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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 51

Rogue couldn’t cry. Her eyes felt hot and scratchy, her throat raw, but the tears wouldn’t come. She sat in a chair beside Remy’s hospital bed with her elbows braced on her knees and toyed unseeing with her wedding ring. Around her people talked in low voices-Artur and Chess, Scott, Ororo and Logan-but none of them sounded like they were doing anything but trying to fill the silence. The pump driving Remy’s heart made a rhythmic whirring noise, counterpoint to the hissing of the ventilator and the high-pitched beeping of the monitors.

On the far side of the bed, Bobby paced with his hands laced together on top of his head as if that were the only thing keeping him from putting his fist through the wall.

The room fell silent as Hank McCoy stepped inside, a clipboard clasped in one large, furry hand. Rogue straightened in her seat and felt Scott’s hand close on her shoulder.

"What’s the word, Hank?" Scott asked.

Hank reached up to adjust his glasses as he surveyed the room. "I have the results of Remy’s blood work." His expression was solemn and Rogue’s heart squeezed painfully tight.

When no one said anything else, Hank went on. "Mr. Boudreaux correctly identified the poison as being from the Blue Ring octopus. The toxin prevents the brain from regulating heart and lung functions, so without immediate access to medical care it is, in fact, quite deadly. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case here." Hank nodded toward Remy’s still form. "The good news is that the toxin has no other effects. Once it passes through the system, the brain will resume its autonomous functions as if nothing has happened."

Bobby’s hands fell to his sides. "Does that mean he’s going to be all right?" he asked, thin hope shining from his eyes.

Hank’s expression closed on itself. His fingers flexed on his clipboard, black claws flashing. "If that were the only component of the poison," he answered softly, "the answer would be yes."

The words robbed Rogue of breath. She wrapped her arms around her waist, doubling over against the pain in her gut, and felt Scott’s grip on her shoulder tighten. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Bobby turn away, his expression devastated.

"How bad is it?" Scott asked after a painful moment of silence.

"The second compound is a synthetic." Hank’s expression turned diffident. "It’s a rather elegant molecular killing machine."

"We should expect nothing less from the Assassin’s Guild," Chess said, his voice flat. Rogue could see the anger snapping in his gaze.

Hank nodded. "The second substance is made up of large molecular structures that attach themselves to the artery walls. The structure is ’sticky’ in the sense that passing platelets will adhere to it, eventually forming a mass-a manufactured blood clot, essentially. When these clots get large enough they’ll break free, causing either heart attack or stroke, depending on the location."

Scott squeezed Rogue’s shoulder again and released her. "Is there anything you can do?"

Hank shook his head. "Not really. I’ve given Remy a blood thinner in the hopes it will slow the process and I’ve already started some lab tests to see if we can find a drug capable of dissolving the large molecules, but short of that..." He trailed off with a shrug. "Because these molecules anchor themselves to the arterial walls, even a full blood transfusion wouldn’t help. In fact, it would only speed the process."

Rogue swallowed painfully. "How long-?" Her voice broke and she had to start over. "How long does he have?" She couldn’t look at Hank.

She heard Hank sigh. "I can’t give you an exact time frame." He paused. "Twelve hours, maybe. Twenty-four at most."

Rogue felt the dismay that rippled through the room. It resonated deep in her heart, a heavy vibration that drowned out any hopeful thought. One day. She could hardly comprehend the idea of a tomorrow that didn’t have Remy in it.

"Dr. McCoy." Artur’s soft voice broke the silence. "Do you have any idea why the Guildmaster would have used literally his last breaths to send for this?" He extended one hand, in which he held a bottle of household drain cleaner.

Rogue glanced up at Artur, her heart clenching. Remy had not so much as looked at her as his lungs shut down on him. He’d been intent on Artur and his inexplicable instructions.

Hank shook his head. "I’m afraid I have no idea." He shrugged uncomfortably. "He was effectively suffocating. He might not have been entirely rational at that point."

"No, Hank." Bobby spun to face him. "Remy never does anything without a reason."

"I agree with Bobby," Artur said. His gaze roamed the room. "I was there, and I am certain the Guildmaster had a specific purpose in mind. He did not act like a man who expected to die."

