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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
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapter 40
Chapter 41
Chapter 42
Chapter 43
Chapter 44
Chapter 45
Chapter 46
Chapter 47
Chapter 48
Chapter 49
Chapter 50
Chapter 51
Chapter 52
Chapter 53
Chapter 54
Chapter 55
Chapter 56
Chapter 57
Chapter 58
Chapter 59
Chapter 60
Chapter 61
Chapter 62
Chapter 63
Chapter 64


Written by Valerie Jones
Last updated: 05/10/2010 11:31:24 PM

Chapter 19

Bobby realized something was wrong about a half second too late. The strange construction of the building, the heavy doorframe, the apparent ease with which the X-Men had penetrated the facility’s security...

"No!" He jumped toward Wolverine as the other man twisted the handle on the Director’s safe. "Don’t--" His words were cut off as a heavy metal door sliced down across the entrance to the plush office with a hiss of pneumatics.

"...it’s a trap," he concluded softly as the X-Men spun toward the door.

Logan was the first to lower his weapon. He spared Bobby a single unrevealing glance then bent to examine the wireless transmitter affixed to the inside of the safe. At the same time, both Scott and Bishop went to the now-sealed door.

Rogue shook her head, muttering under her breath, and began to prowl the office. "Mah momma would kill me foh makin’ such a stupid mistake."

"She ain’t gonna get the chance, if we don’t get outta here." Logan straightened from his examination of the safe and turned to Scott. "Looks like the safe was rigged with a wireless transmitter. Ain’t sure how the guy usin’ the office got in an’ out without settin’ the thing off."

Bobby had a couple of ideas, which he couldn’t verify unless he spent some time looking at the safe. Probably a magnetic print on the key. Logan had picked the lock, but obviously hadn’t disarmed the security measures. And, unfortunately, that meant that OZT now knew someone was breaking into one of their facilities.

Fear tightened Bobby’s gut, a fear that he saw reflected on the other X-Men’s faces. We have to get out of here before OZT comes to get us. As far as they knew, there weren’t any Sentinels stationed inside the factory, but all that bought them was a precious few minutes.

A short explosion of gunfire, deafeningly loud in the enclosed space, startled him. Rogue pivoted on her heel, the snub-nosed automatic rifle in her hand swinging to point toward a small grille in the ceiling, which she destroyed in another burst. She repeated the action two more times then lowered her weapon.

"There. That takes care o’ the cameras. Anybody got an idea how we’re gonna get out o’ here?"

Cyclops stepped forward, instantly gaining the team’s attention. "Everyone, split up. Just because the door’s sealed doesn’t mean there isn’t a way out. We’ll tear our way through the walls if we have to, so let’s see what our options are."

The X-Men didn’t need any further direction. They paired off as if pre-assigned and began searching for any exit from the room. To their dismay, they discovered their prison had been well engineered. The floors, walls and ceiling were made of heavy steel plates that Bobby doubted anything less than Scott’s optic blast would cut through. Air circulated into the room through a set of very small vents, each barely large enough for Storm to fit her fist into once the cover was removed. Electricity for the lights and outlets as well as the computing lines ran through contoured bulges of metal bolted to the steel plates. At some point, Bobby knew, those lines had to punch through the armored cube, but he doubted the access was large enough to be useful.

Bobby made his decision without consciously registering it. There was no way out of that room except through the door. He abandoned his X-Man role in an instant and snapped into what Remy termed "thief mode". Everything came into sharp focus around him as he realized that he knew what to do.

He swung the small backpack he carried off his shoulders and motioned to Logan as he moved to the door. "Wolverine, come here. I need your claws."

His preemptory tone earned him a round of startled looks, but he ignored them as he set the bag with its precious set of thieves tools down at his feet and began rummaging through it for the things he knew he’d need. Logan came over, his expression tense, expectant.

"What are ya thinkin’?"

Bobby didn’t look up from his search. In his head he was already counting the passing time and cursing every moment that passed. "Cut me a hole in the wall next to the lock there. I need to get to the control circuitry."

A few steps away, Scott watched them both with an air of suspicion. "Iceman, what are you doing?"

