10: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
AD 2005, May 23
"The mercenary gig must pay pretty good," Remy commented after wandering around Domino's penthouse apartment. He'd spotted several original paintings he wouldn't have hesitated to steal if he'd been on a pinch. The view out the windows merited a moment's admiration as well.
The rooms were decorated in a fashion that reflected Domino: smooth, high-tech, stylish but comfortable.
Domino shrugged. "I've made some lucky investments."
A smile curled Remy's lips at that. He strolled over to the card table she'd set up, where the others were already sitting down to play. An eclectic group of X-types had shown up for the semi-regular game: Gambit and Wolverine had convinced Northstar and Storm to accompany them to the city, Pete and Kitty had shown up to a warm welcome from all but Storm, Psylocke had slipped out of the shadows, while Lila Cheney had ported Sam in then disappeared with a happy wave. The real surprise had been Emma Frost showing up.
"Nathan," Domino directed, "make sure Emma doesn't peek at anyone's cards. Emma, you make sure he doesn't. Betsy -"
Psylocke waved a hand. "I'll be on my good behavior."
Remy stared at the purple-haired woman. "You have good behavior, 'Lizabeth?" he asked incredulously.
She glared at him.
"Elizabeth would not abuse our privacy in such a manner, Remy," Storm reproved.
Remy rolled his eyes and Betsy smirked.
Emma genuinely smiled. "Have you got any white wine, Dom?"
"That bottle you brought a couple of weeks ago." She disappeared into the kitchen on a quest for the bottle.
Logan pulled out a cigar and his lighter with a flourish. Storm frowned and said, "If you light that in the house I will — "
"Do nothing," Domino cut in, returning. "This isn't the mansion, Storm. My place and my call."
Storm looked startled.
Domino waved a hand. "Smoke 'em if ya got 'em, boys," she directed. It looked like thwarting the weather goddess — and her sometime rival for Nathan's affections — had put her in a good mood.
Pete and Remy lit up with sighs of pleasure.
Storm's mouth opened, but she just managed to bite back a comment when Kitty stole a few puffs from Pete's cigarette.
"Good girl," Remy whispered in her ear. He took a seat at the table next to her. "Why you think we move the game here? It's this place or Wolverine's apartment — you remember, the sty?"
Storm's mouth quirked up involuntarily. The last time they'd played at Logan's place in New York, Remy had deliberately thrown a game to Sam. Then things got crazy again. But she remembered an overwhelming desire to invest in disinfectant just from walking through the neighborhood to get to Logan's apartment. Domino's penthouse definitely served as an improvement.
"So, what's the game?" Logan asked.
Domino sat down and picked up the deck of cards. She shuffled expertly and began to deal. "Five card stud, jokers wild, to begin with," she said.
" — So we're in Rhapastan on a job for Minister Fasaud -"
"That fils de putain, " Remy interjected.
" — I'm setting up a security system on the Finance Building and in waltzes this skinny brat — "
"Resent that, chere, just hadn't got all my growth yet."
" — and I hate like hell to admit it, but he walked through everything I had in place like there was nothing there," Domino continued.
Remy grinned, preened and shrugged. "What can I say? Impressive, moi."
Several people rolled their eyes.
"How about you're sorry for blowing that contract for me?" Domino asked sweetly.
Remy cocked his head. "Mais non, chere. My job was to steal the Ruby of Rhapastan. Your job was to stop moi."
"Smart ass," Logan grumbled.
"Okay, you've got a point," Domino admitted. She lit one of her dark cigarillos and blew smoke at Remy. "So who hired you to get the Ruby anyway?"
Remy's smile faded a little. "Candra."
"The External?" Storm asked.
Storm, Phoenix and Gambit had faced off against the former Benefactress of the Thieves and Assassins' Guilds in Cairo. From what had passed between Candra and Remy there and some things Rogue had let slip about the time she followed him down to New Orleans, it seemed Remy and Candra had a history.
"That bloody twat," Pete muttered, garnering a swat from Kitty.
Domino considered Remy.
"How old were you then?"
He frowned then shrugged. "Seventeen or so? I'd just passed my Master's test, mon père sent me to the Benefactress as part of the year's tithe."
"Your father sent yer to that man-eater when yer were seventeen?" Pete exclaimed. "Bloody child endangerment that. No wonder Sinister got hold of yer later."
Kitty drummed her fingers on on the table. "You know, Pete, I'm getting a feeling you know this Candra person a little too well."
"What? I never — "
"Me thinks — "
"M'sieu Wisdom doth protest too much?" Remy finished, clearly eager to redirect the focus of the conversation.
