Whispers

 
 
Chapter Fourteen: La Ronde des Sages

"The Dance of the Wise"

- By taking down the leader of an X-Men "Clan"--I will be rewarded with the proper respect due me! -
- Oh, c'mon, next you gon' bully me for my lunch money! -

Rax and Gambit, Gambit #22

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"You're hacking into SHIELD?"

Kitty ignored the loud exclamation behind her and focused on the aromatic scent of fresh-popped popcorn drowning in butter and salt. "Mmm..." She whirled around in her chair and fixed Bobby with the most intimidating glare she could muster. "Hand over the popcorn and no one will get hurt."

Judging from the way he continued to stare slack-jawed at her computer screen, it must not have been that intimidating.

She sighed and reached out to phase the popcorn bowl from his fingers and immediately started munching. "If it bothers you, Bobby,"—she went back to clicking away at the computer screen, typing with the same hand by times, and eating with the other—"then don't watch," she stated practically.

There was no immediate response, and she shrugged, assuming he was still gaping at her. She popped another buttery kernel into her mouth, paused for a second to savor the taste, then narrowed in her focus on the branching tree of data files and archives. She double-clicked on one. A password box appeared in the center of her screen. She did a few cross-references, glanced down her scribbled notes on the back of a grocery store receipt, and typed in a long stream of digits into the box. She hit enter.

An hourglass turned over twice.

The computer beeped.

"I'm in!" she shouted with glee and whirled around in her swivel chair to take a look at Bobby's face. Kitty scowled at him. He was rubbing the back of his neck, looking anywhere but at her. "I'm in. That's good. Like...duh."

"Yeah, Kit."

Her scowl deepened. "Don't call me that," she snapped and swiveled back to her work. With a few quick clicks, a drag and drop, she opened up the file on her home system and perused the contents.

Le Diable Blanc was in deep, whoever he was. SHIELD's file was not at all similar to Black Air's. Black Air had viewed the Cajun as a distinct threat with new data indicating potentially omega-level powers. SHIELD included a list of reference documents related to each assignment he had completed for them.

Kitty stopped, read that again.

"You're kidding me!" she practically squealed, then dug her fingers back into the popcorn. "Bullseye! Mission directives. Debriefings. Contact information!"

Abruptly, she fell silent and started flipping through files, skimming, pausing to read deeply, then skimming onward. She caught a price tag and let out a low whistle. "This guy's expensive." Then kept reading. And reading.

She stopped, slowly removed her hand from the popcorn, and wiped it on a napkin. "Bobby."

"What's wrong?" And there he was annoyingly against her shoulder again.

She shoved him back. "Go tell Storm I hit the jackpot." Back to flipping through files. Scribbling down a few notes and plotting her next attack. The Justice Department.

"But what's wrong?" Bobby insisted.

Kitty sighed. "I think Rogue is in more trouble than we thought. Now go get Storm." She brought up the Federal Bureau of Investigation on her computer.

Bobby blanched at the sight. "Yeah. Uh...I'll do that."

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Jubilee slipped quietly inside the quarters she shared with Betsy. Now that they had agreed to help LeBeau, they were not quite so guarded and could go in and out of the room without permission.

She shuffled over to the bed she had chosen and flopped out, face down, across it. She groaned.

Betsy was over beside her in a second. "You all right, Jubes? What did he do to you in there?"

Jubilee didn't lift her head to see the probably anxious expression. Instead, she lifted one limp hand and pushed Betsy back for a little space. "I'm fine," she mumbled into the spread, though it was doubtful whether the words were comprehensible.

"Jubilee!" Betsy started shaking the smaller girl's shoulder.

"What?" Jubilee swatted away the offending hand and sat up, disgruntled. "I've just spent two hours watching people discuss somebody's death sentence in a game," she snapped. "Can't I get a little rest after that?"

"Death sentence." Betsy furrowed her brow, but at least her hands were planted on the thick comforter. "Jubilee, what did he do?"

She huffed in response and crossed her arms. "They played poker. Or some variety of it anyway. I watched."

"Death sentence?" Betsy prodded, temporarily patient until she got the full details.

But Jubilee hesitated. "I'm not sure how much I can tell you."

Betsy's eyes narrowed. "We're on this mission, Jubilee. He wants our help, then he gets us both."

"I guess so." Jubilee chewed on her lower lip, then sighed. "It wasn't Rogue. It was someone else and he doesn't want it to happen."

"Then what does this have to do with Rogue?" the telepath demanded.

Jubilee shrugged. "They're together."

Betsy froze.

"Apparently," Jubilee went on, "Rogue is with this guy that this other guy wants to kill and LeBeau made a wager to save his hide and that's now my job."

"You have got to be kidding me."

Jubilee blinked. That sounded like something she would say. Not Psylocke. "Well, we can call the X-Men now, so we better let them know we're following up on this." She reached for the bag Tessa had returned to them a little bit ago.

