Gambit shivered as he ran his fingers through his brutally shorn hair. He missed the weight of it on the back of his neck. At least his bangs had been spared. He pulled his knees up to his chin and wrapped his arms around them. The simple scrubs did little to warm him, but he knew the chill was psychosomatic. The room was kept at body temperature. He was nearly over the hypothermia and he'd managed to not get severe frostbite.
The room was lined with metal panels. A wool blanket lay crumpled in the corner. The door opened with a hiss. The small cell was a self-contained system. He'd already learned that attempting to interfere with the system in any way resulted in his unconsciousness.
"And how are we today, son?"
"What y' want from Remy, M. Essex?"
"Your loyalty. I've given you ample opportunity to explore your unfortunate heroic tendencies. They turned you out. It is time to return to your rightful place at my side."
"Non. I refuse."
Remy rocked back under the wave of Sinister's anger. His eyes widened. His charm had never been that strong. He scrambled to strengthen his shields only to realize he had none. They wouldn't rise at his command. His panic flashed across his face.
Essex looked down at his finest experiment. "There is a telepathic block in your mind. Until you figure out a way around it, you will be unable to raise your shields or access your biokinetic charge. Contrary to popular belief they are related systems. Do you remember?"
"O-oui. Emotions are de result of neuronal. . . potentialities dat Remy can manipulate if'n he wants t'."
"Very good. Therefore?" Sinister prompted.
"Remy can manipulate perception."
"Stop a heartbeat."
"Good enough for now. I've returned you to your proper strength. Once you have discovered a way around the block, we will discuss your further training. In the meanwhile there are some friends who would like to speak with you." The door opened again. "Don't do any permanent damage. Riptide, keep things from getting out of hand."
Gambit's eyes widened. "Hey, brat," Scalphunter grinned.
"Jean?" Scott asked softly. "What's wrong, honey?"
"About what?" Scott and Jean had chosen to stay in the Mansion as opposed to the boathouse to be closer to the team.
"Gambit. I can't believe we didn't go back for him. I can't believe Rogue just left him there. I know they've had their problems, but I thought. . ."
"They'd be in love forever?"
"Yeah. I can't believe he's dead."
"We didn't find his body, Red. He's an X-man. Stranger things have happened than surviving in some snow."
Jean smiled faintly. She curled close to her husband, settling one hand on his chest. "It's just that sometimes I think I hear him begging for me to help him."
"Have you tried to trace it back?"
"It's over too quickly. Just 'help me, Jeannie,' and he's gone." She sighed. "He sounds scared."
Jean nodded. Her soft hair slid against Scott's chest. "I know it doesn't sound like Remy to be scared but. . ."
"He's scared a lot, but he doesn't show it."
"How do you know?"
"Logan. You have telepathy. I have spies. Just as effective. Tell me more about this voice." Scott stroked Jean's back.
"It's soft. Like he's whispering in my ear. Like he's trying not to draw attention to himself." Jean frowned. "He's being watched and there's this wave of hopeless fear. He doesn't think I'm going to help him."
"He's got reason to believe that. He's never been told he's important to us."
"But you taught him about teamwork."
"Jean, he was afraid to ask us for help when his brother was murdered in the front yard."
"That was almost two years ago. Things have changed."
"Oh yeah. Bishop. Onslaught. Antartica. We've definitely shown him we're trustworthy."
Jean winced at the bitter tone. "Then we'd better find him and show him differently.
"Look at me, Remy." The red on black eyes blinked a few times before meeting Sinister's own red eyes. Remy suddenly became aware of the myriad pains in his body. He ached from the inside out. "I've heard you calling out to the Phoenix. Very resourceful. I'm glad to see you developing your psi potential. Get your shields in order and I'll end this. You'll be part of the team, not their toy."
Gambit shivered. He hurt too badly to do anything else. //I'll try.//
//Good.// Sinister stroked back the boy's bangs. The thief's eyes closed. He didn't open them for a long time.
Remy contemplated the lock Essex had placed over his shields. He was in a place far away from his body. He set his shoulders. There wasn't a lock in the world he couldn't undo.
Riptide frowned down at the thief. "Where's the boss?"
"Out," Creed grinned.
"He's stopped responding."
"Well, that ain't no fun. Call the doc. We can always just drop him at the X-punks fer awhile. Then, bring him back."
"Call 'Hunter. He'll know where the doc went."
Jean woke to what sounded very much like screaming. Scott was looking down at her. What's wrong, honey? Nightmare?"
"Not mine," she said immediately.
"Rogue has nightmares still?"
"It wasn't hers. It was Gambit's. She's poking around in the shadows of the memories she absorbed."
"Tell me about it."
"Hey, Gumbo." Creed lit a cigarette and offered it to the young man. Gambit took it automatically. His eyes were glazed. He was curled up in the corner, knees to his chest. "Ya better eat somethin'. Don't want ya dyin' on us." Creed pushed the plate closer. The Cajun took a drag off the cigarette and started coughing. Creed took the butt away. "Guess you ain't a smoker no more." Sabretooth shook his head. "Eat or I'll feed ya."
Gambit ate mechanically. Then, he wrapped his arms around his knees again. He propped his chin on his knees and stared at the wall.
"How is he?" Sinister asked.
"Out of it."
