Whispers

 
 
Chapter Thirteen: Des Pouvoirs Aussi Sombres que les Ténèbres

"Powers Like Darkness"

- This would be the part where the nun smacked your hands wit' a ruler for bein' a bad boy. -
- Or did that only happen to me? -

Gambit, Gambit #4

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Doctor Nathaniel Essex was a man used to getting what he wanted. He had the longevity and the patience to wait years if need be for a golden opportunity to swing his way.

His first opportunity to utilize the powerful mutant known as Gambit had come to him almost by surprise. Gambit had come to Essex, showed up on his doorstep, and asked for help controlling his burgeoning biokinetic powers. Naturally, there was a price involved, and Essex exploited it ruthlessly.

He hadn't counted on Gambit having a moral code.

He lost use of the mutant Thief for a time.

For a time, he was content to have it so. Gambit had left him with the team of mercenaries known as the Marauders and with samples of his fascinating genetic code. The operation Essex had performed to reduce Gambit's capabilities had been purely physical, and the waiting would give the mutant's brain time to adapt to the changes, reroute functions, and regrow neural pathways. The time to retrieve Gambit would be when more knowledge could be gleaned from studying him.

Malice had come to Essex a week ago with news that changed his plans for Gambit entirely. Someone had informed the government of Gambit's true potential and the information had spread. If any of the powers that had staked a claim in Gambit succeeded in acquiring him for their own purposes or in killing him to destroy the potential he represented, years of Essex' work and plans would be for nothing.

Essex was a man used to getting what he wanted. In keeping with his new objectives, he had a meeting to prepare for.

"Sabretooth," he said, not pausing in his careful evaluation of Gambit's samples.

The hulking blonde feral stood by the door of his main lab area.

"I want you to empty the cages," Essex said.

The command was matter of fact, a necessity. He did not want his visit with the mercenary, Blindspot, to be interrupted by their whimpering. It was time to replace them anyway.

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Remy nearly tripped over Sarah coming down the stairs. The pint-size ten-year-old stared up at him with narrowed blue eyes and crossed arms, sharp bones extending even further from her skin than normal.

"Who is she?" she demanded, her voice high and harsh.

He had known this was coming, but he had hoped to get a little more settled in before dealing with it. "She's just a friend, mignonne."

Sarah gave him one of her all too knowing looks. "That's what you always say." Her mouth formed a formidable frown.

Remy sighed and resigned himself to the inevitable. He picked her up.

She squirmed away from him, determined not to let him get to her, but he held tight and tickled her until she shrieked with laughter, then tucked her in on his hip, and she wrapped her arms around his neck. Her bones dug into his body in various places, but he had gotten used to the sensation and ignored it.

"You're ma mignonne, you know that, non?" He tipped up her chin to look into her slightly scowling face.

She nodded glumly.

"And all those other girls that ever came home aren't my little princess, are they?" This time, he was a little sterner.

Her scowl deepened. "No." She buried her face into his neck, and he found himself staring at her pink hair.

He butted her head gently and she looked up. "What was Shard thinking, hein?" Remy chuckled and flicked a strand of her hair. "Pink, petite?"

Sarah sat up a little straighter in his arms. "I like it." Then she scowled again. "Why did she have to come here?"

Remy rolled his eyes. "Been missing me, non?"

He moved on around the rambling corners of his large, comfortably but sparsely decorated house and into the living room to dump Sarah unceremoniously on the couch. He proceeded to tickle her until she was breathless. Then he sat down next to her and she clambered into his lap.

"She's not that kind of friend, petite," he began. "She saved my life and I'm helping her find some of her family."

Sarah gave him a dubious look.

He held up his hands in innocence. "C'est vrai."

"Back from the dead so soon?" a woman's voice said dryly.

Remy looked up and grinned at the dark-skinned woman, standing in the open doorway, one hand on her hip, clad in casual clothes, and with her golden hair tied back in a practical ponytail.

"Shard! Did you miss me?"

