Fri, 23 Jun 2000
Ascian mondream@gowebway.com
[Gambit/Marrow] Hearts of Fire

Note: This is a sequel to 'The Longest Night' (available at www.wolverineandjubilee.com/ascian.htm), but you don't have to read the first story to understand this one. More adventure, here. And no, this is not a romantic story, no matter what the title might lead you to believe (although X-Men #98 is giving me some ideas). If you don't like Nice Marrow (as opposed to the Marrow that usually acts like a Mean, Scary Troll), then this story may not be for you. But come on--it's not like I have her skipping around in blue gingham with a big smile plastered on her face, singing about bluebirds and rainbows or anything like that. At least, not in this story. Also, I know next to nothing about New Orleans--please forgive me for my rather vague descriptions, as well as the rambling story line, which may or may not work. This is rated PG-13 for some rather naughty language.

Many, many thanks to the lovely Grym, who gave me incredible advice and encouragement.

Summary: Marrow and Gambit do a job for the Guild. The cost? Their lives.

Disclaimer: Everyone but the blond girl belongs to Marvel. Daisy, my white, fluffy, oh-so-cute poodle, is also a very hungry petite canine. She already likes to nibble on my fingers--with some proper training, she would probably do much, much more than that. Sue me or steal my characters, and you'll find out just how much more.

On that note, feedback would be greatly appreciated. ;-)


Hearts of Fire

Ascian

 

You cannot put a
Fire out--
A Thing that can ignite
Can go, itself, without a
Fan--
Upon the slowest
Night--
~Emily Dickinson

The night was burning--in the street, against the humid slick walls, reflected in faces and dark eyes--the air was on fire. And no one seemed to feel it but her.

Marrow leaned back in her chair, and wiped sweat from her brow. She watched the gathered crowds milling for the street concert that had been publicly advertised for the past three days. Big name bands--Sirus, the Ripper Dogs--and smaller, more local groups. Jazz and metal, gathered for one night only. Soul and blood, on the street.

Her glass of ice tea dripped water on her leg as she took a drink, and she slowly drew the cool bead across her skin, spreading the chill as far as it would go. Hot--the air smothered her, invading her lungs until every breath felt wet and burdensome.

She wiped more sweat away, fingers rolling over the curving bones of her upper forehead. The bases of them itched. She felt the bulge of the image inducer belted to her waist, and she glanced down. Red light on, illusion still a go. Not that she cared. Oh, no. She was doing this for Gambit--who, admittedly, didn't care either. But this was work, another favor for his father ("Mon pere", Gambit had said. "Dis a vacation. Y'know de meanin' o' de word?"), and now was not the time to be noticed. Even she could agree with that. Although, she could think of better things to do.

Like eat dinner. In an air-conditioned restaurant.

Her stomach growled noisily, and Marrow sighed. The crowd before her pulsed, faces flashing in shadow and streetlight, skin glistening with sweat. Teeth bare, eyes glittering. So many people--too many.

She glanced at her watch. Eight o'clock. The concert would be starting any minute now. Marrow rose from her chair, and walked away from the little outdoor café she had been sitting at. She moved into the crowd, sliding effortlessly around and between people, careful not to touch. No telling what people might inadvertently feel beneath the illusion. Not that anyone was sober enough to care. Bodies and sweat filled her vision, and the bittersweet scent of alcohol invaded her nose.

She was near the stage when the Ripper Dogs began their set. The crowd surged forward, and Marrow let their momentum carry her. Another push--some squirming ("Take your hands off my ass, or die.")--the metallic, pulsing beat of the music vibrating in her chest--and she touched the barrier separating the stage from the street. She took a deep breath--some thoughtful person had turned on giant fans--and looked left.

A blond, bobbing head--and just behind, red eyes.

Bingo.

Marrow ignored the gyrating, screeching men on stage, and pulled herself along the barrier. Sweat ran into her eyes, and she blinked it away, keeping her focus on the blond woman watching the lead singer. The woman's mouth was moving to the lyrics--her body was wet with perspiration, and her flimsy dress clung to her curves. Closer now--close--there. Marrow turned her own eyes on the stage; she could smell the woman's light perfume, could feel the heat of her body right beside her own.

The song was coming to an end, and as the last note pounded to a long, thudding stop, the lights surrounding the stage went out completely, leaving everyone seeing nothing but black.

Marrow's elbow shot out, and the woman doubled over, gasping.

"Oh, I'm sorry," she murmured, placing her hands on the thinly clad shoulders. She quickly bent over the woman, and a sharp fist to the temple stunned her into unconsciousness.

"Here, let me help." A deeper, familiar voice said. It was dark, but Marrow felt his hands go around the slumping woman's waist, and she released her own hold. He lifted her up into his arms, and swiftly moved away from the stage. Marrow followed in his wake. The crowd parted for them ("Man, the heat must have gotten to her." "You kiddin'? De way de bar's been spicin' de drinks? Knock me out, too."), and finally they broke free of the crowd. There was a long black sedan parked nearby--on a dark street not blocked by concert-goers--and they headed for it. The doors opened as they approached--the woman was handed off to the men seated inside--the engine roared to life, and the car drove off. Smooth, fast. Very efficient.

"I'm hungry," Marrow commented, as they began to stroll down the sidewalk in the opposite direction the car had taken. The lights were back up around the stage--the music had begun again, and the rolling beat filled her.

"I know a nice lil' place," Gambit replied. "Not far from here. Went t'rough deir trash when I was a petite t'ing."

"The food good?"

Gambit grinned. "For you? Only de best."


After an unarguably delicious meal of seafood gumbo and a blackberry cheesecake so rich it curled her toes, Gambit suggested they stop by the Guild ("Just t'make sure everyt'ing's all right") before heading back to the hotel. Gambit led her through the various security check points--a human guard at the gate to the old downtown Guild mansion, a retinal scan, and a DNA test for both of them that required a tiny prick in the thumb and a five minute wait.

"'Course," he said glibly, as they passed the last barrier. "I could'a just climbed in mon pere's window, but dat makes security nervous."

He led Marrow through a series of now familiar hallways, up two flights of stairs, and down one particularly long corridor. There was a thick oak door at its very end, and Gambit knocked twice. They both heard a muffled response from inside the room, and Gambit swung open the door, revealing a lanky silver-haired man sitting behind a large expanse of desk. Marrow followed her friend, and shut the door behind them.

"Papa," Gambit bowed his head slightly. "Y'got our little gift?"

"Right on schedule, Remy. You an' Sarah have my t'anks."

"What are you gonna do with her?" Marrow asked. Jean-Luc smiled, and stood. He paced around his desk and sat on the corner of it, his palms braced against the polished wood.

