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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 22

Instantly, both Scott and Ororo were at the monitors, hurriedly digesting the information which scrolled before their eyes.

Damn ... and the timing couldn't be any better, too. But then, there's nothing better to distract from a crisis than another crisis. Scott thought sourly, then spoke aloud.

"It seems as if what was supposed to be a minor FOH rally has the makings of a first-class riot," he announced grimly.

"On the outskirts of the city, there is a hostel for mutant children who have contracted the Legacy virus," Storm reported.

"The Friends of Humanity had originally planned a small demonstration, according to the news accounts -- only their local chapter was to attend."

Scott nodded, then took over.

"Unfortunately," he continued, "the FOH got wind of a sizable grant the hostel received from the government. And with the election on, every chapter in the state -- and plenty more from outside -- are showing up to protest."

"Great," groaned Bobby, "trust your friendly FOH to go for the fear-mongering photo-op faster than a dog on a Dreamsicle."

Always. thought Joseph darkly.

Always it is the children that suffer ... and to what end?

"With the numbers yer talkin' ... this could get real messy," Logan observed.

"What's the plan, Cyke?"

"I'm working on it -- for now, local and state police have the situation under control. But once more chapters of the Friends show up, and they have a chance to build up some collective courage ... we've got to be prepared for anything. Everyone in uniform and back here in twenty -- Storm, get back in five to help me hash out the ops plan. Get to it, people!"

Quickly, the room emptied, except for Cyclops, who had already begun a study of the terrain. Remy lingered, uncertain of what to do -- his instincts were to follow the orders given to the others, but he no longer knew if he was welcome to do so -- until he was startled by Scott's voice once again.

"Get the lead out, Gambit!" he said sternly, looking up from the maps.

Remy looked at the other man with a mixture of hope and disbelief.

"Y' mean I ..."

"I mean until decided otherwise, you're still a member of this team -- am I clear?"


"Good -- then get moving! You too, Rogue!"

The young X-woman had been waiting just outside the door, and flushed, embarrassed. Then she went inside, and taking Remy's arm, they hurriedly left the room, Rogue half-pulling a dazed Gambit behind her.

"I don' believe it," he muttered.

"Ya better," she chuckled, then kissed his cheek, trailing her fingers along the other side of his face as she reluctantly disengaged.

"It'll be okay, sugah -- you'll see. Now we both bettah get 'fore Scott has our butts in a sling -- see ya in a few," she called out as she flew toward her room.

Remy quickly turned down the corridor, and almost collided with Warren.

As the Angel had happened to already be in uniform, he had simply gone to get a fresh commlink before returning to the War Room. As he had been making his way there, he had observed the whole scene between the two southerners, and his sense of betrayal grew. His eyes had narrowed in angry resentment as he saw his longtime teammate actually kiss the man who was responsible for all the suffering they had gone through -- himself, Kitty, Piotr, Kurt ...

How could she? How could she, when she was there to see all the pain that bastard caused us?

Seeing the dangerous glint in Warren's eyes, Remy simply wanted to get out of the other man's way before things could get out of hand. To that end, he sidestepped and continued down the hall. However, he had only taken a few steps past Angel when he heard it.

"I suppose if he were my only hope for a good lay, I'd be that forgiving, too," Warren muttered under his breath.

It was barely audible -- Warren was hardly even aware that he had spoken the thought aloud. Unfortunately, he had -- and the Cajun's hearing was more acute than most.

In his younger years, when subject to extreme provocation, Remy had been prone to fits of temper that truly frightened him -- not so much because of what he actually did in the throes of his anger, but because he could never really remember the intermediary stage between the provocation and his reaction to it. He just had a blank space in his memory for those few seconds when the rage was upon him -- and that gap was unnerving. He hadn't had the experience in years -- until that instant ...