"Look, it was when I was in Black Air," Pete protested. "Scicluna — "
Storm ignored the switch to teasing Wisdom. Her own experience with the Cairo Thieves' Guild and her old mentor Achmed gave her an advantage in interpreting what her friend had said. Remy's adopted father had sent him to Candra as part of the tithe — not to learn from her or work for her, though he must have. Small wonder he'd never spoken of that time.
She reached over and combed his errant hair away from his eyes with a gentle touch. His crimson gaze slid to her and for an instant she glimpsed still bleeding wounds in his soul. Then he caught her hand and pressed his lips to her fingers.
" — she weren't important enough to mention!" Wisdom swore.
Remy smiled, lopsided and amused. "She wouldn't like hearin' that, would she, padnat?"
"No, she wouldn't," Storm agreed warmly.
Cable narrowed his eyes and glared at three smug faces blurrily. He pointed an accusing finger at the threesome. "Whrn't 'ou druck-druke-drunk?"
Wolverine finished his latest beer and set the empty bottle with the little forest of them at his elbow. "Healing factor," he explained. "Cleans up the alcohol too fast to get more'n warmed up, unless I drink hundred-proof rocket juice."
The time-traveling mercenary took his time considering that. His thoughts were moving through warm mush after trying to match Wolverine and the others drink for drink. He'd always thought he had a hard head. It was embarrassing.
"Don't strain yourself, Nathan," Domino commented, half-amused and half-irritated since their psi-link made her privy to his disjointed thoughts. It was making her slightly queasy in fact.
She looked around the room. Nathan was about to do a facedown on the poker table, Kit and Pete had curled up together on her leather couch with the TV light flickering over their sleeping faces, Sam and Storm were making a valiant effort at cleaning up the kitchen and Emma had gone off to repair her make-up for the forty-fifth time. Thanks to Cable, her head was pounding like the drum section of a marching band.
Wolverine, Gambit and Northstar were still playing poker with everyone but Domino's money. She'd held her own, but it had taken every bit of skill she had and her mutant luck. Northstar had been a surprise, since he seemed too quick tempered and impulsive to be a good poker player. The mutant speedster could think fast too, though. He wasn't in Gambit and Wolverine's league, or even Domino's, but he had come out ahead so far.
Domino blinked and realized someone else was missing about the time Psylocke shadow-walked into the room with a bottle of aspirin in her hand. She handed it over with a sympathetic smile.
~Psi-links mean sharing your worse half's hangover,~ she pathed.
~Believe me, I'll make sure Nate pays for it,~ Domino answered.
"Well, what about them?" Cable demanded, nodding toward Gambit and Northstar. Gambit had a bottle of bourbon. Northstar had been experimenting with martinis the last two hours, drinking his failed efforts to create the perfect one. Cable's nod threatened to send him tumbling out of his chair.
"Gumbo can drink all night," Wolverine said. "Nice trick."
"Real nice, homme, 'cept when the painkillers and anesthetic don't work on ya right neither," Remy commented casually. "Ya got a big mouth."
Wolverine just raised his eyebrows. He took more damage than any other X-Man because his healing factor and unbreakable adamantium bones meant he could, but he felt the pain just the same. Painkillers or any other sort of drug got dealt with by his body just as summarily as damage. He didn't think about it a lot, but he felt it loud and clear.
He didn't know that Remy picked it all up just as loud and clear. Wolverine shielded his mind and thoughts just the way Xavier and Jean had taught him. The shields just didn't mean jackshit to an empath picking up emotion and sensation.
Remy didn't bother explaining. He'd never bothered telling anyone why he drank alcohol that didn't get him drunk either: it dulled his psi-talents better than any sedative available. Strong emotions still poked through even so.
He spent a lot of time tightening his shields against picking up anything from Wolverine. Especially in battle when an empathic link could be a fatal distraction. He didn't heal as fast as Wolverine — no one did — and he hadn't even when his powers were spiking past alpha into the omega levels. Tonight he'd spent keeping the charm reined in, trying not to catch any of his companions' emotions as they played.
He realized he had a headache and decided to call it quits for the evening. He glanced at his watch. Morning, rather. He wondered if Domino would spring for feeding them all breakfast. The pizzas they'd ordered in earlier were long gone.
He set his cards down face down and stretched, rolling his shoulders, then letting his head fall back. Without lifting his head or looking he pushed the cards away.
"It's just you and me, froggy," Wolverine told Northstar.
Cable tried one last time. "Why'n't you drunk as me?" he demanded of the French Canadian mutant.
"Perhaps because I didn't drink as much as you?" Northstar asked sarcastically.
"Nope," Cable contradicted. "You dunk-drunk more."
