This takes place before Uncanny X-Men #333 (and was almost entirely written before I read it) and Generation X #13-16, and I'm trying to stick to continuity, with two exceptions -- I am ignoring the whole Wolverine thing (and will continue to do so until Larry Hama ends this mess), and don't even say the word Onslaught to me. And I apologize in advance for Gambit's accent, I'm doing the best I can. (G)
Warning: People cuss, get shot and bleed in this story. If you can't deal with it, don't read it. : indicates psionic communication. * indicates thoughts, mostly.
Thanks to my beta readers, Jennifer Mingee and Diane Levitan, who were mercilessly harassed (or should that be Harrass-ed?)until they actually edited; and to Lucy Lawless (Xena: Warrior Princess) who inadvertantly gave Jordan a face (if not a body) and me one helluva lot of inspiration.
Comment/compliments/flames accepted/enjoyed/ignored at [email protected] I'll also be collecting requests for missing parts. I'll be posting two parts a day except for Friday and Saturday, when I'll be in Canada.
That everything? Looks like. On with the show. . . .
"Mutants are taking over our world! Our own government refuses to stop them - they actually fund the so-called X-Factor, and have done nothing to stop the renegade X-Men in their vigilante, even criminal activities! Mutants threaten our lives, our children's lives, and the very existence of humanity on this planet!"
"Look who's talking about risks, dude," Jubilee mumbled around a mouthful of popcorn, strongly tempted to throw some at the television screen. "We're not the ones startin' riots in, like, the middle of Boston."
"Hush, Jubilee," Emma told her, leaning forward in her chair. Angelo and Everett had already stopped their pool game, leaning back against the table; Paige slumped on the couch, her textbook open on her lap, unread. Jono hovered behind her, watching silently.
"Why? He's yellin' loud enough for them to hear him in Westchester." Jubilee shoved in another handful of popcorn. "And it's not like he's sayin' anything we haven't heard 'bout a thousand times from those lunatics."
"This is a new lunatic, lass," Sean said quietly from his chair. "Better we should be learnin' who he is than wanderin' around blind t' our enemies."
"Are they our enemies, sir?" Everett asked quietly, absently chalking his cue.
"The Friends of Humanity certainly aren't *our* friends," Emma answered coldly. "And I'd rather know what they're currently doing, so we can watch our backs."
"Yeah, I guess," Jubilee shrugged, stretching and rolling over on the carpet. It was not uncomfortable; no expense had been spared when the Massachusetts Academy had been first built, albeit for a slightly different purpose than it was serving now. "But there's gotta be somethin' better on."
"Jubilee!" The warning came from at least three people this time. Jubilee huffed, but shut up. The other members of Generation X kept their attention on the television set.
The Friends of Humanity speaker continued his harangue on the screen, becoming more vitriolic by the minute. "Battles in the middle of downtown areas, innocent lives put in danger while mutants attempt to wipe each other out, the near-destruction of Dallas not two years ago -- This is only a sample of what mutants will do, to *all* of us, if they are allowed to wander around wreaking havoc at will. They must be stopped, by any means necessary; humans must control these muties before they destroy us!"
His voice and the cheering of the crowd were cut off abruptly by Jono's finger on the mute button. :I think we've heard enough.: Even psionically, his voice was hard.
"Yea-. . . yes." Paige Guthrie shivered, rubbing her hands along her arms. "So many of them, all out for mutant blood, for no reason other than because someone told them to be."
"People are stupid sometimes," Everett offered. Everyone turned to look at him; he fidgeted under the attention. "I mean, it's easier for them to let someone else do their thinking for them than to do it for themselves. At least this way, they get someone to blame, right?"
"No kidding, dude," Jubilee said, more serious now. She'd been dealing with the Friends of Humanity longer than most of her teammates, but it wasn't something anyone ever got used to. She reached for another handful of popcorn, more to have something to do than anything else. She wasn't really hungry anymore.
"Hey, put the volume back, Jono!" Everett said suddenly. "It's the X-Men!"
Jubilee looked up as Jono took the TV off mute. ". . . this disturbing sight in downtown Boston today," the announcer was saying. "A spokesman for the Friends of Humanity said the rally came in response to an incident in New York earlier today, in which the so-called 'vigilante' X-Men were at work, breaking up the second attempted terrorist bombing of the Empire State Building. Less than a year ago, another attack was broken up by Spiderman and the renegade mutant team known as X-Force."
Jubilee saw Paige grin with pride and not a little jealousy at the reminder of her older brother Cannonball's derring-do, before he had changed teams to join the X-Men. Jubilee sympathized; she would have given her roller blades to have been in on the day's action in New York. Life had been pretty boring since Omega Red's attack.
The studio behind the announcer turned into 'earlier today' footage of what seemed to be a battle royale in the middle of New York City, with men and women in various costumes attempting to beat the hell out of each other, to the detriment of surrounding cars and buildings. The camera swung around just as a huge mutant went flying, knocking a car into a small store. The store promptly began to crumble, right on top of the mother and two children who huddled in the doorway.
Before it could fall, a short, powerfully built man raced through, grabbing the family and pulling them out of danger.
"All right, Wolvie!" Jubilee gloated. "Way to go!"
Small explosions pounded against the huge man, forcing him off balance as he tried to get back to his feet. The camera panned to focus on the source of the explosions, a tall red-headed man in a long duster who appeared to be throwing glowing grenades.
"Doesn't look like Gambit was doing too badly either," Everett observed. "Who were they taking on?"
"The fat dude looked like the Blob," Jubilee answered, not a little smugly. "We fought him lots of times --
" -- when I was with the X-Men," everyone in the room completed along with her.
"'Xactly," Jubilee finished, not even slightly embarrassed.
"Despite the claims of the speaker from the Friends of Humanity, no one was seriously injured during the battle in New York," the announcer said. "In other news. . ."
The screen switched to peace talks in the Middle East and Jubilee left the carpet, making a beeline for the phone. "Dude, I gotta find out what went down."
"Just a minute, lass," Sean stopped her. "I need t' talk to ye, children."
"What is it, sir?" Everett asked. Everyone paid attention, more or less; Jubilee was still vibrating in the general direction of the phone.
"The Friends of Humanity are startin' t' get more active lately. This is the fifth large rally in only a few months, and there've been smaller ones all over the country." Sean sighed. "Creed's takin' every chance he can t' keep himself, and his candidacy, in th' limelight. I want ye t' start bein' more careful when y'r away from the school, and I dinnae want ye -- any o' ye -- goin' into the city by y'rselves."
"Come on, Sean, we can take care of ourselves," Jubilee objected.
He looked at her until she looked away. "I know ye think ye can, but I dinnae want ye t' take the chance."
"What about the concert?" Paige asked, sitting up straight.
Sean shook his head. "I'm sorry, but it's goin' t' have t' be canceled."
"Oh, no way! That is, like, totally unfair!" "We've been planning it for two months!" "It's Pearl Jam's only appearance in Boston!" For once, Jubilee wasn't alone in arguing; everyone wanted in on this one.
Their teachers let the protests go on for several minutes. "That's enough," Emma finally said. "Banshee is right; it's too dangerous for you to be in the city alone. I'm sorry, but the concert is off."
"Yeah, right, you're sorry," Jubilee grumbled under her breath.
"That's enough, Jubilation," Sean said sternly.
Not even Jubilee was going to backtalk him when he was wearing that look. So she tried distraction instead. "Can I call now?"
He nodded. "Keep it short, and leave Paige enough time t' talk t' Sam if she wants."
"Sure," Jubilee said, picking up the phone. "Anything you say, Teach. Anything you say."
She saw Sean and Emma exchange a look, then Sean added, "Dinnae hang up until I can talk t' the Professor."
That didn't sound good, but she didn't really care. All she wanted was to get out of here for a while. Maybe Sean would ship her back to the Institute and Wolvie, if she was really lucky... or caused enough trouble.
"Is it just Gambit, or do de Friends of Humanity get more annoyin' every day?" Remy LeBeau asked rhetorically, not really expecting an answer.
He got one anyway. "More annoying, and more dangerous," Scott Summers said, watching the television broadcast with eyes that were narrowed behind his ruby glasses. "Not to mention more widespread. Not only have there been rallies all over the country, but they're starting to show up all over the world, under different names. We're going to have to do something about it."
"Oh, is dat why you pull us all inta de war room 'fore we can even get cleaned up from dat mess dis afternoon?"
"Gambit..." The warning came from Storm. "Allow Cyclops to speak, please."
"Sure t'ing, Stormy, soon's he gets around t' actually sayin' somethin'."
"As I was saying...." Cyclops said through clenched teeth, with a pointed stare at Gambit, who looked innocent -- well, as innocent as he was capable of looking. "The Friends of Humanity activity is becoming more and more of a threat. More than twenty people were hospitalized after this particular rally," he gestured at the television, "most of them from severe beatings. Five of them were mutants."
"The others?" Psylocke asked.
"Were suspected of being mutants, or were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time," Professor Xavier filled in, leaning over the other side of the war room briefing table. They were all assembled there, with one notable exception; Gambit's eye skipped determinedly over the empty seat which was normally Rogue's, and settled on Jubilee, who was torn between pouting over some concert and gloating over being included in the X-Men again.
Of course, from the sound of the conversation between Xavier and Banshee he had 'accidentally' overheard, all White Queen and Banshee wanted to do was make the kid someone else's problem for a while.
"So what're we gonna do about it?" Wolverine growled from the wall he was holding up with a shoulder, keeping his distance from everyone else in the room, including Jubilee. He'd finally come back inside the mansion after almost killing Creed, but he was still pissed off at the world. His barely-leashed rage was a palpable force around him. "This ain't just gonna go away, especially not with Creed Jr. eggin' 'em on so he can scream about the 'mutant menace' and win himself some brownie points with all those voters."
"You're right, Wolverine," Cyclops admitted reluctantly.
"Now dere's a shock," Gambit mumbled just loudly enough to be heard.
Wolverine looked at him, his face blank. "What, me bein' right?"
"_Non_, Fearless Leader agreein' wit' you. 'Bout anyt'ing."
Wolverine considered it. "You got a point, Cajun. Hope Cerebro got it on record."
"That's enough!" Cyclops sounded like he'd really had it. Wolverine growled deep in his throat.
Jean laid a calming hand on Cyclops' shoulder and glared at Wolverine and Gambit; the former leaned back against the wall, his eyes still fixed on Cyclops. The latter decided he'd caused enough trouble for the moment and settled back in his chair. "So, what we gonna do?"
Xavier looked extremely unhappy. "I... cannot bring myself to condone attacks on humans," he said slowly, "But we also cannot overlook the harm Creed's group is doing to innocents, human and mutant alike. The Friends of Humanity must be stopped, or at least quieted...by any means necessary."
He sighed, gesturing with helpless hands. "I'm...open to suggestions."
It was the helplessness that silenced them. That Xavier could be thinking of breaking his own rules, setting aside the beliefs he'd built the X-Men around, was enough to boggle their collective minds.
Beast spoke finally, breaking the stillness. "Then I think I must suggest...a pre-emptive strike."
"Explain," Cyclops barked out, looking glad for any distraction.
Bishop nodded slowly. "This new activity must have some sort of focus, especially considering how the ranks of the FoH have swelled in recent months. Observe." He leaned forward and tapped a keyboard, freezing the newscast on the image of several Friends, who were cordoning off the rally's main platform. "The dress and bearing of these men are strongly military, much more so than the thugs who make up the majority of their ranks. In addition, of the ten rallies we have observed, the speeches and themes have been nearly identical, from the smallest hate group to this latest gathering, regardless of who the ringleader is. And Excalibur reports that the European rallies are also nearly identical."
"That all suggests a great deal of organization," Xavier thought aloud, "Even training."
"Training," Wolverine echoed thoughtfully, studying the screen. "Yeah. Check underneath those jackets -- those three clowns next t' Loudmouth are loaded for bear. The mutant kind."
Looking closely, Gambit spotted the tell-tale lines of concealed weapons. "An' dey're wearin' 'em like dey used t' 'em," he thought out loud. "Which means we probably dealin' wit' professionals."
"Conclusion," Beast finished, "our beloved Friends have decided to up the ante. They are hiring, in the sports parlance, 'ringers', trained to function both as orators...and as soldiers."
"So don't they, like, have to have someplace to do the trainin'?" Jubilee thought out loud, her first contribution to the meeting.
Wolverine nodded his head slowly. "They've gotta have some kinda headquarters...which gives us our target. Or targets."
"We'd have to find it first," Jean pointed out.
"Spoilsport," Beast told her, "And not so difficult as you might believe." He took the keyboard over from Bishop, throwing a map of the U.S. onto the main screen. Red dots began to light up the East and West Coasts, as well as the Midwest. "Here are the locations of the American FoH rallies for the last two years. If we remove the latest batch, held over the last six months," he tapped a few keys and lights faded out, "we begin to detect a pattern in the activity of our fervent Friends. Take the dates still farther back... and voila."
As one, the X-Men leaned forward to study the map. There were three obvious concentrations of light -- the expected glowing circles around the New York and Washington D.C. areas, and another around Los Angeles.
Wolverine let a claw snick out. "Targets," he said with dangerous satisfaction.
