Chapter 10



Marie pressed her forehead against the backseat window. Her head hurt. The cold glass distracted her. Shop fronts and pedestrians blurred by. She closed her eyes.


She could see outside? Marie opened her eyes again. She could see outside. She was riding in one of Semyonov's personal vehicles; of course it wouldn't be completely tinted from the inside. Her shadow hit the window at just the right angle to decrease the mirrored effect of the tint. They were going west on 43rd Street now; Theatre Row was coming up ahead. So the new place was in Hell's Kitchen. Lebeau had told the truth. Wasn't that just a fucking lark?

The car slowed as it turned down Twelfth. Marie scanned the buildings. Mostly narrow walk-ups, a couple wider ones with open market-style ground floors. The car rolled into a garage off a side-street. Marie closed her eyes and looked whipped. Not a hardship. She let herself fall when the door opened.

"Get her inside," said Stefan.

Marie blinked up at him. "You got goods for me, baby?"

His lips flattened and he didn't reply. Tank pulled her out and she faked a stumble.

"Dammit. How much did you give her?" he asked Tank.

"Four tabs in a Gatorade," said Tank. "Mutants are all over the place with drugs, remember?"

"Yeah. The fuck knows what she was doing in the big house, too." Stefan's phone rang. Tank led her away as Stefan took the call. "Da, ona zdesu," he began but she switched to Pete's brain-- ow-- for the rest of the conversation. "Really. I guess the sooner the better."

Tank pushed her through the door and there went that conversation. Crap. The climbed two sets of stairs before Tank opened the door. Enforcers, gangbangers, and prostitutes trailed around the main floor of the Genie 2.0 or whatever they were going to call this place once it opened up. If it opened up.

One of the enforcers stood up-- and up and up--from a barstool. Pete. Hatred, molten and sudden, poured through every cell in Marie's body. She hated this building, every single one of the goons here, hated Stefan's smarm, hated Max for being a stone-cold bastard, hated Andrei fucking Semyonov, she even hated the other girls and their goddamn addictions. And she hated Pete.

"Let me take her up," he said with the barest American accent to his Russian.

She hated God-fucking-damn Piotr Aleksandrovich Rasputin Semyonov or whatever the hell he wanted to call himself more than everyone else because she had a total of three stone fucking pillars in the utter disaster that was her life and God damn him to hell as tiny fucking pieces of shit for wrecking one of them! She hated so hard, she could barely breathe around the tightness in her chest.

Grinning, Tank pushed her forward. Marie let herself stumble. "Of course, Petya. You like her, do you not?"

"Well enough." He took her elbow, leading her upstairs to her room. She shook with the restraint it took not shoot his goddamn head. She could do it. She could twist out of his hold, kick his arms open, and take his piece. She could access Logan and just beat his ass down. Hell, she could access Magneto and yank his metal body to pieces. She could--

They reached her room. She pulled away as Pete locked the door. "Marie."

"Do not fucking touch me, Piotr."

He froze.

"God, what a fucking idiot I have been! I thought I was smart, getting my Russian buddy to infiltrate a Russian gang. Except it was actually all his idea because it is his fucking gang--"

"I am not Vostochevskaya!"

"So Semyonov is not your grandfather?" she demanded. "Tell me you did not know anything about him being family. Tell me you were not deliberately keeping things from me."

He was silent again.

Marie clenched her fists so hard, she swore was drawing blood.

"Fuck you, Piotr."

"You've been speaking in Russian," he said.

"Then fuck you harder in English!"


"You're going to pretend this is about Illyana again?" Mental check; she was pretty sure she had switched back to English. German would have been nice though. Lots of hard, spitty consonants in German.

"This has always been about Illyana," Pete-- Piotr-- Whatever-- snapped. "I saw videos--"

"Videos from the computer you had me hack without telling MacTac?"

He closed his eyes. "Yes. That computer."

"Fuck you."

"Listen to me."

"I have been! And look where it got me." She pressed a hand to her temple. "I lost weeks tracking the wrong leads and it got Blitzen killed."

"No, please, Marie, it's not like that."

