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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21

The Cast of Shadows - REVIEW THIS STORY

Written by NicoPony
Last updated: 04/17/2007 12:31:02 AM

Chapter 14

Lorna swung her legs back and forth, her heels knocking against the side of the examination table. It was a curiously juvenile action, but Lorna didnít feel much like acting her age. Her eyes went from watching her legs to the two men in the observation room adjacent to the medical lab. Judging from their grave expressions, they were discussing something serious. She found herself hoping their discussion was more about Emma and less about herself. Lorna quickly squelched the selfish thought. It wasnít right to wish ill on the little girl. She rubbed the back of her head absently. Her headache had persisted at a dull throb.

She hated being in the lab, not that she had any fear of medical facilities, but because her being here meant the adults werenít working on more important matters. It was just a headache. Students were missing. A little girl was in a coma. Jean was a crazy nutcase. Those things were important, not her. Deep in her gut, she knew she was denying the truth. It was just easier than facing what might be wrong.

At long last, Professor Xavier entered the examination room, followed by Beast. Both looked grim. Beast walked over to the nearby lightbox, affixed to the wall. Onto the box, he snapped a black and white image taken from the scan she had been subjected to earlier. He then flicked on the light, which illuminated the x-ray. The image of a brain appeared; her brain, she assumed. Lorna swallowed dryly.

"Whatís up, doc?" she asked with more humor than she actually felt.

Beast turned slowly away from the lightbox to face the professor. Obviously, he was relying on Xavier to speak. Lorna fixed her gaze onto the professor. "Well?" she said.

Professor Xavier folded his hands in his lap. "Iím afraid we have some bad news," he began.

Lorna felt herself go cold and she began to shiver.

"Hank has found something abnormal in the MRI scan. We had, at first, thought there might have been something wrong with the test. But the second examination reveals the same...anomaly."

"What is it?" Lorna asked, her voice very small. "Do I have a tumor or something?"

"No," Xavier answered slowly. "Itís something else. There appears to be a," he paused, searching for a word, "a device, a man-made object, at the base of your brain."

Lornaís hand went to the back of her head, as if she might be able to find something with her fingers. She began to shake her head slowly. "What?" Tears began to prick her eyes and she blinked furiously. "A what? A device? What kind of device?"

"We are not quite sure," Xavier answered. "But your headaches seem to indicate that the device may be active...? And we hypothesize that the pain you have been experiencing is a result of your mutant powers interfering with its purpose."

Lornaís eyes widened in shock. "No," she said. "No way. Thatís not possible. I would know if there was something metal in my body. No, no. Itís not true. Thereís something wrong with the MRI machine."

"Lorna," Xavier said soothingly, as he put a hand over hers. "Please, you must relax."

"No!" Lorna said, snatching her hand away and hiding her face. "Itís not right!" She began to cry. "I just got my life back. I just---got---my---life---back." The rest dissolved into incoherent sobs.

"We know," Xavier said quietly. "But you must trust us. Everything is going to be all right. We are going to do everything in our power to---."

"Take it out!" Lorna screamed. "Get it out of me!" Her fingers dug into her hair.

"Of course, of course," Xavier held her by the shoulders. "Do you remember if...if Sinister ever performed surgery on you?"

An agonized wail escaped Lornaís lips. He had spoken the name she was loathe to even think. Sinister had done this, put something in her brain. Her brain! "No..." she finally moaned. "I donít remember." She snuffled in misery. Hank approached her and handed her a rag. She wiped it across her face and nose. The large man patted her comfortingly.

"Hank and I have discussed a course of action," Xavier continued. "While Hank is a competent doctor, neither of us has the confidence to perform surgery." He cleared his throat nervously. Lorna looked into his face and saw how uncomfortable Xavier was. "Weíre going to take you to a hospital. Obviously, questions about the device would be asked, not to mention the fact that your mutantcy would come to light. Which is why I will be forced to...commandeer the minds of your surgeons."

Lornaís mouth fell open in shock.

"They will think they are removing a benign tumor," Xavier concluded. "And nothing more. Hank will be assisting. We will take you home for recovery."

"You can do that?" she asked.

Xavier nodded. "From there, weíll figure out what this device does and why it was implanted. Weíre worried that if Sinister has tampered with you, he might have taken the same steps on other mutants he had been in contact with."

"Like the other Marauders?" she speculated. "Or...or Gambit...?" Her stomach twisted. "I think Iím going to be sick."