"Getting us out of here." Bobby lit the end of a small acetylene torch as Logan’s claws screeched against metal.

"Walls’re lined with steel," Logan reminded him. Blood welled from the punctures in the backs of his hands.

Bobby nodded. "Yep. Just peel off the paneling so I don’t set fire to the place cutting through."

To his relief, Logan did what he asked, without comment. Scott’s gaze grew narrower and narrower. Bobby quickly cut through the metal lining and began sorting through the bundles of wiring he exposed. A small voice inside him gibbered in panic, but he forced that voice down, ignored it. His days of panicking in a tough situation were gone, though that voice of fear would never be completely silenced.

Muttering to himself, Bobby stared at the wiring he’d exposed. He didn’t have a chart to tell him what the color coding meant, and that was a problem. His only real hope was that he could recognize the system manufacturer and decode the circuits based on that. After all, OZT would have had to contract their construction out to have kept their secret so long. It stood to reason that they’d also contracted the security work.

"Think, Popsicle. What does this remind you of?" He snorted softly. A candy store, was the first answer that leapt to mind. Red with white stripes, blue with yellow stripes, green, purple and brown... They didn’t even have the decency to mark the ground wire with something obvious. But, that was the point, and the thought jiggled something in his memory. He paused, searching for the connection.

"Ya got it?" Logan asked, his voice deceptively mild.

All of a sudden, information clicked together in Bobby’s brain. "Yes! It’s Hakimura." The manufacturer was a subsidiary of Mitsubishi, and one of the best security system makers on the planet. Bobby’s initial excitement died. "Ugh. This isn’t gonna be easy."

"What isn’t?" Scott demanded. From his voice alone, Bobby could tell he was angry.

Oh well, Bobby thought resignedly. I’ve pretty much committed myself now. He picked up a pair of wire strippers and glanced at Scott. "Building an override for the door."

Scott blinked at him as if he hadn’t expected such a forthright answer. Bobby ignored him and went back to work. He moved as fast as he could, and under other circumstances might have been pretty pleased, but with their lives hanging in the balance all he could do was curse himself for not being able to splice the wires with Remy’s uncanny speed. He wasn’t even certain he was doing it right.

Nevermind, he told himself firmly, twisting the final wire pair together. He sat back, eyes roaming the tangle to verify that he hadn’t overlooked something obvious. Then, satisfied, he turned to Logan. Now all they needed was a surge to the system to trip the safeties and retract the door. He stood and unslung his automatic rifle.

"Everybody ready?" he asked. To his surprise, they were, despite the stares. Bishop and Rogue stood to either side of the door, ready to cover the hallway with strafing fire. Behind them, the other X-Men were split into two teams. All of them watched him with varying degrees of expectancy.

He adjusted his grip on the rifle. Please let this work, he prayed silently, then smashed the butt of the rifle into the control panel beside the door. The plastic cover shattered and sparks flew, making Bobby flinch. With a hiss, the door rolled upward. Bobby wanted to cheer and throw up at the same time. He did neither. Instead, he grabbed the bag of tools and the data from the safe and followed his teammates out into the hall. He could already hear the sounds of gunfire ahead of him and could only hope it was human security forces they were dealing with, not Sentinels.

Remy was at the house when the X-Men returned, sitting in the living room chatting with Jean and Hank. Scott felt a completely irrational urge to simply walk over and strangle the man.

"You have an awful lot to answer for, Gambit," was all he could think of to say as the X-Men filed in. He had no idea how to put into words the sense of betrayal he felt. The hurt. What had Remy done? Bobby was a good kid, a good X-Man. He didn’t deserve to have his life messed up by a lazy, amoral, authority-hating criminal... Scott paused, taken aback by his own thoughts. The unthinking vilification made it suddenly clear how deep his animosity toward Gambit went, and it surprised him to realize it.

In the silence that followed his words, Jean got up and came over to him, her expression worried. "Did something happen?" she asked, laying a hand on his arm.

"You could say that," he answered tightly. Around him, the other X-Men looked distinctly uncomfortable though no one made a motion to leave. Remy looked at Scott for a few moments before turning to Bobby, one eyebrow raised in silent question. Scott dreaded hearing what the young X-Man might say.

