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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13


Written by Karen Bruce
Last updated: 01/02/2007 02:01:11 AM

Chapter 3

At sundown now the windows had gone gold

For half an hour, a quick

Chill came off the brick

Walls and the flesh was suddenly old and cold.

Nick Fury glanced at the woman sitting across the table from him. Impeccably dressed in a dove-grey bodysuit with the SHIELD insignia over one breast, Katherine Pryde had always been a model agent. From her brief tenure with defunct Excalibur and the outlaw X-Men, she, at twenty-five years, had acquired more field experience than some of the most grizzled senior agents. Her record was exemplary - commendations from all her commanding officers in every mission on which she had been - and her glut of skills well-known by both terrorist and agent alike. She cleared her throat, fixing him with her hazel eyes, green flecks brilliant against the brown.

"So, Fury? Are you prepared to accept my resignation?"

He snorted, "I'll not keep you against your will, if that's what you mean, but I won't accept it in any other respect." Pausing, his eyebrow drew together in confusion, "Kate, if I may speak freely . . . I don't understand why you want to leave us."

She smiled, a dimple forming in her left cheek, and he suppressed the urge to touch it. To trace the familiar, bird-like lines of her cheek and jaw. To feel the pulse just beneath the skin thrumming to some secret, internal tune.

"With all due respect, Fury, I got a better offer. The organisation for which I'm going to work is so . . . exclusive that this chance . . . .Well, it's pretty once-in-a-lifetime, sir."

Fury grimaced, "Your mind is made up then?"

Nodding, Katherine handed him a sheet of paper. Thin, type-written, her letter of resignation was as perfectly worded and impersonal as all her other reports had been. She was the true professional out of both of them, he understood with a pang.

"I thought I should formalise it."

Angrily, he signed it and handed it back to her. His name was a black slash across the fragile sheet. Fury.

"Kate, if it doesn't work out . . . ."

"It will, sir," she tucked it into a folder that she was holding beneath her arm, "I'll take this across to admin for you, shall I?"

He waved a hand, "Go, before I change my mind and tear that damn letter up."

The dimple formed in her cheek again and she stood, smoothing down the ash-colored bodysuit and pulling up the long, black boots. She picked up her jacket from where it was draped over the chair and dusted it, lint flying in a thousand silver sparks into the air. Slipping it over slight, delicately muscled shoulders, she held out her hand for him to shake it. He ignored the proferred appendage pointedly, realizing how ungenerous his refusal to do so was, and shuffled some folders on his desk. The budget report, long neglected, suddenly took on a fascinating quality.

"You're dismissed, Pryde."

She nodded, snapping to attention like the blade of a knife, "Yessir."

The bartender uncapped another bottle of Perrier, before sliding it down the worn-smooth surface with a practised motion. The old wood had been polished to a glassy shine by the elbows of its hundred-thousand patrons since its founding by an Irish immigrant, Malachy Cassidy, over a century ago. A photo, yellowed and cracking, hung on the wall next to the kegs of Guiness, showing a young, dark-haired man with a guileless, toothy smile. His carbon copy, affectionately referred to as Black Tom by the locals, stood behind the counter, pouring drinks and bantering with the hapless, drunk and melancholy. The ingenuous smile on his face concealed a criminal bent, whose delight in gambling on certain illegal sporting events had got him indebted to some of the less scrupulous loan-sharks. Using his influence, charm and an apparently inexhaustible supply of cash to grease the machinery, Remy had once saved him from some particularly unsavory debt-collectors, more interested in extracting blood than money from the person in question. In return, he had been promised free drinks and a reliable souce of information for as long as he needed both. Tonight was one of those occasions. Catching the bottle of Perrier, he nodded his thanks at Black Tom, who grinned. On the stage, Tom's niece, Teresa, took a sip of water, hoisted a battered guitar onto her lap and began a round of Irish folksongs. Her voice, clear and steady above the alcoholic murmur, soared to heaven, like a saint's demanding mercy for the sinners of the world. 'Danny Boy' became a faerie hymn that echoed off the low, wood rafters. Too soon, the final, sweet note died out, leaving the room to subside into noise and sordidness. A juke-box started to wail out archaic music that had lost tune with its popularity and people moved onto the square of clear space that was the bar's dance-floor. Brother, can you spare a dime? With a bob that was a bow, Teresa Rourke stepped off the stage and into confusion. Squeezing her way past the press of people, she gestured for Remy to follow her outside. In comparison to the miasma of smoke and fumes that filled the small room, the night air was cool and sweet, scented with the aroma of flowers an old woman was selling outside the bar. Gifts to appease wives and girlfriends.

