"Dis is cruel and unusual punishment, Summers," Remy LeBeau hissed. The young man glared at the field leader who was happily piling files and paperwork onto the dining room table.
Scott Summers smiled at his pet thief with cheerful sadism. "Don't want you to get bored. Hank said six weeks. This should tide you over."
Remy's knee was recovering from a fall. He was on crutches with orders to keep his leg up as often as possible. "I ain't good at paperwork."
"Liar." Scott topped the pile off with a pack of pens, sticky notes, and a highlighters. "I'll bring you some more coffee. Have fun."
Remy sneezed at the dust from the top file. "I'm gonna tell Charles his boy's a sadist."
"I am merely appropriately using my resources to achieve my goals. Shredding goes in the box. Any financial records over seven years can go. All incident reports need to be piled here to be scanned into the computer. Kitty promised to have a server set up just for incidents. Fill out the form here with pertinent information for the metadata that's going into the shared team database."
"Ain't Kitty with SHIELD now? We really trustin' the government with our data?"
"Nope. Kitty left SHIELD when she took a deeper look at their computers. Luckily, she's got enough blackmail on Fury and the rest to keep her out too. This is for X-Factor, X-Force, etc."
"Alpha Flight's government run. X-Force too."
"They're our people first. Jean and Xavier are... encouraging their protection of the server."
Remy frowned. "So much f' ethical spooks."
"No such thing."
The cynicism made Remy smirk. Scott ruffled the Cajun's bangs in retaliation before jumping out of range. "I ain't gonna be on these f'ever," he called after the retreating man. Scott just laughed at him.
Bobby Drake poked his head into the dining room. Gambit was surrounded by paper piles of varying heights. A box on his right was mostly full of what looked like ledgers. "Hey, Gumbo, whatcha doing?"
"Busy work. Say, we got a contract wit' someone f' shredding or is po' Remy gonna find hisself feedin' all this through a shredder?" The accent was pure theatre.
Bobby laughed. "I'll bring you the shredder as soon as I find Rogue. That mofo is heavy. Are those the old finances? Is Scott cleaning out the attic?"
"Mus' be. T'ink he'd freak ifn I blew some of dis?"
"Hank said minimal power use."
Remy pouted. "Y' mind bringin' me the rum an' some mo' coffee, sil tu plait?"
"Or y' could help sort files."
Bobby escaped to the kitchen. "Oh, hey, Rogue."
The woman in question was elbow deep in hot water. "Bobby."
"Can you help me drag the shredder up here? Part of Scott's torture for your boy-toy."
Rogue raised her brows. "Shreddin'? That is low."
"Well, he did get hurt because of a stunt."
"No, he got hurt practicin' bing' a thief," she corrected. "Then he and Scott got into a fight over bringin' in fundin'."
"I've been fencing for Gambit for years. I'll talk to Scott."
"My God, are yah being responsible?"
"Sh! Warren might hear."
Logan whistled tunelessly as he lounged on the back deck. The thump of Gambit's crutched alerted him to the younger man's approach. "Hey, kiddo. When's Hank startin' PT?"
"Not near soon enough." The younger man smelled of dust, ink, pain, and paper. There was a smear of oil on his sweatpants. Remy lit up before flopping down onto the bench swing. "Y' do me a favor an' grab me a carton of smokes? Henri says I ain't allowed t' drive f' a week. T'ink he's just punishin' po' Remy."
Logan snorted. "Sure."
"Bien. I give y' a card." They smoked in companionable silence.
"Sugah," Rogue said, her voice dripping with insincere sweetness.
Remy blinked at her. "What's wrong, chere?"
"Did you forget to tell me somethin' about you an' Bobby?"
"Oh, chere, we only been datin' f' a few weeks."
Rogue laughed. "Yah'd break him. No, somethin' about business?"
"I do believe that you was the one who tol' me not t' worry y' wit' my sort of business. Merde, we goin' t' have this fight, I need a beer."
Rogue deflated. She perched on the railing of the porch. "No, I'm tired of fightin'." She wrapped an arm around the post.
"I'll leave you kids to talk."
"No," Rogue confirmed. "I think we need a witness."
Logan subsided with a grimace. "I ain't playin' judge."
"Just witness this so Ah don't back out." Rogue took a deep breath. Remy looked down at the floorboards. "Ah will always love the fairy tale in mah head. But that ain't reality. Remy, you an' me ain't suited ta bein' a couple. Ah will always be your friend. But I am not goin' to be yahr lover."
Remy's breathing hitched. "Je comprends. I'll always love ya, chere. But this is the last time, out? Y' change y'r mind t'morrow, I ain't gonna play no mo'." When he lifted his head, his eyes were surprisingly dry. "I'm gonna go find Stormy." He thumped away. Rogue watched him leave.
Logan sighed. "I'm guessin' ya want me to hold ya both to this? You ain't allowed to restart it and he ain't allowed to take ya back?"
"Please? Or we're just gonna keep hurtin' each other." She wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. Logan offered an arm, but Rogue just closed up on herself. "I'm gonna take a walk around the lake."
Logan puffed on his cigar and sighed. Kids.
"We have an elevator," Warren pointed out. Gambit ignored him and kept hauling himself up the staircase. "The professor won't mind if you use it."
"Pluck, y'self, Ange."
Warren chuckled. He stayed a step behind the other man. Even if they didn't get along, Betsy liked the man. She'd read Warren the riot act if Gambit got more damaged. Gambit glanced over his shoulder with narrowed eyes. "If'n you were Robert, I'd be more suspicious, but givin' y'all been friends with him f' so long, I ain't very trusting."
