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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 38

Adrian watched LeBeau for nearly two days before he found the opportunity he needed.

The Guildmaster had just returned from Worthington Industries, so he had the item Adrian sought on his person. Adrian even knew where he carried it—he’d managed to catch a glimpse of LeBeau pocketing the slim piece of plastic early that morning as he emerged from his office, still shrugging into the ratty old duster he seemed to adore.

Now, LeBeau stood near the middle of the monstrous main cavern, his forward progress halted by a varied group of guildmembers who had converged on him almost as soon as he had appeared. Rather than looking irritated, however, he chatted amiably with the people surrounding him. He seemed to be in a remarkably good mood.

That suited Adrian. People tended to let their guards down when they were happy. Unfortunately, LeBeau wasn’t most people, or even most thieves. Underestimating him could easily be fatal. So Adrian continued to watch, hoping for a serendipitous event that would provide the distraction he needed.

As if his thoughts had conjured her, Rogue appeared at the edge of the crowd. Adrian grinned to himself. Bingo.

Dressed in jeans and tennis shoes, with her mass of red hair tumbling loose, Rogue looked far too young for her position. She slipped through the crowd around LeBeau with a string of greetings and cheerful apologies for those she passed.

Adrian shook his head. He didn’t know how she did it. The shrewd, dangerous woman he’d now had a couple of occasions to meet was completely hidden behind the charming face she presented to the Guild. Her acting was superb, he had to admit. Flawless, even.

He drifted a few steps in the Guildmaster’s direction, careful not to draw attention to himself. Rogue had reached her husband. She laid her hands on his shoulders as his arms encircled her waist, rising up onto her tiptoes to kiss him demurely on the lips. And even though Adrian knew for a fact that the relationship between them was something close to three years old, she still managed to give the impression of a young, inexperienced woman swept up in the heady throes of her first love affair.

Adrian wondered if LeBeau had any idea how thoroughly Rogue had snared him with her perpetual innocence act. Probably not. Anyone with eyes could see that the Guildmaster was completely, utterly, stupid in love with her.

He snorted sourly. And the rest of the Guild wasn’t far behind. She had them all enchanted. But, if things played out the way he hoped, he wouldn’t have to worry long about how much of a threat Rogue might turn out to be. She would be a moot point and LeBeau nothing but a minor footnote in Guild history.

Adrian felt a small thrill at the thought and counseled himself to patience. He couldn’t afford to get distracted. Now wasn’t the time to be thinking of the future that would open up once LeBeau was out of the picture. He had a pinch to make first. A difficult, risky pinch.

Adrian narrowed his focus until nothing existed for him outside the space that separated him from his mark. He let the crowded cavern work to his advantage, turning him into just another body, unnoticed, unremarkable as he angled toward LeBeau. They would come into contact right about there, he estimated, gauging the remaining distance. Adrenaline slid through his veins in a cool rush.

LeBeau bent his head to hear something Rogue said, her voice barely rising above the level of the surrounding din.

Adrian took another couple of steps in their direction. His approach vector was beyond the edge of LeBeau’s peripheral vision, but that left him well within Rogue’s visual range. She, however, appeared to have eyes only for her husband.

Two more steps brought him close enough to hear her words.

“Ah’m really lookin’ forward ta tonight.” She looked up into LeBeau’s face, her expression both shy and coy.

He grinned back, seeming every bit as wrapped up in her as she was in him. “I promised y’ somet’ing resemblin’ a real date.”

Three steps to go. Adrian forced his breathing to remain even, his expression bland. Nothing to draw attention.

“Should ah dress up?” Rogue asked.

Two steps. From the way LeBeau’s expression immediately turned smoky, one would have thought she’d asked a far less innocuous question, Adrian thought.

“Not gon’ be anyone else around, so you can wear—o’ not wear—whatever y’ want,” LeBeau suggested with a grin, his voice pitched low.

Well, that explained where his mind was, anyway. Last step. Now, nothing separated him from the mark but the smallest stretch of empty space. Adrian turned his body to block his hands from casual view.

Rogue blushed, but tipped her head up a fraction, her lips parting in silent invitation.

It simply couldn’t get any better, Adrian decided. He reached for LeBeau’s pocket, timing the motion to coincide with the shift as the Guildmaster leaned down to kiss her. Eyes closed, no less. The man really was completely--

Adrian slid his hand inside the duster’s interior pocket, careful not to catch the material.


