Winter 2006 - Grenville, NM, USA

Contrary to everything he trained for, Remy entered this house through the front door. Only fools tried to break into Kestrel's house. Only pieces of those fools left after the attempt.

"It's Gambit," he told the intercom. "I'm here alone."

"You people are never alone."

"I don't work for Department K any more. They fucked me over, same as you."

"Gambit." Kestrel made a considering sound. "The way I heard it, you bent over and lubed your ass with honey for them."

"I was nineteen and in love. Nothing makes a man stupider."

The door clicked open. Taking a deep breath for courage, Remy entered. The house was deceptively homey with gleaming linoleum and lemon-oiled wicker. Every light fixture held a camera instead. Three of them tracked his movement down the hall.

"Kestrel? Where you at?"

A small object flew from the stair. Remy twisted to one side, drawing out his bo with one hand and charging a trey of cards with the other. The object bounced off the wall and landed at his knee. It was a bullet. A big old bullet.

"That's a copper-jacketed .45 ACP hot-load with a depleted uranium core swimming in mercury. It leaves an exit wound the size of a deep-dish chicken pot pie, and the next one will be considerably faster." Kestrel descended the stairs.

"I just want information."

"Dial 411."

"Information that'll help take certain members of the Weapon X team down."

Kestrel passed at that. "You have five minutes to talk and leave. After that, I throw your body out. You got some nerve coming here with that leash in your head."

"I'm here about the microchip. I been everywhere, asked anyone worth asking and they say you can't get it out without a lot of brain damage."

"Boy, you were brain damaged to begin with accepting a deal with Striker. I don't know what you're worried about."

"Fuck you. You volunteered before me."

"And this is my reward." He spread his arms wide. "I own forty acres of landmines and cameras. I live in a booby trap. I grow my own fucking food and slaughter my own goddamned pigs. And I still feel like they can track me down any day. Especially that fucker, Sabretooth. They broke the psycho mould with him."

Remy gulped down his bile.

***

Summer 1996 - Alkali Lake, AB, Canada

"You think you can stop me?" Sabreooth roared. The glow of kinetic energy demonized his face even more. "You're nothing, frail! You're a fucking afterthought."

Remy charged the metal bars. He tried to ignore the stickiness between his fingers. He had a lot of material to charge.

"When I heal, I'm going to find you, swamp rat. I'm going to find you and I'm going to tear you to pieces, one square inch at a time."

With the grate charged, Remy kneeled and started to charge the ground. Sabretooth writhed on his rack.

"You're going to wish for death, LeBeau. You're going to regret getting that healing factor 'cause it means I get to play with your guts while you're still awake and screaming."

A six-foot radius around Sabretooth throbbed with energy. Remy didn't want to see his handiwork explode. Scooping the baby up from his hidey-hole, he ran out of that frozen hellhole.

***

Winter 2006 - Grenville, NM, USA

Remy gulped down his bile. "Eh byen, if you can't tell me how to get rid of it, tell me how to keep Striker and Department K away."

"Department K never goes away. It becomes Department L then M then N and when they get to Z, they'll rename it. You get away when you're dead, plain and simple. That's why I've got this set up and why you've got two minutes left. As for Striker, you're about a year and a half too late. He's dead."

"What?"

Kestrel shrugged. "Nothing confirmed on paper but someone got real pissed off at the ruins in Alkali Lake and burst the damn all over it. My sources say Striker was still doing experiments in the basement and he got trapped there when the water came."

"Fuck." Remy hit the nearest wall. "So what do I do about this damn microchip?"

A pistol appeared in Ketrel's hand. "I could always shoot it out."

Remy could have withered a tree with his glare. "You could try. How'd you get yours out?"

Now the other man almost smiled. "I knew a living, breathing magnet. Try your luck with him."

"And throw myself into more politics? No thanks."

"Then you live the rest of your life with Department K on your ass."

Damn Striker. Even dead the bastard had him by the balls.

***

Spring 1996 - Hillsview, SD, USA

"You backing out of the contract, Striker?"

The sonuvabitch had the smug to grin at him around his cigar. "The contract was to bring Wolverine in. I don't see Wolverine around."

"This was a fucking one-off," said Remy. "I help with that mission, you pay with healing factor. Ain't my fault your boys couldn't bring him down. Maybe you shoulda pumped them up with something besides healing factor and adamantium."

