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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 18

Scott Summers strode into the War Room, with a spring in his step. It was a beautiful morning, and he was in an excellent mood. Humming cheerfully under his breath, he set the mug of fresh coffee he had been carrying on the table, and sat down with pen and paper in front of him. Thus prepared, he called up the record tapes of the Danger Room exercises for the previous day on the large viewscreen.

Reviewing the tapes had become a morning ritual for him, and it was one that he enjoyed. It was an opportunity not just to see how sharp a particular team member's combat skills were, but also to gain some insight about that person's state of mind. Strangely enough, fighting style was an excellent mirror to personality. More, combat reactions were often tempered by the emotional state of the fighter. Consequently, Cyclops could often discern if someone was having personal problems by watching the training records.

It was his responsibility to know if anyone was having problems that might affect his or her performance in the field, and it was a responsibility he took very seriously. They led dangerous lives, he and his teammates, and he did what he could to keep their risks to a minimum. As one of their leaders, that task frequently involved saying things that no-one else wanted to admit were true, let alone to hear, which didn't do much for his general popularity. It was the nature of the job, though ...

* Like Bette Davis said -- 'if everybody likes you, you're not doing it right' ... *

To Scott, 'doing it right' meant ensuring that every one of his teammates returned from their missions. He had lost his first family to tragedy in his childhood, and he was damned if he was going to lose the family that had taken its place. His teammates were that family, and he would do everything in his power to keep them safe -- or at least as safe as it was possible for them to be.

As the training sequences played out in front of him, he watched carefully, often replaying the action from several different camera angles, occasionally making a note for future reference on the pad. He made certain that he experienced the action from every conceivable point of view -- offensive and defensive -- so that he could evaluate each performance fairly.

Rogue's session was among the first on the tape. She always did well in the simulations, but Scott noticed that in this one, she had taken a lot of hits unnecessarily, rather than making the effort to dodge.

* Hmm ... she's getting a little too cocky with her invulnerability. She shouldn't just stand there and take it, and assume that nothing can hurt her -- she knows better than that. Maybe a little reminder is in order. Some one-on-one with Gladiator in her next session should do the trick ... *

Storm was still performing at less than optimal levels in enclosed spaces, but the Windrider had made a lot of progress in overcoming her claustrophobia. Elizabeth appeared to be fully recovered from her ordeal at the hands of Sabretooth and the Crimson Dawn, and had taken to her new shadow-walking ability like a duck to water. Warren was readjusting well to his feathered wings, and had come up with some new combat manoeuvres that looked promising. Sam had made great strides, too.

* I'm going to have to let Nathan know about that ... and at least it'll give me something to say to him * Scott mused with a sad smile.

Finally,the last session came up. He was a little surprised to see that it was Riposte working out so late, rather than Logan -- but he barely had enough time for that thought to register before he was nearly blasted out of his chair by the intensity of the music blaring back at him from the viewscreen speakers. Cursing, he fumbled with the volume controls until the noise was at a bearable level. Then he rewound the tape to the beginning of the session as he waited for his ears to stop ringing.

He leaned back, pinching the bridge of his nose, as he let out a resigned sigh.

* Should have expected that -- especially since you took her to task for having music on in the Danger Room last time. It's exactly the sort of thing Gambit would have done ... *

With the volume now under control, he started the tape again.

He couldn't believe it.

After watching her performance several more times, he paused the tape, then leaned back in his chair, his brow furrowed in thought. There was definitely something going on there that he didn't know about ... he began to absently nibble on his pen as he thought through what he had seen.

Ridiculous odds, no powers, no safeties -- it would have been very impressive ... had it not been for her lack of compunction about killing. If this had been a real fight, most of the men Reine had taken down never would have gotten up again. What Cyclops had seen on this tape wasn't the work of a berserker like Logan, but of a cool and accomplished killer. Definitely at odds with what he knew of her history, and that was very disturbing. Granted, in her chosen 'career', she had never been known to hurt anyone ... and in her earlier sessions, there had been no sign of such behaviour. Something had changed ... but what?

