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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 20

Bleary-eyed, Bobby Drake was wandering toward the kitchen when he caught the aroma of fresh espresso wafting in the air. He inhaled deeply, then made a face.

It smells great -- but some people say the same thing about gasoline, and nobody drinks that. Give me a plain old cup of Colombian any day ... even if it isn't hand-picked by Juan Valdez.

Entering the room, he saw Reine standing by the far counter, fiddling with the espresso machine. She was barefoot, wearing a pair of baggy sweatpants and a loose white T-shirt. Her long hair was slightly damp, and gathered up in a loose bundle at the back of her head -- she must have just come from the sauna.

Bobby flushed in remembered embarrassment.

Get over it, Drake -- it was a couple of weeks ago, after all -- and it's not like it was your fault. Quit blushing like a kid. he thought to himself.

"Morning, Reine -- finish your workout already?"

"As usual," she replied over the hissing of steam from the machine.

"I don't suppose there's any drinkable coffee made already, is there?" he asked plaintively.

She gave him an arch look.

"What's wrong with my coffee?"

"Nothing -- except the fact that it's espresso. How can you drink that swill?"

"With pleasure."

"So you're a masochist, then?"

Eyes dancing, she smiled sweetly as she replied.

"I'm talking to you, aren't I?"

Recognizing that he had lost this round of verbal sparring, Bobby activated his power. He quickly made a small flag of ice, thickly coated with frost, and waved it in the air with an affected sigh.

Reine laughed at his performance.

"Surrender accepted. And if it's coffee you want, Logan made a pot of the dirty water you favour a few minutes ago -- it's on the stove."

On his way to the coffeepot, Bobby moved toward the sink, intending to leave his impromptu sculpture there to melt. Realizing that his course would take him directly behind Riposte, his eyes briefly shone with an evil light. He wasn't even halfway to his destination when she stopped him with a sentence.

"Don't even think about it."

"What?" he asked, the picture of affronted innocence.

"Nice try, Drake -- but if that thing goes anywhere except in the sink, you'll be leaving this room on a stretcher. Got it?"

Thwarted, he meekly deposited the now-dripping piece of ice in the sink.

"Killjoy," he muttered.

After preparing his coffee, he moved to sit at the table across from her. It was then that Bobby had a good look at her T-shirt. Printed across the front in plain black letters was the caption: I am the person your mother warned you about.

He chuckled.

"I like your shirt."

"Thanks -- it's a favorite. Remy gave it to me."

"Speaking of Gambit and giving -- what I want to know is: when is he going to receive? You convinced me to let you handle it, but come on ... it's been weeks. I can understand lulling him into a false sense of security before you go for it, but I want to know when he's going to get his."

Bobby smiled conspiratorially.

"After all, I've got tickets to print for the event ..."

Riposte chuckled indulgently.

"All in good time, Robert. All in good time."

"As long as I know you're not backing out ..."

She snorted in derision.

"Not a chance of that, my friend. My little brother will be repaid in full -- the method is just going to take some consideration."

"So -- what are you gonna do?" he asked eagerly, his eyes glinting in anticipation of revenge.

"You'll find out."

"Won't you even give me a hint?" he pouted.

"Nope. But let me reassure you -- the punishment will be worthy of the crime."

Bobby nodded in satisfaction.

"Good -- that's all I ask. and by the way ... which one are you?"


He grinned.

"Which one of the people that Mom warned me about are you? One of the fast crowd? Or if you happen to be one of the loose girls, you know I'm very, very available ..."

Reaching across the table, Reine patted his cheek as she replied.

"For obvious reasons."

Bobby winced.

"Ouch ! Score two for the visitors, with the home team yet to get on the board ... so which are you?" he asked again.

"You don't give up easily, do you?"

"One of my many irresistible charms -- which?"

After regarding him for a long moment, she gave him a feline smile and replied.

"Use your imagination, Drake ..."

"Oh, I have a very active imagination, you know. Wanna know what I'm imagining right now?" he leered, waggling his eyebrows comically.

"Not particularly -- I just ate."

"You wound me."

Reine chuckled.

"Don't tempt me, Frosty."

"So, you admit that I'm tempting?" Bobby asked, batting his eyelashes.

"I admit nothing except the fact that you're incorrigible," she smiled.

"I do my best," Bobby replied, grinning, as he rose from the table.

"See you later, Reine."

Once Bobby left the room, Reine's smile disappeared.

That was cutting a little close to home she thought with a worried frown.

Granted, the ones who matter most already know -- but if Remy goes through with telling them all about what really happened, there's a good possibility that he might be 'getting his' for real

The veil of emotion cleared from her face, and her eyes were hard with determination as she finished her thoughts.

