughter of innocents. She felt terror, pain, loneliness, love, hate and most of all she felt the loathing for one's self that went with the memory of murder.

She didn't know which of the feelings were hers and which were his.

She knew he didn't see her.

She knew she had left him to die.

She thought she would go mad.

She didn't know what she felt.

It was taking too long. Gambit leaned against the wall, certain it was the only thing that stopped him collapsing in a heap, his eyes locked on Azimuth's face. Beast and Cecilia were doing their best, had slowed her nose-bleed considerably, but it was taking too long to stop it. He had almost been able to see the colour drain from her, until she lay now as pallid as moonlight on the bed.

The Beast and Cecilia had managed to scan Azimuth in between bouts of trying to reduce her bleeding and they were inspecting her charts now, arguing in low voices. Fervently, through the agony in his head, Gambit sent messages to them to move faster, to treat Azimuth now, but it didn't work.

And now the Beast was walking towards him, his blue-furred face full of concern, his eyes infinitely sad. He showed Gambit the chart he held and began to explain, but it took a little time for Gambit to wrestle down the pounding in his ears to a point where he could listen.

'. . .nothing we can do,' the Beast was saying. 'We can't pinpoint what Sinister has done from the scans and we can't just incise into her brain and hope for a serendipitous outcome. I'm sorry, Remy, we've done everything we can. We've stopped her bleeding for now, but it is likely to start again at any moment. But even if she doesn't start bleeding again we can't stop her brain mutilating itself with power. Eventually, Azimuth will develop an arrhythmia in her brain-waves and keep reinforcing it with positive feedback until she dies. I'm so sorry.'

The pain came in through his left eye, a jagged red lightning bolt that took away any thought and struck Gambit blind. When his vision finally cleared, he found he had slumped to the floor, his back propped against the wall, the heels of his hands pressed to his temples. His breath rasped stertourously through his open mouth and he didn't dare to move in case it stopped the broken rhythm of his heart with sheer agony.

And then Storm's concerned face was inches from his, her hands gently pulling his away from his temples and cradling his jawline. 'You're in pain?' she asked.

Gambit nodded, once, and then regretted it. He felt as if his head would fall off and roll away if he moved again.

'Is it the itch/buzz? Is Azimuth causing this?' Storm's voice was gentle but relentless.

Gambit inclined his head slightly, the fragile movement of a hungover man, unwilling to move, but even less willing to speak.

'Do you think a telepath could save Azimuth?' Storm asked.

He had to force thoughts through his head like pushing straw through sand, but he ground them through, searching Storm's suggestion for hope. Eventually, Gambit inclined his head again in affirmation. A telepath might just be able to pull Azimuth back to sanity.

'Psylocke is the closest,' contributed the Beast, his voice suddenly, cautiously, optimistic.

Gambit shook his head violently and then steadied himself against the wall as he almost passed out. 'Not Psylocke,' he croaked out. 'Don' trust her in Azimuth's head.' It was clear from his voice that he would brook no opposition in this area.

'There's no-one else,' said Storm. 'The Professor, Jean, the White Queen - gone or too far away to help.' She was interrupted by a low moan from Azimuth and turned to look at the woman on the bed. Storm's eyes narrowed as she watched Azimuth toss and eventually she turned back to Gambit.

'Remy,' she said softly, so only he could hear. 'Could you go into Azimuth's mind and put her back together?'

Gambit started slightly. He had never expected to hear anything like this from Storm. 'Can' do it,' he said.

'I know you have an empathic power,' Storm said. 'I remember from when I met you. I remember Dr Shen, Remy - and the Shadow King. You nearly seduced the Shadow King. And you always knew exactly what I needed to hear - to do - when Forge left me. I know you have not told the others about it - that you do not like to use it, but I remembered. You are the closest thing we have to a telepath, Remy. Can you use your power on Azimuth?'

Gambit thought to deny his power, but knew there was no point now. 'Tried,' he said. 'I'm not strong enough. I couldn' do it.'

Storm's brow furrowed. 'Are you sure?' she asked. 'Could you be stronger than you think?' She sighed as she realised this was her last hope. 'Azimuth is going to die, Remy, unless you can help her. And if it takes her long enough, she might just take you with her. Can you save her, Remy?'

Gambit found the courage somewhere deep inside to look into Storm's eyes and read the truth there. Azimuth *would* die without him, Storm was sure.

And so was he.

