Oath, it's cold. Colder than the Canaanite palace. Flonq, colder than the palace food storehouse.
The woman stirred. Opening her eyes, she could see that she was sprawled, rather indelicately, atop a snowbank. It was enough to make her laugh out loud.
So that's what the stuff looks like. She struggled to her feet, her balance slightly off. I know it's natural for this time and place, but I still feel like I'm sitting in dessert.
The mental image of running around in a giant bowl of piyar, avoiding the berry syrup drooling down mounds of frozen spiced cream and dodging a steady rain of chopped nuts, sent her giggling anew and she had to sit down again.
So much for the vaunted Askani self-composure. A frown and then a deep breath and she was all business again. Time-ripping always had made her a little lightheaded.
Looking around, all she could see was white. As beautiful and exotic as it was, however, it did not lend itself to deciding in which direction she should go. She had been told that she would be arriving near one of the X-Men, but a quick glance around indicated that nobody at all was nearby.
If in doubt, meditate, she thought to herself as she sat back down on the snow in meditation pose. Focusing her thoughts inward, she stopped being aware of her corporeal self at all.
The astral plane in this time was much more colorful than the one she was used to, much more vibrant. In her own time, so much death and destruction had cast a dark pall over the plane itself, as if it were shrouded in shadow. Here, now, the shadow was gone and the colors were almost unspeakably bright and beautiful.
Her own aura, by nature the blue of the midnight sky, was a much more brilliant hue. As if it had been a cloudy night and the winds had come to clear the way for the moon, she mused before stopping herself. Concentrate, Mirrin. You don't have the time.
She felt her astral form take flight over the sea of color, shields in place to make sure she was neither disturbed nor detected. But search as she did, she did not find what she was looking for. You didn't expect him to be just sitting around and waiting for you, now did you?
After a time, the duration of which she would not hazard to guess, Mirrin's flight over the astral plane was suddenly rocked by a strong breeze. What the... Turning over her shoulder, she could see a dark shadow approach over the horizon.
It's the shadow from there-and-then, she realized. But it's just starting out here-and-now. Transfixed, she watched as a finger of darkness moved closer, experimentally, only to be met by a pink flash and sent back to where the rest of the darkness lay lurking on the horizon. Another finger, broader than the first, edged forward a distance from the site of the first battle. It, too, was thrown back. But the light that met it was not pink, but instead a brilliant gold.
There you are!
Slowly, she turned herself so that she could fly in that direction. But she had not gotten very far when she suddenly shivered. All of a sudden, the astral plane disappeared and Mirrin found herself again sprawled on a snowbank.
But now instead of brilliant sunshine reflecting off the white, Mirrin could see only the last pink rays of dusk. And as a strong breeze picked up, she realized that the reason she had shivered on the astral plane was because she was freezing to death on the temporal one.
Great fore-thinking, you flonqing idiot, she thought furiously as she brushed the snow out of her hair. You were so confident that you could find Nathan and have him lead you to him that you didn't even come up with a contingency plan in case you didn't. Overconfidence had always been her weakness.
"Preparation is the key to survival," she spoke aloud, mimicking the voice of her first preceptor and ruing that she had forgotten that simple lesson. "Instinct is neither inherited nor inherent. It must be cultured and cultivated like a sapling so that it may grow strong as a tree. Only then will it provide shelter from the storm."
Mirrin pulled her cloak around her shoulders more tightly, but knew it was not going to do much good. Askani robes were meant for the desert-like conditions of there-and-then, and even then additional garments were needed for the coolness of night. Would it have hurt, Mother Askani, to have warned me to dress for the mission?
She wasn't expecting an answer and was not disappointed when she didn't get one. Wise superiors, much like Oracles, tended to keep silent when their chosen vehicles were besieged by the petty details of grand plans. She muttered and smiled mirthlessly. 'Generals do not care about the mud in foxholes,' I think is the way that would translate here-and-now.
Another shiver ripped through her body and Mirrin hopped up and down to rid herself of it. Not enough to sweat, silly girl, she chided.
I don't have the strength to go back to the astral plane and track down Nathan, she mused. But perhaps I have enough to find the nearest living being. Man or beast, it would mean warmth and food and shelter of some sort.
Closing her eyes, she reached out with her telepathy once more, staying within the temporal realm as she spread her thoughts out even further than before, working like a bat testing for echo. It took only a few moments before she got her first 'ping.' Teleporting in his - she could tell it was human and male - direction as soon as she figured out where he was, Mirrin let out a flood of the Askani battle language's most colorful curses as she stood over her 'savior,' a man huddled in a ball, completely inappropriately dressed for the environment and thus shivering in the snow.
