"Have you read the papers?" Jean-Luc asked his older son, Henri.
"Oui, Papa. I don't want to do that to him."
"If we don't the police will and that will be worse. It isn't the end of the world to have his fingerprints on file. And if we're lucky, they won't find out all of his secrets."
"Where's the boy gotten to anyway?"
"He's gone to see his girlfriend."
"Belle's going to want to be there."
"She's not a mutant. Let them choose. They are engaged."
"Damn it! It was all for nothing!" Scott Summers slammed the paper down on his mentor's desk. "We've spent years crusading against this and a fucking flatscan plays on the fears of the Congress and gets this… this branding passed!"
"Scott, we will have to redouble our efforts. There will be no restrictions and we will make sure that there are no incidents until the main push of registration ends. After that, there are no guaranties. And as my right hand, you will be the first in the state to register. To show the government that we can be reasonable."
"I warned them," Eric Lensherr stated. "It's beginning. Lee, let's get to work. Get that island purchased. And print up the press releases. We'll have an influx of new people coming. We need food supplies laid in until we get this place functional. Each to their powers, Charles," Magneto muttered staring out the window of his study.
"Rogue, what does this say to you?" Mystique tapped the front page headline.
"That we need a plan, Mama. Ah ain' gonna sit still fah any fed ta fingerprint me."
"I wish the future were not so blurred," Destiny stated. "Something has gone terribly wrong."
"Yes, we didn't assassinate Kelly and Bastion when we had the chance."
"We still could," Rogue pointed out.
"But not with the same effect. We will just have to scale up our attacks. We'll hit the military as often as we can. Make ourselves strictly political."
"Oh, Remy," Belle said as she wrapped her arms around her fiancée and best friend. He didn't show it, but she knew he was afraid. He wouldn't have come tapping on her window at six in the morning if he hadn't been upset. They'd gone over the papers until they could glean no more information from the articles. They knew the procedure backwards and forwards.
Mutants would meet at the local schools. They would be signed in, fingerprinted, photographed, given an ID number and a powers classification. Those things would be on record and open to any employer, school, or citizen who asked. And there was no way for Remy to change his eyes, so there was no question of passing.
Those mutants who did not voluntarily register, would be registered as they were discovered and fined. Mutants who forged new identities would be arrested.
There was also a press release saying that a new nation had been established in the Caribbean. Only mutants would live there. Belle's eyes narrowed as she got the beginnings of an idea. She tightened her grip. First, the registration. Second, a legal wedding. Then, they could plot.
Scott patiently explained again that he couldn't remove his sunglasses for the photograph. "But why not?" the photographer asked. He fiddled with the piercing in his lip as he lined up the shot. "I've seen plenty of freaky things."
"Because if I remove my sunglasses, my powers will take out the wall behind you and probably destroy your equipment in the process."
"Cool. Okay, like, leave them on and I'll make a note."
"Thank you." Don't get upset. Don’t reflect badly on the Cause.
"The first applications for admission have come in, Sir," Lee reported. She set them on Lensherr's desk.
"Make sure they are mutants and make arrangements to transport them here. Don't worry about money. Tell them to bring only what they are sure they will need and arrange to have the rest of their belongings brought by ship to the island."
"Yes, sir. If I can? Where are we getting the money?"
"I have resources, Lee. Don't worry. And once we have the nation self-sufficient, we can run the only country with a balanced budget."
"Where to begin? There are so many choices," Mystique mused over her coffee. There was no way that any of her people were getting registered. Most of them were wanted already. The police would have a field day catching them at something innocuous as a registration.
Her foster-daughter was painting her nails. It was an interesting shade of ice blue. "Ah think we should kill some of tha registration guards."
"That would be satisfying, but I don't know if it would accomplish anything."
"We just have ta make sure that tha ones we kill are from tha government. Not one of those damned civilian black shirt thugs." Rogue placed a gold flower on the tip of her pinkie. Destiny was making breakfast. She liked cooking. She claimed it let her think.
"I believe we should hold off our first strike until we know where to hit. There are much darker things coming. Harsher, darker, clouds of hate that will clutter up the picture. We must remain clear in our objectives," Destiny told them as she scrambled the eggs and put in the toast. "We must remain focussed. There will be many things clamoring for our attention. We must not allow them to bother us. The government is still split. We must remember to limit ourselves to the most dangerous normals, not the moderates that still support mutants."
"But the message must be strong, Darling. We can't allow them to get the upper hand. Victor will be here in the morning."
"Oh, goodie. Do ya think he'll let me do his hair?" Rogue asked with a wicked grin. Mystique laughed. It was good to have perspective these days.
When in doubt, throw a party. That seemed to be the thinking in New Orleans the day after the registrations started. There was drinking, dancing, laughter, and fighting. The mutants who were being registered wanted to forget. The bigots that wanted them registered wanted to celebrate. The two groups managed to stay apart for the most part, but it was getting more and more difficult for the humans to ignore one tiny fact. In the Big Easy, they were out numbered.
Belladonna Boudreaux and Remy LeBeau's engagement had been arranged. The fact that they worked well together, had loads of chemistry, and a friendship that would survive no matter what meant nothing. The Guilds had been planning their wedding for years. But the best laid plans must bend to common sense. There was more than just the Guilds to consider now. Now the Guilds had a common enemy. For centuries the Guilds had been a hiding place for mutants and undesirables. The registration had illustrated the danger in that now.
"Father, Belle an' me want t' push de marriage up. We gone t' go t' de priest whet'er y' an' her papa approve or no'. Jus' want t' ask y' t' witness it."
"I'll call Marius. We'll push up de plans. Dere is politics involved in this."
"Exactly, Papa. De sooner Belle an' me get married, de less chance de gov'ment got of stoppin' us." Jean-Luc nearly blanched. He hadn't thought of that. It barely registered on his consciousness that his son was a mutant any longer, registrations not withstanding. It frightened him that two teens seemed to have a better idea of how the winds of government were blowing than he did. The set line of Remy's jaw decided him.
"We'll arrange de ceremony as quick as possible."
Scott Summers was nervous. He and Jean were sitting by the lake of Xavier's School for the Gifted. There were the remains of a picnic on the blanket beside them. He held her hand. He produced a small box from his pocket and looked at her. "Jean, I know this is probably the strangest time we've ever been in. But, from all we've been through together, the missions, the training, the learning, we've always been able to laugh together. We've traveled the country and sewn up costumes. We've taught classes and bandaged skinned knees. We've flirted and fought. We've never given up. You've seen me at my worst and my best. I have loved you since the first time I saw you. Jean Grey, will you marry me?" He presented the ring box.
She put a hand to her mouth as she gasped. A shimmer of tears glittered in her eyes. The small emerald surrounded by red-gold glittered in the late afternoon sun. She nodded. "Yes," she whispered. He slid the ring onto her finger. It was a perfect fit. Maybe something would actually go right for once.
Belladonna was pacing. Her brother watched her in amusement. He recognized that she wasn't nervous about the wedding as most people assumed. She was thinking about an assignment. The engagement ring was platinum with a single diamond, surrounded by sapphires. They matched her eyes. She tapped her front teeth with one blood-red fingernail as she thought. "Julien," she said, "I have the incredible urge to invest in real estate. Feel like helping me?" He blinked.
"Sure. But shouldn't you be asking your boyfriend?" he teased.
"He's a mutant. You aren't nearly as recognizable. Besides, you're eighteen. I'm not. I want to get my hands on the property before anything else goes haywire. I want a house in every major city in this country. It has to be non-descript, but big enough to house a family of six. Don't worry about money, we'll get it."
"I guess having a thief in the family is worth it for that sort of thing." He wasn't too pleased with the marriage. But he wasn't too keen on watching his future brother-in-law be killed because he had red eyes. There was something wrong with that. Killing him because he was a thief and a rival was one thing, but to kill because he looked different was a totally different situation. Besides, the boy had potential. He liked to blow things up. "Fine, I'll start looking for listings. I'm assuming you want them under different names?"
"No, I have a corporation I've set up. That's who will be purchasing these places. I'll be renting them out, you see." Her smile was predatory.
"You're setting up safe houses."
"I knew you had a brain in there somewhere. Can you do it? Make it your wedding present to me."
"Not a problem. Thief-boy setting up the capital?"
"Joint Swiss account. We set it up when they started this talk of marriage. It's going to come in handy. Money is no object, but make sure you get reasonable prices."
"Not a problem. Have you gotten your dress?"
"I've got my colors. Remy has his. That's what we're wearing. This is a symbolic pact tonight. We'll do the fairy-tale some other time. When the clouds aren't quite as dark."
"Storm, I need a dress!" Jean squealed. Ororo Munroe looked up at her with an amused smile.
"And would this dress need to be colored white?"
"Yes!" Jean presented her hand with a flourish to show off the ring. "This is so wonderful. There's so much to do. I have to call my parents. And we have to call the judge."
"You are not going to have a priest presiding?"
"Why would we? It's not like Scott believes in God, and I haven't practiced my religion for years. Maybe you could do the ceremony. It would mean something then."
"I would be honored to be included. Where shall we go for this dress?"
"The mall, of course." Jean stopped. It wasn't a forgone conclusion anymore, not with the riots and attacks on registered mutants. They'd been fighting every night to protect innocents from the Friends of Humanity who were roving the streets. The children were terrified and tense. Everyone seemed to be waiting for the other shoe to drop. Hank had left Kurt in charge of the med-lab and flown to Scotland after registering with the government. He was a famous figure, having been an Avenger. The newspapers wouldn't leave him alone. He just wanted some peace and quiet.
Jean looked at Ororo who was watching her with calm, cat-eyes.
"I think I'll make one." Ororo nodded.
"Shall we ask Jubilee to draw up a design?" Jean nodded. She leaned over to smell one of Ororo's flowers. "Shall I make a bouquet for you to carry?"
"Thank you, Storm. Scott has a good suit. The Professor made him get one when they started lobbying."
"You will need rings," Storm said. "Come, child, let's go find a dress design."
Remy ran a hand through his bangs as he waded through the pile of papers his lawyer had sent him. It was odd to have a lawyer at sixteen, but since he was already enrolled at the university, odd was nothing new. The lawyer was Guild connected, but had been working in DC for three years now. It was due to his suggestions he was contemplating this move. He and Belle had decided to both use hyphenated names. But this suggestion, this would take more trust than he was sure he had. As soon as they were married, he was going to transfer ownership of all his major purchases to her, and make all of his accounts joint accounts. That way, the government shouldn't be able to take them from him. That scared the hell out of him.
He chewed on the back of his pen. He noticed it was glowing pink and sighed. He concentrated, trying to pull back the energy. It was harder than charging things up. At least he didn't charge his bed anymore. That had not been fun. He and Belle needed more operating capital for the projects they'd started to plan on. And they needed to add housing costs to things as well. He forced himself to concentrate on the documents in front of him once more. The rest could be worried on after the wedding.
Scott paid for the simple gold bands with the professor's gold card and slid them, in their box, into his inside pocket. He was gaining rather more celebrity than he wanted. The picture of him from the registration had been plastered on the front page, right next to Jean's. The professor's pet reporter had decided that the wedding between he and Jean would be a wonderful "human relations" piece. He damned the government in his mind as he headed for his car. Oh, shit, Friends of Humanity rowdies were headed his way. He hurried to the car and climbed in. He sped out of the parking lot before they could corner him. He felt bad about not dealing with them, but that twinge of regret was drowned out by his survival instincts. He wasn't in costume. He didn't have his battle visor. He had no weapons. And, to top it all off, he had no back up. It didn't stop the little voice of guilt that asked him how many unprepared mutants would be attacked by the gang.
Belle and Remy stood in front of the priest. The church was packed, despite the tight security that had been kept on the plans. It had only been two weeks since the registration. The Guilds were well aware of impending danger. The registration had forced more than a few of them into the government's records, and it was only a matter of time before the government started to get wise to the fact that a certain sub-population didn't exactly have a normal means of income. The unification had been decided upon when the announcement of the registration occurred. This wedding, this union, would be only the outward affirmation of business deals that had started a month before.
There had been a decrease in inter-clan fighting already. Guild policies had been changed. The rumors had already started. And, in the underground, rumors were the easiest way of disseminating information. Assignments were already becoming more and more political. The government had no idea of what they had just unleashed among a people who already hated them.
Jean and Scott smiled for the cameras. Jubilee's dress design was tastefully conservative. The skirt swirled around Jean's feet as she moved. The delicate pearls on the bodice sparkled in the flash of cameras. The press had jumped on the story as a positive to offset the riots and anger the registration had encouraged.
Scott smiled on the outside as he fumed on the inside. He felt Jean squeeze his arm and knew she was just as upset. The school was in a shambles because of the invasion of the press corps. And there was no way to keep them away. This was the wedding of the year. The marriage of Xavier's mouthpiece mutants. It was just smacked so sickeningly of politics that Scott hated the thought of playing in to the expectations.
