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Risen: Part 16

Disclaimer:  Marvel characters belong to Marvel and are used without
permission for no monetary gain.

Acknowledgements go to Andy, my beta reader, and Peter, my editor.  Extra
special thanks to Peter this time, for listening to me whine and moan about
it almost on a daily basis :)

This chapter is dedicated to a man named Scott, who wrote me a lovely email
that I'm unable to respond to because my computer died and I hadn't copied
down his address.  I apologize, and hope you enjoy this installment.

Previous chapters can be found at

"Midway this way of life we're bound upon,
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
Where the right road was wholly lost and gone."
     ~Dante Alighieri

"Stryker is ordinary," Magnus remarked, folding his newspaper and setting it between them on the bench.  "An ordinary man, speaking ordinary words, using ordinary guns, harboring ordinary prejudices.  The only power he wields is that which you give him."

"No," Charles disagreed, his gaze fixed upon the courthouse.  "He's not ordinary.  He's a monster."

"He is human."

"And I am a coward," Charles said, "to not be able to face him even now."

Magnus shook his head.  "You are *able* to face him, Charles.  You simply do not *want* to.  It is much easier to sit here and speak of his evil, of the destruction he has wrought within you, while you renounce your student because he possesses the courage you lack.  After all, confronting Stryker could mean coming out as a mutant, and we both know how abhorrent you find *that* possibility.

"I cannot say I blame you," he continued, gesturing toward the courthouse. "Did you know that the defense is putting forth the argument that I represent all mutants, and since I am so very malevolent, they must be as well; and since malevolence should be wiped out at any cost, murdering a mutant is really an act of heroism?"  He paused, a touch of amusement on his lips.  "I thought they would surely recognize the intended sarcasm of 'The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants'."

"Perhaps their appreciation of your wit was overshadowed by your violent, terroristic activities," Charles retorted, Magneto's words tearing through his already disheartened spirit like a bullet.  He didn't think he could do this any more.  "Your actions --"

"We are fighting a war," Magnus interrupted, "and wars are not won with words."

"They would be, if less people thought as you do."  Charles turned and looked at the other man, tilting his hat down over his brow as the afternoon sun came out from behind a cloud.  "Why are you doing this, Magnus?  You have no faith in the state.  I expected you to have taken matters into your own hands by now."

"And end this already precarious peace between us?"  Magnus shook his head. "No, I will not act unless Stryker is not found guilty.  You have my word."

Logan dropped his cigar into the gutter and ground it out beneath the heel of his boot, his eyes flitting over the students that rushed past them on the campus.  "I heard you had a bad night."

"There've been worse," Jean replied dryly, sliding the papers she held into her bag before looping the strap across her body as she braced herself for the inevitable.

"No doubt."  He took in the dark circles under her eyes, the agitated way in which she moved.  "You want to tell me what's got you so spooked?"

She hesitated, hooked her thumbs into the pockets of her jeans.  "I can't."

"Like hell," he growled.  "I'm not goin' to let you do this again."  He jerked his head toward the back of his bike.  "Get on."


"Damn it, Jeannie --"

"Stop it," she said, wanting him to save her so badly it hurt.  "Just stop it.  Go home to your wife."

"Helpin' you doesn't mean bein' unfaithful to her."

"You don't believe that."

"Don't tell me what I believe," he said angrily, "and I'm sorry, darlin', but I ain't buyin'.  This has nothin' to do with Mariko."

She took a sudden step forward, pressing her body against his, their eyes locked, mouths inches apart.  He could feel her desperation, her fear, the pounding of her heart beneath the thin material of her shirt.  "Tell me
now," she whispered insistantly, her fingers digging into his chest as he moved his hands to her waist and held her where she was, unable to push her away.  "Tell me this has nothing to do with Mariko.  Tell me this has nothing to do with Scott.  Tell me, and I'll tell you all my secrets.  Every last one.  *Tell me*."

He didn't answer, and she pulled away from him, no longer meeting his eyes. "That's what I thought."

"Moira is furious with me," Charles said.  "She accuses me of turning the school into my own private army, of taking too many chances with the children's lives."

Magnus glanced pointedly down at his newspaper, the headline of which read 'Mutant Disturbance At Westchester Hospital.  Two Missing.  Property Damage Estimated At $400,000.'

Charles sighed.  "That was self-defense and Moira knows it.  The bear attacked them, and if it hadn't been for my training they all would have died.  She's being unreasonable."

"Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  What of the missing?" Magnus inquired.  "Are they dead?"

"No, we have them.  Their experience seems to have changed them into Native Americans, and our resident sorceresses haven't been able to reverse the spell," Charles confessed.  "They'll be staying at the mansion."  He took a sip of his coffee.  "Two more to worry about."

"At the rate you seem to be alienating your existing followers, I would have thought new ones would be welcome."

"How many followers do *you* have?" Charles shot back, aggravated.  God forbid Moira and Magnus ever joining forces...it would be the end of him. "What *have* you been doing these last months, besides observing Stryker?"

"I tracked Magda as far as Dolj," he said quietly, "before her trail disappeared again."

"I'm sorry," Charles said, the other man's feelings of loss and frustration radiating toward him, still raw after all these years.

"There is nothing for you to apologize for."  Magnus took his pocket watch from his suit jacket and flicked it open.  "Court is reconvening," he said. "Are you sure you won't join me?"

"Yes.  You know, this wasn't entirely unpleasant."

"No, not entirely," Magnus smiled.  "We shall have to do it again."

For Manuel de la Rocha, no virtue was as important as a fastidious attention to detail.  If you did not see every facet of a situation, every triviality, you had no chance of exerting even a modicum of influence over it; and a situation you could not influence was no fun at all.

As he followed the White Queen through the lavishly decorated corridors of the Hellfire Club, Manuel looked past the absolute surety of her carriage, the flawless exterior, observed the way every expression, every movement, every word was cold, ascetic; noticed the minute twitch of her upper lip that betrayed secret thrills;  perceived the subtle changes in the tone of her voice as she spoke; committing every gesture and it's meaning to memory, adding to his already considerable knowledge of the woman.  She might not be as susceptible to his powers as most; but gaining control of her was too delicious a challenge to pass up.

They reached the Black King's chambers and swept past the guard, Shaw rising from behind his heavy walnut desk to greet them.  "You're early, Emma," he said, the slightest hint of irritation in his voice, "and you've brought a guest."

"You remember Empath, don't you, Sebastian?" Emma asked smoothly.  "The most....promising of the Hellions?"

"Ah, yes."  His demeanor shifted, became more predatory.  "How nice to see you again, Mr. de la Rocha."


"I've requested Manuel's help with our little game," Emma explained.  "After all, we are playing with fire."

"Well?" Ororo inquired as Scott sat down beside her on the grass, absently picking at the pile of weeds she had already pulled.  "How did it go?"

He shrugged.  "It was a boring job anyway."

"It should be illegal," Ororo frowned, "to fire someone simply because they are a mutant."

"I expected it," he said, reaching for an extra spade and digging a stray dandelion out by the root.  "To be fair, they said they had to let me go because of the negative publicity a murder trial would bring the airline, and not because of my mutancy."

"Even so, it has to hurt," she said.  "I am sorry for that."

"No 'I told you so'?  I know you agree with Charles about the trial."

"Your intentions are admirable," she explained, "but I fear the consequences of your actions.  I cannot support your decision, but that does not mean I shall abandon you. "  She paused and looked up at him.  "I value this friendship we have forged.  I would not throw it away so easily."

"Thank you," he said, squeezing her hand.  "For everything."

"You are very welcome," she smiled.  "Have you spoken to Jean today?"

"No," he said, "she left for class before I woke up.  Why?"

"The way she left the hospital last night...she seemed so shaken.  I was worried.  I asked Logan to talk to her."

He felt a stab of jealousy, sharp in his chest.  She had told him about Jason, he told himself.  She would tell him if anything else happened, if she was in trouble, if she needed help.  He had to trust her.

He had to.

Jean noticed her hand shaking as she tried to light her cigarette, her lighter spluttering and dying; and she reached for the bowl of matches that lay on the smooth surface of the table, burning her fingers when one finally caught, her stomach twisting itself into knots when she thought about what she was doing.

"Nervous?" Jason asked acidly.  He finished his drink and motioned for a new one.  "They won't find out you came here unless you tell them."

"I know."  She bit her lip, struggling to contain her revulsion for the man. "I won't tell them."

"Easy to say," he smirked.  "How do I know this isn't a trick?"

Her eyes flickered between his face and the engraved Hellfire Club insignia that adorned the entrance to the parlor.  "Very simply," she said, a calm strength spreading through her as her despair turned to anger.  "You don't."



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