He felt cool plastic beneath his fingertips.


The card came away clean, and Adrian tucked it into the sleeve of his suit jacket with a twitch of his wrist. He allowed himself a small smile as he walked away.

Bobby stiffened as Adrian passed by Remy and Rogue. Adrian gave them hardly a glance, twisting his shoulders as he maneuvered his way through the crowd. Bobby’s instincts began to scream.

He mentally backed up, reviewing the last few seconds, but could find nothing alarming in Adrian’s behavior that would trigger such a reaction.

Bobby grimaced. All that means is that I missed it. Remy had taught him to trust his instincts. Somewhere, something had tripped his thief’s senses, even if he couldn’t identify what.

He turned to Deidre, giving his wife an apologetic smile and a quick kiss.

“I have to go.”

Diedre frowned, but nodded. Though he hadn’t shared with her the details of the meeting Jubilee had photographed, she understood the danger Adrian posed as well as Bobby’s absolute dedication to protecting the Guildmaster in any way he could. They both owed Remy too much for it to be any other way.

Bobby touseled his daughter’s hair, where she sat on Diedre’s hip. “Goodnight, sweetheart.”

Clarissa grinned and made grabbing motions with one hand, which passed for a wave at her age. Bobby returned the wave then turned away.

He kept Adrian in sight as he made his way through the crowded cavern. The area had become the social hub of the Guild, and was almost always filled with people. The crowd served as decent camouflage, allowing Bobby to tail Adrian across the main cavern and into the tunnels beyond. There he had to drop back, allowing the other man to move well ahead of him or risk being noticed. But the only reason Bobby could think of for Adrian taking this path was because it led to one of the primary exits from the Guild complex. So that was where he headed.

Once he’d passed through the imaging station, Bobby broke into a jog. He stripped off the leather jacket he’d been wearing against the constant underground chill and quickly turned it inside out. Here was where Remy’s constant drilling about contingency planning and thinking ahead really came in handy, he decided. The interior of the coat was leather, too—done in a stylish gray with a broad white stripe down the back. He slipped the jacket back on and zipped it up.

He pushed through the nondescript metal door at the end of the tunnel and emerged onto a sidewalk in the middle of nighttime New York. Quickly he looked around. Adrian was just lowering himself into a cab about a block and a half down the street. Bobby took note of the cab’s ID number and turned away. His bike was parked a few feet from the door in the opposite direction.

Moving as quickly as he dared, Bobby swung a leg over the seat of the Suzuki motorcycle—a sleek racing number which Remy derisively referred to as a crotch rocket—and stuffed the helmet on his head. Both the bike and the helmet were painted the same gunmetal color as his jacket. The ensemble, with its muted colors and opaque helmet screen, granted Bobby a unique kind of anonymity.

With a glance at traffic, Bobby pulled out into the street. He caught sight of Adrian’s cab after a minute, double checking the number against the one in his head, then dropped back a ways to remain inconspicuous. He had his cell phone on him and debated calling Remy to let him know something was up, but eventually decided against it. The man deserved one night off. Until Bobby had some kind of conclusive proof that this was something Remy needed to know about tonight, he would handle it on his own.

A few blocks south of Central Park, Adrian’s cab pulled over and the thief emerged. He leaned down to talk to the cabbie, obviously telling him to wait, then stepped up onto the sidewalk. Bobby pulled over at the corner about a block away. He parked the bike and knelt down beside it, pretending to examine the area around the engine housing. Both he and the bike were tucked out of Adrian’s direct line of sight, but by leaning forward just a bit Bobby could see around the corner to where the thief stood, waiting.

Ten minutes passed. Adrian paced impatiently until a dark sedan pulled up. A black motorcycle similar to Bobby’s trailed the sedan then pulled around it, coming to a stop at an angle in front of the sedan’s nose. The rider, who was dressed in black leathers that matched the bike, planted his feet on the ground, but didn’t dismount.

A man got out of the back of the sedan. Bobby recognized him after a moment as Alan Garbo and his stomach knotted. He cursed himself silently. He was still looking for someone who could confirm Garbo’s affiliation—neither Logan nor Mystique had been able to provide him with a contact who knew people inside OZT.