"Would you like a glass of water?" Hank offered as he went to the sink.

"I want to lay down," Lorna said and lowered herself onto the table. She was shaking violently. Her headache seemed to respond to her stress, and began to pound heavily in her temples.

A small noise from the doorway caused Xavier and Hank to turn. Moira was standing before the door, holding a sheaf of papers in her hands.

"Moira?" Xavier questioned. "Is something the matter? Has Emmaís condition changed?"

"No, Charles," Moira answered. "Iím terribly sorry to interrupt ye. But, I thought ye might want to take a look at this."

Xavier approached Moira and Beast turned from the sink to look curiously at the woman. She handed the papers to Xavier.

"I saw the lassí bloodwork," Moira was saying, "and thought I might run the test for the mutant virus. I didnae mean tíinterfere. But..."

Xavierís brow knitted in concentration. "This is Madelyneís chart," he said dubiously. "These findings canít be right." When Beast approached, Xavier handed him the file.

"Madelyne wasnít tested for the mutant virus," Beast said, "because she is not a mutant."

From where she lay, Lorna watched the drama before her unfold. Moira caught her eye and smiled at her softly. Lorna returned the smile.

"The test seems to indicate otherwise," Xavier replied.

"No..." Beast said with a shake of his head. "Thereís something very...strange about this. I seem to---," he abruptly cut himself off. "Charles," he gestured at a nearby computer, "could you call up the report from Kagisoís examination?"

For a moment, Xavier looked at Hank blankly. Then his face softened in recognition. "The girl from Sinisterís lab?" Hank nodded wordlessly.

The professor proceeded over to the terminal where he keyed in a command. Together, the three adults studied the screen before them. Lorna sat up slowly, curiosity getting the better of her.

"It---itís the same---?" Xavier began. "Her bloodtype matches---."

"No, not the same," Hank said. "But similar. Madelyneís mutant powers must be latent. She herself is not a mutant, but her parents are."

Xavierís expression slid from one of confusion to one of dawning realization. His mouth opened to respond, but no sound issued forth. Charles Xavier found himself at a loss for words. He glanced at Lorna who looked back at him with unmasked interest.

"I guess," Lorna began, "when it rains, it pours."

"This is mah stop cominí up," Rogue said as she leaned forward in her seat and pointed out the road sign. Only two more miles to her destination.

"Home sweet home, hunh?" Jake said.

"Not hardly," Rogue replied, surprising herself with a swift response. "Ah mean, Ah was born here, and lived her most of mah life, but Ah donít consider it home."

"Whereís home then?" Jake asked.

"A small town in New York," she replied, with conviction. Then, more characteristically, she added: "Itís just some small yuppie white bread suburb."

"New York? Cool," he said. "Iíve always wanted to go. Hell, Iíve always wanted to leave the state, period. But it seems every time I get close enough to the Mississippi state line, I get hungry, and end up back at my momís place."

Rogue smiled.

Just then, there came a groan from the back of the van. "Oh, hey, man," Shane said groggily as he regained consciousness. "Where are we? What time is it?"

"Its seven in the morning," Chris replied with a yawn.

Shane looked about him blearily. "Yo, I hate to break it to you guys, but I think we missed our gig."

"See, he said ígigí too," Chris mumbled to himself.

"No," Jake added icily. "You missed the gig. We didnít miss anything."

"Whoíre you?" Shane asked Rogue.

"Donítcha remember?" she asked him with a smile. He looked at her blankly.

"Sheís your replacement," Jake told Shane. "Go back to sleep."

"Wha---?" Shane began, but then shrugged. "Hey, you have a boyfriend?" He gave her what he must have believed to be a charming smile.

Rogueís stomach did a flip flop, as she was suddenly reminded of the pervert on the bus. Luckily, she didnít have to answer.

"Shut up, dumbass," Chris said, giving Shane a shove for emphasis. Shane went flying into the band equipment with the clang of cymbals and cases being knocked together.

"Hey, watch the instruments!" Jake barked. He flicked on the turn signal and began to pull off the highway and onto the off-ramp.

"So...ah," Jake began nervously. "Do you have a boyfriend?"

Rogue shot him a look, but he kept his eyes studiously on the road ahead. "No..." she began slowly. "Not really."

"Not really?"

She bit her lip and fondled her pierced earlobe. "Thereís this boy..." she said.

"Does he like you?" Jake asked.

"Ah guess so," Rogue answered. "He said he did."