"Not'ing bad. She's an innocent in all o' dis--not her fault some o' our enemies wan' t'use her 'gainst us. She might not even remember anyt'ing, since we're keepin' her sedated until de whole mess blows over. We got men out dere now, takin' care o' de problem."

The woman--she hadn't looked dangerous, Marrow thought. It was hard to imagine that her mutant power was so lethal.

"Anyone ever seen her do it?" she asked suddenly. "You know, set someone's heart on fire?"

Jean-Luc looked uncomfortable. "Once. Someone tried t'attack her--one o' our own was nearby, heard an' saw de whole t'ing. De man jus' started screamin', clutchin' at his chest. He burned from de inside out. We've watched her ever since, jus' in case."

Just in case. Just in case old enemies found her too, and decided to get creative. It had almost happened, according to Jean-Luc, although there was a part of her that was beginning to feel uncomfortable with her role in the kidnapping. She glanced at Gambit, and saw the same thoughts running through his face. But he had done what he thought needed doing--what his father had asked him to do. Loyalty to the Guild, even though he was no longer a part of it. And she had followed him because he was her friend.

"When you're done wit' her, let me know," Gambit said. "De X-Men might have a place f'her."

"Introduce her t'Angels, an' de Devil might have a harder time using her?" Jean-Luc smiled. "Might jus' work."

Gambit did not return his father's smile.


The woman was being kept in a small room--unfurnished except for a narrow bed. She lay flat on her back, blond hair spread around her head like a halo. She was blissfully unconscious, thanks to the IV hanging beside her. Marrow and Gambit stood several feet away, just watching.

"She's pretty," Marrow commented, a little wistfully.

Gambit glanced down at her. "So are you," he said. "Looks ain't everyt'ing, t'ough."

Marrow shrugged. "Do you think they'll really let her go?"

Gambit's jaw tightened. "Dey better. Mon pere gave his word."

But did everyone else? Marrow asked silently. Not only was Guild corruption possible, it was a reality. She had seen it first-hand in Taiwan, and if there, why not here?

"She's dangerous."

"So are we, Sarah."

Not like this, she thought. Not like this.


They took a cab back to the hotel. The vehicle's interior was air-conditioned--a nice, short break from the heat. She would take all she could get. They did not talk during the ride, nor as they took the elevator up to the room they were sharing. Too many eyes and ears. Only after Gambit shut the door behind them did Marrow begin to relax.

She turned off her image inducer, shook off her shoes, and padded into the bedroom she was using. There were two of them, each with its own private bathroom. She had staked out her part of the hotel suite on their first day in the city, and Gambit was more than willing to let her have her way. Marrow could see most of everything from her balcony, and in the mornings the sunlight streamed through the antique lace curtains like some sheer, crystal, waterfall of light. She thought it was the nicest place she had ever stayed in--much nicer than she had ever dreamed possible for herself, when she had bothered to dream at all.

She heard Gambit plop down on the soft couch just outside her room, and she joined him.

"Y'okay wit' what happened t'night?" Gambit asked.

Marrow stared at him. "Little late, aren't you?"

His eyes darkened, and Marrow patted him awkwardly on the knee. "Felt all right about it when we accepted the job, and even right after it was done, I didn't think much about it. But now..."

"Somet'ing stinks."

Marrow nodded, and sank deeper into the cushions. "She can burn a person's heart right up just by thinking about it--she doesn't even have to touch them. What kind of defense is there for that?"

"None dat I can t'ink of--not now, anyway."

"Yeah. You know," she paused, turning inward, letting memory fill her. Of the blood, the pain--forced to fight everyday for nothing, only a terrible, terrible dream created by an even worse man.

"Sarah." She felt Gambit's hand touch her shoulder, and then curl around her.

"She would have done real well," she told him, her voice suddenly hoarse. "Mikhail--"

"Sarah--"

"He--he would have let her live in the castle, with him. He would have made her *family*."

Gambit pulled her into his chest, wrapping his arms around her. "You have a family, petite," he whispered, gently stroking her hair. His voice sounded hoarse, too. "No one's ever gonna hurt you again, Sarah. I *promise*."

She did not know why, but she believed him.


There were three messages on the telephone's answering service, when they finally got up to look. One from the X-Men--Hank, specifically. It was to ask how they were enjoying themselves, and to tell them that everyone was all right--although Marrow owed Cecilia and Kitty new slippers. Damndog had chewed them into shreds.

"Just like her owner did," she thought she heard someone say, in the background.

Funny.

The other message was from the front desk, alerting Gambit to a package that had been delivered--Marrow checked the clock on the wall--only five minutes previous to their return to the hotel. Gambit, a decidedly puzzled look on his face ("Who in de world sendin' me t'ings at dis time o' night?") went down to get it, and as the door closed behind him, Marrow played the last message.

Silence. She leaned closer, and caught the faint sound of breathing. Then, a click.

Marrow let the telephone fall back into its cradle, an uneasy feeling stirring in her stomach. Wrong number, she told herself. No one they knew would just breathe into an answering machine, would they? She erased the messages, and went back to the couch. It was very soft, the upholstery slightly nubbly and creamy. She stretched out on her side, and stared at the phone.

Gambit returned several minutes later, and when Marrow saw his face, she bolted upright. There was something very terrible in his eyes, and his mouth was twisted into a crooked, angry grimace. He held a small, battered box in both hands.

Silent, she rose to her feet and moved to him. He stood very still as she pulled back the floppy cardboard lid of the box. She looked in.

And saw a heart. It was very bloody, and--in her experienced opinion--very human.

She swallowed, and realized that yes, she was definitely getting soft.

"This doesn't belong to anyone we know, does it?" She looked at Gambit, not sure she wanted to hear his answer.

"Don' know," he said tightly. "Got some calls t'make."

She thought of the strange, silent message left on their answering machine, but did not mention it. No good now--probably a wrong number, anyway. Nothing to do with this.

"Someone's got us pegged, Remy. That girl--"

"One t'ing at a time, Sarah. Pack your stuff up--we're leavin'. Now."

She went to pack her bag. As she entered her room, she heard Gambit mutter something.

"What was that?"

A pause, and then: "I said, 'dere's no rest for de wicked'."

No, she thought to herself. None at all.


They did not return to the Guild.

Marrow did not ask why, but then, she did not really need to. Someone knew they had kidnapped that woman--a still warm heart in a box was just too much of a coincidence, considering the blonde woman's mutant power. A fire starter who could only incinerate hearts. Marrow wondered if it was a mental block of some sort that kept the woman from burning anything else. Or perhaps it was a matter of choice.