Hank turned to face Artur, his expression sharpening with interest. "He asked for drain cleaner specifically?"

"It was part of a list. He said any of them would do." Artur ticked them off on his fingers. "Bleach, drain cleaner, carb spray..." He paused as if searching his memory.

"Anti-freeze," Rogue added. She reached over to take Remy’s hand. It had to be important, didn’t it? She didn’t want to believe he could see his death coming and not at least try to say goodbye.

Artur nodded. "Yes, anti-freeze. That was the other one."

Hank’s brow furrowed. "But he didn’t give you any indication of what they might be for?"

"He didn’t have time."

Rogue had to look away as the memories rolled over her. Because of the intensity of the situation and the amount of adrenaline pounding through his system, Remy had gone down in a little over a minute rather than Marius’ predicted five. She didn’t think she would ever forget the anger and frustration in his eyes in those last few moments of consciousness.

His expression thoughtful, Hank held out his hand, and Artur handed him the bottle of drain cleaner. "Will you have someone bring me samples of the other as well?" Hank asked as he turned it around to look at the back label. "Perhaps they all have a common ingredient that may shed some light on the intended purpose."

Artur nodded. "Of course."

Hank looked up again. "I would also like to speak to Mr. Boudreaux." His tone was studiously neutral. "Assuming he remains among the living."

"He lives," Chess answered sharply. He glanced over at Remy, his gaze shadowed. "Retribution will come later." He returned his attention to Hank. "For now he is being held in a Guild-controlled building not far from the Club. You will have to risk going above ground if you wish to talk to him, but it can be arranged." The Thieves had been unwilling to allow any of the Assassins knowledge of where the Guild’s underground complex was located, a precaution Rogue agreed with wholeheartedly.

Hank nodded. "Thank you."

After a moment’s silence, Scott cleared his throat. "I hate to ask this question," he began, his attention split between Artur and Chess, "but if Remy dies, what happens to the alliance?"

Bobby turned on him with a snarl. "Don’t say that! He’s not going to die!" He stared at Scott, raw anguish in his eyes. "He can’t."

Scott’s expression didn’t change. "I know," he said softly. "But the question still needs to be asked."

Rogue wanted to clap her hands to her ears and scream "la la la" at the top of her lungs-anything to shut out the words. Instead, she turned toward Chess and forced herself to concentrate on his answer. This, too, was the life she had agreed to when she became Remy’s wife. He would expect nothing less from her than to carry on in his stead, doing as much for the people of the Guild as she could.

Chess cocked his head as if debating how to answer. "Officially, there would be no change to the alliance. It is a duly sworn agreement and not so easily dissolved." He spread his hands. "But with the Guildmaster’s death, Rogue would also lose her position and that will put our cooperation on much shakier ground, particularly if those opposed to the alliance can gain support."

Scott heaved a sigh. "All right. That’s pretty much what I thought."

Jubilee looked around in a combination of wariness and curiosity as Louis led her into his lab in the basement of Our Mother of Mercy hospital. A tangle of equipment overflowed a table and a pair of ancient steel desks that had been pushed up against the walls. Several mismatched CPUs sat on the floor beneath the table with cables running from them to a stack of electronic components Jubilee didn’t immediately recognize, as well as to several monitors. A clear plastic box mounted on a stand sat in the middle of the equipment. It was filled with something like clear jello and a complex system of tubes attached to the back of the box looked like they delivered saline and other substances to it. A thick tangle of black fibers, like a giant hairball, hung suspended in the jello and a number of wires ran from the interior of the box out to the computing equipment.

Jubilee stopped dead when she realized what she was looking at. "That’s a neural net."

Louis nodded. "Taken from a fully-transformed prime."

She took a couple of steps to the side to view the net from a slightly different angle. She wasn’t sure how close she wanted to get to it. "Does it work?"

Louis nodded again. "When it’s powered up, yes. It works perfectly." He adjusted his white lab coat. "This is the first complete and undamaged neural net we’ve managed to take from a prime sentinel. It’s very exciting."

Jubilee gave him an odd look. "It’s freaky, dude." Seeing what the thing inside her head could become if given the chance gave her the cold shivers. "So what do you want from me?"

