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"The Ice Capades"

The Ice Capades

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12

The standard disclaimers apply. Gambit, Wolverine, Rogue, Cyclops, and all the other X-Men are the property of Marvel Entertainment, and are used without their permission. Invictus is by William Ernest Henley. My apologies to anyone who has been waiting and/or asking about this part. I hope it was worth the wait.

The Ice Capades

=Part Twelve=

The November wind cut like a knife, but the watcher paid no attention. Cloaked in the unnatural shadow of fire and destruction, the dark figure stood on top of the central tower of the Renaissance Center on Detroit's riverfront. The wind snaked off the river, stinging exposed flesh like the tendrils of a cat o'nine tails, but was given little heed; all attention was focused on the destruction of a city.

With an exhausted sigh, the cloaked figure sat down, feet dangling off the side of the building into mid-air, much like a swimmer testing the water before jumping in. Here, however, the deep end was some seventy-three stories. The eight was even less daunting than the wind.

To the south, the direction the watcher now faced, the city could only be described as a war zone. The area surrounding the Joe Louis Arena was ablaze. Firefighters were dousing the flames to little avail. A Coast Guard fire ship was just now arriving from the north. Shortly, a spray of river water would begin and, eventually, the fire would be quenched.

Observing the madness below, the watcher's head moved back and forth slowly in silent protest. 'Muties' would be blamed for the devastation below. No need to look any farther than the obvious, no matter how obviously wrong it was. That basic truth of humanity cut deep, much deeper than the wind.

Shuddering, a coat was pulled tighter, but to little avail; the watcher's chill was internal.

Further introspection was interrupted by an anguished wail from the southwest. Turning toward the sound, the watcher knew instinctively what it was; the agonized howl of a Wolverine. There was no other sound quite like it. With only mild surprise, the watcher observed the glowing Sentinel take to the air. From the distance, it was little more than a glowing pencil, but the watcher knew what it was, having witnessed the end of the first battle between the X-Man Gambit and the Sentinel.

Lighting moments before LeBeau's final attack sent the metal behemoth into the river, his progress into the parking structure was followed with great interest. He was easily tracked, even at that distance, by his fire enhance silhouette.

Now the watcher's attention was drawn back to that parking structure as the glowing Sentinel started to rise into the sky. The fact that the Sentinel was glowing brighter by the second did not escape the watcher attention either. Doubt entered the watcher's mind. After a momentary internal debate, the shadowy figure slowly stood, took a deep breath, and stepped off the building.

Flames began to shoot from the feet of the Sentinel.

"REMY. . .JUMP!. . .PLEASE!"

At the sound of his name, Gambit looked up. He could feel the upward movement as the thrusters kicked in. The two X-Men locked eyes briefly. In the instant before Logan turned his back against the flames, he saw recognition, clearness of thought, possibly even gratitude in Gambit's eyes. He also saw resignation, and maybe even relief.

Remy was surprised by how quickly the Sentinel gained altitude. He knew that he'd damage the machine during their previous battle, and the building kinetic energy had to be playing havoc on it's circuits, but he still had to grab on as best he could to keep from falling into the thruster's flames.

Ain't ready t'let go. . .'least not yet.

Looking back down the Sentinel, LeBeau could see Wolverine, engulfed in flames, dangling from the side of the parking structure. Turning his head, Remy jammed his eyes shut, trying to block out the vision of the burning Canadian.

After a few moments, he shook his head and gave up, convinced that it was a sight he'd take with him to his grave. With a heavy sigh, he returned to his work.

His fingers began to tingle first, then his hands and arms began to throb as he pushed his power as hard as he could. He closed his eyes against the wind, but they began to water. After a moment, he opened them again and looked down. If there were any question about his current situation before, what he saw when he looked down answered it: you screwed boy!

The Sentinel was probably a quarter mile up, and still rising. Remy figured it would level out at about a half mile, then he'd see where it went next, If'n dis t'ing don't blow, first. Slowly, a wry smile crossed the thief's face. Deliberately, he crawled up the Sentinel's back, and threw his left leg over the monster's shoulder. Holding its glowing head with both hands, while continuing to charge the metal, he drew his right leg over, and sat on the Sentinel's shoulder.

He could feel a slight prickling sensation from the energy that was dancing across the Sentinel, but for the most part, it was deadened by his overcoat and jeans.

