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"Wild Cards"

Wild Cards

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26

This story is unfinished.

The following story features characters which are the property of Marvel Comics, and no money is being made from their unauthorized use here. The character of Reine however, is my creation, and if you use her without my permission, I'll just have to hunt you down and kill you.

Wild Cards

Part 12

After a long, dream-disturbed night which had given him little rest, Joseph had awakened early and wandered down to the lake. He had watched the sun rise, but there remained a weariness within him that had nothing to do with insufficient sleep, and not even the beauty of the dawn's fingers stretching across the water could dispell it.

At least he hadn't remembered his dreams this morning, he thought with a grim smile, appreciating the irony. Most of the time he grasped at memory fragments like a drowning man after a life preserver, desperate for even the smallest anchor to help him understand the man he had been, or the man he was now -- but the pictures that came to him in his sleep ...

He shuddered at the fragmented images.

People herded like cattle ... children crying out in fear for their parents ... disease and parasites among the frightened masses ... tortured screams among gunshots, with the laughing of the jailers in the background ... the empty eyes of those who had given up, waiting for the end that would come either from the muzzle of a rifle, or from a walk to the 'showers' ... and a single thought, fierce with determination ...

* Never again...*

The others had no idea what it was like. He knew enough of his history to abhor the actions he had undertaken as Magneto, but not enough to make a clean break from that past. Everyone else simply seemed to think that he was starting from a blank slate, or else was just having them on, waiting for an opportune moment to strike.

* Wipe the slate clean and start afresh ... if only that were true. Then I would be able to make a new beginning without qualm. But how can I reject a past, if I do not know why I started down the path I did in the first place? If I could understand who I was, I could move on to who I am ... the status quo is intolerable to me, yet I can see no way to change it. Not even Rogue understands. No one understands ...*

" Don't bet on it. "

Startled, Joseph whirled toward the voice. Reine stood behind him, a bemused smile on her lips. Clearly, she was expecting to meet up with Logan -- she was barefoot and dressed in her gi, her well-worn belt more white than black from years of use.

Joseph's eyes narrowed warningly.

" I would thank you to keep out of my mind, unless otherwise invited," he said coldly.

" If you don't want a telepath to know your stray thoughts, then don't broadcast so damn loudly," she replied without rancor.

"And for your information, like my brother, I never go where I'm not invited. "

That said, Reine began stretching in preparation for her workout. Joseph, however, was not about to let the matter drop so easily. During her stay, he hadn't had much to do with Riposte, as she was almost always in her brother's company. Joseph was keenly aware of the Cajun's resentment of his friendship with Rogue, and avoided Remy whenever possible, primarily for the sake of his own blood pressure. Consequently, he was only familiar with the qualities Reine shared with Gambit -- unfortunately, one of them was the ability to push his buttons.

" I suppose the people whom the two of you have pilfered from over the years supplied engraved invitations? And that no one ever bothered to tell you it is rude to eavesdrop? " he retorted sarcastically.

Riposte only grinned.

" First off, listening at all times, not just when it's polite, has saved my butt on many an occasion. Every now and then you might hear something that's hurtful to you or someone else, but I prefer even a nasty case of hurt feelings to a permanent case of dead," she replied with a grunt, as she stretched.

" And as for the first accusation -- one: it depends on your perspective; and two: prove it. "

She was pushing him, not even bothering to hide her enjoyment at his annoyed reaction, as her grin grew broader and her fiery eyes twinkled in amusement. At that moment, even as irritated as he was, Joseph couldn't help but remark on her beauty -- quite different than Rogue's. While the southern belle had a sweet innocence about her that accentuated her charms, Reine possessed a knowing sophistication that was irresistible in itself ...

" You're impossible ... " he muttered darkly.

" Nope, just highly improbable."

" What? "

Reine laughed at his puzzled expression.

" Sherlock Holmes -- 'once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth'. I exist, therefore I am possible: that only leaves option two. And given my background, I definitely qualify. "

Despite himself, Joseph found himself smiling ... then stopped abruptly.

A memory -- an older man reading from a leather-bound volume -- A Study in Scarlet -- to a rapt young boy -- flash ahead to that same boy crouching over the man's mutilated body, a soldier beating him away with a rifle butt -- the boy, now a man himself, killing those who threatened his family -- never again --

Joseph came to himself. He was on his knees. Reine was beside him, one arm curled around his waist, the other bracing his own arm behind her neck, supporting him. Dimly, he was aware of her voice.

