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Chapter 1


Written by Lori McDonald
Last updated: 01/02/2007 02:01:11 AM

Chapter 1

"All right, Remy, this is just a simple battle sequence, to give us a feel for your abilities."

He nodded, barely listening, looking over towards the edge of the grassy swatch he stood on. There were boulders there, just as there were across the expanse of Muir Island, which Excalibur sat upon.

Brian Braddock watched him appraisingly, his arm around the shoulders of the blonde Meggan. Behind them sat Douglock and Colossus while in front Kitty was with Pete Wisdom, Lockheed sprawled on his back in her lap. Rahne lay on the ground before them, in her wolfen form.

"Remy, are you listening to me?"

He let his gaze wander over to the two non-Excalibur spectators. Dressed in a lab coat, Moira McTaggert sat with her arms crossed and an annoyed expression on her face.


He looked at the woman beside her and she smiled at him lovingly. She was beautiful, her green eyes round and large, her long, russet hair streaked with a single white stripe.

Suddenly, a hand firmly grasped his chin and turned his head to look into the furry face of Kurt Wagner.

"You're drifting again, Herr LeBeau," he told him. "Stop looking at the lovely ladies and focus on me. Agreed?" He didn't let go until he nodded.

"E's got all th' attention span o' a bloody gnat," Pete grumbled.

"Watch ye mouth, ye Sassenach," Moira snapped automatically.

"Not bleedin' likely, ye-"

"PETE!" Kitty cautioned.

His head turned towards them again and immediately, Kurt pulled it back. "On me, Remy. Not them. Let's begin."

The blue furred mutant stepped back and aimed a slow slap at his face. Instinctively, he raised an arm to block it.

"Good!" Kirt said encouragingly. "Now, let's try a few more."

He tried to slap his other cheek, just as slowly, and again he blocked it. Kurt started a gentle kick, and he intercepted. Looking pleased, Kurt sped up his attacks.

As he blocked and dodged, though, he could hear the murmurs of Excalibur as they talked about him.

"A dinae ken why he cannae pay attention tae anything," Rahne, now back in her human form said. "A've tried tae interest him in things, but he dinnae always ken their importance."

"He's getting better," Kitty protested. "I've had a couple of long talks with him and he was interested."

Pete snorted. "And then BAM, E's starin' at th' bleedin' wall again."

"Query," Douglock put in. "Why would designate Remy LeBeau wish to stare at a wall?"

"You try spending two years in a cage with no social interaction. He's forgotten how to deal with the real world. Right, Moira?"

"Yuir pretty close, Kitty, lass."

"He's not much good to Excalibur this way," Brian said with disapproval in his voice.

"It's nae fur our sake, Brian. It's for his. Bein' a recognized member o' th' team gives him a sense o' identity unattached tae his past, an' what Sinister did wi' him. It's important, especially wi' how he dinnae want much tae do wi' his former life, or his own name."

"Why dinnae we get him tae pick a new name- a codename- if he cannae handle th' old one?" Rahne asked. "So he c'n make his own identity?"

There was silence.

"Yer know something, gal," Pete chuckled. "Sometimes yer so bloody brilliant I could kiss yer."

"Dinnae ye dare!" Rahne gasped.

"That's a wonderful idea," Moira laughed. "A dinnae ken why A dinnae ken it meself. What d' ye think, Rogue? Ye've nae said a word."

"Look at him," Rogue breathed.

"What are ye- Oh me God!"

While Excalibur talked, Kurt had increased the speed of his attacks, trying to break through his defenses, using more and more elaborate tricks.

Kurt spun, kicking high and across. He ducked under the leg, then dove over the same limb as Kurt crouched and followed through, spinning on one foot with furry limb outstetched. Curling over, he turned his dive into a somersault and came back to his feet. Immediately, he backflipped, taking himself out of the way as Kurt teleported in front of him and punched where his face had been. He didn't see what the big deal was. It was just a matter of not getting hit. It was simple.

"My God," Kitty gasped. "I had no idea he was this fast."

"Yer didn't see him tearin' th' shit out o' those hills, sweetheart."

Brian seemed impressed. "He MUST have some way of anticipating Kurt's moves before he makes them."

"Da," Colossus agreed. "That would be useful in a fight."

"Don't make too many plans," Wisdom said coolly. "Look at him."

"What do you mean?"

"Just look at 'im, an' tell me what's wrong."

He backpeddled, wondering what Pete was getting at, wondering what he was doing wrong now, then bent his knees and leaped, arcing over the lunging Kurt and twisting in midair until he could land on the ground behind the blue mutant. It was very easy. His powers were working at a fever pitch and he could sense the other man's every move. He suspected Kurt wasn't moving at his top speed yet, but both men were already like liquid quicksilver.

"He's nae fightin' back," Rahne said at last.

"Right," Pete agreed.

"Damn," Moira muttered.

"Ha, Remy, sugah."

He looked up as Rogue pushed aside the curtain which covered the doorway to his room and came in. He'd been lying on his stomach on the bed, reading a book Moira gave him. She was encouraging him to do things in his free time, and had lately been foisting books off on him. He had no personal interest in reading, but she always asked him about them during his therapy sessions.

He rolled over to face Rogue, and in surprise, he saw from the clock that he'd been absorbed in his reading for three hours.

Rogue smiled as she sat on the edge of the bed and leaned forward to kiss him, his powers protecting him from hers.

Her lips were soft against his, her tongue gently sliding against his in their mouths. He closed his eyes, leaning back on his elbows as he relaxed. Rogue had spent half her life not being able to touch anyone, and now that she could make contact with him, she took every opportunity she could get to do so. Since she'd arrived on Muir Island for her own therapy, she'd become quite a good kisser, and he found himself half wishing he had the nerve to take it further. He loved her dearly, but he kept telling himself the feeling couldn't be mutual and if he touched her as he ached to, she'd slap him silly. Rogue hadn't made any move beyond the kissing either, or at least not overtly enough to convince him to try.

Rogue was leaning across him, the tip of one breast brushing against his chest. He was aware of that breast, oh yes, aware of nothing save her lips and her tongue and the fire she burned through his clothes with her touch. He hoped she wasn't as aware of his erection.

"Oh, Remy," she whispered. "Ah-"

He never found out what she was going to say, because at that moment someone walked by outside and she jumped back as though she'd been scalded. He fell back against the bed in disappointment.

"Mah goodness!" Rogue gasped. "Ya really need ta get yaself a real door, Remy." She looked flushed.

He shrugged. "Moira doesn' wan' me lockin' m'self 'way from people." He looked at her carefully, wondering if that pink was from emerassment or arousal. He was seriously tempted to ask her, but he didn't have the nerve.

Rogue was looking back at him with sympathy now. "Ah'm sorry, sugah."

He shrugged again. She must mean for being so obvious in her hesitation. It didn't matter. He couldn't expect her to really want someone like him.

"How did y' therapy go?" he asked to change the subject before he depressed himself again.

In answer, Rogue groaned and flopped down to sit on the bed, her hands clasped between her knees. "Rough," she admitted. "Moira's been askin' me questions about mah childhood. When ah went ta Xavier foh help with mah powers, he nevah did that."

She sounded resentful, yet relieved to be talking about it at the same time, though she'd never had trouble talking to him. No one did, it seemed, since he just kept quiet and listened. It was certainly better than trying to talk about himself. If Rogue knew who he really was, she'd leave him in a heartbeat.

He wasn't sure his sanity could withstand that.

"Why is y' childhood important?" he asked softly.

She looked down. "When ah was thirteen... mah powers kicked in foh th' first time when ah was kissed by a boy ah knew. He nevah woke up."

So, she'd had a reason other than good taste to not want to kiss him at first. He'd thought Moira would only talk to her about Sinister. It was saddening to realize there was so much about her he didn't know.

Without a word, he sat on his knees on the bed behind her and put his arms around her body, pulling her back against his chest. She sighed happily, her head tucked under his chin.

"How is it ya always make me feel so good?" she whispered.

"Jus' lucky, I guess," he stammered, his heart speeding up. It felt so ODD to be touching a woman again. To be touching anyone. To hold her, to- He started blushing furiously, and froze in place.

Rogue kept moving though, minutely adjusting her position and nudging his hands away from her collarbone, where they were clasped. He wondered if she was just making herself more comfortable, or if she was also experiencing his natural tendency to bolt. A very large part of him wanted to run for the hills and he had to take a deep, steadying breath to calm himself.

Then she took his hands and deliberately moved them down to cup her breasts, and all the air inside him choked off.

Her breasts were soft under his hands, a remarkable fact given her natural invulnerability.

His eyes began to bug out of his head.

Rogue leaned back against him, her hands braced on the bed as she hummed happily, a tiny smile on her lips.

His adam's apple and his tonsils seemed to waging a war in his throat to see which one could strangle him first.

"Oh, Remy," Rogue whispered. "Ah've wanted this foh so long. Haven't ya?"

He nodded rapidly, swallowing about six times before he could speak.

"Uh huh," he squeaked.

How could he be having a panic attack NOW? Even when he'd been living in the tunnels under the mansion and Rogue was burning his dinner and smuggling him cookies, he'd dreamed of being with her. Each time, he'd been confident and skilled, the perfect lover. Now, however, he wondered how to get her shirt off before he hyperventilated himself into unconsciousness.

Rogue, however, seemed to have worked out her half ahead of time.