"I see," Jake paused a moment, then asked: "Do you like him?"

Rogue nodded her head slowly. "Yeah. Ah think."

Jake sighed and shrugged his shoulders. With a defeated grin he added: "I hope he knows how lucky he is."

"Actually, Ah donít think he does," Rogue answered pertly. "But when Ah catch up tíhim, Ahíll be sure to slap some sense inta him...Turn here."

Jake turned the van onto an all too familiar street. Rogueís stomach clenched. She hadnít realized how agitated she was. "This is the house, cominí up here on the left." Rogue swallowed nervously. "Ah canít thank you guys enough, for driviní me all this way. And not turning out to be axe-murdering psychos."

"Hey," Jake half-shrugged, "it was the least we could do."

She smiled at him as he pulled up to the curb. "No, really, thanks." She opened the door and stepped down onto the street. Chris handed her bag over and then her guitar case. "Listen," she added quickly as she searched her pockets for a slip of paper. "If yíall ever come tíNew York," she pulled out a pen and scribbled her name and number onto the crumpled paper, "give me a call. Thereís this pizza place Ah know thatís got a decent stage and all."

"Cool," Jake said, taking the paper from her trembling hand. "Take care, Rogue."

With a tremulous grin and a quick wave to the boys in the back seat, she picked up her bags and began up the driveway. When the van began to drive away, she cast a quick glance over her shoulder. "Bye," she said quietly.

Rogue went to the entrance at the side of the house, which was underneath the unused carport. With the toe of her boot, she nudged aside the welcome mat and found the spare key. She put down her guitar case and picked up the key. Holding the rusting storm door open with her hip, she turned the key in the lock and opened the door.

"Hello?" she called as she entered the small, ranch-style home. The side door led directly into the kitchen. She flicked on the lights to view the familiar kitchen, with its peeling linoleum floors and worn 1950ís cabinetry. The stove and refrigerator were both in dated harvest gold and there was a small dinette set with rusted chrome legs and worn vinyl chairs. Nothing had changed since sheíd seen it last.

She walked over to the table and set her bag onto it. There was a tape recorder on the Formica tabletop; the play and pause buttons were both pressed. Rogue hit the pause button to allow the recording to play.

"Hello, Rogue," the small voice from the recorder filled the tiny room. "Iím sorry Iím not home at the moment, but I should be there shortly. There is a lasagne in the refrigerator. All you have to do is set the oven to three-seventy-five and re-heat it for a half hour." The tape recorder clicked off.

Lasagne this early in the morning did not sound appealing. Rogue shook her head, thinking, "She must have got the timing wrong."

Rogue went to the bathroom and pulled off her shirt. She sniffed it, and with a grimace, cast it to the floor. She ran the water in the sink and scrubbed her face and neck. Her face was a mess, makeup smudged and cheeks smeared with dirt.

Itís any wonder why those boys didnít think I was a psycho myself, she thought. One of the nastier voices in her head replied that she was, indeed, completely crazy, and she scowled. She ran a comb through her tangled hair, slicking it back. Leaving the bathroom, she tugged off her boots as she walked toward her old room. She flicked on the lights and tossed her shoes into a corner. The room had gone untouched since she had packed and left with Raven Darkholme, otherwise known as Mystique. Her bed was still unmade. A few forlorn stuffed animals littered the shelves.

With a sigh, she lay down on the waterbed. It was low on water, and sloshed when she laid back. She stared at the stained ceiling as the waves swept her up and down. Rogue pressed her face into the flattened pillow and stale linens and was asleep in moments.

She awoke with a start, sitting upright in her once familiar bed. She looked about the room, searching for what might have disturbed her. Seeing nothing, she rubbed the heels of her hands into her eyes. She stretched and groaned, her back stiff. A peek under one of the roll up shades revealed daylight, perhaps mid-afternoon sunlight. Rogue blinked blearily at the untended lawn and the cracked pavement beyond. She shuffled towards the bedroom door and headed towards the kitchen. She was starving.

Rogue suddenly drew up short, a sharp gasp of fright in her throat. "Ah haite when you do that!" she said, once she regained her composure. "Whyíre you always sneakiní up on me, Irene?"

"Iím sorry," Irene said, with a doleful smile. The older woman was standing in the hall, white walking stick held out before her. "I did not mean to startle you. Are you hungry?"

Rogue began to nod, but then she remembered that Irene could not see her gesture. "Yeah, thanks. Starving, actually. Let me get some clothes on."