"Slow down, people," Cyclops warned. "All we've got are general areas, based on guesswork. We need a lot more than that before we can do any damage to the FoH."
"So we get it," Gambit shrugged. "Dere ain't all dat many places t' hide a lot o' people, even in New York an' L.A."
"Lot's o' places in Colorado," Wolverine pointed out, gesturing with the claw towards a faint, patchy glow that surrounded an area in the Colorado Rockies.
Cyclops shook his head, studying the map. "There isn't nearly as much activity in Colorado as the other three areas. Those rallies are scattered all over no man's land; not exactly good recruiting grounds."
Wolverine laughed, blowing out a puff of smoke. "Never been to Colorado, have ya? Nice enough place, but some parts give conservatives a bad name. Not bad practice grounds, either."
"If you feel that strongly about it, you can check them out," Cyclops told him. "As a matter of fact, why don't you and Jubilee head out there and see what you can find?" He couldn't quite hide his smile, or his relief, at finding a legitimate way to get two of the resident hotheads out of the way.
Jubilee sat up straight. "Go out in the middle of nowhere, just to see if we can find some skanky FoH hangout?" she objected loudly. "Get real, I bet there isn't even a mall out there!"
"Sounds like a plan t' me," Wolverine overruled her. "We're gonna have to find transportation, though; the Blackbird'll stick out like a sore thumb out there. And it'd be hell t' refuel."
Quietly, Gambit started putting things together. A few rumors, a few lies.... it all fit. _Mais yeah_, it fit. "Why don' you let me take care o' dat?" he suggested casually. "I t'ink I can find us a pilot."
"Us?" Wolverine asked suspiciously.
"Yeah." Gambit stood up stretching. "Some o' dat clean mountain air sound pretty good right about now. Anyt'ing t' get out o' dis dump." This time, he let his eyes cling very obviously to Rogue's empty chair. That silenced Storm and no one else seemed inclined to argue.
Except Jubilee, of course, but she could be ignored. Although, somehow, Gambit didn't think this was what Banshee and White Queen had had in mind when they tried to send Jubilee out of trouble.
"Fine," Xavier said. "Blue Team, you will investigate the Los Angeles events; I will contact the West Coast Avengers and request their participation. Gold Team will remain in New York. X-Factor has already agreed to assist us in Washington."
"Let me remind you," Hank said as they got up to leave, "Time is of the essence. The FoH activity has been escalating sharply in the last several weeks. Our erstwhile foes are building up to something, and I have a strong suspicion we will not like their plans."
"So where're we supposed t'meet this so-called friend of yours?" Jubilee demanded as she helped lug the last of the boxes off of the carousel and onto the last of three luggage carts. She almost fell over under the weight; Wolverine reached over and took it from her before she could manage to hurt herself. "She couldn't even, like, meet us at the gate?"
"She gonna meet us at her hanger, 'cross de field," Gambit told her, slinging his duffel bag over his shoulders. Ignoring her had stopped working when the kid had apparently decided he was the only viable target for her resentment at being shoved out into 'the middle of nowhere'. If she didn't find someone else to take it out on soon, he was going to strangle her. "An' we were supposed t'be there 'bout ten minutes ago."
"It's my fault there was a three-hundred foot line at the bathroom? Bad enough I get dragged all the way out inta the middle of nowhere 'stead of goin' to a Pearl Jam concert, but I don't even get a chance t' use the bathroom!" Jubilee defended herself. "And if it's your usual beach-bunny-blonde, she's gonna be too dumb t' tell time anyway!"
"In Colorado, _'tite_, dat's *ski* bunny," Gambit corrected her. "An' trust me, she always know what time it is."
Wolverine ignored them both and started shoving one of the carts; Jubilee grabbed another and tagged along. Gambit brought up the rear, whistling between his teeth just loudly enough for Wolverine to hear.
Despite Jubilee's dire predictions -- based on the X-Men's usual luck with all forms of transportation -- the plane had not crashed on its way to Durango, Colorado, and had taxied to a halt at the airport on time. They had found the baggage carousel right off, their luggage hadn't gotten lost and it had been among the first to come off the plane.
All in all, things were going entirely too well. Gambit was aware that his uncontrollable 'I know something you don't and _homme_, you goin' to *hate* it' grin wasn't helping Wolverine's growing paranoia, but what the hell. It wasn't like there *weren't* people out to get them.
Naturally, the hanger they needed was on the other side of the terminal; after a short walk, they ducked outside, emerging onto the tarmac and blinking against the sun. "Go dat way," Gambit told them, pointing to the left. "She usin' Hanger Eleven dis year."
"You know, Cajun," Wolverine said suspiciously, "you still ain't told us your friend's name."
"You know, you're right 'bout dat," Gambit agreed, not offering any more information and taking the lead. He could feel the other two glaring at him -- the kid had been taking lessons from Wolverine. He started whistling again.
Hanger Eleven seemed to be empty when they swung the door open. An aging but well-maintained Cessna filled most of the available space; a tiny office revealed mounds of paperwork and a duffel bag similar to the ones the X-Men were carrying, but no pilot.
"Anybody home?" Jubilee yelled, shivering and pulling her bright-red ski jacket closer around her.
A muffled voice floated out from beneath the plane. "Hold your horses, I'll be out in a minute!"
Wolverine's vaguely paranoid look suddenly hardened into solid suspicion. "I know that voice," he growled. "Who the hell is your 'friend', Gumbo?"
Before Gambit could answer -- actually, before he could come up with a way to duck out of answering -- wheels squeaked and a dolly came shooting out from under the plane, bringing with it a small, slender woman clad in coveralls and grease. She sat up the second she was clear of the plane. "I know that voice," she echoed Wolverine. "Remy, who the hell...?"
Gambit knew the exact second both of them figured it out.
"I'll be damned. Wolverine."
"Delphi, what the *hell* are you doin' here?"
"Last I looked, this was my plane and my hanger," Delphi told Wolverine coolly, standing up in an attempt to make her five feet two inches mean something. "You're the one who ain't supposed to be here."
"Didn't the Cajun tell you who yer passengers were gonna be, Jordie? Thought you knew all, saw all," Logan growled back.
"I'm clairvoyant, not omniscient and my name is Jordan. Remember that, unless you want t' get thrown the hell out of my hanger."
"How'd you get conned inta this, Tornado, and where's yer psycho brother? Lurkin' around a corner waitin' t' ambush us?"
Jubilee's head was going back and forth like she was watching a tennis match. Gambit leaned back against the nose of the plane and took out a cigarette, enjoying the show.
"You smoke around my plane, I'm gonna hand you your head and look who's makin' psycho cracks," Delphi threatened Gambit without losing track of her argument with Wolverine. "How could he ambush you when I didn't even know you were comin'? You're gettin' pretty damn paranoid, Wolvie." She shoved her dark, collar-length hair out of her face with one greasy hand, leaving a dirty streak on her face and two more on her coveralls when she crossed her arms. "Who invited you, anyway? This was supposed to be a favor to the Cajun."
"Au contraire, _'tite_, it a favor t' him," Gambit contributed from the sidelines, sticking the cigarette between his lips but not lighting it. "I'm de one who invited myself."
"Wonderful," Delphi said icily, "I'll remember that next time you ask me for something."
"This is your pilot?" Wolverine directed his glare at Gambit, who was unimpressed. "You hired *Jordan Raines* t' fly us all over the back o' creation?"
Gambit considered, then nodded. "_Mais yeah_, I t'ink dat's exactly what I did."
"You expect me t' fly Short-an'-Hairy, the Junior Birdman --" Delphi jerked her chin at Jubilee, "-- and you? *This* is your charter?"
"Am I repeatin' myself? And like you got anything better t'do, _chere_?" Gambit asked, not particularly worried about Delphi's temper either. "It ain't started snowin' yet, you got no skiers t' fly around. For what Xavier payin', you can keep from killin' Wolverine for a few days."
"But who's gonna keep me from killin' her?" Wolverine threatened with a toothy smile.
"Just try it, Logan, and I'll drop you out o' the plane," Delphi snarled back half-heartedly, attempting to focus her ire on Gambit.
Gambit would have laid odds Jubilee still didn't have a clue what was going on, but that had never stopped her from jumping into a fight before, and it didn't stop her this time. "You and what army?"
Delphi's eyes narrowed in Jubilee's direction. The half-healed scar that slashed beside her left eye and down her high, wide cheekbone made her face even more dangerous, but her voice was mild. "I never had much use for armies. You always mouth off like that t' strangers?"
"Yeah," Jubilee shot back, sticking her chin out and daring Delphi to do anything about it.
"Bad habit," Delphi told her, ignoring the dare. "Consider breakin' it." She turned back to Gambit without another look at the girl. "Forget it, Remy. I ain't hard up enough to take a job from Xavier *or* berserker boy here."
"And we ain't hard up enough t' hire ya," Wolverine informed her.
"Your loss." Delphi shrugged and turned away, limping slightly on her left leg. "Now that we're all in agreement, you can leave."
"Best offer I've gotten all day." Wolverine turned and started out the hanger door, Jubilee following with a backwards glare at Delphi.
Gambit shook his head, amusement mixing with frustration. *Maybe dis how Cyclops always feel,* he thought ruefully as he charged the cigarette he was still holding and dropped it. The small explosion stopped everyone before they could stalk more than a few feet. "You two done wit' de ritual insults?" he asked casually.
Delphi actually stopped to think about it. "No," she told him over her shoulder, "Give us a few more minutes."
"How you feel 'bout de Friends o' Humanity?"
She laughed, if you could call the humorless sound a laugh. "With friends like that, who needs enemies?"
"That's original," Jubilee muttered. Del's eyes narrowed slightly again.
"Well, you help us out an' maybe dey stop bein' such a problem," Gambit told her before she could say anything. Her eyebrows lifted in an 'oh really?' gesture. "We trying' t' find de headquarters, give dem somethin' t' think about besides causin' riots."
Delphi gave him a suspicious look -- he was getting a lot of those lately, he reflected. Not that *that* was anything new. "When did you start giving a damn about anything but Remy LeBeau?"
He shrugged, and leaned back against the plane. "Beats de hell outta me. You in or not?"
She sighed, running a hand through her hair again and adding another black grease trail to the first. Gambit heroically resisted commenting. "Either of 'em gives me trouble, I'm droppin' 'em, without a parachute. Same goes for you."
"When was de last time Gambit give you trouble, _vieux_?"
"Baton Rouge comes to mind." She looked at Wolverine, gritted her teeth, and huffed without any real anger before giving in. "Where we headin'?"
Wolverine answered reluctantly, while Gambit tried not to look smug. "There were big rallies in Colorado Springs and Denver, but the earliest ones were up here, around Durango and Silverton. Figure we start here, in the smaller cities, then circle out in a search pattern until we find what we're lookin' for."
"You figure they warmed up close to home, huh?"
"Oh joy," Delphi said with disgust. "Load up, I've got to file a flight plan. We're off the ground in half-an-hour." She half-strode, half-limped towards her office without looking at anyone.
"She still havin' problems wit' dat leg wound she got a few months ago," Gambit observed to no one in particular. "And de scar on her face is new, too."
"She earned the first one, even money she earned the other one," Wolverine answered with only a trace of sympathy, his eyes following her across the hanger. "How'd you know Jordie was out here?"
"Just some rumors Gambit got confirmed."
"Why her, Gumbo, just as some kinda joke?"
"_Non_," Gambit defended himself, without expecting to be believed. "Not all, anyway. How easy you t'ink it is t' find a pilot who's clairvoyant?"
Wolverine grunted, but couldn't argue the point, and he didn't look nearly as unhappy about the situation as Gambit had half-expected.
Jubilee gave up on being patient -- it was a stretch for her anyway -- and demanded, "Who *is* that chick and why's she got such a serious 'tude problem at you, Wolvie?"
"She's a pain in the neck," Wolverine informed the kid unhelpfully.
"Logan, darlin', how can you say things like that 'bout little ol' me?" Delphi drawled from her office, both drawl and sarcasm as thick as honey. Wolverine threw a dirty look in her direction, apparently for practice; she grinned smugly, never looking up from her computer.
Gambit shook his head again, but gave Jubilee a better answer. "Her name's Jordan Raines, but she use de field name Delphi. She and Wolverine been fightin' since de day they met."
"How would you know?" Wolverine stalked to the equipment pile and started tossing crates onto the plane.
"Believe me, _homme_, you two legendary," Gambit half-laughed. "You get in de same room, people start bettin' on who gonna throw de first punch."
Jubilee finally made the connection. "She's the one almost got Wolvie and Siryn killed a couple months ago! That jerk Deadpool's sister!"
Delphi finished whatever she was doing on the computer and stood up. "I'm also the one who saved his butt at the end of that debacle," she said without looking over at them, "And the one who's gonna be flyin' your plane, so watch your mouth, okay?"
Gambit clamped his hand over Jubilee's mouth before she could snipe back. "Get busy, _cher_; we got t' load de plane," he told her.
"Don't call me _cher_," she told him mutinously, then was forced to obey as his other hand clamped on her shoulder and steered her to the plane.
