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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 23

All was quiet in the Medlab waiting room, as the X-Men anxiously maintained vigil for news of their wounded. Hank, Scott, Jean and Elizabeth yet remained in the combination operating theatre and ward with the twins. And with the amount of time that had elapsed since their arrival in the infirmary, the others were beginning to worry.

Rogue sat stiffly in one of the seats closest to the surgery doors, her lower lip beginning to swell from her repeated nervous biting, but her eyes, though reddened, were dry. Ororo sat on Rogue's right side, holding the younger woman's gloved left hand, while Joseph sat to Rogue's left. The amnesiac former enemy of the X-Men gently placed his arm about her shoulders, offering his friend what comfort he could. Rogue acknowledged the gesture with a sad, fleeting smile of thanks, then turned her gaze back to the closed doors.

They're taking too long. Joseph thought grimly.

It was Joseph who had pulled Rogue away from Gambit's side in the Blackbird to allow Beast and Psylocke room to work; and as soon as he had, she had broken down in his arms like a child. Her tears, though brief, were fierce, and he had soothed her until they were spent. Although she had quickly regained control of herself, there was no masking the depth of fear and pain in her eyes, and seeing that had almost been enough to drive him into a vengeful rage. It was only with the greatest difficulty that he had managed to restrain himself from unleashing his full power against the hooligans who were responsible for her hurt. Rogue was his first and best friend, and no one harmed him or his with impunity -- no one.

And even if Rogue had not been involved -- there remained Gambit and his sister.

While Joseph had no liking for the Cajun, there was respect. For a long time, that respect had been only grudgingly extended in recognizance of Gambit's skills and contribution to the team -- but in the War Room, that had changed.

It had taken great personal courage -- of a degree which Joseph never would have believed the other man to be capable -- for Gambit to confess to his crime before them all. And he had done it unflinchingly, without offering excuses for himself or his actions.

Had he not been there to witness the event, Joseph wouldn't have believed it. He had always considered LeBeau to be little more than a shiftless cad -- but as Gambit had told his story that afternoon, Joseph had come to see the Cajun in a very different light. For the first time since his arrival at the mansion, Joseph had found himself realizing how little he truly knew of his teammate -- and wondering how much of the flip, selfish, smugly irresponsible attitude Gambit had always exhibited was rooted in fact, and how much was carefully crafted fabrication.

Certainly, Gambit had gone out of his way to cultivate that louche reputation --but it didn't correspond with the man who had immediately risked -- and nearly given -- his life to save those he had unwittingly endangered; the man who had rescued Storm as a child, when it would have been easy to leave her to her enemies; the man who had chosen to fight for a dream of coexistence which seemed more and more unattainable every day.

Those were not the actions of a callous egotist.

More, Joseph could easily relate to many aspects of the Cajun's tale: a young man, ignorant of his origins, repeatedly trying to find a niche where he could fit in, and be a part of something greater than himself, while seeking to atone for past sins.

Essentially a description of myself. he thought wryly.

Why did I not notice it before?

Had circumstances been different ... the two of them might have even become friends. But Gambit's acid resentment -- and his own -- had pre-empted that.

By association, he had extended his dislike to Reine, however unfairly. But in the few times they had had cause to exchange words, she either ignored his clearly negative opinion of her, or used humour to brush it aside. Certainly, all things considered, she had been more than fair to him -- especially the previous morning.

Reine had even managed to get him to smile -- Rogue was practically the only other one in the mansion who had ever done that. And given the events of the day, Joseph was more conscious than ever of the comment Reine had made while she had helped him to the Medlab. At the time, he had thought it a curious thing to say -- but no longer.

He regretted that he had not realized the truth of her statement before. Perhaps it wasn't too late ... he might get an opportunity to act on his new knowledge. He and the twins might not become friends, but maybe they could still reach an understanding.

Although they still had no news of their condition, Joseph suspected that it wasn't Gambit's physical injuries -- though they were apparently bad enough -- that were most concerning.