Distracted by these thoughts, he didn't notice that their subject had entered the room until she spoke.

" I love a man with an oral fixation. "

Startled, he withdrew the pen from his mouth and turned to face her, as he fought down an incipient blush. She hadn't noticed his embarrassment, however. She was leaning against the wall, looking up at the frozen image of herself on the screen.As she turned her head toward him, Scott could see the curiosity in her eyes.

" So what's up, Imperious Leader? "

" I was about to ask you the same thing, " he replied dryly.

Instantly, her face assumed a politely unreadable expression.

" Oh? "

" Yes-- would you mind explaining your performance on this tape to me? Since you're known to avoid violence as much as possible, I can't understand why it is that most of your opponents in this sim ended up dead. "

Reine's eyes narrowed.

" Point number one: in order to end up dead, you have to be alive at some point. Last time I checked, holograms don't qualify. Point number two: you said it yourself -- 'as much as possible'. Sometimes it's not. "

" It doesn't change the fact that if it had been a real situation, those people would be dead. "

" And as you so astutely said, it wasn't real. "

" If it had been ... "

" If it had been, I would have done exactly the same -- because under the circumstances, I had no other choice, " she replied with a wince, touching her fingers to her bruised left cheek.

" How can you justify it? " Cyclops asked coldly.

Reine looked at him incredulously.

" They were trying to kill me, in case that little fact escaped your notice. Didn't you ever hear of a notion called self-defense? I don't understand why you're overreacting this way, Scott ... "

" Overreacting? You admit that you would kill and ... "

" Yes, I would, " she interrupted firmly, " if absolutely nothing short of killing would keep me or someone I was protecting alive. Don't try to stand there and tell me that you wouldn't do the same to defend your own life, or Jean's, because I won't believe you. "

" I don't think you understand my concern. What concerns me is the difference between what you ... normally do, and what I saw on that tape. There's something going on with you, Reine, and I'm wondering if it's something I should be worried about. There's never an excuse for killing ..."

" Excuse, no -- justification, yes. And the only time killing is ever justified is in direct self-defense -- that's what you saw on that tape. Like it or not, in some situations, you have no choice but to ask yourself a simple question, act on your answer to it, and live with the consequences. "

" And that question would be? "

" Would I rather be judged by twelve, or carried by six? "

Silence reigned in the room for a minute before Reine spoke again.

" I know my answer, Scott -- do you? "

Slowly, she turned and made her way to the door, but stopped when Scott called after her.

" So why didn't you use your power? "

Reine turned toward him as she answered somberly.

" Close quarters, Scott -- with my power, that can be messy. It wouldn't have been safe for the bystanders. Besides ... 'weapons are instruments of ill omen, despised by the Way of Heaven. To use them only when unavoidable is the Way of Heaven.' If that's not clear to you, ask Logan -- he knows. "1

With that, she left the room, leaving him to wonder.

With practiced grace, Logan ended the last of his set of katas. Taking stock of his own performance, he was far from satisfied.

* Ya got no zanshin to speak of today, bub -- and you know why *2 he thought with a growl.

In disgust, the Canadian walked over to the heavy bag and methodically began pounding on it, striking with fists, feet, elbows and knees.

Wolverine was not happy.

Last night's incident with Reine had knocked him for a loop, and he didn't like it one bit. He just couldn't shake the feeling that she had somehow played him for a fool.

Nobody did that to Wolverine.

' Borrowing ' his bike had been bad enough -- but he could take that. Hell, he could even buy her explanation for why she had done it. But that kiss ...

There wasn't anything behind it ... at least, he was pretty sure there wasn't ...

* Or was there? *

Logan delivered one last thundering right cross, and stepped back from the bag.

* Don't matter either way -- fact is, she did it to distract me. And it worked *

He snorted.

* No surprises there ... that girl's about the most distractin' thing on the planet -- but what was she tryin' to distract me from? *

She had seemed relaxed enough when he had seen her with Gambit in the garage that night. But in the Danger Room, she was clearly working something out of her system. Reine had been evasive as soon as he had started asking questions. Emotions had their own unique scents, and Logan knew anxiety when he smelled it. Then after her collapse, the scent had changed -- she wasn't worried any more, she was relieved.

