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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 34

Logan walked into the main hospital entrance at Our Mother of Mercy and went straight to the information desk. A security guard watched him alertly, but since Logan hadn’t set off the metal detectors that flanked the doorway, he didn’t seem suspicious. It was perhaps the only upside of having his adamantium stripped by Magneto, Logan thought sourly.

Logan’s tennis shoes squeaked on the lobby’s worn linoleum as he approached the desk. Like the flooring, it, too, appeared to be at least twenty years out of date. A middle-aged woman wearing a floral print dress and too much makeup looked up at him from her seat behind the desk.

“Can I help you?” she asked in a bored voice.

Logan pulled Jubilee’s death certificate out of the pocket of his denim jacket. He unfolded the badly wrinkled paper, smoothing it on the surface of the desk. “I need to find the doctor that signed this.” Logan held out the certificate. He didn’t let himself think too closely about what it represented. He couldn’t.

The woman tipped her head up to look at the paper through the bifocal lenses perched on the tip of her nose. “Are you related to the deceased?” she asked after a moment.

Logan nodded. “My niece.” Privacy laws being what they were, he doubted he’d get any information from the hospital unless he claimed to be family.

“Are you her legal guardian?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He did his best to keep his voice polite and non-threatening.

The receptionist seemed to accept that. Turning to her computer, she typed a few keys and then squinted at the screen. She picked up a nearby phone, looking back and forth between computer and handset as she punched in the extension, then transferred her gaze to Logan as she put the phone to her ear.

“Hi, this is Vicky at the Information Desk,” she told whoever answered on the other end. “Can you page…” She picked up the certificate. “…Doctor Reyes for me?” There was a long pause, during which Logan had to forcibly suppress the urge to drum his fingers on the desktop. The receptionist busied herself shuffling papers around on her desk, the phone clamped between her shoulder and ear.

Eventually, someone must have come to the phone because Vicky paused and her gaze darted back to Logan. “Yes, doctor, I have a guardian of…” She referred to the certificate again. “…Jubilation Lee up here at Information. He wants to talk to the attending.” She paused, and Logan clenched his hands into fists. He wanted to rip the phone out of her hand and talk to this Dr. Reyes himself.

“I’ll tell him. Thank you.” Vicky hung up the phone. She turned back to Logan. “Someone’s on their way.”

Nodding, Logan took back the copy of Jubilee’s death certificate and moved a few feet away from the desk. He carefully folded the paper up and put it back in his pocket, then crossed his arms. Memories of Jubilee flashed to life behind his eyes, stinging his heart with their sweetness. He hadn’t realized how much he’d missed her these past couple of years-- not until he knew he wouldn’t see her again. She’d been a touchstone for him, a reminder of all the good things in life.

He looked up at a flicker of motion at the edge of his vision. A woman in pink scrubs walked toward him. Logan pegged her for a nurse immediately. She had that no-nonsense air about her.

“Are you the one who’s looking for Dr. Reyes?” she asked, and he nodded.

“All right, then if you’ll come with me, I’ll take you to her.” She turned and started down the hallway from which she’d come, her ID tags clacking together as she walked. “My name’s Terry, by the way.”

“Logan,” he returned the introduction.

They walked quite a ways through the hospital, making odd-angled turns into new hallways as if the various wings of the building had grown up organically rather than from some architect’s plan. Eventually they came to an elevator where the nurse stopped and pressed the down arrow.

Logan raised an eyebrow, the first stirring of suspicion in his mind. “Why’re we goin’ down?” he asked.

Terry glanced over at him, her expression mild. “Dr. Reyes’ office is in the basement.”

Logan chewed on that as the elevator arrived with an off-key ding. He followed Terry inside, noting that the car had doors on either end. He leaned against the wall, affecting nonchalance, but he made sure he could keep both doors-- and the nurse-- in his field of vision.

They went down three floors, and then the door at the back of the elevator opened on an industrial-looking hallway. Tubes ran the length of the ceiling and the gray paint looked like it had seen better days. A Hispanic woman stood in the center of the hallway, dressed in a blouse and slacks, with a white lab coat over the top. She was younger than Logan expected, and pretty in a severe kind of way.

The doctor wore a keen expression that gave way almost immediately to relief as the elevator doors opened. Logan walked forward, followed by Terry.

