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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.

Wild Cards

Part 17

The silence stretched into what felt like an eternity for Gambit.

Flanked by two of the people he loved best in the world, he still sat, eyes closed, every muscle in his body tensed for the outburst of hatred from them which he knew would come -- it would be no more than his due ... a lot less, in fact. In preparation, he had shut down his empathy as best as he was able -- facing Storm and Rogue's wrath over his part in the Morlock Massacre would be bad enough without his experiencing every nuance of their emotions.

He had prepared himself to be an outcast yet again -- but under no circumstances could he have foreseen what happened next.

One moment, he was hunched on the rocky outcropping, waiting for either a lightning bolt or Rogue's fists to strike him down. The next, he was enveloped in a two-sided embrace whose strength nearly took his breath away.

Still, he kept his eyes closed, hardly daring to hope ... especially when he heard the rumble of thunder in the distance. That was not a good sign. Finally, he came to a decision.

* 'Kay ... dependin' on what happens next, dis is either goin' better -- or worse -- than I ever dreamed it would ... time t' find out which *

He opened his eyes.

Rogue's arms were tight around his ribs, her face buried in his shoulder, while Storm's grip was strong enough to essentially pinion his arms, almost cutting off the circulation. She was half behind him, so that he couldn't see her face.

The thunder rumbled more loudly now, and it was starting to rain. Remy's heart sank -- he had been afraid of this. He had resigned himself to losing Rogue -- in a sense he had already, in Seattle -- but he had lost his Stormy, too. They were probably holding him for one reason -- to keep him from bolting until they could mete out a fit punishment for what he had done.

Rogue's voice, thick with tears, was first to break the silence.

" You goddamned fool of a man. "

" I cannot believe that you thought so little of us, Remy. "

Ororo's regal voice was grave, and tinged with anger.

A lightning bolt struck on the far shore of the lake, the thunder echoing ominously in the distance.

Gambit successfully fought off the tears that were again threatening to fall from his eyes. Damn it, but he had known it would end like this. Somehow, he managed to keep his composure as he found his voice again.

" I know I ain' got a place 'mong de rest o' you ... unless y' got some other sentence in mind, I'll be gone by mornin'. "

The words were barely out of his mouth before they were met with an answer.

" What in tarnation are you jawin' about?! "

" What do you mean you have no place here? This is your home. "

In his surprise, Remy was having trouble processing their words.

" But ... it was all m' fault ... all that death ... after what I did, how c'n y' possibly think I ... "

Ororo released his arms, and moved in front of him, meeting his gaze.

" I do not blame you, Remy. I blame only one man for that horror, and that is Sinister. "

Her eyes flashed, and another lightning strike hit near the lakeshore.

" It is true that your ... information ... has angered me -- but my anger is not for you, my friend. It is for him. Sinister has always had a reason, no matter how twisted, for all of his actions -- and he is not the sort to waste effort on meaningless gestures. As you told us, he could have assembled his Marauders himself -- yet he chose to use you for the task. Why? Likewise, he did not truly require your assistance for the Marauders to gain access to the tunnels -- why did he not simply use a tesseract? I find myself wondering if there is still more to be discovered about his purpose behind the Massacre, after all these years. And his particular ... interest in you. But at the moment ... that is of little consequence. "

Her gaze softened.

" You forget that I know firsthand the life of a thief -- one did not ask questions if one wanted to live. I understand all too well how you were duped -- and it was not your fault. Once you saw what was to happen, you did as any one of us would do -- you tried to protect the innocent, even at risk of your life. I am hurt that you did not trust me enough to tell me earlier, Remy -- but I can understand the fear which kept you from doing so. I do not pretend to know the man you were before that night -- I cannot. But I know the man who saved my life, and restored me to my friends -- and he sits before me now."

He had no success in keeping the tears back this time ... one after another, slowly they fell, following the tracks of their predecessors.

Rogue leaned back, one arm still wrapped around Gambit's waist. She kissed the fingertips of her gloved free hand, then slowly raised her fingers to his face, wiping away his tears.

* Ah do believe they're right about confession bein' good foh the soul, sugah -- but they also say turnabout is fair play ... *

Looking deep into Remy's eyes, Rogue took one deep breath, and started talking.

" You joined up after Ah did, sugah -- an' I don't rightly know how much checkin' up on me ya did before you started your flirtin'. Ah was a terrorist by profession, Remy. My Momma may have brought me into it, but there wasn't anybody holdin' a gun to mah head, forcin' me to stay. I stayed with the Brotherhood all those years foh a reason -- Ah believed in what Ah was doing with them. I liked what Ah was doin' with them. An' it really wasn't until after Ah absorbed Carol that I started havin' any real doubts. "

Rogue gave a short, humourless laugh.