They were almost finished loading when Delphi emerged from her office. Her face was clean and the coveralls had been replaced by faded jeans, a heavy flannel shirt and a battered pair of cowboy boots. She was pulling on an equally battered parka that had once been army green. Actually, she was dressed almost identically to Wolverine, but Gambit didn't think either one would appreciate having that pointed out. He was tempted to do it anyway.
Delphi surveyed the piles of equipment on the plane, including the portable radar packages, courtesy of Forge, that Wolverine was setting up. "Looks like y'all are plannin' t' take over a small country."
"Beats anything you've got on this heap," Jubilee muttered.
Delphi gave her a lethal smile for the insult to her plane. "You'd be surprised what this 'heap' is carryin', little girl."
"I'm *not* a little girl!"
"Try actin' like it." Once again, Delphi looked past the fuming teenager at Wolverine. "Do I need t' check the weight distribution?"
"I've done this before," he informed her. She shrugged and started checking it anyway. He growled, but stayed out of her way.
"Looks okay," she finally conceded. "Everyone who's comin' better get in."
"Glad you approve."
Delphi ignored Wolverine's sarcasm and climbed over to the cockpit. Gambit climbed into the co-pilot's seat as Jubilee and Wolverine strapped themselves in back.
"The kid always this charmin'?" Delphi asked as she ran through pre-flight.
Gambit would have offered to help, but the dashboard was covered with blinking lights, buttons and switches, most of which he didn't recognize. He suspected almost none of them were standard for a Cessna, but Delphi had a thing for electronic toys; the plane could probably fly by itself. He shrugged instead, careful not to touch anything. "Nobody 'spect t' find much on dis trip. It's mostly an excuse t' get de three of us out o' everyone's hair an' she know it."
"And she's gonna take it out on us. Wonderful."
He grinned. "_Laissez les bons temps rouler, neh?_"
He didn't even try to keep the amusement out of his voice; she snorted. "Don't enjoy yourself too much, _amigo_. You thought this would be so entertainin'..." She smiled, with an unholy glint in her eyes. "Well now, you're gonna be stuck in a small plane, with the three of us, for days. Think about it."
He thought about it, and her smile got wider as his faded. "Yeah. Enjoy, Cajun."
She put her headset over her ears and started the engine, leaving Gambit to wonder if this had been a really *bad* idea.
Let the good times roll. Yeah.
"How much longer we gonna do this before we admit they sent us on a wild goose chase?"
Gambit concentrated on Forge's radar kit. Judging from the silence, no one else was going to bother answering Jubilee either.
"Can't we at least change the music? We've been listening to the same CD for two days."
"That's because it's the only CD all four of us will listen to," Delphi informed her without looking up from the mountains below. "You got somethin' against the Eagles?"
"I do now," Jubilee grumbled, sounding like an eight-year-old and apparently too bored to care. "It's not like we haven't got a hundred other CD's back here."
"Give it a rest, squirt," Wolverine ordered, playing with his radar array. "We ain't here to be music critics."
"You want, _'tite_, I put on some *good* music," Gambit offered.
"Great, trapped with zydeco," Delphi muttered, "A death worse than fate."
Jubilee started to laugh, remembered she didn't like Del, and stifled it.
"Pipe down up front," Wolverine told Delphi.
"Go to hell," she snapped back.
"Meet ya there," he answered, still not looking up. Delphi curled a lip in his general direction and started singing along to 'Hotel California.' Under normal circumstances, considering Delphi's bluesy soprano, that would have been a good thing. Right now, it was carefully calculated to get on Wolverine and Jubilee's remaining nerves.
Gambit tried to ignore them as he had been for two days, but it was getting harder as they got louder.
Not that that wasn't completely understandable. They'd been flying a search pattern over the Rockies for two days. Two days of four hot-tempered, impatient personalities trapped in a very small plane, frustration thresholds dropping by the second. Delphi's tongue was getting sharper, Jubilee's sulking more pointed, Wolverine's growls more widely aimed. And if Gambit didn't get a cigarette soon, he was going to throw all of them out a window and worry about landing the plane later.
Delphi and Wolverine were at the top -- or bottom -- of their form; death threats were snarled about once every half-hour, and Jubilee had jumped on Wolverine's side enthusiastically. The kid was being amazingly obnoxious, for no real reason other than boredom, and it was making Gambit crazy.
Even worse than that, it was starting to look like Jubilee was right, and this *was* a wild goose chase. There had been no sign of anything bigger than a survivalist camp anywhere around Durango. They'd flown out as far as Colorado Springs and Wolf Creek Pass, with no sign of illegitimate life. The only comfort was that, according to the daily phone calls to the mansion, no one else was having any luck, either.
Whoever was running the FoH while Creed was kissing babies was damn good at his job, Gambit reflected sourly. If there was a base here, it was so well hidden even Forge's equipment couldn't pick it up. And Delphi....
He glanced over at their pilot, who was absorbed in staring at the ground, still singing absently and pretty much ignoring the controls, piloting instinctively to spare more attention for her search. She'd been working a lot harder than the other two realized, searching mentally for the base, and the stress of being in a confined area with Wolverine wasn't helping. But she hadn't slacked off -- seemed as if even Delphi knew what could be at stake here.
She frowned suddenly, as Gambit's radar emitted a sound that could have been a beep. Light flashed across the screen and disappeared before Gambit could react. He leaned forward to double-check with the small radar device he'd been able to pick out of Del's techie toys.
"You get somethin' too, Cajun? Del?" Wolverine asked, leaning over the seats from behind.
"I'm not sure, _mon ami_."
Delphi was still frowning, her eyes closed -- not really a comfortable thing to see your pilot doing, Gambit reflected, resisting the urge to grab for the stick. "I... Saw something," she said slowly. Gambit could hear the capital letter. "Just for a second. Weird. Did y'all you see that ski lodge we just passed over?"
"_Mais yeah_, hard t' miss wit' all dose people around. Dat probably what set off de radar."
"Exactly," Delphi said. "There's no snow."
"And..." Gambit prompted.
"And if there's no snow, then what're all the people doin' at a ski lodge?" Jubilee finished.
"Gold star," Delphi said over her shoulder. "Guess Wolverine hasn't completely screwed you up."
"Can't do a worse job than Wilson did with you, Del," Wolverine said. She made a face at him in the windshield, banking the plane in a looping circle back. "Could be a lot of reasons for people to be there; don't go jumpin' to conclusions."
"I'm not," Delphi answered calmly. "That's our headquarters."
"How do you know?" Jubilee demanded. Her face was a study, caught between pride at Delphi's compliment and anger over the insult to her partner, but 'insulted' was beginning to win out.
"I'm clairvoyant, kiddo," Delphi told her. "I just know."
There was no chance for anyone to respond to that before it was completely and unarguably confirmed. Delphi cursed and threw the plane into a sharp turn as something came streaking by outside the window.
"Incoming!" Wolverine barked automatically.
"Thanks for the warning," Delphi said through gritted teeth. "Three people with rocket launchers, on the mountain behind the lodge. How the hell did they spot us?"
"Scanners, prob'ly," Gambit answered, hanging onto the door frame to keep from falling out of his seat. His free hand scrambled to get his safety belt fastened. "Dey paranoid enough, dey got scanners workin' day an' night, waiting for de 'mutant threat' to arrive."
"Which we did," Delphi finished. "Just because you're paranoid... Everyone hold on!"
She threw the plane into a steep dive, trying to avoid another rocket. The Cessna, not equipped to handle the stress, groaned threateningly. Delphi cursed again and hit the control panel. "Stay together, baby!"
It was a useless request; the next two rockets came in together and Delphi wasn't good enough to avoid them both. Gambit heard Jubilee stifle a scream as the plane jolted and a rocket exploded not more than a few feet outside the window. Delphi was already turning the plane with the shock wave -- it was probably the only thing that saved their lives.
The cockpit filled with smoke and instruments began shorting out. Coughing and cursing in several languages, Delphi fought for control of the fatally crippled aircraft. Gambit groped around and found a fire extinguisher, turning it on the control panels. The two in back just hung on.
"I need a place to land -- get to the windows and look for anything I can use as a landing strip," Delphi yelled over her shoulder.
Wolverine and Jubilee nodded and coughed their agreement. Jubilee started to struggle out of her seat, but Wolverine shoved her back. "Stay down," he ordered her, fastening her seat belt before leaning over her to the window. "Got a clearing at three o'clock," he shouted over the noise of the engine, "Can we make it?'
"I see it," Delphi shouted back, "I'm going to try for it." She coaxed the plane into the curve with sheer willpower; Gambit spotted the bare spot in the trees. From this distance, it didn't look big enough for a toy plane, much less a major air traffic disaster.
"There's no way this is going to work!" he yelled at Delphi in Cajun French.
"We don't have a choice, Remy, we're going to crash!" she answered in the same language, just as aware of Jubilee in the back. "That's the best chance we've got." Her face went blank, frozen with concentration, and she switched back to English to shout, "Everyone hang on!"
"Wolvie, sit down!" Gambit heard Jubilee yell behind him. Then the plane jolted again, and he lost his grip on reality.
"Sir, the plane has dropped off our radar -- it must have crashed in the mountains."
"Any sign of the mutie trash aboard?"
"The scanners aren't showing anything, sir."
"Which doesn't mean a great deal when you're dealing with muties, son. Did you track the crash?"
"Yes, sir, we believe they landed somewhere on west face of the mountain. I'm preparing a team to get to the crash site, but we'll have to go by ground. The wind is picking up and the helicopters can't take off."
"All right, carry on. But make sure you bring back the bodies."
"And if they're not dead, sir?'
". . . Make sure you bring back the bodies."
"Yes, sir. Gladly, sir."
"And Bryant? Take two teams, just to be sure. If these muties are who I think they are, you'd better have an advantage."
Gambit came around slowly and tried to sit up; the pain that flared through his head canceled that idea. Breathing seemed like a good intermediate step. He took a deep breath, and immediately doubled over in a coughing spasm as his lungs filled with smoke.
Beside him, he heard someone else choking, then a groan. "The good news is, we missed the electric towers," Delphi announced, her voice hoarse from smoke. "Bad news is, we hit a power line."
"Gives the environmental movement more ammunition," Wolverine rasped, from behind them. Amazingly, Delphi started to laugh, then choked again. "You two all right?" he asked.
Delphi kept coughing. "Just dandy," she managed to force out. "How's the kid?"
Gambit managed to get his eyes open and lifted his head, groping under his seat for a canteen. He opened it, took a long gulp, then passed it across to Del, who took it gratefully, draining half the bottle in one swallow.
She wiped the top with her palm and handed it back to Wolverine, who was leaning over Jubilee. The girl was hanging limply in her seat, held up only by her seatbelt. A black and blue lump was rising on her forehead. "She's breathin' -- probably just got knocked silly." Wolverine unfastened the seatbelt and gently lifted her out of her seat. "Let's get out o' here."
"I hear dat," Gambit said with all the enthusiasm he could muster. He struggled to his feet, trying to ignore the cherry bombs the movement set off in his head.
Beside him, Delphi started to follow his lead; she made it most of the way up before her face went white with pain. "Oh, shit."
"What'd you do, Jordie?" Wolverine asked, trying to shove the door open with one hand and look back at them at the same time.
"Leg," she explained succinctly. With a great deal of groaning from both of them, Gambit managed to lever her to her feet. Wolverine forced the door open and cold air flooded inside, clearing away the odor of the smoke. Two by two, they struggled out of the plane to the ground.
Gambit let Del slide to her knees and took off his coat so Wolverine could lay Jubilee down on it. He poured some water into his cupped hand, then dribbled it over the girl's face. She stirred, lifting a hand to wipe the water away. Blood from the cut on her forehead came with it.
"Come on, darlin', rise and shine," Logan told her. Gambit saw Delphi's head cock slightly at the gentleness in his voice; something flickered across her face, then was gone.
Jubilee moaned, her eyes opening slowly. "Wolvie? Are we dead?"
"Nope, but you're gonna wish ya were tomorrow morning," Wolverine told her. "You're all gonna have some real good bruises."
"No, they're not," Delphi said, motioning Gambit over. He knew the drill; he knelt next to her and she laid one hand against his chest, another against his head, staring off into the distance in concentration. Gambit felt warmth spread through his body, felt the pounding, sick headache subside, then fade away, as Delphi's mutant healing power did its work.
"Thanks, _cher_," he told her, stretching and testing his muscles. "Save de rest for de kid."
She blinked, coming out of her trance. "I was plannin' on it," she informed him. "Get me over there." After another round of groans and curses, she knelt next to the girl and tranced again. A few moments later, Jubilee sat up, leaning against Wolverine's arm. The cut on her head was closed, the lump several sizes smaller.
"Thanks," she muttered less than graciously, rubbing her rib cage.
"_De nada_." Delphi straightened shakily. The crash, followed by the effort of healing, had obviously taken their toll.
"You can't do anything for yourself, Jordie?" Wolverine asked.
Delphi shrugged, wincing as the movement pulled at sore muscles. "You know my power doesn't work on myself. I use my own energy, the feedback loop would knock me cold."
Gambit helped her to her feet. "Take it easy den."
"Yeah, right," Delphi groaned. She shivered suddenly; it was starting to get colder.