“Hallelujah,” the doctor said, her voice edged with sarcasm, “an X-Man.”

Logan uttered a growl and unsheathed his claws. He made a quick survey of the hall, but saw nothing that could be interpreted as a threat. Terry gasped at the sight of his claws and edged a few paces toward the doctor.

“Who are you?” Logan demanded. He shifted his weight forward, balancing on the balls of his feet.

The doctor didn’t seem the least bit surprised by the sudden display. She met his gaze calmly. “My name is Cecilia Reyes. I’m a friend of Charles Xavier’s.”

Logan shifted to a slightly less ready stance but didn’t sheathe his claws. “Prove it, lady.”

Reyes smiled, a knife-thin crescent. “Gladly. Come with me.” Without waiting to see his reaction, she turned and walked away.

Terry gave him one uncertain glance before falling in behind her.

Muttering a short string of curses, Logan retracted his claws and followed them. Something about the doctor’s behavior made him think she was telling the truth. And now she’d gone and piqued his curiosity.

They walked a short ways down the hall, then turned and passed through an open door into what looked like it had been a maintenance area once upon a time. Now it looked more like a field hospital, with rolling curtains separating small areas from each other. Logan didn’t see any patients, though.

He was about to ask Reyes where they were going when he broke out of the curtained alcoves and found himself standing in a new hall, in front of an observation window that looked in on an ordinary-looking hospital room. His breath whooshed out of him. Jubilee lay in the single bed, her head wrapped in bandages.

Logan pushed past the women without regard for politeness and rushed to the bed. He caught her hand, immediately feeling her warmth—the warmth of a living, breathing person, not the chill of a corpse.

Jubilee’s eyes fluttered open. “Wolvie?” she asked, her voice thick and sleepy.

“I’m here, darlin’.” He clapped his other hand over hers, squeezing her tightly. His eyes burned and he blinked hard to clear them.

Jubilee’s eyes flew open. She shrieked and lunged at him, throwing both arms around his neck. “Wolvie! You found me!”

He hugged her, hard, ragged laughter bubbling out of him. After a minute, though, she sat back down on the bed, crossing her legs Indian-style and pulling the light hospital blanket up to cover her legs. Logan hooked a nearby stool with his foot and dragged it over. He sat, resting his crossed arms on the edge of the bed.

Behind him, Dr. Reyes drifted into the room, eventually taking up a position on Jubilee’s far side. “I’m sorry about the death certificate,” she told Logan. “But it was only way to keep OZT from coming after her.”

Jubilee’s broad, happy smile dimmed. “I have so much to tell you about, Wolverine,” she said. Shadows gathered in her dark eyes, and Logan was struck by how much she seemed to have aged since he’d last seen her. One hand reached up to finger the gauze wrapped around her skull. She glanced over at Dr. Reyes. “Can I take this stuff off yet?”

Reyes shrugged. “Sure. You should be pretty well healed by now.” She reached over to help Jubilee unwind the gauze and then remove a layer of absorbent bandages from the top of her head.

Logan forced his expression to remain still as the last of the bandaging came away. Jubilee’s bare scalp was criss-crossed with a myriad of scars. Some were pale-- obviously old enough to have faded-- but others were fresh and dark. He couldn’t resist reaching out to cup her face in his hands, turning her head lightly as he examined the pattern of marks. Cold fury balled up deep in his gut.

“What did Bastion do to you?” he finally growled.

Jubilee shrugged and pulled away from his grip. “He made me a sentinel. But Dr. Reyes fixed all that.” She met his gaze defiantly, daring him to express pity. “What happened to the X-Men and Gen-X? Is everyone all right?”

Logan nodded and forced his mind to function. “We haven’t heard from Gen-X fer a long while, but Emma’s got ‘em hid away somewhere. We’d have heard about it if OZT got to ‘em.”

Jubilee looked relieved at that. “What about the X-Men? Did OZT attack the mansion?” Her expression closed in on itself, and Logan’s stomach knotted. Gambit’s prediction had been dead on, which Logan had known even if he hadn’t wanted to acknowledge it. Bastion had taken her to extract the details of the X-Men’s location and security system. Logan had been involved in covert operations for far too long to have any illusions about what that extraction had involved.

