Down-Home Charm Photo Album Songbank Fan-Fiction History Books Fan Art Miscellania Links
Fan-Fiction >
Post-Onslaught >
"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 24

The being who had once been known as Nathaniel Essex was sitting down to a rare meal. Due to the results of his transformation at the hands of Apocalypse, he no longer required food to fuel his body: nonetheless, he had never quite gotten out of the habit of eating. Dining was a ritual he had always appreciated, even more so now than when he had been only human. In its own way, a meal was an act of communion with Nature, the great mystery he had dedicated his life to understanding long before he had ever met the world's first mutant.

Also, the pleasures of the table offered a brief but welcome respite from his work -- not that he ever truly stopped working. Oftentimes it was during one of his infrequent meals that he managed to hit upon a solution or had a breakthrough for an ongoing problem. However, he also recognized his need to occasionally rest and regroup -- a need which unfortunately he could not afford to indulge as often as required, especially given the amount of work that needed doing both within and without his laboratories.

He looked at the mound of paper on the table with distaste. Then, after washing down the last of the Stilton with a sip of port, he gave a resigned sigh, and reached for the pile.

Despite the automated systems he had developed to deal with the vast majority of day-to-day operations for the financial and scientific empire he had built to fuel his work, there were always some items which demanded his personal attention. Not so much on the financial side -- after all, with careful setup, that more or less ran itself -- and apart from a semi-annual audit to be sure all was in order, he had neither the interest nor the time to spare for such trivialities.

The scientific side, however, was another matter.

To begin with, there were the research fellowships he endowed. He made sure all the candidates were carefully screened, first by research ability and area, then by personality. He regarded this activity as an investment of sorts -- despite his wide range of expertise, there were always some things he simply could not fit into his own research schedule. He preferred to fund those whose work could help to fill in the gaps in his own knowledge. Though in rare cases, he would also aid those who worked in his own areas -- a fresh perspective on things sometimes made all the difference. It was exceedingly rare for him to learn anything new from those working in his field, but on the few occasions he did, it made the entire effort worthwhile.

And his unwitting protégés had no idea how thorough the background check they had agreed to as an eligibility requirement for those fellowships was. Sinister utilized every means to find every secret, every shame, every desire of those young scholars, as he selected those who would contribute most to his own work -- those he would best be able to manipulate later. A certain ruthlessness, and an unyielding desire for knowledge were two key traits -- after all, he possessed them himself, and he recognized how effective they were in driving his own actions -- how much more so for those who were only mortal?

Then there were his regular contacts with the rest of the scientific community. Every scientist knew the advantages of regular discussion and debate amongst professional colleagues, but he had none -- his level of knowledge was simply too far beyond that of the rest of the world. No matter how brilliant they were, the current luminaries in his fields of interest usually came off as little more than inquisitive children in comparison to himself. But then, he didn't attend the conferences, the speeches, and other such affairs incognito for professional discussion.

He enjoyed observing the fruits of his labours.

Over the last hundred and fifty years, he had been running another experiment -- on the evolution of science and its relationship to the evolution of society. Using his far superior knowledge, he had largely been able to shape the development of the first while noting its effect on the second. Granted, he hadn't originally set out to examine the correlation between the two -- but the opportunity had been irresistible. As he had begun to influence the scientific development of the world to better aid his research, the possibilities inherent in tracking the effects on society had immediately occurred to him, and appealed to his curiosity.

He hadn't been disappointed.

It was fascinating to see which of his manipulations -- a suggestion here, some encouragement there -- had an immediate effect, and which required a gestation period of sorts before catching on. For the most part, he was able to foresee the outcome, although there were always some surprises.

The Swiss postal clerk in 1905, for one, and the McClintock woman for another ... in both cases, theories he hadn't scheduled for decades, developed independently by a solitary genius.1 The ideas of the first immediately caught on, yet the discoveries of the second only received the recognition they deserved forty years after the fact.

Given his unique position, Sinister was better able to appreciate their brilliance than their colleagues had ever been. That was one reason he made the effort to interact with the rest of the scientific community -- to observe those select few. And of course, to keep up-to-date with what they were discovering. There was little of science he could learn from them, but it was always useful to know what direction their own work was taking -- the better to guide it, after all.

Working his way down through the mound of paper, he chose to attend one particular conference under one of his lesser-known, but well-established identities. Moira MacTaggart was the featured speaker -- apparently she had made some small headway in the Legacy problem, and he wanted to find out what precisely it might be.