"Ah'm feelin' mighty warm, sugah," she whispered and pulled off her shirt, presenting him with a view of her white back. She pulled her long hair forward over one shoulder. "Could ya help me with th' rest?"

He looked down at the clasp of her bra. Oh, shit.

Gingerly, he took both ends of the bra and tried to unhook them in one move. They stuck.

Rogue bowed her head, one hand to her pale shoulder as he yanked frantically on the strap, her breathing slow and seductive. He started cursing under his breath and wondered how rude it would be to blow it off her.

Finally, it came free and he tossed the bra into a corner, then looked back and almost swallowed his tongue.

Rogue had turned around to face him, her chest bared and beautiful. Somehow, he managed to drag his gaze up to hers and saw her eyes soften.

"Ah love ya, Remy," she said.

"I love you too," he whispered.

Then she was in his arms and he didn't care how terrified he was, or how rusty. She was with him now and he never wanted to let go.

He woke alone.

For a long moment after he opened his eyes, he couldn't figure out what was wrong. He was still half asleep, still half in dreams of sleek limbs and red lips. Then he remembered and sat up.

Rogue had slipped out sometime while he slept. His clothes were still scattered on the floor, but hers were gone.

He started feeling nervous, wondering if he'd done something wrong.

Maybe she just went to get breakfast, and didn't want to wake him. Already half frantic, he showered and dressed and went down to the kitchen.

Rogue wasn't there. Instead, Kitty sat at the table, sipping coffee, while Lockheed crouched on top, gnawing on a sausage.

"Have you seen Rogue?" He asked her.

The young woman smiled knowingly. "Didn't you get enough last night?" She teased.

He gaped at her. "How did you know?"

She blushed and smiled more widely. "I'd get a new door if I were you. You have a very loud bed."

He groaned inwardly. If Rogue learned anyone had heard their lovemaking, he'd never get her to come out of her room again.

Kitty grinned at him wickedly. "You don't have to answer this, but I have to ask. Pete and I were going nuts last night wondering what it was. We heard a crash and Rogue cursing while you kept apologizing to her. I had to phase Pete to keep him from running over to take a look. What happened?"

He turned red. "Oh, uh, I fell off th' bed."

Her eyes widened. "Just you?"

"Um, oui. Rogue was kinda upset 'cause my timin' was bad." He saw she was fighting off laughter. "Uh, did y' see her?" He asked plaintively.

"I'm afraid not."

He nodded and looked at Lockheed. "Did YOU see her?" The little dragon flicked his tail at him, but didn't say anything.

Kitty stared at him over her mug, all laughter gone. "Uh, Remy - Lockheed can't talk."

He blinked, remembering a distinctive cockney accent in his ear. "Are you sure?"

She gave him one of those smiles people used when they were sure he didn't have both his oars in the water. Understanding and cautious. The sight of it made him feel tired. "I've had him since I was thirteen. He's never been able to talk." She scratched the dragon's head and he dropped his jaw in a loose grin.

"Oh," he said softly and left, wondering if he was indeed losing his mind again. Not sure where to look for Rogue now, he wandered.

His wanderings brought him past many of Excalibur's members, most of whom teased him like Kitty had, or looked at him disapprovingly, until he came to the communications room. Always soft-footed, he was extra quiet now that he didn't want to be picked on anymore and made no sound as he walked up to the open door. He could hear Pete Wisdom's voice inside.

"...'bout six foot, one inch tall," the englishman was saying. "Red brown 'air that 'e wears long. Th' most distinctive feature be 'is eyes. Th' iris is red. Everythin' else is black."

He froze, just short of the door, his heart pounding as he broke out into a sweat. He was suddenly terrified, the familiar panic he'd carried so long returning to him. He wanted to scream, or run, or curl into a little ball, but he could barely breathe and so could do nothing.

"And you want the same sort of information on him you had me get on your teammates?" Asked a second voice that sounded tinny, as though it were coming over a comm screen. "You're paranoid, Wisdom."

"Maybe," Pete replied. "But I ain't gonna trust me back ter nobody until I know 'e ain't carryin' a knife. I learned that much from Black Air. An' I don' want just a basic check like Excalibur. Wi' them, I just wanted ter be sure they were who they said. But we ain' even positive th' name we got fer this kid is right. I wan' ter be positive."

"Right, right. I'll see what I can find out."

"Thanks. I'll owe yer one."

"You got that straight."

Slowly, he managed to back away to the corner of the hall, then turned and ran. Wisdom was doing a background check on him. It was a perfectly logical, rational measure to take, but the last thing he ever wanted anyone to do. Remy LeBeau was a clean name, one unconnected to anything wrong, but if Wisdom's spy was any good, if he found the name he worked under - they'd put him in another cage.

Hot tears filled his eyes, tears he didn't want. He wanted to be frozen inside again, hollow, unable to feel his own pain. Or this overwhelming terror. He'd once been so used to it, but now it felt as though someone were crushing him. If Rogue found out - she thought he was a shy, quiet, gentle man. If she found out the truth, if she left him, he knew he'd die.

How could things have been going so well, then turn on him so quickly?

Not sure where he was going anymore, he ran down the empty corridors of the Excalibur complex. Then he ran around a corner and slammed into Rogue. Invulnerable and super strong, she didn't move, while he pitched onto his butt on the floor.

"Rogue?" He gasped, relieved.

She looked down at him with an expression of sympathy and fear. "Ah- ah have ta go." She flew off.

He felt like someone had just thrust a knife through his heart.

"Remy?" He heard Moira call from inside the office. "A wan' tae talk wi' ye."

He didn't answer.

"Remy?" After a few moments, Moira came out of her office and looked at him sitting on the floor, a frown on her face. Quietly, she knelt before him, waving a hand in front of his face. "Coom on, Remy, snap oot o' it."

He didn't blink. He was safe, enclosed in a familiar shell that wouldn't let emotion or thought inside.

It didn't work as well against pain. "Doon't ye dare go catatonic on me! A nae worked wi' ye so long tae watch ye turn into a vegetable now!"

She slapped him, and the pain and shock of it cracked his shell. Moira looked at him critically and slapped him again, harder. He gasped and put up an arm to stop her from hitting him a third time.

"That's mooch better. Now, ye wanna tell me why ye did that?"

He looked at her, the tears back. "Rogue hates me."

She raised an eyebrow. "What makes ye say that?"

He swallowed. "B'cause las' night, we made love, but now she won' talk t' me."

Suddenly, Moira looked very old. Reaching under her glasses, she pinched the bridge of her nose. "So that's what th' lass was tryin' tae talk tae me aboot."

"She hates me," he repeated.

"Oh, stop that, ye idiot. Did ye force her?"

He gaped at her. "NON!"

"A didn' think ye had. A'll talk tae 'er tae see whoot th' problem be." Her eyes narrowed. "Ye did use protection, didn't ye?"


Her eyes blazed. "Ye idiot! Ye unthinkin' fool!" He flinched.

The alarm blared out.

Immediately, she was on her feet as Pete's voice sounded over the PA. "We got incoming, people. Get ter th' bleedin' runway!"

"Stay here," Moira ordered and ran off.

He sat there for a moment, not sure what to do. He WAS a member of Excalibur, wasn't he? Perhaps if he showed how useful he was, Excalibur wouldn't get rid of him when Wisdom found out about his past.

He ran after Moira, catching up with her and the bulk of Excalibur outside at the edge of the island's small runway. Rogue was with them too, circling overhead.

Above, the X-Men's Blackbird was struggling to come in for a landing, looking like it was fighting to fly through a storm. As they watched, it barrel rolled and almost crashed.

"Bloody hell!" Wisdom breathed. "Ain't they got a bleedin' collar on 'im?"

His neck crawled. Collar?

"Yes, but they're not designed to hold Omego Classes."

"Oh, great. We're screwed. Why the soddin' hell are they bringin' him here?"

"The Proteus Chamber will contain his powers." Kurt looked at him. "Remy, stay out of this."


"Just obey me." Kurt turned back to the landing ship.

So much for his plans to be indespensible. Excalibur didn't want him already. He had to fight the urge to retreat back into himself.

The Blackbird landed awkwardly before them and the side hatch exploded outward from waves of energy that blew his hair back from his face. Eyes wide, he watched Excalibur move in to try and help Jean, Bishop, Cyclops and Wolverine drag another mutant out.

Through all the yelling and struggling, he could see the prisoner was wearing an inhibitor collar around his neck, just like the one Sinister had locked around HIS throat, though this one seemed made of plastic. But unlike him, the enraged mutant was too powerful to be fully contained and bands of energy were rolling out from him, filling the runway with electricity.

That energy picked Colossus up like a doll and tossed him into Rogue, knocking them both down, and spun Douglock in circles. Logan's metal claws were turning on him and a sphere seemed to protect the prisoner from energy blasts. The X-Men and Excalibur were trying to take him without hurting him, but he didn't have the same compunction and he wondered what kind of power the man possessed without that collar.

"Knock him out!" Moira yelled to Jean.

"I can't!" She yelled back. "It's all I can do to keep him from flying! His will is too strong!"

Abruptly, the prisoner broke free and he gasped. He was an older man, still well muscled and fit, dressed in red with short, silvery gray hair. He KNEW that square, weathered face. He'd seen it in the tunnels beneath the X-Mansion, when the man came to grieve the deaths of the Morlocks. He'd felt a connection to him, a sense of understanding.

"REMY!" Moira screamed. "RUN!"

