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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 25

What changes a few weeks could bring. Scott mentally shook his head. It had been five weeks now-- almost six-- and the changes sometimes seemed staggering. When the X-Men had first entered the thieves’ world, they’d been battered, off-balance, and sadly ineffective against OZT. Now, they-- and the thieves backing them-- were starting to resemble a serious resistance movement. Despite his many misgivings, Scott was proud of that.

At that moment, he, Logan, Mystique, Bishop, Marcus and a female thief named Jasmine surrounded one end of Gambit’s monstrous desk, while Gambit himself stood at the opposite end, deep in conversation with several members of his Guild. Schematics of OZT’s largest fuel dump this side of Washington D.C. covered the polished surface, as Scott’s group banged their collective heads against the site’s security.

“We have ta hit at least four o’ these fuel bunkers ta make the trip worthwhile,” Wolverine said, tapping the spot with one gnarled finger. “But I can’t see us gettin’ more than two. We can’t get far enough inside before bein’ spotted.” His voice had grown even scratchier with his body’s accelerated aging. Beast had explained that Wolverine’s body had grown so accustomed to the healing factor that it was now effectively in a kind of withdrawal. The aging was simply part of the process of adapting to a normal level of cellular function. Several of the X-Men were suffering lesser cases of withdrawal from their own powers as well. The good news was that Logan’s body had already begun to normalize, so he wasn’t likely to age too much further. In fact, he might even regress.

“What do ya think, Cyke?”

Scott jerked his attention back to the discussion. They’d had several successes against the Sentinels’ fuel depots already, blowing them sky-high and leaving little behind but a crater. Unfortunately, Bastion wasn’t stupid. It was getting harder and the number of Prime Sentinels kept increasing. Their ability to disguise themselves as normal human beings until triggered made them tremendously dangerous. Privately, Scott was very surprised they hadn’t lost anyone yet and the thought alone chilled him. In the past, the X-Men had always headed into a conflict with the expectation of survival. Scott wasn’t certain how much longer that mindset could last.

“I agree.” He nodded to Logan. “It’s not worth the risk if we don’t seriously hamper the Sentinels’ operation for at least a little while. OZT still has logistics problems, mostly because Bastion’s trying to build his own infrastructure instead of using what’s already there. If we can curtail the Sentinels’ flights, we’ll hopefully buy ourselves enough clear sky to do more significant damage. I can’t stress how important these missions are--”

The group gathered around the desk simply stared at him. They’d heard the speech before and Scott felt a flash of embarrassment. “Sorry, preaching to the choir again.”

Logan grinned at that and Marcus, who was cheerful enough for any three people, laughed outright.

“What if we came through here?“ Jasmine-- Jazz-- pointed to a spot on the depot’s perimeter. She hadn’t so much as blinked at Scott’s attempt at levity. Tall, dark-haired and full of Latin sensuality when it suited her, Jazz could also be as severe as Scott on a bad day. Bobby’s explanation was that it came from trying too hard to be “one of the boys”. Female thieves were highly unusual and, Scott was beginning to understand, not particularly welcomed.

Jazz went on, unaware of Scott’s musings. “We can bypass the electrified fence and the alarm circuits pretty easily. If we cut through at this point we’d be out of sight of the guard towers, so all we’d have to worry about are the roaming patrols.”

Scott frowned. He really didn’t like Jazz, for a number of reasons. Her attitude, for one—the woman carried the largest chip on her shoulder he’d ever seen. She was also the most avaricious thief he’d met. He knew that sounded odd, and Jean had laughed the first time he’d said it aloud, but it was true. Scott could literally see the greedy gleam in her eyes whenever any kind of wealth was discussed. And to top it all off, she had developed some rather obvious intentions toward Gambit, though why that bothered him Scott wasn’t quite sure. Sympathy for Rogue? Or maybe just because he loathed gold diggers. But, she did have a point. He turned to Bishop, who’d gone with the scouting group. The big man had a surprising number of thief skills hidden up his sleeve, even if he was ashamed of them.

“How regular are the patrols?”

