"We're en route. Be there in time for dinner at seven," Scott said into the radio.
"Okay. I'll get the cornbread cooking," I replied. "Y'all stay safe."
"Just got one of those feelings. You know?"
"We'll watch out tail. You feeling okay?"
"Oui. Bete's just being over-protective."
"No dizziness? No queasy stomach?"
"Non, mere. Remy's fine." I rolled my eyes.
"I want you back in action and he's not going to allow it unless you're one-hundred percent."
"D'accord, cher. But I been fine in the Danger Room. Henri just wants me stuck in my room."
"I ain't." Okay, so I was whining, but that boy knows just as well as me that he'd do the same."
"See you for dinner, babe. Don't burn the cornbread."
"Yeah. Love you too, asshole." I could picture the grin that would be on his face in response to that. It's one of those reactions that he can't control yet. Of course, it screams "involved" to me, but no one else seems to know yet. Logan and Jeannie do, of course. And Stormy knows. Like I could keep a secret from mon petite fille? We didn't say goodbye, just stopped talking and the receiver went to dead air.
I went up to the kitchen and fished the cornbread out of the oven. I started a second pan, the chopped veggies for the ladies and Logan, who actually prefers them to bread. I guess he can taste something in the flour. I was pulling out the second pan when I felt someone walking over my grave. "Computer, all cameras tracking me. Don't lose sight."
"Security parameters adjusted."
It wasn't until a few minutes later I actually heard the car in the drive. I rinsed off my hands and checked my reflection in the chrome of the refrigerator. I was presentable enough. My jeans had some holes, but hell, they're the most comfortable pair I won. I was wearing my Xavier's sweatshirt. The old man would be overjoyed when he got home. I adjusted my bangs and headed for the front hall.
My mouth was all set for a nice, hot, Cajun-cooked meal. We'd been flying for almost nine hours on top of the fight. It was almost laughable, actually. We went out to fight Mystique's merry band of misfits and ended up fighting with them against a rabid band of racist -- or is that speciest -- group of militant mutant-haters. The wonders of the modern world.
It was a disappointment not to be able to smell that mouth-watering scent when I left the plane, but I figured it was a mixture of the oil of the airplane and the distance that kept it from permeating the hanger. I dragged myself up towards the kitchen. I stopped in the upstairs hallway. I couldn’t smell anything. "Computer. Locate designate Gambit."
"Designate Gambit is not on the grounds."
"When did he leave?"
"One seventeen p.m."
"Right after we called. Maybe he ran out for something for dinner and got stuck in traffic," Jean soothed me.
"He is not allowed to drive for three more days," Hank stated. "He gave me his word of honor."
That ended that discussion. We all knew that the Cajun would never break his word. "Computer cue security tapes for playback in the war room. You all get a shower and some rest. I'll review the tapes and we'll proceed from there."
"But," Storm began, then subsided. She went to catch a shower and rejuvenate. Rogue glared at me and I met her eyes with a flat face.
"He's my partner, sugah."
"Can the Southern Belle sweetness, Rogue, and go get a shower. Someone needs to be in fighting condition and fast."
I turned and went to the war room. I realized Logan was following me. I didn't even bother yelling at him. I just needed to see the damned tapes and find out what happened to my thief.
I settled in my chair. "Run tapes starting at one p.m." I watched as Gambit moved around the kitchen. "Double speed until one fifteen." Logan settled a hand on my shoulder. He squeezed once. I watched with sick apprehension as he ordered the cameras to track him. I barely noticed as I started to bite at my thumbnail.
Remy went to the front door with his public relations smile on his lips. The two blows to his face came without warning. The second knocked him to the floor. He kicked at his attacker's knee, then scrambled to his feet. The click of a gun froze him. "What do you want?" he demanded. I had the satisfaction of seeing Logan's stunned face as he pulled a chair close and sat down. Remy's accent only turns British when he's in a snarky mood. Part of me felt sorry for the bastard holding the gun.
"Put this on, Min." Remy turned slowly eyes wide. I'd only every seen him that scared once. "Now!"
Remy took the collar and snapped it closed around his throat. A tiny LED flashed red in the center of the front. The man stepped closer. He ran the barrel of the gun down Remy's cheek. "Did you miss me, Min?"
"Non." The man backhanded him.
"Say you love me, pretty."
"J-je t'amie, Joshua." Remy crossed his arms and shifted from foot to foot. "Cher, why y' here? Told y' a long time ago that we be over."
"You were young and you needed some space. I understood that. But you've turned into nothing more than a pathetic whore!"
Remy flinched back and probably saved himself from a broken jaw. The man pounced. He pinned my thief's wrists behind him with a brutally tight piece of twine. Then, the fucker, named Joshua according to Remy, forced him into the car.
"I'm going to kill that mother-fucker." Logan's hand squeezed my arm. "Computer, track the license number of the car. I want all available information as soon as possible."
"Compiling data now."
I called Bishop to my office. I needed to be in my space for a little while. I couldn't stand to look at the couch where Remy normally sits while I work, so I stared out the window.
"You wanted to see me, sir?"
"Change the security parameters. There will be no open access to the grounds at any time."
"Sir, the professor. . ."
"Gambit was kidnapped this afternoon by someone who was aware of our Wednesday visitor's policy. Change the parameters until further notice. I refuse to lose anyone else to that hole. Computer data status."
"One tenth complete."
"Thank you, Bishop, that will be all."
I leaned my head against the glass. Why does everything go to Hell just when it's starting to get good?"
I twisted against he twine on my wrists. It was too tight to move. Joshua was driving his little gray Jag like there were cops after us. I wished that there were. Joshua Banniker was my first male lover.
It started when I was in college. I was studying voice. I was sixteen and had been exiled. Papa had convinced me to change my name to Remington Motngomery, just in case some assassin broke the rules and followed me.
HE was just a friend at first. Someone who watched out for me. Listened to me. I moved into his spare room when my roommate joined the FOH and tried to kill me. Then, things were just, I don't know, more than they'd been. His presence permeated my life until I could barely breathe without him there beside me. I ran after he broke my arm. Now, he was back and I felt like that teenage brat all over again.