Weakened, needing a hostage, the mutant lunged at him. He stood uncertainly, watching him come. Excalibur worried that he wouldn't fight for himself, but the truth was he lived his life based on instinct, not fact. Instinct told him to attack the FOH members who sabotagd the hospital as enemies, but not to do so in his training with Kurt, since Kurt was a friend. Now he looked at a man whose words to the Morlock graves had seemed to echo in his soul, and his instinct said he was safe.

His instinct was wrong.

The older man slammed into him, a protective bubble closing the others off, and a gloved hand clamped around his throat, lifting him off his feet.

He panicked, scrabbling at the heavy glove with his nails, eyes wide, too terrified to think of using his powers. He kicked instead, hitting his attacker, and the mutant looked at him in annoyance. "Sleep, boy," he ordered.

The man's powers flowed into his brain, affecting... something, and he went limp in his grasp, his eyesight fuzzing over as fast as when Sinister used to stick his needles in him. He thought he heard Rogue scream his name, but he couldn't be sure before he was dropped and the world around him went away.

"Magnus, ah'm pleadin' wi' ye. Doon't hurt him!"

"YOU seek to plead with ME, McTaggert? Don't make me laugh."

"Please, he's nae a threat tae ye. He's just a patient here. He's harmless!"

"A patient under your tender loving care, is that it, McTaggert? The same care you gave me? Perhaps I'll kill him just to spare him from you."

"You kill th' Cajun, bub, and we'll hunt you down like a dog."

"I've heard your threats before, Logan. They have never frightened me. I could turn you inside out if I so chose."

"Not wi' that collar on, yer bloody soddin' freak."


"Magnus, you're not getting out of here. You're outnumbered, at half strength, and if you don't get help for that wound, you could bleed to death."

#Remy, wake up.#

"I think not, Summers. I think you will instead toss me the key to this collar, or I will strip every ounce of iron out of your companion's blood and crush his heart with it."

#Remy, answer me!#

Faintly, he responded, his thoughts slow and sluggish. #...jean...?#

#Oh, thank God!#

"Eric, please, ya cain't!"

#...what happened...?#

#Magneto controlled the iron in your blood to knock you out. He's got you with him in a protective bubble. We can't get to either of you.#

"Such concern in your voice, Rogue. You sounded that way about me once, while we were together in the Savage Land."

#Remy, you've got to get Magneto to drop his shield.#


#I... don't know.#

"Please, Magnus, let him go. Ah'll be ya hostage instead if ya want."

"Why would you do such a thing? What is this 'patient' to you?"

"...mah lover..."


Rogue's dimly heard words sent a surge of joy through him and his eyes opened. He was lying sprawled on his side on the ground, Magneto standing directly over him and the sheen of an energy bubble around them. The X-Men and Excalibur were arranged in battle stance around them, ready to attack in an instant. A look of surprise on his face, Magnus was staring at Rogue.

Before Magneto could see he was awake, he attacked. Rolling over, he grabbed his cloak and charged it.

Magneto looked down. "Wha-?"

The cloak exploded, throwing Magnus one way and him the other. The shield went down as Magneto hit the tarmac, stunned. A moment later, he couldn't be seen from the number of mutants who piled on top of him. Moira hurried up with a hypodermic needle and he got the distinct impression that the battle was over.

Rogue landed before him as he sat up dizzily. "Are ya okay, sugah?"

"I t'ink so."

Magneto now safely sedated, Logan wandered over. "Good work, Gumbo. And you too, Rogue." He grinned. "Just how accurate WAS that 'lover' comment?"

Pete laughed. "From th' way she were screamin' 'is name 'til two am last night, I'd say pretty high."

"Pete!" Kitty protested.

Rogue turned beat red and flew away.

He sighed. He'd been right after all. He was never going to get her out of her room again.

They drank to his health that night. "To Remy LeBeau!" Kurt called as everyone lifted their glasses. "For his bravery in getting close enough to attack Magneto by allowing himself to be captured."

"Oh, yeah," he muttered. "Like I had DAT planned."

Everyone laughed. They were sitting on couches and chairs, laughing and talking while they drank wine and ate snack food. Everyone seemed to think he was some kind of hero, but he was just confused by the whole day and its events. He didn't understand why Magneto had to be locked up and he didn't know what was wrong with Rogue. After her earlier worry, she'd started avoiding him again. She was at the party, but she sat in a corner and seemed generally embarrassed. He didn't know what to say to her, nor did he get the chance. Everyone wanted to shake his hand, especially the X-Men, who were used to him turning skittish and bolting if they got within five feet of him.

Logan suddenly leaned over his shoulder from behind. "So, you get over bein' spooked easy, Cajun?" He asked with an evil grin.

In answer, he grabbed his nose between his first two fingers.

"I guess I deserved dat," Logan said nasally.

He smiled.

Kurt chuckled. "Well, you certainly proved yourself useful to Excalibur today, Remy. I guess we'll have to pick you a codename after all."

Jean perked up. "Remy needs a codename?" Her eyes sparkled. "Oh, this should be fun. Have you thought of any?"

He remembered the name he'd used in a different life, before Sinister. "Uh, n-no," he stammered.

"Well, let's see what we can come up with." The others gathered to watch as Jean thought. "It has to be something that suits you."

"Gumbo," Wolverine said.

Jean glared at him fondly. "Perhaps something more closely linked to his personality and powers."

"'Ow 'bout American Express?" Pete suggested. "'E c'n charge anything, but 'e's rarely accepted."

He shrank into himself as everyone groaned and Kitty cuffed Pete gently on the back of the head.

Logan growled. "Not funny, englishman." He looked at him. "What name do YOU want, kid?"

Depressed, he said one word. "Dregs."

Jean's eyes softened and she moved to sit on the coffee table before him. He sat with shoulders hunched and arms crossed, so she put her hands on his knees.

"I don't think that name suits you very well," she said softly.

"It's what I am."

"Maybe we should do this later," Scott said.

"No." It was Rogue's voice. "Ya can't let him wallow or he never snaps outta it." Excalibur nodded knowingly. They'd gotten in the habit of ignoring his bouts of depression and continuing on as if everything was normal. "Besides," Rogue continued. "There ain't no way ah'm gonna let ya get away with namin' yaself after Moira's coffee."

"Och! What's wrong wi' me coffee?!"

"Ya got any suggestions, darlin'?" Logan grinned.

Arms crossed, Rogue looked at the little man, then at him and blushed. Defiance filled her eyes. "Cute Buns," she decided.

"That ain't exactly gonna strike fear into th' hearts o' his enemies, darlin'."

"Oh, I don't know," Jean smiled. "I think that depends on how homophobic they are."

"Jean!" Scott gasped.

Laughter echoed around the room, and even he smiled, though Rogue had retreated back to her corner. She did give him a shy smile though, and his heart soared. Then she turned away and it sank in confusion.

Bishop cleared his throat. "If you want an intimidating name, 'Demon' would be highly effective."

Rahne gasped. "Ye cannae go wi' such a horrible name! Ye'd surely be riskin' yuir immortal soul. How aboot Cirrus? Or Coyote?"

Brian chuckled. "I'm detecting a definite animal theme here, Rahne."

"So, what's wrong wi' that? How aboot Ferret?"

"Oh," Meggan gasped. "I got one. Shadowskin."

"Nah, too close ter Shadowcat."

He grinned, his depression lifting off him as quickly as it'd come. Charger, Corser, Echo, Super Guy, Napalm, Freeman, Card Shark (from Wolverine, who remembered playing poker with him), Boom-Boom (from Pete, who wouldn't believe it'd been used already), Kali, FireEye, and dozens of others. None of them really sang to him until Lockheed rolled out of Kitty's lap, crawled up onto the back of the couch and stuck his snout in his ear.

"Ash," he whispered.

He blinked. "Ash," he said experimentally, testing out the sound of it.

Jean heard him. "Ash? I like it."

Moira's eyes narrowed. "And what brought aboot this choice?"

He frowned, thinking, then began to speak, not looking at Pete as he did so. "Ash is all dat's left of de man I was. But t'ings can grow out of ashes, neh? Dat's me. All burned t' ash, but wit' somet'ing growin' inside." He smiled. "'Sides, dat's all I'm gonna leave of my en'mies."

The assembled mutants cheered, then laughed. Logan clapped him on the shoulder. "Good choice, kid, or I guess I should say Ash."

"Everyone!" Kurt called. "A toast to Ash!"

"To Ash!" They all drank.

He smiled. The name didn't feel as though it fully belonged to him yet, as if it were completely his, but already it was more comfortable than #713, or Remy LeBeau.

Or Gambit.

Some hours later, Scott sat down across from him, his face impassive behind his visor. "I have something I've been meaning to ask you all evening."

He nibbled on a cauliflower stalk and raised an eyebrow to indicate he should continue.

"When Moira yelled for you to run, you didn't. Why is that?"

He shrugged and bit the top off the cauliflower. "I didn' t'ink he would hurt me."

Scott's face showed no expression as Kurt wandered over to listen. "Why not, mein freund?" his leader asked.

He shrugged again and reached for a carrot. "Because he didn't de last time I met him."

They both looked surprised. "When did you meet?"

"In de Morlock tunnels under de mansion, when I was still livin' dere."

In an instant, Scott Summers had gone completely white and Jean bolted to his side. "Scott, what's wrong?"

"Magneto was under our house and we never knew it," he whispered.