He pushed those thoughts away with an effort. “Yeah, they sent a team of assassins after us. But we got a warnin’ in time an’ managed ta get out ahead of ‘em.”

The shadows in her eyes retreated a step. “I’m glad.”

“I’m just glad yer alive,” he found himself saying, and was mortified to hear his voice crack. He cleared his throat self-consciously. “I knew ya’d find yer way home eventually.”

Her smile returned, bright and bittersweet. “I always do, don’t I?”

Dr. Reyes laid a hand on Jubilee’s shoulder. “Why don’t you get dressed. I’ve got some people I’d like both you and Wolverine to meet.”

Scott leaned his weight on his hands, staring at the topmost of a pile of drawings that covered one end of Gambit’s monstrous desk. OZT had one final assembly plant on the East Coast, tucked away in the back woods of Virginia. That was far enough afield to make Scott nervous about targeting it, even if the place hadn’t had any security. Which, of course, it had plenty. He and Remy had spent the last couple of days working their way through the drawings the Guild already had, looking for a feasible way in. The painstaking process of reading off every minute detail to let the other man assemble the drawings in his mind had pretty well burned them into Scott’s memory as well. But he continued to stare at the plans as if he might spot some miraculous little detail that would crack the apparently un-breakable defenses.

Scott glanced at his watch, trying to keep his impatience in check. Gambit had been on the phone for more than an hour now, and the conversation had been almost entirely in Chinese. The other man leaned back in his chair with his feet propped on the edge of the desk, ankles crossed. He stared blankly at the ceiling, which Scott had come to realize meant he was visualizing-- using that prodigious memory to its fullest extent. Scott had finally gotten Jean to confirm for him that Gambit did, in fact, have a photographic memory, and he wondered what it would be like to have everything he had ever seen, heard or experienced permanently imprinted in his memory.

Scott straightened with a grimace and heard one of his vertebrae pop. On the far side of the room, the door to the Guildmaster’s quarters opened and Rogue emerged, dressed in her usual jeans and sweater combination, and with her hair pulled back in a thick braid. Scott turned to greet her, and was once again startled by how much older the expression in her green eyes had become. The naïve, fiercely hopeful girl was gone-- dead, he suspected-- and in her place stood a hard-nosed realist whose analytical abilities he was quickly coming to respect. But he still found himself mourning the loss of the girl she’d been. And blaming Gambit for the change.

“Mornin’,” she greeted him as she crossed the room.

“Good morning, Rogue” he returned automatically.

She came to a stop beside him, a funny little smile on her lips as she took in the incongruous sight of her tall, lanky, thoroughly Caucasian husband yammering away in an Asian language.

“How are you doing?” Scott asked, trying not to be too obvious as he studied her.

She tipped her head to look up at him, and her smile deepened. “Ah’m good, sugah.”

Scott wasn’t certain he believed her, but he didn’t know how to challenge the statement without sounding critical. So, “What does being Guildmistress entail?” he asked instead.

Her smile dimmed. “A lot o’ things ah was already doin’, apparently.” She shrugged. “Ah’m supposed ta look after the Clans, mostly-- makin’ sure people are bein’ taken care of, an’ seein’ to it that the Guildmaster takes their needs inta account when makin’ decisions that affect the Guild as a whole.” Her gaze drifted across the desk to Remy. “It’s funny, really.”

“What is?”

“For all the time ah’ve been with the X-Men ah’ve wanted ta find a way ta help out ordinary folks. Ah tried volunteering, but they always chased me off once the found out ah was a mutant. Ah even tried doin’ one of those telethon fundraiser things.” She shook her head at the memory. “But that makes a person feel slimy even if it’s foh a good cause.”

Scott found himself nodding. He remembered a few of her various attempts, and the bouts of bitter depression and anger that had followed.

She sighed softly. “Eventually, ah gave up. Figured bein’ an X-Man was the only way ah was ever going ta be able ta do any good in the world.”

Scott chewed on his lip, watching her sympathetically. He couldn’t argue that the Guild gave her access to a huge population of people to help, many of them mutants, but at what price?

Rogue didn’t seem to have any trouble guessing his thoughts. She favored him with a knowing grin. “Ah know it bothers ya all the way down to the bottom of ya proper, law-abidin’ soul, Cyclops.”