One moment, Gambit was walking away down the corridor, already five feet distant from Worthington. The next, Remy found himself holding Warren against the wall where he had been thrown. Remy's forearm was under the winged X-Man's chin, pressing against the throat, partially suspending him from the floor, cutting off his wind -- and Gambit had no conscious recollection of how he had come from point A to point B. And for once, he didn't care.

His red eyes blazed with icy fire, and when he spoke, his voice was quiet, and coldly dispassionate.

"You c'n say whatever y' want 'bout me, Angel, an' I ain' goin' to argue. I know it's a Hell of a lot less dan what I deserve f' what I did. But I like 'lizabeth, Warren. She's a good femme, an' she done right by me. I don' want to do anything t' piss her off. But if you ever talk 'bout Rogue dat way again, I'm goin' t' send y' back to Betsy wit' your head under your arm -- one per each. Compris?"

If he had had the air he needed, Warren would have spat back his defiance, but he never got the chance, as footsteps came rapidly toward them. Abruptly, Remy released the other man, and stepped back. Angel slid down and leaned heavily against the wall, gasping for breath. He was just beginning to regain his equilibrium when Storm rounded the corner, and came to a halt.

She quickly took in the sight before her. To a casual observer, it looked innocent enough -- but even without taking recent events into consideration, she knew better. The tension emanating from the two men was almost a palpable thing.

"Remy? Warren? What has happened here?" she asked.

"Not'ing, Stormy -- Angel was jus' coming back, an' I was just goin' up t' change."

Storm turned toward Warren, questioning.

"Not to worry, Storm -- he's right. Nothing happened," Warren said shortly, the tight set of his mouth indicating his anger.

"Good -- I would not like to think that either of you would allow your feelings to potentially jeopardize the lives of those children," she said calmly, noting both Remy's fleeting look of shame before his poker face set, and Warren's expression of resentful agreement.

As I thought -- I do not know who began it, but it is plain that neither has ended it -- yet. Scott and I will have to watch them carefully.

"Gambit, go on your way and be quick -- we have wasted enough time by standing here. Angel, come with me. Perhaps we can aid Cyclops with his plans ..."

With that, Ororo and Warren strode into the War Room, while Remy jogged upstairs to change.

# Hmm ... Worthington Enterprises. Do you know, I haven't done them yet?#

Reine's thought came through to him as he entered his room.

#Don' get me started, ma soeur.# he replied, rapidly stripping off his civilian garb, and getting into uniform.

#Wit' how Warren's goin' on, y' goin' to give me ideas ... #

# I'm not trying to 'start' you on anything. It just so happens to be a longtime goal of mine to have a successful job against every company on the Fortune 500 at some point. The timing is purely coincidental #

He snorted derisively.

# Tell me anot'er one ... #

# Okay, so it's not purely coincidental -- shoot me. Are you all right?#

# Oui # he replied, and meant it -- much to his own surprise.

# I don' know how t'ings are goin' t' turn out in a week, but apart from Angel ... I was expecting them all t' hate me, but dat's not what I felt from them. Most of 'em were angry, an' ... disappointed ... but that's 'bout all. # he thought wonderingly.

He could already detect the smugness from her thoughts, and cut her off before she could reply to him.

# Don' say it # he warned.

# Wouldn't dream of it # she answered lightly.

# Menteuse #

# It's a living -- better get moving, brother mine, or else you'll be the last one down ... #

# Comin' #

On that thought, Remy finished pulling on his boots, and hurried down to where the others were waiting.

He wasn't quite the last -- Bishop marched into the War Room scant seconds after Remy's arrival. However, Gambit was a little surprised to find Reine among the company.

His sister had changed into the same dark, mottled tunic she had worn when she first climbed inside his room just a few short weeks before. Reine sat off to one side, nearest Logan and Joseph, where she was doing her best (which was very good indeed) to appear nonchalant.

# Scotty's allowin' an 'outsider' in on a strategy meetin'? Never t'ought I'd see the day #

# You haven't -- he hasn't noticed I'm here yet #

That made sense -- Remy himself was quite accomplished at hiding in plain sight. It was a particularly valuable skill for a thief to have, after all.