He swept Jean in to a dipped kiss. The cameras flashed and Jean giggled as she hugged him, the scent orchids and other tropicals of her bouquet filling Scott's nose. They waved to the press corps and retreated to the ballroom for the reception.
Jean decided that as soon as the press was gone, she was going to get completely sloshed. She didn't need to be a mind reader to know Scott felt the same way.
"Sir, I think the perfect candidate for that little project has just thrown himself into our laps."
"His name is Nathaniel Essex the fourth. His great-great grandfather was the one who discovered the X factor. He's been studying mutations for years. All he needs is money."
"Give it to him. Set him up someplace secure. And, Jimmy?"
"He doesn't exist."
"Mama, this is just crazy. How do they expect a body ta get anythin' done with all these soldiers roamin' around?" Rogue muttered in complaint. Mystique chuckled from the van where she was monitoring her daughter's progress through the base. It wasn't a particularly large base, or particularly active. It was just a good place to start. First, they would take out the supply room. Then, Avalanche would destroy the buildings while Pyro burnt what was left to the ground. Mystique was monitoring each of them. When the time was just right, she was going to bag herself a general.
"The first family has arrived, Skipper." Magneto shook his head with a benevolent smile. "Their things are on the ship in the harbor. I don't think that's a wise idea. There's been a lot of rioting lately."
"Yes, but I have a strong contract with the underworld there. No one will be getting near my ship. Are the rooms set up?"
"Yes. We break ground on the housing tract tomorrow." Magneto nodded.
"Good. I want this to be as painless as possible. Well, let's go meet the happy couple, shall we?"
"In a surprise move today, the military has announced that all mutants will be evaluated for a new assignment of duties. Due to the possible dangers of some powers, mutants whose powers are found to be too unstable will be granted a medical discharge. In other news today, widespread rioting continues in Washington, Oregon, and California. The local governments are calling for the National Guard to be mobilized for the protection of life and property. And on a more positive note, well-known mutant rights activists Scott Summers and Jean Grey were married yesterday in a ceremony presided over by Ororo Monroe. Here's Joan with the story." Bobby clicked off the television set. He was not anymore pleased with the publicity surround his friends' marriage than they were.
He was bored with all of the news. It just seemed to get a little worse everyday. There hadn't been a night when the X-men hadn't been called on to rescue a young mutant or put down another FOH riot. The mutants weren't the problem. No, the FOH was the problem. They were attacking stores that employed mutants, the mutants owned, or were known to give aid to the many runaway mutants that littered the streets of the cities.
Runaways like Bobby had been. Like Scott. Like the majority of the students he taught in class every day. He was beginning to feel it was useless to teach them anything but how to protect themselves. Luckily, the school provided that as well. There were already plans to expand the dorms and raise the roof. The added space really was needed. There were over thirty new students in the past week. There were still enough beds to fit about fifty more, but there was going to be a lot of adjusting to do. Xavier had already ordered bunk beds to expand the capacity of the current rooms. And the common thought was that they were going to need more than those soon enough.
It was enough to put Bobby off his Saturday morning cartoons with the kids. But he wasn't going to show them his melancholy. In fact, a good prank would raise his spirits mightily. If only Hank would come home, things would settle down a bit. Kurt was feeling overworked in the med-lab and people were being pressed in to service. Luckily, Logan knew enough field medicine to bind up knees and set bones. And there was a report of a doctor from downtown who had just been outted. Maybe they could convince her to join up. And then, the professor had a medical degree too. Bobby just prayed that it would be enough if one of them were seriously hurt.
Belladonna's hand tightened on her husband's shoulder. He looked at her with a small smile. She knew this was terrifying him. He'd been up most of the night rearranging finances and the like. But tonight, he had a job to do. And, for the first time, he had a reason to come home. "You can do it. It's routine."
"I know. I'm not worried about that. I'm worried about the traveling." He pointed to his eyes. "I've spent most of my life getting beaten up over these damned things. I don't want to go though that again. And the rest of the country is not like here."
"I know, Husband-mine. Here, let me give you a kiss for luck." His tension lessened under the influence of the kiss and the hand that stroked through his loose hair. They broke apart reluctantly and he pulled his hair back into a ponytail. "I'll be here. Well, in the town at least. Call me?"
"Sure. Is Julien working on the housing situation?"
"We've got contracts on four properties as of today. We go to closing on in a month or so."
"Houston, Chicago, DC and Ft. Lauderdale."
"Great. Only about sixty cities left. I'll get the property in Switzerland taken care of as soon as possible. And do you think Vienna or Milan would be better?"
"I was thinking Italy first. They have a better reputation."
"Better than Hitler. And they don't have a habit of keeping Nazi gold."
"Hey, that's why I have account in Switzerland. They don't ask. I don't tell."
"I'll call my contact in Moscow and have him refer me to someone in Prague as well."
"Scott, do you really think we should move out to the boat house?"
"No, I don't want to be that far away from the Mansion. But, we're going to need the room sometime soon."
"But we don't have to do it right now. We can put it off. I just hate the thought that they could trap us in there."
"They can't get on to the grounds any longer."
"How about we send the runt out there? He likes the outdoors and it's much closer to the forest." The comment was made with such an innocent tone that Jean smacked her husband's shoulder.
"What? It's a legitimate suggestion."
"Next, you'll be suggesting that Ro go out there because she could have a bigger garden."
"Actually, that might not be a bad idea. We're going to need more food available. And I think we're going to need it very soon. We don't have nearly enough laid in for the kids we do have in case of an emergency. If the answer is to build a greenhouse and grow some of it, so be it. And I think Storm would love to do that. She could even make it a part of her classes. We can grow corn and wheat even. We have the room. And then we'd have some nice fresh bread."
"Scott." She shook him gently. "Scott, snap out of it. It's our honeymoon. Think later. Love now." Scott grinned.
"I thought you'd never ask." He grabbed her hand and led her back to the bed in what was now their room.
Remy LeBeau, known variously as "Gambit," "Jack of Diamonds," and "King of Hearts," depending on his mood counted in his mind as he timed the guard movements. He was surprised at the security on the building and was going to have words with his father about lying to him about what the place actually was. It was a bad thing to go into a covert military base without foreknowledge. It was dangerous.
But he didn't argue the need for the information. And if he was especially good it would be days until they realized it was missing. In fact, it was about time for the generators to go down for an unscheduled maintenance run. The lights cut out and there were muffled curses as the guards prepared for an attack. The walkie-talkie on the closest guard hissed below him. "Goddamned generator's down again. And the back-up before some jerk decides to make that suggestion. Get to the entrances. No one comes in or goes out. Got it? And someone check the skylight in the lab."
As if that's the only way in to this place, Remy thought to himself. He heard the sharp clack of boots on the tile as the guards pelted to their posts. He shook his head. Someone needed a lesson in security planning. Remy's red and black eyes were good for something, he didn't need night-vision goggles. He could see in almost pitch black darkness. The light filtering in from the outside made the hall as light as day to him. He slid out of the air shaft and dropped to the ground as lightly as a cat. He found the office he needed. Picked the lock on the door and was satisfied when it locked behind him automatically.
He scanned the filing cabinets, picked the lock on the one he wanted and flipped through the files. He clipped a small light to the drawer, and making sure it was hidden from the camera – even though they were effectively off-line in this room anyway, he photographed the documents. The lists were going to be very interesting reading. Especially for what he and Belle seemed to have in mind. They hadn't actually talked about their plans yet, but they seemed to have come to the same conclusions. They'd been friends before Remy go adopted in to the Thieves' Guild. They refused to stop being friends when he did. He replaced the documents, re-locked the cabinet, and pocketed the light and camera. Then, he left the base, a ghost as far as security would be concerned.
"I've gotten the information," Mystique informed her troops. "Our next targets are in Colorado and California. California is probably the last option we want right now. They are on guard there because the locals have been threatening to over-run the military bases. We hit Colorado in three days. That's when their regular supply shipment comes in. It won't be getting there."
“Can they actually do this?” Scott asked as he looked down at the cancelled insurance policies.
“Yes. According to the registration laws, non-disclosure of mutant status when you purchased the insurance counts as a pre-existing condition and is grounds for cancellation,” Xavier told him. “That means all medical and life insurance policies for mutants can be cancelled.”
“This is the first step isn’t it? Things are going to be getting nasty soon. I was right. We do need to set up a vegetable garden in the back. We can even grow wheat and the like. We can use the types of food production as a part of the history classes. Are the plans for the expansion on track?”
“The contractor called me today. The costs will be increased because his men will have to be on campus with mutants.”
“It’s a daily surcharge of one hundred per member of the crew on the campus.”
“And perfectly legal under the new laws.”
“I could have sworn that the law only covered the actual registration and who had access to it.”
“It does, but it also says that the knowledge can be used to remove or control for the mutant threat.”
“In other words, we’re screwed.”
"In general, yes. We need to step up our campaigns. And I think we need to make ourselves a little less defensive and a little more offensive.”
“But the X-men have always been known as protectors of mutants and humans.”
“They’ve also labeled the team as terrorists. I doubt seriously that anyone considers us protectors. The papers have done a wonderful job of only reporting the negative news about us. You’re wedding was a positive story. But that is not connected with the X-men. That is only connected with our public campaign for equality.”
“I’ve noticed. Damn. We’re going to have a bunch of refugees soon. And we barely have enough room for them.”
“What makes you say that? We’ve been getting a steady flow ever since the beginning of the registrations. What’s caught your attention?”
“I see a bunch of parents turning out kids because they are no longer covered under their parent’s insurance and they won’t be an asset to have around much longer. I can see parents worrying that having one mutie child means they’re going to lose their coverage, their retirement, their jobs. They’re gonna move to protect themselves first. It’s a natural instinct, especially with something like this.”
“Not all parents are neglectful.”
“And not all parents have enough money to support or care for the special needs of a mutant child. Like red quartz glasses, or feeding an increased metabolism. When they’re that poor, they’re going to send the kid to the streets to do whatever they can to bring in money.”
“You’re thinking that they’re going to send their children on the streets to deal?”
“Steal, trick, deal, wash dishes. It doesn’t matter, but there are kids that are going to not be going to school. And there are going to be drop-outs that don’t want to deal with the hell of being a mutant. I have a sick knot in my stomach that says it’s not just going to be the insurance companies for very long. There’s going to be lay-offs and soon. You know that.”
“Scott, the path before us is becoming clearer. Do you see that? If the society won’t take care of us, we’re going to have to change the society. If it takes force to do that we will. But we need to remember and draw strength from not being alone.”
“Reverse segregation. Like Magneto and his island?”
“No. I was thinking more along the lines of overthrowing the government.”
“I thought that was Mystique’s look out.”
“She’s a terrorist. I was thinking of an army.”
“You are not going to use children to fight this battle. No, the school remains what it always was, a safe haven. I won’t let that part of the dream die.”
“The school will remain. I’ve spoken with Emma Frost. She’s been expanding her academy as well. She’ll be in a position to aid us if we become over-run with children. I wish there were a way to gather children from father away.”
“Besides recruitment speeches in high schools?”
“Yes, besides that,” Xavier returned the smile.
“I don’t think we need to worry about that end of it. I think they’re finding their way to us well enough. What do you think of the new military policies?”
“I think they’re fools.”
“Medical discharges. I have to wonder if they’re only getting rid of the ones they can’t control.”
“Like telepaths, you mean?”
“Yes. And I wonder if maybe they aren’t just transferring them in to some other place.”
“My you’re suspicious.” Xavier smirked.
“Old habits die hard.”
“Damn, this is not good. Belle! Did you see the latest reports on the military discharges?”
“Yes. Most of the Assassins that were there are heading back to their home guilds. I don’t like this Remy. I don’t trust this at all. We need to up our speed. I wish we could skip more classes.”
“Don’t worry, chere. At the rate things are changing, I’m not going to have to worry about them.”
“What? You didn’t tell me you were having trouble in class.”
“I’m not. It’s just a premonition. I think they’re going to discharge all the alphas on their rosters.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Chere, I can blow up a building. They aren’t going to want me on campus because I’m a danger to the other students.”
“Shit. I could do more damage with a grenade launcher.”
“Yeah, but they don’t care about human killing machines.” She stuck her tongue out at him. “I was thinking of dropping out. I can learn from books just as well as anything else. And that means I can devote more time to our projects. Raising capital and the like.”
“I don’t want you to walk away from this. Damn it, you fought hard to get in. When I met you you could barely read.”
“Non. I’m not letting you walk away from this. You’re staying in school. Don’t make it any easier on them. If nothing else, it’s a bad political move because your family has a lot of clout. And so does mine. To throw out someone named Boudreaux-LeBeau, they’ll have trouble.”
