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"Death of a Dream"

Death of a Dream

Chapter 1: Homecoming
Chapter 2: Old Ghosts
Chapter 3: Strange Bedfellows
Chapter 4: Melancholy Memories
Chapter 5: Of Love and Betrayal
Chapter 6: Innocence Lost
Chapter 7: Of Friendship and Discovery
Chapter 8: First Blood
Chapter 9: Cast Out
Chapter 10: Revelations
Chapter 11: Of Love and Hope
Chapter 12: Stolen Lives
Chapter 13: Bad Dreams
Chapter 14: The Ties that Bind
Chapter 15: A Hero's Life
Chapter 16: Old Wounds
Chapter 17: A Time of Last Things
Chapter 18: The Final Countdown
Chapter 19: Battlezone
Chapter 20: Zero Hour
Chapter 21: A Glimmer of Hope

The sequel to this story is "The Resurrection Gauntlet."

Death of a Dream

Chapter 18: The Final Countdown

Rogue stood before her faction of the Brotherhood, hands on her hips as she surveyed them all. Sabretooth, Havok, Nightcrawler, Gambit, Psylocke, and their newest additions, Juggernaut and Spiral. All faces were intent upon her as she continued speaking.

"Psylocke has imprinted each of your minds with the schematics for the Morlock tunnels; paths to be taken, security devices to avoid and access commands to the mansion, when we get that far. Y'all know your roles...any questions?"

Havok spoke up, not even bothering to raise his hand. "What exactly are our orders concerning the Morlocks?"

"There were none specifically, so ah'm going to order that we fight them only if they put up resistance. If they run away, let them be."

"That sounds a bit merciful," he responded, a wicked gleam in his eyes as he pushed his point.

Rogue's eyes narrowed just slightly with annoyance. "Call it what ya will. Ah say we're saving valuable resources. We don't want to be worn out when we finally do reach the mansion."

Psylocke smiled coyly and cut Havok a sidelong glance. "Well, that certainly seems to cover everything, doesn't it?"

"You have a question, Psylocke?" Rogue asked sharply.

"Several, actually," the Asian woman replied smoothly. "But we really haven't time for them now."

Rogue nodded tersely. "We can settle them later, then," she said, her words carrying an ominous tone. Psylocke shrugged lightly and returned her burning gaze seemingly unfazed.

"Alright then, move out y'all. Get yourselves together and say your goodbyes if necessary. We meet at Gateway's plateau in exactly one hour." Without a further word, she turned her back on the group and stalked from the room.

With eager smiles, the remaining members of the Brotherhood set out to make their individual preparations.

Alex Summers was still smiling as he struggled into his uniform, thoughts filled with visions of the upcoming battle. This was his big chance in more ways than one, both to prove himself and perhaps gain control over the Brotherhood. Rogue couldn't be in top form, being five months pregnant and starting to bulge prominently, not to mention that she was likely to be looking out for the two lives she carried inside her.

He held no particular love or hatred for Rogue, save that she had a position that he coveted. He supposed she had even done him a favor when she had killed his brother Scott. Alex would have liked to have done it himself, but either way, the job was done. He often wondered what his brothers last thoughts were as she tried to pummel him to death with his own optic blasts. The thought almost always made him smile. His brother had been more like him at the end than ever, and Havok had almost begun to admire the ruthlessness with which Cyclops had systematically begun killing off the X-Mens enemies. Losing Jean and the Professor had truly unhinged him. Still, he hadn't thought anyone would have the balls to put Cyclops back in his place, or remove him altogether, despite the loose cannon he'd become. He doubted if anyone ever would have if not for his brothers brutal slaying of Mystique right before Rogue's eyes. And even then...if Rogue had not been possessed of Mystiques memories and temperament at the time...he'd often wondered how much that had to do with it. Probably quite a bit. Despite Rogue's claims of being a killer early in her career, he couldn't imagine her murdering someone, even in hot-blood, and especially not so ruthlessly. Trying to kill Scott with his own, that sounded like Mystique's style far more than Rogue's. And even though in the end she had had to beat him to death with her own fists because Scott was immune to his own power, it still didn't strike him as something Rogue would have done, herself. Which was exactly why he felt Rogue unfit to lead the Brotherhood; she wasn't ruthless, and she definitely wasn't a killer.

And now, with the children at stake, she was bound to be distracted from her job...wouldn't it be a shame if something unfortunate happened to her during the battle?, he thought, chuckling darkly. She was almost bound to slip up, and Alex was going to be there when she did.

"Chere?" Gambit asked quietly as he slipped into their room. It was so dark he almost thought she might not be there. He was turning away to go look for her elsewhere when she spoke.

"Ah'm here, Remy. Over by the window."

He already knew what was troubling her without having to ask. After all, it was the same fear that plagued him, as well. He let his eyes adjust to the darkness and moved up beside her, putting an arm around her waist without speaking.

"You know we probably won't live through this fight?" she asked almost nonchalantly. He paused to consider her words, her tone, and it took him a moment to realize that it wasn't nonchalance in her voice- she was simply being matter-of-fact.