" Ya know it's funny, in a sick kind o' way ... she made me realize how wrong Ah was -- about mahself, 'bout the Brotherhood, about Momma. But at the same time, the person Ah was warped her mind into followin' the path I was on ... hurtin' and killin' -- and I'll never forgive myself for that. It's like Ah killed her twice -- body and soul. "1

" Chère ... "

Impatiently, she interrupted him.

" No, Remy -- you let me finish. All this time, you've been settin' me up on some kind o' pedestal -- an' Ah'm just as human, and just as flawed as anyone else ... includin' you. What ya did, you did in ignorance -- but Ah always knew exactly what I was doin' when I was with Mystique. Sure, Ah didn't mean to drain Carol dry -- but Ah knew that it was possible, that it could happen -- and knowin' that, I still didn't let go. "

Rogue locked her gaze with his, as tears welled up in her own eyes.

" Ah changed, Remy -- I ain't the same person anymore. And neither are you. How could Ah hate you foh what you did, when mah own past ain't any better than yours? "

Gambit wordlessly looked at one woman, then the other. He didn't need his empathy to read their emotions now. Leaning forward, he embraced them both.

As they wrapped their own arms around him in return, relief and gratitude washed over him in equal measure, like the gentle rain which fell over the lake.

For the first time in years, he allowed himself to entertain one cherished thought, which he believed had been lost to him forever.

He was home.

It was well after eleven o' clock when Logan made his way to the Danger Room. After his confrontation with Riposte, he had managed to defuse what remained of his anger through some Zen exercises which he had learned during one of his many stays in Japan. However, while his mind was now calm, his body still crackled with the lingering unspent energy of his earlier resentment. He felt the need to work off the excess tension his muscles yet experienced -- and the Danger Room was the ideal place to do just that.

Wolverine often spent late nights in solo training, his desire for action and negligible need for sleep working in tandem to further hone his skills. Invariably, he was the only one who ever began a session this late, so he was surprised to find the room already occupied.

* Hmm -- Cyke's usually the early ta bed, early to rise type. But who else could it be? *

Curious, he hit the necessary key on the door panel. When Reine's name appeared on the display as the room's sole occupant, Logan made his way to the observation area.

* Be interestin' to see how she handles herself in different situations. Think I'll go an' enjoy the show before I get down to business myself *

Once he arrived in front of the viewscreen, he immediately saw that she had opted for a custom program. The setting was a trendy-looking dance club, complete with blaring music, flashing strobe lights, confused patrons -- and about thirty members of the Friends of Humanity, who were clearly bent on killing her.

Logan watched her performance with critical detachment. A lifelong warrior with all the guts, temper and determination of his namesake, Wolverine was a harsh -- but scrupulously fair -- judge of fighting skills. By any reckoning, he was not a man easily impressed.

At the moment, he was very impressed.

One after another, she took out her attackers with what could only be described as brutal, polished efficiency. It didn't matter if they came at her singly or in groups, the result was always the same -- bodies either on the floor, or else flying away from her as she turned to face another threat. Yet for all her savagery, she never once forgot herself -- when it was an innocent bystander that stumbled into her, not an enemy, that person was quickly shoved toward the nearest position of safety.

But there was something wrong here ...

Logan watched idly as she finished yet another thug. Her low side kick was rewarded by the wet snap of the man's knee breaking, his scream of pain ending abruptly when his face impacted with her driving kneecap. Smoothly, she slipped under a high roundhouse kick thrown at her head by a fresh attacker. Charging forward, she took her assailant to the ground when she swept his support leg, then delivered a reverse punch, powered by all her speed and weight, to his solar plexus. As the man's lungs forgot to function, she spun to face another two ...

Wolverine couldn't pinpoint what exactly was nagging at him about the scene -- whatever it was, it had nothing to do with her fighting ability. For all his matchless experience, he still found her a treat to watch. This was martial art at its best -- simple techniques, cleanly delivered, with stunning efficacy.

* Ain't often ya see someone who can fight like that -- 'specially someone so flamin' young. But still ... there's something missing here ...*

Then realization dawned on him.


She had taken on the whole FOH mob without once using her mutant power -- and prevailed. Not that she had gotten away unscathed -- her black unitard was ripped in several places, there was a small trail of blood from the right corner of her mouth to her chin, and there was an interesting bruise forming on her left cheek. All in all, a ridiculously small price to pay for the odds she had faced.

Then he noticed one other detail -- this time about the program settings -- which had previously escaped his notice.

The safeties were off.

There was a loud crack as her final opponent was thrown head-first into the wall, but Logan wasn't staying around to watch. He was already heading down to the Danger Room floor.

Something was going on with Riposte ... and he was going to find out what.