Once again, he found himself the centre of attention, but this time it was far more frightening. They weren't just looking at him, they were STARING, and he had to resist an urge to run.

"What were you doin' with Magneto, kid," Logan growled, his claws flicking in and out.

"I - I..." He was starting to sweat. The questions were coming at him too fast.

"How did he-"


"How many times-"

They were closing in on him, too close, and he panicked, trying to run, but Moira blocked the door.

"Easy, Remy," she soothed. "We're nae yuir enemies." She led him to a chair as she glared at the room. "Do ye nae have brains in yuir heads? Are ye tryin' tae frighten him back inta what he was when he arrived? Ye just shut oop an' let me handle this, th' lot o' ye."

"But-" Scott started.

"Ah said shut oop. Yuir a guest in me home an' ye'll bloody well act like it."

She sat him down and handed him a glass of water. "Drink this."

Gratefully, he gulped it all down. "I'm sorry," he apologized. "I don' know what came over me."

"A know 'xactly what came o'er ye. A group o' people ye trusted turnin' on ye wi' no explanation." She gave the room an extra glare. "Now, Rem- Ash. Do ye know who Magneto is?"

He shook his head.

"Shit," Logan muttered. "Sorry, kid. I thought ya were hidin' stuff from us."

Well, in truth, he was, but not that. "Who's Magneto?"

"A terrorist," Scott told him. "He believes mutants are superior to humans and he has no real compunction about killing them to protect mutants."

He blinked in surprise.

"What was he doin' in th' tunnels, Ash?" Moira ask.

He remembered. "It was Christmas an' he was dere mournin' de deaths of de Morlocks. I gave him my cat."

"I toldja I smelled cat down there!" Logan crowed.

"Did you say anything to him?" Kurt asked.

"Jus' 'Merry Christmas' when I gave him de cat. I hope he's takin' good care a her."

"Did he say anything to you?" Kurt pressed.

"Jus' 'T'ank you." An' I heard him say stuff t' de graves 'bout how sorry he was dat he couldn' save dem an' how it was like what happened t' his fam'ly again. Dat's why I gave him de cat."

Scott's brow furrowed. "I don't understand."

He wasn't sure he wanted to say this, but they were all waiting, even Rogue.

"He... it felt like dere was some kind a connection. I t'ink he de only one who un'erstand what it like f' me in Sinister's lab."

Moira sighed. "So when ye saw him on th' tarmac, ye saw no reason tae be afraid."


"I wonder why he didn't recognize you?" Kitty mused.

"He never act'lly saw me. I stayed in de shadows."

Scott snorted. "Good thing. If he had, he'd have had that collar you were wearing off you in an instant and probably hauled you back to Avalon with him too."

His eyes narrowed. "An' den Rogue an' me wouldn' a' wound up back in Sinister's lab either, neh?"

Scott turned red, but Wolverine laughed. "Boy's got fire." He clapped him roughly on the shoulder and turned his thumb up in Moira's direction. "Ya done good with him, McTaggert."

"He did most o' th' work himself, Logan."

He smiled, enjoying the compliment and the feeling of well-being that had settled back onto the room. The only corner it didn't reach was the one his eyes kept drifting back to. Rogue sat in it, a drink in her hand and a look of confused loss on her face, and no matter how he tried, he couldn't think of what to say to her.

Lying on his bed, his head aching from too much drink and too much stress, he tossed and turned, dreaming.

"Who are you?" The voice asked. "Who are you?"

He spun, staring at the darkness around him. "I don' know."

"You are experiment #713," he heard Sinister say and screamed, struggling against his bonds as the scientist bent over him. Sinister ignored his screams, taking a scalpel and cutting open his abdomen with it. Blood soaked the walls, dripping to form the lake his table floated on as he shrieked in agony.

Sinister reached into his open belly and groped around, finally coming free with a power inhibitor collar. Turning, he locked it around the throat of Magneto, who was standing behind him. Then he placed a hand on the man's chest and pushed. Magneto fell beneath the liquids of the lake and vanished without a trace.

Scott leaned towards him. "Are you Remy LeBeau?" He asked.

He cringed against the back of his chair, balanced precariously on the stairs in the Morlock Tunnels. "I-"

"Come now," Storm said. "You must have a name. You cannot always be 'he' and nothing else."

"In the secret depths of your mind, who are you?"

"Yes Cute Buns," Wolverine decided with a leer, smoking a cigar. "Why don'tcha come here and prove it?" He moved towards him. He wasn't wearing any pants.

He ran, and stepped calmly out of the shadows into the Morlock tomb, past his little tabby cat as she sat ripping apart a mouse with red on black eyes that matched his own.

Magneto looked up at him. "Ah, there you are. I've been waiting to get that collar off you." His hand reached up under his beard to touch the heavy, familiar metal. Magneto lifted long white hair from his own throat to reveal an identical collar. "Only I have to get this one off first."

Embarrassed, he lowered his hands. They were handcuffed together. Excalibur and the X-Men stared at him in disgust.

"Thought yer could hide yer name from us," Pete snapped. "Didn't yer, Gambit?"

"Non!" He cried. "I'm not dat man anymore!"

"Yer can't hide it, or th' things yer done."

He backed away. "I didn' do not'ing wrong! Not really. Sinister locked me up 'cause I wouldn' be a Marauder for him!"

The mutants advanced on him. "Too little too late. Yer past was full o' shit b'fore yer ever met him."

He stumbled backwards, but the cylindrical glass cage had very little room in it. Delicately, Lockheed landed before the open door.

"Yer Ash," he said and breathed fire on him.

Gasping, he sat bolt upright in bed, covered in sweat. He was back in his own room. It'd all been a dream. Just a nightmare.

"Sugah?" He looked over as Rogue came through the door and quietly closed it behind her. "Ah missed ya."

She walked towards him, slowly kicking off her shoes and socks as she did so. Lowering her pants, she stepped out of them one leg at a time and paused at the side of the bed to strip off her panties.

"Rogue..." he whispered.

"Ah want ta feel ya in me, sugah," she told him as she pulled back the covers. He was nude and erect. "Ah need ya so badly."

Climbing onto the bed, she straddled him and reached down to position him so that he slid into her as she bore down.

A low groan escaped him as he lay back on the pillows. Kneeling above, Rogue rode him, her leg muscles flexing as she lifted and dropped, coating his shaft from end to end with her juices. As she did so, she smiled at him and removed her shirt, then her lacy white bra to expose her perfect breasts. He wanted to touch them, but he was tied down to the examining table and couldn't move.

With a cry of orgasm, she pulled off her face and Sinister looked down at him clinically.

His scream echoed throughout the complex.

Thrashing wildly under too-thick blankets that tangled around him, he screamed again and fought to kick his way free. He could hear footsteps approaching. They were coming to get him.

Hyperventilating, he kicked the last of the blankets off, just as there was a bamf of air and Kurt appeared at the foot of his bed.

"Are you all right, mein freund?"

He looked like Kurt, sounded like Kurt. But so had Rogue. Quickly, he rolled off the bed and under it. He was still hyperventilating, his heart beating so fast it hurt.

"Remy?" Kurt sounded surprised. A pair of glowing eyes looked under the bed and he scurried into the farthest corner, gasping.

He heard people pass through the curtain into his room, heard the voices of both X-Men and Excalibur. "Whoot happened?" Moira demanded. "Where is he?"

"Under the bed," Kurt admitted. "I've never seen him look so frightened."

Moira sighed. "Coom oot, Ash. Ye jus' had a nightmare."

The memory of Rogue pulling her face off was very clear in his mind and he didn't move. Just curled up and gasped repeatedly, trying to get enough oxygen into his lungs to stop the spots that were dancing in front of his eyes.

Moira kneeled down and looked at him calmly. "He's hyperventilating. Kurt, get me a paper bag. The rest o' ye, get oot o' here."

"Ah'm stayin'," Rogue stated.

His chest was really starting to hurt now as Excalibur and the X-Men filed out and Kurt teleported back with a small paper bag. Moira tossed it to him. "Breathe inta this, Ash."

Quickly, he grabbed the bag and fitted it over his nose and mouth, gasping into it.

"Do you need me any more?" Kurt asked quietly.

"Ah dinnae think so. You go get soom rest. We c'n handle this. That's it, Ash. Keep breathin'."

Kurt left as he felt his breathing return to normal, along with his thoughts. Now he was too embarrassed to come out.

"I feel like such an idiot."

Lying on her stomach on the floor, Moira smiled at him. "And well ye should. What was that all aboot anyway?"

He sighed. "I had a dream. I kept seein' all a you, an' Magneto in a collar, an' at de end, Rogue pulled her face off an' she was Sinister."

Rogue lay down beside Moira. "Ah did what?" She frowned. "That's disgustin'."

She looked so beautiful, lying there in flannel pyjamas that covered everything but her head, hands and feet.

He smiled wistfully. "Do y' still hate me, chere?"

Rogue looked surprised, her lovely green eyes widening. "HATE ya? Ah don't hate ya. What made ya think that?"

"Y' don' want t' be near me no more. Why? What I do wrong? Tell me an' I'll fix it."

Rogue looked at Moira helplessly.

"A told ye that y'e have t' tell him soomday. Yuir nae bein' fair otherwise." Moira stood. "A'll leave it t' ye then, children. Dinnae let him sleep under there," she ordered Rogue and left.

Rogue looked guilty as she peered back under the bed at him. "Ah'm afraid," she admitted.

