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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 53

"You know, we can’t just go marching in the front door," Jubilee said as they approached the hospital.

They were still several blocks away, but evidence of the sentinels’ passage was obvious. The street lay empty and silent around them. A couple of cars had been abandoned in their lanes as if the people in them had been unwilling to wait for traffic to clear before making their escape from the area.

As they passed a corner bodega, the shop owner peered suspiciously at them through the front glass while he locked his door. The store’s display window sported several mannequin busts, one of which wore a t-shirt made to look like the X-Men’s new black and red uniforms. Several other bits of themed paraphernalia was scattered at the base of the mannequin, including a futuristic-looking water gun and several pairs of earrings. The other mannequin wore a funky white wig and a purple t-shirt, and Jubilee had to suppress a shiver. The idea that people would support the sentinels to the point of imitating them chilled her.

Logan nodded in response to her comment. "Not as X-Men we can’t."

Jubilee dragged her attention back to the conversation. "What do you mean?"

Logan shrugged. "When we get a little closer, I want you to find out how they’re distributing their force inside the hospital. My guess is that they’ll use a mix of sentinels and enforcers ta cover the entrances an’ maybe the elevators, and a smaller group’ll go after the doc an’ her people." He swept the empty street with his gaze then returned his attention to her.

"The first thing we’re gonna need is better weapons, which means disarmin’ a couple o’ the enforcers. If we go rushin’ in like a couple o’ folks who’ve been in a car wreck or somethin’, we can probably get close enough." He shrugged again. "Assumin’ we can find an entrance that ain’t covered by a sentinel. I don’t think we can fool them."

Jubilee stopped short at the thought that popped into her brain. Spinning about on her heel, she grabbed Logan’s elbow and dragged him determinedly back down the sidewalk in the direction they’d come. "Come on, dude, I’ve got an idea," she told him.

Logan looked at her askance but offered only a token resistance to her pull. "What kind of idea?"

She flashed a grim smile. "A way to fool the sentinels, too."

"This ain’t an idea," Logan growled as they walked straight toward the emergency room entrance. "It’s a scene from Star Wars." His wrists were bound in front of him in a pair of cheap plastic handcuffs painted a metallic silver.

Beside him, Jubilee just shrugged. "Hey, it worked for Luke and Han Solo, didn’t it?"

Logan gave her a dirty look from under his eyebrows. "That depends on yer definition of success."

Jubilee reached up to scratch her scalp. The white wig she wore over her short hair itched horrendously. She caught a glimpse of her reflection in the glass doors as they approached. The purple t-shirt was a poor imitation of the sentinels’ uniform, but combined with the distinctive white hair and the fact that she could talk to them, she figured it was good enough.

She consulted her mental map. She’d brought up the schematic of the hospital and now watched as the dots representing the sentinels moved around inside it. The humanoid and CAT types registered as different colors. She couldn’t sense the sentinels in the further portions of the hospital, but she had a total of fourteen on her radar, their positions widely scattered.

After a moment, she turned her attention to the area of the hospital closest to them. "Okay, the sentinel is still just inside the doors, right side. No CATs in the area."

"Got it," Logan answered, his gaze fixed on the slice of the hospital visible through the doors.

An ambulance sat in the U-shaped breezeway that granted direct access to the emergency room, partially blocking their view. The paramedics were nowhere in sight. The ambulance sat silent and still with its back doors hanging open. The entire scene gave off a sense of wrongness, which Jubilee would have had to have been an idiot not to notice.

Nervousness gripped her. She rubbed her palms together then self-consciously dropped her hands to her sides when Logan noticed. A sentinel wouldn’t have mannerisms.

She cut her gaze toward Logan, needing to do something to relieve her growing tension. "Remember, when we get inside, let me do all the talking," she said.

Logan rolled his eyes. "Don’t worry, I do a mean Wookie imitation."

Jubilee actually laughed.

Her humor died away as they skirted the ambulance and approached the glass doors.

"Well, here goes," she muttered.

Taking a deep breath, she grabbed Logan’s arm and hauled him along beside her as she shoved open the swinging doors.

The first thing that struck her was the stillness. People filled the waiting room, some obviously injured, but there was very little noise. A few nurses moved between the rows of chairs, their pink scrubs jarringly cheerful. The human sentinel stood off to the side of the door where it could see the entire room. It had extended the laser cannons embedded in its upper arms. The slender metal cylinders were streaked with its blood, as were the specially designed sleeves of its uniform. It held its arms down at its sides, but she knew how quickly it could raise them to fire.

An enforcer in OZT body armor loitered by the nurse’s station that divided the waiting area from the treatment rooms beyond. He carried a laser rifle in both hands, nose pointed casually toward the floor. The body of a man in a security guard’s uniform lay on the floor a little ways beyond him, surrounded by a pool of blood, and Jubilee didn’t need any further explanation for the frightened atmosphere.

Logan made a small, pleased noise in the back of his throat when he noted the enforcer’s weapon. They’d had no way of knowing where the human enforcers were, but they needed one to make this plan work.

Jubilee did her best to school her face to expressionlessness as she dragged Logan forward. He did a credible job of resisting without actually pitting his strength against her, which would have given them away for sure. A sentinel would have been more than strong enough to contain even Wolverine.