"Why should I trust you?" Marie demanded.

"Because I'm your friend!" Pete hissed back. He took a breath. "Because we've been friends for over ten years."

"You lied about knowing Semyonov, you lied about your past, your mom, this op-- everything I know about you is a lie."

"Details!" Pete claimed. "Inconsequential details that don't really-- Nothing about our friendship is a lie. When we used to have photography hikes around Salem, talking about Bobby and Kitty. When you called in the middle of the night from... from random landlines after grad and I'd stay on the line even when you didn't say a thing. When we'd send each other stupid video links after months of no contact, just because. Those are all real. Not my parents. Not my grandfather. Not the... not the epically stupid decision I made to clean up the family mess myself."

He held out his hand. "You have to trust someone, Rogue."

She did. But God help her, she couldn't trust him.

"Go fuck yourself, Piotr Aleksandrovich Semyonov."

He left.

Marie gave herself three minutes to bury her face in her undoubtedly bed-bug-ridden pillow and completely lose it. She got to two when she realised she wasn't alone. Rolling off the bed, she swung her left leg up to kick her intruder's legs out from underneath him and grabbed his shirt before the sound of his body slamming on the floor could send the enforcers running.

Lebeau smiled up at her. "Miss me, p'ti?"

"Which part of 'get out' don't you parse?" Marie narrowed her eyes. "How'd you get here?"

"With style."

She shook him. "Seriously. How did you get inside?"

He did some of his own eye-narrowing. "Rappelled from the roof."

"Which window am I?"


"Which side of the building is this room?" Marie clarified. "And how many windows from the nearest corner?"

"You're south-facing, three windows from the east side of the building."

Semyonov's car had pulled into a six-story walk-up. She had climbed two short sets of stairs to get to the main floor which would have only made one storey total. The main floor had twenty-foot ceilings at the centre, the equivalent of two storeys in a building this old. Around the perimeter, under the prostitutes' rooms, the ceilings were seven feet high. From the interior, her room was the second door after the staircase. But the area under the staircase was solid.

She accessed Logan's powers to listen through the door. One of the bouncers had just passed by. Five counts later, another bouncer walked in the opposite direction. She sniffed. Marijuana, sweat, vodka, body odour, beer, urine, leftover noodles-- too many people! Too many scents. She drew back.

"What's going on?" asked Lebeau

"I think I found a hidden room. Did you get a good look at the main floor from up here? The space under the staircase is solid and hugs the wall when it should be ten feet away and hollow."

"There ain't any apartments next door," he said. "Want me to check it out?"

"There's bratva hanging out all over the place and even if you could sneak past, you wouldn't be able to get in."

"No way for you to get there either unless you scale the windows."

Marie grinned and hoped he couldn't see her nervousness. "That was pretty much the plan."

"You got enough of me to do that?"

"I think so."

"Bullshit." Lebeau rolled his sleeves up.

"What are you doing?"

"Giving you more to work with." He held his bare arms out.

Marie fought the urge to back away. "We had a deal. You help me with the Operation: Bastion case, I never use my powers on you again."

"The deal was you never use your powers on me without my consent," Lebeau corrected. "I'm consenting."


"You want to spend half a year in a hip splint after falling four stories? No? Well then you need a memory boost on my skills. Climbing walls ain't picking locks, y'know. The muscle memory goes much deeper."

Marie started to reach out then jerked her hands back again, holding them to her chest. "Why are you doing this? What's the catch?"

"Just fucking touch me already, will you, sha?"

She knew she'd regret this, sooner and later. But he had a point about the parkour especially with a more modern building like this one which lacked outcropping ornamentation. Marie stripped both her gloves off, tucked them into her belt, and held on to Lebeau's arms.

--kept his balance centred and towards the wall, not away. His left arm, torso, and right leg held his weight in perfect balance. A small shift to the right and he could swing easily to the next windowsill. Brick cut into his fingers, hard enough to be felt through the calluses. He ignored it, shifting his balance now to the right arm, through his torso, down his left leg. Another shift--

"-- addition to the school," said Storm. "Emma tells me she has quite an attitude on her."