Just my flonqing luck. I thought the story of the fool who uses a kilap leaf to shield himself from acid rain was only a fable.
It may not be part of the mission, but she couldn't just leave him there to die. Not when the whole reason she had come back was to prevent death. Reaching into his mind to pick out the man's native language, Mirrin was surprised to see the foundations of some rather substantial mental shields. They were down now, the fellow's energies being needed for survival, but she could see that they would be quite formidable when they were active.
She could also see that he was indeed the follower of Xavier she had been sent to meet. She knew his story, more or less, and knew who he could become in one of several possible futures.
#Hola?# She asked gently in his mind and then reeled backwards as her presence was slammed by the reactivated shields. "Un amie," she gasped, her arm extended in a defensive posture as she looked up at the man who now stood above her, red-and-black eyes blazing. "Je suis un amie!"
"Je ne l'ai aucun," Gambit spat back, anger and grief giving him strength, although his voice was hoarse from exposure to the elements. "So who are you, then?"
"Someone who needs your help," Mirrin breathed out.
"Can't help no one anymore," he said as he half-shrugged, half-sagged. "'Specially out 'ere. Not unless you jus' wanted to make sure you didn't die alone."
Mirrin smiled a wolf-smile. "Wrong, ami."
"Hein?" He sat (collapsed) next to her on the ground.
"Think of the mansion," she told him. "Et nous serons là."
"An' who says I want to be there?" Gambit asked with a raised eyebrow.
But he didn't get a chance to say anything more aloud. Mirrin had caught enough of a glimpse of his memories when she had mentioned Xavier's estate. She took a firm grasp of his arms and closed her eyes to concentrate. When he opened his mouth to protest, all that came out was a soundless scream as the world suddenly blurred around him.
Remy opened his eyes slowly. They were in the mansion's living room and his mysterious companion was collapsing onto a nearby couch. Looking around to see if anyone had seen them, he noticed that the lights were off and the place was silent. He also noticed that there was no stink of brimstone and sulfur, the tell-tale marks of Nightcrawler's teleportations. Of course, Kurt would have killed us both had he tried to 'port from Antarctica.
"Nous sommes ici? Do you know where we are?" his companion asked in a harsh whisper. Her accent was off in both the French and English, not that he understood why she was mimicking his own patois.
He nodded. "There's nobody home, or nobody awake," he whispered back. He had no idea what time it was here in Westchester. Looking around for the grandfather clock that should have been against the wall, he found nothing. Looking around more closely, he could see that the place looked different, as if it had been ransacked. "Or nobody alive."
The woman furrowed her brow and concentrated. "There are some others present," she said after a pause. "But a reunion can wait until later. After we have found sustenance and warm clothes. Are you wounded?"
Only in the heart and soul, Remy thought to himself. Coming back here hurt more than he thought it would, not that he ever thought he'd be returning. But he shook his head no, since none of his personal pain was the business of this stranger. Who gave him a skeptical look as if she were party to his thoughts anyway, but she only nodded and said nothing.
"C'mon," he said. "Let's get out of the living room before anyone finds us."
He was used to sneaking around the mansion, usually when he'd come home late after an evening in town and not want to disturb sleeping teammates. As such, the combination of his thief's skills and his familiarity with the mansion had given rise to the ability to get from the door to his room without making a sound.
But now, now he didn't feel like a kid sneaking past his parents after curfew, the way he used to as he would creep by Jean and Scott's bedroom door. Now he felt like a thief skulking through someone else's home, an unwanted and unexpected visitor looking for precious things to take. Instead of the thrill of getting away with breaking house rules (not that there were any, it was more that if Summers didn't know when you had gotten in, he couldn't use it against you in the Danger Room), all he felt was the acute despair of seeing all that he had lost. Shoe's on the other foot, hmm, Remy?
He turned around to see where the woman was and nearly bumped into her. That was another point of discomfort - who was she? His instincts told him that she meant no harm, but his instincts had been half-frozen (like the rest of him had been) when she had appeared. Sinister himself probably would have looked harmless had he been carrying a warm coat.
Sinister. What if she was one of Sinister's minion, sent to him as a Trojan horse to bring into the mansion and destroy it from within? Gambit fought back the bile rising in his throat has he suddenly wondered if he hadn't just betrayed the X-Men (again) through his own naïveté and selfishness.
#Your self-flagellation is completely unnecessary,# he heard dimly in his head. She was speaking to him telepathically, but she was doing so in a fashion that kept her at a distance from his mental shields. #I apologize for adding to your already considerable worries. I am not here to hurt, but to help. And you may call me Askani.#
He nodded quickly - this was neither time nor place to carry out this discussion - and turned back forward and went up the stairs slowly praying that nobody was walking around on the second floor. Nobody was.
