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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 48

Scott leaned back in his chair in Worthington Industries’ meeting room, stretching his arms behind his back and rolling his neck while he waited for Warren to complete the complex encrypted link-up that allowed them to speak with the mutant underground, Excalibur and the Fantastic Four without OZT finding out.

On one side of him, Rogue and Logan chatted amiably about Guild matters while on the other, Ororo and Bishop were discussing the new mission the X-Men had begun putting together. At the far end of the room, Warren bent over a laptop as he worked on the connection. Gambit had been too busy waging his private war against the Colombian drug cartel to break away.

Scott snorted to himself. He hated drug dealers as much as the next guy, so he couldn’t muster any real objection to the thieves dumping millions of dollars worth of stolen cocaine into the East River—or in the case of the Miami deliveries, the Gulf of Mexico—but he wished it didn’t occupy so much of Remy’s time and attention.

The fact that it was all fall out from Adrian’s death was a fact Scott tried not to dwell on. He could still hear Remy’s quiet warning echoing in his mind when he thought about it: You don’ want t’ know, an’ I ain’t gon’ tell y’. In retrospect, Scott was forced to agree. And the fact that all of that manipulation and brutality had been for the sole purpose of keeping the X-Men alive meant he could do nothing but accept it and move on.

The large screen at the far end of the table dissolved into static and then filled with the familiar split screen showing their allies’ faces.

"Good morning, X-Men," Moira greeted them solemnly. She, Kurt and Sean occupied the largest of the three images on the screen. Scott immediately noted that Sean wore a butterfly bandage across a short gash on his forehead, though the other two appeared unharmed. Excalibur had taken out an OZT fuel depot just outside Liverpool the day before.

"Good morning, Moira," Scott returned. He split his gaze between the three. "We saw the news last night. Nice work."

Banshee grinned at him. "Thanks to ye. We could nae have done it without yuir help."

"Any injuries?" Logan asked.

Sean shook his head. "None t’ speak of."

Kurt leaned forward, his brow wrinkled in a frown. "Scott, do you know what kind of people these are that you’ve put us in contact with?"

Out of the corner of his eye, Scott saw Rogue tense, anger snapping in her gaze, and he reached over to lay a restraining hand on her arm.

"I can guess," he told Kurt dryly. He knew Excalibur had had direct contact with one or two British thieves, along with a variety of players in the shady world of arms dealing and freelance troubleshooting. He shrugged. "But those are the contacts you need to get the job done."

Sean shot the other man a clear warning look, and Kurt subsided with a shake of his head.

Scott quickly changed subjects. "Reed, you said you expected to have your launch vehicle design finalized by now. How is that coming?"

Interest sharpened around the virtual room at his words.

Reed cleared his throat. "I do have progress to report on that score," he began. "First, let me qualify that it isn’t the vehicle design that has posed the most significant challenge in this exercise. It’s the launch."

Scott’s stomach tightened at his words. They had to get into space if they wanted to stop OZT for good. "Go on," he said.

Reed nodded. "Because OZT has us isolated inside Four Freedoms Plaza, we have no choice but to build the vehicle here and launch it directly from the building. Realistically, the elevator shafts are our only option. Ben and I agree that we can cannibalize the four central elevator shafts and turn the core of the building into our launch tube." He glanced at something off screen before returning his attention to Scott. "However, the dimensions of the building core then size the fuel tanks on the launch vehicle, and those, in turn, determine the final dimensions of the vehicle itself."

He took a breath, his expression grim. "I’ve been through the calculations a dozen times and racked my brain for every out-of-the-box design solution I can think of, and each time I come back to the same thing: This is going to be a one-way trip." He shrugged. "I can get you into space, Scott, but that’s it. You will have to find your own way home."

Scott absorbed the explanation with a kind of resolute dismay. They would either destroy the suppression field and get their powers back, or they would die. In the depths of his heart, he’d always suspected it would come down to that.

"Understood," he told Reed. "Which brings me to my next question: Assuming the launch goes as planned, are we going to be able to dock with OZT’s space station without getting blown out of the sky?"