Louis gave her one of his disarming smiles. "We want to see if you can talk to it."

Jubilee crossed her arms beneath her breasts, feeling distinctly uncomfortable. "I don’t know how I did that." And she so didn’t want to do it again.

Louis didn’t seem to notice her uncertainty. "If you can communicate with it, we hope to be able to figure out how. Imagine what we could learn about the primes if we could query their systems in a format they’re programmed to respond to."

Imagine what kind of intelligence we could gather, a voice in her head added in Wolverine’s voice.

Hunching her shoulders, Jubilee forced herself a step closer to the neural net. "What do you want me to do?"

Louis motioned her toward the far side of the room, where a vintage, green vinyl-upholstered office chair sat next to a high-tech suite of monitoring equipment. "If you’ll just sit over there..."

After a moment’s hesitation, Jubilee did as he asked. She settled in the chair and laid her forearms on the armrests. The aging vinyl crackled as she shifted her weight. Her feet just barely reached the floor, so she wedged the toes of her sketchers between the chair wheels and the floor to hold them in place.

Louis bustled about her. He fitted a blood pressure cuff around her arm and attached electrode-like pads to her temples, the side of her neck and several places along her spine. The last set apparently needed to go near her heart. Louis reached for the buttons on her blouse and then froze with his hands halfway there, a look of utter panic flashing across his face. Then he ducked his head and handed her the pair of electrodes, muttering instructions about where they needed to go.

Jubilee found herself smiling as she tucked the sensors inside her bra. She felt a sudden, inexplicable wash of gratitude toward the scientist-the man-who had, if only for a moment, treated her like a regular girl.

"We should be able to detect and record any transmissions you make," Louis went on after a short bit. He stood to her left with his back to her, making adjustments to his equipment. "But I need you to tell me when you think you’ve made contact with the neural net." He glanced over his shoulder at her. "Being able to write down an approximate time stamp makes it a lot easier to find the right section of the data."

Jubilee just shrugged. "Okay."

She waited, fidgeting nervously, as Louis finished his adjustments and crossed the room to where the neural net waited. He typed several commands at one of the computers.

"Powering up the net now."

Jubilee’s fingers tightened involuntarily on the armrests. She couldn’t help but remember the other sentinel and the way it had stared at her.

Louis glanced over at her before returning his attention to the monitor. "All right. This appears to be booting properly. It should only take a couple of minutes." He crossed back to the equipment surrounding Jubilee. "I’ll be monitoring your vitals as well as the brain activity traces."

"Okay." Jubilee picked at a tear in the vinyl covering one armrest pad. Her scalp prickled, the sensation sweeping from her forehead all the way down to the nape of her neck, and she shuddered.

"The net should have finished booting up." Louis glanced over at her. "You can start whenever you’re ready."

"Which would be... uh... never?" she muttered under her breath.


She cleared her throat. "Nothing, dude."

He gave her a slightly baffled expression but then dismissed the exchange with a shrug. Turning away, he went back to his readouts.

Jubilee closed her eyes. She had no idea how to do what they wanted of her. Maybe if she pretended to be a telepath. After all, neither Jean nor the Professor would find the idea of reaching from one mind into another the least bit strange. Probably not even if one of those minds was a machine.

She squirmed in the chair, searching for a more comfortable position, and then tried to imagine reaching out with her mind. She furrowed her brow like the Professor did, and tried to pretend she had a pair of invisible hands that could reach across the lab to poke their fingers into the sentinel’s nasty black hairball.

She sat there for a good ten minutes, but nothing happened. Eventually, she opened her eyes.

"I don’t think it’s working," she said.

Louis glanced over at her. "Do you remember what you were thinking the first time you made contact?"

Jubilee gave him a sharp stare. "Duh. I was standing face to face with a sentinel. I thought I was freakin’ gonna die." At the time, she’d been so frightened she couldn’t even breathe and the memory was still strong enough to make her breath catch.

"And then what?"

Jubilee shivered. "The inside of my head itched." She looked away, her gaze unfocusing as the memories returned. "Then all of a sudden I knew it." She shrugged. "It... kinda said hi. I think."

