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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


Written by Steve Paul
Last updated: 01/02/2007 02:01:11 AM

Chapter 8

Logan opened his eyes, only to shut them again quickly, blinded by bright light and a harsh desert wind. Attempting to shield them with his right hand, he found that it was secured to something, and he couldn't move his arm. Testing first his left arm, then both legs, he quickly realized the obvious: he was completely immobilized. He struggled briefly against the chains that restrained him, then stopped, confused. Pressing his body back against the wooden frame that held him, he considered the position his body was in, and the feel of the wood behind him. It took only a moment to search his memory before he could place the sensations he was feeling.

Instantly, he realized the wooden frame was, indeed, a St. Andrew's Cross -- a large wooden 'X.' He was being crucified. *AGAIN*. Panic overwhelmed him, and he retreated into the deepest hole in his psyche. Snarling, he now had only one thought: escape. Immediately, no matter what the cost!

With a primal scream he threw his body forward, trying to break the restraints. He only broke skin, and he started to bleed. He continued to struggle, and the chain continued to cut deeper into his flesh. For some reason, his mutant healing factor wasn't working; the blood flow increased. The smell of the blood triggered yet another scream, followed by another frenzied struggle. Over and over the pattern repeated itself in a vicious circle, until he heard a voice, a voice he vaguely recognized from a long time ago.

"Well, well, well. What have we here?"

He opened his eyes again, and this time did not shut them. Rather, he looked from side to side, trying to locate the source of the voice. To his right, he saw only desert. Turning to his left, he saw another cross, the same as his. There was someone crucified on it as well. He was too far away to see the other's features clearly, but he had the vague feeling it was someone he knew. As he looked at the other person, he stopped struggling, and began to think. Slowly, he began to climb out of the deep pit the panic had thrown him into. Gradually, he came to his senses, and reason began to return.

"Good...*think* it out, shorty. It's the *ONLY* way you'll free yourself." The voice was deep and melodic. It was also dripping with sarcasm, and a hint of contempt. Logan could sense, however, that its owner was at peace with himself. He also had the distinct impression that *his* presence was an unwelcome intrusion.

Wolverine struggled against his bonds briefly, before the pain in his wrists and ankles forced him to stop. Straining his neck, he again surveyed the landscape. Finally, when he spoke, the words came slowly, as if he were not only fighting to remember his surroundings, but how to communicate as well.

"This...looks...like...Au...stralia. "

"Very good. Continue."


"No. While the landscape and circumstances may remind you of your encounter with Lady Deathstrike, the Reavers and Mr. Pierce, that was another time -- another place."

Logan was finally able to put a semi-coherent string of thoughts together. Last I knew, I was in Detroit...doing...what? He thought for a moment, then proceeded the best he could. I remember being tired...laid down...

"I'm...dreaming, right?" More of a statement than a question. The realization eased his confusion a little, but not the panic he felt.

"In a matter of speaking, yes. However, this is not your ordinary dream. Do you know who I am?"

Logan thought for awhile. It could have been a minute, it could have been three days, he couldn't tell. It was obvious that, wherever he was, time didn't matter.

The voice was familiar, although he was fairly certain he hadn't heard in years. But then again he wasn't sure about the time frame.

While he pondered the question, he noticed that his bonds had loosened slightly. He moved his arms, but he was still held firm.

"Proudstar?" he asked finally. Even as he said the name, he felt a little more play in his restraints.

"Very good, short stuff. I'm gratified you remember me enough to recognize my voice; that your Eastern 'devotions,'" the word dripped with sarcasm" have taught you respect for the dead."

As the owner of the voice spoke, Wolverine could hear him move toward the front of the cross and into his field of vision. Thunderbird, the *late* John Proudstar, stood in front of the bound X-Man.

Gambit stirred and groaned. His head hurt, and he was more than a little confused. The last thing he remembered was being told to strip down to his 'skivvies,' as Wolverine called them, by Tory. She was going to do a quick dark load, and offered to throw their clothes in with her and Amy's. Amy, it turned out, was her roommate.

