Remy LeBeau took a deep breath as he pushed open the heavy double doors that led to the Guild council room. He was late for a session that he couldn't afford to be late to, but the Blackbird had only touched down thirty-five minutes earlier. Cyclops would chew him out later for skipping the team debriefing, but that was a minor inconvenience. The eighteen men seated around the polished oak table who looked up at his abrupt entrance were his main concern today.
No one spoke, but their gazes tracked him with expressions varying from mild reproach to downright hostility as he crossed the room. Remy nodded to his father in silent greeting as he took the seat that waited for him.
"I apologize f' my lateness," he told the man at the head of the table with all sincerity. Had it been up to him, they would have been back hours earlier. Unfortunately, he couldn't tell the X-Men that he needed to be back in New York to take care of some thief business, so he'd been forced to wait until Cyke was ready to go home.
The man seated at the head of the table nodded, his expression neutral. His name was Malcolm Lotho, and he was Guildmaster of the Chicago Thieves Guild. He was a distinguished man in his early sixties, with a mane of silvered hair that only added to his mantle of authority. He was the most senior of the Guildmasters, with the exception of Jean Luc LeBeau, and had held the combined reins of the American guilds since Remy was a child.
Remy scanned the table. All of the other Guildmasters were there, as they were required to be. There were eight total. Michael Tyre had been the ninth, and they represented each of the nine American guilds. Of the others in the room, Remy and one other also held Master status. The other eight men around the table were representatives from the New York Guild. None had yet earned their Master's mark, but they were well respected in the Guild, and in the interval since Michael's death they had been working together to govern the New York thieves.
Remy stretched his long legs under the table, wishing desperately that he could have taken some time to soak before coming to the council. He had only just gone back on active status with the X-Men, and his leg ached from the intense fighting earlier in the day. The wounds Michael had given him had healed as much as they were going to, but even with the help of Shi'ar medical wizardry, Remy was never going to be quite the same.
Guildmaster Lotho cleared his throat. "Now that we are all here, we can begin in earnest." He let his gaze travel around the table, lingering for a moment on each of the men there.
"The New York Guild faces a momentous and difficult choice," he began. "That of electing a Guildmaster to replace Michael Tyre." Lotho stared directly at Remy, who met his gaze without flinching. They had been through all of that already. The council had come within inches of stripping him of his Master's status for endangering the guilds with such a public fight, and, Remy mused, had they done so he couldn't have blamed them. But because Michael had been under investigation by the FBI, and because his greed had so obviously set him on a course that would have exposed his guild to the authorities, it had been agreed that Remy had acted in the best long-term interests of the guilds, despite the danger. Still, it was an embarrassment for the guilds as a whole, and Remy had earned another black mark on his reputation because of it.
After a moment, Lotho's roving gaze moved on. "There are three possible options, as you are all aware." He rapped the table lightly with his knuckles. "One, the council can request that the Guildmaster of another guild relinquish his place in order to take up leadership of the New York Guild."
Remy forced his expression to remain still. That was a highly unusual event, and it surprised him that Lotho would mention it first. To become Guildmaster of any guild required an oath of fealty and service, not only to the guild, but also to the clans as well. There was a unique relationship between a guild and its Guildmaster. The bonds were often as tight as any blood relationship. To ask a Guildmaster to leave his guild, and more, to ask the guild to surrender their patriarch, was no small thing.
Remy saw similar surprise in the faces of the others as Lotho went on. "Two, a Master Thief may be invited to become Guildmaster."
Remy glanced across the table at the only other Master Thief who was not a Guildmaster as well. He thought it highly likely that the New York Guild might ask Shannon to become their new Guildmaster. Remy wouldn't mind that at all. Though he and Shannon had only crossed paths occasionally in the past, he liked the other man. He was a solid thief, capable and level-headed. He might be a bit lacking in ambition, in Remy's opinion, but that was a matter of personal style more than anything else.