Garbo carried a briefcase in one hand, and Bobby knew instinctively that a trade was about to take place. He spent a moment fervently wishing he had his camera with him, but he hadn’t yet had a chance to get it back from Jubilee. Whatever happened here would go unrecorded, with nothing but his own word as to the events.

Adrian and Garbo spoke briefly and then the ex-CIA agent opened the briefcase he carried and showed the contents to Adrian. Bobby caught a glimpse of neat rows of bills, and from its size estimated the briefcase to hold something close to a quarter-million dollars.

Adrian extended one hand as Garbo closed and latched the briefcase. Bobby couldn’t quite see what the thief held, save that it was small and rectangular, like a credit card. Garbo took the item and passed the briefcase to Adrian in a single motion.

With a sharp nod, Adrian took his leave of the other. He walked quickly back to his cab and got in. The cab pulled away.

Bobby rose to his feet and slung a leg over the seat of the bike. For a moment he was tempted to stay on Adrian, but instinct told him the thief had accomplished what he came outside to do. Most likely he would make arrangements for the money and then head back to the Guild complex. Finding out what Garbo was going to do with whatever Adrian had sold him was potentially much more important.

Garbo walked over to the man on the black motorcycle. He held out the card, which the rider accepted and tucked inside his jacket. Immediately, the rider revved the engine and peeled out into the street.

Nerves tingling with adrenaline, Bobby hurried to follow him.

“This is nice, sugah.”

Remy looked up to find Rogue leaning against the edge of the archway leading into the small room adjacent to their bedroom. Usually, the area served as a rather useless sitting room, but today the couch had been pushed against the wall and Remy had brought in a small, circular table and two chairs.

He straightened from where he’d been putting the finishing touches on their meal. It was still the same cafeteria-style food that everyone in the complex had to live with, but the two place settings were china and a bouquet of roses sat in the center of the table. Soft music played in the background from a small stereo system.

Remy grinned and adopted a thick, false French accent. “Welcome to Che LeBeau, madam.” He bowed with a flourish and heard Rogue giggle.

“Ooh, madam. Ah like the sound o’ that.” She came forward into the room, hips swaying softly as she walked.

Remy stepped around the table and took Rogue into his arms, discovering in the process that she was wearing a simple, free-flowing gown he didn’t recognize. She molded her body against him, and he took the opportunity to kiss her. He kept it casual, seeing as they were just getting ready to sit down to dinner, but that was hard to do when she felt so right in his arms.

She sighed softly as they parted. A nervous little tremor ran through her heat signature, quickly damping out. “Thank ya for doin’ this.” She nodded toward the table. “It seems like it’s been a long time since we’ve been out on a date.”

“It has been a long long time,” he agreed. It had been five months or more since that night they’d had dinner with the Drakes. “A lot’s happened since then.”

She snorted in amusement. “Just a bit, sugah.” Her words were laced with irony.

Uncertain how to respond to that, Remy turned her toward the table and held her chair. Rogue settled into her seat, her heat signature smooth and bright and he tucked her chair up to the table. She busied herself with her napkin as he went around to his own seat.

“Did ah tell ya ah talked ta Kurt again yesterday?” Rogue laid her napkin in her lap and raised her head to look at him over the spray of roses. There was an edge to her voice that made him think she wasn’t thrilled with how the conversation had gone.

Remy shook his head. “Y’ said y’ were goin’ to.” He’d talked with the British Guildmaster and gotten his agreement to facilitate putting Excaliber in touch with the appropriate people to help them. Rogue was supposed to give Kurt a call to let him know how to make contact with the Guild-- though Excaliber wouldn’t know that was who they were dealing with. He picked up his wine and sipped it.

“He had the gall ta ask me if ah was pregnant.”

Remy very nearly snorted wine out his nose. He coughed, trying to recover, and heard Rogue snicker.

“Sorry, sugah. Ah should’ve warned ya.”

Remy waved her apology away as he dabbed his lips with his napkin. “I didn’ realize we were t’ the point o’ talkin’ about children.” His tone came out drier than he intended, but she didn’t seem to take offense.

“Well, that would be puttin’ the cart before the horse, now wouldn’t it?” Her heat signature flickered, colors flaring unevenly, but her voice was amused. “Anyway, ah really had ta bite mah tongue ta keep from tellin’ mah well-intentioned brother a thing or two.”