But not while I'm around

When Scott had begun searching for Wolverine, he had been a little anxious -- the Canadian often went out reconnoitering the mansion's forested grounds at this time of day, and Cyclops was hoping to speak with Logan as soon as possible. Luck was with Scott this morning, however -- he found the older man sitting on one of the verandah chairs, his feet propped up on the railing, contentedly smoking a cigar.

"Logan, may I speak with you for a few minutes?"

Wolverine nodded toward the chair on his right.

"Suit yerself," he grunted.

As he made his way to the profferred seat, Scott was downwind, and the  tobacco smoke caused him to cough slightly. Something about the smell of it was different, though ...

"New brand?" he asked.

Grinning, Wolverine took a long drag from the cigar.

"Spoils o' war -- Reine's got some mighty fine smokes. Now if only I could get her ta tell me just where she gets the stuff ..."

"Actually ... she's who I wanted to talk to you about. What's your assessment of her?"

Logan's eyes narrowed.

"Depends. What kind o' assessment are we talkin' about, Cyke?"

"State of mind -- while I was looking over the sessions today, I saw some things that made me a little concerned. And when I asked her about it, she suggested that I speak to you."

"If yer talking 'bout the session she pulled late last night, I watched it. She seemed ta have things pretty much under control. What 'xactly did she say?"

Scott quickly gave a brief version of his discussion with Riposte that morning. As he finished, Wolverine chuckled.

"She went Zen on ya, did she? Well, lemme tell ya, there's nothing ta worry about. Reason she went all-out like she did is 'cause they were holograms -- no worries about injuries."

"I know that, Logan," Scott answered patiently, "but what I want to know is: can she be trusted with regard to the lives of others? In the scenario we both saw, she didn't have any concern for the lives of her opponents. Do you think that would carry over in a real situation?"

"In a setup like the one she dialled up fer herself -- probably. With odds like that, there ain't any choice. If the numbers were different though -- I doubt it."

Logan paused, slowly exhaling a stream of fragrant smoke before he replied.

"That's what that quote o' hers is all about. 'Weapons are instruments of ill omen, despised by the Way of Heaven': weapons are about killin', the Way is about life. 'To use them only when unavoidable is the Way of Heaven': ya only use yer weapons when ya have ta protect life."

Scott nodded slowly.

"So in your opinion, she's not the type to be ... reckless?"

"No -- not if yer talkin' about lives. Like I said, that's what the Way's all about  -- an' that includes respect for life o' any kind."

"I see ..."

"I know that voice, Cyke ... what else do ya want to know?"

"Have you noticed anything ... unusual ... about the twins lately?"

"Apart from havin' Reine nearly pass out after her session last night? Not really -- but somethin' was goin' on between her an' Gumbo. I'm sure of it."

Logan took another drag from the cigar.

"Whatever it was though, she ain't talkin' -- I tried."

Scott nodded once more, then slowly rose from his chair, and turned back to the door.

"Thanks, Logan -- that's exactly what I needed to know."

Smiling to herself, Rogue flew over the mansion grounds, just skimming above the treetops, heading toward one of her favorite retreats.

Although she had some serious thinking to do, she had resolved to put it off until she arrived at her destination. Once there, she would be able to concentrate -- and she was on too much of an emotional high to do that now.

Breakfast had been wonderful -- and Remy had been so sweetly considerate. Although he knew he could touch her without falling victim to her power, he had actually gone out of his way not to. Or rather, not more than he ever did before their shared discovery.

"Don' want t' prejudice the judge," he had explained with a wink.

He had certainly managed to be a lot more restrained than she had. It was all she could do to restrict herself to placing a quick kiss on his jaw. Especially when what she really wanted to do was run her fingers over the sharp, smooth planes of his face; compare again the textures of the coarse stubble perpetually on his chin, and the silky fine hairs on the nape of his neck ...

She was jolted out of her reverie by a branch swatting her in the face -- in her distraction, she hadn't been paying much attention to her altitude, and had dropped several feet. With a startled curse, she pulled up sharply, hovering a good twenty feet above the treeline -- then laughed.

Well, that ought ta teach ya to pay attention ta where you're going ... Lord, if Remy knew, he'd never let me live it down. An' Ah can jus' see that smug look on his face ...

Shaking her head with a final chuckle, she proceeded on her way, concentrating on her flying. In a short time, she arrived.

On the far side of the grounds near the property line, there was an enormous elm tree. It stood near the edge of a clearing, the only one of its kind among maples, oaks, birches, willows, and the occasional white pine. Carefully moving between the foliage, Rogue made her way to the heart of the tree, where four primary branches diverged from the trunk, creating a small area where a person could sit quite comfortably.