He blinked. She was so powerful. He'd expected fear to be the last thing she'd suffer from. "Of what?"

She sighed. "O' ya, sugah. An' o' me." She rose and sat on the edge of the bed. He could see her legs and after a moment, crawled out enough that, when he lay on his back, he could see all of her clearly.

"Why? I love y', Rogue."

She smiled, putting a hand to her face, and he knew a moment's stark terror that she was going to rip it off and turn into Sinister again.

She saw the expression on his face. "What's wrong?"

He took a deep, shaking breath. "In de dream- I t'ought I was awake an' I was wit' you, an' den you turned into Sinister. I was afraid I was still dreamin'."

The sad smile on her face convinced him he wasn't. "Ya ain't, Remy. Less ah'm dreamin' too." She patted the bed. "Come sit with me. Ah'm gettin' a crick in mah neck lookin' at ya."

Quietly, he crawled out and sat on the bed beside her. Rogue was quiet for a moment, organizing her thoughts.

"The first time ah saw ya," she admitted. "Ah was mad. Here ya were, in our house, wearin' an X-Men uniform, an' ya were dirty an' skinny an' ya had that awful ratty beard." He smiled slightly. Rogue had always hated the beard. "Ah wanted ta grab ya an' drop kick ya raight through th' mansion gates. Then th' Professor told us ya had an inhibitor collar on, an' that he saw some o' th' things Sinister did ta ya in ya mind, an' ah was ashamed. Ah mean, there ya were, scared an' starvin', an' we go chasin' ya back inta th' tunnels."

He shrugged. "I mighta done de same t'ing."

She smiled and squeezed his knee. It was a wonderful feeling. "Ya, but ah felt really bad, so ah decided ta try ta make up foh it by cookin' regular meals for ya."

"I remember."

She shook her head. "We all wanted ya out o' those tunnels so badly, an' that damn collar off ya."

He sighed. "I was a li'l s'prised y' didn' force me to."

Suddenly, she looked sheepish. "Actually, we did." He gave her a sharp look. "Or Beast did. He'd been goin' nuts worryin' that ya were sick or hurt an' 'bout a month after we found ya, he put a sedative in ya dinner. None o' us knew 'bout it until Scott caught him comin' up inta th' hangar carryin' ya."

He blanched. He had absolutely no memory of any of this. "Mon dieu..."

"It caused a real stink, ah can tell ya," she told him. "Everybody was screamin' an' yellin' 'bout whether Hank was right an' whether ta put ya back in th' tunnels."

"What did YOU do?" He asked.

She blushed. "Sat by th' bed ya were curled up on an' held ya hand. It looked like it was the first real sleep ya'd ever gotten." She paused thoughtfully. "Ah think that was when ah started ta fall in love with ya."

He sat up straighter, wanting to dance with joy, but she wasn't done.

"Anyway, it was decided that Hank could give ya a check-up, but then ya were goin' raight back inta th' tunnels until ya decided ta come out on ya own."

At the time, knowing this would have terrified him. Now it was touching. "Dis musta been b'fore I came down wit' de flu."

She laughed. "Oh, that started a whole new round o' arguin'."

"You knew I was sick?"

"Sugah, we could hear ya pukin' all th' way t' th' stairs. We finally all voted ta go get ya, but none o' us could find ya, and Wolvie had ta pick that week ta go on one o' his walkabouts."

He smiled. "Dere are steam vents in some a de caverns down dere. I went t' one of dem an' sweated de sickness outta me. I t'ought I was gonna die at times."

The young women shook her head at the memory. "Ah wish ah'd known that. Ah think ah walked through those tunnels foh two days searching foh ya. Th' others were all sure ya'd passed on, but ah kept putting food out, hopin'. Ya have no idea how happy ah was when ya finally came back an' started eatin' again."

He was glad she had too. That had been a horrible week, feeling sick and delusional, being chased by nightmare images in his dreams even worse than the ones he'd just had. He'd almost been sure he heard Rogue calling him at one point, but no matter how he tried, he couldn't call back to her. "T'anks f' not givin' up on me, chere," he said softly.

She smiled, patting his knee. "I wasn't no big thang, sugah. Just helping out." She looked around the room, taking a deep breath. She was babbling, talking about past events, and they both knew it, but he figured she was working her way up to what she really wanted to say.

"Ah remember when ya let me shave ya," she continued at last. "I was really in love with ya an' ah was so proud o' ya foh bein' so brave."

He frowned and looked down at his clasped hands. "If y' been in love wit' me all dis time, den why y' been avoidin' me?"

She hesitated and blushed. "When ah first learned ya could touch me, ah started dreamin' o'... makin' love... with ya." Her face was a brilliant, fascinating shade of red. "Ah'd always wanted ta... ta be able ta touch a man. Ah wanted ya ta sweep me off mah feet, an' ah worked up mah nerve foh a long time ta make th' first move."

He hid a smile that might embarrass her, putting an arm around her instead. To think he'd desired her so long, afraid to tell her, and she'd been wanting the same thing.

Rogue's shoulders were hunched however, and she stared at the floor, glancing up at him periodically. "Then we... did it, an' it wasn't like ah expected. Ah mean, it felt good, but ah think ya were more nervous than ah was. Ah kept wondering if ah was pushing ya ta do somethin' ya didn't want an' ah felt cheap, 'cause ah threw mahself at ya. Ah mean, ah was taught by mah real momma that only sluts an' whores did that. The jokes everyone made only made it worse too. An' ah felt laik ah lost somethin'- mah virginity, ah mean." Her eyes filled with tears. "Ah... an' ah was afraid that ah... that ah only thought ah loved ya... 'cause we could touch. An' ah can't stop thinkin' how ah really want ta do it again, so ah must be a tramp."

He stared in amazement at her tears, and swallowed a lump in his throat. Gently, he reached out to brush them away. Rogue's eyes closed at the feel of his skin on hers.

"You first loved me when I was in th' tunnels, n'est pas?" He asked softly and she nodded. "Well, dat's when I fall in love wit' you, an' dat was long b'fore either of us ever t'ink we'd be able t' touch. So I t'ink anyt'ing y' feel f' me be real."

She considered that and her eyes filled with fresh tears. "Then ya don't think ah'm a tramp?"

"If y' are, chere, den so am I."

She giggled and he smiled. She was so beautiful and he needed her with him so badly. Leaning down, he kissed her lips and felt their silky smoothness part for him. The panic he'd felt the last time he touched her was gone now, absorbed in his love for her.

"Stay wit' me t'night," he whispered.

"Only if ya promise ta love me," she whispered back.

That was a simple request, one that he was more than willing to fulfill, with none of the panic and confusion of their first time. Rogue met him stroke for stroke, and when they were done, he held her, and slept, and when he woke in the morning shaking from nightmares, she was still by his side.

"Come back here, y' damn dragon!"

Lockheed raced down the corridor, wings flapping furiously as he tried to outrun his pursuer. Neck outstretched before him, legs tucked close, tail streaming behind him, he went around a corner, coming so close to the far wall that he had to kick off it in midflight with his hind legs.

"'iss off, Ash," he hissed.

"No way, y' li'l liar! I wan' answers!"

The little dragon shot through an open doorway, wings hugged to his body so they wouldn't hit the frame, then spread them and started flapping before gravity could pitch him into the ground.

He sprinted through the doorway after the dragon, hurdled over a couch - and Meggan's head - and out the far door, Meggan's screech sounding behind him.

He had to catch Lockheed before he got outside and could get altitude, or before Kitty caught him trying to bodytackle her pet.

He could see the open door to the outside, a golden rectangle of light that Lockheed laughed at when he saw.

He put on a burst of speed, leg muscles straining, and leaped at the dragon just as he shot out the door and arced upward.

He caught his tail, his hand slipping down its length and almost off before he could get a grip. Then the dragon squawked in surprise as his upward flight turned into a downward plummet. Twisting in his grip, his wings became a blur as he tried to get away.

He leaped onto Lockheed's back, forcing him down with his own weight. Lockheed started snapping.

"MERDE! You bite me an' I'll have Moira fix you!"

Lockheed froze and he took the opportunity to pin his wings to his side and run off into the hills with the dragon in his arms like a squirming bag of potatoes.

Once they were out of sight of the complex, he stopped.

"Okay, spill it!"

Lockheed hissed.

He fought the struggling reptile, barely keeping him pinned and receiving a plethora of scratches on his arms in the process.

"Don' give me dat! I wan' t' know why y' talk t' me an' nobody else, or if I'm jus' goin' crazy again!"

Lockheed stiffened, then relaxed. "'er not 'azy," he muttered.

He nodded and released him. The dragon dropped to the ground, then hopped onto a boulder across from the one he sat on and began to preen himself.

"I didn' t'ink I was, but you sure had me wonderin' at times." He crossed his arms. Why?"

Lockheed continued preening. "Why what?"

"Why talk t' me an' nobody else?"

Lockheed turned jewelled eyes on him. "I don' know. Yer 'ooked so lost, so empty. Maybe I 'anted ter give yer 'omethin' else ter 'ocus on. Seemed 'othin' else were really 'ettin' yer attention." His jaw dropped in a grin. "'Sides, it were fun 'istening ter yer shriek."

He snorted. "Right. An' th' name?"

The dragon shrugged. "It suited yer, an' i' anyone 'uggest 'omethin' laik 'Cute Buns" again, I were 'onna hurl."