Scott snorted self-deprecatingly. He’d like to think he was still a good citizen, but the law-abiding part had gone out the window several months earlier. He still had hopes of someday stepping back across that line, more or less, despite how much more efficient it could be to disregard the law. He understood now why Logan had rolled his eyes so often when the X-Men gathered around the table in the War Room, but he didn’t think it was a methodology he wanted to become too comfortable with.

Remy suddenly pulled his feet off the desk and sat forward, concluding his conversation with a friendly “Ciao”, which struck Scott as odd, given the language Remy had been using. He hung up the phone then reached up to massage his neck, tipping his head from side to side to stretch the muscles. Rogue moved around the end of the desk and slipped her hands beneath his, taking over massage duty. Remy groaned in pleasure and let his head fall forward as she dug into his shoulder muscles.

Scott shook his head as he watched them. He had always wondered what really bound them together, particularly this past year or more as the relationship had slowly disintegrated under the pressure of his double life and her powers. They were quite possibly the last two people he would have thought had any business getting married, particularly as a matter of political necessity rather than actual desire. And yet, somehow the relationship seemed to be working.

He found it baffling.

Rogue finished her ministrations and leaned down to give Remy a hug. The pair traded quiet “good mornings” and then Rogue left, closing the office door quietly behind her.

Remy watched her go, but then turned back to Scott and tapped the piled drawings. “It c’n be done.”

Scott reeled his wandering thoughts back in. “Is that what you got from your friend in Hong Kong?” he asked.

Remy nodded. “Sook’s de best there is. Maybe de best there’s ever been.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I’m prob’ly de only t’ief on dis continent that could get inside dis monster, but I doubt I could’ve found de route.” Remy paused, his red gaze eerie and solemn. “Y’ sure y’ want t’ tangle wit’ dis, Scott?”

Scott sighed as the question brought up all of his own nagging fears. “I don’t know.” He reached up to massage his brow, where a nascent headache threatened despite the early hour. “My gut’s telling me that Warren’s lawsuit could put a real crack in OZT’s public face, and if we can wedge some hard evidence about what Bastion is doing to people to make the prime sentinels into that crack, we might just be able to shatter it completely.”

“Y’ talkin’ about stealin’ evidence. Dat’s a different beast than gettin’ inside t’ blow de place up.”

Scott leaned his elbows on the arms of his chair. “Actually, I’m talking about recording evidence.”

Remy’s brows arched sharply. Scott steepled his fingers in front of him. “We don’t have any idea what kinds of documents or records we’d find, and destroying the plant only damages Bastion’s operation so much. But a video record-- a trustworthy one-- could cripple OZT. This is an opportunity we can’t afford to waste.”

Remy leaned back in his chair and gave him a piercing look. “What y t’inkin’, homme?”

Scott braced himself. “Trish Tilby. She’s probably the most trusted newscaster in the country right now. If she’s there, reporting what she sees, Bastion can try to spin it any way he wants and no one’s going to listen.”

“Y’ out o’ y’ mind.” The words were flat.

Scott’s lips thinned. “I realize that. What I want to know is if we can do it anyway.”

Remy stared at him for several long moments, his face inscrutable, but Scott imagined he saw anger snapping in the strange eyes. “It can be done,” he repeated. “But y’ talkin’ about a huge risk, especially t’ take a civilian camera crew inside.”

Scott nodded tightly. “Understood.”

Rogue walked out of the closet, trying to project as much confidence as she could. The deep burgundy evening gown clung to her curves, and she tugged self-consciously at the skirt as she walked.

Remy waited for her in the center of the bedroom, looking devastating in his tuxedo. A slow grin spread across his face as she emerged, and Rogue’s stomach filled with butterflies.

“So what is this place ya takin’ me to, again?” she asked as she approached, and was surprised to hear only the tiniest tremor in her voice. She felt far less steady than that. Against her will, her hand rose to her throat and the diamond necklace she’d last worn at their wedding.

“Jus’ called de Club,” he answered with a casual shrug as she came to a stop in front of him. His grin remained firmly in place.

Rogue resisted the temptation to press both hands flat against her rebellious stomach and instead hitched the gossamer shawl a little higher on her shoulders.

