The doorbell rang through the halls of the Xavier Institute. It was the peels of the Westminster Chapel once again, not "Dixie" as it had been for the past two weeks. Remy made a face at the bells, but he'd gotten Scott to back down on the idea of integrating the doorbell into the main communicator system, so it was only right to change them back. Xavier had steepled his fingers and simply observed the two of them over dinner for a long moment the first day and decided not to interfere. He remained on the couch with his book though. He was not on door duty today.

"Scramble," he heard over the intercom. He simply rolled out of the sofa and strolled into the main hall. Jubilee was standing with her back against the door. Her eyes were wide with shock. "Gumbo," she breathed, "I was hoping for armor?" She was in jeans and a tee-shirt that dropped off of her shoulder. He peered out the peep-hole. He closed his eyes and let his head thump once against the door.

"Y' just move on up the stairs and stay out the way, petite," he told her. "Man like this comes t' the front door's here on business." He pulled open the door, very aware of his torn jeans and thin shirt.

Sinister frowned discontentedly at the thief after looking him up and down. "LeBeau," he greeted evenly.

"Essex."

"Pour the tea, we've much to discuss, old son."

Remy's eyes narrowed. "Merde," he muttered. "Come on t'rough t' the parlor. I'll get the tea. On y'r parole?"

"Yes, of course. I offer my parole." They shook briefly.

The parlor was as Victorian a set piece as it sounded. There were antique chiars and side tables surrounded with rose silk wall paper and mahogany paneling. The marble fireplace was viable for heating in the winter with real wood. Above the fireplace was one of Xavier's forefathers, head as shiny as his grandson's, and nose just as proud. His eyes were fierce and he had a sword at his waist – the opposite of Xavier's peaceful preaching. Smaller watercolors and oils hung around the room and a delicate oil lamp sat in the corner near the harpsichord. These were the few things that Xavier had managed to save from the rambunctiousness of the teens he'd house and the enemies that had nearly leveled the mansion. Essex settled in one of the chairs by the card table. Remy opened it before heading for the kitchen.

Summers settled into step with him. "Trouble?"

"Gave m' his parole. He ain't here to cause the sort of trouble y'r thinkin'. At least it don't seem so. Y' let m' talk t' him for a spell and we regroup? Get Jeannie out of the line of fire." Jean was two months pregnant, but after two miscarriages they weren't letting her take any chances.

"Logan's with her. I'm sending Jubilee to her too."

Remy nodded. He started the kettle going while he dragged out the good silver and two china tea cups. Scott leaned against the counter. "Should I polish the silver?" he said mildly. "You seem to be going for impressive."

"Non, merci. It's good enough that I pullt out Xavier's silver. Implies trust."

Scott cocked his head to the side. "Of whom?"

"Xavier trustin' me wit' his family silver and me trustin' Essex's word 'bout his parole."

"I never got the impression you were from money."

"I ain't. Jean-Luc took m' in and I was trained up t' deal wit' folks who was. Got money, oui, but not born t' it." Remy frowned. "But Jean-Luc, he's old and Tante is older still. And they decided ole Remy should learn proper manners. Usin' cream colored stationary instead of white when it's personal. Essex taught me t' make tea. His type of manners, non? T' learn how t' control m' charge." Remy waved a hand. "Had t' relearn fine motor skills an' all after ole Remy dropped a building on hisself. Essex, he an Englishman t'rough and t'rough."

Scott hopped up onto the counter and crossed his arms. "He's different when he's trying to play human?"

"Non, not at all. Just got different color skin and better dress sense. T'ough brown suits, meh." Remy tested the temperature of the water and set the tea steeping. He poured milk into the creamer and added the sugar cubes from the top shelf into the bowl. Jubilee didn't know they were up there and she was too short to see them. It was the only way they'd survived.

"So what color would you put him in?"

Remy's head snapped toward Scott. "Did y' just ask m' about fashion? Does that mean y' gonna break down an' let me and Jubilee do over y'r wardrobe?"

"No, but I'm morbidly curious about this... housewife routine you've got going on."

"Blue suit with a pale blue shirt and a dark tie. Mebbe that red he likes so much. He got molasses colored eyes when he's in human form. T'ree piece suit too. An' nice black shoes with points and shiny leather. Handkerchief t' match the tie in his pocket. Black leather gloves and a cane."

"You've thought about this?"

"Hospitality of his lab was lackin'." Remy picked up the tray. "Had t' do somethin' t' pass the time."

****

Sinister took the liberty of arranging the doily for the tray that should come. He set the papers he wished to review with his pet thief on top. He studied the security array that his tablet indicated. They'd moved a few people out of the house to a more defensible position. That was sound strategy. He made a note to properly chip Scott for closer watching. His older methods were failing. Gambit had chosen the setting of the parlor to control the parameters.

Tea in the parlor to keep the relationship formal. No doubt the young man was defensive and would be twitching for at least half an hour. After that, he would relax and their normal relationship should override the lingering displeasure. The boy had always been over-emotional. Remy set the good silver on the table and poured two cups of tea. He'd done it properly and to suit Essex's tastes. Very well, they were on proper formal ground then.

LeBeau sat straight in his chair, looking proper despite the childish clothing. He was clearly playing the country fool to twit someone in the house; whom was still up for debate. "Review these first and then we'll discuss business." He passed over two folders. "Is Belle well?"

"Oui, M. Essex." Remy's smile was half-cocked. "She finally gettin' her memory back from Rogue's attack. Should be back t' trying f' my head in no time."

Essex considered. "You two are of an age when you should already have children," he commented idly.

"Y' bring up needin' grand-children and I'm sendin' y' straight out the house, see if I don't."

He laughed at the young man's put-on scowl. "Merely stating that time is getting away from you both. It's high time to consider securing your legacy."

Remy eyed him, but didn't respond. He sipped at his tea, then hunched closer to the documents. He likely would need reading glasses soon. "T'ought that was your job," he muttered.

"If you'd prefer a child by surrogate that is simple to arrange."

"We gonna stop talkin' about dis?"

