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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 17

"What’s the word?" Everett leaned against the edge of the table and crossed his arms. His organization here in Dallas was generally a bit looser than the way Jonah and Bishop ran things in San Francisco, and Bishop’s heavy-handed manner was beginning to irk him. With the threat of another attack by the Shadow King looming over them, Bishop had effectively taken over military operations in Dallas.

Everett sighed. He couldn’t complain too much. Bishop was one of the best tactical planners they had. Dallas was lucky to have him. But he hated feeling like he’d been reduced to the role of a lackey.

Bishop glanced up from the map he was studying. "Luke has contacted all of the other Guardians, so we’re as ready for an attack as we can get. All of the enclaves are arming up. If the Shadow Kings makes a move before the Dresden rises tomorrow, Jean will take the focus point." His voice was tight. Jean wasn’t powerful enough to corral the full might of the Guardians in a head-to-head battle with the Shadow King. She might effectively delay him for a while, but she would have no hope of winning—or of surviving.

"Have we really come down to it, then?" For so many years, the rebels and the Shadow King’s forces had danced around each other, making small strikes here and there, but never committing everything to a single assault. The supposition was that the Shadow King was no more certain about defeating Xavier and the Guardians than Xavier was about defeating the Shadow King’s relay network. And so the two forces remained at something of an impasse.

Bishop’s expression didn’t change, but he nodded. "The Shadow King isn’t going to let this go by. No matter how much it costs him to avenge her death." He fiddled with the map. "The fact that he hasn’t attacked already means that he’s marshaling his forces."

"And maybe that he doesn’t know about Remi?"

Bishop’s mouth twisted grimly. "Be grateful for small favors. If he knew that that kid was comatose, we’d all be dead by now. Dallas would not be that difficult for him to take."

Suddenly uncomfortable, Everett decided to change subjects. "When are you leaving for San Francisco?"

"Tonight. We’ll take the kids with us and hope the Shadow King can be lured into coming after them there. With the Dresden coming up tomorrow, we may even be able to take them to the Council."

Everett nodded in secret relief. He’d feel a lot safer once those children were out of his city.

Cody stared at Jean, unable to speak. He wanted to say he was sorry about Rachel, that she had been the most wonderful person he’d ever known and that, if it was in his power, the Shadow King was going to pay dearly for hurting her. But everything he tried to say seemed to get stuck halfway up his throat, choking him. Still, Jean was a telepath and Cody made no effort to shield his feelings from her.

Jean smiled tremulously, and nodded. "Thank you. I—I’m very glad I got to meet her."

The ache in her eyes was so apparent that Cody was uncomfortable meeting her gaze. "I don’t know if anyone told you, but in our time you have a son, too," he finally said.

"Scott... and I?" The ache redoubled.

Cody nodded, suddenly afraid he had made a mistake by mentioning it. "His name is Brian. He’s ten."

Jean seemed to roll the name around in her head some. Her expression lightened. "What is he like?"

Cody couldn’t help his smile. "Honestly? He’s an obnoxious squirt. Most of the time, anyway."

To his surprise, Jean laughed. It was a wonderfully merry sound, and Cody realized suddenly how much he missed the frequent laughter that filled his home. This world was so grim. He’d almost forgotten what real laughter sounded like.

As Jean’s mirth faded, Cody found his thoughts turning to the thing that had been bothering him since the X-Men arrived in Dallas. He was uncertain who to trust anymore, but Jean appeared the most unchanged from his own time. More and more, she seemed like the only person he could confide in.

"Jean? Can I ask you something?"

Her expression became solemn, as if she sensed the change in the direction of his thoughts. "Of course."

"How can the X-Men be working with Sinister?"

Jean regarded him, her green eyes shadowed. "We had no choice," she finally answered.

"What do you mean?"

Jean shrugged. "We needed him." She levered herself to her feet and began to pace, her arms wrapped around her waist. "When the Shadow King was just beginning to build his relay network, there were still a lot of alpha-class telepaths working with us. At first, we were pretty effective at thwarting him, Magneto’s powers notwithstanding."

She paused, stared at her toes. "But then he got smarter. He started systematically targeting telepaths. To kidnap and use as relays... or to kill." Unconsciously, she rubbed a spot on her ribs as if trying to soothe an old pain. Her gaze was distant.

Eventually, she came back to herself and looked up at Cody. "We were getting desperate. Cable became the first Guardian, and then Betsy. Their powers were so vastly increased by the technovirus that we thought we would be able to hold on." She shook her head, her expression bleak. "But it came too late. Maybe, if we’d done it earlier, when there were still more telepaths around..."

Jean’s words began to sink in. "So you needed Sinister to make more telepaths for you? Clones?"

She nodded. "Yes. In return for protection from the Shadow King and freedom to continue with his research, he gives us Guardians."

"His research?" The question came out half-choked. Cody knew perfectly well what kind of research interested Sinister, and it send little spider legs crawling up and down his spine.

Jean was deathly pale. "We provide a lab.. and we don’t interfere." She looked as sick as Cody felt.

