The being who had once been known as Nathaniel Essex was
sitting down to a rare meal. Due to the results of his transformation
at the hands of Apocalypse, he no longer required food to
fuel his body: nonetheless, he had never quite gotten out
of the habit of eating. Dining was a ritual he had always
appreciated, even more so now than when he had been only human.
In its own way, a meal was an act of communion with Nature,
the great mystery he had dedicated his life to understanding
long before he had ever met the world's first mutant.
Also, the pleasures of the table offered a brief but welcome
respite from his work -- not that he ever truly stopped
working. Oftentimes it was during one of his infrequent meals
that he managed to hit upon a solution or had a breakthrough
for an ongoing problem. However, he also recognized his need
to occasionally rest and regroup -- a need which unfortunately
he could not afford to indulge as often as required, especially
given the amount of work that needed doing both within and
without his laboratories.
He looked at the mound of paper on the table with distaste.
Then, after washing down the last of the Stilton with a sip
of port, he gave a resigned sigh, and reached for the pile.
Despite the automated systems he had developed to deal with
the vast majority of day-to-day operations for the financial
and scientific empire he had built to fuel his work, there
were always some items which demanded his personal attention.
Not so much on the financial side -- after all, with careful
setup, that more or less ran itself -- and apart from a semi-annual
audit to be sure all was in order, he had neither the interest
nor the time to spare for such trivialities.
The scientific side, however, was another matter.
To begin with, there were the research fellowships he endowed.
He made sure all the candidates were carefully screened, first
by research ability and area, then by personality. He regarded
this activity as an investment of sorts -- despite his wide
range of expertise, there were always some things he simply
could not fit into his own research schedule. He preferred
to fund those whose work could help to fill in the gaps in
his own knowledge. Though in rare cases, he would also aid
those who worked in his own areas -- a fresh perspective on
things sometimes made all the difference. It was exceedingly
rare for him to learn anything new from those working in his
field, but on the few occasions he did, it made the entire
And his unwitting protégés had no idea how thorough the background
check they had agreed to as an eligibility requirement for
those fellowships was. Sinister utilized every means to find
every secret, every shame, every desire of those young scholars,
as he selected those who would contribute most to his own
work -- those he would best be able to manipulate later. A
certain ruthlessness, and an unyielding desire for knowledge
were two key traits -- after all, he possessed them himself,
and he recognized how effective they were in driving his own
actions -- how much more so for those who were only mortal?
Then there were his regular contacts with the rest of the
scientific community. Every scientist knew the advantages
of regular discussion and debate amongst professional colleagues,
but he had none -- his level of knowledge was simply too far
beyond that of the rest of the world. No matter how brilliant
they were, the current luminaries in his fields of interest
usually came off as little more than inquisitive children
in comparison to himself. But then, he didn't attend the conferences,
the speeches, and other such affairs incognito for professional
He enjoyed observing the fruits of his labours.
Over the last hundred and fifty years, he had been running
another experiment -- on the evolution of science and its
relationship to the evolution of society. Using his far superior
knowledge, he had largely been able to shape the development
of the first while noting its effect on the second. Granted,
he hadn't originally set out to examine the correlation between
the two -- but the opportunity had been irresistible. As he
had begun to influence the scientific development of the world
to better aid his research, the possibilities inherent in
tracking the effects on society had immediately occurred to
him, and appealed to his curiosity.
He hadn't been disappointed.
It was fascinating to see which of his manipulations -- a
suggestion here, some encouragement there -- had an immediate
effect, and which required a gestation period of sorts before
catching on. For the most part, he was able to foresee the
outcome, although there were always some surprises.
The Swiss postal clerk in 1905, for one, and the McClintock
woman for another ... in both cases, theories he hadn't scheduled
for decades, developed independently by a solitary genius.1
The ideas of the first immediately caught on, yet the
discoveries of the second only received the recognition they
deserved forty years after the fact.
Given his unique position, Sinister was better able to appreciate
their brilliance than their colleagues had ever been. That
was one reason he made the effort to interact with the rest
of the scientific community -- to observe those select few.
And of course, to keep up-to-date with what they were discovering.
There was little of science he could learn from them, but
it was always useful to know what direction their own work
was taking -- the better to guide it, after all.
Working his way down through the mound of paper, he chose
to attend one particular conference under one of his lesser-known,
but well-established identities. Moira MacTaggart was the
featured speaker -- apparently she had made some small headway
in the Legacy problem, and he wanted to find out what precisely
it might be.