She sent a standard greeting to the sentinel, which, thankfully, was not the one she’d communicated with on the street, but approached the enforcer instead.

The man straightened, looking her over curiously. "What’ve you got there?" he asked.

Prisoner transfer from cell block 1138, Jubilee promptly thought.

"This mutant is a priority target," she said instead, trying to keep her voice flat. "Requesting assistance to hold him for retrieval."

The enforcer gave her an odd look. "Now? We’re in the middle of an op here."

Jubilee wanted to panic. He wasn’t buying it. "This mutant is a priority target," she repeated dully. "Requesting assistance to hold him for retrieval."

The enforcer shook his head. "All right, all right. I’ll have to call it in." Lowering his weapon to his side, he raised his other hand toward the communicator controls attached to his collar. "I swear, you metal-heads are all dumb as posts."

The minute the man relaxed his hold on the laser rifle, Logan flexed his arms, snapping the plastic links joining the two halves of his handcuffs. He swung his fist toward the enforcer’s chin. At the last moment he extended his claws, spearing the man through the throat. Jubilee grabbed the laser rifle, shoving its nose out of line with her body as she wrestled it out of the enforcer’s grip.

Quickly, Logan retracted his claws. He took the rifle from Jubilee’s hands and spun toward the sentinel. Behind him blood poured out of the enforcer’s throat, splattering everywhere. The man sagged against the nurse’s station counter, his mouth moving silently.

Logan fired a short burst, catching the sentinel with its arms half-raised. It collapsed backward, a thin trail of smoke rising from its ruined head. The dot on Jubilee’s mental schematic abruptly winked out.

For a moment, no one moved. Logan lowered the weapon and looked around the waiting room.

"Get out while ya can, folks," he said, raising his voice to carry. "It won’t be long ’til someone comes ta find out what happened ta these two."

As if his words broke some kind of spell, people suddenly came to life in their seats. With surprisingly little commotion, they got up in ones and twos and headed for the door, disappearing quickly from sight. Most of the medical staff, though, stayed behind.

A tiny murmur from the vicinity of the enforcer’s still form caught Jubilee’s attention. Logan looked down at the same time, obviously searching for the source of the sound. Muttering to himself, he knelt and retrieved a small earbud from the enforcer’s ear then held it up where both he and Jubilee could hear the tiny voice emanating from it.

"Porter, come in. We’ve just lost all contact with your sentinel. What’s your situation there?" A pause. "Porter, where are you?"

Logan shook his head as he reached for the microphone toggle on the enforcer’s uniform.

"Porter here," he said. "Something’s wrong with the sentinel. It’s not moving."

The voice on the other end cussed soundly and imaginatively. "These things break down more often than my granny’s old Malibu. All right. If I can get one of those freakin’ kitty cats to answer, I’ll send ’em your way."

"Roger that," Logan answered. "Porter out." He tossed the earbud down on top of Porter’s still form.

Jubilee gave him a bright smile. "You did that much better than Han Solo." With a tug she removed the uncomfortable white wig and dropped it next to the enforcer.

His only response was a snort. "Let’s move," he told her. "That’s only gonna hold ’em off for so long."

Jubilee nodded and together they headed deeper into the hospital. Logan took the lead, the laser rifle cradled in his arms. He kept the nose pointed downward, though. The hospital remained full of people.

"How close are they to finding the Doc?" Logan asked.

Jubilee consulted her internal map. She couldn’t see the basement where Dr. Reyes and her crew worked. It was too far away, on the back side of the hospital. But the pattern of the visible sentinels’ movement suggested that the focus of their search was upward rather than down.

"Not too close," she finally said. A small cluster of dots in what the hospital schematic labeled as the administrator’s office worried her, though. "I think they might be trying to get the location out of the hospital administrator." Having experienced OZT’s interrogation techniques firsthand, Jubilee had no doubt the hospital staff would give Dr. Reyes and her people up.

"Okay. Anybody between us and the nearest elevators?"

Jubilee consulted her map again and shook her head.

Logan made an approving noise. "Then let’s see if we can get to the Doc before anybody realizes we’re here."

"Oh, this is really bad." The words popped out of Jubilee’s mouth before she could catch them. On her inner map, half of the sentinels had just turned and started moving purposefully toward the elevators and stairwells.

Dr. Reyes turned to look at her in alarm. Clustered behind her, the other members of the team’s expressions ranged from frightened to outright panicked.

"What is it, Jubes?" Logan growled. He walked several paces ahead, rifle held ready as they made their way through the dank underground halls.

"Sentinels are one their way down."

He didn’t pause. "How many?"

"Lots." She did a quick count, her stomach lurching. "All of the CATs, plus about half of the others."

He stopped abruptly and waved them back. "Change of plan, folks. I was hopin’ ta sneak everybody out while they were still lookin’ fer us upstairs, but we just ran outta time."

He looked over his shoulder at Dr. Reyes. "Doc, where’s that safe room you mentioned last time I was here?"

The doctor pivoted smartly on her heel. "This way." She motioned them to follow as she strode down the hall, her white lab coat flapping behind her.

Jubilee didn’t pay attention to their route. She was too busy watching the flurry of activity on her map. Logan steered her with a hand under her elbow, occasionally jerking her off balance as he maneuvered her around corners.