Louis raised his eyebrows thoughtfully. "It sent you a hello packet." At her blank look he added, "That’s how conventional computers establish a connection, so it isn’t all that strange when you think about it."

Jubilee didn’t particularly want to think about it but she figured she didn’t have much choice. "Now what?"

With a shrug, he waved toward the neural net. "Try saying hello."

Jubilee turned toward the far side of the lab. "Hello," she mimicked sarcastically.

Louis shot her an oddly wounded look and she relented. He was a pretty nice guy. And it wasn’t his fault that the sentinels his geeky mind found fascinating scared the crap out of her.

Sighing, she made herself look directly at the neural net. Hi there. Nice to meet you, she thought toward it. Want to talk to me? Or maybe text, huh, seeing as you’re a computer. She smiled faintly at her own joke.

The smile fell away as the inside of her skull began to itch. Her hands tightened convulsively on the chair’s arms. The net’s ID string blazed in her mind.


"It’s the three-hundred seventy-first sentinel in the 2208-C series," Jubilee said quietly, her voice shaking. "It was made here in the States, at the Virginia assembly factory." She paused. "The one the X-Men hit."

"Your brain traces have changed," Louis told her with excitement tinging his voice. "What else do you know about it? Does it know where it is, what happened to it?"

Almost against her will, Jubilee turned back toward the sentinel. Do you know where you are? she asked it.

Information slammed into her, painful in its intensity. She reared back in her seat and distantly she heard Louis’ concerned voice. Images flashed to life behind her eyes-maps of New York, North America, the hemisphere. Data followed in a flood that broke over her like a heavy surf, drenching her in a churning, swirling flood. She fought desperately to keep her head above water as the information soaked into her. Some of it even made sense.

A diagram of the hospital flashed by and she grabbed at it, concentrated on the image until it settled in the front of her mind. It was like one of those science shows where they put a computer drawing on the screen and rotated it in multiple directions. The various floors of the hospital were stacked one on top of the other at discrete intervals, and at the very bottom of the stack a little dot pinged in the equivalent of a You Are Here sign.

"It knows where it is," Jubilee confirmed once she’d found her voice. "I can give you the GPS coordinates if you want."

For a moment she wondered what her own coordinates might be, and even before she’d fully formed the thought as second dot began to shine on the hospital map right next to the first. To Jubilee’s amazement, the entire world seemed to unfurl from that single point. Suddenly she knew where she was in a way that dwarfed anything she’d experienced in the past. From the hospital outward, she followed successive layers of maps-streets and buildings, utility districts, municipalities, zip codes, state boundaries, terrain features, national borders-until the massive pile of data threatened to overwhelm her.

Merely from the act of wanting to, she zoomed back down to the hospital diagram in a dizzying rush. The little dot representing the bodiless sentinel continued to ping away like a tiny beacon.

The thought made Jubilee’s blood run cold. "Uh, dude... If the sentinel can talk to me, it can send to other sentinels, right?" she asked Louis.

"We’ve hooked it up to our own broadcast equipment and cut the signal strength way down," Louis answered. "A sentinel would have to be within about thirty feet to pick up its signal."

Jubilee wasn’t entirely reassured. So how ’bout it? she asked the neural net. Any other sentinels out there?

She waited, but there was no response except the single dot pinging on the map in her head.

Eventually, Bobby found himself tucked away in a cramped corner of Hank’s lab, watching the other man work. As the hours ticked away and Remy’s chances grew slimmer and slimmer, he’d found himself unable to stay in the hospital room. He was pretty sure it made him a coward, but he simply couldn’t do it.

Remy was his brother and his friend, and he couldn’t just sit there and watch him die.

Hank sat hunched over a complex-looking microscope, adjusting the knobs with blue-furred fingers. Beside him on the counter, several slides were laid out in a neat row with a rack of test tubes beyond. The tubes were filled with liquids in a wide variety of colors. The dark red was undoubtedly Remy’s blood and Bobby recognized the virulent green as anti-freeze. Others were various shades of amber, ranging from a lager-like brown to a very pale gold. The smell of bleach hung faintly in the air.

"Gambit’s blood is really quite remarkable," Hank commented without raising his head from the microscope.