That caught Striker's attention. He hid it well. Stiff cloth in military uniforms helped disguise the minute twitches signaling surprise, discomfort and anger. After all of that, all you had to do was steady your face. "I should've known the Guilds would latch onto the myth of adamantium. You people want to profit at everything, don't you?"

"Ain't a myth if I got proof." With a snap of his fingers, Remy brought up a three-inch floppy disc. "What you think I could do with a block of adamantium ain't nothing next to information. Welcome to the digital age, Lieutenant General Striker."

"You have nothing."

"I have blueprints to two smelting plants in Canada, a security feed of a highly suspicious holding cell and a weapons deal with Afghanistan."

"All in one floppy?"

"Apparently, there's something you can download off the world wide web called a compression program. You put information in, it mashes it into a zip file, and you save it here." Remy waved his disc again. "Funny thing-- for all this advanced technology, you ain't heard of it? Maybe you on the wrong side of the Pentagon's R&D."

"And what's to stop me from killing you for this information?"

Remy felt the nozzle of a gun at the base of his neck. The safety clicked off.

"I warmed it for you," said Deadpool. "I know how you love being next to hot bodies."

"I'm going to send your head back to New Orleans and demand a better Thief," said Striker. "One that doesn't blow half the city to hell and let the target get away."

"Only if you can convince your boss to open up his wallet again," Remy said, "so I guess you're gonna have to practice some deep throat action--argh!."

Deadpool stepped on the finger he'd sliced off Remy's left hand. "That's disrespectful. Do you have any idea the horrors our brave military men go through to protect truth, justice and the American way? Why, every time you burn an American flag, a sergeant looses his wingtips."

"Fuck. You."

"Not without a promise ring. I'm positive you're teeming with STD's and I'm not that kind of guy."

Striker stood. "Enough. Every minute we waste, Wolverine gets away. Fix this problem so we can move to the next plan."

Remy bared his teeth. "Is that the plan where you suck my horse di--"

A gun cracked. But he wasn't dead.

***

Winter 2006 - Salem City, NY, USA

He received the call somewhere on Interstate 44 through Missouri.

"Etienne's been kidnapped. He was taken along with three of his classmates and Rogue while they were on a field trip." Ororo's calmness had nearly made him snap. "I'm very confident of Rogue's ability to protect the children but the kidnapper named you. I'm enroute in Blackbird right now; give me your exact location."

Something in the tone of her voice told him she was holding back. "You know the kidnapper."

Ororo was painfully silent.

"Who was it?"

"I'll tell you once you're on the jet."

"You tell me now." He took a breath, let it out, and tried again without raising his voice. "Please. Tell me now."

"It's Sabretooth."

So now he sat in the jet, so goddamn scared for his boy he could throw up but knowing he had to stay calm. No one ever beat Sabretooth in a panic; he thrived on it. Probably got stronger with every pissed pair of shorts.

Logan looked over his shoulder at him. "I won't let Creed hurt him."

"You sure won't. 'Cause I'm the one gonna be talking to him."

"We went over this. It's too dangerous for you."

"He asked for me," said Remy. "He has my son and he asked for me to do the deal. If he asked me poke burning toothpicks into my eyes, I'd do it if it meant he'd let Etienne go."

"You know as well as I do that Sabretooth doesn't work like that. He'll toy with you then do what he wants anyway."

He was right. Dammit, he was right. "I don't got a choice."

***

Summer 1996 - Alkali Lake, AB, Canada

Things were going well until they reached ground level. Slim tripped to a stop as military types poured out of Jeeps and portables. "This is... this is a government facility?" He sounded like a kicked puppy.

Remy couldn't find any sympathy for the younger boy's delusions. "Make you want to salute, don't it?"

A group of soldiers noticed them and began to signal more of their buddies over. Shakily, Slim took a steadier position on the ground. "You should go."

"Wha-- you messed in the head, boy?"

"I can keep them away," he said, tapping his glasses. "You need to keep the baby safe."

"But there's at least a hundred--"

"I can take care of a hundred as long as there's sun out." He lifted his face up to the weak spring light. "Besides you need your hands to use your powers. You should just run."

Remy saw there was no arguing with him. Whispering, "Fuck it," he left. The baby wailed into his chest, frightened by the chaos. Escaped mutants poured out of the building, too, confused and enraged. The soldiers made good targets for that anger.