Bishop didn’t look up from the large, highly detailed map of the fuel depot and its surroundings. “The area is covered by three patrols,” he explained. “Each made up of two men. Two of the patrols pass through areas that would give them line of sight to the insertion point-- here, here, here and here.” He used a pencil to show the three routes used by the roaming patrols, then pointed to various places on those routes where buildings and other structures would not screen the assault team, marking each with an “X”. “The timing of the routes is erratic, but they always follow the same paths.”

Mystique tapped her fingertips against her lips, her pupil-less gaze intent. “It can be done.” Scott watched her warily. Mystique’s methods were brutally direct and, unfortunately, all too effective for him to dismiss. She’d been doing this kind of thing for years, the only difference being that now they were going after people who had no legitimate claim to power in the United States. Scott couldn’t stomach using violence against legitimate authority, which to his thinking meant they needed to get Bastion and OZT before they became legitimate. Until then it was war. After than point it became insurrection, something Scott would not foster.

Mystique touched the map with the tip of a long red fingernail. “Put a sniper here, on this little knoll, and another one over here... in a tree probably. I’d have to do some quick scouting when I got there, but it shouldn’t be that hard to find a usable spot.”

Scott stifled a resigned sigh. When they’d lost their powers they’d also lost the luxury of not killing their enemies. Sniping had the added benefit of letting them take out some of the enemy without the risk that one might be an un-metamorphed Sentinel. In his heart of hearts Scott hated it, but he’d run out of reasons to refuse. “What about the timing?”

Mystique shrugged. “We’ll just have to take what we get.”

“I’m gonna be goin’ through the fence, so who do ya suggest fer the second sniper?” Logan asked.


Logan arched a skeptical eyebrow. “She ain’t gonna like that idea.”

“My daughter will do what I tell her.”

Scott kept his face expressionless. The ongoing battle between Rogue and her foster mother wasn’t really any of his business. He just wished Mystique wouldn’t go so far out of her way to rub Rogue’s nose in her return to her former way of life. Rogue’s skills were an asset to the team, but the more Mystique pushed the harder she fought using them. Scott had debated asking Remy to say something to Mystique, but hadn’t yet convinced himself that it would do any good.

He shot a quick glance toward the man standing a couple of feet away. Gambit stood near the opposite end of the desk, one hip leaned against the edge, arms crossed, as he listened to a trio of guildmembers rattle on about some internal issue. They were complaining about space... again. The X-Men’s field leader was more than a little surprised by how much patience Gambit demonstrated with the never ending struggle to fit the needs of an entire population into such cramped quarters. Still, after being dragged away from the mission planning for the third time that morning, Scott could tell the other man’s patience was wearing thin.

“There’s simply no room for what you want to do,” Will Sandberg said for perhaps the fourth time that Scott had noticed. The councilman’s comment was directed toward a gray-haired woman Scott didn’t know.

“There has to be room somewhere,” the woman replied severely. “Educating our children is too important to stop just because there isn’t space.”

“The apprentices are continuing their classes--“

“That’s just the apprentices.” The gray-haired woman cut him off with a scowl. “What about the rest?”

Scott let his awareness of the conversation fall away as Bobby walked into the crowded office, followed by Diedre and Rogue. The Drakes had become something of Gambit’s personal assistants, helping him with everything from his email to acting as go-betweens between the Guild and the X-Men. It was odd. Bobby didn’t properly belong in either the Guild’s upper echelons or the X-Men’s leadership, but he invariably found a quiet, unassuming place in both groups. And since only a very select few of the thieves knew of Gambit’s vision handicap, Scott could understand why the other wasn’t trying to discourage his presence.

On the other hand, Scott had no idea what Rogue was doing there. She was carrying a thin manila folder with several pages from a legal pad poking out from the edges.

Rogue trailed a few steps behind the Drakes as they approached Gambit. Bobby gave Scott a friendly nod in greeting as he passed. Rogue’s gaze stayed fixed on the conversation going on at the far end of the desk. She didn’t even glance in his direction. Or Mystique’s for that matter.

Bobby waited quietly until Gambit acknowledged him.

“What’s up, Bobby?” The Cajun turned away from the ongoing argument with a thin but seemingly genuine smile.

Bobby returned the smile with a much brighter one. “Hey, boss. You wanted to know when those satellite pictures were developed.”