"Riptide. Take him to the X-men."
Riptide looked at the Mansion. He took the thief's arm and stepped forward. "Sit on the steps." He walked back to the tesseract. He looked over his shoulder. The Cajun had always been so full of himself. It was creepy seeing him sitting there like some discarded doll. Riptide shook his head and stepped into the vortex.
Remy laid his hands on his thighs. His eyes were still focussed on the lock in his mind. He had two of the tumblers in place. He only had five to go.
Logan pushed himself off of the back porch and went to check the mail. He wandered up the front drive, perusing the envelopes. He raised a brow. Who was sending Ro perfumed letters? He stopped at the foot of the stairs. He looked down at the young man sitting there. He touched the wild tangle of hair. "Hey, Gumbo. Ferget yer key?" he teased.
There was no response. He tipped the Cajun's head back. "Well, fuck. Jeannie!"
//Logan? What's wrong?//
//Gambit's home. But he ain't okay. Get out here.//
Jean opened the front door. She was still wearing the patterned apron her mother had sent when her parents had heard that the mansion had been stripped to the walls. "Remy! You're back." She stopped dead when he didnít move.
"Say hello to Jeannie, Gumbo."
"Bonjour," Remy croaked. His eyes never moved.
"Get up," Logan ordered gently. "He donít respond to anythin' else. Gimme yer hand. We're goin' inside."
Jean put a hand to her mouth. Tears pricked at her eyes. The thief was frighteningly thin and the sparkle that made him Remy was missing. She swallowed hard. She had to find out what was wrong before she broke down. She took Remy's arm as Logan put down the mail. "We're going to see Hank," she told Remy.
"He could be a clone," Logan stated.
Jean paused. She touched Remy's mind. His shields were gone. "No. It's Remy's mind, even if it's not his body."
Hank closed the door gently. "What's the good word, Blue?"
"He's been tortured. His mind retreated to get away from the pain. He's never let me use painkillers. This is his way of dealing with things beyond his control."
"Will he snap out of it?"
"We can only pray, my friend."
"I want to see him," Jean stated.
"Physically, he's stable. Just be careful. He can be unpredictable."
"I'll be fine. Logan, call Scott. See if they'll be landing on time. We'll need to contain Rogue for the moment."
"On it, Darlin'."
Jean sat on the bed next to the prone Cajun. She brushed back his bangs. The lights were low to protect his eyes. At any other time, he'd be teasing her about being in his bed. "Hi, Sweetie. It's okay. You're home. If you need me, I'm here." The brief physical contact let her see the most recent of his memories. "It's time to come home, Sweetie."
Three tumblers done. He was getting the hang of working with this design.
//What's up, Red?// Scott asked as he kissed his wife hello.
//No. He'll follow direct orders, but he's turned off his consciousness. He's in the lab.//
"Hey! Hey! Break it up, you two. You're blocking the ramp," Bobby chided. "Some of us want to take a shower."
Scott rolled his eyes and stepped to the side. He left a territorial arm around Jean's waist. Warren knocked him in the shoulder with a wing. "Hey, now, watch those things." Scott kissed Jean again. //What's going on?//
//Come and see.//
Rogue rolled her eyes as Jean tugged on the front of Scott's shirt to lead him away. "Those two'd make out in a sandstorm."
"They probably have," Betsy stated.
Scott knelt down next to their pet thief. He was curled up in the corner. "Hey, Cajun, let's get you back into bed." The young man stood and went to sit on the bed. There was a slight tremble in Remy's hands as Scott lifted them. They were cold. "Okay. I'll turn up the thermostat."
Scott gasped as a sudden terror rocketed into his mind. "Hey, it's just me, Scott. You know, Cyke. Don't worry, you're safe here. Blue won't let anyone hurt you. When'd you develop empathy anyway?"
"He always had it," Hank said opening the door. "He's just very good at diverting attention from it."
"He always talked about his charm. Is that what he meant?"
"Very likely. Have you eaten, Remy?" There was no response.
"Yes, he's eaten," Scott said. "Logan gave him lunch and we just had dinner." Hank raised a brow. "What?"
"You ate dinner with Remy?"
"Why are you so surprised? After the number of times I've eaten on your spare table to make sure you've eaten, I've gotten used to quiet dinners. Especially when I have a headache."
"Are the pills not working?"
"I don't take them for anything short of a migraine." Scott shrugged. "They make me woozy."
"We could try something else you know."
"No thanks. I just don't like drugs."
Remy cheered. One more tumbler and he'd be free. He'd stop feeling so damned much. He could handle the pain if he didn't have to feel his tormentors' glee.
"Sugah?" Rogue said softly. She brushed his hair out of his face. "Remy? Talk to me, Swamp Rat." She sighed. "I'm sorry about what I said. This is your home, Remy. Only one who could turn you out'd be Cyke and we both know he ain't gonna do that."
"Bitch," Logan stated. "Jeannie send you down with that load of bullshit? He can tell when yer lyin' you know. He don't need me to tell him."
"I love him, Logan."
"No, Darlin'. You donít. Not like that at least. Yer friends, maybe, but you ain't lovers. Boy put his soul into lovin' you, girl. And he donít even know yer real name. Get out, Rogue."
She stared at Logan for a long time. "He's still mine."