Looking down, he saw that he was dressed in his colors, and not the fuzzy pink robe Tory had given him when he explained that he wasn't wearing any 'skivvies.' After that, he wasn't quite sure. He thought he remembered sitting on the couch, but...

Surveying the landscape, he saw that he was back in New Salem; standing in the woods in front of the mansion, to be exact. A beat-up yellow VW 'Beetle' was parked in the drive. A man, probably the driver since Gambit recognized neither him nor the car, headed purposely toward the front door. The strident scream of the intruder alarm stopped the man in his tracks. He looked nervously at the front door, obviously now unsure of himself.

Gambit studied the stranger. He looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn't quite place him, and was deeply troubled by this. He had long, white hair, probably in his mid-twenties. Remy was about to call out and challenge the stranger when the front door burst open and the X-Men came pouring out, with Rogue in the lead. Gambit felt his heartrate increase and his mouth and lips go dry at the sight of her.

Again he was going to call out, this time to her, but the words died on his lips as she took a defensive position between the stranger and the rest of the X-Men. He could just make out the conversation, argument really, between Rogue and the stranger on one side, and the rest of the team on the other. The way they were screaming, he should have been able to hear them inside Harry's, with the jukebox blaring. Instead, it sounded more like they were underwater.

Deciding he needed to be closer to hear better, Gambit began to move forward, but was stopped by a flash of pink near his upper thigh. Puzzled, he looked down. His uniform had been replaced by the fuzzy pink robe Tory had lent him. He also saw a pair of 'bunny' slippers on his feet, and his fingernails were now a 'nice sky blue -- the color of a Louisiana summer day.'

Oh, I gotta be dreamin'. Although...dat color *does* look nice on me. Dream or not, he decided not to join the group in front of the house dressed the way he was. Straining to hear the muddied argument, he settled back to watch the events unfold; it was now apparent that his part in this little drama was as a spectator, not a participant.

Looking back at Rogue and the stranger, Gambit let out a soft moan of despair. She had shifted her position, and was now standing sideways to, and between, Cyclops and the stranger. She had a hand on each of their chests, and a look of genuine concern on her face. Watching their interaction, one thing was obvious: There was more than just friendship between the two. How much, he didn't know, but enough to confirm his worst fears.

"Rogie... Why y'doin' dis t'me? Don'cha know ya killin' me, girl?!"

The moan from the other 'prisoner' was soft, but loud enough to cause both Logan and Proudstar to look at him. Thunderbird turned back to Wolverine.

"Friend of yours, runt?"

Logan thought for a moment. There was something, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. "Don't know. Looks familiar, but I can't place him."

"Ah, and *there's* the rub! Ya see, he's just like you; a prisoner of his own device!"

"Ya gotta be clearer, Proudstar, and let me outta this thing." He thrashed against his bonds for a few seconds, just in case Thunderbird wasn't clear on which thing he meant.

"Sorry, can't do that." Logan detected a certain amount of satisfaction in his voice.

"Why not?"

"It's against the rules." The answer was stated simply, as if Logan should know what he was talking about. He didn't.

"Come again?"

"Ya know, Wolverine, for someone who is as 'spiritual' as you're supposed to be, you don't know jack-shit about the Cosmos."

"C'mon, Proudstar, spit it out already. *WHAT* rules!?" As soon as he raised his voice, Logan felt his bonds re-tighten. He was pulled back against the cross and was now held tighter than ever.

"Now, *see* what you've done? You've got to stop doing that!" Proudstar put his hands on his hips, mocking his former teammate. After a moment he relented. "All right, Logan. This much I can tell you. You and LeBeau are bound to crosses of your own making. Kinda like Marley in 'A Christmas Carol.'"

At the name 'LeBeau,' Wolverine started. Memories flooded him. He turned to his left to look at the other prisoner. Sure enough, Gambit was attached to the other cross.