Scott perked up his ears. One of the thieves had gotten photos of some military satellite pictures of the eastern seaboard. Hopefully they would give the new resistance better knowledge of where OZT’s facilities were.

Gambit had a similar reaction. He pivoted smartly to face Bobby, expression sharpening.

“But, Guildmaster--“ Will Sandberg protested behind him. “This issue hasn’t been resolved yet.”

Scott caught a flash of annoyance that disappeared as Gambit turned back to Will. Sandberg was a council member and not to be dismissed lightly, no matter how much Scott was sure the Guildmaster longed to. Though he’d never admit it, Scott took perverse pleasure in seeing Gambit bogged down in mundane details. It seemed a fitting revenge for all those years he’d spent lounging by the mansion’s pool, pretending to be a wastrel while Scott was dealing with the like for the X-Men.

“Find some space t’ lay dose out, Bobby,” Gambit said without turning. “We’ll get t’ dem in a bit.”

“Sure, boss.” Bobby took his packet of photos and left the desk, which was completely buried already, and instead went to the coffee table beside a leather sofa on the far side of the office.

Gambit focused on the guildmembers and now Rogue, who had gone to stand beside the gray haired woman and was talking with her about the contents of the manila folder.

“Rosalind?” Gambit asked the woman after a moment.

Rosalind smiled briefly at Rogue then turned. “Guildmaster, you know Andrea Black has been helping me try to find a solution to this problem—“

“An’ since she’s got two new babies ta deal with, ah’ve been doin’ some o’ the legwork t’ help her out,” Rogue interjected. A little too quickly, Scott thought, judging by how Jazz’s gaze abruptly narrowed. Though neither Gambit nor Rogue ever gave any indication of any special feelings for each other, Jazz, at least, recognized a threat in Rogue. Scott wondered how much of a problem it might turn out to be. He understood why Gambit and Rogue had decided to end their relationship and hide its existence, but doubted such a tactic could work in the long run.

“We think we may have come up with a solution,” Rosalind continued, apparently unperturbed by the interruption. “Rogue just brought me the inventory for the storeroom we’ve been talking about—“ She handed the sheets of legal paper to Gambit who made a credible show of reading them. “None of these things are used very frequently. Right now they’re all spread across the floor and sorted into little piles, but they could just as easily all be stacked up against the wall. It wouldn’t be a lot of space, but it would be enough to get started.”

“Unfortunately, you’re misinformed, Ms. Tanner.” Sandberg’s voice was cool. He and the man beside him had turned so that they squared off against Rosalind and Rogue, with Gambit in the middle. “That storeroom contains a lot of hardware that gets used regularly for repairs and construction, including plumbing supplies and electrical cables. There’s still about thirty percent of the living quarters down here that don’t have running water or bathroom facilities. It would slow down the retrofit effort tremendously to ‘stack’ those supplies.” The man beside Sandberg was nodding in a knowing way, making Scott wonder if he was a foreman or something similar.

“Why would it slow things down?” Rogue asked.

Will paused for a long moment as if debating whether to answer. The guildmembers were such sticklers for their rules that Scott wouldn’t have been too surprised if he’d acted like Rogue didn’t exist. She wasn’t Guild, after all, and had no real business getting involved in Guild matters. Scott found it all kind of ludicrous, though he’d been doing his best not to offend anyone with his opinions. They needed the Guild too much to let anything damage the fragile relationship the two groups were developing.

The foreman ended up answering before Sandberg. “Well, ma’am, the first reason is because my people have been using those supplies for months. They’re used to where things are so they don’t waste time looking around. But there’s also the fact that we need access to that stuff ‘round the clock. We’d be going in and out all the time while you were trying to have classes.” He shrugged. “I’ve got kids. I want them to get a good education, but I know they wouldn’t pay attention to any teacher with people coming and going all the time.”

“Hmm.” Rogue twined a lock of hair around her finger. “Sounds like ya need that place left alone.” Rosalind flashed her a betrayed look, which Rogue ignored. She met the foreman’s eyes. “Could we maybe consolidate somethin’ else, though? There’s an awful lot o’ wall space goin’ unused there.” She waved a hand toward the sheets Gambit still held.

The foreman frowned thoughtfully. “Maybe. I’ll have to think about it, check with my crews.”