"They’ve reached our level," Jubilee reported. "Two CATs at the north elevator, one at the south elevator with two human sentinels. The rest are coming down the stairwells." Already the ones that had emerged from the elevators were moving in their direction, and Jubilee imagined she could hear the distant scrabble of metal claws on the flooring as the CATs loped toward her.

Ahead of the group, Dr. Reyes and two of her team were muscling open a thick metal door at the end of the hallway. The hinges made an awful grinding noise that echoed through the basement. The sentinels were bound to hear it, and her stomach clenched at the thought.

"Everybody inside," Logan barked, gesturing people forward with his rifle. "Move. We’re almost out of time."

The scientists did as he instructed, crowding forward into the dark bunker. Someone found the light switch and turned on a set of overhead fluorescent lights.

Jubilee and Logan were last. They backed inside, Logan keeping his rifle trained on the visible slice of empty hallway as Louis and another man swung the heavy door shut.

The first of the CATs turned the corner just as the door closed. Jubilee only had a moment’s look at the feline face with its protruding fangs and glowing eyes before the metal door slammed shut. Logan jumped forward to help turn the levers that slid the heavy steel bolts into place, sealing them in.

Jubilee stared at the door, heart pounding. She felt the CAT make contact, its standard ID string greeting flashing in front of her eyes like a strobe.

Sentinel, you are malfunctioning, it said inside her mind. It wasn’t an actual voice forming words, but that was how her mind tried to interpret the string of information she received. Initiate shut down sequence per maintenance directive 604.55 revision B.

Jubilee bit her lip. That had sounded very much like a command, and it made something inside her head prickle.

No, she told it.

It paused to process her refusal. Refusal to comply will result in your destruction, it told her when it had completed that task. Initiate shut down sequence per maintenance directive 604.55 revision B.

No, Jubilee repeated.

Through the door, she heard the CAT’s claws scraping on the linoleum as it paced back and forth. A trio of additional CATs had arrived, taking up stationary positions in the hallway.

Without warning a high-pitched squeal like the screech of a microphone’s feedback stabbed into Jubilee’s brain. She grabbed her head with a cry of pain, but as quickly as it had come the pain disappeared, replaced by a hissing emptiness. The dots on her map winked out.

"Jubilee!" Both Logan and Dr. Reyes reached for her, their expressions alarmed, but she shook them off.

"I’m okay." Cautiously she sent a new greeting to the CAT outside the door, only to have it rebound, unable to reach its target. Then she tried pulling up a map of the New York area, but without success.

She turned to Logan, fear trickling into her stomach like ice water. "I think they’re jamming me. I can’t see anything out there any more."

He shot her an indecipherable look.

"Now what?" Dr. Reyes asked, her voice breathless.

Logan shrugged, resuming his position in front of the door with the rifle held ready. "Now we wait for the cavalry ta arrive."

And hope it gets here in time, Jubilee added silently. A loud series of booms punctuated her thought, echoing through their cement and steel bunker like a roll of thunder. People cried out in alarm and clapped their hands over their ears.

"What was that?" Allie demanded as the sound died away, her eyes full of fear. She stood a half-step behind Dr. Reyes and peered out around the taller woman’s form.

Logan’s posture didn’t change. "They’re shootin’ at the door," he answered.

"Are they going to be able to break it down?" Dr. Reyes stared at Logan in horror.

His fingers flexed on the rifle grips. "Eventually." He glanced toward the frightened scientists. "It’s gonna take ’em a while, though. No sense panicking yet."

They didn’t look particularly reassured, but Jubilee couldn’t blame them.

Another set of hollow booms echoed through the room, making people flinch. An impact followed. Something heavy slammed into the door, denting it and making the floor beneath their feet vibrate. A harsh screech of metal followed and Jubilee’s skin crawled at the sound.

"What are they doing?" she asked Logan out of the side of her mouth. She didn’t want the others to hear in case the answer turned out to be really bad.

"CATs ’re tryin’ ta break through by brute force," he answered in the same low tone. "They’ve figured out their lasers ain’t gonna do much." Another crash made the door shudder and added a second convex dent to the smooth surface.

Suddenly the silence in Jubilee’s head disappeared. The sentinels’ dots reappeared on her mental map of the hospital, winking on like a string of Christmas lights. A cluster of the human variety had arrived and now stood beyond the CATs.

The lead CAT re-established contact. But instead of sending its own ID string, it sent something different. The coded initiation stabbed into her mind with the force of a raging storm. It shrieked and growled and hissed, flaying her thoughts as if a thousand shards of glass were born on the fierce winds. She tried to scream, but her mouth wouldn’t obey her.

Wolverine! She tried to turn to him, to call for help, to warn him... anything. It was like her body no longer belonged to her. Before she understood what was happening, she’d walked to the door and reached out to grasp the lever that controlled the security bolts.

"Jubilee, what are you doing?" She heard Logan’s voice behind her. "Get back!"

Wolverine, help me! She thought desperately as her hand tightened on the lever. A strange, tingling burn filled the muscles of her shoulders and arms. She could almost feel the nannites swarming through them, changing them. Changing her. Sudden strength infused her, and with a simple twist she threw the lever. The bolts shot back.

She glanced over her shoulder to see Logan raising the laser rifle to his shoulder, its nose pointed in her direction. His expression was sick with horror, his blue eyes wide.