Wolverine helped Jubilee to her feet and went back to the plane, tossing Del's parka in her general direction before handing Jubilee hers. She showed no inclination to put it on, so he started to pull it over her head for her. "We better get movin'," he said. "You can bet they tracked the crash; they'll be showin' up loaded for bear any time now. How long were we out?' he asked Delphi.
She shrugged, carefully putting her arms through the sleeves of her parka. "About ten minutes."
"How do you know?" Jubilee asked, her voice muffled through the layers of fabric being pulled over her head. She put up with it for a another second, then shoved Wolverine away and finished it herself.
"Being clairvoyant means never having to ask what time it is," Delphi answered absently, trying to zip her parka with her left hand -- her right arm didn't seem to be working well. "It's the only damn thing that works all the time. Pun not intended."
"Good." Wolverine looked around, enhanced senses on alert for any signs of trouble. There was only the wind. "The radio working?" he asked.
"No, I checked first thing." Delphi looked at the pile of gear, visible through the twisted door of the cabin. "Don't you have anything in there?"
"The comlinks survived, but they're short-range. There's an emergency beacon, but it'll also lead the jokers who fired on us out here."
Delphi rolled her head, wincing as the bones in her neck popped and cracked, and limped over to the plane. "Well, I there were about 125 people in that lodge when we overflew it -- that places the odds at something like thirty to one as things stand, and none of us are in great shape, with the possible exception of you and your damn healin' factor. They're goin' t' find us eventually -- we need backup and we need t' get out o' here. The beacon's the lesser of two evils."
She started rummaging in her duffel and pulled out a gunbelt complete with her trademark 9mm, strapping it around her waist with the ease of long practice. She fastened the strap around her thigh, then shoved past Wolverine and went back into the clearing. "I'll take first watch," she told them without turning around, sitting back down and massaging her left calf. "Someone can relieve me in half-an-hour."
"Don' you hate it when she right?" Gambit commented. Wolverine grunted in acknowledgement, then started opening crates, looking for the beacon.
Gambit went to relieve Delphi after the requested half-hour, which was how long it took them to unload the plane and figure out what was beyond salvage -- which was most of it. Jubilee muttered under her breath about people who didn't help with heavy stuff, but not too loudly after both Gambit and Wolverine made pointed comments about head injuries.
"De plane is totaled," he announced, coming up behind Delphi.
She didn't even look up, just kept scanning the woods around them. "I knew that," she told him irritably, "and I plan on takin' it out of Xavier's hide, unless I can get it out of yours first."
He held up his hands in a protest of innocence. "Don' beat on me, _cher_, all Gambit did was send some work your way."
"Hah," she said without heat. "You wanted a distraction from what you thought was goin' t' be a borin' couple o' days. How much is in the pot?"
Gambit blinked. "What pot?" he asked, playing dumb.
Delphi's lips curved crookedly. "I know you've got money ridin' on which one of us is goin' t' throw the first punch -- you said yourself the bets fly. How much is in the pot and who are you bettin' with?"
Gambit gave it up. No use lying to a clairvoyant. "'Bout $200. Dere's a pool goin' wit' both Cassidy's, McCoy an' Cable. I t'ink Guthrie got in on it, too."
She shook her head with a complete lack of surprise. "Who'd you bet on?"
Gambit was sure as hell not going to answer *that* question; fortunately, Wolverine provided a distraction by dropping two duffel bags at their feet. Gambit noted that his looked a hell of a lot heavier than Del's. "Unless you two wanna keep sittin' around bein' targets for those clowns coming up the south ridge, you'd better get movin'," he warned quietly.
"South ridge?" Delphi looked blank, then frustrated. "Dammit, can't turn this stuff off half the time, can't make it work the rest of the time. How many?" she asked, drawing her gun with one hand and carefully standing up with the other.
"Team o' ten, judgin' by the noise and the smell."
Gambit pulled a deck of cards out of his pocket. "We be ready for dem."
"Praise the nose and pass the ammunition." Delphi slung the duffel over her head without staggering. "Let's move."
Gambit started towards the trees, and ran right into Delphi's outstretched arm. "Make up your mind, _cher_," he hissed, instinctively dropping his voice.
Del ignored him. "Jubilee," she called quietly. "Get over here."
The girl looked over from the other side of the plane, where she was supposed to be keeping watch. "What?' she asked, full voice.
Wolverine and Delphi exchanged disgusted looks, actually agreeing on something for once. "What?" Wolverine echoed his sidekick a bit more quietly.
Delphi's eyes were unfocused, staring at something unseen. Apparently her clairvoyance was back on. "Company," she said shortly. "Another team."
"Where are dey?"
Gambit's only answer was Delphi's sudden, "Shit!" as she aimed and fired into the trees. Someone shouted in pain, and the woods suddenly came alive as people poured out from the north.
"Second team downwind!" Wolverine's disgusted exclamation didn't stop him from popping his claws and piling into the first wave of attackers. "Jubilee, get over here!"
Jubilee tried to obey, but got grabbed from behind. She twisted and cut loose with a blast of fireworks; her captor let her go to claw at his eyes and she slammed her duffel into his head. Delphi shot again and put him out of everyone's misery. "Get ready to move!" Delphi shouted at her. For once, the girl obeyed, slinging the heavy bag over her shoulder before letting loose with another barrage of pafs that took out two of Wolverine's opponents.
Warned by Wolverine, Gambit charged cards and had them ready to fly into the group that came running in from the south. Some corner of his mind noted that they were dressed in mountain clothes, not uniforms, but most of them wore the berets and badges favored by the Friends of Humanity. Big surprise. Several of the berets flew into the air as the cards exploded, sending the uglies flying back. But there were still more coming.
"Gambit t'ink it be time t' go!" he yelled above Jubilee's fireworks and the gunfire from Delphi and the FoH commandos. Delphi and Jubilee shouted back in acknowledgement, but Wolverine was too busy slicing and dicing. Delphi took a potshot at the tree next to him, which got his attention -- he swung on her, claws out, before getting the idea and reluctantly breaking off the fight to follow the other three into the cover of the trees.
"I'm on point," he growled, shoving his way past the other three, none of whom fought him. His uniform was torn and bloody, but none of it seemed to be his. And this was his territory, not theirs.
They tore their way through the trees at the fastest clip Delphi could manage which, even with her injured leg, was pretty fast. "You doin' okay, _cher_?" Gambit asked once.
Her only answer was a snarl. "Move it!"
Bullets slammed into the tree next to him, followed almost immediately by the sound of the shots, and pounding footsteps. It didn't seem to be the time to argue. So he moved.
Their path twisted and turned, doubling back on itself so many times Gambit was completely lost. But Wolverine's face never lost its concentration -- the man knew exactly where they were. It could have been minutes or hours before Wolverine slowed, just before the four of them stumbled into a mountain face.
"Great, Wolvie," Delphi gasped out, "Run us into... a mountain, we'll be wonderful... sittin' ducks."
Gambit looked at her; she was bent almost double under the weight of her duffel, her breath coming in rasping gulps. Asking how she was doing seemed pretty pointless, so he looked at Wolverine instead. "Where we go from here, Fearless Leader?" *Not *too* sarcastic, _non_.*
"Up," Wolverine answered shortly, taking Delphi's duffel bag and strapping it over his free shoulder.
"I can... handle it," Del protested, but didn't try to grab it back.
"Like hell you can." He hefted Jubilee off the ground and onto the rock. "Get climbin', kid."
"Cool!" Jubilee grinned, not even slightly out of breath.
*Must be somethin' t' all dat roller blading,* Gambit thought, trying to disguise how heavily his breath was coming. *Or maybe I just got t' stop smokin'.*
Jubilee attacked the rock like a monkey; as soon as she was a few feet up, Wolvie followed right below. "You two comin'?" he asked over his shoulder.
Gambit looked at the rock wall and sighed. "Knew I shoulda stayed in de T'ieves' Guild," he complained quietly.
"Think of it as a... really big buildin'," Delphi advised, slapping a new clip into her pistol and reholstering it, before shoving past him to grab a handhold and heft herself off the ground.
"More like de Eiffel Tower."
"Since our 'Friends' are about... two hundred feet away and closin' fast... you'd better start climbin'." Gambit groaned; she grinned down at him, sweat and pain sheening her face, an insane light gleaming in her eyes. "_Laissez les bons temps roulez_."
"Gambit knew he was gonna regret dat." He grabbed a handhold and started climbing, just as their pursuers broke through the trees. There was a certain satisfaction in causing anyone to look *that* frustrated, he reflected, releasing one hand long enough to charge and throw a few rocks, the explosions knocking most of the Friends off their feet.
"You're gonna start a forest fire that way," Delphi observed from above him, as she drew and shot left-handed, taking down two more.
The last two attackers wisely hit the dirt as, above her, Wolverine growled, "Stop foolin' around and climb."
The Texan and the Cajun traded looks. "He been hangin' out with Cyclops too long," Gambit excused his teammate.
"Three seconds is too long," Delphi observed, starting to get her breath back and reaching for another handhold. "How about keepin' those creeps from followin' us?"
"Your wish, it be my command." As the Friends struggled back to their feet, he let go with one hand again, and felt his stomach drop as his feet slipped.
For a moment he dangled by one hand thirty feet above the ground. Then his scrabbling feet found a hold, and he gritted his teeth against acrophobia long enough to lay his hand on the rock wall beneath him. He gutted it out for almost five seconds, then started climbing as fast as he could.
Right on time, the bullets started flying. When the first one hit the rock beneath them, the top layer he had so thoughtfully charged exploded, sending rock chips flying and destroying the bottom of the wall.
Curses flew as fast as bullets as the Friends saw their targets getting away, then he was at the top of the rock. A hand grabbed his wrist and pulled him the rest of the way over.
"Where are they?'
"We haven't located them yet, sir." The young man heard his voice shake, but couldn't stop it. "We've got teams tracking them through the mountains now."
"I've heard that before, Bryant. I don't want any more promises. I want those muties here, in my hands." The older man turned away, staring out the window. "I'm too... *We're* too close to let anyone interfere now."
Bryant knew a dismissal when he heard it. "Yes, sir."
"And double the guards around the lodge. I don't want any more surprise visitors."
"Nice trick, Cajun," Logan complimented Gambit, pulling him to his feet. "Long as it didn't set off an avalanche and bury us."
Gambit shrugged as well as he could, considering that he was still trying to remember how to breathe. "Calculated... risk... _mon ami_. Ain't dat... why we spend all dat time... in de Danger Room?"
"Hey, as long as it worked, who cares?" Jubilee pointed out with unassailable logic.
"Worked for now," Delphi said from her sprawl a few feet away, as she struggled to sit up, her eyes slightly out of focus. "But they know where we are, and they've got the emergency beacon torn down already. I just hope your pals heard it."
"If they didn't, Cerebro'll hang onto it until someone pays attention," Wolverine said, dropping duffel bags to the dirt. "Come on, we've got to keep movin'." With the same impatient move he'd used on Gambit, he grabbed Delphi's wrist and started to haul her to her feet. Her strangled scream stopped him cold. "What'd ya do to yer arm?"
Gambit was beside them in a second, seeing the blood on Del's parka sleeve at the same time as Wolverine. It soaked the right sleeve of the heavy material, trickling down over her hand.
"I hurt it a few weeks ago," Delphi said through clenched teeth, trying to pull away and turning white at the pain. "It's fine."
"Not bleedin' like that, it's not," Jubilee said, looking over Wolverine's shoulder with fascination and a certain amount of experience.
Del tried to snarl but her heart wasn't in it. "I just need t' check the bandage," she gritted out, "And we don't have time for this right now!"
"We make time, _cher_," Gambit informed her, as Wolverine pulled her parka off with the same brusque gentleness he had used to put Jubilee's on. Her wool shirt came off the same way; she inhaled sharply as the shirt pulled away from her flesh, leaving her in a black thermal tank top. Jubilee gasped at the same time, but for a different reason.
The two men had seen the vicious set of scars which slashed across Delphi's left shoulder and chest before, as well as the one that sliced its way across her right forearm, and the one that traced her collarbone down past her collar. They were more concerned with the partially-healed wound which ran from her right shoulder down to her elbow, and had broken free from the fifty-some stitches that had held it closed.
"You *climbed* wit' dat?" Gambit asked, already digging for a first aid kit. "You crazy, Jordie."
"Already knew that," she bit out, stifling another gasp as Wolverine started cleaning off the blood.
"Knife or sword?" he asked casually, without taking any attention off of the wound.
"Sword." The muscles in Delphi's face were tight, every bone standing out in sharp relief. "His point control was off, mine wasn't; end of story."
"De Hand again?" Gambit located the kit and started cutting bandages for a field dressing.
"Who else?" Delphi tried for one of her sarcastic grins, but couldn't quite pull it off. "They tracked me to my place in San Francisco; I figured a change o' scenery'd be good for my health."
Jubilee rolled her eyes. "So much for that."
"One o' these days, yer gonna have t' settle that with the Hand, or they're gonna take you down for good." Wolverine started wrapping gauze carefully around her arm, trying to pull the slash together.
Delphi bit her lip so hard blood showed, but still commented, "Look who's talkin'. Besides, you'd probably be on the sidelines... rootin' 'em on."
"You know me better'n that, Jordie."