He chuckled and uncrossed his arms, dragging one hand through his long hair. "Well, I guess I gotta t'ank y' for dat. Did I hurt you?"

The little dragon spread his wings and regarded the membranes carefully before folding them on his back. "'ope." He cocked his head to one side. "'ow 'ome yer decided ter 'ome after me now?"

He sighed, looked away, over the lonely hills of the island to the ocean beyond. "I keep havin' nightmares," he admitted. It wasn't something he found easy to talk about, even to Rogue, who held him each night in the aftermath of them. "You're in dem."

Lockheed blinked, his tail twitching. "What 'appens?"

"Voices... people... askin' what my name is."

"It's Ash," Lockheed told him with conviction.

He smiled. "That's what you say in de dreams, right b'fore y' burn me."

"Well, that's a bloody pisser, 'ow ain't it?"

"Yeah. I was hopin' dat talkin' t' y' would get dem t' stop."

Lockheed's jaw dropped in a grin. "Well, I 'ope they do, an' that wanker Wisdom 'ets 'em instead."

His lip twisted, somewhat glad to be changing the subject. Talking about the nightmares had brought flashes of them back. Not the bits with Lockheed in them, ironically enough, but those of Magneto, wearing an inhibitor collar. Now he felt depressed again.

"Why y' hate Pete so much?" He asked halfheartedly.

The little dragon growled, flickers of flame escaping from his muzzle. It was an angry sound, a hateful sound, and his eyes widened, his heart pounding.

Lockheed realized he was about to bolt and made an obvious effort to calm himself. He folded his wings close against his back and crouched low on the rock, claws clenching it tightly.

"'E's 'akin' Kitty from me," he grated.

He ran a hand through his hair. "But- Kitty loves you, doesn' she?"

"'ot th' way I wan' her to."

He considered that, tried to see things from the little dragon's point of view. It was a remarkably simple thing to do, considering it was so close to his situation. Separate from everyone around them, him by trauma, Lockheed by form. Reaching out, but still apart, forever different.

His head bowed, eyes closing. "Y' never tried t' make her love y' de way y' want? Never talked t' her?"

"What 'ould be th' point?" Lockheed sighed bitterly. "I don' wan' ter take th' chance... that 'er 'eelin's fer me'll change... if she finds out I'm now who she thought. Even bein' treated like a pet's better'n nothin'."

Oh, he understood that, understood it so well. Rogue had no idea who he really was. He was a horrible man, a terrible man. He deserved what Sinister had done to him.

He took a deep, shuddering breath. He'd never thought of that before. Moira had been working on giving him his identity back, but he doubted she'd intended for him to gain enough of one to realize just how much he hated himself.

"Are 'ou all right?" Lockheed asked.

He looked up at him through his hair and faked a smile. "I'm fine."

Lockheed sighed. "Promise yer 'on't tell Kitty?"

"I promise."

"'anks, mate." His tail flicked from side to side. "Yer think yer nightmares gorna stop now?"

A vision of Sinister pushing Magneto beneath a pool of blood hit him so hard he grunted. "I don' know."

"Well, if yer think 'alkin' 'bout it'll help, talk ter me, or anyone in Excalibur. 'Cept Pete. 'e's a wanker." He looked back towards the complex. "I 'otta go. Kitty'll be 'orried." His jaw dropped. "Nice 'alkin' ter you, Ash."

He watched the little dragon fly off, stood and walked the other way, through the hills to the crumbly cliffs above the ocean. It was a route he'd taken many times. When he'd first come to Muir Island, still in shock from what Sinister did to him and Rogue, he'd walked here daily. Moira had always sent someone with him, afraid he'd try to kill himself. It'd been a waste of effort; he hadn't cared enough to bother. Now, she trusted him, and he wanted to keep walking.

Right off the edge of the cliff.

Hands in his pockets, he stood on the edge of the cliff, his hair whipping about his face as he looked at the rocks and water below.

It was almost romantic, how easy it would be to fall. Excalibur might even believe it was an accident. His vision was focused on one point - the edge of the cliff - and one booted foot reached forward to kick gently at the crumbly earth that gave way beneath it. Oh, yes, it'd be so easy to make it seem an accident.

He'd deserved what Sinister had done to him, his talk with Lockheed had made that so clear. He'd deserved to be locked, naked and collared, in a glass cage. To be taken out only to be experimented on, with drugs that made him sick, or operations that left him weak. He deserved it for seducing a woman just so he could rob her, for killing his own brother-in-law on his wedding night. For a hundred other evil or thoughtless things he'd done. For being the kind of man Sinister would want for his Marauders. For almost saying yes. Magneto was a prisoner for the things he'd done. It could be no less for him, only he'd die before he'd go back into another cage.

Die. He took a step forward and was right on the lip of the cliff, his toes over the edge, listening to the sound of dislodged pebbles falling. All he had to do was take one more step, or even just lean forward, and he'd never have to see the look on everyone's faces when they found out what kind of monster he really was.

"Herr Ash, please step back."

He hadn't heard Nightcrawler come up behind him, still absorbed on that single point of focus.

"How you know I was out here?" He asked.

"After the FOH attack, we set up sensors along the cliffs. One of them picked you up. These cliffs are very loose. Is there a reason you're standing so close to the edge?"

He shrugged. "I was t'inkin' of jumpin.'"

Wagner was silent for a long moment. "Ash," he said at last. "I don't know what religion you follow, but I am a Christian. I have always believed that anyone who commits suicide is damned to Hell automatically."

His face twisted as his shoulders hunched and he tried unsuccessfully not to cry. "It's GOTTA be better dan dis!"

"It won't be," Kurt assured him. "And is your life now so bad? You have friends, and a woman who loves you. You just can't see that right now because of the depression. It'll get better."

He heard him, but he shook his head. "Rogue jus' likes me 'cause her powers don' work on me."

"I think you credit her with too little, mein freund."

"I'm nobody. I don' deserve her. I deserve t' be in a cage, jus' like Magneto."

"Magneto..? Ack, never mind. Ash, answer me this. Do you want to be back in a cage?"

Weeks of isolation at a time. Cramped, uncomfortable, never knowing who'd be the next to be killed in the name of science.

"Non," he whispered with a shudder.

"Good. Now, do you want to die?"

He'd never tried to kill himself in Sinister's lab. One of the other prisoners had somehow broken off a jagged piece of the grating they defecated through and sawed open his throat with it. He watched, but he never tried to emulate him. Nor had he taken any of the opportunities presented in the pits and traps of the Morlock tunnels. Ultimately, he wanted to live, no matter what. Suicide wasn't a part of what he was, whether Ash, or 713, or Remy LeBeau or Gambit. Kurt was right. It was just the depression talking and it was beginning to lift.

"No," he admitted softly and turned around.

The entire section of cliff he was standing on gave way beneath him, and in a sudden hail of dirt and rock, he fell with it, too frightened even to scream as he watched the rocks below race up.

Then everything went completely black and he had a moment to wonder if Kurt was right about Hell, because he could smell brimstone.

Suddenly, he was kneeling on the grass back on top of the cliff, Kurt letting go of his arm. He was shaking, his eyes wide.

"Oh, t'ank God," he gasped.

"Yes," Kurt murmured softly. "Thank God, indeed."


"Keep yuir voice down, Rogue. A finally got him calmed doon enough tae rest. A dinnae need yuir caterwaling wakin' him oop again."

Emotionally exhausted and under the effects of a mild sedative, he lay in his darkened room and listened dimly to the faint voices on the other side of the curtain.

"Ah- ah heard Remy tried ta kill himself," Rogue blurted. "Is that true?" Amazingly enough, she sounded like she was crying.

He fell, leibling," Kurt told her. "I won't lie to you. He was thinking about it, but he'd changed his mind when the cliff gave out under him."

"But why?!" She wailed. "He has so much ta live for! Doesn't he know how much we love him?"

In his room, he smiled slightly at that.

"No, he dinnae," Moira admitted. "Not accordin' tae Kurt. He was even convinced that ye only stayed wi' him 'cause o' his immunity tae yuir powers."


"A told ye tae keep yuir voice down!"

But Rogue's temper couldn't be contained. "How could ya let this happen?!" She railed at her. "Ya supposed ta be his doctor! He coulda died!"

He flinched, not liking the anger, wishing he had the courage or the energy to go comfort her. But the drugs had him in a halfway zone, somewhere between sleep and waking, and all he could do was listen.

"Dinnae ye be blamin' me fuh this, lassie," Moira snapped. "A do th' best A can, but A dinnae have th' time tae be workin' wi' him an' ye all th' time, an' work on th' Legacy Virus too. A'm not as strong as A used tae be. Ash had us all fooled as tae how deep his depression went, but he wi' nae get a chance tae change his mind."

Rogue was silent for a moment. "Ah'm sorry, Moira," she said at last.

"Good. Now, Kurt, A want tae talk wi' ye soom more. A'm ver' concerned aboot what he said aboot Magneto." She sounded like she was moving away.

"Ah want ta see him," Rogue said suddenly. "Ah promise ah won't wake him."

"Ye better nae or A'll have yuir ears!"

They walked out of hearing range as Rogue stepped into his room and over to his bed. He imagined her looking down at him.

Suddenly, the young woman grabbed his shoulder, flipped him onto his back, took him by the front of his pyjamas and pulled him half off the bed until he was nose to nose with her. Sedative or not, he opened his eyes.