She had discovered this place very early in her time with the X-Men, when she was little more than an outcast. The tree was alone in its own way, much like she had been. When her new teammates' hostility grew too much to bear, and she needed to get away, she would take refuge in the elm's branches. Knowing that this tree had managed to thrive while being both among and apart from the rest was somehow consoling to her, and helped give her faith that she could do the same. Once she had become accepted by the others in the group, she came less often -- usually when she wanted to think, or just to be alone.

Settling in with a sigh, she began to analyze her situation.

All right, fact: Ah can touch two people -- Remy for sure, an' Reine more likely than not, since the fact that Ah can at all is 'cause o' their chargin' power. Problem: I still cain't touch anyone else ... well, exceptin' Joseph, if he evah gets his memory back. An' now that I'm rememberin' what it's like ... Ah've just got ta get control. I don't think Ah can handle it anymore, otherwise ... but how?

All this time, I've been sayin' Ah want to control mah powers -- so why ain't I done anythin' about it?

She had known the answer to this question for a long time -- but this was the first time she ever admitted it, even to herself.

'Cause I'm afraid

Ah'm afraid I might have another life on mah conscience. And I'm afraid of losin' myself -- I'm afraid, period. Ah ain't even tried ta practice since I absorbed Carol

She shivered.

Ah've got to get past the fear -- if I'm really gonna be serious 'bout this,   Ah'm going ta have to bite the bullet, an' start workin' at it

For a time, she turned various ideas over in her mind, coming up with some things she might be able to try. That accomplished, she turned her attention to her other dilemma.

Remy said he wanted to give me time ta think about things -- an' there ain't no time like the present ...

She leaned back, listening to the wind whispering in the leaves, and sank into thought.

After making a brief stop in the War Room, Gambit had gone upstairs to change into a ratty pair of jeans and an old shirt. It was time to give his bike its monthly maintenance, and he was looking forward to the job -- especially since it would keep his mind off what he would be doing later in the day.

Time enough t' worry 'bout dat later he thought firmly, as he made his way to the foyer.

Despite the spectre of his past hanging over his head for the second time in as many days, he felt wonderful -- probably because that ghost had lost much of its power over him the previous night. If the others turned on him, it would hurt, but he could get over it. After all, he still had Reine, Ororo ... and Rogue.

Nothin' like wakin' up with de one y' love he thought with a grin.

It had taken every ounce of self-control he had (and a few more besides) to leave her that morning -- but he knew what would have happened if he had stayed. And he had meant what he said -- he didn't want to rush her into something she hadn't had a chance to think about, and might not be ready for. They had worked too hard, at too great a cost to them both, to risk ruining things now by being impatient. And besides -- there was a lot to be said for anticipation ...

Whistling to the tune of "Hey, 'tite fille" as he approached the door, he was idly wondering where he had left his Clifton Chenier tape when he heard Jean call his name.



"May I speak to you for a moment -- privately?"

Merde ... y' knew dis was comin' ...

He turned to face her with an inquisitive look.

"Pense que oui ... I ain' busy jus' now. What about?" he asked, allowing a hint of his customary wariness into his voice.

If he agreed too easily, Jean would know something was up -- just as she would if he refused outright.

"Let's find a place to talk first," she suggested, ignoring his question.

Remy put more curiosity into his expression, and shrugged eloquently.

"Whatever y' like, chère," he replied, then followed as she led him into a small sitting room that was off the main hallway.

When the door closed behind them, Gambit sank down into one of the chairs and sighed.

"Y' know, Jeannie, we been spendin' so much time t'gether, de others are goin' t' start gettin' ideas 'bout you an' me," he teased.

"What did y' want t' talk to me about?"

"Remy -- are things all right between you and Reine?"

"Never been better," he truthfully replied. "Why you ask, chère?"

Jean sighed -- this was going about as well as she had anticipated it would.

"I'm not in the mood for games, Remy," she said in a tired voice.

"Your shields slipped last night. Don't tell me that you didn't think I'd notice -- or that you didn't think I'd ask if you needed help."

She looked toward him, her eyes searching out, then meeting his own.

"I'm not trying to pry, but the emotions you broadcast were -- overwhelming. I was worried about you," she finished softly.

"Thanks, chère, but jus' now, everyt'ing's fine," he replied brusquely.

"Meaning it wasn't before?" she pressed.

"Meanin' it's been handled. I 'preciate y' concern, Jeannie," he said, rising from his seat, "but dat's all I'm goin' t'say 'bout it -- f' now, anyway."

"All right, Remy -- but if you ever want to talk about it ..."

He flashed a lopsided grin on his way out the door as he answered.

"Oh, I'll be talkin', chère ... sooner than y' think."


Continued in Chapter 21.

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


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