After finishing with that particular piece of correspondence,
he read and set aside a different letter with an amused smile.
The letter-writer and 'Dr. Hans Arendsen' had been having
a lively debate about the potential of a new gene-splicing
technique. It had been quite illuminating, and proven to be
a particularly fruitful discussion for both of them. If rather
naïve in many ways, Henry McCoy was still a truly gifted researcher
-- and a most pleasant correspondent.
When he had finished with the paperwork on the table, he
leaned back in his chair and contemplatively returned to both
his drink, and the problem he had been considering before
his repast -- LeBeau.
He had gone over every piece of data in his possession that
dealt with the Acadian, and had come to a conclusion.
Barring exposure to some kind of extreme stimuli, there was
simply no way the Cajun's mutation could have changed drastically
enough to produce the omega-class signature he had observed
before. Gambit's powers had reached full maturity -- and stability
-- before he was out of his teens. Late additional development
of a mutation wasn't unheard of, but was rare -- and the changes
which did result were almost invariably minor. The data available
did not support that conclusion. And as for extreme stimuli,
high energy cosmic radiation, radioactive spiders and such
like were not happened upon every day -- admittedly it was
a possibility, but a remote one at best.
Then also, there was the mysterious disappearance of the
signal. It had appeared only briefly on the scanner, and the
system checks confirmed that there was no signal error. More,
Gambit's own signature could still be detected -- at least
while he was out of range of the shields around the mansion
and the Blackbird -- while the omega-class signature could
not. However, for that brief flicker of time when the omega-class
signature appeared, Gambit's was nowhere to be found.
Coincidence? Unlikely. Yet it was a fact that signatures
did not vary significantly once established -- he had no explanation
for what he had observed with this one.
And the signal itself posed more questions ...
LeBeau was the only possible match the database had found
-- yet analyzed with simple mathematics, one could see that
the signal could easily be expressed as the combination of
two different waves, although the signal itself was discrete.
Determining the other patterns which would result in such
a signal when combined with the boy's own was easy enough,
but a search on his database found no other suitable match.
There had to be something. But then, he had only run
the search on his current files -- perhaps if he searched
the full archive, there would be some relevant data ...
He downed the last of his port, his mind considering the
possibilities. Putting down the glass, he rose to his feet,
stretched, and began making his way back to the lab.
That signal had to have originated from someone, and he was
certain that LeBeau was at least part of the answer.
All he had to do was find the other part.
Her business with Angel complete, Rogue turned toward the
entrance of the small ward, the burden of her conscience reduced
to its normal level. She paused for a moment outside the doors,
Remember, gal -- he's an empath. Ya already know he's
gonna look worse off' n he really is, so get a hold of yourself
now. Last thing he needs is ta pick up any negative emotions
from you ...
Once she had focused her feelings on relief and support,
she passed through the doors.
Reine lay in the first bed, unmoving, her face pale and drawn.
Had it not been for the presence of the electrodes placed
at her temples, monitoring her brain waves, she might have
appeared to be simply asleep.
Rogue stopped at Reine's side for a minute, giving the unconscious
woman's hand a reassuring squeeze.
"Don't ya worry, hon -- he's gonna be fine. An' so are
you -- now if ya'll excuse me, Ah'll jus' go and make sure
he's keepin' himself outta trouble, " she said softly,
with a sad smile.
Her emotions faltered when she had her first good look at
the figure lying still in the other bed.
Oh, Remy ...
The parts of his left side which were uncovered by gauze
were discoloured with one large angry purple bruise. An intravenous
port at the base of his neck ran to the dialysis machine,
while other tubes ran into his arm and the back of his hand,
supplying him with blood and plasma. And it hurt her throat
just to look at the respirator tube which coiled from his
She couldn't quite hold back the surge of worry for him,
or the rage for whoever was responsible for causing him his
pain, but with an effort, she was able to rein those feelings
back inside herself. Concentrating instead on Henry's assurance
that Remy and his sister were going to be fine -- physically,
at least -- she mustered as much positive emotion as possible.