"Iíll be in the kitchen," Irene said, and moved silently away.

Rogue yanked on a worn tee shirt she found in one of the drawers of her old dresser. She wandered into the kitchen, now bright and appearing less dingy in the daylight. "So howíve you been?" Rogue asked.

"Iíve missed you," Irene said, as she pulled a loaf of Italian bread from a canvas bag set on the countertop.

"Ah missed you, too," Rogue said, realizing how true it was. She sat down at the table and watched as Irene opened the oven to pull out the lasagne. The smell of food made her stomach growl.

"I made up your favorite," Irene added.

"Ah noticed. Thanks," Rogue replied. "So Ah guess you knew Ah was cominí."

Irene nodded, and set the casserole dish down onto a dishrag placed in the center of the table. "I saw it, yes."

"So you know why Ahím here, then?"

"Letís eat," Irene said, taking a seat across from Rogue. "Weíll talk after our meal. Could you slice the bread?"

"Sure," Rogue said, and gathered the bread and a knife and brought it to the table. Her hands were trembling slightly, and she was glad Irene could not see it. She felt a sudden stab of guilt as she looked over at Irene. The woman sat still and serene; she was always the picture of perfect composure. Ireneís short brown hair was shot through with gray, and the creases around her mouth seemed more prominent than Rogue remembered. Rogue had traveled all this way to see Irene, but hadnít planned on a visit. And here Irene was, all alone in her moldering house. Rogue sliced the bread and dished them both some lasagne.

"So where were you last night?" Rogue asked as she sat. "At three in the morning?"

Irene smiled almost slyly. "I was out with friends," she said.

Rogue felt herself relax a bit. "Really? Partying?"

Irene laughed dryly. "No...I had some business out of town. I had to hurry back since I expected you."

"Yídidnít have tírush on mah account," Rogue said. "But Ahím glad youíre here."

They ate in amiable silence for some time. Rogue stood to clear the dishes and wash them in the sink. Irene asked her about school, her friends, what she had done over the summer. Rogue answered dutifully, but was never keen on talking about herself for very long.

"Iím sorry about what happened between you and Risty," Irene said sadly.

Rogue froze, her hand clutching a damp plate. "Y-yeah," she finally stammered. "Ah---Ah donít quite know what títhink about that." How did Irene know about Risty? What did she see?

"Iím sure she meant no harm to you," Irene told her.

Rogue chose not to answer. Sheíd put Risty behind her. There were more important things to think about now. Like finding Remy. "Díyou think you can help me?" she asked Irene.

Irene was silent. "There is a book on the table in my bedroom," she said after a long pause. "Bring it to me. And a pencil."

Rogue set the last of the dishes aside and did as Irene asked. She went to Ireneís bedroom and flicked the light switch, but no light came on. Rogue entered the darkened room and stumbled, cursing at the unseen obstacle. She reached the bed stand and felt around for the book, then stumbled back out of the room. "Here ya go," Rogue said, placing the book on the table before Irene. The first several pages of the book were dog-eared and covered with notations and scribbles. Irene turned to the first unmarked page and held out her hand. Rogue placed a pencil in her fingers.

"Sit on my other side," Irene told her, "hold my hand."

Rogue put her gloved hand in Ireneís and sat. Irene clasped Rogueís hand tightly, and poised the pencil over the blank page in her book. The older womanís brow creased and her mouth tightened. "Itís hard with you," she told Rogue. "Without being able to touch you. Things are clouded."

Rogue sat wordlessly by Ireneís side, waiting for the woman to speak. As much as she hated her own mutant powers, Rogue would never have wished to trade places with Irene in a million years. She did not envy Destinyís powers; her ability to see things before they happened. Destinyís hand holding the pencil jerked suddenly, and a trembling line began down the empty page.

"Youíre on the right path," Destiny told Rogue. Rogueís heart leapt joyously and she began to grin. "You know him too well," the older woman added.

More than you could ever know, Rogue thought wryly.

"You wonít find him first," Irene said. "You must not find him first."

Rogueís brow knitted in confusion.

"There is a girl...I see a flowers, silver flowers...?" Ireneís lips pursed in concentration. "It is hard to force it, Rogue," she said with a sigh.

Rogue bit her lip and held fast to Ireneís hand. The pencil scratched across the page, and the image of twining bell-shaped flowers emerged. "A girl on a black horse," Irene said finally. "She will give you time."

