His blood dripped down the counter liked spilled milk. The puddle on the floor began to slither towards the toe of Gambit's boot. Gambit looked at the man sprawled over the counter, then down at the puddle. He stepped out of the way. The ice-pick in the side of Creed's neck had definitely slowed him down. The Cajun wasn't sure if the effects would be permanent. The man had come back from worse.
The Mansion should have been a mad-house at this hour of the morning. Instead, the place was eerily still. Storm's wind-chimes shifted on the back porch. The wind was picking up. A storm was blowing in. Gambit's senses were on full alert. He heard the whistling sigh of breath enter Sabretooth's lungs and snarled. "Damn y'. Stay dead!" He grabbed a gleaming knife from the rack above the stove and drove it between the back ribs, attempting to reach the heart. The flesh separated easily, and the breathing stopped again. Gambit glared at the slight tremble in his fingers. He had to go investigate the rest of the house.
He carefully avoided the blood on the white tile of the floor and moved silently into the main hall. He wiped the blood from his split lip away with the back of his gloved hand. He caught a glimpse of himself in the hall mirror the instant before the power shut off, the sneer on his face was every bit as feral as the man who lay semi-dead in the kitchen. He slid against the wall. The first lightening strike made him wince. He slid down the hall past the dining room to the family room. A jagged strike of lightening showed the completely untouched room. What was going on?
Rain splattered against the windowpane in endless sheets. Gambit reached out carefully with the edge of his charm. Yes, it was Stormy. He had to find her. He peered into the Professor's office. The light on the UPS flickered, then died. He found Xavier laying on the floor. The hoverchair shouldn't have stopped. It had its own generator. At least, that was how it had been explained to him. He knelt down by the older man and felt for a pulse. Xavier was alive. He was breathing. He was fairly well sheltered where he was, so Gambit pressed on.
Nothing in the library. Nothing in the parlor. He crept up the stairs, thankful for the nights spent memorizing their squeals. He was in the men's wing. He could hear tinny music from Bobby's room. He looked in. The walkman was playing, the sound was coming from the headphones. There was no trace of Bobby except a wet patch on the rug. It was cold to the touch. He checked the bathroom just in case. Still nothing.
The hall had creaks of its own and the building creaked under the pressure of the winds. He found Warren's room empty, which was not a great surprise. And there was nothing in his own room. He checked the rest of the rooms on the hall. All empty. His eyes were drawn by a flash of metal on the floor. He knelt down to look at it. It was a feather from Warren's wing. It could have fallen at any time, Gambit reminded himself firmly. He slithered into the women's area. He could smell magnolias, Rogue's room. It was empty, but all the bottles on her dresser were smashed. The mirror hung crookedly with a spiderweb of cracks across it. There was blood in the wells of the cracks. Someone had been thrown into it. The stuffed animals were savaged. Gambit swallowed back bile and forced his fears into his mental box. He wasn’t going to be any use if he panicked. He glanced into her pristine bathroom – nothing.
Down the hall and into Jubilee's room. He couldn't tell if it'd been ransacked or if it were the normal state of affairs. On to Betsy's room. There was a smear of blood on the wall, revealed by lightening. There was also a shard imbedded in the wall. Gambit bared his teeth in a smile worthy of Wolverine. Up the stairs to Ororo's loft. It was whipped with wind and water, but he didn't think she'd mind that.
He moved quickly down the hall to the ventilation shaft that he'd modified when he'd first arrived. It would give him access to everything. Down the shaft to the first floor. Down further to Hank's lab. The computer was off. The lab table upended. He caught a glimpse of blue fur and slid into the room. Hank was gone though. Out through the side door and towards the elevators. A small charge to disable the doors. Curled in a corner, a figure with long white hair. Around her was curled a similar figure with flame colored hair. "You heard me," Jean whispered. "I wasn't sure."
"Wasn't sure it weren't m' head playin' tricks. Stormy, Remy's here, chere. Ma petite chere. S'okay now, Stormy." Jean moved back to cover the hallway while Remy took Ororo into his arms. The underground part of the compound was running on emergency battery lights. Remy and Ororo would be able to see in the pitch blackness if they went out, but Jean had no such physical advantage. She put a hand on Remy's shoulder. "We got t' go now, petite. Charles needs us in his office. We go up and see him now, oui?"