My head ached and my eyes burned. I lost track of where we were amid the lane changes and backtracking. Eventually, we ended up at the old apartment building. He freed my wrists with a flick of a pen-knife. He opened the door for me.
"Don’t do anything stupid, Min." I let him curl me close, like he used to do and felt the gun against my side.
"Name: Joshua Banniker," I read the print out. "He has ten residences."
"Banniker?" Warren interrupted. "Are you sure?"
"You know him?" I asked.
"I've got pictures. You can confirm it." I handed him a screen capture. He swallowed hard and his wings twitched.
"That's him. You're sure Gambit didn't go willingly."
"The gun tipped me off."
"What do you know?"
"Josh, well, he wanted to talk to Gambit. He was heartbroken when Min left him. I thought that now that Gambit broke up with Rogue, he might be willing to talk to him again. Josh loved him."
"Josh used a goddamned gun to force a Genoshan collar onto our Cajun. That doesn't sound like love to me. Do you know where he is?"
"He could be at any of those addresses or another one that we don't know about. He has money."
I restrained myself from smacking the thick headed bastard. It would lower me to this Joshua Asshole's lever. "Then we'll start with a standard search. It's been nine hours, so he could be at any one of them, but my gut says he stayed close. Focus on the four New York addresses. Which one of these is closest to Julliard?"
Warren pointed it out. "Ill go. He'll let me in. Even if he's got him there.
"Be careful. If you set him running, keep track of him. Keep in contact. Stor, Wolverine, you take the cabin. I'll take Phoenix with me to 5th Ave. Psylocke and Rogue check out Jersey. Beast you're on com. Keep contact folks. Keep a low profile."
I changed into my best suit. Jean whistled. "When'd you get that, Slim?"
"About a month back."
"He's done you good," she commented as she straightened her skirt. "We'll get him back, don't worry."
"I'm not. We'll get him back, then I'll kill the miserable son-of-a-bitch who dared to take him away from me." I saw Jean shiver. She reached out for me.
"He wouldn't like hearing you talk like that."
"Jeannie, you have no fucking clue. He'd love it. It would freak him out a little bit, but he wouldn't mind it." I shrugged. "Let's get going so we can find him and ask him."
Joshua pushed me into my old room. Nothing had changed at first glance. It was just as I'd remembered it. Even the Strativarius was still sitting on the desk. I stood looking around the room while he locked the door behind us. "Now, we're going to have a chat, baby." He settled on the bed and I took the desk chair. I rubbed at my wrists and didn't say a word. "I'm so disappointed in you, Min."
There was a time that those words would have meant something to me. There was a time where his displeasure made a knife turn in my stomach.
"You are better than this little slut you've become. It this what you want to be?" he demanded, gesturing at my outfit. "What do you teach? How to suck ten men in an hour?"
"Gymnastics, French, and Art," I snapped. How's that for programming, Scotty? I thought. I've never even bothered to look at the cover profile Xavier has for me, but I know that even Warren would give the same answer. Joshua's face got red and he surged across the room and caught my shin with the edge of his gun. I moved with the blow ans kept from getting too hard of a smack.
"I've watched you out on the town with them, baby. I saw you kiss Warren. Warren fucking Worthington! You are mine!"
"Non, cher. It's over. I am not yours." I couldn't keep my mouth shut. He grabbed me by the throat and stared into my eyes.
"Keep your mouth shut unless you're singing, you little shit. If you touch the door or try to take off the collar you'll receive a shock. I'm going out. I'd suggest you get used to your home again. Once you get back into voice, we'll make a demo to shop around." He slowly dipped forward to kiss me. I didn't move. He shook his head. He left me alone. I immediately scrambled towards the bed. It'd left a knife taped to the headboard when I left. It was gone. So were the cigarettes I'd left in the nightstand. I sat on the bed. A drop of red fell on the white of my faded jeans. I touched my cheek carefully and came away with blood. I made my way to the bathroom. The connecting door to Joshua's room was locked.
I washed the cut out and found a BandAid for it in the medicine chest. When I looked into the mirror I noticed the small trickle of blood from my n ose. I touched it, stomach twisting. Joshua didn't scare me anymore, but this tiny rivulet of crimson scared me like a gun to my head. Ever since Hank pulled Sinister's chip out of my head I've been looking for it. I shivered. "Not like this," I whispered. "Sweet Jesus, no." I closed my eyes. It was still there when I opened them again. I bent my head and looked down into the sink. I went to stretch out on the bed and tripped over the loose laces of my hiking boots. I found it fucking hilarious as I sat on the floor brought to heel by a piece of cotton string.
"I'm looking for Joshua Banniker. Is he in?" I asked affecting Warren's accent. Jean's hand was on my arm.
"Mr. Banniker is not currently in residence," the receptionist/guard told us.
"Thank you. Come along, sweetheart, we'll meet Warren for lunch without him."
//He's telling the truth. He's surprised that you know Warren, but not terribly. No wait. He's surprised to see you in a suit.//
//I've been here with War. They probably think I'm his drug dealer.// I told her.
//You mean you aren't?//
//I thought Bobby only pushed Twinkies.//
//There's not a big difference.//
//Does Remy mind that you use his Jag?//
//Nope. But I've been informed that if I touch his bike he'll castrate me. I think Logan told him about the crash.//
//Probably. Where are we headed?//
//I thought Warren was checking that out.//
//I meant the school. We'll ask around to see if there's a concert of open mic night tonight.//
//Because that's how we'll find Banniker.// She didn't ask me anything else until we were on the way back to the Mansion.
I laid down for what I thought was a few minutes, only to discover that it had been nearly two hours when Joshua came pounding through the door with dinner. I stared blearily at him, trying to focus on his face over the throbbing in my head. He chuckled.
"Hello, Sleepy. Dinnertime."
It wasn't chicken and cornbread, but it was edible. I just wasn't hungry. The adrenaline had worn off completely, leaving me drained. I sighed and pushed the food on my plate around.
