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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 26

The brittle crunching of feet on dry leaves made Remi look down. He was perched in the crook of a young maple tree that, in his time, would stand nearly fifty feet high. There would be a tree house in it then—a place that Remi had adopted as his private refuge on Earth.

Jean Grey stood beneath him with her hands shoved into her coat pockets and her neck craned to look at him. "There you are!" Her posture and the thick mane of red hair blowing around her face reminded Remi forcibly of Rachel.

He didn’t respond immediately. He had been looking for solitude and a chance to think through his options. Staying with the X-Men was not what he had planned when he’d first jumped to this time, but it was growing more and more appealing by the hour. Still, he was terrified of the possibility that he might condemn the future for the sake of this little slice of home. His parents had taught him over and over again that power brought responsibility, and that he would always have a great deal of both. Until recently, he’d liked that idea.

Jean, apparently, did not intend to be ignored. Remi watched in bemusement as she started up the tree, working her way through the slim branches until she was nearly even with him. The tree trunk wavered, not really strong enough to hold them both up without bending, but since they were perched on opposite sides their weights balanced fairly well. Jean looked a little uncertain of their perch, and he could see her carefully adjusting her grip on the branch. Remi wondered suddenly what would happen to his future treehouse if they broke the top of the tree.

"Are you o.k.?" Jean asked. She watched him intently, her gaze filled with concern.

Remi suppressed a sigh. "Yeah."

"What are you doing up here?"

Remi looked away from her, out over the mansion grounds. "Thinking."

"I’ve heard that can be dangerous."

Remi looked back at her in surprise. Jean was grinning, her green eyes dancing. Remi couldn’t help but return the smile. "Almost as bad as climbing trees that are too small." He deliberately shook the trunk, upsetting the balance. The top of the tree began to bend sideways and Jean let out a tiny shriek, grabbing for his arm. Remi laughed as he caught her.

"You’re a telekinetic! What are you scared of?" They were less than twenty feet off the ground.

With his help, Jean moved back around the trunk until they we again mostly balanced. The trunk quivered slightly, and Jean grabbed it with both hands. "How did you know?" She was slightly breathless, cheeks flushed and eyes bright. There was something strange about her reaction, beyond being afraid of falling, but Remi couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

"How did I know what?" he asked, distracted.

"That I’m telekinetic. I’ve only just started practicing."

"Oh. I—" Remi wasn’t sure what to tell her.

After a moment, her expression turned rueful. "Part of that long story you mentioned?"

He nodded, relieved that he might get off that easy and not have to explain. Or lie.

She smiled. "Well, that’s o.k. You don’t have to tell me."

He returned the smile. "Thanks."

"I’ll just bug you ‘til you do. I can be very persistent."

Remi’s eyebrows rose at the cheerful menace in her tone. "You sure you want to waste your whole life that way?" he countered

"Ha ha." She shifted her position. "I’m getting out of this tree before I die at a tragically early age. Are you coming?" She started to climb down.

Remi shrugged and followed her. Being alone was no longer so appealing. He swung down off the lowest branch and dropped to the ground beside her. Jean stuffed her hands back into her pockets. "I was actually coming to tell you it’s time for dinner." She sounded just slightly defensive, as if she thought he might ridicule her for her effort to reach out to him.

Remi paused. This wasn’t Jean Summers, the Phoenix, X-Men veteran and mother of two. This was just Jean Grey, a very sweet girl who had gone to a lot of trouble to try to be his friend.

"Thank you," he said gravely.

Her eyes widened slightly, and then, unaccountably, she blushed and looked away. "It’s no big deal."

Not to you, maybe, he thought, looking at her. After a moment, he reached out and caught her hand. Jean looked up at him in surprise.

"We’re going to be late for dinner," he said.

Jean stared at him as if she had completely forgotten the reason she’d been looking for him in the first place. But then her expression cleared and she smiled, her fingers tightening around his.

Remi scuffed the fallen leaves as they walked back toward the house, an undefinable tension running out of him.

Jean Luc drummed his fingers absently on the table as he studied the map before him. Marco had given him a list of flights and destinations in remarkably short order. Six private aircraft with registered flight plans had left New Orleans for the East Coast during the time frame Jean Luc was interested in. Two he had already investigated and discarded. Of the other four, two were business jets for legitimate companies , one was a Saab commuter being used as a private courier, and the last was a King Air owned by a triple-A baseball team. The courier was a possibility, and he had someone looking into it. The rest he considered unlikely, though he would investigate them as well, as he had opportunity.

What consumed his attention now, though, were the two red lines he had just drawn on the map. They represented the last known trajectories of two unregistered flights that were believed to have come out of New Orleans. He had extended the lines clear across the country and out into the Atlantic, and now was looking along the flight lines for likely destinations. One of the lines led into the general vicinity of Charleston, West Virginia, the other, New York City. Both were impossibly big targets. He would never find a single boy in either city—assuming that he had guessed correctly about the destinations of the two aircraft in the first place—unless he could find some kind of confirmation on the other end.

Sighing to himself, Jean Luc rolled up the map. He would send Henri to New York. They had contacts in the Guild there that might be able to help. As for Charleston... well, he would have to be more creative. The Guild had never had any interest in that part of the country.

He tucked the map and the folded list of flights into his vest. The little voice inside his mind that kept asking why he was doing this had finally fallen silent. He was committed. He knew that every time he closed his eyes he would see the boy’s face as he was led away. The strange eyes had been filled with dismay, betrayal, and a kind of emptiness as the last of his hope had been snuffed out. Jean Luc had no idea what kind of fate he had condemned the boy to by not intervening, but he intended to find out. His conscience would allow no less.

Unobserved, a man stood atop a nearby hill, watching the two teenagers walk between the autumn trees. His appearance was only one of many that he would present to the X-Men over the course of time.

The Gamemaster chuckled to himself. To the Witness he had shown only the Face—an inhuman, unchanging representation designed to remind the aging mutant of his own mortality. Subtly, of course. The Witness had always required careful management lest he accidentally discover the true reasons he lived while the X-Men died. That was always the risk-- that he would come to understand. Ignorance was the Gamemaster’s greatest tool, and the one thing that gave him power over this, perhaps the world’s most powerful, mutant.

Now there was the question of what to do with this boy. The concept of allowing him to grow up with the X-Men was an intriguing one. It was by far the most thorough training he could possibly receive in the full range of his powers. A valuable asset, when the time came. But that had to be weighed against the risk that the boy would not be strong enough to do what needed to be done. It was the harsh environments that bred the strongest survivors. The Gamemaster snorted privately. Look at the Witness. There was his proof, if he needed any. He would risk sacrificing some of the boy’s mutant potential in exchange for strength of will and the ability to endure.

The Gamemaster turned away. In truth, there had never been a question about what he would do. He had invested everything in this, and it was far, far too late to change his mind. He would see the Game through to its end. The playing field was set, the players present. He had chosen his piece and all that remained was to manipulate him through the endgame.


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