She realized then that Wolverine couldn’t help her-couldn’t save her. In just a couple of seconds he would kill her because he had no choice. She was going to open the door. Then Logan would kill her, and the sentinels would kill him along with Dr. Reyes and her team.

I can’t let that happen. She didn’t know how she would stop it, but she had to. Digging deep inside herself, she reached for anything that might help her resist. She had to fight. She had to stop the sentinels. Let them kill her. If nothing else, she had to do that much for Logan. She had to.

Something came apart inside her mind. Searing pain filled her arms-deep, in the bone. She felt her muscles tear as two objects forced their way up through the flesh of her arms. She would have screamed if she could. She heard fabric rip and the warm rush of blood running across her skin.

Information flashed to life behind her eyes. A targeting iris appeared, hanging out in front of her like a mirage sketched in shades of red and orange. It moved wherever she looked, acquiring target-lock as quickly as she could form the thought.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Logan hesitate. Her hands continued to perform the actions they had been commanded to. She couldn’t stop them.

With a hard yank, she pulled the door open. Two CATs stood in the middle of the hallway, shoulder canons aimed squarely at the doorway. One of them sent her a command to move out of the way.

Instead, Jubilee opened fire. She caught the lead CAT squarely in head, her laser bolt drilling through the delicate electronics filling its skull. Her connection to it abruptly cut out, releasing her from whatever outside force had been controlling her.

The second CAT oriented on her, while at the same time one of the human sentinels sent her a request to establish a new connection. Jubilee refused, gritting her teeth as she fought the programmed instinct to reply.

Her targeting iris glowed like molten metal as she centered on the second CAT, but before she could fire on it, laser bolts speared past her to impale it in the head and chest. It staggered and then the joints of its legs simply folded. It sank to the ground on its belly in remarkably cat-like fashion, its body trailing thin gray smoke.

Logan grabbed Jubilee by the collar of her shirt and dragged her backward, then planted his shoulder in the door to shove it closed. Dr. Reyes jumped forward to help him. They shot the bolts once again.

Silence descended on the bunker. Dr. Reyes leaned against the door, shoulders shaking as she breathed.

Logan turned to face Jubilee. He half-raised his rifle before seeming to think better of the idea.

"What did ya think you were doin’?" he demanded angrily. "Ya coulda gotten us all killed!"

It was just too much. Jubilee burst into tears. She barely registered the change as her weapon systems went into stand-by mode. The narrow barrels of her laser canons retracted into her arms, and an unpleasant tingle told her when the nannites went to work resealing the flesh around them.

"Aw, don’t cry." Looking alarmed, Logan let the rifle fall to his side and gathered her into an awkward hug with his free arm.

Jubilee clung to him. "I’m sorry, I’m sorry," she chanted into his shoulder.

Logan’s grip on her tightened. "Just don’t do it again, ’kay?"

She nodded emphatically, even though she had no idea if she could keep such a promise. One of the sentinels outside sent another request to initiate contact and with a shudder she refused once again.

"What’s happening to me, Logan?"

He pulled back far enough to look into her face. His eyes were serious and shadowed. "I wish I knew, honey." He gave a helpless little shrug. "I wish I knew."

Dr. Reyes approached them. "Let me see your arm," she told Jubilee, her expression full of professional compassion.

Jubilee complied, watching the doctor as she examined the long, raw wound. Blood continued to well from it, trickling down her arm in dark rivulets. Outside, another impact shook the door and made them all jump. Claws scrabbled against the bottom of the door.

In unspoken accord they backed away. Releasing her, Logan took several steps to the side and once again cradled the laser rifle in both hands, ready to raise it in an instant.

Jubilee wiped her eyes with one bloodied sleeve and then took up a position opposite Logan. She left her weapons system on stand-by, but she knew how to bring the canons online if she needed to.

Then there was nothing left to do but wait.

By the time help arrived, the sentinels had been at the door for nearly thirty minutes. With a combination of laser fire and claws, they’d managed to mangle one edge, opening a small gap through which the two groups exchanged sporadic bouts of fire.

Outside there was a sudden explosion that shook the bunker and made the lights flicker, followed by shouts and the hiss and sizzle of laser fire. Through the gap, Jubilee caught a glimpse of the soldiers that poured into the basement area. They took the few OZT enforcers and human sentinels down first, and, after a protracted battle, the CATs as well. She recognized the SHIELD emblems on their uniforms with a relief so keen she felt like her knees might buckle.

The soldiers went to work prying the damaged door open. They succeeded in opening it far enough for the team to clamber through, and Jubilee found herself unexpectedly facing Nick Fury.

Suddenly, the message Logan had sent to the X-Men made a lot more sense.

"’A furious response’?" she asked Logan, raising one eyebrow skeptically. "Nick Fury?"

He shrugged, looking sheepish. "I didn’t exactly have time ta come up with somethin’ subtle."

"Wolverine," Fury acknowledged Logan as the other man walked up to him. His gaze shifted to her. "Jubilee." He took note of the blood staining her shirt and the raw tears in her skin, his gaze narrowing. "Those look like sentinel canon tracks." His fingers flexed as if he were itching to draw his sidearm.

Jubilee shrugged uncomfortably. "Probably ’cause that’s what they are, dude." The pain had already diminished to a dull throbbing. The nannites seemed to get faster at healing the more practice they had. She doubted it would be more than another couple of hours before they had completely repaired the damage to her arms.

