Disclaimers are such fun things to write!
I could write them every day -
saying how all the characters are Marvel's
and that it's not me that you should pay.
That comments should be written to me
vituperations, praises et al -
directed to email@example.com
and I will reply to them as well.
That you should enjoy this simple tale
of love and victims reprisals,
and cheer the hero and boo the baddie
and look forward to any sequels!
(Part 10: Hours and Seconds...)
The scent of blood is on the air. The unmistakable coppery
tang cannot be disguised by the miasma of the tunnels. Wolverine
sniffs, attempting to pinpoint the exact direction from whence
it came. No success. There are too many other conflicting
scents - the musky, penetrating reek of a raccoon; the unpleasant
odor of decay; the incongruous, fresh fragrance of his companion's
perfume. He turns to look at Storm and shakes his head. Her
crystal-blue eyes fill with tears - hopeless tears - and he
is moved to comfort her.
"Ro," Logan says gruffly, touching her shoulder
with a hand, "The kid's all right. They both are
"How do you know?" Ororo's normally serene voice
borders on hysterical, "Logan, how do you
He takes her into his arms, letting her sob into his chest,
because he has no answer to give her.
Marrow knows the tunnels intimately. Knows every twist and
turn; every precipice and hollow; every nook and cranny. She
sprints along the cool, dark underpass that leads to her most
secret place. To the one place where they will never find
her, will never punish her. She stops, knowing that she has
arrived by the almost imperceptible scratch on the wall. Arms
aching, Marrow heaves herself up onto the platform that is
built into the roof of the tunnels. They may search, but they
will always miss this place. A pallet, moldy and disgusting,
provides some relief from the hard stone of the floor and
she sprawls upon it. Bioluminescent fungi allows her to see
the dried, dark blood with which her arms are encrusted. Angel's
blood that should, by all rights, be ichor.
"By the first one," she whispers for the second
time that night, "What have I done?"
Cannonball hurtles along the tunnel, feeling the freedom
of supercharged flight. He is invulnerable when he blasts,
in both body and mind. Concerns fall away like shed skin.
Past and future disappear, leaving only now -
a thrilling, exhilarating, endorphin rush.
"Mistuh leBeau? Miss Rogue?" he calls, hearing
the echo of his own words as he speeds ahead of them, "Mistuh
Worthington? . . . Marrow?"
Yet, only the echoes reply, mocking him with their intangible
"Row. Row. Row."
"Rogue . . . we're almost dere. Few more turns an' we'll
be out of dis tunnel. Dis whole nightmare will be behind us
f'r good," Gambit pauses, catches his breath, "We'll
be free o' de epouvantail. De bogey-man."
Her breath is so light on his arms, barely ruffling the fabric
of his thin shirt. The trench-coat in which he wrapped her
is soaked with blood, drenched with her life's fluid. She
shifts slightly in his arms, trying to get more comfortable
in spite of her injuries. Remy knows she is dying, gasp by
"Tu vas bien? Mais . . . silence . . . ne reponds pas."
[Are you all right? But . . . shhh . . . don't answer.]
In his concern, he slips into his native Cajun, hoping and
knowing that Rogue understands him.
"Quand . . . quand j'etais petit, j'avais peur de l'epouvantail.
C'etait des chimeres, je sais, mais, quand tu n'avais que
dix ans, tu l'as cru."
[When I was young, I used to be scared of the bogey-man.
It's foolishness, I know, but when you were only ten, you
believed in it.]
Remy clears his throat, trying to get rid of the hard lump
that has formed just above his Adam's Apple. An anatomical
reminder to all mankind never to give in to temptation.
"Je . . . je crois que c'est plus epouvantable de porter
le epouvantail avec toi. Parce que quand tes recollections
et reves deviennent le monstre, quand tu deviennent le monstre
. . . tu ne peut jamais echapper. Jamais."
[I believe that it is more terrible to carry the bogey-man
with you. Because when memories and dreams become the monster
. . . you become the monster you can never escape. Never.]