Remy raised one hand to her face, the tips of his fingers grazing the fine hairs that grew along her hairline. “May I, cherie?”

Rogue shivered at the near-touch, and her heart began to pound. This was becoming a ritual of sorts. Remy’s heat-based vision couldn’t readily distinguish lightweight fabrics from the body wearing them, and the man had developed a fascination with what she wore.

Swallowing hard, she nodded. “Go ahead, sugah.” He always asked, and she could never bring herself to say no. Any more, she didn’t really want to.

She let her eyes close as he raised both hands to her face. Feather light, his fingers brushed her skin and then her hair, following the strands as they swept upward into a French twist. Then, without pulling even a single hair out of place, his hands descended to her shoulders. He caught the edge of her shawl, sliding it gently down to rest in the crooks of her elbows. Her breath caught as he trailed his fingers up her bare arms and traced the tops of her shoulders inward. He found the slender spaghetti straps holding her dress in place.

“What color is dis?” he asked as he followed the straps down her back. The scent of his cologne enveloped her.

“Ah… red,” she managed, her voice shaking. “More of a wine color, really.”

“Pretty.” His hands examined the conservative back of the dress then followed the straps forward again.

Needing to brace herself, Rogue caught his waist, knotting her hands in the fabric of his tuxedo jacket. She felt like she was tottering in her high-heeled sandals, hardly able to breathe as he started down into the valley between her breasts. His fingers traced twin lines of fire on her skin, right along the edge of the gown’s plunging neckline. She’d nearly jumped out of her skin the first time he did this, but she was confident now that he wouldn’t violate the boundary set by her clothing, and that was enough to hold the fear at bay.

Reaching the bottom, he retraced his route upward then followed a path just below her collarbones outward to her sides. His touch lightened almost to nonexistence across her still-sore ribs then firmed along the curve of her waist and hips. He scrunched his fingers in the fabric.

“Y’ look beautiful, chere.” The words were utterly sincere, and tinged with a kind of reverence that made her stomach quiver.

“Thanks,” she answered softly and pulled her shawl back up around her shoulders. “Ya not so bad yaself.” She pulled back a half-step, needing to put some distance between them to restore her equilibrium.

Remy chuckled, apparently willing to let the intensely personal moment dissipate, and offered his arm. She accepted, and they left the apartment together.

As they walked through the stone hallways and climbed a long spiral staircase toward ground level, Remy explained the function of the Club as one of the primary interfaces between the New York Guild and the outside world. He concluded with, “There are a couple o’ clients I need t’ chat wit’ tonight-- contract disputes.” He didn’t look happy at the prospect. “An’ I heard a rumor de Kingpin’s back in town, so he may send somebody by.”

“What am ah supposed t’ be doin’ during all this?” Rogue asked. She wasn’t particularly comfortable with her new position yet, but Remy seemed more than happy to answer any question she posed.

He flashed her a grin. “I assume y’ know somet’ing about workin’ a room?”

“A little,” she agreed. She’d been a teenager the last time she’d done anything of the sort, so she suspected her skills weren’t terribly sharp.

He shrugged. “You’ll do fine, chere. Y’ got good instincts. Be beautiful, be charmin’, an’ keep y’ ears open.”

“Great, ah’m playin’ hostess,” she groused good-naturedly and his smile widened.

“Dat y’ are.” He sobered. “But don’ forget that not everyone here knows about de Guild. Dis is an A-list club, an’ we get a fair number o’ folks who ain’t there for anyt’ing but the atmosphere.”

She nodded. “Got it.”

They reached the top of the stairs and found themselves facing a security station like the ones guarding the other entrances to the Guild complex. Beyond it stood a reinforced metal door equipped with thick bolts that could be sunk into holes drilled in the stone. Rogue could hear the muted sounds of loud music and conversation coming through from the far side, and feel the vibrations through the soles of her shoes.

Remy nodded in greeting to the men manning the security station. One of them hurried forward to open the door for them, and Rogue was immediately blasted by a wave of sound. She cringed at the sight of the veritable sea of people filling the place, and felt Remy’s hand on the small of her back.

He gave her a questioning look, and she drew her shawl tighter around her shoulders.