'Doesn't matter', she told herself. She watched the darkened streets, her small suitcase slung over one shoulder. Her shirt was stuck to her back, and sweat rolled freely down her face and chest. It was nearly one in the morning, and she and Gambit had been walking for nearly forty minutes. He had thrown the box with the heart into a dumpster three blocks away from the hotel. The manager could not tell them who had delivered the package--only that it had suddenly appeared on the counter while no one was looking, Gambit's name written on top.

They had immediately checked out of the hotel, and started walking. Only Gambit knew where they were going, and he had not wanted to take a cab there. Better to go by foot, he had said. Easier to keep an eye on who's around us.

On who might want to give us a message, Marrow had silently added. On who might want us dead.

It could be someone in the Thieves Guild. That was the most logical choice. Only the Guild had known about the threat the blonde woman posed should one of their enemies get a hold of her. Break her spirit--force her to use her powers against others. Marrow knew that such a thing was easy to do. She had seen it done, firsthand.

But despite Jean-Luc's promises to the contrary, it made perfect sense to Marrow that someone in the Guild might also desire the kidnapped woman's powers for his or herself. In fact, that was the only thing that made any sense at all.

"Gambit," she said, glancing up at the tall figure striding beside her. "Someone in the Guild--"

"I know," he interrupted, not looking at her. "Trusted mon pere, and not m'brains. Should've seen dis comin', Sarah. *He* should've seen dis comin', too."

"Maybe he did," she murmured. Only why bother sending them a threat? Why not kill them outright?

Gambit shot her a sharp look. "D'ere ain't many t'ings I'm sure of in dis world, Sarah. But mon pere is one o' dem. He wouldn't betray us."

Marrow looked away, stung. "Then who?" she asked harshly. Dammit--she thought she was beyond getting her feelings hurt. She was getting soft. Soft, soft, soft.

"Don' know," Gambit said. He touched her elbow, and guided her into a dark alley that was dripping with moisture. The air seemed hotter here, and Marrow took a deep breath, stepping around piles of garbage and snoring, whimpering bodies. There was a stench that made her nose crinkle--it reminded her of the sewers, of ugliness and death.

The alley turned out to be the entrance to a collection of cobblestone paths that twisted and crossed, writhing inwards, away from the rest of the city. She tried to keep track of their movements--she wanted to be able to find her way out again, if she had to--but she soon gave up. This place was a maze, and only Gambit seemed to understand how to navigate it. He walked with complete confidence, indifferent to the darkness, heat, and stench.

He did not look twice at the people huddled against the slimy brick walls, men and women who sometimes touched Marrow's ankles as she passed them. Even among the Morlocks, she had never seen so many people who were in need--of food, shelter love. Only with Mikhail, in that terrible wasteland beyond the castle she had been one of these people, once. Only she had fought, with bone and blood. She had lost her mind in that place, trying to survive. To prove herself worthy. These people, it was like they had given up. Like they were waiting to die.

Gambit finally began to slow, and Marrow adjusted her own pace so that she would not step on his heels. He stopped in front of a small, unadorned door, and removed a set of lock picks from the back pocket of his jeans. Instead of working on the lock in the door, however, he inserted the picks into a tiny iron plate set into the brick just to the left of the door-frame. Marrow had not noticed its existence until then, and she watched with interest as the thief concentrated on a keyhole that was nearly invisible to her eyes. She waited for nearly five minutes while her friend silently worked.

'A tough lock', she thought to herself. A moment later, she heard a small snort of triumph and caught a glimpse of white teeth. Gambit's hand touched her shoulder.

"Watch dis," he murmured. He flipped the iron plate open and revealed a startling high tech panel that was internally lit. He bent slightly, placing his eyes directly across from it. A red beam shot out, and Marrow heard a loud, metallic click from behind the little wooden door. Gambit punched several buttons in the panel, and then drew Marrow up to it.

"Stare at de red beam," he instructed her. "An' hold very still."

She obeyed him, and tried not to blink when the flash of hot, red light covered her left eye. It was gone in a second, and as Marrow straightened, Gambit allowed the iron plate to fall back in place. He tested it with a sharp tug, and grunted in satisfaction when it did not budge.

"What was that all about?" Marrow asked.

"I just keyed you in t'security. If you ever need a safe house, come here and you'll be let in."

"I'll need a key," she muttered, thinking about how long it had taken Gambit to pick the lock to the iron plate covering the retinal scan. She knew nothing about breaking and entering. At least, not the subtle kind.

"Dat's no fun," Gambit replied, opening the little door. There was another barrier just behind it, this one made of solid steel. As Gambit approached, it slid open with a quiet hiss. He stepped through the darkened opening--Marrow close on his heels--and the door slid shut behind her, pitching them both into total darkness. "Besides," Gambit continued, as though there was nothing in the least bit alarming about their situation. "I'm giving you lock picks f'Christmas."

"Gee, thanks."

"Your welcome." And then the lights came on.

What surprised her the most was the unabashed lushness of the room she found herself in. The furniture was old, made of rich, dark woods that gleamed under the golden light of the tall brass lamps stationed throughout the room. Velvet, silk, golden brocade--such materials were everywhere, and while the furnishings and decorations edged close to being what others might call gaudy, in Marrow's admittedly inexperienced opinion, the room merely screamed wealth and lavish comfort. Something she had only recently begun to learn to appreciate.

"You sure know how to make yourself comfortable," Marrow commented, feeling too dirty and sweaty to touch anything. The air, however, was deliciously cool, and she took a deep breath.

"There's a bedroom and bathroom down de hall. Kitchen, too, if you're hungry. Settle in--I got t'make dose calls we talked 'bout."

Calls to the X-Men, and to others who might be at risk. Who might be dead. Gambit had not felt the line at the hotel was secure enough to make those kinds of inquiries. Obviously, his safe house did not have those limitations.

"You bring people here often?" Marrow asked over her shoulder, as she carried her small suitcase down the hall he had pointed to.

"Non," he replied absently, phone already cradled in his neck. "You de first."

She almost stopped right then and there, a vision of herself running back to give him a hug racing through her mind. Ridiculous, of course. She was not, nor would she ever be, a 'hugger'. Marrow forced herself to keep walking, and missed the small smile that crossed Gambit's lips.


Logan answered the phone; Gambit did not tell him the entire story, but then, Logan knew better than to ask.

"Everything's fine here," he told Gambit, after listening to a *very* edited recap of the night's events. "Ya need backup?"

"Not yet," Gambit replied.

"Well, shout if ya do. There's nothin' t'do around here, and Jubilee's yammering at me to take her to the *mall*."

"God forbid," Gambit smirked, and hung up the phone.