She shook her head at him and walked over to pluck a highly irate Sarah off of his lap. "Don't cut his trench coat," she admonished. "He doesn't need to get another again."

Sarah huffed. "Fine." She squirmed out of Shard's arms and hurried around the corner, probably to her room to shed some of the excess bones that she had nearly thrown at him earlier in her irritation.

"You done good," Remy told Shard as she settled next to him on the couch. "Keep the house nice too."

She shrugged, trying not to let him know she liked the compliment.

He grinned at her.

"She's a good kid," Shard said, blowing it off.

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Chere found the offhand Japanese curse words and extraneous commentary from Shiro disturbingly easy to understand. He was harsh and clearly more than a little put out having to share the job with her.

"How about you use your sources to start searching," he finally said, "and I'll use mine. We can check in with each other if we get a good lead."

Chere snapped out, "And how do I know that you would actually contact me?"

He just about growled. "I'm the known factor here. No one in our circles has ever heard of you." He tacked on some rather unpleasant phrases in his own language.

She almost lost it there, but she bit her tongue. No need to give away any spare advantages, even if she knew Japanese from Wolverine and a name almost slipped out of her mouth from the past she couldn't remember. She filed away that thought for later reference.

Very, very calmly, she replied, "I have a starting location that was hot within a week's window, as well as a contact to get a hold of."

There was silence for a moment on the other end.

Then finally, "How hot?"

She smirked. "I said he was handsome, didn't I?"

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"Had an update," Remy said casually, then glanced sidelong at Shard.

She looked up sharply. "Oh?" Her tone was all too casual, as if showing interest would lose her the hearing.

It was unnerving sometimes, how much she seemed to know him. Shard had shown up on his doorstep one day, battered and bruised. He hadn't asked a lot of questions at first, just pulled her in and patched her up. Sarah had watched with shadowed, untrusting eyes as he tended her. None of them were too trusting then. They didn't know each other. Remy had just gotten himself out of Sinister's clutches, and Sarah had just watched her people, the Morlocks, be butchered in front of her eyes.

"Oui," Remy said. "A name."

"Do you know yet why you get them?" she asked.

He blew out a long breath and shook his head. He leaned forward to rest his elbows on his thighs. "Wish I did."

Shard looked troubled at that. It bothered him too, but Remy had a few more years than she did to get used to it. From the time he was a teenager, his world would go spinning around him and he'd lose all sense of direction or clarity until something in time finished changing. He'd seen a person in his past disappear from it, experienced chance encounters that he hadn't had, and now knew the name of a mercenary that never gave her name away. The times he had failed to match up the new information in his head with the old, he'd forgotten the information entirely and was unable to determine what was different between the two later. From what he could tell, he forgot the original memory altogether, supplanted by the new.

That was after his brief stint as Sinister's favorite lab experiment.

He shuddered. "Why'd you come find me, Shard? How come I don't remember you?"

She looked startled for a second, but then leaned back a little further into the cushions. "How long you been wanting to ask me that?"

"Only since I started realizing you know me," Remy replied, honestly enough.

It was something he should have realized right away. She'd called him by his last name before he'd ever given it to her. But somehow, he was able to talk himself out of believing Shard was actually somehow from his own future. For a while.

Shard looked uncertain.

"I trust you," he said reassuringly, "or I wouldn't leave Sarah to you."

Shard gave a small smile of acknowledgement. "I knew you in the future, in my time, before I got dumped back here by that anomaly."

A time anomaly. That was her only explanation for how she'd been transported over forty years into the past.

He nodded, encouraging her to continue.

She eyed him warily. "You raised me," she said, almost hesitantly.

It was a strange thought and for a moment, he didn't react, wasn't sure how to. "Oh," he said at last. He didn't manage more than that.

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Tessa quietly surveyed the dinner party Jason Wyndgarde was throwing for the Hellfire Club and it's numerous allies. She had a great deal of work to do tonight for both sides. As Black Queen of the Hellfire Club, it was her duty to mingle among the many guests and determine where things lay for the Club and its investments. One such investment was Gambit, the reckless Cajun Thief who had apparently been hiding Omega-level powers beneath his easygoing façade.