"You sure as hell should by now."
"Yeah, well..." She looked up to meet his eyes. "Maybe I do."
They looked at each other for a long moment, then Wolverine broke the contact, focusing on tightening the bandage. "That'll hold ya. How come every time we wind up on the same caper, you start bleedin' all over me?" he asked, pulling a wool shirt out of his duffel and handing it to her. She rubbed her arm, looking from the shirt to him and back. "Put it on," he said impatiently, "Unless ya want t' go for a swim in one o' the Cajun's or freeze t' death."
For a second, it looked as if she might choose freezing to death. Then she started working the shirt over her arms. "You're just lucky, I guess," she answered his earlier question.
No new blood showed on the bandage; Gambit took that as a good sign and turned away to let her get dressed, smiling to himself.
Behind him, Jubilee moved closer to Delphi. "What'd the Hand want with you?" she asked curiously, with a slight edge that told Gambit she hadn't missed that little exchange either.
"My head. Preferably detached from my body," Del answered, her voice still tight from pain.
"Why?" Jubilee persisted.
Delphi huffed impatiently. "Because me and my brother used t' work for 'em, and they take severance pay very seriously, okay?" She finished buttoning her shirt and reached for her duffel, pulling out a handful of granola bars and dried fruit. "You want t' cross examine me, or eat?"
Going by Jubilee's face, it was a toss-up. Jordan threw a granola bar at her, which made the decision. Jubilee caught it and tore in.
Jordan filled her mouth with a granola bar of her own before tossing one at the other two. "Dis all you bring to feed us?" Gambit complained. "Rabbit food?"
"If you've got anything better, bring it out," Jordan said through a full mouth. Gambit sighed and unwrapped his bar, bringing out his canteen. Wolverine stashed his bar in a pocket and started prowling around the edges of the clearing, watching for trouble. The other three ate and drank quickly, Delphi damn near inhaling three granola bars and a large package of chocolate, raisins and nuts she referred to as gorp.
The sight of Delphi packing it away never failed to amaze Gambit. "Where you put it all?" he asked for perhaps the hundredth time in twelve years.
She didn't answer, which no surprise, since she never had. Instead, she raised her voice to ask Wolverine, "Where're we goin' from here, Fearless Leader?"
Gambit stifled a laugh; trust Jordie to pick up on the nickname that would annoy Wolverine the most. Wolverine ignored him, walking back to them. "Since when do you take orders?"
Delphi shrugged with the uninjured shoulder. "You've been havin' so much fun given' 'em, I didn't want t' spoil it for you. So, we goin' t' keep wanderin' around in circles or what?"
Gambit didn't bother to hide his snicker this time; next to him, Jubilee let out something that would have been a giggle if she hadn't been so cool. Wolverine looked as if he was seriously considering skewering them all.
"No, we ain't goin' t' run around in circles," Wolverine said with forced patience. "But it ain't gonna take those jokers very long to catch up to us, and we need t' keep movin'. We also need t' find a way to tell the rest o' the X-Men we found the HQ for them."
"Coolness!" Jubilee said enthusiastically. "That'll teach 'em to send *us* out of the way."
Delphi laughed unexpectedly, her smile actually reaching her eyes for once, turning them almost silver. "So much for keeping you three outta trouble, eh, _amigos_?"
Even Wolverine chuckled. "Yeah, well, we're not gonna be able t' rub their noses in it unless they manage to catch up to us. You three got any ideas other than givin' me trouble?"
"Nothin' comes t' mind," Delphi admitted, the smile dying as quickly as it had come. "There's gonna be Friends crawlin' all over my plane; first thing they're gonna do is grab all of your pal Forge's toys. And there's nothin' within forty miles that can get through the mountains, much less all the way t' New York."
"Except what those creepoids have in their headquarters," Jubilee said absently, throwing the remains of her granola bar at a pine cone and missing.
The three adults froze, looking at her. She was too busy digging around for something else to throw to notice. "They're organized, right? So they must be, like, talkin' to the dudes in L.A. and the Apple. Hey, they at least gotta have a phone." She threw a rock and sent the pine cone flying back three feet, slamming her fist into the air in triumph. "And Lee scores!"
She finally noticed their stares. "What?"
Gambit redirected his stare to Delphi and Wolverine. "Don' even think about it, you two."
Delphi was still looking at Jubilee. "From the mouths of babes....you say there's a whole team like this?"
"No, the kid's pretty much one of a kind," Wolverine said, sounding suspiciously like a proud father. "This is a really stupid idea."
"Yeah, but it's gonna be fun to pull off, isn't it?" Delphi's eyes were gleaming again, with the same insane light that was reflected in Wolverine's.
And, against every survival instinct he possessed, Gambit felt it shining in his own. He fought it for as long as he could, trying to hold down the adrenaline and the challenge, but he just wasn't made for it. "Oh, what de hell," he said finally. "Sure beats playin' Hide an' Seek in dese damn mountains."
It took a little longer to sink in for Jubilee, but she was younger and had a slightly better grip on sanity than the other three. "You guys aren't seriously thinkin' what I think you're thinkin'. Are ya?"
Delphi leaned down and picked up a rock of her own, tossing it from palm to palm. "We're outnumbered, out-gunned and possibly out-maneuvered..."
"But not outclassed," Gambit inserted.
"Never. So, we're goin' t' do what anyone in our position would do." She grinned. Widely. And nailed the pine cone with one throw, barely wincing as the motion pulled her wounded arm. "We're goin' to attack."
Gambit let a matching grin split his face. "_Laissez les bons temps roulez_!"
"They sent fewer this time? What morons."
"Keep it down, Jubes. You in position, Gambit?"
"Count it off, Del."
"Uno. Dos. Tres!"
The patrol never knew what hit them. Delphi came out low and took one down at the knees, slamming his head against the ground with lethal precision. Jubilee jumped out of a pine tree to land on another one, meeting his head with a surprisingly well-aimed kick. Wolverine took his with a single, efficient uppercut, while Gambit got fancy, plowing his fist into the solar plexus of one before landing a spin kick to the jaw of another. Five bodies hit the ground.
Delphi brushed dirt off of her shirt. "Keep it on the ground next time, Remy. This ain't a street circus."
"You never want Gambit t'have any fun," he grumbled half-heartedly, feeling the adrenaline pumping.
Jubilee sat down on the one she'd taken out by herself. "That was hard. Not!"
"Don't get cocky," Del warned, aiming a glare at her target, who looked as if he was thinking about regaining consciousness. "There's still a lot more of them than there are of us."
"Gumbo's right, you're not lettin' us have any fun."
Despite the chatter, they efficiently stripped the patrol, coming up with a pistol apiece, 9mm ammunition (most of which Jordan appropriated) and three short-range radios, but it was the clothes they were interested in. Delphi and Jubilee looked on with a certain amount of disgust as Gambit and Wolverine changed.
"This is totally unfair," Jubilee complained. "Even Wolvie found a shirt that fit!"
"Yeah, bein' short and skinny sucks," Delphi agreed, appropriating a hugely-oversized replacement for her parka and a black beret. "Cheer up, at least you have a chance of growing out of it." She put the ugly green pea coat on carefully, trying not to hurt her arm, and settled the beret on her head. "How do I look?"
Jubilee studied her. "Like you stole someone else's clothes. Dude, you ain't gonna make CNN 'Style.'"
"That's what I was afraid of," Del sighed insincerely, obviously not giving a damn.
"What're you worried about, bein' mistaken for a girl? You'll pass from a distance," Wolverine informed her. He was also wearing one of the berets, which looked more than slightly silly, and stashing a pistol in his right pocket.
"Seem to recall you makin' that mistake once or twice." Del looked at the pistol. "What are you goin' t' do with that? You haven't used a gun in years."
"Some things, you don't forget."
She shrugged. "Whatever turns you on. Not that I really want to know."
"If de fashion show and weapon review are done?" Gambit asked with exaggerated patience. "We got about five miles t' cover 'fore we make it to de lodge; we maybe better get movin', _neh_?"
"And you accuse *him* of hangin' around Cyclops too much," Delphi commented pointedly, lifting her duffel from behind the bushes. "Everyone still clear on the plan?"
Jubilee rolled her eyes. "We get to 'bout two hundreds yards of the lodge, you get set up with that little bitty gun you've been humpin' around--"
Del made a rude noise at the description. "A Remington Model 600 rifle, specifically made to be humped around mountains, and she calls it a little bitty gun. You two have *got* to keep this kid away from Cable."
For once, Jubilee got to ignore *her*. "-- and we start a diversion by blowin' up somethin' flammable," she recited in the bored tones of someone who's said it fourteen times. "Then we watch the outside for anyone tryin' t' take off, and Gumbo and Wolvie clean up inside. And I *still* think I should get to go in with them."
"Yeah, and burn the place down before we figure out what gives, which would kinda defeat the purpose," Delphi finished sarcastically. "Let's not."
Judging by Jubilee's face, the argument wasn't over, but she shut up for the moment. The three adults exchanged glances; there was no way the kid was getting anywhere near an actual fight with anything like even odds. Even *they* could agree on that much.
The so-called plan started sounding stupider and stupider the closer they go to the lodge, Gambit reflected. Four of them, versus Delphi's estimate of 125 Friends of Humanity. Great.
By the time they reached an overhang a few hundred feet from the lodge, Wolverine seemed to be having the same thought. "The other thing ya always do," he told Delphi, continuing the earlier conversation. "You keep settin' me up against lousy odds."
Del shrugged, unzipping her rifle from its carrying case and checking it over. It was a short bolt action model with no scope, lovingly maintained and, in the hands of Jordan Raines, frighteningly accurate. She started loading it, commenting, "Last I looked, you can do that on your own. And I didn't get you into anything that first time in Madripoor; you and Jack-the-Idiot wandered in all by yourselves."
"Yeah, but the Hand was there tryin' t' get you and Wilson. And ya can't weasel out o' the rumpus in Cairo, or the Genoshans' set-up."
"Not t' mention Baton Rouge," Gambit contributed.
She glared at him. "You were in charge of the Baton Rouge debacle; I saved *your* tail. And you invited yourself along for Cairo," she informed Wolverine, "I tried to ditch you at least three times, and I got you *out* of the Genoshan mess. That magistrate and her goons would've caught you and Siryn even if I hadn't been around; you can't blame me and you know it."
"I can blame yer brother."
"I am *not* my brother's keeper. You got a problem, take it up with him."
"Um, guys, not that I'm not totally fascinated by all of this, but can't the witty repartee, like, wait until *after* we get rid of the bad guys?"
Wolverine and Delphi looked sideways at Jubilee, then each other. The irony of being lectured on maturity in battle situations by a 13-year-old was apparently not lost on either of them.
"Witty repartee is never out of place," Del declared loftily, then stretched out on her stomach, tucking the wooden stock of the rifle into her shoulder and sighting towards the lodge. Her weight was on her left arm, protecting the right and leaving it free to shoot. "Recon coming this way from the west, team of five about two hundred feet out. Someone might want to do somethin' about them while I scope this place out."
Wolverine said something uncomplimentary in Japanese, but faded into the underbrush. Gambit followed, keeping his face straight. Del was armed and Wolverine was dangerous; laughing at either of them at this point was a bad idea.
The recon team was right where Delphi had predicted -- big surprise. The stolen clothes and berets fooled them for two crucial seconds; before they realized they'd been had, they were quietly and efficiently laid out on the ground.
"Not bad, Gumbo," Wolverine commented, dragging two of them into the bushes.
"_Merci, mon ami_," Gambit panted, hauling a third man behind him. "Now all we got to do is get de other 95."
"Assuming Del's right about the numbers."
"When was de last time Del was wrong?"
"We already got 30 of 'em. How hard are 95 more goin' t' be?"
"We may be dumb, but 'least we're confident." Gambit dropped his load behind the bushes without worrying too much about the landing. "We better be gettin' back to de ladies."
"They can take care o' themselves."
"You tellin' me you not even a little worried 'bout leavin' Jubilee alone wit' Jordie while we invade dis place? 'Specially since Jordie's wounded?"
Wolverine dropped numbers four and five on the pile. "Jordie's not goin' t' run out on Jubes or us. If she says she'll do somethin', she does it."
"If she don't get killed tryin'."
"Delphi's a survivor. So's the kid. They'll be fine."
*You hope,* Gambit started to say, but a look sideways stopped him, for once. Wolverine was trying to look cool, but there was something behind his eyes that said just how much he hated this plan. Gambit shut up, and followed Logan back to the overhang.
Where Delphi and Jubilee sprawled casually next to the unconscious remains of another FoH patrol.
Wolverine looked at Gambit with a smug, and relieved, 'Told you so' expression. Gambit acknowledged the point, resigning himself to hauling more bodies.
"Bring me any presents?" Del looked up from her rifle as Gambit and Wolverine finished clean-up.
Gambit dropped the ammo clips he'd snitched from the patrols. "Here you go, _cher_. You got enough now t' take on de whole place by yourself."
"Too bad it won't fit the rifle." She stowed the clips in her pocket. "The kid's got a wicked side kick and a pretty good left hook. Took down two of those jokers before I even knew they were there."
Jubilee buffed her nails against her chest smugly. Wolverine snorted. "You did good, darlin', but don't get cocky."