He called his father next, and held his breath until he heard the older man's sleepy voice on the other end of the line.

"You got a broken pipe, mon pere," Gambit said, not pausing to properly greet his father. "An' it's causin' *us* trouble. See if you can fix de problem on your end."

And then he hung up. Gambit knew his line was secure--he did not pay top dollar to the world's best security personnel to have it any other way--but he did not know if his father's line had been breached. Nor did he want to take the chance. It was a clumsy sort of code, but one he knew his father would understand immediately, even if Gambit had just woken him up.

He called a few other people after that--he never talked, just listened to their voices and hung up. His father was all right--that was what mattered. His friends and family were still alive, and not stretched out on the ground somewhere, missing a rather vital organ. Gambit leaned back into the soft, restored cushions of the 18th century armchair he had managed to procure from an art collector he had done a "favor" for, and closed his eyes.

The job had seemed so simple at the time--collect the girl, who was a temporary threat to the Guild, and then finish his vacation, with Sarah, without any further interruptions.

And he had believed, like a fool, that such a thing was possible. Not only had he put himself at risk, but Sarah, too. Sarah, and anyone else who knew him.

He just hoped that his stupidity would not be the death of him. Or more importantly, anyone else.


Marrow sighed, and sank deeper into the hot water. Bubbles, smelling faintly of lavender, pushed up against her neck and crackled softly as she shifted her body. She closed her eyes, and allowed her head to loll comfortably against the copper backrest of the old-fashioned bathtub she had been soaking in for the past half-hour. A small smile passed over her lips.

She loved baths. She loved being clean.

It was, she thought, perhaps her best-kept secret.

Keeping clean had never been a priority in her early life. Not in the sewers, and not in the other-worldly wasteland where Mikhail had ruled. Clean water, if you could find it, was used for drinking. Only a fool would waste such a precious resource for bathing.

But life was different now, and her first bath had seemed like such an act of unimaginable decadence and luxury that she had to be forced into the tub, screaming like a harpy while Rogue unceremoniously dumped her into the steaming water and held her there. Oh, she had kept protesting--it would not do at all for the others to suspect that she was actually enjoying something about their little Upworlder existence, but after those first few minutes surrounded by hot, hot water, something in her had snapped.

She took baths only late at night, when she thought the others were asleep. And when they were not and she just *had* to get into the water, she made sure everyone saw how much she 'hated' what she was doing, cursing and spitting all the way into the bathroom. If the X-Men ever wondered how a person who hated bathing as much as her still managed to smell like ivory soap and Suave shampoo everyday, they wisely never asked. Even Logan kept his mouth shut.

Her dirty, sweat soaked clothes lay in a heap by the bathroom door, and she had put her image inducer on the black marble counter beside a pile of thick, white towels. She was just beginning to reach for one of them (her fingers were getting wrinkled, and she disliked the sensation), when someone knocked on the door to the bathroom.

"You alive in dere, petite?"

"Gimme a minute," she replied. She shook out one of the towels, rapidly wiped the excess water and bubbles off of her body, and rubbed furiously at her hair and horns. Dripping only a little, she grabbed a thick robe hanging from a hook on the wall, and wrapped herself in it. Feeling a little self-conscious, she opened the door to the bathroom. Gambit stood there, and he smiled when he saw her.

"Leave any hot water for me?"

Marrow snorted, bending down to pick up her dirty clothes. She grabbed the image inducer, and slid past Gambit into the hall.

"Dere's a laundry room next to de kitchen. You can drop your t'ings in dere."

She nodded, and began to pad barefoot down the hall in the direction of the gourmet kitchen she had passed through while exploring. She did not know how he managed it, but there was fresh fruit in the refrigerator, and her mouth was watering for the grapes and plums she had seen.

"Sarah."

Marrow stopped, and turned around. Gambit was still standing where she had left him, and he was watching her intently.

"I'm sorry," he said. "For everyt'ing."

Marrow frowned, and took a step towards him. "Sorry?" she echoed blankly. "For what, Remy? You've been so kind to me. Watched out for me. You never judged."

She took a deep, steadying breath. 'What the hell', she thought, and before she could stop herself, she took several quick steps towards Gambit and threw her arms around his chest. She held him tightly, dirty clothes clutched in one hand, image inducer in the other. "You're one of my only friends," she told him, her voice suddenly hoarse. She stood on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek.

And then, before he could see the terrible blush staining her face, she turned and darted down the corridor, disappearing into the kitchen.


Marrow did not see Gambit again before she went to bed. He was still in the bathroom when she finished eating, and she decided to make herself comfortable in the large bedroom. The bed was wide and inviting, the covers soft, the mattress softer. She sank into the satin sheets with a contented sigh.

Sure, someone might want them dead. But then again, who didn't? Wasn't that part of the reason why she wore an image inducer every time she went into a public place?

'Forget it', she told herself, eyelids fluttering shut. 'Tonight, I'm not going to worry. I'm not.'

She was still telling herself that when she fell asleep.

Later, when she drifted up out of the darkness of her dreams into another sort of darkness, she lay in the large comfortable bed, and stared at the ceiling. She was not sure what had awoken her, but she was still tired, and this was Gambit's safehouse, and no one could hurt her here, right? And even if someone did come creeping in, she was Marrow. She was a killer ("pyscho-bitch-troll-from-hell", to quote a few) and she could take on anything or anyone.

'That's right', she told herself, beginning to drift off again. 'I'm a bad-ass.'

She was in that place between sleep and wakefulness when the part of her brain that put the 'bad' in 'ass' detected a breath of air on her cheek. Marrow's eyes snapped open, but the room was empty. There was nothing--no one--around her. The air felt different, though. Cold, frigid.

Marrow threw back the covers, and was just about to crawl out of bed when she felt a strange pressure over her heart, like a palm pressing downwards. She froze, and in that instant of stillness she sensed something else touch the skin beneath her T-shirt, cool fingers that traced the flesh above her breast.

She hollered as loud as she could, leaping backwards against the pillows. The pressure was still there, and it was building. Her fingers elongated, sharpened, and she swiped at the air in front of her. Her chest was beginning to hurt, and she yelled again, this time calling Gambit's name.

It was getting harder to breath, and her heart--oh, God--her heart felt like it was dying. Like she was dying. And there was nothing she could do to stop it.

She was dimly aware of the door to the bedroom slamming open, and an incoherent shout that seemed very far away. The pressure disappeared, and Marrow fell forward, gasping, clutching at her chest and cutting herself with fingers that were still razor sharp. The pain she caused herself was a distant thing compared to the pain in her heart, and as darkness filled her vision, she felt strong hands support her back.

And then there was nothing.