He grunted in satisfaction as he put the pieces together.

* It's gotta be something to do with Gumbo, no question -- but what? *

He didn't have time to start wondering. Logan looked up as he heard someone approaching from the hall, and found Riposte standing at the doorway of the small dojo, dressed in her gi. Bowing before she crossed the threshold, she entered and called out a cheerful greeting.3

" Good morning, Logan. "

" Mornin' -- didn't expect to see ya. How'd you sleep? " he asked nonchalantly.

" Like a baby -- which is to say very well, for about three hours, " she answered with a grin.

Although you couldn't tell by looking at him, Logan was carefully testing the air, trying to see if her scent might give him some clue about the other night. He could detect nothing out of the ordinary, however, except for the smell of healing flesh from the injuries she had received during her session in the Danger Room.

* Guess there ain't anything more I can find out fer now ... *

" Sure yer up to this, Reine? A couple o' those cuts smell like they might be tender. "

She laughed.

" And so they are. Unfortunately, 'but Mr. Mugger, I don't feel up to fighting' doesn't cut it in the street. I've fought hurt before -- besides, the longer I put this off, the more it'll come back to haunt me. Unless you really are over my appropriating your bike yesterday ... " she said hopefully.

Wolverine bared his teeth in what could charitably be called a smile.

" Okaaay ... didn't think so, " Reine muttered.

" Not to worry -- I won't hurt ya too badly. Any spots in particular where I oughtta watch it? "

" Yeah -- If you get an opening to my right floaters, be gentle. I'm pretty sure they're bruised. "4

" You sure those ribs aren't cracked? Did Hank check 'em out? "

" No, he didn't -- but they don't hurt enough to be cracked or broken, " she grimaced.

" Close, but not quite enough. "

" I'll be careful -- o' course ya realize you just picked my primary target for me, " Logan grinned.

She rolled her eyes.

" I've been doing this for over twenty years -- like I wouldn't have figured that one out. Just let me warm up first. "

The two were very evenly matched as fighters, but Reine's injuries, however minor, were enough to give Wolverine a definite edge. He capitalized on it quickly, taking the first match, but she gamely rallied to take the second and third. The fourth and final bout was closely contested for a long time, until a feinting move by Logan paid off. Reine found herself facedown on the mat, with Wolverine's foot on her shoulder, and one arm locked behind her.

" Damn, you're good, " she muttered as she tapped out.5

" So I been told, " he replied with a grin, and helped her to her feet.

" Two all, darlin' -- wanna go one more, an' make it best o' five? "

" Tempting, but no -- I have to get going. "

" Chicken. "

She sniffed in disdain.

" Hardly -- besides, I said I'd spot you one -- you win. And anyway, " she grinned, " I can always thrash you some other time. "

" Them's fightin' words, Reine ... "

" They were meant to be, Logan -- they were meant to be. "

He chuckled -- then, like any trained warrior, he went for the surprise attack.

" Guess ya got your brother worked out o' your system last night, eh? "

She was good. There was absolutely no outward sign that his question had struck home -- except for a minute change in her scent. She was on her guard now. His admiration of her self-control went up a notch.

She looked at him in confusion.

" What brought that on? "

* One hell of an actress, too. If not for the scent, she'd have me convinced *

" Nice try -- but you ain't foolin' me. Spill it -- what did he do, and does he need any help? "

Reine sighed in resignation, having figured out what had given her away.

* Damn that nose of his *

" Lately -- nothing. And he might need help -- but that remains to be seen. "

" Well, whatever happens -- the kid knows he can count on us. "

" Does he? "

Her voice was coolly inquiring, her gaze searching. Logan gave her the only reassurance he could.

" The X-Men look after their own, " he said gruffly, " Gambit's one of us. "

" I'm glad to hear that. "

" So -- how is Gumbo doin' these days? "

Her eyes sparkled, and she gave him a brilliant smile.

