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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


Written by Valerie Jones
Last updated: 03/23/2007 01:26:56 AM

Chapter 14

Sighing, Renee bent forward and ran her gloved fingers through her hair, scrubbing lightly. Her hair was full of grit and dust, which fell to the ground with a quiet patter. She was bone tired, to the point that she could no longer really feel her body and it was an effort to force herself to move. But the makeshift hospital was now empty of serious injuries. The scrapes, bruises, sprains and fractures could all wait until tomorrow.

Cody sat beside her on the bench, his head leaned back against the wall and his eyes closed. Though she knew he was awake, he hadn’t moved since she’d sat down. And Renee was just too tired to try to draw him out. She didn’t want to talk about Rachel. She didn’t want to think about Rachel. But somehow her mind kept drifting back over the years, remembering. It just didn’t seem real that Rachel was gone.

"Ah thought y’all might want somethin’ ta eat." Renee started at the sudden voice and looked up to see Rogue standing in front of them, a plate in either hand. She wondered if she’d actually been sleeping, since she hadn’t heard Rogue’s approach. But the thought drifted away, too unimportant for her tired mind to hold on to. The food smelled good, though, and her stomach grumbled. She had no idea how long it had been since her last meal.

Hunger must have gotten to Cody, too, because he opened his eyes. He stared at Rogue with a kind of angry reproach, but accepted the plate she offered him. Lips thinning, Rogue handed the other plate to Renee, who managed a "Thank you." Rogue stared at them both for another moment, clearly uncomfortable, and then turned and strode away without another word. Renee didn’t pause to wonder about it. She was too tired to care, and too hungry to think about anything but her dinner. Cody was already halfway through his, and she dug in with equal gusto.

With some food in her stomach, Renee felt a lot more human. Cody seemed to bounce back too, and Renee found herself sliding up next to him. Cody obligingly put his arms around her and she heaved a sigh of relief. She was finally beginning to feel safe again. The things that terrified her were at least out of sight for now, and she could ignore them if she wanted to.

Everett stepped out of the room directly across from them, closing the door quietly behind him. He crossed to where Renee and Cody were sitting. "How are you two holding up?"

Cody only shrugged. Renee found herself mimicking him, but added, "Is Remi all right?"

"Far as anyone can tell. The X-Men will be on the ground in about ten minutes with the new Guardian. I’m going out to meet them now."

Cody straightened. "How are they managing to bring a Guardian in by helicopter?" Renee considered the description Cody had given her of Betsy, and decided that was a good question. She knew Betsy would never have fit into a helicopter.

Everett frowned lightly. "Why don’t you come with me." He seemed reluctant to explain.

Cody glanced at Renee in silent question. She nodded. "Go ahead. I’ll stay with Remi."

He disentangled himself and stood stiffly. Then he and Everett walked away, leaving Renee alone. She stared at the Remi’s door, then finally closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the wall. It would be good just to rest for a few minutes. Soon enough, the Guardian would be in place. Soon enough, they’d find out if Remi was still whole inside the telepathic shields that held the Shadow King away. Mischa had admitted that only the new Guardian would stand a chance of breaking Remi out of his fugue. But it would be all right, she supposed, to rest for the few moments until then. Remi would understand.

That was her last thought as sleep claimed her.

Cody shaded his eyes as they broke out into the harsh mid-afternoon sun. It seemed incredible to him that less than twelve hours had passed since that initial blast had announced the Shadow King’s attack. Too much had changed in that brief space of time. He tried to push the thoughts away. Rachel’s death was too new, the wound too raw, for him to be able to think about her without the anger boiling up inside him again.

The distant whump whump of helicopter blades distracted him. Grateful, he looked toward the sky, searching for the source of the noise. Beside him, Everett did the same, and soon the dark speck that was the arriving chopper came into view. As they watched, it swung out over the remains of the battle, flying low over the field of the dead so that the X-Men could get a good look.

As the helicopter passed over the partially collapsed wall, Everett nudged him. "Cover up," he suggested. Cody turned his head and shielded his face as the helicopter settled to the ground in front of them. Dust and grit kicked up by the rotor downwash whipped around them and Cody held his breath. Then the whine of the rotor began to diminish, and the dust storm abated.

