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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 49

Logan had never been a big fan of hospitals. They smelled of smelled of sickness, of suffering, and fear. Even with his powers damped, the smells of disinfectant and illness were enough to nauseate him. The basement warren where Cecilia Reyes and her group worked was a little better. The hospital smells were at least partially drowned by those of damp cement and mildew, but his stomach remained unsettled.

Seated next to him in the cramped cubbyhole Reyes claimed as an office, Scott Summers didnít seem to share his unease. He slouched casually in his chair, one elbow hooked around the back, and sipped the burnt coffee one of Reyesí people had brought them.

In a distant corner of his mind, Logan found it amusing that Scott had unconsciously begun adopting Remyís mannerisms. A year ago, Summers would have sat ramrod straight in that chair, hands on his thighs and his coffee untouched as they waited for Cecilia to return. He projected a lot more confidence these days-the dangerous kind that would make an enemy think twice before taking him on-and just a little bit of the rebellious arrogance that Gambit had turned into a trademark.

Of course, the adopting of mannerisms went both ways, and it was downright entertaining to watch Remy pull out some very proper, Scott-like bit of aplomb as he dealt with his Guild council. Theyíd turned into quite a pair, those two.

Logan filed those thoughts away as Cecilia breezed into the office, a set of manila folders clutched to her chest.

"Iím very sorry to keep you waiting," she said as she dumped the pile of folders on the corner of her desk and collapsed into her chair. "My appointment with the hospital administrator ran a little longer than I expected."

Scott set his coffee on the edge of the desk. "So the hospital is actively supporting your work here?" he asked.

"The administration is." Cecilia smoothed the lines of her white doctorís coat. "Only a few of the staff officially know weíre here, though Iím sure the rumor mill has filled everyone else in."

Logan felt a stab of alarm at that and Scottís expression echoed him. "Arenít you worried about someone informing OZT?" Scott asked.

Cecilia leaned back in her chair with a shrug. "Iím sure they know weíre here by now. What are they going to do? Assault a hospital?" She curled her fingers around the armrests of her chair. "Even OZT isnít that stupid. It would be a public relations nightmare."

Logan exchanged a glance with Scott, whose thoughts were clearly running along a similar vein.

"Ainít sure how much longer Bastionís gonna care about his public image," Logan said after a moment.

Ceciliaís expression sharpened. "What do you mean?"

Scott shrugged. "He could afford to be a kinder, gentler tyrant when the general public was content to let him be in charge." Sarcasm tinged his voice. "Thatís not so true any more, and Bastion will eventually have to break out his big stick if he wants to keep the populace in line."

Logan snorted, amused despite himself. "What is this? Presidential quotes day?" That was something else that had changed about their Fearless Leader. He no longer seemed to view having a sense of humor as a sign of weakness.

Scott flashed a grin. "Iím impressed you caught that, Logan."

"You implyiní something, bub?" Logan scowled, but mostly for show. Trading barbs with Cyclops made for a nice distraction from the hospital smells.

"Not I," Scott replied innocently and turned his attention back to Cecilia. His tone turned serious. "So what kind of escape plan do you have if OZT ever does come looking for you here?"

The doctor arched both eyebrows sharply, as if the question had taken her by surprise. "We have a safe room, if thatís what you mean." She gestured toward the doorway and the warren beyond. "It used to be a nuclear bomb shelter back in the í50s. Itís built like a bank vault and has its own water and air systems, believe it or not." She shrugged. "A couple of my guys have been refurbishing it in their spare time."

Scott frowned. "Well, itís something, at least."

Logan leaned forward, capturing the doctorís attention before Scott could go off on another tangent. "You said ya had some news on Jubilee that ya wanted ta discuss, Doc."

That was the other reason his stomach continued to churn. Jubilee had been through so much already-had her spirit beaten so close to the breaking point-that the prospect of anything else happening to her was almost more than he could stand. But the fact that something inside her was able to communicate with Bastionís sentinels was a potential threat they couldnít ignore.

Cecilia nodded, her expression solemn. "Yes, though let me get Louis in here to explain since heís the expert." She wheeled her chair backward to the doorway and leaned out into the hall to shout, "Louis!" in an impressive drill sergeantís tone.