Essex smirked at him.

"Okay, so this security grid here."

"Yes, I thought that might catch your attention."

"Operation Morpheus," Remy murmured. His brow furled as he studied the documents. "Merde. This is, this is madness. Tell m' it ain't real?"

Essex sighed. "Very real. It will, however, take a more delicate touch than my usual team posesses."

****

"Gumbo, yer guest stayin' fer dinner?" Wolverine asked. Gambit looked up at him, face flat.

"No, we have reservations at seven at Monique's," Sinister replied.

Gambit glared at him. "Monique's? Fine, we pick this up later then. Ole Remy's got t' change."

"That would be preferable. Of course, you could simply choose to dress as an adult on a regular basis."

"And y' can bite y'r tongue." Gambit set down the papers he'd be looking at. "Mebbe M. Xavier would be willin' t' play a game of chess wit' y'."

Sinister smirked. "I'm perfectly capable of keeping myself entertained for say, thirty minutes?"

Gambit rolled his eyes. "Forty-five. Next time call ahead." He strolled out of the parlor as though Sinister weren't at his back. Wolverine looked between the parlor and the stairs. He followed Gambit.

"The Hell, LeBeau?"

Gambit scowled at him. "Man's got a problem that needs solvin'. Ain't gonna do him no good sendin' Scalphunter'n the rest. Nasty problem too." Wolverine didn't stop at the Cajun's door. He settled on the bed while the other man fussed through his wardrobe. "Probably need y' t' help wit' it. It'll work better if'n I get Scotty's buy-in." Logan's shoulders relaxed. "Dat what this is 'bout? Y' afraid Remy's goin' off reservation?"

"Never know. Man gets broadsided by his past ain't necessarily thinkin' straight."

"Bah. Know where I stand wit' him. Mostly that's making sure Scott and Jean's bebe don' die an' that me and Belle have at least one chile. Or me an' Storm. Or me an' any willin' female he deems a proper age." Remy jumped in the shower. Logan shook his head. "He wants grand-chilen and he won't take remarry f' an answer."

"So yer tellin' me he's yer pop?"

"Nah. He just t'inks that way."

Wolverine snorted. "He thinks like yer his kid?"

"Non, that Remy's good breedin' stock an' needs t' have lots and lots of chilen. An' if I won't do it the ole fashioned way, he be more than willin' t' help out." Five minutes later the Cajun was toweling off his hair. He wasn't worried about Logan being in the room while he strapped on a knife at his ankle and wound something that looked like a bracelet, but probably wasn't around his wrist before pulling on his underwear and pants. The noise of the blowdryer stopped the conversation for awhile. Logan offered to braid the young man's hair. "Ain't gonna say no." That chore quickly done, Remy pulled on the rest of his suit. He actually put on a tie and found a pair of matching sunglasses from somewhere. He fussed with cufflinks until Logan did that for him too.

"Take yer communicator."

"Ain't a mission."

"Take is anyway."

"Monique's is safe enough."

"Or I'll ask Cyke ta give ya mornin' sessions fer the rest of the year."

Gambit scowled, but put the communicator in the inside pocket of his jacket. "How's dat look?"

"Can't even see the cards."

Gambit paused. "Merde, right. More weapons." He nodded firmly. No longer in fretting mode. He added a gun and two packs of cards into neatly tailored pockets of the suit. They didn't even throw off the lines obviously. "If'n I ain't back by, mais, midnight? Start trackin'. Le docteur he don't... If'n he wanted me dead it'd've been done years ago. He wanted t' kidnap m' he wouldn't have come f' tea. But he might try t' get m' t' come with him willin' and keep talkin' until I do."

"I'll shadow ya?"

"Non. That ain't necessary. Just feelin' a mite paranoid."

"Not the worst reaction. Be careful and call if ya need us. Jeannie'll keep a trace on ya if ya let her."

"Non." The younger man shook his head. "He's a 'path. Don't like it when other 'paths are trackin' me."

Logan cocked his head to the side. "How'd that work out?"

"He took the other 'path t' the lab and I ain't felt 'em again." Remy shuddered. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath to force himself calm. "I go an' get some good food. Agree t' mission parameters. An' then come home an' talk t' Scotty by midnight. Mais, home by midnight. I talk t' Scotty in the mornin'."

****

Monique's was a beautiful French restaurant with a menu who's price you didn't ask. The champagne that Essex ordered made Remy's wallet ache in sympathy. Still, it was a reasonable bribe. The waiter was a tall, thin man named Maurice who always served them when they came in. He assumed they were father and son and neither of them ever bothered to correct that impression. Of course, Maurice was also under the impression that Remy had been adopted by his step-father because of the difference in their names. That suited his purposes just as well.

Remy ordered the salmon and he and Essex chatted aimlessly until their meal arrived and the champagne was poured. Maurice retreated with the understanding that if they needed him one of them would signal him. "What is it that you don't want to talk about in Xavier's?"

Essex huffed. "Everything. I would prefer you left them to their own devices and came back to my permanent employ, but in this particular instance, the situation is delicate. You saw the reports. And I expect you'll want to discuss it all with Summers."

Remy grimaced. "True," he admitted. "I'd like to get his buy-in on the situation. I'll need to get that in order to use Wolverine and Jubilee."

"Is that all?"

"Non, one of the 'paths, of course, but I'll talk t' Charles about that."

"Accent." Essex preferred that Remy mimic his accent when they were out in public. It was annoying, but relatively harmless and made the man easier to deal with.

"I want Crow, and Scrambler. Maybe Raven if I can convince her." Remy grimaced. "A project like this is..."

"Delicate?"

"Delicate," he agreed. He nibbled at his salmon. "Will you take casualties who aren't mutants?" he asked bluntly. "I'm sure not all of the people in there are."

"My med bays will be on call. And I will provide portal transportation if you think it will be helpful."

"Oh, merde. Yes. Please. That will make things easier. I'm going to need Shadowcat." Remy sipped the champagne. "It will take a few weeks to properly plan this adventure."