He got as far as the compound's outer wall before Sabretooth caught up. "You really want to die, don't you, swamp rat?"

"We lost. Get over it."

"You lost it for us. I'm here to make sure you don't go for a third time." He bared his claws.

Remy did not have the time for this. He didn't even have his hands free. The baby reached for his face. All around them, more cement and steel fell.

Sabretooth stretched his lips out in what should have been a smile. "Aww, did you bring me a snack, swamp rat?"

Remy jumped out of the way of a cement chunk. It exploded into sand when it contacted the ground. He looked up. More debris was due to fall. This was just about the worst place to stand if you didn't want death by impalement.

Then again...

Remy circled around. "You gonna lip at me all day or actually get the balls to fight?"

Sabretooth charged. Remy threw up a handful of charged sand. They hit Sabretooths' face, as damaging as sparklers but his distraction gave Remy enough time to throw five cards up at a rack of steel bars hanging by a twisted pipe. The explosion sent it plunging down, too fast for Sabretooth to escape. Ten-foot bars stabbed him in three places on his back, pinning him to the ground. Remy put the baby down in a safe place and jumped on the bars to make sure he'd stay put. Snarling, Sabretooth tried to grab him but the bars were too effective a prison.

"You think you can stop me?" Sabretooth roared. The glow of kinetic energy demonized his face even more. "You're nothing, frail! You're a fucking afterthought."

Remy charged the metal bars. He tried to ignore the stickiness between his fingers. He had a lot of material to charge.

***

Winter 2006 - Reno, NV, USA

Funny thing about people: they very rarely looked up. Even in the dazzling light shows on every building in Reno, no one took notice of the rooftop of the Circus-Circus. One figure stood on the corner of the ledge, the wind snapping his coat around his legs. In each outstretched hand, he held a rope, twenty feet long, pulled taught by the weight of the person on each end.

Remy approached Sabretooth cautiously. "I'm here. Where's Etienne?"

Sabretooth stared over Remy's shoulder where the X-Men fanned out in ready position. "I don't remember saying you could bring friends."

"They're here for Rogue and the other students."

"Tsk, tsk, tsk. That wasn't part of the plan."

"What's the plan?"

Grinning, Sabretooth asked, "You know what I like about casinos? They turn everything into a game. A shiny, noisy game. Like gambling. Anyone will tell you gambling is about the odds. Right now, for example, you've got fifty-fifty odds that your bratty little sniveler is at the end of this rope." He yanked the rope up and down. Etienne's terrified wails traveled up the building.

Stomach clenched, Remy took a step forward.

"Hey, I didn't say anything about moving."

"Goddamn you, give me back my boy!"

"I told you, swamp rat. I told you I'd find you and tear you to pieces. One fucking organ at a time." His snarl roughened every word. "Do you know how long it took me to heal? I had to grow everything from scraps and if it didn't grow right, I had to tear it out again myself to start all over. You know what breaking your own fucking leg fifteen times does to a man? For starters, it makes him even more pissed off."

"So hurt me already," Remy shouted. "You want to tear me apart, just do it! You got me here. You don't need hostages."

But Sabretooth only shook his head and widened his grin. "That's too easy. You only got enough healing factor to come back from the dead; you weren't born with it so you can't heal over and over again. I'd give you two hours of torture, three if I get real creative, but that's not nearly enough. No, I figure, I want to kill your soul first." He wiggled the ropes. "Say hi to your daddy, frail!"

"Jesus."

"No, just me. But you can kneel all the same."

Ororo spoke up. "Where are Rogue and the other children?"

"Oh, around," said Sabretooth. "One of them got lippy so I had to beat some manners into her. You ought to do something about that. I guess with Wolverine as one of their teachers, they couldn't help but be... annoying. Heya there, Jimmy. I just realized I got the jackpot here. Guess who's behind door number two." He shook the rope on his right hand.

Rogue shrieked expletives unworthy of a teacher, and an English teacher at that.

"Awfully sweet young meat. Thanks for tenderizing her for me. She screams real pretty."

"You fucking son of a bitch." Logan started to run but Remy held his arm out.

"Don't!"

Sabretooth laughed. "Listen to the swamp rat, Jimmy. I've been standing here a long time. My arms are tired and who knows what could happen if I get surprised. I could get sweaty."