"Time for what?" Rogue blurted, and quickly wished she hadnít spoken.

Irene continued as if she had not heard. "I see...There is...A hunter...with six swords, or arrows...?" Ireneís pencil jerked, scoring a deep black mark across the page. Rogue held her breath as a jagged dark shape was created on the page. Looking like a wolf, or ape, or monster of some sort. "Youíll find a sign, and know his path from there."

Whose path? The hunterís or Remyís? "Where is he?" Rogue whispered urgently. "Do you see him? Do you see Remy?"

Irene began to nod her head. "Youíll run into him eventually."

Rogue exhaled with relief. She looked at Ireneís wavering hand, held over the scrawlings in the book. The picture sheíd created was a miss-match of figures, some tall and crooked, others curved and mis-shapen. All had drawn, miserable expressions. Dark shadows pooled at their feet. Above them all was a crooked-toothed creature, grinning ear to ear. At the bottom was a cruel, curving beak of a falcon. Rogue could find little in the drawing that connected to what Destiny had told her. But the image, created by a woman who would never even see the drawing, made Rogueís skin crawl. "Irene?" Rogue began softly. "Are you okay?"

Irene put her pencil down. She nodded slowly. "I will be fine, Rogue." Irene turned away. "I need to rest."

"Ahím sorry, Irene," Rogue said, though she could not say for what reason.

Irene patted Rogueís arm gently. "Please take care of yourself," she told Rogue.

"Donít you worry about me."

Irene smiled wanly before standing from her chair. Rogue saw the tremble in Ireneís movements, and her heart ached for the older woman. When Irene had disappeared into her darkened room, Rogue stood and took up her duffel bag. Ireneís journal of drawings sat on the empty table. Rogue gnawed her lip nervously before picking up the book and putting it into her bag. She would clean up a bit, change, and go. Tears stung her eyes, and she blinked them away. There would be time enough to visit with Irene later, after sheíd found Remy. She set her guitar in the corner, planning to leave it behind, as a sort of promise to return for Irene. The cold, hard feeling of dread, sitting like a rock in the pit of her stomach, told her she was fooling herself. Like most troubling thoughts, Rogue was able to drown her misgivings in a deluge of bigger worries. And there were always the voices, chiding her, egging her on, challenging her every decision.

Rogue quietly closed the door behind her and replaced the key under the welcome mat. She began to make her way to the nearest bus station, a few blocks from the sad house she once called home. Without her guitar now, it was just herself alone with a few things in a duffel bag and enough money in her pocket for a ride to New Orleans.

"Iím scared, Hank," Lorna told the bulky man in emergency room scrubs who stood by her side. He was using an image inducer, changing his usual blue-furry appearance to a more publicly acceptable color and shape.

Hank smiled down at her in what he hoped was a comforting manner. "Donít worry about a thing, Lorna," he told her with more confidence than he felt. "Iíll be right here by your side the whole time. He hesitated before putting the oxygen mask over her nose and mouth. "I want you to breathe deeply, and count backwards from ten to one."

"Hank," came Lornaís muffled and tremulous voice from behind the mask. "If something happens...if something happens to me, tell my parents I love them." Lorna began to blink furiously. Her eyes were wide and bright with tears. Hank tried to hush her again, by whispering reassuring words, but she shook her head. "And, tell Jean, whatever I did to make her so mad...Iím sorry."

"Youíll be able to tell her yourself," Hank said, "when you wake up safe at home." He pulled up his own mask. "Now start counting, missy."

Lorna nodded and complied. She never finished her countdown, having fallen asleep on the operating table. Hank wiped a tear from her cheek. Her skin looked pale in the harsh operating room light. The tall, usually upbeat girl looked small and vulnerable on the table. Her newly shorn head made her look gamine and weak. When Hank was sure Lornaís vitals were normal, he looked up at Charles Xavier, who sat in his wheelchair on the far side of the room. Other surgeons and nurses milled about the room, prepping themselves for the surgery; scrubbing hands and snapping on gloves.

Xavier and his companion, Storm, went completely unnoticed. Storm put her hand on Xavierís shoulder, causing him to look up at her. She was sweating profusely, feeling ill at ease in the small room. "Charles, are you sure about this?" she asked him.

He nodded at her. "There is no other option," Xavier said flatly. Storm could read the expression in his eyes. He was not as confident as he appeared.

"I am worried about you," Storm told him quietly. "There is something horribly, horribly wrong at the Institute. I can feel it as surely as I feel the fall winds coming."