"Shows you do have a brain hiding under that hair."
They finally made it to the men's wing. Gambit paused. He looked toward his room, then looked toward the stairs up to Storm's loft. He grimaced. He limped toward his room. Warren shadowed him, mostly to make him paranoid. "Y' lookin' f' an end of date kiss, y'r out of luck."
"You good? Need a hand?"
"Non, merci." The thief still looked suspicious, but he also looked tired. Gambit shut the door between them. Warren waited a moment, then went in search of Storm.
"Brother?" Ororo called softly. She laid down on the bed next to his napping form. He turned toward her without opening his eyes.
"Broke up wit' Rogue f' good."
"I am sorry."
"Don't lie, girl. Y' know it weren't good f' me t' keep goin' back."
"It still hurt you. For that, I am sorry."
Remy sighed against her collarbone, his breath warm and familiar. "Mebbe Remy'll just date Robert."
"Hank would murder you."
"Well, when he goin' t' get off his furry, blue bum and do something?"
Ororo laughed. "There is a pool. I assume you would like to join it?"
"What I got t' do f' you t' win?"
"No manipulation of the pool allowed or Jean would have won years ago." She paused. "I have already lost my original dates," she added.
Remy laughed. "Wish I could fall f' you. Too bad y're my sister."
"You are not my type, Remy LeBeau."
"I met Yukio."
Storm laughed softly. "Still. My taste in men is different than my taste in women."
Remy hummed agreement. "Oui. Only makes sense. Y' still datin' that prince? Y' ain't said much."
Storm was quiet. "He has asked me to marry him. I have not yet responded."
"He do that over Skype? Or he drop y' a line?" There was censure in Remy's voice that she hurried to answer.
"He has merely asked me to consider the possibility. He has assured me that a more appropriate proposal will come, but he is well aware of my reservations about being... royal."
Remy wrapped an arm around her waist. "He make y' happy, petite?"
"Oui." She breathed the word into his hair."
"Y' get t' use y're talent wit' plants. Y' enjoy bein' with him. He treats y' right." Remy sighed. "Do y' love him, Ororo?"
The use of her name startled her. Remy must be serious. "Yes, I do. I love him and his people."
Remy hugged her tightly. "I will miss my Stormy, but I expect y'll be able t' wrangle m' a visa t' visit. Tell him I expect a proper bride price. Mais, a bit of vibranium t' make into a breast plate or mebbe a baton."
Ororo laughed, though she felt tears in her eyes. "Mercenary," she accused. "I have not said 'yes' to him yet."
"Remy's responsible f' makin' sure his Stormy is happy. Panther makes her happy an' she loves him. Everything else will work out. Still, I expect t' see a proper proposal."
"I will tell him." She held her brother close. They fell asleep, still curled around one another.
"So that's how we ended up getting a reward of porcupine quills," Scott said. He was seated companionably across the table from his teammate. He'd filled several of the metadata forms out while Remy shredded ledgers. "Does Rogue," he began, then stopped. Remy raised his brows expectantly. "Does Rogue every talk about Longshot?"
Remy blinked at him. "Not t' me, but I never met him. I reckon she might talk t' Bobby."
Scott flipped his pen between his fingers. "He was the first team-member I got killed."
Remy fed another ledger sheet through the cross-cutter. "I read de file. Weren't y'r fault. Sometimes folks make their own decisions about how t' reach a goal. He took his best option." The thief didn't look at him. "Know y' care 'bout your team, cher. Y' t'ink of them as family. When we out there though? Y' got t' f'get that. Y' set the objectives an' send the best folks out. After that, we decide." The thief was quiet and Scott let the silence stand. "Y' been lucky. Papa lost t'ree t'ieves last week. Only one of dem to prison. Two widows and six kids t' look after now.
"I'm sorry for your loss," Scott said quietly. It was a fair assumption that Remy knew at least one of them.
"We can get you there for the funerals?" he offered.
"Non. Remy ain't welcome. T'anks f' the offer." He sneezed at one of the old books he was stripping of financials. "Y' likely gonna lose Remy one day. Got t' train y' up a thief. Y' think on it. Thinkin' Jubilee, me. She got the gymnastics."
Scott pushed away the flash of annoyance. Right now was not the time to lecture Gambit on following orders and being careful. "Kitty would be perfect."
"She's got her heart tied up in England. Don' know. Mebbe I float the idea t' mon pere. Might could be one of the kids'll do it."
"Even after losing a parent?"
Remy finally looked at Scott. He seemed confused. "Y' understand that t'ievin' is the family business, oui? Jus' cuz one parent ain't comin' home don't mean the other stops workin'. Y' don't expect Jubilee's gonna stop bein' on a team if'n he boyfriend dies?"
"I never thought of it as a calling," Scott said carefully. "My experiences with the field were... traumatic."
Remy's eyes grew calculating. "Say, Scott, ole Remy's lookin' f' an apprentice. Y' interested?"
Scott's brain shut down for a moment at the thought of it. He tried to come up with a rational argument, but what he came up with was, "Jean would kill me!"
Remy was startled into laughter.
"Come on, Remy, let's get you out of the house before Logan convinces you to grow a beard." Betsy put out her hands. Remy took the offered help to pull himself up from the couch. Logan rolled his eyes, but kept watching the public access documentary on the Beard and Mustache Convention. Could the two of of them have been more bored? Remy thumped toward the stairs, but Betsy wasn't Warren. She caught the thief's ponytail. "We're taking the elevator," she informed him. "Can you wear jeans with that brace?"