Fury watched curiously as Dr. Reyes and her team members came out of the bunker. The doctor gave Fury a brief nod of acknowledgment then went to help the medics tend to several soldiers who had been wounded during the battle.

"Don’t mind her," Logan told Fury as the colonel watched Dr. Reyes’ retreating figure. "She ain’t leadin’ this group ’cause o’ her social skills."

Colonel Fury shifted his attention to the rest of the team, looking them over. "I’m glad you managed to put them someplace safe," he said after a moment. "We got the message from Worthington just about the same time the first news reports were hitting the air."

Logan jerked his chin toward the ceiling. "So what’s the damage?"

Fury frowned. "Minimal. The hospital administrator and a security guard working in the emergency room are dead, and there were a couple of stray fire incidents. One was a nurse, the other a patient."

"What about OZT?" Jubilee wanted to know.

Fury switched his attention to her. "Fourteen of the human enforcers are dead. The rest surrendered. One of the human sentinels escaped. We destroyed the remainder."

Louis joined them, stepping up beside Jubilee with a curious expression. "What do you do with OZT soldiers who surrender?"

Fury shrugged again. "For now, we’re holding them." His gaze slid to Logan, a faint trace of a smile lighting his face. "We’ve got a new base of operations-has plenty of room." He expanded his attention to take in the rest of the group and raised his voice. "In fact, we’d like to take you all back with us. You can’t stay here-it’s obviously not safe any more. We would be able to provide you with both lab space and security."

A murmur of discussion started up among the team members as Jubilee stared suspiciously at Fury. "What about me?" Dr. Reyes and her people were the only one who knew enough about the sentinels to help her. Fury couldn’t take them away from her.

Fury gave her a mild stare. "We would propose to take you there, too, Ms. Lee."

Logan gave voice to a low growl that said clearly how little he liked that idea. "Yer not lockin’ her up in some government installation, buddy. She stays at Worthington Industries."

Dr. Reyes looked up from what she was doing, her gaze split between Logan and Colonel Fury. "We need to stay near Jubilee and our other contacts in the New York area."

"Meaning the X-Men." Fury crossed his arms.

Dr. Reyes watched him cooly. "Among others."

Fury only shrugged. "Don’t worry, doctor. We’d only be moving you to Westchester." He glanced over at Logan, his expression oddly sly. "There’s an underground complex out there that’s been serving our needs admirably. Used to be a mansion sitting on top of it, but that got blown to pieces."

Logan stared at him for a long moment then barked a laugh. "Now that’s irony."

Fury grinned at him. "I thought you’d appreciate that." He shifted his attention to Dr. Reyes. "Assuming the X-Men agree, we will provide you with access to whatever resources you need, including bringing Jubilee to you or you to her, whichever you prefer." He cocked his head. "It’s the best offer you’re going to get, Doc."

Dr. Reyes rose slowly to her feet. Her expression remained wary as she looked back and forth between Colonel Fury, Logan and Jubilee. "Just so you understand, we don’t work for the government."

Fury inclined his head in a gesture reminiscent of a bow. "Right now, ma’am, neither do we."

Rogue sat quietly at the Club’s bar, a nearly-empty glass of merlot before her. Yosa, the scarred barman, came by, setting a fresh glass down and taking the old away.

"Thank you, Yosa," she told his retreating form.

The barman turned his head briefly and nodded, as much acknowledgment as he had ever given her or anyone else that she’d seen.

Picking up her glass, she stared into the mirror behind the bar. The Club had closed for the night some time earlier. Now, a few remaining people wandered between the tables, straightening up. Distantly, she could hear voices and the clatter of dishes from the kitchen.

She took a sip of her wine. Remy sat at a table near the center of the café area with a small group of senior thieves. From the relaxed atmosphere at the table she gathered they were simply shooting the breeze rather than discussing business, and she wondered if Remy thought he was going to be able to wait her out.

She rarely stayed at the Club until closing. Too many of her duties involved the families of the Clans, which meant she needed to be up and about when they were. But tonight she was willing to wait however long she had to for a chance to talk to her husband. The stilted, uncomfortable distance between them had gone on far too long and their schedules were such that it had turned out to be ridiculously easy to avoid spending any meaningful time together at all.

Sighing, she rolled her neck, digging her fingers into the tight, tired muscles along her spine. She’d spent much of the evening babysitting one of the CIA’s brightest rising stars, who was now being introduced to the existence of the American Guilds. The high mucky-muck who’d brought him, whose title was something like Assistant Deputy Director of the National Clandestine Service, spent some time talking with Remy and then had gone on to make the rounds through the Guild’s upper echelon, either introducing himself or renewing acquaintances, leaving his protégé in her care.

Talking with the young agent had given Rogue new insight into how the Guild safeguarded its survival. Traditional theft-the taking of items of intrinsic value like gold, currency or art-was a remarkably small portion of the Guild’s activity and, she’d come to understand, not very highly regarded. Such work was generally left to the younger thieves as a place to practice their skills. Some regard was given to the procuring of a specific item for a specific client, and even more so if the item in question was something of renown. But the Guild’s real talent lay in the stealing of information, and in that arena they had no equal.