Marrow did not know how long she spent in unconsciousness, but when she awoke, she felt lips on her mouth and an overwhelming desire to vomit and breathe, both at the same time. She heaved upwards, gasping and choking on air and bile. It hurt to use her lungs, and she felt as though someone had been pounding on her chest.

"Shhh, petite. S'all right."

No, it was not all right. Someone had just tried to kill her, and she had had enough close encounters with death to know that her attacker had nearly succeeded.

"Remy," she croaked. Marrow felt a hand touch the small of her back, and then her shoulder. It was all she could do not to flop over, and she leaned into her friend's body, using him as support. Her muscles did not want to work, and it took much of her strength to lift her hand and touch the place above her heart. She could feel the movement of her heart beneath her fingers, the steady pulse and beat. The skin was tender, too--if she looked at it, Marrow was sure she would find cuts and bruises.

"I'm going to move you to de bed," Gambit whispered, and then his arms were under her legs and shoulders and she was being lifted into the dark, cool air. He set her gently on the covers, propping her head up with pillows. When he finished making her comfortable, he sat quietly beside her.

"Try t'rest," he said. "I'll stay here wit' you."

"I nearly croaked," she said, after a long moment.

"You gave me a scare, petite," he admitted, gently patting her hand. Marrow could not see his face, but she sensed a slight tremor in his body.

She took a deep breath, and felt it burn. "Did you see what was attacking me?"

"Non."

"I didn't imagine it."

"I know, Sarah. Dere was somet'ing else in de room wit' us."

Only what, or who, was still a mystery.


Marrow slept fitfully throughout the night, but each time she opened her eyes, Gambit was there, his presence solid and comforting. By dawn, she felt well enough to get out of bed and move around. Her chest was still sore, but she was alive and her strength was returning.

"It's like we're being haunted, Remy," she commented, after being forced to eat some breakfast. She took a bite of toast, eyes fixed on Gambit's troubled expression.

"Don' believe in ghosts, Sarah," he replied grimly, hand clutching a tall mug of coffee. "'Cept those we make up in our minds."

Marrow chewed furiously and swallowed. "Who else knows about this place?"

Gambit shook his head. "No one. Only you."

"So we were followed."

"Mebbe," he said. He pushed back his chair and stood up, stretching as he did so. Marrow heard a few pops and cracks, and Gambit smiled wearily. "Stay here and finish up," he told her. "I'll be in de front room making some calls."

He left the kitchen, resisting the urge to look back at her over his shoulder. Last night had been close--her heart had stopped completely, and it had taken several very long minutes of CPR to bring her back. Losing Sarah was not something he ever wanted to contemplate again, but he also knew that he could not be her shadow for the entire day. He needed some sleep, and she would not appreciate the mother hen routine for long.

He slumped into a deeply cushioned chair and reached for the phone. No need for his cover now. It was officially blown. His father answered on the first ring.

"Allo?"

"Any news, mon pere?"

There was a long moment of silence. "You sound tired."

"Long night, longer story. De information 'bout de leak?"

"Dere *ain't* no leak. I checked ev'ryone, *ev'ryt'ing*. Dey all came away clean."

Gambit closed his eyes. "So it's someone outside de Guild causin' trouble for us."

"You need help?"

"Mebbe," he admitted. "You'll know soon 'nough. How's de woman?"

"Still sedated. Her heart rate jumped a little last night, 'round three in de mornin', but de doctors say she was prob'ly just dreamin'."

Gambit frowned. Marrow had been attacked just around that time. "Keep an eye on her for me, papa."

"'Course, Remy. You wanna tell me what dis is all 'bout?"

"Soon," he promised, and hung up the phone.

Very soon. Otherwise, he was afraid that someone was going to end up dead.


We dream--it is good we are dreaming--
It would hurt us--were we awake--
But since it is playing--kill us,
And we are playing--shriek--
~Emily Dickinson

//Underground--the stench of blood and shit is overpowering--he fights not to gag and fails--his stomach turns inside out within his throat. Ugly--the only light comes from fire--fueled by bodies--burning. Creed--reaches into the flames and pulls out a small charred limb--takes a bite--tastes like chicken he says. He laughs--the others are still laughing--and he brought them here--led them--and the blood is soaking through his boots--through his flesh into his soul--there are children crying--crying--he is crying--he cannot stop the others--bleeding--dying--he picks up a little girl and runs--he runs--and she is screaming--//

Gambit's eyes snapped open. He could still hear the screams--the shrill, tortured cries--and he held himself very still, trying to calm the frantic racing of his heart. Blood roared in his ears, and he forced himself to unclench his fingers from their death grip around the bunched up sheets.

'Dreams,' he told himself, taking a deep breath. 'Jus' dreams.'

Dreams of the past--memories to be relived.

One of his memories was curled up on a corner of his bed, a blanket thrown over her thin body. Marrow was sleeping, and Gambit tried to remember how she had gotten there. He finally gave up, guessing that she had come in to check on him and had fallen asleep. He did not mind. It was better that they remain close together, at least for now. The safehouse was no longer safe, but under the circumstances, Gambit could not think of a better place to go to that was close by. There was the Guild, but he did not want to draw an enemy there, especially one that seemed to have no trouble at all breaching his very best defenses. The X-Men might be able to help, but he was loathe to call them in for something that he felt very responsible for fixing. 'Too much pride,' he thought, and tasted something bitter in his mouth.

He checked the clock beside the bed, and discovered that it was nearly eight in the evening. He had slept for most of the day.

'Tol' Marrow not t'let me sleep dat long.'

But she had fallen asleep too, and he could not blame her for that. She needed the rest, and it was he who should have been caring for her, and not the other way around. It was hard, he realized, working with only one another person as a partner. It was different than in a team, where there were usually at least four or five other people to share the burden of a difficult task. And it was far different from working solo, which as a thief he had often been forced to do. No, being partnered with only one person for a prolonged period of time was a very different experience all together. The responsibilities, the losses--they were greater. But then, so were the rewards.

He began to untangle himself from the snarled mess he had made of the sheets, and Marrow stirred.

"Time to leave?" she asked, her voice startlingly clear despite the bleary look on her face.

Gambit nodded. "We've stayed here too long already."

Marrow rolled gracefully off her corner of the bed, showing no sign that she still suffered from any discomfort. "I'll be ready in ten."

Sooner, if he knew her at all. He quickly put on some clean clothes from the stash he kept in the closet, and padded down the hall towards the kitchen. The door to the bathroom was closed, and he could hear the sound of running water. He smiled. Marrow did not fool anyone with her belligerence. Not anymore. 'Upworlder scum, my ass', he thought. 'You're one o' dem now, petite, an' you love it.'