"Chere, we gonna be fine--," he began, trying to sound more cheerful than he really felt. But she cut him off before he could even get going.

"No, Remy. No more lies, no more pretendin'. You know as well as ah do that this might be the last time we can be together like this...that our children might never be born."

"I know, chere," he said quietly after a moment. "Old habits die hard, I guess," he added, trying to smile.

"Whichever side we're on, this battle's bound to turn ugly. If we don't make it out...," she trailed off. He couldn't see her face very well in the darkness, but all the same he knew the tears were there.

"Then at least we die fightin', chere, together, you an' me, side by side." He took her hand and squeezed it gently. "I can't think of a better way to go."

She shuddered with a repressed sob, turning and grabbing him tight in her arms. "Ah love you Remy. Ah always have, and ah always will, in this life and the next."

"An' I love you, Sabine," he said softly, stroking her hair as he leaned in to kiss her. "Now an' forever."

They held each other in the darkness, completely silent as they cherished the moment for all it was worth.

No expression was evident on Gateway's face as his bull-roarer sung through the air. He did not even blink as eight figures filed past him and into the portal he had created, and they in return did not pay any attention to him. That was the way it had always been, the way it was meant to be. All except one. He remembered her, though it did not show in his face; she was the one who had always been so kind to him, bringing him gifts and food. And though he did not return the last, backward glance she gave him, he saw it nonetheless. The portal swirled shut, returning to the nothingness from whence it came, and the plateau was silent once again. Thus, there was no one to bear witness to the single tear that streaked its way down his dark, leathery cheek.

Leech ran through the tunnels as fast as his little green legs would carry him, ignoring the heavy pain in his side and his gasping pants for breath. His own pain didn't matter, his own life didn't matter...all that mattered was that the Mistress knew what was coming. He tried to shut out the visions of years before, of Morlocks dying in scores around him. If he thought about that, he was done for. His fear would paralyze him, and then they would be upon him. He couldn't let that happen, he couldn't let his people die a second time. He could help this time. He WOULD help this time. And he was almost there.

"Security breach!" Kitty yelled as she phased up into the living room of the mansion from the monitoring systems below.

Everyone sprang into action at once, alarms suddenly blaring through the house like an angry, awakened banshee.

"Where and how many?" Storm asked simply as she watched the other X-Men arrive from every doorway.

"The Morlock tunnels," Kitty replied, her face as pale as if she had seen a ghost. "And only two."

To her credit, Storm kept her fašade of control even as her heart seemed to thunder within her breast. Bright Lady, not again, she pleaded silently. Aloud she began shouting orders. "Alright, Kitty get back to the control room and monitor for any further security breaches as well as additional activity. Colossus, you go with her. Everyone else come with me." Without waiting for response, she took to the air, heading for the bowels of the mansion and the entrance to the Morlock tunnels.

Rogue was very glad she was the only team member who could fly, it gave her the advantage of scouting far ahead of the team. As she sped through the dank tunnels, she was relieved to find that they seemed empty, completely devoid of any life. It was reassuring and yet eerie at the same time. Had they gotten to ground before their arrival somehow? Or were they lying in wait to ambush the intruders into their home?

Further back, and much less happily, the rest of the group made their way down the narrow ledges that bordered the sewers refuse. They weren't far enough in yet to have reached the "Alley" and better footing on solid ground, but with an enchantment from Spiral, they found negotiating the steep, skinny ledges much easier than expected. They were making good time.

"Just like old times, eh LeBeau?" growled Sabretooth as he crawled along the ledge on all fours, resembling nothing so much as a cat.

Gambit stiffened at the remark, remembering the last time he had been down here with Sabretooth...a lifetime ago...yet it was almost like yesterday in his mind. And this time, he had not only inadvertently led them here, but he was on their side. Not for long, he reminded himself, not for long.

Setting his jaw in grim determination, Remy LeBeau pushed onward through the murky darkness.

"Stand back, everyone," Storm commanded as she landed before the massive door that led to the Morlock tunnels. "Spread out and be ready to attack on my command." Trying vainly to keep her hands from shaking, she keyed in the security code to unlock the final barrier between the mansion and the underground. They were lucky that they hadn't actually made it into the mansion yet, considering that their intruders seemed to know the other security codes to bypass their defenses. At least this way they might still have the advantage of surprise. She finished keying in the sequence and stepped back as the door slid open.

For a moment, nothing happened. Each X-Man sat on edge, just barely holding their powers in check as they waited tensely for their intruders to reveal themselves. They were rewarded an instant before the strain threatened to break their control as a green head poked its way around the edge of the massive door.

"Leech," Storm sighed with obvious relief. He looked excited, but not afraid. At least that meant that the Morlocks were still safe. For the moment.

"Lady Storm," he said, trying to keep his voice respectful despite his obvious agitation. "They come."

"Who, Leech?" she asked, the fear returning as quickly as it had receded. Surely not the Marauders...

He frowned, scrunching up his little face in concentration. "The old-friends...the one who steals life, the man with glowing cards...and the woman who speaks with mind. And others..."