"Withdrawal?" he asked.

"No, just good old fashioned teenage rebellion. It's good for her, actually. She's thinking for herself instead of cowing in fear. That said, there is a fine line between finding your voice and becoming a bully yourself. But Emma and Sean have a great deal of experience in those matters. Angel will never be completely healed but with a great deal of support, she can have a normal--"

-- used his core muscles to slowly lift his legs away from the other building's. He bent in half, legs over his head, then straightened out in a vertical push-up motion to hook his ankles around a flagpole. Pushing off the wall, he looped up, catching the flagpole with his hands this time then shifted to a seated, upright position.

He gripped the flagpole with his toes and the arches of his feet to add to add security to his balance before standing. The winds blew a touch harder at this elevation but he'd taken precautions against that. The niches in the stone were just enough to--

-- smelled like peaches. Everything she owned must be saturated in peach scent. Peach was officially his favourite fruit. He pushed his shoes off and rested them on the hotel's ottoman with his ankles crossed. The movement distracted her enough that she didn't notice him sinking two of his fingers into all that lovely, soft hair, drawing even more peach scent out towards him. Sad how these movie appointments had become the best part of the month--

Marie pulled away, panting, eyes wide. Remy-- Lebeau, dammit!-- had the same deer-in-headlights expression. He opened his mouth to say something but seemed to think better of it.

"So. Um. Thanks," Marie blurted out before ducking out the window into the relative safety of climbing up a building using only her hands, feet, and an acquired sensed of balance to get into a room likely to be shot up by trigger-happy gangsters hyped up on paranoia. Infinitely safer than staying in her own room with Re-- Lebeau after that doozy of an absorption.

As climbs went, this was easy: a simple vertical movement five windows northward. Boards still firmly closed the windows off, preventing the occupants from seeing out. Getting a good foot grip might be tricky but her feet were smaller than Rem-- Lebeau's. Marie found just enough stretch in her arms to swing her weight from one window out-cropping to the next. Her breath condensed into a permanent cloud around her head. Appropriate and annoying. She couldn't quite feel the tips of her fingers which were likely a blessing considering how much she scraped them on the exterior facade.

Two more windows to go. And what the hell was Lebeau thinking anyway with the peaches and the variation on the yawn-and-stretch? Granted, he was old enough to have learned that in its heyday but she thought they had a deal. Meaning she'd deal with his perma-horny in exchange for valuable information to use against organized crime in NYC, in turn, which was in exchanged in turn for the X-Men's protection should The Guild find out he narked on other gangs on a regular basis. Considering the infinite number of open mouths turned in his general direction every day, what the hell was he thinking attaching all those... those... feelings with their appointments like they were dates?

Oh God.

In his twisted Guild mind, had they been dating? Did she considering them dating? She thought her patience with Lebeau was an example of her growing into her Big Girl Pants. Was her increased trust in him instead of Pete actually her feelings or residuals of Remy's? And this was why Marie hated her powers sometimes. Most of the time, really. It messed her up something fierce. She really couldn't handle her worldview twisting around a second time today.

She reached the window of the farthest room, Martian's room, one of the few boy hookers in the Genie. Just to be on the safe side, she listened through. She put all her weight against the building, arms and legs spread to keep her balance. Off went Lebeau's power; on went Logan's. Martian's voice and scent hit her senses clearly. He had a customer, probably one of the enforcers. Now she turned Logan's powers off in favour of Magneto's. She pulled the nails on the window boards away from the wall. Then, using the same nails, she shoved the boards inwards.

The force of the board flying in knocked Martian out. His john opened his mouth to scream. Marie jumped in and slapped her hands around his face. The fat bastard dropped. She checked on Martian. She couldn't risk him waking up, so she touched him, too. As soon as he dropped, she released, gagged, and dry heaved over the bed. This op was going to kill her. It was going to throw her right off the bend and she'd end up jumping from the Statue of Liberty, a giggling, sobbing mess.

But for now, she closed the box off in her head marked Martian, AKA Jacob Trin-Duc. She had to refocus. The goal was the hidden room. Marie knelt on the small floor space left between the bed and the wall. Still channelling Magneto, she pulled nails out of the floorboards, one at a time until she had a space three boards across, just big enough for her to slip through.