Remy shrugged sympathetically. “Comes wit’ the territory, chere.” He’d fought that urge for four years with the X-Men.

“Ah know. It was kinda funny, honestly.” She raised a hand to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear. “But ah really wanted ta reach through the phone an’ strangle him.”

Remy chuckled. “You can pay him back by makin’ him babysit when the day does arrive.”

From the way her signature swirled, he had the feeling he’d taken her by surprise. She gave an embarrassed little laugh. “Ah’m not sure ah’m ready ta have a serious conversation that involves you an’ me havin’ children,” she told him.

Remy couldn’t help his grin. “Given your plans f’ de evenin’, chere, de possibility does exist.”

Mah plans?” Heat crept up her neck into her cheeks, but laughter underlay her words. “Like ya haven’t been tryin’ ta seduce me f’ years now.”

He leaned back casually in his seat. “Au contraire, cherie. I distinctly remember bein’ fast asleep an’ you not bein’ able t’ keep y’ hands off me.”

The flush in her cheeks intensified. “Well, what do ya expect a girl ta do when she finds a half-naked man in her bed?” she shot back.

Remy laughed outright. “Y’ wan’ a list?”

Her fork clattered on her plate as she covered her mouth with her hands. He could see her shoulders shaking as she laughed. “Right this moment, no,” she said once she’d recovered. “But later, ah just might.” Her voice held a wealth of promise.

Remy decided to let that one go. It was enough that she was willing to play, and that the old joke had gained a response other than mortified retreat. They ate in companionable silence, though Rogue appeared to be pushing her food around on her plate more than actually eating it. Her heat signature rippled from time to time, but remained steady overall.

Eventually, Remy set his silverware aside and laid his napkin atop them. Rogue looked up, her heart rate accelerating. He stood.

“Dance with me.”

She set her napkin aside as well and rose. Remy drew her into his arms, finding she fit just as perfectly now as she had at the evening’s start. She wrapped her arms around his neck and tucked her head beneath his chin. Remy breathed in the scent of her as they swayed gently to the music. He let his hands roam the curve of her waist, feeling the soft, slick fabric of her dress scrunch beneath his fingertips.

“What color is dis?” he finally asked. He missed color, missed being able to see the luminous, almost unearthly green of her eyes, the soft pink of her lips. And he truly regretted not being able to see her in the gowns she wore to the Club.

“It’s gold,” she answered, her voice soft. “You don’t recognize it, do you?”

“Should I?” He cast back through his memory, wondering when she might have had occasion to wear a gown like this. He slid one hand up her back, then along the dress’ conservative swoop neckline and down one long sleeve. It was too plain for the Club and too whimsical for much of anything else.

Her breath tickled his skin as she chuckled. “It’s part of mah weddin’ gown. The underlayer.” Her arms tightened fractionally. “Ah didn’t want ta try wearin’ the whole thing—ah doubt ah could put it on all by mahself anyway—but ah wanted somethin’ from then.”

Remy understood, with a sharp stab of guilt for how much his choices had cost her. Even something so simple and profound as her wedding night. He could never have asked her to sacrifice so much of herself, her dreams, and the fact that she had chosen to do so still had the power to rob him of breath. He pulled back just far enough to capture her face in his hands. He kissed her forehead, her closed eyelids, her mouth.

Rogue gasped softly, her signature lighting with desire. Her reaction nearly proved his undoing. Remy pulled her close, burying his face in her thick hair as he fought for control. His blood pounded in his ears, nearly drowning out reason. But he wasn’t one of the premier thieves on the planet for nothing. A lifetime of strict training, of discipline and self-control, served him well now. He drew on those resources, forcing his body to obey him. This night was entirely about Rogue-- about unlocking the heavy chains of terror that bound her heart and setting her most closely guarded treasure free. In that sense, perhaps, it was like a pinch, but not like any other in his life.

Once he’d mastered himself, he straightened, smoothing her hair with one hand. She tipped her head upward, her body soft and pliant against him. Remy bent to kiss her and felt her immediate surrender. He deepened the kiss, tangling his fingers in the hair at the nape of her neck. And this time, though she still twitched—still uncertain, still afraid—she didn’t pull away.