"Coming," a manís voice answered from somewhere down the hall. A few moments later, a slender man of Asian heritage stuck his head in the door. "You rang?" Logan vaguely remembered him as the ex-NASA engineer heíd met when he first learned Jubilee was alive. Louisí gaze roved across the two X-Men, his cheerful expression dimming.

"Grab a seat," Cecilia said.

Louis came into the room and settled on the corner of the desk. The doctor opened one of the drawers and pulled out a thick file, which she laid out beside Louis.

"All right." Cecilia spent a minute collecting herself, then split her gaze between Logan and Scott. "As you both know, we did some extensive imaging of Jubileeís brain before we destroyed her transformation control microcomputers." She pulled several sheets of film from the file, setting them on the edge of the desk where the X-Men could see their shadowy surfaces.

Logan picked one up and held it up to the light. Having little medical training, he could make no sense of the blotches of gray, streaked with long, thin black streamers.

"Thatís the pre-transformation neural net," Cecilia said. Picking up her pen, she pointed to several dark lumps that lay along the black lines like beads on a string. "And these are the microcomputers. The transformation control is handled by a group of seven computers-" she pointed briskly with her pen to widely scattered black dots, "-of which we managed to destroy six. More than enough to keep her from ever becoming a full-blown sentinel."

Logan frowned as he studied the image in his hand. Heíd heard the basic explanation of the doctorís procedure before, so only kept half an ear on what she was saying. Instead, he was staring at the many layers of the neural net, visible as decreasingly distinct shadows behind the prominent black outlines of the front-most layers. Heíd never realized just how extensive it was.

"What about the rest of íem?" he finally asked. "There have ta be thirty or forty oí these microcomputers in this shot alone." He shook the film in emphasis, eliciting a plastic rattle from the thin sheet.

Cecilia glanced at Louis.

"Theyíre inert, for the most part," Louis answered. "The vast majority donít even boot up until the transformed version of the neural net is in place."

"But obviously something is functioning," Scott said, "if Jubilee was able to exchange information with a full sentinel."

Louis nodded. "Yes, which is what we wanted to talk to you about." He fished through the stack until he came up with another piece of film. He pulled it out and held it up to show the two X-Men. "Unlike the other sentinels weíve examined, Jubilee has an extra set of microcomputers here-" he pointed to the image, where a tight cluster of black dots formed a marble-sized lump, "-near the center of her brain."

A chill descended on Logan, like icy fingers wrapping around his throat.

"Extra?" Scott asked before Logan could find his voice.

Louis nodded.

"What do they do?"

Louis shrugged. "We donít know. But, given that weíve never found a functional communication system in a pre-transformation sentinel before, Jubileeís ability to send and receive data to other sentinels is almost certainly coming from these additional nodes."

Logan held out his hand for the piece of film, which Louis obligingly handed him. He studied it intently, noting the pale outlines of vertebrae near the bottom of the image and the dip and curve of the base of Jubileeís skull. Using those he was able to orient himself and imagine just exactly where the functioning microcomputers sat inside her head.

That understanding only made the cold hand tighten, choking him. "Can ya zap íem like ya did the others?" he asked with a quick glance up at Cecilia.

He wasnít surprised when the doctor shook her head. "Given their location, Iíd be afraid to try without a very good reason," Cecilia answered. "Weíd have to cut through a lot of brain tissue to get to them-the risk of death or significant impairment would be... high."

"Werenít those a risk with the first surgery?" A long vertical furrow marred Scottís brow.

Cecilia picked up the first image sheíd shown them. "Not really. The transformation control nodes are located in the frontal lobe and are much closer to the surface, so to speak." She looked at the picture as she spoke. "The biggest risk there was triggering the transformation before the nodes could be destroyed."

Scott sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Is there any way to find out exactly what these nodes are? What they do?"

This time Louis answered. "Iím afraid not. Weíve got a pretty good idea what many of the others do because weíve been able to hook them up to signal generating equipment and look at the outputs." His expression turned diffident. "But we have to remove the microcomputers from the sentinel to do that."

Logan suffered a momentary image of Jubilee with her skull torn open as the scientist dissected the network inside, and shook his head sharply. No, he wouldnít let that happen. Not to Jubilee.