After finishing with that particular piece of correspondence, he read and set aside a different letter with an amused smile. The letter-writer and 'Dr. Hans Arendsen' had been having a lively debate about the potential of a new gene-splicing technique. It had been quite illuminating, and proven to be a particularly fruitful discussion for both of them. If rather naïve in many ways, Henry McCoy was still a truly gifted researcher -- and a most pleasant correspondent.

When he had finished with the paperwork on the table, he leaned back in his chair and contemplatively returned to both his drink, and the problem he had been considering before his repast -- LeBeau.

He had gone over every piece of data in his possession that dealt with the Acadian, and had come to a conclusion.

Barring exposure to some kind of extreme stimuli, there was simply no way the Cajun's mutation could have changed drastically enough to produce the omega-class signature he had observed before. Gambit's powers had reached full maturity -- and stability -- before he was out of his teens. Late additional development of a mutation wasn't unheard of, but was rare -- and the changes which did result were almost invariably minor. The data available did not support that conclusion. And as for extreme stimuli, high energy cosmic radiation, radioactive spiders and such like were not happened upon every day -- admittedly it was a possibility, but a remote one at best.

Then also, there was the mysterious disappearance of the signal. It had appeared only briefly on the scanner, and the system checks confirmed that there was no signal error. More, Gambit's own signature could still be detected -- at least while he was out of range of the shields around the mansion and the Blackbird -- while the omega-class signature could not. However, for that brief flicker of time when the omega-class signature appeared, Gambit's was nowhere to be found.

Coincidence? Unlikely. Yet it was a fact that signatures did not vary significantly once established -- he had no explanation for what he had observed with this one.

And the signal itself posed more questions ...

LeBeau was the only possible match the database had found -- yet analyzed with simple mathematics, one could see that the signal could easily be expressed as the combination of two different waves, although the signal itself was discrete. Determining the other patterns which would result in such a signal when combined with the boy's own was easy enough, but a search on his database found no other suitable match.

There had to be something. But then, he had only run the search on his current files -- perhaps if he searched the full archive, there would be some relevant data ...

He downed the last of his port, his mind considering the possibilities. Putting down the glass, he rose to his feet, stretched, and began making his way back to the lab.

That signal had to have originated from someone, and he was certain that LeBeau was at least part of the answer.

All he had to do was find the other part.

Her business with Angel complete, Rogue turned toward the entrance of the small ward, the burden of her conscience reduced to its normal level. She paused for a moment outside the doors, preparing herself.

Remember, gal -- he's an empath. Ya already know he's gonna look worse off' n he really is, so get a hold of yourself now. Last thing he needs is ta pick up any negative emotions from you ...

Once she had focused her feelings on relief and support, she passed through the doors.

Reine lay in the first bed, unmoving, her face pale and drawn. Had it not been for the presence of the electrodes placed at her temples, monitoring her brain waves, she might have appeared to be simply asleep.

Rogue stopped at Reine's side for a minute, giving the unconscious woman's hand a reassuring squeeze.

"Don't ya worry, hon -- he's gonna be fine. An' so are you -- now if ya'll excuse me, Ah'll jus' go and make sure he's keepin' himself outta trouble, " she said softly, with a sad smile.

Her emotions faltered when she had her first good look at the figure lying still in the other bed.

Oh, Remy ...

The parts of his left side which were uncovered by gauze were discoloured with one large angry purple bruise. An intravenous port at the base of his neck ran to the dialysis machine, while other tubes ran into his arm and the back of his hand, supplying him with blood and plasma. And it hurt her throat just to look at the respirator tube which coiled from his mouth.

She couldn't quite hold back the surge of worry for him, or the rage for whoever was responsible for causing him his pain, but with an effort, she was able to rein those feelings back inside herself. Concentrating instead on Henry's assurance that Remy and his sister were going to be fine -- physically, at least -- she mustered as much positive emotion as possible.

" Sorry 'bout that, sugah, " she said, settling herself in the chair by his bed with a small grimace of apology, " but you know what my temper's like. "

Had circumstances been different, Rogue could have predicted what would happen next. She could almost see the gleam in his red eyes, and his expression of studied innocence. He would have remained silent, however -- as a thief, Remy could always tell when he was better served by keeping his mouth shut.

She smiled a little at the thought, as she reached down to take his hand in hers, deciding to continue the one-sided conversation.

