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Chapter 1

Freaks of Fatality - REVIEW THIS STORY

Written by Starplaza and Cassandra Fraser
Last updated: 01/02/2007 02:01:11 AM

Chapter 1

+ "Wretched as we are, 'tis that name which has undone us; or rather, we are undoing one another through the unaccountable freaks of fatality."

+ "One day--I saw a man walking before me, who pronounced thy name, who laughed, and whose eyes glistened with unhallowed fire."

Paris. The man slipped unnoticed by other evening wanderers on the long, skinny Rue de la Folie-Mericourt and into a restaurant. The small bistro L'Auberge Pyrenees-Cevennes seemed as though it should be in Spain rather than Paris: Its cream-washed concrete walls were adorned with old bullfighting posters, and a taxidermied stag's head stared glassily over the dining room. Few patrons were left in the eatery by this time of night, and the man made his way to the back booth closest to the kitchen door.

Another man sat in the booth, lazily shredding the red and white-checked tablecloth before him. If the waiters noticed his handiwork, they did not reproach him; he continued to slice away at the fabric. Perhaps it was his bulk that made them keep their distance, perhaps it was the sight of the fingernails with which he was tearing the tablecloth: They were strangely long, thick yellowed nails, misshapen and sharp. He grinned when the other man approached his table, revealing a wide set of filthy, fanged teeth in a big maw of a mouth.

"Have a seat or lock yer knees, pal, makes no difference ta me."

"I am Claude Darceneaux--"

"So what?"

Darceneaux was taken aback. "You are here because you answered my inquiries, Monsieur."

The large man grinned. "Ain't easy fer ya ta speak English, izzit?"


"Well, I don't talk Froggie so ya gotta humor me if ya want me ta unnerstand ya. By th' way, ya can call me Creed. First name's Vic, but you don't look like ya wanna get that personal with me."

"You are correct, M'sieu Creed. I have heard some things about you and I don't wish to be your friend. It is my understanding that you know some details about the death of my daughter Genevieve Darceneaux."

"Been a few years. Mebbe it'd help my mem'ry if ya'd buy me a drink."

Darceneaux motioned to the waiter.

"AN' something ta eat."

"If it improves your memory."

"Food always does. Works wonders fer my mood, too."

"I don't care about your mood!" Darceneaux spat. "I was told that you were there when my daughther died! I want to know what happened to her!"

Creed suddenly had him by the collar. "Look," he said genially. "I want dinner. Yer buyin'." He let go and leaned back. "It's a long story."

"I'm in a hurry."

The feral man snorted. "From what I hear, you been in th' joint fer years. They locked ya up and tossed th' key. Seems ta me you oughta learnt something 'bout patience by now."

Darceneaux sat up stiffly. "Yes, I have been in prison and unable to deal with my daughter's murderer as I'd like. It only means that the trail is colder."

"Oh, it ain't that all THAT cold, b'lieve me. But ta answer yer question: Yeah, I was there. I saw yer little girlie die. An' I saw who killed her, too. Ya wanna know more, ya gotta cross my paw with silver."

"I'm prepared to pay." He pushed a napkin and a pencil over to Creed.

"We'll get ta that later. I'm gonna trust ya fer th' money, fer now."

"The installment plan doesn't sound like you, M'sieu Creed."

This brought a low rumbling chuckle. "Yer right, it don't. We won't be done with me just wandering down Mem'ry Lane fer ya."

"I'll be the judge of that. Please begin."

"Okay. 'Few years back, I'm in Paris, scroungin' some work, an' lo an' behold, I run into a fellow Canadian here, a fat bald asshole named Martin Herzog. But he's a rich asshole an' he wants ta hire me ta get back this necklace what belonged to his wife. Seems he'd been dippin' his wick in yer little gal on th' side."

"My daughter stole that pendant, L'Etroile du Tricherie, in order to pay my defense lawyers and obtain my freedom from prison."

"Whatever. Anyhow, Herzog just wanted his rock back. Okay, says I. So I start lookin' fer a frail with a rock th' size of Italy 'round her neck. But I wasn't th' only one, yasee. Th' N'awlins Thieves Guild was after that rock, too, and' they'd sent one of their best operators--a mutant, at that. The mutie tracked Genny down before I did, sweet-talked his way into her boudoir--"

"That is impossible--she wouldn't fall for--"

"Hey, who's tellin' this story? If ya wanna hear it, ya better shut up an' lissen. Where was I? Yeah, the mutie weaseled his way into her Paris apartment, an' while she was sleepin' he ransacked all her things lookin' fer that necklace. Got pissed as Hell when he didn't find it, lemme tell ya. So he started workin' her over, tryin' ta make her tell him where it was."

"And where were you during this time?"

"Hidin' outside th' window, that's where I was, bub. I was hired ta get th' necklace, not be a bodyguard, okay? If th' thief wanted to beat the whereabouts o' th' necklace outta her, no skin off my nose, right? 'Course, I had not intention o' lettin' him KILL her, 'cause then I wouldn't find out where it was--but I wasn't gonna give m'self away if all he was gonna do was whale on her a little. But yer daughter was a tough cookie: She wouldn't tell him shit. An' THAT made him really go postal on her. He grabbed her an' dragged her downstairs to his car, tossed her in the trunk, and drove her straight ta that big church--"

"Notre Dame."

"Yeah, that's what they call it. Anyhow, he took her up to th' roof, tied a rope around her ankles an' lowered her over the edge, yellin' at her that he was gonna let go o' th' rope an' make her go boom all over the street below if she didn't start talking an' cough up th' pendant. Well, I decided enuff was enuff. I mean, what if he DROPPED her? I'd never find the trinket then. So I confronted him, told him ta pull th' girl up an' let her go. An' ya wanna know what he did, Darceneaux? Wanna know what the thief did? HE LET GO OF THE ROPE. Said that if he wasn't gettin' that necklace, then NOBODY would. I went after her, tried ta save her--while he made his escape. But she fell like a rock, she was on the ground 'fore I could snag the end o' the rope." He paused. "She died in my arms, man. I didn't have th' heart t' go after th' thief--th' whole thing made me sick. It was just a game to him. Just a game. I've crossed paths with th' thief a time or two since then, and th' cold sonuvabitch don't feel a thing; he's still playin' games, still leavin' a bloody path in his wake."

"Where is he?" Darceneaux's knuckles, clenched together before him, were white.

"Not so fast, Papa Bear. I'll tell ya what'll happen if ya go off after him alone: 'Member, I tol' ya he's a mutant. That means he's got red eyes--it's one way ya can tell it's him--but that ain't all. He can turn anything he touches into a bomb; that's one of his mutant powers. Blow yer skull off with a paper clip. Knows how ta fight, too; he's popped me more than one knot on th' head over th' years. Trust me, ya ain't gonna take him on yer lonesome."

"And that's where this exhorbitant price you've demanded stems from?"

"Aw, ya don't think I'd want that much geetus just for a little info, didja? I ain't THAT unreasonable. Nope, th' price I quoted ya is fer th' whole revenge package: See, I know where the thief is. I know all his weaknesses. I can hand him ta ya on a silver platter an' ya can do whatever ya please with him."

"I want him to suffer as my Genny suffered," hissed Darceneaux.

"Done deal, man. I can make him feel EXACTLY what she felt, every step of th' way, and while it won't bring yer little girl back, it's th' next best thing. Satisfaction guaranteed."

"Why would you do this for me?"

"Ain't doin' it fer you, bub," Creed said nonchalantly. "Th' thief cost me some big bucks when the necklace went poof. An' as I tol' ya, him-n-me've locked horns more'n once since then. I wanna make back th' money I lost, an' it'd just warm my cockles ta teach th' pesky thief a few lessons. Like: Ya don't kill frails in cold blood. It's a waste of perfectly good female flesh, ya know?"

Darceneaux's glare was stony. He didn't think of his daughter in that fashion, and he didn't appreciate other men doing it, either. "I just want the thief, M'sieu Creed."

"So do I, Daddyman. So do I."

+ "Then--who can stop himself on the steep descent to perdition?"

Ororo Munroe once again peered out the window of Professor Xavier's mansion, her eyes searching--as they had for at least a dozen other times that night--for her friend. When she saw no sign of him, she resumed her pacing around the room. Wolverine had been sprawled on the sofa watching the Stanley Cup play-offs, but he poked his head up and said to her, "Darlin', yer gonna wear a hole in Chuck's carpet if ya keep that up."

With a sigh, she turned to face him. "I cannot help being concerned when Remy gets like this. If he would just open up, tell me what is bothering him, perhaps I could help."

"Cajun's got lots on his mind. You know that."

She nodded slowly. "I am aware of his problems. Especially at this time of year."

Logan snorted. "He's too young ta start gettin' hung up over birthdays."

"It is not his birthday, my friend. Rogue told me why he is upset."


"She told me in confidence, Logan."

"Spill it, sister. Ya want my help fetchin' th' punk, ya better tell me."

She hesitated briefly, then said, "It is the fifth anniversary of the death of a young woman he was involved with. He feels that he is responsible." She gave him all the details Rogue had told her, hating herself for betraying the girl, but conscious of the need of the family to share the sorrows as well as the joys.

"Manoman, that kid thinks he's responsible for everything from the Trojan War to th' common cold. Mebbe we oughta enroll him in one of those self-esteem classes."

"Please do not make light of Remy's situation, Logan. It troubles me to see him in such pain."

"He ain't in all that much pain, darlin'. I saw him just a few hours ago down at Harry's an' I'd say he's prob'ly pickled pretty good by now."

Storm started for the door, purpose in her step. "I can ensure that he gets home safely."

"Want some help?"

She smiled. "That would be appreciated. Remy can become very stubborn when he has been drinking."

"Yeah, an' I've got just th' thing here--" Logan extended his claws. "--ta convince him ta lissen ta reason."

"Now, Logan," Storm admonished him, "we are going there to help Remy, not to hurt him."

"Yeah, yeah," Logan muttered as he followed her from the room, "go on an' spoil a guy's fun."

+ "Thou art suffering, I know it. Thou art chilled; the darkness blinds thee; the dungeon clasps thee: but perhaps thou hast still some light in the recesses of thy soul."

October in Paris had been like this: A faint smell of smoke in the air, the comforting taste of hot consomme and cider, chilly nights best warmed with a human body next to you. He had stolen a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine for her. Child's play for a thief of his skill. Yet, she had thought it so romantic that he would steal food for her. "Why pay for something," he had asked her, "when you can simply take it?"

And hadn't he been wrong about that! He'd stolen Genevieve Darceneaux's heart, but he'd paid for it every hour of his life since. This time of year always turned his thoughts to Genny. Snuffed out in the prime of her life because she dared to become involved with him. No! Because he had USED her! Made her fall in love with him. And for what?! All for the sake of a stupid rock hanging on a gold chain. It'd been a giddy rush for him; the pinch always livened him up like nothing else--well, almost nothing else--ever did. He was a hunter by nature, just as she had been--but he was better at the game, and hadn't he proved it? The cocky kid from New Orleans winning over the seasoned conwoman.

He hadn't lied to her when he'd said, "Both of us're so used t' puttin' on a hard shell--keepin' the world at arm's length--that we don' let no one crack through an' get inside."

The story of his life.

She wasn't conning him when she said, "But YOU'VE gotten through , Remy. Honestly, I never thought I would FEEL this way, mon amant. I've been--involved before, Remy--but it was different then--I hurt them . . . lied to them . . . stole from them . . . but I swear I would NEVER do that to you . . ."

But you did hurt me, chere, he told her shade. Remy LeBeau was drunk enough by now to be seeing ghosts. You left me to live with what I did to you, and it eats me day and night like a cancer.

"I would NEVER hurt you, either, Genny. And I never will . . . "

He'd known by instinct just what to say to her, how to chip away at her reserve like Michaelangelo with a block of cold marble that had warmed and taken on beautiful shape under his hands. He always knew exactly what to say, how to look--it was part of him--beyond smooth, it was his mutant charm power. The government

could send him to Beruit to bring about peace in the Middle East, and he'd have Iraq and Iran eating out of his hands in no time flat. He could kill by fluttering his eyelashes, stab to the quick with the merest smile. But he hadn't let it flow over Genny--oh, no--he'd wanted to win her like a man, using his words, his body, like any man conquers a woman. After all, he was only seventeen at the time, itching to prove himself. To his Guild, to his brother, to himself. Sure, he was betrothed to Bella Donna, but she was a kid like he was. Genevieve Darceneaux was a WOMAN, a beautiful woman desired by old and powerful men. But hadn't he let that charm power flow over Genny just a LITTLE?