"Jean-Paul gets drunk," Wolverine explained, earning a glare from the other Canadian.
Remy chuckled at Northstar's muttered insult. Wolverine grinned toothily.
"He just gets drunk fast. Then he sobers up just as fast."
Emma strolled back in and sat at her place.
Wolverine pushed a stack of chips forward. "Raise."
Northstar sneered. "Check." He pushed forward an equal stack.
Domino dealt the flop. Wolverine kept grinning. Northstar looked disgusted and tossed in his cards.
"Fils de putain."
"Ya got a potty mouth there, Beaubier," Wolverine remarked as he raked in his chips.
Cable laid his head on his arms and began snoring.
Emma smiled at Domino and anted up. "Deal."
A sharp exclamation from Storm sent Remy and Wolverine into the kitchen at top speed. A whoosh of air marked Northstar's passage as he beat them all. Domino followed with a frown she shared with Psylocke and Emma as she heard Sam — Sam of all people! — begin cursing steadily.
She reached the doorway and paused there. Sam and Storm had the little TV she kept for listening to the stock market reports over coffee in the mornings on. Wolverine was muttering, Northstar was rolling his eyes, and Gambit caught her eye and just shook his head.
"I don't believe it," Storm said.
"What?" Domino demanded suspiciously.
"Americans," Northstar exclaimed with a very Gallic shift of his shoulders.
"They went and flamin' did it," Wolverine snarled. He shouldered past Domino and the telepaths.
"It was on the TV just now, ma'am," Sam explained.
"What?" she repeated.
"Special announcement, chere," Gambit said. "Creed's Registration Bill been passed by the House." He mimed spitting. "You got any champagne?"
Domino raised an eyebrow. Her mind clicked to something Wolverine had said about the thief almost a year before: he got drunk on champagne and nothing else. The incongruous request didn't mean he wanted to celebrate.
"Is this true?" Psylocke asked Storm.
"Yes," Storm replied. Rain began spattering against the windows. The localized shower indicated how upset Storm was. The glass rattled as a blast of wind hit. A bigger weather disturbance was forming. New York was about to suffer a dark day.
"Don't these things usually take longer?" Psylocke was a Briton and despite residing for years at the X-mansion, didn't follow US politics beyond mutant issues.
" Ouai," Gambit said.
He'd given up on champagne and begun a pot of coffee. Domino kept major supplies of coffee on hand since Cable didn't approach bearable in the morning until he had at least two cups in him. He moved gracefully around the white tile and stainless steel room, finding the coffee maker and filters without difficulty.
Domino glanced at the TV screen but it had reverted to an infomercial for thigh toners. She decided to let Gambit calm himself his own way — the coffee would ease some of Nate's bad temper when he came around. It wouldn't be surprising if Gambit knew that; for all his wily ways, Domino had noted him playing peacemaker among his fellows more than once.
"Come on, Sam," she said.
Except Storm, the others followed her into the living room.
Cable was still snoring at the card table, but Wisdom and Pryde were blinking at the TV screen. Wolverine had appropriated the remote and switched on an all news channel.
Northstar was mixing martinis again. Domino scooped one up and tasted it. Too much vermouth. She drank it anyway.
"… This is Trish Tilby reporting from Washington, DC."
The camera man had her on the steps of the House, white marble glowing in the intense lights. A red ticker on the bottom of the screen displayed the voting record of the members. Trish looked solemn but excited. This was big news.
"In a stunning development, the House of Representatives in continuous session has passed President Creed's Bill to create a Comprehensive Mutant Registration Act. This bill was expected to provoke several partisan fights among various representatives and linger in the House possibly for weeks. Its unprecedentedly swift passage bodes for an equally quick ratification in the Senate."
"Bloody hell," Pete commented. Kitty curled closer to him and he wrapped an arm about her narrow shoulders. "We're heading back to the bleedin' UK on the next flight. You're getting a different passport too, first thing, Pryde."
"The CMRA, which mandates registration with the federal government by anyone with the x-factor present in their genome, with severe legal penalties to be levied on those who refuse, has been condemned by the ACLU and mutant rights activists, including Professor Charles Xavier. The CMRA also provides for comprehensive testing of children entering school, anyone applying for a social security number, employed in the federal or state government, in the military and those receiving medical aid at hospitals. It proposes a plan to co-opt the Census Bureau as Genetic Testers in order to eventually catalogue the mutant population of the entire United States."
Wolverine growled in disgust.
"It's going to pass, ain't it?" Sam said.
"It's just the beginning, bub, just the beginning."
Gambit and Storm came in carrying coffee.