LeBeau looked out from his perch on the Sentinel's shoulder. He fancied himself not unlike a parrot from some old pirate movie. He started to snicker at the thought.

"Gambit wanna cracker, neh?" The Cajun started to giggle at first, then laugh uncontrollably. He smacked the Sentinel upside the head and repeated his demand.

"You listenin' boy? Gambit say he wan' a cracker. . . .Ah hell, I settle f'a cig. Don't worry homme, Remy got one right here."

Still giggling, but less maniacally now, he let go of the Sentinel, and reached into his coat and pulled out what figured to be his last cigarette. Holding it to the Sentinel, he watched has the tip began to smolder, then ignite. It occurred to him that he really might be 'over the edge'.

The Sentinel began to slowly bank toward the east. Its momentum started to slow a little, and the ride became a little bumpy.

"Look like you startin' t'run outta gas dere, homme."

The Sentinel shuddered as if replying.

"Dat's alright. I'm 'bout out too."

Gambit looked down. He'd been right - he looked to be about half a mile up. The Sentinel was now over Lake St. Clair, and heading toward Ontario and who knows where from there. New York, most likely. Not that they would actually make it that far. That thought sobered him quickly.

"How d'hell did I end up here?"

He was a long way from New Orleans, to be sure, and it was a question he'd been asking himself with more frequency since his return to Seattle. He kept coming up the same answer, and to it was ugly would be an understatement. It was, however, staring him right in the face, and would not be ignored.

"''Cause you a screw-up, boy."

He pulled his overcoat close around him. The wind whipped past his face, and his eyes began to water again.

"So dis how it all play out, eh? Last few minutes of m'wort'less life spent sittin' on a glowin' tin can, lookin' back at what a shit I was."

Absently, he put his left hand back on the Sentinel's shoulder and let his power flow again.

His mind began to wander, jumping from memory to memory with in no coherent order. It vaguely occurred to him that his life was flashing before his eyes.

His wedding to Belle. Stormy in Cairo. Picking Jean-Luc's pocket. Sabretooth holding Henri and Genevieve in Paris. Selling his soul, as it turned out, to Sinister. The Duel. The kiss. Seattle. The images flew past his mind's eye at a dizzying pace, as he searched for one, purely happy memory. He didn't find one. Everything good in his life, anything good he ever did, was somehow tainted by evil. Or death. Despair overwhelmed him.

"Might as well get dis over wit'. . . . Didn't mean f'none of it t'go down like it did. Seattle, d'Morlocks. Hell, I didn't know what Sinister was up ta. I ain't no damn tel'path."

He took a long drag off his cigarette and looked down just as the Sentinel hit a small pocket of turbulence. What appeared to be a toe fell toward the earth. They were nearing the middle of Lake St. Clair.

"Tried t'rectify d'situation when I saw what was happenin'. . . .My intentions were good."

He gave out a short, bitter laugh.

"What was it poppa usta say? . . . Oh yeah, dat's it: 'D'road t'hell is paved wit' good intentions.... Guess you gonna find out 'bout dat real quick, eh Remy?

The Sentinel shuddered, almost causing Gambit to fall. Taking one last pull from his cigarette, he wiped at the small trail of tears that crossed his right cheek. He tossed the remaining butt, and watched it fall toward the lake.

"T'ought I found some redemption, but mebbe some t'ings ain't wort' savin'. Find dat out soon too. Course, d'one place I really wan' t'set t'ings straight, cain't never do dat. Not wit her. . . too many skeletons t'hide. That don't matter now that Rogue hook up wit' Magneto. . . .'Course, she willing t'make nice wit' Mags, so she gotta be able to f'give me, right?"

He was rambling almost incoherently as he slowly climbed to his feet, steadying himself with his right hand. Looking into the night sky, Remy marveled at how dark it actually was, even with a city aflame behind him. As he stood uncertainly on the Sentinel's shoulder staring into the blackness, he began to
loose focus on the present, and words long forgotten began to work their way back into his conscious thought.

He was fourteen, maybe fifteen when Jean Luc first introduced him to the poem.