"Mais, I suppose so. Henri ain't said 'no.'"
She herded him into the elevator. "Or maybe something nicer. We're going shopping. If you're nice. I'll even get a wheelchair when you get tired."
"What sort of shoppin'?" Remy limped to his room.
"Ah. Y' wait here, mademoiselle Braddock," he chided as she tried to follow him in to his room. When he emerged, he was wearing khaki's and a blue shirt that looked as though he'd "borrowed" it from Scott's closet.
Remy winced as a teenager nearly ran into his crutch. "Why'd I let y' bully m' into this?"
"You were watching public access," she reminded him. He let her put a guiding hand on his wrist. The touch of skin was electric. He hadn't realized that he'd picked up Rogue's habit of avoiding touch.
"Hey, the mutie's got a new girlfriend," said an unfortunately familiar voice. "How the fuck do you attract such pretty women, freak?"
"Got better manner's than you, Benny."
Benny was a greasy-faced twenty-year-old who dealt in stolen credit card and social security numbers. He was a blatant bigot, but Remy could stand being called names as long as they weren't accompanied by violence.
"What the Hell happened to you?"
"Messed up my leg. Crutches f' at least six weeks."
Benny shook his head. "Call me when you're useful again." He looked Betsy up and down. "This one's prettier than the other one. Not as pretty as your 'sister' though." Benny leered at the thought. "Still don't know why you haven't hooked up with her."
"She's my sister."
Benny blinked. "Huh. Weird." He shrugged. "Later, mutie." He ambled off toward the food court.
"He is repulsive," Betsy stated.
"Oui, but his money's good." Remy glanced at the closest store. Jewelry, what luck. "Need t' pick up a few t'ings here."
Betsy gave him a small smile. "You did remember your wallet?"
"Mebbe," he teased. They weren't friends, but they were cordial. He perused the loose gems for awhile, but their quality was suspect. He found a jade necklace that had been carved into a vine of leaves. It had small rubies set into it to imply roses. Betsy looked over his shoulder.
"For Ororo, I assume?"
"Oui. It's lovely." He gestured to the clerk. "Y' have a gift box f' this, please?"
"Of course, Mr. LeBeau." The clerk was a slim woman with a neat bob of hair that hugged her cheeks. The small diamond on her badge indicated that she was the manager. She seemed to know when Remy would be shopping. He half-suspected she was Guild,but had never pursued it.
She left them to browse while she packed up the necklace. "That's pretty." Betsy pointed out a rose gold key pendant with a morganite top. "Let Warren know, won't you?"
Remy laughed at her. "Now I see why y' wanted me t' shop wit' y'." Most of the men in the mansion consulted Remy for gift ideas for the important dates – Christmas, Valentine's, and birthdays.
"Peggy, does Mr. Worthington shop here?"
"Yes, sir. Generally on Christmas Eve." The manager rolled her dark eyes. If his Stormy weren't in love, he'd have made sure to introduce them – Peggy was her type.
"Make a note that his girl likes this piece please?"
"Oh! Certainly. Anything else I can point him toward?"
Remy drifted down the counter while the women chatted. He peered down at the tray of charms. He'd gotten Rogue charms since before they started dating and saw no reason to stop just because they'd broken up again. He considered a flame, but then he noticed a heart that said "friends forever." It was thin and cheap, but right for a "just because" present. Peggy packed it up with a raised brow, but no comment. It was far cheaper than the usual charms he bought. A bracelet for Jublilee and a pair of earrings for his sister-in-law, Mercy, completed his order.
Betsy deftly snagged the bag before they started moving again. "I'm in the mood for ice cream," she stated.
"Hey, Gumbo," Bobby said cheerfully. He bounced the Cajun's mattress with both hands. Remy batted weakly in his direction with a hand.
"G'way, Robert." He pulled the pillow over his head.
"Hank says it's check-up time. Someone mentioned that you'd gotten free of the mansion gates and he's positive you've set back your recovery."
"Bec mon chou."
Bobby rocked the mattress again. "I'm not leaving without you. I have a wheelchair and Jean owes me."
"Eight. We let you sleep in."
It took another twenty minutes to cajole Remy into the wheelchair. He was pretending to still be asleep, snuggled under an afghan and curled up as much as he could. It was impressive to see how small he could make himself. But there was a tightness to his shoulders and his fingers, where they gripped the afghan, were almost white. In the privacy of the elevator, Bobby leaned down.
"It's going to be okay, Remy." He squeezed the younger man's shoulder. "I'll be with you the whole time."
"Good morning," Hank greeted his patient cheerfully. He ignored the tense muscles and tight smile. It broke his heart to see someone frightened of what should be a place of healing. Remy was equally frightened of the small exam room as he was of the lab as he was of the main sickbay. Nothing seemed to help. "And because Bobby has cruelly rousted you from you bed, I will even allow you a cup of this fine nectar of the gods." He poured a mug of coffee from his personal machine. He took a sip before handing it over to eliminate the fear of being drugged. Remy managed a slightly more real smile.
Bobby helped Remy up onto the exam bed, then sat next to him on the bed, one hand resting on the Cajun's good leg. Hank didn't question it. Figuring out that Remy was younger than he was had had a positive effect on Bobby's emotional maturity. In some regards at least.
Hank gently manipulated the damaged knee. Remy hissed a spectacularly vile curse. Bobby had caught the mug before it fell. Remy breathed through his teeth until the pain subsided. "We're going to need to run a quick scan."