She sighed shakily as they parted. “Ah can’t tell ya how many times ah’ve dreamed of this.” Her voice was little more than a whisper.

Remy gave a low chuckle. “I’d have t’ admit t’ fantasizing about y’ more than a little, too,” he murmured beside her ear.

As expected, she blushed hotly. Remy caught her hand and raised it. Gently spreading her fingers, he kissed her palm and then the inside of her wrist. He could feel her pulse racing beneath his lips, twin to his own.

She made a noise in the back of her throat, somewhere between a gasp and a moan. “Remy?”

He raised his head, brushing his thumb across the soft skin where his lips had so recently been. “Oui, chere?”

“Take me ta bed.” There was no hesitation in her voice.

Remy grinned, a fierce, hot joy spreading through his chest. Wordlessly, he drew her toward the bedroom.

The rider on the black motorcycle made Bobby about eight blocks later.

Bobby’s first hint came when the rider drew a small sub-machine gun from a holster near his leg and aimed it behind him, spraying bullets. At least one struck Bobby’s bike, throwing bright sparks as it ricocheted away. Another sliced across his ribs, hot and agonizing. Bobby had no time to wonder how bad it might be as car tires screeched and horns blared.

Bobby cursed and yanked on the handle bars, darting around the sudden chaos of braking, skidding automobiles. He kept the black rider in sight and leaned low over the top of the bike to reduce his profile. Drawing the handgun he carried, he returned fire, squinting against the bright muzzle flash.

The black rider peeled hard around a corner hemmed in on all sides by tall office buildings. Bobby had no option but to follow him. He took the corner wide, nearly sideswiping the cars parked along the curb, but the maneuver probably saved his life as the rider fired behind him again. Bobby swerved, fishtailing behind the black bike as he tried to stay out of his line of fire.

Then, with an explosive roar, the front tire of Bobby’s motorcycle burst. He felt the bike destabilize and knew he was going to lose it. Quickly wrenching the handle bars around, he laid the bike down. He fell clear, hitting the pavement on his back in a blinding flash of pain. The motorcycle slid ahead of him, sending up a fountain of sparks as metal dug into cement. Bobby followed it, sliding feet first down the center of the street. He still had his gun and took aim at the rider’s retreating figure, squeezing off the last few rounds in his clip before the other disappeared around the next corner. He couldn’t tell for certain if he hit him, but from the way the black rider suddenly wavered, he thought maybe he had.

Bobby slid to a stop, panting, his side and back both burning fiercely. A moment later, his bike hit a parked car with a metallic crunch that made him wince. He rolled over with a groan and pushed himself up onto his knees. From there he straightened and tried to take stock of the situation.

It only took him a couple of seconds to realize where he was. Sleek skyscrapers rose all around him, and just barely visible in the direction the rider on the black bike had disappeared he could see a slice of the Worthington building, brightly lit as it rose against the night sky. All of a sudden, Bobby had a sinking certainty he knew what Adrian had sold to OZT.

He had to warn Warren. Blood pounding in his ears, Bobby dug inside his jacket for his cellphone. He pulled it out, only to find the slender piece of electronics blank, dead, its plastic faceplate shattered by a bullet. He threw it away with a curse. Grimacing, he clambered to his feet. He paused just long enough to trade out the clip in his Beretta and chamber a round, then took off running for the tall spire of Worthington Industries.

By the time he reached the front entrance to the skyscraper, the wound in his side was screaming. It couldn’t be too bad, though, he reminded himself. He was still on his feet. He slid to a stop against the tall glass doors. The front lobby of Worthington Industries was brightly lit. A vaguely familiar man stood inside a semi-circular desk at the center of the wide space, while a couple of uniformed security guards lounged at one of the imaging stations beyond. Everything looked normal.

Bobby yanked open the door and strode inside. The man at the desk watched him approach, his wary expression giving way to surprise as he recognized Bobby.

“Mr. Drake.” He looked Bobby over in alarm. “Is everything all right? I wasn’t told you would be coming by tonight.” Bobby had spent a fair amount of time at WI checking and re-checking the installation of the new security system.

Bobby shook his head and stuck one hand out over the edge of the desk. “I need to talk to Warren—Mr. Worthington—now.”