“Ah really don’t like crowds,” was all the explanation she was willing to give. These past few months she’d grown a lot more comfortable with casual human contact, but the idea of going out into that room with her hands and arms bare intimidated her at a level she didn’t want to examine too closely.

Remy gave her one of those piercing stares that made her think he knew exactly what she was thinking, but he didn’t push. He shrugged lightly. “Me either, chere, but it’s part of the job.”

Without waiting for a response, he led her out into the press. Rogue did her best to paste a warm, friendly smile on her face. This was what she’d signed on for when she chose this man, this life. But that didn’t keep her skin from crawling every time some stranger brushed against her. She forced herself to focus as they made their way slowly through the throng, pausing every few steps for Remy to talk to someone or another. Rogue did her best to memorize names and faces, digging out all the old tricks her mother had taught her to make the job easier.

They had just turned away from a senior editor for Forbes magazine when Remy froze.

“What in de world?” he muttered.

Rogue followed his gaze toward the front of the club. At first she didn’t see the source of his comment, but then an eddy in the crowd revealed an immensely heavyset man dressed in a white suit. Rogue recognized him immediately, and wondered what would bring the master of organized crime in New York to a club run by the Thieves Guild.

“C’mon, chere.” Remy tugged on her hand. They cut a straight path through the crowd toward the Kingpin.

“Ah, Remy, there you are,” the Kingpin said when they reached him. He leaned on a silver-headed cane, his expression neutral.

“Good evenin’, Kingpin,” Remy returned politely. “I’d heard you were back in town.”

The Kingpin nodded and turned his attention to Rogue. He smiled, a sudden, jovial expression. “Why, Anna Marie, what a lovely woman you’ve grown into.”

Rogue ducked her head, oddly abashed. “Thank ya, suh.” She remembered the grand parties Mystique had taken her to when she was little. The Kingpin had hosted most of them, and he’d always had an etched crystal bowl full of candies for her to choose from.

He held out his hand to her. Rogue accepted, allowing him to lean down and kiss her on either cheek. She suspected he was also using the opportunity to check out her cleavage, but the Kingpin was not a man to antagonize, so she endured the contact with a bright smile and did not try to pull away once he straightened.

The Kingpin’s gaze went over her shoulder. “Remy, I must hand it to you. You always seem to find the most extraordinary women.”

Rogue bit the inside of her lip, her eyes narrowing. She wasn’t sure which bothered her more-- the chauvinist attitude, or the plural on “women”. Remy’s history with the opposite sex was someplace she hadn’t yet found the courage to venture, but the Kingpin’s comment implied he was used to seeing Remy with a woman on his arm.

“Jus’ lucky, I guess,” Remy responded from behind her. There was little emotion in his voice, which was all the confirmation Rogue needed. Cold, sinking dread invaded her stomach and left her feeling ill.

The Kingpin released her hand and Rogue retreated to her husband’s side, her expression carefully schooled. Remy caught her hand, threading his fingers through hers, but his gaze remained on the Kingpin. Rogue fought down the desire to yank her hand away.

“So what brings y’ t’ my club?” Remy asked the other man conversationally.

The Kingpin’s expression turned distinctly businesslike. “I received a visit yesterday from a… mutual acquaintance. He rarely leaves Bogota, so the matter he wished to discuss is obviously of great importance to him.”

Remy raised his eyebrows in a polite invitation for the Kingpin to go on. Rogue didn’t know exactly what they were talking about but if the visitor was from Colombia, chances were it had to do with drugs, which didn’t help her mood any.

“Apparently, he has… misplaced a few small items of personal significance.” The Kingpin switched his cane to the other hand and leaned on it once again. “And he wanted my help in recovering them.”

Rogue chewed on the enigmatic statements, trying to decipher them. It sounded very much like a Colombian drug dealer was leaning on the Kingpin to have something… somethings… returned to him. Things the Guild had stolen, perhaps? And now the Kingpin was, in turn, leaning on Remy. The threat was clear, despite the Kingpin’s benign tone.

This was the life she’d committed herself to. Rogue’s stomach twisted, searing her throat with the taste of bile.

“What did y’ tell him?” Remy sounded only vaguely interested, but neither she nor the Kingpin was fooled.

The Kingpin shrugged. “Only that I had no direct knowledge of his missing items, but would be happy to look around.”