Scottís thoughts had apparently gone down a different path. "If you know that much about how the sentinelsí microcomputers work, would it be possible to corrupt them somehow? Like a computer virus?"

Louis shrugged apologetically. "Easier said than done, Iím afraid. Their software is self-contained, and there are a lot of redundancies in place to protect them from component failures and bad data."

Scott opened his mouth to say something else, but a young woman stuck her head inside the office before he could speak.

"Sorry to interrupt, Doctor, but thereís a call for you." She glanced over at the X-Men. "And for them, maybe. Itís X-Force."

Logan saw the sudden flash of emotion in Scottís eyes, quickly hidden. "Cable?" the X-Menís leader asked.

"Weíll find out." Cecilia punched the speaker button on the phone on her desk and then folded her hands in front of her. "This is Doctor Reyes," she told the person on the other end of the line.

"Hey, Doc. Good to hear your voice again." Cableís deep voice rumbled out of the phone.

"And yours, Nathan," Cecilia answered, her lips curving in the most genuine smile Logan had yet seen from her. "You picked a good time to call. I happen to have a couple of X-Men in my office."

There was a short moment of surprised silence on the far end.

"Hello, Nathan," Scott said into the gap. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees as he stared intently at the phone.

"Oath. Is that you, Scott?" Cable asked. To Logan he sounded incredibly tired.

Scott smiled one of his tight smiles, the kind that held a wealth of emotion bottled up behind it. "Itís me. How are you? Howís your team? Is everyone all right?"

"Weíre fine," Cable answered after a moment, his tone hard. "Had a close call a couple of days ago but we made it out." Logan heard the edge in his voice, but couldnít immediately identify the emotion that fueled it.

Scott, too, seemed to sense the undercurrent in his sonís words. "What happened?" he asked, clasping his hands together and resting his knuckles against the side of the desk.

Cable made a sharp noise. "First, do you want to tell me how you have people in Chicago who can dig up a secure safe house on a momentís notice, Cyclops?"

Logan and Scott traded glances.

"Is that where you are right now?" Scott asked after a moment.

"Yes," Cable answered. "Who are these people, Scott? We had four sentinels on our tails when they showed up."

Scottís expression lit with amusement. "Let me guess, they split your team up and dragged you all off into basements and substructures and such to lose the sentinels tracking you," he said dryly.

Across the desk, Cecilia gave him an odd look, but Logan could only chuckle at the description. What the Thieves Guild lacked in combat experience they more than made up for in savvy. Logan wasnít surprised that Mal Lotho had his thieves following New Yorkís example, or that theyíd known enough to identify X-Force and help them.

"You donít sound surprised," Cable growled.

Scott sat back. "Iím not."

"So who are they?"

Scottís eyebrows quirked. "Iím afraid I canít tell you that."

"What? Why not?" Logan could imagine the outrage on Cableís face. But, in making a formal treaty with the Guild, the X-Men had obligated themselves to obey the thievesí strict rules.

Scott slouched down in his chair and laced his fingers across his stomach. "Because thatís the way this works," he answered firmly. "However, if you can guess who they are, I can confirm."

Cable seemed to consider that for a few seconds. "Can I trust them?" he finally asked.

Scott chewed on his lip. "The simple answer is yes," he said with a shrug. "They have their own priorities, which arenít exactly the same as ours, but theyíll do as much for you as they can."

"Aní what they can do is considerable," Logan added. Gambit had demonstrated that beyond any shadow of a doubt.

Cable muttered curses under his breath, then raised his voice. "I donít like this, Cyclops."

A smile ghosted across Scottís face. "I wasnít thrilled either. But, you have to take the help where you can get it."

"At what cost?"

Logan watched as Scottís expression closed in on itself. The X-Men had paid in blood-both real and symbolic-for the aid the Guild had given them.

Logan cleared his throat. "Price has already been paid," he told Cable solemnly. "Yer tradiní on the X-Menís credit here, so donít forget it."

Silence answered him. Then, "What have you gotten mixed up in?" Cable asked warily.

Scottís expression firmed. "Weíre taking OZT down," he told the other man, "and no one has done anything, to my knowledge, that theyíre not willing to live with."