"You know, 'A Christmas Carol'; Charles Dickens, Scrooge, Bob Cratchet, Tiny Tim, Marley's ghost. Although, he was actually attached to coin boxes and ledgers. That kind of stuff." The blank look on Wolverine's face earned a disgusted grunt from Thunderbird. "Yeah, there I go, over-estimating you again. Shoulda figured you're idea of great literature would be the articles in 'Playboy.'

"Anyway, and I probably shouldn't tell you this, but what the hell: the crosses represent the burdens of your lives at the moment. Sometimes the chains are heavy, and you're bound closely; other times they're almost non-existent, and still other times, you're completely free. It's a karmic kind of thing." He looked from Wolverine to Gambit and back again. "At the moment, you're both in deep shit."

"Whattaya mean, representing the 'burdens'?"

"Actually, you were doing pretty well 'til you greased that guy in the airport."

Wolverine looked at him, puzzled. "How'd you know..."

"I'm *DEAD*, you moron. I know everything! I'm one with the Cosmos. I possess all worldly knowledge. I know who killed Kennedy!" He stopped, seeming to get the better of himself. After a moment he continued. "The 'what' isn't important. The fact is I know that action is the one that sent you back here and bound you tighter than you've ever been before."

"What about Gumbo? He left with the kid. Why's he here?"

The Apache shrugged. "He's been here for a while now, actually. I have a feeling he ain't leaving, either."

"Why not?"

"He's looking for answers, but in all the wrong places, and not hard enough." It struck Wolverine that Thunderbird didn't really care about either himself or LeBeau. He wasn't sure what the Apache's angle was. Proudstar continued. "He just keeps getting worse. He first came here after he hooked up with Sinister."

"LeBeau and Sinister?"

Proudstar smiled. "Yeah. He's really been beating the crap outta himself over that one ever since. But you know what?" Logan didn't say anything, too stunned by the information he'd just been given. "He doesn't even know the truth of what went on: His dealings with Sinister *aren't* what he thinks they are!" This seemed to amuse Thunderbird, and he started giggling. "Then add the problems with Rogue and you have one blackened Cajun: he's burnt to a crisp! What happened today with her put the nails in."

What little sense Wolverine was making of this exchange was quickly evaporating. "Rogue? Nails?"

"See for yourself."

Logan turned to look at Gambit. He could now definitely recognize the Cajun's features. Sweat was dripping from his forehead. His eyes were closed, and at first Logan thought he was unconscious, but the low moans coming from the other man changed his mind. Blood was streaming from his hands and feet; no chains for Remy LeBeau, he'd been nailed to his cross. Logan turned back to Proudstar.

"How do we get outta it?"

"You're not actually 'in' anything, old friend." Again, the words dripped with sarcasm.

"Come again?" This was too confusing. Wolverine was having a difficult time following the conversation. He was pretty sure it was all a dream. Still...

"Physically, you're both still in Detroit. Westland, actually. Let, me see..." Proudstar paused here, as if thinking. "You're in an apartment, both asleep...he's on the couch and you're on the loveseat, pee wee!"

He rushed up to Logan and so that their noses were almost touching. "Physically, you're fine. This is your *soul* we're talking about. Your Life Essence, your Karma, whatever you want to call it." He was almost raving now. "Don't you get it? The heavier the bonds, the more damage to your 'Self'! Both of you are getting close to the point of no return!"

"Why are you doing this t'me, John?"

"That's the point, shrimp. *I'm* not. *YOU* are."

"Then help me, Proudstar. Help us."

The Apache turned his back on the bound men. "I can't. It's against the rule."

"WHAT rule?!"

"The rule of the Cosmos. You'll understand, eventually. If you're not lost."

"C'mon, Thunderbird, throw me a bone. Give me a clue. Something!"

Proudstar turned back to Wolverine and looked him over. Logan could hear the mocking 'tsk, tsk, tsk' coming from the other man, but was past caring. As much as it galled him, he had to placate the Indian, and try to get some help. Somehow.

"You're really a mess, you know that Logan?"

"Yeah, I've had better days. C'mon, John, give me a clue."

"The fact that you're 'in' Australia should give you a clue. How'd you get out the last time?"