The night man gulped at his tone and grabbed the phone from its cradle. He pressed a couple of buttons on the numeric pad and handed it to Bobby without a word.

Bobby tucked the phone against his ear. “Get ahold of whoever’s running Security tonight and tell them to lock down the building,” he told the other man. “Then get people up to the penthouse. OZT’s got an agent loose in the building somewhere.”

The phone rang in his ear. After the second ring, it picked up and Bobby heard Warren’s voice on the far end.

“Yes, Darrin, what is it?”

In a far corner of his brain, Bobby was impressed that Warren knew the night manager’s name. “Warren, it’s Bobby.”

“Bobby?” Warren’s voice immediately sharpened with concern. “What’s up? Wait, are you in the lobby?”

Bobby shook his head. “Yeah. Listen, you and Betsy need to get out of the penthouse. OZT’s got somebody in the building. He’s armed and he’s got free access through the security.”

What? How?”

Bobby didn’t get a chance to reply as a series of sharp staccato bursts rang in his ear. He heard Warren cry out, but whether it was in pain or merely surprise he couldn’t be sure.

“Warren!” Bobby threw the phone at the night manager and spun toward the back of the building. Beyond the imaging stations, one of Worthington’s security people burst out into the hall with a couple of armed guards in tow.

The security supervisor, a man named John Ortiz who Bobby recognized from his trips to WI, had a walkie-talkie to his mouth. “I’ve got shots fired in the penthouse,” he was saying as he jogged toward the elevators. The men behind him, Bobby was pleased to see, were readying high-power laser rifles and leaving their sidearms holstered.

Bobby ran to catch up with them. He vaulted across one of the empty guards’ stations by the imagers, landing with a grace that would have made Remy proud, and sprinted after the group. John saw him coming and held the elevator.

Bobby nodded in terse greeting as he ducked into the elevator car. John returned the motion, his expression grim. “So who’s our shooter?” he asked. John was perhaps fifty, with a sprinkling of gray in his black hair and busy mustache, and a gravelly voice that reminded Bobby strongly of Wolverine.

Bobby shrugged. “OZT, probably.”

John withdrew his passcard from his pocket and swiped it across the sensor above the floor buttons to unlock access to the upper levels. The elevator rose, accelerating in a whir of machinery.

“How’d he get in?” John asked.

Bobby reached over to flick John’s passcard. The other man’s eyebrows rose toward his hairline. There were only three of the “golden” passcards in existence. Warren had one, whoever was manning the Worthington security office had the second, and Remy had the third. Even Betsy didn’t get a free pass through the security system. The OZT agent could have come up from the parking garage or through one of the service entrances without causing security to so much as hiccup.

The elevator began to slow. Bobby and John took up positions beside the doors, guns held ready. The two uniformed guards fell in beside them. The guys with the laser rifles would go first, of course, which was just fine by Bobby. The wound in his ribs burned as sweat trickled into it.

The doors slid aside. Bobby took in the details as he followed the uniformed guards out into the penthouse apartment. Nothing looked immediately out of place. From the elevator Bobby could see into the dining room straight ahead. A fire burned in the Italian marble fireplace, raising lustrous reflections from the antique table and accompanying chairs. A spray of orchids decorated the table. To the right, a short hallway led to a living room. Bobby could see only a small slice of the room—the back of a white couch and a piece of a painting in a gilded frame. To the left, a longer hall led toward the bedrooms.

John pointed toward the bedrooms, indicating he and one of the uniformed guards would go that way. Bobby nodded and followed the other guard down the hall toward the living room.

A loud noise from the direction of the living room made him freeze. Quickly, the uniform moved forward and swung around the corner into the room. Bobby was only a moment behind him. He stayed out of the guard’s line of fire as he, too, turned the corner.

Bobby took in the scene before him with a sense of unreality. Warren lay on the floor beside the couch, face up, his wings spread limply across the furniture. A large red stain covered his chest. Bobby couldn’t tell from where he was whether he was still breathing. Just beyond him, the OZT assassin and Betsy were locked in a combat stance. The man held the submachine gun up with both hands, awkwardly trying to deflect a blow from her katana. She was dressed only in a short satin negligee which was spattered with blood, as were her arms and face.