Logan nodded to himself. That right there demonstrated how much Cyclops had changed more than anything else. Scott no longer took responsibility for the choices others made, or expected himself to be able shield them from the fallout of those choices. It demonstrated a level of trust for his team that Logan didnít think had been there before OZT.

Cableís snort said the other had come to a similar conclusion. "All right," he agreed, sounding unhappy. "I guess Iíll have to take your word on that."

Scott nodded. "Good enough. Your new friends will be able to contact us, so stay in touch." He paused, his tone softening. "Itís good to talk to you again, Nathan."

"And you, Scott." Cable paused. "Tell Jean I said hello."

"I will."

The brief personal moment evaporated as quickly as it had come and Cable turned his attention to Cecilia. "Doc, we got the power interface units you wanted. Iíll ship them to you as soon as possible."

"Thanks, Nathan," she answered. "Iíll let Allie know. Sheíll be thrilled to finally get that lab up and running."

"Glad we could help."

Logan listened as they wrapped up the conversation and then Cecilia hung up the phone. She gave Scott a curious stare as silence descended on the office.

Scott met her gaze, his expression diffident. "Is there anything we can do about Jubileeís functioning microcomputers?" he asked as if the intervening conversation had never taken place.

Cecilia took the hint. "Not that I would recommend," she answered in the same tone. "I just wanted to make sure you understood the situation."

Logan heard the sad echoes in her voice and his stomach sank. Despite everything sheíd already been through, Jubilee still wasnít free of OZT. And she might never be if they couldnít find a way to shut down the microcomputers in her head.

Bobby tried to hide his nervousness as he led Scott into the massive cavern that housed the Maze. He kept one hand firmly clamped on the climbing gear slung over his shoulder to keep it from rattling. Behind him, Scottís footsteps echoed in the emptiness.

"You know, that is just a little bit freaky," Scott said when they were halfway across the floor of the Maze.

Bobby paused and turned to look at him. "What is?"

"You." Scott looked pointedly at Bobbyís feet and then back up at his face. "You arenít making any noise when you walk."

The comment startled Bobby into a grin. Heíd never imagined being able to freak Scott out in any way, shape or form. "Oh, itís the shoes mostly." He was dressed in his standard thiefís gear. "The soles are made of an engineered resin polymer."

Scott raised one eyebrow, his expression challenging. "Not the training?"

Bobby shrugged. "That, too. Remy had a tendency to give me a few nasty bruises if he could hear me coming." He saw Scottís eyes narrow and explained, "If I was making enough noise for him to hear me coming, there was no way I could hear him."

Scott regarded him for a long moment. "So what youíre saying is that if I had hit you, you would have worked harder at being an X-Man?" he asked.

Bobby stared at him in shock until he realized the corner of Scottís mouth was twitching ever so slightly. He recovered with a snort of amusement. "Actually... yeah. Probably." He spread his hands in the equivalent of a shrug. "Self-preservation is a great motivator."

Scott looked a little disappointed that he hadnít gotten more of a rise out of him. He resumed walking and Bobby had to pivot smartly to fall in beside the X-Menís leader.

"So what exactly am I doing here?" Scott glanced over at him. "Other than going rock climbing with you because Remy asked me to." His gaze rose from Bobbyís face to the massive tangle of the Maze above them, and then went forward to where the native stone of the cavern rose in a curving, hundred-fifty foot wall, unevenly lit by floodlights mounted on the ceiling.

The nervousness Bobby had managed to forget came back in a rush. "He didnít explain?" When Scott shook his head, he rolled his eyes. "Great."


Bobby sighed. "The path we take into the Baxter building requires some serious spelunking, among other things. If you really want to get in there-"

"I need to get in there," Scott interrupted. "Thereís no way Iím going to commit the X-Menís lives to this launch until Iíve seen Reedís solutions for myself."

Bobby nodded in understanding. "And thereís no way Remy is going to commit our lives to getting you inside until heís confident you have the skills to make it." Scott gave him an odd look at that and he shrugged. "Consider it a dry run. Eventually weíre going to have to be able to get all of the X-Men inside Four Freedoms Plaza, so this is a good first step to figuring out what thatís going to take."

Scott paused. "Wait, youíre evaluating me?" he asked, his expression faintly disbelieving.