Reed nodded. "I believe so. I’ve been in contact with Valerie Cooper at the Pentagon and she says she’ll be able to get us clearance codes."

"Nice," Rogue commented, her brows arching sharply over her green eyes.

Scott turned back to Reed. "Are OZT and the Pentagon still that closely aligned?" he asked. SHIELD’s defection would indicate otherwise, in his mind.

Reed shrugged. "On paper, at least. I get the sense that they’re very quietly backing away from OZT and hoping Bastion won’t notice."

"Okay. I guess we’ll have to leave that in your hands." He turned his attention to Cecilia Reyes. "Doctor, how is your NASA connection doing with figuring out who we need to talk to about getting the original plans for Bastion’s space station?"

The station had once been part of the Magneto Protocols, but before that it had been a low-Earth scientific observatory operating under NASA’s oversight. The Guild had managed to procure the change specs for the upgrade to the station under the Magneto Protocols, but they needed to know what the original structure had been, and that information, unsurprisingly, had not been kept with the Magneto files.

Cecilia gave him a glimpse of her usual, thin smile and nodded. "I just emailed the information to Warren a few minutes ago."

Scott glanced over at Warren, who gave him a thumbs-up to show that he’d received the email.

"All right." Scott clasped his hands together on the table in front of him. "I guess that covers everything I know of. Does anyone have anything else?"

Sean cleared his throat, looking sheepish. "Aye, there is one thing. I hate to ask for more money, especially after everything the X-Men have already done..."

Scott found himself smiling. "It goes fast. I understand." He wasn’t responsible for the money in the X-Men’s current circumstances, but he got to listen to both Warren and Remy ranting on the subject. WI wasn’t in the best of financial shape after narrowly escaping OZT’s illegal takeover. And the New York Guild, though it sat on three centuries worth of hoarded wealth, was beginning to burn down those resources under the dual strains of supporting the Guild’s entire population and funding the X-Men’s operations.

He shrugged. "Let us put our heads together and we’ll see what we can do."

"Well hello, stranger."

Remy grinned at the warm, flirtatious note in his wife’s voice as he closed the bedroom door behind him. "Hello y’self, cherie." She’d already been asleep when he came in last night and had been up and gone by the time he woke, so it had been most of twenty-four hours since they’d seen each other.

Rogue lay on her stomach in the middle of the bed, her feet kicked up like a teenager’s as she worked on one of the laptops. With a groan she pushed the computer away and rolled over onto her back in a sinuous stretch.

His grin widened. "If dat ain’ an invitation, I don’ know what is." He slid out of his suit jacket, tossing it toward the desk chair with little concern for whether the garment made it, and stripped off his tie as he crossed the distance to the bed.

Rogue laughed as he crawled onto the bed beside her. He propped himself comfortably on one elbow and leaned down to kiss her. Rogue returned the kiss, wrapping her arms around his neck.

"Whatcha workin’ on?" Remy asked when they parted.

She heaved a sigh. "Email."

"Ah." He ran a finger along the small gap between the bottom of her shirt and the top of her jeans, relishing the softness of her skin and the way she squirmed when he tickled her. "Anyt’ing important?"

"Well," she answered, her voice underlain with laughter, "Deidre an’ ah have given up on translatin’ anything that’s not written with English letters, so other than weedin’ out the natural male enhancement spam from those accounts, ya going ta have ta deal with ’em yaself."

He chuckled, and she went on. "Otherwise, not really. We’re gettin’ a lot o’ requests from other Guilds foh information on how we’re organizin’ things here, so ah’ve been puttin’ together a document ah can cut an’ paste as needed." Her tone soured. "Oh, an’ there’s a formal request from MI-5 foh a thief ta help them with an intelligence op they’re runnin’. The Guildmaster of Great Britain passed it on an’ said ya owe him foh helpin’ Excalibur."

Remy made a noncommittal sound. He was trying very hard to stay out of the current tension between Rogue and her brother. "All right. We’ll probably have t’ honor dat one. It’d be more trouble than it’s worth t’ refuse."

Rogue rolled away from him and with a sigh resumed her position in front of the laptop. Remy immediately missed her warmth.