"Let's get one thang b'tween us straight, sugah," she growled, her face enraged. "Ah love ya, so don't ya EVER try ta leave me like that again!"

He gasped, trying to speak even as she began shaking him. "Get this through ya head! Ah love ya, ah love ya, AH LOVE YA! Ah don't care 'bout ya past or if ya immune ta mah powers or not. Ah'll love ya anyway!"

Her words, so intense and passionate, convinced him, even as her shaking made him want to vomit.

"I'm sorry!" He gasped. The shaking stopped. "I'm so sorry."

Her lip trembled and she pulled him close. "Ah know, Remy. It's just... ya scared me somethin' awful."

His head was pillowed on her breasts and he put his arms around her, the drugs forcing him back into a doze.

"I scared m'self too, chere," he mumbled. "I scared m'self too."

The massive door opened slowly, six feet of reinforced adamantium rolling back into the wall to show a short alcove cut off by a thick blue forcefield.

He stared in at that blue wall, hands clasped under his chin, trembling almost imperceptably. It was a prison, a cell, a cage...

Moira put a hand on his shoulder. "Coom on, Remy. A know it's hard, but he cannae come oot tae meet wi' ye."

Since the cliff, Moira had increased his therapy and dragged out of him the fact that he'd been having repeated nightmares about Magneto.

Placing a hand on his back, she pushed gently, and he stepped inside. Immediately, he felt his perceptions narrow and bolted backwards, slamming painfully into the closing door.

"My powers!"

"A know, Ash," she soothed. "A told ye. Th' Proteus chamber negates mutant powers, remember?"

Eyes closed, he took deep breaths and nodded. Yes, he remembered. The Proteus chamber was the strongest cell in the world. Designed to hold the deadliest mutants.

"Coom, Ash. Th' force shield wi' only be down fur a few moments."

Reluctant, yet drawn at the same time, he let Moira lead him up to the shield. It parted and they stepped through into the cell on the other side.

"See?" Moira said. "It's noothin' like what ye went through wi' Sinister."

It wasn't. He saw, of all things, a pleasantly decorated room with a couch, table, stereo and shelf of books. He could even see a bedroom and bathroom beyond.

Magneto was sitting on the couch, an open book held in one hand. He regarded them calmly, regally, seeming larger somehow, even in the plain clothes he wore, than the room he was locked in.

"So," he said coolly. "This is the young man who needs to be convinced that my quarters are not a cage."

"Please, Magnus," Moira said softly. "Ye agreed tae allow this."

Magneto snorted. "Or else he may attempt to leap off another cliff?" He turned gray eyes on him. "Look around, boy. Convince yourself." He returned to his book.

Slowly, he walked over to the bookshelf, his feet scuffing on the plush carpet. It felt cold, like a steel grating on bare feet. Trembling, he reached out to touch the books, but they shimmered and pulled away, becoming the clear glass of a cylinder only five feet wide. Through it, he could see the sterile whiteness of Sinister's lab. He was back there, naked, collared, caged...

"No, no, no, no, no... no cages... no..." Desperate, he slammed his fists against the glass, and leaped back as books fell down before him. He was in the Proteus chamber, covered in sweat and terrified.

Quickly, he turned to see both Moira and Magneto looking at him intently. Moira sighed in frustration.

"A'm soorry, Ash. A was hopin' this would help ye. A better take ye home."

"Let me talk to him."

It was Magneto who'd spoken. "Privately," he continued.

Moira shook her head. "A cannae."

He turned those eyes on her. "Privately," he repeated. "I will not harm him. I give you my word."

Moira hesitated, then looked at him. "Is this all right wi' ye?"

He looked at Magneto, remembered the tunnels and nodded.

Reluctantly, Moira withdrew and Magneto leaned back on his couch, regarding him as he stood and trembled. He could still see flashes of Sinister's lab out of the corner of his eye. He didn't care what Moira said. This room was a cage.

"I dislike prisons," Magneto said at last. "But you are terrified of them. Why is that?"

He swallowed convulsively, ignoring the older man's gesture for him to sit down.

"I- um, I was kept in a cage," he admitted. "A glass cylinder. F' two years. Sinister used me f' one a his lab experiments."

Magneto's eyes narrowed in anger, then he sighed regretfully. "I have sworn to protect all mutants. I'm sorry I couldn't save you."

He smiled slightly. "Dat's what y' said in de tunnels t' de Morlocks." It was rather comforting to know someone this powerful would be willing to protect him.

Magneto, however, looked surprised. "That was you," he whispered, rising.

He nodded, hugging himself as he saw more flashes of Sinister's lab. "I was scared a' people f' a long time, so I stayed down dere. I gave y' my cat."

Magneto smiled slightly. "Yes. I named her Anya. She rules Avalon." The frown returned. "McTaggert didn't properly introduce us. I am Eric Magnus Lensherr. What is your name?"

He could see the reflection of Sinister's dissection table over by the coffee table. "Experiment #713," he said without thinking.


Magneto's face had changed, becoming a tower of rage and he panicked, bolting backwards into the nearest wall. He was trapped, he realized. He couldn't get out, just like in the lab. A terrified wail escaped him.

He was just about to lose it completely when Magneto was in front of him, holding his face between his hands and forcing him to look him in the eye.

"Listen to me," he said. "You are not trapped. We are in my room, having a pleasant conversation, and it is an ordinary room..."

Slowly, under the force of the personality behind those words, he stopped shaking and relaxed, the images of Sinister's lab pulling back into his nightmares.

He took a deep breath and Magneto released him. "Sorry," he apologized lamely. "You mus' not t'ink ver' much a me."

Magneto only shook his head and crossed to a small sink to pour him a glass of water. "All men are judged by their weaknesses. You still rate higher than many I have known." He gestured for him to come take the glass.

He did so, and sipped at it. "I guess Moira's plan to convince me y' weren' in a cage kinda backfired, neh?"

"Why is it so important to you I not be in a cage?" He smiled. "Do you have aspirations to be an Acolyte?"

"A what? Uh, no. I jus' can' stand anybody t' be locked up... an' I'm de one put y' in here."

Magneto walked back towards the couch. "I seem to remember the X-Men doing that."

"I helped dem," he said miserably.

"No, you defended yourself." Magneto sat down. "You didn't hunt me down. Never be ashamed of doing what you have to do in order to survive. Only in giving up."

It'd been said to him a hundred times before by the X-Men and Excalibur both, but just like in the tunnels, Magneto's words reached into him in a way theirs couldn't and he nodded. Magneto was the only one who had a real idea of what he'd gone through. Rogue had been Sinister's prisoner too, but her captivity lasted a short while and she'd never given in to despair. Magneto, however, had lines of despair and pride and strength etched into his face and soul. He'd survived, and seeing that made him feel a little better. A little stronger.

He shook himself. "Uh, I'm sorry I disturbed you."

Magneto waved that away. "I enjoyed the company." He watched the forcefield part to admit Moira. "Another time, then."

He nodded gratefully and walked past him to rejoin Moira. He felt better than he had before he went in, and he knew he would follow Magneto's advice to do what he had to in order to survive.

"Allo, Pete."

"Pete Wisdom jumped about a foot and he hid a smile. The Englishman had been sitting sprawled in a chair, daydreaming- probably about Kitty- when he should have been paying attention. He was on monitor duty, watching for incoming calls in the comm room. He was also supposed to be guarding the terminals that gave access to the computer core of the island.

"Bloody 'ell!" The other man swore. "Where d' yer get off, sneakin' up on a body like that?"

He looked annoyed, but not cautious. Good. That meant he hadn't gotten any incriminating mail about him yet.

"I'm bored," he explained. "Can I take over de rest a your shift?"

Pete frowned. "You mus' be bored if ya wan' ter sit in 'ere." Nevertheless, he quickly stood up. "Feel free. It's set up so yer can't get into anything yet not supposed to." He hurried out.

He let the smile come. Oh, yeah. He'd definately been daydreaming of Kitty.

The door shut behind his teammate and he went immediately to one of the restricted terminals. It had layers of passwords and protections on it, but with time, skill and some toys 'borrowed' from Kitty's room, he hacked his way in.

Once inside, he gave himself root access and began to reprogram the security systems, taking care to cover his tracks. It took time, but he was very good at what he did. Almost as an afterthought, he set up Pete Wisdom's mail to come to him first.

The computer gave a soft beep sometime after three and he opened his eyes with a start. His nightmares had toned down since his talk with Magneto, but he still had them and Sinister had been about to cut out his heart when he woke up.

There was a weight on his left side and he looked down to see Rogue lying against him, her legs entangled with his and her head on his shoulder.

He'd come in a week ago to find out she'd had a door installed and moved in. She'd been in the process of taking over his closet space, green eyes flashing as she dared him to tell her she couldn't. He hadn't. More confident since Magneto as well, their lovemaking had improved as well, and while it wasn't at a level where it would shake the house down, it was certainly less confused.

Quietly, he slipped out of bed, giving Rogue a kiss as he did so. She hummed in her sleep and snuggled down deeper under the covers.

Feeling exposed not just by his nudity but by what he was doing, he sat at the computer and turned the monitor on, careful not to let the light wake Rogue.

He had one message. Or rather, Pete Wisdom had one message. He opened it.