Bobby had to laugh. "Yeah." He gave Scott a sardonic grin. "Welcome to Thieving 101."

Scott just shook his head. "No offense, but Iím not going to learn how to pick locks."

"Wouldnít dream of it," Bobby agreed easily.

Their steps carried them to the base of the cavern wall. Bobby tossed his gear down on the ground at his feet. "How much rock climbing have you done?" he asked with a glance at Scott.

Scott stood with his fists planted on his hips, staring up at the wall. "I did a lot of rappelling in college." He shrugged. "Not so much climbing."

"Any free climbing?"

"A little." A frown wrinkled his brow. "I always thought it was stupid to climb without safety gear. Why take the risk?"

Bobby couldnít help a smile. That sounded like Scott.

"Well, in this case we canít afford to use the gear because itís just too noisy," Bobby explained. "OZTís surveillance system down there is both motion and audio activated."

Scottís expression lightened. "Makes sense."

Bobby went on. "For now weíll use the safety gear-" He paused, bemused by the position he found himself in. "Or you will, anyway. I should be able to climb this in my sleep."

Scottís only response was a snort. They spent the next few minutes sorting the gear and equipping the X-Menís field leader, then both men started up the wall. For a while there was no sound between them except the scrape of stone and the metal rattle of Scottís equipment. Bobby stayed a bit below and to the other manís right for the most part, watching his progress, but every so often he moved ahead to better see how Scott was choosing his hand holds.

"If I didnít know better, Iíd think Iíd discovered Spidermanís real identity," Scott commented sourly as he watched Bobby maneuver around him. He sounded like he was beginning to tire.

Bobby glanced down. Theyíd climbed nearly eighty feet. Not bad for someone who didnít do this kind of thing on a regular basis. Remy, of course, didnít consider anything less than a hundred feet-and the sheerer the better-as sufficient for an exercise.

He smiled a bit at the implied compliment. "A lot of it has to do with always keeping your weight balanced properly. Iím using less energy than you are because Iím not constantly having to compensate for my center of gravity being off."

The analysis earned him a half-hearted dirty look. Bobby lowered himself until he was even with Scott. Reaching over, he pressed lightly on a point between the other manís shoulder blades, nudging him into a better position.

Scottís expression flickered in surprise as he registered the change. "Okay, point taken," he said after a moment.

"Ready to head down?" Bobby asked.

The muscles tightened across Scottís shoulders. "I assume weíre taking the long way."

Bobby grinned at the sarcastic bite in his words. "Yep. We can work on that balance on the way down."

Rolling his eyes, Scott complied with Bobbyís occasional input. They slowly descended, Scottís breathing growing more labored as they progressed. Bobby was beginning to feel the burn in his muscles as well, but it was something he was used to working through so he ignored it. He almost asked Scott if he wanted to stop and rest, but the grim set to the other manís mouth decided him against it. The last thing he wanted was for Scott to think he was patronizing him.

A short time later Scott cleared his throat, breaking the silence that had fallen between them. "I have a question for you."

"Okay," Bobby agreed as he ran his fingers along the stone, searching for a new hand hold.

"What really happened between you and Michael Tyre?"

Bobby froze for a moment in surprise at the question. Then, "What do you want to know, exactly?" he responded.

Scott grunted at the effort of shifting to a new position. "He was the Guildmaster before Remy, right?"


"And Remy killed him to keep him from going after you for having an affair with his wife."

Bobby winced at the description. "Not exactly," he qualified as he edged himself down another step. "Though I can see how it would look like that from the outside."

"So what was it?"

Bobby breathed a long sigh. "A mess." He reached for a new foothold, his tone firming. "And there was no affair." He didnít look at Scott. "Just so weíre clear."

Scott muttered a curse as his foot slipped, sending a cascade of stone fragments pattering down. He recovered quickly and glanced over at Bobby. "You married Diedre less than four months later. What was I supposed to think?"

Bobby shrugged. He knew his actions hadnít been entirely defensible. "You never met Michael."

"Was he as nasty as Adrian?"

Bobby nearly laughed. "Oh no," he answered. At Scottís odd look he added, "He was much, much worse."

"Youíre kidding."