The door to the room that had once been his was locked and he bit back a curse. He had no tools on him - anything he had been carrying had been kinetically charged for warmth back in the Antarctic. Looking over at the table underneath the mirror across from Drake's room, he remembered that there should be at least a screwdriver in the top drawer. Even better, there were three bobby pins and a pen, the table and drawers functioning as a catch-all storing place for anything that was found on the floor nearby. Idly, he noticed that the emerald earring for which Rogue had nearly turned the house inside out while searching was there as well.
Once through the doors, he nearly tripped on boxes that had been stacked near the entryway. The room was obviously being used for storage, a fact that amused him in a perverse way. He turned around at the sound of the door closing gently.
"They are not anticipating your return anytime soon," Askani observed dryly.
"They left me to die," he replied with an indifference he did not feel. "Should feel lucky they didn't put someone else in 'ere."
Askani shook her head in either disappointment or sadness and picked up the heavy blanket folded at the foot of the bed, wrapping it tightly around herself.
Remy knew that the room was comfortably warm, but he was still so cold, although not so cold that the damp press of his clothes wasn't starting to feel very uncomfortable. He crossed over to the chest of drawers and found that he clothes were still in the drawers -- Jean hadn't been through to toss everything into a bag for Goodwill yet, apparently. He pulled out a complete change of clothes for himself, dropping the items on the box next to him, and then did a second pass to find something that Askani could wear. He settled on a pair of sweats, a tee shirt, and a pair of socks, piling them up in one hand before holding them out to her.
"Here," he said, gesturing that she should accept the pile. "Until yours dry,"
She took the clothes with a nod, but she didn't move as if to stand or change. Instead, she ran her hands over the material, as if cotton were some kind of exotic silk she'd heard about but never seen before.
He went back to his own pile and proceeded to strip off his wet uniform without ceremony. He kept his back turned to give some polite fiction of privacy should she require it, but the fact was that he could see her reflection in the mirror across the room.
His skin was cold and clammy and his fingers were stiff as he buttoned the fly on his jeans. He barely felt the bite of his boot laces as he pulled them tight. By the time he stood up again, Askani was changed. In civvies, she looked like a college student and not nearly as powerful as she clearly was.
"D'you want to risk the kitchen?" he asked. He'd stopped being hungry long ago, but he was aware of the effects of hunger. The inability to get warm, the clumsiness, and the lightheadedness were as much about not remembering when his last meal was as exposure.
"No risk," she answered, wiggling her fingers around her head to indicate telepathy. "We can go unnoticed."
"Telepaths 'round here," he said with a frown. "They won't notice you messing wit' there heads?"
Askani smiled mirthlessly. "No."
"Well, let's go see what's in the fridge, hein?" Remy matched her cold smile. Now that the worst of the shock was past, he was feeling less guilt-wracked and more angry, as if anger could warm him from within. They'd left him to die.
The pair went out into the hallway and were almost to the stairs when Bobby Drake opened his door and walked into the hall. Remy froze and looked at Askani, who indicated that they should flatten themselves against the wall. Sure enough, Bobby never acknowledged their presence as he walked by and then proceeded down the stairs as if he were alone. Remi looked questioningly at Askani and she shrugged lightly.
#He sees us,# she spoke in his head. #He just doesn't realize it.#
Remy nodded - he'd seen enough head games over the years - and continued down the stairs. Thankfully, Drake hadn't turned right to go towards the kitchen, instead heading left in the general direction of rooms that functioned as an entertainment centers.
Judging by the state of the kitchen, it was between lunchtime and dinner. The dishwasher was running and a large stockpot was on the stove. Looking inside, Gambit saw chicken noodle soup cooling - it was obviously Joseph's turn to cook. Opening up the refrigerator confirmed it - there were the remains of the potato casserole Joseph invariably made when cooking for a full house.
Searching through the cabinets, Askani had found two large mugs on the counter and scooped soup directly from the pot with them as Gambit cut two large slices out of the casserole. They drank the still-warm soup greedily, not bothering to heat it up further.
#Careful,# she warned. #Your stomach has grown accustomed to being empty.#
Remy nodded reluctantly - he'd gotten close to starving enough times before and knew the complications. He ate his piece of the casserole carefully, wrapping most of it up in plastic to be eaten later.
The went back up to Remy's room then, not wanting to risk any further chance meetings and he turned to his partner in crime as soon as the door was closed. "Now what?"
"Maintenant, we depart and you shall make your own entrance," she answered.
Remy just stared at her. "You 'xpect me to walk 'round the block and then just come back and ring the doorbell and say 'Gambit's home!'?"
Askani looked like she was baffled by the question. "I expect you to go further than that, mais pourquoi pas?"