She looked up at him innocently. "Moi?" He rolled his eyes and ruffled her hair; she swatted at his hands but didn't try too hard to get away.
Delphi lowered her face to hide a grin, working the action on her rifle. "I'm ready whenever y'all are."
"What's it look like down there?" Gambit asked, going to his stomach next to her to inspect the lodge. Wolverine and Jubilee crouched on either side of them.
"Not much activity over the last few minutes; everything's pretty quiet." Jordie's eyes lost their focus. "Looks like a gang of about twenty in the main room, right inside the front door, off-duty. Three more patrols walkin' the perimeter -- Jubilee and I'll deal with them."
She used the barrel of her rifle to point. "That building that looks like a barn is a hanger -- two helicopters and a lot of empty space, three mechanics and two pilots hangin' out. Looks like they may be gettin' ready to go somewhere. Seventeen people crashed in what looks like bedrooms on the second and third floors, and a couple people ..." She frowned. "No, only one person in the basement. Place looks like a techno-dweeb's wet dream -- computers all over. Looks like a target to me, especially since I think... yeah." She smiled with absolutely no humor. "The guy in there is the one in charge. He's also our favorite mystery guest from the Washington and New York rallies last week."
Gambit raised an eyebrow at her. "How do you know dat?"
"I'm clairvoyant, remember? Know all, see all." He looked skeptical; she shrugged and admitted, "And I watch CNN."
Wolverine growled deep in his throat. "The basement's our target, then. Delphi blows the fuel tanks next to the barn, we sneak in after everyone comes out t' see what's goin' on. J, Delphi's gonna be busy with the targets in the compound -- you watch her back and take care of the patrols. Got it?"
"No prob, Wolvie." Jubilee plastered a cocky grin on her face.
Wolverine did *not* look reassured. "Things get too hot out here, ya head inside and we'll hold 'em off from in there until the cavalry comes. That means both o' ya," he added with a pointed look at Del.
"Why, Logan, I didn't know you cared," she smiled with sweet sarcasm.
"I don't," he lied calmly.
She winced as if struck to the heart. "Ouch. Well, since you don't care and we *have* done this before, you two can get movin'."
"Give us ten minutes t' get 'round back, den blow de tanks." Gambit slapped Delphi on the back and got up from the ground. "Have fun, _mon amie_. An' watch your back."
"Always," she answered, her grin much more sincere this time.
Wolverine followed Gambit's lead, resting a hand on Jubilee's shoulder. "Be careful, kid."
"Sure, Wolvie. You, too." The cocky smile was wavering; Wolverine squeezed her shoulder, then looked over at Delphi. "Jordie -- try not to kill 'em if ya don't have to. But don't try too hard."
Del nodded. "Right, Xavier's rules," she said with only a little sarcasm. "You do the same. Remember, we've got about forty people that were there this morning and aren't now. And somethin' else hinky I can't pin down. Watch your backs."
"Always," Gambit answered. He looked behind him once as they left, to see Delphi still motionless on her stomach, with Jubilee poised watchfully behind her in a fairly good martial arts stance. They looked alert and prepared -- and disturbingly small and helpless.
Gambit reminded himself firmly that Jubilee had been an X-Man for as long as he had, and Wolverine's sidekick to boot -- hell, he knew first hand how good she was at watching her partner's back, after what they'd gone through together with the Shi'ar. And Delphi had more than proven her ability to create bloody mayhem. Wolverine was right, they could take care of themselves.
Right. Then why did the image of a cocky little 13-year-old named Jordie keep flashing in front of his eyes?
"Everything is right on schedule, Graydon. All of the arrangements have been made and the strike team is en route to Washington as we speak. The rallies will be ready to kick off in three hours."
"Good. My people report those mutant X teams have been nosing around the teams in Washington, New York and Los Angeles. By the time they 'interfere', the cameras will be there, and one way or another, we'll have a few less muties to worry about."
"Perfect. You'll be in Washington, of course?"
"Of course. Where else can I deliver my outraged, grief-stricken diatribe against the violent, dangerous mutants who killed innocent humans?"
"Good." He smiled slowly. "Then everything will come together, and the leader of the Friends of Humanity will be in the White House come November. After that... who knows what will happen?"
"I like the sound of Mr. President," Creed said smugly, already counting votes. He hung up without bothering to say good-bye.
His counterpart replaced the receiver, his smile growing. "Yes, it does sound good, doesn't it?" He tapped the phone with his fingertips. "Very good indeed."
He picked up another phone, letting it dial automatically. He spoke as soon as the click on the other end announced it had been answered. "Everything is right on schedule. Creed suspects nothing."
"Good. Keep candidateflatscanCreed happy three more hours, you get big office. Fairdeal."
"Fair indeed." The phone disconnected; he stared at it, torn between smugness and uneasiness. He, too, would eventually become expendable. Especially if this blew up in his face....
The walls shook from the shock wave of an explosion, as if the gods had matched deed to thought. His curse echoed off the walls as he scrambled for safety.
"Not bad for a girl," Gambit commented when he could hear again. Delphi's aim had been right on and one of the two fuel tanks had gone up in flames, taking half of the barn/hanger with it.
"Say that to her face. I want t' watch." The doors of the lodge came flying open, thugs pouring out of every door. Some of them were armed and acting intelligently, trying to find the source of the commotion. The majority stood and gawked -- making themselves into perfect targets.
The rifle's crack was barely audible over the raging fire; the first Friends to fall probably didn't know what hit them. Delphi took down four before she had to reload, giving the others time to hit the ground, grabbing for weapons wherever they could find them, curses and yells filling the air. To Gambit's surprise and, he discovered with mixed emotions, pleasure, Del had been aiming for shoulders and legs. Most of them would need lots of surgery, but they should survive. Gambit added to the confusion by flipping charged cards in several directions, putting a few more explosions in the mix before he and Wolverine took advantage of the chaos to bull their way inside.
The stolen clothes and berets fooled the first five people they elbowed past; number six actually looked at their faces. "Hold it!" he started to yell before Wolverine's forearm intersected with his larynx and put him to sleep. They lugged him the rest of the way inside, dumping him in a quiet corner.
"Not bad, Del actually aimin' low and we ain't killed anyone yet. Cyke gonna be happy wit' us," Gambit observed, resettling his beret at a rakish angle and reaching for another deck of cards.
"Keep a lid on those inside," Wolverine told him. "Unless you want t' bring the rest o' those yahoos screamin' back in here."
"If dey don' have the sense t' come back in when someone shootin' at dem outside, dey braindead already, an' we don' have t' worry," Gambit pointed out.
"Do me a favor and don't remind 'em." They'd been moving through the lodge the whole time, following the descriptions Del had given them. The main room had emptied out; they wasted a few precious seconds searching for the door to the lower level, finding a kitchen and a huge dining room before stumbling onto a staircase.
"Great, but dey only go up," Gambit griped. "How de hell we gonna get *down*?"
"You're the thief, you figure it out."
"Gambit got a better idea. He gonna ask." Gambit reached for his comlink, but before he could activate it, bullets slammed into the wall next to them. They hit the deck automatically as three Friends came pounding downstairs. Their lousy aim was apparently due to the fact that they'd been asleep; one of them was actually still yawning. He woke up fast when Wolverine popped his claws, diving up the stairs at them.
Gambit left Wolverine to do what he did best and tried not to watch; reputation aside, he wasn't really all that enthusiastic about blood, his own or anyone else's. Most of the time. He opened the radio link to Del.
"What?" she yelled, sounding harassed. Her rifle went off three times in rapid succession as she yelled instructions to Jubilee; somewhere in the background was the distinctive sound of fireworks.
"We got a problem -- dey hid de stairs t' the basement," Gambit yelled, trying to be heard over the violence on both ends. A hastily choked-off yell came down from the stairs; he set his jaw and ignored it.
"_Madre de Dios_, do I have to do everything? Jubilee, two on your left!" She stopped talking for a moment, to lever more ammunition into her rifle from the sound of it. Three more shots, then she snapped, "You're about ten feet from it -- check the panels to the right side of the staircase."
"Got it. You two ladies doin' all right?" he asked, moving to look for the panel and mentally kicking himself when he found it three seconds later. It hadn't even been all that well-hidden. *Look like Gambit gonna have t' resign from de T'ieves' Guild. Oh, wait, dey kick Gambit out already. Never mind....*
"We're doin' fine," Delphi answered around two more shots, " and we'd be doin' better if you two'd get down t' business instead o' foolin' around!" She cut the link; Gambit grinned and opened the panel to the stairs.
"Handy havin' a clairvoyant around sometimes." Wolverine appeared behind him, claws out and ready for action. "We better make this fast -- Jordie and Jubes can't hold 'em forever."
"Let's do it."
The stairs were steep and dry, made of stone that was at least as old as the lodge, maybe older, and ended at a heavy steel door. They debated silently for about two seconds, before Gambit charged the lock, then stood back and kicked it. The lock blew on impact and the door flew open.
"I'll be damned."
Gambit didn't even notice Wolverine's straight line; he was too busy taking in the huge room they'd discovered. Del hadn't been exaggerating -- the place had more computers per foot than the war room in the mansion, and all of them were working. "We should've brought de ladies along t' play with de computers," he realized slowly.
"Yeah. Looks like we're gonna have t' fight 'em ourselves."
"Gambit would rather deal wit' an army dan dese t'ings." He *hated* computers. Wolverine wasn't real fond of them either, but at least had some practice clawing his way through them -- literally, on several memorable occasions. Now he chose what looked like a command chair and started typing with two fingers, shotgun style.
Gambit left him to it, discovering a security set-up in the opposite corner. "Now dis, Gambit can deal wit'." He scanned the grounds and discovered that Del had taken out at least thirty people, but the rest were starting to make the transition from scared and confused to pissed off. Someone who looked competent was organizing them into teams, ready to head up into the mountains after the women. "Speed it up, Wolverine," he warned. "Dey startin' t' wise up."
"I'm workin' on it," Wolverine growled.
"Work faster," a calm voice advised from the doorway. They whirled to see Del standing propped against the door frame.
"Where's Jubilee?" Wolverine demanded.
"Watchin' the top of the stairs." She gestured over her shoulder with a satisfied grin. "Kid's good, I'll give her that. Between the two of us, we've got those asses chasin' their tails outside. It'll be a long time before they think t' look in here."
"Good job. Now get over here and figure out this damn computer." He disappeared up the stairs, presumably to check on Jubilee for himself.
"_Si, mi jefe_," Del saluted his back, promptly losing herself in the computer system. "But hackin's not my thing. I put 'em together, I don't program 'em."
"Time t' learn somethin' new, _cher_." Gambit went back to the security cameras, noticing some activity around the partially-destroyed hanger. He fumbled with the controls, then zoomed in for a closer look. "I t'ink we just found de man in charge."
"What?" Del asked over her shoulder. "Tell Wolvie and Jubes, I'd love t' have that _pendejo's_ hide for a trophy."
"Too late, he in one o' de choppers and getting ready t' --" The chopper left the ground, going right through the remains of the roof. "He's gone. Headin' east in what look like de Apache from Hell."
"Shit. Give me a minute and we can try t' catch up.... Got it!"
At Delphi's triumphant shout, Wolverine reappeared from the stairs with Jubilee behind him; the girl looked slightly the worse for wear and about three years older than she had that morning. "You okay, _'tite_?" Gambit asked quietly as they came over.
"Fine, dude," she answered casually, not meeting his eyes. She shoved past him to lean over the back of the chair. "What'd'ya find, Jordie?"
Delphi's eyes were narrowed as she studied the screen. "Weirdness," she answered. "These are what look like personnel records for the FoH -- folks, they may operate out of Washington and New York, but they keep their records here, and have for a while."
"Makes sense," Wolverine allowed. "Who's goin' t' look out in the middle o' no man's land for a political bunch like this?"
"You, apparently," she pointed out, rubbing her right arm absently as she paged through the screen with her right hand. "They've been shuffling people all over the place for those rallies; they've also been trading people back and forth between England, France and a couple other countries in Europe. Got some payment records for some names I recognize, mercs who don't care too much who they work for, which explains where they're gettin' the training. People, this has all the earmarks of a major campaign, an international one."
"Looks like Cyke and de Prof were right," Gambit said quietly.
"About more things than that," Del confirmed. "Those rallies *were* staged. Includin'... oh, shit."
"What?" Jubilee demanded, trying to see over the chair.
Delphi's voice was ice. "The people injured at the latest rallies. Those were planned, too. Some of them were with this bunch, and got paid off. The rest were 'collateral damage'. Bastards."
"Why?" If anything, Wolverine's voice was harder than Del's.
"What, you expect the bad guys to have all of their plans outlined for us t' find?" she asked irritably. "It doesn't say; there're just records and a couple of reports from the ringleaders. And what looks like a big shift in manpower, concentrated on Washington, D.C. They're plannin' a rally that's --," she grabbed Wolverine's arm to double-check his watch, "_Jesucristo!_ , it's two hours from now!"
"What are dey gonna do, _cher_?" Gambit demanded.
Delphi shook her head once, sharply. "I don't know."
"Find out! Look!"