“We’ll see, chere. I’ll stick it out. But we’ll have to work some of this stuff rather quickly. We need to decide which parts are the most important and what needs to be done first.”
“Scare up capital so we can put in more bids. We’ll start investing in some almost foreclosed properties and collect rent from the owners. Maybe we should get ourselves an apartment building or two. Then, we need to start on the hospital and school in North Dakota. The tribe decided to take our deal. They don’t give a damn if we’re blue with yellow polka dots, they need the hospital and they don’t particularly care for the federal government.”
“Okay, I’ll start getting the labor. Do we have the permits we need?”
“I’ve got my assistant working on that.”
“Ooooh, an assistant. I’m jealous. Unless I kill off Henri, if I want an assistant I have to take on an apprentice.”
"Then maybe that’s what you’ll have to do. See if you can find yourself a cute one, okay?”
“Male or female?”
“I really don’t care. You know that.”
“Short, tall? Young, old? Red head?”
“Red-head, definitely. Our age will do. And somewhere between my height and yours I think.”
“Let’s see. I think Mystique’s daughter is free.” Belle put her hands on her hips.
“I knew I shouldn’t let you meet with a female. I told you. It’s the hormone thing.”
“What? You’d rather I found a boyfriend?”
“That could be interesting,” Belle considered. Remy rolled his eyes and pulled her close for a quick kiss. “A big, strong boy chile to protect us both.”
“Oh, right. That’s going to happen.”
“Big and muscled not a turn on?”
“Let me think. Um. No. Not particularly. I tend more for blondes.”
“Who can still beat the shit out of you.”
“Ow, Hey, what was that for?” He rubbed his shoulder. “Okay, okay. Let’s see. We’re looking for a relatively intelligent red-head who’s somewhere around our height, with fighting spirit and the slightly bent morals needed to be a proper apprentice and a partner in crime.”
“That sounds just about right. Barring that, find us a street-rat to adopt and train.”
“Okay. I’ll keep it under advisement.”
//You know, this would be a lot simpler if you could convince Storm to take up thieving again. My skills are so rusty that they’re obsolete.//
//Just pick the lock and get us in.//
//And I don’t carry lockpicks in my headdress like Miss Stormy does either.//
//No, just in the left hand inner pocket of your leather jacket when you decide to go out on the town sometimes.//
//No fair peeking in my pockets. How am I supposed to hide your surprises?//
//I’m a telepath, Sweetheart, you have no secrets.//
//Great. Then what am I thinking right now?//
//We’re in.// Jean and Scott slipped in to the air shaft from the basement and climbed up. //This is the only reason we didn’t force Storm to do this right?//
//And I know you really wanted to practice.//
//Right. I hate this. I’m not that good.//
//Just make sure we stay quiet. I’ll take care of the guards while you rewire the cameras.//
//Just to let you know, this isn’t what Charles was planned on me doing.//
//That’s what you think.//
//Oh do tell, Goddess of Gossip.//
//Did I say something? Three guards. They’ve doubled the forces.//
//Mystique has been hitting them pretty hard.//
//Why didn’t we just buy the information off of her?//
//Charles is afraid that if we do that the government will catch on to our alter egos.//
//Wonderful. We could try to find the thief that took it in the first place.//
//The King of Thieves? He’s no more than a legend. He’s supposed to be over 100. Three, two, go.//
//Got a fix. They’re still functioning, they just aren’t going to see you. Just don’t let the camera catch you.//
//Camera neutralized. Feedback loop initialized. For both hallways. Let’s go. Keep it quiet.//
//Gotcha. We’ve got a new guard on the hall.//
//Is he readable?//
//He’s doing his rounds. He won’t notice us. Are you ready for the cipher lock?//
//Hopefully the code’s the same as it was when you picked the clerk’s mind. If not, yes, I think I can get us in. It won’t be pretty though.//
//I can keep them from hearing anything.//
//Okay. Turned away. Let’s go.//
//Did it work?//
//We’re in. I’m scouting for cameras. Shit, I was worried about that.// Scott took careful aim and knocked loose the wires connecting the camera to the security room. //Hurry.// He picked the lock on the file cabinets and Jean grabbed the files and opened the link to Xavier. He took the transferred information and fed it directly to Cerebro. //Gotta go. We’re running out of time.//
//Just one more file.// Scott shoved the files back in to the cabinet and locked it after himself. They scrambled out of the hall seconds before the camera feedback ended. //I hope they don’t register our powers.//
//We’re out of towners.// On the streets, they looked like a couple out on an evening stroll through the monuments. It was warm enough for the moonlit stroll and if they were doing that they were either tourists or locals. They were ignored.
//Let’s get home. I never want to do that again.//
//Liar. You’ve still got a rush from getting away with it.//
"Have I told you how much your skin looks like the cherry blossoms?” Jean giggled. “Or how beautiful the moonlight makes your hair look?”
“Why should I? The sap patrol isn’t around to claim they’re falling ill because of insulin shock.”
“Mama, do we have ta take down anotha one tanight?”
“Stop whining, Rogue.”
“Well, Ah am. We keep doin’ tha same thing and it ain’t workin’. They’re just as slimy as they were before. They’re like big bugs. Ya can’t squash ‘em well enough ta kill ‘em. We need ta do somethin’ more.”
“Girl’s got a point, Mystique. The FOH is just getting stronger. We need a new approach.”
“Which is why we’re going after the weapons suppliers tonight.”
“I thought you’d like that.”
“Sir, the new reports are in. There are forty applications for admission to the island. The building is on schedule. We can house twenty of the applicants at the moment.”
“Let me look at the applications.”
“Of course, sir.”
“And bring me the plans for the food production areas. We can’t feed them all off of what the island is currently producing. I want a status report on medical supplies. Did the Brazilian president’s office return our calls?”
“Not yet, sir.”
“Call and tell the secretary to schedule us an appointment. We’ll meet with him as soon as possible.”
“Colombia called us. He can meet you tomorrow.”
“Good. I’ll get ready to go then. The applications before anything else please.”
“Johnson, my office.” The carpenter set aside his tools and went to the foreman’s trailer office.
“I’m sorry, Kid. Word came down from the head office. You’re fired.”
“What? Why? What did I do?”
“Nothing yet, but there’s a new company policy. No alphas on jobs.”
“But, sir, I’ve been working here since I got out of high school. I’ve never had an on the job incident. I’ve never had anything happen.”
“It’s not my choice. If it was you’d be on this job at least ‘til it was finished. But, I’ve got something for ya, Kid. There’s a job. It’s in North Dakota, but they’re willing to pay for transport and all. And they don’t care what you are as long as you’re good. I’ll call for you if you want it.”
“I’ll take anything. It’s not like there’s anything to keep me here anymore. Jody was killed by one of those FOH bastards last year. You know that.”
“Yeah. Sit down, Kid. Let me put in the call.”
"Hello. This is Nightwing Enterprises.”
“I’ve got a carpenter here. Heard you were hiring. You still got openings.”
“Yes. What’s his name and how soon can he pack to leave?”
“His name is Peter Johnson.”
“Why are you letting him go?”
“New company policy. He’s got TK. He’s gotta go. Sucks. He’s my best carpenter.”
“Don’t worry. He’ll be fine. Do you have any other people?”
“Not on this job, but our company has a lot of jobs in the area. I’ll let the other foremen know to call. Let me put him on the line with you.”
“Hello? This is Peter.”
“Hi, Peter. How long do you think it’ll take you to pack? And do you have tools to bring?”
“It’ll take me about two days to tie things up here. I’ve got to break the lease on my apartment…”
“No, don’t. We’ll take over the rent payments for the moment. We may need to send a recruiter to your area if we start getting a lot of calls. Do you have a lot of furniture to come?”
“It’s just a one room. There’s not a heck of a lot. Just my bed and dresser and my mom’s old table.”
“Okay, we’ll have the moving company at your home in two days. Pack your clothes and tools to come with you on the trip. There will be a car to pick you up at the same time as the movers get there. What is your address?”
“774 Elm Street Apartment 75C. Oakwood, CA.”
“Don’t forget to get the phone service disconnected. We’ll provide you with all you need until your things arrive. And there will be plenty of work. We’re starting a new community. Welcome aboard Peter.”
“What do you mean I'm being let go?" Adam Charles, CPA asked. Behind him, on his desk, was his award for most valuable employee.
"The head office decided that we had to let Alpha mutants go because they could be dangerous."
"Could be? Bob, I've never done anything to indicate I could be a danger to people. I've never hurt anyone!"
"You're a telepath. They're worried about security."
"But I've worked here for ten years. Bob? What is this going to do to my career? Oh, Christ."
"Listen, there's a company I heard of. Here's their number. See if they know of any place."
"You can't do this! I'll sue!"
"Try it, Honey. You're out. You're an alpha. You're out. Bottom line. I'm not going to have any of your kind working here."
"How dare you! Fine. I'll see you in court."
"It ain't going to court, Bitch. Get out." Betty Cade was furious as she stormed through the office. She slammed her things in to a box and grabbed her coat. She couldn't believe it. She just couldn't believe it. She'd been an architect in the firm for years.
"Betty. Here. They're hiring. No one knows for what, but they're mutant friendly."
"Thanks, Jimmy. I'll see you around."
"Yeah, you will."
Nightwing Enterprises was a new company. It was privately owned. That was all anyone seemed to know about it. Betty Cade had already called the ACLU. They told her they had too many similar cases and they would take her name and number and contact her. She knew that was bullshit. Don't call us, we'll call you. "Well, here goes nothing."
"My name is Betty Cade. I was told you were hiring. What positions do you have open?"
"What's your field?"
"I'm an architect."
"Great. When can you be ready to move?"
"To North Dakota. We'll pay all relocation costs."
"What's the catch?"
"No catch. We're starting a new community. We're going to need architects to help us make housing plans and build the schools and businesses. We need all the help we can get."
"There's always a catch."
"Do you mind working with humans and mutants?"
"Then, no catch. Well, the current living conditions aren't the best, but we're working as quickly as we can to get everyone in to an individual apartment."
"You're setting up housing?"
"Of course. We did say all costs."
"Okay, okay, I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. When do I leave?"
"When can you be packed and ready to go?"
"Give me two days."
"The movers will be there shortly."
Belladonna looked at the reports. She smiled. Their properties had all been rented and the hospital project was well under way. In fact, the town was beginning to fill up. It was great having people all over the country.
"Scott, have you seen the latest reports? The ACLU is…" Bobby stopped short when he saw the man in a pinstripe suit sitting in front of Scott's desk. "I'll just go back and see if the new kids have everything they need."
"Thank you, Bobby." Scott turned his attention back to the lawyer. "And you were saying?"
"We would appreciate any help your school could offer to my daughter. She was fired yesterday. The school system decided that all alpha mutants were a danger to the students and turned them out."
"She was a teacher?"
"Tell her and her friends to come to the School. We'll see what we can do. We will be needing more staff soon. Especially at the rate that we keep getting students."
"About that. Do you need help financially?"
"Any help is appreciated. Always. Thank you."
"Of course, Mr. Summers. Dr. Xavier is very lucky to have you running things."
"Thank you for saying so, Mr. Smith." Smith smiled. The young man in front of him was about the same age as his daughter. He couldn't help feeling as if he should be doing more. "Would you like a tour of the current facility?"
"Thank you for the offer, but no. Are the plans you have tacked up there for an addition to the school?"
"Yes, sir. We're planning to add a third level as well as a new wing."
"I have some contacts in the building supply arena. Let me see what I can do for you."
"Thank you." Scott took Smith's hand in a firm handshake. "Let me walk you out." As they went through the school Smith was disconcerted to see a young woman running through the hall and through the walls as well. "Kitty!" Scott called. She popped her head out of a closed door. "Did you get the computer lab functional again?"
"Not yet," she told him. "I'll get it done by the end of the day. I just need to track down a few lines of code."
"Yeah, you know where he is?"
"Benny cut himself. He's in the lab."
"Okay. Thanks, Fearless." She waved and disappeared as Scott spoke again.
"Kitty, don't call me… Forget it. I give up."
"Fearless Leader. One of my friends started it when we were still students here and somehow it got leaked to the next generation." Scott shook his head as Smith laughed.
"Scott, have you seen Kitty?" Jean asked from overhead.
"She's looking for Kurt."
"Do you know where the new monitors got put?"
"They're in the computer lab. Or at least they should be. I thought you were taking care of that?"
"Oh, no, the big strong men had to do it."
"Meaning Logan got chivalrous on you and you just wanted to watch the rest of us suffer for it?"
"Watch it. I know where you sleep." She threatened lightly. "Okay. If you see Kitty, ask her to meet me in the Library."
"Of course, dear." Jean stuck her tongue out at him.
"Who was that?"
"My wife. The den mother."