He didn't know, couldn't remember, and it tortured him. If he had, it would be like baiting a bear instead of hunting it fair and square, pitting his strength and skill against the prey's. But what difference did it make, anyway? Genny was dead, her internal organs smashed to pulp on the cobblestones. And it was all his fault.

" 'Ey, 'Arry, 'ow 'bout 'nother shot?" He called, gesturing to his empty glass.

Harry ambled over Remy's side of the bar, wiping a glass clean. He liked the kids from Xavier's school, and gave them free run of the place whenever they came to town. This kid was a particular pet, as Harry had won considerable change betting on him to win at pool, cards, any game of chance. Good-looking young fellow, too--always drove the town girls crazy whenever he was around, but lately he'd gone sweet on that pretty Southern gal with the white stripe in her hair. Not that Harry blamed him, of course; the girl was a peach. He hoped that they weren't fighting; Harry had always felt that these should be happy, carefree years for young people. He moved the glass from where it sat at the Cajun's elbow. "C'mon, kid. You had too much a long time ago. Let me call Xavier's School and find somebody to take you home."

"Non! I 'aven't even started t' drink yet!"

The kid's eyes were glowing red as hot coals. Harry knew it wasn't due to drinking; all of Xavier's students were a wee bit . . . different.

"I'm gonna be closing up shop in an hour, and I say you've had enough."

LeBeau began cursing in French. Harry knew what "Merde!" meant, and left the Cajun alone with a fresh bottle of vodka. He did step into the back and called the Xavier Institute. To his relief, his friend Hank McCoy informed him that a couple of other students had already left to come collect LeBeau.

Remy elegantly poured himself another shot of vodka and downed it in one gulp, wincing for the sudden pain in his stomach when the alcohol hit home. He couldn't win--not then and not now. Creed had given him a choice. On the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral, he had stood towering like an upright grizzly, holding two ropes in his paw--one each around the ankles of Henri LeBeau and Remy's latest conquest Genivieve Darceneaux--dangling them from that dizzying altitude like a couple of rag dolls.

"Get up here or they both drop."

The grinning bastard.

"Games are for children, LeBeau," Creed had said, each word cutting to the quick. "You're in the big leagues now. Here's the deal . . . you toss the pendant, I catch it. 'Course, I'm a righty, which means I'll have t' LET GO of the rope."

Remy had never encountered a serial killer before. Sure, he was somewhat acquainted with the ways of Belle's clan, the Assassins Guild, but they just killed for money and then only the mark the contract was let out on. Even at that, his knowledge was heresay versus firsthand. His Papa had never let him go along with Belle and her kin when they were working; Remy had never seen anyone DIE before. He'd somehow lost all control of this situation, and all he could do was gasp at Creed's sheer murderousness. "But--they will FALL! This is insanity, Creed! INSANITY!"

Oh, yes. But Creed WAS insane, and quite proud of it. "Maybe it is, boy. But guess what? YOU get t' choose WHICH one you catch."

He had only been able to save one of them that night. He supposed that, somewhere in the back of his mind, there was nothing he could have done to save both his adopted brother and Genny. Yet--there was always that nagging little doubt that whispered: You could have done something for her. He would push the thought away, bury it in his subconscious like the Assassins hiding the body after a kill. But it always crept back like a jackal seeking meat for its hungry belly, tearing away strips of his heart and wolfing them down.

Desperate, Remy had tossed the pendant to land at Creed's feet so that he wouldn't need to catch it. All he need do was lift Henri and Genny back onto the roof, no sweat at all for one of his unholy strength, snap up the necklace, and go on his merry way. But Remy hadn't understood the one thing that was the basis of Victor Creed's entire nature: Creed was a predator, he was a killer, through and through, utterly devoid of mercy or regret. His favorite wet dream was running loose in a large city, hunting and killing as he would without no limits or repercussions.

He let go of the ropes.

Remy leapt. He could reach just one rope. He only had the strength to hold onto one rope. And barely that. His big brother outweighed him by nearly fifty pounds--the sudden strain of catching that much dead weight had dislocated Remy's shoulder and ruptured ligaments and tendons throughout his body. But somehow he had managed to hold on--even as he watched Genny's delicate body impact on the cruel stones far, far below.

How he managed to pull Henri back up to the safety of the roof, Remy didn't know. He couldn't even remember doing it. All he could think of was Genny. He vaguely remembered running to her, running with his heart in his mouth, running to the girl as she'd reathed her last. She'd died in his arms, her last words without malice--only sorrow. "Remy . . . I . . . DID love you . . . I would have . . . GIVEN . . . L'Etroile to you . . . why TAKE--what someone is willing--to GIVE?"

He was a thief. Taking was what he DID. It was all he knew.

Practical as always, Henri had hustled Remy back to their hotel before the gendarmes arrived on the scene, doctored him as best he could, then put him to bed and proceeded to get him the drunkest he'd ever been in his young life. Jean-Luc wouldn't have approved. He had always sheltered his adopted child, didn't want him drinking or taking any drugs--especially because he was a mutant and such indulgences could be unpredictable and dangerous. Henri didn't begrudge Jean-Luc playing favorites; he was nearly eighty years old himself, kept preserved by the Elixir of Life, and felt almost like a father himself to the foundling. Watching the teenager sobbing desolately into his pillow, Henri had pulled out a bottle of gin and set about getting the boychile so drunk he had to be carried onto the plane that took them both back to America the following day.

Fortunately, Remy's mutant physiology allowed him to consume inhumanly large amounts of alcohol without becoming addicted to it. He never craved it, rarely ever got drunk, no matter how much he put away on occasions when he did imbibe. But come October of each year, he would drink himself into a stupor, trying so hard to forget but never, ever succeeding in drowning Genny out of his mind.

" "Nother bottle, 'Arry! Somet'ing wit' a little more BITE dis time, eh? Merci . . . Merci beaucoup," he sighed as Harry set a fresh bottle before him.

+ "I carry a dungeon within me; within me is the chill of winter, the chill of despair; darkness enwraps my soul."

"Is this what you wanted?" Claude Darceneaux asked as he threw the opaque green plastic bag at Creed's feet. They had taken rooms at a pension on the north side of Paris. Creed presented a long list of demands--food, women, drink, tobacco, basic comforts--then settled into a routine of indulging his various excesses by day and going out "hunting" by night. What he was hunting, Darceneaux didn't care to know.

Creed's yellow eyes shifted lazily in his direction. The Canadian had been whoring nonstop and without bathing once; his fur stank abominably and not even the color of his money would persuade any Paris prostitute to accept more than one "date" with him. In fact, he was fast running out of whores, getting tired of drinking, bored with smoking, and worst of all, he was finding no interesting game to flush in the Parisian alleys; he didn't consider the whores even worth the sport of killing. He was pleased that Papa Bear had finally gotten off his Froggie butt and stole the stuff he'd asked for.

"The case number on the bag matches the one you gave me." Darceneaux nudged the bag with his foot.

"That don't mean nuthin'." Creed picked up the bag, opened it, then stuck his snout into it, inhaling deeply. "Yep," he affirmed. "This's it."


"Well what?"

"When do we leave for America?"

Creed stretched out and belched. "When I'm damned good an' ready, Daddyman, that's when. Now go out an' get us some more booze. Real liquor--none o' yer watered-down Frog piss this time, either. An' see if ya can rustle up some wimmen, too."

+ "But every wicked thought is inexorable, and hurries to become a fact."

"Yeah, th' Cajun's here awright," Logan said as he parked his motorcycle next to Gambit's Harley. "Wanna stay outside while I go get th' kid?" he asked Storm.

Ororo disengaged her arms from around Logan's waist, making him feel incredibly sad--he liked the feel of her sitting behind him on the bike. "I am not as sensitive as you may believe, my friend."

" 'Zat so, darlin'? Wanna go bar-crawlin' with me this weekend?"

The goddess smiled. "Thank you, but no," she said gently.

Not that Logan had ever even HOPED she'd go out with him.

They went into Harry's and found Remy sitting alone at the bar, the last patron still in the joint.

Logan and Ororo sat down on either side of him.

Harry wisely disappeared back into the kitchen.

Sensing that someone had joined him at the bar, Gambit cracked open one red eye to see who it was. "Eh, Stormy, whatchou be doin' 'ere?"

"We have come to take you home, my friend. And do not call me Stormy."

Remy blearily opened the other eye and gazed at Ororo. Even if his empathic charm powers were soaked with alcohol, he could still feel the love she felt for him--and her apprehension at seeing him like this. He was ashamed of himself, and reached out to caress her cheek. "Ah, Stormy, you too good for Gambit, you know dat?"

"If you would just let me help you. Tell me what is bothering you." She knew what was bothering him; she wanted him to benefit from the catharsis of sharing his burden.

He vigorously shook his heavy mop of auburn hair, losing his perch on the barstool and tumbling into her lap. She merely bore him up and settled him on her knee like Santa Claus with a child set to recite its Christmas wishes. Supporting him with one arm around his shoulders, she gently tilted his chin up to force him to look at her.

"Non, dat I can' do, p'tite. You would hate Gambit." He buried his head against her breasts, leaving Logan extremely envious.

Storm took no notice of the familiarity, and continued to cradle him. "Nothing you could ever tell me would turn me against you. Do you not realize that by now, child? You are my friend and I love you very much."

"Yeah," he snorted. "Rogue s'pose t' love Gambit, too. But where she at now, hehn? She be in de arms of Magneto. Even wit' all dat he's done, she still choose him over Gambit. Non, I can' take de chance of losing you, too."

He reached again for the bottle, then drew back in drunken surprise as Wolverine's claws extended and embedded themselves into the bar surface between his fingers and the bottle. If he hadn't drawn back his hand when he did, he would have lost some fingers--but he was too soused to think of that now.

" 'EY!"

"I think you've had enough for one night, Cajun. The joint's closin'. Time you went home."

Gambit seemed perplexed to see Logan, as if he was realizing for the first time that Storm had not come alone. "Non!" came his slurred reply. "Gambit don' wanna go home, 'e wan' 'nother drink!"

Wolverine had heard enough. Pulling Remy to his feet by the front of his jacket, he got right in the Cajun's face and blew enough cigar smoke at him to start him coughing. "I've heard enough o' yer nonsense, boy. Now either you come peaceful-like or I drag you outta here. Ya worried Ororo enough fer one night."

"You t'ink so, homme?"

Logan ducked as Remy took a swing at him, giving a hearty guffaw at the ridiculousness of it. Gambit had punched out straight forward, missing the much shorter Wolverine by a country mile. But the momentum of the swing unbalanced the already-unsteady Cajun, and Remy lurched toward the floor. Logan was real tempted to let that handsome face get smacked by the floor tiles on the way down, but his better nature won out--and he caught Remy easily, propping him up on his own shoulder just long enough to deliver a quick punch to the finely-boned jaw and send the Cajun the rest of the way to the Sunshine Island.

"Logan!" Storm scolded. "Was that necessary?"

"Mebbe not, darlin'," Logan grinned. "But it sure felt good."

"I will take him." Storm held out her arms.

As Logan followed the airborne pair on his motorcycle back to the X-Mansion, he couldn't help thinking that some guys had all the luck.

+ "Thou deemest thyself miserable. Alas! Thou knowest not what misery is."

Back at the X-Shack, Wolverine dumped the lanky, inert body of the Cajun onto his bed, stepping back as Remy landed with a slight bounce, but didn't awaken at all. "There ya go, darlin'," he said to Ororo. "One sotted Cajun, home all safe and sound."

"Thank you, Logan," she replied as she began removing Remy's boots.

"Need help with that, 'Ro?"

She shook her head. "I can manage."

"I'll just BET you can," Logan grunted, slamming the door behind him on his way out.

Remy could have been hit by a truck and still felt no pain at this point, but Storm was gentle as she removed his clothing. Propping him up, she slipped his jacket away off him, and his t-shirt soon followed. Then she reached for the snap of his jeans.

Remy's crimson eyes shot open, glowing like a wolf's in the darkened room. "Whatcha be doing dere, Stormy?"

"You had passed out, Remy. I was merely undressing you for bed."

Gambit let her pull his jeans away while he reached up and massaged his tender jaw, remembering why it hurt like hell. "Remind me t' t'ank M'sieu Logan properly."