Betsy gave a guttural scream and pulled the sword back for another swing. Bobby didn’t bother to announce himself. He simply took aim and fired. The first shot spun the OZT agent around, and Bobby put two more rounds directly into his chest.

The assassin collapsed, bloody foam spraying from his lips. For a second no one moved. Then Betsy dropped her sword on the carpet with a dull thud and fell to her knees beside Warren. She tore his shirt apart as Bobby joined her. Nausea coiled in his gut, and the smell of blood was nearly overwhelming.

“Is he alive?” he demanded.

Betsy pressed her fingers to the side of Warren’s neck and, after a moment, nodded.

Bobby turned to the assassin. His hands had begun to shake and he had to take a couple of deep breaths to still them. He yanked down the zipper on the man’s riding jacket and rifled his pockets until he found the stolen passcard. John and the other uniformed guard arrived at a run, and John immediately got on his walkie-talkie to call for medical assistance.

Betsy looked up from where she was applying pressure to the ragged wound in Warren’s chest. “Tell Warren’s pilot to get the helicopter spun up,” she instructed John sharply. “And then call ahead to Mount Sinai so they’ll know to expect us.”

Feeling helpless, Bobby turned back to Psylocke. “Do you have a phone up here I can use?”

She jerked her chin toward the doorway on the far side of the room, her violet eyes wild. “In the den. Why?”

Bobby shook his head. “I need to call Remy.”

Remy woke from a light doze. He opened his eyes blearily in the darkness, uncertain what had woken him. Memory returned, soaking into him in a warm rush and bringing with it a deep sense of contentment. He grinned lazily. In retrospect, he shouldn’t have been surprised that Rogue, for all her loud, brazen manner, would be just the opposite in bed-- shy and sweet, and for all her eagerness, nearly silent. But the way she had tried to say his name, only to end up swallowing it as she tumbled helplessly over the edge, was a memory he would treasure.

The cool underground air kissed his skin, and only then did he realize that Rogue no longer lay curled up against him. He blinked again, more awake now, and silently berated himself. He really shouldn’t have fallen asleep on her.

He raised his head, searching for her. He was pretty sure he’d only been dozing for fifteen or twenty minutes, at most. Rogue wasn’t in the wide bed, or anywhere in the bedroom. Feeling the first stirring of alarm, he sat up. A faint glow leaked from beneath the door to the bathroom. Only then did he register the sound of the shower running, and felt some of his tension drain away. That was fairly normal. He debated simply lying back down, but then decided that the opportunity to climb into the shower with Rogue wasn’t one to be missed.

Yawning, he clambered out of bed and shuffled toward the bathroom. With each step his awareness sharpened, a warning tingling across his senses, but it wasn’t until his fingers lit on the doorknob that he realized why. Beneath the rush of the running water he heard a different sound, one that made his blood freeze in absolute terror.

He shoved the bathroom door open. Rogue sat curled against the back wall of the shower, sobbing brokenly into her drawn up knees.

The bottom dropped out of Remy’s world. He staggered, grabbing the door jamb for support. No. Nononono. This can’t be happening. The thought spun sickeningly through his mind.

For a moment he simply wanted to run. After everything they’d been through-- everything it had taken to get to this point-- how could things have gone so horribly wrong? He had not pushed her. He’d let her set the timetable, let her come to him, and he’d made dead certain, every step of the way that she was still with him—still wanting, still eager. Her body couldn’t lie to him, not with his vision the way it was.

Finally, he pushed himself away from the door frame, forcing himself forward into the room. He couldn’t breathe.

He opened the shower door and stepped inside. The water was tepid, quickly running toward cold. He twisted the knob, bringing a fresh burst of warmth.

Rogue raised her head as he cautiously knelt in front of her. He had no idea what expression might be on her face, only that her breathing was ragged and still broken by little sobs. The cooling water had lowered her skin temperature just enough to wreck any ability he might have had to read her emotions.

“Hey,” she said on the tail end of a shuddering breath.

Remy was afraid to touch her. “Chere—Rogue—” He had no idea what to say.

She uncurled from her tight ball and reached for him. Remy gladly took her into his arms, reassured somewhat by the fact that she wasn’t flinching away from him. Rogue buried her face in his chest and wrapped her arms tightly around him. Slowly her breathing began to even out, and bit by bit he felt the muscles in her shoulders and back begin to relax.