"Ah, I see. I'm glad to see that everyone is so close here." Scott paused and turned. Smith caught sight of the flapping tail of a yellow coat. Scott pinched the bridge of his nose.
"I don't even want to know what she's done now."
"Jubilation Lee!" Logan yelled from the garage.
"She went to the den, Runt."
"Do I need to know?"
"Nope. She's my kid."
"What did she do?"
"She's been riding my bike."
"She doesn't have a license!"
"I know that. And she picked my pocket to get the keys." Scott sighed.
"Guess I know who gets dish duty tonight," he stated as Logan disappeared. Smith grinned.
"Thank you, Mr. Summers. My daughter will call you tomorrow."
"Thank you, Mr. Smith. Drive safely. They're crazy out there."
Mystique looked down her nose at the new recruits. There was Sammy who was also a shapeshifter. Maurice who went by Preacher and had wings, much as Angel. Maurice’s wings however were a brilliant shade of red. Paula was a telepath. And Lena was a healer. She wasn’t sure why they’d chosen to go the mercenary route, but she was going to make sure they survived it. She wasn’t planning on casualties to slow her down. The main thing would be to keep Lena safe. She would be able to take care of any of the problems they encountered.
Rogue studied the new ones with bored disdain. She wasn’t sure they were going to survive it. Maurice especially seemed vulnerable. He was a perfect target. Maybe she could convince him to die his wings black so he wouldn’t be as easy to target in the night sky. At least his wings weren’t white. Sammy, well, he’d come in handy. And the healer would be good too. She wondered if the girl would be able to touch her without being drained. It was hard to control her absorption powers, but it was coming along nicely. She could touch several of her teammates with no ill effects. And there hadn’t been a problem when she met with the thief either. Too bad that one was married. She’d bet he’d be fun for a night or two. Beyond that, he seemed high matainence.
Destiny smiled to herself. The future was still dark, but this new group brought new possibilities.
Miss Juliet Smith was favorably impressed with Xavier’s school for the Gifted. And she wouldn’t have to move. Unlike a few of her fellow laid off teachers, she still had family in the area that was talking to her. She knew she was lucky. Her parents hadn’t disowned her when she registered as a mutant. In fact, her father had gone out of his way to find her a new place to work. Mr. Summers had offered her a position before he found out what she taught. When she told him she was a special education specialist he closed his eyes and stated very firmly, “Thank God. Come on. Let’s get you a classroom. Are you good with working with both ends of the spectrum? We have geniuses and LD students both here. We need someone to help us with lesson plans for both ends of it. Even the elementary students move from classroom to classroom. We’re used to having high school students. Most mutants develop in to their powers at puberty you know. And we weren’t prepared for the influx of young kids who came in because their parents aren’t willing to support them. They’re so young. Sometimes it feels like we’re running an orphanage. Although, we definitely have better food. Speaking of which, do you have any special requirements?”
“For food? I’m a vegetarian.”
“Okay. I’ll let Clara know.”
“She just joined our staff as a cook. She’s from the Culinary Institute. The restaurant she was working at found out she was a mutant and decided she was a health risk.”
“Because she’s a really large cat. She has short fur all over her body and her bone structure is more feline than human. Her parents had her tail removed when she was a child, so I suppose you’d call her a Manx-minx. Absolutely gorgeous though. I don’t understand what people think. She makes some of the most delicious food I’ve ever tasted. Well, considering that I have people begging to trade chores with me whenever I’m supposed to be cooking might be an indicator. Let’s see. Do you need anything special in the way of medical supplies?”
“I have a low metabolism.” She shrugged. “I need a place to exercise because I gain weight very easily.”
“Also not a problem. I’ll show you around the teacher’s wing, if you’d like.”
“That would be nice.”
“We do cover room and board. And any other expenses you might incur, within reason of course, We provide a clothing stipend and spending money for free time, but we don’t pay all that well beyond that.”
“I have car payments.”
“Not anymore. We’ll pay off your car as well. And transfer the insurance and title in to Dr. Xavier’s name. They can’t cancel him. He’s legally a flatscan.” Scott scowled briefly.
“They cancelled your insurance as well?”
“Yeah. On the van. Xavier has the policy now. There hasn’t been a problem. And we have full medical care on site. We even do major surgery if it’s necessary. And your family is welcome to visit, if you want them to.”
“Does anyone else have family visit?”
“Jean’s parents come occasionally. The rest of us don’t have any family beyond the school. Bobby’s parents threw him out. I’m an orphan.” Scott shrugged. “Come on. This way to the teacher’s wing. The women stay in this wing. Kitty is planning to move out the boathouse with Ororo to help with the gardens. This would be your room here.” He opened the first door on the right. “Kitty is currently across the hall. Clara is next to her. Betsy is in the room next to you. Try to convince her to stay if you can, Warren wants a chance to woo her. The rest of the hall is unoccupied for the moment. You’ll have a full class schedule as soon as you’re settled in. As you can tell we’re a little spread thin. Jubilee has staked a claim to the room at the end of the hall for when she graduates.”
“Speaking of Jubilee, Slim, have you seen her?” Logan called coming out from the mentioned room.
“She still sulking?”
“Did you try the roof? That seems to be sulk central around here. Even Ro goes up there.”
“Great. She climbs like a monkey.” Logan looked pointedly at his boss. About some things Logan was an absolute stickler. He wouldn’t speak to a woman he hadn’t been properly introduced to.
“Logan, may I introduce Juliet Smith. Juliet Smith, this is Logan.”
“A pleasure to meet ya, ma’am.”
“Nice to meet you, Logan. Are you a teacher here?”
“Ignore him. He loves working with the kids, but he’s afraid it’s going to hurt his manly reputation.”
“Watch it, Slim.” Scott arched a brow. “Or I’ll tell Jeannie yer flirtin’ with the new teacher.”
“To quote the missing Ms. Lee, ‘as if.’” Logan shook his head.
“I’ll see ya at dinner, Juliet.”
“The women’s bathroom is here. It’s shared. We’re adding a second one at the end of the hall as a part of the remodeling project. The attic is up these stairs. There’s roof access from the attic or from the stairs. Or you can climb the wall or drainpipe if you feel you have to get up there and want to go from your window.”
“Is flying acceptable?”
“Any way you like it. Down that hall are the men’s rooms. Hank’s room is actually off the lab. Kurt is here at the end. Bobby across from him. Warren. The two next to Kurt are empty. The professor is at the end of the hall on the right. Jean and I are in the one across from him.”
“Jean Grey? The front page wedding?” Scott sighed.
“That would be us.”
“You don’t seem very happy about it.”
“Oh, I’m glad I married her. But I didn’t want it to be the media circus it ended up as. Now, down the stairs. This is the den. The library is through the connecting door, but you can get to it from the hall. The kitchen is here. You can grab a snack or whatever. We do the shopping once a week. Ro’s been keeping us in veggies lately. She’s turned half of the attic into a greenhouse and the conservatory has orange and lemon trees growing in it. The kids help with the weeding. They like getting out of the classroom once and awhile. The main dining hall is through that door. And Clara’s kitchen is behind this one. And the horrid chore of dish duty takes place through that door as well. Now, we go down one floor to the med-lab.”
Scott opened the door to the clinic. There was a boy sitting on the nearest exam table having his bandages changed. His forearm had a nasty burn from wrist to elbow. Kurt was carefully rubbing aloe on the burn before bandaging it again. “Ja, it hurts, Kind. Does it itch?”
“Gut. Then it is healing. You vill not be so quick to play wit’ fire again. And tell Herr Torch that he should speak wit’ Herr Scott if he is having trouble wit’ control.”
“Yes, Mr. Kurt.” Kurt helped the young man off of the table. “Hi, Mr. Scott. Bye!” Larry called as he ran out of the room.
"Guten tag, Mein Freund. You are well?”
“Yes. Kurt Wagner, this is Juliet Smith. She’ll be joining the staff.”
“It is always die greatest pleasure to meet a beautiful lady.” Kurt swept her a courtly bow, his tail curled over his head.
“Danke, Herr Doctor Wagner.”
“Bitte. And now, you must tell me what you teach.”
“I’m a special education specialist.”
“This is very good.”
“Kurt, Jimmy has hurt his knee. We are at the green house.”
“Ach. I am coming, Ororo. Until dinner.” Kurt blinked out of existence. Juliet wrinkled her nose.
“You get used to the brimstone after awhile. Let me show you the Danger Room.”
“The gym.” Juliet smiled. At least their name for it was accurate. She found most injuries happened in the gym. Especially with kids. She gasped at the metal walls. “Adamantium. It’s the sturdiest thing. This is where we train students to use their powers. We can activate psi shields for the room. And there is plenty of equipment for more unusual sports. We have Olympic quality gymnastic equipment. At Jubilee’s request. She’s quite good. A natural at it. And there are several others who are very gifted in that area. They’re only allowed on certain pieces when Jean is around as a spotter.”
“She’s got TK. She can catch them before they hit the ground usually.”
“That’s not what I was thinking about. You haven’t asked me about my powers.”
“I figured you’d tell me when you felt you should.”
“I suppose now is as good a time as any. I fix things and I fix minds.”
“That’s why I’m a special ed teacher. Sometimes, if I have enough time, I can rewire a child’s brain so it works properly. But only until they’re about 12, then things are too set for me to change. But I teach them to work around problems.” There was a sadness in the set of Scott’s mouth and she put a hand on his arm. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Just wishing I’d met someone like you before I turned twelve. And you fix mechanical things as well?”
“Yes, I just sort of know how they work.”
Scott nodded. “And for that they wanted you out of the school system? Well, their loss is our gain.” Juliet smiled. Scott took her arm. “The showers and locker rooms are this way. And these stairs take you back up to the main floor.” He led her towards the stairs.
“What else is down here?”
“Storage and that sort of thing,” Scott glossed. “You’ll pick up that sort of thing along the way. Is there any furniture you want to bring with you? I’ll offer you Jean and the van.”
“Does she know you’re renting her out?”
“I have no secrets from her. Well, not many. She’s a telepath. She’s my wife.” Scott shrugged. “I’m doomed.”
“Scott Summers, what have you been filling this poor woman’s mind with?” Jean demanded as they came to the main level.
“Why, Darling, what ever could you be talking about? I was merely suggesting that she ask you to help her move her things.”
“Oh, so you’re whoring me out for my powers.” Scott put a hand to his heart.
“My heart, I would never do that to you.”
“Beep! Beep! Beep!” Bobby called from the den. “Sap alert! Sap alert!”
“Bobby!” Jean snapped.
“Come and meet the new teacher. Bobby Drake, meet Juliet Smith. She might be able to help you figure out where the problem with the Algebra class is."
“Really? Great! Hi, I’m the math and business teacher. Scott teaches geometry and trig though. And overblown Shakespearean poetry and romance writers.” Scott shook his head.
“I’m a special ed teacher.”
“Just what I need. I have a kid in my basic math class that I think might be LD. Can you talk to him?”
“Yes, of course.”
“I’ll tag you after dinner then. I’ve got to go bring Ro her gardening gloves. For some reason they ended up in her loft.”
“Just don’t freeze them like you did last time. Oh, did the latest report on the ACLU activity come in?”
“Yeah, they go to court in three weeks for the ex-employees of Holt, Brenshaw and Corrigan Account Specialists. Couldn’t happen to a nicer company. Oh yeah, I’m the CPA around here too. I do everyone’s taxes, so if you need me to do yours, just get me the stuff by the middle of February. I try to get everyone filed early.”
“What do you charge?”
“Twinkies of course? What else would I charge? Oh, Blue says hi.”
“Thanks, Popsicle. Go, before we have to scrape you up from the pavement.” Bobby slid out of the room. “Is the professor back yet?”
“No, he’s still in DC trying to get more support to amend the registration laws.”
“Is he still thinking that there’s no way to get it repealed?” Scott asked his wife.
“That’s the information he’s working on.”
“Damn. Oh, well, do we have any new kids today?”
“No, not today. There’s some interesting rumors flying around though. There’s a mutant friendly company calling itself Nightwing Enterprises. We might want to look in to them.”
“They’re incredible,” Juliet stated. “When I was fired, a friend gave me their number. She said they were hiring all sorts of people. They’re paying relocation costs to North Dakota.”
“Sort of like this job. Too good to be true.”
“We have a habit of doing the impossible around here. Walking through walls to flying carpets.”
“Let’s go to your place and get your things,” Jean said. She slipped a hand through Juliet’s arm and steered her to the garage. Scott went to his office. With the professor out of town, there was a lot to get done. Besides, he had a class to teach in a half an hour.
“Henri, I have an assignment for you.”
“Oui, Papa?” Jean-Luc gestured for his eldest son to sit down. At least Henri wasn’t as fidgety as Remy.
“There is a company I want you to investigate. Enterprise Labs. They supposedly have a new biological weapon. Find it. Destroy it.”