Bobby stepped forward and set the knapsack he’d been carrying down on the coffee table. He glanced once at Scott, his expression diffident, and shrugged. "We ran into some trouble."

To Scott, the blinding understatement did nothing to describe the events of the past few hours and the horrible ways in which his world had been permanently rearranged. It wasn’t just Bobby, he knew. In the firefight following their escape, they’d been forced to kill most of the guards who’d been outside the office, waiting for the Sentinels to arrive. Scott was a soldier. He’d seen carnage before. But X-Men didn’t kill, and the sprawled bodies of the uniformed guards were permanently etched into his memory. Their blood was on his hands.

He turned to Gambit, shoving the memories away. There was nothing he could do about those guards. Remy, however, was right in front of him, and could be dealt with. "How long has this been going on?" he demanded, his gaze split between Bobby and Remy.

Bobby surprised him by answering first, his tone scathing. "Come on, Scott. You didn’t really think we were out bar hopping every night, did you?"

Across the room, Rogue stared at Bobby in wide-eyed surprise that quickly narrowed into a thoughtful frown. Scott’s anger coalesced into a hard ball in his stomach. But before he could say anything, Logan stepped forward and held up a hand. "Before this gets ugly, there’re some questions that need answerin’." He looked pointedly from Gambit to Bobby and back.

Scott had to admit to himself that Logan was probably a better person to do the asking, despite how much he itched to lay into the two X-Men. He forced himself to nod in agreement. Jean’s fingers tightened on his arm. He drew her closer, taking some small comfort in her presence as Logan turned to Bobby.

"Learnin’ a few tricks from Gumbo ain’t the same as becomin’ a thief." The silver that streaked Logan’s hair glimmered in the light as he nodded toward the other man. He managed to give the impression he was chewing on one of his cheroots though he didn’t have anything in his mouth. "That was a piece o’ professional work tonight."

Bobby nodded cautiously. "Thank you." His voice was sardonic. Scott was stunned by the hardness in his blue eyes.

Logan gave Bobby an evaluating stare, as if trying to figure out exactly how to take the comment. Then he cocked his head. "Ya wearin’ a Guild mark, Bobby?" His voice was that soft tone that automatically set the hairs on the back of Scott’s neck to prickling. Around the room, the other X-Men had turned wide-eyed stares on Bobby.

"A what?" Scott asked as his stomach sank. He was dead certain he wouldn’t like the answer, but he needed to understand what Logan meant.

Logan shrugged lightly and touched a point at the base of his skull. "The Guild marks its members. I don’t know what the marks mean, exactly, but I’ve seen ’em verified." He shrugged again. "Mark’s made out o’ metal, burned inta the bone. Hard ta fake."

"Hurts like anything, too." Bobby spread his hands, a familiar guileless grin flickering on his face. After a moment, the smile died. "Yeah, I’m wearing a Guild mark," he admitted.

For the first time since the conversation started, Scott saw anger on Logan’s face and felt a sense of satisfaction. If even Logan was upset at Gambit for what he’d done, maybe Scott’s feelings weren’t quite as out of line as he’d feared.

The Canuck turned on Gambit. "I got no problem with ya teachin’ him some o’ the trade," he told Remy severely, "But the Guild’s another thing entirely--!" He stopped and his gaze widened, as if he’d come to a sudden, startling conclusion. He turned back to Bobby.

"This is about Diedre, ain’t it." It wasn’t really a question. His anger seemed to evaporate.

Scott held his breath as he waited for Bobby to answer. He wanted to hear Bobby say that yes, it was all a horrible mistake, but he’d been in love and not thinking straight... His hopes were dashed as Bobby slowly shook his head.

"Not really." He sighed tiredly and ran a hand through his overlong hair. Scott noticed absently that he was going to be able to pull it back in a queue soon. "It started out that way... " For the first time since the conversation began, Bobby looked to Remy.

The Cajun’s flat mask softened. "An’ if I’d known at de time who she was, I would’ve told y’ ’no’ an’ sat on y’ ’til y’ came t’ y’ senses." His voice was tinged with wry humor. Scott couldn’t imagine finding anything funny about the situation at all.