Essex took a bite of his steak as he considered. "I would prefer it happen quickly, quietly, and with no trace left for them to rebuild from."

Remy stared at the man for a long moment. "I would have thought that you wouldn't mind the project if it weren't using baselines."

There was a moment where Remy was sure the man was going to lash out – verbally if nothing else, but he restrained himself admirably. It was a shock to not be tasting copper from a backhand, but Monique's was a safe zone for their discussions. Remy forgot about having those sometimes. He'd have to rebuild his safe houses. He'd gotten lax about his safety. "I have an abiding dislike for brainwashing," Essex said finally.

Remy cocked his head to the side. "I ain't noticed that." He wasn't called on the grammar.

Essex grimaced and took a sip of his champagne. He savored the flavor. Then, he spoke again. "I am sorry to have left you with the impression that I would force my will on someone in that manner," he said finally. He stared down into his glass. "I will admit that I am more than willing to force someone into a corner to get their agreement, or to take advantage of pre-existing conditions to get my way, but brainwashing is a step too far. I prefer the people working under me not be under any illusions about their choices or their actions. Perhaps they don't understand what I'm asking of them, or I give them a different set of orders from another team. Orders that should be obeyed." He glared at the thief.

Remy grimaced himself. He admitted in private moments that if he'd left when he was supposed to leave, he'd never have known of the Morlock Massacre unless Creed had bragged to him about it. And he wouldn't have cared if he hadn't witnessed it himself. He'd been an asshole back then, and still too close the man who'd married an assassin. He was still that man, even though he wanted to be a hero now. He wanted to be better than he'd been. Not for Rogue or Storm or Xavier's dream, but so that he could nurture the little bit of conscience that Tante Mattie had instilled in him. So that he didn't lose the part of him that still cared about other people under the haze of indifference and sheer pig-headedness of his time with the Marauders.

"But I do not lie to my people directly. And I do not force their actions. Anyone who works for me is free to leave." Again, the doctor looked at Remy pointedly. Remy nodded. He knew what the man was saying.

"I'm still going to take the project. You knew that when you handed me the file." He paused. "And you'll help finance it? Because I'm going to need equipment and people and many of them won't do it out of charity, or honor, or because they owe me."

"I will. I won't ask you to finance something like this on your own. Even though I'm sure you're creative enough to do so."

Remy snorted at the "compliment." He contemplated a second glass of champagne. Instead he lifted a hand to bring Maurice running. "Sir?"

"Scotch. Neat. Top shelf," he ordered.

"Two," Essex countered. "And the desert tray, if you would."

"Of course, sir."

They didn't talk about anything of more value, just slowly savored the scotch and the excellent pastry selection. By the time Essex dropped Remy back at the mansion, it was clear that they'd reached another detente in their dealings. It felt close to the day after he'd become a Master thief and his father had first used his rank in formal orders. Oh, he was going to need Belle on this trip too. The negotiations were already making his head hurt.

He opened the door to find Wolverine and Cyclops playing cards in the parlor. On top of the file that Sinister had left behind for him.

"This reads as though we need to talk," Cyke said without looking up.

Remy loosened his tie. "Let me put on some sweats first."

Logan startled at the accent. Scott shook his head. "Go. I'll be in my study. Scotch?"

"For the love of all that's holy, yes."

****

Jean found Remy asleep on the floor of Scott's office. Scott was on the couch. Logan was awake and reading the newspaper. There was a tray of coffee, painkillers, and water on the desk. She quirked a brow up at Logan. //Will I like this development?//

//Nope.//

//Should I wake them up?//

//Nah. Let 'em sleep. Gumbo can heat the coffee when he wakes up.//

"Go 'way," Remy muttered at them. He shifted and put an arm over his face. Logan snorted.

"Excedrin," Scott demanded softly. He put a hand out without opening his eyes. Logan was kind enough to drop only two pills into it. Scott dry swallowed them, then rolled over and presented his back to the room. In about twenty minutes he'd be capable of actual thought over his hangover.

Logan ushered Jean out of the office. He closed the door. "Breakfast?" he offered. She took his arm and he escorted her to the kitchen. She wasn't showing much yet, but he could smell the change in her blood chemistry. At least that meant she was still pregnant. Scott would be happy about that.

"Want to give me the highlights? Since I was rushed out of the mansion as though there were and attack?"

Logan shrugged. "Sinister showed up fer tea. Took the Cajun to dinner to interrogate him about havin' kids. Left him with a file that made both of the boys think that scotch was a better option than beer last night. I tend to agree." He grimaced. "And that's all fer details until there's an actual plan. It's all emotional stuff right now. Got to give 'em a minute to get rational."

Jean stopped moving. "Sinister just showed up?"

"Hidin' out in his alter ego so he could drag our boy out of the mansion for a bribe of a meal at Monique's."

"Reasonable bribe," she allowed. "And the file?"

"Just general scope at the moment. Gumbo's op. I'm stayin' out of it until I can be helpful."

Jean sighed. "Which means my husband is going to be snappish and snarling all day. At least he'll be snapping at Remy and not me."

Rogue was wearing a lounge set in green with her favorite bleachable white gloves. She had a mug of coffee in her hand and was shuffling back toward her room. "Remy home?" she asked Logan.

"Before midnight," he informed her. "But it's business, not women that kept him up."

"Don't pick on the boyfriend. I hear ya, sugah."

Logan frowned. "I'd give him space today," he advised. "It wasn't a good night."

Rogue's eyes sharpened. "Nightmares?"

"Yes."

Rogue glanced at Jean. "PTSD triggered or general anxiety?"

Logan considered. "Jeannie, I'll meet you in the kitchen. Rogue and me need to talk."

Jean sighed. "Fine. I might save you bacon, I might not." She left them to talk in low tones. It hurt a bit to know that Remy's distrust of her meant that Logan didn't want to talk about him in front of her. She knew it wasn't something Remy could control. He didn't like telepaths. And given his experience with the Shadow King, she couldn't blame him for the distrust either. It had taken Storm several months to even stay in the same room with her and Betsy without a buffer. And both of them had refused to stay in communication links unless they were actively in the field. Their shields were vicious now.