" At the moment? I'd venture to say he's doing very well ... "

Although he had awakened over an hour before, Remy LeBeau was still lounging in bed -- at peace for the first time that he could remember since the night of the Massacre.

He hadn't even had any nightmares.

* Guess dey right about confession bein' good for the soul *

Reine had found him, with Rogue and Storm, not long after he had told his story. He hadn't been surprised when she arrived -- since he had let his shields slip briefly before regaining control of his emotions, he had more or less expected it. But when she did, her appearance was enough to drive his own concerns from his mind.

" What in de Hell 'appened t' you?! Are you all right?! "

" I know that you are, " she smirked, " and I'm fine -- a little banged up is all ... not the ribs ! "

Remy had moved in to hug her, and quickly changed the level of his arms, so that he clasped her shoulders instead.

" Merde, you're a mess -- did Hank ... "

" Gee, thanks -- and no, " she interrupted.

" Reine, you should allow Beast to examine you to be sure you have no serious injuries. "

" Thanks for your concern, 'Ro, but as I just told my worrywart brother, I'm fine -- really. "

" If'n you say so, sugah -- but what did ya do ta yourself? "

Riposte grinned.

" I bit off more than I could chew -- and I chewed it. But that's enough about me. I think my baby brother has something to celebrate tonight. And I know just how to start ... "

That was when she had shoved him into the lake. Unfortunately for Reine, she had forgotten that Remy's reflexes were a match for her own. As he fell, he seized her wrist, and dragged her along with him. They hit the water with a loud splash and came up spluttering, then began making their way to shore.

" That was uncalled for ... " she grumbled.

" You should talk -- y' started it. Should've thought o' dat before ya tried to duck me, " he said, shaking his head to clear his hair from his eyes.

" What was that for anyway, jumelle? " 6

" You're making a new start, Remy -- a rebirth, in a way. Consider it a form of baptism. "

" I see -- an' the bonus o' turnin' me into a drowned rat into the bargain didn' even cross your mind. "

She looked at him indignantly -- but Remy couldn't miss the twinkle in her eye.

" Of course not. "

Upon reaching the shoreline, they were greeted by gales of laughter. Storm and Rogue had anxiously made their way to the twins' landing point to make sure they were all right -- although the lake was deep enough, it was a substantial drop from the small cliff to the water. Once they had seen that the bedraggled pair were unharmed, however, they couldn't help themselves. Rogue snickered, Ororo was giggling, and they both began to laugh in earnest.

Brother and sister quickly exchanged a malevolent glance, and acted. With a quick lunge from each of them, both Ororo and Rogue found themselves in the water. The ensuing splash fight lasted for some time, and had been great fun, even if Ororo did teasingly use her powers to unfair advantage ...

Afterward, they had all ended up in Rogue's room -- the women's wing of the mansion was virtually empty these days, and very private.

" So, my friend -- the only question which remains is what you choose to do next, " Storm said softly.

" But know this -- whatever choice you make, I shall stand with you. "

" Merci, Stormy -- but I already made up my mind. I'm goin' t' tell the others. I got to, if I ever want t' get past this. "

Rogue looked uncomfortable for a  moment before she spoke out.

" Ah know I'm one ta talk ... but you shouldn't feel obliged ta do it. You've proven yohself a hundred times over -- ya shouldn't have ta explain your life to anyone. Includin' me ... I'm sorry, Remy. "

" F' what, chèrie? "

" Foh bein' such a hypocrite ... Ah have more ta be ashamed of in mah past than you, sugah. Ah had no right to get all high an' mighty about 'fessing up ta the past, when I still can't even bring mahself ta tell anyone mah real name, " she said bitterly.

" S' okay, Rogue -- if I had somebody else's shit bouncin' around my head, I'd want t' know what de Hell it all meant. I can' blame you for that, " he said simply.

Ororo placed a gentle hand on Rogue's shoulder.

" None of us is innocent -- but we have all grown beyond the mistakes of our past. That is all we can do -- all that any of us can ever hope to do. "

While they had been talking, Reine had slipped out of the room and returned, bearing a dark blue, nearly spherical bottle and four glasses.