Marie slid the floorboards side and slipped in, feet first. Her heartbeat thundered under her tongue. The only light in the space came from above her. She pulled her mini maglight out and twisted it on. The first thing she saw was a bare twin-sized mattress. A small lump huddled on the far end, so still Marie feared the worst. She inched further in and had to climb on the mattress. The space was the size of a wardrobe. She focussed the maglight upward. Bare drywall rose up six and a half feet, not quite to the ceiling. She couldn't see any signs of recording equipment-- no pinholes on the walls and ceilings or obvious plastic knobs.

She drew closer to the lump. "Hey. Hello?"

The lump didn't respond. It smelled so foul Marie feared she'd have to call on Jess again. The coroner would not appreciate another teenager on her slab. Marie would hate herself even more.

"C'mon, please be alive." Gently, she pressed a hand on the lump. She felt small sharp elbows, a foot, the spines of a backbone. The lump was a person, a small one. A child? Oh God, she didn't want to have to send a kid to a slab.

The kid shivered.

Marie nearly wept. "Hey. It's okay. I won't hurt you."

The kid's shivering grew more violent, accompanied by muffled sobs.

"My name's Mar-- Li--" Shoot. What name could she give? "I'm Rogue. What's your name, sugar?"

The kid only continued to tremble and whimper. Her entire back shook with a hacking cough.

"It's gonna be all right, I promise. Just tell me your name and I'll find a way to send you somewhere safe. Anywhere you want. Just let me know your name."

Two huge sunken eyes peered at her between folded arms. "Yana."

Marie swallowed a ragged breath. "Yana? Illyana?"

The little girl nodded once, cautiously.

"I know your brother, Pio- Pete. We've been looking for you so long. Your momma and brother are going to be so happy to see you again."

At the mention of her family, Yana found enough strength to lunge at her. Her stick-thin arms locked around Marie's neck. A clinking noise echoed her movements. A sweep of the maglight showed a chain running from the wall to Yana's right leg where it fastened with a manacle. Her whimpers gained volume, interspersed with coughs and desperate pleas of "I wanna go home, please take me home, I want my momma, please I want my momma."

Marie quickly put a hand to Yana's mouth. "Shhh. You have to stay quiet. We need to be sneaky, all right?"

Yana nodded and clamped her lips together.

"Good girl. Now, I have to go for a little while--"

"Nooo!" And she held on to Marie tighter. "No, please no, I'll be quiet, please I'll be quiet, please don't leave me here again, please, no, no, no, no."

Marie held her tiny body close, petting her hair like she was a baby. "Hush now, sugar, it won't be long. I just need to figure out a way to get you out of here in secret. I... I might need to call a friend."

"L-Like Pete's friends? In the big basement?"

The X-Men. "Exactly right. Some basement friends. I'm just a scout, looking to make sure you're here and now that I'm sure, I've got to get them okay? So you just have to be brave for a little while longer."

"I caaaan't! It's dark and, and, and my leg hurts and, and--" she ducked her head down-- "I made an accident in the bed."

"Honey, I don't care about the accident. No one does. You're so brave; what's a little accident in comparison, huh?" Marie cupped Yana's face in her hands. She looked nothing like Pete, perhaps due to her emaciated state. Maybe she resembled Anne in her childhood. "Look, I need to go. But you can have this." She gave Yana the maglight. "That's from your brother. Hide it good and don't turn it on unless you're sure no one can see."


"I'll send someone to get you."

"Why not you?"

"Because I have to keep the bad men away." Marie glanced upward. "I should really go now actually."

"When will your friend come?"

"As soon as it's safe. I'm sorry I can't give you a better time, honey, but I'm working on this as I go." She gave Yana another hug. "My friend's name is Gambit. His eyes go red when he does card tricks."

"Magic card tricks?"

"Sure. And when he comes, ask him for a password. What do you want the password to be?"

Yana's scrunched her face. "Um. Magic."