When the group had returned to the Blackbird with the fallen Cajun, they had found Beast anxiously working over an unconscious and unresponsive Riposte. Hank instantly conscripted Scott to take his place, and immediately moved to stabilize Gambit. In the meantime, Jean rapidly psiscanned one twin, then the other -- then called Psylocke to her aid. Since then, the pair of telepaths had clearly been too busy to answer any questions.

Joseph knew that the twins had linked telepathically before the teams had taken the field -- although they had kept that argument comparatively quiet, he couldn't help but overhear -- if their condition wasn't related to their strange power, it would be a surprise. But for now, there was nothing to do but wait ...

Ah hate waitin'.

I nevah was the most patient person in the world -- Ah used ta drive Momma to distraction when she was teachin' me surveillance techniques. Not the ones where ya have to tail somebody -- I was great at those -- but stakeouts were somethin' else. Ah hated 'em with a passion. Probably 'cause Ah could never jus' sit still an' wait foh things to happen -- I had ta do somethin'.

That's what made it so hard now -- there wasn't anythin' Ah could do, except wait.

Ah didn't see the shooter. I s'pose that's just as well, or there'd be even more blood on mah hands than there is already.

Ah remember hearin' Warren shout his name, then the shot -- knew from the sound it was a plasma carbine set foh concussive blasts. I turned jus' in time ta see him fall. It all only took a fraction of a second, but ta me it played out in slow motion ...

The sound of his voice when he was hit; the pain Ah could see on his face; the way his eyes closed as his knees buckled; then Warren swoopin' down, catchin' him 'fore he could hit the ground.

Ah froze foh that instant. Couldn't decide what I wanted ta do more: take Remy from Angel, an' carry him ta the Blackbird mahself, or go an' kill whoevah it was that did this ta him.

Ah went with door number one.

Ah bet the notion that I'd be more'n willing to kill -- under the right circumstances -- would come as a right shock ta most of the others. Guess that's the main difference between who Ah am now, and who I was when Ah was with the Brotherhood -- they weren't all that picky 'bout circumstances when it came ta spillin' blood. Back then, Ah wasn't neither, but I was still a sight more particular than most all of 'em. More reactive than proactive, Ah guess you'd say. Momma was proud o' me foh that -- said it showed finesse, and that's what ya needed most in our line o' work.

Work ... that's all killin' was ta Momma.

Ah owed her.

Ah loved her.

Ah wanted her ta be proud o' me so bad ... an' she wouldn't have been if she'd known the truth.

It wasn't finesse, or professionalism, or whatevah she wanted ta call it that made me leave off killin' 'less Ah had to. It was 'cause Ah had ta have a reason -- an' even when I did, there was a small voice inside o' me askin' if it was really worth it. An' a lingering doubt that maybe -- jus' maybe -- it wasn't. Foh years, Ah was able ta ignore that voice, rationalize it away -- I told mahself that I was just doin' what I had to do ta protect myself an' my family. Believed it, too. Ah thought that thinkin' otherwise was only weakness on my part, an'  Momma always said ya had ta be strong -- Ah didn't want her ta think I was goin' soft. I didn't want ta be a disappointment to her. An' I'd do most anythin' ta protect my family ... even kill.

After I absorbed Carol, Ah was too busy tryin' ta shut out her voice ta try an' ignore my own -- an' that's when all the 'reasons' Ah'd had started ta fall apart. Now, whenever Ah think back ta some of the things I used to do, it jus' makes me sick inside ...

Does Remy know 'bout that part o' me? If he does know, does he understand? Would he even want to?

Lord, please let him be all right ... let both of 'em be all right ...

Ah am not gonna start cryin' again. Ah've got ta be strong foh him, like he was foh me, when I needed it -- when Ah thought I was gonna be blind for good. He needs me now, an' if anythin' is really wrong with Reine, he's gonna need me even more. I ain't fixin' ta let him down -- not this time. Not evah again, if Ah can help it.

We're both too proud for our own good -- an' we've ended up hurtin' each other too damn often 'cause of it. They say ya only hurt the ones you love -- Ah think we've proven out that old saw. First Israel, then Seattle ...