"No, he ain't. You abandoned him. Get out."
"You plannin' on makin' me?"
Logan's claws extended. "Yup. You talk to him once he's better. 'Til then, stay away."
Rogue rolled her eyes. "You picked up a new side-kick, Wolvie? He ain't Jubilee. He ain't gonna worship you."
"Nope. He's my friend. You ever had one of those, girl?"
Rogue glared. "Fuck you, Logan."
"Ain't my type."
She snorted and left.
"Hey, kiddo," Logan said gently. He set three more tiny folded cranes into the gathering flock that nested on the opposite corner of the room from Remy's favorite sulking place, under the bouquet of flowers Jean would replace the next day.
"L-logan?" Remy whispered. He looked around the room with dazed incomprehension. "Y' still playin' mind-games, M.? Dis be one of y' better ones. Don' rightly look like M. Bete's lab though."
"OZT stole all that Shi'ar shit. We're back to basics, kid. How ya feelin'?'
"Don' y' know?" Remy raised his brows. "Bein' as y'r in m' head and all."
"Kid, it's Logan. I ain't a spook. Lemme call Red fer ya."
Remy snickered. "Y' outdoin' y'self t'day, M. Essex. T'ain't like y'd let Remy go and since I ain't escaped or even tried. . . Mais, y' t'ink makin' a mock-up of Logan and Jeannie's gonna make me join ya?"
"Yer startin' to scare me, Gumbo. Lemme call Jeannie and we'll go from there."
"De sole. Don' go 'gainst y'r program. I ain't got the script." The Cajun waived a carelessly graceful hand.
"Jean, get yer pretty ass down to the med-lab."
"What is it?"
"Kid's conscious. He ain't too sure we're real, but he's conscious."
//Hi, Sweetie.// Jean knelt down by the young man who was still curled up in the corner.
"Don' a good job, M. Can't even hear y'r accent in her mind. When'd y' start doin' that? Or are y' usin' m' own memories?"
"Remy, look at me. It's Jean."
"Oui, I see y', chere." He patted her hand absently. "When y' gonna stop playin' these bullshit games?"
Remy rolled his eyes. "Can't get t' the next level of the mind-fuck 'til I play along, cher? Or did y' set m' up in some sort of hologram t'ing? Can't feel the motors no more. Ain't y' scared I'm gonna blow de place?"
"Please, sweetie. It's Jean. You're home. Logan's here. We'll call Rogue for you if you'd prefer."
Remy snickered. "Oh, M., y' made her too nice. Jeannie ain't never talked this nice t' me. Treatin' m' like a pup ain't in her vocabulary. Y' basin' her on y'r wife then? Know y' loved Becca somet'in' awful."
//Scott, get down to the med-lab immediately.// Jean kept her hand on the Cajun's shoulder. Logan snorted. He strode over and squatted down next to them.
"Gumbo, look at me. I ain't gonna let ya play games. I know ya think we're lyin', but can't ya feel that we ain't?"
"Y' believe y' ain't lyin'. But programs don' believe they be lyin'. And since y'all are in m' head, just been given a script, y' ain't gonna believe y' lyin'."
Jean blinked. "That makes a strange amount of sense."
Scott stepped into the room. "Why isn't Hank in here?"
"Merde. Why'd y' go and add him int' this little bullshit world y' made up f' me?"
"What the fuck is your problem, Cajun?" Scott reacted to the insulting tone more than the words.
"Well, at least y' programmed him right."
"Programmed? Who programmed whom?" Scott asked. He stared at the Cajun for a long moment. "I don't know. I think I liked him better the other way."
"What other way, homme?" Remy asked with a smirk.
"Silent and following orders."
"Merde, y' been havin' fun ain't ya, doc." Remy snickered. "I like this one. Can I keep him? Why ain't y' talkin' t' Remy, M.?" Remy pouted, looking around the room. "Now, y' done a good job on details. Or did y' let my own mind fill them in? This ain't the lab like I remember it. It's nicer. It ain't quite so cold and faceless. Lemme see. Y' got three folks in my head. How many more y' plannin' on addin'?"
"I'm not in your head," Scott said flatly. "That is a disgusting thought. Stop thinking it immediately."
Remy cracked up at that.
"Oh, you think I'm funny? I can be just a laugh riot, Cajun. Why the fuck are you acting like this?"
Jean and Logan gaped at the field leader.
"I want a straight answer and now, Gambit!"
"Why yessir, M. Scott, sir," Remy purred with a little salute. "Merde. Y' even more irritatin' in my head than out. I'm not the one who likes t' play head games, cher. And I don' want t' live by whatever script he done gave y'all. So be nice little illusions and get the fuck out of my head!"
"I'm not going anywhere, you little shit." Scott's mild New York accent was growing with every second he kept speaking.
//Honey, don't you think. . .//
//Shut up, Jean. I know what I'm doing.//
"Y're gettin' out of my head, asshole. I don't want y' here!" Remy reached out with his charm to force the compulsion to leave him alone. He froze when he sensed the affection that belied the harsh tones. That was wrong. If this were an illusion that disconnect wouldn't be there. He stared at Scott for a long moment. "Scotty?" he said hesitantly. "Mais, it can't be. Ain't no way he'd let me go. Not after all the trouble he been goin' to t' keep this po' boy alive."