"Mon amant," Rogue's voice is soft, tired, lilting;
the purity of her accent tainted with some of her drawl, "Tu
n'est pas un monstre. Je . . . je ne peut pas etre amoureuse
avec un croquemitaine."
[My lover, you are no monster. I could not love a bogey-man.]
"Etre en amour," he corrects absently, distractedly,
trying to keep his mind off her weakness.
[To be in love with]
"Cajuns," Rogue mutters derisively, "Nevah
speak proper French then have th' moxie ta correct a lady
when she does."
Gambit laughs, but it is lost in his tears.
The shadows receive her - Psylocke embraces them, slipping
between the two media like a fish through water. Here, where
it is dark, lonely and cold, she is able to think. Angel could
not be a traitor, a murderer. Every cell in her body protests
against it. Every recollection she has of him contradicts
it. Yet Wolverine's nose never lied and Logan would never
lie to her out of spite. Angel had betrayed her . . . . He
had followed the whims of a savage child and attacked Rogue.
He had placed his personal vendetta above their love. She
is grateful for the darkness that her shadow-space provides,
because, here at least, no-one can see her cry.
"We're here," Jean calls out to Scott, "The
place where Angel lost his wings."
Her husband steps forward, blinking owlishly, eyes adjusting
to the gloom. The smell of smoke permeates the air - gutted
candles that bloom in white and grey clouds are everywhere
- and he coughs.
"I don't suppose you could provide some light, sweetheart?"
he asks, squinting his eyes.
Jean nods, imperceptible in the darkness, and snaps her fingers.
Suddenly, the spluttering candles flare again, casting the
scene into sharp focus. The slumped, sprawled figure on the
floor. Phoenix clasps her hands over her mouth, fighting the
nausea that wells up within her.
The brilliance calls to Angel and he follows it along a dazzling
tunnel of light. He is vaguely aware of voices calling to
him from the other side. Jean's voice - his love's voice.
She sounds concerned, scared, tremulous. He wants to go to
her, to comfort her, yet his feet are leaden. Too much trouble
to turn again, to go back beyond the shifting veil. Worlds
apart from those he loves best, Warren drifts.
"Never a dull moment with you people, eh?" Cecilia
lifts a sardonic eyebrow as she speaks to Beast, "This
place makes No Mercy look like a playground."
Dr McCoy manages a weak smile, "And you thought your
days of emergency medicine were over when you were unceremoniously
booted out of the ER?"
"Yeah," she shifts position slightly, placing left
leg over right one, "Except here, there's worse equipment
and no pay."
"Save my own edifying and salubrious presence."
Reyes snorts inelegantly, then changes topic, "You know
As far as it is possible to know someone as guarded as she
Ah can't talk about this to anyone b'cause they would
nevah understand. Cecilia thinks, remembering her earlier
conversation with the Southerner. "And her boyfriend?
"Remy," Beast corrects, "Even more taciturn
than she is when it comes to personal matters, although you
would not guess it upon meeting him."
"The sort who goes through life with a smile on their
face and a grudge in their heart?" Cecilia says knowingly,
"Not that there's anything bad about that. My brother,
Ricky, has been much the same way since our Dad died."
"No," Beast shakes his head adamantly, "I
am not sure how one would classify Monsieur leBeau, but it
would not be vengeful."
Dr Reyes nods, "Not vengeful. Not like Ricardo."
Beast senses her reticence to discuss her brother; sees it
in the tense set of her lips and the worry-lines that crease
her forehead. She needs to talk about it with someone, but
not with him. Not now.
"Do we have enough O-Neg in case of transfusion?"
he asks, his tone abruptly professional.
Cecilia grimaces at him, "No. Frankly, we're pitifully
short on everything from cortisone to suture kits."
"Then we'll have to make do with the advanced Shi'ar
pseudoglobin," Beast smiles back at her, removing packets
of colorless, viscous liquid from the storage cupboards, "Fortunately,
Bastion did not discover our secret cache."