Warren looked up from the paper. "Morning," he said cheerfully. "There's a rumor that Scott has a hangover."

"It's true."

"Bobby owes me five bucks then. Good to know."

"Which means Warren only owes me two-hundred," Bobby replied. "Logan joining us?"

"He's on the way."

"Scott?" Warren asked.

"Has taken meds and will be with us in the land of the living in about half-an-hour." Jean poured herself a cup of coffee and fixed it the way she liked it. Then, she got a plate and served herself from the stove. Logan was there not long after she started buttering her toast. "See Rogue back to bed?"

Logan snorted. "Nah, sent her to carry her boy off to Storm's loft and dump him in the bathtub."

"Don't be mean," Bobby chided. "If I'd spent six hours in Sinister's company, I'd drink too." He was very carefully making sure that every inch of his toast had grape jelly on it.

Warren twitched. "Six hours?"

"I heard he took him to Monique's though," Jean informed the man. "So romantic, don't you think?"

Bobby fake gagged at her. "Not believable."

"What? That Sinister would take Remy to a French restaurant?" Warren asked.

"No, that it was romantic. I've seen the Cajun's reactions around Sinister. He acts like a teenager who's just been told he has a curfew during summer vacation."

"There are worse reactions to your ex," the redhead replied. She was starting this rumor, damn it. She wanted to see Remy's full-bodied cat-shudder when he heard it.

Warren shuddered. "You are a horrible woman and I don't know why we put up with you."

Jubilee dragged herself into the room. "Rogue was carrying her boy-toy up the stairs. Did she break him again? If she's not going to take proper care of her toys, I'll be happy to step in."

Logan coughed up coffee. "No," he said mildly.

Jubilee smirked at him. "But the eyes. The hair. The credit card and willingness to visit a shopping mall. And he can match me on balance beam and uneven bars. I haven't met anyone else who'll even try. I'm a much better match than Rogue."

"What do you really want?"

"Sparring session with bo-staffs. Gambit was going to show me some ariels, but he looked rough."

"Fine. After I'm done eating."

"Thanks, Logan."

Bobby shook his head at them. "If I went to exercise right after eating, I'd end up in the bathroom five minutes in."

"You're weak, Drake," Jubilee informed him. She'd just turned seventeen and managed to get her GED, which meant she was a full-time X-Man if she wanted to be.

"You forget who controls your allowance," Bobby replied archly. "Besides, aren't you supposed to meet with the Professor about college today?"

"Gap year. It's a thing."

****

Rogue tucked Remy into his bed, then sat down at the foot of it. "Ya wanna talk about it?" she asked quietly. He pulled the blanket more tightly around him and shook his head. "Want me to go get a book and come back?" His eyes darted around the room. He bit his lip. Then, he nodded. She patted his ankle through the covers and went to get the latest romance that she'd gotten from the ladies' pile of finished books. She settled down at the head of the bed and set her coffee on the side-table.

She opened to the first chapter and started reading aloud. Remy curled up on his side and rested his forehead against her thigh. She stroked through his hair as though he were her cat. She continued reading, even when she knew he'd slipped into proper sleep. The sound of a voice talking would keep him from getting stuck in nightmares again. She got caught up in the romance and one of the sex scenes as she read. Some day, she thought. Some day.

****

Scott leaned back in his chair and considered the man in front of him. Remy had weathered his bad night and initial panic with very little apparent damage. He was dressed rather formally today and it was starting to freak people out. The thief was wearing chinos and a sweater with stripes on it that looked as though he's stolen if from Scott's closet. Actually, "Is that my sweater? The one that Jean got me for Easter?"

"Non. 'Course not." Remy's smile was guileless. "Would I steal one of your sweaters that you ain't worn for three years?"

"Oh, is that where that ended up. It didn't fit right in the sleeves."

"Not on y'," he replied. "Course, y' put in these little holes on the side and y' can put a thumb through it it and y' got sweater-paws." He held up a hand. He was wearing gloves too, with the center fingers cut off. He hadn't done that in over a year.

"Cold?"

"Fall ain't my favorite time of year," he replied drily. "Now, can y' get me Polaris' number?" He held his notebook and pen ready.

"First explain why. I didn't think you two had ever met."

Remy's lips thinned. "Well, I ain't talked t' her since she became a Summers, but we worked t'gether some in the past. Her boy-toy can come roll bandages and cook or somethin' while we work. Need her here f' logistics as well as f' destroyin' the memory banks in the target. Can we run t'rough my list wit'out explaining everything until we got the Council of War here?"

Scott considered. "As long as I'm part of the Council?"

"Of course. Folks listen t' y'. Belle's gonna be comin' t' town and I tole he she can stay here. Otherwise, I'm rentin' out a hotel from top t' bottom f' the next month for other folks and so we can have access t' more conference rooms. Tol' the front desk it's a war-gaming exercise."

"For what organization?"

"Nightwing Industries. Belle and me set up the company ages ago so we could do shit like this and have a legitimate shell t' run payments t'rough. Don' want the IRS t' get too nosy, non?"

"Does Bobby know about this?"

Remy rolled his eyes. That was a good sign that he was relaxing a bit. "Yes, Bobby knows. He sends m' paycheck there when I upgrade security so he can write it off. And Warren don't know, but he done hired my folks t' test his security a few times, so it's legit as it's gonna get."

Scott snorted. "I want to see Warren's face the day he finally figures that out. So, you need Polaris' number. Anyone else?"

"I got Kitty and Pete's numbers. I got Crow's number. He'll get me Scramble and Riptide if'n I need 'em. I'm coordinatin' wit' Moira already. I got no need f' anyone too loud. This is gonna be big, but I ain't using mutants much. I do got some counselors comin' in. And I was thinkin' that maybe Kurt'd want t' get in on that along wit' Charles? I know he retired from the field, but bein' a priest, he might be good f' some of the folks we're rescuin'. I'm callin' in Candy, but if y' got other contacts f' folks with psy damage, then we should call them too."