"Ye needn't worry about Mary here," the woman's lilting speech was as musical as her singing, "Even were she not as deaf as a post, she's loyal tae th' Cassidy's and a long-standing member of our Guild."

"Bien," Remy smiled, "I need information 'bout someone."

She grimaced, tugging nervously at her unruly, red braid. She'd wound tiny ribbons into that ranged from white to gold to green. They seemed strangely quaint, juxtaposed with her faded jeans and emerald turtleneck. Her eyes burnt strangely as they saw the ring on his finger.

"Aye, I didnae think it was for the pleasures of my company anymore."

"Dis?" the three ridges carved out of the soft gold caught the light, blazing, "Pas de tout. (Not at all.) Dis particular trinket shows m'status as a Grand Master t'ief."

"Grand Master, Rem?" her face betrayed her surprise, "Uncle Tom told me that no-one had attained that rank. He's only petty himself, but . . . ."

"I'm de first," he said with undisguised pride, then sobered, "Anyway, it means I've got some interestin' offers. From a Carol, for example? D'ya have any idea who she is?"

As a courier, Teresa was familiar with the aliases used in underground communiques, while secretly thinking that they were ridiculous and would cause any policeman worth his salt to become suspicious. That, however, Remy had assured her, was part of the game, the bullet in a thief's particular game of Russian Roulette.

"I've delivered tae Brandy's and Sue's, but ne'er a Carol. Why?"

He shrugged, "Jus' like t'know who wants t'employ me. I turned 'her' down, o' course."

"Scheme wasnae big enough f'r your Grand Master-sized ego?" she teased.

"Par contre, it was too big."

With that mysterious rejoinder, he kissed her on her ribbon-pink lips and reentered the bar. Teresa shrugged, making a note of the name, and followed him.

"Good mornin', Ah'm . . . Damn . . . . Ah mean, I'm Yvonne Montgom'ry."

"Atrocious," Mystique regarded her young charge implacably. Ridiculous in purple, plastic curlers, which protruded at odd angles in her newly titian hair, the young woman was engulfed by Magneto's leather armchair. Next to her, a pile of paper tilted precariously, containing information on all subjects from Yorkshire Pudding to the innermost workings of WEST.

"Good morn*ing*. *I*'m Yvonne Montgom*er*y."

"Better, but you need more practice," she rifled through a pile of papers on the desk, removing a photograph from the stack and holding it up to compare with the girl. Rogue, despite her criticism, was an alarmingly quick student, picking up the gutturals of German as well as she parlayed her francais. Giving the child any form of encouragement would cause her to become complacent, however, and, in the game of terrorism, that was tantamount to holding a gun to her head and depressing the trigger. Rogue sunk deeper into the soft leather, supporting her chin with a hand. Her short, pragmatic fingernails, Mystique noticed, were completely hidden beneath garish, fuschia press-ons - another habit that they had decided 'Montgomery' should adopt. If they made this woman enough of an individual, she would be beyond suspicion.

"Gawd, why didn't Ah decide t'be French?"

The older woman snorted, "French intelligence, Rogue?"