"What do you want?" Remy demanded. "Tell me what you fucking want from me."

Sabretooth dipped his chin. "Come closer. And no tricks or I let go."

"Don't play his game," said Logan.

"Shut up," said Remy. He walked closer.

Purring in approval, Sabretooth said, "Now kneel."

He dropped to his knees. In a flash, Sabretooth kicked out and connected with Remy's jaw. Blood spurted in his mouth and he swore he heard something in his neck click. He fell on his elbows. Straightened back up on his haunches.

Sabretooth chuckled. "That's good. That's real good. You learn fast." He lashed out again.

This time his boot whacked the side of Remy's face, sending him sprawling on the ground. His head bounced off the concrete with a sick, hollow thud. He could barely breathe. The world tilted at wrong angles. But his got up and kneeled once more at Sabretooth's feet.

"You're making this too easy."

Remy wanted to talk back but his jaw didn't feel like it was in the right position. So he just glared. The flare of his red eyes could speak volumes.

"If you're going to make it boring, I guess I can just skip to the fun part," said Sabretooth. "You want your kid? You have to go through me to catch him."

Catch him.

Remy was on his feet, running, to hell with the tilt of the world, but Sabretooth had already let go. Etienne's screams ripped through his stomach. No, that was Sabretooth's claws, shredding Kevlar and leather as Remy leapt past him, arms outstretched, leaving his vulnerable torso wide open. Etienne's face was white against the dark streets and the neon lights, the rope an arabesque surrounding him. To his left was Rogue in perfect dive position, her arms and legs bound just like Etienne. Remy reached and reached and reached...

The rope tore his hands but Remy clung tight. There, to his four o'clock, the fluorescent orange finger of the billboard clown. He jerked his body back, hooking his legs around outcropping. He saw Etienne curl back and swing forward, catching Rogue in his locked arms. Good boy. She swung, too, trying to keep herself from turning into a deadweight. The billboard's steel frame cut into his legs. The weight of two bodies popped his shoulders out of joint. Blood in his hands slicked the rope dark and the blood from his abdomen trickled into his eyes. Remy clung tight until Ororo floated beside him with Etienne whole and safe in her arms.

"Papa!" Etienne held his arms out for him.

Remy found his own arms were much too heavy to move. Instead he smiled. "Hey, ti'Yen."

"Papa, we're going to save you--"

"Ah, but you done that a long time ago."

"-- Ms. Psylocke's just gonna climb down now--"

"I love you, boy."

"--here she come, Papa."

Remy let go.

***

Winter 2006 - Salem City, NY, USA

Rogue had held Etienne many times through his nightly headaches but she'd never seen him an inconsolable as this. The headache started when they strapped an oxygen mask on Remy. It worsened when, no matter how hard he called out, Remy didn't wake. Now the poor child was locked in fetal position in medbay, hanks of hair in his hands, unable to move such was his agony.

"Can you give him a shot of something?" Rogue demanded of Ororo.

"I've given him a full adult dose of sedatives and it hasn't worked. I'm afraid to give him any more."

Rogue pulled the boy into her lap. "It's me, Etienne, it's Ms. Rogue. Your daddy's going to be fine now. The doctors are with him."

Etienne shook his head. "Muh-muh-muh--"

"Shhh, shhh, don't try to talk."

"Muh-my f-f-f-- my fuh-fault--"

"Oh, no, honey. No, sugar, this isn't your fault. You should never, ever believe that."

He managed a couple deeper breaths. "I w-w-went off--"

"And I followed you. Heck, it was my idea to have a fieldtrip. Does that make it my fault? Of course not." Rogue patted down his tangled brown hair. "Is your headache better?"

He wagged his head then, suddenly, made a gagging noise. "It's poking through my eyes!"

"Shhh, shhh, I've got you. I won't let it poke through your eyes." She embraced him tighter.

"Want Papa." His whimpering escalated and then he was screaming again, nearly convulsing in pain.

"Your papa wants you, too. He's going to get better because he's got you to live for. He promised, right? He promised he'd come back and never leave you alone. Etienne, honey, your papa loves you so much."

The boy gasped, his head thrown back. Twin bolts of red punched a hole through the basement, the main floor, the dormitories and out the attic of Xavier's School for the Gifted.

~fin~