"Iím not." Bobby glanced down, gauging the remaining distance. He was only fifteen feet off the ground, so he bent his knees and threw himself backward, off the wall. He did a neat back flip, landing in a crouch on the stone floor.

Scott rappelled to the ground a few moments later, the whir of his line playing out sounding inordinately loud in the empty cavern.

"That was pretty," Scott said in a studiously neutral tone as he unhooked his line.

"Thanks." Bobby rose to his feet. "Lots of practice, you know." He bent over, stretching out the tension in his leg muscles. "Listen," he said as he straightened. "About Michael..."

Scott looked at him expectantly, and Bobby had to pause for a moment to collect his thoughts.

"Have you heard of the Guildís no powers rule?" he finally asked.

Scott looked surprised at the sudden change in direction, but he nodded. "Thieves arenít supposed to use their mutant powers so the authorities will never suspect the existence of a group of mutants this size." He began to wind the nylon climbing rope around his arm. "I canít say I blame them."

Bobby nodded. "Right. But as you can imagine, not everyone believes we should be hiding our powers."

Scottís expression turned thoughtful. "Michael was one of those?"

He nodded again. "Yeah. Plus, he was an alpha mutant, not to mention Guildmaster of one of the most powerful Guilds around. He was positioning New York to go public, I guess youíd say. Full powers. Remy thinks the Kingpin would have been his first target, but who knows what would have happened after that."

Scottís eyebrows hiked upward in alarm, but he didnít interrupt.

Bobby ran a hand through his hair, his stomach clenching. Thinking about Michael brought back all of the emotions from those days, undimmed by the passage of time.

"Remy was the only person standing in his way," he explained. "The only one who could. But he knew how dangerous Michael was." Bobby shook his head at the memories. "And because of me, instead of letting Michael destroy himself Remy ended up having to confront him." The pain in his gut intensified. "He knew Michael could probably kill him but he did it anyway, just so I would have the chance to save Diedre."

Scottís gaze narrowed. "Save her? Thatís quite the euphemism. She could have just divorced him," he said with a faintly disapproving frown and Bobby was startled to realize just how little the X-Men knew about what had happened. It had been the first time heíd ever flatly refused to tell anyone anything, and he hadnít really registered just how much of the story heíd kept from them.

He met his team leaderís eyes. "I was being literal, Scott. Michael stabbed her in the heart rather than let her walk away." That moment, as Diedre went limp in his arm and her scarlet blood poured out of her still burned in his memory. "I turned the air around us to liquid-I was trying to kill him-" He shrugged. "It just wasnít enough. If Remy hadnít shown up then, Diedre would have died for certain."

Scott regarded him thoughtfully for a long moment. "Why didnít you ever tell us any of this?" he finally asked, his gaze no longer disapproving but still filled with reproach. "I understand why it would have had to have been an edited version, but..."

Bobby could only shrug. "At the time it hurt too much." He spread his hands in a helpless gesture. "And I didnít really know what I could or couldnít say. Iíd had my mark for less than a week, Remy was still in critical condition, and I was completely freaked because the Professor was already sending me out on intelligence gathering jobs in Remyís place." He smiled at Scottís startled stare. "So I decided it was safest not to say anything at all."

Scott seemed to accept that. Together they gathered up the climbing gear and turned to head back across the cavern.

"So how did I do?" Scott asked after theyíd gone a short ways, with a wave toward the harness and rope slung over his shoulder. His voice held a faint sardonic note.

Bobby couldnít help his grin. "Well, weíve got some work to do..." he began and nearly burst out laughing at the expression that crossed Scottís face. "But, all in all, I think youíd have made a pretty good thief."

Scott snorted sourly. "Iíll take that as a compliment, I guess."

"When is the next shipment coming in?" Remy asked. He shifted his weight where he leaned against the corner of his desk, wincing at the pain in his leg. Snow was expected across the area that evening-the first winter storm of the season.

Around the corner of the desk from him, Artur shuffled his notes. "Thursday," he said after a moment.

Remy expanded his gaze to include Carson, who stood to Arturís right. "Are we set to intercept the couriers?"

"Yes, Guildmaster," Carson answered. "But our most recent intelligence suggests theyíll probably be escorted by a significant armed force this time." He crossed his arms. "I think we need to consider bringing the X-Men in, in case the snatch doesnít go cleanly."