"What do you mean, ’told him ’no’’?" On some level, Scott was amazed they were still discussing this rationally, rather than arguing about it at the top of their lungs, or worse. But maybe OZT had shaken them all out of their normal patterns. His own anger was there, pushed down and knotted up in his stomach, but not likely to explode out of him and put them all in danger.

Bobby’s fair skin began to redden. "I asked Remy to teach me to be a thief," he admitted.

"You what?" Scott couldn’t quite believe his ears.

Bobby ignored him. "Because it was the only way to get to Diedre." He shrugged. "But after a while, it stopped being about Diedre and started being about me." He met Scott’s gaze with an honesty that surprised the X-Men’s field leader. "I became a thief because that’s what I wanted to do... and to be."

"Taking from others is wrong, Robert." Ororo’s expression was painfully closed. "Surely you know that." She looked from him to Remy. "I can understand stealing to eat, to survive, to get off the streets. I have done that, and feel no shame for it." Her gaze locked with Remy’s, filling with compassion for a moment before she broke away to look at Bobby once more. "But you have never known such need. How can you claim any reason as good enough?" She turned to Remy. "And how could you let him?"

Remy stiffened, an expression of real pain flitting across his face before it turned to stone.

"Stop it, all of you." To Scott’s surprise, Jean stepped away from him, holding up her hands, palms out, as if to keep combatants from leaping at each other. She turned slowly, examining each of them with the keen expression Scott knew was the precursor to something momentous.

She lowered her hands. "I can’t tell you the basis for this, because I consider it privileged information." She paused, turning to face Scott. "But the Professor knew about all of this." Several exclamations of surprise punctuated her statement, which she ignored. Her piercing green gaze, so incredibly dear to him, was full of appeal. "Not only that, but he approved, Scott."

Taken aback, Scott could only stare at her. It seemed unfathomable, yet Jean would know if anyone did. "Why?" he asked.

She glanced back over her shoulder at Remy and Scott felt a new burst of anger. She almost seemed to be looking for his permission to answer and when he shrugged in response to the unspoken request, Scott’s suspicion was confirmed.

Jean turned to face him once again, her mouth set in a crooked line. "Because Remy has been feeding him information almost from day one, and we’ve saved countless lives because of it." She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear as she spoke. "As he did with Logan on a consistent basis, and sometime Bishop and Elizabeth, the Professor used the X-Men’s resources to their fullest. A good deal of the information this team has operated on is information that only a thief like Remy could come by."

Scott felt as if the rug had been yanked out from underneath him. He could only stare at Gambit as a thousand little details from the past four years cascaded into place all at once. He could suddenly see that the Cajun thief had, indeed, been working for the Professor all that time, maybe working for himself, too. Lying through his teeth about being retired, and then dragging Bobby into it… He suddenly realized just exactly what kind of sleight-of-hand Gambit had pulled on him, on them, and he found himself staring at a complete stranger wearing a familiar face.

A deep guffaw shattered the silence. Scott turned to see Logan with his head thrown back, laughing uproariously. Even Gambit stared at him quizzically.

Logan shook one finger at the Cajun, unable to speak through his laughter. Eventually, though, he regained control. He shook his head in disgust.

"I can’t believe I fell fer that act o’ yours." Logan rolled his eyes. "Four years." With a grin, he mimed tipping a hat in Remy’s direction. "Mighty well played... Master Thief, ain’t it?"

Remy returned the gesture with a flourished bow. "Oui." Despite his smile, his eyes were serious and wary.

Scott was beginning to hate the ignorant feeling he got every time the subject of the Guilds came up. "What’s the significance of a Master Thief?" He hadn’t missed the capitalization, or the clear note of respect in Logan’s voice.

In response, Logan turned to Bobby. "Drake, how many Masters are there in the American Guilds?"

Infuriatingly, Bobby looked to Gambit for permission before he answered. "Ten, at the moment."

Logan went on, "An’ how many in the rest o’ the world?"


Logan turned back to Scott. "Those twenty-eight men ’re acknowledged, world-wide, as the very best in the business. Even the government can’t field anything like ’em."