"I busted myself out, then Jubilee hid me while I recovered, and we made our way out. Why?"

"That should give you all you need to know. A word of caution: don't try to break out of these bonds. *That's* what put you here in the first place: giving in to your animal rages. Concentrate on that last part."

"What about LeBeau. What's he need?"

John Proudstar smiled down at Wolverine. This time together was enough to remind him that he'd never really liked the Canadian. It would be worth it to break the rule of the Cosmos and tell him what he needed to know, just to get rid of him. But he wouldn't do that.

"Actually, Logan, he needs two things. First, and I'll give this one to you for free, he needs to believe in himself." The obvious confusion on the part of the Canadian made Proudstar smile broadly. He continued. "It goes back to Sinister, and what LeBeau *thinks* he did. The second thing he needs is the same thing that you need." Thunderbird began to laugh. "The same thing, only different!" Then he was gone, leaving Wolverine to puzzle over his words, and listen to the fading laughter.

A light rain began to fall. Gambit pulled the robe tight, trying to hold on to what little warmth he still had. The scene before him had his undivided attention. Rogue and the stranger -- he thought he heard the name 'Magneto' but couldn't be sure -- were squared off against Bishop, Cyclops, Iceman and Cannonball. The six of them were at the bottom of the steps leading to the mansion's front door. Storm and Jean were with the professor at the top of the stair. Jean looked confused, Ororo sad, and Xavier...he had an odd smirk on his face.

The whole thing was like watching TV with the sound turned down. It looked as if things were going to get ugly, until Storm and Jean intervened. From where he was, it looked as if Storm was talking to Rogue and Scott; calming her co-leader, while reassuring her friend. Jean, meanwhile, had both hands at her temples, her eyes closed; apparently scanning the stranger.

As Jean performed her scan, Rogue lifted her face toward the sky. It looked as if the cool rain was invigorating her. Her eyes began to roam, first taking in her friends, then the mansion itself, and finally the grounds. Eventually they landed on him. Remy's heart skipped a beat when they made eye contact, then started again, all the stronger as she smiled and mouthed his name. Slowly, she started to rise and move toward him. He tried to move toward her, but was held in place. He watched helplessly as she floated toward him, her right hand reaching out to him.

She had gone only ten feet or so when the stranger turned toward her and said something. Again, Remy couldn't hear the words, but their meaning and impact were obvious when she stopped in mid- flight. She looked at the stranger for a moment, then turned back to Gambit. The joyous expression on her face was gone, replaced by doubt, indecision and pain. After what seemed like and eternity, Rogue dropped her gaze and turned slowly, landing next to the stranger. She didn't look his way again.

Remy fell to his knees feeling like he'd been gut-shot, although the wound was higher. The rain was falling harder now, slapping at him like a cold, wet hand. He rolled onto his back and lay there. Presently, the rain seemed to concentrate on just his face, leaving the rest of his body alone.

Slowly he opened his eyes, not prepared in the least for sight he was greeted by. He let out a startled yelp, fell off the couch, and came face-to-face with a rather large, obviously friendly, yellow Labrador Retriever.

Gambit quickly scrambled back onto the couch, followed closely by the dog, who continued licking his face.

"Get *offa* me y'dummy!" Gambit pushed the animal away. The dog in turn sat down, its tail slowly wagging.

"Barney! C'mere, boy!" Tory summoned the dog into the kitchen. "Sorry about that. His name's Barney. He belongs to Amy. He's her seeing-eye dog." Wiping her hands, Tory came out of the kitchen.

"Yeah, dat t'ings as much a seein'-eye-dog as I'm a member a'd'Friends Of Humanity." Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He offered one to Tory, who shook her head 'no.' He shrugged, turned his back to her, and quickly lit it off his finger. He noticed his hands were shaking. He wondered if it was because of the dog, or the wonky dream he'd just had.

"Are you okay? You look kinda pale."

"T'ink y'dog just startle me. I be fine." He took a drag and looked at over at Tory. "Where your roomie be at anyway, girl? 'N why wasn't *Barney* here b'fore?"