Storm nodded into her brother's shoulder. He got her to her feet and helped her out into the hallway. Remy tapped his temple. Jean shook her head. She hadn't been able to reach anyone. It was as if the entire team had simply vanished. She suppressed a shiver as they accessed the emergency tunnels and climbed up the small winding staircase to the professor's office. Jean scanned the room. She only felt Charles, but that didn't mean anything. She hadn't felt the intruders either. Remy peered out through the tiny peephole between The Psychology of the Mutant Mind and Mutant Threat. There was nothing to see. They entered the room. Storm had calmed and with her the winds. The storm outside, however, continued.
Jean hurried to the professor's side. She took his pulse and checked his eyes. She reached for his mind. //Charles?//
//Jean?. . . What's happened?//
//Will you open your eyes for me? We'll explain.//
Charles blinked awake. He focused finally on Jean's face. "Jean?" He reached to caress her cheek fondly. She was one of his favorite students. More if he would simply admit it to himself. He reached for his son's mind as a simple reassurance. His eyes widened when he couldn't reach him. "Help me up."
"Gambit," Jean said quietly. Remy set the chair upright and then lifted the professor into it. He understood Jean's reluctance to use her powers. They hadn't done her much good today. She was pale and slightly shaky to his eyes. Xavier rested his hand on Gambit's arm. It was reassuring to touch. The lightening flickered once again and all eyes turned to Storm. She was herself once more on the surface, but the storm still raged outside.
"Once started, a storm of such fury must end itself."
Gambit's head jerked towards the door. His lip curled up into a snarl. He knew the tread in the hallway. Creed lounged against the doorframe. He flipped the knife end over end in a maddeningly careless way. "Hey, punk. Ya did pretty good fer a soft, little house-pet. Still, I got a contract to finish, so come here."
"Gambit," the professor said sharply, slapping a mental restraint on the young man -- a feat he could only accomplish while touching him. The Cajun turned furiously burning eyes on him. "He can do us no harm in here. He's not real."
"Sure felt real earlier," Gambit snarled.
"But he is not real. He's nothing but an hallucination to draw you away from us."
Gambit's charm lashed out, seeking Creed's familiar lust tinged mind, but found nothing. Xavier's brows rose. "Don' say it," Gambit warned. "Now get out of m' head, M."
"I think it best that I remain for a while longer."
"Y' givin' m' a headache, cher."
"You know who has attacked us."
"Sabretoot' f' certain. Riptide, I t'ink I found part of. F' the rest, I ain't too sure. But this ain't the Marauders. It can't be. Even if'n they did take folks. An' ain't none of them that could make a Chat that good wit' their head."
Jean found herself holding Gambit's other arm. //Let me handle him.//
Xavier gave her a mental nod and removed the telepathic leash he'd placed on the volatile thief. Jean's touch was softer, kinder, but no less harsh. Gambit frowned at her, angry and a little hurt at her tactics. "I ain't some chien t' be put on a leash," he snapped. He shook his head. "Get out."
"If'n I was goin' t' do somet'in' I'd already've done it!" In his desperation to be free from Jean's restraint, he tried to charm her.
"Gambit, Remy," the professor stated, "this is as much for your protection as ours. You are susceptible to whatever mind-games are being played here; let us help you to see through them." He stroked down the young man's arm, heedless at the strange look it garnered from Jean.
"I ain't got proof that this ain't one of y' mind-fuck's, Charles. I want both of y' out of m' head." Gambit slammed up his shields. Jean stumbled back. Xavier frowned. The Cajun in one instant had gone from an almost astral-ghost to completely missing from the astral. He could do nothing to him now. Remy had caught Jean and eased her down into the visitor's chair. He held her cold hands. "We get him back, chere. We find him. Don' worry y' pretty head over that," he whispered. "An' don' y' go worryin' 'bout ole Gambit. He can do fine hisself."
"Gambit." Charles' voice was hard. Remy glared at him. "Who do you think did this if not the Marauders?"
"Creed been on contract t' lots of folks. Even y'."
"Granted. Who do you think did this?"
"How do you know?" The question was sharper now.
"Because he wouldn' have left m' here and he wouldn' have left Jeannie here neither. Don' matter how many it took t' get us."