" Joseph? Joseph -- are you all right? "

" I .. I think so ... "

Even to his own ears, his voice sounded shaky.

" Memories? "

He nodded mutely.

" The bad ones can do that. "

" All I want is to move on with my life, yet fragments of my own past will not allow me to do so," he sighed.

" Damned if you don't have a hell of a lot in common with Remy ... " Reine muttered under her breath.

" What? "

Riposte smiled sardonically.

" Never mind. Like I told you before, Joseph, if you think there's nobody who understands, don't bet on it ... some of us understand only too well. Are you going to be okay? "

Slowly, he climbed to his feet -- he felt steady now.

" Yes. "

" Good -- I'll walk you to the lab so Hank can check you out. "

Walking back toward the mansion, Joseph quietly regarded his escort. He had noticed her preoccupied frown, and the worry in her eyes, which were not directed at him.

* Gambit? Perhaps there is something there ... *

Warren Worthington III was busy in the kitchen of the X-Mansion. He had been careful, and with patience and stealth developed over countless missions, he had managed to creep out of bed and leave his room without waking Betsy. Considering her telepathic awareness of her surroundings and ninja reflexes, no easy task -- but still easier than what he now faced.

As of late, Psylocke had been running herself ragged -- first, her near-death at the hands of Sabertooth, then her ordeal with the Crimson Dawn. It seemed as if it had been one crisis after another, and just when he thought he could finagle her into taking some down time, Gambit and his long-lost twin required heavy-duty training in psi powers they had kept hidden from everyone else.

* Typical ... *

Fortunately, it seemed as if that particular fire was under control, and he and Betts would finally have some time for themselves. After all she had been through, Warren had thought familiar pleasures would be a comfort for her. Which was why the high-flying Angel of the X-Men was in the kitchen, attempting to make currant scones ...

Although Elizabeth Braddock's mind had been transferred to the body of a ninja assassin, she retained staunchly British tastes -- currant scones and strong Darjeeling tea being two of them.

* At least the tea won't be a problem ... * he thought ruefully.

Apart from absolute basics like toast, eggs and most things boiled, he was the first to admit he knew nothing about cooking. As the only son of extremely wealthy parents, learning to cook had never really been an item on his "to do" list. Whenever it was his turn as cook in the mansion, he invariably ordered pizza, chinese food, or had the meals catered.

Still, how hard could it be? Thankfully, there were a few cookbooks lurking about -- a copy of Fanny Farmer supplied the needed recipe. The next few minutes were spent in hunting ingredients -- since he didn't spend a huge amount of time in the kitchen as a rule, he was unsure where a number of things were. However, he soon managed to find what he needed.

After about three-quarters of an hour of labour, he was nearly finished preparing the batter when he was startled by a most unusual sight.

It was before eight-thirty in the morning, with no mandatory training session scheduled, and no emergency klaxons blaring -- and Remy LeBeau was up, dressed and wandering toward the fridge.

" Morning, Gambit -- are you feeling okay? " he asked curiously.

" Oui -- jus' couldn' sleep any more ... Dieu, homme -- what you been up to? Dis place looks like a dust storm hit it -- a white one. "

Angel coloured slightly in a mixture of embarrassment and wounded pride.

" Just making some scones for Betsy ... " he replied somewhat stiffly.

Remy flashed the urchin's grin for which he was famous.

" You're cookin'? Dat's a first -- if it wasn' obvious before, now we know y' love that femme, " he answered, walking over to inspect the fruits of Warren's labour.

Gambit did very well to maintain a completely neutral expression when he saw the lumpy, gluey batter.

* An' if Betts actually eats that, she loves him more than we t'ink ... *

" Um, Warren -- how long did y' knead the dough? "

" I'm not sure ... why? "

By this time, Remy's carefully blank countenance was cracking at the edges, but he did answer, barely managing to suppress his laughter.

" 'Cause once dat stuff bakes, Logan's goin' to be wantin' them t' replace his pucks during hockey season. "

" Is it really that bad? "

Gambit nodded sympathetically. Somehow, he fought down his amusement to the point where he could trust his voice again.

" 'Fraid so, mon ami. "

Warren sighed in resignation.

" So much for that idea. Okay, desperate times call for desperate measures -- how much do you want, Gambit? "

" Quoi? "

It was Angel's turn to grin.