"Candy Kane? Yeah, she's good. I'd call Cecilia and see if she's willing to be on standby with Hank. She's a trauma surgeon and an ER specialist, so we could use that."

"Good call. I got Frost comin' in already as part of the 'path group. And I know that Cassidy is ready t' scoop up any chilen and take them t' the Academy if'n we need it. I t'ink we need someone t' be here t' do a t'reat analysis. Charles might could do it, but someone else. Any t'oughts?"

The field leader made a note. "Give me a day to run through my contacts and see if there's anyone I think should be on that side of it. You're running the triage through here?"

"Might do it through the hotel actually. Tell them that we're goin' t' stage a triage practice or somethin'. And then have them clear out for a few hours. Send enough money the way of the manager and he'll be willin' t' give me the run of the place. Might do well t' actually buy a place like that." Remy made a note. "F' the future."

"And Sinister is going to provide portals?"

"T' here, and his medlab, an' t' the hotel if'n I ask sweet enough. And he'll take on some of the triage patients. Flip's gonna be ready. She's a combat medic. Might ask her t' come into the field t' do the initial triage and get folks ready for transport." He made another note. "I want Lorna here t' spitball t' cause she catches my mistakes well."

"I am intrigued by that. She's never shown any real propensity for field work."

Remy nodded. "She hates it. She's damned good at logistics an' organization, but she don't like the field. She don't like dangerous situations. And she don't like hurtin' folks. She just needed the space t' get t' some place where she don't need t' do those sorts of t'ings anymore."

"Okay. So when is Belle showing up? And have you told Rogue yet?"

Remy grimaced. "Well, I figure I'll cross that bridge when I come t' it. She's bringin' her boyfriend, which might calm t'ings down. 'Course, she'll probably also hit Rogue at least once. Ain't like it'll do damage, but it'll make her feel better."

"And you want to see the fight?"

Remy's smile was coy. "Don't know where y' get these ideas, Cyke. Anyway, will y' talk t' Kitty f' me? And ask her t' bring Pete. I know they was talkin' about becomin' SHIELD agents, but I'm hopin' this will show them not t' do that."

Scott startled. "Wait, is this a SHIELD facility?"

"Non, but it's government. And I ain't about t' pretend it ain't. And when I'm done wit' this shindig, ain't no one in the government ever gonna be able t' get it off the ground again."

"You're stealing the data?"

"Destroying it. If there's a copy around, it can be used. And Essex can suck m' dick if'n he gets uptight about scientific data bein' destroyed. I'm gonna glass the place."

"I thought the idea was quiet."

"It'll be quiet enough." Remy's smile was a reminder that he'd once been one of the Marauders and that most of his life he'd been a criminal. Still was a criminal if Scott was actually going to be honest about things. They were both criminals in the eyes of the FBI. And Interpol. And several sovereign nations including Genosha.

"Let me know who you need and I'll get them to play nicely." He paused. "I'm assuming that Sabretooth is not invited to the party?"

"Oh, I don't reckon on that bein' a good idea at all." The thief shuddered. "I ain't gonna be able t' have him in an' the ole man in the same room wit'out t'reats of violence against bot' of them if they start somethin'. Don't mean I might not need him f' somethin' but I ain't bringin' him in t' the larger group. Most the folks from Nightwing are flatscans. So I need t' get them some neuro-blockers. Hank got those or do I need t' hit up a different sort of supplier?"

"I'll ask him for you." Scott's stomach growled. "It's lunchtime. Let's pick this back up after we get some food. And you can warn Rogue that your wife is coming to visit."

"Did y' hear Jeannie's latest attempt at a rumor?"

"You and Sinister?"

"Oui. Know what he'll do when he hears it?"

"Laugh?"

"Lecture m' on the sin of onan an' layin' outside the bed of marriage. Until I laugh in his face an' remind him that he was fine wit' me sleepin' with Creed."

Scott stopped in the door. "Really?"

Remy looked smug. "That's f' me t' know."

****

"Bonjour, Husband." Belle was an average sized woman with pretty blonde hair that she'd done up with French braids with a ribbon woven through them. She was wearing a relatively comfortable outfit of jeans and a shirt with a long cardigan over it. Her car was packed tightly with weapons and other items she didn't want to try to carry through a flight. "I been on the road f' far too long. I'll be nice an' respectable in about two hours." She kissed Remy's cheeks.

"Bonjour, Wife. Gris-Gris. Come on, let m' help wit' a bag or two an' we can let y' freshen up before we spring everyone on y'." He led them up the back stairs and to a neutrally decorated room with a queen bed and an on-suite. "This is y'r space f' now."

Gris-Gris glanced around the room and nodded. "Security in place?"

"Oui. My type. Actual camera is in the room, but only watched if one of the alarms goes off. Keep the window closed once y' go t' bed. If'n y' open it before seven someone's gonna check the camera. Most folks ain't terribly nosy though, so shouldn't feel the need f' shame." Remy raised his brows.

Belle rolled her eyes. "Shame ain't productive. An' I expect royalties if'n y'all make money off of us."

"D'accord." Remy gave them both quick hugs. "T'anks f' comin'. Want me t' unpack the car or leave it locked?"

"Leave it locked. Most of it's gonna go t' the hotel later anyway."

"Right." He left them to freshen up and maybe get a nap. Rogue looked up from her magazine.

"Guests?"

"Belle and Gris-Gris. I introduce y' proper later."

Rogue winced. "And how is she goin' ta take that?"

"Well, I expect she's gonna want t' take a swing at y', but not because y'r m' girl. She done known that f' years. Don't always like it, but she's got her own lover, so she also ain't a hypocrite."

Rogue considered that for a moment. "And you? How do ya feel about her seein' someone?"

Remy flopped down on the couch next to her and let his head fall on her shoulder. She frowned at him. "Mais, jealous sometimes, that he gets t' have her all the time and I only get t' see her rare times. Not that she's got someone. I'm happy she found someone who understands her an' loves her. I wouldn't never be mad about her bein' happy. But I miss talkin' t' my best friend. I miss bein' able to sneak int' her room in the middle of the night and stay up talkin' over the latest book. Or takin' her out f' dinner because it's too hot t' cook. Or just workin' around the house wit' her singin' old tunes she learnt from her grandmama while she's sweepin' the kitchen. That's what makes me jealous. He gets t' have that."