"Really? How do you know?"
Remy's lips compressed. He chafed Jean's hands gently, not answering. Her eyes were teared up. "Please, tell me," she whispered. "I need to know."
"Because I was his once an' he don' give up on folks easy. An' he'd want a breedin' pair. Y' and Scott."
"What do you mean 'his'?" Xavier pressed.
"He had m' in his labs f' a spell. One of his prized lab rats. Special cage side view of his work when I don' behave." Remy shrugged as if it weren't anything important.
"And he let you go?"
"Non, 'course not. Fulfilled m' contract an' ran away. Ain't looked back 'cept t' make sure he ain't there. He wouldn't set Creed on m' neither. He knows we don' get along. I know, why don' y' let m' get Creed from the kitchen an' we talk t' him some."
"Won't work, punk. I'm already here." And he truly was this time, blood drying on his clothes. Some of it was from the split in Gambit's lip and the mostly staunched cut on his arm. Creed stalked into the room. "And I don't know who I'm workin' for." Creed shrugged. "He, she, it uses a gopher. Come on, little boy, we got somethin' to settle."
Gambit was reassured by the familiar lust, whether for blood or sex depended on the day, in Creed's eyes.
"There will be no fighting in this room," Charles stated.
Sabretooth snorted. He crooked a finger at the Cajun and Gambit was about ready to go to him, when he felt Jean's hands on his arm. There was a quiet desperation in her eyes. He patted her hands in absent comfort. "S'all gonna be fine, chere."
"I ain't got all day, boy, so get your scrawny ass out there."
Remy cocked his head to the side. "Why out there? Why not here?"
"Xavier don't want us fightin' in his office, I'll oblige him. The kitchen did pretty good before. Let's try the hall."
"Y' callin' m' out f' a duel or somet'in'? This ain't like y', Chat."
"Maybe I've mellowed."
Remy laughed at that. It was a sharp, harsh bark. "Y' want m' t' buy that piece of shit as an answer? What is goin' on!"
"Yer comin' with me, boy, and I don't care how. Ya can walk or I can carry ya."
"Because that's part of the contract."
"Where are y' deliverin' then?"
"Ya sure ask a lot of questions, punk." Creed was toe to toe with the thief, forcing him to look up. He ran the back of his hand over the young man's cheek. It was just short of affectionate. Their eyes were locked in a strange contest. The hand moved gently, teasingly down and forward until it lifted Gambit's chin, positioning him for an incredibly delicate kiss. Jean's jaw dropped. "We got business that ya don't want done here. Come on, boy."
"Who's the gopher?" Remy asked. His lips were brushed against Victor's in an intimate question.
"Different each time."
"So how do y' know y' gonna get paid?"
Creed shrugged. "Don't matter to me any more'n it would to you."
"Mais, it matters a hell of a lot t' this boy."
Creed kissed him again. "Ya can walk or I can carry ya, yer choice." He leaned in close, rubbing cheek against cheek, the marking motion of a cat. "Trust me," he whispered.
"Never," Remy replied. His eyes were half-closed. Suddenly, Professor X and the Phoenix slammed a cage over his ability to act and he was frozen. Creed growled low.
"Let him go," he said coldly. "Boy ain't yers any more'n he's mine. He belongs to someone else and he's worth three mil."
"That's all?" Remy snapped. "Christ y're cheap. I'm worth ten mil t' m' wife."
Creed blinked. "What?"
"I'm worth ten mil t' m' wife's family. They want m' in the city so they can hunt m'. An' I know there's at least two more contracts out on m'. Shit, y' kill me y' can get payment from half a dozen folks."
Creed shook his head as if to clear it. "Let him go," he said more firmly. "It ain't gonna hurt him to make his own decisions."
"Where are my people?"
Sabretooth blinked. "I'm only here for the kid."
Gambit smiled. "Let m' go, Charles," he purred. "Jus' let m' go an' maybe we get some more information."
"I will not let you leave the room with him, do you understand?"
"Oui." Xavier released his hold on the Cajun. Gambit scowled at him. "Y' ever do that again, Charles," he purred, "don' ever let go 'cuz soon as y' do, I'll kill y'."
The professor stared into the red and black eyes, for the first time Gambit could sense his fear. "I understand your dislike of being under my control, but I will do what I feel I must to ensure your safety. As one of my students you are my responsibility."