"Now, Remy," she chided. "Logan's methods may have been a bit extreme, but they did obtain the desired results."

"An' what might dat be--a broken jaw for Gambit?"

She gazed down at him, so sad and so full of love for him that he could have cried just looking at her. "No, my friend. Bringing you home and in one piece."

Gambit didn't look convinced.

Once again, she turned her attention to the task at hand and slipped her fingers around the elastic waistband of his briefs.

Remy quickly grabbed both her hands.

Their eyes met.

They each recognized the spark that leapt between them.

"No, chere," he whispered, voice husky. "You take off any more a' my clothes and I do somet'ing we bot' be sorry for later."

They broke apart, both of them more than a little embarrassed.

She felt her cheeks flush, and was grateful for her dark complexion hiding it. "I did not mean--"

"I know dat," he murmured. "But I still a man an' you still one a' de most beautiful--if not DE most beautiful belle dis Cajun ever laid eyes on. You also de best friend Gambit ever had, and I mean to KEEP it dat way." He slid his long legs under the comforter, then drew the covers up to his chin. " 'Sides," he smiled, effectively dispelling the tension in the room. "Dere be no need for dis, p'tite. Gambit can manage," he cradled his aching head in his hands, "and he will, jus' as soon as de little men wit' de hammers stop doing construction in his head." He closed his eyes against the sudden pain, and soon burrowed his way back into the peaceful oblivion of sleep.

Ororo sat down beside him and brushed aside a rebellious lock of hair that had fallen over his face. "Oh, Remy," she sighed. "Why do you berate yourself this way? If only you would realize what a good man you genuinely are. If you were not, your conscience would not tear at you as it does. We have all done things in our pasts that we are not proud of. But you, dear friend, are the only one who takes it all so to heart." She stood up, tucking the comforter around his shoulders. "Sleep now."

As Storm walked down the hallway to her own room, she did not notice Logan watching her from the shadows.

+ "Knowest thou what agony it is when, during the long nights, your arteries boil, your heart is bursting, your head splitting, and your teeth tear your own flesh!"

Scott Summers was puffing like a freight train as the training session came to a close. He glanced at the nearby wall clock, his irritation growing as the seconds continued to tick by. This was a scheduled session, the teams had been chosen weeks ago. It should be Beast, Storm, himself, and Gambit against Wolverine, Rogue, Beast, and Iceman--but Gambit hadn't seen fit to show up--AGAIN--and his team had been trounced so soundly that they had to buy dinner for Logan's team. Hank threw Scott a towel on the way out of the Danger Room, mock-sighing, "Better luck next time, Fearless."

Cyclops was too angry to say anything but, "Where the hell IS he?!"

"Now, Scott." Jean tried to mollify him. "Gambit's going through a rough time of it right now."

"NO!" Scott marched toward the kitchen, a full-fledged mad-on going strong by now. "I've HAD it with him! Staying out all night! Getting drunk! Not showing up for training sessions! Either Gambit becomes a responsible member of this team or--"

"Or what, mon ami?"

Everyone in the room turned at the sound of the Cajun's voice. Remy LeBeau leaned nonchalantly against the doorframe by the Danger Room, twirling his bo-staff between his fingers like a mutant drum major.

"Or you're OUT of here!" Cyclops raged. "I've had it up to HERE with your screwing up! The X-Men need team members they can rely on to cover their backs! Obviously, YOU'RE not up to the task!"

Gambit's eyes narrowed at the innuendo. He came further into the room, his steps as eerily silent as ever, until he stood only a few feet from Cyclops. A playing card--the Ace of Spades--had slipped unseen into his fingers and began to glow with kinetic energy, the air around it crackling as though a lightning storm brewed in his hand. When he spoke, his voice had taken on a low, menacing purr. "Hehn? Gambit don' t'ink he like what you be implying. Gambit always been dere for de X-Men. Which is more dan I can say for YOU, homme."

"What gives you the right--"

Remy shrugged. "Not a matter a' right or priv'lege, mon frere. I jus' read de X-Men histories. F' a body who likes t' be in charge, you sure like to go off alla time t' 'find y'self'. What I wan' t' know is dis, M'Sieu Summers: 'Ave you FOUND y'self yet?"

Scott turned crimson. "Why, you little--"

Gambit laughed, and clapped his hands. "Oh, he all TOUGH now! C'mon, boy--lessee if you c'n do more dan blow hot air!"

Bishop had heard that particular tone of voice before. He knew it well, knew what it meant, even if Summers didn't. He stepped between Scott and Remy, aware that he might be the only hope of keeping the building intact if either Summers or LeBeau chose to release their mutant energies, or even lost the barest control over them.

"This is no time to fight among ourselves, Father." He closed his ham-sized hands over Remy's shoulders and lifted him off his feet.

Remy was infuriated by the manhandling, heedless of how silly it looked for the huge, much-older Bishop to be calling him Father. "You stay OUTTA dis, Pup!" he raged at Bishop. Charging a playing card, he deftly threw it in Cyclops' direction--only for Bishop to catch it between his big brown fingers and absorb the kinetic energy from it into his own hand.

The card ceased to glow, and Bishop gently placed it in Gambit's coat pocket, still holding him still with the other hand.

"Owwwwwwwwch!" Remy howled as one of Cyclops' weaker optic beams neatly parted his hair, glancing along his skull with just enough force to remind him who still scored higher on the mutant energies scale.

A small monsoon abruptly soaked the lot of them. "Cyclops, Gambit--that is enough." Ororo sure knew how to break up a fight.

Remy caught a glimpse of Rogue stepping out of the Danger Room, on Joseph's arm. She, alone of all the X-Men, understood just what it was that was tearing him up inside. Creed had shared his memories with her. She knew all about Genny. She knew the guilt and anger that was consuming him. And yet, once again, she had turned away from him in disgust.

He shook himself free of Bishop and stormed back upstairs to his room, unable to stand the sight of his own reflection in their eyes. Ah, what good was all this self-contemplation doing him? Except, perhaps, making him realize just what a rotten lowlife he was. He didn't come downstairs again that night.

+ "Happy in comparison is he who is sawn asunder between two planks, or quartered by horses!"

The sun had yet to rise when Remy LeBeau entered the Danger Room of the X-Mansion, a lone warrior ready for battle. This time he was going to face his greatest adversary. Win or lose, no quarter. A quick visit to the control center had enabled him to override the Room's safety precautions. He knew it was a foolish thing to do. But he didn't care.

Turning, he quickly summoned the kinetic charges into his hands as the air crackled around him. Releasing a small fraction of that energy's heat into the door melded door and frame together, effectively creating a solid wall around him. No way out. Good. He went to the center of the Room and spoke aloud. "Computer, 'nitiate Sequence Gambit Omega Prime."

Professor X's prerecorded voice started to disagree with him. "Warning: You have requested lethal combat. This is not allowed."

" 'PUTER! 'Gage NOW!"

It responded to his voice override . A series of slight whirs and clicks that would have been missed by a sense of hearing less sensitive than his own, and the warp and weft of the room began to change according to his preset program. A rocky, barren landscape formed, illuminated by bleak shadows.

Nearly twenty feet away, the body of a human began to materialize. Tall, auburn-haired, wearing the colors of black and fuschia under a brown trench coat, and eyes glowing red as the depths of Hell, his adversary snapped a kinetically charged bo staff into its gloved hands. "You called moi?" it asked him, mock-innocent as a slow smile spread across its handsome face.

Eyeing the drone, Remy charged his own bo-staff and started to circle it. "Shaddup," he spat at it. "Les' rock!"

The doppelganger grinned. "Anyt'ing you say, mon ami!"

Remy screamed and lunged. The thing was programmed to kill.

But so was he.

+ "I struck home. The point must have reached his heart."

"No offense, Rogue, but I think I hear my arteries hardening." Bobby Drake pushed the plate away from him. It had been her turn to cook dinner--and now everyone was remembering why Gambit always took her place when it was Southern Night at the X-Men supper table. The poor girl had done her best, given her red face and brimming eyes, but she'd just fried up a whole mess o' vegetables and some big ol' slabs o' meat in a mighty cauldron o' bacon grease. Clearly, Gambit had taught her nothing about the use of exquisite Creole and Cajun seasonings.

Only one person could save them now.

"Where's Remy?" Jean asked. She didn't ask because of the wretched dinner. Something had been bothering her all day and she wasn't sure what it was.

Warren came back into the dining room. He hated having to break this, but it was either out with it or they'd all starve. "I called Gino's. The pizzas will be here in about twenty minutes."

They all sat and watched the grease congeal on the tomatoes.

Logan finally spoke up, catching the thread of Jean's question. He couldn't bear another minute of this lard-coated silence. Not that HE was a gourmand of any note, but Rogue had hard-fried the pork flesh until she'd made burnt jerky out of it--and everyone KNEW he liked his meat rare.

"Dunno, Jeannie," he said, chewing manfully on a piece of jerky. "Nobody's seen 'im since last night. His gear's still in his room, so he ain't pulled out or nuthin'. I figger he crawled off somewhere t' lick his wounds."

"I've got a very bad feeling about this."

"Come on, Jean!" groaned her husband. Scott Summers was hungry, and he didn't feel like rehashing yesterday on an empty stomach. "This is nothing new--Gambit's always disappearing. Probably out drunk somewhere. AGAIN."

"Normally, I might agree with you, Scott," Ororo said quietly. "But it is obvious that something is bothering Remy very badly. As his friends, we should be supportive--not condemning."

"Look, I wasn't condemning him. It's just that--"

Bishop suddenly ran into the dining room. His plasma rifle was in his hand, fully primed and ready. "Why has the Danger Room door been sealed from the inside?!" he demanded.

Confused looks were exchanged, then realization dawned.

"Goddess, it has to be Gambit!"

+ "May the blood of us both mark thy brow with everlasting stain!"

Just as Bishop had said, the door to the Danger Room had been literally fused into the reinforced walls. Walls built to repel even Cyclops' optic blasts. Had he still possessed his adamantium claws, Wolverine might have been able to cut through it, but his bone claws--although they were much denser than the normal human skeleton's--couldn't begin to slice into the surface.

"He's not answering the commlink," Scott said, thumbing the comm button for the hundredth time.

"Remy's in the Danger Room, but I can't get through his shields." Jean held her palms pressed against her head, leaning against the wall to steady herself. "He's ignoring my telepathic probes."

Scott came to a decision. "Let's try the Control Room and hope that Gambit hasn't locked us out of there as well."

As luck would have it, Gambit hadn't thought to seal the Control Room doors. They filed into the darkened room and stared out through the reinforced glass overlooking the Danger Room:

The holoscape below looked like a cross between the lunar surface and Berlin at the end of World War II, as if the whole world had been bombed and gutted out. At least most of the smoke was lifting toward the high ceilings, or visibility would have been impossible. A multitude of fires burned in the rubble, still contained bythe Danger Room but not for long if they spread from the debris to the actual wiring.

They could see Gambit below, too, striding through the perdition of his own making. His step was jaunty and he carried his bo-staff over his shoulder. He didn't seem ruffled in the least by the holocaust.

Jean glanced at the chronometer. "Heavens, he's been at this for hours!"

Wolverine grinned. "Whoa, look at this mess! I've definitely gotta invite th' punk to th' next party I go to."

"But why is he doing this?" Ororo asked.

The answer quickly began apparent. A small corner of the wreck shifted, and a bedraggled figure crawled out from under it. It was another Gambit, but a very different one indeed: This Gambit looked as though he'd been fighting a war all by himself. His uniform was mostly shredded, his bo-staff broken in half, and he was carrying enough cuts and bruises to ALMOST lose the next beauty contest he entered. More than just abrasions, he limped from a deep puncture wound in his lower leg and his right arm hung bent and limp at his side.

"Just what the Hell does he think he's doing?!" Scott bellowed.

"I would expect the answer to that is quite obvious," Beast said. "He's fighting his worst enemy--himself."

Cyclops clicked on the comm. "Gambit, stop this right now!"

If Remy could hear him at all, he ignored him. Rather, he advanced on the Gambit drone from behind and leapt at it, driving the broken end of the bo-staff into its back. The doppelganger, however, possessed more resources than merely the template of Gambit's powers and fighting prowess: It was a mechanical creation. It was much stronger and far more durable than a normal human--or mutant, especially when in kill-mode. It shrugged him off like a Beanie Baby on its back and sent him crashing into another pile of twisted metal and stone.