"Did he say where Rogue actually is?" Betsy asked. "Can we just go get her out of this mess?"

Jubilee dug into the bag, rummaging through paper, clothes, toiletries, and the other junk she'd brought along for this trip. She shook her head. "I doubt it. Rogue's been a bit of a busy cookie while we couldn't find her." She frowned and slithered her hand into the tangle of clothes, closing her eyes to feel for what she wanted. "Problem is, he didn't tell me where she is, only where she's going to be. Ah! Here it is." Jubilee triumphantly came up with her communicator.

"Jubes..."

"Chill. Gotta call." She activated the comm and grinned. "Hailing mother ship. Firecracker off the port bow."

Betsy rolled her eyes.

Jubilee giggled.

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Storm scrambled to reply. "Jubilee, is that you?"

"Alive and kicking," came the teenager's chipper response. "I've got the bodyguard with me too."

The bodyguard? Storm tried to follow the thought, then it clicked. Betsy.

"Is she there? We were worried about you when you missed the check-in. We were about to send out the cavalry." Warren had convinced her to give them until one more check-in before sending out a team. They didn't want to compromise the two if they were undercover somewhere.

"We have a bit of a situation," Betsy's matter-of-fact British alto came through. "We don't have Rogue's location, but we do have a lead."

"Where she's going to be," Jubilee piped in.

"I don't trust him," Betsy said, low in her throat in that angry, this-is-Pyslock-the-assassin-who-you-don't-want-to-mess-with sort of way.

Jubilee responded before Storm could. "Piffle. He knows what he's talking about. She's with that devil dude you all were talking about."

"The Cajun?" Storm asked, head whirling with their combined details.

"Yeah. That guy. And a bunch of people want him dead."

"What?" Storm was about to say more, but somebody knocked loudly on the door. "Hold on just a second, Jubilee. Come in!"

The door opened and Bobby stuck his head through. "Kitty's found something."

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Chere went over the game plan one final time with Sunfire, finalized a couple of details, scribbling them down on the little pad of paper beside the bed, then with a "thank you" and "goodbye," hung up the phone. She blew out a long sigh and dropped the pencil onto the nightstand.

A quick glance around the room revealed far more details about Remy than his apartment bedroom had. The furniture was old-style wealth, heavy, handcarved, no doubt, and with thick, plush coverings. The hangings at the windows were a rich velvety kind of material. The comforter underneath her, damask. She slid one hand across the sheets and marveled at the softness. The room was sparse, but a few small items littered the top of the dresser: a cigarette pack, lighter, two packs of cards, a postcard, a penknife. There were two large windows, but no mirror. An open doorway by the armoire led around the corner into what was most likely a rather spacious bathroom and closet. There were few pictures, one of Remy with a blonde woman, one with a dark-haired man slightly taller than him, and one of that same man with another petite blonde wearing a bright smile.

Family, she mused, even as the names came to her out of memories that were not hers. Bella Donna. Henri. Mercy. She frowned. There were none of Jean-Luc.

The door swung open by a few inches. Remy?

But no. A small, pink-haired, benightgowned pixie with rough bones protruding from her skin at all angles peeked around the corner and fixed bright blue eyes on her.

"Hello," Chere said softly.

The girl's face hardened just a bit. She came forward through the door, arms crossing over her chest. "Who are you?" she demanded.

Chere restrained a smile at the girl's brashness. "Just a friend."

"Uh-huh. That's what they all say." The skeptical look just clinched it.

Chere shrugged and rubbed the kinks out of her shoulders. "You think I'm sleeping with him." Perhaps Remy wouldn't want her saying something like that so bluntly to a ten-year-old or thereabouts, but the perfect lack of surprise on the girl's face told Chere she'd aimed that correctly.

"That's his bed."

"Go figure," Chere muttered and stood. "I'm going to go have a talk with that boy about that."

The girl looked at her funny.

"What?" Chere settled both hands on her hips and raised an eyebrow.

She bit her lip. "Who are you?" And then she cocked her head to the side. The genuine curiosity written across her young face made her look her age again and Chere did laugh this time. That brought a scowl.

"Chere."

"They're all 'chère,'" the girl protested.

"Well, that's all I am, so it'll just have to do." Chere ruffled up the pink hair and got another strange look in return, but she was melting.

Are you sure that's 'all' you are? Something stirred in the depths of her mind, but with a brusque shake, she quieted the personalities flitting about the edges of her own. "Let's go ask him why he put me up here, shall we?"

We.

The girl eyed her doubtfully. Complicity with a potential enemy—at least in the matter of relationships and good taste—didn't seem to high up on the girl's to-do list. But they were in agreement.

Chere raised an eyebrow.

"I'm Sarah," the girl finally said, then slipped out ahead of Chere, obviously with the intent to lose her on the way down.

Chere just laughed. It was a start.

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Logan ducked under the police tape outside the decimated door of a small apartment in Montreal. He was getting real tired of hauling his way in and out of Canada, but this was the first scent on the trail and Logan wasn't about to let distance get in the way of the hunt.