Rogue slipped an arm around him and gave him a squeeze. "Yahr a sap, Remy LeBeau."

"I am."

"And you and me ain't actually gonna work out are we?"

He stiffened under her grip.

"No, don't talk f' a minute. Whatever yahr up to wit' Sinister and Cyke and the rest of the folks that you ain't ready to talk about, she's here t' help and I ain't a part of it. At least not yet. You're plannin' and ya want yahr partner. But I ain't her."

Remy bit his lip and stayed quiet.

"And whatever it is, it's big and hard and it hurt ya when ya found out about it. It scared ya so bad that ya had nightmares and flashbacks. And yahr willin' ta let me help with that and I'm so happy that ya are and I ain't never goin' ta not do that. But ya ain't goin' ta let me help with this operation. Not on the inside. Maybe as backup. But this project, it's pullin' out yahr mean side. The part of ya that likes fightin' with Creed or sends ya out on the town some nights ta get in a fight. And ya can't stand ta let me see that."

"Rogue. Chere, please stop."

"Ya don't want ta let me see that part and I ain't sure why. Ya know my history."

Remy sighed. He didn't want to have this conversation. He didn't want to have this fight and he knew it was going to be a fight. "Because any time Remy shows y' somethin' that ain't him bein' good, y' get pissed at him. Every time I want t' go out t' a club, y' pull back and won't go. I want t' talk about the latest battleplans, y' turn y'r nose up and pull out a book instead. I get excited about a new security system goin' in at the museum an' y' just pat my head and let me ramble wit'out gettin' involved in it. Y' ain't a crook the way I is. Y' believed in Mystique. Y' believed in what she was doin'. Y' had reasons."

Rogue was frowning now, but she didn't move her hand or arm. That meant he had to see this through. "I was a terrorist."

"You was a chile that got caught up in what y'r mama tole y' t' do. As soon as y' got Carol in y'r head y' walked away from it all. Y' ended up wit' the X-men because y' was guilty."

"And what? Ya ain't gonna try ta tell me that ya don't feel guilty. That's bullshit, Swamp Rat."

"Ole Remy feels guilty about the folks that got dead because of what he done. He don't feel guilty f' stealin'. He don't feel guilty about fightin'. Or about destroyin' t'ings. He feels guilty when someone innocent or a chile is caught up in what he done. He feels rotten about the ole warehouse that fell on his head an' killt t'ree teens who was squattin' there. He feels guilty 'bout the ole lady he scammed when he was a chile. Lookin' back she weren't able t' afford what he got out of her. She was jus' as hungry as he was. But I don't feel guilty about stealin' and I ain't gonna stop. I just pick who I steal from better."

Rogue let the idea roll around in her head for a long moment. "Thank you for telling me that," she said finally.

"Y' sound like Charles."

"He is my therapist. Well, was. Ah probably should start talkin' ta him again. Think he might be able ta recommend someone for you."

Remy shook his head. "Got a therapist, me. Just do it by phone or email mostly. Hank prescribes if'n I need it."

"A therapist that knows about yahr feelin's on personal property?"

"From a T'ief family," he confirmed.

"Huh. Never thought about that."

They sat for a moment, both of them lost in their thoughts. "Y' breakin' up wit' me again?" he asked finally.

Rogue squeezed gently. "Should I?" she asked. "And think about it."

Remy closed his eyes. It was a better option than her immediate answer. "Why ask me? Y' know my answer."

"Ah don't want the answer from my Swamp Rat. Ah want the answer from the man who's organizin' a war."

He gave her a grim smile. "We got the same answer. F' different reasons. Remy wants y' because he loves y'. Gambit don't want y' t' break up wit' him because it's gonna fuck up his ability t' focus f' a few days."

"Then, I ain't. We'll talk after this is all done and we'll see how we both feel. Ah don't want it ta be my decision only anymore. If we break up. It's for good and we stay friends and partners in the field."

Remy took a shaky breath as though he'd just dodged a weapon strike. "Well, that's one thing sorted. Jus' about five hundred left."

"Ya ain't ready to talk ta me about it either."

Remy considered. "Well, given I done slept wit' several of the folks comin' here, I ought t' tell y' some."

"Beyond Belle? Really?"

"Remember y' jus' tole m' y' ain't gonna break up wit' me?"

"I knew ya were a slut before Ah started datin' ya," Rogue said flatly. "So, Belle, of course. Who else?"

"Well, Gris-Gris, Polaris, an' Mystique."

Rogue gulped. "Mama? One ya slept wit' Mama. Second ya slept with yahr wife's lover?"

"T' be fair, it was a t'reesome."

"There is someone out there who needs ta write up yahr life as a romance novel."

Remy did his best not to giggle at that, but they both ended up laughing. And it was maybe the best time they'd had together in over a month. The back of his head filed that away. He buried the regret that was going to come in about a month as deeply as he could. He knew his decision. He could predict hers. This wasn't going to last and it already hurt. But he could put it aside to deal with later. The way Rogue wrapped their fingers together let him know that she was already clinging on to the regret too. It might be better to end things before the engagement, but that would make them both reckless. And it would make Belle smug, which he just couldn't stand the idea of. He loved the femme, no doubt, but when she was smug, it just made him itch to muss her up.

****

Belladonna Boudreaux was a proud woman. She admitted that. She gave her husband's mistress a flat smile. It had nothing to do with her and Remy being lovers. It had everything to do with her stealing Belle's memories and not admitting to it. It had left her open to manipulation by her father for far longer than she wanted to admit. Then, when she'd figured out the reality after her father was dead, all she could do was ask one of the priestesses to call his spirit back to yell at him. They were standing in the quiet hall just outside the guest room.

She adjusted her leather gloves before she shook the woman's hand. "Belle, do y' remember Rogue?"