"If you're just going to play wit it, I'll take it back to the kitchen."
I put down my fork and folded up my napkin neatly. He took the tray away. The door shut with a sharp click and I started to see the differences in the room finally. The lock on the door was automatic, but could be reinforced by the deadbolt that had been installed. There was a camera in the corner that watched me at all times. Everything that was breakable had been replaced with plastic or metal. The posters had been carefully framed with clear plastic so as to give the illusion that they were still tacked up with tape. The CD's were in alphabetical order and I thought of Scott. I pulled my knees up and wrapped my arms around them.
My wrists had achieved a lovely shade of deep red shaded with purple already and my hands felt awkward and stiff. My head was screaming. All I wanted to do was curl up next to Scott and let him stroke my hair until I fell asleep on his shoulder. But since that wasn't going to happen, I had to find a way out.
Warren was slumped over the kitchen table when we got back. "No luck?" I asked.
"He wasn't answering the door, but the doorman is sure he's been in because the penthouse elevator was used today. This is all my fault."
"I told Josh that Gambit would be here alone and that the gate would be open. I told him Gambit would be the one taking care of all callers while the kids were on a field trip with us."
"You set Gambit up?"
"I thought he just wanted a chance to plead his case. I never thought he'd stoop to kidnapping."
"Jean call back Storm and Wolverine. We're going to find a way into that building."
"We could call the cops."
"Remy'd never forgive us."
"But then we could make sure that Josh is put away."
"Are your lawyers better than his?"
"Can you assure that Remy will testify?'
I considered. "He'd rather not, but he will if there can be a strong enough case made. I'll call Frost and arrange a cover story, then, I'll call the police. What help can you give me?"
"I'll testify to Josh's infatuation and to the fact that Min was sixteen when Josh first slept with him."
My hands balled into fists. I forced myself to breath normally. After the spurt of rage died, I called Frost. Then, Goddess help me, I called the cops.
The window over the desk had been caulked shut. I knew that the glass was bulletproof form the last time I'd been here. Nothing short of explosive shells or an automatic machine gun was getting through it. There was nothing to use as a weapon in the bathroom. The mirror was one of those expensive ones that doesn't shatter like the old ones do. I cursed the company that had come up with the concept to decrease shipping damage. The lightbulbs would be useless as a weapon and the new metal versions of the object d'art in the room were too heavy to lift or swing. Half of them had been bolted down on top of it all. That left either the violin or the guitar. The violin was worth three million easily. The guitar was nearly a thousand. I just couldn't bring myself to use either of them. I sat on the bed for a long time. Then, I reached for the violin. I turned it carefully, then pulled the first, sweet notes from the strings and fell into the music.
I stood staring out the window while the police and the local FBI watched the security tapes. "And where are the children?"
"The Massachusettes Institute headed by Emma Frost." Thank Goddess for solidarity.
"And you sent them there?"
"As soon as I saw the tapes. We couldn't take any chances with their safety." I could almost sense the officer's approval and put it down to too much time around an empath.
"What can you tell us about Mr. LeBeau? Do you have any idea who might have done this?"
Warren answered. "Joshua Banniker. That's him on the tape. He asked me to set up a meeting between them."
"Really? Then Remy knew this man was coming?"
"No." Warren shifted. "I knew LeBeau wouldn't want to see Josh. But Josh was so head over heels for him that I wanted to give him a chance. Remy was here to take care of PR. Wednesdays are our open days."
"Has this Banniker ever shown signs of violence before?"
Warren considered. "I remember him threatening Min once, but it didn't seem serious. Nothing that I've never said to someone."
"If you don't stop being a brat I'm going to spank you."
My lips twitched involuntarily. Spanking Remy would be impossible.
"Did he ever get jealous?"
"Of Min? All the time. He always gets jealous of his protégés."
"Protégé?" the officer prompted.
"Joshua is a patron of the arts. He sponsors at least ten young artists a year. Occasionally, he takes one further than that, making sure he meets the right people and so on. Min was one of his treasures."
"Do you know where this Banniker is?"
Warren handed them the list in his own handwriting. "I'm pretty sure he's at this one though. That's where he set Min up when he was studying."
"He prefers 'Remy,'" I said quietly. Warren winced.
"We'll check this out."
"I want to be there," I asserted, turning. "A bunch of police are going to scare the shit out of him."
"He's afraid of the police?" The detective raised his brows.
"He lived on the streets. Some of a street kids' clients are cops. And sometimes cops are what your foster parents threaten you with when you don't obey."
The man looked at me for a long time. He was an older man. Maybe old enough to have walked a beat in the city. He frowned. "42nd and 30th?" he said finally. I blinked.
"Officer Martins?" I'd missed his name in the roster of people I'd been introduced to.
He grinned. "You cleaned up pretty good. This boy one of yours?"
My lips twitched again. "Depends on what you mean."
"Did you pull him off the street?"
I shook my head. "I just pulled him."
Martins did laugh full out at that. "Ride with me. We'll get you there."
"Jean, would you. . ." she tossed me my Xavier's sweatshirt. I tossed her my tie and suitcoat, then pulled on the shirt. "Thanks, Red."
"Bring him home."
"That's the plan." I grabbed Remy's trench from the closest.
"Let me come with you. I know Josh," Warren said. "I might be able to talk some sense into him."
The officers conferred with their eyes and eventually agreed. I sat in the back of the cruiser Martins was using and kicked at the back of his seat.
"I don't have to let you out of there," he said. I stopped kicking. "So how good's this information?"
"Very. And those tapes are probable cause."
"We'll have a warrant meeting us there. This guy was really sloppy. Smells like a set up."
"Our security is better than he'll have expected. I should warn you, Remy's probably got more than a simple concussion. He had brain surgery just about three months ago. The blows he received could have done significant damage."
"Shit! Why didn't you tell me that earlier?"
"Because we can't take him to the hospital. He'd blow the place sky-high if they gave him any sort of tranq. Hank will take care of him in the school infirmary."
"Dr. Hank McCoy. He's our doctor."
"This Remy's a mutant?"