Making the rounds gave Tessa a good view of where things were among the many secret powers that gathered for these New York high society parties. It was no surprise to discover the governments all wanted to get their hands on a more potent weapon than a nuclear warhead, but it did surprise her to discover the barely veiled interest of Japan's elite crime lords, known as the Yakuza, as well as that of Madame Hydra, current head of a mutant terrorist organization, of Courier, a quiet, understated man working for an unknown but powerful employer with eyes and ears seemingly everywhere, and of Black Air representative Michelle Scicluna and her surly, tightlipped companion, Peter Wisdom.

Tessa retreated to the buffet table when she had completed her survey and appraised the room with greater concern than before. Outwardly, her expression was calm and serene.

Regan came up to stand next to her. "I sure hope you know what you're doing, Sage." A hint of irritation flashed in the tone.

The two women were like night and day, White Queen and Black Queen, blonde hair and black hair, fiery threat and cool deadliness. Different loyalties. But despite their differences, they were friends. Regan's father had taken Tessa in and used her, but he used his own daughter just as ruthlessly. Regan was the only one Tessa felt might know the truth about her presence in the old gentleman's club with its power-hungry goals.

"You're playing a dangerous game," Regan hissed in her ear.

Tessa gave her a grim smile. "Do you really want Bogan to get his hands on Gambit?"

"No." Regan shrugged. "But neither do I want my father to get him. It's best to leave this to the interference, Sage. We have no business weighting things within the club."

Tessa glanced around, catching the thoughts, the voices, bouncing around the milling crowd of wealthy socialites, wondering if Regan knew who she was really working for. "Perhaps not," she agreed aloud, almost absently.

Both women knew that would not change Tessa's actions in the least.

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The Native American man wore his hair in a long, tight braid and metal components attached to every part of his uniform. A semi-automatic weapon was slung over his shoulder.

He waited for her.

Blindspot pulled up on her bike to a squat metal building in the Arizona desert near Alamogordo, cut the motor, and pulled off her helmet. She shook loose the black hair falling around her face and appraised the man before her. She nodded in acknowledgement of her colleague.

"Scalphunter."

"Blindspot." He gave her a sharp grin. "He only takes the best, doesn't he?"

Blindspot shrugged but all her internal alarms were ringing at high volume. Scalphunter was a known member of an elite band of brutal, ruthless, and powerful mutant mercenaries. They were effective and bloodthirsty, the best fighters in the trade. She glanced around the desert, then eyed the short, fat little building with distaste. No doubt, the meeting place was below ground, cutting off any escape if things went bad. She got off the motorcycle.

"If your employer has the Marauders," she said offhand, casual, while locking down the vehicle, "then why does he need me?" She lifted her head and raised an eyebrow at him.

"The Marauders have already had a couple of goes at the kid," Scalphunter admitted, following it with a wry laugh. "Sabretooth underestimates him."

"I see," she said. And she did.

It was a warning from one professional to another. One she did not take lightly.

She came to stand in front of him. "Lead on."

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Cecilia Reyes sent out her last patient for the day at 11:00 at night. She pulled off her glasses for a long moment and stared at the wall. It had been a stressful day. So many mutants needed treatment, and so much of the medical establishment refused to treat obvious mutants. Gambit had provided her with a large trust fund to offer services to those mutants, and some baseline humans, in the area that could not afford it anywhere else. But it was long, grueling work, and it had been a very long day.

Finally, she gathered up her clipboard and charts and left the little examination room and into the main area of the apartment. It was dark. Night had fallen and Puck hadn't turned on the lights before leaving. With a weary sigh, Cele crossed over to the kitchen and flicked on the switch.

She started.

A woman stood up from the couch in the shadows of the living room. Her form was encased in a light, close-fitting magenta-hued body armor. Her hair was in a tight, high ponytail. She stepped into the light cast from the fixtures in the kitchen, and Cele could make out the fair hair and coloring, the blood-red lips, the icy blue stare of a cold, calculating professional.