Remy looked over at him in surprise and on the far side of the desk all conversation abruptly died. Nearly half of the X-Men were in his office at the moment, clustered in two distinct but overlapping groups that occupied the other end of the desk. Rogue and Bishop, along with Marcus Black, had been put in charge of planning another fuel depot run while Scott, Logan, Storm and Mystique worked on figuring out how they were going to take down Bastionís space station with input from Chess and another senior thief.

In the aftermath of Adrianís death, Remy had been obliged to allow Carson as much involvement with the war on the Cartel as he wanted. But, to his surprise, Carson had proved relatively easy to work with. He didnít have Adrianís ambition and his thirst for revenge apparently outweighed his dislike of the Guildmaster by several orders of magnitude.

"We beiní invited to another party?" Logan asked after a moment.

Remy nodded. "The Colombians are starting to arm up."

Rogue brushed her hair away from her face with a light chuckle. "Sugah, mah dance cardís gettiní full."

Scott cocked his head, the pen heíd been using as a pointer tapping a rapid tattoo against the edge of the desk. "Weíre all pulling double and triple duty, Rogue." He looked over at Remy. "And weíre still pretty short on manpower." Mystique and Sam were both still out with injuries, though Mystique had recovered to the point that she was now able to walk with the help of a cane. "How big an operation are we talking about?"

"Theyíre likely to have as many as a dozen or fifteen armed men with them."

"Local or imported?" Logan wanted to know.

"Mostly local," Carson answered. "Their main distributor is Los Ochos, and thatís who theyíre tapping for help."

"Is that a gang?" Scott asked.

Most of the thieves in the room nodded, and Remy could imagine their expressions.

Scott shrugged. "Sorry, I donít keep track of all the New York gangs," he said dryly. He turned to Logan. "Can I hand this off to you?"

Logan shrugged. "Sure thing, Cyke."

"Okay." Scott breathed a sigh. "Tap whoever you need, I guess. Just try to keep it small."

The phone rang then and Remy turned away from the conversation. He picked up the handset. "LeBeau."

"Guildmaster, thereís a call for you from New Orleans." He recognized the voice as one of the techs who worked in the communications center. "Itís your father."

Curious and a little apprehensive, Remy sank into his chair. "Put him through."

"Salut, mon pere," he said more cheerfully than he felt when his fatherís voice came on the line.

"Hello, Remy." His father sounded grim and Remyís gut instinctively tightened. "How are yí, son?"

"Canít complain," Remy answered. He leaned back in his chair, crossing his ankles.

"And Rogue?"

Remy glanced over at his wife. "Sheís fine." Rogue looked up at the reference, her heat signature lighting with interest though she didnít say anything. After a minute she went back to her conversation with Bishop and Logan.

"Datís good." Jean Lucís voice held a faint warm note.

Remy bit his lip. His stomach had clenched into a hard knot. "Yí didnít call jusí tí ask about mí family."

There was a short moment of silence in which Remy could imagine his father shaking his head. "Non." Jean Luc sighed. "I have... news."

Remy had to resist the urge to hang up right then. Whatever it was, he was dreadfully certain he didnít want to hear it.

"It obviously ainí good news, so yí might as well jusí get it over wití," he finally snapped, more sharply than he intended.

Around the room, signatures spiked and the conversation level dropped dramatically. Frustrated at his own lack of self-control, Remy spun his chair around to face the wall. He ran a hand through his hair and waited for what his father had to say.

"Yí goní be gettiní a call," Jean Luc told him, his tone filled with reluctance.

"From who?"

Jean Luc sighed. "Honor demands dat Marius do it himself."

Remy sat forward abruptly. "Marius Boudreaux?"

"Remy, Belladonnaís dead." The words hit with the force of bullets, each one tearing a distinct hole in him.

For a minute, Remy simply couldnít breathe. It didnít seem possible.

"How?" he finally croaked. He was dimly aware of the general hubbub of his office stuttering to a halt behind him.

"Bastion shot her," his father answered. If possible, his tone grew even grimmer. "Remy, listen tí me. Word is dat Belladonna refused a contract on you, aní datís why Bastion killed her."