Ah know Momma did -- an' I guess, does -- love me in her own way. But it seemed ta me that after she'd figured out a way ta use mah power, our relationship became more an' more about how she could put it ta use, and less an' less about us. She loved me, but she was usin' me, and I knew it. As much as that hurt, at least Ah knew she still cared -- and that was still a hell of a lot more'n what Ah'd had before.

Nevah would have thought this'd be where Ah ended up, though ... I came here 'cause mah powers were makin' me lose mah mind.

Joinin' the X-Men is probably the best thing that evah happened ta me. Even if savin' my sanity meant losin' so much else, it was worth it.

A lot o' skills that I used ta take foh granted, Ah've lost or at least let slide -- skills that could've been useful ta me in mah new life here. Ah haven't totally lost mah hand-to-hand fightin' ability, but if I claimed I wasn't relyin' on my strength -- stolen strength -- to win, Ah'd be lyin' through mah teeth. As a fighter, I'm nowhere near where I used ta be. Same thing with shootin' -- still got the eye foh it, but that's 'bout all. Mind you, it ain' as if the X-Men ever needed an expert marksman with the rifle. Assassination ain't our thing -- our powers are.

An' I've lost there, too -- which is really ironic, since Ah came here ta get better at it in the first place. But then, I'm pretty sure Ah know why that is -- I don't think it's any coincidence that what little control Ah had was gone after Genosha. That's one thing I'm gonna have ta work up the nerve ta talk to Jean about. Jus' thinkin' about what happened ta me there is enough ta make me feel sick -- would've thought I'd pretty much be over that by now. But if Jean c'n help me get that little bit o' control back, Ah jus' know I can get it all someday ...

Someday ... that's what Remy told me, when he said we'd find a way together. He said it like a promise, an' Ah'm gonna hold him to it -- in fact, that's the first thing I'm gonna say ta him once Hank finally lets me see 'im. "Thought ya could weasel your way out of helpin' me, swamp-rat? Well, gettin' yoh fool self shot ain't a good enough excuse. Ah don't give up that easy ..."

He's got ta be okay -- he was turnin' when he was hit, an' that's a blessing. At least he didn't catch it full in the back -- Ah don't want ta think about what we might be facin' otherwise ...

But even with all Ah've lost since comin' here -- I've still gained more.

Now, Ah have people who really care 'bout me -- not jus' what I can do for 'em. Ah'm not stupid enough ta think that's how it was at first -- but that's what it became.

I'm more confident now -- if someone says or does somethin' nice ta me, I ain't always wonderin' what the catch is anymore. Remy's got a lot ta do with that ...

He's the first person who really cared foh me unconditionally -- Ah found that out in Israel, after the crystal wave had passed. Ah jus' stood there, seein' him lyin' on the desert sand, knowin' foh sure that there was one person in this world that loved me foh what Ah am -- an' that I'd probably just killed him. Between that, an' ... other things ... Ah jus' couldn't face what I'd done.

Remy, you've got ta get better -- there's so much Ah have ta tell ya, so much I've got ta explain ...

At last, the surgery doors opened, admitting a weary-looking Beast, close followed by Cyclops, Phoenix and Psylocke, into the waiting area. Immediately, Rogue was on her feet.

"Hank, how are they? Can Ah see ... "

Gently, Beast took her gloved hand and deftly guided her back to her seat as he replied.

"At the moment, both siblings are holding their own. But before I let anyone in, there are some ... unusual circumstances ... which require explanation. "

"Exactly what is the matter with them, Beast? " Ororo queried.

" That happens to be a two-part question, Storm. The first, which I can answer, is what's wrong with them physically. Gambit, as you know, was struck by a plasma blast, with the main point of impact being his lower left side. The resulting damage was severe -- four of the lower ribs were staved in by the force of the blow, lacerating the left lung and kidney. In addition, there was some bruising of several neighbouring organs, and a considerable amount of internal bleeding. I was able to repair the damage in surgery, and he has been given blood -- his prognosis at this time is good, barring complications. He is oxygenating reasonably well, but I currently have him on a respirator to rest his lungs. Also, although his right kidney should be able to handle doing the work of two, I've put him on dialysis as a precaution, in order to minimize the strain to his system.

"Reine, on the other hand, is physically the picture of health."