"Yes. Is that a problem?"
"No. We just need to be prepared." Martins was quiet for a long moment. "Would it have made a difference if I'd arrested you for vagrancy?"
"No, I just would have run away again. I was having a run of back luck when it came to parents."
"Do you love him?"
I was startled. "Yes."
"Good. Will he testify?"
"I'll convince him to. But you may not need him."
"I think that Banniker's obsessive. He had to know that Warren knew Remy somehow. I think he's been watching."
"Remy's been paranoid lately."
"Joshua," I purred, "won't you let your poor boy out of his room? He'll be real good for you." I looked up through my bangs. I would have smiled, but my lip was split so I pouted instead. Joshua stroked my cheek gently, then pushed me back across the bed, none too gently. Then, he was straddling my hips and my breath caught. He'd never just taken before, he'd always asked. He kissed me. I felt the key brush against my chest where it hung off of his neck. I relaxed into the kiss intending to snag the key while he was distracted. Suddenly, though, he pulled away.
"Tell me you want it," he ordered. I could see the bulge in his pants.
"Please, kiss me, cher." He stroked my bangs.
"I miss your ponytail."
I'd been keeping my hair short since the surgery, only about chin length and a bit ragged. It was the new-old razor cut style that makes me look tousled. Scott doesn't mind it and he's the only one that counts. Bobby teases me about it some still.
"It'll grow." I sighed and arranged my mouth into a pout once again.
"Tell me you want this."
"I want to be yours, cher." I trembled as he stroked along my collar bone. My mind blanked for a moment, remembering Sabretooth's broad palm making the same sweep before pinning me to the wall and cutting me open. Joshua frowned at me.
"You know what I want and you'll say it, or there'll be no dinner tonight."
"Please, cher, fuck me." I arched my head back as he grinned. He caught my wrists and wrapped his fingers around them before lowering himself to kiss me. I let him kiss me gently as I closed my eyes. I couldn't face it, not again. I couldn't stand the thought of his skin against mine. I twisted in his grip and he released my hands, sure that I was going to caress him or something, I suppose. I pushed him away with all of my strength. He laughed. Fast and sneaky has very little recourse against big, strong, and mean and Joshua was all three. I scrambled across the bed towards the bathroom. He caught me around the waist. He picked me up, which isn't as big of a thing as it seems. My bones are hollow, like a bird's, which makes them prone to snapping as well as making me weigh about as much as Jean.
He put me back onto the bed. "You are a brat, Remington," he told me with a chuckle. "But I don't mind." He ran his hands up and under my shirt, then pulled it up and over my head. He traced the scars on my belly.
"Please don’t touch me," I whispered. I could feel tears growing in my eyes and urged them on. Maybe he'd back off if I could make myself cry.
"Shut up." He explored my scars and the tears finally spilled free as he kissed them. Why did he have to confuse me so badly? With Sabretooth it was just an extension of our conflict of interest. He was never gentle and I could understand it. He liked me to suck him off, but it was a way to keep from wanting to kill me. Joshua is kind and sweet followed by a violent possessiveness that makes Creed seem sane.
I cried silently not wanting to set him off. He frowned at me. "Let me give you a reason to cry, little boy." The fist to my gut was unexpected.
Then, the doorbell rang. He froze. I tried to squirm away, but he caught hold of my ear. He pushed me into the closet. It's a walk-in, so it wasn't too hard. He shut the door and bolted it with a click.
I sat down on the floor and stared at the crack at the bottom of the door. I wrapped my arms around my legs and started to rock.
I had to wait outside the apartment until Joshua the Asshole submitted to the warrant. They arrested him about half a second later when they found the pictures of Remy lining the wall of the "control room" for what seemed to be ten cameras, one of which was an infra-red one of the closet where Remy was sitting. I saw red and Warren had to grab me before I pummeled the prick into the ground. If it had been anyone else, I wouldn’t have stopped.
"He needs you," was all he said to me.
"Let me go to him."
"Scott's going with me to get the kid," Martins said.
I undid the latch on the closet door. I sat cross-legged on the floor in front of my Cajun, his coat across my lap. He was rocking, so I knew he was hidden away somewhere in his head. I propped my head up with my palm. Martins was watching me, as no doubt was the tech in the control room.
"Need a key f' the collar," Remy whispered. The flush in his cheeks would be put down to being upset, but I knew better.
"Where is it?"
"He got it 'round his neck."
"I'll be back." I left his coat on the floor. "Give me the key," I said coldly. Banniker and Warren looked at me in surprise.
"Who the fuck are you?"
I leaned over until our faces were nearly touching. "I'm his lover." Warren's jaw dropped in my peripheral sight.
"But I thought he and Warren were. . . or that little blonde?"
"Bobby's been playing chauffeur, but the Cajun's all mine."
"But I thought you and the red-head were together."
"Old news. The divorce was easier to arrange than the marriage. Where's the key?" I saw the little tick in Warren's shoulders and knew his wings were moving in reaction to my voice. He calls it my "psycho-act," but it freaks him out. He knew I wanted Banniker dead.
"Around his neck, cher," Remy informed me from just inside the bedroom door. "Pull off his head and take it, amour."
"I would if there weren't so many cops around. Detective Martins, would you remove the key from the suspect so that I can remove the collar from Remy's neck?"
"What do you see in this creep, Min?" Banniker sneered at me.
"He don't treat me like shit."
"I've never treated you badly."
"Look at me, Joshua. See m' face? See the collar 'round my neck? You the one that done this."
Martins handed me the key. I carefully took the collar off. I stroked back Remy's soft bangs. He leaned forward and pressed his forehead to mine. I felt his charm reach out for me and I gave him free access to my emotions.
I settled my trenchcoat into place and stood up. Bless Scotty for bringing it to me. I felt the solid weight of my gun and my bo-staff. I inched past the policeman warily. He smiled. "Let's keep Scott from killing anyone, okay?"