She picks up a pocket and holds it up to the light, suspiciously
"What is this gunk?"
"A highly advanced blood-substitute that carries oxygen
far more effectively to the extremities of the body, while
assisting in hemeopoesis and facilitating healing," Beast
says with a trace of amusement in his tone, "Beyond the
scope of human medical science, of course."
Cecilia grins, matching irony for irony, "Good thing,
then, that I'm a mutant."
He nods grimly, suddenly sober, "I just hope we do not
have need of these tonight."
Dr Reyes says, "We used to pray that every night in
No Mercy. It never came true - always some kid who had been
stabbed - the casualty of a gang war - or a young woman who'd
been beaten by her loving' boyfriend for the hundredth
time. You gave up praying after a while."
"Cecilia. . . ."
"But you also believed - knew - that some
things could not die - love, hope, strength and beauty. It
may have been naive of us to believe that, but it got us through
the night. Through the short hours and long seconds."
Beast murmurs softly to himself,
"Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
I renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
upon which to rejoice."
"This is not supposed to happen," Tante Mattie's
voice is angry, broad as she watches the events in the small
bowl of water on her table, "That chile was never meant
to turn on Rogue. Never meant t'half-kill her at least."
Marie smiles knowingly at her angry friend, "Maybe this
is simply the way which the cards have fallen tonight."
The healer for the Guilds stands, impatient, "I have
t'go to them."
"As do I," the blind woman replies smoothly, "To
"After what she's done to m'nephew?"
"You know the vows as well as I do, my dearest, oldest
"Oui. I do," Mattie muttered, "Never harm
but heal. Help those in distress whether worthy or unworthy.
Love all humankind unequivocally, without stint or grudge."
"For the lowest killer is in more need of compassion
than the holiest saint."
Mattie nods grudgingly, "Oui, but when that killer hurts
my little Remy . . . ."
"Then you need to forgive her," Marie places cool
hands on Mattie's warm ones, "Or you are no better than
"I know," the old woman sighs, "I know."
Sabrina is ten and scared. Her father stands in the other
room, preaching to her mother. His voice rings out proudly,
expounding on the tenets of his religion. Gloria is admiring,
applauding each new turn of phrase. Soon it will be her turn
. . . . She shivers slightly and clutches the teddy-bear closer
to her chest.
"Don' worry, mistuh Fuzzy. Daddy won't hurt us. Daddy
loves us even if'n we don't deserve it."
The warm softness of the teddy-bear tickles her, comforting
her, loving her unconditionally. Tears trickle down her cheeks,
staining the pillow. "But Ah'm scared,
Mistuh Fuzzy. So scared."
No. This is no longer true. She is twenty-two and her name
is Rogue - an X-Man; and in the past, a member of the unholy
Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. She left her name and father
behind with his rituals, her expiation, when she took the
first train she could get out of Mississippi. Mister Fuzzy
belongs to some other child now, forgotten on a railway bench
somewhere between stops, mourned with eyes and nose pressed
against the cold, breath-misted glass of the compartment window.
Someone else loves her unconditionally now with a dynamic
passion that scares her at times. Remy holds her as she bleeds,
in a way that Mr. Fuzzy's powerless arms never could. He shares
with her the same cool, self-assurance that has always been
his - that the sun will rise tomorrow, no matter how long
the night is. That nightmares pass if you have the courage
to face them. She opens her eyes slightly, surprised by the
crisp night air on her face after the muggy tunnels, and sees
that they have left the labyrinthine network behind them.
The nightmare is over.
2:29 - 2:35 AM
Maggott leans against the stone archway that frames the entrance
to the tunnels and exhales.
"Ag, meisies. Dit lyk asof ons tyd mors."
[Oh, girls. It looks as if we're wasting time.]
The slugs hiss, bridling as they hear footsteps approaching,
echoing down the hollow catacombs. Maggott stiffens, picking
up the two-by-four that rests by his feet.