"Bonjour, Doctor Reyes," the woman said in a low alto and a heavy Cajun accent that was only too familiar.

Cele did not show any fear in the face of this woman, knowing she had shielding if it came down to it, but a small niggle of nervous apprehension tingled in her gut. Despite the apparent lack of weaponry, everything about the woman in her living room bespoke someone who had little to no compunction about killing another.

She put on her best doctor neutrality, pushed up her glasses slightly, and answered, "May I help you?"

"Perhaps." The cold blue eyes flicked over her briefly. "I would like to know when you last saw my fiancé."

Cele thought quickly. She had never known anyone in relation to Gambit but those he brought her to treat. The Cajun accent, the shadowy movements, hinting at activities she wanted to know nothing at all about...

"You'll have to be more specific, I'm afraid," Cele stalled.

"Very well." The regal blonde came forward and helped herself to one of the kitchen chairs. Looking up at Cele, she was no less menacing. "My name is Bella Donna Boudreaux. My fiancé is the Gambit, as you would know him. He is the man that finances this"—she gestured absently at the tiny apartment—"charitable work of yours with his own less than charitable endeavors." Bella Donna tightened her lips into a line and tilted her head slightly, appraising Cele. "When did you last see him?"

"Will you kill me if I tell you?" Cele asked evenly.

Bella Donna laughed wickedly, then gave her a long, sidelong look. "Non. Only if you don't." She pursed her lips, then said, "I think I'd like this work of yours to continue."

Cele approached cautiously and seated herself across from this unwanted guest. Bella Donna twirled a strand of golden hair about her finger.

"And will I have any protection from the others who will no doubt be banging down my door soon wanting the same information?" She wasn't going to do this halfway if she was going to do it at all. Her patients depended on her.

Bella Donna's perfectly manicured eyebrow came up, but then smoothed into a straight line. "It would be a small matter to leave you one of my own assassins."

Cele flinched at the word.

"Would you prefer a man or a woman?" Bella Donna asked. "Gender can make a person less intimidating to you."

"Woman," Cele replied. The last thing she wanted was a man known to kill for a living in her place. "I saw him five days ago in the morning around 10:00."

"Merci." Bella Donna flashed her teeth in a bright smile. "You have been most helpful."

Cele waited until the woman was gone before allowing herself to feel again. What had Gambit gotten himself into?

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"So who's the girl?" Shard asked, a slight twinkle in her eye.

Remy gave her a look.

"She's obviously special if you didn't make her walk," she pointed out, nonplussed.

"Oui," he said dryly.

"So..."

"So, I like her," he admitted. "But she's lost her memory and I'm not about to take advantage."

Shard raised both eyebrows at him and then gave him a real smile. "Imagine that. The player playing fair."

"Shut up," he said without malice. "We're helping each other."

"And would that involve joint sleeping arrangements?" Shard queried with an innocent expression.

Remy thought about that and the conversation, and then the kisses, he'd had upstairs with Chere. A languid smile spread across his face. "We'll see."

"Uh-huh." Shard looked at him knowingly.

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Courier was a woman, a fact that surprised Fontanelle to no end. The dishwater blonde telepath appraised her employer's representative.

Courier's face was hard and almost masculine. The dark gaze cut into hers, scrutinizing carefully. Very professional, this one, and slightly bitter, she would hazard a guess. The dark hair was pulled back well off the ears and face.

"Miss Dayne," Courier stated.

"Fontanelle, please," the telepath returned.

"Very well."

The two women shook hands and settled into their seats at a high-rise restaurant with an entire wall of glass overlooking New York. It was an unusual place to meet in Fontanelle's mind, especially for dinner, but Courier had said over a static-sounding phone connection that she had another appointment and wanted to meet directly after.

They placed their orders and waited for the waitress to take them back.

Courier skipped the pleasantries. "You do know the requirements of this job," she said, more as a statement than a question, but accompanied by an uplifted brow that demanded an answer.

"Of course," Fontanelle replied and sipped on her water. She didn't use the lemon.