I snorted. Scotty ain't the kind who kills, but you have to really know him not to buy into his threats. It seemed to take forever, but finally the fucking collar was off my neck. I leaned my forehead against Scott's. His hand settled on the back of my neck, stroking with absent affection. Something tense in my heart eased. The old fear that I'd been thrown away again, I guess.
"I need to see, Hank," I said softly. "My nose was bleeding and I don't know why. Hoping it was just the slap, me."
"I'm," Scott corrected my grammar just as absently as he rubbed my neck, fingers dancing over my scar. I snorted.
The policeman cleared his throat. "If I could get your statement, Mr. LeBeau, and get some photos."
"Photos of what?"
"The bruises. For the court."
"If Joshua don't plead he's an idiot."
"He tried to take you away from me. He's an idiot," Scott informed me. "Talk to the cops, then we'll get Hank to look you over. Okay, babe?"
"Yeah. Don't kill him, cher, just beat him."
"Your wish is my command."
"Then I'd like a Ferrari and dancing girls for my birthday."
"How about a Hostess cupcake and a movie?"
"That works too."
He kissed me softly on the forehead. I followed the police officer to the hall.
While Remy gave his statement to the police and let them take pictures, I stood and glared at Banniker's head. The police escorted him out and ushered Warren and myself into the hall. Remy shrank towards the wall as Banniker passed. The rage gnawed at my stomach. The goddamned mother-fucker had scared my thief. I took a deep breath and let out the anger. Unlike Logan, I don't have to worry about my mental state. Even when I want to kill some numb-nuts asshole, I remain in control. I have to, or else Charles would lock me up in some telepathic cage. I know I have issues, but that's life. I even had counseling for awhile. Remy needs it as badly now as I did then. He needs to find a way to deal with the demons that haunt him. I can't kill them for him. I can just hold him when the nightmares freeze his screams in his throat and his skin goes chalky in the midnight darkness.
I wanted to hold him while he gave his statement. I wanted to keep him away form the police. I wanted to erase Banniker from the face of the planet and from everyone's memory. I leaned against the wall and crossed my arms.
"I'm sorry," Warren said quietly. "I didn't know he was involved with anyone."
I couldn't blame Warren for this mess, even though I wanted to. "We're trying to keep it quiet. We don't want to make too much of it. Neither of us are very public."
Warren put his hand on my arm. "Slim, I know you don't want to hear anything I've got to say right now, but give me a chance to say it all before you freak out on me."
"Are you sure this is what you want in a relationship? I know about your childhood. I remember how long it took for you to stop wincing at raised voices. And how long it took before you'd let a guy touch you. Are you using him to put those memories to death or is it really love?"
I considered the words for a long time. "He makes me feel whole."
Warren sighed. "Okay. The discussion is closed then, I guess. But tell me something, Slim. Why?"
"Does he make you feel whole?"
"Because we're equals, Warren. There's no power play bullshit to worry about. I've never been scared of his touch. It's just organic and vibrant and growing. I need it so badly that my teeth ache, but it doesn't frighten me. Jean and I had a good 14 year run, don't get me wrong, but I never felt equal to her needs. There was always the memory between us. The Phoenix hurt me so badly that I never though I'd live through it. But I survived. Remy makes me want to live instead." Warren was quiet. We were best friends once.
"Good luck, Scott."
I leaned against the wall as I gave my statement to the police. For the first time in my life, I didn't have to lie to a police officer. Detective Martins was watching Scott so carefully that my heart clenched in fear. Could the man have paired up Cyclops with Scott? That would make life damned uncomfortable. And it would be all my fault too. Finally, the words were said and the officer let me go to Scott. Warren was touching my lover and I didn’t fucking like that at all. I glared at him. He rolled his eyes and stepped back, hands up in surrender.
Scott's jaw twitched, whether in amusement at Warren's stupidity or my glare, I couldn't tell. Scott stroked over the bruise on my face with milkweed light fingers. I tipped my head into the touch. Warren cleared his throat.
"Considering our policy on secrets, I should probably tell you this now."
I looked at him, curious to know what would be so important.
"I told Joshua that you'd be alone at the mansion."
I saw complete red. I didn't even register that I was moving until Scott pinned me to the wall with a hard kiss.
Warren can be such an idiot about things. He's damned lucky he didn't lose those pretty white wings of his. I'm sure they were Remy's target. I grabbed my thief and spun him into the wall with a maneuver Logan taught me at some point. I kissed him until he relaxed in my arms. When Remy's arms settled around my neck I knew we'd be okay. Martins was laughing. I broke the kiss to look at him. "What?"
"I thought you had a temper, kiddo. I didn't realize you picked a feisty boyfriend too." Martins shook his head. "If you three will come with me, I'll run you home. And if you kick my seat, I swear to God, I will find some way to lock your ass up for the night."
"Statue of limitations has run out on all of it. Come on, brat, let's get you home so Hank can look at you."
"Asshole," Remy grinned at me. His face fell. "Dere gonna be reporters down there?"
"When?" He punched me in the shoulder. He quickly pulled his bangs into his face. Martins looked at us, eyes narrowing.
"I want the off-the-record truth, Scott."
I looked at him, waiting.
"Was this a set-up?"
"Is the school real?"
I considered. "Yes."
"Does the school cover for something illegal?"
I glanced at Remy. As our resident thief, he's also our resident lawyer. The Cajun thought for a very long time. Eventually, he spoke in the soft, whiskey drawl that is his "politico" voice. "What is done by the teachers of the school may be considered questionable in light of the fact that they are not officially sanctioned by a government official. However, the motivation for their actions is inherently legal, considering the first and second amendments and the tenor of the situations they choose to confront. Giving all that due consideration, in my opinion, no the actions taken are not illegal."
I stared at him. "Tell me that was rehearsed."
"Non, cher. Remy, he's just that good."
"Immoral?" Martins asked.
"Non. Definitely not."
"Theoretically, how would the government view these teacher's actions?"
"As a threat, so long as they don't need them. A blessing when they admit that they do. And an embarrassment when they discover they cannot do anything to stop them."
"If I called the FBI agent back up here, what would he say?"
"Now, that ain't a fair question. Scotty's got a record."