The world’s various intelligence agencies had long since realized how valuable Guild cooperation could be to them. Rogue had been a little surprised to realize just how involved the Guild as a whole was in the spy business. But in a way it made sense. The Guild filled a specific, highly-specialized niche inside government intelligence operations, allowing the various agencies to concentrate their resources in other areas. In return, the Guild enjoyed unofficial immunity from prosecution as a criminal enterprise, and to a lesser degree as individuals.

The knowledge eased one of her private worries. Between his rank and his position as Guildmaster, Remy’s chances of going to prison were fairly slim. She wondered absently if a prison existed that could actually hold him. The thought made her smile. Not for very long, she suspected, but becoming an escaped convict would no doubt make his life a lot more complicated.

She snorted to herself. And Remy needed more complications in his life like he needed a hole in the head.

The group at the table began to disperse. She waited patiently as they finished drinks and gathered up discarded jackets, the slow progression of friends taking their leave, until only Remy remained at the table.

Picking up her glass, Rogue slipped off the stool and crossed the room, her heels clicking lightly on the Italian slate tiles. Remy looked up briefly as she seated herself in the chair next to his, his expression neutral.

She internalized a sigh. She could see the blank wall behind his eyes-the hard, defensive shell that hid his real thoughts and feelings from sight. For the past few days-ever since she’d started trying to talk to him again-she’d gotten the same flat response. He wasn’t rude or nasty... or even disinterested. If she asked a question he would answer it, and with only a little effort she could get him to hold a conversation with her. But the shields in his eyes remained locked in place.

She cast around for something to say. "So, what did the Agency want? Or were they just makin’ a social call?"

Remy shrugged. "Like everybody else, chere, dey tryin’ t’ figure out what de changes here mean t’ them."

Rogue considered the implications of his words. "Does a change in Guild leadership automatically mean all the agreements are up for renegotiation?" she finally asked. "That doesn’t seem like it would be very good for business."

Remy shook his head, traces of disgust in his expression. "Non. T’ings usually aren’t dis chaotic." His lips thinned. "Michael went a long way toward wreckin’ dis guild. Even wit’out OZT in de mix, dis wouldn’t have been a smooth hand off."

"How so?"

He gave her an aggrieved look. "Y’ wouldn’ believe de mess Michael made-promotin’ powers over skill an’ playin’ favorites wit’ those dat agreed wit’ his policies." He paused to take a sip from his drink. "I’m finally gettin’ a chance t’ evaluate de current class of apprentices, an’ I’m beginnin’ t’ t’ink I’m jus’ gon’ have t’ start dem over. Some o’ de t’ieves, too. Don’ know if de trainin’ was dat bad or if they jus’ picked up bad habits. Bobby’s better than t’ieves here wit’ three times his experience."

He made an abortive gesture as if acknowledging that he’d gotten away from her original question. "Anyway, f’ a long time New York has been one o’ de premier Guilds in terms o’ talent, but under Michael it was startin’ t’ get a reputation f’ bein’ sloppy, so everyone dat’s got an interest is makin’ time t’ come by an’ see if it looks like t’ings are gon’ change."

She picked up her glass, swirling the dark wine. "Have ya been able ta convince them?"

He frowned. "So far."

She cocked her head to the side. "Seems like that must say an’ awful lot about your reputation, sugah."

His eyebrows hiked upward in surprise and she reflected glumly that he wasn’t used to hearing compliments from her, particularly about his profession.

His expression morphed into one of mild suspicion. "Y’ tryin’ t’ butter me up f’ somet’ing, chere?" His tone held a faint, teasing note as if he was offering her the chance to turn it all into a big joke.

Obscurely hurt, Rogue shook her head and very carefully set her wine glass down. "Ah was just makin’ an observation," she told him quietly. She felt brittle all of a sudden, as if at any moment something inside her was going to shatter.

Regret flickered in his eyes. He pressed his lips together in a thin line and looked away.

Hesitantly, Rogue reached over to lay her hand on his. Remy glanced at her, his expression shadowed, but after a moment he threaded his fingers through hers.

"It’s late, chere. Let’s go t’ bed."

She nodded acquiescence. Remy pushed his chair back and rose, drawing her to her feet beside him.

They walked in silence through the stone halls. Rogue kept hold of his hand, needing that reassurance to keep her fears from surging to the fore. She’d waited for him tonight because she wanted to take the first steps toward closing the gap between them, not to let her fears out to stretch their legs.

Remy led her into the office without bothering to reach for the light switch. The door closed behind them, cutting off the light from the hall, and in the absolute blackness Rogue found herself instinctively sidling closer to him, afraid of what she might accidentally trip over.

"Y’ okay, chere?" he asked, releasing her hand to instead wrap an arm around her waist.

The sudden concern in his voice warmed her from the inside out. She laughed a little. "Yeah, it’s just dark in here is all."

He stopped short. Tucked up against his side, she could feel him turning to look around. Phantom spots danced in front of her eyes, her brain’s attempt to make sense of the emptiness.

"I... don’ even t’ink about it anymore," Remy said after a moment. "How often have I dragged y’ through de dark wit’out realizin’ it?"

Rogue paused, considering her response carefully. It had been an innocent question, she was certain, but the double meaning couldn’t be missed. She felt him tense as he, too, realized what a loaded question he’d asked.

"A few times," she finally answered. "But ah know as long as ah stick close, ah’ll be fine. Ya always know where ya goin’."