After Remy had left me on the verandah, my feet began moving in the direction of the Danger Room almost of their own accord. He wanted to come clean with the people he cared about, and he wanted to do it alone -- I respected that. However, I couldn't stand the idea of just sitting about in the meantime, waiting to see if one of his nightmares was about to be realized yet again. I needed something to keep my mind occupied, and the X-Men's private playground seemed like the best bet.

I randomly worked my way through some of the standard programs in short order -- pretty boring stuff, for the most part. Simple -- well, for me, anyway -- thefts, search-and-destroy details, a couple of spying scenarios, nothing that I hadn't done before, and done well, in the past. After a quick round of target practice in the last training exercise that the computer called up, I had had enough.

* Time to make life interesting ...*

I looked over the customization options, and began making decisions.

I grinned to myself.

Scott was never impressed when I had music on during my training sessions -- but he would hardly be able to complain about the music if it was an integral part of the setting, would he?

He claimed it was too distracting -- but he never realized that was my point for having it there in the first place. Ditto the strobe lights. How many times do battles take place in a setting that happens to be dead quiet, and has uniform lighting? I want to train my fighting in a setting with as many distractions as possible -- it teaches you to concentrate on the task at hand.

I can't really say why I chose the setup I did. In retrospect, I guess it was the Jackie Chan movie marathon that Remy and I had sat through a couple of nights earlier, combined with the latest escapades of the Friends of Humanity in the news that did it. The idiots were actually trying to put up a legitimate front -- by having a fundraising ball, if you can believe it. I mean, what's next? A Hitler Youth Dance-A-Thon?

Anyway, for whatever reason, my warped little brain decided that it might be amusing to mesh the two.

The program actually worked out very well -- challenging, and quite entertaining. Especially since I didn't have to worry about injuring my opponents -- I could fully unleash my techniques on my programmed assailants.

Contrary to popular belief, martial artists do not train to fight by beating each other senseless -- we use control. This doesn't mean that we pull our punches -- we don't. We simply use our sense of timing and distancing to gauge how far we can go without injuring one another -- and avoid using the more dangerous moves. I had no such constraints here.

Finally, the last man hit the ground, and the holograms faded away into nothingness. I had just started to think of another possible scenario to program when I sensed someone entering the room.

" Gettin' an early start on tomorrow, darlin'? "

I smiled.

" Just needed to unwind -- besides, a little extra practice never hurts. "

" Maybe so -- but I'm thinkin' that this doesn't have all that much to do with practice. "

My eyes narrowed as I looked at him.

" What exactly are you saying, Logan? "

" I watched you -- some show ya put on, even without yer power. That's impressive. But d' you want to tell me why? And why the safeties were off? "

I thought for a moment -- best to take this question on the most literal level. Remy was the real reason I was here, of course -- but that particular 'why' would have to wait.

" I don't want to rely on my power too much -- it's a tool. If I use it exclusively, it becomes a crutch. If I had needed it, I would have used it. As for the safeties ... let me explain it this way: when I first sparred full-contact, my sempai told the class to get their headgear. I didn't have mine with me, so I told him so. You've trained for a long time, Logan -- what do you think he told me? "2

He smiled, probably remembering his own training as a beginner.

" Probably, 'don't get hit in the head' ."

" Bingo. And I didn't -- though not for lack of effort on the part of my classmates, I do assure you. Incentive is a powerful thing. "

He chuckled.

" True enough ... "

Had it not been for the emotional backlash from Remy that swept over me just then, Logan probably would have said more. As it was, Wolverine just managed to grab me before my knees gave out. My brother and I had shielded from each other as tightly as possible from the time he left, but he was letting his empathy loose now -- and unprepared, my defenses were nowhere near adequate to cope with his onslaught.

Definitely overwhelming -- but if these feelings were anything to go by, Remy would have very good news when next I saw him ...

" You okay? "

Logan's concerned voice broke the silence.

I had to laugh.

" I've never been better, Logan -- I may take a rain check on that bout tomorrow morning. I'm not sure how much sleep I'll be getting tonight. "

From the look on his face, he was still trying to figure out what had happened here, so I decided to add to the confusion. Leaning forward, I kissed him full on the lips -- he was too shocked to respond ... pity -- then stepped back, grinning.

" Goodnight, Logan, " I called, and walked out to look for my brother.

We had some celebrating to do.


Continued in Chapter 18.

1. This is my own interpretation of events. Judging from the animated series, Carol Danvers' personality became driven by one thought -- revenge against Rogue, preferably involving her death -- after she absorbed Ms. Marvel.
2. Sempai is the term of address used for the Sensei's senior student(s).

Special Note:
Thanks to the incomparable Valerie Jones for giving me an idea for some details in the first scene. It wasn't what you envisioned, but I hope you think that it works -- I just had to try to draw out the tension :-)

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


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