"And you don't?" I asked in surprise.
"I ain't never been caught. Luck of Diablo." He grinned at me and I was glad to see the light dance in his eyes. Remy fished his shades out of one of the many pockets inside his coat.
"The FBI has never questioned the legitimacy of the school," I answered, fingers brushing Remy's bangs to the side.
"Just tell me you're not a political terrorist."
"I'm not a terrorist."
I looked over Scott's shoulder at the frustrated detective and hid my smile. The older man sighed. "Are you the X-men? I won't tell, I swear."
"Wouldn't matter if you did," Scott said. "I've got enough dirt to trash your credibility."
"Lies all of them."
"Who will a jury believe? The cop or the poor, abused, street-kid who made good?'
The man snorted. "You are. Well, who the fuck would've guessed looking at your scrawny ass that you'd become a super-hero."
"Leader of." Scott's lips twitched up in the corner. His fingers were tracing my jaw, so I really could care less what he was saying. I didn't even care that he was giving a cop so many details. All I cared about was going home. The detective escorted us down. I balked at the cruiser and Scott's hand found mine.
"Thought he was a tec, cher. Why the cruiser?"
"I crashed my car. I've got this one on loan until I get a new one," Martins told us. He opened the back door.
"Gumbo?" Scott's voice was soft. "You sure? I can call a taxi. Or have Jean come pick us up."
"I'll do one better," Warren said, pulling out his cellphone. He ordered up a limo. The detective stayed with us. He and Warren got into a discussion of finances, while Scott cooed in my ear. I rested against his shoulder when he slipped his hands into the back pockets of my jeans. I relaxed as he murmured soothingly about the mission and the stupidity of hate groups. I'd heard almost all of it before, but it was a return to normality that I adored.
We got into the limo and I leaned back with a contented sigh. Warren directed the driver and we were off. I don't remember falling asleep.
I leaned my cheek against the top of Remy's head when he fell asleep on my shoulder. "You've got it bad, Slim," Warren commented, checking his messages.
"I know." The rest of the drive was spent in comfortable silence. I made a mental note to coach Jubilee and Paige about the events so they could testify to the movements between homes if need be. I didn't really think that it would come to a trial, but we needed to be ready just in case. Some worm of doubt made me try to wake Remy. He didn't rouse. "Shit. Warren, call Hank. Driver, speed up!"
"There's a police officer right behind me."
"Pull off and let me talk to him." Martins was half out of his car when I yelled to him. "Remy's unconscious. We need an escort back to the school. ASAP."
On the way home, I prayed to any deity that would listen. We'd come so far. I couldn't stand the thought of losing him.
When I woke up in the med-lab, Scott was holding my hand. "Don't *ever* do that to me again," he ordered. He looked drawn.
"Cher? What's wrong?" It was a croak.
"You passed out. Hank's been monitoring you for two days. I thought I was going to lose you."
"Added attempted murder to the rap. He's guaranteed to plead. Jean saw to that."
"Good. Hope the order sticks."
"Jean's compulsions usually do. The professor is back. He'd like to see you. Oh and Bastard sent you a present. A violin."
My mouth was dry. "Where is it?"
"I'll give it to you when you can sit up without getting dizzy. He sent it through his lawyer."
I breathed a sigh of relief. I'd left every present he'd ever given me behind because I didn’t want to be accused of theft. But if he sent it through the lawyer, it was probably safe. "I'll see Charles for a few minutes. Then, you come and kiss me stupid."
"Sounds like a plan." He kissed my forehead, then opened the door. Charles came in wearing his shrink-smile. I fixed my most pathetic pout onto my face and saw his jaw twitch. "Don't creep him out, Professor."
I didn't want Scott to leave. I hate being alone with Charles. He sets off all my mental alarms. "Hello, Remy."
Apparently, being sick in bed changed me from "Gambit" to "Remy." The bastard. "Charles," I purred. It unsettles him when I play the seduction game with him. I only do it because it gets a rise out of him. His favorite lap blanket hides things fairly well, but not completely. "What can I do for you?" I asked with a shy smile -- smile number 32 according to Scott.
"I wanted to discuss Banniker with you before reinforcing Jean's mental manipulation. I don't agree with her motivation -- which is to protect Scott, but I agree that this matter cannot be allowed to go to trial. Tell me about how you met him?"
I crossed my arms over my stomach after raising the bed. I told him the short and sweet version in a dull voice. I'd suddenly gone completely numb. I slammed my shields up high and saw Charles flinch. He'd been fucking with my head. I knew it. Hank burst in. My heartrate must have spiked. "I want Scott," I said softly. The antiseptic smell of the room turned my stomach and made my head swim. My chest burned as if I'd been running. I barely heard the shout -- Hank's I believe -- when the lights exploded.
"Remy! Remy! Pull it back! I can't come to you if you don't tame it down." Scott's voice broke through my panic. I admit that it was a panic, bone deep, teeth rattling panic.
I bit my lip and concentrated. Slowly, like pulling in a sneeze, my charge came back to me. I reached for Scott, not seeing anything but the energy in his head. He wrapped his arms around me and held on, rocking me and I shivered.
The med-lab suddenly looked like something out of a horror movie. The floor was glowing and the light-bulbs blew. My first thought was thank the Goddess for adamantium. My second was, if this is anything like puberty, no wonder he went to Sinister. "Remy! Pull it in. I can't come in if you don't pull it in."
Charles and Hank were standing stock still in the middle of a time bomb. My voice got through to him and the glow faded. He reached out to me, not even noticing Hank's hand on the back of his neck or the needle going into his arm. Hank didn't depress the plunger though. I shook him off and he removed it. It was labeled Gambit so I knew it was harmless enough, just some crushed Excedrin Migraine in a saline solution.
I rocked him, careful not to dislodge the sensors. I rubbed his back in gentle circles and murmured gently. I was reciting flight stats, but I learned awhile back that it's my voice, not my words. I could be reading a phone book and he'd still listen. It's a little frightening and a lot gratifying to know that my presence means so much to him.