"Ain't really a creed," his father had said. "It more like," and here Jean Luc paused, as if searching for the correct words to fully express his thoughts, "It more like an at'tude f'life, Remy. An' it seem t'me dat it fit a t'ief's life perfec'ly. Don't ever run from d'responsibilites y'get in dis life. . . .dey help d'termine what you do in d'next one." Slowly, as if having a difficult time remembering, Remy began to recite them:

"Out of d'night dat covers me
Black as d'pit from pole t'pole
I t'ank whatever Gods may be
For m'unconquerable soul

In d'fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under d'bludgeonings a'chance
M'head is bloodied, but unbowed.

Beyond dis place of wrath n'tears
Looms but d'horror of d'shade,
An' yet d'menace of d'years
Finds, n'shall fin' me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait d'gate,
How charged with punishments d'scroll,
I am d'master of m'fate;
I am d'captain of m'soul."

Remy stood, contemplating the words as the Sentinel shuddered beneath him. He began to realize their truth. Sinister had knocked him to his knees. More than once. Losing Genevieve was a blow. Even his relationships with his friends were rough. Hell, every date with Rogue was a battle, every encounter with Cyclops a war. But he'd never given up in the past, no matter what. He'd never let the bastards dictate to him. At least not until his return to Seattle. Since then he'd done nothing more than look for the easy way out. The thought sickened him.

As Remy stood on the Sentinel's shoulder trying to sort his wildly churning emotions, one rose to the surface; anger.

Another shudder from the deteriorating Sentinel brought Remy back to reality, and his knees. He had to desperately grab the monster's head to avoid falling into the lake below. With that simple act, Remy realized that he really did want to live.

As much as his revelation eased his mind and renewed desire to fight, Gambit understood that it was probably just a little too late to do any good. Surveying the landscape below, he gauged his options. They weren't very appealing. He could either stay where he was and get blown to pieces, or jump, and break every bone in his body on impact. Of course he still might hit the lake, but he'd heard that water was harder than concrete from his current altitude. AND there was always the chance he'd survive the impact. Then he could drown. Now that was appealing.

"Shee' right. Talk 'bout y'snowball's chance in hell. . ."

Still, after a final moment's hesitation, Gambit decided it didn't really matter in the grand scheme of things; dead was dead - didn't matter how you got that way, so you might as well go out swinging. He'd meet death alright, but on his terms. At least he knew he his days of causing others pain were over, and by sacrificing himself this way he found at least some of the atonement for which he had been searching. He was certain of that because some of the voices he had heard since the massacre were now quiet.

With those final thoughts to steel his tattered nerves, Gambit jumped.

He had scarcely fallen ten feet when the Sentinel blew. From a distance, it was a spectacular sight; more magnificent than the annual freedom festival fireworks that light the Detroit/Windsor skyline in early July.

From ten feet, however, the impact was different; more like a train running into a Yugo that had stalled on the track. The force of the explosion hurled the Cajun toward the lake at an alarming rate. Pieces of the Sentinel flew everywhere, and Gambit was struck on the head.

As he faded to black, Gambit abstractly marveled at how strong, and yet gentle it's grip was. His last conscious thought was that he could go with a measure of peace, and that maybe death wouldn't be so bad. It was odd, however, that it carried the faint scent of magnolia.

It was unbelievable: nothing ever went according to plan for the X-Men. Get the Cajun out of town for a day or two. Send Wolverine with him. Detroit's a good place. Send them to a hockey game. What could be more harmless?

Cyclops choked back a bitter laugh at that thought as he trudged down Jefferson Avenue, back toward Hart Plaza and the waiting Blackbird.

"You'd think I'd learn by now, nothing's harmless where the X-Men are concerned."

Almost back to the Blackbird, Scott could see it looming in the distance, all he wanted to do was get back to New York and put the pieces back together. He figured six or eight cold ones at Harry's might help. Never did in the past, but you never knew...

Cyclops surveyed the rag-tag group that walked in front of him. Bobby was out on the point. Jean, Hank, what was left of Wolverine, and the two civilians followed. Guthrie was blasting low over the lake, trying to find Gambit, without much luck. Scott lagged behind, consumed by his thoughts.

Charles was the one who dreamed up this entire escapade, and to what results; a city in ruin, one X-Man missing and presumed dead, another one barely alive, and barely hanging on to the fragile facilities he posses. Scott cast a sidelong look at the Canadian.

Logan was a mess. It was that simple. The blast from the Sentinel's thrusters had nearly roasted him. Scott was amazed by the animal-like appearance the accident had left him with. He could tell Wolverine's healing factor was at work, but the man was still in a world of hurt. He also reeked. It was a nauseating mixture of burnt flesh and hair.