“What is this weapon supposed to do?”
“It’s aimed at mutants.”
“It is supposed to be like the HIV virus. It destroys the immune system. Then it attacks. It mutates to fit the mutant. But this is all rumors, Henri. I want proof. And I want to know who was responsible for creating this madness.”
“Don’t worry father. I’ll find them.”
“Julien Boudreaux is also looking in to this matter. His father is speaking with him as well. We want the two of you to work together. You will get the information and the samples. Julien will eliminate the problem. D'Accord?”
“Oui, Papa. Does Remy know about this?”
“Non. Nor does Belladonna.” Henri nodded. “Be careful. This place will be well guarded.”
“I will not make a mistake. There’s too much resting on it.”
Remy and Belle signed the latest contract, under the watchful eye of their lawyer. The apartment building was now theirs. Along with all of the incoming rents. They had actually taken a mortgage on this one, but with the rent coming in it should be paid off in half the time they’d taken it for. Less, if they decided to go that way. Their accountant had informed them that the tax break from the mortgage would be a good thing to have for the next couple of years.
The accountant also had “official” records stating that Remy was an independent security consultant and professional art appraiser and that Belladonna was an investment broker. It was a good idea to have a cover for any and all money coming in to the family. As long as they paid the appropriate taxes on the portion of income they reported the IRS could be bribed to ignore anything else. A team of computer hackers kept the FBI at bay and the true amount of money was never officially noted anywhere. Remy tended to keep some of the money in highly portable items like diamonds and gold.
“It’s been a pleasure to do business with you, Mr. and Mrs. LeBeau,” the slime across the table from them said.
“A pleasure,” Belle said with a similarly false smile. Remy nodded to him and he left. “So shall we see what sort of upgrades the place needs?”
“Definitely. I refuse to be a slum lord.”
“Considering your taste in hotels you’d never know it.”
“You get to make the reservations then.”
“Why are we staying at the rat trap anyway?” Belle demanded.
“Because there’s a bookseller’s convention in town and the rest of the hotels are booked up.”
“Great. I’m so happy. I can’t even begin to tell you.”
“Please, don’t bother. Your joy shines from your eyes.”
“I’m laughing so hard on the inside.”
“I can see that. Do you think the nail polish is what did him in?”
“Yeah. Scared the hell out of him. Let’s go.”
“No, I think it was the black widow spider pin you’re wearing that got to him. That used to be a real spider,” Remy informed her.
“Should I be taking a hint from this?”
“Make sure I’m out cold before you fall asleep.” She smiled and wiggled her brows over too-wide eyes. “So, Joey, can you take us over to the place?”
“Of course. Come on, kids.”
“Sometimes I don’t know why we put up with you.”
“Because you’d be lost without my elderly wisdom.” Joey ran a hand through his prematurely grey hair. He was in his thirties and had been a lawyer for Guildmembers before. This couple had chosen him as their personal lawyer after the wedding and he had graciously taken them under his wing. He liked their flair. Remy was helping Belle with her coat. Joey just had one question. “Remy?”
“Can I see your eyes?” Remy shrugged and pulled the shades down his nose so he could look out over them. Joey’s eyes widened. “You know, I wish I could turn those on the some of the juries I’ve had to deal with over the years. You’d never lose a case.”
“But I wouldn’t be able to practice in this area. The Bar just pulled the certification for all mutants. They’re going to have to retake the test after they control for telepathy and such. They’re examining them case by case. Physical mutations are probably going to get their certification back first. But they’ve lost some of the best lawyers. Idiots.”
“That’s why the ACLU is starting to take cases. I’ll run you to the building and you can meet the manager.”
"Felix Santis?" Joey asked.
"Yeah?" the man snapped.
"The new owners want to meet you."
"Shit. Give me a second." The man opened the door, pulling on a shirt. "Hi, I'm Felix." They couple who shook his hand looked like they were movie stars or something in matching sunglasses. "Let me show you around the place."
"Merci." Great, he thought, Frogs.
"This way. All the units are full at the moment. Don't worry. There ain't any muties here. I made sure of that when they signed up for the places." The woman nodded and laced a gold nailed hand through her companion's fingers. He took them through the place from the top to the bottom.
"Thank you, Mr. Santis. You're fired," Belle stated, sweetly. "Please have your things out by the end of the week. You'll receive two months pay. Joseph, see to the details. Shall we go find a new manager?"
"Yes. We'll start at the top and move our way down."
"But, I've been a here for years. Ain't had any complaints." Remy looked over his glasses at him. The man paled.
"But you indicated you weren't comfortable with muties," he said calmly. "We don't want you to be uncomfortable." The couple went to the elevator.
"A suggestion, Felix," Joey said. "Just get out. You don't want to piss them off."
"They may have money, but this is my place. Those residents are my… holy shit."
"Yes, I'd love to take the position. They just laid me off because I'm mutie-scum," Loretta Vance said. "Those bastards. I just felt like taking a chunk out of them."
"Did you?" Remy asked mildly.
"No, but I thought about taking down the office."
"How?" Belle asked. She always liked new ideas.
"Centralized brush fire. I control fire. Keeps me warm in the winter if the heat goes out," she smiled.
Belle sighed. "Sometimes I wish I could do things like that."
"Everyone has their own talents," Loretta said patting the young woman's arm. "Hi, Felix."
"Hello, Loretta," Felix said. The tension between the two was palpable. "It figures they'd find my only enemy in this place. Makes sense that a bitch like you isn't human." Belle's eyes narrowed. She didn't like anyone talking to her people like that. She felt Remy's restraining hand on her arm. His smile told her to just wait and watch.
"Funny, I always thought you were a cockroach. Always scuttling around in the dark."
"I don't scuttle. Damn it, Lori, why the fuck didn't you tell me?"
"Tell you what? That I was something you hated and wanted out of your building because I'd scare off tenants? Maybe because you're a narrow-minded bastard."
"Listen, Mutie, the building's policy has always been no mutants."
"That explains why your wife left you for another woman. I always loved watching her manipulate you."
"What the fuck are you talking about? I never had a wife."
"See. What a useful talent. She wiped your mind."
"Bullshit." Felix seemed unsure.
"And read it."
"Don't even say it, asshole."
"This is about being dumped isn't it?"
"What makes you say that? Just because you were married and never bothered to tell me?"
"I've never been married!"
"I'd go check that if I were you. And my bank account. Have fun. There's a shelter over on 42nd that's hiring."
"I wouldn't be talking, Felix," Loretta said sweetly. "After all, isn't that how you got this job?"
"You don't know shit about me."
"That's right. Because you never bothered to tell me." Remy grinned at his wife. He gestured to the door with his head and she nodded. Joey followed them.
"I'll take care of the details. Do you care if he moves out?"
"Not if he pays rent. Do you think they'll just admit to it?"
"To what?" Joey was slightly confused.
"The fact that they want each other?"
"Maybe." The lawyer smiled. "Have a good night, kids. You need a ride back?"
"Non, we'll walk and get a feel for the neighborhood," Belle said. She kissed Joey's cheek. "Au revior."
"Hey, Sweetcheeks," Victor Creed, known to most as Sabretooth, purred. Mystique looked up at him with a little frown.
"I told you to never call me that."
"Whatever, Babe." She elbowed him in the ribs. "So, what's up?"
She fixed him with a dead eyed stare. "Things have changed. You know that."
"Yeah, so get ta the point."
"You, me, and a team. We're taking out the government." Creed shook his head.
"Ya seem pretty damn sure of yerself, sweetheart."
"I'm that good. You in?"
"I'm in. Where's yer daughter?"
"Getting us some intel." Creed snorted.
"She's a kid."
"She's my kid. She's good."
"So, she's useful. That don't mean she can get the intel we need." Mystique patted his head.
"You'll be surprised."
"So, the bedroom's back there?"
"Ya gonna show me where ta put my things?"
"You know where they go. I've cleaned out a drawer for you."
Henri LeBeau was as close to a killing rage as he'd ever been in his life. He wanted them all dead. All those self-righteous bastards that thought they were the only ones who should live. The madness of playing God and trying to kill all the inferiors. It made him sick to his stomach. He still remembered the look of the Nazi camps. He was nearly immortal, as was his father because of Candra's potions. But he didn't know if even that would protect him if the damned thing got spread. A plague. He'd been to Africa. He'd seen the poor and the dying as Ebola struck the village. He couldn't bear the thought of seeing that again. No, it was best to take the samples. Destroy the research. And then destroy the men and women who had created it.
Julien Boudreaux looked at the information that his rival handed him. He'd never thought he'd see the day when he'd be willingly be working with a thief, his new brother-in-law included. It wasn't the killing he had a problem with. He'd used poisons before. No, it was the messiness. Assassination was an art-form and these creatures were degrading it into a slip-shod method of ridding themselves of the people they didn't want to have around. And there were no guarantees that it wouldn't kill more than it's target. There were some for hire killers who thought it was an art to kill a plane full of people. Wasteful kills that should have been pinpoint strikes to remove the target. He looked at the thief.
"Dey have to be stopped."
"Dere ain't time t' get approval."
"Non. We do dis." Julien put out his hand. They shook to confirm the partnership.
Mystique looked down at the floorplans again. "Very nice, Rogue. You say that they are keeping biological weapons here?"
"Yes. It's somethin' new. And Ah got a bad feelin' about it, Mama. It's nasty shit."
"What did you learn?"
"It's mutatin' fast. Faster'n AIDS. Ah think it's dangerous. Really dangerous. And Ah think Ah know what it's aimed at. Ah have ta go sift through things."
"Go on. Should I call you for dinner."
"No thanks." Rogue wandered to her room and settled across her bed. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and reached in for the information she'd taken in.
"Damn it, I wish Hank was here," Scott muttered as he sorted through the files they'd taken. "From what we can tell, there is a weapon in development. It's a virus to attack mutants. The only thing saving us is the fact that it's mutating too quickly for them to dare to put it in the general population." He shoved the files aside and looked at his team. They were gathered informally in his office instead of the war room. The war room was now a storeroom for all the things they had to move out of the attic before they could raise the roof. "Come on, we've got clean up to do."
"We're just going to ignore this?" Warren asked in surprise.
"No, we're going to clean up so that we can house the refugees. For the moment we can't do anything about a situation that isn't immediately threatening. Get moving, Angel." Warren sketched a mocking salute. Scott snorted and punched him lightly in the shoulder.
Henri LeBeau put the samples into the incinerator after dousing them with alcohol. After a quick glance the papers followed, then, the computer disks, then the hard-drives. One down, three hundred to go, he thought to himself. Julien was interrogating the head of the lab. Three of the techs were missing and they needed to find them.
The thief cracked open another computer and took out the drive. The fire flared with blue and green sparks of impurities. Another computer. More papers. Oh, financial information, that might come in handy. Henri set it aside. His bald pate was hidden by a hood of black, but he could feel the sweat seeping into the fabric.
The small team of thieves added more computers and disks to the pile as the assassins swept the building from top to bottom in search of anyone they had missed. Henri checked the timer. They had two hours left. He worked more quickly. The flames grabbed more and more papers. The disks melted. The hard-drives surrendered.
Julien Boudreaux left the destruction of the documents to the thieves. They were used to stealing files and such. He had prey to worry about. The head of security was already dead, as were his guards. The head of the lab was refusing to talk. Julien ran his knife down the side of the man's face. Blood streamed into what was left of the man's white hair.
He was still under the mistaken impression that he would live through this situation. That would give him some reason to talk. Julien left a ragged cut in the man's arm. The red blood blossomed against the crisp white fabric of his coat. His plastic badge flopped against the grey tiles as he struggled. Julien's knife flashed in the florescent light. Dark vein blood seeped on to the floor from the man's leg. "Tell me where they are."
"I don't know." The man's breaths came in frantic gasps.
"Then I don't need you." One more slash laid open the vein in the man's neck.
"We have them," the speaker in the assassin's ear told him. He acknowledged the report and turned to the cowering scientists. He calmly shot each of them in the head. The floor was soaked red. Julien stepped into the hall and took off the disposable blue shoe covers. He let Henri incinerate the evidence.
"You and you, get me all the surveillance videos. Trash the equipment." The two apprentices hurried off. They were one step away from initiation into the Guild.
"The charges are set. The next person to come in will blow the place. We'll prime it as we leave. We've found the techs. How much longer?"
"One hour by my count. These are all the disks. We've even tossed the bookshelves for spares."
"Next on the list. We don't want to tip off any spouses."
"75 Killed in CDC Tragedy." Bobby Drake frowned. He took the paper to Scott's office.
"What is it, Bobby?"
"Have you seen the papers? They're claiming terrorists are attacking vaccine programs. Isn't this the lab that intel you have implicates?"