" Sorry 'bout that, sugah, " she said, settling
herself in the chair by his bed with a small grimace of apology,
" but you know what my temper's like. "
Had circumstances been different, Rogue could have predicted
what would happen next. She could almost see the gleam in
his red eyes, and his expression of studied innocence. He
would have remained silent, however -- as a thief, Remy could
always tell when he was better served by keeping his mouth
She smiled a little at the thought, as she reached down to
take his hand in hers, deciding to continue the one-sided
"An' if you're so much as thinkin' the letters PMS,
Ah'm gonna kick your tail inta next week, swamp-boy. "
As long as ya get well so that Ah c'n do it ... what I
wouldn't give ta hear one o' your smart remarks from ya now,
instead of makin' 'em up myself as I go along ...
She looked down at him tenderly, brushing the hair away from
his closed eyes with her free hand.
"Ya know, Remy, much as Ah've thought about gettin'
you in bed over the years, this ain't exactly what I had in
mind, " she teased. "Honestly, I would have expected
a l'il more ... romantic ambiance from ya -- like last night.
In comparison, this is pretty disappointin'. "
Not ta mention nerve-wrackin' -- what Ah wouldn't give
foh any sign that you're really gonna be all right ... in
every way ...
"But last night ... it was magic, Remy. You jus' about
scared the life outta me at first, when ya kissed me like
that. I thought foh sure I was gonna put ya in a coma again
... that Ah'd hurt you again ... that I'd have ta wonder if'n
you were ever gonna wake up again ... "
She shuddered at the remembered images of the weeks after
their return from Israel.
"Been there, done that, sugah. An' if it's all the same
to ya, Ah never want ta have to do it again. I couldn't stand
it. That's why I left with Bobby, ya know. Jus' seein' you
like you were hurt so much Ah couldn' breathe -- an' it was
all mah fault. I couldn't face it, so Ah ran away from it.
An' I don't jus' mean yoh memories. "
Different images swarmed in her mind now -- chaos, bloodshed,
the gun still hot in her hand -- she wrenched her mind and
conscience away from them, bringing herself back to the unconscious
man before her.
"Ah won't deny they were a part of it, Remy -- but not
foh the reasons you think. It wasn't what you did ... it was
what Ah'd done. Yoh memories cut a little too close ta home
-- they brought me back to a part of my past Ah wish I could
forget. But I think you know a little somethin' 'bout bein'
in that situation. "
I jus' wish Ah was as brave as you were 'bout dealin'
with it -- I don' know if Ah ever will be ...
She shook her head, dismissing the thought -- she was here
to concentrate on Remy and help him heal, not to think about
her own problems.
"Sorry, Remy -- didn' mean ta do it again, " she
said, stroking his face with the backs of her fingers. "But
then maybe that should be a kind o' reminder ta think about
more positive things ... " She smiled.
"Like Ah said, ya nearly scared me to death -- that's
why Ah started tearin' inta ya the way I did. An' you jus'
sat there grinnin' at me while I was cussin' you out. I'm
gonna remember that grin o' yours foh the rest of mah life.
It was that smug look you get when ya know you jus' got away
with somethin', and it always makes me want ta wipe it off
yoh face. But by the time I thought o' that, I'd realized
what exactly you did. And then Ah was too busy figurin' out
how ya did it ta follow up. "
She grinned herself, as she squeezed his hand again.
An' you jus' look too damn cute when ya grin like that...
she thought with a wave of affection.
"Guess I'll have ta collect some other time. So you
bettah be prepared, mister -- 'cause once you're up an' about
again, Ah'm gonna start. You jus' get well in a hurry, Remy,
'cause you made a promise ta me -- an' I don't take kindly
ta waitin'. If you think gettin' laid up like this is gonna
give ya an easy out, you c'n just forget about it. You're
stuck with me now, sugah, so ya better get used ta the idea.
She looked down at the hand she held in her own -- Beast
had said that it should still be safe for her to touch him
Slowly, she raised his hand to her face, pressing his palm
to her cheek.
Ah love you, Remy ... please be all right ...
Carefully, she lowered his hand back to the bed with a kiss,
then rose to leave -- she knew she had overstayed the fifteen
minutes allotted her by Hank, and Ororo was probably giving
up some of her own time for it.
She was almost out the door when she heard it.
Rogue spun around, seeking the source of the noise -- Reine
was stirring weakly on the bed. Trusting the monitors to alert
Beast and the others, the reformed terrorist raced back to
the other woman's side, arriving just as her eyes fluttered
"Reine? It's me, Rogue -- can ya hear me? "
Reine's red eyes squinted against the light, and she nodded
with a grimace of pain, as she replied, her voice cracked
"Yeah ... and Remy says to tell you ... he's doing his
best ... "
Night had fallen by the time Warren Worthington III turned
back to the mansion, his mind no easier than it had been when
he had left. He had taken to the air almost immediately after
leaving the Medlab, hoping that flight would help him regain
some sense of himself, as it usually did. Unfortunately, this
time all he had to show for his hours in the air were the
building cramps in his back from the prolonged exertion of
his wing muscles.