"But, why?" Surely Jean, who had suffered as much as anyone at Sinister’s hand, would never allow him conduct that kind of evil right under her nose.

Cody saw the shine of tears just before Jean turned away. "For the Guardians," she whispered.

Cody stared at her. Because the Guardians are the only things keeping these people alive. The anger coiled in his stomach tightened another notch. People should not have to sell so much of their souls just to survive.

Hank sat quietly at the rickety table that served him for a desk and sipped his coffee. He knew he’d been staring at the same piece of paper for something like twenty minutes, but he just couldn’t summon the concentration to actually read it, or to go on to something else. He felt a great deal older than his forty-one years.

But, tomorrow is another day, he reminded himself with a sardonic grin. The show must go on. When life gives you a bunch of lemons, make lemonade. It’s always darkest before the dawn. He snorted at his litany of trite platitudes. Life was much too complicated to be encompassed by a single sentence.


Hank’s head jerked up at the voice. Remi leaned against the door jamb, watching him. Hank simply stared at him for one stunned moment as his eyes tried to convince his brain of what he was seeing. Then he leapt to his feet, and found himself sweeping the boy up into a bear hug.

Remi was laughing in embarrassment by the time Hank released him. "I’m o.k. Really."

Hank stared at him, wondering if it would be wise to ask what had been going through his mind for the past three days.

Remi looked down at his feet, as if he could read Hank’s question in his eyes. He seemed ashamed. "I... just needed some time to think."

"That’s certainly understandable." Hank tried to keep his voice gentle. The marks of pain were still very evident on the boy’s face.

"Are you hungry?" Hank asked after a moment of uncomfortable silence.

Remi nodded. "Starved. But I really wanted to talk to you some more about your time theory."

Hank grinned. "So you were listening."

Remi flushed. "Yeah."

"Do you agree with my hypothesis?" Hank pulled off his glasses and laid them down on the desk. Then he gestured for Remi to precede him out the door.

Remi brushed his bangs out of his eyes and glanced sidelong at Hank. "I think you’re right that my timeline was part of the paradox. It never did make any sense that Gambit wasn’t completely erased." They walked side by side down the hallway as Remi continued, "So I understand where we came from now—where our timeline is in relation to this one. I’m still not sure exactly how I brought us here, though, or why we’re able to exist in this timeline. I mean, it seems that since all of the events that would lead to our births has been undone here, none of us should be able to exist."

They left the hospital and crossed the street to enter another building. It had once been a school, and now the cafeteria served as the mess. They took their place in line.

"Well, I’m afraid I don’t have any good answers there." Hank surveyed the room as they talked. The lunch crowd was only beginning to trickle in, but if they wanted to talk in peace it would probably be best to go back to his office with their food. "I can’t give you a scientific explanation for how you kids ended up here. I can speculate, however, that you continue to exist here because you’ve somehow become completely disassociated from the timeline of your origin, making you immune to the paradox you so amazingly escaped from."

Remi was looking at him oddly, and Hank grinned. "Of course, I could be wrong."

"Who, you?" But Remi’s expression was thoughtful rather than teasing. "I wonder what would happen if I tried to jump back in time from here. Could I jump past the paradox?" He seemed to be musing, not expecting an answer.

"Did you ever try something like that in your own timeline?"

Remi shook his head. "No. I wasn’t really supposed to use my power at all, except to practice keeping the portal under control. I did make a couple of jumps, but they were only over short time spans. The biggest was a year.

"Our best theory says that I can only jump within the bounds of a certain timeline. If I jump back, I’m forced to stop at the point in time that that particular permutation began. At that point, you—my version of you—believed I could somehow get aligned with the previous permutation and then jump back again within that timeline, until I hit the event that started it, and so on. But we never tested it. Dad wanted me to be a little older before I started bouncing around through time by myself, and I think he was afraid of what the consequences might be if I accidentally messed something up somewhere in the past."

Hank was intrigued. He found himself wishing briefly that he could have been that other Hank who had had so much liberty to investigate such a fascinating topic. "What about jumping forward in time?"

Remi shrugged noncommittally. "I can, if that’s what you’re asking. But it seems kind of dangerous since nobody knows what might be there. I could jump out into a burning building, a tidal wave, or whatever. I could land in the middle of solid rock if there were mountains where I didn’t expect them."

They reached the front of the line and accepted the trays that were handed to them. Hank glanced at his lunch without enthusiasm. Food was food and he should be grateful, but he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a truly good meal. He dragged his thoughts back to the conversation.

"Put that way, it does sound a bit risky. But a jump backwards... " Hank trailed off as he turned the ideas over in his mind. The implications were staggering, if it was possible. He glanced over discretely. Remi was still just a boy, and the responsibilities that had already been dumped on his shoulders had nearly made him unravel. Hank wasn’t certain they could ask anything more of him without breaking his strained psyche. He would certainly have to do a great deal more research, and be a great deal more certain of the results, before he would ask Remi to risk a leap through time.


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