His arm tightened, and she found herself suddenly drawn into a hug. The tight knot in her chest loosened a notch as she wrapped her arms around him and laid her cheek against his lapel. His breath tickled her hair.

"I’m sorry I scared y’," he said, and she knew he was talking about more than just the lack of lights.

Rogue sighed. "Ah know ya are." She wished she could burrow closer to him. The fine silk of his tuxedo jacket felt slick and cool beneath her cheek. "That wasn’t ever the issue, really."

He didn’t say anything, so she forced herself to say the words that hovered on her tongue.

"It hurt, Remy." She bit her lip as the memories rolled over her. "It really, really hurt that ya didn’t think ya could trust any of us with the information about how ya blood works." She pulled back a half step, blinking hard against the threat of tears. "Ah can see why ya might not be ready ta trust me-mah track record ain’t been all that great-but not Hank? Not Bobby?"

His grip tightened on her, and she drew a shaky breath. "Ah guess it just made me wonder if there was any point in tryin’, ya know? If ya can’t bring yaself ta trust them..." She scrubbed her eyes with the heel of one hand. "Ah mean, Hank’s a doctor. He takes privilege seriously. An’ Bobby-Bobby loves ya, sugah. He’d step in front of a bus if ya needed him to." She ran out of words abruptly, her throat squeezing too tight for anything else to escape.

He still didn’t say anything, and in the darkness she had no idea what kind of expression might be on his face. After a little bit, he took her hand again and drew her toward the far side of the office where the door to their apartment waited.

He flicked on the light. Rogue blinked at the blinding illumination as their bedroom suddenly appeared around her. Remy walked ahead of her into the room but then stopped after a few paces with his back to her. His fingers flexed rhythmically at his sides, testament to some inner struggle.

Not knowing what else to do, she followed him inside and closed the door. Give him time ta answer, she instructed herself firmly when the silence threatened to become overwhelming.

Finally, Remy turned his head just far enough to look at her. In profile, his face seemed to be made solely of straight lines and sharp angles and his eyes burned with emotions she couldn’t identify.

"Do y’ want t’ know how I discovered what m’ blood could do?" he asked, his tone challenging, and Rogue sucked in her breath at the tacit warning in his voice.

Fear coiling in her stomach, she nodded. "Tell me."

He didn’t say anything immediately. Instead, he moved to the bed and sank down on its edge, bracing his elbows on his knees. Rogue followed, settling beside him and tucking her fingers beneath her thighs.

Remy rubbed his palms together in slow circles. "I was... nine, I guess." He stared blankly at the floor and Rogue knew he was watching his memories. "There was a group of us dat ended up squattin’ in dis old building f’ a while. It was pretty good, ’til T Paul went an’ pissed off one o’ de local gangs."

"T Paul?" Rogue asked.

Remy shrugged. "He was de oldest. T’irteen, fourteen, maybe." His expression tightened. "He took care of us. There was always somet’ing t’ eat an’ money f’ de clinic if a body got bad sick."

Rogue had to listen closely to understand him as his speech degraded into the thick patois of his childhood. Remy didn’t seem to notice.

"He never wanted any o’ us t’ know where he got it, but I used t’ follow him down t’ de avenue. Every so often he’d get into one o’ de cars an’ when he got back, he had money."

Rogue was pretty certain she knew what T Paul had been doing when he got into those cars. She’d never had any significant exposure to the sex trade-Mystique had showed nothing but disdain for anyone who sold themselves for a man’s use-but she could guess.

Remy made a small, helpless gesture. "Mais, T Paul got himself cross wit’ dat gang, like I said. So one day a couple o’ dem came into our place an’ started shootin’." His hands closed into fists, and Rogue resisted the urge to reach for him. She had no idea how he would react.

Remy’s blank gaze remained fixed on the carpet. "I was lucky. I got away." Slowly his hands unclenched. "But after dat I was on m’ own. I figured I could maybe get by pickin’ pockets-" He glanced over at her, faint amusement in his eyes. "I’ve always had light fingers." He looked away. "But de ones runnin’ dat game weren’t interested in makin’ room f’ anot’er body in their territory. So I started goin’ down t’ de avenue."

Rogue’s breath caught and her stomach squeezed into a hard little knot.

Remy looked over at her again. "For true, I never had any intention o’ turnin’ tricks. But it was easy ’nough t’ get de johns t’ stop f’ me, an’ as soon as they’d done taken off their pants I had de wallet an’ was gone out de window." He shrugged. "F’ a while, t’ings were good again."

He fell silent and for several minutes said nothing else. Rogue bit her lip and held her peace. Wherever this was going she knew it couldn’t be good, and she was afraid to say or do anything that might shatter the moment of unprecedented openness.

Eventually, Remy stirred. "Y’ never can tell about people," he said, his tone reflective. "I didn’ always get away clean. Sometimes de johns would catch me, but they were usually so terrified o’ someone findin’ out their dirty little secret dat it wasn’ too hard t’ negotiate m’ way out of it. Lot o’ dem were well-t’-do, respectable types-lawyers, bankers an’ such."

Rogue watched as his face drew into itself, the lines of pain around his eyes adding years to his appearance.

"There was dis one. He was a surgeon. Tol’ me all about how he cut people’s hearts out o’ them an’ gave them new ones-saved their lives-like I was supposed t’ be impressed he could do dat." He swallowed hard. "He caught me. Had de strongest hands..."