"Let me see that." The X-men's field leader chewed on the top of a pen. "Yes, this is the place. They were working on anti-mutant biological warfare. It doesn't mention mutants once. Amazing. I wonder what else they were working on?"
"You don't think Mystique was involved in this?"
"No, the Brotherhood always claims their work." Scott frowned. "Thanks, Bobby. I haven't gotten to see the paper in almost a week."
"Records or red tape?"
"Both. I've been meeting with the new kids to see what they need. Doing two jobs is going to kill me. Buy Tylenol stock."
"I've been investing in pharmaceuticals for years. Anything you want me to keep an eye out for?"
"Anything having to do with new mutant policies. And anything having to do with the military. Warren's watching the business pages?"
"He's got a senior seminar in business to help him."
"True. Have you heard from Hank?"
"He's not coming back. He hasn't said it yet, but I can tell. He enjoys being someplace where he isn't as much of a celebrity. He's worried about getting his visa renewed."
"You going to be okay with that?"
"I'll deal with it. If Betsy can handle being trapped out of her country and away from her twin brother, I think I can handle my best friend traveling."
"If you need to talk, I'm always here. Just follow the cursing."
"But Logan doesn't like me." Scott laughed.
"I mean it, Bobby. I miss him too."
"Thanks, Fearless. Where's Jean?" Scott stared at the wall for a moment.
"With the Art Class in the Conservatory."
"She's supposed to be posing nude. Bye!"
"Bobby! Robert Drake!" Scott chased the Iceman through the hall. "Use a slide and I'll blast it!"
"What's the rush, Slim?"
"Art class!" Warren called from the top of the stairs to Logan. "Jean's posing nude."
"No shit." Logan followed the men at a more sedate pace. By the time they reached the Conservatory Scott had Bobby in a headlock with a hand over his eyes. Jean was actually posing for the advanced class. She sat on a low chaise lounge with a satin sheet draped across her stomach, not covering much at all. She was choking on her laughter and trying not to move.
Annie Sheradon, art teacher, flame-throwing mutant, and head of this particular section of the academy put on her toughest face. "What exactly is going on here?" she demanded.
"Scott's trying to smother my enthusiasm for fine art!"
"Scott's keeping the man who got the entire class thrown out of the Met for ogling the Rubens from getting another fit."
"If I remember correctly it was Scott who got us thrown out by over-riding the security system in the mummy room," Warren pointed out.
"That was a different year," Jean chimed in.
"Out! All of you! Out!" Annie ordered as she snickered. Logan took a long, leisurely look at Jean, before giving Summers a hand with the popsicle. Warren licked his lips.
"You are a lucky man, Slim."
"No! No! You can't throw me out yet!" Bobby protested. Scott let him catch a quick glimpse. Bobby went still. "Oh, my God! I didn't… I… whoa. She grew up."
"Most of us did," Warren commented. "Annie, I'll pay you to take pictures."
"Warren Worthington!" Jean snapped.
"Of Scott carrying Bobby out of here," Warren added quickly.
"Get out before I put a lock on that door." Warren heard Jubilee's voice as he shut the door.
"Ms. Jeannie, how did you managed not to kill them?" Laughter followed him down the hall.
"Mama! Did ya read tha paper?"
"Who did it?"
"I have my theories. Victor, Darling, do kill it before you eat it," she said pointing at the mouse Creed was dangling by its tail. He dropped it into his mouth and bit down once. There was an overloud crunch as the bones snapped between his teeth. Rogue made a face. Maurice folded his wings in tighter and edged away from the overgrown predator. Lena rolled her eyes at Sammy who was currently changing several shades of green and mottled purple. Paula sighed and glanced at Destiny who was sipping her coffee and smiling her smug little smile.
"So? Who do yah think did it? And that is gross, Tooth. Really gross. Some of us cook our food ta get rid of tha germs."
"Healing factor, Kid."
"Right. So, Mama?"
"I don't want to say anything until I get some confirmation. I'll be away for a few days. Stay out of trouble, children," Mystique ordered with a smile.
To: Furry@ muir.edu
From: icy@ xavier.edu
Re: Trouble on School Grounds
You've gotta come home. There's something in the air driving people buggy. Kurt and Logan are doing their best, but the cuts and scrapes, broken bones and other problems keep coming. It's like the racists grew overnight, Blue. I don't know what the fuck to do anymore. I'm going insane. We can't let the kids go to the mall without supervision because they keep getting attacked. And believe me, Jubilee is pissed off about that. And if Jubilee is having problems you can imagine what the rest of us are going through.
Harry's got burned down last night for serving mutants. I can't believe it. Harry's has been there for as long as I can remember. Logan is not happy. He can't get the beer he likes from any of the liquor stores. They're laying off mutants in record numbers and Slim thinks there's a conspiracy afoot. Oh my God, did I just use that word in a sentence? I did. I used the word "afoot." This is all Braddock's fault. She's taken over the public speaking classes and one of the literature classes. She's also running a seminar on Sherlock Holmes. That means all of us are being subjected to her practice lectures at the dinner table.
Clara is wonderful. You have to come home and try her cooking. She makes the best cookies I've ever tasted. Then again, we were subjected to Jean's cooking. Scott's cooking too for that matter. The dreadful duo have moved in together officially and they've converted Jean's old room into a place for another teacher. Did I tell you that Storm, Kitty and Jubilee have moved to one of the boathouses to start farming? They're planting all sorts of veggies and things. Right now, Warren's been hard-pressed into helping them make an irrigation system. They need to fly stuff up to make the water tower. I don't even want to know what Slim's got on the planning board to get the permits for that. But we've got a greenhouse going in too. Me, I'm in charge of designing the freezer system for all of it. Like I'm supposed to know these things? I'm an accountant!
Come home, Blue. Hurry!
-Bobby the exceedingly frantic
To: icy@ xavier.edu
From: furry@ muir.edu
You sound as if you have been quite capably handling everything in spite of my absence on the school grounds. Moira and I have begun a series of lectures to the leaders of Europe. They refuse to understand what is happening to the mutants of the United States is similar to what happened to the Jews of the Holocaust. Even the Germans are willfully ignoring the concept. They believe that so long as no one is killed by the government, it is not their place to judge any other country's choices pertaining to racial relations. It is most enlightening to witness the sheer incomprehensible ability of the human mind to ignore the implications of the most blatant abuses of power. However, I have had the distinct urge to pick them up and shake them until their fool heads pop off. I feel that would be unproductive and have thus far resisted my baser impulses.
I am sure that Jubilee's disappointment with being unable to shop has reached epic proportions. Have you considered simulating a mall in the Danger Room and allowing the children to wander around it at will? That would allow them the illusion of freedom while providing them the protection they need. And it would allow Jubilee to indulge in her less than legal activities without the possibility of being apprehended. Although, you may wish to program that eventuality in. It is my opinion that you may have need of her particular expertise if the mutant situation becomes anymore restrictive in regards to property. For that matter, perhaps it is time that our Fearless Leader and the Windrider updated their skills. Oh, ignore the ramblings of a rather disillusioned current ex-patriot living across a large expanse of water.
It would seem that the Xavier campus is expanding at an alarmingly quick rate. How have you found the workers to erect this water-tower? And how, for heaven's sake, was Warren convinced to assist physically with a building project. It was my understanding that he was incapable of wielding a hammer due to the interference of a general hard work genetic inhibition present in his family.
Give my regards to everyone.
Hank the blue
"Have you spoken with Lensherr?" Remy asked his wife suddenly.
"He'll give you a safe haven, but I'm out of it. I'm human."
"He'll give our mutants safe haven, non? I'm not planning on leaving you, ma chere." Belle put her hands on her hips. Her paintbrush dripped black paint onto the drop cloth.
"If I tell you to leave, you will do so, am I understood, Remy? I'm not going to let you get killed just because you're too stubborn to walk away."
"And I am not going to walk away because of a threat, chere. I've been beaten. I've been chased. I've been cursed. I am not going to lose you because you push me away. We're in this together, Belle. Forever," Remy snapped back.
"Forever's a long time, cher."
Remy stepped forward and caressed her cheek. "Mon couer, there is nothing that will keep me away from you. Not even Hell."
"Pretty words from my pretty," she said with a small smile. "But I'm serious. If I tell you to leave, I want you to leave. Don’t be an idiot."
"Why would it be safer to be away from you, ma chere?"
She blinked. Another drop of paint his the drop cloth.
"I'll always come to you, ma chere. I don't care if I have to beat the Devil himself, I will be by your side."
"You are an idiot, LeBeau. Je t' aime, Remy."
"Je t' aime, Bella."
Mystique sighed. Why had she decided to take on more children? "Stop it, all of you!" she snapped. They quieted down, looking sheepish. Mystique stood with her hands on her hips. "What am I supposed to do with you? Put you into the corner? Clean up this mess. And there will be no more fires in the house. Do I make myself clear?"
"Will this do for your lab, Mr. Essex?"
"It will be fine. Thank you," the Englishman stated. The officious clerk beat a hasty retreat before he could be asked to do anything more.
"For crimes against the state, this court condemns Jean-Luc LeBeau, Henri LeBeau, Marius Boudreaux, and Julien Boudreaux to death."
"Court? What court? This was no trial!" Jean-Luc protested.
"Silence!" the man in the all black uniform ordered. They were in an old, crumbling warehouse. The makeshift platform was a stack of crates. Being held under guard in the old office Jean-Luc's youngest son and his wife stood watching. The unspoken threat hung in the air like the smell of dead fish. Marius Boudreaux grimaced as he was forced to his knees next to his son.
Four cracks of a gun later they all lay dead. Blood and brain matter splattered across the concrete floor like broken parade beads. Belle buried her face in Remy's shoulder, biting down hard on his collar to try to control her anger. Remy stroked her hair as he plotted revenge. He put on the stoic yet scared face he knew the man coming up the stairs expected.
The General, as everyone called him, looked at the teenagers. An adorable couple, he supposed. They were too young to have been a part of their parents' madness. There was no way that the pretty little girl sobbing her eyes out was involved in a massacre of military agents. And the husband was no better. He had obviously just had a growth spurt and his muscles hadn't bulked up to offset the upward motion. His men could snap the boy in half. No, these two were no threat.
"Get out of here. Tell no one what you've seen here. Understood?"
"Oui," the boy said, voice trembling. He led his wife outside and they broke into a run soon after. They skidded around a corner and without a word headed for the Thieves' Tunnels.
Breathing slightly heavily they stopped against one damp stone wall. "I'm going to kill them all. Every man who was there today. The one who gave the order. The clerk who requisitioned the bullets. The budget writer who got them funded. The agency that agreed to it. And anyone else involved in this sordid little happening!" Belle hissed. She felt Remy's arms slip around her and leaned into the embrace.
"And the one who found the uniforms. And the people in charge of covering up their existence." She nodded into his shoulder. "And we drain their accounts. But first we take care of our people."
"Lull them. Make them think they've won. We can start moving the clans. Those without contracts first." Grief would have to wait.
TO: furry @ muir.edu
FROM: icy @ xavier.edu
SUBJECT: Oh, My God
I can't fucking believe it, but he is. Jean's a mess. The school is in shock and I'm going insane because Xavier wants me to fix the children. He wants me to make them smile when I can't even summon up the energy to put a tape into the VCR. Kurt's been trying to keep up a stoic façade. He's been helping set up prayer sessions. And we can't even get the fucking body. We can't claim the body because they've only announced that it was Cyclops that died.
Prof. X put out a missing person's report. It's a fucking travesty. They put him to death with a bullet to the back of his head and announced that a mutant terrorist was put to death. He was stopping a bastard from destroying a school and they blamed Scott for what that FOH son-of-a-bitch did. I have never been this angry or sad or fucked up in my life Hank.
I got drunk for the first time last night.
God, I wish it had been you and not just Jean and Warren that I was drinking with.
Logan took care of the kids last night. You'd be so proud of him Hank. He didn't yell at them or anything, just dried their tears and tucked them in. Even the teenagers wanted him to look in on them last night.
Kitty's in bad shape. Some gang fucking gang raped her. And you know why? Because she was wearing her arm-band like a good little upstanding mutant teacher. Kurt's afraid she won't ever walk again. Cecilia, our new doc, is trying to find a neurosurgeon, but she doesn't sound hopeful.
Don't come home, Blue. It's not safe.
"Mutant Terrorist Cyclops Executed!" the headline shouted. Jean Grey sat stiffly in front of the professor's desk.
"He isn't dead," she stated. "I can still feel him."
"The residual feelings from the link will fade. I'm sorry. He is dead, Jean. I cannot find him anywhere."
"He's been shielded." //I want his body.//
"If we ask them for a body, we run the risk of exposing the rest of the team."
"I know that. He isn't dead, Professor."
"Jean, I love you like a daughter, but I will not jeopardize our operations for a foolish hope."