As he chewed on an apple (a little stolen Shi'ar technology hardwired into his refrigerator did wonders for keeping food fresh for inordinate amounts of time), he replayed the events of the past twenty-four hours in his head.

Obviously, someone knew that he and Marrow had kidnapped the woman, and the vendetta against them was a personal one. Marrow's assailant, whether or not it was the same person who had delivered the boxed heart to the hotel, had been a mutant. Fairly powerful, too. A relative of the woman? Her file, when his father had first presented the job to him, had not mentioned siblings or cousins.

Marrow entered the kitchen five minutes later, hair still damp. The delicate bones of her forehead spiraled upwards and beads of water still hung from them. She was dressed in a clean pair of jeans and a tight pink tank top that barely hid the tangled web of cuts and bruises on her chest. Gambit clenched his jaw.

Marrow strapped the image inducer to her waist. "I'm ready to go."

Gambit tossed her an apple. "Eat dis on de way out. We'll try t'find some more, later."

She nodded, taking a deep bite of the red fruit as she followed Gambit out of the kitchen. She turned on the image inducer just before they reached the front door. The metal hatch slid open as they approached, the lights clicked off behind them, the little wooden door swung open, and then they were back into the world, surrounded by heat and darkness. Marrow instantly missed Gambit's opulent little hidey-hole, well-lit and filled with color. 'Soft,' she threatened herself. 'You're getting too soft.'

Or maybe, she thought, she was finally beginning to appreciate life as something more than just survival.

It was easier to escape the inner tangle of old town paths and alleys than it had been to enter, and before long Marrow and Gambit found themselves on a crowded street that had been shut off to traffic. The smell of alcohol was everywhere, and the lights from bars, restaurants, and music joints blazed brighter than fire. The air and the throngs of people were both smothering, and Marrow took a deep breath.

"Now what?" she asked, trying to ignore the sweat running down her back.

Gambit never answered her. He stood, frozen, staring ahead of him with an expression of shock on his face. Marrow followed the direction of his gaze. "Fuck," she swore, when her eyes found what had caught her friend's attention.

It was the blonde woman. There, on the corner of the street, not more than fifteen feet away. Staring at them.

She seemed different, somehow. The edges of her body were harder, sharp like a blade, and her cheek bones stood out in intense, pale relief against the shadows of her face. The woman's eyes were almost lost in those shadows, but Marrow saw them glint once, like fine obsidian slivers caught in the light. The dress, flimsy and clinging, was the same one the woman had been wearing the night before, but it too, seemed different. Like some of the color had been bleached away, stolen from the fabric. There was not a trace of sweat on her body.

The woman sneered, her lips twisting and pulling into a hateful, mocking rictus.

"Remy--" Marrow started, and then choked as the woman's hand shot upwards. Pain stabbed through Marrow's chest, and she stumbled. Gambit caught her with one hand, while the other deftly reached through the illusion of her arm and plucked a bone dart from her wrist sheath. It glowed between his fingers, and then it was gone, flying through the air towards the blonde woman----

and harmlessly passing through her body, exploding with a loud bang behind her. Several people screamed, and Marrow, gasping for breath, felt the pulse of the street change. Fear--terror--from the men and women around them filled the air like a scent, and Marrow dimly realized that some of that fear was her own.

"No," she growled, forcing herself to straighten. No.

She met the woman's eyes. The sneer widened, and the pain in Marrow's chest suddenly disappeared. Blood roared in her ears--she could feel her heart pounding, thundering.

"You caught her," the woman said triumphantly, her voice somehow carrying over the frightened murmurs of the crowd. "But not us. Not us, ever."

She stepped backwards and melted into the throng of people. Gambit started forward, and then stopped.

"Go!" Marrow told him, shoving his shoulder with one hand. "I'll be fine."

He stared at her for one brief second, and then ducked into a run that sent him hurtling through the crowd. Marrow took a deep, halting breath, imagining for a moment that she felt her heart skip a beat. Ignoring the deep ache inside her chest, she took off after him.

Faces, light, sound--they all passed her in a blur. Her feet pounded into the sidewalk, twisting and jumping as she dodged and skimmied through drunk party-goers and tourists. She could see Gambit's head, bobbing up and down far ahead of her, and she pushed herself to catch him, to not let him face the woman by himself. 'He needs me,' she told herself, not caring if it was a lie.

Marrow caught a glimpse of Gambit just as he disappeared through the thrown open doors of a golden-lit casino. She pushed and shoved--the crowds were thick here, the heat stifling despite a breath of air conditioning--and burst through the entrance. She saw Gambit immediately, and jogged over to his side. Sweat poured down his face and his T-shirt was soaked. Several people stared, but Marrow ignored them. She scanned the room, the crowd. There was no sign of the blonde woman.

"Where is she?"

"Don' know," he said. "She ran fast--hard t'tell if her feet even touched de ground."

Marrow remembered how the charged dart had flown right through the woman's body. "The Guild really fucked up, Remy. I thought she was only supposed to burn things, not cause heart attacks and pull a Kitty Pryde on people."

"Surprised me, too," he muttered. "But I'm t'inking dis ain't de same woman."

Marrow stared at him. "She's a got a twin?"

Gambit narrowed his eyes, and grabbed Marrow's arm. "Dere," he said, pointing. There was a break in the crowd, and Marrow caught a glimpse of blonde hair and a mocking smile.

This time, Marrow did not wait. She leapt forward, her fingers sharpening and elongating as she charged through the gamblers stuffed inside the casino. 'I'm going to kill her', she thought. She was not exactly sure how, but she was determined to do it. One way or another.

Marrow knocked over several people in her haste to get to the woman, her gaze locked on the blonde shock of hair framing the bleached, yet shadowed face. It was strange--even in this brightly lit place, there seemed to be a lack of *life* to the young woman. The night before she had been dancing, singing along with the live band at the street concert. Vibrant. Alive. This version looked like she had been sleeping for most of her life in a shallow grave. And enjoying it, too. 'And why,' Marrow suddenly wondered. 'Hasn't she tried to burn my heart up to a crisp?' Maybe this woman really was a twin.

Marrow remembered what had happened to the dart Gambit had thrown, but she still took a long swipe at the blonde's face when she got close enough. Her fingers passed harmlessly through the white flesh, causing several bystanders to gasp (and, she thought, to faint--although she was not about to turn her head to check for sure) and the woman's face twisted into a scathing grin.

"Oh," she mocked. "I think I felt that."

Marrow felt a solid presence at her shoulder. It was Gambit, and she could feel the heat and tense energy of his body against her own. "Who are you?" he asked. "You're not *her*, dat's for sure."