"An' if you're so much as thinkin' the letters PMS, Ah'm gonna kick your tail inta next week, swamp-boy. "

As long as ya get well so that Ah c'n do it ... what I wouldn't give ta hear one o' your smart remarks from ya now, instead of makin' 'em up myself as I go along ...

She looked down at him tenderly, brushing the hair away from his closed eyes with her free hand.

"Ya know, Remy, much as Ah've thought about gettin' you in bed over the years, this ain't exactly what I had in mind, " she teased. "Honestly, I would have expected a l'il more ... romantic ambiance from ya -- like last night. In comparison, this is pretty disappointin'. "

Not ta mention nerve-wrackin' -- what Ah wouldn't give foh any sign that you're really gonna be all right ... in every way ...

"But last night ... it was magic, Remy. You jus' about scared the life outta me at first, when ya kissed me like that. I thought foh sure I was gonna put ya in a coma again ... that Ah'd hurt you again ... that I'd have ta wonder if'n you were ever gonna wake up again ... "

She shuddered at the remembered images of the weeks after their return from Israel.

"Been there, done that, sugah. An' if it's all the same to ya, Ah never want ta have to do it again. I couldn't stand it. That's why I left with Bobby, ya know. Jus' seein' you like you were hurt so much Ah couldn' breathe -- an' it was all mah fault. I couldn't face it, so Ah ran away from it. An' I don't jus' mean yoh memories. "

Different images swarmed in her mind now -- chaos, bloodshed, the gun still hot in her hand -- she wrenched her mind and conscience away from them, bringing herself back to the unconscious man before her.

"Ah won't deny they were a part of it, Remy -- but not foh the reasons you think. It wasn't what you did ... it was what Ah'd done. Yoh memories cut a little too close ta home -- they brought me back to a part of my past Ah wish I could forget. But I think you know a little somethin' 'bout bein' in that situation. "

I jus' wish Ah was as brave as you were 'bout dealin' with it -- I don' know if Ah ever will be ...

She shook her head, dismissing the thought -- she was here to concentrate on Remy and help him heal, not to think about her own problems.

"Sorry, Remy -- didn' mean ta do it again, " she said, stroking his face with the backs of her fingers. "But then maybe that should be a kind o' reminder ta think about more positive things ... " She smiled.

"Like Ah said, ya nearly scared me to death -- that's why Ah started tearin' inta ya the way I did. An' you jus' sat there grinnin' at me while I was cussin' you out. I'm gonna remember that grin o' yours foh the rest of mah life. It was that smug look you get when ya know you jus' got away with somethin', and it always makes me want ta wipe it off yoh face. But by the time I thought o' that, I'd realized what exactly you did. And then Ah was too busy figurin' out how ya did it ta follow up. "

She grinned herself, as she squeezed his hand again.

An' you jus' look too damn cute when ya grin like that... she thought with a wave of affection.

"Guess I'll have ta collect some other time. So you bettah be prepared, mister -- 'cause once you're up an' about again, Ah'm gonna start. You jus' get well in a hurry, Remy, 'cause you made a promise ta me -- an' I don't take kindly ta waitin'. If you think gettin' laid up like this is gonna give ya an easy out, you c'n just forget about it. You're stuck with me now, sugah, so ya better get used ta the idea. "

She looked down at the hand she held in her own -- Beast had said that it should still be safe for her to touch him ...

Slowly, she raised his hand to her face, pressing his palm to her cheek.

Ah love you, Remy ... please be all right ...

Carefully, she lowered his hand back to the bed with a kiss, then rose to leave -- she knew she had overstayed the fifteen minutes allotted her by Hank, and Ororo was probably giving up some of her own time for it.

She was almost out the door when she heard it.

Rogue spun around, seeking the source of the noise -- Reine was stirring weakly on the bed. Trusting the monitors to alert Beast and the others, the reformed terrorist raced back to the other woman's side, arriving just as her eyes fluttered open.

"Reine? It's me, Rogue -- can ya hear me? "

Reine's red eyes squinted against the light, and she nodded with a grimace of pain, as she replied, her voice cracked and hoarse.

"Yeah ... and Remy says to tell you ... he's doing his best ... "

Night had fallen by the time Warren Worthington III turned back to the mansion, his mind no easier than it had been when he had left. He had taken to the air almost immediately after leaving the Medlab, hoping that flight would help him regain some sense of himself, as it usually did. Unfortunately, this time all he had to show for his hours in the air were the building cramps in his back from the prolonged exertion of his wing muscles.