Remy processed the words before he was ready to, his mind racing well ahead of his heart. He didnít want to believe it, but he also couldnít help but understand what the information meant for all of them. Cold all over, he spun back around to face the room. Hitting the speaker button on the phoneís base, he dropped the handset in its cradle.

"Say dat again." He laced his fingers together on the desktop, squeezing them so tightly the joints ached. Belladonnaís dead. Dead, dead, dead. The word pounded through his brain in time with his heartbeat.

Jean Luc sighed, his voice full of forced patience. "Belladonna refused a contract on yí, son, an íBastion shot her for it."

Rogueís gasp punctuated the silence following that pronouncement. Her heat signature flared brilliantly and was echoed with varying intensity by the others in the room.

Scott stared at Remy, his face a mottled array of colors Remy had no names for. "Bastion tried to put an assassination contract out on you?"

Remy stared at the desktop. "I told yí one oí de risks inherent in takiní Trish aní her crew inside dat plant was somebody figuriní out who de X-Man Gambit really is."

"So who picked up the contract?" Mystique wanted to know. She leaned over the desk, her weight braced on her hands.

"Unknown, madam," Jean Luc answered. "Normally de Assassinís Guild would, but in dis situation..." Remy could imagine his shrug.

Artur cleared his throat. "The Assassins will have to send a delegation to New York. Protocol demands it." He glanced first at Chess and then Remy. "But if thereís a chance theyíve picked up the contract, we canít risk letting them anywhere near the Guildmaster."

Chess cocked his head to the side, his stance thoughtful. "Even if they come under a flag of truce... I agree, we canít risk it."

"Then you will give the Assassins grave insult." Jean Lucís voice carried a heavy warning note.

Remy shook his head. "Datís de last tíing we need right now." New York was already stretched thin between supporting operations against OZT and the Bogota Cartel. He wasnít certain they had the resources to take on anything else.

"Despite his shortcomings, Marius is an honorable man," Jean Luc told them. "He will respect a flag of truce."

"And will every assassin under his authority?" Chess asked, his tone sharp.

Remy tipped his head back and closed his eyes. "Dey will if Marius comes in person," he answered tiredly. Though seeing Marius in person fell pretty high on the list of activities he never wanted to repeat if he could help it. Especially now.

Jean Lucís tone lightened. "Oui, I tíink heíll understand dat. Iíll talk wití him."

Remy forced himself to open his eyes. "Bien," he agreed.

His father continued, "In de interest oí not rubbiní salt in de wound, though, I would suggest dat Rogue make herself scarce while heís there."

Across the desk, Rogueís signature swirled angrily.

Remyís temper flared at the suggestion. "I ainí goní hide her in a corner because itís inconvenient tí yí peace accord," he snapped. Loving Rogue was one of the only things in his life that heíd never backed down from or betrayed-one of a very precious few for which he had no regrets. He would not surrender that.

"Regardless oí how tíings have turned out, yí still important tí de peace process here, Remy," Jean Luc retorted, stern disapproval in his tone. "Donít forget that."

Remy levered himself to his feet, propelled by a deep, cold rage. "I have done everytíing de Guild has ever asked oí me in de name of peace." He nearly spat the word. He had bled and killed and walked away from the only place heíd ever called home, all for the sake of their peace.

Silence answered him, filled with static and the tinny echo of the open phone line. Around him, the thievesí signatures rippled with alarm and palpable sense of dismay.

"Enough," Jean Luc finally said. "Iíll talk tí Marius."

Remy gathered the tattered shreds of his composure. "Tell him, if he comes under a flag of truce, he has mí personal guarantee oí safety on Guild territory," he managed in a nearly normal voice.

There was another long pause.

"Very well," Jean Luc said with a sigh. "Au revoir, Remy." The phone went dead with a click.

Remy slammed his palm down on the desktop as all of the emotions heíd been trying to contain boiled up from his gut, tasting of bile. He stepped from behind the desk and walked toward the sitting area, hands on hips, as he fought to shove them back down.

A few seconds later he felt Rogueís hands on his back. He dragged her into a hug, burying his face in her hair and letting the smell of her fill his lungs and soothe his heart.

"Ahím so sorry about Belle," she murmured.

Remy just closed his eyes and held her tighter.


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