"Sinister." Remy rolled his eyes. "Like I ain't been eatin' lunch with M. Chatton or somethin'."
"You don't remember our lunch dates? I'm hurt."
Remy stuck his tongue out. Scott flicked him off. Everything settled into place with a jarring thunk of perception. All the memories came flooding back. Remy curled up into a tight ball to weather the storm. When he looked up again, Scott was leaning against the bed. Jean was next to him and Logan was rearranging the cranes on the desk. "This can't be real."
"But he wouldn't just let me go. He don't never let people go without payment."
"Like leadin' folks into a slaughter. Y' know, payment."
Scott nodded. "Jean, Logan, leave us for a moment."
Jean shot a startled glance at her husband, but rose to comply. "I'll go tell Hank."
Logan growled at the field leader, but slunk off after Jean. "I'll take care of him. Just go."
As soon as the door was shut, Scott spoke again. "Cerebro, lock lab door 3B voice code Cyclops-Alpha." He sat down across from the Cajun. "Not even Charles could over-ride that lock. So, since we're alone, why don't you tell me a story."
"What kind of story?"
"The story that lets me know how you got out of Antartica. The story that tells me what's happened since then."
"M. Essex took me out of the snow and fixed me up. He undone what he done before and made this sorry excuse f' a soul t' live again. Don' rightly know why he done it except that he want me wit' him f' good this time. Set them on m' and shut down m' powers f' a time. Made me feel so much. Feel too damn much when my shields are down. He let them play wit' me like I was their toy not their boss. Merde, even Crow fucked m' and he was my best friend. I weren't fightin' or respondin' so they dropped m' here. Riptide left m' on the porch. Don' know why. Ain't like y'all want m' no more."
"You're wrong. This is your home. I was happy when we didn't find a body. I didn't think we'd ever see you again, but I didn't want you dead. And now that you're here, I don't want you gone. And since Charles ain't here, what I say goes. It's a done deal, Gumbo. You're here, you stay. We'll patch you up and then you can make a decision."
"M' powers are too high. It ain't safe t' be 'round me."
"Gambit, you wouldn't hurt a fly if you could find away around fighting the idiots that come after you, so no deal. Do you remember all of it?"
"All of what?"
"The eight months since Rogue left you on the ice." The wide panic in the red eyes let Scott know that no, the Cajun didn't remember.
"Remember mebbe two months. Don't know what all he could've done t' m' in eight months. I ain't safe t' keep here. Don't need t' be keepin' dis fucked up Cajun. Don't rightly want me here neither."
"I want you here. I don't give a fuck about the rest of them. You're my thief, remember? You steal for me, I provide food and shelter. That's how it works, remember? I'm not letting anyone say different. You're a part of this family and I don't care what the fuck has happened in the past eight months. We need you. And I don't care if we have to start from scratch on training. I'll work out with you. So will Logan. Jean's been crying in my arms for weeks because she kept hearing you asking for help. I'm not about to let you go. Do you understand?"
Remy stared at Scott for a long moment. Slowly he nodded. "Y' don't got t' protect m', homme."
"It's my responsibility to look out for you. That's what family is for."
"Scotty," Remy reached out a hand. "Y' too good t' be true sometimes, y' know that?"
Scott took the hand gently. "I've been there. Being alone just sucks. I won't force you to fight on the team, but I'm keeping you here any way I can. Can you talk about what they did to you?" Remy pulled his hand back.
His breathing intensified. "I can't t'ink about it or I'll go nuts. It ain't even the physical part of it. I could feel them. They were enjoyin' hurtin' m' so much and it made m' sick t' think about. It's like I got maggots in m' head. Ain't like I didn't deserve it, but they didn't need t' enjoy it so."
"You don't deserve anything of the kind. I can make some guesses. Especially since you mentioned Sabretooth. When you figure out how to talk about it, talk to me. I've been there. I'm telling you the truth. You know that right?"
"I know y' been on the wrong side of a gang b'fore," Remy said softly. "And it still haunts y'. This ain't the first time they done hurt me, but b'fore it was more fun and games. I gave as good as I got. This time, they weren't the same folks I know. It was like meetin' them f' the first time. Even V weren't the same and she never gets cloned. But V and Flip both done t'ings t' me that I didn' think they could. And somehow it was worse wit' them cause of what we'd done b'fore. Mais, the only one that weren't different was Creed." A single tear tracked down the Cajun's cheek. "And I don't mind Creed too much. It's just his way t' be like that. But the others, merde. It would be like havin' Bobby fuck y' up, cher. Or Warren mebbe. Then havin' Jean decide that she wants t' make y' do t'ings t' her. Mebbe even t'ings y' wouldn't mind most times, but not when y' sore and rubbed raw." Scott settled his hand on the young man's wrist. He nodded in encouragement.
"It's like walking into that Star Trek episode where everyone's gone bad."
Remy nodded. "Oui. Dat's it exactly. And m' powers be extended. He tamed them down when I was younger. Now, he put them back up. I can feel everythin' like I be touchin' it all. I can feel the energy in y' head even. I can see how it flows t'rough y'r body and focuses in y' eyes. I can feel it all like it's right in m' fingers. And I can feel all their minds. All the pain and guilt and fear and shame and love and hate and lust and need. I can feel it all and it's gonna kill m'."