Remy stared down at his own hands, his gaze empty. "Mais, I tried m’ usual bluster, which he didn’ go for. So then I threatened t’ go t’ de cops. Dat was a mistake." His voice went flat.

"Like I said, y’ never can tell ’bout people. Dat one, he had a monster inside him. Flew into a rage an’ tol’ me I was gon’ regret threatenin’ him." He narrowed his eyes and turned his head a fraction as if he were shying away from the scene only he could see. "He... took what he was plannin’ t’ pay for an’ more, an’ then he beat me bloody wit’ his belt." His expression turned caustic. "He didn’ want t’ risk damagin’ his hands."

Rogue found she could hardly breathe. She felt cold all the way through, and so angry that anyone could have hurt him that way that she was shaking. Remy didn’t appear to notice as he went on.

"When he was done, he went an’ got a needle an’ a bag o’ tar out o’ his briefcase. ’Parently he had a heroine habit. At first I jus’ t’ought he was gon’ get high-his t’ing f’... after. Figured I could leave once he mellowed. But then he started explainin’ how nobody was gon’ care ’bout another piece o’ gutter trash dead of an overdose." He shook his head. "I didn’ even try t’ run... jus’ watched him put it in m’ arm."

Rogue swallowed a couple of times to make sure she had control of her voice. "What happened?" she asked quietly.

Remy didn’t look at her. "He left, an’ I waited t’ die. But de rush-" He raised his eyebrows expressively. "At dat point I really didn’ care." He shrugged. "After a little bit m’ blood started t’ glow. There was enough of it leakin’ out o’ me dat I saw it. An’ it... tingled, like. All over. I t’ought I was hallucinatin’, but a couple o’ seconds later I came slammin’ back down t’ Earth. Eventually I decided I wasn’ gon’ die after all."

His voice fell away. He didn’t move, as if his memories still held him in thrall. Rogue felt just as immobilized. So many things were tumbling through her mind that she didn’t know where to begin.

"What are y’ t’inkin’?" he asked suddenly.

"Ah’m thinkin’ if ah evah meet that man ah’m gonna tear him apart with mah bare hands," she answered fiercely before she could stop herself.

Remy straightened and turned to look at her. His eyes were full of shadows, like old scars.

Rogue couldn’t stand it. She scooted closer to him and wrapped her arms around his neck, burying her face against his shoulder. After a short pause his arms closed around her, surrounding her in warmth.

"Y’ mad at me f’ not trustin’ y’," he said, his voice quiet.

She tightened her grip. "Ah’m not mad," she assured him. Her eyes burned. "Ah’m not mad."

With a snort, he reached up and gently disengaged her arms from around his neck. He kept hold of her hands, but regret filled his expression as he brought their twined fingers to rest lightly on his thigh.

"Y’ mad," he repeated firmly. After a moment he lowered his gaze. His thumb brushed across hers, sending little shivers up her arm. "Y’ reason’s sound enough. I jus’..." He looked up at her, his gaze piercing, and then away. "I don’ t’ink I can change it." His tone hardened. "No offense t’ Hank, but I don’ do well wit’ hospitals o’ doctors. I know it’s irrational. It don’ matter."

Rogue didn’t argue. She understood irrational fear all too well. He probably couldn’t set foot in a hospital without expecting, on some unconscious level, to run into that surgeon again.

"An’ Bobby?" she asked quietly.

Remy gave her a thin, strained smile. "He’s prob’ly de closest friend I’ve ever had. More than dat. He’s family." He shrugged. "But I made de mistake o’ trustin’ family once. I can’ afford t’ do dat again."

The words went into her like a knife. She wanted to crumple into a little ball around the pain because she knew that if he wasn’t willing to trust Bobby, there was little hope for her, either.

Mustering her courage, she pushed the hurt away.

"Ah never thought ah’d be able ta let a man touch me," she told him. She shrugged. "Not without screamin’ in terror, anyway."

He looked up, traces of surprise in his expression.

Rogue gave him a crooked little smile. "Ya were always patient with me. Even after ah married ya an’ ya had every right in the world ta make demands, ya let me work through it in mah own time."

He looked like he wasn’t quite certain how to take her comment. "Wouldn’ have been right," he finally said.

She nodded. "An’ ah can’t even tell ya how much ah love ya foh that." She looked down at their joined hands then forced herself to meet his eyes once again. "What ah’m sayin’ is that ah really want ya ta feel like ya can trust me, but ah understand that ya have ta work through it in yoh own time."

She saw the impact of her words in his eyes, a wary, sick relief that left her both saddened and resolute.

Ya already knew there were no fairytale endings, she reminded herself. That didn’t mean there wasn’t happiness to be found in the real world. This might very well be the most intimate thing Remy had ever told anyone. It meant a lot to her.

She squeezed his hands and released them, then stood. Moving to stand in front of him, she reached for his bowtie and quietly undid it. The silk whispered softly as she pulled it free. Remy made room for her between his legs and put his hands on her hips. Her stomach fluttered in anticipation. She hadn’t realized until now just how badly she wanted to be close to him again.

Tossing his tie aside, she moved on to his shirt buttons. His fingers tightened, drawing her toward him and without hesitation, Rogue went.

Tonight it was enough.


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