Scott looked at Remy, trying to see the kind of man Logan was describing inside him. Bishops words from a few days before floated through his head, mixing with his own realizations until he found that it wasn’t quite as impossible as he might have once believed. If it hadn’t been for what Jean had said about the Professor, he knew he would have been utterly horrified. Instead, he wasn’t certain how to feel.

For a moment, his own curiosity got the better of him. "I suppose there’s some kind of internal rating scheme between these twenty-eight Masters as to who’s best." The statement won him a look of surprise from Gambit, who nodded cautiously.

"So where do you fit on the scale?"

Remy stared at him. Scott could see him debating whether to answer. Finally, he came to some conclusion and shrugged eloquently. "Third."

Out of the corner of his eye, Scott saw Ororo’s jaw drop. She recovered immediately, but her eyes remained wide. Even Logan looked slightly scandalized, as if that admission had been a good deal more than he’d been expecting.

Remy scanned the room, his expression closing in on itself when he reached Rogue. Scott wasn’t sure if he could see the other’s dangerous stare, but it was obvious he could feel it, and Scott was momentarily surprised that she had remained silent throughout the discussion. That wasn’t like Rogue at all.

Gambit’s red eyes flicked to Scott. "Are we done wit’ ’Dis Is Y’ Life’?" he asked.

"Not yet." Scott met Remy’s flat stare, for once unperturbed by it. He felt strangely calm, perhaps because he finally felt like he understood what he was dealing with. The fact that Gambit had effectively played him for a fool made him mad, yes, but... but he felt a whole lot better about dealing with a competent, even dangerously capable thief than the two-bit drifter he’d always taken Gambit for. He swallowed a laugh. At least now I know he won’t get my people killed through incompetence. He watched Gambit for a moment longer. Malice, maybe, but not incompetence. If it weren’t for Jean’s emphatic support, he would have been extremely suspicious of Gambit’s motives. But if both she and the Professor had known all along, and had trusted him...

He sighed. "I guess I only have one more question."

Gambit watched him expectantly.

"Why the secrecy? Why didn’t you tell us?" Why didn’t the Professor tell me?

Remy cocked his head. "Do y’ honestly t’ink de X-Men would’ve left me alone t’ do m’ job de way it had t’ be done?" He smiled briefly. "I had enough trouble keepin’ de Prof from sendin’ de team out every time I hit a snag."

Scott stiffened instinctively. "The X-Men are supposed to look after each other--"

"Yeah, Scott." Remy looked thoroughly disgusted. "But none o’ de people I deal wit’ would come near me if dey smelled de X-Men." He waited a moment to let Scott digest that. "It ain’ a matter o’ trust, if dat’s what y’ t’inkin’. It’s jus’ de way t’ings are. If y’ wan’ my kind o’ help, y’ got t’ let me do t’ings my way."

Scott found that he didn’t have an answer to that.

"Well, looks like ah finally got the truth out o’ ya."

Remy stiffened, but kept his back turned to the doorway from which Rogue’s voice emanated. He needed the time to get his expression under control. This feels like an ambush. He snorted to himself. It probably was one, and he couldn’t honestly claim he didn’t deserve it.

Slowly, he turned around. "Guess so," he agreed. They stared at each other in silence for several long moments.

Eventually Rogue pushed away from the doorframe and walked into the room. She didn’t approach him directly, but instead prowled the limits of the small space, her bare fingers trailing across the edges of the furniture, the windowsill, the wainscoting. Remy turned slowly, watching her.

After a while she stopped and turned toward him. "Ain’t ya got anythin’ ta say ta me?" Her voice was harsh. Hurt.

Remy bit down firmly on his tongue and the sarcastic response that wanted to leap off it. He was painfully aware that he could lose her forever in the space of the next few minutes if he wasn’t careful. Maybe even if he was. But I never really expected to tell the X-Men even as much as I just did.

He swallowed a sigh. "Not’ing y’ wan’ hear, I’m guessin’."

She paused, turning her head away for a moment as if hiding her expression. When she spoke, her voice was scathing. "Nah. Ah suppose ’Ah’m sorry’ ain’t in ya repertoire, is it?"

"I tried t’ tell y’!" Involuntarily, his hands balled into fists at his sides.