Scott shifted so he could wrap his arms around his thief. He closed his eyes and reinforced his shields. Remy turned in the grip to bury his face in the side of Scott's neck. He wrapped his arms around the older man. Scott rocked him until the grip around his waist eased and Remy pulled back. "I'd better let Hank in before he breaks down the door."
Remy gave him a weak smile. "Y' shouldn't keep m' here. Y' don't know what that bastard done t' my head."
"I don't care either. We'll deal with it as it comes."
"Amen. Didn't get here by being easy."
"Cerebro, unlock lab door 3B - voice code Cyclops-Alpha."
The big blue doctor pushed into the room. "Don't you *ever* lock me out of one of my lab rooms again, Scott," Hank stated.
"I will do whatever I feel is necessary to protect all members of this team, up to and including locking people in or out of wherever I so choose." Scott stood to leave.
"Non!" Remy caught hold of Scott's wrist. "He was dere. Don't leave m' alone wit' someone who hates me f' what I done."
Scott settled close. "What do you mean?" he asked. He curled an arm around the young man as if he weren't any older than Jubilee. He stroked the soft hair.
"He was at the trial. His eyes were so angry. I ain't never seen him angry b'fore. I can't stand him lookin' at me like that."
Hank's jaw worked for a moment or two. Then, he knelt down. He gently lifted Remy's chin until their eyes met. "Remy, my friend, I was angry, but I am no longer angry at you. I have had eight months to consider your actions and my own. It hurt me to know that there was a secret of such magnitude and personal tragedy in your past. It hurt me to know that you couldn't trust us enough to ask for help with your demons. I am sorry that we. . . that I never showed you that you were among friends whom you could trust. I am sorry that I never asked if you needed to talk. I'm most sorry that I never asked you where your fear of my lab developed. Please don't fear me. I would never harm you. You know that I would never harm a patient under my care."
"Even if that patient happened t' be Magneto? Or mais, Sabretooth. Y' sure, M.?" Remy's voice was biting. "Y' sure that y' can work on a murderer without feelin' the pressure t' let him die?" Scott's arm tightened. "Y' so sure that y' ain't got a sadistic streak hidden in y'r heart? The one that likes t' watch the results of an experiment. They callt y'r double the Dark Beast. He weren't no different than y' are, except that his heart was hard."
"I will not let you push me away with words. I will consider what you are saying after I see that you are physically safe. And you are not a murderer."
"Then why did y'all leave me t' die?"
Hank's shock was evident. "I was under the impression that Rogue had dropped you off at the nearest base. There was a research base there. I was given to understand that you didn't want to return to us."
Remy laughed. It was a brittle icicle shattering sound. "Rogue left m' t' die on that ice, Henri. She left m' and tol' me not t' come back. Tol' me I weren't an X-man and had no place here. I could've told the femme that years ago. I ain't never been a hero. I'm just a thief. And a liar. And a murderer. I'm a Marauder through and through."
Scott rocked the Cajun gently. "Thief admittedly. Liar maybe. Lying to yourself first, us later. That's the trap, Cajun. You aren't evil. You aren't a hired killer. Your father would disown you if you were. I don't believe any of that foolishness. You're hurt and you're lashing out. Close your eyes for a minute and rest, Gumbo. Hank's going to give you a once over, then we'll set you up a real place to stay," he said gently.
"Y' weren't there at that trial. Logan neither."
"Jean and I went back to look for you when she realized that Rogue hadn't brought you home. She cried in my arms at the thought that you were lost to us. I admit that Sinister is one of my hot buttons, but I know how the man can fuck with your head. I know from experience. We have bigger fish to fry and bigger problems to destroy. First things first, we get you healthy. Then I'll give you a current events rundown."
"Y' always so business, cher. Y' need t' relax b'fore y' hurt somethin'."
Scott snorted. Hank's fingers were gentle as he took the Cajun's pulse and temperature.
"Then give me a chance. I know we've hurt you. And I know that it was practically yesterday to you, but you'll find that we aren't the same team."
"Can I get out of this place?"
"Hank?" Scott asked. The doctor sighed. A sad smile crossed his face.
"Yes. I'll be checking on you at least once a day, Remy."
"Please accept my apologies as well. It was never my intention to harm you. My anger was unjustified."
"It was justified. Merde, y' saw one of y'r best friends hurtin' because of my actions. Even Remy ain't happy wit' himself." Remy shrugged.
"Will you forgive my actions?"
"Oui, Henri." Remy smiled at the doctor. "Of course."
"Let's get you settled in a room and I'll give you a run down." Scott stood. Remy leaned against him. He looked around in undisguised surprise and distress.
"Operation Zero Tolerance. They stripped the mansion."
"Bon Dieu. We got t' get it back then. Government?"
Remy considered. "I'll get it back. Maybe not all at once, but I will. This just ain't right. Get my lawyers on it. Illegal seizure."
"They know we're the X-men."
"Equal protection under the law. Team ain't subject t' RICO or any of that shit. The government don't got a right t' steal shit. I don't give a fuck."
"Warren's people couldn't do anything to prevent it."
"Warren's lawyer's a pussy. I met the man. He's good f' corporate shit. He ain't a criminal defense lawyer."