"Better put the brakes on this, Cyke," Logan warned, sniffing the air. "I smell blood. Gambit's blood."

"But which one is he?"

"My guess would be the one who's bleeding profusely," Beast noted.

Scott tried to override the Danger Room controls. "I can't shut the program down. Somehow he's rigged it so it'll only respond to him."

The Gambit drone stood idly tapping its foot while its victim managed to get up on his knees, unable to summon the strength to defend himself one more time. The replica cocked its head, charging its bo-staff. "You 'ad 'nough a' dis, boy?" it sang cheerily. "What's dat you say? I can' HEAR you, mon ami." It advanced on him, slowly twirling the glowing bo-staff between the fingers of one hand, until it stood over him. Remy tried to reach for anything he could use as a weapon, but the drone put its foot over his hand. "You be still 'les you wan' dis hand broke, too." It raised the staff. "Now you die."

Bishop waited to hear no more. Using the pulse gun, he shot out the plexiglass pane separating the control room from the Danger Room itself. Landing in a crouch, he barrelled straight for the drone. It heard his approach and turned. "Well, 'allo, Pup." The Gambit drone raised its hand, a hand glowing with so much kinetic energy it was blinding to look upon. "Now, you take off. I got business wid y'r daddy here. I no' programmed t' kill YOU."

"YOU'LL KILL NO ONE HERE, MONSTER!!!" Bishop bellowed.

"Oooh. I love it when y' talk dirty, Pup." The replica raised that dreadful glowing hand and sent a small, charged dagger slicing through the smoky air. It landed square against Bishop's chest and detonated with the explosive power of a ton of dynamite. But Bishop was prepared for this, and had already girded his own mutant power--that of being able to absorb and re-direct any sort of energy. He was staggered by the blast, on his knees, and absorbing all that kinetic energy hurt like a million razors shivering through his body, but he shambled to his feet and came after the drone. Still holding the real Gambit by keeping its foot pressed over his hand, the doppelganger hurled what seemed to be an inexhaustable supply of blades at the X-Man from the future, each charged with more deadly energy than the one before it.

Yet, Bishop took whatever the replica threw at him, advancing on it step by step in spite of the barrage of sheer power.

Remy raised his head. "No, Pup," he whispered. "Go back. I no' wan' you here."

But no one heard him, and even if they had, it wouldn't have made a difference. Bishop himself was glowing by now, his massive body moving slow and ponderous from the unbelievable amounts of raw kinetic energy he had absorbed.

"I didn't know Gambit had so much power . . ." Cyclops muttered in awe.

"Unlike some guys, HE can control it." Logan enjoyed Scott's giving him an opening. "In combat the kid only uses a fraction of the juice he's capable of comin' up with. What, ya didn't KNOW that, One-Eye?"

The Gambit replica still grinned like a demon, its red eyes dancing with glee. It crooked its index finger, beckoning. "Oui, keep on comin', Pup. I savin' somet'ing special JUS' f' you."

Bishop said nothing. He just kept slogging ahead until he was almost within arm's reach of the drone. Then he released all that power he had absorbed in one single concentrated blast

Directed staight at the doppelganger

He let it all go

Then dropped over Remy, shielding him from the explosion with his own body

"Oh, no, Pup--you blasted de wrong Gambit!" Remy sobbed, but he couldn't even hear his own words

As shock waves brought down the walls and ceilings of the Danger Room.

+ "Torture me with one hand, but touch me gently with the other."

Remy's eyelids fluttered open, only to press shut again as the lights of the room set off pin pricks of pain behind his eyes. Groaning softly, he cursed the pain and the fact that he'd fucked up ever so royally yet again. He recognized where he was--Beast's medlab, not in a pine box as he'd like to be. He sensed someone else in the room with him, but he had neither the strength or will to acknowledge them. He breathed deeply and slowly the pain ebbed to a more tolerable level. Feeling a touch on his arm, he dared to venture opening his eyes again.

"Father!" Bishop's bulky form hovered over him. "How are you feeling?"

Like somebody kicked de shit outta me, he thought.

Aloud, he said, "Gambit okay."

He tried to sit up, but cried out and collapsed before he could stop himself. So much pain, lancing through him, more than he could bear. Bishop didn't need to gently push him back down, but his big hands moved unconsciously to do so. "Of course you are," he said with just a touch of sarcasm in that deep barotone of his.

It wasn't wasted on Remy. He arched an eyebrow. "Who be de daddy here, Pup?"

"Well, in THIS reality I am old enough to be your father and I weigh over three times what you do--Pup."

"Oh, so you like t' call me Father jus' when it suit you, den you try t' boss ol' Remy 'round de rest a' de time."

"You are beginning to reason things out for yourself, Father. I am glad of that. Hopefully you will eventually come to understand that when I say I am sworn to protect all the X-Men, I especially refer to you."

"Gambit no' need pr'tectin'."

"I have to disagree, Remy."

Oh, no--now he saw Cyclops sitting on the other side of his bed. He didn't bother to suppress his moan this time. Better gird his loins for another sermon. But Scott only took his hand.

"I know you don't want to talk about the girl in Paris."

Scott watched that vein in Remy's throat twitch. He might not be a telepath like his wife, but leading an ever-changing team of mutants into countless battles had made him a master of body language. He didn't need telepathy to read the kid's mind--the turmoil there was written all over Remy's face. "I'm sorry I yelled at you."

"Don' matter," Gambit murmured. "I be leavin' here soon as I can."

"That's going to take awhile. That Gambit drone did quite a number on you. Most of your ribs are cracked. Your right arm is broken."

Remy cast a rueful glare toward the plaster cast encasing his arm. "No big deal. I dextrous wit' bot' ambi."

"You're what?"

"Ambidextrous. Gambit use his left hand as well as his right." He demonstrated by penning "Go To Hell" on the cast with a felt marker that happened to be lying on the bedside table.

"I'm impressed." Scott gave a bare hint of a smile. "Now, where was I? Oh, yes, your injuries. I think that about covers the broken bones. You had enough internal injuries to occupy several hours of Hank's time in the Operating Room, not to mention that gouge in your leg. You're going to be laid up for a few weeks, if you're lucky--a few months if you're not. It'll be longer than that before you see combat again. But I'll leave that decision entirely up to Dr. McCoy."

"You heard a word I said, boy?" Gambit demanded, angry. "I SAID I leaving de X-Men."

Scott squeezed his hand, making him wince. "No, YOU listen, Remy. If you don't learn anything else about being an X-Man, you're going to learn that we're a family. We're all in this together. There are people here who love you, people who would die for you."

"Been enough a' dat already."

"Genevieve Darceneaux. You didn't kill her, Remy. Sabretooth did. Rogue told us the whole story."

"Gal's a blabbermouth."

"She told us so that we could help you--because she cares."

"Rogue cares?! Hah! If Rogue care, why she not here wit' Gambit?"

"It's a difficult situation for her, Remy. Try to understand--"

"I tired a' understanding everybody else. I jus' wan' some peace."

Scott leaned closer and took his shoulders. "That won't come until you can drop all those chains you've been carrying with you. You drag your guilt around like concrete blocks on your back. Let it go, Remy. Just let it go."

"Easy f' YOU to say, homme. I hear de Pope gon' announce y' sainthood any day now."

"You might be surprised. I'm not as saintly as you think, Remy."

"Yah? Why don'tcha tell me all 'bout it over a beer dis afternoon?"

"If you'd like."

Remy's jaw dropped. He hadn't expected Scott to call his bluff. Swallowing, he nodded.

"Good. I'll be back in a couple of hours. Hank wants you to take a nap until then."

He tried to stay awake, he really did--just to spite Bishop, who had elected to remain lodged at his bedside--but found himself asleep before Scott had time to walk to the bedroom door.

+ "Thou didst not perceive that subtle spider's web, spread by Fate between the light and thee; thou rushed into it, and now, with mangled head and broken wings, thou strugglest in the iron grip of fatality!"

"Yowtch!" Logan howled. He had struck his thumb with a hammer while nailing in the loose boards on the sunny side of the X-Shack, and--instinctively, unwittingly--stuck the thumb into his mouth.

LeBeau, who had been tagging along behind him while he was on the sick list, rolled over on his back in the grass, hooting with laughter. Only recently freed from strict bedrest status, he'd been sitting on a blanket, idly casing an art book--mostly just ogling the paintings of naked Renaissance women. Whatever magic Cyclops had worked with that beer party seemed to have done wonders: Remy had settled down and actually begun to heal. He and Rogue were still avoiding each other, but at least no further Gambit combat drones had been activated.

"What's so funny?!" he snarled at the Cajun.

"De fearsome Wolverine wit' de big sharp teeth--sucking his thumb like a baby! Omega Red be real scared if he see you now, mon ami!"

Realizing how he looked, Logan pulled his thumb out his mouth.

" 'Ey, Logan!" Remy called to him. "Why you no' ask Stormy out?"

"WHAT did you say?"

"You heard me. You like Stormy, she like you. Why you no' take her t' a nice cafe, buy her some flowers, eh? She t'ink you no' interested in her."

"Did she tell you all this?"

Remy grinned, flashing that smile guaranteed to melt all the ice in Anarctica. "Stormy, she no' 'ave t' tell ol' Gambit anyt'ing. I read emotions like you read tracks and scents on de wind. 'Sides, you know dis, too. You know Stormy attracted t' you--so why you no' act on it? You be chicken?"

"Lissen, Junior, nobody calls ME a chicken--"

"So ask her out."

"Lemme think about it."

"Non! You promise Gambit you ask Stormy out when she come back from town--or I call you chicken again."

Logan finally returned the grin, throwing up his hands, but careful to maintain his toe grips on the ladder. "Awright, awright--anythin' but that!" He tucked the hammer into his belt. "You really think 'Roro'd go out with me?"

"I no' t'ink--I KNOW. And why no'? You no' a bad homme. Scruffy and hairy, sure, you don' spend much time in de shower--but you a decent man, Logan. An honorable man. Dat's more dan some hommes could offer her," Remy said ruefully.

"Ya know, I've seen her looking' at me a few times, I just thought . . ." He gulped, hard. It'd been so long since he'd been in a relationship--and Storm was NOT a woman to enter into a casual affair with. No one could lie to him--not even that expert liar Gambit. She WAS attracted to him, he could smell the phermones on her. Odd: He'd never experienced a dearth of courage before, but right now he was scared shitless at the thought of approaching The Goddess.

"I'm gonna take ya back inta th' house, kid. Temperatures startin' t' drop an' 'Roro'll call down Wrath o' God-sized lightning bolts on my shaggy head if I letcha catch cold out here."

Gambit didn't answer him. Logan figured the punk at a loss for words--for once--and finished climbing down the ladder. "Think ya could talk to her f' me?" he started to ask.

Then he saw:

Remy was lying on the blanket, curled on his side, eyes and mouth open, staring ahead. His left hand clutched about his right shoulder. The red pupils and irises of his eyes had been swallowed by the black scleras, and there was none of the usual mischievous glow in them.

"What's th' matter with ya, Gumbo?" Logan asked, approaching the Cajun. "Why don'tcha answer me?"

" 'Cause he's been tranked, idjit!"

Logan saw the feathered end of the dart protruding between Remy's fingers as he gripped his shoulder. Someone--some coward hiding close by--had fired a damned drug dart at the Cajun.

And that low, rumbling voice.


Logan's hackles raised along his back and shoulders.

Sabretooth was smart enough to stay downwind from Wolverine until he was ready to strike. And he was now. He came strutting closer, grinning like a feral cat. "Shiftless punk doesn't deserve a fair fight," he snorted. " 'Sides, I ain't ABOUT ta give him a chance to shove one of those charged playing cards up my big hairy ass. But I got no gripe with ya this time, Weapon Ecchs--just back off, gimme th' brat, an' mebbe I won't hurt ya. Much."

Logan popped his claws. "Let's see ya take him after I carve ya ta collops."

Sabretooth let out an insane growl of a giggle. "I was just HOPIN' you'd do that, Logan. It's no fun tangling with mutants like th' kiddie there who're like walkin' batteries an' just zap ya alla time--zap, zap, zap--I likes a good brawl, an' I wuz SO lookin' forward to beatin' th' crap outta you." Then he pounced.