"You are not to do the actual wetwork, merely the tracking," Courier said brusquely.

Fontanelle gave the woman a sharp look. "Do I look like I do wetwork?" In her nice suit dress, with her features pinched by years of worry and bitterness, and with her definite lack of muscles or physical prowess, Gloria Dayne, codenamed Fontanelle, was hardly a candidate to be an assassin. "I will go through the dream profile of each person you give to me and locate your employer's missing 'son.' That is all."

Courier smiled then, leaning back in the chair in a decidedly masculine way. "I'm glad we understand each other."

Their entrées were brought and set before them. In the interlude, Fontanelle wondered what it was that bothered her so much about Courier's manner, but she still had not put her finger on it when the waitress left again and Courier pulled out a leather attaché case.

"Now," Courier said. "To the details."

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"You want him dead."

The Silver Samurai, Harada Kenichiro, turned at the dry, crackly voice of an old man. He inclined his head toward the oyabun and master of the Clan Yashida, Lord Shingen. His father.

"I want to protect our people," Harada replied.

Lord Shingen gave no outward response. He crossed the traditionally decorated Japanese room silently to stand in front of the fireplace and gaze upward at the swords crossed over the mantle. "You wish to gain honor," Shingen said.

Harada did not dare to correct him.

Shingen did not once look back towards his illegitimate son. "You will bring us honor, Kenuichio." He used the corrupted form of his name, once an affectionate title from a father that never claimed him.

"Yes, Lord Shingen."

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"You're serving me tea?" Blindspot asked, all amusement as she settled in at the small table. It sat on a balcony overlooking a monstrous lab filled with hideous odors, intense colors, endless lab equipment, operating tables, and beakers in a cavernous underground facility. "Hardly seems appropriate."

Doctor Nathaniel Essex sat down across from her and poured from the ludicrously Victorian teapot.

Blindspot twirled her hair around one finger and studied this man, if he could possibly be called that, who was now her temporary employer. His skin was too tight, hair too slick, manners too stiff. He seemed...inhuman.

"I was wondering, my dear—" he began.

She grimaced at the moniker.

"—if perhaps you yourself were a mutant?" He gave her a ghastly smile and handed her the teacup.

Her hand fell softly to the table and she drummed her fingertips against it. "What an interesting, irrelevant thing for you to be wondering."

The smile vanished. "I prefer to know the skills of my employees."

She quirked an eyebrow and spared a glance toward the menacing figure of Sabretooth over his left shoulder. "I'm sure." Blindspot lifted the teacup to her mouth and sniffed it appreciatively. "Earl Grey."

Only a handful of poisons were odorless, most of them too fatal for him to want to use on his latest contractor. She sipped the tea and set the cup back down on the table.

"I'm sure you can understand," the doctor said lightly, but a faint note of warning was evident in his voice.

"However, I am not one of your minions," she stated bluntly. "I am a contractor with the skills necessary for this job." She gestured toward the hulking feral. "I work alone. That is what is on the contract. You want Gambit. I want your money. Not your micromanagement."

Essex gave her a supremely annoyed look, but she merely thinned her lips and set them into a firm line.

"I will not have you wandering about with no guarantee of a return on my investment," he said testily.

Blindspot stood, shouldering her heavy, black weapon. It had all the appearance of a machine gun, but a rather unique set of capabilities she would simply love to test. She uncocked the safety and stared down at him.

"I catch a tail on me and you will be very certain of whether I can make good on your investment," she said flatly, "as I will mail them to you in pieces."

She turned her back on him and began to walk away.

"You are my employee, I remind you."

She glanced back over her shoulder and raised a brow. "There are other employers, I remind you."

Blindspot emerged from the lab into the cold, desert night near Alamogordo to see her guide into the facility leaning on the outer wall and smirking at her.

"He's not an enemy to make, Blindspot," he informed her.

"Noted." Blindspot got on her motorcycle. "Just do your job, Scalphunter."

Scalphunter's hard laugh followed her over the sands.
 


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