"Y' say dat, but ole Remy hears 'surgery, my Cajun compatriot." As always, the thief's mimicry of Hank's midwestern accent was flawless.
"Now. Now. Just because there might be a bit more damage than we hoped, there's no reason for pessimism."
"Ain't disappointed when y' plan f' the worst."
"I'll help you get your sweats off," Bobby offered.
Remy looked at Hank. "Henri, y' boyfriend's flirtin' again. Y' don't act up, I'm gonna start takin' him up on it."
Hank chuckled. Bobby winked and grinned. "Do you have any idea how much money I make off of stills of you every month? And the short videos of you exercising are some of my best sellers. Just imagine what I could get for actual porn!"
"Letch. I best be gettin' a cut of the one wit' Logan." Bobby helped Remy shimmy out of his sweats.
Bobby winced. "No business in front of Hank. He gets frowny."
"It simply galls me that I have never been invited to your editing sessions. I am a connoisseur of the genre after all."
"Merde. The images." Remy put a hand over his eye. "And me without m' pants." He looked up suddenly with a calculating gleam in his eyes. "Say, y' got stills of Panther on that site of yours?"
"Storm found out. I like my balls attached to my body."
"Women," Remy muttered.
Jean frowned at the pile of shredded material that had escaped the bags. She could get a vacuum or a broom, but she also know that Bobby had just posted pictures of Warren sleeping on the-site-which-the-professor-pretends-does-not-exist. "Bobby, I need clean-up help in the dining room."
Remy looked up at her. His eyes were glassy. "Dat wine spill weren't me."
"Don' like red wine me," he went on. "Knew a homme used t' put wine in blood. Blood in wine? Sangre-sangria he say. Nasty, I say." Remy pouted at her. "Henri made m' take pain pills so no drinkin'. Ain't fair, chere."
"Don't drink and crutch," Rogue said from the doorway. She crossed the room quickly and dropped a kiss on Remy's bangs. "Thanks for the charm, sugah." She ruffled his hair. "Call me when yah need a ride back to yahr bed."
He perked up. "Y' gonna join m'?"
"What? Stormy does an' not'in' happens."
"Don't sulk, sweetie." Rogue shook her head. "Ah ain't as well behaved as Ro." She looked at Jean. He ain't supposed to walk on it at all today. Call me if he falls asleep."
"I'm right here."
Rogue patted his head, winked at Jean, then left. Remy smoothed his hair back with a scowl. "Contrary femme. Y' willin' t' make m' some coffee? Y'r boys left m' stranded wit'out caffeine."
"You can't manipulate me with a little boy pout." Jean sat on the table. "Hank is usually willing to let you go without pain meds. What happened?"
"Flirted with Bobby?" he tried. Jean waited. "Remy suggested mebbe Robert needed t' expand the offerin's on his – ah – unique site."
Jean froze. "Enough said. I'm going to pretend we never had this conversation."
"An' make coffee?"
"And make coffee."
"Non, Papa." Warren heard from inside the library. "It ain't permanent, but I ain't gonna be available f' a few more weeks." Remy sighed at the phone. "That ain't what I said. I can do computre work, jus' nothin' needin' me t' walk." Remy was silent for a long moment. "Non, I am not takin' the blame f' him pissin' off the police. I ain't even seen the boy in six years. He made hisself an enemy by doin' exactly what he been tol' not t' do. Not my fault."
Warren winced at that. No one could throw guilt as well as a parent. He knew that. He gave Gambit a mental point for courage, then removed it for being stupid enough to argue with his father.
"Fine, M. LeBeau, y' want it that way? Fine. Disown m'. That's y'r choice as mon pere. Y' want me out of y're business, fine, I go talk t' Giovanni. Y' hate m' that much, I don' need y' in my life. So merci f' savin' my useless hide an' call me if'n y' change y're mind."
Warren breezed into the library as though he hadn't been eavesdropping. Gambit's jaw was clenched and his phone was glowing a dangerously intense pink. "You need to get that outside?" Warren gestured toward the window.
"Probably ain't the worst idea, but I really don' want t' destroy it." Remy took one breath, then another. "Y' might want t' not be around m', Ange. Ole Gambit's ready t' go full-on Sabretoot' right now."
"Cerebro, is the Danger Room open?"
"Reserve it for four hours of target practice." Warren turned his attention back to the thief. "Let's go. You've got a Danger Room session and you know how Scott gets."
The blonde at the door wasn't Gambit's wife. She was older for a start and had a hint of motherhood in her belly and thighs, but she looked very familiar. "Can I help ya?" Logan asked. She smelled of jasmine and dust.
"I'm lookin' f' my brother-in-law, Remy?"
"Merci LeBeau?" Logan remembered her name from a package he'd mailed for the kid.
"Oui. Le Wolverine, non?"
"Yeah. Come on in. Gumbo's been hidin' in his room."
She winced. "And not answering any of his calls."
Logan winced this time. "His new phone ain't arrived yet."
She paused. She popped her fingers wide. "Boom?"
"Boom," he confirmed.
"Merde." She straightened her shoulders. "Well, I known him since puberty. Mebbe he won' kill m'."
Logan snorted and led her upstairs. He could hear Scott talking as they drew closer. "The professor is going to DC. Jean is going with him. There's no one else in this house who actually plays on my level. I'll even let you pick sides."
"Mais. I suppose. Long as there's bourbon." Remy's voice was muffled.
"Charles is going out of town. Even Warren can pick the lock on the liquor cabinet."