"Why am I not surprised you have a defense lawyer?"
"I'm just special that way. It's cold." Remy huddled closer. "Hurtin'. Y'all ain't been doin' well have y'?"
"No," Scott said softly. "A lot of shit came down at the same time. The professor's missing. I had a bomb in my chest. We lost Ororo to her mother."
"Stormy's gone?" Remy asked, horror shading his voice.
"Yes, I'm sorry. She's with her mother."
"Her mama's dead."
"Adopted mother, in another dimension."
The Cajun's head dropped. He whispered a soft prayer. They stopped in front of his old room. "It's not much, I'm afraid. They got your art too."
"Fuckers. It took me years t' get that good at forgin'." Remy stumbled at the threshold. "Sorry. Walkin' ain't been in the plans f' awhile."
"We've been leading you on walks. Do you remember?"
"Some of it. Y' sure do talk a lot."
Scott couldn't help but laugh. "Well, it's like talking to a stuffed animal. You tell it everything in the world because it doesn't talk back."
Remy settled on the bed. "Merci, Scott. Tell me what's been goin' on."
Scott settled on the window seat. "Well, it all happened at pretty much the same time as you were in Antartica."
"The Cajun's awake?" Bobby said, looking up from his recreation of the records for the school. Rogue nodded. "Have you talked to him?"
The Southerner rolled her eyes and snorted. "Scott's giving him a briefing on what's been goin' on around here. Seems the boy's plannin' to get our stuff back. Logan ain't even seen him for more than a few minutes."
"Hmm." Bobby nodded in encouragement, eyes returning to his work.
"Damn it, sugah! What's happened to you, Bobby? Ya don't listen to me at all."
"I don't have time for gossip, Rogue. It's called being an adult and doing a job. Maybe you should look into the possibility."
"Pull in the claws, boy."
"Act like a fucking adult, Rogue. You're older than I am. I'm bored with hearing the endless saga of Remy and Rogue. It's not my problem that you treat him like shit and he comes back for more. It's not my problem that he acts like a slut and pisses you off. I don't even care anymore. I've grown out of my crush Rogue. I'm not jealous of him anymore. You're my friend, but I can't keep babysitting you. You saw what they did to him and you decided you had to take him back. Maybe you should talk to your boyfriend before you do that."
"Joseph and I ain't a couple no more."
"Am I surprised? You break up with guys so often that I'm more surprised when you're in a relationship than when you're out of it. And by the way, you can't blame Remy for this situation. It's all you, Rogue. You left him vulnerable and Sinister grabbed him. Why don't you go chew on that bone for awhile?"
Rogue gaped at the blond for a long moment, then left the room. She leaned against the wall outside the office and looked up at the ceiling. She decided finally that she needed to see Jean.
"So what y' tellin' me is that we ain't been doing much along the lines as we used t' because we don't got the equipment. Cerebro's crippled. Jeannie's not as strong as the prof and we got t' deal with Bobby bein' an adult. We got two new members, Sarah and Cecilia. Maggot's still around too. And Joseph's actually a clone of Magneto so I ain't allowed t' hate him no more. Rogue's still the same. Stormy's gone home to mama. And you ain't got no clue where the prof might be."
"Well, shit, Cyke. Sounds about normal around here."
Scott was startled into a laugh. "Well, true. You planning to join us for dinner tonight?"
The fear came back into the red eyes. "They don't want me down there. Just make them feel shitty."
"Don't let them win and push you away. They needed someone to blame for everything and since we assumed you just didn't want to come back after the incident, you've been convenient. They don't dare blame me, but that's who they should blame. I ignored the intel you brought me on OZT. I ignored the hints that Logan dropped along the way. So OZT came down hard on us. I assumed the professor would give us a warning, but then Onslaught happened and we got caught with out guard down." Scott shrugged. "I won't let you cut yourself off from the team. So get your ass up, dinner's ready."
"Y're an asshole, Cyke."
"Wouldn't have it any other way." Scott kept an arm handy in case the Cajun needed the assistance. Remy hadn't been walking much. Jean and Scott had led him on walks around the grounds, but the thief had tired easily from months of inaction. The stairs made him sigh, but he got down and to the kitchen with no trouble. He stopped in front of the dining room. He looked at Scott. Scott stared at him, face poker-flat.
"Sometimes, I really hate you."
A slow smirk crossed Scott's face. "I'll grow on you."
"Just f' that, I'm gonna have t' see 'bout fakin' up some reports that'll make m' y'r brother."
"So I got a reason t' mess wit' y'r head."
"Like that's stopped you. Quit stalling."
Remy pushed open the door and walked into the room like he'd never been gone. He looked over the assembled group. The door swung closed behind Scott. Jean was the first one to notice him. She smiled and held out her hands. He gave her a grin and a wink, then settled down in Scott's usual seat.
"Brat," Scott said as he sat down at the head of the table. "You've met Maggot. This is Sarah. And this is Dr. Cecilia Reyes."
"Enchante." Remy smiled at Cecilia. He inclined his head in Sarah's direction. Their eyes caught. Her jaw dropped.
"You," she breathed. Then, she was gone. The welter of emotions left an emotional wake that made Gambit blanch.
"Y' told her?" he asked softly.