"Goddammit, my Sight doesn't work that way," Delphi exploded out of the chair, stalking across the room. "I either know or I don't! Instead of harrassin' me, why don't you try contactin' your pals and warnin' them t' be in D.C.?"
They backed off; there didn't seem to be much else to do. Wolverine took the chair back and started fiddling with the phone, getting an outside line at last. Half a continent away, it rang in the War Room.
Scott Summers answered it. "Wolverine? Gambit? This had better be one of you."
"Good to know some t'ings always gonna be de same," Gambit muttered.
"Yeah, it's us," Wolverine answered. "We're sittin' in the main HQ for the Friends of Humanity, who ain't been being very friendly lately, accordin' t' the records I'm lookin' at."
"Tell me something I don't know. Is everyone all right ? We got the emergency beacon, but couldn't localize it."
"Everyone's fine, but you've got big trouble headin' your way."
"We knew that already, Wolverine. There's something major about to happen in --"
"D.C.," the three X-Men said along with him. "Yeah, we know. How'd you find out?" Wolverine asked.
"We located their headquarters in L.A. and New York this morning; Bishop, ah, persuaded a few of them to tell us what they're planning."
"Which is...?" Gambit asked, not happy at the thought that the heroics of the last day had been wasted.
"They're planning to stage a rally outside X-Factor headquarters, and use the confusion as a distraction to hit Alex's team with some kind of bomb," Cyclops told them. "I've already warned X-Factor, but we need to be there to back them up. So get to D.C. as fast as you can. Cyclops out."
"Right." Wolverine broke the connection and started for the stairs, Jubilee hot on his heels. "Let's move it."
Gambit started after them, hitting the first stair before he realized Delphi wasn't with them. He spun to look for her, locating her back at the command chair. "Jordie, come on, we got to be movin'!"
She didn't hear him; he strode over to grab her shoulder, but she remained as still as a statue, her eyes locked off in space, her left hand clamped on the chair back. "Snap out of it, _cher_!"
She didn't seem to hear him. "There's something wrong here," she breathed, barely audible. "Creed just ain't smart enough to be pullin' all these strings. And the people he hired are too good to let us spoil their plans this easily. There must be.... It's a set-up," she said suddenly, sharply. "A triple cross. The rally, the attack on X-Factor -- they leaked it to con Xavier's people into showing up."
"A set-up?" Gambit demanded. The other two stopped in their tracks.
Delphi nodded. "Think about it. If the X-Men or X-Factor attack the FoH to stop the bombing, I'll bet anything a few Friends of Humanity will die as martyrs to the cause, and give Creed more ammunition to blame the mutants for violence. If not, the bomb goes off and Creed can still blame X-Factor for innocents caught in the blast, and do damage to mutants. Either way, he wins, and so does whoever's pullin' his strings."
Gambit didn't know if she was using her clairvoyance, just putting pieces together, or both. Whichever way, it made a horrible kind of sense.
"They'd kill their own people just to set us up?" Jubilee said incredulously, her voice cracking so that the last words came out in a squeak.
"In a New York minute," Wolverine said grimly. "You said triple cross, Jordie."
"Did I?" Delphi cocked her head, her eyes drifting back out of focus. Her voice got vague. "Yeah. Triple cross. The head honcho at this base is part of Creed's plan...and someone else's, too. Someone..."
"Who?" Gambit had no idea who asked the question.
Delphi didn't care. "I... can't See, quite." She shuddered suddenly, almost falling, and Wolverine caught her shoulder, steadying her. She grabbed his arm and clung. "The X-Men aren't their only target . They want... Crap!" Her eyes snapped wide, focused completely on reality, and she swung around to look at Wolverine. "The honcho, Carpenter, and *his* boss, they're after Creed! They're going to kill him in the rumpus to make him into a martyr, to give Carpenter the White House after he steps into the shoes of his 'slain friend and leader'!"
"You sure, Del?"
"A triple cross," Gambit said, letting it sink in. "And de X-Men and X-Factor gonna wind up takin' de heat for killin' Creed."
"Dude, we gotta stop them!" Jubilee's young face was grim.
"Try the phone again," Del suggested. Wolverine had beaten her to the idea and was already dialing. His face grew darker with each unanswered ring, until he slammed it back down. "No answer; even Xavier must've gone with 'em."
"Try X-Factor headquarters," Gambit suggested.
"The lines are down. Want t' bet *that's* an accident?" Wolverine swore viciously, then turned to Del. "Where's the honcho, what'd ya call him, Carpenter?"
"Took off 'bout five minute ago," Gambit answered for her. "But de other copter still dere."
"A chopper won't get us to D.C."
"Yeah, it will." Delphi smiled grimly. "I saw the plans for those choppers in here -- someone took an Apache and made it *really* expensive, and *really* nasty. If I can figure out how to fly it, we'll be in D.C. in two hours, right behind Carpenter."
"Den what are we standin' around for? _Allez-y!_"
Wolverine played with the radio, flipping between the FoH frequencies and the Blackbird frequencies, but not picking anything up. He kept trying; every second was going to count. It was starting to get dark outside, almost 7:00 Eastern Time.
Jubilee sat stiffly on Gambit's lap in the miniscule excuse for a back seat, both of them trying not to hit their heads on the ceiling or their elbows on the walls or any of the control panels around them. It was something less than comfortable, but Jubilee had apparently gotten past complaining sometime in the last few hours; she'd maintained a stoic silence in the two hours since they'd escaped from Colorado.
Most of the Friends had followed Del and Jubilee's decoy into the mountains -- the rest had been too busy dealing with wounded and watching for new ambushes to notice four more people in FoH berets wandering around the half-destroyed hanger. The remaining pilot hadn't been inclined to argue with them after Wolverine popped his claws. They had left him tied up in a corner and piled in, heading east as fast as Del could make the chopper fly.
"Any luck?" Del asked, the tension in her voice echoing through the headsets all of them wore.
"No," Wolverine growled. "No one's answering at the Blackbird or X-Factor HQ and the Friends must be on radio silence."
"Smart move; dey don't know how much we found out at de headquarters," Gambit commented, shoving Jubilee's hair out of his face.
"They've been makin' too damn many smart moves," Delphi bit out. "I'm goin' t' kill these _pendejos_ and their bosses myself, swear t' God."
"Didn't know you cared."
Delphi didn't bother looking at Wolverine as she lied, "I don't."
Their headsets crackled into life. "Unidentified aircraft, this is Dulles Ground Control. You are trespassing in restricted airspace; change course immediately. Repeat, change course immediately -- "
Delphi reached out and switched radio channels. "We're he-ere."
"No kidding." Jubilee squirmed to reach her comlink, activating it with a touch. "Yo, any X-Men around?"
There was a long, breathless moment, then Bobby Drake's voice answered, "Nobody here but us frozen chickens."
"Quiet, Iceman." Cyclops took over the link. "Where are you three?"
"About ten miles west of Dulles Airport, heading for the Mall," Delphi said into her headset. Jubilee repeated it to Cyclops before Wolvie took over.
"Cyke, you at X-Factor HQ?"
"Yes, Wolverine, the rally is in full swing," Storm answered this time. "We have people patrolling the edges of the crowd looking for... Oh goddess!"
"What?" Gambit, Wolverine and Delphi demanded simultaneously.
When Storm spoke again, it was to the entire team. "X-Men, I have located a team of Friends of Humanity leaving the building at the northwest corner; I am going to intercept them!"
"Don't!" It was all four of them this time, Jubilee winning on volume and pitch. "Storm, it's a trap! They're..."
A harsh, shrill squealing cut her off, filling their ears and minds to the point of agony. Gambit ripped his headset off, and grabbed Jubilee's, throwing both of them to the floor. Jubilee's hands instantly clamped around her ears, leaving Gambit to grope blindly for her comlink. His fingers connected, shutting it off, and the squealing faded to something like a bearable level.
In front, Wolverine's hands were curled around his head in pain -- Gambit winced, remembering Logan's enhanced senses. What was agony for the other three must have been indescribable for him.
Del wasn't doing much better, but reached out a hand to touch Logan's head. In a moment, he relaxed, as Del's power joined with his healing factor. "Thanks, Jordie."
Her response was something violent in Spanish. "Those bastards are jamming us, to keep us from warning your team!"
"If they're jamming us, they might.... Jordie, watch your ass!" Wolverine warned, as the first rocket went past them.
"Shit!" Jordie maneuvered frantically, sending the chopper straight up. "Didn't we just do this this morning?"
"That's it, I'm not flying with her anymore," Jubilee declared, clutching at the ceiling to stay upright. Gambit swiped the back of her head and she shut up, as Jordie started testing the maneuverability of the Chopper from Hell to the limits.
"One chopper, right behind us," Wolverine yelled over the cockpit noise -- none of them dared to put the headsets back on. "Probably the one that got away from the camp, they haven't had time to get anything else in the air."
"Then I know what we're up against!" Jordie banked the chopper hard to the right, then immediately to the left. "I'm goin' t' take you three to the big fight sequence, then deal with these bozos. Get ready to drop!"
"Drop?" Gambit demanded with a sinking feeling. "What d'you mean, drop?"
The chopper suddenly dropped a hundred feet, slamming to a halt as she popped the canopy open. Spotlights below sent light streaming over them as the wind screamed in. "I said, 'Drop!'"
"Come on, Cajun!" Wolverine stood as well as he could considering the blades whirling above his head, pulling Jubilee over to him. "Just like on Genosha, Jubes, hang on tight!" Jubilee clamped her arms around his neck, her legs around his waist, and her eyes shut. He took one second to look at Jordie. "Be careful, darlin'."
She glancing up for just a moment, grinning. "You too, Logan. Now go, dammit!" she yelled, then the two X-Men bailed over the side and were gone.
"Go, Remy, I can't stay here!" Del glared at him with fierce eyes as the other chopper bore down from in front of them.
Gambit looked down and saw the ground twenty feet away, then leaned forward and kissed Delphi firmly on the mouth. "_Laissez les bons temps roulez, cher_!" he yelled, held his breath and bailed out.
He hit the ground hard and rolled, feeling the morning's bruises scream at him. Del's Apache pulled away from the ground, damn near vertical again, and engaged the other chopper in what looked to him like the beginnings of one hell of a dogfight. Then two people hit him from behind and he was too damn busy to watch any more.
His bo staff, unusable in the close quarters of the Colorado woods, snapped into position and he started swinging, taking out three people who rushed him. Only one was wearing an FoH badge, the other two looked to be not-so-innocent bystanders. All of them wound up flat on their backs, winning him a second to get his bearings.
They were about thirty feet from the building which housed X-Factor. A make-shift stage had been erected opposite the front door, with FoH and 'Creed for President' banners all over it, and Creed himself shouting for the cameras behind it. Spotlights shone down on him and sent shadows into the rest of the crow. In front of the stage and on either side, chaos reigned; outside the lights' range, it was almost too dark to see anything. He caught a glimpse of Polaris in the air, deflecting the rubble being thrown at her with her magnetic powers. A few feet away from her, Storm hovered, using the winds to do the same thing -- even from this distance, Gambit could see the wet reflection of blood on her uniform, and hard, hot anger burned for the bastards who'd touched his Stormy.
A flash of ruby light announced Cyclops' presence, but he couldn't spot any of the other X-Men. Except for the two carving their way through the seething crowd a few feet away from him, Jubilee's pafs adding flashing, surreal color to the scene. They were making straight for the stage.
Gambit slammed into someone else who wanted to use him as a punching bag, and pushed his way after Wolverine and Jubilee. As much as it burned, they couldn't let Creed get killed. He'd heard too many times what had happened in an alternate future, when Senator Robert Kelly had been assassinated, and what that had meant for mutants. This would be infinitely worse.
Wolverine and Jubilee were getting closer to the stage and Creed, but they were still a hundred feet away when Gambit spotted the three men in the shadows behind the stage, converging on the FoH leader with professional speed and deliberation. "Wolverine, dey're after him!" he yelled at the top of his lungs, blessing Delphi's healing when Wolverine heard him.
One word from Wolverine, and Jubilee cleared a space around him, as he took the pistol he had stashed out of his pocket and aimed. He was no Jordan Raines, but as one of the men raised a gun, Wolverine nailed him.
The mob of people instinctively cleared away from the gunshot and the three X-Men took full advantage, running flat out towards the center of the action. A flash of fireworks blinded one assassin and the blades on Gambit's bo staff ended the argument decisively. Wolverine's claws finished off the third assassin before the other two X-Men had time to turn around.
"What in God's name..." Creed breathed. The X-men had taken less than five seconds to kill three men and the FoH leader was still standing, his eyes wide in shock. "What have you done? What did they...."
"Don't thank us or anything," Jubilee told him sarcastically. "Ya might hurt yourself."
Her comlink suddenly crackled back into life. "We disarmed the bomb and the jammer," Cyclops informed them. "X-Men, join up and let's stop this thing before it gets completely out of hand!"
"Believe it or not, Cyke," Wolverine said, "I think we already have."
He was right -- the mass of people had quieted, due to either the damage they had absorbed, or to the drama being enacted center stage. X-Men began appearing from the darkness at the edges of the crowd, unconscious and formerly heavily-armed Friends of Humanity draped over shoulders and from arms, and no one took a single step towards them. It did seem to be all over.