Attention around the table had focused on Shannon, and Remy had to force down a stab of bitterness. They certainly weren't going to be looking at him to lead the New York Guild. As unfair as it seemed, Remy figured he was stuck with his rogue's reputation. He broke the rules too often and too loudly to carry that kind of respectability.
Unfortunately, the choices for a Master to take over the guild were slim at that particular point in time. Two Master Thieves had retired in the past couple of years, leaving the ranks thin. That would change, of course, as upcoming thieves challenged for the rank of Master. Remy had been the last to do so, and was the youngest in the guilds' history to ever make Master Thief.
"And three," Lotho continued, "A respected thief from New York can be trained up to the position by another Guildmaster."
That was also a good possibility, Remy thought. Although it took more time, the New York Guild might very well want to be led by one of its own. There were two or three men that Remy thought had the ability to become Masters, and of those, at least one was the kind of man he would choose to lead a guild.
All in all, Remy was comfortable with the choices the New York Guild had before it. Michael could have destroyed them all, but none of the men who stood to inherit his position showed any of the same tendencies. Those who had been Michael's supporters had lost their positions of influence when the guild had learned what their Guildmaster had done.
Lotho paused for a moment, considering the table. "The six months allotted for a guild to choose a new Guildmaster have elapsed, so I must now ask the guild for its choice." Lotho looked over at the group of thieves from New York.
One of the thieves, a man that Remy respected despite their radically different views on many things, slowly stood. His name was Artur Valencia. He spread his fingers on the table top as he turned to Guildmaster Lotho.
"I must admit that this has been a difficult choice, Guildmaster," he said in the soft voice that was his hallmark. He smiled briefly. "In the end, we voted twice—simply because we were surprised by the outcome, I believe."
Lotho raised an eyebrow at that, and Remy saw flickering expressions of concern cross the faces of several of the Guildmasters.
"However, we," Valencia went on, indicating the thieves with him with a wave of one hand, "have become convinced that our choice is that which the guild desires, and the one that will be best for us."
Expectant silence answered him, and Valencia cleared his throat before going on. "The New York Guild chooses to invite Master LeBeau to become Guildmaster and take up leadership of the guild."
Remy nearly choked on his surprise as the eyes of every man in the room snapped to him. He found himself staring at Valencia, dumbfounded, before managing to regain his composure.
The eight men the New York Guild had chosen to lead them through the transition stared back at Remy with firm intent written in their faces. Remy knew them all, had worked with them and around them, but had never counted any but one or two of them as strong political allies against Michael.
Remy stared at Valencia for several moments before voicing the single question that he suspected was on everyone's mind. "Why?"
Valencia favored him with a smile. "There are a number of reasons, of course, and those are privy only to this council." He indicated the men around him. "Suffice it to say that the guild originally chose Master Tyre because the city of New York is a center of influence and of power, and only a man capable of wielding both can protect our guild in such a volatile environment."
Remy digested that statement in silence. He felt like he was standing on the edge of an impossibly tall cliff, debating whether or not to jump. He could refuse the position, if he chose, though he would have to have pretty good reason in order to do so without insulting the New York Guild. The truth was, he simply hadn't ever considered it. Not seriously. The responsibility alone was staggering, and then there was the question of how he would manage things with the X-Men. Even with Bobby running interference for him, he was bound to raise eyebrows and kindle suspicions.
He watched Valencia for a moment more while he tried to contain the chaotic whirl of his thoughts, then glanced at his father. To become Guildmaster of New York, he would have to relinquish his allegiance to the New Orleans Guild. But Jean Luc only nodded, his expression pleased.
Remy pushed his personal considerations away. The true issue was what would be best for the guild, and for the mutants in it. And that, Remy realized, made his choice simple. Michael had sabotaged far too many of Remy's attempts to aid the guild, and had put the people who depended on him at risk too often. As unexpected as it was, the offer to become Guildmaster would give Remy the power to do many of the things that Michael had prevented. Things that, hopefully, would see the mutants of the guild through the difficult times ahead. No one could miss the rising tide of anti-mutant hysteria, or the shifting of political power toward the conservative right. The hints that the Professor had dropped before his leaving, and the disconcerting fact that even Remy could not find where he had been taken after surrendering himself to government custody, made the picture even bleaker than his other sources were indicating.