" You're a cook, I'm not -- so I'll just have to contract out. Just don't tell Betts, deal? "

" F'get it Warren -- y' can't afford me. "

" Aw, come on -- please? "

" Non. You want t' make a treat f' Betsy, y' make it wit' your own hands -- it's de principle o' the thing. "

Gambit's smile broadened into a grin as he added another thought.

" Jus' call me a romantic ... "

" Great -- a semi-reformed thief is preaching about principles to me before nine in the morning. It's gonna be a great day," Angel grumbled.

Remy's eyes hardened somewhat, but he maintained his cool demeanour -- though there was an edge to his voice.

" Keep talkin' like that, mon ami, an' I ain' even goin' t' help you out."

" But you said .. "

" I said I wouldn' do it for ya -- I never said I wouldn' help you do it y'self. If y' want my help, dat is ... "

" Would you? " Warren asked, unable to keep a hopeful note out of his voice.

" Sure -- after all, how many times does a semi-reformed t'ief get t' tell a billionaire playboy what t' do wit' himself? " Remy replied, eyes sparkling wickedly.

" Now, if y' throw dat goop out, your first home ec class at École LeBeau c'n begin ... "

Just over a half-hour later, Warren was on his way to Betsy, with a laden tray of tea, Devon cream, strawberry jam -- and perfect, hot, fresh scones -- which he had actually made himself, under Gambit's direction.

Remy smiled to himself as Angel left the kitchen.

* Betts is goin' t' love it -- least I c'n help someone out wit' their love life, even if I can' help my own ... or can I? *

The smile left his face as he considered the possibility. His thoughts flew back -- to Seattle. Seeing Rogue's pain -- his pain -- coming back to haunt him through the woman he loved. She didn't know more than a shadow of the truth, but that fragmented shadow was hurting her almost as deeply as his complete memories hurt him. That had been bad enough -- how could he hurt her less: telling her, or keeping quiet? That time, he couldn't bring himself to say anything ...

* You a real coward, Remy ... *

If only she had taken his hand, she would have known -- and at least he would have been unconscious, unable to see the betrayal in her eyes. But she had refused -- partially out of fear, partially because she was determined to hear him tell her himself. He could understand that. Anyway, he now knew that his offer was really an ultimate act of cowardice on his part.

* Great -- y' couldn' face your own memories, so you were goin' to dump dem all on her, an' make her live wit' the nightmares ... real considerate o' you. If anyone else would have tried it, I would've killed them f' hurtin' her like dat. Where was y' head at, pup? *

He knew he couldn't keep it a secret forever ...

* When y' goin' to stop runnin', Remy ... *

All through his life, he had been coolly efficient about his decisions. He was never one to sit on the fence. If it had turned out that he chose wrong, he simply shrugged it off, and compensated as best he could under the circumstances. That's how you live -- how you survive. But with his feelings for Rogue, for Stormy -- hell, even most of the others -- he had suddenly become afraid to make a choice because it might hurt them. Fear was debilitating ...

Reine had been right all along. He had been right all along. This was no way to live. And if his fears were realized, if his friends turned on him in disgust -- he still had a place to go.

He was jolted out of his reverie by a hand rumpling his hair, then a concerned face appeared in front of his own.

" Early morning, petit frère -- something you want to talk to me about? "

He smiled gently.

" Non -- for dis, you an' me have done all our talkin'."

On impulse, he hugged his sister tight against him, and kissed the top of her head. The warmth of her mental presence surrounded him like a comforting blanket.

# Does this mean what I think it does? #

# Oui. Am I dat transparent? #

# Non, I just know you too well #

# Hope y' got a spare room, ma soeur -- I jus' might be needin' it #

# I'm not so sure of that Remy -- but I'll always have a place for you. Just give me enough advance notice to chain down my silverware before you arrive #

# Small potatoes -- if I go f' anyt'ing, it'll be your Matisse collection #

# Good -- for a moment I thought it was going to be my Turner watercolours #

# They were goin' to be next #

# Brat #

Their mental conversation over, they finally broke their embrace.

" If you need me ... " Reine offered.

" ... you'll be dere. I know. "

She smiled encouragement at him, then gave his arm a slight squeeze before she left the kitchen and headed outside to practice her kata.

He straightened his shoulders and prepared himself.

Gambit had had enough of fence-sitting.

He was going to talk to Rogue.


Continued in Chapter 13.

"All warfare is based on deception." -- Sun-Tzu, The Art of War


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