As he fought, it occurred to Logan that shooting Remy with a tranquilizer gun wasn't Creed's style. In spite of what he'd said about wanting to avoid getting blasted by those pesky kinetic energy powers, he'd no more skulk about in the bushes that long than he'd pass an hour without a homicidal impulse. Took all the sport out of it, and Creed enjoyed the hunt even more than the kill. If he wanted Gambit down for the count at the very offset of his attack, it meant that he had other plans for the Cajun later--plans he didn't want to be interrupted at. Logan knew all about the various times Gambit had kicked Creed's butt for him when he'd been in residence at the X-Shack; he knew Creed would eventually try to get his own back.

He didn't expect Creed to come with company, though: out of the corner of his eye, Logan got a glimpse of a fourth party-- a male, tall, dressed in a black unitard and a ski mask--as he slung Remy's quasi-conscious body over his shoulder and made for the forest. Logan took a deep breath in spite of the pummelling he was taking--a scent might be all the clue he was going to get.

"Don't worry 'bout the punk!" Creed hooted with glee.

"Worry 'bout what an open book YOU gonna be when I pull yer guts open--Yer gonna be RED all over--haw haw!!!!!! GET it, Logan?! GET IT?!!! RED ALL OVER!!!!!!!"

+ "They devoured my little girl, my child, my only child! They ate my heart along with her--I have none now!"

Remy tried to call out for help, but he couldn't move or speak. The drugged dart was still stuck in his shoulder, and his abductor showed no sign of intending to remove it. He was carried for a couple of miles, give or take a few hundred feet, then dropped into the back of a parked Jeep. The drug was affecting his nervous system, paralyzing him until it took all his strength to make himself breathe in and out. He was terrified, panicked that he wouldn't be able to accomplish even that much longer. He wanted to try to assist Logan, but fear of suffocation was strangling him. He found himself looking up at the ski-masked man who had shot him then brought him here, but he could see only a pair of gray eyes regarding him coldly through the holes in the ski mask. The man abruptly pulled off the mask, looking down at Remy expectantly, as if he expected him to recognize him. But Remy had never seen the man before--he tried to tell him so, but couldn't form sounds, couldn't do anything but concentrate on forcing his lungs to expand and release the air he had to fight so hard for.

His assailant didn't seem pleased by the question on Remy's face. He suddenly pulled out a Luger, flicked off the safety, pulled back the slide to pop a bullet into the chamber, then pressed the muzzle of the gun against Remy's face, grinding it right between the younger man's eyes.

Crazily, Remy wondered if the man expected him to beg for his life. He might have even considered it if he could breathe--and therefore, think--straight. But the effort to bring air into his lungs was costing everything he had and then some. He tried again to talk, but it only came out a broken wheeze as the breath died in him.

And then, even crazier, the man jumped into the back of the Jeep with him. Dropping to his knees beside Remy, he slid a hand under the Cajun's neck to force his head back and his jaw out, then firmly covered Remy's lips with his own, forcing air into his tormented lungs until he could breathe for himself again, until the drug effect passed enough for him to resume gasping.

The gun was back to Remy's head, this time the muzzle was against his temple.

Why is he doing this? Remy wondered insanely. If he wants me dead, why did he give me his own air and save my life? This homme has real decision-making problems!

As if he heard the Cajun's thoughts, the man said, with a very distinctive French accent, "I won't make it easy for you, boy."

+ " 'Tis only my cat, regaling itself with a mouse."

Logan dodged swipe after swipe of Sabretooth's claws: While his own claws were longer, Creed had the height, weight, and arm's reach advantage. They were too evenly matched, always had been and always would be--but Mr. Ski Mask had just carried off the beloved buddy of The Goddess, and Logan was in no mood to look her in the eye and tell her he'd done nothing about it except spar a few rounds with Sabretooth.

Just as he started to make some inroads on Creed's belly with his claws, Logan felt a small, sharp pain in the back of his neck--then his knee joints turned to jelly and a typhoon-sized bolt of nausea caught in his craw and went hurtling up his gullet. Logan swallowed back his own puke--no way he was gonna toss his cookies in front of Creed. Humiliating enough that some ditwad in a ski mask had grabbed a teammate he was supposed to looking out for--then stashed said teammate someplace safe while he doubled back to pop off another drugged dart. Logan's eyes, mouth, and throat filled as his chest constricted and his breath froze hot and solid in his ribs, refusing to inflate his lungs while he drowned in his own slobber.

Yet he fought on, slashing blindly in every direction, one thought in his mind: If it's like this for me, strong as an ox and oozing with healing factors--what's that poor kid going through?

Finally Logan went down on one knee, unable to control the waterworks and the vomitathon any longer. He heard Creed's laughter screeching his ears, felt that Sasquatch-sized foot driving into his gut with the force of a runaway Mack Truck. Sabretooth kicked him again, and again, howling like a banshee when he doubled up on the ground, kicking him in the face, the groin, the small of the back, the throat. "Always SAID I'd kick yer ass from here ta Hudson's Bay, runt!!!! Lookit ya--all curled up like a lil' ol' bunny wabbit! Where's yer Berserker Fury now, ya loozer?!!!! Cajun's MINE now--he's ALL MINE, an' we got us a date for a lil' walk--or shall I say FALL--down Memory Lane!!!!!! So you just stay here an' lick yer wounds, RUNT!" Another kick, this one shattering his nose and half the cartilage in his face. Logan came up spitting teeth and bits of his own tongue.

Creed kicked him so hard in the butt that he broke Logan's coccyx bone at the base of his spine. Utmost agony shot though the X-man, like lightning bolts racing up and down his backbone and flaring into every cell of his body. But Logan ignored the pain, just like he always did. He couldn't walk, but he came crawling after Creed like a pit bull that'd had its legs sawed off.

Creed was arguing with Mr. Ski Mask. Logan couldn't make out the whole conversation, but he was able to pick up pieces of it:

"--quit playing games--"

"Games is what we're here for."

"--got what we came for--"

"--no rush--"

"Come on or we leave you."

Creed shrugged and delivered one last kick to Logan's mouth.

Logan bit through his boot leather and took off three of Creed's toes.

It was some small measure of comfort to see Sabretooth limping and hopping off into the woods. Sure, it was only temporary; Creed could heal like mad and grow himself some new toes in a few hours, but he was sure hurting now. Then he remembered Gambit, just as he finally lost consciousness--drugged, alone, and in Sabretooth's clutches--and was not comforted at all.

+ "A poor devil must live, one day as well as another."

"Who is it?" Storm snapped. She was the one who had found Logan and put him to bed. The Canadian was nearly dead, with enough broken bones and ruptured blood vessels to kill a normal man a thousand times over. However, nearly dead wasn't the same as fully dead by any means when one was talking about Wolverine. Given time, he would heal. Time that Gambit didn't have. With Henry McCoy gone, Ororo was nursing Logan herself. She'd splinted his broken limbs, dug the gravel out of his skin, cleaned his lacerations, and bathed him as gently as a mother does her newborn baby. Then she summoned a steamy air pocket to fill his room and keep him warm while he knit himself back together; hopefully he would be able to talk soon, and tell her who had done this to him and taken Gambit. She was NOT in the mood to be interrupted by whomever was outside the door.

"Ah thought y'all could use some help!" Rogue's voice called.

"I need no assistance whatsoever from you, Rogue." Storm replaced the dressing over Logan's abdomen. "Leave us."

"Could Ah just come in f' awhile?" Rogue's voice was wheedling.

Which annoyed Ororo even more.

"No," she answered curtly. "Please go. You are disturbing us."

She heard a squeak, then a metallic crack, as Rogue applied the tiniest fraction of her strength to the door frame and broke the hinges. Gingerly setting the door aside, Rogue came into Logan's bedroom. "Ah didn't mean t' do that," she stammered. "Just kinda leaned on th' door an' mah superstrength just--"

"Do not make your excuses to me, child," Storm snapped. "I have no desire to hear them. I would prefer that you leave, but since you clearly refuse to do so, please say quickly what you will and return to your own quarters."

"Ah didn't mean to," Rogue said in a small voice, that little-girl-lost voice. Right now it only grated on Ororo's nerves.

She had no patience to spare for the girl at the moment.

"What did you not mean to do?"

"Any o' this." Rogue spread her arms. "Ah didn't mean for anybody t' get hurt."

"I fail to understand what you are trying to say."

"Ah was just tryin' t' make Remy jealous. Joseph don't mean nuthin' t' me. Ah was just flirtin' with him; Ah think Ah wanted to hurt Remy a lil', too, f' th' way he's treated me."

Storm lost the last of her patience. "This was all a game for you, child? Playing with the emotions of others? Driving Remy to fighting a homicidal drone in the Danger Room?"

"Ah didn't want that t' happen, Storm."

"Because of your 'game', Gambit was unable to defend himself and Logan. Now Remy is gone and Logan has been beaten like an animal. Is this what you wanted?"

"No--Ah--Ah love Remy--"

"Your idea of love and your methods for showing it appear very strange to me, Rogue." The air in the room suddenly became much colder. "I suggest that you leave such games to individuals who possess the maturity to play them safely and the wisdom to know when to cease with it. You clearly do not. Now GO."

Rogue fled, bawling. But Storm didn't care.

+ "My child! I want my child! What is it to me that she is in Paradise? I want none of your angels; I want my child."

Claude Darceneaux had been a pilot before he'd taken up thievery as a lazier way to make a living. Somehow Victor Creed had known that, and insisted that they rent themselves a plane with extra fuel storage capacities. Which made sense to Darceneaux: They couldn't exactly book a TransAtlantic commercial flight with a kidnap victim in tow. With the head start they'd gained, they had driven the Jeep to a private airfield Creed knew about. While the Canadian carried LeBeau aboard, Darceneaux quickly checked the jet and prepared it for take-off. Once aloft and over the ocean, he set the automatic pilot and went back into the cargo area.

The Acadian was lying on the floor in a haphazzard tangle of blankets, still breathing like a butterfly and hovering much more towards unconsciousness than the world of the waking. Creed sat beside him, riffling through the garbage bag he'd asked Darceneaux to steal for him in Paris. "Yer just in time," he chortled. "Gonna spoil th' fun if th' kid's drugged all th' way through it. And I got just th' thing to take care o' that."

"Why not just drop him out the hatch?" asked Darceneaux.

Creed sighed most expansively. "Ya miss th' whole POINT o' th' thing if ya do that, Froggie. He'd be dead before he hit th' water. Thought ya said ya wanted th' punk ta suffer like he made yer lil' girl suffer. That takes TIME. Ya didn't bust a cap in his skull when ya had th' chance, so why're ya gettin' all antsy now?" Chill out, man. We got plenty o' time. Believe me, Prince Charming here took his own sweet time with yer lil' girl."

Darceneaux knelt down beside the pair to get a better look at his daughter's killer. As if instinctively sensing another presence in close proximity, the handsome head turned toward him. The eyes were still black as coals, but weak red sparks were beginning to flash in them: He was starting to come around. "He's not human," Darceneaux said, shivering at the thought of his daughter with a creature that wasn't--natural.

" 'Course he ain't, Slick. But remember: Yer Genny was no babe in th' woods. Think a normal man coulda got th' drop on her? Think a normal man coulda tortured her like he did? I watched yer she-cub, Darceneaux; she was sharp, a tough cookie, she knew th' score. It took somethin' what ain't human t' get th' better of her."

Darceneaux didn't answer. He reached out to take the captive's chin in his hand. "He's very . . . young," he observed, studying the unlined face. "He must have been just a boy when he and Genny--"

"Wassamatter, Slick? Don't like thinkin' that yer lil' girl had a taste fer jailbait? Genny-poo liked that sweet hard YOUNG stuff, lemme tell ya."

"No, it's--"

Creed, sensing that Darceneaux was beginning to form some misgivings, shrugged his furry shoulders. "Y'know, he's prob'ly a lot older than he looks. He IS a mutant. Some of 'em can live fer thousands o' years. I hear tell that some OTHER mutant came into that nest of muties he lives in and claimed the Cajun was still runnin' around hundreds of years inta th' future. Hell, Froggie, he just might be older'n you an' me put together."

"But . . . aren't YOU a mutant, as well?"

"Sort of." Creed grinned wolfishly. "Sure, I'm bigger'n most guys, I got claws, an' I heal up real fast. But that's 'bout it. Big fuckin' deal, right? But THIS lil' pretty--well, he can explode anything he lays paws on. An' trust me on this one 'cause I know how he works: He's got more tricks up his sleeve than Houdini. Which is why we ain't giving him any chances to get th' uppper hand on us."