He would have continued their mental conversation, but then Scott chose to begin the briefing.

Quickly, Cyclops outlined the plan -- the FOH appeared to be concentrating on two points around the hostel's perimeter. Storm and Warren were to provide aerial reconnaissance and support for the whole operation, while Scott, Jean, Bobby, Sam, Joseph, and Bishop would defend against the main concentration, if necessary. Rather than worry about the second, smaller grouping of potential adversaries, Scott had decided to have Logan, Psylocke, Rogue and Gambit stand by, ready to evacuate the children if need be. Hank was to remain with the Blackbird, concealed behind a nearby rise, ready to receive possible casualties.

"Any comments?" Scott asked once he had finished.

"Yes," Reine called out, paying no mind to the looks of surprise -- and in some cases, distrust -- she received.

"You've chosen to ignore the second formation on the assumption that it's a decoy, correct?"

"That's correct," Scott replied.

"I concur -- but I think it might be a good idea to consider exactly what it could be that they're trying to decoy us from."

"Explain ..."

"Well, the smaller group is on better terrain for a direct assault, and isn't hugely different in overall size -- that's concerning. And with the cover that the main grouping has behind them, I can't help but wonder what they might have tucked away there behind the trees."

"True -- that's one of the reasons I wanted Joseph with us. If they have anything like heavy weaponry in the area, we'll know before they get a chance to use it. It's still a question whether the first or second group will be the one to start the fireworks, though -- we'll have to watch for it. Anything else?"

When there was no response to his question, Scott nodded, satisfied.

"Good. Then let's get moving ..."

Cyclops was just running through some last minute checks in the cockpit with Hank when Jean called him.

# Scott, would you come here for a minute? # she asked, her mental voice amused and exasperated at once.

# Why? What's going on back there? #

# Typical sibling behaviour ... #

Curious, Scott walked the short distance to the hatch which led to the passenger compartment. Already, he could hear their voices.

"F'get it! Y' stayin' right here!"

"Like Hell I am! Hot news flash, 'tit frère -- nobody tells me what to do!"

"Well dere's a firs' time f' everyt'ing! You ain' comin' -- end o' story!"

"That's what  you think, junior ..."

As the shouting escalated, Scott couldn't quite smother a smile, as he remembered other times.

Typical sibling behaviour, all right -- if you can't win by logic, go for volume ...

Before he stepped through the hatch, he carefully removed the smile from his face, and replaced it with his best drill-sergeant expression.

"Gambit! Riposte! What's going on here?" he barked.

Caught in the middle of their shouting match, the abashed expressions on their faces were priceless -- but they were only in place for a split second. Remy was the first to speak.

"My mule of a sister seems t' think dat goin' out on a mission ain't no different than a walk in de park," he growled.

"We're prob'ly goin' t' fight,  not sightsee -- it's not safe, an' she won' listen t' me and stay here," he finished, glaring at her.

"And my ass of a brother seems to believe that, seeing as I'm so unaccustomed to risky situations, I can't be trusted not to do something rash," she returned, her voice dripping with sarcasm," when in fact he's the one with the track record. I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself, and I am coming," she finished, glowering.

"Jus' because y' ..."

"Quiet!" Cyclops ordered sternly.

" Riposte, there's a reason why we don't take civilians with us. What we do isn't a spectator sport -- it isn't safe, and you lack the kind of team training that we rely upon in the field."

As Cyclops spoke, Remy looked at Reine triumphantly, while she scowled at him.

Knew ol' One-Eye could talk some sense into her ...

She was about to angrily rebut Scott's point (which her brother knew to be untrue, and chose to ignore), but the leader of the X-Men wasn't finished yet.

"However, I don't see any difficulty with your coming along, as long as you stay in the Blackbird, and out of trouble -- Hank will also be monitoring both teams, and we could use another pair of eyes."