Trying not to wince at the pain in his leg, Remy stood and faced Valencia. "I'm honored... an' I accept."
Remy had no sooner swung his leg over the seat of his bike than his cell phone rang. The phone was another of those items that he never carried in his guise as an X-Man, like the two pistols and his favorite set of lockpicks.
Remy paused before reaching into his coat for the phone. It was almost midnight, and he wanted nothing more than to go home and sleep for about ten hours, but he had made a policy of always answering if he had the phone turned on.
"LeBeau," he answered curtly, wrapping his coat more tightly about him to ward off the evening chill.
"There's something I think you ought to see." Remy recognized the voice on the other end of the line as one of his sources inside the NYPD. He knew the officer's name, but had agreed never to use it, especially on an unsecured phone.
The man gave him an address on the Lower East Side, which Remy recognized with a sinking feeling in his stomach. "Got it."
The phone went dead with a click. Remy folded it up and put it away, then started his bike.
He spent the ride trying to clear his head from the council meeting. Never—not once—had he seriously considered becoming Guildmaster of any guild. At least, not since he was a sixteen year old boy dreaming of ruling New Orleans. But New York had offered, and almost without hesitation, Remy had accepted. Now, he was feeling the delayed shock of that decision.
Y' really ready t' take responsibility f' t'ree t'ousand people? he asked himself yet again.
Scott Summers would probably have fallen off his chair laughing at the thought of Remy taking responsibility for anyone—including himself, he thought bitterly. With great effort, Remy could usually convince himself that it was fun, in a perverse sense, to completely bamboozle a man like Scott, but real truth was that it rankled. Still, the only thing that allowed Remy to continue his lifestyle uninterrupted by ignorant but well-meaning X-Men was to let them believe he was the rebellious freeloader he appeared to be. The connections he had made while working with the X-Men were invaluable—certainly worth the price of his personal ego—but still, he occasionally wished for the chance to rub their noses in the truth.
The address he had been given was illuminated by the red and blue strobes that were a sure sign of trouble. Remy parked his bike several streets away and began a careful approach to the apartment in question. What he saw alarmed him. There was a jagged hole ripped in the wall of the building's second floor, from which a thin trail of smoke emerged. He didn't see any fire-fighting equipment, nor did he see any sign of water on the building, which led him to believe that the fire must have been small and localized inside somewhere. There was little rubble on the ground beneath the hole, indicating that something had punched through the wall rather than that it had been blown out from the inside.
He crept close enough to listen in on the conversations of the police and ME's as they went in and out of the building. The only thing of real interest that he overheard was that the man who lived there was most definitely dead. That didn't surprise him, but it did bother him. Remy always felt a pang when someone who worked for him was killed. This looked like it was mutant-related, too, which meant that it was more than likely because of the job Remy had hired him to do.
Remy was forced to wait another two hours before the investigators finished up and went home for the night, leaving a pair of patrolmen on watch out on the street. Remy ignored them as he worked his way inside the building from the back. The highly sophisticated security system on the upstairs apartment had been disarmed, whether by the fire or some other action, Remy couldn't guess.
Remy crouched just inside the door of the apartment, allowing it to swing slowly shut behind him. The man who had lived there was one of the best hackers Remy knew. He was one of the first of the second generation of computer anarchists. His father had been a student radical back in the Berkeley days, and he had been immersed in the culture since he was a kid. Remy had come to him out of sheer desperation, in the hopes that he was good enough to penetrate the layers of protection surrounding a company named Draxar.
The question now was what had he found that had gotten him killed?
The apartment was a mess. Burn lines from laser fire crisscrossed the walls, continuing uninterrupted through bookcases, computer equipment and furniture. Each of the many monitor screens in the room was shattered, and gave Remy an obvious source for the thin smoke. The destruction was widespread, making Remy think that whoever had done this had been there to destroy rather than steal information.