Creed suddenly began to tear at the young man's clothing, rending the thin fabric between his claws until he stripped the prisoner bare. LeBeau hadn't resisted at all: Drugged as he was, he could only lie still, looking blind and bewildered. He shivered when the cold air in the cargo hold struck his skin, moaned just a little. His uncasted hand knotted itself into a fist and raised slightly, only to fall helplessly at his side.

Darceneaux found himself staring dumbly. This was the last man Genny had loved. And she had loved him. He knew that because she had written to him in prison the week before she died--the last news he'd had of her until he was informed of her death. She was deliriously, deliciously in love. He had memorized her letter over the years he'd spent waiting out his sentence:

"He is a thief like us, Papa, and he will help us. Of course he is young and at times very silly, but he has a good heart. Too good, I think at times, for the likes of us."

Poor Genny! He thought he'd reared her to be a better judge of character than that. A thief's life can hinge upon on how well he or she can "read" a mark, and Genevieve had been a splendid student. Perhaps love had made her forgetful of the lessons he'd tried to teach her. The young man's beautiful face and sinewy body had stolen from her the skills she needed to survive--and worst of all, her wits.

Creed pulled a pair of women's silk bikini panties out of the plastic bag, holding them up--black and without lace--between his huge fingers, "Awwww," he leered, pausing to sniff the crotch of the panties and sigh, "Oooo!" before he turned them backwards front and pulled them over the captive's legs and hips. It had never occurred to Darceneaux that a woman's panties could fit a slender man merely by reversing them, the wider back providing more coverage for the genitals while the narrower front of the panties formed a thong for the hips. A womens' knitted silk tanktop came out of the plastic bag next; this proved to be a poorer fit than the panties, as Creed had to stretch the delicate material over the smooth expanse of the Cajun's chest. Creed then produced from the bag a white band of cloth, which he tied over the prisoner's mouth, and lastly, a flimsy silk brassiere which he shredded into strips with his claws and used the strips to securely tie LeBeau's ankles and wrists, pulling the casted arm painfully behind his back to secure it to the unbroken one.

"We can let th' dope wear off now; he ain't goin' nowhere," Creed pronounced.

Darceneaux was unconvinced. "If he's as cunning as you say, a little bit of cloth isn't going to hold him. What would keep him from using his mutant powers on us then?"

" 'Cause WE'RE usin' his mutant powers on HIM!" Creed howled with glee. "See, he has this other mutant power he don't like t' advertise. Lil' stunt he used on your daughter, called a 'charm power'. Handy trick t' have around, 'cause he can seduce anybody, anywhere, anytime with it--and the rest o' th' sexy-lookin' merchandise don't hurt, either. We should ALL have a power like that, able to graft our feelin's, our wants an' needs, our wills--onto somebody else. But what Pretty Boy here won't tell ya is that anytime ya open up a psychic channel between two people: It flows both ways. Sure, yer feelin' all warm 'n cozy 'cause that's what he WANTS ya t' feel, but at th' same time, he's gettin' what's comin' from you. Usually that ain't so bad for him, often helps him in his work."

Creed paused to adjust the gag between LeBeau's teeth. "But what if more flowed back at him than he was prepared t' handle? Y'see, Daddyman, THIS is what yer daughter was wearin' when he tortured her an' murdered her."

Darceneaux recoiled. These pitiful strips of cloth, clinging to Genny's fragile body as she met the stones below Notre Dame. The young man threw his head back, screaming under the gag, thrashing about in spite of his uncontrollable shivering, but unable to free himself. Blood red tears flowed from the strange pupilless eyes, and only a monster could fail to feel compassion for him.

Ah, but it was a monster who sat at his feet, tickling the soles of his feet with the tips of his claws, chortling like a fiend, then moved to his head.

"Easy, Pops." Creed ran his grotesque fingers through LeBeau's waistlength auburn hair. "I been around the egghead scientists before, an' I remember things. They say things like, "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." Pretty heavy, huh? An' I remembered that. Remembered it when I was at the X-Shack an' every last time this brat boxed my ears just for fun. Looks kinda shocky, don't he, Pops? That's 'cause the empathic impressions your Genny left in those clothes are hittin' HIM like a ton o' bricks right now! Those panties covered HER bottom! That shirt was on HER torso! That gag was in HER mouth! " He slapped his knee and guffawed with delight. "She's gettin' her revenge on th' Cajun from beyond th' grave!"

+ "They have stolen my child; they have devoured her on the moor; they have drunk her blood; they have gnawed her bones!"

Storm was as good a pilot as she was a weatherwitch. In fact, Logan was absolutely certain that the Blackbird had never flown QUITE this fast before; he suspected that she'd put the East Wind at their backs, but he feared even that couldn't push them across the Atlantic in time. He'd guessed the revenge plan; however, it'd be just like Sabretooth to lose patience and carve Gambit up and eat him long before they reached Paris. He'd never told Ororo much about Victor Creed--for good reason--and he didn't intend to start now. Better that she not dwell on the fact that they were going after the world's deadliest predator--a beast with the brain of a human--but none of the heart or soul. Storm had enough to worry about as it was.

He'd insisted that the two of them go alone after Gambit. And when Wolverine insisted on something, no one argued with him. Scott knew enough about Sabretooth to admit that a stampeding herd of X-Men was the most dangerous means of trying to deal with him. And bless Scott, he'd put his foot down when Rogue begged to be allowed to accompany Storm and Wolverine, sending her fleeing to her room in tears. And that was fine with him; he wasn't up to bothering with a hysterical girl. LeBeau could deal with Rogue later. If they managed to bring him back alive.

Logan felt Ororo's hand creep into his. "I fear for my friend," she said.

There was but one way to reassure her and still be truthful. "Ugly won't be a hurry t' kill th' Cajun, darlin'. He only makes it quick for people he likes."

+ "I have a den to which I will drag thee."

The Paris night was alit with fireworks. It was the anniversary of the completion of construction on the Eiffel Tower, and most Parisians were on its concourse, celebrating.

No one noticed a man pushing a small cart toward the Central Portal of Notre Dame Cathedral. The square around the cathedral was all but deserted, and Claude Darceneaux went about his business unmolested by gendarmes or citizens. He had decided to perform a time-honored French execution for the murderer of his daughter, as dictated by history. Remy LeBeau lay on the flat surface of the cart, swaddled in a white blanket since Sabretooth HEARTILY recommended against removing his bindings to slip the traditional white shirt of the convict over his body. The prisoner seemed insensible--clearly seeing and experiencing some horror beyond mortal ken--tears continued to flow down his face until they matted his soft hair. He was quiet, though: his voice long eroded to nothing but raspy gulps by his muffled screams.

Time to give him over to his executioner.

However, Darceneaux still wanted him to understand, and spoke to him:

"I am bringing you to the Portal of the Last Judgment, boy. I have found you guilty in the murder of my Genevieve, and I desire nothing but your everlasting damnation and punishment."

If Remy had been able to focus his eyes, he could have looked above him to the floodlighted statuary over the Portal of the Last Judgment: Jesus ruling from His throne, overseeing Armageddon; in the second row, the Archangel Gabriel calling the dead to rise from their graves; in the row below that, the angel called Michael stood alongside Satan, both weighing each man's soul. Lastly, sinners being led away in chains to the Underworld.

Sinners such as himself.

<Genny/Remy look around, desperate and terrified.

<A man sits against the wall, bound as they are. They recognizes him as Remy's elder brother Henri. Their eyes beseech him to help them.

<But he cannot. He is only a man. He is no mutant who can conjure fire in the palm of his hand, as Remy can.

<Oh, Remy, my darling, where are you? Why don't you come for us?>

<It is as though he has been encased within Genny's body, seeing through her eyes. Feeling the unwanted touches upon and within her body.>

His tears are for her, not for himself. He deserves this. Whatever they do to him, it is not punishment enough. < Impale me on a spike and roast my bones over the fires of Hell while the demons devour my flesh. I let her die. I saved my brother, only to watch him die, too, shot down like a dog scant years later. I let Genny fall. I heard the wet sound when her body struck the stones. I held her in my arms as she breathed her last and her blood soaked my shirt. She whom I killed had only words of love for me. I am a monster. >

He bites into the gag, his teeth grinding into depressions left by HER teeth. Her little knit shirt is an iron band around his chest, the cloths binding his wrists and ankles are as unyielding as diamonds.

+ "When one is doing evil 'tis madness to stop half-way. The extremity of guilt has its delirium of rapture."

Sabretooth was waiting at the Portal of the Last Judgment. He slid his arms under LeBeau's shoulders and knees to lift him out of the cart. "You keep watch out here," he said to Darceneaux. "I don't wanna be interrupted."

+ "I saw thee stripped, and thy limbs grasped by the infamous hands of the executioner."

How far they went and where, Remy had no idea. He was engulfed in an endless Hell that washed over him again and again and again. His arms and legs were numb, he saw only through Genny's eyes, felt only her fear and pain, pitied only her. He saw Henri staring at him, as if from beyond the grave. Yet, even his dulled senses were assaulted when Sabretooth cradled him in one arm and pushed open a heavy wooden door with the other hand: The stench was unbearable.

They were in a charnel-pit, little more than stone walls with a low claustrophobic ceiling, a dirt floor, and corpses lined up against the walls. Creed had also been carrying a lantern swung over his arm, and he set that on the ground as he dropped to his knees, still holding the Acadian in his arms like a child.

"I don't need this lamp," he told Remy, heedless of how seemingly unresponsive the Cajun was; he knew how well Remy could see and hear--and smell. "I just brought it 'cause I wanted YOU to see this. I made some preparations for ya, punk. Wanted this to be a real special moment for us. Look around you."

Creed frowned. The reality of this moment was not measuring up to his fantasies. He realized the cause: The Cajun was being bombarded with so much of Genevieve Darceneaux's final emotions that his senses were overwhelmed by them--and Creed Wanted LeBeau to savor some last impressions of his own. Oh, well. Not much the brat was capable of doing now. He was pale as death, clammy to the touch, breathing shallow and fast. Creed extended the claws of one hand, steadying the Arcadian on his lap with the other, and sliced the thin garment away from his chest. Remy took a deep, shuddering breath, as though a vise had been lifted from his lungs. Then he shredded the cloths binding LeBeau's ankles, and was rewarded to see some kicking. Good. The kid was getting his wits back with some of the girl's clothing cut away from him.

" 'Member that lil' loveletter I wrote ya back in Paris, LeBeau? You 'member, it was right after I snatched yer girlfriend an' yer brother. I told ya to come to Notre Dame, where the Hunchback also lost something he cared about. Y'know, kid, I love this place, this old church. So much FUN was had here back in th' good ol' days. Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre, the French Revolution, the Reign of Terror, the Bloody Week. Makes me wish I was an External. I'd 'a been right here th' whole time, squattin' on th' curb an' lapping up all those rivers of blood."

To illustrate, Creed cupped Remy's jaw in his hand and slowly began to lick the sharply angular face with his rough catlike tongue. He was most gratified to feel the slim body in his arms begin to squirm and try to get away from him. "Not so fast, pretty boy," he whispered. "I'm in no hurry t' end it. Not while I have you in my arms like this. I know how t' get t' you, brat. I know what yer scared of, an' ol' Uncle Creed's right here t' make all yer worst nightmares come true."

He kissed Remy's mouth over the gag. It felt like getting hit in the face with a wet towel. "Remember the ending of the Hunchback story, Cajun? I bet all you ever read or saw of it was mebbe that Disney movie. That's about yer speed, ain't it, kid? Come t' think of it, I never saw you readin' no books at the X-Shack. Don'tcha know how t' read?"

Creed grabbed a handful of auburn hair and dragged Remy's head back to face him. "Answer me, boy. Show me ya still got some brains in that beautiful empty skull. Can you read?!"

Remy nodded slowly, because he didn't know what else to do. His mind was slowly clearing, but he was still fuzzy, still wore some of Genny's clothing, unable to distinguish her reality from his.

"Okay," Creed grunted, satisfied that at least the young man was listening to him now. "In the REAL story, a couple o' years after everything just went t' shit for Quasimodo and Esmerelda, some folks went down into the vaults under Paris lookin' fer some idjit what'd just got himself hung; they wanted to bury th' carcass, y'see. But while they was at it, they found something kinda weird: There were two skeletons together--a man's holding a woman's. Mebbe one o' these days, somebody'll find YOU like that, LeBeau--down here rotting away in the old vault. But you won't be alone, either." He nuzzled Remy's throat.