"It is not a 'foolish hope.' It is the truth. If you'll excuse me, I have a class to teach." Jean strode out of the room.
Charles Xavier steepled his fingers and sighed. He gazed at Jean and Scott's wedding photo for a long moment. "I'll miss you, Scott. I'll do my best for her," he promised the dead man.
Eric Lensherr put his head in his hands and cried over the newspaper. Lee shifted it out of his lap. She looked down at it in confusion. "Eric? What's wrong?"
"Did you read the front page?"
"Yes, but. . ."
Magneto straightened up and forced down his tears. He blew his nose. "Xavier's son just died. My nephew was just shot down like a dog. They didn't even bother with a trial. He was a mutant and they put him to death for it. It's starting Lee. I've seen it before. Prepare for an influx. We need to look at more real estate. This island alone will not be big enough."
Mystique was in shock. She might not have liked Cyclops. She might have agreed with the X-men's methods, but she never wanted him dead.
Wandering by a lake several miles away from the Mansion, Ororo Monroe attempted to make sense of the world. She never made it home.
"How many families can we support at Raven Farms?" Remy asked.
"We're just about at the limit with the 100 from Nawlins. We'll move the others into the safe houses for the moment. Are the assignments being fulfilled?"
"Ninety-seven percent success rates," Remy informed his wife. "We need to set up Crow's Bluff then. That's where the school is going to be. They've got children in most of the families left."
"Home schooling will do for now. We've got tutors on hand. The reservation was pleased to find out that we've got environmental planners with us. We need a child Remy. Someone to take over in case the government decides to take us as well."
"Nightwind is untouchable."
"It may not stay that way."
"According to the accountants they've actually been getting a surplus of funds from their other business."
"We're profitable as an investment company?"
"Real estate is hot right now. There's a lot of flux."
Remy fiddled with the arm-band trying to make it lay flat. Belle rolled her eyes. "Let me." She straightened it for him. "I don't like the idea of you wearing this. It makes it too easy to identify you."
"I haven't got a choice, chere. Not with my eyes."
"We can get you contacts."
"Not when I'm going to work." He kissed her gently. "Meet you in five days?"
"Oui. I'll be more than ready to get out of town by then. And that'll give us one night of bliss before we need to get back to business. See you in Crow's Bluff. I'll have everyone moved out by then, whether they want to or not. Did you know the crime rate in the city has plummeted?"
Jean picked up Scott's visor and used it as a headband. Fuck them all. I know you're alive, honey. I'll find you, she promised. She would find the ones responsible for hurting her Scott and then they would find out why she was codenamed Phoenix. "May God have mercy on your souls, you fucking assholes, cause I sure as fuck won't." She straightened her long black skirt and closed the buttons on her blazer. She adjusted the alpha armband and stepped into the hall. She moved with the sure, swift steps that she'd always used.
Juliet watched her for a moment. Then, she fell into step beside her. "Jean."
"Can I help?"
"Taking Scott's classes?"
"Sure. Especially advanced literature. I think that group really needs you right now. They miss being able to talk to Scott the closet romantic about poetry. It was the bright spot of their day."
"Can I help when you kill them?"
"What makes you think I’m going to do anything but mourn my husband?"
"Because I know what I would do if I'd just lost the most handsome and sweet man in the world."
"I'd kill them all, then salt the ground when I was finished. You aren't alone, Jean. I don't care what it feels like in your head. You are not alone."
"Thanks, Jules." Jean tried to summon up a smile. "I'm sorry. My smile's not working today."
"I don't mind it." Juliet looked her up and down. "You have to tell me who makes your clothes. You look kick-ass."
"Jubilee designs them. Storm. . . I make them." Storm was missing as well and the whole team was off-kilter. "I'll make some for you if you like. I think we could do wonders with your frame instead of hiding it behind those bulky sweaters."
"Bobby keeps freezing my room."
"Then beat him. He responds well to that."
"I'm sure he does." Juliet smirked.
Jean did a double take. "You didn't."
"That's what he said."
Jean couldn't help but giggle. "He is so dead when I get my hands on him."
"No damaging my merchandise. Besides, he needs to be cheered up. I have plans for him. And his Spidey underwear."
"You are a good woman Juliet. Don't let Romeo break your heart."
"Bobby as a Romeo? That's a strange picture. Nope, I just don't see it. But as a really good man in bed? Yeah, that's Bobby."
Jean's smile wasn't comforting. "I'll have to talk to him about romancing a woman."
"Don't scare him off."
"I'll be good."
"And I'll be better."
"Thanks, Fixer. I needed that," Jean said as she overcame her laughter.
"Just doing my job, m'am." Juliet tipped an imaginary hat. "Now, if I’m not mistaken, Clara made chocolate chip cookies."
"That woman is too good to be true."
//Charles?// Eric blinked in surprise when he felt the touch on his mental shields.
//My condolences, old friend.//
//Thank you. I hate to think that this is it, Eric. That this is the straw that will make us into what we don't want to become.//
//Charles, my dear Charles, you were always too pretentious. You have been training those children as an army since you first recruited them. I was saddened by the reports of Scott's death. That was a cruel blow to your cause.//
//We will overcome his loss, as we have always overcome these things. We will not rest until there is freedom in this country once more. I cannot allow our people to be destroyed.//
//I will be waiting, Charles. We already own three islands. We will be working with the South American governments soon enough. Chile and Peru have already set up trade deals with us. You and your children will be safe and welcome here.//
//I will not run.//
//Give your children the option. I hear that McCoy is lecturing on the continent.//
//He is. And he is becoming more and more alarmed at their lack of response.//
//They have always been that way, old friend. They have always looked away as the atrocities take place under their noses. There were those living next to concentration camps that thought nothing of their existence. They have always shunned and harmed the different. Mutants are no different. I will not watch them suffer needlessly.//
//Then fight with me.//
//My people need me here. There will always be a safe haven for you here.//
//Do you have medical facilities?//
//Then, I may have to send some of my children to you, one in particular. She may never walk again. And she is so traumatized by the event that has stolen her legs, that she will not speak. If anyone touches her, she fades, as if she were a ghost. Can you watch over her?//
//She was raped and beaten by a gang of mutant haters.//
//Because she wore her band as she was supposed to.//
//I've warned you too many times, Charles, I won't waste my time. My gates are open for any of your children. Even if they don't stay. This is our country. They have no say over us.//
//Can you repel an army?//
//Do you doubt it?//
//Never. Goodnight, Eric.//
"It's time to step up, mama. We can't let this go on." Rogue slapped the paper down on the table. "I know we ain't the biggest, or the baddest fightin' force on the continent, but I ain't gonna see this go down without retribution."
"Cyclops wasn't one of us."
"He was, mama. He was a terrorist. We're in the same fight. It's time we took Nightwind up on that offer to work with us for intelligence. We set up an account and go for it."
"I will not be working with Nightwind. Gambit is a doll, but he is dangerous. He has more to do than keep us in information."
"But Gambit is better suited to workin' with us than the X-men. And Magnus went and hid his sorry ass on an island. We ain't got a choice."
"You really gonna trust those government controlled PR bullshitters?"
Mystique smiled. "That's my girl."
Rogue blinked. "How long have you been negotiatin' this?"
"Since the word went out that Cyclops was killed."
Nathaniel Essex smiled down at his charge. "Welcome back, Scott," he said warmly.
"Sinister," Scott hissed.
"That's right. What do you remember?"
"There's was an FOH SOB firebombing a school. I stopped him. Then, it gets fuzzy."
"You were shot in the back of the head by the US government. At least that's what the papers say. However, what they killed was your clone. They'll never know the difference."
"Why can't I feel Jean?"
"The link to your wife had to be severed. I'm sorry."
"You cannot return to the X-men."
"Then why did you save my life?"
"Because you are too valuable to lose. If things continue to spiral out of control as they have, my plans will be jeopardized. I have an offer for you."
"Oh?" Scott raised a brow over his visor. Sinister smiled.
"I have a spy. He gives me information in exchange for medical services. I have a group of mutants here. Mercenaries. Train them into a team. I will give you revenge. We can stop this before it gets any further out of hand."
Scott considered. "I could go back to Westchester."
"No, you cannot. If you return to Westchester, you will draw the attention of the very authorities you've been attempting to avoid. They will take the school and destroy or co-opt all of the children you've been attempting to save. Stay here with me and we will do what Charles Xavier has always feared. We will win the war."
Scott considered that. "I need time to make up my mind."
"Take all the time you need. However, you will need to remain in bed. You were clinically dead. Your heart needs to rest."
Scott shook his head. "I should have known there was a catch."
"Belladonna Boudreaux-LeBeau, meet Roe."
"A pleasure to meet you, ma'am," the twelve year old said politely.
"A pleasure. So you are our new apprentice?"
"Let me show you around Crow's Bluff."
"Watch out, Lightening. Don't believe anything she tells you about me."
"Come on, Sweetie. I'll teach you everything I know about manipulating Remy."
"Great." Gambit laughed to himself. Belle led Roe into the newly built city of Crow's Bluff. "Singing Wolf," Remy called with a come-here gesture.
"How, White Man," the Chicago born Cherokee teased. "What's up?"
"See that new kid there?"
"She's our new daughter. Watch over her?"
"Hmm. How much you paying?"
"Mercenary asshole." Remy shook his head. "Should never have saved y'r sorry ass. Y' get y'r normal plus overtime if we need you for more than ten hours a day. Of course, if anythin' happens to the petite, I ain't gonna keep Nightshade away from y'."
"You drive a hard bargain. But it's better than sitting on my hands with nothing to do until the supply trucks get here. We're setting up the irrigation systems. You sure go all out. And you respect the old lands too. Amazing."
"Y' met Mattie right?"
"Mattie raised Belle and me both some. She's the advisor t' our clans. That femme got a direct line t' the Gods. They don' like us interferin' in things we need t' respect. They don' care much for Sacred Spaces bein' disturbed. And we need all the help we can get, so we don't piss off any gods."
"Smart. So when do I get to meet my new client?"
Remy grinned. "Let's catch up with the femmes and keep them from plottin' t' overthrow the world."
"Thought that was the plan?"
"Don't know about you, boy, but I wanna be in on the ruling class f' once."
Singing Wolf laughed.
"And take off those glasses!" Charles snapped finally. Jean pushed Scott's red shades to the top of her head. Hard shards of green ice stared at the professor. A small tear-drop tattoo now adorned the corner of her left eye.
For a moment, Xavier regretted having broken her link to Scott, but it had merely been giving her false hope. But now, he didn't know the young woman in front of him. Gone was the den mother. In her place sat a field leader. She was still held in high regard by the children. She always had a kind word or hug for them.
It was obvious now that the glasses were more than a tribute to her husband. They were to hide the fact that her smile never reached her eyes. "Logan tells me you've asked him to teach you to fight."
"I'm the leader of this team. If we get in to a situation where my powers are nullified, I want to be able to defend them."
"X-men don't kill."
"I didn't ask him to teach me to kill. But in any case that's pure bullshit, Professor. It's no game out there. It's a war and the enemy has no reason not to kill us. We are called terrorists. My name is now on the top ten most wanted list for being a militant mutant. Get with the program. This is life and death. We don't commit murder. We'll leave that to Mystique. But if we have to kill to survive, I have no problem with it."
"Don't give me the Dream speech. Save it for some new recruit. Storm's missing, presumed dead. Scott is considered dead by everyone except me. Kitty is still recovering from the beating she took at the hands of the FOH. Hank refuses to return to the states. We can't afford any more casualties. Hell, Jubilee knows more about hand to hand than I do. She's teaching classes in it. She's moving down to the boathouse with me to watch over the gardens."
"Fine. Jean, I still think…"
//Forget it, Professor. You've used up your chances with me. Scott is still alive, even if no one else believes it. Even if he isn't, this is me now. Get used to it.//
//Jean…// She blocked him out of her mind and stood. "I'll see you after dinner."
For the first time since his son had died, Charles Xavier wept.
"Jean?" Bobby croaked. This was a Jean Bobby had never seen. She was wearing tight black jeans, combat boots and a leather bodice. Her hair fell over her shoulders. She put on a short leather jacket.
Logan stopped dead. "Jean?"
"I need a change of pace. Where are your keys, Logan?" she asked in the flat voice that had characterized her most of the time since Scott had been killed. Logan held them out to her and she left.
"We follow her right?"
"Damn straight we do. Move it before we lose her."
//I don't want company, boys. I can take care of myself. I'm a pretty remember?//
Bobby winced. Logan snarled. He couldn't move. "Stop bein' a bitch, Jeannie."
Jean let them go as she roared out of the compound. She had an appointment with a few beers and a tattoo artist.
Kitty looked up at the man. "Where's your helmet?"
Magneto smiled. "I don't need it here. Welcome to The Havens."