"What's next, a damned tattoo on our faces like Bishop?" Kitty asked.
Storm tried to reassure her. "Kitten, it will never come to that. People will come to their senses before President Creed can sign this horrible bill into law."
"I suppose these are the same people that elected that cretin in the first place?" Emma remarked.
Gambit perched on the arm of the couch next to Wisdom and sipped his coffee, listening to Trish Tilby natter on about the CMRA and Creed's campaign promises.
Storm drew herself up and glared at Emma. "That is unproductive. We will just have to work harder to achieve the Professor's dream. Once people understand that mutants are not evil or somehow contagious they will accept us instead of fearing and hating us."
"Remy — "
"Chere, you got no idea," he muttered.
Kitty was fingering her Star of David pendant. She looked at Storm.
"I don't believe it," she said quietly. "I don't believe the Professor's dream is ever going to work." Her expression was set.
Wolverine ran his hand through his hair.
"What else have we got to work for, punkin?"
She got up. "I'm not going back to London," she told Pete.
Pete's thin face blanched. "You ain't stayin' with these barmy gits, Pryde," he protested.
"No." She shook her head. "I'm going to Genosha."
"Genosha!" Storm exclaimed.
"Magneto needs people there," Kitty said seriously. "I'm going to join them."
"Kitten, you can't! You — "
Kitty ignored Storm and met Wolverine's eyes. "I know you hate him with good reason, Logan, but I think he's right. Normals will destroy us if they can. If we let them."
She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Pete — "
"Nothing to be sorry for, Pryde. You want to go to Genosha, we're going to Genosha. Never figured on workin' for the bloody buckethead, but he maybe has a point," Pete said quickly.
Kitty gave him a tight, small smile.
She looked around the others in the room. Domino followed her gaze, seeing what Kitty was seeing. Emma's expression gave nothing away, but Kitty's defection from Xavier probably touched the White Queen least; they weren't close. Storm looked horrified and unhappy with a shading of anger creeping into her eyes. Northstar obviously didn't care. Sam was just as obviously unhappy and biting his lip. Pete had already made his declaration. Gambit seemed distracted, but offered Kitty a slight smile and Wolverine just nodded, looking displeased but resigned.
"Kitty, Magneto's a terrorist," Storm declared, trying to dissuade Kitty one more time. "You can't join him. He's a — he's a madman."
"Dunno, chere," Gambit murmured. "Sometimes the buckethead makes sense."
"Remy, you're not helping, so shut up," Storm snapped.
Gambit sipped his coffee and winked at Kitty. She brought her hand up to hide her answering smile from Storm.
Pete glanced at his watch and said, "I need to make some calls."
Domino waved him toward her office. "Feel free."
Kitty stopped beside Wolverine and kissed his bristly cheek. He responded with a careful hug. "Don't burn any bridges, punkin," he said. He let go and stepped back and Kitty followed Pete out of the room.
"You're just letting her go?" Storm demanded of Wolverine.
"She's an adult, 'Ro."
"It's all that ratty little man's fault," Storm complained. "Kitty never expressed any doubts before she took up with him."
"Before the petite grew up, ya mean?" Gambit murmured. He came to his feet in a lithe move and headed for Domino's office too.
Domino guessed the thief would be making arrangements for under the radar contact with Wisdom and Pryde even after they reached Genosha. With a shrug for Wolverine, leaving him to deal with the sulky Storm and Sam's visible worry, Domino decided she needed to do the same and followed Gambit.
Cable was still passed out among the abandoned cards and chips on the card table, snoring quietly. She patted his head as she walked by.
"We cannot give up on the Dream, Logan!" Storm exclaimed stridently.
"We can't live in a dream world any longer either, Ororo," Psylocke pointed out in her cool, aristocratic tones.
"Miss Storm, the Professor's Dream ain't the only one," Sam said.
"Sam, you've spent too much time with Nathan."
"Kitty wasn't attacking the Dream, Storm," said the British telepath. "But the Professor's way isn't everyone's."
"I'm very disappointed in you, Elizabeth; you and Sam and Logan and Remy. I expect this sort of pessimism from Cable or Wisdom, but not you. We have to hold onto our beliefs," Storm insisted.
"I ain't sure I wouldn't rather be lumped in with Wisdom and Summers," Wolverine replied. He pulled a cigar from his pocket, sliced the end off with one claw, and lit it. "They know the score. So does Gumbo."
"This isn't a game, Logan, that we're playing to keep score on."
"Nope, darlin', it ain't. "
Psylocke's was the last comment Domino heard.
"It's hard not to hate and fear them back, 'Ro. It's hard to believe anything we've done has made a difference."