"I dug ya up some company."

He wrenched Remy's head to the side and held it firmly by the hair. Feeling the young man cringe, Sabretooth laughed and laughed. "Go on, boy--LOOK at her! See what the worms've done t' her!!! I SAID LOOK AT HER!!!!!!!!"

Remy looked upon the ruined face of Genevieve Darceneaux. Her sparkling eyes were gone, nothing but two empty sockets in the patchy skull; her generous lips had disappeared, and her teeth tightly set like a dog's bared fangs. Her once-soft brown hair was dry, wiry, and clumped, pressing tightly about her head, half-veiling the sunken hollows of her cheekbones.

Yet, Remy recognized in this cadaverous visage the joyous, lovely face he had once enjoyed looking upon. He was unable to take his eyes off her, biting into the gag, a raspy moan trying to claw its way out of his parched throat.

Creed began to stroke Remy's bare chest, shoulders, and back, his claws sheathed while his hand slipped under the shirt, then into the panties. "By now you know what I did to yer precious Genny, don'tcha, punk? Oh, yes, I can see it in your eyes that you do--ya feel it, don'tcha? You felt what she felt--I nailed her eyeballs to the wall while your brother watched us. He didn't do a damned thing t' help her, LeBeau. I guess he couldn't; he WAS all tied up, now I think about it. But I let him watch, and he got so hard watching us that I was scared he wouldn't even be able to see over his boner. But you KNOW that, don'tcha? I bet it's like watchin' dear ol' Henri watch me rape YOU, wasn't it? I bet it hurts, too."

He saw the answer he wanted in Remy's expression. "But, tell me this, pretty boy . . . do you know how the frail REALLY died? Did ol' Henri ever tell you?"

Creed watched Remy for a response. He was annoyed that the Cajun's consciousness came and went as if it was playing hide-and-seek with him. "Oh, he didn't TELL you, did he? Wanted to protect his innocent lil' baby brother from the horror. Let you drown in yer guilt all those years rather than tell you the truth. How many nights have ya woken up in a cold sweat, watching lil' Genny go splat just like a balloon filled up with water? How many times did ol' Henri dry yer tears, hug ya, get ya drunk, whatever it took, just so ya'd forget th' frail for a lil' while? Yer big brother didn't do ya any favors, kid. Not when he coulda told ya what REALLY happened t' yer Froggie trollop."

He shifted so that Remy was lying in his lap, clasped against his chest, holding his face in his paw so that he could gaze into the tearful red eyes. "Y'see, that guy Genny ripped off for that necklace, Martin Herzog wuz his name--just in case yer memory's fuzzy with all that empathic overload yer soakin' up from yer dead ladyfriend's clothes. Well, Herzog was pissed as Hell that Genny-poo stole his geegaw--but that wasn't all. He paid me fer TWO jobs that night, LeBeau: Get back his shiny pendant before his wife found out it was missing, natch. But ya know what ELSE he paid me t' do? Aw, don't look so surprised, boy. The frail made a monkey out of 'im. Ya think a rich, powerful man like Herzog is gonna let a cheap thievin' WHORE walk free after puttin' horns on his head?"

Grinning nastily, Creed slipped the panties away from Remy's lower body and tossed them aside. Then he brought his free hand into the Acadian's line of vision and unsheathed his claws. "I didn't aim t' take a chance on yer savin' her, not when Herzog forked over th' cold cash for me t' make sure she quit breathin' on a permanent basis."

Remy could see those claws very well--terrible, razor-sharp barbed claws, like a tiger's. But his expression made it plain that he still didn't understand. Sabretooth rolled his yellow eyes to high heavens, or the oppressive low ceiling of the charnel-pit, take your pick Actually, Creed was the one who didn't understand: How could anyone but a fellow sociopathic serial killer fathom the depths of Sabretooth's bag of tricks? The kid was too damned innocent. But he yet had long enough to live that he could still learn a little something . . .

"THINK about it, punk," Creed urged in a whisper that was almost gentle. "Why d'ya think I was holding her an' ol' Henri upside down, with th' ropes around their ankles? Why didn't I string 'em up by the wrists?" He cocked his head, looking into Remy's uncomprehending expression. "Oh. I see. Ya ain't been able t' get past th' part where I made lovely Genny glad she wuz a woman--not that I blame ya--that WAS fun, wasn't it? Mebbe I just need ta keep ya alive a lil' longer so ya can get t' the next part--th' GOOD part--th' KILLIN' part." He began to rub his right thumb and third finger together before Remy's eyes. "Y'see, 'boychile', I stuck THIS finger up her wet lil' cunt--" he sheathed and unsheathed his claws--"an' I poked my thumb into her tight lil' ass as far as it'd go. Then I wiggled 'em around an' around an' around--with m' claws OPEN and OUT, natch."

Ah, he was finally rewarded with the terror he wanted to see on that pale, handsome face.


Creed laughed like a hyena, spraying drool around the burial vault. "She only held on t' life as long as she did 'cause she wanted t' see YOU one last time! Wanted t' look at yer pretty face just once more before she gave up th' ghost."

He flung wide an expansive arm to encompass Genny's corpse. "She's been waitin' fer ya a long time, LeBeau, an' I never disappoint a lady." His paw slid roughly over Remy's flank and hips, trailing those deadly claws over the smooth skin, digging in just deeply enough to draw blood, and whispered in Remy's ear, " 'Course, she had more nice finger-sized orifices than you do, 'boychile', but I promise I'll be real THOROUGH with ya. I bet yer sweet lil' ass is even tighter than hers . . ."

The report of the pistol fired in such an enclosed space was deafening enough to human ears, but for hypersensitive mutants like Sabretooth and Gambit, it was as if a hydrogen bomb had been dropped on them. Both went sprawling in pain--Creed from the bullet in his chest as well as the roar of the muzzle blast.

Remy pulled himself to his knees, still reeling. Claude Darceneaux was at his side, pulling the gag down over his chin and wrapping his own coat around Remy's nude body. "I came to tell Creed that I heard someone else came into the Cathedral. I almost shot him when I heard him call my daughter whore. But then, he said he would tell how she really died . . . and I had to know . . ."

"Untie me!" Remy screamed, frantic--but his throat was so dry that he was barely able to croak. His kinetic powers and focus were still blocked by the cloths around his throat and wrists; losing some articles of clothing had helped, but he needed to be free of all the residual empathic assault from Genny's dying hours if he was going to save the pair of them, especially with a broken arm. "We gotta get outta here!!!!!!!!"

"It's all right. Creed's dead now. He can't hurt you."

Darceneaux picked up the lantern, then stopped dead when its light scattered across the crypt wall opposite them. "Genny . . . "

His voice died as he beheld the corpse of his only child.

"Oh, Genny . . ."

Darceneaux sank to his knees, burying his face in his hands. "Untie me!!!!!!!!!!!"

Remy couldn't make himself heard above the sobs issuing from Darceneaux. The man stared at the body of his daughter, his pride and joy, and he began to keen for her. Long, wretched, mournful sounds, sounds Remy hoped he never heard again as long as he lived.

"What a putz."

Remy dived into the moldy straw just in time to avoid the deadly claws rocketing at Darceneaux's back with all the might and momentum of Sabretooth's massive body behind them. The next thing he knew, Creed was hefting him into his arms.

"Fast, kid. Real fast. I like that." He rolled Remy against his chest: The bleeding in Creed's chest had already stopped. "Almost got me two birds with one set o' claws."

"Just get it over with," Gambit hissed.

"Awwww, where's yer sense o' fun, 'boychile'? I ain't in a hurry. Just 'cause THIS party's been interrupted don't mean we can't find ANOTHER one." He carried Remy out of the vault and began to ascend the stone steps. ""Good thing fer me that I told Daddyman you'd blast him t' bits if he untied ya, eh?" He stopped to replace the gag between Remy's teeth, sending him further back again into Genny's torture. "As long as you still got SOME of her rags on yer skinny lil' bod, yer a pushover."

Damn him, he was right. Remy raged at him until his dessicated throat could produce no sound whatsoever, but Creed paid no heed to his struggles or the last of his muffled screams. "I got a whiff of our party-crasher soon as Daddyman opened th' door. Shoulda known Logan would come chasin' after ya. He's sweet on th' weatherwitch, an' yer th' apple of her eye, ain't ya, boy? Th' runt never could stand t' see a woman cry. Figgered on a lil' Claw-Go-Round with Wolverine later after I got done with you, but on second thought, I like havin' us a threesome even better."

Sabretooth went charging through the catacombs, not bothering in the least with any attempt at stealth. He stormed straight into the cavernous nave of the Cathedral, right up the altar. Creed shoved the offering bowls, candlelabra, and other paraphernalia off the altar and threw Gambit onto it like a sack of potatoes, then leapt astride him, pinning Remy's body to the stone slab with his own. Then he let out a roar that shook the vaulted ceiling over a hundred feet above them.

"I KNOW YER HERE, LOGAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" he howled. "COME OUT, COME OUT, WHEREVER YOU ARE!!!!!!!!!!!!" He ripped the coat away from Remy's body and moved his paws with slow deliberateness over the younger mutant. "COME AN' SEE YER PRETTY FRIEND, RUNT--HE'S A DAMN FINE SIGHT IN HIS BIRTHDAY SUIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! He grasped Remy's upper arms and dug his claws in, little by little, slowly increasing the pain until his prisoner cried out under the gag.

The Cathedral remained silent.

"SHOW YERSELF, LOGAN!!!!!!!" Creed bellowed.

Remy tried to thrash away from Creed, letting out an angry, choked sob as the monster caught him with no effort and viciously shoved his back onto the marble altar, shattering the cast that stabilized his broken arm.


He abruptly sat up on his haunches, pulling Remy with him and holding him clasped in an obscene parody of the pristine marble statuary behind the altar platform--that of the Virgin Mary cradling in her arms the body of her Son descended from the Cross.

"TAKE A PICTURE O' THIS, LOGAN!!!!! WE LOOK JUST LIKE TH' STATUES!!!!!!!" He took a deep breath, then roared, "SO SHOW YER COWARD ASS OR I TAKE HIM RIGHT HERE AND NOW!!!!!!!!" He locked one giant hand around Remy's throat and raised the unsheathed claws of his other hand. "JUST GIMME ONE EXCUSE TO GUT HIM, LOGAN!!!!!!!!!! COME ON OUT, CHICKENSHIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Remy stopped struggling. In spite of his mortal predicament, he almost laughed: If Creed thought he could goad Logan into a blind, foolish rage, he had another think coming. He'd taste Wolverine's berserker fury soon enough, but it wasn't going to be on his own terms.

An answering howl reverberated through the nave, angry and challenging.


Logan walked up the aisle in the footsteps of the repentant, but his tread was anything but timid. He marched straight up to the altar and said, "Get out from behind th' kid and let's rumble."

"Oh, Logan, I thought you'd NEVER ask!"

It was like a crazy episode of some Nature Channel show with two lions fighting it out for leadershp of the pride. Remy couldn't see anything in the melee but teeth, hair, and claws. Logan was a short man, barely more than five feet tall, and he was nothing but walking muscle and meanness. He was facing his match in the mean department when it came to throwing down with Sabretooth, but Logan had something going for him Creed would never know--the ferocity of an animal fighting for the life of one of the cubs from its den. The two titans fought tooth and claw, biting as well as stabbing, punching, kicking, inflicting any sort of injury they could possibly manage on each other, injuries that would have killed a human many rounds ago.

+ "Consider . . . that I am mad--that I may let all drop, and that there is beneath us a bottomless abyss, down which I shall follow thee in thy fall to all eternity!"

Remy struggled against the ties around his wrists.

Ordinarily, teasing free of them would have been child's play, but he was still being overwhelmed with Genny's agony and terror as long as any of her death-clothes were in contact with his flesh; it was sapping his attention and his strength, and took all his will to keep himself from being even further engulfed in her murder. The elastic of the shredded bra had contracted when his cast broke, still holding his wrists while he was left with unset broken bones. Sabretooth was no rocket scientist, and Remy thought he knew his own abilities, but he'd never counted on his usually-helpful/low-level empathy abilties backfiring on him like this, unable to block impressions from the blood, tears, sweat and saliva lingering in the clothes Genny was wearing when she died--or that Creed would reason it out before he himself did. It was like a damned voodoo doll, and Remy knew plenty about voodoo from growing up in Louisiana. He had to break free, had to help Logan. He swore to himself that he would come clean with the Professor and Jean about his empathy and ask their help to ensure this never happened again. IF he survived. And that was a mighty big if.