"That's a perfect password. I'll let him know." Martian or his john were starting to make noises upstairs. "All right, I really have to go. I'll see you soon, all right, brave girl?"

Yana held the maglight until her bones whitened her skin. "Okay."

Marie jumped up, boosting her air time with a bit of Magneto's powers, then hauled herself through the hole. She needed to get Yana out of there. She needed to get her out tonight and like it or not, her best bet for that wasn't Piotr Rasputin nee Semyonov. It was Remy Fucking Lebeau.

Martian's john was starting to twitch. Marie quickly got to her feet and ran to his side to give him a good kick to the head. Consciousness solved. Martian could ID Liz as the attacked, which meant this op was officially over. Fine with her. She was getting sick of the damn green skin anyway.

She replaced the floorboards but bent back half the nails to make them easier to pull out next time. Then she was out the window, boarding it shut, before monkeying back to her own room. As she twisted around to slip into her room, she caught movement from the corner of her eye. Marie paused and opened up her mind to Logan's powers.

Car exhaust. Radiator pipes. Rubber on asphalt. Two million televisions. A Siamese cat in heat. Dog claws on concrete. A drug deal around the corner. A business deal three streets down. Bean bags smacking against a juggler's hands. Silk-kevlar-silica triple weave two roofs over. The same weave worn by one Remy Lebeau currently reaching up around her waist to pull her in.

"Did you find it?" he asked.

Marie sniffed. Yeah, same cloth. She smelled another one two roofs north. "I knocked Martian and his guido out but they'll wake up soon."

"There was a hidden room."

"The little girl I told you about is in there. Get her." Marie curled her hands around Lebeau's lapel. "I could see through her fucking wrists. She's got an infected wound around her ankle from that manacle and she's so sick, she could barely talk between coughs. She's practically rainbow-coloured from bruising and I--" She caught herself before she could sob. She didn't cry in front of Pete; she'd be fucked sideways before she cried in front of Lebeau. "Get her out of here. Hide her. Keep hiding her until I tell you it's safe. She's a witness for this case and she needs to stay live."

"What about your boyfriend?" he asked.

Marie laughed. Lebeau took a step away. In hindsight, her laugh was probably more like an evil cackle. "Don't pretend you're worried when you've got this place surrounded by your people. Attack formation, right? Three points in the air, six on the ground, trap 'em in the middle. Not that you're expecting much of a fight with the Vostochevskaya's skeleton crew. Half of them are there for panic control."

"That's what I get for letting you in my head."

"Are you fucking nuts? It's broad daylight and all the girls are still in there, half-buzzed out of their heads."

"You're acting like this is our first time at the rodeo. So, which one of them did this to her, Stefan or Max?" Remy asked. His tone or the lighting in the room made his devil's eyes seem more intense, like he lit up a charge behind them.

"What does it matter?"

"True. They're both dead men."

Marie put a hand on his arm. "No. We do this the right way. Legally."

"Legal don't mean right."

"I ain't getting into a goddamn political argument with you. Just get the girl and leave before she gets caught in the crossfire of your fucking turf war." She pointed out the window. "Call your people off."

"Can't do, sha. We ain't gonna get a better day to strike than now."

"You're fucking selling me out, Lebeau."

"Selling you out means you hold some loyalty to me or the Guild. You willing to 'fess up to that,?"

Marie glared.

Snorting, Lebeau made his way out the window then paused. "You could get caught in the crossfire, too."

"Bitch, I am the crossfire."

Marie ran out of her room-- thank God she hadn't changed from her visit with Semyonov-- arms out. "This place is going to get hit! Get the girls some place safe."

Basher barely looked up from his drink but Stefan straightened and Pete stood up from his chair.

"Where did you hear--" Pete began to ask but just then, glass showered down from the upper windows. The girls on the main floor screamed. The enforcers took their guns out. Small pellets rolled on the floor, hissing gas. Pete drew his piece, shifting to metal.

"Who'd be stupid enough to take a hit on us?" Stefan yelled, a gun in both hands.

"It's Guild!" Tank shouted back. "It's their MO. Fucking ninja-wanna-bes. Gas and--" A knife protruded from his throat, cutting off the rest of his sentence.