"Oh, looks like Logan's either getting lucky or you have a visitor. Let's face it though, Logan's had a dry spell longer than my marriage, so..." Scott used his field voice so everyone in the hall could hear.
"Bite me, Cyke," Logan greeted. "Cajun's sulkin' in there. " He gestured to the closed door.
Merci opened the door without knocking. "Fighting with Jean-Luc is no reason to stop talkin' to the rest of us!" She began in Cajun Creole. Logan shook his head.
"Let's get outta here." Logan herded Scott away.
Scott glanced over his shoulder. "Was that a relative? She sounded like Jean's mom when Jean... oh shit. Anniversary."
Logan patted Scott's shoulder. "It's been nice knowin' ya, Slim."
Remy looked up from whatever he was doing on his laptop. His eyes seemed darker than normal because of the bruising under them. A new-looking cut was healing on his cheek. His hair was long again. He opened his mouth, then shut it quickly.
Merci put her hands on her hips and glared at him as though he were still the little twelve year old feral brat she'd met him as.
"Bonjour?" he offered with a weak smile. "Ah. There's a chair by the desk?"
"Remy Etienne, your father's been calling you non-stop for two days."
His eyes narrowed and his chin tipped up. "Funny. According to him, he don't have a son named 'Remy.'"
Merci grimaced mentally, but kept the reaction from her face. "he disowned Henri, mais, thirty-five times, I think. It's not like he means anything by it."
"Mebbe not, when it came to Henri. But Remy ain't nothing but the street-rat-son-of-a-whore who's only alive on Jean-Luc's mercy." Remy nearly spat the words. "If I proved myself more worthy than that, then let him stew in it."
Merci sank down onto the desk chair. She rubbed at the bridge of her nose. "Jesus Christ," she muttered. "Can you tamp down on your charm for say ten whole minutes?"
He blinked at her. "De sole."
The pressure against her mind eased. "Can you listen before reacting?"
"Will you grant that I've known Jean-Luc at least twice as long as you have?"
"Oui." Remy's red eyes focussed on her. He very deliberately closed his laptop and set it aside.
"The day Henri told Jean-Luc that he wanted to date a citizen, Jean-Luc disowned him. The day he proposed, Jean-Luc disowned him. When Henri bought the kids cowboy hats, Jean-Luc disowned him. Henri ignored him. After Jean-Luc adopted you, he stopped for about two years. Then, after the disaster that was your reception, he stopped again. For him to revert to 'you're no son of mine' during an argument does not mean that he wants you gone, it means that he is treating you exactly like his other son."
He didn't respond for a long moment and she fought the urge to fill the silence. Remy pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes. "You see, chere, I could take that more seriously if I weren't banished for doing something that we all come to find out didn't actually happen."
"What do you mean?"
"Julian's alive. Candra gave him the elixir before he challenged me to the duel. A duel over marrying his own sister. No one, no one can convince me that I was wrong to fight him. But he ain't dead, therefore, I am being punished for a crime that didn't happen. Oh, I'm sure that M. Boudreaux will be against it – what with his attempts to brainwash Belle after the incident with Rogue, but he isn't the only person in power." Remy leaned back into the nest of pillows at his headboard. He stared down at his fingertips.
Merci closed her eyes. "Okay. I love you both, but good God, you and Jean-Luc need couseling. And if you get any more like your father. I'm going to strangle you both and take over myself."
There was a knock at the door. "Who is it?"
Summers shouldered his way into the room with a vintage tea cart. "Food, wine, hard stuff, and coffee. If I don't hear from Gambit in one hour on the coms, I will assume I need to arrange his funeral. Gambit, fifteenth anniversary present for Jean?"
Remy snorted. "Phoenix pendant in the top drawer of y'r filing cabinet. Y' owe m' a favor."
"Fair market for the jewelry with a ten percent finders fee."
"Non, cher. A favor."
"Private phone number for Black Panther and an appointment on his calendar."
"Get at least an apartment out of him for when you visit and some specie we can craft."
"'We,' White boy?"
Summers smirked. "Someone, somewhere, may have implied that my father schtupped his way through the country a few decades ago."
"Tell Kurt an' Kitty they best watch their backs. I ain't a Summers."
"Then allow the DNA tests. Sorry, ma'am." Scott tipped an imaginary hat at Merci. He left them alone.
"I like him," she said.
"Bite your tongue."
Merci had been shown to a guest room a few hours before the scramble came. Remy allowed Charles to hook him into the telepathic net. It made him feel less useless when he could hear the chatter. Jean's mind – yellow like sunshine and the warmth of a lazy summer day – was burbling with to-do lists and other white noise. Scott was the leaher of a well-tended holster and the safety of a big brother's arms.
Bobby – a bouncing beach ball and the frantic energy of water-gun battle – was reading the magazine he kept stashed in the Blackbird. Despite all assumptions, it was a lit journal that he and Hank had a stranding subscription to. Stormy – the dancing of static on the gentle comfort of friendship – was meditating and he let her calmness soak into his bones.
He continued his form of headcount – the bitter coffee and tense political maneuvering of Warren and Betsy's hot lights and makeup shaded with dirty laughter and sly winks. They were as familiar as his bo and he could rely on them.
He touched Logan last, letting the warm forest winds and the hot thrill of battle fill him with energy.
//Touchdown in five,// Scott informed them. //Wolverine and Angel, get me battlefield intel.//
Gambit settled back, letting the battle-chatter and brief flashes of the fighting wash over him. He felt his bed shift slowly and Rogue's fingers wrapped around his. She hated waiting and wondering, but they needed someone on the outside to respond to alarms or scramble a rescue mission. His head settled on her shoulder and he felt a brush of fingers through his bangs.