The helicopter was a Huey, and with its camouflage paint and door gunner, looked like it had just flown out of a war movie. Cody didn’t see anything in it that resembled a Guardian.

The X-Men began to climb out. Jean and Bishop, Wolverine, Beast, Forge, Skin and Jubilee. Cody wasn’t terribly surprised when Jubilee threw herself into Everett’s arms and kissed him exuberantly. When he and Renee had been a little younger, they’d babysat the couple’s kids on a regular basis. Jean gave Cody a tremulous smile as she walked up, her eyes full of shadows. Cody felt a fresh stab of pain and looked away. She knew about Rachel.

Two other people climbed out of the helicopter after the X-Men. One was Nate Grey, which surprised Cody. He didn’t think there had been an Age of Apocalypse in this timeline. The second man was carefully unloading a case from the helicopter, and didn’t turn around immediately. But when he did, Cody’s blood froze.


The man turned in surprise, focusing on Cody. He didn’t look much like the Sinister Cody was familiar with. He was dressed normally, with his black hair long and tied behind him in a ponytail. But his skin was still deathly pale, and his teeth sharpened. The blood red diamond in is forehead winked in the bright light, giving Cody a chill. Sinister’s interest in the LeBeau clan had only intensified once he learned who Gambit really was, and Cody and Renee had even been kidnapped once by the villain. Luckily, they’d been very young and the X-Men had found them quickly. Cody remembered little of the event except for that bloody diamond.

Sinister cocked his head, expression smooth. "No one has called me that in quite some time. My name is Nathan Essex." His voice was the one Cody remembered.

"What is he doing here?" Cody demanded of Bishop.

Bishop shrugged minusculely. "He has to install the new Guardian."

Essex stepped up beside Bishop, nodding pleasantly to Everett before turning once again to Cody. "I have heard something about you and the future you come from. Am I to assume that my own role in that future is somewhat... different... from this one?"

Cody nodded uncertainly. A step behind Essex, Hank pulled off his glasses to clean them. When he set them back on his nose, he suggested, "Why don’t we go inside and get started." He sounded uncomfortable.

"But where’s the Guardian?"

Hank blinked in surprise. "Oh, I’m sorry." He stepped aside and gestured toward Nate Grey. "Cody LeBeau, this is Luke. Luke, Cody."

"Luke?" Cody was getting more confused by the moment.

Luke nodded. "I’m a clone of Nathan Summers, if that helps. I am the twelfth successful replication, or the L version. Dr. Essex named me Luke." His smile was friendly, and Cody could only stare. A clone? That might explain Sinister’s involvement, since he was a specialist in cloning. Cody glanced at Jean, but her expression was closed.

Still confused, Cody followed the group as they made their way through the streets, toward the building that would house the new Guardian. If this Luke was the L version, did that mean that John had been the J? He stared at the back of Essex’s head as they walked, mind churning.

The new location for the Guardian was the basement of an old restaurant. They climbed down the narrow stairs into a low-ceilinged warren of storerooms. Whole tree trunks that had been felled and stripped sometime in the last century formed supports, with more recently added ducting for heat and air conditioning running between them. Luke wandered around for a few minutes while the others watched. Then he seemed to settle on a spot he liked, and sat down on an empty crate.

"Are you ready?" Essex asked. Cody was amazed to hear affection in his voice. Luke nodded.

Hank approached him with a filled syringe. "What’s that?" Cody asked Everett.

"The Technovirus." Everett’s expression was flat. He had pulled Jubilee tightly against his side, and with her arms snaked around his waist, the two watched the doctors with a vague air of apprehension. Hank leaned down and injected Luke with the serum. Then he stepped back, wearing an expression Cody had never seen him turn on a patient-- loathing.

With an angry exclamation in Bishop’s direction, Jean turned on her heel and stalked out of the room. Cody glanced at him, but the big man only shrugged. "For her it is like watching Cable all over again." He paused. "You don’t need to be here, either. We--" he gestured to Everett and Jubilee, "are sufficient to protect Hank and Nathan."

Cody stared at him. "Protect them from what?" But his question was answered by an earsplitting scream. Luke arched his back in a rictus of agony as metal cables sprang from his fingers and toes. He tumbled to the floor as the cables found things to wrap themselves around, quickly climbing to the ceiling and weaving complex arches across the ducts. As Cody watched, more cables exploded from other parts of his body. And all the while, Luke continued to scream, until Cody wanted nothing more than to kill the man and grant him a merciful release from his pain.