Remy shook his head. "Where're you gonna be?"
"And how'm I supposed to explain how I got back from Antarctica?"
Askani smiled and said something not in English, French, or her peculiar attempt to marry the two. Remy waited until she translated. "Creativity is the heir of necessity. Mendacity is the bastard pretender to the throne."
"That's Askani philosophy?" He wrenched an eyebrow.
"Of a sort." She smiled fleetingly, then sobered. "'There is a middle path between veracity and falsehood and the wise know when that is the most direct route to the goal' is the more official doctrine. Without claiming to be wise, I suggest that be the road we choose."
Not an unfamiliar concept, Remy agreed, but not exactly useful to him right now. The X-Men, who famously did not kill, had pronounced a death sentence upon him. They would not necessarily be surprised to see him alive. But that was very different from seeing him on the front stoop and not using their combined abilities to make him wish he were still shivering in a snowbank.
"Not telling the truth is exactly how I ended up in the Antarctic in the first place," he pointed out, mostly to see what she'd say. Fed and clothed and warmed and saved from imminent death, he could shift his focus from simple survival to looking beyond himself. The X-Men may have wanted him dead, but he didn't want the same. He'd nearly destroyed the X-Men once before and in circumstances very close to this one. He wouldn't do it again.
"You can tell them if you'd like," Mirrin replied with a shrug. "That you got rescued by a benevolent individual."
He felt anger flare at the thought that he'd been chosen entirely because he'd done this before. "I want to know 'xactly what you are hoping to make me do. Now. And if I don't like it, you might as well dump me back in the snowbank. I won't betray the X-Men again. Especially for someone I don't know and who could be working for an enemy."
Askani spit out something in her native tongue. "Stab your eyes, you flonqing idiot, they betrayed you," she said in English. "In my own here-and-now, acceptance into a clan means automatic acceptance of past sins. Your life begins anew when you swear loyalty and you are never judged on what transpired beforehand."
"Je le comprends," Remy looked down as he answered. "But I didn't come here ready to confess or ready to swear I'd done no wrong. I didn't give them all the information before they had to choose."
She shook her head violently.
"What is, is. There is but one past and many futures, so those who refuse to trade the one for the many deserve the destruction that they bring down upon themselves," she said. "But we are not here to sit in judgment of philosophy."
Good, because he'd never really understood most of what Cable and his minions had said.
"You were gonna tell me 'bout what you want me to do in return for you rescuin' me," he prompted instead.
She nodded and pulled the medallion out from under her clothes. "As I said before, you may call me Askani. You obviously know what that means. I come from Cable's time. I need to keep an eye on the Askani'Son and I want you to help me."
"You work for Rachel?" she nodded and Remy looked flatly at her. "You want me to spy."
"Plus ou moins," she agreed mildly.
"Why don't you do it yourself? Why me?"
The sister laughed bitterly. "For someone who can act so similarly to him, you don't know Cable very well, do you? If I tell him that his life is at risk, he'll laugh at me. If I tell him not to do something because it's going to get him killed, he'll try it before I can turn my back. Nathan is a very large, very strong three-year-old. Don't let the plasma rifle fool you. It's his baby blanket."
"So you want me to brave the plasma rifle and tell him not to do whatever it is you don't want him to do?" Remy didn't bother to hide his skepticism.
"No, I don't want anyone telling him what he should or should not be doing," she replied emphatically. "He has enough people in his life doing that. I just want to make sure he doesn't get any unusually bad ideas on his own. I may need you to run a few errands to make sure that he doesn't."
Remy chuckled bitterly. "I knew there was a catch."
"I'm not going to ask you to endanger yourself," the Askani assured. "At least not yet. I can assure you that you'll be better off here than in Antarctica."
She wasn't offering any comfort and Remy wasn't taking any. His rescue came with a price and he knew he'd have to pay it, at least until it became clear that it was no longer in anyone's interest but hers.
"Which brings us back to the original question: how do I just show up on the doorstep?"
Askani looked unbothered.
"As I said, you are a thief and thieves always carry around a spare set of truths. You'll figure it out. I would take you to your home town and let you come back on your own, but we don't have the time."
What she was leaving out was whether he actually wanted to come back here. Forget even whether they'd have him.
"Where will you be? How will I contact you?"
"Around. And I'll contact you." She sat up with a noise in the hallway. "Someone out there senses something...There's someone sniffing outside the door."
Remy paused and listened. There were faint, very faint, noises of motion but no knocking. "The Wolverine."
Askani cursed in her own language. #Are you ready to leave?#
#I need a mental picture of someplace near here where we won't be noticed appearing.# She looked out the window. #Can you picture the corner of the grounds?#
Before Remy could reply, he felt the world shimmer once more.