Chuckling at their private joke, the girl removed the top sheet off the leaning stack of print-outs and flipped impatiently through it. Presently, she paused and hungrily scanned a paragraph, before handing the sheet to Mystique.

"They could be a problem," Rogue tapped a blurred photograph of a team of garishly dressed mutants. Snapped in the middle of battle against the Juggernaut, the figures in the grainy, black-and-white photograph were grainy; unidentifiable save for the one at the extreme right of the shot. She was a stately, African-American woman whose bleached hair was a startling contrast against her dark skin. On the shoulder of her uniform, a sigil was evident in the dark fabric - a circle enscribed with the letter 'x'.

"Unknown Mutants Save World Again! But Are Their Motive As Pure As They Seem?" The girl recited from the Daily Bugle's Headline, pronouncing the hyperbolic capitals, "Know who they are, momma?"

Mystique took the paper from her, pursing her lips as she scanned the newsprint. Her protegee was right, they could be a problem, if reality bore any correlation with their reputation. They were supposedly a group of homo superior who had banded together under the auspices of Charles Xavier - a genius intellect telepath - although he had been killed some years ago in a battle with the Shadow King. Rumor said that their reason for being was to maintain the delicate relationship between human and mutant, although she personally doubted it. Heroism usually was buoyed up by base and self-serving motives.

"Yes, but carry on as planned. If the need arises to eliminate them, we'll do so. As is, we don't wish to make our presence known to them before absolutely necessary."

"Keep an ace up our sleeves, ya mean, momma?"


Head propped up by his hand, Forge rubbed his grizzled chin with an index-finger. Awake by the grace of coffee more than anything else, dark circles surrounded his blood-shot eyes and he yawned intermittently. At one side of him, a half-empty box of Chinese food cooled and congealed. Since finding out that Magneto had discovered a way of overriding their tracking system, he had neither slept nor eaten more than could be placed into his mouth between keystrokes. Once more, the figures scrolled past on the green screen of the laptop as he held page-down. No less inconclusive than the previous times, the only piece of information that was vaguely verifiable was the fact that Magneto had disappeared. Taking another sip of his Pepsi, he regarded the data with suspicion. Magneto had been at Mont St Francis, a supposedly impregnable fortress that he and his acolytes inhabited, when he had disappeared. The latitude and longitude had remained the same for hours before his vanishing act, which implied that he was not on the move and had not left earth. Furthermore, the fact that the machine had registered his absence confirmed his painstaking diagnostics to rule out mechanical error. Sometime between ten and eleven o'clock, Magneto had vanished. Grimacing, Forge tapped in a sequence of commands, when cool hands clasped his shoulders, and he started, before realizing that it was his wife. Strong fingers massaged his neck, working out the knots that had formed from tension. Judging by the mingled scents of dew, flowers and greenery on her, she had been tending to what he teasingly referred to as her conservatory. Although he often joke about her private jungle, he understood the need for an oasis at a time like this. As co-leader of the X-Men, Ororo had been subject to as much pressure as he, although she bore up under it infinitely better thanks to her private Eden. Surrounded by roses, ferns and pansies, her mind worked more quickly, more calmly and more efficiently.

"Have you discovered anything, love?"

"Only Magneto's location when he pulled a houdini on us - Mont St Francis."

"A slender lead, but one that bears investigating," he felt the slump of her shoulders telegraphed through her arms, "Even if only to verify that our fears are true. I must assemble a strike-force to . . . ."

Forge grinned at his wife, "What *we* must do is get a good night's sleep. Unless you want to sleep-fight Magnus?"

Her yawn answered him, as did the hand that reached to close his laptop. Stretching like a languid lioness, Ororo smiled at him: "We means both of us, darling."

"Point taken," he cleared the remnants of his dinner into the bin, and switched off the light.

Crumbling between the fingers, under the feet,

Crumbling between the eyes,

Their world gives way and dies,

And something twangs and breaks at the end of the street.


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