Bishop held his gun ready, but had not moved as the living metal grew up around them. It did not seem interested in entangling them, and, in fact, seemed to avoid them by choice. Bishop’s face was grim. "It is not an easy transformation," he said. "But at least it is quick. This will be done soon."

He was correct. A few moments later, the torturous sound ceased, as the last of Luke’s recognizable humanity was swallowed up by metal. The intricate structure continued to expand though its growth was now slowing. In less than ten minutes, it had reached its final form. Cody stared at it--at him?-- in a mixture of amazement and dismay.

Finally he found his voice. "How-How often do you have to protect people...?"

Bishop looked uncomfortable at the question, but held Cody’s gaze. "We have had to destroy two," he finally answered.

Everett worked his way over to them, ducking between the thickly grown metal. He gestured to Cody. "We should go. They’re going to be busy running tests for a while." Bishop shot Everett a look of relief, though Cody thought he probably wasn’t supposed to see it.

"What about Remi?" Cody asked both men, not bothering to hide the acrimony he felt. His unquestioning trust for both Bishop and Beast had abruptly shattered. "The Guardian was supposed to take over the shield as soon as he got here."

Everett nodded. "He’s probably working on it already. We can go check in with Mischa if you want."

Cody found himself nodding. He wanted to get out of that place. And he wanted a chance to talk to Everett away from the others. He had the feeling he might be likely to get more information from him that way. He didn’t think that finding out the truth about Nathan Essex was going to be easy.

Renee woke slowly, with the feeling that she was climbing out of a great big pit. She floated comfortably in the fuzzy warmth while true consciousness returned. Unfortunately, memory came with it, and she sat bolt upright with a small cry of dismay.

"Sugah, what’s wrong?" Rogue straightened in her chair. She had apparently pulled it up next to the bed and had been dozing when Renee woke her.

"Remi." Renee was horrified at herself. "Is he all right? Is the Guardian here? How long have I slept?" The questions tumbled out of her.

Rogue’s lips crinkled into a small smile. "Relax, he’s just next door." She waved one hand at the appropriate wall. "Sleepin’ almost as hard as you."

Renee’s tension drained away, and her shoulders slumped. She ached in every pore from the abuse she’d given her powers. Healing required a concerted effort of control and direction. Even helping one person had a noticeable effect on her, and after the battle itself she had worked in the hospital for several hours. However, she did feel remarkably better than she had before.

"Then he’s o.k.?"

Rogue shrugged noncommittally. "The Guardian said he was ’undamaged’. That doesn’t say anythin’ about how he’s feelin’."

Renee sighed. "Poor Remi." He hadn’t broken his link with her until the Shadow King hit him. She’d felt his horror and guilt, and she knew that it was less about being forced to kill Storm and more about having enjoyed doing it. And that, she decided, was something she was going to have a little trouble getting over, too.

She stared at the tattered bedcover as a wave of loss threatened to overwhelm her. She hated this horrible, ugly world and the forces in it that had cost her one friend and hurt another so deeply. Almost everything she loved was gone, and the few pieces of her life that remained were unbearably different.

"Ah guess ya must miss ya family somethin’ fierce." Renee looked up to find Rogue staring at her with an expression of sympathy mixed with longing. Her voice was softer than Renee had heard in this world. Slowly, Renee nodded. She was struck forcibly by the hidden pain in Rogue’s eyes, and wondered if, maybe, this world had hurt others much more than it had hurt her. Impulsively, she stripped away one of her gloves and held out her hand to Rogue.

"Would you like to see?" Tears trailed down her cheeks, though whether they were for herself or Rogue, she wasn’t sure.

As if it were against her will, Rogue shook her head, eyes wide. Her fingers twitched, and she balled her hands into fists.

"You can’t do me any permanent harm," Renee tried to reassure her. "Our powers reach a kind of... cancellation."

Rogue sucked in her breath sharply, her eyes never leaving Renee’s face. Then, in one swift, decisive motion, she pulled off her glove and caught Renee’s hand. Renee wasn’t sure, as darkness reclaimed her, but she thought she saw Rogue’s lips curve into a smile.


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