Remy echoed his shrug. “I suppose I could do de same.”

Rogue silently ground her teeth. She’d forgotten how much she despised the layers of double-talk and insinuation that permeated her mother’s lifestyle... Remy’s lifestyle… and now her own. How would she ever truly know what was real and what wasn’t, when this kind of maneuvering was as integral to that life as breathing?

“Very well.” The Kingpin dismissed the topic with a wave of his hand, and Rogue forced her mind back on track. She could deal with such things later. It was too dangerous to let herself get distracted now.

“Since I’m here,” the Kingpin continued, “I think I may take in a few rounds of blackjack, assuming there’s a suitable table.” He looked around the crowded nightclub, his expression just shy of disdainful. “If you’d be so kind as to show me the way?”

Rogue saw Remy’s lips thin, and her chest tightened. The Kingpin must be really angry if he was treating the head of the Thieves Guild like some kind of casino host. Though the Guild had neither the size nor breadth of the Kingpin’s organization, Rogue knew it wasn’t something to be dismissed, either.

Remy gave the Kingpin a charming smile and gestured toward the back of the club. “Right this way, misseur. I’m sure you’ll find our private tables to your liking.” He slipped into the obsequious host roll so smoothly that it became a mockery, and Rogue had to admire his skill despite the churning pit in her stomach.

The Kingpin made a small, irritated noise, but gestured with his cane for Remy to lead the way.

It was past 2:00am by the time they made it back to their quarters. Remy suppressed a sigh as Rogue closed the door behind them with unnecessary force. She’d been spoiling for a fight all evening, though she’d done a credible job of maintaining her composure at the Club. He undid his tie and the top button of his shirt then turned to face her. The night was obviously about to get longer, so he might as well be comfortable.

Rogue stood with her arms crossed over her breasts, her heat signature flaring unevenly. Every line of her body projected hurt and anger, and Remy mentally catalogued a list of probable causes. But he held his tongue, figuring he should give her the first shot.

“So.” She flexed her fingers on her biceps. “Ah don’t know whether ta be flattered or mortified that ah fit the ‘extraordinary woman’ mold ya apparently very well-known foh.”

Remy kept his expression still with an effort. The Kingpin had sunk that barb with the finesse of a true professional.

“I have good taste, yes,” he agreed mildly when he was certain he had his reaction under control.

He heard her sharp intake of breath and unconsciously steeled himself. “Ya not even going ta try ta deny it, are ya?” She unfolded her arms, hands clenching into fists at her sides as she stalked toward him. “All this time, ah had this strange notion that maybe ah meant somethin’ to ya. That ya actually cared. About me.”

Remy throttled the desire to grab her and shake her. “I do, chere,” he ground out.

“Ya got a strange way of showin’ it.”

“Oh, really?” The words dripped sarcasm. Remy knew he shouldn’t be letting this make him so angry-- he’d deliberately kept some aspects of his playboy image alive, after all-- but he couldn’t seem to help it. “At any time durin’ the past couple o’ years, if I’d asked y’ to come t’ Paris wit’ me-- o’ Monte Carlo, o’ Rome, o’ wherever-- because I was workin’ and needed y’ t’ help me blend in, would y’ have gone?”

Rogue shook her head sharply, her heat signature flaring bright with fury. “Oh no, ya do not get ta sleep around an’ then make like it’s all mah fault!” Her breath caught in angry little sob. “Has it all just been some kind o’ game to ya? A little side project in between jobs?” She raised her chin, her voice mocking. “The great Master thief seein’ if he could steal the heart of a woman no man can ever touch?”

Her accusation cut deep. Remy closed the distance between them and caught her by the arms.

She twisted hard, trying to get away. “Don’t touch me!”

Remy tightened his grip, pulling her close. “Do y’ want the truth, chere, or do y’ jus’ want t’ keep yellin’?” he demanded.

She froze, her entire body tense. He could hear her breath hissing through her teeth. “Let go of me,” she finally said, her voice icy.

Remy released her so abruptly that she staggered. Recovering, she wrapped her arms around herself and tucked her chin against her shoulder.

In the painful silence that followed, Remy tried to get a grip. Her misimpression really was understandable. It was. If only she weren’t so deadly accurate with that razor-edged tongue of hers.