This time, the smile was somewhat bitter. The shadows of her face, looking increasingly unnatural considering the bright lights of the casino, seemed to lengthen. "I'm Samantha," she answered, in a tone that implied that they should somehow recognize the name.

"That doesn't mean shit to me," Marrow snarled. She felt a restraining hand on her arm, and tried to calm herself. It was very, very difficult.

"You de other girl's sister?" Gambit asked, keeping his voice low, almost conversational. Marrow quivered beneath his grip, and his fingers tightened. //Calm down//, he seemed to be saying to her. //Breathe and let me talk.//

Samantha laughed, and the sound seemed to chill the air around them. "Dana? A sister? More like our captor." She tilted her head, and regarded them thoughtfully with her black, glinting eyes. "Still, it wasn't very nice of you, kidnapping Dana like that. Then again, the deep sedatives your friends have been giving her allowed us to free ourselves, and that hasn't happened in a very long time."

"Merde," Gambit breathed.

"Exactly," Samantha said, her voice hardening. "And you are in a lot of it. Margaret's more lenient than Diane and I--carving out that heart was a good enough threat by her standards. But not by ours. We may hate Dana, but we're stuck with her--and you and your little bitch-friend hurt her, kidnapped her body."

Gambit yanked hard on Marrow's arm and pulled her behind him. She struggled, but his fingers were like steel and she could not loosen his grip. "Why Sarah?" he asked, his voice low and angry. "Why not kill me? I planned your--Dana's--kidnapping."

Samantha made a clicking noise with her tongue and shook her head. "Oh, but you're delicious. Just our type. Your friend is not."

They were fighting a losing battle, Marrow realized. This Samantha--whatever else she turned out to be--was a killer. More importantly, she *liked* to kill. Marrow had felt the lust for blood often enough to be able to recognize it in someone else. All Gambit could do now was buy them time until they figured out what to do. 'I hope he's got some ideas', she thought. Samantha's last statement had seemed a little irrational.

But apparently not all that irrational to Gambit. His body relaxed--although his grip around Marrow's arm did not--and when he spoke, his voice was soft as honey. "Delicious, chere? I'm more'n dat. Leave de girl alone, and I'll show you. And your friends."

"Hmmm tempting." She lifted one finger, and Marrow gasped as her chest suddenly tightened. "But no go."

"'Fraid you would say dat," Gambit muttered. He shoved Marrow away from him, away from Samantha. They were standing in the middle of the casino's lobby, and there was a large, ornate fountain near them--a deep, bronze dish with cherubs and dolphins leaping about in frozen glory. Gambit placed his hands on its rim, and an instant later the entire structure began to glow.

"Run!" he shouted at Marrow. She was having trouble breathing, her heart feeling as though it was being punched and clawed at. She stumbled backwards, and then forced herself to stop. 'Not without Gambit', she thought. She was not going to leave him. She could hear Samantha laughing, but Marrow did not take her eyes off of Gambit. She wondered if he recognized the resolve in her eyes, because a moment later his jaw tightened and he tore his gaze from her face. The glow from the fountain was hot, bright, burning. Even the water flowed red, like electrically charged blood.

Gambit flung himself away from the charged brass fountain. In almost the same movement, he took two great bounds towards Marrow, and threw himself at her. He knocked the breath out of her already strained lungs as he tackled her to the ground, but she forgave him, when a moment later the room exploded around them.

She did not know what was worse--the shaking, the thunderous noise, or the falling debris. Gambit spread himself over her body, his nose pressed into her temple as she curled into a ball beneath him. She felt hot liquid mist her face, and an orange, dusty plume spread over their heads. Parts of the ceiling narrowly missed them, along with one particularly heavy looking bronze statue that tipped over right by her face. Gambit never budged, not for the entire time, and for one brief, terrifying moment, Marrow imagined that he was dead.

Then she felt his nose stir her hair, and she began to breathe again.

"I'm goin' t'have a headache," he muttered, and rolled off of her.

The lobby was in ruins. Luckily, no one around them seemed seriously hurt, although Marrow was in no mood to play nurse and find out for sure. She could hear plenty of moans and crying, which meant that people were still alive. That was good enough for her. Especially since Samantha was gone and the crushing pressure had been lifted from her chest.

"Y'hurt?" Gambit asked, his voice rough. There were some scratches on his face and arms, but for the most part he seemed whole and healthy. Another miracle.

Marrow shook her head. "What did you do to Samantha?"

"Distracted her. I t'ink." He wearily rubbed at his face with one hand. "We need t'get to de Guild. Fast."

"Call them," Marrow said, as they climbed to their feet. She absently rubbed her breastbone. "Tell your papa to wake up that girl. I'm getting tired of having a heart attack every ten minutes."

Gambit nodded. "I just hope she--Dana--is more understanding dan de other personalities swimmin' around in her head."

"How's this happening, Remy?"

"Don' know," he replied grimly, quickly leading her out of the building. They could hear sirens, and they darted into the milling crowd of onlookers. "I t'ink," he said a little later, as they scrambled down the street, "dat dis girl we kidnapped has a split personality--or t'ree--dat she somehow kept buried 'til de Guild doctors put her under. But de manifestations of dese personalities can't do de t'ings Dana can. Dis Samantha--she can't burn hearts, but she can squeeze de life out o' dem. Same wit de one dat attacked you last night, 'cept she was invisible. And de heart dat was left for us? De other personality must be able to rip dem out."

"Isn't that nice," Marrow sniped, fighting to get a good breath. The heat was bothering her--that, and a tired ache in her chest that seemed to travel down her body into her legs. Gambit pulled a tiny cell phone out of his pocket, and as they continued to run down the sidewalk, he dialed up his father. He did not talk for long, and after a few brief exchanges, he tucked the phone away.

"Didn't know you had a cell phone," Marrow muttered, trying not to sound as out of breath as she felt.

"De cell phone's not secure, but it comes in handy sometimes."

"What'd he say?"

"Dat he'd pull de plug himself." There was a distinct note of worry in Gambit's voice.

'Sure,' Marrow thought. 'Think about who his dad is going to wake up.'

They ran for another minute before Gambit spotted a cab and hailed it down. Tumbling into the air-conditioned interior, Marrow allowed herself to fall back against the plastic seat covers and catch her breath. She had a feeling she would need every bit of her strength when they finally reached the Guild. Whatever--whoever--was inside the woman they had kidnapped would not take kindly to their efforts to wake her up, which at the moment seemed to be the key to controlling them.

The drive to the Guild mansion did not take long--Gambit tipped the driver one hundred dollars to get them there in under five minutes, and he did, breaking several laws (as well as speeding records) in the process. Marrow was suitably impressed.