"Oh, I do," she answered. Remy twitched a bit.

Rogue had the good sense to look shamed at that. "Ah want ta apologize for that."

Belle raised her brows. "For?" she prompted.

Rogue sighed. "Belladonna Boudreaux, Ah would like to formally apologize for stealin' yahr memories."

"That ain't what I'm mad about," Belle answered once it was obvious that more wasn't forthcoming.

The other woman blinked. "Then Ah ain't sure what ya want to hear."

"I thought you might not. I'm mad because you didn't tell me or Remy that you'd done it. I had to tell him. And while I'm sure he's forgiven you. I have had some rather damaging consequences."

Rogue's eyes widened. "What happened?" she asked immediately, reaching out, but not touching Belle's arm. And there was an echo of Remy in her reaction that made Belle freeze for a moment.

"Holy fuck. You have Remy's memories too, don't you?" She turned to Remy and he nodded. "Which one of you will explain."

"T'ough we was goin' to die, so we kissed. An' then the apocalypse didn't happen and ole Remy ended up in a coma while Roguie went on a road trip t' hit the highlights of m' past. It's done."

Belle rubbed her nose. She normally didn't indulge in tics, but now that she knew both of the people in front of her would probably understand her unstated agitation, she let it happen. Remy immediately reached for her, but did touch her arm. "You didn't tell me because?"

"Because we weren't talkin' at the time. De sole, chere."

"Of course. Better to get this out of the way before the rest show up." She glanced down the hallway. "Come inside," she said, ushering them into her space. "This mission is too important, just from the little hint I been given to let it be derailed by emotional shit. So, this is me, trying to understand why you lied."

Gris-Gris looked up from the bed where he was laying with a magazine. He sat up. "Merde. This goin' t' be a bloodbath."

"I promised Remy I wouldn't try to kill her or any of his women. That doesn't mean he's off the list though."

Remy rolled his eyes, strolled over to Gris-Gris and sat on him. It was probably tactical. From Rogue's snort, it might have been to break down one of her walls. With the door closed to the hall, they were as free as they could be to talk. "Why did you not tell me or Remy?"

The older woman, and it was only a few years, but she was older than both Belle and Remy, blushed like a teenager after her first kiss. "Because for the first time, Ah did it for selfish reasons. Ah wanted ta know what it was like ta kiss him. Ah wanted to know what it was like ta have him make love ta me. And you had that. You've always had that. So I was ashamed. And when everyone said it was a side-effect of the potion, I let it go. I thought it might even be true. And... and it gave me Remy's undivided attention since ya didn't remember him."

Belle closed her eyes. "I'm goin' to punch you," she stated. "I know it's only goin' to hurt my hand. But I am still goin' to punch you."

Rogue nodded. "That's fair, Ah think." She dropped into a loose fighting stance. Belle smiled and punched her at full strength in the jaw. As expected it didn't actually move the other woman the way it would have moved any of her sparring partners. Rogue prodded her jaw. "Well, we definitely have ta spar some, sugah."

Belle snorted. "Yes. That might be the best fun in ages."

"Non. Wolverine. Y' need t' fight Logan," Remy informed her. "Rogue is good, but she don't get damaged. Wolverine, y' get to see the damage afore he heals." Gris-Gris had decided to simply warp his arms around Remy's waist and rest a chin on his shoulder. Rogue nodded her agreement.

"We'll spar, but Ah think Ah'd enjoy seein' ya fight with the old man."

Belle smiled at them and she could tell it was a flat, false thing. "I'm still mad, but I understand."

"Ah'm sorry, Belladonna, I truly am. Ah hate my powers. Ah hate that I'll never be able ta touch Remy, but I'm sorry. Ah didn't mean t' hurt ya or leave ya vulnerable. Ah assumed ya were safe with yahr father, but Ah should have known better." Rogue grimaced. "And Ah can't say I regret the memories, but Ah regret hurtin' ya." She quirked a lip up. "Especially after Ah ended up with Remy's memories too. That boy's been lost on ya for so long he don't know how ta not be. And Ah feel those echos." She took a deep breath. "Which means Ah'm also gonna apologize for the fact that Ah'm probably goin' ta react ta ya like we're more than we are and not recognize it."

The assassin considered that for a long moment. "I understand why you did it and I can forgive you because you're already being punished by having my illogical, self-destructive, idiot of a husband in your head and in your life."

Gris-Gris snorted. "Hear that, Gambit, y'r a punishment t' femmes. I known that f' years."

"Belle, y'r boyfriend's bein' mean t' me."

"Good. Y' probably deserve it." She offered her hand to Rogue. "Truce?"

"Truce." They shook. "Ah still want that spar though."

Belle laughed. "If'n I don't, Remy's gonna pout at me until he gets his way. It's effective."

Remy smirked and leaned more into Gris-Gris' hug. "See, cher, ole Remy gets his way. Y' should try it sometime."

"Poutin' ain't my style. I don't look like a hustler neither."

Rogue and Belle laughed together at that. It was probably a sign that they were going to be able to work together, even if she couldn't work right next to the woman. Belle was a professional after all.

****

Lorna Dane swept into the mansion three steps ahead of her husband who was carrying her bags. She walked straight up to Remy, threw her arms around him, and kissed him straight on the lips. "Hello, you self-sacrificing idiot."

Remy wrapped his arms around her waist. "Hi, Pole. How y' been. Heard y' got stupid and hooked up wit' a Summers."

The Summers in question was looking as though he was questioning his sanity. His face transmuted between anger, jealously, and sheer disbelief as he watched his wife.

"Well, he's just adorable. And he's good in bed. And we're both interested in rock things that would and has put you to sleep, so I think he's a good investment." She didn't let go of him though. "And a little birdy has told me that you are both married and seeing someone. So inquiring, gossipy, little minds want to know if you were actually married when you were seeing me?"

Remy shrugged. "Ah, chere, I been married since I was sixteen. Bein' as I wasn't jailbait when we met, that implies that I was, in fact, married at the time. That bein' said, you was also sharin' y'r body wit' a telepathic sociopath, so I consider our time t'gether therapy."