//Gambit. Talk me through this,// Cyclops prodded. Gambit tasted gun oil as Charles pushed him toward Cyclops' mind.
//CP3221-AB,// Gambit told him. //Second wire from the top needs to be rerouted to the bottom screw on the right. It'll cut the cameras without touching the fire system or main alarm.//
//Perfect.// Cyclops moved quickly.
//About that offer?//
//I'll think about it. Angel support Iceman on the left.//
Gambit retreated to letting the battle wash over him until his attention was caught by Storm's bitterweet relief. It was over, but there was damage on both sides.
"Tell Henri he needs t' meet the plane," Remy murmured. "Ange's arm is broken an' Psylocke's got a concussion."
"Got it, sugah." Rogue patted his hand before she left. He was too disconnected to catch her.
Merci LeBeau sauntered into the den and sat next to Logan. She had two beers with her and her hair was down – sweeping across her shoulders and highlighting her low-cut shirt. Logan took the offered beer with a quirked brow.
"Need somethin', Darlin'?"
Merci smirked at him, eyes nearly sparkling. "Well, now that y' mention it, I could use the assistance of an unattached man."
"Oh?" Her bluntness intrigued him.
"I've been a widow f' near on four years. M' kids are grown an' the house gets awful quiet. Heard tell that y' might be in the market for some evenin' fun."
"Maybe I am at that," he decided. He brushed her hair away from her face. "But if I wake up with a glowin' bed, I'm gonna kill yer brother-in-law."
"Pretty sure we'll hear him comin'," she replied.
"Probly not. He broke up with his girl."
Merci laughed. Her smile lit up her face and highlighted the fine lines by her eyes. Her chest bounced in time with her laughter. She was beautiful. She leaned over and kissed his mouth. "Y're terrible," she informed him. "Then again, I like bad boys."
"I tell ya about my Harley?" he smirked at her.
"You'll have t' take m' f' a ride." She wrapped an arm around his shoulder. She nuzzled the side of his neck. She smelled of jasmine, honeysuckles, and summer nights. He kissed the side of her throat, feeling her pulse quicken.
"Let's take this somewhere more private."
"T'ought you'd never ask."
Logan puffed on his cigar. Merci was wearing one of his shirts over he Saints tee-shirt and yawning into her coffee. He heard Remy thumping through the kitchen. The younger man lit up almost as soon as he hit the outside air. He looked between the two of them. "Merde," he muttered.
Merci's eyes narrowed. "Remy Etienne, I make my own decisions."
"Oui! Oui! Remy knows. Still got t' do this." He thumped forward. One crutch caught on the indoor-outdoor carpet. He windmilled for a second before letting himself fall. Logan caught him with a grunt.
"Dignified. Catlike grace," Merci observed.
"Cats don' use crutches. Merci, ole man." Remy lay flopped across Logan's lap. "I ever find out y' done somethin' t' Merci she don't want, I'm gonna charge up every particle of adamantium an' calcium in y're body and let y' blow. If'n y're nice, I'll make sure t' push y' at Chat first."
Logan snorted. Merci hid her face in her hands. "Remy."
"What?" Remy smoked his cigarette without bothering to move. Logan didn't bother making him either.
Merci raised a brow. "Somethin' you boys f'got t' tell me?"
Remy smirked at her. "Non, not Logan. Robert mebbe. Or Henri. Mais, Scott when Logan convinces Jean t' leave him."
"Figured Worthington was more yer style."
"Y' a sick man, cher. Take up wit' Chatton first."
Merci laughed and Logan got distracted by her chest. She lifted Remy's bad leg up and slid under it to snuggle against Logan's side. "Can I interest y' in breakfast? Somewhere not down here an' not wit' m' lil' brother?"
"I could be convinced."
Remy made gagging noises. "Help m' get up, cher? Don' need t' see this. An' gods, woman, don' marry the man. Jus' use him shamelessly."
Merci grinned. "That was the plan, petite."
"M' brain! Don' make me t'ink images like dat!" He hobbled away after tossing away his butt.
"How much of that offer was just creepin' out yer boy?"
"None of it. I say we grab breakfast an' lunch an' retire t' y'r room t' see how sturdy y'r bed is."
"Woman after my own heart."
"Cock at least."
"Well damn," Scott murmured into Jean's ear. "Looks like Logan actually got laid." They were looking out the boathouse's kitchen window at the back porch of the mansion.
Jean rolled her eyes and leaned back against her husband. "Good for him. Has someone made sure Remy didn't poison his coffee?"
"I'm sure Gambit will react like an adult."
"Did you practice that? It sounded sincere."
Scott nibbled on her neck.
"Merci convinced Logan to eat brunch in his room. I think that's a wonderful idea," his wife informed him.
"I was thinking that I'd console you for losing the pool on Logan's lovelife."
"Hmm. I think I can be convinced to abandon my responsibilities for a lazy day in bed."
"I don't know about lazy," Jean informed him.
Charles Xavier was a patient man. The fact that Jean was ignoring him completely didn't phase him. He waited by the car for ten minutes before he prodded Scott's mind awake. //Jean is ten minutes late.//
//Sorry.// The apology was insincere. //I'll send her right down. How long can you give her before you're too late?//
//Ten minutes. Mr. Bashir is driving.//
//I'll make sure she packs a few bricks to counterbalance the car.//
"You ready, Mr. Charles?" Bashir was a young man with dark, curly hair, and too many teeth. He was dressed properly, but managed to make his uniform look like a child's costume.