“Ya weren’t supposed ta wake up,” she said with a little sniff and raised a hand to comb the wet hair away from her face. There was the faintest note of reproach in her voice.

Inexplicably, the idea that she had wanted to hide this from him made Remy angry. He throttled his reaction mercilessly, but could do nothing about the bitter knife that went through his heart. “Why not?” He wasn’t sure why he asked, or if he could stand to hear the answer.

“Because ah knew ya’d think it was somethin’ ta do with you, or us, and it ain’t.” She burrowed more deeply against his chest as her tears started up anew. “Ah didn’t want ya feelin’ guilty over somethin’ that ain’t ya fault.”

Remy tried to make sense of the statement, but couldn’t entirely wrap his mind around it. “What isn’t m’ fault?” he finally asked. He felt like he was picking his way through a minefield with no idea what he might accidentally set off that would rip him to pieces.

“This—me.” She sat back, gesturing vaguely with one hand. Sighing, she drew her knees up once again and perched her elbow atop them, knotting her fingers in her bangs. “Ah don’t even know foh sure why ah’m cryin’.” She leaned her head back against the wall of the shower and wiped her cheeks with one hand. “Ah was lyin’ there, thinkin’ about how good ah felt—” A hint of a smile lit her voice, but was almost immediately drowned out as her voice began to shake. “An’ it all just kinda… hit me… all at once.” She clamped a hand across her mouth as a sob was wrenched out of her.

Remy couldn’t stand it. He moved closer to her and pulled her into his arms once more. She clung to him, her tears coming full force. The bout only lasted for a few minutes, though, and then began to taper off.

Rogue heaved a sigh against his chest. “When ah first got mah powers, ah was terrified of touchin’ people—even bein’ near them. But in the back of mah mind ah kept hopin’ that it wouldn’t always be that way.” She drew a shaking breath. “Mystique made me use mah powers, an’ for a while ah thought ah’d eventually get control. Ah really did.”

She went rigid in his arms, every muscle tensed as she fought a new round of sobs. But after Cody, an’ Carol—” She gulped. “Even you, sugah—ah knew it was never going ta happen an’ ah was just going ta have ta accept…” She drew another shuddering breath. “Ah was going ta have ta accept that ah would never get married or have children… never even have a lover—“ Her voice broke on the word, and Remy tightened his grip, his heart aching for the raw pain he could hear in her voice. Rogue sniffed mightily and went on. “That ah would never really be a woman, not in any of the ways that matter.”

Remy stroked her hair, murmuring reassurances to her and wondering how she had managed to keep going for so many years when the future she could see was so bleak and empty.

Rogue sighed again, softly this time. “And ah’m just a little overwhelmed right now, is all.”

Out in the bedroom, the phone rang. Remy ignored it and instead concentrated on the woman in his arms.

“Phone, sugah,” she said after a moment.

Remy hugged her a little more tightly. “I hear it.”

“Aren’t ya going ta answer it?”

“No.” Another shrill ring punctuated the word.

She raised her head. “It ain’t like it might be a wrong number,” she said, sounding both amused and exasperated.

Remy just closed his eyes and laid his cheek against the top of her head. He really didn’t care who might be calling. Guild matters would simply have to wait.

“Remy, go get the phone.” This time exasperation dominated her voice. She wriggled out of his grasp and started to stand. “Ah’m all right, really.”

He rose with her, his conscience ticking at him. He’d left pretty explicit orders that he be left alone for this one night, so whoever was calling would have to be pretty certain that whatever they had was worth disobeying a direct order from the Guildmaster.

He caught her elbow. “Y’ sure?”

Rogue nodded. “Go on.”

Reluctantly he stepped out of the shower. Grabbing his towel, he wrapped it around himself to ward off the worst of the underground chill and went to get the phone. Behind him, the shower cut out.

He found the offending piece of electronics and put it to his ear. “What?”

“Hey, boss. Sorry to interrupt.” It was Bobby, sounding both exhausted and grim. Remy’s gut clenched in apprehension.

“What is it?” He leaned one hip against the edge of the desk, already certain he wasn’t going to like what he heard.

Bobby sighed, and Remy’s sense of impending doom intensified. “I’m at Worthington. You need to get over here, Remy. Warren’s been shot.”


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