'I have de power, behind my shields. But I'm afraid to let my shields down,' he whispered. 'I haven' let my shields down in years. I don' have control.'

'Can we help?' Storm's voice was careful, as if she was afraid to destroy his resolve.

'Everyone got to put deir shields up,' said Gambit. 'I can' have deir t'oughts in my mind. I can' control it if deir t'ought touch me.' He bowed his head and tried to drag up moral courage, even as Storm moved off to explain what he needed. His thoughts were sluggish inside his cocoon of pain, but he needed only one anyway. ~Azimuth,~ he thought, and clung to the image of her as if she was a rock on which he could re-build his soul in safety.

Storm was in front of him again, saying, 'OK, Remy, they've done what you asked,' and he had to face what he was about to do. The ragged breath he drew scraped fingernails across his soul, as he bent his thoughts inward.

He had built his shields so long ago, built a seamless wall inside his mind, a mental wall that could rival Wolverine's adamantium in strength. And once he had built them he had never let them down again - because he couldn't afford what it would cost.

But at last Gambit had found something his soul considered worth the price - and so he slipped the fingers of his mind into a crack in his shields that hadn't been there before and they pressed against the sides and the dark walls of his mind cracked and crumbled into sand.

All but Cecilia in that room had seen the manifestation of Gambit's power before - the cerise glow that surrounded his hands, and sometimes his forearms, as he released the latent kinetic energies of an object. But the glow that came now was not cerise - it was scarlet, the colour of fresh-spilled blood, a glow so bright it hurt the eyes to watch. And it didn't envelope his hands, or even his arms.

Gambit burst into crimson fire.

From head to toe, the coruscations of energy rippled over his body, sheathing him in flame. But even as those in the room gaped in horror, Gambit's face set into a steady grimace. Gradually, the flickering slowed and lessened, until at last the final skerrick of light vanished, drawn back into Remy's body by sheer force of will.

Gambit moved with caution. He felt bloated with power, his every molecule feeling ready to burst under the strain of holding in so much energy. Gently, he eased himself upright, using the wall to lever himself to his feet. When he was standing, he breathed a sigh of relief and tried to ease out a tendril of his empathy.

Instead, it was a whip of psychic power, that lashed around the room and all those in it. Gambit felt the iconic calmness of Storm, the tenseness of Cecilia, the smooth vagueness of Hank, Joseph and Rogue (Rogue? Where had she come from?) and the savage turmoil within Azimuth's mind. His telepathy - for that was what his empathic power had blossomed into now - perceived Azimuth as a threat and tried to direct his kinetic powers to attack her.

Savagely, Gambit fought his own power, flickerings of crimson energy appearing and disappearing all over his body. Slowly, he fought it down, clamped his mind down over his powers, both psychic and kinetic, until they quivered within his mental grasp but were quiescent. He knew that his head was pounding with an agony beyond imagining as his fight went on, but somehow his telepathy allowed him to be separate from it. Otherwise, he was afraid he would never have been able to move again.

But he placed one foot in front of another, each step feeling like he ventured over an abyss, until he had made his way to Azimuth's bedside. Reaching down, he clasped her hands, feeling the heavy denseness of Storm's invisible bonds around Azimuth's wrists. Taking a deep breath, Gambit let his mind touch Azimuth's again.

The rainbow tornado still whirled, smaller now, ragged around the edges, the colours darker, more menacing. Gambit could feel that it was collapsing in on itself, gradually closing its circles, and knew that when it finally fell into oblivion it would take Azimuth too.

But he could also feel, as he had been unable to before, in the centre of the tornado, the butterfly beat of Azimuth's consciousness, wailing and throwing itself against a cage of Sinister's devising. For a moment, Gambit considered trying to delicately dampen the tornado, to pluck Azimuth from inside her cage, but then he knew he did not have the control over his powers to do that.

And so he fashioned his power in the only way he knew how, in the only way he had ever used it in the past, and with a hammerblow shattered tornado and cage both into a million glittering shards that glistened in his mind and nearly broke his feeble control.

When he trusted that he could open his eyes again, he gingerly did so and locked his gaze on Azimuth's face. For the first time since he had found her in Sinister's lab, her hands were soft in his, free from tension, and he hoped that was a good omen. And then her eyes opened, smoke-grey, soft -and lucid. They looked into Remy's red-on-black and he watched with delight as Azimuth's face softened into a half-smile.

And then the starkness returned to her face, and fear slid a glaze over smoke and suddenly Azimuth was as afraid as she had been before. Her voice was ragged, and grated inside her throat, as she ground out, 'LeBeau - get out of here.'