"Wie's dit? Who is it?"
The silence of the grave answers him and he shivers, grasping
the plank tighter. He nods to the slugs, Eeny and Meeny, to
take their positions, and they slither behind the rough scrub,
like oily seals.
"Jean? Scott? Storm? Please-let-it-be-Storm."
The figure emerges, ducking a little to get through the low
archway, exposing its neck. Japheth raises the plank, holding
it high above his head, then brings it down with all his might.
Startling red-on-black eyes look up at him and an elegant
hand catches the two-by-four, letting half the arm's bundle
"Dieu, gamin! Does everyone want t'kill me t'night?"
Hot crimson color spreads across Maggott's face and he shuffles
his feet in the dusty ground.
"Neejawell . . . sorry, awraht?" he looks more
closely at the X-Man's burden, "Is that Rogue?"
With infinite care, the former thief scoops up his team-mate's
legs, ensuring that she is settled comfortably before straightening
himself. She stirs slightly, opening emerald eyes to look
questioningly at the South African and a vague smile curves
"Uh-huh, sugah. Ah would be walkin' but Remy insisted
on practisin' this woman-carryin' thing."
Rogue is lying - Maggott can see that she is badly injured.
That she probably could not walk if she needed to.
"Can I take her from you, jong? If I get blue-juiced,
she'll be lighter'n'a feather."
"Non. I'll be fine."
Another lie. Gambit is about to collapse beneath her weight,
beneath the stress of the evening. Fortunately, Rogue sees
through it before he need press the issue further.
"Maybe foh one second you can stop bein' so damn self-reliant,
darlin'," her voice is concerned despite her angry tone,
"Even Ah can see that you're half-dead with exhaustion."
"Can't ever argue wit' de woman I love, huh?" leBeau
nods his agreement and, carefully deposits Rogue in Maggott's
arms. She winces as her sore ribs, legs and arm are jolted;
as the half-scabbed wounds are opened again by the abrasion
of the trenchcoat's cloth.
"Sorry, doll," Japheth whispers.
"No need ta apologize, sugah," Rogue replies through
gritted teeth, "Been through worse an' survived."
"There'll be one more jolt then it'll be smooth sailing,"
the slender youth warns, "Bite your teeth against it,
Maggott can feel her tension as she waits for him to move.
He concentrates, feeling the familiar rush of power through
his veins. Concerns fall away like shed skin. Past and future
disappear, leaving only now - a thrilling, exhilarating,
endorphin rush. Brown skin becomes blue; muscles fill out
as they become stronger. Rogue gasps in pain at the motion,
then is silent, snuggling her head into his chest. Immense
tenderness fills him at the simple gesture of trust. No one
has trusted him to this extent before or ever will again,
save the slugs. His girls.
"I'm goin' back f'r Angel, chere," Gambit bends
to her level, speaking gently, "Ya'll be okay. Maggott'll
take care o' ya."
"Ja, cherrie. Me an' the girls'll look after you."
"There is no need for any of you to return," Cyclops
crawls out of the tunnels, dragging a limp figure behind him
on a makeshift stretcher. Phoenix is with him, her blue eyes
dark with fear.
"We have Warren," he continues, "He's alive.
"I am sustaining him with my telepathic powers,"
Jean says slowly as if it costs her immense effort even to
speak, "But he is slipping away gradually, inevitably."
"How is Rogue?" Cyclops sounds worried, as they
carry on along the sluggish trail that leads to where the
Blackbird is hidden. Angel jolts along the road, too far gone
to gasp in pain.
"Alive," Gambit replies simply, "Dat's all
dat matters in de end, non?"
"Yeah," Scott agrees, "In the end, that's
all that counts."
Continued in Chapter
1. Beast quotes T.S.Eliot in the 2:05 AM paragraph. It's poem
I of the Ash Wednesday series.
2. Thanks to Keri Wilson's page and Debbie Williams for Cajun
help! Merci mille fois!
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