Charles watched me with that smug little smile. It grated on my nerves. "Charles?" Remy purred with silk covered claws, "get out."
The professor gaped like a stunned sea bass for a moment, then left. "You'll have to talk to him at some point about your training."
"Ain't a problem. All I need is some of Logan's meditation and a long talk with mon pere."
Hank left us for a minute of privacy so that I could calm his patient down. "And this little show?"
"Charles was tryin' to fuck with my head, cher. Had t' make him stop. Me bein' unconscious, or him bein' scared does it." I loosened my grip to see that wicked, wicked grin on his face.
"Of the first degree, cher. Part of bein' a good t'ief. I ain't lied about Banniker."
"I know, Baby."
"I feel all burnt up, like a charred bit of catfish. Don't rightly know what I'm supposed t' feel right now, but it ain't this. Not blind panic, not numb, but somethin'."
I looked deep into the banked fire of Remy's eyes. The normal twinkle was missing. Even the harsh blaze of anger was gone. It was frightening. "I won't let you get lost," I whispered.
"Help me?" His hand drifted down my side to rest on my waist, just above my jeans. He tilted his head to the side, asking for a kiss. I indulged him.
I sat there, kissing Scott, and feeling none of it. I could taste him, sense his pleasure, but I couldn't find myself. I couldn't even get angry at the lack of emotion. I pulled back carefully and looked up at the ruby quartz. I touched his cheek, just below his shades. "I need to get out of here," I whispered. "Out of this room. Out of this house. Take me someplace else, sil tu plait." I rested my head on his shoulder as his arms tightened around me.
"Hank, will you leave us alone for a little while."
"One hour. That's all. And if the computer alerts me to any changes on the heart monitor, I'll be back. He's in no condition to do anything strenuous."
Scott frowned at Hank. "If we're talking his heart rate may spike due to the stress of talking about things that upset him. I don't want you bursting in here and disturbing whatever sort of memories we might be discussing. If it goes flat, come back, other than that, leave us alone. I'll call if I need your help."
Hank left us reluctantly. He really was worried about both of us. He needed the break though, and I think Scott saw it. The door closed behind his blue posterior and Scott's grip eased a bit. "Why won't you take me out of here?"
"Because you just woke up from a coma."
I sighed, smelling in the scent of the aftershave he always wore. It was some cheap brand that he'd started getting when he was a teenager, but it suited him. I probably have to thank Jeannie for it. He stroked my hair. "I'm so numb right now, cher. Feels like I'm talking through cotton wool and sawdust. There's nothing there, not even fear. I know I should be feeling something, but I'm dead. Even when you kiss me, I'm dead."
Scott lifted my chin carefully with one finger. He studied me for a long moment, then kissed my forehead.
"I'll find you, gorgeous," I promised. My heart was clenched in fear. I couldn't lose Remy after all of the trouble I went to get him in the first place. This was the same delicate operation that winning him from Rogue was. He still loves the girl and they still work together, but they are friends now, not lovers, which was all to the better. To hear an empath talk about not feeling anything is about as scary as hearing Wolverine say he likes pink because it's a strong color. Remy lives on feelings, thrives on the very idea of touch and comfort. He's like a strong whiskey, burning through your senses with a whisper. But he doesn't think he's a psi. He doesn't call it empathy. He thinks of it as his charm and he by turns hates and loves it. I wanted to make him feel, but I wasn't sure how. I crawled into the bed next to him, after lowering the metal bars. His shoulders relaxed as I curled myself around him. "I love you."
"Why?" His voice was dull, muffled by my shoulder. His hair was soft as silk under my fingers.
"Because you're strong and sweet and silly and smart. You're my Cajun."
"D'Accord." He snuggled into my arms. I pulled the blanket around us. I closed my eyes and prayed.
I don't know why I did it. I don't think I ever will. It was the second day after my coma, the papers were all full of the story and there were journalists pounding on the front gate, but Bishop wouldn't let them in. I was grateful for that at least. Scott was trying to be supportive, but he had things to deal with and I just couldn't take his concern. "Fuck off, Scott. I don't need you acting like my father." I shook his hand off of my shoulder. "And I don't need you protecting me. I'm not an idiot. I can take care of myself. I'm a big boy now."
I wasn't angry. Not really. I wasn't anything at the time. It was like being fed strong painkillers. Things are happening. You know you're hurt, but it doesn't matter. You don't really feel it. I saw the shock on Scott's face though he covered it quickly.
"Call me when you need me then, Baby," he said softly and went to his office. I didn't want to hurt him. I've never wanted to hurt him, but I just couldn't stand him. It felt like nothing I've ever felt before. Logan looked at me with such darkling eyes for it that I was actually worried he'd attack me. He didn't lay a hand on me, just stared at me.
"Fuck you, old man," I snarled. I turned and went up to my room. Not Scott's. Not the one where all of my everyday clothes live. My room. The one with the art and the toys and the clothes I don't wear all that often. I looked around. It was a movie stage of my life. I shook my head, then settled on the bed. Satin sheets and velvet coverlet accented with a bad taste bear I snagged on one of my shopping trips with Rogue. Sitting on my desk like an accusation was the violin. I wanted to destroy it. My fingers itched. I wanted it gone. I wanted everything of Joshua's gone. The bruises on my face were minimal, but my wrists were still an ugly yellow-purple and my ribs were healing slowly. That last punch of his had done some real damage.
I picked up the bear, then tossed it across the room. It bounced off of the dresser and onto the pile of CD's I have in the corner, ever so lovingly alphabetized by Scott one night. I closed my eyes.
It was the trial, well sentencing, and Remy still wasn't talking to me. Oh, he was polite enough and he teased me a bit, but he didn't talk to me. We didn't touch or even discuss the possibility. His powers were expanded enough to let him blow up anything and he didn't want me to be one of the things that exploded. At least that's the story I came up with for the gossip mill. Logan knows it's a lie. He's angry at Remy for pushing me away. We weren't officially broken up, but that's what it felt like. It was a dangling conversation in another room that I couldn't hear.