Bobby stirred in his seat and cleared his throat, which remained painfully tight. "How’s that?"

Hank paused to change out slides. "Most people have no idea just how complex mutations are. Take Cyclops for instance." He fiddled with a knob, frowned, and then turned his head to make a notation in the notebook lying open on his far side. "It’s easy enough to say he fires concussive blasts from his eyes, but there is a great deal more to it. Do you know where the energy comes from?"

Bobby forced his brain to function. "Um... he absorbs it. Solar energy, right?" He was oddly grateful for the distraction and having a simple conversation turned into a lesson was something he had grown used to.

Hank nodded. "Primarily. He can also draw energy from the act of passing through the ambient EM fields produced by our society’s rampant power consumption, but that conversion is far less efficient." Hank paused for a breath. "But the real question here is, do you know how he does it?"

Bobby considered the question for a moment and then shrugged. He was too tired to want to think very hard. "Through his cells, I guess."

"Indeed." Hank made another notation and swapped slides once more. "The process starts with receptors in his skin that release unique proteins in response to radiation in a certain range of wavelengths-in this case, sunlight."

Bobby subconsciously shook his head. Remy would have rebuked him rather sternly for giving such a generic answer and the conversation would have ended right there unless he demonstrated a significant change in attentiveness. Remy didn’t waste his time explaining things to people who weren’t going to listen. Hank, on the other hand, loved knowledge for its own sake and would hand it out to anyone at any time in the hopes that they would keep even a little bit of it. But he would never demand that they pay attention.

The ache in Bobby’s heart intensified. If Remy died, who would keep him honest?

He squared his shoulders. "I’m sorry, Hank. Yes, I know Scott metabolizes energy. It makes sense that he’d absorb it through his skin and I remember you saying something once about him storing it in his optic nerves somehow. Something about the fibers containing molecular capacitors, I think." Hank looked up at him in surprise and he flashed a humorless grin. "And getting that energy from Point A to Point B probably involves his blood. Believe it or not, I do listen to you."

Hank blinked a couple of times, looking nonplussed. "So I see." He shook himself and returned his attention to his samples. "Any way, the variety and complexity of the physical mutations necessary to support what we mistakenly label a single mutant power is truly astounding."

Bobby bit his lip, curious despite himself. "If so much of it is physical, why does the suppression field work on almost every power?"

Hank smiled without looking up. "Ah, the great mystery." He was silent for a moment, studying the view through his microscope. Then he sat back and pulled off his spectacles, rubbing his eyes with one knuckle. "Actually, it’s not so mysterious. Imagine the mutant power as a muscle, if you will. All of the processes to maintain the muscle-to build it, feed it, repair it-are done automatically by the body. It isn’t until you want the muscle to move that a direct command from the brain is required." He smoothed the fur on his cheeks and then resettled his glasses on his nose. "Suppress the brain’s ability to send that command and you might as well not have the muscle."

Bobby nodded to show he understood. He gaze drifted back to the test tubes and he found his interest in the mechanics of mutant powers draining away. Despair trickled in behind it. "You aren’t getting anywhere with this, are you?" He gestured toward the microscope.

Hank heaved a sigh. "As I said, Remy’s blood is quite extraordinary. It’s full of proteins and enzymes that are unique to him-no doubt part of the mechanism by which he metabolizes energy-but I’d need a research team and eighteen months to even begin to classify them all, let alone decipher their functions. And none of that information, even if I had it, is likely to offer me a solution to the present crisis." He reached out despondently to nudge the nearest of the slides with the point of his claw.

"I have no idea what Gambit could possibly have been thinking with these chemicals, Bobby. They’re highly toxic, even corrosive in some cases: completely inimical to life of any sort." He looked up into Bobby’s face, his ever-expressive blue eyes filled with regret. "And I cannot help but feel as though I am failing you yet again."

The comment snapped Bobby out of the downward spiral of his thoughts. He stared at his friend in confusion. "How have you ever failed me, Hank?"

Hank cocked his head to the side, his gaze frank. "I believe you have been a far better friend to me than I have to you, particularly these last few years."