"We can pack the chair, at least." Charles pulled himself into the backseat of the Caddy. "Jean will be along shortly." Bashir snorted. "I told her that she had ten minutes. I assume it will be closer to twenty. Tell me, how is your sister?"
Ororo opened the door. She kept her face impassive as she regarded their guest. "Bonjour, Ororo."
The Guildmaster of New Orleans winced. He was generally more controlled than that. "Petite," he began.
Ororo let a little spark of lightening run across the bridge of her nose.
Jean-Luc LeBeau sighed. "Dat bad?"
"You are lucky that Merci has interceded on your behalf. However, the Mansion still has a landline and Remy is well-aware of that fact."
"Where is he?"
"Why has it taken this long for you to seek him out?"
"I lost t'ree of m' t'ieves last week. Two of them ain't ever comin' home t' their petites." He rubbed the bridge of his nose.
"My condolences." It was genuine sympathy and he seemed to sense that.
"Merci, petite." He sighed. "Where's y'r brother?"
"In the dining room. Please follow me. M. LeBeau, if you ever disown him again, be sure that you mean it or I shall destroy you." Thunder echoed in her words and she felt every inch the goddess she'd been worshipped as.
Jean-Luc LeBeau's eyes widened slightly, but otherwise kept his face calm. He did not respond to her threat and she allowed a small spark of lightening to zap his thigh. He jumped and bit back a curse. He eyes her warily, then nodded. "D'accord, Ororo."
He opened the dining room door and the noise from the shredder almost covered the cheerful argument between Scott and Remy. Ororo forced herself not to smile. Scott's campaign to get Remy named as a member of the Summers clan and thereby claim the open betting pool was gaining ground.
Jean-Luc walked into the middle of what sounded like a long-running argument. "It's got a lot of benefits – confusing our enemies, time travel adventures, and a built-in interstellar smuggling ring."
"Attention from a sociopathic docteur, makin' an enemy of a man who done made an angel int' death, an' a full-growed nephew wit' a lover who makes me pine f' my wife," Remy countered. "Y' need better marketing."
The man Jean-Luc recognized as Scott Summers from the thorough report on the X-men his son had sent him when he joined, frowned. He marshaled his arguments and started with, "But you've already got the attention of a sociopathic doctor and full-grown nephews. As for Apocolypse? Sorry, I'm pretty sure Sinister's already passed along your name."
"Is a lovely woman."
"How long y' been practicin' that?"
"Jean wants a wedding. I think Dom's nuts for staying with him."
"Wedding all she wants?" Remy's brows rose.
"Grandchildren. Babies. As if any sane person wants to bring..." Scott trailed off. "Oh, look, Mr. LeBeau is here. I'll just let you two talk. Unless you want an arbitor?"
"Not you." Remy considered. "Y' ask Lizabetta, oui? She be neutral."
Scott nodded. "Try not to kill each other before she gets here." He stood. Mr. LeBeau," he said with passable formality. He paused before leaving. "I'm sure you've heard this before, but if you hurt Gambit they will never find your body and my wife will ensure no one ever bothers to look. We will erase you from the face of this planet."
"Your friends are very protective."
Remy waved a hand. "Scotty's jus' convinced ole Remy's his lil' brother." Jean-Luc's son looked at him with a pleasant smile that didn't reach his eyes. It was his "fleecing tourists" smile and the blow struck deeply as it was meant to. "Seein' as I don't got a father, I'm considerin' it."
Jean-Luc pinched the bridge of his nose. "Don' know how I raised one boy who ignored me an' one who took me serious when I yelled," he said.
"Mebbe y' shouldn'ta adopted a stupid, street-rat-son-of-a-whore."
"Who are you quoting?"
"Y' want that list alphabetical?"
There was a clearing of the throat behind him. Jean-Luc didn't jump, but he felt the muscles of his lower back tighten into a knot. "Scott sent me to lock the two of you in the room until you act like adults. Or barring that, you come to an accord." She looked between them.
Jean-Luc studied her. "Enchante, Ms?"
"Elizabeth Braddock," the woman offered. "Known as Psylocke."
Jean-Luc kissed her hand. She gave him a bemused smile. She crossed the room to settle at the head of the table. Jean-Luc sat next to Remy. He sent a small prayer to the heavens. "I'm sorry."
Merci looked between her father-in-law and her brother-in-law. "Well, y' ain't killed each other."
Jean-Luc frowned at her. "Tell me you aren't moving up here."
She laughed. "I'm just stayin' until Remys back on his feet. Then, I'll be back t' givin' y' white hair."
"Glad someone does," Remy said. "She's havin' fun wit' Wolverine."
"Merci," Jean-Luc started. She glared at him. "Be careful," he finished. "Wolverine's lovers have a tendency to die young."
"Oui," Remy agreed. "He ain't dangerous t' y', but he got enemies. Long as most folks believe y' just manipulatin' him though, y' be okay."
"No more dangerous than being related to you two idoits."
"Do we need to read you into the negotiations, Madame LeBeau?" Betsy's voice was mild.
Merci smiled lazily at her. "Non, Miss Britain. I done my part. Jus' comin' in t' remind y'all that dinner's in an hour an' I expect y' t' have come t' an agreement by then or I'll take drastic measures."
Jean-Luc frowned at her. "Merci," he began.
"Mattie deputized m' before I came up."
"D'accord. An hour den."