"The fuck is the Guild doing here?"

As she yanked two of the girls away from the middle of the room, closer to the exits, Marie felt pricking behind her head and she turned to see Stefan glaring at her.

"You did this!" He aimed his weapon at her.

Marie shoved the girls one way and lunged in the other, reaching into her psyche for Pete's powers. Warmth bloomed on her shoulder as her green scales melted into steel bands. "Get out of here!" she ordered the girls. "The Guild won't hurt you! Just go-- hey!"

Bullets ricocheted off her. Stefan was still shooting her, running at a tilt with a baton in his other hand. Marie crouched, making herself a smaller target. But the gas was sinking down here, too. Heat scorched her throat and eyes. Fucking pepper pellets. Goddamn stupid time for the goddamn Guild to go for drama instead of stealth. They wanted to send a message. Gambit wanted to send a message. She knew how his brain worked. Hopefully, he'd get Illyana out before all hell broke completely loose.

Stefan drew close, both hands on his baton. "Max said to get rid of you. I shoulda done it as soon as we got you out of the boss' place."

Marie shot up, fist out. Flesh had no chance against organic steel; he was unconscious before he hit the floor. Thick fogs of pepper gas reached to Marie's chest. Bullets bounced off steel but she still had to breathe. Coughing, she waded through the fog, searching for more girls. Greenback curled under the bar, screaming. Marie yanked her up by the arm and pushed her to the exit, hoping she wasn't too out of it to figure it out.

"Motherfuckers!" Basher bellowed. "Come get me, motherfuckers! You can't get me!" He opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle-- where the everloving fuck did he get a machine gun?-- spraying bullets all over the place like confetti.

"Stop! Stop it!" Marie screamed. "There are people on the second floor!"

But Basher was too caught up in himself to hear and Marie had drawn too much pepper into her lungs. She switched to Logan's healing factor. She'd still get hit and it would hurt, but at least she could keep going. That was her. Detective Marie D'Ancanto, the fucking Energizer Bunny. She ran up the stairs, ramming locks open and yanking at the doors. The pepper spray could enter the rooms this way but at least the prostitutes had a way to escape other than jumping out the boarded-up windows. She needed to get the gun away from Basher.

"What the actual fuck?!" Stacey X screeched.

"Hit. Get them out," said Marie.

"Who the fuck are you?"

"It's Liz! I'm--" Right. She looked nothing like Liz any more. Oh, to hell with it. "I'm NYPD. I need to you take charge of everyone from here to the stairs and make sure you get out. Can you do that?"

"You're a fucking pig?"

"Yes, Stacey, yes, I'm a pig. And we can bitchslap each other to death later but right now we're stuck in the middle of a firefight so you and I have to make sure the rest of the girls and boys don't get dead."

"I-- I should--"

Marie grabbed her shoulders. "Can you do that or do I have to find someone with bigger balls?"

Stacey shrugged her hands off. "Which rooms?"

"This point to the stairs. Look out for pepper spray and bullets."

A sucking roar filled the building. Marie and Stacey looked down to see a fireball shooting up from the kitchen. Marie seized two of the girls by their shirts, Stacey pushed the remaining three and they hurled themselves into Stacey's room with flames smacking their heels.

"And fire?" added Stacey.

Marie nodded. "And fire. Because we need a bit more of a challenge." She touched the door knob then drew back with a hiss. There went that exit. Whatever started the fire must have caught on the pepper spray particles. Smoke seeped under the door. The rest of the prostitutes who'd been too blissed out to be frightened now joined the group cry. Fantastic.

"Chill them out," she told Stacey.

"On it." Stacey gathered everyone around her and closed her eyes. The sobbing faded to heavy breathing. Kinky but Marie would take it over hysterics.

