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Sinister Intent: Chapter Three
He’d barely set his bag down when the telephone rang. He answered, assuming it was the front desk.
“Mr. DuBois, you have a telephone call. May I patch it through?”
A call? He hadn’t been in Baton Rouge a full hour yet. He’d only just checked in, and he’d made no advance reservation. Who could possibly be calling? His first terrified thought was that it was Sinister—had to be. But why would Sinister call? If he wanted to reach out and touch someone, he’d do it in person, not through Ma Bell. But who else could it be? Someone canny enough to guess which hotel he’d pick and what alias he’d be using, and that didn’t add up at all. Unless…
“Who’s it from?” he asked.
“A Professor Charles Xavier.”
He let out a long breath he hadn’t noticed he’d been holding. “Oui, I’ll take it. Merci.”
“Hello, Andre. I hope I didn’t catch you at a bad time.” Xavier’s cultured Oxford, sarcasm carefully veiled by good manners, was a welcome sound. Gambit couldn’t remember whether the Professor had been among them that night or if he’d been back at the mansion monitoring Cerebro.
“Hi, Chuckles. No, I jus’ got in. How di’jou fin’ me?”
“The only way I ever could, Gambit—you wanted me to.”
He laughed weakly. “I did?”
“I would at least assume so, considering you’ve been an unusually strong psionic presence for the last seven hours. Ordinarily, as you are well aware, you show up only as a vague psionic white noise.”
“P’fessa…how bad is it?”
Xavier didn’t insult Remy’s intelligence by pretending he didn’t understand. He sighed deeply, and Gambit could picture him massaging the bridge of his thin patrician nose as he considered the answer to the question.
“It could have been much worse, I suppose,” he said at last. Somehow, Gambit didn’t find the optimism at all comforting. “Casualties were…high…but there were no fatalities.”
“Dat somet’in Gambit a’ready knew, Chuck. How bad did I hurt ‘em?”
“Cyclops took the worst hit. He’s still in the intensive unit. Dr. Reyes believes he will pull through, however. The others weren’t so badly injured. Jean was just released from the MediLab this afternoon.”
“How ‘bout Stormy an’ Jubilee?”
“Both were among the worst injured, but they’re healing. Jubilee has regained consciousness and has been relocated to the general ward. Storm is expected to make a full recovery as well, though she remains comatose.”
Comatose. The word bit into him like the fangs of a venomous snake. He sank down onto the bed, his eyes closed.
“P’fessa…what ev’ybody sayin’ ‘bout Gambit, hein? Dey all t’ink…he do dis bad t’ing on purpose?”
“Archangel swears you’ve finally shown where your true allegiance lies,” Xavier said, as though pleased. “And of course Psylocke and Iceman pretty much agree with him. But they would hardly have required such powerful evidence as this to renounce you, would they?”
“Non, Gambit ‘spose d’oze t’ree’d blame him if d’roof blew off in a hurricane.”
“Unless you were on it at the time, in which case they’d probably celebrate.”
“Merci beaucoup, Chuck.”
“The rest of us are fairly certain you did not do it willingly.”
“Yo’ confidence overwhelm me.”
“Gambit, all kidding aside; what happened was not your fault. It was quite clear to me and to everyone else I’ve spoken to that Sinister and Sinister alone is to blame for this. I believe that even Warren knows this, deep down inside. Now, Sinister has had three weeks to do whatever atrocious thing he wished to do to you, and we need to—”
“Hol’ up a minute, Chuck. Di’jou say t’ree weeks?”
“Nineteen days, actually. I rounded it off.”
Remy lay back on the bed and pinched the bridge of his own nose as the reality of it washed over him. “Nineteen days. It really been nineteen days.”
“I take it you had no sense of so much time passing.”
“Chuck, Gambit don’ remember a t’ing between seein’ a big blas’ a’ light in Wes’chester dat night an’ wakin’ up strapped t’ a table in Sinister’s lab in Seattle dis mornin’.”
“Did you get any idea exactly what he did to you in that time?”
He sighed. “Yah, he’uz pretty happy wit’ d’experiment, all tol’. He din’ fin’ d’way t’keep me under control permanent but he make all kin’ a’ adjus’ments t’me dat he real happy ‘bout.”
“Adjustments?” Xavier said sharply. “What sort of ‘adjustments?’”
“He say he jus’ ‘capitalize on m’ pre-existin’ propensities,’” Gambit said. “Don’ know how much messin’ roun’ he done but I know he turn me int’ a shape-shifter an’ a telepat’.”
“That explains your psionic presence,” Xavier mused. “I wonder how strong these new abilities are. Gambit, you must come back to the mansion at once so that Beast may study you—once he’s out of hospital himself, that is.”
“Non, P’fessa. Gambit don’ t’ink dat such d’bes’ idea. Sinister got plans f’me, tol’ me so hisself d’ough I don’ know what all dey is. Don’ t’ink it be a good idea t’ be anywhere near de X-Men when he come callin’ f’me again. An’ he will.”
“So, what then? Are you just going to let him come for you?”