"I ain't one of y'r pets, Charles, I just spendin' some time here. Don' forget that."
Creed stroked through the Cajun's bangs with gentle fingers. Gambit turned into the touch automatically. Creed laughed at Xavier's outrage. "They don't think yer capable of makin' decisions, eh?"
Gambit shrugged. "Ah, Chat, they don' know me much here at all. But I ain't goin' wit' y' less'n we find the rest of the team before I go."
Sabretooth considered. "If I help ya, you'll come without fightin'?"
Remy nodded. "Oui. Dey say why they want m'?"
"I think it's business." Creed shrugged. "I didn't ask. I ain't a nosy parker."
Remy snorted. "Always done asked b'fore."
Creed smirked. "Then maybe I just ain't planning to give ya a straight answer." Creed's large palm massaged the back of the thief's neck. Jean's lip curled at the subtle intimacy.
"So the story you told Rogue about Paris?" she asked Creed.
Sabretooth smirked at her. "Shit, woman, why the fuck would I tell Ray's daughter anything? Boy was mine before he was hers. No matter how I fight with him."
Gambit tried to turn out of the grip and it tightened. He scowled up at the larger man. "Non, cher, y' let go. I ain't a kitling t' be scruffed."
"Ya ain't?" Victor smirked. He kissed the Cajun deliberately and firmly. He didn't stop until he'd once again cataloged every flavor in the young man's mouth. "But yer still mine," he growled into Remy's ear. "I'll kiss ya when I want, I'll touch ya when I want. And yer not gonna say shitall about it."
Gambit's nostrils flared in irritation. His eyes flashed. "I ain't a toy, Creed. Remember that. I'll still fry y'r balls if'n y' piss m' off."
Creed smirked. He kissed the thief again, just to see the outrage of the people in the room. He laughed. "Christ, kid, yer in the wrong place. Look at them."
"Chat." Gambit's voice held a warning tone. His lips were swollen slightly from the kissing. Creed's hand was still on the back of Remy's neck. "Now, what can y' tell m' 'bout what happened, Jeannie?"
Jean blinked at the two of them. Her mind didn't want to make the connections that were there in front of her face. This was Gambit's on the side lover? This was the person he slipped out of the mansion to see? It couldn't be. I just could not be. His wife would kill him. Logan would smell it. She froze. "Logan would know?" she said at last.
Creed's hand dropped away. Remy's face was sorrowful. "Was he here? I didn' find no signs of him fightin'? Could he be in the woods? Not knowin' what's goin' on? Can y' reach him? Be back in a flash, chers." Remy darted out of the room. Creed debated, then let him go alone. He was starting to get a nasty sensation in the pit of his stomach. He growled low in his throat. He would make someone pay for hurting his thief like this. And if Wolverine was dead, they'd pay for that too. No one else got to touch them. No one.
Xavier blinked in surprise. Remy returned a moment later, cradling a broken sword. "Mes amis, he's gone. Look what they done t' his sword." Remy set the precious katana on the Oriental rug. The sheath was cracked from end to end and the actual blade was broken in half. He wondered who would do such a thing to such a precious creation. Remy stroked the broken blade, tears misting his vision only to be burned away by rage. "Dis sword was over a hundred years ole. Dis was done t' hurt him. This is a vendetta, not a raid."
Jean stared. "What do you mean?"
"They took a team. Not all of us. They didn' trash the place. Call t' England, check on Kitty. They took Cyclops, Rogue, Psylocke, Beast, an' Wolverine. Ain't got no sign of Iceman or Angel neither."
Jean scanned. "Angel is in the City. Bobby's missing like the rest of them."
"They didn' take le professeur. An' they didn' come after m' or y' or Stormy. Must've been a team action."
"If I were Cyclops I'd be able to tell you exactly what mission it was," Storm said sadly. "Unfortunately, we'll have to rely on the computer records."
"Power's cut, chere," Remy said absently. "They took it down completely. Not even m' scanners are workin' in my room."
"Why would they?" Jean asked. "Battery?"
"Non, I wired them int' the back up generator. Don't make much difference t' the draw. Y' cut it, Chat?"
"Nope. Figured the storm knocked it out before I got here."