The floor of the cathedral was awash in blood, Logan and Creed were each carrying dozens of otherwise fatal wounds, jagged holes in their bodies that pumped out blood from their arteries like fountains. They were slipping and sliding in the blood, rolling and tumbling in it like carnival wrestlers in thick crimson mud, gouging and raking with no intent but to kill each other, snarling with their fangs bared and dripping.

Suddenly and without warning, Creed shoved Logan away from him and bounded toward the altar to seize Remy. "Love t' mambo with ya some more, Logan, an' I'll be RIGHT BACK--can't take a chance on you killin' me before I off th' Cajun! SO HOLD THAT POSE!!!!!!!!" He was off again, his powerful legs carrying both himself and Remy dozens of feet with each bound, then he was running up the stone stairwells with a speed and purposefulness that belied the devastating wounds he carried all over his body.

Remy wasn't worried about Creed: He knew from bitter experience that the psychopath was virtually indestructible. What worried him was that Logan hadn't given chase. Could Logan be wounded too badly--oh, no, not Logan, too . . .

Another wave of nausea came over him like a high tide. He was seeing through Genny's eyes again--

Henri, help me

Don't let me die like this

Don't let Remy see me like this--


HE was Remy.

He had to hold onto his identity.

Genny loved him.

She didn't want this for him.

She didn't want him swallowed up in her death.

Not then.

Not now.

Genny, help me.

Don't let me die.

He was able to bring his own focus to bear once more.


So cold

Winds blowing madly at this height, lashing his body

His vision cleared somewhat

They were on the roof of the Cathedral. Creed was cradling him in his arms, the claws on his toes hooked into the roof tiles. They were on the precipice. All of Paris lay below them, all those unyielding stones below, waiting . . .

Creed bent his shaggy head to kiss Remy once more.

"Ordinarily, I don't kiss my murder victims bye-bye," he laughed. "But this is something I want ya t' take t' Hell with ya, LeBeau."

"Gambit is not going to Hell, especially not with your kiss on his lips, Creed."

And was an angel from Heaven itself more majestic than Storm was then as she rose aloft on winds of her own calling? Logan, bless his foresight, had usurped her leadership in this case and she had allowed him to do so--and remained outside the Cathdral just in case something like this happened. Her powers were far more useful in open spaces than enclosed ones. She was grateful and relieved to see that Remy still lived, but his state was precarious and Creed unpredictable.

"I s'pose that if I drop him now, you'll just catch him or blow some wind under him to cushion his fall or somethin' like that, right?" Creed muttered.

"You are correct, Sabretooth. Now, I suggest that you set Remy down safely and surrender yourself."

Creed chuckled.

Neither Remy or Ororo liked the sound of that.

"Oh, let's make it a CHALLENGE, frail! Sure, you can float th' delicate Cajun on one of yer breezes, but let's see ya buoy up some REAL poundage! ALLEY-OOP, BABE!!!!!!!!!!!"

With that, Sabretooth leapt off the precipice, doing a belly-buster off the high dive, still clutching Remy in his arms.

Storm thought quickly. She didn't know how badly Logan might be hurt--otherwise, he would surely be here to help her. There was no time to build a wind strong enough that it could hold Remy's and Sabretooth's weight. She had to separate them, spread the air currents, try to densify the air below them. Ororo wasn't particularly worried about Creed: His resilience was legendary. Remy's was, too--but not when he was handicapped by injuries and fetters that somehow managed to hold him.

She swooped after the plummeting pair and reaching them, tried to insinuate herself between Creed and Remy to pry her friend out of the monster's grasp.

She couldn't move.

Her head snapped back.

Creed had her by the hair, wrapping that long wealth of snow hair around and around his other hand, reeling her in by it to plant a big nasty wet kiss on her lips.


They accelerated in their downward fall as Ororo had to concentrate on trying to free herself as well as attempt to slow their descent. Creed gathered both his captives close, hugging them to him.


The cold wind brought Remy around again. He was able to focus his eyes on Storm struggling with Sabretooth. Oh, no, Creed was going to kill her, too--

Maybe he deserved to die


His Stormy--about to die with him!

NOT HIS STORMY!!!!!!!!!!!!!

NOT STORMY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


HELP US!!!!!!!!!!

Deadly kinetic force flowed into his limbs--if from a phantom source or born of his own desperation, he never knew. Molecules in contact with his flesh were set in motion, their electron clouds forced into sudden frenzy--igniting the very air and burning the gag from around his mouth and incinerating the cloth ties binding his wrists.

He didn't have the strength to fight himself free of Creed with his right arm useless and lancing pain like a fireline--but the flattened edge of his glowing left hand arced through the narrow space between him and Storm

Slicing through her hair

Freeing her from Creed's grasp

She twisted away

Shocked by the sudden flash of Gambit's powers, the fiend's deathgrip loosened


That Ororo caught Remy's good hand

Bearing the both of them aloft

As Creed plunged straight down

Into Wolverine's upreached, waiting claws

As the monster was impaled upon those claws

And Logan sank to the pavement under the weight.

+ "Yes, he it was whose head was but now dashed before mine eyes against the stones of thy temple, and it was on my account, and on account of this woman."

Claude Darceneaux gazed through the window of the hotel, out over the tangled knot of streets and alleys, hovels and palaces, that made Paris what it was. He looked out over the chaos of roofs, chimneys, steeples, skyscrapers, bridges, towers. How he had once loved this city, in all its magnificence and squalor, all its beauty and ugliness, and all its excess and starvation.

He had spent the morning committing his Genny to the ground again, standing beside the gravediggers as they covered her coffin and hopefully restored her to her rest. He had walked the streets of Paris, seeing Genny in every pretty girl who strolled past him. The pain in his lacerated shoulder gave him no peace--not that he wanted peace, anyway. He deserved the mauling Creed had given him. Now the night was beginning to fall.

So much beauty.

So much promise.

Gone now.

All gone.


Not all gone.

He walked down the hall of the hotel and knocked on the door of the suite of rooms that took up the corner of the uppermost floor.

The short hairy man answered the door, looking at him as though he smelled like a rotten egg.

"How are your friends?"

"Ya wanna come in or something?"

Darceneaux nodded.

"Well?" The short man stood aside to allow him to enter.

The beautiful black woman was sitting in a chair in the center of the parlor room. In her graceful hands she held a pair of scissors and a mirror. She and Logan had been trying--without much luck--to level out the sides of her hairdo since Gambit had sliced off most of one side of it. That side looked scalped, with the hair singed almost to the roots. There appeared to be no way to salvage a more traditional hairdo out of it.

"The X-Men shall have to accustom themselves to seeing me with very short hair." She looked at herself in the mirror without affectation, and didn't appear to care that her hair would likely require very close cropping. Her beauty was not dependent upon bobbing her hair in the current fashions.

"Ya look great no matter how long yer hair is or ain't, darlin'," Logan answered, ignoring Darceneaux to go back to standing beside Ororo, trimming her hair a bit with his claws, then fastening the longer side of the hair with a clasp carved from a bit of tortoise shell. "How's that?"

"Much better, I think. You have missed your calling, my friend."

"I ain't hanging out my shingle fer Mr. Logan's House Of Coiffure just yet."

Darceneaux cleared his throat.

"Well, what do ya want?" Logan grunted.

"Is the monster--gone?"

"He'll see a few weeks in th' prison infirmary after eatin' THAT much claw. Take my advice an' blow this town 'fore he gets out an' comes lookin' for ya."

Darceneaux hesitated, then said, "May I see LeBeau?"

Those claws popped out of the back of Logan's other hand.

"You go near him again and I'll julienne yer liver."

"I--mean him no harm, M'sieu Logan. I assure you of that. Before, I believed LeBeau killed my daughter. Now I know that he tried to save her."

"Yeah? Well, what about the fact that he swiped the necklace an' ditched her? Ain't you sore about that?"

Darceneaux drew himself to his full height, offended. "Sirrah, the noble calling of professional thievery traces itself back through many generations of my family, too. I cannot take issue with LeBeau for doing the selfsame thing that Genevieve or myself might have done in the process of completing a purloinment. To the winner goes the spoils. We thieves understand that and bear no grudges toward a fellow thief who has bested us at our own game, for maybe we will win the competition next time. Stealing is one thing, murder is quite another."

Storm reached to cover Logan's heavy hand with her own slim fingers, and give it a gentle squeeze. "I believe that he is sincere, Logan."

Wolverine cocked his head to the side, indicating another room in the suite. "He's in there, Darceneaux. But I warn ya--he's suffered enough over yer daughter."

"I have no intention of doing any more violence. It is my belief that Remy LeBeau and I can be friends. I want that--very much."

"Right this way then."

The young Acadian was sitting up in bed, reading Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". He was nearly finished; this was evident by his sniffling and rubbing his eyes and nose with the back of his fist in spite of himself. The book was too sad for a soul that--if left to its own devices--tended to be naturally sunny. His broken arm had been recasted, and he was bundled into enough blankets to banish the relentless chill he had been exposed to during his ordeal. It had left him weakened and struggling with a chest cold, but otherwise he seemed little the worse for it. Freed from his former lover's deathclothes and now warm and safe with the pain lines lifted from his face, he was even more handsome than Genny's father had realized.

He didn't seem surprised to see Claude Darceneaux. Carefully laying his book aside, he made himself comfortable in the jumble of pillows and gestured with his uncasted hand for Darceneaux to come sit beside him.

Under Logan's watchful eye, he seated himself by the bed and reached out to take Remy's free hand. "I am sorry for the evil that was done to you because I was ignorant of the true circumstances of my daughter's death."

"It okay. You no' 'ave t' 'pologize t' me. It my place t' 'pologize t' you."

"Your apology is accepted, as I hope mine is."

Remy nodded.

"How are you feeling?"

"Better. We going back to America next week. Wanna come with us?"

"No, thank you." Darceneaux smiled sadly. "I intend to find distraction here on this continent. For now, I would ask a favor of you, young LeBeau: I should like for you to tell me of my daughter's last days."

Remy blanched. "I can't--"

"Not her last day, sirrah. I fear I know far more than I can bear of her final hours. Tell me of the few days you spent with her. What she said, what she felt--those were happy days for her, and I would know of them. Please, tell me."

Gambit bit his lip, chewing it thoughtfully, then glanced anxiously at Logan and said, "I can do better dan tell you." He tightened his grip on Darceneaux's hand.

Logan saw him do it, and asked, "You sure yer up t' this, kid?"

Remy nodded again. "We be gen'lemen here, Logan. I got a lot t' learn 'bout de empathy stuff, but I t'ink I can handle dis. Only fair t' let Genny's good feelin's flow back into her daddy. If he promise no' to take de shotgun after ol' Remy f' no' be'avin' as properly as he should 'ave." He winked at Wolverine. "Don' you 'ave somet'ing better t' do dan loom over my shoulder?"

"Well, if yer SURE yer gonna be okay . . ."

"I sure. Now you go take Stormy t' dinner. She be wantin' t' show off her pretty new frocks dat she charged on your Visa card."

"How'd she get my credit card?!"

Remy shrugged. "I pinched it for her, 'course--since she wouldn't 'ave done it herself--an' told her you said f' her t' go shopping at Chanel, Dior, an' all dose fancy places."

"Why, you--"

"Don' be mad, Logan. Just look at her an' you'll 'gree she be such beautiful belle dat it worth ev'ry franc you spent an' more."

"Well, when you put it that way . . . " Logan peeked on the other side of the door, saw Ororo in one of her new dresses, and almost had a coronary. LeBeau was certainly an excellent judge of female beauty, and if he was as good a judge of emotions as he was of the loveliness of the fair sex, Logan had a lot to look forward to. He almost hated leaving Remy out of the evening, but he had a strong feeling that Darceneaux would take care of him. Maybe he was developing some empathy powers of his own. "You really think she likes me?"

"Gambit KNOW she like you, mon ami. Hurry an' take de lady out for some fine food an' wine or you waste all de moonlight." Remy raised his hand in a mock toast, smiling and so very glad to be free of at least one burden he had carried for far too long. "To new beginnings, Logan. Especially for you. Now go 'way."

+ "Fate delivers us up into the hands of each other."


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