Rogue glanced at Rosalind, then Sandberg. “That seem reasonable t’ y’all?” She got a round of hesitant nods.

“Guildmaster?” Sandberg asked, his tone betraying his reluctance.

Gambit just shrugged. “Dis is your area, Will. Do whatever y’ t’ink is best. I know I c’n count on de ladies here t’ scream if dey don’ t’ink it’s a good enough solution.” He indicated Rogue and Rosalind with a wave.

Sandberg nodded, still not pleased. “Yes, Guildmaster.”

The foursome quickly left with Rogue and the foreman deep in discussion. Shaking his head, Gambit rejoined the group gathered around the far end of the desk.

“So, what’d I miss?”

Clearing his throat, Scott got his head back in the planning. He quickly outlined the route they’d been discussing. Gambit, he knew, had the schematics memorized since he couldn’t see them, and Scott was careful to make sure he gave the Cajun enough descriptive clues to keep the other from making a fatal mistake. Jazz almost certainly didn’t know about his loss of vision, and Mystique might or might not be aware.

Gambit raised an eyebrow at the mention of snipers, and even more so at Rogue’s name. “You t’ink she’ll agree?” he asked Mystique.

“She’ll do it,” Mystique assured him. “We wouldn’t take anyone out unless they looked like they’d spotted the insertion team. Even Rogue won’t have a problem with that.”

Scott had his doubts, but they’d find out soon enough. Gambit just shrugged. “Well, if she won’, I c’n give Belle a call. She wouldn’ have any problem doin’ a contract job, even f’ me.”

Scott resisted the desire to bury his head in his hands. Remy could talk about hiring assassins from his ex-wife with exquisite nonchalance, but the thought alone gave Scott the shivers. He pushed his reaction aside. His feelings on the subject really didn’t matter any more.

“Anyone else see any major flaws with this plan?” Heads shook and Scott allowed himself a sigh. “All right, then we’ll start working it up. You all know your jobs. Let’s see if we can’t put this together inside a week.”

The group broke up as people headed out to their separate tasks. Gambit gave Scott a lopsided grin after everyone else had gone, as if he understood how morally complicated the other man found his position.

“Y’ let me know what y’ need?” he asked.

Scott chuckled sourly. “That goes without saying.”

Together they turned and made their way across the room to where Bobby waited.

Well, ya certainly did it this time, gal. Made a right fool o’ yohself. She hadn’t so much as spoken to Remy in two weeks and what did she do at her first opportunity? Behaved like a stupid teenager with a crush. She was pretty sure she’d managed to hide her pounding heart and weak knees, but even if no one else had noticed, she knew.

How am ah ever gonna be able ta talk ta him? Every time ah get around him, ah’m afraid everyone’s going ta look at me an’ know. Ah guess it’s true what they say about the ones ya can’t have. All that time we had ta be together an’ all ah did was push him away. Now we can’t be together an’ ah’m fallin’ all over mahself just ta be in the same room with him.

Rogue strode through the stone halls of the Guild complex, lost in her thoughts. Her feet took her unerringly to the Black’s door even so, and she pushed it open without thought. Had she been less preoccupied she would have stopped to listen first, but as it was she simply yanked it open and was greeted with the piercing wails of a newborn emanating from the back of the tiny apartment. Andrea sat in a rocking chair in the main room, nursing one of her sons while the other one gave voice to his opinion about having to wait.

Andrea’s gaze snapped to Rogue the moment she opened the door, her gaze full of frazzled relief. “Rogue! I’m so glad you’re home. Could you please go get Jacob?”

Rogue froze in a kind of pure terror that dwarfed anything she’d ever felt on any mission. This was why she always listened at the door before going in. “Ah… sure.” She didn’t bother trying to smile. Andrea knew how much she disliked any contact with the infants.

Striding into the Black’s bedroom, Rogue looked down into the nearest bassinet at the wizened little baby who lay there, his face an angry red from the force of his cries. No, it wasn’t that she disliked contact with Jacob and Daniel, it was really because she liked it and wanted the same for herself. And because she could never have it. The truth tore at her every time she tucked one of these tiny babies into her arms.

Carefully, Rogue picked Jacob up. His screaming cut off abruptly as she settled him in her arms, his head turning instinctively toward her breast.