Rogue had paled somewhat as Hank ran down the list of Gambit's injuries, but relaxed when she heard the prognosis. She knew full well what a plasma carbine could do -- he was lucky. It could have been a lot worse. However, given the good news, Beast's demeanour wasn't what she would have expected -- he sounded worried, not reassuring.

"Ah sense a 'but' comin' along here, Hank -- what else is wrong with 'em? " she asked uneasily.

Beast sighed.

"Perspicacious as ever, Rogue. As for your question, I will give the floor over to Elizabeth and Jean, who will be better able to address it than I. "

Jean took the lead in explaining the situation.

"As far as we can tell, the twins have been exhibiting some very unusual psionic behaviour since the shooting, and we'll have to go into some detail to explain what we think is happening. "

"We don't believe that there is any reason for alarm at this point, " Elizabeth said reassuringly, " it's just that what's occurring is rather beyond normal parameters. The problem lies in the fact that we aren't sure what constitutes 'normal' for them, if you follow me. "

"It's their power, ain't it? " Logan asked brusquely.

Jean nodded.

"Yes ... let me tell you what it is that we think happened. First, we suspect that they had linked through their individual psi powers before Gambit took the field. We know they can do that without activating their combined power, and at the time, both Psylocke and I had detected some minor psionic activity, consistent with a simple link of that type.

Now assuming that's true, we believe that their combined power began to manifest once Gambit realized he was in danger. "

Bishop frowned.

"That can't be right, " he said flatly.

"If their power was active, he wouldn't even have a scratch. We know their force field can take that kind of hit easily. "

"That's quite true, Bishop -- but we didn't say their power had manifested completely, " Psylocke pointed out.

"Jean and I believe that the link which they form when using their combined power was still incomplete when Gambit was shot. And when he lost consciousness, the linking was terminated -- violently. "

"So is that why Reine was down too? " Bobby asked.

"As far as we can tell, yes. But we still have a potential problem, " Jean said.

"When I first psiscanned the two of them, I found psionic tearing consistent with our idea of what happened -- but I also found that even with such damage, there was still a link between them. It's hard to describe, but it's sort of like a mental Möbius strip. "

"How do you mean? " Joseph inquired curiously.

"When you make a Möbius strip, you start with a piece of paper that has two sides, right? But when you join the ends in the right way, you find that your two-sided paper now only has one side. This link is like that -- it's part of both of their minds, but at the join you can't distinguish one from the other. We're not sure if this is some kind of residual piece of the terminated link, or if it's some other aspect of their power that we don't know about. "

"And why is this a cause for concern? " Storm asked, her worry for her friend making its way to her voice.

"It wouldn't be if we could tell what it is that it's doing, " Elizabeth began, " but neither of us can tap into it to see -- it appears to be completely self-contained. And in all the times Jean and I have observed their power, any link between the two of them could only be maintained with some kind of conscious effort on their part -- which is what you'd expect. This kind of behaviour goes against our combined experience, and we're not quite sure what to make of it. We don't know for certain what the implications might be. "

"Implications? " Rogue prompted, quavering slightly.

"We would have expected the link to break when they lost consciousness. Because it didn't, we were wondering about the possibility of it being permanent, and what that could mean with respect to their individuality, " Jean said gently.

"Mah God, ya mean that ... "

Seeing Rogue's distress, Phoenix swiftly moved to reassure the younger woman.

"Rogue, it's just a possibility. The link could equally well be some kind of temporary healing mechanism they have, since the psionic damage they suffered is quickly repairing itself. It could be anything -- we just don't know. And because we don't know, we have to consider every possibility. Until things resolve themselves one way or another, all we can do is wait and see what happens. "

Warren stood by silently thoughout the report given by the two telepaths.

Gambit was alive, thanks to him.

He had overcome his hatred, and saved a man -- a traitor -- who truly deserved to die. He had done the right thing -- the heroic thing. He should have been proud of himself.

So why did he feel so guilty?

He had done everything he could ...

Except react.

Had it been anyone else, he wouldn't have hesitated, and no one would have been hurt.

