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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 7

Only I grope among you, pale-faces, caryatids,

as among a forest of pillars that hold up the dome of

high ideal heaven

Which is my prison,

And all these human pillars of loftiness, going stiff,

metallic-stunned with the weight of their responsibility

I stumble against them.

Stumbling-blocks, painful ones.

- The Revolutionary, DH Lawrence

Black Tom Cassidy was up the proverbial creek without a paddle. Given the choice, however, he would have preferred an Uzi to a oar in his current situation any day. He found that few people who claimed to be invulnerable,untouchable, actually passed the litmus test, if it came in the form of a few rounds of bullets. As it was, he was helpless, cornered in the alley by

a woman he knew to be a remorseless terrorist. And she was holding the gun for which he had earlier wished. He sighed, resolving never to play the part of Good Samaritan ever again, no matter how pretty the damsel in distress was.

Although the woman standing before him hardly met the conventional standards of beauty - her eyes were jade-chips beneath a luminescent stripe in her hair, while her slender body was as perfectly honed and deadly as tempered steel - she had worn a different face when he had offered to help her. A wolf in lamb's clothing. Dressed in a floaty, floral dress with a chain around her ankle, her short, blonde curls had framed a pixyish face that had spoken of an intangible, unspeakable sadness. Still, she had hardly appeared the type to be a serious alcoholic, although the straight vodkas she had downed in quick succession contradicted that. Perhaps her boyfriend had left her and she was looking for some liquid solace, he had mused. After all, she seemed to have grown more and more cheerful with each drink, smiling stupidly at him as she called for the next. Ultimately, concerned for her safety in the rougher parts of town, he had offered to call her a cab instead and see her to it. . . .That had been his mistake, he glumly told himself, he had forgotten that no good deed went unpunished.

The tipsiness had vanished the instant they had stepped out the door, to be replaced by a demeanour that was cold, professional and extremely frightening. Feeling a hard something press against his ribs, he had glanced down and had found it to be the barrel of a miniature gun. Moulded in black plastic, small enough to fit snugly in her palm, it was still more than capable of killing a man. Of killing him, unless he answered her question.

"Ah'll repeat mahself, sugah," the endearment was deprecating, "Where can Ah find Remy LeBeau?"

"I . . . I don't know who ye mean," he lied, stalling for time. He was in what his literary brother called a Catch-22 situation. If he betrayed Clan LeBeau, one of the largest crime cartels in the country, he would wish that he had met his death at her hands. On the other hand, every atavistic survival instinct screamed that he should give the terrorist what she wanted and worry about the consequences at some time in the future. Best to play ignorant and hope that she believed him, or that he could stall her until someone rescued him. Preferably LeBeau, thereby killing two birds with one stone.

"Don't lie ta me," her trigger finger twitched infinitesimally and he gulped, "It ain't a very . . . healthy habit. After all, you did recommend him ta me as payment for that sum Ah loaned you."

Once again, he cursed his gaming habit and vowed to follow Teresa's advice to quit. He had lost count of the people to whom he was indebted because of it and the number of times it had landed him in trouble. He remembered this one though - a rich, sultry drawl on the other end of the telephone who had promised him all the money he needed to pay his debts in return for how to contact Remy LeBeau. He had been only too glad to oblige, his conscience too dulled by fear to care that he was selling out a fellow Guild-member.

"Truth is," he scuffed the dirt with his shoe, "Truth is, I don't know where he lives. You see, he comes to the bar sometimes to see my niece, Teresa, and I've only ever met him here."

Pink lips pursed thoughtfully, as she lowered her weapon, "What does he look like, Tom?"

"Handsome, strapping fellow, but with eyes like one of Old Scratch's demons," he gabbled in relief, "Red on black, if you'll believe it or not."

Her eyes widened almost imperceptibly, as if she had realised something that surprised but delighted her, and she smiled brilliantly.

"Oh, Ah believe you. . . ."

"So Magneto is alive and negotiating with the Western European Security Trust," Storm said softly, as she wiped the foam from the cappuccino off her top lip with a delicate gesture. The weary expression of a few days ago had become one of profound exhaustion, as a result of too many late meetings and nights spent worrying about the implications of both WEST's capitulation to his demands and his seeming ability to circumvent their genetic-tracking.

". . . To recognise Avalon as a separate, diplomatic entity with full UN-protection in the case of hostile invasion," Cyclops' plain, good face was a mirror of her own worried, tired one, "Such as by the vigilante X-Men. Trust me, Ororo, I'm as annoyed and concerned about this development as you are."

