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The Death Card: Chapter Four

Mac O'Roni

This is the way the world ends...
This is the way the world ends...
This is the way the world ends...
Not with a bang, but a whimper.

-T.S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men"

     “I’m very worried about Gambit, Ororo,” Jean said. She sat on the edge of the weather goddess’ bed, chewing her lip in distraction. “Scott believes he’s joined Apocalypse. I think most of the others do, too. But I can’t believe he’d do that to us. It’s…it’s out of character.”
     Storm watered a fichus and kept her voice carefully neutral. “I believe that the others are saying that it is, in fact, perfectly in keeping with what little we know of Gambit. After all, he has worked for Sinister in the past, and he does not keep faith in us. Why should we keep faith in him?”
     Jean gaped. “Ro—you’re not saying you really think he’s turned traitor. I thought you were closest to him of any of us!”
     “I am,” Storm said, and sighed. “And I agree with you: it is out of character. Gambit is far too solitary and impatient of restriction for me to see him as a willing sycophant of a tyrannical regime. However, I fear that I fail to see an alternative explanation. He is gone, he seems to have gone with Sinister, he has not returned nor made any communication with any of us.”
     “The Professor has been looking for him, too,” Jean said. “He’s even had Emma psi-scanning for him. We can’t find him at all. It’s like he doesn’t even exist.”
     “I thought that Gambit couldn’t be psionically scanned.”
     “Not exactly. Unless he’s willing, or unconscious, his mind can’t be entered by even the most talented of telepaths. But he has a visible psionic signature—a sort of mental white noise, although in so far as it has a color it’s actually sort of pink. It’s caused by his bio-signature, which is, as Beast once put it, kinetically frenetic. But we can’t even find that. It’s…disturbing, to say the least.”
     “Do you believe he may be dead?” Storm said, as one braced for a blow.
     “We don’t know. Ordinarily, I’d say he’d have to be. But the Professor isn’t so sure. He’s…he’s heard some unpleasant rumors. Rumors about Apocalypse. We know Sinister has been gathering an army…Charles is worried that Apocalypse is regrouping the Four Horsemen. Sinister changes them, you know—turns relatively ordinary mutants into super-beings. There are rumors about what these new Horsemen are like…but nobody knows who they are.”
     “I see. Charles is afraid that Gambit may be one of them.”
     Jean hung her head. “Yes.”
     Storm hesitated briefly, then sat on the bed beside her friend. “Gambit is…difficult to trust. This is because he finds it difficult to trust, and does not put too much of himself into the hands of others. He has done things in the past that cast shadows over the good things he has done here, with us. But he is my friend, and until I am given solid evidence to the contrary, I will continue to believe that he has reformed from the dark ways of his youth, and that he would never intentionally do anything to hurt me, or any of the rest of us. I will not believe that he has become a Horseman until I am confronted with the proof.”
     Jean smiled. “Good.”
     “Jean, may I ask…why are you so convinced of Gambit’s innocence?” “Well, I’m not—not exactly. I mean, it’s very hard to come up with alternate possibilities right now. But I don’t want to believe that someone—anyone—who has lived and worked with us so long could suddenly just…just throw us away. But, too, I know we haven’t always treated him as well as we ought to, and I’m worried that maybe…if he did go to Apocalypse…we might have driven him to it. It would be frustrating, don’t you think? To put so much hard work into redeeming your life and building trust in your friends and teammates…and to never have that trust completely returned.”
     Storm put her arm around Jean’s shoulders. “Gambit makes his own choices. No matter what has happened, you cannot hold yourself responsible. Of all of us, you are one of the very few who have had no major difficulties with him. He can be very hard to deal with, at times, I know that well. If anyone is to blame, then perhaps it is I. I am, after all, the one who insisted he join our cause. It is possible that was a mistake, though a well-intentioned one. He might have been better off without us. He has had no end of trouble since joining us.”
     “Trouble follows us, that’s for sure. But you can’t blame yourself, either. Gambit chose to stay; you didn’t force him. You aren’t responsible for the problems he’s had since then. You worry a lot about him, I know, but he’s a big boy—and you’re not his mother.”
     Storm laughed aloud. “That, my dear friend, is a classic example of blatant hypocrisy. You have mothered each of us from the moment we arrived. Gambit has been no exception. Indeed, I sometimes feel you have treated him as more of a child in need of your guidance than Jubilee.”
     Jean smiled and joined the weather goddess in a laugh. “I suppose so. But he’s been kicked around more than Jubilee. He acts tough, but we know the truth,” she said, with a conspiratorial nod. “The fact is, that boy needs to be mothered.”
     “I quite agree. And now that the chick has vanished from the nest the mother hens are fretting. Probably needlessly. He’s disappeared before. He shall probably come waltzing back one morning with three-day stubble and a cat-that-got-the-canary smile, with not a word of apology or explanation. And we shall want to kill him for it.”
     Both women laughed, but under it there was an uneasy current, as of two friends who already knew what their hearts did not want to admit, and that this time, Gambit would not be coming back.