Xavier was silent for some time as he studied Stormís face. "Yes," he said finally. "I know something is amiss. There are two evils at work here."

Stormís brow furrowed. "What do you mean?"

Xavier gestured to Lornaís prone form on the operating table. "We see here the work of Sinister, his presence is tangible and very real. We can repair what he has done. But there is another presence waiting on the horizon, and I fear that his plans have all ready begun, right under my nose."

Stormís hand momentarily tightened on Xavierís shoulder. "You can not possibly mean...?"

"It is time to begin," Xavier said, looking away from Storm.

"No, Charles. If it is him, you must not put yourself in this position," Storm told him, a note of pleading entering her voice.

Xavier patted her hand. "I must, for Lornaís sake." His eyes lost focus as he turned toward the surgeons gathered around the table. Hank shared a pensive look with Storm, the latter shook her head sadly. Hank turned to look at Xavier, but his concentration was elsewhere. Storm, unable to watch the procedure, turned away. Her hand remained on Xavierís arm, as if the tenuous contact would tether him to the surrounding world.

The wait was long and arduous. Hank stood aside as the other doctors worked, studying their every movement with a mixture of concern for Lorna and his own scholarly interest. At long last, there was a clink of metal on metal, as the device from Lornaís head was set aside on a tray. Hank took the tray from one of the nurses and nodded to Storm, who slowly approached to take the device from his hands.

"Iíll take Lorna," he told her and stole a cautious glance over at Xavier. The older manís head was beaded with sweat and the strain was obvious on his face.

"Quickly," Storm said in a low voice. She hastened to Xavierís side and crouched beside his chair. "Hank is taking Lorna now," she told him, not knowing if he could hear her words.

The doctors and nurses seemed to freeze in position, standing like marionettes with their strings cut. There was not a sound in the room save for the squeak of wheels as the dolly bearing Lorna rolled from the room. Storm quickly followed, pushing Xavier in his chair. As she walked, Storm clasped Xavier by the shoulder and shook him gently at first.

"Charles," she whispered harshly. "Charles, it is done."

He exhaled and his shoulders drooped. Storm stopped immediately when he began to slump forward. She grabbed him to prevent him from falling to the floor. Several people cast startled glances in their direction, as they had suddenly and mysteriously appeared before their eyes. Storm rounded the chair to look Xavier in the face. His eyes were closed, his mouth slack. "Charles," she pat his cheek, trying to rouse him. "Charles, wake up."

He did not respond. Charles Xavier sat limply in his chair, his face vacant and uncomprehending. Storm grasped his hand between both of her own. Her head shook back and forth in disbelief. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Xavier was gone.

Gambit pushed open the front door to the New Orleans house, letting the door sweep inward on squealing hinges. The house was dark and empty. He hesitated on the front porch, as the memories of the place washed over him. The smell of the house, the scent of old wood and paper, was unique and familiar to him. He took his first step inside and paused. Even though he knew there would be no one here, he was still tense and wary. He still expected to see the soft glow of light from the door of Essexís office, where the man usually lay in wait until the darkest hours of the night, like a spider in its web. Then there was always Victor, crouching around every corner, hoping to catch Gambit unawares and rain senseless little cruelties down on him at any given opportunity.

Gambit clenched and unclenched his hands nervously. His eyes searched out every shadow, but there was not a movement or sound in the whole house. A thin layer of dust lay on every flat surface. His footfalls on the Persian rug raised little clouds of dust. The large grandfather clock in the foyer had wound down; its pendulum was still and it no longer filled the space with its stiff tick-tock. He approached the stairs, peering up the winding staircase to the landing above. Empty darkness waited. Slowly he ascended the stairs and walked down the hall. He stopped at the first door and opened it. This was his old room.

The space was bare and stale. There was nothing here that was his, nothing that said, I lived here once. He never had many material possessions. Just himself and what he could carry on his back. When he had lived with his father, they had been traveling all the time after one pinch or another. There was no time, no space for...stuff. It was only until he had begun living with Essex that he found pleasure in amassing possessions. Didnít matter what; books, pictures, junk. But that was all at Xavierís now.

He thought for what was not the first time, What am I doing here? But that still didnít turn his feet around, or make him head back to the Institute. There was something else pulling him in directions heíd rather not go.