"Not quite, Wolverine," Gambit heard himself say, looking up at the sky, where two choppers that had once been military-issue Apaches were still flying, their black forms silhouetted against the spotlights. The two pilots seemed to be evenly matched; he saw the flame trail as one fired off a missile that the other barely avoided with a high-intensity dive. Gambit heard Polaris yell something and take off after the missile, destroying it before it could hit the ground.
"Which one is Jordie?" Wolverine demanded, real fear edging into his voice.
"Gambit don't know, he was busy!" Gambit yelled back, trying to distinguish the dodging black shapes from the shadows. Crazily, he wished Delphi was nearby so she could tell them.
The second pilot recovered from the dive and headed up with an equally steep acceleration that had to be killing him or her. The first pilot tried desperately to evade but either didn't have the experience, or didn't have the skill.
And probably never saw the missile that blew the chopper and its occupants to Kingdom Come.
The explosion was tremendous in the sudden silence, light and flame flaring across the night sky. Gambit had the fleeting thought that Wolverine could add something else Delphi always did to them to the list -- things kept going 'Boom'.
Next to him, Jubilee whistled long and low. "Boy, when did we hit 'Airwolf'?"
He almost slapped her. "Jordie might've just gotten herself killed and you makin' stupid jokes. T'anks a lot, Jubilee."
Jubilee looked at him as if he had lost it. "Are you nuts, dude?" she asked politely. "The Texas Tornado just blew that yutz out of the sky."
"How do you know it's Jordie?" Wolverine growled, his body and eyes so tense with leashed emotions he seemed to be vibrating in place.
Jubilee replied with a patented Delphi-style shrug. "I just know."
Gambit was not reassured -- and the feeling got worse when he looked up and saw the smoke the surviving Apache was trailing, a black cloud in silhouette against the sky. The pilot tried to hold it together, but the chopper headed for the ground on a collision course. Gambit's shout coincided with Wolverine's.
Suddenly, the spotlights flashed off two figures in front of the chopper, arms held high as if to catch it in their bare hands. For a long moment, it looked as if they were on a kamikaze run, then the crippled chopper slowed, righted itself, and glided gently to the ground a few feet from the building. Lorna Dane and Jean Grey landed gracefully in front of it as five X-Men converged, ready for trouble. The canopy opened and someone trained a spotlight on it.
A small form poked out, shoving dark hair out of her face and studying the scene around her. Relief hit like a hammer and Gambit leaned on his bo staff, feeling very old. Jubilee looked at him and Wolverine smugly. "Told ya so."
"Nice catch," Jordan Raines told her two rescuers, squinting against the spotlight. "But you parked a little close to the curb."
"... attacking with total disregard for the safety of innocent lives, even infiltrating the Friends of Humanity in a blatant attempt to discredit and destroy our work! Is this what we want our country to become -- a place where mutants battle in helicopters above our capitol city, where a peaceful expression of Fourth Amendment Rights turns into a bloodbath because mutants object to what we have to say? As president, I will..."
The news commentator interrupted. "But, Mr. Creed, isn't it true that your one of your own lieutenants was behind today's assassination attempt -- a member of the Friends of Humanity, not a mutant?"
"I have no idea what Robert Carpenter's plans were, but he certainly had no loyalty to my organization," Creed proclaimed, almost frothing at the mouth. "I can only assume, and I am now assembling proof, that he was planted by renegade mutants to silence me! But the voice of the people can *not* be silenced and..."
Corn chips thudded against the front of the television set as Scott Summers hit the mute button. "We may not be able to stop you from speaking, but we *can* silence you," he said grimly. "In this room, anyway."
"Way t' go, Cyke," Jubilee approved from her habitual sprawl on the floor. "We shoulda let that Carpenter dude take him down, ya know."
"We de good guys, _'tite_," Gambit pointed out from the couch, cleaning his hands against his jeans -- he had been among the Frito throwers. "Just be happy we took down Carpenter, for dis round, anyway."
"He's right, Jubilee. You three..." Scott looked over at Delphi, who was leaning against the back of Wolverine's chair, "Excuse me, four, did an excellent job." To his credit, it didn't look as if the praise hurt. Much.
But Jubilee was not cheered up. "Yeah, I know." She rolled over on her back to stare up at the ceiling. "We were all noble and saved Creed so he can go on the news and blame us. Dude, what's wrong with this picture? The Friends are still makin' some serious noise, we don't know who's yankin' Creed's chain, and we may have stopped Carpenter, but he still got away -- dude's probably halfway to the moon by now. Jordie can't even find him."
"I'm clairvoyant, not omniscient," Delphi reminded her. "And my name is Jordan."
"I've about given up on enforcing it, anyway," Del sighed, toasting the girl with the can of beer she held in her left hand. Her right arm was in a sling; McCoy had used the best of their technology to patch up her arm and leg, making cracks about repeat business the whole time. She'd heal all right, but was going to have a few more scars to add to her already-impressive collection.
"Ye might as well give up," Teresa Cassidy agreed with a laugh, reaching across Sam Guthrie to get another handful of chips from the bag Gambit was trying not to share. "Everyone ignores ye."
"Includin' you," Del said pointedly. Siryn just grinned at her friend and munched away.
"Anyway," Jubilee returned obstinately to her point, "We're stuck here, takin' the heat, and it's not fair."
"No one ever told ya life was gonna be fair." Wolverine tossed his empty beer can towards the trash can in the corner and missed, for once. Jean gave him a Look as she levitated the can into the trash. He leaned back in his chair, apparently not particularly worried. "Look at it this way, kid -- we saved a couple o' lives, trashed a couple of FoH bases and got a free trip to the mountains out o' the deal. Not bad for three days' work."
Jubilee shook her head and returned her attention to the television set. "Next time we go to the mountains, Wolvie, we'd better be goin' skiin'."
Delphi tossed her can after Wolverine's, hitting the trash dead center and looking smug. "Just as long as I'm not flyin'."
"Amen t' that," Wolverine agreed a little too enthusiastically, with a dirty look towards the trash can.
Delphi aimed an evil eye of her own at the back of his head. "Fine, Shorty, next time you can *walk*."
Wolverine got up and started looming, taking full advantage of his extra inch of height. "Who're you callin' shorty, squirt?"
"I'm callin' *you* short," Del shot back without giving any ground. "And watch that squirt crap or I'll make you even *shorter*!"
"I'm here any time you want t' try, *Jordie*."
"Ain't a matter o' tryin', it's a matter o' doin'!"
"Like I said, any time ya want t' *try*...."
Gambit checked the clock -- yeah, the argument was right on time. He exchanged knowing looks with Jubilee and Teresa, then all three got up to separate the combatants. "I win de pool," Remy mentioned to Sam in passing. Sam and Terry both checked their watches and groaned their concessions.
"Yes, I'm aware of that. Somehow, the X-Men found our Colorado base and figured out our plans for the honorable candidate."
"Not X-Men figured it out. Merc figured. Merc JordanRainesDelphi. Second time clairvoyantbitch messed with plans. Not gonnabe third, youcanbet. You help take her down.
"After recover from failurepenalty."
Gambit leaned against the front steps, smoking a cigarette and staring out at the night sky. McCoy's 'No Smoking' policy was usually a pain in the ass, but he really didn't mind it on nights like this.
He liked the darkness, had always felt at home in it, moving invisibly from shadow to shadow. Nights in New Orleans had been full of sounds and music, but there had still been shadows galore. Here in Westchester, it was silent --- but somehow, there weren't as many shadows. He was still trying to decide if that was a good thing or a bad one.
He almost missed Colorado -- the stars had been amazing, stretched out in a glittering cloud from one horizon to the other. No man's land, peaceful and silent... Rogue would have loved it. He blew out a puff of smoke, able to deal with the thought a little better than he had a few days ago. Nothing like multiple aircraft crashes in one day to change your perspective.
The quiet footsteps alerted him before Jubilee spoke. "Delphi took off. Fearless Leader's havin' a cow 'cause she left a bill for her plane and the three days, but the Prof says she earned it. Wolvie's gonna take the check t' Landau, Luckman and Lake -- I think he wants, like, a rematch."
"Jordie told me 'fore she left." She'd been close to crashing, wiped out from lack of sleep and loss of blood, going on left-over adrenaline more than anything. Jean had given her free run of the kitchen and she'd been assembling a sandwich of mammoth proportions to eat on her way.
Jean and Teresa had asked her to stay for a few days to rest and recuperate -- Teresa had threatened to lock her in a room until she stopped limping -- but Jordie had had enough of people for a while. Gambit could understand that, so he hadn't tried to talk her out of leaving.
"Where you goin' t' go?" he'd asked instead, leaning against the refrigerator.
She'd shrugged with the shoulder that was still working, adding some kind of meat to the sandwich with the same hand. "Beats me. I'll find somethin' t' do." She'd looked at him, then looked into him. "You serious about stayin' here, Remy?"
"Seem t'be, _neh_?"
"Yeah." She'd kept looking. "Be careful, _amigo_. I don't know what you got ridin' you, but I don't like it. So, next time you need a favor..."
"I know, don' call you."
"Got it in one." Her smile, that rare, breathtaking smile that lit up her face and turned her eyes to purest silver, took the sting out of the teasing words. "And if you ever kiss me again, I'm gonna hand you your _cojones_."
"Life and death situation, _cher_, just followin' instincts."
She'd hit him and laughed quietly, taken the first huge bite out of her sandwich, and been gone a few minutes later.
He finished the cigarette and stubbed it out on the grass. McCoy and Jean would have a fit, but he was used to that.
"Where'd she go, anyway?" Jubilee sat on the steps next to his feet. "I asked her but she just said 'wherever I wind up.'"
Gambit shrugged. "Who knows where Jordie go? She keep her secrets, dey keep her alive." Like his kept him alive, for now. He never wanted the X-Men, or Jordie, to get involved in those secrets, but he didn't know how much longer he could keep them. He wanted another cigarette, but didn't reach for it.
Jubilee accepted that -- after all, Wolverine kept his secrets, too. "She's okay, I guess -- when she shuts up."
"You should know, _'tite_."
She stuck her tongue out at him. "I meant that she's pretty cool, sometimes. Why do she and Wolvie fight so much?"
"Near as Gambit can tell, dey get off on it. You headin' back t' school tomorrow?"
"Yeah, Sean's comin' to get me. I think he's gonna yell some more at the Prof and Cyke for gettin' me into trouble."
Gambit made a mental note to be around when Cassidy got there. From what he'd heard, Sean had already had several extremely pointed things to say about the X-Men's collective inability to take care of his student -- "I sent her to ye t' keep her *out* o' trouble for a few days, not so ye could be helpin' her t' find more!" -- but Wolverine had pointed out that the entire trip to Colorado had been an attempt to do just that. Scott had been slightly embarrassed, but admitted that it was his fault for not listening to Logan.
"You gonna be happy to t' get out o' dis looney bin, _cher_?"
"Don't call me _cher_, I ain't your 'dear'," she ordered, more out of habit than anything, he guessed. "This was kinda fun, wasn't it? In a weird kinda way."
"Fun? Plane crashes, runnin' t'rough mountains, gettin' into fights, bailin' out of helicopters, stoppin' assassinations? You t'ink dat was fun?"
He thought about it. Actually, it had been a pretty good caper; his only real regret was that Jordan hadn't stuck around for longer. They didn't see each other much these days, but, at some point, he'd gotten used to having her around. "You right, _'tite_. It was fun."
She grinned. "Anyway, this excitement riff is great for a while, but I think I'm ready to be bored again."
"We see how long dat lasts."
"Probably until Generation X finds some more trouble t' get into."
"Figure dat'll be 'bout three days. Tops."
She laughed, but didn't answer, apparently content to sit in silence.
For a while, anyway. "Yo, Gumbo, what happened in Baton Rogue?"
"You want a story now, _'tite_?"
"Yeah. Gonna tell it?"
He reached for the pack of cigarettes in his pocket and pulled one out, lighting it. "Sure, _cher_. Why not?" He took the first drag, and let it out slowly, watching the smoke drift into the sky and trying to decide whether to downplay the incident with the dogs and the upside-down trip down a five-story building as alarms blared behind him. He decided to leave it in; the kid would enjoy it.
"If yer gonna tell it, tell it, Gumbo." Wolverine appeared out of the darkness. "Or are ya gonna wait 'til we die of old age?" He sat on the stairs and Jubilee leaned happily against his shoulder, looking expectantly up at Gambit.
He smiled and took another drag, feeling strangely content with the world. "Well, 'bout twelve, thirteen years ago," he started obediently, "Gambit pick up dis scrawny little teenage street rat callin' herself Jordan from de streets o' N'Orleans. She a pain in the neck, but got good instincts -- we spend a lot o' time hangin' around de Quarter lookin' for trouble. Jordie pretty much livin' anywhere she lay her head an' Gambit still hangin' wit' de T'ieves Guild when dis weird _homme_ ask us do we want a job. We say 'Why not?' and t'ings started goin' downhill from dere...."
As he spun the story out, he wondered idly where Jordie had gone, then decided it didn't matter. She'd show up eventually to get her cut of the $240 they'd won when they rigged the betting pool...