Lorna considered the excuse. "Alright, I'll grant the excuse for not telling me you were married as the fact that Malice was using my body most of the time and I was in no condition to be running away from the whole situation until you convinced Sinister that I needed to be myself again." She paused. "Did you grow?"

"Remy was over eighteen. That don't mean he was done gettin' tall," he replied. "Likely about t'ree inches I t'ink. From when I seen y' last." He frowned. "Oui, t'ink I stopped growin' when I was early twenties or there abouts."

"Alex Summers," Scott's brother introduced himself. Remy shook his hand behind Lorna's back, since she didn't seem willing to stop hugging the thief.

"A pleasure, M. Summers. Remy LeBeau. Folks call m' Gambit. I t'ink I got somethin' of yours here. Y' want her back?"

Alex looked at the way his wife had wrapped herself around the man and now had her face buried in the crook of his neck. "I assume she'll need to eat at some point, so I'll pick her up then."

"Oh, you chauvinists," Lorna huffed into Remy's shoulder. "I should use the iron in your blood to knock you out. In front of your current girlfriend. So she has to catch you."

"Pah," Remy replied. "She done carried me t' bed already once this week. I keep it up, she'll put po' Remy in the med-lab."

Lorna tensed at that. "Well, we don't want that." She slowly released her hug and stepped back to study him. "You've grown up well. And I'm sorry I left you behind."

"You weren't in no condition t' be worryin' about other folks when y' left. Y' needed t' get y'r mind back t' y'r own afore that could happen." He met her gaze firmly. "We all knew y'd leave as soon as Malice was out of y'. It weren't y'r scene. Y'r far too smart."

She frowned at him. "Stop putting yourself down. Even sideways put downs. They're bullshit. Mission mindset, remember." She pointed at him. "You were the one who demanded it. So I'm going to demand it now."

Remy gave her a salute. "Ma'am, yes, ma'am," he drawled. "Come on, I show the two of y' to a room and mebbe I introduce y' t' my wife."

"How many of your exes are here for this? And do I need to threaten any of them?" She wrapped her arm around Remy's as though they were going out for a stroll in the garden. He automatically adjusted to make sure her grip was comfortable.

"Oh, merde, why did I t'ink this was a good idea?" he muttered. Alex just followed the two of them up the stairs as Lorna continued her impression of an older sister, instead of a former girlfriend. She knew that her husband would have questions later, but right now, right this very minute, all she cared about was knowing that Remy had survived and that he was still willing to work with her, even after she had abandoned him to Sinister's care.

****

Scott looked around Remy's "Council of War" and felt as though he should be asking his wife to take over. Remy would never consent to that though. Jean was 1) pregnant and 2) a telepath. Belladonna was filing her nails. Her significant other was at the hotel. He'd heard the argument against splitting up and carefully turned away when she pulled out the "I'd feel better if you were supervising," card along with a pair of deadly blue eyes. The man had had no chance. Lorna was making herself a cup of coffee.

Remy was dithering over which pastry he needed for this discussion. The fact that he still had an appetite made Scott feel that maybe this wasn't as bad as he thought it would be. Then, the younger man sat down with just a cup of tea and plain toast. Well, fuck, it was going to be bad.

"Are we secure?" he asked Belle. She placed her phone in the center of the table and poked at it. There was a high-pitched whine and then she nodded.

"Oui. And if y' don't have the app, I'll remind you later."

"Merci. Part of m' wants to just skip t' the meat of this, but this needs t' be done right." He sighed. His accent shifted. "For the purposes of this operation, my name is Gambit, or Remy. Everyone who has been invited knows me as one of the two. Please do not use any other names. Chere?" he extended a graceful hand toward his wife.

"My name is Nightshade, or Lady Nightshade for the purposes of this operation. You may also call me Belle."

"My name for the purposes of this operation is Cyclops or Summers," he gave the other three a tight smile.

"My name for the purposes of this operation is Polaris or Lorna."

And it was right then that Scott really understood why Gambit had chosen to be formal about this. Lorna had used more than one code name over the years, but here and now she was reaching back to Polaris instead of any of the names she'd used as a "hero."

Gambit nodded. "First thing you need to know is that the US Government is using telepaths to brainwash civilians. Not soldiers, civilians. Not even criminals. Straight up civilians who are taken off the streets, out of shelters, out of orphanages, and out of schools. They have children with telepathy whom they have 'trained' to be their conduits." Gambit's mouth was a hard line. "They're using a combination of brutality, drugs, and telepathic implants to brainwash the public into being what they want. There are indications that the staff have been some of the first victims of this treatment. The more successful of the treated individuals have been allowed to have some outside contact. They're allowed to shop at the local stores and have a form of shore leave in the small town. The ones who are not are restricted to the base. The ones who leave with impunity are the leaders and the implementers of this course of treatment."

"Course of treatment sounds so banal," Lorna stated.

"It does. But evil isn't showy," Gambit's voice was calm. "There are at least 75 victims on-site. Twenty-five leaders who have been identified. And a rotation of guards who are not allowed past the doors of the facility. They're a civilian contract employing only ex-military forces."

"Where is the money coming from?"

Gambit's smile was brittle. "Black bag that traces back to the usual suspects. I'm still gathering intel on who signs the checks, but Sen. Creed and Sen. Kelly are obvious choices. Though I believe there's more military involved and definitely the intelligence agencies."

Polaris cocked her head to the side. "And Essex wants this put out of business. Why?"

Gambit sipped his tea. "Turns out that Essex is an abolitionist."

Lorna blinked at that. Scott didn't know what to think of the statement. "I didn't know that," she said. "Then why?"

"We had a chat because I thought he was full of shit too. Turns out, he just didn't understand the psychology of it." Remy's lips were tight. "He didn't connect possession with slavery until it was pointed out to him."

"Pointed out?" Lorna raised her brows.

"Might could be that old Remy had a very quiet conversation with him over tea and a chessboard that went boom during the discussion."

TBC

XM Library