Frustrated, he yanked his hair out of its queue and raked through it with his fingers. “Do you want de truth?” he asked again.

Rogue uttered a small, broken laugh. “Sure, sugah. Let me have it.” The resignation in her voice hurt almost as much as her earlier accusations.

Remy braced his hands on his hips and stared at the ground as he tried to sort his thoughts. “First off,” he began, “I haven’t slept with a woman for…” He did a quick bit of mental math, “a little more than two an’ a half years.”

Her head snapped up at that. She stared at him for several long moments, her thoughts unguessable.

“We’ve been datin’ longer than that,” she finally said, her tone full of reproach.

Remy swallowed a snort and sent a brief prayer to the saints for patience. “True ‘nough,” he allowed, and watched her signature ripple. She made a strange, wounded-animal kind of noise and sank onto the foot of the bed, wrapping her arms around her stomach. She rocked slowly back and forth.

“It really was just a game for ya, wasn’t it?” There was no accusation in her voice this time.

Remy didn’t dare try to approach her. “Not really-- At least, not de way y’ t’inking.” He could barely explain to himself the fascination that had first drawn him to her. “I mean, yeah, it was a lot of fun flirtin’ with y’-- pushin’ y’ limits. But dat wasn’t why.” He made an aimless gesture, struggling to put his feelings into words. “I saw de way they treated y’-- dis whole house full o’ men, mutants all o’ dem an’ should’ve known better-- like y’ were some kind o’ exotic doll in a glass case instead of a livin’, breathin’ woman.” He shrugged uncomfortably. “It made me mad.”

Rogue drew a shuddering breath and swiped at her eyes. She didn’t say anything, though, so he decided to press on.

“I didn’ plan on fallin’ in love wit’ you.”

Rogue jerked as if she’d been shot. “An’ when was that?” she asked, her voice raw. “Was it before or after ya decided ta stop cheatin’ on me?”

Remy’s hands clenched involuntarily at his sides. What a mess y’ made o’ dis, LeBeau. “You c’n have all the gory details if y’ want, chere.” He tried to keep his tone reasonable. “But does it really matter? What’s true is that I do love y’, an’ y’ the only woman I want.” He silently cursed the power suppression field that made it impossible for him to look into her eyes. “An’ oui, I’ve taken a lot of women out t’ dinner or out clubbing or whatever suited de purpose of keepin’ me alive an’ out o’ prison, but that’s all it ever was.”

Rogue didn’t answer immediately. She sat with her head down, her shoulders slumped. At first, Remy thought she was wringing her hands in her lap, but after a moment he realized she was twisting her wedding ring around on her finger.

Remy waited, but eventually the silence became too much. He crossed to where she sat and sank to his knees in front of her. Cautiously, he reached out to take her hands in his. She flinched at his touch, and the pain of that nearly took his breath away, but she didn’t pull away, and after a moment her fingers tightened around his.

“No more, Remy.” She raised her head to look at him, her voice fierce. “Keepin’ ya alive an’ out of prison is mah job now. So if ya need a date, or an alibi, or a distraction or whatever, it’d better be me. Ya hear?”

The tight band around Remy’s chest began to loosen at her words. “I never wanted it any other way,” he assured her.

She nodded, sniffling. A moment later she gently extracted her hands from his grip and stood. Remy rose as well and moved back a couple of paces to give her room. She walked unsteadily over to the bedside table and pulled several tissues from the box there. Remy watched as she dabbed at her eyes and blew her nose. Then, grabbing a couple more tissues, she came back over to where he stood.

She kept a bit of distance between them and once again crossed her arms, though this time her body language was reserved rather than angry. “Ya must hate me,” she said. “Two an’ a half years is a long time.”

Remy had no idea how to respond to that. “I don’ hate y’,” he ventured cautiously, “an’ it was my choice t’ make.”

She nodded again. “Ah know. But still.”

He shook his head. “But not’ing, chere.” He decided to risk closing the distance between them. He raised one hand to stroke her cheek, relishing the silken texture of her skin. “Y’ worth waitin’ for.”

She tipped her head into the caress, and Remy could feel her lips curving upward in a smile against his palm.

He sighed softly. For tonight, at least, it was enough.


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