He had debated coming back at all -- his New York penthouse was near enough, and he had felt the need to be alone. But if he didn't come back for the night, the others would be sure to wonder why. Even if no one had noticed what he had done -- and apparently, no one had -- his absence would surely have sparked some debate about how he was 'coping' with the events of the afternoon.

He gritted his teeth, remembering all of the times he had been subjected to that treatment ... the Crimson Dawn, Elizabeth's near-death, the early days back with the team after serving as Apocalypse's horseman ... right back to the time when he had awakened in the same bed Gambit now occupied, his wings gone.

It seemed as if ever since that time, he had been pegged as the psychological weak link of the team, and he resented it. Especially since the experiences of the others hardly qualified them to be making judgements on anyone else's mental health ...

I've stomached enough of the Warren-how-are-you-really-feeling talks to last me for the rest of my life, I don't need another one now ...

And there was Elizabeth to consider as well -- she deserved better than to be left alone at the mansion to face any possible questions about his own mental state, in addition to the rumour mill surrounding their personal life.

And besides ... if I don't come back, she'll know something is really wrong. he thought ruefully.

He knew that his leaving earlier was only postponing the inevitable -- he had managed to put off her questions once, but he wasn't enough of a fool to think he could do it again. Elizabeth Braddock was not a woman who could be put off. And for all her distaste for discussing personal matters -- her own, as well as those of others -- when she felt such discussion was necessary, she was nothing short of relentless.

What am I going to tell her?

He needed more time to think before he faced her -- but where to do it? He considered that question as he circled the mansion, decreasing his altitude. His room was out of the question -- Betsy would be waiting for him there. And there weren't too may other spots that could guarantee privacy ...

Except one.

Almost before he realized where he was going, he found himself gently alighting on the mansion's roof. Extending his wings to their full span one more time, he shook them out, then folded them comfortably against his back and sat down, leaning against a nearby chimney.

I nearly got him killed ... so now what? Am I supposed to just waltz in and announce it to the world like he did? I don't do Jerry Springer moments ...

But what else could he do?

No one else saw, there's no reason for me to tell anyone. I did the right thing in the end, and that's all that really matters -- or so all the psychological pap everyone's   tried to feed me over the years would tell me. I might as well just apply it directly, and skip the middleman ...

Besides -- compared with the other scars on his conscience, this new wound was minor. He could deal with it. Now all he had to do was figure out what he was going to tell Betsy, if anything at all ...

That's a question -- the answer probably would have been simpler if I had gotten him killed. he thought with grim humour.

His humour disappeared as he recalled some of Elizabeth's words to him, as she had taken on his rage in the War Room when Gambit confessed his crime.

# Damn it all, love, listen to me for a minute! If not for him, you might not have lost your wings -- but if not for him, I'd be dead right now! He didn't have to call Henry when I took a turn for the worse. He knew I suspected something, and he could have let me die, but he didn't ! If you won't hear him out because of what happened to you, will you at least hear him out because of what happened to me? #

Betsy's tone had been scathing -- and that had been enough to surprise him into silence at the time. But he had been too angry to really think about what she had said, or how she had said it.

Recalling her words now, he came to a realization of what she had meant -- that he should have been willing to listen to the younger man because of his own experiences, as well as her own.


Elizabeth had kept silent about the price of her eyesight -- spying on her teammates for the sake of the ratings in Mojoworld. But she hadn't spilled blood ...

He had.

He had put his wings above his friends and his soul. Granted, Apocalypse had taken advantage of Warren's weakened physical and mental state when the offer was made -- but the choice had been his.

And although Warren didn't like to admit it -- even if he had been completely lucid at the time, he couldn't honestly say that he would have refused.

He just didn't know.

It's like Rogue said in the War Room ... I'm a fine one to be hurling accusations of betrayal. You'd think I would have picked up a lesson from that whole miserable experience ... live and don't learn, that's me. he thought with a snort of disgusted laughter.

Then a voice came from the shadows.

"Something amusing, love?"

Startled, Warren nearly lost his balance, instinctively spreading his wings to regain equilibrium as Psylocke emerged from the darkness by the chimney.

So much for a planned speech ... time to ad-lib ...