She raised an eyebrow, "You think, as I do, that it is a prelude to a bid for world-domination? As we both know, Scott, Magneto's grand and noble cause stems out of deep insecurity as a result of his hideous interment in a Nazi concentration camp. He will not rest until he has complete control of every country in the world, so as to be able to prevent a future holocaust."

He nodded mutely, swallowing a draught of his beer. He was not a drinker ordinarily, but the strain had been taking its toll on him and he needed something a little stronger than Adam's Ale to relax. Similarly, Ororo had been spending more and more time with her plants, surrounding herself by greenery as she always did in times of stress.

"Which begs the question," the Kenyan said, "Of what we are going to do if the bill is indeed passed."

A grim expression on his face, "Execute our own version of the Magneto Protocols."

So, Rogue mused as she arranged herself decoratively against the pillow, LeBeau was the strange, demonic man who had seen with the X-Men when they had come to investigate Mont St Francis. The man whose eyes had seemed to cut through the layers of her careful disguise and see to the soul beneath them. She recalled his probing gaze, which she had since half-dismissed as a hormonally-overactive young man's frank appraisal of a beautiful woman. She, after all, laboured under no illusions about her attractiveness; saw it as a weapon to be wielded like a gun or a knife. However, if it were Remy doing the appraising, she was unsure about whether the inspection had its origins in lust. Did he know that Rogue, Carol Dee and Yvonne Montgomery were one and the same?

The earlier thrill of discovering his true identity, of putting a face and more importantly a location to the legendary LeBeau name had faded to a strange ambivalence. She had hoped to conduct her revolution silently, efficiently and secretly, but the thought of competition with someone of equal skill and wits was an appealing one. After all, it was the political equivalent of chess. If she were able to move the other side of the board without being captured or discovered, the pawn would become a queen; if not, he would win the game by default. She would be tried for treason, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Hulkbuster Base to be used as a guinea-pig in the government's disgusting Agee Programme. Fortunately, alpha-class mutants, such as herself, were few and far between, or else she would be looking at a death-sentence.

She shivered, trying not to think of the consequences of failure, and picked up a dog-eared novel from the side of the bed, noting listlessly that he read Anne Rice. Opening it to the first page, she settled down for the long wait ahead of her.

Stash snug in the bodypack against his chest, gripping a cup of Harry's finest joe, Remy LeBeau climbed the steps that led to his room. Trips to the 'New York Times' archives were always profitable, if not in the monetary sense. Although not the prize he usually pursued, this yellowing newsprint could be more valuable than any gold or rubies if it had the information he required. It had taken him hours of painstaking searching, despite the computerised catalogue, to find anything and everything pertaining to the terrorist, Rogue\Carol Dee, and her murder of Carol Danvers. Anything and everything in the case of the former was unfortunately very little, he thought, which would complicate his task. As her name implied, Rogue was a cipher without apparent identity, political affiliation or motive, a skilled operative who did the job and disappeared without a trace. In other words, he added wryly, worthy competition.

Transferring the coffee to his left hand, he searched his pocket for his room-key and unlocked the door. It was not that he did not trust his team-mates, so much as ancient, suspicious habit. The coffee slopped over the top of the polystyrene mug, scalding him, and he swore. Still, he knew that the espresso would come in useful in the hours ahead of him. He had the unenviable task of scanning all the articles onto his laptop before returning them the following night. As was typical when he was on a job, he had resigned himself to not getting much sleep that night. Which was probably a good thing - he thought, desperately trying to conceal his shock - as his bed was occupied. By probably the most lovely woman he had ever seen.

Curled up against his pillow, her bare feet tucked beneath her, wearing a loose, white dress that revealed tanned shoulders and throat, she seemed quite at home. Her white-streaked hair was caught back by twin, silver barrettes, but her face seemed too young for it to be the result of ageing. Words read by a shocked announcer, printed in every newspaper in the world, came back to him. The terrorist, who had killed Carol Danvers, had had hair like that.

How had she found him? Did she know that he was looking for her, for her connection with the decidedly suspicious Yvonne Montgomery? Gambit could have laughed, had he not been so stunned. He'd spent hours scratching through every newspaper published in the previous four years and the object of his search had been in his room the entire time.

"What took you so long?" Rogue asked with a strangely familiar half-smile, "Ah've been waitin' fo' hours."


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