Marie popped Pyro out of her memory boxes to push the worst of the flames away from the room so she could have a look outside. The blackened hallway to the stairs were a no-go. A section in the other direction had fallen altogether. No way down there. Marie closed the door. The windows in this room had iron bars as well as wooden planks. Marie shed Pyro's powers for Magento's. She curled her hands in mid-air. The bars crumpled inward. Grunting, she pushed the bars and steel window frames out. She stuck her head out to look for a way down. The fire escape hung in the middle of the wall, twenty feet to her left. Marie reached out with Magneto's powers. She had never moved anything this large with so many little pieces. It felt like moving a house of cards: unscrew all the bolts from the wall but not between the steps and landings, hold the top section firm but keep the bottom one from swinging too violently, move it slowly, slowly, slowly, dragging iron against brick. She set her jaw, took slow breaths, and eased the magnetic fields around the fire escape until it hung outside Stacey's window.

Now to hold it there. Marie closed her eyes, feeling for the curved bars at the topmost ladder section. Just... over... there; she hooked it on the lip of the roof. Making a curt downward motion, she forced the bars through the roofing material. Taking several of the bars on the landing closest to the window, she bent them towards the building and pulled. The bars pushed through the brick wall. The sections showing through the wall, she curled into circles. That should keep them from slipping out.

"I'm holding the fire escape," she said. "Use it to get out of here."

"Who the fuck are you?" Stacey asked.

"I'm the goddamn Batman. Now go!"

"There are other rooms."

"Let me worry about them or we'll all run out of time." The smoke was knee high now. The wall paint bubbled. Marie craned her neck to the right. There were seven more rooms that way, most of them occupied as far as she knew and she had no way to get to them without letting go of the fire escape.

The wall to her left exploded. Marie ducked, fell to her knees, but stiffened her arms to hold on to the fire escape. Pete, steel, singed jeans, and dust, stepped through the hole. He noted the fire escape at the window where Stacey on the landing, yelling at the girls to climb slow and steady, then nodded. "Are there any more?"

Marie jerked her head to the other wall. "That way. Don't know how many."

Pete put his head down, braced one shoulder forward, and rammed the wall. Seventy year-old construction had nothing on seven hundred pounds of angry, metal Russian. Marie heard walls crumble over and over as five girls stumbled through and smoke seeped higher into the room. Her lungs burned, and she couldn't see past the stinging in her eyes but she held that fire escape steady until Pete slung her up over his shoulder. An unconscious Martian hung on Pete's other shoulder.

"Everyone's down except us," said Pete. "Can you hold the fire escape as we climb it?"

"I can try," Marie said. Rather, she started to say but nothing between her sinuses and her diaphragm wanted to work. She nodded instead,

"Hold on."

He squeezed through the window. The fire escape shuddered as soon as he put weight on it. Marie gritted her teeth, wrapping Magneto's psyche around her like a blanket in the dead of winter. The creaking stopped. Pete climbed all the way out, testing his full weight with his hands braced on the window sill just in case, before twisting his width down the ladder. Marie kept her head down and held on to Magneto's flickering psyche as tightly as she could but every cough rocked her brain pan.

"Marie! Hold the ladder!"

Her next cough sucked the air out of her lungs and closed her throat down. Her eyes bugged. The fire escape seemed to sigh as though it felt Marie's weariness, then tilted to the left. Spots darkened her field of view as the last of Magento's German-flecked castigations leaked back into the recesses of her brain.

"Marie!" Pete's voice came from the end of a long tunnel.

Pain exploded on her right shoulder. The shock forced air into her lungs and Marie woke up, flailing. Pete was passing her to someone. She turned her head. Remy?

"Got her?" Pete asked.

Remy grunted in the affirmative. He held out a length of flat nylon rope, close to Martian. "Put this 'round him."

Marie looked down. Remy had his legs wrapped around hers, one arm looped around her chest. A harness held him to a zip line running from the side of the burning building to a lower roof two across the street. She had a harness around her body, too, looser than his.

"M'up," she said but he didn't head her. "I'm up!" she repeated, louder and he finally heard.

Something that might have been fear left his face. "Didn't even get to kiss you to break the spell."

"I can go by myself," she said. "Get Martian."