“Sorry, hon. Ain’t nothin’ there foh ya.” Smiling a little at the joke, she walked back out to the main room. She stood, rocking Jacob in her arms, as Andrea finished feeding his brother.

“So how’d it go with Will?” Andrea asked as she disengaged her son and offered the drowsing infant to Rogue.

They traded babies and Rogue put Daniel on her shoulder for a burp. “Well enough, ah suppose,” she answered. “Ah swear that man doesn’t care anything about helpin’ folks, just about bein’ right. It’s a good thing he had his construction chief there. It turns out we can’t use the storeroom like we hoped, but ah think the chief’ll be able to clear out somethin’ else. He seemed ta really like the idea.”

“We?” Andrea cocked her head to the side with an innocent smile.

Rogue rolled her eyes. “The Guild.” She pointed an accusing finger at the other woman. “Ya know what ah mean, so don’t argue semantics with me.”

Andrea chuckled, but then changed the subject. “Marc says he’s hearing some more rumblings among the thieves… the Guildmaster’s too aggressive about OZT, spending too much money, taking too many chances with Guild lives, that sort of thing.” Her tone belied the seriousness of the words.

Rogue frowned. “Adrian?” She and Scott were the two main conduits of information between the thieves who supported Gambit politically and the X-Men, who everyone understood would come down squarely on the Guildmaster’s side in any real conflict. The official exchanges of information took place most often between the thieves’ council and Scott, Ororo and Bobby, but that was business. Rogue’s involvement was with the people who worked for Gambit’s benefit primarily without his knowledge (so they thought) or consent. Rogue did it because she’d promised, however obliquely, to watch Remy’s back during that awful conversation in his office. It was the one and only time they’d ever really talked-- without lies, without pretenses, and the reality that had slapped her so hard in the face that day still made her throat ache if she thought about it.

Andrea shrugged in response to the question. “Who else? The voices aren’t very loud right now, but the first time something goes seriously wrong they’re going to be shouting.”

“If somethin’ goes seriously wrong, sugah, we’re all gonna be too dead ta care.”

Andrea gave her a reproving look. “The Guildmaster needs to know what people are saying.”

Rogue thought back to their conversation once more and sighed. “Ah’d bet he already knows, but ah’ll talk t’ Bobby.” Gambit, she was sure, knew all too well who supported the alliance with the X-Men and who did not. The biggest problem was that the X-Men didn’t answer to anyone in the Guild except possibly Gambit himself, and that made them a personal weapon for the Guildmaster to use against his own people if he chose. It was no wonder so many guildmembers resented their presence. She couldn’t help a small, grim smile. But ah’ve never known Remy t’ gamble unless the stakes were dangerously high.

She looked over at Andrea. “Anythin’ else?”

Andrea shook her head. “Not that I’ve heard.” Then, business concluded, she switched topics without pausing for breath. “Did I tell you who my sister went out with last night?”

Jubilation Lee woke to darkness. And pain. She knew from the feel of the cold metal beneath her and the smell of the place that she was back in her cell. It was obviously night time, for the lights were off. The absolute blackness hovered around her like a palpable thing, heavy and dense. Needles of pain shot down her arms from shoulder to elbow with every breath, making her dizzy.

Jubilee didn’t know what they were doing to her, bit by bit and piece by piece, but she could guess. She could feel the lines of fresh surgical scars on her arms to match those elsewhere. Her hair had finally started growing back in to cover the tracks across her skull. Her head was covered by about a half-inch of wiry black hair that felt like velvet when she ran her hands across it.

She stifled a sob. They’re turning me into a monster. A voice in the back of her mind cried out for help from the one person she truly trusted.

Wolverine, help me! Where are you? I need you!

No gruff, familiar voice answered her out of the darkness. Jubilee closed her eyes, silent tears escaping. She was so tired. Tired of being afraid. Tired of hurting.

She knew she was beaten. The cocky mall rat façade had long since crumbled to dust. She would have shown a very different face to anyone who saw her now, but no one ever came. She hadn’t seen a living soul since Bastion had tortured the details of the X-Mansion’s security system from her.

In some ways, the loneliness was even worse than the shame of having betrayed her friends.


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