“Don’ see what choice I got, Prof. Got ‘way from him las’ time ‘cause he los’ in’rest in me. Started pickin’ on Cyke instead. Now he aft’ me again, an’ dey ain’ a lot of places I can hide he can’ fin’ me. I keep runnin’, but when he get serious he fin’ me wherever I go. I fight, but he’ll win.”
Xavier’s words cut like a whiplash. “You’d better check, Gambit—it sounds to me like Sinister may have removed your spine as well.”
That comment popped his eyes open. “Now, wai’daminit—”
“No, you wait a minute. You are, lest you’ve forgotten, an X-Man. And in case you’ve forgotten this as well, X-Men do not sit back and allow evil to win. Now, I probably know even less about Sinister’s motives than you do. The last I was aware, he was far more interested in Cyclops than in you. But clearly that attack was orchestrated with your capture specifically in mind, and what is more, Sinister was completely unconcerned with Scott at all—in fact, he was quite adamant that you should destroy him. If Sinister is this interested in you, he must have excellent reason for it. That if nothing else is the most compelling argument for returning you to the safety of the Institute. We can keep you away from him, now that we know he’s after you. And if we can find out what it is he wants of you, we can perhaps use that information to his ultimate undoing.”
“Gambit’ll t’ink about it, Chuckles,” he said. “But not yet. Dey’s some t’ings I wanna t’ink about firs’. I let ya know.”
“Come home, Gambit,” Xavier said warningly. “You belong here.”
But the word “home” did not bring to mind the Xavier mansion and the huge rolling lawns of the Institute, nor did he feel completely certain that it was where he really belonged. Part of it was his perpetual outcast status there: self-imposed, by and large, but trying just the same. Another part was the constant gravitational pull of another home, and a family so full of outcasts that one more went largely unremarked.
“Tell ev’yone dat Gambit say he sorry f’what he done,” he said quietly. “An’ let ‘em know he t’inkin’ ‘bout ‘em. S’pecially ma petit’ Jubilee, an’ Stormy if she wake up ‘fore I come back. I see you roun’, Chuck.”
He hung up before the Professor could make another persuasive argument and lay back with his arms behind his head. He stared up at the flecked and glittery plaster ceiling as his thoughts circled restlessly, vultures in a vast desert waiting for something sickly to die. But the topic was too stubborn to die easily, and so his thoughts just kept on circling in an ever-widening spiral. It had been a mistake to come here, he realized. The big Red Stick was far too close; the proximity of New Orleans was maddeningly tantalizing. He could hear hot jazz and smell hot food, and he was desperately homesick. Tell that to Charles Francis Xavier. He was lonely for a home that had thrown him out under penalty of death if he ever showed his face there again.
He rolled over onto his side and stared at the telephone. Before he could stop himself he grabbed the receiver and dialed for an outside line, punching in a sequence of numbers he could have dialed in his sleep. He more than half expected to hear an automated voice informing him that the number was no longer in service, or a stranger’s voice asking who the hell was calling. But it rang through, and the deep sardonic drawl was unmistakable even over the lousy connection.
“Bon jour, M’sieu,” he said.
“Oui, Papa. C’est moi.”
Now he gonna hang up, he thought, but the line did not go dead.
“Dis is a surprise. It good t’hear your voice, son,” Jean-Luc LeBeau said.
“Good t’hear yours, too, M’sieu. How you been?”
“S’all good. You?”
“Can’ complain. Been blowed up an’ shot down an’ I got a homicidal maniac on m’tail. You know: Same ol’ same ol’.”
Jean-Luc chuckled. “Some t’ings never change, Remy.”
“An’ some t’ings change so fas’ y’ jus’ can’ keep up wit’ ‘em,” he said. “Get ya down sometime, but y’jus’ got t’keep on runnin’ an’ hope ya don’ get so far behin’ dat you can’ adapt.”
“Soun’ like you become quite de philosopher since y’ lef’, son.”
“Gettin’ exiled’ll do dat to ya.”
Jean-Luc was silent long enough for Gambit to regret his bluntness. When he spoke again at last, his voice was tinged with hurt.
“Where are you now, Remy?” he asked.
“Actually, M’sieu, I in Baton Rouge. Got t’ cool m’heels for a few days, fig’red dis a good ‘nuf place t’do it. Leas’ ‘til I t’ink a’ somet’in better.”
“A few days, hein? Mebbe I c’d come up dere an’ see ya—‘less you don’ wan’ see me,” Jean-Luc said.
Remy sat up, shocked. “M’sieu?”
“Baton Rouge neutral territory,” he said. “Ain’ nobody gonna say jack t’ me ‘bout seein’ you up dere. I miss you, boy.”
It took a few moments for Gambit to realign his dropped jaw so that he could speak. So direct an admission from the guild Patriarch was rare at best, and leaped far beyond the realm of the merely shocking.
“Where you wanna meet up?” he asked at last.
“Dey’s a nice li’l restauran’ downtown, d’you know it? It called Salazar’s.”
“Yah, Papa, I know it.”
“I can be dere tomorrow aft’noon, ‘bout two.”
“A’righ, M’sieu, I see you den,” Remy said.
“Lookin’ fo’wa’d to it,” Jean-Luc said. “Been too damned long, son.”
“Yah, Papa, it has.”
On to Chapter Four!