I sat on the bench outside the courtroom waiting to be called as a witness. Remy sat next to me, hands in his lap, suit neat and pressed. His hair was still razor-cut shaggy, but he'd pushed it off of his face for the most part. He was wearing dark glasses to hide his gorgeous eyes. I don't know what we looked like sitting there. There was no space between us, but we didn't touch. We didn't speak. Officer Martins looked at us as if he could tell there was something wrong.
I was called first. I went in and told the court everything I knew. The defense lawyer tried his best. There was just nothing he could do to blow a hole in the story. No one on our side of the fence was going to blow it. Jubilee and Paige had given the police their accounts of the field trip and the moving. And those girls are very, very good. They translate the bare bones account into their own dialects and added the details that would make everything work properly. Emma Frost took the stand after they did.
By the time they called me it was the second day of proceedings. Warren was up after I was. The prosecution was waiting to spring Remy on the jury. Officer Martins was called. I gave Remy's shoulder a squeeze as he was called. I stepped quietly into the room after asking Martins if it was alright. Remy was sworn in. He settled down on the seat and waited for the questions to begin. He seemed so vulnerable right then that I wanted to curl my arms around him and kill anything that got within ten feet of him.
I made sure my face was at its most innocent as I took the stand. I didn't want there to be any question of what should happen. I could sense the suicidal despair and I new that Joshua wouldn't last a minute in prison. "State your name."
"Remy LeBeau's my real name. But I went by Remington Montgomery for a time. As a stage name." The lawyer blinked. He hadn't been told that obviously. Of course, only Joshua and I knew that anyway.
"And you work at Xavier's Institute?"
The judge frowned. "One moment. Mr. LeBeau, would you like a translator?"
"Then please keep your responses in English."
"Yes, sir." The lawyer smiled at me. Damned sharks all of them. I can't stand lawyers.
"What do you do there?"
"I teach French, Gymnastics, and Art." I saw the jury nodding. Seems Scotty and I got our stories straight.
"Non. I gave up on that when I left Julliard. I took art at the Sorbibbon in Paris."
"And when was this?"
"After I left Joshua."
"And how old were you then?"
There was a collective gasp from the audience. Joshua rolled his eyes at me and I felt a small smile on my face.
"Why did you leave?"
The smile vanished. "He broke my arm." The defense scowled in my direction.
"Tell me, in your own words, what happened the day of the incident."
"Which one, my arm or the abduction?"
I nodded and started my story. I crossed my arms over my stomach and hunched over as I spoke. My voice got smaller and smaller until the lawyer asked me to speak up a bit. I flinched away from the sound of his voice, but raised my voice.
Then, after all that was done and the evidence they'd found in his apartment was entered into the proceedings, the defense lawyer took over.
"What did you take with you when you left Mr. Banniker?"
"The guitar clip he gave me when he first started talking to me. And the jean jacket he got for me at some Broadway show we went to. Everything else was mine."
"Isn't it true you took the Stradivarius?"
"No. He sent it to me through my lawyer a few weeks ago." I shrugged. "It's his."
"Is it true that you took the demo tapes he'd had made for you?"
"Non. I didn't take anything related to music. I didn't even take sheet music. I left the music business for good when I closed his door behind me. That was it. I try not to sing along with the radio neither. That doesn't work though." I shrugged.
"One last question. Will you sing for the court? Just to explain what all the money was for."
"The tuition. . ."
"I was on scholarship!" I snapped. "Joshua didn't pay for none of my schooling. And I tried to pay him rent for the apartment, but he wouldn't let me, just put it into a fund for something else."
I shrugged. "Those don't cost near what you think they do. Last I checked though, this weren't a trial about money. This is about Joshua kidnapping me, locking me up in a room wearing a collar that activated an electronic fence if I tried to leave it."
Joshua rolled his eyes again. "For fuck's sake, Min, just sing!"
I stared at him. I licked my lips. "I. . ." I shook my head. "I ain't sung in so long. Nothing formal. My voice ain't no good anymore."
"At your worst you're still better than most."
"Order!" the judge snapped, rapping his gravel twice. He was looking at the prosecution. I was looking at the prosecution too. I didn't know if I should do what was asked or not.
Then, I heard a voice from the back of the courtroom. "Take my hand, it'll be alright. I will protect you, don't you cry." *(click here if you've never heard this song as a duet.)
I joined in on the chorus and took on the second part of the duet.
I have no idea what possessed me to let Warren know I could sing. Yes, I do. Remy needed me. And I don't want any snide remarks about my choice of songs either. I know Jubilee has affected me terribly. I don't particularly like Disney's Tarzan even, but the song summed up so much about my relationship with my Cajun that it just popped into my head.
"Take my hand, it will be alright. I will protect you," I started for him. It was a strong song and the funny thing is, I meant every word of it. I didn't even recognize the fact that I was walking towards him until we met over the barrier of the gate between the spectators and the lawyers. I took his hand.
After it was finished, there was a hushed silence in the room. All the reporters were making sure that their tapes had actually caught the song. "Well, fuck, he's a singer. That explains everything," Joshua said.
Things went so quickly after that that I couldn't believe it was over. But Joshua was sentenced to ten years all told and there was no suspended sentence and no psych-eval to contend with. I watched Joshua leave the courtroom. "He won't make it, cher," I said to Scott. His fingers were tangled with mine for the first time in almost a month.
"What do you mean?"
"He's suicidal. Can't you see it?"
"I'm not an empath remember, Babe? You ready to talk to the journalists?"
"Non. They're all vultures and I hate them. They won't get nothing but the press release that my lawyers got made up for them. Let's just go home."
Scott smiled at me.
"Why the fuck do you love me, Scotty? I ain't nothing but trouble? I screwed this. . . us up so bad."
"No, Baby, you didn't."
"If you'll be my savior, I'll be your downfall," I quoted at him.
He shook his head. "Our love will save us," he responded in kind. Then, he bent to kiss me. And I could actually feel it.
I kissed my Cajun right there in the middle of the courthouse, with the flashbulbs going crazy all around us and the questions being screamed out. And he responded for the first time in weeks.
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