He avoided the living room area with its piles of mangled computer equipment and instead headed for the back. Everything important was kept under the bathroom sink, and Remy had high hopes that whoever had done this had only hit the obvious targets.
He breathed a silent sigh of relief to discover that the small safe hidden beneath the cabinet was still intact, its face hidden by a haphazard pile of shaving cream cans, toilet paper and band aids. Despite his skill, it took Remy until dawn to get the safe open. He didn't bother to examine its contents, but simply scooped up the collection of disks and CD's and dumped them into a secure pocket inside his coat.
He ducked out of the apartment as quickly as possible, then made his way back to where he had left his bike. The sun was already peeking over the roofs of the building. As Remy drove down the street past the wrecked apartment, he saw the first shift of police investigators arriving, coffee and bagels in hand.
His stomach growled in protest, and Remy muttered a string of curses under his breath. Not only was he exhausted, sore and hungry, but the soon-to-be Guildmaster was also going to be late for the X-Men's morning training session.
"Where have you been?" Scott Summers demanded as soon as Remy entered the Danger Room.
"Out," he snapped in return and telescoped his bo staff to its full length. "Y' got a problem wit' dat?"
The other X-Men watched them warily, well-familiar with the sparks that flew whenever the two were in a room together. In the Professor's absence, it had only gotten worse as Cyclops grew more and more burdened by the responsibility of directing the X-Men alone. Remy was only just beginning to appreciate how much the Professor had shielded him from the keen eyes of the most senior X-Man, and he sometime regretted making Cyclops' job that much harder.
Of course, that was usually about the point at which he pushed Scott too far and found himself subjected to one of the man's self-righteous speeches about honor, respect and responsibility, which sapped his regret right on the spot.
Scott only glared at him this time, however, and Remy sent a silent thanks to the saints for the reprieve as he took his place.
"Hold just a moment if you will, Cyclops," Hank called to Scott, and then hopped down from his perch atop a simulated rock outcropping. He approached Remy slowly, his expression thoughtful. Scott turned to watch.
"Remy, how are you feeling?"
Remy kept his poker face in place by an effort of will. He'd been afraid of this. "Tired an' sore, miseur Bete," he tried to put as much flippancy into the words as he could manage, "but it's been a long night, neh?"
"Apparently for you." Hank cocked his head with a small smile. "I would think that a man your age would have developed the sense not to stay out all night..." He trailed off when Remy refused to rise to his bait.
"Ah well. But I do think you should reconsider joining us for this session." He lowered his voice to encompass just the two of them. "You're running pretty close to your limits already."
"Got t' push de limits if I wan' t' move dem, Hank," Remy answered in the same low tone.
Hank pursed his lips for a moment, but then nodded acquiescence. "It's your choice."
Remy watched the blue furred doctor thoughtfully as he climbed back to his place. They had reached a kind of understanding during the past six months, as Remy had struggled with the realities of the physical damage he'd suffered. There had been a time back at the beginning when Hank had had to present him with the possibility that he would lose his leg completely because of the damage Michael's exoskeleton had caused. And even though that possibility had never come to pass, Hank had been a rock steady presence then, and also through the first stages of rehab when frustration with his own weakness and despair of ever regaining his strength had threatened to drag Remy down into black depression.
Bobby watched the exchange from a short distance away, his face set in the grim lines that Remy recognized. He considered himself responsible for Remy's injuries. To a large degree, he was. But still, Remy had made his own choices that day, too. Given the chance to do it over again, he doubted that he would choose any differently.
The scenario began at Cyclops' command, and Remy's gut tightened. Predictably, it was an exact replay of what had happened the day before. It was Scott's usual practice to go back through every mission scenario, which was one of the things that Remy secretly appreciated about the man. Scott could have simply pointed out the errors made by his team during any particular encounter and then waved his hands at them and said "Go do it right next time". But instead, he would take them through the events over and over again, if necessary, until everyone was satisfied that they knew how to do it right when the next opportunity arose.
The bad part was, Remy wasn't entirely certain he was going to be able to keep up.