Kitty managed a weak smile. "My equipment?"
"Has been set up in your room. Charles assured me that you'd be happier with them available."
"Damn skippy." Magneto put a hand on her shoulder and she faded away. "Sorry."
"No, I should have thought."
Kitty shrugged as she became solid again. "It's an instinct reaction. I'm doing better. Cecilia says. . . well, I'll need the crutches for the rest of my life. But I'm away from the assholes who did this. They can't get here right?"
"Correct. You are safe here."
She beamed at him. "Now, let's see about getting you some extra spending cash. Kitty Pryde, hacker extrordinare is here to help with all your financing needs."
"Mama," Rogue began, then stopped. She considered her words. "Mama, I don't think Preacher's cut out for this work. He needs to be with Nightwind or with Xavier. He's not getting it."
"He don't understand that bein' seen is something we want to avoid. He's got it into his head that playin' avenin' angel is going to help out. He's gonna get shot."
"Maybe. But if he does, Lena will heal him. There's no reason to make him stop. He won't say anything about us to anyone. He believes."
"What good will that do if he's dead? They'll be able to identify. . ."
"No, we have no records. Remember? There's no danger. Let him do what he's best at, Rogue. Use his fearlessness as your strength"
"Besides," Preacher said, "I wear Kevlar." He winked at Rogue.
The red-head frowned. She nodded. "Fine. If ya get killed it ain't on my head."
"Jules, I don't need fixing. I'm fine."
"You're a bitch, Jean. You didn't used to be."
"Actually," Bobby said, frowning, "I think the last time I saw you like this you weren't you."
"Meaning I was the Phoenix." Jean gave him a tight smile. "I don't plan on walking into any lasers, Bobby. Don't worry. You're concern is touching, but unnecessary."
"You shut down, Jeannie," Warren said. He placed a hand on her shoulder. "We're just worried that we won't ever get our Red back."
"You buried Red with Slim, War. I'll never be her again. But someone has to be the leader around here. We've lost too many and gained too many to go without one. I'm the principal and the field leader. I have to shut down or I'll overload. I'm fine. I swear it."
"Then explain the tattoo."
Jean smiled. It was oddly feral. "I'm always going to be Summers' Girl. Besides, you're involved with Betsy remember."
Warren's face colored. "I'm not trying to get into your pants. Damn it, Red, I'm scared. You're not the person I know. You're not the leader I know."
"Then I guess we need some time in the Danger Room. So you can all get to know the new me."
Logan snorted. Jean smirked at him. He shook his head. "Lead on, Beautiful. We'll visit Hell together. Meet Scooter fer lunch."
"Amen, Logan," Jean stated. "Hell hath no fury like a woman wronged."
"Scorned," Fixer said idly.
"Oh, no, scorned women are expected to attack. They don't expect widows. I'm going to bring the bastards down. Logan, my office, now."
Warren's brows rose. "Why does he get special consideration?'
"Get your mind out of the gutter, Warren."
"Now, tell me again why I'm takin' our daughter with me?"
"Because you need a reason to be visiting a private school," Belle stated. "Lightening's a good cover for that. Besides, she looks to be a normal. She can go shopping in some of the smaller towns that are getting into the segregation bullshit. The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh, cher?"
"Oui, ma chere. Xavier say why he wants to see Nightwing?"
"Security. He's worried. It's been almost a year since Cyclops was killed. There's been nothing publicized since then. We're all waiting for the other shoe to drop. The Phoenix has been doing pretty well though. Sound her out?"
"We'll see." Remy nodded. "I'll get packed. Don't know how long I'll be there. Might take a few months to get them up to snuff. Never had any problems gettin' into their grounds before."
"Be careful, Rems. Call me often."
"Oui, chere. Y' worry too much, Belle."
"And you don't worry enough. I never thought I'd see Papa dead. I don't want to lose you."
"You won't lose m' chere. Ever. Forever, Belle."
"Forever, Rems. To Hell's gate and back."
Remy leaned forward and kissed his wife gently on the mouth. The beads in her hair clacked together gently. He filled his nose with the scent of her. She flexed her fingers and tangled them into his hair, holding him tightly into the kiss.
Magneto considered Shadowcat's grin. She'd faded piece by piece to make him laugh. "You are quite frightening at times, child."
"Just call me Cheshire." She grew solid again. "So what do you think? Can I deliver or can I deliver."
"You are amazing, child. I've not had a chess game that good since I last played with Charles."
"So," Juliet said, snuggling close to Bobby's side. "Do you think Jean and Logan are really sleeping together?"
Bobby sighed. "I wish they were. It would mean that she wasn't the badass mama she seems to be. You have to understand, Jean was never like this. Never. I mean she's always been a bitch, but not like this. She wasn't callous. She wasn't cold. I don't know what's happened to her. I just can't wrap my head around it. I didn't even know she owned a piece of leather until Scott died. And the tattoos. Christ. It's like she's taken all of Scott and Logan's bad attributes and put them together to become this ice queen."
"Tell me more about Scott. I never saw him as the crusader type."
Bobby laughed. "Scott was and will always be the head and heart of the Xmen. If Scott hadn't been who he was, we wouldn't have done half as much as we have. He came off the streets. His adoptive-asshole of a father sent him onto the streets to hustle. He was a pool shark and worse when he came to Xavier's. And he was so brittle that you were afraid to do anything around him. He'd snap at you in a heartbeat and then shy away like you were going to hit him. But he always had this little wistful look when someone laughed. It was like he didn't know what it was like to be happy. When Jean showed up they sparked off of each other like a match and scratcher. You never knew if they were friends or enemies at any given time. And she used to play Warren and Scott off of one another. Scott grew a lot in that time. He stopped being afraid of his power, of his beliefs, of his plans. He became a good leader, an excellent teacher. Jean's death threw him for a loop. Then, when she came back, he came back. She played Logan off of Scott and Scott off of Logan, but we all knew that they were made for each other. So when I say Jean took the worst of him, I meant it. She's brittle and scared at the same time. And I just don't know how to reach her. She's lost her happy place and I can't bring it back for her."
"That's not your responsibility."
"Yes it is. I'm appointed morale officer and assistant deamon of joyfulness. I make people smile."
"Demon of happiness?" Juliet giggled. "Why demon?"
"Because anyone too happy has to be evil." Bobby grinned. "Scott came up with the title and I've had it ever since."
"And did he title himself?"
"Oh, everyone knows that Scott is the son of Satan." Bobby waved it aside. "That's why he put us all through Hell."
"Tooth, what has been goin' on in your head?" Rogue demanded. "You were supposed to take out the guard quietly, not raze the compound."
Sabretooth grinned at the girl he considered his daughter. "Don't worry, Darlin'. It worked out for the best."
"But survivors spread the word. That's what puts the terror in terrorist." Rogue threw her hands up at Sabretooth's grin. "Forget it, sugah. I give up. Sammy, come on, we got a base ta find."
The woman who answered the door stared at Remy and Roe for a long moment. "Can I help you?"
"I have an appointment with Charles Xavier."
The red-head nodded. "This way."
Remy took stock of the woman in front of them. Her hair was cut in a chin-length bob with no bangs. She wore a pair of red-lensed sunglasses that hid the color of her eyes. A white scar ran along the edge of her jaw on the left. She was a trained fighter to judge by her movements and muscles. She wore a black leather vest over a black long-sleeved blouse and a long black skirt that brushed across the top of black leather combat boots. The sharp raps of her heels could be heard faintly over the patter of scrambling sneakers and laughter.
"Here." She opened the professor's door. She turned to leave.
"Moment. What is your name?"
"A pleasure, Madam." Remy offered her a hand wanting to get a better read on her. She took it and smiled faintly. She seemed more brittle than anything at that moment, but her most basic feel was stubborn belief. Belle would love her. Remy dropped a gallant kiss on the back of her hand. A flash of humor made Jean drop a curtsey. Roe laughed at them both.
"Mr. LeBeau?" Xavier said.
"Boudreaux-LeBeau, sil vous plait." Xavier raised a brow. The young man was completely unreadable and his younger companion was no better. Jean closed the door and left them.
"My apologies. I thought only your wife used both names. The government is desperate to find the two of you guilty of something."
"And your point would be? If they had any evidence against us we would already be dead, but they haven't got a thing. Mystique indicated you were looking for a broker?"
"She recommended you. I was surprised to see your companion. I was unaware that Storm had a daughter?"
"Storm? Oh, one of your X-men? She may well have. I found Roe in Illinois." Roe sat primly in the second visitor's chair, despite the fact that she wore jeans and sneakers. She watched the professor with painfully familiar blue cat eyes. Her long white hair was in a mass of tiny braids with red, green, and black beads at the ends.
Her "father" wore green jeans and a black tee-shirt with a red vest under a fairly ragged brown duster. Xavier wasn't quite sure what to make of them. This child had gotten Jean to truly smile, however briefly, for the first time since Scott's execution.
"Interesting. As you know, large organizations require more than simply working capital. We also need time, space, and intelligence."
"Oui." The young man pushed his dark glasses to the top of his head, holding back his tumble of auburn bangs. Red on black eyes seemed to glow as they studied the professor.
The band on the boy's arm declared that he was a gamma, and his companion an alpha. It was a dangerous game to play. LeBeau was listed as an alpha. "Let us speak plainly, Docteur. What are you looking for?"
"Your unique talents for making the impossible come to pass, for getting information, and for providing security."
Remy nodded. "Our services aren't free. We have our own people to care for. You understand."
"I estimate we'll require a few months of your time. Your… daughter is more than welcome to attend classes here." The red eyes narrowed and the boy canted his head to the side. Xavier realized his hesitation had been ill-timed.
"Was that meant to be an insult, sir?"
Roe steepled her fingers. "Do you have a botany class? Or a garden? For classes, I could easily return to Crow's Bluff," she informed him.
"We have a large garden and a greenhouse. Most of the students take turns in caring for the plants. We also have a plant biology seminar."
"We will discuss the options with your mother," Remy told her.
"Mama never wants me away from one of you or that bodyguard."
"I thought you got along well with Singing Wolf." She rolled her eyes.
"He's so conservative. You'd never guess he's only twenty-three."
"Or that all the girls have a crush on him? Your mother worries about your safety. So do I. Or did you like the Shadow King and his pets?" She pursed her lips.
"You've made your point. But you would think I'm royalty the way you two carry on."
"You are." Remy squeezed her hand. Roe smiled at him. "Let me speak with my wife."
"Of course. Do you have a room in town?"
The young man sighed. "Non. There's only t'ree places that rent t' mutants. We haven't checked them."
"You are welcome to stay in Ororo's old quarters with Jean and Jubilee. I'll have Jean show you to a room."
"Chere, c'est moi."
"Hello, Remy," Belle answered. She put her feet up on her desk. "How is Lightening?"
"She's okay. They've got a garden here."
"Are we taking the contract?"
"What's the road block?"
"Xavier's under a lot of scrutiny."
"But he has a team. And if we convince them to take care of some things, we can divert suspicion."
"Make the enemy fight on the wrong front? Oui, that could work. I'll do their security at the very least. Are you coming out?"
"I'll be there as soon as the taxes are paid."
"I'll be waiting. There's a girl here…"
"Remy," Belle purred, "what exactly are you thinking?"
"That I've found us the partner to go with the apprentice."
"You remember that conversation?" Belle laughed. "What's she like?"
"About your height, red-hair, great curves, an attitude, and a thirst for revenge, cleverly hidden as depression and business. She's ready for some training."
"What's she like in bed?"
"It's only been four hours, chere," Remy laughed.
"Must be a tough one to crack."
"It usually doesn't take you that long to get a woman to open up."
"She's married. Her husband is missing. She's the only one that believes he's still alive. No one will talk about him. They won't even say his name. There aren't any pictures either. I think it's deliberate."
"But you hate mysteries. So?"
"Give me some time. I'll be waiting."
"I'll see you, Husband."
"I love you, Belle."
"I love you to, Remy. Give my love to Roe."
"Next we hang up the phone."
"That's the next step."
"I miss you."
"I'll light a candle for you."
Belle smiled. "Watch your back, Honey."
"Goodbye, Sweetheart." She hung up first this time.
"Saints protect him, please," she murmured softly.
"Skipper, we've got trouble. One of our ships is being boarded by the US."
"We have nothing to hide."
"Except a weapons shipment."
"There's nothing illegal in the papers at all. There's no embargos on our territory. And there's a merchant here who has purchased them wholesale. They don't dare do anything so long as the paperwork is in order. They're looking for drugs."
"They might be there."
"Let them look. They won't find anything. The companies wouldn't dare cross me. There's much more money available if they do not and they know it."
"I've met with each of them. They know that if they cross us, they won't make it to the next week."
Lee shook her head. "I didn't think you were that violent of a man."
"Oh, I'm that and much more, my dear. Much more."