He had debated coming back at all -- his New York penthouse
was near enough, and he had felt the need to be alone. But
if he didn't come back for the night, the others would be
sure to wonder why. Even if no one had noticed what he had
done -- and apparently, no one had -- his absence would surely
have sparked some debate about how he was 'coping' with the
events of the afternoon.
He gritted his teeth, remembering all of the times he had
been subjected to that treatment ... the Crimson Dawn, Elizabeth's
near-death, the early days back with the team after serving
as Apocalypse's horseman ... right back to the time when he
had awakened in the same bed Gambit now occupied, his wings
It seemed as if ever since that time, he had been pegged
as the psychological weak link of the team, and he resented
it. Especially since the experiences of the others hardly
qualified them to be making judgements on anyone else's mental
I've stomached enough of the Warren-how-are-you-really-feeling
talks to last me for the rest of my life, I don't need another
one now ...
And there was Elizabeth to consider as well -- she deserved
better than to be left alone at the mansion to face any possible
questions about his own mental state, in addition to the rumour
mill surrounding their personal life.
And besides ... if I don't come back, she'll know something
is really wrong. he thought ruefully.
He knew that his leaving earlier was only postponing the
inevitable -- he had managed to put off her questions once,
but he wasn't enough of a fool to think he could do it again.
Elizabeth Braddock was not a woman who could be put off. And
for all her distaste for discussing personal matters -- her
own, as well as those of others -- when she felt such discussion
was necessary, she was nothing short of relentless.
What am I going to tell her?
He needed more time to think before he faced her -- but where
to do it? He considered that question as he circled the mansion,
decreasing his altitude. His room was out of the question
-- Betsy would be waiting for him there. And there weren't
too may other spots that could guarantee privacy ...
Almost before he realized where he was going, he found himself
gently alighting on the mansion's roof. Extending his wings
to their full span one more time, he shook them out, then
folded them comfortably against his back and sat down, leaning
against a nearby chimney.
I nearly got him killed ... so now what? Am I supposed
to just waltz in and announce it to the world like he did?
I don't do Jerry Springer moments ...
But what else could he do?
No one else saw, there's no reason for me to tell anyone.
I did the right thing in the end, and that's all that really
matters -- or so all the psychological pap everyone's
tried to feed me over the years would tell me. I might as
well just apply it directly, and skip the middleman ...
Besides -- compared with the other scars on his conscience,
this new wound was minor. He could deal with it. Now all he
had to do was figure out what he was going to tell Betsy,
if anything at all ...
That's a question -- the answer probably would have been
simpler if I had gotten him killed. he thought with grim
His humour disappeared as he recalled some of Elizabeth's
words to him, as she had taken on his rage in the War Room
when Gambit confessed his crime.
# Damn it all, love, listen to me for a minute! If not
for him, you might not have lost your wings -- but if not
for him, I'd be dead right now! He didn't have to call
Henry when I took a turn for the worse. He knew I suspected
something, and he could have let me die, but he didn't ! If
you won't hear him out because of what happened to you, will
you at least hear him out because of what happened to me?
Betsy's tone had been scathing -- and that had been enough
to surprise him into silence at the time. But he had been
too angry to really think about what she had said, or how
she had said it.
Recalling her words now, he came to a realization of what
she had meant -- that he should have been willing to listen
to the younger man because of his own experiences, as well
as her own.
Elizabeth had kept silent about the price of her eyesight
-- spying on her teammates for the sake of the ratings in
Mojoworld. But she hadn't spilled blood ...
He had put his wings above his friends and his soul. Granted,
Apocalypse had taken advantage of Warren's weakened physical
and mental state when the offer was made -- but the choice
had been his.
And although Warren didn't like to admit it -- even if he
had been completely lucid at the time, he couldn't honestly
say that he would have refused.
He just didn't know.
It's like Rogue said in the War Room ... I'm a fine one
to be hurling accusations of betrayal. You'd think I would
have picked up a lesson from that whole miserable experience
... live and don't learn, that's me. he thought with a
snort of disgusted laughter.