"Betts, how about a little warning next time? If I couldn't fly, that little hello of yours could have been messy. "

"True, but you can fly -- and this was so much more entertaining, " she replied lightly.

She had easily detected her lover's return, but had chosen to wait before seeking him out. She had used the time well, gently probing his mind, but she hadn't learned much. Warren was difficult to scan at the best of times, and the methods at her disposal which would have garnered the most information were too invasive for her to dare trying. Warren might have been able to detect her scan, and knowing him, he would have taken it as some kind of violation of his privacy. Ridiculous, since he had made it as plain as the wings on his back that something was wrong in the first place. All she wanted was information that would help her see him through whatever the problem was -- and since he didn't want to tell her, what other option did she have?

"So what brings you up here?" she asked.

"I guess I just needed some time alone to think ... "

"About what happened this afternoon?"

Careful, Warren my boy -- something truthful ...

"Among other things, " he replied with a sigh.

"From how distracted you are, I imagine rather important things too -- otherwise you might have asked how they are. "

"I was about to, " he said shortly.

Defensive aren't we? And overtones of guilt, too ... even with all your shielding, I can pick that up and I'm not even trying right now ...

"Sorry, darling -- it's just that I know how you get when you're brooding. You almost dissociate. I didn't mean anything by it. "

Is that so, Betts? Maybe it'd be better -- easier -- if you did ...

"I'm the one who should be sorry, Betsy -- I didn't mean to snap at you. So how are they? "

Not projecting so much now ... but I'd say the intent of that question is genuine ...

"Reine regained consciousness briefly, but Gambit hasn't yet. From initial indications, it seems that their personalities are intact -- although that residual link might still be a problem. We don't know about that yet. "

Now if I can just keep the subject change going ...

"They are going to be all right though, aren't they? "

As good a time as any to poke at the hornet's nest ...

"Apparently -- but I didn't realize you felt so close to them. "

"I don't ! But just because we're not friends doesn't mean I want him to die for God's sake! " Warren snapped.

Interesting choice of words -- no one's mentioned dying, and you singled out Gambit specifically ...

"No one said you did -- but you seemed more upset this afternoon than I thought you would be, considering you've never been close to them. "

Careful .. you already blew it once, don't do it again ...

"It's just that ... it made me start thinking about other things ... "


Warren nodded silently.

"Then I presume my little speech hit home?" she asked.

Perfect -- now just ride it out ...

Angel laughed bitterly.

"You might say that ... though it took long enough. Sometimes it's like everything that's ever happened in my life comes down to that time. And not only can I not escape from it, I never learn from it, either."

Elizabeth moved in closer, molding herself to his side.

"I don't know about that, Warren -- it seems to me as if you've come a long way. Today proved it."

He stiffened slightly.

"How so?"

Her violet eyes bored into his blue as she replied.

"Because I know you, Warren, I know that it wasn't so long ago that you would have killed him for his part in what happened to you, while conveniently forgetting all the things you had made happen to other people. Saving Gambit's life just shows how far you've come."

Betts, if you only knew ... or do you?

"Still ... I've got a long way to go."

"No," she corrected, kissing him softly, "we have a long way to go. Coming to bed, love?"

Warren smiled, and returned her kiss.

"In a minute ... you go ahead, I won't be long."

She answered with a smile of her own, then melted into the shadows.

That was close ... but what now?

From behind the curtain of darkness, Elizabeth observed him for a moment longer before continuing to shadow-walk to their room.

There's something you still aren't telling me Warren ... but what?


Continued in Chapter Twenty-Five.

1. The Swiss postal clerk is of course Albert Einstein. Barbara McClintock is widely regarded (along with Gregor Mendel, the discoverer of heredity, and Thomas Hunt Morgan, whose experiments with fruit flies demonstrated heredity's basis) as being one of the three greatest geneticists in history thus far. She discovered that certain genetic elements, rather than being fixed, can move around on the chromosomes and thereby alter genetic material from one generation to the next. This discovery, ridiculed when initially published in the early 1940s, was recognized with the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1983.

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


Down-Home Charm / Fan-Fiction / Fan Artwork / History Books / Photo Album / Songbank / Miscellania / Links / Updates

Legalese: Rogue, the X-Men, and the distinctive likenesses thereof are Trademarks of Marvel Characters, Inc. and are used without permission. This is an unofficial fansite, and is not sponsored, licensed or approved by Marvel Comics.
Privacy Policy and Submission Guidelines