Jean nodded. "But that wasn't the reaction I expected. I expected she'd go for your throat."
The Cajun looked in the direction she'd gone. "She was the one I saved. I t'ought I'd be able t' keep her. She'd be ma petite fille. Chatton had different ideas. Figured out I wasn't gonna kill her. Managed t' distract him." Remy shook his head. "Callisto took her from m' arms. She a beautiful girl now."
"Well, Swamp Rat, you definitely have odd definitions of beautiful," Rogue stated.
"Oh, y'r pretty, chere," he soothed. "But she got a beautiful heart hidden under all that pain. That's true beauty, Rogue. That's what y' always been missin'."
Rogue's eyes narrowed, her mouth tightened. "Smile when you say that, boy."
"Why, chere? It just piss y' off more." Remy turned his head toward Jean.
"Oh, don't you even. Look at me, Remy!" she demanded.
"Non. Y' don't like me none. I don't care what you t'ink no more." He shrugged without looking at her. "Give y' a few days you gonna be trying to get me back. I ain't playin'." He looked Jean right in the eye. He saw the message register with her. He didn't have any reserves left to play with. If they couldn't deal with honesty, they wouldn't deal with him. He was through lying. "Jeannie, y' got a list of whatall the government stole from us?"
"Not a full one. We'll have to go room by room. I don't think there was ever a complete listing of what the professor owned. I've called his lawyer, but I haven't gotten anything from him."
"We'll work on it," Remy said with a smile. Anger poured off of Rogue, but it didn't crash his newly errected shields. He turned to the food. He ignored the shocked faces. He looked down at the soup bowl in front of him. He couldn't bring himself to put any soup into it. He wasn't hungry. The very smell of it turned his stomach. Instead, he reached for a glass of water and let Scott take control of the conversation by demanding status reports from other members of the team.
Jean settled on the edge of Remy's bed. He'd gone to lie down as soon as he could escape from dinner. She smoothed the ruffled hair. His bangs were gone as was the thick tail he'd worn for most of the time he'd been on the team. It made him look younger in a way. He couldn't hide the smooth skin of his forehead. His usual five o'clock shadow dotted his jaw. He was curled under his blankets, staring at the wall. "That was very brave," she told him.
"What? Tellin' off Rogue? Non, that was me finally catchin' a clue."He shivered. "Merde, I hope this goes away."
"Feelin' cold all the time."
Jean leaned against the headboard. She let her hand rest on his shoulder. "Turn over. You can have some of my warmth."
"'Spect y'r boy'll have somethin' to say 'bout that." He sighed when she didn't respond. Then, he turned over and rested his head on her thigh. She tucked the blanket firmly around his back. She ran her fingers through his bangs as though she were petting Nathan as a child. He ran a fingertip across the patch on the knee of her jeans. "They got different potentials," he murmured.
He nodded with a small hum of agreement. "Henri t'inks I need drugs."
"He's normally correct about that sort of thing."
"And he wants m' t' talk t' a shrink."
There was a pang in her heart, hoping for a minute that Charles would suddenly appear. "The professor worked with a few people in Westchester. I'm sure one of them will take you on."
Remy laughed softly. "Non, mebbe I call Brother Voodoo. He already know Remy be crazy."
"Oh? Have we met him? Or even heard of him?"
"Don't t'ink so. He don't come this far up the coast. Wouldn't let him near mon petite neither. The two of dem'll get int' somet'in' 'bout plants and the rest of us be ready t' slit our wrists t' get free." He leaned into her touch a bit and she gently massaged his scalp.
She leaned her head back. "How are you feeling? Generally? Beyond tired."
"Cold," he muttered. "Y'all let Robert fix the thermostats or somet'in'? Or y'all hurtin' that bad? Worthington can't keep the place runnin' on his own, I expect."
She sighed. "They've frozen the accounts, but the house was protected by being registered as a college. And we've got the operating fund for the college. Warren gives as an alumnus."
Remy sighed. "Get m' the account number. Recon I can float us f' a few months. Least 'til I got the strength t' take on a black blag account. We call in a few favors, non?"
Jean blinked. "I can't ask you to turn over your savings. Not with the way we've treated you."
The thief turned onto his back and looked up at her, eyes dancing with the humor they'd been missing. "Never said not'in' about savin's, chere. I got m'self a nice legal account that's go more'n enough t' see us t'rough f' awhile. Mais, even enough t' turn up the heat an' feed Maggot."
"I'm not sure about that last part. Jesus. Have you seen the bills to feed Hank?" She smiled down at him. "You take care of yourself. We'll find a way."
"Subborn femme. Take m' all of five minutes t' convince Cyke. Don't y' worry y' pretty head none."
"Oh, for that you are now on dish duty for the next month."
"Always knew y' were a sadist. Glad t' be proven right."
"Oh, you just wait until she gets out the whip," Scott said. He leaned against the door-frame, arms crossed. He smirked at them. "Are you feeling maternal? Or should I actually be worried about this?"
Gambit snorted, then turned to cuddle closer to Jean's leg. "Y' here t' read ole Remy a bedtime story or what?"
Scott snorted. "Jean, Rogue was wondering what exactly you wanted her to do with those sheets in the basement? Were we going to be turning them into curtains or blankets?"