"Okay, sugah. Ah can draft the reply now." She looked back over her shoulder at him. "Do ah send it to the Guildmaster or directly ta the MI-5 office?"

"MI-5. Send a separate note t’ the Guildmaster tellin’ him we’re takin’ it." Remy flopped onto his back and closed his eyes. The muted clacking of Rogue’s fingers on the keyboard filled the stillness.

"So how’d yoh council meetin’ go?" she asked after a moment.

Remy laced his hands behind his head. "I wish they’d jus’ vote already." The process of selecting a council member to replace Adrian had turned out to be a painfully deliberate one. At least this last round of discussion had narrowed the choices to three and Remy had hopes of eventually bringing the matter to a close. None of the prospective appointees posed the kind of threat Adrian had. Two of them Remy believed he might even be able to count as allies, at least part of the time.

’What did I miss at Worthington?" he turned the question back on her.

"Scott hasn’t filled ya in?"

Remy stifled a yawn. "He did. Doesn’ mean he covered all the right details."

She chuckled and proceeded to give him a detailed recounting of the meeting. She didn’t end up adding a great deal to what Scott had told him, but now he could be certain he wasn’t missing anything important.

Rogue closed the laptop with a snap. "Enough business, sugah." She pushed it aside and crawled back to him.

Remy obligingly held his arms open as she snuggled down beside him and then wrapped her up in a hug. Contentment settled like a soft, warm weight in his chest. He absently stroked her hair, letting his thoughts wander. He didn’t really know what to do with this kind of happiness. It felt real, though... perhaps because it had come at such a steep price. He only wished Rogue hadn’t been forced to shoulder the lion’s share of it.

He pressed a kiss into the part of her hair. "How are y’ doin’, chere?" he asked quietly. The first few days after Adrian’s death had been hard. Hard on her, and hard for him to watch her suffer and not be able to do anything about it. But after a few days her spirit had rebounded, and now she seemed to be her usual, cheerful self.

She tensed, but just as quickly relaxed against him. "Ah’m good."

"Y’ sure?" He knew he couldn’t push too hard on this subject, but he needed to know she would be all right.

She raised her head to look at him, but Remy could only guess at the expression that might be on her face. "Really, sugah." Her voice was warm. She laid her head back down. "Besides, ah’m not the one who’s up every other night with nighmares, hon."

Remy winced at that, but couldn’t argue the point. The Morlocks, the sentinels, even that theater full of people one rainy night in Seattle...they haunted his dreams while his subconscious struggled to lay the bodies of the dead back in their graves.

"Those’ll go away after a while," he finally said. "They always do."

She stroked his chest. "That ain’t a very good solution. Trust me. Ah know."

Frustrated, Remy sat up, sliding his shoulder out from beneath her warm weight. How could he possibly explain the hammer blow of fear he felt at the very idea of trying to unravel that knot? He’d made his choices and sold his soul, and the road that had led him down wasn’t one he could unwalk, even if he wanted to.

Leaning over, he rested his elbows on his knees and knotted his hands in his hair. Rogue sat quietly beside him, but he could imagine her twisting her hands in her lap the way she did when her feelings were hurt.

"Leave it, Rogue. Please."

Her weight shifted on the bed, though she made no move to leave. "Ah promised ah wouldn’t press ya foh details," she said with a faint edge to her voice.

Silence filled the space between them then, a wordless gulf Remy had no idea how to cross. Eventually, Rogue sighed.

"How come ya never call me by mah name?"

Startled, Remy raised his head. "Huh?"

"Mah name. How come ya’ve never used it? Not even when we’re... makin’ love." She stumbled over the mention of sex, and he was certain that if he looked he would see a hot flush in her cheeks. Usually he found her embarrassment endearing, particularly given how uninhibited she’d become, but at the moment he was merely confused by the sudden change in topic.

"I got de sense y’ didn’t really want anybody using it," he finally answered. Her name was a piece of her that he’d always hoped she would give him one day—a gift even more precious than the ability to touch her—but circumstances had stolen that opportunity away.

"Ya not just anybody, Remy." She rested one hand on his back, her palm warm through the thin fabric of his shirt. "You’re mah husband, the man ah love." She moved closer, laying her cheek on his shoulder and wrapping her arms around him.