Discovering nothing in his room, the walked further down the hall to the very last door. The door was not locked, since Essex had probably never expected Gambit to dare enter the room. Gambit opened the door and stepped inside. There was nothing unexpected. A bed, bed stands set with lamps, an armoire and a pair of chairs before a bookshelf. No horrifying experiments behind door number one, Remy thought to himself. Still, it seemed strange that Essex had a bed. Gambit couldnít recall a moment when Essex had ever slept or even seemed tired. There was a valet at the end of the bed, holding a long, dark coat. A pair of polished shoes was set before the valet. He walked over to it and picked up the coat. Even in the darkness, he could see that the coat was immaculate and cleanly pressed. He tossed the coat over his shoulder and left the room.

There was only one other place he considered exploring, but he had saved it for last. He retraced his steps down the staircase and across the foyer. Gambit touched his fingers to the glass doorknob and gave the door to Essexís office a gentle push. The room was pitch black, the curtains drawn to block what little light the moon outside provided. He crossed the room and pulled back the window coverings. He only needed a little light to see by. The room was decorated in rich Victorian style, chairs with delicate spindly legs and tables and desks with curved serpentine fronts. The desk dominating most of the room was bare, save for a lamp and ledger. Sitting in the center of the desk was a docking station for a laptop, which seemed at odds with the antique setting. Gambit approached it, but found the laptop to be missing. He searched the rest of the room, hoping to find a place where the computer might be hidden. The bookshelves seemed to be the best place to start. He opened the doors at the base of one of the shelves to find a liquor cabinet. The door was locked, but the lock was a simple one and he had it open in a matter of moments. The cabinet was well stocked, and the decision to try everything came quickly and easily. He discovered just as quickly that vodka tasted like the worst kind of cold medicine heíd ever had. There was a bottle of wine in the cooler, which he removed. Finding no corkscrew, he began to concentrate on the bottle. He focused his mutant powers on the air inside the bottle. It was difficult not to charge the bottle itself, instead letting the charge pass through the glass to the air within. He released the charge, and the particles inside ignited, forcing the cork from the bottle with a loud pop. The cork shot across the room, ricocheting off the head of a bronze miniature of Rodinís The Thinker, and smashing through a glass shelf. Books and shattered glass rained down onto the carpet. Somehow, the destruction and the release of his powers soothed him, and he smiled happily at a job well done. The wine was good too.

Taking a bottle of wine with him, he began to pull open other doors. Most of the cabinet contained books, but he soon discovered one containing a safe. As he crouched before the cabinet, he took a swig from the bottle and swallowed while studying the safe. It was a simple affair, not anything like the kind of technology heíd seen at Sinisterís base in Nebraska. Searching his pockets turned up a small device like a stethoscope, which was comprised of a listening piece which hooked around one ear, a tube and a suction cup-shaped piece at the very end. He pressed the cup to the safe and listened carefully as he spun the dial on the combination lock. The soft click the safe made, only audible through the device, indicated the first tumbler had fallen into place. The second and third quickly followed suit and he pulled the lever to open the door. He grinned. There was the laptop. The safe also contained a manilla envelope. He removed the safeís contents and walked them to the desk. When he placed the laptop into its station, he cursed silently. There was no power in the house.

Gambit sat down in the chair and began to spin it slowly around while balancing his bottle of pilfered wine on one knee. No electricity, he thought glumly, Essex hasnít been paying his bills. No power, but there was a generator in the storage shed, kept for emergencies and hurricane season. He jumped up and made his way toward the back yard. There was a tool box on the shelves in the mud room. Luckily, everything in the house was always meticulously orderly, and the flashlight was right where it should be. With the flashlight, he found the fuse box and disconnected all the fuses save for the ones leading to the office. The generator was outside in the storage shed, along with several tanks of fuel. Everything in the shed was neatly organized and labeled, including the gardening tools. No one should be this neat, Remy thought with a shake of his head, this is a sure sign of madness. The machine began itself with an even hum; it would be awhile before there was enough power to light the office. That would give him enough time to find out what was in the dark green bottle in the liquor cabinet.

Back in the office, he upended the manilla envelope, emptying its contents onto the desk. Inside were a pair of disks. The first he instantly recognized with a cold shiver. It was the CD he had given Sinister (5), which contained information on all the X-Men. He picked it up, and with a quick shake of his wrist, the disk dissolved into a shower of red sparks. The second CD was labeled íField Test: Maraudersí. Gambit flipped on the lamp, which splashed gold light across the lacquered desk top. Now reassured that power had been restored, he started up the computer and inserted the disk. The disk contained a video file; a shaky recording which occasionally lost focus. The video recording was of a fight between several figures. He instantly recognized the scene. The group of bikers gathered around two central figures were the Marauders. The remaining two were himself and Rogue. This was a recording from the time they had first encountered the Marauders on the road to New York City. Who had made this recording? Remy wondered. And what did Sinister have to do with the gang of brutal mutants known as the Marauders? What kind of test was this supposed to be?