"Curtains for the moment." She rolled her eyes. "Sleep well, Remy."
"Spar wit' me, ole man," Remy said. He poked Logan in the side with a toe from where he'd perched on the back of the second hand sofa. The thing was a hideous yellow with overly bright flowers on it. Logan snorted at him.
"Poke me again and I'll take yer leg off. Outside. No Danger Room."
"Jus' wrong it is. Hardworkin' criminals like ourselves loosin' everything t' a jumped up government t'ief." Remy shook his head. "Outside. I ain't back in shape yet."
Logan nodded. He held the screen door open for a moment. "Yer choice, kiddo. We'll spar. No powers. Just start slow and see how much you got in the tank."
Remy nodded. He bit his lip. They stood in the middle of the lawn. "Logan?"
"Why didn't no one come?"
The Canadian looked down. He slid out one bone claw. "Things were a little crazy," he said as he contemplated it. "Everyone assumed Rogue dropped ya off somewhere. That you didn't want to come back. Wasn't until Scott and Jean were up and moving again. Ya heard about the bomb in his chest right? Took Scooter awhile to get back to leadin' the team after that. He found out she left ya up there. Flew out not fifteen minutes later, but you were gone." He grimaced. "Rogue, well, she ain't admited what she did was wrong yet. If she wanted ya dead, she should of done it right."
Remy snorted. "She's scared Bella'd find out. She knows no one's allowed t' kill me 'cept her."
Remy threw a light punch, just loosening up his arm. Logan nodded. "Come on then. Give me a good strike." Soon enough they were circling each other and fighting just hard enough to be grinning from adrenaline. Logan dropped the younger man to the ground. "I think that's enough fer you right now. Yer getting tired and sloppy."
"Yes, sir, Mr. Logan, sir." Remy rolled his eyes. He got up fluidly. "Best warn Bete that I'm gonna be bruised when he fusses at me later."
"He still checkin' on ya?" Logan frowned. "Something wrong you ain't told me?"
The younger man paused, biting his lip in a tell that he usually had better control of. "Tryin' to figure out what Essex done t' me. I'm missin' months. He could've done almos' anyt'ing." He ran a hand through his still too-short hair.
"And what do you think he did?" Logan cocked his head to the side.
Remy snorted. "Merde, don't ask f' much do y', ole man. I figure he stolt all he could of m' DNA. And he likely put m' head back t' rights so I got access t' more of m' powers without the teenage hormones makin' them unstable." He moved onto the back porch and lit a cigarette. He didn't put it to his lips though, just stared at it. "M' lungs ain't right. Had pneumonia when he found me. Likely did somethin' to make me a 'path. Or at least cranked up m' charm some. Woulda been nice if'n he'd tole me."
Logan puffed on a new cigar. Remy leaned over the porch rail while Logan settled on the swing. Logan moved the swing idly while the thief looked out at the one part of the house Bastion hadn't touched. The garden was wild now though. Storm was in charge of the space and since she'd gone no one had so much as weeded it. He raised a brow when the Cajun didn't put the cigarette out. He wasn't smoking it. It just burned down slowly between his fingers. Neither of them spoke until the ashes had made it all the way to the filter. "Yer gettin' it back fer us."
The thief looked over his shoulder with a hint of a smile. "Oui, cher. Soon as Remy's in fightin' condition, he go stealin' our t'ings back from wherever they been taken."
Logan grunted. "I'm a fair wheelman."
"I'll keep that in mind."
"No, you are not going out alone," Scott said. He didn't even look up from the paperwork he was filling out. Remy crossed his arms across his chest. When he didn't argue, Scott did look up. He cocked his head to the side and looked at the thief. "No argument? You must feel like shit."
Remy huffed out a small laugh. "Pretty much. But I need t' get into the city. Don't feel like takin' Logan. And me and Robert ain't the best company. Though he seems," he gestured carelessly and it was good to see the grace back in his limbs. "Mais adult?"
Scott nodded. "He's grown up. Take Jubilee at least?"
Remy's eyes narrowed. "Y' want her t' talk t' me since she ain't talkin' to y'all?"
"She's barely talking to Logan." Scott scrubbed a hand through his hair. "I'm worried about her. She... she won't tell anyone, but I've got a feeling Bastion tortured her for information."
The fierce expression that crossed Gambit's face made every muscle tense instinctually. "Jus' another reason t' destroy him."
"I've got a list if you need it."
"Stop stealin' my lines."
"Then, grab the car keys from the kitchen and pray that the motor doesn't give out on you before you get downtown. And call once an hour or I'll have Jean track you."
Remy snorted. "Y' gonna have her do that anyway."
"I'm saddened that you don't trust me."
"Charles is still alive. Y' ain't got to pretend t' be him."
Scott frowned. "You know something I don't know?"
"Know lots. But I heard 'Tooth talkin' about him bein' in some lab somewhere. Rumors, oui, but ain't one of those rumors said he was dead."
The field leader in him had to evaluate the information from his spy, but the teenager in his heart that just wanted his father back jumped for joy. "And you believe these rumors?"
"I do. We get him, cher. But first I got t' get the heatin' turned up b'fore it's winter again. That'd be what? T'ree weeks or so?"
Scott laughed. "Summer will last the full month, promise. Might even be warm enough for you to go without a jacket."
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