Then a voice came from the shadows.
"Something amusing, love?"
Startled, Warren nearly lost his balance, instinctively spreading
his wings to regain equilibrium as Psylocke emerged from the
darkness by the chimney.
So much for a planned speech ... time to ad-lib ...
"Betts, how about a little warning next time? If I couldn't
fly, that little hello of yours could have been messy. "
"True, but you can fly -- and this was so much
more entertaining, " she replied lightly.
She had easily detected her lover's return, but had chosen
to wait before seeking him out. She had used the time well,
gently probing his mind, but she hadn't learned much. Warren
was difficult to scan at the best of times, and the methods
at her disposal which would have garnered the most information
were too invasive for her to dare trying. Warren might have
been able to detect her scan, and knowing him, he would have
taken it as some kind of violation of his privacy. Ridiculous,
since he had made it as plain as the wings on his back that
something was wrong in the first place. All she wanted was
information that would help her see him through whatever the
problem was -- and since he didn't want to tell her, what
other option did she have?
"So what brings you up here?" she asked.
"I guess I just needed some time alone to think ...
"About what happened this afternoon?"
Careful, Warren my boy -- something truthful ...
"Among other things, " he replied with a sigh.
"From how distracted you are, I imagine rather important
things too -- otherwise you might have asked how they are.
"I was about to, " he said shortly.
Defensive aren't we? And overtones of guilt, too ... even
with all your shielding, I can pick that up and I'm not even
trying right now ...
"Sorry, darling -- it's just that I know how you get
when you're brooding. You almost dissociate. I didn't mean
anything by it. "
Is that so, Betts? Maybe it'd be better -- easier -- if
you did ...
"I'm the one who should be sorry, Betsy -- I didn't
mean to snap at you. So how are they? "
Not projecting so much now ... but I'd say the intent
of that question is genuine ...
"Reine regained consciousness briefly, but Gambit hasn't
yet. From initial indications, it seems that their personalities
are intact -- although that residual link might still be a
problem. We don't know about that yet. "
Now if I can just keep the subject change going ...
"They are going to be all right though, aren't they?
As good a time as any to poke at the hornet's nest ...
"Apparently -- but I didn't realize you felt so close
to them. "
"I don't ! But just because we're not friends doesn't
mean I want him to die for God's sake! " Warren
Interesting choice of words -- no one's mentioned dying,
and you singled out Gambit specifically ...
"No one said you did -- but you seemed more upset this
afternoon than I thought you would be, considering you've
never been close to them. "
Careful .. you already blew it once, don't do it again
"It's just that ... it made me start thinking about
other things ... "
Warren nodded silently.
"Then I presume my little speech hit home?" she
Perfect -- now just ride it out ...
Angel laughed bitterly.
"You might say that ... though it took long enough.
Sometimes it's like everything that's ever happened in my
life comes down to that time. And not only can I not escape
from it, I never learn from it, either."
Elizabeth moved in closer, molding herself to his side.
"I don't know about that, Warren -- it seems to me as
if you've come a long way. Today proved it."
He stiffened slightly.
Her violet eyes bored into his blue as she replied.
"Because I know you, Warren, I know that it wasn't so
long ago that you would have killed him for his part in what
happened to you, while conveniently forgetting all the things
you had made happen to other people. Saving Gambit's life
just shows how far you've come."
Betts, if you only knew ... or do you?
"Still ... I've got a long way to go."
"No," she corrected, kissing him softly, "we
have a long way to go. Coming to bed, love?"
Warren smiled, and returned her kiss.
"In a minute ... you go ahead, I won't be long."
She answered with a smile of her own, then melted into the
That was close ... but what now?
From behind the curtain of darkness, Elizabeth observed him
for a moment longer before continuing to shadow-walk to their
There's something you still aren't telling me Warren ...
Continued in Chapter
1. The Swiss postal clerk is of course Albert Einstein. Barbara
McClintock is widely regarded (along with Gregor Mendel, the
discoverer of heredity, and Thomas Hunt Morgan, whose experiments
with fruit flies demonstrated heredity's basis) as being one
of the three greatest geneticists in history thus far. She
discovered that certain genetic elements, rather than being
fixed, can move around on the chromosomes and thereby alter
genetic material from one generation to the next. This discovery,
ridiculed when initially published in the early 1940s, was
recognized with the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1983.
" All warfare is based on deception. "
-- Sun-Tzu, The Art of War
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