He ejected the disk and tossed it aside. There had to be more. The drawers of the desk revealed themselves to be filing cabinets filled with many disks. As with everything else in the house, all was neatly stored and filed alphabetically. Gambit immediately went to his name, but found nothing under LeBeau. Nor was anything filed under Gambit. However, there were many files under Grey, Jean. He could look at those later. With a sigh he began from the letter A and worked his way through the alphabet. He paused again under L; the word ívirusí jumping out at him followed by his fatherís name: íLegacy Virus, LeBeau, J.L.í There were many files under Legacy Virus, but none of the labels were of any consequence to him, save for the one with his fatherís name. With a shaking hand he inserted the disk into the computer. A medical report appeared on the screen, the text beginning with a foreword.

"...my Legacy, released unknowingly upon mutantkind. Having accidentally infected myself, I seek a cure to this deadly virus...by any means possible..."

Gambit skimmed down to his fatherís name. "Jean Luc LeBeau, a professional thief and secret operative for the United States government, registers as a beta mutant. Mutant abilities include enhanced agility and nearly precognitive reflexes....after having enlisted his skills for a particular mission....proved useful, however his son was of more interest to me...Jean Luc was exposed to a lethal amount of the Legacy Virus...resulted in no advances toward a cure. LeBeau pronounced dead..."

Gambitís hands tightened into fists and he ground his teeth. His eyes squeezed shut as the words before him began to swim. He was literally seeing red, and he could feel the jolts of unreleased energy running through him like a current. He struggled to regain control, so he stood and paced the room. Sinister purposefully killed my father, he seethed. Such thoughts were not helping his tenuous hold on control. He picked up the sculpture he had seen earlier. The Thinker was made of bronze and quite heavy. Holding it by the base, Gambit began to feed a charge slowly into the figure. It began to glow, white hot sparks drifted down to singe the carpet. He could feel the bonds between the particles loosening, begging him to let them free. His vision blurred and he felt his face and hands grown hot. He blinked, and suddenly, the bronze figure was gone. With a gasp, he stared at his hands in disbelief. The sculpture wasnít truly gone, he could still feel the charged particles flying harmlessly about the room. They had just ceased to be The Thinker, having been transformed into something else. No explosion, just poof, and the figure had vanished.

"Whoa..." he said softly, still looking around in wonder. The concentrated release of energy had relaxed him, and the knot of tension at the back of his skull loosened. He flopped back into the leather chair in front of the computer. He found his name mentioned several more times within the file, and his stomach clenched.

"...second strain had emerged. The Legacy Virus enhances mutant ability at a steady rate, eventually putting enough strain on the system and killing the victim. Mutated cells replicate, creating a new variation each time...The second strain produces the same results without the flu-like symptoms or skin lesions."

He broke out in a cold sweat then, his eyes fixed to the screen as he read on. "...amazing potential...Omega level mutant could be produced...exposed Remy LeBeau, also known as Gambit, to the second strain...thus far has produced no results..."

With a shaking hand, he closed the laptop and swallowed dryly. Legacy Virus, I have the Legacy Virus, came the panicked thought. He did not want to believe it, but it explained his rapidly changing powers perfectly. How long had he been infected? Since before heíd joined the X-Men...? Gambit lowered himself from the chair and onto the floor. He crawled over the the large black trench coat which he had tossed into the corner. He was too numb to think about what would happen next, maybe there was no future for him. Images from the past kept emerging: his father laying in a hospital bed, only a pale shade of his former self...Sinisterís lab, the man returned from the dead, pale arms reaching...and Rogue. Piercing her ears with the same needle he had used on himself. He felt ill, his stomach twisting and his head reeling. I must be dying right now, he thought as he buried his face in the folds of the coat. And Iíve murdered Rogue.

The thought weighed heavily upon him, and he was suddenly exhausted. The mass consumption of alcohol, which had seemed like a good idea at the time, wasnít helping matters. He soon fell into a deep sleep, blessedly free of dreams or nightmares.

(5) happened in Stolen Lives


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