Return-Path <[email protected]>

Delivered-To: [email protected]

From: Monacle <[email protected]>

To: "Pete Wisdom" <[email protected]>

Subject: Remy LeBeau

Date: Saturday 07 July 1997 03:10:22 - 0666

MIME-Version: 1.0

Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit

Content-Type: Text/plain; charset="UK-ascii"

Hey, Wisdom, I got the info you wanted. Remy LeBeau

is clean. No criminal record, no known aliases. He

has no birth parents, but was adopted and raised

by a Jean-Luc LeBeau in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Except for the powers, he's a typical kid.

Before you relax too much, though, there's more.

The name Jean-Luc LeBeau rang a bell, so I

checked with some of my less official sources

and I found out the father is the head of the

New Orleans Thieves Guild, and he's taught

his son everything he knows.

Remy LeBeau's working name is Gambit, and he's

classed as one of the top three Master Thieves in

the world. They don't come any better than this

guy. In fact, if I were you, I'd consider all my

records, computer files, everything, to be

compromised. Actually, I'd take him out

someplace quiet and put a bullet through his

head. I hope he's as brain damaged as you

say he is, or you're in a serious world of shit.

Good luck, man.


End message - - -

He stared at the message for a long time. Gambit was the one Sinister had wanted, and he'd believe he died a long time ago in the lab. He was supposed to be Ash now, but he never used the name and here he was, stealing e-mail.

Rogue sighed and he looked at her sleeping form. He loved her, and he wouldn't lose her. Quickly, he erased all but the first paragraph and the signature and sent the message on. When Pete received it, he'd have no way of telling it'd been waylaid.

Done, he turned off the monitor and crawled back into bed with Rogue.

"Where'd ya go?" She mumbled sleepily.

"Bathroom," he lied, but she was already asleep again. He lay awake for a long time, though, and when he finally did sleep, he was the villain in his nightmares.

"All right, this is the same sort of exercise as before," Kurt said, rubbing his hands together. "Don't let me hit you and-"

"Kick his teeth in!" Rogue yelled helpfully.

Kurt sighed. "I was going to say 'try to work a little more on the offensive.'"

"Fuck that! Ah want blood!"

"Rogue!" Brian gasped. "Is that any way to talk about your brother?"

"O' course it is, sugah. Ah nevah got ta bully him when we were kids. Ah gotta get as much in as ah can now. Pull his tail foh me, Remy, sugah."

Kurt looked somewhat despondant.

He grinned at him. "Would y' like it pulled all de way out or jus' tied in a bow?"

Excalibur's leader regarded him almost in surprise. "You're in a fine humour today."

He hopped around him playfully. "I'm jus' in a good mood."

He was, too. He was finally sure that Rogue loved him, and wasn't just using him for his immunity. His past was hidden from Pete's spying eyes and he was safe from Sinister. He had friends and a home. How could he not be happy?

"All right, then," Kurt decided. "GO!"

He kicked him in the head.

For a moment, there was stunned silence in the audience, then everyone surged forward. He stood back with both hands clasped over his mouth as everyone talked animatedly.

"Is he all right?"

"Boishe moi!"

"Kurt? How many fingers am A holdin' oop?"

"Remy? Honey? When ah said ah wanted blood, ah didn't mean quite this much."

"Oh, yeah, that nose is DEFINATELY broken."

"Nice shot, Ash!"

With Moira's help, Kurt sat up, one hand over his bloody nose. "Well," he said nasally. "I must say this was a definate improvement over last time."

Suddenly, he began to snigger, then burst out in unison with everyone else's gales of laughter.

Moira always went to bed by one am and Rogue, in a fit of helpfulness, had volunteered for monitor duty and been given the graveyard shift. For various reasons, he kept her company, but shortly before two, he let his head start to nod.

Rogue looked at him sympathetically. "Why don't ya go ta bed, Remy?"

He yawned. "Non, I'll keep y' company."

"Sugah, in about another two minutes, th' only thing that's gonna be keepin' me company is ya snores."

He smiled. "Gotcha." Standing up, he stepped over between her and the main computer. "I love y'," he said softly and kissed her.

It was a deep kiss, one that pushed her head back and closed her eyes as she kissed him back eagerly and looped her arms around his neck. Still shy when it came to being intimate, he reached up with one hand to touch the side of her breast.

His other hand reached behind him to type a quick code into the computer, then hit enter. He started to count.

At five seconds, he pulled away. "I better go, Rogue," he said regretfully.

She smiled up at him and traced a finger along his chest. "Ah'll wake ya in th' mornin', then."

He grinned and left.

Saints, he hoped she wouldn't be blamed for this, but she HAD to be the one on monitor duty, or else the risk would be too great that she'd wake up and know he wasn't there. Part of him felt terribly guilty about what he was doing, and utterly terrified as well, but it was something he had to do. So he gave himself over to the professional in him. To Gambit.

He took a minute and four seconds to reach his room. "'Night," he mumbled sleepily to Douglocke as he passed him in the hall.

"Good night, designate Ash."

He went into his room, closed the door and stuck a few pillows under his blankets just in case. At one minute, 15 seconds, he went out his window and jumped, landing in a crouch below right after the motion alarms around the building turned off.

No one had seen him, so he bolted across the complex to the lab building past cameras that were looping over the same section of tape.

He reached the lab at one minute, 56 seconds and went through the now unlocked and disarmed door. He'd had to do most of his time measurements by guesswork, but he wasn't a Master Thief for nothing and his guesses were very good. He was sweating, but confident. Moira's therapy was holding, though he was sure she wouldn't be impressed by this application of his newfound confidence.

Two minutes. It was two am. The guards were at the front on shift change, so he encountered none of them as he ran down the halls to the Proteus Chamber.

It opened for him.

Two minutes, seven seconds. Swallowing, he stepped in through the downed forcefield to see a cautious Magneto coming out of his bedroom, belting a robe on over his pyjamas.

He took a deep breath. "In two minutes an' fourteen sec'nds, dere'll be a blip in de island power supply. De back-ups come up right 'way, but for one tenth of a sec'nd, de inhibitors an' force shield be off. Y' gotta get de door opened in dat time."

Magneto nodded, but glanced at the open door.

"You 'scape now, dey gonna know y' had help."

Magneto smiled slightly. "Why do you always turn up when I need you?" An eyebrow rose. "And why help me now?"

Two minutes, 20 seconds. Time was running out. "'Cause I was put in a cage f' de same reason. 'Cause I wouldn' be what someone else wan'ed me t' be. An' 'cause I owe y'. Remember how long y' got t' de blip."

"One minute, seven seconds," Magneto said without hesitation. "What is your name?"

The doors were closing, the forcefield about to come back on. He stepped through and looked back at him. "It used t' be a lotta t'ings, but now it's Ash." He even meant it.

It was close, but he got back to his room unseen with two seconds to spare.

The explosion had been incredible. At around 2:05 am, Magneto had ripped the adamantium doors right off his cell and thrown them through the roof. A gas main had gone off, shooting a fireball into the sky, and the alarm began screaming.

He ran out with everyone else, racing to the lab as more alarms went off from the motion detectors they tripped.

Upon escaping from his cell, Magneto had flown through the hole he made and headed upwards. Rogue reached him first and for a few moments it looked like they were dancing as she tried to grab him and he stayed out of arm's reach. Then Meggan and Brian arrived and he'd inundated all three of them with a barrage of magnetic lightning before flying away faster than they could follow.

It'd been a surge in the power supply, it was decided later. An unforseeable accident and no one's fault. Nothing had been tampered with, they were all sure of that.

Ash sat in a chair by his window, lazily watching a bird fly outside. That had been three weeks ago, and for him, they'd been a good three weeks. His nightmares were gone and his bouts of depression were far less frequent and severe. He'd even begun to think of himself as actually being Ash, and not just a nameless entity. It'd been a long time.

Even better, Rogue had been dropping hints that she might not return to the X-Men, but would instead stay with Excalibur, and with him.

"Wanker!" He heard Lockheed call from outside.

"Sod off, yer bloody snake!" Pete yelled back.

Ash stuck his head out the window and laughed as he saw Lockheed blow raspberries at Pete Wisdom.

Pete heard and looked up at him, his face brightening in desperate hope.

"Ash! Yer heard 'im, didn't yer? Tell these wankers Lockheed can talk, mate!"

Ash forced his face into an expression of puzzlement. "Dragons don' talk."

Immediately, Pete looked pissed. "It's a conspiracy," he muttered as he stomped off. "A soddin' plot."

Ash winked at the grinning Lockheed and pulled his head back into his room, taking an envelope out of his pocket as he did so. It'd arrived in the mail that morning with no return address. He opened it.

There was letter and a picture of a tabby cat, lying on a table looking out a large porthole into space and the earth. He could see her reflection in the glass, showing her bored regality.

He smiled and read the letter.


I felt it appropriate to send you a picture of

Anya, to show how she has grown. It was

quite difficult. For all the beauty of the

view, there seem to be very few cameras

in Avalon.

I also wished to thank you for your assistance.

If you ever have need of me, I will come. You

also have a place on Avalon if you desire it,

as a friend if not an Acolyte.

For your own protection, I suggest you

destroy this letter.

Sincerely yours,

Eric Lensherr


Ash put the letter down by his side and turned to see Rogue floating towards the window. "Oui?"

"Ah got a baseball game goin'. Wanna play?"

He grinned. "Sure, jus' give me a minute." She blew him a kiss and soared away.

Ash looked at the photo and letter again, committing them to memory, and his hands flashed, obliterating them. Standing, he hurried out the door, leaving them to drift out the window as a faint sparkling of ash.


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