Scott forced that thought to the back of his mind, marveling instead that the man could even stand, let alone walk. He was leaning heavily on Hank as they made their way toward the Blackbird, and was apparently resisting Jean's attempted psionic sedative.

Looking at Jean, he slowly shook his head in amazement. Amidst the ruble, she was able to calm Logan to a semi-reasonable state, debrief him enough to get a semi-cloudy picture of what happened. If that weren't enough, she was psi-sweeping the area, looking for Gambit. Unfortunately, she had no more success than Sam.

Then there was the man Wolverine may or may not have killed, Scott wasn't sure he could trust anything Logan said at the moment, the man was almost delirious, but Jean was pretty sure something unpleasant had occurred at the airport.

Then, as an added bonus, two completely 'freaked out' civilians who were intimately involved in the whole affair. One of them a mutant, possibly alpha class, and probably so turned off by the whole affair she'd fly the other way if she even heard the name X-Men again.

All that didn't even take into account the wrecked jeep that Logan and Gambit had dumped back at the airport in New York. Cyclops was aware he was jumping from thought to thought in an attempt to not deal with his conflicting emotions concerning Gambit. He knew it, hated the fact he was doing it, but couldn't stop. He took a deep breath and tried to focus on the Cajun.

Even though he didn't personally care for the man, he was becoming a team player, in his own way. To a certain extent, Scott was envious of LeBeau's 'devil may care' attitude and the freedom it allowed. It was a luxury Scott didn't have. He continued searching for answers, but came away empty. The only conclusion he could come to was Remy was a member of the X-Men, no matter how big of a pain in the butt he was, and his loss hurt.

Scott cringed when he realized that he was now referring to LeBeau only in the past tense, even if it was only to himself.

What was Charles thinking when he set this whole scheme up? Did he know Rogue would show up with Magneto? Did he think this would somehow cushion the blow for the Cajun? Did Gambit know? Is that why he. . . . Scott let the thought trail out. He was too tired to try to finish the string.

Normally not one to succumb to profanity, the only way adjective for the past 24 hours Scott could find was a cluster . . .


Of course part of the reason he shied away from vulgarities was the mind link he and Jean shared. Certain words or phrases landed him on the couch. Or worse.

Jean's telepathic admonishment brought him back to the real world. Only a few hundred feet away from the Blackbird, he immediately noticed something was wrong; it was visible. Cyclops had been so deep in thought it hadn't registered right away, but it had been visible for some time, and he was sure Guthrie had cloaked it. He started to walk faster.

Nearing the plane, he saw a form lying underneath the fuselage.

Probably a vagrant. But Scott was puzzled, there was no way someone could turn off the cloaking device without knowing the correct codes.

Bobby, Sam, and Jean were already at the plane, and had formed a semi-circle around the prone figure. Tory and Amy stood awkwardly off to the side looking uncomfortable and completely out of place.

Wolverine and Beast were standing about twenty feet away, Logan shaking his head slowly, and sniffing at the wind. The movement was obviously painful; his breath came in short, anguished wheezes. Cyclops was almost running as he neared the Canadian.

"Amazing, ain't it?"

Cyclops stopped abruptly and looked at Logan. Hank, in response to a hand signal from Bobby, left the two, and made his way over to the rest of the group leaving Wolverine and Cyclops alone.

"What's that?"

Logan coughed and fell to his knees. Scott moved to help the injured Canadian to his feet, but the older man batted the proffered hand away with a snarl.

"Ain't an invalid yet, blinky." Even with all that had happened, Summers had to suppress a smile as Logan slowly made it to his feet. Some things, at least, never changed.

"What's amazing Logan?"

"Those two. They put the 'fun' in dysfunctional."

Scott turned, and still facing Wolverine, backed toward the plane. "Which two Logan? Who are you talking about?"

Logan only responded by waving vaguely toward the Renaissance Center. Scott turned to look. He couldn't really see much of anything, although he thought he saw a figure cloaked in the shadow of the dying fire on top of the central tower. It was only a brief vision; it disappeared almost instantly.

Turning away, he gave his full attention to the prone figure under the Blackbird. It was a man, and he was cloaked in a tattered brown overcoat. He was lying on his stomach, his back slowly rising and falling with breath, his face obscured by a tangled mess of reddish-brown hair.


To be continued.


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