Why did that bother him so? Under the circumstances, he should be given a medal for reacting at all. Gambit deserved whatever he got for what he had done to the Morlocks ...

Didn't he?

After all, Gambit had betrayed the whole team by going to work for their greatest enemy ...

Or rather, one of their greatest enemies, Warren amended with a pang of shame.

Like Dad always used to say about business: "always deal with the principals, son, never the subordinates." If nothing else, I kept true to the old Worthington acumen. he thought with bitter humour.

He reluctantly allowed that there were similarities between himself and the Cajun -- but they were only on the surface. At heart, their cases were completely different, he thought firmly.

Apocalypse had played on his despair, his insecurities, and the lure of regaining the ability of flight -- of regaining an integral part of himself, and his own identity -- and in his desperation, he had fallen for it. He had been manipulated -- Gambit hadn't.

Gambit had known he was gathering a pack of killers -- he couldn't have thought that Sinister wanted them to do charity work, for God's sake ! No, Sinister may have misled the Cajun, but on a fundamental level, Gambit had known exactly what was being asked of him.

Not like me. thought Warren, with a strange sense of relief.

I had no way of knowing what I was getting into ...

His relief was fleeting.

Except experience ...

He should have known -- he had known. But in his depression, he had been unable to think of anything other than himself.

It's not the same. he thought desperately.

Gambit betrayed us by not telling us in the first place -- he made a choice, and he chose to deceive us. I may have betrayed them when I was Apocalypse's mental slave, but I never chose to do so. I've never consciously let any of my teammates down ...

Then the final, crushing realization struck him.

He hadn't -- until earlier that afternoon.

Warren was so absorbed in his inner turmoil, he failed to notice when the report had ended.

Rogue, having at last received permission to enter the ward, eagerly moved to the doors -- then hesitated, looking back toward Warren. She stood still for a moment, as if considering something -- then made her way to where Angel stood.

"Warren?" she asked uncertainly, startling him out of his reverie.


"Ah ... Ah jus' wanted ta say thank you ... an' to apologize, " she stammered awkwardly.

"Rogue, I ... " he began, his voice betraying his discomfort.

"Ah know, Warren -- you're gonna say that ya only did what you'd do foh any of us. Ah know that, but if not foh you ... " she paused, biting her lip, her eyes bright with unshed tears.

"No, Rogue, you don't have to ... "

Once more, she cut him off gently.

"Yes, Warren, Ah do ... I had no right ta say the things Ah did. Ah'm the last person here who should be pointin' fingers ... an' I'm sorry, " she finished softly.

Warren simply nodded dumbly, unable to trust his voice with his roiling emotions.

Rogue reached out, and gently squeezed his hand.

"Thank you, " she whispered, then turned away to enter the Medlab's small ward, as Psylocke walked to Warren's side.

"Are you all right, love? You seem a little ... "

"I'm fine, Betts, " he said distantly, " I just need some air ... "

Abruptly, Warren hurried out of the room.

Elizabeth frowned.

'Fine' indeed -- I'll let you go this time, love. But before long, you and I are going to have a little chat ...


Continued in Chapter 24.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it took a little longer to get out, but this is the first chapter of anything I've written that has been -- (trumpet fanfare) -- BETA-READ!
By someone other than myself, that is :-)
Truthfully, there were very few changes made in total -- but those changes, small as they were, made a huge difference in tone -- at least, I think so.  And so, I would like to thank my beta-readers:
Faith Barnett, who beta-read my preliminary sketch of scene two, and provided invaluable information to help this background-poor writer get the right feel for the real Rogue;
Dandelion, who beta-read the whole chapter, and whose insights resulted in those few deceptively small changes I mentioned earlier.
Heck, I was so impressed, I might get beta-readers regularly :-)
And I have someone else to thank, too. In a moment of senility or caffeine-deprivation at the end of the previous chapter, I neglected to thank DR for providing me with background information a writer can only dream about for Sinister. Also, his emails, comments and questions have been inestimably useful to me, and I hope that they will keep coming :-) And BTW, he has more chapters of A Test of Power, which will be posted on Shifting-Sands whenever midnight gets the opportunity.

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


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