She cocked her head mockingly. "Tried? Sugah, how hard is it ta say ’Ah’m a Master Thief, Rogue, with no intentions o’ evah leavin’ the business’? Hmm?"

"Dat’s ’gainst Guild rules." The words came out flat, angry. It was true. He couldn’t identify himself as a Master to anyone who wasn’t Guild or Clan, unless they already knew enough to ask the right questions.

Rogue relented, crossing her arms and staring directly at him. "All right. Ya couldn’t say that much. But ya sure coulda told me more than ya did."

Remy’s stomach sank. That one hit close to the truth. He took a deep breath. "Oui, chere. I could’ve." But there were two sides to that coin. "Y’ didn’ wan’ hear it, though, so I didn’."

Rogue gaped at him. "’Ah didn’t want ta hear it?’" she demanded incredulously. "Remy, what’ve ah been askin’ ya foh the last two years?"

Remy bit his lip. He could give her the answer she wanted to hear, which was true, or the answer she didn’t want to hear, which he suspected was even more true. Neither one would do him much good, though, so he kept silent.

A frustrated growl escaped her. "All ah wanted was ta know was what ya were up ta." She held up a hand. "Not because ah wanted ta keep tabs on ya, all right? Ah didn’t even want ta tag along, not most o’ the time, anyway." Her shoulders slumped and she shook her head. "Ah guess ah just wanted ta know that ya trusted me that much."

The pain in her voice robbed him of breath. As much as her behavior made him angry, even furious sometimes, he’d never meant to hurt her. He felt incredibly weary. "How could I, chere?" he answered. "When every time I showed y’ somet’ing ’bout me, y’ got mad?"

Rogue stared at him for a moment, then threw up her hands. "O’ course ah got mad!"

Remy just stared at her. "An’ dat’s supposed t’ be all right wit’ me? I should jus’ tell y’ everyt’ing y’ wan’ know, an’ never mind who y’ might go to t’ try an’ stop me if y’ didn’ like what I was doin’?"

She recoiled a step. "Ah would nevah have done that!"

"Really?" he challenged. He found the claim hard to believe. She was far too protective.

"Yes." She planted her fists on her hips. "Ya forgettin’ who raised me."

He snorted. "Y’ don’ act like Raven’s daughter, chere. If y’ did, we wouldn’ be havin’ this conversation."

Her gasp was part shock, part fury. "Just because Mystique raised me doesn’t mean ah want ta be like her! How dare ya stand there an’ tell me ya won’t trust me because ah ain’t up ta mah eyeballs in the business!"

Remy struggled to keep his temper from exploding. "I never asked y’ t’ get involved," he grated. "Y’ didn’ wan’ it, so I tried t’ keep y’ out." He wished with all his heart that he could see the gaze that bored into him. "All I wanted from y’ was f’ y’ t’ accept dat it’s a part o’ m’ life."

Rogue sank onto the edge of the dresser. "Ah’m involved by definition, Remy. Ya bein’ naive if ya think ya can keep me out by keepin’ me in the dark."

The bitter truth settled like a lump in Remy’s stomach. "I wasn’ tryin’ t’ keep y’ out. I was tryin’ t’ get y’ t’ come in." He shook his head sadly. "I t’ought, if I took it slow enough, y’d eventually come around."

She stared at him in dismay. "How am ah evah gonna get it through ya thick skull that ah don’t want ta have anythin’ ta do with that life?" There was no anger in her voice, only painful determination. "Ah’m an X-Man now an’ ah don’t intend ta let you o’ Mystique o’ anyone else drag me back inta that."

She sighed. "Ah was just a fool foh thinkin’ ya’d evah walk away." She touched her head. "Ah should’ve known better." He understood that she meant because she had absorbed him.

Remy realized he was shaking and pressed his palms against the sides of his thighs. "So is this where it ends?" he asked. The words hurt coming out, as if they were tearing his heart out with them.

Rogue turned her head away. "Ah don’t know, sugah." She levered herself to her feet. "Right now, ah am so mad at ya." Her voice was even, controlled. "Ah don’t want ta make any kind o’ snap decisions."

She pulled herself erect, then slowly walked away. Remy couldn’t think of a single thing to say, and so he had no choice but to watch her go.


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