Bobby stared at him, taken aback. It was true that he no longer labeled Hank as his best friend, but he had never harbored any resentment toward the other man. He’d simply grown in a different direction, particularly once the Guild became a part of his life.

"Blue, you’ve been my friend almost as long as I can remember," he protested after a minute.

A faint smile lifted the corner of Hank’s mouth. "Indubitably," he agreed. "But lately, that has only been because you continue to come dig me out of my work." He made a vague gesture.

"Well, somebody has to." Bobby crossed his arms, feeling the first stirrings of anger. "Besides, what you do is important. Your research is important, and there’s no one else who can do it."

Hank shook his head. "That’s a poor excuse and we both know it."


Hank held up a hand to forestall him. "Regardless," he continued, "I just want you to know that I appreciate your friendship and if there was any way I could restore Gambit to health-"

The ache in Bobby’s heart turned into a searing pain. "Stop it, Hank." He wasn’t ready to hear confirmation that Remy wasn’t going to recover. If Hank said it he would have no choice but to believe it, and he couldn’t do that. Not yet.

Hank stared sorrowfully at him. "I’m sorry, Bobby, I-"

"I said stop it!" With a snarl of helpless fury, Bobby lashed out, sending the rack of test tubes flying across the room to shatter on the floor. The liquids they contained splattered in a wide, uneven star, darkening the stone and dripping from the wire rack.

Bobby curled his hands into fists and tipped his head back, eyes squeezed shut as he fought for calm.

Hank sucked in his breath in a hiss of surprise. "Oh my stars and garters."

Bobby bit the inside of his lip. "I’m sorry, Hank. That was inexcusable."

Hank’s big hand closed on his shoulder. "No, Bobby, look."

Bobby opened his eyes and followed Hank’s pointing finger toward the far side of the room. Amid the shards of broken glass, the mixture of blood and chemicals staining the floor had begun to glow a lurid pink.

It wasn’t until Ororo broke down in tears that Scott gave in and accepted the inevitable. Ororo was always so cool, so resolute. He counted on that serenity when he felt like the world and everything in it had gone insane. To see her with her face buried in her hands, shoulders shaking as she sobbed... He shook his head. It was like a harbinger of the end of the world.

Strangely, it was Rogue who went to comfort her. Rogue had yet to shed any tears, but as the hours passed she had grown so pale she seemed almost translucent, save for the bruised smudges beneath her eyes. Still dressed in the gown she’d been wearing to meet the Assassins, Rogue sat down beside Ororo and wrapped her in a tight hug. She murmured soft words and stroked Ororo’s hair while the other woman cried.

Scott glanced at his watch. They’d passed the twelve hour mark several hours earlier. Jean reached over to take his hand, but even that was little comfort.

People filled the small room and spilled out into the hallway. Thieves and X-Men, friends all, they sat or stood in small groups, their conversation muted. Doctor Lancaster stood beside the bed, his hands clasped in front of him as he watched the monitors. Scott could feel his frustration. He shared it.

A few minutes later, Tom O’Shane stood. He wiped his hands on his pants, looking uncomfortable.

"I’m going to turn on the TV on if no one minds," he said with a gesture toward the small flat screen hung in the corner of the room.

Several people looked up, including Rogue, but no one protested. Tom spent a moment searching for the remote and then pointed it at the television. The screen flickered to life, showing Trish Tilby’s familiar face. Her voice filled the room.

"-a quiet few weeks here in the New York area. And while the X-Men are recouperating and preparing for their next mission, I want to take this opportunity to introduce them to you." The camera panned back to show Trish, dressed in a conservative pantsuit and seated on a tall stool in front of the now-familiar beige curtain. Her maimed hand was wrapped in a light bandage and lay in her lap with the other hand atop it.

"Tonight, I’d like you to meet a truly extraordinary man. He is a soldier and a husband. A leader and a friend. A man dedicated to the idea of peace, yet willing to wage war against OZT and even sacrifice his own life to see this country freed from Bastion’s tyrannical influence." Trish paused dramatically. "And yes, he is a mutant. He’s the architect of the resistance movement, the leader of the X-Men, and a hero in every sense of the word. His name is Cyclops."

Scott stared up at the screen as his own image appeared. "You’ve got to be kidding me."