"Amy just got home from work. She's laying down now. Like I said, Barney," she signaled the dog, who padded out of the kitchen, and sat next to Remy, "is her leader dog." When Gambit began to protest, she raised her hand. "Yeah, I know, he's not much of one. Actually, he was her pet before she lost her sight. When we moved into this apartment, the only way they'd let him come too was if he were a guide dog." She gave the Lab an affectionate rub on the head. "He does a decent job of it too. He's a very friendly dog."

Gambit only grunted. He wasn't in the mood for idle chatter; the dream had really disturbed him. He look over at Logan, who was asleep on the love seat. 'Least one of us get a good sleep, neh?

He glanced at his watch; it read 9:45. He'd only had an hour-and- a-half of sleep or so, but he felt rested, if not refreshed.

"Mind if I use y'shower?"

"No, go ahead. Towels, rags, soap, shampoo: it's all in there."

"T'anks, chere. You stayin' up or goin' t'bed?"

"Bed. I've been up for nearly 24 hours. I'm bushed. Gotta get my beauty sleep for tonight!"

Gambit smiled and took her hand. "Ah, petite, you don' need no beauty sleep, you much *too* beautiful now!"

"And you are full of it, M'siuer." Wonder why he got dumped? The smile eased from her face "Are you sure you're all right? Do you want to talk?"

What is it? Evr'ybody a shrink now? His smile was quickly replaced by his 'poker face'. "T'anks, chere, but I be fine. It just d'dog got t'me, dat's all."

She got up. "If that's all it is, okay. But if there's something else, you can talk to me. Okay?"

"Oui, you be d'first one I call, Tory."

She smiled and started down the hall. Before she disappeared, Gambit stopped her. "Do y't'ink I c'n borrow a key t'd'place? I ain't gonna be able t'sleep no mo'. Might wanna go out f'a walk."

"Sure. It's on a hook next to the 'fridge. Just don't get lost; if you're not here when were ready to leave for the game, we're *not* coming to find you!" With a flirtatious smile and a 'here boy' to the dog, although Gambit wasn't absolutely certain it was addressed, at least in part, to him as well, she was down the hall and in her room.

Remy wandered over to the refrigerator, opened it and scanned the contents. Finding what he was looking for, he closed the door with his foot and turned toward the hallway that led to the bathroom. With a quick flick of the wrist, he removed the top from the beer and took a quick pull. He hoped it would help ease his frayed nerves. It was definitely the dream that was bothering him. He couldn't shake the nagging feeling that it wasn't *really* a dream.

Walking back through the living room, he looked over at Logan. The older man was no longer sleeping peacefully, but instead was thrashing about on the loveseat. As he headed toward the hallway, Gambit thought her heard Logan mumble the names 'Proudstar,' 'LeBeau,' and 'Sinister' in his now troubled sleep.

Great! Now I gotta worry 'bout dat too! When it gonna end, LeBeau? Ain'tcha done payin' yet?"

Closing the bathroom door, he saw the apartment-sized clothes washer and dryer next to the tub. He noted with satisfaction that his clothes, and Logan's for that matter, were folded neatly on the bathroom counter.

Taking a last drag from the cig, he threw the butt in the toilet, where it was extinguished with a hiss. Taking a look in the mirror, he saw that he was still dressed in the pink robe. He took a quick hit off of the beer to steady himself, then removed it. He quickly, and not a little sheepishly, checked it for dampness, dirt, or any other clue that would show if he'd really been in the woods that morning. To his relief, he found none.

Y'losin' it, boy!

Still shaking, he started the shower. Idly, he hit the switch that gave power to the exhaust fan. Testing the water, he found that it was close enough to the proper temperature, grabbed his beer (to Remy Etienne LeBeau one of life's greatest pleasures was showering with a beer, but *only* when other more 'suitable' company could not be secured) and got in.

As he washed himself, he decided he'd call the mansion after he got dressed, just t'check t'ings out. For some reason, he *knew* he wasn't going to like what he'd find.


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