Remy released the breath he didn’t know he’d been holding and reached up to cover her hand with his. "Anna." He tasted her name, finding it even sweeter than he’d imagined. He’d never let himself use it, not even in the privacy of his own mind. He reached up to catch her face and drew her down for a kiss.

Rogue pulled back after a moment. She stared at him from a distance of a few inches. "Don’t ya dare start shuttin’ me out again," she said sternly. "Ah know ya don’t want ta get inta the details, an’ that’s fine, but ya do not get ta be all concerned about mah wellbein’ an’ then turn around an’ refuse ta talk ta me about yours. Hear me?"

After a short internal argument, Remy surrendered. She had him dead to rights and he knew it. But it was hard to let her into the shadowed corners of his heart.

He let go of her and stared at the ground, rubbing his palms together as his unease coalesced. "I’ve got a lot o’ blood on my hands, chere," he finally told her.

She made a rather generic sound of acknowledgment, but she returned to her previous position with her cheek pressed against his shoulder blade and her arms wrapped around his chest.

"Ah’m listenin’," she said once she’d settled. Remy didn’t hear any condemnation in her voice.

"Y’ were there for de mission debriefing, so y’ know what we did t’ all those sentinels inside de assembly plant."

Rogue nodded against his shoulder, and his hands closed involuntarily into fists.

"It shouldn’t have been dat bad. De people inside them, dey already dead. All dat was left was de bodies. It shouldn’t have been dat bad," he repeated, wishing he knew how to make the words true. "But it was. It felt like murder."

He shrugged. "So, dat’s what I dream about. Walkin’ down rows of innocent people, cuttin’ their throats. Sometimes they’re beggin’ me not to, an’ sometimes they’re jus’ there, helpless, an’ Scott’s tellin’ me not to worry ’cause they don’ count." He didn’t mention the fact that Scott was sometimes Sinister, and a hard shudder ran through him at the memories that evoked.

Rogue squeezed him tight, her breath a warm, reassuring tingle against his neck. "It sounds awful, sugah."

He just nodded.

"Is there anything ah can do ta help?"

He reached up and covered her hand once more. "Jus’ de fact that y’ there, sleepin’ next t’ me, helps more than I can tell y’."

Rogue hugged him again. "Ah can do that, sugah."

Bastion studied the woman who walked into his office with great interest. She wasn’t as tall as he’d expected, and it struck him that he’d had any expectation at all. That was a human thought process. He supposed she would be considered pretty, though her features were too sharp to fit with what he’d determined the Western standard of beauty to be. Her blond hair was pulled back in a set of shoulder-length braids.

A large man of African descent walked a couple of steps behind her, his face plastered with a scowl and his eyes darting distrustfully around the room. His gaze came to rest on the two CATs that flanked Bastion’s desk, and a tiny widening of his eyes gave away his alarm.

The Cybernetic Attack Type sentinels—the newest addition to OZT’s forces—looked very much like skeletal metal tigers. They stood approximately chest-high on a man and had a pair of laser cannons mounted on their shoulders. Bastion had concluded that a non-human-based enforcer had become necessary, particularly as the human opposition to his control gained strength.

Both CATs turned their heads to take in Bastion’s visitors, shifting their weight to better align their weaponry with the new arrivals. Their titanium alloy claws scraped loudly on the floor as they lowered their jaws, scenting. Bastion had given them many behaviors that mimicked the predators after which they’d been fashioned, having discovered in his research that nearly all of mankind shared both awe and an instinctive fear of the large cats.

The woman did not acknowledge the two sentinels as she walked up to Bastion’s desk and extended her hand. "Mr. Bastion, I’m Belladonna Boudreaux."

Bastion rose to his feet, but did not take her hand. He disliked touching humans. "Ms. Boudreaux. Your reputation precedes you."

After a moment, Belladonna let her hand fall. "Flattery isn’ necessary." She gestured to her companion. "Dis is m’ associate, Gris-Gris." She spoke with a strong accent Bastion identified as belonging to the southeastern United States somewhere.

Bastion nodded to the man, schooling his face into a pleasant expression. The man’s scowl didn’t change.