Security was waiting outside the main gates, and they all raced through the mansion, nearly sliding down the stairs in their haste to reach the underground medical facility. It was chaos down below, and they passed several people stretched out on the ground, men and women crouched above their chests and open mouths, performing CPR. Marrow reached into her arm sheath and pulled out a long bone dagger that sucked at the air as it left her body. It felt good to hold a weapon, even if she might not be able to use it.

They found Jean-Luc near the entrance to the blonde woman's room, propped up against the wall. A young woman was holding an oxygen mask over his face, but he tore it away when he saw his son. "Don' go in dere," he gasped. "She nearly killed me, an' mebbe some others."

"You unplug de girl?"

His father nodded, but the action seemed to cost him. His head began to loll to one side, but he fought the hand that tried to put the mask back over his face. "She's not wakin' up," he told them. "We put her too far under."

Gambit closed his eyes, and took a long, deep breath. "Sarah--"

"I'm coming with you," she said, and to keep him from arguing, she dodged past him and threw herself at the closed door of the sleeping woman's room. It burst open beneath her shoulder, and she felt Gambit's presence immediately at her back.

The first thing she saw was Dana, eyes closed and asleep on her bed. And then she looked a little to the right and there was Samantha, her face unrecognizably twisted with rage.

"How dare you," she hissed. Samantha flicked her fingers, and Marrow braced herself. Only, there was no pressure, no constriction or pain.

Behind her, Gambit gasped. Marrow turned just in time to see him clutch his chest, his face turning a deathly shade of white. He fell to the floor, his knees hitting the tile with a loud crack. Marrow immediately scrambled over to Dana's beside and raised the bone dagger. She locked gazes with Samantha, and for one moment, a flicker of doubt appeared over the other woman's face. Gambit still lay on the ground, fighting for breath. Samantha narrowed her eyes, and Marrow wheezed in pain.

"Stop," Samantha said. "I'll kill you."

"Like I care," Marrow threw back. Fighting for strength, she looked down at the sleeping woman. So peaceful. Her face was serene, quiet. There was no sign of the evil that lived within her. She was, Marrow felt, an innocent in all of this.

"You kill her, your friend is a dead man."

Darkness was creeping in at the edges of Marrow's vision, and her heart--she could feel it shuddering to a stop, each beat slower, more labored. "If I let you live," she replied hoarsely, lungs burning. "He might as well be dead."

Marrow plunged her bone dagger into the sleeping woman's heart, grinding the calcified shaft through flesh and bone. From behind, she heard a guttural scream that abruptly snapped off into silence. The pressure disappeared from her chest, but Marrow could feel it was too late. Too much damage done.

She slumped to the ground, unconscious.


Epilogue

What harm? Men die--externally-- It is a truth--of Blood-- But we--are dying in Drama-- And Drama--is never dead-- ~Emily Dickinson

This time, she came to inside the Guild's infirmary. An IV was plugged into her arm, along with several monitors that beeped and whirred. The lights were glaringly fluorescent, and hurt her eyes. She would have much rather come back to consciousness with Remy's lips on her mouth, on the floor of his decadently furnished safehouse.

Her chest ached. Her throat was dry. She wanted to see a familiar face.

"Remy?" she wheezed, dreading that someone else might come--someone who would tell her that the last memory of her friend would have to be of a dying, curled up body, face wracked with pain.

There was a rustle, and then her fears dissolved away into a pleasant tingle of relief. Gambit appeared at the side of her bed. His eyes, red on black, were filled with worry, and she could swear there were lines at the corner of his mouth that had not been there earlier.

"Glad you're awake," he whispered.

"My heart--"

"Is fine. Doctors said de heart muscle showed incredible signs of stress, but dat you'd be up an' kickin' ass in no time at all. Heightened mutant metabolism, an' all dat. It's what prob'ly kept you alive through all de attacks."

"How are you?"

Gambit's smile was brief, tired. "Jus' fine. No one died. We were all lucky."

'One person died,' Marrow thought to herself, and saw the same thought echo through Gambit's eyes.

Before he could stop her, she tore out her IV and ripped off the sensors attached to her chest and back.

"Sarah--"

"Shut the fuck up, Cajun. I'm getting out of here."

He stared helplessly at her. "You can't run 'round dressed like dat."

"Just watch me," she muttered.

"Merde," he growled, and snatched a robe that was hanging over the back of a nearby chair. "Put dis on," he ordered. "I'll try t'find you some clothes."

He did--a pair of gray jogging pants and a T-shirt that were both too big. They slowly walked through the Guild mansion, only passing a few people who greeted them before politely looking away. Gambit led Marrow outside to the patio, to a padded chair placed in the shade created by a tangled nest of flowering vines. For once, Marrow did not mind the heat or the humidity. She let it sink into her skin, closing her eyes and feeling her pores open beneath the hot moisture of the air. Gambit pushed a frosty glass of water into her hands--she had no idea where he had gotten it from--and drank deeply.

They sat for a long time, saying nothing. Finally Marrow looked over at Gambit, who calmly met her gaze.

"I had to kill her," she said.

Gambit was silent for a long time, and then said, "What you did--it wasn't de X-Men way, you know."

"Fuck them," Marrow replied, staring at him with clear, honest eyes. "You were dying."

"I know," he said, a sad smile tugging at his lips. "You did what you had to do." //But not what you should have done//, she seemed to hear.

Marrow did not care. Gambit was alive, sitting in front of her. That was the only thing that mattered, and if he thought she was a hard-hearted killer, that was okay. Really, it was. She did not care. She didn't.

"Glad you see it my way," she muttered, suddenly unable to look him in the eyes.

"Sarah." Long, tanned fingers wrapped around her hand, and squeezed. She forced herself to look up at Gambit's face, and was startled by the kindness in her friend's eyes. The empathy and understanding. "T'ank you," he said, softly. "T'ank you so much for saving m'life. I know 'bout de kind o' choice you had t'make, an' I would have done de same t'ing t'save you. I understand what you had t'do, peite. I really do."

There was a burning sensation in her eyes--she did not know what it meant, so she rubbed at them. Her nose was beginning to run, and she rubbed at that, too. Gambit smiled, and she thought his eyes seemed unusually bright. "So," he said, clearing his throat. He put an arm over her shoulder and hugged her close. "Where do you want to go on your next vacation?"

Marrow sniffed back some snot that was threatening to slide down her upper lip. "Will they all suck like this one?"

"Hope not."

"You promise not to tell your father where we are?"

Gambit laughed. "Definitely."

Marrow smiled, bent close to his ear, and told him where she wanted to go next.


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