The building answered for her. The creaking from within turned into screeching and the upper windows belched black smoke along with glass and wood splinters. Marie wriggled up higher into her harness and pushed away from Remy. He let go immediately, reaching for Martian, still out cold on Pete's shoulder. Pete hung on the building by virtue of his feet and fists burrowed into the walls. He had his face pressed to his shoulder, trying not to inhale any more smoke.

"Pete!" she croaked.

Remy swung away with Martian in his arms. "Got 'em!"

Marie read his intentions half a second too late; he pushed her down the zip line. Within moments, he pushed off as well, leaving Pete clinging to the Vostochevskaya's building. She twisted around in mid-line in time to see him leap off. Then the other roof came up, fast and dark. Marie curled her legs for impact and accessed Logan's powers in time to heal her ankle when another blast rippled the line, throwing her off-centre. Ow. The line released and she rolled with the momentum, stopping at a crouch on the new roof with her arms over her head for protection.

Sirens wailed down the Manhattan streets, overtaking the crackles of the fire. Marie stood, letting Logan's healing factor wash through her scorched lungs and scratched eyes. Martian sprawled close to the end of the line, his chest rising and falling steadily. Remy--Lebeau-- stood with one foot braced on the edge of the roof, watching the Vostochevskaya's building burn. It couldn't be later than four in the afternoon but the sky was darkening. With high-rises blocking the horizon, the fire could be mistaken for the setting sun, painting Lebeau's cheekbones in blacks and oranges. Red-violet kinetic energy flickered at the corners of his eyes; he had cut the zipline by charging it.

He turned to her and smiled. "Mission accomplished, sha."

"Mission..." Funny how adrenaline and healing factor stirred up all those lovely rage-bitch feelings again. "Mission accomplished?! Mission fucking--" Roaring, Marie charged, launching into a high kick.

Remy blocked with his arms, stepping back. Landing on her back, she twirled around to fake an ankle hook only to grab a handful of roof gravel to charge. She threw them in a wide arc.

"What the-- stop!" He bent backwards, dodging most of the projectiles. When he came back up, he had two metal escrima sticks in hand. "What the ever-loving fuck, D'Ancanto?"

"You almost killed everyone!" She switched to Magneto. Krav maga. Five jabs to his torso which the blocked successfully with his escrima but that was all right. She only did it to distract him from the side of her hand to his windpipe. He staggered back again. Lines hardened his face. He attacked with a volley of spinning thrusts using his escrima interspersed with low kicks. Marie swept the sticks away and danced free of his legs.

"What does it matter? They were scum."

"There were six gangbangers to eleven hookers."

"The rest of my team were there to extract the girls. If those idiots hadn't set fire to their own damn place, this wouldn't have happened. I'd never hurt the girls, you know that."

"And I'm supposed to believe you're doing this out of the goodness of your heart? Because you're such an upstanding citizen. Mighty convenient that getting rid of this bratva means you get the territory."

"We don't steal kids for brothels."

"No, you just shoot their parents and abandon them to the street," Marie blurted out. She didn't know where that came from but damn, her subconscious was a righteous bitch.

Lebeau's expression froze, his eyes truly flashing now. "You really think I'm as low as them. Them that take kids, torture 'em, then give 'em to sick men to fuck. I'm amazed you can bring yourself to come within a foot of me."

"Can we not make this about your man-pain all the goddamn time? Y'know, what? Fuck it. Yes. Yes, I severely doubt your honour-amongst-thieves bullshit most days, but right now I just really do not care. I really couldn't give a rat's putrid ass. My landscape is keeping Illyana safe and nailing this perp's ass to the wall. I trust you as far as I can use you and when that aspect of our 'relationship' ends, I'm going after your ass as well." Marie hissed to a stop, out of breath, temples throbbing with emotion.

Three feet away, Lebeau panted just as heavily. His fingers writhed around an invisible deck of cards. Even in the dimming light, she saw the thin white line rimming his lips.

"I'll take Yana back to the safehouse where we practiced," he said. "I'll watch over her myself. Call me when this is over and you'll get her back. Otherwise, don't fucking call me at all, Detective."

He jumped off the roof. Marie ran to the side but he had disappeared along with the rest of the Guild. She pressed the balls of her palms into her eyes. Fuck. Fuck.

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