" I hope you all like raspberries ... "

She was answered by a series of nods, and smiled.

" Good. Normally, I prefer scotch or cognac, but not everybody likes them. However, I've never known anybody not to like Chambord -- well, not anyone who liked raspberries, anyway. "

She set the glasses down on Rogue's desk, and carefully poured the liqueur. Once the glasses were passed around, she raised hers, proposing a toast.

" To new beginnings. "

The rest of the night passed swiftly, with the four of them talking over a companionable game of bridge, and sips of liqueur. Almost before they knew it, daybreak was approaching. For some reason, Remy was seized by an irresistible urge to go out and watch the sun rise.

Rogue immediately offered to join him, but Reine declined, as did Ororo. Although he couldn't help but feel a little guilty about it, Remy was quite pleased that the other two women were leaving. The way he was feeling, any more than two was a crowd ...

They were barely out the door when a teasing thought was projected into his mind.

#  Don't do anything I wouldn't do, petit frère ... #

# Y' givin' me a lot o' leeway wit' a list that short #

# Brat # Reine thought affectionately.

# But no liar # he smirked.

# So who said you were? Have fun ... #

# Oh, I will ... #

Rogue had been watching Remy's face, and had observed his expressions throughout the silent exchange.

" Ya wanna tell me what that was all about, Remy? "

He grinned.

" Dat sister o' mine -- she's just warnin' me t' be careful. After all, I don' know what y' intentions are, an' I got my reputation t' consider -- y' might try t' take advantage o' me ... "

His sister's very weak psi blast hit him at the same time Rogue's thrown pillow did.

# Nice shot, dear #

# Not so bad yohself, sugah #

# Okay, I give -- but de double-team ain' fair # he protested.

# Life isn't fair, baby brother ... next time, don't put words in my mouth. Make sure he stays out of trouble, Rogue #

# Oh, Ah know he can be a right handful -- but Ah'll manage #

# It's nice to know he's in good hands ... good night, Rogue -- Remy #

" I'm startin' t' see how dis family thing c'n be overrated, " Remy muttered.

Rogue giggled.

" C'mon sugah -- be a sport. You jus' don' like the idea of anyone gettin' the better of ya. Now let's go -- you don't want ta start the day in a temper, do ya? "

Rogue flew them down to the lake -- to the very spot he had made his confession. Wordlessly, they sat upon the east face of the outcropping, side by side, and waited.

The dawn broke slowly, exquisitely -- delicate fingers of yellow-orange light reaching out across the water to embrace them. Remy's light-sensitive eyes had begun to ache slightly, but he still didn't move his gaze away from the sight. For the first time in years, he faced a new day with a sense of joy, rather than trepidation -- a joy which had only increased when he felt Rogue's hand enfold his own.

He had thought the day couldn't get any better.

He smiled.

Rogue murmured in her sleep, and nestled closer to him, one gloved hand finding its way inside his shirt.

Sometimes, he loved being wrong.


Continued in Chapter 19.

1. A quotation from "The Book of Family Traditions on the Art of War" by Yagyu Munenori, contemporary of Miyamoto Mushashi, author of the better known "Book of Five Rings". Yagyu cites it as an "old saying" -- and he was writing in the seventeenth century. The idea is that a true warrior never acts out of hand, and kills only when absolutely necessary.
2. "Zanshin" literally means "the mind that lingers on" -- in martial arts, the term is used to denote a state of awareness where one is conscious of everything around oneself without focusing on any one thing in particular.
3. The act of bowing before setting foot on the floor of the dojo (training hall) is traditional karate etiquette. One shows respect because the dojo is a serious place of serious study. Similarly in judo, you bow before stepping on the mat.
4. "Floaters" just refers to the last two or three ribs on each side of the ribcage, which are not anchored to the spine by bone, but rather to the other ribs by cartilage.
5. You "tap out" to signal your sparring partner that you've had enough, and that he/she has won the point.

6. twin.

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


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