Almost comically, the expressions on the faces of the twins abruptly reversed -- Gambit incredulous, Reine, gloating.

I knew someone would see reason ...

"Now that that's settled," Scott continued severely, "let's see if you two can strap in -- quietly -- so that we can get going."

With that, he turned on his heel, and marched back into the cockpit -- he managed to wait until the hatch shut completely behind him before he started chuckling.

Upon the Blackbird's arrival at the hostel, it was clear that the situation was rapidly getting out of control. Fortunately, the teams managed to get into position without incident, and it wasn't long after that the FOH demonstration erupted into violence as they had feared it would.

While Joseph had disabled the large power-dampening generator that was hidden in the trees behind the main concentration before it could be used, small arms fire was still a problem in the melee that followed.

With only three quick trips, Psylocke had shadow-walked the children to the nearest secure police checkpoint, then rejoined Logan, Gambit and Rogue -- just in time to prevent the second FOH grouping from outflanking Cyclops' team. Storm and Warren had joined the other four X-Men when they had seen what was about to happen. The children were safe -- now they just had to outlast their attackers.

With drilled precision, the X-Men were slowly forcing back the FOH assault. Carefully, Cyclops controlled the power and focus of his optic blasts, using them as more of a ram to shove the oncoming attackers back without doing them any harm. Storm and Iceman between them had gained control of the terrain, Ororo forcing the FOH to retreat under an onslaught of wind and driving rain, Bobby using the moisture she provided to ice up the ground, preventing their assailants from manoeuvring. Bishop and Gambit used their powers primarily to harass and discourage their opponents from attempting another flanking move, while Sam and Rogue did their best to minimize damage to the building, and cover their friends. Most of the others dealt with the FOH stragglers who managed to get through their front line.

Gambit ducked and rolled under incoming fire, and let fly a barrage of cards at the source of danger.

# Nice shot, Remy ... #

# I do m' best -- admit it, Reine. Y' not in shape to do dis kind o' t'ing right now. # he replied, as he beat off another goon with his bo.

Before he left the Blackbird, his sister had insisted on making a telepathic link between them. Although Remy was annoyed with her mother-hen behaviour, he had agreed, on condition that she permitted him to link empathically with her. He knew her too well to take her promise to remain with Hank at face value -- and at least this way, he'd know if she tried anything.

# You're just saying that because it's true ... # she muttered sullenly.

# Dat's what y' get f' runnin' a program wit' no safeties, then scrappin' with Logan 'fore you have a chance t' heal. Tell ya what -- if you're good an' don't cause Hank any trouble, I'll save y' a couple t' play wit' later. # he teased.

If her response had been verbal, rather than mental, his ears would have been burning.

He smirked.

# Now, wit' language like dat, what kind o' example y' tryin' to set for y' impressionable younger brother? #

He was still grinning as he turned back to the field, seeking fresh targets for his cards.

Warren dropped the FOH thug he had been carrying into the trees -- at their height, the most the man would have to worry about was a few sprains -- then steeply banked, turning back to the battle. The action was winding down, now -- it wouldn't be too much longer until the last of the FOH die-hards would finally call it a day.

He quickly climbed higher in the sky, building altitude, intending to make sure they didn't have to worry about dealing with reinforcements. Glancing down, he saw Gambit make short work of two more men, and his eyes narrowed as he thought back to the hallway. No traitorous street rat was going to get away with treating him that way ...

But then, wouldn't you have done the same thing for Betsy? asked a voice within himself.

And as for traitors ...

Warren forcefully silenced the voice -- he had nothing in common with that misbegotten turncoat ... nothing.

In case you haven't noticed, the only one here to convince is yourself ...

He shook his head to clear it -- now was definitely not the time.

Warren cast his eye back to the field -- and immediately, he noticed something out of place. A metallic flash glinted briefly in the trees below -- so quickly, he almost missed it. He cut his altitude for a better look, and it took him a minute to pinpoint the source of the light.