Bobby set the dining room table while Remy and his father moved the piles of paper that Scott had dumped on the thief. It wasn't punishment for getting injured exactly, but it was still cruel and unusual. Bobby'd been on the receiving end of a paperwork avalanche before. Betsy was leaning back in Jean's usual seat with a smug smile on her face.
"Get the wine, Bets?" Bobby asked.
Remy sighed. "I promise not t' cut off contact if'n I feel hurt or angry."
"I promise not t' threaten t' take away y'r family," his father responded.
Bobby focussed on the silverware. He remembered his own father disowning him for his mutancy. It had taken his father being beaten for them to reconcile. That had been painful and terrifying. At least he'd had Xavier's.
"Y' get us a bottle of wine?"
"Nope. Hankster said no alcohol until you're healed."
Remy scowled. His father laughed. He patted Remy on the shoulder. "Mais, tea?"
"Mebbe. Rogue around?"
"Yeah. Pretty sure she's on dinner rotation."
Remy brightened. He gathered his crutches. "Merci. Bobby Drake, dis is Jean-Luc LeBeau. Mon pere."
Bobby shook the older man's hand. He resisted the urge to tighten his grip and warn him not to waste his relationship. Remy idolized the man. "Nice to meet you," he said neutrally as as Remy ran away – well thumped awkwardly away – from the room.
"And you. Remy tells me you're an accountant."
Rogue looked up as Remy maneuvered his way into the kitchen like a clumsy teenaged giraffe. "Chere?"
"What's up, sugah?"
"We got any sweet tea?"
She considered that with a frown. "Ah don't think we do. Bets didn't get any simple syrup."
"Merde. I'll make some then. If'n y' don't need to stove right now?"
"Chicken's in the oven. Potatoes. Green beans. Salad. Ya can use the front left. I'll move the beans."
Remy carefully pushed the sugar across the counter. Rogue restrained the urge to help him. He was already chaffing under Hank's restrictions. If he wanted her help he'd need to ask for it. Instead she focussed on finishing up dinner. She started when she heard his chiding his sister-in-law. "Remy is perfectly capable of makin' syrup," he snapped her her.
"You abandoned y'r papa with an accountant."
"Robert can talk t' him 'bout fencing an' double-books. Merde, they can share stories 'bout the horrors of taxes."
"Go sit down. Y're shaking and y' need t' put y're leg back up."
Rogue called Hank quietly. He'd be able to pretend to be checking on dinner on coffee supplies.
"Rogue, chere, could y' please remove m' sister."
"I ain't gettin' in the middle of a family dispute."
Remy's eyes narrowed. "Sidin' against po' Remy?"
Rogue snorted. "Cut the act, Swamp Rat."
Hank bounded into the room, coffee mug in hand. He glanced at the tableau. "Is it dinner time already?" He looked over his glasses at Remy. "And you are not supposed to be cooking, young man."
"Jus' some sugar f' the tea. Goin' t' want it f' dinner."
Merci LeBeau had taken over stirring while Remy was distracted. Rouge put the salad and rolls onto a tray to take them into the dining room. To her surprise Bobby and M. LeBeau were in deep conversation about real estate funds. By the time she got back to the kichen, Remy was at the kitchen table and Hank had started a new pot of coffee. He and Remy were discussing the merits of tea ceremonies and coffee shop salons. It felt wonderful – like home – and she smiled to herself.
"Afore y' go, Papa, Ororo's beau is fixin' t' propose."
"Is he now." Jean-Luc looked at his adopted daughter. Not that he'd adopted her even quasi-legally, but she and Remy claimed kinship, so he was duty bound to poke his nose into her business."
Jean-Luc's attention focussed. "An' has he discussed her dowry with you?"
"Excuse me," Ororo broke in, "but I do not need your assistance in negotiating my own marriage."
The two men ignored that. "He's supposed t' call her wit' a proper proposal. I got an appointment t' talk bride price and pre-nup. Got cash enough f' Ro's dowry, but I ain't sure of what jewelry."
"Remy," Ororo's voice was wintry.
"Dis is proper family business, petite," Jean-Luc informed her. "As y'r pere, I got responsibilities t' arrange a good weddin', but I got to research what y're prince needs."
Storm blinked at them. "T'Challa is not that sort of man. This is..."
"A state weddin'," Remy pointed out. "An' my Stromy is goin' t' be a queen."
"He hasn't even proposed."
"Good as," her brother said. "Now, mebbe a diamond necklace? An' a moonstone f' a tiara?"
"I believe emeralds would also be appropriate, given Ororo's plant preference."
"Oui. An' real estate stocks since land ain't really needed."
"Yes. I'll arrange f' a purchase of bonds." The two nodded at each other in agreement. That was the only reason Storm didn't zap them both.
"I got an island stowed way f' her as well."
Storm narrowed her eyes. "Remy Etienne LeBeau."
"You do not get to pretend that you have any bearing on my choice of partner."
"I ain't even t'reatened him. Jus' securin' y'r future if y' decide t' leave him."
"Remy, my affairs are my own."
"An' once y' marry an' move, Remy ain't gonna be able t' look after y' day by day, I got t' do it now. An' mebbe Remy ain't gonna be there f' y' when y' do need him. Live dangerous lives us."
Jean-Luc frowned at her. "What sort of Papa would I be if'n I didn't look t' y'r future? Mais, even dis brat here got a trust fund. If'n he uses the education fund, mebbe he even finishes school."
Remy's eyes narrowed. "I ain't got no patience f' that type of learnin'. Y' gettin' stuck on that again. I get Xavier t' write m' up a pass sayin' I'm doin' independent study here."