Around the room, attention focused on the television. "Trish said she planned to do profiles of some of the X-Men," Jean reminded him. "We all agreed it was a good thing."

"I know." Scott slouched down in his chair and pinched the bridge of his nose as the ache behind his eyes intensified. He remembered sitting with Trish in the news crew’s makeshift recording studio for the interview. "But does it have to air now?" He glanced over at Remy’s still form.

"Tell us a little bit about how the resistance movement came to be," Trish said from the television. "The fact that you and your small group of X-Men have managed to put together what appears to be a world-wide network of people dedicated to resisting OZT is nothing short of amazing."

"It is amazing," Scott heard himself reply.

"What made you believe that so many people would be willing to risk their lives to help the X-Men?"

Scott’s head jerked up. "Turn it off," he told Tom sharply as his television double launched into a well-rehearsed narrative.

"Scott, what--?" Jean asked, a troubled frown creasing her brow.

"It’s all lies," he told her. Every word of the carefully crafted story he’d given Trish had been aimed at keeping Bastion’s focus trained on the X-Men, to shield both the Guild and the mutant underground from unwanted attention. But that didn’t make him feel any less like a fraud. "I didn’t have anything to do with making the resistance happen. Charles built half of it, and Remy did the rest." He made a helpless gesture. "I’m just the guy in the middle."

Jean squeezed his arm, her touch warm and reassuring. "That’s no small thing, either," she told him.

Scott didn’t get a chance to respond as Hank burst into the room with Bobby hard on his heels.

"I’ve got it!" he exclaimed, waving a syringe in the air as he pushed his way into the room. People scattered, clearing him a path to Remy’s side.

Scott rose instinctively to his feet, hardly daring to hope, and saw similar expressions reflected on the faces around him. He moved toward the foot of the bed as Hank caught Remy’s arm in a tight grip and uncapped the syringe in his other hand with his teeth. Rogue went to stand by Remy’s head, her fingers reaching out to smooth his hair back from his forehead, and watched Hank with wide eyes.

"What is that?" Dr. Lancaster demanded as Hank went to insert the needle. "What are you giving him?"

Hank glanced down at the syringe, which was filled with a bright green liquid. "It’s anti-freeze." He looked up into the other doctor’s shocked expression. "And yes, I am well aware of how toxic it is, but I believe it’s also the miracle we’ve been looking for."

"Beast, are ya sure?" Rogue’s voice barely rose above a whisper. Beside her, Bobby wrapped one arm around her shoulders and squeezed.

Hank drove the plunger down in a single smooth motion, emptying the syringe into Remy’s vein. "Not completely, no," he answered without looking up.

Scott’s stomach curled into a hard, cold knot. Dr. Lancaster was staring at Hank in a shocked kind of horror. Hank ignored him. Turning to the life support equipment, he reached over and switched off the machines keeping Remy alive. The heartbeat trace immediately flatlined, its harsh tone filling the stunned silence, and the hiss of the ventilator trailed away.

Rogue opened her mouth to protest but Hank held up a hand, silencing her. "Sixty seconds, Rogue. If this doesn’t work, I’ll turn them back on."

Dr. Lancaster gave him an accusing stare. "If it doesn’t work, there won’t be any point," he said, and the knot in Scott’s stomach tightened another notch.

Hank acknowledged him with a half-shrug, his attention focused on his patient. He stared into Remy’s face, his lips moving as if he were silently urging Gambit to wake.

The silence stretched.

Rogue clapped a hand across her mouth and Scott could see her begin to crumble. Bobby’s grip on her tightened.

Then the heart monitor beeped. Rogue’s eyes flew wide.

Scott stared at the single blip scrolling across the screen, uncertain whether to believe it was real. Before he could decide, the machine beeped again and then picked up in a steady sinus rhythm. Remy’s chest rose as he drew a breath and to Scott’s utter amazement, his eyelids began to flutter.

A moment later, Remy opened his eyes.

The room dissolved into pandemonium. Hank immediately bent over his patient, speaking to him in a calm, reassuring tone as he began unhooking the breathing equipment. Remy nodded in response to something he said, obviously alert and coherent.