An FOH sniper ... with a hand-held plasma cannon ...

Aimed in the middle of Gambit's back.

The Cajun was just fighting off yet another attacker, oblivious to the danger at his rear.

For a split second, Warren hesitated, torn between a vengeful desire to punish the man who had cost him his wings and harmed so many others, and his own sense of justice -- then he shouted a warning, as he dove toward his teammate.

Sometimes, a split second can be an eternity ...

Remy had just downed his latest adversary when he heard Angel's warning.

"Gambit! Behind you!"

His sense of danger spiked, and Remy began to turn. As he did so, he felt the strange disorientation that marked the emergence of the power he shared with his sister. He sensed the barriers between their individual minds collapsing like a sand castle in the surf ... then searing pain across his abdomen.

Remy was dimly aware of crying out, hearing an echo in his mind of a scream from another's throat, feeling the bond with Reine snap just as it was nearly complete.

As everything faded into darkness, he felt the feathery brush of wings ...

Far away from the battle, a tall man leaned over a long table, engrossed in his work. The only sound in the room apart from the operating noises of the machines surrounding him was a recording of  Vivaldi's 'The Four Seasons'. With the lilting notes of flutes and violins celebrating the joys of spring, he wielded his scalpel with almost preternatural grace as he performed the delicate operation. Now was the most critical step ...

Suddenly a chime sounded from a monitor on the wall. The sound startled him only slightly -- but it was enough to cause his hand to slip a minute fraction of an inch. His pale face clouded over with annoyance.


He turned toward the monitor which was the source of the intrusion, and regarded the apprehensive man on the screen with cold malice.

"I gave express orders that I was not to be disturbed this afternoon," he said matter-of-factly, as he replaced the scalpel on the nearby instrument tray, "so I trust you have an excellent reason for your disobedience."

The man onscreen visibly blanched.

" I wasn't ... I mean, yes sir, I do," he said in a rush," if I didn't screen you with this information, I would have violated your standing orders, sir."

For a long moment, the surgeon simply regarded the other man, considering.

"Very well -- transmit now," he said at last.

The other man's relief was manifest in his expression.

"Yes, sir -- transmitting now."

His face disappeared from the monitor, replaced by the data for which he had dared to interrupt his master -- who was now examining the transmission with a critical eye. It was worth the disturbance ...

An extremely powerful new mutant signature had been detected -- omega class, from the initial looks of it -- by his tracking system.

He frowned slightly -- the readings were off the scale, and that was very encouraging -- but there was something familiar about them ...

"Cross-match pattern with known signatures."

The voice-command enabled computer immediately started a query of its existing files. It wasn't long before it beeped to signal the task was complete, and projected a pattern and a picture to the screen.

The peaks and troughs of the patterns corresponded almost exactly -- the only difference being the height and depth. There were some other variations, as well -- two peaks appeared on the new pattern which were absent in the one the computer had found in its search.

The corners of his mouth turned up in a small smile, as he felt the ghost of an almost forgotten sensation. After a hundred and fifty years, there were few things that could a surprise a person any more. He relished that brief feeling almost wistfully -- it was one of the things he truly missed about being merely human.

Intriguing ... although not entirely unexpected ...

Even after all this time, apparently the boy still had a trick up his sleeve. Mind, LeBeau's DNA had always been something of a chimera. There were several interesting structures in that X-factor which he had never been able to reconcile to his satisfaction. Perhaps that was about to change ... he would have to proceed carefully.

"Compile summary of findings on subject LeBeau, including original data and notes, for comparison."

As the computer began to process, Sinister moved back to the table -- the experiment he had intended to perform that afternoon was ruined, but he could still salvage something from the day. He increased the flow of anaesthetic to the subject, and readied his usual dissection equipment. Then, picking up his scalpel once more, he widened his original incision while Vivaldi proceeded from the beauties of spring to those of summer.

Intriguing, indeed ...


Continued in Chapter 23.

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


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