The whole place reeked of explosives, old cigarette smoke, and—he sniffed again—Rogue.

He had found her.

Claws came out from both hands and he warily entered the apartment. Whoever had blown the place had done a good job. His eyes automatically went to the focus areas for the explosive scents. Evenly placed and hooked into the wiring. It had been a setup and a good one.

There was nothing personal in the kitchen, the living areas. No dishes in the sink.

He could smell the Cajun in here, older than the other scents. Logan figured wreck like this, kid like that, police and a few trackers after the deal maybe. Or whoever busted up the deal in the first place.

The bedroom held few revelations. A couple of men's shirts. A pair of jeans. Nothing incriminating. The sheets gave off Rogue's scent in spades but not Gambit's. Logan noted that with satisfaction. He'd signed on to get the kid out of trouble, not kill him for messing around with a girl no one was allowed to mess around with. The drawers gave him his first real piece of evidence. A rag that used to be Rogue's shirt.

It was riddled with bullet holes.

Logan swore.

He wondered how the police had left it, but he took it anyway. With the papers he had from the Guild, he wouldn't be surprised if Montreal had moved in and shut down the investigation as much as possible.

There was nothing in the bathroom but a blasted mess. He found the remains of at least four charges, possibly two more, and any personal odor—or effects—were buried under debris and the acrid smell of smoke.

Well, he'd found their little hideyhole, but they had left days ago and he knew from his own travels how easy it was to put some miles between one place and another.

He pulled out his cell phone and dialed the Institute.

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Storm stared over Kitty's shoulder, a little uncertain of what she was looking at. "Explain it to me again."

Kitty sighed longsufferingly but readily started pointing all over the screen again. "We're looking at a spreadsheet of different government agency, intelligence agency, and international antiterrorist or mutant regulation organization profiles on Le Diable Blanc, their contact information for him, locations, networks, etc. And..." Kitty drew out the word with an excited grin. "Bank accounts."

Storm blinked.

Kitty shrugged. "It's not as complete as I would like, but it's more than enough to start running on. Have you got a hold of Betsy yet?"

"Yes." Storm glanced back at Hank, who was still frowning at the spreadsheet as if doubting the prudence of giving Kitty such free rein. She turned her attention back to the popcorn-munching hacker. "Psylocke and Jubilee have found a good lead and have verified that Rogue is with him."

Kitty's dropped her handful of popcorn. "They know? How come I'm always the last to know anything?" She cast a pleading look at Hank, who raised both brows.

"I am not certain that is precisely the situation, but we have only just been informed of this development ourselves."

Bamph!

Kurt appeared in the bedroom with a flash of smoke and all of them had to wave at the sulphur smell pouring into the room.

"It's Logan." He handed the cordless to Storm.

"When it rains, it pours," she noted.

"Open the window!" Kitty declared, still waving at the offensive smell.

Storm listened intently to what Logan was telling her, then handed the phone over to Kitty. "You handle this. I'm going to see what else I can get out of Betsy. Jubilee keeps changing the subject."

"A most disconcerting possibility," Hank replied.

"Yes." Storm smiled and left the work in Kitty's all too capable hands. Like others among the X-Men, she wasn't entirely certain she wanted to know the extent of the young computer genius's abilities.

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Kitty answered cautiously. "Hello?"

Logan grunted in response as he stepped out of the bathroom. "I'm at the first place he took her." Spotting a likely looking heap of rubble, he stooped to rummage through it. "Already blown through my top leads and coming up dry. I sure hope you've got something, darling."

"You're where?" she squealed excitedly.

Logan winced but kept digging. "The Cajun's place. Rogue was here." He came up with rags. A shirt. Jeans. He rattled off an address for her. Another shirt. He stopped. It was a woman's shirt, Rogue's size.

"Okay. Let me just cross-reference here." Kitty could sound like such a little professional, and he had to smile.

"What'd you come up with anyway?"

"Oh, about a dozen frozen bank accounts, some major places he picks up jobs and 'associates,' and about two dozen solid addresses." He could hear the grin in her voice. "I love Interpol."

"Interpol, huh?" Logan grinned right back. That's one of the things he loved about this girl. He stuffed the rags into his duffel. Not leaving evidence for any latecomers on Rogue's presence. "But he ain't going any of those places. Government's after him. Canada's anyway."

"Geez! How many people are in this?" Tapping, like a keyboard. "This is so nuts."

"Yeah, but it's life. What you got?" He spotted something hard and black sticking out of the debris. He reached for it.

"Give me a sec." More clicking. Pauses. Crunching. Pint-size was eating something.

He pulled out part of a computer. No brand he'd ever seen before. "Might have something here," he muttered.

Kitty's voice came back again. "Got you a checkpoint, Logan. Got a pen?"

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Sage waited until she was absolutely certain she was alone before she picked up the phone and dialed Xavier's personal line from memory.

It took several rings before anyone answered.
 


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