Bastion waved toward the single chair pulled up in front of his desk. "Please."

With a nod, Belladonna sat. Bastion noticed that she did not lean back in the chair or cross her legs but kept her weight forward, over her feet which were firmly planted on the ground. The man, Gris-Gris, took up a position just behind the chair.

Bastion resumed his place behind the desk.

"I assume y’ arranged dis meeting f’ a reason?" Belladonna asked after they’d all settled in their places.

"Indeed." Bastion folded his hands before him. "As I said before, your reputation precedes you, Ms. Boudreaux, and I have need of your particular... expertise." He paused. "But first, tell me what you think of the mutant issue."

Belladonna regarded him coolly, her thoughts sealed up behind a bland mask. "My opinion is unimportant. Those in m’ profession don’ take sides."

Bastion studied her for a moment before acquiescing. "Very well. Then I will simply proceed to the matter at hand. There is a certain mutant who has proven to be rather troubling to my organization—" He paused as Belladonna raised one hand.

"De way dis works," she told him, "is dat you give me a name, plus whatever additional information is needed t’ make a positive identification, an’ I give you a number." She lowered her hand. "If you agree to de number, y’ wire half now t’ the account number I give y’, an’ de ot’er half once de job is done. Regardless, we will have no further contact after dis meetin’."

Bastion raised his eyebrows, intrigued by the fearlessness with which she addressed him. "How can I be sure you will complete the..." he fished for a word that would not be objectionable to the assassin. "...endeavor?"

She gave him a rather predatory smile. "As y’ said, Mr. Bastion, m’ reputation precedes me. If I take de money, I’ll finish de job, guaranteed. However, if f’ some reason I am unable t’ complete my contract, den I will return y’ deposit plus five percent."

Bastion steepled his hands in front of his face, regarding Belladonna over the tips of his fingers. Bill had told him what the standard contract would entail, and this woman was widely regarded as one of the best, and most reliable, in her business. Plus, she was in a unique position to gain access to the man he wanted.

Finally, he nodded. "I accept your terms," he told her.

She looked pleased. "Bien." She tipped her head to the side. "The name?"

"Remy LeBeau."

Bastion had the distinct pleasure of seeing her eyes widen in surprise before the professional mask slid back into place. She stood abruptly.

"I’m sorry, Mr. Bastion, but I cannot accept y’ proposal." Her expression hardened. "Family is off-limits."

"I was under the impression that Mr. LeBeau was your ex-husband."

Her expression once again disappeared behind the bland mask. "I’m sorry y’ went t’ so much trouble on my account, Mr. Bastion. M’ answer is final." She began to turn away.

Bastion pulled a handgun from its holster attached to the underside of his desk and pointed it at her. "I’m afraid I can’t take the risk of you warning Gambit or the X-Men." He pulled the trigger.

Belladonna whirled to face him, and with a guttural cry, twin halos of light surrounded her fists, expanding to overlap in front of her body. The bullet disappeared in a flash and sizzle, destroyed by her field. Bastion had forgotten she was a mutate.

The man, Gris-Gris, jumped back as high-energy directed fire from the two CATs pierced Belladonna’s field, spearing her with multiple invisible beams. She convulsed, her blood splattering the chair, the desk and her companion as she collapsed.

Gris-Gris absently wiped the blood from his face as he knelt at Belladonna’s side. She was obviously dead, her blue eyes open and unseeing, but he pressed his fingers to the side of her neck before letting his hand fall. He looked up at Bastion, anger snapping in his gaze.

"I make no claim o’ family t’ LeBeau," he said. He glanced warily at the CATs who remained poised, ready to fire. "I will accept y’ contract."

Bastion was pleased by the CATs performance. Their reaction had been perfect, and their programming allowed them to act against humans, mutates and mutants alike.

He turned his attention to the man. "Why should I believe you have any particular ability to get close to Mr. LeBeau? The X-Men have proven extremely hard to find," he challenged.

Gris-Gris rose fluidly to his feet. He cocked his head, a small smile appearing on his face. "Someone has t’ inform Misseur LeBeau of his wife’s death, non?"


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