"The Brotherhood," Bobby spoke up, Leech's excitement beginning to catch him. "Woo-hoo! Finally! A real fight!"

Storm cut him a scathing glance that could have killed him where he stood, and he visibly gulped as he settled down. "How many, Leech?" she asked patiently. She knew they had a little time, anyway, or Leech would be much more hurried.

He scrunched up his face again as he thought, then held up eight fingers.

Storm nodded and touched the com-badge at her wrist. "Kitty, Piotr, we need you down here in the tunnels. The Brotherhood has arrived at last."

"On our way," Kitty responded immediately, cutting off the transmission.

"Leech, will you be staying to help us fight?" Storm asked gently. They would need all the help they could get.

He nodded firmly. "Yes. Leech fight. Leech and the Mistress."

"The Mistress..?" Storm echoed, seemingly puzzled for a moment.

"Oh please tell me you haven't forgotten me soon, wind-rider," came a gravelly voice from just beyond the darkness off the doorway.

"Marrow," Storm breathed.

"In the flesh," she responded, stepping out into the light. "Such as it is." She chuckled darkly and gestured the various bones that protruded from her body at awkward and hideous angles. "Oh no, don't go all soft on me, now. I can't stand this reunion stuff," she continued in her ever-mocking tone, completely at ease.

Lasher bristled at her disrespect, but took his cue from Storm and maintained his calm. Wolverine moved to Storms side as the newer X-Men exchanged puzzled looks, but no one spoke.

"The Morlocks are safe?" Storm finally asked, regaining a bit of her composure.

"Snug as bugs," Marrow replied confidently. "Leech did his job well, didn't you little one?" She paused to offer the younger Morlock a slight smile, and he gazed at her adoringly in return. "Ever since the Massacre, we set up outposts, places to keep watch from, in case anyone should ever come calling again. They're being sloppy...," she added, cutting Storm an almost coy glance. "They should have had the witch or the elf teleport them right to your door."

"They could not." Storm was shaking her head, trying to put it all together. "No one except the Morlocks know the tunnels well enough to do that. You said that Gambit was with them?" she asked, looking to Leech again, her expression almost pleading as she hoped that it wasn't true. But it was Marrow who answered this time.

"The cajun traitor, you mean? Yes, he is."

"That must be how they knew...Goddess...they will be able to walk right into the mansion, bypassing the psionic barrier above completely!"

"I knew we shouldn't have trusted that snake," Bobby growled, doing a fair impression of Wolverine.

"We have not the time for regrets now," Storm interjected sharply, trying to recover from her own shock and sense of betrayal. Pushing down the emotions which threatened her control, she forced herself to think calmly, rationally. "We must not fight within the tunnels, to do so would endanger the Morlocks safety and destroy their home. Let them come to us. Perhaps if we can get outside..."

"Couldn't hurt to try, darlin'. Maybe if we're lucky, we can get'em close enough to the psionic barrier that it'll take some of the fight out o' them."

Storm turned to Marrow again. "Are you with us, Sarah?" she asked, not bothering to keep her tone regal this time. The threat to the Morlocks was as real as it was to the X-Men. Marrow had just as much of a stake in this they did, despite her abrasive attitude.

"For now," Marrow answered with a sly smile. "but tomorrow...?" Her smile grew, though it held no warmth or humor, and she shrugged slightly.

"Good enough...for now," Storm replied, turning away. "Alright everyone, we take the fight to the surface and the mansion grounds. Marrow, how long?" she asked, not bothering to look at the unsightly Morlock.

"About twenty minutes, if they're quick about it."

"Long enough," Storm asserted as she turned toward Firestar. "Angelica, use your microwave powers to heat the door to the melting point, then Alison, I want you to make sure it is fused shut with your laser blast, and finally, Robert, I want you to cool the door enough to make it harden into place."

"That's not gonna stop them, Storm," Bobby said, even as he moved toward the door with Firestar and Dazzler.

"No, but at least we will know they have arrived when we hear the blast," she replied. "And they will know that we know they are here. That should catch them off-guard. We want to keep them as off-balance as possible."

Bobby nodded. "You got it, boss."

She tapped her com-badge again. "Kitty, Piotr, change of plans. We are taking this fight to the mansion grounds. Meet us there." She snapped off the connection without waiting for a response and looked at the remaining mutants.

"Everything Logan and I have taught you has been in preparation for this day. We can only hope that we have done you justice and that it has been enough. Whatever may happen today, live or die, family or lovers, we are the X-Men, and we fight until the end." She let her eyes fall on each one of them in turn as she spoke. "I could not ask for better friends to lay my life down beside. May the Bright Lady watch over us all this day."

Marrow applauded mockingly, earning her glares from several of the other team members, but Storm ignored her, turning on her heel and walking from the room calmly.

After a moment, the rest of them, save Firestar, Dazzler and Iceman, followed behind her.

At the top of the world, the dark presence shifted, stirring as it sensed events coming together. With a terrible smile, the man who had once been Magneto mentally called upon his servant on the other side of the globe. A moment later he stepped through a roaring portal and emerged within the mildewed tunnels beneath New York.


Continued in Chapter 19


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