Scott discovered he was shaking. He staggered to the nearest empty chair and sank into it, lacing his fingers together to keep them still. Jean joined him, silently wrapping her arms around his neck in a hug and Scott held her tight.

Logan collapsed into the chair on his far side. He crossed his arms and laid his chin on his chest. "Gambit sure ain’t lost his flare fer the dramatic," he commented, which made Jean laugh.

"No, he hasn’t," Jean agreed. She sat back, dabbing moisture from the corners of her eyes.

Scott found himself unable to summon a smile. His muscles felt like they’d turned to water and his stomach heaved and twirled in a sickening dance.

Logan gave him a concerned look from beneath his eyebrows. "You okay, Cyke?"

Jean, too, turned to look at him and he shook his head. "We almost lost everything," he said after a minute. "Remy, the alliance, our base of operations, the chance to get into space..." He made an aimless gesture. "They’re like dominos, and Remy’s the first one. Knock him down and the rest of them collapse, too."

Logan raised his eyebrows. "Yer only just now figurin’ that out?"

Scott stared at him in surprise, but then shrugged. "Yeah, I guess so."

Turning, he looked toward the object of their conversation. Hank had finished the unpleasant task of removing Remy’s breathing tube and now had one large hand firmly planted against his chest, preventing him from sitting up. Which, judging from Remy’s expression, was going over just about as well as it ever had.

"May I remind you that you were on life support just a couple of minutes ago," Hank was telling Remy, his tone full of forced patience. "So no, I am not going to let you up until I’ve had the chance to examine you."

Remy glared at him but then surrendered with a muttered string of curses. Rogue stroked his hair, her expression dazed. She looked like she was having trouble processing the sudden turnaround.

"How long was I out?" Remy asked hoarsely.

Hank pulled a pen light from his coat pocket which he used to check Remy’s pupils. "Nearly sixteen hours."

The answer garnered another round of curses that dissolved into a short coughing fit. "Please tell me nobody went an’ started a war wit’ de Assassins over dis."

Artur took a couple of steps toward the bed, putting himself within Remy’s range of vision. "No, Guildmaster," he said quietly. "We were... waiting."

Scott saw Remy pause, as if he were only just beginning to realize what the situation had been like in his absence. He looked upward at Rogue and then at Bobby beside her, and finally over at the thief, his expression crooked. "’M sorry I scared everyone." His gaze flicked to Hank. "Why’d it take so long?"

Hank snorted, his nostrils flaring in irritation. "Because, my dear Gambit, you neglected to mention that your highly mutated blood can charge up and destroy contaminates all on its own."

Remy’s brow crinkled as if he were chasing down a memory. "Guess I didn’ get dat far, did I?" he admitted ruefully. Behind him, Rogue’s expression darkened, but he didn’t seem to notice. He flashed Hank a smile. "Now will y’ let me up, Monsieur Bete? I guarantee y’ my blood’s clean. Once y’ start de burn, it eats up everyt’ing."

Curiosity and aggravation warred in Hank’s expression, but Scott wasn’t terribly surprised to see curiosity eventually gain the upper hand.

"I assume that without the suppression field’s interference you can control the charge?" Hank asked.

Remy nodded. "Oui. But wit’ my powers suppressed, it takes a critical mass-a certain volume-t’ set it off."

"Which, I suppose, would explain why the list you gave Artur contained such disparate chemicals."

Remy shrugged. "Don’ matter what it is, so long as it’s poisonous an’ dere’s enough of it." A hint of his smile returned. "I even drank m’self into it one time. Went from completely plastered t’ stone sober in about two seconds." His grin deepened. "It was a pretty rude shock, I’ll tell y’."

Shaking his head, Scott stood. He still felt a little unsteady in reaction to knowing just how close they’d come to catastrophe, but he’d seen enough to convince him that things would be returning to normal before very long. He could go back to doing his job.

He helped Jean to her feet. Crossing the few paces to the bed, he clapped Beast on the shoulder. "Thanks, Hank," he told the other man softly. Then he turned to Remy.

"I’d tell you to stay out of trouble, but there’s just no point, is there?"

Remy chuckled. "Not really."

Scott found himself grinning. "Well, don’t stay in bed all day. We’ve got work to do."


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