Shock rippled about the room and it attacked at every part of Remy's mind. Bewilderment from Storm and Beast, anger from Cecilia, terror from Azimuth, vindication (?) from Rogue and Joseph, a ll beat against the fabric of his soul and nearly caused Gambit to lose his hold on his power. And suddenly he knew what Azimuth feared, even as she continued, 'You can't control your powers, you've got to let them go somewhere safe, you've got to get outside, Remy. Run, LeBeau, run!'

By the time he got to the infirmary door he was at a dead run. Azimuth watched him go and turned frightened eyes on the others. 'Help him, somebody, please. Hurry!' In her distress her nose began to bleed again and the Beast and Cecilia moved to her side.

It was Rogue, surprisingly, and Joseph that responded to her plea. With a muffled curse, Rogue took to the air and hurled herself out of the room, Joseph running just behind her. She quickly outdistanced him and caught up with the fleeing Gambit. She snatched her hands beneath his arms and, with a speed he could never have matched, got him out of the front door and onto the spacious lawns.

Even as she dumped him in the centre of the lawn he was saying, 'Get away from me, right away.' Rogue had the good sense to do as he said, quickly flying away. As she did, Gambit lost the last ounce of control he had over his powers, and the scarlet fire broke out over his whole body.

Joseph reached the edge of the lawn even as the flare and arc of Gambit's powers flickered into being. Somehow, Joseph knew what he had to do and, even as Gambit's body began to gout energy, he snatched magnetism from the earth and created a magnetic funnel, a whirl of power that took the wind and air with it.

Gambit's eyes could track the results of Joseph's powers, the swirl of molecules that shifted into the sky, and he used it gratefully. He let go of all restraint on his power, directed it to attack the air that rose about him and watched the crimson flare rise above him, funnelled into a flame that scoured that air. The energy burst from his hands, his head, the centre of his chest. As it curled through his body like a curse, Gambit opened his mouth to scream, but only the fire came out.

His power ravaged and arched, pulled from him by its own ravening nature and by his own will-power, scouring every last wobble of unwanted kinetic energy from his molecules. It climbed, further and further, until at last it was a tower of energy that reached a mile into the sky, a tornado of flame that crackled and boomed until he was nearly deafened.

And still he wouldn't stop, sending more energy flaring from his hands, his mouth, his chest, his eyes, energy that soaked into the air and cracked and burst molecules until the air stank of ozone. It seemed to take forever until the flare diminished, slowly growing smaller, the column of fire collapsing in and down, until with a final, frail spark, Gambit guttered and went out.

There was nothing left inside of him. He had pulled all of the power he could and flung it away from him, until there was no energy left in him at all. Gambit was not at all surprised when he collapsed. He felt like his bones had been turned to water, his muscles to jelly and darkness swam and blurred at the edges of his vision. He could feel Rogue approach and his telepathy - eternally suspicious, eternally defensive - tried to pull energy from him, to attack her, but there was nothing left for it to take. This was what Azimuth had known he had had to do, to release his power until there was nothing left to harm anyone.

'Here, let me help you,' Rogue said, and her voice was soft. Gambit couldn't even respond as she slid her arms beneath his body and lifted him lightly into the air. He closed his eyes and let his spatial perception tell him that she was taking him back into the infirmary. He only opened his eyes when they arrived and he could croak a request to Rogue to set him down.

With the tottering steps of a drunkard, Remy made his way to Azimuth's bedside. The Beast and Cecilia had managed to stop the bleeding and clean her up and now her shining, pale face smiled up at him.

'Am I - safe?' Gambit asked her. Behind him, he could hear the murmur of voices as Rogue and Joseph explained to the others what had happened outside.

'You're safe,' was Azimuth's response, but her shining eyes told him more. 'And you need to sleep, lover-boy.'

With the very last of his energy Gambit reached out and hooked his hand around a chair, dragging it so he could sit beside Azimuth's bed. He sat and reached out to grip her hand between his. 'Love you, chere,' he whispered and then his head drooped down onto the bed and the darkness that threatened him closed in and took him away.

Azimuth smiled fondly down at him, and stroked a hand through his hair. 'Love you too,' she said and then her days locked in unrealities caught up with her, and by the time her hand reached the nape of Gambit's neck, she too was asleep.

The Beast looked down on his two unconscious patients. 'Ladies and gentlemen,' he said. 'We have a problem.'


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